Friday, June 26, 2009

Crested Butte Writers Conference Agent/Editor Pet Peeves

One of the most popular, fun workshops at the Crested Butte Writers Conference was the First Page Cold Reads by agents Colleen Lindsay of Fineprint, Don Maass of Maass agency, editors Lisa Rector of Third Draft, Adam Wilson, MIRA and Kate Ninzel of Morrow/ Harper Collins.  

We all know that the publishing industry is incredibly finicky, but here are a few things that annoyed our agents and editors when they read the first pages of fiction books:

1)  Start with ACTION!
No thinking while standing, staring, waking up, in the shower, and no dreams.
No starting with long, elaborate descriptions of the weather (or ANY weather descriptions for Don Maass--unless you want to watch his head hit the table--repeatedly).
No passive voice.  
No first name-last name for Kate Nintzel.  Starting with Jane Dolittle lay on the concrete slab, would make her crazy
2) Make them care about the character immediately.  
3) Pull them into the story in the very first paragraph, with strong word choices, action and great dialogue so they have to keep turning pages!

But I must admit, after awhile it was a little fun to watch their agony.  And when we had a passive voice opening, with first/last name (in the first sentence) with long elaborate descriptions of the weather . . . evil grin here--I WOULD have written it and planted it in the pile to be read on purpose just to watch their reactions.


Edie Ramer said...

This is so interesting. I just looked at the first paragraph of my wip. I have a first name, but not a last one. Phew.

Thanks for sharing!


I'll bet we could find many Great American Novels that start with one or more of those very things. When did they take the art out of writing? I read an article that stated a computer program was being developed that would write books without "us" because writing had been reduced to a format. Sad. Same with movies. They have a format. You can practically predict what's going to happen next.

A friend and I swapped manuscripts. At one point I saw the perfect setup for one of those plot devices that would cause a rift between H/H because of a misunderstanding. I groaned. But she didn't go there. And I thanked her for it. She surprised me, and I appreciated it. Why do people want to read the same thing over and over again?

Theresa said...

This is just THESE particular agents and editors pet peeves--and they will ALL admit that they can find exceptions where whatever they hate, was done extremely well, so it worked for them. The point --as is the point of all perceived--or stated- writing "rules" is that when just starting out, most people are not skilled enough to break rules.

And as the coordinator of The Sandy writing contest and as an experienced write who judges 3-4 other contests a year . . . I understand completely and concur.

Actually, I found it interesting to see that the agents note these little "rules" each editor has and when submitting to them, makes sue that that particular submission doesn't break on of that editor's preferences.

So both Don and Colleen noted Kate's no first name/last name and said they'd have the client take out the last name before submitting a client's work to her.

WHy irritate a potential buyer right from the first sale? And people do this in all sorts of business. If you're trying to get a job and do your research, you're not going to dress or act in a way you know will predisposed your future boss to dislike you. It's only common sense.

Donnell said...

Kelly, I have to agree with your comments whole-heartedly, and I think T will even mention that what one agent/editor loves another will despise. As subjective it is with writers, it's equally subjective with agents and editors. One editor hates any reference to children in the book, one agent hates prologues, while another will tell the author to put one in. -- One will say I need more backs story, another will say never never never.... I have had to buy a wig to cover up all my bald spots. I think the best thing we can do is write the best story that's in us.

I read Theresa's opening and what these agents and editors told her was her opening line. O---kay, they absolutely had a point, it was a killer opening line. However, the one paragraph she had before grounded me into her protag and I immediately liked her, felt for her. Without her opening paragraph, and that opening line, I immediately felt her protag was petty because I didn't have anything anchoring me to her.

You're absolutely right. Our stories are starting to have a cookie cutter rhythm to this, read that, mentality.

Theresa said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that in my appointment with Adam Wilson at MIRA . . . he told me I can't kill the cat. He said research of MIRA readers shows that they won't like it--so I guess MIRA doesn't do it.

I can kill a person or baby, but not an animal.
How odd is THAT? I told him if that was the only issue he has with the story, I'll let the cat live--and not to worry, I kill my heroine's dad too -grin.

BTW, it IS a romantic suspense. But still, fascinating. MIRA readers won't like killing animals. I wonder abt Grand Central?

Mary Marvella said...

Well, It really makes writing to get their attention a pain. There are many kinds of writing that can catch a reader's attention and win her loyalty. A lot of classic authors would never have sold based on those rules or pet peeves.