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Friday, October 18, 2013

Seriously -- Get to the point already!

First of all -- I somehow completely missed Thursday. I think I'm stuck in some sort of temporal anomaly. This week seems to have been three weeks long, and none of them contained a Thursday.

"We seem to be experiencing a temporal anomaly, Captain."

Enough apologizing, though. For this ThurFriday, I'm giving you some damned good advice. Advice I totally thought up on my own and completely applies to my manuscript.

Or, at least, it will be after I reorganize the first 70 pages of my novel. Okay, I'll own up to it: sometimes, the advice I pass onto you is just advice that's given to me. Is that stealing?

Hey, don't worry about it. "Good artists borrow, great artists steal," says the Internet's version of Picasso. Internet wisdom has never led me wrong before, let's go with it.

Now, the advice in question. Let's talk about querying. The process will look different for different agents, so keep your eyes open when you're on their page. Don't send things they don't ask for -- it doesn't say "I take initiative" it says "I don't know how to read". Which is not a quality that is usually sought after in a writer. A typical query process, though, requests that you send three things in your query: the query letter, the summary, and the first three chapters of your manuscript.

The summary, it has been established, SUCKS. The query letter -- we'll get to later. I'm just not in a place to be able to talk about this yet, although I am full of good advice that I totally didn't steal. The first three chapters is what we're talking about today.

Let's imagine you're a literary agent. Or on the off-chance that you are a literary agent, ignore everything I've written previously about plot holes and my novel lacking an ending because, hahaha, wasn't that a funny joke and you should email me, okay?

Back to imagining. You're a literary agent. You're 5 cups of coffee into a work day that seems about 16 hours long even though it's only 1pm. Your inbox is filled with desperate authors and their plea for you to represent their manuscript. 50% of these manuscripts are pieces of fiction that are actually just auto-biographies of the author as a teen. 35% are a Katniss Potter and the Twilight Games rip off. 10% addressed their email to somebody named "Whom It May Concern", which is a horrible name. 3% think they're the next Faulkner. 1% forgot the attachment.

You're cranky, but left with some viable options where you got through the query letter and are ready to check out the chapter. 40 pages in, and nothing has happened. Sorry, buddy. Not today.

Is it taking me a while to get to the point? Good. Now you know how they feel. There are exceptions (of course, whenever are there not exceptions?) but a good guideline to follow is that, in the first 20-30 pages of your novel, something exciting and important needs to happen.

I have distinct memories in high school of picking up the first book of the Wheel of Time series. I got 50+ pages into that sucker before I chucked it at my then boyfriend's head. NOTHING HAD HAPPENED. "You stopped right before it got to the really good part!" he proclaimed.

I don't care. I'm a generous soul. I give an author 50 pages to intrigue me. And then -- I'm out. Look, I love to stop and smell the roses, and yes, those trees you're describing in what seems to be a never-ending list of metaphors are probably very pretty. But if you can't make something happen and  catch my attention in 50 pages, then I can only assume than your novel will be filled with 50 page passages that I just can't give any craps about. And that's not fun for me the reader.

If it's not fun for the reader, then guess what? It's not fun for the literary agent, either! After, they are reading your stuff. They're not that different from your end audience, you need to engage them.

How am I doing with this?

Currently, the first action-y, interesting bit of my novel clocks in at page 44. Mwomp mwomp. I'm now finagling, trying to move it up and make everything work, but trust me -- I totally get how hard that is. Especially when you're fighting your own authoristic narcissism. My words are really pretty, you know? All this cutting and pasting and stitching it all together -- what if it turns my novel into some horrid YA dystopic fantasy version of Frankenstein's monster?

Was Frankenstein's monster actually the result of over-editing? I think we all know the answer to that.
Well, thankfully, I'm a lucky one. I've got an editing buddy who not only allows me to steal borrow her advice, but is also willing to read my edits. It's tit for tat, of course. But I highly, HIGHLY recommend finding a buddy or two (or more) who'll do this for you. That way you know if it's all coming together for the better, or if you really do have a monster on your hands.

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