Oh, the woeful plight of the writer. We slave over our manuscripts. Take time away from everything else and work hard at actually finishing something. Then, it’s done. We have our Frankenstein monster and we love it. We take our baby out and put it on display, ask for judgment.
And judgment falls with the swiftness of the ax. Too long, too much backstory, not enough action. Whatever the particular flaw is, it is pointed out with brutal honesty. The instructions are plain: Pick up your knife and start carving that baby up.
Once again I had the pleasure of listening to Sara Megibow of the Kristen Nelson Literary Agency speak. In a cramped tiny room thirty wanna-be writers listened to Sara explain the vagaries of the publishing industry. And believe you me, in this publishing climate she is a brave woman. All the agents are. They are facing an ever changing workplace where the industry as a whole is experiencing a sea change, and their jobs are in peril.
With NYT bestselling authors fleeing publishing houses and independent self-publishers seeking contracts, we all know our industry is in flux. And it changes almost daily with the swiftness of a hurricane. One day the publishing landscape looks the way it always has, and the next it has been totally and irrevocably changed into an ill-lit moonscape with hidden pitfalls.
Sara stressed that the information she gave us was up-to-date. Today. But tomorrow, it might be different. To a room of people whose entire existence hangs on the work of years, the idea that our babies might be exposed to the capricious winds of change, is enough to send an author running home to hide under the bed. Scary.
But there is hope. There are huge contracts still being offered. Self-publishing is on the rise, and getting to be a better option all the time. Will the NY publishers be able to survive this storm? No one knows. Many NYT authors bet not. You can find a fantastic discussion between Bob Mayer and Randy Ingermanson in the December 2010 issue of Randy’s Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, http://advancedfictionwriting.com/ .
Which brings me back to Sara and what a writer can do to increase their chances of getting published in today’s market. Sara graciously not only talked to us for two hours about how to increase our odds, but she graciously looked at all our precious paper children. And with her trademark kindness she told us what we needed to do. Cut them to pieces.
Actually it wasn’t that bad. But when you have cut, cut, cut already, ruthless strategic painful cuts, to hear you need to cut more is disheartening. For a second you protest. Then you laugh, because you know she’s right. Was it worth the money I paid, to sit and listen and then in a few moments find out what I should have known anyway. You bet your laptop it was. I can ask my critique partner, I can ask my friends, I can ask my mother, but in the end the professional opinion of someone who reads hundreds of partials a year is worth its weight in gold. Sara said cut. I am sharpening my editing knives and we’re going for blood.