Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Conference panel discussion

First I want to direct folks over to Nathan Bransford's blog today, he's got a discussion going on people's favorite books on writing which I think is very valuable.

At the conference this last weekend was a panel discussion by four of the literary agents/managers who were there doing pitch sessions. Three do books and one does screenplays.

First off, I was surprised by the number of newbie questions that people were asking. I mean, I know that conferences are great places for people to come and ask questions, but a lot of these were things that could be learned by reading FORMATTING AND SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT. Things like keeping your query letters short and to the point, and that you need to do your homework about the agent you are submitting to - spell their name right, make sure they still work there, make sure they represent the type of writing you are submitting. That kind of thing.

Novel length was an interesting part of the discussion. The consensus was that between 75k and 85k is the ideal length for a novel, and don't submit a first novel that is over 100k words. I'd heard this before, but I had never really realized just how deadly serious they were. One agent, with a pained look on his face, mentioned that he had a book that he had requested the full manuscript for sitting in his office waiting for him when he got back from the conference, and this book was 175k words long. The look on the other agents's faces was priceless. He himself had the long-suffering look of someone who is about to be martyred. What really stuck with me though was when he shook his head and said that even though he had known how long it was when he asked for it, he wasn't even sure he could bring himself to read it, it was so long.

I hope for that author's sake the book is another SHOGUN. I mean, the look on this guy's face really brought the point home. Short. Short is good.

When the discussion turned to the publishing industry in general the outlook was grim. "No one is buying fiction, and everything's done by committee." Publishers will do next to nothing for you unless you are already a huge name, even if they do pick up your book. The mom & pop bookstores are all closing, and even some of the major chains are looking at bankruptcy.

They also said that the internet is getting more and more important, not just in the selling of books but also in the marketing and promotion. I heard that a lot at the conference. It's particularly big with the Young Adult crowd, because the kids are all on the internet anyway and they can really feel like there is a relationship between them as the readers and the author.

The only area that the agents felt was doing well was escapist fiction. Not surprising, really.

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