Posts Tagged ‘publishing’

I just made some changes, albeit, minor ones, to the opening paragraph of my manuscript, which got me thinking.  When do you ever stop?  Once it’s published? 


I know I’ve been zipping along, reading a new novel, and hit a clunker of a sentence, and wondered if the author, after the type was set and the presses rolling, ever found it and thought “oh no.”  I can almost envision myself, if I am so lucky as to get my book in print, sneaking into bookstores to remove the offending sentence by hand.  Much better to obsessively go through the story again and again, waiting for the words to grind to a halt.


I think it’s better now, but if I change my mind after several cups of coffee and finally firing synapses, I’ll thank the mighty Microsoft for “track changes.”  Which, if you haven’t tried it, is the best thing ever.  You can actually read your notes (particularly relevant if you, like I, have the handwriting of a chicken with beak-rot.  I assume chickens write with their beaks).


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So over the weekend, I pondered the advice given to me by Darcy in the comment under “Literary Broccoli.”  I began with the very first question: “What is your genre?”  This question cut straight to the very heart of my problem.


I’ve kind of been in denial that perhaps, my story could be described as a (gasp) genre novel.  You know.  Genre.  That scary thing that all those agents say not to bother pitching.  But it’s not really about that element, I tell myself, utterly unconvincingly.  My book is about the characters, not the one little device that just happens to set the story in motion.


My brother was relentless after reading the manuscript a while ago. 


“It’s science fiction,” he told me.  My brother should know, he’s read nearly every science fiction author out there (that is not hyperbole.  He can finish a book in under two hours.  He’d definitely win the competitive reading contest at Coney Island, if only they had one).


“It’s not science fiction,” I said, “because it’s not about that element.  It’s about the characters.”


“It’s science fiction,” he repeated, just to annoy me, because that is what brothers do.


And then there was my father.  “Science fiction,” he pronounced for the millionth time we discussed it.


“But it isn’t really.” 


My father, who does not like to annoy me, kept silent.   And then there was my mother.


“It’s science fiction,” she said. 


“Not really,” I said, “not totally.”


With that one simple question posed in a string of useful tips, I returned to my well of denial and grabbed the rope.  What on earth was I fighting?  Many of my favorite writers are classified as science fiction, or were, until they were bumped over to literature.  Kurt Vonnegut, for example.  In fact, I met him once (I know, it was like the most exciting moment of my life, I could barely speak, and suddenly those pictures of girls screaming over the Beatles made sense), and in my one allotted question (I cheated, I asked two, and they practically had to drag me away so the line could move, it might have been a little embarrassing) I asked him if he considered himself to be a science fiction writer.  In that sardonic way, with that little smile, he looked me dead in the eye and said, “I write about science because that’s what I know, so they call that science fiction,” or thereabouts.  What a delightfully perfect answer.


But it’s not only Vonnegut.  Margaret Atwood, Jasper Fforde, Douglas Adams, Audrey Niffenegger.  What on earth was my problem?  The catalyst for my protagonist’s growth was unquestionably borne of science fiction.  So what?


I called my brother early on Saturday morning, hoping to wake him, but with no such luck.


“Hey,” he said.


“Ok,” I said, “It’s science fiction.”


“Told you,” he said, and then took the moment to laugh with a gloat perfected over a lifetime. 

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Ok, so I haven’t touched my query yet.  Well, that’s not entirely true, I attempted a new first paragraph.  It’s awful.


Instead I tried to find an agent interested in lighthearted books, because my work of genius is lighthearted.  It looks like they are all interested in literary broccoli.  It’s good for you, but who enjoys it?  Yes, that’s a bad example, I happen to love broccoli, but you know what I mean, and my mother loathes it, so she especially knows what I mean.


No one dies on the first page of my manuscript.  No one is mangled, emotionally or physically.  It’s just a light escape, something fun to take a person away from his/her job, life, problems for a little bit.  Who wouldn’t want that?


Literary agents, apparently.  Though I am certain that you are out there somewhere, O Agent my Agent, a person who likes to get away, if only through the pages of someone else’s adventure.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009.


“I don’t think they read your query,” my Dad says for the hundredth time in an attempt to make feel not-loserish.


“But they all say they read every query,” I say.  “It just didn’t grab them.”


Thursday, February 26, 2009.


“I don’t think they read your query,” says my friend, whom I will call Miranda, as that is not her name.


“But they all say they read every query,” I say with slightly less conviction. 


Is it possible that all of those interviews, blogs and posts are actually artful sculpting of the truth?  Could it be that they did not, in fact, read my query?  It’s impossible to know with the standard rejection.  Time to revisit that query.

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It goes without saying that my manuscript is brilliant.  Fresh, fun, funny.  Brilliant.  Like I said, it goes without saying.  So after rave reviews from all I press-ganged into reading it, I set about researching agents and writing my query.  And writing.  And writing.  I honed it until it was sleek as a seal, certain it would glitter alluringly among the far-less fresh, fun and funny masses.  I formatted my manuscript to have it at the ready when the calls came pouring in.  I scoured every online reference to the selected, preliminary agents, reading the “don’ts” as though they lead to the key to the divine hereafter.  For all I know they will.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009.


With a pounding heart, I paste my three carefully crafted and personalized queries into three separate e-mails (NEVER send a mass-distributed e-mail), taking care to include a specific reason I chose that agent (ALWAYS tell them why you are querying them).  I use the title Mr./Ms. AgentLastName (NEVER address the agent by their first name, or much worse, Dear Agent), and first send them to myself to make sure that they don’t look strange.  Finally, I let them go into the cyberverse and nearly suffer cardiac arrest every time the phone rings the rest of the day.  Which it does.  A lot.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009.


I have a continuation of the conversation I had with my father the night before.  “You don’t want quick replies,” he says, “quick replies are bad.”


“You’re probably right,” I say, as he’s almost nearly always right.


Wednesday, February 25, 9:39 a.m.


There it is, in my mailbox.  RE: Query.  I don’t even take the time to take a breath, I just open it.  It’s two lines, which can’t be good.


“Dear MyFirstName,” it says.  “I’m Agent1’s assistant,” and the gist is an exceedingly polite but firm no thanks.  The use of my first name is a bit bold, I think, considering I have never met either Agent1 or Agent1’s Assistant and I used the formal to address Agent1, but I cut the assistant some slack, perhaps s/he couldn’t judge my gender from my name.  At least that part was personalized, even if the form rejection was likely pasted in.


Obviously there is something wrong with Agent1.  Anyone with sense would want to read the manuscript after that seal-y sleek query.


Wednesday, February 25, 2:40 p.m.


I get my second RE: Query e-mail.  Uh-oh.  My Dad was so right.


“Dear Author,” it begins, and I long for the days (or hours, really) when I was “Dear MyFirstName.”  Another polite, if even less personal, no.


Obviously, there is something wrong with my query.  Sorry query.  Tomorrow I will dismantle you and see if there are any salvageable parts.

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