Monday, May 31, 2010

Closed to queries for the month of June!

Just a heads up that I am closed to queries for the entire month of June. As of midnight this tonight (EST), all queries received will be deleted unread.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Do the Write Thing for Nashville: A Flood Relief Auction

In case you haven't noticed, Nashville (and much of Tennessee) was pretty much decimated by flooding last week. But in truth, you may not have noticed, because the media sure wasn't telling anyone about the disaster taking place down South. It was a good six days before anyone in the national media started really talking about the extent of the damage, and even longer before the news hit the local news here in New York City, local news which was preoccupied by a disaster that actually didn't happen: the non-bomb in Times Square. (Hey, I love my city, but even New Yorkers get tired of the media pretending that the East Coast is the center of the universe.)

Meanwhile, over on the Twitterverse, a lot of writers and book industry folk started talking about the lack of coverage for the floods. It was mind-boggling, really. Nashville is a major cultural center of the United States, the home to country music and the Grand Ole Opry. But did you know that Nashville is also a major hub for publishing in the United States? Nashville is the home to Ingram Books - the largest book distributor in the country, as well as home to the majority of the publishers that serve the CBA marketplace: Thomas Nelson, Center Street Press and dozens of other Christian publishers.

And somewhere in the midst of that hours-long conversation, three smart young Nashville-based writers - Victoria Schwab, Amanda Morgan and Myra McEntire - came up with the idea of a literary auction whose proceeds would go to support the Tennessee flood relief efforts. And Do the Write Thing for Nashville was born!

If you haven't had the chance, head over there now and check out all the amazing things you can bid on for this great cause! My colleague Janet Reid is offering up a 30-minute manuscript evaluation by telephone. (She'll read your whole manuscript, first!) Another FinePrint colleague, Suzie Townsend, is also giving away a 30-minute phone call and manuscript critique! (Bidding on Suzie's package closes today, so hurry!)

More people offering up prizes: Curtis Brown agent Ginger Clark, NYT bestselling author Lisa McMann (who will fly to your city to have lunch with you!), Egmont publisher Elizabeth Law, Greenwillow Books editor Martha Mihalick, among others. (My package doesn't go up until Day 8; I'll tell you more about it then!)

There are dozens of great prizes to bid on, and all the money goes to help the people of Tennessee rebuild their lives and their cities. Please help us spread the word and Do the Write Thing for Nashville!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Guest blogger: Agent Roseanne Wells talks kitchen sink plots, or "Adding a dragon won't help."

My pal Roseanne Wells is a new agent at the Marianne Strong Literary Agency. An avid reader since forever, she discovered her passion for book publishing during her internship at W.W. Norton and hasn't looked back. She is also an arts reviewer for and loves dance, food, and awesome people. I asked Roseanne to talk a little bit about the dreaded "kitchen sink plot", a device that every new writer uses at one time or another to try to write themselves out of a plot hole or a bad book. Here are her thoughts:
Writing Tip: "This story needs a dragon!"

My friend Jane* has a tendency to tell really boring stories. She inflicts you-had-to-be-there stories, I-find-this-to-be-funny-but-you-might-not stories, and this-is-interesting-but-not-well-told stories on us all the time.

In college Jane started noticing that when she was telling a story, people started picking their nails, looking past her for the nearest exit, or falling asleep on the spot. Even when she could feel that the story was dying a soporific, painful death, Jane couldn't stop herself -- she felt she had to finish it to the end. She so desperately wanted her stories to work that she grasped for something that could save them, any lifesaver that could bring them home. Jane peaked when she was telling a story and, just as my eyelids began to flutter, she blurted out: "And then there was a dragon!"

Don't do this in your manuscript.

As appealing as this may sound -- and as hilarious it is to picture a dragon in line with your character at the grocery store -- don't do it. Adding a dragon or a long-lost brother or slutty secretary or a conveniently placed key under the doormat to the castle is not the fix for a broken story.

Just like a band aid will not patch a broken arm, a drop-in device can't mend a disjointed plot, polish a character, or create strong conflict. And sometimes, even a tourniquet can't save it: the whole arm has to go.

The key is to see what wasn't working before the dragon was needed. Are there two characters that need to meet, but there's no real bridge between them? Is there a romantic subplot that isn't taking off? Are the stakes not high enough for the reader to care?

The grain of salt? I can't say avoid any or all of these things: the memoir of a dragon whose long-lost brother is engaged to his slutty secretary (and that dragon's luck at finding the key under the doormat to the castle!) could be the best story written this year. But these components can't be a crutch, designed to support waning tension or flagging reader interest. (This also applies to nonfiction, especially memoirs, where the characters, plot, and themes are [supposed to be] sifted from everyday life.)

I find that dragons and the like often appear when writers feel they're out of options, that too many parts that are fixed in stone, and they have to come up with a magic fix-it-all to glue the pieces together.

But nothing is as static as it may seem, even when you feel that your manuscript is ready to give to a peer, agent, or editor. Don't be afraid to change or cut for the benefit of the whole story, even if it's only temporary. (I often remove what may be a dragon in disguise and put it in a separate document; if I do end up needing it later, it's sitting there, ready to come back to work.)

Dragons are awesome, but they can't make Aunt Millie more interesting than you've written her.

*Name changed to protect the boring.
If you're looking to submit to Roseanne, she's looking for strong literary fiction, YA, sci-fi (most subgenres included), fantasy, and mysteries (more Sherlock Holmes than cozy mysteries). Her nonfiction interests include narrative nonfiction, science (popular or trade, not academic), humor, history, true crime, religion, travel, food/cooking, and similar subjects. Query letters can be sent by email (with no attachments!) to queries(at)stronglit(dot)com.