Saturday, March 28, 2015

Question: have you missed a big book?

 This question is a little different, but I'm curious. Have you ever rejected a query, proposal, or manuscript, but much later down the line saw the book on the shelves, selling like mad, and thought, "Damn."

Oddly, no.
I've certainly seen projects I've not taken on go on to be repped and sold, but I don't think I've passed on anything like 50 Shades of Gray, or Harry Potter, or even Lee Child.

On the other hand, I'm probably not the right person to answer this question because I don't really keep track of things I've passed on. It's entirely possible I have passed on things that went on to do well, and I'm just unaware of them.

I do know that editors are a bit more keenly aware of what they were offered [and not.] I've sold a couple books on very exclusive submission, only to have other editors call to ask if someone else at the publisher had seen the book and passed.

It's easy to have a million regrets in this business, but it's critical for morale to keep them at bay. My focus is on what's coming up that will knock your sox off, not what I missed two years ago. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Query Question: so, I did this small, really TINY novel. Am I published?

 I'm getting ready to send out query letters and I want to be as transparent as possible with potential agents. When I was 17 I wrote a ridiculous teen fiction book, and e-published it on Amazon for my friends. Only 15 people in total bought it, and then I took it off of Amazon. My current manuscript is not related at all to my past manuscript, they're not even in the same genre, but I'm worried about being technically previously published.

Does my silly teenage fanfiction mean I'm previously published, and do I have to mention that in my query letters? I feel like this is probably a stupid question, but I want to make sure I'm not doing something inadvertently wrong. Thanks for your help!

It's not.
You're welcome.

Now, let's elaborate.

First, yes, you've been published. Putting something on Amazon, and letting friends buy it is indeed "published."  


You really don't need to mention that youthful peccadillo at this stage.  When you are published, and your novel is being considered for awards however, you are going to have to come clean.  That's when you mention to your AGENT (and no one else) that you had this teen novel, and together you can decide what to do from there.

This is NOT a silly or stupid question. This is a question that gets asked a lot these days cause all those folks at Amazon want your money and don't think they need to advise you of any pitfalls.

And sadly, this is the day and age of forever.  Back in my youth (when The Divine Comedy was taught as Contemporary Literature) a wordslinger could move to the next city-state, change her nom de plume and have no one the wiser. Now, not so much.

This won't kill you. It probably won't hurt you.  Just don't do it again if you get frustrated with querying and figure "oh hell, I'll just self-publish and see what happens."


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Writing Contest Results!

We celebrated Colin Smith's birthday on Tuesday with a writing contest.  Here are the results.

Beautiful but yikes, so mournful!

Jamie Kress 8:20am

A new rule in contests: no horse injuries! YIKES!

Mia Siegert 12:06pm

Hey, it's first kill all the lawyers, NOT the agents!

Roger Toll 3:23pm

A phrase for the ages:

"in-ex-whorably linked to the junk in my trunk."

kregger 9:25am

"seven starving-artist henchmen"

Kelly 10:31am

"he stands on the bow of Amy’s boat, in a Speedo"

Carolynnwith2Ns 4:46pm

"Great Hermit of Cartoon—”"

Amy Schaefer 9:28pm

A great sentence:

"He had borrowed Mr. Flintstones car, and the soles of his feet were killing him."

french sojourn 12:59pm

How we shall all be refering to Amy Schaefer now:

Atoll Amy

Christina Seine 1:20pm

terrific use of a prompt word


Jenny Shou 4:31pm


Rami McShane 3:01am

Not a story, but you can see why I've been a fan of this guy's writing for years

kregger 9:25am

Not quite a story, but don't you want to hear more? Me too.

Laura Scalzo 9:27am

Unknown 2:48pm

Jeffrey Schaefer 8:48pm

Not quite a story, but please restock the tequila

LynnRodz 2:13pm


MVB 10:15am

Always great to see an entry in the form of a poem!

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli 10:47am

bjmuntain 1:46pm

And Philomena Buttonweezer makes a cameo appearance!

Katie Loves Coffee 7:31pm

And who knew Felix Buttonweezer could carry a tune?

Just Jan 10:07pm

And it turns out Dena has been to Carkoon as well!

Lilac Shoshani 8:07pm

And it turns out that none of it is real?

Eileen 6:20am

Here are the finalists:

(1) Matt 10:24am

Samantha awoke at seven. The man she had gone to bed with – “John Smith” – was gone. She normally wouldn’t bring strange men home, but his music had been so enchanting that when he asked to buy her a drink after the show she couldn’t resist.

Outside, people were bustling about. But Samantha felt exiled from the city below. The only link she felt now was to “John.”

She rolled over and found a note on the pillow:

“I’ll find you after dark. I’ll explain everything. - JS”

Then, in larger script at the bottom:

“Stay out of the sun.”


(2) Colin Smith 12:20pm

"What ya doing, Dr. Smith?"

I gritted my teeth and turned to see the Robinson boy.

"Fixing the communication link in my ship so I can call for help."

"Where's the Robot?"

I moved to hide the disembodied pincer that sat beside my leg. After seven years' exile with these fools, I was desperate enough to cannibalize that machine to try to fix my ship.

"I'm channeling his music circuits to… uh… enhance the frequency."

"I hope it works. The rescue ship's here and there's only room for the family."

The brat even smiled and waved as he ran off.


(3) ashland 12:49pm

“They say music's a window to the soul. Did ya know it can also show the past?”

I shrug. “Howso?”

He flashes his iPod. “Check it out.”

Sunday: Angel's Son, Sevendust.
Monday: Teenaged Wasteland, The Who.
Tuesday: Fell in Love with a Girl, The White Stripes.
Wednesday: Your Cheatin' Heart, Hank Williams Jr.
Thursday: Exiles on Main Street, Bruce Springsteen.
Friday: Everything's OK, Elliot Smith.

“Did you know it can also predict the future?”

He shrugs. “Howso, dear?”

I smile as I flash my knife.

Saturday: Bleed It Out, Linkin Park.


(4) Lobo 10:50pm

Indus’rial sabotage. Murder. Same ta me (truth b’told). ’Specially after that tex’ile mill job. But we’d already hit two competitors and my sevens game was callin’.

Creep kept squintin' at the building through oily Detroit smog. “He sleeps here with all them T-cars.”

“Model Teas, ya wordsmith.” I said. “An’ people say yer the smarty.”

Creep linked up the dynamite plunger, grinning so wide I thought his cheeks would bury his eyeballs. “Whatsa fella’s company again?”

I shrugged. “Stars with an F.”

“Should I start the music?”

“Nah. Leave ’im. Man sleepin’ with cars pro’ly don’t have much a future.”


(5) Julie Weathers 12:25am

Colin was an extraordinary wordsmith, bard among bards, and a renowned musician. He could have performed for kings, and had. Rumor was he'd been exiled because of a certain unflattering tune about a king's mistress named Esmiralia. The beautiful young golden-haired woman demanded him banned.

He was.

Forever linked to the song, she left in shame never to be heard of again. Well, almost never. Clever Colin now travels with a troupe, his seven children, and his adoring, golden-haired wife, Esmi, who sings with him about the bard who freed a damsel from an ogre and lived happily ever after.


(6) flashfriday 3:41am

Her face was unmistakable - raven hair, vermillion lips, skin white as snow – but (curse my memory!) I just couldn’t place her.

“Smallville High?”


“Metropolis Community College?”

“No.” Her voice was gloriously musical. Regal, almost.

“Gotham Fashion & Design?”

“Not a chance, Hunter.”

Her cheeks glowed like apples – enchanting creature! – and hope sprang to life. “Want a boyfriend?”

“Thanks; I’ve already got seven.”

From hope to exile. “WILL YOU AT LEAST TELL ME YOUR NAME?”

She blinked. Smith, she said, a forest-full of birds and bunnies joining her howls of laughter.

I fled, humiliated. Never did place her.


And the winner in a very competitive field is Lobo 10:50pm.

Lobo, if you'll drop me an email at jetreidliterary (gmail)  and tell me the kinds of books you like to read, we'll get you a Fabulous Prize!

Thanks to all of you who entered! It was a terrific series of entries, and it's very clear that is a load of talent in the comment column here!

And Happy Birthday, Colin!  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Query question: simultaneous querying in magazines

Dear Million-Toothed Goddess of the Sea,

I am currently reading "You Are A Writer (so start ACTING like one)" by Jeff Goins. and in Chapter 10 he said something that made me feel compelled to seek your advice. In this chapter, he focuses on building writing experience by submitting writing pieces for publication in magazines.

He said, "Try pitching to several publications or publishers at once, following the appropriate guidelines for each...Now, this doesn't mean to just blast the same idea to every publication. Most publications consider simultaneous submissions to be unethical. But you can create several different articles from a single idea."

That threw me for a loop. First he said submit to multiple publishers at once (following guidelines). Then he said to don't blast the same idea, but to create several different articles from a single idea or else it'll likely be unethical. Let it be known that I have zero experience with magazines. From the book industry, we submit to multiple agents at a time for the same piece.

Obviously, Jeff's experience is more broad, but he's said some more things about magazine publishing that just aren't done in the traditional book publishing process, which equates me to the usefulness of a potato. Can you clarify the basic magazine submission process? I really don't even see magazines calling for submissions anymore [those were the days, eh Stephen King?]. Thank you, because I hate being a potato. Unless there's bacon. Always say yes to bacon!

Querying for articles in a magazine is very different from querying for books. For starters, you're going to be querying NON-FICTION articles almost exclusively.  If you're submitting short stories, you follow the submission guidelines and often they DO take simultaneous subs.

For non-fiction articles the idea is to have some sort of topic that you know a lot about and come up with different stories for it.

For example, I know a lot about query letters. I might pitch The SharkBait Writer's Guide to commission an article on "Effective Queries for Fish." I'll use the same knowledge base to query the Carkoon Prison Times for an article on "How To Query From Prison." I can pitch those outlets at the same time.

Two separate story ideas, but essentially the same topic.

What I can NOT do is pitch "How To Query The Big Fish Agents" to two or more different magazines at the same time UNLESS their submission guidelines say it's ok.

See the difference?

There are a lot of places now to publish articles that don't require querying first at all. The danger there is if your writing isn't up to par, you can damage your career pretty easily.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Surprise Writing Contest!

It's blog reader Colin Smith's birthday today.

I thought about calling him up and warbling Happy Birthday, but he did mention he was sleeping in till 10am today.

Thus we have a great chance to surprise the stuffing out of him with this contest.

Contest opens NOW (3/24/15) and runs through tomorrow (3/25/15) at 7am.

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.
thus: music/musician is ok, but not exile/exfiltrate

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 and then post.

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

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

7. 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.

Contest opens: NOW 3/24/15 7am

Contest closes: 3/25/15 7am

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Query Question: A bigshot will blurb me, can I include that?

A high profile NYT best selling author has offered a commitment to blurb the future galleys of the ms I'm currently shopping... (and there WILL be galleys, dammit!). Good or bad idea to include this info/author's name in the housekeeping section of a query?

It won't hurt you, so why not. If you were sending that information to me, I'd want to know why HPNYTBSA has read your manuscript. Thus you may want to include that information as well.

You would say "HPNYTBSA Felix Buttonweezer has offered to blurb my novel. He read it while incarcerated at Carkoon and it soon became his favorite escapist pleasure."

The reason I'm not jumping up and down and screaming YahooooKalamazoooo about this blurb offer is that sometimes the audience for one author does not translate to the audience of another.  My fins would falter if Lee Child offered to blurb a novel by Tawna Fenske for example.  Tawna Fenske is a terrific writer, and I love her books but they are quite unlike the Reacher novels. You haven't mentioned if you think your audience will be the same as HPNYTBSA's.

At this stage though, there's no harm in including the information.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Week in review 3/22/15

We were all very glad to hear that Amy is ok, and the boat likely ok. Less happy are the tidings from Vanuatu, which took the full force of the storm, and hadn't started out with all that much anyway.
Here's a link to how we can all help this tiny country with some much needed aid.

Bessie Stewart summed up the day's comments, which were largely about the efforts of those scallywags at Carkoon to take over Paradise, "This is the silliest best natured comment bunch ever. "Wow" may be an understatement."  perfectly.  At some point we're going to need a story Bible link for anyone brave enough to try to decipher the comment trail now.

On Monday, the blog topic was pre-empts and auctions, which is one of my favorite topics.

Craig asked
"Is it something that writers should aspire to? Or is it something that should cause an emotional Lesley Gore moment? Do these kinds of things happen to normal people or is it reserved for things like the Patterson Franchise?"

Well, James Patterson hasn't been in an auction for donkey's years because he's safely established at Little,Brown in what Team Carkoon would recognize as a branch office with his own publicist and editor I'm told. And probably his own royalty department.

Auctions are result of a lot of hot interest. It's a good thing. It's not something you should even start thinking about. If it happens, terrific, but most books are not sold at auction, or on a pre-empt.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli asked "How many books a year go to auction?" There's no way to know and it's not even a stat I keep here for my own books. A lot of VERY good books don't go to auction at all.

Donnaeverheart asked "I think the only question I have is this; if a book has been on submission for a while, is there any likelihood of either of these happening?"

Yes. Whenever the first serious interest comes in, the next step is a round of phone calls to all the other editors who have the manuscript. It's basically a "get this to the top of your reading pile, it's got legs" call. 

Colin set up an auction scenario:
Editor Penguin requests ms. QOTKU submits.
Editor SohoCrime requests ms. QOTKU submits (and indicates another publisher is looking at it?).
Editor Minotaur requests ms. QOTKU submits (and indicates other publishers are looking at it?).
All want the ms., so QOTKU sets up an auction wherein each editor vies for ms. The one with the best deal (according to the Agent and Author) wins out.

What actually happens is I send the manuscript to my first tier of editors. ALL of them get it at approximately the same time.  They all know this is going to everyone (I don't have to tell them.)

The first one who coughs up interest or an offer gets us off to the races. That can be days, weeks, or even months after that first submission.

And "the best deal" doesn't always mean the most money. More and more, we're asking for marketing and publicity input at the auction stage because that's a key component of being published well.

Donnaeverheart asked:
To clarify, does an agent chat up an editor about a ms to assess their interest, or, do they just investigate editors for suitable interests (much like authors search for the correct agent to read their work) and then simply send the submission package to them?

I get on the phone and talk to editors about the manuscript usually. Sometimes if I know they're looking for something, it's just an email.  BUT I've spent hours at lunches, conferences, drinks dates etc, talking to them about what they're looking for so that these submissions are not just scattershot. I know what they're looking for, but more important, I know what they're NOT looking for too.

And honest to godiva Craig's place on Carkoon is sounding damn attractive.

On Tuesday a writer asked about a call from an agent that was essentially "toss this and start again." I was stunned an agent called to say such a thing. Calls are normally reserved for good news, not that.

Shaun Hutchinson had some good advice: 
"When I was querying The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, one agent suggested I add some paranormal elements to the story. I didn't think that advice worked with what I was doing, so I ignored it. However, nearly every single agent in my first round of querying told me I'd botched the ending, so I listened to their advice and completely rewrote the ending."

Consistent advice is worth paying attention to. One agent saying a book needs paranormal elements (and having read the book in question, that advice is crazypants) not so much.

Joseph Snoe had an interesting insight
I’m a third party witness to something like this. Except it was a written message not a phone call. An editor included a long critique with her rejection. I read my friend’s manuscript making comments along the way. I read the editor’s critique again after I read the manuscript. The editor was right on target (for the most part). The interesting thing is I can see what the editor meant but my friend currently cannot. She’s moved on to a promising new story (from historical romance to technopunk). I’ll encourage her keep the editor’s critique and return to the historical romance novel when she’s ready.

Being ready to hear the comments is one of the advantages of letting a manuscript sit for a while. I can't tell you the number of emails I get from people that start out "I thought you were wrong, but now I see you were right" but it's in the dozens at this point.  Fresh advice can be painful. Advice that's had time to sit might be a little easier to take.

I thought Poor Dead Jed would win comment of the day with this one:
Does no one else go on dating sites to massage ugly people? Nope? Just me?

But Christine Seine gracefully one upped him so deftly she scooped up the trophy:
"RUBBING TINDER, an erotic thriller about a man who stalks online-dating service users, only to rub them the wrong way on purpose, in a totally tubular deal, for publication in 2016, by Janet Reid on behalf of Fuzzy Print Literary Services."

And I think everyone should pay close attention to what Kari Lynn Dell said
 "I've never rewritten a book I loved. If I couldn't see the flaws, there was no point trying to fix them."

On Wednesday I was annoyed beyond measure that someone calling him/herself an "agent" was using Twitter to pitch editors.  Just FYI, that's NOT how you do it.

Mark Songer asked
What is an example of a good query letter FROM an agent (or however you get books before publishers? Let's say you have opted to represent Felix Buttonweezer's breakout novel Deep Greens about a CIA operative posing as a world renowned kale chef and you think this baby needs to hit the presses NOW. How would you pitch it?

Often I use the query letter from the client for the description of the book. My clients are GREAT writers. Trying to out do them is insane. 

However, what I ADD to the query are things like this;

"When last we lunched, you mentioned you were looking for a great kale novel, and I think this is the one."
"I notice that in your repertoire of great chef novels, you don't have a kale chef novel, so I hope you'll be interested in filling that gap."

"you called me last week to mention a hole in your Spring 2016 catalog. I think this kale chef novel will fit nicely next to The Carkoonian Book of Sulphur Kebobs, and Pasta From Paradise by Amy Schaefer."

"you've been sniffing around Felix Buttonweezer for years now, and his last contract is fulfilled. Here's the new book. Wheelbarrows full of cash will be fine."

It's not so much what we say about the book it's how we know what the editor is looking for, and what s/he published before, and which author s/he wants to sink her fangs into.

Jennifer R. Donohue asked "Is this one reason people were talking about "Schmagents" on Twitter the other day?" 

Entirely possible, but "schmagents" are a hot topic with editors and agents most days. Editors send us the most egregious examples of stuff they get from these guys and we all have a laugh. Generally we stop laughing when we realize some of these people have actual clients.

Jenny Chou makes an excellent point about small presses
For 17 years I worked as a bookseller. I ordered backlist (i.e. reordered books that sold) for the store and handled special orders. In my opinion, the best way to see of a small/Indie press is legitimate is to check out their distribution to bookstores. If their website says something like "Distributed to the trade by Macmillan" then they are legit. "Books available from Ingram and other wholesalers" also means bookstores can easily get their books and you should be fine. Make sure one of your first questions to whatever Indie press contacts you is about distribution.

A publisher's website can be a very valuable source of information, often for what IS NOT there.  Is there a way for libraries to order? Is there a way for bookstores to order? Is there a wholesaler or a distributor?  Is it geared toward selling books from the website?  Are the print books significantly more expensive than you'd expect ($31 for a hardcover means the press is using POD technology and NOT printing for inventory)

At one point Colin Smith was actually talking to himself in the comments column which made me laugh out loud then and now.

On Thursday I reminded you to follow up on queries if the agent says she responds to all queries. It was prompted by a querier who pinged me for a query that DID get lost to my great chagrin.

LD Masterson asked if this applied to agents who have "no response means no?" 

It does not. It only applies to those of us who think that query writers deserver the respect of a reply even if it's a form letter.  I'll spare you a rant on this. Well, ok, no I won't.

Colin asked if we've settled in to the new office. We have, but it's not ready for photos yet. We've still got boxes on the floor and some organizing to do. It's amazing how easy it is to get all your stuff IN to a box, and how time consuming to get it out and on the right shelf.

And just when Felix Buttonweezer was thinking he had it bad, CarolynnWith2ns posted this:
Elissa and Amy, I went to school with a Honey Potts and a Sundae Monday. What's funny is that Honey complained because they always spelled Potts with one T and Sundae hated that people always spelled her name like the day...hello...what do you think your parents were thinking of.

Why do parents make up such funny names?

My brother-in-law the teacher, had a kid in his class, (the name was pronounced as Sha-theed), spelled Shithead

On Friday, the topic was your writer's notebook, which I hope you're keeping.
I was delighted to see Kitty is reading THE DEVIL IN HER WAY by Bill Loehfelm. I'm a devoted fan of his work, and just finished the latest one DOING THE DEVIL'S WORK which I bought at Left Coast Crime.

Madeline Mora-Summonte had a lovely quote from Jack Canfield "Everything you want is on the other side of fear" which I liked so much I made it the blog sub-header.

Colin asked if I had a preference between Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines. I do. AHMM. I have better luck selling client work to them, and I find more unagented writers there. EQMM seems to have more established writers. Both are very affordable though and I have subscriptions to each.

CarolynWith2ns gave us this, reprinted as it was posted, no comment from me needed:

Karen Diamond, an amazing young woman and a beyond-talented writer, shared two quotes with her blog readers when she knew her battle to survive was near over. In my writer's notebook and on my desk, I have tattooed those quotes to my soul in the hope that I may assign their sentiments to my own life. I try, I really do, but sometimes I fail because wanting more, often stands taller than the mountain of what I already have.
The quotes, the first by Joseph Campbell and the second, an edited form, ascribed to Buddha.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to live the life that is waiting for us.”
“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

Karen, my son-in-law’s sister, was 27 and very wise to share with all of us these answers to human existence. I am privileged to have known her.

And at some point in every blogger's life, it's clear that your long time readers remember WAY TOO MUCH:

Bonnie Shaljean-
What that horse trader JetReid doesn't want you to know is, she once bought two sheep. Yes, she did. Hee hee hee

On Saturday we turned to how much to reveal in a query letter. Turns out that "include everything in the query" generally means include a synopsis with the query, rather than tell the entire plot in a query letter. I was very relieved to see this because I've tried to make QueryShark useful across all sorts of agency requirements rather than just what *I* want to see.

And yes, synopses are the spawn of Satan, but you'll do well to have one. We need them ALL the time for film deals, and translation deals.

Not much else happened here at The Reef this week. Recovering from a week plus out of the office at Left Coast Crime took every extra minute I had. And the last snowstorm of this miserable winter landed on Friday. I can't wait for spring to REALLY arrive.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Query Question: entice or reveal?

Reading the submission guidelines of numerous agents, many ask that a query "tell us the entire story--from beginning to end. We want (need) to know what happens." They specifically say they don't want anything akin to jacket copy or two intriguing paragraphs. Obviously, were one going to query these agents, one would follow their guidelines.

I've poured over helpful websites including Writer's Digest and, of course, Query Shark. I've deduced that you prefer the jacket copy/two intriguing paragraphs type of query.

If, however, a particular agent's submission guidelines simply say, "Send your query to such and such email and include the first 5 pages..." without expressing a preference, which is the appropriate way to go? Two intriguing paragraphs? Or a full on synopsis? 

I'm astonished to learn that someone wants a full on plot synopsis in a query. I've never heard of such a thing! However, if that's what the guidelines say, follow them.

Absent instructions to the contrary, send only the enticing two paragraphs that introduce the main character and the plot. Entice the reader to want more.  The reason that QueryShark asks for that is because that's what most agents want.

I'm interested to see who these "many" are that ask for the entire story.  Send me the links to the sites if you can dig them up without spending too much time on it.

Friday, March 20, 2015

your writer's notebook?

Do you keep a writer's notebook?

A notebook is an essential tool for remembering great phrases and paragraphs you read. I've kept one for years and thumbing through it reminds me of the books I've read and loved. Actually writing things down by hand helps it stick in your brain too.

[It was when I found myself writing things from TRICKSTER in my notebook that I first fully realized what an extrordinary writer Jeff Somers is.  Don't ever tell him of course. We like to torture him with wry observations about his character and cats, not confuse him with compliments.]

Two things I added to my notebook yesterday came from Evan Lewis's new story in the upcoming May 2015 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Judging by the old man's hands, I'd have tagged him at sixty. The confidence and economy of his movements might shave ten years from that, but the truth was in his eyes.  Those eyes had seen Lincoln shot and Caesar stabbed, and were probably watching when Cain killed Abel.  Now they were watching me.

I fished for a way to begin. "How well do you know Portland?"
The Old Man's shoulders rolled in a noncommittal way. "We've cuddled," he said, "but never kissed."

What's the most recent thing you've written in your writer's notebook, or jotted down to remember as great writing?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ping! Ping!

Late yesterday afternoon as I was winding up the affairs of the day I got an email from a writer asking the status of his query.

As most of you know I keep a running count of how current I am, right here on this blog.

It looks like this:

This writer pinged me for something sent on 1/25/15 so clearly he should have heard back.

I checked my incoming queries. Sometimes I flag something for a more thoughtful reply than the form letter that goes out, and forget to adjust for that on the "current through" date.

Sometimes I have queries on hold pending something else. (Inspiration, mostly. Sometimes just wanting to give the pages a second read.)

And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, things get lost. Or misfiled. Or tossed (by mistake.)

Which is what had happened here. Even thought it came after several rounds of conversation in the Chum Bucket (which means his emails were getting through just fine) that final query was nowhere to be found.  Yes it was in my gmail archives so I knew I'd received it, but nope, nowhere on the mail management program.  Ooops.

I asked the writer to send again, and this time I made sure it went in the Incoming Query folder and I plan to answer it tonight...just to make sure it gets a reply.

What does this mean for you? Never assume no if the agent says they'll reply to your query.  Always ping at least once.  Things get lost. Things go astray. Even here at The Reef where emails are color coded and royalty statements are numbered.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How to tell if your agent is an utter nincompoop

Follow her/him on Twitter.

If you see a Tweet that looks like this:

@EDITORAMAZING I am a lit agent. Would like to send you a submission. May I have your email?
your agent is an utter nincompoop and you may quote me by name when saying that.

Let's unpack this, as they say on the postgame show:

1. A competent agent does NOT pitch editors on Twitter unless s/he knows them REALLY well. And even then, most competent agents will say something like "hey, I've Got That" to something an editor has said, and then phone or email the pitch.

2. A competent agent either knows the editor's email address, or how to  figure it out, or knows who call to get it.  At the very least a competent agent knows that an editor is NEVER going to give out her/his email address on Twitter.

When EditorAmazing shared this tweet with her coven, a few of us did some research. Turns out the "agent" in question doesn't have any background in publishing, and has no colleagues of any kind. In other words, someone who hung out a shingle and said "I'm open for business."

And even better: sent the same tweet to several editors in a row, so that all of them, while investigating who this was, could see them.

This agent is textbook nincompoop.

Any questions?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Query Question: "toss this and start over"

 An agent recently requested pages and then called to discuss.  She is the first one who provided feedback, which was very much appreciated.  However, her opinion (of course, very professional and not rude) was that I should put the novel away for 6 months and then start over.  She said that the character development was weak  and this cannot be fixed by editing the novel.  There were other items she shared as well.  She said an entire re-write is in order.  What does a typical writer do when one agent gives feedback and the feedback is "start over and re-write?"  Granted, she did NOT ask to see if again after I re-write it.  Do I follow her advice?

Well, that sure wasn't what you were expecting in that call was it?  Yikes! I don't think I've ever called someone to tell them to start over. Email seems a whole lot more kind when delivering that kind of news.

And frankly, I'd wait to see what happens with other agents before taking her advice. It is after all her opinion, and unless she's me and thus completely and totally right 97.125% of the time, maybe she's wrong. 

Every single sale I've made has had at least one rejection from an editor who failed miserably to see the amazing value of the book I'd sent them. Sometimes they are able to rebound from such abject failures, but sometimes they have to be stricken from the list cause they are Blind Blind Blind.

I do think that letting a manuscript sit, and reading it aloud are two very good tools for seeing problems that are not readily apparant by reading.

I'm going to bet the Comment Team has some interesting anecdotal advice for you as well. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Question: pre-empts and auctions

The Publishers Lunch Weekly newsletter often reports deals made "in a pre-empt" or "at auction."

What is a pre-empt? (1)

I find the idea of an auction fascinating. Is there a formal set of rules for holding an auction, or does each agent have their own way of handling them? (2)

Does the author have to accept the highest bid? (3)
If all the offers are seriously below expectations, does the author still have to accept one of them? (4)

What if an agent holds an auction, and nobody bids? (5)

An auction seems like a big risk that could either pay off spectacularly well, or fail terribly, tainting the author, the book, and the agent.

(1) A pre-empt means an editor offers enough money to take the project off the sales block without going to auction, or taking further offers.

(2) Each agent has their own, and auction rules are sent to each editor who's in the scrum.

(3) The author does NOT have to accept the highest bid. If a project goes to auction it's very common for the editor to loop in sales and marketing to show their plans for the book, and have a conversation with the author about their editorial vision, and plans for success

(4) There's usually an established floor in an auction, but sometimes numbers come in that are seriously under what we thought. That's when the agent and the author have a very serious heart to heart.

(5)  That does happen. It's A VERY unhappy day.  You dust off your britches, and get back on the submission pony and send to publishers not in that previous round of submissions.An auction isn't really a risk. It's a way to handle interest from multiple editors. Nobody goes to auction if the editors are snoozing on a book.

And a "failed auction" doesn't taint a book cause no one really knows about it at other publishing houses.  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Week in Review 3/15/15

The week in review starts with prayers for our friend Amy Schaefer who lives in paradise most of the time, but is now right smack dab in the middle of Tropical Cyclone Pam. 

I know we're all looking forward to hearing from Amy that she's ok.


In last week's review Stacy asked about a book being profitable without earning out:

I said: A book can break even AND turn a profit for the publisher even if the advance is not earned out.

She asked: Is that because the author is receiving the agreed royalty rate while the book earns against the advance?

It's because the author is credited ONLY for royalties earned not the total amount earned.

If a book sells 10,000 copies here's the math:

10,000 books x $25.00 (retail price/book) x 60% (discount given to bookstores is 40%) = $150,000.00 GROSS

Less: 10,000 x $3.12 (royalty rate of 12.5%  x cover price of $25) =$31,200.00  author earnings (applied to advance)
Less: fixed costs of producing book ($5.00/book)  $50,000
Less: other costs of producing book ($2.00/book) $20,000

$150,000 GROSS
-50,000 FIXED COST
-20,000 OTHER COST

= $48,800 retained by publisher (I'd done the math wrong earlier, thanks to eagle eyed blog reader Lisa, it's now corrected)

If the author's advance is $100,000, the book hasn't earned out ($100,000 less $31,200) but the book has put money in the publisher's coffers.

These are very very broad estimates, just to demonstrate the math, and are NOT actual numbers.


On Monday I pretty much lost my mind and ranted to a writer who had been asked to do a marketing proposal and thought it was really her agent's job. 

Julie Weathers correctly pointed out:
"so am I paying 15% so that someone with connections will make phone calls?"
I think right there is where the whole thing went off the rails.

I respond poorly and at length plus volume to those who seem not to value what an agent does.  In this particular case, lack of fuller explanations gave rise to some misconceptions.

I very much appreciate that lunorama was willing to take the bull by horns (or the shark by the snout) and say this:

Mainly, I am uncomfortable with this post because it makes me worried for if I ever gain an agent and need to ask a question about my or their role. Will I be chewed out or "fired on the spot" for being such a total clueless noob? It is not anyone's job to hold my hand, but I also second the person who said I do not feel like I should be "grateful" to someone with whom I have a *business arrangement.*

Agents are not doing authors a free favor. The caveat that the agent only gets paid if the book sells and that it is a "bargain" for the author struck me as weird -- agents are paid for their work and they do have other clients. It's a business, not a charity, not a "bargain." That method exists for ethical reasons, and I am glad it does. It also keeps authors and agents invested in working together until it sells.

I resent the implication that I should...I don't know...feel bad for agents? They do a LOT of work, but they do not take on projects they don't think they can sell (I assume not, anyway) and they are working under the expectation of a payoff, just like the author, so...I don't understand the claim that because they have to wait for the payoff, agents are not paid for their time. It's a quibble over semantics.

I don't want to parse this paragraph out with the things I agree/disagree with but I do want to say I agree I did seem to say being "ungrateful" was cause for firing. That's not what I intended so clearly I didn't say it very well.

I was responding to the implication that "all" agents do is a very little bit of work for a percentage of the deal.  That's a real sore spot for me that comes from a lot of people not understanding what agents do.

What I should have said was that if a client really felt like s/he was not getting a valuable service, and said so, I'd part company with them.

I did NOT mean to convey that a client who asks questions will be fired on the spot or, in fact, ever.

This was a good reminder to me to think a little deeper before going off the deep end. 


On Tuesday we covered the delicate issue of writing about communities of which we are not a part.

Tom Perkins asked an interesting question
is the designation "Alaska Native" a critical part of your character(s)? I mean, I have a project where I know the qualities my character has, but specific ancestry is not one of them.

Lisa Bodenheim had a good answer for it too:
In response to your question about letting the reader assign whatever mental picture they lean towards. White people will (generally) always assign white to the characters. It's the nature of the culture we live within.

There's a blog post about it here.

I think it's essential that characters be described so they are not all in the image a reader brings to the reading experience. After all, one of the many benefits of reading widely is meeting new kinds of people.

One of my favorite books by Harlan Coben used the reader's assumptions about race as a plot twist.  I love that trick.


On Wednesday we discussed revising and expanding a previously published memoir but the comments took a turn into weather as we discovered Amy is right there in the middle of Tropical Cyclone Pam.

We're all keeping our fingers and fins crossed that the boat is safe!


On Thursday we turned to how to use fan fiction numbers in a query.

I liked what Kathryn Clark contributed to the discussion:

A lot of the appeal of fanfic is that the readers already love the characters - no need to win anyone over. (Not to mention that I've found it easier to play with other people's characters than to create my own.) In most (though not all) cases, there's no exposition needed beyond "this takes place in episode three" or "alternate universe where Harry Potter isn't a wizard".
I hadn't really considered that writing fanfic is essentially like coming in to a fully developed story line, so much of the heavy lifting has been done already.

Jen brought up a point worth clarifying about fan fiction:

Something to consider: according to my agent, once your work is accepted by a publishing company, your contract will probably say something to the effect of "This work has never fully nor partial been available in electronic format, on public forum, available for download, etc."

So, when I suggested using a site like Wattpad to build a following for a paranormal I was brainstorming, he basically said I would be taking a big risk: if you get a million fans, the Big Five will pay attention. If you don't, you forfeit getting it traditionally published.

This info is absolutely wrong. I hate to flat out contradict an agent, particularly when this is second hand, but this kind of info can get scattered around and taken as gospel.

For starters: yes, many contracts for publication DO have a version of the "never before published" clause BUT BUT BUT if your work has been published before, this is something your agent will TELL your editor during the submission process, and this line of the contract will be struck out.

Contracts are NEGOTIATED, not handed down on stone tablets. I've had to clarify MANY things in various contracts depending on the specific situation of the author.

Second, if you publish on Wattpad, the problem is not that it's published but that Wattpad holds the rights to it.  They essentially become a co-owner of the work. I do NOT know if that can be negotiated because I've never been involved with a work that was originally published on Wattpad.  However, I do have editor friends who have acquired Wattpad works, and they tell me Wattpad gets a chunk of the dough.


Friday's question about #PitMad was very illuminating for me.

S.E.Dee said, and E.Maree echoed

"It's a big target for exploitation by predator publishers and unsavory agents so you need to keep your wits about you. It's also a big, fast-moving sea of tweets and there's no guarantee the agents you like are even seeing yours."

I have seen some of the #PitMad scroll and the retweets drove me crazy, but I had NOT realized it was being targeted by the predatory and unsavory.  That's really sad news.

Janet Rundquist mentioned why she liked #PitMad:

 I like the Twitter pitches because it forces you to distill your story into a single sentence and from there, you can sometimes get a feel for whether it has enough to entice someone to read after all. I *definitely* like the twitter contests better than blog-hosted contests. Far less painful and public if you have not received requests/favorites etc. Also, the twitter pitches still require you to query, so it doesn't replace anything, just gives you a new angle.

as did Liz Mallory:
always considered PitMad a good exercise at least. It forces me to write pitches - 20 or so of them! - and it also helps me see the selling points of the book by what people retweet or what makes me retweet someone else. PitMad is what showed me comps were so important.

But this time I got 3 favorites, and I can't deny that was really exciting. Even if nothing comes from it, it was encouraging.

And Rena has a very nice success with #PitMad:
That said, I found my agent during #Pitmad last September. It was someone I'd never heard of, but when I did my research, I was very excited. We may never have connected without Pitmad. She has been an amazing friend and partner, and she sold my book less than two weeks after going on submission, so I would say I'm a fan of the pitch party that brought us together.

And Jenny Chou's benefits were interesting as well
I REALLY enjoy Twitter pitching and contests. Because I've had lots of favorites and many big publishers are now fighting over my book? No. Because I've made lots of very supportive writer friends from all over the world. I've exchanged chapters for critiques and found a CP. Many of these people were kind enough to re-tweet my tweets. I've seen a lot of really great writing in contests and look forward to Tweeting about some of these books when they are eventually published- and I'm sure some will be. I've also offered my two-cents on some not-so-great writing and I hope I've helped a few people out.


On Saturday we talked about the gentle art of nudging agents who have queries/fulls/requests.

Bill Negotiator brought up the topic of "answering" queries on Twitter:

Sorry to bring it up again, but if any other industry did this wouldn't it be shut down? An HR person tweeting about details of rejected resumes for a job followed by a form no? An online dating website endorsing tweets about failed connections followed by an email that your date didn't like you?

If there are any agents aside from Janet reading this, I hope you'll realize that the query crit hashtags are astronomically disrespectful. You shouldn't use someone's effort to make a private business connection as fodder for your many Twitter followers.

Does anyone else agree with me? Or am I alone here?

DLM wondered:
The question is, how likely is it any Tweet like that would be identifiable to anyone but me? And is it comparable to an agent telling other agents that I and my work are not wortwhile in any way they could recognize if I queried those who heard it?

Julie Weathers finds value in those kind of #Query answers on Twitter:

There are a great many people, me among them, who disagree with you about the query tweeting. In a time when more agencies are going to the no response means no interest, it's tremendously valuable to get a look at the process.

Usually what comes out of it is:

1. Follow the instructions.

2. I can't do anything with your previously published book.

3. It's all subjective.

4. They don't rep this genre. They say they don't on their site. They don't understand it and so they can't take it.

Well, if I wrote that genre, I would make a note, though to be honest, I'd be following the guidelines anyway, not to query this agent. They just don't get it.

Agent A tweets something about a women's fiction with historical elements they wanted to love, but the writing wasn't there.

Julie with one L goes to B&W and says, "Hey, Agent A just mentioned she'd really like a historical WF. Put her on your list."

The tweets are generic enough they could fit any of a hundred stories. The dialogue is stiff. Seriously? Someone is going to say, "OMG that agent is talking about me. I'm so offended."

The tweets give us who follow them an idea of what is and isn't working and I praise these agents for taking their time to do so, just as do the agents who do query critics and write blogs to help writers.

You'll notice I don't do those kinds of Twitter/query replies at all. The closest I've come is running the stats for a Chum Bucket (examples here and here.)

The difference is that I've responded to the querier with this same information earlier in the evening and directly. They don't have to parse out whether a tweet is about them; they've got an email from me that says "good first draft writing."

I'm not keen on those Twitter things at all. I think it feeds the anxiety of writers more than it helps. 

As it turns out, my blog stats are sadly mistaken that I have no extra terrestrial readers because Christina Seine gave us her coordinates here:

This is Christina Seine here, coming to you live from the exclusive Bean de Lima resort on the sandy shores of the Pit of Carkoon

And it turns out she's not alone:
The weather is gorgeous here, although I have to say there is rather an overabundance of woodland creatures taking up space at the bar. There is much excited talk of the Second Annual Bucket of Chum Writer’s Conference set to be held here in the Fall – should be quite interesting.

Craig is on his way to Carkoon (something about prologues?)

Colin's report shows a few more people heading that way:

It's been a busy morning here at Carkoon setting up the branch office. My typewriter arrived, and Christine is just setting up the fax machine (though I think she's having trouble finding the phone line. I'll have Kitty put a call in to AT&T... assuming we have cell phone service).

I just wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that we here at FPLM-Carkoon (that's Fine Print Literary Management-Carkoon Division--though the way my typewriter's behaving at the moment, Fuzzy Print would be more appropriate) are embracing the philosophy of our mentor and founder, and accepting any and all queries, proposals, spirits, and former US Army Military Police Corps Majors. So please send your queries this way. I'm particularly interested in historical suspense thrillers, lima bean mysteries, and kale memoirs, and LynnRodz is reading Dino Porn (but we'll find something useful for her to do).

Address your queries along with a suitable denomination of the currency of your choice to:

Third Cave Past the Waterhole

although it turns out Colin may be confused about where he is cause on Monday he told Julie Weathers:

Well, we're looking at hiring in the South Pacific. I hear you're particularly good with Aussies...? :)

LynnRodz updated the submission guidelines for the Carkoon satellite office:

Attention: Writers thinking of querying FPLM-CD, no more Dino Porn queries! It's an automatic rejection unless donuts and/or cookies are sent as well and none of this prepackaged or boxed crap either. A little imagination will go a long way so chocolate chip, peanut butter, and Oreo cookies will be thrown back into the slush pile.

Our head honcho here in Carkoon is a vegetarian health nut, so only fresh ingredients are allowed.

Automatic partials will be requested when accompanied with: Mexican Wedding Cookies, aka Russian Tea Cakes, macarons, and tassies.

Fulls will be requested with: Spitzbuben, Kalacky and Rugelach.

Don't worry about me Colin, I'll be the taste tester and I'll even make the tea. (Yep, I've got the sweetest job in Carkoon!)


best typo of the week, and which should really BE a word: DLM's "vommenting"


The Sleepy One recommended Blue Start doughnuts in addition to Voodoo Donuts here in Portlandia, and oh my gastric juices…. YUM!!! Fabulous Bill Cameron, Pirate Heidi Schulz and Publicist to the Stars Dana Kaye and I took a field trip there and it was to DIE for!


I'm just stupidly behind on reading and everything else because I've been out here in Portland at Left Coast Crime, and yes it is FUN!