Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Query

I've reduced Hafan Deg by another 1000 words. More would have been achieved yesterday, but it was a running-around day with grocery shopping, dentist, house-cleaning - all those things you can't quite picture when you think of the literary process. I mean, try to imagine Martin Amis or Joanna Trollope at the supermarket; it's difficult. I CAN, however, see Stephen King, standing in two feet of snow, packing the groceries into the back of his car, so there are exceptions.

When I first completed Hafan Deg some time ago, I received a request from publishers Allen & Unwin, in Sydney, for the full MS, as a result of my dynamite query letter. That letter is still my first choice, because the editor commented on how intrigued she was by it, and nothing has changed to warrant further refinements. I have a couple of new ones, ready to go, for agents I've since become familiar with, where I understand precisely what they need to see, over and above my first option.

So far I have around thirty agents to pursue, vetting each one as I go through my list, because I won't approach an agent I think will be a poor fit, regardless of what genre they claim as their preference. I want to know as much as possible about them, down to what kind of coffee they drink, if necessary. (We are going to have to work closely together, after all.) We could easily become too eager to be read, writing willy-nilly to all and sundry. Why waste time on that, especially as we're bound to get rejection slips from even the likeliest ones? Although my list presently reflects the U.S. market, I am actively seeking British agents, because I'm more Brit than anything else, and speak the vernacular. I know a good British agent will sell to the U.S. anyway, but I'm sentimental.

Which leads me to the word 'shilly-shally', a good word that Lapillus of Literary Rambles wanted to know more about in her blog yesterday. I explained it to her. Brits have no difficulty understanding Americanese, because we grew up on U.S. film and books. The U.S. notoriously have never quite understood the British, whether they just haven't been exposed to it as much or are more insular in their tastes. Anyway, if you want to know how to use the word 'shilly-shally', don't mess about, don't shilly-shally, go to Lapillus's blog.

I'm re-reading 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves', by Lynne Truss, a book about the pitfalls of poor punctuation. If you haven't already laughed over this one, you must get it. I am a punctuation nut, probably from years of professional editing, and I expect the written word to be in clear, unambiguous form (English or US usage), so for me it's a case of preaching to the choir with this book, but it is just so funny. For those of you who are less particular - or just plain insecure - about punctuation, you might want to take a little look, just to remind you of how important it all is. And you'll have a good giggle.


Lapillus said...

Hey! Thanks for the mention. I have a strange fascination with British folk, but yes, I've had very little exposure to your linguistic particulars. I loved your input on shilly-shally!

Good for you for doing your agent research. I wish you the best of luck when you start querying them!

I've had Eats, Shoots, and Leaves on my list of books to buy for a couple years now. I bought Painless Grammar last year but I'd still like a copy of this. I've heard a ton of good about it!

Christopher Y. C. Loke said...

I've read Eats, Shoots & Leaves before and thought it was smart and witty. However, some of the editors whom I've worked with before did not quite find it that funny. One reason was because Americanese is very much different from British. I know we've talked about the differences in punctuations and syntax, but I was talking to one of my friends, who is an editor for Houghton Mifflin about the difference between Americanese and British, and he basically told me that there is a significant difference other than the obvious spellos. Here are a few things he listed that are different between the two Englishes, which I think you might be interested in knowing:

1. Vocabulary, e.g. trash vs. rubbish; cart vs. trolley; eraser vs. rubber, etc.

2. Sentence structure. Americanese are more lax and is more tolerant with run ons, etc.

3. Punctuation. Americanese is very, very different. That's all I have to say. We hardly use the coma.

4. Style. e.g. Americanese does not distinguish the difference between "I will," and "I shall." And notice the punctuation marks around quotations. In America, "I shall" is considered old fashioned talk; the phrases "compared to" and "compared with" do not have any difference in Americanese; in America we say, "I go to the hospital," while in England you say, "I go to hospital," etc.

For the difference between American and English writing, compare Claire Mesud's Emperor's Children with Ian McEwan's Atonement; also compare Stephanie Myer's Twilight with Rowling's Harry Potter series. You'll probably find many "errors" according to British English standards in the American novels. In fact, the Harry Potter series were specially edited from British to Americanese for the American readers. I own both versions and they do have a slight difference. But the American version is more popular.

That is why I mentioned before that you will read my works differently, and it is true. I would not have appeared to be so cocky if my editor had not told me my excerpt, apart from the punctuation error you pointed out, was perfectly fine.

Fran said...

Heck, what books are you reading, Chris?

'We hardly use commas'? 'Lax sentence structure'?

Clear writing is clear writing.

You'd better tighten up those sentences and pop some commas in here and there to clarify things.

I absolutely don't buy your argument about US/UK, regardless of what your editor said. I am an editor. I guess we duel at dawn.

Oh, and it is commas, although I'm nearly in a coma after your comment.

Kit Courteney said...

How can writing be readable if the comma is hardly used?