Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bits & Crits



I returned yesterday from Richmond, where I attended the James River Writers Conference (one of my favorite conferences) at the library of Virginia.

Looking up from the lobby of the Library of Virginia

There’s so much to tell about it that I can’t get it all told in one blog entry. So here’s a bit of what happened.

At the First Pages Critique on Friday morning, agents Liv Blumer and Jenny Rappaport and editor Lucina Bartly gave their opinion of opening pages submitted by some of the attendees. In the past, critiques have been, well, critical. Sometimes brutal. (A previous First Pages Critique was where I learned the terms “National Geographic Fiction” for stories that open with a description of setting and “Weather Channel Fiction” for stories that open with weather (“It was a dark and stormy night.”).

Knowing what to expect, I submitted the opening of my middle grade novel. Since the agent with whom I had an appointment was on the panel, I figured she might get a preview of what I do if my opening was selected and be impressed.

It was. She wasn’t.

She “wasn’t emotionally invested.” However, she was quick to find a flaw—one that escaped all the folks who’d read it before and even the New York editor who critiqued it at the CNU conference. She “couldn’t place the age or grade” of the main character and was confused about who she is. Therefore, she couldn’t tell if it was close to the “target audience.”

It didn’t take me long to figure how I could work “fifth grade” into the story. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Duh.

The other agent “didn’t do kids’ book, and “wasn’t interested in the kids, situation, or the school.”

The editor on the panel thought I had good details and even mentioned some specifically. That gave me a little hope.

Other entries fared about like I did or even worse. Some of the comments for the other nine: “want to see action,” “too much telling,” “trust readers to be intelligent and figure out what they need as they go,” “get the story going,” “dialogue seems stilted,” “dialogue needs to be snappier,” “repetition, no book, dragging,” “needs to be tighter,” “too long description,” “so many adjectives; description is thrown in your face,” don’t give away whole character in first paragraph,” “lack of verities,” “felt slow—trying to drag you in but not hooking,” “really, really generic,” “didn’t sound erotic; clichéd,” “nothing setting it apart,” “redundant,” etc. See, the comments I got weren’t too bad.

An hour later, I had my 5-minute agent interview. There wasn’t any point in pitching my novel, so I asked her about my Blue Ridge version of a fairy tale, a genre she doesn’t do. However, she knew another agent who liked that genre, and gave me her contact info, and said I could use her name for the referral.
I Googled the agent during lunch. A big agent at a big agency! Do I stand a chance? We’ll see.

My query will go out before the week is over.

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4 Comments:

Blogger CountryDew said...

Good luck!

9:14 PM  
Blogger Ibby Greer said...

This is what to expect from much of the book world today---focus on commercial success from young editors and agents who probably can't even write without spell-check. Too bad it has become like this. Why solicit their advice? It is not what it was 50 years ago....

9:58 AM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

Unfortunately, without commercial success, the publishing company goes under.

The editors I've met at conferences seem to have a minimum of a master's degree plus a lot of experience in various forms of NY publishing.

Many of the successful agents worked in publishing before switching to agenting. Contacts are important.

Without an agent, now it's almost impossible to get the attention of a major publisher or even some of the smaller reputable ones.


Since 9-11, unsolicited manuscripts go unopened. Even by agents.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Anne Carroll said...

Agreed, Becky.

The publishing world has to deal with the same realities as any other business - make money or go out of business. The competition is tougher all the way around.

It's forcing writers to do more than just write the best novel they can. We've got to understand the business and be active partners.

My 2 cents worth.

7:59 PM  

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