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Monday, August 24, 2009

My Son Is Picky!

But he finally chose these. And I never, ever, ever want to take him shoe shopping again! Last week, I decided my youngest son needed new tennis shoes. I figured it would take an hour, maybe two, right? WRONG! As we were backing out of the driveway, he informed me that he wanted either all black or all white shoes. I cringed at the thought of all white, knowing they would be all brown within a week, but all black was doable, so I agreed. At the first store, he narrowed his choices down to two pairs. I narrowed it down to one after I pointed out that I would not spend more than fifty dollars on a pair of tennis shoes for an eleven-year-old. He narrowed it down to none when his size 6 foot wouldn't fit into a size 5 shoe. At the second store, there were several choices, and we had a very helpful salesman who probably hated us by the time we left an hour and a half later. Every shoe my son tried on had a problem--it makes my foot look too big; it hurts my pinkie toe; it hurts my heel; it looks stupid...etc. I decided to give up for the day and try over the weekend, but as I passed by a small sporting goods store, I thought, Why not give it a try? Well, low and behold, he found the perfect pair of shoes. They aren't all black, and they aren't all white, and they will be all brown in a matter of days, but he was happy, and so was I. It made me think about an agent searching for the perfect manuscript to represent in the mass of many. She starts out with a preconceived notion of what she's looking for, and when she doesn't find IT, she broadens her horizons. Then, some things just don't quite fit, or she doesn't fall in love with it enough to buy it. Then, from the most unlikely of sources, she discovers a gem. My point is this: publishing is a subjective business, and we all have a shot, but we have to do something to make our work stand out from the rest. Agents and editors have so many to choose from; they aren't going to settle for mediocre. We have to make our work shine like a gem so that it gets noticed. Knowing that you are all avid readers, I'd like to hear what you think makes a work stand out. What makes you want to recommend a book to friend?

40 comments:

Tess said...

hahahaha...I am only laughing because I have been there! Last week, in fact. Who knew little boys could be so dang picky?!

And, I am always reminded of the subjectivity of our business when someone gives a mediocre rating to a book I just loved or visa versa (I don't love a recommendation).

storyqueen said...

Vans, I tell you, Vans! (Best shoe EvER!)

I think what sets a book apart is a book that makes me FEEL.

Shelley

Janna Qualman said...

Love the shoes! And I love your analogy, as always.

For me, the book's (or author's) voice is what most pulls me in, and makes me want to share the book with others. Be it relatable or new and fresh, it's just something about the voice.

Strange Fiction said...

I always have a book, or three, on the go. When I find one I don't want to put down and makes me forget about the other ones--that's the one I'll recommend. One pitfall of writing is that it makes it difficult to enjoy reading anymore--too busy analyzing...

jbchicoine said...

If the characters are engaging and the storytelling has transported me; if I miss them when I’m done, I recommend it.

strugglingwriter said...

"publishing is a subjective business" that is what's so maddening about it. If only there was a set formula for what an agent wanted, it would be easier to produce that.

Funny about the shoes. I used to be (high school) into getting the latest shoes, Air Jordans in my time. Then I became the one paying for the shoes. All of a sudden, brand name didn't mean as much to me. :)

Rae said...

If I pick up a book intending to skim the first few lines to see if it is of interest and then I find myself into chapter 2 or 3 then I know that is a book I will recommend.

I don't like to recommend a book to someone if it takes forever to figure out who all the characters are and what the actual story line is. I want it to be engaging from the beginning, not a tedious process getting to the plot.

Kathy said...

I'm pretty fussy as a reader. First, it has to grab me right from the beginning or I probably won't keep reading. Also, I want characters I can really care about. Somebody must be likable. The story should be compelling, draw me in, make me want to keep reading. And the ending should make sense, even if it's a sad one. I personally don't like tons of description; sometimes I just jump right over it. Finally, the best novels I've read make me come away with something, make me feel something.

Dawn VanderMeer said...

Great analogy.

I usually end up recommending books that I can't put down and books that I think about long after I've finished reading them.

Stephanie Faris said...

I think too many choices makes it even harder. I think of going to Blockbuster to pick out a video to watch. Yesterday we were going to watch a movie at my boyfriend's office (he sells high-end home theaters) and all we could pick were Blu-Ray DVDs. That was the easiest time I've had selecting a movie because there was less to choose from.

Same with these agents. That's why they set up so many rules. All of the stuff they have coming at them constantly has to be overwhelming at times.

Lazy Writer said...

Tess,
Isn't it funny how a book works for one person and not for another?

Shelley,
Yes, how a book makes you feel is so important!

Janna,
I think voice is the most important thing! I'm going to talk about that later this week.

Strange,
I couldn't agree with you more. I try and push the writer out of my head when I'm reading because it is so distracting!

jb,
Don't you love it when you miss the characters when you're finished reading a book. Those are my favorite books.

Struggling Writer,
Funny how things change when we have to pay for stuff, isn't it?

Rae,
If I'm sucked into the story right away, I'll definitely recommend it. That's why strong beginnings are so important.

Kathy,
Caring about the characters and what happens to them is huge.

Dawn,
Those are the ones I recommend, too!

Stephanie,
The more there is to choose from the harder the decision. That's for sure!

BJW said...

This is good. I don't know what grabs me, because a lot of times it's different things. But maybe that's it, a unique voice, some humor, something interesting taking place, exiting, dangerous. All of those things help, but I've read lots of great stories. I love to feel like the story in my hands has it's own new voice and that I'm in for a treat.

And is there any more important purchase than shoes? What else, other than computers, do we use as frequently and can make/break our day/week/life. A good slip and that's it. They are a guy's greatest accessory. We don't get a ton. They're it! Like our calling card or website.

Lori said...

It's strange how your post gave me a revelation into an agent's mind. Indeed, it is a personal choice. I think more and more, literature is becoming very personal, because there are so many genres and such different styles out there. It is simply impossible, for both readers and agents, to not choose a narrow niche and remain there, looking for the books that they can believe in. It almost seems like the time of the universal masters, like Dostoyevsky and Thomas Mann and the rest, have passed for good. Are there universal books anymore when there is so much to choose from?

La Fleur said...

Ha! I'm glad that I do not have to go through that. It is difficult enough for me to find shoes for myself.

What makes a novel stand out to me? Well, usually in the first page or two I know if I have a winner. I know that it will be good if I am irritated by the writing style, but I cannot stop reading it (Timetravler's Wife). However, once I get accustomed to that authors style, I typically enjoy the work.

Usually, I muttle through whether I like it or not. I probably get the abililty from being an English major, required to read a bunch of stuff that did not appeal to me. But yes, typically in the first two pages I know if it will be good or not. ;-)

quixotic said...

Ugh! Shoe shopping can be such a nightmare at times. I love the analogy though with agent's and querying.

Patti said...

That wasn't very encouraging as I'm about to take three kids shoe shopping.

I think a good story with fast pacing is what I look for.

Karin said...

This question often frustrates me. I understand that editors/agents want something new, but that always makes me wonder why there are a gadzillion romance novels that are all the same?

I don't really like books that make me think. I like something that's easy to read, fun, and funny (romance elements are always nice). I want to be entertained and I want to entertain...that's what I like (and write) in books.

Amy Tate said...

Susan, I feel your pain. I made the mistake of hitting Walmart. What was supposed to be a one hour trip turned into an ALL AFTERNOON AFFAIR. Ugh. As for books, I love a book that I can't predict what's going to happen. It has to keep me guessing and turning the page. I suppose this is why I'm not one for literary fiction. I'm not the flowery word sorta gal. With that being said, I like a book with a multi-layered meaning. Characters who grow and change...especially ones that I can fall in love with and relate with.

Jody Hedlund said...

Hmmm, what makes a book stand out to an agent or editor? Exceptional writing. And a good, saleable story. It's hard to get an agent or editor to notice us, and that's where I think we can look for advantages for getting our foot in the door. But I'm learning that having very good writing skills is critical in getting the coveted invitation.

Solvang Sherrie said...

My son AND my husband are just as aggravating with shoes. Shoe shopping with them is not a joy.

I think stories that pull me in have an element of the fantastic, I can relate to the character in some way or they hit an emotional nerve. But we're all different and relate to things differently which is why it's all subjective!

Cindy said...

Oh boy--my kids are too young yet to care what they wear but I know this is coming soon! Glad you found the perfect shoes.

I love books that draw me in. That make me want to be there with the characters. That elicit emotion. I hope I can do all this in my books!

Nancy said...

I enjoyed your funny shoe story. I'm glad those days are behind me.
I would tell a friend about any book that kept me up all night, especially if the author had other similar ones.

Lazy Writer said...

BJW,
I guess I should cut him some slack then. I didn't realize shoes were so important to men!

Lori,
You are right. Everyone has their own favorite genre and style.

La Fleur,
You can typically tell if you are going to like a book early on, but I have found the rare treasure that has taken me several chapters to get into.

Quixotic,
It didn't use to be a nightmare, but now that my kids have strong opinions, it is a pain!

Patti,
Good luck with your shopping!

Karin,
I like the fun, easy to read one, too. But sometimes I'm in the mood for something serious.

Amy,
I love it when I fall in love with the characters!

Jody,
Writing skills are very important. I think we develop those over time, don't you?

Sherrie,
We do all relate to things differently. That's why there are so many different kinds of books out there.

Cindy,
When I feel like I'm in the book with the characters, I know I will pass the book on to a friend.

Nancy,
All night reading sessions are a sure sign of good book!

FictionGroupie said...

This makes me glad my son is still little enough that I'm in charge of selecting shoes, lol.

I think what grabs me about a book first is an interesting concept. Then once I open the book, the voice has to capture me. Also, if I don't like the main character, I have a hard time continuing.

Dominique said...

If I've experienced what I call Good Book Buzz, then I'll recommend it to a friend. GBB is a wonderful "I've got the best book ever in my hands and I'm not putting it down" feeling. Am I the only one who gets crazy happy about loving a book? If I think "You try to take this book from me, you're losing a finger," then I know it's worth passing on.

Heather Sunseri said...

I love books that pull me in within the first twenty pages. And usually those books have exceptional characters. I like to feel the emotion that the characters are feeling even if what is happening would never happen to me.

Shelli said...

if im still thinking about it days later.

jbchicoine said...

I can not believe all the comments you get! That entitles you to an award, but you have to claim it over at my blog !

Kathryn Magendie said...

I have such ecclectic tastes, and read books that are self-published, published by small presses, published by big presses . . . I go by the cover and by recommendations and by the blurb and by instinct and by authors I've read before, and by complete strangers I've never read or heard of - I just plunge in!

Kathryn Magendie said...

PS - I am SO glad I don't have to take a teenaged sone shoe shopping anymore! lawd!

Terri Tiffany said...

Oh those school days:) I will recommend a book that makes me cry and laugh and read it through fast!

Karen said...

When I was 15 or 16 I dragged my poor mother to about 12 shoe stores because I couldn't find anything I liked. When I think back, I feel kind of bad about that now, even though it was almost 20 years ago.

Books...They have to make me feel something. Something unforgettable. I've read some that were ok, not bad, decent. But if they don't make me feel something then I don't recommend them. At least not with any degree of enthusiasm.

Tabitha Bird said...

LOL! I have been known to be a bit picky too.

Books I recommend have to change me in some way. They have to make me think or rethink something. They have to show me something I haven't seen before. Otherwise they are just nice stories.

Weronika said...

Oh, man, oh, man, oh, man -- do I know what you mean when you say spending hours finding the perfect shoes. My brothers and me, summed up in four words. I'm sorry. LOL. :)

P.S. There's an award for you at the end of this post.

Danyelle said...

I feel your pain. Your son's pickiness to shoes is mine and my chipmunks to food. Makes meal planning very interesting. For me, a work stands out by its voice. If the voice is amazing, the story will be too, 99% of the time. Those books with great plot+wonderful characters+ incredible voice are the ones I recommend to my friends.

WhisperingWriter said...

My son goes for Sketchers.

Your post is so true. It's what makes me worry that my writing isn't good enough. With people like Jodi Picoult out there, who wants to read my crap?

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Characters that I feel I'm sitting next to. Tension. Universal truths. No holes in the story. Strong verbs. Good dialogue. I better quit here.

Jill Kemerer said...

I feel your pain on the shoes. The entire back-to-school clothes shopping experience gave me a massive headache!

To answer your question: great characters and a logical plot always win me over!

Faith said...

Books with characters that make me feel for them, care for them, and plots that take me where I never imagined was possible... those are the books I really love and would recommend to others. Then again, I know some people who prefer very different genres from me, and those recommendations are simply based on previous knowledge of their preferred styles. Ahhh, so many books, never enough time...!

jdcoughlin said...

Love the shoe story. Just went through that with my twelve year old son. He wanted to walk out the store with the first pair he put on, even though they were a size and a half too big. Took another hour to find the ones he liked, that fit. TOO Funny!
But as for books, I recommend books I kind of like as well as ones I really liked. Turns out the ones I really like are not for everyone as I prefer the tear jerker heavy drama types. BUT just read Change of Heart, liked it. Recommend it.