Old Ask Nathan Thread

Questions for the resident (former) agent
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HaydnsGabe
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by HaydnsGabe » February 9th, 2010, 4:21 am

I've tried searching the forum for this, so forgive me if you've answered it elsewhere and I've missed it. How do I write a query for a literary novel? I love, love, love your query format suggestions, but I'm still trying to figure out how to fit what I've done into them. I have some ideas, but would love to see a GOOD query for a literary novel. Also, if my book has mystery and suspense elements, do I say that? I still think it is more literary than anything else, but it does have those other elements. And if right now it's sort of teetering on that line between literary and mainstream, is it better for me to emphasize the mainstream aspects or the literary?

I saw elsewhere on the site that you said that MFAers are notoriously bad queriers, and I wonder if it's because we are pushed in our programs to "complicate, complicate, complicate." Now that I'm out, it seems like I have an awful lot to relearn.

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christi
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by christi » February 9th, 2010, 8:16 am

I have a rather strange opportunity and don't know what to do with it. Being an American, I expected to (eventually) be published in America. What if a reputible publishing house in Poland wants to publish my work? Would that have any clout in America? Would I be able to find an agent in America or would I need one in Poland? It feels like doing it backwards since I figured if it would be successful, then it would be translated into Polish after selling in America. Are there any books written in foreign countries that are then translated to English and sold in America?
Would you sign my story for a Klondike bar?

http://christigoddard.blogspot.com/

tameson
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by tameson » February 9th, 2010, 11:04 am

Username- if the first five make the agent want to keep reading, they'll ask for more. Really, all that is being decided in the first five is do I want more. I have read that for most contests, the first round most judges read maybe one page before rejecting. As soon as they decide it isn't going to win, they stop reading. As a reader, if the first chapter doesn't work for me, I toss it. I may even toss it sooner. Which is why that method works for me.

For agents and publishers this is not about art or self expression or any other grand idea. It is about making money.

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » February 9th, 2010, 11:33 am

On the non-fiction novel thing, it's not a genre, just a term that's sometimes used for certain kinds of non-fiction, relating more to style than anything else. It's basically a non-fiction story told using some novelistic techniques. Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song are classic examples. They're basically True Crime books written and structured in a more novel-like form than typical (and written by novelists, which probably has something to do with it, too).
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » February 9th, 2010, 11:39 am

Username,

No one has time to read the full story of every story, and thus they must ask for less. But any break is going to be, in a sense, arbitrary. There's no escaping that. But the only real point is that, whatever the break point might be (whether 5, 10, 50, or 100 pages), the reader feels they have to read the next page. If they do feel that need, they'll request more. And so on. Whatever point the break is at... we have to try and convince them to read more. And if we don't convince them to read more, then either a) our writing has failed in some way, or b) they simply aren't the right reader for our work, and there might be a better fit elsewhere. Either way, the ball's in our court.

Best,
Ink
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 9th, 2010, 11:40 am

HaydnsGabe wrote:I've tried searching the forum for this, so forgive me if you've answered it elsewhere and I've missed it. How do I write a query for a literary novel? I love, love, love your query format suggestions, but I'm still trying to figure out how to fit what I've done into them. I have some ideas, but would love to see a GOOD query for a literary novel. Also, if my book has mystery and suspense elements, do I say that? I still think it is more literary than anything else, but it does have those other elements. And if right now it's sort of teetering on that line between literary and mainstream, is it better for me to emphasize the mainstream aspects or the literary?

I saw elsewhere on the site that you said that MFAers are notoriously bad queriers, and I wonder if it's because we are pushed in our programs to "complicate, complicate, complicate." Now that I'm out, it seems like I have an awful lot to relearn.
Querying for a a literary novel is the same as for a genre novel - you have to convey the plot. I would also try as much as possible to convey the voice and style of the novel in the query itself. So don't be afraid to be evocative.

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 9th, 2010, 11:41 am

christi wrote:I have a rather strange opportunity and don't know what to do with it. Being an American, I expected to (eventually) be published in America. What if a reputible publishing house in Poland wants to publish my work? Would that have any clout in America? Would I be able to find an agent in America or would I need one in Poland? It feels like doing it backwards since I figured if it would be successful, then it would be translated into Polish after selling in America. Are there any books written in foreign countries that are then translated to English and sold in America?
Very occasionally translated novels catch on here (GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is a notable example), but unless you're a phenomenon in Poland I can't really see it helping a huge amount with publishers here.

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 9th, 2010, 11:42 am

Ink wrote:On the non-fiction novel thing, it's not a genre, just a term that's sometimes used for certain kinds of non-fiction, relating more to style than anything else. It's basically a non-fiction story told using some novelistic techniques. Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song are classic examples. They're basically True Crime books written and structured in a more novel-like form than typical (and written by novelists, which probably has something to do with it, too).
And see, today we'd call that narrative nonfiction. I don't know that there was a name for it before IN COLD BLOOD.

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » February 9th, 2010, 12:00 pm

Yeah, I think it was more of a descriptive term than anything, as reviewers were wondering what to call such books. And since the early adopters of the form were novelists rather than full-time non-fiction writers I think they coined the "Non-fiction novel" thing. I don't really hear it much anymore, though. I think there's less room for confusion with "narrative non-fiction" anyway.
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

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Mira
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Mira » February 9th, 2010, 3:27 pm

Nathan, thanks for your answer to my question regarding the query system. It sounds like - for you - although it's not optimal, it works.

You sound pretty sure, so I won't continue to argue it with you. Thank you, though, for your response - I appreciate it.

Ann
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Ann » February 9th, 2010, 4:21 pm

Hello Nathan--
Is it necessary to have a lawyer look over my contract with an agent if the agent is from an established, well-known agency?
Thank you!

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christi
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by christi » February 9th, 2010, 4:50 pm

Thanks Nathan and Nick. I have utmost confidence in my story, so I'm still sending out queries here. It was just such an odd situation and I wasn't sure if I should accept the opportunity or not.
Would you sign my story for a Klondike bar?

http://christigoddard.blogspot.com/

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 9th, 2010, 5:53 pm

Ann wrote:Hello Nathan--
Is it necessary to have a lawyer look over my contract with an agent if the agent is from an established, well-known agency?
Thank you!
It's ultimately up to you, but I think it's more important that you just make sure you understand all of the clauses and what they mean.

Ann
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Ann » February 9th, 2010, 5:57 pm

Nathan Bransford wrote:
Ann wrote:Hello Nathan--
Is it necessary to have a lawyer look over my contract with an agent if the agent is from an established, well-known agency?
Thank you!
It's ultimately up to you, but I think it's more important that you just make sure you understand all of the clauses and what they mean.
Thanks, Nathan!

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Josin
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Josin » February 9th, 2010, 8:37 pm

Nathan,

I know that 2nd person POV is not a commonly used one, but as I'm editing one of my WIP (a children's book at the lower MG level), that's how it's shaping up. Since the reader is in the position of being a "character" (kind of like those old "Choose your own Adventure" books), I'm not sure how to present that in the query. Do I just give the plot and let the agent discover it's 2nd person, or mention it in the query?

I'm not even sure if the unusual POV would be a turn off to agents and make all my edits worthless. Sure, anything done well can work, but - in your opinion - would mentioning that it's in 2nd make most agents curious or hesitant?

Thanks in advance.

:)

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