Pub Rants

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

Tagged science fiction

The Power Of Story

STATUS: Heading to Seattle today.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? PERRY’S PLACE by Richard Underhill

When I was in St. Louis two weeks ago visiting family, my mom asked me if I wanted to go and catch a matinee movie. If you know my mom, you’ll know that she loves shoot ‘em up action films, mysteries, and thrillers. The more blood and guts, the better.

In general, not my cup of tea. But the point was to hang with Mom so I said, sure, and let her pick the film. For a matinee price, I can live with just about anything.

So off we went but she had gotten the movie start time wrong so as we sat down, the movie had already begun by a few minutes.

About 10 minutes later, I had a rather puzzled expression on my face and Mom asked what was up. The theater was almost empty so I leaned over and whispered, “I recognize this. This movie is based off of a short story.”

She shrugged as she didn’t know.

But I was right. It WAS based off of a short story—and one I hadn’t read in probably over 20 years.

The movie was The Adjustment Bureau starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt–based on the short story by Philip K. Dick.

And that, folks, is the power of story. That after 20+ years, I still recognized it even though I hadn’t thought about it in years.

That’s what you want to achieve with your own writing. And speaking of Philip K. Dick, my author Sara Creasy has been nominated for the Philip K Dick Award for her debut SF novel SONG OF SCARABAEUS.

Why not check out the list and if you haven’t picked up one of these titles to read, why not? Editors are reluctant to acquire new SF authors because the sales numbers can’t compare to fantasy, so selling a debut SF writer is a tough biz (but I’m happy to report I just sold another debut SF author 3 months ago and gasp, a guy to boot!).

So if you love SF, do your part. Pick up one of these nominees.

Where Not In The World Is Kristin?

STATUS: I know this is petty but this week I’m on the beach and it snowed in Denver. Yes!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WALKING ON SUNSHINE by Katrina And The Waves

There is something fundamentally wrong with a science fiction author who lives in Florida but has never been the Kennedy Space Center. It’s also a crying shame if her agent, who reps SF and has also never been to the Kennedy Space Center, doesn’t drag her there.

Consider the issue rectified!

In Orbit! Kristin, My Mom Sue, and Linnea Sinclair:

The world is in trouble now…

After 200 Webinar Pitches…Take 2

STATUS: Heading out early to meet with tax accountant.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE SWEETEST TABOO by Sade

Sara was in the office today so we put our heads together on a couple of other tidbits of feedback we gleaned from the all the pitch critiques we did.

Here are a couple of other culprits we discovered while critiquing that would have made us pass had we not being doing that editorial input.

1) Too much emphasis on the world building without giving equal weight or emphasis to the story and the characters in it.

2) Mechanics of the writing was unpolished—as in there were syntax and obvious grammar errors within the pitch itself.

3) Vague descriptions such as: “suddenly a new discovery threatens everything INSERT CHARACTER NAME holds dear.” The problem is that such grand but vague statements don’t tell the reader anything. It’s like saying “this restaurant serves food.”

4) We couldn’t understand the world because the description was unclear. (By the way, we debated whether this fits under “convoluted plot” of yesterday’s entry but we don’t think so it. It feels separate.) You have to choose the right details about your world in the pitch because you can’t explain everything. You can only highlight an element or two that will stand out as unique about the world.

5) Writers who made up a name for a creature or an element but didn’t include any explanation of what it was in the pitch so it didn’t have context. This leads to confusion.

That’s all she wrote folks.

More Sade music on iLike

After 200 Webinar Pitch Critiques…

STATUS: ! I think that exclamation point says it all.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ISN’T IT ROMANTIC by Rod Stewart

I can unequivocally give my blog readers the #1 culprit of why pitch paragraphs in adult or children’s SF&F query letters miss.

Drumroll please….

Convoluted plot that can’t be followed in the pitch paragraph.

Interestingly enough, in the presentation itself, I gave the missing plot catalyst as the# 1 reason for why we pass. Convoluted description of the plot was #3. I might have to revise that!

Post webinar, most participants got the concept of “inciting incident” or main plot catalyst pretty clearly; it was building the rest of the pitch paragraph that proved tough. I think everyone who submitted a pitch to be critiqued got a sense of just how hard it is to create a good one.

A bit of advice? Your pitch is not something you want to go it alone on. You need feedback and from a variety of sources. If you learn nothing else from that session, take that tidbit away with you.

And because I’m a nice person, I’m going to share my Top 10 list for blog reading edification.


Reason 10: Generic descriptors of the story

Reason 9: Overkill on World Building details and not enough about the story itself.

Reason 8: Explaining that unlike already published SF&F novels, your work has character development

Reason 7: Popular trends (such as Vampires, Werewolves, or Zombies) with no unique take clearly spelled out in pitch

Reason 6: No mention of or insight into the characters who will be driving the story

Reason 5: The manuscript is 250,000 words (or more!) and this is unpublished, debut author

Reason 4: The work is called SF&F but it sounds more like a mystery or thriller or something else.

Reason 3: Convoluted Plot that I can’t follow in the pitch paragraph

Reason 2: SF&F stereotypical archetypes as the “hook”
–the mysterious object
–the unexpected birthright
–the quest
–the villain that has risen again
–exiled to another planet
–mayhem on spaceship to new planet
–Androids with heart of gold
–The main character as the key to saving the world or species
–the just discovered talisman

Reason 1: No hook—or mention of a plot catalyst that is new or original in this genre

2010 Comic Con Pics–Take 2

And It’s not Comic Con without great costumes and terrific booth displays. Here are a couple more shots to give you a sense of the convention as a whole.

Some examples of the Booth displays!

Steampunk hat shop.

DC Comics booth

Lord of the Rings dolls. Couldn’t resist taking this shot. Wow. As you can imagine, the dolls were not inexpensive.

2010 Comic Con Pics

STATUS: 589 emails in the inbox. Yep, that sums up my day. Thank goodness it’s a holiday in New York.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? GET TOGETHER by YoungBloods

As promised, pictures from comic con. Friday wasn’t even the “busy” day and it was packed.

Marianne Mancusi at entrance of the convention

Mari holds her Night School poster in the Penguin Booth. Four and half years after initial publication of the first book–Boys That Bite–the series is taking off. Last year, Penguin rebranded the covers and rereleased the first three books and then published book 4 in the series. Night School is book 5 in the series. It will release in January 2011.

Got to have the gratuitous agent/author shot in booth!

Orbit Publicist Jack Womack holding up SOULLESS paraphernalia at Orbit booth.

Nice shot of me with SOULLESS poster in background.

Close-up on the Poster.

Live From New York City

STATUS: Actually, I’m feeling half dead after almost a full week of all-day meetings from 8 in the morning to sometimes 11 o’clock at night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SUFFRAGETTE CITY by David Bowie

I’m back at the hotel early enough to blog. Every other night I’ve returned so late, I didn’t have the energy to fire up the old netbook and sneak in an entry. I do have LOTS to blog about so get ready for NYC recap next week when I’m back in the office.

Tomorrow I’m at Random House all morning and then I head to the Javits center for New York Comic con all afternoon. Orbit has galvanized the steampunk contingent here in the city (and I can’t believe I just wrote a sentence that has “steampunk contingent” in it…) to attend the con dressed up in their steampunk finery. They’ll be giving away Parasol Protectorate buttons and any fan that is dressed up and wearing the button will have their pic taken by Orbit to use in the Soulless cover art collage with the fan’s pic included.

Now that’s pretty cool.

The Orbit party was held at The Cellar Bar at the Bryant Hotel on 40th street across from the park. I don’t know every attendee but there were a smattering of agents and editors clinking glasses.

I ran into my old buddy and agent extraordinaire—Janet Reid (Fineprint). She was there with the amazing Jeff Somers. Got to reconnect with a young but totally up and coming agent Suzy Townsend (also of Fineprint and hadn’t seen her since St. Louis!) Eddie Schneider (JABberwocky) was there as was Cameron McClure (Donald Maass Agency) (who I tried to talk into saying something really profound for my blog but alas, we were profoundless… I’m thinking the wine floweth. Saw Matt Bialer briefly (Sanford J. Greenberger)

My fab Orbit editor, Devi Pillai, was there looking totally wonderful in a sleek black dress. Tim Holman, so British, always startles me slightly with the European double cheek kiss greeting but by end of evening we were all into the swing of things. I did refrain from saying “Darling” at odd moments and felt rather proud of that.

Sharing in the fun were Anne Sowards from Ace and Liz Gorinsky from TOR. Bumped into Ron Hogan (formerly of Galley Cat and Houghton Mifflin).

The Orbit Anniversary party was like a mini reunion.

I have to say that earlier in the week on Monday, Tim, Devi, and I got together down at Pravda in Soho for a drink and I was really pleased to hear that they are actually quite open to adult science fiction right now. There wasn’t even a hint of pessimism to that statement. Considering I had just submitted an SF there, I was pleased. Other editors I talked to in adult publishing really only highlighted military SF or alternate history SF as what was working them. It was so nice to hear some optimism!

Webinar Debrief

STATUS: Even though it’s Friday, I’ll be working late. I’m headed to New York on Sunday. Heads up that blogging might be spotty.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? STUTTER by Maroon 5

As you blog readers know, I did my very first webinar on Wednesday for Writers Digest. I thought it might be interesting to debrief it. If you participated in the seminar, I would love feedback so feel free to leave some in the comments section (and also feel free to leave the comments anonymously).

So here’s my debrief of it:

Thumbs up:
1. It’s a great way to reach a variety of writers without having to travel (and vice versa for them).

2. It was fun. I thought the webinar format was professional. There was a tech person to help me for the entire 90 minutes and even before the session began. We even did a trial run on the Tuesday before to make sure I understood how the control panel worked and how to do the Powerpoint presentation so attendees could see it.

3. From having given this seminar live, I had a good idea of what questions get asked and when so I tried to interject them during the presentation so Qs were answered as I went.

4. The question chat box was very cool. I left about 20 minutes at the end of the session to start going through them and answering them. Any I didn’t get to were given to me after the fact. I’ll answer, shoot back to the webinar tech person and she’ll distribute them out to the asking party. Very professionally done.

Thumbs neutral:
1. Nothing compares to audience interaction and there wasn’t really a good way to allow that. Usually I can gauge if the audience is “with me” for what I’m trying to explain but there is no clear way to do that in the webinar.

2. Since we were working on the pitch paragraphs for SF&F novels, it would have been fun to get one or two volunteers to submit their revised pitch so I could talk about them right then and there. If I do something like this again, I think I’ll ask how we might be able to do that.

3. And I can’t believe I’m saying this but 90 minutes felt too short. I wish I had given myself more time to answer questions. But there was a lot of info to cram into 1 hour.

Thumbs down:
I’m not sure I have any but maybe some of the attendees do. If so, feel free to share.

For my part, I do want to ask this question. This is the first time I’ve given a workshop where participants paid to attend. Now of course I’ve given workshops at conferences where attendees paid to attend the conference but they didn’t pay a separate amount to attend my particular workshop.

What do you folks think about that? Should agents give workshops like that?


More Maroon 5 music on iLike

A Moment of Silence

STATUS: It’s noon so I don’t have one yet.

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

In honor of literary agent Ralph Vicinanza.

I did not know Ralph personally but he’s been a force in SF&F for so long, I just wanted to take a moment to recognize that. I was very sorry to hear the news that he passed away over the weekend.

There aren’t a lot of agents doing SF&F, and this is a big loss for the genre.

When It’s Not Hot, Passion Can Carry It

STATUS: Why does the phone ring only after I’ve stepped out of the office?

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? YOU SANG TO ME by Marc Anthony

Clarification: Adult SF is currently not hot. YA SF is doing just fine. Sorry about the confusion!

This week I went on submission with an adult SF novel. Ask any editor and they will tell you, adult SF is not hot. Fantasy is hot—particularly urban fantasy. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to blog readers if you track PW or NYT bestseller lists.

It’s not like I’m revealing some deep and hidden secret here.

And here’s where my passion for the project means everything. If I were smart, I wouldn’t take on an SF novel from a debut writer. Even if I do sell it, the money I’ll earn from it will barely pay the agency’s electric bill for three months.

Plain and simple. That’s the reality.

But I love SF. Grew up reading it. In my mind, some of the most important novels published in the last 20 years have been in this field so I did it anyway. Because I felt a passion for the story that I didn’t feel for the YA project I decided to pass on earlier this week (and will probably sell for more money than this SF novel will).

That’s the only way I can be in the game. I know writers hate hearing that agents or editors need to feel “the love” but folks, selling novels is not an easy biz. (Which, by the way, is why most agents don’t specialize in fiction but instead focus on nonfiction to build lucrative client lists).

We also want to take on authors for their whole careers. If we agents can connect with their writing at the passionate, visceral level, then chances are good we are a good fit for future work to come.

Last year I took on a YA author for a historical novel that I could not sell (and I still think editors were crazy not to buy it). But the writing… I still can read that unsold novel and fall in love with the author’s talent all over again. So we pushed on and got going on the next work. And it was that next project that sold. At auction.

Passion was the key—for me and for that author. And if I can’t sell this SF debut, then I already believe in the next work.

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