Thursday, November 30, 2006

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...


According to you, the minimum practical length these days is around 70k. (Up from around 50k in the 1960s, judging from the SF paperbacks on my shelves. And that in any series, each novel in the series gets thicker and thicker.)

Has anyone considered reviving the old Ace Double format for slightly-shorter works? Two novellas or short novels (35-55k each) bound together into a single volume?

You'd probably have to abandon putting them back-to-back inverted with two front covers like the original Ace Doubles. (Which could lead to a fight over which of the two appears first.) Ideally, both works in the volume should have some sort of similarity to appeal to the same reader. This could also have potential as a breakthrough medium for newer authors, with the noob's work doubled with a similar but more established author.

It's a matter of what the market will bear. Publishing houses generally do not start major trends; they publish some random thing and the trend sort of springs up on its own. Unlike the fashion industry, the publishing industry is extremely reactionary because it's a safer financial bet.

At the moment, the "novel" of 70-100k seems to be what people want and are buying. The market for short story collections is very small, and understandably so. People generally don't read short stories unless they either seek them out in literary mags or they happen upon them in larger commercial magazines like The New Yorker. A short story collection is something that's tough to read. I know because I read a ton of the old sci-fi stories of the 60s and 70s, the ones that are now in collection form. You read a little story, and then you have to totally switch gears and accept a new reality in another ten pages. While two novellas is not as extreme, the principle is the same - the reader has to switch gears, and readers today don't like doing that for whatever societal reason.

If we saw more short stories being sold and shorter books being sold, we would be more inclined to lower the acceptable word count, but eventually it all comes down to what sells.


I did not delete the post below because I was in violation of some copyright law. Whether you want to debate my ethics about posting it or not is your business, but I was fully within my legal rights to do so. However, this blog is meant to be informative and amusing, not make people angry. Unless those people are stupid.

There are two main reasons why I had every right to post material handed out in a classroom:

(1) I was handed a piece of paper with some writing on it. It was no different (in legal terms) from finding a piece of paper on the street with some terrible writing on it, which I don't think anyone here would have objected to. I think I fulfilled my moral obligations by not naming the professor OR the student. I also did not post the story in full. Whether a writer holds copyright on their work from the first word they type is irrelevant. The only way this would come up in court would be if I were to publish it and attempt to make money off of it by claiming it was mine or claiming it was someone else's and not giving any procedes to the author. Even then, the author, who in this case we are assuming is lacking a form from the US copyright office, would have to prove that they wrote the work first and I stole it. This is actually fairly difficult to do in a courtroom. If there was NO monetary gain at stake (i.e. I had not tried to sell the work), the case would simply not go to trial because there are no losses. It might go to civil court for emotional damage, but only if the original author had good grounds for it. (If I posted her work and her name on a billboard at Times Square, for example)

(2) Basically everything written on the internet falls into the "fair use" category, as the California Supreme Court recently ruled. (And it's irrelevant, because you could easily make a post on a server that was based in another country if you really wanted to) I give the example of Something Awful, which people have attempted to sue many times for "libel and slander." None of these cases have ever gone to court, and the threatening emails to the site administrator were even posted in whole, without alteration or permission.

Freedom of speech on the internet is a two-way street, people. I'm very aware of that; material I've written on this blog or in email as The Rejecter has been reposted on other websites without my permission, and the material has been altered without my permission, and I can't do a thing about it. Most people back down from an email threat from someone else to sue pretty quickly, but they actually don't have to.

As for the other complaint, which is that I keep a folder of the worst query letters I've received for my own personal amusement, it is totally legal and I've never viewed it as immoral. When you send a letter to someone through the postal service, the letter becomes their property. They can do whatever they like with it. They can make paper airplanes out of it, they can refuse the back of the paper as scrap, they can toss it in the trash (which is what happens to most query letters that aren't sent back). Now if I attempted to make some kind of a profit by reprinting the letters on a pay site or in book form, I might run into some legal trouble with the authors if I didn't bother to change or remove their names, but I would never do that for both legal and moral reasons. I don't keep the query letters so to mock the author. (I often don't even look at the author's name when reading a query letter, except to check that it's the same name on the SASE so nothing gets screwed up in the mail) The only illegal thing that ever happens in the agency is the act of opening the envelope. (It is a crime to open an envelope sent through the US Postal Service that is not addressed to you, and the letters are always addressed to my boss, not me) Once the envelope is opened, the paper and whatever's written on it is fair game.

So there.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


The email questions are piling up, and so far I've been letting them pile, because I've been busy with school work, as my semester ends in a few weeks and I have to produce something the professor will like before that. I will be open and say I had a fight with him yesterday. He rejects just about everything I submit, and sometimes I give him whole, publishable novels, but they aren't about me, so they are apparently worthless. Somehow he then succeeds in making me feel guilty about not rising to his challenge to write from the heart, because producing stories people enjoy isn't enough - I should strive to write something great.

In retrospect, his opinion of "great" may be a little skewed. This was material that someone wrote for my class and was generally considered "good."

[Content removed because it upset a lot of people. See above post]

On the other hand, maybe I should stick to writing historical fiction. Or maybe I just don't have enough daddy issues to write quality material.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

National Novel Writing Month

Yeah, damn straight. Actually I hit 50K on the 23rd, but they wouldn't let me validate it until the 25th. Now of course I have to go finish the novel, which has another 10-15k to it. 65k is still fairly short for novel length, but I did it with very little historical research or detail, so I could easily pad it another 10k in revisions.

Recently a website interviewed me about my feelings as someone who works in publishing on the program. I'll repost it here. The website that contacted me can be found here.

I'm compiling a series of articles on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the website 101 Reasons to Stop Writing. I'm interested in getting the literary agent's perspective on this, especially the perspectiveof one who filters the submissions from overly keen Nano participants, and would appreciate youresponses to the questions below.

How did NaNoWriMo first appear on your radar?

I'm a writer myself and 2005 was the first year I participated because I heard about it through fellow unpublished writers. I have never heard of it at work and when I mention it, honestly, very few people know what it is.

NaNoWriMo, to my knowledge, has not hit the cultural consciousness of agents and the publishing industry yet, despite the publication of Chris Baty's (founder of NaNoWriMo) book, No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. In the book he discusses how 50,000 words is not actually an acceptable length for an adult book, but he chose it because it was a more reasonable goal for people achieve. Most literary agents are looking for first -time novelists to keep their work in the 70k-100k range.

Have you received queries or submissions that have mentioned NaNoWriMo? If so, have any of these submissions been accepted for representation, or at least passed up the ladder?

If the agent would recognize it, they would actually probably pass on it, for a number of reasons. First of all, 50k is just too low unless it's YA or a children's book. Second, only the fastest writers can write a quality full-length novel in a month - most authors need a year. The speed at which it was written is an indication against it. Third, if they wrote it in November and they submit it in December or January, they obviously haven't done the heavy polishing any manuscript needs before it's ready to be submitted.

What are the most common errors made by participants when submitting to you
(assuming any have)?

I honestly haven't seen anyone who has said they did the novel for NaNoWriMo, but as the program gains in popularity, I have no doubt that it will eventually start showing up in query letters and the agency world will collectively groan.

Is there a noticeable "spike" in queries or submissions, particularly for
50,000 word novels, in November to February?

Most people do NaNoWriMo for fun, and not everyone finishes. Serious writers who do it realize that they need time to revise and polish it - at least a few months. Besides, if a few extra queries come in during this time, we wouldn't notice. Query letters tend to spike in the fall, get heavy up until Christmas time, and then drop off again until about mid-January. This is because writers, like agents, are on vacation in the summer (August is notoriously the slowest month) and during the last week of December. They pick up again in February and March. Agencies review dozens, maybe hundreds of query letters a day. They're not going to notice a few more.

Do you believe that participation in NaNoWriMo is a "good thing" for
inexperienced writers?

Yes. I have been writing all my life, but I found it to be a useful exercise, which is why I'm repeating it this year. To start blank on November 1st with only the vaguest book idea and then to try and produce massive amounts of material by November 30th is an experience that builds stamina and quick-thinking. I am always surprised how much the plot I might have planned will change as I go along.

Do you believe it creates unrealistic expectations for participants?

I don't think 1667 words a day (or something like that) is particularly crazy, but it's asking a lot of someone who doesn't want to write for a living and hasn't been writing for many years. Many people don't hit 50K, but the point is, they tried, and they learned. Also, November is generally a very busy month for just about everyone, with the school cycle being what it is and the holidays approaching. In his book, Baty discusses why he put it in November instead of a month like June or July. I don't remember precisely what he said off-hand and my copy of his book is not at-hand, but I think it was something about how the program teaches you how to make time for writing despite your schedule. If you have lots of time, you may not actually be as productive as if you have to set aside an hour a day and you sit down at the computer knowing you can't waste that hour sitting at the screen or you're screwed for the day.

If you were in charge of NaNoWriMo, what rules would you set or change?

I would give people a little star next to their username on the lists for every year they've succeeded in "winning" NaNoWriMo. That would make of my friends who have been hitting 50K every year more accomplished - because it is an accomplishment.