So you can read my books

Monday, September 17, 2012


There's a scene in Stephen King's SALEM'S LOT that I've used as a counseling illustration for years.

At least I hope that scene is there in the book. It's been awhile since I last read it. But if it isn't there, it ought to be.

SALEM'S LOT was King's second published novel, and he wanted it called SECOND COMING. But the publishers thought that sounded too religious.

And even then, publishers didn't want to scare off a major portion of the reading audience by implying there were spiritual themes in the book.

And before we rail against the publishers, think of how many people yawning in church pews you've seen. Being preached at is all too often boring. It is what it is.

The publishers also did a last minute price cut from $8.95 to $7.95 {yes, those were the prices for hardcovers back in 1976},

producing an "unholy grail" for collectors. Only 4 copies of the unchanged dust covers are known to exist. eBay anyone?

Anyway, on to the illustration :

Ben Mears, our author/hero, has persuaded the sheriff to sit in the morgue with him. If at sundown the 3 day old dead do not rise, Ben will happily be led to the looney bin.

The sheriff, plagued with deaths and disappearances, does not need an addled author making his life harder. And so the sheriff agrees, thinking that at sundown, his life will be made just a little easier.

Shows you how plans unravel. Sundown comes. The shelves of the morgue fly open, the newly awakened vampires rise from the cold steel. The sheriff turns horrified to Ben.

"I believe. I believe! Now what?"

But that was just it. Ben had worked so hard to get the sheriff to believe, he had thought no further than this point. He had made no plans at what to do next.

Because King needed him alive for the rest of the book, Ben did indeed come up speedily with a plan.

But we are so often like Ben Mears. We struggle, labor, and work for a goal, only to surprisingly achieve it, not knowing what to do next. We haven't planned for "What now?"

We writers work, polish, edit, revise, then finally mail off our query to agent after agent. Submit. Get rejected. Get nothing. Submit again. And again. And yet again.

Then : the agent asks to see a partial or a full. What?! And then we discover what we should have been doing all along as we queried. Which is, you ask?

Thinking why an agent would say no to a partial or a full and fixing those problems BEFORE we send our dream novel out the door.

And why would an agent say no?

1. The story falls apart after the first 2-3 chapters.

We polish that first chapter, those first 30 pages. But do we go any further? We ought to.

As we're waiting for those replies to our queries, we should slowly go over the first six chapters, trying to see them through the jaded, weary eyes of an agent. Then, the next six. And the six after that. Until the whole novel gleams.

What flaw might a weary agent see?

The monster called BackStory gobbling up the momentum and suspense of your novel. Is your hero in some form of jeopardy each chapter? Do things slowly worsen for him/her?

Go to the middle of your novel. Read with an agent's eye for pacing, suspense, and action. Do snails race past your Hamlet hero? If so, your novel is in trouble.

Go to the the last chapter. Compare it to your first. Are they like those before and after pictures in those diet ads? They better be. There should be growth in the problems and perceptions of your hero that were introduced in the first chapter. If not, your novel is adrift with no sense of direction or destination.

Without that, the agent will not put down your novel with a smile and the words, "Now that was a great read!"

2. The manuscript doesn't pass the "put it down" test.

An agent has a life outside your manuscript. I know that's a shock. But there it is. She has to put your manuscript down to live that life. Look at the adventures, the one-liners, the thrills, the suspense in your novel. If there isn't much of any of those things I've just mentioned -- how eager do you think she'll really be to pick it back up?

And if she isn't, how is she going to convince a jaded editor that there will be lots of readers who won't be able to lay your novel down?

Think of the illusion of victory in history.

I have a scene in FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE where Samuel is meeting Colonel Strasser fresh from Casablanca in Sam's club, where all times meet in the year 2005. Strasser asks Sam, "You know how the war ends, don't you?"

"Yes," said Samuel. "Everybody loses."

Use the illusion of victory in your novel. The hero only thinks she's won. It was a hollow victory. She struggles as everything becomes storm around her. The antagonist wins. Laughs and leaves our heroine on her knees. The heroine discovers there is a difference between defeat and losing. Defeat only teaches us what to do better in order to win. And the antagonist discovers her victory was illusion.

Every chapter should end with things doing an about-face or worsening. Each chapter should begin with the hero dodging and evading certain defeat to continue on.

3. The mysterious Nazca Lines For Writers :

I wrote a post that might help you in polishing your entire novel so that it will not be rejected from an agent who has asked to see a partial or a full. Rather than repeat it here, I'll give you the link :
And since we started this post with SALEM'S LOT, here is an excerpt that might give you an idea why it was snapped up by an agent :

In the fall, the sun loses its thin grip on the air first, turning it cold, making it remember that winter is coming and winter will be long.

Thin clouds form, and the shadows lengthen out. They have no breadth, as summer shadows have; there are no leaves on the trees or fat clouds in the sky to make them thick.

They are gaunt, mean shadows that bite the ground like teeth.
Now, can you see why that agent snatched his book up? I end with one of my favorite movie scenes. Two men of different faiths, one a poet, the other a poisoned Viking, both pray as they face the advance of an overwhelming horde and certain death.


  1. Hi Roland .. you write so well and explain aspects so cleverly .. clarifying things for us ..

    I just watched the clip - Prayers before battle ...

    Also your clip from Salem's Lot - showing us why King's book was snapped up - great description setting the scene - parsimonius in its quantity of words ..

    Great to read - thanks - Hilary

  2. Great discussion on why agents reject manuscripts - thank you! And now I want to go back a reread Salem's Lot!

  3. The 13th warrior is a favorite in my movie library :)Thanks for some more great advice. King is a word master :)

  4. Great post, Roland! There is a (Salem's) LOT of great advice here.


  5. Great tips!
    It's been years since I read the book or even watched the movie.

  6. Hilary:
    I did this post late in the evening, so I am glad it was coherent and helpful. :-)

    It unsettled me so when I first read it that I didn't read another King novel for a long while. Just once I'd like to a man of God portrayed as something other than a cliched straw dog though.

    I thought THE 13TH WARRIOR might be a favorite of yours. I enjoyed it on a multitude of layers. The Moslem poet was portrayed as a man of integrity as were the Vikings (though they were lustily so! LOL)

    Loved your play on words there. I tried to make my little post educational and enjoyable! :-)

    I am currently re-reading DUMA KEY, but I do not think I will ever re-read SALEM'S LOT though I am also currently reading the short story that was a prelude of sorts to the book. The book was much better than either movie based on it. :-)

  7. I tweeted and FB'd this. Great post as usual. You are so clear in getting you point across.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  8. Shelly:
    You are a gem for FB'ing and tweeting this post. I just hope a friend or two is helped on their way to becoming published by my words. That would make my day! Thanks again, Roland

  9. My heroine gets in more and more trouble in every chapter but that doesn't mean I will ever write like Stephen King. BTW, I love Kate and Leopold too.

  10. Great post, Roland. I like how you broke it down and showed us what an agent is seeking and where we are possibly failing. You shared some useful tips and they are all spot on. I loved this piece of advice, "Do snails race past your Hamlet Hero?" You nailed that. We need to make sure our protagonist is in peril and things are always getting worse. Each chapter should end with things worsening for our hero. Great advice and thanks for sharing.

  11. The Desert Rocks:
    I doubt any of us will ever write in the league of Stephen King! I'm happy to find another Kate & Leopold fan!

    I tried to leave a comment on your blog, but your blog will not accept my IE8. You may be limiting your outreach if your blog will only accept the latest browsers. Many of us in cyberland are not cyber-talented.

    I'm glad that you enjoyed my post. I try to be helpful to my friends. :-)

  12. Great excerpt from King. Salem's Lot was my first real exposure to vampires. I read it when I was too young by flashlight under my covers. I "borrowed" it from my parents. He has a way with words.