Honest advice about agents

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For the writer who wants to market finished work, the Web offers a great blog on the world of literary agents. Writer’s Digest Books produces the Guide to Literary Agents, which has a free corresponding blog:


There’s good writing advice on the blog, too. The latest article is by an writer who gives advice about the ratio of scene to sequel in your book (if it’s fiction). Remember, scene is action and dialogue between characters, while sequel is the writing that follows or precedes, where the characters consider and deal with what has just happened, then make a choice on how to continue the pursuit of what they want.

The advice on ratio is from Candy Davis, who’s got an article in the 2008 edition, soon to hit bookshelves and Amazon:

” … Your book’s unique proportion of scenes and sequels should produce a characteristic rhythm an agent can easily recognize as the perfect pulse for the work: staccato for quick-paced action genre, more legato for a genre that focuses on internal process. Running too many scenes together allows no space for the character to evaluate his progress.

Each scene should begin and end with a hook, and should capture a complete and meaningful ‘story event.’ Keep scene length appropriate to your genre, and never longer than necessary to cover the episode. Cut mundane interactions, placeholder dialogue and extraneous background information. A sequel generally follows a major plot point, steps up the stakes and turns the story in a new direction. Allow the character a moment to evaluate past mistakes, realize a previously overlooked or rejected option, and take the first step toward a new and more desperate plan.

The blog also has an article near the top (as of today, July 9) that gives a few suggestions on how to locate the agent who sold a book you admire or just finished.

I’ve had something to say about scene and sequel myself on this blog, last year.

That 10 percent that matters to you

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In Narrative Design, Madison Smartt Bell discusses the dilemma of workshop writing classes. He also talks about their antidote, the writing group where the inner creativity process becomes the focus of the meeting. That’s a lot like the work in our Writer’s Workshop: the majority of what we do together is generative work, reinforced by positive response. You create things while you are at our table, on the couches, out under the fans in the cabana.

Bell has respect for the classic workshops like those led in Iowa and other capitals of critique. But he said that after watching the group-think pull so many stories into mediocrity on subsequent drafts,

I opened my second-semester workshop at Iowa with remarks along these lines: Assume that when your work is being discussed, about 90 percent of what you hear will be useless to you and irrelevant to what you have done. Learn to listen carefully and to discriminate what’s useful to you from what’s not. Remember the relevant part and ignore the rest. If even one person understands what you intended to be understood, then you can say you have succeeded.

Don’t try to please the group. Don’t try to please the leader of the group, or the teacher. The person you have to please is yourself. Your job is to become the best judge of your own work. If you do become a professional writer at some point, you’ll need that skill more than ever before.