Old Ask Nathan Thread

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JustineDell
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by JustineDell » February 7th, 2010, 12:37 pm

JustineDell wrote:
Nathan Bransford wrote:
Jaime wrote:
Oh, and I have a question I've been sitting on for a while. I have read that romance novels must, must, MUST have a happy ending. Does this apply to all categories of romance?

Jaime.
I don't represent romance, so I'm probably not the best person to ask on that.

Women's Fiction? Ah...now this one is different. While a HEA is always nice, love stories in women's fiction can be heartwreching - think "A Walk to Remember."



~JD
Oh, I probably should have mentioned that women's fiction is a totally different genre than "Romance". With that said, I'm sure there are different rules for it...and I have no idea what those are.

~JD

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"Three things in life that, once gone, never return; Time, Words, & Opportunity"

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by JustineDell » February 7th, 2010, 5:11 pm

JustineDell wrote:Oh, I probably should have mentioned that women's fiction is a totally different genre than "Romance". With that said, I'm sure there are different rules for it...and I have no idea what those are.

~JD
Last time..promise ;-) I should have pointed out the womens fiction don't require HEA's if they have an element of romance or love story type of thing. I thought I made it clear, but Christi pointed out my mistake (thanks btw).

According to Nathan's info, he does rep womens fiction but since thats not my cup of tea...my knowledge stops there.

~JD

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 8th, 2010, 8:05 pm

christi wrote:So... say a manuscript is requested. A hyphothetical writer sends in a manuscript they are confident in BUT know it's a little long. There's a chance it'll be published as is because it's within the usual word limit BUT they're super paranoid about being rejected for word count or pacing, etc. Is it weird to send in the manuscript with a blurb along the lines of 'This rocks, but if you think chapter 4 and 28 are unnecessary, I'm game.' The story (this hypothetical one, of course) is full and makes sense, etc. with all chapters, but the writer knows they can be sacrificed to the editing gods. Should a writer go ahead and cut them before sending in the manuscript, just to shorten the story, or go ahead and submit them with a 'hey, i'm totally open to revisions for size' note?
The fact that you're willing to revise should go without saying, so I wouldn't send a caveat to the agent. But you should be as comfortable as humanly possible with the manuscript you're sending out.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 8th, 2010, 8:10 pm

Mira wrote:Nathan, you said:

"We don't have the query system because it's so great, but rather that no one has come up with an alternate system that's any better."

I was wondering if you'd thought more about my suggestion: request a query with the partial, and start with a fill-in form? It saves everyone a lot of time. It de-confuses the reason that the author was rejected and still gives you the information you want.

After all, why have someone put all their energy into a letter? If you turn down the writing instead, they'll focus on that. Then you can request a query from those you are seriously considering.

It's a simplified system for you as well - you only look at writing. As fast as you are, this would be faster.

Personally, I really like this idea. What do you think?
The query system isn't perfect, but I need a brief summary of the work in order to decide if it's something I'm interested in. It doesn't matter how good the writing is on page 1 if I don't like the overall idea. The query letter provides the main elements of what I need in order to make a decision. it answers:

1) Can this person write
2) Do I like the idea
3) Do they demonstrate a certain level of professionalism

The system isn't perfect because it's extremely difficult to make a prognosis on a work based on a summary and sample. But unless we're all going to sit down and read every single manuscript, which isn't remotely practical, we're going to have to depend on some sort of shorthand. Query plus 5 pages is the best I've found.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 8th, 2010, 8:12 pm

johydai wrote:Nathan,

If my novel has a big twist, should I include that on the query, or should I somehow state that there is a twist, but not tell what it is?

Thank you,
Johydai
Yes, it's best to demonstrate that there's a twist rather than telling the agent there's a twist. You don't have to reveal the ending in the query, but if you are going to mention it it's better to show it than say it's there.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 8th, 2010, 8:13 pm

casnow wrote:Nathan,

I've got an idea for a project that is 1/2 fiction and 1/2 non-fiction, about the energy crisis and peak oil (i.e., one chapter non-fiction, one non-fiction, alternating).
Would it be better to pitch this as fiction or non-fiction (I know there are substantial query differences).

Thanks!
There's not really any such thing as half nonfiction - if parts of it are made up and parts are true it's fiction (excepting memoir where identities have been necessarily conflated/changed and some narrative nonfiction where real events are dramatized).

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nick » February 8th, 2010, 10:26 pm

Nathan Bransford wrote:
casnow wrote:Nathan,

I've got an idea for a project that is 1/2 fiction and 1/2 non-fiction, about the energy crisis and peak oil (i.e., one chapter non-fiction, one non-fiction, alternating).
Would it be better to pitch this as fiction or non-fiction (I know there are substantial query differences).

Thanks!
There's not really any such thing as half nonfiction - if parts of it are made up and parts are true it's fiction (excepting memoir where identities have been necessarily conflated/changed and some narrative nonfiction where real events are dramatized).
Couldn't something like that technically be considered a non-fiction novel? Or is that not a real genre and just a term applied to certain books?

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Username » February 8th, 2010, 10:57 pm

Nathan Bransford wrote:
Mira wrote:Nathan, you said:

"We don't have the query system because it's so great, but rather that no one has come up with an alternate system that's any better."

I was wondering if you'd thought more about my suggestion: request a query with the partial, and start with a fill-in form? It saves everyone a lot of time. It de-confuses the reason that the author was rejected and still gives you the information you want.

After all, why have someone put all their energy into a letter? If you turn down the writing instead, they'll focus on that. Then you can request a query from those you are seriously considering.

It's a simplified system for you as well - you only look at writing. As fast as you are, this would be faster.

Personally, I really like this idea. What do you think?
The query system isn't perfect, but I need a brief summary of the work in order to decide if it's something I'm interested in. It doesn't matter how good the writing is on page 1 if I don't like the overall idea. The query letter provides the main elements of what I need in order to make a decision. it answers:

1) Can this person write
2) Do I like the idea
3) Do they demonstrate a certain level of professionalism

The system isn't perfect because it's extremely difficult to make a prognosis on a work based on a summary and sample. But unless we're all going to sit down and read every single manuscript, which isn't remotely practical, we're going to have to depend on some sort of shorthand. Query plus 5 pages is the best I've found.
This baffles me - the idea that you only want to read 5 pages?

I've spent twenty years, day and night, obsessing over the question: what makes people want to turn the page? There is no single answer to this question, obviously, but through building a story arc, and tricking your readers into thinking that the story is kind of about them, you'll have gone a long way towards breaking down their defenses.

An author just can't build a story arc in five pages. Sorry, but it's just not possible. To demonstrate everything that I've taught myself about fiction, I need to create a story arc, and that can only be done in a single act. This is the reason I'm still shocked that agents won't accept the first act of whatever story I've written. Their insistence on not wanting to read the first act of my story is suggestive to me that they don't really care about how much I've learned.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by r louis scott » February 8th, 2010, 11:24 pm

Username wrote:This baffles me - the idea that you only want to read 5 pages?
Then perhaps you should submit elsewhere.

Irene Goodman wants the first ten pages and a "detailed synopsis" (whateverthehell that is supposed to be). Kirsten Nelson wants an electronic query only. If you are not willing to follow the individual agent guidelines then you are on a course to intercept the *Round File.

*The Round File is a Navy term for a small office waste receptacle, so named because of the shape of the opening at the top. When a junior officer sent a written request for information to Maintenance Control, for example, that request was typically placed in the 72 Hour Hold File. If no follow up was received in that time, the initial request was determined to be superfluous to operational requirements and was relegated to the Round File.

Good luck on your quest for publication.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nick » February 8th, 2010, 11:30 pm

Username, I don't conceit to answer for agents, but have you seen the numbers Nathan puts out every now and again regarding the number of queries he receives? All right, let's say it takes you ten or fifteen pages to map out a sufficient mini-arc to capture some degree of attention. Great; but even that eats up extra time. And I get the impression your first act is of fairly hefty length. That eats up even more time. And if everyone sends in 30+ pages with their query letter, it would take even longer. As is I don't know how Nathan gets through those things. I would probably have had a melt down by now were I in his place. Also, within the first five pages, things should be happening. The epic quest or whatever the main drive of your narrative is need not be happening, but it shouldn't be five pages of nothingness. So it still gives them some inclination of the story and, I think more importantly, how well you write and/or your style. Doesn't matter how fantastic an idea you have if your writing fails to adequately convey it, y'know? Also, different agents have different guidelines. I'd wager with enough hunting, you could find at least one agent who is willing to accept your whole first act, or at least a good chunk of it. Whether or not they are a good agent, I can't say, but I'm sure they exist, or will exist if they are presently just an intern or some such. At the end of the day, it's like Nathan says, the system isn't perfect but what're you gonna do? Anything more just becomes impractical.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 8th, 2010, 11:52 pm

Nick wrote:
Nathan Bransford wrote:
casnow wrote:Nathan,

I've got an idea for a project that is 1/2 fiction and 1/2 non-fiction, about the energy crisis and peak oil (i.e., one chapter non-fiction, one non-fiction, alternating).
Would it be better to pitch this as fiction or non-fiction (I know there are substantial query differences).

Thanks!
There's not really any such thing as half nonfiction - if parts of it are made up and parts are true it's fiction (excepting memoir where identities have been necessarily conflated/changed and some narrative nonfiction where real events are dramatized).
Couldn't something like that technically be considered a non-fiction novel? Or is that not a real genre and just a term applied to certain books?
No, I've never heard of a nonfiction novel. There's historical fiction and narrative nonfiction, but never a hybrid, at least not as far as I know.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 9th, 2010, 12:00 am

Username wrote:
Nathan Bransford wrote:
Mira wrote:Nathan, you said:

"We don't have the query system because it's so great, but rather that no one has come up with an alternate system that's any better."

I was wondering if you'd thought more about my suggestion: request a query with the partial, and start with a fill-in form? It saves everyone a lot of time. It de-confuses the reason that the author was rejected and still gives you the information you want.

After all, why have someone put all their energy into a letter? If you turn down the writing instead, they'll focus on that. Then you can request a query from those you are seriously considering.

It's a simplified system for you as well - you only look at writing. As fast as you are, this would be faster.

Personally, I really like this idea. What do you think?
The query system isn't perfect, but I need a brief summary of the work in order to decide if it's something I'm interested in. It doesn't matter how good the writing is on page 1 if I don't like the overall idea. The query letter provides the main elements of what I need in order to make a decision. it answers:

1) Can this person write
2) Do I like the idea
3) Do they demonstrate a certain level of professionalism

The system isn't perfect because it's extremely difficult to make a prognosis on a work based on a summary and sample. But unless we're all going to sit down and read every single manuscript, which isn't remotely practical, we're going to have to depend on some sort of shorthand. Query plus 5 pages is the best I've found.
This baffles me - the idea that you only want to read 5 pages?

I've spent twenty years, day and night, obsessing over the question: what makes people want to turn the page? There is no single answer to this question, obviously, but through building a story arc, and tricking your readers into thinking that the story is kind of about them, you'll have gone a long way towards breaking down their defenses.

An author just can't build a story arc in five pages. Sorry, but it's just not possible. To demonstrate everything that I've taught myself about fiction, I need to create a story arc, and that can only be done in a single act. This is the reason I'm still shocked that agents won't accept the first act of whatever story I've written. Their insistence on not wanting to read the first act of my story is suggestive to me that they don't really care about how much I've learned.
The purpose of the five pages isn't so I can get a whole story arc, it's so that after I decide I'm intrigued by the plot I can glance at the writing to get a glimpse at it to see if I'm connecting with it.

It's really not practical for agents to read an entire first act of a novel for everyone who wants to have a novel published. I can barely keep up with queries, which are necessarily brief.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 9th, 2010, 12:01 am

r louis scott wrote:
Username wrote:This baffles me - the idea that you only want to read 5 pages?
Then perhaps you should submit elsewhere.

Irene Goodman wants the first ten pages and a "detailed synopsis" (whateverthehell that is supposed to be). Kirsten Nelson wants an electronic query only. If you are not willing to follow the individual agent guidelines then you are on a course to intercept the *Round File.

*The Round File is a Navy term for a small office waste receptacle, so named because of the shape of the opening at the top. When a junior officer sent a written request for information to Maintenance Control, for example, that request was typically placed in the 72 Hour Hold File. If no follow up was received in that time, the initial request was determined to be superfluous to operational requirements and was relegated to the Round File.

Good luck on your quest for publication.
And yeah, there's this option too. There's no law that says you have to query me. If you don't like my system that's totally fine.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Damon Shulenberger » February 9th, 2010, 3:06 am

I thought the system was ridiculous too, but now I kind of understand it... it really makes you revise, revise... when I first started sending out queries (October) I had a couple partial requests, but ultimately rejections. I realized that I really had to make sure the beginning was solid.The litmus test is, is the customer in Borders going to pick this up, read a couple pages and feel compelled to buy it? If you can`t meet those standards, try again.


Currently have two partials out and one full, which has garnered conditional acceptance. The agent who conditionally accepted opened my eyes. She was like, great plot, great detail, wonderful snowballing ending––you`re very lucky I had the patience to get through the first 50 pages. Needless to say, I restructured. Sent it back today. Waiting to hear.

So how are you going to find that agent willing to get through the flawed or slow beginning and see the entire story arc for the masterpiece that it is? Fortunately, it seems there are always some agents willing to dig through the slush pile, looking for possible next big thing. They are like bettors who spend a hell of a lot of time researching horses, searching for that overlooked one that gives them 250-1 odds and has a lot of fight.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Bron » February 9th, 2010, 3:55 am

Username - Australian agents typically ask people to send the first three chapters with their query. I'm not sure where you're based or whether you'd want an international agent, but that's one option if you want to include more than five pages.

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