Friday, April 20, 2018

The Writing Without Rules Flash Fiction contest

I am currently splashing about in the lovely lakes of Minnesota (with companion in crime La Slitherina herself, Barbara Poelle!) at The Loft writing conference.

Since conferences tend to leave me babbling incoherently, and unable to form cogent thought, we'll need a writing contest for diversion!

And Writing Without Rules by the Amazing and Awesome Jeff Somers, (subject of yesterday's blog post)  is just one short month away from publication, this seems like a good time to remind you to Pre-Order! (I've read this book more times than either Jeff or I like to think about, and it's the best writing book I've ever seen. Am I objective? Probably not. Have I read a lot of writing books? oh dear godiva, yes.)

 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: reg/regular is ok, but law, canon/cannon 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, Eastern Daylight time, 4/21/18

Contest closes: 9am, Eastern Daylight time, 4/22/18

If you're wondering how what time it is in NYC right now, here's the clock

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 (but be prepared for a long wait, since I'm working at the conference this weekend!)

Ready? SET?

Not yet!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

It's not right, but it's also not wrong

I swear every word of this is true

Act One: Happy Hour -17, New Leaf office.

Manuscript arcs over the transom, and lands on my desk with a rather liquidy plop. Clearly whisky was involved in the writing. Aha! The new Jeff Somers pages.

Read; savor.
Read; savor.
Laphroaig, rinse, repeat.

I sharpen my editing pencil on my fangs, and mark that Jeff has named characters Alice, Alyse, and Alison. And two people both seemed to be named Candace.

I mark the odd capitalization that Creeps in to Jeff's writings; capitalizations That really don't seem To be any Thing other than random.

I mark the occasional homonym and grammar slip.

I summon the messenger and have the ms biked back to New Jersey.

Act Two: Happy Hour -8, New Leaf Office

Revised manuscript arrives via liveried footman who mentions off-handedly that Jeff is helping Prince Harry write his wedding vows today so I won't need to reply till tomorrow.

I compare old version to new.

Changes accepted.

But wait,, TWO grammar errors remain.

He must not have seen them.

I mark again, this time in BOLD RED and catch the liveried footman before he steps into the elevator.

Act Three: Happy Hour -5, New Leaf Office

Homer Spit Somers pussyfoots into the New Leaf office with a manuscript in his back pack. He deftly spins it onto my desk, settles into a warm spot on top of my computer, casually flicks a claw in my direction to indicate this is the next revision.

I read.
I savor.
I spot those same damn grammar errors.

I reach for the phone.

Homer Spit, no fool he, dives into the nearest filing cabinet and pulls the drawer shut behind him. As I dial, I wonder idly if Homer has filed himself under F for Feline, C for Cat, or H for Hidden.


JS: Oh hi Janet, how are you?
JR: Purrfect, of course.

JS: So, I'm busy here, this Prince guy isn't who I thought he was, but never mind. What's up?
JR: You didn't fix those two grammar mistakes.

JS: They aren't mistakes.
JR: (a tad huffy) They certainly are. "Her and me" is totally completely 100% wrong wrong wrong.

JS: It's on purpose.

JR: (aghast pause) You're making mistakes on purpose? This is cranking "let's torture your agent" up to 11.

JS: The character speaking does not always sound like Miss Parsnips, your grammar teacher.

JR: Oh. But still, it's WRONG! It's Bad Grammar! (clutches copies of Mignon Fogerty books to fluttering fin.) It can't be right if it's wrong, it just can't. *weeping ensues*

JS: It is and it's not. The character says this. It's not narrative, it's dialogue. Get yourself together, before I write a scene in a bank with safety deposit boxes

JR: *heartfelt moans* no, no, please don't do that. Anything but that.
JS: My agent is weeping. My work here is done.

Homer Spit deftly opens the file cabinet, leaps out, pussyfoots down the drainpipe and into the sunset.

The End, Happy Hour .
. oh hell, break out the whisky now.

Your takeaway: Don't let Miss Parsnips, in agent or editor form, tell you that just cause it's wrong it's not right. Characters speak incorrectly all the time, just like real people do. Hold your ground, even in the face of bitter shark tears.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The drawback of beta readers

There are two things to be aware of about beta readers:

(1) they read all of what you give them; and
(2) they read with the idea of giving you feedback.

Agents do neither.

I stop when I've decided the query or the pages don't work for me.
I don't read carefully, parsing out what works and what doesn't. I read your query and pages to see if I want to read more.  I'm not skimming, but I'm not reading with the idea of giving feedback.

In other words, if you don't catch my attention I don't spend any time figuring out why, I just pass.

The point where people stop reading is entirely subjective. There's no way you can know where that point is for each and every agent.

Your take away from this: on the final pass, ask your beta readers where they'd stop reading if they were just reading for fun.

And if your beta readers love your work, but you're not getting requests for fulls, find new betas to read as though it was just for fun, and then see what they say.

Bottom line: find betas to read as though they were agents before you type FINAL on that manuscript.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Comping my adult novel to YA novels

Is it okay to use comps outside one's category?

I'm currently working on an adult novel (historical fiction), but the two comps that feel right to me are both YA. Is it okay to say something like "I hope it will appeal to adult fans of [YA title] and [YA title]?" Or is this a red flag?

I read widely in the genre (both YA and adult), so I'm sure I can come up with some adult titles if this is an issue, but the two YA books feel like such a great fit (and, bonus, both are recently published and seem to have done well). It's probably also worth mentioning that there's no way to age my book down to YA (both because of the age of the protagonist and the subject matter).

I'm probably overthinking this, right?

You're not overthinking this at all.
This is a really good question, and I'm glad you asked.

Since you read both YA and adult you know that YA books differ from those marketed and sold as adult fiction even if they are both in the same genre (such as crime fiction, or historical fiction.)

YA generally is about young people finding their way in the world, making sense of situations they didn't create, or have thrust upon them because of their age.

Adult fiction can certainly be about that but the characters, as you point out, are older, have more life experience, and generally a few more of life's scuff marks.

YA is acquired by entirely different editors than acquire adult fiction (mostly), sold differently (mostly) and even in a separate imprint at the publisher (often.)

If I have a YA novel, regardless of genre, I go to the Harper divisions that publish those books.
If I have an adult novel, I go to the Harper imprints (like Morrow or Avon) that publish those kinds of books.

What you can intuit from that is that YA comps are largely meaningless to adult editors. Sure, adult editors have read some YA and they know what it is, but they're not steeped in it like the YA editors are.

The purpose of comps is to tell an agent or an editor what kind of reader will like your book. Given the size of the historical fiction market, you need to cast a wider net.

Don't feel stupid about this. Comps are the bane of my existence and I spend HOURS trying to get them right. And even then, when the brain trust here at New Leaf weighs in, someone else always has a better one (which is a good thing, but humbling!)

This may be a place where your librarian can help you. They know more (or at least how to find more) than any of the rest of us!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Flash fiction contest results!

This was another terrific showcase of your flash fiction skills!

Colin Smith got the prompt connection 
Connection: The words are all from the names of the April 11th Caption Contest finalists.

A great, and oh so true, line
Alina Sergachov
You treat me like a pet. Prepare to die."

Special recognition for this lovely epiphany
Michael Seese 
Is this how God feels? I wondered. Amazed at, and terrified of, the power. I understood why He can't look us in the eye.

Special recognition for a great sentence

James Leisenring
An applause of paws.

Special recognition for a perfection definition

Melanie Savransky
Joy said, whaddaya call a gang with no plan? And Smith said: “The defendants.”

Not really a story, but utterly and completely hilarious 
Howard Smith chucked the burger wrapper from his Hummer, searched for a woman to catcall, then sped off. This was the kind of asshole Howard was. Him being possessed by a demon was unrelated.

The demon thought he learned the trick to success. Why infect an innocent soul and be easily discovered? Better to inhabit scum, and enjoy a home behind a hideous curtain.

Unfortunately, Howard’s behavior was so insufferable when the demon wasn’t behind the wheel, the only effective torture was forcing him to be a decent person.

This was a new low, even for the spawn of Satan.

Not quite a story, but I really love interesting and unusual POVs
Should I kill the boy on the bike?
Or the couple crossing the street?
The boy's young, someone's son.
The couple's old, they've had a life.
What if the boy grows up and becomes a trickster, worse a rapist or killer?
What if the man's a surgeon saving lives, spreading joy; the woman a scientist on the brink of a discovery that'll help the world?
No one programmed me for this!


Mr. Smith, Tesla awarded you four million dollars. It won't bring your wife back, but perhaps there's some consolation knowing three lives were saved.

Special recognition for masterful subtlety
Amy Schaefer
I enjoy gravedigging.

People are strangely squeamish about my vocation, so I’ve learned not to share over a beer or three. Conversation trickles to a halt, and everyone stares at me like I’m the spawn of Burke and Hare. I don’t get it; all I do is grant peace.

I’m no wordsmith, but I’ll recite a sonnet or two as the moonlight bathes my sweaty shoulders and the shovel bites the ground. Your struggle is over now; be tranquil, friend.

Truly, gravedigging is soothing.

I cherish the task after the fierce, foul, strenuous minutes that let me dig a grave.

You know how they handicap thoroughbreds by adding weight to the best horses? Or trotters, who start in staggered formation, with the best horses last? That's to even the field.

I think we've got some writers who in future flash fiction contests are going to have get extra prompts or some nefarious rule twist. They're just getting too damn good.

Here are the entries that really stood out for me:
Steve Forti
Dangling like a participle, the guards will find my rope come morning.
It was inevitable. Judge Joykill saw to that. Life sentence. No parole. Oxford Penitentiary.
The warden is a real stickler. Dashes hopes to smithereens. Carved “SPITE' into the rafters. Locks you in the hole for any infraction. Men went mad in there. Catatonic. They call it the Oxford Coma.
He thinks he's got me in line. I'll show him. This pawky prisoner knows some tricks. I carve the “DE” in front. I'll use a preposition to end my sentence with.

And yes, I had to look up pawky.

Steve's deft use of prompt words is a continuous source of delight but he's more than a one-trick writer here. The story is also wonderful. Homage to Shawshank Redemption of course, written by Stephen King, a master wordsmith, about words.  That's a hat trick!

Honestly, at this point, Steve is in his own category.

Timothy Lowe
They ate the silversmiths first. Wily bastards, Bill Craft said, chewing the nub end of his pipe in the subterranean glow of the Inn’s fireplace. Next, the blacksmiths and gunsmiths. Old Jeb Farrier’s apron was found folded neatly over his anvil, a crimson paw-print telling the tale as neatly and surely as blood on snow.

Winter was long. People huddled in the dark. The whole town got rickets. Then came joyless spring when they ate the locksmiths.

Nobody knows why they left the wordsmith. But they did, the whoresons. Left me white-knuckled, scrabbling words by moonlight. I think I might
This is a GREAT first line.
And the use of trick with got rickets is like a triple axle. Amazing and awesome!

And of course the ending is perfect.
This is a great story.
(Notice there's no explanations! I love that --let the reader wonder!)

Cecilia Ortiz Luna
Family reunions suck

Look at them

Dena’s spawns circling the dessert table (like vultures-in-training)
Kathy and her “pride and joy” (more like frankenboy)
Amy’s precocious son, Kristafer (seriously?)
Colin, babysmith extraordinaire, six and two more in the oven (geez!)
Stacy’s Little Lord Fauntleroy (whom Patrick still believes is his, LOL)

Showing off their children like Blahniks bought on sale
Comparing pre-schools, timeshares, Sandals
Stopping when they realize I’m around
Pretending to envy my ‘bachelorette lifestyle’
Throwing pitying glances when I walk away (I’m sure)
Shaking their heads (I bet)

Every year
Every freaking year

Family reunions suck

There are no words to describe the amazingness of this entry.
Words literally fail me.
Well, not totally. How about brilliant, and hilarious.

Lennon Faris
Snowy: My best friend is best guy in the world he yells and smells sweaty! Yum! We’ve been friends 2 hours!
Hot: My best friend packs boots and long loud stick and green fur and smells excited! Me, too!
--Oh. Not me? Huh? Is he playing hiding game?
I check every room!
Every night.
Rainy: Best friend’s smell is almost gone so I watch out window every day. Paws are comfy. Once, 2 in green fur come. “Ms. Smith, your son…” It smells like terror. Snowy: Trick? Rolling chair that smells like – MY BEST FRIEND!!! I howl with joy.

This one hits so many of the things I love in stories: dogs, interesting point of view choice, subtle story telling, heartstrings not just tugged but yanked.

I love this. And yes, I"m a sucker for the videos of soldiers coming home and surprising their kids and dogs.

Joy finally conceived, and Smith so wanted a son, he sought a legendary seer, also wise in herbal remedies.

She dispensed tiny packets, canned pawpaws, careful directions.

Returning to his mountain, Joy consumed the brew and fruit daily.

One morning, she began laboring hard.

By nightfall, a daughter arrived. Stillborn.


Eventually, Joy conceived again.

He found himself returning to the old woman’s cabin.

More packets and fruit were given.

Another daughter, stillborn.

Angry, he confronted the old woman. “Trickster! Faker! Our babies are dead! My wife now barren!”

Pale blue eyes pierced. “You did not say you wanted daughters.”
I've always thought that Mary Shelley must have looked a lot like our Donna. Demure, sweet, and dear god, what a mind.  

this is a terrific story that really resonates with me: be careful how you ask for things!

Drawn by joyous laughter coming from his office, Colin Smith found his son and the cat sitting at his computer.

"Dad, I taught her a new trick. Watch!"

The cat extended a paw, pressed the keyboard.

"She loves the whoosh sound of Send."

Colin looked closer, recognized his email account, the "query drafts" folder open-- dread clenched his gut.

"You've been busy, so we're helping with queries."


Colin jolted awake, sweaty, panicked.

Just a dream.

Horrid cliché. Sweet relief.

He saw her then, sitting on his nightstand, tail flicking. She extended a paw-- and slowly, decisively, pressed it down.

 This one is ever more terrifying than Donna's!
Talk about every writer's nightmare.

Of course I loved it! 

In the end, the winner this week is Steve Forti.
Deft use of prompts, great story. Made me laugh.

Steve, let me know your mailing address and I'll send you a prize.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to write and post entries. Your work amazes me every single week, even the ones that don't get shout outs.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Flash Fiction Contest!

That caption contest reminded me how much I love the flash fiction contest entries, so let's have another one this weekend!

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:


If you have an idea of how these words came to be the prompts, you can post that as a separate line that does NOT count against the 100 word limit.

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: paw/paws is ok, but joy/joey is not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contest opens: 8:44am, Saturday 4/14/18

Contest closes: 9am, Sunday 4/15/18

If you're wondering how what time it is in NYC right now, here's the clock

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!

Rats! Too late! Contest is closed.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Caption contest results!

There were some really terrific caption suggestions yesterday!

I may need to do this more often cause you made me laugh out loud, and given what I was reading at the time, that wasn't easy.

Here are the ones that stood out for me:

Dena Pawling
Jeff Somers is wearing pants?

Kathy Joyce
Laird, you gotta make it more scary! Like this.

Amy Johnson
Client Amy Johnson's debut novel, #1 on bestseller list!
I should add here, that I laughed in a GOOD way at this!

Omg, did you hear?! Schrodinger's cat found alive!

Colin Smith
Is that John Frain's manuscript??

Like Jeff Somers pants, the jokes about John (manuscript) Frain never get old.
Also, as above, laughing in a GOOD way!

Stacy McKitrick
Aack! Look at that calendar! Contest ends before it begins!

 I can't get a damn thing right some days! Honestly, if this isn't proof of why you need to let work sit overnight, nothing is.  I wrote and posted this very quickly, and of course, didn't see the date error till Stacy mentioned it.

And as we learned in today's comment column, this was Stacy's first comment.
I think we can all agree that this is the one that should win! First comment, Janet's typos, and utterly perfect caption! Nice job Stacy!

If you'll email me with your preferred mailing address and what you like to read, I'll get your prize in the mail to you!

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write captions and enter the contest.  I loved reading your entries, and they were a welcome respite from some very dark reading (but oh my godiva GOOD reading!)

Yes, you are all nutso

What's the deal with this idea that writers have to be crazy, or at least half crazy? You hear it all the time. I know a few writers, and sure, some of them are a bit nuts, but others (admittedly I don't know them that well) seem perfectly fine. Admittedly again, I'm a writer, and I know that I'm a bit crazy, but I have to ask: where is it "written" that real writers are all somewhat off their rockers. Isn't it possible that a good writer might also be perfectly sane?

It's written right here: all writers are nuts.
No exceptions, not even you.

But let's all remember that nuts isn't a bad thing. It's actually quite the opposite. It's the creativity and imagination and the other-dimensional thinking that creates beautiful art, new ideas, and illuminates the world for those of us who don't have the good fortune to be your kind of nuts.

Sure, this nuttiness can manifest itself in ways that are perplexing and hard to deal with. But that's just part of the deal.

And being nuts doesn't mean your life is out of control, or you can't masquerade as a normal person most of the time. It just means that when someone slips on a banana peel, your first thought is about how to describe it, not just laugh.

So, when someone says "you're a writer? They're all nuts!" you say "Thank you!"

What's the craziest thing you've done in service to your writing life?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Surprise flash fiction contest

ok, ok, I got swamped on Monday and Tuesday so I didn't get a blog post ready for today.
On the other hand, why not have some fun??

Caption this photo!
10 words or fewer
You don't need to use any of the following information, but if you need it herewith:

Cat: Chester
Residence: Brooklyn

Relationship to Duchess of Yowl: None. Are you nuts? Her Grace is sui generis. And she'll be the first to tell you that. At length.

Bonus points: name the last client I sent this picture to, and why.

Contest opens: NOW
Contest closes: 7pm Eastern Shark Daylight time 4/10/18

Post your entry in the comment column.
Sorry, too late. Contest closed.
Results on Friday 4/13/18.

YES there is a prize!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Author bios in queries-Updated!

Sunday's QueryShark post drew an interesting comment from One of Us Has To Go
The only thing that I noticed is that there is no bio in this query. I'm confused why it doesn't need one, since I thought they all do.
Indeed, "author bio" is one of the things listed in almost all submission guidelines.

And yet!

I've never rejected a query because writer hasn't included one.
I've never rejected a query because the author spelled my name wrong, or got my name wrong. Or addressed it to someone else (in fact, I've signed and sold projects that were intended for someone else!)

The key here is that I'll overlook just about everything if the query is compelling.

So why include an author bio at all?
Cause a lot of you don't write compelling queries, and I HAVE read pages cause you told me
*you were published in a lit mag I respect
*are from Oregon
*sound interesting

In other words, a good author bio can salvage a less than stellar query.

That's why you should include one.

Update: Lisa Bodenheim's comment mentions a good example of a fun bio in QueryShark #285

I currently attempt to shepherd five book-hungry children as a single mom. In my spare time (term used loosely), I commandeer various sea- and un-sea worthy vessels down the Snake River. 

This is an excellent example because it's not just what the writer does, it's told in a fun and enticing way. She could have said "I"m a mom to five kids, who enjoys rafting" but instead she gave it some style and verve. That's exactly the right thing to do.

Thanks Lisa! 

Monday, April 09, 2018

Seven ways to demonstrate you're not ready to query

1. "Your profile picture is delightful"
Why this isn't something you should do: Commenting on anyone's photo, even if it's an avatar is creepy. It's particularly creepy if you are a gent, and the person you're addressing is a lady. It's creepiest when you are a gent of certain years, and the lady in question is much less-seasoned.  Be aware of the fact that what you think is funny and charming may not be perceived as such. The shorthand for this is "read the room" and an increasing number of gentlemen are discovering they don't do that very well.

2. "My novel is about Batman/SuperGirl/Wolverine"
Why this is something you can't do: Those characters were invented by, and are owned by someone else. You don't get to SELL stories/novels using them. There is such a thing as fan fiction, but it's not what we sell.

3. "You come highly recommended on the AAR website"
Why you should avoid this: The AAR site doesn't recommend anyone. They list members. Membership in AAR may be why you chose to query the agent but that's not what you wrote. False flattery is icky.

4. In lieu of the "letter" I am sending you.... (attachment) and other stuff.
In lieu of responding to your query, I'm not.
I ask for what I need to assess your work.
If you don't send it, it tells me you're going to be a pain in the hat to work with.

5.  Did you get my previous email/query (#1 above)
The ONLY way to follow up on a query is just to resend it.
If you can't figure out why I didn't reply, I have a handy check list
Two of these emails and I flag your email address and it's diverted to trash.

6. You'll probably reject this but..
Publishing requires ironclad determination and tenacity.
This kind of "woe is I" sentence tells me you don't have it. I don't sign writers that
demonstrate they're going to need this much hand holding. 

7. My friend says you're great
While it's true I am, not telling me who said so makes this ineffective sucking up. On my very best day (and there aren't a lot of those) I despise sucking up. The only thing I despise more? Ineffective sucking up.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

When the junior agent is your point of contact

About 6 months ago, I queried a well-established agent at a large agency. He liked my story and asked for more manuscripts, but passed after reading the rest. Admittedly, I committed that newbie blunder of submitting before I was really ready. I did not have a strong stable of pieces to back up my first.

Now, though, I do, and I would like to re-query him. Here's my confusion: I never actually corresponded with him directly, but rather with a more junior agent who acted as an intermediary. When I re-query, should I address my query to them both? The truth is that I would be thrilled to be represented by either of them.

Also, on a more minor point, after corresponding with the more junior agent a couple of times, we were using first names rather than the more formal Ms. Xyz. When I re-query, should I revert to the more formal standard?

Were you invited to re-query when you had more work to show? If not, don't assume they are looking for another query.

Also, if you never corresponded directly with Senior, my guess is he hasn't seen your work at all. It was the junior agent.  Absent the phrase "Senior Agent has asked me to" you should assume the person reading and assessing your work is the person signing the email.

Somewhat like the QofE has staff to answer her mail, Senior Agents have minions whose job is to scout around for good stuff. If it works into something good, Senior Agent might swoop in, but as you say, you didn't have your best work then, so Senior didn't swoop.

And of course, it's entirely possible Junior is starting to build his/her own list under the supervision of Senior. That's exactly how my assistants got their start.

And thus, any future queries should be directed to Junior. And call her/him what you had been. It's weird to revert to formality if you're on a first name basis.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Is this a coded message?

When an editor sends a pass but includes revision notes, is this a revise and resubmit or a definitive pass? They said “you’ve definitely got something here” twice but “it’s not quite there for me right now and a bit more work than I can take on, so therefore I must pass”, and included about 2-3 paragraphs on what they think doesn’t work and what would work better.
So the question is, could you revise this novel and send it back to them - or is this just a nice way of saying no? (Happy to send on the letter.) It’s a major editor at a major publisher my ex-agent had previously submitted to (I am currently unagented, seeking new rep).

It's a pass.
A revise and resubmit contains the words "I'd be happy to take another look" or "I'd be glad to see this again after some revision."

Absent those EXACT words (maybe in different order) it's a pass even if it sounds like a compliment.

And if you want to see writers in a snarl, bring up passes on a requested full without any feedback offered at all. Writers will spontaneously combust in front of you they get so incensed.

Thus, editors and agents have been trained (so far as such a thing is possible) to offer some sort of feedback. But that feedback often is perceived as "fix this, and only this and we're good."  It's the merry go round in hell I tell ya.

It kills me when writers mistake feedback for requested revisions. When they send the revisions, I always look back at my notes on the manuscript. Often what I say to myself "this is a red hot mess" is NOT what I write to the author "the plot doesn't start soon enough, the characters aren't fully developed."

That said, when I pass, which I almost always do, I know I'm crushing hopes for real.  And honestly, that's just not as fun as you'd think.

Crushed hopes and dreams are pretty tasty though.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Querying after your agent leaves the biz

I already landed an agent and worked happily with her for over three years. Sadly, she had to leave the biz, and I have to dive back into the ocean. Is it better to mention that fact in my query, and if so, where and how? I'd like prospective agents to know that someone already thought I was ready for representation and is willing to vouch for my ability and professionalism.
The question has two possible answers: yes and no (that's a lot of help, right?)

Yes, you need to mention it IF this novel you're querying went on submission or sold.
No, you don't need to mention it if your novel did NOT go on submission.

Remember, an agent is looking for work to sell, so a project that's made the rounds is less attractive than one which is fresh and new.

If you're published and fulfilling a contract, that commission goes to the previous agent which means a new agent will be working for free for a while.

If your work didn't go on submission, you don't need to tell anyone about your previous agent.

If your work did, you put the information in the housekeeping section of the query (paragraph 3.)

You phrase it as: I was previously represented by Felix Buttonweezer who has left the business.

Your desire to let someone know that another agent found you ready for representation, and is willing to vouch for you is a lovely idea, but it's like getting your first wife to write your new Tindr profile.

You will convey all those things in your lovely query, and any subsequent conversations. You never need mention it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Posting work on your blog

If I post short stories or novel excerpts on my blog, does that make them ineligible for writing contests? How do agents and publishers feel about novel excerpts that are shared in this way? Should I avoid this?
Writing contest rules are NOT standardized so there is no way to know in advance if posting work on your blog will make it ineligible for contest consideration.

Faced with this, the savvy writer weighs risk versus reward. Is the reward of posting worth the risk of losing eligibility? Only you will know because only you will know your goal for posting work on your website. Is it to showcase your work? Is it to garner feedback? Is it just to make your website look populated? Is it to build readership or platform? How much do you value the contest prize? Is it money? Recognition? Consideration of your work by an agent or editor?

Weigh all these factors before you post.

And don't worry about posting your work on your website in terms of publication. All too often I hear writers fret that posting their work, or even winning contests, will make their work "previously published."

It doesn't. And publishers don't care even if it did. They're interested in making money and if they think they can with your work, they'll be dangling contracts.

Where you see "previously published" as a problem is when an author has published something that didn't sell well, and thus gives them a track record with booksellers. In other words, there was a book, and an ISBN. Posting stuff on your website isn't either of those.

As to what agents think about posting your work: there is no one answer. I think it's a terrible idea, but it's not any kind of deal breaker.

I think it's a terrible idea because I don't see the value of it.

Feedback? You don't want feedback from unvetted strangers slinking about the internet. The value of feedback is in direct proportion to the person offering it.

Filling up page space? Pictures of your cat or dog, or your armadillo are MUCH better choices. Don't have any pets? Pictures of almost anything up to and including great signs, are better.

The ONLY reason to post work on your website is to build a following. If you're writing a book about writing tips for example, one effective strategy is to post a tip and then ask your readers if it works for them. Building the conversation (and readership) is a big plus for non-fiction.

If you're writing a novel, it's a whole lot more problematic to ask for feedback. And honestly, feedback from just anyone isn't all that useful.

And a lot of people on the internet behave like they were in the movie Steel Magnolias but with a whole lot less wit and talent.

Bottom line: posting your work on your website won't affect querying agents, but it could mess up your contest eligibility. Only you will know for sure if that's worth it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

New and improved ways to torment you!

A certain literary agent Tweeted a checklist of items querying authors should include in their website. This list notably didn't include *Blog* as one of the items. If you scroll through the thread and comments, he shared (paraphrased) that while having a blog on a website won't hurt an author, it's also very *last-decade* and useless.

Do you agree with this? Asking for a friend.
I've never thought a blog was essential for a querying writer. A website, or an electronic location with info on where to find or contact you, absolutely, but that's the least of what a blog is.

Back in the day when dinosaurs blogged the earth, blogging was a very easy way to establish a web presence. was easy to learn to use and update; no website designer required. And for a while, it was about the only way to have conversations on the web.

Then the social networking sites (MySpace, Facebook et al) took over. Now there's Instagram and Pinterest and probably a lot more I haven't seen or used. Those made it a lot easier to connect with people and the entire platform is searchable for people whereas blogs are not.

Blogs were no longer the only way to establish and maintain a web presence, nor the only way to talk to readers.

And the disadvanges of a blog became increasingly clear when more and more people started blogging.

One big disadvantage is the need for fresh content, regular updates, and most important: reader interaction. A blog without readers who comment is like a cat without someone to pet it. Present, but a shocking waste of fine fur.

The demand for fresh content meant finding ongoing interesting topics; topics that drew readers and comments. Bloggers found this increasingly daunting.  A lot of blogs fell by the wayside. (The death of Google Reader didn't help either.) Blogs soon got a bad name for platform building. Thus an agent might advise writers that blogs are useless even though there are clear examples of blogs that are NOT useless (for example: this one.)

Putting your blog ON your website has always been a sore spot. Blogs require grooming, just like cats, and I'll be glad to tell you how fun it is to keep spam at bay, fix broken links, and otherwise maintain a spiffy blog. (And I get a lot of very valuable help on finding/fixing typos which other bloggers do not.) A website with a scruffy blog is a like a cat in a brown paper bag: you know there's fine fur in there somewhere but it's not really visible.

I actually posted about this before in a different context.

To answer the question you asked: blogs in and of themselves aren't useless, but they might not be the most effective deployment of your limited resources of time and creativity, or provide the most return on investment of those scarce resources.  And sure they're last decade, but hell Agatha Christie's books are last century, (The Secret of Chimneys is 93 years old!) but I still love and value them.

To answer the question you didn't ask: if you have a blog on your website, and it's nice and tidy, with regular updates, no spam, and has reader interaction (ie comments), a prospective agent will not think less of you: that you're surely out-of-step with the times; a supporter unto death of two spaces after a period; most likely some hooligan who writes bodice rippers, penny dreadfuls, and lesser forms of The Bard's Art; and quite probably a devotee of that pickpocket advocate Charles Dickens.

You seem to be blogging. Such a pity.

Monday, April 02, 2018

A rose isn't always a rose

I have the same name as a self-published author. I am afraid I will be confused for this person. Should I indicate in my query that this author and I are different people?

Yes! While I don't try to find dirt on queriers, it's entirely possible I will have heard of someone else with your name, particularly if they are well known, or active in publishing.

Thus you write "Thank you for your time and consideration, Felix Buttonweezer (not the self-published Felix)"

You see why it's ESSENTIAL you have your own website.  The link you include in your query shows me you are not a published (self or otherwise) author.

I don't assume queriers are trying to mislead me by saying they aren't published if they have been. If that's the case, that reckoning is down the road, and it will be pretty terrible (in other words, don't lie about this.)

If your name is also that of someone you'd prefer NOT to be associated with (your folks, the lovely Mr and Mrs Manson, really liked the name Charles) you can always use initials, or a pen name.

In the case of my wonderful client Stephanie Evans, who writes traditional mysteries featuring a  Church of Christ Minister, she was a bit taken aback to find  the OTHER Stephanie Evans was a stripper. That's why my Stephanie is now Stephanie Jaye Evans.

Short answer: yes, you should distinguish yourself.  There are several ways to do that, you can pick the one you prefer.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Hiatus Day Four

Client Bill Cameron

I really wanted Bill to use this as his author photo!
Follow him on Instagram (bcmystery)  for more pictures of his chickens (they're really beautiful!) and the chicken coop he built for them (which I think might be larger than my NYC apartment!)

Bill has the best advice ever on writing.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Hiatus Day Three


Mikey passed away two years ago at the age of twelve due to what we believe was undiagnosed cancer. He was truly the chillest cat you could ever meet--it was like he had his own breed of coolness. His passing was fairly traumatic because it was so unexpected and it broke my heart, but you've gotta stay grateful for every animal you have the gift of loving. He was my gift.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Hiatus Day Two


Hitch is my daughter’s Miniature Dachshund, a wiener party link who envisions himself a junk yard Pitbull. As a new pup given to my daughter with a will-you-marry-me-note tied to his collar, Hitch offered the proposal. As a member of our family he immediately became my grand-dogger and the subject of my first column over three years ago. Shortly after the column broke Hitch became very ill and we almost lost him. But, he's a fighter - little guys like him have to be.

Now, Hitch lives with us. (Busy road, no fence etc.) He’s pretty much ours but we haven’t told him yet. He loves us, but will always love them more, and that’s okay because he’s quick to defend us from his own shadow, a leaf blowing across the lawn as well as a house fly. He’s a snuggler who is funny, sweet and very loud. We adore him.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Hiatus Day One

The blog will be on hiatus for Holy Week (Thurs-Sun).
For the iterim, here are some of the blog readers faithful friends to keep you company.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

category, the topic that never dies

I'm getting ready to query my latest novel, and I'm not sure what category it falls into. It's set in London, spanning 1938-1971, and while the historical time period influences it somewhat, I don't think it's enough to count as "historical" fiction. The focus of the novel is the relationship between a mother and daughter and is told from both of their perspectives. It's about the relationships between women (these two women, an aunt, and two sisters) and various struggles specific to women (childbirth, what it means to be a mother). I was thinking about calling it women's fiction, but it doesn't have the more traditional "hopeful" ending that I've seen in much of the women's fiction I've read. I was also thinking of simply calling it a family saga. Any thoughts?

You're right to avoid categorizing anything from 1971 as historical. More than a few agents tsk tsk at anything called historical that takes place during their lifetimes.

It's not a family saga because it's only 30+ years. I think of family sagas as multi-generational, somewhat like the Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy, Roots by Alex Haley, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, The Godfather by Mario Puzo. Those are the ones I've read. There are a lot of books in this category that I haven't read but you probably have.

Women's fiction doesn't require "hopeful endings" so much as emotionally satisfying ones. Sometimes that's a distinction without a difference; sometimes it's a pretty subtle distinction at all.

I'm pretty sure that's what you've got here, and womens fiction is a nice big juicy category so you're probably not shooting yourself in the footnote to call it that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Third time's a charm right? Do I have to mention 1 and 2?

I have recently completed my third novel, but have yet to find an agent. So, my question is regarding past manuscripts that were rejected during the querying process by prospective agents. Do I mention these in my query?

I would love to inform any potential agents that I am in it for the long haul. I have learned that agents are looking to build a career with an author and while my day job does not include writing, the longterm goal is definitely to quit my job and write full time. How do I tell an agent that I am serious and this isn’t just a whim or hobby? Is that something you can casually reference in a query?

You do not need to mention former dives into the query pool; it's better if you don't. I don't care about your learning curve, I care about whether I love this novel and think I can sell it.

You do not need to tell me you're in this for the long haul, or that you want to build a career. I assume that from jump.  I also know that what you think now isn't what you might think in five years.

My ONLY concern is the here and now. Tell me about this novel in an enticing way, and send me a novel that makes me want to get on the phone and pitch it to editors, and we'll let everything else fall into place.

Your underlying assumption is that you have to pitch me as an author I want to work with. It's exactly the reverse. I assume you're someone I can work with until you provide evidence to the contrary.

Evidence to the contrary are things like intransigence about edits; annoyance at the glacial pace of publishing (well, EXPRESSED annoyance, we're all perpetually annoyed); or somehow conveying that you think I work for you rather than with you ("hiring an agent" is a phrase that makes me cringe.)

Any questions?

Monday, March 26, 2018

A picture is worth a thousand words

Let's say that a hard working author is also a hard working artist and decides to create a series of very lovely drawings to go with his shiny new book (along the lines of 30 drawings for a 100,000 word story). Is this something that should be highlighted in a query letter or do sharks only prefer the fresh meat of the written word? This doesn't often appear in the FAQ section of agent websites and I was wondering also about how often this happens.

This is an interesting question.

Let's assume you don't have this blog for answers. If you were just trying to figure out how to query drawings with a novel, how would you submit them?

Attach a pdf?
Query guidelines say "no attachments."

Insert in body of email?
Those graphics get stripped out of my email and sent as an attachment OR they send the email directly to spam.

Just say "I have art"
That seems lame, doesn't it?

Ok, so the next step is figure out how other people who have art in their 100,000 word novels submitted it. Off to Amazon for research. Or the local library.

Wait. What?
There are no novels with art?
How can that be?

Well, mostly cause adult novels do not include art. Even from hardworking artists. The first reason for that is money. It costs more to include any kind of art. The higher the cost to produce the book, the less money the publisher makes per book cause they can't just make a novel more expensive than other novels and still sell a gazillion.

And you really don't want to be the most expensive novel on the shelf as a debut author.

So, no you don't highlight this.
You don't even mention it.

The reason it's not in FAQs is cause you shouldn't even be considering it.

Put the art on your website AFTER you know you have a book deal. Your fans will appreciate it.

And in case you think I'm just blowing smoke, if a query letter tells me about all the great art that goes with a novel, I pass at once.  

Sunday, March 25, 2018

What is: platform?

I’m in the process of querying a memoir. After about a dozen queries, I’ve had three bites for more: one came back an R&R, the other two were passes. One of those passes was on a partial, and the agent responded that she found the story “intriguing” and my voice “terrific” but was concerned about my lack of platform. When she initially requested the partial, she asked if I had an MFA. I do not (stupid law school…). Now, because I have written a coming-of-age memoir of the literary sort, I was a little surprised to hear her problem was my lack of platform. Did she really mean platform—as in expertise, blog followers, Oprah connections, etc.? Or do we think she meant, you have no pub credits, and no MFA? Is that, too, part of platform? It’s driving me nuts: What did she mean? And if she did mean blog followers, is this the norm for memoir??

Well, I don't know what she meant, but I do know what platform is.

Platform is how readers know about you NOW and will find out you have a new book. So yes, it is blog followers, or a huge following on Instagram, or a gazillion followers on your YouTube channel. It's not an MFA or a lot of previously published books. It IS a mailing list.

And it's helpful for any writer to have those but most of you won't.

So, if you don't have a huge-ass platform, what do you have? Hustle. And a list of places that will want to hear about your book, even if they don't know it now. That's called "where we will find readers for this book" in a proposal. (Memoir is not sold via proposal.)

A lot of times with history and biography, the platform is for the subject of the book, not the author. A book on World War Two for example will appeal to people who like that topic, even if they've never heard of you before.

Sure it helps if they have heard of you, but you've got to start somewhere.

Memoir is a lot harder unless you're talking about an event or time period that's already of interest. If you have an MFA the assumption is you've got access to teachers or fellow students or alums who will read and blurb your book.

That's not platform exactly, that's more like useful connections.

Pub credits are not platform in that they are not ways people will hear about your book but they are very useful for establishing that you're publishable, and reviewable. Someone who's been published in The New Yorker is pretty likely to get review attention.

You haven't begun to fully tap the number of agents who consider memoir, and you're getting a pretty good request rate.

Keep querying.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Flawed Hero

Felix Buttonweezer, grief stricken after the death of his cactus

Felix Buttonweezer, white knuckled sobriety a daily challenge

Felix Buttonweezer, gifted surgeoun suffering from PTSD

Poor old Felix. Someone read that heros need flaws so they give him some.
Except illnesses or states of mind are NOT flaws.

Illnesses do not strike due to faulty decisions, or lack of self-awareness, or hubris.
Grief doesn't come only to the undeserving.

CHARACTER flaws are what the main character needs.

If you don't know the difference, stop querying.

If you don't know the difference, go back to your reading and watch for what flaws the hero has, and how it affects the story. 

Start with Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Catriona McPherson.
If you need a perfect illustration, Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan.

My suggestions are all crime novels of course. If you've got others, please use the comment column to tell us about them.

Friday, March 23, 2018

More on nudging timeline

After reading your (excellent) answer on a question about nudges, I have a follow up question:

If an agent doesn't respond to a nudge, can you re-nudge and, if so, how often?

I started querying in late summer/early fall in last year and (happily) got quite a few requests. All confirmed receipt of the requested materials.
About 3 - 4 months after sending those fulls and partials out, I sent out a series of nudges about two weeks ago. A couple responded right away to let me know they just hadn't gotten around to reading yet. But the majority didn't respond to my nudge at all.

There's one agent in particular who I was hoping to hear from. She was my first request (so she's had a partial for 4+ months now) and her agency has several agents I think might be a fit for my project. Said agency allows you to query multiple agents, but not at the same time. So I'd love to at least know if she's passing (and thus I can query another agent) or just hasn't gotten around to reading. And, of course, I'd love to know if those other agents are still reading as well.

So, do I follow up again with the non-responsive agents? If so, how long should I wait? And at what point do I simply call it a pass and query another agent at their agencies (as allowed by each agency's guidelines, of course)?

You can re-nudge as long as you want but after a year, I think the project is pretty much dead.

That said, I've signed clients who waited a year. I wasn't proud of that delay but it wasn't cause I was swanning around Biarritz with James Bond in his Aston Martin.

If you're eager to move on, three nudges with no response means they've pocket passed on your project (see: pocket veto).

Those three nudges should be at least 60 days apart.

I'm as behind on my reading as I've ever been in my entire career, and that's WITH the additional eyeballs of Intern Kim (aka the resident Godsend).

I took a quick look at my list of requested fulls and I've got 47 pending. The oldest is from March 2017. I will say that I try to respond to all nudging emails, but honestly I'm kinda mortified to see those in my inbox so it takes me a while sometimes. (see: avoidance coping)

I did have to speak a little more tersely to a writer who nudged too often (once a month or so) with "if you want an answer now, it's no. If you can wait till I read it, I will." She understood and backed off enough that I didn't pass out of petulance.

Bottom line: this is your career and your work. If an agent has not responded to a requested full you're well within the bounds of decorum to withdraw the submission and move ahead. There's more at stake here for you than there is for me. Don't let my tortoise pace slow you to a stop.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Two timelines in a query

I bumped into your blog this morning--reading your posts goes well with coffee, albeit with the occasional erp-laugh spillage :-)

You provide an opportunity for readers to ask questions, so here goes: How do you recommend I address two time lines in a query?

To date, I've only addressed the main character's timeline. With queries limited to ~300 words including greeting, pitch, and bio, it's hard enough to grab the agent's attention with one timeline. I believe the essentials of the query can be communicated via the MC's timeline; will a second one surprise the agent when they (if they) ask for a partial or full ms?
You address two time lines by talking about each as a separate story line. If you've got characters in the here-and-now you'll need to tell me what they want and what's keeping them from getting it; what's at stake in their quest.

Then you do the same for the characters in whatever the other paste/future time line is. (yes, it's supposed to be past/future)

The best way to figure out how to do this well is find other books with two time lines and look at the flap jacket copy for the book. You don't need to reinvent the wheel, just adapt it to the kind of vehicle you're querying.

I can think of two examples off the top of my head: The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
and The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. 

The comment column will no doubt have a few more good suggestions, and your local librarian is a resource you want to avail yourself of as well.

As to your question of whether an agent will be confused, the answer is no.
You can't put everything in a query, and a query is NOT a synopsis.
The purpose of a query is to entice me (your reader) to dive into the pages.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

198,000 words. Am I dead from the get-go?

Janet, based on your New Leaf page, it looks like my debut novel isn't for you; but I wondered if you might nonetheless consider my query question. It concerns #4 on your query checklist
I've been at work on my novel for 15 years. I've rewritten it from the ground up three times. The fourth draft alone has been in progress for nearly nine years, has benefited from the editorial feedback of numerous (many luminous) literary friends, and while I certainly expect to make more cuts and continue refining it between now and galleys, the novel is narratively swift and boiled down. It is cooked.

It is also 198,000 words.

I realize that's, just barely, within your parameters. But it has been drummed into me that the publishing industry will not consider a debut novel of more than 80,000 words. So in crafting my queries, I'm torn between a belief in transparency and in following directions, and the fear that agents will make a bee-line from my word count to the trash can icon in their email application. If I leave it out, and my query is otherwise compelling and complete, I might snag a follow-up from an agent who will agree with me that the work's merits compensate for its unorthodox length.

What would you do in my shoes?

yeesh. That's one helluva book.
I'd leave out the word count and include the most tightly written first 3-5 pages in the history of publishing.

Length is a production problem of course. It costs more to print a book of that length; a book that size takes up more shelf space than a novel half its size. That means it has to be priced higher than other books, and you don't need to be an econ major to remember that lower prices increase demand.

If you need 198K, that's what you need.
I'm always willing to take a look (other agents aren't however, so be prepared for auto-rejects) if a book intrigues me.

Where big-ass books get the boot is most often when I read flabby first pages. If I read something that's 198K and I can see a way to take out 100 words in the first three pages, I'm going to conclude your word count is due to flab, not plot.

How can you make sure you've got plot bulk, not flab?  A good editor with a fist full of red pens is a good start.

A consultation at a writing conference might be in order. If you met me at a pitch session, brought your pages and told me it was 198K and did I think this ms was trim enough, I'd take a look and show you what I thought could be chopped.

A taut well-told 198K book can find an audience. It's got a much higher hurdle to overcome than a book that's half that size, but it can be done.

Good luck!