Thursday, March 4, 2010

Be Your Own Duck

My dog and I like to take walks through the park by our house. We pass a pond with a pretty sizable duck population. For quite a while now, I've noticed one duck in particular who is always alone. Some days he's the only duck on the pond.

And some days he's surrounded by other ducks, but still remains separate. This little guy is, without a doubt, his own duck.

Of course, this got me thinking about my writing (I mean really, what doesn't?) It brought to mind a recent rejection I received. Here's the gist of my query:

Not long after 12-year-old Nadine Foster moves into her great-aunt's house, she realizes something tragic happened in the stable, something her mother and great-aunt don't want her to know about.

At first Nadine thinks she's imagining the mysterious unseen presence in the stable. She can even explain away the terrifying dreams of a young couple trapped in the stable as it burns to the ground. But when a hostile ghost begins waking her before she can identify the concealed third person in her dreams, the person everyone insists was not there, she knows she has to find out what really happened.

With the help of her new friend and her eccentric neighbor, Nadine digs for answers. When at last she uncovers the shocking truth, the lives of those closest to her, including her own, will be changed forever.

The response I received: "This isn't a bad idea per se...this story doesn't seem big enough to stand out against other middle grade mysteries. I feel like it's been done before."

Even though this wasn't "a bad idea," it didn't stand out from the crowd enough to capture this agent's attention. There are millions of good ideas out there. An idea has to be unique, original, something the agent doesn't see all the time, maybe even never before. They say there's no new ideas under the sun, and I'm sure that's true. But even if an idea has been done before (ghosts, vampires, boarding schools for wizards...), it still needs to find a way to be original. This query reminded me not to settle for a good idea. I have to go beyond that, to push myself harder and dig deeper until my query makes an agent jump up and say "I've got to read this!"

It's not good enough to be part of the flock. Those who get noticed in this business are those who dare to be their own duck.

Until Thursday, happy writing, and may your coffee pot never run dry.


Old Kitty said...


What a wonderful piece!

I'm so glad that this lovely duck has inspired you! We should all aim to be as unique and to stand out from the crowd as this beautiful duck!

I just also want to say - I think your story of restless ghosts and ghosts of the past grabbed my attention! I'd read it.

Have a lovely weekend and week!

Take care

Susan Fields said...

Thank you, Old Kitty - you made me smile! I thought I'd added enough oomph to the story to make it stand out, but apparently not. This agent's comments really drove home the need to make my story the best it can possibly be, and then make it better. You have a great week, too!

Talli Roland said...

Having the 'big idea' has been the hardest lesson for me. I rebelled against it for awhile, thinking that I'd just write whatever I wanted to and let the chips fall where they may. Now I realise that if I do want to get published - and I do! - I must have the big idea, and it must be different.

I'm working on it!

Thansk for driving the point home!

Susan Fields said...

Talli - I hope you come back and read this because I wasn't able to leave a comment on your blog. The word verification part is messed up, it won't let me type anything in. I wish I could tell you how to fix that, but I'm technologically challenged. Anyway, I enjoyed your blog and especially your coffee theme - great minds think (and caffeinate) alike! :)

Theresa Milstein said...

Susan, I was finally able to comment on Talli's blog, so maybe it's better now.

As far as the query, it's all about pitch. I'm sure plenty of stories stand out if we know how to sell them. Maybe find a unique angle in the piece and dwell on that. Good luck!

Paula said...

Hi Sue, the duck finally made it to your blog!!! Woo hoo -- too bad he can't be a follower (but I guess he/she obviously is not a follower right?). Great tie-in to your writing life. And super-great that you are so open to feedback and took that rejection as a learning experience as opposed to something to be defensive about. You obviously aren't one to "duck" the difficult stuff!

KarenG said...

We have a backyard pond where a pair of ducks visit each spring, then build their next and have their babies. It's so cute. The things I have learned from watching that duck family...!

Wendy aka Quillfeather. said...

Great post. Loved with analogy with the duck standing out on its own!

Susan Fields said...

Theresa - I was able to comment on Talli's blog, thanks for letting me know it's fixed. I thought I had found a unique angle with the hidden person in the dream, but maybe I can rephrase it to make that part more prominent - thanks for the good thought!

Paula - I had to laugh about the duck not being a follower. These days, any direction from a publishing professional is like a gift, even if it comes with a rejection attached. :(

Karen - How sweet about your duck family. I love that the couple comes back to the same pond each year!

Wendy - I just have to laugh when just about anything I see somehow comes back to my writing...not that I'm obsessed or anything. :)

Lisa and Laura said...

Ha! I love this metaphor. It's like our agent says, in order to really break out in publishing you have to write something new and fresh. Something that would make Hollywood sit up and take notice. Easy peasy, right? Ha!

Tess said...

I like the concept of your novel. but, I get your point. 'Love' was my third completed novel .. and I had five abandoned partial novels as well. If I hadn't kept at it, who knows where I'd be? I still think that's true...that I need to keep writing and pushing and trying to be my own duck :)

Berlin said...

Susan Fields said...

Lisa and Laura - Easier said than done, right? But I can see their point, when you consider the sheer volume of manuscripts that come across their desks each day. Thanks for stopping by!

Tess - Good, I'm glad I'm not the only one with a couple of spare novels sitting around! :) And I'm so glad you kept pushing - 'Love' is incredible. I absolutely loved that excerpt you posted the other day.

Kit Courteney said...

Great blog!

Thanks for following me. I'm certainly going to follow back :0)

Susan Fields said...

Kit - thanks for following! I enjoyed your blog as well. I'm looking forward to reading many more of your posts in the future. And I hope your finger's feeling better! :(