Cut! Cut! Cut!

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.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Cut! Cut! Cut!

  1. Great post! It’s amazing how much faster the story unfolds with unnecessary or repeated thoughts/words/senteces CUT. 🙂

  2. Great blog post Jessie! I went to the last workshop. Sara so rocks for sharing the info! I always try never to get hurt about cutting. Really. I know/remember that when we write we need to cut so we can polish. That’s how we get the best out of ourselves and our writing. =0)

    Hillary

    • Thanks Hillary! At first I felt like: no!!!!, but then I got back up, dusted myself off and said: okay, time to get serious! BTW WHAT A GORGEOUS PIC on your site!!!!

      J

  3. It’s hard to argue with a professional who so clearly knows what she’s doing! I bet it WAS worth every penny! Thanks for passing on the lesson. 😉

    • Yep! Even if I only count the two minutes she spent looking at my stuff, it was well worth it! To know exactly what is going through an agents head when she reads your partial, priceless!

      J

  4. Great article, Jessica! And what a valuable experience. I attended a cold read event at an Atlanta conference where agents and editors gave us a glimpse of how fast they reject a manuscript–within that first paragraph. Some would read farther than others, but it was an eye-opener. I’ve heard wonderful things about Kristin Nelson’s agency and no wonder.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Sharon,
      I love attending anything where agents and editors give their secrets away. Now I know, 120 words, that’s it! If you can’t grab them within that 120 words then its a wasted effort. I still haven’t cut that first chapter down, but its coming.

      j

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