Holiday Short Stories By WWK Authors Presented This Season:

11/30 KM Rockwood's "Holiday Summons"
12/06 "Death By Dictionary" by Gloria Alden
12/12 E. B. Davis's "The Christmas Tree"
12/18 "Femme Fatally Yours" by Paula Gail Benson
12/24 Kara Cerise's "The Ho-Ho Plan"
12/30 "Last Minute Shopping" by Shari Randall

For another free short story, check out E. B. Davis's "The Christmas Cookie Conviction" on Kings River Life online magazine at: http://kingsriverlife.com/12/06/the-christmas-cookie-conviction-a-christmas-mystery-short-story/

Put A Shaker of Margaritas: That Mysterious Woman on your holiday list. Three WWK authors have short stories in this Mozark Press anthology. Look for "Moving On" by Paula Gail Benson, "Sauna" by KM Rockwood, and "Wishing For Ignorance" by E. B. Davis. Paper or eformat are available at Amazon.


Gloria Alden has released the fourth book, The Body in the Goldenrod, in her Catherine Jewel series. It's available in print and in eformat. Here are two links to the book: Amazon and Kobo. Put it on your "TBR" or Christmas list!

Carla Damron's latest project, THE STONE NECKLACE, a literary novel about five lives that intersect, and are forever changed, by a senseless accident, has been picked up by Story River Books for publication in 2016. Story River is an arm of the University of South Carolina Press and is under the leadership of editor-in-chief author Pat Conroy. Congratulations, Carla!


A great stocking stuffer, Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays is available at Wildside Press or Amazon. This anthology includes short stories by WWK bloggers Shari Randall ("Disco Donna") and E. B. Davis ("Compromised Circumstances").
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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Risk/Ruin Theory and the Unpublished Novel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