Pub Rants

Category: Uncategorized

What’s In A Name?

When I attend writers’ conferences, I always want to drive home the message that publishing is first and foremost a business.

When you write a novel, that’s art.

Selling it and promoting it is sheer business.

So, I always tell writers that the devil really is in the details and if you position yourself as being savvy and professional (coupled with good writing), you will probably succeed.

Little things matter. Little things like let’s say your email address.

I imagine a lot of writers have not thought twice about it but does your email addy reflect a professional writing image?

I’m thinking might be sending the wrong message.

Cute nicknames. Great for friends. Maybe not quite the image you want for your professional writing career.

Stick with the traditional basics:

Obviously there are other combos that work. You get the idea.

And one other suggestion. If you are pursuing a writing career and are using email to acquire representation, go ahead and spring for your own email address. I’ve never quite understood when I’ve received an email query that’s signed “Jane Doe” but the email address says JoeSmith@.

Your email addy and your signature should match. It shows me that you take this business seriously.

Ah, those devilish details.

A Walk in the Woods

I’m actively looking to add to my client list for science fiction and fantasy. Subsequently, I’ve been reading a lot of sample pages in those genres.

I’m noticing something in the first 30 pages I’m reading—what turns me off mainly.

Now remember, rules are always made to be broken and any writer who can break them well is going to get attention. So, I’m a little hesitant to name my fantasy foibles on this blog but here goes.

Things I’d rather not see start a Fantasy novel.

1. A person gathering herbs in the forest.

It obviously happens more than I think because I’ve lost count of how many submissions I’ve read where this situation is the opening chapter. Herb gathering. Evidently quite popular.

I’m thinking an opening forest scene is going to be a tough go unless something really inventive or original happens.

2. A battle scene.

I always scratch my head on this one. I think it’s a writer’s way to “delve” immediately into the action so to speak. Here’s my problem with it. I don’t know the characters yet. I haven’t got any idea of who to like and who should win or even a good sense of what’s at stake. Not to mention, it’s really hard to do good character development in a battle scene. Characters can only be growing so much when ax swinging.

3. A prologue.

99.9% of the time, the prologue is vague or doesn’t really give me a sense of the writing or the story that’s going to unfold. I skip them as a general rule. As a writer submitting to me, I’d skip including it in your package. Why take up some of your valuable 30 pages only space?

4. A distant third person narrative to start (ie. The boy, the old man, the healer)

This is just a personal foible of mine I think. It’s hard for me to feel immediately connected to the character or the story. I want my emotions engaged from page one.

I’ve put it out there now so you’ll know what will happen. I’ll get an herb-gathering person in the forest during a battle scene prologue submission that’s going to change my mind.

A Valid Reason for Psych 101

Last week was certainly an interesting one where queries were concerned.

I received a query from a person who had cc’d 60 other agents on the email.

Now, that’s the first mistake here. I understand that this business feels depersonalized and the standard rejection letters certainly aren’t a joy, but email etiquette pretty much dictates that you query one agent per email. Query as many agents as you want but not in the same email.

Doing otherwise just makes agents itch to send the NO response as quickly as possible. Nothing like being one of a crowd.

Well, I’m guessing this is what happened. The query didn’t interest me so I replied with my standard letter.

The next day I, and the 59 other agents, received an angry email expressing the writer’s disbelief that not one in the pack of us (not much of a paraphrase here) wants to read THE NEXT GREAT BOOK OF OUR TIME (and yes, that was in all caps).

What a warm fuzzy. Definitely feel like I need to change my mind and request those sample pages now. Not.

Didn’t this person every take Psych 101? Has lambasting a person for not recognizing your genius ever resulted in the person changing his or her mind about your potential?

If you want the quickest way to shoot yourself in the foot, I’d say this would be it.

You Excepted—Not.

Last week a gentleman called and left a message on my voicemail.

He said, “I see that your voicemail says that you do not accept phone queries.”

Then he proceeded to query me by phone.

What part of my voicemail message did he not understand? I was sorely tempted to jot down this person’s name so in the event that he did a) figure out he wasn’t excepted and b) figure out how to query me through the proper channel, I could immediately send my “NO” response without even given him due consideration.

Then I remembered. I’m a nice person. Perhaps it was one of those strange brain farts that kidnapped his better sense at that exact moment and he was compelled to leave the message. Now he is filled with remorse. Or better yet, has learned some sense.

I just hit the delete button.

How To Lose a Publisher in 10 Days

I’m thinking of a line from Forrest Gump, “I’m not a smart man.”

To recap:

Smoking Gun reveals that James Frey’s memoir is basically a fabrication.

Frey goes on Larry King Live to “defend” himself and implies that his publisher and editor Nan Talese knew all along that the work was more fiction than memoir.

News to her and appalled by the misrepresentation, Nan Talese contradicts Frey in a public statement. By her account, the work was presented as nonfiction and there was no discussion on how to publish it. (Note: Ms. Talese is a long time editor with a sterling reputation.) Not to mention, the publisher had been unequivocally standing behind Frey up until this point.

Boy, does this guy know how to win friends and influence people or what.

Every day I wake up with a little smile on my face. It’s going to be a good day because Frey isn’t my client.

Would You Like Truth With That?

One of my favorite writers is Allan Sloan, the financial journalist from Newsweek. If you ever want to read compelling writing, pick up a copy. Any person who can make corporate mergers and mutual fund topics fun to read is a writer to watch.

If he’s covering a stock that he owns or an organization owned by the Newsweek parent company, he begins his column with a disclosure.

That’s what I’m doing. Beginning this post with a disclosure.

I’m currently shopping a memoir and that certainly colors how I view James Frey and the whole MILLION LITTLE You-Know-What smoking gun.

Why? Because the memoir I’m shopping is beautifully written, meticulously researched, and we have all the documentation to warm even the most cynical, detailed-oriented fact-checking heart.

We didn’t lie, embellish, or otherwise make up a story that is being circulated as truth.

The trouble we are having is that editors love it, are very complimentary, but are afraid that it won’t be “big” enough for their house so hence, must pass with regret.

Translation: We didn’t lie, embellish or otherwise make up the truth in order to make the story more titillating, controversial, or “big” enough to be worth publishing.

That says a lot about publishing today unfortunately.

It is Much Ado About Something. A memoir is about truth from that one person’s perspective. It’s not about making it up so it will be an over-the-top spectacular victim story that will be “big” enough to sell a lot of copies.

Is there a redemptive quality based on the solidness of the inspirational message (which has been suggested)? If there is, I’m not seeing it. This story didn’t happen so how can triumph over events that didn’t exist be an inspiration for others who really suffer from addiction and are struggling to overcome?

If you really want to read a good, true story of recovery from addiction, I’d boycott Frey and pick up Heather King’s PARCHED.

At least she understands that a memoirist’s reputation is built on integrity. As she says, “It’s every writer’s sacred honor to “get it right,” but perhaps the burden falls heaviest on the memoirist…”

Well said.

Relentlessly Nice

Sometimes I regret growing up in Missouri where I was relentlessly taught to be nice.

It means that when I’m sitting across the table from a would-be writer at a writers’ conference who’s pitching me the most outlandish novel (you name it)/memoir-about-being-abducted-by-aliens/nonfiction-project-I-don’t-even-remotely-represent, I haven’t the heart to say that it stinks or “are you on drugs,” or even politely, “no thank you.”

Stomp on their dream why don’t you.

The nice person in me will take the coward’s way out and do the rejection by letter/email because it’s just easier. (And trust me, I’m not the only agent who falls into this trap.)

Oh to be a brusque New Yorker or to be able to channel Miss Snark for five minutes. (As an aside, I bet she’s a real sweet gal in person; it’s a whole different ball game when you get to remain anonymous). I might actually save the writers some postage.

Which is why I started this blog. I’m finally going to talk about what’s on my mind. Nicely of course! (Some habits are hard to break.)

To indulge in some polite rants so maybe, just maybe, I’ll get up my gumption to say what needs to be said to a writer in person.

And if not, I’ll actually get to say it on my blog. Feel like I’m growing…