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More Post Hook Reflections

I had fun with the contest.  Yeah, it was aggravating when lj hated something or formatting got screwed up and simple tasks way too long.  But all in all, we learned stuff.  And don't think for one moment that just because I was a judge means I didn't learn anything from other's comments.  Many judges and commenters said stuff I didn't consider and noted for the future.  Writing is always, always, always a learning experience.

Jeaniene took some time to write about mechanics, so I thought I'd make a couple of observations about behavior.

300 Words: This was an arbitrary, upper limit.  I was amused, in an understanding way, at just how many hooks kissed that number or close.  We all want to say as much as we can about our work to get people to like it.  But if you get a guideline like 300 words and you can make a clean case for your work with fewer, go fewer.  Otherwise, you run the risk of padding with nonessential dross that takes away the energy of the hook.

5 pages: Same thing.  Some of the second rounders "edited" to get to five pages.  Not all books have a clean break in a scene at the end of page 5 (or 20 or 50).  It was a limit imposed more for judge's time than for any magical editorial point.  If something broke clean at page 4.5, no one would have been penalized.  If you went over, maybe--because we had to draw a line.  But the five pages are enough to give a sense if you want to read more.  We obligated ourselves in this contest to comment.  An agent or editor doesn't do that.  If they get to page 2 and don't like what they're reading, they stop.  If they get to page 5 of 6 and like what they're reading, yeah, they'll keep going.  Which leads to...

No Reading Guarantee:  As I said, we obligated ourselves to read.  Agents and editors do not.  They will stop reading when they lose interest whether it is the fourth page of a five page synopsis or the first paragraph of a thousand page manuscript.  Just because someone asks to see more pages based on a hook, does not mean they read them all.  Just because someone asked for the full manuscript based on a partial, does not mean they finish the novel.  I noted, though, that a few people here and there in the comments said something along the lines of  "if you read the whole thing/first three chapters/ten full pages, it would make sense." Maybe. But probably not.  If a manuscript is too confusing or vague, agents and editors do not continue reading in hopes it gets better.  They stop in fear it will get worse.  They simply do not have time to give that much slack to the hundreds of submissions they get.  If you think you're being rejected because someone didn't give you a chance, that's not the case.  You are having your chance.  You're just not taking advantage of it.  I don't say that to be mean or harsh.  The bottom line is that no matter how complex or simple your story is, you have to maintain interest to keep someone reading in either case.

Submitters and Commenters:  As a judge and co-mod, I really have to thank you guys for your response.  Egos are involved here.  They wound easily, sometimes surprisingly, over the simpliest, innocuous comments.  I was impressed with the grace people had in receiving criticism and the sincerity commenters had in supplying their own critiques.  You guys were great.  If someone acted up, we probably would have politely warned them and deleted their comment.  Fortunately, that didn't have to happen.

The "Losers": It sounds lame--especially coming from someone as competitve as me--but there really were no losers here.  Whether observing or participating, something somewhere was said that is going to stick with you as an advantage in your writing.  As I said above, I know I picked up a thing or two, and I wasn't competing.  I hope you all feel the same.

If anyone has any  questions about the submitting process in general, feel free to ask in the comments.  If you think it's a stupid question, don't.  I've always said there are no stupid questions, just stupid answers.  I--and anyone else who chimes in--hope we don't do the latter!

Thanks all!

Mark Del Franco


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 12th, 2007 10:48 pm (UTC)

I've got a question. I've heard some sources suggest a two part query - a cover letter and synopsis. Yet, I've heard others (an agent amongst them) say they despise synopses and prefer to see sample pages instead, much like the way the contest worked here.

Will most agents tell us their preferences in their guidelines or are we shooting in the dark here?
May. 12th, 2007 11:28 pm (UTC)
ALWAYS check the agent's guidelines. Research each agent you submit to before you query them. Check out webpages, blogs, agentquery, PM, writers boards, et al. If they have a truly strong objection to something, they (or writers) will share it.

My approach was to send a single page synopsis with the query letter if the agent did not accept pages. If, however, their guidelines indicated that they accept pages, I included pages. Typically, you should be able to discern what they want with a bit of research (plus it helps you better target your queries). While I was in revision & I needed a break, I worked on compiling notes on the various agents who made my list or working on my query letters. Then when the novel was ready, I had material in line for queries.

Keep in mind that most agents and editors aren't ogres (although I suspect, like in any job, some are). Just think of it like writing a business letter: be professional & be concise.

May. 12th, 2007 11:34 pm (UTC)
If people think trying to understand what someone means by "hook," try figuring out what the heck "synopsis" means! Definitions vary from a general major scene by scene summary to meaty outline.

1. Look to see if an agent/editor has published submission guidelines. At this point, almost everyone has something on the internet. Always follow them.
2. If you can't find them, drop a short, simple, short note via mail with SASE (or email if they invite you to use it) asking for submission guidelines. Period. Keep it short. Don't try and turn a request for guidelines into a query in the wrong format. Did I mention short?
3. If you are confused, again, drop a short, clarification request.
4. If you are still unsure, don't ask again. You will become that person who asks too many questions for what ultimately should be simple.(Note: it may not be your fault; guidelines are not award-winning writing). Instead, utilize the power of the internet. There are enough writing websites that someone will have had some experience with the agent/editor--including what they mean by synopsis. Personally, I'd skip 3 and got straight to the internet.

Everyone has similar guidelines, with minor differences. They do this because they have so many submissions, they try to impose some order on them. I think your agent acquaintance is more typical. A synopsis works best in nonfiction. If no guidelines are forthcoming, my personal suggestion would be query letter with no more than five or ten sample pages. But always follow the guidelines when they are available.

Always remember, in trying to get published, SUBMISSION has two meanings.
May. 13th, 2007 01:02 am (UTC)
Usually one can find guidelines, but when in doubt--when I can't find guidelines--I go with just a query letter.

Although I confess I'm still happiest in those rare cases where I just get to send the whole manuscript. Happens less and less often (can't remember the last time, come to think of it), but for all that I've become decent at writing query letters, I really wish we could all just send the actual book from the start, too. :-)

Though I have heard some of the agents who ask for pages say that they don't pay much attention to query or synopsis, and do go straight for the writing. Probably one of those things that varies person to person.
May. 13th, 2007 12:16 am (UTC)
...I didn't enter, but appreciate the insightful comments, which can be used in many similar situations...thank you!
May. 13th, 2007 01:05 am (UTC)
It's fascinating to me to realize that I really can tell, in about 80 percent of all cases, whether I want to read on based on the very first page. Sometimes based on the very first sentence.

The good news there is, if one has some amount of skill, one is already only competing with the 20 percent of manuscripts that make folks want to read on. :-) (Or maybe even less than 20 percent--someone who enters a contest likely already has somewhat more skill than average, too.)
May. 13th, 2007 01:30 pm (UTC)
Hook 196 Here
I definitely learned something - that when my characters are twenty-something, they can't use words and phrases that I, as a fifty-something use. I'm in the process of editing that novel and applying what i learned from the feedback. Even though i didn't win, it was a valuable experience for me and one that is greatly appreciated.
May. 18th, 2007 04:34 pm (UTC)
Next up... ?
I thought you all did a wonderful job with this! And I was impressed at how many people were involved and yet still worked well together.

It got me thinking about the SLF Mentorship programme that seems to have disappeared into nothing. The concept was that a small group of people got assigned to a mentor and using email (but I'd think LJ would work) could ask specific questions and get help in terms of writing/querying/publishing depending on where in the process they were. It was a limited time (6 weeks? I don't recall) and made very clear that the mentor would NOT proof any text or make judgements of any kinds in terms of the writing but was only there to help with process.

When I saw it last year I thought it was a grand idea but it seems like they haven't bothered to continue it. HAving seen how well organised your contest was and how many members you have that seem happy to help, I wondered if you might consider a mentor-month, where once a week the mentor spends an hour going over questions from his or her small group of acolytes er, mentees? The results would make for some great reading for all, too.

Just a thought :)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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