Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sports Novels

Regular readers know that I am really into sports. I approach the NBA Draft like it's a holy ritual and I could rattle off the stats of obscure Sacramento Kings players from the 1980s.

So you'd think that I'd leap at every sports book that came my way. But here's the thing: sports novels for adults are tricky.

All you need to do to see what I mean by that is to look at which sports-related books have been successful. There are very, very few successful pure commercial sports novels. While I'm sure there are exceptions, the ones that tend to make it are [genre] + sports, whether that's suspense plus sports (e.g. Harlan Coben's novels featuring sports agent Myron Bolitar), literary fiction plus sports (e.g. SHOELESS JOE, the basis of the movie "Field of Dreams"), fantasy plus sports (e.g. SUMMERLAND), or John Grisham novel plus sports (e.g. BLEACHERS, PLAYING FOR PIZZA).

On the other hand, there is a thriving market for sports narrative nonfiction, whether it's MY LOSING SEASON, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, THE BOYS OF SUMMER, etc. etc.

Why would this be?

I think what's behind the difficulty of pure sports novels is that sports already provides so much human drama and narratives and storylines that a straightforward novel about sports is almost redundant. Sports provides a real life narrative experience that makes novels feel almost hollow in comparison.

Thus, in order to give readers something that they can't already find just by following the NFL or NBA or curling, an author has to bring something new to the table, whether that's by introducing suspense or fantasy or literary merit or a real-life behind the scenes look. I also think this is why children's sports novels are successful - they tend to feature kids as protagonists, which offers something different than the real sports world.

So if you're thinking of writing a sports novel: verisimilitude isn't enough or even what you should be aiming for. It's important to bring something else to the field.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Breezing Through Voicemail

I don't like to complain. I don't.

But this one is kind of funny.

For as long as it was in development I had been looking forward to the new Curtis Brown website like a kid waiting for Santa Claus.

Why? Submission procedures online. Bios. Specifically my bio.

I was dreaming... DREAMING about the moment I could just refer one of the many time-consuming query calls I get every day to the website. Finally, finally I would be able to say: "Have you checked the website? No? Everything you need. Bye bye. No, really, go to the website, I'm... no... website... I'm hanging up now."

Better yet, I changed my voicemail message to mention the website. Here's what it says:

"Hi, you've reached Nathan Bransford blah blah blah (paraphrasing!), if you are INTERESTED IN SUBMITTING A PROJECT FOR REPRESENTATION OR IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, PLEASE VISIT OUR WEBSITE, CURTISBROWN.COM." (I don't actually shout, I restrained myself.)

Problem solved, right?

Nope. Problem not solved. People just breeze right through the message. I get these voicemails constantly: "Hi, I'm so and so from such and such place (for some reason they always say where they're calling from) and I'm looking for a literary agent." Some people just call back later.

Foiled. Better yet, I don't think I can make it any clearer, but I'm open to ideas in the comments section.

I don't think this post will cure the problem, but.... just wanted to share. Happy Monday!

Friday, June 26, 2009

This Week in Publishing 6/26/09

This week! The publishing!

We'll start waaay back in the Great Depression. With our current economic downturn affecting..... everything, including culture, are you curious about what people were reading back then? Me too. Would you believe werewolves, dog books, and business books?

Knopf Doubleday (I'm still not used to saying that) has quite the Fall season coming up, what with books by Dan Brown, Jon Krakauer, Margaret Atwood, Pat Conroy, and Jonathan Lethem, among others. Bookseller Arsen Kashkashian takes a look at the catalog with the reverence it deserves, but calls it "Random House's Hail Mary" and discusses the decisions a buyer has to make with such a momentous list.

Speaking of bookselling, agent Andrew Zack posted a takedown of the Bookscan service, which purports to report (say that five times fast) 70% of book sales and which publishers rely on heavily, but as any agent knows, actually reports FAR, FAR LESS I SWEAR I HAVE THE ROYALTY STATEMENTS IN FRONT OF ME DON'T BELIEVE BOOKSCAN THE SALES TRACK IS FINE I PROMISE. Ahem. Little, Brown editor in chief Geoff Shandler also weighed in in the comments section.

The New Yorker's indispensable book blog The Book Bench tackled a crucial and weighty question this week: is Lauren Conrad's novel L.A. CANDY any good?

Oh, and speaking of celebrity news, my bunker buddy Dick Cheney sold his memoir for a reported $2 million.

In news-via-John Ochwat news, speaking of Dick Cheney, there's a hilarious contest over at the Globe and Mail to name his memoir. Ooooh the possibilities.

Also via John Ochwat, John Scalzi tackles the question of why debut novelists always seem to be in their thirties (except of course for those precocious teenagers). Why is it? Well, it takes a while to write a novel, and anyway, most writer's first novels suck.

Over at Bookends, Jessica laments the poor state of communication in the publishing industry and how frustrating it is to have to chase editors who are so uncommunicative you start to wonder if they're still alive. Hear hear.

And JA Konrath tackles a tough question in a really awesome, comprehensive manner: when should you self-publish?

And finally, I'm really going to miss the King of Pop. I don't know if we'll ever again have someone who is as talented a singer, songwriter and dancer. RIP.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

PSA About Vampires

So there's this book called TWILIGHT and it's kind of popular.

Whenever there is a popular book, my inbox explodes with query imitations. There was the epic and ongoing TOTALLY NOT HARRY POTTER deluge, quickly followed by the TOTALLY NOT DA VINCI CODE phase. Often these queries boldly come right out and say they are the "next" [insert book they are imitating].

The current TOTALLY NOT TWILIGHT era we're in blows all of the other eras out of the water, particularly when you combine it with non-vampire paranormal and/or urban fantasy tropes. Well over half of the queries I am receiving these days involve some combination of vampires, zombies, faeries, pixies, ghosts, and/or Dick Cheney.

Now, don't get me wrong. This doesn't mean that you can't write or query me with urban fantasy/paranormal. The opposite in fact. Just look at the bestseller list.

And before I get angry comments, let me also say that I'm not accusing everyone who writes in these genres of imitating TWILIGHT. I'm not saying that.

But I think it's important to keep some things in mind if you are querying in these increasingly well-trodden genres:

1. I don't know if I speak for other agents, but I'm getting some serious vampire/faerie/zombie fatigue. Whether it's the misfit teenager who is secretly communicating with a ghost or the misfit teenager who is actually a vampire (or, conversely, has a crush on one), I've seen it all and I'm seeing it often. Now. That doesn't mean I don't want you to query me with urban fantasy or paranormal. But I'm not going to be favorably disposed to something that sounds like the same old paranormal story. It needs to be something different and it needs to feel fresh. I know it's really difficult to do something different and fresh when everyone and their mom and their grandma and her mom are writing paranormal. But thems are the breaks.

2. Do. Not. Mention. TWILIGHT. Don't mention TWILIGHT. It never existed. You didn't read it, it has no bearing on your book, you aren't comparing yourself to it, you're not living on the same planar field in which that book was written. Don't mention it in the query. Agents don't want the next TWILIGHT. Well. Caveat. We want something that is as popular as TWILIGHT. But we don't want a straight up imitation. And saying your book is going to be as popular as TWILIGHT just makes you look.... well, like you think faeries are real. (They're not, are they?)

3. Understand what you're up against. You might think that because you happen to have a novel in the hot genre du jour that it's going to grease the publication tracks and you'll soon be showing off to your friends with a new hardcover of the next TWI... that other vampire book that is kind of popular. Keep in mind that because there are so many people writing these novels now, the stakes are raised. Ground has been trodden. You have to either trod new ground or trod the existing ground with spectacular, mindboggling execution. It's not, in other words, easier.

Ultimately, the same old advice applies: write what you love, write a really amazing, incredible book, and let the gods of publishing take care of the rest. Or should I say the publishing zombies...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Where Did You Hear About the Book You're Reading?

Last week we all shared what we're reading at the moment.

Marketers and publicists and literary agents and everyone else interested in sales wants to know: how did you hear about it?

Also: where did you buy/borrow/acquire/steal it from?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Can I Get a Ruling: Does Listening to an Audiobook Count as Reading?

This came up in the comments section while I was incapacitated, but I thought it would make for a good Can I Get a Ruling:

Does listening to an audiobook count as reading?

On the one hand, you're absorbing a book. The method doesn't matter, right?

On the other hand, someone else is doing part of the work, aren't they?

What do you think?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Following the Guidelines

Hello all, I am back, eating solid food again (who knew it tastes so good!) and although still weak from eating nothing but three hot dog buns, ten saltine crackers, and a piece of toast over the course of five days last week, I have officially turned the corner. Nothing a little green tea, cough drops, and a celebratory "I can eat again!" pizza can't cure.

So just a short post for today.

Being out for a while means that I end up reading and responding to queries in bulk, and thus I'm much more attuned to trends. And the current query trend isn't a good one: people are mentioning that they read the blog but then, when writing their query, ignore everything I have ever said in it.

Don't get me wrong: I do not expect people to read every single post I have ever written before querying. But I do hope queriers mentioning it will at least read the essentials and make a stab at conforming to the query guidelines.

If you haven't taken the time to familiarize yourself with the suggestions or attempt to follow them, it's probably best that you don't mention the blog at all. At least that way I won't be confused.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What Are You Reading at the Moment?

Thanks for all of the well wishes, I've been laid low by the flu and so responses to queries and things are going to be a little delayed.

In the meantime, every now and then I like to get a snapshot of what people are reading to get a sense of the pulse of the book world.

So. What are you reading at the moment?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Interrupting Your Regularly Scheduled Programming...

I'm a tad under the weather and so won't be posting as per usual today.

Like many people though, I've been riveted by what's happening in Iran. Andrew Sullivan has been a great clearinghouse for information, the Boston Globe has some incredible photos, and #iranelection on Twitter is chaotic but has been full of realtime news, circulation of proxy server addresses for use by Iranians, successful schemes to jam official state websites, and eyewitness reports from the ground.

And the videos speak for themselves:

Friday, June 12, 2009

This Week in Publishing 6/12/09

First up, unless you have been living under a rock (or somewhere other than the US of A), you probably know that today is the premiere of "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta, which just got a terrific review in the NY Times. On the other hand, you may not know that it is based on a classic urban thriller by John Godey that is truly awesome and gripping and a great look at 1970s NYC and whose tie-in rights may have been sold by a certain agent whose blog you happen to be reading. Please buy the book or e-book!

Meanwhile, a busy link week in the publishing industry.

Jeff Abbott pointed me to a really cool site that shows writers in the spaces where they write. I'm always fascinated by the writing process, and this is a cool inside look.

Ever wondered why new books (and DVDs and music) come out on Tuesdays? Me too. The Millions investigates. (via Book Bench)

Former Random House CEO Peter Olson is back with an essay about e-book pricing and, among many points, he argues that demand should drive the price point for e-books (not any relation to print prices) and also argues that publishers are not sharing enough e-book revenue with authors. To which authors and agents say: THANK YOU. (Via Pub Lunch [subscription])

HarperStudio recently spotlighted a cool interactive map of New York's literary landmarks, which did not at all make me nostalgic for living in NYC. Nope. Not. At. All.

The millionth English word was invented!! Do you know what it was? "Web 2.0". Which is, um, two words. Or, if you want to be specific, a word and two numbers and a punctuation mark. That were already invented. Way to go, people who decided what the millionth word was. (via Neil Vogler)

In agent advice news, if you've written more than one novel but none are published, is the fifth one you're written still "your first novel" for the purposes of the query? Janet Reid says yes, and I agree.

Meanwhile, Jessica Faust tackles a tough topic. Surely in a free country everyone who wants to write should write. But should everyone seek publication?

And some funny stuff this week: first, what can books learn from the movies? Among other things: more suspenseful music, that's what. (via Christopher Ryan).

And finally, thanks to Nikki Duncan for passing along a hilarious comic about life as an acquisitions editor (or, really, agent).

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How Do You Know When Your Novel is Really Finished?

Very quickly in the comment thread from yesterday's post on revisions, Rick Daley raised an interesting revision checklist question: "Can you sit back and read through it without a compulsive need to continue changing it?"

This got me to thinking: when do you know you're finished with revisions?

When a writer is faced with a possibly infinite task, when do you close the computer and say, "I'm done?" And do you have any strategies for resisting a premature declaration of completion?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Revision Checklist

- Does the main plot arc initiate close enough to the beginning that you won't lose the reader?
- Does your protagonist alternate between up and down moments, with the most intense towards the end?
- Are you able to trace the major plot arcs throughout the book? Do they have up and down moments?
- Do you have enough conflict?
- Does the reader see both the best and worst characteristics of your main characters?
- Do your characters have backstories and histories? Do these impact the plot?
- Is the pacing correct for your genre? Is it consistent?
- Is your voice consistent? Is it overly chatty or sarcastic?
- Is the tense completely consistent? Is the perspective consistent?
- Is there sufficient description that your reader feels grounded in the characters' world?
- Is there too much description? (David R. Slayton)
- Are momentous events given the weight they deserve?
- Look closely at each chapter. If you can take out a chapter and the plot will still make sense, is it really necessary? Should some events be folded in with others?
- Do the relationships between your characters develop and change and become more complicated as the book goes on?
- What do your characters want? Is it apparent to the reader? Do they have both conscious and unconscious motivations?
- Do you know what your writing tics are? Do you overuse adverbs, metaphors, facial expressions, non-"said" dialogue tags, or interjections? Have you removed them?
- Do you overuse certain words or phrases? Is your word choice perfect throughout?
- Does your book come to a completely satisfying conclusion? Does it feel rushed?
- Do your main characters emerge from the book irrevocably changed?
- Are your characters distinguishable? Does it make sense to combine minor characters? (Kiersten)
- Do each of your scenes make dramatic sense on their own as well as move the overall plot forward? (Pete Peterson)

Please add your own in the comments section and I'll continue to update the post with the best suggestions.

Monday, June 8, 2009

This is a Blog

I briefly mentioned this in a previous post, but I have to be honest that it's mildly alarming how many queries I receive that misuse the word "blog." I've seen everything from "the webpostings on your Blogsite" to "your blogspot on your website." People are personalizing, which is great, but... word people should not be misusing words.

Now, before I get accused of sarcasm for writing this post: this is not sarcasm. Some people need this info, and hopefully this will clear things up.

Let's drill down a bit into the different words and usage. OED, eat your heart out:

The whole shebang: it's a blog, singular. It's not blogs or a blogger or a blogsite or a blogpsot. Just: blog. Or, if you want to get fancy, weblog, only no one really says that. Example: "I read your blog."

An individual entry on the blog: a post. Example: "I loathed your post on rhetorical questions, but I'm submitting to you anyway." ("Entry" is interchangeable with "post." Thanks, Scott).

Multiple entries on the blog: posts. Example: "Thank you for your posts on The Hills, which were deeply philosophically illuminating."

Proper usage of the word "blogs": Blogs, plural, refers to different blogs at different sites. Example: "I like to procrastinate by reading as many publishing industry blogs as possible."

Blog as a verb: Blogging as an overall activity is "to blog." Example: I blog, you blog, we blog, they blog. (thanks to Charlie for suggestion this addition). However, to add something specific to your blog you can either use the past tense of "blog" or "post." Example: "I posted an entry on blogging" or "I blogged about blogging today." (thanks to Kate)

A person who blogs: A blogger. Example: "He is a wild and crazy blogger."

And with that, I'll conclude this webposting.

Friday, June 5, 2009

This Week in Publishing 6/5/09

This week in publishing: Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose!

First up, regulars around these parts may know Hannah Moskowitz as a sometimes commenter and very talented author of the soon-to-be-published BREAK, which you may know from its appearance as one of the queries in Be An Agent For a Day. You may (and I think you will) be pleased to know that Hannah just received a starred Booklist review! They gush: "For those with a taste for the macabre and an aversion to the sentimental, it’s hard not to be taken in by the book’s strong central relationships….[Break] is like a one-man Fight Club, and it could find nearly as many ardent followers." Not only that, I'm told Hannah was recently voted prom queen at her high school (seriously). Hannah, you are basically the coolest person ever.

BEA was last weekend! If you need to experience it vicariously you can't do better than Publishers Lunch TV, which has a veritable cornucopia* of videos and interviews. Very cool. (*My college roommate made it a goal to include the words "veritable cornucopia" in every single paper he wrote. He succeeded. Seriously, it was like climbing Everest.)

If you want a glimpse into the author/editor relationship you really couldn't do better than The Elegant Variation's feature of Susan Bell's essay on revising THE GREAT GATSBY. Part I is here. Seriously awesome.

Mark Twain wasn't such a fan of his contemporary James Fenimore Cooper, author of LAST OF THE MOHICANS, and he savaged him with a list of writing tips that Cooper violated. My favorite are: "8. Use the right word, not its second cousin." and "3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others." Haha.

In agent advice news, Rachelle Gardner has a great post on how to fire your agent. If you're considering it, it's a must-read. I'll just say: communication, communication, communication. Talk to your agent. Talk to them. Don't let things fester.

Veteran editor Brenda Bowen is the latest veteran editor to become an agent. I wish her luck, but not TOO much luck because I need some clients too you know.

In an apparent GalleyCat Exclusive, they report an upcoming mini-e-reader device. Congrats to GalleyCat on the scoop, but just a word of unsolicited for the creators of the device: you may want to tell more people than just GalleyCat that it will be on sale soon. I'm just sayin'.

Via Maud Newton comes the news that Google is considering selling eBooks. Is your head spinning yet about how quickly the book landscape is changing or did it just go ahead and explode already?

As some have noted in the comments section, beloved author David Eddings passed away this week. Very sad.

The awesome Cynthia Leitich Smith interviewed my awesome colleague Tracy Marhini this week. Awesomeness all around. Or, as the kids say, "Awes." (They probably stopped saying that years ago).

Publishing Dictionary (noun) 1. An awesome post by Jessica Faust demystifying the many confusing terms in the publishing business. 2. Required reading.

My client Jennifer Hubbard has some more really great writing advice: sometimes your character has to be a jerk.

And finally, reader Richard King pointed me to a Washington Post blog post about the reputation the male sort have with reading fiction. As in: men have a reputation for not reading fiction. Come on, gents, can this be true?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Stepping Up Your Game

So, I don't know if you've heard the news, but we're in a bit of a recession. I know. I'll let that sink in. I was floored when I heard yesterday too.

And the recession is coinciding with the rise of digital media and the Internet as a (mostly free) competition for eyeballs and leisure time. Fewer people have the disposable income to buy books, and if they had more money people would be spending more time on the Internet anyway. These two forces are currently squeezing the publishing industry for all it's worth (and all its worth without an apostrophe too).

One of the big current questions I've been receiving is whether this is affecting what I consider representing. Here's my answer: YES.

Publishers right now want the surest of sure things that are so sure it beats surety over its sure head. And agents have to adjust what they take on accordingly.

I don't know if you've heard this news either, but there are very few sure bets in this business. So editors have to be really really really really really really convinced that they want to invest in a project in order to take it on, particularly for debuts, and particularly particularly for previously published authors with a mixed track record.

This means that editors are looking closely at fewer projects. It means that books that editors may want to acquire may not be cleared for acquisition or it may mean that the editor wants a revision and a perfect manuscript before making an offer. It means that authors whose sales have been respectable but not eye-popping may not have their contracts renewed, or if they are renewed the bookstores may only order half as many copies as they ordered for their last book.

No. Don't... Don't jump off the ledge! Come back! YOU HAVE SO MUCH TO LIVE FOR!!

In the midst of my travels last week I became completely addicted to the TV show Friday Night Lights. I don't know if you've seen it, but it's about a small town in Texas that is completely obsessed with football and in particular its very good high school team. It focuses in part on the coach, the inestimable, talented, and at times beleaguered Coach Taylor.

Now, Coach Taylor is a really good guy. He has a heart and he cares about his players. But he also doesn't tolerate any dissent and is fond of ending meetings with players with benedictions like, "Now get the hell out of my office," which makes me giddy every time. Oh, Coach Taylor.

I'm going to channel my inner Coach Taylor on you now and speak in declarative sentences.

"Listen up! We got a big submission Friday night, and the publishers out there are going through some hard times. They want to see your submissions sparkling! They want perfection, and as the literary agent of this here team I aim to give it to 'em! It's time to look deep inside yourself and step up yer game! This means everything from revising to your queries to your submissions needs to be absolutely 110% perfect. And anyone who wants to cry about it can take off their shoulder pads and get off my field!"

That was fun.

But honestly, we're all doing the best we can in tough times. There's more competition at every single stage. I'm getting more queries. There are fewer editors at fewer publishing houses acquiring fewer projects. Bookstores are ordering fewer books. It's tough out there, and it's not the time to complain.

It's time, basically, to look inside yourself and step up yer game.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Which Fictional Characters Have Most Influenced You?

Hello! I have returned. And if you guessed that I would have 220 queries waiting for me, you would be both correct and psychic.

Needless to say, since I have about 100 non-query e-mails to attend to, query responses will be a bit delayed until further notice.

A quick You Tell Me for Wednesday, which was originally suggested by Dylan Ford, and partially inspired by The Atlasphere, which is in part an Ayn Rand fan dating site.

Fictional characters possess all of the power of real people when it comes to influencing and changing lives. So the question: what fictional characters have most affected you? Who has changed your personality, worldview, and/or ethics?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Vacation Repeat Repeat: Starting Before the Beginning

Still not here! In the meantime, here's another post from the wayback (aka 2007) and like yesterday's re-post, it features monkeys. This should give you a good hint about where I actually am. It's somewhere that... Okay, it's a zoo.

See you soon!

So, regular readers know I am a bit obsessed with basketball. We had some wonderful friends in town last night and so I DVR'd the game and then set about trying to block out the outside world throughout dinner. I turned off my cell phone. I put my computer in an out of reach place. I had my girlfriend scout out the downstairs of the restaurant for TVs before I ventured down to the restroom (yes, she's wonderful. Also understanding.) And it worked..... until we were walking around outside and I looked into a bar and happened to see a bigscreen TV showing Billy Donovan with a net around his neck. A;LKDJF;LAKJF I about fainted on the sidewalk. Nooooooooo!! Anyway, congrats to the Gators, even if I didn't get to be surprised by the win. I still watched the game when I got home.

Anyway, the advice given in this blog has been mostly devoted to the art of the query letter, but really, that is putting the cart before the donkey. Aspiring writers agonize over query letters, they strive to make publishing contacts, they pour their time and energy into getting their book published. But actually, the absolute most crucial decision you can make as a writer happens before you take out your pen and write down, "Once upon a time in Borneo." The most important decision happens when you decide what you're going to write about.

Too many people assume that good writing is all you need, and believe what you write about isn't so important as how you write. Such thinking results not only in meandering 200,000 treatises on the peculiarity of our contemporary mores, but also in more mundane and unoriginal plots that aren't well thought through and thus, no matter how good the writing is, they are a tough prospect to sell. To put it short: You need a good idea.

When you're considering what to write about, you have to start with the assumption that everyone you're up against in the slush pile can write -- it's your idea that will set you apart. This may seem like really obvious advice, but an unoriginal or not-good-enough book idea is the basis for approximately 90% of my rejections. In a story-saturated world where it seems like every original idea is already taken, really great story ideas are very rare and precious. I find it much more agonizing to reject someone with a really great idea where the writing isn't there than I do passing on a project with great writing where there isn't a solid enough idea. I think this is because it's so hard to find a great idea. They're as rare as an intelligent conversation on The Hills.

So what can you do? One way to test your idea before you start writing is to tell it to someone out loud. If, after a short description, someone genuinely, involuntarily responds, "Wow, that's a great idea," you're onto something. If you have to include the caveat, "Well, anyway, it sounds boring but really, it's all about the writing," you might want to add some monkeys to the plot.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Vacation Repeat Repeat: The Art of Reading Rejection Letters

I am still in my secret bunker, although Dick Cheney is sadly no longer with me. Actually I found out he hasn't technically been with us for the last ten years as his insides were secretly replaced with synthetic organs made of iron. They're not even rusting. He's a marvel.

Anyway, someone asked why I'm not at BEA (yes, I've been reading some of the comments. Watch out.)

BEA is cool and all, but it's not quite as mandatory for agents working with agencies that have foreign rights teams. Like the one I work at. The foreign rights peeps go to meet with all of the subagents who attend the expos, I avoid the mad crush of people. I don't find it's usually a great time to network and have meetings with editors because everyone is already so busy. So there you have it.

Meanwhile, in order to fill the Monday gap, here's an oldie from the archives. On rejection. Don't worry, I'm not trying to tell you anything...

Aside from making great wallpaper, kindling, and kitty litter, believe it or not rejection letters do serve a purpose. You can make yourself a better and more successful writer if you analyze them properly. But here's the problem with rejection letters -- it's practically impossible to make sense of a form letter that maybe includes one little teensy tiny bit of individualized advice. Plus, they can be completely contradictory -- one rejection letter could say "needs more monkeys" (mine) and the other letter could say "too many monkeys" (some lesser agent). What's a writer to do??

Here's the secret to understanding these maddening missives: rejection letters are pretty much worthless by themselves. Unless a rejection letter happens to be incredibly detailed and specific and you completely trust the person's reaction (sort of like the holy grail of rejections), you're really not going to learn too much. And you're going to learn even less if you analyze a rejection letter for hidden meaning (you're also going to rack up the psychiatry bills). One letter by itself isn't much help. BUT. When you start accumulating rejections you can start to make more sense of them by analyzing the trends.

So let's say you received twenty-five rejections from agents on the query to your new novel. If you didn't get any requests for partials at all, and you only got form letters in return (i.e. a rejection that didn't specifically mention an aspect of your work), something's wrong. It could be that your project isn't marketable, your query letter wasn't good, you queried the wrong agents... something that is preventing you from getting in the door. It doesn't necessarily mean you're a bad writer, it just means that you're in for a reevaluation of your project and your approach.

If, however, you're getting requests for partials (hooray for you!) and fulls (even better!), but you're not getting an agent to bite, it may mean that you're close but that something isn't quite right, and maybe you can make some changes that will make your project better. This is where an accumulation of a some non-form rejection letters can actually be helpful.

Spread those bad boys out on the table. Avoid the temptation to set fire to said table. And start to analyze the common threads. Don't go nuts with this, you aren't looking to crack the Da Vinci code here (holding them up to mirrors will not be helpful, trust me), just see if there are a few common things that you can pick out. Maybe a few people said that your project isn't marketable. Or maybe a few had similar problems with characters or plot lines.

Here's the next most important step: if you are hearing the same thing again and again, listen. Don't say, "Oh, well, my work is what it is, they're just STUPID." We're not stupid. Most of the time. Make that change. Try again. And keep changing until something works.

Lastly, when you receive a rejection, avoid the temptation of sending back an aggressive missive that questions an agent's intelligence/savvy/heart in order to exact one small bitter piece of revenge. This is a small industry. You may need to query me again down the line. I really don't like receiving these types of letters, and my memory is as long as the day... uh, is long.

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