5.14.2007

what! what! you mean...I'm NOT the exception??

Dearest Miss Snark,

I fear that I already know the answer to this question, but I am compelled to ask, nonetheless...

I have a successful "day job" career, but I'm trying to pursue my dream of writing a novel. I therefore recently signed up to attend my first writers' conference (a costly affair). I will have two one-on-one sessions with well-known agents. So far the writing is going well, and I hope to have a polished, final copy in about six months. Here's the catch: the conference is in one month.

I know, I know... I normally would not even dream of prematurely attempting to launch an unfinished work of fiction. I know that it should be finished, polished, put away, re-polished, etc., ad nauseum. The only reason that I am even thinking about dashing my chances prematurely with these two highly-coveted agents is because a) I am writing in a genre that is considered "hot" right now (and all things hot burn out quickly, as we well know), and b) my prominence in my "day job" gives me an excellent platform (it is directly related to the genre) that I believe any P.R.-minded agent or editor would drool over.

Am I a complete nitwit to even consider pitching an unfinished work, given the above?



Feel free to waste my time at a conference, I really don't care. I have to sit there all day anyway and one more guy with an unfinished novel is one easy answer: no. That said, we can sit there and drink gin.

No matter how enticing or hot or yummy, I can't sell an unfinished novel from a first time novelist. Maybe someone else can, but I'd get laughed off the phone by most of the editors I deal with.

They know, like I do, that the final 20% of the novel is harder to write than the preceding 80%. They know too that a first draft (which is what you're talking about when you first write THE END) is hardly ever something you should show anyone except your dog. That means you're a year from being really done, if you ever finish at all.

You've spent a lot of money hoping the rules don't apply to you. Even if you GET lucky and these agents ARE interested, they're buying for 2009 right now so anything you think of as hot NOW is something we were selling two years ago.


There are lots of reasons to attend a conference other than meeting agents. Take full advantage of them but do NOT expect agents are going to be falling all over a hot idea with an unfinished novel.

19 comments:

typemonkeytype said...

Yeah yeah but but...there's no reason you can't tell them about your book and ask them their advice about X Y and Z, right? Because you can't pitch it. You aren't ready. In fact you can come out and say that - I'm not trying to pitch you, this isn't ready yet, but...and then have some intelligent questions.

The agent just may offer to take a look at it when you're done. Don't ask. But she may offer. It happens. You may make a darned good impression. *If* you don't pitch.

Maya Reynolds said...

BUT, all is not lost.

If you check the Snarkives for 11/4/05 and 2/2/07, you'll find excellent advice on how you CAN use your time even if you're not pitching a novel. Having someone who isn't pitching might even be a pleasant surprise to your agents.

I LOVE Blogspot's search feature.

Kanani said...

I have a successful "day job" career, but I'm trying to pursue my dream of writing a novel.

I think you've aptly described everyone who will be there. But many have taken the time to write first, second and third drafts. They've joined critique groups, they've drafted endless query letters. They have tried, failed, and tried again. And they've spent years doing it.

One thing for sure: don't make excuses by saying "you're busy." Everyone there has demands on their lives and it does get boring hearing someone blow into a room with excuses on why they have not dotted their i's and crossed their t's.

Richard Lewis said...

A couple side notes.

I think it's just a part of general human nature to believe one is the exception to the rule. It occurs to everyone who files tax returns, that's for sure.

Also, I tend to think that putting away a manuscript for awhile is one of those myths we're told that sound good but don't really do good. I certainly understand the idea, that when the ms. is still new it's so burned into the neuronal circuits it's impossible to have an objective editorial view of it. I believe I disagree--for one thing, there's the danger that enthusiasm wanes, and also the danger that relevant and breakthrough ideas that linger just on the subconscious level but haven't broken through will fade away.

My experience with revisions (which are absolutely essential, not arguing there) is that what's important is critical analysis, which doesn't have to wait for x amount of weeks or months. Write the story in a creative frenzy, dissect it with cold reason.

Killer Yap has created today's word verification: kyoooo.

Maya Reynolds said...

Someone just emailed me offline to ask how to pull the 11/4/05 and 2/2/07 posts out of the Snarkives.

Go to the white box in the upper left hand corner of Miss Snark's blog and type in the words "pitch sessions at writing conferences." Then click on the "search blog" icon. That will pull up the 2/2/07 post.

After you've read that post, go back to the white search box and type in "agents are human beings." That will pull up four posts, including the 11/4/05 post.

After you've read MS's blog for a while, you learn the key phrases that will pull up the kind of posts you want. I've shortcutted the process here. It actually took me three searches to find both posts.

Anonymous said...

Author, you sound like all of us in our early days of writing. We all thought we'd written the great American novel, and that the agents would drool over us. I hope you keep the faith and hang in there when the honeymoon is over and you're in the write/query/write/query rut the rest of us are in...

Anonymous said...

I, too, attended a conference way too early. I was halfway through my first draft of my first novel. I didn't pitch, but I did meet a well-known agent, and we had fun over dinner and drinks, and before the end of the conference, he said, "You should contact me when you're ready." Then, when he was in my town for another speaking gig, he emailed me to invite me to a cocktail party. Hell yeah I went.

Two years later, I'm still not ready to pitch (working on my FIFTH book now, crossing fingers that I've learned something during this process), but I'll never regret attending that conference. Go, have fun, be cool.

patrick said...

They know, like I do, that the final 20% of the novel is harder to write than the preceding 80%.

Miss Snark nailed it right on the head with this one. That's what makes us so itchy to start hawking our books before they're ready. It feels like we're almost done, and yet as you delve into your final phases of revisions, it can get more and more difficult (in terms of the actual writing and what you hear in you head: I've been working on it forever, it feels most of the way there, it's better than most of the crap out there, etc.)

In your initial post, you state that you know you're not ready. You're ahead of a lot of writers right there. Even though it feels like you're going to miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, there will be more chances (lots), and they'll be real (not wasted chances) if you have a finished book. (This is what I keep telling myself, as I'm in yet another round of revisions on my second novel.)

Anonymous said...

I actually disagree with that whole "last 20% is hardest" part.

By the time I was 80% through, the last 20% was a breeze. I was energized, I knew exactly where I was heading, and the words just spilled out of me.

Now the FIRST 20%... hell... I've revisited that part a dozen times.

"Is it too slow?"
"Does it capture the reader's interest?"
"Am I trying to explain too much up front?"
"Am I not explaining enough?"
"Should I put certain detailed experiences up front as a prologue or later on as a flashback?"

Etc, etc, etc.

You see, I know that no agent is going to read the last 80% if the first 20% didn't knock their socks off.

WandererInGray said...

My new mantra for this whole affair is:

"Don't jump the gun"

Patience isn't just a virtue in this business, it's the difference between yet another rejection letter and that "yes" we're all hunting for.

Don't pitch before it's finished, don't submit it until it's so polished you want to throw up on it if you read it one more time.

I agree with typemonkeytype about having some intelligent questions to talk with the agent about. That's a good use of time if you're not ready to pitch it and you'll still get some good advice I'd think.

Anonymous said...

From the original poster:

Thanks, all -- fabulous advice. Based on your input, I will fess up right away to the agents, and tell them up front that I'm not pitching, just consulting.

As a new/aspiring author, I probably would have foolishly tried to "dazzle" the agents into accepting a pitch for an unfinished work. Thanks for talking me off of that ledge!

L.L. said...

The good thing is, you signed up' for the "costly affair." No need for ME to address the bad -- that has pretty much already been covered.

But, -- signing up for one/ones [regardless who's there and despite your feeling 'this opportunity may not come around again' -- any tme SOON!] is NOT mandatory.

IF this is your first (?) there's a lot to be learned at a well-planned/staffed conference!

Is your WIP truly THAT timely? Will the subject matter NOT be "hot" a year from now--regardless the current trend?

The Anti-Wife said...

I’m going to my first conference soon – chosen because it has workshops that are both basic to the industry and specific to my genre and agents who represent it. My book will be finished by the time I arrive, but pitching it is secondary. My primary reason for attending is to learn as much as possible about the industry and my genre and to make some contacts for the future.

I hope to come away with enough information to decide if I’m ready to start querying or if I need to start working on the fourth draft. I look at this as an opportunity to prevent me from perennially patronizing the Nitwit’s Lounge.

Suna said...

They know too that a first draft (which is what you're talking about when you first write THE END) is hardly ever something you should show anyone except your dog. That means you're a year from being really done, if you ever finish at all.

Amen. Amen Amen AmenAmenAmen.

Okay, enough break time. Back to work I go.

Eileen said...

Question: Do agents see people who aren't pitching (they want to use their time to ask questions) as a waste of their time?

Anonymous said...

'That means you're a year from being really done, if you ever finish at all.'

Just to clarify - it doesn't take everyone a year to finish a book. Maybe the first as you learn the process - but most good writers get better with professional editors anyway - not on their own.

And if you think you can "make it" - (live off your writing income) in commerical fiction on only a book a year - think again.

The years and years between releases = success is reserved for the very few.

Anonymous said...

"By the time I was 80% through, the last 20% was a breeze."

I'll only believe this if you've sold the book (I don't mean gotten an agent; I mean gotten a publishing contract) already.

It might seem much easier to finish a book -- I know what you mean about writing the ending being quicker. But unless your book is about to come out in print, I don't trust your opinion. Everyone thinks their book's great, from beginning to end.

I'm often deeply disappointed in the endings of books, because it seems as if the author "got bored" and didn't bother to make the ending as memorable as the 3/4 that came before it.

Anonymous said...

"But unless your book is about to come out in print, I don't trust your opinion."

Please name your books in print or consider your opinion to be pure hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

Original poster, good job in listening to the given advice. Trust us! Barring that, trust Miss Snark!

I agree with the final 20% not being as difficult to write. Once I've done my job with the characters and the story, the ending is a logical conclusion of what came before.

Incidentally, I agree that going back after the first draft to get the first 20% right is the hardest part. That anonymous and I must be the exceptions to prove the rules, or maybe we each struggle with different things as writers.

I don't disagree with anonymous who is disappointed in many endings (see Stephen King).