Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Marlena Fortune Returns

If you missed Marlena Fortune's first visit to Seekerville you are in luck as she has graciously agreed to an encore question & answer session.

Ms. Fortune is former a literary agent and was in fact the CEO of Fortune Literary Agency. She is also the best-selling author of Lies Writers Tell.

TR: Thanks for coming back to Seekerville, Ms. Fortune.
MF: As always, it is a pleasure to serve the literary world.

TR: A writer asks what annoys you in a manuscript?
MF: So many things annoy me. And darling, allow me to emphasize that I am no longer an agent, merely a freelance consultant.

TR: Could you possibly give us the top five things?
MF: Very well.

Exclamation points. I loathe them.
Dream sequences. Yawn.
Food. Nothing but food. Multiple scenes with eating that do not move the plot forward.
An excessive ensemble of characters in the first chapter.

TR: Diatribes?
MF: Yes. This occurs when an author utilizes a fictional character to expound on their personal issue du jour.

TR: Several writers have asked who your favorite authors are.
MF: Oh, a trick question? As an agent I loved all my authors the same and cherished each for their special qualities. The same can be said for my current reading. I am happy to share with you those books sitting on my night table; however I cannot be responsible for how your readers construe that information.

Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World Class Performers From Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows

Of course I read all the Seekers' books as well. They are not on my list as I have already devoured them.

TR: [good answer]

TR: Are you ready for another question?
MF: Darling, I am always ready.

TR: A published author wants to know the best way to move from her current agent to another agent.
MF: Very carefully. Be a professional and read your contract carefully. A phone call followed by a confirmation letter (certified), certainly satisfies both personal and professional protocol. Of course your contract dictates the parameters of dissolution of your relationship and its effect on your contracts past, present and future-- and associated rights.

TR: Have you ever read a submission and known you had a best-seller on your hands? Conversely, have you ever passed on a manuscript that then became a huge seller for someone else?
MF: Yes and yes.

TR: Could you elaborate?
MF: Certainly; however you won't like my answer. During my agent tenure I would have to say that while my role was to examine the economic forecast when considering a manuscript--I do after all have to consider how I will maintain the lifestyle I have grown accustomed to; it was equally important that I believed in a book completely. That is where personal conviction and yes, loving a manuscript play a part in this industry.

TR: We have a question on contracts.
MF: [groan]
TR: What is an option clause?
MF: As readers you have an obligation to read as much as you can about contracts and agents. I highly recommend the Richard Curtis book How to Be Your Own Literary Agent. An option clause is simply the contract terminology that dictates the terms of your current publisher's right to "option" your next work. It doesn't make sense for me to reinvent the wheel when the savvy agents at BookEnds LLC have a very informative post on the subject.

TR: Regarding agents. How does a writer tell a good agent from a not-so-good agent?

MF: A provacative question. The very rote answer is to be sure an agent is a member of Association of Authors Representatives, Inc. (Remember that many good agents are not.) AAR also provides a list of questions to ask an agent. If you are considering an agent be sure to chat privately with some of his/her clients. Check Publisher's Market Place. Is the agent actually selling books? Also the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. provides a Warning and Cautions page for Writers (Writers Beware) regarding Literary Agents. Lastly, you did a very nice article on agents right here in Seekerville.

TR: [blush]

TR: A question about contests.
MF: Isn't it time for dessert?
TR: One last question, please?
MF: Fine, go ahead. Is that Linzertorte? Blueberry or raspberry?
TR: Ah, both.
MF: Your question? Hurry along now.

TR: One of our readers states she is still undecided about entering the RWA Golden Heart contest. What are your thoughts?

MF: I think she should get herself off the chaise and make a decision. Time is running out. Is your manuscript ready to be judged among the best of your peers? What will finaling or even winning the Golden Heart do for your career? Only you can decide. However I can guarantee you that no one ever won the lottery by not entering. Now, let's eat.

TR: Thanks very much for being with us, Ms. Fortune. Ladies, if you will cut the torte and grab a cup of espresso for Marlena.

MF: You are very welcome. I prefer a healthy dollop of whipped cream on my torte, if you please.


  1. Good Morning, Ms. Fortune and thank you for being with us again in Seekerville. Help yourself to the breakfast bar.

  2. Morning? Are you aware it is eight am in NYC? It is the middle of the night. I had no idea this was to be a slumber party. A double shot of espresso please.

  3. Welcome, Marlena! And thank you for such an early rise-in-shine. We in Seekerville appreciate such sacrifice. (I would have put an exclamation point after those two sentences, but don't wish to offend...)

  4. Well, I guess that seals the deal. I better hasten to the RWA website right now.
    Thanks Marlena Fortune. And Tina, for a great interview. :-)

  5. Good morning Ms. Fortune -- always a pleasure having you here to grace our blog.

    However, I have to admit that I am a wee bit depressed over your top five things that annoy you in a manuscript as mine are riddled with said annoyances. And the exclamation points??? Uh, like buckshot. But you will be happy to know that I do go through the ms. one last time and eliminate most of those, so I do concur with you on that one. I think!!!

  6. This Fortune character cracks me up!! She's hilarious!!


  7. And of course I live to amuse you, Kim darling.

  8. GREAT post. Thank you for the advice and references.

  9. Good advice, Ms. Fortune, about agents. You have to be careful. I met a man on the plane on the way to the ACFW conference in Mnpls who had a very bad experience with an agent. This agent even ended up getting arrested! But the experience discouraged him so much he stopped writing.

    On the other side of the coin, a good agent opens every door and makes getting published possible when it otherwise seemed impossible.

  10. It's also time to enter the Rita. Here's my problem. I've entered twice already and yet, I don't seem to be entered at all.

    So now I'm afraid to enter for fear whatever thing I'm stumbling over will clear up and I'll have entered the single book THREE TIMES.

    And be charged...what's the Rita cost? $50? Three times.

    So I keep putting off entering for the third time, giving the RWA website, my credit card and my head time to clear......

  11. Ms. Fortune, welcome to Seekerville, again! I'm sorry about the exclamation mark, but I sprinkle more than my share of them in leisure writing. Trust me, they rarely make an appearance on the mss page.

    Thank you for your insight on agents. They seem more the elusive beast than the editors. Any ideas why?

  12. How lovely that you all appreciate me so nicely. Julie, love your books. You may be excused from my annoyance rules.

  13. Mary, dear. Do you have a phone? I will assume they have phones in Nebraska.

    Here is the RWA contact information, dear.

    phone: 832.717.5200
    fax: 832.717.5201

    email: info@rwanational.org

    Office hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central Time

    Keep us posted.

  14. Hi Marlena:

    As a reader I have the same objections as you do.

    Exclamation points. (An admission your writing was not strong enough to carry the emotion without the !)
    Dream sequences. Yawn. (But being tricked into thinking the story action is really happening and then it turns out to be a dream – I find that “author fraud”. Not yawn – Boo.)
    Food. Nothing but food. Multiple scenes with eating that do not move the plot forward. (Any scene that does not move the plot is padding – not just eating.)
    An excessive ensemble of characters in the first chapter. (To make this much worse and “reader unfriendly”, some authors name a lot of the characters with the same first letter: Richard, Robert, Rachel – this drives sight readers mad.)
    Diatribes. (Amen. What did Hemingway say: “If you want to send a message, use Western Union?)

    I agree with all that above observations. What annoys me the most, however, are standard romance “short-cut” clichés. They just scream at me: “You’re reading a romance, you’re reading a romance.” I also don’t like to read that a character is reading a romance in the story – this just reminds me that I too am reading a romance and it is not real. It’s a form of alienation.

    Thanks, I very much enjoyed your comments.


  15. Yes, Melanie dear. One must be careful about unscrupulous agents. If something appears to good to be true it ALWAYS IS.

  16. Well, Ms. Fortuna - you like eating food - you just don't want to read about it, eh? Interesting.

    What about scenes where people are eating and it is moving the plot along? Is that possible?

    I've been told my stories are descriptive b/c the reader can visualize the scene - food and all.

    If I omit the food, it's just emotional dialogue.

    Just dialogue is boring.

    Add food to the picture and you can add another facet to your character's traits.


    (I'm either brave or stupid - hit me...)

  17. I remember the first scene of the first book by Debby Giusti, I kept thinking Dream Sequence because it was so high stakes it could NOT really be happening.

    Then it WASN'T. Running Scared by Debby Giusti. Great book, really great opening.

    And I will now go try and enter my book in the Rita again.

    I can't remember why I ever wanted to enter a contest to begin with. I need to remember who I am.

    Remember Who You Are.....

    Isn't that a scene from Lion King?
    Mary Connealy Contest Diva.

  18. I like food.

    Alas, I shall be cautious about mixing fiction and food to honor Ms. Fortune's wishes.

    Why is my word verification "I am remorse"?

  19. Darlings,

    I am speaking of endless food scenes. Endless. Breakfast lunch and dinner and a snack!!

    Let us not be too literal.

    Excess is the bane of writers.

  20. Goodness, Tina, you and Ms. Fortune were up early this AM! Wow, you too, Glynna.

    Going to pay catchup now....

  21. Hi, Gina!! So great to see you here!!

    Oh, and Ms. Fortune, too. Didn't mean to leave you out. :)

    Thanks for the info. I've gotten to the point where whenever I type an exclamation point, I feel like I've been slapped! Then I back up and delete it. :) Sometimes I allow one, though, especially if it's a child yelling or something like that.


  22. Mary, just call RWA. They're very helpful. I've had to call over the years for various things and always gotten an answer.

  23. Oh...amazing.

    Ms. Fortune just suggested Mary call RWA too.



  24. Mary, if you go try again, be sure to hit the total button. I think I remember seeing something like that and realized you have to hit it to make your "order" register. Also, once you're officially registered, you'll get an email telling you where to send your books.

  25. Anita Mae, have you ever read the food fights...uh...meal times...in some of Mary's books?

    Definitely not boring and moves the plot along quite nicely.

  26. Miss Marlena,

    Welcome once again to Seekerville.

    Did your double shot of espresso go down okay?

    I laughed as I read my line edits today for book four because they actually inserted a couple of !!'s. I think I must have neglected to put ANY in. LOL!

    My personal rule is no more than 5 the entire ms. Unless there's a child in it, and then I MIGHT allow myself 7. I rarely hit 5 though.

    Great post.

    Have another espresso.


  27. I finally got entered after ONE DOZEN FAILURES SPREAD OVER SIX WEEKS.

    Seriously, it's about that bad. And guess what ladies??? I ended up entered in the wrong category. Somehow I'm entered in historical for my first and second choice when I intended to be entered in Inspy first choice, historical second.

    Yeesh. I emailed them for help. We'll see.

    At least I didn't make Calico Canyon compete against any VAMPIRE books, like poor Petticoat Ranch did last year. That was a tough category. :(

  28. GEEEENNNNNAAA!!!!!!!!!!!! Where in the world have you been, girl??? We have missed you. So glad you're still among the living in Seekerville.

    And, Cheryl, no more than five exclamation points in a ms????? Dear Lord, I'm doomed ...

  29. Has Gina been missing? I had no idea. However I do have the effect of bringing people out of the woodwork.

    Hello to all you late comers...where have YOU been?

    Yes, Cheryl the double shots were very smooth. The torte even smoother. Compliments to the pâtissier.

    Mary dearest, when in doubt, always seek the help a mental health professional.

    Julie, if you dab some Cab on a white handkerchief you can remove those stubborn exclamation points.

    It has been as usual delicious to be in Seekerville.I must dash now, I have an appointment for a therapeutic rumba lesson.

  30. Goodbye Ms.M, it was as entertaining and educational.

    We hope you will stop by again when the mail bag fills up.