Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Agents as publishers

A growing number of literary agencies are establishing in-house publishing divisions. I've been warned to avoid such agencies, because they may be less interested in submitting a client's work to other publishers. Are such warnings warranted, or are they out of touch with how the industry is changing?

You want to distinguish between agents who operate a digital imprint for their client's backlist (and other books) and agents who are running a front-list publishing concern.

Several very well-respected agents started publishing their clients back list in electronic form. It seemed like a pretty beneficial thing for clients: it wasn't quite self-publishing, each client didn't need to learn HTML and ebook layout on their own,  and you'd avoid the insanely low ebook royalties offered by the major trade houses who were just as unskilled at ebook publishing as everyone else back then.

There was some harrumphing about it but it seemed to work out ok for most of the authors who participated. (Generally these were authors who had books that predated ebooks, and whose print contracts made no mention of ebook rights)

Agents who are running a front-list publishing company (and I only know one, but maybe there are more) are clearly in violation of one of the basic tenants of AAR: you can't represent both buyer and seller in a transaction.

In case you want the exact wording:

At the time this was written, I don't think anyone envisioned a legitimate agent actually owning a publishing company and also running a literary agency.

The only time anyone had seen this kind of thing was with vanity presses and flim flam artists.

The warnings to avoid this should be heeded.
I don't think there's a way for an agent to offer unbiased and objective information to an author if they have a stake in which choice the author makes.

And frankly, I'd wonder about an agent who said "well, we have a company that publishes ebooks, and here are the strengths and weaknesses, and that other company might be better for you."

I've always believed that every company I've been involved with was the best choice for people to buy from. That may not have been objectively true but I sure believed it.

And the one thing you really want from an agent is unbiased, objective guidance. It is in fact the value of an agent.

So, what to do: query as you normally do. If an agent offers, ask if they are also running a digital publishing company. Ask about how arms-length the relationship is. The ones that I know about don't steer clients to their digital arm at all. In fact, the digital arm is a wholly separate company and run by different staff.

Friday, June 24, 2016

more on sales figures on your "permanent record"

You've said an author is tainted by poor sales and therefore unlikely to find an agent willing to represent them. But is this true across the board, with no consideration given to who the publisher is or whether an advance was given? There are so many small publishers out there and most offer little to no help in the way of marketing. I can see if an author signed with a big house and didn't earn back the advance. But what of an author who signed with a small boutique publisher and received no advance and little to no help with marketing? Are those kinds of circumstances considered at all, or is everyone thrown into the same you'll-never-find-an-agent pot, gooses cooked?

It's all so relative it's hard to make a blanket statement.
Sufficient unto the day to say, no matter the circumstances, it's easier to shop an author with no sales figures than to shop one with sales figures that need to be explained.

And it hasn't eluded me that "shopping" someone in the parlance of spy fiction means to inform on them.

When you sign with a "small, boutique publisher" you should know what you're getting into. Of course there isn't going to be marketing or publicity help. There are (most likely) not going to be books in stores. You're going to need the online retailers to reach your target audience, and you're going to have to do it yourself.

Expecting anything else is wearing rose-colored glasses and renaming yourself Pollyanna.

It's worse with digital publishing because I used to be able to say "he sold all the books they printed" but with ebooks, there is no limit to the number available for sale. And ebook sales are assessed the way mass market paperbacks used to be. Because of the lower price (compared to hardcovers) you have to sell MORE to get attention.  300 ebooks is a blip. 3000 ebooks is ok. 30,000 ebooks is more likely to get noticed.

This is your career, and you get to do what you want but you need to know before you sign with any publisher what it will mean long term.

Everyone thinks they are going to sell more than they do. EVERYONE. If you think you can sell 10,000 copies, you'll be astounded to find you only sell 100. I won't be surprised in the slightest. Getting people to buy things is a VERY tough job.

Selling is hard work. It's not just a matter of saying "hey, here I am, aren't you glad to see me?"

Think of it like Miss America. Those ladies walk down the runway in Atlantic City and they look effortlessly beautiful don't they? Tall, slim, fit, talented, poised (ok, mostly).  Yet, it's not effortless in the least. Those ladies have spent YEARS honing their talent, practicing their walk, learning how to apply makeup, and entering local and regional pageants to practice.  They've worked hard to make it look easy.

Book sales are exactly like that. You spend months gearing up, building your mailing list, making friends, learning terminology, figuring out where your buyers are. And then you spend months actually doing the marketing and publicity.

It looks easy when the other guy is doing it.It's never easy when you're doing it.

To answer your question: while it's certainly easier to explain low sales numbers if your publisher is Podunk, Puny and Smalls, LLC, what any future publisher sees is a book no one wanted to buy. Publishers are risk averse by default. Telling them not to be afraid of low sales numbers isn't as persuasive as saying there are no low sales numbers.

What does that mean for you: if you're published by a small press prepare to become a salesperson for your book.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

So, I didn't get it right the first time

I should have written this blog post when I was fin deep in revisions!

I realized I'd given very abstract (i.e. not all that useful) guidance on how long to let something lie fallow.

Here are my updated and revised points:
1. Revise in chunks, rather than the whole novel. If that means chapters, great. If it's just pages, fine.

2. Revise from the starting point to the stopping point in one pass. Don't break for lunch midway; don't check Facebook for updates from the Duchess of Yowl.  It's REALLY important to have all that material fresh in your head as you work.

3. Repeat 2 as needed using the alt reading tools (like printing out pages, changing fonts, reading aloud etc.)   
How much time to leave between repeats?
At first you'll only need an hour. When revisions get fewer, you need more time. 

When are you done revising and ready to let it sit? When you're not fixing things any more.
Fixing is not tinkering. Fixing is revising "Siamese Cat" to "shape shifter with a yowl to die for". Tinkering is "should I put a comma here, or a hyphen?"

Once you're just tinkering, it's time to let it sit.
The longer the piece, the longer it sits.

I let an entire proposal sit at least overnight while I'm revising. It really helps to write something else while you're letting the bloody thing sit (blog posts! Facebook posts! contest entries!) 

I let it sit for three-four days when I think I'm done.

And if I'd let that original blog post sit just two days longer, I could have avoided this whole "I didn't get it quite right the first time" thing. (Yes, this post update sat overnight.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Do I look like a librarian to you?

I saw these tweets on Monday morning around 9am.
I'd logged on to Twitter to see if anything was trending that would preclude a tweet about the blog's topic that day.

(The last thing you want to do is merrily tweet out "Come read about comps!!" when there's a national tragedy unfolding)

My first reaction to this tweet was annoyance of course.
That's my default reaction to people asking me to do stuff.

But what moved this from annoyance (and maybe actually getting answered on the blog) was the second one: A link or two will do.

At that point I want to snap back "I am not the reference librarian at your local library. She is a salaried professional whose job involves answering questions.  I am not."

These are librarians

this is a shark

Any questions?

I realize my annoyance is out of proportion to the question, and that's entirely because I am prickly and grouchy. 

There is a larger point to be made though. This person didn't intend to annoy me at all.  I'm sure s/he is perfectly nice and just wants some help navigating the shoals of this industry.

I DO spend a good deal of time helping such people, and answering questions.

So, why did this ruffle my finny feathers so much?

It's clear that the questioner hadn't even tried to find the answer on her own.
I understand the befuddlement of conflicting answers, boy do I.
And some questions don't lend themselves to a search engine (example: how do I handle competing offers; how long to wait before nudging)

But this question is clearly search engine material.

This writer could have saved the day with one more tweet, one akin to these:

1. I've googled and can't find the answer
2. I've found conflicting answers

In other words: showing me that I wasn't her first stop on the Answer Quest.

Asking for clarification on things I've written here on the blog, or asking questions about things I've posted here: no problem.

General publishing questions: also no problem IF you've at least tried to find the answer before asking me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reasons I said no to 25 queries (and how to avoid being one of them)

1. Memoir: no overarching theme. The memoir was largely "this terrible but interesting thing happened to us" but there was no sense of how that would resonate with readers.

How you will avoid this: if you're writing memoir, you MUST answer the question "why would anyone else care about this." Your story must have utility for me. I'll read about sad stories on the internet but I'm not going to pay $25 for a hardcover book if the only thing it's about is your struggle with cancer.

2. Description of the novel is so abstract as to be meaningless. If your query doesn't have character names you're in danger of this.

How you will avoid this: Read QueryShark. Or any other query critique site. Apply what you learn.

3. Description of a novel I don't want to read. Ever.
How you will avoid this: you can't. Sometimes you're just going to query someone who doesn't want to read your book. Suck it up and move on.

4. Description of the plot made no sense to me (and because I was doing this list I was NOT skimming)
How you will avoid this: ask someone to answer the Who What Why questions about your novel based solely on the query. If they can't do it, it's time to revise.

5. One-dimensional characters and a plot that sounds so far fetched I actually laughed.
How you will avoid this: write better. This is text book bad writing. 

6. A juvenile book that seriously misunderstands what kids like to read
How you will avoid this: know the market. If you're writing books for kids, it will help if you've read a lot of them. Also, anything that smacks of "should" is generally a non-starter with kids.

7. All set up (which was rife with stereotypes) and no plot
How you will avoid this: get plot on the page. There's a formula for that at QueryShark. Go find it. Use it.

8. All character described in sexual terms. Profoundly boring.
How you will avoid this: don't do it. If you don't see this problem, you need better beta readers. Yes, beta readers for your query is a good idea.

9. Writing is not publishable: Confusing query, pages over laden with adjectives.
How you will avoid this: write better.

10. Leading with themes that I am not much interested in; what description of the plot that follows can't save this
How you will avoid this: you can't. Sometimes you just have a book I don't want to read. Query onward.

11. No plot of any kind.
How you will avoid this: See #2

12.Unenticing, but decent writing
How you will avoid this: See #10

13. Uninteresting premise
How you will avoid this: See #10

14. No plot.
How you will avoid this: See #2

15. I don't understand the premise of the novel.
How you will avoid this: See #4

16. Over wrought descriptions lead me to suspect overwrought prose. Yup, I was right.
How you will avoid this: Write better.

17. No plot. Events but no plot.
How you will avoid this: See #2

18. The question of who would want to read this book is "no one I know"
How you will avoid this: You can't. Query others.

19. The premise of the novel is just wildly clueless.
How you will avoid this: Read more. Watch how other writers successfully introduce things that may not be  realistic but feel authentic in the book. It's harder than it looks.

20. A query that is textbook illustration of what not to do, including answer the question "what is the story about"
How you will avoid this: Read QueryShark

21. Does not understand what "a novel" means.
How you will avoid this: I don't have a single clue here other than taking your query to a writers conference and asking an agent what's wrong with it.

22. Category is one I do not represent.
How you will avoid this: Don't. Better to query me and hear no than miss out on me saying yes.

23. "Write what you know" assumes you lead more than a mundane day to day. Not a good assumption for most of us.
How you will avoid this: thinly disguised authors-as-protagonists are often hampered by reality. "A real doctor would never behave like House." That is indeed true but this is a story, not reality TV. The whole reason for novels is to transcend and illuminate  reality, not endlessly repeat it.

24. Like #1, a memoir with no effort to answer the larger question of why anyone would want to read this.
How you will avoid this: See #1

25. Query letter is entirely about my submission guidelines.
How you will avoid this: tell me about the novel. (I've read my submission guidelines. More than once) 

The good news: four queries were not rejected in this first round but flagged for a closer read later on.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Pitching editors at a conference

Last year I asked a query question which you responded to on your blog. It had to do with pitching an incomplete manuscript during a conference.

The pitching resulted in four agents requesting the partial I had already completed. Two responded rather quickly with complimentary declines and the recommendation that I keep querying until I find the right fit. The other two ignored my original submission and a 90 day follow-up email. In addition to those four, three agents and three editors requested the full manuscript upon completion.

During the time since pitching and now, I've read on your blog that if I'm looking to sign with an agent I should not be submitting to editors. To follow your recommendation means not submitting to three people who were kind enough to request the finished manuscript. I'm not in the habit of making a commitment to do something and then not doing it, so my instinct is to go ahead and send them the now completed manuscript.

On the other hand, it has been a year since I pitched, and the likelihood that they remember me or my novel is slim to none. So, do you recommend I pitch to agents only at this point, and then submit to the requesting editors at a later date if I don't pick up the representation of an agent? And if I do sign with an agent, is it appropriate to send any sort of thank you note to the editors, explaining why I didn't fulfill the request? How long past a conference pitch is too long to submit? It has already been a year.

Let's review why it's more effective to pitch agents first (or in your case, send the now-completed manuscript to agents only.)

Once you've sent your manuscript to an editor at a publishing house, an agent can't come in and say "oops, sorry, wrong editor!" unless she's very very deft, and knows this "wrong" editor well enough to pull that off.  I can think of about ten editors I know well enough to do that, BUT it's something I'm only going to do once every five years, and only in the most dire of circumstances. In other words, this move costs me with the editors, and your project has to be something worth that cost.

The chance that the editor at the conference is the right editor for your book is a whole lot lower than if I put together an editorial submission list.  A lot of editors I work with don't do the conference circuit at all.

A lot of the editors who do attend confernces are young, starting out and looking to build a list. In other words, the ones with the least juice, or pull at a publisher. They're certainly good editors, but when the art department runs amok on your cover, are they going to be able to put a boot down on the drawing table and say "hey, this is for a book cover, not the local art gallery"?  Depends on the editor, and again you have no way of knowing.

So yes, I thnk sending to agents first is a smart tactic. I understand why authors ignore this; any kind of interest in your work is too beguiling to pass over.

However. Since you have had requests, and you appear to be well-mannered in your business dealings (an appealing trait in a client I assure you) what you do here is write to the editors NOW and say "Dear Editor Good Taste, we met at the Carkoon Kale to Jail Writing Conference in (location) on (month/year).  You kindly requested to see my manuscript when it was finished. I just wanted to let you know it's finished and I'm querying agents right now. "

Notice you do NOT say "I'll come back to you if I don't get any bites" or "I'll make sure my agent queries you."

In other words, AVOID the temptation of future action. Simply let them know what you're doing.

The vast majority of editors will prefer to receive a manuscript from an agent, not direclty from an author. You're not going to offend any of them by taking this course of action.

And a year isn't too long.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Week in Review 6/19/16

Welcome to the week that was!

On Monday, we talked about query stats.

InkStainedWench (not wretch, as I always try to write!) captured my thoughts exactly:

When I was a copy editor, we had a SINGLE KEY that saved an edited story in our file, sent it on to be typeset, and deleted it from the screen. Save/Set/Delete. It's beyond me why agents can't come up with a function that deletes an unwanted query from the inbox and fires off a canned rejection in one stroke.

That's EXACTLY what I have, and when you run the numbers it's something like five minutes to reply to 100 queries a day (not to READ, just to do some sort of reply.)

And QueryTracker is now running a service called QueryManager that does EXACTLY this.

SiSi said:
I'm with InkStainedWench. How long can it take to send a form rejection? And maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that if you are so busy and overworked that you truly don't have the time, maybe you should close to new queries until you catch up. I'm having a hard time understanding the business strategy here.
DLM replied:
SiSi, Janet has said the administrative trivia involved in closing to queries is significant, and it's a real pain.
Yup, what DLM said. TOTAL pain in the ass.

roadkills-r-us said
A year or so before that I also queried some short stories. I could only find a few markets, so there were few queries. Every query received a rejection. 100%. Including several by USPS. But those were all directly to magazines, not to editors.
If I'm reading this correctly, you are sending queries for individual short stories? You don't query short stories. You send the entire story. Most places that publish short stories now take submission only via Submittable, an electronic submissions portal that lets you know your story was received, and when it's accepted or rejected. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Submittable.

If you're querying a collection of short stories, most stories need to have been previously published for a publisher to have any interest.

Donnaeve made my blood run cold (nice work Donna!) with this:
I wonder what would happen if agents went back to another "old school?" Changed their querying process to SASE again? :) I hear screams from woodland critters. Maybe agents too. Think about it...the agent could then reply via email, thus turning NORMAN's into responders. I.e. slow the trickle at the front end of the pipeline. NO? Stupid a** idea? Am I being escorted out of the building with my box of pens, stapler, and my pathetic, almost dead, office plant?

Or escorted to my office to deal with the BINS of mail. Before email it took four interns working daily to open and sort the incoming queries. Agents who can't be bothered to hit two keys for an auto reply are going to balk at the three minutes per letter it takes to reply to a paper query.
I timed it.
*I* am going to balk at that.  100 queries a week, 3 minutes, 300 minutes, 5 hours JUST to reply, not counting reading time. nope. not doing it.

On Tuesday we had the results of the writing contest.

Coming as it did right after the massacre in Orlando, I was prompted to ask what one person could do to stand against the violence. 

Interestingly enough, later in the week I happened to be reading Killing Custer by James Welch (don't confuse this with those god-awful "historical" books by Bill O'Reilly) and was reminded  that even with only rifles and handguns, massacres happened (176 Native Americans on the Marias River in 1870 to start with.) 

When I think about this both the terrible things that are happening now, and the terrible things we know happened long ago, I remember this phrase from Nadia Bolz-Weber's memoir PASTRIX: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint 

Every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is on the other side of it.
This had great resonance for me, maybe it will for you too. For those of you uncomfortable with the Jesus part, think of it this way: every time we draw a line between us and others, love is on the other side of it.

Kate Higgins said
Life is diverse and basically good or it would not have continued on this planet. And the one thing that is impossible to murder is love, it shows up in compassion, helping hands, memorials and hugs for those who have lost their loves and their lives.

I propose that next 100 word contest be one that will discombobulate us woodland creatures. Next time we write a compelling story that does not contain a salmagundi of murder, melee, massacre, mutilation or evil minds. The twist and turns and mental angst can still be included, even enhanced, but the insinuation of extermination could be missing.

Now that would truly be a challenge (especially for a certain shark we all know and love). Can we do it with the same creativity with which we produce mayhem?

How many of you had to look up salmagundi? Just me?

On Wednesday we talked about shopping an offer

Lucie Witt asked:
So if (when, dammit) you get an offer, you tell agents with the full and anyone who you queried less than 30 days ago. What about agents who only have the partial? And I admit I'm a little confused about the less than 30 days part. Let's say I queried an agent 60 days ago and I know from query tracker stats that their average response time is four months. Would I really not let that agent know I had an offer? Why is it bad form to let an agent know you have an offer if they've had the query for more than 30 days? I have most the etiquette in this post down pat but admit I would have probably let all agents I'd queried (who aren't Normans and who state in submission guidelines they respond) know I had an offer.

First, I can't believe it takes agents four months to reply to a query. Yeesh! But Lucie makes a good point here. The 30 days I suggested was based on the idea that agents reply to queries within 30 days. Since y'all know MUCH more about response times than I do, what I should have said was "let everyone who is still in the response time window" know. I meant for you to exclude those agents who say "no response means no."
And certainly NOT to let an agent know of an offer if s/he has sent a rejection. That's akin to neener neener, and it's not going to win you any friends. I know darn good and well that things I pass on will get offers and go on to do well. I'm generally ok with this, but you don't need to remind me of it when you get an offer.

AJ Blythe asked:
have a question *waiting to see if razor sharp teeth snap this way*

If you get an offer from an editor, is sending an "I have an offer but want you to consider..." query to agents still considered shopping?

Asking because I am pitching to an editor at a conference later this year, and the answer to this particular question is the only thing that has me worried. I don't want to shoot myself in the foot because I really want an agent.

No, it's not shopping because an offer from an editor is not the same thing as an offer from an agent. And mostly you're not going to get offers from editors (at least with big publishers); you're going to get requests to read the manuscript.

I've said before, I'll say again: pitching editors and getting requests at conferences and SENDING those mss before you have an agent can twist you up like an octopus on skates.
Wait, I haven't said it. I've written it but you haven't seen it. It's one of next week's blog posts.

Kyler asked:
What about a small press offer?
It's not considered shopping an offer if you take an offer from a publisher and then query agents.

Claudette Hoffmann asked:
I hope "interest" or even "keen interest" expressed by editors after viewing one or two pages at group sessions does NOT count as a submission, let alone an offer. (I was hoping for revision feedback on a secondary project, the primary project got constructive feedback from agents).
The order of presentation can get complicated quickly.

It does not.

What counts as a submission: sending the FULL manuscript to an editor at their place of work.
What does not count: everything else, including but not limited to: 
1. sending your query to QueryShark; 
2. sending pages for a manuscript critique by an editor or agent at a conference, or as part of a contest prize; 
3. discussing your idea, pages, manuscript with an editor or agent in a pitch session, at the bar, in the hall, at the ball, on the prowl, in a towel, at the Sphinx, on the links, with some drinks, (particularly when she says it stinks.)

BJ Muntain said
Claudette: 'Interest' is only a submission if they ask for a partial or full. An offer will say 'offer'. And even then, get it in writing.

BJ normally gets things right but this isn't. Interest is NOT a submission if they ASK for a partial or full. It's a submission when you SEND it. The distinction is important here cause I can hear you parsing this out with your little woodland creature claws.

A reminder: an editor or agent asking to see your work does NOT mean you have to send it, even if you pitched it.  Not sending it feels rude I know but it's NOT. And you don't have to email to say you're not sending it. It certainly is nice if you do but it's not a requirement.

Your wording on that kind of email doesn't have to be 100% truthful either:
Dear Agent Who Turned Out To Be a Nincompoop:

It was a pleasure to meet you at the Carkoon BaleOfKale Stir Fry and Writing conference. I just wanted to let you know that the ms we discussed "1001 Ways to Caramelize Kale" is going to be undergoing substantial revisions based on feedback I received, so I won't be able to send it as requested.

Thanks for your interest in my work; it was a real plus of the whole conference."

Dead Spider Eye said:
I'm confused too because hawking for the best deal is bad form in the letter but it's hunky dunky when the prospect is in an agent's queue; as in, put the offer on hold for a fortnight and inform other agents. There might be a distinction there, if there is, it's a mighty fine one that's gonna be lost on most authors. Personally I've never been convinced, that and agent putting forward an offer is going to swallow being told to wait for a fortnight, so the author can try and trump the deal. I suppose though, that would depend on the author but... wouldn't that apply in this case too?

There is more than a fine distinction between telling the agents who already have the query or manuscript that you've received an offer, and going out to solicit more offers after having received one.
It's akin to starting to date someone after you receive a marriage proposal, versus telling your other suitors that someone has popped the question.
As to being "told to wait a fortnight" that is STANDARD practice when you make an offer. Generally it's not two weeks, it's more like one week or ten days, but I always expect to wait after making an offer. In fact, it's rather reassuring that there is other interest.

Meg Dobson said:
    I had a legit small press offer to publish while 1st 20 pgs of manuscript were in hands of agent to critique for SCBWI conference. I waited for the conference. Was that bad form? I figured editor wouldn't read it until just before attending. I did sign with original Poisoned Pen imprint offer but person in charge of conference was irate that I wanted to sign with press before seeing the agent so I waited. Press was aware of my situation and waited it out with me for which I am eternally grateful!

It's not bad form, it's sensible. I've had several prospects on hold while they attended conferences, or got feedback. My goal is to get the best manuscript possible and a client who wants to work with me. If they find an agent better suited to them at the conference, well, better now than later.
And what the hell is the conference coordinator doing sticking her/his nose into your business? That's absolutely none of their concern.

John Davis Frain (aka Manuscript Frain) said:
I heard a tale at a recent workshop I attended that was similar to Janet's cautionary tale. It was a different story because it had a different ending, but it too involved a writer who had been working with an agent on a WIP for the better part of a year. The agent had afforded this writer quite a bit of time and a number of tips for their WIP. At the workshop, the writer told the agent he was stopping by to say hi, but was going to meet with a couple other agents.

"Oh no you're not," she told the writer. "Or else..."

On Thursday we talked about meatloaf. Well, more accurately we talked about putting your own spin on tried and true tropes or characters. I just compared it to meatloaf.

Colin Smith asked:
As far as you know, Mighty Shark, is your perspective fairly universal among agents--i.e., most agents will look to the writing and the originality of the story, and not simply form reject the moment they see "werewolf" or "vampire"?

I look at the writing in the query but things like "blonde bombshell" and "shadowy billionaire" and "Muslim terrorist" often lead to quick rejections.  When you put your own spin on things, one of the things you do is describe your characters differently. That applies to werewolves, vampires and zombies too.  How to do that? Hell if I know…but I'm not the writer here, am I?

As to what other agents do? I don't know. LeahB's comment leads me to think there's a lot of skimming going on:

LeahB said:
And a slightly on topic comment this time--I can't remember the blog, but there's a writers' blog that has agents comment on queries (not queryshark, I remember that one!). In one query's opening line, a young girl says she's a vampire. From the rest of the query, it's clear that the vampirism is in her head as a coping mechanism for her terminal illness. One of the agents reading for the blog saw "vampire" in the opening and passed with the comment "I don't do vampires". Oh, it made me feel so bad for that writer.

My takeaway from that: some agents skim their queries, looking for reasons to reject. Which is why we should query widely.

Golly, that sounds familiar.

Oh man, that just hurts my heart to read. I know we skim, I know *I* skim, but to miss something like that, ow ow ow.  I really hope another more careful reader agent looked at this, cause that's a very interesting premise for a novel.

I like what Celia Reaves said here
Years ago, when I was first thinking about writing a textbook, a speaker at a conference said that before beginning a textbook writing project you have to ask yourself what he called the Passover question: What makes this book different from all other books? (For those who don't know, in the tradition of the Passover Seder there is a series of questions to be asked by the youngest present, and the first of these is this: What makes this night different from all other nights?)

Good advice. A werewolf book can work, even in today's market, if you have a solid answer to that question. (And, of course, if the writing lives up to the promise.)

And I think Steve Stubbs has the final word on this topic perfectly:
Let me add a comment to that. There is no way I would read a book about vampires but some time ago I decided to sample SALEM’S LOT, just to find out what is so great about Stephen King.

I did not expect much. The movie was majorly sucky IMO. But I cracked the book anyway. Imagine my surprise when King had me believing in vampires were real for so many pages. Imagine my astonishment when I found myself gasping for breath when some character in the book idiotically walked down the street late at night and the vampires “fell on him.” King didn’t say anything else. The vampires “fell on him.” He did not have to say anything else. My imagination took it from there.

If the OP can write like that it doesn’t make any difference how shopworn the tropes are. After all, by the sixteenth century romantic love had been done to death by uninspired hack writers. And then some English guy wrote a play about Romeo and Juliet and the world has been transfixed for four hundred years. Romantic love is still a shopworn trope.

R&J is as fresh as it was the day it was first staged.

Except of course for this from Stephen Kozeniewski which just cracked me up completely:
What if my story is about an author who's a werewolf querying an agent who's a vampire? And it's all an epistolary?

Catie Flum who prompted the post contributed this elaboration:

    As always, Janet is very smart about all of this. When I tweeted this out because someone hurt my feelings. I did not expect it to become a THING and a thing it became! It is interesting when people take what you say and misinterpret it, or don't see the follow up conversations you had with people about it on twitter. Also when people start talking about it and don't know you or how you use twitter.

    In this case, it was specifically about people who interact a lot right before they send a query and when that query or requested pages are sitting in my inbox, then the moment they get a rejection stop interacting AND then months later, they start interacting a ton again and a few days later a new query comes into my inbox. That is a case I will remember them and that they were nice and friendly only because they could get something from me. Especially when I gave them much more than a form letter the first time because I knew them on twitter I believe in being nice and friendly because, well, you are nice and friendly. It may not bother other agents, but agenting isn't the first time I've had people be nice just because I can get them things and it is something that I am sensitive to.

    The other way I have noticed that people unfollowed it is that I follow a lot of writers I don't represent. I like writers. I think they are cool people and like to see what they say. That said, I will NEVER follow a writer when I have their pages. I don't want to get their hopes up and I know many writers would obsess over that. So a few days after I send a rejection to a writer who I really like on twitter, I'll head over to their twitter to follow them and see that they have unfollowed me. And that feeling sucks.

    Just my two cents
This reminds me of the very huffy tweet I saw once from a fellow I didn't follow. He was making a big splashy statement about unfollowing me because I wasn't talking about the "biggest issue in publishing today" and he meant the advent of ebooks and private publishing.  I didn't take up arms in my own defense (it's my twitter feed and if I want to yammer about whisky and cats, then heck with you) but his bellicosity made even the idea of conversation with him seem like no fun.

I only follow about 300 people, and periodically I unfollow those who don't follow me. I figure if they don't want to talk to me, it's ok, nothing personal. But to follow and unfollow more than once? Well, asshattery.

And now that there is a mute button? No need to for anyone to know they can't be seen or heard.

I like what Megan V said here
    When it comes to agents, it's best to treat twitter like an informal professional communication. I try and think of it as a social gathering for a company. In this case, plenty of people would be miffed if a person introduced themselves and then just turned around and flounced off for no good reason...

And what RachelErin said here too:
I recently found my twitter niche by retweeting science and history writers I follow as inspiration for fiction writers, particularly SFF and histfic. It's really fun for me, and since not many fiction writers follow the crazy amount of scientists I do, I think I bring something new to the conversation.

My favorite way to interact with agents is to reply when they ask "reading anything good?" or "I just finished X, and loved it, what should I try next?" I started responding to those after Janet suggested using those questions to break the ice at conferences - completely non-threatening or clingy, but if they do remember me when I query they remember that I am well-read =). I don't try to look up their clients, or anything that fancy, I just answer honestly.
Leah B, my sense of the "I'll notice" in this case is not so much that an agent cares who follows them or unfollows, but that the pattern of following someone, perhaps chatting them up, around the time of querying - and then unfollowing when a writer doesn't get what they want is common enough to be irksome. It's not about followers so much as it is authorial behavior; if you flounce off my twitter because I rejected your work, maybe it's an indicator of how you'll behave as a client. At the very least, it shows someone's using Twitter for ulterior reasons, so even if their unfollow isn't a sign they're fickle it may align with enough people who are to look that way.

And Andrea mentioned a particularly loathsome practice by some agents on Twitter:
Oh... this reminds me of something else. Am I the only one who thinks agents making fun of queries they receive are not acting in a very professional way? I don't know if it still happens, but a few years ago I used to see it all the time. Agent receives query, shares exasperation with the rest of the world on Twitter, and a whole bunch of aspiring authors reply to show their sympathy with Agent, and in the end everyone has a good laugh about it and conclude that the poor misguided soul who sent the ridiculous query must be a complete idiot. I understand that agents must get frustrated with silly queries, but is this really necessary? I'm a teacher, and I have to deal with stupid (no, really) questions or comments from parents all the time. Well, maybe not all the time, but it happens frequently. It's exasperating and frustrating sometimes, but it's part of the job. If I started tweeting about this and my boss found out, I'd be packing my bags the same day, because it's unprofessional behaviour.

I'm not talking about the way Janet writes about queries, because she spends a lot of time trying to educate us woodland creatures and I love her common sense. I'm talking about agents who think it's necessary to make fun of potential clients, followed by a whole hoard of aspiring authors who are desperate to be "part of the club". Back then, when I came across this on Twitter a lot, it almost put me off traditional publishing, because if this was an indication of what the rest would be like.. then no thank you.
I find this loathsome.
On the other hand, I do sometimes tweet about things I see in my incoming queries that perplex or annoy me. Recently someone queried me about something that was "heartwarming" that did NOT involve a flamethrower. Perplexing. Some general tips on queries of course (like "must read" in the subject line means I probably won't) but I hope it's not perceived as making fun of writers.

And for the last word on this subject I like what Angelica R. Jackson said:
I do admit to paying closer attention to an agent's feed when they had my materials, but that's just human nature--on some level, you're hoping to see something specific enough to let you assume it's about your novel, and an impending offer. Like "OMG, I must have this MG zombie space pigs epic!"

And that's exactly what has stayed my hand at the keyboard when I've wanted to tweet "OMG you would not believe what I just read in this amazing ms!"

On Saturday we talked about one of the blog readers success stories:
I must tell you that I keep a file of these kinds of emails and on days of strife and spleen, I read them. It reminds me that publishing is indeed a long game.

Some comments that were sort of off topic but wonderful:
A month later, I met the guy who's ruined me for All the Boys ever since.--DLM

Susan Bonifant said:
I love any of Janet Reid's posts that might veer into the rant lane, but I really love a post that offers free advice on not being an asshat.

I was hoping for a dog meme, however, following that "Any questions?" closing.

Well, ok then!

Any questions?

In a horrifying moment of brutal honesty DLM revealed;
When I was querying agents, I looked for reasons to eliminate them from MY list. I'd nix an agent whose website was entirely pink and flowery,

*looks at blog background.*

*looks at DLM*
Slinks off to weep copious tears in Sunday hammock, comforted only by the NYT crossword puzzle.

Subheader noms:

Inevitably writers are either too harsh with themselves, or blind to their own weaknesses. --E.M.Goldsmith

In publishing, as in life, it's just too easy to pick the wrong hat; the one with a sphincter in it is not a winning look --DLM

An asshat on Carkoon
Shopped an offer too soon
And no amount of sphincter clenching
Could diffuse the gut wrenching
Of a derriere-chapeau NORMANed past June

--Karen McCoy

Ice water is ice water is ice water until you add lemon and sugar. Love it.
Add a lima bean... --CarolynnWith2Ns

I can understand focus in a writer. I can understand artistic writers too. What I can't understand are writers who continually knead a dead meatloaf--Craig

publishing is a long game and persistence and humility can pay off in the long run.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

"persistence and humility can pay off in the long run"

 Dear Your Sharkliness,

Many months ago, you answered a question on the blog for me.  I was going to a conference to read my opening pages to an agent and gain feedback from the agent and the other writers. 

I went to the conference, pages in trembling hand.  I took everyone's main advice, which was to sit there with my mouth shut and my ears open.  Both agents I had the privilege to meet gave me similar feedback. I smiled, nodded, and took feverish notes.  My fellow writers also gave advice (sometimes contradictory); I wrote it all down.

It should be noted that clearly some of the other attendees do NOT read the blog.  They challenged each other and the agents.  I tried not to visibly cringe.  The agents were lovely.  Their responses were something along the lines of, "I've been doing this for over a decade, and your word count is really too low, but maybe you are right and you are the exception." One person tried to shove a paper copy of his manuscript into an agent's hand.  The agent politely gave him her card to refer to her submission requirements on her website.  To her credit, she did not try to shove it up his nose.

I queried the agents I met at the conference, after making changes.  Both requested fulls.  Both rejected the fulls.  However, one gave me some lovely feedback.  I realized I needed a break from that manuscript. I took some of the big picture advice I gained from the conference and wrote a new manuscript.  I queried that, and signed with an amazing agent this week.

In conclusion: thank you Janet, for your advice and for this community.  I understand why writers want to cry bitter tears into their shark fin soup, it is so difficult.  (Or maybe that's just me.)  But this has taught me, again, that publishing is a long game and persistence and humility can pay off in the long run.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Interacting with agents on Twitter

Rejections sucks, no two ways about it, and it's particularly painful if you feel a connection to the agent. And, Twitter can make you feel connected; it's one of the things Twitter does best.

Thus it can be painful to see an agent chatting merrily away about this that and the other, after she's just (demonstrated her complete lack of taste and sense)  rejected your manuscript.

Of course you don't want to see her.

I suggest muting the agent rather than unfollowing. Unfollowing feels hostile to the recipient. Muting is invisible. She'll never know, and you'll never see her (unless you want to.)

On the other hand if, post rejection, you decide to just unfollow cause who the hell needs her anymore anyway, well, that's a fast way to shoot yourself in the foot with some agent. Not me of course, I won't even notice, cause I don't keep track of who follows me, but some agents do, and why alienate someone in a fit of pique particularly when voodoo dolls are cheaper, and much more painful?

But the larger question of whether to interact with agents on Twitter is a different kettle of fish. It can be a good way to establish a connection of sorts. It certainly doesn't hurt if I recognize your name if you send me a query.

What we all (agents and writers both) need to remember is that writers are woodland creatures, and agents are T-rex.  By that I mean a T-rex strolling around the forest looking for delicious kale to take home and stir fry makes a lot of noise, and rattles the woodlands. Woodland creatures are shaken, and madly flee the T-rex's feet.  What the T-rex sees as merely walking around, the woodland creatures see as impending doom. And neither of them are wrong.  It just depends on what size your feet are here.

Writers tend to watch every word an agent says, scouring every turn of phrase for clues. Agents on the other hand have been known to just...yanno...yammer. Twitter is more yammer than anything else, and if you're a writer you should NOT try to parse out tweets for hidden meanings unless it's overtly about publishing. (Hint: #pubtip, #queryTip #FusterCluck etc. are reliable indicators it's about publishing.)

So, can you be friends with a T-Rex? Sure. Carefully though. Very very carefully.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Answer is Meatloaf

In your blog, you briefly touch on the topic of overdone subjects/storylines, and as a reader, I can completely agree that just because you call a chocolate cake 'better than sex cake' does not change the fact that it is still simply a chocolate cake with whipped cream topping. Regardless of the name, it will still taste the same. Now, as a writer, my thoughts on the subject are slightly different.

My question is: If, like myself, a writer finds their 'genius' pointing them in the direction of a redundant topic, *cough* werewolf, how can they be sure that their story is original enough to stand out? Also, as a literary agent if you were to read a query for a story, such as my own, would you automatically stop reading it the moment you realized what it was?
Best Regards,
Unprocessed Chum  

You've certainly given the right example. When my urban fantasy colleagues howl about shopworn topics, werewolves and vampires lead the list. It's very hard to get their attention for novels with either.

When you elect to enter the world of trade publishing, you've essentially signed up for people to ask "why should I pay for this book." It's not enough that it's good, or a good story, it has to stand out from books they already own or have read.

I like to think of this the way I think of meatloaf.

I really like meatloaf. I make it using the recipe on the back of the Quaker Oats box. I may change a few things, but it's essentially the same as what millions of other meatloaf lovers are making.

Were I to open the Shark Cafe (ie enter the world of trade cooking) and serve meatloaf, how would I personalize it so that a customer bellying up to the counter and ordering meatloaf would not say "hey, this is exactly like the recipe on the Quaker Oats box!"

Even though I like that recipe a lot, I need to personalize it to make it my own.

And that's what you have to do with werewolves and vampires, and alcoholic ex-detectives, or soon to be ex-detectives, or down and out lawyers, or sinister billionaires plotting world domination, or any of the other characters that have been around a long time.

A great example of putting your own spin on both werewolves and vampires is Dana Cameron's Fangoborn series. This started out as the short story The Night Things Changed (nominated for an Edgar!)

Charlaine Harris and Stephanie Meyer both added their own individual twist to paranormal tropes to make them distinct.

The answer to your question of how to be sure your query is original enough to stand out is two-fold: first you've got to be so well-read in the genre that you know what everyone else is doing. Second: you have to show me you're different by what you write in your query.  Just say "werewolves and vampires" and we're done.  Say "werewolves and vampires are all part of the Fangborn family" and you've intrigued me to read more.

As for when I stop reading: if the writing entices me, I keep reading. There are lots of very good books that described simply in terms of their "ingredients" wouldn't sound all that special, but the writing livens things up a lot. In other words, give me a forkful of meatloaf, not the recipe.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Shopping an offer

I recently received a query that mentioned an impending offer of representation. Shortly thereafter, a follow up email said the writer did indeed have the offer, but wanted to give me a chance since they liked the cut of my jib.

Well, this ship has sailed, and here's why.

Unless the offering agent has embarked on a three-hour tour aboard the SS Minnow, you're asking me to drop everything I'm doing for the next two days to read and evaluate your manuscript, then talk to you. Trust me when I tell you that is a Very Big Ask.

Aside from the size of that ask, you don't do this is because what you're doing is called shopping the offer and it's considered very bad form. Remember, the purpose of a query letter is two fold: tell me about your novel, and show me you're not an asshat. Shopping an offer is textbook asshat.

So what is shopping an offer?

Shopping an offer is sending initial queries to agents saying "I have an offer/I think I'm getting an offer." Shopping an offer is sending initial queries to agents to see if you can essentially trade up.

Once you've got an offer you stop querying until you've said yes or no to the offer. You notify agents who have the FULL; you notify agents who have had the query for less than 30 days; you do NOT query anyone new.

This means you need to be judicious in who you query first. If your first query is Felix Buttonweezer at Readem, Cheatem and Fleecem LLC, just to test the waters and see if your query is working, and he offers, you're stuck with saying yes or no to him before you query any further.

This is yet another reason you do not NOT NOT query one agent at a time, or offer exclusives. If you get an offer from one agent, you must say yes/no without any further querying.

And I can hear all you devious loophole finders thinking "how the hell will they know??" so I will remind you this is a very small world and many of us know each other. One writer famously shopped an offer from an agent at a writers conference the offering agent's friends were attending. Agents Amused, Confused, and Annoyed watched the author go from agent table to agent table (at pitch sessions) collecting interest like souvenirs. It won't surprise you to learn the initial offer was withdrawn.

Another idiot writer took an offer to a conference, met with several agents without mentioning the offer, only to discover we all knew her because the offering agent had worked on the manuscript in revisions for almost a year and had talked about how much she liked it. Initial offer withdrawn. Subsequent offers not forthcoming. Writer unrepresented to this day.

This is EASY to avoid by behaving like a pro.

And the balm for you: this applies to agents as well. When an editor offers, I'm not allowed to take that offer and start pitching new editors. I let all the editors who already have the project know there's an offer, but I don't pitch new ones. Editors get very crabby if they suspect their offer is being shopped around, and I don't blame them one bit.

What that means for me in terms of strategy is that I pitch my top tier first. And that means I better have my pitch fine-tuned, and the proposal or manuscript in tip top shape before I make that first call.

Any questions?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Single Sentence Writing Contest results

This was a tough contest to judge. Just after the contest closed, we were shocked with the news of another vicious crime of gun violence, this one taking the lives of 50 people. I think all of us are still in shock. I know a couple of you deleted your entries.

My appreciation for dark twists in story lines ebbed a lot on Sunday.

Of course there is some terrific work here, and with some extra time to gather my wits, herewith the results:

Special recognition for a great line:
Craig 9:57am
Then the chainsaw slipped, I swear it.

Not a story, but yow, what an entry
tell me later 2:35pm
There’s a time when you stand with a gun in your hand when you trialed-and-errored past the line in the sand but your conscience is clear if your logic is late and as the world turns pitch black yo--


As usual we just need a whole separate category for Steve Forti. Not only does he always have something interesting to say, he uses prompt words in a way that boggles the imagination.
For Sale: Nagging wife. Previously used. Full disclosure: Once it starts talking, it won’t ever stop. It changes moods without warning. Expensive tastes. Good cook, though. Sold as is. All offers considered.

Free: Lazy husband. Previously useful. Distinct lack of man
liness. Hair everywhere but on its stupid shiny head. Clogs toilet daily. Good luck convincing it to rake the damn leaves.

Wanted: Sense of humor. And cure for “headaches”.

Wanted: Sharp knife, preferably s

Help Wanted: How to get rid of --- Oh no you don’t! This is my line. He
y! Ow!

Help Wanted: Good lawyer.

The Duchess of Yowl makes an appearance!
Megan V 9:33am

Not quite a story but damn funny
Erin Szczechowski  11:50pm

Here are the finalists

Colin Smith 10:14am

Dateline: Saturday, June 11, 2016

Page 3
Police are still investigating the mysterious death of James “Butterfingers” Willoughby, owner of Jim’s Bakery, 211 Fourleaf Road. Mr. Willoughby’s body was found in an abandoned log cabin near Oak Woods last Friday. He suffered multiple stab wounds to the chest and neck. Anyone with information please contact Kernville police at 555-2141.

Page 6
WANTED: Tiffany pitcher. Red floral pattern. 1920s. One of a pair. Name your price. Contact M.W. 555-2137.

Page 7
FOR SALE: One set steak knives. Lightly used. $10. Contact

Colin gets a gold star for putting two prompts so close together it took seven tries to find it: pitcher. Red.

I like the subtlety here. Nothing is overt but what happened is very clear.

Just Jan 4:04pm
(-ology) A branch of knowledge

(methodology) Stray text message, clearly not intended for me

(ophthalmology) I spy my errant wife in the park sharing secrets with him

(neurology) My trigger finger twitches as I drag the gun from its holster

(audiology) A blast, a high-pitched yowl, deafening chaos

(pathology) Massive hemorrhage from the bullet wound

(cardiology) Heart rhythm flat-lines before the paramedics can arrive

(psychology) Serious error in judgement--she never strayed

(criminology) Guilty by reason of temporary insanity--the man I killed was her therapist

This is an unusual form, which drew my attention of course, but the story didn't rely on the form to be interesting and have a twist. That's what makes it stand out.

Sara Halle

    My new book's liftoff paralleled that of an unswung yoyo.
    While my agent cautioned, "Sales take time," I wasn't in the mood for logic.
    Then I heard of a guerrilla marketing firm that could place me atop the social media loop. Itching for readers, I quickly signed on the dotted line.
    But instead of eager buyers at my next event, there were only moaning, mangled bodies strewn across the floor. And in the corner, a big ape glowering in a cage.
    "What happened?" I cried.
    An out-of-breath animal wrangler glanced at me. "There are risks with gorilla marketing."

This has everything I love: it's about publishing; it's actually a clever warning; it uses homonyms to make a point, and best of all: HILARIOUS.

Beth 5:22pm
“Someone has to maintain community standards.” Ada jabbed the doorbell.

“I’m not sure it’s wise to alienate your neighbor.”

“Nonsense.” She lived to terrorize the neighborhood. You should see her blog – line after line yowling about lack of manners, pitching fits over unmown lawns and unleashed dogs.

When he opened the door, Ada stared him down. “Mr. Smith, is something wrong with your garage?”

“My garage?”

“You park in your driveway.”


“It’s rude.”


This was going nowhere. I stepped forward. “Your police car. It’s scaring away her clients.”

His eyebrows lifted. “Mary Kay?”

“Mary Jane.”

Ada nodded. “Rude.”

I would have left off the last line for a stronger ending, but this is still pretty darn hilarious.

sdbullard 11:34pm
They owe me. After all I've done. If they think I'll go unrepaid, they're in error. I'll take what I deserve. I'll swallow them whole, spit children bones out, revel in every bite.

They owe me. I finally rid them of that man always chasing them. The metal didn't bother me. I'd been Hooked on his flavor for years.

But now they don't want to pay for that service. One boy would suffice. Otherwise, I'll just take them all.

I slide on my belly toward their hideout.

Logic says to start with the flying boy.

Tick tock.

Their time is almost up
I love the phrase "Hooked on his flavor for year" because it's both a clue, and a good sentence. Even if you don't recognize it as a clue, you wouldn't think "wait, what does this mean."

Scott G 11:56pm
I’m a virgin and I need a marriage license.

I wanted to shout from atop the steep-pitched courthouse.

Not the part about being a virgin anyway.

The clerk logged into the database to pull up our names.

Holding hands, we waited.

Several minutes of typing. The clerk scowled. “I keep getting error messages.”

My heart sank. I guess she’d have found out sooner or later.

I gulped, stifling a yowl. “Try first name Barbara.”

I searched for understanding in my fiancĂ©’s eyes. Would this change things? Please, no.

Worry lines appeared on her forehead.

“Try first name Steve,” she said.

It took three reads to fully grasp this. Absolute subtle perfection.

This one was easy: the winner is ScottG 11:56pm.
Scott, if you'll email me with your mailing address, I'll get you a copy of the prize book.

Thanks to all who entered for your time and writing. It's always a pleasure to see the work in these contests.

And now, back to contemplating what one person can do to stand against gun violence. If anyone has any ideas, let me know.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sadistics from the query trenches

(contest results tomorrow-6.14.16)

This rundown was sent to me by a blog reader:

Statistics from the query trenches, February-June 2016:

328 queries sent (mostly US/UK agencies, a few Canadian)

8 still active - 3 partials, 3 fulls, 1 r&r, 1 "if you can't find an agent with the manuscript as is and are interested in doing a major revision, I'm happy to discuss." [This agent, by the way, actually
phoned me. On the phone! Like old school. Amusingly, I was on a train in Switzerland at the time.]

120 - actual rejections (includes a few partial/full rejections)
200 - NORMANs

The NORMANs broken down by category:
60 "if you don't hear back by [date], it's a no"
26 "if you don't hear back, it's a no"
114 simply didn't respond (3+ months)

Mentioned in dispatches: Fine Print Literary Management, three of whose agents were queried sequentially, all of whom responded within two weeks (though one of those rejections was covered in paw prints as if a cat had been frantically pushing it aside to get to the tuna beneath).

Take-home lessons:
a) SOME cats don't understand how bribery works.
b) I am a masochist, but by golly, no one's going to tell me I didn't query enough.
c) I guess those 128 are the place to start if/when I have to go through this all over again.
d) 60% NORMAN?! Is this NORMAL?!

(No problem if this isn't suitable for the blog - I just thought it might be interesting. Or horrifying. Or, most likely, both.)

Horrifying indeed.
30% of the agents you queried couldn't be bothered to reply.
Frankly, I'm embarrassed for my colleagues.

Does this match up with what other querying blog readers are finding?

contest results?

sorry chums.
I'm behind.
Contest results up tomorrow (Tuesday 6.14.16)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

No WIR this week

Sorry chums, I ran out of time to do the WIR this weekend.

I can just see you all right now, thinking "what the holy moly have you been doing to NOT do the WIR?"

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Single Sentence Writing Contest!

There's a terrific new book out now by Lane Shefter Bishop: Sell Your Story in a Single Sentence. It's about how to craft an effective, compelling log line for your novel.

Now, you all know I am not a great believer in loglines, and it's mostly cause it's HARD to write an effective one and I hate to see writers shooting themselves in the foot as they try to do so.

Thus, this book is a must read for authors, because if you CAN craft a compelling one-sentence answer to "what is your book about?" it will serve you well for years to come

So, the prize this week is a copy of the book (Thanks to Lane Bishop who is providing the copy!)

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:


3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: log/flog is ok, but yow/yellow is not.

4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.

6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.

7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)

8. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.

8a. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE. (You can however discuss your entry with the commenters in the comment trail...just leave me out of it.)

9. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.
Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"

10. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!")

11. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.

12. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.

Contest opens: 8:58am Saturday June 11

Contest closes: 9am Sunday June 12

If you're wondering how much time you have before the contest closes: click here.

If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's
an .xls spread sheet here

(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!

oops, too late. Contest is closed.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

More on Revise and Resubmit

A little over a year ago I received a request for an R&R from a literary agent — she sent a long and very helpful critique — and of course I was thrilled. I spent three months revising the novel and sent it back. About a month later I got an email from the agent saying “it’s not quite there,” with additional yet much more limited changes suggested. I revised again, this time it took about a month, then I sent the manuscript back to her. That was six months ago. After three months I sent a nudge—but she didn’t reply to me. And I still haven’t heard back. Here’s my question.
(1)Should I nudge again? 
(2) Or should I consider this a “no”?
(3) Or is there still hope for me with this agent?

I’ve continued to query the novel during this time, with some hope, because this is the second agent who has been very interested in this manuscript, but
(4)I can’t query forever (or can I?) 
(5)Once I reach a certain number of agents, should I stop querying and put the novel in the drawer?
(6)And what is that magic number?
From R&R Purgatory 

(1) yes
(2) no
(3) yes
(4) yes
(5) yes
(6) Q+1

(1) Should you nudge again?
Yes. Nudge every 3-4 months for another 12 months. You don't know what's going on her side of the inbox. I've gotten so far behind it's been mortifying. I'm currently shopping a proposal I had here for a year BEFORE we started revising.

(2) Don't assume no until you've given her a lot more time. And then you'll write to withdraw it, if only cause not replying to a full is rather rude, and she needs to be smacked across the nose like an errant puppy.

(3) There's hope of course. There's always hope. But at some point, her lack of response isn't just busy or life or any of the other things that can keep an agent from replying. After a year I'd say it's just bad manners (and bad business.)

(4 & 5) You can query forever but at some point, I HOPE, you'll have another project ready to go. If you query everyone for this, you eventually run out of options. The last thing you want to do is be this guy.

(6) It's the number of times you've queried as of today, plus one. In other words, keep going till you've got something new, or you run out of places to query. And by places to query, I don't mean you scrape the bottom of the barrel. Being badly repped here is NOT your goal. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

more on sales figures, cause you really need to obsess about this more

I have been working on a women’s fiction for a while and this is ultimately the genre I want to write in, however, I also have a stand alone MG that follows a group of kids as they discover the rich history they can learn from the veterans around them instead of just memorizing facts from a book. The news recently reported more than 100 WWII vets die every day so now I am feeling this needs to move up in priority. I have read a lot of posts about how important your debut work is and I am wondering if low sales in MG (if it ever gets published) would be a negative for me when querying the other work. Also, is it wrong to query two vastly different projects at the same time? 

Editors look at sales figures to try to predict how the next book will do. Propose a book on kale recipes and your previous book 101 Uses for Weird Vegetables, which appeals to the same audience, will be used as a predictor of interest in the new book.

You can see where this is going of course.

There is almost zero crossover between a middle grade non-fiction book and womens fiction. Even if an adult reads both, it's for very different purposes.

Also, middle grade is sold very differently than womens fiction. MG buyers generally aren't the readers, they're teachers, librarians and parents.

Thus, your mg sales figures won't be considered a reliable indicator for your womens fiction sales.

That said, nobody gets a pass on crappy sales figures these days.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016


Some years back, I had written an editorial for The Air Force Times. Well, this article went a little viral, featuring on John Q. Public's page. (John Q. is a popular online critic of the Air Force and a former Lieutenant Colonel).

Fast forward a few years. Today, I had found out that the person I wrote about wrote a book, and in that book it mentioned me and my writing piece. I've learned to celebrate small successes as a yet-to-be-traditionally-published author, and one of my dreams was to be mentioned in another relatively prominent writer's book. So, naturally, this is a happy event for me. However...

I'm curious to know why I wasn't notified. Are there any permissions that should be obtained on his end? I should also mention it was properly referenced in the back of the book.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy as heck to find this out and am not going to do anything but rejoice, but now I'm wondering if my works are mentioned or referenced in other books. After all, you did tell me once that permissions must be sought by the copyright owner before use. Which I suppose raises a secondary question: If I write an editorial to a newspaper and it gets printed, does the newspaper own the copyright or do I? Cheers! 

Permission is required to quote from your work in chunks longer than a sentence or two (generally.)
Permission is NOT required to refer to you and your work.

If I want to collect and publish a selection of blog contest entries, like this one from Kitty,
“And then she saw Catherine Higgins, Mrs. Platt said, after she hit her with her vehicle,” said the officer.

“Ms. Higgins said nothing’s broken, it was an accident and she won’t press charges,” said the Chief. “Thank God that sweet old lady was driving slow and doesn’t know Arthur is seeing Ms. Higgins.”

Later, Arthur told his wife, “That Buick is simply too big. You can’t see over the steering wheel.”

“I can see just fine.”

“You need a smaller car.”


“Yes, Dear?”

“Stop seeing Catherine or next time I’ll gun that Buick. This time I only stunned her.” 

I will need Kitty's permission to use the entire entry.
I could quote just the last line, most likely, and call it fair use.
I will NOT need her permission to say "Kitty's entry about Mrs. Platt and the Buick cracked me up."

In all instances, I will need to cite where Kitty's entry can be found, so that other readers can see the original source and make sure I'm not misquoting, or bowdlerizing Kitty's entry.

This reminds me of the gent in Maryland who wanted to preclude a newspaper reporter from writing about him without his permission. Of course, since he was an elected official, he was pretty roundly ridiculed for not understanding the basics of the first amendment.  While you are not a public figure or a politician, if you write about someone, it's not a big leap to assume they in turn might reference the work.

If you think about this, you'll see that requiring permission to talk about an author's work would stifle any kind of free discussion, academic analysis, and most of this blog. A calamity in the making!

In addition, a writer can quote from a work without needing permission if the quote falls under Fair Use. The rules for that are too complex for this blog post, but generally think short in length and scholarly in purpose.

As for letters to the editor, I just don't know. Most likely that would be covered in the newspaper's terms of use.