Saturday, January 26, 2008

Fresh and Original Ideas

I think the single, most significant problem I see with queries today are that they don't feel fresh or original. 

Let me first put this in the proper perspective. I read hundreds of published books a year, hundreds of manuscripts, hundreds of partials, and thousands of queries. I also read numerous book reviews and have conversations with authors and colleagues about books each week. 

As a result, it's pretty hard to surprise me with a new conceit, though  you certainly don't need a completely original idea to get published anyway. After all, isn't everything derivative to some degree or another? However, there does need to be a sense of freshness in the voice, a twist that is completely original, an opinion not previously expressed, a subculture never explored, etc. 

This problem seems to arise the most when it comes to memoirs. Since the individual has lived the life they're describing, the story will of course feel original to them. They might also feel that the book can be a support for other people who have suffered the same problem. But more likely than not what you're describing has been written about already. So why do a few get published, while most get rejected? A fresh and original voice. 

Mysteries are another good example. You'll likely have a sympathetic if slightly flawed protagonist. There's a love interest. Someone dies. The antagonist is caught or killed, which results in a bittersweet victory for the protagonist. So why is John Sanford a bestseller? Because the voice feels original, there's almost always a surprise, and he's just a darn good writer. 

So when I receive a query, more likely than not I'll have been pitched or read a similar book in the past. The query should convey both in the style and substance something new, something that jumps off the page.  

Easier said than done, I know. 

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Recent Reading

What have I read lately? DEFINITELY DEAD by Charlaine Harris, AGENT ZIGZAG by Ben Macintyre, and BEST FOOD WRITING 2007.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

This Isn't Right For Me

For those of you who have e-queried me (using my website submission form) and gotten a pass, you know that my standard response is that your project "... isn't right for me."

I chose this language carefully. Your project might not be right for me because I think there isn't sufficient publishing viability, or it might not be right for me because it's in a genre I'm not interested in representing right now. It might not be right for me because I think your writing could be improved, or it might not be right for me because you can write but the story lacks originality.

The common thread to all of these possibilities and any others is that I've passed on reviewing your work based on my own subjective criteria. So please remember to take my response with a grain of salt and continue to query. But please don't ask for for more details about why I'm passing or a list of other agents to try.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Amazon has selected the semifinalists for its Breakthough Novel Award, and I'm delighted to announce that David Oppegaard's Knocking Over The Fishbowl has been selected. Check it out when you have a chance!

Oscar Nominations

And the nominees are:

Best Picture
Michael Clayton
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Best Director
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country For Old Men
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Jason Reitman, Juno
Julian Schanbel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away From Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Paige, Juno

Best Actor
George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

Best Adapted Screenplay
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country For Old Men
Christopher Hampton, Atonement
Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Sarah Polley, Away From Her

No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood led the nominations with eight each. The big surprise, at least for me, is the exclusion of Kiera Knightley for her performance in Atonement, and Ben Affleck for his adaption of Gone Baby Gone.

The awards ceremony is scheduled for February 24th.