STATUS: Come on rain! Don’t just be cloudy and not give it up. Pour gosh darn it!
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? PUMP IT UP by Elvis Costello
I’m getting ready for tonight’s workshop so I’m reviewing all the tag lines submitted by the workshop attendees. I asked all participants to submit one sentence as a baseline. So we can do a before and after during the workshop–which is often fun to see.
In other words, I don’t expect everyone to have nailed that tag line. It’s often hard to nail your plot catalyst in one sentence–especially if you’ve never really done it before. Hence the workshop.
But in reading them in prep, I can give my blog readers a bit of insight into what I think these attendees are struggling with. In the workshop, I’m going to clearly explain how to nail a plot catalyst tag line and then how to build your query pitch around that–using three different approaches.
Problem 1: The writer is trying to summarize the novel in the tag line.
Wrong use for it. You just want to nail your plot catalyst. But great, we’ll talk about it tonight.
Problem 2: The writer is relying on reader’s previous knowledge of a story or fairytale.
Not a bad starting point but it’s not going to be quite enough to carry the cornerstone of your pitch. Will work on that tonight.
Problem 3: The writer highlights two necessary elements of the story but alas, in the tag line, they don’t have a relation or a cause and effect so mentioning both doesn’t quite make sense.
In other words, one doesn’t necessitate the other. I’ll just need to point that out and I think this writer will get it.
And there’s still time to sign up if you want to join us! Just click here. I’ll be getting the tag lines soon for any day registers. However, we are going to close the class in an hour or two so if you want to join in, don’t delay.
STATUS: Everything is literally on fire around the city of Denver. From Colorado Springs and Monument to Boulder to Fort Collins. I was so happy to see the rain this afternoon. Sadly it only lasted 20 minutes. We need more rain.
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WINDOWS ARE ROLLED DOWN by Amos Lee
When I’m doing the Agent Reads The Slush Pile workshop, the toughest moment is when the volunteer reads an entry that is completely sound. In the reading, there is no problem that I can point to and say, “here, this is the issue” or “this is not working.” On a mechanical level, there is nothing wrong with the opening pages.
The form is acceptable, the grammar is fine, the writing is solid. I can even identify that the writer understands the tenets of craft. By all the “rules” of writing and publishing, I should be glowing about this entry.
But something is missing.
And I have no other word for the “what” that is missing except to say the work is lacking narrative “spark.”
In other words, the writing is missing a distinctive voice.
And when that happens, what can you say during the workshop? That I don’t love it? Well, that’s not accurate either because when something is missing “spark” it’s probably not just a Kristin subjective thing. Listeners sense it too. I can tell by watching the workshop audience. When something lacks spark, it loses people’s attention. They start to shift in their seats or stretch or focus on something else. It’s not just me that notices the absence.
On the other hand, when a work has that elusive spark, I know it, because the workshop audience becomes completely still and enrapt in the reading. Their attention is glued to the reader so as not to miss the next sentence. It’s a palpable change in the atmosphere of the room.
Sadly I can’t give an example because none of my authors have this problem. I’d have to grab something from the slush pile and I certainly couldn’t post it here without permission.
And speaking of getting read, it all begins with the perfect pitch paragraph in your query letter. Pub Rants University is hosting Goodbye Slush Pile: How To Write The Perfect Query Letter Pitch Paragraph for your Novel tomorrow night, Thursday, June 28 from 6 to 8 pm Mountain time. Given by yours truly.
I can’t tell you the number of emails I’ve received over the years from participants who have attended, revamped their query pitches, and then landed an agent and went on to sell. Dozens and dozens. In fact, one person even came up to me during the Litfest closing party the week before last to thank me.
You won’t want to miss it!
A week ago I attended Denver Lighthouse Writer’s Litfest where I gave my Agent Reads The Slush Pile workshop to over 50 hearty souls–which convinces me yet again that writers are gluttons for punishment.
As I was giving the workshop, inspiration hit for a couple of blog posts I could do on writing craft that I think my blog readers would understand and find helpful.
So guess what I’m going to do this week if I can find 30 minutes of time to get one posted?
Writers are often given writing “rules” that woe be you if you break them. And for most cases, because beginning writers have not mastered craft yet, these rules hold true. But if a writer knows what he or she is doing, breaking the rule can often create something really unusual that will work and be amazing (but will have a lot of aspiring writers crying foul that so-and-so writer does it and gets away with it.)
For example, how often have you heard that as a writer, you should show and not tell? Too many times to count I imagine.
Do you want to know one NLA writer who breaks this rule all the time at the beginning of her novels? Sherry Thomas. Sherry has won the Rita Award twice in a row now (the romance genre’s highest honor) and her debut novel PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS was named one of Publisher’s Weekly best books of the year in 2008.
So obviously somebody agrees that she has mastered craft and Sherry always begins her novels with a lot of exposition–usually a big no-no. But for her voice, it just works. Just last month, Sherry released her latest historic romance entitled BEGUILING THE BEAUTY which John Charles said in the Booklist review: “Thomas distills superbly nuanced characters and flawlessly re-created settings worthy of a Merchant and Ivory into a gracefully witty and potently passionate love story that sets a new gold standard for historical romances.”
And, if you check out the beginning of her novels, it’s all exposition. BEGUILING begins with the following:
This goes on for three pages. It’s backstory. Something writers are admonished to never do. But with her skill and voice, it works.
So keep that in mind. If you can pull it off, a rule is worth breaking. The trick is knowing whether you’ve truly pulled it off! From most of what I’ve seen in the slush pile, the answer is no, the writer hasn’t nailed it.
STATUS: The appointment schedule is firming up! Get ready for some posts on what editors will be looking for in 2012.
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THIS IS IT by Kenny Loggins
It’s pretty simple. We agents go to conferences and really drive home the fact that writers need to master their craft. Wow us with masterfully written opening pages. Stop butchering the English language.
Then a work comes along and blows that advice out of the water.
Readers have called 50 Shades of Grey any number of things: campy, fun, spirited, hilarious, worth the money, a fast read.
But well written has not been one of them.
So what do we say when a novel inexplicably becomes wildly popular, sells like crazy, and part of the cultural lexicon?
You got me. Maybe I can say this is a one-in-a-million happenstance of all stars aligning.
But I can say it does make our jobs harder. There will be any number of writers who will be convinced they can do same. Gosh I hope my query inbox doesn’t become inundated. No matter what 50 Shades is, I would not have been the agent to spot its “genius.”
Plain and simple.
STATUS: All my Texas blog readers, Kristin Callihan’s FIRELIGHT is going to be included in the romance round-up on Good Morning Texas tomorrow, Wed. May 2. Station WFAA-TV channel 8. It’s the ABC affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth. How cool is that. I wish I could tune in.
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? DOMINO DANCING by Pet Shop Boys
When I was at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference last week, I had a writer rush up to me in a panic to ask a question. She was incredibly worried that she had not established her social media platform for her novel yet.
If her release date was in 4 weeks, then I would say she had cause to panic.
But given that she hadn’t actually finished writing her work-in-progress (let alone begin querying for her agent search), I found her concern a little premature.
I advised her that at this point in her professional career, she should focus on writing the best novel she possibly could. Plenty of time to get the social media cranking while it’s on submission. I personally don’t know any agent who would say no to an author for a project they love just because the publicity platform isn’t there yet.
I can build that with an author. I imagine most agents feel the same.
STATUS: Another Gorgeous day! Repeat yesterday’s status.
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LADY IN RED by Chris de Burgh
Or maybe you didn’t but are a glutton for punishment anyway. I’m doing my very popular Agent Reads The Slush Pile as an online Webinar coming up on May 2, 2012 6-8 pm MST.
If you can’t make it to Denver for the LitFest version of this webinar put on by Lighthouse Writers (where the price is not to be believed but the travel to get there might be rough!), here’s your chance to finally experience it for yourself.
A couple of things before you click on that button:
1) This webinar is not for the faint of heart. It’s brutal. Now trust me, I will be as helpful and honest as possible. This is not to ridicule writers. But don’t kid yourself, it will be tough. If you are feeling fragile or that feedback might crush your writer dream, now is not the time for this workshop. If you are tough as nails, just about to submit, want an immediate honest response, then this might be worth doing.
2) It needs to be the actual, opening first 2 pages of your manuscript. If you have a prologue, skip it and grab page 1 and 2 from your chapter one.
3) We can’t promise to read every single entry but we are definitely going to try. If I only have a few left over, I’ll respond on the sample pages and we can send to those writers privately. Right now, I know we can get through them all.
4) You can “audit” the class. Sign up to be there and listen in but you don’t send on the 2 pages. This is for those who are curious about it but not ready to have sample pages read.
If you’ve ever wondered how an agent could make a decision so fast on whether to read on or not or to ask for pages, this webinar will definitely answer that question!
This evening, a writer sat down next to me and asked if I knew XYZ agent and what I thought of her. I actually didn’t recognize the agent’s name and so I couldn’t help her by sharing an opinion. Certainly I know a lot of agents in the biz but it’s simply not possible to know ALL the agents practicing out there–especially a lot of the newer agents who are just starting out.
She then wanted to know how she could tell whether an agent is a good agent.
For me, it’s simple. What is an agent’s track record of sales? If solid, then it’s probably just going to be a matter of whether you also connect with the agent as a person. By the way, whether an agent with a good track record is a good fit for you as an author is actually a whole different question than whether an agent is a good agent. One agent might be fantastic for one kind of client and disaster for another client who has different needs.
If the agent is new, how new? Are they with an established agency or agent with a good history of sales so the newbie has a mentor for questions? If an agency is brand new, did the agent work for an established firm before going out solo (so even though the sales record might be small at the moment, it’s understood that the agent comes with a solid background in the field).
Trust your common sense and what your gut tells you. Make sure you’re not wearing blinders when it comes to your publishing dream. The idea that any agent is better than no agent is most often not true.