Thursday, July 03, 2008

Explain Voice

I did a post not too long ago on What Makes Me Say “Yes” and one of my readers reacted by saying,

Without a better explanation of "voice," I think this post seems like a cop-out. Isn't "voice" just another way of saying that you like the way they write? To put this in another context, if you were asked what you look for in a dessert, for example, and you said, "First, I want a dessert that is delicious. Then, I want it to look good on the plate," wouldn't that beg the question--what do you find delicious? I would ask, what kind of voice appeals to you?

Well, to some degree I agree with you. I probably should have given a better explanation of voice and what I want in voice, but I do not think my answer was a cop-out. While I can try to find an answer for what voice is I don’t think I can easily give you an answer for what I look for when I’m saying I look for voice. Have you ever read any of the books on my list? If you’ve read more than one of my clients I think you’ll easily see a wide range of voices, styles, ideas, and techniques.

I think Kim gave a really great explanation of what voice is in the comments to that post and I’m going to simply quote her here. Why change brilliance?

I can see why the "voice" answer may seem like a cop-out. At the same time, though, I'm not sure it's something that can be so easily explained.

I think of "voice" as a kind of elusive "X factor." Your manuscript either has a strong one or it doesn't. It's true that not every strong voice will be to my liking, but I do think that any strong voice will catch my attention.

It's more than being able to put together a good sentence. Consider the example of hearing the same story from two different friends. The delivery is going to be completely different from one person to the next. With Friend #1 you find your mind wandering off, with Friend #2 you're completely riveted and hanging on every word. It's not necessarily because one of them has a better command of the English language than the other -- though that could be part of it. The great storyteller can deliver a tale with a certain amount of confidence, energy, affect, and immediacy that the other friend can't. That's a great, strong voice. But until someone tells me the story that way, it's impossible for me to say how I want to hear it told.


But your later question, what kind of voice appeals to me, is much, much trickier to answer, and let me use your own dessert analogy to explain why. I’m a huge fan of ice cream. I like chunks in my ice cream, substance, and I like rich flavors like caramel swirl and peanut better, but I don’t like peanut butter in chocolate ice cream and the peanut butter can’t be too sweet. Now, that being said, I do love a really rich chocolate cake with ice cream on the side, but am not a huge fan of cheesecake, unless it’s chocolate cheesecake, but not all chocolate cheesecake. Some of my favorite treats aren’t dessert at all, but donuts. I’m a sucker for an old-fashioned donut with chocolate frosting on top, the kind you really can’t find anymore except in small mom and pop donut shops. So how can I explain what I look for in a dessert? I can’t because I look for something delicious. Do you see where I’m going with this? My tastes are wide and varied and to try to narrow down the kind of voice I’m attracted to just isn’t going to work. Not only that, it isn’t fair to pastry chefs worldwide.

I think if you look at your own stack of favorite books you’ll probably see many variations in voice, but variations that really appealed to you.

Jessica

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

I remember that blog. Here's my question to you, I think you said something along the lines of (very loose translation), if I don't ask to see more of your work after a query or reject a partial/full it probably that that voice isn't resonating with me... [I did say very loose translation]

Then you went on to say, writers should feel free to requery.

Why would a writer requery you? Just an honest question, but if you didn't like one story, and I have the same voice as before, what would be the point of sending another story to you because you've rejected on the basis of voice?

Sorry, I'm trying to word this without seeming snarky, just pretend I'm asking a dumb question, please. I'm not meaning to be mean. :)

Anonymous said...

I think it's a valid question, anon. No one wants to send a query for an automatic rejection. It's not like we enjoy it.

Keri Ford said...

anon. 8:23, I'm going to throw my opinion in here (probably because I just woke up and lack the need to stop myself from saying something that could be off the mark just yet:O))

Sometimes writers can tell one story one way, and tell a different story a different way. If you compared my romantic mysteries to my regency's you would probably find similar sentence structures, but the words I've used to create those sentences would be drastcially different. Therefore, my voice gets altered.

But that's an easy comparision because it's too drastic genre's. So look at 2 romantic mysteries. Both have the same elements, but maybe your second one is a littl more dangerous where the first was more humorous. Could be you have a natural knack for the dangerous that you don't know about, so your voice comes out easier.

Also, while manuscript A got passed, by the time you wrote manuscript B, you likely have (unknowingly at that) gotten a better grip on your voice and it's standing out more. All your writing skills will improve with practice, so it only makes sense that your voice will to--even though it's the same voice, it's stronger and standing out and what wasn't working before could have clicked together now.

hope that was some help and made some sense

Julie Weathers said...

Years ago, my sister-in-law came to visit and she asked my middle son to read his favorite book to her. He was in the third grade, I think. He started reading and literally acted out each passage.

She started laughing in complete delight and asked Cody what he was doing. He responded, "I'm reading with color, like my teacher told us to do." She was teaching them not only to read, but to get lost in the emotion of the story.

To this day, I try to "write with color" and make my stories come alive.

When this question came up originally, I wondered if I have enough or a strong voice. That question nagged at me again when a critiquer mentioned if I was going to write an epic fantasy and it was going to be over 100,000 words I better have a heck of a voice.

I really wondered about that, and still do to an extent. Then a friend sent me a private message and cautioned me about listening to some advice I was getting about my work. "Don't take everything to heart. I would hate for you to lose your voice. It's one of your strengths."

So, I guess maybe "writing with color" works for me, whether I realize it or not. Of course, not everyone is going to care for my voice, but that's a given.

I'm glad you brought this up as it does worry me.

Jess Anastasi said...

I think it's a concern for all writers, becuase without individual voice, what the heck are we all doing?
I'm the same as julie. It is hard to know what advice to take and whether or not my voice is coming across the way I want it to. And even if it is working the way I want it to, will I ever find an agent who loves what I'm doing? No matter what issue we discuss as writers, I guess you never get away from the basics: we all want to think what we're doing works and we'll be the next author to be offered representation. I've said it before, but sometimes I really feel like this whole game partly comes down to luck; finding the right agent on the right day in the right mood.

Christine Wells said...

I wrote a piece on voice recently on Romance Bandits if anyone's interested. http://romancebandits.blogspot.com/2008/06/youre-voice.html

I can understand that it's hard for agents and editors to describe the kind of voice they're looking for. The analogy I came up with was--can you describe the exact song you want from a band you're yet to hear? Maybe you can describe your tastes generally, but you can't guarantee you will like a song that has elements X, Y and Z. It's similar with agents and editors looking at manuscripts. Very frustrating for authors looking to break in but I don't really see a way around it.

Barbara Samuel has developed a worksheet to help you define your voice:
http://my.sbwriters.com/profile/BarbaraSamuel
(You have to scroll down a bit to find it)

Anonymous said...

I'd like to expand on anon 8:23's question.

Is there a time any of you ladies (Jessica, Kim, or Jacky) have requested chapters from a query letter, received the partial, read over it, and loved the voice but not so much the story?

Does it ever happen, where maybe you ask to see/hear about any other projects they may be working on or have done already, because the voice really captivates but you just can't get into the story (i.e. maybe it's a sci-fi with a romantic subplot, but you're looking more for something with more of an in-depth romance, etc...)?

If so, did it ever pan out where you loved the other stuff they sent and offered to represent?

This would give those of us that have four or five books already written a little more hope that it's more a matter of the right book to the right agent, and not so much about luck.

Just_Me said...

When I was in journalisim voice was defined as the cadence that makes a piece unique.

If someone can read a random paragraph out of the middle of the book and the readers can identifiy the book or author without any descriptive additives (names, locations, catch phrases) the piece has a strong voice.

Voice elevates a manuscript from being a book report to being something more.

In journalisim the goal of a news writer is to have their own distinct voice so that readers can identify which reporter is writing without looking at the byline. For novel writing the voice is what makes the book stick with you. It means the piece was written so that you can walk away and still think about the characters, still care about the situation.

That voice is especially important for finding an agent. The agent you're targeting is sorting through anywhere between 50 and 100 queries, several will be from similar genres and a few may even have the same theme. Your writing needs to be strong enough that you make the agent forget those other writers. Your voice needs to be strong enough that the agent will wander off to dinner and wonder what happened to your MC next.

If you have a flat delivery, if you don't care about the characters, that's going to show in your writing and enthusiasim.

If you want to field test voice pick two subjects, one you could care less about and one you love. Write three paragraphs off the top of your head on each. Compare the two. Which one sounds better? Which one sounds more informed? Which one almost sounds like advertising for the subject? I bet it's the subject you like best. And that's Voice.

Mark Terry said...

In my experience, if you get 10 writers in a room and ask them to define "voice" you get 20 different answers. Half the time we can't agree whether or not "voice" and "style" are the same thing. Is "voice" really "diction?" Is "diction" really "style"?

I know that my fiction often has a different "voice" from my nonfiction. And that, as a matter of fact, my nonfiction can have a different voice from itself. I write a column for a journal I edit and that "voice" is light and joking. Typically my nonfiction "voice" is authoritative and confident. But I'm working on a nonfiction book proposal where I'm trying to keep the "voice" light and joking, somewhat irreverent.

I think asking an agent, "hey, what kinds of voice do you like?" suggests they, like everyone else, isn't entirely sure what "voice" is. Like obscenity, I know it when I see it. Or read it.

I can pick up a book--bet you can, too--at the bookstore and read the first page and know instantly whether or not I like the "voice." And vice versa. But that book's "voice" may not appeal to someone else. (Or, to make matters worse, may not appeal on any given day, depending on the reader's mood).

This isn't a science. It's an art. It's almost impossible to quantify. (And thank God for that).

JES said...

Like Julie, I have a story about ancient times. No, really -- this was LONG ago. A time when the word "weblog" wouldn't have been recognized as English. (Except by readers who'd skimmed Tolkien and thought it might be a giant murderous primordial fire-demon with a whip.)

Even back then, aspiring writers were bedeviled by the what-is-voice question. I know I sure didn't get it.

Then I started teaching high-school English. And after reading and evaluating 80-odd essays on literary tropes or what-not, wow, THEN I knew what voice was.

Call it an even 80 essays. Of those, maybe 77 were alike in one key respect: their authors were Writing An Essay. They used words they'd never use in everyday speech. The phrases were sort of glued onto one another, or simply propped into place like lean-tos. I could absolutely picture those kids working on this assignment at home: they sat before the blank paper and donned their writing masks.

The other three, wow. Two of them had obviously been written on the bus on the way into school but were HILARIOUS. I could see them working on the assignment, too: the notebook jiggling on their knees, the pauses while they stopped writing to look, grinning, out the window.

And the last one -- well, I had no idea how the kid had written it, what had happened in his/her mind while wielding the pen. Maybe the paper had been written in story form. Maybe the text was strewn with Holden Caulfieldisms, maybe even some profanity. Not one other student could possibly have delivered that essay. (I doubt I myself could have.)

However the kid had managed the feat, s/he had defined what it meant to have a voice: you don't capital-W Write. You just write. Your voice will be on the page even before you go back to revise it.

Anonymous said...

Voice to me, is really just the way each writer tells a story, and usually, it's an extention of your speaking voice ( at least for me)....so truthfully, some of us are great story tellers and some aren't.....I think it's something you can work on, but it's the true naturals, the ones that keep you enthralled in the way they tell a story that become great writers

Kim Lionetti said...

Anonymous 8:23:

I think a few of the commenters bring up a good point. You may have a different voice for the different books you've written.

But what's even more likely is that with every book you write, you find your voice a little more. That's one of the reasons so many published authors have the story of the first manuscripts they keep hidden away under their beds never to see the light of day. While voice is a certain kind of "x factor", it's something that can be developed with time and practice. Even with my own clients, I've seen their voices get stronger and stronger with each book.

So we encourage you to requery, because it's likely your writing -- and your voice -- has evolved since the previous submission.

Kim Lionetti said...

Oops. I just realized that Keri did make that same point. Thanks Keri!

Chessie said...

Regarding taste, it seems to me you really have a thing for chocolate. LOL.

Kim Lionetti said...

Anonymous 9:08:

It happens all the time that we read a submission and love the voice, but don't love the story. In some instances, the story's fixable and the author does the revisions to our satisfaction and we then offer representation.

In other instances, it's not such an easy fix and we ask to see something else. A lot of times we find there's still something lacking. The author still has some plotting skills to work on. In other cases it just clicks.

I actually just signed my newest client this way. The first manuscript she sent just wasn't doing it for me, but I'd fallen in love with her voice. I felt torn rejecting it, but when she told me she was finishing up something else I was thrilled. I fell in love with the second book and offered representation. I'm eager to start sharing it with editors soon!

Sarah Stockton said...

"Anonymous said...

Is there a time any of you ladies (Jessica, Kim, or Jacky) have requested chapters from a query letter, received the partial, read over it, and loved the voice but not so much the story?"

I can speak directly to this. Back in 2001, after querying Jessica, She and I exchanged several emails about my nonfiction work. She believed in my "voice" but I was still struggling to come up with the right project. Although we didn't end up working together, (I still needed to develop a platform, which I did over the course of the next few years) her encouragement was heartening.

I did eventually publish a book (in 2004)based on the glimmer of ideas she and I had discussed, because an editor at a publishing house approached me directly after reading an article of mine on a related subject.

Now that I've turned to fiction, the nonfiction practice I've had in developing and trusting my voice has helped tremendously. Moral of the story? To thine own voice be true and someday, the right project/agent/editor/audience will align. And thanks again Jessica, for that early vote of confidence in my voice!

Keri Ford said...

Kim, I'm sure Anon probably liked hearing it from you better than from me!

To Anon: 9:08 Is there a time any of you ladies (Jessica, Kim, or Jacky) have requested chapters from a query letter, received the partial, read over it, and loved the voice but not so much the story?

This just happened with me and it does gives me hope that the next query will have everything all together.

Keri Ford said...

Apparently my fingers thought I was done talking and hit the wrong button....

I think luck does play a part in it, but not that big. yeah, sure, it helps if the person your querying just had the best day of his/her life. But having all the elements together in your story and querying people who enjoy a voice like yours means more. JMO

Anonymous said...

I'm anon 9:08. Thanks so much Kim for answering my question.

This is hands down one of the best agent blogs. Not only do you all have great posts, but you actually monitor your comments and try to give advice and answer questions when you can.

And thanks to the comments on my question from other authors, too! You guys rock.

Elissa M said...

I think voice is another one of those things writers obsess over when they should just be writing. Write the best you know how. Keep writing. Get feedback from worthwhile sources. Improve your writing. Write some more.

Don't write for a particular agent, editor, publisher, or your mom. If you write for someone else, your voice will have laryngitis. Write for yourself, and your voice will sing.

Fawn Neun said...

It seems to me that each well-written novel has it's own "personality". If you're writing in first-person narrative, the flow of words, the perspective, the accent, the colloquialisms chosen are those of the narrator. Even in third-person POV, the narration develops it's own personality, as if there is a entity with its own history telling the story. The details that the narrative picks out, the rhythm of the sentences, the "tone" of "voice".

Robert Walker said...

"I've said it before, but sometimes I really feel like this whole game partly comes down to luck; finding the right agent on the right day in the right mood."

Boy, you said it right there, Jess.

I think people should stop trying to chase around what agents say they like, because the truth is that, like most opinions, it's an amorphous beast.

When it comes to "voice," look, either you get what voice is or you don't. Either a voice resonates with someone or it doesn't. Jessica is right to point out that it isn't something she can spell out for you.

Trying to change your voice to appeal to an agent, well, that's just silly. If you are a writer of any integrity, then you're working on finding your own unique voice. As to whether or not that resonates with this or that agent in this or that climate, well, I refer you to the above quotation.

Anonymous said...

I'm anon 8:31, second from the top and agree with anon 8:23. This is the best agent blog since Miss Snark, because you're all so encouraging as well as educating and, as mentioned, you monitor comments for questions to answer.

BookEnds, LLC said...

I think Kim answered all of the questions well. I wanted to pipe in quick to say though that I don't think I said that a rejection means I didn't connect with the voice and if I did say that I apologize.

The first thing that grabs me when I read something is the voice, after that the rest has to follow through for the book to work for me. Unless I tell you that I am specifically rejecting your work because the voice didn't work for me I would always encourage you to resubmit.

What anon 8:23 said, "you didn't like one story" and that could very well be the reason for the rejection. The story, not necessarily the voice. However, I also agree with what everyone else said, voices can change and grow.

Hope that helps explain the answer a little.

--jhf

Angie Fox said...

Am I the only one whose stomach growled as Jessica described all of those desserts?

And I'm living proof that voice alone will not sell. I wrote three books before the one that sold and each time, agents would write back to say they loved the voice. The stories? Not so much. Sigh.

But whoever said voices evolve was right. Storytelling and craft skills are also sharpened with every book. And when you finally hit on a combination of the right voice for the right story, that's when things start to happen.

Aimless Writer said...

I read most of Stephen King's stuff. In Duma Key he is in GREAT voice. The voice we fell in love with long ago. Its not always there in all his books. I think voice is part rythmn, part words. When a person forgets they are reading and gets sucked into a story as it comes alive in their head--that's great voice.
I think this would be different for every person/agent. People like what they like. Everyone has an opinion. Of course, good agents listen with "selling" in mind but they still look to hear the voice that pulls them along.
Amy I wrong here?

Eva Gale said...

Great post, but this was all I could think of:

Sally Albright: But I'd like the pie heated and I don't want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side, and I'd like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it, if not then no ice cream just whipped cream but only if it's real; if it's out of the can then nothing.

Waitress: Not even the pie?

Sally Albright: No, I want the pie, but then not heated.

Kate Douglas said...

One thing I would caution new writers is to be careful of too much revision and rewriting--often the first words you put on a page are the clearest indication of your voice. When I was first starting out, depending far too much on critique groups during the early stages of a story, I allowed my own insecurities to overwhelm my writing. I listened to other writers and ended up changing my style, or voice, to suit theirs. I've learned to hold off on showing my work to critique partners until I have a finished story. Then they're more apt to comment on the flow of the prose, the plot or character development than to try and rewrite my words to better coincide with their own style.

nymeria87 said...

That's interesting that you say that, Kate. I personally made exactly the opposite experience. In the end it took me half of the first draft of my novel to finally find 'my' voice and know that this is how I wanted to write. I guess just as writing matures, so does the voice at times.

Oh and I really liked the dessert analogy, though it made me hungry ;)

Anonymous said...

Another fabulous blog, Jessica. The comments have been so helpful and uplifting.

It feels good to know the agent I just conferred with on a MS wasn't blowing smoke up my skirt by asking for anything else I might have after she rejected the requested material.

And Kim, congratulations on your new client! (I have to say I'm a little envious). She must have some voice to make you hesitate on a story you didn't like. She was smart to begin a new one while the other one was under consideration.
I hope her MS gets snatched right up by an editor and does great in the pub world!

Good lesson for us writers. We have to keep whipping out those MSS, because one of these days we're going to nail it: right book, right agent, right publisher.

Speak Coffee said...

This is where MFA programs and writing workshops pay off: spend some time at either of those and you'll know what "voice" is and whether or not you have it.

I'm going to say that Julie Weathers' comment is great: voice is a lot like "reading with color" -- how would your narrator retell the actual events?

Writing well isn't just mechanics, and it isn't just about plot either. "Voice" often gets translated into "character" especially if you're writing in the first person or a close-third.

And I do not think it's mysterious or an X-factor it is quite simply the diference between a technical writer and a story teller. If you can't establish a voice within a novel good luck ever finding a reader who cares.

katycooper said...

The best description of voice I ever heard was that it's the writer's personality.

That description works for me because I think voice is as distinct and indescribable as personality, and I think it's as difficult to hear your own voice as it is to recognize your own personality.

Santa said...

I have to agree that there are a number of things that defines what an author's voice is and even I, as a reader, would be hard pressed to define any one voice in the books I've read.

However, I will say this, it is the voice that draws me into a story and keeps me there. It's that voice that tells the story and keeps me engaged. The author's voice must speak to me from the get go or all is lost.

It's that voice that keeps me reading on.

Julie Weathers said...

"However the kid had managed the feat, s/he had defined what it meant to have a voice: you don't capital-W Write. You just write. Your voice will be on the page even before you go back to revise it."

Exactly.

I've been thinking about this question today and wondering, once again, what defines my voice.

My writing usually has "unique" characters, bordering on insane, and reluctant heroes. There are surprises and generous doses of very warped humor. It's a constant regardless of whether I am on the suspense or the historical or the fantasy. This, of course, means some people will love my writing and some people loathe it.

In researching my historical, I came across a newspaper article from the 1850's about the heroine's proper, preacher fiance' whose gentleman's debate club got very animated and broke out into a fist fight. Stuff like that just tickles me witless and invariably finds its way into my work.

Obviously, what I find entertaining isn't going to appeal to everyone. I think we just need to find our wee, small voices and sing with joy. Those who are meant to be with us, will love our song.

I think JES is right, it's just there. For better or worse, it's just there.

This is one reason I don't dread the query process. I firmly believe the right agent will love what I have to say and how I say it.

In other words, when you have to shovel a lot of horse pooh, it just means a pony is in there somewhere. A rejection letter is just another shovel closer to my pony.

Chelsea Talks Smack said...

Anyone that compares ANYTHING to dessert has my full attention. Good thing I found your blog, I tend to drift if cheesecake isn't thrown into a conversation. I'll be scanning your pages. I'm currently working on a query in regards to one of my recent blogs that received 107 comments...it definitely struck a chord with my readers. Until then HAPPY 4TH....I hope you celebrate with many hot dogs and fireworks. Oh, and cheesecake of course.

Anonymous said...

Let's skip the how to's of the craft and get on to the business of selling books, please. Isn't that what lit agents are for--selling stuff that's ready for the market? What's with the basic skills reviews? There are plenty of other sites for that. Let's talk business!

Signed,

Ready to delete Bookends from my publishing blogs Bookmarks.

Anonymous said...

"In other words, when you have to shovel a lot of horse pooh, it just means a pony is in there somewhere."

Actually, it could mean that whoever is paying you to shovel the pony crap is out riding the pony (and they expect the pony's stable to be clean by the time they return), so there may not be a pony in there after all.

..." A rejection letter is just another shovel closer to my pony."

Put in the above context...is it really?

I don't mean to be discouraging, but the syrup runs awfully thick in here sometimes.

Anonymous said...

"In other words, when you have to shovel a lot of horse pooh, it just means a pony is in there somewhere."

Actually, it could mean that whoever is paying you to shovel the pony crap is out riding the pony (and they expect the pony's stable to be clean by the time they return), so there may not be a pony in there after all.

..." A rejection letter is just another shovel closer to my pony."

Put in the above context...is it really?

I don't mean to be discouraging, but the syrup runs awfully thick in here sometimes.

Julie Weathers said...

"I don't mean to be discouraging, but the syrup runs awfully thick in here sometimes."

That philosophy comes from a very old story. Two kids are put in a room with a pile of horse manure and a shovel. One sits down and cries because there is so much of that yucky horse pooh they have to shovel. The other is giggling and happily shoveling through the pile. When asked why she was so excited, she replied, "With all this horse pooh, I know there has to be a pony in here somewhere."

Having shoveled horse crap all my life, literally and figuratively, I pretty much know where there is horse pooh, there are horses. I don't need to be out riding the pony to be happy. Just having the pony around to hang out with makes me happy. And, frankly, I have more than once offered to shovel it just to be around them.

Getting back to the writing end of it, I have a good story. I have strong, vivid characters. I have a unique way of telling my story. I'm willing to keep working on my craft until it shines like an old maid with a secret. And, finally, I am willing to keep querying until I find the perfect fit for it and me. A rejection just means it wasn't right for that agent, not that the work has no value. So, I am very happy to keep shoveling.

Ah, what's that I hear? Something's nickering at me.

Hello, Pony!

Sorry, you feel so jaded. I hope you find the magic again soon.

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Weathers said...

"Signed,

Ready to delete Bookends from my publishing blogs Bookmarks."

No offense, but don't let the door hit you in the butt.

When an agent is generous enough with their time and expertise to give authors tips on how to make the journey easier, it's generally considered common courtesy to be appreciative.

I queried a suspense novel and a children's book eight years ago. That was when you bought the two major lit agent guides, got out your highlighter and Post It Notes to highlight with various colors ones who might be of interest and made submission notes. Then I made up a book with ledger pages and tracked all the pertinent information and my query logs.

The books had all the nuts and bolts information, but it was pretty generic.

Today there are all kinds of treasures for the aspiring author. Not only do agents and editors share publishing business information with the writers, but they also feed out endless useful, interesting information about how to succeed in this business. One thing that also means a lot to me is the chance to see the personalities of the agents peek through.

There are some agents I am pretty sure I would be miserable with even though they are successful at what they do. For me, I need an agent with a sense of humor. When crap happens, and it will, we need to get through the storm, salvage what we can and be able to laugh about it later. I need an agent who loves what I do and will be like a badger about fighting for my work.

These blogs help me identify which agents have the qualities I seek in the perfect literary mate.

They also help me identify problems or potential mistakes in my work before I submit.

In my previous efforts, my work really was rougher than a cob. I am amazed anyone contacted me, but several did. I still have a book full of letters with handwritten notes about what was and wasn't working. Many actually called me and discussed my work. One even called to visit with me and give me some pointers even though she felt the work wasn't right for her. She then told me to send it to a friend of hers after I made some changes. How utterly amazing is that?

Now, these agents put out information on their blogs. Serious authors take note and avoid a lot of potential pitfalls. The agent, hopefully, deals with less things over and over that could have been easily avoided. They get work that is closer to representation. And, I am willing to bet, they get moved to the top of the list of some writers who are or will be looking for representation.

Blogs are pretty much a win-win situation for the writers and the agents.

I know agents who resound with me online are at the top of my list when the process begins. (They are all undoubtedly thrilled to hear that.)

When you're in a people business, part of your success comes from having a presence in your chosen industry.

And, on a final note, Happy Independence Day to all!

Keri Ford said...

No offense, but don't let the door hit you in the butt.

I second this. If you don't like the air, then get out of Dodge. It takes a lot of work to run something this and BookEnds does an excellent job at it-for which I am thankful for.

Let's skip the how to's of the craft and get on to the business of selling books, please. Isn't that what lit agents are for--selling stuff that's ready for the market? What's with the basic skills reviews? There are plenty of other sites for that. Let's talk business!

You're absolutely right, agents are all about selling stuff that's ready for the market. But how do you think stuff gets ready for the market? Do you think they sit at their desks, rub their magic lamps and wish for publishiable material to drop on their desks? Every morning, I know there's a piece waiting for me that can help improve my craft that prepares me for the business of selling. That's what this blog is all about, giving advice to make our material ready. And since it seems you've missed it, BookEnds has an email addy where you can ask questions. So instead of moaning about wanting more business, why don't you write in and ask something that's bugging your mind.

Anonymous said...

"Do you think they sit at their desks, rub their magic lamps and wish for publishiable material to drop on their desks?"

Yes, I do.

Nancy D'Inzillo said...

Regarding the last comment from anonymous, I'm an editor and a writer and I can say that the assumption that agents just sit around waiting for publishable material is pure rubbish. Most agents I've heard of are often scouting for new clients (which includes reading your queries), busy marketing the books they've already got, and working with authors and sometimes editors to get a work up to snuff. The fact is, yes, a lot of editors, agents, and publishers rely on their own subjective tastes when it comes to what comes across their desk. That said, most people who have any likelihood to represent your book to sell it (be it the publisher, the editor working for a publisher, or the agent who can sell it to a publisher) are also extremely well read people who have reasons for not accepting your query when it's submitted. Voice is a rather subjective issue, and something every writer struggles with, including myself, but remember that most published authors have also experienced their fair share of rejection.

As to whether or not it's all just luck. . . that's a jaded excuse for the person who blames the publisher/editor/agent rather than turning to their own work and assessing it. There's certainly a measure of luck in it, but there's also whether or not the text is well written, whether or not the book is appropriate for the markets the publisher or agent is selling to, and whether or not the current market is ripe for the text or not. I fully understand that multiple rejections can make a person jaded, but taking out your anger on the people who may one day publish you if you act respectfully too them is pure stupidity. Moreover, ignoring their professionalism and insulting them by implying they do nothing is only likely to land you more rejections, because, among the things editors, publishers, and agents consider is whether or not the author is pleasant to work with (a publisher I worked with once broke contract with an author over that very issue). Once you're on the best-selling list, you can probably complain all you want, but until then, keep in mind that these people will be more friendly to your queries if you respect what they do.

Aimless Writer said...

I think agents and editors work very hard. Their business is like a craft. They know the who, whats and wheres of a complicated business and they keep up to date on the publishing world. When I hear how many queries they go through each week I'm staggered.
As for it beging luck? Maybe a little about catching the agent/editor on the right day blah, blah, blah, but thats just human nature. Some days you're in the mood, somedays your not. (And I feel this from reading somethings that I can't believe were published!-no offense meant to anyone)
I think its useless to complain. Thats bad Karma. Use that energy to perfect your story and keep moving in a positive direction.

Anonymous said...

"Most agents I've heard of are often scouting for new clients (which includes reading your queries)..."

LOL you're just typing things without stopping to think about what they mean.

"reading your queries"...which DROP IN ON THEIR DESKS! Of course they are hoping that one of these will equal money.

Think, people...think! You're not sheep. Agents are in stiff competition for salable mansucripts--they know that only 1 out of every 1,000 or so queries reslts in money, and that if they are thinking of representing it, other agents likely are too.

Most authors won't be offered contracts. But for the ones who are, it's their game. The agents are working stiffs.

Too many people one these blogs are obsessed with the agents--what does this one like, what does that one like, when it doesn't matter. If you're serious, you query them all (duh--aside from the ones that don't handle fiction when that's what you're writing, etc) (and if you're still in the query stage), and let them fight over you if you happen to get more than one offer. Using your time to attempt to read their minds is time you could have spent writing. So I think it's kind of sad how 7/10 people on these blogs are so obviously blind followers (Yes, Iagree! That's exactly what I was thinking!..."

I know I"m not the only one to see this. And no--put your "you're so bitter and jaded--you need to work on your craft!" arrows bac in your quivers. That's not it. I'm just commenting on the state of the preach-to-the-choir nature of these blogs.

ChristaCarol said...

Ahem, Back to the SUBJECT here. :-)

In regards to what Kate said: One thing I would caution new writers is to be careful of too much revision and rewriting--often the first words you put on a page are the clearest indication of your voice. When I was first starting out, depending far too much on critique groups during the early stages of a story, I allowed my own insecurities to overwhelm my writing.

Totally agree. And it's hard as a new writer, not to find yourself in this predicament. I've been here, and though some critique's can be very helpful, you have to sometimes pick and choose which one's really work for your story without butting heads with your voice. Critters usually have the best in mind, but might not realize the changes they state are a change for voice: a voice that is more closely to theirs.

So, with that said, once you've found your voice, be confident with it. I agree, as others have stated, it does change (and usually for the better) as you continue your writing.

Cara Carnes said...

Very interesting and insightful blog :)

Thank you.

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