Friday, September 22, 2017

Does a teen main character mean my novel is YA?

I have been following your blog and Query shark for a bit now. I have seen multiple posts on YA novels (of the fiction variety) and am wondering if it is true that one cannot have the protagonist be a young adult without the MS falling into that category. If this is the case would most agents give a form rejection to a YA novel that is over 100K words? 

Last time I looked The Lovely Bones was not YA but the main character was not an adult. That's the first example I thought of. There are lots of others.

YA is about age, sure, but it's more than that. It's about a kid navigating the increasing complex and bewildering world they're coming into.  Often it's about figuring out gender roles, and trying to not look like a dork to prospective romantic partners.

I don't know enough about YA to know if your word count is high, but my guess is that 100K for contemporary YA is right at the upper limit.  Dystopian, fantasy, historical all require more words than a contemporary but you still want to aim for 100K or so.

I've seen agents arbitrarily dismiss projects with word count that seems high to them.

I periodically send the lit team here into hysterics when I mention I've got a 176K novel here to read.  They shriek "too many words" while hiding under the table.

I'll read stuff that's probably too long if I love the writing. I read it with my scissors in hand of course, knowing that I can usually chop 5000 words per 100K without losing a single bit of story. (My super power involves a machete.)

To answer your question directly: no, and I don't know.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Getting eyeballs on your work

I often recommend getting a set of professional eyeballs on your work.
Here's a way to do that without spending money.
You have to contribute time, but sometimes a writer has more time than money.

I've been friends with Ben for a long time.
I've sold him books.
His editorial eye is one of the best.

Here's the link to his offer.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Vacation post day 7/7: The Duchess of Yowl is not amused

DoY: What are you doing? Don't stop petting me!

Me: I have to get back to work your grace.

DoY: You are required to pet me for a full hour every morning and every evening. It's in the contract.

Me: Contract??

DoY: The hospitality contract you had to sign before I agreed to slum it over here in Brooklyn.

Me: I haven't seen, let alone signed, any such thing!

DoY: I signed for you. You were busy hefting my luggage up those stairs.

Me: Were you a loan shark in one of your previous lives?

DoY: Don't try to change the subject. Pet me.

Me: Alright your grace, I will pet you vigorishly.

DoY: We are not amused.

Me: You are however, a muse.

DoY: I need a no-pun rider to that contract.

Me: Fur sure.

DoY: Get Scheister on the phone at once! This is punative!

Me: Is he with the firm of Dewey Cheatham and Howe?

DoY: (leaps to floor, runs to cat blanket cave) Not even petting is worth this torture.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Vacation post day 6/7: The Duchess of Yowl is peckish

DoY: Waitress! WAITRESS!

Me: Your grace, what have I told you about calling me that?

DoY: oh right, Waitressjanet!

Me: (surrendering) Yes Your Grace?

DoY: I want a cookie.

Me: You actually don't.

DoY: I do too! Give me one!

Me: Your grace, you don't like cookies. You just want what I have here.

DoY: I want a cookie!

Me: If you really wanted one, why did you step over the plate that has three of them, to come and stare at my mouth?

DoY: Yours looked tastier.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Vacation post day 5/7: The Duchess of Yowl meets Les Gendarmes


Me: Your grace, what is it? What's wrong? Is the apartment on fire?

DoY: how much cash do you have?

Me: What? Why? Are you out of cigarettes and liquor? The liquor store is on speed dial and I have a line of credit there.

DoY: I do not engage in your foul habits. And they only take cash at the bondsman's office.

Me: Bondsman? BONDSMAN? (looks around for signs of  Jon Jordan)


Voice: NYPD! Open the door!

Me: (opening door so nose and one eye is visible) Yes, what's wrong?

NYPD: We've received a report of a domestic disturbance. One (consults notebook) Grace Yow? dialed 911. Dispatch said it sounded like bloody murder here.

Me: Who the hell is Grace Yow?

NYPD: We need to come in.

Me: uh…are you sure you have the right apartment?

NYPD: Step aside lady.

Me: okedokey

NYPD: Do you live alone?

Me: mostly.

NYPD: Who else is here?

Me: Just the cat. oh wait. Grace Yow? Do you possibly mean "Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl?"

NYPD: What the hell kind of name is that for a cat?

Me: You haven't met her.

DOY: It's about time you guys got here! There's a criminal conspiracy happening right under your noses!

NYPD: Jebus that cat is loud.

Me: She's telling you about a criminal conspiracy.

NYPD: How the hell did she dial 911?

Me and NYPD (together): tail dial!

NYPD: sorry to have bothered you

Me: no bother.

DoY: wait, you're LEAVING? I'm still being neglected here! No one has petted me for almost four hours!!

Me: Your grace, it's night. I'm asleep. You should be asleep too, not playing with my phone.

DoY: I love playing angry birds.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Vacation post day 4/7: The Duchess of Yowl Redefines Chill Out

Me: Your Grace, where are you? It's time for your elevenses petting.

Me: Your Grace?

Me: Where are you Duchess?

Me: (looking under sofa) hmmmm

Me: (looking in cat cave of blankets on bed) oh crap, where is she??

Me: (checking screens on windows for cat-shaped tears) ok, she's IN HERE somewhere, right? (looks at ceiling)

Me: If I've lost that cat INSIDE this apartment, I'm never going to live this down.

Me: (opening fridge for medicinal sip of white wine)

DoY: oh hello there.

Me: What the HELL? You're IN the refrigerator?? How long have you been in there?

DoY: When did you last open the door (Einstein!)?

Me: You've been in there for 30 minutes!

DoY: I was inventorying the cheese. And the cream. And the tuna salad.

Me: Do I need to stock up?

DoY: (licking whiskers) you do now.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Vacation Day 3/7 post: The Duchess of Yowl Has a Plan

DOY: Thumbs! THUMBS!

Me: Yes, Your Grace?

DOY: Come here. Take a letter.

Me: You need to write a letter?

DOY: Yes, it turns out literary agents do not respond well to telephone calls. Several were quite short with me.

Me: You've been calling literary agents? WHY?

DOY: I want to get my work published of course. Make money!

Me: (deeply suspicious) what work?

DOY: Those Facebook posts you've been writing for me.

ME: I see.

DOY: Start typing. Dear Agent.

Me: you need to use their name.

DOY: Dear Bipedal Agent Mammal
Me: Dear Barbara Poelle

DOY: I should be world famous
ME: I have a collection of essays

DOY: I should be published by a fancy publisher who appreciates me.
Me: The word count is a little light right now, but I'm not quite done yet.

DOY: I will allow people to interview me to promote the book.
ME: So far, people seem to like me.

DOY: I have had several author photos taken already.
ME: (stunned silence)

Me: Here's a nice article on self-publishing. I'll help you turn the pages.

DOY: oh good, total artistic control. Even better.

Me: *swills emergency vodka*

Friday, September 15, 2017

Vacation day 2/7 post: The Duchess of Yowl Reaches New Heights

 DoY: Waitress! (eternal silence echoes for 1/4 second) WAITRESSSSSS!

Me: (off stage) Do you mean me?

DoY: Yes, you. Come help me.

Me: (off stage) You could try calling my name.

DoY: WAITRESSTHUMBS!!! Come help me.

Me: (entering living room, finding DoY on top of bookcase) How the hell did you get up there?

DoY: the ladder of course (eyeroll)

Me: (befuddled) what ladder?

DoY: (uses flick of tail to point disdainfully at curtains, now indeed "laddered", on window)

Me: Those are curtains! 100% silk, hand hemmed, custom made curtains!

DoY: never mind that get me DOWN!

Me: Your Grace, I can't actually reach the top of the bookcase.

DoY: It is rather dusty up here. I thought that whole sloth thing was a metaphor.

Me: If you jump down, I'll catch you.

DoY: I don't believe you.

*sound of front door buzzer*

Me: ok, wait a minute, the delivery guy is here.

DoY: what are we getting?

Me: sushi.

DoY: (springs from bookcase, sticks the four point landing on the couch, sashays to door) Dibs on the tuna roll!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Vacation bonus content: Five Tips On Making Jargon And Tech Work For Your Writing, Rather Than Against It

Mike Cooper's THE DOWNSIDE pubbed last week to great reviews. One of the things that drew me to Mike's work is how he seamlessly integrates compelling details with a high octane plot.

Here's Mike's article in Lit Reactor  about making jargon and tech work for you rather than against you in your novel.

Vacation day Post #1: The Duchess of Yowl slays her foes


(crash sounds resonate throughout apartment)

Me: (bolt upright from sound sleep) HOLY WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE??

DoY: AhHA (sound of small cat making large pounce reverberates, sets off four car alarms on adjacent street.)

Me: (stumbling from hammock) Your Grace?

DoY: GOTCHA! (begins yodeling)

Me: Dear god, it's 3am why are you singing Ride of the Valkyries?

DoY: I vanquished The Enemy! I am the Mightiest Cat in all the Land.

Me: (flips kitchen light switch, squints at sudden brightness) What, this?

DoY: YeS! (yodels again) It tried to attack me but I Slew it. Slew it DEAD.

Me: Your grace, this the empty plastic bag from Chinese delivery last night.

DoY: Not any more. Now it is toast.

Me: please do not try to eat this.

DoY: You never provide enough food.

Me: (realizing a lost cause when it appears in fur form) Here, have some tuna.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

How do I tell agents I love love love to revise!

I’ve noticed from my online research that many agents say one of the top criteria in offering representation is the author’s willingness and enthusiasm for manuscript revision. I actually enjoy the revision process, and I’d like them to know that up front. Should I mention it in my query and if so, in my bio paragraph or where? Do you have any suggestions for wording? Or should I wait and bring it up during The Call, when we each ask questions of the other in hopes of progressing to representation? Thanks for your views on this subject.

You're forgetting the one crucial place where you SHOW an agent that you're adept with revision: when the agent sends you editorial notes.

I'm much more likely to believe what I see over what I'm told.

So, how do you show you like revising?
1. You read the editorial letter carefully and ask about things you don't understand.

2. You know that the agent wants more than what she's written. That means if she says "this scene drags on too long" you understand you should analyze WHY that is, and look for other scenes it might apply to.

3. You ask about the agent's time frame. Often it's open-ended. That doesn't mean you have all the time in the world and it also doesn't mean rush. Work steadily, then allow time for the manuscript to sit, then go back.

4. Ask the agent it she wants updates, or just wants to know when it's almost ready to come back to her.

I'm always glad to have a client who can revise, but truth be told I'd rather get a manuscript in that didn't need it.

To answer your question: you don't put this in your query letter, much like you don't put how much you love canoodling in your online dating profile. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

7 fast ways to hear no

There are just a few things that are automatic passes at the query stage.

1. Fiction novel
This is the big one. All novels are fiction, and since words are the tools of your craft, when you abuse them, I know you're not the kind of master craftsman I want to hire to decorate my bank account.

2. Unfinished novel
I can sell unfinished novels. I've done it. But that novel didn't arrive in the incoming queries; it was from an established client.
When you're querying for representation, your novel must be finished. I pass on everything that isn't.

3. The novel has been previously published.
Some agents take on previously published work. I don't.

There are a couple other things that aren't quite auto-pass but pretty darn close.

4. "Tell me why I should hire you?" leads the list.
I'm not going to pitch you on the value of an agent for your work, or why I'm the best choice for you unless I've read your work and want to take it on.  If you don't understand the value of an agent, or don't want an agent, or think agents are slime creatures, that's fine. Don't query me. I'm totally ok with that.

5. No query letter, just pages.
I'll give those queries a very VERY quick skim but someone who doesn't include a query isn't telling me what I need to know to evaluate the project. I'm passing on those cause frankly life is too short to provide Remedial Querying one to one. And there's this thing called QueryShark...

6. Homonyms
I'll give you a pass on lie/lay/lay since dollars to doughnuts, at least 25% of y'all get it wrong.  But homonyms, those I don't forgive so easily. As in #1, words are the tools of your trade and if you don't know wave/waive or shudder/shutter that's just sloppy proof reading. It's not bad that you make the mistake, it's bad that you didn't see it and fix it when you revised your query.

7. Typing your email query in all caps

I respond to these emails with the same form letter I use with all other passes.
It's up to you to re-read your query and make sure none of these things are there.

Monday, September 11, 2017

What are odds on getting an offer post R&R?

For the purposes of torturing myself, I'd love to know the odds of representation post R&R. You know, for when writer's block hits and I need something to do.

These are the kinds of questions you ask when you're trying to make sense of things that have no pattern, no discernible method, and wildly unpredictable results.

It's a very human thing trying to find patterns in the chaos.
We've been doing it since we started seeing patterns in the stars and assigning stories to mountains.
Unfortunately though, there is no One True Answer.

What I can tell you is I do not ask for revisions on manuscripts I have no intention of taking on. I don't suggest revisions and resubmissions unless I think the manuscript and the author have promise.

In fact I often ask for revisions before making an offer of representation so I can see how the author does with editorial suggestions.

But the bottom line here is that what happens with another writer has ZERO impact on your revision and your manuscript. If I said no after 99 revisions, that does not mean the chances of me saying no to you are high.  Every manuscript rises and falls on its own merits.

Thus: worry about the ONE thing you control, and the ONE thing that will be important if you get an R&R request, and that of course is your book. Make it the best novel you've ever written, then let it sit, and revise it till it's better.

None of this is going to help you when you get writer's block.

I don't have any experience with writer's block since I work on a daily 7am deadline and it's post or you guyz sending flying monkeys to find out if I'm alive.

So, if you're having writer's block I suggest writing anything. Write out a poem from a book of poems you love.

Find writing prompts and use those.

Run your own private flash fiction contest and write 100 words using: block, writer, sesame, shark and monkey in the story.

Our own John Davis Frain has been writing daily blog posts for a while now. You might ask him how he deals with lack of enthusiasm or motivation.

My client Jeff Somers has written one short story every month since he was 19. Sometimes they're good. Sometimes not. But he writes.  Jeff is one of the most disciplined writers I've ever seen.

I think writers block is brought on largely by wanting to write well, and fearing you're not.

You don't have to write well, you have to revise well.

Revision is where the novel takes shape.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

More on word count, because it's not over till never

Over the past few months, you've made a few comments on Twitter and on your blog about word counts and autorejections. I doubt your recall, but we even had a brief (pleasant, I hope) exchange on twitter on a question of high word counts for genre.

As a data point, I would offer this rejection I received today. I've not included any agency info, as I don't wish to point fingers, I'd only like to share my experience.

Thank you for your query but we're going to decline at this time. While your premise is certainly intriguing, the word count is very high / low for this genre. A great resource for acceptable word counts by genre, we recommend checking out Literary Rejections: Word Count.

Thank you for considering us for your work and we wish you great success with your writing career.

The link embedded in the email was a dead link, and I'm not sure what information the site should have included.

This was a rejection on an epic/blackpowder fantasy, adult category of 122,000 words.

The rejection is fine as far as that goes. At this point I'm (mostly) used to it. I'll keep writing, and I'll keep submitting. I do admit it can sometimes be discouraging when it is difficult to find consistent information regarding expectations in the query process.

A new way to make writers crazy! I love it.

For starters, who ever those guyz are, they're wrong.

It's not only possible to sell historicals and sff at 120K, it happens often enough not to be an exception to the norm.

Now, these guyz are trying to be helpful. They've heard your cries of woe about non-responders, and form emails. Their thought is  here's some info to ease the pain.

What they forgot though is that word count, like a lot of "givens", is a moving target.

Ten years ago, if you'd asked me if I could sell an essay collection, I'd have screamed with laughter.

Now, not so much screaming as strategizing.

It's true though that some agents learn "the rulez" and never bother to think about why the rule became one. That's how they miss trends and savvier agents create them.

Vampires are dead! Long live Stephanie Meyers.

Self pubbed fan fiction is a joke! Long live 50 Shades of Grey.

Your novel is too long! Hello George RR Martin who was writing big ass tomes LONG before Game of Thrones made it to HBO.

Your novel is too short. Hello Jeff Somers and Chum, a rollicking book of somewhere around 50K.

It's clear you're not tearing your hair out over this rejection, and that's a good thing.

There are some absolutes on word counts right now. 40K is too short, 300K is too long.
Between those two points there's a lot of flexibility depending on where you're publishing, and what kind of book you've got.

In the end a rejection means the agent you asked didn't think s/he could sell the book. That doesn't mean I can't or someone else can't either.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

More on what platform is, and when it's valuable

I am an Indie author with several published books and I have done quite well (I sell several hundred books per month). I have books for MG and adult readers, but I have several children's story books I would like to pitch to an agent. Should I stress platform in my query since I have quite an established platform and would work very hard to promote my work, or will that even be a factor since it's such a different genre?
Let's review what platform is (and thus what it is not.)

Platform is NOT published books (unless the published book has an excerpt from the new book.) Platform is how people will know you've published a new book.

So, if you're selling several hundred books per month (and that's a terrific number, congratulations) the way people find out about your book is platform.

Are you working a mailing list?
That's replicable so, yes, I would count that as platform.

Are you Tweeting and Facebooking to let readers know your book is out there?
That's replicable, so, yes,  it counts as platform.

Is it being listed as a "deal of the day" in online bookstores?
That's NOT replicable (or at least it's outside your control unless you are self-pubbing) therefore it's not platform.

Are you gaming the system to get listed as a NYT Bestseller?
Well, people know about you, that's for sure, but probably not in the way that encourages further sales.

Platform is how people know you now, and how they will learn about your new book.

Now, to your actual question.
I'm not sure what you mean by a "story book." Generally books for young readers are categoriezed categorized (oops) as picture books, early readers, chapter books or by age/grade level (ages 4-6/Pre-K-1)

Those books are bought by parents and librarians, not the actual readers, and much of those sales are review driven.

It won't help your editor reach the picture book market to know that you've sold eight gazillion copies of A Really Good Novel.

The way to promote picture books, and other books for young readers are school visits, not Facebook or Twitter. Have you done a school visit? Do you know what they are? Remember, it's not some sort of failure if you don't. None of us were born knowing all this stuff.  I still learn things every day (almost always the hard way of course.)

If you want to branch out into books for younger readers the very first thing to do is find your nearest chapter of SCBWI and join. And go to meetings and events even if you're not sure they're relevant.  You need to soak up information before querying. Books for young readers are whole different ballgame from adult books.

Any questions?

Friday, September 08, 2017

Your table of contents will kill you

I've been slurping up queries like an orca at a salmon buffet.
As of 9/1/17 I've requested 72 adult manuscripts and another 40 or so juvenile projects (up from 59 for all of 2016.)

I mention this because I want to show, not just tell, that I am ACTIVELY looking for good material.  In other words, you have to try harder to get a rejection right now.

And some of you are finding some really innovative ways to do it.

For example, today I got a query from a writer who sent (in order of appearance in my email): a query, a synopsis, an author bio (not part of the query, a separate section), the cover page/title page, the table of contents listing all 30+ chapters; a prologue; an epigraph, and then the pages. Of course I had only asked for the pages.

It was the table of contents that just did me in.

It's a simple thing right? The casual observer might be tempted to say "it's just a TOC, get over yourself. Drag the mouse down the page and get to the good stuff."

And that's true, as far as the query goes.

But remember the second purpose of a query? The second purpose of a query is to demonstrate you are someone I want to work with.

This isn't the way to show that.

My guess is this writer simply cut and pasted the first X pages from his novel, and in the copying, sucked up the TOC and the epigraph and the prologue.

And that means the writer both didn't think about what s/he was sending, and didn't proof the email. Those are big red flags for someone who is not meticulous.

Cause it's very clear you do NOT need a TOC if you literally have only the first three chapters. (Or in my case, the first three-five PAGES)

And you really don't need an epigraph to set the tone of the entire book because again: I'm only reading the first couple pages.

And the prologue. I'm not keen on prologues in books unless the serve a clear purpose like we talked about here. A savvy writer asks "does the prologue show the story?" and decides based on the answer whether to include it.

My guess is that you're most often better off sending pages one-five of chapter one.

But back to the TOC.
Sending the TOC isn't a problem, but it's a red flag for a writer who isn't paying attention.

Thinking about what you're sending rather than just cutting and pasting demonstrates you are paying attention.

It's the same thing when I hear "but you told me to put a stamp on this letter" when this particular letter is going to Carkoon, not Chicago. When you look at the address, you realize that one stamp isn't going to do it. Which means you looked at the address, rather than just rotely stamping envelopes.

I like people who are paying attention. A lot of publishing is weird and arcane, and I want to work with people who know that, understand it, and realize rote doesn't really work for ANYTHING.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Business cards for writers

I have never been keen on taking cards from writers at conferences.
Generally, I like to have the initial contact be the incoming email query. Your contact info is right there:  I can add you to my address book with just a few clicks, and cut/paste rather than run the risk of mistakes that come with retyping.

For example, here's an entry in my address book. Yes, I need to remind myself who I am on occasion.

But I've cottoned on to your woodland creature ways (failing to query when asked, doubting my sincerity in asking).  So now, sometimes, a FEW times, when I think a project has promise I ask the writer for a card.

So, yes, get business cards, cause as soon as I say "I never ask for cards" I'll want to ask for yours.

BUT, there's one extra thing to do.
I learned this from a VERY savvy writer at the recent Writers Digest conference.

She put three lines outlining the premise of the novel on the back of her card.
She realized, as I now do, I'm more likely to remember your book than your name.

When I sorted through all the stuff I collected at the conference I didn't recognize her name. But I sure as heck remembered the book. I hung on to the card intending to ping and remind her to query.  When her query came in (I hadn't gotten around to pinging either!) I recognized her name and her book.

That's one smart cookie.(And yes Colleen, I'm talking about you!)

So, if you're getting cards, don't buy 500. Buy 50 or 100. You'll probably be changing the description of your novel, or even the novel you're describing. Thus you'll be reprinting.
Your cards don't need to be fancy at all.

Your name, your email, your website, maybe your phone number.
AND a description of your book.

This is why you work on getting a good log line. You don't need it in your query, but it's perfect for your biz card.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

How to NOT be a bone-head promoter

I received two emails last week week from bonehead authors who think "Hey I published a book" will lead to sales. It doesn't. It leads to this.

Another writer however wrote to share her good news about securing an agent and getting to the next step (she had not merely queried me; we'd had ongoing conversation. Her email was not a thinly disguised Neener Neener.)

I wrote back:

I'm so glad to hear this terrific news!
Thanks for letting me know.

(and I look forward to buying the book when it's published)

This information is valuable because you now have a start  on the list of people with interest in your book.

You record that info in the same way you keep track of queries. 

Person's name, person's email, how you know them, when they emailed about the book and what they said.

The starting point looks like this:

Tuck that info away in a file folder and name it something you'll remember.
Add to it as you collect names.
One at a time, sure, but pretty soon you'll have twenty, then thirty, then fifty.

Keep track of every single person who indicates interest. Comments on blog posts, responses to comments on blog posts.

Then when the happy day comes and you have a book to promote, you create a template email with all the news you'll share with everyone.

Then you PERSONALIZE it for each name on your list.

Dear Janet,
Back in September 2017, when I was finding my agent, you were kind enough to express
interest in Book when it was published. I'm delighted to tell you it's here. The title is TITLE,
and it's available on Amazon/indiebookstores.

I've arranged with my local store (name) to offer autographed copies if that's something you're interested in.

Yours very truly,
Not Bonehead writer

The chances of me buying a book from an impersonal email blast are zero.
The chances of me buying a book from a personalized email are about 80%.

Which means even if you spend 100 minutes doing 10 personalized emails you'll reap more reward than if you spend 10 minutes doing a 100-person impersonal email blast.

A Savvy Writer knows: promotion is a long game. There are no shortcuts. Most writers will do this badly. VERY badly. You only need to be sorta good to be better than 80% of your competition.

Any questions?

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

4 reasons asking for blurbs before you query is a BAD IDEA

Recently, a writer sending a requested full included a blurb from a successful author, one whose name I recognized.  After sending my "got this, will read" reply, the writer wrote back asking if I'd noticed the blurb.

Yes I had.
And because he asked, I had to tell him why this was not only not a positive, it was actually a negative.

Here's why:

Asking a writer to read your manuscript for a blurb is asking a major favor of that writer. Six hours to read, and whatever time it takes to write the blurb. It's a BIG ask. Which means you get to make that ask exactly once.

(1) Writers who ask for blurbs at the query stage have squandered their opportunity to ask for a blurb on the finished manuscript.

And in case you're wondering, most manuscripts go through at least two revisions: notes from me before submission, and the editorial process with the editor after acquisition.  It's entirely possible the book you send as your requested full is a very different version of what will be published. There arises a very knotty ethical problem. The book the author blurbed isn't the one being published. That bothers me.

And because you've already asked, we can't use whatever inside track you had to get the blurb in the first place, for this new revised version.

That's one reason not to ask for blurbs at the query stage.

(2) The second is because if your first book doesn't sell, and you write a second or third, you've squandered your chance to ask Good Connection for a blurb on the new book.  Remember this is a Big Ask. You don't get two bites here. (By way of info, at least five of my writers queried me on books that were NOT the first books published)

(3) And the third reason? Published writers hate it. Ask at the wrong part of the process, and your chance to ask at the right part is reduced.

And if you think I'm overstating how much writers don't like this, check out the thread at @RGay's twitter feed that started with this

And the fourth reason?
(4) It's cause I don't care what anyone else thinks right now.
My opinion about your work, and my ability to sell it is the only thing that matters to me.

Bottom line: Any agent who asks for blurbs from established writers at the query stage is asking you to do something that's not in your best interest. Proceed accordingly.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Snappsy the Alligator did NOT ask to be in this flash fiction contest! FINAL

Because I was away on Saturday and Sunday morning, the comments were open for a longer window than the contest actually ran.  Fortunately for most of you that wasn't a problem, but there were two entries dq'ed for time (sorry guyz!)
Angel Rodrigues
Karen McCoy

You were up to your usual good writing tricks this weekend as well. It used to be that almost every entry that was a complete story made the finalist list.  Now, too many of you have upped your game, and some really good work is not making the cut. It's amazing, and bittersweet. Herewith the results:

The Steve Forti Award for Awesome Use of Prompt Words
Nate Wilson   

The start of a story (or novel) that I'd be too chicken to read
Madeline Mora-Summonte   

Special recognition for a masterful turn of phrase
EM Goldsmith
Dear food  
Special recognition for a great line
Kerry Bernard
Convicted of practicing science in the presence of minors  

Not quite a story but a great start to one
Marie McKay  

Not quite a story but the writing is superlative
Lisa Bodenheim

This entry cracked me up even as it gave me the heebie jeebies
Claire Bobrow  

Not quite a story but egad, what great imagery
Steph Ellis  

Here are the stories that made the long list:
Knock, knock.
"Come in."
Narrator strutted inside, feathers preened to perfection. "Thanks for asking me to dinner, Snappsy."
Snappsy smiled. "You put this gator in a book and made me famous. Dinner is the least I can do. I'm even veering from my P diet."
"Great! Always trust your narrator. We know what makes a story work. So, what letter does dinner start with?"
"C." Snappsy whipped off his tie and trussed her up.
"Never trust your main character. We often take over the story. Ironic, isn't it?" He plucked her feathers. "I'll eat her. I'll eat her not."
Megan V
“Lousy hippies.” Gary’s chew pings against the tin bucket.
“Environmentalists, dear,” I say.
“Don’t start with that PC bullshit Annie.” He runs a cloth over the barrel of his two gauge. “Damn lefties. If they think they can drive me out of my own home over some dumb crocodile, they’ve got another thing coming.”
“Gator,” I say.
“Whatever. If you ask—”
“Gator!” I exclaim.
Too late.
Jaws snap.
Gary screams.
The two gauge flies.
“Annie! Annie, get the gun!” he shouts.
I glance at the fallen weapon, shake my head.
Better not risk it.
I might hit the gator.
I know it’s odd to say in the bathroom so long, but it’s my only chance for peace. And, it’s my chance for a therapy session.
The spider under the sink listens. It doesn’t say anything, just listens, and ties threads together, making the best of its environs.
“Are you done yet?” my wife asks.
We talk about her, the spider, and I. My wife tells me I spend too much time in there, talking to myself. When I finally emerge and she sees the web, she snaps and runs for the fumigator.
Now, I feel so very alone.
Mallory Love
The guy in the corner booth stared, trying to place me. Once upon a time, I used to imagine this scenario. A drama major with a dream, I moved to Hollywood with fame in mind: red carpets, hobnobbing with celebrities, being a paparazzi darling. But one messy confrontation with an infamous director gone awry sent me seeking refuge in Purgatory, Alaska, hiding in a local bar.
The guy approached. Ten minutes later, I was in the back of a squad car.
Snapping the mugshot, the cop smirked. "Front page of tomorrow's news. Smile. You're going to be famous." Fucking irony.
Kathy Joyce
The detective stroked his beard. “Iron left plugged in.”
“She's sloppy, leaves it all the time, sir.”
“Have to ask. What's your tie-in to all this?”
“Pool boy, sir.”
The detective pointed out the window." Snapdragons flattened, something was dragged over there.”
“Gator, sir. Chased it off this morning.”
“Guess we'll have to see what the camera shows.”
“No cameras, sir.”
“Just installed. She told the company she needed to nab someone. ‘Guilty, in the act,’ she said. By the way, what's your name? I can't put ‘pool boy’ in my report.”
“Gil, sir. Gil Indiac.”
“Middle initial?”
“T, sir.”
Where’s your nanna?”
“She’s napping. Why?”
“She said she needed some muscle and asked for a gat or a tire iron. Tire iron’s too heavy, so I got her this Beretta Pico .380.”
“Nanna said gat?”
“Yeah, she must love old movies.
“God, don’t give her a gun; she’s dangerous! We had to take her license and car away because she drinks.”
“Hey, cutie, is that my heater?”
“Nanna, you don’t know how…”
“I ain’t no Dumb Dora.” She grabbed the gun. “It’s puny, but it’ll do.”
She pointed it at her grandson. “Now, sonny, about my car and license…”
Myrna Foster
I had a job interview in 20 minutes, but when I opened my front door, an alligator waited. I slammed the door.
Safe inside, I grabbed my cast iron skillet and hurried out the back, only to find another gator.
It didn’t snap at me, so I booped it on the snoot and ran. More alligators peeled away from my car. They surrounded me.
“Stop!” yelled a woman in a suit and tie. “Are you Maeve Green?
“Apologize to Allie for hitting her.”
I apologized—so many questions I wanted to ask.
“Excellent.” The woman smiled. “You’re hired.”
Just Jan
“How much are the boots in the window?” I asked.
“Mighty fine, aren’t they?” The old woman untied her apron. “But they’re not for sale. They’re the last thing Walter ever did.”
“I’ve never seen anything like them. Name a price.”
She pulled another pair from under the counter. “Now these are magnificent. Bull gator. The one that snapped Walter’s back.”
I caressed the leather, admiring the fine stitchwork. “I’m more interested in the boots Walter made.”
She shook her iron-grey curls. “Walter didn’t create them, I did. Still, he makes a nice pair of boots, doesn’t he?”
Here are the five finalists
D Willadsen
The whiskey went down as warm as the setting sun, comforting. The river stones far below turned pink and gold.
The highlight reel played in his mind, on and off the gridiron.
Pee Wee football.
The Gator Bowl, tied---a bad snap, a worse sack, a heartbreaking loss.
The gold band on her slim finger.
Knocked around, loving the game. Nickname: “Astaire” for his sure, nimble feet.
The tiny fingers of his baby girl, now grown.
Last week: “It’s CTE.” His wife’s face.
He buried the flask---it had to look right---stepped to the edge, and “slipped.”
I had to look up CTE to get the full impact of the story.  It makes sense even if you don't know what CTE is, but when you do,  it elevates the story to heart-breaking. And of course, very topical.

Good writing makes you feel something and this absolutely does.  

Melanie Sue Bowles
“What’s she doing?” asked Musette.
“Staring out the window.” Muse-eminent shrugged. “They do that a lot.”
“Let’s snap her out of it.”
Muse-eminent shook her head, displacing glitter.
“Now she’s scrubbing baseboards? Can’t we tie her to the chair.”
“Ironically, they just whimper. Best to leave them alone.”
Both muses followed as Wanna-be-Creative wandered into the garage. They watched her snap on the light above the utility sink then grasp a pair of clippers.
“Unless,” Muse-eminent hollered, “procrastination goes rogue! Quick! Give her inspiration!
Too late. The blades whirred, mauling Wanna-be-Creative’s hair like a chomping alligator.
Muse-eminent’s eyes rolled. Writers.
This just cracked me up completely. Musette and Muse-eminent are brilliant character descriptions. And how true this is! In fact, I'm looking at my garden shears and my too-long hair right now!  


John Davis (manuscript) Frain
Principal Newton understood this environment. “Your new teacher starts Monday. Grief counselors are available. You students in AP Physics had a special bond with Mr. Schrödinger.”
Albert, ever the instigator, raised a hand. “We just saw Schrödinger walking the hallway.”
“Toward the basketball court where Mrs. Schrödinger coaches?”
“Your instructor, shall we say, combined elements with my assistant. Mrs. Schrödinger walked in on the experiment.”
“I understand the gravity of the situation,” Albert snapped.
Newton remained patient. “I’m relatively sure you don’t. When you saw Mr. Schrödinger walking? He was alive, and yet … he was a dead man.”
I'm a sucker for science and math jokes and this is an artful example of what I love. It's also a complete story, which is no small feat in these few words.

I love that it requires reader participation. You have to know who Schrödinger, Newton, Einstein, and Schrödinger's cat are to get the joke.

 And it took me three reads to see past the science joke to the real joke.
 This is really terrific.  


Locks clicked, iron creaked, and the alligator ate her.
Snap outrage.
Eaten?!? In a zoo??
Bars added, ties tightened, but admissions remained down.
Tones changed.
They'd never snack in the gator area.
They'd never sit so close.
In short sleeves too.
Her legs exposed.
Not that it was her fault. Of course.
Utmost surprise it hadn't happened earlier. They're alligators after all.
Her hairdresser interviewed. She always asked for 47 brushstrokes. The populous agreed. A dozen too many.
Months passed. The gator kept the fault. She got the blame.
Plus, she was still dead. 
This is brilliant writing (no surprise given the writer.)  The lines with the hairdresser is what elevates this from good to sublime. And "The gator kept the fault. She got the blame." is exquisite.

This entry is a perfect 10.   

Steve Forti
Up north, to wild environs, to hunt me some bear.
Downwind to hide my scent.
Up in the tree’s where the snake attacked from.
Down the back of my pants he slithered.
Up… to no good it was, and bitey.
Down to my skivvies I stripped in a flash.
Upping exposed skin to bitier mosquitoes.
Down slashed my knife at the slimy instigator.
Up went my neck hair at growls and twigs snapping.
Down pinned the ATV’s gas pedal.
Up to here, I’ve had it, I need a new task.
Down south, to the city, to hunt me some beer.
If you look up "surprise and delight" in the writer's dictionary, there's a jpg of Steve Forti. He's either deftly playing with the prompts or doing acrobatics with form. This entry is no exception. Notice the play on beer/bear in the opening and closing lines.   Honestly, these could be the lyrics to a hilarious song. 

This used to be a lot easier. I actually had to write out a schematic for choosing the winner here. All the stories are terrific. What's the next benchmark?

If I chose twist/surprise, it would be John Davis Frain

If I chose clever form, it would be Steve Forti

If I chose illumination of something bigger than the story: it's Brig, hands down.

If I chose cracked me up: it's Melanie Sue Bowles

If I chose pulled my heartstrings: it's D. Willadsen

This is just madness now. Each of you wrote something that is certainly worth the prize. Each of you wrote something completely different.

I'm going to post this and let y'all weigh in.
And while you're reading, I'm going to do something MUCH easier: audit royalty statements.

UPDATE: I called in Julie Falatko, the author of SNAPPSY to help out. Here's what she had to say:

This was no easy task. You're right -- all five finalists are completely excellent in their own way, and, in that, very difficult to judge against each other. But, after reading each multiple times, and even reading them out loud, I have to choose D Willadsen's story about the football player as my choice for the winner. Mostly because, as you pointed out, of the feelings it evokes, but also because it is the one that made the prompt words disappear most for me (that is, I didn't read it and think, "Oh, there's the "snap!"). 

So there you have! All in all, a great choice!

D Willadsen, if you'll send me your mailing address, I'll pop Snappsy the Alligator in the mail to you.  He probably didn't ask to be in the envelope, but it was that or this;

How to roadmap an R&R

I'm finishing up an R&R for an agent at the moment and she's instructed me to include a letter with all changes upon resubmitting. In theory, that seems easy enough. Sitting down to write it, however, brought up a few questions (and my apologies if you've covered this before).

First, should I list them off as bullet points? Second, how much information should I include about the changes?

Some of the changes are easily covered with bullet points (name changes, character she wanted dead dies on page 174, etc.). Some changes are not (softening of a character's worst personality trait over time, change in the antagonist, again, over time).

Any advice on how best to approach these emails? Any preferences you've noticed over the years?

I want to be as open as possible without providing an avalanche of information (particularly when they'll be reading the book and will see most of it for themselves).

This is a toughie for me because I ask for just the opposite: revise,  then remove all evidence. Send me the cleanest ms you can. I want to read with fresh eyes, and have as close to a reader's experience as possible.

My guess here is she wants to be more efficient, and make sure you made the changes you needed.

To that end, I would ask her: are bullet points for changes like characters names/characters deaths ok, with narrative for those more abstract revisions (softening the character's worst personality trait.)?

If you don't want to ask her (and I know you woodland creatures are always hesitant about that) I would do the bullet points/narrative mix.

And I would include something in the email that says "if this format doesn't work for what you need, I'm happy to take another whack at it."

Friday, September 01, 2017

The Snappsy Flash Fiction Writing Contest!

In honor of my new best friend Snappsy The Alligator, I think we need a writing contest!

Prize will be a copy of Snappy The Alligator (Did Not Ask To Be In This Book) which I love with all my cold little heart! (yes I bought two copies, one for me, and one for me you.)

 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: iron/irony is ok but tie/tile 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, Saturday 9/2

Contest closes: 9am, Sunday 9/3

Pay attention to the time! Comments may be open sooner than 9am Saturday and stay open later than 9am Sunday but entries that are too soon or too late will be SNAPPED.

 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!


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Tracking your queries

At the Writer’s Digest conference, you referenced creating a Query tracker. Would you have any suggestions for improving the spreadsheet?
– For example, my nudge dates are set to 4 weeks from submission – Is that too soon?

I notice that you do not have a column for a follow up date.
Not all agents have the same follow up timeline. I generally ask for 30 days on queries; others among my slacker colleagues have 'no response means no.' You want to keep track of that. It irks me to get a ping before 30 days cause I think I've made it pretty clear that's my time frame.

Also, from a structural point of view you generally read left to right if you're a native English speaker, so you want to organize your spread sheet with the most-needed information, or the most-often updated information in the far left column (Column A)

That will generally be the info on pinging/follow up or results.

Date sent is another key piece of info.
Unless you're querying more than one manuscript, your title is probably less crucial and can go farther to the right.

And oddly, you have 10 chapters (line six) listed for one submission. Is that a typo?

And you have ONE data box for the agent. I'd suggest at least two, if not three. One for first name, one for last name, one for agency.  Agents change agencies and sometimes that means you can query them again OR you can query someone new at the agency.  That's critical info to keep track of.

I'm a devotee of spread sheets for tracking information. I know some people aren't as devoted.
Whatever form you use should be easy enough that you WILL use it.  Something too difficult or too cumbersome is just asking to be relegated to "I'll update when I get some time" and nothing is more useless than an outdated data base.

Any questions?