Thursday, April 24, 2014

Query question: who is this?

I just got a rejection that took me aback. It was a typical form rejection (other than one rather brusque line), thanking me for approaching the agency, but the query didn't hook them. 

However the person who responded to my email wasn't the agent I queried, but an intern as identified by their signature. I've received rejections from assistants or interns before, but always on behalf of the agent or at least the agency. This response was all I statements, as in "I am frequently overwhelmed with commitments to my current clients, so in any given year I must be selective taking on any new author."

The email was signed by the intern and came from their account, no mention of the agent at all.
(1) Is this common?
(2) Do interns get their own clients
(3) Is this a red flag that the agency isn't very professional,  or
(4) am I being overly sensitive and savoring my sour grapes?

Let's go in reverse order:

(4) No you're not being overly sensitive. It's not asking too much to have the person to whom you directed your correspondence either reply herself OR direct a person to reply on her behalf. For The Correct Way to Attend to One's Correspondence it's hard to beat the example set by Her Majesty the Q, and here's how those letters from her interns ladies-in-waiting are worded:

"The Queen wishes me to write and thank you for the matched set of unicorns you have sent on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee. etc."  

You'll notice the letter writer makes it clear it is not The Q herself writing the letter.

(3) No, it's a sign the agency has farmed out their queries to interns without much supervision.

(2) No.

(1) No.

If an agency is not supervising their interns, or is ok with interns writing directly instead of on behalf of the agent, they deserve what comes from that: you think less of them. I do too.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

More on platform

Recently a query writer mentioned he'd spent some time building a  "large social media platform." Well, I'd never heard of the guy, but what the heck, maybe I do live under a rock. And besides, I was interested in what a large social platform looked like.  So I googled "his name" and "writer."

First hit was an Amazon listing for his book (25 reviews most clearly from comp copies provided by the author.)

Second hit was a listing on PRNewswire for a press release he wrote.

Third hit was a guest blog post with four comments.

The next hits were LinkedIn, Facebook, B&N and Goodreads.

The closest thing to a non-industry site was a newspaper and that was a letter to the editor about his book, written by the author himself.

Ok then.  Clearly we need to review:

The first thing to know about platform is that platform is not you talking about yourself. It's other people talking about you.

Second thing to remember: if the only social media you use is Facebook, you're missing the point.

Third thing to remember:  If you've got platform, I can tell even if you don't mention it. Somewhat like being beautiful. If you are, you don't gotta say.

Any questions?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I love my job, oh yes I do

For those readers who've been here FIVE years or more, you'll remember my non-trip to the Alaska Writing Guild conference in August 2009.

For those of you who don't, here's a blog post that will give you a sense of my wrath

In 2010, I was invited to try again. This time I wrested the planning from the travel agent, and booked myself on a flight to Seattle, then on to Anchorage on the Monday before the conference.  By god if there was going to be a repeat of 2009, I was going to be ready!

Of course, there wasn't.  I got to Anchorage five days before the conference. The conference organizers, kind and generous souls that they are, offered to take me on explorations, trips, tours, hell, they'd have found polar bears to pet if I'd asked.

Instead, I closeted myself in my hotel room and WORKED! I kept telling them I wasn't there for a vacation, only to make sure I actually GOT THERE.

And it was absolutely worth it. The Alaska Writing Guild conference was where I met Lee Goodman and first read his novel INDEFENSIBLE.

I will never forget the moment I looked up from reading his manuscript and realized "holy shit, this guy is the next Scott Turow!"

I was fortunate that Lee signed with me.

I was delighted when editor Emily Bestler agreed with me.

And this week, I was overjoyed when PW gave INDEFENSIBLE a starred review.  I'm damn proud I had a hand in helping this book have a life.

These are the moments an agent lives for.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Publishing question: showing your face

I'm a female writer in my thirties. My agent has just contacted me with a fantastic offer for my first two novels. I should be ecstatic, but there's an aspect of the book business these days that I perhaps willfully didn't think about until now, and I'm afraid it could foul the deal. 

The proposed contract calls for a heavy schedule of interviews, book signings, and so on. I've only communicated with my agent by email and phone, and I keep a very low profile online, so neither she nor the publisher know that several years ago I was severely disfigured in an accident. I only feel comfortable revealing my face to a few close friends, family members, and doctors, and never leave my house without either a wide-brimmed hat and opaque black veil (which I prefer), or dark glasses, a surgical mask, and a wig (as I no longer have hair).

I'm perfectly willing to be photographed, do signings, etc. with my face covered. I'm equally willing to let a model/actress/intern of the publisher's choice stand in for me. How likely is it that the publisher won't accept either of these solutions? If I disclose this before signing the contract, might they withdraw their offer and go with a more photogenic writer? If I disclose it after signing, can they sue me or attempt to force me to reveal my face? Thank you for any guidance you can provide.

First let me say that the publisher and your agent love your writing and thus they are going to love your face.

However. I can appreciate that you are reluctant to have a public presence right now. It will take another couple years to understand that people who are cruel to you based solely on your appearance are idiots and fuck em.

The trick here is to talk to your agent NOW. Share your concerns.  You will be instantly reassured because much publicity and marketing is done electronically these days, and you can choose whatever photo you wish to represent yourself.

In fact, there's a well-known agent who fancies herself a bit of a shark:

and uses that avatar for everything.

Perhaps you can be equally fierce:

I myself have begged fashionistas to re-embrace theburka; perhaps you will join my quest?

All levity aside: a publisher has no desire to cancel a contract for failure to show your face. Publishers are money-grubbing whores [as we all are] and cancelling a contract Does Not Make Money.  Novels rarely require actual in-person promotion.  Debut novels require the least. You'll be much more effective promoting yourself right now from behind your computer screen. 

Don't be afraid. You're going to do just fine.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Have a blessed Holy Week

I'll be off work from Thursday-Sunday. I'm hoping the Lamb of God thing remains a metaphor, cause I've already had a problem with sheep in church.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Query Question: can I lie about the book in my query?

How close must the query match the manuscript? I know this must seem like a stupid question, but I've been receiving query assistance from a literary intern (1), and he gave advice that I haven't seen elsewhere. I need to confirm it before I start sending out my query.

My manuscript mostly stands alone, but is the first of a potential series. Because of this, the plot of the sequel is *vaguely* hinted at in the stakes of the query. I asked the intern if an agent would be PO'd if something I mention in the query doesn't show up in the manuscript. He told me that things can be fudged in a query,(2)  and mentioned that one thing in his own query was an outright lie(3). He had revised and didn't bother to fix the query to match (he was signed by an agent). He said if the query is good and clearly for the same book, and if the book is good and similar to the query, no one cares about specifics. I'm hoping his advice is correct.

Can you "fudge" a few specifics in a query?

you can do anything you want in a query up to and including query for a fiction novel. The real question is what's at stake when you do something idiotic like...lie?

The purpose of a query is to entice the agent to read the manuscript. If an agent reads the manuscript thinking one thing is going to happen, and it doesn't, that's a pretty big thud.  Is that something you want to risk?

On the other hand why are you vaguely hinting about anything in a query? The stakes in your query are the stakes in this novel, the one you're querying. Not any other.

If you think you need to fudge a few specifics in your query, you need to fix the novel or the query or both. 

And I've got a few questions for you:

(1) what the hell is a literary intern? An intern at a literary agency?  This is the least informed and experienced person at an agency. I'm pretty sure it's the least right person to be asking for advice.

(2) Unless he's making the decisons on what's signed to the agent's list, he's not in a positiion to tell you this.

(3) oh great. Insert image of eye-roll here.  Even if this is true, it's absolutey TERRIBLE advice. He's mistaking HIS experience for the universal norm.  Well, that's typical of interns which is why (see #1)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Query Question: My comp is DaVinci Code

I'm querying a mystery/thriller MS and I'm having trouble finding comps because my real comp is The Da Vinci Code. I bet you just cringed. But the truth is that I was inspired to write my MS after reading Da Vinci Code.

Specifically, I loved the chase through Vatican City, Rome, and the surrounding countryside. I loved solving the clues and exploring the merits of a conspiracy theory. I wanted to mirror these same aspects in my MS. So I found a different conspiracy theory and spent several years researching it. I've made up my own math and science clues and run them past multiple co-workers who hold PhDs in math. I set my story in a foreign country and traveled there myself as well as spent days researching satellite maps and interviewing people from that country.

Knowing we aren't supposed to compare our work to a bestseller like Da Vinci Code or Twilight or Harry Potter, I searched high and low for a different comp. I've spent days on Goodreads creating shelves and looking for recommendations that are similar to Da Vinci Code. I've gone through half a dozen library sites where librarians suggest books similar to Da Vinci Code. I've ordered and read books that seem like a promising comparable because it was a thriller set in modern-day with realistic historic/scientific clues to solve, but inevitably find the book is derivative of other Templar/religious conspiracies (my MS's conspiracy is neither) and/or the quality is just not as good as Da Vinci Code.

So for the sake of having a newer, not-as-popular comp, do I compare my work to a substandard derivative? I've sent out a dozen queries that uses the Da Vinci Code comp, and gotten 6 rejections within a week. I'm afraid agents are writing off my query as soon as they get to that comp.

Your problem isn't that your comp title is The DaVinci Code. It's that your book sounds like a knockoff of one of the biggest bestsellers of all time from TEN YEARS AGO.  Agents were looking for DVC knockoffs in 2002, when the publisher was inundating the world with advance reading copies of DVC and everyone knew it was going to be huge.

Two years ago everyone wanted the next 50 Shades of Gray.

Two years from now everyone will want the next Patrick Lee. (I devoutly hope!)

In other words:The DaVinci Code ship has sailed and you will never row fast enough to keep up.

The good news for you though is that you are no longer limited to the narrow visioned agents and editors who want the Next Big Thing.  You can publish this on your own, find an audience and make us all look shortsighted.

Or you can write your next book, pop this one in your steamer trunk for later when you're a famous writer and your publisher will be glad to publish it.