Sunday, August 17, 2008

Literary Agents

It's no wonder that we often feel like our manuscript has a black cloud hanging over it. If you spend a day reading agent blogs and websites, I guarantee you'll end up more confused than when you started.

A good friend of mine, Anita Davison, recently had a few quotes taken from a literary blog. This month's Writer's Digest provided a list of "What Agents Hate." For the sake of brevity and maintaining your sanity, I'm going to quote only a handful:

On Prologues...
"Most agents hate prologues. Just make the first chapter relevant and well written." Andrea Brown (Andrea Brown Literary Agency)

"Prologues are usually a lazy way to give backstory chunks to the reader and can be handled with more finesse throughout the story. Damn the prologue, full speed ahead!" Laurie McClean (Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents)

Ginger's Comment: Okay...I guess that blows the theory that prologues help set up the story for the reader. Scratch Beside Myself for starts out from the perspective of my serial killer. Dang!

On Descriptions...
"I dislike endless 'laundry list' character descriptions. For example: 'She had eyes the color of a summer sky and long blonde hair that fell in ringlets past her shoulders. Her petite nose was the perfect size for her heart-shaped face. Her azure dress--with the empire waist and long, tight sleeves--sported tiny pearl buttons down the bodice. Ivory lace peeked out of the hem in front, blah blah, blah.' Who cares! Work it into the story." Laurie McClean (same as above).

"Slow writing with a lot of description puts me off very quickly. I like a first chapter that moves quickly and draws me in so I'm immediately hooked." Andrea Hurst, Andrea Hurst Literary Management

"Avoid any description of the weather." Denise Marcil, Denise Marcil Literary Agency

Ginger's Comment: Now I'm really confused. I do agree that the example above is tiresome and far more than I need to know about the character all in one breath, but editors insist that you let the readers get to know the characters. I suppose the secret is doing it in small increments that don't bore Ms. McClean. As far as Ms. Hurst...don't we all like a chapter that hooks us immediately? See Mr. Lazar's comments about 'cheesy versus convoluted' hooks below. Which would you prefer? And... I guess Ms. Marcil isn't interested in weather reports, although sometimes if your heroine is caught in a storm and her nipples are exposed through her wet tee-shirt, it's rather hard to explain it to the reader without a little explanation about the rain. I guess all those sun-tanned heroes are shot to hell, and there goes my short story entitled, Hurricane. Gads, I just can't win.

On Action...
"A cheesy hook drives me nuts. They say 'Open with a hook to grab the reader. That's true, but there's a fine line between an intriguing hook and one that's just silly. An example of a silly hook would be opening with a line of overtly sexual dialogue. Or opening with a hook that's just too convoluted to be truly interesting." Daniel Lazar, Writer's House

Note from Ginger: I guess the dilemma for the writer is to figure out which one Mr. Lazar considers cheesy and which one is too convoluted. One person's cheese is another's salami...or something like that.

On Cliches...
"I don't want to read about anyone sleeping, dreaming, waking up or staring at anything." Ellen Pepus, Ellen Pepus Literary Agency

Note from Ginger: Wow, that rules out anything I've written. I'm quite certain that somewhere in each of my books, my hero or heroine has stared at something, and I'm pretty sure they weren't awake during the entire time either. No dreaming either? She's a tough one.

No adventures that turn out to be a dream, no death of the main character in chapter one (does anyone really do that?), no descriptions that make the hero/heroine too perfect, no inauthentic dialogue, no stories that open on the protagonist's mental reflection, no information dumps in the first few pages, no cliches, no predicable openings (would you like some cheese with that?), and never, never have your heroine awaken to find a strange man in her bedroom and find him attractive. *lol* I have to agree with Kristin Nelson (Nelson Literary Agency) on the last one. She says she'd be reaching for a weapon instead of admiring the view, and I'm with her. Handsome or not, stay out of my bedroom in the middle of the night. (Unless of course you're Tom Selleck and you've finally considered my offer.)

Oh my gosh, the hate list goes on and on. My question...what exactly makes these opinions valid? I could announce that I've become a literary agent, but that doesn't immediately make me an expert. I'd have to build a reputation by selling the work of authors to mainstream publishers and learn what they require. I haven't the time to research those named in the article, and other than Kristin Nelson, I've not heard of them. Unfortunately, I've seen her name on a few rejections of mine. For reasons even I don't understand, she's the agent I'd love to have. My chances of being in the 2012 Olympics seem just as likely as landing a deal with her. :(

I received my Writer's Digest this week and immediately contacted a fellow author who is looking for representation. One of the head captions on the cover is, "28 agents who want your work." She sent an email to one of those listed and received a lightning response that he was not taking on new authors. You just can't believe what you read these days. I suppose the other twenty-seven are busy, too. *lol*

Okay, some may say I wrote this because I'm jealous because I don't have an agent. You're right...I am. I'd love to find someone who was willing to take a chance on me, but I just don't see it happening. The number of authors submitting each day far exceeds the agents likely to take them on. Given the limited number of releases by mainstream companies, my chances are nil. I've had two agents so left the profession because of family obligations and the other landed me a nightmare of a deal with an e-publisher that I could have gotten on my own. See why I'm skeptical? But, if anyone with a literary background reads this, I'd be more than happy to send you the first three chapters and prologue of my latest work-in-progress. *lol* I'm not too proud to beg. Please...someone, anyone, help me achieve my last goal of seeing one of my books in a REAL brick and mortar store. I really don't want to have to sneak in a copy and leave it on a shelf...the thrill just wouldn't be the same.


Margaret Tanner said...

Hi ginger,
I can relate to the agent dilema. Actually I have had two Agents, one almost got me a contract with a small English publishing company, but when the publisher was taken over by a larger one, they didn't want my manuscript, said Agent rode off into the sunset so to speak, never to be seen by me again.
Second Agent, nice lady, had just about sold a different manuscript, to an American publisher and guess what she died and deal fell through.
So, I'm thinking me and Agents don't mix.

Ginger Simpson said...

It sounds like we've both had some bum luck. Maybe our time will come, who knows?


Tabitha Shay said...

Hi Ginger,
Wonderful article, but then your blogs are always fantastic...
I've had a little (very little) experience with agents and I have to tell you, the experience I've had has always been unplesant. I also have to say that the list of things not to do or the agent will give you the ax needs to include... be careful what you title your book. Some agents simply don't like your book title and that is reason enough for rejection. As for obtaining Kristin Nelson, good luck, I had a rejection from her, too. Oh, by the way, the title of my book the three agents didn't like went on to become a top ten best seller at Fictionwise for my E-publisher, Eternal Press and I did it all without said benefit of an agent. Sure, I'd love to see my books in print and on NY's best seller list, but if I never do, I've still accomplished something I never thought possible....I'm published and there are readers out there who know my name and I'm garnering more fans daily...I'm a happy camper....Tabs

Tabitha Shay said...

Hey Girl,
I thought of something else and just had to come back and a reader who has read thousands of books, I love prologues...there are some famous authors who use prologues I can name,Heather Graham for one and I'm betting there is no one who considers her a lazy author...I've read her books for years and adored every prologue she ever wrote...what is so bad about prologues? As an author, I also include them in work...I think prologues are important...they have something to tell and it isn't always backstory or hogwash...not liking a prologue sounds more like a personal preference of the agent rather than a professional one because if they weren't accepted by publishers and editors, there wouldn't be books out there with them....JMHO....Tabs

janetglaser said...

Hi Ginger, Our writing group just discussed prologues at our last meeting. Mixed feelings even among the writers in the group about using them. I think, if done well, a prologue whets the reader's appetite to read the book. Then again, it can reveal too much info and ruin the rest of the story. sigh nothing is ever easy. lol

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