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Let's talk about The Gatekeepers...

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Heliotrope, Jan 16, 2018.

  1. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    We all know who they are. Agents. Editors for Ezizes. Editors at publishing companies.

    For those who are interested in actually selling your work traditionally, these guys are the St. Peter at the holy gates. They are the ones who look over your stuff and decide if it is worthy.

    And remember, you are in the big leagues now. These are the guys who represent the authors you see on the shelf at the checkout at the grocery store. They represent the authors you are taking out at the library and paying overdue fees to read the book again.

    Is your book good enough? Are you at that level of quality?

    You'd better not give them any reason to doubt it.

    We talk a lot about these "15 things NOT to do" articles we find on the internet. For the most part they are pretty vague and pretty prescriptive... but let's really think about why they exist.

    On the surface level, suggesting that your story should not start with a character looking in a mirror, or it shouldn't start with weather, seems really dumb.. Why does it matter? This book is a masterpiece. Reader's wont care.

    But agents and editors are reading upwards of two hundred and fifty story openings a month. (As CagedMaiden pointed out in this article:

    Becoming a Breakout Writer — Interview with Donald Maass

    If an agent has opened his two hundredth manuscript that month, and it opens on the character looking in the mirror for the hundredth time that month, then it is a bit of an eye roll. It is like a photography competition getting it's thousandth Hawaiian sunset. It just screams "this is not original."

    And guess what, despite what you might think about agents looking for "generic, paint by numbers fiction" it is NOT TRUE! Ha! Agents are looking for something new. Something fresh. Something unique. Something that says "This writer has his/her shit figured out." This writer is actually creative, and not rehashing the same old scenes we have seen a billion times before.

    So they try to help. Yes, help! you by coming up with lists of things that drive them insane. They are basically begging you to please come up with something different. They are offering you a way to get past them. Head their advice and perhaps you can get past the gatekeepers.

    If you are not interested in publishing your work traditionally, than the general reader will not care. Go about your merry way doing what you do.

    Thoughts, Scribes? What do you think about the lists provided by the gatekeepers? Are they meant to help us? To stretch our visions to be truly creative and unique? Or are they meant to squash us down?
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2018
  2. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    I get the sense sometimes that the lists agents post are for what they most want to represent but not necessarily what publishers most want to publish. The agents have their manuscript wish lists, and adhering to those lists might get you an agent, but there will still be a battle to get a publisher interested in your work. I'm not saying that what agents post on their wish lists are always unpublishable ideas, but those lists are colored by the agent's personality, not an editor's.
     
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  3. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I think it's important to realize that the lists are asking for something they haven't seen a million times over. IMHO two lists will never be exactly the same, but there will be overlap and there will be gray areas. But in general, taking note of the contents of a list will give a writer a solid idea of what they can do to stand out in the eyes of a particular agent or publisher. It is meant to help us get noticed by them, no necessarily the reader or anyone else.

    It's definitely not the same as standing out in the eyes of a typical reader. A mirror-scene opening may make an agent cringe, but I'd say many wouldn't even flinch.

    I'm not sure if these lists are meant to help us stretch our visions, but it certainly can be used that way. It gives us an idea of what's been done many times before. But I think, for agents and publishers, part of it is they just don't want to read another story that starts that way or has a particular element, even if it's written well. It probably kills their excitement for the story, and that's the important thing for them. They need to be excited/passionate about a story to represent it. They're only human after all.

    To me, it's like someone who gets served lots and lots of steaks. Eventually they get tired of it, and it doesn't matter if it's the best steak ever made by the most skillful chef in the world, they just want something different. To them steaks are boring, even though it's not the case for most others.

    It's a statement of what they don't want and what they find boring, not a statement about the quality of writing or what others will find boring. But if you want to get past the gatekeeper, and they tell you part of the the key to getting passed them is X, then well you have to pay attention to X, and ignore it at your own peril.
     
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I have a problem with these lists in particular that has nothing to do with things that may or may not have been said in a thread that shall remain unmentionably mentioned just now by me.

    They would have you looking at the bottom.

    If quality is a spectrum, these lists cast your attention between the parentheses, here.

    Slush <(---------)--------------------------> Awesome

    ^ This isn't what you should be focused on if you want to be successful. It just isn't.

    Again, it's not that the advice is wrong or bad or whatever. If you glance at the list and think, "Ohh, that's interesting," and then move on immediately, that's wonderful. The fact that these lists are true makes them important, but only to a point. Even if you're doing the things on this or that list, I would still believe that it's just the wrong place to start if you're looking for ways to improve and take your writing seriously.
     
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  5. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Yes. I agree with this 100%. These lists are not for new writers. They are not for people who are still trying to figure out craft. Do not try to write to these lists if you are still figuring out craft and who you are as a writer and what sort of stories you write.

    The ONLY time you need to worry about these lists is if you want to submit to THESE SPECIFIC agents or publishers. That is all. That is the only time.

    What these lists can also do is steer you in another direction. You may think "All my friends submit to Strange Horizons. I'm going to do that too." Then you read their "We've seen this story a hundred times List" and you thing "Ok. Well, obviously they don't publish stories like mine. Maybe I will look somewhere else." So you hunt out an ezine that DOES publish what you write.
     
  6. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    A lot of agent sites I visit have both lists, the ones that focus on the Slush end of the spectrum, as to not what to do, and the others that focus on the Awesome end of the spectrum, what they want to see more of that they aren't seeing. One agent I follow closely said she wanted to see more epic fantasy that is truly epic. She wanted to see more jungle settings, more non-European settings, more female lead characters. She talked about how writers submitted supposedly epic fantasy stories to her, but they weren't all that epic and didn't hit (m)any of the other items on her wish list, so she took a pass. Not necessarily because the stories weren't good, but she already had enough work at the time, and the only way she would willingly take on another client was if their submitted work was something that hit a lot of the marks on her wish list.
     
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  7. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    To add to my last post above, in perusing over many ms wish lists of agents over time, you can start to see trends as to what agents in general are wanting to see more of. If you find a lot of agents are wanting the same thing, it might spark an idea for your next story.... :)
     
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  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    They are absolutely meant to be helpful, and are.

     
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  9. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    And this is what happened with me. As an elementary teacher who focusses a lot on literacy I attended quite a few conferences by Canadian children's publishers who were trying to push their books to educators and school libraries. I approached many of these publishers afterwards and asked what, specifically, where they looking for in submitted manuscripts?

    A lot of them said Harry Potter and Percy Jackson were great, but there had been not too many girl MC's in fantasy fiction as of late. Not a lot of Canadian content and Canadian history... There were many other informative things they were looking for... and thus, Andromeda Rackham and the Treasure of Sorrows was born in my head.

    When you actually talk to them you find out so much. They are perfectly open about saying "Well, we already have a ton of X type of story, so we don't need more of those. We are really looking for more of..... Y and Z."

    For some people it might be a turn off and they walk away because it is not what they write. For me it was more a thought process of "Ok, well, I can provide that."
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2018
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  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Every agent I’ve had contact with for chit chat rather than submission is not only looking for what is their taste, but are stressing what the publishers what, and the publishers are stressing what the public wants (or can be smoozed into wanting). Everybody is worried about who pays them, personal taste will be woven into that and play second fiddle much of the time.

     
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  11. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    I would think any agent worthy of the title would operate as you describe. I only hope I can find an agent like that when I am ready to seek representation, preferably with personal tastes aligning well with mine.
     
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  12. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Yeah, best to find an agent with like tastes if it’s going to be a constructive relationship. Same goes with an editor.

    I don’t envy an agent’s job, until they’re well-established, but still... so much work coming in and skipping one could mean you skipped a big pay day. Pressure.
     
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