Friday, April 24, 2009

Time vs. Quality

On the Firebrand Literary Blog, agent Chris Richman discusses the importance of time when implementing corrections to one's manuscript. He concludes that turning around a new version too quickly is not in an author's best interest nor does it promote a sense of depth in the changes made. He says, "If I request revisions, I’m not going to forget a project in two, three, or even six months. If it takes a writer that long to get to the changes, that just makes me assume they’re taking the revisions seriously."

I can see his point, but it does give me pause. While I do agree that making minor changes to major problems is attributable to both lazy writers and overly-enthusiastic ones, setting time thresholds on revisions seems to go against motivation.

My top 4 areas of concern:

1 - People work at different speeds. Some writers take years to pen a novel, while others only months.

2 - Learning curves vary amongst individuals. With some folks, lessons don't sink in right away, and with others, hearing it one time is all they need.

3 - Desire to please and urgency aren't bad things. There are go-getters and there's wait-for-it-to-come-to-mes.

4 - Everyone's process is different. I like to read hard-copy drafts once in a while. Some people prefer soft. One is not better than the other, but both have different time allotments.

When I get critiques, I generally make changes right away to the sample material and save as a new file. With instructions like "use more active sentences" or "watch your economy of words," I take the time to re-read my manuscript and weave in those lessons. Sometimes it takes a month. Sometimes a week.

Should I be penalized because I push all other things aside to get the job done?

On the other hand, pondering feedback and "allowing it to sit" can lead to greater understanding. Perhaps critiques are like marinades. If the meat is thick, the ingredients need more time to permeate in order to add flavor. Stubborn writers may need to soak up the criticism before cooking up a new submission.

In the end, I agree with Chris' assessment, just not 100%.

I would love to hear what you think about the concept of establishing time limits for quality of work. This applies not only to writing, but also to other professions. Do you relate excellence with completion time?

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Agent for a Day Recap #3

The Agent for a Day contest results are in. Drum roll, please.

I chose 1 of the 3 published titles. Bummer.

Interestingly enough, none of the 3 were the most requested out of the 300+ contestant responses and only 2 people were able to get 2 right. What does this tell me?

I have a 33% chance of being a good agent with no training? Eh. Not so much.

Taste is subjective? Getting better.

Query letters are mucho importante? Almost there.

Snaring an agent / editor with a catchy pitch is mandatory? Winner!

In reading books like Save the Cat!, the importance of a logline bubbles up as one of the most essential ways to save your pitch from going adrift the murky waters of rejected material. I mention it often, but as writers in this new era of publishing, we have to be our own marketing, sales, and public relations departments. Platform is key as well as creating wide networking circles.

Nathan Bransford's contest proves there is a ton of competition out there. Some of the query letters were really good. So good in fact, the unpublished ones received the highest request rates.

As a former salesperson used to having the "core message" handed to her, I feel compelled to stress the obvious -- we need to give prospective agents a no-brainer pitch. Having written our books, aren't we, the authors, the most appropriate people to introduce them to the world?

Bransford says, "When people are writing good queries it helps us spot the good projects. But remember: the most important thing is not writing a good query, but rather writing a good book. A strong concept is so important."

That brings me to my last rant. Just yesterday, I witnessed one writer consoling another with the words, "Don't worry. Those fixes are what editors are paid to do."

I about lost it. That's terrible advice. A good story idea does not supersede bad execution.

In sum, write the best manuscript possible and put the time into creating a hook. Selling has a direct relationship to effort: what you put in, you get out. Go get 'em!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Agent for a Day Recap #2

In continuation of my previous post, I finished reading all 50 queries for Nathan Bransford's "Agent for a Day" contest. Maybe I was jaded, or just in a bad mood from some recent girl drama, but the letters didn't hold my attention the way they did the first day. Picking 5 didn't seem as challenging as it once did which leads me to ponder these questions:

How do agents separate their personal life from their professional one?
Is it even possible to do so?

For me, writing (my profession) is influenced a great deal by my mood. One moment I'm happily creating a love scene and the next, angrily tossing obstacles at my protagonist. The latter can be useful as therapy when confronted with the selfish motives of "friends." I'm not bitter at all, I promise. ;)

Thus, the importance of an outline shines bright in the night of personal chaos. Its light guides me down the winding path of life versus art.

But what about agents? There's no outline or playbook for choosing with whom they'll work. So much of their job is based upon opinion. For example, will a project sell? Is it worth spending the time to tighten up the story?

Opinions vary; not just with different people, but also with emotions. My point is, I hope any agent reading my query letter is in their "happy place."

Marybeth of "Desperately Searching for my Inner Mary Poppins" asked which letters I requested after my last post. I'm a little wary of airing my choices, mostly because there's a large chance I'm way off base, but since she asked so nicely, I picked: 9, 17, 27, 33, and 35. They all fit into my 10 rules and tempted me with a good plot/idea.

I'd love to hear other opinions of which letters were best. Please comment at will.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Agent for a Day Recap #1

Along with throngs of countless other writers, I participated in Nathan Bransford's "Agent for a Day" contest. The rules were straightforward: read 50 queries and post either a rejection or full manuscript request in the comments section below each letter. Only five could be chosen. Simple enough?

Not at all. Not even close.

After going through 28 letters, I requested 1, rejected 23, and put 4 aside to read again later.

Only 22 more to go.

What I've learned so far:

1 - Rejecting isn't as hard as I thought it would be. Sorry, it just wasn't.
2 - An engaging first paragraph is key.
3 - Too much detail is annoying. Keep it to one page and remember "economy of words."
4 - Only when vacillating, did I really care about credentials.
5 - My personal taste in genre played a major role in my decision, even when I tried to not let it.
6 - Flattery gets you somewhere. Well, at least a more personalized rejection.
7 - Minor grammatical mistakes in the presence of a tremendous story were overlooked.
8 - Rhetorical questions should be avoided. Let me say it again. They should be deleted and never brought back. Ever.
9 - Overly dramatic content is bad. Really bad.
10 - Coming across like an idiot who sells himself above the project leads to a fast rejection with no regrets.

With a little over half read, the most important lesson I've gleaned is this:

It's nothing personal, it's just your query letter.

I'll be sure to post my final thoughts when completed with the assignment. My 4 "on the fence" queries were surprisingly awesome. Being restricted to 5 presented an incredible challenge... and there's still more to go.

Maybe the lesson Nathan was REALLY trying to teach all of us is to make your story stand out and grab your reader's attention from the first line. In this new economy, good enough is nowhere near publishable and if you can't intrigue an agent off the bat, there will be many more after that will.

Thanks for reading. Comment freely.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Getting Older

Well, my friends, 30 is within sight. It looms on the horizon like a dark silhouette against the light of day. Dramatic, right? ;)

So, with time stalking me, I have to ask myself, how can I become younger instead of older?

Here are some of my ideas: 1 - Getting injectibles and/or plastic surgery. While this may erase the effects of time from my visage, will it really make me younger? Also, who has the money for that these days?

2 - Resorting to cougar-dom. Will dating a 23 year-old make me feel sprite? I guess it depends, but it's certainly not worth losing my husband.

3 - Dressing like a high schooler. Forever 21 is pretty cheap, but I'm not sure exposing my muffin top is good for anyone, especially me.

4 - Committing to fake-and-bake. It seems the women who subscribe to the above three suggestions, love to spice things up by tanning incessantly. Tan skin is better than blinding-white skin, at least that's what people tell me. Maybe I should consider it. I mean, how bad CAN melanoma be?

Honestly, all of this sounds like too much work. I think I'll take my chances with the approaching darkness. See you guys on the other side.

By the way, Happy Easter and Passover!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Show vs. Tell - A Good Life Lesson

The cardinal rule of storytelling is show don't tell. On my website (, the quote for this month is, "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." by Anton Chekhov

Today on Rachelle Gardner's blog, she discusses how a query letter represents the writer. She closes by saying, "Let your words SHOW the editor or agent the greatness of your project, don't try to TELL them how great it is."

Isn't that an excellent lesson for life in general?

Don't just tell someone you're a good person, show them by holding open a door, allowing them to step ahead of you in line, or even engaging in polite conversation when you'd rather look at your shoes or play with your mobile phone.

I won't drop the very appropriate cliche about actions and words (even though I'm dying to), but go and do something kind tomorrow. Be generous. Live outside yourself. You never know, you may wind up with wonderful scene for your next book.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How A Book Gets Made

I had no idea swarthy lumberjacks were involved. Fascinating.