Friday, April 23, 2010

Author Tip #3: Addressing Queries

Folks, before you query, research how! Querying is not easy, but the easiest is the part is "Dear Amy Hayden". 

Not "Hey Amy" Is this a rodeo? Are you going to start tossing around a lasso saying "Hey y'all!"? NO. This is a business letter. Delete. 

Not Dear ______. Yes, we do get those. Delete. 

Not "Dear Linn" UNLESS you are actually emailing Linn. I'm not Linn. If you are sending your query to, then it's fairly obvious that you don't address your query to Ms. Prentis! Delete. (Maybe. It's an honest mistake and other agencies have other rules. Bottom line: do the homework. )

Not "Dear Agent." This tells me you don't care enough about the work that is involved in researching each agencies particular likes and dislikes. 

You may as well be spam. Delete. 

That's all for now. 
Amy Hayden 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Conversation About Killing Your Babies

"Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it -- whole-heartedly -- and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings." - Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

It was probably one week into Swanky MFA Program when I heard my professors tossing around this phrase. Students too! "Yeah, I'll most likely cut it. Kill your babies, and all."

So I, without having a clear grasp on the phrase, took it to mean that one should not get so attached to their writing. That one must relinquish those pesky ego-blinders that keep one from seeing when something just isn't working. Edit, edit, edit. 

Alas, I was wrong, though not terribly. The problem with your Witty Darlings is that they distract the reader, pulling them out of the "fictive state" or a state of absorption in the book. Still, when I found the original meaning of the phrase I decided to wholeheartedly disagree with it, to an extent (yes, yes, just play along). 

Me: Linn, let's have a lengthy and snootish discussion on the craft
Linn: Here here! ::waving her arm in a toast::
Me: I do not think that authors or editors should murder anyone's babies. Here's why: the moment at which one individual engages in the "fictive state" versus another differs. So, it is logical to conclude that the moment at which one disengages differs as well. It could be any old arbitrary verb, or a noun that does it. Plus there are birds. And music. And various other distractions that force the reader to disengage. Why shouldn't a phrase that makes you look up and say, "Daaaaamn, this author can write" have such a privilege too?  
Linn: Well - 
Me: I'm not done...So as I was saying, and what about the collective consciousness? I mean, if all authors just tossed out their finest moments, aren't they collectively a) dumbing down their words, b) catering to the lowest common denominator, and c) restraining both readers and writer AND humanity from achieving a higher standard of intellect when it comes to reading and writing?
Linn: Yes, well, I've certainly had to murder many authors' darlings, but sometimes it needs to be done. Frequently, that glorious turn of phrase occurs at an inopportune moment, acting as a red herring. 
Me: Ain't that a bust? When the muse touches you just as your protagonist is, like, brushing their teeth? Inspiration is a bi-
Linn: -bieautiful. A beautiful, beautiful thing. 

There we have it readers, no conclusion as of yet, but throw in your two cents. Do you murder your babies? Or do you let them stand as beacons of glory-be, shiny pennies in a fountain for the the muses still doing their muse-y thing?

Happy ummm, murdering?
Amy Hayden

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Author Tip #2: Word count matters.

No, wait.  It doesn't just "matter."  Word count can completely dash your chances of representation. Sound a little drastic?

I just read a query for a hard SF manuscript.  There I was, intrigued by the synopsis and all juiced up to request sample chapters.  My eyes must have skipped right over the bit that said, "Complete at 240,000 words" as I went back to sighing over what looks like a fabulous breeze outside my window.  Thankfully I snapped back to reality enough to read that sentence again, and a rejection letter soon followed.

Read this and read it good: 240,000 is obscene.  Ob. scene. for a first novel.

You might think, "But Amy, what about authors like JK Rowling and Tad Williams?  They've published gazillion-word novels that have done fabulously!"  And you'd be right.  But those authors earned the right to such lengthiness.  They started out, like everyone else, with novels of a more palatable length.  If they weren't above the rules, bucko, neither are you.

So what should you be shooting for?  A good average is around 90,000 words.  45 - 60,000 if you're writing a YA novel.  A thriller better reach 85k.  Anything too much over 120,000 words and you're likely fast-tracked to a form rejection.  Keep it in mind.

Happy writing, y'all.

Amy Hayden

Necessary Qualifier: This is simply the mind of one agency. Some agents, see Nathan Bransford's post on Word Count, have a far more...lenient approach. That's cool. He, of course, has a fair point. In the end, if the work is stellar keep-my-eyes-glued-to-the-page-for-all-240 THOUSAND-words- stellar, than YEA, I'm in. But that has only happened once in Linn's 15 year track record.

And she battled the work down to 180k. 
Case and point.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Word of the Day

PERIPETIA, a literary term
Aristotle defines it as "a change by which the action veers round to its opposite …."  According to Aristotle, peripeteia, along with anagnorisis, or discovery, is most effective when it comes to drama, particularly tragedy.  

Aristotle considered anagnorisis leading to peripeteia, the mark of a superior tragedy, tragedy being defined as a theatrical imitation exciting fear and/or pity.  The effect is often an ironic twist, as in Oedipus Rex, where the messenger brings Oedipus news about his parents, expecting it to cheer him, when, instead, it brings the awful recognition kills his mother and blinds and exiles him.

The most stunning modern example of this I know is the reversal of interpretation occurring between two "first contact" SF novels by Mary Doria Russell; While clerical types refer to these books as "Jesuits in Space," they are properly titled THE SPARROW and CHILDREN OF GOD.  

Where I find I can apply the word, however, is not to tragedy, but to the turn in a mystery novel wherein the reader realizes that all the clues that appeared to point to the butler are correctly interpreted to reveal the murderer as the scullery maid. 

----- Linn Prentis