Prologues

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wdarcy
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Re: Prologues

Postby wdarcy » Tue Oct 24, 2017 5:27 pm

As an addendum: If we're talking about first-time writers....

Steve Berry's first novel begins with a prologue.

Steven James's first novel begins with a prologue.

Preston and Childs's first novel begins with a prologue.

F. Paul Wilson's first novel begins with a prologue.

Brian Freeman's first novel begins with a prologue.

I could go on and on, but perhaps the point has been made. These authors all had to get agents. And apparently their agents were not put off by their prologues.

--Warren
"Wagner's 'Das Rheingold'" (Oxford 1993). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 1995.

"Elements of Sonata Theory" co-authored with James Hepokoski(Oxford 2006). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 2008.

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Postby Brien Sz » Tue Oct 24, 2017 6:31 pm

deleted - my response. Not worth carrying on about it.

RobTheThird
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Re: Prologues

Postby RobTheThird » Wed Oct 25, 2017 8:22 am

wdarcy wrote:
> There may be some agents who summarily dismiss a submission if it begins
> with a prologue. There are probably many more who dismiss it because of
> bad writing. And if the prologue is badly written, chances are the rest of
> the novel will be badly written as well.
> --Warren
I think you said something you didn't intend to say.
"There are probably..."
You're trying to refute something for which we only have anecdotal evidence. But those anecdotes are from the very people we want to accept our work for publication.

So you can't provide any evidence for how many prologue-included submissions were rejected (nor for how few). Nor for how many times the prologue was a factor in the rejection.

And neither can I. That's why I don't argue to not do it. That also why I merely explain my own experience as a reader.

There is no rule about writing (that I can think of) that does not have exceptions. But those exceptions do not invalidate the rule. At least, not necessarily.

Know your market. Know the risks you take (or mitigate) with each decision you make. Understand when you might be placing additional hurdles in your way.

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Re: Prologues

Postby ostarella » Wed Oct 25, 2017 9:47 am

RobTheThird wrote:
>
> Know your market. Know the risks you take (or mitigate) with each decision you make.
> Understand when you might be placing additional hurdles in your way.


I'm not totally disagreeing with these statements. However... ;)

The problem I see is talking about hurdles and risks specifically in relation to prologues. That implies that using one will add to the chances of rejection. Now, it's already been noted that it's probably not a good idea to include it in a query. But if an agent is interested enough in an ms to ask for a partial or even better - a full - what are, realistically, the chances they will toss it because of a well-written and interesting prologue (ie, as well-written and interesting as the main story)? What percentage of agents will actually do that? We only have anecdotal evidence - a handful of agents who hate them so much they actually say they will do that. And then consider procurement editors at publishing houses. They look at the sales potential - but they realize that no ms is perfect and that further editing will be done. How much time and effort is needed to read the prologue and say, "I don't think this is needed."? And finally, look at the number of books on the shelves that have prologues. Again, as noted, it's almost a requirement in some genres, and certainly found in many.

A prologue is a literary tool. Like any tool, an author needs to learn when and how to use it properly, not avoid using them at all.

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Re: Prologues

Postby RobTheThird » Wed Oct 25, 2017 1:04 pm

ostarella wrote:
> RobTheThird wrote:
> >
> > Know your market. Know the risks you take (or mitigate) with each decision you
> make.
> > Understand when you might be placing additional hurdles in your way.
>
>
> I'm not totally disagreeing with these statements. However... ;)
>
> The problem I see is talking about hurdles and risks specifically in relation to
> prologues. That implies that using one will add to the chances of rejection. Now,
> it's already been noted that it's probably not a good idea to include it in a query.
> But if an agent is interested enough in an ms to ask for a partial or even better - a
> full - what are, realistically, the chances they will toss it because of a
> well-written and interesting prologue (ie, as well-written and interesting as the
> main story)?

Don't ask me. I'm not an agent. Hell, I haven't even successfully published. So ask the agents. Especially the successful ones. For instance, Janet Reid.

http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2014/03/question-oft-maligned-prologue.html

> I am fully settled in the I Hate Prologues camp too. I go so far as to NOT read them in a manuscript.
>
> My feeling is exactly as you've outlined above.
Ah, but Mz Reid is not so easily catalogued. She goes on to state:

> A query is not the full manuscript and it's certainly NOT the finished book. Reading at the query stage is often skimming.
> It's NOT settling down on the couch with a cat and a cup of java for a nice read of an 800 page novel.

I really like the above blog post, because it brings up another good point. The question to which she is responding states:

> I have heard that some agents will go so far as to reject the submission as soon as they
> see the word “prologue” on pg 1. I have also heard that a counter for this is to simply
> title the prologue “Chapter 1” and re-number the rest of the chapters. This strikes me
> as mildly deceptive since I fully intend for the prologue to be marketed as a prologue.

Her response? Wonderful, IMO.

> And you don't actually have to put prologue you know. It's Chapter 0. Or Chapter 1.
> Don't get all caught up in "this must be a prologue" cause as soon as you do the
> editor at the publishing house is gonna say "hey, people don't read prologues,
> we always start with chapters" and that's gonna be that.

I would also ask, what's deceptive about this? Do you really think "Chapter One" instead of "Prologue" is going to fool an experienced, well-regarded agent or editor, one who is good enough to be worthy of representing your work?

KNOW.
YOUR.
MARKET.

If you do that, you'll know if said agent or editor loves, hates, or doesn't give a tinker's damn about prologues. And you'll know when to provide it.

It won't matter what I as a reader say about it.

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wdarcy
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Re: Prologues

Postby wdarcy » Wed Oct 25, 2017 2:45 pm

There are clearly two issues here, and unfortunately they tend to become conflated.

1. Should I write a prologue?

2. Having written one, should I include it in an agent submission?

Let's deal with the second issue first.

There appears to be anecdotal evidence that some agents hate prologues and will reject any submission that begins with one. As Rob says, this evidence is purely anecdotal. But on the off chance some agents do feel this way, I would agree with those who caution against including it. Nothing dishonest there, as it's only a partial. But if a full is requested, it would be dishonest not to include one.

Should you write a prologue? Depends upon whether you novel needs one. If it really, really does, then by all means go ahead and write one. Don't be scared off by tales of agents who hate them and readers who skip them. I for one never skip a prologue, and if it's well-written I enjoy reading it.

The problem, as I see it, comes when "don't submit a prologue to an agent" mutates into "don't ever write a prologue." Beginning writers might easily draw that conclusion.

What Rob said about "know your market" is 100% true. And the market for thrillers is replete with prologues. They're almost an integral part of the genre. And any agents who represents thrillers will know that.
"Wagner's 'Das Rheingold'" (Oxford 1993). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 1995.

"Elements of Sonata Theory" co-authored with James Hepokoski(Oxford 2006). Winner of the Society for Music Theory's Wallace Berry Award, 2008.

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Re: Prologues

Postby ostarella » Wed Oct 25, 2017 10:49 pm

RobTheThird wrote:

> Don't ask me. I'm not an agent. Hell, I haven't even successfully published. So
> ask the agents. Especially the successful ones. For instance, Janet Reid.
>
> http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2014/03/question-oft-maligned-prologue.html
>
> > I am fully settled in the I Hate Prologues camp too. I go so far as to NOT read
> them in a manuscript.
> >

I follow Janet's blog and she typically has good advice. But, y'know, when the agent comes out and says, point blank, I Hate Prologues - do you really think that agent is giving good, objective publishing advice? Frankly, I don't think I'd waste my time submitting anything to an agent like that, because who knows what else they hate that they aren't spewing about online?

Yes, I agree - know your market. But know your book first. Know what it needs, what makes it good, what makes it better. Maybe you don't get Janet Reid because it has a prologue - that doesn't mean you'll never get an agent for it, or never see it on the shelves. Just means that Janet Reid missed out a really great book. ;)

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Re: Prologues

Postby RobTheThird » Thu Oct 26, 2017 8:25 am

ostarella wrote:
> I follow Janet's blog and she typically has good advice. But, y'know, when the agent
> comes out and says, point blank, I Hate Prologues - do you really think that agent is
> giving good, objective publishing advice? Frankly, I don't think I'd waste my time
> submitting anything to an agent like that, because who knows what else they hate that
> they aren't spewing about online?

Do you really think there's ANYTHING about publishing that's based on objectivity? If it was so set in stone, why aren't best sellers being pumped out like a burger at McDonald's?

There's a saying I was taught in customer service training.

> Do you want to be right, or do you want to satisfy the customer?

Janet Reid is a successful agent.

That doesn't mean she'll ever represent your work. For example, I don't think she does fantasy or scifi, so she'll never represent me.

Nor does that success mean that she can't be wrong.

However, didn't we agree previously that publishing is a business? As a business decision, do you exclude someone who clearly knows publishing because you want to include something she doesn't appreciate? And why the broad speculation? What does it matter what she does or doesn't like beyond prologues if this is a deal-breaker for you?

I'm sorry, Ostarella, because this is going to sound harsh (to say the least), but to me that kind of speculation sounds like a need to demonize someone. Or a need to be right.

Okay, Janet Reid is not for you. Why not leave it at that? It isn't about right and wrong. JK Rowling was turned down by numerous agents after she wrote the first Harry Potter book. I haven't relocated it, but I recall reading a blog by one of those agents after the fact. That agent doesn't believe that they made a mistake. The agent said that he (I think it was) was not the right agent for the job. For him, it was a good call.

She doesn't have to be a bad person to be not right for you or your work.

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Re: Prologues

Postby ostarella » Thu Oct 26, 2017 9:59 am

I was not making a personal attack on Janet Reid, let alone demonizing her. I said I follow her blog and she generally has good advice. I did state that if an agent - ANY agent - had publicly stated they hated "A" and would automatically reject any ms that had "A", then I would wonder what other prejudices they had that would cause them to pass on a book that could be very successful. An agent can be successful and still have passed up runaway best-sellers. It seems short-sighted and lacking in the kind of open mind that I would want to work with. Yes, publishing is a business - and for that reason, you don't want to fixate on an agent when there's a very good chance you won't be able to work with them. I don't want an agent that isn't willing to look past their own personal prejudices. I'd rather work with one who sees the potential value of the work and knows which publishers would be interested in it. Deciding which agents to submit to is not only a matter of which ones handle your genre and their success rate - it's also which ones seem best suited for a long-term relationship with you as an author.

As to objectivity - why is that so impossible to imagine? Objectivity is giving advice based on facts, not conjecture or personal preferences. Objectivity is turning down good stories because there are so many slots open and a choice has to be made based on how successful book A could be compared to book B - and that choice is based not on "Oh, I like this character so much more than this other one", but on what has sold and what is selling and what the market trends are and so many other objective criteria.

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Re: Prologues

Postby RobTheThird » Thu Oct 26, 2017 11:00 am

ostarella wrote:
> I was not making a personal attack on Janet Reid, let alone demonizing her.

Then why include anything not in evidence? How does this one preference say anything about anything else?

> I said I follow her blog and she generally has good advice. I did state
> that if an agent - ANY agent - had publicly stated they hated "A"
> and would automatically reject any ms that had "A", then I would
> wonder what other prejudices they had that would cause them to pass on a
> book that could be very successful.

What would cause it? How about experience? You are turning this into something about her. That's why it feels like demonization to me.

> An agent can be successful and still
> have passed up runaway best-sellers. It seems short-sighted and lacking in
> the kind of open mind that I would want to work with. Yes, publishing is a
> business - and for that reason, you don't want to fixate on an agent when
> there's a very good chance you won't be able to work with them.

I found her statement to be open minded. Did she tell the other person to not do a prologue? I didn't see that.

Agents can be wrong. But so can writers. I don't have to call a writer short-sighted to disagree with the use of prologues. I can simply agree to disagree.

> I don't
> want an agent that isn't willing to look past their own personal
> prejudices.

But you have no basis for thinking it's a *personal* prejudice. As she said in the linked blog post, she has reasons, professional ones, for her stance.

Of course, that doesn't make her right. But it does show us that this is more than, "Prologues? Ick!"

> I'd rather work with one who sees the potential value of the
> work and knows which publishers would be interested in it.

I think her track record shows this. That does not mean that she must be a match for you, because, as you say...

> Deciding which
> agents to submit to is not only a matter of which ones handle your genre
> and their success rate - it's also which ones seem best suited for a
> long-term relationship with you as an author.

Agreed.

>
> As to objectivity - why is that so impossible to imagine? Objectivity is
> giving advice based on facts, not conjecture or personal preferences.
> Objectivity is turning down good stories because there are so many slots
> open and a choice has to be made based on how successful book A could be
> compared to book B - and that choice is based not on "Oh, I like this
> character so much more than this other one", but on what has sold and
> what is selling and what the market trends are and so many other objective
> criteria.
If finding a successful writing were solely a matter of fact and business analysis, I'd agree.

But it's not.

There's a lot of "gut feeling" involved in it. And the author-agent relationship matters as well. Maybe it's a great book, but maybe not great *for that agent*.

Agents pass on submissions for all manner of reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the submission. Too many other works on their plate. Already other works in the same genre (so conflict of interest). No time to read the full that they may have previously requested. Take your pick.

Like I said previously, Harry Potter was turned down multiple times, and I recall one agent who passed did not regret doing so, because that agent believed they could not have represented it as well as it deserved (still looking for a link to this).

The decision to represent is a mix of subjective and objective factors.

Don't submit to an agent you don't think you can work with. But that decision does not mean the author OR the agent are wrong.

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