Sunday, February 17, 2008


Bucking the Trends

It never fails. Once a Harry Potter-like phenomenon hits, dozens of YA books about wizards and magic follow. Some are successful, while others fall into literary oblivion. A huge chick lit book is made into a major motion picture with Hollywood's hottest stars slated to star in it? Expect chick lit to fill the bookshelves in the next year. This is what happens when trends hit the publishing industry. A lot of new writers will get excited and want to jump on the latest bandwagon, prompting scores of them to blindly send out queries and/or manuscripts, explaining why their book is better than the current bestseller.

This is not always the best approach and here's why:

1. Publishing is a slow business: By the time a writer gets a final draft of a manuscript finished, it could be at least six months to a year after the hot new trend debuts. (If it only takes one month to churn out a "polished" manuscript, there's small chance it's really polished.) Once you start on the querying road, it could be another six months to a year before you get a "yes" from an agent or publisher and then another year or two until the book is actually published. Guess what? The trend is probably dead by then.

2. The trend is not really your style: Say the trend is romance with a quirky heroine; she swears like a sailor and chain smokes, but is really kind to puppies and elderly ladies. If this is right up your alley, it'll show with each enthusiastic word you put on paper. If you're more the crime scene analyst type who's trying to catch the latest serial killer and you force yourself to write about the quirky heroine, chances are she won't ring true and you'll hate every word you have to write about her.

3. Many agents aren't interested in the latest trends: While some agents leap onto the latest bandwagon, some are more concerned with writing that will last the test of time, writing that will become the next generation's classics. The last thing they want to see is the next Narnia chronicle; they want a hero who readers remember long after they close the book.

Instead of spending the next year or two of your life hoping to publish a book whose premise will be outdated and tired by the time readers get their hands on it, spend it crafting a book whose characters you love, whose story is true and whose trend is timelessness.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Typing to the Beat of a New Drummer

Recently a friend of mine went out on an important business trip to New York. As he and his partner were at Kinkos copying a presentation for their big meeting, they happened to glance at the trash bin next to the copier. On top of a pile of crumpled documents was a pristine, unmarred business plan. My friend picked it up and couldn’t believe his eyes. The plan was similar to the one they were intending to write! He quickly snatched it and concealed it in his messenger bag.

A few days later he told me the story. The meeting went spectacular, everything was gangbusters, and finding that business plan was strange... it was serendipity. He wanted to do something similar and use the business plan as a template. And since he never took typing (I call him ‘Sam Peck-n-paw’), I agreed to retype the document for him. I couldn’t bear to see him peck away for days when I could do it in an hour.

As I sat at my keyboard typing, I was reminded of the late author Hunter S. Thompson. This visionary and founder of “Gonzo Journalism” spent his early years typing out the complete works of Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. He wanted to know what it was like to write a masterpiece. To feel the voice and rhythm of words from an author he admired. And typing out their novels was the closest thing to it.

I have to admit, it’s amazing. Even though I was simply typing out a random business plan from a complete stranger found in a stinky trash can, I discovered that typing someone else’s words gives you a whole new perspective and understanding. It’s not like reading. It’s completely different. While typing, you hear tone, voice, beat and clarity of thought. You pick up on much more than you would on a quick read-through. You use a multitude of senses.

After I typed the document for my friend, I took a little time and typed the first chapters of my favorite books. For a moment, you can feel exactly what that person is feeling, the pulse of their words, and the bu-dum, bu-dum, heartbeat of their word-song.

If you haven’t tried it before, here’s your challenge:

  • Pick out an author you admire and type their first chapter.
  • What do you feel?
  • Did you discover something different than when you read it?
  • How did the words feel at the tips of your fingers? Did you hear their voice?
It's a fun exercise and probably the closest you can get to an author's mind. Hunter S. would be proud.

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