Pub Rants

Category: Conferences & Book Fairs

Agent Reads The Slush Pile Tomorrow – Wednesday, July 25

STATUS: Have to leave a tad early today. My plan is to read a good portion of a client manuscript this evening.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  LAID by James

At conferences, the biggest complaint I hear from aspiring writers is this: there is never any feedback given when an agent or an editor sends a rejection letter.

Or, if there is a response, it tends to be generic–something along the lines of “I just didn’t fall in love with the story.”

Writers don’t have a good sense of what is really causing an agent to stop reading.

Well, this webinar is designed to answer that question. It’s a no holds barred (and a tough workshop so be warned) but if you want an honest, straightforward, and helpful response as to why your sample pages might be getting rejected, then this is it.

This is a “fly on the wall” glimpse of an agent reading her slush pile.

I read the first opening 2-pages submitted by the participants of the workshop. If I would have stopped reading, I stop and clearly say why. In general, we tackle about 20 entries selected at random. 

The I crush the writer’s fragile ego under my critique hammer… Just kidding. This is not American Idol style.

I don’t pull the punch but I do try and be sensitive and helpful. This webinar is not about denigrating the writer but it’s also not for the faint of heart.

If you think you are ready, then you might want to consider it. Register here. And I’ll see you tomorrow.

2012 San Diego Comic Con – Part III

STATUS: Loved seeing so many NLA clients represented there!

Kristen Callihan’s sequel to FIRELIGHT!


The hilarious moment when we realized that Emily from the Penguin group looked exactly like the model on Sara’s client Michael Underwood’s Geekomancy cover!



And Friends Don’t Let Friends date vampires!! Lots of buzz in the HarperCollins booth for Sarah Rees Brennan!



2012 San Diego Comic Con – Part III

STATUS: The best part of comic con!
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? nothing as I’m heading out. 

Getting into the Firefly panel!
And standing under the 50 foot Hall banner for Marie Lu’s Legend! (Yes, I’m the tiny figure under it.)

2012 San Diego Comic Con – Part II

STATUS: Heading out the door in 15 minutes. I’m doing the interview for Spotlight on Gail Carriger!
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SOMEONE LIKE YOU by Adele
Gail Carriger and I –washed in color at the Hilton Bayfront. 
Sara’s client Jason Hough and his Del Rey Editor Michael Braff
Gail right after her Witty Women in Steampunk panel. 

2012 San Diego Comic con

STATUS: Love reliable internet access! It’s been a little spotty from the floor.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? VERTIGO by U2

Finally getting a chance to upload some pics!

Shot of show floor from above and the Walking Dead booth!

A Quick Look At Tag lines

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.

(Just a note, this post is from our archives. Some references and links may be from past years.)

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!

Creative Commons Photo Credit: Daniel Dionne

Writing Craft: Breaking The Rule: Show Don’t Tell

STATUS: What is up with over 100 degree days in Denver in June? We live here because summer tends to be awesome. We could be confused with Phoenix this week.
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? NOVEMBER by Ben Williams

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:

It happened one sunlit day in the summer of 1886.
Until then, Christian de Montfort, the young Duke of Lexington, had led a charmed life. 
His passion was the natural world.  As a child, he was never happier than when he could watch hatchling birds peck through their delicate eggshells, or spend hours observing the turtles and the water striders that populated the family trout stream.  He kept caterpillars in terrariums to discover the outcomes of their metamorphoses—brilliant butterflies or humble moths, both thrilling him equally.  Come summer, when he was taken to the seashore, he immersed himself in the tide pools, and understood instinctively that he was witnessing a fierce struggle for survival without losing his sense of wonder at the beauty and intricacy of life. 
After he learned to ride, he disappeared regularly into the countryside surrounding his imposing home.  Algernon House, the Lexington seat, occupied a corner of the Peak District.  Upon the faces of its chert and limestone escarpments, Christian, a groom in tow, hunted for fossils of gastropods and mollusks. 
He did run into opposition from time to time.  His father, for one, did not approve of his scientific interests. But Christian was born with an innate assurance that took most men decades to develop, if at all.  When the old duke thundered over his inelegant use of time, Christian coolly demanded whether he ought to practice his father’s favorite occupation at the same age, chasing maids around the manor. 

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.

Why 50 Shades of Grey Makes Agent Lives Harder

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.

The Concern Is Perhaps Premature

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.

*grin*

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.