Koalas in Khuala sipping Cola...I'm relevant!

Do you and your colleagues seek something specific in a novel, whether it be a contemporary trend, or something of social relevance such as revolution, war, ethnic struggle, social injustice, etc.? Do you feel that a character-based story is not enough without some larger scale conflict going on, at least in the background? I have noticed that the lit journals are geared for character, but must have some major conflict or a setting of Kuala Lamphur included or be fairly off-the-wall in their short story collections, and it looks like a novel would need something both relative and exotic to be considered these days. And, Nicole Richie aside, stellar writing would be a given.

This is a toughie because I've been writing rejection letters for novels this weekend. One of the things I've said to people is "there's just not enough here". Now, that can be taken in a variety of ways but mostly it means the story wasn't enough to hold my interest for the full novel. Does that mean they have to add a subplot about the conflict in Darfur? No. It means they have to come up with more. What they come up with can be their choice.

However, I have noticed recently that long standing character series such as Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon books and Donna Leon's Venice series DO tend to involve topical matters. But more important, it's the secondary characters who tend to change or have an epiphany. Anna Pigeon is always our stalwart heroine, but the secondary characters in HARD TRUTH are the ones who have to make huge changes in their lives. It's about the people though, not the situation. Yes the people are involved in polygamy but it's the characters we care about.

I'm a strong believer in characters carrying novels. Even thrillers. When you get a novel that's "about Darfur" you tend to get political polemics. Miss Snark lives in New York City and daily life is political enough, she doesn't want to read about it after hours in the bubble bath car on the train.

I think the thing that's missing in most of the novels I reject is that the characters don't seem to grow or change enough. I read a lot of mystery and thriller submissions and it's like dead bodies are leaves on the ground: no impact. Even in cozies, there has to be some sense that this isn't quite normal and will mean something to the characters.

So, no I don't think there has to be social relevance. I think there has to be emotional resonance. How that is achieved can vary, but I think that's the key.

Oh, by the way

An agent wants to see my narrative nonfiction book proposal. Do I state in the cover letter that six commercial houses turned down an earlier, much different, version some time ago? Or do I reveal this later if the agent likes the proposal and writes or calls? I don't want to jeopardize my chances right away, but I also don't want to seem less than candid, either. And, if I address the proposal's history in the cover letter, should I mention the houses, the editors, and any details? Some of editors who turned it down, for example, said that the story was intriguing but might be a hard sell.

Ah yes, the excruciating dilemma of when to tell how much. You've got some wiggle room here cause it sounds like only publishers turned down the alpha version and no one has seen the new and improved buy it now beta version.

It's also not a sin to learn from your experiences and apply that hard won knowledge. Agents want good material first and foremost so if you've rewritten and revised and are now faster stronger better, that's a good thing.

So, when to reveal the stitches? I'm going to vote for not on the first date. This is not some sort of law of nature, this is just a strategy.

I think you should write a compelling cover letter and query for the work as it is now. Snag the agent's attention. IF you get some interest, you should reveal that an earlier, less spiffy version was turned down by six publishers. Frequently agents can get projects accepted that authors over the transom cannot. Same project, just more oomph behind it. You didn't mention if you'd been agented on the earlier submissions. If you WERE, that has to be revealed up front.

You don't need to air your dirty laundry front and center but when the time comes you gotta mention your Sunday go to meetin' suit has been seen before.

Gettin' stoned...ya baby

As I recover my wits from a wild week among the criminally inclined, I seek solace in the weblogs of my colleagues.

Sadly, those imps over at Rake felt compelled to post this

Miss Snark had to buy an entire new bottle of gin after reading it.
Medicinal purposes.

Word of warning: put DOWN the coffee, and put a terry cloth towel on your chair before you click.

There really ARE some things that should be illegal. This is one of them.

Please release me, let me go. I don't love you aneeeeee more.

Miss Snark, I have recently begun reading your blog, and I absolutely love it. It's helped me through a lot of work with agents lately. Just today, a literary agent responded to a query letter of mine requesting the first three chapters of my novel, which isn't anything new, but she did also request that I sign a release form. I've been trying to translate it into a language resembling English, and while I don't see anything that pops out as dodgy, and she seems reputable enough, I'm wary at signing anything this early on. Are release forms standard when all she's doing is looking over sample chapters?

Release form? To do what? Read it? Xerox it? Sell it? As far as I know release forms are for models (are you Paris Hilton), celebrities on TV and field trips. This is weird.
You can send me a copy of the release form to my email (misssnark@earthlink.net) and I'll run my snarky eyeball over it. Have you signed it? Sent it?


It's a scandal I tell you, a scandal

This has happened to me a couple of times now. I query an agent I'm interested in working with, and I get a response asking for the manuscript from another agent at the firm, one who I've never heard of. How should a wannabe take this?

Let's see. An agent at an established agency wants to read your work.
What to do, what to do.
Oh wait, I know!
Write a letter, or better yet, PHONE and demand to know WHY this person you've never heard of would have the temerity to want to see YOUR WORK.
What on earth possesses them??
Do they not know you queried Agent Q and ONLY Agent Q!??
Oh wait...Agent Q has a full roster, is going on maternity leave, doesn't handle this kind of work, thinks you're a nitwit so you've been passed on to another agent instead of being sent a rejection letter.
By god, you'll get to the bottom of THIS!!!


Clubhouse...no coooties allowed

A Snarkling wrote:

I may be misunderstanding something. You say: "(For paperback originals) I try to push people I think can sell, can sell to book clubs...."It almost sounds like you're saying you take a role in pushing your authors' books to book clubs. If so, do you mean institutions like Book of the Month Club? Or do you simply mean you choose books which bookstore book clubs will like?

Book clubs are another way to say reading groups. Pushing books to reading groups is a very very good way to build an author's sales. Most of these clubs or groups don't meet in conjunction with a book store at all. They meet in private homes, talk books, drink gin and generally have a darn fine time. As you might imagine, they prefer trade paperback books that are less expensive.

Book of the Month Club rights are sold as a subsidiary right and you bet Miss Snark works on that. Mostly informally. That's when it's helpful to have an agent who is well connected to the publishing world. Of course I talk with everyone I know about the books I love. It's not a formal pitch presentation; it's more "im excited by this book".

And you have the "choosing" order wrong. I choose to represent books I love that I think will sell. I've never taken a book solely cause I think book groups would love it. I firmly believe that's the road to ruination (a road Miss Snark plans to avoid). I am passionate about every single book I represent. Sometimes I think I'm the only one that it but eventually someone else sees the light.


Miss Snark in the Hands of the Law!

Miss Snark is exploring the criminal justice system...but safely.
Jury duty Snarklings.
I'm sure there will be some poor soul foolish enough to put his life in Miss Snark's hands.

Until I'm back from the courthouse!