Your Book, Your Rules: Advice from an Agent (Guest Blog)

Who better to ask for advice on how to keep an agent’s attention than an agent? Carlie Webber of CK Webber Associates maintains an excellent blog on all kinds of writing and publishing topics, from how to keep YA novels realistic and interesting to advice on how to make sure your query letters don’t end up in the ol’ circular file cabinet—what my 5th grade English teacher called his garbage can, where plenty of my earliest stabs at fiction ended up, I’m sure.

Carlie’s blog post below (re-posted from her agency’s site) concerns speculative fiction and how to make sure your monsters, ghouls, and far-out creatures come across with clarity and purpose. I found it an apt topic considering Carlie is also co-hosting an upcoming boot camp for Writer’s Digest, The First 10 Pages: Science Fiction & Fantasy Boot Camp. The boot camp (still open for registration!) will be held March 26 through 28, and Carlie, along with sc-fi and fantasy authors Philip Athans and Jay Lake, will personally examine the first ten pages of your manuscript and help you get your book off on the right foot.

And for a sample of her helpful advice, I offer you her recent blog post: Your Book, Your Rules.

Vampires sparkle. Or they don’t. You have to cut their heads off; they can’t be killed with a wooden stake. Or not. They’re sexy. Or repulsive. Wizards use wands. Or their minds. Werewolves are only dangerous to humans. Or to all creatures.

Regardless of your view, you can find a vampire/wizard/werewolf book to suit your reading needs. And when you’re the one writing about them, that’s when you get to have the most fun. The great thing about writing speculative fiction is that there are legends, but ultimately the rules of your legends are yours to control.

But with great power comes great responsibility.

I have been known to pass on more than one query because the writer talked about supernatural creatures (not just vampires) without giving me a good idea of why they were important to the story, what the rules were for their existence, or how they affected the human world, if such a thing even existed. I think just about all of us are influenced the most by our earliest encounters with legends of supernatural creatures. So it’s not that I don’t believe that vampires can walk in the daylight, but I had a near obsession with The Lost Boys when I was a kid, so that’s where my personal rules for what vampires can and cannot do came from. I’m willing to set my rules aside in favor of another writer’s, of course, as long as that writer makes it clear that in their world, vampires do x, y, and z instead of a, b, and c.

Some of the points I check for, when reading a book with paranormal creatures, are:

  • Are the origins of this species explained?
  • How do they live among humans, if at all, without being noticed?
  • How do their rules shape their interactions with the main character, if the main character is human?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • What kind of a world do they come from?
  • Why have they bothered to appear on-screen in this book?

You cannot assume that readers—be they your agent, your editor, your critique partners, or your customers—will have any idea of your personal views on the supernatural when they open your book. Maybe you’re writing about a creature they’d never heard of. I didn’t know what wendigos were until I started watching Supernatural, but I had no trouble picking up on the lore because the writers of that particular episode made it clear. Maybe I’ll pick up a book tomorrow that tells an entirely different story of what wendigos are and how they came to be, one that contradicts everything in that episode of Supernatural.

Either way, I’m fine with it as long as the writer lets me know the rules.

For more advice from Carlie Webber, visit her agency site and blog at www.ckwebber.wordpress.com.

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