Agent Monday: The “Your book’s too quiet” Rejection

Childhood GirlsHappy hot and steamy Agent Monday, everyone! Ever received the following rejection and wonder what it might mean?: “I have to pass because I found your book too quiet.” Too quiet? What’s that mean? And how do you get it to make some noise? Let’s take a look… (Thanks again to client Caroline Noonan and her writer’s group for this great post idea!)

To me, too quiet means that while the book may be written in a lovely manner and the manuscript clean and the plot interesting, overall the book lacks characteristics that would make it stand out in the commercial marketplace.

Remember, an agent’s job is to sell your book to commercial publishers, and an editor’s job is to purchase books that will become stand outs on the shelf and sell.

So what can you do if your book is consistently rejected as “too quiet?” Well, first of all look hard at the type of book you are writing – what distinguishes that sort of book? Have you elevated those elements in your manuscript?

For example, if you are writing a literary novel, is your language and imagery more than adequate? Does it stand out? Are the observations and revelations unique and transforming?

If you are writing for the YA market, is your book different from what’s already out there? Can you come up with a one-liner about the book that’ll get everyone’s attention because your story has a unique approach? Is there a hook that’ll make it stand out – and if so, have you put that unique part of your story front and center in your plotting?

If you are writing for the thriller audience, is your story truly gripping, your plotting original and does your character command the page?

And if you are writing romance, does your hero truly break your heart and does the passion sizzle?

In the historical realm, are the characters riveting and are we fully caught up not only in the lovely and accurate details of the time but also the true drama and personalities and stakes you present?

What are your strengths as a writer? Characterization? Scenery? Plotting? Imagery?  Have you heightened these so they are truly stand out?

Another thing to look at is how you are labeling and targeting your manuscript submissions. If you are calling your book a thriller but it’s really a cerebral mystery, you’ll be missing the mark. If you are directing your submissions to a commercial press, when your book is really a lovely lyrical literary novel, then your piece won’t be judged within the context that you want it to.

So next time you get a “too quiet” comment in a rejection, give your manuscript a hard look. Make sure you’ve really made its most important elements unique and stand out fab, and that you are labeling it correctly.  Then send it back out there and go make some noise!

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: Writing a First Draft

Jumbies cover small

Happy Agent Monday! Now that everyone is back to school, this is a great time for writers to get serious about tackling their muse and getting thoughts onto paper. But ugh that blank page. Are you staring at one today? Then this guest post by my client, the fabulous Tracey Baptiste, may be just what you need.

WRITING A FIRST DRAFT
guest post by Tracey Baptiste

Here’s the thing you need to know about writing a first draft: You just have to get through it. There are no other rules or tricks. A first draft is basically quarrying rocks. You go, you grab the ones that seem about right, you put them in a nice pile, and then you figure out what that pile is supposed to be later on. But being the creative types that we are, we stumble over every word, beat ourselves up over whether a plot arc or twist is working the way we want it to, and wonder—seriously wonder—why certain strings of words look as awful as they do. I’m better than THAT we think. True. We are. But not today. Today is a draft day, and you can whip that horrible string of words into shape in a little thing I like to call rewrites.

If you think I’m imparting this wisdom to help you out with your writing, or to keep you from stalling out, you would be wrong. Well, mostly wrong. Mostly, I impart this wisdom to help myself, because right now I am stalled in a first draft, wondering why everything looks so horribly bad, and seriously reconsidering my sanity for ever having considered I could write as much as a thank you note.

So this is to remind me (you too, but mostly me) to relax already and not worry so much about which words exactly get put on the page, so long as words that mostly approximate the thing that you think you’re trying to say get on the page. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to write an entire draft of the word “and” or anything. It has to make some sense.

OK, deep breaths. We can do this. We just need to remember that there is only one thing a draft needs to be: Done.

 

Tracey Baptiste - headshotTracey Baptiste is the author of the young adult novel Angel’s Grace (Simon & Schuster), and the forthcoming middle grade novel The Jumbies (Algonquin YR). You can find out more about Tracey at her website, www.traceybaptiste.com, by following her on Twitter @TraceyBaptiste, or by connecting on Facebook at TraceyBaptisteWrites.

Celebrity Poodle Insulted

Ella the poodle's unhappy reaction to her portrayal in new novel: "Call my lawyer at once!"

Invasion of privacy. Unauthorized biography. Poodle protocol violation.

Shocking accusation: Poopsie the Poodle, the sometimes star of the novel OVER MY HEAD, may be modeled after real-life apricot poodle Ella Lamba.

“We are not amused,” barks Ella’s lawyer, who points to allegedly insulting comments such as the following from Marie Lamba’s new young adult novel:

I pick her up and rub her pom-pom ears. “No more surprises, okay?” She licks me in the nostril. We’re the best of friends. “Okay, I’ll see you later.” I set her down.

Poopsie does her head tilt thing again like she’s trying to understand. It must be tough having a brain the size of a walnut. I wave bye and she tilts her head the other way, suddenly seeming sad and lonely. I leave and lock the door, feeling sad myself. Poor Poopsie.

“This is an outrage,” says the attorney for real poodle Ella.  “Brain like the size of a walnut? It’ll be poor author once this is dragged through the courts.”

Lamba the author went on record saying, “It’s fiction. And it’s supposed to be funny.”

“Funny?” the attorney said. “In this novel Poopsie, who is obviously modeled after my client, is insulted, dressed in American Girl clothes, even misplaced.”

“But no dogs were harmed in the writing of this novel,” Lamba said in a weak voice. “I love my dog. Sang, the character in the novel, loves Poopsie and does her best to take care of her. It’s not Sang’s fault the dog is a little loopy. I mean, wait. Not loopy. Can you strike that? What I’m saying is off the record, right? Right?”

Later, after this blatantly anti-poodle comment, TMZ caught up to Ella the poodle at her favorite posh doggie spa, and asked for her reaction to this latest insult.

But Ella, ever the classy one, just rolled her eyes and would only reply, “Grrr.”

Psst! Secrets…Pass it on!

It's a secret...so tell everyone!

Hey gang, just wanted to let you in on a few secrets…

First of all, I’ll soon be revealing the cover for my new young adult novel OVER MY HEAD.   Look for this, and for the book to be coming out in June!  Very excited.

This novel picks up two years after WHAT I MEANT… finishes, and you’ll get to hang out with Sang, Megan, Dalton, Gary, Doodles and some new characters the summer before senior year as Sang falls big time for the one guy everybody thinks is wrong for her.

And for the many of you who have read WHAT I MEANT… and have asked me, “What happened to Gina? Why did she act like that?”…well, I’m putting the finishing touches right now on a short story that will soon appear in an anthology including stories written by the wonderful authors of The Liars Club.  I can tell you the anthology will be called LIAR, LIAR!  I can tell you that Gina is running from something, and hasn’t been entirely honest with Sang. And I can tell you the story will be called, “What I Did…”  And I can tell you that I can’t tell you much more just yet.  But I will. Soon. Honest.

Look for details, including when and how to purchase LIAR, LIAR! as well as OVER MY HEAD on this site. Soon. Cross my heart.

In the meantime, like all good secrets…Shhh! (And be sure to pass it on.)

The Plot Sickens

Plot. Ugh! We writers need it to make our great ideas flow. Readers crave it…it’s what makes them turn pages, what creates tension, what makes them CARE about a book. But here’s a dirty little secret: many writers have a love-hate relationship with plotting. Mostly hate, really.

The Rebel Writers are (left to right) Damian McNicholl, Russ Allen, C.G. Bauer, Jeanne Denault, John Wirebach, David Jarret and Marie Lamba

I belong to an amazing novel critique group called The Rebel Writers.  (If you want to learn more about this group and our unique methods of critiquing long manuscripts, you can check out my article Plotting a Novel Group in Writer’s Digest Magazine by clicking here.) This month, our meeting was devoted to discussing plot. Our personal struggles with it, how it tends to bite us in the ass mid-way through our novels, how uncomfortable we are with artificially manufacturing it, and what the hell we can do to make sure our novels are tightly written starting right at the first draft. We came up with some interesting thoughts that I’d like to share…

All 6 of us were on hand for this meeting, offering a variety of perspectives. I’m a young adult author; Damian McNicholl is author of the critically acclaimed literary novel A Son Called Gabriel; C.G. (Chris) Bauer is author of the stunning debut horror novel Scars on the Face of God; Jeanne Denault is author of an amazing memoir about raising a son with Aspergers titled Sucking up Yellow Jackets – soon to be published by the UK publisher O Books; David Jarret writes historical novels and hysterical short stories, John Wirebach writes gritty crime and mystery novels, and Russ Allen writes literary novels.

C.G. Bauer's debut horror novel is "hotter than the flames of hell," says horror master Scott Nicholson

One thing we all acknowledged: we are uncomfortable with following plotting formulas and using step-by-step advice to plot novels. Here’s the thing: writing is an art. At least we writers hope so.  Art should flow, should be organic and original. Should be something new and exciting and enlightening.  We authors want to get to that spot of artistic originality in our completed works with every single bit of fiction that we create.

So imagine how a bunch of artists (put your nose in the air when you say that word) feel when they consider planning out their work of art on 3×5 cards or with post-its. When they think about following formulas in designing their novels… It feels so, so…artificial.

And herein lies the problem. Novels ARE artificial. And, as cheesy as it sounds, writers are manipulators. We use technique to create suspense, tricks to make cliff-hangers, melodrama to induce tears…if we are doing it well, then no one will even notice we are pulling the strings. And we need to be aware of these plotting techniques and embrace them on some level, don’t we?

So we Rebel Writers decided to take our noses out of the air and look around.  Pulp fiction writers use formulas. Soap opera writers use formulas. Many romance authors use formulas. So do television script writers. So do film writers. So, in fact, do many novelists. Maybe its time we face the facts: we can learn something from these folks!

Damian McNicholl's celebrated novel was a Book Sense Pick of the Year

Okay, so once we packed away our collective artistic snobbery, the info sharing really began to flow.  It was like a confessional of sorts, with each of us sharing our own secret plotting cheats.

Russ introduced us to a text called Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D., which outlines just over 50 plots, and argues that every story ever told was one of these plots.  We Rebels quickly found our own novels’ plots in the listings.  Humbling. Forget originality, right? All we have to do is pick one of these plots, and write a story…

We discussed our discomfort with this, but soon admitted that, yeah, it would be convenient to know the sort of story we were writing before we embarked on months to years worth of actually writing it and uncovering our direction. And we all reassured ourselves that whatever we wrote would be distinct if we were true to our own voice and our own view of the world.  That’s the clincher, isn’t it?

Many of us swore by Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, which has exercises that ensure your novel has a sound structure, a strong subplot, tension on every page, etc. etc. etc.  John pointed out how focused movie script writers are in plotting, and how most scripts have a climactic moment on a certain page according to an understood formula. He recommended we look at books about treatments, including a book I have on my own shelf: Writing Treatments that Sell by Kenneth Atchity and Chi-Li Wong. Another favorite of the group is The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. It follows myth and archetypes culled by folklorist Joseph Campbell in his incredible The Power of Myth, and applies the hero’s journey to plotting and structure. It’s phenomenal, and I used parts of this while plotting my newest young adult novel, Drawn. Jeanne shared how she used index cards to decipher the plot of one of her murder mysteries and to reorganize the plotting to fix a problem in its pacing.

I know, right about now you’re thinking: So if everyone has been secretly using all of these plot theories, what’s the big deal? What did the Rebel Writers actually learn here?  Well, every one of us have used these tools AFTER we wrote our novels. First we spent forever writing our monster works, then we sat down with our drafts and thought, hm, the middle is really slow, or huh, the ending just doesn’t do it, and we spent forever dissecting our works and fixing them by applying all of these plotting theories.

Jeanne Denault's stunning memoir about Aspergers

But wouldn’t it be nice to start out with a better sense of the structure and plot at the start? Wouldn’t that cut down on the length of time it would take to write a novel? Imagine how wonderful it would be to be able to create two novels a year vs. one every two years. And wouldn’t we enjoy our writing more if we didn’t have to agonize over our edits, going over the plotting and structure again and again and again? Wouldn’t our final work benefit?

We are all nodding now.  But still scepticism rears its ugly head. Can you really sit down and plan out a novel, plotting its structure, its twists, its climax and conclusion, and still come out with a work of art?  I’m about to find out. See, I’m also a member of the Bucks County Romance Writers, and will soon attend my very first plot party with them. They ask that each member bring a brand new novel idea not worked on yet, a pen, and a stack of stickees. At the end of the 6 (!) hour event, each person is supposed to leave with a completely plotted out novel, and all we’ll have to do is simply write it. Easy, right?

Can this possibly work? Can I come up with something fresh and original, yet plotted, with only stickee notes, my imagination and some strong plotting traditions? Can I then save time writing my novel, with my first draft being close to a final draft? Will I end up writing more novels and being more productive because of this? God, I hope so. Stay tuned…

Book Review: “Hush, Hush” by Becca Fitzpatrick

***UPDATE: My paranormal YA novel DRAWN is now out in paperback and ebook…If you like TWILIGHT and HUSH HUSH and books by Beth Fantaskey, then you’ll love DRAWN, the paranormal novel filled with forbidden love…and rich with believable characters. For more info about DRAWN click here!***

REVIEW: Okay, who among us hasn’t been simultaneously attracted to/repulsed by a bad boy? Something about danger, wildness, and stepping away from the known is at once exciting, yet scary…which makes it even more exciting.  Hush, Hush by  Becca Fitzpatrick (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) is indeed about the proverbial bad boy.  So what do you do when that gorgeous, edgy guy you are falling for, turns out to be a fallen angel? Hm. Not exactly meet the parents material.  But excellent material for a YA novel, and this one kept me up most of the night as I eagerly flipped the pages to find out what would happen next to Nora and that dark-eyed mysterious guy, Patch.

What originally attracted me to this novel was the stunning cover, designed by Lucy Ruth Cummins, and featuring a photo by James Porto.  It conveys the dark mood, and an appealing vulnerability. Bravo!  The other thing that pulled me in was the theme of the supernatural lover. I’m trying to keep up with these novels because my own recently completed young adult novel, titled Drawn, is about a teen artist who starts channeling one very attractive and mysterious ghost through her drawings.  Is he the love of her life, or is she losing her mind? Drawn is under consideration at publishers right now.

Some folks might at first glance think Hush, Hush as just another twist on the Twilight theme. But I assure you that Hush, Hush stands on its own, and is a fresh and original read. Now that’s not to say there aren’t some similarities. Even though there are no vampires or werewolves, there are plenty of supernatural creatures infiltrated into a normal high school. The location is a gloomy isolated town (in Maine, the opposite side of the map from Washington state, but similar in some ways). Nora lives in a one parent home, and that parent is mostly clueless or away, which is also similar to Twilight.

But you know what? These qualities weren’t invented by Stephanie Meyer’s either.  Go back to the Gothic novel, and you will find all the tales set in isolated locations and/or gloomy settings. Storms, clouds, dense woods. Par for the course, reflecting the story’s mood.  And what about the lone, clueless parent?  This is a story motif that goes way back to oral tradition. How about the father in Cinderella? And all those evil stepmothers? Weren’t they a dysfunctional bunch? They enabled, and often forced the heroes and heroines in folk tales and fairy tales to strike out on their own and face hardships and adventures. To quest.  This symbolized youth leaving their families, turning their backs on childhood, and facing adulthood.

Well, what about this whole fad surrounding supernatural loves? Not exactly a fad.  Of course there was Dracula, but long before that there were countless folktales told for centuries that involved a supernatural lover or husband.  The lover was often dangerous, mysterious, at times he took the form of an animal or a monster. Sometimes he was cursed, as in Beauty and the Beast or The Frog Prince, and sometimes the lover was a descended demigod. Take the story of Cupid and Psyche from mythology. In one version of this tale, Psyche had a beautiful young man come to her bed every night. He would be hers forever, as long as she never lit the light and looked at him.  Of course she is curious and finally must know more about him. When she lights the candle, she sees Cupid’s wings, and he is forced to leave her.  Varieties of this tale have been told for centuries throughout Europe, in the Near East and India. Even the Zuni of New Mexico told a variety of this story.

Cupid (like Patch and like Edward Cullen) is secretive, mysterious, his sexuality is dangerous, and the heroine is literally “kept in the dark” until she simply must know the truth.  So the new crop of supernatural lover stories are not really a “trend” but a revived archetype – something rooted deep in our lore that speaks to young women as they leave the comfort of their homes and their childhood and dare to explore the dangers of love and independence.

Archetypes aside, there are some further similarities to Twilight. Patch’s unusual dark eyes. His secretive life. Nora and Patch meet as Biology class partners.  I personally would have picked another class for them to meet in, but Biology, specifically the human sexuality unit they are doing, definitely works.  There is a huge showdown in the gym that echoes Meyer’s climactic scene in the ballet studio, and the heroine is lured there because a loved one (this time a friend) is in danger.

But similarities aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. There was plenty of tension and chemistry (as well as biology) between Nora and Patch. Lots of mind games and mysterious happenings heightened the drama and danger. And Nora is a much more appealing heroine than Bella, which makes the reader worry about her more and root harder for her to survive and thrive.  Can a girl with a mysterious birthmark and a pesky iron deficiency fight the evil of the ages? Can a fallen angel, shrouded in darkness and sin rise from his long and horrible past, and truly love? Can you resist staying up all night to find out how it all turns out?

Grab this book and start reading. It’s endlessly entertaining…and you can always catch up on your sleep later.

Book Review: The Dust of 100 Dogs, by A.S. King

Pirates — scurvy foul creatures with a greed for gold and a thirst for blood.  An innocent girl born into war-torn Ireland, who views the world with caution, who finally finds love, and who then has everything violently ripped away.  A teen in Pennsylvania, biding her time, and hiding her secret.  And a curse.  Oh, and some dog care tips.  If this all sounds like an unusual combination, you are dead on, and this is what makes the young adult novel The Dust of 100 Dogs (Flux) by A.S. King a fresh and original hit.

King’s main character Saffron, is a brilliant teen born into a needy family that see’s Saffron’s brilliance as the ticket to a bright future.  But what they don’t know is that Saffron is actually the soul of Emer, an Irish girl who had turned to pirating many centuries ago, and who was cursed to embody the souls of 100 dogs before she finally found herself human again.  Along with teen angst, Saffron must tamp down the savage instincts of her pirating past, and wait just a bit longer until she is 18 and has the money and the freedom to pursue the treasure buried on a Caribbean isle long ago.

The author does an amazing job of grabbing the reader by the throat, and pulling you through this epic adventure.  As we travel with Emer’s soul through her past lives, there is heartbreak and triumph, blood and gore, history and humor.  Because of some disturbing scenes, I would restrict this read to older teens and adults.  It’s a fantastic novel, but there is a rape and one seriously disturbed villain, so be advised.

That said, I now say grab this book and read it.  Share it with others. Channel your inner pirate. Yo-ho!