Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Monday, September 26, 2016

Dixie Dupree writing contest finalists! WINNER

And once again, the winner of the Steve Forti Amazing Word Prompt Machinations is Steve Forti himeself. 10:25am

My parents called me Worm. Said I was the wriggliest baby they’ve ever seen. Dropped me so much it wasn’t worth the effort to pick me back up. Or do anything for me, really. A burden under heel even before I could crawl.

Spilled her chamomile tea on my arm, made me ride my bike to the burn unit. Burst my appendix, I even had to call the ambulance myself.

Never fathomed I’d amount to much. Maybe they were right. But at least now I’m not the one under heel.

Pops it in reverse. Bump. Bump.

Or rather, under wheel.

Special recognition for a great phrase
Marie McKay 10:28am
Home smells of cat pee and cheap perfume, and everything is the colour of used.

An exquisite  pirouette of expectations
Beth 10:56am
“What have we here?” Dixie’s thin-lipped warden inspected the bag. “Broccoli, seven-grain bread, fresh fruit.” A rare smile appeared. “Good to see you’re finally eating healthy, Mom.”

Megan Laughman 8:57am

Brady was a boy at eleven; now at seventeen he was just shy of becoming a woman.

This isn't quite a story yet, but it's the start of a fun one!

Rene Saenger 10:16pm


Fred the Dragon heard the child’s call. He turned and saw a small dog chasing butterflies.

Fred swooped down and caught the dog. He walked over to the little girl keeping his expression neutral. His smile often frightened humans.

The little girl reached out and Fred handed Dixie over.

“My name’s Breleven. Mom says dragons are mean, but you’re nice.”

He smiled.

“Will you walk me home?” she asked. “Can we be friends?”

“Someday – when humans aren’t afraid of dragons,” he said, breathing fire on a bundle of sticks to light her way home.

“I’m not afraid,” she said.

this isn't quite a story, but I love it very much

CynthiaMc 10:16pm
We must've looked like easy targets - three old ladies laughing, holding each other up as we headed down the deserted street after Homecoming at Southern Miss.

One moment we were swapping lies. The next we were looking at the guy with the gun pointed at us.

It was way after eleven and I was two hurricanes over the legal limit for dealing with this nonsense.

"On one," I said.

Three perfectly timed kicks to tender parts of his anatomy put him out of our misery.

We are Dixie Darlings - Rockettes of the Gridiron.

Still kicking after all these years.

Here are the finalists:

Jennifer R. Donohue 9:00am
First we were twelve, then eleven, bodies counting down like moments on the hour.

Ten. Nine.

Every new place, new names. Lies are our sustenance. Our purpose varies, based on payment.

Eight. Seven.

Clandestine drinks in airport bars, a nod on a city street. There is no home port.

Six. Five. Four.

Inscrutable messages from those who fell before. Disjointed sound clips, scratching through speakers in the blue hours of dawn.

Three. Two.

I’m the last, left holding the puzzle pieces of our lives. No edges. No corners.

Too late, I know. The one who comes for us whistles Dixie.

When I talk about rhythm in a story, or in a sentence, this entry is what I mean. 
I don't exactly understand this story, but I like it.

Linda Strader 9:02am
Who knew it would take eleven lies to make me run home to mom down in Dixie? The eleventh was the one that made my insides turn right-side-out, so what else could I do?

The bus ride was long, smelling of stale men and soiled babies. Perfume that had gone off hung like smoke around the woman next to me.

Home meant apple pies and deep red raspberries, warm hugs, and non-judgmental talks.

“I’m fine, hon,” mom said, offering me a pie slice.

Lie number twelve. I had much to do here.

Oh boy, how I love those twists that change the whole meaning of a story! In this case of course, I assumed  the "eleven lies" were something the narrator had been told by a boyfriend/spouse. 

And that second paragraph is as perfect a description as we've seen here in some time. It's brilliant.

And then the end. Oh boy. This is a perfect story.

lizosisek 9:11am

times she said I warned her not to text while driving
vertebrae shattered
minutes for her to bleed out
times I actually warned her not to text while driving
stitches to patch up the other driver
people told me they saw her with Dixie
characters in her unsent text – omw lo
lies she told me before going out
days since she said, “I’m gay,” and I said, “You’re sixteen.”
minutes from home when she ran the light
childless mom who’d let her marry Dixie if it brought her back.

Here's a box of tissue. I'll wait. No, wait, give it back, I need it too.
This uses rhythm to convey tone. Reading it is like being inside a bass drum, you're literally
vibrating with the beats of the sentences.

Mark Thurber 10:11am
Di Xieyan applies brush to paper. As a girl she loved landscape painting, but her mom pushed her into sports. She was good at them, and even better at flying.

There are no trees to paint here, but the ridge outside and lustrous orb above it are subjects enough.

Her companion looks on. “It is good, Colonel Di,” he says.

Di exits the lander of Jingpeng 8, China’s Apollo Eleven. She bounds to the ridge and plants the tripod holding her painting. Let the Americans leave golf balls. The first Chinese visitors would leave art.

“Let’s go home, Major Zhang.”

I can't tell you how much I love the idea of marking explorations with art. And of course, the clever use of the prompt word Dixie makes me very very happy.

Colin Smith 10:19am
"Home is where the heart lies," Mom always said.

I took her meaning from the way she ironed our clothes for school. The way she made sure we had a hot meal every night. The way she kissed and fussed over Dad when he came home from work. The way she made sure we brushed our teeth and rinsed our mouths with Dixie cups of water before bed.

Then she was gone.

June eleventh.

She left a note. Said she’d had enough, said she was following her dream.

"Home is where the heart lies."

I guess I misunderstood her meaning.

The only thing I would edit here is leaving off the last sentence. Let the reader make that "aha!" realization of the other definition of "lies."  Trust your reader to get it.

Rosanna M 12:04pm
I wanted to see the rabbits in kindergarten,
Dad explained we’d moved to Cedar Rapids.

I ran away to Dixieland at seven,
Dad flew me to see Mickey the next year.

I picked fruit flies from smuggled wine at a shleepover,
Dad dragged me home at eleven.

I drove my rust bucket to college,
Dad followed me Justin Case.

I married my soul mate in Maui,
Dad walked me down the isle.

I checked into the hospital, a patient,
Dad paced the hallway, impatient.

I placed my son in his arms,
Grandpa—the best mom a girl ever had.

This entry took me three reads to fully get it.

Cedar Rapids/rabbits didn't reveal itself till this morning!
At first I thought "shleepover" was a typo. Then I thought it might be on purpose: slurring

And "Dad walked me down the isle" instead of aisle, that I wondered about. Was it on purpose? I see a lot of these homonyms that aren't. I'm always tempted to see it as an error.

But, I love the whole idea of this story, and the punchline is perfect. I decided to trust the writer: these aren't typos, they're chosen for effect.

I think there is real bravery in taking risks like this.  Bravery can't be taught or revised. You gotta do it on your own.

S.D.King 4:06pm
Aunt Dixie never had kids, a real job, or a skirt longer than eleven inches.

Mom’s twin. None of Mom’s executive suite polish.

Dixie? Babysit me? Other way 'round, I think.

“Sis’s in a pinch,” Dixie said squealing from my private school lot.

The Walmart run for Lucky Strikes was a Tilt-a-Whirl ride. Then instead of heading home, she hit the interstate.

“Tired of the lies, kid.”

“Me? Lie? I’m an honor student.”

“Not anymore.”

She pulled over, unzipped her pants, pulled up her shirt.

“See that?” Stretch marks covered her wrinkly abdomen.

“Time for you to come home.”

That first line knocked my sox clean off.
I like the idea for this story a lot. And boy oh boy, do I wonder what happens next!

Since my brain has been affected by paint fumes this weekend, I'm just going to sit over here on the snot-green couch for a minute (or ten) and let y'all  weigh in with your opinions.

Final results by the end of the day. Slinking in to the office should help to clear my head!

It took me a while to figure out the winner.
The entries were all amazing in their own right, and all together are an awesome display of talent. Quite a number of very good entries didn't even make this list too.  Ya'll are just getting better and better at tormenting me.

This week's winner, chosen for both great writing, and taking big risks is Rosanna M.  

Rosanna, if you'll email me with your preferred mailing address, I'll have our very own Donnaeve send you a PERSONALIZED copy of The Education of Dixie Dupree.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write entries. It's a real pleasure to read your writing.

Sunday, September 25, 2016


I'm sorry to report the week in review is hiding.
Well, truthfully, everything in this apartment is hiding right now.

Yes, I Am Painting this weekend, and the books are cowering under the duvet; the couch is hiding on the fire escape; the fire escape is searching for a wrench to unhinge itself from the building; the local booze delivery service is on speed dial.

This may be a selfie

or this

If I don't paint myself into a corner (Vegas oddsmakers list this as 5:1) I'll be back on Monday.

While I'm watching paint dry (and this is a lot more fun than I was led to believe) I'm reading a terrific new novel by Nicholas Petrie: Burning Bright.  It's available for pre-order on Amazon.  It has the best opening chapter I've ever read. EVER.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Dixie Dupree writing contest

Our very own Donnaeve has a book coming out soon, and it's been selected for the Indie Next list which in case you are Donna didn't know,  IS A BIG DEAL!

Indie Next titles are chosen by independent bookstores and get special recognition and promotion. There are in-store displays, signage and advertising.  It's the kind of thing that gets a book in front of more eyeballs, and thus, we hope, into more reader's hands.

To help Donna celebrate this lovely accolade, we're going to have a flash ficiton contest and Even Better: the prize is a copy of The Education of Dixie Dupree.  Trust me, you Want That Book.

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: Dixie/Dixiecrat is ok but home/holmes 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 the prize 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: Saturday 9/24/16 at 8:57am (EDT)

Contest closes: Sunday, 9/25/16 at 9am (EDT)

If you're wondering how much time you have before the contest closes: click here.

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 closed!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pubbing soon?

I've said it before, let me say it again now: Dana Kaye is the best.

If you've got a book coming out in the next year, Dana's new book is a must read.

I bought a carton of them, and I'm sending one to each of my authors. That's how much I believe in the message of this books.

I'd show you the books, but our conference table was full of some of the brand management we're doing here at New Leaf!

Yes, those are four hundred signed bookmarks, and soon to be numbered!

Laird Barron has a devoted fan base and it's fun to do special little things for them. Signed, limited edition bookmarks, numbered too, will be available for Swift To Chase!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Rant: dissing agents in public

Dear Sir,

I write in reply to your blog post about your pitch session at the Austin Writers League. (At the request of the agent mentioned in that piece, I am not linking to it now.)

You've queried me in the past. [I'm sure I must be rejection #something in that long list you have. I didn't actually try to find what you said about me.]

I thought you were a good writer. You didn't happen to be writing books I wanted to take on, but that doesn't mean I thought you weren't good.

And you and I agree about the insanity of pitch sessions at conferences. You're right that asking someone to describe their writing, rather than just show you a page is nuts. In fact, I couldn't agree more.

If only, if ONLY, you'd left it at that. I would have cheered you on as a comrade in arms in the War On Pitching.

But then, you must have let your evil twin out for a spin. Is there any other explanation for your casual dismissal of Liza Dawson Associates (an agency respected by the entire publishing industry) and the agent you were meeting with?

If it wasn't your evil twin, you must believe it is not only acceptable, but witty to comment snidely on a professional woman's appearance and attire. Perhaps in your day (you do after all describe yourself as 'old') it was, but let me assure you, that day has passed. You can certainly do it, but women have found their voices (that was sometime in the 70's in case you weren't paying attention) and they have this cool new thing called social media that works like a megaphone. You can say whatever you want, but they're going to respond with a volume unlike anything you've ever heard before. And they are going to call you to answer for this unseemly behaviour.

There is a much quieter sound now as well: the sound of a thousand doors closing. One of those doors is mine. Up until yesterday when I saw your blog post, I would have read and carefully considered a query from you. Like the agent you so snidely dismissed I too read all my queries (and don't remember individual ones when asked about them weeks later at a conference.) As I mentioned above I think you're a good writer.

But now, your name is flagged as "divert" by my spam filter. You've joined the list of writers I won't ever hear from again.

This won't end your publishing career. It may even give you some notoriety you can trade on for a while. But is this really the writing you want to be known for? The snide digs and curled lipped derision that only highlights what you're truly feeling? Rejections sucketh mightily, verily it does, and assuaging that pain by throwing stones at the person doing the rejecting might feel good in the short run.

But when you throw stones these days, all you do is provide return ammunition for your target. You're about to find out what that feels like I fear. I'm sorry to see this happen because good writers aren't all that easy to come by. Unfortunately for you, I prefer my clients to be good writers and good people. One out of two is not a passing score.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The value of contest judge's notes in queries

First, some background – When I went back to my writing, I produced something totally different – a YA novel. (Gosh I’m sorry you don’t rep YA, but I digress…) Querying, as always, has been quite miserable. At first, I got a couple of requests, lots of silence, and one bite: an agent I met at a conference asked for the manuscript. I ended up doing an R&R for her, but while she was very complementary of the book, she still rejected it. After that crushing blow, I queried to more silence and had to wonder if I would ever find an agent (the crushing blow became an existential blow).

Enter the BookLife Prize for Fiction – an arm of Publisher’s Weekly. For the contest, they will read your entire self-published book or unpublished manuscript, give you a review, and if you do well, you proceed in the contest. I figured this might be a way to get that neutral feedback I desperately needed after the existential R&R blow. So I coughed up the $99 for the entry fee (although it sounds steep, it’s comparable to the Writer’s Digest contest for self-pubbed authors). The review was really favorable. But being the insecure writer (i.e. the writer), I wasn’t sure what to make of it. So I got in touch with BookLife and asked, “Is this a good review, or do you say nice things about everyone?” Answer (to paraphrase): No, it’s not a good review, it’s a GREAT review (you idiot!). Congratulations! And since we don’t give everyone this kind of review, you might actually make it to next round of top ten for YA.

OK, so now, finally, here’s my question: Should I consider including any part of the review from BookLife in my query letter? Might an agent care that BookLife said the novel had “fully realized characters, crisp dialogue, excellent pacing, and a satisfying conclusion?” Or do I just look like an idiot for entering this contest?

Or maybe I only get to include an excerpt of the review if I get to the next round in the judging?

It will surprise none of you reading this to know that I don't care what anyone else says about your book, up to and including my sainted mum. The only opinion that matters is mine.  So, for a query to me, you don't need to include anything anyone else said, including a nice review from the judges for this prize.

The value of this contest for you is not the blurb it gives you, it's the confidence. You now know that you don't sucketh mightily. You have the review to prove it.  Paste that thing above your computer screen and read as often as needed to slay those writerly doubts.

There are some agents however who might want to hear about this kind of review.  You'd include it in your query letter with the paragraph that has your bio and pub credits. You'd say I entered this novel in the BookLife Prize for Fiction and reviewers said the novel had “fully realized characters, crisp dialogue, excellent pacing, and a satisfying conclusion.”

Generally however, you don't need to do this. Most agents who want what they call blurbs are looking for big-name authors that they can, in turn, use to pitch the project to editors. Contest reviews aren't useful for that at all. 

Monday, September 19, 2016


One of the biggest problems in high-octane, page turning thrillers is pacing.

Often the action unfolds too slowly, or too quickly.

Counter-intuitively, the climactic action scenes take longer on the page than less climactic scenes. We talked about this in the context of one of my favorite movies, Heat, some time back.

Recently I've noticed a tendency for writers to interrupt early action scenes with explanations. How the main character got to this place; how s/he knows that snake venom will slay zombies; how s/he learned what is needed to fend off a shark attack.

None of  the info about how you learned to fend off sharks is needed in a scene where you're actually fending off sharks. Action means just that: ACTION. Save all the explanations for later.

In fact, after Our Hero/ine slays the zombie and fends off the shark, you'll need a break in the pace, and that's a great time for one of the other characters to say "hey, how did you know that about snake venom?" and get the info in that way.

Exposition and backstory have a place in thrillers; I'm not saying they don't. But they need to bracket the action, the high octane scenes, or they'll kill the pacing.

I would estimate that of the fifty or so manuscripts I've requested in the last twelve months, at least half have had pacing issues.  I recall agent Jenny Bent tweeting something like that stat as well.

So, how do you fix this?  One of the tricks of the trade I hear from my clients is that writing the book as a screenplay helped with pacing a lot.

Watch how writers you admire get the pacing right, and then do as they do.

I'm sure the comment column will have some good suggestions as well.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Week in Review 9/18/16

Welcome to the week that was.

Last Sunday started with the remembrance of 9/11. We will never forget, and many of you shared how you heard the news and the impact it's had on you.

Later in the day we had the week in review.

Jenny Chou cracked me up with this comment, in  response to my joke about auto-audio on websites:
I would comment but I have to get back to my new YA project about a teen Mozart rising from the dead as a tool of the devil to add auto-audio to websites and the 17 year-old hacker who is torn between her upstanding boyfriend and her secret passion for the long-dead composer.

All I can say is thank goodness I do not rep YA!

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale, sent me to the dictionary with this:
I used chthonic in a query today. It was the perfect word and I hope it doesn't throw any agents.
If I see a word I don't know in a query, and it's not a query full of misspellings, I look it up. I did look this up, and my initial idea (that it was related somehow to Cthulhu) was wrong!

Sam Hawke said:
>And when I tell you that suicide is the third leading cause of death among children 12 >and younger. (YOUNGER, not older!) I hope you'd want a source for that cause I still >can't believe it and it's true.

It took me more attempts than I'd like to admit to have gotten past that sentence. Is that really, really, true? I don't want that to be true.

Yes. The book I just sold that used that stat is to help parents of children with these kinds of mental health problems. My client's son expressed a desire to end his life when he was four.

I thank God that he is alive and doing well today, in large part to his family's steadfast devotion to getting him help. 

This is the kind of book that I am most proud of helping to publish. I truly believe it will save lives.

LynnRodz said
 like Sam, I was shocked to see the statistics on children's deaths. Who would've thought that children that young would even consider suicide. It's horrible to imagine. I wonder, is this relatively new? Does it have to do with bullying and social media? I'm afraid to think it does. Children today may have it easier in many ways thanks to technology, but in just as many other ways, their lives are harder.
Sadly it is not new.  Bullying and social media are certainly problems but this book is more about children with severe mental health issues.

Monday's post was prompted by Julie Weathers comment on an editor dismissing her work due to poor research.  Sometimes an agent or an editor is just plain wrong, as in this case.

nightsmusic really nailed it with this:
There are stupid people in every profession. And there will always be someone out there who will profess to know more than you do. Be confident in your research and (silently) tell them to go screw themselves.

This from Jenny Chou had me reaching for my smelling salts:
Julie - I write about jewel thieves. Yes, I know stealing is illegal and that it's not very nice to take things that belong to others. I specifically told my kids that just because Mom writes about thieves doesn't make it okay for them to steal. (They rolled their eyes) While I was querying I received quite a few rejections saying my character's behavior and chosen profession made them unlikable. That was hard to take. Personally, I like stories about people who lie and cheat and steal because I'm curious to find out their reasons and view the world from a different perspective. Luckily, I finally found an agent who loves heist novels and my characters. I really hope you find your perfect agent, too, so we can all enjoy reading your Civil War story.

Good gravy train! The only books I like to read are about people doing bad things for interesting reasons. Clearly those agents were idiots. Yes, you can quote me.

Jennifer R. Donohue said
Only once has somebody said to me "I feel like this is X's story, not Y the way you wrote it" and I thought they were right. That story is still in rewrites, because sometimes that's my life, but my main point is sometimes those comments make sense and other times they're bulldrek.
Very true. There's a big difference between "you're wrong, you didn't research" and "this story feels like it's from the wrong perspective." I'm on a campaign to remove "I think" and "I feel" from my female compatriot's writings (particularly in business letters) but in this case, it's better to use that than not. It is an opinion. It is subjective. And it's someone's creative work. All good reasons not to make concrete statements.

I really like what Lucie Witt said here:
I think it's important to distinguish topic from premise.

Generally speaking no topic should be off limits. The premise, however, might be a hot garbage fire.

Let's take a recent example from the romance community.

Topic: German and Jewish person falling in love during WW2

Premise: a Jewish woman at a concentration camp, who is special because of blonde hair/blue eyes, falls in love with a Nazi officer at the camp. She later finds Jesus and is saved literally and figuratively.

It's easy to see how the topic was tricky but potentially okay while the premise was abhorrent.

On Tuesday we talked about comp titles because youse guyz simply can't resist twisting yourselves into knots.

This, from Cheryl, cracked me up
Ugh. Every time I think about comps (which is rarely, just to entertain myself) I get confused. See, when I love a book it's because I love the writing style and so that's what I want to compare and that rarely maps well to plot or even genre. And anyway, who is ever good at analyzing their own style?

I tend to think more about influences: I read a lot of X author while writing this. I admire Y and Z authors.

And believe me, I would never mention that in a query, because someone who simultaneously wants to write like Guy Gavriel Kay and David Wong is probably someone you should think twice about signing.

Craig F said this about the fact comp titles need to be published in the last two years
Two years? I have two problems with that. First the adventurous thrillers for the past two years have been heading in a direction that I am not. The second is that for searches like that I hit the library. The branches near me don't even have three year old books on their new release table yet.

You'll be *delighted* to hear that the "no older than two years" isn't my guideline. It's the guideline given to US by the editors we're pitching to. Often they use comps in their launch meetings and they can NOT use things older than two years.

That's one of many reasons you don't put in comps. We'll figure it out on this end. Plus, we've got access to sales figures and the LAST thing you want to do is compare your book to one that tanked.

Katz said:
Bad comp titles are worse than nothing, but good comp titles really can sell your book. I got so many requests when I described my book as "Code Name Verity in Soviet Russia."

Well, yes, I want to read that knowing nothing else.

And on Wednesday, just to see how fun this would be, I posted a piece on language and diversity.

DLM's WIP sounds not only interesting but illuminating:
In my WIP right now, I am dealing with the way Theodoric the Great's image was rewritten after his death. In life, he was almost without a doubt educated. His policies were liberal and fairminded; he more than once taxed and required reparations for Jews, whose synagogues and persons were attacked in his realms. He was immensely canny, politically, and immensely proud of his Amal (so-called "barbarian") heritage, and dressed the part very purposely, of a new king of a new dynasty.

After his death, Theodoric was rewritten as a dirty Barbarian-with-a-capital-B. He has gone down in history as illiterate, which probably was not the case. This served the political expedients of those who did not care for his highly Romanized daughter's regency and eventual rule.

"Loaded" words get loaded to serve an agenda. To this *day* "barbarian" is an insult ... even as those once described by the word are forgotten in terms of their culture and society.

Claire said:
I agree wholeheartedly with almost everything you've said there, Janet - although, like Colin, I find it sad that an enquiry as to someone's ethnic origin could be seen as 'incredibly rude' no matter what the context.
Since it's most often used to imply that the person being asked is not US, but OTHER, it's hard to ask that question any more in any kind of benign way. I was sensitized to this when I worked with a young woman who had a mixed racial heritage.  And given our family has a number of people who were adopted rather than birthed into the family, it's a question that we all learned to answer with "why do you want to know?"

And I liked what Melanie Sue Bowles said here:
When I was hired as the 1st female firefighter in a large department (waaay back in the 80's), my officers and fellow firefighters spent a lot of time and energy tip-toeing around what they presumed were my female sensitivities. While I spent a lot of time convincing them, mostly by example, that the ef-bomb and various other expressions didn't offend me. There was even some formal discussion about changing the word "manning" to staffing... absurd, in my opinion, and I said so. I recall one officer saying, "Okay, guys . . . and Melanie . . ." as he ran down the list of daily duties. I would speak up and say, "I'm one of the guys!" It was a strange and interesting time as we all found our footing on this new ground.

And I liked what John Davis Frain said too, and his quote from DLM:
I try to teach my kids a simple concept: You don't get to decide what offends other people. You only get to respect their choice. And they should do the same for you.

It's different for me, however, I'm your father and this house isn't a democracy. You'll get democracy when you graduate to the real world.

I loved this from DLM:
When someone says "I am hurt", to do anything but consider their pain is, simply, selfishness. If someone feels the question "What are you" is invasive and blunt, MY DESIRE TO KNOW is automatically irrelevant.

I need to remember that advice, because MY DESIRE TO KNOW guides me too far sometimes, and instead of listening to an answer and observing body language, I'm gearing up for my next question.

Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts here. My guess is there are some thoughts being held back because this is such a mammoth topic.

And Adib Khorram says it beautifully here:
It seems I missed a great discussion while I was flying halfway across the world. Hello from Cyprus! I would have been here earlier but Air Force One had priority on the tarmac in Philadelphia.

With a name like mine, I have been on the receiving end of "Where are you from?" More times than I can count. For me the problem is not the asking, it's when the answer I choose (usually Kansas City) is not sufficient. My background is mine to disclose, not yours to demand, which is how it can come across.

Most people mean it innocently and I give them the benefit of the doubt most of the time. But if can get exhausting.

And this from kdjames was terrific:
Anyway, it reminded me of my dad's approach to telling jokes. I grew up hearing a lot, and I mean A LOT, of jokes about Norwegians and Swedes (my ancestry). Ole and Lena, or Sven and Ole. It wasn't until I was much older, maybe college age, that I began to hear some of those exact same jokes, only they were about "polaks" or Jews or black people. It was a stunning realization. So I asked my dad about it. He said if you could take a joke about some other ethnicity/culture and tell it about your own, and it was still funny, then it was truly a funny joke. Otherwise, it was not and you should think about why you were telling it.

And yes, I know some hilarious Sven and Lena jokes, and they are funny when they're about  Maria and Pedro, and Hortense and Humphrey, and Leia and Han, and even Adam and Steve.

This was a really interesting discussion and 141 comments later I'm left with the idea that our experiences inform our world view of course, but the danger is in not realizing that other people experience things much differently. Their world view, informed by their experiences isn't wrong, any more than mine is. 

On Thursday the topic was new agents, and how they earned a living during the years they're building a list

E. M. Goldsmith said:
How do I find out if shiny new agent is within 6 feet of your fin, my sharkly queen? That seems a reasonable standard for risking an unseasoned agent. If adorable new agent makes an offer, can we request they begin swimming within six feet of QOTKU's fin? Is "do you know who Janet Reid?" is an unreasonable question to ask an agent during "the call"? Ok, that would not sound kind to new agent, but how do you find out if new agent has that caliber of expert support behind them?

It would be rather awesome to be the writer that put a shiny new agent on the map so to speak.

well, if they work at New Leaf, they're sitting pretty close to me! And yes, it's ok to ask a new agent about the other agents in her/his office and how much help s/he gets. I'd be leery of an agent who's not IN the office with her mentor. Remote agenting is hard enough for experienced agents, and I think it's a serious disadvantage for the ones just starting out. I'm pretty sure there's a variety of opinions on that of course, but that's mine.

I liked what Lucie Witt said here:
Like Sam I signed with a newer agent. There were also new agents I struck from my query list, like Julie. Here's how I made my way through the decision:

While making my query list - I checked if the agency was well established. I checked if the newbie agent had intern experience or other valid pub experience. Yes to both and they went on my list.

During the call: I straight up asked about agency support and how closely she worked with her peers. I asked detailed contract questions (found in the Treasure Chest maintained by Colin) and paid attention to how well she could answer on her own.

Like so many things in writing and life, pay attention to your gut instincts.

And this was fun to read from Aurora:
I usually just lurk, but I wanted to comment here because the timing of this post couldn't have been better for me. I just received an offer of representation from a SNA, and all of your thoughts did wonders to help me figure out the pros and cons of the situation and figure out what the best decision would be.

(As it turns out, the SNA in question has an agenting pedigree that can be traced directly back to La Sharquesa herself (aka QOTKU), so I know I'm in good hands. I think I'll most likely accept the offer.)
I love the phrase "agenting pedigree"!

On Friday I talked about some of the reasons queries didn't get to yes recently:

I should start by saying that these are not the ONLY reasons I didn't ask for a full manuscript. I heard from one querier who had received a pass and wanted to know which of the six reasons was hers. In fact, none of them were about her query. I should probably make that more clear on these posts given what I know about you woodland creatures.

CarolynnWith2Ns cracked me up completely with this
    Six reasons I said no to an agent recently.

    1.Agent is okay but about as captivating as Sleepy on a Nyquil overdose.

    2.Agent only handles how-to books for preschoolers.

    3.Agent accepts only over the transom snail mail queries February, 29th thru 31st.

    4.Signing with agent is so unappetizing it requires a celebration party of Saltines           and Pepto-Bismol.

    5.Agent thinks Merriam Webster is a New Jersey housewife.

    6.Agent’s favorite song is Bruno Mars Uptown Funk and Wagnall.

And it was lovely to hear from luciakaku:
I'm alive! And still reading the blog, just lurking because man, moving to the other side of the globe is a lot of work. >.<

And this sentence from Julie Weathers stopped me dead in my tracks, only to scroll UP to see what had prompted it:
Joseph, I wish we lived closer. I would happily beat you.

Saturday was back to our pet pictures.

I'm not sure I'll ever fully recover from this visual provided by Kitty

When my daughter, Nurse G, had moved into her own place, she bought an iguana that was 5 feet long and named it Kalibanos (after the Raul Julia character in the 1982 movie TEMPEST). One day Kalibanos decided he wanted some exercise and jumped out a second floor window. Running through a neighborhood chasing after a large lizard looks like pretty much like the komodo dragon scene from the movie THE FRESHMAN.
 I gotta tell ya, I watched that clip this morning, and it's 8:12am, I'm bleery-eyed and swilling coffee, and laughing so loud I'm afraid I'll disturb the neighbors.  My favorite part has to be either the elevator or the mall announcement about the owners.  Watch it. Five minutes. 

This sentence from nightsmusic should be the prompt for a writing contest.
Killer now spends his days hanging by the glass, watching me. Like I'm his next meal.
I was really surprised by how many of you had hermit crab experiences to share!

And this from Dena Pawling bears repeating:
Last Friday morning, the lady across the street from me [I'll call her Mom] discovered her oven was on fire. She shouted at her girls [ages 5 and 10] to grab the dog and go stand by the mailbox.

PSA#1 – have a plan and be sure everyone knows what it is.

In the heat [pun not intended] of the moment, Mom forgot about the fire extinguisher in the kitchen, so she ran to the garage to retrieve that one.

PSA#2 – know where your extinguishers are.

She returned to the house less than 60 seconds later, to discover the fire had run across the ceiling and was now in the living room. She abandoned the fire extinguisher and ran outside [in her pajamas] to join her girls.

PSA#3 – it's not recommended to sleep naked.

The fire department showed up in less than 5 minutes, with no less than 4 trucks.

PSA#4 – sometimes it's beneficial to live in an area known for fires.

The fire was knocked down within 10 minutes.

PSA#5 – Firefighters are awesome.

The house is now red-tagged and surrounded by yellow “keep out” tape. The neighbors have donated money, clothes, toys, school supplies, storage boxes, and labor. The family is now staying with relatives.

Dad was at the house over the weekend, seeing what else he could salvage. With a major effort at keeping his composure, he told me that the one major nice thing that happened last Friday, was he always knew his neighbors were “neighborly”, but now he learned just how wonderful his neighbors were.

PSA#6 – be a good neighbor. You might make someone's entire day/month/year.

The insurance adjuster came out yesterday [one business day later. State Farm is quick] and indicated that even tho in the front, all that's noticeable is a black smoke stain around the front door, the house might be a tear-down.

PSA#7 – fires move FAST, even a “simple kitchen fire”, plus don't forget the smoke and water damage.

Mom and Dad rented that house from Mom's parents. The girls' bedrooms were on the opposite side of the house from the kitchen, so altho they lost much of their possessions, some were salvageable. Mom and Dad lost ALL of their furniture, clothes, and other possessions.

PSA#8 – buy renter's insurance.

Stay safe!

And for those of you waking to news of an explosion in Chelsea, first let me say I'm fine, and everyone I know is fine. The location of the explosion is about six blocks from my old office at FPLM so very familiar to me. I learned about it from the comments on yesterday's blog post! Yes I read the blog before I read the news. I'm not sure what that says about me.

Thanks to all of you who reached out via Twitter or email to ask how I was doing.

Blog subheader: I'm keeping last week's since I forgot to actually post it!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday: not just for cats anymore

Rose-Buddy (nee Rosebud!)

My daughter was excited to adopt a fiddler crab from her fourth grade classroom last spring, and carefully choose a female with 2 small claws and named her "Rosebud".

A few weeks later Rosebud molted and behold: "she" was now sporting the giant single claw of a male! My daughter felt betrayed and hollered, "I HATE my new crab!" The rest of us were amused. Neither response was probably appropriate for 2016.

However, we have grown accustomed to the change, and love Rose-Buddy and his claw waving antics.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Six reasons I said no recently

I've been keeping up with my queries of late, and here are some notes from the incoming mail that may prove useful to those of you in the Query Trenches.

1. Query was ok, but not captivating. It felt like a million things I'd seen before.

How you will avoid this: More vivid language in a query is almost always a good idea. Not MORE words, but more vivid words. If you can't look at your query and think of more vivid words to use, it's time to do some more reading in your category. Really watch for how the masters of the craft deftly convey character and plot with word choices.

2. Query for a book I didn't want to read

How you will avoid this: you won't and shouldn't. You have no way of discerning what I want to read, and if you think you do, you're wrong. You should query me for everything, and I'll figure it out on this end. What's the worst thing that will happen? You'll hear no.

3. Query did not explain any thing specific about what information the book would offer that I would find useful (this was non-fiction.)

How you will avoid this: I can not over emphasize how important it is to be specific, not abstract, with queries for non-fiction. "I will make you glamorous in 30 days" isn't helpful. "Here are ten specific things you can to do to your wardrobe to create a more polished appearance" is. See the difference. Know the difference. WRITE the difference.

4. Query described characters I found unappetizing.

How you will avoid this: Remember, your reader has to be interested in your characters. Make sure you tell us something that will entice us, not describe a sad sack who's made a series of poor choices and now the chickens have come home to roost. Some of this might be my personal impatience with people who are the engines of their own destruction (drug addicts, drunks, people who marry abusers thinking they'll change him/her) but not all.

5. Query had pages with unpublishable writing

How you will avoid this: If you're hearing a lot of NO, or great swaths of silence, it's time to get some eyes on your work. And I don't mean your crit group or your beta readers because presumably, they ok'd the pages you're sending out and thus have failed miserably in helping you understand your work isn't up to snuff. Enroll in a writing workshop, hit a conference, pay for a critique of pages. Don't just keep querying because no one is EVER going to say "your writing isn't up to snuff" in a rejection letter.

6. Query was clearly slap dash effort by someone who had spent no time learning the basics of the publishing industry. Also, nothing about the actual book.

How you will avoid this: you already have, simply by reading publishing blogs and acquainting yourselves with how querying works.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

New agents

A very famous blog always announces new agents with the intro: "New literary agents are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list."

I understand that, but what I do not understand is how new agents survive financially as they build their list and make their first sales. (Truthfully, the economics of agenting itself baffles me even for long-established agents. I mean, you would have to sell A LOT of books to survive on 15% commission. As I writer, I don't see myself ever giving up my day job.)

Many of my author friends are hesitant to query new agents because of their lack of a sales record. I admit they rank lower on my to-be-queried list than established agents. So, back to my question. How do the economics of agenting work? Are there other income streams beside commission, or do new agents also have day jobs?

Basically, I'm looking for the peace of mind that I'm not somehow harming myself by signing with a new agent.

Many younger (ie new) agents have jobs at the literary agency itself. They're the assistants, or the foreign rights agent, or the office manager.

Editors who are transitioning into agenting may have other sources of income: savings, spouses, draws against commissions.

As for the economics: remember that agents also share in the royalty income. My backlist earns just like my front list (advances) do, and steadily.

There's also the percentage we get on film, and foreign deals.

Generally no agent is going to discuss their day job or their income stream with you. If that's a deal breaker for you, query agents who've been around at least five years or more. That's the break even point, generally.

But this isn't the thing to fret about when considering an agent. What you need to know is if a new agent has the right kind of back up and support. The best young agents I know started out about six feet from my fin. They may have run into trouble once or twice, but I was generally able to help them out cause they were close at hand.  While I certainly do not take credit for their success [they earned that themselves] I do think that they avoided some snafus by having someone close at hand when they had questions or wanted guidance.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The N word

On Wednesday the NYT published a front page article about first year college students being taught about cultural sensitivity.

The question posed by a white female student was whether it was Ok to use the N-word when she was singing along to music in her car, or with a group of her friends (one assumes she would say the word because it was a lyric in a song; let's not lose track of the idea here and postulate she is rolling down her car window and yelling it to passing motorists.)

"Unequivocally no" was the answer.

As a farmhand in the field of language, a lover of words, and a struggling juggler of nuance and meaning, this kind of "unequivocal" pronouncement makes me crazy.

The article goes on to say that "you guys" as a way to address a group of mixed gendered individuals could be considered sexist.

Since I say "you guyz" all the time on this blog, I was understandably hot under the collar about this pronouncement from on high.

The reason this makes me crazy is that "rules" like this, pronouncements from the keeper of the diversity flame, actually DEFEAT the entire purpose of sensitivity training which is, or should be, to teach someone to THINK!

The reason the N-word is not used in polite conversation by civilized human beings who are NOT African-American is that we understand it is a word with an ugly history. That it has been embraced by African-Americans and reclaimed from that history is THEIR victory not mine. I don't get to use that word as though that history no longer matters.

BUT, when I listen to gangsta rap (and yes I do, and yes I love it) and I perhaps sing along in the privacy of my home, indeed I might say that word.

In the presence of other people, probably not.

And that's not because someone told me not to do it. It's because I've actually thought about this, and decided not to.

And diversity training that focuses on rules and not thinking about other people is exactly the road to that leads us to people disparaging "political correctness" rather  than embracing multi-cultural civility

It's incredibly rude to ask if you can touch anyone's hair, let alone a person of a different race. Sensitivity training should teach you WHY that is, not just not to do it.

It's incredibly rude to ask about someone's ethnic background unless you are a medical professional asking about diseases associated with certain population groups. Again, sensitive training should teach you why, not just not to do it.

When someone uses race and gender pejoratives in the political arena, sensitivity training should have taught you how to recognize them for what they are: weapons.

And it's cultural cowardice to bowdlerize Huck Finn even when we're all offended now by the language in that book. Sensitivity training should teach you why that is, not encourage it.

I was talking about this very topic with a respected colleague and she had a very interesting opinion on this, reprinted here:

You know what drives me crazy about these things? It intellectualizes connection and empathy. Sometimes conflict, getting it wrong (esp as a member of a dominant/majority group) is part of that, because you get feedback from people you offend. 

But trying to catalog every single thing that maybe will offend someone, somewhere? How effin' exhausting and futile. It misses the point so badly. Maybe the urge towards this is partly because kids are now growing up in a world where SO MUCH (most, even?) of their interactions are digital, so things like body language and facial expressions and reading the room are things they just never learn? 

But shame on the adults in these settings for not saying "Listen to people. Read books and view art that is made by people who are different than you. Get offline and fucking figure it out and if you get slapped on the wrist, make it your goal to not let defensiveness be your first reaction. You can be wrong and also not be a horrible person." Shame on them for guiding kids towards a place where they think that there's an actual list of "Things One Must Not Say" that they can just blindly follow. Which, you know, is also exactly the same as censorship.

What a horrible way to be.

Yes, punish racist rants and racist behavior! But saying "You guys" and writing swastikas in poop (WHICH REALLY HAPPENED--expel those assholes, yes!) are just not the same things. 

I realize some of you will have opinions on this which vary from mine. I welcome your comments. The only requirement is you express yourself clearly and without vitriol. Civility is enforced here, but that does NOT mean we will limit the opinions to mine, and those who agree with me.

Have at it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

More on comp titles, because honestly you Live to Torment Yourselves

You've posted several times on the subject of comparable titles, and while I am totally receptive to your points -- might do more harm than good and be sure to actually read them first -- it seems that many agents insist on them. It's like they (or their summer interns) have a check list. No comp? Delete email. Some tell me it's the first part of their pitch to editors. So here's my question:

Subquestion One: Should we be matching up our story with other stories? Or should we be matching our hooks or proposed blurbs? (Mindful that the author may not be the savviest in the blurb department -- we're too close to the story.)

Subquestion Two: Is it the kiss of death to comp to an NYT Bestseller?

Subquestion Three: If the best match is NOT an NYT Bestseller, but was written by someone with an established brand, how do I handle that? Should I say "I recognize these writers are franchises, but it's a good point of departure?" Or...

First, agents don't read queries with a checklist in mind. I'm not sure why anyone thinks that. We read a query letter like it's a letter. If you intrigue me with the story, I keep reading (ie read pages.)

Yes there are some things that can trip you up: word count that's terrifying (20K novels; 300K novels), or such bad writing that even if the concept is stellar, there's just no way to keep going (pages full of homonyms, spelling errors, confused and befuddled sentence structure.)

You're making yourself crazy here, and while I'm generally in favor of tormenting writers, I prefer to do it myself, not have you do it for me.

So, if you really think the agent you're querying wants comparable titles here's how to do it:

1. What books, published in the last two years, appealed to the readers who will like your book?

Here's how you phrase that: Lessons From the Kale Factory by Colin Smith will appeal to the readers who loved Lettuce Now Praise Famous Men by Bea Green; Peas and Quinona by Herb O'Licious; and, Meat for Murder by Agatha Crispie.

2. What books, published in the last two years, are similar in plot or tone to yours.

Here's how you phrase that: Lessons from the Kale Factory by Colin Smith evokes the story of Big Green Munching Machine by Pease N. Cues; and the atmospherics of Gunfight at the OK Bordello by Miss Kitty and Marshall Matt Dillon.

1 or 2 but NOT both in your query.

Generally you don't want to compare your book to anything that's a franchise or a multiple-book series since you're not any of those things.

But honest to godiva, you can shoot yourself in the foot so easily here I wish you'd believe me when I tell you that you do not need comps if your query is compelling enough.

Monday, September 12, 2016

When to ignore an editor or agent

Our friend Julie M. Weathers made this comment on a post last week:

I seem to be paralyzed by anxiety or something right now. I think it's a mix between a critique I got from an editor that shouldn't bother me, but does, the time of year, and some recurring comments about whether I really think a Civil War book written from the "wrong" perspective will have any appeal. "You do know the south lost the war, don't you?"

Well, yes, I think I read that somewhere. I'm sure if I were writing about a female Union spy everything would be hunky dorey. Unfortunately, that's not the story I was given.

If the editor had told me I couldn't write, I don't think it would have bothered me. But, "If you can't do basic research on this period, write something else." hit me between the eyes. I've been pretty meticulous about my research and the whole thing boils down to fact is stranger than fiction.

There are times when I want to wring editors' and agents' necks for this kind of off-the-cuff, surly note.

The idea that there is a "wrong" perspective on the Civil War is ludicrous. There are lots of stories yet to be told about this great American tragedy and if an editor is so poorly educated as to not realize that, well s/he should turn in their sheepskin.

If anything, the perspective that ISN'T often heard is the one I'm most interested in.

It reminds me of the exhibit at the Met of armored horses in Europe.

The full exhibit is of six of these armored horses all together, facing you as you walk through the door.

Now, imagine you live in what we now call Mexico about five hundred years ago. You live in a village with people who look like you, and you trade with people who look like you.

You hear rumors of strange creatures coming up the river.  One day, you're fishing and you look up and see something you've never seen before. A giant beast, with a rock man on top, coming toward you. You've never heard noise like this before in your life, or seen anything like these creatures.

When we imagine aliens arriving on earth, that's exactly what the people of meso-America thought when the Spaniards arrived.

Now, which perspective sounds more interesting? The Spanish invaders, or the people seeing aliens arrive?

All this to say: editors and agents can be wrong. I've been wrong. I hope it's not often but I'm sure I have been.

And I don't mean about subjective things of whether I liked a book or not, but about what I think will sell, or what would make a good book.

Part of the process of being a writer for publication is learning when to NOT pay attention to what an editor tells you.

I have this discussion with my clients fairly often. When we get rejections on projects, we go over the reasons pretty carefully. Sometimes those reasons will help us spot a flaw in the proposal or novel. And sometimes, the opinion is just wrong.

Agents and editors are not endowed with clarity of vision. We're muddling through like everyone else. Yes, we have more experience and yes, most of us have years of reading and some scholarship to inform our world view but that isn't a guarantee of perfection vision. Would that it were!

So, know your strengths and have confidence in them.
And know when to say "fuck off" to someone who's intent on making you feel something other than respected.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Week in Review 9/11/16

Today is of course the 15th year since 9/11/01 and I debated whether to postpone the WIR until Monday out of respect. Then I realized that the best way to honor the people who perished on that terrible day was to do something I loved, in this city that will never surrender to fear, and live fully and joyously while remembering those whose lives were cut short.

So, if you will join me, at the moment you read this, in remembering those lost lives.  Renew your vow to live fully, to cherish every single day you've been given, knowing that the families of the fallen would give everything they had for just one more day with their lost.

And this was the week that was.

Monday's topic was the flash fiction contest, and wasn't it fun to get back to those! I know I certainly missed reading contest entries during the hiatus.

On Tuesday we discussed the fact that a writer needs a website before querying but does NOT need the website to function as "platform". You do NOT need platform to query a novel.

AAGreene asked
I'm curious what one looks for on a writer's website before they're published. If there's not an updated blog, what would you want to see? Or is the fact that one exists proof that the writer is on his/her way toward building that platform?
If I look at a writer's website at the query stage it's usually to verify info in the query. Writers who say "this is my fifth published book" lead me to ask "who published the other four?" If a writer says "my first novel was published by BigAssPublisher" I look for who sold it because generally you need an agent for that kind of deal.

I don't have a check list of things I look for, but I do look for info that isn't in the query.

And clever beasts that you are, I can hear you thinking "well, I just won't post that info on my website" but that will NOT divert me. I'll look for the info on Amazon if I don't find it on your site.

On Wednesday, the post was on how to jump into the comment column.

Ovidia Yu said
Thank you for this post! I've been chicken-lurking for some time but have learned so much! What I like more than any of your literary business tips is your honesty and attitude--shark scary yes! But the glimpses you offer show up my even more ridiculous fears for the nonsense they are. (eg if I write a bad query letter to an agent and get turned down because I used the wrong colour paper, every other agent present and future will Know and all future queries will be laughed at...) I meant to leave a 'thank you' comment when I got an agent and a book deal (!!!) but wanted to wait till I set up my website. Which I'm still stuck at. But I'm working on it!

I love the phrase chicken lurking! And I think these are the exact fears everyone starts with. I'm glad to hear they were assuaged, and even more that you got a book deal!! Huzzah!

Colin Smith brought up a good point about how to talk about upcoming books/book deals.
 What do you consider the difference between posting a link to a promo site for your book, and posting a link to Donna's Upcoming Novel Available to Pre-Order HERE?

I've been very impressed by the restraint shown by commenters NOT just posting links to upcoming books. I think we've all seen first hand that it's much more effective if someone else is doing the cheerleading for your book. BUT we all want to know book news from our friends here, so linking to a website with info about a book deal is fine.

I of course reserve the right to delete any comments that have links going to places I'm not comfortable sending my readers. A link on this blog can be seen as tacit approval by me, and I'm pretty careful about that. Reader trust is a very precious thing and I'm not going to fuck around with it.

If you're concerned about whether something should be posted in the comment column, it's always ok to drop me an email and ask.

MA Hudson said
I started commenting relatively recently and I've gotta say, I usually feel like I'm talking gobbledegook into a loud hailer. And then there's the overwhelming fear of making a spelling mistake or grammatical error that results in Janet striking my name from a secret (literary) agents' list of potentially publishable people.
Still, I'm persevering in the hope that practice makes acceptable, and because I'm hugely grateful for all the knowledge I've gleaned from Janet's blogs and from other commenters.

I'm actually laughing out loud at the idea that I have a secret list of people who make spelling mistakes in the comment column! Have you seen the typos people have to catch for me?? Some days it's more than five!

Pot calling the kettle black, yes that's exactly what it would be!

But, there's also a rule here that is pretty much followed faithfully and that is, no one is allowed to comment on another commenter's spelling or grammar. I've seen those kinds of comments on other sites, and they are almost always used to shame someone rather than continue a discussion or make a valid point. I prefer that not happen here. So far, I've not seen any, and I'm quite glad of it.

Adele's comment here made my hair stand on end!
Just in case a lurker has the same problem I did:

For a long time I would post a comment, the little comment note would say something like "your comment has been saved and will be published after moderator approval" and guess what - the comment didn't ever show up. So I knew Janet had me in her sights. Janet didn't like me. Sniff. Janet was making sure even the mildest comment was thrown straight into the ethereal garbage can. Janet was really spending a lot of energy on muzzling me. I had no idea what I had done.

I thought that maybe there might have possibly been times when I had expressed an opinion that might not have been totally acceptable by every member of the community - gosh, that's a lot of hedging - but every day I read lots of other people saying things straight out, and they got their posts up.

I wondered what their secret was. Was the blog restricted to Janet's personal friends? Perhaps restricted to her clients? Why didn't she just say so? I wanted to ask but how could I since none of my comments got onto the blog. Sigh.

Then I got a Google ID and all of a sudden my problems went away. Turns out it wasn't Janet at all. I just wasn't acceptable in the mists of cyberspace, and cyberspace, as usual, wasn't letting me know.

I've added a note on the comment posting pop up that will help new readers, I hope! I'm horrified to hear anyone thought they were being deleted for no reason! ACK!!!!

On Thursday we talked about including "helpful" links to explain things in your query letter. (Do Not Do This!)

BJMuntain asked:
Are links the new glitter?

YES! That's exactly right!

abnormalalien (Jamie A. Elias) said:
Now, if I'm reading something online and I see pop-ups, autoplay videos, or excessive links, I run off to find a site with more manners.

I love that phrase "a site with more manners." It captures my feelings perfectly.

Colin asked:
Have you ever seen a great query that uses footnotes to explain things? It seems to me that a good query will be self-contained--kind of like our 100 word stories should be in the contests. If the Agent is intrigued enough, s/he will look up the references s/he doesn't get (or doesn't think s/he gets, and then discovers s/he does get them, and is pleasantly surprised--so much so s/he requests a full... or something like that). If the Agent isn't wowed by the query, I imagine s/he won't care about what s/he doesn't get, and won't waste precious query-reading time Googling things for a query s/he's going to form reject anyway.

Actually I have but it's for non-fiction, and it's generally when the author needs to let me know when "truth is stranger than fiction." It's easy to assume that the writer is making a mistake if they tell you something that goes contrary to popular truth. When they're not, a footnote (or endnote) is useful.

For example, a book I just sold has a statistic about the number of children who have mental health issues. It's a pretty daunting number, so the source for that info was footnoted.

And when I tell you that suicide is the third leading cause of death among children 12 and younger. (YOUNGER, not older!) I hope you'd want a source for that cause I still can't believe it and it's true.

MA Hudson said
I hope there was no music on all those popping up web pages - that would really add insult to the incensed.
oh dear god, what a thought! Generally no, the websites were more often things like Wikipedia pages, but in case anyone wonders why I'm having a conniption at the idea of music on a website, just know this: DO NOT DO THAT. I don't care if you are Mozart risen from the dead. Auto-audio on website is a tool of the devil.

On Friday, we discussed the one thing all successful writers have in common: persistence.

I really like what Brigid said here:
It is genuinely difficult to be attentive and receptive to feedback while also having the patience to wait for the pattern to unfold. That is, to be responsive AND persistent AND neutral, in a way, until you have enough information to say "ah yes, the problem is the query" or "oh, I've been querying MG agents when the book needs to be YA" or "whoops, I started the book too soon!"

It's a lot like job-hunting, or online dating. You're really laying your heart out there, presenting the best of yourself and just hoping.

And this is the truest thing of the week, courtesy of DLM:
The deep secret we all keep:

We hear about how it'll be necessary to query many tens of agents, if not a hundred or two, before the magic happens. We hear about the long road. We hear about how, even if we DO get an agent, we'll have to REVISE! And then lose our beloved titles, and possibly even endure rejection and working with our agents - or our self-publishing business plans - and coming up with a new work to try again.

... and everyone thinks, but will not say out loud: "except for me."

Colin Smith misses Carkoon:
Posts like this make me want to set up a Query Board that people can post queries to and receive critiques from the Reiders here. There are, no doubt, a gazillion-and-one such things, but this one would be supported by this community. And maybe QOTKU herself could be persuaded to drop in from time to time, offer critiques, and maybe even find a future client.

Probably a crazy idea, Carkoon-exile worthy, no doubt... but I just thought I'd throw it out there. :)

There are places to do that on the web. I certainly think they have some merit but in the end, the people reading those queries are, generally speaking, Not Agents.

It's hard for places like those to recognize the outliers. The queries that break all the rules, but still would get requests. Query crit places are good for getting plot on the page and cutting out "I've loved to write since I was five" but they're not so good for style. And style and verve and a certain je ne sais quoi is what I'm looking for.

Thus, I'm going to discourage any kind of organized formal query crit starting up here. Helping each other out individually was and is a good thing: have at it. But nothing more.

nightsmusic said:
On a side note: The only time I didn't take my own bike, I rode on the back of a friend's to Florida from Michigan. It was an exceptionally long ride and could have been really boring except that I read Carrie by Stephen King on the way down there. Scared the crap out of me and he's been an auto buy ever since. I'm so glad someone took a chance on him! ;)

I'm sure I'm not the only one who did a double-take at the idea of reading on the back of a motorcycle. I'm truly sorry there are no pictures of that.

On Saturday we talked about referencing a real life event in the query for a novel:

Celia Reeves cracked me up with this:
Wait, wait, a lightbulb just went off for me. If I base my book partly on true events and partly on stuff I make up, it's a novel. If I make it all up, then it's a fiction novel! Right? It all makes sense now!


/self-administers dope slap/
/slinks back into woodland shadows/

Susan asked:
So I guess that's my question: is it different if the story is fictionalized based on the author's experiences? If it's based on a true story outside of the author's own experience, can that then become something for the marketing of the book, once it reaches that stage? "Devil in the White City" seems to be a prime example of the latter. Knowing it was based on a true story added an extra chill to the reading.

You're right to recognize that marketing is a different kettle o'fishies than a query. In a query I care about your story and the writing first and foremost. I care not a whit if it's based on true events simply cause most novels have to start someplace and a lot of them start with something that happened.

Marketing however, that's the place where we're trying to make friends with readers and it may very well be a good marketing tool to say "this is a version of what happened to me, and if it's happening to you, this book will resonate with you."

Of course a book has to appeal to readers who have NO commonality with the writer (other than perhaps the ability to read!) but that's not today's topic!

Carrie asked:
Oh geeze. I have a novel that I have started to query. It's historical. About a doctor who is afraid he may have killed his wife. In 1881. The doctor was a real person and I've done extensive research about his case. Don't I want to mention that somewhere in the query?

No. Use the research to bolster the story, not as citations in your query. The premise is interesting enough on its own. Now tell me a story that has me reaching for pages to find out what happens next.

Subheader noms:

the more I popped in here, the more I couldn't stay away. --Melanie Sue Bowles

Fiction is the purest art. Commercial fiction is the butter, the darkest chocolate, and the finest malt. That's why we are so addicted to it.--Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli

We will never forget

Saturday, September 10, 2016

My novel is almost really true

 I am getting ready to query a novel that is partially inspired by a true story. I am going to mention this in my query, especially since it occurred in New York City and so most agents may find my query ringing a bell. I am also debating mentioning that a non-fiction book about the true story was a recent New York Times bestseller, to show that there is interest in the topic.

Should I do this? (1) Does it demonstrate that there is interest in the topic, or because it is a non-fiction book is it unrelated to any potential sales for my book?(2) Or worse, am I hurting myself by pointing out that there's competition in the marketplace for books on this topic?(3)

1. No
2. No
3. Yes...but not for that reason.

Should you do this? No you should not. You don't have enough words in a query to do anything but talk about YOUR story.  All the time you waste telling me it's based on true events is time you're not talking about your interpretation.

Interest in your book will have almost no correlation to interest in the non-fiction book.  

And you're hurting yourself because you're going to confuse your reader (me.)  I can't tell you the number of times a query has opened by talking about some real life event and I thought the query was for non-fiction and my finny fin fin was quite jazzed.  Only to find out in paragraph two that this is a novel and the writer thought I'd be interested in the novel cause I was interested in the real life event.

Here's the problem: I read non-fiction to learn things, or to get different takes on things I already know. Varying perspectives on events in history etc.  I assume that non-fiction is well-researched and true. I depend on that in fact.

Novels are a whole different ball game. I read those for fun. If I learn things, or gain perspective, I don't assume those things are true. It's a novel. It's FICTION. You get to make it all up.

You'd no more limit yourself to "what's true" in a novel than you'd limit yourself to "what's real" in a paranormal romance.  

Let your story stand on its own. 

Friday, September 09, 2016

The one thing all successful writers have in common

This is a difficult question to have to ask, and perhaps just as hard to answer, but I think I need to know before I go any further.

I sent out my first batch of ten query letters this the past week, and already I've received four rejection responses, including yourself. I understand rejection is totally inevitable, but now I'm stuck: are these form rejections, indicating a query that fails, or simply an indication of project-agent unsuitability? Eventually, as I understand it, enough rejections indicate the former.

If there isn't even a request for pages, it has to mean something is wrong with the query, regardless of how nicely phrased the rejection? Like, QueryShark makes me think you will request pages for any project you think passes the Shark Test of Worth, so if you didn't, should I be even more worried three rejections came before you?

Of the four, three of them were encouraging. But the form letters might be designed to be that way, because agents are usually very nice people.

Any advice on interpreting what rejection letters mean (especially when they mention your work as being good) would be very, very appreciated.

I thought I'd be better at enduring the failure than I am. This is not my real email, as you may have guessed. And I'm sorry if this question is something you don't want to tackle.

This is not failure.
More than anything else, you absolutely MUST learn to see rejection as part of the process, not failure.

Rejection at the query stage is like learning to shoot hoops. You're going to miss a lot of baskets as you develop technique and practice. Is missing a shot "failure"? No.

Is losing a game failure?

Failure is not lacing up your sneakers and getting in the game.
Failure is quitting before you've had a chance to find out if you're any good.

Failure is a mindset, and it will KILL YOUR CAREER if you let it.

Now, about the place you are in the query process.

For starters, ten is nothing.
You've barely scratched the surface of the number of agents you can query.

You should assume nothing about your query based on these results. You can NOT interpret rejection to mean anything other than "no."

Do you assume you are short and ugly (no matter your gender here!) if you are standing in line with the top ten finalists for Miss America at the United check in counter for Atlantic City?

In the alternative, you can be as handsome as George Clooney but if the movie is about Miss America, you're not going to get the starring role.

1.2 BILLION people are able to speak some form of Chinese, but you can't. Does that make you stupid?

When it comes to querying, you don't know if you're in the wrong line, or trying out for the wrong movie, or just not speaking my language.

Do not assume you are stupid or ugly, or that your query is a failure.

You know NOTHING about your query from rejection.
I pass on materials that are good and publishable every day of the week.

I pass on things by mistake.

I pass on things that are good because I already have Jeff Somers writing magic and I don't want to sign another author in his category. I pass on what I'm sure is great horror because Laird Barron is on my list but I don't actually read horror (Yes, you read that right.)

Right now the only thing you can do is persevere.
Hit a writing conference if you can afford to. Instead of pitching agents, have them look at your query.

Buy a query and page critique at an auction (they have these ALL the time.)

Take a Writers Digest webinar on queries. Often there's a query crit attached to that.

Check out your local writerly groups like Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America.  Here's a tip: you don't actually have to write crime or romance to join. These are kind and generous writers who welcome new writers into the fold and help you figure stuff out. The reason to join is to take advantage of the educational opportunities they offer.

For example, I'll be flying to Phoenix Arizona in February (yes, on my broom) to give a workshop on Effective Queries at the local SinC chapter. 

I'm giving the same workshop at Binder.con here in New York in October.

These kinds of opportunities abound.
It's up to you to find them,  attend them, learn from them.
The one thing all successful writers have in common: persistence.

Having a writing career of any size, shape, or success requires persistence.
You have a choice about what to do here.
You can make yourself crazy with fretting, or you can buckle down and write.

The choice is yours.