Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Writer Idol? The Literary World is Full of Simon Cowells. So, 'Yay!' for Paul Harding's Cinderella Publishing Story

Ah, "7 Reasons Agents Stop Reading Your First Chapter." That's the title of a post that came to me through Writer's Digest email. It's written by Livia Blackburne at Chuck Sambuchino's blog, A Guide to Literary Agents.
I recently attended the Writer Idol Event at Boston Book Fest. It was not for the faint of heart, but for those willing to brave public ridicule, it was a great way to get helpful feedback.

This is how it worked: An actress picked manuscripts at random and read the first 250 words out loud for the panel and the audience. If at any point a panelist felt he would stop reading, he raised his hand. The actress read until two or more panelists raised their hands, at which point the panel discussed the reasons they stopped, or in cases where the actress read to the end, they discussed what worked. Helene Atwan (Director of Beacon Press) and agents Esmond Harmsworth, Eve Bridburg, and Janet Silver (all from Zachary Shuster Harmsworth) served on the panel. ... Read more
Blackburne says fewer than 25 percent of the panelists read to the end of the 250 words. There goes your fist page. Then she gives a list of their reasons for rejection. The first bit of advice was don't open with dates or the weather. Sounds like agents have read Elmore Leonard's "10 Rules of Writing." I like Leonard. God knows anyone still writing successfully at his age must be doing something right, but I do wonder how many of these agents miss good books because they bore easily. Remember, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter saw its share of rejection before acceptance.

That brings me to the next topic, the Cinderella publishing story of Paul Harding, author of Tinkler. That book won a Pulitzer, but prior to that he saw plenty of rejection with agents and editors asking "Where are the car chases?"
The early rejection “was funny at the time,” Mr. Harding said. “And even funnier now.” Mr. Harding, a onetime drummer for a rock band, is far too discreet to name any of the agents or editors who wouldn’t touch his work a few years ago.
I'm a black woman working on a novel. I hear about rejection from writers of all colors, but what's more scary is that I hear that if you're black, unless you're writing street fiction, books with black characters are a hard sell. So, while Harding is not black, I need to read a story like his, especially after reading about how ready editors and agents are to say "No."

The list is helpful, yes. The quote in the tip about description made me laugh out loud, really. But I would not advise writers read this list near bedtime.


Chuck said...

Just to be clear, this was a guest column that appeared on my blog and it was written by Livia Blackburne. I cannot take credit.

Chuck Sambuchino

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Thanks, Chuck.