Saturday, July 29, 2006

Old publicity photos and RWA Idol

Do you think publishers are the ones who decide to keep the decades out-of-date photos for authors? Or do the authors in their seventies choose to keep the glam shot from their forties on their books, etc.? Is it all just part of The Business?

With that pressing question out of the way, onto the infamous RWA Idol session.

Last year I was not at National, but heard about the inaugural session where anonymously-submitted first pages of manuscripts were submitted to a panel of editors/agents to give their truthful reactions as the pages were being read. This sounded really useful to me, but I was surprised by the amount of people afterwards who said the panelists were too mean. I thought this reaction came from that cadre of people who never want truthful feedback on their work.

I was wrong.

But more about that later.

The RWA Idol immediately followed the JAK/SEP talk which was dang convenient since I was already in the room with a good seat for snapping pics. I was really looking forward to seeing Irene Goodman in person because I'd read good stuff about her from some of her clients like Debbie Macomber and Linda Lael Miller.

They started the session by having everyone come up and put their submissions on a table in front. I think this year was different from last year in that the submissions were two pages, not one, but I might be misremembering last year's guidelines.

On the panel were Lucia Macro, an editor from Avon.

And Irene Goodman, founding agent of the Irene Goodman Agency.

And Miriam Kriss, also with the Irene Goodman Agency who appears in the middle in the next photo.

They then asked for a volunteer reader, and they picked a teacher. She is on the left in the photo below.

They announced that, in the tradition of tv show American Idol, Lucia would be Paula, Miriam would be Randy, and Irene would be Simon.

As an aside here, twice in two days I have noticed that people are happy to play someone of another gender, but if they are of another skin color, this requires special commentary. This happened at the Shakespeare Tavern the other night too. Three white guys happily played all the roles, male and female, but then when they got to Othello, there was a whole separate bit about how they couldn't do Othello because they were "crackers." Then they launched into a rap version of Othello. Here too, Irene accepted the Simon role without comment, but Miriam made a special comment about her playing Randy perhaps being "less appropriate." OK, enough of my boring sociological asides.

We were off to the races.

The reader read the first page, and Miriam was the first to halt it. The conversation was a father to a son, with the father lamenting his son's unwed state. Everyone on the panel felt that the marriage mart conversations were pretty rote, so not the best choice to open a book.

Lucia also commented that she doesn't like her hero to have parents.

Meaning, he should be in control, independent, have the title, have the money, have the power. Not spending his time being nagged by his parents.

Irene did a lovely English accent as part of her Simon imitation.

Next up I think was a sitting and thinking scene with the heroine on the couch with a "tatty afghan" watching tv. The writing was quite good in places, but heroine was very passive, and the scene had no hook, so it was stopped.

Meanwhile the reader, understandably nervous, kept reading faster and faster. This had the unintentional effect of adding great drama to the next reading which was about a woman climbing out the window on her wedding day (I think it was hers, I couldn't always catch the words being read) with a small child. The reader raced through the two pages in a breathless stream of words, and this ended up getting a nod from the panel, with Miriam saying the author could send her a partial.

The reader (sorry I don't know her name) was asked to slow down, and this seemed to make her stumble over more words. I think RWA really should provide a reader like NJ does for their conference. The woman reading was totally brave to do the reading, but she just wasn't able to do the readings justice, and it made the pages more painful to listen to.

One of the next submissions was a scene where a man sees his blind date has brought a child. I thought this was a lovely beginning, all filled with confusion, frustration and an unexpected twist, but it was stopped by Lucia, I think, who said "Kids are not sexy." She and Miriam made a few comments about how the scene had no sexual tension, in fact, no tension at all. Irene said the scene was too sad.

After that, the comments got harsher, and I felt that the panel was playing to the audience, going for laughs.

Which is fine, but this is where my own mistaken expectations came into play. I don't watch American Idol, but when I thought about it later, I realized that that show probably also features a lot of mockery or mean comments because even I know about Simon, Randy, and Paula, and their respective styles.

But I was really uncomfortable sitting in the room while an editor and two agents made fun of people's writing -- people who were sitting right there in the room albeit anonymously -- and everyone laughed. It felt too ugly, so I left in the first half hour.

Here are some other tidbits I jotted down though before I went that might be useful to those of you thinking to submit to Avon or the Irene Goodman Agency.
  • Miriam doesn't want any submissions where the heroine hits her head on a rock and wakes up in the Middle Ages.
  • Miriam uses a typewritten envelope as an indicator of a potential client's sanity. "Think about it, people. Somewhere out there is a person who, if they have to make one change to the manuscript, they have to retype the whole thing! They're crazy!"
  • Lucia and Miriam think politicans/politics are very unsexy.
  • Miriam stopped one story when the description included a hungover man with a "throbbing brain" because it was a short step to "throbbing manhood."
  • Lucia and Miriam both had enough of the infamous opening scene where someone is debating whether they should go through with their marriage, and the corollaries of finding out the intended groom is gay or having an affair with her best friend.
  • After I left, they apparently said they were looking for books that people in Walmart would like. In other words, with a very very broad appeal.

So RWA Idol was not for me, but there were tons of people there, so it obviously works for a lot of others. I think it helps to enjoy sarcastic humor, which I don't, and often don't even get.

I really value unvarnished, truthful feedback (heck, I'm a Cherry -- it's required). I like to hear when a certain scenario is cliche, or a certain paranormal backstory has been done to death, but I like it done with an air of professional-to-professional.

But, before I end the post, I have to note that Lucia, like Jayne, also rocked the Snazzy and Comfortable Footwear category.


At Saturday, July 29, 2006 9:18:00 AM, Anonymous pattieg said...

Love Lucia's Keds! The workshop sounds cold but the writers who participate know what they're getting into & it is anonymous. Having said that, I don't know if I'd be brave enough to do it!

At Saturday, July 29, 2006 9:48:00 AM, Blogger Rene said...

I'd heard the RWA Idol was pretty vicious last year. Since I heard the same criticism from at least 10 people, I had to give some credence to it. I think you are right, they were playing it for mean laughs.

At Saturday, July 29, 2006 10:20:00 AM, Anonymous Catherine said...

In a presentation like RWA Idol, I suspect what you get is unvarnished truth. Or maybe that's unvarnished opinion. It's tough on the egos of the people who submit pages, but at least you get to hear what the critiquers really like and dislike. No polite sugar-coating. That can be very valuable to someone who's agent shopping. (At least you might know whom to avoid.)

At Saturday, July 29, 2006 10:47:00 AM, Blogger Abby said...

I couldn't believe the list of books you posted. What are you supposed to do with all those?? I think you're going to have to step up the giveaways, big time!

At Saturday, July 29, 2006 12:21:00 PM, Anonymous Caryle said...

Good info, Jude! I'm not sure RWA Idol would be the best activity for me, either. I like my feedback with a little less bite. Constructive and truthful feedback, yes, mean spirited no.

Thanks for this blog, again. It has really helped me get through the week!

At Saturday, July 29, 2006 12:29:00 PM, Blogger Erin the Innocent said...

I LOVE the shoes *s*

That is an incredible list of books. I'm jealous : ) Wish I could be there (even though it would just be for the book signings.

As for the question about publicity photos... I think many authors have current ones now. The ones that don't? It's kind of sad really. It makes me wonder why they have any picture up at all. If they don't want us knowing what they look like now then they shouldn't have any picture up. (just my opinion)

At Saturday, July 29, 2006 1:04:00 PM, Blogger Cherry Red said...

I didn't go to RWA Idol last year. That was about the the time I got sick and took a nap in my room. I realized later it was introvert-overload the nap worked wonders. The best lesson I learned last year in fact.

I don't watch American Idol, so I wasn't planing on attending that one anyway. All my roomates and most of my friends attended last year and they liked it. I don't remember them mentioning that people were made fun of. I think that's awful.

I'm with you, honesty is what we want (we're cherries, we don't need "feel good" stuff) but making fun of someone's work is just plain wrong. I'd have left too.

There's a way to say why something doesn't work or what needs work without resorting to making someone feel stupid.

At Saturday, July 29, 2006 1:49:00 PM, Anonymous Page said...

I would hate to be the reader at this. They should have had several volunteers. Love this blog. Can't wait for the conference tapes.

At Saturday, July 29, 2006 2:30:00 PM, Blogger Lis said...

I don't think there's any way I could have done RWA idol, I cringe hearing my work outloud let alone possibly/probably ripped to shreds in front of me.

At Saturday, July 29, 2006 2:41:00 PM, Blogger Nicole said...

Yes, kids are NOT sexy. I love reading category romances when I want something cute and sweet, but they all seem to include kids now. It's rather frustrating. Some of us are planning to wait for kids.

RWA Idol seems rather interesting....though I never did like AI.

At Saturday, July 29, 2006 4:23:00 PM, Blogger china g. said...

I'm all for honesty, but I don't think I'd have the nerve to participate in RWA Idol, not if it's the way it sounds.

At Saturday, July 29, 2006 5:43:00 PM, Blogger Camilla said...

Ech...selling at Wal-Mart is the romance genre's ultimate target? Look out for more and more cookie-cutter romances everyone!

At Sunday, July 30, 2006 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Tess said...

They also did a similar thing at the Pro Retreat in Reno - with similar result. Almost no positive comments were made and it seemed designed to run the writers down for laughs rather than give honest feedback. Seems those of us who complained were heeded, as there was nothing similar at this year's retreat (at least not that I heard as I wasn't there).

Thanks for running this blog :-) Made staying home much easier as I still got some of the conference experience without all the hassle of flying *g*.

At Sunday, July 30, 2006 1:28:00 PM, Blogger Lynne Simpson said...

I stayed for most of the session because a friend who had submitted her two pages wasn't able to be there for the whole time due to a conflict with her pitch appointment. When they finally got around to hers, I think the reader had gotten pretty tired. She made several unfortunate mispronunciations that resulted in the submission not making a lot of sense. I totally don't fault her -- she was a saint to volunteer for that duty, believe me.

Earlier in the day, I briefly considered going to Kinko's and printing out a submission for the workshop, but after seeing what happened, I'm glad I didn't. I was hoping for insightful, blunt comments from industry professionals, but what we got was someone trying to appear clever at others' expense. Not pretty.

I hope those writers who left the room in tears will be able to get some distance from this workshop and see it for what it was. I mean, to me, some of the comments had all the relevance of an unknown motorist flipping you off in traffic. :-)

It'd be hilarious if someone slipped in a manuscript that the agents had sold to that editor, say, a year earlier. I'd like to see if it'd get the same treatment.

At Sunday, July 30, 2006 3:16:00 PM, Blogger Manic Mom said...

This was a great sneak peek into part of Nationals. Thanks for writing it.

At Tuesday, August 01, 2006 12:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I felt sorry for the writers whose work got trashed, but I also felt bad for Irene Goodman. For at least part of the time it looked like she desperately wanted to be elsewhere. I can't imagine this attracted many new clients to her agency.

At Wednesday, August 02, 2006 12:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just visiting from over at Snark's...

Really interesting read. I would not have been comfortable in that setting either, whether or not my pages were being critiqued.

I queried Irene some years ago [after I read about her in the acknowledgements page of a Debbie Macomber] and now I understand why I never heard back. For one thing, my story is set in an 'exotic' location. For another the protagonists are black. [btw, your sociological aside was riveting.] So I guess my stuff got tossed without a second glance.

Wish they'd sent me a rejection via my SASE, though, after they tossed the query. I paid a lot for those IRCs. [snicker]

At Wednesday, August 02, 2006 11:04:00 AM, Blogger Racy Li said...

I agree: I liked the sociological aside too. Guess I'm not going to get published in print anytime soon. That's why I like ebooks; those publishers aren't afraid of people of color or foreign lands.

At Thursday, August 03, 2006 2:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shame on those editors and shame on RWA! Having fun is one thing but at the expense of others is just plain wrong.

If these editors or RWA had any
creativity or class they would
not have had to depend on a TV show gimmick to conduct their workshop.

Am I the only one who thinks
that allowing something so unprofessional as the RWA Idol
to take place wasn't a good idea.

After all,just because something is popular doesn't mean you have to sink to the lower level to get your points across.

People, just because a TV show is popular is no reason for editors to use that as a platorm to make fun of others people's work.

For example, what if they didn't have the stero-typed pesonalitiy as a judges to hide behind.

It probably would be a very boring workshop. Yet, what if they got creative and...

A reader would read the pages
and the editors would each have
a different item to buzz in
with.(a childs bike horn, a whistle, a bell, a clicker,
and a party noise maker).

The first editor to ring in would
highlight specific reasonas with the strengths and weaknessness of the manuscript.

Then each editor in turn would proceed on down the panel quickly to give their feed back with their likes and dislikes.

And if all the editors didn't like the pages being read they could hit a an air horn for continuing on to the next manuscript immediately.

My point as many of you have already stated is there is a
right way and a wrong way to
do something like this and if
you do it the correct way then
all who attend and take part in the workshop benefit from it.


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