Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"Let me know if you're popular enough for me to read you!"

I have a question about agents and requested fulls/partials. I'm in the query trenches and have gotten a few full requests, all followed by (so far) rejections a few weeks/months later. But two agents have had my full longer than any of the others - 7 and 9 months, respectively. One was initially responsive to nudges, but now neither are responding.

I realize they're both probably passes and am not holding my breath, but I've noticed a curious thing. Both these agents' QueryTracker pages are full of people like me, waiting in some cases years with no response, BUT there are occasionally folks who report that both agents got back to them immediately when they'd received an offer from someone else. I haven't seen anyone who heard back without another offer in hand.

So my question is - is it possible that some agents are requesting material and then only replying if they hear that another agent is interested? And if so, is there anything we writers can do about it?

It's entirely possible, and there's really nothing you can do about it.
What's very very tempting is to tell those agents you have an offer.
You know it's unethical, you know it's wrong wrong wrong, but you're tempted.

Do NOT do this.

Yes, it's wrong, yes it's unethical but it's also a good way to shoot yourself not just in one foot, but in both feet, and probably take off a couple fingers for good measure.

Here's why: we notice writers who say they have offers but never seem to sign or sell. When you query again, with no mention a previous agent, that's a huge red flag.

If you say you have an offer, but can't/won't tell me who it's from, I don't think of it as a compelling reason to read.  (It's entirely ok to tell another agent who's offering. It helps us sort the legit offers from the schmagenty ones.)

If it makes you feel any better, there are some editors who do this too. I don't submit stuff to them in first rounds any more. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

retelling a classic

"My novel is a modern day Catcher in the Rye"

"My novel is War and Peace, in space!"

"My novel is Charlotte's Web, with vampires!"

In other words "my novel" is the retelling of a now-classic work.  I get a lot of these, and while Charlotte's Web with vampires is a total non-starter for me, the others are not. I'd keep reading.

All too often however, the query doesn't tell me what I really want to know: what have YOU added to the story? How have you built on the work that's come before? How is your book better, faster, stronger, smarter, newer, zippier, than the classic upon which it is based.

Think about Romeo and Juliet. The musical West Side Story is R&J, but set on the west side of New York, during the influx of immigrants from Puerto Rico. The story isn't about family rivals in this case; it's ethnic rivalry. It says something about the melting pot we like to think America is. It says something about the American Dream for people coming from distant places. On top of the R&J love story, there's a cultural commentary.

That's what I'd need to know if you're querying West Side Story.

If you're having a hard time figuring out what you added to the story, you're not ready to query. "Catcher in the Rye set in the present day" isn't enough to hold my interest. Holden Caulfield as a transgendered** teen, yup.

**see Laina's comment at 11:49 for for strikeout revision. 
Thanks Laina!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Meet Claire Bobrow, our flash fiction winner last week.

Claire Bobrow won the flash fiction contest last week with this entry:

Publishing intern by day…
Black Panther by night!
Who would ever suspect pitiful milquetoast Clay, always hiding under chairs and slinking about the office, afraid of water and pug dogs?
But when the sun went down and a tsunami of sin struck Gotham City…
No one could stop the Black Panther.

So he’d play along until they fired him.
Pretend to enjoy traipsing on tablets and cluttering keyboards.
Even reading queries, like the one he’d napped on today.
No O’Henry, that author, but still…
The Secret Life of Walter Kitty had distinct possibilities.

I thought it would be fun to hear more from Claire about how she writes her flash fiction.

1. When do you start thinking about your entry? Do you start with writing?
I usually start noodling as soon as I read the post and the prompt words. Often a story idea will pop into my head immediately and I’ll open a Word document and do an idea dump in the form of any sentences that occur to me, stream-of-consciousness style.

2. How many drafts did you write?
For this latest one, I wrote 3 drafts. I’m embarrassed to say that in my 1st draft, I literally forgot to use ANY of the prompt words. That has never happened before! But I was rushing because I was supposed to be packing and driving to the SCBWI conference! I wrote the final draft late Saturday after our evening keynote address (Vanessa Brantley-Newton!!) and socializing.

I usually try to do at least 3-4 drafts.

3. Do you read the other entries before you post?

No. I don’t like to do that as a general rule. I’m so afraid I’ll subconsciously pick up on someone else’s entry, or be intimidated by the awesomeness of the entries before me. Intimidation does bad things to my creativity.

4. How long have you been entering the flash fiction contests here on the blog?
I learned about your blog and QueryShark at my first-ever writing conference (at the Book Passage bookstore in Corte Madera, CA) Jan 23-24, 2016.
My first FF entry on your blog was February 20, 2016 (results posted Feb 22, 2016) - you gave me a mention :-0

I’m glad I was totally clueless about how amazing all the Reiders are because if I had known, I would never have been brave enough to enter. I didn’t even realize that people commented on the entries or your blog posts, or that the sane ones lurk for a while before plucking up the courage to comment.

Based on my shoddy files, I think I’ve entered about 34 of your contests. Is that possible?

5. What, if anything, have you learned by writing flash fiction?
I have learned so much about:
- being concise
- creating a complete story with the bare minimum
- humor
- word play
- rhythm
- unusual structure/form
- and EMOTION and HEART (at which my fellow Reiders excel). This is something I struggle with.

All of this has been incredibly helpful in learning to craft picture books.

6. What kind of book are you working on?
Primarily picture book manuscripts. Chapter books and middle grade are on the horizon.

7. What are you currently reading?
Do you have a year? Kidding!
I’m reading:
- Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi) for my adult book club.
- The Apothecary (Maile Meloy), MG
- The Magic Words (Cheryl Klein) and Writing Magic (Gail Carson Levine) - craft books
- and stacks and stacks of picture books. Most of the current ones are part of the reading list for this year’s ReFoReMo, happening now. **

** ReFoReMo is Reading For Research Month, 
a challenge designed to help authors & illustrators 
learn the craft of creating picture books through the study of mentor texts. 
The challenge runs each year in March. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Risk assessment on repubbing previous novels

In another lifetime (14 years ago, to be exact), an indie press published a suspense novel of mine as a hardback. My mom bought a copy, bless her heart, and I suppose a few other people did, too. In 2012, an agent convinced me to self-publish an e-version of the book along with an e-version of another novel. My mom might’ve bought a copy of those, also.

After those experiences, I decided to devote myself to finding an agent and pursuing the route of traditional publishing. I’m dead set against e-publishing, and I have great reservations against pursuing the indie route.

But now an indie publisher is showing interest in re-publishing the book that came out in hardback. I don’t have a strong desire to do this, or a strong motivation not to, though the novel is a fun read, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it in print again.

Here’s my question: would republishing the hardback with the indie be a strike against me in the eyes of super agents such as yourself (though I fully recognize that you’re in a category all by yourself)? That is, I’ve heard in different places that if you’ve got books out with lackluster sales, that might hurt you when trying to publish with a traditional house.

There are no hard and fast rules about this kind of thing because a lot depends on the book, or in this case books.

When I get a query for a book from an author with backlist, the first thing I assess is whether that backlist will help us find an audience for the new book. Are the books in the same general category (both crime, or romance, or sf/f)  Are there some good Amazon reviews; ones that say "can't wait for this author's next book"?

Most important though is whether the new book is really terrific. Of course I only sign really terrific books but if you've got a publishing history, the new book needs to be bigger, bolder, better on all fronts. A real break-out novel.

What you always need to remember is that agents and publishers will overlook just about anything if they think they can sell a lot of copies and make money.

When you hear "lackluster sales of a previous book kill your chances" what that means is we doubt the new book is bigger/bolder/better enough to assuage our fears that this book won't do better than the last one.

Here's the real dilemma you're facing: Most likely, there are no reliable Bookscan numbers on the first edition of your book. Bookscan was founded in 2001 and it took a while to get enough coverage to make the numbers semi-reliable. (Don't worry about the e-edition in 2012, Bookscan doesn't track electronic books)

If you republish that book now, you'll get current Bookscan numbers and without any kind of marketing push, those numbers are going to be abysmal. Bookscan misses ALL direct website sales (if the publisher sells books direct to consumers via their website) and all library sales. It does pick up Amazon, so that helps.

You need to balance the risk and reward. A book published 14 years ago isn't going to get much notice. How much money do you think you'll make from the new edition? Is this new book big enough to overcome fears of lackluster sales (if that's what you're expecting from this repubbed edition?)

Without a clear and compelling reward for repubbing, I'd hold off. There's no time constraint on repubbing that first book. In fact, if you sell the new book, you can repub the first one digitally and use it as promo for the new one. I'm in the process of doing just that for two of my clients.

You're the only one who can assess all the factors here. There's nothing to lose by waiting and a lot to be gained by holding your fire.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The contest prize is editor consideration. You said "agents first" Should I enter?

Yesterday I discovered an award/grant from SCBWI: Work in Progress Grants
I meet all the requirements and my WiP meets the requirements. The only thing I need is a 250 word synopsis, and I should be able to drink enough liquor to sufficiently dull the pain to write one in less than a month. So I'm interested in submitting. The deadline is March 31.

However, the information includes the following:

"Award: The works submitted by winners will be made available on a secure webpage and presented to a hand-selected group of editors for their consideration. Although this is not a guarantee of publication, the opportunity to have your work presented to acquiring editors, along with an SCBWI endorsement, is a unique opportunity."

Remembering all of your previous warnings about not submitting directly to publishers/editors if we want an agent, should I NOT submit my almost-ready-to-query WiP to this particular opportunity?

SCBWI is a very reputable group; I encourage everyone working in kid lit to join and avail themselves of the resources there.

This award does NOT fall under the "don't send to editors before agents" rule.

The reason is you are not submitting your work. They're reading contest results.

The difference seems minor, but it's important.

When you get an agent for this work, you'll mention that you entered/won this contest and that some editors saw the manuscript.

If an editor reaches out to you after seeing your work, you alert the agents you're querying with that news. You tell the editor you're agent hunting.

Bottom line: An editor seeing something is not the same thing as a submission.

Good luck with your entry!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Gusto kong mosulat sa Iningles

Is it a terrible idea to write a novel in English when it's not your first language?

If your answer is just black and white "yes", then I don't want to know because my novel is finished (not necessarily including the final draft) and I am not a native English speaker.

In case you're wondering now why I haven't written in my first language:
1) my boyfriend is British and I couldn't imagine him not having a clue what I've been doing the last three and a half years.
2) The market for books in English is so much bigger.

I'm not just worried about me not matching the required level of language skills, but actually also about my story not being attractive to the American market because it's nothing to do with the US. The story happens in four European countries (Germany, Switzerland, England, France), but these places don't really matter for the plot.

So in fact, as I am writing this, my second question is about whether it's reasonable to try and find a literary agent in the US when my story takes place in Europe?

My query letter says in the fourth line "An unnamed Girl at primary school in northern Germany struggles..."

Is "northern Germany" an immediate prompt for a rejection?

I have changed my manuscript from British to American English. All "realise"s have become "realize"s, all "mum"s have become "mom"s and all "mumbling"s annoyingly turned into "mombling"s.

Should I just reverse it all to British English and try to find a literary agent in the UK only?

I live neither in the US nor in Europe.
Do you live on Carkoon?
Sending royalty payments via interplanetary mail is a pain, and that's the only reason I would care if someone lived somewhere other than here.  Well, actually, I also care if you have access to the internet, cause so much of publishing is now conducted electronically I can't sign someone who lives off the grid.

So don't worry about where you live.

If you think books set outside the United States are an immediate rejection, let me introduce you to:

Gary Corby
Alan Furst
David Dowing
Kerry Greenwood

And that's just the first four I thought of in the six seconds it took me to type their names. You might say "well, those are all genre books" but there are lots of other books set in far off lands that do quite well.

So, don't worry about your setting.

The writing in English part is a little more problematic.  I can usually tell when someone is a non-native speaker because they use interesting words, and often are just a little off-key.  That's not always a bad thing. I love the novels of Aleksander Hemon for example, and he writes in his non-native English. If you haven't discovered his work, hie thee to a book store at once.

But your concern is well-founded. English is a weird language and it likes to trip up natives and non-natives alike.

You'd do well to find a beta reader to make sure you haven't misused idioms, or confused liar with lyre, or worse, lair!

There are a number of people writing in English who weren't born to it. I'd say judging from the writing in this question you're going to do just fine.

So don't worry about that either.

(For things to worry about, consult yesterday's blog post!)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

When is my book new enough to query again?

So let’s say you wrote a book and it made the rounds, but it was rejected. You got some feedback, rewrote it, but it was still rejected. Then you got some more (but more extensive) feedback from a publisher and suddenly you had a light bulb moment and figured out how to take elements from the old novel and reimagine it completely, would this still be considered the same book? So basically what I’m asking is, at what point (if any) does a previously shopped manuscript become a new novel - i.e. if you write a new book based on elements from an old book that made the rounds, is this still considered a previously shopped work and would you have to disclose it as such when querying agents? I know if you make some rewrites it would be considered the same book, but what if you reimagined the book so extensively, it becomes a new product?

Here's the bottom line: it's not illegal or unethical or immoral to repurpose your work, slap on a new title (that's key) and send it out in the world again to find gainful employment. There's no magical makeover number that makes it "new" and it doesn't need to be all new to go out.

My ONLY concern when you query is whether I like and think I can sell this project you're now querying.

If that project started life as something else, well, we all grow and change as we figure stuff out!

If you queried me on the previous iteration, and I passed, you'd do well to not start by requerying me (or others who have passed.)  Start fresh. Give your ms a chance to find friends.

Your unspoken assumption here is you don't want to end up on some sort of agent blacklist.  You are in ZERO danger of that if you query politely, even for a novel with hand me down elements.

There are a couple ways to be irrevocably banned from my query inbox.  In case you're wondering, they are:

1. Be rude or condescending about my assistants/interns.

2. Be snotty about my clients or their work

3. Tell me I lack taste and refinement. You're free to ignore books that have garnered starred reviews and positive critical attention but if you think I'm a dodohead, why did you query me at all? Oh wait, YOUR book is the gold standard for taste... how could I not have realized that. Perhaps I am a dunderhead.

4. Query for the same project over and over. No title change, no revision, no change at all.

Notice you're not even close to #4 here.

You now must worry about something else, cause this concern is off your list. World peace, rising sea levels and what would happen if sharks disappeared are always choices for fretting.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Film! They want my book! This is good, right?

I work in the film industry - specifically theatrical marketing, producing movie trailers and promos. A few colleagues and friends, who work on the production side for major studios, have expressed serious interest in reading my manuscript once it's complete. They are interested in possibly optioning it as a movie. I feel that if a film studio is interested in my manuscript, it might be easier to get an agent. At the same time, I'm hesitant to send my completed manuscript to a major film studio without having an agent representing me. It's a conundrum for me and I was hoping to get your thoughts on the matter.

Does this situation fall into the same forbidden category as 'Pitching to Editor / Publishers First' or is it different since it's film?


DO NOT SEND YOUR MANUSCRIPT OUT TO ANYONE until you have secured representation, particularly to anyone in the world of film.

I'm sure your friends have the best of intentions. I'm sure they're honorable folk. Sadly, y'all work in a snake pit and I'm not telling you anything you don't know.

It is NOT easier to get an agent if there's "film interest." If anything it's harder here cause we have a film department and they don't want something people have already seen. Other agents also want a fresh slate. Something that's been seen is NOT that.

And unless your friends have the money and connections to actually get films MADE, optioning your script is just useless twaddle. I can't tell you the number of people who've slunk by my office hoping to option my client's books. Asked how much they're willing to pay, the answer is often "ummm....pay??" and that's a total non-starter.

Finish the book.
Get an agent.
In that order.

There are exceptions. You're not going to be one.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

How Now Meow Flash Fiction contest-results-FINAL

These are preliminary results. Winner posted Monday afternoon!

Special recognition for getting the correlation of the prompt words
Amy Johnson

and Michael Seese, for not getting them but making me laugh anyway.

Nominees for the Steve Forti Award for Amazing Use of Prompt Words

Steve Forti
“Pita? You got a screw loose. Wonder bread? Forget it.”
“Okay, how about a wrap?”
h. You ask for a wrap, I think you're dense. It isn't able to stand up to the sauce.”
“What t
hen? Rye?”
“R-rye!? Are you insane, man? This ain't corned beef. It's a meatball sub!”
“Then what, just an Italian roll?”
“Just? Just an Italian roll? It's a classic for a reason. It's perfect. And i
f I really want to do it right, I'll toast it.”
“Geez, you're crazy about this.”
“Crazy delicious.”

Not quite a story, but utterly lovely
Dena Pawling
She kindled a fire on tabletop mountain
Raising her hands
From the abundance of joy
Praising the gods
For the birth of her Henry

She kindled a fire on tabletop mountain
Raising her voice
From the deep ugliness of grief
Pleading with the gods
For the life of her Henry

She kindled a fire on tabletop mountain
Raising her fist
From the pit of despair
Cursing the gods
For the death of her Henry

She kindled a fire on tabletop mountain
Raising her eyes
From the wisdom of experience
Thanking the gods
For the gift of her Henry

Not quite a story but holy moly!
First scotch, then rye.

Neither helps.

I take another look at the note. The handwriting is still mine.

I found it by the fireplace, a few crisp words announcing my intention to kill myself.

The thought of dying is repugnant, but my other self must feel differently.

I used to pity her suffering, now I despise her selfishness. I wish she would kill herself—if only she wouldn’t take me with her. I hope she knows that.


Pills lay spilled across the tabletop.

I claw at the bottle. What does the label say?


Not quite a story, but gripping as hell!
Madeline Mora-Summonte
Dearest Husband,

If you find this, please know I did not go quietly. But the enemy I was pitted against was entrenched, formidable. Familiar.

Do not blame yourself, Henry. You worried about leaving us. You said business could wait. I insisted we were fine.

I do hope it brings you some peace to know the children will not suffer. They sleep like angels. The tablets worked. Sometimes to stop ugliness, one must do unthinkable things. Or so the voices tell me.

I must go now, my love. It is time to light the fire.

Your devoted wife,

Here the stories that stood out for me
Henry discovered the tablet in the fire pit. Strange markings covered its surface. He took it to his friend, Clay.

"It's Sumerian cuneiform," Clay said.

"Sumerian? The first civilization on Earth? What does it say?"

"You won't believe it," Clay said.

"Is it how they invented the wheel?"


"The plow? Writing?"


Henry gaped. "Dear God! It proves they really were created by Annunaki gods from outer space?"

"Afraid not." Clay cleared his throat. "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

"No," Henry said, as Clay continued.

"To escape the farting pug. Seems they even invented the first riddle."
This just cracked me up.
I often confess to having the sense of humor of a 12-year old boy, and this just proves it.
The writing is terrific and taut as well.

Colin Smith
When Ryan fired me, I called him a repugnant rapscallion. A table-thumping tramp. A hood, a heel, a hoodlum, and a pitiable putrid profligate poser. I told him he could take his wretched wastrel work and thrust it where the helioic sphere does not radiate its resplendent rays.

He told me to remove my ungrateful, unguent, ulcer of a body from his edifice of endeavor, and find myself an alternative avocation.

The conflagration in the refuse receptacle was an afterthought as I evacuated his smoldering premises.

I never really wanted to work for Roget in the first place. Bombastic boneheads.
This made me laugh out out, and "bombastic bonehead" is my new favorite phrase. Honestly, Colin could start writing for the Spiro T. Agnew Memorial Speech Writing school after this.

Nate Wilson
Dear Liza,
There's a hole in my bucket.

Dear Henry,
I'll fix it. Swing by the stable tonight.

I'm not driving a leaky bucket through atmo, babe.
Come to my hab.

Don't "babe" me, you repugnant bastard. That was one time only.
No house calls.

Such a spitfire! Love that about you. Among other... qualities. Meow.
I'll saunter over.
Hengry for More

Yee-ech. Offer retracted. You come at your peril.

Dear Liza,
There's a hole in my spleen. You'll hear from my lawyers.

Dear Henry,
It matches your bucket. Go to hell.

I'm a sucker for these kinds of off-beat entries. This one of course benefits from being familiar; the hole in the bucket song that kids learn in first grade music class.  Of course, Nate put his own spin on it, and it made me laugh.

I guess the funny entries are doing pretty well today!

John Davis Frain
K-9 rounds up the usual suspects. Enters names into her tablet.

Jimmie Three Paws. Muttley Crue. Their leader, Great Catsby. And the new cat on the block, Fifty Shades of Clay.

As an afterthought—the human, Mrs. Henry.

“Start barking,” K-9 commands.

“Heyyyy,” Catsby purrs.

Hours later, pugnacious Chief stomps in. “Confession?”

K-9 shakes her muzzle.

“When’s this end?” Jimmie asks.

Chief nods at Mrs. Henry. “Ain’t over till the cat lady sings.”

“What’s the crime?”

Clay thinks, erecting a statue in a dog park.

“Vandalism,” Chief spits.

Jimmie shuffles three paws. Swallows. “I thought it was a fire hydrant.”
Talking cats and dogs, plus puns! Honestly, it doesn't get better than this!

Claire Bobrow
Publishing intern by day…
Black Panther by night!
Who would ever suspect pitiful milquetoast Clay, always hiding under chairs and slinking about the office, afraid of water and pug dogs?
But when the sun went down and a tsunami of sin struck Gotham City…
No one could stop the Black Panther.

So he’d play along until they fired him.
Pretend to enjoy traipsing on tablets and cluttering keyboards.
Even reading queries, like the one he’d napped on today.
No O’Henry, that author, but still…
The Secret Life of Walter Kitty had distinct possibilities.

This one is Clay the kitten's favorite (as relayed by Intern Kim). Not surprising since it reveals he's a superhero by night! I love the word play, and the dexterous writing.

Honestly, this was really hard. I loved all these a lot.

In the end I had to agree with Clay (and Kim) that Claire Bobrow's stood out.  Congrats Claire! Your prize is a copy of Word by Word by Kory Stamper.  I loved that book a lot and hope you will too. If you've already gotten a copy let me know. Drop me an email with your preferred mailing address.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and post entries this weekend. It was great fun to read your work. The depth of talent on this blog is rather frightening!

 Let me know what you think, and if an entry you thought should have been mentioned got left out.

Friday, March 09, 2018

How Now Meow flash fiction contest!

Say howdy to Clay!

He's a little bit down on his luck right now. Some bad career choices (who knew being a lifeguard required going IN to a pool of water?); some gambling debts (that roulette wheel is soooo fascinating!); and a series of feline floozies have left him high and dry. Homeless even.

Right now he's temping with Apprentice Kim. He's building his skills in reading, editing, and keyboard menacing.

He's one of several cats looking for more permanent employment.

Let's have a writing contest to give Clay some exposure!

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:


**bonus points if you tell me how the words are related

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: pit/pitbull is ok but pit/piety 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. The prize for this contest is NOT Clay now matter how clever your entry!

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: 7:24am, Sat 3/10/18

Contest closes: 9am, Sun 3/11/18 DON'T FORGET THE TIME CHANGE THIS WEEKEND!!

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!


Sorry, too late. Contest closed.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

A series of events is not a story

Sometimes it's useful to analyze why a book doesn't work for you.  I recently read The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.  It's the story of a family in Kabul during the takeover by the Taliban.  They had to find a way to support themselves when women were no longer allowed to work outside the home, travel without a male family member, let alone negotiate with suppliers or customers who were men.

In other words, a pretty interesting story, right?  Yes indeed. I bought the book, and read it all the way through. There was nothing overtly wrong; it wasn't a bad book that made me cranky to read,  but at the end I felt emotionally unsatisfied.  Why?

First, and this makes sense, the author did not flesh out the Taliban as a true antagonist. She's writing about real people who still live in Afghanistan, and the political situation there is still unstable. Making the Taliban the villain in the piece could have repercussions none of us want.

While the villain doesn't have to be a criminal mastermind like Snidely Whiplash, there must be a sense of the force that is thwarting the protagonist's goals.  And the protagonist has to recognize the antagonist as the antagonist. That's one of the key elements missing here. 

Without an antagonist, there's nothing at stake.  Which is ironic in that this entire family's life was at stake for most of the book. Knowing it intellectually is not the same as feeling it during the story.

Second, the main character doesn't change. I think this is due to the fact that the writer came to the story long after the events happened. She didn't know the family in 1995; she's starting her interviews in 2005. Thus, she's meeting everyone after the events in the book, and maybe didn't know to ask what the family was like before these life-altering events occurred.

And finally because there's no villain, and the characters don't change, there's rise and fall, no tension to the book. It's just a series of events. Interesting events, but at no time was I on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next.  I didn't put the book down with a sigh that it was over.

I see a lot of queries for memoir that start out "I've had an interesting life." Well, it doesn't get much more interesting than fighting for your family's survival in Afghanistan under the Taliban, and that didn't work as a story.  An interesting life is just the start. What's your story? Who's the villain? What was at stake? How did you change, or how did you effect change in the world? 

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Continuing the conversation on accuracy and authenticity

Yesterday's blog post about accuracy and authenticy generated this comment from reader Dena Pawling:

>>I see this a lot with lawyers, doctors, and law enforcement who query me about books that "don't take liberties with the facts!" and are thus often short on plot.

I read a book with a female protagonist who is a retired police chief. I did end up finishing it, but I lost confidence in the author when much of the tension relied upon her habit of having the MC go into sticky situations without any sort of backup, which a retired police chief would NEVER do. I don't care whether she's retired. She's NOT gonna go against 30+ years of training and experience to meet someone alone behind the pagoda at midnight, who might be the killer. Some of the situations were laughable, like the teenage girls in horror stories who grab a flashlight (because the power went out on a dark and stormy night) to check on a noise in the basement.

I understand “take liberties with the facts.” Especially if it's not supposed to be a non-fiction account. But it's very different from “take liberties with reality.” I'll throw a book across the room if the prosecutor calls the defendant to the witness stand at trial. And altho I did finish it, the book I just mentioned was the only book I've read by that author.

Give me a good story. But unless there's a good explanation [Carkoon, a dream, etc] don't make me cringe at the sheer unreality of it.

This is a really good point, and I want to steal the line "take liberties with reality."

Someone going into a darkened building at night, alone, after an unknown voice on the phone says "I'll tell you who murdered Felix Buttonweezer but only if you come alone with no backup" doesn't fail the logic test because a retired police chief would never do this. It fails the logic test because no sane person would do this.

There's a phrase for it: TSTL*

If your characters are doing something that's too stupid to live, that's just bad writing. Sure some cheesy horror movies require the trope of the negligee clad co-ed carrying a candle going into the basement cause she heard noises, but no one is expecting authenticity in Halloween 29.

And if your book is a campy send up, sure, tiptoe away.

But mostly, you're writing books that require people to behave somewhat believably.

Which means your characters CAN do things that aren't proper procedure, and might not be what they were trained to do. Who among us hasn't broken a rule or ten? Me me me for sure, and that's just today.

If you know your character is going to do something they shouldn't, there needs to be a reason. Overt or implied, but your reader should believe there's a reason.

Half the fun of Beverly Hills Cop is watching Axel Foley get yelled at for going against the regs. We know why he's doing it. In fact, in the same situation, we would do it too.

Each reader has a different tolerance for what they can overlook. I insist on historical and geographical accuracy, but I absolutely believe dragons can fly.

Bottom line: If your protagonist is doing things s/he shouldn't make sure it's clear why, and that your reader sympathizes. And of course, your antagonist should be doing many things s/he should not be, but just desserts are on the menu!

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

More on accuracy and authenticy

Feb. 7th's blog post about mentioning research in your query generated this comment from writer Kari Lynn Dell. In case you've been colonizing Mars for the past three years, Kari is a terrific writer of fabulous novels set in Texas. Y'all met Kari here on the blog some years back when I linked to her blog post about sheep.

Here's what Kari said about authenticity:
So just playing the devil's advocate a bit:

Yes, first you have to write a great book. BUT...if authenticity isn't a selling point, why does my publisher lean into my rodeo/ranching background in their marketing for my western romances? And my agent always mentions it when discussing my books (SHE REALLY DOES THIS STUFF.) And readers continually comment on the fact that they love the depth I bring to the page, knowing that I know what I'm talking about. As a reader, I like to see that an author has personal experience in their subject matter because I can trust (hopefully) that what I learn from them is accurate, and I can nearly always see it in the richness of the world they build (again, assuming excellent writing). For those reasons, if I were an agent I would like to see a single sentence about Opie's background in a query because if I love this book, it tells me the author has a deep well of experience to draw from for future work, and a unique selling point that might tip them over the edge with a publisher who's trying to decide between this book and that one, because marketing often rules the day.

The key word here is marketing. Your publisher uses your background as grist for the publicity mills. A writer who actually ropes? Yowza, send photos at once!

This helps the publisher hook the media's interest in the books. As you might imagine, I'm all in favor of that, BUT it's not something I consider at the query stage.

At the query stage, what I care about is story. The book Kari originally queried involved a thief. I didn't ask if she'd actually done time. Nope, I read the book, fell in love with the writing, and THEN starting thinking about marketing.

The flip side of authenticity though is that often someone who really knows a field has a hard time writing outside the facts.  I see this a lot with lawyers, doctors, and law enforcement who query me about books that "don't take liberties with the facts!" and are thus often short on plot.

Reality is very rarely a good story. That's why we have you: to take liberties with reality and give us a good tale.

It helps if you've lived in the world I suppose, but honestly, despite all his efforts Colin Smith has not actually been to Carkoon, yet I believe every word he writes about the kale fields there. Lee Child didn't serve in the US Army; Michael Connelly isn't a cop; and last I checked David Simon is not a drug dealer (although I am addicted to The Wire.)

Bottom line: I never reject a query based on what an author says about their background (exceptions: cannibalism; shark soup chef; Nazi) so if you include it, it's not a problem. BUT if you are writing about cowgirls, and your only rodeo experience is the Seventh Avenue IRT, I'll still read your story if it sounds interesting.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Really? REALLY??

Recent email:
subj: Re: Query for Kale Fields of Carkoon

Hey Janet,
I know you didn't take a shine to Kale Fields of Carkoon, but I've got another top notch thriller about the Cabbages of Ketchikan. It's like Kale Fields of Carkoon, but set in Alaska. Want to take a look at that one?

Query Writer

Really? REALLY?

Just a reminder that if you receive a pass letter on Project A, and you've got Project B in the chute, just waiting to buck out into the arena, YOU STILL NEED TO SADDLE UP WITH A QUERY.

And for the sake of my sanity, which is in short supply, at least change the frigging subject line. This makes it look as though you're still talking about the novel I just passed on. It doesn't get sorted into incoming queries; it gets sorted into general mail.

And honestly, you probably received a form letter from me on the first one. It makes me feel really awkward to now send a second form letter, so I'm usually reduced to a terse "no thanks" which doesn't make either of us feel all that great.

Do yourself a favor. There are no shortcuts that avoid a query letter (well, there are, but none of them apply to you.)

Any bucking  questions?

Sunday, March 04, 2018

What are: "one-time rights"?

If a journal publishes the chapter with “one-time rights, the rights revert back to author after publication,” is that a problem later on? In other words, will that part of the book be considered previously published by editors down the line? I don’t want to publish an excerpt somewhere and then have to remove it from the book if it gets picked up.

There is no such thing as one time rights.
What there is, is licensing the right to do something with your chapter. What is it?

Rights is used to refer to the bundle of license opportunities associated with publishing a book. Audio rights for example (and unsurprisingly) is granting a license to the publisher to publish an audio version of the book.

This is hugely confusing to writers, and also important to know, it's hugely confusing to a lot of people who are writing contracts.

I review all the contracts my clients sign for short stories and I've seen some stuff that makes me weep with frustration.

Most likely the journal you've queried wants to publish your chapter non-exclusively, in print and electronic form. You want to specify the language (or all languages) and the territory (North America or most likely world)

World English is the right to publish something in English around the world.
World rights is shorthand for the right to publish in any language.

Non-exclusive means someone else can also publish the chapter without infringing the agreement you've entered into with the journal.

Exclusive is generally when the journal can keep you from publishing the chapter with someone else. You want to make sure there's a time frame for the exclusivity. Exclusive for three months, a year, five years. Without a specific end date, you've licensed them in perpetuity and that's not not not what you want to do.

As to the actual question you asked: publishing a chapter before the book is sold isn't a problem for book publishers. You simply make sure they know about it ahead of time. Publishers can and do publish work that has been published before. Jane Austen hasn't been a debut in quite some time.

In fact, interest in your book, as manifested by publishing chapters of it ahead of time, is a selling point. You'd include that information in your query letter.

What you want to make sure the contract with the journal says though is: a non-exclusive license to print the Work (that is the chapter) in English, throughout the world, in print and electronic form for a period of X years.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Full scheme ahead

For the last year I have been running writing workshops (through a writing organisation) to earn some "writing dollars". I've had great feedback and recently I've had a local bookstore approach me about running writing workshops at their store. I'm not sure how many dollars this would generate (probably not many), but I know if I was published this would be a great opportunity for marketing, if nothing else. I'm sure there is still something I could do to make the most of this opportunity (money aside) and wondered what sharkly advice you could offer?

I'm not sure you want to think of the writing workshop students as a target audience. Nothing makes writers crazier than being pitched books by someone they're paying for something else.

And if you really want to see writers froth at the font, ask them how they feel about agents pitching "how to query" books at the bottom of a rejection letter.

As for making the most of this opportunity, you can't plan for it. Seize opportunity when it knocks, don't go chasing it down the street, tackling it at the intersection and handcuffing it to your pogo stick. Opportunity gets quite fretful when abused like that.

Keep your eyes and ears open, and when someone offers up a crackpot idea, think about it before saying no. Some of my best ideas started out as harebrained schemes.

Friday, March 02, 2018

you know they're wrong, I know they're wrong, how the hell can't they see they're wrong??

I have pondered this before, but it's been eating at me. When someone makes a comment that is inappropriate, how would you like the community to respond (and by that I'm asking for me personally)?

I tend to retreat and go silent, which also seems to be the response from most Reiders. In part it's because I'm an introvert and in part it's because I can't be sure if the person is ignorant or deliberately stirring the reef (if it's the latter I don't want to give them air time and create a bigger kerfuffle, but if it's the former then education might be a good thing). I assume you'll deal with things behind the scenes (privately) you aren't happy with (as you've said you've done in the past), or snap at the group in general to remind us about behaviour and rules. Is that a correct assumption? Would you prefer the community (ie me) to be more outspoken or to continue to retreat?

Well mostly I want whoever is making inappropriate comments to stop.
But of course, inappropriate is often in the eye, or keyboard, of the beholder.
And the most flagrant offenders are often the folks who have no clue they've offended anyone.

Here's what we all need to remember: this blog attracts all kinds and stripes of people with opinions that are left of center, right of center, holy, unholy, wrongheaded, ignorant, and generally malodorous. And that's just me.

One of the key elements of being an effective writer (which is something I hope EVERYONE here wants to be) is to remember your audience.

And your audience is not you.

Your audience is often times the anti-you.

If you keep that in mind, and re-read your comment with a critical eye before you post, hopefully we'll all be able to happily splash in the Shark Tank.

That said, I'm not going to land on people for making inappropriate comments. This is not a safe place, there are no trigger warnings. You come here, you're going to see some stuff you don't like.

And I'm going to ask you to either live with it, or address it calmly with absolutely no aspersions cast on character, especially when you're certain the other person is a total cretin.

The world is not our reflection, nor is it an easy place to live in.
The world would be a better place if everyone was like me you, of course.

Do you remember the book The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein? He created a world on the moon where civility was enforced by a pretty strict code of conduct including instant trial and disposition (out the airlock.)

There are days I think that's a really good idea.

But I'm not going to police the content of comments for anything other than accuracy about publishing, word count and frequency.  Annoy or offend enough of your fellow readers though, and you'll find yourself being largely ignored. And the value of this blog is beyond my yammerings and rantings. The value of this blog is the community that has developed here. You might want to assess how much you value that if you say things just to stir the pot.

Thursday, March 01, 2018


A few days ago, an aspiring picture book writer asked about a contest. The contest seems to be reputable, or at the very least, isn’t a scam, although the writer was concerned the contest organizers want to be able to publish the winning entry in their newsletter and then the rights revert back to the author. Someone else pointed out that contest wins look good when querying, which made me wonder, and I thought I'd ask you since it seems like a good question for your blog:

Which contests wins are worth mentioning when querying? More importantly, how can writers gauge this?

For example, I'd guess Malice Domestic's unpublished author grant or an SCBWI Work-In-Progress grant are worth mentioning since they're well known and come from respected organizations. Maybe the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, even though many people have a complicated relationship with the company. Some regional organizations—like Willamette Writers—have an annual writing contest but I’m not sure if anyone outside of the region has heard of it.

My traditionally published debut novel is a finalist for my state’s book awards, which are a judged competition. So, if I have to join the query trenches again (hopefully not), I’d guess this is a solid addition to my bio, although my manuscript description and sample pages are infinitely more important.

Your friend's hesitation about the contest folks wanting to publish her work if she won befuddles me. What does she want to happen? Nothing? A contest is primarily to attract attention to a project. It's hard to do this if you just get T-shirt and nothing else.

Contests to avoid are the ones that are clearly set up mostly for the proprietor to make money, rather than bring recognition to the winner. (check out one of my favorite examples: the New York Book Festival)

Contest to avoid are ones that require you to surrender all rights, in perpetuity.

Contests to avoid are the ones that grab rights if you enter, let alone win.

How can you tell?
Google the contest name. If it's not sponsored by a legit organization (like SCBWI), no one is talking about the contest, and it wasn't covered in any news articles, or mentioned in trade magazines, it's probably not a contest you'll get much benefit from.

Check out the entrance fee.  If it's more than $50 a book, it's probably being run for profit, but not yours.

Check out who won in years past. Have you heard of any of them? If the contest is for unpublished work, google to find out if the authors from five plus years ago actually got published.

Read the rules!

If you've entered a contest, use those same benchmarks to determine if you should mention it.

And add another benchmark: did you win?  Semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough contest meant at least 50 people placed higher.  I'm probably only interested in the top three.

Conference contests are a little different in that often the entries are only people who attend the conference (check the rules to make sure, not all are like this)  A limited entry pool means my interest is limited.  You can "win" if you're first in a field of two, but it's harder to win if you're one in a field of a hundred plus.

Contests I pay very close attention to:
1. William F. Deeck Malice Domestic unpublished novel contest. I rep three winners of this contest. 'Nuff said.

2. Level Best anthology. Not really a contest, but I always read the stories selected for this anthology.

3. Black Orchid Novella award

If you mention you won a contest haven't heard of it, I google it. If you say you were a finalist or something else, I ignore it.

The contest you mentioned for your state is for published books, so generally those wouldn't be in a query letter unless you're looking for a new agent. If that's the case, sure, an award is nice, but the bigger question is really how did the book sell.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

How to shoot yourself in the foot, twice, on social media

Politics has become a blood sport these days.
The idea that somone who disagrees with you is a dunderhead is one thing.
The idea that they are a bad person is entirely another.

In your social media wanderings be VERY careful about casting aspersions on anyone.
Particularly if you're doing so cause you think I'll agree with you.

I won't.
Not now.
Not ever.

And if you attack or vilify a friend of mine, even one I disagree with, and think needs a wet noodle to the noggin to dislodge a couple ideas I think are lunacy, our friendship trumps our disagreement.

In other words, never assume people who are disagreeing with each other are sworn enemies.  My best arguments are with sworn friends.

Vilify a pal of mine, include me in the tweet, and you are #blocked #ignored #forgotten.

My guess is that you don't want that to happen.
On the other hand, if you do want me to ignore you, that's the sure fire way to do it.

I value the civility we have here on this blog. I admire the restraint all of you show in keeping the conversation elevated, not descending to name calling or other forms of ad hominim attacks.

I am incredibly proud that "don't read the comments" is the LAST thing someone would say about our blog here (and I mean ours, yours, mine, all of us, even that rascal Felix Buttonweezer)

I loathe personal attacks.

Pretending everyone feels that way is a good guideline for your social media interactions.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

When you're writing about unspeakable things

There is violence in the world around us. I wish there was less (well, after I polish off my hit list of course.) You, the savvy writer, need to know the difference between essential and gratuitous violence.

Being able to talk about violence and the aftermath is essential to healing. Silence equals death, a phrase coined at the start of the AIDS epidemic, still applies. Shaming victims requires they be made afraid to speak. Writing stories helps end that silence.

Two books very close to my heart involve acts of unspeakable cruelty and shame. They are central to the story; they in fact ARE the story. How those acts are presented in the story leaves no room for misunderstanding; they are not there to show how terrible a villain is; they are there to show how flawed the protagonist is.

And they are certainly not there for titillation.

The reader is not shocked; the reader is not horrified. The reader is heart-broken.

How you write about violence will make a huge difference in how far I'm willing to read in your novel. It's not what you write , it's how you write it.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Five things you've done/said that make me wonder if you really understand how all this works

1. "Things I'm looking for in selecting an agent".
This evokes images the fruit stand at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 40th Street and picking out which three of three hundred bananas I want to buy.

At the query stage you're not selecting anything; you're querying. Or if you are unsure of what querying means, you're introducing your work to literary agents who will respond with their level of interest.

If there is a lot of interest, you might get requests for fulls, but you're still not selecting anything.

Only if you have offers from several different agents would you be selecting anything.

2. "I can't find your email address."
This one makes me reach for the pass key without even wondering what you're writing. My email address is both on two websites (New Leaf and my own) and listed in as many agent-tracker type websites as I know about, AND if you google "email Janet Reid" it's in the first item returned.

I'm willing to accept a low level of industry knowledge in new writers; just cause you don't how publishing works doesn't mean you can't learn.

But if you don't know how to solve problems, or at least TRY to solve problems on your own, then it's a big red flag. If the first thing you do is ask me how to deal with something, you're going to be a time suck.  That's not encouraging.

3. Including a book trailer with your query.
For starters, you never include an attachment with a query unless the agent specifically requests you do so, and then, it's the pages you attach NOT a book trailer.
I have no problem with you futzing around and making a book trailer; I get that doing that kind of stuff is often a break from writing that you need. Just don't send it to me.  A book trailer is a publicity tool. You're not publicizing your book right now. You're querying. If you don't know the difference, that's a problem.

4. Listing the genre as "fun" or "adventure" or "dating"
Do I need to explain why?

5. I'd like to pique your interest, so here's my bio.
Unless you are Idris Elba shopping for a new wife, you aren't the first thing I want to hear about. And people who think their lives are interesting are generally wrong. Have you noticed that?

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Wait, did I get it wrong? This other agent says

I always thought the description in a query letter should explain the premise and stakes, but not give away twists or the ending, and that the synopsis was the place to include those things. Today, I saw an agent telling writers that a spoiler-free query isn’t helpful, and that agents want to see the plot outline in the query letter itself. Should I change my query letters to outline the plot?

By some chance was that an agent based in the UK?
I've heard tell that our Across the Pond Duckies like to see the full plot in a query.

Unless otherwised noted, a query contains only the first act (at most) of a book. It gives us a sense of where things change for Our Guyz, and what's at stake. No twists, no endings. No spoilers.

Every time you see advice that makes you question something you've learned here, take a look at who's offering it up.  UK and US agents do have different expectations. And some agents are just wrong. And some agents mistake their personal preferences for industry standards.

Some agents like to hear effusive compliments. The rest of us are ok with just hearing about a good book you'd like us to sell.

I've ranted and raved enough about how I think personalization is a waste of your time but this is the exception. If an agent says she wants the whole kiss and canoodle in the query, well, ok, there ya go.

Social media can be a great way to learn tips for effective querying, but don't believe everything you see.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Teaching a cat to shave: social media promotion for authors

I’m new to audience-building, publicity, promotion, marketing. I’m forcing myself to learn because it’s a skill every author needs. Right? But right now it’s feels like the equivalent of teaching a cat to shave. It seems that everywhere you look, the experts are pointing to the need for social media. I don’t do social media. I did once, but in the 18 months since quitting I’ve found myself healthier, happier, and more productive. So I stay away (a trend I think we’ll see more of in the coming years). Compound this issue with my living situation: a cabin in the woods an hour from nowhere (literally).

I want to wow publishers and agents with my drive for professionalism, I want to take my career by the horns and get the word out that I’m an author (once I’m finally published), but outside of moving or returning to the psychologically damaging world of social media, what likelihood do I have of doing any of that? How do you promote yourself when you refuse to play by modern social marketing trends? What is the likelihood of generating a Lee Child-esque career when I live in Carkoon and never like or share any of Felix Buttonweezer’s posts?

We'd all be happier, healthier and more productive if we didn't have to go to work every day too.

I'd get so many blog posts written, and they'd be longer, more nuanced, and assuredly less-typo-rife, but yanno, as long as this blog is free, and my rent isn't, work is one of those things I need to do.

And promotion is one of those things you need to do IF you want people to find your book.

Sure a publisher can hit the trade journals like Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publisher's Weekly.  And maybe even offer some co-op to Barnes and Noble so your book is front and center for the first week it's out in the world.

But effective marketing tells us that that the way to reach people is word of mouth; recommendations from friends.

Look at the last ten books you read out there by lamplight in the woods. How did you find those books?

In fact, keep track of how you found books in your list of the books you've read (you should keep a list if only to remember what NOT to check out at the library.)

The last book I read was The Unicorn in the Barn by Jacqueline K. Ogburn. I read it cause a friend (a client actually) told me about it.

The book before that was The Wanted by Robert Crais, and I read it cause I've been reading Robert Craise for years now (in other words, he was not a debut.)

The book before that was Alibi Junior High by Greg Logsted and I picked it up on reccomendation of a friend (a blog reader.)

Before that The Fire and the Fury and we all read that cause we heard about it via the news.

And before that was Perish the Day by Nick Petrie and while this is the second time I'd read the book, and I read it cause I'm a besotted fan, the FIRST Nick Petrie novel I read came to me via a friend (his agent LaSlitherina herself, Barbara Poelle)

See the pattern?

Verify it with your own reading patterns if you think I'm an anomoly or an outlier.

As to removing yourself from social media, well, we all existed quite happily without Twitter for a few gazillion years and managed to sell a few books anyway.

If you don't want to use social media, what do you want to do?

The option isn't social media or nothing if you want a career. It's social media or something else. You can name the something else, and I'll probably be willing to help you with that if I love your book. What IS a non-starter is "I'm going to sit here in the woods and write, and let you other people promote my books."

Even Lee Child does promotional work. And Harlen Coben, before he was a mega-bestseller, spent a lot of time calling bookstores about his first book (the bleeding football cover, get him to tell you the story someday, it's hilarious.)

And my go-to promotion model JA Jance built her bestselling career store by store. She knew every single bookstore and retail outlet that stocked books for three hundred miles up and down the 1-5 corridor in Washington, Oregon and Califfornia. She knew the manager's name, the event coordinators, and she knew what their book groups liked to read.  She wasn't on Twitter or Facebook either; they hadn't been invented yet.

And Debbie Macomber built her best-selling career with a newsletter that her fans adored. She didn't have Facebook or Twitter either; they hadn't been invented yet.

So yes,  there are old school ways to promote your novel. And they work. NONE of them involve someone else doing it for you.

And Felix Buttonweezer is pretty hurt you haven't returned his calls about the KalePie Eating Contest.

Friday, February 23, 2018

I write what I want to read, but does anyone else?

My novel is making the rejectiony rounds. The feedback from partials and fulls (when there is feedback!) is that the characters and worldbuilding are great, but it’s not high-concept enough to sell in a crowded fantasy market. I actually avoid reading high-concept fantasy novels sometimes because the characters and plot aren’t there—all you can see is the very marketable concept. My favorite authors and stories from that genre aren’t high concept at all. They’re just well-written, with good characters, not trying to bust out of any boxes or make cultural or political statements. I mean, yes, they’ve got themes, but not THEMES. I wrote the book I wanted to read (the advice they give you now instead of “write what you know”) but I might be the only one who wants to read it!

Should I keep querying (I’m up to 50 agents queried, have heard back from about half) and hope that someone thinks there’s a place for my delightful and well-written (but not groundbreaking) fantasy novel? The novel I’m writing now *is* more of a high-concept, but I have got to confess, I like my smaller-scale book better. Any advice you can give on this subject would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

No matter how much I love your book, or you love your book, we have to find ten thousand OTHER people to love your book.

And those other people have waves of reading likes and dislikes just like everyone else.  Try and sell a zombie novel these days. No matter how much you love zombies, it's going to be a slog.

Or medical mysteries. Or mysteries set on academic campuses featuring crime solving professors.  All of those had their day twenty years ago, and now are much harder to sell.

For a long time Westerns were a big-ass category. Now, not so much, although they're still being published. The guys who are writing traditional westerns tend to be the guys with established careers.  I've tried my hand with a couple westerns that were debuts, and had my hat handed to me in no uncertain terms, and escorted out of the saloon with instructions to come back when I had domestic suspense (right now the go-to category.)

It's not uncommon for writers to have a book of their heart. Often it's not the book that sells well, or even sells at all.

I sold five books for Jeff Somers before I sold the book of his heart.  When I sold every single one of those previous five books, at some point in the conversation he would say "don't forget about Chum!"

And I didn't. And I sold it. It took me nine years, and I don't want to tell you how many revisions and submissions but it was a LOT.

What Jeff did was smart: he kept writing. He got published. He waited for his agent to get the book into the right hands, at the right time.

In your case you keep writing. Keep sending books on submission.  Write books you want to read sure, but remember this isn't an academic exercise.  We need books we can sell, not just books we love.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A new press has requested my book

I’ve heard a lot of passes, some form letters, some helpful, a few full requests (that also ended in rejection) and almost all saying they love the concept but [insert rejection reason here].

An indie publisher has requested the full after requesting the query/25 pages, citing they are very excited to read it. After so many rejections, I feel apprehensive that they’re so interested.

Research revealed that they are very new with only two published books and a few authors. I started reading the newest book and didn’t like the cover or the writing. My fear is that they are trying to build a client base and not being as “choosy”.


I can see the changes I need to make, and in my heart of hearts know it’s not where it should be, where it can be. On the other hand, it feels pretty good to get what seems like a more serious request.

Sure, they could still pass, or worse - not pass - but I’m still anxious. I’m doing a pretty in depth overhaul based on agent feedback, and believe it will be better.

Is it worth it to go with an unproven publisher just to get my foot in the door? Or will they not be able to do the things a big publisher would do and my first impression to readers (and other potential agents/pubs) will fall flat?

What’s a newb to do?

This is my worst nightmare: a client excited to work with a new press.  One of my absolutely ironclad rules is "don't be first."  I like being third, or fifth.  In other words, let Ingenue Press learn the pitfalls of publishing on someone else's book.

The first thing to look for beyond ugly covers and books you don't like is whether Ingenue Press has distribution of any kind. In other words, can they get your books into wholesale accounts for you?

Look for clues like "bookseller's information" or "trade accounts" on their website.  If the ONLY button says "place order in shopping cart" and they charge you full retail, these guys are selling books off their website and not much else.

If you set up booksignings at a store, will they be able to furnish inventory at a discount? How long will that take? Do they make you pay for it ahead of the event?

With a small press, you're largely in charge of your own publicity and marketing. They must bring something to the table, something of real value to earn that hefty 85/15 split they get. Access to library sales, access to wholesale accounts, efforts for trade reviews are three BIG things you want to make sure they can and actually do. Google that book you don't like. See if there are any trade reviews.

As to what to do right now: you know your book can be better. Tell the publisher (if you elect to proceed) that you're in the middle of a revision based on feedback from readers. Ask if you can send when the revisions are finished. Generally a publisher is going to be keen to publish the best book possible, and absent some compelling reason like a hole in the catalog, they'll be glad to give you time.

Bottom line: Don't let your eagerness to be published blind you to a bad match.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Cuddles the Cactus Flash Fiction contest results

Sorry about the delay in posting these results. I got waylaid on Sunday by manuscripts, and Monday by connection issues. I finally got to the entries yesterday, and of course, there was no way I could read through them quickly enough to post by 7am, so here we are on Wednesday.

Too close to home for anything other than tears
Michael Seese 9:44am
Mallory Love 10:48am
Richelle Elberg 12:27pm
Kathy Joyce 1:11pm
Craig F 5:33pm

Not quite a story, but an attention grabber none-the-less
Sian Brighal
It’s the worst kind of theft...the kind where you fill the fat thief’s deep pockets because you’ve not been taught better. The old in the shadows of looming senility can see it from their side of schooling. They know what’s gone down, how dependence has replaced knowing...how them apron-strings that kids now call ethernet cables have shortened minds on long loose leashes. They gather and mutter while kids scatter from lessons, laughing at the obsolescence of outdated connections as they rush to their standalone lives.

It takes a lot to get me these days, what with your amazing entries and clever writing, and Steve Forti is in an especially difficult class cause we've come to expect him to be flat out brilliant, but honestly, this one STILL made me laugh out loud. (and the prompt word Thief….well, that was five stars out of four!)

“Eww, that tux is hideous. Tell me it's rented.”
“Owned. Bought it last night. Only twenty bucks!”
“You don't say.”
“Hey, check her out. Pretty cute, right?”
“Stunning. What's your plan?”
“Alcohol. Definitely need a shot of courage first.”
“Obviously. And then?”
“What's the best pickup line you got?”
“Effective. I'll consider it. But what follows that opening?”
“That's on you. Go get her, you mensch.”

“Oo. Lookie what the cat dragged in.”
“Hi honey. You look great in white. Think we're ready?”
“I do.”

Cuddles the Cactus has a favorite. It is of course this entry from Amy Schaefer

Everybody wants to touch me. It's the downside of being gorgeous.
He approaches cautiously, lips wetted, eyes gleaming. Glancing around to make sure no one else is looking, because he's only barely bold enough to try this. He reaches out, body blocking the movement.
Just waiting to be schooled.
"Ouch!" He pulls back, abandoning stealth. I effing love it.
Mortified, he retreats. His spouse is rolling her eyes, lips pursed in a sour-lemon expression.
He's going to get an earful as they try to remove that spine together. My little gift.
You come at the cactus, you best not miss.

On the other hand Cuddles was not all that pleased to be told that her hairdo was an alien!

Caru Cadoc 10:31pm
Dear Ms. Reid,

I’m writing to submit a “novel” idea: lift my leathery green ass out of this cup and put me down inside the sink to water me. This b-team teacup lacks proper drainage. Any schmo can see that from the dirt on the porcelain. I’m an old-school cactus. I need drainage. Don’t be the thief of my brief existence.


p.s. There’s two of us. Swirly-brains is a separate cactus, grafted onto my head. Please refer to us by our proper names, as we find your single name for two individuals offensive and belittling.
And for those of you who know about succulents you'll be glad to know I inherited Cuddles in that tea cup and her new home AND potting soil are on order.

And sometimes when you play with form it's just absolutely fun and gorgeous, like this from Dena Pawling 11:46am

Snowy days
School is closed
Susie's home

All windows
And all doors
Are locked tight

Nog is egged
Nodding off
Nitey night

Trouble comes
Tumbles down
Thief inside

As he lands
At the hearth
Arms are full

Cat peeks out
Creeps across
Claws unfold

Leaves his loot
Loves the milk
Late to go

Attack cat
Aims for face
And draws blood

Under siege
Up he goes

Soon she purrs
Susie's safe

Sometimes the first line of an entry just grabs me and won't let go.
JustJan, 8:21pm
There are down sides to keeping an alligator. Thermoregulation is a big deal. Like Goldilocks, these creatures want the temperature just right.

Schooling is also important. Not for the animal, but for the general public. An alligator’s personal space, for instance, is something you don’t want to encroach upon. My wife, Debbie, failed that topic.

Her brother, Victor, plots revenge.

“It’s a dumb animal,” I tell him in disbelief.

“It’s a thief,” he insists. And one night, just like Debbie, he makes a mistake.

Which is the up side of keeping an alligator.

Another great opening line, and a job I really want to apply for
StackAttack 8:57pm
The Headmistress of Downlow School of Mischief and Debauchery perused the application with all the enthusiasm of a lethargic cat. Until she reached the last page.


“Yes, ma’am.”

“High seas or space?”

“Little bit of this. Little bit of that,” he said, flashing an elusive smile. Nobody liked a braggart.

She set aside her rimless spectacles to consider the thief with renewed vigor. “Very well. We’ll be in touch.”

When they parted, the thief carried an old pair of rimless spectacles; the Headmistress a thief’s wallet. Neither said a word, not even after school commenced.

Nobody liked a braggart.

While this one isn't quite a story, it's the start of something I'd want to read!

Amy Johnson 8:13am
The super unlocked Mrs. Chen’s door for me. I’d miss her grandmotherly “hello, dear” whenever we saw each other in the hallway. And I would need to find someone else to feed Mittens when I traveled overseas for work.

I had never been inside. Seventies kitsch. Oolong tea, five varieties. I felt a bit like a thief, going through her things. But I couldn’t bear to think of anything precious ending up down in the dumpster. Old books. Sun Tzu—who’d have thought? A metal box. Her passport. But a different name. More passports, more names.

It was only on the second pass that I realized what this story was about. Do you get it?

Miriam 3:18pm

This was no ordinary robbery. It was a merciless plan to break a teacher down.

The iPads? Untouched on the bookshelf, like they were obsolete as the old dictionaries beside them. My laptop? Closed on my desk, the chalk dust on the lid undisturbed.

The thief took the best listener in class, who sat with perfect posture every day. Who never interrupted a lesson with a fidget spinner or a fart joke. Who never wasted time, pretending to need another drink of water. The sharpest one in school. My favorite.

All that remained was a speck of sandy soil.

I love the play with old school thief in these two entries

Marsha Adams 4:03pm

There's no downside to being an old school thief.
Okay, you need the right tools and if you can't find a fence you're stuck with an old school: so you need a way in and out. That's planning, not a downside.
There's a small risk of jail time, sure. Free bed and board; a holiday from the world. There's no actual downside.
But the rewards! Diamond Jack sold Harrow for... well, he's never said, but a waitress gave him that nickname when she saw her tip.
So... field generator, miniaturiser, containment unit: £19,000 all in.
Do we have a deal?
Nate Wilson 12:10am
"I'm just an old school thief. Small scale only. There's no down side."

Roger deflated. "My source said you'd branched out."

Jenkins shook his head. "I ain't altered my business model in 50 years. And I never been caught. This is all I got."

"Nothing else? I need the stuff tomorrow."

"Nope. I only hit hatcheries, poach swarms of tiny fish. The skins make gorgeous jewelry. Huge profit margins."

"No feathers to fill my knock-off jackets? He swore you did those on the side."

"Like I said. I'm just an old school thief. Small scale only. There's no down side."

This isn't a story but it's hilarious and charming
Sherin Nicole11:31pm
She lived a colloquial life. Sold her soul, lied down with dogs, and played both sides against the middle. On occasion she denied death and swam with the fishes—schools of them. Her aphorisms were orgasmic; she’d stolen hearts and left them cold. Lovers could be such idioms, and she such a petty thief. There’d be no rest for a woman this wicked, so she skipped the afterlife and proclaimed herself, “goddess” (figuratively).

This time the winner was clear at once. That doesn't happen often, but this entry was both on topic, funny, and subtle. That's a neat hat trick in 100 words.

Congratulations Miriam 3:18pm

I've got a copy of Mike Cooper's The Downside (UK edition) for you and an audio copy too!  If you've already read it let me know and we'll figure out another prize.  Email me your mailing address.

And many thanks to all of you who took the time to write stories and enter the contest. As always the breadth of talent here is inspiring and daunting.  I love reading your work!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

If you like me so much, why am I still here in the query trenches?

Ok. What gives? Today I just received like my 1 thousandth (or maybe 30th) rejection for my novel over three years. And like almost all the other 1,000 (or 30) before it, it was glowing praise. Really. It was like a love letter to my novel. Or a 5-star Amazon review, comparing it favourably to other comp titles. But in the end it was another rejection. Almost all my rejections have been passes with praise. Are the editors just being really nice? Or do I have a book that’s a potential hit here? I feel like I’m getting closer - but the problem is I think I’ve run out of publishers. Should I shelve the book? Self publish it? Try to find another agent for a previously shopped manuscript? Why would publishers heap praise on a book (and it’s not just a few publishers, it’s been a LOT of them!) but not buy it or even request a R & R?

Because you guyz (and I don't mean you personally, but you writerly folk) have blogs, and Twitter accounts, and Instagram pages, and I dunno, billboards outside Ebbing Missouri, and you POST THIS SHIT.

I will never EVER forget the first time I heard an author read their rejection letters aloud at a conference. And that was in the days before social media. Back then you had to be famous, and be a keynote speaker to mortify the hell out of all of us who passed. Now the fun can be had by all!

There's a reason you'll never hear "you sucketh the almighty lemon/lime of fruit salad novels" from me: 1. who sucketh be it large or small is subjective and 2. I don't want you to tell the world I was wrong when you become all famous for this novel I think is crap.

And if you think there aren't six or seven editors who passed on EVERY SINGLE BESTSELLER IN THE WORLD, you're wrong wrong wrong.

As to your personal case here, you're pitching editors, not agents?
Cause if you're pitching editors at major publishing houses, they really don't take stuff that doesn't come from an agent, no matter what you hear/read/are told.  They've been known to clear their conference in box with effusive letters that pass on things because they too do not want to be called out by someone.  

As to what you should do.
First, get a second set of eyeballs on your query and your first ten pages to see if there's something you're missing.

Second, you've run out of publishers, try agents. While it's true we drink whiskey and torment writers for fun, we do manage to sell a few things now and then.

Third, I'd avoid self-publishing unless you are fully committed to that avenue. Self publishing is NOT the place for a "let's just see what happens" marketing strategy. Many writers do well with self-publishing but they work hard at it, and are able to separate themselves from their product. If you think of your book as your baby, you're not thinking of your book as a product you need to sell.  If you were selling cookies: a customer telling you your homemade Grandma's recipe chocolate chip cookies taste bad is a whole lot harder to take than someone telling you your Girl Scout cookies are cardboard.

Fourth, editors are trained to say nice things about books they are passing on. I have the same kind of passes from books I've sent on submission, but the bottom line is this:  everything other than yes is irrelevant. No matter how effusive the pass, it's a pass.

Connection issues

dont worry. I’m alive!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Is it you? Is it me? Should we just blame Obama?

I've been writing fiction for nearly a decade. I've been published with independent presses who have great credentials, that have won awards, for example.

However, every time I pitch agents there's silence and no additional work is requested. I have had my works nominated for awards as well. I'm also a horror writer.

What is it? Am I destined to be an indie author for the rest of my life? Is it that my writing, voice, topics I write about are just not mainstream enough?

I've doubted myself, my writing, my purpose, and I just don't know what to do anymore.

I have multiple novels I've written and shelved. I'm working on another but so far the reception by agents is similar to what I have seen in the past.

I know everyone says be resolute, you only need one yes, and so on, but when I see people getting agented who are newly on the scene I just keep noticing my greying hair and my increased doubt.

So, all in all, I don't know if it's my writing, my genre, me or something else at this point, and I'm completely confused as to next steps.

I was hoping you could offer some insight.

I assume when you say "pitch agents" what you mean is you're sending queries. And do you really mean you're hearing zip? Not even form replies?

Horror is a tough field for major presses. Not a lot of them publish it. (Don't everyone point to Stephen King, please. He's an outlier.)

And horror is VERY hard to query, particularly cosmic horror.

And querying with a publishing history with small presses means you've got a sales track record that will need some fancy footwork.

This is the point where you need to plunk yourself down in front of an agent at one of those miserable pitch sessions conferences seem to like so much, bring out your query letter and get some
as-close-to-honest-as-we're-likely-to-be feedback on what's going on here.  I'll be at one of those on April 20-21 in Minnesota.  There are lots of conferences; pick one you can afford where there are agents who've sold stuff (not all conferences vet their agents)

Since you're published my guess is you've got some writing chops so it's not bad writing.

My guess is that horror and a query letter that isn't doing the job are what's to blame here.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Cuddles the Cactus Flash Fiction Contest

Cuddles the Cactus has discovered the novels of Mike Cooper, and she's a big fan. To celebrate the UK edition of The Downside, let's have a writing 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.
Thus: down/downtrodden is ok, but side/slide is not.

Spaces do not count against order.
Thus: Fred owned is ok .

The letters cannot be backwards.
Thus: side/sidearm is ok, but tide/edit 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: 9:30am, Saturday, 2/17/18

Contest closes: 9am, Sunday, 2/18/18

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

If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's  an .xls spread sheet here http://www.colindsmith.com/TreasureChest/

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

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!


Rats! Too late. Contest is now closed.
Results posted on Monday 2/19..errr... Tuesday 2/20 (sorry, I dove into mss on Sunday)

For those of you trying to get your mitts on Cuddles, no dice! The prize is Mike Cooper's The Downside (UK edition) which is almost as cuddly as Cuddles herself.