Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Waning Moon
Chiron Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Hot, humid, rainy

I’m hoping Hurricane Rita changes her mind and goes out to sea, where she can’t hurt anyone. The Gulf Coast can’t take another hit, even if it’s a Category 1 or 2.

Congratulations to writer Jonathan Lethem of Brooklyn, who just won one of the McArthur Foundation’s $500,000 Genius Grants. Woo-hooo! His most recent novel is Fortress of Solitude. This grant will give him some security so that he has the freedom to create. GOOD FOR HIM!!! I’m always so happy when a writer or artist gets a shot like this. It helps the whole profession.

I was contacted by several former students from various workshops who absolutely STILL don’t –I think it’s more like WON’T -- understand why they have to follow certain protocols in order to get agents and/or editors interested in them.

Because they can’t be bothered to dig through your crap to find your story.

Editors and agents get hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions per week. If you’re not totally on top of the protocols and present yourself with professionalism – if you can’t be bothered to do a bit of research – WHY should they invest in you? Because it is an investment for both of you, and, in the best case scenarios, a partnership. The days of Jack Kerouac walking in with a scroll of manuscript in need of heavy editing are over.

First and foremost, you need an excellent story and you need to tell it extraordinarily well.

In addition, you need to:

1. Follow correct manuscript format – as to where to put your name, how to number pages, etc. There are libraries full of information on this.

2. Have a basic understanding of grammar and spelling. When I was a paid reader, my instructions were that if there were more than three typos/grammatical errors on a page, don’t read any further. It goes into the rejection pile. We were all taught grammar from 3rd to 6th grades, and should have had it battered into us throughout high school and college. Refresh yourself. Re-read Strunk and White every time you have to make a revision.

You also need to have the following ready to go and polished BEFORE you start your queries:

--A clean manuscript copy from which you can copy partial chapters, etc. A FINISHED, clean manuscript. Because most agents, if they ask to see material, expect it the return mail or email. Not in two weeks, when you’re done.

--A logline. This used to be only for plays or screenplays, but now it’s become the norm for the industry – a single sentence summarizing your book. As an International Acquisitions Manager for one of the behemoth publishers in NY told me once at a party, “If you can’t summarize it in one sentence, you don’t know your material well enough, and it’s not ready to sell.”

--A summary paragraph. That means 3-5 sentences giving a bit more detail than a logline. This goes into query letters, etc., and is something the agent/editor can lift out for meetings.

--A synopsis. One to two pages, telling the story. And yes, the whole story. Even if it’s a mystery, they need to know how it ends. Don’t withhold the information. They need to know if it works.

--An outline. Not like the kind you did in high school and not necessarily what you used to write the book (if you used an outline). Writers who are used to outlining often can use a slightly modified version of their writing outline, but it’s a learned, crafted skill. It can run up to five pages, where each paragraph summarizes a chapter. You do not put each chapter on a separate page., and do not run on for twenty or thirty pages. Not until you’re famous anyway, and in a position where you can nail a contract from an outline, because your publisher and agent know you can deliver.

Granted, once you have a track record of steady sales, you can pretty much break all of the above and hand them a few scraps of ideas, but when you’re breaking into the business, if you want to get noticed, you have to present yourself as a professional. Think of it this way: would you interview for a job in a major law firm dressed as a pole dancer?

I loathe the synopsis and I loathe the outline. I loathe reading them and I loathe writing them. Unfortunately, they’re a set part of the business, and I just have to push through it and do them anyway.

Non-fiction has its own protocols, which I am in the process of learning. Believe me, as I prepare these proposals, I’m doing a heck of a lot of research. And even with the research, I’ll probably make some mistakes in my first batch of queries. Let’s hope I learn from them.

Every month, the writing magazines and writing sites have article after article after article on the basics – so much so, that the writing magazines are pretty much useless to me at this point because they don’t have any new or inspirational information or anything for “intermediate” writers. They do the basics every month – because wanna-be writers can’t be bothered to absorb it and then whine and wonder why they can’t even get a first read. There’s so much information out there. Read it – and APPLY it.

Off to create coherence out of curry (hopefully, Col, as you read this, it’s close to either lunchtime or dinnertime where you are, so you’re not starving to death)! :)

Finished the second manuscript critique last night. This was the third or fourth rewrite I’ve read of this person’s work – and she nailed it this time out. It’s gorgeous. I’m very proud of her.

Didn’t get much work done on Never Too Late last night – I had to work out the next sequence which had only been drawn in the broadest brushstrokes in my notes – but I think I’ve got it now.

Managed some more work on Circadian Poems. Slotted in the final poem for October and am working my way through essays.

Got to get as much as possible done this morning – I’m in for the show tonight, and both shows tomorrow.

The Thirteen Traveling Journals Project
The Place and Space Journal Project
Circadian Poems


At 3:20 PM, Blogger Eileen said...

Thank you so very much for sharing these guidelines to submitting manuscripts. I'll be adding them to my reference file!


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