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November 2020
A Message from Kristin Nelson

A Love Letter to an Editor

Kristin Nelson

305 = The number of days from when I submitted a client manuscript to when I received the response from the editor. 

Ten months. That’s a long time. You’d think I’d be upset or frustrated, but honestly, this is a love letter to that editor—and you know who you are. 

During this crazy Covid year, I’m sending this heartfelt acknowledgement into the world to her. That response, regardless of how late it arrived, is a gift that I can give to my author client. It’s the gift of closure—an assurance that my author’s novel was read and considered. All during a time when editors are scraping together time to work between juggling family, kids, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, sick parents or relatives, and who knows what else. 

So thank you, dear editor. Most sincerely. Your response was just lovely to have—even though it was a pass.

Most editors who flubbed a submission would slink into the night, never responding. I would have sighed and added them to my “do not submit” list. (And yes, agents have a black-hole list, and once you’re on it, editors, it’s hard to gain our trust again.)

To editors who might be reading this and might have a similar situation hiding in your submission closet—bite the bullet and send that letter to the agent. We will greatly respect you for doing it. Just trust me on this. 

Junior editors, the best advice I can give to you is this: don’t ghost agents. Always respond. Even if the note is short and sweet. We’ll get it. As an established agent, I truly enjoy trying out submissions to newer editors who are looking to make their name and reputation. But I’m also finding that ghosting is happening more and more, and that some editors just don’t respond at all.

It’s going to be hard to land the good stuff, the next New York Times bestselling client, if you’re on agents’ “no send” lists. 

Recent News

Kate Baer's collection of poetry WHAT KIND OF WOMAN is an instant #1 New York Times Bestseller.

After an exclusive submission, Gallery Books’ Ed Schlesinger preempted Richard Chizmar’s novel Chasing the Boogeyman for six figures.

Zak Penn's television adaptation of Hugh Howey’s sci-fi novel Beacon 23 has received a series order via Spectrum Originals & AMC.

Christina Delaine is nominated for a SOVAS Voice Arts Award for her amazing audiobook narration of Doug Engstrom's Corporate Gunslinger.

Marie Lu's Kingdom of Back & 9 other Best Books for Teens of 2020

Guest Article

Miraculous Knowing: Instinct, Intuition, and Insight in Fiction

Angie Hodapp

Director of Literary Development

I wanted to chat this month about something that happens quite frequently in fiction (both published and unpublished), something I’ve dubbed “miraculous knowing.” This is when answers or solutions conveniently occur to a character at key plot moments. It tends to manifest thusly:

• They didn’t know how they knew. They just knew.
She felt it in her bones. This was the place.
He sensed it deep with his soul, so deep that he was certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that he knew exactly what had happened to the woman.
• I had a bad feeling. I knew I was being watched.

Writers of all stripes use this technique all the time. And you can too! But I’d caution you to use it sparingly. When instinct, intuition, and insight get overused—or used in place of the development of a character’s keen intellect, observation, analysis—it becomes “miraculous.” When a character’s knowing is too miraculous too often, readers disengage and stories fall apart.

Humans are intuitive, instinctive, insightful beings. We’re animals. Our survival drive makes us reactive to vibes others are giving off, to that cold prickle at the backs of our necks, to hunches that danger lurks nearby. We intuit other things as well: when someone is lying, how to perform a task we’ve never done, what’s motivating a loved one’s mood or behavior, and so on. Therefore, it stands to reason that characters in fiction would also experience these types of intuitive moments, right?

Sure. However, in fiction, it’s not quite that simple. The human brain demands a different sort of logic from a story (which has a contained beginning, middle, and end) than it does from reality. When a character “senses” or “just knows” more than one crucial piece of information (maaaaaby two) over the course of a novel, that often signals one of three things: incomplete character development, limp plotting, or false tension.

Incomplete Character Development. If you’re writing in a speculative genre, you need to set up the rules. Does everyone in your world have extrasensory capabilities? Only some? Only one? What are the rules? Limitations? Costs? If you haven’t set up for the reader that your character is capable of heightened intuition (and under which circumstances they can call upon it, and what they’ve gained or lost in their lives as a result of this ability, etc.), then even one episode of miraculous knowing can come off feeling like a cheat.

Limp Plotting. Too much miraculous knowing in your manuscript might mean your plot’s in trouble. Look for opportunities to layer in clues that your character will encounter well ahead of the big plot moment when you need them to Realize The Thing. In other words, give them blue and yellow early on so that when they later see green, the reader buys in. Know that any clues you add in are stimuli that your character must respond to in some way in the moment (even if it’s just to think, “Huh, that’s odd”), which might affect how they decide to proceed, which might alter your plot.

False Tension. When a writer suspects they don’t have enough meaty, plot-driving conflict in their story, they sometimes throw in some miraculous knowing to give the illusion of tension. Here are some examples of false-tension scenarios we see in slush manuscripts:

• “She had a bad feeling about this guy”…but the guy doesn’t end up doing anything bad, affecting the plot, working against her, or even showing up again for the rest of the novel.
• “The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. It felt like someone was watching him”…but it turns out no one was watching him, or someone was watching him, but the watcher doesn’t have any plot-related reason to have been watching him.
• “They both felt it from the tops of their heads to the soles of their feet: going into that warehouse was a very bad idea”…but it’s never revealed what they think is inside the warehouse, or what they’re worried will happen to them (stakes!) if they enter.

It’s okay for a character to act on instinct, intuition, or flashes of insight. But if they’re saved too often by “suddenly I miraculously Knew The Thing,” that’s too easy. Think of miraculous knowing as an internal deus ex machina. Can you use it? Sure. But, use it sparingly. Avoid using it because you’re rushing to wrap up a particular scene, sequence, or story. And make sure that if you do use it, that there’s a plot-related payoff. In other words, avoid false tension.

New Releases

What Kind of Woman

by Kate Baer

An instant #1 New York Times Bestseller.

A stunning and honest debut poetry collection about the beauty and hardships in being a mother, a wife, and a woman. 


“When life throws you a bag of sorrow, hold out your hands/Little by little, mountains are climbed.” So ends Kate Baer’s remarkable poem “Things My Girlfriends Teach Me.” In “Nothing Tastes as Good as Skinny Feels” she challenges her reader to consider their grandmother’s cake, the taste of the sea, the cool swill of freedom. In her poem “Deliverance” about her daughter’s birth she writes “What is the word for when the light leaves the body?/What is the word for when it/at last, returns?”

Through poems that are as unforgettably beautiful as they are accessible, Kate proves herself to truly be an exemplary voice in modern poetry.

As easy to post on Instagram as they are to print out and frame, Kate’s words make women feel seen in their own bodies, in their own marriages, and in their own lives. Her poems are those you share with your mother, your daughter, your sister, and your friends.

Buy It Here:

       

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes (Paperback)

by Kathleen West

When a devoted teacher comes under pressure for her progressive curriculum and a helicopter mom goes viral on social media, two women at odds with each other find themselves in similar predicaments, having to battle back from certain social ruin.

Isobel Johnson has spent her career in Liston Heights sidestepping the community’s high-powered families. But when she receives a threatening voicemail accusing her of Anti-Americanism and a liberal agenda, she’s in the spotlight. Meanwhile, Julia Abbott, obsessed with the casting of the school’s winter musical, makes an error in judgment that has far-reaching consequences for her entire family.

Brought together by the sting of public humiliation, Isobel and Julia learn firsthand how entitlement and competition can go too far, thanks to a secret Facebook page created as an outlet for parent grievances. The Liston Heights High student body will need more than a strong sense of school spirit to move past these campus dramas in an engrossing debut novel that addresses parents behaving badly and teenagers speaking up, even against their own families.

Buy It Here:

       
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