A friend at Random House sent me a galley of the forthcoming Margaret Atwood novel (happy Mother’s Day to me). It is the third in her Maddadam trilogy that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which most humans have succumbed to a plague. Those who remain are not having such a good time of it.
I loved the first two novels; the second more than the first. I read them out of order because when the first book, Oryx and Crake, was published (despite my admiration for the Atwood oeuvre, and despite my adoration of The Handmaid’s Tale) I did not think that a dystopian novel would be my cup of tea. As a grown-up, it seems that I’m more inclined toward bleak cautionary tales with real-world settings. Of course I was wrong, as I often am, about my teacup. The Year of the Flood won me over and sent me to the library the next day in search of the previously passed-over Oryx and Crake, and I’ve been waiting for book three ever since.
Even so, I nearly did not make it past the second page of Maddadam. Upon opening the book, I found a detailed, multi-page synopsis of the first two books—ostensibly provided as a service to get first time readers up to speed. I dutifully started on my refresher course and found it such hard-going that I began to doubt that I’d ever liked volumes 1 and 2 in the first place. Eventually I gave up and just started the novel—which had me spellbound in no time. But even the august and somewhat offbeat Margaret Atwood is not especially good at crafting a compelling plot summary.
I relate this as a cautionary tale of the non-apocalyptic variety. Authors, do not attempt a comprehensive summary of your project in your query letters, especially if your book involves genetically modified beasts like wolvogs or pigoons or fantastical names/kingdoms of any stripe. Instead, think about hooking your agent, hooking your editor—and then include a terrific first chapter. I guess there are agents out there who don’t want a sample chapters along with the query, but rest assured that I (and my DGLM colleagues) do.
Following up on Miriam’s recent post about writers’ groups being comprised of mostly women, I came upon this piece in The Atlantic about female authors dominating the YA market. It discusses how NPR Books this summer had fans choose the 100 Best-Ever Teen Books and of the 235 books being considered for the list, 147 (63%) were written by women.
Certainly there are many bestselling male authors across all categories, but I think it’s fair to say that the YA market is dominated by female authors. We all know that many of the biggest books and series of the past decade were written by women, including, as the piece points out: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and the Twilight books. Each of these series went on to attract a large fan base that included boys and girls, and women and men, one of the reasons they were able to achieve such huge success. The movies didn’t hurt either.
In our own DGLM stable, we have a handful of male YA authors, including the bestselling James Dashner, Geoff Herbach, Andrew Smith, Danny Marks, and Shandy Lawson, but collectively the majority of our other YA authors are women (all of mine are), which confirms the theory based at least on our small sampling. And when I think about the queries I receive for YA, they are usually from women.
So I’m curious why this is. Is it that women read more YA fiction? Is there, as some suggest, the element of nostalgia for women remembering their teen years? Would you like to see more YA fiction from men? Or does it not make a difference who’s writing the books you read? Share your thoughts, and I’d love to start seeing more YA queries from men! (ps-this is my last post until after Labor Day, so enjoy the last few days of summer!)
As rights director for the agency, I’m grateful for the freedom to both work on subrights and maintain my own small client list. I love subrights—the nuances of various markets are really fascinating to me, and it’s amazing to be able to call up an author to tell them people in a country they barely know exists want to read their book—but it’s also exciting to be able to shepherd authors on my own list through all stages of their career. I’ve been really happy of late to be extremely excited by what I’m reading, both published and looking to be published, and it’s really helped me narrow down what I am, right now, most interested in seeing more of. So without further ado:
The thing I’ve always wanted, but rarely found, is popular science. I am a science nerd but also easily confused by it, and my brain shuts down when things get too tricky. My litmus test for pop sci is: Am I excited about this? Do I know what I’m excited about? If you’ve got the project that can get me to say yes on both of these, please, please, please send it my way.
I’m likewise interested in pop psychology—if you’ve got the credentials and the voice to talk about why our brains do what they do, I want in.
Beyond our own minds, I’m interested in the world at large. I’m always on the look out for accessible, important, well credentialed reportage.
As I think so many of us are, I’m also looking for those books that are nebulously described as “Big Think” or “like Malcolm Gladwell.” One of the things that I’ve always wanted to be able to do better is to draw together insights from different facets of life to put things into context, so I love interdisciplinary nonfiction that makes me think in ways I would never have come up with myself.
I have also been looking for a long time for some serious but irreverent cultural study of the internet age—I’m endlessly fascinated by the politics of online communities, the way people interact online, the strange ways that social networks transform our thoughts and speech, the impact of the digital age on how we integrate perhaps unreliable information, etc. Someone with the vision to unpack all of that in an engaging and relatable way would be very welcome on my list.
And on a similar note, I’m always fond of treatments of pop culture that take things just shy of too seriously. There’s nothing I love more than nerdy obsessiveness with things that theoretically don’t matter, but can give us insight into the world if given their due.
Of course, I’m also still looking for fiction, which I do get a ton of queries for, running pretty much the full span of genres, which I appreciate. Right now the two things I don’t think I’m seeing as much of as I’d like are middle grade adventure and grounded YA. As with anything else, I’m looking for something that’s got the whole package, whether commercial or literary: voice, characters, and plot. Why settle for one when you can have all three? And I remain a sucker for an exquisitely executed sentence.
So writers, start your query engines. I’ll be waiting for you at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Personal preferences: Email queries, please, with the query in the body of the email, sample material in an attachment, in Word if at all possible.)
Film people—producers, agents, managers—come by our offices quite often and when they do, we all sit around the conference table and listen to them tell us what they’re looking for this season. Lately, an interesting trend has surfaced. In our last several meetings, a Hollywood person has told us that all they need is a title. Often, they use Sh** My Dad Says or Go the F*** to Sleep as examples of titles that they can use to build a tv show or movie around. The first time I heard it, I thought, “Well, dang, that’s taking the high concept thing in a tragic direction.” I mean, it’s one thing to pitch someone the contents of a book by saying, “This story is Transformers meets Annie Hall,” but you’ll have to read the manuscript (or at least the coverage) to find out how that unholy pairing is possible. It’s quite another to have the title be both the pitch and the content.
You might think I’m about to launch into a screed about Hollywood’s ongoing jihad against our collective intellect, but you would be wrong. The title-as-high-concept trend does intrigue me. In fact, it has made me think about how much more entertaining query letters for books would be if, instead of a boring synopsis, authors included a succinct, pithy, immediately graspable description of their book.
Wikipedia tells us that “High concept narratives are typically characterised by an over-arching ‘what if?’ scenario that acts as a catalyst for the following events.” I confess, I’m a sucker for “’what if?’ scenarios.” If nothing else, it’s a fun parlor game to try to sum up your favorite books this way—e.g., “What if a sparkly vampire and a sullen high school girl fell in love?”
There’s also the Transformers meets Annie Hall approach, as mentioned above.
And, then there’s the title-as-high-concept. Snakes on a Plane anyone?
Applying any of these devices to commercial fiction is one thing but how about to literary fiction? Are literary novels high-concept proof? Can you guys send in your high-concept tag lines, either for your own work or published books that we’re all familiar with? There’s a DGLM mug for the best high-concept pitch I get….
I’ve noticed something recently in many of the queries I receive: the writer wants to tell me all about the emotional journey of the story, but they aren’t telling me the actual story. Quite often, it feels like I’m given a general premise and a resolution but I don’t actually know what happens between the first and last pages.
Let’s think about this a bit. What is a story? It’s action, plot, and characters that are going places and doing things. Ideally for the writer, the problem is with the pitch (easy to fix) rather than with the entire book (not as easy to fix). Remember: the emotional journey of a character is reflected in the action of the story. But the story itself is just that—action, characters making moves that are always working towards a goal.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. (Note: this is not a real query):
(Protagonist)’s life has not been easy, but she’s made it through. Surviving a decidedly rough upbringing, she must cope with the pain of her mother’s violent drug abuse from a very early age.
Okay, we’re getting somewhere…
Vowing to never fall into the same traps as her mother, she relocates to a new city to start her entire life over. She must battle each day to find happiness and contentment, and not let her demons rule her life.
However, she feels that the memories of her past are never far behind. Throughout the story, she has to learn that we’re all human and that her mother needs her help. Ultimately, she forgives her mother and gets her into treatment.
Wait, hang on. What actually happens in the novel?
When it comes to distilling your entire novel into one paragraph for your query—a task I do not envy—you must zero in on the main characters and plot points. The emotional journey of a book is important, but when it comes to the pitch, be sure to convey the actual story first, and bring in the broader themes after.
How is it that I have gone nearly a year of writing for this blog without once letting you know what types of queries I would like to receive? Glaring oversight, but not without a purpose. Receiving a wide variety of material has educated me in a way that nothing else could. I’ve read all sorts of letters, samples and manuscripts. I’m finding my bearings and discovering the types of projects I’ve gravitated more towards as well as those that do not interest me. And it’s paid off! I’ve learned a lot about myself, my tastes and what books I would be both more willing and more able to work on extensively.
I’m not the girl you want if you have an amazing business book or a brilliantly crafted horror story or thriller—no matter how great the premise is, I want to be interested enough in the subject matter to be able to give the project its due. That’s also not to say that in the future I won’t have learned that these are excellent prospects, but currently, I know far too little about finance or corporate management and still faint at excessive gore.
What do I love? I really, really would love to see a great historical fiction. YA, literary, commercial—I don’t really care as much about that as I do about the story itself. I’m not even going to limit it to particular eras (though you can always get me with a really good Edwardian or WWII story). It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a query that really gets the historical voice down. I’ve written about it before, but there’s nothing more frustrating than an interesting plot, well conceived characters and realistic setting that’s all told in some stuffy approximation of what the author believes the people of that time would sound like. If I wanted to read Jane Austen, I would read Jane Austen. If I want to read about a fictional contemporary of Jane Austen, it wouldn’t sound natural if the narrative and dialogue were completely antiquated. The characters should suit their time, but the writing doesn’t need to.
I could rant for paragraphs more about the number of historical novels that could be SO GOOD if it wasn’t for the awkward writing style that clearly isn’t the author’s customary way. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll just ask that if you have a super intriguing plot (Family drama? Government conspiracies? Love affairs?) with a kicky heroine or bumbling hero please send it to me!
I’m also a sucker for a good eerie story—paranormal in a human way. Witches, ghosts, mind reading. In a similar vein, magical realism in a subtle way can be really beautiful—I’m thinking similar to Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake or The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff. Any writer who can insert the tiniest elements of the wondrous unreal into what is otherwise a very normal world and make it work is a writer whose books I want to read.
These are just the first on my list of Books I Wish Existed, so if this isn’t your style, don’t give up on me yet!
In a response to one of last week’s posts, I volunteered to look at some query letters. The upshot was that I got a number of very good ones–apparently only ringers responded. They were, in fact, so professional and polished that there is little point in posting them here. To paraphrase Aristotle (who was talking about people, not publishing) query letters are “good in but one way, but bad in many.”
In each case, what it came down to was simply an issue of whether the genre or subject matter is one in which I am interested. I rarely take on science fiction of any stripe, but the dystopian novel pitched to me sounded good enough that I would request it. Another was a historical novel set during the Civil War, but despite the richness of the milieu and an engaging enough synopsis, for reasons I cannot myself unpick, I find it hard to feel enthusiastic about the prospect of reading another Civil War novel. Self-limiting, I know, but there it is.
Quirks of taste and interest are a part of this process, and if I dish them out, so must I take them. I recently went out with a book in which part of the action takes place in Congo, only to have an editor warn me that novels set in Africa are rarely his cup of tea. Another editor once interrupted me midway through what I thought was a diverting aside about a trip to Peru to say that “Mesoamerica just didn’t do it” for him. Needless to say, that was the end of my report on the Inca Trail. And I made a mental note never to send him the great Aztec adventure novel that I might someday represent.
That said, I endeavor never to say never, because as we all know, there are also those books that blow these preconceived notions out of the water. I always think about Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit, simply because I have: a) no particular interest in horseracing and b) a deep-seated childhood prejudice against animal stories, since the main plot points invariably included injury or death of the animal in question (Sounder, Old Yeller, Big Red, The Red Pony, etc.).
In any case, I’d love to hear about books that redefined or overturned your own cups of tea.
Further to Jane’s post discussing the selling process, I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at pitch letters: first, a writer’s successful query letter, one that prompted to me to request the material and sign journalist Jason Ryan as a client; next, my pitch letter to the editors to whom I submitted his proposal; and finally, the jacket copy that the publishing house drafted to pitch the book (ultimately titled Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, and the Sting That Launched the War on Drugs) to readers. All three are a bit different, and each is calibrated to its recipient.
1) Query Letter:
This is Jason Ryan, a journalist in South Carolina and former reporter for The State newspaper- the state’s largest daily and capital city paper. I’m seeking representation for my first book, ‘Jackpot,’ and was impressed by your representation of Arab authors and your ‘hands-on’ work ethic. I think your eclectic tastes might facilitate an interest in my unique journalistic endeavor, a narrative concerning smugglers whose sole connection to the Arab world was their fondness for Turkish hash. My nonfiction narrative, ‘Jackpot,’ details the rise and fall of fraternity brothers who, in a decade, smuggled more than $1 billion of marijuana and hashish into the United States aboard sailboats. ‘Jackpot’ also spotlights an age of innocence in drug trafficking, when violence was not ubiquitous.
‘Jackpot’ is the country’s greatest untold marijuana tale, and its twists and turns rival the slickest Hollywood screenplay. Two disaffected men from South Carolina rose to the top of the East Coast drug smuggling underworld with the help of their band of “gentlemen smugglers”- a now extinct breed of drug running rogues defined by their college educations, nonviolent business methods and love for the sea. The smugglers’ adventures involved jailbreaks, transatlantic smuggling flotillas, and dangerous overlaps with international armed conflicts. It all came to an end when the government unleashed a task force known as Operation Jackpot.
While the smugglers themselves have an amazing tale, so do the government agents involved in Operation Jackpot. Their task force fought a pioneering battle in President Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs, using new civil seizure laws and financial evidence to help take down South Carolina’s elusive gentlemen smugglers, men whose nicknames included “Rolex,” “Flash” and “Bob the Boss.”
“Jackpot” is the tale of two groups of men, both cunning and fearless, yet diametrically opposed. On one side was a set of seafaring smugglers with a slipping grip on America’s fast-fading hippie culture. On the other side was a band of investigators empowered by Reagan conservatism that sidestepped bureaucratic hurdles, expanded prosecutorial power and chased drug kingpins to the corners of the earth, sometimes going undercover. Their clash commenced as America underwent a sea change in its attitude toward recreational drug use, severely criminalizing substances long tolerated.
I’ve spent the last year researching Operation Jackpot and interviewing those involved on both sides of the law. I am currently contacting a select group of literary agencies regarding my book. I’m happy to provide a more detailed proposal if you’re interested.
In Jason’s letter above, what leapt out at me was the original research he’d done—a year’s worth of legwork. True crime, as this book might be loosely categorized, is not a genre in which I often work, nor do I count the debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana as one near to my heart, but his query seemed to contain the elements of a great story, one that had a colorful regional focus but national implications, and an author who, as it turned out, had both the access and the ability to capture it
2) My pitch letter:
I am pleased to send you Jackpot; the true story of the rise and fall of a ring of “gentlemen smugglers,” a colorful and incorrigible cadre of good ol’ boys, bon vivants, and drug traffickers who made a fortune, lived a fantasy and became the targets of one of the most extensive and ambitious anti-drug operations ever launched in the United States. Operation Jackpot was the opening volley in newly-elected President Reagan’s War on Drugs; its fascinating story captures a watershed moment in American political and popular culture, when hippies gave way to preppies, kids learned to “just say no,” and a group of seafaring sybarites became Public Enemy Number One.
In the late seventies and early eighties, the gentleman smugglers sailed a veritable flotilla of drug-laden luxury sailboats across the Caribbean, through the Mediterranean, and across the Atlantic, ultimately unloading almost a billion dollars worth of marijuana and hashish along the South Carolina coast, relying on the same sleepy islands and labyrinthine waterways favored by the rum runners and privateers who preceded them.
The ringleaders were native sons of the Palmetto State, and depending on who was asked, Les Riley, Barry Foy and their comrades were local boys made good—or promising young men gone irretrievably bad. The college-educated scions of middle-class and well-to-do families, they traded in conventional careers for a lifestyle flush with adventure, high times, and cash. Lots and lots of cash. Yet lucrative as it was, they steered clear of the burgeoning cocaine trade and the culture of brutality that surrounded it; these men eschewed violence as much as they loved pleasure, and in an instance of life imitating art (or perhaps art imitating life), endeavored to live the lyrics to a Jimmy Buffet song. Their idyll would not, however, last forever: greed, lust, hurricanes, and the occasional disaster at sea caught up with them—and eventually, so did the law. Led by an exceptionally ambitious US Attorney named Henry Dargan McMaster, what ensued was a cat-and-mouse game played out against a backdrop of tropical islands and quiet bayous, crumbling plantations, as well as a vicious civil war (Lebanon) and a US invasion (Grenada).
Author Jason Ryan is a journalist who lives in South Carolina; long fascinated by the Jackpot case, he has gained unprecedented access to both the smugglers and the law enforcement agents who brought them to justice. I hope you find the story as compelling as I did, and will want to add it to your list.
With all good wishes,
In my letter, I tried to stress the “bigger” story, and tie the specific misdeeds and exploits of the drug smugglers to the cultural and political moment in American history. As a kid during the both the Carter and Reagan administrations, I noted the vast political shift, as Carter’s “malaise” gave way to Reagan’s sunnier (and arguably less accurate) vision of the USA. Nancy Reagan’s ubiquitous Just Say No Campaign was, at least for me, an essential part of the zeitgeist. I also try to layout the bones of the basic conflict: smugglers versus US attorney McMaster, who brought a whole new raft of tools to bear on the “kingpins.” Speaking as a former editor who pitched projects to my colleagues, I remember the utility of a pitch letter that helped to position a project, and could sometimes even be cribbed down the line for catalog or jacket copy, so I always try and write the sort of letter I liked to get.
3) Jacket Copy:
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a cadre of freewheeling, Southern pot smugglers lived at the crossroads of Miami Vice and a Jimmy Buffett song. In less than a decade, these irrepressible adventurers unloaded nearly a billion dollars worth of marijuana and hashish through the eastern seaboard’s marshes. Then came their undoing: Operation Jackpot, one of the largest drug investigations ever launched and an opening volley in Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs.
In Jackpot, author Jason Ryan takes us back to the heady days before drug smuggling was synonymous with deadly gunplay. During this golden age of marijuana trafficking, the country’s most prominent kingpins were a group of wayward and fun-loving Southern gentlemen who forsook college educations to sail drug-laden luxury sailboats across the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and the Caribbean. Les Riley, Barry Foy, and their comrades eschewed violence as much as they loved pleasure, and it was greed, lust, and disaster at sea that ultimately caught up with them, along with the law.
In a cat-and-mouse game played out in exotic locations across the globe, the smugglers sailed through hurricanes, broke out of jail and survived encounters with armed militants in Colombia, Grenada and Lebanon. Based on years of research and interviews with imprisoned and recently released smugglers and the law enforcement agents who tracked them down, Jackpot does for marijuana smuggling what Blow and Snowblind did for the cocaine trade.
The actual jacket copy is shorter, punchier, and more profligate in its pop culture references. Odd as it sounds, the combination of Jimmy Buffet and Miami Vice positions the book pretty accurately. Here, the emphasis is on the big story, but also the colorful adventures of the smugglers themselves, and the text is juicier, studded with interesting details. In addition, the flap copy draws an oblique contrast between the content of most contemporary drug trafficking stories—the bloody, brutal, and horrific reports from warring cartels in Mexico—and the nonviolent approach that these smugglers took. In all three letters, however, the first task of the writer is to be interesting—all three of us are hoping to attract a reader. You can judge for yourselves whether you think we succeed.
Whenever I meet with writers, I inevitably field a few questions about query letter missteps—a subject that this blog has covered before. But inspired by a letter from a writer who requested my help to introduce her book to “the masses,” I thought I’d offer up a fresh crop of ten faux pas that are easy enough to avoid.
1) Beware grandiosity. Calling your novel a “surefire hit” or a “modern classic” is probably better left to your eventual reviewers (or exuberant jacket copywriters). Also probably a good idea not to identify your readership as “the masses.”
2) Conversely, avoid sounding overly humble, untalented, or self-abnegating. Too much modesty can be convincing. This from a recent query: “I have no real background or training in writing. I have never taken a writing class, and I’m not even sure that I’m any good.” Here discretion would have been the better part of valor.
3) If the book you are pitching is nonfiction, avoid discussing how publication of the proposed project will help build your platform as tinker, tailor, soldier, spy. The platform and the book is not a chicken-and-egg argument. As far as houses are concerned, platform comes first, book second.
4) Avoid making the book seem like a little something you sat down to do one afternoon because you figured you could write something at least as good as “what’s out there.” This may be the gospel truth, but it’s just not polite to say so.
5) Don’t insult an agent’s taste, impugn her professional ethics, imply she is a “tool,” or otherwise dare her to read your mind-blowing novel/memoir/political expose.
6) Do point out if English is not your first language. Fair enough.
7) Don’t use fancy “stationery” backgrounds for your query letter. They usually muddle formatting.
8) Don’t ask for advice on how to get published. The expectation is that you have done your due diligence.
9) Don’t send an attachment without a query in the body of an e-mail; most agents won’t open it for fear of picking up something nasty.
10) And of course, all the familiar old saws. Be cordial, professional, show a sense of humor and avoid calling your book a “fiction novel,” (this last is a nitpicky, small-minded pet peeve of mine; novels are, by definition, works of fiction.) It might, however, be worth noting if your memoir is nonfiction. Once this too would have been considered redundant, but in the post James Frey, Greg Mortenson world, perhaps it’s a handy distinction.
I mentioned last week that I was at the Romantic Times convention in LA. While there, I led a workshop on how to write “a sensational synopsis.” Before the class, I panicked that I wouldn’t have enough to say to fill my two and a half hour time slot. You know what? I can TALK. I ended up barreling through those hours and actually ran out of time at the end. And that was in spite of nattering on right through a fire alarm. It turns out people in other places pay attention to alarms. Dean Koontz’s class got cleared right out. No one even stopped in to check on us. Apparently folks are totally content to let the agents burn. I see how it is…
What I loved about the workshop (other than the opportunity to hear myself talk for several hours) was that it gave me an insight not only into how much people freak out about trying to synopsize their books, but also the ways in which they trip themselves up. A synopsis seems to be the new query letter. Everyone hates them, panics about them, and then writes a bad one. With so much information out there about writing queries, the quality has gone up astronomically over the past ten years. Most synopses on the other hand still kind of suck.
It probably has to do with the conflicting advice: Tell us everything, but be concise. Write the details as plainly as possible, but make sure the writing is still great. Don’t be jokey, but I love to laugh. (That last one might just be me). After working through a few valiant volunteers’ samples, I realized that the single thing people have the hardest time with is choosing what to include. One of my most common questions when reading a synopsis is a simple, “Hrrh?” Because when you’re cramming 100K words into a page, things tend to get confusing and I often find that authors lose track of what they have shared in a synopsis and what they need to lay out more plainly.
The synopsis, happily, isn’t the most important part of any submission. It still can only hope to have a good one. To that end, if you’ve been asked to submit one, my advice is this:
Chart the action of your novel. Actually map it out and identify the key points. Identify cause and effect between those key points. Then narrate it so that you tell us A which leads directly to B, how B then leads to C, and so on. If you can map it out in a straight line in front of you, it will read cleanly. This isn’t where you get to dazzle us with your subplots, your thematic resonance, or your brilliant character descriptions. Usually, we’re only reading this to make sure you know how to tell an actual story. The synopsis is ONLY about the plot. People get bogged down trying to encompass everything about their novels in a handful of pages. If that was possible to do, you wouldn’t have written a novel. You’d have a short story with too many words.
And then read it back trying to pretend you know nothing about the story. Can you still follow the action without knowing what you know of the book’s content? It’s tricky to be able to remove your knowledge of your own book, but try to think critically. “Here I say that Dave shoots Donna. Has Dave been introduced? Has Donna?” And only introduce new knowledge when it is absolutely critical for the reader to know it. There’s no foreshadowing in a synopsis—it’s just too confusing.
One piece of advice I garnered just by running the class itself: have other people read your synopsis back to you. Once we got going, writers would stop me and say that though they had read their own pages over and over, there was something about hearing me read it out loud that made them realize how extraneous some information was. Or how awkward some phrasing was. So if you can force a friend or family member to read it back at you, that can only help. Go ahead—exploit them. That’s what they’re there for!
And the last piece of advice makes it counterintuitive that I spoke on the subject for two and a half hours: don’t worry too much about them. Don’t overthink them. They really aren’t THAT important.
Great story telling. - Jane
Historical fiction. - Miriam
Humorous fiction. - Michael
Original parenting. - Stacey
Horror. - Jim
Narrative science. - Jessica
Middle-grade fiction. - John
Interdisciplinary nonfiction. - Lauren
Popular history. - Brenna
Engaging YA fiction. - Rachel S.
Science fiction noir. - Yassine