Tag Archives: editors

Call and Response

Below are two haikus. The first one is written by Bob Deck, who posts at least one a day on his twitter account. His Twitter account name is bdeck. The second haiku is my response to his.

Email offer boasts
“Luxury Bronze Spray Sculpt Tan”
stupid as I look?

Your body now bronze
Success and neighbor envy.
Talk in muted tones.


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You have your book written — what now?

If anyone is interested in publishing a book — fiction or nonfiction — the Knoxville Writers’ Guild has a great workshop this Saturday.

Chris Hebert is an acquisitions editor at the University of Michigan Press. He’s the guy at the receiving end of author query letters and can provide invaluable advice on what works and what doesn’t. He also knows what it’s like from the author’s end: HarperCollins is publishing his first novel, The Boiling Season, next year. (His wife has also published a novel with Simon & Schuster).

This is a rare chance to talk at length with a publishing insider about selling a book.

The workshop will be held from 1 to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 4 at the Redeemer Church, 1642 Highland Ave., Knoxville, TN. Cost is $20 for members and $25 for nonmembers. To register, go to http://www.knoxvillewritersguild.org/orderpaypal.htm

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Guest Blogger Mark Twain on Words to be Wary of

Mark Twain photo

photo of Mark Twain

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” —Mark Twain

Unfortunately, there are fewer editors around these days, the victims of corporate downsizing many of them, so you will probably have to do this yourself, but it might just work. Every time you want to write “very,” write “damn” instead, then read the story out loud. Just don’t do it at an open mike night.

To learn more about Mark Twain: Mark Twain.


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So, you want to be a writer? Watch and learn

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A flightless mind in a myopic world


January 6, 2011

Light Out, Huck, They Still Want to Sivilize You


“All modern American literature,” Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “comes from one book by MarkTwain called ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ ”

Being an iconic classic, however, hasn’t protected “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from being banned, bowdlerized and bleeped. It hasn’t protected the novel from being cleaned up, updated and “improved.”

A new effort to sanitize “Huckleberry Finn” comes from Alan Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn University, at Montgomery, Ala., who has produced a new edition of Twain’s novel that replaces the word “nigger” with “slave.” Nigger, which appears in the book more than 200 times, was a common racial epithet in the antebellum South, used by Twain as part of his characters’ vernacular speech and as a reflection of mid-19th-century social attitudes along the Mississippi River.

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Pictures at an exhibition

Below are a few photos of agents and editors taken while at Killer Nashville this past August 20 – 22, 2010. Consider this visual reference for the names of people mentioned in some of my earlier posts on pitching your novel to editors or agents.

From left, agents Jill Marr, Cari Foulk, and Jeff Gerecke. Beth Terrell, author and Killer Nashville Executive Driector, leaning over behind them.

Jill Marr (seated left) and Cari Foulk listening to a question at Killer Nashville 2010.

Jill Marr (seated left) and Cari Foulk listening to a question at Killer Nashville 2010.

Agents Jill Marr (left) and Cari Foulk standing for a few moments after listening to pitches.

Agents Jill Marr (left) and Cari Foulk standing for a few moments after listening to pitches.

Agent Jill Marr walking out of the Pitch Room.

Agent Jill Marr walking out of the Pitch Room at Killer Nashville 2010.

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The pitches

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Below are two of my pitches. I used the The Painted Beast pitch on all the agents and editors I talked with at Killer Nashville. I was able to use The Small Resurrection pitch once or twice.

Two pieces of advice, one I have said before: Practice the pitch and make it as natural as you can. Two: Think of a pitch as a spoken version of the back-cover blurb you read on many paperback books.

The Painted Beast

Ex-cop Stephen York was once a hero. Decorated and lionized from uncovering corruption in the police department and bringing down a criminal enterprise, he now works two or three menial jobs in order to hold body and soul together, not only for himself but also his thirteen-year-old step-daughter and eight-year-old daughter. One night his ex-wife, who has escaped from prison, returns home and terrorizes him. He escapes from her and she from him, but shortly thereafter she kidnaps their daughters. In order to save them, Stephen has to kill her, which puts him under suspicion for murder and under the thumb of a police detective who has personal as well as professional reasons for wanting to grind Stephen down further. In addition, his step-daughter’s biological father steps forward to kidnap her with the intention of leading her into a life of child pornography and prostitution in order to get money to help re-establish the criminal empire that Stephen had helped take down. This time, in order to save his step-daughter, Stephen, who has not been a particularly good father, has to offer his life in order to save his step-daughter’s. In so doing, he learns another definition of hero. At its core this novel’s theme asks and answers the question: Can a fallen hero be a hero again?

Limerick version:
There once was an ex-cop who did poorly
At being a father and what’s more he
Killed his ex-wife,
Then offered up his life
To save his daughter from a life in pornography.


A Small Resurrection

Is believing in what you see the same thing as seeing what you believe in?

Knoxville, Tennessee, is the last place T. Xavier Gabriel wants to be. But the director of the 8th highest grossing film in Hollywood has come to town to ask his ex-wife for forbearance in paying the large alimony and possibly also for a loan to help restart his fallen career. She, however, has other plans. She wants him to

Pitching your novel

Use conversational voice when talking about your novel

rescue their 22-year-old daughter from the undue influences of a 24-year-old evangelical preacher. Gabriel wants nothing to do with that, having already admitted to be a failure once as a father, he doesn’t want a second bite of the apple. But when he finds his daughter keeping company with a resurrected Rod Serling, he sees a chance to use this Serling look-alike to resurrect his own career. But getting Serling away from his daughter puts her in jeopardy, and Gabriel must decide if he is going to save her or save his career. To save her, he must enlist the aid of Serling, who is not quite sure who he is or why he has been resurrected, and in saving her he puts an end ever resurrecting his career.

Limerick version:
There once was a director named Gabriel
Whose life was a broken down fable
Then along came Rod Serling
And an offer so sterling
That it could save Gabe if he was able.

Two final notes:
1) The limerick versions were not something I pitched, though I thought about it. It was my way of have a pitch that could be done in 15 seconds or less.

2) Some pitch advice says you need to have antecedents as part of your pitch. Antecedents are novels that are like yours. Something similar to your novel. This is supposed to show that you know about your novel’s market and where it might fit. While I had that prepared for The Painted Beast, it did not seem to be something those I pitched to at Killer Nashville were interested in. That could have been a mistake on my part. But I had the feeling that these agents wanted to be the ones to decide where it belongs.

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Pitch aside: dealing with contradictory information

This information comes from agent Nathan Bransford, and while he is aiming the information at query letters, I think the same advice can apply for pitches, with a little modification:

1. Take a Deep Breath: As long as you’re getting the big stuff right, you’re going to be fine. You don’t need to have every single little teeny tiny thing perfect. You can get my name or gender wrong and I still might request your pages (just did this last week in fact). I’m not going to reject you because you sent me the first five pages of Chapter 1 instead of your Prologue if I like the idea and your writing. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Because really: if an agent is going to reject your query over some small niggling detail, are they someone you’d want to work with anyway?

2. Remember That Agent Blogs Are Just Trying to Help: I know how tempting it is to throw up your hands and just think that literary agents are so many Goldilocks with completely different ideas of how hot the porridge should be. Please just remember that we offer so much advice because people ask. We get e-mails and comments all the time asking about everything from paper size to fonts to anglicized spelling to serial commas. So we try to help, and we’re not always going to agree on everything. Personally, when I’m wearing my author hat I’d rather have too much information than too little, so I tend to err on the side of dispensing too much agent advice. It’s up to you to decide which advice you agree with and which you don’t. Just remember that we’re trying to help, not trying to make your life miserable.

3. Not All Publishing Advice is Created Equal: I went back and looked at some of my early blog posts, and holy cow after just four years they’re already wildly out of date. Consider the source, consider the freshness of the advice, and beware of anyone who tries to tell you that there’s one way and only one way to find successful publication. Occasionally an author out there somewhere will have a sense that the way they found success is The Way That Should Work For Everyone, whereas people who have worked across the publishing spectrum have seen the proverbial cat skinned in an impossibly vast number of ways.

4. Try As Best You Can to Meet an Agent’s Specifications, But Don’t Go Crazy Trying to Do It: If you happen to remember that Rachelle wants you to query with your pen name and I want to hear from the real you: great! Query accordingly. But don’t go creating a massive spreadsheet with every agent’s particular individual preferences. No agent expects you to do that.

5. If You Think the Contradictory Query Advice is Mind Boggling, Just Wait Until You Reach the Publication Stage: In case you haven’t noticed, this business is an art, not so much a science. There’s no one way to do things, and you’re going to face conflicting advice and opinions about your manuscript, cover art, marketing plan, you name it. There are even more opinions out there than people (sometimes people can’t even decide what they think and have multiple opinions). At the end of the day, all you can do is just take all the advice into account, and choose the route that works best for you.

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What makes a good pitch? The thou shalt nots

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In the last installment of our trip through pitch land, I listed a few things to consider that make for a good pitch. Here I will list a few things not to do.

1) Thou shalt not consider me an expert. I believe it was the author W. Somerset Maugham who said, “There are three rules for writing a good novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.” While I took most of my ideas for a good pitch from Michael Hauge’s book, even he admits there are other ways of constructing a pitch. You can certainly find suggestions by simply searching on the Internet, and some of them are very good. But all of them, in the end, revolve around the principle of “Be brief, be sincere, and be seated.” Or get out of your seat to make way for the next person who is going to pitch.

I know, I know. It is a pain, a real pain to take this 70,000-, 80,000-, 90,000-, or 100,000-word-or-more creation and squeeze the essence out of it. After all, if you could have said it less than 500 words, you would have. Right?

I empathize. I do. After all, I have a novel or two or three, and I went kicking and screaming into this idea of pitching. That’s part of the reason I say don’t consider me an expert. I’m not. And certainly, if you have a better way of doing it, stick with it. Maybe even let me know. In the meantime, I have to go kicking and screaming into this reality, much as I would rather spend time creating another one filled with people much more interesting than I am.

I will say in defense of pitches, I did get to meet some interesting agents, such as Cari Foulk, Jill Marr, and Amy Burckhart. And meeting them was a way to begin to get to know somebody who might wind up being my agent. After all (and this is a side note), I heard several times that having the wrong agent is worse than having no agent at all, and who might be the right agent for you might not be the right agent for me. But that is another subject.

2) Thou shalt not mention more than one character name in your pitch.


Tablet with writings

And that should probably be your protagonist. You might be able to work in two names. But absolutely no more than that.

I know, I know, you probably agonized and researched, tried and retried names for your characters until you found the ones that were the best and no others would do. I am not disputing that the naming of characters is not important, and again, another subject for another time. But remember, you only have 5 minutes, and you are not the only person the agent or editor is going to be listening to. The agent or editor is not likely to remember more than one name anyway, and in all honesty, you probably want her or him to remember yours.

If the editor or agent wants to see some or all of your novel, that’s when he or she will get a chance to remember the character’s names, and that is when your skill in naming them can shine. In short, it’s okay to say “Jim Summer’s enemy…” or even say “his antagonist….”

3) Thou shalt not recount every plot and sub-plot, nor every plot point in your pitch. You may be the next Jeffrey Deaver, with the ability to handle a major plot and several strong sub-plots, and have them all have reversals or other surprise twists. But like having too many names, having too many plots and sub-plots in your pitch will only lead you into a thicket of inability. Stick to one plot, the main one, and stick to the two or three main features of that plot. If the agent or editor wants to know more, she or he will ask, and by her or his asking, you know they are at least mildly interested. Maybe more than mildly.

4) Thou shalt not say you are the next Jeffery Deaver or that your book is better than Jeffery Deaver’s latest. Even if either one or both of those statements is true, you gain nothing by it. Belittling somebody else to make yourself look more important was childish when you did it at ten and it hasn’t gotten any better since then. I will admit, I have read several accounts of accomplished writers who started writing after they read something so bad they threw the magazines or books across the rooms and proclaimed they could do better. Then they proceeded to do so, though most will admit they weren’t immediately or instantly better. It’s okay if something like that was your catalyst toward becoming a writer. But if you are truly better than X author, let your editor or agent find that out on his or her own. After all, there is no greater professional joy for an editor or agent than finding somebody he or she believes is the next Jeffery Deaver (or pick an author).

5) Thou shalt not say your novel is a sure best seller. It may be. I certainly hope so, but there are too many variables that go into making a best seller.

Being confident your novel and in yourself are good things. Often, late at night or early in morning, when you are struggling with the blank page, than confidence In your book or yourself may be the thing that pushes you through the retaining wall of doubt into a world that only you can imagine. But good writing is collaboration between you, the author, and the reader, where what you do ignites a passion in those who read your words and want to share in your world, and that includes agents and editors. Leave them a little room to discover your magnificence.

Next up: my pitches.

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Pitch aside: some resources

Research and reference books

Some pitch reference sites to consider

Below are a few links with information on pitches. Not all the information here is going to agree with all the other information. And some of these links focus on “one line pitches,” or distilling your novel into one sentence. Sometimes a one-sentence pitch might also be called a log line.

This blog entry from agent Nathan Bransford is one of many of Nathan Bransford’s blog entries. He is interesting and you can certainly sign up to receive his blog entries yourself: One sentence pitch.

Another blog entry about pitching, this time called the One-Sentence Hook.

Some information from another agent, Rachelle Gardner. This blog entry focuses on longer pitches. Notices that she says she wants a little information about the author up front, which is something that Michael Hauge says should be at the last, if at all. He even says it is not necessary to start with the title.

Here is additional information on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. Note the information about such things as practicing and attire.

I’m sure there are other blog entries and web sites with information as well as books and articles in magazines. After all, writers write, and sometimes writers write about writing.

Pen up.

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