PNWA 2010 Conference Review: Crafting Fiction That Sells in Today's Market
While I don't have anything sell-able in a monetary sense, I think any writer that grabs a reader's attention has, in effect, "made a sale." With this logic in mind, I attended the Crafting Fiction That Sells in Today's Market, hosted by Andrea Hurst. A literary agent with over 25 years experience in the publishing business, Ms. Hurst is the president of Andrea Hurst & Associates Literary Management agency:
This workshop was conducted from an agent's POV (point of view) in order to help clue-in writers on what the market is looking for:
Because of today's market trends, in both technological improvements coupled with the economic downturn, Marketing and Sales Departments within publishing houses are more heavily involved in deciding what books get published.
Editors are only looking for stories that "fit into a box." That is, genre fiction that can easily be categorized and therefore put on a bookstore's shelf.
One of the first things a literary agent asks themselves is: Can I work with this author? In other words--it doesn't pay to be a diva.
Everyone inside and outside the publishing company is pressed for time. So query letters are now mostly done by e-mail, while books are getting smaller, word-count wise. So don't pitch your book if its over 100k words and keep your synopsis to 1 page.
A catchy title is important, because it is the first thing the reader sees. Once the reader picks up the book to examine it, the first line and the first page become all-important, because it is here that you gain or lose the reader. After the initial page, it is important to keep the reader hooked so he or she will read through the first chapter.
And speaking of Chapter 1, avoid backstories and data-dumps. Something has to happen early in the story that's really amazing. Unfortunately, many first-time authors start the book in the wrong place. So if it takes a long time to develop the action, then this is a good indicator that you started in the wrong place.
Since there's more to a book than an opening chapter, a story must have a middle and end that are plausible and satisfying. These must be plotted out in some way, shape or form. (There's an on-going debate over whether it is best to outline a story or not). Most problems with a novel occur at this point--the "sagging middle." An ending can be fixed, but because of the lengthy nature of a book's middle, a sagging one can be a big problem. This can be alleviated by maintaining a high quality of writing, in order to keep the reader hooked.
And speaking of hooked, once you finish your work and are getting ready to pitch to an agent, you still have some homework ahead of you:
Before attending a conference log onto the agent's website--and read it all the way through.
Agents are amazed at how many would-be authors fail to do this, especially when being asked to represent them in genres they don't deal with.
In other words: When all else fails--read the instructions.
I'm a retired USAF TACP (Tactical Air Control Party) member, now working for Washington State Emergency Management. In addition to being an Emergency Operations Specialist at my day/night/weekend job, I'm a Foreign Affairs Specialist, gamer and writer.
I maintain three blogs as an on-line platform. "Stern Rake Studio," my central site, explores a variety of topics on gaming, pop-culture and writing. "Station WTFO" is where I post comments and discussions on the national and international issues that concern us. Finally, "The Redshift Chronicles," is a spin-off of "Stern Rake Studio." This site focuses on sci-fi gaming and is home to my long-form webcomic "Breakout from Bongolaan."