Tuesday, July 22, 2014

question: how important is a querier's social media to an agent?

My question is: I am working on completing my first MS (YA fiction). I currently don't have a presence on social media. Should I start socializing electronically in anticipation of building a platform? How important is a social media presence to an agent when deciding whether to represent a new author?
You don't need platform for a novel.

Sure, it's nice if you have 10,000 friends and people are hanging on your every word, but generally that's going to happen AFTER you write Divergent, not before.

And the idea that you're "busy" on Facebook and Twitter when you're not writing is a terrible trap.  It's a trap beause you need, nay REQUIRE, fallow time. By fallow time I mean time when you're not doing anything.  Not tweeting, not reading, not driving the kids to school. Time when you're staring into space.

Sometimes this manifests as writers block and sometimes it manifests as "oh my god I can't get started" but what ever it is, you need it.  Your brain works in strange ways when it's working on writing a novel.  Not all writing is tapping the keyboard.  A lot of it is thinking. A lot of it is just dreaming.

It's one of the reasons I always advise buying a museum membership when you take up novel writing. Walking through the galleries, just looking, not thinking, not analyzing, just looking and seeing, juices up your creative spark.

So lay off the social media for now. Learn to be the very best writer you can. Once you start querying, it's time enough to make friends.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Query Question: Friends in high places

Some years ago, I wrote a non-fiction book as a work-for-hire for a book packager. It was published by Huge Trade Publisher. I worked quite pleasantly with an editor there, and she respected my work.

I have since finished my first novel. Pleasant Editor is now Executive Director of Humongous Trade Publisher. I am wondering if it would be a clever idea, or a terrible idea, to contact her and ask if she knows an agent who might be interested, or if one of her own editors might take a look. She of course doesn't acquire projects, and the publisher does not consider unagented submissions.

I'm quite sure she would remember me, but I don't know if my little plan would enhance her memory or besmirch it with excess chutzpah.

I'm not familiar with the title Executive Director. Executive editor yes, but exec eds acquire all the time.

But the key piece of info here is that the publishing company doesn't take unagented submissions, and that is essentially what you're trying to bypass. (I know you don't think so, but you are.)

In order to recommend any agent or any of her editors, Pleasant is going to have to read something about your book. And remember, it's a novel this time, not non-fiction work for hire, so you're not even asking her about something you're sure she knows much about. (Many editors at publishing houses specialize in fiction or non-fiction)

The temptation is strong to get a leg up on this querying madness, I know, but this one isn't going to help you even if Pleasant does help you.

I can't tell you the number of queries I get that say "so and so recommended I query you" and it's for a novel I wouldn't rep (or READ) in a quadrillion years. The truth is editors have no idea what agents are looking for. They only see the work we show them. Some of my closest editor friends are shocked when they hear I rep history and biography (or any non-fiction) because all they see from me are high-octane thrillers.

And of course, I get queries with "so and so said to query you" and I have NO idea who so and so is. Even when I google the person, I find I've never met them and have no idea why they would send a writer my way.

Where your connection will be of use to you is when your agent goes on submission with your novel and can call Pleasant and say "you've worked with her before, and now she's got a terrific novel."

In the meantime, start making lists of agents who rep novels and get to querying.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Query Question: diverging paths

Awhile ago my agent broke the news that she had reached the end of the road with my middle grade manuscript. It has been rejected by all of the big New York houses and their imprints, and when I asked about smaller presses she essentially said that they weren’t worth the effort (in terms of the financial payout and level of promotion), and that I’d be better off to self-publish it. Knowing myself, I’m fairly sure that the legitimacy that even a small press would give my novel would make me much more comfortable with the self-promotion I know is necessary for a book to sell. So I don’t think the self-publishing route is right for me.

I’m considering next steps at the moment. A friend suggested I query new agents. Obviously I’d have to tell them up front that the manuscript has already been rejected by the large publishers, which it seems would make 99.9% of them reject it outright (understandably so) (1). Or, I could simply go it alone and query smaller presses that accept unagented manuscripts?(2)

I've reached this point with a couple of my clients too. It's one of the worst conversations in the world to initiate let me tell you (and it's no picnic on your side of the phone either, I know.)

You're right (1) to assume most agents aren't actively looking for a used, albeit good, manuscript.  We are in business to make money and we prefer to sell to places that will give us lots of it.  Finding a new agent might not be step one here.

However, you might ask  your agent if she'll look at the contract if you sell it yourself to a small publisher.  This is what I do for my guys who've been in this situation.  (In fact, I insist on looking at every publishing contract my clients sign because I want to avoid problems down the road and some of these small publishers have contracts that make strong women weep.)

If she will, then (2) shop this puppy yourself.  You clearly know you're in for a lot of promotion and marketing work, but you are with a big publisher too.

The problem with self-publishing a middle grade book is that the buyers of these books are not the readers. Parents and teachers buy the books and it's hard to get a review in Library Journal if you're not a publisher.  It's REALLY hard to get your books in Barnes & Noble (where parents shop) if you're self-pubbed too.

If your agent won't help you with the contract you might consult this book for short term remedies.

For longer term remedies, this one is the place to start

Friday, July 18, 2014

Query: no confetti, no cake, and no bound mss.

I'm nearing the end of my agent search and it looks like I'm coming up empty. I'm already 67,000 words into my second novel so I'll be considering my first one a drawer novel. Worse things happen in the world.

My first novel is a mystery, a cozy mystery, and my second novel will be more mainstream fiction, book club fiction, women's fiction (these categories still confuse me somewhat). I would have written a long series with the first set of characters but if it's not going to sell, I'm going to move on.

My question is this: Can I "self-publish" my first novel in hard copy via print-on-demand with ~50 copies for my friends and family and still call myself unpublished? I wouldn't put it on Kindle or take out space on Goodreads or anything like that. My peeps have been so supportive of me throughout this whole process and I just want to gift them with a copy of the book (it's been professionally proofread but still would be considered a nicely bound manuscript). It's a good book even though it may not be good enough to make cash for agents in this particular market. I want to share it with my people. But I don't want to shoot myself in the foot by being one of those "who cares if you don't like it, big publishing; I'll publish it my own damn self" people. I want a traditional publishing career, even if it takes me a book or two more to get there.

If it ultimately doesn't find an agent, it's because it doesn't deserve an agent. I'll have queried every single agent repping mysteries of any kind by the time I'm completely finished. I've cast a wide net. But it is good enough for my friends and family, especially if I don't charge them for it, which I wouldn't.

Pitfalls? Draw backs? Legitimate to go ahead and commission a cover, get an ISBN, print-on-demand and move on to my next book and pretend to the marketplace like this one never happened? What say ye, oh wise Shark?

Well, the first thing to do is remember that once that book leaves your hands you have no control over what someone does with it, and I recently ran into a guy who found out the hard way that a "friend" had posted his early work for sale on Amazon.  Ooops. The early work was a manuscript he'd sent out to friends for feedback. Nice, huh?

Second, if this is a trunk novel, it belongs in a trunk, not sashaying around like a book. Five years from now you're going to look at that book and weep.  Please trust me on this. It's not that you're a bad writer, it's just this is your first book.  

Your peeps aren't expecting this and they're not going to feel slighted if you don't give them a copy of the book. In fact, if you do, all it does is create expectations that you'll do this with EVERY book, and trust me, when you get a contract, and you need sales, you want your peeps in the habit of BUYING books, not getting yours for free.

And honestly, not every event needs some sort of marker or celebration.  I still remember my father being a bit rueful about sixth grade "graduation" festivities at Sister Mary's School for Wayward Sharks.  "We expect our kids to complete the sixth grade," he said to Sister Mary.  Now, Dad did NOT feel this way about graduation from college and the tassels beyond that point.  He reserved his huzzahs for the achievements that really meant something.  Getting your first book published means something. Not getting your trunk novel published is like graduating from sixth grade.

If you absolutely insist on ignoring my advice, don't put an ISBN number on it, don't use CreateSpace, and pray your friends aren't douchecanoes. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Question: Talk about Grand Schemes!

A writer friend of mine writes adult historical fiction and has recently connected with an ex-literary agent who has offered to work with her on her query letter for $1,000.00. Honestly, I think it's nuts. My friend is a seasoned writer, highly educated, and has a firm grasp of her manuscript, query letter, synopsis, etc. She is tempted by the offer because she's been unsuccessful in garnering an agent's interest and feels this money may be well spent.

So my question is: Does this sound reasonable and fair to you? Any advice you can give would be most appreciated. As you know, the path to publication for an author is murky at best, and can sometimes cloud our judgment.

Wow, if I'd known giving advice on query letters garnered a thousand bucks a pop, think of all the dough I could have gotten from this! What are we up to now? 261?

Of course I think this is nuts. But I'm betting Miss X gets a bunch of people giving her money. She probably has to fend them off.

It's so so so beguiling to think the only thing standing between you and YES is a measly thousand dollars and The Secret Sauce of Acceptance.

I'm not going to rant too much about Miss X because if she's an ex-agent it's clear that she didn't make enough deals to keep her business afloat and is now busy making money the old fashioned way: snake oil. I feel sorry for someone who has failed at a business and has to become a literary busker.

Getting advice on your query is a good thing. Paying for it is not the problem. Paying THAT MUCH for it, and getting ONE person's opinion is.

Your writer friend is MUCH better off to use that spare thousand she's got lying around in her sock drawer to attend a writing conference (see yesterday's post) and talk to SEVERAL agents, and hit a workshop or two.

Writers who are butting up against the glacial embrace of rejection will often try everything and anything to melt the ice.  Paying this much and getting an opinion won't kill you but it's NOT the most efficient use of your resources (neither time nor money.)

I'll bet you twenty bucks and a shark bite that she does it anyway though.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Question: when should I hit a writing conference?

At what point should I, as a writer, begin dishing out the big bucks to attend conferences? It seems like, from what I've heard, they're a great place to meet agents and editors and writers I admire.

But I'm pretty far off (at least a year, if I'm being realistic) from querying. Should I wait until I'm further along in my MS to get serious about conference attendance? Or should I start laying that groundwork now?

And, perhaps more importantly, which conferences should I attend? I know about AWP and BEA. What biggies am I missing? And is there a resource for must-attend genre-related conferences (RWA*, CYA*, etc)?

Thanks again, sharko. 

Well, sharko just cracked me up completely, I may change my monogram to that.

Let's make sure you understand what a writing conference IS first, cause AWP* and BEA* ain't.
RWA and CYA are both closer to the mark but a writing conference is more like CrimeBake, or Rocky Mountain Fiction writers Colorado Gold conferencePacific Northwest Writers or Pennwriters (one of my faves!)

These conferences are focused on CRAFT more than the trade side of publishing. There are opportunities to meet and woo agents but generally these conferences offer classes and workshops and panels on how to improve your writing.

And these are the ones you want to hit before you even think of hitting anything else. For starters, you'll find some that are close to home, and for second, they aren't going to cost you an arm and leg. 

As for when to start going to conferences, I'd suggest after you finish your first book. That will be when you're thinking you're ready to query and the conference will give you some ways to analyze whether you are or (more likely) give you a whole bunch of information that makes you rethink that.

Not all conferences are good (the ones listed above are great.)  If you go to one and you hate it, it's not you, it's the conference. Try another. Ask your friends. And going WITH writing friends is a great way to get more than your money's worth from the conference. I know two writing gaggles who do that and it's always impressed me as a very smart approach to things.

*Association of Writing Programs
*Book Expo America
*Romance Writers of America
*Children and Young Adult Writers and Illustrators Conference

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Query Question: but I *am* unique

I’ve completed my first book, a memoir, and did my homework prior to writing a book proposal. I’ve read many memoirs to get a feel for style, focusing on those that are popular. I’ve studied books, websites, and blogs about how to write a good book proposal. The market analysis and complementary and competing titles sections are giving me fits. Everything I’ve read says don’t ever say your story is unique, because it’s just not true. However, I’ve honestly not found another story like mine. I’m not bragging here. After months of research, I’ve found no other book about a woman who became one of the first female forest firefighters. Plenty of books by men about firefighting exist, however most are self-published. (That leads to my second question.)

My questions: Do I dare say my book is unique, or should I just focus on published memoirs and how mine differs? Also, should I mention complementary and competing titles that were self-published?

You're mistaking what agents mean by unique.  You may have been the first female forest fire fighter, but your memoir is "first female fill in the blank."

And you are assuredly not writing the ONLY book wherein a woman is the first of something.

Thus you will not now or EVER say you haven't found a story like yours because that only says to me you haven't read widely in your category and that is a HUGE Red Flag (one might say it's a hotspot.)

Don't focus on the firefighting aspect when you look for comps. Look for "first female" and you'll have a better list.

As for what books to choose from for comparable titles:

1. Front list or within a year of publication is best. Thus, you want books pubbed in 2013 and 2014.

2. Do not use self-pubbed books unless they sold so well that editors will be impressed. Most self-pubbed books didn't.  How to tell? Well, Amazon rankings are helpful. Number of reviews on Amazon are a good indicator. When in doubt, leave it out.

3. You'll want to use books that got review attention. Good review attention is best, but BAD reviews offer a place to show why you are better/faster/stronger/hotter.   Books that have no reviews or only blurbs from authors are less useful as comps.

4. If there is a classic in your category (and in your case it's most likely Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean) you want to make sure you've read it thoroughly and can clearly state why your book belongs  on the shelf with it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Query Question: submission detritus

Dear Queen of the Known Universe (ballot write in, FTW):

As a querying writer, I now have a few literary bodies littering my wake. I've clawed my way up from silence and "Dear Author" forms to the coveted "I liked this and even smiled on occasion, but..." I didn't query my most recent book as hard as I should have. I could probably send another round or two, but I'm really close to being ready to query another project (stronger, better, faster than before). I have fulls out on my current manuscript.

My questions:

I'm ready to query the next novel VERY soon. How do I handle the fulls that are out on the previous manuscript now that I'm about ready to query the next? Patiently wait unless there's an offer of rep on the next book? (1)

I know everyone says to query one book at a time, but one of the fulls came in from a query that was six months old (Yes, really, six months on a query; my record is 18 months for a response). I don't want to rush the agent (unless there's an offer of rep, that is), but I think the agent would like my new work as well--or at least, I hope. Is there special "I've started querying a new book" protocol? (2)

In general, because the responses from queries can stretch into the distant future, what time gap do you recommend between books? Or are you a line-in-the-sand kind of gal--query one book until the day you start querying the next?

(1) No

(2) No

There are no hard and fast rules for this, BUT:

You really don't want the glacial speed of agent reading and response time setting YOUR timeline. This is your career car and you need to keep the ball rolling.

Thus, contact the agents reading the novel you have out on submission now. Say you've got a new, better, faster, stronger novel that has been known to eat agents for breakfast make strong men weep. Would they prefer to keep reading, or receive a query on the new one: that puts the ball in their court.

When I get these kinds of emails, I generally want to see the novel (or at least the query) for the better, faster, stronger work. I'm ALWAYS interested in the strongest novel you have.

Here's the pitfall with having a lot of work circulating: You don't want to query one agent for multiple novels in a short period of time. I have several clients who write VERY quickly and they can do maybe two good books a year. If you query me for more than that in a given year, I'm not impressed--I'm leery. Whether that is justified is not my concern. That I am leery is information you can use to your advantage.

I'm assuming here that all your novels are in roughly the same category. They're all crime, or all romance, or all SFF, etc.

IF you query me for six novels in six categories, I'm not leery of them. I'm blatantly put off.  I'm absolutely sure that an author can't write six good, fresh and new novels, in six categories in six years.  The reading alone precludes it.  (By reading, I mean reading enough of a given category to know the tropes, the history, what's old hat, what's hot stuff etc.)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

It's a Thrilling Saturday!

It's been a busy couple of days with clients in town for ThrillerFest.

Some highlights:

1. Sitting very very quietly at the lunch table when some very accomplished writers started talking about whether the twist in the story comes first, or after the writing has commenced.  And talking about how they organize their writing and plotting.  This is fascinating stuff to me, and I always learn a thing or ten. 

2. Looking up to see Andrew Grant walk by! He'd flown in very unexpectedly and of course, we found each other in the bar!

3. Having Dana Kaye, the most amazing publicist in the world, run down a few tips on effective Facebook and Twitter postings.  I always learn a lot from her and this was no exception.

4. Meeting Lori Rader-Day, author of THE DARK HOUR.  You'll be hearing more about her from me.

5.  Getting blog reader J.D. Horn's new book!

6. Having an entire conversation with Lee Child via semaphore across the bar!

7. Discovering that Fabulous Terry Shames really IS one of the nicest people on the planet.

8. The opportunity to visit with writer Jill Abbott.  I met Jill some years back, and actually blogged about it: 

 Write what you don't know. I recently attended a panel sponsored by the New York Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and it was interesting to me that five of the six authors had created a protagonist in their own image. That's all well and good, but I'm much more interested in the people I don't see every day. The one author who mentioned her protagonist was a Pakistani terrorist was the author I went out and bought the next day.
That story is in Queens Noir by the way.

9. The bookroom! Always a place that sucks dollars out of my wallet and this year is no exception.

So far I've bought: The Darkest Hour by Lori Rader-Day; Strange Gods by Annamaria Alfieri; Tales of the Witch by Angela Zeman; and, The Line by J.D. Horn.  And I'm not done yet!

10. And my favorite thing of all was losing my phone! I realized I'd left it someplace when I sat down to a meeting in the bar and needed to check the time.  About five minutes later publicist Dana Kaye joined me and said "you left your phone in the book room." Whew! But wait, how do you know?

Well, the bookroom people found it, and called the last number I'd dialed. Fortunately it was not anything lurid. It was someone who knew me: Fabulous Patrick Lee!  Yes, he admitted he knew me, and yes he'd tell me. But of course, he saw Dana first and mentioned it to her. She saw me first.

At the end of the meeting, clients Dana Haynes and Katy King sprinted to the book room to fetch the phone for me, as I had another meeting.

One phone: the connectivity of the Fabulosity on display.

I love my job!

Friday, July 11, 2014

more on querying widely

So, yesterday's blog post created some confusion, so I'll shout louder add to it.   Here's the response from an agent who didn't understand the point. Let's use her for the example:

So, as I read this I keep thinking I may be reading it wrong. Are you actually saying, "who cares if an agent says they do not represent X, query them anyway?"

As an agent I specialize in MG, YA, and Romance. That's it. no PB, and no other adult genres.

Let's pretend Joe is writing an international thriller. It would be an incredible waste of time-- both for me AND the writer-- to bother sending me a query. But let's say the crazy happens and for some reason I read it and request it anyway because it sounds THAT amazing, and I read the full, and I think it's the best thing since sliced bread-- why the heck would this writer WANT me to take them on? I don't know a damned thing about adult international thrillers. I could never guide this writer on how to revise cliched plot lines or overdone tropes. Sure, I could dig up some random editors I don't know and send it on over to them, but why would these editors prioritize my submission?

I really do not understand this advice, or I am just completely misinterpreting you. One of the two.

-Mandy Hubbard 

Let's look at this from a writer's point of view.  Mandy has stated her guidelines pretty clearly right?

Let's answer these questions from those guidelines:

1. Does she represent New Adult?
2. Does she represent Women's Fiction?
3. Does she represent non-fiction for kids?
4. Does she represent chapter books?

Even when an agent thinks her guidelines are clear, authors who are just learning terminology, and aren't sure of what categories mean, and do not mean, can be confused. Hell, I'm STILL unsure of what New Adult means, and I've been swimming in the Sea of Publishing for some time now.

Thus my point is this: an author should err on the side of sending a query.  If an agent goes on twitter and says "oh why did someone query me for the Wrath of Zeus when I clearly don't represent Wrath books" that's the agent's problem not the writer's.***

Writers like to gnaw themselves into frenzies over small details.  Everyone with experience in this industry knows this.

I believe it is incumbent upon those of us who deal with the newest and least skilled and most meticulous (not overlapping groups by the way) to understand that "simple instructions" and "simple guidelines" aren't always simple to the people on the other side of the email inbox.

The answer is to just say no to the queries you don't want, and try not to make writers feel stupid.

***another commenter on yesterday's post gave that example:

There are agents on Twitter who do #tenqueries pretty frequently, and many of those batches are variants on "____, I don't represent _____. Rejection" (paraphrased). I do like reading #tenqueries, I think it gives me a false sense of educating myself? Or maybe a non false sense. Though any education would pertain to that agent and that agent only, I feel.

I think we're so indoctrinated into being terrified of making a misstep and being blackballed for life, and I think social media both helps and hurts. 

Query question: how much less enticing is a second novel

I read recently on Query Shark that you feel if "it's no longer your first novel" ... then it's "less enticing." I was wondering how less enticing a second novel could be to an agent/publisher.

I published my first novel with a very small west coast press. It was nice getting published and seeing my book on (select) bookstore shelves, but my publisher was so small, their idea of book promotion was pretty much telling their friends about it.

I don't regret the publication experience (the book got a really good Kirkus Review and it sold a few copies) but I wonder: how much will my being the previously published author of a low-selling book hurt my chances of having my query letter responded to by agents?

I have a math brain (I know, strange for a writer). Can you answer in a percentage? (ie. 20% less likely).....

Also, do agents see a big difference between an author having a book published by a major publishing house (and then failing to achieve sales) and an author publishing a book with a small publisher and only reaching a small audience? (In my opinion, an agent would be crazy to hold it against an author for poor sales figures when the publishing house is small & regional)....

It's much much easier to get an editor's attention for a debut novel than it is for your Debut +N novel.
That's just a fact of the publishing world these days.

There's no way to quantify that desirability (ie no, it's not 20% less or PiRSquared less or even the cube root of Rubik's less)

When I sign an author for a book that is not debut, I have a couple tricks up my sleeve about how to position the book for pitching.  I'm not going to tell you what they are. I'm sure every agent worth her salt has a slew of them as well.

If you get an agent for the book that's one of the things you want to ask before you sign: what's your submission strategy here?  And "oh, just send it out and see what happens" is NOT the answer you want to sign with.

And yes, where that first book was published matters a lot. 

This is where you want to be very careful who you sign with. You want an agent with some real experience here. There's a lot to be said for the younger ones starting out (and more than a few started
here at the Reef) but some things come with experience and this is one of them.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Query question: Query widely or create spreadsheets from hell?

Dear Janet:

In the past you have given the following advice:

1) "It's not a waste of time if you query me, even if it's not right for me" (see: http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2010/05/youre-not-wasting-my-time.html). Elsewhere on your blog, you've said that you'd rather see a query that's not right for you than miss out the chance to represent an awesome novel--or words to that effect.

2) Do your research. If you query an agent with a genre s/he doesn't represent, that shows you haven't done your homework. (I can't cite you on this, but I know I've read it more than once.) (1)

Now, I'm picking on you, but I've seen other agents say similar things. In your humble opinion, as QOTKU, which piece of advice trumps the other? :)


(1) Not from me you haven't.
There's even a Rule for Writers about querying widely.

The longer I'm in this business the more I believe that persistence is the key to success. Not crazy persistence - you want to learn from each experience, not blindly repeat it - but measured, steady persistence.

And who cares if you've done your homework? This isn't Miss Anthrope's English class. This isn't going on your permanent record. So what if you query me for a picture book? The very worst thing that's going to happen is I answer you with a form rejection. If that sends you in to a tizzy, you need a new line of work. If that sends me into a tizzy on Twitter, well, I just needed to vent and now that Brooks Sherman has escaped my clutches, I vent to you not him.

That said, there is something to the idea that you should only query agents you're actually willing to work with, which presupposes you've done some kind of homework on them, or met them at a conference, or have friends who are repped by the agent.

Increasingly though, I'm less patient with my colleagues who behave as though writers are intruding on them by querying, or by querying for the wrong category or something they don't rep.  Writers are not beggars. We aren't more stressed or more busy than any of them.   There are enough things we have to ask of queriers (no attachments, no phone calls, write an enticing query) that adding more hoops seems both unnecessary and a bit patronizing. 

Query widely and damn anyone who says different.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Question: Querying while in the middle of a contest

I have one of those "how to include relevant info in a query without sounding like a loon" question. Basically, the MS I am working on was picked as a finalist in a contest run by a major publishers. The contest prize is an e-book deal with this publisher's new imprint. I'm to submit the complete MS to them by September 1 (right now they have only seen the first 50 pages and a pitch) and I want to query the project around that same time. The contest results are supposed to go out later that month.

My question is, how do I convey the situation to agents? It's not at all the same as telling the agent I have an offer on the table (I don't--more like a 1 in 10 shot at an offer) or that my work was simply recognized in a contest. In fact, I'm a little worried that the contest stipulations would be a turn-off to agents (the deal is e-book only with a very, very conservative advance, and I'm not sure if there's any room for negotiation in the event that I do win). To complicate things further, the timing of all this is such that I probably won't hear back from some of the agents on my list until after the contest results are out. Should I just wait until that happens before even attempting to query?

What's the best way to go about this?

There's one piece of information you left out, and I really hope you know the answer: if you win the contest are you required to publish the book there? In other words: can you decline the prize?

If you can decline the prize; query as you would normally, and wait to see what happens. If you win, and you're in the middle of querying you email the agents you've queried with the news.

If you CAN NOT decline the prize: you wait to query till the contest is done. 

Here's why:  If you query me and I fall in love with your manuscript only to find out that you've won the contest and there's no place else I can submit the work, you've locked me in to a small advance and most likely a not-very-favorable contract.  I'm less likely to say yes to that than I am if you've got the option of saying no and I can shop the manuscript more widely and perhaps get you a better deal.

If you're good enough to win a competitive contest, you're probably good enough to get some attention the old fashioned way too.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Query Question: querying under multiple names

A recent post about using pen names struck a cord with me.

I have two very near complete mss. One is Sci-fi time travel (97k), the other is Other world adventure (85k).

The third ms I have outlined is a 1920's nautical adventure with no Sci-fi elements ( It could be set in another world easily). And I have a completely written, rough draft non-fiction ms about packing up a family, moving to Europe, and renovating a old stone house(75k.) (It would be under my name and my wife's name.)

Would it be wise to shop the last two under a pen name?

I know I'm putting the cart before the horse, but I'm trying to work to my strengths. (Especially as I have no cart or horse at this point.)

I love writing and will continue writing Sci-fi. But the other two projects. I felt had to be written.

You're going to shop ONE ms at a time.

You're going to shop it under ONE name. If it's a pen name, so be it.

Once you secure representation, you'll discuss pen names for work in other categories with your agent. You will adhere to his/her advice.

You're harnessing a cart to a horse you don't have right now, as you wisely point out.

You're doing this instead of writing.

You're doing this because it's easier to fret about a problem you don't have than it is to fix that stupid plot point on page 269. Back to work bucko. That horse is getting impatient.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Query question: illustrations! Drawings! Art!

I'm writing sci-fi/fantasy. An artist friend has offered to illustrate the manuscript with b/w line drawings. Maps and illustrations. He's pretty good, he's been a NY professional illustrator for 30 years and makes a living at it.

My question is whether agents are likely to appreciate this effort? Or do they tend to think all such things are in the domain of the publisher, and they're only interested in the words?

Unless you are submitting a graphic novel or a picture book, you don't send illustrations with a query. For starters, illustrations would have to be attachments and most agents specifically say "do not send attachments" with a query.

Secondly, most SFF books are not illustrated. Illustration adds to the cost of book production, and most publishers are trying to keep costs low, particularly if you are debut novelist.

Third, you haven't mentioned money, but unless this artist friend is a Very Good Friend, and or your spousal unit, the question of making money from his/her art and not compensating him/her is going to be tricky.

Here's what you do: you say thanks, and mean it, for a kind and generous offer. Then say you know you can only send text in a query but if the opportunity arises, you'll be honored to mention this offer to the publisher.

This kind of offer of help happens a lot to writers at the query stage. Well-meaning friends and family want to help but they don't know enough about how publishing actually works to offer usable help.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Query Question: did my query get lost?

This is one of those neurotic writer questions(1), but . . .

I queried a brand-new agent the day she announced she joined her agency. This was almost three months ago now. I never heard anything back and assumed she had a "no response means no" policy.

Except then I was reading her blog today and saw that she promises a response to every query. Is it realistic for someone to be backlogged for three months on one day's worth of queries? (2)  Or is it common to answer them out of order? (3)

This is further complicated by the fact that we know each other personally - we live in the same city and attend the same writer's group. We don't know each other well, but well enough to say hi at meetings and whatnot. I haven't been to a meeting since (for other reasons), but I'm dithering about what to do.

Do I wait longer? (4) Say something next time I see her in person? (5) Email her and ask if she hates me so much she broke her "always respond" policy for me? (Just kidding on that last one.) (6) What do I say? (7)

(1) This is not a neurotic question. Trust me. At this point in my career I can spot a neuroses at 20 paces in .5 font.

(4) No
(5) NO
(6) NOOO (I know you said you are kidding, but all jokes are based on truth!)
(7) here's what you say:

Dear Agent (please put her name here)

I queried you on (date) I appreciate your commitment to answering all your queries. I haven't heard back so I'm resending my query now.


Thank you for your time and consideration.

Bonus content:  here's where you make sure that you don't have any weird things in your email like fancy sig lines that often convert to jpgs and thus get flagged as spam, or that you're sending from an email that doesn't sound like an invitation to a more intimate encounter than you intended.

I too am committed to replying to every query but there are some exceptions.  Here's my list.  I'm about ready to add another item:

11. Did you call  me on the telephone because you'd been "referred" by another agent, and when told you needed to query, sent an email saying "you sound like a fantastic prick" on the phone, thinking, I'm sure that it was a compliment?

Yes? Your query was deleted and your email address marked as spam.
No? Go to #12

Friday, July 04, 2014

I love Otter!

I love Otter so much! Of course, I'm on Otter's email list. And look what came in the mail this week!

Summer Reading Instructions

It's nice weather at the moment, so Teddy and I have been spending a lot of time in the garden reading. I like to be helpful, so I thought it would be a be a good idea to make this chart explaining how to get the most from your garden reading experience. I was going to write a story to explain things, but I have to go back to reading.... 

What a great start to the day. You can subscribe here!

I'm not sure if my favorite part is pig with the toast, or that Otter herself is reading about toast!
I guess I'll just have to keep looking!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Query Question: who are you to write this book?

In researching agents to query, I'm coming up against one question (in multiple forms) that stumps me. It runs something like this: Who Are You To Write this Book? [Mind you, this is not for a work of serious non-fiction where questions of platform and profession come into play, nor for a work of literary fiction, for that matter]. I'd like to answer, "I'm a Great Liar, and all works of fiction require it," but I don't think that would be advisable. My mind jumps to JK Rowling. Who was she? I'm guessing she didn't list broom-flying as a prerequisite.

I'm bristling at the question and I think it's because I'm not really understanding what these agencies/agents are trying to get at. (BTW, the question was separated from another question regarding previous publication, so I've ruled out: What Proves you can get Published, as subtext).

Well, I'm not even the right person to answer this question cause I think asking someone for their credentials to write a novel is idiotic.  And yes you can quote me.

I'm not sure Patrick Lee has ever been to North Dakota or Alaska, but THE BREACH sure didn't need his travel credentials to be a fascinating page turner.

I'm pretty sure Jeff Somers drinks like Avery Cates but I'm hoping he's not as well versed in weapons as Cates: The Electric Church didn't need a gun club membership credential to be a fascinating page turner.

I know Sean Ferrell has not invented a time travelling raft, and yet, there he is with MAN IN THE EMPTY SUIT.

I'm really hoping Stephanie Jaye Evans didn't club anyone to death on a golf course, as "credentials" for writing FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH.

It's fiction. You get to make it up.

If an agent asks why you're the right person to write your novel, the only real answer is "it's my novel, who else is going to write it?"

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

What my lo-mein disaster taught me about your revisions.

One fine day I decided to make lo mein. I'd never made it before but I'd liked it just fine from our local Chinese take out. The place I liked best closed up, right after a rash of murders of delivery men , killed for the cash in their pockets and the lo-mein in their white take out bags

I'd tried other places, but nothing seemed very good. So, I was off Chinese food for a couple years.

Then the yen for lo-mein hit and I figured, what the hell how hard can it be. You'll recognize that as Famous Last Words, right along with "here, hold my beer!" and "hey honey, do you know where I left the bear trap?"

Undaunted, I went to google, typed in "lo mein recipe" and found this:

12 ounces angel hair pasta
16 ounces mixed vegetables (sugar snap pea variety is what I used)
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

1/2 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

And of course, it helped that the recipe was called "super easy lo mein" cause I'd never made it before and anything super easy sounded like a good place to start.

So I ordered hoisin sauce for my next Fresh Direct delivery and right after Mr. Direct drove away, I commenced to cooking. I was really rather pleased with myself trying something new and particularly something new that included … hoisin sauce? (I tasted it first, rather timidly but it turned out to be pretty good.)

Of course, I made a lot. I like to make extra so I don't have to cook when I crawl through the door at night after a long day of crushing hopes and dreams and generally making writers miserable.

(Wait, that's really just a perk of the job, I don't get to do it all day. Some minutes I have to eat cupcakes and make sure the Query Blacklist is au courant. But I digress)

And when the lo mein was ready I got out my shark bowl and chopsticks and dove in.

And holy fucking moly it was the WORST thing I'd tasted since I don't know when. Maybe since I ate soap on a dare in nursery school.

It was flat, bland and such a disappointment. If the sea weren't already in danger of being too salty from shark tears***, I would have wept.

Plus now I was HUNGRY! I made a chicken sandwich, and reminded myself there was ice cream if the day got worse and retired to kvetch about this mishap on Twitter:

And sure enough a couple people did.

And were kind enough to send recipes.

Here's one of them:


2 tablespoons (2 turns around the pan in a slow drizzle) vegetable or wok oil
1 cup (2 handfuls) snow peas, halved on a diagonal

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into match stick size pieces
1/2 pound assorted mushrooms (shiitake, straw, enoki, or oyster), coarsely chopped, if necessary

4 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
2 cups (about 4 handfuls) fresh bean spouts

2 inches fresh ginger root, minced or grated with hand grater
4 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound lo mein noodles or thin spaghetti, cooked to al dente and drained well

1/2 cup aged tamari soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, several drops

 I stare at this recipe for a couple minutes, and the light goes on over my head.

This new recipe has only one crucial difference.

Can you spot it?

It's oil. Oil gives most recipes their flavor AND brings out the flavor in other ingrediants.  The first recipe doesn't  have any. I hadn't noticed cause I'd never made lo mein before and I wasn't thinking "hey, what does this recipe need that it doesn't have."

So, I sautéed some shallots and some mushrooms in some olive oil cause I didn't have toasted sesame oil (but I sure ordered it quick from my honey pie Fresh Direct) added the Terrible Lo Mein and presto redemption. There's nothing olive oil, shallots and mushrooms won't improve.

Well, except ice cream. And coffee… ok, there's a lot of things it won't improve but lo mein is one thing it surely does.

Now, I can hear you asking "hey SharkForBrains, this is, as usual!, all about you. When do we get to ME. Specifically when do we get to how this dinner disaster is going to help me with my novel."

Ok, here it is.

When you're writing your first novel (or maybe novelS) you're making lo mein for the first time. You've READ novels, and loved them (I hope!) but you haven't actually written the 95,000 words that make a novel yet. So you do. And you read it and you know…it's not quite right. But not quite right isn't the same as knowing what's wrong.

This is where a good crit group comes in. A second set of eyes, much like my second recipe, can often help you spot what you don't know is MISSING. It's easy to point out errors on the page, but it's MUCH harder to point out what ISN'T there.

And if you don't have a good crit group, this is where reading the top authors in your category can be really helpful. Read them with a writer's eye. Try to see what they have that you don't. It's not as simple as analyzing a list of ingredients but the principal is the same. Find what isn't there in your book. Once you know, you can add it, or as I will be doing this weekend, starting over on a whole new lo mein adventure.


Tuesday, July 01, 2014

You're invited to a party! Tonight!

Missing this party will be

Please join us on Tuesday, July 1 from 6-8pm
at the Mysterious Bookshop
58 Warren Street, NY NY

to help Lee Goodman launch
his debut novel.

Beer, wine and snacks!

 Publisher's Weekly
In Goodman’s stellar first novel, a legal thriller, 53-year-old federal prosecutor Nick Davis is beguiled by Cassandra Randall, an attractive birdwatcher who happens to have witnessed a surreptitious burial in an unnamed state park that could be in New England. Cassandra guides the authorities to the site, where they unearth the body of a young man, who turns out to be “a shy and likable kid who was selling pot to pay his college tuition.” More deaths follow. Nick, who heads the criminal division of his district’s U.S. Attorney’s office, turns for help to such distinctive supporting characters as his world-weary FBI agent friend, Chip d’Villafranca, and colleague Upton Cruthers, his probable successor if Nick gets a Circuit Court judgeship. A “rotten summer” of killings turns into a bitter autumn of self-doubt for Nick, who wrestles with both the prosecutor’s sin, failure of objectivity, and the defender’s, failure of loyalty. Nick knows that he must hold fast to the law, until he learns the cost.

"Lee Goodman has created characters we care about deeply; when he puts them through the wringer, we feel their pain. Add to this a compelling insider's look at prosecution and law enforcement, language that sings, a stunning series of plot twists, and the result may well prove to be the outstanding debut novel of the year."
  —William Kent Krueger, Award-winning New York Times bestselling author
 of the Cork O'Connor series

"Lee Goodman is a rare find in a crowded field: a talented writer who knows the true intricacies and ironies of the American criminal litigation system.  Before reading INDEFENSIBLE, be sure to put on your helmet and fasten your 5-point harness.  You're in for a wild ride."
--Walter Walker

Monday, June 30, 2014

Effective word of mouth promotion

Word of mouth is your single most effective tool for book promotion.

Sometimes I get the feeling that authors think word-of-mouth means talking about their book, or retweeting what other people say about their book.

That's NOT effective word of mouth promotion.  Here's an example of what is.

Earlier this week I was on the phone with a client. We were talking about what she'd been doing recently and she casually mentioned she'd driven down to SomplaceElse to attend a book signing.

"Oh!" said I, always eager to hear what my clients are reading. "Whose?"

"Andrew MacRae. He's published by a very small press but it's a charming book."

"Aha," said I, tapping on my keyboard. "Murder Misdirected?"

Yes indeed that's the book. And my client had gone to Andrew MacRae's reading because he'd come to hers and was a long time fan.

I bought the book.
I read it on the subway, and finished at my favorite place to read these days: the SudsYerDuds Reading Room.

And now I'm telling you about it. That's word of mouth promotion.

Word of mouth is other people talking about your book. I've never met Andrew MacRae. I wouldn't know him if he picked my pocket or sold me a copy of Wilkie Collins The Woman In White (when you read the book, you'll get those references.) I bought it because my client liked it.

And she went to his reading cause he'd been a fan of hers.

The way you build word of mouth is by making friends with authors and the best way to do that is support them. Buy their books, attend their events, like their FaceBook pages, tell them on Twitter you like their books.

Word of mouth is a LONG TERM strategy.  You can't start on pub day. You really can't start on pub YEAR.  It's something you build slowly, relentlessly over time.

By relentlessly I mean ten minutes a day, every day. Nothing is MORE ineffective that a blat of tweets, or likes followed by radio silence.


Oh and buy the book here

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Last week one of our finalists revealed the contest had been a nice diversion as she battled a crud that left her abed. Clearly we needed another round to get her on the road to recovery!

Herewith the results of the Get Well Soon Writing Contest!

Glad to see that someone recognizes how things really are:
Craig 9:00pm
"A flash fiction contest by the QOTKU is it own particular brand of evil."

Special recognition for a great line:
Terri Lynn Coop 9:09pm
"I pointed to my rank insignia. "Explain it to the birds.""

Amy Schaefer  11:03pm
 Wicked Stepmother Booby Hatch

french sojourn 4:03am
“The Karaoke for Christ Quartet?”

Kastie 7:31pm
The monofilament lines of a dew-covered spider web are evil only to the fly.

CarolynnWith2Ns 7:43pm
"hay stalks whiskered up through the snow."

Special recognition for entries that were deeply disturbing!
Colin Smith 9:07pm

Nikola Vukoja 9:23pm

M. A. Nicholson 10:00pm 

Alexandra (Ola) Jacunski 8:49am

ashland 6:47pm

Special recognition for entries that were downright hilarious!
Katharine Manning 9:36pm

Sisi 10:34pm

Amy Schaefer  11:03pm

french sojourn 4:03am

boblozzia 10:48am

Lenny Liang 12:06pm

Gorgeous example of why the Antagonist thinks he's the hero of the story!
James Ticknor 12:50am

Special recognition for unusual form and style ( a Very Good Thing!)
Curt David 8:41am

Special shout out to the my  "lettuce is the devil"comrade in steak:
Travis Erwin 10:00am

Special shout out to Gregory Shipman 6:37pm
Welcome back!

And here are the  five semi-finalists

(1) El El Piper (our guest of honor!) 10:17pm
 Mum was packing.
“I’m hungry,” Brother sniffed the corners of our nest. “When they stop moving, can we nibble?”
“No, it’s a virus,” Mum scurried, nervous. “When humans blush like cheese rind and moan and stiffen, we leave.”
Then, I heard the music. A Flute. Swinging in low, luscious tones and rising to the skies in a delicate trill.
I scampered to the door. Just to see, to smell that melody. Sweet as cupcakes.
“Girl!” Mum screeched. “Close your ears to that evil!”
The piper danced away, trailing a squealing, monochromatic cape.
Brother ran past me, and I followed.

(2) Jared X 12:48pm
 It’s a stupid breakup song. I wanted a retro sound so I recorded it analog, in mono. Even that couldn’t mask the cloying melody and blush-worthy rhymes. After it spread like a virus among the kids and their parents, these details no longer mattered.

Dissenters coopted it for their demonstrations, the Family took notice. In my corny lyrics, they heard evil intentions against their regime. They called me a pied piper and placed me under arrest.

Now soldiers drag me into the Square with millions watching. They’ve promised me leniency if I read the confession they wrote.

I start singing.

(3)  JD Paradise 12:58am
It's an evil virus does no one good. Me, I've always favored preparedness; if there's a piper to be paid, I want my cashback bonus *and* my change. And so years before the world bled down from monoculture to emptiness, I found myself a cabin, food, weapons, a blushing bride. (Though it might have been the beatings turned her rosy pink.)

Six years gone, I haven't seen a soul in months. Could be I'm the last. Certainly the missus hasn't made a sound.

I remind myself I've never been happier.

So why do I feel so alone?

(4) Claudia H Gruy 5:22am
The words rumbled like honey over fidgeting ants.
It was easy to shut out the evil when the world inside was so much quieter. And peaceful. There hadn’t been much peace on the outside. Life tended to deliver joy on swords point these days, edging the virus deeper into the soft tissue of the rock beating inside her chest.
It was better that way.
“Are you even listening, Mother?”
She blushed and nodded at the piper. His monologue drifted and settled on the aged pictures on the mantle.
Maybe it was time to advance in her dementia again.
She smiled.

(5) Aerisa 8:28am
Kara blushed as the piper stepped from the stage. He had watched her all night and now came towards her with delightful purpose in his step.

She glanced at her husband, checking the devil hadn’t noticed, but he was preoccupied with the kimono-clad virus, scribbling a number onto his palm.

Kara smiled at the piper. His eyes burned into her as the final obstacle of people stepped aside. She looked from his face to his chest, trailing down to his dog. Her mind froze. His dog? Her heart sank and she let the blind man pass.

And here are the finalists:

(1) River Cameron 10:05pm

“Ewww, he’s so-“

“…beautiful. The most beautiful-“

“…dork! He makes me-“

“…blush. I see her and I turn red, go-“

“…ballistic! In music class I wish he’d sit with the pipers and leave me-“

“…wanting to be near her. Does that make me-“

“…vomit. He’s like a virus; mono but worse! Why doesn’t he get-“

“…lost in her eyes, the way she tilts her head when she’s-“

“…vile! What does he think-“

“…she’s talking about? You think she’s-“

“…evil to SUGGEST he likes me. You think he likes me? Like, really likes me? You think he-“

“Heard every word? Yes.”

(2) Jenni Wiltz 10:11pm 
“Evil is its own reward,” said the grand duchess.

“I don’t know,” the executioner said. “I kind of like getting tips.”

The chopping block gleamed, stained with the virus of discontent. How clever of her enemies to hide it in their monochromatic blood. “Did I miss anyone?”

“No,” the executioner mumbled. “But this fell out of the last victim’s pocket.” He held up a sack of coins.

“Cash back bonus!” A blush of satisfaction bloomed in the duchess’s cheeks. “Now, call that piper, will you?”

The executioner sighed. “Everyone here gets paid but me.”

(3) donnaeverhart.com 6:58am
The blush of dawn came and summer stretched before them, along with the thought of endless, monotonous hospital treatments.

She watched a sandpiper scurry after a crab, one hand over her chest where evil grew, virus like, insidious.

She said, “Promise?”

He nodded, “Promise.”
Helpless, he watched her grow weaker, until one day, she said, “Today.”

He carried her to the beach, waded in and lowered her down.

She struggled, only a little, but he could see her smiling through his tears.

Later, the doorbell rang, interrupting his anguish.

He answered, and the doctor said, “I’ve made a horrible mistake.”

(4) shtrum 12:00noon
Broken shell and yolk lay scrambled on the ground.
“I don’t get it. Humpty wasn’t evil,” Cinderella said. “BTW. Thanks for switching genres to investigate this, Mr. Holmes.”
Sherlock adjusted his monocle. “Always willing to attend to an attractive lass.” Cinderella blushed.
Dopey leaned over the mess. “Careful, lad,” Sherlock cautioned. “Mr. Dumpty frequented the Smurf house. Wouldn’t want you catching a virus.”
“Was he pushed?” Cinderella asks.
The dwarf reaches down, then holds up something round and shiny, like a flat bowl. Sherlock points to it with his pipe.
“No, madam. He was pied. The mark of the Piper.”

It's always very hard to choose a winner from such varied entries. Whether to recognize innovative style and form, or twisty endings, or just gorgeous prose...impossible to choose.

But this week, I decided that the two entries that drew gasps from me, literally, when I finished reading the entry would be the winners.

I gasped with shock at the last line in the donnaeverhart.com 6:58am entry.

And I gasped with laughter at the last line in the shtrum 12:00noon entry.

Donna and Shtrum if you'll email me your mailing address and the kind of books you like to read I'll send you your prize for winning this week's contest.


Thanks to everyone who entered. It's always a delight to read your work!

And get well soon El El Piper!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Get Well Soon Writing Contest

One of the blog readers has been laid up for four weeks+ with a "temporary and not too serious" illness and just happened to mention that last week's contest "provided some great entertainment!"

That sounds like a darn good reason to have another contest this weekend.

Usual rules:

Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

The story should contain these words:


The whole word must appear le in the story. It can be part of a larger word but not divided: monopoly but not Mon Oncle Henri'. Proper names are fine, but you should be aware that using the prompts as proper names is viewed as slacking off by the beady-eyed malcontent who judges these little bouts of blood sport.

Post the story in the comments section of THIS blog post.
If you need a mulligan, a do-over, delete the comment and repost.

Don't post anything but entries: no comments, no kudos, no questions, no opinions. Those
get deleted. 

ONE entry per reader.
International entries are allowed but the prize might change if we have to order from Book Depot.

Contest will open today June 27 at 9pm (Eastern Shark time)
and run for 24 hours.

Contest closes Saturday June 28 at 9pm.

Don't wait till the last minute in case you have problems posting!

If you have questions, tweet to me @Janet_Reid

NOT YET! Contest opens Friday at 9pm. 
ohhh...too late! Contest closed at 9pm Saturday 6/28.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Query Question: talking about your ex-agent

Dear Selachimorpha Maximus (1),

Two years ago I accepted an offer of representation from a well-established NYC agency. I had recently made the final 10 in my category for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, out of something like 10,000 total entries. Fun and surprising times.

After working with the agent for about 9 months, we realized we were on two different paths with the manuscript. I was writing historical fiction; he was hoping to shape it into a genre thriller. In itself this wouldn't have been a problem. I enjoyed trying a different style. But when an editor friend at BigAss Publisher pointed out that this agent was suing a former client, and that they hadn't sold anything in a couple of years since the lawsuit, I decided to look for representation elsewhere.

I first terminated my existing representation agreement, then plunged into the querying process again. (Worth noting that I parted with my former agent on great terms and he left the door open for me. Quite classy.) Fast-forward to the present. I've got a second manuscript now and I've been fortunate to have requests for the series.

At what point, if ever, should I share the details of my previous agency relationship? I can't help but wonder if agents talk about prospective clients, and if so, I suppose I'd want to control the message about why I left my previous agency.

Well, sure we talk about prospective clients all the time. In the office, to our colleagues. But if you mean do I call up Her Slitheriness Barbara Poelle to dish the dirt on prospective clients, the answer is no. For starters, Barbara is the most discrete person in publishing and if a client's hair were on fire, she'd have gotten the extinguisher out, called 911, wrapped up an auction and called for a hairstyle
consult without mentioning a word of it to anyone, even if she was on the phone to me whilst this
was happening.

Mostly what I talk about with other agents are the problems we're all dealing with. Queriers are not problems generally.

The ONLY time I will ask another agent about a prospective client is if there are red flags. Red flags are things like: six agents in six years for six books.  Red flags are: "my agent dropped the ball" or "didn't understand me."  Even then it's just to check that my cautionary feelings are correct. A consult, so to speak.

Here's how you query when you have parted from your former agent:  You query the new project and in the query you say "I was previously represented by Harry Hirsute, but have since parted amicably. The book was not sent on submission."

We can read between the lines on that.

And rest assured that this happens a lot more than you think.  I've got at least six or seven clients who had agents before they came to me. Some of them were pretty good agents too.

(1) Yea, I had to look that one up, too.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Query question: commission structure

I checked your blog to see if you had already answered this question, but I didn't see it there. I was wondering about the rationale for the difference between agent commissions for domestic vs foreign licensing or sales. I've typically seen 15% domestic, 20% foreign. That's standard, yes?

I'm sure there's a perfectly rational reason (or even a few reasons) for that difference. I'm just curious to know what it is. I'm not in the agenting biz, so what might be obvious to an agent, isn't obvious to me. I'm not even sure if I've used the correct terminology here, but I know you're smart and very likely to get what I'm asking.

Related to that, as a writer in the USA, it would seem I'd put myself at somewhat of a financial disadvantage by querying agencies abroad (I've queried some in the UK and Canada), though a couple did have associates or partner agents in the states. I'm curious about how the presence or absence of some kind of partner agent in the US might help or hurt me in the long run with regard to a foreign agency's commission. Do they have US partners in order to get around this issue, and encourage foreign writers to approach them?

Yes, that's standard: 15% domestic, 20% foreign. Here's how that works: when I sell your ms to a US publisher, I get 15% commission. THEN, when I trot your manuscript out overseas, my co-agent in CloudCukooLand gets 10% and I get 10% (total 20%) on the deal.

If I sell your manuscript to a UK publisher first, and directly, (ie not using a UK co-agent) I take 15%. Subsequent sales in around the world for translation deals are 10% me, 10% co-agent.

It's the presence of the co-agent that bumps the commission to 20%.

If you query agents in the UK you'll still pay 15% (I believe that's the standard there as well) on deals that don't rquire a co-agent. Most UK agents who sell in the US market do so directly.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Query question: character names for M, Alex

 I've heard that having two character names that start with the same letter is a "no no."

Should I consider a name change for my characters if one is a 30-something black man named Marcus and another is a 10-year old white child named Molly?
The question isn't if they are two characters, but two MAIN characters. Marcus and Molly as the two main characters isn't bad, but Mike and Mark, Tim and Tom, Harry and Henry...not so much.

These are little things I tend to notice when I read a manuscript, and if I notice it, it's probably something I'd suggest be changed in revision notes I send.  It's not a deal breaker at the submission stage cause it's so easily fixed.

I have a client who shall remain nameless who at one point sent me a manuscript with two characters named Tom. And then there was the other one with two countries named Smog and Smogg I think.  Fortunately, said client has learned to accept editorial notes with a minimum of hair tearing and garment rending, although he does seem to post this a lot:


Monday, June 23, 2014

Question: the query process is going so well I gotta shout from the rooftops!


I've got a this-never-happens number of full manuscript requests - more requests than rejections. And I started out shooting for the stars, so these agents asking for fulls have some pretty awesome clients. Even got a revise and resubmit.

My question is I want so badly to brag about who's reading my manuscript right now and I'm not sure how much it's okay to tell the world. It seems bad form to post details like names and such on my blog, so I've stuck to telling my friends and family.

I know it's often bad PR to detail the querying process and whine about all the rejections, but what about when you want to celebrate these successes as you wait and cross your fingers for an offer? Should I stick to hinting that I've sent out full manuscripts, or can I say how many are out right now? Because I can't imagine agents would really want people knowing when they're reviewing a manuscript.

And I know you don't tell agents who else you've queried, or who else has the manuscript, but when I get to that point where I've got an offer and have to give the other agents with the manuscript the heads up, is there a point where I should be telling them how many other manuscripts are out there, etc?

And in the unlikely scenario that should I end up with a my-diamond-shoes-are-too-tight problem of fielding more than one offer, would you recommend asking to see the contract first, before deciding, or would that be rude, leading an agent on by getting them to send you a contract? Would you rather an author be blunt and say they've got multiple offers?

I'm delighted to hear that you're getting more requests for fulls than rejections. That's a terrific place to be in the query process and I hope you enjoy it to the fullest.

NONE of this goes on your blog, or on Twitter, or on Facebook. NONE.  

You share this good news with your crit group, your very close friends and family. And you do so in moderation.

The reason you do this is cause, while I don't want to rain on your parade, requests are not offers; offers are not sales; sales are not careers.  In other words, store up this joy for the long haul. You'll need it come winter, and trust me, George RR Martin was talking about publishing when he said "winter is coming."

The other reason is you don't want to create too much expectation on your blot/twitter/Facebook.  You start yammering about this now, and two weeks from now people will want to know when they can buy the book.  Don't squander your joy by spreading it out far and wide. Hang on to it; hold it close.

Keep up the good work, and keep mum.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

FaceOff Writing contest results

Here are the results for the FaceOff Writing contest.  As always the range and quality of the work is amazing. We had a lot of entries too, which is always fun!

GREAT use of the word prompts:
Joel Freiburger 9:08pm

One thick stripe of cranberry on the headstone. No-frills burial, surname only: Parker. Cheap as a stepchild’s. Freshest grave of the lot, hazy green in my scope’s viewfinder. Night vision changed the game for a cemetery caretaker like me.
Welcome to the fucking 21st century, grave robbers.
Rustling in the shadows. A cupped flashlight beam.
I stayed back until a shovel broke ground.
“This corpse had scle
roses,” I said. “Gotta cut off the fingers for the rings.”
Scared the chocolate out of him. But he knew the deal.
I marked each new arrival, he did the harvesting. 50/50 profit.

El El Piper 11:05pm
“She went to parker car. Can you help me finder?”

Great turn of phrase
Dan 9:53pm
"bad news riding shotgun"

Deliciously creepy entries!
River Cameron 9:36pm

Steve 11:33pm

Lenny Liang 12:49am

Karen McCoy 3:49pm

Naomi 5:48pm

Deliciously meta
Steven 1:04pm

Jay 8:28pm

Deliciously subtle
Hilary Cusack 11:44pm

Donnaeverhart 8:10am

And of course, I always enjoy a good sharkscapade!
Dena Pawling 12:35am

Utterly surreal
CarolynnWith2Ns 10:20pm

I have no idea what this is but the voice is riveting
Mr Christmas Closet 7:17am

Semi- Finalists (listed in chrono order)
(1) Steve Forti 9:28pm

Parka, not parker. Not everything I say is with a Boston accent, you know.” Sandra rifled through the closet until she spied the rose colored coat, then dug through its pockets. “And where the hell is my snozzberry Chapstick?”

Della smirked and puckered loudly, the slim tube caressing her lips. “
Finders, keepers.”

Sandra dove across the room and tackled her sister off the bed, wrenching the balm from her.

“Ow! Don’t be such a

Sandra shrugged. “You are what you eat.” Zipping up her parka, she slammed the gingerbread door behind her and trudged out into the snow.

(2) Sisi 9:51pm
I counted the child’s breaths as his chest rose and fell, inhale, exhale, strong and steady. He was safe with me. I was strong and steady. He squirmed, a slight frown marring his sleeping face, and I forced myself to relax my grasp on his fragile arm.

I tucked his well-loved bear under the blanket with him after deciphering the faded blue letters on the bear’s collar. Mayberry. He wrapped his arm around Mayberry without opening his eyes. The boy didn’t come with a name tag so I called him Parker, after the place we met.

I smiled. Finders keepers.

(3) Dan 9:53pm
The fair-haired child placed the rose atop the cop's grave. Her chubby hand curled around my fingers, sticky from the strawberry she had at lunch, discovered in our garden.

The rose had also come from the garden, where we had been happily puttering when the cruiser pulled up, bad news riding shotgun. Forget that old line about finders keepers. There were only losers and weepers today.

Officer Parker Selby was dead. This little girl was all I had left of him. Together, we would survive. And in 19 years, three months and six days, we would have our justice.

(4) Calorie Bombshell 10:31pm
It wasn’t quite the reunion show the late Dick Clark had envisioned.

“Axl Rose is in Paradise City until November. Rain forest jungle retreat.”

“What about Chuck Berry?”

“A definite no. Said Clark would be rolling over in his grave.”

“Who are you going to call next?”

“Ray Parker, Jr. Sang “Ghostbusters.”

“Tell him to wear the proton pack and bring some marshmallows. Look, you’re the brainchild of this Rock’n Roll Death Match. We need someone who doesn’t mind getting a little bloody.”

“How about Alice Cooper.”


"Long hair. Makeup. Rips heads off chickens."

“Perfect. A girl. Go finder.”

(5) Christina Seine 10:54pm
Mama always rose to the occasion. “Child,” she said. “You shut your mouth.”

It was true, though. Josiah Parker had a thing for her, and everybody knew it. I popped a fat blueberry into my mouth. It split, bled purple on my fingers and the Apartment Finder open on the kitchen table. I ate another one.

“You’re a mess,” Mama said. “Besides, best we move.” She rubbed her temple; the bruises had faded yellow. “It’s too soon, anyhow. It’s suspicious.”

“Ain’t,” I said, and grabbed another. Stains don’t bother me none. Enough bleach, you can clean away anything.

Or anybody.

(6) CH Lamb 6:51pm
Ben looked up from his precinct computer, opened on People Finder software and eyes widening, felt his jaw drop.
The borderline child-prostitute standing before him had a wand-like body showcased in berry-red knockoff satin and matching spiked heels, her breasts like little oranges under the tight fabric. She sashayed closer, and Ben caught the whiff of cheap rose perfume.
‘I think you’ll be lucky you’re undercover.’
‘Five women missing all from that corner and no one but me cares.’
And I love you, he thought, because you care. ‘Come home safely to me, Officer Parker.’
‘Same goes, Detective Parker.’

Finalists (listed in chrono order)

(7) Colin Smith 11:32pm
Joe took Miss Parker's hand as she led him to a chair.

"Now, child. A dark-haired man you say?"

"Yes," said Joe. "H-he killed Sam Berry. T-took a knife and..."

"Here, have some rosehip tea," said Miss Parker. "It'll calm your nerves. Works wonders for my arthritis." She smiled, handing Joe the teacup.

The door slammed. Joe gulped a mouthful of tea in shock.

"It's him!" he started to say, but couldn't get a breath. The dark-haired man made a move toward Joe, but Miss Parker stopped him.

"No, Finder," she said. "The cyanide will take him soon enough."

(8) Kate Outhwaite 11:53am

Finders, keepers. Losers, weepers!” taunted Billy Price, dangling his prize a foot above Rose Tomlinson’s reach before legging it towards the caretaker’s shed.

The lunchtime supervisor, Miss Berry, was nowhere to be seen. I pushed off from the wall and moved past the knot of younger children.

Behind the shed, Billy was dismembering the plastic pony key-ring.

He glanced at me. “What do you want, Parker?”

I twisted my ponytail round my finger and moved closer, running my tongue over my gap-tooth, pointy smile. The last words he heard were “I’m thirsty, Billy.”

I was naughty. I kept the key-ring.

(9) Celeste 6:20pm
Flash mob

@Our_Child_Missing. Rose never came home from school today. Last seen wearing strawberry print dress, carries a satchel. Finder's reward for our beautiful little girl. Whatever it takes. Plse help and retweet. 17:05

Strawberries are red
Violets are blue
I have her with me
Now I want cash from you

@Our_Child_Missing. Man arrested on suspicion of abduction. Our baby still missing. Pray for us. 20:16

@Our_Child_Missing. Rose found safe in the mall, thanks to thousands of retwts & phone calls. Sick creep who tweeted fake abduction just released by cops. His name is Parker. His address is...

(10) Ashland 8:33pm
Roses are red
A berry is blue
When Parker raped me
He said 'fuck you'

Years later he enters the club. I was a child when it happened, so he doesn't recognize me. When I tell our bouncer Shaun to let him know he's won a free ten in the champagne room, his eyes light with excitement.

Three minutes into 'Cherry Pie' I whip out the switchblade.
Two slashes crisscross his throat.
One long moan escapes.
Zero professional finders will ever locate his body.

Roses are red
The sky is now blue
When it was over
I said 'fuck you'

In the end I couldn't pick just one. Both #9 and #10 were great stories, well-told, and using form in a way that embellished the story. VERY hard to do that in the word constraints.

So, Two Winners!

Celeste and Ashland, if you'll email me at JetReidLiterary@gmail.com with your mailing address, each of you will get a copy of FaceOff.

Congratulations to you both, and thanks to all who entered. This was a terrific contest!