Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Monday, July 25, 2016

Probably a good reminder

Although I am up here in the wilds of Not-NYC I am checking my email periodically.  Last night I got a note from an author who had a requested full pending. 

"I've signed with someone else," she said.

Wait, what??

I checked my file and sure enough, we're well within the 90 days requested reading time.
And I hadn't heard from her that offers were pending, or she even had an offer.

Zoinks! Well! Huffily, I marked her file "W" for withdrawn and thought "harumph harumph."

In the clear light of morning, I realized I was miffed because I felt dissed. The author had taken an offer without giving me a chance to get into the scrum. From my POV that means she got an offer from someone she wanted more than me. From someone she wanted so much more than me, she didn't even want to take up my time reading the ms.

Harumph harumph, boy did my feelings ego hurt.

And yes, it is ego. I realized (again) that I like to be the one who says yes or no. All my talk about "don't burn bridges with agents" largely stems from bruised ego.

Burning bridges would be if I actually followed through on my "well, I'll never consider another manuscript from YOU again, I sure hope things don't go wrong with this Bright Shiny Agent you want more than ME!!"

But in fact, the author gets to sign with an agent if she wants to. Maybe this agent did a better pitch than I did. (I didn't pitch the author at all, just said I wanted to read the ms)  Certainly this agent was a faster read than I was.

And if the author didn't want me to read a ms when she knew she was signing with someone else, well who am I to fault her for what she thought was a kindness.

AND the self-involved three year old I become when thwarted from something I *might* want really should be kept out of my office!

BUT, just a reminder, that if you get an offer from an agent on your work, we (the other agents who've requested it) do like to know before you've made a decision if at all possible. Even if you're sure you're going to sign with Agent Nimble.

While it's  not burning a bridge with me (despite my snarling) other lesser mortals agents do get their pantaloons in  twist over this.

Contest results? well, no, not so much

I'm still in Vermont.
Getting home has been a slower trip than we thought.
Traffic is not really moooooooo-ving very fast.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

WIR, like JR, is awol

Hello Reader friends!
Yes there is no WIR because I was busy tormenting writers in person yesterday.
And now I'm totally taken up with listening to birds and looking at the bluest sky I've seen in a long time. In other words, lazing about.

I MIGHT come home. Maybe.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The How The Hell Did Janet Get Pried Out Of New York? writing contest

Yes, dear readers, I am Not In New York this morning. Verily unto thee, I am on my way to Vermont. I'm not sure what one does in Vermont. Not ride the subway is likely. Not sneer at tourists is also likely. I think there are cows.  Perhaps one will be hollering "cowabunga!" on a's all deliciously uncertain!**

This great disturbance in The Force should be marked by a writing contest of course

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: cow/cowabunga is ok, but pry/pretty 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: 9am (EDT) 7/23/16

Contest closes: 9am (EDT) 7/24/16

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!

SORRRY!!!!!! I got caught up in yammering to writers!!
I'm late opening the contest!

Sorry, too late, contest is closed.


**All levity aside, I'm looking forward to being with the Vermont League of Writers at their conference, talking about query letters, and tormenting writers in person

Thursday, July 21, 2016

I'm the bee's knees!

I recently got feedback from a well-known, award-winning author in my genre about the first two chapters of my MS. The author was very positive and enthusiastic, while also giving me great notes on what I needed to improve.

Sad woodland creature that I am, once my initial euphoria moderated itself, I began to wonder whether I could include this in a query. My guess is that for a read-through of two chapters, and not even the final version, the answer is "probably not." But I also hold out hope that the author might be willing to read the entire thing.

Should I mention it in a query as it stands now, or if the author does end up reading the whole MS? How would I refer to it ("So-and-so has read it and said I'm the bee's knees*")? Should I ask for the author's permission?

* they didn't actually say i was the bee's knees but it was clearly implied 

Well, I'm sure you are the bee's knees but I don't really care if anyone else thinks so. The only opinion I care about is my own.

You're right to hesitate to include this in a query particularly since the Well Known, Award Winning Author only read a partial.

And you did not mention the circumstances under which this reading occurred.

I'm sorry to dash water on your bee wings, but if it was in conjunction with a writing contest, or a writing conference, chances are the WK,AW,A did not point out the flaws.

I'm very careful at writing conferences to be helpful rather than critical. When I'm assessing manuscripts in the safety of my writer-free Lair, no such compunction exists.


The value of this is that clearly you can write, and WK, AW,A gave you some validation of that.  That's not nothin' in this cold cruel world. That it's not going to be useful in your query doesn't mean it's not useful to you.

The only exception to this is if WK, AW, A is one of my clients. Then you'd lead with that in the query, cause I think my clients are pretty astute readers.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why is there women's fiction but not men's fiction?

My question is why a category called "Women's Fiction" exists (particularly when I'm unaware of a corresponding category called "Men's Fiction").

Given that women are the ones buying most books (if what I've read about this is accurate), it's not as if we need to specifically target them. It seems to me that the only group we target with this category label is men, telling them "Hey, sorry, but this book isn't for you."

When my books are published one day, I want everyone to read them. My goal isn't simply to be published, it's to be read. I don't want to signal to anyone that my book isn't for them. The thought that someone could get it into their head to categorize and market my book this way terrifies me. It seems like sabotage.

Are there stats that show the "women's Fiction" label creates more additional sales to women than the lack of that label would provide in sales to men? That might explain its persistence, but I don't know where one would get such stats, if they exist (I mean, you'd need a control group for comparison, right? Or no?).

And if that's so, then I'm even more surprised that there isn't a corresponding category "Men's Fiction" that would increase sales to them for books that deal with . . . Men Stuff? (we had the borderline-dismissive category "chick-lit" for a while, but I never saw "dick lit". Like Rodney Dangerfield, women writers get no respect, it seems).

Given the richness of the English language, there must be some more inclusive words to describe this category that could appeal to all genders. Why don't we use those words instead? From a marketing standpoint, this doesn't make much sense to me.

You missed Tucker Max?

And "lad lit"?

Tucker Max (I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell) is the epitome of Men Stuff lit. Take a look and you'll see what I mean.

Lad lit was coined to describe books like High Fidelity. The term never caught on.

It sounds like you're viewing categories like the NAACP views redlining. Categories aren't "you can buy a house here but not there." Categories are "if you like that book, you might like this one too."

Categories are designed to put books in front of readers most likely to pick them up.

Using myself as an example: I gravitate toward the crime/mystery section of the bookstore. Put a book there and if it's got an compelling cover I'm likely to pick it up and read the flap copy.

If you shelve a book in crime that isn't about crime, and is mostly about relationships and love ever after, I'm going to put it back on the shelf. And readers who gravitate toward love ever after themes aren't going to find this book cause they're shopping over in women's fiction not crime. Notice I say readers, not women. Women's fiction is read by a lot of people who aren't women. I know this because it's a HUGE category and sells well.

Categories are a way for book stores to help readers find books they will like. It's the same reason all the cereal is in one area of a grocery store, not shelved alphabetically with all the other products being sold. I don't want to sort through frankfurters to get to Frosted Flakes, much less wiener schnitzel to get to Wheaties!

When you say you want everyone to read your book I can appreciate that goal. What I know about selling books though is that you want your book in the place where readers are looking for it. Not everybody is going to want to read your book. The sooner that isn't heartbreaking news and just a recognition of how things are in the world, the better off you're going to be.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

How to evaluate contests

Is there a way to check how well known a prize is? Is the standard - I haven't heard of it in multiple places so it must not be a thing? I ask because some of this is crowd dependent. Living in CT, where there are a lot of successful authors, I recently learned about an award that is big locally - they get ten or twelve agents and editors to jury it. But aside from people who've been judges, I'm not sure if anyone's heard of it. Is there a quick google test? (Not that I've won the Tassy award, nor a I querying yet; this is a classic cart before horse question.)

When a person queries me and mentions they've won "first place in the Carkoon Garden Show Writing Contest" I look up the contest.

I look for the following things:
1. Number of categories. A contest that has eleven hundred categories is no contest at all.

2. Who's nominated: If I haven't heard of any of the books on the short list, I'm less likely to value that contest.

3. Who published the books that are nominated: If I haven't heard of any of the publishers, I discount the contest entirely.

4. The entry fee: if it costs more than $25 to enter I'm less likely to consider it a good contest. Contests with steep entry fees are often very profitable for the people who run it, not so much for the people who enter or "win."

5. Contest footprint: If I google the contest and the only thing that shows up is the contest website, that's a problem.  If people aren't talking about the prize, or lauding the winners, it's less valuable.

Let's look at the contest you mention: The Tassy Award

1. There are five categories for this award. They're all categories that make sense. I've seen contests that have a category each for suspense, mystery, thriller, procedural, private eye and zombie detectives. The purpose is to get more entries (and money) not to honor one particular book as outstanding

2 and 3. Here's a list of winners. They provide a link to the author's website which is helpful.
I don't know any of these authors, but I know the trade publications that are talking about the books. That's a good sign.

 4. The entry fee is $20. That's reasonable for an organization like this.

5. Here's the google search. It's clear that it's pretty well known. Not the Pulitzer, but not everything can be.

So, if you enter and win this, I'd definitely list it in your bio. When I google it, it's clear that this contest should be taken seriously.

Monday, July 18, 2016


For my day job I'm a communications officer/science writer for a department at a major university. Ten years ago the director, my boss, co-wrote a book with the then-director. It didn't differentiate itself very well; sales were low.

Now, the agent and my boss want to try again, this time with a series (the first book was both too big and too shallow). As the resident writer, I get to help. It is likely I will be doing the bulk of the work for at least the first book.

My boss is a wonderful, collaborative, and humble person who will probably want to credit me on the cover with her. I imagine the publishers will balk at this - the platform comes from reputation of the university, department and my boss. If I were an established journalist with ten years of bylines, it would be different.

Professionally, of course I would like public credit for the work. We'll likely move in 2-3 years, and I will probably freelance again - being co-author on a series like this would be huge.

The questions:
1. Aside from doing good research, being timely, and writing well, is there any other aspect to impressing the pants off the agent? She is lovely, by the way, and I'm excited to work with her. 

Meeting deadlines is critical. Writing well too. Asking questions when you're not sure of something is also good. I'm sure she'd rather have you ask, than have to solve a problem created by a mistake made cause you didn't know.
It won't hurt to have a passing familiarity with the books she's sold too. You can't read them all but knowing what they are is a good piece of info to have.

2. What kind of credit can I reasonably aim for?  If it's not credited publicly, how can I use this work in my non-fiction portfolio later?

You can ask for credit on the cover. Cover credit includes several possibilities.

Department head AND (You)
Department head with (you)

If you don't get cover credit you simply list it as a work for hire on your CV (which sounds like what it is since it's part of your job)

3A. If I do manage to impress the agent, and I leave in two or three years, could I let her know I'm ghostwriting as a freelancer, in case one of her clients is looking?
3B What are the chances of continuing to be the primary writer for the series even if I leave the department?
3A: Yes of course.
3B:  not a clue. That's a political decision inside the department and not anything I can predict.  However. Make yourself essential and it's hard to see how they'd want to change writers mid-series.

4. because I write fiction, too, do agents ever talk cross category? Say if Ms. LovelyAgent is having a drink at a conference and Ms.FictionAgent mentions they are reading my full, would she ever say - "I've been working with her on a non-fiction project, she's great" - or are the two worlds too separate to matter? (Her agency is exclusively non-fiction). 

I'm always amused when writers think we talk about them at cocktails.
We don't.
We kvetch about editors.

Your ace in the hole here is that Lovely Agent knows you. When the time comes, you say to her, I'm going to be looking for an agent for my novel. Do you have any reccs. Coming to an agent by way of a recc from Lovely is much better than any drunken gossip would be.

You'd query with "I got your name from Agent Lovely, with whom I worked on (Title)."

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Week in Review 7/17/16

Welcome to the week that was, and what a week indeed.

Scott G took note of the time I pasted my name tag on someone else at a cocktail party full of writers:
So what you're saying is, if I approach a woman at a bar with a name tag that says "Janet Reid" and I say, "Can I buy you a drink Snookums?" I will get slapped, or a drink thrown in my face, if you have given your name tag to someone else.

Similarly, if I approach a woman at a bar with a name tag that says "Janet Reid" and I say, "Can I pitch you my book?" I will get slapped, or a drink thrown in my face, if you have not given your name tag to someone else.

Therefore, I can only conclude that the only way to approach a woman at a bar with a name tag that says "Janet Reid" and not get slapped or a drink thrown in my face is to say, "Can I pitch you my book, Snookums?"

Again I say, the advice I continue to take away from this blog is immeasurable.

You left out Option D: say hello.
Cause you'll have me at hello.


Dena Pawling was hilarious on the subject of name tags, RSVPs and judges, and this line was perfect:
As you might expect, this is not necessarily terrifying because, as attorneys, we're not human in the first place.

Colin asked for confirmation about querying through an all agency portal
When you're querying through an all-agency portal: Ladies/Gentlemen of the Agency

Really? I have never seen this anywhere, and would never have guessed. Am I missing another joke, or are you serious about this, Mighty Snookums?

No joke.
You can leave off the salutation if you want, but if you just can't, that's the one to use.

The conversation then drifted, as it tends to do, this time to cats, dogs, ice packs, and air conditioners.

On Monday the results of the flash fiction contest were announced

The quality of the entries this time was mind boggling. I think you're all plotting against me in some waterfront dive bar, exchanging ideas, critting each other's work and coming up with new and nefarious permutations of the prompt words. In other words: writer's revenge.

Keep it up.

Mark Thurber said
Sorry not to join you all this week, though my silly office story about whisky and a disguised ex-wife would not have stood a chance against this week's masterpieces. I finished it two minutes before post time, then I got flustered and couldn't convince blogger that I wasn't a robot. Shouldn't the fact that I got flustered prove that I am not a robot?

It killed me to see those two entries that were marked deleted by author. Then the last one was after the deadline. I honest to godiva thought about letting it stay up, but that seemed like the start of a very slippery slope.

Kae Ridwyn was enthused about her entry getting recognized
And now I'm off for some celebratory cake. Because that's what you eat to celebrate a brilliant achievement like this, yes?
YES! And really, you should share with the poor overworked contest judge!

And I think Janice L. Grinyer summed up all our feelings about the winning entry by Steven D
Steven D. That has to be the creepiest story I've ever read written here. I needed to hug puppies and eat ice cream and sing Mister Rogers songs to clear my mind! Please take that as a compliment- not too many things can creep me out.

But yep, that story of yours did so.

And it sounds as though Colin's family will be moving house, whilst he is off in Carkoon….again
Thinking about it, it might make an interesting twist to the contests if Janet did, every now and again, throw in a theme restriction. E.g., "No gun violence", or "Must reference one of Patrick Lee's novels." Just to spice things up a bit... :)

BJ Muntain asked
Should we hold a vote? Send Colin to Carkoon or not?

I think that's a terrific idea.

Here's the poll


On Tuesday we talked about "super agents" and trading up.

Mister Furkles cracked me up with this
The chances of this happening are less than lightning striking and killing you.

If you want to improve your chances, put on ESD bootstraps and stand on a steel manhole cover during a thunderstorm.

Uh, ...that's for being struck by lightning. No help on the breakout novel. Sorry about that.

Adib Khorram makes a good point here
I think it's also worth pointing out that even if you sign with a so-called "super agent," it's no guarantee of some sort of smash success and a giant advance. Those books aren't only outliers in the market—they're outliers for those agents, too.

And then had some questions about the asbestos underpants part of today's entertainment.
Here's my question about the asbestos underpants: are they made of 100% asbestos? Or is it a pair of underpants with some sort of asbestos lining? I feel like the risk of inhalation is lower with the lined pair vs. the 100% asbestos pair, but of course it depends on the breathability of the material housing the lining.

Asbestos underpants is one of my favorite phrases and I seize every  opportunity to use it. Thus, some time ago I emailed Steve Ulfelder (Edgar nominee in Best First for Purgatory Chasm--the fourth book he wrote after I signed him) who is a great writer and a race car driver.

I mentioned asbestos underpants (I can't remember why)
Turns out, yes, race car drivers wear this stuff. It's discreetly referred to as your "base layer"
I guess flame resistant lingerie doesn't have the same appeal.

Bethany Elizabeth makes a good point here
Hello all! I'm checking in from the beach (beautiful Cannon Beach, to be specific) and my week of reading to add my two cents. I've got some sympathy with OP here. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you sold a book with an agent and there's no line in your agreement specifying that they have the right to pick up your next book if they want it, you don't actually owe the agent your forever loyalty.

Loyalty is certainly important, but if you feel like your novel isn't in good hands, then you may build mistrust and resentment into the relationship, which hurts everyone. Agent-author relationships are more akin to dating then marriage. No one really expects them to last forever, though it's wonderful if they do, and if either partner starts wanting something more, it's not necessarily wrong to end it.

Although I wonder if OP has honestly talked through their ambitions with their agent. Have you been honest with what you want and sought advice on how to get there?

I think Jen gets the last word on this topic
My novel landed me a New York "super agent." And when he couldn't get me an advance for my novel, he stopped pitching it. He wants novels that will sell, and sell well.

I wanted to be a small fish in a big pond. I wanted an agent with contacts in the major houses. I wanted an agent who could get me good deals.

I got an agent who is lax about communicating. I got an agent who puts his top clients at the top of his "to-do" list. I got an agent who won't touch a second novel I wrote because he doesn't have the motivation to sell it.

Be VERY careful what you wish for. If you have an agent who you can communicate with on a regular basis and who SOLD YOUR NOVEL, I'd stay where you are. The grass always looks greener when you're not the one doing the mowing.

On Wednesday we talked about whether you can use other people's character names in your novel

Michael Seese generously stepped up
If someone wants to have a character named Michael Seese who is a brilliant author (and bears a striking resemblance to Brad Pitt) that would be OK with me. Just formally putting that out there

Theresa has her eye on my office:
World Domination Cloakroom and Plotting Center--I want one of those!

Joyce Tremel is planning ahead:
So, in other words, if there's a book 4 in my series I can add a slightly grumpy agent bearing your name who comes into Max's brewpub and is incensed that they only serve beer and not twelve-year-old scotch. Got it.

Yup. But you should also have me be the corpse in the case too!And I really hope there is a Book #4. I really loved To Brew or Not to Brew!

Stephen Kozeniewski said
I always assumed Janet from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was based on you.

I did too.

Colin Smith asked:

Here's a question for Janet: Has any published writer who isn't one of your clients put you in one of their novels? I think it's only a matter of time before you show up in a Jack Reacher novel. :)
Not that I know of but one can always hope.

Janice L. Grinyer is getting caught up on blog posts:
In one WIR, JR so eloquently invites us to visit with her at the Writers Conferences she will be attending - I must admit, I was over the moon at her generosity for newbie Writer's conference people like me!

"How WONDERFUL! I MUST email her with my appreciation!!!"

In the next WIR, she admits to switching her nametag with other people at Writers Conferences.




I think we have been given a little insight to as why her name has been used in those Novels...?

No no no. If you're going to a conference I'm attending, and you don't know anyone, LET ME KNOW AHEAD OF TIME!!! I promise not to torment you with switched name tags. The switched name tags were for cocktail parties where people were so aggressive about pitching that it was down right frightening.

And I'm really serious about this offer for hanging out at writing conferences. A little background here will make you understand: I went to seven different school in seven years when I was in elementary, junior high and high school. I well remember the first day of school when I didn't know a soul, and didn't have anyone to eat lunch with. Some years were easier than others, but sometimes it was pure torture.

If you're a blog reader, don't torture yourself! Let me do it!

Craig F had some interesting info:
Donna: murder of crows is called a venery term. Those date back to the late middle ages. Almost every animal that is used for hunting or is hunted have a term for them. Some are quite complicated, like vultures.

Flying vultures are a kettle. If they are resting in tress they can be a committee, volt or venue.

A wake of vultures are vultures that are feeding.

What do you call a group of agents? I think we need some suggestions here!

On Thursday we talked about reasons nine queries didn't get to yes:

RachelErin said:
Oh Janet - now the woodland creatures get to agonize over whether we comment enough to call you Snookums! You've achieved daily torment.

Exactly my goal.

Craig F asked:
The questions I have are more on what makes you consider a query successful?

Well, there's a blog here that will help with that.

Joseph Snoe asked
I'm curious what about each of the two fulls said that tipped the scales in their favor.

Pretty simple. I wanted to read the novel.
A query has two goals: entice me to read the pages, show you are not an asshat.
Your enclosed pages have but ONE goal: entice me to read on.

Both these queries did that. Simple yes. Not easy. (as our subheader some weeks back said!)

John Davis (manuscript) Frain asked:
From #1: "How you will avoid that: do not open your query with a rhetorical question. If anyone advises you to do this, ignore them."

First, I LOVE any advice where I get to ignore people. So thanks for that pre-approval. Second, I've seen this advice before and I don't get it. Why is opening your query with a rhetorical question so horrendous? Trust me, I won't do it. I just like to understand why I'm not doing something. This strikes me as a reasonable way to get into your 250-word query. Why are rhetorical questions taboo?

This was explained deftly by someone else a while back and I'll try to come as close as I can to their answer. Rhetorical questions are about the reader, not the story. Rhetorical questions assume your reader comes to the story with the same world view as the writer (an act of hubris we don't need to explore further.)

So "what would you do if a terrorist kidnapped your child" doesn't have much resonance with agents who don't have children.

And of course you run the low, but terrible risk, of saying that to a person who has lost a child. (Something you simply can't know ahead of time.)

What would you do if you got fired from your job? isn't going to resonate with an agent who owns the agency.

The "right" answer to "what would you do if " is all too often not the answer you're going to get from a whisky swilling, abrasive, fuck genteel kind of agent. Yanno, the kind you want negotiating your contracts.

But mostly cause it then is about the reader, not the story. Start with your characters. Tell me what they want. Tell me what's at stake. That's all you need to do.

and then JD(ms)F dropped the mic with this one:


You must be a hoot in brainstorm sessions. I suddenly have a dozen rhetorical questions in my head and the answer to all 12 is: Julie Weathers.

and youse guyz are just Very Lucky there is a WIR cause of this from Timothy Lowe
BTW - Janet has mentioned "The Wire" - "Marcella" (on Netflix) has been pretty boss lately. If you're looking for something to suck you in on a summer night, I recommend it.

On Friday we talked about how we pay authors in other countries

I'd tossed off a comment that paying authors outside the US was a PITA. I should know better than to do that. It caused the woodland creatures in far flung ports of call to worry. Sorry guys.

How you get paid has zero bearing on whether I sign you. I'll pay you in pennies in a wheelbarrow if you want. Jeff Somers can vouch for this.

On Saturday we talked about agents looking for writers in anthologies and periodicals.

Michael Seese asked
I'm curious about one thing. If you read a particularly tasty piece, do you:

a) file away the author's name in the hopes that he or she some day submits to you, or
b) reach out to the author and say, "I really liked you short story about Felicia Buttonweezer. (Sister of Felix.) Are you working on any fiction novels that might interest me?"

(Yes, that last part was to yank your chain.)

More B than A. I reach out and see what they're working on next and what they want to do. Some already have representation, some have a pretty good novel tucked away.

Jennifer R. Donohue asked:
How many books have authors killed you in, Janet? I think Jeff Somers did in one of the Avery Cates books, any others? I didn't realize it was such a badge of honor!

I don't know. I do think of it as a badge of honor though. Most agents look at acknowledgements or dedications for kudos. Me, I look for my prone form and the hint of sulphur.

I'm heading to Vermont this weekend to look at cows and torment writers. At some point, a writing conference may be involved, and a talk on query letters. That is unless I keel over and die after watching the Republican Convention.

As a life-long Republican, this year it's like watching the Titanic sail off. I finally read a piece that seems to explain the ShihTzu HairDo's resonance with the non-deranged class. When Trump Happens to Good People.

And on that note, that's the week that was.

There's only one choice for the subheader this week but it's perfect:

"Life is short. Play with your dog."--CynthiaMc.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


I'm on the mailing list for Level Best Books, a delightful small publishing company that does short story anthologies. I met them at CrimeBake some years back, one of my favorite writing conferences of all time.

I mention this because I got an email from LBB yesterday announcing the line up in their new collection:

The Selected Stories for Windward
We are very pleased to announce the selected stories for Windward: The Best New England Crime Stories 2016! We received a record 225 submissions for the anthology, which were read blindly by the editors. We are so pleased at the response we received for Windward and are very much looking forward to its publication this November, in time for The New England Crime Bake.
Windward will be available for purchase in paperback as well as electronically via online book retailers. Congratulations to the contributing authors and many thanks to those who submitted their work for consideration.
The Selected Stories Are:

“The Burren” by Christine Bagley
“Tainted Image” by V R Barkowski

“A Good Lard Crust is Hard to Find…” by Mara Buck
“Bagatelle” by P Jo Anne Burgh

“Grateful Touring” by Sarah Chen
“Tinkle Tinkle” by Frank Cook

“The Haunting at the Orleans Inn” by Daemon Crowe
“A Glutton for Punishment” by Sharon Daynard

“God of Money” by Stephen Doyle
“The Case of the Burqa-ed Busker” by Gerald Elias

“The Boston Post Cane” by Kathy Lynn Emerson
“Daybreak Dismay in Dallas” by Sanford Emerson

“Careful What You Wish For” by Kate Flora
“Three Sisters” by Kimberly Gray

“Murder at Midnight” by Janet Halpin
“Giving Voice” by Connie Johnson Hambley

“The Allagoosalum” by Jill Hand
“Yemaya’s Revenge” by Lisa Lieberman

“Family Business” by Cyndy Lively
“The List” by Ruth McCarty

“Mendicants in the Median” by Peter Murray
“The Ridge” by Rick Ollerman

“Cheap Medz” by Alan Orloff
“Fresh Start” by Anita Page

“Dead Weight” by Dale Phillips
“An Old Man’s Regret” by Verena Rose

“Seals” by Erica Ruppert
“The Mountain” by Harriette Sackler

“Snow Devils” by Brenda Seabrooke
“Look Away” by Shawn Reilly Simmons

“Clean Windows” by Gabriel Valjan
“Daddy” by Lilla Waltch

I read the list to see if included anyone I knew. Sure enough, I'd met five of the twenty writers. But then I realized, that means I did NOT know fifteen of them.

My next thought, because I am an avaricious beast was "I better buy this and read those stories to see if any of them look tasty."

What that means for you: submitting work for these kinds of open calls can be the avenue to securing the interest of an agent. I'm not the only agent who reads story anthologies with an eye for finding clients. Nat Sobel is famous for doing so (and I've read some of the books he found that way

Level Best has an upcoming open call

A lot of you are very fine writers (and I have the flash fiction contest results to prove it!) and getting your work out there is a really good idea.

You can thank me by killing me in your next novel!

Friday, July 15, 2016

When Payment is a Pain in the ***

Y'know how you say we're always looking for something to worry about... My question relates to something you wrote as part of your most recent Query Shark (#281) comments: I hope you have a US bank account cause otherwise getting you paid is a pain in the asterisk.

Does this mean non-US authors need a US bank account? I'm guessing it can be done, because I'm sure Gary Corby isn't writing for the sole reason of keeping Colin happy. But the nervous woodland creature inside me does wonder if causing an agent pain in their asterix would be grounds for rejection?

We pay our international clients via wire transfer.
The problem is that it costs them money to get a transfer, plus we bill them for the cost our bank charges us to make the transfer.

And then there's the fun of getting a taxpayer number which even foreign nationals need to get paid here.  It's not a simple process.


I don't use any of that as a measure of whether I will sign someone. In fact if you write as well as Gary Corby, I will pursue you to sign you!

Bottom line: do not worry about this.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Nine queries, seven passes

A recent batch of queries produced the following:

(1) Query opens with a rhetorical question that makes me lose all interest in the book

How you will avoid that: do not open your query with a rhetorical question. If anyone advises you to do this, ignore them.

(2) Query had someVERY undeft sentences that are intended to be compliments but fail. Not enough about the book to get me past the idea this author will be an ass-hat.

How you will avoid this:
being cheeky in a query is great if you know someone. Blog readers that comment often (Colin Smith, I see you!) can get away with "Hey Snookums" or the equivalent. Almost no one else should try this. You don't know if I'm reading your query at the end of a long tiring day when humor just hits me the wrong way. Do Not Chance It. Be professional.

The purpose of a query is two-fold: tell me about your book and show me you are not an ass-hat.

(3) Word count problem: too short.

How you will avoid this: be familiar with the word count requirements of your category. I'm more likely to look at things that are too long than things that are too short. Too long can be pared. Too short means you finished a book and didn't see what was missing.

(4) List of events but no plot.

How you will avoid this:
Get plot on the page. Unless you have the choice the hero faces, and what's at stake for him/her with that choice, you do not have plot on the page. No plot is almost always an automatic pass.

(5) So abstract as to be uninteresting.

How you will avoid this: For starters, name your characters. I read a query advice book that said not to. That advice is so bad it should come with criminal charges. Name your characters and be specific about the FIRST choice they need to make. You don't need to list every event in the book. just entice me to read more.

(6) Characters are one-dimensional, and the plot is something from a 70's movie.

How you will avoid this: Watch for descriptions that are hyperbolic: billionaire, sadistic, super hacker, former Miss America now a Navy Seal, world's best (anything). Jack Reacher is a big, highly competent guy. He also has flaws and if you asked him to describe himself he probably wouldn't start with "world class marksman" even though he is. If one of your characters introduced themselves with the words you use to describe them, would you want to keep talking to them or would you roll your eyes at their self-importance?

(7) self-aggrandizing bio that is very off-putting

How you will avoid this: Don't tell me anything in your bio that can't be verified. "Nominated for an Edgar" doesn't mean the publisher sent your book for consideration. Same with the Pushcart Prize. And I don't care if you were first in your class at the LakeWoebegon School of Writing and Beet Farming. I've heard everyone there is above average.

The good news: 2 requested fulls!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

My character is a shark named Janet

I was wondering if you could tell me if character names are protected under copyright or trademark laws. For example, I'd like to use the name Bilbo for the family dog in my book. I do mention that the father collects Lord of the Rings memorabilia, so there is a connection/tie-in to the original source, but is this still grounds for copyright or trademark infringement?

I've been trying to research this, and everything I've found says that, unless I portray the character as a hobbit, confusing the two works, it should be OK. I also looked up the name using the Trademark Electronic Search System, and while there are a number of trademarks related to the name, those are for goods and services and not fiction.

What are the rules regarding this when it comes to fiction? Especially if the book is being sold commercially?


You can use a character name, but probably not the character.
So, the dog named Bilbo is fine. Putting in a hobbit named Bilbo, not so much.


You'll see references to the actual character Jack Reacher in books written by someone other than Lee Child. Alafair Burke's Samantha Kincaid sleeps with Reacher; Lee Child references Samantha in a book as well.

This works because the intent is homage, and fun. If Lee Child had objected and threatened to sue, he would have had to show damage of some kind; that using Jack Reacher as a character confused readers who thought they were buying a Reacher book only to end up with a NOT-Reacher book. Hard to imagine anyone confusing the two authors since they have not only different names, different publishers, and different styles, but who the hell knows about lawsuits anymore.

Create a sweet, kind, soft-spoken, clean-living, temperance advocate agent who apologetically burps unicorns after eating lettuce and tofu, then name her Janet Reid, and you're going to be hearing from me in ways you won't like. It's not just cause you used my name, it's cause you used my name, job AND described me in ways that would tarnish my reputation. I mean really, BURPING?? Not to mention that other stuff. I'd be laughed out of the World Domination Cloakroom and Plotting Center if they heard I ate lettuce.

Bottom line: From what you describe, you're going to be fine.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

What if I want a super agent?

I landed an agent from a small boutique agency in 2014 & she successfully sold my first book (it comes out in October). The advance was okay (nothing earth-shattering) and I'm thrilled about being published. However...when I see books like Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist or Emma Cline's The Girls getting huge advances, and realize that those authors have extremely successful agents, it makes me want to pitch my next novel to these so-called super agents.

Maybe this makes me a bad person and completely disloyal, but I'm quite ambitious (aren't we all?). I've read your past posts about switching agents and would be willing to start my agent search again (realizing there's a chance it might end up in abject failure). My question to you - is this unwise? Should I be counting my blessings and staying put? Or should I be doing everything I can to put myself in a position to succeed?

You're going to get some heat in the comment column for even asking this question, so best put on your asbestos underpants right now.

Whether any of those "superagents" is even going to want you is pretty much dependent on how this first book sells.  If it sells off the shelf and gets a big ass movie deal, well, sure, you'll have some interest.

The chances of this happening are less than lightning striking and killing you. [There are 40-50 lightning deaths in a given year. There are a lot fewer breakout books.]

You say you realize "there's a chance it might end up in abject failure." The truth is there is an extreme likelihood this will end up in abject failure even if you have a good book, even if it sells ok. That's just reality. Those "superagents" get lots of queries. They get to be very very selective in who they take on.

So, the answer to this question simply depends on how much you want to risk. You can sever from an agent who got you book deal and query someone you think will do a better job for you. If you can't "land" a new agent, you're going to be a lot worse off than you were before.

Since you're quite ambitious (and I don't fault you for that at all) you'd do a LOT more for yourself by making sure this first book is a huge success and having agents try to swoop in and steal you away (this is called poaching, and it's reviled by everyone who doesn't practice it) rather than trying to query your way to the top.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Writing contest results-FINAL (finally)

Youse guyz are back to your usual tricks of writing so well it was just torture to choose a winner. I can hear you all cackling with delight at turning the tables on me.

Herewith the results

Not quite a story but intensely evocative 
Marie McKay 9:03am
Kelli 5:26pm

Special recognition for a great line:
Natalie is a high priestess of OCD.
LizellaPrescott 12:33pm

thirty years (concurrent plus good behavior) in the making
Dena Pawling 12:48pm

This might just be the perfect Reacher homage
Reacher didn’t wear sunglasses. The sun feared him
John Davis Frain 3:25pm

This made me laugh so hard!
Dena Pawling 12:38pm
Nate Wilson 10:16pm

Not quite a story but oh so true
Kate Higgins 9:11pm

Not quite a story, but holy moly!
Scott G 11:01pm
Kae Ridwyn 12:05am

Homage to Four Weddings and a Funeral
Peggy Rothschild 12:49am

I love the juxtaposition of this:
I dared God to kill me. / God dared me to live.
SiSi 1:01am

Gin while we play rummy. Rum while we play gin.
sdbullard 1:26am

These are the entries that made the long list.

Steve Forti 11:32am
LizellaPrescott 12:33pm

Celia Reaves 12:37pm
Megan V 1:54pm

Donnaeve 2:18pm
Rkeelan 7:22pm

JustJan 9:41pm
Gypmar 4:36am


french sojourn 9:32am
“You couldn’t ask for better weather for a B.B.Q., huh Winslow?”

“It’s certainly a thrilling time when the Circus rolls through town.”

“The guy with the big hat, what was his job again?”

“He’s the Grand Master of the big top, Stanley.”

“And those girls hanging from the ropes?”

“My favorite…acrobats.”

“The fellas with the make-up?”

“They’re clowns, they do funny things to make children under 16 laugh, they pitch buckets of confetti, and other hi-jinx.”

“I think my guy’s a clown.”

“Whys that?

“Just a gut feeling.”

“Spit it out, Stanley.”

“Well, he tastes funny, I prefer Safari’s.”

The twist at the end just cracked me up. So Hank has written a story that makes us laugh about people being eaten. Honest to godiva, that's one heckuva feat.  And "spit it out" and "just a gut feeling"  and "my favorite" are perfect little double entendres (although of course, not risque!)

And it took me awhile to find "gin"!

Steven D. 10:08am
Ginger’s Sweet 16 party concludes. Nostalgia blooms.

I’ve watched her blossom, from an awkward tomboy pitching apples in the backyard, to a fellow shut-in logging uncountable hours on Grand Theft Auto, to the delicate flower facing her mirror now.

The benefits of semi-confinement.

Her beauty clearly descends from her exquisite mother.

I’d hoped we’d be a formal family by now. Yet, rejected advances after a few non-thrilling dates, three … no, four-years ago, have forced me into this non-traditional husband/father role.

The mirror betrayed my untimely glimpse.

My family seems irrationally horrified as the officer extracts me from our attic.

Holy murgatroyd! Does this just creep the hell out of you? Yea, me too. What I most appreciate about this is the subtlety. It's not till that last line that we fully understand what's going on, and it's all right there in that one phrase "irrationally horrified." And then just to put the cherry on top of the cake "My family."  Steven D made this look easy. It's not.

Beth 1:32pm
“Happy Birthday, Grandma!”

And so it begins. Her eyes go round and she claps her bony hands, thrilled to be the center of attention. “You remembered!”

She swallows her meal without complaint, eager to blow out the candle on the pink-frosted cherry cupcake. She tells the story of her surprise Sweet 16, when she was so startled she spit chocolate milk all over her boyfriend’s shirt. We laugh on cue.

As he pushes the wheelchair away, the aid gives me a thumbs-up. It’s working. Five pounds so far. Doc’s pleased.

I think tomorrow, I’ll make it a red velvet cupcake.

Everything here rests on what's not said. And ya'll know I'm just a sucker for that. When you get to the end you realize that "we laugh on cue" was a clue, but this is so deftly written you didn't know till later.

RosannaM 2:49pm
We split up, like always.

I like the food court, she likes Macy’s.

We both like crowds.

She tries on one outfit at a time.

Back and forth to the dressing room.

Bumps a ginger-haired woman with her cane.

Armloads of clothes fall, purse spills.

I sit near a Mom with a kid pitching a fit.

Eat my fries.

Watch the Mom juggle the tray, push the stroller.

Brush against her at the trashcan.

Grandma returns.

We compare.

16 bucks short.

Sends me out again.

Not thrilled, but we gotta make rent.

I fix my ponytail.
This is lovely writing. Very short, but very powerful. Did you ever think you'd have sympathy
for a kid stealing from a mom at the mall? Yea, me either but "we gotta make the rent" gives
you that one piece of info to change your mind.

Ashes 2:58pm
Ah yes, my Oscar. My grand debut. An acting virgin, I arrived on set 16 minutes early, thrilled to see my name on the door.

My co-star was swoon-worthy, years my senior but playing a teenager. Industry standard.

Our love scene was a disaster. He was too handsome and I was too nervous. Later, when he suggested we practice, I pitched myself into his arms and lost another virginity.

His love faded after we nailed the scene. He was a better actor than I’d realized.

Oscar would be a cute baby name, for someone who didn’t choose career over motherhood. 

I love the double use of Oscar. I like the subtlety. Nothing overt but the whole story revealed in "he was a better actor than I'd realized."

Jennifer Delozier 8:38pm
"Betcha you can't." He sat next to me at the writing conference, blinged-out in pens and bookmarks splashed with the name of his soon-to-be bestseller.
"Betcha I can."
"If you can use all 5 in 1 coherent, grammatically correct sentence, I'll buy you a drink - 2 if you do it in less than 25 words."
I accept his challenge. "Begin the Beguine was a grand, musical experiment which pitched convention aside by utilizing 16 measure phrases to thrilling effect."
I love the smell of whiskey in the morning.

For starters, this entry is homage to the inspiration for the contest: ThrillerFest and particularly the pitch practice I helped with. And then the true mastery of syntax displayed by NOT using pitch in musical terms even though the sentence is about music. That's just throwing in a triple axel for the fun of soaring over the ice. And that final sentence: I love the smell of whiskey in the morning, just perfect.

This is funny. It's a story. It uses words deftly. It made me laugh. And it displayed mastery of craft. 

And just in case you've never heard Begin the Beguine, here ya go:

of course I can't choose a winner.
I've read all of these finalists multiple times.
I have my choices narrowed down to two but I thought I'd let y'all weigh in on this before trying to pick just one.

And of course, some coffee might help, so I'm going to put on a pot now and see if it helps focus my thinking.

So, have at it.

Two cups of coffee and three more reads later I think we have a winner.

There was so much to admire about each entry but in the end, I chose the one (of the last two I was dithering about) which did not depend on any specialized or inside info.  Steven D's entry is universal, and today that was what I based it on.  Next contest might be different so don't go carving that in stone!

Congrats to Steven D! (Send my your mailing address and what you like to read and I'll get a book in the mail to you)

Thanks to all who took the time to write entries and enter the contest.  It's always a treat to read them.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Week in Review 7/10/16

Welcome to the week that was!

In last week's review, this from E.M. Goldsmith just cracked me up:
If there was air conditioning in Hell, peace would break out immediately. I am sure of it because all the demons would just stay home playing video games in climate controlled bliss.

The heat has arrived in NYC just in time for ThrillerFest this week. I got my window unit installed in the nick of time. Once these old converted tenements get hot, it's hot till September, no matter what the weather.

We had talked about the value of library sales earlier and the question of how requesting a book at the library could help authors. Jennifer R. Donohue gave a good example here

So far as library circulation and book orders and all that, as an insider, I can tell you how we do it in my system/at my library specifically. About monthly, somebody at "headquarters" runs a report and sends the member libraries a list of all of the items which have 5 or more holds on them. Based on how many of OUR patrons have those holds, and how many copies we have, my library will purchase more copies. With The Girl on the Train as a for instance, I think at one point the total system holds (that's 42 libraries) were in the hundreds. My boss bought us up to 14 copies at my library, and when things died down, we pulled 10 of those to make a book club kit. I read it before it went nuts, because I'd liked Sharp Objects so much, and then the reviews rolled in, and then the movie fanned the flames. I think we're down to a more typical 2 copies as of this writing (weeded items go to the library booksale)

I'd mentioned earlier that I made other people wear my name tag at events. Lennon Faris asked

I love how Janet has made other people wear her name tag. Janet, did you stand nearby and listen to the conversations? Or join in the conversation? I could see you doing so.

I was standing right there next to Suzy and Meredith. It was a cocktail party of vulture writers who would come up, stare at a name tag then say "can I pitch you my book?"  As you might expect this is terrifying. At the time Suzy and Meredith were my beloved minions so I just smacked my name tag on one of them and said "talk to her!" and then hid under the tablecloth.

It was actually good practice for both of them. As apprentice agents at the time, they were both looking for books (I was not) and needed to practice the deft art of writer interaction. I actually stopped going to that annual party for several years cause it was so terrifying to be swooped upon by writers.

And now that neither of those now-very-accomplished ladies is available for cover, I might take Colin Smith up on his offer:

Terse or not, still a good WiR, Mighty QOTKU. Next conference/convention we meet, I'll have to wear your name tag for a season and put on my very best Brit accent. That might be somewhat entertaining:

Startled Woodland Creature: Uhh, Janet? Nice beard. Uhhh... can you give me some query advice?

Me: Why, certainly dear chap! Be absolutely certain, whenever you query the delightful Ms. Barbara Poelle, to refer often to your fiction novel, and be sure to say very little about your main characters, but say a lot about Ms. Poelle's drinking habits and handbag addiction. It's the personal touch that makes the difference you know, old sport!

This vignette from CynthiaMc sounds like a picture book in the making:

The woodpecker has taken to hanging out while I weed and we chat. One of the squirrels I suspect was once a pet or someone's gardening buddy (I think probably one or more of the elderly couples on our street who are sadly no longer here) and insists on being hand-fed his peanut. We normally don't but the lengths he went to in order to teach me were hilarious. He must think I'm an idiot. When I finally gave in and hand fed him the peanut he acted as though I were a baby taking my first step. I swear he said "Yes! Finally. Now may I borrow the car?"

Jessica Snell picked up the thread on book reviews (and how readers find books) with this:
Although many of the books I read are ones I've heard of via word-of-mouth (mostly from my brother and my mom, honestly; I know and trust their taste), I probably find most of my books via book reviews.

And the thing is, those book reviews don't have to be positive. Sometimes the reviewer doesn't like the book, but if she's a good reviewer, she'll say *why* she doesn't like it, and I'll know whether or not that reason would be a deal-breaker for *me*. Sometimes I know I'd like the book for the very reason the reviewer hated it, and I'll go ahead and pick it up.

So, I guess what I'm saying is: dear authors, don't be too discouraged by bad reviews. Well-written bad reviews might get you just as many readers as the good ones.

Very very true. One of our sayings back in my publicity days was "Get reviews. Good or bad, doesn't matter."

Now it's even more important because any mention of a book increases its discoverability.

Panda in Chief cracked me up with this:
Mehitabel is jealous that other cats get to go and stay with Janet. I would send her, but she would not enjoy the plane ride, and at 20, she is not all that entertaining anymore. (Unless you think a cat yelling in your ear at 3 AM is entertaining. If that's the case, I'll pack her bags.)

You'll all be glad to know that I will be visiting the Duchess of Yowl at the end of July. (When it's a short visit, I go to her since she really does not like to travel.)

BunnyBear had asked about QueryManager (a new way to query offered by QueryTracker) but I didn't understand the question and asked for more info:

I asked if QueryManager creates a thread for requests, and Janet asked for clarification.
When you query by e-mail, the agent replies (hopefully with a request for more material), and then you reply to that reply, creating an e-mail thread. Agents like to keep track of your communications this way.

When you query using QueryManager, I assume the agent replies to you in an e-mail. If she asks for more material, do you then reply to that email with your response or does she give you a secret code to unlock the next tier of awesomeness in QueryManager where you enter your response? If it's the former, you're creating an e-mail thread and QueryManager is used only for initial queries, right?

Does that make sense?

It does make sense. And the answer is I don't know (yet!)  I haven't requested anything from the queries I've seen so far. 

I do know that the QT team is working on refining QueryManager as we speak. I've got an incoming email from him that I haven't had time to read thoroughly yet, and I think it's about this
very topic (replies etc.)

I'll keep you posted!

On Monday we celebrated the 4th and I mentioned I'd missed one question on the quiz giving to people wanting to become citizens.

Julie Weathers was first to ask
Which one did you miss?

What year was the constitution written? I answered 1789, but that was of course the year it went into effect. It was fully ratified in 1788 and written in 1787.

I think all the presidential candidates should be forced to answer these questions before being allowed to run for president:

1. How many articles and amendments are there in the constitution?
2. Name the capitals of the states

3. How does a bill become a law?
4. Name the presidents of the US, not even in order.

5. Name any three provinces in China and locate them on a map
6. Name any ten countries in Africa and locate them on the map.

7. Name the forms of government in any six European countries.

8. Name the countries in NATO.
9 Name all the countries in Central and South America.

I can hear someone saying "look the president doesn't need to know all that, s/he's got advisers for that."  but don't we want a president who at least knows his/her advisers are messing up
when they talk about missiles in Kyrgyzstan?

Speaking of people who want to be citizens, I loved this from J.F. Constantine
My grandfather, of blessed and eternal memory, who came here from Greece, would be so proud. He had to take a test with similar questions to be an American. He carried his papers in his wallet until the day he died - which is where we found them, with heavy creases from all the times he had unfolded and re-folded them. He was so proud to be an American and to live in this great country.

John Davis (manuscript) Frain said:

Colin, that last question you had on your citizenship interview pushed my mind directly to the internment camps of WWII. Internment, of course, being a euphemism for incarceration. More than half of those Japanese Americans were US citizens at the time.

I'm not educated enough on the topic, but it strikes me that the same wasn't done for Italian Americans or German Americans. Now I feel like getting more educated. Again.

Both German and Italian people were interned here in the US, including US citizens. Not on the scale of the Japanese internment, but it did happen.

and this from CynthiaMc is just perfect for the 4th:
We will be at Winter Park, Florida's Olde Fashioned Independence Day Celebration (9 am to 1 pm if you're in the neighborhood). Free hot dogs, water, watermelon, red-white-and-blue necklaces, classic old cars, horse-drawn wagon rides, and vendors selling barbecue, sweet tea, lemonade, cotton candy and just about anything else. The orchestra plays patriotic songs and the anthems of all the services and asks veterans to stand during their anthem. For a few minutes this airman will stand at attention in the scorching heat (albeit in Bermuda shorts, flip flops, and a polo shirt instead of Air Force blues) sing "Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder" (not its official name, but what we called it) in my heart and give thanks that we made it to celebrate freedom for another year. We will spot others both older and younger out of the corner of our eye standing during their anthems and afterward we will exchange handshakes and maybe years of service, squadron/platoon/command info with those next to us. We will say thank you to those older than we are, those who held the doors of freedom open long enough for us to slip through and thank the younger ones who picked up where we left off. We will look in each other's eyes, nod, probably swallow hard and we may even blink back tears.

Freedom isn't free, y'all. It comes at a very high price. But it's always worth fighting for.

And we also had the writing contest results on Monday

Dena Pawling said:
There were several this time that I didn't understand, but that's no different from any other contest for me.

Don't feel stupid Dena. There were several I didn't get either. Or, we can both feel stupid together!

On Tuesday we talked about category (an evergreen topic!)

I liked what Celia Reeves said
This reminds me of discussions we have about advising beginning college students. Most of them have only the vaguest idea of what their goals are with regard to their education or their career plans, and scream, "Just let me be myself! Why do I have to fit into your categories of majors and schools!" (Sometimes they scream this internally, but we hear it anyway, because we're awesome like that.) What's amazing is that within a few years almost all of them have found their academic home and their career path, and are moving ahead with conviction. This happens through exploration of lots of alternatives and honest assessment of their own ideals and strengths. I see the book genre/category issue the same way. Write the book you want to write, let it meander across genre lines as it will, honestly assess where it sparkles best, and in the end it will find itself, and its zebra herd.

Karen McCoy added some  valuable perspective to the "librarians know how to categorize books" statement I made:
And, I love me some librarians (I am one) but I must risk possible passage to Carkoon and share with the reef some things I learned as a selector within a 28-library system:

To start, science fiction and fantasy have very different readerships, and as such, cannot be found together in all libraries. Luckily, since most is arranged by author last name, findability isn't usually an issue.

Except when there are librarians who think that anything supernatural-like counts as science fiction.

Yes, this happened.

Yes, the system I worked for had Game of Thrones with alien science fiction stickers on them, and many catalogers decided it was too much work to fix mistakes that happened years ago because they were too busy categorizing new stuff. And no, I don't blame them. Because when there is no fantasy sticker, what do you do?

This also means that science fiction romance stories will have pink romance stickers slapped on them, which may limit readership.

And sometimes categories won't reach all age groups. For example, I couldn't label anything YA as urban fiction, as much as I wanted to, because only adult books could be labeled that way. Etc.

Unfortunately, even the best ninja selectors who choose the best categories have to accept that there is a lot of reverted stuff that cannot be corrected. And, when master decisions are made by catalogers who don't often see the front lines of how readers pick their books, their actions can often affect years of how things are categorized after that.

Please know that I am not criticizing catalogers. They are rock stars as far as I'm concerned. They often have the very difficult job of choosing where all the things go--and the decisions aren't easy, especially when a 28-library system has a diverse audience depending on the needs of each branch. Which is why executive decisions have to be made for the system overall, because otherwise, chaos.

Luckily, most novels in libraries are placed the major umbrella of "fiction," and as such, most of these problems can be avoided. This is true for Patrick Lee's
Runner which also has a subject sub-heading of Suspense Fiction. (Subject headings are a rant for another time, but in this case, the catalogers got it right.)

Okay, phew! Rant over. Sorry gang, and thanks for reading this far. I'm not saying librarians don't know their stuff--but if you're looking for stuff in libraries, chances are some of the categories might get muddled due to some of the issues listed above.

Bottom line: if it's stymieing librarians, it's no wonder it's a perplexing problem for you writers as well!

Lennon Faris asked:
Going to be devil's adv. here - doesn't everything fit into SOME kind of category? Even if it's a mix of a couple? On a basic level, the genre lets the reader (or agent) know what they're getting into. 'Commercial fiction' covers so many things in my head.

It drives me nuts when I research an agent, and this is what they say they represent.

well, sure, everything is either fiction, non-fiction or memoir.
but this is like saying something is either animal, vegetable or mineral.
That's info but sometimes what you really want to know is carnivorous or herbivorous?

When an agent says "commercial fiction" they generally mean "not literary fiction" and "not genre fiction."

Claire asked:
And how would one describe a more-literary-than-commercial novel in a query letter? 'General fiction' seems wrong. Contemporary fiction? Mainstream fiction? In some ways it seems completely unimportant, as the agent will read your pages and draw their own conclusions... yet you still need to put something.

Literary fiction.

Cheryl said:
I'm not sure I understand why the author has to specify the genre or category in the query anyway. Shouldn't it be obvious from the story? And if it isn't, won't the agent who chooses to take the author on be able to guide the author into one or the other if necessary?

I mean, if I'm not clear on whether my novel is women's fiction or non-category romance and the agent represents both, aren't I better off just not specifying in case I'm wrong?

There's a book. It's a very good book: skilfully executed, charming, and engaging all the way through. My husband found it in the SF section of the library. It could have fit equally well as a steampunk romance. It just depended on who published it. In this case, it was an SF house so that's where it ended up.

I agree with you that category is a minefield and leaving it out of the query seems like a good idea. There is a however though.

However. It's helpful to know what kind of book the author intends this to be. I expect different things from a YA novel than an adult thriller. I expect VERY different things in a middle-grade book than I do in a romance.

You'd think it would be obvious. I'm sorry to report from the front lines of the query inbox that it is not.

I had this exact discussion with several writers at ThrillerFest. Because it was ThrillerFest I thought I'd be reading queries for thrillers. Surprisingly quite a few people writing something else turned up.  It was actually pretty interesting, once we both knew that it wasn't a thriller!

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale sums this up very nicely:
It's good to be able to categorize your book one way or another. This is so you can answer the question: "Who will read this book?"

This is probably the most important question of all.

Who will buy this book? Who will read this book? Who will enjoy this book and tell their friends they need to read it?

If you're not able to assign a genre (or know which shelf in the bookstore/library it goes on), at the very least, know who will be reading it.

"For fans of Mary Robinette Kowal and Georgette Heyer."

"Frederica meets The Magician."

Sure, we want our books to land in the hands of readers; it's so important those hands are the right readers.

On Wednesday we talked about rights sales in the UK

Honest to dog we're going to need a whole new blog for the HILARIOUS writing you guyz do here. Latest entry "Spesh is missing" by Julie Weathers.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangoli asked
Dear Queen of the Reef, what exactly are open market rights?

I've wondered all night. Does this apply only to the languages a book is translated in or is it more than that. Like audio formats and other doodads.

Open market rights are the rights to SELL a book in countries that are listed as open market.
Generally North American English means  you have the exclusive right to sell in the territory  of: the United States of America, its territories and possessions, the Philippines, Canada

Generally UK territory starts with England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The publisher then includes the OTHER English language countries where they want exclusive selling rights.
If I've already said Australia is on the US publisher's open market list, I can't turn around and license exclusive rights to Australia to the UK publisher.  The UK publisher wants as much territory as he can get. So does the US publisher. Thus the brawling.

The comment trail went haywire with talk of beer, perpetuities, editors, manuscripts and all variety of wonderfully off-topic things.

In other words, just the way we like it.

On Thursday I posted a list of ten queries and why they heard no.

Colin Smith picked up on a comment that the writer had gotten both my title and my agency name wrong:

Just to prove the author isn't paying attention, my agency name and my title are wrong.

How..? Slip of the keyboard (FinePrimt), or complete facepalm (FuzzyPrint)? And your
title?? You mean they called you Ms. instead of Your Most Royal and Majestic Queen of the Known Universe? Seriously, how do you mess that up? Okay, I did accidentally mistype the name of one agent on my last querying bout, but he seemed to be forgiving of that (clearly a common error), but I was mortified when I discovered. If I hadn't been trained in the QOTKU school, I would have emailed him and apologized vociferously. As it is, I let it go. After all, the number of times people have addressed me as "Collin" (yes, even here), if I can be gracious, I had no doubt he could too. So what egregious mistake could this be that would make Our Shark of the Blogisphere bristle?

The agency name wasn't even close. He had Janet Reid Agency. And my title is not "agent"
If you want to be funny, it's Queen of the Known Universe. If you want to be businesslike it's Ms. Reid.  If you want be incorrect it's "Agent Janet"

None of that is important, and had the query been otherwise good I wouldn't have rejected just for that. It just underscored that the writer hadn't done even the slightest bit of research, and that says something about the kind of work you do. 

Rachel Erin asked
#4 brought up a question for me - I clicked on your QueryTracker link out of curiosity (no query yet, alas), and noticed that the list of genres is limited to what I imagine is the same list you have in your submission guidelines. The genre label is also required.

Is that required by the software running QueryTracker? Are you assuming that it's fine to miss the one or two great people who choose not to query you because what they think their book's genre is is not on the list? Can I classify my YA fantasy as an adventure if I use that form =) (even though I know that quests in secondary worlds are not the kind of adventure you mean)?

Just curious how that system works, and if it has constraints that might make it difficult to query as widely as possible.

I'm not sure. Some of the more detailed question about how QueryManager works have yet to be sorted out.  I don't know if that system won't let you query if you list "the wrong" category. That would be a bug for me, since I like to see everything.  It's probably considered a feature by other agents who are less clever forgiving than I about category.

Claudette Hoffmann asked:
Still confused about first line of Query: Dear Ms./Mr. Last Name? Hi First Name? Good morning First Name Last Name, Title?

Best: Dear Ms. Reid
Second best: Good morning Janet Reid

Ok, but will get you in trouble with some agents: Hi Janet

Never under any circumstances: Dear Agent

When you're uncertain of gender: Dear Janet Reid
When you're querying through an all-agency portal: Ladies/Gentlemen of the Agency

When you're talking to me at the bar: Can I buy you a drink Snookums?

Dead Spider Eye said:
Interesting list, it leaves the impression most e-mails get a full read through. I'm kinda curious about the other cases, the ones that prompt the abort switch at whatever particular point: bio, first or second para, salutation, subject line, sender. I'm supposing those don't get a 'no' just that eerie vacuum that begs augur.

I respond to everything, so no eerie vacuum of silence. Well, mostly everything. Here's a list of reasons I wouldn't respond.

Joseph Snoe said
My stomach cramps and my shoulders shrivel every time I read a post about queries.
Well, my work here is done. Tormenting writers isn't the job but it's such a great perk!

On Friday we had a writing contest for ThrillerFest and I'm really looking forward to seeing what y'all come up with.

Since I forgot to change the subheader last week, Julie Weathers' will appear this week.