Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Q & A with Marlena Fortune

Levels of anticipation and excitement are at a fever pitch here as we welcome former literary agent and CEO of Fortune Literary Agency, Marlena Fortune, to Seekerville. Ms. Fortune is also the best-selling author of Lies Writers Tell.

TR:Welcome to Seekerville, Ms. Fortune. We're delighted to have you with us.

MF: Of course you are. A big hello to all my fans.

TR: First, regarding contest entry forms. A Seekerville reader asks: "Some entry forms ask for a Targeted Publisher/Line – I feel weird putting my target publisher/line when the final judge is from another publisher. Does it matter?"

MF: Of course it matters. If I were judging an entry which noted that the targeted literary agent was Miss Snark I would be appalled. You are absolutely courting the judge when you enter a contest. Or don't bother to enter the contest. Remember that.

TR: Another reader asks, " My chapters usually run 15-24 pages. If a contest asks for 55 pages, should I break it into chapters or send it straight without chapter breaks? "

My darling, are you serious here? If I had to read 55 pages straight through I would slit my throat. Chapters. Chapters. And always end on a hook. Leave them begging for more.

TR: Ms. Fortune, one of our readers wants to know if you have any advice for aspiring authors.

MF: Of course I do. I live to offer unsolicited advice, watch out when it's solicited. The short and sweet of my advice today is that an aspiring author is no different than an aspiring anything else. You must ask yourself what you are willing to sacrifice to accomplish your dreams. Then you must ask everyone else in your life what they are willing to sacrifice for your dreams.

TR: Another reader wants to know: "At what point does one decide it's time to call in a freelance editor?"

MF: Dear Author, I salute you. When your career is stalled it is definitely time to step back and evaluate your career and your product. Gone are the days when your agent (Thank God!) has time to edit. Be cautious in your choice of freelance-editor. If you are going to be foregoing manicures and martinis in exchange for an edit, you want a freelance-editor who also has V.I.P.P on speed dial. Oh, that's very important publishing professionals. It's lovely that you are paying the retired teacher down the street to edit your manuscript but you really need someone with industry credits and contacts.

TR: A very frustrated unpublished author would like to know: when is it okay to break the rules?

MF: There are rules and then there are rules. I am not your moral compass. We probably shouldn't even contemplate a walk down that road.

There are several schools of thought on this topic:
  • Rules are meant to be broken.
  • Learn the rules before you break the rules.
  • Nice girls don't change the world
  • Publishing is a very small pond
Have I answered your question? I think not. And for good reason. Every single time I break a rule I anticipate Mother Mary Francis and her wooden ruler will pop out of the woodwork and smack me upside the head. Do I still break the rules? Of course.

TR: "How does one emphasize a novel is more than a genre romance when it is
nothing but a romance?"

MF: I'm not certain I understand the question. But that's never stopped me before. To quote a friend in Seekerville, it really depends on who you talk to and what they've had to drink. I will assume you have done your homework because it sounds like you are comparing single title to category fiction. And again these are 'in theory' two very different species. The only way I know of to emphasize a novel is more than a genre romance is to write a bigger book. And I don't mean page count.

TR: A very concerned reader asks about the possibility that a manuscript entered in several contests with different judges is requested by multiple judges. She further asks if it would be better to wait until the results are in on one contest before entering the same manuscript in another.

MF: Darling, sit down. We need to chat. The concept of refusing to allow multiple submissions, is not a practice that is for your convenience. Contests are the one venue where you the writer who is not agented have a measure of freedom from these ridiculous practices. There are only two scenarios where you should wait until the results are in before entering a manuscript in the next contest. One would be you are serving 20 to life in the state pen and have a lot of time on your hands. Two would be you aren't very bright. I will assume that since you are in Seekerville, neither applies.

Your wildest dreams should be that you get a call that two judges from different publishing houses or literary agencies want your manuscript. Send those puppies out and politely advise the requesting parties of your delightful predicament. Then celebrate.

TR: Can an author enter too many contests? Is there any value in being a contest finalist and winner as far as agents are concerned?

MF: Too many contests? As in addiction? Only your therapist can answer that question. I can't say I perk up and shout, 'Hallelujah' when I see a cover letter that tells me you won a contest. After all, there are many contests out there and who am I to judge the merits of each? Isn't the the real value of contests to offer unpublished writers the opportunity to improve their craft and to allow access to judges who may then invite writers to submit based on the quality of their work?

(Several Seekers have reminded me that the value of contests also extends to the quality of the prize bling and the actual cash offered.)

TR: What exactly is a best-selling author?

MF: Waiter, I'll have a double. Oh, let's talk spin. First let me ask you this...do you know an author who isn't a best-selling author? I think not. Best-selling. Best-selling. A book that is profitable for the publisher? A book that hits many lists? Best-selling as opposed to award-winning? Who applies these ambiguous terms anyhow? Perhaps we should discuss inflated author biographies next? Have you read mine? I am hugely inflated and a product of my own fertile imagination.

TR: Ms. Fortune, what do you think about author self-promotion?

MF: A necessary evil. Oh, you want me to elaborate? No amount of money can replace the investment an author places in writing his or her next book and taking care that it is better than the previous one. Bookmarks, book signings, glossy ads, smart gimmicks, contests, web-pages, blogs and give-aways do not replace a well anticipated book. Promotion is a complementary item not an alternative.

TR: Those are all of our submitted questions. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our Seekerville reader questions, Ms. Fortune and for being here today.

MF: Thank you so much for having me. I'd like to emphasize that these are only my opinions. Of course, do any other opinions matter?

I think not.


  1. Marlena, it's so nice to have you, and yes, I still feel that way even though you've rejected me twice.

    But that's okay because I learned a lot from your advice on building quick characterization via concise word use and setting the mood by combining setting and emotion. Great tactics, both.

    I loved your answers to our submitted questions. As always, straight and to the point. So, could ya' help me out here?

    I'm sure you heard about some trans-gender dude who had or is having a baby...

    Not going there. Promise.

    BUT, I'm a trans-genre dudette, a gal who firmly believes in wonderful Christian fiction, loves to write it, but can't get past the starting line, so...

    I'm playing in a different sandbox and having lots of fun. Is it possible to write for multiple genres with the same name and not tilt the planet's orbit off kilter?

    Sign me,

    Wondering and Wandering in WNY

    (and by the way, I'm submitting to you again, so best get the bar re-stocked...)

  2. Thank you for your answers, very informative.


  3. Ruth, dear good to hear from you.
    I beg to differ darling. I did not reject you. I merely advised you that I had decided to close the door to my agency soon to pursue more personal endeavors...I am still pursuing them, while while we may never collaborate on a literary level we can of course share a corner cafe at the local latte shop when you are in town. My treat.

    In answer to your question dear, don't confuse your beliefs with your library.

    Pamela, good to have you here so early in the morning.

  4. Dear Ms. Fortune -- it's an absolute pleasure to have you here, and your advice is, as always, on the mark. I do have a question, however. Which Seeker said, "it really depends on who you talk to and what they've had to drink"? because, uh, I would like to buy them one.

  5. Clever and witty and oh so true.

    Thanks, Ms. Fortune. As I'm finding out, a good agent is a gift from God.

  6. Thank you, Melanie. Yes I am a gift from God.

    Pass the Cab, Julie

  7. Exactly how I like my advice, straightforward. Not unkind but definitely to the point.

    I learned some things here.

    Thank you, Ms. Fortune.

  8. I am smarter by the minute and learning with every breath thank you so much for stopping by Ms Fortune.

    I hope you'll make regular visits to Seekerville.

  9. Ms. Fortune, may I submit my proposal to you? A full manuscript instead of a partial? Thank you for your advice and words of wisdom.


  10. Dear Ms. Fortune, What a great post. I loved your humor. And advice. Thanks for joining us.

    PS. Melanie I saw you placed in TBL contest. Congrats. You are going to have to be published soon to give the rest of us a chance. smile

  11. Darlings, the only thing you may submit to me is a double mocha latte with extra whipped cream and sprinkles.

  12. After all, you're not an agent anymore, are you? You're just one of us! Mwahaha! Us poor slobs telling lies and trying to make money at it! And failing miserably!

  13. Double mocha latte with extra everything...

    I knew you were normal.


    Within reason, anyway.

    Thanks for glossing the rejections. I appreciate it. Public humiliation seems to find me, so I'm doubly thankful for your grace.

    So, now that you're not agenting anyone, tell us about your book, Lies Authors Tell. Is it anything like that woman who changed her resume to make herself sound younger, hipper, cooler and now has a great job in LA on...

    Feature this:

    Teaching people how to appear younger, hipper and cooler, LOL!

    I ordered a copy of LAT but it's back-ordered. Seems to be one of Amazon's hottest sellers. I could only wish....

    So, 'fess up, Ms. Fortune, if you will. What's it like on the author side of the coin?

    Ruthy (who could really go for a grande mocha caramel frappucino right about now. With both drizzles, of course.)

  14. Speaking of younger, hipper, cooler

    The last time I had my picture taken, I specifically asked the photographer to make me younger, hipper, cooler.

    Thinner too.

    He immediately produced the THIN light and snapped away.

    I told him I STILL looked fat but he assured me I look EVEN FATTER in real life, so I paid him extra.

  15. Oh, Ms. Fortune! I can't believe you're HERE, here in Seekerville!


    Oh, if I didn't already have an agent, and if you were still agenting, and if you just liked my work just a little bit, well, I'd sign with you in a heartbeat.

    If you'd have me, that is.

    You would, wouldn't you?


    My finger is hovering over the ORDER button for a Starbucks gift card as I type this missive!

  16. Thanks for answering my question.

    I think I'll put my dunce cap on and go sulk in a corner.

    I've just entered 3 contests, all without chapter breaks, on the advise of someone I read on-line b/c they said not to waste valuable contest space with chapter breaks. (sigh)

  17. Don't sweat it, Anita Mae. Unless a contest asks for more than 20 pages, I never put in a chapter break, just scene breaks, and I've done pretty well in a few contests.

  18. Whoops, can't pass the cab, Ms. Fortune ... I drank it. :)


  19. Anita, darling, no self flagellation on my shift.

    You took the step and entered a contest. That's what matters.

    Ruth, everything after I get out of bed in the morning and discover I have all my body parts intact is gravy. Being a legend has little to do with selling a book.

  20. Pam, I adore your enthusiasm. No need to buy me, your hero worship did the trick.

    Ladies, it has been a delight to be here in Seekerville. You are a classy group. I am always happy to share my wisdom and wit.

  21. Thanks for being with us, Marlena, and for being such a gracious guest.

  22. Mary, dear, I want to thank you for your gracious welcome. I thanked you earlier but the vicious blog ate it.

    I will stop by often to keep an eye on you.

  23. What a fun post! Love the rock on your finger, too, Marlena. How many carats is that honker?? :)

    Melanie, congrats on the TBL!! I was there and cheered for you. :)

    Anita Mae, I took out a chapter break before, too. I just put in a scene break and made sure to end on a good hook.

    I've also put chapter beginnings up near the top of the page instead of halfway down. But I had a judge count off on format for that adjustment. So you never know!


  24. Okay, I'm sure my question about the ring was rude. Excuse me for being so forward! (It is gorgeous, though.)


  25. By the way, I posted some shots from RWA National on my blog. www.lifewithmissy.blogspot [dot} com

  26. The ring, Missy? You southern girls are so brazen. Bless your heart.