Mark Terry

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Better Than Good

January 18, 2010
I was trying to pick my agent's brain a couple days ago about her thoughts on some story ideas I have. In a lot of ways I hate doing this, because if she gives me a thumb's down it'll kill the project, whether I love it or not. On the other hand, I don't have the energy these days to write 100,000 words if she's going to say, "I can't sell this" or "Doesn't work for me" and I could have had her look at the first 25,000 words.

So she asked to see what I'd done on the idea that caught her attention, but she also said it was up to me, perhaps understanding that I had some trepidation about this (and I do).

So I sent her the first 180 pages of the wip.

Today I was working on it and I took some time to start back at the beginning and remind myself what my agent would be confronting in the first 30 to 50 pages of the manuscript. And as I was reading it, I thought, "This is better than good."

And maybe it is. I can't always tell, but I do know that sometimes my own work doesn't hold my attention, a sure sign that either it's not as good as I hoped or I'm too close to the work (which might be the reverse of those people who think everything they write is golden prose pooped out by the muses, but my brain doesn't necessarily work that way). But there were a lot of things about it that I really liked and, often a sign of things going well, I think, some things I'd written that caught me slightly off guard, little details or observations or things that made me raise my eyebrows and say, "Hey, interesting." Christ, you'd think I hadn't written it myself, but sometimes it's interesting to read your stuff and find yourself being surprised.

So I hope my agent feels the same way.

How about you? Have you ever thought stuff was pretty good only to re-read it and think, "Wow, this is a lot better than I thought it was?"

And conversely, have you read something you thought was pretty good and thought it was recycled dreck?

Update: On a related note, here's a blog post about agents that, if nothing else, is provocative.

7 Comments:

Blogger Stephen Parrish said...

"I can't believe I wrote this" happens to me regularly, both because it was that good or that bad.

How tragic it would be to see a great project die merely because one person didn't like it. Visit any successful book at Amazon; you'll find at least one one-star review. What if that one review happened to represent the opinion of your agent, and the five-star reviews were representative of readers at large?

6:37 PM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

Which WIP is this?

I always think my stuff is recycled dreck. It goes both ways. Some pleasantly surprise me, and others make me cringe. I'm currently editing a novel I wrote in my second year, I think. Oh god. There are SO many extraneous words. I'm deleting like mad. And hello cliches. At least I didn't spend too much time on them.

But it is interesting to read my stuff after some time. I feel like someone else wrote it. It's rather surreal.

7:03 PM  
Blogger LurkerMonkey said...

This is an interesting question ... the truth is, almost every time I read anything I write, I'm torn between two thoughts. The first is, "I wish I could change/fix/ edit [blank]" and the second is, "This is better than I expected." Because I'm an exceptionally hard critic of my own work. Most of them time, I avoid my own writing like the plague. The only time I unabashedly like anything is when I've just finished a first draft and I'm writing fast and it just pours out. And then, invariably, I'll tear that draft apart a day or so later because, by then, the euphoria will have worn off and the problems will become obvious.

5:37 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Stephen,
Well, yes, I suppose it would be. And I added a link to a provocative blog post about agents by Dean Wesley Smith that addresses it in a fairly disturbing way.

The "system" or at least, "my system" at the moment involves getting my agent to market my manuscripts. If she doesn't like it or doesn't think it will sell, she won't. So do I tend to write for things she might like? Well, yes, I suppose at some level.

Do I trust her judgement 100%?

Um, no.

So what does that mean?

Um, I think it means I'm fucked, although "damned if you do, damned if you don't" also fits this situation. I would add that my current publisher was discovered by me, not my agent.

5:57 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Natasha,
Dressed To Kill. I mentioned the possibility of writing another novel about Austin Davis, the main character of Hot Money, which has been at a publisher for months; I mentioned China Fire, which she'd read a section of already; and I mentioned Dressed To Kill, and she liked the premise.

5:58 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Jon,
I have only re-read one of my novels, and that was Blood Secrets, which didn't get published because the publisher went broke before I could publish it. But it had gotten to the bound galley stage, so a year or so after that debacle I sat down and read it and remember saying to my wife, "This writer's pretty good."

5:59 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I almost always hate what I write. When I see merit in my efforts it is usually when I reread it long afterwards, or, of course, when I'm in the process of the writing. So if I perceive my writing as being decent right when I finish, it almost certainly has some merit. It's a rare happening.

3:50 PM  

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