OLL Interns @ Mon, 2009-12-07 14:15
Mary Kole is an associate agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency, where she represents children's picture books, middle grade fiction, and young adult fiction. Mary was kind enough to answer our questions and share her thoughts on submissions, revision, and that special NaNo glow.
We've heard rumors that literary agents see a sharp uptick in manuscript submissions and query letters on December 1 thanks to NaNoWriMo. Is there any truth to this?
Yes. In fact, several agents joke that December is "NaQuRejMo," which cruelly stands for "National Query Rejection Month." In all seriousness, though, we do see a lot of queries in December. Some of those queries even boast that the project is a fresh NaNo baby. This makes us cringe a little because we love polished projects.
What is NaNoWriMo's reputation amongst literary agents? Are we the bane of your existence? The wind beneath your wings?
A lot of great published novels (like Sara Gruen's Water For Elephants) got their start during NaNoWriMo. But the key word in the last sentence is "start." I bet Sara Gruen put lots and lots of work into her masterpiece, even before she sent it off to her agent. Agents love authors who take their craft seriously, who have great writing habits and who finish what they start. NaNoWriMo teaches participants all of these valuable things and gets them started with a flying leap. Agents, however, don't take kindly to people who submit things that aren't ready to be seen by professionals. We know how hard it is to hold back enthusiasm for your totally amazing blockbuster idea, but we really want to see things that shine, tell a complete story, have amazing writing and incredible voice. Those are things that mostly emerge during revision.
Do you have any NaNoWriMo participants in your stable of clients? Do you find them to be perhaps better looking or more charming than your other clients?
All of my clients are drop-dead gorgeous but you know what? The NaNo participants do seem to have that certain something. No wonder! And every November, they only seem to get more luminous... like they're full of letters and light. Coincidence? I myself have dabbled in NaNo. That, I think, is the secret to why I'm so awesome (and to my gracious humility, natch).
Let's say that the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel completely rocks. What are some things I should be sure to do before sharing it with an agent? Are there any things I should be sure not to do?
I liken a first draft to a skeleton. It's got shape and all the right bones, but it's missing a whole lot of fleshing out. Creating a story arc and finishing a manuscript-length draft is a great skill to learn and an incredible achievement. Thanks NaNo! But revision is an even more important skill. That's the one that requires time, patience and lots of practice to learn. It only takes one try to write a first draft. Most writers then revise anywhere from three to a zillion times before their manuscript is "ready for prime time."
NaNoWriMo is great because it provides writers with resources, forums, profiles, blog guidance, videos and more. There are regional groups and write-ins and a fabulous midnight kick-off party. NaNo is a great resource for meeting other ambitious writers. Use it. If you're not in a critique group already, join one ASAP. The initial writing process might've been a lonely and intense one, but revision is best done with input from other like-minded folk. If you get an agent and then an editor, you'll get notes and feedback from them. It's best to get in the habit of discussing and sharing your work early. Besides, writers usually have a lot of emotions and ego wrapped up in their work. It's almost impossible to see your own stuff objectively. That's why you need feedback from other preferably published or more experienced writers.
Once you're getting feedback from some kind of critique group, get on a schedule that alternates revision with taking a break. A lot of revision work is subconscious. Ideas will strike you when you least expect them. Scenes will spring to mind. Connections will be forged that you didn't notice before. Themes will start to emerge. Give yourself plenty of time to read and rewrite, but also give yourself plenty of time away from the page. Your brain's impressive back burner will continue thinking. The next time you come back to your manuscript after a few weeks or months, I guarantee you'll have ideas and notice things you never did before.
This all involves time and patience, but it's well worth it. Instead of being a casualty of NaQuRejMo, really spend the time. Every time you sit down to write or revise, you'll be growing and learning the craft. And maybe I'll see your NaNoWriMo submission in my inbox... next December! Revision is the real work, but also the real fun, of writing.
Thank you, Mary!
Thanks, and congratulations to all the NaNo participants who've just finished their full-length manuscripts. Wahoo!