Welcome back. Thank you so much for your comments after last month’s Blog on landing the right Editor. Beyond the Blog I had an opportunity to attend an excellent Wisconsin Writer’s Association discussion about the process after your novel or nonfiction is complete. Afterward, I had the pleasure of chatting with writer friends about landing an agent and rejections. We also talked briefly about how police and lawyers are portrayed in fiction and nonfiction.
I will discuss these thoughts, rejections, police, and lawyers in this Blog. As always, please feel free to send me your thoughts, comments, and questions.
Five types of rejections:
1. Never hear back. – Some agent’s profiles will say, if you don’t hear back in 2-weeks, it’s a “No.”
2. Never read – Unopened letter “No” on the envelope; response uses the wrong name; form card, letter or email; kind doesn’t help.
3. Read, but the response is still formula – Your story did not capture me sufficiently to Blah, Blah, Blah so that I will step aside. Please know another agent might be interested, blah, blah, blah. It is a “No.”
4. Read – “No,” but might be helpful – Too much detail for me; I’m looking for first-page punch; too heavy on description; need some background before jumping into dialogue; Too much background; information dump in first five pages you need to spread it out make it more organic…
5. Read – “No,” but may become a “Yes” – No to this, but I like your writing and would like to see something else from you; OR – No to this because of ——–, if you correct this, I would be willing to look again…
Speaking of rejections – Who should you reject? Agents?
- Screaming, crying, and long-winded speeches. It makes great TV: the advocate giving a stirring address as she walks around the courtroom while the judge pounds his gavel. But it never happens. After about a dozen words, the judge would warn the lawyer. If she didn’t shut up, the judge wouldn’t get flustered and bang away with his gavel. He’d simply turn to the bailiff and tell him to remove the attorney from the courtroom (and take her to the lockup).
- Surprise witnesses and evidence. Surprise witnesses or evidence are rare, and they generally don’t happen unless someone made a grave mistake. The reason is simple: discovery. The opposing lawyers get to ask each other all sorts of questions. Only an incompetent lawyer will fail to ask what witnesses the other side plans to put on the stand and what exhibits they plan to put into evidence.
- Lawyers speaking directly to each other in court. Courtroom exchanges can get pretty heated, so several rules are meant to keep things from getting out of hand. One is that lawyers can’t directly address each other. Instead, lawyers can only speak to the judge, the witness on the stand, or (during opening statements or closing arguments) the jury. They aren’t allowed to argue directly with each other. And they can’t interrupt each other. Doing either of those is an excellent way to be held in contempt of court.
- Private citizens who “bring charges” or refuse to bring charges. When your villain beats up your heroine, she can’t bring charges against him for aggravated assault. Only a prosecutor can do that. All your heroine can do is report the incident to the police. And if she decides to have mercy on the villain, she can’t keep the prosecutor from bringing charges (e.g., “I don’t want to press charges,” is not a thing.).
- State cases in federal court and other jurisdictional mistakes. Not all cases can be brought in all courts. Sometimes this is obvious, but most of the time, jurisdictional issues aren’t apparent to nonlawyers. For example, all federal courts have “limited jurisdiction,” which means that you can’t sue in federal court unless a federal law gives you the right to do so. On the other hand, state courts are courts of “general jurisdiction,” meaning that you can sue in them without jumping over the same sort of jurisdictional hurdle.
- Lawyers getting in witnesses’ faces. This is another one we can blame on screenwriters. They want to show a dramatic closeup of a lawyer confronting a witness, so they have the lawyer walk up to the witness and question him from just a few feet away, sometimes even closer. That doesn’t happen for two reasons. First, the judge typically won’t allow it. But even more important, it’s very ineffective. Why? Picture where the jury is when the lawyer is leaning over the rail of the witness box: behind the lawyer’s back. They can’t see the lawyer or the witness, and they probably won’t hear well either.
- Lawyers who move around the courtroom without permission. Judges typically maintain tight control over their courtrooms and don’t like lawyers (or anyone else) wandering around in them. Attorneys are expected to stay behind the podium unless the judge gives explicitly them permission to leave it (when pointing out something on a blowup of a picture, for example).
- Unfounded objections. Lawyers are only supposed to object when there is a legal flaw with a question or piece of evidence. Objections are not opportunities to argue about the other side’s case or manners. For example, “objection, hearsay” or “objection, the question assumes facts, not in evidence” are valid objections. But “objection, the defendant’s slander of my client’s reputation is completely outrageous—she would never consort with trash like him” is not a valid objection.
- Big firms handling minor cases. Hourly rates at big firms typically start around $500 an hour for junior associates fresh out of law school and go up from there. As a result, it rarely makes economic sense to hire a big firm unless there’s more than $5 million at stake.
- Armies of lawyers working on a single case. There are two reasons this doesn’t happen. First, armies of lawyers are hugely expensive. Second, virtually all evidence in significant cases is now kept in massive databases with powerful search engines. So, all you need are a handful of tech-savvy lawyers and paralegals running searches and reviewing what they turn up. Today, a big team for a single case is half a dozen lawyers and three or four paralegals. And if a firm needs an army of lawyers for a particular project (e.g., reviewing paper documents in a warehouse), they’ll hire temp lawyers for about $100 an hour and let them go as soon as the project is done.
- Like with armies of lawyers, the entire detective bureau is not involved in each case that comes along.
- A bullet will not pick you up and throw you across a room.
- Clip and magazine are not the same. A clip holds cartridges that go into a magazine. Most modern firearms don’t require a clip. But it sounds good.
- A bullet is not the same as a shell, round, or cartridge. You never find empty bullets on the ground after a shooting. Casings, yes.
- The whole pumping of a shotgun or cocking the hammer of a handgun is a sound cue from the movies, intended for intimidation, but less to do with looking tough and more to do with being stupid. These extra and, in most cases, unnecessary pumps/cocks just dump unfired ammunition onto the ground. Why would anyone intimidate another person with a firearm if it weren’t ready to fire?
- While this would seem to be an “it goes without saying” kind of thing, a character should never look down the barrel of a gun to see whether it’s loaded.
- Go for a ride-along with your local police. Like the rest of us, they like to talk about their job. And, they have great stories.
If you’re looking for support groups for writers, I highly recommend the Wisconsin Writers Association. Go to, https://wiwrite.org/
Thank you for hanging with me. Keep writing, and please stay brilliant, healthy, and hopeful, Nick