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 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

(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.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Pen names

Writing status: Revising my completed manuscript #amediting

What I write: MG fiction plus a non-fiction

Tentative date to start querying: Jan 2019

Time to start building writer's online presence: NOW (if not yesterday!)

Problem: My name

My first and last name are difficult to both pronounce and spell. I'm worried that using my legal name could make it hard for readers to find my books (eg Google Search for author/title). Using a pen name seems like a good solution. At this point in my writing career, I want to start tweeting, building a writer's website, and maybe blogging down the road. Obviously this would all get set up under the name I'm planning to use if/when I publish. Being a typical nervous woodland creature, I wanted to check with the QOTKU before taking the plunge.

One recommendation is to pick a pen name that doesn't compete with any other major names or persons out there already (you actually mentioned this recently in a Jan 2018 blog post). Another idea I've seen is to have a pen name that might resonate with my generation of readers.

I feel like I've got one chance to get this right and I'm spinning my wheels trying to decide on a "perfect" name. I'd hate to pick something then spend time branding and promoting myself only to find out down the road that the name I chose doesn't work for some reason or another.

Cheers from the writing trenches!
You guyz crack me up, you really do.
I'm not sure what scenario you've envisioned wherein your name doesn't work for some reason or another. Well, ok if you're a writer named Charles Manson in 1967, that's probably not going to work in your favor if your book is published in 1969.

But you have no way of predicting what, if any, name will become associated with a psychopath. In other words, you cross that bridge when you come to it.

Pick a name you like. Pick a name that's short and easy to spell. Try for a name that isn't spelled three different ways: yanno like Reid. Read. Reed. (oy)

Pick a name you like. Don't try to find the perfect name or you'll start obsessing, and you should be obsessing about your writing, not your nom du guerre.

Pick a name you like. You don't have one chance to get this right, and the stakes aren't anywhere near as high as you think they are. Lots of people have had more than one name in their professional creative lives, and not all of them are Sean Combs.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

So, how much love do you think you're going to get??

I am currently in the query trenches. I’ve carefully researched the agents I’ll be querying, right down to the styles of writing they prefer. I meticulously personalize each letter to the t.

Imagine my sorrow when one of my top agents replies with a form response. I’ve looked on Querytracker for the types of responses she usually sends, and they’ve all been personalized! Except her letter to me!

Now, I’ve also gotten several full requests with the same query, so I don’t think the letter / sample pages completely suck. But I keep reading into agent responses and thinking, “how can the same letter make one agent request and another reject?”

If your book is sparkling, has a compelling plot and awesome characters, shouldn’t you have a 80% request rate? Agents don’t differ in tastes that much, do they?

P.S. Not saying my book is sparkling, necessarily. Just saying if there is a book out there that’s awesome, are there still agents who pass? How?

Back in the day Ann Landers used to print really oddball letters and than answer with "I'm so glad the fraternity boys at Yale are having some fun." She could pick out prank letters with near perfect acuity.

I thought I could too.
But the longer I looked at this, the more I wondered if you notorious rodent wheel spinners might have actually spun yourselves into this maelstrom.

So here's the answer:

You're kidding, right?

When I worked in politics, it was a given that we'd yield 30% of the vote.  Even if our candidate walked on water, 30% of the electorate would vote for the other guy. (This is why elections in far flung places that have 99% of the vote going to the incumbent are called rigged.)

So, that's 70%.

And if you look at ANY political race, it's a landslide if a candidate gets more than 60%.

And that's picking one from a group of two.

The odds of eight out of ten people picking ONE SAME book from a selection of even five are pretty high. Just ask anyone trying to put together a reading list for a book group. And agents get queries for a hundred books a WEEK.

In other words, you're completely off the mark here.

Now, why this is a problem for you. 

You've got an unrealistic idea of what success looks like so even if you succeed, you'll think you failed. That's a very bad thing.

And that will be a problem if you do secure an agent, a book deal, and have a book to promote. Book promotion is notoriously difficult to quantify. If you already think success is having a lot of people buy your book, you're going to go nuts when I tell you that you have to do all this promotional stuff and we don't even know if it will work, let alone how well it will work.

You're also taking things REALLY personally when you don't need to.  Noticing who posts personalized rejections on querytracker is an exercise in masochism.  You have NO IDEA if the agent sent a form letter only to you, because QueryTracker is self-reporting. There's no objective, measurable data pool from which to draw conclusions.

You're also placing way too much emphasis on personalizing a query. Writing style? I guess you could say I prefer short sentences, with a good strong rhythm, but if you mention that in a query, the only thing I'm going to conclude is you're spending too much time reading this blog, and not enough time working on your book.

Personalizing queries beyond a sentence or two is an utter and complete waste of time.

And there's much MUCH more to taking on a book than whether I like it. I have to want to work with the author (and there are enough of you out there who are nutso that I'm pretty careful about asking first and signing later.) I have to think I can sell it, and sadly, a lot of books I thought were great don't find a home, so I've learned to be a lot more conservative about this.

Agents have widely varying tastes, just like you and your friends do. In fact, if you need something to do (and you do, because you really need to stop that personalization fetish you've got going) go to five of your friends' houses and list every book they own. See what overlap there is.

I'd actually be interested to see what the percentage is. My guess is it's somewhere between 0-20%.
(in other words: not even close to 80%)

Bottom line: quit worrying about anything but getting the best possible query you can out to as many agents as you can. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Previous representation

I find myself without an agent after the Very Impressive Agent and I decided not to go forward. He pronounced my latest piece very good but not what he sells.

I don't cry. I query. So I'm already out with the first queries for that novel he doesn't like, as well as separate queries to different agents for the one I shelved when he signed me for my first. (Sorry, but you will be hearing from me -- do you prefer the new spin on romantic suspense or the historical mystery first?)

He didn't sell my first book. We parted amicably. I plan to say very nice things about him and hope he will do the same. What, if anything, am I obligated to tell the next agent who hopefully will be a better fit?

If you're querying for the first book that he didn't sell, you have to reveal all, and up front. You had a previous agent, the book went on sub, it didn't sell.

I can assure you that this is NOT the book you want to query on. I wouldn't read past the "it went on sub" part in a query before saying no.

You want to query for a Shiny New Book that hasn't gone out. When you get bites, you can talk about your inventory (which will include the book that went out on sub.)

When querying Shiny New Book, you don't need to mention the previous agent. You should mention it in any phone call with agents considering representation. You should be prepared to discuss what didn't work with that agent, and what you're looking for in a new agent.

You're better situated to know what a good working relationship with an agent will look like now, having had one to learn from.

It's important to know what works or doesn't cause you really don't want to be parting from Agent Deux anytime soon.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Hiring an ind. editor

I'm a member of both the THIS and THAT writer organizations, and have the opportunity to go to monthly workshops and accompanying conferences. Just recently, we had a successful professional editor speak to us, and a question was asked about the benefits of having a manuscript professionally edited before querying agents. She responded that she believed agents would prefer to see the work pre-editing to determine what type of skills the writer actually possessed, especially if the submitted work was to be part of a series. We were a bit surprised at this statement, so I wondered what your take would be on something like this.

Would you, as an agent, rather get a professionally polished submission, or one that has been somewhat edited by the writer?

The absolute bottom line: I want to get something I can sell. How it arrived at that point is of less concern.

There's a lot to be said for getting independent professional eyeballs on your manuscript before you start querying. By the time you're ready to query you've read every page more than a dozen times and what may be crystal clear to you can be rather less so to those of us reading for the first time.

So, in that instance, I think it's wise to get that help. Whether it's a paid editor or someone else doesn't matter as much as the results.

If you have an independent editor and s/he is suggesting major structural work, or pointing out plot problems in a novel you thought was finished, you may not be ready to query. It's one thing to get second eyeballs to find plot inconsistencies or small mistakes. It's entirely another if s/he's finding things you should already be able to see.

That said, this is how you learn to write. Write, get comments, revise, get comments, rinse, lather yourself into a frenzy, repeat unto death.

The ONLY concern I have if you have professional help is that you be able to write that second book on the contractual deadline, and that deadline is about a year from when I sell the book. Bringing in an editor and doing any kind of revision takes time, and time is going to be in short supply on book two.

But, the real answer is I don't much care how your novel got into its present condition. I only care that it's terrific and I can sell it for wheelbarrows full of cash.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Happy Sunday

It's Sunday morning and time to kick back with some coffee and a good book.
I'm working on The Fisherman by John Langan, a deliciously creepy book set in upstate New York.

I've been savoring this, reading it in chunks on the subway in the morning. Now I'm to the point where I can't stop, so off to the couch with coffee!

What are you reading today?

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Roses are red, Violets are blue, my novel's in sonnets, what should I do?

I am currently writing a novel in verse. Specifically, in Pushkin sonnets. I shall be done in a few months, and so I wonder: How do you put such a thing in standard manuscript format? It's not quite a novel and it isn't poetry, and I can't seem to find guidelines for the middle ground anywhere.

Well, it is a novel, and it is poetry, and it's called a novel in verse, or verse novel.
There are a bunch of them, and they are all pretty interesting to read, and not just for subject matter but how they use form to convey content.

Kelly Jensen wrote a piece for BookRiot listing her top 100 must read YA books in verse.  You should be passing familiar with all of those books before you start to query. I don't mean buy all of them (but if you've got the cash for that, go for it!) but you can get them at your library, and even do a look inside via Amazon.

As to your question, you query this like you would a novel and the pages you include are the first however many pages of the book the agent asks for.  Don't break a sonnet under any circumstances, not a chapter either if you can help it.

And each sonnet is a paragraph.

And yes, I had to look up Pushkin sonnets. 

Further clarification: the single/double spacing rule of manuscript pages does NOT apply here.

Here's why: manuscript pages are double spaced for easier reading. Double spacing the lines of a sonnet don't make it easier to read. Knowing WHY you double space allows you to see why in this case, the format follows content:

Thus your page would be like this in an email:

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

Friday, February 09, 2018

My misspent youth includes some self-publishing

You write a lot about how much to disclose about prior self-published novels when querying. My take has been that it's not really a positive if your Amazon royalties were $50 last year, as they were in my case.

But you also mention fairly often, "your web site" and things an author might disclose there. I have a nice web site, but because it shamelessly promotes my self-published novels, and I am actively querying for my latest (best!) work, I decided to unpublish that web site and hide my author page on Facebook.

In my query I simply say that AWESOME NEW MANUSCRIPT is my third completed novel. My rationale was that I don't want Amazing Agent to be distracted or unduly influenced by my prior works, when I really believe this new one is my best yet. Plus, the new one is more 'up-market/literary' and the first two were more genre novels. I also took the two novels off of Amazon for now. My ratings are pretty good--almost all 5 stars--but there are only 9 and 12 of them respectively.

Should I be hiding my past works like this? Or am I over-thinking it?

Honestly, when did writers become so invested in transparency?

Transparancy is great for government officials, but holy moly, not here.

As long as this finessing of information isn't going to jam us up down the road, feel free to be judicious in what you tell me. I think taking down the self-pubbed work and unpubbing your Facebook page is a good idea. Honestly, it's what I would have done, were I in your swim fins.

If you've self-pubbed a previous book, you don't need to mention it. As long as you don't tell me this queried book is your debut novel, we're good.

Things you absolutely have to tell me include:
1. If you've had a previous agent
2. If this project you're querying has already been on submission
3. If the book you're querying has been previously published (that includes self-pubbed)
4. If you've pitched this to an editor at a conference or sent it to any editor anywhere

Things you do NOT have to tell me:
5. Any details of your misspent publishing youth that are not covered in 1-4 above)
6. Your health (physical or mental) status
7. Anything about your family (unless you're in my family, of course.)
8. Where you live (as long as you provide me with a way to get you your money that doesn't involve cash in a safe deposit box somewhere in the Bronx)
9. How much research you did for the novel
10. Why you want me to be your agent (cause who wouldn't, right?)

Thursday, February 08, 2018

An agent passed, but I think it might be good news

I queried an agent with an idea for a biography. The agent's assistant replied that my idea was too close to an idea that she (the agent) was discussing with an author. The other potential project was a biography of a different person, but apparently the theme is too similar to mine (of course, they didn't give me details about who the other biography was about).

So, is this a boilerplate rejection, without particular significance, or does it indicate cause for optimism that my idea is similar to one which an agent is actively contemplating? Or is it bad news that it might suck the oxygen out of the room for my idea? If you have any thoughts I would be flattered to learn them.

There's no way to know whether this was a genteel pass rather than "holy moly you think you can write, what the everloving duck is this mess."

Nor can you let it guide you in further querying or any assessments of the validity of your project.

All you know for sure is this particular agent passed. That is all you know, and really all you need to know.

However, my eyebrows did go up at the phrase "idea for a biography" because querying ideas is a really bad approach.

A good query for a biography (or any narrative non-fiction) is a lot more than just an idea. It includes an overview that talks about the subject of the biography, the significance of the proposed book, what new information you'll include, or what new interpretations of existing information you'll offer. It includes why you are qualified to write the book, and an assessment of previous books about the subject.

In other words, it's not an idea, it's a well thought out offering.

I can't tell you the number of queries I've gotten for very abstract ideas, from people who think they're qualified to write about something cause they're interested in the topic. My favorite is still the gent from west of nowhere who wanted to write a book explaining the existence of god.

Bottom line: the only thing you know about a rejection from an agent is that it's a pass. Don't try to parse out anything more. There are too many variables in play to draw any kind of reliable conclusion.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

I did my research, please please please can I tell you?

My crime novel features an ex-undercover detective (female, NYPD), and her teenage son who happens to be on the Autism spectrum. Both of these things play a major role in the plot. In fact, the plot would not exist without both of those things.

Now, I am not an ex-undercover detective, but my husband of thirty years is. I've listened to him discuss his job so often, I feel the lingo is my lingo. I ran all the details and relevant plot points past him multiple times to make sure I was accurate. Neither am I on the Autism spectrum, but my son is. I have spent countless years not just researching this condition, but living it, with him, with other families.

In other words, I believe my novel has very a very solid base in reality, but I have no idea how to include this in a query. I've read a few of your posts where you say not to mention that a book is well researched, because you expect it to be. Neither do I want to bring my son into the picture because that's his life and it's his privacy.

But on the other hand, I want to make sure it's clear I'm not basing my details on episodes of the Wire (even though, according to my husband, those would be very authentic details), or jumping on the latest non-neurotypical bandwagon.

I've been churning this question around in my head for a few months, and now that I'm nearing the point when I'll be writing a query, I'm no closer to knowing how to handle this.

When I read your query, I don't wonder who you talked to or how you got your details right. I read the story you're telling.

Now, there will always be those stick-in-the-mud, purse-lipped, accuracy hooligans who tsk tsk that you put apples in a story set in Rome in 366, when EVERYONE KNOWS!! apples didn't arrive in Rome until 369!! but honestly, those folks just look for things to tsk at. They do it for sport; it makes them feel smart and superior. For them, a story loses authenticity if any detail is inaccurate.

Now, I'm somewhat exactly the same way about historical dates, and geography. I've never quite recovered from one of my clients talking about 4th Avenue near Grand Central Station**, but I'm also aware of my persnickety tendencies and do my best to keep my head in the story.

Most people reading a book about NYC won't bat an eye if someone sets a scene at Pershing Square*** , or runs an FBI surveillance van west on 40th Street****. Maybe not even New Yorkers if they're caught up in the story.

You do want to get the details right, and it sounds like you took great pains to do so, but the reason you do so is is not for the accuracy it's so no one gets yanked out of the story by a jarring note like traffic going the wrong way on 40th Street.

All this to say: My working assumption is your book is accurate. Telling me you how it got that way doesn't bolster your cause.

And just a reminder: it's a novel. You can make ALL of it up, and not be doing anything wrong.

Which brings us to authenticity. Authenticity is not the same as accuracy and I know we're going to have some spirited discussion about this in the comment column (bring it on!)

It is entirely accurate to say the movie The Proposal is about a New York City book editor who faces deportation to Canada. If you think The Proposal is an authentic rendition of publishing, well, step right over here for a bop on the noggin.

And yet, a gazillion people loved that movie, and more than two zillion of them actually work in publishing. It's not accurate or authentic, but who cared? (Well, of course, those purse-lipped, persnickety hooligans mentioned above, but remember, we're always yapping about something.)

Bottom line: accuracy and authenticity serve the story. I don't care how accurate, how authentic you are if I don't care about your story. To flip that: I don't read a story because it's accurate or authentic. I have the New York Times for that.

Focus your query on the story. Let me worry about your car ending up in the East River if you've gone across town for 27 blocks.

**4th Avenue exists only for about four blocks
between 14th and 8th Streets (near Union Square).
Farther uptown it's Mad, Park, and Lex twixt 5th and 3rd Aves

***Pershing Square is a restaurant near the Park Avenue overpass by Grand Central.

****Generally traffic runs east on even numbered streets in Manhattan.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

King of Bones and Ashes Flash Fiction contest results FINAL

Thanks for waiting the extra day for the results.

I followed the comments on the previous blog post about delayed results and realized some of you thought I'd watched the SuperBowl. It will surprise no one to learn that I not only didn't watch the SuperBowl, I didn't realize it was on, and I'm still not sure who played.

Some of you however will wonder how a person can be alive and NOT know. I'm reminded of a conversation I had years ago in the barn where I stabled my horse. It was about a month after a hard fought presidential election. I was visiting with the girl whose horse was in the adjoining stall. I mentioned the incoming president and she looked up from the hoof she was cleaning and said "Oh yea, the election, I was wondering who won."

But on to things we all agree are noteworthy: your contest entries!

Herewith the results:

Not quite a story but I love this entry a LOT.
Kitty 8:38am

Not quite a story, but hilarious
Amy Schaefer 11:22am

Steve Forti Award for Deft Prompt Manipulation
Flakir-by-the-Sea? Flaketown?”
With another fluorocarbon, Eb?

Homage to the greats!
John Davis Frain
(and yes, I notice you include Wake Up Call as well!)

Here's the list of finalists


Unsolicited Testimonial/Review

Although I had to wait for my tax refund in order to slap down 1200 bucks on a new Kirby Avalir Vacuum Cleaning System, I was glad to do so. Nasty leftovers like party debris, everyday dust, dirt, dog hair and even a bastard’s bone-bits and ash, gone. Kirby, the king of rug suckers and bare floor cleaner-uppers.

Having always been a broom and dust pan kind of woman, I don’t mean to blow the commercial horn for a high end vacuum but when I need to get rid of unwanted evidence Kirby is my choice.

 It's really hard to resist anything that includes the phrase "broom and dust pan kind of woman" and of course the subtlety of this piece is utterly charming.

Colin Smith
I became suspicious when I arrived home and found my wife scrubbing kitchen utensils in the sink—a task she would abhor, normally.

"Is everything okay?" I said. "Jim been bothering you?"

Jim's our neighbor. He lives alone, doesn't go out much. I don't like the way he's been looking at her lately.

"No," she said. "Everything's fine."

"Have you been cooking?" I saw burnt wood and ashes in the fire pit.

"Hmm?" she replied, and resumed her work.

"And where did Kirby get that bone?" The dog was too busy to come to me.

"Probably from Jim," she said.

This is so elegant and subtle I just wriggled with delight.
It reminded me a lot of one of my favorite books A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan, one of the most deliciously creepy books I've ever read.

Amy Johnson
The Cliffhanger by Amy Johnson, Organic Gardener Wannabe

Christmas gift: Kirby’s Guide to EASY Organic Tomatoes

These plants won’t fruit.
“Potassium deficiency. Amend soil with potash.”
Amend? Plain dirt isn’t okay?

Fruit rotting from the bottoms up.
“Blossom end rot due to calcium deficiency. Amend soil with bonemeal.”
You gotta be kidding--I’m a vegetarian.

Where’d all the leaves go? What’s that?
“Tomato hornworm. Very destructive.”
But it’s one of God’s creatures. Drive to the overgrown field behind the library. Your new home, caterpillar (you little thief!).

Lawn mower incident.
No point asking Kirby’s.

This just cracked me up completely!

Michael Seese
A fakir by trade, faithfully I rise with the sun and settle into my ritual.

Staking my claim, a crowded stretch of urban Purgatory, I brave the slings and arrows and taxi horns and weekday warriors and dog poop, touting the tenets of Allah and Buddha, with a zest of Lennon & MarxCartney added for flavor. Pity prompts some to press a token of cash into my skin and bones.

We all follow the sun home. They to manicured McMansions. Me to my cozy loft, where I count my blessings, green and otherwise.

Did I say fakir? I meant faker.
The writing is so deft here that I read it a couple more times just for the pure pleasure of MarxCartney, urban Purgatory and that last twisty sentence that made me laugh out loud.
This is gorgeous writing.

Melissa Hintz
Amphibian Flash Mob

Mom called me lazybones, but who is she to talk? Laid her eggs and skedaddled. Or lumbered, probably.
Turtles do not dash. We amble.
I try to ignore the car horns as I cross Coventry Road. Orgy of sex, bugs, swimming, and nude sunbathing awaits if I can get to the other side.
Halfway across, a two-legged darts to my side, picks me up.
“Don’t Kirby,” a voice calls. “It’ll bite your fingers off.”
I wag my tail, grateful. Soon I’ll be basking on my favorite log.
But he puts me back where I started.

I'm always a total sucker for the unusual POV, and this from a turtle is terrific. Also it's hilarious, and poignant, and that's no small trick in 96 words.  And I can never resist any entry that includes skedaddled.

How about you weigh in on the finalists, and let me know who you think I missed.
Final results later today

Of course it was hellishly hard to pick just one winner (you guyz really like to torment me on these
contests, but like many of you, Melissa Hintz' entry just stole my heart. How can I resist something called Amphibian Flash Mob? 

Melissa, if you'll email me your mailing address, we'll get a signed copy out to you post haste.

Congrats to all the finalists and shout outs, and my thanks to all of you who took the time to write and post entries. I love reading your work!

Monday, February 05, 2018

Pitching editors at conferences

An author queried me and included a list of the editors from a recent conference who had requested the manuscript she was querying me for.

I could feel her excitement through the page; real editors wanted to see her stuff!!

And she helpfully included their names, their positions and where they worked.

My heart sank.  Even though the project wasn't a good fit for me, I knew that the agents for whom it might have been a better fit would look at that list and also be inclined to pass.

What? What? you say. Wait! Editors WANT HER BOOK!

Pitching a book is NOT finding an editor who wants to read the book; it's finding the RIGHT editor to acquire and champion the book.

An author's chance of finding that editor at a conference are close to zero.

The value I bring to the table is knowing which editor is a good match for you, how to reach them, how to pitch them.

Often those editors haven't been to a conference in years.

This query writer had pitched three of the five major houses at the conference. That's a lot of closed doors for me.

My advice is never pitch to an editor from the major publishers at a conference. Use any time you may have with them to ask about what kind of books they're looking for, things they like to read, books they wish they'd acquired, ways to be a good author partner with them etc.

Meeting an editor can provide valuable information to you but it can stymie kind of strategic submission strategy for your work. If you want to sell to the majors, pitch agents, not editors.

So, where are the contest results?

I got sucked into a word vortex this weekend, and have just now managed to claw my way out to solid ground. Please feel free to blame my clients for this.

Contest results on Tuesday.
(I hope)

A blog post on general topics will show up at the usual time on Monday (12/5/18) (Feb 5, 2018)
(chalk this up to middle of the night befuddlement)

Friday, February 02, 2018

Flash Fiction contest to celebrate The King of Bones and Ashes

I'm pleased as punch to remind y'all I represent JD Horn, the author of the Witching Savannah series, and now a new series starting with The King of Bones and Ashes.

King of Bones and Ashes got some nice pre-pub mentions, and it's selling quite nicely! That's something to celebrate, don't you think?

Let's have a flash fiction contest!

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: king/kingdom is ok but bone/blonde is not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contest opens: 8:08am, Saturday 2/3/18
Contest closes: 9am, Sunday 2/4/18

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

If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's an .xls spread sheet here

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

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!

nope, sorry, contest closed! Results posted on Monday 2/5/18

Thursday, February 01, 2018

So, I got an ARC with a review request...but I don't like the book

I recently won an ARC from Goodreads. Included with the book was a sheet from the publisher (Penguin Random House), requesting me to rate & review it on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and with an email to the publisher. While I understand that the main purpose of ARCs is to generate a buzz for the book in advance of publication, there’s a problem. I don’t like the book.

While the premise is intriguing, the writing needs help. I’ve found typos, missing words, and doubled words—all of which are expected, and will be cleaned up before publication. The bigger issue is that I think the book would benefit greatly from additional in-depth editing—a bit of tightening and elimination of repeating the same internal dialogue in different ways would make it a much better read. The shape it is in now would make me put it down by page 50 (however, I’m soldiering on, since it was an ARC and I’m expected to write a review).

I never post a rating or a review of a book unless I can give it 4 or 5 stars. That’s my rule. If the book doesn’t merit that, I remove it from my Goodreads list and carry forth like I never read it. I try to be respectful and truthful in my online impressions of other authors’ work. So, what do I do in this case? Do I clench my teeth and post a positive review, lauding the premise, pacing, and plot twists and ignoring the glaring editorial refinements which could have/should have been made? Or do I post an honest review and say how I believe the book could have been better? It has received mostly favorable reviews on Goodreads, so maybe it’s just me.

Let's be clear here: you did not enter into a contractual arrangement to review this book, no matter what the cover letter said. They can ask you review it, but they can't demand it.

And the flip side of that is you are not obliged to review a book, even if they sent it to you at no cost. 

Your time has value; stop you're wasting it on a book you don't like.Your opinion has value; don't devalue it trying to say something nice about a book you don't like.

The publisher sends out review copies then hopes like hell they resonate with critics (that's you.) If the book does, yay. If it doesn't, oh well, better luck next time. PRH does not have a list of people who publish bad reviews (well, ok, yes they do, but it's of reviewers farther up the circulation chain than you.)

What other people think (Goodreads) doesn't matter a whit. It's your time, and your opinion. Don't waste either.

Set that book down, and go read something you do like after 50 pages.

Do you need some suggestions? I bet we can find a couple dozen just in the comments column here.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Can you curse in a query letter?

In a recent discussion in a writers' Facebook group, it was generally agreed that curse words shouldn't be used in the query, since the query is a professional letter, similar to a cover letter for a job. You would never use curse words in a cover letter. However, you would never write about time travel, or faeries, or love, or adventure in a cover letter either (unless maybe you were a physicist, or a safari guide, or…well, you know what I mean). I’m not suggesting that a writer drop F-bombs all over their query, but I’m wondering if there are any instances where a curse word might be acceptable.

I’m thinking of cases where a curse word might help to show a character’s voice. For example, my character’s goal is to escape her rundown neighborhood and life of poverty. I’ve tried “decaying neighborhood,” I’ve tried “rundown neighborhood,” but the truth is, if you asked my character, she’d call it “shitty.”

Thank you for your time and consideration 

Like all similes, "a query is like a business letter" has some limitations. The question you pose is one of them.

When I say a query letter is a business letter, the implication is you don't use the salutation"Hi there honey!" or close with "Love" or write in crayon or colored gel pens (creatively discombobulating, but there you have it.)

I also mean to convey you don't write in the third person, and you don't tell me personal things like "I've been writing since before I was born" and "my children hate me and want me out of their house, so I need to sell this book to make rent on a new place"

As for the specific language you use: a query should reflect your voice and your style without being over the top on either.  I swear a LOT but I generally don't drop the f-bomb in pitch letters. I'm VERY judicious about other kinds of words as well, because I want the reader to hear what I'm saying not be slapped upside the head by the word choices.

Is shitty the best word? Only you can decide.  I can think of colorful language that isn't blue: ramshackle, rat corners, dogpatch, a place that aspires to be just rundown.

There are lots of ways to say shitty without actually invoking the fecal matter.

Can you use it? Sure.
Do you think it's the exact right word? That's your call.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Nudging timeline

What is the appropriate timing and wording to use when following up with an agent or editor? I know a little more about the former, from what I’ve seen online, but I haven’t been able to find out much about following up directly with editors/publishers, if you’re currently not represented. How long do you give an editor/agent if they don’t specify a timeframe. Is it 3 months? More or less? And what do you say without sounding pushy or desperate? Would be curious to know if they’re similar!

A lot of agent websites will tell you their timeline.
Mine is 30 days on queries, 90 days on full.
I miss that deadline a LOT.

I have reconciled myself to nudging emails from writers even though I hate to get them cause it means I've made a writer anxious, without actually being there to enjoy it. Wasted torture.

In fact, in my email acknowledging receipt of a requested full, I specifically tell them it's ok to nudge or check in as their nerves require. Waiting sucks.

That said, not all agents are as awesome as I am, and they might not tell you their timeline, or they might tweet something rude like "don't nudge me you writerly types, I'll get to you when I get to you."

Now, that kind of stance tells you something about the agent of course, but it's also not some sort of legal restriction.

My view is you nudge after a businesslike 30 days on queries, and 90-120 days on fulls.

Now, what to say.
Well, "get off your asterisk and read, you slaggard" is of course what I prefer to see, but again, not all agents are as awesome as I am.

I recently received a GREAT nudge email from a writer.

I hope January is treating you well. I've managed to keep half of my resolution (Muay Thai) but have yet to kick in the dietary side, which I've postponed in the name of family stress (I'm back up to Maine again in the morning to help out-maddening things, families). I rationalize that my ability to rationalize the delay in diet is a sign of free will, ahem. I managed to close out 2017 with a fit of writing and finish a draft of a novel and have half of another written, so that side of life is productive.

Oh, another plus - I'll admit I sank into a cynical funk prior to the recent Women's March (I attended last year's march in DC) and was blown away by the tremendous turn out in cities across the country this year. It was deeply satisfying to feel cynicism collapse in the face of such a massive display.

I'm looking forward to your thoughts on (REQUESTED FULL TITLE) when it claws its way to the top of the TBR pile. Oh - if you haven't read Victor LaValle's The Changeling yet, grab a copy. It's spectacular and my favorite read of 2017.

Here's what made it great: it was interesting, illuminating AND also about something other than his novel. He didn't ask me if I'd read it yet. He didn't remind me how long I'd had the ms (120 days).

And he mentioned a writer I admire a lot: Victor LaValle.

In other words, this wasn't so much a nudge as a friendly note, and of course, I responded with alacrity, both about Victor LaValle and about the requested full.

The entire email exchange did a very important thing: it showed me this author is professional, interesting and subtle. All of those are very good things.

So, I'm not going to give you specific wording here, but more of a guideline: be pleasant, be interesting, be about more than the nudge.  Easy peasy, right?

That's for agents.

Double everything for editors. As an unagented writer, you're generally in the lowest priority strata, and editors have incoming submissions that would make you weep.

Monday, January 29, 2018

My #ownvoices is the voice of mental illness

Many agents require some information about the author in a query. I have no publications so I assume I should include a little about my day job, but I am torn on including more sensitive information.
I am about to start querying a book with a LGBTQ focus, and thus I am focusing on agents who want diverse books. Many of these agents also say they want diverse authors. I am a very private person, but I am willing to disclose that I am bisexual if it will help.
However, I am also bipolar with an anxiety disorder, and I am concerned that this could be an issue either at the querying stage, if I mention it, or later if I were offered representation.
It's easy for agents to say they want authors with under-represented voices of all kinds, but I feel like mental health is an issue most people don't even want to touch.
Will agents automatically write me off as a crazy person that will be too difficult to deal with?
Should I conceal this information? Or should I be upfront about it? And if so, when?

We talked about what and how to to disclose this kind of information generally back in 2016, but it's a good time to talk about specifics in a query.

You are not obliged legally, ethically or by "best practices" to disclose any information about yourself that you don't want to. You can't lie but you don't have to strip down even metaphorically.

Mental illness comes with a whole host of negative stereotypes, incorrect assumptions, and fear. It's a tough illness to have because people can be ignorant and cruel before they learn to be sympathetic.

I think you're right to be cognizant of the stigma that comes with a mental illness.
I think you're right to be careful how you disclose.
I know you're right to understand some agents will shy away from your work solely because of this.

If you want to disclose you're going to need more than a line in a query. You might consider putting something on your website about what your diagnosis is, and how you manage it in your daily and creative life.

In your query you might say "I am one of the six million Americans who have a mental illness diagnosis. I have specific information about it on my website" and include a link.

If you want to keep this information to yourself at the query stage, that's totally ok.
If you want to hint with #OwnVoices in the description of your book, that's ok.

If you want to tell me when we begin discussion representation, that's ok.

If you never want to tell me, that's ok too.

If you think your diagnosis may have an impact on your professional life, tell me what you can and cannot do. The WHY you can or can not isn't relevant. If you can tell me the WHY it will help a lot if you can tell me BEFORE it creates a problem for you (I know, that crystal ball doesn't work as well as the reviews on Amazon led you to think.)

You do not owe me the details of your life.
You owe me great writing and professional deportment.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Happy Sunday!

I no longer remember when  this was taken.  It must have been sometime when Laird Barron was doing something amazing (which doesn't narrow it down at all.)

My best guess on where is the Old Town Bar here in NYC. 

The desperadoes are (left to right) Brooks Sherman, agent to the stars; Jeff Somers writer provocateur; Sean Ferrell, writer extraordinaire.

My role in this group: audience. All I do is laugh so hard I have to be careful not to blow whisky out the schnoz.

One of the great percs of this job is hanging out with these guys.

What's one of the percs of your job?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

So, why is this such a bad thing?

So, I saw this tweet today and I read all the replies, and I still don't know why this is such a bad idea. It's money for writing, right? It's a pub cred right? So what if they're shotgunning emails to people, it's not like they're asking me for money, right?

Well, sure, they're not asking you for cash up front, but they ARE asking you for something of value and proposing they not pay for it.

Let's unpack this offer: you send them a pitch for a book. IF they like it and want you to write it, they'll pay you $1350 for all rights. No royalties. No indication of any kind of further participation at all.

If this book sells 1 copy you get $1350.
If this book sells 100,000 copies, you still get $1350.

If the book gets any kind of interest from foreign or audio publishers, you see none of that money.
If the book is optioned for tv or film, you see none of the money.

Their business plan is that you do not share in any success your work might have.

A publisher who wants to develop projects for a new series knows the better way to do it: contact all the agents they work with to see if anyone has a writer interested in this sort of thing. When an agent is involved, we know to ask for things like royalties, and duration of license, and how to protect the intellectual property of writers, EVEN IN WORK FOR HIRE contracts.

By contacting writers from a list (and not contacting agents), they're hoping to find the writers who don't know this is exploitative, and who don't know that not getting royalties is a terrible deal for a writer, and who don't know how to protect themselves.

In other words, they are hoping to make money from your lack of knowledge. I've said it before, I'll say it again: this is morally bankrupt way to conduct business and this company should be ashamed of itself.

Bottom line: Work with people who respect what you create.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Did your comment disappear?

I read the comment column on the blog posts.

Generally I don't zap comments that offer up differing opinions from my own UNLESS the writer is making statements that simply aren't correct, and would lead a reader down the wrong path. An example of that kind of statement would be "when publishers buy first publication rights, you can't sell them to anyone else."

That statement is wrong because publishers don't buy anything, they license rights (but that's a quibble, and not likely to get you zapped) but also wrong because there's no such thing as "first publication rights" in a book contract. Those might exist in a contract from a online site wanting to publish a short story, but it indicates the people writing the contract don't know what they're doing.

I do zap comments that seem to be geared toward stirring the pot rather than furthering discussion. Fortunately, those comments are few and far between as most of the blog readers here value the community (as I do) and the ability to discuss things without everyone going crazy.

I do zap comments with links to contests or other opportunities if they are things I would not recommend. I'm very careful about what appears on this blog because casual readers don't remember if someone other than me posted it. They think "I saw that on her blog; it must be ok."

If you have any questions about what's ok to link to, drop me an email. I'm always glad to take a look. I value the chance to see and hear about things I don't know about, but I just want to make sure they are things we DO want to see!

I do try to let you know if your comment has been zapped. Those of you who do not have contact info on your website, or linked to your posting name---well, I try but don't always succeed.

Any questions?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

But, maybe not.

On last week's blog post "but she liked me" one commenter said

I have had several full requests from agents. They all connected strongly with my premise. They all complimented my voice and writing. They all passed.

At this point, I have to conclude (because agents are not much for specifics) that there's something off with my execution. Therefore, I'm back to reworking.

I know the queries and concepts were good because I had so many requests. I know I can write because I've had books published before.

Maybe not. When you query me for a novel and mention you've been previously published the very first thing I do is look up the publisher, publication year, and sales stats.
No matter how well you write, it's tough to revitalize a career after a long fallow period, or if you've got books that haven't sold well.

Yes, it can be done. Yes, I've done it.
BUT it's difficult and time consuming, and most important: a whole lot harder than selling a debut writer.

It helps if you've got a new book that is flat out amazing.
It helps if you're writing in a new category.
It will probably help if you're willing to write under a new name.

But, when I'm reading your query and looking up your sales, most often my thought is "am I up for this?" and a lot of times the answer is "no, I'm not."

Thankfully, there are other agents out there to query, some of whom might be younger and hungrier than I am. Or who have a brilliant idea about how to resuscitate your career. Or who love your work so much they just HAVE to sign you up.

This is yet another reason you query widely, that you don't have a dream agent such that anyone else feels like settling, and you understand that if you've got a track record,  it isn't always about the writing.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ursula Le Guin

I am deeply saddened to hear that Ursula Le Guin has died.
She was both a terrific writer, and a lovely, gracious woman who was kind to a lot of people, including me, long after she had any reason to be so generous with her time.

Mrs. Le Guin wrote glorious books, poem, essays and stories that changed the SFF genre and the canon itself; she will be remembered as a pioneer, and a feminist writer. She earned those accolades the hard way: word by word.

But my favorite of her books is one that many of you won't know.  It's Blue Moon Over Thurman Street. I'm not sure if it's even in print any more.  It's about a street in Portland, the town she lived in for most of her life. I lived there too, which is how I came to know her.

The world is a darker, dimmer place today and I am going to hide under my duvet and escape for a while.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Horror and thriller

Please, please, please tell me I am not cracking up.
Please, please, for the love of all that is scary, tell me that YES, there IS a difference between the genres of HORROR and THRILLER!

I know that they are not the same.
Other writers and authors who write in the genres know they are not the same.

But why, oh Mary Shelley, why do some agents not?!?

I can't tell you how many rejection letters I have received over the past two months that say "sorry I don't represent that genre" when (*clears throat*) YES YOU DO, IT'S ON YOUR AGENT PAGE, I DID MY RESEARCH!! Agents list HORROR and THRILLER on their info page, but when they are sent an actual true for real horror novel they reject it with the "I don't represent..." form letter.

Now, perhaps a good indicator that some agents have no clue what they are talking about is when they dare put a diagonal slash in between the two genres like such - HORROR/THRILLER. They are NOT the same and that little line seems to say that they are darn near interchangeable. They aren't.

HORROR = a genre of fiction which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten, scare, disgust or startle its readers by inducing feeling of horror or terror. Horror writing may include elements of the fantastical and supernatural, (i.e. swamp monsters, werewolves, brain-eating aliens, blood-thirsty agents and the like).

THRILLER = a broad genre of fiction designed to elicit feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation and anxiety. Thrillers do NOT include any fantasy/supernatural elements and have a villain-driven plot, whereby he or she presents obstacles that the protagonist must overcome. Thrillers are also set in the real world and utilize such literary devices as red herrings, plot twists and cliffhangers.

While some might argue that both genres share some similarities (albeit SLIGHT), they are not the same.

Am I possessed? Am I crazy? Am I wrong? Horror and Thriller, they are different. Right??

Unfortunately, until there is a clear consensus on the matter, it seems that my MS's will continue to get rejected because my blood-thirsty agents from the underworld of Rejectomondus should instead be a drunk riding a train, looking out of the window at her old house, seemingly glimpsing a crime going down in order to get a request.

I would love to hear what you think on the matter.

I think you're going nuts, but not for the reason you think you are. When an agent says I don't rep Horror/Thriller, they're not conflating the two. They're telling you they don't represent either one.

Much like I might say "I don't represent romance/women's fiction" and hope you won't jump to the conclusion I think they are one and the same.

As to why any agent's page says they represent a category and authors get a form letter saying they don't, well, we should all update our pages more often, or pay more attention to which form letter we're sending.

I also think your definition of thriller is a bit narrow and as proof, let me just offer up one of the best thriller writers I know.

To the larger question however: your cris de couer is EXACTLY why I advise writers to not mention the category of the book NO MATTER WHAT THE GUIDELINES SAY until the closing paragraph of the query.

The reason I advise this is to tell an agent about the story first, before you give them a reason to hit the pass key.

I generally do not take on horror novels. I represent Laird Barron and he's all the cosmic dread I can handle.

When a query letter arrives and the first thing the author tells me is "this is a horror novel" I generally stop reading.

If the story intrigues me, and I haven't gotten to the bad news yet, I might read pages even if I don't think the book is for me, because you guys get the category wrong  A LOT.

So, here's what you need to remember: even though I KNOW you get the category wrong a lot, I still stop reading. I don't pause to think "oh maybe this isn't really horror, it's a thriller." I just move on to the next query.