Saturday, November 17, 2018

"world renowned"

I'm embarking on a reading retreat this week.

When I read a lot of manuscripts in succession some patterns I might have missed if I wasn't reading so much, stand out clearly.

One such pattern: the tendency to describe characters in superlatives. World renowned, elite, billionaire, first dog on Carkoon.

When you really start to think about it, characters don't need to be the top of their field in order to develop the plot.

And when you REALLY start to think about it, the people who are top of the top? They don't have much time for anything BUT the work that got them there.

While novels are fiction, and you get to make all that stuff up, the truth is you want your characters to feel real. And if you've known anyone who is that elite, you know they're all a little crazy. Obsessive even. Focused. As in laser.

The other words for that are: one-dimensional, not fully developed, boring.

Thus if you need a character to be really good at something, just have them be good at it. They don't need to be world renowned. A good point guard, doesn't have to be the best. They can be accomplished without being Olympic level.

Take a look at your characters. Are any of the burdened with superlatives they don't need?

Friday, November 16, 2018

My caterpillar manuscript can be a butterfly, right?

I've recently parted ways with my agent, and my current manuscript has been revised to the point it feels unsalvageable. As I've considered what to work on next, I keep feeling drawn back to a book that was on submission a few years ago. It was never bought, but I did receive some helpful editorial feedback that could make it 10x better. It's a historical fantasy, but I'm considering revising to make it an epic fantasy set in a world that I create as well as incorporating the editors' feedback.

If the manuscript has some of the same characters and plot elements, but a completely different setting, could it be queried as a new manuscript? Or would the fact that an earlier version had been submitted make it dead in the water? I do have a complete list of every editor the manuscript was submitted to, and I would of course be up front with agents I query. I guess my question is if it's possible to give an old manuscript new life, or if trying to resuscitate would be a waste of time.

There is no right answer to this, so it's a very interesting question.

When is a manuscript so refreshed it becomes new? That's always in the eye of the beholder. In this case the agent will be the beholder, but then the next beholders will be the editors.

You can't shop a refurbished ms that has been on sub without telling the agent.

You don't have to put it in the query, you don't even have to put it in the requested full, but you must tell her before it goes on sub, and I don't mean the day before either. I mean before you say yes to the dress, and sign with her.

The reason you must do this is because editors often DO remember projects they saw years ago. I've worked with some editors for more than a dozen years; if I send them something they've seen before without telling them, it could damage my standing with them.

They're not eager to read things twice any more than I am.

The more fundamental question though is this: if you refurbish Historical Now Epic, you will have spent time on a project that comes with baggage.

That time might be better spent working on something new.

I understand your reluctance to shelve a project that could be revitalized.

I'm not saying pull the plug on Historical Now Epic. Just consign it to the Ideas for the Next Book File.

If you shop a project that doesn't have baggage, your chances are better of getting an agent and a deal.

Time is a scarce, non-replenishable resource. Invest it in the doing the thing that is most likely to move you forward on your career path.

The question is not can the ms be shopped again, but do you want to spend your time refurbishing instead of writing something new.

I firmly believe that one essential part of the creative process is mystical. I think taking some time to ask the universe (in whatever form that takes) to guide you on this might help you see where you want to go.

A good long walk, looking at art, making pros and cons lists have all worked for me at one time or another.

Blog readers will no doubt have some insight on this question as well, so dig in to the comments.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Bidding farewell to a fine man and respected friend

Yesterday I had the honor of attending the memorial service for Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. I knew him from his stint as an editor when he bought a book from me.  Most people at the service knew him far longer and far better than I did; I confess to feeling envy that they had that kind of time with him.

He was  a gentleman of the old school. He did not tout himself; if he told you stories of his life, it was up to you realize what you were hearing.  I still remember putting down my butter knife at the Carlyle Hotel Cafe and saying "wait, you were in Germany and met who?" as he told me a story from his youth.

He did things sort of casually, and mentioned them like it was no big deal.

I made him do all the talking when we met; I hung on his every word.

As things so inevitably do, years passed, and we both got older.
He left the world last week, and we are the poorer for it.

His memorial service drew actors, musicians, writers, lawyers, doctors, and
even a shark; all a testament to his amazing capacity for friendship.

I'm glad I had the chance to know him; I wish we'd had more time.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Agent Slackerpuss

I received a non-exclusive R&R from an agent and emailed agents with fulls and partials to ask if they wanted to wait for the revision before considering it. I heard back from all, but one. It's already been almost a year with no response on it. Should I assume that this is a pass and not contact again? It’s sort of drilled into writers that they should never bother agents, so I don’t want to do more harm by contacting again. It seems like no response means no is becoming more and more common experience for writers with fulls out. I also don't know if I still owe the agent an update if I receive an offer of representation. But I do know that's the standard etiquette and I don't want to be that writer that does the bad thing.

Thanks so much!
The "don't bother the agent" warning deflects the wrong writers; writers like you who are afraid of making a mistake. It never seems to deflect the writers letting their inner toddler out to play "are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet. Now? NOW??" and "what do you mean I'm not the most important thing in your world?"

It's entirely correct to update an agent who has a requested full, even in the face of her silence on your status. Since you do not know what she has decided, don't assume she's passed.

I will tell you (from my shame-laden hidey hole under the duvet) that I have requested fulls here that are more than a year old. Some of them have undergone substantial revisions in that time; some have just had to wait for me to have a block of uninterrupted time.

That said, if you email me, I'll tell you what a laggard I am. But then, I went to Agent Finishing School and had to pass a test on civility.

If When you receive an offer of rep, do let Agent Slackerpuss know. Give her some time to read as you would anyone else. It's entirely possible that, like me, she's behind, and unlike me, did not pass Civility 101. (Now, I'm not saying I passed with flying colors, but I did manage to move ahead to Civility 102. Those results are better left to bar chat.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

How much of a pain in the ass can you be?

This post is about formatting not asshattery.

When you send your manuscript in some sort of crazy ass format as though it's a printed book
*justified right margins
*drop cap on the first sentence in a chapter

or you just don't pay attention
*two spaces between words
*interchangeable single and double quote marks.

or you don't know how to use the tools in your word processing program
*hitting return at the end of* when you think you're at the end of the line rather than letting the program do it for you.

Example: This sentence is going along nicely, and you think the end of the page
is coming up so you hit return at the end of "page", instead of waiting. That puts a return in the middle of a sentence if I change the font or the size of the font. If you let the program do it, you can adjust font/size with no problem. See below.

Example: This sentence is going along nicely, and you think the end of the page is coming up so you hit return at the end of "page", instead of waiting. If you let the program do it instead you end up with what I've written here.

 *Thank you Kate for asking the question that showed me this needed clarification.

*hitting returns to mark page breaks rather than using the "insert page break" command
*Using five spaces rather than the tab key
*Using the tab key instead of the command for "indent first line by five spaces"

I have two choices: send it back to you with a blunt "fix this" or do it myself.

Update: I should mention here that I don't care if hire someone to fix this stuff. I don't care who does it as long as it's Not Me.  If you know this kind of formatting thing is a weakness, get help. I'm not going to make you pass a test on formatting to sign you.  I'm ONLY going to read your pages.

Often times it's just easier to do it myself since it's clear you don't know how or didn't care enough to proof read. Plus, I discover these things when I'm reading your requested full, and I'd rather just read it and see what you've got.

So, sometimes I'll overlook this.
Cause I'm not stupid.

Write well enough and I (or more likely you) can  hire someone to fix this stuff.

But the kicker is write well enough.

And the hurdle for how well you have to write goes up every time I have to adjust/fix/correct anything.

The baseline hurdle is you have to write as well or better than the front list books currently on the shelf.

That means if you write crime, you have to be as good or better than Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly etc.

I don't expect you to be better than Patrick Lee. I'm not insane.
Or Lee Child.

But you've got to be playing in the big leagues to have a shot at being published.

Making stupid formatting errors raises that hurdle.
Don't set yourself an impossible leap by being careless with formatting.
If you need to, get a second set of eyes on your ms.
Make sure you know what standard formatting IS, and use it.

If you don't know, ASK.

Any questions?

Monday, November 12, 2018

Flash Fiction contest results!

We had a very light turn out this weekend. Is it NaNoWriMo? Or are you all in a post-election coma?
The entries we did get were the usual terrific stories I've come to expect.

Herewith the results:

Words I had to look up:
Ranunculus (Alina Sergachov)

In a class by himself, and honestly trying to trip him up is becoming more than a challenge, it's now a quest: Stevi Forti
Don’t do it. I’m telling you. Do not piss him off or transgress in any way.

Come on. How could he even know?

Old man’s got some built in radar, kid. Like the song says. He always knows.

But he seems so delightful. I’m sure he won’t mind if I eat just one.

It ain’t a complex transaction kid. Milk plus cookies equals presents. You steal from him, coal ain’t all you’ll get.

Nu-uh. I hear lyin’s a transgression, too, you know. Chomp, chomp.

Suit yourself, kid. Was nice knowing ya.

Ho, ho, ho?!

Ur in deep shit now.

Special recognition for Dan Castro experimented with format. Brave indeed, but I couldn't actually read the entry. (Sorry Dan)

Special recognition to Timothy Lowe for an entry that made me cackle, and recoil, at the same time.

Special recognition to CarolynnWith2ns for 2 lines that haunted me
“She’s alive.” He shouted.
Was he my savior or slayer?

Special recognition to Colin Smith for an entry that's masterfully subtle and enigmatic.

Special recognition to Dena Pawling for some perspective on what's important.

Sometimes the contest entries are about publishing, and I can calculate the pace of your rodent wheel just from reading your work! This week:

Brenda Lynn


Hawking, Einstein, Feynman and their dog walk into an agency.
Hawking: “We forgot Schrödinger!”
Feynman: “Arrested hours ago for inciting cat mass...”
Einstein: “Mass?”
Feynman: “Massacres. He’s old school, Hawking. You were pre-calculus when he died.”
Hawking: “Nope. Early energy. I was pre-calculus when Albert died.”
Einstein: “Energy?”
Agent (darkly): “Ummm ... Gentlemen?”
Feynman (flashing the extra-famous, thousand-watt smile): Delighted...”
Einstein: “Light...”
Agent: “Cute dog. I’m guessing she’s your strong female lead.”
Feynman (winking) “Her name’s Fortran. She’s old but she’s still got speed.”
Einstein: “Speed! C’mon, boys. We’ll write the book later.”
Agent: “That’s what they all say.”

Amy Johnson
To enter or not to enter?

That was the question. I resumed pondering before dawn’s first light.

One early attempt was too dark. I’m writing MG—gotta consider my reputation. One idea could make a good short story, but not a flash piece. Another story was a maybe. Had mystery and humor. But did I do first person pencil before? With an extra hour I might be able to finish that Forti Award attempt. At least now I know of thirty-one towns in Arkansas that end in “d.”

And here are the entries that really stood out this week:

Maria McKay
She found the extra hour beneath her pillow. It was pink and oval, the way she'd imagined her soul might look.

Outside was dark; she dressed,unsure of how this would work. The hour she'd chosen was the hour before she'd turned 16.

The oval ticked as soon as she picked it up: now the bed she stood next to contained her 15-year-old self.

Looking at this early self, the one she'd come to forewarn, she saw the light. An hour wasn't long enough for a kid to digest what she'd come to say. It needed a lifetime.
I love the idea of the extra hour being any of the hours of your life.
I would have a very hard time choosing between two events to forewarn myself of.
One would save me; the other would save someone I love.
This entry made me wonder if I could choose?

Very nice work here.

They called it a blight. Not to mention the inhabitants: the loud sex, trampling feet at all hours. The smell.

They complained. That bloke - what was his name, Noel? Neal? - didn't flinch. They got the planning department onto him. Court summons. He ignored it, claimed divine inspiration, holy immunity.

Pearly dawn. It rained. Ark doors shut. The end.
This just cracked me up.
I'm always a sucker for alternate POV, and this one is delightful.

Alina Sergachov
The bus pulls to a curb. The driver gets off first. Passengers follow his lead.

No rush, no panic.
No bus stop.

I pull one earbud out. A piercing two-tone howl of a siren syncopates with the symphony No6. ‘Code Red’.

No fort.
Ranunculus instead of a bomb shelter.

I never had sex. Tragic waste.
It was too early. Is it too late?

A man who dared to waste one hour of time.

Others crouch. And kneel. I wait for the incoming missile in the comfort of a bus. Alone.

Dark sky. Light rain.
Crescendo. Explosion. Silence
Heartbreaking elegance.
And too topical for words.

"What time do you have? Quick, before their frappuccinos come."

"It's noon. What time do you have?"

"Eleven. Too early. I didn't add the extra hour."

""What went wrong?"

"I tried to reboot myself, but my screen went dark and then nothing."

"Pull up your light folder, the one with time zones."

"I don't have a light folder."

"Did you set your System Preferences to include poetry? Look for 'A light exists in spring." Or 'Light, more light! The shadows deepen.'"

"What are you speaking? COBOL?"

"No, poetry."

"It's all Fortran to me."
I love the idea of poetry in system prefs!
I've been at war with my software for almost a month now, and so this had a particular appeal!

Michael Seese
I prayed for an extra hour. He must have heard me.


The smell of purity hovered with me in the aether, enveloping me in peace.


She always said not to jog in the dark. But the virgin air of early morning cleanses my soul.


The car never saw me. The driver never stopped.


Her voice broke through the veil, her light piercing the fog.

I saw the path home.

My new home.

What should we do, Mrs. Nash? said the voice I’d been hearing, assuming it was God.

“Nothing,” my wife said. “He has a DNR.”
This entry uses the theme of the contest in a poignant twist that really appealed to me. 

I've been thinking about these entries all day.
Each has a lot of merit, and choosing isn't picking one that's better than any of the others. That simply isn't possible.

Honestly, I picked the one that made me laugh. This week's choice is NLiu!

Thanks to all who took the time to write and post entries.
I know I say this every contest, but it's always true: your writing delights me.
I'm very grateful for the chance to read things that are new and fun.

And I'm probably as surprised as the rest of you that I got these posted promptly.
Most likely it's cause I have a big submission going out today and I knew I wasn't going to have time for much of anything but dialing, yapping, and sending.

If it's any comfort to you, the pitch letter for that project is 307 words, and I did 30+ revisions on it in 48 hours. 

Friday, November 09, 2018

The Extra Hour Flash Fiction contest! (updated)

We're getting an extra hour this weekend!
Finally, tormenting writers 25 hours a day.

I'm reliably informed that the time change was last weekend.
I didn't even notice!
When I think about it, all my clocks are digital so I didn't have to reset anything.
But what bothers me is I didn't notice the light change. I must really be in a fog.
Anyway, we're still having the contest:

A dream come true.

Let's have a flash fiction contest to celebrate!

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:


To compete for the Steve Forti Deft Use of Prompt Words prize (or if you are Steve Forti) you must also use: Fortran

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: early/pearly is ok, but light/sleight is not. Hours is fine, but grouch 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: 8:53am Sat Nov. 10, 2018

Contest closes:9am Sun Nov 11, 2018

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!

(sorry, it took me seven hours to update that. Clearly I am in some sort of fugue
state. I'm working on who to blame cause ME just sounds too honest!)

Sorry, too late! Contest closed.
Anyone want to wager on when the results get posted?

Thursday, November 08, 2018

When Dear Snookums isn't Snookums at all

Dear Janet,

Ack! I just sent a query to an agent who I have been wanting to submit to for some time and accidentally wrote another agent's first name after "Dear." 

I know you've advised us over and over again to proofread our queries. I thought I had. The two names were similar and my eyes just flitted over that line as I was focusing on the body of the query that I had worked so hard on personalizing to acknowledge her posts at manuscript wish list.

Should I apologize? Or just let it go? 


Dear Felicity,
I get queries for Jodi Reamer all the time.
Ok, not quite all the time. A couple times a year.
I pounce on them just in case I got it, and she did not

This works for me, particularly if the query letter is about something I'm interested in.  
I've often said I don't care what you call me if you've got something I want to read.
Some of my ilk are less clear-sighted and get quite tetchy if you get their name wrong.
Let's assume you've queried Agent Tetch.
You RESEND the entire query, with correct salutation.
You say in Line One: I'm very sorry I got your name wrong in an earlier query.
That way Agent Tetch knows this isn't a duplicate query.
That's when you've put the wrong name in the right query.
When you put the wrong name in the wrong query? That's when you query me and didn't intend to. Either you're querying something that's not high on my Looking For list, or I've already passed, or you think I'm an idiot and wouldn't sign with me if the only other offer was from Lucifer Nitpicker at The Devil in the Details LLC.
Then you write and say "gosh, I sent you a query that was intended for someone else. I'm very sorry."
Generally you do not want to query an agent you wouldn't be willing to sign with, much like I don't pitch a publisher I don't want to work with.
Bottom line: Resend with BRIEF explanation.

Any questions?

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

It's drafty in here

I've requested about ten manuscripts in the last two months.

When I request a manuscript, I ask you to send it to me as an attachment.
That means you have to title it.

Here are some of the things I've seen recently in addition to the correct title and author name

final draft
(date) draft

and the one that sets my hair on fire:

First draft

When sending a manuscript to a prospective agent, don't shoot yourself in the foot.
Name the file: TITLE by author  (you)

Only exception: if the requesting agent asks you to call it something else.

Bottom line: avoid using the word "DRAFT" in your file name.

Any questions?
Honestly, why this isn't called Agent Tears Out Her Hair, I do not know

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Creating a world, then using it in a novel

So I've been looking around online for help with this, but I haven't really found any clear-cut answers. Me and one of my best friends started collaborating on a fictional world several years ago just for fun and it really turned into a strong setting. We came up with the details, an outline of the "main" plot, and all that jazz. It was a playground for us and our collaboration made it that much stronger. My friend and I each wrote stories in this setting for practice and that was fine for us. But we let many people over the years read our work and they asked why we hadn't tried publishing these things.

Fast forward to now. I've finished a new novel based in the setting, edited it, reedited it, and have polished it as much as I could over the last 2 years in an attempt to actually get something published. My friend is also penning another novel in the same setting--but not a direct sequel to mine. Certain side characters are in both stories, as are locations and such. It's worth noting that we edit each other's work and have a say in things that happen, so we both have a hand in everything.

I've made a nice, short query for my manuscript (after much anguish), but here's my question: how do I approach labeling us both in terms of querying agents and moving forward? Is it OK to just list us as co-authors with everything we do in this setting, even though only one of us is actually doing the writing on a particular novel? Does that even matter?

Yes it matters!

You need to sort this out NOW, before the stakes get any higher. The last thing you want to do is try to come to agreement when a wheelbarrow full of money is staring you in the face.

Most likely you need form a company that owns all the content you and your best friend create in this world. The company receives the income, and you can agree on a case by case basis how to divide it up. You get 80% on books you write, he gets 80% on material he writes. You divide the proceeds from film options 50/50. Those are just suggestions, not some sort of standard.

You absolutely can NOT query this or sell this as a single author. You do not own the work yourself because your best friend also had a hand in creating some of it.

This is the same problem that writers of fanfic run into. Because they did not create the world or the characters they're using, they don't own the material free and clear.

You'd do well to consult a publishing attorney to help you set up a company and get the details done right.

This isn't the kind of thing an agent will see and think Later Gator. It will help if you can tell her the details are sorted out already.

Any questions?

Monday, November 05, 2018

Querying art with picture books if you're not quite there on the art

I have been working on a picture book that I'm very proud of--it's a weird, fun story that I've had a blast writing. As part of the writing process, I've also sketched out illustrations of some of the scenes. I really like the way they're turning out so far.

Now, despite years of my best intentions, I am not an artist. I'm much better than the average schmo on the street--I'd say I'm a very happy 80% great (as opposed to my professional artist friends, who are a deeply unsatisfied 97% fantastic). I like my style, warts and all, but I am also very aware that it probably doesn't stack up with the majority of what's on the shelf. 

The submission guidelines of many PB agents (and my favorite agent in particular) require a dummy book and a few full-color illustrations with book submissions. I'd like to submit my art, but I know it's probably not good enough to cut it, and I don't want that to hold back the actual text of the book. 

So here's the quandary: Do I...
A) Submit my illustrations with a note saying that I'm not a professional artist and I honestly won't be offended if the agent takes one look at the art and says "wow NOPE" 
B) Submit the art, in all seriousness, and risk the whole book (including the text) getting tossed because of them? 
C) Submit just the text and then, if an agent likes it, pull a "But wait, there's more!" move?
D) Just submit the text and shelve the art? 

I feel like A is shooting myself in the foot, but it shouldn't be. I know I need to gas myself up in the pitch, but I wish there were a professionally acceptable way to say "hey, I can do A, and I want to do B eventually, but if you don't think I'm there yet, no harm, no foul." 
You're not asking the right question.
The right question is: do these agents sign TextOnly authors, or only author/illustrators.

A text only agent isn't going to ask for a dummy book. You query them with the entire text of the book.
Take a look at the books these agents asking for dummy books have sold. Are the author and illustrator the same person?

Unless your art is professional caliber, it's not going to get you requests.You want to submit your work as text-only.

Picture books are the hardest thing to write well other than poetry. The fewer words, the harder it is to write.  

You don't mention if you're a member of SCBWI. If you're not, join. They are the single most valuable author association I know of.

The answer to your questions
A. No
B. No
C. No
D. Yes, but only if the agent considers text only submissions.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

The Duchess of Yowl casts her vote

Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl: What are you doing, why are you not petting me?

Me: I just finished filling out my absentee ballot.

DoY:  Where's my absentee ballot?

Me: Are you a Democat?

DoY: Certainly not. Much too egalitarian.

Me: You're a Republicat?

DoY: Not anymore.

Me: Are you affiliated with any party?

DoY: I belong to the Pajama Party

Me: Your platform?

DoY: More cats, more naps!

Me: Fewer dogs?

DoY: When I am elected, dogs will be illegal.

Me: What office are you seeking?

DoY: Dog Catcher.

Me: How's the campaign going?

DoY: Considering the number of foul hounds in this building alone, it will be a landslide.

Me: You know, the people who have those dogs may not want them evicted?

DoY: Wait, they chose to have dogs? It wasn't some sort of grievous bad luck that they have a dog and not  a cat?

Me: Hard to believe isn't it?

DoY: The world is going to hell in a hound basket.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

deal categories and prioritizing queries

I have reached the point where I'm ready to start querying. In the process of making a list of agents, I also started looking them up on Publisher's Marketplace, and I discovered some agents list their deals on their page, and some of them have the type of deal also listed, as in a 'nice, very nice, good, very good or susbstiall' deal.

 So my question is are there other categories of deals and what kind of order do they come in. For instance, is good better than nice, or vice versa? Clearly, substantial is better than good or nice, but are there other categories like average, through the roof, and going to auction, and would you be comfortable giving approximate advance ranges in each category?

I ask because everything else being equal, wouldn't it be better to go with an agent who makes lots of substantial deals over someone making a few nice deals here and there, or someone making a lot of very nice deals over someone who makes the occasional substantial deal?

Deal categories were created by Publishers Marketplace, not by agents.
Here's how the categories sort out:

Prioritizing by number and/or level of deals is not a good idea.
It's not a good idea because not all deals are reported, and some deals are reported in ways that don't  reflect reality accurately.  In other words, deal reports aren't notarized statements, and particularly on the larger deals, there's a lot of ... ahem ... flexibility.

The best way to  prioritize your query list is Me First, then everyone who has sold books in your category.  Your goal is to find someone who loves your work, plans to stick with you through the long haul, and has a client list you can verify those things with.

I've made big deals and small deals for the same client. I've had books that didn't sell for that client.

Much of what makes an agent right for you isn't quantifiable.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Friday flail

My eyeballs are rolling around in the back of my head.
I've got nothing to say that would be of use to anyone right now.

I finished AJ Flynn's book The Woman in the Window last weekend.
I thought it was really well done because I did NOT figure out the resolution of the plot. I thought I had, and was feeling smug, but oh boy, WRONG!

Are there any books that had endings that surprised you recently?

Thursday, November 01, 2018

*The End*, no not yet

I represent a talented horde of non-fiction writers. Sentence stylists, concept connoisseurs, all around terrific writers. Proposal architects, not so much.  Which is ok, cause that's the value I bring to the table for them right now.

Yesterday I was working on the very last edits of a terrific proposal. I actually titled it The Final Version.

So the great god of writing laughed, and that was that.

What happened was my client and I had been intently focused on the sentences and sections. We'd probably spent a full ten hours on various subtitle permutations.  We'd moved footnotes, excised repeated phrases, tussled with that evergreen question: why this book, why now.

And all those pieces were ready. I have my editor list primed. The pitch letter is as ready as it will ever be (which means I'll have at least a dozen revisions between now and when it goes out.)

Then I read the whole proposal, start to finish, all 72 pages.

And realized Something Was Wrong.

Fortunately I knew what it was pretty quickly, and was able to email my client promptly. (Subject line: you're going to kill me and I deserve it.)

What had happened of course was that the pieces worked by themselves, but they also have to work as a whole.

I think of it in terms of painting (cause painting explains the world, as you know.)  The color that looks great in the store, looked great in the test stripe, looked GREAT when you painted it in your west-facing bedroom on Saturday afternoon, and now, dried and from a distance, looks like the Duchess of Yowl projectile vomited on the walls. (Not that Her Grace would do that of course, that's what your slippers are for.)

And when you realize the color looks like cat hork, you have two choices: fix it or live with it.

Same with the revising. Fix it or live with it.
It's not always an easy choice.
We chose to fix it. We had time on our side, the proposal is in development. If it were a finished book on editorial deadline, we might not have had  that.

I'm yammering about this today because I always seem to forget that last read through might NOT be just for crossing eyes and dotting t-shirts (paint again!)

I always forget to build that 'oh crap what if we need to revise this again' time into my planning, and plotting of world domination.

Maybe you do forget too?

Or maybe you don't read the whole thing one more time before sending it out to a request for a full?

Do you build this buffer into your timeline? Do you plan for it? You do revise, right?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

So, my name is James Patterson

As you can see, I share a name with a VERY famous fiction author. There's literally not a week that goes by without someone making a crack about my name or asking when my next book is coming out. I counted last week while on vacation. It happened four times in six days.

This is all fun and games until I actually get around to querying.

So, questions:

1) Should I bring it up "the name issue" at the end of my queries? I'm inclined to think an agent isn't going to care about it at this point, but it also seems like an elephant in the room.

2) Will this "name issue" in any way be a hindrance or a hassle or a turn-off to agents at any point?

3) Fast forwarding into the future, if you were my agent, what direction would you give me about how to tackle the "name issue"? Should I be planning on using a pen-name? How would that affect marketing, etc?

I know, I know, I'm getting ahead of myself. But it's hard enough trying to get my query nailed down without this insecurity in the back of my mind.

Thanks for listening,
Not That James Patterson

This is the same problem that J. Robert Lennon had. His friends call him John.

You can see he solved it by using his first initial and middle name instead.

This is absolutely not something to worry about. In fact, it's something to have fun with. I know writers who keep tabs of ALL the people who share their name. It's a dedicated page on the their website.

In fact, you can offer to blurb books (in jest of course!)
Or offer to be the other James Patterson's stand-in cause he's so busy cashing royalty checks.

As with many kinds of things you think of as problems when you first see them, if you think creatively, you can make it a plus not a minus.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Can I resend the query with revised pages?

After about two weeks of sending queries, I've gotten a couple personalized responses from agents who love my concept and didn't love the first chapter. So, I decided to see what the book would look like if I started the story a couple chapters later. I cut the first few chapters, and tested the new opening on a handful of betas (about 6). The response was enthusiastic.

Which brings me to my question: I still have about 15 queries outstanding, some to agents who I think would be a particular fit. Do I have to leave them alone and just hope they see something they like in the original sample, or can I follow up with the new chapter?

I obviously wouldn't bother agents who already sent a form reject, but for those still considering my work, is it bad query etiquette to say "I had an ah-ha moment! Please consider this chapter instead of the formerly-sent one."

I don't want to miss out because of an opening I don't feel any attachment to, but I also don't want to irritate agents.

Additional context: A number of the outstanding queries are requests from the #DVPit Twitter pitch contest, so I already know the concept resonates with those agents (which makes it feel more dire that I get them the best first chapter I can).

I always want to see your best work.
Therefore, I would rather have you let me know you've revised/improved, than not.

Even if I didn't feel that way, what's the worst thing that could happen here? You'd hear no twice, or more likely silence times two.

There's zero downside to letting an agent know you've revised as long as she has not already said no, nor the query window (30 days on those foul no response means no) has closed.

This does not mean you get to tinker endlessly. You get one revision here.

The revision you mention changes ALL of the pages you sent. If you are just moving words here and there, or punctuation, don't send new pages. If you're fixing mistakes like homonyms, then do.

Any questions?

Monday, October 29, 2018

My agent left, I'm bereft

Early this fall, my agent was offered a dream job, which meant leaving agenting. Many of her other clients were transferred to other agents at her agency, but because I didn't have a book deal to navigate nor was I mid-submission, I was not. So back into the query trenches I went. All of my friends who had similar situations happen to them reassured me that finding a new agent for my book would be easy: the book hadn't been on sub, and agents like working with authors who were previously agented. But that hasn't been my experience while querying at all; I've received constant rejections, and haven't had a single request for the full manuscript. The stats are actually worse than when I originally queried this novel! It had a really high request rate back then.

So my questions are, are my friends right? Do agents think that previously-agented authors are a smart bet, because someone else saw worth in their book? Or am I doing something wrong in my queries? All the queries I sent out have a version of this statement included: My agent, Jill Corcoran, has recently left the business, and I am seeking new representation. [BOOK TITLE] has not been submitted to any editors.

Any insights you have would be greatly appreciated. I am probably overthinking things, but the fact that I'm getting no requests this round of querying when I'm supposedly more attractive to agents has this little writer spinning around on the hamster wheel of insecurity.

Your friends are not right, but they're not wrong either.

That someone at your former agency didn't snatch you up is an eyebrow raiser for me. 

Because your ms had not been on submission, you don't need to tell anyone about your previous agent. That will avoid the eyebrow raise.

Also, a lot of things can change in these intervening months/years as well. What editors are looking for, entire imprints being shuttered (two of those this month alone.)

Being previously agented doesn't give you a leg up, any more than being previously married makes you a more attractive prospective bride.

Keep querying.
Leave out the former agent info.

Keep writing.

Any questions?

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Duchess of Yowl learns about commercials

The Duchess of Yowl is perched atop her handmaiden, whiskers twitching as she dreams of tuna. The handmaiden is horizontal on the couch.

The television suddenly blares in the way commercials do; volume seventeen times louder than the program being watched.

The Duchess of Yowl springs straight up and swings on the chandelier by her claws.

DoY: WHAT the ever-loving DOG was that!
Me: I'm sorry Your Grace, I forgot to mute the commercial.

DoY: What is a commercial, and I am banning them from my royal residence.
Me: Commercials are like mini-tv shows that tell you about things you might need.

DoY: I need tuna.
Me: There are commercials for cat food.

DoY: Show me one.
Me: I can't summon them up at will, but I'll point out the next one, ok?

DoY: You are relentlessly useless most of the time, I'm sorry to say.
Me: I'm not useless when you want your ears scricched.

DoY: That's true. Scrich now.
Me: Of course your grace.

Serenity returns Chez Yowl.

Me: Here's a cat food commercial Your Grace. See, it's for Fancy Feast. You like that.
DoY: Who is that repulsive beast eating MY tuna?

Me: That cat's not repulsive, fuzzy.
DoY: Fuzzy? That is a walking hairball.

Me: What do you know about hairballs? You're so sleek you've slid off the couch more than once.
DoY: Don't change the subject. Why is Herr FuzzBall eating My Tuna?

Me: He's an actor. He does what the director, and producer, and stage manager tell him.
DoY: Are you sure that's not a dog in disguise?

Me: (looking closely)
DoY: I still want tuna.

Me: I'd have to get off the couch, and leave you here without a warm lounging spot.
DoY: Cold or hungry. This is a paradox. What to do, what to do?

Me: Have you heard of Schrödinger’s Cat?
DoY: We are amused and not amused.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Caption contest!

What is this cat looking at, in ten words or fewer?

Post your idea in the comments section of this blog post!

Friday, October 26, 2018

I'm 12, should I mention that in my query?

Dear Ms. Reid,

I am twelve, soon to be thirteen years old.

I have written a middle-grade fantasy and am thinking of querying. I don't expect many results, especially given the minimal results of my previous novel. But I still want to query, as I'm serious about writing and want to start a career.

I've read your blog and QueryShark for about a year now. But I find myself unable to use your tips for success. I can't create a website. I can't sign paperwork. I can't change my email address to be more professional, since I share the account with my little brother.

Most importantly, I'm not sure whether to mention my age in querying. It's unlikely agents will take me seriously, but it'll have to come out at some point. Will a prospective agent be mad when they find out they've signed on to babysit a kid through the world of publishing? Even if they initially say yes, is it possible they'll say no when they find out? Should I just put this whole writing thing on a back burner and wait until I'm older?


Dear Writer Dude,

First, I'm glad you're writing novels. Judging by what you wrote to me, it looks like you know how to sling sentences pretty darn well.

My client Jeff Somers wrote his first novel when he was a bit younger than you are now. He started querying when he was about your age. He didn't tell anyone he was "just a kid."

And people took him seriously.
They actually bought books from him too.

Some of this is covered in his book Writing Without Rules, but please, don't buy it unless your parents give the ok. They may not want you to pursue the writing life. It leads to dancing. (An obscure riff on an old joke.)

Here's my advice: query without mentioning your age. Let your work speak for iteself. If an agent is interested, we'll figure out how to persuade your parents that you're not running off to join the circus by signing a publishing contract.

Lots of writers started early. And while it generally took a couple years, they found success too.

I hope you'll be one of them.

Let me know how it goes, ok?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

#PitDark day!

I'm doing my first-ever Twitter pitch riot fest lallapalooza conflagration rampage immolation tomorrow.TODAY.

Here's the general scoopage:

Welcome to #PitDark, the only Twitter pitching contest for dark literature!
#PitDark is the first and only Twitter pitch event to highlight literature of a “darker” nature. Importantly, this is not limited to horror works; however, any pitched manuscript must contain an element of horror or darker writing. Examples of such categories include pure horror novels, dark fantasy, murder mysteries, psychological horror stories, non-fiction works about darker subjects, etc. MG, YA, NA, and adult age categories are welcome.

Hashtags for Age Category

Please use these hashtags to indicate the target age group for your book:
I struck through the target age groups that are NOT good for me.

  • #MG – Middle Grade
  • #YA – Young adult
  • #NA – New adult
  • #A – Adult

Hashtags for Genre

Please use a hashtag to indicate the genre of your book. The following are example hashtags that may be relevant to your manuscript:
 Again, I struck through the things that are not good for me, and bolded those that are.
  • #H – horror
  • #PH – psychological horror
  • #GH – gothic horror
  • #CSH – cosmic horror
  • #BH – body horror
  • #CH – comedy horror
  • #DC – dark comedy
  • #DR – dark romance
  • #SFH – science fiction horror
  • #PNH – paranormal horror
  • #ZH – zombie horror
  • #MH – monster horror
  • #GRH – graphic horror
  • #MM – murder mystery
  • #FA – fantasy
  • #DF – dark fantasy
  • #T – thriller
  • #EF – epic or high fantasy
  • #HF – historical fantasy
  • #LF – literary fantasy
  • #AH – alternate history
  • #PN – paranormal
  • #PR – paranormal romance
  • #UF – urban fantasy
  • #MR – magical realism
  • #SF – science fiction
  • #AF – apocalypse fiction
  • #ML – military science fiction
  • #PA – post-apocalyptic SF
  • #CP – cyberpunk
  • #SFT – sci-fi thriller
  • #SH – superhero / superhuman
  • #SO – space opera
  • #DS – dystopian
  • #SP – steampunk
  • #TT – time travel
  • #WW – weird west
  • #SPEC – speculative fiction
#NF – non-fiction

Because I am indeed That Person, I also organized What I Am Looking For in alpha hashtag order:

#AF  apocalypse fiction
#AH Alternate History
#DC Dark Comedy
#DS dystopian
#ML  military science fiction
#MM Murder mystery
#NF non-fiction
#PA  post-apocalyptic SF
#SF  science fiction
#SFT Sci-fi thriller
#SO space opera
#T Thriller
#TT time travel
#WW Weird west

Don't fret about this stuff though. I don't care if you query me for "the wrong thing" cause they stopped letting me chomp writers for query mistakes.  The worst thing I can do to you now is say no. I promise you won't die. Really. Not even of mortification.

What I am more prickly about is getting the query promptly.  I've set aside tomorrow TODAY (Thursday 10/25) to read queries from #PitDark.  I plan to respond THURSDAY TODAY to all the queries I receive.

After that the queries go in the incoming query mail box.  The incoming query mailbox is, well...a picture is worth a thousand words:

Of course you have questions!
Post in the comment column, and I'll update this post if things need to be more clear, or clarified.

Promoting your book? Think about something other than your book!

I subscribe to a number of special-interest newsletters. Things like Gothamist (news about New York City) and Apartment Therapy (living in small spaces/painting!/cleaning!).

Sometimes I follow people on Twitter who have interesting things to say. That's how I found Untapped Cities.

Their about page says:
Rediscover your city. Untapped Cities unearths New York City’s most unique and surprising places, stories and events for the inquisitive reader. We are a community of over 600 passionate contributors, interested in what’s hidden and unnoticed, and how our history informs city life now and in the future.

Hidden and unnoticed?
Count me IN.

And because I subscribe to Untapped Cities, I saw this delightful, innovative book promotion idea:

Take a Book Walk Through the Financial District with the Author of "Holly's Hurricane"

Obviously this isn't suitable for every book. Sci-fi fantasy comes to mind. Dystopian thrillers either. But think of the success of the Sex In the City tours (of course, that was after the TV show, but still!)

As writers and agents thinking about promotion, we tend to focus on what we know best: book reviews, blog tours, book store readings.  But think bigger.  What do you know about that other people will find interesting?  Most likely you're going to need help on this because 87% of the writers I work with underestimate their Interesting Quotient by about 100%.

Keep your eye peeled for what other authors are doing. Write down what they do. You don't have to do the exact same thing; use their ideas to inspire you.

I always remind my authors when we're doing something using the brainstorming model: write down everything you think of. Don't self-censor. Don't judge. Just write.

(We usually do this when we're pulling our hair out over titles and sub-title, but it's a useful tool for other things as well.)

Don't neglect the basics when you think about promotion, but don't limit yourself to just the basics, either.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Be VISIBLE!--a new rule for writers!

A few months ago, I bit the bullet and entered My Novel into the Writer's Digest 25th Annual Self-Published Book Awards. I wasn't going to enter any contests--I couldn't afford to enter any contests. But I did anyway with low expectations because after all the positive feedback I'd been getting in the TOPIC community, I think I wanted to see how the book would fare with a general readership. A few days ago, I received news that it received an Honorable Mention in the MG/YA category. My first reaction was shock, then thrilled. I don't know if it's a big deal in the long-run, but it feels like a big deal in this moment, so I'm remaining grateful for it.

But that brings me to my issue. I know that books only have a shelf-life of so long, but I feel like MY NOVEL has growing momentum--particularly in the past few months, particularly with the events I'm doing that quickly sell out of books. With the launch of my non-profit, where a portion of the proceeds are now going, I can only predict it will continue to do well in the TOPIC community. My concern now is expanding its reach outside of that target audience, as I now believe it will do well with a broader readership as well...

So, my question, which I'm so hesitant to ask because I don't want to be that guy: is there a chance that MY NOVEL  could be picked up by an agent and/or a traditional publisher for greater reach? Is it worth sending it into the trenches? Or has that ship long sailed and I should just focus on publicity as much as possible (which, truth be told, I've done a ton of press for this book and I'm out of ideas).

I feel in my heart that this book has a long way to go yet, and I have to trust that feeling--I don't want to give up on it just yet. I just don't want to make a huge mistake as I continue on this journey, if I can help it.

Yes, and no.
How's that for clarity.

Yes, it can be picked up.
No, don't send it.

The reason someone will pick it up is they'll notice you out there and get interested on their own.

If an agent or an editor notices the book and wants more, they'll get in touch. You do have your contact info on your blog, right?

I should say that this is EXTREMELY unlikely for a novel.

Sales are hard to get (I'm not telling you anything you don't know of course) and there is a shelf-life to novels.

That said, be prepared for opportunity to strike.

And the way to be prepared is to keep pushing the book.

Be prepared by being reachable (your contact info on your website!)

But more important, Be prepared by being visible (writing articles on your topic, reviewing books on your topic, etc.)  An editor isn't going to find you or know much about you from an Honorable Mention in a contest.  They WILL notice you if you write article/s on your topic, or you regularly boost books by interesting authors.

None of this is a waste of time, even if Big Pub doesn't come calling.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Sweating out the on-sub process

I love your blog, and it was so useful for drafting the query that got me my agent. I was over the moon when that happened, but now I'm in the seemingly eternal doldrums of being on submission. Can you help answer some questions about the submission process in general? I'm not sure how much information you have about the nitty-gritty of what goes on during the acquisition process, but I figure it's worth a shot. 
I've been on sub with a fantasy novel for 4 months and have only heard back from 4 out of 8 editors in the first round (all highly complimentary/reluctant passes). My agent initially predicted we'd hear back within 3 months from most, but it's been deadly quiet. What's a normal length of time for a round?

There is no normal. It varied by editor. It varies by season. The consensus among my drinking buddies is things are taking longer now. Is that because there are more submissions, or fewer editors, or editors have more things in their job description? I don't know. I know I've had books on submission for far longer than four months, and have gone on to sell them.

Is no news generally good news, in your experience? I'm out to an editor who I know already rejected someone who submitted 3 months after me, but I don't know if her silence regarding my book is positive or not.
Again, there is no one answer here.

How often do publishing houses hold acquisition meetings? Do editors try to acquire multiple books at once or focus on one at a time?

Publishing companies acquire books differently. Some editors can buy with a simple OK from the boss. Some need to go to the acquisitions meetings. Those meetings get moved and cancelled like every other kind of meeting in the world.

Editors don't acquire seven books on a Monday morning (usually) but they often have several at acquisition stage at once. Again, no norm.

Seeing a pattern here?

I'm in a support group for writers on sub who all have the same questions, but since it's such a secretive process, it's hard to find answers. I know the advice is to keep writing and try to pretend you're not on sub at all (and I've already finished one new book and have a second one in progress), but it's difficult not to obsess when The Call could happen today or never.

What you didn't say is why you're not talking to your agent about this?
She's got the scoop on the specific editors and will know their patterns of reply.
Asking about this isn't bugging her, as long as you don't do it every day or every week.

Sometimes no news is so anxiety producing it can be a problem. It's totally fair to ask her to update you monthly on subs, and talk to you about how she thinks the process is going.

This is YOUR book, and your peace of mind.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Happy Sunday

Early Sunday morning.
A mysterious thump at the door wakens all within.

Duchess of Yowl: My fans are at the door!

Me: It's Sunday morning at 7am. I doubt your fans are here this early.

DoY: They camp out in the park waiting for me.

Me: Those are people doing yoga and Tai-Chi, not fans.

DoY: My fans do NOT do the downward dog.

Me: of course not your grace.

DoY: go to the door, let them in. I need more petting.

Me: (opens door, sees NYT) It's the newspaper.

DoY: Am I on the front page?

Me: Sadly, no. It would have been a vast improvement if you were.

DoY: Stating the obvious. What a way to start the day.

Me: How about you start the day with bagel and lox instead?

DoY: finally, a good idea. Wake me when you're back from the deli.

Is your day off to a rousing start?

Saturday, October 20, 2018

pre-pub permissions

I'm writing a murder mystery with a diplomatic angle and an international setting. Here's the thing - my husband is a diplomat and has a top-secret security clearance. I have a secret clearance from a job I held at our last overseas post (the one where my novel is set). The State Department website says that cleared Americans have to vet materials for publication. I am not trying to reveal any secrets, I've fictionalized all details, and I'm fairly certain that this (sometimes years-long) process is more for nonfiction, memoirs, that sort of thing. If my clearance got pulled, it would be fine, but I'd rather not torpedo my husband's career (the Foreign Service is a very small, gossipy world). I'll be querying in a few months. How early should I raise this concern? Also, would an agent be the one to help me with this, or would a publisher (or its lawyer) handle it?

This is something you want to know before you start querying.
You want to know this NOW since you might inadvertently put your foot in it, and the stakes are a bit higher than something you'd just beg forgiveness for, instead of getting permission.

You might check into what other writers in your situation have done.  A google search of "getting clearance from the state department for a novel" returned some interesting info. 

Barry Eisler drew on his covert experiences to write his novels. Valerie Plame writes novels now, and she use to be CIA. You might look around for others.

This kind of thing applies to more than folks in the diplomatic corps or clandestine services. Many people who work in any kind of high-level government capacity are required to clear future publications. If you have any question about whether this applies to you, check your employment contract.

An agent can't help you with this.
And if I knew you had to clear the novel before it could be published, I wouldn't send it on submission until that had happened.

One of my favorite novels, Six Days of the Condor, draws on the reverse of this: the CIA reads novels to get ideas for tradecraft. The novel got made into a relatively terrible movie (although Robert Redford can't ever really be awful!) but the book itself is well worth the read.

Friday, October 19, 2018

"Is it time to pack up my publishing aspirations and slip quietly back to, say, crocheting?"

I wanted to thank you for your blog post addressing my question about ageism in publishing. There are a few examples of successful books that are one-offs by older folks, but as you say, a very hard sell in an ageist climate. So I just have to ask: What if the book is ABOUT the fact that you're older? My current WIP is a memoir about being an aging mom to two adult kids with disabilities. And service dogs. And not a lot of resources. Caught between the twin impossibilities of bringing them to a point of independent living, or magically living forever myself. I wrote about it for a couple of years for the online journal Literary Mama in a column called "Senior Mama," which is in itself a dead giveaway that I'm already past my sell-by date. 

I recently read a BBC article about "the phenomenon of continuing to throw good resources (time and money) after bad, hoping for things to improve when there's no good reason to believe they will." Not surprisingly, they conclude that's a bad idea. Your advice for writers always falls on the side of perseverance, but I wonder, in this case is it time to pack up my publishing aspirations and slip quietly back to, say, crocheting?

Well, I'm always looking for a comfy afghan when the winter winds begin to make themselves known again (47° this morning!), However, while lots of people can crochet, no one else can write YOUR book.

You'll hear "memoir is a tricky category" when agents and editors are asked about this.

They say that because many memoir writers focus solely on what happened. But, a compelling memoir isn't just what happened, it's why those events mattered, and more importantly, why they matter to people NOW.

And if you think it's easy to figure that out, please set up shop as a memoir coach and help the thousands of people who need it.

It's not a matter of will anyone buy your book, it's can you write a book that will be more than "I lived through this and survived."

Deb Vlock's book about parenting kids with mental health challenges could have been structured as a memoir, but we very specifically chose to make it prescriptive non-fiction instead; a guide to dealing with the problems mental health parents face, often told through the lens of Deb's personal experience.

One thing that helped us was to ask "what are the questions we want this book to answer?" Another was "who do we want to help?"

Example: "my kid just got sent home from school for saying s/he wanted to kill herself. What do I do now?"

Those questions, which you will need to really think about (Deb and I spent weeks on this) are a key element to "why should someone read this book now?"

A good place to start is asking yourself  who do you want to help?

Motivational and inspirational stories are important. I'm working on one of those now. Those aren't prescriptive. They give you hope, not a list of tips or strategies.

If your book is motivational or inspirational, you're going to need a really big hook if you want a trade publishing deal.

But let me say this again cause it's so very important: often the stories people tell about their lives are NOT suitable for trade publishing but they are essential candles in the dark. You don't have to sell 10,000 copies to be a life changer for a lot of people.

Smaller presses and self-publishing may allow you to reach the 500 people who are desperate to know how you managed challenges they are now facing.

Helping 500 people is nothing to sneer at.
Helping 10 people isn't either.

Only you know the answer to the question of whether you should keep on with this project. What brings you joy? Who do you want to help?

I hope you'll find your answers and see your path clearly.

Let us know, ok?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

all this back and forth will make you crazy...and you're crazy enough already

I have one requested full out with reputable Agent A. I'm also making revisions to my manuscript after an incredibly helpful call with big-time Agent B! In full disclosure...the call with Agent B was done on a favor, but it went really well and Agent B said I should absolutely re-query once I'm done with those revisions. Perhaps Agent B was just being nice? Who knows, but my optimistic side is hoping the interest is genuine. 

The question being...I've been making revisions to my manuscript based on Agent B's notes and I'm really liking my changes. (I was wasting too much time on set up and this new revision really streamlines everything much better.) I'm wondering if I should send my updated manuscript to Agent A? My main concern here is that my updated manuscript for Agent B involves a whole new open. While I personally think the new open is better, Agent A obviously liked my old open enough to request a full manuscript...what if she doesn't like the new one? I'm finding myself in an endless back and forth battle on this question...Help! What's an anxious writer supposed to do? 

Well, first get off the rodent wheel of "what if?" It will just make you cranky and give you motion sickness.

Side note: my favorite "what if" is from a scene in The Wire (of course). Herc and Sydnor are on the rooftop, waiting for WeeBay to roll out for a drug/money run.  Herc is fretting; "what if he isn't coming? what if he already came and we missed it."

Sydnor, impatiently, says "what if your parents never  met?"

The glory of The Wire is the acting of course, and Herc (Domenick Lombardozzi) looks like he's in actual physcical pain when he considers this.

Back to you: you can fret yourself into madness, so let's take a step back and think about what your goal is.

Your goal is ALWAYS to get your best work in front of an agent.

If you think this new opening improves the novel, send it to Agent A.  You say "I've revised considerably in the last few weeks. May I send you the revised version?"

I'll lay odds that she'll be glad to see the new, spiffier version.  I know I always am.  I've had five or six revisions from more than one requested-full-writers.  More than one has withdrawn a ms to revise, and I'm ok with that too.

MY goal is to see your best possible work.
Your goal is to show me your best possible work.

If you're ever faced with a dilemma about what to do ask yourself what would accomplish both goals here, and do that.

Leave the rodent wheel for your therapy hamster.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

So, why you do NOT register copyright before publication

Yesterday Daniel Steffee asked

I was surprised to see "register copyright" at the top of the list of things not to do before getting an agent. Wouldn't copyrighting your own manuscript prevent against theft? I'm having trouble imagining the downside.


Brenda Lynn contributed
Guessing here but I expect the copyright issue is about trust. You presume that your agent will steal from you before you’ve even worked together, rather than research honorable agents. I presume there is one :)
Couldn’t resist.
It also marks you as an amateur because it means you haven’t yet figured out that every story has already been written...just not by you. How do you copyright voice?  

And Daniel then replied
Is it possible to reply to comments here? (I'm more used to Reddit than Blogspot!)

To continue the thread regarding copyright I wanted to respond to BrendaLynn: My interest in registering the copyright for a manuscript doesn't stem from fear of the agent but fear that one of my accounts gets hacked and some stranger steals the work.

Also, if I'd already copyrighted the manuscript, is that something I would need to mention early on to a potential agent?

First, yes, you can reply to comments. Generally the form is to put the person to whom you are responding on the first line in bold.

Now, to the question:

Copyright does not prevent theft, any more than car insurance prevents accidents. Copyright registration allows you to sue if someone does plagiarize your work.

But let's dig deeper:
The reason you do NOT register copyright for your book before your agent sells it to a publisher is that the publisher registers the copyright when the book is published.
It's a boilerplate clause in most publishing contracts with major houses.

Thus if you have ALREADY registered the copyright, it's not an initial registration, it's an amended registration

The copyright office charges a lot more money ($130)  for an amended registration than an initial registration ($35).

Copyright attaches at execution. You only need a registration number if you get a film deal, or if you want to sue someone.

While I'm sure some enterprising hacker might very well want to steal your brilliant unpublished work, it's far more likely they're going to lift something that's already published.

In other words, trying to protect yourself from something with a minimal chance of happening will create problems for something we hope has a far greater chance of happening (your book is acquired by a publisher.)

If by some chance you've already registered copyright, please remember to tell your agent BEFORE the contracts with the publisher are drawn up.

It's not a deal breaker,  but as with most things, it's better to be upfront about problems instead of sweeping up afterward.

Any questions?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


A friend of mine wants to connect me with a Motion Picture Lit Agent at one of the Big 5 Agencies here in LA. He specified that he's primarily an agent for screenwriting, but that he's looking to add more clients. I work in the entertainment industry, but I don't really deal with agents. Which leads me to wonder...

You've previously advised NOT to send anything to a movie studio, but is sending my novel to a Motion Picture Lit Agent in that same "don't do it!" category or is it acceptable since they're agents? Are Hollywood Agents as ruthless as I fear? Don't want to turn into shark bait here.




For starters, you don't have an agreement with any of them.
Sending it cold is useless.
Most likely they won't look at it since film guys don't look at material that arrives in the slush.

Worse, odds are they won't respond  and you'll be left with having to explain you sent it but heard nothing to your AGENT.

Who is going to silently screem when you tell her about this.

When film agents want books, they generally leave out this qualifier: published books that have done well. But that is indeed what they are looking for.

Here's the list of things you do NOT want to do before querying an agent:

1. Register copyright
2. Solicit blurbs
3. Send to a movie/film agent
4. Send to an editor at a publishing company
5. Self publish

Any questions?