Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Guest Blog Week: Re: Your Query for THE HOBBIT

NB: I'm not sure if my sympathies are with J.R.R. Tolkien or with the (fictional) agent. Herbert makes some good points!!

By: Peter Cooper

Dear Mr. Tolkien,

Thank you for submitting a query for your children's novel, "The Hobbit". I regret to inform you that while the proposal shows merit, this agency may not be the best fit for your work.

If I might venture some feedback, your query letter needs to be improved if future submissions are to be met with success. Although well written, with some of the strongest grammar this agency has ever seen, your outline of the dilemma facing the main protagonist failed to engage me on an emotional level. You also spent far too much time talking about your professorship and expertise in Norse mythology and foreign languages. What has that got to do with anything? Tell me about your book!

On to the sample pages you supplied. From what I can see, most of your first chapter is taken up with back-story concerning "hobbits" and their unusual living arrangements. Indeed - by the end of this first chapter, the story still hasn't started. Might I suggest commencing at a different point in the narrative? Your best bet would be to open with Bilbo in the grip of the Trolls, and gradually, as the tale progresses, present the back-story of how he came to be there. This will grab your young reader's attention from the start, enticing them to read further while moving the story along at a much quicker pace.

As for the main protagonist - is it likely that children will relate to a fifty-something man with hairy feet who lives in a pit? Might I suggest making Bilbo younger and perhaps a tad less hairy? How about having him as a young tear-away living in his parent's attic, perhaps escaping one night by tying his bed-sheets together, that sort of thing. This demonstration of a rebellious attitude and a desire for personal empowerment will far better capture the imagination of a young reader than a middle-aged man running off without a pocket-handkerchief. Trust me.

This might be a good place to mention the apparent gender imbalance in the work. There would appear to be just a slight deficiency of female characters in the story. To put this another way, there are none - zilch - zero. There are men with hairy feet, men with long beards, men with pipes, men who can see in the dark - there are even men who can turn into bears. There are men of every size, shape and smoking habit imaginable, but the closest you come to a female character is the inclusion of several slightly effeminate elves. This just won't cut it in today's publishing world. If you want to attract a female audience, you must include strong female role-models. My suggestion would be to make the wizard a woman. Gandalina has a nice ring to it. But lose the beard.

A final comment - the conclusion of your story is far from satisfactory. Having brought Bilbo across miles of uncharted wilderness and ever-present danger, someone else kills the dragon! I can already hear the wails of your young readers, devastated at such a radical deviation from accepted norms of children's literature. I for one will not subject them to such a trial.

I wish you all the very best for your future submissions. Remember, publication is a highly subjective business, and one person's trash may indeed be another person's gold.

Yours Sincerely,
Herbert T. Agent






124 comments:

Jenn said...

Very entertaining. This is why we query, query, query!

Love it. Along the lines I was thinking with my guest blog (funny, ironic, but sadly realistic).

Thanks for sharing!

PurpleClover said...

What she said! hehe.

CKHB said...

God, I loved reading The Hobbit in third grade... back, fiendish editors! BACK!

Rick Daley said...

I bow down to your wit. This was priceless! I would add in a bunch of Tolkien references, but I used mine up yesterday.

Dara said...

LOL!

I'm thinking many of our literary classics would get the same in today's market. What would've worked 50 years ago wouldn't work now. It's interesting to see how our literary tastes have evolved.

RW said...

Hilarious and a good reminder that most of the rules of good writing that got thrown in our faces don't stand up to a few minutes thinking.

T. Anne said...

LOL! The sad truth is, he just might have received such a rejection in today's market and you know what? That makes me feel just a little bit better ;)

Well done.

Irishspartan1775 said...

I thought this was very entertaining. On the other hand, it may point to something wrong with the publishing industry.

Agents are wonderful, and without them most of the books I have read in the last 6 months may not have been published (all of them were written by new/slightly unknown authors), but are there some agents who would reject a query/partial if it were written as well as some of the classics?

Perhaps the rise of e-publishing will add a new dimension to the publishing industry that might allow more opportunity for slower burning classics to emerge.

frohock said...

Like I said the first time I saw this post, Peter: nicely done! ;-)

Teresa

bethanyintexas said...

This was hysterical. I laughed. Very witty. Good job!

Thermocline said...

I played Bifur the dwarf in the stage version of The Hobbit back in sixth grade. The girls in the show had to wear the same itchy fake beard as the rest of us. None of them appreciated that fact.

Mira said...

Very clever post. I especially liked the last line about trash to gold. Funny!

Kudos to Nathan, too, for picking an entry that in a sly, witty way points to some interesting issues in the industry.

Laura Martone said...

I have such mixed feelings about this post. On the one hand, Peter, you had me laughing hysterically - your wit is indeed apparent, and I very much enjoyed the irony of such a modern agent response to a book that I still consider a classic. But, on the other hand, it made me just a wee bit sad... this is exactly what's wrong with publishing today. While I still love The Hobbit (it's one of my all-time favorite books, and one of the reasons that I was inspired to pursue a writing career) and reread it often, I am well aware that it violates the laundry list of narrative "rules" that many contemporary agents and editors put forth on their blogs and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, I write like the writers of old... and I'm finding it difficult to get with the times.

Regardless, this is a classic post - thanks, Peter, for submitting it to Nathan... and thanks, Nathan, for selecting it. I find it hilarious that it came on the heels of all those LOTR references yesterday.

--Laura

Regina Milton said...

Very witty. Thank you indeed. This had me laughing...and thinking. The industry can be just a bit unpredictable. Fortitude my friends, fortitude.

Bill Barnett said...

Very funny! Really makes you think.

Renee Sweet said...

Hilarious - well done!
Reminds me of a post at Miss Snark where she basically said to never, never, NEVER do things x, y, and z...unless you do them like that.

All this advice floating around on the internet is good, valuable, and should be heeded--but as a guide. If you can absolutely rock something by breaking the rules then break them.

AM said...

Peter,

I really, really, really needed that!

Hilarious and so true.

Well done!

Novice Writer Anonymous said...

That was good.

Made me think of what Orson Scott Card said in the book he penned on characters and viewpoint about how Rings and Hobbit were milieu works, more focused on the setting than the characters. I really do wonder if Tolkien would have the success at publishing today that he had when he published.

Livia said...

Brilliant, hilarious, and thought provoking. Thank you :-)

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

Herbert have you considered setting up a Blog and offering other such pieces of insightful advice? I believe there is a market for it.

****** superlatives here - I laughed out loud. Thanks Peter.

knight_tour said...

Ouch. This one really hit home for me. I find that my tastes don't fall in line with the rules of today's industry. All of my favorite books break the basic rules that populate all of the agent and editor blogs. I wrote my book the way I like it, yet because it follows the old styles, I don't even bother to try to find an agent for it. I already know what they will say. At least my kids love it though.

Christine said...

I have to agree with Dara, having spent the last several weeks trying to read JANE EYRE--another "children's book," mind you--and finding it a very hard row to hoe.

But I also agree with Laura Martone, when she says she has mixed feelings about the post. There is a lot of fiction out there that is very good. There is a lot of advice out there about making your work saleable, and it breaks every rule in classical literature. This may or may not be a bad thing.

But I can also say I've read a lot of good recent stuff that has broken every agent's rule, and still gets sold, to rave reviews. I guess my real question is, how do these gems slip through the slush pile?

Anna said...

Great post! Gives me hope... :)))

Bane of Anubis said...

Like those papery Guiness folks say: Brilliant! Now, if only I could get that much feedback on my queries ;)

Matilda McCloud said...

LOVE IT!!! very funny...

But in defense of agents, sometimes I go back and reread classics I read as a kid (Black Beauty etc) and wonder why I loved them so much. I find them virtually unreadable now.

Tara said...

LOL! I may have to frame this and put it on my wall! Thanks for sharing.

Melanie Avila said...

This is teh awesome. Thanks for the laugh. :)

Rebecca said...

This is a wonderfully entertaining post.
Wit and humor int eh highest order.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Thank you. I know this is a bit tongue in cheek, but I think you hit on all the reasons I couldn't stand "The Hobbit" as a 13 year old girl.

Deniz Bevan said...

Ha! As if! I'm a female; I read The Hobbit when I was 10, and have reread it every year since then. Just because I was young and a girl, did that mean all I wanted to read about were young girls? Heck no! I wanted to go on adventures - as long as I could empathise with the protagonist, what did it matter whether he was 50 or 15? And I love all the languages!
Great agent letter, however :-) I'm sure in today's world (can anyone say we've actually progressed?) this is exactly what would have happened!

Anonymous said...

Oh, how I wish the publisher's would read this post.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, publishers I meant. Stupid typos or rather stupid typist.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hilarious post! Times change and we do change our tastes, but the one thing that will probably always find an audience is a writer who can deliver the magic of story. That's what each of us can concentrate on--our voice, our particular magic--and hope we do it well enough to captivate an agent, an editor and many readers.

Keren David said...

Umm...absolutely hated The Hobbit as a child, for many of the reasons stated by the astute agent! And don't get me started on Lord of the Rings...

Jade said...

Fantastic, funny post. This has really made me see The Hobbit in a different light... and all those years I thought it was so good!

Marla Warren said...

Wonderful! I have to send the link for this post to number of people.

And the timing is great because the Peter Jackson film adaptation is currently in production.

Meg Spencer said...

Hm. Interesting how many of the comments assume that The Hobbit would only have a hard time finding publication in these modern times. A quick internet search says that the Hobbit was finished in 1932 and wasn't published until 1937, when the son of a publisher got a hold of it and liked it. After the Hobbit, publishers turned down the Silmarillion because it didn't have hobbits in it.

As for the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien had a number of publishing disputes over it. It's fairly common knowledge that he didn't want it released in three parts, and that he hated the title of the third book.

So while this is a funny post, the conclusion that it shows how modern publishers are daft and writers should stick to their guns and forget all those silly rules strikes me as fairly misguided. One, this letter could EASILY have been written 100 years ago. And two, breaking the rules might have worked for Tolkien, but how many of us are Tolkien? I don't think that Nathan has ever insisted that rules should never be broken, but that they are rules for a reason, and it's very important to be absolutely sure you can pull off breaking the rules before you do it. The Hobbit could easily have failed in the hands of a lesser writer.

CindyLou Foster said...

Very humorous, but unrealistic. Tolkein would be getting the chirping cricket treatment or if he did get a response it would have read like this...

Dear Mr. Tolkien,

Thank you for your query. Unfortunately it is not right for our agency. Best of luck.

Dear Mr. Smith,

Thank you for your query...

Pamala Knight said...

So hilarious!! What an awesome post. Thank you Nathan for choosing it.

Laurel said...

This is the funniest thing I have read in aeons. I find myself re-reading classics or even twenty to thirty year old bestsellers and wondering if they would get published now. I certainly hope so...

The thing about The Hobbit is that if it had never been published there is a huge genre in lit that might not exist. (Although CS Lewis wrote in a similar niche but completely different style.) So maybe even today it would make it through based on the fact that it was completely different from everything else. It's weird to think of what might have been with no Tolkein. Would we have had Peter S. Beagle or Charles DeLint or David Eddings? And if so, what would they have written? Hmmmmm.

Anonymous said...

I think the onslaught of comments speaks for itself. The audience wants funny. This post...was funny.

Nikki Hootman said...

I missed out on the Hobbit as a kid, and my husband pressed me to read it a couple of years ago. Actually, I felt basically the way this agent does. ;)

Christina G. said...

lol. I totally gave up reading The Hobbit when they were only sitting down to tea on page 30.

Kiersten said...

Tee. Hee.

That's all : ) Well done.

Kristan said...

LOL! No wonder I haven't bothered to read The Hobbit yet...

jjdebenedictis said...

To be fair to the fictional agent, the lack of active female characters in Tolkien's work really did annoy me, when I read them.

Girls want butt-kicking role models too!

jonathandanz said...

Great stuff! It would seem that there is a classic case of story trumping all else. Conventions are nice guidelines (open with action, weave in back story, sparing use of adverbs), but be leery of adhering to them at the cost of good storytelling. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to wipe the tears from my eyes.

Ash D. said...

Ha! Funny stuff!

(I LOVE The Hobbit, LOTR, The Silmarillion, and basically everything else ever created by Tolkien, by the way...)

Marilyn Peake said...

Ouch. That rejection letter made me cringe. I read THE HOBBIT in high school and absolutely loved it, just the way it was. I’m so very thankful that the classics are now classics and, hopefully, will remain unedited forever. When I saw all three movies of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, I thought how awesome a story. The main women characters were among the strongest and bravest of the characters, and I thought about them as well as the men for months afterward. In a time when women didn’t go to war, Eowyn dressed up like a man, went into battle and killed the Witch-king of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgul. She was no shrinking violet, that’s for sure. If I may use the words of Gandalf, and apply them to classics that make you think as you read:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither
Deep roots are not reached by frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken:
The crownless again shall be king.

Anonymous said...

Today I coincidentally set aside a couple of hours to catch up on last year´s First Paragraph Contest, which I hadn´t had time for before. Note to self: be sure to include long paragraph on pipe smoking in prologue. Not.
Sigh.
Those were the days.
And yes, it IS important to reference LOTR not only in every blog post, but also in your term paper, job application, email signature, income tax form...

A Paperback Writer said...

Bwaaa-haaa-haaa-haaa!
Oh my heck. This is funny.
And wouldn't we all like to see the rejection letter that JK Rowling got from the first agent she tried before Chris Little snatched her up?
It reminds me of the REAL incidents of non-literary history, too: the acting instructor who told Lucille Ball she'd never make it, and the recording company that heard a Beatles' demo record and turned them down because "guitar groups are on their way out."

Thanks for reminding us that pretty much everything in publishing is subjective.

Laura Martone said...

I was just rereading the list of my 15 all-time favorite books (that I listed, as with many others, on Facebook)... and I realized that only a third of them were about female protagonists. So, I'm with Deniz Bevan... I'm a female reader and yet I love male-centric books. Incidentally, The Hobbit is on that list, too. I'm just sayin'...

Mira said...

Marilyn - I agree. For his time, Tolkien used some strong female characters. For his time. Eowyn was also ready to die from depression because a man didn't love her. Arwen was basically just a prize to be won. Galadriel was idealized mainly for her beauty. So, you know, for his time.

But regardless, the hobbit is one of the most charming books written, in my opinion. And the LOTR is a masterpiece. The trick to reading LOTR is to skip over the 25 page descriptions of a mountain and get to the story.

CindyLou - that was a very good point!

Marilyn Peake said...

Meg Spencer –

I agree with you. It was amazing that, after the great success of book sales for THE HOBBIT, Tolkien’s publisher was against publishing THE SILMARILLION because he wanted more stories about hobbits. And my understanding is that THE LORD OF THE RINGS was broken up into three books due to financial concerns of the publisher. There has always been the creative side of the arts and the business side of the arts, and both camps have not always seen eye to eye. That’s nothing new.

nkrell said...

This was genius! So true about the backstory. The Hobbit and LOTR are some of my favorite books (and movies). Well done.

Carolin said...

Hah! Tolkien was one of my favorite authors as a youngster - still is :-) Goes to show, doesn't it? I actually loved the first chapter, as it set the scene and put me into the world.

Tried to do something (not quite as telling) like that in my own first chapter, and got ripped a new one in my Writers' Group....

O tempora, o mores....

Carolin

Kristi said...

Let's see if Rick can find a way to weave LOTR into his post tomorrow :)

Marilyn Peake said...

Mira –

I felt like the women of THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS were from past times in history, and I appreciated that their roles seemed realistic for the time, even though the time and place were actually fictional. I recently read SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD by Orson Scott Card – fascinating view of male and female roles of different sentient creatures on different planets, as adaptations to their environment.

Newbee said...

Classic! Very real in the world of literature today. I giggled to myself... but found it horrible to think back on so many books I loved as a child that would have, or could have, had this happen to them. Things could be so different if they were to be put out there today. Thank heavens it wasn't like that then...but lets be abit more opened minded now. (You listening everyone....?)

Marilyn Peake said...

Even though I feel very protective of the classics, I do feel that a lot of popular literature today is actually much better written than many popular and mid-list books of the past because it’s so much easier to create manuscripts and edit them on the computer. The types of classics I love are those that make you think. Some modern literature moves too quickly for thought. That said, right now I’m reading a recently published book, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman, and the writing is absolutely phenomenal.

Brad Mohr said...

This may be why I haven't truly enjoyed and devoured a new book in such a long time. No matter what book I pick up it somehow seems I've read it before.

But if you take the advice yesterday's post, gearing up your novel to compete in a bookstore full of the books that follow all the rules will ultimately make it a better book in the end, and one that is more unique to boot.

~Aimee States said...

I adored The Hobbit and LOTR, and I do still reread them every few years. To say a prologue about pipe smoking would never work is untrue. The reality is, of the writers who do find success, a small portion of them could do what Tolkien did in the same manner he did it. I think the writing is timeless because it was done so well. You don't have to like the book, or the genre, or even the man himself, but the writing stands on its own. As to the Re:, excellent and so funny. It's a great reminder that the industry and agents really are subjective in their views of what will and will not work.

Merc said...

Very funny, nice job! :D

Jane Steen said...

Like many of the commenters above, I've got mixed feelings about your post. I loved it, because you were right about The Hobbit's flaws (and LOTR could have had whole chunks of the story cut from it, the Tom Bombadil episode being the obvious one). On the other hand, much of my early reading life was spent in pre-WWII books, and when I reread them now, I can perceive how my own tastes are being altered (eroded?) by today's values. The old chronological, wordy, self-indulgent novel contained many gems, but I'm sidetracked by my inner critic saying "well it's chronological, wordy, and self-indulgent" rather than being able to sink myself into the author's world as I used to. I feel as if I've lost something.

Thanks for a funny but also thought-provoking post.

ryan field said...

This was great. I needed to read something like this today.

Linda Godfrey said...

Peter -- my Precciioouussss! Very clever and funny. Herbert does have his points, which makes it all the more amazing that Hobbit and LOTR still have a wide fan base despite their size, pace, and lack of 4-letter words or vampire sex scenes. Good grief, Tolkien doesn't even have a blog! At least not in this world. But that didn't stop me from reading the trilogy twice. I think it is great that the taste of agents varies -- and probably always has -- or how monotonous would the selections on our bookshelves be?

Marilyn Peake said...

I hope this isn’t too off-topic, but I thought it related to the theme of publishing in our modern world. I just read that the U.S. cover for LIAR will be changed: here. The Publisher’s Weekly article describes the change as "Proof of the power of the web". In some ways, today is a very good day to be a writer. Once LIAR gets its new cover, I will buy a copy.

Anonymous said...

This was hilarious! But I love "The Hobbit". It's the original Harry Potter. :)

Other Lisa said...

Oh dear. This is perfect! Thanks for this!

I too loved "The Hobbit." I actually got kinda burned out by the time I hit Vol. 3 of the Trilogy.

How many of you have read this little gem?

"An Elven maid there was of yore,
A stenographer by day..."

Kristin Laughtin said...

I have not laughed this hard in a long time, and most of it was because this letter mirrored my sentiments on THE HOBBIT exactly.

Marilyn--Thanks for that link! When I read about that cover, I was quite upset. I'm glad to hear it's being changed. (The original design was beautiful, though, so maybe they can use it for something else.)

thoughtful1 said...

I really agree with Laura Martone's post exactly. Funny, but also sad.

Mira said...

Marilyn, I was thinking about our discussion, and I do think Tolkien was ground breaking. To have a female character bring down the great king of the shadows.....I can't think of a female warrior like that prior to Tolkien, in Western culture, although I could be wrong.

From that spawned all the fantasy novels about a female in disguise who breaks out of traditional roles.

But it's still pretty sexist. At least by today's standards. I mean, if he could make little round people with hairy feet the heros of the story - he could have come up with a woman to be a part of the nine. But people are defined, in part, by their times.

For the record, I don't think it weakens the story.

RCWriterGirl said...

Alright, this is hilarious. This has been the most enjoyable of your guest blogs I've read. FABULOUS.

Marilyn Peake said...

Mira,

I understand exactly what you mean. I won't name names, but I find some modern YA novels' heroines actually more disturbing because ... well, they're supposed to be modern, for goodness sakes. I usually feel like having a good long talk with said heroines, LOL. I once purchased one of those novels and its sequel in an airport store as my ONLY entertainment on a cross-country plane ride. Long hours in the plane were the only reason I finished the first novel, and have yet to read the sequel. :)

Peter Cooper said...

Hi everyone,

Sorry to only be surfacing now - in my part of the world it's just gone dawn and I'm sneaking some time on here before going to work.

I'm really glad people enjoyed the post! I suppose, in essence, it's a message of encouragement - that people have different tastes and will often see the same thing in radically different ways. One person sees a list of broken conventions, another sees a wonderful story. Don't be too put-off by rejection, just keep trying to write the best book you can.

And, just as a note of interest, Tolkien did have a lot of trouble getting the Hobbit into print - in the end the matter was decided by the young daughter of one of the publishers at Allen & Unwin!

Thankyou, Nathan, for publishing this.

P.

Bane of Anubis said...

OL, speaking of a dying genre -- I remember reading a bunch of Robert Asprin's Myth-Inc books growing up -- not too many parodies out there anymore.

Marilyn, thanks for the link about Liar's change. As for Speaker For The Dead, loved that book growing up, though an ex-Mormon friend of mine told me that Card's got a bunch of subtle LDS references thrown in (haven't gone back and read anything to see if I can pick them up) and I wonder if that plays any role in the male/female dynamic in SPFTD.

As far as The Hobbit/LOTR, they're definitely books I prefer more in spirit than in actual print.

Mira, what really cracks me up about the whole gender thing, was women - when they were given 'important' roles - were given evil important roles (e.g., 'Cinderella,' 'Snow White', etc)... i.e., strong women are evil women ;) and all you other dames need to be saved by princes or fairy godmothers.

Joann said...

Brilliant post! You now have a fourth Cackling Scribe reader. :)

Danielle Thorne said...

I'm actually reading JRR Tolkien, Author of the Century, right now, so this hit home. Hilarious, clever, and sadly, I imagine very realistic.

susiej said...

Hilarious! Thanks for making my day. Makes you almost glad to get the form rejection.

And Mira, as a Tolkien fanatic, I have to respectfully disagree about Eowyn. She wanted to ride to battle, not be stuck at home watching the children. That's what really made her depressed and pretty modern for that time. (She just saw Aragorn as a way out.)

Ebyss said...

The Hobbit is a classic. And for those of you think that young children and teens can not appreciate a well written story, your wrong.

When I was younger I read The Hobbit several times along with rest of Lord of the Rings trilogy. So did my friends. This was in the mid-eighties.

Now that I have sons and daughters of my own...they have all read the same books and so did their friends, some even before the release of the movies. And loved it. What is important is that it held their interest.

Once in awhile I think that other people are trying to shape and/or infer what they think the public should be reading. Instead of just looking at the fact that if a book is good, it is good, and if all you do is look for action within the first couple of pages, then that is leaving a lot of novels that should have been published out-out-out.

I tend to think that most people, including young readers, are not just mindless drones. That they like imagery, words, and to have a wonderful world painted for them (either fantastic or real). Something that takes them from their own existence and brings them into an imaginary one.

This is just not what I am thinking, this is based upon what I have witnessed in my classrooms. Children who are only suppose to love books that leapt into action have read classics like The Hobbit, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, and most have loved these classics. Not the papers that they had to write. :) They did love these books though.

And without saying a title, a huge best seller, made into a movie, started with nothing in the beginning except a girl who moved and went to school. Absolutely no action, nor tension, until around page 20. This book has held the interest of millions and not only that, but has given some teens who had no interest in reading, an interest. So kudos to that author.

My point is that I don’t think there are any valid points in this at all. All that is in here is stuff that someone thinks that they should be thinking because that is what they are told to think.

Sarah said...

Omigosh. Thank. You. For. This!!! Made my day.

Marilyn Peake said...

Here's a picture of new U.S. book cover for LIAR and more information about how the decision was made.

Bane of Anubis said...

Ebyss, I grew up in the 80's/90's (my wife would say I'm still a work in progress :) and while I think you make some good points (about the quality/entertainment factor of certain classics -- though I think 'love' might too strong a word for most of those), I think there has been a massive paradigm shift in our cultural landscape.

We are an ADD culture that thrives on instant news/information and thus tend to want instant action... Sure, we can all appreciate a good story that takes awhile to percolate, but it behooves authors (particularly YA authors) to jump into the middle of the lake.

If you can hit the ground running while incorporating strong world and character building, you're a step ahead of the game.

That being said, yeah, publishers/editors/agents are probably a bit overreactionary when it comes to what's gonna sell (b/c, like most of us, they're trend-followers more than trend-setters).

Twilight was an aberration, not the norm. It was certainly lightning in a bottle (for the author; definitely not for this reader) that re-ignited a genre, but, ultimately, SM was either lucky or well-connected...

Hopefully, we'll all have some measure of that luck and some measure of that skill (or, IMO, a little more) and with enough persistence and perseveration and attention to trends, a small measure of that success...

And maybe one or two of us will start a trend and we can say we knew Jane Smith or John Doe before they made it big and we might hit you up for a blurb or an agent recommend :)

sally apokedak said...

very funny. I read The Hobbit, when I was child--a female one at that--and loved it. Still do.

Ebyss said...

Bane,

I do not disagree with you at all. Starting with action while building a world is great, and possibly a step ahead.

My point was that there are several books that young readers like that don't start with action. And because of this, potential new books should not be excluded because they don't start that way. A book should be offered to the public because it is a good read. And that these books should be given consideration whether they start off with a bang or not.

I really don't think that this generation is as ADD as some tend to think that they are. I honestly think that readers like to have characters and a world build for them too.

There is room for both types of styles.

And whether SM got lucky or not to be published is not the point, no one forced people to buy her books. Young and old alike bought her books because they liked the story. I was using her as an example of how a story can capture a reader's interest without a big bang.

Thanks for the comments though. Very valid points. :)

Karyn Lewis said...

Great post! Very funny and thought provoking.

I've loved Hobbit/LOTR since I first picked them up as a preteen, and reread the whole series every year or so.

As a woman, I have to disagree that the books are sexist.

I mean, come on... Galadriel ruled an entire elven nation. What more could a girl ask for than to be President or Queen of a country?

Eowyn defied the conventions of her day and went to war, and killed the King of the Nazguls because she was so strong and heroic. And who hasn't been tortured by unfulfilled love, man and woman both?

And even Arwen, if you read in the notes to find out what happened to her, was strong in her way, choosing love and being doomed to lonliness and heartache. I'm sure some people might think that Arwen was stupid to choose a family over her own immortal happiness, but that's another kind of strength. And she was always there to go give her partner the strength he needed. She wasn't just a pretty face. She gave Aragorn the confidence to believe in himself and be King.

So there are role models for girls in Tolkein's books.

When I read, I'm gender blind. I'm Harry, I'm Bilbo... It doesn't matter what sex the protagonist is. Human traits are universal. We should all read widely, about all kinds of different people, in different kinds of genres.

Bane of Anubis said...

Ebyss, to clarify a bit -- I definitely wish it weren't the case that the industry felt like things should/need to start w/ a bang and eventually we'll probably revolve back to a point where that's not the expectation... Just feel like these are the rules as of today and we've got to abide by them (to a certain extent) no matter how stupid they may seem to us.

The SM reference to lucky was more about her getting her foot in the door, not the book buying part (which goes more to show the point that publishers are behind the curve more often than not) b/c she didn't follow the cookie-cutter model.

Of course, bang-bang books are probably a good place to start w/ boys ;)

Writeaholic said...

Great post!

I'm one of those who wanted to be a writer because of reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings when I was a tween. Tolkien gave us so much -- I'd hate to think of what would happen to his works if he tried to get published today. I'd like to think someone would see beyond the narrative style and see the great story underneath.

Ebyss said...

Bane,

Once again, very valid points.

And my point is that it is the industry that is thinking that, and therefore pushing what they think on potentially great authors. I just don't think they are really looking at what the public wants, they are inferring what they think we, as the public, should be reading.

I honestly think the public wants a good read whether or not it starts with a bang. Of course, this is just from what I see when most readers from my classes enjoys a classic.

Just FYI, both of my teenage sons loves SM novels, the whole series. Loves it and loved it way before the big hooha started about it.

I am lucky I have a houseful of readers. The one part of me that rubbed off on them. :)

And once again, I do not disagree with you. I just think it is sad, like you, that great books could possibly be passed up because of what the industry thinks we should be reading.

And maybe one day the industry will also see this and see that there is room with both types.

Great Comments. We really are on the same wavelength. I really do have to agree with you and the points you made. :)

Leigh KC said...

Peter, really, really enjoyed your letter. It encapsulates all the very useful advice one is likely to receive from an agent :)

I know a lot of writers have experienced this, but on the very same day, I onced received a response from two agents: one saying she loved my sub-plot and the other saying get rid of it. No wonder we writers don't know up from down. Note: this is not agent-bashing which I refuse to participate in.

RLS said...

Okay, but here's the thing, I couldn't get past the beginning of The Hobbit, and I tried, dear God, I tried. Is it pathetic that I would've enjoyed a girl/woman character every forty pages or so? And yes, a story that sucked me in right away.
Oh well, I found Judy Blume, (and later, Salinger) (and much later, ritalin) so it all worked out.
That said, you're hilarious. And...I concur with the sentiment.

TERI REES WANG said...

It is that much easier to accept when it the blow has made to someone else's ear.

Marilyn Peake said...

Peter,

Just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed your Guest Blog and all the interesting discussion that followed!

Brad said...

I'm actually very surprised at the amount of support I'm hearing for the criticisms in the response.

Mira said...

Marilyn - I know! We still struggle with these issues today. Sexism is still alive and well, as are most forms of targeting and discrimination. But we have made progress! Do you realize women have only had the vote for less than 100 years?

Bane - I know again! Fear of the 'witch' still lingers in our culture.

SusieJ - well, can I respectfully disagree with you? :) Because Eowyn stopped feeling suicidally depressed when she found true love with Faramir. There's nothing in there about becoming her own woman, assuming the throne, getting a job as a mercenary warrior, etc.

Karyn, I agree there are strong women role models in Tolkein. I'm just arguing that the lack of a female main character ( especially one that was part of the fellowship) is because Tolkein was born in 1894 and his viewpoint of women was limited. But gender roles were expanding in the early part of the century, and his writing reflects that.

Peter, fun post, and fun discussion. Thanks!

Douglas Brown said...

Hilarious blog. It is so true and so sad that a great piece of literature could be missed because the author isn't either a strong query writer or able to explain something so magnificent as the Hobbit in a single page. We can all cross our fingers that Nathan takes this blog to heart and gives some of us chances that our query letters otherwise might not have earned. Wink, wink. Maybe he'll find the next Hobbit.

annerallen said...

Genius post. Funny and sad and true.

Yay new Liar cover!

And Mira--in 1900, a little girl named Dorothy brought down the Great and Terrible Oz by pulling back that curtain. I don't know if she qualifies as a female warrior, but I'd vote yes.

Lea McKee said...

Amazing post. I loved the Hobbit when I read it as a child.

You just made me feel so much better about my query!

Thank-you!

Robena Grant said...

I laughed so hard the dog came into the office and gave me a quizical glance and a head tilt.
All I can say is, I'm soooo glad Herbert T. Agent is not responding to my query letters.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I feel so vindicated.
I have not taken such a deep breath in months.

PurpleClover said...

Mira -

I agree that strong women role models were (and still are) hard to find. I believe that we are always searching for a balance. The thing I've noticed and I could be sorely mistaken is that originally everything in the early days was male driven with main characters and male supporting characters. Even children's shows back in the eighties were still mostly male characters. The Muppets, Winnie-the-Pooh, and the Smurfs to name a few. These barely had a female part much less a strong character. Even Spongebob is a fairly newer show but falls short in the female dept. Although, at LEAST Sandy is a pretty smart cookie and a great fighter! ;)

Slowly we've seen an increase in heroines. Now, I've seen various agencies looking for strong male role model/mc's for children's books because now the balance has tilted ever so slightly the other way. However, adult books we still see it tilted towards male heroes IMO. Although, I admit I haven't read every book on the shelf to base that opinion. But literary agencies state point-blank what they are looking for and the reason. No implications. Point blank.

I think it's definitely tricky. It's hard to reverse discrimination without creating reverse-discrimination. However, it seems like strong female characters are just finally digging their heels in but we still have a long way to go!

It's just a slow process. Plus we still have to get the point across that "feminism" isn't a dirty word like we were taught in the eighties by our mothers and grandmothers. It's actually a good thing and doesn't require letting underarm hair grow. Unless that's your thing.

Jil said...

Fantastic, Peter! Keep the faith, your post says to me, whatever 'They' say.

Thank you!

Laurel said...

Regarding Tolkein and female characters...it's worth pointing out that LOTR in particular borrowed heavily from his experience fighting in WW1. His critique group and closest friends were male. He wrote what he knew, a good vs. evil epic battle for the future of mankind set in classic Northern European folklore. The very few female characters who appear in his work were quite strong and overall it would be hard to argue misogyny of any sort. In the current market he would certainly be dinged for the lack of women in his story but adding them in just to have them seems condescending to me.

As far as women in children's literature prior to the twentieth century everyone seems to focus on Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella. Hans Christian Anderson, however, wrote many stories where the hero and the vilain were both female. In other classic fairy tales the prototype of the fairy godmother appears with nearly the same frequency as the wicked witch. Both the figure of the stepmother and the actual mother figure very prominently into the development of the protag, be it a he or a she. Women in children's lit have a long standing traditional role of power for good or evil. They don't usually get to slay the dragons but that doesn't mean they haven't had anything important to do.

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

Well done! It makes me wonder how many gems are passed on because they don’t fit the mold. If given the chance, how many of our stories could become the next classics? If only we had that one chance.

Instead we try and try, hoping to find that incredible agent who feels what we feel. Someone willing to take a chance on a new author.

Our stories scream their worth into our souls and we suspect possible greatness. Then others who don’t care if our feelings are hurt, read and review. They may find our imperfections (thankfully) but they, too, see something great. Our hopes soar and we try others. More of the same.

Yet the rejections continue and we can’t help but feel stagnant. We wonder if the unbreakable wall is too hard. We question the merit of others, old and new, who have climbed it and now share their dreams with all.

This article brings up the question; is that wall too high?

Mira said...

P.C.,

Yes - I completely agree about strong women role models still being hard to find. And that's an interesting point about reverse discrimination. I don't think though, that it's reverse discrimination - I could be wrong, but I don't think so. I think it's just that more women read fiction, and so the market for strong female protagonists has grown; therefore the swing. But, traditionally, boys (and maybe men, too) don't like to read books with female protagonists. So, I would guess that publishers want books with male heros in order to reach that market segment.

And I agree about remembering that feminism is a positive thing. We're so used to having rights in this country, I think we forget that it was only a short time ago women were fighting very basic things: the right to vote, to work, to divorce, to own property!

Laurel - misogeny! I never said Tolkien was a misogenist!

And I'm not saying there weren't some positive, powerful female characters, but they are always side characters. Nurturers. But not the hero.

Sleeping beauty, Cinderella, Snow White; these are classic cases of beautiful and helpless heroines that needed to be rescued.

mkcbunny said...

The backstory and female points are definitely valid. I don't think I'd have Bilbo climbing out a window on bed sheets, though.

Very funny. And (for me) timely. Thanks, Herbert!

annerallen said...

I still say Dorothy Gale wasn't a nurturer. She was a hero. A slayer of witches. The equal of wizards. No man's consort. She was admired and followed. Not ignored.

Mira said...

amerallen,

Well, I have to say, I don't remember Frank Baum's book very well, which is why I didn't respond - sorry. But I vaguely remember she was a child heroine, not a warrior. I don't really remember, though.

In terms of the movie, well, that was made in 1939, and I'd agree. Dorothy was a fairly strong child-woman in the movie, given the times.

knight_tour said...

I am curious why people always say that Tolkien should have had female main characters and say that he was a product of his time. To me it has little to do with his time and more to do with the type of realm he was creating. How many women were running around in armor with swords in our own dark ages or even middle ages? I think it would read as a very unrealistic book to have female characters like that in such a setting. It would only strike me as odd if it were set in modern times and left out such characters.

Erastes said...

Brilliant - I've been meaning to do a series of this kind of post, because I am sure many of the great sellers in our bookshelves would have had this kind of rejection today.

Hobert said...

Well done!

terri said...

Too funny! Makes me think of how some other rejections would start out:

Dear Mr. Steinbeck: Am in receipt of the manuscript for 'The Grapes of Wrath.' While I like turtles, I found that devoting an entire chapter to them detracted from the action and the ending was all together too vague and depressing. Could you inject some romance or perhaps a car chase?

Dear Mr. Michener: Am in receipt of the manuscript for [insert geographical name - Hawaii, Alaska, Texas, Chesapeake]. While I like backstory as much as the next person, I am finding that 25 million years of geological evolution is just a bit too much to expect from today's fast-paced reader. If you decide to revise, I'd like to take another look.

Sigh . . .

Terri

Reesha said...

Nice. :D
I grew up with my dad reading the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit to me and my siblings. When he finished, we would read the entire series of Narnia, and then start over again. I love these books.

That is sad though. It's the difference between having turkey or candy. All the world wants from books today is the candy and people's teeth are rotting from so much of it. But Tolkien's writing, among others, was the good substantial turkey that should exist always in our diets.
I don't want to be a candy writer. I want to write turkey. Will the publishing pressure win in the end? I hope not, but we'll see.

Jeff said...

A couple of years ago, a guy named David Lassman took chapters of Pride and Prejudice, changed some names, and sent it off to 18 publishers, all of whom rejected it, and only one of whom recognized the ploy.

http://jeffcrook.blogspot.com/2007/07/pride-and-prejudice.html

Mariana said...

LOL!

Robin said...

Terrific post and great follow-up in the comments section. Makes one think.

Diana said...

LOL ... A very amusing look at the query process.

Though, I do have to say some of the points that were made while funny are true. I've read The Hobbit and LOTR once. I tried rereading LOTR last year and gave up. They aren't the types of stories that lend themselves to reading more than once for me. And I will read a favorite book multiple times.

Lynne said...

Well. Another one bites the dust!
So sorry, J.R.R. I guess its the boots to C.S. Lewis, too. Which is only fair, since you didn't like the way he wrote his Narnia Chronicles. How. Sad. Um, don't look now but there's an orc standing behind you.

Anonymous said...

This is pretty funny and actually is a valuable glimpse into the change of conditions required of a book before it is accepted from then and now.

Beth Terrell said...

This was absolutely hysterical. I'm still wiping tears from my eyes.

While I merely enjoyed the Hobbit, I loved the Lord of the Rings and still read it every few years. I thought (and still think) the book is perfect. I didn't think LOTR suffered from a lack of female heroes at all; Eowyn was strong and courageous (as well as compassionate), and her sorrow over an unrequited love doesn't, in my opinion, diminish that.

In fact, the only thing I hated about the movies was what they did with Arwen. I would have preferred they left Arwen out altogether if they were going to make her so whiny and selfish. (What kind of woman puts a knife to the throat of the man she supposedly loves and squeals, "OOoooo, a RAAAAANGER caught unawares in the WOOOOOODS!")

Tolkien's Arwen was no wallflower. While her role in the LOTR was a small one, the Silmarillion showcases her strength (and Galadriel's too; she was a lot more than just a pretty face).

Peter Cooper said...

I have to agree with you, Beth! Liv wasn't too bad, but she had her painful moments - and that bit you mentioned was one!

But, she was kind of cute with those pointy ears, even if she did have a deep voice....

Kate H said...

This just goes to show that great writing often breaks the "rules." I think a topnotch agent/editor has to either have a sixth sense to nose out greatness, or else read a lot of partials (even just first pages--who could read the first page of The Hobbit and not be charmed?).

Hillary said...

One of the funniest things I have ever read. I sent this to all my friends who are following my struggles to find representation!

J.J. Bennett said...
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