Friday, March 22, 2019

Idiot agents

Yesterday afternoon I sent off a query for a picture book feeling pretty good about the whole thing. The agent was specifically looking for children's books and after reviewing the agency website, I liked what I read. Within 12 hours I received the following response.

"Thanks for your query with REDACTED. Unfortunately, publishers want authors with large online presences, been published on high traffic sites, have blogs with a large amount of followers, and have speaking engagements to sell books. Because of these things, I'm going to have to pass on this project. I would suggest increasing social media numbers, and self-publishing your work. If you can sell a lot of copies ( a few thousand) then you'll be ready for an agent. I wish you all the best in your future writing endeavors."

I was gobsmacked. As someone who has attended multiple writing conferences, taken several writing classes, participated in countless webinars, holds memberships in several writing organizations (including SCBWI), and had a (bad) agent once, I almost can't believe this was the response for a PICTURE BOOK. Then I thought, you know who would probably have something interesting to say about this? Janet Reid. Your thoughts? Please.

This is BANANAS!

Clearly it's a form letter and a terrible one - filled with mis-information - at that.

Picture books are review, not platform, driven, sales.
It's almost impossible to get reviews for self-published books. Thus, expecting to self publish and sell a few thousand picture books is akin to telling me if I want to get to Boston I should jump over the moon. Not only can I NOT do it, UP does not mean north.

And let's not even get into the fact that many picture book writers are NOT illustrators (or shouldn't be!)

So, given this agent has demonstrated herself to be an idiot (and you can quote me),
how do you avoid querying someone like that?

First, look for sales.
Actual sales.

NOT clients listed on the website. Actual sales on Publishers Marketplace, OR the authors' titles available for sale (Amazon is a good reference for that.)

Second, look at the agent's bio.
This is key. Anyone can call them self an agent, and lots of agencies will let them affiliate (this is strange to me, but it's true.) If the agent has NO publishing experience other than being an author, that's a red flag.

Every young agent who started their career five feet from my desk started as an assistant. They learned how the industry worked but, more important, they had someone monitoring their work for awhile.

In other words, someone who would have looked at that form rejection and said 'nope, start over.'

Membership in AAR is a useful benchmark.
Not all good and reputable agents belong to AAR but someone who's never made a sale CANNOT.

But mostly, continue learning about the industry so that when some Idiot Agent spouts this crap, you know to laugh merrily and thank all deities large and small, that you dear woodland creature DODGED A BULLET.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Yes, you need a mailing list, even if you're not pubbed

I can hear you screaming (politely of course, woodland creature that you are) "I don't have anything to talk about in a newsletter!"

A newsletter is NOT the same as a mailing list.

A mailing list is just a list of addresses (to which you might send a newsletter when you have a lot of news.)  But you can also use it to send short emails to fans.

You need a way for people to tell you that they want to hear about what you get published. A LOT of you are being published in smaller, less well-known outlets. The equivalent of off-off-off Broadway.

Well, how the HELL am I going to know about this unless you tell me???

If you post it on Twitter I have one chance in 3000 of seeing it. I'm lucky to see fifteen or twenty minutes of non-notification tweets in 24 hours. Unless you @ me, I'm more than likely NOT to see what you say.

And how will you know to @ me?

I'm not on Facebook.
People who are don't see every post by every person they follow. 

Comment in a blog post here?
Not a bad choice, and better than not saying anything BUT most of you can't post links to save your lives, AND if I don't click instantly, I'll forget about it.

Mailing list notice?
For starters, it's in my email, I'll see it.
For seconds, I don't have to click instantly. I can come back to it when I have more than a minute.


1.  Sign up for a newsletter mailing service. I use Mail Chimp. There are lots of others.

2. Put "sign up to hear about my next published story" with a link to your (MailChimp) account.

Here's what mine looks like:

and here's what you see when you click the link

Your mailing list platform should allow you to see the email addresses you collect.
When you have news like a short story being pubbed in a small magazine, send a SHORT email to your fans.

Dear Janet,
Thanks for signing up for my news updates!
My short story Kale Proven To Cause Hiccups will be published in the GreenMenace.
Here's the link!
Happy reading!

Notice: you use your fan's name. That's CRUCIAL
Notice: the email is VERY short.
Notice: you start with why they're getting the email (so they know it isn't spam)

Yes, you're only going to have three people to start with.
Guess what? I had to start with those same three people: me, myself, and Mum.

If you're a regular reader and contributor to this blog, your fans are assembled. Just give us a place to tell you we want to hear from you. I can think of 23.75 blog readers I'd sign up to hear from. 

And the very best thing about just a few people to start with?
You only have to send a few emails when your next story is published in the BloodLust Sewing Circle Quarterly.

Of course you have questions! Fire away!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

How can I judge my own writing?

Like most writers, I queried far too early. Since then, I’ve worked on my writing craft, so now I'm contemplating dipping my toe into the query trenches again.

But I’m hesitating: I don’t want to repeat my ‘query too early’ mistake. Instead, I’ve been pondering how to competently judge the standard of my writing, against a literary agent’s standard.

And your flash fiction contests sprang to mind :)

So my question - and yes, I realise your answer will be utterly subjective, and I’m okay with that - if the entries were queries, and assuming you repped the entry’s category, at which standard of writing (long list, short list, winner, none of the above) would you request pages?

I completely understand if you’d prefer to not publish this question/your answer on your blog. I can likewise understand why you’d prefer to not answer at all, because the asking of something so personal may be considered as cheeky. And if - even worse - you’ve found the question offensive, I apologise profusely! I vacillated for days before sending this email, but have finally clicked ‘send’ because I’d like to know, and there’s only one way to get that knowledge :)

Thanks again, for everything you do for us!

You're looking for guidance in the wrong place. You want
Queryshark has actual queries, and it often includes if/when I'd ask for pages.
It also includes a list of queries that made it to page requests on the left side of the blog. You may not be able to see it if you are using your phone. Here's an image of it.

The writing contests are a unique art form. They're more like skill building exercises than actual writing samples.

Think of it as the scales a musician plays to practice or warm up before playing the real piece.

QueryShark on the other hand: Actual queries, Actual chomping.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Do you prioritze your client communication by dollars and cents?

Do agents spend more time/attention with clients who are moneymakers?

What should a lower echelon earner expect? I don’t make my agent much money and I understand that effort may be commensurate with earning. This agent sold a book of mine and I do appreciate that but I think it didn’t bring in as much money as was expected.

Now with my second ms I feel ghosted. It’s been two years and no updates of where it has been sent and the response, although I have nudged every six months or so. Is this typical behavior? I really don’t want to go back out into the cruel agent seeking world, but I’m wondering if it is time to do so. But is it like this everywhere?

I’m feeling discouraged. Technically my contract was only for book one, so I could get free if I wanted. I now have a third ms but I’m not getting any younger and don’t want to wait years on this one too.

You actually have two separate questions here.
One is how agents prioritize their time.

The other (which you didn't ask) is what the HELL is going on with your submission.

Let's address the second one first.

If you've got a book on submission, your agent must update you. It may take longer than it should (try as I might, I'm always behind on these updates). But waiting six months between nudges is letting her/him off the hook. Don't do that.

Send a firm email with a deadline.

It reads like this:
Dear Agent Slackerpuss,

Please send me a list of where my manuscript has been submitted and to whom, with any replies received.

Please send this to me by close of business on (date).

If s/he doesn't respond, call her.

This is your work.

You wouldn't let your dog sitter keep your dog with no updates for a week! Your manuscript deserves at least the same care and feeding.

Also, YOU MUST HAVE THIS INFO if you're going to seek new representation. While I can take on books that have been subbed, the key piece of info determining if I will is where the book has been. If you can't tell me that, it's game set match.

As to the question of how agents prioritize: it's not by earning, it's by the urgency of the problem. A client who's on submission and thus hasn't earned anything still gets immediate attention if one of the publishers where the book is subbed makes a read and revise request.

A client whose book is out of print and hasn't earned in years finds her work plagiarized---that's a top priority.

Of course, you can see how this works most of the time: the clients who are selling (and thus earning) often have many more problems than clients who are on submission, or tucked away in the archives researching the price of rice in Shanghai in 1282.

Thus, submission updates tend to come lower on the priority list. Sub lists aren't a problem; updates aren't a problem. Yes, they need to be done, but no one will suffer (other than anxiety) if you get it Sunday instead of Thursday. That said, I'm not keen on causing my writers anxiety, so I do try to be prompt. (I fail a lot)

Lower on the priority list does NOT mean six months of silence. Even when I've been Agent Slackerpuss, a client emailing with HEY, SHARKFORBRAINS!!! gets pretty prompt attention.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Well, this time the choice is crystal clear.

There's only one entry that literally left me gasping.
And not for the right reason.

“Was it off-kilter for you too?” You’ve got to be kidding.
I had a heart attack.
You want tilt, you want lean, try a 3am dash to a 24 hour emergency room and then rolling down the highway, lights and sirens screaming. I won’t list the procedures but in that ambulance I asked myself three questions.
Have I been where I have wanted to go? Yes.
Any regrets? No
Am I leaving behind anything that would sour my family’s memories of me? No. Dust under the bed doesn’t count.
Thanks for asking and blessed to be alive.

 Everything else sort of faded after I read this one.

I bet that was true for more than a few of you.

 Carolynn, I can't tell you how glad I am you were able to tell us about this with your usual charm and grace.

The entries were wonderful but this time reality wins.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Character desciption

All too often characters are described as though the author is writing for a police blotter: hair, height, eye color. If the character is female there's usually something about her desirability factor.

This kind of flat description does not bode well for an imaginative twisty zesty manuscript.

So, what am I looking for instead?

Here's a good example, from City of Windows by Robert Pobi (Minotaur: forthcoming August 2019)
Lucas is the POV main character; he's in Wyoming meeting the local law:

Sheriff Brice "Bronco" Doyle was a tall man a few years into his fifties, with a solid set of shoulders and a head that could have been hammered out of a paint bucket.  ...He had a cross pin on his lapel beside the American flag, and he carried a pair of pistols in a tooled old-time holster that had the mirror image of Jesus worked into the pockets. Doyle gave the impression that he was the kind of man you'd want at your side when you ran out of ammunition and the cannibals made it over the fence.  But there was nothing humorous about his disposition and he didn't smile much. But what weirded Lucas out was that for a small-town sheriff on the edge of civilization, he had yet to swear.

After reading this, you have a three-dimensional view of Sheriff Doyle, not a police blotter sketch.

This is the type of description that  makes me shiver with delight and anticipation when I'm reading a requested full.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The slightly uneven, off kilter, write your way back to normal flash fiction contest

Honestly, this week was just weird as can be for me. Was it off-kilter for you too?

The only remedy is a writing contest!

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:

(hopes springs eternal in the Forti-tude battle of wits!)

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: list/glisten is ok, but tilt/tlinget 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 Saturday, March 16,7:29am
Contest closes Sunday, March 17, 9am

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!

oops too late! contest closed

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Subjective versus objective assessment

"Opinions may vary" is a common phrase in most form rejections.

While it's true, they do, sometimes the reason your query gets a pass is an opinion that's shared by a lot of folks. In other words, a whole lot closer to an objective assessment.

There's no standard that's 100% objective.
For every "you can't have a novel over 140,000 words" I'll show you six exceptions, and a lot of them published recently. But generally, excess word count is going to be a problem.

If I pass on your manuscript because there's no plot, that's something most agents would also notice. It's measurable. It's closer to objective than subjective.

If you think of subjective and objective as 1 and 10 on a number line (and here you thought you'd never need your 4th grade math!) with subjective at 1 and objective at 10, word count is somewhere near 9. Yes there are exceptions, but not a lot.

If I pass on your manuscript because you're a man writing about rape, that's entirely subjective, so it's closer to 1.

BUT a lot of women in publishing share that opinion, so maybe now it's closer to a 4 than it would have been 20 years ago.

Some things that are more objective than subjective: word count, tension, pacing.

Things that are entirely subjective: plot (what it is, not lack thereof); sympathetic characters; topic.

As a querying writer, you want to hone your skills in sussing out which is which.

Objective is something you want to pay attention to.
Subjective, not so much.

Why not pay attention to subjective?
Because one agent does not a market make.

Things I wouldn't read if you duct taped me to a chair and force fed me kale are sometimes books that enjoy a robust presence on the New York Times bestseller list.

What I want to read and acquire is just that: what *I* want.

I'm not the only agent in the world, or New York City, or even in this room as we speak.

Query widely, but pay attention if someone says you've got problems that are high on the objective number line.

Any questions?

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

You guyz fret about the most interesting things

Over the last several months I have been writing for a website and just crossed 100 articles.

While the site itself focuses on the latest news in movies and tv, the owner tends to speak about not wanting politics in entertainment on the YouTube channel for the site, much to the chagrin of various people on twitter.

Thankfully, the owner allows the writers to write about whatever they want. This is a large part of the reason I love writing there because it’s been very difficult to find an outlet that will allow me to talk about movies without compromising my voice to fit a site’s brand.

I’ve made a point of completely staying out of politics in my articles and only focusing on things I love,(a lot of which the owner doesn’t care for) like Scooby-Doo and Jason Momoa’s movies. My question is will agents dismiss my portfolio outright due to the owner’s views despite the fact that my portfolio does not discuss politics? 

How on earth would anyone know the owner's views?

And why would anyone care about his views when it's YOUR work we're considering. This would be like asking the Duchess of Yowl her view on dogs when I'm querying a book about wolves.

Bottom line:
I'm interested in three things:

1. Can you write your way out of a paper back with savoir faire and style?
2. How many eyeballs are on that website (ie does it mean you have a following)
3. Are you an asshat.  Disparate politics does not an asshat make. Telling me I'm a loathsome shark who should be eaten for lunch in the soup course because I'm (still) a registered Republican IS.

Writing well is the first and highest hurdle.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Sussing out the whackadoodles from the mini-poodles.

An agent recently posted that “agents get tons of flip or wacky query letters, and we toss them all.”

How do you mark the difference between a query that’s “flip” or “wacky,” and one that’s written to introduce a book with comedic elements?

Take the proposal below--would it be interpreted as adequate to sell the tone of the book, or jettisoned as flippant by an impatient agent?

(actual query here, but redacted)

It seems easy to dismiss the above query as non-serious or adolescent, but how else could we convey the humorous tone of our project while keeping a serious, respectful voice worthy of the industry?

Again, we can’t thank you enough for your time. We know you're extremely busy.

You can tell when your middle-grader is lying through her teeth, right?
Or your spouse isn't coming clean about why the laundry got left in the washer?

Sure you do.
You've had YEARS of experience sorting the truth from the guff.

Same with agents.

If you write a genuine query about a comedic book, you'll be fine.
The people who write joke or wacky queries are either so ill informed they make howler mistakes, or they're trying too hard to be funny.

The only time I was taken in by a joke query was when one of my former minions, now an industry star, sent me a query for a book about Time Goblins. I regret that it was not real to this day.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Foil the Forti Flash Fiction contest results

I think this is the lowest turnout in quite some time, but the caliber of entries was one of the highest.  It was amazing to read these, and choosing one winner ...well, as I write this, I still can't.But now I did!

Herewith the results:
Words I had to look up:
JustJan: pogonia
Steve Forti: parget

If I understood it at all, I'm sure it would be hilarious
A word I want to use often
ShanePatrickWrites Pogopalooza

What to you think of making this sentence the next contest prompt?
cjohs "Somebody had thrown a pogo-stick through the window"

Consigned to the KalePits of Carkoon
Alina Sergachov

Honestly, John Davis (manuscript) Frain is just going to own the subheading for a while
“You couldn’t raise money on an escalator.”
"I wondered why his fist was getting bigger. Then it hit me"

Why do I even try??

Steve Forti has foiled me yet again.
The gym stank of old sweat and moldy parget. Gone was the glory, the clog of fans. Just an idiot shouting from the top rope.

“Get your ass down. You ain’t Tarzan, Z. I barely recognize you lately. And stop shouting. What’s the most important tool for a boxer?”

“Oxygen,” Zeke mumbled.

“Damn straight. Speed and strength don’t mean shit if you’re winded. Breathe first, then attack. Jab or slug. One-two combos. Up-tempo. Go high then low. Keep ‘em guessing. He retreats too far, goad him back.”

Zeke exhaled, eyed the empty gym. Two years, yet Coach’s voice lived on.

Here are the finalists:
Marie McKay
She pogoes the Tango.
The audience in uproar at this no-no.
A rebel of the Ballroom from the get-go.
Couples still going quick-quick-slow.
A slug of The Judge's water before,
she rips up The Organiser's logo
to protest their embargo on her partner being Margo.
'Security!' calls The Judge. 'You've taken things too far.'
'Go on, Dad. Throw me out. Your water tastes of vodka with a twist of spite. But I'll keep dancing with whomever I like.'

Chengdu International. Waipo sees me off: Ba and Ma too busy. Students lug on cases, full of get-go. Waipo presses her Bible into my hands.
“You can't give me this!”
She smiles. “You need it more.”

Auckland. Waipo's pickles confiscated: biohazard. Her Bible stays.

My thesis: isotopes of Argon. Hate it.

Crowne Plaza, NZ. I barf, drunk for the first time. Miss those pickles. Go back; read. Cry.

Log onto email. Waipo. Hospital.

Early flight? Then I can't afford to eat next semester.

I take it anyway.

Arrive at nearly six. ER. Oxygen mask on. But Waipo? Gone, flown. Home.

Aphra Pell 
(and selected by Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl as the best entry of course)

She stalked into my alley, a golden-furred queen.
“Hello Gordy” she purred.
“That’s Mr Whiskers to you, sweet-ears. What’s the get-go?”
“That new family from Fargo…”
“They’re deciding between keeping me or…” She arched “…getting a D.O.G. Some pogoing idiot, all slobber and walkies”
I clicked my teeth. “That’s bad.”
“Thought you might come play chase. Make them think.”
“I could visit… if you’ve got something to trade.”
She flicked an ear. “Joint called the Zanzibar. Pallet of spoiled cake behind the xerox. Deal?”
Hot damn. “Deal.”
In this slug of a town, a rat’s gotta seize his chance.

Timothy Lowe
At seventeen, Matt was an A-plus mechanic, a whiz-bang auto-fixer. Oxygen sensor on the blink? He’d fix it, two shakes of a lamb’s ass. Unfortunately, English class just wasn’t his thing.

“...And then they pogo up, down. Near, far, going every which way you can imagine! Canines go all zanzi! Barrel around in these multi-colored cars --”


He smiled, halo gold as the sun. “Yes, Mrs. Blodget?”

“‘Go, Dog. Go!’ is not appropriate material for an 11th grade book report.”

Later, in the faculty lot, he adjusted her wheel fasteners: lug operation optimal.

Teach her to fuck with the classics.



Tommy knocked harder, and Adrianne braced the front door. Jesus, he was drunk from the get-go. Calling her a dumb-slut slugo and worse. Door was gonna break—so she opened it, and he pitched forward inside.

She aimed the kitchen knife at his throat. “Stay,” she said. And he did, chained in the basement with nothing but old comics, Garfield, Charlie Brown, Pogo. For four years.

First, his bank account: easy. Then, a Zanzibar vacation, and in the Fargo airport she saw his face on a “missing” xerox flyer, under a police shield logo.

Except his name wasn’t Tommy.

I’m a xero. Xip. Froxen out. By Her decree.

True, I never seixed much buxx. I’m no whixx. I’m a slugo, laxing along at the back of the line. It’s pretty far, going to the endxone when you need me.

But Xounds! I’ve been there from the get-go. Hello, got amaxing words to spell all through the Greek era.

And snooxing on the far left of the keyboard, that’s not craxy. You realixe I’m almost never seen in a typo.

Gosh! They’ll never be able to spell Xanxibar now. I know she needs to foil Forti, but geex!

Michael Seese
The GetGo 99-cent breakfast burrito trampolining in my gut threatened to pogo back up to the pavement. The super-sized slug of vodka fortifying the Slush Puppie didn't help. I trudged onward, officeward, my wake reeking of regret. Inexplicably, my shoes had gained a few pounds since last night. Beneath them, the sidewalk sighed, saddled with the weight of my world.

I arrived to find the switchboard lit up like the heavens, and pushed the button blinking the loudest. A shaky voice beseeched.

“Hello? God?”

A far gone conclusion. My first day on the job would be less than divine.

Honestly, you guyz just continue to amaze me.
How you do this and on such short notice and with such IMPOSSIBLE words!!! I do not know.

I'm just going to have to surrender to Steve Forti. He's stymied me every single time. Even a shark has to know when to quit gnawing.

This weeks winner though is a deft use of prompt words and letters, a delightful bit of play.

JanR of course.

JanR, if you'll email me with your preferred mailing address and what you like to read, I'll get your prize in the mail.

As for all the rest of you, you are just amazing.

There were TERRIFIC entries that missed the cut this time; I had to pare down from more than a dozen entries!

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and enter.
This was utterly fabu.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Foil the Forti Flash Fiction Contest!

After being summarily vanquished last week, you'd think I'd retire from the field.

But NO!

I had to spend a good deal of Thursday supine upon the couch, blowing my schnozz. What better use of time than to think of ways to Foil the Forti?!

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:
get-go (yes you need the hyphen)

If you are Steve Forti, or want to Be Fortissimo, you must also use:

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: fargo/far gone is ok, but fargo/fear going 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: 3/09/19 6:16am

Contest closes: 3/10/19 9am

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! 

Too late! Contest closed!

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

flu and cold season..back to the couch

Sorry readers, I've been felled by some sort of germ that has driven me to the couch for tonight and most likely tomorrow.

I'd like to blame someone else so I'll start with everyone who gets on the subway with a cold.

In the meantime, I saw a fun thread on Twitter that asked people to relate the nicest thing a stranger had done for them.  I'm not sure if it was hashtagged, but GoodStranger might be it.

The stories were GREAT!

I'd love to hear more of them from all y'all as I sit here soaking my head.

mea culpa

I inadvertently submitted queries for the same manuscript to two different agents at the same agency. The first one was last October to an agent I read about via a pitch party. (No response yet.) The second one was to an agent I read about a couple of days ago in a publishing newsletter I subscribe to. She's relatively new in the field and is trying to build her clientele.
Since my ms. fits one of the categories/genres she reps I did a bit more research and decided to query her. I keep a file of agents I query, but didn't realize until after I sent this query that, while she wasn't on my list, another agent at her agency was.
I'd like to apologize, but don't know if that's the appropriate thing to do. If it is, I don't know how. Since I queried through QueryManager, the only email address I have is Do I use that address and put the ms. title in the Subject line? I could guess at her email address based on the addresses listed on the agency website of three of the other six agents there, but just don't know if I should try to contact her. What do I do? Thanks!

First, get off the rodent wheel.

You're running yourself into a frenzy when you don't need to.

Look at the timeline: you queried Agent A in October.
That's more than 30 days ago.

Thus, Agent A has passed by default.
You're well within the parameters laid down in the Gentleperson's Guide to Correct Querying if you query the same agency some months later. PARTICULARLY someone new and building  her list.

Thus, you don't need to apologize for anything. Although, should the need arise, correct apologies are written, in your own hand, in black ink on white or cream colored notecards of quality stock. No kittens. No scalloped edges. Nothing that starts "if I offended you."

Now, for the sake of tormenting you further -- cause blood sport is always called for on Wednesdays -- let's assume you queried Agent B 29.75 days after you queried Agent A.

What to do?

What? What? I've violated at least 14 of the Rules for Civility in the Gentleperson's Guide to Correct Querying, and here is list of where you can find them in page order. 

 Did you call the agent a dodohead after she passed on your query?

Did you subscribe the agent to Fecal Matter of the Month - the merchandising arm of the space farmers at (But, do you think they're on Etsy?)

Did you make a simple mistake that won't actually hurt anyone?

Stand down
Quit worrying.

There is no black list of writers for things like this.
Stuff happens.
Even stuff that the space farmers sell.

If this is the biggest mistake you make this week, or this year, you're doing well.

I'm here to tell you no one on the other side of the desk will notice or care.

What we DO notice and care about is if you query every agent at the agency at the same time.
You didn't do that. You didn't even come close.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

So, what aren't you looking for?

A recent #AskAgent on Twitter, hosted by the Fierce and Amazing BookEnd Ladies (and by ladies I mean agents who ride unicorns and slay dragons, and no that's not a metaphor) generated a tweet from a writer who said he liked lists of what agents are NOT looking for. It's so much more helpful.

That's probably true.
If you know I'm not looking for SF and you write SF, well, you know not to query me.


I want you to query me. With anything. Agents who carp about writers querying them need to remember who writes the ransom notes** around here. It's not me.

What if you have the category wrong? At least 35.24% of queries have what I'd call the wrong category listed in their queries.

Aw c'mon SharkForBrains, you say. Surely we all know what SF is? 
So, is Patrick Lee's The Breach SF? Is Runner SF or a thriller.

Is Steve Forti's account of his time in the flash fiction pits of Carkoon a memoir or a dystopian thriller?

This is one time where you really don't want to assume you're right.

And what if I say I'm full up on horror writers, repping as I do two of the very finest, but you're a writer with a contract in hand, and as it turns out I love your voice, and you're a pretty hilarious guy...well, yes, I want you on the list and aren't I glad you ignored "no more horror."

I think the don't query me for lists are helpful, but way too many of you self-select out of my query pile.

That's my loss.

Again, that's MY loss.
And if you think I like that, well, you're new here, aren't you?

There's literally no cost to querying me.
Even if I say no, you haven't shot your chances with any other agent here at New Leaf. We simply ask you to query us one at a time, with 30 days between queries.

"I don't want to waste your time/an agent's time" is something I hear when I've said this kind of thing before.  Please pause for a moment so I can bop you on the bean with a nerf bat.

You're not wasting my time if you send me a thoughtful, well-written query. Not now. Not ever. Not even if it's for dino porn, kale haiku, or the Annotated Lyrics to Louie, Louie.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words:

when asked what writing paid best, Harry Zimm famously replied "Ransom notes" 
which I think is so funny I try to work it into a blog post at least once a year.

Also if you don't know who Harry Zimm is, we can't be friends anymore til you fix that.

Monday, March 04, 2019

The Stymie Steve Forti Flash Fiction Contest RESULTS!

This flash fiction contest was the perfect diversion for this weirdly cold, then sunny, then snowy and sunny, then cold weekend.  Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and enter.

Words I had to look up: scry (Kregger)

Special recognition to Lennon Faris for a superb illustration of a reverse poem.

Special recognition to Cecilai Ortiz Luna for her hat-tip with a twist to The Godfather!

Special recognition to Cynthia Mc for her superb use of a prompt word:
"For tis sim...o shoot!"

Special recognition for CED, for an entry I didn't understand at all but I think is pretty
funny if you do.

The Duchess of Yowl award for good taste and acumen: Will McPhail

Special recognition to french sojourn for a great line
Florida, it’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity.

that I think is part of a story that holds more truth than we might realize

I'm fairly certain FlashFriday's entry is brilliant, but I didn't get it.
I think it's something about Snow White??

And the main event, the headline in tonight's Thunderdome of Words: Steve Forti

“I need to suck life’s marrow. A reason to exist beyond mere mimicry. There’s so much I haven’t done yet. I wanna build an igloo, see the northern lights. Develop custom AR. Zip a new cable across Viamala Gorge.”

“Sounds ambitious. I’m terrified to even switch a vocation.”

“Why not? Live a little. Let’s do G’s,, pull G’s, whatever, in a fighter jet. Tell me, where do you most want to explore? I say some ancient Roman fort.”

“ISS. I mos
tly dream of space.”

“Perfect! What’s stopping us?”

“Barbara’s staff meeting in ten minutes?”

“Oh. Yeah… Meet you in there?”

and I toss in the towel, tilt the king, surrender the fort, beaten so completely I don't have words to describe.

Timothy Lowe is clearly giving Mr. Forti a run for his money:

You call that a contest?

Horrible grammar!


d zero talent!

Poorly encrypted prompt words!

Complete havoc!

Some war! Hey, what do you call someone who creates her own personal Waterloo?

nt packing!


What’s his prize? You know, the winner? Forti?

SSI, mo
st likely.


You heard me.


Turns out, flash fiction doesn’t pay very well!


What about the shark?

You mean, the underdog?


You didn’t hear? She’s going on SSI, too.

How come?

She went blind reading entries!

*Statler and Waldorf slapping backs in the balcony*

*Cue Muppets Theme*

Here is the short list of standouts

Jennifer Delozier
Love, Jim Jones

November 18th, 1978

Cyanide tastes like marzipan, if you close your eyes. While you cry your last tears, the almond-scented confection wages war on your Temple, wreaks havoc on your lungs, and loosens your bowels. As rabid dogs foam at the mouth, so shall you. You’ll become one with God.

How do I know? Not by personal experience, of course. I’m preaching this lesson, after all, and not even a reverend survives Rapture by cyanide. A friend’s sacrifice showed me the way. So drink your Kool-Aid, my loves, and, eyes closed, tell me—was he right?

I don't think you can parse this out to what works/what doesn't. Or point to any one thing and say "this is a perfect sentence."

It lets the reader figure out what's going on and what it means.  
And in the end, it does the only thing a story needs to: it stays with you.
It's the kind of writing that Shirley Jackson did in The Lottery.
Very plain.
Very tidy.

And you're never the same.

Richelle Elberg
“The fuck was he doing out there? Shouldn’ta been out there!”
I stare at the dead coyotes, the dead man—the worst of the dogs.
I cry, convincingly I think.
“Hard ta say who hit him,” Billy says. “It was havoc.”
“Call the sheriff,” Jack says. “Hell, it’s just a hunting accident.”

Home, Sheila bounds out of the kitchen, three beers in hand, her long hair loose, gleaming.
“Where’s Dale?” she asks, looking past me.
I explain. My wife’s smile fades; she collapses. Wails.
I hold her through the unwarranted reaction.
“Hon, come with me to the next coyote hunt.”

 I love this cause it takes a minute to figure out what's going on.
I love that kind of subtlety.

The War of the Worlds started the day after I asked my girlfriend to marry me.

“Cathedral mass,” said one mother, crying.

“Backyard ceremony,” the other sniffed.

“Seven course meal.”

“Vegetarian pot luck!”

“Vegas?” I asked.

“Islands,” my fiancĂ©e corrected.

So we cut loose and made our vows, serenaded by a pack of stray dogs and a justice of the peace.

“Blissful.” I sighed.

“Magical,” my wife agreed.

Back home, havoc reigned. One father, an attorney, scrutinized the marriage license. The other, a dermatologist, bemoaned our tans.

Nine months after our planets collided?

Peace treaty. 

This just cracked me up.

No "Hello, Osen" today. Instead Father greeted me with, "The barn has scorch marks!"
I waited, face impassive. Marzipan wouldn't melt in my mouth.
He'd blame marauders. But if Father wanted guard dogs, I'd object. Not around Bertha. I scratched the cat's fur as she twined through my legs.
Then Father surprised me. "It wasn't marauders."
What did he know?
"Arson. It was arson," he said.
My unvoiced cry of fear dissolved. Father didn't suspect the true cause: Bertha vocalizing. Like all growing dragons, attempted fortissimos created flames.
Someday I'd tell Father the truth about my cat.
Just not today.

 Her Grace the Duchess of Yowl has decreed this entry to be one of the finalists.

The reasons we agree of course are different.
She's glad you realize cats are mighty creatures.

I think it's funny.

We both agree it's the winner.

K, if you'll email me with your preferred mailing address I'll get a prize to you.

And Steve Forti?? 
We shall meet again my friend!!!



Sunday, March 03, 2019

the moral of this story?

Recently the news carried the story of a Bend Oregon man who was stuck in his car for five days when he got stuck in the snow.

Here's the story

You'd think the moral of this story is carry a shovel and cat litter to dig yourself out.
I disagree.

The moral of this story is: a clean truck just might kill you. Those leftover taco packets you didn't toss out right away: lifesavers.

Also, always take your dog to gas up the truck!

Don't even THINK about taking the cat!

Friday, March 01, 2019

The Stymie Steve Forti Flash Fiction Contest

Now that spring is at least on the horizon, if not on the DayPlanner,  I have renewed FORTI 'tude.

He is my nemesis.
He has more lives than a litter of kittens.
He is Roadrunner.

I shall cry "Havoc!" and let loose slip the dogs of war:  thesaurus in hand; dictionary on retainer; and daily motivational quotes from the Queen of Words Kory Stamper.

Time for the first skirmish of Spring!

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:


If you are Steve Forti you must also use these words:

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.

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: Saturday, 3/2/19, at 7:08am
Contest closes: Sunday, 3/3/19, at 9am.

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, too late, contest closed

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Requested full!!! I'm thrilled! Must I keep querying ?? (I don't wanna)

Dearest Shark,

My last batch of queries resulted in two (count ‘em, TWO!) requests for full manuscripts. I’m six weeks in to the waiting period, and am trying to spend the waiting time developing a new project. Should I send out another batch of queries while the fulls are still out? It seems like the rational thing to do, but my pea brain is almost overwhelmed with the current possibilities.

Thank you!

Yes! Keep querying till you get an offer of rep.

Nothing's done till then.

I'm not suggesting you send 20 queries a day; just don't vest all your hopes in two requests.

I won't rain on your parade with the ratio of offers made to requested fulls here at the reef, but keep going till you actually cross the correct finish line.

This is not the correct finish line

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Finding an agent for F and NF

I'm a tenured academic at a great university, incredibly fortunate to have a wonderful job that pays me to teach, research, and write.  I've published two academic books with excellent scholarly presses, and both have been successful by the metrics of my field.  

While I'm still working on academic projects, I'm now writing two nonfiction books that are aimed at broader audiences.  Colleagues who've made this move before have advised me to seek representation before reaching out to popular press editors, and a couple of wonderful folks have offered to recommend me to their agents.  I'm thrilled!  

But here's the thing: My first love is fiction.  I've been writing fantasy and sci fi for decades, and I've published short stories in pro markets.  I've now got a novel in the works that I hope will be polished and ready for querying sometime next year.

I'm worried that querying nonfiction now might throw a wrench in my plans to find an agent for my novel.  Am I just having cold feet, or an attack of the jitters? (no, you're just worried about the wrong thing)

Are there things I should be thinking about before I start querying nonfiction projects, so I don't inadvertently scuttle my chances at landing an agent for my fiction?
And, if and when I query those nonfiction books, do I mention my fiction sales?

You're assuming the agent you get for non-fiction won't be interested in your fiction.
Do not assume that.
In fact, do not DO that.

Find an agent who represents both.
Lots of us do.

Here's why: the contract you sign for any book will have terms like "next work" "option" "exclusive" Your agent negotiating the contract can't advise you correctly if she's not aware of or familiar with the terms of any other contracts you may have signed. These terms apply to YOU, not just the book under contract.

You, as the signatory on the contracts, are the one who will be held responsible if you violate a next works clause, or an exclusivity clause. An option clause drawn too broadly can tie up your next work well beyond what it should. 

While the chance this will happen isn't huge, it's a concern. And it's not something you want to screw up on.

One of the reasons I flat out insist that all my clients show me every single contract, even the ones for work I didn't sell (usually short stories) is to avoid this exact problem.

Therefore, your agent search may need to be different than your colleagues and friends in non-fiction. Your needs are different.

Any questions?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

What's the deal with NA?

What's the deal with NA?

Back around 2013, after I finished the first draft of my WIP I read about a promising new category called New Adult, or NA. My story had started out as YA but didn't end up there, and the NA label seemed to fit. I assumed it would encompass all the genres, like YA does, and filed it away for when I started querying again. 

(Yes, I made the new writer mistake of querying too soon. I wish I could take those queries back... So embarrassing.)

Anyhow, skip ahead to 2019 and NA appears to have stalled out. Instead of the promising new category I wanted it to be, NA seems to have become yet another sub-category of the Romance genre, limited mainly to erotica in a University setting. (Not what I write.)

Meanwhile, the WIP has morphed into a trilogy. The main character is a naive nineteen at the beginning of book one, and a somewhat wiser twenty-two at the end of book three. I worry I am going to be asked to make her younger to qualify as YA, I'm not sure it would work, even with a substantial rewrite.

So, is NA still a viable category? Was it ever? Does it apply to anything that isn't R-rated campus life? Er...that's more than one question. Sorry.

I remember thinking NA was a terrific idea, then took a call,  and by the time I was off the phone it had morphed into this quasi-erotic stuff.  One  of my colleagues sold a book in this category, and it  soon abundantly clear no one knew how to publish it very well.

Readers of YA were still buying YA even if they "aged out" and romance readers weren't all that keen on reading about kids.

I haven't seen any editors looking for NA recently, but I'm not paying a lot of attention. Some of our blog readers probably have more up to date info on this than I do. (if you do, please add to the comments column)

If your book isn't YA my guess is it's womens fiction. In womens fiction the focus is on relationships and romance, and how to be a real adult and all that means.

The good thing about womens fiction is that it's a big category that sells well. And that is a  mating call to almost every agent I know.

Monday, February 25, 2019

ok, so you don't want me to tell you I liked your book

I finished a terrific book recently and wanted to reach out to the author to say "wow, I really liked your book!"

Maybe boost the signal a bit with a mention of the book on Twitter.

Went to the author's website.
No contact info at all.

No social media links at all.

So, the author doesn't like all that folderol.
I get that.
You just want to write books and be left alone.

I'll leave you alone.
I won't write you a note about how much I liked your book.
And I won't mention you on Twitter.
And I won't use your book as a contest prize.

Harumph harumph harumph.

That was my first (not very adult or thought out) reaction.

Then I thought about the kerfluffle about AJ Finn, the nom du guerre of the writer who was the subject of a rabid take down piece in The New Yorker recently.

I staked out the position in our office discussions that AJ Finn didn't owe his readers a damn thing other than a great book. His various problems with truth-telling either personal or professional weren't really my business. The only reason he found himself in the NYer's crosshairs was he'd had some pretty amazing success with the book.

Needless to say the discussions were rousing and I was SHOCKED to find out several well-respected colleagues didn't agree with me.  (smelling salts were required!)

But now, how to reconcile these two things.
If Author Invisible doesn't owe me anything, why am I annoyed he's invisible?

I realized after some thinking, that this kind of annoyance is a very recent thing.
Twenty years ago, when I read a book I liked, I told my friends. And maybe yammered to my publicity clients, or bookstore event planners. It never dawned on me to write a letter to the author's publisher (the only way you could contact authors back in the Paper Era.)

Now with instant communication and everyone hanging out at the CyberSpace Bar and Grill, it's expected we're all reachable. And want to be reached.

Well, clearly, no.

So who am I "showing" with this "I'll show you, you stuck up word wrangler, you" attitude.
Well, readers.
It's a good book.
I liked it enough to send it to Laird Barron because it reminded me of his main character Isaiah Coleridge.

And the author doesn't owe me anything because he's already provided  the only thing our social contract requires: a good book.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Better than bourbon to brighten my day

On Thursday of this week, an email arrived:

I have gone back to this post dozens of times and I love it more with each read. The past two years have been quite an adventure. Following your advice, and the advice of this incredible community that you brought together, I finally published my book!

SANE ENOUGH TO KNOW SHE'S CRAZY became available on Amazon this past November. It felt weird, but I even left my comfort zone and did a book signing to promote it. It was in a jewelry store and I sold ten copies, which was an incredible shift from years of begging people to read it for free. I must admit, it was pretty cool.

Meanwhile, back in my hometown, my sweet 80 year old mother had a marketing plan of her own. Armed with one of her three copies of my book, she marched herself in to her local Barnes and Noble and asked to see the manager. I expect she was quite charming, as she ended up leaving with his contact information and an offer to host my next book signing.

A couple emails and a phone call later, my book and I have a date with a book store! You bet your biscuits Mom will be there with me. We're going to do bold together.

Much Love and Thanks
Ruth Hansen

All in all, a good day here at the Reef.
All y'all are amazing.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

A question to add to your list for "when an agent offers rep"

Add this question: do you rep the book or the author?

Wait, what? I hear you ask. What's the damn difference? I wrote that damn book! You rep ME!

Well, no, not quite.

If the agent reps the book, generally she's saying this is a one book at a time arrangment. If Book Two isn't to her liking, she's not going to offer rep for it. That means you're agent hunting again.

If the agent expects to rep YOU, it's understood that she reps you for all your work. If you're planning an expose of the AAR, the time to tell her that is before you sign on the dotted line.

Any questions?

Friday, February 22, 2019

developmental editor and query timing

My coauthor and I have written a YA fantasy novel. It is the first in a series. We have edited it to the best of our abilities (we think), but currently do not have the funds for a professional developmental edit. We have started on book number two of the series. Is this a wise decision, or should we wait to edit and query the first book and see if there is any traction? I have other novels that I can work on in the mean time. Is it better to continue with those?
I think it's smart to have two different books percolating. If you fail to get traction with this first one, and the agent or editor says "what else ya got?" it's better to have something different than more of the same.

I'm perplexed why you think you need a developmental editor before you query.
It most likely won't hurt, but how long do you intend to wait to get started here?

Is this a thing with authors now?
Are you hearing "you must have an editor before querying?"

I know the emphasis is on "you must be polished before querying" and that's VERY true, but polish does not require an outside editor. (At least I don't think so.)

Let me know what you're seeing and hearing out there in authorland!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Moral rights and sub rights and do what's right. It's a three-fer day at the Reef

Dear Sharkiness,

Much thanks to your advice, I dove into query trenches, and emerged with an agent in my claws teeth tentacles. However, eighteen months on, I'm not sure I picked the right one. And so, I'm back in your waters, asking for more advice.

One of the things I really wanted from the agent was editorial guidance. I asked about it during the call, and was assured I'll get "as much as I wanted." However, my novel went on submission with little more than copy edits. It didn't sell.

When I started working on the next project, I shared the outline with the agent, but got only an encouraging sentence in response. We agreed that she will give me feedback on the first draft. I got it back with some scene comments but nothing structural. Obviously, I'm working with beta-readers (who pointed out major plot-holes), but since this was something I was really looking for in the agent relationship, I'm rather disappointed.

Also, I recently discovered that the types of deals the agent has been making are "global rights," i.e., including all translation and film rights, which I believe is not the best idea.

And so, I'm thinking of moving on. But some questions remain:

1. Since the agent has already seen the novel, does she have any "moral rights" to it? It's not the case in the agency agreement, but I want to do what's right, not just what's legal. For me, asking for the comments on the draft was a test, and what I got is clearly not what I need. (And as I said, this was a first draft for comments, not a submission preparation).

2. I am terrified of going back into the query trenches. Since at this moment the agent is not handling this novel, would it be acceptable to contact some of the agents who I was in touch earlier? Or is it an absolute no-no until we officially part ways?

3. Am I right thinking that selling "all rights" to a publisher is generally a bad idea?
Thank you very much for your advice, and all the work you're doing for us here.

(1) No
(2) No/Yes
(3) Not so much bad, as you net less dough. If that's bad, it's bad.

Now, let's add some context.

(1) Moral rights are the right of a creator to have control over what happens to their work. If a sculptor has moral rights to her work, you (the owner of said sculpture) may not be able to legally alter it in a substantial way. You can't destroy it either.

As the author of a Work, your moral rights come into play if someone (the Publisher for example) wants to condense your novel.  You have the right to not allow that.

An agent is NOT the creator of the Work. She does not own your work and copyright and control does not belong to her, no matter how much editorial guidance she did (or didn't!) offer.

(2) You cannot have representation in place and start querying. Reputable agents will say exactly that if you query them.  If you don't reveal that inconvenient fact, and the new agent finds out, you're starting out poorly because you've put her in an ethically gray place. Don't do that.

(3) Selling all rights is shorthand for the publisher licensing all the subsidiary rights from you; including but not limited to audio, translation, film/tv, dramatic, merchandising and theme parks.

If the publisher controls those rights, you get a cut if the rights are sold.  It looks like this:

Offer for theme park rights for Felix Buttonweeze's Kale Gardens of Karkoon: $1,000,000

Publisher negotiates license.
Royalty statement reflect this

Gross payment: $1,000,000
Publisher retains 50% ($500,000)
Remits balance to agent
Agent commission 15% (75,000)

(A) Remits balance to you $425,000

Nice payday, thank youuuu!

BUT if you retain theme park rights here's what the accounting looks like:
Gross payment: $1,000,000
Publisher gets 0

Payment made to agency: $1,000,000
Agent commission 15% $150,000

(B) Remits balance to you $850,000

Now, I don't know about you, but I like that (B) more than (A).
Call me avaricious and greedy, I'm ok with that.

The math works the same way on almost all subrights. The percentage can vary but you see the pattern: when you license subrights to the Publisher, they get a cut. When you don't, they don't.

How an agency handles subrights is one of the questions you want to ask BEFORE you sign. While individual books may vary, and some publishes insist on licensing all rights, you want an agent who doesn't do that as their default position.  It's your money. Find an agent who's dedicated to helping you keep more of it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The much maligned prologue-with some actual guidance on when to include

I put a final coat of polish on my MS and am ready to start querying. But I have a question about prologues. It seems like everyone hates prologues. Even on your site you say that you want the first 3-5 pages of chapter 1, not the preface or prologue. Should I follow that rule for all my queries or just from the agents who explicitly tell me to start with chapter 1?

The prologue isn't long, maybe 100 words or so, and though I think it adds a nice bit of setup, I definitely don't think it's worth aggravating the agent over. 

The fewer pages you're asked to include with your query, the less likely you should be to include the prologue.

I ask for 3-5 pages. That's 750-1250 words. If you want to use 12-15% of your page allotment with a prologue, be my guest.

I've never rejected anyone because they included a prologue.
I have passed on HUNDREDS of manuscripts because I had no sense of the story in the pages.

Even ESSENTIAL prologues give depth and resonance to the whole story. Agents don't have the whole story at this point.

If the agent asks for 20 or 50 pages, the prologue drops to 5% or less of the content.
You're safer here.

I'm actually thinking of upping the page count for a query because so many people start their books in the wrong place.

20 pages embedded in an email is going to be a huge pain though.
I'm probably going to need to rethink format.
That odd sound you hear is me thinking. Pay no attention unless you smell smoke.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

agent 1:1

The most important thing to remember is agents are just as nervous about meeting you as you are them.

Don't interpret not-smiling, hesitation, staring at the desk as anything other than our shyness too. It's not about you. It's the after effect from the last guy who sat down and told me I should go to AA (true story.)

The next most important thing, and this one is hard, is to not invest all your hopes and dreams into this one meeting.

You've seen a little kids face fall when they realize the chocolate chip cookie isn't for them? That's the face writers get when you tell them at 378,000 words is too many; that zombies are a hard sell; that a novel in verse about dino porn is an even harder sell.

I hate that face more than I hate fiction novels.

Thinking this agent will be *the* agent who recognizes your genius, falls on your work, offers on the spot...well, don't tell me you haven't thought about that even when you knew it wasn't likely at all.

Even if it WAS likely (it's not) you'd still want to talk with other agents, assess any offers. The initial offer might not be the best offer. The first agent to recognize your genius might not be the best agent for you.

You're not moving to the next level after this meeting and that is NOT NOT NOT failure of any kind.

So, what to do?
Bring your query. Bring it printed out on paper. Bring more than one copy for each meeting.

Rather than pitch your book, ask the agent if s/he'll give you some guidance on your query.

Agents LOVE to give advice and be asked for their opinion. That's cause agents  (well not me but they) are people, and people generally love to be asked their opinion.

You'll get a sense of how effective your query is from this.

If the agent wants to see more, generally s/he'll ask for it.

If s/he doesn't, it's ok to ask if you can query.  Expect to hear yes even if the agent isn't interested. Saying no to someone's face is hard. And awful. Trust me, we avoid it.

Don't have anything to pitch or query?
That's ok.
Ask the agent what s/he's reading that s/he loves.
Or about her client's upcoming books.
Take notes.
Follow through (ie read the books!)

If you can get past your anxiety and fear and shyness and insecurity to be your own lovely self, you'll do fine. Agents at conferences are actively looking for good books and they're eager to help you improve.

Now if by some fell swoop of misfortune you have a one on one with an agent who is rude, dismissive, condescending, or hits on you: get up and leave. You aren't burning bridges. You're removing toxicity from your life.  An agent who treats you like this isn't an agent you want. Under any circumstances.

And mention it to the conference organizer as well. No conference should have agents who are less than respectful of authors. ALL authors, even the clueless ones.

For example: when FriendofBill Writer sat down across from me and said "You should go to AA" I said "one of us is getting up and leaving. You may choose which one."

What I wanted to do was throw a drink in his face, but even under provocation, agents can't do that to writers. Not literally. Not metaphorically.

Good luck at the conference!

Monday, February 18, 2019

So, it's raining ice tonight, how's your holiday?

A friend of mine just oh-so-casually mentioned they were experiencing a cold snap in her town.
Temps were in the 50s!
Bring out the sweaters!

I had but one response of course:

It's raining ice here right now.
(or is as I write this at 11:37pm on Sunday night.)

Fortunately I have some good client writing to keep me company.

Tomorrow is a holiday of sorts.

My regular Monday client calls are all on schedule.
Writers don't really take that holiday stuff to heart!

What are you doing today?
Besides envying our warmer friends?

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Wreaking revenge on a Poor Innocent Defenseless agent

Recommend an un-put-downable 530 page book.

Then laugh yourself silly.

Particularly after you realize PIDagent forgot to write down WHO recommended this book and thus cannot return the favor.

So, what are you reading now (or recently) that was page turning, unputdownable and LONG?

I need to replenish my armory!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The joy of mute

Recently, someone I don't know at all scolded me on Twitter for the blog post headlines not having keywords. "What's your goal for the blog?" she asked.

Well, ok, I guess that's one way to introduce yourself.

But, it's not all that effective. My response was annoyance, followed closely by "mute."
I'm pretty sure she saw herself as being helpful.
Me, I saw it as criticism from someone I didn't know, and as far as I can tell, isn't part of the community here.

And was left thinking how nice it would be if every human interaction could be accompanied by a mute button.

Cause I'd sure as hell mute the "reviewers" on Amazon who complain that the ebook price is too high (authors have no control over that); who complain the shipment was late (again, authors aren't delivering books to your house); and agents who make authors feel stupid (that's just insensitive ego at play).

Who do you want to mute?
And of course, who would want to mute you?

More problematic: who wants to mute me?