Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Michael Bourret tackles some more questions

Annie said...

No burning questions, but would be interested to read your thoughts on either of the following...the influence (or lack thereof) of movies on contemporary fiction. Or, in the kids world, the seeming division between school/library and commercial markets...

The influence of movies on contemporary fiction is as strong as the influence of movies in any other area of our culture. Film (or the motion picture, I should say) is our preferred method of communication. That's why authors have moved on from simple blogs to using things like Flash and YouTube to connect with readers. I also think that authors now have film in mind when they write, which is something Jane Austen certainly wasn't thinking about, though her books are made into movies more often than anyone else's! I won't decry the influence of film on writing, as I think it's inevitable that one medium will affect another, but I think authors would benefit themselves by writing a good book first and letting the movie thing follow.

As for the second question, there certainly are books that work better in one than the other. It's just that the needs of the markets are quite different. Nonfiction, for instance, is a staple in the school/library market -- kids have to write reports, and they need sources, but there isn't a desire, for the most part, to own those books. The library is the perfect place for them. In fiction, there's much more overlap, and I'm sure that Stephenie Meyer's library sales are pretty darn good. But what I love about libraries is that they'll buy quiet books, the books that kids can't find on their own, and give them a chance to flourish. While big commercial success doesn't necessarily follow, it can, and it's great that the libraries are there to expose kids to new kinds of books.

Anonymous said...

I read on another lit agent blog that, while he is open to queries, he has in his entire career only picked up two authors out of his slush pile. This made me wonder is the problem isn't that he has a full slate of books to take out at all times and is rarely hungry for someone/something new. Sort of like having 3 square meals before heading out to the buffet. Might this mean that perhaps someone starting at a new agency, who states he or she is looking to build their list, might be more receptive to slush pile queries?

I definitely think it's smart to go after young, hungry agents. While it's nice to have that big-shot agent, they’re tougher to get. As the agent you mention exemplifies, a lot of very established agents aren't as interested in sorting through all of the queries to find the next big thing. Perhaps there's a young agent at the same company who is more open to new authors -- that's the person I'd target. That said, there are established agents who look to the slush pile to find new talent, and you should be looking into those agencies, as well (ahem, DGLM).

Anonymous said...

This summer I've begun to query my big, serious literary novel, got a dozen requests. Most have come back with personal notes: "beautiful poetic prose" "I think it's very good" "I like the voice" but they always reject it. Some hate the voice, some say the plot is too thin. I know it's not your average book, it's old-fashioned and big and not like anything that's out there. At this point is it advisable to keep querying for that right agent, or is it time for something else?

It sounds to me like you need to keep querying. Since what you're writing is unconventional and not on most agent's "I do this, this, and this" list, you're going to have to keep trying until you find someone whose sensibilities are right for your work. It may be a long, hard road, but if you believe in the work (and I'm making that assumption), you should keep knocking on doors.

Rikitikitavi said...

How often does a publisher change the title of a book, and do you try and lobby for the author's original title so that the publisher won't change it? I had that done to me, and my agent at the time didn't care.

I would certainly try to lobby for the original title if that's what the author wants, and I think most publishers want their authors to be happy with the title. That said, the publisher has a lot of people giving feedback on what works and what doesn't: sales, marketing, publicity, and even feedback from buyers. If Barnes & Noble won't buy kids' books with the word "sucks" in the title, you're going to have to change it if you want your book to sell. The publishing process includes a lot of give and take, and you have to pick your battles. Sometimes the title is one you have to choose not to fight.

Also, what about the "last minute" calls, where the editor attempts to make changes hours before your book goes to the printer. I know two authors that threatened retraction if the changes were made. Only then did the editor back off.

This isn't something that's ever happened on one of my books, if I'm remembering correctly. The author, however, should always have a chance to review and approve changes. Nothing should go in without your knowledge. But, when production schedules are compressed and everyone is rushing, things slip through. This is why it's important for all people in the publishing process, authors included, to do their work on time. There's a reason books take a long time to get published, and oversight is a big part of it.

In my case error was added to my nonfiction book despite my protest (and some things added without my review that were wrong).
That's a very odd situation. I hope they fixed the problems in subsequent printings, and I hope you chose not to work with them again.


  1. I just want to add my ten cents regarding the question of title changes. The title of my novel was okay by all. But the cover surprised the hell out of me. And in the contract, that call was not mine (and I think that's pretty standard). Bottom line is that while I started off disliking the cover very much (and the editor told me she didn't want me to hate it so they were willing to change it), I decided that my job as a writer was not to deal with the cover stuff. And in the end, I have to say that they were totally, 100% right. And I love it now. There is probably no editor who would want you to have a title you detested. But if you're in a partnership, you might be wise to give their experience and knowledge of the market some weight and trust that they want the book to sell well.

  2. Thanks for responding to so many questions, including my food-for-thought :-)! For a while, I felt like every hot new novel read like it had the screenplay in mind and it really compromised the writing, so I appreciate your optimistic (or rather pragmatic) response. And thanks for the great clarification in commercial and library - very helpful.

  3. Thanks Michael for answering my questions. I had hoped it was an unusual incident.


  4. Great post--I love the question answer format. As far as film goes in influencing writing, I think starting with gen-xers--film (or the tv version of film) has coursed through our entire existence. When I watch two people in a restaurant arguing, a soundtrack leaps to mind without my even trying. Good or bad, the film influence is here to stay. With that said, there's still room for a little Jane or Edith Wharton. How could there not be?

  5. Though I rarely ever think of anything I write becoming a movie (although a call from Lifetime or the LOGO channel with an offer to turn one of my published short stories into a film would be quite welcomed :)I have to admit when I'm writing I do see it as a film in my head. Even when I'm not writing, and planning internally what I'm going to write for a deadline or a project, I see it on the screen.

  6. I can't read the black text on dark green.


  7. Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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