Wednesday, August 31, 2011

When It's All Your MC's Fault

So two out of three requests for my full ms have resulted in rejection.  And thankfully, for once- both agents sighted a very distinct reason for their pass.

My Main Character, Sadie Brooks.
So I decided she and I had to sit down and have a little talk.

Me:  What. did. you. do?

Sadie: *stares, eyes wide*  You seriously think this all my fault? You wrote me the way I am, for crying out loud!

Me:  Did not!  I was going for a pretty, out-going, pragmatic girl with a firm grasp on the reality around her, and a self-deprecating sense of humor that made her come off borderline goofy at times.  What happened?  This agent thinks you’re too blatantly self-serving and unlikeable! 

Sadie:  Tell them to screw off.

Me:  *Slams down rejection letter*  You see!?  This is what I’m talking about!  You’re going to have to suffer a major personality over-haul.  And this agent  *holds up second letter*  says you aren’t unique enough for her taste.

Sadie: Hmn…maybe you should make my hair purple?  Or I could be bald! *smiles wide and bats her eyelashes*

Me:  I’m not going to make your hair purple.  Or bald.  I don’t think that’s what they mean. 

Sadie:  You could make me clumsy.  I could keep walking into things or get paper cuts that attract vampires.

Me: Would you just shut up!?  Maybe I should make you mute.  That would be unique.

Sadie:   You could.  But your plot would go to hell…Hey! You could give me a wooden leg!?  I could even name it! 

Me:  Very funny.  Then I’d have to explain why a teenager would be given a wooden leg instead of prosthetic one.  Makes no sense.

Sadie:  *sighs*  I’m bored.  And hungry.  You got any hotdogs?

Me:  No.  And you don’t like hotdogs any more.  You’re going to have to like something weird and eat a lot of it.  It will make you more unique…and you’re going to have to start being nicer to your peers.

Sadie:  Hey, I’m nice!

Me:  Stop calling them names.

Sadie:  I don’t!

Me:  What about Paul Boyardee?

Sadie: He’s named after a spaghetti sauce, for crying out loud!

Me:  *burries head in hands*  We’ve got work to do.  Prepare to be de-bitchified and unique-afied.

Sadie:  Those aren’t even words.  What the hell kind of writer are you?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Does Premise Matter More Than the Execution?

It takes a lot for me to put a book down and not pick it up again.  In fact, I think I can only count one other instance in my life where I simply couldn’t finish a book- It was Robinson Crusoe.  I was in high school and on a classic lit kick.  Robby was the only one I couldn’t get through. I didn’t care enough about the main character (sorry Robby) and preferred staring at a blank wall rather than snoozing through the plot. 

However, I just finished a series of books that were highly recommended by amazon, and goodreads, and even much of the blogging community.  Actually, I can’t say I ‘read’ them because the truth is- I put the first book in the series down after getting about half way through and didn’t pick it up again until a year later when the sequel came out and I finally decided to give it another chance.

But again, I ended up skimming most pages- looking for the actual action.  Don’t get me wrong- the writing itself was impeccable.  The author has a fantastic grasp on nuance and style but this was overshadowed by the long winded description, flat characters, incessant head-hopping, unnecessary flashbacks/backstory, monotone plot, slow pacing and pages and pages spent in the character’s stream of consciousness that pressed my snooze button one too many times.  I skimmed the second book in the series just to find out what happens.  When it came to the third, I decided to just look up the plot summary to find out in a few pages what it took the author 500 pages of the above to get across and was disappointed to find out the plot was left unresolved and filled with holes.

As a writer trying to break into the world of publishing, I can’t help but sit back and scratch my head, thinking ‘Why is it okay for this author to break so many rules?  Why did their agent and editor (which are both reputable) overlook so many of the book’s downfalls before pushing it out into the world?’

And then it occurred to me.  The premise.

The premise was unique in its own way and held a lot of ‘hot’ elements- supernatural beings, an intense romance, lots of teen angst and tortured souls.

And I realized something.  You could be J.K. Rowling or Stephen King but if your book is about a dungbeetle’s quest to find the biggest, smelliest crap pile in the world- you aren’t going to make it past the querying stage.

On the flip side- you could have a ten year old, with a ten year old’s grasp on grammar and vocabulary- write a book about the same dungbeetle but this time it’s about his quest to fight for the lives of his 300 little brothers and sisters after their parents were tragically murdered beneath the heel of an evil Converse Allstar-- and probably make it farther in the publishing process than a polished writer.

The lesson I learned from these books?

I think sometimes (I highlight ‘sometimes’ because thankfully this isn’t the norm.) what overrides whether or not a book is published in its best form is the premise- a certain mixing and matching of things that ‘work’ and things that ‘sell’. 

Sometimes the premise or even the genre itself is more important than the execution of the plot.  And it will pass with agents, and editors, and even the consumers who feel like reading ‘that kind of story’ and don’t care much about how it’s told. 

But the word ‘generic’ has a negative connotation for a reason.  It’s things being sold for genre alone with little attention to detail. And you absolutely know it when you see it.

Have you ever read a published book that left a bitter taste in your mouth?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Spoon Full of Sugar

So, after Monday’s post I can honestly say I will never ever read material that is already out with an agent.
Before I send it?- Yes!

After I receive a rejection?- Absofrickin’lutely!

But never ever while it’s already out there and there’s nothing I can do to change it.  There’s no reason to put myself through the torture.  Thank you all for your kind comments and advice!  Glad to know I’m not the only one.

Still no word from the agents but I have been in this situation before, of course, with another book.  And at the time, the agents both sent very kind letters. 

Pass letters.

They say a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.  But Pass Letters are kind of like poison.  No amount of sweetness can counteract the fact that they kill your soul a little.  I’m really not looking forward to going through that again.  Which is why I was completely inspired by Rachelle Gardner’s post this morning about Pass Letters.  She features a whole bunch of quotes from pass letters sent out by agents and editors for books that eventually went on to sell with publishers!

This couldn’t have come at a better time for me so THANK YOU GoodAgent Rachelle! 

Do YOU recognize any of those pass reasons?  I know I’ve seen at least one or two in my past pass letters.  Still stings:)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Katie. You suck.

So, my newest project is getting more full requests than I originally anticipated which is great- nothing helps you get over a near miss better than a new request to see more.

But then I did what you really shouldn’t do when your manuscript is out with agents  (or maybe you should.  I dunno).

I reread my MS.

And about three quarters of the way through my stomach began to sink.  Why do I still have so many dialogue tags?  Why do I have to describe everything the characters do when they speak?  Why do I always try and smush two sentences into one?

 I went completely comma-kaze on my MS’s ass too.  Comma’s splattered everywhere. 

Who writes like that?  Why can’t I be normal! I caught two more grammatical errors that made me cringe.  Not to mention how many glances and looks are thrown, cast or given or how often people ‘gaze’ intently, roll their eyes, shrug their shoulders, and run hands through their hair.  It’s like every character in my novel has severe T syndrome.  They just can’t seem to speak to each other without rubbing their hands all over themselves and ‘eyeing’  everyone and everything in some bizarre way.

Dear GOD!  What have I done?

Why do I even bother to hope?  I’m not worthy!   


You suck.

You are delusional my poor girl if you ever thought this was good writing....Someone should take away your keyboard and bar you from pens and pencils to be sure you can never write another crappy sentences structure or overused adverb ever again....You should be sent to writer’s purgatory to burn in the fires of bad-writing hell....

You get the idea.

Has this ever happened to you?  Gah! How could I have missed all the pet-peevy crap BEFORE sending it out to agents?

Hope ya’ll had a good weekend!


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Never Give Up, Never Surrender!

Writeoncon is just about the only writing conference an expat mother of three like myself can attend without major funds and planning.  So OF COURSE I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth.

And it is worth so much. 

Since Monday, I’ve gotten fantastic feedback on my query letter and first pages of KISSING FOR COFFEE.  I’ve also been able to stretch my critiquing muscles and read some really awesome material in so many different genres. 

When twitter tips us off that a Ninja Agent is making an appearance in the forums, it’s a mad rush to recheck your material and keep your eyes peeled.   The vlogs are chuck-full of information and personality- really bringing to whole process down to a human level.

But it’s the vlog by Beth Revis that has touched me the most so far.  Beth’s vlog was on failure.  She showed all the manuscripts she’d written that weren’t ‘the one’.  She shared how every time, she treated each as though it was- revised, edited, worked HARD on every single one and how discouraging and disappointing it was to look at all that hard work and think ‘FAIL’.

She showed us that behind one book that makes it, there are several drafts.  Hours of work.  And three feet of unpublished material that helped her obtain the right level of craft she needed to get there.

In the end, her vlog wasn’t really about failure at all.  It was about never giving up and always moving forward, as difficult as it often is.

Her message couldn’t have come at a better time for me and I could totally relate to everything she said.  Every writer who’s been out there in the query trenches for awhile should definitely see this.

Thanks so much Beth and WriteOnCon!

Monday, August 15, 2011

That Doesn't Make Sense...

Sometimes I’ll be reading a book and start mentally screaming at the main character for overlooking a key piece of information. 

Or for not knowing something that, according to all logical trains of thought, they should know.

Or for reacting in a way that is totally irrational to me.

I’ll scream at the villain when their presence or how they know things is explained…nowhere.

When their reasoning for bringing down the MC is hazy at best. 

I’ll get mad at the setting when things just kind of appear.  Or two seconds ago they were in a cave but now it’s a shack.  Or when I thought it was morning but they start talking about the moonlight.

With all the filters put up by agents and editors and publishing professionals- I can’t help but ask myself ‘How the hell can they let this slip by?  How can the readers who gave this book five starts let this slip by?’

And I think I’ve got the answer. 

Movies and television have trained us to think that lapses in logic and rational are just par for the course in a good story line.

Take Disney shows, for example.  Nobody figures out Miley is Hannah Montana?  Really?  And don’t get me started on the Waverly Place Wizards.  My kids are big fans.  I watched one episode where the brother turns into a werewolf because ‘when you kiss a werewolf, you turn into one’ and then in the next season Alex has herself a werewolf boyfriend who she kisses on a regular basis without turning into one.  And that’s just one inconsistency.  Don’t get me wrong-the witty banter often makes me snort but I honestly feel a little dumber after watching Disney.

Lets face it- things happen in movies because, well, if they didn’t then there wouldn’t be a plot line.  And taking the time to find more logical explanations doesn’t seem to be a top priority. Like in Titanic- I always wondered why Rose doesn’t just move her ass over so Jack can get on the raft?  Why hold his hand and sing, all relaxed like, while he slowly freezes into a blue popsicle?  I thought she loved him, dammit!

I stopped watching ‘Pretty Little Liars’ because the way they are constantly jumping to the wrong conclusion and the evil ‘A’ seems to be everywhere at once with no logical explanation drives me nuts.  Even when we find out who ‘A’ is- they’ll never be able to explain how she managed to see and hear everything she did, unless she happens to be in the CIA.  Give me a break.

Why do soap operas contain mutant children who age three times faster than normal human beings?  Like Stephanie Mayer’s Renesme – soap kids seem to reach breeding age in about six years of life.  Yuck!

Why do all historical movies have people speaking in English accents?  No matter where the movie takes place?  Roman Empire soldiers, Desert peasants in Arabia, Egyptian kings, Greek warriors?  All of them sounding like they’re straight off the cast of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Come on.

Can you think of any movies/books/tv shows that exhibit flagrant lapses in logic?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Price of Entertainment...

As self-publishing in ebook format becomes more and more popular, publishing professionals are beginning to wonder about their status in the ever changing market place.
Before the ebook craze, there was a rather tight filter in place that distinguished what got published and what didn’t:

 Author writes book.  Agent likes book.  Editor likes book.  Publisher publishes book.

But with the ebook craze, this filter has been replaced with another: 

Author publishes book.  Author promotes book.  People read book and decide if they like it and want to promote it.  Author makes a profit.

Now, instead of a privileged few deciding if a book is worth reproducing in mass, an entire population of readers are the ones who make the call and decide who rises and who sinks. Like in the older publishing system- few authors actually make it past a few hundred books sold.  But the filter and the financial investment required to make a best seller has completely changed.

When I woke up this morning I was led to two different posts talking about the current revolution.  One is An Open Letter to Agents by Courtney Milan.  The other is Rachel Gardner’s ‘How Do You Become A Literary Agent’.  Both explore the current changes and how they are affecting an agent’s roll. 

And after reading and thinking it all over, I must admit I’m feeling…tired.

I’m glad that the world is changing- that authors who might have never had a chance in the old system are perhaps thriving in the new.  But I’m also sad for everyone in the publishing industry whom this might negatively effect. 

I’m also a little conflicted.  Stories are a form of entertainment used since the beginning of time.  Like music and theater-  they are all just ways of taking a break from our mundane lives and experiencing something off the grid.  And in a society where work has been simplified and regulated and free time is much more abundant than it was a hundred years ago- keeping ourselves entertained has gone up in worth and esteem. Why else would we pay so much to see a movie? Buy a video game? Go to a concert? Or a sporting match?

Are we perhaps paying too much and giving too much importance to things which are, in general, created to pass the time?  Couldn’t this money be going towards a more worthy cause like saving lives or creating a better world?

Yeah probably. 

However, even if imagination and talent might be free, I think the work put into creating should be compensated.  A fair compensation isn’t an easy thing to agree on.  What it really depends on is what people are willing to pay.  But this whole revolution brought on by the internet and the ease with which it is now possible obtain free music/movies/books has made everyone take a step back and rethink the price of modern day entertainment.

What do you think is fair compensation for someone who creates or helps create entertainment for the masses, whether it be an athlete- an author- an actor and all the little guys in between?  

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Dealers Who Got Me Hooked (On YA)

I think there’s a reason why writers usually stick to a specific genre.  At some point in every writer’s past there was ‘The Book’.

The one that got them hooked-  not just on reading…but on letting their imaginations wander even after the book was closed and storyline played out- the one that had them creating their own worlds and scenarios and characters before they’d ever picked up a pen and paper or opened a writing doc.  And in many cases, there wasn’t just ‘The Book’, but ‘The Author’ as well.

For me, this was L.J. Smith, Christopher Pike, and R.L. Stine.

I read ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and ‘The Secret Circle’ in the mid nineties and they got me hooked on everything teen paranormal and supernatural. Some of you might remember the old-school cover art.  In truth I almost prefer them to the newer versions!

 Christopher Pike’s series were more magical realism and a bit mature for my age but I devoured them too. 

And R.L. Stine’s cheerleader series scared the crap out of me.  I’ll never forget the cheerleader who was hot-watered to death in the girls’ locker room.

After those, YA was my preferred genre.  I might have gone on a classic lit kick in college.  And I still have a soft spot for romance and chick-lit.  But I always come back to YA.  And when I write, YA is the place I like to be.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I heard the CW would be picking up L.J. Smith’s ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and I’m even more excited to see what they do with ‘The Secret Circle’.  I read both of these series over and over growing up and fell in love with the characters every time.

What book or author got you hooked on your preferred writing genre?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Take Me Away From This Place...

***I've updated Wednesday's post just to let you guys know I'm going to be taking Fridays off from blogging from now until September.  There doesn't seem to be much activity right before the weekend and the kids are making it hard for me to post and comment on my usual schedule so voila!  I hope you all have a great weekend!***
I’ve been reading a few books lately where the plot and characters aren’t the only things drawing me back for more.  In fact, one of the biggest appeals of all is the setting.

Done right, the setting can pluck you from your comfy couch and drop you smack dab in the middle of another place.  Sometimes it’s a place you’ve never seen and have to discover right along with the characters;  a place that grows just as familiar and comfortable over time- like Hogwarts castle in Harry Potter.

Then there are settings that are already familiar and comfortable- like the little town of Bontemps in Charlaine Harris novels.  It’s easy to imagine the small town bar, or having to drive into a different parish to get to a WalMart, or the roadways lined with fields and forest.  Because many of us have grown up in or around a town like it.

Kristan Higgans novels take place in New England- which is a real treat for me because that’s where I grew up.  I sink into the setting right away, thankful for the descriptions of fall foliage, small town restaurants, and coastal villages.

If you’ve ever read ‘Anna and the French Kiss’, then you’ve spent a semester abroad in Paris.  Stephanie Perkins setting descriptions were that good.  And I should know- because I actually did study two semesters in Paris and she made me feel like I was right back there.

Done right,  setting can have just  as much draw for the reader as the characters and their plight- pulling you further into the story than you ever thought possible.

What are some of your favorite ‘setting’ stories; Books that made you feel like you were really in the place described?  

Monday, August 1, 2011

It's the GREAT AGENT Charlie Brown!!!

Beta feedback is slowly seeping in and I’m revising my MS accordingly.  My query letter is set and ready to go.  I assume in another week or two, I should be almost ready to query.

So why am I not excited?

In the past, I couldn’t wait to get to the part of the process where I could finally start querying.  I’d be all pumped about my book and in a rush to get it out there.

But this time I feel kind of like Linus in It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.  I’ll mail my letter to The Great Agent, like I do every year and sit out in the middle of a field, waiting for him to pick my pumpkin patch as being the most sincere.  Family and friends don't understand why I haven't given up already.  If it hasn't happened yet, it's not going to. I’ve done all this before.  And every year my pumpkin patch gets passed over.  But I can't get over the hope that The Great Agent really does exist.

Unlike Linus, I guess you could say I’m having trouble getting excited about the experience this time around.  And yet, no matter how much I’m not looking forward to the night spent out in the cold, just waiting and hoping-  I know I’ll write that letter and sit out anyway.  Because you just never know…this year could be the year!


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