There were some great questions left as comments today, so I’d love to answer those now:
I took a look at Margie Lawson’s site and though the design of the site didn’t immediately appeal to me, I browsed around a bit anyway. (Yeah, I do give in to first impressions occasionally, but not always)
I found the Empowering Characters’ Emotions Lecture, but I didn’t see any option to have a peek at it before buying it, or at least reading a sample lesson/chapter/something.
Did I miss it somehow?
Randy sez: No, there are no samples on her site. And yes, Margie’s site could be much spiffier. She’s got some large pictures that really need to be compressed a lot, and the layout could be cleaner. But I care about content, and her content is fabulous. It’s something I’ve been needing for years, and I didn’t know it.
Thanks to Margie, my writing is currently taking a quantum leap forward, much like when I discovered Dwight Swain years ago. I simply didn’t understand plot until I read Dwight Swain’s book. I’ve always instinctively understood characters, but Margie’s lecture notes (a couple of hundred pages worth) have give me some new analytical tools for thinking about characters. I’ve given her permission to use my glowing praise for her course on her web site because I think she has something terrific there.
A question came to mind when you mentioned about series synopses. I have a massive scifi work that has distilled itself down to a rambling collection of short novels, novellas and short stories. It’s huge, it’s a mess, it does have a particular order and few of them can stand alone. I know in the science fiction realm there is precedence for this; Heinlein published a “future history” of interconnected short stories, which is my guess as to what my collection would be called. How would I go about proposing something like that?
Also, can a novella be published as a standalone, and how would that be proposed?
Randy sez: I have no idea how you would propose this collection. In principle, a novella can be published as a standalone, although there aren’t that many publishers doing novellas. In both cases, a good agent could help you figure out exactly what to do with this project.
Hey Randy, speaking of conferences and possible ideas, I was able to take a workshop from Donald Maass (Writing the Breakout Novel), and he talked about layers in novels. As I’m struggling with that, do you want to talk about character layers?
Randy sez: Donald Maass is another teacher who is absolutely terrific. I had a chance to take his workshop last summer, but chose to go on an Alaskan cruise instead. Character layers is an important topic, but not one I can address in a single blog entry. We’ll have to defer that to the future. I’m putting it on my list.
To whom to you submit your proposals? I was under the impression that “The Bigs” in New York would simply trash your submission if you don’t have an agent and it doesn’t seem like your agent would need a formal proposal. Are you submitting these proposals to editors with whom you already have a relationship?
Randy sez: These days a lot of publishers refuse unagented submissions. It’s not just the Big Boys in New York who do this; many mid-size publishers quit accepting submissions from anyone they didn’t know after the anthrax scare. If you meet an editor at a conference, they might request a proposal, and then you can submit it without an agent. But if the editor likes your project, he or she will probably prefer that you line up a good agent, because negotiating a contract with an agent is generally safer than negotiating with a first-time author who has no clue what clauses in a contract are negotiable and which aren’t. A good agent will not screw up a contract. (A bad agent might.)
As for agents, they generally do send proposals to editors. The proposal may be formal or informal, depending on how well-known the author is to the editor. (If you’ve written three books for an editor, you can get away with a slimmed-down proposal. If you’ve written 20 books for that editor, you probably only need to write a paragraph synopsis on a postcard; but if you’ve never written for the editor, they’ll want a professional proposal.)
To answer your question, when I finish polishing my proposal, I’ll give it to my agent, who will then check it over carefully. He might come back to me for more revisions, or he might decide it’s ready to send out. Most of the editors he’ll send it to will know my name. Some of them will be good friends of mine. Some will be people who have never met me. But all of them will be editors my agent knows quite well.
In principle, I could probably sell my proposal myself to one of the editors I know. But my agent will do it quicker and better than I will, with a higher probability of making a sale. I’d rather that he do it. Then he gets to receive all the rejections, some of which will no doubt come from editors who are good friends of mine. That’s the nature of this business. It’s easier for everyone if rejections get buffered through an agent.