Posts Tagged getting published
Today, is Les Edgerton’s last post in this series. We’ve been extraordinarily blessed to learn from him, so I hope y’all will give him a digital hug or round of applause. Les will soon be teaching on-line classes for WANA, so I’ll let you know when those are available.
Take it away, Les!
All of the points we’ve covered in this dialogue series are intended for one purpose only—to help writers avoid the red flags that improper dialogue can create for agents and editors… and readers.
And that’s what they are—red flags. That doesn’t mean that breaking any of these “rules” or conventions will doom your mss from being taken, but it does mean the presence of them can cast a negative light on your work. And, I imagine we all want to avoid that!
Also, there will be a great many examples of novels that break these precepts. There are many reasons for that. Contrary to popular opinion, novels don’t make it into print simply because they’re quality writing. There are many other factors at work. Factors that the writer may or may not have control over.
For instance, novels are published because the author has made a personal connection with a publisher. When an editor knows someone and likes that person, it’s not uncommon for that person’s book to be taken over another more worthy one. Happens all the time.
Or, an author may have had one or more successful novels already published and the current one may not be as good as the mss lying on the same desk as an unknown author, but the lesser quality novel will be taken. Again, happens all the time.
Sometimes, even though the novel breaks all kinds of rules, something in a novel like this may simply appeal to an individual editor. Maybe it’s the voice. Maybe it’s the setting—my first novel was taken by accident because of its setting. The Death of Tarpons had been rejected 86 times before I sent it to the University of North Texas Press.
That’s EIGHTY-SIX times!
That was in the days of snail mail submissions, where you had to pay the postage for the mss to the editor and also provide return postage. That was during a time when my family ate a lot of beans and really couldn’t afford to buy the tons of stamps I needed. I had made my mind up that once I reached 100 rejections, I would “retire” the manuscript.
What happened was that it landed on the desk of UNT’s publisher, Fran Vick. Unbeknownst to me at the time, UNT had never before published fiction. If I’d known that, I never would have sent it. Anyway, Fran’s secretary had unwrapped the day’s mail and as it by chance happened, mine was the first mss on Fran’s desk. Her normal routine when presented with a fiction mss, was for her to not even read it, but just stick a standard rejection notice in it and have her secretary send it back.
Luck was on my side!
As Fran related to me later (I’ve just revealed a happy ending and taken all the tension out of this, haven’t I!), her secretary was bringing her her morning cup of coffee and something happened where she had to remake the pot. That gave Fran an extra five minutes or so before she began her “official” day, so, for want of anything else to do, she picked up the first page of my novel and began idly to read it. If it wasn’t for her secretary’s failing to deliver her that cup of coffee, none of what happened next would have ever happened.
It’s what she read on that first page that induced her to keep reading. The novel was set in Freeport, Texas, the town I grew up in. Like most first novels, it was an autobiographical, “coming-of-age” novel (there’s a cliché for ya!). The thing is… Freeport was Fran’s hometown!
What editor can resist reading about their own hometown, especially when that town is a tiny burg like Freeport? A New York City editor, glancing at the first page of a mss and seeing it’s set in NYC isn’t going to be nearly as intrigued as an editor from Freeport, Texas reading a novel set in… Freeport, Texas!
As it turned out, Fran also knew my grandmother who was prominently on the page immediately and was instantly drawn into the story and read it all the way through, got on the phone, and offered to buy it.
So, there’s luck involved sometimes. Although, the book was well-written, so it also pays to be ready for luck when it appears. Fortune favors the prepared! The book went on to be well-reviewed and sold very well and earned a Special Mention from the Violet Crown Book Awards.
The point is, there are so many factors out of your control that can lead to or prevent publication. But, there are factors that you can control and among them are adhering to contemporary writing styles and conventions. And that is the impetus behind these precepts. To help you avoid many of the red flags that may prevent your mss from getting a fair and thorough reading.
Okay? Best of luck to all of you and your writing endeavors!
Les, THANK YOU SOOOOO MUCH. We really appreciate you taking so much time from your packed schedule.
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.
At the end of April I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!
When it comes to writing great fiction, less is often more. Think of modifiers and detail like perfume. Perfume can be lovely, sexy, attractive, and make one irresistible. It can also give others a headache or an asthma attack and have them looking for the closest
Comb through your prose and look for adverbs. When possible, replace them with stronger verbs.
She stood quickly out of the chair.
She bolted from her chair.
Look for redundant adverbs.
He yelled loudly.
Um…no, duh. How else would he yell? Softly?
Not all adverbs are evil. Adverbs are fine when they denote some quality that is not inherent in the definition of the verb.
She whispered conspiratorially.
When it comes to character descriptions, you aren’t talking to a police sketch artist. Give the basics and let the reader fill in the rest. Trust your reader’s imagination to be far better than anything you can supply. Think of it this way, when your book is one day made into a movie, casting will be far easier :D.
Adjectives—Handle with Care
Like adverbs, try to use adjectives sparingly and only when they are truly going to punch up a sentence. Avoid adjectives your reader would automatically supply on her own.
It was a dark night.
Ok. Glad you told us that night was DARK. Our brain doesn’t need holding, really. We are not stupid.
It was an evil night, a night of reckoning.
Oooooh, oh. I can go with this. See how the adjectives hint at the story instead of stating the obvious?
Details Can Negatively Affect Pacing
We do need some details. Few things annoy me more than having no idea about the setting, or what people look like, but…
If we spend three paragraphs describing the weather and the setting, this gives readers a chance to see something shiny and then you are OOH! SQUIRREL!
We are in an increasingly ADD world and need to appreciate the reader of the Digital Age. Yes, use detail, but spread it throughout the story. Big chunks of detail get boring very quickly to everyone but the writer.
Imagine this scenario. You can’t wait to watch a movie. The opening scene is of a breathtaking sunrise, the most beautiful sunrise you’ve ever witnessed in the history of sunrises, but the camera just focuses on the sun rising over the mountains, and rising, and *yawn* more rising…for the next FIFTEEN minutes. You would be throwing popcorn at the screen.
Loads of detail heaped together have the same affect.
When We Modify Everything, We Modify Nothing
Too much detail/too many modifiers are like a person speaking/shouting in monotone. Remember Billy Mays, the Oxy Clean guy, and EVERYTHING WAS EQUALLY LOUD AND IMPORTANT?
When we modify everything, we modify nothing. Use detail/modifiers sparingly and purposefully so that readers can more easily enjoy why they bought your book in the first place…for the story.