Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Tagged literary fiction

Passing on Sample Page Submissions

Not a very original title for a blog post but it certainly conveys the message adequately! I’ve been on a bit of a reading binge lately. There’s just nothing like that excitement of finding a story that makes all your fingers and toes tingle.

I swear, it might be an addiction and why Literary Agents do the job we do!

And I’ve been reading lots of good stuff as of late. But nothing that is quite tipping me into the “must have” realm as yet. Part of what makes this job so fun is that the right manuscript could hit the inbox at any moment.

Adult Steampunk fantasy: PASS – good concept, solid world building, interesting opening scene. And these are the hardest letters for me to write, the story just didn’t spark for me. So not helpful for that hard-working writer but it’s true.

Young Adult SF: PASS – another interesting world, set on a ship, with a nice opening scene. No spark. Argh.
Adult Literary fiction: PASS – Writer has terrific background in journalism. Cool premise. Solid writing. Just couldn’t quite fall into the story and have it keep my attention. My focus kept wandering so I know this one is not for me.
Young Adult contemporary: PASS – Too gritty for me and I worried that the main character, his nature, was too dark and grim potentially for the YA market. I could be totally wrong but it’s a sign it’s not right for me.
Young adult contemporary SF: PASS – Another sample with good, solid writing. Interesting story concept. Author had an agent previously.  I should be game for it but the narrative just didn’t spark for me.
Adult Commercial mainstream: PASS – Loved the premise. Solid writing but I actually wanted the writing to be more literary than what it was because the concept hook was so commercial. And for me, that was the way to really make the story stand out.
Fantasy Young Adult: PASS – was a bit on the fence with this one. Nice writing. Interesting fantasy world. Gave it a second read and found I wasn’t feeling passionate about wanting to commit to reading a full manuscript.
Adult SF: PASS – a funny science fiction narrative that works! (so rare.) Good writing. Charming and inventive. Just wasn’t quite right for me but I definitely see another agent taking this one on and selling it.
Young Adult contemporary: PASS – Such a great premise dealing with contemporary YA themes but writing was really uneven and a little too much force on “this is the theme of my novel.”
Adult historical: PASS – Author has great background with winning some accolades. Really liked the time period so sad with this one a bit and reread it. In the end, I felt like I should love it but didn’t actually love it.
Young adult historical: PASS – One of my fav genres and is a popular tale re-telling. Writing felt too stiff and formal (the emotion didn’t match the scene) I couldn’t quite lose myself in the story.
Middle Grade contemporary: PASS – I really wanted to like this one as concept was terrific. Voice didn’t quite nail it for middle grade. Read a bit too adult.
Adult Fantasy: PASS – Really interesting premise for the anti-hero who is main protagonist of the story. Too many fantasy tropes in the opening without enough of a distinctive voice to really make the opening stand out.
Middle grade fantasy: PASS – narrative voice was too adult for the MG audience. World building was a bit heavy in the opening as well. Thought maybe it could work for adult market but it as in the deadly gray area without it being firmly to one audience or the other.
Young adult contemporary: PASS – loved the multicultural aspect of the story. Author has great background as well. This one I just didn’t fall in love with the story and the narrative voice.

7 Pages in 7 Sentences

If I can be that succinct. LOL My current workload is as such that I’m not doing a lot of reading right now. That will probably ease up in another month or so. But from what I have read in the last two weeks, here are my sum ups of 7 projects and 7 reasons why I passed.

1) Client referral – Post-apocalyptic adult fiction. Very cool world. Strong writing so the writer has talent but I just didn’t connect with the story/characters.

2) Client referral – adult literary thriller. Really talented writer but the work was very Cormac McCarthy THE ROAD kind of dark. Not my thing. I’m not going to be a good champion for that.

3) Client referral – women’s fiction. I thought it more young adult and asked author if they wanted to revise to be solidly in that realm. If so, I was willing to give it another read.

4) Anita pulled out for me – young adult fantasy. Had the coolest concept I’ve seen in a while but the work wasn’t quite ready. Wrote an editorial letter and asked the author to revise and send back to me. Hope this person does.

5) Client referral – Contemporary Young adult. Another really cool concept inspired by a real event but fictionalized. I didn’t connect with the main narrator which seemed crucial for this story.

6) Prev. published author – adult SF. Cool concept. Good writing. Just wasn’t right for me.

7) Sara asked me to look – Contemporary Young Adult – Good writing but the main narrator had a caustic voice. I wasn’t sure if I could spend a whole novel with that character.

 


What I’ve Said No To Lately

Who says agents don’t read in December right before closing? My colleague Sara offered rep to two new clients right as we were closing. She landed them too! It happens. I’m not sure I added those to the Stats. I need to update.

Not to mention, I miscounted my NYT bestsellers. Oi! I forgot the Manga SOULLESS edition which hit #1 no less. Smack forehead.

But if you are curious, I read 16 sample pages the week before we closed. That’s a marathon for me.

And here’s a general idea of why I passed on all those requested submits: (more…)


Writing Craft: Action Vs Active Openings To Grab Attention

STATUS: 105 degrees today. WTF? It’s like walking in an oven…

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? HOSPITALITY by Friends of Friends

Can I see a show of hands of how many of you have been told that you need “to grab an editor or agent’s attention” right away at the beginning of your novel?

This is actually true. You do need to grab our attention immediately but when new writers hear this, they confuse an action scene with an active scene.

These two things are wholly separate.

If a beginning writer hears this mantra, they often interpret it to mean that they need to inject some kind of physical active scene to create tension at the beginning of the novel.

This translates into a whole host of odd openings with car chases, prologues, or dream sequences with “action” to start the story despite the fact that these are unnecessary to the story being told and don’t feel organic to what will unfold.

Besides, how the heck are you going to include an action scene in a literary novel? That makes zero sense.

So I want to take a moment to explain the difference between an “action” scene versus an “active” scene–which can be equally compelling in terms of grabbing attention.

An action scene is just that–an opening that has a lot of physical action to open the story.

A great example is Janice Hardy’s opening for her fantasy THE SHIFTER. But notice, in this opening, she creates tension but the pace is not necessarily fast and furious (a la a car chase solely there to grab attention) and it doesn’t need to be. Yet the action is physical and it is creating forward momentum.

Stealing eggs is a lot harder than stealing the whole chicken. With chickens, you just grab a hen, stuff her in a sack and make your escape. But for eggs, you have to stick your hand under a sleeping chicken. Chickens don’t like this. They wake all spooked and start pecking holes in your arm, or your face, if it’s close. And they squawk something terrible.

The trick is to wake the chicken first, then go for the eggs. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to figure this out.

“Good morning little hen,” I sang softly. The chicken blinked awake and cocked her head at me. She didn’t get to squawking, just flapped her wings a bit as I lifted her off the nest, and she’d settle down once I tucked her under my arm. I’d overheard that trick from a couple of boys I’d unloaded fish with last week. 

A voice came from beside me. “Don’t move.”

Two words I didn’t want to hear with someone else’s chicken under my arm.

I froze. The chicken didn’t. Her scaly feet flailed toward the eggs that should have been my breakfast. I looked up at a cute night-guard not much older than me, perhaps nineteen. The night was more humid than normal, but a slight breeze blew his sand-pale hair. A soldier’s cut, but a month or two grown out.

Stay calm, stay alert. As Grannyma used to say, if you’re caught with the cake, you might as well offer them a piece. Not sure how that applied to chickens though.

“Join me for breakfast when your shift ends?” I asked. Sunrise was two hours away.

He smiled, but aimed his rapier at my chest anyway. Most times, I enjoyed handsome boys smiling at me in the moonlight, but his was a sad, sorry-only-doing-my-job smile. I’d learned to tell the difference between smiles a lot faster than I’d figured out the egg thing.

If the above is action, then what do I mean by an “active” scene–which can equally work to grab attention? Active scenes don’t have physical action unfolding yet the narrative propels the reader forward through the author’s distinctive voice and because there is something about the scene that can’t be reconciled unless the reader reads on.

A great example is literary commercial writer Kristina Riggle’s opening for her novel REAL LIFE & LIARS. Here’s the opening:

    My tea tastes so fresh, and this joint is so fine, I might melt right into the red velvet cushion and run down the walls into a silvery pool on the floor.

    Sure, I’m a little old to be toking up. Just north of sixty. So sue me. It’s been a rough couple weeks around here.

    The kids – actually, just my oldest, the other two are dragged along under the wheels of her train – are throwing us an anniversary party. By tomorrow night they will all be here, with spouse, children, suitcases, plus the usual petty arguments and festering resentments.

    And I thought my being a hippie would free them of all that crap. The joke’s on me.

    “Mira!” calls my husband from the kitchen. “Mira?” he says a second time, maybe realizing how frantic he sounded.

    “In here!” I know he will follow my voice and check on me, and ask me some ludicrous question like where the spatula is, when he knows darn well. Lately, he can’t let me out of his sight for very long. It’s like living with a toddler again. I’m surprised he doesn’t come into the bathroom while I’m taking a dump.

    But then, didn’t I long for this, his fervent attention? As they say, be careful what you wish for. It’s like some sort of medieval fable where a wish has been granted, with a horrible catch in the bargain.

    In the echo of all this deference rings that horrible fight, when he turned into someone else, something alien possessing him such that I’ve never seen in 40 years. I take a deep drag from the joint, and shake my head a little, shaking away the memory.

    Max pokes his head into the study, and I place my joint carefully in the ashtray on the seat next to me. He’s got Einstein hair this morning. His sandy colored curly mop sticks up on each side, but he’s bald in the middle. His spectacles are up on top of his head, and his ratty red bathrobe hangs open over his boxers and t-shirt. He doesn’t mention the marijuana smell, nor the joint smoldering next to me.

In this opening, there is very little physical action. Her character is sitting on a couch smoking. That’s it. Riggle grabs attention by setting up a dichotomy–a grandmother smoking a joint. It’s not what we imagine or expect so immediately the reader is questioning the why and the character. It’s an active scene just for that reason.

Whether the opening works for you as a reader, is not the point here. I’m simply pointing out the difference between “action” and “active” when writing openings to grab attention.

So don’t confuse the two when your critique group says you need to immediately grab an agent’s attention in your novel.


What Editors Have Bought Recently – Women’s Fic and Literary

STATUS: It’s BEA time! Oh crazy schedule

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? Nothing at the moment.

Obviously I’m not just talking to children’s editors while in New York. So here’s a little snippet of what editors have been buying in the adult realm:

1) Literary novels with some sort of magical element (i.e The Night Circus)
2) Multi-cultural literary novels by non-American writers
3) Voice-driven literary novels that shed light on the contemporary modern landscape for protagonists in their 20s or 30s.

In women’s fiction and romance
1) contemporary stories with small town settings
2) southern contemporary women’s fix
3) looking or romantic comedies in romance (haven’t heard that desire in a while!)

Off to the Javits Center!


What’s Hot Down Under

STATUS: I was very glad to hear that New York City didn’t get as hard from Irene as anticipated but my contacts on Long Island are still without power. Eep.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? UPSIDE DOWN by Jack Johnson

As I’m based in the U.S., it’s easy to get tunnel vision on what is hot because obviously I’m mostly focused on this territory. Now granted we sell a lot of projects abroad and some of our authors are wildly popular in places like Japan more so than in the US so I’m certainly aware of territorial differences but I still find it fascinating all the same.

So when I was in Australia, I had a chance to visit with a couple of editors. One publishing division was housed in a charming old Victorian-style mansion and others had sleek modern offices. I rather liked both settings.

Some things I learned took me by surprise. For example, in talking with ANZ children editors, they are still having a wonderful market for picture books. I don’t rep this genre (so please don’t send me queries for it) but I’ve heard any number of editors and agent friends who handle picture books in the US bemoan the state of trying to break out a new author in this arena. The climate is tough here but Down Under, they are still seeing really great success–even for new authors. This could partly be because the Indie bookseller market holds a significant sales percentage still in that country.

Two chain sellers–Borders and Angus & Roberson–had closed doors and editors were greatly concerned. With it went 20% of their sales market. In consequence, print runs were down by several 1000 depending on the author.

I was also surprised to see Costco in Melbourne and Sydney. I didn’t realize that company was there. (I also saw a few Targets). Interestingly enough though, neither venue sells books in Australia yet. I mentioned that it tended to be a strong sales venue in the US so I will be watching to see where that goes, if anywhere, there.

In ANZ, for young adult, dystopian has not taken off in a big way yet. HUNGER GAMES is certainly popular and they’ve had nice success with some other dystopian titles but no big break out. Well, let’s hope Marie Lu’s LEGEND will help jumpstart that trend. I’d appreciate it.

In a similar vein, paranormal romantic YA is equally hot there as it is in US (no surprise). What has gotten harder is literary YA–and that use to be a good market for them.

For middle grade, the ANZ publishers bemoaned the dearth of MG boy adventure stories (that sounds familiar!) and Wimpy Kid blew it out there. No surprise really. That’s a series that feels really universal.

In the adult realm, they publish a lot of Australian authors (as they should) and they always do it in trade paperback. There are very few hardcovers published there. They still love beautifully written stories so US imports like a recent debut THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS is having nice traction.

Another interesting tidbit is that an adult title called THE SLAP did mildly in the US but really broke out Down Under (and it was from an Aussie author so maybe no surprise) but it did well in Europe too.

Editors like what they call “watercooler” books. Fiction that tackles issues that readers can dig in and talk about around the proverbial watercooler.

That’s a wrap. By the way, this blog entry is not meant to be the end-all be-all of the ANZ literature market. It’s just smattering of random bits of info but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.


Only Once In An Agent’s Lifetime?

STATUS: Even though I look absolutely ridiculous doing a happy dance, I’m doing it anyway! White woman overbite. Here I come.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE LOAD OUT by Jackson Browne

This is just getting impossible. If I keep hitting crazy milestones, what will I have to look forward to? Last year, I had 3 authors on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time.

Then it happened twice in one year. Fabulous. Where to go next?

How about 4 authors on the NYT list at the same time? And 3 of them on the top 150 USA Today Bestseller list at the same time as well.

Yep! That’s the news that hit my inbox about an hour ago. And here they are.

At #19 on the Trade Paperback list and #146 on USA Today

At #9 on the Children’s list

At #11 on the Mass Market paperback list and #109 on USA Today

At #13 on the eBook listand #59 on USA Today

When I got into this biz, this wasn’t something I ever imagined so the reality is not quite real. Maybe it will sink in tomorrow…


What 2 Lit Editors Bought Recently

STATUS: It’s already halfway through October…

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LUKA by Suzanne Vega

When I’m in New York, the info I glean is obviously going to be skewed by which editors I see and what genres they represent. After all, it’s only 5 days. I can only see so many people in that short time frame.

For this trip, I focused on meeting some children’s editors I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting in person and I also talked with quite a few editors in the adult literary fiction realm. I really really really want a another commercial/literary author for my list. looking for a really good

Part of that is in celebration. It’s official. Jamie Ford’s HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET has officially been on the regular and/or extended New York Times Bestseller list for 53 consecutive weeks.

One year and some change!

And not only that, this past week, Jamie cracked the top 10 again (currently at #9)—a year after publication of the trade paperback edition. I probably don’t need to tell y’all just how rare that is….

So join me in offering a HUGE CONGRATS to Jamie!

So as I said, I was in NYC at the beginning of October as I wanted to get a sense of what editors had bought recently in this field.

One editor is building a literary list at a house she just recently moved to. She’s only been there a month but in that time, she bought two books. The first a novel from an author whose work she started tracking when she read short pieces in the Paris Review. Interestingly enough, the book is literary but has a paranormal element and is set in the American West.

In a sense, not a surprise when looking at the success of THE PASSAGE. I think lit editors are looking for more of that genre blending for the literary realm. We haven’t seen a ton of that. Heck, I’d be game to see some of that! Her second buy was a narrative nonfiction work based on a true story.

Another literary editor I met up with had also just moved to a new house not exactly known for their literary bent. Obviously she was hired for a reason. (And yes, it was deliberate on my part to meet with two editors who had recently moved to new homes. After all, they are looking to build their new lists.)

For her, she had just recently bought a literary novel where the main story is driven by a murder but this is in no way a mystery. In fact, the contemporary story line alternates with a historical narrative that illuminates the contemporary unfolding of the murder and why it happened.

Kind of cool.

And all I can say is why aren’t I seeing those books? Wink.


Talk About the Money

STATUS: If I read my latest Publishers Weekly magazine at the same time as getting a pedicure, does that qualify as working? Hey, it’s summer time.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? I AND LOVE AND YOU by Avett Brothers

Last weekend I spoke at my local Lighthouse Writers Litfest. They wrapped up two weeks of celebrating literature and authors with an agent panel at the Tattered Cover in Lodo (which stands for Lower Downtown)—and to be honest, agents doesn’t sound overly celebratory to me but hey, they thought that was the way to do it. Didn’t you know that most of us are full of hot air?

One of the questions asked at the panel was how much of an advance can a writer expect for a debut novel.

Admit it. All of you just perked up your ears. Always, always, writers want to know about the dollars involved. The problem is that this question is really hard to answer. Depending on the novel, it literally could go for any amount of money.

When pressed, which happened of course, the audience wanted to know what was “typical.”

Once again, no such thing but if you hold a gun to my head, I’ll say this:

1. Most debut novels will have advances of under 25k per book. I’d say that’s typical.

2. What a debut novel will get for an advance will depend on genre.
a. Romance novels—5-15k per book
b. YA or MG—10-30k
c. Mysteries & thrillers—Uh, no idea. Don’t rep them. Janet Reid, my friend, can you chime in here? I think you are the Queen of repping this genre.
d. Literary fiction—10-30k
e. Women’s fic—10-30k (are you noticing a pattern here?)
f. SF&F—5-25k

Okay, fine. I told you the money—as long as you realize this list is meaningless, we’re fine.

Have I sold a debut romance author for six figures? Yes. Debut literary author for six figures? Yes. SF&F debut author for 6? Not yet (but I’ve gotten really close…).

Etc. It all depends on how many editors want your particularly debut novel. For my part, I often feel the most satisfaction for selling a debut that took forever to place (and the author was on the verge of giving up hope) and the novel I sold for peanuts that then exploded and just sold and sold.

Now that’s the kind of money I like to talk about.


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