How do you know?

I have a question for you.

What book ideas do you and your colleagues want to see more of that you would consider innovative and original? E.g., maybe you and your colleagues wish you saw more novels about men with sweater vest fetishes, because you think that could really sell.

When you guys talk around the water cooler (or however ideas come about - forgive my ignorance), what book ideas or topics or genres really strike you as something you'd be interested in seeing and selling? Or do you not do any talking like that at all and simply rely on fate to throw books your way, hoping that something strikes your fancy?

I guess I'm curious about the process of how you know what you're looking for when you dig through the slush, and what you consider to be original and innovative, since that seems to be one of the best ways to get a writer out of the slush pile and on the way to a book contract (of course, assuming that the writing itself is great).

Hm. On second thought, perhaps the better, easier question is to ask you what book ideas you never want to see EVER again. haha

This is a hard metaphysical question so I of course will use pornography as the metaphor.

Justice Blackmun I think it was (correction from the comments column-it was Justice Potter Stewart), when asked if he could define pornography, said "no, but I know it when I see it". Fresh and original voices and work are much the same thing.

One reason I try to read as much as I can in areas that I represent is so that I CAN know it when I see it. As a reader you have the exact same material available to you which is why I always suggest that if you want to be a writer, you must be a reader too.

When I heard Charlie Huston at BEA I didn't need to hear much of what he read to know he was amazing. Same with Jeff Lindsay and the Darkly Dreaming Dexter books.

The difference between reading just for pleasure and reading to keep your eye tuned is I have to think about what I'm reading in a more analytical fashion. That's why pink jacket Friday night escape books are so fun--I don't represent them, I don't have to think about them, I can just go away inside of them while Killer Yapp makes prank phone calls to Catwoman.

There's not much standing around the water cooler chat going on here; I'm a sole practioner. When I sit around with my colleagues we talk mostly about editors and other agents. We might share horror stories of query letter writers who were really strange, but there's very little esoteric talk about what makes something work or not.


C.E. Petit said...

"It is possible to read the Court's opinion in Roth v. United States and Alberts v. California, 354 U.S. 476, in a variety of ways. In saying this, I imply no criticism of the Court, which in those cases was faced with the task of trying to define what may be indefinable. I have reached the conclusion, which I think is confirmed at least by negative implication in the Court's decisions since Roth and Alberts, that under the First and Fourteenth Amendments criminal laws in this area are constitutionally limited to hard-core pornography. I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."

Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 197 (1964) (Potter Stewart, J., concurring; footnotes omitted; boldface emphasis added).

No. I'm not a First Amendment geek at all.

someone paranoid said...

From my reading experience, anything self-consciously "innovative” or “original is gonna probably be doomed from the start.
To quote the quack creative writing guru Bobby Owen Butler
“To write, you got’s to enter your ‘dream state’ and find your yearning”
-of course, to do this he suggests you wake up, stand on one leg, use the bathroom only once, and begin typing.

kitty said...

Yapp makes prank phone calls to Catwoman.

So it was Killer Yapp who's been making those calls!

The Green Ray said...

It's always good to hear that agents and editors want material that is new, fresh, and original. But, as far as I can tell, you, Miss Snark, are the only person who really means this. I went to a publishing evening here in New York a while back, and an editor from a respectable mid-sized house said that it's not good to be too unique, because "then we won't know what to do with you." His statement has haunted me ever since; so much so, that I've put it into a recent short story I'm writing. Any comment about this, Miss Snark?

Cornelia Read said...

I'm just trying to imagine the gist of KY's prank phone calls to Catwoman...

"This ist die German Consulate, have you a Herr Boll, bitte? You are certain of this? Do not toy with me, Fraulein. I am even now in your throat hearing eine kleine Furfenloogie. We haff ways of making you hawk..."

"Yo, Smilla... Smilla Lieder-Bachs? You don't believe there *is* any Smilla Lieder-Bachs at this number? HellOOO, you're a freaking CAT! Waddaya, crap down the mail chute?"

Miss Snark said...

dang, another keyboard bites the dust.
Wonderful comment, you're...ahem.."the cat's meow"

Cornelia Read said...

I'm ahead by three dead keyboards, then, from reading your posts since I happened upon this blog. Totally worth it, though!

litagent said...

I know it sounds like an oxymoron: the publishing industry says it wants fresh voices, but it publishes the same old crap. I think both things are true. There are lots of editors looking for an original book; there are not that many editors with enough clout to outweigh the sales and marketing people when it comes to making decisions about acquisitions. There are a few, but sadly, the reason you see so much of the same old, same old, is that it's what sells -- or at least it's what is perceived as selling. It's just the state of affairs since big business took over the industry. However, there are plenty of small, independent presses, several of which Miss Snark has already mentioned, that are absolutely looking for, and ready to buy, books from fresh and original voices. Bully for them, as they keep me in business.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Ha, I'm ahead of you all on the keyboards...Circuit City gives me bulk discounts now!

Rhonda Stapleton said...

Miss Snark - thank you for answering my question. It's interesting to see what you think about issues such as these.

Hope you and Killer Yapp had a great Thanksgiving!!


Dave Kuzminski said...

You all have my sympathy concerning your keyboards. Fortunately, I don't go through any of those problems as I'm also a computer programmer and support specialist so I know how to fix my own keyboards even when something's been spilled on them.

Oh, the secret to that? Turn off your computer. Unplug the keyboard, turn it over, find the retaining screws and open the case. Drain the fluid in a sink or tub if any still remains in the case. If it was something with a content that is sticky, take your keyboard to the sink and rinse it in cold water. Yes, rinse it to get rid of any stickiness. Then hold it over the sink or tub to let most of the water drain again. If the circuit board will come loose from the case, then take it from the case and gently shake it to get any moisture from between the boards (many have two circuit boards separated by short spacers in order to fit inside the case). Now get your hair dryer and use it from about a foot to two feet away to blow dry the circuit boards and other parts. Inspect closely to see when the parts are dry. If you see any moisture, dry it longer. When dry, reassemble the boards into the case and seal back the case with the screws you removed. Plug the keyboard back into your computer. Turn on the computer and go through the bootup procedure. Your keyboard should respond unless when you spat, snorted, or otherwise spilt something into it you also hit it with something that could break it in which case "it's dead, Jim" to quote a favorite phrase from an old program.

Have I performed this rescue before? Yes, several times. It does work. I've also used one keyboard long enough to actually wear the letters off the keys. Believe me, they will last a long time.