Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Guest Post by Literary Agent Josh Getzler


Josh Getzler

Recently, my assistant, Danielle, and I were discussing a number of queries we had received where the setup and buildup were outstanding, the manuscript was rolling along, we were wondering “Hmm, I wonder how this will play out,” and then…
BANG—Conspiracy of Templars!
BANG—The evil bully is actually an alien!!
BANG—The GOVERNMENT is out to get the 12 year old!
(No, this is not about any specific query, but a type. If you think this is about YOUR query, read on, then revise!)
OK, so here’s the thing: If you are writing a big international thriller, a YA adventure with Save-the-world written all over it, or epic fantasy, then fine. Go ahead with the Uncle Who’s Really a Triple Agent from the 28th Century.
But the books we were reading where this was happening were smaller in scope; mysteries and domestic dramas and YA novels that were, in some fundamental ways, cozier than that. It’s not necessary for a kid to find enough nitroglycerin to destroy the world three times over in the neighbor’s garage; he can find a stash of stolen art or his father's old service revolver. The bad apple down the block could have issues smaller than being three light years from the planet Xenon.
My point is pretty basic. Most novels have a built-in scope, where the reader is nodding along and where the suspension of disbelief is reasonable. When a writer, for reasons of ambition or because it seems cool, or in order to work out a tricky plot point, goes beyond scope, it is jarring. Eyes roll. We ask “Why?” We don’t want to read further, or we ask the author to walk it back.
Sometimes the writer will make a reasonable point: “We always hear that books need to be BIG in order to ‘make an impact in the market,’ and that’s what I was trying to do.” OK, fair enough. But almost all the time, the issue is far less about the true Bigness of the story and more about trying to compensate for a plot deficit.
And also understand, I’m not saying don’t be ambitious. I don’t want only tidy dramas in small towns or, you know,Good Expectations. But when you are thinking “OK, what if the dog can fly?” PLEASE be sure that you set it up that the spaniel drank a whole mess of magical non-poisonous jet fuel for dinner. 


  1. In this death-defying publishing market, writers are so eager to be noticed they will do almost anything to stand out, many times that might border on deception. The rule is/should be - stay true to your story. For two years I searched blogs on how to write a good query letter and many did suggest that grab-them -by-the-neck approach. I decided to choose the self-publishing rroad rather than change my personality and become some dramatic slight of hand writer.

  2. I totally agree with you, Judith. I think Josh makes some good points in his essay about not getting carried away with a convoluted plot that doesn't fit the characters and/or setting. There is a lot of freedom and autonomy with self-publishing. It really forces you to learn and grow!

    1. I think, as you said, the key words are learn and grow! And I would never have learned the basic information and strategies about self-publishing without a wonderful group of writers who had generous spirits and shared their (no doubt hard earned) knowledge and voices of support. I must add that recently I have wished for an agent like Josh who might add creative insight and support in this difficult business. Thanks for posting his comments.