Thursday, July 23, 2009

Editing Questions

I have just spent the past five years perfecting a manuscript that is a love story which takes place in New Orleans. I have sent it to 8-10 agents for a "Sample test" to see what the responses were. I received some very kind praise from many agents, including good atmospheric description, but still received rejection letters. A lightly famous film producer looked at it and thought that it had enormous potential as a film project, but that it needed some more editorial consultation to "harness all of the creative energy". Do you think that these rejections are matters of taste, or is it worth a second look to iron it out?

So there are two separate issues here, the film producer's comments and the agents' comments. The two are not as related as you think. I don't know much about the film industry, but I do know it involves a lot of lying and false praise and then crushing disappointment, or so all my screenwriter friends tell me. If you didn't write a screenplay, I don't know why you're talking to a film producer (are you friends?) but getting it into a screenplay you would want to sell is a whole different genre and industry in writing and something that's beyond my abilities to really judge.

Except in rare cases, movie rights to a published book are sold by the agent to the film company. When a book is bought by a publishing house, they do not buy the film rights unless that's specified in the contract, and it would be weird for a publishing house to ask for film rights and then something the agent would immediately demand to be deleted from the contract. A lot of money is to be made from film rights to a book, provided your book goes to film, but that rarely happens.

EDIT: Look in the comments, where someone in the film industry has written a long and instructive post that is better informed than mine.

As for the agents, if they wrote personal, descriptive comments and didn't send a form letter, that's pretty awesome. It's still a rejection, but you're close. Revise the manuscript based on their comments if you feel their comments are worthwhile and keep querying.

My other question is, how do you know when a manuscript is ready to sell?

It's done to the best of your abilities as a writer and editor.

And would your recommend me spending an extra thousand dollars to have it professionally edited before sending it out?

No, absolutely not, unless you are completely inept at grammar and spelling. In which case, buying a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style is much cheaper.

I feel that the manuscript is completed to the best of my ability, and thought that the kinks could be ironed out by a publishing house editor. I have heard mixed reviews about this-- some people say that they don't spend as much time as they used to on editing manuscripts, and that the industry is more about business. I was wondering if you could comment on this aspect in your blog.

How much editing gets done at the agent stage and/or the editor stage often depends on several factors, but the two biggest ones are (a) the time people have to put into it, (b) how much editing it actually needs. Speaking as someone who helps edit client's manuscripts, I say that you really shouldn't be submitting something you feel needs tremendous editing. You should be doing the editing yourself, then submitting the manuscript that you feel is as good as it can possibly be within your abilities as a writer and then if people along the way have comments, you work with them. Speaking as a writer, I can say that I feel your pain, in that I am always terrified that my work isn't good enough and that the editor didn't catch mistakes they should have caught that I never should have written, and that I'm going to get slammed for it in reviews. I live in constant fear, but publishing is terrifying. However, most things worth doing are a little terrifying, so get a prescription for a tranquilizer/SSRI combo and throw your stuff out there.


Thomas said...

As someone who does work in the film industry I'd like to clarify two things.

First, producers often buy the rights to a non-screenplay property but not usually to an unpublished book. One of the reasons to make a book into a movie is because the film has a built-in audience. Such a work is called a "pre-sold property" in industry parlance. It can be a work of pretty much an kind. Books are common, so are video games, television shows but even things like poems, folk tales and magazine articles have become feature films. The problem is that an unpublished book, no matter how good, does not bring an audience with it.

There is the possibility that this producer feels that the book will be successful once published and is hinting that he or she would like first refusal on the rights once the book gets picked up. Another possibility, I'm sorry to say, is that this producer is not being entirely sincere but knowing neither the work nor the producer, I can't really say.

Which brings me to my second point, The Rejecter mentioned " lying and false praise and then crushing disappointment" as if it were something endemic to the film business. While I freely grant that there are a number of producers that range from unscrupulous to inept, this is really no different from any creative industry.

It's a matter of learning to speak the parlance of the profession. Movie people, at least those that work on the production end, as I do, live in an all-freelance world where one becomes unemployed every few weeks and has to find a new gig. There's no comprehensive network for finding jobs; it's all word of mouth. Politics, unfortunately, play a big part in who gets hired and who does not and thus circumspection becomes the norm. Movie people tend not to say negative things about the work of others because they can't predict what their professional relationships are going to be like in six months.

Nobody wants to be the one that made a bad call and told the next Charlie Kaufman that his work sucked, so there are a lot of hollow compliments. It's just a matter of knowing which people are simply being professionally polite and which are legitimately interested.

There is a parallel to the publishing industry. Much like many aspiring authors see every rejection as a personal attack, many aspiring screen writers see ever intimation by a producer as a promise of glory when both are just the standard run of things in their respective settings. Just like a literary agent, a producer that is genuinely interested in a piece of work will be professionally enthusiastic about it and actively pursue it.

It's just knowing the business.

Anonymous said...

"...A lightly famous film producer looked at it and thought that it had enormous potential as a film project, but that it needed some more editorial consultation to "harness all of the creative energy"..."

This means nothing. Sorry. There are literally thousands of film school graduates -- who by all accounts KNOW how to write a rockin' screenplay AND have connections and still can't get a spec script sold. So taking advice from a film producer is NOT the way to go here.

You've written a book. You need to sell the book. Get Hollywood out of your mind.

If the agents you are querying are all saying the SAME thing about your ms -- they hate the ending, or the beginning is confusing, or character X's swearing was too distracting to continue -- then, yes, you'd want to take a look at those issues and maybe revise.

Here's the thing -- agents almost never have the same reason for rejecting. In the manner of two months I was told (by different agents) that they liked MC X, but hated MC Y. That they liked MC Y, but hated MC X. That the plot was too fast. That the plot was too slow. That the voice was intriguing. That the voice was flat. And my own personal favorite... that they couldn't stand character Z. The next agent said character Z was "delightful."

None of them offered representation.

My only advice is to move on to more agents. Write a second book. Good luck. You might want to try a critique group if you can find one.

Anonymous said...

" so get a prescription for a tranquilizer/SSRI combo and throw your stuff out there."

I love most of your stuff Rejecter but this statement shows you to be a product of your day and age.

You are better off in the long run learning how to deal with being stressed, pressured, terrified, naturally. Learn biofeedback, learn mindfulness, learn to take deep breaths and learn a little cognitive behavioral therapy.

Drugs don't teach how you to deal with normal human emotions like fear. Additionally, there are neurological and psychological effects from using SSRI and sedatives like impotence. Let me tell ya, drug induced impotence will really give you something to be stressed,depressed and terrified about.

To harness your creativity and keep your physical and mental health long term so you can enjoy your eventual hard earned success, stay off the psych meds and learn to cope. You will end up being a mentally and physically stronger and healthier person than those that cop out to quick chemical fixes.

You will also be psychologically prepared and self-trained to handle even more stress and terror later on rather then phoning your doctor to raise your dose to deal with the increased pressure. Not to mention you will still have a healthy sex life :)

The Rejecter said...

stay off the psych meds and learn to cope

In before, "I'm not a Scientologist but I drop their lingo in my posts for some reason."

Anonymous said...

"In before, "I'm not a Scientologist but I drop their lingo in my posts for some reason."

Oh, nice. Because I know from personal experience these drugs are a dead end and because I managed to beat my own anxiety and depression without drugs I am automatically a Scilon.

The mental health blogosphere is filling every day with people who wanted quick fixes and lived to regret their drug induced damage while their personal problems never improved in any meaningful way.

They are called psych med survivors.

They start networks and support groups and personal blogs. They share their psych med horror stories and what is their reward for coming forward with their personal anecdotes?

The accusation of being a Scilon is how simple minded people dismiss these people's nightmares and recovery stories out of hand in an instant.

You don't like psych meds? Bam. You are a Scilon. Have bad things to say about psych meds? Scilon. Encourage others to find alternatives to psych meds? Scilon.

Go ahead Rejector. Eat your pills. Love them. Enjoy the artificially created and maintained illusion of contentment. Eat more. Hurt yourself more.

There will come a point where you can no longer forge emotional connections with people and your brain pathways are screwed up but good and you are going to want off that ride.

Finally, after months long tapering regimen you will shed those drugs and post your horror stories about them as a warning to others and some clueless fuckwit anon will come over to your blog and label you a Scilon. Enjoy the irony because you will have earned it.

You want a wake up call? Go to SSRI stories SSRI forums and find normal non-Scilon soccer moms bitching about their psych med horror stories and call them all Scientologists. Do it. I dare you to do it.

Troll them for the lulz. I would love nothing more than to see you do that and watch dozens of women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who have survived psych meds tear you apart and teach you an important and clearly needed lesson about the utter fail that is lumping psych med survivors and their testimonies into the same category as a mind control cult based on the scifi fantasies of a deluded con man.

That is logical fallacy that exists in your mind. It is not true that someone who is critical about psych meds must automatically be a Scilon. That's called the False Dichotomy. There is alternative choice which you, rejected.

That choice was, some people just have shitty experiences with and look down upon psych meds and that is just fine and has nothing to do with that wacky world of thetans and OT clears and enturbulations.

There is your Scilon lingo that was missing from my original post and I culled it from my years long experiences in battling the public image of psych med survivors having anything remotely to do with Scilons.

Do Scilons prey on psych med survivors to bolster their ranks? Sure they do. Do some psych med survivors become Scilons? Sure they do. Most don't.

They state their piece and a word of caution about the dangers of medicating normal emotions instead of coping in natural ways and that's all there is to it.

Don't ever have children. You are not prepared to teach them how to deal with stress, pressure, depression, anxiety, normal life stuff.

You would just turn them into lifer customers for Pharma right around the age of puberty because you are just too modern, hip, feminist and on the go to take the time needed to acquire real psychological coping mechanisms.

If you can't even teach yourself how to deal with pressure without whining to your GP until she relents and fills out your Rx for tranqs and ssris (which is an abuse of their intended purpose anyway) then you are not prepared or qualified to teach developing people how to deal and you should keep your advice to yourself.

instadroid said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)

instadroid said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)