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Thread: Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1

  1. #3126
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin paritoshuttam's Avatar
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    Question Querying the same agent?

    Hi,

    In general, is it a good idea to query the same agent again, after some time? Around two years back, one agent did show interest in my work, saying she liked the premise of the novel, but my prose wasn't dazzling enough (it had horrible parts including dialogues like "As you know Bob" etc). Now, after considerable amount of learning the craft and re-writing, I think I have improved it a lot. Is it then advisable to write to the same agent again?

    thanks,
    Paritosh.

  2. #3127
    I am a pretty pretty flower Galoot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by paritoshuttam
    In general, is it a good idea to query the same agent again, after some time? Around two years back, one agent did show interest in my work, saying she liked the premise of the novel, but my prose wasn't dazzling enough.
    As a reader I know authors can improve markedly (or go ripe) in only a few years. I'm sure the agent, a professional reader, also knows this and wouldn't hold a marginal manuscript from two years ago against you. But I defer to the pros.
    Okay, I'll stop referencing you in my sig, reph. Happy now?

  3. #3128
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    No problem returning to that agent with a significantly revised manuscript.

  4. #3129
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald
    It's a balancing act

    If you really, really need to get a fact across, the rule is you slide it in three times. You're trying to get things across so the deaf old lady in the back row can still follow the story, at the same time keeping from boring the clever buggers in the front row.

    On the other hand, the examples you gave sound a lot like padding.
    Thanks, that helps a lot I'll try to avoid the padding problem, but I'll keep in mind to make sure the deaf old lady hears me as well

    Quote Originally Posted by paritoshuttam
    one agent did show interest in my work, saying she liked the premise of the novel, but my prose wasn't dazzling enough
    Is this virtually an invitation to resubmit the work after reworking it? From what I've read here, it's rare to have a "like the story except for...." in a rejection, and it's what every author wants, next to an acceptance letter?

  5. #3130
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnLynch
    Is this virtually an invitation to resubmit the work after reworking it?
    Either that, or submit your next.

    The thing you have to decide is whether you like your work as it currently stands. If you like it, there's no reason to re-write it for the chance that the agent or editor will like it better next time around.

    If you can make it better in your own eyes, and you'll make substantial changes doing so ... then you might re-write (rather than keep sending the first work to other people, while at the same time creating something new.)

    The Bad Books that can be made into Good Books by editing alone are rare.

  6. #3131
    I am too on MSN IM! :( Sailor Kenshin's Avatar
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    Okay, Uncle Jim---I have a question.

    Is it easier to sell a first novel than a collection of short stories? Or is either one dependent on the writer's rep and pedigree?

    Thanks.

  7. #3132
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    These are short stories that have already been published in respectable-to-prestigious venues?

    If not, then the first novel would probably be the easier to sell.

  8. #3133
    Back from self-exile land. BlueTexas's Avatar
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    I have a question about publishers...not sure if this is the right place, but what the heck. After reading this thread, I don't think there's much that can't be answered here.

    Is there a way to find out where a vanished publisher has gone? If they were purchased by another house, would there be some media site that lists it? Specifically, I'm talking about a small regional non-fiction press.

  9. #3134
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Dunno. Publishers Weekly might have mentioned it if they were bought by another press, but more small and regional presses go out of business every year than you can shake a stick at. You know how there are supposed to be 56,000 publishers, or 78,000 publishers, or whatever? There are actually around 20,000. The rest are on long-term hiatus. I'm sure you've heard that 8,000-11,000 new publishers are founded every year. Less well known it that 8,000-11,000 go toes-up every year. (And that, my children, is why it's important to deal with publishers that have been in business for some years, and who have books in bookstores.)

    The Association of American Publishers or Publishers Marketing Association might know what happened to your publisher, if the guys you're looking for were ever members.

  10. #3135
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Philosophy

    Writing isn't about you, and it isn't about the publishers, and it isn't about the bookstores.

    Writing is about the readers.

    The readers

    a) Want/need to be informed.
    b) Want/need to be entertained.

    If you aren't fulfilling the readers wants and needs, dude, you ain't got diddly.

  11. #3136
    Back from self-exile land. BlueTexas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald
    Dunno. Publishers Weekly might have mentioned it if they were bought by another press, but more small and regional presses go out of business every year than you can shake a stick at. You know how there are supposed to be 56,000 publishers, or 78,000 publishers, or whatever? There are actually around 20,000. The rest are on long-term hiatus. I'm sure you've heard that 8,000-11,000 new publishers are founded every year. Less well known it that 8,000-11,000 go toes-up every year. (And that, my children, is why it's important to deal with publishers that have been in business for some years, and who have books in bookstores.)

    The Association of American Publishers or Publishers Marketing Association might know what happened to your publisher, if the guys you're looking for were ever members.
    Thanks for the ideas!

  12. #3137
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    From Elsewhere

    From elsewhere in these boards:

    Quote Originally Posted by ByGrace
    Say Bantam publishes a romance novel by Lovey Dovey. It's placed in bookstores across the US. Some don't sell. The covers are ripped off. (I don't understand that.) Then the books are sent back to who? Ingram or Bantam? I doubt it would be Bantam.


    A better person to ask would be Hapi -- but Hapi hasn't been back much since we changed to the new board.

    Anyway, this is how it works....

    First, the ones that have their covers ripped off are the mass market paperbacks. The reason they have their covers ripped off is to prove that they didn't sell. This is because, for the purposes of distribution, mass market paperbacks are specialized magazines. Mass market piggybacks on the distribution system developed to get newspapers and magazines into bus stations and drugstores. You wouldn't send back last week's TV Guide (and expect to sell it somewhere else). The system of ripping off magazines' covers and newspapers' mastheads extends to the paperbacks.

    Often times the books that have been on wire-rack spinners aren't in salable condition anyway, even if they are returned. And it is quite literally true that it's cheaper to print a new copy than it is to ship an old copy back, inspect it to see if it's still salable, and restock it into a warehouse somewhere.

    The covers are torn off, and the physical books go into the Dumpster out back. (Sometimes, in major cities, you'll see guys on the sidewalks selling paperbacks arranged on blankets, all face-down. They're selling them for a quarter a copy or something -- current best sellers even. If you look at those books, they all have their covers torn off. Those are from someone Dumpster diving, looking for money for wine.

    That's mass market. Those are the books you see in grocery stores in the wire-rack spinners. (You will, of course, also see them in bookstores -- but this system was developed when bookstores were still rare.)

    Oftentimes these days, the merchant doesn't even physically send back the ripped-off covers. They just sign an affidavit swearing the books were destroyed.

    Next come the trade books. Those are the trade paperbacks and the trace cloth (hardback) books. (They're called "trade" because they're designed for the "book trade" rather than the "mass market.")

    Those are whole-copy returnable. The trade paperbacks are sturdier than the mass market books. They are, in effect, cheaply bound trade cloth.

    Those books, when they don't sell, are put in boxes and sent back to the warehouse they came from. Which is either the publisher's warehouse or the distributor's warehouse. The printer isn't involved. The distributor or the publisher then uses those same books to fill other orders.

    (Note: "Trade" paperbacks aren't determined by size or price. There exist "rack size trade paperbacks" which are visually identical to mass market paperbacks. The difference between trade and mass market is what happens to the copies that don't sell.)

    And where is the money in all this? Except for the money that comes in at the cash register from sold books, there isn't any. All the returns and stripped books become credit for the bookstore's next order. In effect, a returned book magically becomes a different physcial book, a book that might sell where this one didn't.

    Please notice that readers, and what they pick up and pay money for, drive this system.

    ============

    Quote Originally Posted by ByGrace
    Isn't it just a matter that the publisher would not get payment for unsold copies, and that Ingram or Lightning Source would take the loss on printing the book?


    I missed this part of the question.

    The distributor and the printer both get paid, by the publisher. Neither take a loss on an unsold book. The only people who are taking a risk are the publishers. Bookstores aren't taking a risk -- the books are returnable. Printers aren't taking a risk -- publishers pay them directly. Distributors aren't taking a risk -- publishers give them a percentage of the price of the book for each copy that moves through them. The authors aren't taking a risk -- they're paid in advance.

    And that's the way it should be. Publishers take the risk because they selected the book, they edited it, they produced it, they marketed it. And the readers, seeing that book on the shelf know that the publisher is standing behind it. That somewhere there's an editor who's saying "I'm betting the company's money that you'll enjoy this book. If I'm wrong, I'll get fired."

    Readers don't get that feeling with vanity books. There, they hear the author saying "My mom thinks this book is swell. Even if it sucks, she's still my mom."

    ==============

    You keep hearing self-published authors tell one another that they have to believe in their books: That'll make the readers believe in their books too.

    But where is the author who doesn't believe in his own book? The reader is looking for something that will tell him that someone else besides the author believes in this book.

    When a reader enters a bookstore, he's the most selfish guy in the world. He isn't thinking "Today I'll give a new author a chance!" -- he's thinking "What would I enjoy?" It's all about the reader. The reader's motto might as well be, "Yeah, but what's in it for me?"

    ==============

    A minor gripe:

    Guys: "Sale" is a noun. "Sell" is a verb.

    You don't say "I'm going to sale my books." You don't say "How many sells did you get?"

    Nouns. Verbs. This is basic English. If you're shaky on grammar your local bookstore is full of review and study workbooks.
    Last edited by James D. Macdonald; 03-17-2005 at 07:09 PM.

  13. #3138
    Zodiac Fleet Commander Ivonia's Avatar
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    Thanks for that advice Uncle Jim! I always wondered why books said "If this book doesn't have a front cover..." in the first part of the book, but I never understood exactly why and how that worked till now.

    I guess I'll be more cautious from now on when buying a book. Not that I've seen any books with the front covers ripped off before, but if I ever do, now I'll know how it got there.

  14. #3139
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    A while back I talked about fanfiction.net, and about fanfiction in general, as representative of the slush pile.

    Other on-line fiction archives are worse -- because when a writer gets good enough to be professionally published, generally they are. The cream gets skimmed off.

    But in fan fiction (and to some extent in erotica), the stories can have no legal existence. No matter how well written, they can't be published. They use trademarked/copyrighted characters without permission.

    Here are two that would be publishable, if not for the legal problems:

    Harry Potter and the Horrid Pain of the Artiste
    Agent Scully and the Dirty Story

    Notice too, these are both meta-fictions about writing. Ironic self-awareness. Y'know.

    Take away such lessons as you can.

  15. #3140
    Moderation in All Things AW Moderator Roger J Carlson's Avatar
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    Trying to catch up

    OK, I just spent two marathon sessions reading Uncle Jim Undiluted. Anybody know how far back in THIS thread I have to go to finish catching up?
    --Roger J. Carlson

    If you've received spam from me, my apologies. My gmail contact list was stolen and they spoof me every couple of months. Nothing I can do, but if you get spam from roger.j.carlsonATgmailDOTCOM, just put the address in your block list. I still receive email there, but I don't send from that address anymore.

  16. #3141
    Moderation in All Things AW Moderator Roger J Carlson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger J Carlson
    OK, I just spent two marathon sessions reading Uncle Jim Undiluted. Anybody know how far back in THIS thread I have to go to finish catching up?
    Er...Um...guess I answered my own question. It looks like it's page 109 post #2719. I wonder if someone could post that at the end of the "Undiluted" thread?
    --Roger J. Carlson

    If you've received spam from me, my apologies. My gmail contact list was stolen and they spoof me every couple of months. Nothing I can do, but if you get spam from roger.j.carlsonATgmailDOTCOM, just put the address in your block list. I still receive email there, but I don't send from that address anymore.

  17. #3142
    'Twas but a dream of thee El Jefe MacAllister's Avatar
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    Roger--Uncle Jim Undiluted takes you to January first of this year. So if you start on page 109 of THIS thread, it brings you up to date.

    I should be getting January and February up in the next day or two, and updating monthly after that...then everyone only has to read back to the first of the current month to be up-to-date with the conversation.

    Cheers!
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  18. #3143
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    I do have to comment that many people besides me have excellent things to say, and the entire context is good to have.

  19. #3144
    'Twas but a dream of thee El Jefe MacAllister's Avatar
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    Definitely, Jim--and that is stated in no uncertain terms in the intro to the Undiluted thread, too.
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  20. #3145
    Moderation in All Things AW Moderator Roger J Carlson's Avatar
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    More on POD

    Ok, now that I'm up to date, I wanted to ask a question about POD that has been bugging me for some time.

    Why don't the publishing houses maintain a POD facility for their back-list or out-of-print books? (Sorry if I'm using the wrong terms here.) It just seems to me that it would be a good thing for both the author and the publisher if a reader could order a brand new copy of an old book. It wouldn't require much overhead compared to warehousing books, and it might produce a little income. If enough of the books are ordered, they might want to consider printing it again.

    Baen is doing something similar by offering older books in a downloadable format. http://www.webscription.net/
    --Roger J. Carlson

    If you've received spam from me, my apologies. My gmail contact list was stolen and they spoof me every couple of months. Nothing I can do, but if you get spam from roger.j.carlsonATgmailDOTCOM, just put the address in your block list. I still receive email there, but I don't send from that address anymore.

  21. #3146
    The moving hand, having writ... AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    I just discovered that although reading all 3500 messages, or from point X forward, might be more complete, lack of time and the size of this thread was so utterly daunting that I skipped it daily.

    Today I just dived in at the last page--this one--and I'm not all that lost. It helps that many people quote what they're replying to, of course, and I don't know what every single message is talking about, but I get enough of it to find it worthwhile.

    One thing the internet has taught me is that I'm never the only one who ______. It might be worth encouraging others who avoid this big ol' thread out of fear of being lost or missing out on something to just jump in. Perhaps in the undiluted thread, or a sticky?

    Maryn, swimming with the big kids!

    P.S. James D. McDonald, the naked pictures are on the way--you do know that I'm a mole rat, right? You kinky fella!

  22. #3147
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger J Carlson
    Why don't the publishing houses maintain a POD facility for their back-list or out-of-print books?
    Many regular publishing houses already use digital printing technology for their backlist titles.

    For out of print books they can't -- because the rights have usually reverted to the author.

  23. #3148
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=James D. Macdonald]Many regular publishing houses already use digital printing technology for their backlist titles.

    For out of print books they can't -- because the rights have usually reverted to the author.[/QUOTE

    There are publishers who specialized in books where rights have reverted back to the author. I've typeset several, and helped to get such books back in print. I can think of a few publishers, print and e-books who specialize in such reprints, though I think it's probably more common in academic publishing than it is in fiction. Wildside press has republished a fair amount of SF / non-SF by SF authors.

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  24. #3149
    Apex Predator Jaws's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald
    Many regular publishing houses already use digital printing technology for their backlist titles. For out of print books they can't — because the rights have usually reverted to the author.
    I'll grant "sometimes", but not "usually." Particularly in trade and serious nonfiction, getting a publisher to admit that a book is out-of-print is about as easy as getting a fair and accurate vote count for governor in Washington State—in other words, there will be recounts, contested sales, and the whole ball of wax (which is a publishing aphorism).

    Remember, guys, as exciting as fiction can be, the industry lives on nonfiction, and establishes its standard usages based on nonfiction. <SARCASM> Except, of course, for royalty statements, which are usually far more outlandish science fiction than anything ever written by E.E. Smith. </SARCASM>
    CEP
    blawg: Scrivener's Error (includes links to main site)
    Any legal comments in this message are general commentary only, and not legal advice
    for your specific situation. You should not rely on such comments — or any other published
    comments, by me or anyone else — as anything other than general guidance.
    Unfortunately, no scam agents, vanity publishers, or other similar carrion-eaters were bent,
    folded, spindled, or mutilated in creating this post (not for want of motivation).
    Of course it's "fine print" — it's small and red.

  25. #3150
    Apex Predator Jaws's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald
    But in fan fiction (and to some extent in erotica), the stories can have no legal existence. No matter how well written, they can't be published. They use trademarked/copyrighted characters without permission.
    For anybody who cares, I've been blawgging (that's "blogging on legal issues") on fan fiction for a while on Scrivener's Error; just go to the main page and use the pull-down for Warped Weft. I've been covering the legal doctrines concerning fan fiction in enough detail that a nonlawyer can sound intelligent and well-informed to a lawyer whose practice doesn't concentrate in copyright and/or publishing law. I hope.

    If anything, Jim is understating the legal problems with fan fiction. And that's before one gets into the ethical issues… not so much with writing it as with publicly displaying it (whether on the 'net or otherwise).
    CEP
    blawg: Scrivener's Error (includes links to main site)
    Any legal comments in this message are general commentary only, and not legal advice
    for your specific situation. You should not rely on such comments — or any other published
    comments, by me or anyone else — as anything other than general guidance.
    Unfortunately, no scam agents, vanity publishers, or other similar carrion-eaters were bent,
    folded, spindled, or mutilated in creating this post (not for want of motivation).
    Of course it's "fine print" — it's small and red.

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