Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, April 17, 2009

This Week in Publishing 4/17/09

First off, thank you once again to everyone who is participating in Be An Agent for a Day, which has been so much fun. The comments on the queries will close Saturday night, and results and stats on Monday!

Now that we have 10,000+ comments I have realized that compiling these stats will not be remotely possible on my own. I am humbly requesting ten volunteers to help me with stat compiling this Sunday. (I'm also happy to barter a query critique for your trouble -- first 10 volunteers in the comments section UPDATE: the 10 spots are filled, thanks so much, volunteers)

Now then. Some fantastic news from a familiar name. Terry DeHart (aka terryd), finalist in the Surprisingly Essential First Page Challenge, let me know that he has just received a two-book deal from Orbit for the book he used in the contest!! Congratulations to Terry!

[schadenfreude](Oh. And remember the people who were mad about my choices for the finals of that contest? I sure do!) [/schadenfreude]

Speaking of friends of the blog, Anne & May are giving away copies of their just-released book BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO. Free books = always awesome.

In publishing news, NPR recently did a story on the state of the publishing industry and Pub Lunch (subscription) linked to an accompanying article. Per Pub Lunch, Random House Publishing Group spokesperson Carol Schneider explained the current marketplace thusly: "We're acquiring fewer books... There are no specific numbers or formula involved here--we're simply being more selective in all categories--literary, commercial, blockbuster." And...... there you have it.

Meanwhile, there are rumors afoot that Barnes & Noble may enter the e-reader market with a device that could challenge the Sony Reader, Kindle, and (insert device of the future here). Any bets on what B&N will call it? I hope they go with Barnes. As in, "I read your book on my Barnes, chap!" And yes, it would probably force me to call people "chap".

You may have heard a great deal about a "glitch" dubbed amazonfail, in which erotica and GLBT books, including some classics, were mysteriously delisted from sales rankings. In case you're curious about it all, The Millions has a very helpful breakdown of what happened and how the news spread. And I can't wait until we have failfail. "Fail" needs. to. go.

Via Neil Vogler, the Guardian reports that the guy behind PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES just got a monster (get it? get it?) book deal from Grand Central.

Also in the Guardian... our contest!

Grove editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler has added another excellent entry in his series of agent interviews for Poets and Writers. A must read.

Cynthia Leitich Smith announced that Katherine Paterson, author of BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, Curtis Brown client, and truly wonderful person (seriously she's so nice), has established a prize for YA and children's writing at Hunger Mountain, the arts journal of the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Click on over for that.

In writing advice news, thanks to John Ochwat for pointing me to Pat Holt's blog post on ten mistakes writers often make but don't often notice. It's not on the list, but you might not have noticed that the first letter of every paragraph spells a bad word. Just thought you should know.

And finally, someone is going to have to explain this Susan Boyle thing to me. What exactly are we supposed to take from it? That it's surprising that people from a humble background can be wildly talented? That you have to look like Britney Spears in order sing... better than Britney Spears? 20 million YouTube views later and I'm struggling to understand.

Have a great weekend!


«Oldest   ‹Older   1 – 200 of 213   Newer›   Newest»
clindsay said...

I'll help you compile. Waddaya need?

JohnO said...

I'd do it, but for a first chapter critique. (My query's been through the wringer already, yeah?)

Reba said...

I compile well, so I'll help if you'd like.

The First Carol said...

Sign me up!

Annalee said...


Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks guys (and JohnO, that's fine, you get extra for sending links).

What I was thinking was that people could each take 5 of the queries and then tally basic accepted/rejection numbers and percentages on Sunday. Doesn't have to be exact exact and watch for duplicates.

Sound good?

clindsay: 1-5
johno: 6-10
reba: 11-15
the first carol: 16-20
annalee: 21-25

Kristi F said...

Hi Nathan. I'd be happy to help. I didn't participate in the contest, but followed it with great interest. Thanks!

Lauren H.K. said...

Volunteering for Sunday!

E-mail is laurenhopkar -at-

Nathan Bransford said...

kristif: 26-30

EmilyR said...

I can help out, too.

Nathan Bransford said...

laurenHK: 31-35

Also, if anyone wants to back out now that you know the task no worries.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Hey, I'll volunteer! Aren't I number 9?

Nathan Bransford said...

emilyr: 36-40

Nathan Bransford said...



EJ Lange said...


The First Carol said...

Nathan: sounds good.
JohnO: when you're done I'll meet you at Powells Books and compare notes, its just a bridge away.

EJ Lange said...

sorry. didn't mean to SHOUT. got excited at the idea of a query critique.
plus, i like counting stuff. ;)

Annalee said...

Also, for the record, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA was one of my favorite books when I was in fifth grade. When I got the the spoilery part, I remember my mom storming into my room because I was bawling so loudly that she thought I must have been injured.

Nathan Bransford said...

EJ Lange: 46-50

Thanks so much, everyone, I really really appreciate it.

thin said...

are you still taking volunteers? i'd do it.

thin said...

darn! :)

Gwen said...

Darnit, my Google reader just updated and there are already 10. Well, I am volunteering in spirit. If you need any more help I'd be happy to do so.

clindsay said...

You got it!

Re Susan Boyle? At least for writers, I think there's a lot to be taken away. Tenacity. Perseverance. Not giving up on a dream. Accepting defeat gracefully and carrying on anyway.

She's actually been competing in singing contests for more than twenty years. There's a stunning rendition of her singing Cry Me A River here, from a contest ten years ago.

But you'll note she hasn't been spending her time writing angry diatribes against the music industry for not "discovering" her. :-)

She just keeps trying.

Annalee said...

21-25 it is! Just double-checking, you want the number of requests for partials, number of rejections, and the percentage of requests for partials, correct? Do you need info on how individual players did, or are they tallying that themselves?

Raethe said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one scratching my head over this Susan Boyle thing.

I guess people just love rooting for the underdog?

By the way - great contest idea! Maybe if I can get my assignments wrapped up quickly enough, I'll try to look at those queries myself before tomorrow night...

Marilyn Peake said...

I'll volunteer! Happy to do it.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

I'm not volunteering but I want thank you for doing the query week. It was really interesting and educational. Best of luck to everyone involved.

Rick Daley said...

I'll volunteer...Wait, tool late. Thank God I'm off the hook!

Have a great weekend, stat crunchers. I can't wait until Monday to see the results.

sensawunder said...

Hi, Nathan. I would be happy to help you if you still need someone. I do this sort of thing for a living. :D

David said...

Regarding Barnes and chap, they need an alternate name for the device, so that if you didn't like the book, you could say, "I read your book on my Ignoble, fellow."

sensawunder said...

Awww. When I started to write my comment, there were only 7 comments. :D Maybe next time?

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah, count partials and fulls the same (they're all requests). No need to compile stats on individuals. I'm tracking the Superagents, and everyone can compile their own individual stats.

Thanks again!

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Yeah, a query critique! (although I do note a stunning number of comments to tabulate!)

Re: Susan Boyle - I love her! I love her cat Pebbles!

Okay, I will quit with the exclamation point overload while I'm ahead.

Anna said...

Scotland's Susan Boyle is a typical British phenomenon, in the complete underdog somehow rising to the top. see Jade Goody, Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, All in the Family, Sanford and Son, The Office, Ashes to Ashes (all originally UK shows transformed to US TV and I know I'm missing more), Hugh Laurie, Slumdog Millionaire, etc etc etc...

there are always exceptions to the rule; David Beckham's tenure with the LA Galaxy...

PurpleClover said...

Wow...I was afraid to comment because I didn't want to volunteer. lol. Good thing people like to count...and stuff.

LOVE the links. Thank you very much! You always exceed the mark as usual on your fantabulous links! Grazie tante! (and no i don't speak italian)

Other Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PurpleClover said...

sorry "always" and "as usual"

a little redundant.

Department of Redundancy Dept.

lotusgirl said...

Thanks for the links!

Laura K. Curtis said...

The only thing I'd add to what others have said about Susan Boyle is that I think many people found it enjoyable to see the judges taken down a peg. The smirking before her performance was untenable, and I think for a lot of people they felt as if Susan Boyle delivered a much-needed smack across their faces.

Other Lisa said...

Let me try that again.

I totally get the Susan Boyle thing. I used to sing in bands (rock) but have this, well, sorta secret love of musicals and standards. She has a really nice voice, great timbre and she knows how to emotionally sell a song.

Of course her whole story is part of the appeal. You have to figure that she wasn't taken seriously as a performer because of her appearance. The idea that she's been singing in church choirs in some little Scottish town all these years in complete obscurity, then comes on stage and performs like that in such an intensely stressful situation, you just wonder how many other "stories" like hers are out there.

I also think it's a reaction to appearance-driven performers who really don't have the chops or depth to convey those kinds of emotions in a song.

Plus, a lot of people watching probably see themselves as the "underdogs," the ordinary, all the while wanting to find what's extraordinary inside of themselves.

And as Colleen said, it's a lesson in persistence and grace that all of us can use.

Love the Guardian article, by the way!

MzMannerz said...

"That it's surprising that people from a humble background can be wildly talented? That you have to look like Britney Spears in order sing... better than Britney Spears?"

Yes, that's what we're supposed to take from it. And then we're supposed to question that standard, as well as any other action that is based on the superficial.

EJ Lange said...

46-50 it is!
happy to help. :)

Aimless Writer said...

Sorry I'm too late to help with the compliling. I loved doing the reviews and only hope my comments were helpful.
I think you have a fun job.
Susan Boyle? I think its just the appreciation of a wonderful voice. We're too used to glitz and glamor and now we have someone who isn't yet she sounds amazing. Perhaps its a cosmic reminder not to judge a book by it's cover?

Jen P said...

Too late to volunteer - but happy next time!

Susan Boyle - perhaps it would be like receiving an unsolicited manuscript from someone who sends the stapled pages in a poorly presented envelope, has little grace in her smudged query letter, but you read the first lines and find she writes like Cormac McCarthy?

She's unemployed but looking for a job, close to 50 and in her own words, "never been kissed" and has no airs-and-graces. She shows that a nobody, from the middle of nowhere in a poor area can have a wonderful talent which she has nurtured and shared with close friends, but now finally has the chance to get credit for in a wider arena and has fun at the same time.

And in economic times like these, who can't love that? Plus it's an awesome and fitting piece of music - and we all love to see someone prove everyone wrong, defy our prejudices and see Simon Cowell, just a bit surprised once in a while.

C'mon - you must be a little bit touched, surely? Just a tad?

Nathan Bransford said...

Look at me being all cynical. I guess I just thought 1) the judges seemed in on it even if they feigned surprise and 2) it's not surprising to me that someone unattractive would be able to sing really well.

The rags to riches is the best explanation I've heard though. I think we all need a little more of that these days.

pjd said...

I'm with you on the Boyle thing, old chap. Since I've been on vacation, I'm out of touch. Have we yet had a FailGate? And when we do, will we have a FailGateFail?

(Actually, I think the millions of hits are from American Idol fans who keep watching it to see Simon smile while simultaneously not having to listen to Randy, Paula, and Kara.)


Melanie Avila said...

Congratulations to Terry!!

LOL at the Ignoble.

And I agree with Laura K Curtis - seeing the judges AND the audience react after they laughed in her face made me very happy for her. Although she much be used to that by now...

Rick Chesler said...

Thanks for the update, Nathan.

Jenn said...

Thanks for the info on Ann & May's free book - I've already posted my entry.
And I agree with you on the lady from the talent show - I don't get the hullabaloo! She's an okay singer - not the greatest I've ever heard. I actually think its sad that people are so surprised that she has a decent voice.
Thanks for your awesome blog - its my current favorite!

Ink said...


Lol, I enjoyed the rejoinders you and Nathan left over on the Militant Writers blog.

I noticed how the militant writer (and some of the others) seemed to ignore the list of young writers with huge followings that you offered up and which she had earlier claimed didn't exist. Amusing. Though you forgot Chabon. Tsk tsk. And I don't know about them, but Lethem seems to me like a pretty good heir to Murakami. :)

My best,
Bryan Russell

Martin said...

Of course, the Barnes & Nobel reader NEEDS to be called the BARNES STORMER. ;)

PurpleClover said...

Nathan - you know you're a millionaire. ;)

Okay I just watched the Susan Boyle thing for the first time (I tried a few days ago and the video wasn't working on a FB page so I gave up). And I must admit...I blubbered like an idiot. sigh.

Nathan Bransford said...


Ooooooohhhhh. I like it.

Anjali said...

I don't get the Susan Boyle thing, either. But I will say this. I cried like a baby a few notes into her song, and all the way through to the end.

Anonymous said...


Maybe I missed it. What time Saturday night? 11:59 pm?


Marilyn Peake said...

Wow, lots of great news. One of your best This Week in Publishing posts ever. So much great news about authors, it gives me hope. (I am bleary-eyed, hoping to complete the first draft of my new sci fi novel in ten more days. Yes, I’m a fool.) Congratulations, Terry DeHart! Woo! Hoo!

I think I get the Susan Boyle thing. Over and over and over again, the judges, especially Simon Cowell, have emphasized to female contestants that they have to have a certain look ... meaning the Pussycat Doll, Britney Spears look. It seemed that the days of Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin were gone forever. Then, along comes Susan Boyle: overweight, not stylishly dressed, unemployed, middle age. Simon Cowell actually smirked and audience members rolled their eyes when she said she was 47 years old and hoping to start a singing career. Then she opened her mouth and began to sing. Her sheer talent wiped the smirk off Simon Cowell’s face and made him look like he had seen an angel. In a time when surface and material values appear to dominate everything, Susan Boyle has turned that notion upside down. There’s a wonderful lesson here. She gives us hope that anything is possible, even if conventional "wisdom" says it’s not.

Can’t wait for the results of the Be an Agent for a Day Contest. It’s gonna be a long weekend, waiting.

Nathan Bransford said...


Well... after I get home that night and before I go to bed. I don't know when that's going to be. To be safe, best to have them in by the afternoon Pacific time.

Ink said...

Oh, and as for the Susan Boyle thing, I'm of two minds. First mind, kudos to her for her perseverance and determination. Always nice to see. Second mind, well, I think it shows how shallow our society is. Let's face it, it's become a media storm because people were suprised that a dumpy and unknown 47 year old could really sing. If she was twenty five and fairly pretty, would anyone really care? It's a story because everyone was prejudging her, as if the prettiness of a face were somehow symbolically representative of a person's value or talent. Silly. And shallow.

I'm happy for her, in that it seems she's worked hard and persevered. She had that lucky shot and took advantage of it. But I'm disappointed in the surface vanity of our culture. I'm guessing a lot of people are saying "Oh, it's so cute, she can sing!" Which at heart seems pretty condescending.

Those are my two little bits of copper spinning on the tabletop.

Bryan Russell

Mira said...

Okay, I'll comment on all the interesting links in a moment, very cool, Nathan, (and major congrats on the Guardian article!!!)but first, I have a very important announcement:

I want to volunteer. Evidentally I was too late to sign up, but I don't think that should stop me.

First, let me tell you what a great volunteer I'd be.

I'd be super fast. I'd be so fast, it would be like I wasn't even counting the actual numbers. And then, it would be truly awesome how many votes my personal query got. You know, #51.

Okay, who wants to drop out and let me volunteer?

I'll barter for it. I'll give you

It will be a surprise. Yes. An incredible surprise. You'll like it. Boy, will you like it.

Okay, hurry and take this offer! It won't last forever, you know. It will actually disappear the moment someone takes me up on it.

Okay, who's first in line? No pushing now.

Nathan Bransford said...


Well said.

PurpleClover said...

I thought that was the point of the video? To teach us how shallow society is. It is a sad truth that in this world you must look a certain way to progress (they teach this in sociology).

So I think the video was a reminder of how rediculous society is. At least that is the belief I want to hold.

Dawn said...

On the Susan Boyle thing: my enjoyment of that video was watching the astounded faces of the audience because I felt they did believe that you had to look like Britney Spears to "sing." They looked at her and made a judgment, then they were overwhelmed with her beauty and that touched me. It still makes me tear up a bit. I LOVE to see that happen.

Nathan Bransford said...

While I'm very happy for her that she got her break at the perfect time, I guess I just can't escape the feeling that it's at least partly sad that anyone would be surprised.

I mean, I'm in the talent judging business. I don't look around the room and think, "Ok, where are the most attractive people? I'm sure they're the best writers!"

T. Anne said...

Hey Chap,
Susan Boyle is awesome. Hope to the hopeless maybe that's the lesson here. Everyone loves the underdog (except maybe literary agents who seem to be inundated with them). Have a great weekend!

Kristi said...

Regarding the Susan Boyle thing, for me it was an underdog thing. We (we being humans) tend to judge people more on looks than talent, so she started out with the odds unfairly stacked against her. Did anyone see the movie Rudy? Anyway, I'll always be an underdog girl (hence why I'm a K.C. Chiefs fan). Happy weekend! :)

Kristine Overbrook said...

RE: Susan Boyle -- proof that you can't tell a book from by it's cover. People are always forgetting that it really is true.

Bane of Anubis said...

Yes, Nathan, but if writers had to make videos instead of books or audio CDs, it would be a different story. It's sad in some ways, but most of us prefer looking at beautiful people... particularly the target demographic of music (& music videos); but I imagine Ms. Boyle has a strong Broadway/Classical future ahead (and hopefully she'll get everything she wants)

Nathan Bransford said...


That's a good point.

Bane of Anubis said...

And congrats to TerryD - sounds like the precursor to "The Road" w/o all the annoying grammar issues, etc... (I'm gonna stop myself before I get all vaklempt).

Dawn said...

While I'm very happy for her that she got her break at the perfect time, I guess I just can't escape the feeling that it's at least partly sad that anyone would be surprised.

I mean, I'm in the talent judging business. I don't look around the room and think, "Ok, where are the most attractive people? I'm sure they're the best writers!"
It is sad, Nathan, but remember that moment in Revenge of the Nerds when the nerds say to the pretty people, "There are more of us than there are of you."
That was the truth. She was a winner for all of us who don't fit into that pretty little crowd. *hugs to her*
*off to check out Colleen's link to Boyle's earlier performance.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan said:
I mean, I'm in the talent judging business. I don't look around the room and think, "Ok, where are the most attractive people? I'm sure they're the best writers!"I think writers are lucky that way, but I bet writers would be chosen differently if they had to appear on TV and do a dance routine or something visual. Someone once told me that singers used to be judged on talent alone when they were heard only on the radio. Once music videos became the norm, the standards changed. Sad that so many of the standards were extremely shallow. On the other hand, dance routines were added as a major visual component of music videos, and I think dance has reached an incredible level of achievement within the past few years.

Ink said...

Bane, you're killing me...

"...without all the annoying grammar issues..."

Oh man, my bone marrow just froze and cracked. You gotta take it easy on me, Bane, I can't survive reading too many lines like that...

Mira said...


My secret passion is compiling numbers on a blog about queries.

Sadly, no one believes that I can do that because I don't look like Britney Spears.

If only someone would give me the chance. A chance to prove myself. To prove that I don't have to look like Britney Spears in order to compile numbers, I really don't!

If only I could let the number compiling beauty inside me shine out....if only someone would give me a chance.....


Bane of Anubis said...

Sorry, thoughts of that book (even self-inflicted ones) get my hackles up - I know I'm in the very tiny minority... I'll try to refrain... I'll try very hard... eventually I'll get there.

Marian said...

Re: Susan Boyle. The voice is the thing, just as in're looking for the authentic voice that comes across in the query and makes it all the way into each reader's heart.
The packaging can always be dressed up (in Susan's case, wax the unibrow and fix the hair), but the authentic voice needs no embellishment.
Thanks for the query game-didn't have time to do it nor time to compile, but it was a great learning opportunity.

Mechelle Avey said...

Attractiveness matters in this industry, too, if only tangentially.

A Quote:
For most writers, says literary agent Ginger Clark, looks won't be an issue, but "the bigger the deal, the more often it matters." She explains, "If your agent is positioning you as the next big literary fiction genius—and therefore making it clear she's expecting people to bid high—she's probably doing so with the added bonus of you being attractive." But long before attractiveness enters the equation, agents and editors will be more focused on basic presentability. "A well-spoken, articulate, intelligent and witty author is always a bonus," Clark says.

Anonymous said...

I think the equivalent to Susan Boyle in writing would be the query written on pink unicorn stationary, two toffees included, no SASE. The author claims she writes like - dunno, take your pick - and then you read the first 10 pages and realize she does and she gets this amazing deal.

Wouldn't you be surprised?

kg said...

So much cynicism on here with respect to Susan Boyle!! I don't think people are pitying her or saying, "Oh, how cute." I think people genuinely were moved by her singing. Our society puts SUCH a high premium on youth and physical beauty, and Susan Boyle is an ordinary looking person. When is the last time an ordinary looking person became a media sensation? This story gives me hope not because it proves that ordinary looking people can do great things (which is obvious to anyone who spends a moment to think about it), but because it shows that we as a society have a deeper appreciation for talent and beauty than the media would suggest. American Idol won't even let anyone older than 28 compete in the show! Many of the people running our arts and cultural institutions need to be woken up to the fact that we're not as shallow as they think we are (or, perhaps, as shallow as they want us to be).

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Streisand's got nothing on Susan! WOWZA, WOWZA, WOWZA! Good on ya Susan Boyle!!

Nathan... I think it's a case of the ugly duckling quackin' like a choir of angels!

Haste yee back ;-)

Marilyn Peake said...


Good Lord. Perhaps the Pussycat Dolls or Britney Spears could be hired to talk about authors' books in TV interviews. Think about it - The Pussycat Dolls discuss the works of Cormac McCarthy, or Britney Spears discusses the works of Thomas Pynchon.

csmith said...

Get back to work. I know you're busy :P Your query counting genius will have to wait for another day!


Great post - re Susan Boyle it was such a shock just hearing her randomly appear on this rather odd show and sing; especially since it was obvious she was not trained, just a gorgeous natural talent. I tend not to gush over this stuff much, but that kind of floored me.

Re writing - probably one of the few professions left where you don't get judged on appearance. I may be slightly sensitive to this, female architects are treated with massive contempt on building sites. But it is kind of nice to be able to hide what you look like behind "12pt double spaced indent paragraphs". (And now I sound like I frighten small children when I leave the house)


Other Lisa said...

What BofA and Marilyn Peake said - musicians, especially singers, are soooo judged on their appearance. I mean, "Video Killed the Radio Star," you know? And the whole American Idolization of everything has made it even worse.

Writers largely get to escape this but not entirely - in the film business, where I used to work, it's a big advantage for screenplay writers to be young and male. Maybe we're getting away from this a little nowadays, I'm not sure. But it was that way for years.

And I think the publishing industry has had a certain number of young hot authors whose looks and youth are a peg to market their work on. I'm not saying that's why they were published, but I'm guessing it was a factor in publishers' calculations of their marketability.

csmith said...

Oh, and regarding the Holt post - because I know I use crutch words frequently, I downloaded a wordcounter. Just plug in the text, let it percolate, and then scan the list to see which words have a higher frequency than they should. Works wonders. Also confirmed my darkest suspicions about how dire some of my wordchoice was! A useful tool.


Anonymous said...

Hey Nathan. Susan Boyle is Shrek. The message in her voice resounds inner beauty being more important than our bushy eyebrows. It's the Ugly Duckling, Beauty and the Beast bollocks.

Mechelle Avey said...

Yikes, Marilyn. Maybe THAT is the future of publishing. I bought Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire and inadvertently got the Pussycat Dolls version. I don't know why the music industry felt the need to remake the song with the Pussycat Dolls right after giving A.R. Rahman an Academy Award for it. Was he not beautiful enough for the young and fabulous? If we see the future here on the Bransford blog and the future is beauty only beauty, I want Halle Berry repping me on the jacketflap. :D All the muttering about Milli Vanilli will be ignored.

Anonymous said...

I think the Susan Boyle think has gone so large because we can see, in the judge's reaction, a humbling reminder of how superficial we can all be.

Professing bewilderment at other people's surprise in finding beauty in hidden places is a worthy line to take, but actually sounds a little disingenuous.

Rightly or wrongly we are surprised by it.

Rachel said...

Great article in the Guardian!

And thanks for the query contest. It was enlightening on many, MANY levels. I sympathized with agents before and I do so even more now. (I didn't even have time to get form rejections out by the end...just commented on the requests.)

Scott said...

I think we need to get to metaFAIL before a singularity develops powerful enough to destroy the FAIL meme. I expect this to happen come the fourth quarter of the year.

Also, Susan Boyle was obviously trained. Her posture was too good. Specifically, she defied all eyebrow-to-talent ratios. Truth be told, her voice is quite lovely and affecting, and I don't understand the rabid following either, but I'm going to consider creating a character around her. ;)

Finally, thanks for the contest, Nathan. Your blog is definitely the Susan Boyle of the agent universe. And congrats, compilers, although I think it would be cool to make the queries public for feedback.

Kristin Laughtin said...

It amuses me that this post was made ten minutes before I saw it and the slots are filled already.

Congrats to terryd! That's awesome!

Re: Susan Boyle: that's exactly what we're supposed to take from it--the whole "don't judge a book by its cover" thing. Which we should understand anyway, but we're pretty judgmental creatures.

Richard Mabry said...

Always enjoy your "This Week In Publishing." Thanks for putting it together.
When I blogged about the Susan Boyle story, I likened it to writers who struggle in obscurity for years, wondering if the sweat equity in their work will ever pay off. Draw whatever conclusion you wish, write your own parable, but for me, it said, "There's always a chance." And that's good.

Nathan Bransford said...

Okay. I atone for my stick in the mudn-ess. Perhaps the nice weather this weekend will warm my cold heart.

And Scott, "eyebrows to talent ratios" was extremely hilarious.

Sasha said...

Nathan, thank you soooo much for the contest! That was a fantastic education that applies to writing and polishing my own queries.

Marilyn Peake said...

Mechelle said:
"I bought Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire and inadvertently got the Pussycat Dolls version."

Ouch! I bought the music CD for Slumdog Millionaire, but I accidentally did the same thing in trying to watch Jai Ho on YouTube - got the Pussycat Dolls' version. I actually love the dancing talent of the Pussycat Dolls, but think the original version of Jai Ho is soooooo much better ... It's a version that gets stuck in my head for days after hearing it. I love, love, love Slumdog Millionaire – and the great rags-to-riches story behind the making of that movie. But I was crushed to hear that the little kids weren’t paid much and returned to the slums after the movie was completed. I’m so hoping that situation has been remedied.

jimnduncan said...

Man, I'm just slow. I think people park on the blog waiting for it to get posted or something. Grats to those who get the critque.

As for the wonderful Susan Boyle. I don't know that you can take anything from it other than you should never give up on your dreams. Plus, it's just a very heart-warming story, always wanting to be a singer, having to care for her mother, never married, never kissed, and then to be the 'frumpy housewife' who knocks everyone's socks off after getting giggled at on stage, is just very cool.

Be fun to see how these stats turn out.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan said:
"Okay. I atone for my stick in the mudn-ess. Perhaps the nice weather this weekend will warm my cold heart."

LOL. That is funny. We know you judge literature based on the writing, Nathan, and that you rep literary novels. Thank God! Not sure how many of us could afford to hire the Pussycat Dolls to deliver our queries. :)

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

The Susan Boyle thing is fairly simple-- it's the classic feel good story. Everyone who saw her walk on onto that stage expected her to fail-- especially after she was so awkwardly saucy in responding to Simon. Everyone was expecting the absolute worst, primarily based on her appearance, coupled with her dream, which was to be like Elaine Page, who is the absolute antithesis of who Susan Boyle is. Which made what then came out doubly stunning.

Plus, it was the realization of a dream, which is I think is a theme that resonates so strongly with most people. I think everyone has a little bit of that in them-- wish they could have that moment.

Basically, Susan Boyle is a modern-day Rocky.

Other Lisa said...

@Marilyn Peake - re: Slumdog kids and filmmakers - here's the latest.

TecZ aka Dalton C Teczon - Writer said...

Ah bummers, I woke up way to late today, I would of jumped on this. Congrats to the first ten! Thanks for the updates, Nathan. It's encouraging to see the successes.

abc said...

I know I should be over this whole FAIL thing, but it still makes me laugh. I guess I'm easy. For laughs, that is. Also, I agree about Susan Boyle. It's kinda offensive that it is so *surprising*. Also, Tim Riggins!

(Does Tim Riggins = puppies? Yes.)

Furious D said...

1. Congrats Terryd, I'm burning with white hot jealousy.

2. Free books= always awesome. Book with me in it available via Amazon= REALLY AMAZING. (It's a small press book, I gotta shill it anyway I can)

3. That's code for: "We're p*ssing away millions on book deals with D-List celebrities rather than something people might actually read."

4. They could call it the Barndle.

5. The story sort of reminds me of the Canada Customs Agency in Toronto in the 1990s. They were always seizing books being shipped to a GLBT bookstore, while letting the exact same books get shipped to the mainstream bookstores.

6. I'm working on The Old Man & The Sea Meets Godzilla.

7. With the way print media's going, you'll probably have more readers than the Guardian soon.

8. Very clever, those interviews are just a clever ploy for him to find a new agent!!!

9. The contest rejected my YA novel, The Bridge to Terabithia Gets Eaten By Godzilla. Then she beat me up for "bastardizing" her work. She's tough.

10. And the word is F-U-R-I-O-U-S-D. Wait a minute!!

11. It's the eyebrows, they have a hypnotic effect on mere mortals. Every YouTube view is another slave to her plot to conquer the world through brow-power!

Thomas Burchfield said...

I hid under the table during the Be an Agent for a Week Contest, but I did avidly read The Ten Mistakes Writers Make with appropriate wincing. We always need reminding.

Hey, isn't that whole YouTube just a rehash of the William Hung Show a few years back?

Eva Ulian said...

A big thank you Nathan for giving us this opportunity to be an Agent for a Day- I'll never forget it. Thanks to all the volunteers too.

With regards to the Susan Boyle phenomenon, Michael Hyatt has just published a touching and thoughtful blog post on that which you can see:’s-holding-you-back.html

Jen said...

I have to agree with Barbara in regards to the "whole Susan Boyle thing".

For me, it was absolutely the realization of a dream. Her voice is truly beautiful, imo, and I enjoyed her version of "Cry Me A River" even more than her Le Mis song.

In any event, what I took away from this was 1) Don't give up on your dream, ever and 2) A new voice to be listening for. I lurves me some music, and I'm happy to have *hopefully* a new artist to listen to.

Good luck to the compilers and thanks to Nathan for running the contest...very informative!

Scott said...

Barbara Caridad Ferrer absolutely nailed it.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "And congrats, compilers, although I think it would be cool to make the queries public for feedback."

As one of the Compiling Ten, I think non-public is the way to go. Anyway that's my preference. (I have started compiling already - low, low acceptance rates so far - I was starting to feel a little sorry for the queriers!)

Marilyn Peake said...

Other Lisa,

Oh, thank you so much for that link! It restores my faith in those very talented filmmakers (and in humanity in general).

Angie Mizzell said...

I had a similar thought about the Susan Boyle story today when I saw her on the Today Show. But I think what was so compelling about the video, beside the fact that her voice is amazing, was the reaction from the judges and the audience. They were definitely doubting her and not taking her seriously. The looks on their faces as she sang the first note were priceless. It's hard to say what any of us would have done or thought if we had seen the event unfold in real time, but most of us viewed the video knowing already she was a phenomenal singer. Just a thought to throw in the ring.

Genny said...

I clicked over and watched the Susan Boyle video...good for her! I agree with Jen; it's a great reminder to never give up on your dreams.

By the way, I've really enjoyed reading the "agent for a day" queries and comments. Very fun and informative.

Have a great weekend.

Anonymous said...

How you look matters in freelance writing. Unattractive people often don't get bylines in the big magazines -- magazines like to have pictures of their writers...

Rachel said...


Regarding Slumdog...the children actually were paid well and they were secured spots in nice schools for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, their parents squandered the money and aren't taking them to school. So...the producers of Slumdog did right. It's just a sad, sad case of the realities of life in slums.

Jen C said...

FAIL isn't dead! I still like FAIL. Have you seen Classic!

Jen, who loves to see crazes through until they're amazingly, unbelievably annoying and everyone wants to dig their own eyes and ears out with spoons so that they never have to encounter them again.

FibCarver said...

Thanks for the Holt Uncensored link, Nathan. Hubby & I run a writers' forum and we're going to be pointing people in that general direction to have a darn good read.

That Scottish lady ... when she opened her mouth and that unbelievably gorgeous sound came out, it filled my heart. I've watched the video five times and it still makes me tear up with wonder.

Alyssa said...

I think everyone likes having their expectations upended positively. Whether it's because you expect that an older, not terribly attractive, totally awkward woman can't sing.. or if you are like me, a reality-TV cynic who expects most people who go onto these shows to be mostly talentless. I think we all know that the producers of these shows will let a select number of people who are laughably bad through the screening process for early elimination. Because we humans are total jerks and like to laugh at people who are unappealing for some reason who've just gotten their dreams crushed. (I don't exempt myself from this category, I love watching Gordon Ramsay yell at young, cocky chefs when they burn the risotto.)

I think the Susan Boyle story was a very clever bait and switch. I *have* to assume that the show folks knew what people who think when they saw her, and knew how to manipulate that to make a good bit of TV. I am glad that in this case, good reality TV lined up with fulfilling someone's dream... but I am too jaded to believe that it was purely good intentions.

Marilyn Peake said...


Wow. That is very sad.

Tricia from England said...

I think the Susan Boyle thing is not so much about her humble background, but more about preconception by the audience (at the audition and on TV) that she'd have a voice to match her looks. According to a few people on forums here in the UK, who were at the theatre for that audition, a lot was cut out in the edit, and she was given a particularly hard time by the judges, especially Amanda Holden, the female one, who was laughing her head off when Susan walked on, and tried to discourage her from doing the Les Mis number and do something by Britney Spears instead, much to the amusement of the audience.

I see she's already had a bit of a makeover since it was recorded, and the grey frizz has gone. She'll look like Julia Roberts by the final, no doubt...

disorderly said...

Nathan, if you never do another worthwhile thing as long as you live, you've discharged your duty admirably by providing a link to Pat Holt's blog posting about ten common--and commonly overlooked--writing mistakes. I salute you, sir...and Pat, too. :-)

Jo said...

Re. the Susan Boyle thing.
I agree that the surprise seems out of proportion. I for one am much more surprised to find that someone who looks like a perfectly proportioned, coiffed mannequin can sing or dance or act or do anything more than look ornamental.

Rachel said...


I know, it is. I've actually been through the slums in Mumbai and it's shocking. But it's the only life the people who live there know. Without any kind of social infrastructure to help them transition, it's no wonder they've kept within their comfort zone. Anyway, have a good weekend.

Anonymous said...

From the Susan Boyle story, I took that the producers of the show understood that conventional reality TV has jumped the shark, and that it's time to re-evaluate the formula of constantly making fun of people making fools of themselves.

Alyssa's right, it's too big a coincidence. The show people didn't interview the singer in enough depth to find out that she'd "never been kissed" while ALSO missing her many years of talent contests.

Anyway, what really troubles me on "This Week In Publishing" is the PubLunch thing. Agents are ultimately salespeople, after all, and if the publishers are cutting back on what they buy, there's not much the agent can do. I ask because long ago in the 90s, I had an agent who gave up on my book after about a year, saying that the market was just "too closed". I doubt he was a charlatan, since he never asked me for a cent.

So Nathan --- out of all the manuscripts by authors that you agree to represent, how many do you end up selling? Fifty percent? Ten percent? Ninety?

Kate Higgins said...

Susan Boyle is the classic case of never judging a book by it's cover. It's the 20 million people who have been humbled not the humble woman. She is a Cinderella story without the fairy godmother only a great and hidden talent that she herself brought to the foreground.
Basically she is the essence of never give up your dreams.
That's why people query agents against the odds.

Dara said...

Does anyone know when and where this whole "fail" obsession started? :P I wondered about that.

As with most internet phenomenon, it'll eventually become a thing of the past. And then something else equally as silly will take its place.

As always, thanks for all the links! :)

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "So Nathan --- out of all the manuscripts by authors that you agree to represent, how many do you end up selling? Fifty percent? Ten percent? Ninety?"

Well, I just had a long conversation with my dad about proprietary information, and so my brain is going "that's proprietary information!"

Yes, I've definitely had enough on the computer time today.

Christine H said...

From the "Ten Mistakes" article, I have to add a comment here. I agree with everything but the "regular features" phrase that was questioned. "Regular" in this context doesn't mean "ordinary."

I think it means "evenly or uniformly arranged; symmetrical."

That's how I read it, anyway.

Otherwise, I think that is a fantastic article. Most of those things I already try to avoid, but it was a good reminder to keep an eye out for them.

Mira said...

Wow, Rachel, that is sad.

Okay. I had to leave for awhile. Upon return, I expected several people would offer to allow me to replace them as a volunteer.

Instead nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Okay. Maybe I was going about this the wrong way. Perhaps given the current climate I shouldn't try to make people feel guilty. I admit it. I's not true that no one will let me compile numbers because I don't look like Britney Spears.

What's actually true is that I look exactly like Britney Spears.

Well, not exactly. I'm alittle prettier. (Sorry, Britney, don't feel bad. We can't both be super-stars.)

(Well, maybe in this case we can, but you know what I mean.)

Don't you want someone who looks like Britney Spears (but alittle prettier) to take over your volunteer slot?

You know you do! Come on, baby, hit me once again....with that volunteer slot!

Mystery Robin said...

That Simon is human. Seriously - it's all about watching his face light up. I don't know what it is, but seeing him seriously impressed is worth gold.

Without Simon, nobody would be twittering about Susan, I'm sorry to say.

But also, what the blonde lady in the show said - it's a wake up call against cynicism.

Anonymous said...

Re: "So Nathan --- out of all the manuscripts by authors that you agree to represent, how many do you end up selling? Fifty percent? Ten percent? Ninety?"

Good point Wanda... withdrawing the question.

Nathan Bransford said...


It's not so much confidential as it is hard to answer. I've been a full agent for a few years and I have a lot of projects currently on submission. I've sold more than not, but there are a lot of plates in the air.

PurpleClover said...


I give you permission to compile all the numbers you want for queries 1-50. ;)

Nathan - can we maybe give her a job? She could be the "reference" for double checking numbers or something...anything. I'm feeling sorry for her with those puppy dog eyes and all...or would that be like rewarding bad behavior?? lol.


The First Carol said...

Unlike my taxes I thought I'd get on this right away.
6:23 PM showered, casual dress, comfy spot in most quiet domain of the house, the RV. Began.
6:31 PM needed music, estimating 3 hours for everything.
6:37 PM trying cut and paste; notepad, don't fail me now.
6:40 PM switched to WORD to boldface and copy
6:54 PM have 110 entries, estimating 1500 to go, new time estimate 7.5 hours, better take that extra half hour, eight hours, ouch.
7:02 PM have 157, all right, speeding up
7:07 PM have 192 commenters noted in spreadsheet, blogger reports 200 exist, missed eight, sh*t!
7:16 PM recount is only 197, crap.
7:31 PM up to 199, only missing one, good enough.
7:48 PM at comment #295 singing Italian with Josh Grobin, mulling over fact that Nathan is allowing additions thru Saturday. Crap. :-( Buck up, girl, crank up Utopia's Messenger of God (thank you for that grunge).
7:58 PM missing two, blogger has crappy counter.
8:09 PM not blogger, ME, found missing agents...regrettably must go back and find 219th.
8:23 PM except for that missing 219, tally is complete.
8:25 PM Musing over the combination of the words, 'good luck in finding,' and how the displacement of a couple of vowels changes everything.
New estimate, 10 hours, 8 remaining…

Tess said...

Re Susan Boyle:

Have you ever felt undervalued?

Have you ever felt like people just don't see the beauty in who you are....don't really get what you have to offer?

Writers feel that quite a lot, I think.

If you have never felt that way...never tried to do something that others thought you could not -- then you are very lucky. And, you would likely not relate.

It's nice to see the underdog win once in a while. It gives me, for one, hope.

Mira said...

Purple Clover - bad behavior?

Have I been bad again?

Whoops. I did it again.

Ha ha.

But go ahead. Flaunt your special volunteer status and tease the poor non-volunteer.

Never mind. I don't need Nathan to give me a job. I'm an empowered adult woman who doesn't need anyone to give her a job to feel a sense of purpose and meaning in my life.

Instead, I'll give myself a job.

I'm going to supervise the other volunteers.

Okay, volunteers. Here are my instructions:

Do what Nathan says.

Okay, that felt good.

Job well done.

I helped.

Mira said...

Oh, Purple Clover, I realized you aren't a volunteer.

And you were trying to help get me a job.

You're a sweetheart.

But you see, it all worked out!

The First Carol said...

okay, got it, now I'm doing it the right way! hahaha

Sarah Laurenson said...

Susan Boyle. Yes. My heart goes pitter pat for any woman with such a beautiful voice. I could sit and listen to her sing for a very long time.

My take? Talent will out. It might take years. It might be in the weirdest place. It might be in an unexpected package. But it will out. And that raises all of our hopes.

And to watch that audience and those judges be cynical and then get totally blown away - that was priceless.

Mira said...

That discussion at Militant Writer was interesting.

I love writer advocates. Yea!

Too bad she got it reversed, though - the publishers are the ones who created this monster of a system - an incestous and narrow-visioned monopoly that mostly cares about money but manages to make very little of it anyway because of the bottleneck and lack of intelligent marketing.

Agents are a publisher out-sourcing. Reduces their workload and costs. It's paying people to read submissions on a commission basis.

Nathan, you did an outstanding job of diplomatically building bridges. I was so proud. I was like - Hey, that's Nathan! I go to his blog!

Mira said...

Oh, I know I'm talking too much.

Last one tonight, promise. I just starting going through the links.

I'm sorry. I think the Susan Boyle thing was completely contrived. Totally planned in advance.

They set up the idea that she was laughable in their initial comments, and then pretended shock.

Also, I was really expecting someone extremely unattractive, but I thought she was a quite appealing older woman - in a feisty motherly or grandmotherly sort of way.

She'll be very successful. Brilliat marketing.

Doesn't mean the discussions around this aren't significantand important, though.

Sara J. Henry said...

Nathan, re Susan Boyle - it's like that moment in Pretty Woman when the Julia Roberts character goes back to the snobby Rodeo Drive salesladies and thumbs her nose at them - it's the high school nerd become homecoming queen - it's the happily-ever-after ending most of us have become too jaundiced to even begin to believe in. It's seeing someone who knows she's dowdy and knows the crowd is laughing at her (and not in a nice way) and standing up to them and knocking their socks off and making at least some of them realize what jerks they were for assuming that you have to be beautiful and well-dressed to have talent.

It's magic - it's dreams coming true - and it says to everyone who has faced adversity Dare to dream.

Or something like that.

M. K. Clarke said...

Damn, day late, dollar short. Nathan, if you need another pair of eyes, I'll pinch hit for ya. :)


Jen C said...

Mira said...
Nathan, you did an outstanding job of diplomatically building bridges. I was so proud. I was like - Hey, that's Nathan! I go to his blog!


Nathan Bransford said...

mira, you're on a roll tonight!

Writer from Hell said...

Susan Boyle

Someone who has been a failure for 47 years can suddenly turn a star! Moral of the story - never too late for success - never write yourself off no matter how many failures or disappointments you have faced!

Life is unpredictable, life can be magic....yes your life!

Writer from Hell said...

Equally, never write anyone else off either...

Writer from Hell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"While I'm very happy for her that she got her break at the perfect time, I guess I just can't escape the feeling that it's at least partly sad that anyone would be surprised.

I mean, I'm in the talent judging business. I don't look around the room and think, "Ok, where are the most attractive people? I'm sure they're the best writers!""

Aw, c'mon Nathan. Stop being disengenous. Take a look at author photos. Jonathan Franzen's, for instance. I've met the man, and boy, I can tell you, *someone* did him a big fat photo-op service!

(But why bother, right? I mean the man's got talent, right? Who cares what he looks like, right?)

Lookism is alive and well in the book industry, and you know it. Think of the cooing over Zadie Smith. Compare and contrast with the way and the reason Olivia Goldsmith died.


Anonymous said...


Here's a photo of Marina Lewycka posing at the Orange Prize:

And Kate Winslet posing

Maybe they went to the same charm school?


Writer from Hell said...

I know everybody has a different take and without sounding like arguing with someone (though I am doing so), I don't think the surprise is how susan looked. I mean have u not see really ugly people(sorry) successful before? I've seen plenty.

But it is about a tragic life (never been kissed by a man - that is the definition of tragedy i think) turning around not on the basis of luck but sheer talent. Somewhere thru all her struggles and frustrations, she has held on to something.

That is heroism!

The First Carol said...

Stats on # of requests compiled to date. Won't take much to finish out latecomers after contest closes. Q: Are we posting here or emailing accepted/rejected numbers and percentages directly to you?Of course, after the thorough vetting of the queries, and resultant illuminating education, MY PERSONAL QUERY, has been REVAMPED. Q: When I email to you, what should I put in the subject line to enable quick ID to roll it into your 'barter a query critique' pile? My email is pearlofcarol (at) gmail (dot) com.

Lastly, my compliments and sincere thank you for the overall experience and the, uh, ...nightmares. Last night I dreamt I took a curve too fast and about the time I thought, I should apply the brakes, it was too late. I hurtled off road into trees. Surprisingly, didn't feel a thing. My head rested comfortably on the air bag while a helicopter hovered focusing a bright light through the driver's window, I surmise to check if I still breathed.

Bring on the medics, the counselors, the Xanax...I'll be in recovery for awhile. But man, was it fun!

clindsay said...

Nathan -

Did you also want a list of the commenters who requested or just the basic numbers.


Cheryl Pickett said...

In regard to your question about the Susan Boyle singer thing, I think writers and authors can learn something there.

To me it's not the fact that plain and ordinary can be extraordinary, but a reminder that that being extraordinary is what gets attention.

With the thousands of options of what people have to read, listen to or watch at any given moment, just being "good" (as good as that is) may not get you noticed.

Any "good" singer might move on in the competition, but an overwhelmingly talented person like Susan obviously gets the attention, much more in the deal. I'm sure similar things happen in the book industry on a regular basis and it's good for authors to keep that in perspective.

jimnduncan said...

Hey, wait a minute! Colleen doesn't need that query critique. Perhaps if I set this nice bottle of scotch on her desk, she'll put her name to my query? Maybe...

Owl Sprite said...

I'm finally done with the queries!!! Oh my that got harder and harder... the queries just got better and better.

Kudos to everyone... what a brave thing to put your queries up there for all the world to shred.

I'm really glad mine didn't get picked. I don't know how I could have stood seeing it next to all these really professional, polished queries, and all the "form rejections" it would have gotten.

Now that I see these, I think mine may be totally unpublishable. But I'm going to finish it anyway, for the discipline and practice of writing the book.

Maybe I'll self publish and inflict copies on my relatives for Christmas.

Have a great weekend, everyone. I don't envy the tabulators.

My picks: 20, 24, 26, 29, and 50.

Yes, my geekiness is showing! But I loved every one of these and can see a readership for them.

The medical imaging one I think is absolutely important and needed.

Owl Sprite said...

PS Thought for the day...

If the hero of my novel saves a maiden in a forest and no one reads it, do they still exist?

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ian said...

Nathan, you must put a hell of a lot of hours into your job. I hope they pay you well.

PurpleClover said...

Owl Sprite - like your post script. We mut think alike:

Check out number 10:

Mira said...

Try that again. Let's focus here.

Thanks for the compliment, Nathan. I was going to be all casual, like oh, yeah, sure, agents I respect compliment me all the time, no biggie except I'm beaming too hard to make it work. Even in typing.

PurpleClover said...

*sigh* grammar check: MUST

Ink said...

Sigh. Am I just a downer? A pessimist? (I do love Eeyore, I admit...)

Part of me agrees entirely with what everyone is saying about Susan Boyle. She did great, she held to her dreams, she persevered... She deserves credit. She had her moment and nailed it. Hopefully we can all be as lucky when (or if) our moment comes along(this would be a good place for a "clutch shooting" metaphor...).

But... I'm sorry, not being kissed by a man is not a tragedy. It's called chastity. Sometimes, you know, it's even considered a virtue. And she's not "overwhelmingly talented". She's a very good singer, but there are a lot of very good singers. I don't mean that to be snarky or unkind in any way. She's great; but there are a number of equally great singers in every city you'll every pass through. That's just a fact.

That show played on the shallowness of our culture, the shallowness of a mass audience - and that shallowness is something they've helped create by setting a lot of people up to be humiliated (though at least people like William Hung had the cleverness and chutzpah to make it work to their own ends). They've helped build that preconception into the audience. And then they carefully orchestrated this scenario to turn the tables, preying on that shallowness to surprise everyone.

But why is it surprising? What does it say about our culture that it's so surprising and newsworthy that this woman can sing? We shouldn't be in this situation to start with, though I can't say that I'm surprised that we are.

I see it this way, there's roughly three options in this scenario -

Dumpy older woman can sing and shocks everybody: Big Sensation

Gorgeous young supermodel can sing: Next Hot Thing.

Above average and pleasant thirty year old can sing: Ho Hum.

I dislike the manipulation involved, how it plays to the lowest common denominator. I'm happy for Susan... but she should have had more opportunities before now. We shouldn't need a moment of manipulated reality for people of talent to find opportunities. I hope Susan does well, as she deserves it - and I hope it's something more meaningful than fifteen minutes of fame. It would be sad if she's famous for a week, famous for the novelty of the moment, and then everyone forgets about her and the opportunities dry up. And what of all the other equally talented people who are being denied because of the shallowness of our culture? I just find it a little sad that we are where we are: a culture that can be shocked and delighted by this (though I'm happy she sang well and her singing moved a lot of people - she will, at least, always have that).

I like writing. Our talent is isolated upon the page. It has to stand for itself. I'm sure, when it comes time for publicity photos, that it helps to be beautiful (sadly). But that's not what kicks open the doors for you. It's the words on the page, words a writer will disappear behind (unless, you know, the manuscript was written on chocolate leaves and wrapped in edible lingerie).

I hope the Susan Boyle thing opens the eyes of a lot of people and helps to change that preconception, that ridiculous assumption that beauty is somehow a measure of talent. I hope so, but I fear that a lot of people will see the Susan Boyle videos and think that it's a wonderful exception to the rule. I may be wrong, and I hope I am... but I doubt it.

I did say I was an Eeyore fan, didn't I? (though only the original A.A. Milne version. He's a pessimist... but a sarcastic and hiliarious one. The new Eeyore is usually just sort of pathetic.)

I'll shut up now.

Good words and better stories to each and everyone,

Bryan Russell

Writer from Hell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
valbrussell said...

The Susan Boyle hype reminded me of my reaction to a certain pop singer from my childhood. Three hundred years ago when I was eleven, Barry Manilow arrived in my reality via radio. You know, that old transmitter of song we used before video and big hair bands. I recall standing outside in the school yard at recess, discussing 'Mandy' and giggling with my friends about how cute Barry must be. Then, we were all dealt a crushing blow: Barry Manilow appeared on a talk show and destroyed the fantasy. I think there is a little of that in the perverse reverse going on here with Miss Susan. Do looks matter? They shouldn't but they do. ;) Can she sing? Yeah, better than your average bear but she is nowhere near a professional standard. If Susan Boyle desires longevity she requires the following: A good surgeon, a stylist, more vocal training and a drug habit. How is that for cynical? She is being used a sideshow freak and if she ups her standard of living, more power to her. Hey, Britney Spears has been a sideshow freak for some time and oh we do like to watch that stuff don't we? You know you do!

Writer from Hell said...

ok this blogpost is not about susan boyle nevertheless..

I saw that video, I felt it was a moment in time - now it could touch you or it couldn't - no marks either way.

If her predicament is considered a virtue or chastity, that is an even bigger tragedy. Bryan Russell (ink) you deserve a break. Eeyore must learn to kiss. But that reminds me there are almost no female characters in that frienship circle - unless u count kanga. pity.

Ink said...

Well, what's her "predicament"? I admit, I haven't followed up to find her whole history or anything, I've just seen the clips, and they don't really show anything much about her backstory.

But I just think that if you haven't found the right person and haven't been kissed... that's not a tragedy. A tragedy is your child falling into a working combine. There's nothing wrong with being single (oooh, there's another cultural foible that burns me a little... everyone has to find someone! Must date! Must marry! Can't be alone! I think more people should spend a little time alone. It's healthy. It keeps you from basing your ideas of self on the opinions of others. Being with someone for the sake of being with someone is silly, and often a recipe for disaster. There's nothing wrong with waiting - not that I'm saying you're suggesting any of this, writer from hell, but you have inadvertently pushed my rant button). If she has more of a "predicament" than this, I will cheer harder for her (and I am cheering for her). I just find it sad to see where we are, poor punctured little idealist that I am.

Not that I'm against kissing! I kiss all the time! I'm married, so I have to. ;)

My best,

Wordver: hatinge. But it's got me all wrong!

Laura said...

The Susan Boyle story is the ultimate underdog. People love to see someone who's been overlooked and bullied (as she was throughout school, etc.) and she was even being actively laughed at before she began singing.

She turned the audience around from jeers to cheers-- we love an underdog story. She showed them all.

Ian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mira said...

I believe if a woman or man reaches the age of 47, and has never been kissed in today's permissive culture, that's by choice. That's even if the person is - by whatever current standards of cultural beauty - considered 'terribly ugly' and I think Susan Boyle doesn't fit that discription.

By choice, I don't mean a mature, conscious choice, necessarily. It may be a choice through low self-esteem. Or, if someone has experience abuse, they may be frightened of getting too close.

I suspect Susan has gone through a hard time in life. I am happy for her. Audience manipulation or not, this should change her life - hopefully in many wonderful ways that give her validation.

If she wants to be kissed, I'm sure she'll have plenty of options very soon.

I just hope they don't do a reality show on it. Sort of a Bachelorette - Susan picks the man who will finally kiss her.

Oh god. Awful.

Oh god. I totally patent that idea. It's mine. Or copyright it. Or whatever I need to do to make money off this. That is the idea, right?

Ian said...

I totally agree with you Laura. Something VERY special happened in that performance. I was moved to tears. Her photo has been on the front page of all the British newspapers and, of course, she is the number one topic on the net. She is even on the news in China.

It's going to be hard for her to match that next time, but I'm rooting for her.

2readornot said...

This was a great contest -- thanks! I found it interesting how few queries really did stand out -- but then, I'm a very picky reader too. I better understand how passion plays such a role in this business (as I think I could sell every one of the books I requested, assuming their writing lived up to the query).

Nathan Bransford said...


Just the basic numbers.

And Ariel -- I think the difference is that attractiveness adds to the marketability of the author, say, on the level of having a popular blog. But that doesn't mean that anyone would be surprised that someone unattractive could write. I wouldn't look at someone unattractive, then look at their pages and be surprised in the least if it were good.

Nathan Bransford said...

first carol-

Please e-mail them to me. No need to have a special subject line, just something that makes sense.

Thanks again, everyone!

Jen P said...

Mira - OK, then I claim her book title - 'I dreamed a dream'. Or 'I did it my way'? What's the betting she gets a deal somewhere to tell the whole story from past to present including whatever will come in the next 6 months (winning the show, Royal Variety Performance, Record deal, surely at least.) Is there a market for rags to riches stories in times of economic trouble - any takers?

Mira said...

Jen P.

You win. Your idea is better.

But I want the movie rights.

Christine H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mira said...

Oh. Time for my weekly promotion.

If you're reading this blog today, you should come over to my place.

We're playing a forum game called: Get The Cookie

You come in a character voice and try to get the cookie.

So far, that poor cookie has been politely asked for, beamed up, locked up, stolen, made to feel terribly guilty, seduced, threatened, manipulated and traded for. There have been mentions of fairy dust and memory wipes.

Think you can top that?

Best thing about the site is it can be completely anonymous, if you want.

No one has to know you're there. Sneak in, get the cookie, sneak out.

Check it out: Come In Character: Get the cookie

Mira said...

Thanks to Marilyn who told me how to post a link!

Marilyn Peake said...


I love your Come in Character blog. I'm writing like crazy today, determined to finish my novel in nine more days. I'm on a roll; think I'm gonna make it. But...cookie? You said cookie? I'm so into that. I'll send some of my characters over there later today. Cookie? Oh, they so want that cookie.

Mira said...


I've missed you! I wondered where you got to.

Oh. So you've been writing. Hmmm.
Is finishing your novel more important than coming to my blog?

Wow. This is a hard one.

I'll have to think about this.

I will say, that's amazing that you're almost done with your new novel!!!

Kudos, kudos, many kudos to you!

Mira said...

And yes, you deserve a cookie break.

Maybe even a real one. Nine days. Wow. Gotta keep your strength up.

Central Content Publisher said...

Susan Boyle Explained

Martin Amis called writing a war against cliche. Apparently, the same is true of performance.

Jen C said...

It's the words on the page, words a writer will disappear behind (unless, you know, the manuscript was written on chocolate leaves and wrapped in edible lingerie).

I'm so stealing this idea when I start querying. Nathan, watch your letterbox...

Kristi said...

The links this week have been the best ever. The agent interviews and tips for new writers were priceless and I have them bookmarked. Thanks so much, Nathan!

Writer from Hell said...

Susan Boyle was uncomely was standing was shifting in uncomeliness and when she started singing audience was actually surprised and wowed by the comeliness of her voice.

'nuff said. really.

'Writers mistakes' was the best link in the blogpost. Though I actually never ever make those mistakes. Actually really!

jil said...

For me,Susan Boyle was beautiful when she sang; such grace and dignity. Some "beautiful" people become less and less attractive the more you see them. Some unattractive people become more and more beautiful.
We all love the beast in the fairy tale. We learned from stories when we were children, perhaps some will learn from this one as adults.

After all. Pavorotti was not so glamorous off stage.

Anyone who makes me cry from their first note must be very beautiful!!

Annie Reynolds said...

Msay be too late, but i would be HAPPY TO HELP!!!
sign me up.

Annie Reynolds said...

Ok lets try that again with out the typos so you know i can speak english instead of gobildigook. YES PLEASE SIGN ME UP . I would love to help out.

Nathan Bransford said...

Contest is closed!!!

hippokrene said...

Thank you for the link to Holt

Nixy Valentine said...

RE: Susan Boyle

I found Susan Boyle inspirational not because of her talent and not because of her age and appearance, but because she strutted onto that stage and sang her heart out fully aware of of the jeers and eyerolling.

I love her because she's so much like me... ordinary and real. So I identify with her situation, an am awed by her courage. I could never walk out there knowing that kind of reception was waiting for me.

Now that I think of it, it's the same thing I want in books: a character I can identify with doing the things I secretly wish I could do.

Susan would be lovely to me even if she couldn't sing well. =)

Nixy Valentine said...

Oh, and I forgot to add this: about the blogger who is convinced you're responsible for the downfall of literature...

Nathan, my dear, DON'T FEED THE TROLLS.

I appreciate the desire to reply when someone is publicly negative about you, but really, DON'T FEED THE TROLLS.

Trust me. ♥ They go away faster when they don't get the attention they so desperately crave.

Anonymous said...

The "ten mistakes" article was mostly straw-man crap. The person couldn't even format paras properly.

Writer from Hell said...

anon 4:07 am. - right above.

yea I went back and checked - u r bang on. Why do I get impressed so easily?

Writer from Hell said...

But some good points in there actually!! absolutely.

Mira said...

Oh, I overlooked this - sorry I was distracted.

Terry D. Congratulations!! Not one, but two books deals.

Wow. Outstanding! Best of luck to you!

terryd said...

Thanks for the mention, Nathan and fine people! The first book will be published in summer 2010.

Wonder how many rejections Susan Boyle received.

jimnduncan said...

That was a cool interview at Poets and Writers. Lots of good info for folks to peruse. Certainly recommend it for those who haven't looked at it yet. If you have read it Nathan, I'm curious if your take is pretty similar to theirs. They seemed to all be literary and non-fiction agents (at least that's all they spoke of), so I'm curious if anything is different for agents who rep genre fiction.

One thing they spoke of, and I'm not sure how tongue-in-cheek it was or if they were serious, but they spoke about Revolutionary Road and how nice it was to see such a bleak book hit the best seller list (tied into how movies can make a nothing book into something). They said it was cool to read depressing books. Is this seriously how lit fiction is looked at? The bleaker the better? Is there some weird, unwritten rule in writing that serious, artistic writing has to delve into the darkness of the human psyche and society? I don't read much literary fiction because of this perception. I'll admit as much.

This might make for an interesting post sometime, because I'm sure I'm not the only one who wonders about this.

Mira said...

terryd - that's a really good point about Susan Boyle.

You should let us know when they're out. You must be so excited.

Anonymous said...

Too bad Hillary Clinton couldn't sing like Susan Boyle during the last democratic primary.

mythicagirl said...

Susan Boyle was a woman many had overlooked and underestimated. Though she'd sung all her life, for whatever reason she never got far with her dream. However from what I've read she's now fulfilling a promise to her mother. Mom (and Susan's friends) knew how talented she was. After her mother died, Susan decided to go for her dream with a one in a million shot at success, because reality shows can be brutal.

It's a feel good, inspirational story that shows its never too late to go for your dreams.

I'm reminded of the baseball player Satchel Page, who went from the Negro leagues in his 40's to success in Major league baseball.
I believe his quote was "Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter."

Another example is Elizabeth Cotton, a self taught blues guitarist who won a grammy when she was in her 70's, after going back to doing what she loved.

Annalee said...

Stats for 21-25 have been emailed. Thanks for running this!

EmilyR said...

Stats for #36-40 sent this a.m. Thanks for the great contest!

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

I emailed my stats for #41-45 today too! (Sunday)

«Oldest ‹Older   1 – 200 of 213   Newer› Newest»
Related Posts with Thumbnails