Friday, January 18, 2008

Moving On, Moving Forward

So my family and I are in the middle of a move. By that, I mean that I'm the only one dealing with anything remotely related to moving next week while the rest of them continue on business as usual. (Not that I have any expectation of my 1 year-old packing, but my husband? Er, maybe.) Anyhoo...

I've been cleaning out closets and filing cabinets and drawers and every other nook in which I've stuffed stuff over the past few years and have uncovered loads and loads of papers and articles that I've written since the inception of my career. And it's been such an interesting thing, to look back at this stuff. When I was 22 and a new college graduate, I never imagined that I'd forge a career as a writer. I would have loved to, of course, but it just seemed unattainable, ridiculous, almost.

So I got a job in PR. When I realized that PR wasn't for me, I pursued my original passion: acting. I did some off-broadway gigs, got my SAG card via several commercials, moved to LA (via a brief stop in Dallas for a doomed romance), and after a while, realized that, guess what? I wanted to try something else. So I moved back to NYC to co-found an internet company, and that's when my writing career started to come into focus. But not even intentionally so. I wrote a slew of web copy and articles for the site (many of which I found this week in a folder in the back of a closet), and eventually, when the internet bubble burst, I emerged with some semblance of a writing career.

The point of all of this is to say that life is long and winding, and whether or not you achieve immediate success as a writer, that holds no bearing on whether or not you'll achieve success in the future. Or even if you'll still aspire for the same things in the future. If you told my 22-year old self that I'd be making a living as a novelist, she'd be elated but shocked - at 22, it just seemed seemed so far outside the bounds of what I could achieve.

Life as a writer means being the tortoise; it means understanding that small steps are still steps toward the finish line; it means accepting the fact that instant gratification is just a pipe dream. But if you allow things to snowball and roll down the path toward where they're meant to go, sometimes, if you're lucky like me, you might find that you end up in the just the right place.

So tell me, what was your first job? Was it wildly divergent from where you are now?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Is Your Book the Next When Harry Met Sally?

Admin note: thanks for the suggestion that I start to tag my posts. I'm now doing so and also going back to retroactively tag everything. It will take a few days, but hopefully by next week, you'll be able to search old posts much more easily.

Question of the day: I am starting to sent out e-queries. Often agents request a synopsis or chapter pasted in the body of the e-mail. I am worried about the format - do you double space the text? Do I include the cover page with my contact info? Do I type anything to indicate the end of the section? Another question - my novel is inspired by a classic movie (i.e. I stole the plot and updated it!). Think of the way Bridget Jones's Diary used the plot from Pride & Prejudice. Should I mention the movie in my letter or does it hurt me & make me look unimaginative?

Good questions. I can only tell you what I've done in the past, and I'm hopeful others will chime in on what they've done as well.

As far as formatting, double-spacing in a classic font, such as Times or Arial, is best. I've never included a cover page: I always assumed that agents printed out my query/email along with the sample chapter and matched that accordingly, but I don't think you'd look like an idiot if you DID include a cover page. In fact, thinking about it, I don't think it's a bad idea at all - but obviously, in the grand scheme of things, i.e., will you get an offer or not, it really doesn't matter. Don't stress too much about details like this. Pull together a professional sample with no errors and you'll be fine.

As to your next question - should you use the movie comparison - I say go for it, though it might be off-putting for higher-brow agents. What I mean by that is that if yours is a really commercial book, agents will appreciate knowing how they can market it - what niche and demographic it will fall into. Your comparison will also help them really get an idea of your book, or at least your interpretation of your book. In fact, when my agent pitched Time of My Life to editors and publishing houses, she did indeed compare it to movies, calling it a cross between Sliding Doors and Family Man. We also considered throwing Desperate Housewives in there, but she liked the above two, and I agree that it does sum up the general feel of the book well.

But I've digressed. My overall point was that I think these comparisons do help paint an apt picture of what the agent can expect from the book, which is usually a good thing. The downside, I guess, is the risk that the agent then reads it with certain expectations and the book falls short of them. But I suppose that if this happens, the agent probably doesn't like the book for a variety of reasons, so really, you're not losing much.

I'm curious to hear what other people say, though. This is just my initial gut reaction. So, folks, what say you, both about formatting and making comparisons to the silver screen?