Monday, April 12, 2010

Blogger's block

by Jim

Let’s face it, sometimes you stare at a blank screen, knowing you need to write SOMETHING, and nothing comes to mind.

Yes, dear readers, I’m suffering from writer’s block on the blog (blogger’s block?). So I look to you for inspiration. Go down there to the comments and ask me anything. Pet peeves in a query, favorite Stephen King novel, best pitch ever heard, preferred footwear designer, least favorite colleague (okay, maybe not that one). But you get the picture.

Bombs away!


  1. Apparently we all have comment block.

  2. How timely. :) I have a question about publishing and blogs that came up over the weekend.

    If I post a short story or poem onto my blog, is it considered "published?"

    The reason I ask is I have been entering different literary magazine contests and oftentimes, one of the stipulations is that the submission is unpublished. I am assuming that this means the submission shouldn't have been published in another literary magazine or similar. I am just unsure if this "unpublished" rule encompasses the internet as well.

    Thanks for any insight!

    PS: I haven't been posting them on my blog...just in case!

  3. LOL! I just started my own blog, and while I am off to a very enthusiastic start, I worry about what happens when I find myself staring at that blank page w/nothing to say.

    I'll pose a question for you. Since your job revolves around other people's writing, how much of it do you actually do for yourself, besides the obligatory blog posts?

  4. Oooh, excellent, I love asking questions! I have two actually, because I'm greedy like that. One is yours, though. :)

    1. What WAS the best pitch you ever heard?
    2. Right now, what would your wish list for new submissions be? I know you've got 'horror' above in the list, but I was just wondering about other passions, interests, etc. So if you could receive your ideal genres/settings/themes/topics in queries this very instant, what would they be?

    I ask because, although I've heard agents don't like to limit themselves to a 'wish list' just in case they miss something else that hooks them, I still love knowing what an agent might be really keen on RIGHT NOW...

  5. Coming up with suitable blog fodder on a regular basis is like always having to think of what to cook for dinner.

    Okay, here's my throw-away question: Are there any books you'd be embarrassed to be caught reading and if so, why?

  6. Alrighty, so: Jen, posting things on your blog doesn't really constitute "publishing" them at this point. If you sell or contract pieces to another blog, they may have some ownership, but if it's on a personal blog and can be removed, that shouldn't interfere. Write? No, I don't do that. :) I think our office is a bit of an anomaly, actually, in that we're a whole bunch of folks in publishing who are almost entirely without our own writerly aspirations. I'll just keep reading, thank you very much.

    And the best pitch I ever heard...oh, Sangu, you totally turned that back around on me. Without going into much detail because I actually didn't sign the project, I heard an incredible pitch about a memoir from someone who spent the 70s deeply entangled with the mob in Vegas. He was super charismatic, had incredible stories, and totally left the table with me sitting there wanting more. Sadly, I didn't fall in love with the material itself when I got it.

    What do I want to see besides some great upmarket horror? Real stories for the YA market--I love the paranormal so much, but sometimes I do want to see a teenager who is, y'know...human. I always say I want great ghost stories, and that remains true. I'd love to find a good epic drama like Leila Meacham's Roses. And I'm always on the lookout for anything that makes me laugh.

  7. Fun question, Mary! There is little that I'm embarassed to be seen reading. I don't really do shame. So I've read category romance novels and kids books and all sorts of stuff in public. I will say that while I represent some erotica, I probably wouldn't read it in public. But I always admire the people who do and who totally don't care about being spotted!

  8. Question: I have a friend who is changing genres to write in one that is hot. I'm thinking this is a bad idea because that genre may not be hot for long, and because if that genre had been her passion she would have been writing in it all along. Still, I understand why she is doing this. It is a business decision.

    Other than the standard, "Do your best, follow all the instructions and hopefully the stars will align properly so you can one day be published--maybe, possibly, but seriously, don't hold your breath," is there something we can do business-wise in terms of genres?

    I suspect that literary fiction may be down but not out.


  9. Thanks for the quick and helpful response Jim! :)

  10. Here's a question for you:
    What turns you off when reading a submission? If the first page doesn't grab you do you keep reading or stop at that?

  11. Forget all the writing stuff. I'm dying to know the preferred footwear designer. :)

  12. Oo! I know, I know! Do any of your YA authors Skype classroom visits, and is there a charge?

  13. Thanks for opening up a line of questioning! I love this kind of access :)

    My question: Is it ever appropriate in a query to mention a second project? I have a memoir, and I'm also working on a narrative nonfiction project--it's unique, marketable, and I had received a significant travel grant for research. Would an agent like to know that a prospective client is forward-thinking and might be more than a "one-hit wonder"? Do two-book deals in nonfiction for a unknown author even occur?

  14. Felicity, I love your question. People often try to switch genres to capitalize on the success of other books, and it can be such a huge, depressing waste of time. The thing is, what's hot right now might not be hot in two years. And if you're writing in a genre you don't love, you might not be able to capture what's so great about it. If you're going to try to do this, then it's best to look at something like Publishers Marketplace to see what's selling now rather than at the bestseller lists. It's a better way to look at where the market is going to be when your book is published than what's working now.

    Kim, I wish I could say that I read more than a page if something isn't grabbing me, but it wouldn't be true. Lots of things turn me off: awkward phrasing, poor grammar, bad spelling, etc. But the one thing I'm looking for always is just a reason to turn the page. If I'm not compelled to keep going, I'll probably just stop.

    Funny, Jenn. And no competition: Cole Haan.

    And Clixx, I'm sure some of my YA authors would be happy to Skype into a classroom. And I'm sure they'd be happy to charge. :) No seriously, though, for this type of thing it's best to go directly to publishers and through the publicity department, but if you have specific requests, email me, and I'll pass along (just this once!). :)

  15. Rachel, I'd say that with nonfiction, it's best to query one project at a time. We assume that most writers don't want to only publish one book, but when considering a memoir, it might be more jarring than anything else to also start thinking about another project. Once someone wants to work with you on the memoir, then it's a great time to bring it up.

  16. Ok, so let's talk Stephen King then...what book do you wish would be turned into a movie? OR what book do you wish the movie industry had just left alone? (I totally wished they had left IT alone...creepy clown guy? Yeah, I didn't need to see that horror come to life. ;)).

  17. Okay, here are two random questions for you:

    Which 20th century writer (of any genre) do you admire the most and why?

    And which American president (if any) do you admire the most and why?

  18. Hilariously (to me), I was thinking of asking you to write a guest blog, but I couldn't think of a topic for you!

  19. Oh, Cambria, I loved the It miniseries! I also think The Shining and Misery were outstanding.
    For the most part, King's books have been so well covered by the film industry that I don't know that there's one I'm waiting to be tackled that hasn't already. But I do wish that The Tommyknockers hadn't happened. And Needful Things should have been a better movie.

    Anonymous, picking a most admired writer is insanely hard. I'll go with the first person to come to mind, and that's Toni Morrison. I just don't think there's anyone else who could craft the sentences she does. But that she's an incredible writer isn't enough on its own: she is also a remarkable storyteller and plotter. Even in her lesser efforts (I'm thinking of Love in particular), her writing moves like magic.

    I'm probably too apolitical to have a most admired American president. I was thinking FDR, but there was that pesky internment issue. Washington and Lincoln are too obvious. I'm wary of the assassinated ones because their reputations are probably glorified because they didn't live through their terms... I'll just go with Millard Fillmore for having the most awesome name.

  20. Um, why won't you consider middle grade? (You did say ask you anything...)

  21. Hi, Jim! (Just remember you asked for it.) So... if you won a round-trip ticket on a time-travel machine, where would you go? (Travel stipulations: You go as you are now, can take nothing with you and bring nothing back but memories. You will arrive in period clothing and be well versed in the native tongue.) Go!

    Nina, enjoying The Marriage Test

  22. I can identify--I'm planning to actually start using my blog for more than commenting this week, and I'm terrified I'll run into blogger's block for stretches of time. Sometimes it feels like there's not much more to say than, "Plugging away at the latest WIP. It's going well/poorly."!

    You mentioned loving ghost stories. Do you stick mostly to the traditional western fare--haunted houses, dark and stormy nights, etc.--or are you interested in ghost stories around the world? I've been getting more fascinated over the past few years with foreign haunting legends, especially out of Malaysia and Japan. What are your favorite sorts of ghosts?

  23. This is a lame one but I'll ask anyway: Do you have any query pet peeves/tips for newbies out there? Not that I'm calling myself a newbie or anything...:)

  24. Hum, since you've asked, I have a question that bothers me for long: "How much are agents (you, in particular) willing to work with an writer that loves to be switching genres?"
    Imagine she starts with historical romance, and then writes a sci-fi series, and has lots of different (and hopefully good) ideas?

    Thank you very much.

  25. Thanks for answering my questions, Jim! The mob pitch sounds like it would have been amazing, though obviously the first thought in my head is 'oooh, is it like The Godfather? Are gangsters that good-looking in real life?'

  26. How effective is scotch tape as an alternative to Botox?

    (I kid. But good times!)

    Real question: what was the last paranormal YA novel by a non-agency client you read and adored?

    And thanks for doing this. These super-interactive posts are awesome.

  27. Yat-Yee, it isn't that I won't consider middle grade at all--it's just a genre that I don't believe I'm well versed in enough to work in confidently as of now. But believe me, I'm reading lots of it, and I do hope to work on it in the future.

    Nina, I almost hate to admit that I'm such a local boy at heart that I'd probably stick it out in NY and go back to the late 60s/early 70s. Warhol's Factory, Max's Kansas City, Studio all sounds so exciting. And I do love a good disco song. For a slightly more adventurous answer, I'd go back to the World's Fair in London in the 1850s to see the Crystal Palace.

    Kristin, I'm down for any ghost story that scares me (which is just about ANY ghost story). Whether it's The Haunting or Ringu, I'm in. I do prefer sentient ghosts to the more atmospheric poltergeist-y ones.

    Kristi, honestly, my biggest pet peeves are errors made out of laziness. I got a query today from someone who compared their writing to "Mary Clark Higgins." I mean...come on! That's the stuff that makes me cringe and move to reject out of hand. Just get past those errors, and we can actually judge based on content! I also personally hate any letter addressing me as James.

    Anonymous, I'm willing to work quite hard with someone who wants to switch genres....if I think they're making the right decision and really believe in them as a writer. I'm supportive of people making smart decisions and branching out but not writers who just can't focus. There's a difference!

    And M, as I've mentioned to you before but will share with our blog readers, scotch tape is a TOTALLY ineffective alternative to Botox, and it will only ruin a perfectly nice Thanksgiving dinner. :) Thanks for asking, Last paranormal YA I read and ADORED by a non-client? Catching Fire. It takes a lot for me to get to adoration. Last YA paranormal I read and really, really liked? Incarceron. Enough to order the sequel from the UK rather than wait for American publication.

  28. Thanks, Jim, for answering my question. Interestingly enough, I used the word "adored" to describe a book today: Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan. As for the Hunger Games trio: already pre-ordered #3.

  29. Thanks so much, Jim! I am totally with you on the Catching Fire love. I liked it even better than The Hunger Games.

    Haven't read Incarceron yet but the premise is fantastic.

  30. Oh, I love Ringu! I even liked the American remake. I liked Ju-On even more. Japan's got such a rich and diverse repertoire of ghosts. If you haven't seen The Great Yokai War, I'd recommend it just for the glimpses of all the crazy ghosts and monsters in their mythology. The Haunting is a classic, too. I'll admit to liking ghosts in movies more than in books because it's a lot harder to scare me in text. I should probably read more horror anyway, though.

  31. Millard Fillmore? An "interesting" choice! Here's one more:

    Have you ever had an auction backfire? Or, put differently, are there certain situations in which you might avoid an auction even though more than one publisher has expressed interest in making an offer?

  32. Thanks for taking the time to answer questions today -- it's much appreciated. :)

    Also, for those who like Japanese horror, A Tale of Two Sisters kept me up for several nights -- and horror movies don't usually scare me!

  33. Jim, this isn't a question, but I did want to let you know that I was one of the ones you recommended a read to, and I finished it. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by ZZ Packer.

    I liked it. The first story may have been my favorite, but all of them were enjoyable. It's probably not one I would have picked up and bought in the bookstore, and if I'd happened upon it at the library, I may or may not have checked out. Maybe, and if I had, I probably would have finished without the responsibility of the recommendation, though possibly not. The first story, Brownies, definitely hooked me, though the subsequent ones not quite as much. So in this book, at least for me, the order of the stories was very good. Packer writes really well, some great prose, and I enjoyed it. So chalk this one up to a ding! ding! ding!

    And thanks.

  34. Jim said... "I'm such a local boy at heart that I'd probably stick it out in NY" Don't blame you there, Jim. I loved the show New Amsterdam, especially the intro, watching the great city grow and change. Shame the show's writers didn't better manage the main character’s primary conflict. So much more could have been done with concept. (Or maybe it would have made a better book series.)

    "For a slightly more adventurous answer, I'd go back to the World's Fair in London in the 1850s to see the Crystal Palace." See you there! (in 1851 to be exact) ;-)

  35. 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 :)

    Obat Pilek Menahun
    Obat Alami Batu Empedu
    Obat Lupus
    Obat Ginjal Bocor
    Obat Infeksi Lambung