Inherit the Wind

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm just finishing up a novel and will be querying soon. Question: I am the grandchild of a middlingly-famous (deceased) writer. Should I mention this in my query (not up front and center, mind you, but in there somewhere)?

Nothing worse than someone thinking (erroneously of course) that you think writing ability is inherited like bank accounts.

IF you gain representation on your own, the pr department may be able to exploit this connection somehow but as far as an agent goes, the only thing we care about is whether you can write, not Grandmama.


doc-t said...


i wasted all that time changing my name and getting use to it. having all my business cards reprinted. New driver's license. All for nothing. Oh well. Hemingway's not such a bad name.



Anonymous said...

Nope, I veto Miss Snark. I also have a (distant but interesting)connection to a famous writer. Many agents, including my current one, mentioned it as something that picqued their interest and got them to request a partial or a full. I agree it won't help you beyond this - once you've gotten the manuscript request, you're on your own.

Eileen said...

I would agree- being related to someone famous isn't going to get you representation- but I would think it might get you a closer look. If an agent's early thoughts are how could I sell this? Would I sell this? I imagine a fame connection might garner a query another look.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little said...

If the connection to Famous Writer were close enough (not like second cousin's ex-girlfriend's sister's college roommate, or however that Spaceballs riff goes), and if Famous Writer were in fact Actually Famous, to the point of being a Widely Recognized Name...

...then perhaps that name on the book jacket would help drive sales. "Exciting debut novel by Hemingway's only surviving kin!" Maybe.

But I can't think of a way of mentioning such a connection in an agent query without it sounding like that off-putting foolish claim that one's bloodline makes one automatically a good writer.

Perhaps it would be safe to mention it once the agent requests the full?

(Don't look at me; I only share a birthday with a famous writer, and I know that ain't going to move book.)

Laraqua said...

Would it be different in nonfiction? I'd assume it probably would be, just because I've heard of how they sometimes sell the author as much as the work.

Benny said...

I agree that the famous connection might provoke a second look. Supposedly, query letters are to include a short biography. Put the casual tidbit there to avoid coming off as bigheaded. The only thing you're claiming is ancestry- interesting ancestry at that. If an agent's first impression is that you're putting on airs, then they obviously aren't thinking marketing.

Bernita said...

I based a tale partly on a semi-historical /semi-mythological (swords and dragons) figure from whom I ( along with thousands and thousands of others) am descended.
Have been dithering over mentioning the fact -suggestive of platform - in a query letter.
Worried if it would be written off immediately as one of those precious, dreary and awkward genealogical stories - which it is not.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Miss Snark. No matter how understated, it's still name-dropping.

Let your work open the door, not your name.

Bernita said...

That's very pure, passive and polite, anon.
Many of us are willing to use anything to open the door - including a crowbar that has a name on it - so that our writing might actually get read.

Anonymous said...

Bernita said:
That's very pure, passive and polite, anon.
Many of us are willing to use anything to open the door - including a crowbar that has a name on it - so that our writing might actually get read.

anon replies:
I may be naive, but I'm convinced most editors and agents are looking for the next big thing, if for nothing else to make a lot of money and brownie points that boosts them up the ladder. I also think that a lot of them actually love to read, and if you give them something good, they'll want to run with it.
As much of a drag as it is to submit and continue to submit, that's what you've got to do. Until you've proven yourself as a writer, you are not special. Does the expression "paying dues" ring a bell?
Meanwhile, if you're someone's offspring and you write drek, well, all you're going to do is give the guys a good laugh. And you'll certainly get the attention you crave, but not in the way you want.

Eileen said...

Although I haven't yet read the book (due to time issues only of course), I'm certain that Nicole Richie has paid her dues and slogged through endless query piles. Just like her buddy Paris who had to do audition after audition to land a record label.

I agree anon that hard work is the answer to good writing. Practice, practice, practice. I'm also willing to bet that publishing like any industry, also has back doors not open to others. What you do with it once you get through is the question

Bernita said...

Dear anon,
You do realize, I hope, that we're speaking of query letters; and not every agent is as willing as our wonderful Miss Snark to accept a few sample pages with that query.
It may be one method of intriguing a request for a partial so the agent may decide if indeed "it's something good."
However,I suspect the reaction to a famous name would vary from agent to agent.

I.J.Parker said...

I met a young man once who was a direct descendant of E.A.Poe and had published a series of books with titles from Poe's short stories. He joined our writers group with a fantasy novel in which the writing was so awful that he didn't last more than a couple of months. (We tell the truth.) He mentioned that he found his agent and publisher on the strength of his relationship to Poe and his proposal. He said that both agent and editor "helped" him put the books together. Even so, I don't believe the books (there were 2, I think) did well. But it proves that such a relationship can get a foot in the door.

Anonymous said...

Anon here:
All of what you've said is true. And I can think of two authors off the top of my head who are strong writers in their own right, and I'm sure their names helped open the doors.

That being acknowledged, I think if you want to be recognized for your work, and not referred to for the rest of your life as the son, daughter, etc., of whomever, you have to have the chops.

If you have a cultural phenomenom platform, you are going to get published. If you are a permanent resident of Page Six, you are going to get published. Period. Those are the books with the pop culture hook that drive the machine.

I think a stronger way to go is a la Nicholas Cage: probably most of Hollywood knew he was Francis Ford Coppola's nephew, but the greater audience didn't until after he'd made his name. He had to prove that he wasn't just a nepotistic flash in the pan. And better still, he proved it to himself.

Mark said...

Tell that to Lorian and Hilary Hemingway.

E. Dashwood said...

Let's face it, books are product and if you are Hemingway's grandchild, I'd mention that in a query. Of course, if you were Hemingway's granchild, you would already have lots of contacts just from hanging out with the family and wouldn't have to even do a query.

BTW, as long as we're talking about books as product, has it been mentioned that there an even more stinging (stinging to those of us who are working hard at our art and craft) example of a non-writer getting a book deal than Nicole Ritchie? Fantasia, the American Idol winner, who is admittedly illerate, inked a deal with Fireside/S&S to writer her memoir. Since she won't actually write it, it will probably be better than Nicole's book

E. Ann Bardawill said...

I agree with Miss Snark.

I was run over by a famous Shakespearian actor years ago, and being associated with him hasn't help me get a gig as Lady Macbeth at all.

Bernita said...

I bet it helps getting the dog out of the house though...

Sam said...

My great uncle was a famous writer but I never use his name or mention it ever. Besides, that was in the last century and his writing, while well known, has nothing to do with mine. I really don't see any reason to mention it at all.

Anonymous said...

Oops, my internet disconnected and somehow the comments meant for this post went under the Wasting Away topic.

I also agree with Bernita. But when it comes to an established author's work - I think we're talking a different issue.

Their writing may continue to get better, but often at book 10 the story is not necessarily better.

There are some authors I read regularly and have definitely felt an earlier book was better than their 6th or 15th. I think that's a hazard we accept when we become a fan of an author.

But talking about aspiring authors - the assumption is the more you write, the better you get.

I think that holds. And I think that's all Miss Snark meant. That as long as you stay the course and perfect your craft, the later mss will become stronger through practice.

As to anon who asked, how do you know your first book sucks?

Some people don't. Just like some people insist on auditioning for American Idol then burst into tears when told they have about as much talent as an infant baboon.

But a serious writer knows if their work is up to par, IMO. It's something you feel.

And anon, LOTS of rejections and a writer's committment to refining their writing is how you make #2, 3, or 100 better.

Finally, lets not mistake "writing that sucks" with a mss that won't sell, immediately.

Barry Goldblatt took 4 years and 10 rejections to sell one of his clients' first books.

The book didn't suck, it just didn't hit until many rounds of revisions and reads.

Anonymous said...

Do you think being the son of Jonathan and Faye Kellerman helped Jesse Kellerman get his first novel published last month? Here's a quote from his Dad's webiste --

"That said, if nepotism is flourishing in publishing, I sure haven’t encountered it. I did try to help Jess, what good Dad wouldn’t? Alas, it was about as useful as searching for an honest politician. Neither my publisher nor Faye’s would read his manuscript and he got his own literary agent. In the end, it worked out for the best, as he’s clearly making it on the basis of his own – substantial – talent."

If you were an agent or publisher wouldn't you at least take a look at his first book and publish it if it's not completely horrible? At least some of his parents' fans are going to try his first book just to see if he's as good as they are. And if his talent really is substantial, then you keep him on for subsequent books.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm the nitwit of the weekend! My internet disconnected and totally screwed me up. My post above was posted under the wrong topic.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

It probably doesn't matter that I'm a princess either, huh? Unless I write a book entitled: How to Find Fame and Fortune by Marrying a Princess." The trouble is, of course, few princesses have a dime to their name. Most live in obscurity. And I'm already married.

Alternately, I could write, "How to Avoid Cybering With a Goat." Then, I'm sure, being a goat owner extraordinary would matter. So, the book would be "by Sha'el, princess of pixies, queen of goats."

Ok, serious comment now. My grandfather was a published author. He was well known in his field, nuclear physics and separations chemistry. Chemistry and I don't ... umm mix well. I'd never mention him to an agent. They'd probably want me to write about Neptunium and the separation of its nucleotides from backing soda or something. I can't tell the difference between baking soda and cleanser from ten paces. Wouldn't work. And it wouldn’t help sell my grand 100 volume history of Pixie Culture from the Death of Tanath to the Birth of Sha’el, the Pixie Warrior. Say, anyone have an Oreo? I’m out.

Oh, and speaking of internet messing up, my first attempt to publish this comment sent it to a thread a few down from this one. Blogstuffpeople have gone nuts on us

Bella Stander said...

A "direct descendent" of EA Poe? 'Fraid you were had, IJ Parker. You'll see in the bio here that there is no mention of Poe's fathering children. And the proof is really in the pudding here, which states, "Although Edgar Allan Poe had no children, numerous people are under the misunderstanding that they are descendants. Many are actually descendants of Poe's cousins, especially Neilson Poe, but others are no relation at all."
Incidentally, there are no direct descendents of RL Stevenson either.

The family card is only useful if your work compares well with that of the famous one. You can't read anything about Joanna Trollope without there being at least a passing mention of her great-great-(or whatever) uncle, dear Anthony (one of my favorite writers; I got hooked on him after I saw someone in the subway reading THE WAY WE LIVE NOW, and the title grabbed me.) Molly Jong-Fast didn't get off so well, and rightly so.

Gina Black said...

Regarding the Kellerman's son's novel, anonymous said:

>>If you were an agent or publisher wouldn't you at least take a look at his first book and publish it if it's not completely horrible? <<

No. If the publishers didn't like it--especially since he is their kid--that puts them in a delicate position with the parents. And if they did decide to publish it, what if marketing didn't get behind it? Or the kid wanted a cover change? Any negotiating point could be that much more difficult.

To me, it sounds like walking into a minefield.

alexandra said...

Ah! Ann, priceless. Took me a whole minute to stop laughing. Patrick and I never got to do Macbeth either.

And how many of you seem to be missing the point, wasting time filling up comments here at Snarkland instead of, you know, writing!

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on who the author is. If you're J.D. Salinger's grandchild, that's going to get the attention of an editor, who perhaps hopes you know where the family manuscripts are buried.

But then you wouldn't be writing cold query letters to agents. People who are connected are, well, connected. I notice that Erica Jong's 20-year-old daughter got a novel published. But maybe she's just a genius?

Lady M said...

Could I just have the inherited bank accounts? :P

Anonymous said...

My father has published several books and written plays that made it to Broadway. I wish he hadn't. Growing up, I had to conceal my ambitions to write, for fear of offending his almighty ego. I have always dreaded anyone in publishing discovering we are related. He has no idea that I make my living as a writer.

Reggie said...

I look around my little world and see families with multiple members in the same business: cops, lawyers, computer programmers, actors, muscians, oil landmen, politicians. Why would writers be different?

Anonymous said...

Writers are different. If you're writing a franchise, well then, no, it actually might be sensible to have your family in the business.
But writing as a creative endeavor means comparisons are inevitable, and puts you in the position of being a sort of competitor.
I'd hate to compete with my father, let alone as a successful writer with the accompanying ego.

Anonymous said...

My dad's a very famous writer in a very specialized field that is very but he was saying from the time I was eight that I was a writer, and has continued to encourage my writing a great deal.

Since I'm 19 and Dad's in a completely different field (sports non-fiction vs. literary fiction), I can offer no insights as to how this helps with publishing. But it's never been a competing egos thing. He tells me all the time he expects me to be better writer than him. I guess he's Dad first, writer second.