Friday, September 30, 2005

The Power of a Press Pass, or...

Give me a little of that Instant Karma.

You just never know when those karmic promissory notes are going to start paying off. Today was one of those days. I attended a writers conference/book festival today, both as a hopeful novelist and as a working journalist.

The sessions were interesting, but when you are surrounded by other aspiring writers it's very easy to get discouraged. How can all of those people not be good enough? They ask intelligent questions, they wear matching socks, and I saw one woman walking and chewing gum at the same time. These are smart people, and they aren't published, or worse, they paid for their own publishing -- a scary prospect for a guy who needs to get paid for his work. I just keep telling myself that smart people don't always do smart things. I've read enough of their writing to know that they don't always write smart things, either.

The first session I attended was led by two editors who explained how they found books. If you are unfamiliar with the practice of Santeria, this would have been an enlightening workshop for you. Session two was with an agent who grew up in Alabama. Sharp, focused, and prepared, this guy rocked the house. I wouldn't have dreamed that an agent would get a standing "O", but I swear it happened. After lunch I sat through a session on plotting with a "New York Times Bestselling Author of Big International Thrillers." Good stuff, this guy is actually a local, and has his own writers group here (almost entirely female, hmmmm) . I don't write plot driven fiction, but seeing another writer's mind at work is always interesting, and watching the women fawn over him (including his companion, who was almost, but not quite, too young -- and absolutely too pretty-- for him) made me decide to work doubly hard to sell Transit Gloria and get famous.

The final session of the day was bizarre. The writer, Ms. Bigshot 3-Book-Deal, who lead the session was hilarious, seemed to be pitching her own career as a comedienne and doing a really good job of it. She videotaped her own session (no explanation provided), and had everyone in the room laughing out loud. After the session, I went down to the signing arena, and started interviewing authors. The woman writer from the last session saw my press pass and asked me to interview her. Afterwards, she asked me to email her a picture I had just taken.

I said I'd be happy to, but that the email would come with my query letter and synopis attached. She said she'd be happy to look at my writing -- so I immediately handed her my packet of partials. She read the query, said she loved my hook (4H and all), read my synopsis and the first paragraphs of my first three chapters. She said she loved my writing, and she knew just the agent to represent me. She gave me the agent's email address and said I should tell her that Ms. Bigshot 3-Book-Deal recommended me.

Now, I've been studying the writing business long enough to be skeptical of almost everything, so when I got home, I did some research.

The agent is not just the real deal, but discovered one of the best selling books of all time, one that went on to become a blockbuster movie with Academy Frickin' Award-winning actors. So, I think, Cool.

Ms. Bigshot 3-Book-Deal is not just the real deal, but one of my mentors interviewed her a while back. As it turns out, Ms. Bigshot 3-Book-Deal once discovered a Book of the Year Award-winning writer... wait for it... at a writers conference -- where she gave him the name of an agent to contact.

Gimme a little of that Instant Karma. Go ahead, you can touch my robe.

Mark Pettus,
Friday, September 30, 2005


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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Give me your partials...

I hit the jackpot, or at least the, um, pot this week. Two of my top agent choices responded to my queries with requests for partials. A partial, for those of you lucky enough not to have ever dreamed of being a novelist, consists of a synopsis and the first few chapters of your book.

Agents are inundated by writers, all of whom dream that they are the next J.K. Rowling, and the agents can't possible read every manuscript. So, they have this established hierarchy of submission (dig the double meaning, dude)... first you query them; write a letter where you condense your entire book into one or two paragraphs and beg them to read your manuscript.

If they like your letter, they request your partials. In the synopsis part of the partials, you must once again condense your book, but this time the agent will allow you to use between one and five pages (usually with the caveat that anything longer than one page be double spaced, so two pages becomes four). The sample chapter portion of the partials is actually part of your novel, complete with things like character development, description, story line... but only the first 50 pages or so, and only the FIRST chapters. Writers who pin their success to a great ending, but who don't write a great beginning never get beyond this point. Some writers spend weeks writing and re-writing just the first paragraph, hoping they can hook the reader (and an agent), and get them to read on.

If the agent likes your synopsis, and if your writing style is strong enough, the agent will request your full manuscript. If they like that well enough, they will offer to represent you. Then they start the whole process over, only this time THEY are submitting to publishers.

Submission. Submitting. Submit. Submissive.

Like any good cowboy poet, I own a pair of chaps, but I don't think they were designed with this whole submission thing in mind. Oh, well, I'm a good sport. Whip me, beat me, buy my book.

Mark Pettus,
Wednesday, September 28, 2005


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Friday, September 23, 2005

Transit Gloria


Someone told me today that I needed to get started promoting my novel, Transit Gloria, though I still don't even have an agent, much less a publisher... but, since the person telling me to get started has both... agent and publisher... I'm going to defer to his judgement.

I'm not sure how to blog, really, I've never even kept a diary. I guess the way to start is to share my frustrations with the publishing process. I've got a finished manuscript that I love, a two page synopsis that I hate, and after some online help, I now have a query letter that rocks...

I'll give you my first paragraph, the hook:

Reno Sanders was rich, good looking, and charming, and when he asked Peggy Mallory to wear his 4-H pin, she wanted to tell the whole world. First, she had to tell her husband and three sons. This is their story.


I got some grief for going with the 4-H pin as a hook (seems a lot of people don't think New York agents will know what 4-H is). I was tempted to go with a class ring when I wrote the novel, but it seemed too cliched. I have faith that an agent who will represent my story will also get the cultural reference. If I get through my top 50 agents without a bite, I may rethink that.

Mark Pettus,
Friday, September 23, 2005


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