An update…and a suggestion

Hello, campers –

First, the less-good news: I have not yet been medically cleared for two-handed typing (one of the annoying after-effects of my recent car crash, but I hope to be soon. On the bright side, MRI technology has improved beyond all recognition in recent years.

This means (we’re back to less-good news now) I’m not going to be up for generating brand-new posts for a while. This really irks me, not only because we were in the throes of a great ongoing discussion on dialogue revision, but also because I’m very eager to share the fabulous first pages that took top honors in the Author! Author!/WHISPER Great First Page Made Even Better Contest. There is much rich material there for productive discussion; obviously, my right hand would very much like to be involved in the feedback-giving.

Are you about ready for some good news, after all that? Excellent: the annual August vacation period has begun in the New York-based publishing world; in most cases, it will extend until after Labor Day.

What does that mean for aspiring writers, you ask? Well, since so many publishing house denizens are and will continue to be out of the office, it would be practically impossible to pull together an editorial committee to consider acquiring a new manuscript or book proposal. That means, in turn, that it’s not a very efficient time for agents to be approaching editors, at least if they would like their calls and e-mails to reach something other than the Millicent or two left behind to mind the store. Being practical-minded souls, agents often choose this literarily fallow period to take their own vacations.

Translation: if you have a query you were intending to send their way, or even requested materials, it probably will not be read until after Labor Day. So savvy writers use these weeks not for submission, but for revision and the necessary research for productive queries in September.

See why I’m so irritated not to be able to compose lengthy, detailed posts right now?

So here is my proposal for handling this period productively. While you’re going back over your manuscript (yes, AGAIN) and compiling query lists, please feel free to post questions here. (One hand is usually sufficient for question-answering.) Please also comment early and often on posts; trust me, if you have a concern or difficulty, another member of the Author! Author! community will have it, too.

To facilitate discussion until my right hand is up and running again, I’m going to re-run a few provocative older posts over the next few days — specifically, those on dialogue revision — interpolating additional advice whenever I cannot bear, well, forbearing. That’s definitely left-hand doable.

Also, would folks like me to go over how to put together a submission packet and/or query letter before Labor Day? Please speak up, if so. My instinct is to spend August on craft and revision issues, but if there is strong support for devoting some serious post time to how to get your project in front of an agent or editor’s nose in a professional manner, I’m always up for that.

Thanks for the many kind messages, and try not to worry — my will to communicate is far too intense to keep me off the blog for long. Be well, be safe, and, of course, keep up the good work!

17 Replies to “An update…and a suggestion”

  1. Anne, so nice to see a fresh post! I’m not sure if I’ve said so in an earlier comment, but having applied much of your insight from the recent Frankenstein Manuscripts series (ok, and some dialogue discussion too) to a recent couple of chapters for submission, I’ve been just blown away by the results. Not that I doubted you, but it’s something quite different to see one’s own material transform thus. I now must try to balance the urge to write with the urge to edit – a new dilemma!

    I think your contest is fabulous. I also think it’s very difficult! I must admit to not having considered creative environment before. It’s taking a while to wrap my mind around, so I’m thankful for the time. Keep mending…

  2. Hollywood dialogue, hey? Thanks for putting a name to it. I enjoy watching CSI but it drives me up the wall when experienced forensic scientists explain to each other the rudiments of forensic science.

  3. Can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m in no particular rush for the submission packet to be posted before Labor Day.

    As per Suzi, I’ll eagerly devour it when available, but appreciate all the craft and revisions postings you can generate — at your own speed.

  4. Anne,

    Do take the time necessary to heal properly. A few months ago I had surgery on my right foot and discovered that it took far longer for me to recover than the initial estimate by my orthopedic surgeon.

    The community you have created by this blog will be here waiting for you when you have the strength and stamina to create new blog entries. We know that in the interim, your boundless creativity will come up with new insights to inspire and challenge us that you will share with us in due time.

    Take it easy

  5. I am up for anything you can share with us, Anne. But like everyone else, I want you to be able to heal and recover more than I want something fresh.

    There are so many helpful categories to the right to choose from that I hardly think that we could find ourselves without something to learn from.

    Thanks for all that you do. Like Adam, I am having a difficult time interpreting your challenge, but it is fun trying to come up with something that I think will fit the bill.

  6. Dear Anne, you should just take care of yourself. We can troll through your archives and fix our Frankenstein manuscripts while we wait!

    I’ve been your sister in pain for the past ten days — I injured my back and haven’t been able to do much work on my computer. I’m back in the saddle today because I just got a double dose of good news — two requests for a full manuscript! So of course it’s time to hunch over my desk again before I send it out. Hurray! You’ve been a big help in getting my manuscript to the point where anyone wants to see more of it, so thank you.

    Your readers will still be here when you’re better.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your back, Gayton — but hurrah on the requests for fulls! Every fiber of your being will want to rush sending them out, but trust me, taking the time to read it IN ITS ENTIRETY… (you know the rest) will pay off.

  7. Anne, is there a place to find a list of recent ‘debut novels’ so that we can see what’s been making it through the gauntlet? Especially the debut novels that are published through one of the ‘Big 6′, or made it onto a best-seller list, or at least got good reviews?

    With hundreds of thousands of new (English) titles published each year, sorting through them all is kind of a daunting task.

    I suppose the non-fiction writers have a similar question.

    1. I don’t quite understand your question, Doug: there are plenty of review sites. In addition, all of the major U.S. publishing houses have websites that list their new releases, and most good bookstores will be able to steer you to new authors in a particular genre. Heck, typing debut novel into Amazon will pull up a list (although not necessarily a recent one); its pages usually show the trade reviews.

      Almost any review or blurb will say if the book is a debut novel, but you would have to look for it. If you wanted to scroll through the trade reviews, Publishers Weekly breaks down its reviews of recent releases by book category. Library Journal lists new releases by category, too, as does Kirkus.

      But a single site that lists all releases by book category, ranks the reviews, AND is searchable by whether the book is a debut or not — which I sense is what you have in mind here — is a rarity. Such a site would benefit nobody but aspiring writers looking for agents (the number of readers who will pick up a novel simply because they’ve never heard of the author is statistically insignificant, alas), so there’s really no incentive for someone to put in the massive amount of research that would be required unless readers were to pay for it. While it’s not out of the question that somebody would compile such a for-pay site — there are, after all, a lot of aspiring writers out there, many of whom would doubtless prefer instant answers to doing their own research — the people who would be likely to pay for it would probably be disappointed by the results. Debuts seldom make up more than 4% of the new releases in any year (and it’s been even lower since the recession began), so the resultant lists would be pretty short.

      The only source I know about that specifically tags debuts qua debuts is Publishers’ Marketplace, where you can search for agents who have sold debut novels within the last twelve months, the last two years, etc. Since it’s industry-oriented, you can not only find out about books already published, but those for which rights have just been sold. It’s a for-pay site, for obvious reasons, but it might be worth signing up for a month in order to search its massive databases.

      However, if I understand your question, your difficulty may lie in how you’re approaching it. It sounds as though you are trying to follow every new novel that comes out, but for understanding your market and agent-finding purposes, the only new releases with which you would need to be even remotely familiar are those in your own book category. Thus, you may only have a dozen or so books to peruse for the information you want: hardly unmanageable.

  8. Anne, so very glad to hear that you are occasionally two-handed again. Hope the rest of you is mending as well.

    I do have two submission questions that came up during the last few weeks. First off, I was so anxious to make sure I got my first batch of proposals out before the end of July that I found myself uncharacteristically unprepared. I presumed that once I sent off the queries &/or proposals I would have some time to get other materials ready. It never occurred to me that I would hear back from several agents so quickly requesting the first 50 pages, synopsis, etc. Of course my first 3 chapters were in the proposal and honed to darn near perfection! The next 5 chapters that would need to be in “the first 50 pages” were completed, but NOT in such perfect condition! I burned the proverbial midnight oil for the next week and managed to get my submission packet out prior to vacation (I think!). At least it should be in the Before Vacation stack instead of the After Vacation stack. (And, yes, I did print it out and read the final version out loud in its entirety as instructed by Dr. Mini…) As I was putting the requested materials together (and happily writing those two words on the outside of the envelope!) I realized I didn’t know if these materials should be placed in a black folder like the proposal. I opted for the folder, but for future reference, wanted to know from you what is expected.

    The second question is regarding the issue of the use of a single space instead of double spaces after punctuation. I saw your blog that said something along the lines of: we’ve previously covered agents who insist on single spaced manuscripts. But, I couldn’t find that blog. The reason I ask is that another agent requested a proposal after a query and on the agency website made it very clear that double spaces after a punctuation were a pet peeve! I did find a way in Word to change the entire document from two to one for this agent, but I would appreciate it if you would repeat what it is that you said about agents who insist on singles!

    Thanks again and here’s to the next month of manuscript revising to near perfection! And congrats to Gayton for the requests for fulls! You go Gayton!

    1. I’m happy to hear about the requests, Marsha, but do you mind if I add one of my own? In future, would you please post questions on either a post related to the question OR on the most recent post? If a question is posted on neither, there is virtually no chance of the next person who has the question finding my answer. The result is that I end up answering the same thirty or so questions over and over again in the comments.

      Also, if you have a question about a specific blog post (as you seem to do here), please post the question in the comments on that post. Simply paraphrasing a sentence from somewhere amidst 5,000 pages or so of posts does not give me enough context. If I had to guess, though, I was probably referring to one of these two posts: this or this.

      I found these, incidentally, precisely the same way you could have: by scrolling through the posts under the HOW TO FORMAT A MANUSCRIPT category on the archive list. In general, it’s worth checking the archive list to see if there’s a category that speaks to the question you have in mind before you post a question; also in general, it’s completely unreasonable to expect me to guess which posts you have and have not read. (I realize that it’s quicker just to ask me, but it’s quite a bit more time-consuming for me. Most of the reason that I have not been posting every day for the last week is that people have been peppering me with questions on archival posts, and I only have so much typing time I can devote to the blog per day.)

      I bring this up because both that series and all of the submission series contain repeated admonitions to give agents and editors PRECISELY what they want. As I say early and often, if an agent has expressed an opinion in public that differs from standard format, GIVE THAT AGENT — and that agent only — A MANUSCRIPT THAT REFLECTS HER STATED PREFERENCE. As I have said over and over and over again (but apparently not in the posts you happened to read), agents have individual preferences. Big surprise, eh? A savvy writer finds out about them and takes them into account.

      What a savvy writer should not do — but many rookies do anyway — is to assume that what ONE agent says is applicable to every agent in existence, or that if one agent says that he doesn’t like something, that the rules of standard format no longer apply. It just isn’t true. The phenomenon you describe is the result of a change in how published BOOKS are now printed, not a change in the English language or standard format. But the preference for manuscript submissions (which, after all, do not resemble printed books in many respects) to change to single-spacing (which is much more difficult to edit in hard copy) is still relatively rare: as you yourself have seen, individual agents who harbor that preference have to ask for it specifically. If the norm had actually changed, they would not need to ask; they could simply say that they wanted to see submissions in standard format, right?

      Again, I’ve written about this so often that I’m completely astonished that you could have learned about standard format WITHOUT encountering this argument at least a couple of times. (Sorry if this sounds peevish, but I honestly am having to limit my typing time on the blog.)

      On to your first question. Manuscript pages that are not part of a proposal should not be in a folder; manuscripts should never be bound in any way. If you’ll take a gander at the posts under the HOW TO PULL TOGETHER A SUBMISSION PACKET, you’ll find a full explanation of how to package manuscripts.

      Incidentally, your panic about the subsequent chapters (and not having time to consult me on the folder issue) arose from a misconception that I’ve dealt with quite often posts on submission: unless an agent or editor specifically tells you that you have a deadline, a request for pages most emphatically does NOT convey an expectation that the writer will send them right away. If you can send them within six weeks of the request, that’s considered speedy, but anytime within three months of the request would not raise an eyebrow. (For a fuller explanation, please see the posts under the HOW SOON MUST I SEND REQUESTED MATERIALS category.) I understand that you’re excited, but it’s not as though the requesting agent has cleared her schedule in anticipation of receiving those pages, after all. For discussion of why, please see the posts under the AFTER YOU RECEIVE A REQUEST FOR PAGES category.

      1. Anne, my sincere apologies for asking questions not related to a specific post. I have read so many of your blogs and have jumped from one to another in search of information, that I obviously missed some of the points you had previously covered. Part of my confusion was a misunderstanding of terms. I thought that the term manuscript was referring to when the entire manuscript is requested, I didn’t realize that included the request of a certain number of pages. And, yes, I did read HOW SOON MUST I SEND REQUESTED MATERIAL. My determination to get the package out as soon as possible was not for fear of breaking the rules, or thinking the agent would be waiting for my individual submission, but was simply a matter of momentum. I have worked full time on the proposal for the past four months and wanted to keep my focus directed energetically towards completion of required &/or requested submission material.

        As far as the question about the single-space-requesting-agent, I had indeed read the posts about standard formatting, as well as the ones concerning giving the agent exactly what they ask for, which is why I sent that particular agent the materials single-spaced while keeping the standard formatting for other agents. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t misinterpreting what you were saying about an agent that requests a specific format.

        I am sorry if my questions appeared unreasonable in any way or insensitive to your time. I appreciate your efforts more than you can know and will make certain that any questions in the future are asked under the post closest to the information needed.

        1. It didn’t seem insensitive, Marsha; I just happened to read your questions immediately after I’d answered several back in the archives. It turned out for the best, though, as I probably wouldn’t have thought to mention it in a new post otherwise.

          Do keep the questions coming, by all means — you always ask such good ones!

  9. Anne,
    This is a question that came up recently with a critique partner and I do not recall having seen it mentioned in your posts about standard formats for manuscripts. Is there a specific manner in which to end a chapter? My partner uses the # symbol and centers it at the end of the text for a chapter. I just start a new chapter without any type of notation. Is this a matter of personal preference for the writer or is there a convention about this? I do not want to assume anything when it comes to industry expectations.

    Thank you in advance.

    1. There is a convention for this, Carolyn — and you’re doing it correctly. Your partner is using a short story/novella convention; if she’s planning on submitting book-length manuscripts, her future agent would make her change it before submission to an editor at a publishing house.

      For an explanation of the logic, I did deal with this issue briefly at the very end of the last standard format series: you’ll find the post here. Do let me know if you have follow-up questions, so I may improve that section the next time around. I’d appreciate it if you posted the questions either on that post or the most recent one, rather than back here in the archives, so that other readers are more likely to see it.

  10. Ouch! I hadn’t read this post when I made my earlier comment about giving your hand rest. Please take whatever down time you need. (Having been through a Very Bad car accident myself, I know that your body needs more time to recover than you think it will.)

    I’d love to hear about the submission packet, but only if you’re up to it. No pushing yourself!

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