Helpful Hints!

Miss Snark,

I've just about finished my fifth edit before sending the first chapter of my WIP to an agent. I use MSWord and the footnote feature allows me to keep track of plot elements that I worked in; things to come, references and hints about characters/situations, etc. They are visible at the bottom of each page unless they are removed or hidden.

I would think that removing these before printing is the smart bet. But, am I wrong? Most of these notes clarify the characters secrets, motivations, and plot twists (usually in 15 words or less) as they are revealed in later chapters.

What are you thoughts on this?

I think this qualifies as WTF.

Let's review the purpose of an agent reading a first chapter: can you write well; is the premise of the book interesting; and is the voice compelling? (and you need all three, not just one or two)

Inserting footnotes that are the equivalent of "Felix Buttonweazer's motivation for sneering at Miss Snark is revealed in chapter three" is idiotic UNLESS it's an actual part of the book. Why? Cause an agent WILL assume it's part of the book! We don't read your novels with Cliffs Notes in any form. That comes much letter when you are part of the canon, not fodder for the clue cannon.

Don't do this.


Christopher M. Park said...

Not to be snarky, but in all seriousness: if you feel like an editor won't "get it" from your writing alone, or won't be sufficiently interested, you need to take another look at that writing. Really.

Best of luck,

Anonymous said...

I am sure there is a writer out there who is going to push the limit and this will be a break out book (published with the side bar notes and all)

Unknown said...

No comment about if it is a WIP - why is it being submitted to an agent?

David Isaak said...

Unless, of course, you're doing one of those postmodern things (dog help us) and really think the footnotes are part of the book in some hypertexty kind of way...

In fact, such a thing might make a mediocre novel seem artsy. If you don't get nibbles from agents without the footnotes, try sending it out to a few select agents (find out who handles David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers) with the footnotes.

Anonymous said...

This question actually came about by accident. I sent out the first three chapters (reworked again) to my beta readers and noticed I had not removed the footnotes before printing. I gave them to the beta readers as they were and wondered: ‘What if I hadn’t caught that? What if I had been in a hurry, stuffed them in an envelope, and mailed it out to an agent?’

Hence, the question was asked.

It had nothing to do with artistic expression or other intelligent reasoning. It was a simple ‘f*uck up’ and I thought Ms. Snark would enjoy another gin and flaming hair moment.. :D

Kerry Allen said...

Jonathan Stroud uses footnotes in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, but they're asides from one of the characters (often riotously funny), not the writer's explanation of what the reader is supposed to get from the text and obviously isn't.

Unless you're so wicked clever that your footnotes are gems themselves, never ever yank a reader out of your story to look at something else. They might not go back...

Kim said...

Wouldn't the synopsis be the place to explain out all of the twists and turns? And shouldn't the first chapter (or first 3 chapters) be enticing enough to make an agent want to read more?

Footnotes annoy me - I have a copy of War of the Worlds with footnotes and, I kid you not, they explain things like shrub* and below it says "shrub is another word for bush" Grrr...

Unknown said...

I'm wanting to know why you're sending parts of an unfinished WIP to agents.

Agents don't want WIP. They want FINISHED PRODUCTS. Nitwit.

hplgphr - help that gopher!

Christine said...

Unless your name is Jonathan Stroud and your footnotes are the thoughts of a supernatural creature and really, really funny.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of nitwit or no, I lurrve the idea of using footnotes for my own reference. Good idear!

Anonymous said...

heather said:
I'm wanting to know why you're sending parts of an unfinished WIP to agents.

Agents don't want WIP. They want FINISHED PRODUCTS. Nitwit.

I can give you a simple answer for that, heather:

Until I edit and polish the MS to the point I'm satisfied it is the best possible work, I consider it a WIP. All 25 chapters. I'm reaching this point on the 5th edit.

If you consider a WIP as an unedited, unpolished work, that's your definition; not mine.

And note: There are agents on my list who specifically ask for the first 5 pages or full 1st chapter with a query. Ms. Snark has pointed out on the crapometer that query letters are not always the best. Pages say a lot more, so if an agent is asking for them, up front, I'm going to consider them first.

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute, wait a minute. You're sending the revised first chapter of a Work In Progress? You mean the book isn't finished?
Halt. Don't send it to an agent until it's done, is what I've always heard.

Twill said...

Interesting to see such different definitions of WIP. Maybe we should institute a new acronym "WIR" for "Work in Revision"?

"WIR" would be for rewrites or polishes after the third full draft, especially if the revisions in question were requested by an editor or agent (even a good freelance editor).