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Unsheath a Steel Fist From the Velvet Glove? Timeless Agent-Insider Viewpoints.

Agent Richard Curtis
Traduttore, Traditore ("The translator is a traitor") - Italian proverb

"My client thinks your editor is so incompetent, he couldn't spell "cat" if you spotted him the C and the T!"

One of the critical roles literary agents play is that of translator. The writer who sells his first book to a publisher and reads his first contract is plunged into a sea of words that may be totally unfamiliar to him, or that are used in a totally unfamiliar way. "Force majeure," "net proceeds," "matching option," "warranty," "discount"—these need to be defined for the novice author.

There are many difficult concepts to be grasped, such as "advance sale," "midlist," "fair use," "reserve against returns," "pass-through," and "hard-soft deals." The language has its own slang, too, and our initiate hears bewildering references to who handles t…
Recent posts

Deep and Fresh Traits for Majors

Secondary characters in a story, novel, or screenplay, both major and minor, must be utilized to serve the story in several important ways. They deliver important exposition at the right time ("She's not who you think she is."), create complications and interpersonal conflicts that spice or jolt the narrative ("You can't shut me up!"), play a role in ushering the protagonist down the plot path ("If you don't leave now, the game will be lost.") or make it easier for the author to reveal facets of the protagonist's background or personality ("Have you told her you served time in prison?"), become an actual obstacle to the protagonist ("No, stop. You'll die if you go there!"), or serve as an interpretational viewpoint for the reader that better defines or magnifies the jeopardy, setting, or circumstances ("The Master of Dartmoor awaits, and the hounds will be released.")--or some combination of all the above.…

What Does Isabelle Allende Know?

Isabelle Allende says writing technique, e.g. suspense, cannot be taught. The faculty at Algonkian say NONSENSE. Is Isabelle wrong? Or does she know something we don't?
Actually, she doesn't. I realize we're supposed to bow down before her god-ness... only I can't do it. She's a great writer, sure, no question, but that doesn't mean she's intellectually infallible. 
Unfortunately, her viewpoint isn't unique. But who does it serve? Quite suddenly, we find ourselves face down and gasping for air in the dank pond of Iowa mantra: WRITING CANNOT BE TAUGHT.
If Iowa's mantra possessed any substance whatsoever, then why does it always take so many years for a novel author to hone their editorial skills, technique, and knowledge base, if not for the fact that they're teaching themselves and/or being taught? Apparently, writing is BEING TAUGHT quite often, and I might add, ALL OVER THE WORLD.

Narcissist "Writer" Bear Invites Death

Classic and humorous portrayal of the ultimate, ignorant narcissist who one day decides he's going to be a best selling author overnight. If necessary, he'll max out his credit cards!


OMG! Offended Writer Syndrome!

Have you ever been in writer workshops and reacted to criticism of your writing or story by demanding the other writer defend their decision in such detail that it served your purpose of making certain they never gave you unfavorable critique again?
Hell hath no fury like a thin-skinned narcissist with a needy manuscript... But wait!
Could you be one of them? In case you're not sure if your skin qualifies, Algonkian psychologists have developed a few skin test questions below. Feel free to respond honestly to yourself as you read each one. Everyone wishes to avoid time-wasting instances of Offended Writer Syndrome (OWS) that often takes place in writer workshops all across America. Even at this very moment!
Now, time to take THE THIN SKIN TEST: Has any writer ever prefaced their critique of your work by first saying to you, "Don't hate me, please?"Do you sense that writers who unfavorably critique your work are "loading the gun" and taking aim?Do you rush to de…

WTF? Don't Outline Your Novel?

Consider, do screenplay writers or playwrights just begin writing without planning? Of course not. So why should the novel be different? And we're not talking about Beckett or Joycean flights of fancy, we're talking about the vast bulk of commercial novels, whether they be upmarket or genre.

Ever heard this? Don't plan or outline your novel, let the character write the novel, or even more simply, "Just start writing." How many times have I heard that? And guess where? At a writer conference, of course. A certain type of author is asked whether or not they plot or outline ahead of time. They smile and say something like, "I've been asked this question before, and I have to say no, I don't outline. It just all comes to me, the character inhabits me..." or some such drivel.

But let's be logical.

 If you understand the primary foundations for writing a novel you know your plot line must develop certain points as it moves forward, and you know als…

Ten Best Books on Novel Writing

We know that many writers will have other worthy contenders on their lists. These are ours, in reverse order, and even though a few of the authors are indeed irritating, they're still worthwhile.

10) Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
The value of this work is debatable. Sol rather drips with narcissism, but if you can sidestep the puddles he forms in your neocortex, you'll get a few gems from this. Buy it for plot points, then leap the mire of his ego as every other sentence seems to focus on something brilliant Sol Stein has published or written himself, or what an f'n genius his students believed him to be. Can you imagine the grade you'd get if you weren't kissing his butt? But again, this is a worthwhile read, easy to understand and utilize. Just say to yourself, I will not be nauseated by Stein's massive, unbearable ego, I will persevere, and I will grow as a writer!

9) Plot Perfect by Paula Munier
One of the best books on structuring plot, regardless of genre. …

Choosing a Great Title Before Publication

Following a desultory lurch into relevancy on the part of the panel, one poor neophyte stood and asked the assembled if he should worry about his novel title before becoming published. Did it really matter? He'd received way too many opinions and desired a final tiebreaker. And the consensus answer?
Don't worry about your title Huh?

Not long ago, I attended a panel at a mega-large writer conference. It consisted of authors who had recently been published (small presses, mainstream imprints, e-presses). There were about 150 people in the room. Following a desultory lurch into relevancy on the part of the panel, one poor neophyte stood and asked the assembled if he should worry about his novel title before becoming published. Did it really matter? He'd received way too many opinions and desired a final tiebreaker. And the consensus answer? No. You don't have to be concerned, and besides, the publisher will most likely change it anyway...

I sat there dumbfounded. …

Seven Great Novel Rejection Sins

From the Desk of Agent Richard Curtis***** (Writer's Edge Archives) As the stakes continue to rise in the publishing business, writers are adopting a wide range of strategies to advance themselves out of the midlist and onto better-selling plateaus. I myself have recommended a number of such strategies. Recently, however, as I respond again and again to the question of what one can do to escape midlist oblivion, it's begun to dawn on me that many writers have been ignoring the most obvious answer: write better. 
The truth is that if all other things are equal, the author with better writing skills is the one who will rise out of the pack. Instead of reviewing what's selling these days and who is buying it, I thought it might be worth reminding you about some of the most common and flagrant writing transgressions to be found in a typical harvest of fiction works that fetches up on my desk. I hasten to point out that the perpetrators are by no means mere amateurs, but profess…

How Does Such Crap Get Published?

A question that comes up time and time again in workshops and with editorial clients, and it's always difficult to answer.Ultimately, the publication of bad novels, i.e., novels in any given genre deemed poorly written by any reasonable reader of that genre, is certainly not the fault of the reader, but of those involved in the actual publication process, from agent to publisher. How can it not be? Can one blame the gods or the stars in this matter? 
After working with scores of agents, I've met a few who really don't have a clue what makes for a good story. Ok, so let's just assume that only 20% of active literary agents currently pushing projects in the marketplace are a bit short on taste and knowledge. Well, what of it? That's still a lot of projects being pushed in the face of editors at major houses. 
Fan Tan, The Magicians, and The Emperor's Children, three of the worst novels ever written.  What if the novel has been written by a name author…