Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tales From Today's Slush

I'm determined to get ahead of my inbox this month. Wish me luck with that! Eyestrain, here I come!

So I'm reading electronically submitted slush partials today, and here is what I'm seeing:

1. In the first submission I read, the sentence structures show no appreciation for the rhythm of language. I count the sentences on the first page -- there are 27 -- and all but three begin with the word "she" or the character's first name. The remaining three all begin with present participial phrases, two of which are incorrectly punctuated. To make matters worse, the character is alone and thinking about the backstory while she gets dressed. I don't read past the first page. Frankly, I can't imagine that anyone would.

2. Second submission looks more promising, except that the writer is being coy. Two characters, a man and a woman, are being intimate in the opening, and neither one of them is named. I read for five pages without seeing a name. Details are slurred -- at one point, I can't tell if the man is touching the woman's hair or the woman is touching the man's hair. But the writing is generally good, and I respect the adventurous spirit that led the writer to try something like this in the first pages. It doesn't work, but I want to read more in the hopes that the rest of the book will be less experimental but equally well-written. I'll request a full, and if the full is any good, we'll just edit that opening.

3. Oh, God. Not another needlessly fiesty heroine. This one is yelling at her parents' banker and calling him an ass. I don't know why. The man's just trying to deliver a message, and she tees off on him so thoroughly that I wonder if this story ought to be set in a mental ward. Plus, it's single spaced, I'm guessing 8-pt type in a sans serif font. Almost impossible to read. Pass.

4. I can't believe my eyes. Someone sent in a well-formatted and well-written synopsis. All caps to introduce new characters, and she does that cool romance thing where the hero and heroine get lead-in paragraphs before the plot synopsis starts. This always seems to me to be a very good technique for romance, where character is so crucial. Turn to the sample pages with a feeling of hope -- there are some awkward sentences on the first page. But we're firmly in one character's pov and it's an actual scene. I'm kind of on the fence with this one. There would be a lot of clean-up work in line edits, which means a lot of time. My time, not the writer's time. Dare I request it, with so many other fulls sitting in my inbox? I could always farm it out to one of the senior editors. (Hi, Alicia! You busy, hon? Wanna do my work for me? lol)

5. A requested full novel of 100k words. This one will take a while to read--assuming I read the whole thing. We're so picky about long stories that this submission is a real long shot. I back out of this one -- I want to bang through some quick submissions today, not spend the focused hours needed to evaluate a full -- and discover that most of my remaining submissions are also for fulls. This is a bad sign. My inbox will take more hours to clear out than I first imagined. I start digging for partials. I know there are more in here. There have to be.

6. Here's one. A "friends with benefits" plot. We're only friends, but we're horny so we have sex. Oops! We fell in love! Friendship is not a conflict, folks, especially not when they're already having sex and have managed to stay friends. There's no real story here. Pass.

7. Another one, an historical, but it opens with a full page of set-up, the heroine sitting and thinking about how her life is about to change. That would have to be cut. It shifts quickly into scene, but I'm wondering if this is the right scene. There's such a great hook in the cover letter, but ten pages into the manuscript, I see no evidence of anything supporting that hook. The writing is raw -- the kind of writing that shows lots of promise but isn't ready for press. This is the kind of writer I would love to groom if I had more time. Maybe she'll find the blog. Pass.

8. Here's a good one. Elegant prose, tons of drama, solid plot. But it's not what we publish. Pass.

9. Yes! OMG, yes! Okay, the first three pages will have to go -- they're this lead-in fantasy thingie, totally unnecessary -- but after that, hoo damn is this one good! Please, let it be this good all the way through! Request a full. Hope the writer sends it instantly. I'm in the mood to buy manuscripts today.

I feel like I've succeeded now. That last one gave me a feeling of accomplishment. I'm going to switch to other tasks as a reward now. :)

Theresa

8 comments:

La Belle Americaine said...

What I'm receiving from this blog is: grammar, grammar, grammar. As a recipient of an American public school education, I've come to realize that my grammar is entirely inadequate and that I can get dinged because of it. What do you suggest to increase grammar perception?

Ian Thomas Healy said...

*sigh* #8 would likely be me if I hadn't done my homework and discovered you don't publish what I write. Darnitall.

Good luck with #9 though!

Ian

Edittorrent said...

Honestly, I see it more as an issue of sentence structure than an issue of grammar. It's just that we talk about sentence structure using grammar terms. (But yes, atrocious grammar can get you dinged.)

If you can, find some exercises that will let you practice sentence combining. That will give you some experience shifting around the bits inside a sentence and will help you avoid weak structures.

A good manuscript is composed of two elements -- good storytelling plus good writing. And within a genre, because we see the same story elements over and over, good writing becomes that much more important if you want to pull away from the herd.

michelle Douglas said...

Wow, Theresa, and I thought my day had been tough, slugging out 9 raw pages - think I'll stick to a writer's life ;-)

Edittorrent said...

You asked--
I've come to realize that my grammar is entirely inadequate and that I can get dinged because of it. What do you suggest to increase grammar perception?

I posted something the other day which had a few sites and suggestions for punching up the old grammar skills, which is SO MUCH FUN!! Really!

Alicia who really knows how to have a good time

Edittorrent said...

Well, I always have fun with you.

Theresa

La Belle Americaine said...

I can't find the links! Could you direct me to them, please?

Dave Shaw said...

belle, follow the 'grammar' link under Labels to see the post with the links.