My Adventures in Smith Mountain Lake…

Last week I got the chance to present for the Smith Mountain Lake Writers Group down in southwest Virginia (think near Roanoke). The talk drew in a decent crowdconsidering the holiday so closeand attracted writers from several counties.

I’m still out of town and have been having trouble posting on the blog (sorry for the wait). Below you will find some questions that writers asked at the presentation.


Me (Chuck Sambuchino) and some
of the Smith Mountain
Lake writers. To the right of
me (beige shirt) is group
coordinator Jim Morrison.


Q. What do you do if you’re unhappy with how your literary agent is working for you?

A. Complicated question. The standard answer of “Be honest with her” is unfulfilling because you feel like she knows more than you, and she knows how to work. But still, you have to be honest and gently express concern at how things are going.

That said, have patience. As long as the agent is working on your project, then she is indeed working. If it’s getting submitted to places with no luck, then examine why this is. Is this work sub-par? Does it need tweaking? What about these submissions she’s sending to editors? Does she have relationships with the editors, or are these just cold submissions?

If you have decided to get out of a representation agreement with an agent, you will have to consult your contract, and check out the details (fine print). Contracts have termination clauses and you could be stuck with that agent for several weeks or months, etc. Usually this is not a problem because a reputable agent will want to cut ties with a client who wants to cut ties with them. That said, know that any previous books that you worked with the agent onand soldwill be tied to the agent forever.  For example, if your agent sold Book 1, and now you want to get out because Book 2 is going nowhere, you will always be locked in to that agent for Book 1 because she sold it. For every dollar you make now until forever, she gets 15 cents.


Q. Why is literary fiction a difficult sell?

A. Screenwriter Blake Snyder said that if you can’t boil your story down to one super-intiguing sentence (a logline), then you’re already in trouble.  The reason that so much of what’s out now in movie theaters is sequels and remakes and garbage is because it’s easily marketable.  People know what the story’s about.

Genre fiction (also called popular fiction), such as mysteries or romance or sci-fi, has a specific frameworka specific blueprint.  People enjoy mysteries because they want to solve a crime. They expect red herrings. They expect a clever villain. These things are integral parts of the mystery blueprint. Literary fiction has no blueprint! I’ve said before that when you don’t know what your novel is genre-wise, it could very well be literary fiction.

Because literary fiction has no blueprint, and the stories are often more layered and rich, that tends to make them harder to condense into one super-intriguing line. And that’s why they’re a hard sell. People just don’t know what they’re about, and they need to know if they’re going to plunk down $27 for it.

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