Monthly Archives: December 2010

I fix the MSS and send to another agent

As I mentioned in a recent post, I was extremely fortunate to find an agent who gave me valuable feedback. I read the 120 words she’d written carefully, and then spent a month fixing up the MSS. She told me she had problems relating to the main characters, because I’d written my novel in limited 3rd. So I thought about what I should do. Should I go through my 120,000-word MSS, and change it to first person? Should I write in present tense or past?

My novel is written in four books. The first book deals with Cecylee’s childhood, the second, her love-affair with the archer, the third about her husband’s political struggles with the King of England, and the fourth is about her life as an old woman. It seemed to me that each book demanded a different treatment.

Accordingly, I re-wrote the first book in first person present, to get that fresh voice suitable for young girls. I re-wrote the second book in first person past, to get a more adult voice. The third book, I kept in 3rd-person limited, because the complexity of the material demanded that the story be told from more than one point of view. For the fourth book, I re-wrote it in first-person past to convey a feel for the past, which is where most old people are. Then, for good measure, I added in more interior monologue.

After all that work, I sent it to another agent. I am awaiting her verdict as I type this. (She has promised to get back to me after the holidays).

Next: I do a photo-shoot for Cecylee

Image: penhero.com

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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Book Review: WOLF HALL

Hilary Mantel’s ninth novel won the 2009 Man Booker Prize. WOLF HALL is most of the Anne Boleyn story told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister in 1530s England.

I didn’t say that it was the story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell, because Mantel doesn’t really tell us much about his transformation from street urchin to statesman. Apart from the famous opening scene where we meet him at the age of fifteen being given a brutal beating by his father, we hear very little about the protagonist until the year 1529, when his mentor Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, is being stripped from power.

That’s twenty-nine years that encompass his flight from England, his roaming around the continent of Europe, his marriage to Liz Wykys, the birth of his children, not to mention how he met Wolsey and was mentored by him.

Admittedly, the historical record is probably sparse. But if an author is interested in building up character, especially the motivations of the protagonist, it might have been worth while to sketch in these years, if only to show more clearly who Thomas Cromwell was.

There are some good things about this novel. Mantel has a ear for casual speech, and an eye for memorable detail. Her portrait of 16th-century England is grittily real, and I am sure these qualities impressed the Man Booker committee.

But there are some odd things about this novel, odd because Mantel is a experienced writer who had written eight novels before she started this one.

  1. Why did she write in limited third rather than first person? Why the confusing “he” that so many reviewers mention, the “he” that means that Thomas Cromwell is speaking, that could have been rendered much more clearly if it had been changed to “I”. I have never read a novel, where I have had to re-read so many of the sentences because I was so confused about who was talking. This was an easy-to-fix issue, and I am surprised that Mantel left the reader hanging in this fashion.
  2. Where is the narrative arc? This story is rife with tension, yet there is very little drama in this novel. The tone is quiet, matter-of-fact. Perhaps that is what Mantel intended, but the novel would have been much more readable if the drama had actually been dramatized.

Despite all the positive reviews, my experience was not positive. Although there were patches in the novel that were tremendously interesting (descriptions of Queen Katherine, Henry VIII, and Anne Boleyn stick in my mind) the whole work seemed impressionistic and grey, rather than vibrant and full of tension.

For these reasons, I would not recommend this novel.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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I am referred to an agent

Getting into the Napa Valley Writers Conference was one of the best things that has happened to me. The workshop leader was kind enough to say that she thought my novel was ready to send out. Then she turned to me: “Do you have representation?”

At that precise moment, I was with the agent who didn’t want to sign a contract, but had offered to show it to a couple of editors.

“I’m not sure,” I replied. And then explained my situation. A few of my classmates nodded sympathetically (they had similar stories to tell). The workshop leader explained that sometimes relationships with agents could be murky, and it wasn’t always clear whether you had representation or not. This was news to me.

She took me aside later, and gave me the name of her agent. I didn’t hesitate. Within a week, I’d contacted the agent, telling her that I’d been referred by the workshop leader (a New York Times bestselling author).

The result was astonishing. The agent contacted me within a day, asking for a synopsis and the first 50 pages. Then I had to settle in for the inevitable wait. It was summer, and the agent was traveling.

I finally heard back from her 2 months after I’d sent the MSS. She told me that it didn’t click for her. However, she did spend the time to give me some feedback about what she thought wasn’t working. I am eternally grateful to her for taking the time to write me 120 important words.

NEXT: I fix up the MSS and send to another agent.

Image: wallpapers-diq.com

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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What I learned at Napa Valley

In the blurb for the Napa Valley Writers conference it said you had to send a 7,500-word excerpt of your novel in to be critqued. My reason for going to the conference was to get some much-needed feedback, because, as any writer will tell you, getting good quality feedback is a huge problem.

As I said in an earlier post, you cannot assume agents will give you any meaningful feedback (aside form the it-didn’t-knock-socks-off or it-isn’t-right-for-my-list variety) even though you may have given them a 3-month exclusive. Infuriating? Yes. The only thing you can do about it is to NOT to let them have that exclusive for longer than it suits you.

In any event, I decided that I needed help with the middle of my novel, which deals with the politics of the Wars of the Roses. So I carved off a huge bleeding chunk and sent it off.

The weeks rolled around, and one day I found myself sitting in class awaiting my critique. I was sure everyone was going to hate it. I braced myself for the worst, and was surprised by good news.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I must be doing something right. The problem I’d had was that my main character was having 13 children in 17 years, while her husband got caught up in the intricacies of court politics. I racked my brains to find some way of making this potentially mind-numbingly info palatable, and hit upon the idea of doing crowd scenes, then interleaving these scenes with interior monolog and narrative summary. Somehow, all my hard work had paid off.

Next: I get a referral to an agent

Image: Tudor Rose, intstudycen.com

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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My MSS gets slammed

Somewhere in my journey to getting ONE SEED published, I decided to approach someone well-known, to ask for advice on my novel. She was kind enough to reply, making flattering remarks about my website, and telling me that there was enormous potential interest in my novel.

She asked to see the first couple of chapters.

The next day, she slammed me.

Of course it hurt, especially as she had built me up. But I am British and she is British, and I understand that criticism is dished out much more violently in Britain than it is over here.

I managed to take a deep breath and write a polite note asking her for specific details. She responded by telling me two important things: 1) modernize the language, and 2) wear the historical research lightly.

I gave myself about three months before I did anything to the MSS. Then I fixed it up per her instructions, and submitted it to Napa Valley Writers Conference. At the end of April, I was invited to come.

You have to be invited to Napa, you can’t just pay and show up. So I was thrilled to be asked to come, especially because I’d been turned down three years before.

The moral of this story? Yes, the feedback hurt. Yes, I think she was too savage in the way she treated me. On the other hand, I learned some valuable things that enabled me to get into Napa. So if you run into an unpleasant experience, take a deep breath and try to hear that nugget of information that you really need to hear.

Next: What I learned at Napa.

Image: 70filmopening09.blogspot.com

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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I almost get representation

After getting turned down by an agent at a top New York agency, another one almost immediately appeared. I dutifully sent in the MSS and hoped she wouldn’t take three months to give me an answer.

She didn’t. Instead, she said she’d like to represent me.

You can imagine how happy I was. “So,” I said to her over the telephone, “do you send me a contract?”

“No,” she said. “I don’t work like that. I’ll send it out to a couple of editors, and then if there’s some interest, I’ll represent you.”

I had attended many workshops with titles like How to Get Your Novel Published, and had never heard of an arrangement like this. But no-one else was beating down my door, so I agreed. At least, I told myself, you haven’t signed anything.

I heard nothing more for weeks. Finally, after some prodding, she admitted that she’d gotten no response from her friends in the editing business. But by that time, I’d attended the Napa Writers Conference, and found another agent.

Next: Getting Slammed, or How I got into Napa.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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How to Publish Your Novel: The Year of Cecylee

After nearly a year of pitching agents, I thought I would start this blog so that I can write down what I’m learning about this process, both for myself and for the benefit of other people.

The novel I’m pitching is 120,000-word historical novel titled ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED. It is the Richard III story told through the eyes of his mother, Cecylee Neville.

I started in February, sending it out to batches of 15 agents. Out of the 42 agents that I contacted, two were interested. The first agent, from a top-notch New York agency wanted in an exclusive. So, in March 2010, I stopped everything dead to give her that exclusive.

It took her 3 months to read my manuscript. In the end, she didn’t take it. When I asked for feedback, she wouldn’t give it. I understand that agents are swamped with material, but I was not happy that my work was dismissed in this fashion. Unfortunately, we writers have the deck stacked against us, and if agents don’t give us feedback, there is nothing we can do except move on.

Next: I almost get representation.

Image: Cecylee Neville, my protagonist, in the summer of 1441, aged 26, when she met Blaybourne, an archer on the Rouen garrison.

Model: Heather Hayes. Photographer: Whitney Arostegui.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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