Pub Rants

Category: Uncategorized

Rule Breaking Novels

STATUS: First day back in the office after being away for a week. Let’s just say there is a lot on my desk that needs handling. I did pretty well today but tomorrow will be the real determiner

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LITTLE RED CORVETTE by Prince

I did another panel last week called Bye-Bye Box: Writing And Selling The Rule-Breaking Book. We all had some interesting talking points so I thought I would share some of mine.

1. If you are breaking the rules, it’s all about the writing to make it work. The writing needs to be way above average and spectacular to really catch the eyes of the editors. (An example I gave was Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER but CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR would be another good example. Or better yet, FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC.)

2. The biggest question that editors will have if the novel bends or blends genres is where will it be shelved? This carries a lot of weight.

3. My job as an agent when selling a rule-breaking book is not to focus on the rules being broken but how the uniqueness can be a selling point. (By the way, that’s a mistake writers make in their query letters when pitching an out of the box idea. They highlight the strange, different, or “out there” aspect. That doesn’t work. Your pitch should focus on what makes the story so human despite let’s say an unusual world, or setting, or plot twist or whatever. You have to focus on uniquely capturing your character’s conflict in a way that feels universal despite the rules being broken.)

4. Remember, world building becomes very crucial if you are rule-breaking. It has to be clearly defined and believable—even if you are setting the story in 2007.

5. For the rule-breaking book, are you leading the trend or are you behind it? Makes a big difference.

6. For “taboo” subjects, what’s the purpose for it? Is it simply to shock the reader or is the taboo subject an integral part of the story and the key to its unfolding? Big difference. I see a lot of queries that focus on the shock value and not on what will make the story appealing to readers to read.

7. Rule breaking comes with either great risk or huge reward. There isn’t much in between. Lots of rule-breaking books flop big time. We tend to only remember the huge successes.

But ultimately, it’s only writers who can do it extraordinarily well that end up being able pull it off.

Most Valuable Asset

STATUS: I had to get up early this morning for an 8:30 a.m. panel. Thank goodness for Chai lattes! And yes, I don’t normally blog on a Saturday but I making up for Wednesday’s missed blog. Have a great weekend.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? STAND BACK by Stevie Nicks

Last night I was at the Bantam/Ballantine cocktail party at The Mansion on Turtle Creek where I ended up chatting with a B&N book buyer. She said that the most important tool an author could have is a website.

And I agree. The buyers do actually look at author websites and potentially use them for their internet marketing.

But what is clear to me (and what I actually chatted about incoherently on today’s early morning panel) is that it can’t be any old website. It has to be dynamic.

Websites by nature are static. If very little changes, it won’t draw readers back to the site (and the purpose of the site ceases to be all that valuable). So here are the tips I shared with the attendees this morning. How does one make a dynamic site?

1. Have it professionally done. Amateur sites can hinder more than help. If you aren’t a plumber, then you wouldn’t try to tackle sweating pipes. Leave it to the professionals. It’s worth paying for expertise.

2. It’s all about the content—of course! You need to provide it. If it’s just about your books or you as the author, it won’t draw repeated visits. Make it valuable.

Ideas

Provide resources
Add deleted scenes that you love but didn’t quite make it into the final book
Get creative. Interview your characters.
Write a series of letters to your fans and post them there (and share them with Borders, B&N etc.)
Have ever-changing content or decide to blog (hint: If you can’t do this on regular basis, then don’t do it. It has to be regular to keep readers coming back).
How can you be interactive on the site? Chat sessions? Start a round robin story where fans can participate in the writing. Teach an online workshop.

Yes, this might mean you need to get more technologically savvy but remember, that could actually turn out to be fun. The internet is growing in importance for author marketing and since it’s not going away… embrace it!

Home From Dallas

STATUS: This time I arrived in Dallas on time. I’ll take it. Several years ago for the Dallas RWA, my plane was supposed to arrive by 4 in the afternoon. I reached the hotel at 1 in the morning.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DOWNTOWN TRAIN by Rod Stewart (and yes I know that Tom Waits is the original songwriter)

Tomorrow the conference really gets started with the literacy signing. If you are in the neighborhood, be sure to seek out a few of my wonderful writers. The Autograph session begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regence, downtown Dallas.

RUMBLE ON THE BAYOU
By Jana DeLeon



‘SCUSE ME WHILE I KILL THIS GUY

by Leslie Langtry

MOONGAZER
Marianne Mancusi

PRIME TIME
By Hank Phillippi Ryan

GAMES OF COMMAND
Linnea Sinclair

DAMSEL UNDER STRESS
By Shanna Swendson

Got Conflict? My Author Linnea Sinclair Gives The Scoop

STATUS: Doing great! It’s too early in the day to be anything but. I’m off a little early to attend the LightHouse Writers Festival here in Denver. They are having an evening welcome party to kick-off the weekend. Can’t miss that!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE SIDEWINDER SLEEPS TONITE by R.E.M

NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN
(thoughts on Conflict in writing)

Kristin asked me a week or so ago if I’d guest blog on Conflict. She credits my Denver workshop for an “a-hah!” moment she had on the matter (Conflict vs Complication), and even though I assured her I was not the source for that particular tidbit of writerly wisdom, she was unmoved. So here I am, a guest in my illustrious agent’s (cyber) house, feeling as if I’d better be on my best behavior and knowing I also have to be instructive, witty and insightful.

Good thing I’m on my second cup of coffee.

So let’s start talking about conflict (in commercial genre fiction, okay? Not literary or experimental fiction) by starting off saying that it’s honestly impossible to talk about just conflict. It’s honestly impossible to talk about any ONE facet of writing. You can’t fully understand conflict without considering characterization, and you can’t work with characterization without looking at word choice, and you can’t… well, you get the idea. Crafting a novel is like dealing with a can of worms. Conflict is just one of those slithery things you have to understand.

One of the most critical issues about conflict (in writing commercial genre fiction) that I’ve learned is that for conflict to work, it must be personal. That is, it must relate directly to the character and/or an aspect of the story line. Overlarge, impersonal conflict is a guarantee of a cartoonish novel. It will eventually fail to draw in the reader (or agent or editor) because it doesn’t answer one of the most critical needs of the reader: “Why should I give a shit?”

And yes, that’s an exact quote from an editor I interviewed a few years back on the subject of what makes a book work (or not). The “Why should I give a shit?” factor is huge when it comes to making a novel grip the reader. It also relates to two things I learned from Dwight Swain’s TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER: 1. Readers read to experience tension, and 2. It’s the author’s job to manipulate the emotions of the reader.

But we’re talking about conflict, you wail.
Yes, we are. We’re talking about the thing that is the engine of the story (thank you, Jacqueline Lichtenberg), the thing that keeps the story moving forward, the thing that keeps the reader turning pages.

Conflict happening to characters about whom the reader/agent/editor gives a…damn. (I’ll try to keep it cleaner for my genteel Midwestern agent.)

Impersonal conflict—which can sometimes appear as complication—doesn’t light the “give a damn” fire and get the story wheels turning as much as personal(ized) conflict.

Let me give you an example: Alphonse is strolling down the street and a dog runs out of a yard and bites him. Police/EMT’s arrive, report is filed, Alphonse is patched up. End of scene. Okay, nasty thing to happen, but where do we go from there (story-wise) and how? And moreover, why should we?

Re-roll the video tape: Alphonse is strolling down the street and a dog runs out of a yard and bites him. Police arrive and find out the dog belongs to Alphonse’s ex-wife who has also mailed death threats to his house and left a headless chicken on his doorstep. Police seek out Alphonse’s ex but she’s not to be found. Suddenly, the story gets a whole lot more interesting.

Why? It’s personal to Alphonse (and therefore, also to the reader because reading is a vicarious experience, right?). It’s personal because this isn’t a random act that might not be repeated. This is a plot. A plan. Against Alphonse (reader). You—author—have just started the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” syndrome in the story. Because there’s a salient, logical (albeit crazy) reason for these things to happen to Alphonse. His ex is pissed off. The reader then rightfully expects further trouble. Oh, joy!

Now please, don’t point out to me that there have been X number of highly successful novels in which the reader didn’t know who was behind the dead-chicken-on-the-doorstep until the final page. Of course there are. I’m being simplistic here to make a point. Plus, in the novels where the antagonist is theoretically unknown until page whatever, the skilled novelist still drops in clues, red herrings and hints which tug—and sometimes lash out—at the reader’s emotions. Thereby manipulating the reader by making the conflict that happens to the protagonist feel personal.

Alphonse is now scared and therefore, so is the reader. Alphonse is scared because he knows this problem is not going to stop. The biting dog was not some random coincidence that most likely will never happen again. SOMETHING WILL HAPPEN. And it ain’t a matter of if…

Noted SF author Jacqueline Lichtenberg states in the World Crafters Guild on her site that conflict is “an urgent and undeniable MUST prevented from materializing by an equally formidable CAN’T.” Complication and random conflict can be amusing and even annoy the characters in your novel, but they don’t qualify as being FORMIDABLE. They can go away. An antagonist hell-bent on making your protagonist fail will not go away, and the reader—if you’ve structured your plot, pacing, characterization, word choice and conflict properly—knows this too. Well-written conflict is an undeniable I MUST slammed flat up against an equally formidable YOU CAN’T.

If nobody knows the trouble you’ve seen—or intend to bestow on your protagonist—then you’re not building tension, excitement and anticipation by the best method: conflict that is personal to the characters and the plot. Keep conflict real, keep it personal, and keep it coming.

~Linnea Sinclair

RITA© Award Winning SF Romance
Bantam Spectra 2005: FINDERS KEEPERS, GABRIEL’S GHOST, AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS

2007: GAMES OF COMMAND, CHASIDAH’S CHOICE, THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES

Other Links:

Sim Gen School
Conflict Integration Workshop
Conflict & Motivation
Conflict & Story

Glitch!

STATUS: Friday and it’s really freezing in Denver.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TRULY MADLY DEEPLY by Savage Garden

It was simply a matter of time before problems with the new electronic submission database reared their ugly little heads. Don’t fret though. We are committed to fixing all the problems. Just be sure to email us with a heads up that the error is occurring for you if you can’t upload the sample pages.

So far the culprits seem to be one of two things: 1) the firewall connected with the writer’s ISP and 2) an issue with the uploader’s internet browser.

Thanks for your patience as we work on the glitches.

Not A Lick Of Work

STATUS: I’m pretty excited because the Nelson Agency is launching our brand spanking new e-Newsletter starting next week. It’s going to include all kinds of special info that won’t be divulged on the blog. So if you are interested, you might want to sign up so you don’t miss the inaugural issue.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WAR The Cardigans

Today was a complete wash, work-wise, because I answered my summons for jury duty. Now I’ve been called in the past but I’ve basically sat in a big room for a whole morning without my number being called. I got to leave by noon.

Not today. This morning I was actually selected to sit through the juror selection process. A criminal assault case (third degree) no less (but don’t worry, the judge clearly said there was no gag order and we were welcome to discuss it freely).

Law & Order it’s not.

Twelve prospective jurors sat in the jury box to start the process (10 alternates sat off to the side and observed). The attorney for the prosecution began the questioning with the defense attorney allowed her turn afterwards. Initial question period was 15 minutes each.

I’m not sure what I expected but here were the two questions I personally received:

1. Has anyone ever made me angry enough that I was provoked to violence?

Answer is no by the way.

2. Could I maintain the presumption of innocence even if the defendant chose not to testify or explain his actions in the alleged assault?

I answered yes.

The attorney also questioned whether the race of the defendant (African American) and the race of the person pressing charges (Latino) would be a factor. We all answered NO. It would be interesting to know how that eventually played into who stayed on the jury and who were dismissed. I’m sure our individual races as jury members were factors in the selection.

I was also surprised by how much the defense attorney was allowed to lead the questioning in the jury selection process. She asked whether we could believe in a self-defense argument if the defendant was larger than the complainant.

Gee, I wonder where that question was leading to.

I didn’t get to find out because I was dismissed as well as a white male corporate attorney, a white male airline pilot, an older white woman of Southern origins who described herself as a housewife, a Latina woman whose English, by her own admission was only so-so, a white cocktail waitress who had mentioned the at she had been moved to violence several times, a Puerto Rican man who admitted that he would need the defendant to testify to understand the case, and a retired Latino gentleman who seemed pretty neutral to me.

Those who remained were a white stay-at-home mom, two Latina grandmothers (one retired and the other worked line-assembly for machinery), a Latino 18-year old high school student (no kidding, he was going to have to take off from school to sit on the jury), an older white woman who managed contracts for an oil/petroleum company, and a serious African American gentleman who looked to be in his 30s and who was an alternate to sit on the jury when a young woman asked to be excused because she was dealing with the recent death of her daughter (that startled the jury panel). I can’t remember his profession but it was pretty late in the day by then (and that was another interesting tidbit because we all had to state our name, profession, marital status, and some hobbies).

All in all, the whole day was fascinating. On one hand, I was relieved to be dismissed so I wouldn’t miss another day of work. On the other hand, it could be really educational and interesting to see the trial unfold.

But the end result was the same. Not a lick of work got done today.

Kickstart the New Year

STATUS: The new year is off to a roaring start. The first day back in the office is always chaos but today I got lots of exciting news. My author Ally Carter is going to be a spotlight author at Book Expo 2007 and audio rights just sold for the second book in her series. Then an editor called to express excitement for a project that went on submission right before the holidays. Now that’s a first day back in the office. Can’t get much better—unless, of course, an editor had called to actually offer.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE BED’S TOO BIG WITHOUT YOU by The Police

Did you guys miss knowing what was playing on the iPod for the last two weeks? Seriously, I needed some new downloads for Christmas. It’s one of those things that I do when I have time and I should have had plenty of time over the holidays while being trapped in Denver with about 4 feet of snow. But did I? No. Must have been all the eggnog I drank instead.

I am glad to be back although I really enjoyed my blog break. Consequently, these blogging muscles feel a little rusty but lucky for you it’s a two-fer.

One here and one posted over at Romancing The Blog. I say that’s kickstarting the new year. Just try not to overload.

So today was an attempt to get back in the swing of things. There’s no hard or fast rule but I usually try and wait until tomorrow before I start calling and haranguing all my editors about the status of current submissions, publicity/marketing plans for upcoming books, and whether they are ready to see what I’ve got cooking.

Just like 1000 other agents, I have submissions to send out but waited until after the holidays to do so. Guess what’s happening tomorrow? I’m sure I just made a bunch of editors either cringe or leap with excited anticipation. Maybe both. After all, they probably cleared off their desks and computer desktops before heading out. That lasted about one week.

Happy New Year folks!

Last Blog Of The Year

STATUS: It’s TGIF for the next two weeks!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CHRISTMAS (BABY PLEASE COME HOME) by U2

Nelson Literary Agency is officially closed until Jan. 2, 2007. But have no fear, there will be new blogs in the new year.

Until then, Happy Holidays! I’ll see you then.

The Hardest Person To Shop For?

STATUS: What’s there not to like? I’ve been munching on homemade cookies sent by my lovely client Shanna Swendson. It’s perfect nibbling as I try and wrap up queries, partials, and requests for fulls today.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LET IT SNOW! LET IT SNOW! LET IT SNOW! by Harry Connick, Jr.

Today’s blog is a little smorgasbord of thoughts—not unlike the box of cookies sent my way (and if anyone makes a Forrest Gump reference I’ll scream).

Tis the season for a little inspiration so I wanted to share a tale courtesy of Therese Fowler (and with her permission).

Feel like chucking this whole writing/publication dream? Before you do, check out Therese’s story. A Fairy Tale ending, auction and all but “overnight” success only took five years, nine months, and three manuscripts.

Sometimes writers really need the morale bolster so indulge.

If you’re in the query stage, here’s a thought. Try to refrain from writing that “your work weighs in at…” Chances are good if you feel the need to use that language, your project exceeds the word-length expectation of the genre you’re writing in. In this case, it was for a women’s fiction work that was over 105,000 words. That’s long folks.

And last thought of the day, did you agonize over whether to get your agent a holiday gift or not?

Don’t worry. You weren’t alone. So what’s the answer? (This might open a can of worms because I can just imagine my clients reading this blog and then rushing out to get me something.)

Stop! This is not a guilt-trip inducement because I work for you and honestly, I don’t expect or need anything. A card (if that) is just fine.

But what if you truly want to send something? What to get? Oh please, like I can answer that for every agent living. But I can give some suggestions. For me, if it’s practical or edible, it’s unlikely to go astray. This could work well if you don’t know your agent well.

Who doesn’t like home-baked cookies? (Your diabetic or diet-obssessed agent for one.)

Flowers or a wreath? (Fine unless the agent is traveling for the holidays)

Perfume or scented lotions and soaps? (bummer if your agent is allergic)

Jewelry? (Tastes really vary)

Easy, isn’t it?

I’d go with a gift certificate to a favorite eatery or coffee establishment. It’s hard for that to miss since that will involve choice and the agent can always share with the assistants etc.

Some of my favorite gifts in the past (and they weren’t necessarily holiday-oriented):

Ally Carter gave me a rare orchid when I sold her YA. Thing was huge though and my hubby has it at his office because our Downtown condo is square foot challenged. It still blooms every year and it’s amazing.

One year Jennifer O’Connell sent me a variety of breads and exquisite cheeses. That was yum.

Flowers truly are lovely if I’m going to be around so they won’t die while away. Cheryl Sawyer has sent bouquets and she lives in Australia (power of the internet!)

Becky Motew gave me a wonderful necklace—a chick lit blue handbag with a little diamond (or similar rhinestone).

Hank Ryan gave me a designer pen that I didn’t recognize but when I whipped it out during an editor meeting in New York, there was much fawning over it. I suspect that it was from Tiffany’s…

And there have been many more (so sorry if I didn’t mention yours). Maybe I should keep a list…

Writer’s Cramp

STATUS: Had to have holiday music on for our tasks today!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? OH HOLY NIGHT by Celine Dion

Our goal today was to finish the Nelson Agency holiday cards. Get them signed, sealed delivered.

We sent out a good 200 holiday cards to editors and other industry folks. My hand is cramping.
Here at the Nelson Agency, we do send special gifts of appreciation to the editors with whom we have projects. Our way of acknowledging their role in our success. Not all agencies do this but it has been a tradition at NLA.

I can also already tell that the slow-down in New York has begun. My email inbox was really quiet today and that’s not the norm.