Welcome Wednesday guests for September:
9/03 Beach-Read novelist, Mary Hogan (Two Sisters);
9/10 Fast-track Guppy Annette Dashofy (Lost Legacy);
9/17 Florida Coast author, Terrie Farley Moran (Well Read, Then Dead);
9/24 Cozy Confection author, Kathy Aarons (Death Is Like A Box Of Chocolates).


Gloria Alden's latest publication is nonfiction. Boys Will Be Boys: The Joys and Terrors of Raising Boys. Edited by Cher'ley Grogg was recently released and available on Amazon. Gloria wrote three essays and two poems in her chapter included in the book.


Don't miss next month's release of Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays on October 7th, in which WWK bloggers Shari Randall ("Disco Donna") and E. B. Davis ("Compromised Circumstances") have short stories.


KM Rockwood's short stories will appear in two anthologies released in October. They are: "The Lure of the Owl" in Swamp Mansion and Other Dark Stories, to be released as a ebook, and "Aunt Olga and the Werewolf" will be included in the third Creatures, Crimes and Creativity anthology release by Intrigue Publishing. at their conference in October.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Risk/Ruin Theory and the Unpublished Novel

At this year’s Sleuthfest, Paige Wheeler (Founding Partner at Folio Literary Management) said she loved working with actuaries because their writing was so logical. Donna Bagdasarian (President of literary agency Publication Riot Group, Inc.) almost spit her coffee in hysterics at the thought of having an actuary for a client. How dull would that be?

Let me pause to tell you the joke I told Donna when I later met her for a pitch session.

Q: Do you know the difference between an actuary and an accountant?
A: An actuary is someone who wanted to be an accountant, but didn’t have enough personality.

I told her that joke right after I told her that before I retired, I had been an actuary. I have to admit we actuaries do look at the world a bit differently. Here’s an example.


The blue line shows an agent or editor’s interest. The goal is to write a novel so at the end of the book the reader will score it at least a 20. Twenty means the agent takes you on; the editor buys the work; the reader buys the book and tweets about it; the book goes viral.

Starting at the left edge, we see the novel begins with a bang in the opening pages. It steadily slips from there until we get to the last 40% of the book, which is incredible. Once finished, readers score the novel well above the success threshold of a 20.

We’ve got a winner, right?

Wrong. Check out the graph below.


The red line is what I studied in the risk/ruin theory as part of my actuarial training. The short version is if you hit the red line, it doesn’t matter how good things would have been after that—it ain’t going to happen because the enterprise has ceased to exist. In this case, the reader stopped reading. They will never get to the whiz bang ending that would make it a best seller.

As writers, we must recognize the gatekeepers to our project have so many proffered manuscripts to review that they look for reasons to declare our manuscript ruined. Once they find a reason to reject us they can move on to the next manuscript in the pile. Often ruin happens within the first page or five pages or thirty pages. When I was a reader for Poisoned Pen Press, it rarely took more than five pages to know I wasn’t going to suggest they ask for a full. By 30 pages, 95% of the submissions I read had disqualified themselves.

The novel charted must have followed the advice from Ramona’s post The First Chapter Coloring Project  since the opening is strong. However the dip illustrates a sagging middle that eviscerates the great opening. The reader gives up before getting to the awesome finale. I’m sure Ramona will have some great tips to solve that problem in future posts. (hint, hint)

Hardly seems fair. No one said it was.

If I have learned only one thing about this business it is this: Anyone can write, but Writers know how to edit.

~ Jim

PS – Oh, the pitch session with Donna? She asked for a full manuscript and it sits in her TBR pile.

3 comments:

Sandy Cody said...

I won't pretend to understand the grafts, but wish you the very best with your book. Hope Donna loves it.

Ramona said...

I second Sandy's best wishes. You were smart to follow up Donna's comment with a self-deprecating joke--and with a good pitch, apparently.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

How people deal with stereotypes is interesting to me. Would I want an agent who couldn't look past my former life as an actuary -- or that I'm bald -- or a Guppy brother? Not for a minute.

When someone pigeonholes me, I tend to challenge the assumptions and see where the conversation goes from there.

~ Jim