Friday, July 30, 2021

Thoughts on Writing Contests

One of the things I do with Greyhaus is to offer my services to writing chapters when they run their contests. The final rounds roll around and I get those manuscripts to judges and hopefully find some great writing along the way. For writers, editors and publishers this can be a great opportunity to get manuscripts, get exposure and get feedback. It can also be a complete let down. 

Let me first say, the biggest reason to enter contests is giving back to your community. Contests are a way for writing chapters to make a little money along the way, other than in dues. That money goes to workshops, flying in editors and agents and running conferences. This alone is why you need to enter contests.

Now, think about what you might get along the way. If the prelim and final judges provide feedback, you get some potential beta readers. In most cases, you won't get this until you reach the finals, but there is still a chance you get some comments back that can guide you along the way. I really do recommend you find those contests out there that give you a little of that feedback.

If you do make it to finals, there is also a great chance an editor or agent is reading your work. If it is great, you now have a foot in the door with your writing. You potentially did something great with that partial and now an editor or agent will come back and request to see more of your writing. I know I have found writers in contests and I know of some other editors and agents who have done the same thing. Who knows, this might be "the call" you have been waiting for!

But let's talk about the reality of contests. These things are real crap shoots. Let me say, this is not a reason to simply skip out on contests, but these are gambles.

First of all, like everything else in publishing, this is all subjective. If the contest does not have a clear and objective judging rubric, or if the judges are people who still have not figured out the writing process yet, who knows what will happen. I will say, even the bigger contests, such as the RWA Vivian is still subjective. (SIDE NOTE: I have been arguing for a clear rubric for years and have offered by services to the RWA to help with this process... but have still not heard. BTW... the offer still stands!) Contests without rubrics simply leave it up to someone to just say they liked it or didn't like it. 

Let's also talk about the scoring. If you have worked with statistics or done any thing in education with grading, you will probably understand this a bit more. 

If you have me judge your writing on a 5 point scale for different categories, if I read something and think it is not quite there, but close, I will give it a 4 out of 5. Sure that sounds good, but remember, this is an 80%. You get a judge who gives you a 3 and that alone is enough to ruin any chance of getting to the finals. Even increasing scores to a range up to 10 can run into this problem, but the damage is not so bad. Still, if you think the writing is OK, the odds are you start giving 7's and 8's and, once again, your chance is ruined. The solution here is simple. Use decimals such as a 9.8 or 8.9 and you get a better reflection of what the reader was thinking. 

I keep talking about those rubrics too. These are SO important and can be used with any type of writing. Look at character development, grammar, narration, dialogue and so forth. By creating a well rounded rubric, the authors get a better chance, and the judges, even those who are still learning will have something to go on. Unfortunately, this is one of those drawbacks. Too often, the only people willing to judge those prelims are the newer authors who are so enthusiastic to help out. The authors who have made it and know their genres are now "too busy" to help out. We're back to crap shoots again.

I know, as an agent, I love judging contests, but there have been far too many times, when I read a final round and ask myself, "are you telling me these really are the best of the best?" Ugh! It is even more frustrating because I feel the pressure to ask for partials of these stories, even if there is no way I would ever want to read the full project.

So, what are my big take-aways?
  • Enter those contests to support your local writing chapters. Know that if anything, you are being generous
  • Enter contest that have clear rubrics.
  • Judge contests for your local chapter to give back
  • Contest coordinator, PLEASE!!!!!! Create clear rubrics
  • Judges need to score manuscripts based on the quality of the writing and not just if they like the project or they know the authors. Along the same lines, if the story is just different, independently/self-published or has the current social cause in it does not make it better. See the prior comment about clear rubrics.
  • Writing chapters and national organizations (PNWA, RWA, RNA, etc.), if you are unclear how to create an objective rubric, reach out to me. Let's create something that is fair for all authors. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Understanding The Agent-Author Team

Many authors seem to believe that the agent's single responsibility is to sell a story to the editor. It is the agent who does the business side of things. While this is certainly one element, one of the biggest roles the agent plays is working with the author to make the stories truly great. Now, I guess I should say that there are agents out there who do not do this type of work, but many do.

But here comes the great twist to this. It is not just the agent who does the developmental editing side of things. It really is a teamwork. It is the goal of BOTH the agent AND the author, to make that story truly the best it can me. 

I am in the middle of developmental editing with three of my authors right now. In each case, after I have looked at their stories, I provide directions I think the story should go. This is not the final decision though. What they all know is that this is just the ideas I came up with when working through the story. The authors all have their own perspective. The idea is that we find the best direction. 

In some of the cases, we are just problems solving a situation in the story. Many times, in the writing process, the author is faced with a predicament, and is unclear which way to go. It might be something ranging from a point of view shift to a full plot shift. At this point, together we talk through where we think the story needs to be a couple of chapters down the road, or what we need the characters to be doing, or how this fits with the theme or the character development. Again, still working to make that story great.

The thing is that, if yo believe we are just essentially a sales person/contract lawyer, you are missing the mark. We are your team member. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Education and Learning At Greyhaus

 When I opened the agency back in 2003, I had three goals in mind.

  1. To represent romance and women's fiction
  2. To increase communication between publishing professionals and writers
  3. To educate writers
Today, I want to focus on what I can do for you on that third item, education.

As I read submissions lately, or see comments on social media sites from authors, it becomes clear to be that many writers simply need to spend more time learning not only the business of writing, but also the craft of writing. I can see the enthusiasm of the authors. I have heard it at pre-Covid conferences. Writers are just begging to get as much information as possible to improve their writing and hopefully advance their careers. Unfortunately, I think too many authors out there are grasping at straws, or worse yet, getting information from people who really do not know much more than they do. It is really a case of the blind leading the blind. 

Now that we have been away from conferences for so long, I do believe the problem is only getting worse. For that reason, I am really making a strong push for educational outreach here at Greyhaus. So, here is what we are doing right now:

THE BLOG Obviously, if you are here, you know what I am trying to do. This is outreach! I know I am preaching to the choir here since you are reading this and probably some of those that read this regularly. However, if you really want to help out your friends, let them know about the blog. I do also want to remind you that if you have questions, all you have to do is ask. I answer questions here on the blog all of the time. Just swing over to the agency website and send me an email. In the subject line, write, QUESTION FOR THE BLOG. 

TWITTER, FACEBOOK and INSTAGRAM I do some out reach here. I am not someone who spends countless hours on Twitter, but I do, every now and then, send out a quick message on a Pubtip. On Facebook and Instagram, I do a bit more. Again, great places to ask questions. Please remember though, I do not accept submissions on social media.

YOUTUBE I am excited about this one. I am making a push to put up educational videos that you can watch and learn from. I also have a promotion going. When we hit the 1000th subscriber, one of those writers will get at least a 6 month mentorship. This is not representation, but help with your writing, query letters, etc. Check it out!

CHAPTER OUTREACH AND CONFERENCES I know many chapters are still doing things remotely, but I am 100% available to come to your conferences, either virtually, or face to face. I do stress that I do not invite myself, you have to ask. This outreach can be anything from Q & A sessions on social media, newsletter articles, online workshops, live workshops, and yes, as I said, I will come to your chapter and speak. I also judge contests. I will also stress that when I come to conferences, I want to hear pitches as well. I do not charge for this outreach. I only ask for compensation for air and hotel. I got the rest covered. 

NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS I am always available to help out with national organizations, especially the RWA and RNA. I have (and will continue to) reach out to the boards and provide by services. If you are on the board of either, again, the offer is there. You just need to ask. 

The point is, Greyhaus Literary Agency does not just represent authors. I am here for a lot more. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Novel Structures - 1st Person Issues

There are a lot of times when authors will submit stories to me that sound amazing, but when I start reading the partial or the full, things completely fall apart. Sometimes, it is simply due to the fact they hyped up the proposal so much, they were literally describing a completely different project. In other cases, it comes down to the approach in narration, and that is writing in first person.

Let me say, from the start, that I am not against writing in first person. I do believe, however, that too many authors think this is easier to write and attempt it, missing the fact that this approach is a lot harder to be successful with than in third person. 

For authors who think the story is easier to write this way, it is due to the fact that the author is really writing their book as if they are seeing it on a movie screen or hearing it in an audio book. When they take this approach, it is all about dialogue and hearing people talk. Of course this approach is going to be easier. You are just focusing in on what the people are saying. 

But now, let us look at the difficulties.

When we are talking, we describe things when we feel the information is necessary to what we are doing at that moment. We don't describe things around us or react to things we see on a regular basis. Think about it this way. When you come in to your home at the end of the day, do you look around and admire the artwork, or the way the furniture is set up? Probably not. Along the same lines, when you come in and see your significant other in the kitchen cooking, do you immediately launch into a narrative about all of the great memories, or how someone looks? Again probably not (although we probably should). When writing in first person, the character is only going to describe things and say things out loud that matter at that given moment. 

The issue then, with writing in first person, is two-fold. First, if the author does have the characters talking about these random things, it will feel really weird and forced. If your character does not include this information, then the reader will be lost and have to attempt to fill in the gaps on their own. 

When writing in third person, that is where the narration comes in. It is the chance for the author to tell the reader, through the narration, what those characters are thinking and feeling.

Another issue with writing in first person is head hopping, and/or, inserting emotions and feelings into the head of the person not talking. The head-hopping should make sense. Only one person can talk in first person at a time, so if a second  character starts talking, the author has to remember to see it only through the first speaker's eyes. Often they miss this. It is the second part that becomes the problem (and yes this also happens in third person). If I am writing in first person, I cannot tell the reader what the other character is thinking. I can "assume" I know, or react to what I see in their behavior and take a guess, but I cannot add that emotion into the story as if it is true. Writing in first person tends to have authors doing this frequently.

When we do see a story told in first person well, it is because the author has really thought it through and fixed those issues, because they knew how to. 

If you are getting rejections where people are telling you the writing is forced, or the writing is lacking depth, and you are writing in first person, these might be the reasons for those rejections.

Just something to think about for a Monday.