Mark Terry

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I'll Get Right On It, Just As Soon As My Brain Starts Functioning Again

September 25, 2008
After some dilly-dallying (how often does you read that phrase on a blog, huh? huh? huh?) I sent my kids' novel, The Fortress of Diamonds, to my agent.

Who loved it.

Sort of. Well, actually, she wants me to change the ending.

Not a little bit. A lot. Not, let's slap some paint on this-here wall and maybe lay down some new carpet, change. No, this is, lay the charges, this sucker's comin' down, clear the area, kind of change.

In fact, I found her comments to be, well, what?

Unhelpful, is perhaps the best way I can describe them. I tried making a spackle-the-holes-and-lay-down-the-primer changes to address her "it's boring and it's too long" comment, but that really wasn't the gist of her issues. 

So I went back and asked her, "is your problem with the execution or the idea itself."

It was the idea itself.

Which, as the expression goes, leaves me in a bit of a pickle. (Where the hell does that expression come from anyway?)

You see, when I wrote the damned thing, I didn't know exactly what was so significant about the Fortress of Diamonds. Just that it was hidden, that it was reported to be a place of great danger and great power, and a lunatic was determined to get there first.

That put me in a position of needing it to actually BE something of great power and danger, something very much worth stopping a lunatic from getting there.

And when I finally got my main characters there, with my adventures and dangers along the way, I understood what it was about and I wrote accordingly and I was pleased with it. And I had about 10 readers of varying ages and gender and writing experience (some teenagers, in other words) read the book and not one--not one!--had an issue with the ending.

Nonetheless, my agent's not going to market this unless I change it.

Normally, I'm very good when my agent or an editor says, "I don't like this, fix it." And yes, sometimes that's all the feedback you get, although I'm more likely to get it like that from my agent, which, now that I'm picking at this particular scab makes me wonder if we don't have a serious problem in our relationship. Anyway...

Normally, when given a criticism of that sort, I can easily come up with a dozen fixes, sort through the one I think is most likely to work and get to work.

This time I'm drawing a total blank.

I mean, really. I mentioned that to my agent and she said, "Maybe it'll come to you in a dream."

Mmmm, maybe. Actually, last night I dreamt I was back in college sharing a room with my first college roommate only this time he was a complete and total slob (unlike the 2 years when I roomed with him when he was just a really strange and weird, uptight guy, but one who cleaned up after himself). Back-in-college dreams generally suggest I'm stressed about something and I don't actually think it's about The Fortress of Diamonds--although to be fair, it could be about anything, including the economy, the war in Iraq or the cold I've got or why I can't get the e-mail function to work properly on the new iPhone I bought.

Nope, no solution there.

And I'm concerned that I just don't give a damn enough to fight my way through this. I'm concerned, actually, that when it comes to my fiction, I'm rather like a boxer who's been beat up just a bit too much and when his trainer pushes him back into the ring, thinks that going back in there isn't about winning, it's about surviving. Or as Bartleby said, "I prefer not to."

I mean, really. I've had 2 small presses go belly-up prior to publication, I've had a publisher publish one book and then go into a weird stasis non-decision mode about the follow-up, so my agent made an agreement with them to market it and it didn't sell. I got picked up by another publisher for a 4-book contract, and dropped after the first 2 books were published with strong reviews and mediocre (at best) sales. All this after a dozen or so unpublished novels and hundreds of rejections.

You know, I didn't expect to go this route in this post, but the truth is, when I think about figuring out how to solve my agent's issues with this book, I mostly feel blank or just tired. And part of that "tired" thing goes like this: why do all the work when she won't be able to sell it anyway?

That's certainly not the appropriately uplifting tone a writer is supposed to have on a writing blog. I'm supposed to be all daisies and butterflies and tell you how I'm just churning away at fixing this and I'll send it off and she'll love it and send it out and it'll get picked up for thousands of dollars...

I'm not sure who says this, but it's along the lines of: Continuing to unsuccessfully accomplish the same task the same way is the mark of insanity.

That is to say, if you keep trying to jam a square peg into a round hole and the only solution is to keep pushing at it, there might be something wrong.

Mark Terry


Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I rarely read writing blogs anymore. Many of them are just unrealistic. Too much *rah rah* which is, in my opinion, unhelpful.

Mary and I always do revisions. Our editor always wants some changes and additions. But thus far we are all on the same wave length. Barbara seems to genuinely like what we're trying to do (silly woman) and her suggestions are always aimed at helping us do what we want to do better. When the criticism is that an editor, or agent, basically doesn't like what you do, that's a problem.

To me, the thoughtful ending to Fortress, set it apart.

If you are really intent on writing a series about the characters I suppose you could write another book and if that sold then maybe the first one would be suddenly acceptable, as sometimes happens. Or you might be better off just approaching a small press yourself.

I've got a scene to finish right now and some time to do it and I am going to try to just enjoy fiddling with the words while I'm at it without worrying about what happens to them afterward. That's about the only way I can manage to write these days.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Stephen King got stuck 400 pages into The Stand, and then it finally came to him while taking a walk one day: blow half the characters to smithereens.

Just an idea.

9:06 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I am so embarrassed. I have an unfunctioning brain, too, but in a much worse way. I can't even explain, but now I have totally screwed up and will be late for a chapter for the first time in my life. It's like I have no brain. I'm astounded at myself.

You know, when I wrote you awhile back about that feedback, I was totally trying to get myself excited but I actually had no feeling whatsoever. None at all. Like, zero. Nothing, nada.

I wrote my closest writing friends, but it didn't work. They were happy. I pretended to be. I acted like I was. But I had zero feelings. Just nothing there.

I still don't know what to make of that. It's.. discomfiting?

The whole idea or just the ending idea? About the scab, Mark... I can tell you're a very loyal person.

One of the first blogs I read from you mentioned she said she hated something you wrote. Was that a couple years ago? Maybe you were paraphrasing your feelings rather than what she said. Even if she's fabulous and perfect... maybe you just need to shake things up. Change begets surprising things. Force yourself out of the safety zone.

Maybe not, LOL. When an aspect of my life gets in a bad place, I either have to shake things up, or my mind seems to passive-aggressively shake things up. It's a little crazy, LOL.

Totally none of my business and if you knew the dumb mistake I made today you would be wise never to take my advice, but you're blogging publicly about your frustration with her. I know she's a techno-phobe so it's safe, but still, LOL... doesn't that say something?

9:12 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

No, in that particular instance, I wasn't paraphrasing.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Zoe Winters said...

please don't be part of the industry's almost maniacal insistence on dumbing down, sanitizing and Disneyizing everything.

That book spoke to the test market. It doesn't speak to your agent. The idea that one person gets to overrule 10 people that comprise your actual market is insanity to me.

Find a way to get it into the hands of your readers, but don't bow before this nonsense. It is YOUR book. If your agent wants a different book, he/she needs to write it and stop trying to mold others to fit his/her vision.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Zoe Winters said...

And further, I would rather have 100 people read something I wrote, that was totally my vision, and love it and say it spoke to them or really really entertained them, rather than to have 100,000 people read and like a book that I dumbed down or changed dramatically to please "the market" (as defined by the agent or a publisher.)

I'm not saying those ARE the options, I'm saying if they were my options, I would choose the 100 readers who "get me"

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Garth Stein's agent hated THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN. But he believed in the book so he found an agent who loved it. Martha O'Connor's agent hated THE BITCH POSSE. She, too, found an agent who loved it.

Food for thought . . .

12:45 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

There's a reason the vast majority of traditionally-published books are way better than the vast majority of self-published ones. Traditionally-published books are the result of a collaborative effort, with agents and editors making revision suggestions in order to make a book the best it can be. Nobody's dumbing down anything or trying to rob anyone of his or her "vision."

If certain writers don't care about publishing as a career, then that's their business. They can run along and play with their little hobbies and not pay any attention to the mean old agents and editors. They shouldn't belittle those of us who do care about publishing as a career, though, as if we're nothing but a bunch of sell-outs. Apparently, they've been grossly misinformed somewhere along the way.

Now, it might be that Mark's agent is wrong in this case; or, it might be that Mark is burnt out at the moment and should wait until he's in a better frame of mind to consider her criticism; or, it might be that dynamics are in play that aren't addressed here. In any event, I'm sure the decision Mark reaches will be one with the business side of writing in mind, as well as the artistic side, because from everything I've seen Mark is a career-minded professional writer.

3:02 PM  
Blogger Zoe Winters said...

Jude, I don't believe I said anything against the editing process. Nor did I imply that a self published author shouldn't find a good editor. But MARK's book was the agent wanting him the change the entire premise/idea of the book. That's a bit different.

And when I look at most of what is out there, I DO see a trend toward, dumbing down, Disneyizing and sanitizing. I see a trend toward fifty books that are practically carbon copies of one another.

I was recently disgusted by a book that was on the NYT bestseller list that was basically Spike/Buffy fanfic with different character names.

I can read Spike/Buffy fanfic on the internet for free.

As for the "editing" process. I've seen plenty of traditionally published books that are so poorly edited I doubt much happened to them from the time they left the author's hands to the time they went to print.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Zoe Winters said...

Also, and I'm sorry for the multi-posting here, I didn't encourage Mark to self-publish, I know that's not the road he wants to be on.

What I did was encourage him to get the work out there. That could include a free ebook or a podcast, or anything to help build a platform for the book so he could sell it, as the book he actually wrote, as opposed to something wildly different.

This is not "out there" advice. Even for a career-minded writer.

4:17 PM  
Blogger lucidkim said...

I'm wondering if it's time for a new agent - one who is more in step with where you are. How successful is your agent with other writers? Maybe she is the one who is burnt out.


5:23 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

"Now, it might be that Mark's agent is wrong in this case; or, it might be that Mark is burnt out at the moment and should wait until he's in a better frame of mind to consider her criticism; or, it might be that dynamics are in play that aren't addressed here. In any event, I'm sure the decision Mark reaches will be one with the business side of writing in mind, as well as the artistic side, because from everything I've seen Mark is a career-minded professional writer."

Right on all points (you insightful bastard, you!).

And I think it's worth throwing in here that if I had a good alternative ending, I'd just go ahead and write it. I'm just drawing a blank, which is unusual and I'm trying to figure out why I'm drawing a blank.

I may need to read up some more on Hopi mythology or whatever and see if something else comes to mind. Hmmm....

6:30 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Oh damn!

I just went and did some more reading up on Hopi mythology. I think I've got a cool idea!

6:37 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Sorry Zoe, but your first two posts did absolutely imply that you have no regard for the editing process. What is it you think editors do? Just make sure all your commas are in the right place and stuff?

An agent is often the first professional to see a manuscript, and it's not unusual AT ALL for an agent to suggest extensive revisions. All that means is that the agent sees potential in the book but doesn't feel it's quite there yet. If the agent sees very little potential, then s/he might reject the book outright, even from a longtime client. I don't know Mark's agent, so I can't speak for her, but I know MY agent won't put his name on anything unless he thinks it has a good chance of being accepted by a legitimate publisher. Why would he waste his time on something he doesn't think will sell?

Agents and authors work together to make sure a manuscript is as good as it can be before going out on submission. Then, if the book sells, editor(s) and author work together on it to make sure it's as good as it can be before it hits the shelves. These are people who are in the business by and large because they love books. Everyone's on the same team. Everyone wants to produce the best book possible. There's no conspiracy to rob writers of their voice or vision, no "maniacal insistence on dumbing down, sanitizing and Disneyizing everything."

6:49 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

I just went and did some more reading up on Hopi mythology. I think I've got a cool idea!

Good for you, Mark!

6:52 PM  
Blogger Zoe Winters said...

Jude, I think the editing process is beneficial when it's understood that it's still the writer's work. Editors, agents, and publishers are not gods. And while a wise writer will take all advice into account when editing their work, this fundamental attitude of it being okay to go in and completely change a work, is not kosher with me.

And again, in regards to what Mark was saying, in this particular post, yes, I don't have much respect for someone who wants the entire work changed.

Let's not forget that writing is a very subjective business, and beyond just the copy-editing parts, all suggestions for changing the story itself are opinion.

Some are going to be more largely agreed upon by all people. Some are not. Sometimes making a change will make a book more commercially accessible, but sometimes that commercial accessibility comes at the cost of the original message of the work.

So yes, in that instance one is "selling out" BUT I'm not making a moral indictment on anyone who does. Because hey, people have to eat.

Also, considering that the financial viability of much of the publishing industry rests on blockbusters, I would still disagree with you on the Disney thing. But you and I will have to agree to disagree. We clearly have very different views in regards to publishing.

10:59 AM  
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