Friday, October 24, 2014

The Missing Place Writing Contest!

If you haven't read all of Sophie Littlefield's books I urge you to ameliorate this dreadful state of affairs at once.

If all the copies are on reserve at your library, here's a chance to win her most recent book THE MISSING PLACE.  (Let's just say my sox were knocked off so often while reading this I finally just abandoned them completely and stuck with flip flops)

Usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer

2. Use each of these words in the story:


You can use the word as part of a larger word but it must be appear in whole form:

oil/spoil is ok but ice/icicle is not.

3. Post your entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

4. If you need a do over, delete your entry and post another.  [It helps to compose on a word .doc then paste to the comment box when done]

5. Entries outside the US are ok.

6. Contest opens Saturday (10/25/14) at 10am and closes on Sunday (10/26/14) at 10am.  That gives you a whole extra hour since daylight savings time ends this weekend! wait, what? That's next weekend? Damn.

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Query Question: "petite novels"

Are there agents who are willing to represent 100-ish page women’s fiction manuscripts these days? And if so, what is the market? I see the petite novels in self-publish eBook formats but I am uncertain of the global mainstream market.

Generally agents are looking for books that publishers want to print. That means 80-100K words, not 25K. (100 pages =25K approximately)

I'm sure there's a market for shorter novels in ebook format where the writer/publisher can offer it for sale at a low price.  Publishers have overhead that generally preclude offering books at that price unless it's a special, time-limited, discount.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Query Question: parting out the novel

I've written an upmarket manuscript in four parts (I'd say general fiction, with elements of family saga and historical fiction). I've been getting occasional complimentary feedback from queries . . . but not reaching my goal in the end.

Parts 3 and 4 of the book introduce a story-line involving a 13 year old boy whose mother left him and his father, when the boy was five. It's been suggested to me that that part might make a good middle-grade novel on its own. And it might.

But here's the main question [takes me a while, but I always get to it eventually]: if I succeeded in turning that part of the book into a new middle grade manuscript, and reached the goal of publication, would that preclude ever publishing the original book for adults, which contains that story-line within it?

The adult novel would fall apart completely if I tried to write it without the boy's story within it, so that's not an option.

Neither is going back to a career as a social worker. Just sayin' . . . 

When you license your work for publication to a publisher you grant them the EXCLUSIVE right to publish in this territory and those languages for the duration of the copyright.

There are further paragraphs that set out the terms under which the agreement can be terminated (out of print clauses generally) but under no circumstances would a publisher agree to remove the term exclusive from the license. It doesn't make sense for them to do so.

So, if you license Part 3 as a middle grade novel, you are contractually prohibited from offering it for sale as part of a larger book in the territories and languages covered in the contract.

[ I'm a bit puzzled as to anyone thinking that that middle part of an adult book described as a family saga or historical fiction would be suitable for middle grade.  Middle grade isn't just about age. It's got very particular characteristics of language and story as well.

If I came up on a middle grade novel in the middle of an adult novel I'd be unhappily surprised and start wondering about printing errors.

Here's the best example I can think of: The Thorn Birds (also historical fiction, also a family saga) starts with Meggie as a child. That part of the book where she treks off to school is absolutely NOT designed for grade school readers even though Meggie is about six years old.

Take a look at those first few pages and you'll see.]

And don't confuse this with the right to publish excerpts or first serial rights.  Those are also addressed in your publishing contract and generally have a word limit. Excerpts are limited to 7500-10000 words, and are generally meant for publicity and marketing purposes only.

First serial is an excerpt or a chapter or two maybe, that is published before the book is. Think of excerpts from important books that appear in Time or Newsweek before the book hits the shelves. That's first serial rights.

Publishing a third of the book as a separate book? Not ok, unless you're intent on spending your hard earned money the old fashioned way: retaining legal counsel.

Any questions?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Query Question: Agents moving agencies mid query

Some months ago I received a full request from Agent A at the Good Literary Agency. A few weeks after that I received a full request from Agent B at the AlsoGood Literary Agency. No problem so far.

ThenAgent B left the AlsoGood Literary Agency and joined the Good Literary Agency. I believe she took her earlier full requests with her, which means two agents at the same agency now have my manuscript. I haven't alerted them to this fact because I don't want to jeopardize my chances with either one of them. Is it my responsibility to bring this up, or should I take a "wait and see" attitude?

First, huzzahs for two requests for full manuscripts. Let's not forget that happy fact as you sort out what to do here.

This kind of thing happens a lot these days. Sometimes agents will email writers with updates on this, sometimes not. What we don't know here is whether B did take those full requests with her. That's NOT a given that she did.

Here's what you do: You email Agent B. You congratulate her on her new position. You mention that Agent A also requested the full and you want her to know to avoid any bumps in the road here at her new job.

You do NOT take a "wait and see" attitude here. Even if it means one of the agents has to drop out of consideration, you will have acted with honesty and integrity and that's going to serve you well in your entire career.

Monday, October 20, 2014

You have to ask the right question

Recently, I've gotten several voice mail messages from a writer asking me to call her back to tell her if "I'm accepting new clients."

I'm not going to call her back (now, or ever) because it's clear from the question that she doesn't understand how this query process works, and I don't want to spend 20 minutes on the phone doing Query 101, or worse Publishing 101.

She's asking "Are you accepting new clients" much like you'd contact a physician or dentist to ask if they are accepting new patients.

That presumes there are a certain number of slots and the next person to ask gets the one that's not filled.

That's NOT how querying works at all.

Even if I'm not eagerly searching out new clients, I'm always willing to read your query.  Frankly most agents are. We're always on the hunt for good projects.

So, the right question to ask YOURSELF is "how do I query this agent?"  To answer that you look at his/her website.

You don't call to ask.
You don't email to ask.

You just send the query.
I reply.

It's so splendidly easy and simple that it's mind boggling, I know.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Publishing career question: what do I need to get started?

Dear Your Royal Sharkiness,

I'm a college student and, like most of college students, I'm trying to figure out what to do with my life. I've been exploring various careers that might interest me, and a visit to your blog made me start thinking about becoming an agent or editor.

After a lot of introspection and sobbing, I think I know myself well enough to say that I'd be pretty well-suited for a job as either an agent or an editor. However, I realized shortly thereafter that I don't have any idea what is required to get one of those jobs. I recall you mentioning having interns and assistants around the office, which seems like the sort of job someone would take on their path to becoming an almighty shark like yourself, but are there other requirements that I'm not aware of? Are there steps I should be taking now for preparation?

To become an intern here, which is the first step toward a paid job in publishing, you have to be in college,  or be graduating soon.  Generally you'll need a degree. It doesn't have to be in the obvious field, English, but you will have to know how to write cogently and clearly.

And you'll need to be well-read. That's the biggest thing you can do to prepare for a job in publishing: know what's being published NOW.

We still laugh when recalling the intern applicant who told us her favorite book was Beowulf. It's ok to love Beowulf, but editors aren't looking for Beowul, and agents aren't selling it. You need to read the books being sold and published TODAY.

So, make a reading plan depending on your interests.  If  you love literary fiction, you'll read the finalists for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Booker Prize. 

If you love crime fiction you'll read the short lists for the Edgar Award, the ITW Thriller Award, the Anthonys, Macavitys and Agathas.  You'll read as much of the Soho Press list as you can.

You get the idea.

And one of the very very best ways to learn a lot about a genre quickly is to read anthologies.  Best American Short Stories, Best American Crime Stories, the Sisters in Crime Anthologies, the ITW anothologies.

You'll learn the names of well-known writers and start seeing the names of up and coming writers.

Reading is the key to a job in publishing.
Writing well is the second.

And don't skip math class. A good portion of my day is spent using math, and if you think a calculator will solve your problems you're wrong. YOU have to know which numbers to put where. All the calculator does is tell you if your sums are correct.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Query Question: No, I want the other one

I attended a conference where I found an agent from a very respectable agency*** had an open pitch time slot. My pitch got a request for a full. My research after the conference showed that the agent had no sales in my genre. I did not send my manuscript, and many months have passed since the conference. I would like to query another agent at the agency who represents many authors writing in my genre.

What to do? Do agents keep track of conference requests? The agency website says nothing regarding querying multiple agents. Is querying the second agent acceptable? If so, should I mention the first agent in my query to the second?

That odd sound you hear if you tilt your head to the left is me tapping you none-too-gently on the noggin  with a clue-by-four.

Let's see how you got to that point:

(1) You pitched an agent you didn't know. 

(2) You assumed that because you could not find any sales in your genre, there weren't any.

(3) You didn't sent the manuscript.

(4) and now, you want to know if it's ok to query another agent at the same agency and mention s/he asked for the full but you declined to send it to them.

You've behaved rudely here. You've made some assumptions that have prompted you to act that way, and I hope you'll stop doing that.

For starters, not all deals are reported.  My Publishers Marketplace deal listings are sadly out of date, and not just cause I'm lying around eating bonbons and watching telenovellas. Some deals aren't announced till foreign sales are made. I'm waiting to announce one now cause I want to use the correct title, and I know the publisher is changing it. Never assume you know how many deals an agent has done, or not.

Second, you didn't write to the agent and say thanks and withdraw the manuscript.  When I get those emails, I don't ask why (I don't particularly care.) It does mean that I don't email the author and ask what happened.  I ALWAYS do that if a requested full doesn't show up because it's easy for mail with
attachments to go astray.

Third, you're assuming the agent with lots of clients is a better fit.  And taking new clients.

And you're counting on the agents not talking to each other. Here's where that gets tricky:

Agent B: thanks for your query. This sounds terrific, but my list is pretty full.  I've passed this along to my colleague Agent A who is actively looking for projects in this genre.

Agent A: whoa, I recognize this. Didn't I ask for this at that writing conference? How come B has it a year later?

I can absolutely tell you that if you'd dissed any of my younger agents this way, and queried me, I'd have said no thanks pretty quickly.  I think my younger agents are often a better match for new writers than some of the rest of us: they're young, hungry, fresh, and eager. And they don't have "many clients" to torment daily.

You've screwed up royally here.  There's nothing to prevent you from querying Agent Two but you'd be very foolish to mention you've already talked to Agent One and decided s/he wasn't worthy.

***and what is a "respectable" agency? Do you mean reputable? I can assure you the best agents I know are very rarely respectable ladies with white gloves and delicate little handbags.

available here

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Query Question: I also have this other project

Dear Duchess of Sharkington,

I'm currently querying a thriller, but I'm also working on a collection of dystopian sci-fi short stories. I can't imagine one agent being interested in both, so if I nab an agent with the thriller, how will she feel about me self-publishing the short stories? Is that taboo? 

I'm not sure why you are assuming an agent who likes thrillers will not be an agent who likes dystopian sci-fi short stories.

In fact, on my list you'll find:

and you'll also find

I don't think that kind of diversity is the exception these days.

When an agent is interested in your work, you'll mention the other project. Some agents are quite ok with their clients self-pubbing things, others not so much.  You'll want to work with one who is.  But never assume that your work can't be sold either. 

When I sign a client, I sign them for all their work. Sometimes that means calling in a co-agent. Sometimes it means getting help from friends. Sometimes it means things don't work out and the client needs a new agent.  All of these things have happened.  Cross the bridge when you get there.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Query question: writing with style versus writing "right"

Some time ago, I saw a fascinating article on Writer's Digest online site, called something like "The Difference Between Writing with Style and Writing Incorrectly." Sadly, I didn't get the chance to read it and now I can't find it.

We've all heard of the Old West style battles between editors and writers, and it got me thinking. Is there really a difference between writing incorrectly and writing with style? The great Stephen King once said, "You must know the rules of writing so you can effectively break them." What's your perspective on writing with style vs. writing correctly? Is there a difference, and what is it? Example(s)?

This reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon. An elderly grammar puritan has helpfully corrected Elvis lyrics: "You are nothing but an old hound dog."

Elvis had style, Grammar Lady was "correct."
Which do you prefer?

Sometime back I was proofing a client's manuscript and came across some truly dreadful grammar. Knowing my client was meticulous, I flagged it and asked. Sure enough, the "wrong" was on purpose. Not all characters speak in perfectly organized sentences and use all the right words.

Dern tootin', they don't.

You won't catch too many gun slinging moonshiners in the hollers of Kentucky asking for whom the bell tolls.

I tried to find further examples for this, but I couldn't. I'll bet the comment column will scare up some though.

And it's not so much editors who engage in fisticuffs on this topic, it's copyeditors. They've had style trained right out of them, and that's ok with me. Someone needs to know that a double Axel isn't the same thing as a double axle.

Dern tootin.

The trick is, as Stephen King points out, doing this on purpose. If it's on purpose, it fits. If it's by mistake, it's often very jarring. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Query Question: The definitive, absolute, no more question about it post on Word Count

Can you please give a definitive answer about word count. While I understand 100K is way too much for most genres, what is too little? Is anything under 80K, for mainstream fiction, too little and instant rejection?

Has NaNo, with its 50K word counts, killed chances for hopefuls in that range?

100K isn't "way too much" for most genres. It's right on the mark for many, and too few for a couple others.

Here's the rundown:
Sweeping, epic fantasy: 150K at a minimum. You can't do it right in less.
Sweeping, epic, historical fiction: 120 at a minimum. More is better.

Science fiction novels: 75-125K

Romance novels:65-100K
Womens' fiction: 100K and up

Crime novels: 80-100K
Thrillers: 80-100K
Noir novels: 65K and up but only double digits here, not triple.

YA: 65-100K
MG: 50K

Picture books: fewer than 2000 words

While NaNoMo sets a goal of 50K, that's for your FIRST DRAFT. Get that draft on paper and then go back and see where you need to develop the story, develop the character.

If you can't see where you need to expand, give it to a beta reader and ask where they have questions, or felt like they hadn't gotten enough story.

The bottom line is word count isn't something you want to worry about till revisions. Use enough words, and no more, to tell the story fully and completely.You have to be WAY WAY outside the paramenters on word count before it's an auto rejection. And even then, if your pages are well written and taut, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt.  Worry less about how many words you've got than do you have the RIGHT words.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Think you're the first and only?

A recent query in my inbox laid claim to being "the first" of a certain kind of memoir. As it happened, I knew that was not the case.  I wrote back drawing her attention to the earlier book.  As you might imagine, the querier did not fall on this information with effusive thanks, return emails of kitten pictures or even silence.  Oh no, unasked for advice, particularly of the unwelcome sort generally get replies steeped in sulfur and singed at the edges.

Oh well.

The problem here of course is that if I know about the earlier book,  it's a good chance that most other agents will too.  And a quick search of the Amazon data base turns it up as well.

When you claim to be first or only, and I'm interested in your book, I dig around before I reply "yes, please send me your manuscript."

It's not so much it's a problem that you're NOT first, as that you are clearly sloppy in your thinking and research. Frankly, that's death for me in non-fiction. Non-fiction requires meticulous research and documentation.

I remember hearing the utterly amazing Robert Caro speak several years back and he just casually mentioned he'd checked with the Historian of the Senate six different times on a single fact, as he got more information about an event.  I would have stood up and screamed "that's how it's done" as if he'd hit a home run at Yankee Stadium, but we were in a library and librarians always have me on my best behavior.

So, what does this mean for you in your queries and writing?

Obviously it means do your research.  If you can't find books in your category, are you using the right category? And are you skimming rather than digging deep? And have you gone to your local library and found the reference librarian and asked for help?

If you're not sure you're the first or only, don't say you are.  Find another aspect of your story that distinguishes you from the pack. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

More on graphing words and sentences

Why does one graph look more bouncy? BECAUSE YOU CHANGED THE UNITS ON THE Y-AXIS. If you graph all the data with the y-axis (the vertical axis) having the same units, lets say 60 words, both graphs will have similar bounciness. Ms Reid, I'm sorry to have to tell you like this: Your post is meaningless stupid crap. Please issue a correction.

I can appreciate you're probably annoyed as hell by people who get math wrong. There are a LOT of them these days. And people who use charts badly (more of them too..and sometimes  for nefarious purposes.) I myself have been driven to madness by "safety deposit box."  Thus I can appreciate that you saw those graphs, saw the "wrong" y-axis and briefly (we hope) lost your mind.

But, rather than respond to your vitriol, let me take a moment here to say it's clear that your email means I wasn't clear enough about the purpose of using the graphs.

The point of graphing your words per sentence is to see NOT to compare one book to another (ie one chart to another)  but to compare your sentences to each other. Thus, whatever number you put on the Y-axis (for you non-math types, that's the vertical one, the one that measures number of words) for your paragraphs is the right scale.

Here's the graph you would have preferred I use:

You can still see the point I was trying to make here, but it's a little more difficult. The blue lines
clearly show a much less rhythmic array than does the red line.

And remember, this is intended as a tool for declunking your sentences. It's not intended to show you right and wrong, it's designed to help you figure out if you're clunking.

If your sentences work, don't use it. If you're getting a lot of form rejections, try it.

And the next time you want to tell me I'm wrong about something, feel free. I'd prefer you not call my posts meaningless, stupid crap, particularly since you seem to be reading them too, but that's your choice. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Writing with an eye on rhythm

I've been reading queries for the Chris Eldin Fellowship fundraiser this week. A crit means figuring out what's wrong and how to fix it.  It's akin to QueryShark,  but it's not something I do on my normal incoming queries.   (When I read incoming queries, I don't do any analytical work usually. It's just yes/no/holymoly) It's been interesting to figure out the "how to fix it" part.

One querier had gotten all the right info on the page but there was still something wrong. The query didn't feel smooth. It felt off kilter somehow.

Off kilter means the rhythm is off.  But, it's one thing to say that, and another thing for the reader/writer to understand what your point is. And another thing all together to figure out how to fix it.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

This is a graph of how many words are in each sentence.
When the words per sentence are 0, that's the place where there's a new paragraph.

You can see here that her first paragraph is all over the place, and ENDS with the longest sentence of the paragraph.

The next paragraph has the longest sentence right before the last sentence.

The third paragraph opens with the longest sentence and closes with the shortest.

If this were music it would be disjointed.  Good writing is like music: there's a flow to it.

There's no rule about how many words per sentence, how many sentences per paragraph.  It just has to sound smooth to your ear.

If it doesn't, graph your words and sentences. See if it bounces too much.

By way of example, here's the graph from Patrick Lee's second novel (coming July 2015).

There's no right and wrong here, but you can see that his graph is much less bouncy.

If you want to test the theory, graph a book you love that you think is well written.
Then see if your book looks like that graph.

Is this the One True Secret of Great Writing? No. But it is a tool you can use to analyze why something isn't working. And it's a very useful tool for analyzing pacing

Any questions?

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Can I rant about how evil pitch sessions are again?

Recently I gave away query letter critiques as part of a fundraiser.  I said "send your query, get a critique, then send it back with revisions, get another."

It was very gratifying to see how fast those query crits got snapped up.

And once we started working, it was clear, yet again, that most writers need only two or three revisions to get a good solid query.  And I don't mean little tinkering changes here and there, I mean, tear down to the floor boards and start again revisions.  TWO or THREE!

So, why the hell aren't writers conferences offering this instead of pitch sessions? It boggles my mind.

First: getting your query, your WRITTEN query, in front of an agent is 100% more effective than pitching.

Second: pitch sessions are one and done. You get ONE shot to entice an agent. With query revisions, you've got a chance to revise, and try again. Moreover, I can explain why something doesn't work, suggest an alternative, or ask a question that helps you clarify your plot.  With pitch sessions all I can say is "yes" or "no" and you have no idea what went in to either answer.

Even if there's a chance to say more like "this doesn't work" you're not in any kind of headspace to hear and consider it. You're focused on keeping your self pulled together for the next pitch.

Third: if you revise your query with one agent, you've got a MUCH better shot at enticing another agent. With pitch sessions, you simply repeat your pitch on and on with no sense of whether it's effective.

I've been ranting about this for YEARS. I don't seem to be making much headway which really just breaks my heart and fills the oceans with salty shark tears. It's damn hard to get ahead in publishing, and writers conferences are the one place that should give you the tools and the practice to get better.

I've seen this over and over: helping authors revise queries WORKS.  It's EFFECTIVE.***  Why the hell aren't writers DEMANDING this??

**here's a writer talking about her experience with crit donation mentioned above.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

And sometimes it's just bad writing


I enjoy diving in to the query pile. There are a lot of good writers out there, sadly many of them working in categories I don't take on, and it's a pleasure to read a finely honed sentence and see a skilled writer at work.

But sometimes, splat.

Sometimes, it's just plain bad writing.

How do you know if you're in that category?

Here are a couple recent examples:

"Terror overtook her body"
"A scream escaped her throat"
"The story is located in New York City"
"We have spoken once when you called"
Without reading further, can you see what's wrong in each of these sentences??

"Terror overtook her body" versus "she was terrified"
"A scream escaped her throat" versus "she screamed"
"The story is located in New York City" versus "the story is set in New York City
"We have spoken once when you telephoned" versus "we spoke once when you telephoned"

If you can see the difference, make sure you look for it in your writing and pluck it out.
If you CAN'T see the difference, you could be in that second group. You probably need more practice before querying or publishing.
It's true that bad writing sells. I've seen it, you've seen it. But do you want it to be your book that we see it in?  If so, have at it. Just don't query me!
And if you see it, here's how to fix it:
Look at each sentence individually and think "is there a better, tighter way to say this?"  Ask "does this make physical sense?" A scream doesn't escape. A scream is what someone does.  If you use "a scream escaped her throat" use it on purpose, not because you didn't consider and discard "she screamed." You can break every rule in the book, including "write well" but you really need to do it on purpose, not in error.

It's ok to write these crappy sentences, don't get me wrong. Bad first drafts are the part of the process. It's not revising, not fixing the bad stuff that leads to problems.

Any questions?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Ten Common Errors In Social Media Promotion

1. Sending links before they're hot.  
Don't email your mailing list with "hey read my column tomorrow"  Send the email ONLY when your column is actually available to be read.  Sending a link to something people can't see is frustrating to your readers and a complete waste of time.

2. Linking your contests and promotions to the number of followers you have or want.   
No one but you cares how many followers you have.  Link to something your fans care about. Or just have a contest for no reason. 

3. Putting too much information in your signature line
Promote ONE book or have ONE blurb, no more. Rotate often.

4. Retweeting the nice things people say about you.   
If you want people to notice, thank the original tweeter. Your fans will be able to track the conversation if they're interested. 

5. Failure to build dialogue.   
One of the best ways to attract followers and get "liked" is to ask questions. Then engage those readers by answering. The point of social media is interaction. If you're the only one talking, you're missing the "inter" part of the action.

6. Talking only about yourself. 
One of the most effective ways to promote yourself is to talk about someone else.

7. Send ALL.   
The only email that is appropriate to send to everyone in your address book is news of your death. You will not be the one to do that.   Personalized promotional emails are ideal.  At the very least divide your address book into Friends (NOT the Facebook idea of friends either), Family, Business colleagues, writers and other writing friends.  Each category gets a DIFFERENT email announcing your book.  (It's rare you will have "agents I've queried and from whom I've received a form rejection" on any of those lists.)

8. Apologize for promoting your book, or calling your promo emails spam. 
Would you buy from someone who says her product isn't really worthy of your attention?  Pay particular attention to this if you are female. I see this from female authors ten times more often than men. You don't have to laud yourself, and self-deprecation can be hilarious in MODERATION, but "oh I hate to bother you with this" is just plain bad promotion.

9. Starting too late.  
Promotion is a long, slow process. You'll build friends/likes/followers in slow increments.  You can NOT start the month before publication and expect any serious traction.

10. Long periods of silence or non-posting on Twitter/Facebook et al.   
You're better off doing five minutes a day rather than 50 minutes once a week, or worse, three hours once a month. Social media is about presence, and it's better to be present daily even if briefly than weekly or worse monthly. 

Monday, October 06, 2014

WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE flash fiction contest results

Clearly there are a lot of you dying to get your mitts on WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE by Jeff Somers (pubbing tomorrow 10/7/14 in fact!)

Here are the results of the contest:

Special recognition for a great phrase:
"the smile slips from her face; splattering as it hits the floor."
Jennifer Deane 11:07am

Special recognition for a great line:
Succss smelled of patchouli and incense
D.B. Sundstrom 7:04am

"The Underpants Avenger spoke."
Kim English 2:15pm

"In the morning, he would be just another hangover."
raisedareader 1:49pm

"It’s right here in Diabetic Witch Today."
Karen McCoy 1:39am

Special recognition for entries that weren't quite stories, but if they were
the start of novels, I'd want to read on:
french sojourn 7:07am

boblozzia 11:48am

Jennifer R. Donohue 1:40pm

Jennifer Moorhead 10:37pm

A cameo for Gossamer the cat!
Mark Songer 10:19 am

A cameo for a gun wielding shark!
BonnieShaljean 11:07am

Special recognition for why JedCullan is now dead to me TWICE!
Maligning Reacher! The nerve! Poor Dead Jed.
JedCullan 1:23pm

Every Saturday librarian's secret wish
Christina Seine 4:54pm

Best  non-fiction story
LynnRodz 5:11am

Too horrifying even for me:
"In a bookstore in Tel-Aviv, the saleswoman is clueless about Roxane Gay's "Bad Feminist," and she doesn't know who Patrick Lee is."
Lilac Shoshani 7:00am

And here are the semi-finalists:

D.B. Sundstrom 7:04am
The sign on the door read EDIE'S MAGIC SHOP with no posted hours. She tried the handle anyway. Success smelled of patchouli and incense. She walked toward the psychic's booth in the back, admiring the caricatures of past patrons on the wall, when she spotted her own.

"I've never been here before. Is that, blood?"

The occupants of the past tried to warn her. Their sketched eyes fixed on the door.
But she drew the connection too late.

She found herself looking at the door with the other spirits. One eye drawn slightly larger than the other. 9:34am
Sunday, under a big tent, Preacher Dan was busy cleansing spirits, urging followers to drink the blood of Christ. His gospel invoked speaking in tongues, a yielding of souls, complete and utter faith.

Doubters whispered, “Its black magic!”

He adjusted his ill-fitting pants, lifted a venomous snake in one hand while waving the other in its face.

It struck!

He stood firm, unwavering, and caterwauled, “A miracle! A message from God himself!"

Believers now, the crowd surged forward, coins raining into his little collection basket.

Only when he headed to the next town, would he remove the prosthetic hand.

Shaunna 9:39am
First time Steve wore the magic pants, it rained cats for a week. No kidding! Fur balls everywhere. And dead birds! He swore he'd put them away, but there's some's in their blood, seems like. Ain't nothing like the spirits of your ancestors in a pair of brown corduroys.

Anyhow, he got antsy and dragged them out again. Couldn't help it, I guess. Folks set out milk and litter boxes. Just to be ready. But they were wrong. Dead wrong. A bit macabre for my taste, but they could have used those cats when the cockroaches showed up.

Kitty 9:41am
How I Became A Man, by Luigi Abbadelli

"Wearing short pants when you're ten is embarrassing. It dispirits the soul," I told Mama.

"Che cosa รจ dispirits?" asked Nona.

"He wants to wear long pants," Mama said.


Papa was reading the paper. I needed him on my side, so I said, "They're old world."

Mama and Nona gasped because they're still hot-
blooded Italians. But Papa was now an American. His framed naturalization certificate was proudly displayed below Pope Pius's picture. "Old world" worked like magic.

Papa stood, straightened his shoulders and
categorically declared, "My son will wear long pants!"

Old Fogey 2:21pm
After I finished with April’s cat, Magic, I put the shovel in the shed. I washed blood and mud off my hands and poured some spirits. Knob Creek is my libation of choice. Lately, finances dictated house brands, but tonight my shaking hand found joy.

The only thing magic about that late animal? She’d only peed, pooped, or clawed things belonging to me. That yellow puddle on my novel—stored for safety on a high shelf--had been the last straw.

April entered, yawning. “Blood on your pants,” she said.

A smile.

“And poison in the bourbon.”

Gail 3:26pm
Spirits of dark rum took the blood off those pants like magic. Run away, little hemoglobin molecules, run away! He'll never find out unless he digs up the azalea in the front yard. Ah, I think I hear him now.
"And how's my dollbaby this evening?"
"Sweet and high, my love."
"And where's my little kitty?"
"Out scouting the voles. Back soon."
"What were you gardening, honey, honey, honey?"
"Gardening?" I say. Maybe he knows. Is my face red? I frowned. The shovel! My God, the shovel!
"Oh there you are!"
I stared, slack-jawed. The cat was back.

J.D. Paradise 3:31pm
"Blood Spirits Pants Magic!" Cat chanted, cranked up to 11, laughing in the thrashing crowd. Onstage the Chili Peppers bounced, socks flapping. It was 1996 and I loved a girl who would never love me back.

"Let's run away together," I said later, tangled in dormroom bedding that smelled of Coors and Parliaments. Propped on elbows, inches apart, Cat looking past my shoulder.

Cat, remorseful: "I'll never be that girl."

"I love you anyway." Desperately. "Always."

She tugged the sheet higher. "We shouldn't have done that."

But we had. And just before sunrise, we moved the hitchhiker to the landfill.

Alex King 4:17pm
"Pants? Really?" Ted asked.

The cat looked down at him. "Could be worse."

"Worse how?"

"Could be bloody pants."

"Could be," Ted agreed. "Depends if you're British or not."

The spirits were to blame. He'd distilled them himself, poured some in the cat's bowl for kicks. Now his cat was magic and Ted was a pair of pants.

"Some bad trip," Ted said.

The cat jumped down, onto the floor where Ted lay, limp and hanger-less. "For you, maybe." He unsheathed his claws. They were pale in the moonlight, bleached bone, not keratin. "Abracadabra, now you're a mouse."


Just Jan 10:44pm
"Fisher, most likely," Doc said, probing my cat's jugular wounds with a pudgy finger. "She's lucky; a coyote would've killed her."

"Can you work your usual magic?"

"Maybe." He leered at me over the top of his bifocals. "For a price."

"I can pay," I assured him, glancing down at my ratty t-shirt and sweatpants.

He reappeared an hour later, smelling strongly of spirits. "Couldn't save her. Lost too much blood." He lurched toward me. "Time to pay the piper, sweetie."

"It wasn't a fisher," I said, revealing my fangs, "and it isn't me who's going to pay."

And here are the finalists:

Ruthy 9:06am
“Mommy, do cats go to Heaven?”

“God will take good care of Jinxie.”

“Can He do magic and unsquish him?
Maybe he can put some blood back in?”

“Honey, sometimes spirits are better off being free.”

“Is that why Jesus didn’t wear any pants?”

“How about we go to the pet store tomorrow and buy a turtle?”

“Ooh! Okay, Mommy. Don’t worry. I will teach him how to cross the street really fast.”

Michael Seese 9:56am
“Big Brother”
by Michael Seese

"Sorry, cat," I said to the lifeless mass at my feet.

"Mom will be home soon. Get some paper towels."

It was a mess. Lots of blood.

"What are you going to tell her?"

"If we clean up, nothing," David said.

"Can't you tell her the truth? That you heard you could see spirits?"

"Bad idea. You'll understand when you're older."

David was right. There's a lot that's confusing to a six-year-old.

"We're in trouble, aren't we?"

"We'll be fine."

“OK.” Big brothers are magic.

"Hurry. Throw the pants in the fireplace. And her name was Kate, not Cat."

Calorie Bombshell 3:36pm
The vehicle’s occupants didn’t move a muscle as I approached with my flashlight and violation book. Seven years crunching the midnight gravel on Highway 85 and I never clocked a Jaguar doing 140mph before. An $818 magic ticket was one week’s salary, enough to keep my spirits high and mind off the woman who refused to vacate my spare bedroom although I kicked her no good Trickster son out three months ago.

“License and registration, please.”

The antique German Luger leveled at my chest was his, a wedding present from an old college buddy.

The bloodcurdling scream was mine.

Jo-Anne Teal 3:09am
In September, a tenement fence became castle wall to our cat and to my sister’s boyfriend, Geraldo. The cat was best at gaining entry. Neighbors weren’t eager to open the door to human wildlife, particularly someone wearing a blood-stained Nehru and drawstring cotton pants. Too weird even for the East Village.

So while like magic my sister’s stomach expanded, Geraldo waited across the street: sitting cross-legged in front of Renaldo’s grocery, playing broken sitar, drinking spirits from a bottle ineffectively covered by brown paper.

In October, my sister went outside to tell him there was no reason to wait anymore.

And the winner is Ruthy 9:06am!  Ruthy, please email me  your mailing address so we can send you your prize. If you've already read or bought WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE, we'll find you something else that's delicious to read.

Thanks to all the entrants; it was a great round of submissions!  Y'all amaze me every time with your diabolical plotting and clever writing!

Friday, October 03, 2014

Flash Fiction writing contest!

To celebrate Jeff Somers new book WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE being selected as a PW Pick of the Week, I'm holding a surprise flash fiction writing contest!


Here's the scoop:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Post it in the comments section of this blog post (when the contest opens)

3. Use these five words in the story:


4. Prompt words can be part of a larger word , but must appear in whole in the larger word:
magic/magician is ok, but not pants/phantasmagoria.

5. One entry per person.

6. If you make a mistake or need to edit, delete your entry and re-post.  The LAST entry
is your final one.  (Generally it's better to compose in a doc then copy and paste to the comment window.  Repeated deletions are just annoying)

7. Contest opens at 7am on Saturday 10/4 and closes at 7am on Sunday 10/5/2014.

8. Prize is a spiffy new copy of WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE!

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid



oops, too late. Contest closed at 7am 10/5/14.

Caption contest results!

Here are the results for the caption contest from Sunday:

These are the entries that made me laugh the most:
Sam 8:51am
Is the Shark gone?

Andrea van der Wilt 10:15am
I know what you did to my toys last summer.

Kim English 11:15am
Whatever you found in the Haliburton suitcase, it's not mine.

Chris Owens 1:55pm
On the eighth day, God made Transformers.

LynnRodz 5:13 pm
"Shh! I'm not here and you don't see me.

Craig 5:42pm
I sure hope Santa didn't get hurt in that wreck.

AJ Blythe 9:08pm
It looked bigger on ebay.

Julia Munroe Martin 6:40am
Why is it always the last freakin' place you look.

Special recognition to linked entries that defied the rules but are too awesome not
to note:

jennyferguson 11:53am
Yep, I'm a Jedi.

Jed Cullan 11:56am
Apple are sponsoring the next Star Wars movie, so they are to be known as an iJed

Jed Cullan 11:57am
iJed. uJenny.

SiSi 5:27pm
Toys are not us. We are not them.

Rena McClure Taylor 11:26pm
The eyes have it.

Eileen 12:00am
Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

And the winner is Rena McClure Taylor!

Rena email me with your mailing address and what kinds of books you like to read and we'll send you your prize!

Thanks to all who entered! It was such fun to read all the comments.  I'm continually amazed by how smart and funny my readers are.


Thursday, October 02, 2014

Rant: can agents be replaced by a service like Submittable

I've conquered the query hurdle and secured representation only to find that being on submission is ten times worse! After years of hard work, research, diligence, and above all, patience, I have to think there must be a better way for writers to find publishers that would be less frustrating and more transparent. It feels like the open waters out there and lots of talented writers are getting eaten alive! You've been very disparaging of some of the referral services that have popped up, perhaps rightfully so, but it seems to me that a service like Submittable could eventually replace the job of an agent.

So my question to you is, do you think the current agenting model is the pinnacle of publishing or is there a better way? What would that way look like?

You'll pardon me please if I get a little hot under the collar about the idea that you think I can be replaced by an Excel spread sheet.

For starters, even asking the question tells me you don't have a clue what an agent really does. The question implies that all we do is send manuscripts and wait for replies.

Here's a brief list of some of the OTHER things I do:

1. Make sure the author knows where to meet his editor at ComicCon to get his badge.  I do this because my author has never been to ComicCon, and never been to the Javits Center and didn't know that "I'll meet you there" is the same thing as saying "I'll meet you in Seattle."

2. Edit proposals

3. Re-edit proposals

4. Review books in a new category to prepare for submission of a project in 2015.

5. Review royalty statements.

6. Call royalty departments to get information on line items that are unclear.

7. Explain royalty statements to authors.

8. Call editor to nudge about getting publication date in a particular month because of client's career commitments.

9. Call editor to nudge about timely payment

10.  Call editor to follow up on manuscripts.

11. Call client to update on manuscript submission.

12. Reply to a "good news" email from client with suggestions on how to leverage that good news.

13. Consult with colleagues about contract language that isn't in author's best interest and determine strategy for negotiating.

14.  Nudge editor for information missing from royalty statement.

15. Update author on information missing from royalty statement.

16. Facilitate lunch meeting with client and colleague who solicits his work for anthologies.

17. Attend reading with client.

18. Answer email from fan about how to purchase client's books.

19. Follow up with client about expired website domain name.

20. Send submissions to editors.

And gentle readers, that's just what I can remember from Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.  And you'll notice that doesn't including writing this, or any other, blog post. Or reading submissions from queriers.

I'm not sure why you find the process of being on submission "frustrating" or why you think  it isn't "transparent."  I've said this before, I'll say it again now: you should be able to get a list of where your project is on submission from your agent in five minutes.  Ten if she's busy. A day if she's in the middle of follow ups.

And what's frustrating? The wait? Trust me, sending your work to someone via Submittable doesn't cut the wait time. I'm very familiar with Submittable because many of the lit mags I send my clients short stories to use it to manage submissions.

Do I think think the agenting model is perfect? No, of course not. Nothing but Our Risen Lord is perfect, and He doesn't work in publishing. Trust me, we've called for him enough.

Do I think it works pretty well? Yes I do. Not every agent is good at his/her job, and not every good agent is a good fit for every writer.

But if you think for one tiny second that what I can do can be replaced by some fucking spread sheet, well,  think again.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Query Question: Revising novel when on submission to agents

I received an encouraging revise and resend with some great feedback from one of my top agents. I realized reading it that she was completely bang on in identifying some of the flaws in my novel, and began revising right away.

A little later, I received a full request from agent #2, whom I had queried some time ago. It's been about a week now and I haven't sent said full to agent #2, and I don't really want to until I've finished addressing agent #1's critique. But I'm worried that if too much time passes, agent #2 will wonder what's up. My manuscript was fully edited and ready to go (or so I thought) when I queried her. Should I let her know that I'm revising my manuscript based on feedback from another agent, or just send the full when it's ready (probably in another week or two) without an explanation? Is knowing that another agent has asked for revisions to a manuscript a positive or a negative in most agents' eyes? 

Here's the absolute ironclad rule: always send your best work. If you're doing revisions to fix some flaws in your novel, it's in BOTH our interests to have you send the better version.

Here's how you do this: You email Agent #2  RIGHT NOW and say "yo, snooks, got your request. Little late to the party, but ok for now.  I'm revising right now (I thought the novel was done!) and I plan to have it finished on X date. I will send it then unless you tell me otherwise.  Thanks again for your interest. I look forward to sending you my novel." Of course you put this in your own deathless prose. Remember to keep it SHORT. No more than 30 words total.

The thing to avoid here is a long period of silence. If I request a full, I pretty much expect to hear back promptly. That's because mostly I DO hear back promptly, not because it's critical to the submission process.

If I don't hear back within a week or so, my assumption is  my email went astray, and I email again.  In fact, this past year, I ended up emailing the writer who had REFERRED the querier because I hadn't heard back after several pings.

My colleagues are generally NOT going to do this. They're going to request and if they don't hear from you they're going to move on.  They'll remember you but they generally aren't going to track you down. I wrote a blog post that showed that a while back.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Query Question: chapters pubbed before querying

I read your blog every day, and I have also gone through posts in the archive. Still, I could not find the answer to a question that has been bugging me for a while.

Suppose I have a novel (draft version) and my chapters are stand alone.

Suppose I submit the first chapter, which is polished, to journals accepting unsolicited submissions for fiction. Of course, I would mention it is a novel excerpt.

Suppose it gets published. My question is: in the future, when I will be querying agents, having one chapter out there, published, will be seen as pro or con?

It's seen as a pro. This is called a "publishing credit."  It's a Good Thing indeed. And you don't need to mention it's part of a novel in your submission to lit journals.

The reason it's a good thing is that someone else has seen your work, and liked it.  That tells me that you can string sentences together nicely, or at least have been able to do so in the past. That's reassuring when you're reading queries.

And for all you crazed rodent-wheel running authors out there: NO you do not NEED publishing credits in a query. It's worse to list idiotic ones (I won honorable mention in the XYZ writing contest!) than to list nothing at all.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Question: Women are my audience, should I query only the lady agents?

Because agents must ‘fall in love’ with a book, in order to represent it to the fullest, this raises a question. How much does personal taste, (influenced by life experience), as opposed to commercial viability, (influenced by market), help an agent make a choice?

Because my memoir appeals more to women I am hesitant to query male agents. Certainly male bias on my part but I just don’t think men will get it. Which leaves me thinking, if men are not my readers, why waste my time querying male agents.

As readers we don’t have to actually experience an author’s travails in order to feel his/her pain and be moved by their strength and ordeal. Just because my mom never ate out of a dumpster does not mean I am not moved by Jeanette Walls. But repping and reading are two different things.

Authors and readers cross gender lines all the time, (your post 9/22), but would/could a male best rep a female nuanced memoir even though his life-experiences negate the emotional and physiological connection?

This does bring to mind male gynecologists and obstetricians. Even though they don’t have the equipment they certainly can do the job.

The only way you can find out if someone responds to your work is to query them.  If you're asking if you should only query women agents, you're asking the wrong question.

The right question is: if you have to choose between agents at an agency should you choose a female agent over a male agent.

Now, if you were in my sophomore year econ class you'd hear the dreaded phrase "all things being equal" which means the two agents in question have no variable OTHER than gender.

And I can assure you that is never ever ever the case. Agents vary by taste, success at picking commercial projects, success at picking award-winning projects, and number of writers consumed for breakfast annually.

So, what to do:
The first thing you do is make a list of ALL the agents who say they're looking for memoir.  You don't leave any of them off the list.

Then you pare down first by "what have they sold" and you remove the agents who are clearly not selling anything, or not selling memoir.

Then you have a list.

IF you have more than one agent at an agency, you check the guidelines to see if you can query all of them (but obviously not at the same time.)  If you can, then you just prioritize the list for who gets first crack at you. You can pick the women over the men here cause there's zero cost. If they say no, you can query down the list.

If it's one and done though (query one agent at the agency and that's it) then you must decide which agent is best suited for your work. The LAST thing you look at here is gender, in my opinion.  I can absolutely garuntee you that in a contest between who would do a better job with memoir the best indicator is what an agent has sold, not their gender.

Lots of gents have sold lots of books that appeal to mostly female readers. Don't limit your chances by assuming men won't get you.  Some of these guys are pretty smart. One of them used to work for me in fact until he wandered off and got Bent.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday caption contest

Here's a photo. Enter your best suggestion for a caption (ie 10 words or fewer) in the comments column below.  Prize to be determined!  Contest closes at 7am on Monday 9/29.

Questions?  Tweet to me @Janet_Reid (but I'm not going be able to answer till later this evening)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Query question: all that publicity and networking, do I really hafta?

I'm 65, have never published fiction, used to publish a fair amount of nonfiction but that was 20 years ago. Here's my question: can I hope to publish a novel I write just out of the blue without jumping through all the hoops of publicity and networking, etc. I know that no one would have heard of me, so why would anybody take a risk? But if it's good enough, is that enough?

Sure you can write a novel, no hoops involved.

And you can query an agent for that novel, and the agent can sell that novel, and you can do all that with no hoops involved either.

And you knew that was coming, right?

What you describe as "hoops of publicity and networking" is what the rest of us call "finding people who will want to read your book."

Is your goal just to write, or is your goal to have your books read by more than your critique group?

If you want to enter the business side of publishing, you will find a set of hoops delivered to your doorstep by your agent, along with a plan for how you will be jumping through them for quite some time.

And you know what? It's not all that miserable.  Talking to readers is really a lot of fun. I do it everyday here on the blog, and it's one of the things I like most about my job.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Query Question: I'm not the norm, is that ok?

I'm writing a memoir, but I'm writing it in the third person using a semi-omniscient narrator. Is that an absolute no-no or might it be acceptable if the writing and story is superior?(1)
Also, it is not chronological, but most of the chapters/segments could stand on their own -- some are like flash fiction (100 to 500 words) and some are like a short story. They are all intrinsically connected (a somewhat difficult task) and I think I've managed to put the thing together in a way that won't confuse anyone.(2) Is it ever possible to have a photo at the beginning of every chapter?(3)


Let's take your questions in order.  

(1) Writing a memoir in the third person is fairly unusual. Oddly enough, I have such a memoir on submission right now.  Writing in the third person creates a distance between subject and reader that often defeats the purpose of memoir: sharing the emotional journey of a life.

You might want to do some research here. Find memoirs written in the third person. Salman Rushdie JOE ANTON is one. I'm sure there are others. Read them, and try to assess whether they work. Were you enticed to keep reading? Did you feel connected to the story?

There's no hard and fast rule that memoir MUST be in first person but it's like writing a novel in second person: you've got to be really really deft to overcome that POV hurdle.

And ask yourself bluntly what you want to accomplish by writing in the third person. Unless there's a very specific reason to do so, first person is just going to make your life a whole lot easier.

(2) You're not the right person to assess whether this works. You're entirely too close to the project. This is where you need beta readers, and honest ones.  Have them read this. Ask "where did you lose interest?" to find out where the problems are.  You ask that rather than "did you like it?" cause no one will say no,and/or "what's wrong" because often people don't know what's wrong. They only know when they stopped being interested or started to skim.

Beta readers are NOT editors. Editors help you fix things. Readers tell you if you've got things that need fixing.

(3) Honestly, probably not. Printing photos in books adds ENORMOUSLY to the bottom line. You can put the photos on your website, keyed to the chapter numbers.  

If you publish electronically of course, this problem goes away, but you're limited to those e-readers that do pictures as well as texts.  This isn't an area I know a lot about, sorry.

I want to encourage you to think not about how you want to write your book, but how it will be experienced by your reader. You can do anything you want with your book if you don't care if anyone publishes it, buys it or reads it. Chapters that go vary from 100 words to 20 pages can be perceived as awkward and bumpy. Third person POV can make it hard to connect with the narrator. It's not whether you CAN do these things, sure you can, it's your book. The question is do you want to? Consider your reader as think about this.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Query Question: more on starting over

 I’m hoping you can help me with a dilemma. A little over a year ago, I queried a novel and received several offers of rep and came close with a few other agents. I accepted one of the offers and the agent has shopped my book around. We’ve come heartbreakingly close, but have had no offers on the book.

In the meantime, I wrote a second book, which my agent is not enthusiastic about (and that is a tale of woe best saved for another day). Because of this, we have parted ways amicably. As sad as I am to be agent-less, I feel savvier now and am excited about the possibilities. I know, from reading past posts on your blog, that since I am querying a brand new book, I don’t need to mention my previous representation in queries, but that it may come up should I receive an offer.

My question is a bit different. I would like to requery the 2 agents who did not offer on my first book, but came close. One of them said “if you ever find yourself without representation, I hope that you will think of me.” The other stopped short of saying that, but gave me extensive positive feedback and was extremely encouraging. Is it okay, in either case, for me to reply to their emails from over a year ago, or personalize a new email, letting them know that I have a new novel that I am seeking representation for, and then launch into my query pitch? Or should I start fresh with both? I don’t want to be unprofessional, but I also don’t want to miss out on any opportunities.

There's nothing unprofessional about a polite concise email that says "hey, it's your lucky day Snookums, I got rid of that lesser hack, and now I want you." "your email of Date said to be in touch if I found myself without an agent, and thus hello, here I am."

This happens with enough frequency that no one is surprised to get these kind of emails at all.  You'll mention the book they read is not the book you're querying for now; this new book has not been on submission.  

I hope you're not writing in a new or vastly different category cause that would have an impact on their willingness to read.  Example: if you queried me on a thriller, I'm not going to read a romance on the second time around.

As long as your emails are polite and concise you're fine.  Unprofessional is calling my office, or sending the manuscript without a request. You've proposed neither of those things, so I'm confident you're going to do just fine.

(It's the people who worry about being unprofessional who never are.  The other ones...well, they make good stories.)


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Question: spending money on a publicist

A friend of mine is about to sign their first ever book deal with a small press.  I am overjoyed for them and they are, quite obviously, over the moon.  Question/Problem I have is this: Their agent just suggested that they spend over $10K on a publicist to promote the book.  I suspect the advance on this deal will be well south of that amount and that expected sales will probably not generate enough sales to cover that cost.  I could be wrong and the publicist could be what pushes them up the bestseller lists.  I just worry.

So, thoughts? 

First you (and the author) need to understand that what pushes a book onto the bestseller list is not publicity, it's sales. Number of copies ordered, number of copies shipped, number of copies across the cash register in a given day/week/month. (Each list has a different measuring standard.)

You can have GREAT publicity but if people can't buy the book, it's all for naught.

So, the first question your pal needs to ask the publisher: who's going to sell my book? And by this I don't mean bookstores.  I mean who is going to introduce the book to the people who order stock for bookstores.  Is there a sales team at the publisher? Is there a sales staff at all?  Is it one of the (many) hats the publisher wears?

My guess is the latter since small publishers tend not to have sales departments.  

The next question to ask is how many books the publisher intends to print in the initial print run.  If the book is going to be print on demand, that means they're going to print the books to satisfy orders. No running inventory.  This is a perfectly acceptable business practice but it means that publicity is almost useless. 

If the publisher is going to print for inventory, ask how many.  Any number UNDER five thousand means the best seller lists are largely out of reach. The ones that are in reach are local stores best seller lists. If you do a signing, and sell 700 copies, you're going to be on that week's store best seller list.  But you're not going to be on PW's. Or the NYT's.

Publishers Weekly actually prints the number of copies sold in a given week of the 20 top selling books on each of their lists (hardcover, ppbk in both fiction and non-fiction)  If you don't subscribe to PW, your library sure does, and they'll let you read back issues. Take a look to see some real numbers.

Here's an example:

Instead of spending money on publicity, your friend should spend money on marketing advice. There are lots of good ways to market a book from a small press, and many of them can be done by the author.

If your friend is determined to hire a publicist, they should spend their money on consulting with one, not hiring a publicist to address envelopes and mail books to radio stations.  A good publicist can help you spit polish your web presences, shore up your social media, and give you ten ideas about effective ways to promote yourself to readers. 

Here at The Reef, we have a publicist on retainer who does that for all my clients. It's damn useful let me tell you. She doesn't do the work, she more of a stern taskmaster who reminds you that tweeting cute baby shark pictures is all well and good, but it's not actually accomplishing what we want our twitter feed to do.