Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More on toxic ideas

Okay, confession time.

The opening featured on the previous Booky Noise workshop? It is the opening from a book Kelly and I tried to write. Actually, we wrote it, finished the damn thing. We loved it! And then our agent sent it to our publisher. AND THEY REJECTED IT!

Mind you, this was after we had already done four books for them so we had a track record. But they hated it.Our agent then sent the manuscript around to a bunch of other New York publishers, because of course we believed our publisher just didn't get it. EVERYONE passed on it!

Why am I even bringing this up? Believe me, it's not because I am not over it. I am. Truly. I bring this up as an object lesson of sorts:

1. No matter where you are on the food chain, you are never immune to rejection. So you might as well grow a thick skin. Now.

2. We had myopia. It was hard for us to accept the fact that this story and this character that we were so in love with was...flawed. We couldn't see it at the time because we were so close to this book. This story had some serious plot holes, some not-so-great characters and other weaknesses. Unpublished writers often talk about rejection letters, which tend to be maddeningly unspecific about the "why" of rejections. But you have to learn to read between the lines. All the editors who rejected our book said essentially the same thing: We had a big problem with an inconsistency in the book's TONE. It wasn't dark, it wasn't light; it wasn't hardboiled, it wasn't chick lit. The phrase that turned up in letters more than once was -- I am not kidding -- "it's neither fish nor fowl." I think that is an actual publishing term, but I could be wrong.

3. This was a toxic idea. But dammit, we loved it, and we did it anyway. We shouldn't have. To paraphrase that great philospher Sting: If you love some toxic idea, set it free.

I offered our opening up for you all in Booky Noise to illustrate one of my favorite axioms about writing fiction: Anyone can craft a killer opening.

I truly believe this. Given enough time and hard work, almost anyone can write a good hook. But can you maintain a consistent, compelling story over 250 pages? Now, there's the nub of it all.

So, sorry for misleading anyone. Hope you aren't pissed. Happy holidays and new Booky Noise stuff coming soon!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a feeling it was yours, Kris. Didn't want to say anything till you fessed up.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading it and taking the scissors to it a bit. Hope you didn't mind.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Thanks for being honest. I liked the opening. We all did, I think. But like you said, openings are just that, openings.

I find it both disconcerting and reassuring that you and Kelly got turned down and repeatedly. Disconcerting because we all hope that a track record counts for something, but reassuring because it suggests to me that I'm not the only one who has book contracts, but continues to get some of my proposals turned down (which sure as hell can be distressing, can't it?). My agent's been shopping around a manuscript I wrote under an alias that we're both hot on, and yet nobody seems to be as hot on it. She recently told me she wants to hold on to it for a while, see if any of the Derek Stillwater novels really take off, or if we get any really, REALLY hot reviews (like a starred PW or something) to use as leverage to get a publishers' attention.

Weird, weird business.

Happy Holidays!

Mark Terry

7:46 AM  
Blogger Shannon said...

He he, that's funny. I didn't comment on this one because the only thing I could think of was "Yeah, it's good. Nothing wrong with it, wouldn't mind reading on."
Seemed like everyone liked it, but I guess that goes to show that no matter how good the story, the publisher has to know where it's going to go on the bookshelf (chick lit, etc.) This worries me, as I am having a hard time fitting my writing in one genre box.

9:52 AM  
Blogger S. W. Vaughn said...

Oh, man. You always make me glad to be a writer, even if you blog about the not-so-pleasant-to-contemplate stuff... like rejections for the rest of my life! Wheeeee!

Thanks for putting this up. :-)

10:05 AM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...


Man, what a racket, huh? This is more common than we might think. I don't want to name names because it means breaking confidances with friends, but I know at least four authors, excellent writers, well-published with decent track records, who are having trouble selling new proposals right now.

11:19 AM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...


Publishers seem to require a certain comfort level with genre fiction, in that if your work is too idiosyncratic, it might be a tough sell. I'm no expert but I think this is partially driven by the big chains where the thinking is "Which shelf does this go on?"
This has ramifications for everything from crime fiction to romance (big controversy with erotica), and so-called minority fiction. Do you shelf a book by a black writer under African-American Fiction? Do you put a novel about lesbians on the Gay Fiction shelf? I've heard logical arguement for both ways -- that writers don't want to be "ghetto-ized" in unique sections of stores. But I've heard readers say they like the convenience of knowing where to look for them.

And then there's the arbitary division between "Mystery" and "Fiction." Our books are under "General Fiction" at B&N. Don't ask me why. I just write the damn things.

11:28 AM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Well, thanks for that compliment! The thing they never tell you about this business is that is never gets easier. It only gets tougher. The rejection is always there in some form, even if it's "merely" a brutal review or a mean aside. Tess Gerritsen wrote about this recently on her blog, how when she got her Edgar nomination, someone blogged "WTF?". And the bar is always been raised. (even if you're the one doing it).

Soldier on!

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I liked the opening, and I definitely wanted to read on. But now that I’ve seen your post, I’m a bit surprised. Was this book written based upon a proposal and contract approved by the publisher in advance? Did you send them samples of the WIP as you completed various milestones? Did they ever raise any concerns along the way that they might not be buying into the direction or “tone” of the manuscript? I would hate to think that the rejection came as a total blindsiding after they had seen the work in progress.


3:39 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Thanks for the kind words, Joe.

We wrote this book on spec, between our regular series. And our pub, once we told them it existed, were big on seeing it. But they decided to give it a pass and gave us the green light to "shop it elsewhere" (we were going to publish it under a different pen name).

Maybe things would have been different had we sent in pieces as we went; maybe our editor would have brought up the tone concern. But I doubt it would have made a different.

The book has some nice things going for it, but it had fatal flaws. Especially with the plot, which was hackneyed. Kelly and I still think about going back and trying to rework it.

But you know, I truly believe some books aren't meant to see the light of day. We learned a lot from the pure exercise of doing it.

4:27 PM  
Blogger klank said...

Given enough time and hard work, almost anyone can write a good hook.

now am hooked ;)

12:49 AM  

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