Tuesday, August 22, 2017

You're going to need a bigger boat

My game plan has always been to write something for the larger publishing market and to eventually seek a literary agent, but I deliberately started with smaller publishers: partly because of my confidence, partly because some of the things I want to put out probably wouldn't work for anything but a niche publisher (esoteric bits of history and fiction, not anything obscene or illegal like penguin erotica).

I'm signed to put a number of things out over the next two years. The publisher and editor are people I hugely respect, and who I think are very good at their jobs. I got a full length novel out electronically this year, with a print edition to follow next spring. I have two children's books out under a pseudonym that is deliberately easy to link to my other work.

However, my sales are fairly low. I'm aware that you've mentioned on your blog that you do check the sales of authors' other works. I'm trying to improve things, but my publishers are small and I find self promotion really difficult.

Could this sabotage my future attempts to seek representation?

You're no longer a blank slate. You have sales numbers. And they're probably terrible because a lot of small publishers sell direct to readers, and thus the sales aren't recorded on Bookscan.

It's entirely possible to have backlist with a small press and still secure a deal with a larger publisher. You just need a better, faster, stronger, smarter, and more enticing book than everyone else.

In other words, you can hook an agent but you're gonna need a bigger boat.

If an agent/editor/publisher gets excited about a book and thinks they can rake in the cash, nothing silly like a track record is going to hinder them.

Your job, Ishmael, is to get a whale of a project before you start querying agents.

Monday, August 21, 2017

For the love of all things holymoly, please send me what I ask for

I'm on the hunt for good material, so I'm in my queries regularly, and requesting a lot more material than usual.

This is really good news for you since projects I might have previoiusly passed on at the query stage are now getting a longer look.

Some of you are shooting yourselves in the foot with an elephant gun. Stop it.

Here's what you're doing.

You've got an ok or so-so query. It's not bad, but it's not grip-the-lapels compelling. I think "hmmm, let me check the pages. And you don't have them, or you included a synopsis, or worse a brief synopsis.

It's 7am when I'm reading your query. I've got another 20 to go. I'm just as likely to hit the pass button as dig around for the pages.

There's a reason I ask for pages and ONLY pages. I want to see how the story starts. I want to see what the story IS. I want to hear the voice that's in the story.

A synopsis is by definition pretty dull. It's about the elements of the book, rather than the narrative. It doesn't have much voice. It's certainly NOT what I'd give someone to entice them to read the book (after all, that is exactly what a query is supposed to do.)

When an agent asks for pages include them. It's not a trick, it's not intended to see if you can follow directions, it's not a test. It's the only way I can see what your damn book is going to be.

If an agent wants a synopsis send that. Not all agents want the same thing. Sorry about that, I know it's a pain in the ass, but it's just one of those things you have to deal with.

PS: If any of you clever readers out there want to check my website/s or other online sources that reference my submission guidelines and verify that I ask for 3-5 pages in the body of the email, please go ahead.  If it's not clear I'd like to know, and a second hundred set of eyeballs on something seems like a good idea.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Tweet! contest results

I'm barricaded under my duvet today, recovering from being nice to more than one person in a week at the Writers Digest conference on Friday. It was a really terrific group of writers (they laughed at my jokes--that's a sign of intelligence!) and it really was fun to hang out with them.

In the meantime you were all writing contest entries and having entirely too much fun doing so!

Herewith the results:

Uh oh, killing baby dragons is a no-no!
Kerry Bernard

The Steve Forti Award for awesome sleight of hand with prompt words:
Steve Forti (of course)

This cracked me up
Lynne Main
Because of this blog my letters won’t covfefe,

Delicious and skillful use of homonyms
Amy Johnson
Didn’t miss the damn news.
Until he missed the dam news.

Here are the finalists
Claire Bobrow
Sylvester @dinnerbell 3m
Hey @eatsh*t - Game on. Chess board ready & pawn in motion. Your move!
#catsrule #amplotting

Tweety @eatsh*t 2m
Press release @dinnerbell: every move is my move. U can kiss my feathered a**

Sylvester @dinnerbell 1m
Ladder’s at the birdcage, dude. Pot pie recipe locked and loaded @eatsh*t

Tweety @eatsh*t 45s
Breaking news @dinnerbell. I be cool singin’ and swingin’. But I tawt I taw a

Sylvester @dinnerbell 30s
Broom! WTF with ur old lady, dude?! @eatsh*t

Tweety @eatsh*t 10s
@dinnerbell - I be like

[GIF unavailable]


Sylvester @dinnerbell 1s
Thufferin’ thuccotash! @eatsh*t
The thing I love most here (and there is a lot to love) are the time stamps.
This is meticulous. I love meticulous

Late night. Almost early morning.
The fabric he's sewing will be her skin. The bright blue buttons on the table
he'll dip in glue and press on to her face; they'll be her eyes. He has a
store-bought dress and brand new shoes for her. He'll finish by giving her his
own heart, which she will break when she runs off with a strapping young lad
from the village like her sisters before her. But he tries not to think about
that yet. For now he sews. Birds wake up, begin to chirp and tweet. He
continues to sew.
This isn't really a story, but it's so beautifully executed it seems like one.

Megan V
RockinRobin Hey @ladybird, welcome to Jay Bird Street. 

ladybird @RockinRobin Thanks!. I’m loving the neighborhood. 

RockinRobin @Ladybird You haven’t experienced the neighborhood until you’ve
seen my place. You should hop by my treetop tonight. It’s going to be rockin’

ladybird @RockinRobin When?

RockinRobin @ladybird All Night Long.[GIF]

ladybird @RockinRobin Oh. Maybe some other time…

RockinRobin @Ladybird maybe tonight?

RockinRobin @ladybird #miperchessuperch

@ladybird blocked you…

RockinRobin123 don’t be like that @ladybird. All the birds love it when I tweet
tweet tweet them.

ladybird @RockinRobin123 Breaking news: I’m not a bird and I’m not impressed.
Bug off.

@RockinRobin and @RockinRobin123 blocked you...

Now you've gone and done it!
Yes it's in my head and will be for quite some time.

Melanie Savransky
"News is you've found our leak," said Mr.
Mulligan. "I'm impressed, lad."

"Didn't think I had the ambition?"

"Didn't think you had the brains. Some people are checkers, some chess.
You're . . . tic-tac-toe."

I pulled out my gun. "I was the leak, you pompous geezer, and when the
Feds read my tweets--"

He ruined the moment by laughing.

I shut him up three times.

Huh-- three holes in a row. Way I see it, doesn't matter the game, long as
you're a winner.
the line "I shut him up three times" is perfect!
Gladys slapped the newspaper onto Marty's desk. "What's
this? I'm an Illuminati Satanist who sold her soul for fame?"

"Hey, it keeps your name out there."

"You're fired, Marty."

"Sorry, Babe. We have a contract we etched in stone. Lasting, remember?
And nobody fires Marty Chessman. I'll ruin you first."

"Fuck you, Marty."

She stormed from the building. God, she hated him. She stared up at his office,
hand pressed to her heart, and the ground suddenly shook. The building swayed
and crumbled to dust.

A crowd gathered. Gladys walked away, grateful for the other contract she'd
signed. In blood.
 As one who gets her contracts signed in blood, this gave me the shivers.

Scrawled on an article about Obama’s birthplace:

I’ve got tremendous
proof of this news.

People will be so
impressed when
I tweet it—everyone’s
saying, “I can’t
believe this.”
That’s how great it

I heard it from
this guy I play
chess with—chess was
nothing before me,
by the way—I made it
big league—who
always gets salad. I
say to him, this is
New York. You can
have anything. Have
a steak. Why are you
going to have salad?

Looks like this
margin is too small
for my proof, but
it’s great, okay?
 There is an oblique reference to Fermat's Last Theorem here, and you all know I'm a sucker for math stuff.

I never forget.

Some argue I haven't really remembered. With the news, tweets, press
conferences- do I actually recall? I'm glad they believe so.

Also, chess grandmasters tap into different brain areas than amateurs. Is this
what you're asking for?

No? How can I help you?

I'd hate for you to exert yourself. Not now. Not when we're succeeding.

Go ahead, I'm listening.

And plotting. And planning. Do you know the first thing you'll help me with?

I wish to be called Tina McNavish.

Then comes the world domination.

Until then-

Hi, I'm Siri, how can I help you?

Oh my yes! This is a superb deployment of imagination and expectation. Sublime. 

And the winner is BRIG.

Congrats on your entry; let me know your mailing address and we'll get a copy of David Kedson's TWEET in the mail to you. (It's really funny)

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and post entries. Reading them was a lot of fun!


Friday, August 18, 2017

The Tweet Contest!

Tweet by David Kedson is hilarious.

To celebrate publication, let's have a contest.
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: lad/lady is ok, but lad/laid is not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contest opens: 9am (EDT) Saturday 8/19/17

Contest closes: 9am (EDT) Sunday 8/20/17

Check the time carefully. Comments may be open before the contest is, or after it closes.
Those comments will be zapped and not considered entries.

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 http://www.colindsmith.com/TreasureChest/

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

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

More on how to make a story from a series of events

I recently posted about why I was saying no to some requested fulls. One point I made was about the difference between a series of events and a story.

Blog reader Adele made this comment:

I once worked as a clerk at a police station. One of my duties was to type the statements people made to the police. They weren't recalling serious crimes, it was things like car accidents or witnessing a crime. It wasn't like on TV - there was no formal recorded interview; the people would just be given a statement form, extra pages, and a pen and asked to write down what happened.

At least 75% of the people would go back as far as the last time they could think of when their life was not tinged by what happened. If they were in a car accident at 1 pm, they would start with when they were eating toast for breakfast and how they finished up and put away the dishes and got their purse and got into the car and set out to drive somewhere. Often we would get 10 pages or more, and the last 2 or 3 would be what was wanted or needed - the rest was just setup. My point - that's the natural way people tell stories; it takes training to learn to throw away all that good stuff about the toast. 

This is a brilliant insight.
I intend to use it forever more, and most likely will forget to attribute it to Adele cause I'm addlepated.

This is one of the many reasons I love this blog and the community here.
You guyz are really smart, and really good writers.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

You can quote me

New Leaf has an All Hands On Deck meeting once a week to plot world domination, and stalking of snacks.  We open the meeting with an invocation to the book deities, which generally takes the form of a quotation about books or publishing.

I was asked to provide the quote for today's meeting.

Well! That was a task I welcomed.  I immediately dove into my reading journal where I write down the sentences/phrases/paragraphs from books I'm reading that resonate with me.

Here were some of the things I found that I put on my short list for Quote Consideration.

"I tried to think of the things I'd be capable of doing while on fire and the list was fucking short "
Jeff Somers (manuscript pages)
 Nope, not quite the right tone for this meeting, but still, awesome.
"I'd spent half my life giving a clinic on how to fuck up in slow motion. I had slow motion fucking whiplash."
Jeff Somers (manuscript pages)
Again probably not quite right for the meeting, but this should be on my tombstone for sure.
"Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active form like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is now, right here and now."
Mr. Rogers
 Now we're getting closer. And it's impossible to go wrong with Mr. Rogers.

"When destiny wants to fuck with you, it can afford to be patient. Destiny has all the time in the world."
Laura Lippman

Again, not quite the right tone, but oh so apt for so many other meetings.

"The only law that applied to her was gravity, and some days she defied that too."
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Well, that describes a couple people here at New Leaf, so we're back in the ballpark.

"The greatest spiritual practice is just showing up."
Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Probably a little too spiritual for a secular business meeting, but I love this quote, and I really love that book.
"Everytime we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is on the other side of it."
Pastrix by  Nadia Bolz-Weber

 Well, even though I love this quote and think about it often, it's clearly a non-starter at this secular meeting. 

And then I found this one.

Books are the carriers of civilization.
Without books, history is silent,
literature dumb,
science crippled,
thought and speculation at a standstill.

                                  --Barbara Tuchman

 And I think it's perfect.

Do you have a saying taped up in your office that reminds you of the big picture?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

So, about your contact page!

After my soul-scorching email management program meltdown last month, I lost a couple email addresses. I find out which ones only when I need to reach a particular person.

Yesterday was such a day.

I had manuscript pages to send back to a writer.
The query did not list her email address.
It did however list her website: triumph.
The website has those cute little icon things for email, twitter, Facebook.

So I clicked on email.
And up pops an email service provider that asks for ...

her email address.

I can't send her an email from her website unless I know her email address.

Ok, triumph.

So I click Twitter: Triumph will be mine!
The little tweet box pops up with a form message about her website.
But what it doesn't have is her Twitter handle.
Triumph part no.

At this point I'm stymied.
So I call her.
And that turns out to be just the ticket.
Besides having a nice convo, we had a good laugh about the website, and why I needed her info.

What does this mean for you?
Well, yes, I will track you down, but you already knew that.

What it means is that you check your contact page from a computer that is not yours.
Make sure someone can reach you if they don't have your email address.
And you might double check that your Twitter link actually reveals your Twitter handle.
Same for Facebook.

And if you think "oh she has my email" well, maybe not.

Any questions?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sunday's contest results

 I was in the office yesterday so I decided an impromptu contest was just thing to keep me amused while I reviewed royalty statements (yes, I know, I live a life of such glamour!)

Herewith the results

oh so macabre this lovely Sunday morning!
Amy Schaefer!

And just to up the ante,
there's E.M. Goldsmith!

 If you three ever get together, I think Hamlet will spontaneously stage itself!

Here are the finalists!

Steve Forti, in full Fortissimo Form
just left. it's hot & funky in there. fair warning.

dayum! u no kidding! nasty! turn on a/c!


use d
eodorant, dude! gross :(

at some point we're just going to have to start handicapping Steve with some extra rules or something. He's so hilariously brilliant it's just not fair.  

Colin Smith
“J’accus√©!” declared the detective.
“Je me repent!” declared the accused.
“Je pardonne,” said the wronged to the penitent.
“Je m'en fous,” grinned the executioner.
In French no less.
Impromptu French no less.

Kathy Joyce
Not amused to be bruised, I accused.
He lied, denied, took me for a ride.
I fought, he's caught.
No bail, jail.
Now I'm amused.
I love the rhythm of this.
Kat Waxlawik
Red hands: dead giveaway.
Unrepentant. Exultant.
Maximum penalty.
Time out: ten minutes.
Crimson foyer masterpiece: permanent

 You were thinking it was some bloodthirsty crime no doubt (me too)--particularly
after Elise, Cynthia and Amy did their double bubble entries above.
A twist in 13 words is pretty damn amazing. And bonus points for alluding to paint
without saying the dreaded word.

I axed to be accused and so they let me go.
And this just cracked me up completely.
I love the word play.
Of course this is the winner!

Congrats FanManFan. Email me with your mailing address and I'll get a copy of Accused in the mail to you. If by some chance you've already read it, I've got some other terrific books here that need good homes.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and post entries. You really brightened up my day, and I thank you for it!

And for those of you guessing the number of requested fulls yet to be read: you're all wrong. And too low. I counted them up this morning, and that odd sound you hear is me weeping shark tears into an already salty ocean.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday Flash!

I'm in the office today working away on all those delicious royalty statements we get in August. Yummy!! (it's money so yes, it's very yummy!)

Since I'm working, I thought it would be fun to have a flash flash contest!
I read Lisa Scottoline's ACCUSED yesterday for fun, and it was terrific.  I got it in the swag bag at ThrillerFest (it was a good haul this year!) and would love to pass it along to a blog reader.


Write 25 words or less, using the word accused in your entry.
Post in the comment column of this post.

Contest opens NOW.
It closes when I leave the office today! (So, let's all hope it's not midnight, ok?)


Contest closed.
(Hey it's 5:30pm on Sunday, I wanna go HOME!)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Two reasons you're hearing no

I'm on a reading tear this month so I've got my eyeballs on a lot of requested manuscripts. This means I'm reading stuff that sounded intriguing at the query stage. Good query, good premise, good pages.

So, why do a lot of these novels not get past the requested full stage?

(1) One big reason is when nothing happens in the first 50 pages. When I say nothing happens, I really mean nothing CHANGES for the characters. Nothing is at stake. They haven't had to make a choice.

It's akin to a chess game. The chess players first set up the board. The pieces are carefully placed and then  the chess player makes a choice and MOVES a piece;commits to changing where one of the pieces is. The story and plot start when the first piece moves, not when the players sit down at the board.

If a lot of your first chapter is getting people into place, I'm yawning by chapter two.

And if your character doesn't have to change, move, decide, risk something in the first 50 pages, it's often a pass from me.

Or think of it this way. Remember the Frost poem that starts "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood?"
Facing those two roads is where the story starts.

How Our Man in the Woods got to the place, what he's carrying in his rucksack, what he ate for lunch, why he's carrying three cats and a lute...all beside the point. Interesting of course, and I'll be keen to see more about it later, but the story starts when Cats N Woodsman  has to decide which path to take.

This is often what we're thinking about when you hear "slow pacing" or "the story didn't start soon enough" or more baldly "no plot."

It's really easy to confuse a series of events with plot. They are NOT the same thing. Only where there is something at stake/a choice/a decision/a change is there a plot.

(2) Lack of story telling. A series of events isn't a story either. A story has context and world building.
Felix Buttonweezer arrived on Carkoon. There was a lot of kale. He'd come from The Reef. It's true, you can't suggest Sharques post twice a day and not get exiled. 

That's a series of events.

Felix Buttonweezer landed on Carkoon, jet pack in pieces at his feet, looked around at the kale fields and wondered if he'd ever see The Reef again. Or how he'd ever get back.

is the start of a story.

Do you see the difference?
(ok, it's terrible writing, but you're the novelist, not me!)

As you read books-not-yours, read with your writer eye. Watch how the novelist tells a story, how they get stakes on the page and WHEN.  Emulate!

And often the best way to learn is to read books that aren't your favorite, and figure out why you hate them.

I realized I don't much care for the drunken-sot-down-on-his-luck-ex-something cause I like protagonists who are heroic, who are our better selves.  This isn't some kind of blanket statement, but it goes a long way toward understanding why I love love love Jack Reacher and Sam Dryden. And why I love Peter Ash (The Drifter et al by Nick Petrie). While Peter is down on his luck, he's not a sad sack. He's a guy who makes things happen. (I'm sure there's someone out there who doesn't like Peter Ash but that person is a dunderhead and will be spoken of nevermore.)

Now back to my reading stack.
You do NOT want to guess how many pending fulls I have.
Or maybe you do.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Querying for memoir

There has to be a story.
A story is more than just what happened.
The story is the POINT you're making.

The reason you write a memoir is not to tell us what happened, it's to tell us how what happened changed you (and better yet, changed a lot of things.)

If you were shipped to Carkoon, and worked in the kale factory, toiling alongside your fellow exiled blog readers, that's a series of events. That's NOT a memoir.

If you were shipped to Carkoon, worked in the kale factory, toiling alongside your fellow exiled blog readers, only to discover kale is actually the secret to writing best sellers and now all of you are querying with Magical Unicorn Books written while smoking kale, that's still only a series of events and NOT a memoir.

If you were shipped to Carkoon, worked in the kale factory, discovered kale was the secret to good writing, started querying, only to discover that kale made you a great writer, but only for books of dino porn, and you had to choose between being a great writer (of dino porn) or continuing to struggle to write better the old fashioned way, THAT'S a memoir.

It's the same element I've been yammering about for novels: what's at stake, what choices did you have to make, how did it change you. Choices are what make a memoir universal. By universal I mean it will resonate with people who didn't get exiled to Carkoon and aren't even writers. They might be musicians faced with a man dressed in black at a dusty crossroad in the Mississippi Delta.  They might be a reporter who learned Miss Piggy is really Mr Piggy, but from a source who will lose her job if the news is made public. To report or not to report? That's a memoir.

I get a lot of memoir queries from people who've done interesting things. I think there's great value in having those books published, BUT if you want your memoir to be published by a trade publisher, you need to tell me a story, not just what happened.

Bottom line: when you query for memoir, tell me about the choice you had to make first, not the events that precipitated the choice.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Yeesh, is this bad agent week?

I pitched a novice agent on a non-fiction project and he signed me--with much apparent enthusiasm--after receiving and reading the proposal. The agent claimed that one of the big five was specifically interested, but just after submitting to them he advised that he would be returning to a full time position in the non-agent civilian world but wanted to continue representing the project. There had been some issues with getting timely replies on the rare occasions I reached out to him, but there was a documented relationship between this agent and the publisher so I decided to ride it out.

There was no sketchy requests for paid editing services, etc. The agency has a history of decent deals, and no negative publicity that I could find.

One of the last messages received said that a specific editor was reading the proposal, loved it, and we should hear something soon.

Communication has gone all but dark, there's been no follow up on the status of the proposal, and I'm ready to start searching for a new agent. What I'm wondering is, is there a professional way to determine if the proposal was ever actually submitted at all?

Yes, but that's the second thing you'll need to do.
The first is you need to decide what to do about your "agent."
I've yammered on the topic of "I'm quitting but still want to rep you"

Your agent could have gone back to civilian life and agented on the side without saying a word. A lot of agents have side gigs, particularly when they are new.  That he told you he was leaving agenting is a signal that he's not here for the long term.

Once you decide what to do, if you've elected to find a new agent, you can query on THIS PROJECT because it looks like only one editor has seen it.

When you sign with a new agent, s/he can call the editor who has it now.
This is not something you do yourself. For starters, an editor will most likely not return your phone call.

I've had to check on projects a couple times, and it's something you do pretty carefully. In other words, leave it to someone who knows how to do it.

You're better off than someone whose project got shopped widely if you're looking for silver linings.

And just for the record: this is bad bad bad agenting.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Answers to yesterday's questions

Yesterday's blogpost churned up more questions than usual, so here's a rundown of the answers.

Colin Smith asked:
Without disagreeing with what you said (I value my limbs), doesn't the agent who dropped poor Opie have a point? After all, if an agent doesn't love your work, it'll be really hard for that agent to sell it. That's what we keep being told--and I believe it. So, while it was a betrayal of an agreement, wasn't the agent simply being consistent with that idea of only representing what s/he loves? I know you love many of the novels your colleagues at New Leaf represent. But do you think you could represent any one of them with the same passion? Just saying, I think it's a tough call on both sides.

There's a difference between taking on a novel from jump, and salvaging a client who's been summarily dumped. It's true that agents leave agencies and clients are left in the lurch. But to just say "tough luck Frank Buck" is bad bad bad business.

I've sold novels I didn't love. I've sold novels I haven't read. I've sold novels I thought needed work. A lot of times that's cause I was selling stuff I hadn't signed.

When an author is told his representation is with an agency, not just the agent, he relies on that for making a decision about representation. It's brutally unfair to the author to renege.

Mark Conrad asked:
A further question I have, and I should have posed it to Janet originally, is: is it typical for editors to not respond to a pitch like that (4 out of 5 didn’t)? It’s expected of agents these days, but also editors?

It's clear this guy was new and didn't have established relationships.
The missing piece of (crucial) info here is how much time went by. 30 days? No one has replied. 180 days? Everyone should have, or the submissions should have been closed out.

BJ Muntain asked:
Janet: A question. Since there were no clients to check for references, would Mark have been within his rights to ask the Head agent what they thought before accepting representation? Or even another agent at the agency? Just curious.
Well, you can do whatever you want in that situation. There's no law against asking anybody anything (ok ok, don't look for exceptions)

BUT, I'd have advised a young agent to run fast in the other direction if a prospective client started phoning around here for references. That speaks of a lack of confidence that is Not A Good Thing at the start of a relationship.

The client relied on what the agent told him. It's unfortunate that he seems to be the only one who did.

Colin Smith dangled this question:
What do you think, Janet? Legal experts?

Yea, not not not commenting on a contract/agreement I haven't actually seen.
That is the way of doom.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Well that was fun, now what?

My thriller MS went through revisions and revolutions, thanks to feedback from a number of very good agents (at least a dozen requested) and fellow writers. The book was almost queried out, when—hallelujah!—I received an offer of rep.

Now, this wasn’t the dream situation. The agent in question was brand new—I was his first client. BUT he had a good editorial background, and he worked for a very well-established agency. So, why not give the kid a chance, right? He could be young and hungry, eager to do well, and I’d get his undevoted attention.****

He pitched the book to five editors at five publishing houses. (And only ever heard back from one, for some reason.)

But then, a few months later, I get the phone call: Head Agent informs me that New Agent Guy (NAG) quit. Head Agent gives me the choice: Does she represent me, or does she cut me loose? Of course, I say I’d love to have her represent me! So, NAG’s quitting had a silver lining after all. I’m all of a sudden repped by an agent with a long track record, someone with connections.

Only, she hadn’t yet read the whole manuscript. When she does, I get a curt email informing me that she didn’t connect with it, and since NAG quit, the contract was void. Good night, and good luck.

This was a real kick in the teeth, since I asked NAG straight out when he first offered, what would happen if he quit. Would I be left in the void, or would another agent represent me? He told me that any client represented by any of the agents is really a client of the agency itself (one big, happy family), so if he quit, I’d still be taken care of.

I felt like I’d been pretty seriously misled by both NAG and Head Agent. I didn’t kick up a fuss about it, since what would be the point? But my teeth are feeling pretty loose.

There’s a lesson to be learned here, but I’m not sure what it is. So, let me ask two questions:

1) Should I have gone about things differently in those negotiations with NAG (e.g., somehow get it in writing that I wouldn’t be out on my own if he quit)?

2) Is my beautiful, polished MS dead in the water, vis-à-vis other agents, since NAG sent it out to five publishers?

Before we get into what lessons are to be learned, let's have a round of a medicinal-purposes beverage, cause oh man, my heart (cold and dark as it is) hurts for you.

I don't want to fling aspersions without knowing all elements of the situation, but yegods and little fishies, this feels like an epic betrayal.

Your mistake was not getting anything in writing.  Some agents/agencies do not have written agreements, and that's fine and dandy until everyone has a different recollection of what was said or a different interpretation of what it meant.

If an offering agent does NOT have a written agreement (and more than a few very solid agents/agencies do not) what you do is memorialize your conversation in writing.  In other words take notes on the answers to your questions and then email them to the offering agent.

To wit:
Dear SharkForBrains,
It was lovely to talk with you on the phone today. I'm delighted to accept your offer of representation. Here are my notes on the points we covered:

1. You will hand deliver the weekly submission database to my house while singing the score from The Music Man.

2. If you die/dematerialize/spontaneously combust/are kidnapped by aliens/make tracks for a better job, the agency will continue to represent my Work/s.

3. At Yuletide I will refrain from sending drummers, pipers, leapers, dancers, milkers, swimmers, layers, callers, hens, doves, or partridges, no matter the number, but will send choccies, spirits, and vino.

You get the point there, right?

And you're right, there's no use to saying anything now. Besides, would you want these people as your agent any longer? To quote Hannibal Lecter when presented with a vegetarian meal of fava beans and Chianti: "Ewww"

Where do you go from here?
This ms isn't the one to secure your next agent with. It's not dead, but it's on the back burner.  Time to get the next one ready. Query with that. You might leave out the whole dreadful story here when querying but DO mention it when you have offers.  It shouldn't have a negative impact at that point in the process.

And overall: this is a really crappy thing to do to a writer. Agents have to do crappy stuff for good reasons sometimes (form letters, saying no to publishable work etc) but to leave you stranded like that isn't anything close to a necessity.

***the irony of your typo here is hilarious. 
Of course you meant undivided, not undevoted.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Query Letter help

I've lurked quietly on your blog for years. I had hoped some day to send an email out of the blue with the subject line "My novel is getting published, and I couldn't have done it without you!" But I'm not there yet.

I started querying my novel about a year ago and didn't have much luck. First round: zero full requests out of ten total queries. OK, fine--so I reworked. Second round: one full out of seventeen total queries. OK, fine--I reworked again. But then I got spooked. What if I burn through all the agents in the world with an obviously-flawed letter and manuscript? I'm especially concerned because even with all this editing and help from friends, I'm not convinced my query is actually improving. I haven't sent in that many queries, but the trend isn't great.

So now I can't get past the reworking. I would gladly part with some dollars for a thoughtful/experienced opinion (since I'm too skittish for the forever-public Query Shark). So is there anyone out there who does this well? I've found a few places online, but I don't know if they're any good. I've seen you mention query evals agents will donate for fundraisers--but I don't know how to find these either. Related, any chance chum bucket will open up again? I know it's querying-for-real and not primarily about feedback, but I've been hanging on to my query for you just in case.

The value of QueryShark isn't that you get your query critiqued. The value is you see lots of critiques and figure out how to do it yourself. Read the archives, make notes. Use those notes to assess your query.

It's the same thing you do when you read books in your category: watch how other writers handle challenges, make notes, follow suit.

I get the sense that you think The Answer is somewhere out there, and it's not.  There is no one answer, there is only effort, and practice, and paying attention.

You can't buy what you need here which is honing your ability to distinguish good writing from flabby writing, and interesting, compelling novels from ho-hum novels.  That comes from reading, and writing.

Stephen King famously said "The first million words are practice" and I think he's spot on.

This isn't going to be easy, and the path is never going to be clear.  The best you can do is keep your machete sharp and whack away at the foliage till you clear YOUR path.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Contest results-NOW FINAL

Special recognition for alliteration
Sharyn Ekbergh: "a shiver of sand sharks"

The Duchess of Yowl is hoping the hooligans are still being held in the hoosegow
AJ Blythe
Extra tough curtain rods in anticipation of the Duchess of Yowl's next visit.
 The return of the clue-by-four!
Sarah 9:12am
After breaking the last three whilst gently remonstrating woodland creatures, she of the toothy grin opens the newly delivered clue-by-four.
 If only!
BJ Muntain
Holy cow. That box must be 4 to 5 feet long...

I know. You ordered yourself a new intern via the Interwebz. It's one of those new-fangled interns that puffs out to normal width when you pull them out of the box. And feed them cookies.

Yea, but those option checks cash juuuuust fine!
Brent Salish
The new Reacher novel. Lee Child was tired of "how tall is he, really," so he decided to make the form of the novel fit the character. He tried - he really did, with the help of his agent - to convince the publisher that Reacher is 6'5", but they knew the truth. And that's why the box is exactly the same height as Tom Cruise.

Several readers were moved to poetry!
What came in the box has left
no trace, no tail, no shed skin.
No desert dust or lingering scent,
nor grain of salt, or breath of wind.
Not any clue at all remains
of what has come and gone.

Melanie Sue Bowles
The trip to Carkoon is a short one,
yet arduous and risky.

You should never make it alone,
but always take scotch whisky.

As you head up Screwed Creek,
there are sharks - don't be incautious.

And that paddle you thought you'd get?
It's sitting in a New York City office.

Marty Weiss
The Area Rug
“The floor was cold; its hardwood made me shiver.
Arachnologists say, that’s bad for a spider’s liver.
She listened and cared and bought it just for me.
At last, it’s here. It arrived F.O.B.

If, perchance, a wandering household bug,
would stray upon this brand new area rug.
I’d joke and play, for I am not a killer,
I’m more like the late Miss Phyllis Diller.

Shag or broadloom, cotton or wool,
Beige or umber or any thing else that’s cool.
Who cares what color, as long as it lays flat.
But please, keep her off, that spider-chasing cat.”

And yet...no
Window blinds. I've never been more certain of anything in my life.
Steve Forti references from pop culture eluded me. I knew there had to be something there though,
so I googled. Thanks Steve. Thanks a lot.
It puts the lotion on its skin..."

Fortunately I did get the reference on this entry!
Joseph Snoe
It was a a long day's journey into night.

This one too.
What is in the box?

A very long kaleidoscope and a very tiny tab of acid.

And a note. A query, really. It begins...

Picture yourself in a boat on a river...

Kathryn sent us all to google translate!
Diri man ini an baton. Ini an para magpalurong kan Janet kon diri hiya makahibaro kon ano nga yinaknan man ini. Pilipino ba? Oo naman, per ano man? Usa ka libro ha akon kon diri ka maaram.

This is so surreal it begs to be a Sean Ferrell book
DelicartoonsDELLcartoons (sheesh SharkForBrains, get it rlght!)
One of the more unusual offerings on Etsy on a hand-crafted Entire-Universe-Except-For-One-Red-Umbrella.

It arrives in a tall, thin, Inside-Out box. A normal box has its insides on the inside and and its outsides on the outside. But an Entire-Universe-Except-For-One-Red-Umbrella obviously won't fit in a normal box, so they put it in an Inside-Out box.

When the box "arrives" it doesn't actually go anywhere, but the contents inside get rearranged so that you're now near the opening.

Here are the finalists
"P2PYL," Janet said, giving her eyes a rest from the hundredth query of the morning. "Never heard of that company before."

The box appeared empty, but had some heft to it. Too heavy for Spidopuss, but not for the filament she produced.

The billowy thread floated into the box and went taut. Tug...tug...cocoon.

"Whoa, Spidey. Let me see."

The object was long, thin, platinum-looking but brighter.

"What are you?" Janet asked and wondered if she should call security.

Letters formed above the latch.

"Open me"

Spidopuss looked at Janet.

Janet looked at the letters as they dissolved and reformed.





"Now you're getting bossy," Janet said.

Sweet cursive

"Might be books"

"Might be a bomb," Janet said.

"Would I do that to you?"

"I don't know. Who are you?"

"Open me and find out."

Janet started to flip the latch - wait - not with that pen. She grabbed a ruler instead.

She flipped the lock and the thing unfolded swift and smooth in the middle of the room where it hung on nothing, shimmering.

"It's a portal," Janet said "but to where?"

"Not to where," a familiar voice said, followed by a wave and a smile.

"Hello, Mum," Janet said. "It's been a while."

Dena Pawling
The box she'd been waiting for had finally arrived.

Spidopuss checked her bank balance, smiled at the hefty deposit for “services rendered,” reviewed her instructions, and started spinning.

Once all employees of New Leaf were cocooned, she opened the door.

“Mmmmmph,” said a cocoon.

“Mwahahahaha,” said intruder #1, rubbing her hands.

Spidopuss finished with the exacto knife (successfully, as she still had all eight legs attached).

“Good girl,” said intruder #2, extracting the contents of the box.

“Mmmmmph!!” said the cocoon again desperately, ignoring the advice to kill all adverbs modifying the word said.

The two intruders found chairs and glasses.

“To our host,” said intruder #1, filling the glasses and raising one high.

“Cheers,” said intruder #2, lifting his glass to meet the other.

“Mmmmmph!!” said the cocoon again, wriggling and wriggling and firmly, definitely, unequivocably stuck, owing to the excellent work of Spidopuss along with several unused adverbs discovered lurking at the bottom of the now-empty box.

Once the special order bottomless bottle of Scotch was empty, sobs could be heard emanating from the cocoon and ignoring the advice to avoid passive voice. Poelle and Sherman left their empty glasses where they'd fallen, and helped each other slosh out the door.

“Thanks, Shark. T'was a lovely party,” they slurred on the way out.

The cocoon wept.

Scott Sloan
    ... as every little spider worth its web knows, no one will remember what came in the box the day after tomorrow...
    Spiders (and cats) everywhere will tell you this is a fact of nature.
    A universal given.
    Who cares what was shipped?
    It's the box that's important!
    With an empty box the possibilities are endless.
    With any actual contents, the possibilities become severely limited.
    What arrived was, indeed, another empty box?!?

Panda In Chief
What’s in the box?
Let the Spidopuss see.
It might be for you,
it might be for me.
Does it have frosting
or ribbons and string?
Is it sort of organic
or crusted with bling?
Is it squishy and soft-
Will it break if it falls?
Is it made for a kitchen
or hung on the walls?
Let me see, let me see!
I must take a look.
Oh fuck it all, Janet,
just send me a book.

EM Goldsmith
What's in the box? This was a curse not a gift. It should never have been opened.

Emptiness and darkness escape the box. Wails of despair wrought of lonliness and isolation no longer in the box. Every soul feels that anguish as it swirls in the ether.

A body found dead, an innocent man accused, well-framed and then well-executed, a dance too often repeated no longer in the box.

These things torment us all now.

A disease of ignorance and hate, pain and tornent flee the box. Please, close it now.

Oh, Pandora, what have you left us? Is hope still there at the bottom of the box? I fear to look. Better to have faith than to know for sure what is left in the box.

Timothy Lowe

Melanie Savransky
    Spidey put down his Glock and opened the box. "You know what this means, don't you? It's curtains for you, Alot."

    Alot fainted.

    "And a curtain rod," Spidey added, "in an absolutely darling brass finish."

    He looked at Alot and sighed. Starting a hitman/interior decorator business wasn't the worst idea he'd ever had, but it was definitely in the top ten.

John Davis (manuscript) Frain
I'm kinda cheating because I ordered the same box.

One of the ninety-six emails I got from Writer's Digest last Monday (I know, slow day) offered the "really good, very nice, excitingly fresh, alarmingly brief box o’ adverbs." They marketed it as all the adverbs you'll need for your WIP. I'm a sucker for good marketing.

Mine arrived yesterday. Despite the long and misleading product name, the box comes as your picture indicates—empty.

So, what's in the box? All the adverbs you'll need for a compelling story.

Because story is what it's all about. Well, that and the hokey-pokey.

(Ed. note: I was breaking out in a rash because my earlier entry was over 100 words. I know it wasn't a rule, but I'm conditioned like one of Pavlov's dogs. Feel much better now, thank you.)

Karen McCoy
Spiderpuss trampled over Janet and the Alot to get a look inside. “It’s dark.”

“Can’t you see in the dark?” the Alot sighed.

“If I was an actual spider, probably,” Spiderpuss says. “Fluff doesn’t really allow for much.”

“You’re right about that,” the Alot groaned. “It’s bad enough that people are still comparing me to Michael Phelps.”

Janet sighed. “No one is doing that. You’re lucky I’m still willing to type your name at all, Alot. Word keeps correcting it.”

“Speaking of words,” Spiderpuss said, “I think there’s one in the box.” With his soft, spidey legs, he pulled out the first letter. “A.”

“Is that the first letter?” the Alot asked.

“Not all names start with A like yours,” Spiderpuss groaned. He grabbed a second letter. “I.”

“AI?” The Alot asked. “Who would send artificial intelligence in a box?”

“There’s more.” Eventually Spiderpuss pulled out 2Ns, an E, another N, a T, and an R.

“It’s an anagram!” The Alot clapped. “I love those. What’s it say?”

Janet scrambled the letters, and eventually landed on the following phrase: “An intern. I ask for an intern, and this is what they send me.”

“Someone thinks they’re punny,” Spiderpuss said.

The Alot snickered.

Let me know which are your faves, and if you think I missed one that should be a finalist.

Final results later today.

You guyz really outdid yourselves!!


I couldn't pick just one.
And since I have several prize books to give away, this seems like just the right time for TWO winners.

And they are: John Davis Frain and Melanie Savransky. Both entries just cracked me up every time I read them.

Melanie, let me know your mailing address.

John, let me know if yours has changed since your last win.

And to all of you who took the time to write entries, many thanks!  It's always a pleasure to read your work!

Saturday, August 05, 2017

flash contest!

What came in this box?

The box arrived in the office, and the Spidopuss immediately rappelled in to investigate.

She got out the exacto knife, sliced the tape, and took a look.

It was a very long box!

What could have been inside this?

Here are some clues:

1. It was not a giraffe.

2. It was not a snake.

3. It was not a pogo stick (all the animals in the office were disappointed at that.)

In the comment column, tell me what you think came in the box!

Of course there's a prize!
It's one of these books:

Contest opens NOW
Contest closes later tonight!

Remember, reality plays a VERY small part of "correct" in these answers.  Yes, something did come in the box, but getting it "right" is less important to a winning answer than imagination, fun, word play, and clever.

Have at it!

Oops, too late. Contest now closed.

Friday, August 04, 2017

I've revised, can I resend?

I have a manuscript I've been querying for a year, and in the latter half of that year received a few full manuscript bites after I finally nailed down the query. However, none of the reads have resulted in an offer. As the rejections piled up, I realized that my style was there and my characters were on point (both have been praised across the board--phew!) but my plot had significant issues (only one agent pointed it out, the rest glossed over reasons why they rejected it).

I've finally decided that I need to scrap about 85% of the plot and rewrite from scratch. New location, new inciting incident, new MC background, and new motivations for the villain. Three major things stay close to the same: the characters' personalities, their relationships, and the way the supernatural powers work in this world.

Here's where I hit a brick wall: I've already queried HUNDREDS of agents for this genre. To be honest, I think I've gone through almost every known legitimate agent located in the USA that I can find for this project alone. I'd be sending this query to several, of not those hundreds, of the same agents.

Is this advisable? Since the plot is different but the characters are more or less the same, is this a new query or a requery? The title is unique (a made-up word) and the same (as it's something central to the story). The genre is the same. The character names are the same (and are fairly unusual). Is this too likely to earn me an automatic rejection for "requerying" the same manuscript even though it's an entirely new plot from the ground up? Or is the change big enough that I could call it a "new" query and treat it as such?

That odd pain in your hairline is me smacking you upside the head.
There's a pretty obvious solution to your problem here, but you're too close to it to see.

Change the title.
Change the names of the characters.

I can hear you screeching in agony at this idea. I know, you worked hard to get the perfect title, and you worked to find great names for your characters.

Are you going to let that get in your way?

Authors have to lose things they love All The Time. Titles. Covers. Character Names.  Might as well start practicing now.

If you change all this, its a brand new query, and of the previous query we shall never speak again.

If you can't bring yourself to adhere to this advice, it's still a new query, but chances are we'll notice that this isn't the first time we've met your book.

The leader of the volunteer program at my church used to stand up and ask us "do you have an hour for Jesus this week?" which kind of made it impossible to say no to any task she needed done.

I'll riff on that by asking you "are you willing to let go of things you love to get your book to the next level?"

Thursday, August 03, 2017

I won! I almost won! Notifying agents about contest results

The MS I'm querying recently placed in a reputable writing contest. Hooray! Obviously this is news that goes in all future query letters. (In the same paragraph with the other "meta data" like word count and title, yes?)

1) What's the best way to phrase this in a query? I didn't win, but I was runner-up. Other contests don't rank anyone beyond the winner (a la the Oscars), so would that just be 'I finaled'?

2) Are there contests big enough that you should send an update to agents with partials or fulls? My instinct tells me something like a Golden Heart or Thriller (national, big awards ceremony, etc.) is major news, but few others are. And that mentioning in a well-timed nudge is one thing, while sending a random update out of the blue is quite another.

(0) Yes

(1) "Title was the runner up in the 2017 Idol Hands Are the Devil's Playground Writing contest (sponsored by the Beel, Zee and Bub writing conference.)"

(2) It won't kill you to include this in a well-timed nudge. It won't kill you if you send a random update out of the blue either. I'd prefer the former to the latter only because I will reply to a nudge but not an update.

Bottom line: I'm delighted your novel won this accolade but it makes zero difference to me. (Sorry.)

Here's why: your competition is from too small a pool, and most likely only unpublished manuscripts. You'd have to actually win one of those contests to have the same odds as getting a request for a full from an agent.

Here's the math:

Most of those contests have fewer than 100 entries. I have five hundred queries in a month (6000 a year) and even when I'm on a full-requesting spree as I am now, I've asked for only 60 manuscripts.

requested full 1:100 (sixty out of six thousand)
win a contest: 1:100

When you add win, place or show:
Final in a contest: 3:100
(requested fulls still 1:100)

What this means for you: it certainly won't hurt to mention this, and doing well in a contest is terrific reassurance that you're not writing dreck, but it won't help you in the incoming queries enough to spend lots of time or money entering these. Winning a contest will get my attention probably. What keeps my attention is your novel.


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

More on category-the zombie topic!

Last week at a writer's workshop, I pitched my contemporary mystery with a strong woman protagonist, social issue theme, and a character-driven plot, to two agents.

One agent told me mysteries don't treat social issues. The other informed me that upmarket fiction has character-driven plots but genre fiction (commercial?) does not.

In a future blog post, could you address the differences between literary, upmarket, and commercial fiction, particularly with regard to character-driven mystery plots?

Genre fiction doesn't have character driven plots? Tell that to the one gazillion readers of romance and women's fiction!

But before I flip out completely

let me answer the question.

Literary, upmarket, and commercial fiction are not either/or categories. Books can be literary and commercial. Books can be upmarket commercial fiction.

Generally we (and by we I mean your Tormentors-agents, editors, etc) use these terms to help editors/marketing departments figure out how to describe the writing in the book.

Commercial fiction tends to be straightforward, without a lot of beautiful sentences that make you stop reading just to get your breath back.  A good example of commercial fiction is Patrick Lee.  All five of his books are compelling, page turning reads. They're brilliantly written. They are not literary. They are commercial. Very good commercial fiction.

By contrast Jeff Somers is actually more literary than you'd think. His book We Are Not Good People is so beautifully written I'd call it literary genre fiction.

The Jack Reacher books are good commercial fiction.

James Lee Burke writes beautiful literary genre fiction.

Jack Reacher books are plot driven in that Jack Reacher is by and large the same guy at the end of the book that he is at the start.

Loretta Sue Ross's wonderful Auction Block series is character driven, rather than plot driven. The characters are changed by the end of the book, and we read the next one in the series to hang out with Death and Wren, not because of the plot.

And all of these are crime novels: genre novels.

You said you have strong woman protagonist and a social issue theme. Your problem is you're talking theme when you should be talking story.  When a writer starts talking about theme, I start wondering how soon till the bar opens.

STORY is what drives all fiction, be it  upmarket or downmarket, genre or literary. Sure your book might have a theme, but that's not how you persuade someone to read it.

And any agent who tells you that mysteries don't deal with social issues clearly hasn't read enough in the category to be making pronouncements about what it is and isn't.

While it's true that traditionals and cozies are very often issue-free, it's certainly not true of all crime novels.  And even some cozies branch into issues. They just layer it into the story.

There are some rules about genre fiction but they aren't about the kind of writing (literary, or upmarket, or commercial.) They're about story, plot and character.

If you want my take on the differences, here they are. Remember though, these are MINE, not an industry standard:

Literary fiction: you notice the writing. Good literary fiction delights you with deft language and metaphor.

Commercial fiction: you don't notice the writing at all. Good commercial fiction delights you with plot twists.

Upmarket commercial fiction: you notice the writing but it doesn't stun you into silence.

Downmarket commercial fiction: if you're a writer, the writing drives you nuts.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Bonus content: Some housekeeping

A few of you have received increasingly stern emails from me about the number and length of comments.

I thought it might be worth a post to explain why this is important.

I value the community that has developed here.  The regular readers offer insight and perspective that adds value to my yammering.  The occasional lurker stepping in to comment often provides fresh ideas. 

We need both of those to keep the blog thriving.

If the regulars comment too often or at too much length, it discourages the more casual reader from reading, and worse, from participating.

And worse, the blog takes on the feel of a private club; one with insiders, regs, and inside jokes. No one wants to look foolish to a group, so people become afraid to comment.

That can NOT happen here. What we have built, all of us together, has too much value to sacrifice thoughtlessly.

So, please adhere to the rule of no more than three comments a day, each no more than 100 words.

If you want some guidelines on what to post: don't repeat what I said; don't repeat what a previous commenter said. Provide fresh information, or your own DIFFERENT perspective.

Jokes about Carkoon are fine.

Off topic is a little more dicey: generally any kind of news about a blog reader is welcome. Any kind of accolade for "our" authors here, also good.

Asking if people are attending a conference; looking for beta readers; all that is fine, but only ONCE. All the subsequent info sharing should happen elsewhere.

Most of you are just fine.
And you're the ones who are going to worry.

If you wonder if I'm talking about you, check how many times you commented this week. If it's more than six, I'm talking about you.

If you want to email me to see if you're in trouble: jetreidliterary at gmail will reach me.

 Questions? Fire away.

When an agent requests your full manuscript

I've been on a full-requesting-spree these last few weeks, thus have noticed some things which might have escaped my attention had I seen them over a longer period of time.

None of these are deal-breakers. I'm not going to summarily reject your novel if you do/don't follow these guidelines.

My assumption is that you want to look professional and be professional.
These tips will help you.

1. Do NOT include the draft number (#1 is bad, but #100 isn't comforting either)
If you need to distinguish versions, use the date.

2. Do not list  what rights are available.
There's almost no chance you'll list them correctly, plus I'm not acquiring rights; I'm signing YOU for representation.

3. Leave out the dedication, and acknowledgements.

4. Leave out any kind of copyright notice. You don't need it.

5. Double space; 1" margins; TNR or Courier font (I change everything to TNR)

6. Do NOT include links of any kind.  Sometimes my computer tries to open those links while it's downloading the manuscript and confuses itself into paralyzing bewilderment.

Any questions?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Marketing plans for novels

Why are agents constantly scheming to make us crazy? Opps, that’s not really my question. It just sorta slipped out.

I recently got a full request. The agent asked me to include a "marketing statement.” Well, I don’t know what that is, and wanted to respond immediately, so I wrote about the special kinds of kids (it’s YA) that might be particularly interested, described some crossover potential, suggested that I was willing to put in miles of shoe leather, and proposed (what I hope was) an imaginative and (I also hope) not too stupid marketing approach. It’s too late now to do anything about it, but I’d still like to know how badly I screwed this up. What do you think the agent was really asking for?

Hearing this makes me a little nutso cause it's bad enough we make you jump through query hoops, but those extra little side dishes of torture are really unfair.

Publishers have a marketing department that is pretty good at reaching general book trade outlets. Depending on the size of the publisher there may be a person whose sole job is selling to Barnes & Noble (or more realistically, solving problems with the orders B&N places); another might be selling to Sam's Club, Walmart, Costco and other big box, non-book retailers.

A marketing plan from an author assumes the publisher knows how to get books to those big vendors.

You can also assume they know how to get books to libraries, and indie stores.

What they don't know how to do as well (depending on the publisher) is everything else.  So, if you have a mailing list, that would be a key component of your marketing plan.

If you have a robust social media platform, that would be part of your marketing plan.

If you have established relationships with schools for school visits, that would be part of your marketing plan.

A marketing plan is who you know and how to reach the people/companies/institutions that you think will buy your book.

Now, that funny sound you hear is every single author reading this blog post, falling to the ground and weeping.

While we wait for them to regain their composure, here's a scene from a vastly underrated movie Boiler Room

(it doesn't have anything to do with today's topic, but I love Ben Affleck)

An agent who wants a marketing plan for a novel at the query stage has the cart before the horse.

The time for a marketing plan is when you know you're going to offer representation, and you work WITH the author to develop one.

That's one of the many things we do here at New Leaf: we work with you on this stuff, we don't expect you to know anything about marketing when you query us. If you do, terrific. If you don't, I don't care.

I care about one thing: did you write a novel I can't wait to dangle in front of editor noses and say "read this or live with regret for the rest of your life."

As for your question: If you screwed anything up it's the agent's fault. Asking for a marketing plan without giving any guidance on what it should contain, or what s/he is looking for is arrogance of the worst sort.  You can quote me on that.  

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Duchess of Yowl required both hands

Sorry for the missing blog post.
The Duchess of Yowl required both hands for emergency petting today.
She was betwixt caretakers for more minutes than the law should allow.
That part of the time was taken up with naps, grooming, and hurling invectives at birds on the balcony was no excuse.

Why are you not petting me right now??

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Guest posts

This week I discovered one of my guest blog posts on another site had gone the way of all flesh:  carrion.

It was a post I'd worked long and hard on. It was a topic I wanted to reference again, here on this blog, and link to the earlier post.

Gone baby gone.

Given my recent mail management snafu, I was not hopeful that I'd saved the draft of the post.

But I had.
Thank all deities, large and small, I'd not only saved the final draft, I saved it with a title that was searchable (ie not Draft 2000 for L)

I'd saved it as the title of the post.

I was so happy to have found it I  might have yipped out loud.

What does this mean for you? A lot of you write guest blog posts when you promote your books. Make sure you keep the final, edited version, and you keep it a file you can search again.

Same if you publish short stories. The version you send to the editor may not be the exact version that's published. Make sure you keep the FINAL published version, and NOT just as a PDF but one that is copy-and-pasteable.

And you might keep a list of links you use to send people to your work, and test them periodically. I have no idea how long the link I'd posted here back in 2012 went to a dead site.  Hopefully not long, but probably long enough that one or two people didn't see the post they were looking for.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Crowdfunding your novel

I have been querying my completed/edited/polished commercial fiction/crime suspense to traditional literary agents and would prefer to not self-publish. The responses to my queries have been routinely form letters, “Thank you for thinking of me, but I must pass. Please understand this is a very subjective business. You should keep looking for representation because what works for one agent (or publisher) may not work as well for another.”

Today, I received a kind rejection that include this bit of information:
Besides the traditional agenting route, keep in mind that there are now other possible options for you—for instance, crowdfunding platforms might be something to consider: sites like Unbound, Kickstarter, and Publishizer might be of interest. Publishizer with books, matching with publishers—we’re doing some work with them and they are a great group. That said, of course you should check out all options for yourself.

Do I remember you saying that even if an author had a publisher, they still need an agent? If so, how would any of the above help? Wouldn’t the above simply be another self-publishing avenue?

I've heard of Kickstarter of course, have even sent some dollars to various projects, but had not heard of the other two. So, I scouted around a bit. Unbound seems a lot like Kickstarter: raise some dough, self-publish the book, ship to campaign donors. (Please see first comment in the comment trail from Beth Lewis about how Unbound works)

Publishizer was a little different. They offer access to "publishers" as their unique selling proposition. To be fair, they're pretty transparent about which publishers are interested in a project, and they tell you which projects got signed and with whom.

The publishers however are mostly ones I hadn't heard of (two exceptions: Weiser, Harvard Square Books) and "partnership publishers"--companies that "help" you self-publish for a chunk of change.

For none of these choices would you need an agent.

The key value of an agent (our unique selling proposition if you will) is getting you a deal you can't get on your own. All of these publishers seem to allow access without needing any expertise or inside knowledge--what I bring to the table.

There's nothing wrong with crowdfunding a book, or using a service that provides a platform for your book to be noticed as long as you fully understand what that means. Crowdfunding means you're self-publishing. The value of a place that sells "notice" is how many, and what kind of eyeballs are looking.

There may be agents who scout around those sites looking for projects. It sounds like you heard from one of them.  But, most agents find their projects through incoming queries or by referral. That hasn't changed in forever.

I've mentioned the option of self-publishing to some queriers in the last couple years. It's mostly when they are writing memoir that isn't suitable for general trade publishing.

But you're not writing memoir, you're writing crime fiction. It's difficult to successfully self-publish crime fiction unless you've already got an established audience.

I'm not sure why the agent mentioned this avenue to you unless s/he doesn't know much about self-publishing, or more likely, just uses it in a form reply to queries s/he's not pursuing.

For whatever reason: If you're hearing a lot of no at the query stage, you know your query doesn't work. Get some eyeballs on it. Then make sure you've written a novel that builds on and expands the canon. Writing a book that's just like a bunch of other books I've read isn't going to do the trick any more.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Non-commercial memoir

"I've had an interesting life."
"I want to help people avoid the mistakes I've made."
"I want people to know they can survive that stuff."

You wouldn't think these phrases could make my blood run cold, would you? They do

Silver haired ladies packing pink notebooks with stories about their lives, often accompanied by photo albums, cookies, and grandchild-made clunky jewelry are more terrifying than outraged romance writers (don't call romance "bodice rippers" and expect to live) or petrified-by-fear first time authors. They are writers on a mission and they can't believe I'm not going to help them.

For years, I'd stop these writers, as gently as I could (which is to say sometimes it wasn't at all), and tell them memoir was "a difficult category" (as though some aren't) and absent some amazingness like they'd changed a law, forced an investigation, or earned notoriety of the worst sort, these books were not going to sell.

So yes, I said "I can't sell this" to parents of murdered children; to men and women who survived and thrived despite years of abuse; to men and women who had pulled themselves out of the most abject circumstances through sheer determination and strength of will. And if you think it was thoughtless, or dismissive, or that it didn't haunt me, I hope you'd be wrong.

These people came to me with purest of intentions; they didn't want money, or fame. They'd be on Oprah if they had to but all they really wanted was the girls in the coal hollers of West Virginia to know there was life outside of the only place they knew.

They wanted to comfort the sick of heart; encourage those who carried unbearable burdens. They only wanted to help, and they came to me for encouragement and I turned them away. Not easily, not happily, but turned away nonetheless.

I told them to self-publish of course. I had my patter about the value of self-publishing but the underlying attitude was "this isn't important enough for many people to care about or read." And by "this" I was saying to people "your life isn't important enough for people to care about." And to those people who had survived their own apocalypse, it was as if I'd said no greater good will come of your suffering. Not in those words of course, never outright. But they were survivors; they've learned to read what is not said.

This went on for years. More people and more stories than I can calculate. To cover the pain, I indulged ourselves in the only remedy available: laughter. Among agents there is one topic we all groan about and share stories: memoirs.

But all of us hate this situation. We have to say no to so many people, for so many subjective and often irrational reasons (no I can't sell cozy mysteries without a craft theme) that these pure of heart and empty of anything but altruism people broke our hearts. But we are masters at concealing that through joking around, so we did.

It went on for years. Then one day, a small piece fell into place.

I went to the annual conference of biography writers in Washington DC. BIO is a terrific organization filled with serious writers who know how to have fun. I attended several panels, took copious notes, and learned a lot. I soon realized how much biographers depend on written records, and how often those written records are letters.

Letters that have gone the way of the dodo bird in our new electronic world. Yes we still send cards and thank you notes, but when was the last time you got a long chatty personal letter from your auntie in Ireland? And I'm not talking about the Christmas letters that are copied and sent out wholesale to near and dear. Real letters? I can tell you when I got the last one: 1995.

The BIO conference was in 2011. In 2012, the second piece fell into place at a conference in Louisville, Kentucky. I realized personal memoirs would be the only written records of what it was like to grow up in West Virginia before electricity. Before a lot of things. Someday in the not too distant future, if you want to know what it was like "back then" these memoirs will be the only way to know.

Thus, these memoirs can serve a much greater social purpose than simply memoir. They are the written records of how we lived. It isn't an indulgence to write them. It's a social imperative. There may not be a lot of people who want to read these memoirs. There may only be one. But that one might be a historian doing research in the far distant future and if we want them, those kids of ours, to know what it was like, we have to tell them now.

And with that importance comes a responsibility: the memoirs need to be more than stream of remembrance. They need to be almost a form of reporting. People verifying facts, talking to other people from that time to get alternate view points. A "reported memoir" like The Night of
the Gun by David Carr.

Here's what David Carr says about his book

In one sense, my story is a common one, a white boy misdemeanant who lands in a ditch and is restored to sanity through the love of his family, a God of his understanding and a support group that will go unnamed. But if the whole truth is told, it does not end there. The book will be fundamentally different than a tell-all, or more commonly, tell-most. It will be a rigorously clear-eyed reported memoir in which the process of discovery will be part of the narrative motor...For instance, my brother asked if I was going to give him credit for bailing me out after I was arrested for possession of pot as an 18-yr.-old in a Wisconsin state park. I had not even remembered the incident. You remember the story you can live with, not the one that happened. (italics mine)

I haven't heard anyone else talking about memoir like this yet, so I have a feeling I may be a voice in the wilderness for a while. And there's always the three am fear that I am completely and totally wrong about this. Only time will tell.

But in the meantime, I'm writing a form reply to give to every person who queries me about what I've come to call Non-Commercial Memoir. I hope to encourage them to see the higher social purpose of their work, and encourage them to do the tough work of writing a reported version of their lives.

I'm going to be very interested in how this is received. I do know one thing now: it's a helluva lot better than only saying "no, I can't help you," to people who deserve more.

Originally pubished at
BiblioBuffett on 7/12/2012