This is the paranormal blog of author Lynda Hilburn, http://www.lyndahilburnauthor.com
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
I got a call today from an agent who has my full ms. We spent quite a while on the phone -- he asking questions about where I envisioned my book fitting (re: marketing/pitching), listening to my answers, then asking more good questions. He gave me his impressions of my book, and we talked about what changes I might be willing to make. At this point, I'm not sure if I understand fully, but it was very constructive conversation. And it was a pleasure to "meet" this agent and come away with good feelings. We've agreed to talk again. What an unexpected good thing. Wow. Stuff happens.
I've been thinking about why I like certain books and not others. Since I can only speak for myself, and I can't ever pretend to understand why other people like certain books and not others, I'd love to hear how other people select favorite books. What elements make it good to you? What takes a book out of the running?
In my quest for publication, I've had certain books suggested to me as examples I should follow. Books that are marketable. I appreciate that the people who point me toward these books are trying to help. It's true. Those books are marketable. And, in some cases, I even enjoy them. But I don't want to recreate them. I don't remember whose blog I read this on (it was a male author), but the writer shared a recent experience with his agent or editor. The writer presented an idea and the agent/editor frowned and asked if the writer had anything more original. The writer asked the agent/editor if he would buy the original idea if the writer had one. The agent/editor said "probably not." I know that agents/editors want more of what sells. I understand that. Maybe I just haven't found the successful books that my story actually would fit in the mold of.
I think I might have started off on the wrong foot by claiming my book was chick lit (but in my defense, I had a wider definition of chick lit than I've found in the various agents/editors I've spoken with). It has a clever vibe (I usually get negative feedback when I say I'm a Woody Allen fan -- at least a fan of the movies that were clever. I know he behaved like a jerk, but I still laugh at "Love and Death," "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex," "Annie Hall," "Stardust Memories," "Hannah and her Sisters," and others of that ilk -- intellectual wit. And even though his characters were/are terribly neurotic, I still found most of his work amusing) but my story doesn't follow the chick lit formula. Trust me. There is a formula.
Instead, maybe my book is: Paranormal Woody Allen meets female Frasier, meets Anne Rice (pre-religious phase), meets The X-Files? Anyway, I think I like certain books rather than others if they have these things, and they all are equally important:
1)Good writing/engaging voice. Highly subjective, of course, but if you look at my list of recommended books you'll see what I consider good. Lots of books are well-written, but they don't have the other two things. 2) Excellent story. Meaning the story is something that I find interesting -- topics, philosophies and explorations that are relevant to me. I don't need a book to be "action" in order for me to love it. Woody Allen's movies are mostly about inner things rather than outer. And what constitutes an excellent story has changed over the years as I've grown. I appreciate layers and subtlety rather than dogma. 3) Compelling characters. I need characters with emotional/psychological depth or the potential for that depth. In the J.D. Robb Eve Dallas series, she is masterful at peeling her characters, allowing glimpses and hints of insight/awareness while the very-physical characters also take care of business in the outer world.
I got another rejection today. A form letter rejection. But for some reason, this one struck me as funny. I had only sent a query to this pub. My query letter has 6 very concise paragraphs about the content of my book and then the other required things. The 6 paragraphs barely take up half the letter.
Anyway, on the basis of reading those 6 paragraphs, an editorial assistant said (in her form letter), when describing why she was passing on my book: either the story doesn't fit the personality of ___ (insert publisher name); the story/writing/characters lean more towards series romance than mainstream women's fiction or chick lit; it resembles too closely a title we've already published or are in the process of publishing; the characters/situations are too cliche; the project is not at all suitable for ___ .
Well, I thought it did fit the personality of ___. That's why I sent the query. Series romance? Nothing in my query gives that impression. My book is clearly mainstream women's fiction. Now perhaps they just did publish a book about a psychologist and vampires. I know there's at least one other book floating out there, but I was pretty sure Penguin has it. Characters/situations too cliche. Naw. Don't think so. Not at all suitable? Well, since that is so vague, it's hard to have any coherent thoughts about it.
But, in any case, the 6 paragraphs clearly didn't excite this editorial assistant. But I'll bet if an agent pitched that same house and someone actually read even a partial of my book, they'd have a different opinion. But, that may or may not ever happen. Who knew going to the mailbox every day could be so much fun?
Why would any sane (open for discussion) person want to do this to herself? Constantly offer herself to the world -- this time through the written word, as opposed to performing/singing, creating hypnotherapy CDs, starting businesses, etc -- to be inspected, critiqued, discussed and approved/denied? I always give the impression of being self-confident. In fact, I've heard my share of comments about peoples' reactions to what they perceive of as my "over-confidence." HA! It's a bluff. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm a quivering mass of insecurities. I know I give good face, but underneath, I'm always terrified that the latest aspect of myself will be soundly rejected. (Father issues from childhood.) No one will want whatever it is. I'm not good enough. Not loveable. Not _________ enough.
Do you wonder why I became I therapist? With so much of my own shit to sift through, how could I not?
I got a rejection letter yesterday from an agent who'd requested 3 chapters/synopsis back in August. She said her readers finally got through it and she took a look, decided I'm a "competent" author, but she wasn't excited. I know that's standard verbiage these days, but it never fails to annoy. No problem. I actually appreciate when someone decides that based on the query or partial, rather than on the full. Somehow rejecting the full feels much, much worse. And I got another request from an agent for 3 chaps/synopsis.
I made sure I changed my synopsis so it reflects the true nature of my book: humorous women's fiction, with a chick lit vibe, with romance elements (more than one man), mystery elements and whatever element would cover the heroine being attacked (bitten in various places) by vampires.
One of the women in one of my crit groups said she didn't like that -- after the humorous tone of the first few chapters -- my heroine actually was attacked. She said it didn't feel right to her. She thought the heroine would be exempt from such things. Well, I'm influenced by Anita Blake and Sooky Stackhouse, who often seem to find themselves bleeding from unfriendly experiences, while still having that clever tone.
Speaking of Sooky: I read somewhere that HBO is considering a series of Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire series. Is that cool, or what? Just an aside: I hope the word "snark" goes away soon. A well-known vampire humor writer used the words, "he snarked," several times in her latest book. ARGH! Gag me with a stake. Anyway, I have tried to sit my butt down and write something new, but can't seem to find the groove. I did finally settle on an opening for Book 2 of the Kismet Knight , Ph.D., Vampire Psychologist series. Yay!