Wednesday, April 02, 2008

On Carrie Rocking and the Selection Process

X-Post from LJ, which I have come to enjoy more and more these days. I feel like a traitor, but it's true:
Just a quick post to point everyone to this blog by Carrie's agent, Jim McCarthy of Dystal & Goderich. He has some fantastic things to say about Carrie's book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, all of which are totally one-hundred percent true. I was blown away by FHT the moment carrie read me the opening line, and I continue to love it through today. I'm super-excited to see it doing well so far (with a year to go before publication-- almost exactly now) and getting the buzz it deserves. Melissa Marr (whose next book, Ink Exchange, is about to hit stores) also had a great post/review on it, which if you haven't seen, you should.

Another thing I like about Jim's post is that he tells us straight up how he reads: to reject. According to Jim, he reads the first 50 pages of manuscripts with the idea that he will reject them, and looking for a reason why. I have always thought this was the case with editors/agents, but this is the first time I've ever seen one own up to it. Most act as though they read each story with an open heart and mind, but I just don't believe it. How could they not read to reject? With that much material coming across their desks, with the fact that 90% of it is unpublishable and 95-98% won't make it pass the first cut, how could they not pick up the next story/book expecting to send it out with a form letter? Is this unfair? To some stories, probably. But ultimately, it results in most of the wheat getting separated from the chaff, so I think it's probably a necessary evil that helps the end reader get the best product in the long run.

Now granted, the writing community doesn't want to hear that their work isn't getting any charity, but I think it's really important to know this, and actually ought to make us feel better and write better. First, the "feel better" part: If the reader is really approaching your writing with a perfectly open mind, the way you approach a book on the shelf or a story in a magazine, and they don't like it, that says something bad about your writing. If they're approaching it with a mind looking to reject, well, that doesn't necessarily mean your piece was bad. It just means they viewed everything that could have been viewed as either a craft choice or a mistake (the way ee cummings could be viewed as either a mold-breaking genius or an idiot who didn't know punctuation, for example) in the worst light possible, and you didn't make it through that level of review.

Personally, I believe this is the main reason published authors often have an easier time selling-- they can get away with things that an unpubbed author can't, because the editor/agent, and also the end reader, knows them well enough to trust that when they do something that might normally be considered "wrong," they're doing it intentionally.

Second, why this should make us write better: we have to understand that we aren't getting any freebies. Our writing has to be on top of its game 100%. If you're like me, you've read something you've written, liked it, but seen something in it that you think "well, maybe that could be viewed some other way, but it's fine, everyone will get it." My guess is that this type of thing has cut short the career of many could-be-published stories, mine among them. So now we have to write tightly, to make sure everything is in its right place and as perfect as it can be, and in general, doesn't that make for a better story? I know it's made me a better editor of my own work.

Anyway, thank you Jim McCarthy for giving me a reason to believe my own crazy conspiracy-theory mentally-constructed view of the publishing industry (oh, and see here for a good discussion of all the reasons you should never believe a word I say). And thank you for pulling carrie's book out of the slush and recognizing it for the real gem that it is, and for being awesome to her the way she deserves. Thank you so much for that. You rock.

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