Wednesday, March 16, 2011

WOW Wednesday: Alissa Grosso on Being a Rebel

Alissa Grosso’s first novel, Popular, will be published in May 2011 by Flux. At various points in her working life she has been a tavern wench, a term paper writer, a newspaper editor and a children’s librarian. You can find her on her blog, or at the Elevensies blog. She is represented by Jim McCarthy at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management

Be a Rebel

by Alissa Grosso

There is a lot of writing advice out there, and most of it follows some rules that are more or less carved in stone. I think most of the time it's a good idea to follow the rules, but there is a time and a place for breaking the rules, and I should know. I've broken a lot of rules on my publication journey.

Broken Rule No. 1: Your Book Must Be Workshopped/Critiqued/Beta Read

When I submitted for publication the first manuscript of what would become my forthcoming novel, Popular, nobody had laid eyes on it but me. This makes it sound like I am some sort of literary genius who can write brilliant first drafts. Sadly, this is not the case.

However, I did learn how to edit by spending years in a an online creative writing workshop where I workshopped my own short stories and read and critiqued countless more by fellow workshop members. I think it was this, the critiquing of the manuscripts of others, that really helped to make me a stronger writer and a stronger editor of my own work.

When I submitted Popular, I had gone through and edited and rewritten it at least three times, and it was still a long way from perfect.

Broken Rule No. 2: The Manuscript You Submit For Publication Must Be Flawless

In that first conversation with my editor, the awesome Brian Farrey, he began by dumping all sorts of praise on me and my novel (he's pretty smart about handling sensitive writers), and then in his very polite and tactful way pointed out that my book didn't really have an ending. He was, of course, completely correct. He still wanted to publish my book, but first I would have to write a Part 2.

After several deep breaths and a whole mess of procrastination, I finally did write that second part. To this day I am forever thankful, that my editor had enough faith in me to want to publish an unfinished book by an unheard of writer.

Broken Rule No. 3: You Must Have An Agent

If you've been reading closely the above paragraphs, you've probably noticed something. I don't mention my agent once. That's because I didn't actually have one, yet. I submitted my manuscript directly to a publisher's slush pile without the benefit of an agent.

Not all publishers will accept unagented submissions, but some do. If you don't need to have your book published by one of the big publishers and would rather work with a small publisher who might be able to give you and your book a little more attention, you can submit your manuscript directly to the publisher. However, if you do, be prepared to do some waiting. I think my manuscript was with the publisher 4 or 5 months before I heard from them. That said, waiting 4 or 5 months, doesn't seem so bad when the news you finally here is good news.

Broken Rule No. 4: There Is One and Only One Way to Go About Getting an Agent

As any aspiring writer knows, it's supposed to go something like this. Once your manuscript is perfect, you spend weeks upon weeks agonizing over drafting the perfect query letter that somehow manages to boil down your entire manuscript into a single page and is written in the sort of language that makes agents everywhere stop what they are doing and beg to read your literary masterpiece. Then you send this query out to every agent you can and anxiously await their replies, and maybe if you are lucky one or two will actually want to look at some of your precious pages, and if you are really, really lucky one of them will want to take you on as a client.

I know that's how it's supposed to go, but in case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm something of a rebel. So, with my second novel I did the same thing I did with my first, I submitted it directly to my publisher. I waited an abominably long (or so it felt to me) time, in which I determined that my editor absolutely loathed my second manuscript.

So, that second magical phone call, the one where he said, “I love it! I want to publish it!” and also “I felt like I needed to take a shower after I read it.” (though he assured me that last one was a good thing) came as a pleasant surprise. Another long wait, and I got a contract. Then, rebel that I am, I went looking for an agent, and was lucky enough to land one. I am super thankful that Jim McCarthy not only likes what I write, but also doesn't care that I'm a weirdo who never seems to do anything the right way.

Broken Rule No. 5: Your Novel Must Be About Vampires/Zombies/Dead Kids/Insert Latest Trend Here

I think the rule that your book should be on whatever hot topic is big right now is about as stupid as that old rule where you are supposed to write what you know. Where's the fun in writing what you know? Isn't the fun of fiction being able to make things up?

The book you should write, should be the book that you want to read. It shouldn't really be like any other book out there. It should be your own, unique thing. This is where being a rebel comes in really handy. Instead of being an imitator, write a book that a few years from now everyone else will be trying to imitate.


  1. Thanks for your advice. I've heard of other authors too who found their publisher and then their agent. I guess we all have to find the balance between following the rules and breaking them when we feel it's necessary.

  2. Here's to being a rebel who knows how to follow rules, and when to break them.

  3. Go Alissa!! Great post! Very refreshing!

  4. Great post - nice to read since most of the times I'm fretting about a misplaced word, etc. in a query letter! Doesn't always pays to be 'good'! :)

  5. Great advice - there never is just one way to do anything is there? :)

  6. Natalie: Yes, it's important to know the rules, but they don't always have to be followed.

    Gae: Exactly!

    Paul: Thanks!

    Sayantani: By all means proofread your query letter, but don't get stressed out over it!

    Jemi: Thanks, and no, there is never one way to do anything!

  7. Ha! Great stuff. I think knowing the rules is important--that way you know which ones you're breaking... or the ones you're willing to break by the time you get to them. Kind of like writing.

  8. Thanks for the excellent advice Alissa! You've inspired me. Without knowing you and your story I would never have thought about submitting straight to publishers.

  9. Well hallelujah! It's so refreshing to read a post that steers clear of the heavy-handedness that usually accompanies subjects of agents and querying. As an aspiring writer, it's always great to know that I don't necessarily have to look forward to a "take a number and wait" type of writing experience.



  10. That's amazing, all that "rule" breaking! Nice to know there isn't some sort of rigid formula toward publication. Thanks for the fun insight and the interview! We writers need advice that enables us to relaaaax once in a while. :)

  11. Thanks for the fun and fascinating post, Alissa. It's nice to know that flexibility is alive and well out there in ye olde publishing world.

  12. Thanks, Alissa. I needed this today.

  13. Great post. Wish I could be a rebel, but I'm too insecure for that. ;)

  14. I love reading about how you broke the rules and did it your own way! Congratulations!

  15. Awesome post! I can attest that these things happen multiple times: #3: Char and I were plucked from the slush pile with no agent. And #2: we had to rewrite the THE LAST 3/4 OF THE BOOK--not exactly perfection!

  16. great piece alissa! and a fantastic story to boot. although i need to know more about the whole "i felt like i needed to take a shower" thing. more please...

  17. Great post, Alissa! Congrats on reaching your goals on your own terms :)


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