Friday, November 17, 2017

Flash fiction contest with one helluva prize

It's almost Thanksgiving vacation, so it's time to hose out The Reef! Even the plants are getting dusted! As part of the general tidying up, I'm going to send one lucky prize winner a whole lotta damn fine books.

The kicker is you MUST have a US mailing address to get the prize.  If you don't have a US mailing address, you're welcome to enter the contest but your prize will be glory not goodies.

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: mick/mickey is ok, but tony/To New York is not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contest opens: 8:57am, Saturday, 11/18/17

Contest closes: 9am, Sunday, 11/19/17

 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!


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Character description doesn't match cover depiction

I often search for books with women of colour, black women in particular and in the genres of sci-fi or fantasy where I find we show up the least. There aren’t many out there and I don’t always like what I find (well written or not) so I often end up with books in genres I don’t even like.

One day I found a well-reviewed self-published book. Some of the reviews were filled with praise but also images of the reader’s depictions of how they believed the MC looked.

I did a bit more digging and checked out the Question and Answers and indeed someone had asked if the main character was a woman of colour to which one reader responded “yes” while another said they “could not really tell.” At this point, I write the author. Long story short, her response said she was explicit about making her MC black but that she couldn’t help what people wanted to see.

I buy the book. Within the first few chapters it is clear over and over again that the female protagonist is a black woman. I’m not even remotely passionate about the book, but I am passionate about this problem. A part of me wanted to write under the reviews of these ‘blind’ readers. Another part of me was angry at the writer for using a misleading cover. The lowest part of me wondered if another cover would even make a difference and why we even bother writing diverse characters in the first place.

How would you suggest a writer deal with reviews like this? Or should they ignore them?

If you feel passionate about it, I think you should post a comment. The trick is to respond with facts not emotion. Facts are "MC is described as this, that, the other on pages N, N2 and N3"

Leave out the "you are clearly blind and ignorant to have missed that" no matter how true you think it is.

Since this is a self-published book the writer has complete control over the cover. That is NOT NOT NOT the case in books that are not self-published.

I have no idea why an author would choose to write about black women and not have them depicted on the cover. I don't even want to hazard a guess on that one.

More generally I always advise writers to stay out of the reviews/discussions on their books. It's a fast way to go full tilt crazy.  Since you are not the writer, and have no skin in the game (bad joke?) you'll most likely be able to participate in a discussion without losing your mind.

And I really admire your tenacity in seeking out books with people of color, even outside your preferred reading areas.  If we all did that we'd solve the diverse voices problem in about two seasons of publishing.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

So, my company owns everything I write (updated)

The company I work for requires me to submit my final manuscript to its legal department before the manuscript is published (contractually my company owns everything I create). The legal department just wants to ensure I’m not sharing anything proprietary or anything else that would make the company look bad (i.e., racist views, etc.). If they are okay with my novel, they will forfeit their ownership. When is the right time to share this with an agent? When the agent requests a full or when they give me an offer or after I sign with them? I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing.

When the agent requests the full. Tell her exactly what you told me.(see below)

This is a pretty big hurdle though. It doesn't sound as though your company is required to relinquish ownership, and their standards sound pretty subjective. What's racist to one person isn't to another.

I'd be pretty ticked off if I signed someone, worked on revisions, and was ready to go on sub only to find a third party had ownership.

I know that the government requires their employees of a certain pay grade to submit books for review but they don't claim ownership of the book. They just don't want secrets getting out.

I hope this company is paying you a lot of dough for this kind of craziness.

As usual, the comment column brings forth some pretty smart stuff.  From Meg Leader this morning:

You know I have to disagree with the QOTKU on this one. (Yes, I do have my one-way ticket to Carkoon and am planning an extended stay there.) I used to work for one of those weird companies and had similar requirements. Because I had already published both in novels and nonfiction, I was able to write in an exclusion in my agreement that the attorneys accepted without a hitch. BUT...if you didn't do that up front (not being able to foresee the future and all), then...

Once you have your novel complete, IMMEDIATELY submit it for your attorneys to review. They don't care diddly about quality--it can even be a fairly early draft. They just care that it's not going to damage the company. Get that clearance from them as soon as you can, and THEN go out to agents with queries. Any changes between when the attorneys saw it and when it finally gets published are marked down to "editorial input from the publishers." As long as you don't add anything derogatory to the company or reveal any secrets in revisions you'll be good.

And...think seriously about using a pen name for your published work. If you don't reveal your company's name or your name, and you don't give away any company secrets or include anything derogatory to the company, then the attorneys have nothing to worry about.

Packing my bags to Carkoon even as I finish this comment...
Sorry Meg, travel to Carkoon is fully booked for the upcoming holiday.
I think what you said is pretty savvy.

I was thinking alongs the lines of having the sign off on the most final version, but if that's not the issue I thought it was, I'd do what Meg suggests.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dead or fled, can I carry on?

I started querying a few weeks ago and today I was looking through Query Tracker to get a sense of agent response times. I found that one of the agents I queried had been removed from the agency website (and is presumably no longer with said agency).

I checked and my query email was not viewed (I track my email opens just in case I end up in spam).

With that in mind, should I still wait the eight weeks that agency suggests between querying agents or is it fair game to send to someone else within the agency? There are several other agents there that I think may be a fit. 

If the agent is gone, and no one read your email, you've got a blank slate.
You can query as though you had not queried before.

Joseph Snoe's comment on today's post raises a good point:
I'm guessing the original poster was wondering if someone else in the agency would review Dead or Fled agent's unopened email queries. I'm guessing the answer is no, they won't .Query someone else at the agency (after checking one more time the first agent truly is no longer there).

And he's right. We are all trying to keep our own query box under control; most of us don't ask to look at someone else's. We might look through the inbox for something like notice of an offer, or some other non-query kind of item, but the actual queries are pretty much discarded unread.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Worried you're going to end up on an Agents BAD BAD BAD list?

Writers often say things like "I didn't want to annoy/bother the agent" and "I didn't want to end up on the agent's blacklist."

Usually these writers are obsessing over whether to nudge on a requested full, or send a revised manuscript if they've made changes while they waited for the agent to read a requested full.

For all of you out there who worry about these things, here is what you have to do to get on MY blacklist:

Scene 1
8:30pm, The Reef, NYC
Phone rings

Me: Janet Reid
Caller: Oh! I thought I'd get your voice mail.

Me: Yes?
Caller: oh, I was just calling to introduce myself because I want you to be my agent and...

Me: Let me stop you right there. All inquiries are handled by email.
Caller: oh yes I know, I just wanted you to make sure you got my email.

Me: Just send the email, it will be fine.

Scene 2
10am the following day

Client: Hey I just got this email from a woman who wants to know what it's like to work with you.

Me (puzzled, not having offered rep to anyone in last few weeks) That's weird, who is it?

Client (forwarding email) Here take a look.

Me: Oh my dear godiva, it's the lady who called me at 8:30pm last night. And she now wants you to call her.

Client: Maybe I should.

Me (evil cackle): Yes, maybe you should. Can you loop me in on the conversation?

Client: Sure!


Caller: Hello?
Client: Hi! You emailed me about Janet Reid. You're looking for an agent.

Caller: oh yes! Thank you for calling me back. Now, I have an unfinished masterpiece and I want Janet to represent me but what is she like? Is she any good?

Client: (sounding very doubtful) well, you know...she drinks. A lot. She keeps a lot of cash on hand for bail money. She actually laughs about crushing writers hopes and dreams.

Caller: Well, that doesn't sound good.

Client: no, it's actually terrible. One author told me she actually sent him a rejection letter on his birthday! It was utterly cruel.

Caller: oh that IS cruel.

Client: She's been my agent for almost ten years, but only because I'm afraid I'll stop getting my books sold if I part ways with her.

Caller: I had no idea.

Client: Most people don't. They just blindly query her by email, and when she offers, they say yes. It's a mess, let me tell you.

Caller: Well, thank you for letting me know.

Client: No problem.


I swear almost every word of this is true, and if you're obsessing over being shunned by agents far and wide just answer yes or no to these easy questions:

1. Have you called the agent at 8:30pm to make sure she gets your most recent email?
2. Have you contacted a client before being offered rep?
3. Have you completely lost your mind?

Only if you have a perfect score here should you worry about being shunned forever.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Tonic for terrible days

My brother has been trying to send this to me for about two years, or whenever you gave me copies of Patrick's books to pass along. This was on the transport plane enroute to one of his deployments in Afghanistan.

If you ask me how to get through the tough days of being an agent, writer, editor, or any other person involved in publishing, I'll just show you this picture. A guy on his way to a war zone gets a brief respite with a book I had a part of bringing in to the world.

Honestly, it doesn't get better than this.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Querying weird

Oh honorable QOTKU,

De-lurking here to ask a question that's been making my brain itch for the past few weeks: how do you query something weird? What do you do with a square peg that doesn't fit the "protagonist faced with a choice" hole?

For example, I recently re-read Max Brooks' World War Z. It's a phenomenal book that was wildly successful, but depending on how you look at it, the protagonist is either all of humanity or the roughly fifty subjects whose interviews make up the book. No one makes a significant choice to set up the story; it's sparked by an outside influence that everyone must react to. No character is involved in more than twenty pages of story. And to make things even more difficult, the most recent reasonably well-known example of its oral history style is a history book over thirty years old.

World War Z is a textbook example of breaking the rules done right, and I'm sure the pages sold it immediately. But how do you write a query that says "I know this breaks the rules, but I do it well and it's the right choice for this story," especially when you can't build from a base of "protagonist X is presented with decision Y?" Where does one even begin a pitch that makes you want pages on something like this?

Using your example of World War Z, here's the description lifted from the ebook edition:

We survived the zombie apocalypse, but how many of us are still haunted by that terrible time? We have (temporarily?) defeated the living dead, but at what cost? Told in the haunting and riveting voices of the men and women who witnessed the horror firsthand, World War Z, a #1 New York Times bestseller and the basis for the blockbuster movie, is the only record of the plague years.

Take out the last part of that and you've got something that works just fine as a query:

We survived the zombie apocalypse, but how many of us are still haunted by that terrible time? We have (temporarily?) defeated the living dead, but at what cost? Told in the haunting and riveting voices of the men and women who witnessed the horror firsthand, World War Z, a #1 New York Times bestseller and the basis for the blockbuster movie, is the only record of the plague years. is X words by Y author.

If you break all the rules, and do it  well, I'll get it. The trick is of course doing it well. How do you know if you have? Give your query to someone you know who likes to read (not necc your crit group which is trained to find problems.)

When that person is done reading, ask if they'd want to read the book. Yes is good, no is not. Lather, rinse, repeat till you're ahead of the game.

You learn the rules not just to follow them blindly but to know what is breaking them and what isn't. Breaking rules isn't a deal breaker. Bad writing is a deal breaker.

Friday, November 10, 2017

My Ms got a LOT of interest in #PitchWars

My book got a lot of requests from agents during #PitchWars. I have three offers of rep already, and a dozen other agents still looking at it. I'm excited (duh!) but it's a lot to take in. Be careful what you wish for I guess, but what do I do now?
Huzzah on writing a manuscript that generated that kind of interest. That bodes well for a writing career!

I assume that you want to make writing your career. That means you need an agency that can not only get you a significant deal with a US publisher, but can also sell your work overseas.  An agency that doesn't have the ability to sell foreign rights on your behalf will let the US publisher have world rights and that means less money for you. So ask prospective agents: how do you handle foreign rights?

A publishing deal seems like the final goal right now, but STAYING published is harder than it looks. Ask prospective agents what happens if your book doesn't sell, or your series doesn't do well. In other words, how will they help you pick yourself up and dust yourself off and start again if it all goes to hell (which of course you can't imagine it will, but still, ask.)

Ask how they handle film rights. A lot of agencies have powerhouse books that never get film deals. Film deals are harder (MUCH harder) to get than publishing deals.  Does the agent have film deals for her books?
Agents can drop dead or get hit by the cross-town bus.  You need to know what happens if the agent who love love loves your work is suddenly unavailable. Do other agents at the agency love love love your work? Have you met any of the other agents? This is a hard question to ask, but it's really important.

Are prospective agents asking what you want or just telling you how fabulous they are? A good agent's first question is "what's your goal?" and they talk about how to get there with you.

Most important, if you have a really hot project with this much interest, you want to make sure the agent you sign with can execute a significant deal for you. Look at their website. Do they have authors you've heard of and liked? Check Publishers Marketplace. Have they sold more than one book in a significant deal?  

Then, once your book is sold, what does the agency do to help you find readers?  A lot of promotion falls on the author these days and you're going to need help. How will this agent help you with that.

Some of these are yes/no answers and if you have multiple offers you're going to end up with a lot of agents who all seem pretty good.

Now is when you get into rapport. Did you like her? Have you emailed her other clients to ask about what it's like to work with her? You're at a lovely point in your career where nothing has yet gone wrong. Ask the clients what happens when the fecal matter hits the rotating device. The true measure of an agent is being able to prevent problems, and if problems arise, getting you out of them.

This is a key decision and it's easy to get overwhelmed with choices. You might want to take a second person with you to meetings, or have on the phone just to take notes. You're in a whirlwind right now, but you want to make sure you don't get blown off course.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes, ok?

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Have you lost that lovin' feelin?

Is there ‘red flag’ language agents use along the lines of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ when dealing with clients as they prepare to ‘break up’ with them?

After almost 8 years with my agent, I think I’m at that point and some of her recent emails have seemed to be strongly hinting at ‘breaking up’ but haven’t come right out and booted me or anything.

If you think your agent wants to part company, ask her.
It's always better to know.

My clients (or ex clients) know when I'm having a hard time getting enthusiastic about the next project. Most likely we've talked about it at length.

I can only think of two or three times when I was gobsmacked by a client leaving, and in hindsight I realize I'd just missed the signs.

The idea of jumping back in to the query pool isn't fun, I know.

The thing to remember is you need an effective, enthusiastic agent on your team.

But to answer your question: no, there's no red flag language. We all handle things in our own way. But trust your gut here. You know when someone isn't fully on board even if you can't say just why you know it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

RANT: AND the horse** you rode in on, AgentEgo

Yesterday's blog post about Agent lollygagging elicited a comment from Craig F:

Once upon a time, in a galaxy all the way down the block, I heard a story. A writer thought he had finally gotten his stars in line. An agent was knocking. Being an excitable boy, he nudged a couple of times.

The agent responded by asking to see the novel in first person. A year later he felt it was ready and sent it off. The only response was a post on a social media feed by the agent. In that post she said that if you really wanted to piss her off, nudge her.

If you are a writer, and you see an agent tweet something so rude, arrogant, and egomaniacal, my ONLY advice is strike that agent off your list and know you've made the right choice.

*applies ice cold compress to singed hair*

First, let's all remember that of course the agent must prioritize her reading, and her workload, and may not be able to read your manuscript (even when requested) as soon as you'd like.  That's an industry norm and we all need to live with it.  (You don't have to like it, just know it's there.)

BUT to say that you get "pissed off" when an author asks for a status report is indicative of an agent who has a very skewed idea of how to conduct business.

And for all you know, the manuscript got lost in the ether. Or in a mail management program meltdown. Or got discarded accidentally.

All three of those things have happened to me within the last year.

I've been damn grateful more than once that an author dropped me a line asking for a status update, cause I didn't have their work.  Fervent apologies, resent, bobs your uncle.

But on a more cosmic level, if this agent doesn't like getting nudged, how is she nudging editors who have her client's work? An agent who thinks that nudging is rude is an agent who is most likely not nudging herself.

And that is just plain old stupid. Well maybe not stupid. Insensitive and inexperienced. When I first started my practice I didn't have a clue about how writers felt. Fortunately, I learned. Perhaps Ego hasn't spent enough time with actual writers to have learned the lesson yet.

Editors (like all of us) prioritize their work. They read the stuff that needs an answer first. They read things from their pals first. I know editors who read only when someone else has offered.  In other words, they read based on communication AFTER the initial pitch.

Bad manners is bad business.
Don't work with someone who makes you feel like you're a disruption in their day.
YOU are the fuel line to the publishing engine. Without you, this industry grinds to a halt. Never forget that.

**remembering the words of Meredith Barnes, publicist extraordinaire,
 when I first used this phrase in her company 
"why do you have to bring the horse into this?? What did that horse ever do to you?"

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Agent lollygagging

My situation resembles that of 9/30’s OP with one critical difference—although the agent responded enthusiastically to my full, we’ve never worked together before and he has yet to sign me.

Recently (well, in publishing years, anyway) I queried you and you rejected me in a way that suggested I had good writing and a good project, and should keep on querying. Well, I did, and was fortunate to get a nibble from someone I’d rank (along with yourself) in my small group of dream agents. He asked for a full, which I sent promptly. After three months I nudged; he responded with a long email wherein he praised my writing, included a list of editorial suggestions, and invited me to revise and resubmit.

The edits, which ran about two pages single-spaced, were brilliant. The more I revised, the more excited I became. Six months later, I sent him the revised manuscript and heard . . . nothing. I waited three more months, then nudged tactfully. He responded by thanking me for the rewrite and my patience; he apologized for the delay and promised to get to it right away.

Since then I’ve nudged him twice more at three-week intervals, with the same result. And, boy, do I have questions. But unlike your OP of 9/30, I’m not yet his client, only a prospective (and tremblingly hopeful) client.

Is it okay to keep nudging him? Is every three weeks about right?

Is there anything more I can say or do to move things along? Have I already done too much?

Does he maybe hate the rewrite and is putting off telling me because he’s a nice man and as you pointed out in your original post, nice people hate writing rejections?

Sigh . . . Since you have been so unfailingly kind to me for so many years now, I’m hoping you’ll have time to consider this variation on OP’s theme. Like you, this agent has also been kind. He’s put a lot of unpaid time into my work and his edits have been spot-on. I don’t want to alienate him by pressing too hard. What should I doooooooooooooooooooooooooooo?

You now have a beautified, whipped-in-to-shape manuscript.
What you do is query it.

Agent Lollygag has now had a couple months to get to it. He's not dawdling to make you crazy (the way I like to do); he's probably got a lot of stuff on a higher priority deadline.

You keep nudging him but you do NOT KEEP WAITING for him.
You get that query back in rotation.
When you get an offer, you let him know instantly and give him a week to get back to you**

Nudging every three weeks is a lot.
Nudging every six to eight weeks is better.

I sympathize with you; waiting is hell. But I sympathize with Agent Lollygag too. I have a stack of requested fulls glaring at me right now. The chanting from the mob gathering in my lobby is starting
to take on chilling tones (I was hoping they'd all go home for NaNoWriMo but no luck there.)

**I've had people let me know of an offer, 
only to say they have to respond within a very few days. 
That means I have much less opportunity to read the ms 
so the author gets a pass, rather than a competing offer.

Monday, November 06, 2017

current boundaries for language and topics in YA fantasy.

I'm wondering where the current boundaries for language and topics are in YA fantasy.

In my latest novel, a woman refers to having been raped as a teenager when she refused an offer of marriage by a powerful man. That's all that is said on the subject but it explains something about this woman's situation. One (and only one) of my beta readers suggested the word might be too much for YA. I know I have seen the topic referenced, but can't recall if I have seen the word itself in YA lately. (I know quite a few teens, and none of them would bat an eye at this.)

I'm not sussed about this use of the word but wondered if there is a place to go to get an idea of what the guidelines are these days.
It's clear your beta reader hasn't read much YA published in the last five years. Not only is the word rape used, so are other words that no one said aloud sixty years ago: lesbian, gay, bisexual, not to mention correct words for body parts rather than silly simpering euphemisms.

And some of you will remember when the word cancer was never said aloud, let alone on television. John Wayne played the hero in Westerns but he IS a real life hero cause he was one of the first celebrities who talked about cancer in a public forum.

Telling the truth about the world we see is one of the biggest jobs a novelist can take on. Shading that truth for some misbegotten sensibility leads to shame.

Use the right word. If the word is rape, use that.

As for guidelines, this is why you read widely and deeply in your category. You'd know that rape is not a word  stricken at the editorial stage by knowing what is published these days. Sadly, all too many YA writers and readers know it is the truth of this world.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Sunday lounging about

I've been hanging out with my cat friend Ty this week.
He misses his real mom (and dad) who are off doing fun things without us.

Of course, when they come home he will stalk about with his nose and tail in the air, as if he can't be bothered, but we know the truth! He's waiting at the window!

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Look at me, I'm this...oh wait, no I'm that other thing

Should writers tailor their first page(s) to attract a request, even though the first page(s) may not mirror the rest of the manuscript in either tone or style?

I know attached pages should be stellar, but must the ultimate judgment of plot occur within 250 words?

Do you ever answer your own questions when you write them out?

I'm perplexed about why you'd think it's a good idea to change the tone or style of a book to attract readers only to change tone or style after the first pages.

I think there was a term for this: bait and switch.

You're making some erroneous assumptions here as well: I don't make a judgment about the plot from the query. I decided if I want to read the book (and that is the material I use to decide.)

The purpose of a query is to entice me to read the book. It's not to lay out the plot. It's not to introduce me to the world you've created.

Mismatched tone is one of things that sends me right to the rejection button. I see this when writers use a light breezy tone to talk about scary things (like shark fin soup.)  Or a somber tone when talking about kittens.

As with many writers who are meticulous, you're over-thinking this.
Tell me what the book is about in the plainest, yet most enticing way you can.
It's really simple, but it's sure not easy.

And yes, I often realize the answer to something only after I've written about it.

Friday, November 03, 2017

NaNoWriMo Day Three: some thoughts

We all have word tics. Mine is just. It jumps off my keyboard into blog posts with frightening frequency, and often not noticed till the third revision.  I can tell the blog posts written and posted in haste: they're just full of stuff.

Ok, that was a witticism. I know you all spotted it.

But let's use it as an example:

They're just full of stuff.
They're full of stuff.

Which is a stronger, leaner sentence?
Which says exactly what you want to communicate?

There is no rule here, there is only your keen eye.
This is the keen eye you get from a close reading your first/second/third/Nth draft and paring out everything you don't need.

You won't catch everything the first or second time. You know you're done when you're changing things back to what they were in the previous draft.

Other words that can fill you up but provide no literary nutrition:

A client of mine recently sent me a proposal that talked about "some mental shenanigans."
I love the word shenanigans.
But how many shenanigans are some? More than one? Three? Pi r squared?

Take out "some" and mental shenanigans stands quite nicely on its own.

Knowing your bugaboo words is a learned skill.
Being able to identify empty words fattening up your sentences is another.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

NaNoWriMo Day Two!

As you're writing (and revising) your novel, take a look at how you describe things. When you describe something it tells your reader to pay attention.

One of the most common things I see in lackluster writing is describing EVERYTHING, and in a way that doesn't illuminate character.

When your main character enters a room, and you tell me what she sees, I subconsciously think "this is important."When it turns out NOT to be important, the book feels cluttered rather than carefully crafted. And by carefully crafted I mean you make it look utterly natural. (Tough job, but it's yours, sorry!)

Take for example the opening scene in Runner by Patrick Lee
Just after three in the morning, Sam Dryden surrendered the night to insomnia and went running on the boardwalk. Cool humidity clung to him and filtered the lights of El Sedero to his left, the town sliding past like a tanker in the fog. To his right was the Pacific, black and silent as the edge of the world tonight. His footfalls on the old wood came back to him from every part of the darkness.

When you continue reading you'll see that the light, the quiet, and the sound of footfalls all reappear in the story. This is not only lovely writing, we need the information for what comes later.

Description is a powerful tool. Don't waste it on things that don't matter.

While you're writing, you'll put in a lot of things you won't need later. You'll revise them out once you're done and you know what you need.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

It's NaNoWriMo!

Many of you are embarking on a new novel for National Novel Writing Month. Good luck, and don't query on 12/1!

I thought today might be a good day to share an example of character revealed versus character described. The example is from the New York Times Metropolitan Diary (10/30/17)

Dear Diary:
I did my laundry on Sunday night like I always do.
I timed the dryer perfectly so that I was there then buzzer went off. As I emptied my warm, fresh-scented clothes out of several machines, I saw that one dryer was empty and that my fluffy, pale-blue bath mat was gone.
Who would steal a bath mat? How brazen. I could have walked in at any second. And where do you report such a theft? The police have much bigger matters to deal with.
I called the super and told him what had happened. He seemed convinced that I had misplaced the bathmat.
"I will see what I can do," he said.
I went to the store and bought a new bath mat, but as I passed my neighbors in the lobby I began to wonder which one was the laundry thief? What would they take next?
A few days later, my buzzer rang. He was standing at the door holding my bath mat.
"I watched 24 hours of the laundry-room security tape and found out who took your bath mat," he said. "I went to his apartment and got it back for you."
"Thank you so much," I said. "Can you tell me who took it?"
"I prefer not to say" the super said, "but the tenant claims it was an accident."
I fought back laughter. How does one open a dryer that they are not using and accidentally take someone else's bath mat?
I took the bath mat and returned immediately to the laundry room to wash it. After all, who knows what happened to it while it was gone."

(I think a better question is why you didn't hand your super a $20 bill for service above and beyond the call of duty. 24 hours of security tape? For a bath mat?)

Now you could certainly describe this person in a variety of ways "no life, skinflint, entitled" but this story illuminates all those things perfectly and with subtlety.

In other words, this is the kind of writing that entices me.

In case you are wondering.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

This blog post: a blog post

What's the deal with this trend of novels announcing in the title that they are, indeed, novels? Currently on Amazon bestsellers: "A Tangled Mercy: A Novel", "The House by the River: A Novel", "Origin; A Novel", "Everything We Left Behind: A Novel", "Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel." I could go on, but I suspect you get the gist. What is the point of this? We don't feel the need to say "Pulp Fiction: A Movie" or "The Golden Girls: A Sitcom" or "Fruity Pebbles: A Cereal." Why are we hanging a lantern on novels being novels? It reeks of pretension. I hate it. Make it stop.

It's not new at all. And you're comparing apples to oranges here. If you'd said "To Kill a Mockingbird: a book" then it would be as ridiculous as "Fruity Pebbles: A Cereal"

But books are objects, and unless you know one of them is a novel you can be forgiven for not knowing that Star Wars isn't non-fiction about Reagan's missile defense system.

Uncle Tom's Cabin isn't about real estate.
Huckleberry Finn isn't about muffins

The Breach isn't about babies.
The Electric Church isn't about religion (or Jimi Hendrix)

Putting "a novel" on the cover helps the folks unpacking books at the bookstore to know what it is, without checking a packing slip.

Your cris de couer cri de coeur is a classic example of thinking that what you know should be obvious to one and all.  That can lead to disdain for people or ideas or practices that is unfounded and unwarranted.

A lot of agents fall prey to this when talking to writers at conferences. They fling terms and "rules" around like their audience should know what they are talking about. Well, none of us were born knowing Fruity Pebbles is a cereal; or a query letter is how to contact an agent; or, The Breach is a terrific novel.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Results-Flash fiction contest: The Usual Santas (Soho Press)

Oh you clever beasts, whipping up stories to torment me delight us over the weekend.

Herewith the results
Special recogniton for being utterly delightful

Amy Johnson 9:08am

The strangest coincidence EVER in the long history of these contests: ending with the same line, and so close together there's almost no chance the latter saw the former before posting.

Nate Wilson 11:23am
Beth Carpenter 10:31am

Special recognition for compound words (which, when separated put entry over the word count)
french sojourn 5:11pm
flashfriday 7:58am

Great description
Kate Outhwaite 4:16am
fetcher extraordinaire

Here's  the longlist

Timothy Lowe 9:09 am
Gammy had a gift for making long stories short.

“Likely story!” she cawed when Grandpa noticed strange smells on their 18 acres.

“Cock-and-bull story!” she cackled when he observed declinations in the soil, the ground so hollowed out it collapsed.

“Bedtime story!” she shouted when his imagination conjured a billion dollar reservoir.

Finally, exasperated, he served her papers which she signed.

“Sob story,” she muttered. That night, while digging a hole in the cellar, a madcap eruption of black gold spewed at her feet.

After the sale, we asked Gammy what happened to Grandpa.

“Long story,” was all she said.

Sharyn Ekbergh 9:14am
I walked by the yellow Victorian. Counted the cats.
Always 17.
Counted again.
The door was open. It was never open.
I walked up the stairs. I entered the house.
“Miss Fish?” I called.
I searched each story. The basement.
In the kitchen 18 bowls.
18 pairs of jewel colored eyes.
The pride capered around an elegant black cat with emerald eyes.
On the counter a short statement.
The Will of Arabella Fish.
“I leave my property to the person feeding these cats.”
I looked down. The black cat smiled.
“So, how do you like your tuna, my darlings?”

Patricia Shelton 9:47am
 Cowering back, hands raised to fend off the hellish glare of the bright light, he stands his ground, attempting to quell the anger before him.

“It runs on gasohol, it's roomy, with heated seats.” Defiantly stepping forward, taking charge.

The snort of derision stops him mid-stride. They come ahead, menacing, forcing him to caper back against the open top limo. There were 18 of them, they'd brought family. Their leader steps forward, lowering his head, dimming the light.

“Long story short, Santa, you gonna ride this year, or walk?”

Kregger 10:08am
“I hate Christmas.” My handcuffs chafed.

“Well, G.R., Who doesn’t.”

“I’m green with envy.” I evolved my story. “Not the dye pack.”

“Get over it.” The guard capered along. “You’re 18 now, grow up.”

“It’s all that singing, noise and merriment, it drives me bat-shit.”

“Tell it to the judge.”

I stood before her honor, like a rain-drenched werewolf in Soho.

“Mr. Inch,” she banged the gavel. “Tell me a short story.”

I did a counter-clockwise Linda Blair and kicked off my shoes. “I’ve got a tiny heart?”

“How graphic. Thirty days…”

I turned away.

“…and return the presents.”

Mallory Love 2:17pm
Blind Date # 18
Location: An upscale wine bar in Soho
The Prospect: a corporate executive; a little on the short side, but cute
The Conversation (on the record):
“So, Beautiful, what’s your story?”
“Well, I’m thirty, never married, but looking for something serious. You?”
“Are you from around he-"
His phone buzzes and flashes a name-Erica. Personally, I think it’s rude, but wave him on as he leaves the table to answer it.
Ten minutes later, he returns.
“So where were we?”
We settle into comfortable chatter and kiss goodbye.

Afterwards, I call Erica. Another cheating husband caught.
Ginger Mollymarilyn 5:15pm
“So, honey, what’s your name?”
“What do you want for Christmas?”
“Escape Renegade and the Ariana doll.”
“Emma, you’re on the Naughty List. Lying to your mommy, quite the storyteller, I see. Only 18 days till Christmas, help Santa, and you’re on the Good List. Santa’s been eating too many shortbread cookies and can’t fit down the chimney. Do you know what code your mommy uses to get in your house?"
“Yes, 2011, when I was born.”
“Don’t tell mommy our secret or else you’re on the Naughty List again.”
“Yes, Santa.”

This year, Santa’s gonna be getting.

Sherin Nicole 10:30pm

Not much time considering the crimes they’d committed to get here: fraud, threats, shoplifting to corroborate their Instagram backstory.

Anything for 15 minutes of the good life. They’d nearly gotten away with it but came up short.

Mindy shoved her hands into the pockets of her orange jumpsuit. She’d shank someone with her silver stilettos if she didn’t get food fast.

Taylor grimaced when a girl picked the capers off a Mediterranean Frittata. “Criminal.”

“How much longer?” Mindy glared at the guard.

“9 minutes.”

Ugh, you literally had to commit murder to get a brunch table in Soho.

Just Jan 7:53am
“What’s the story?”

“Fat Boy tried to drop Rudy off an 18th floor fire escape.”

Rudy probably deserved it, the little shit, but still. “Did he forget you guys only fly on Christmas Eve?”

“You know how he is—so HOHOHO about everything.”

“He didn’t get into the elves’ brownies, right?”

“Not this time.”

“Good.” Assault would be hard enough to defend. He didn’t need a drug charge, too. “Anyone tell the Missus?”

“No way. If he’s grounded, she’ll turn us into short ribs.”

“Understood.” Frosty picked up his briefcase. “I’ll take it from here.”

Law and Order: North Pole

It's that last sentence that made this stand out from all the other santa stories we had. I thought it was really funny (and since I'm a devoted L&O fan, I immediately started casting the series!)

Short list 

Leilani 6:03am
Central Park is partying tonight. Soho's far enough from Seoul, they'll never find her. She pats her roofline into place. The plastic surgeon did her proud.
She's stashed the stuff on the 18th story, on top of bagels, underneath the lox. She tips a vat (or two) of whiskey into her waterlines, and turns the speakers up. Her elevators start to list.
The doorbell rings.
She jumps, begins to fall. It's tipsy being tall, when you're used to short.
Windows crunch. Bagels shower.
Children cry, "There's rocks in the cream cheese!"
Central cries, too. The perfect escape, ruined by gravity.

This is brilliantly imaginative and needs to be read slowly at least twice to be appreciate fully.

RosannaM 12:57pm
News that the records are unsealed horrify me.
My name’s in there.
Sure, not on the short list, maybe not even on the long list.
But mentioned. Investigated by the alphabet soup agencies.

Dismissed as an unlikely suspect then,
now journalists and conspiracists will ferret me out and gnaw for answers.
Of 18 people in the know, I’m the last living.

So how did I get away when escape routes were barricaded?
Sobbed my eyewitness story and went home with my mother.

No one thinks a fifteen-year-old girl
can be turned into an asset, and I can’t ever tell how.

I love love love the idea behind this story. 

CynthiaMc 9:57am
"So how are you, Major?"

"Short and sassy. What's your story, Doc?"

I was the good girl.

Todd was the bad boy my parents warned me about.

We were 18. Invincible - except for them.

"Marry me, Jen."

"I can't."

"You can't escape romance."

Todd went to war with the Few, the Proud.

I went to medical school.

"Afghanistan's a long way from home," I said.

"Yet here we are. Thanks for saving my leg."

"My pleasure. Sorry about the other one."

"War's hell. No regrets. You?"

He wasn't wearing a ring.

"Just one. I should've said yes."

"Marry me, Jen."

 You have to read carefully to get the chronolgoy correct here, but this is such a lovely story it's worth the effort.

This one wasn't hard. There were a lot of terrific entries, but CynthaMc just stole my heart.

Cynthia,  please send me your mailing address and I'll get a copy of The Usual Santas in the mail to you.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and post entries.  Your work was a wonderful weekend respite!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Flash fiction contest: The Usual Santas (Soho Press)

Hard not to feel homicidal about Christmas, right?

The folks at Soho Press feel your pain.

This wonderful anthology includes a story by Gary Corby along with stories from other amazing authors in the Soho lineup.

And it's gotten some terrific reviews

“I wished the book would never end, so I didn't finish it. ”
                                                                           --Tim Hallinan

                       "Buy this book or else. We know where you live"
                                                                --Lene Kaaberbpol

"Nothing says Christmas like a story from a guy named Goldberg"
                                                                       --Tod Goldberg

Of course you want to win a copy!

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 Soho/sohobo is ok, but caper/crapper 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: 9am, Saturday, 10/28/17

Contest closes: 9am, Sunday, 10/29/17

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, October 26, 2017


Once you've found your dream agent, how would you recommend trying to start a relationship with her? Twitter? Email? (And let's assume you can't afford to fly around the country for conferences)

This question makes me want to reach through the computer screen and turn off your computer before you do something really really stupid. Something you Can Not Recover From.

If you want to "start a relationship" with an agent you SEND A QUERY.

That's the only kind of relationship I'm looking for.

Now, as it happens, because I have this blog, I do have relationships with writers who are not clients. They made comments on the blog, or they entered contests, or in many cases, asked questions for the blog to address.  In all cases you'll note that writer was simply contributing to the community here. Friendship with me was just a bonus unintended consequence.

If you mean you want to get to know an agent before you query: DON'T.
You'll come off as a stalker.  Or stalker-y.
And guess what? I go out of my way to avoid that kind of writer. As do my colleagues.

You want to get rollicking conversation going amongst agents? Ask about the weird things authors do by trying to "make friends."

Here's what really happens:
A writer who introduces himself/herself on Twitter as a writer looking for an agent gets muted.

A writer who introduces him/her self on Twitter with "you are my dream agent" gets blocked.

A writer who retweets everything I say (up to and including things that make NO sense out of context) gets muted.

A writer who asks publishing questions on twitter gets ignored.

A writer who emails anything but a question for the blog or a query gets discarded.

And is this time to review why you setting your sights on a "dream agent" is not not not a good idea?

Now if I didn't understand the question correctly and you meant to ask how to get off on the right foot with an agent who has signed you there's always one correct answer: booze cookies fruit.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Recovering from a #queryfail of epic proportion

You're querying.
You've prepped your sub list.
You've honed your query.
You've got everything ready to go.

You hit send.
You hit the tequila bottle (or the teapot) with relief now that this is done, done, done.
Yes, yes, yes.

You wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when your reptile brain says "you sent the wrong thing."

You look at your outgoing mail folder and sure enough. You sent something so wrong, it's not even going to make a right turn to get back on the right path. It's not in left field, it's in the dumpster, and it's on fire.


Recently, #QueryFail looked like this:

In case  you're wondering why: no attachments when you query unless specifically directed; query one project at a time; include a query letter (you can't tell from this image, but there was no query.)

My assumption when I get something that is clearly this wrong is the writer doesn't know anything about how to query.

BUT it's entirely possible the writer knows a LOT about querying and had some sort of #EpicMalfunction

IF this happens to you: DO NOT DESPAIR. Do not weep and rend your garment. You can recover.

First, know that when I get something like this, I toss it. I don't record the name of the writer, I don't save it to my file of "idiots to never respond to" or "clueless wonders to blog about."

I just throw it away.

Which is VERY good news for you.
You can just query (CORRECTLY) and that first salvo won't even appear on my radar.

The trick is to NOT to tell me about that first mistake.
Just query like you would normally.

This is true of every other kind of terrible mistake you can make. Just query again. Don't say "sorry I called you Mr. Reid" (cause I really didn't notice); or "sorry I misspelled Herbiverousville" cause I don't spell check your query; or, "gosh I'm sorry I did X" cause most likely I didn't notice.

Here's the thing to remember: you slave over every single word in your query (and you should) but I read them like you read your email: to get the info I need and get on to the pages. I don't read it to assess it, correct it, analyze it, or make sure you did 27 things correctly. I just read it.

You can recover from a major splat.
Get up, dust yourself off, step up to the plate and swing for the fences.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Contest results-FINAL

At one point I thought "oh hell, we're going to have three winners, where am I going to get extra ARCs" cause you guyz really pulled out the stops this time.

There were a couple of entries that I liked but didn't quite understand.

Herewith the results:

Not quite a story, but amazing!
Dellcartoons 9:34am

Not quite a story but deliciously clever
Ly Kesse 7:23am

Nominees for the Steve Forti Amazingly Deft Word Prompt Manipulation Award
Dellcartoons 9:34am

Tea Leave 3:56pm
I’ll die in the cold and the dar

The very idea that Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl would seen near, let alone atop a dumptster boggles the mind!!
Jennifer Delozier

Kudos for just cracking me up!
Sarah Jensen 11:05am

Special recognition for a lovely and lyrical post that resonates with those of us who know the backstory
Melanie Sue Bowles 3:03 pm

Special recognition for a great line:
Timothy Lowe 6:41pm
I am still lithe, thin as a shadow, softer than murder on black, muddy feet.

Here's the long list:
Barbara Lund 11:30am
Jennifer R. Donohue
Colin Smith 11:37am
D Willadsen 12:21pm
John Davis (manuscript) Frain 2:00pm

And the short list:

Richelle Elberg
I rose today in Dar es Salaam. Yesterday, it was Newark.

(New Jersey has no idea the debt owed it. Dayweaver has a sense of humor.)

But Kilimanjaro was tough to summit; I’m tired. I trudge across this beehive of a city. Hot flesh chafes; lives shout and whisper in Swahili.

All lost if I do not reach him.

Shadows lengthen.

Finally! I see it, a sunbird, purple, blue, yellow. It leads me to him. In his magic loom, the Tapestry of Tomorrow is fully woven. Intricate. Resplendent.

“Ravi.” Dayweaver smiles. “You’re here.”

And so I will rise again tomorrow.

One of the things I liked here was how the prompt word dar was worked in to a location. I love maps and knowing where things are is a real passion.

And I love the concept of this story; rebirth, journey, rebirth.

The writing is crisp and elegant.

Michael Seese
Countless cameras flash as I step onto the red carpet and into the glare of scrutiny.

I spackle on the magic smile, and they buy the act. They can't see the shadow of shame consuming my flesh. Starstruck, they weave realities, imagining what it's like.


Some of us made deals with the devil.

“You can be a star, darling. I just need one thing...”

Others said “No deal.” But he took their soul anyway.

I escape into the lobby. And breathe. Surreptitiously eyeing the other Beautiful People, I wonder how many are thinking what I am.


This is both topical and timeless.
The writing is utterly splendid (of course, it's Michael Seese, we've come to expect no less)

Amy Johnson 12:32pm
Young girl dream weaver
Wannabe high achiever
Sleeps on a creaky cot
Wants her frozen waffles hot
Electric’s shut off
Hand-washing brother’s socks.
Shadows call
Forget it all
Life’s a joke
Take a toke
Take a jump
Off a wall
Along comes neighbor lady
Says that she’ll watch the baby
Won’t charge your mom a dime
Just get to school on time.
Now she got the magic key
Real generosity.
Night and day
Turns each F into an A.
Dream weaver’s going far
College on the radar
Gonna be a superstar
A superstar.
I love the rhythm of this entry with all my heart.

Amy Schaefer 1:16pm
It took a long time to realize what was happening.

I trod our regular route through the park. Bought cheddar scones. Went cycling and to the movies, just like when she was alive.

I was more shadower than widower.

But when I was ready to try a new path, invisible claws gripped my flesh and spun me around. My mouth ordered black-coffee-no-sugars. I only wore old clothes.

As always.

She used to weave red-nailed fingers through my hair. “I curse you to be mine forever.”
“I accept.”

Words we chanted countless times – our call-and-response.

I guess love’s magic is real.
This writing is so clear and precise you can see what's happening in your mind's eye. And that lovely twist at the end (love's magic not being all that romantic!) makes this entry very special.
Brig 5:22pm
Lady Octavia Summers was known for two things. Being very not nice; and being ever so good at it.

She was also rich, which was why two young bucks stood before her.

Lord Flourish was so well turned out he was almost in again.
‘My lady. How handsome you are’.

In contrast, Mr. Townsend’s feature was his silence. He nodded. She nodded. He nodded. She nodded. When he went to nod again she rang a little bell, which thankfully did the trick.

She made her decision.

But alas, a daring shadow magic flesh-weaver’s wayward steamroller flattened her.

The villagers rejoiced.
This is hilarious and utterly lovely at the same time, which is a real trick.

Just Jan 7:42pm
Joey was a greenhorn; a kid, really. Ed was older, but not necessarily wiser. She killed them slowly, while they struggled helplessly against her silken bonds.

She’s a master manipulator--a weaver of webs so complex most never catch on until it’s too late. And she’s coming for me.

“Darling,” she says, her voice dripping with saccharine, “come closer. I can’t see you.”

I remain in the shadows, poised to pray, until curiosity gets the best of her. She scuttles forward. I work my magic: One strike and her flesh is mine.

Wherever you are boys, this one’s for you.

As you know by now I'm a sucker for off-beat points of view and this one is a gem. I'm sure you all get that "she" is the spider, but do you know who's telling the story? One word is a clue.

Sherin Nicole 10:18pm
“Flesh forms a prison. Bones call to the reapers.”

“What of blood?” the Darkness asked, fading to grey in eagerness.

I dared not breathe.

“Blood is mercurial, but the threads of reality beneath the fingertips of weavers is a magic neither dark nor light.”

The unspoken hung in the black. The Darkness craved infinite unseen mornings. Baited and hooked, it stitched itself to my heels. Darkness became shadow.

So close.

“We cannot go on eight legs,” I whispered. Breathless.

“Sixteen,” it countered but obliged.

The fiber of my being unraveled; a familiar ache. I stood rewoven. Woman again. Arachne again.
I'm not exactly sure what this is, but the imagery and the writing is so compelling I can't stop reading it. It's almost a poem, really.

Shauna Sanders 12:46am

How are you? I’m okay. I spent the day cleaning cobwebs—pushing back the shadows, mom always said. I found your baby doll—such a darling find—real eyelashes, porcelain softer than flesh. I don’t believe in magic, but I stood it on the bedside table and slept all night without dreaming.

I want you to have it, but I can only send letters, and you never visit. Are you still angry? You know how hard it is to tell the difference between a weaver and a recluse. Surely the scars have faded by now. Come soon.

Oh sweet mother of Godiva! What is left unsaid here! Talk about letting your reader fill in the spaces. This is VERY hard to do well. Miss a single beat and your reader falls away.

A gorgeous example of what I think of as spider-web writing. The writer spins the filaments and the story is in the shapes those filaments creates.

Mallory Love 1:49am
We called him Weaver because his web of lies had more tangles than Rapunzel’s hair. We didn’t know his real name, only his stories which consisted of an old lover who broke his heart and stole his son.

“That boy is my flesh,” he’d say nightly over a pint. Dark shadows resided under his glassy eyes. We were apt to feel sorry for him until he started talking nonsense about helping the queen magically spin straw into gold, them bonding over being outcasts.

Someone jokingly suggested he build a new son out of enchanted wood. Never saw him after that.
This just cracks me up.
It's funny, and also poignant.
Very nice writing.

Kate Outhwaite
At awkward, inconvenient times (a meeting, a phone call, an interview)the time-weaver slips from my mental shadows and, with vile magic, sucks me back.

A cold, wet bus stop; a family friend with a warm, dry car.

“How’s school?” “Are there any boys you like?”

A fleshy hand rests on my thigh, a moment too long and a fraction too high to mistake intent.

A frozen heartbeat, a change of breathing and a single word, “Out.”

A bullet dodged, I walk the long way home.

I never tell.

But, in awkward, inconvenient times, I choose the darker path.
There's nothing to add to this.
It's gorgeous, haunting and deeply moving. 
That last line is what elevates it to truly amazing.

CynthiaMc 7:49am
"Don't trust a redcoat, Sallie," Papa said.

"James is different, Papa."

They eloped in shadow.

DAR lineage - check.

"Flesh is weak," James said...again. "You'd kill me if you could get away with it."

"Drat modern forensics," Sallie said.

Her tapestry was a hit at Yorktown re-enactment.

"She is quite the weaver," DAR President gushed.

"Magical," said James, resplendent in his redcoat. "We could walk right into it."

Just for fun, they did - right into the Battle of Yorktown.

"You said it wouldn't work again," James said.

"I didn't think it would."

James reached for his bayonet.

Sallie gave it to him.
The ability to tell a story in flash fiction is HARD. Now, telling it in two different time periods? Yea, that's really hard.

And yet, she makes it look so easy. That's real skill. I'm rather in awe.

Each of these finalists has a great deal of merit. They're all different so one set of standards isn't going to cut it.

Let me know what you think, and if you disagree with me (about who didn't make the cut)

Update: I know you all are enjoying my consternation here at having to pick just one from this amazing array of work. I can hear you chortling and giggling as you oil your rodent wheels for future workouts, knowing you've had your revenge of sorts. It's a plot I tell you, a plot.

The first winnowing got me down to the final six. Each of them were different, each had things I really loved. All of them deserved to win.

Then I let the entries sit for a bit, went back and read again. (At this point, I'm cursing the talent in this group and looking on CraigsList for someone to come choose for me)

In the end I had to go with the entry that I found more and more to think about each time I read it.

The winner this week is Sherin Nicole 10:18pm.

Honestly, this is entirely subjective.
Every entry on the long and short list was winning quality.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and post entries.  You're making my life wonderfully miserable.

Sherin Nicole, if you'll email me with your mailing address I'll send you the ARC of Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly.

Andyes, we'll have another contest on Friday. I'm a sucker for your work, damn you all.

Monday, October 23, 2017

"For special friends of Rick's, a special discount"

Dear Majestic Shark

About 3 years ago, I sent some agents queries for my novel - Novel A. After getting a lot of rejections, I parked it and worked on it off and on for a while.

I'm now querying Novel B (only related to Novel A in that they're both YA fantasy). However, I've found some agents who I didn't query with Novel A. Novel A's in a better position than it was 3 years ago, and I still have a lot of love for it. So, do I follow up on a rejection on Novel B with a new query for Novel A with these agents? If so, do I reference the fact I'm clogging their inbox (I am also likely to have a Novel C ready by the end of the year/early next), or treat it as a whole new query? Are these hamster-wheel questions?

As always, I appreciate your sharp-toothed advice.

The only thing you follow up with is "thank you for your time and consideration."

It drives me sort of nutso when the response to a pass is "oh you didn't want B, but here, how about C?"

The reason it drives me nutso is cause it seems like you're not querying me as part of a thoughtful strategy but just cause you're in my inbox and on my radar. These Not B, But C kinds of offers tend to be not-very-good queries too. They tend to be impromptu pitches. In other words, pitches NOT honed and polished, and certainly NOT compelling.

Time management also mandates that once I've read your manuscript I need to turn my attention to the other people who've also been waiting just as long as you just did. In other words, you'd be at the back of the line again, which means you DO have time to polish and perfect a query, and if I am interested I'll remember you fondly (we hope.)

If you're querying Novel B now, you can certainly query Novel A but LATER. And with its own query. You might reference that the agent read Novel B, but you don't have to. I generally remember the people who've had requested fulls with me.

And if I forget, my address book remembers

Where oh where are the contest results?

Not posted, that's for sure (slacker shark!)
Look for them on Tuesday morning.

I had a wild weekend of conference attending, and I got behind.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Flash Fiction contest: Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly

oh my dear writer friends, you want want want to win this!

It's entirely true that I stole this ARC from the sleeping hand of MarcyKate Connolly's trusting agent, and slithered back to my office to read it posthaste.

And now my criminal spoils are yours for the winning!

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: flesh/fleshy is ok but flesh/flemish 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: 6:37am Saturday 10/21/17

Contest closes: 9am Sunday 10/22/17

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, October 19, 2017

young agent/small agency

I've been lucky enough to get an offer of representation for my first novel. Unsurprisingly, various top agents had passed on it, and the person who offered rep is relatively inexperienced (a few years in the business) and works for a relatively small agency.

Are there any things to look out for in particular with inexperienced agents, or ways to help evaluate them given a shorter history of selling books? For example, how many sales (in PM) would you expect a good-but-young agent to have after 2-3 years of experience?
The most important thing to ask is "what have you sold?" And not just the young agent, the agency as a whole.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, takes the place of experience when problems arise on the path to publication. A youngish agent may not have the requisite experience, but someone at the agency should.

That means you look at what the entire agency has sold. If they haven't sold anything to a big publisher, you're going to be first. And we all know how I feel about being first, right?

The number of sales doesn't matter as much as where the books have sold (to my way of thinking.)

With a youngish agent, I'd also want to have a pretty straightforward discussion about what happens if the agent leaves. Agenting is a tough business and not everyone keeps at it.

Every agent starts small (well, ok a couple didn't but they are the exception, not the rule). Make sure they're surrounded by people who didn't stay small.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Good project: check. Good client...err not so much

Recently, I wrote a post about showing me that you're going to be difficult.

In today's incoming email I found a whole new way you can outsmart yourself:


Putting anything like this on your email flags you as the rawest of raw recruits to the Publishing Horde.

It also tells me that you think manuscripts get stolen so often that you need to make sure to warn everyone not to do it.  That's the first sign that you're this guy

You never need this on a query.

Any questions?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Yesterday's blog post mentioned the value of poetry and some of you asked for recommendations.

My go-to journal for poetry is called (drum roll!) POETRY and it's the journal of the Poetry Foundation.

What I like best is that it's an anthology, so if the work of one poet is too obscure or abstract for me, I can just turn the page.

I love the poetry of Richard Blanco.

And Jane Kenyon. Well, enough good cannot be said of Jane Kenyon. Her poem Happiness is a touchstone for me.

And if your poetry taste runs to Dr. Seuss, or Ogden Nash, or Shel Silverstein, well thats' some rollicking good stanzas.

Those of you who find beauty in the Psalms, or Shakespeare, or Keats, have at it.  Keats famously said truth is beauty but he didn't say there was but one of each.

And while you may not think of Homer's Odyssey as poetry, it is.
The Iliad too.

There's a wealth to read and remember. Don't spend time with poets or poetry that doesn't resonate with you. If you "don't understand" a poem, read another one. Or another poet. Or look for poetry designed for younger readers.  Just cause you're old doesn't mean you have to give up kids books. Robert Louis Stevenson's poem about swings is with me to this day.

My favorite poem of all time is called We Are Going to Mars by Nikki Giovanni and I had the experience of a lifetime listening to her speak the poem aloud here in New York at Symphony Space.

A good poem is one that illuminates your world.
 That's the ONLY measure of poetry in my opinion.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Great concept, terrific query, and no bites. What the hell is wrong?

It's your writing.
I'm sorry, but that's just the honest to godiva truth, and it doesn't mean you're a bad person or even a bad writer. It means your eye or your ear isn't keen enough.

What do I mean by keen eye?

Your keen eye is your revising eye. We all write god-awful first drafts. I do it here with blog posts. You do it there with pages, chapters, entire novels.

It's the revising that spruces things up, but some of you haven't yet learned how to read for bland or redundant.

For example: describing farmland as pastoral.
It's not a crime.
It's not even wrong.

It's just bad writing.
Farm land is by expectation pastoral. You don't have to tell me so (that means you don't have to use the word). Much like you don't have to describe cats as four-legged felines. Now, if a cat has five legs, that's worth noting. Or perhaps just three. In any case you get the point. Don't use adjectives and adverbs to illustrate the obvious. Use them for when you want your reader to notice something.

Only if the farm land ISN'T pastoral would it be interesting. It's the unexpected that intrigues us.

What do I mean by ear?
Clunky sentences.
I can't use any examples because I don't use the work of people who query me here on the blog. But I see some sentences that feel like pretzels.

How to avoid this: say them out loud. Yes, every single one.

And if you can't hear any clunky sentences it's NOT cause you aren't writing them. It's cause your ear isn't tuned correctly.

How to avoid that: well you can't avoid it but you can fix it. And I think one way you fix it is by listening to audio books and reading poetry. Actually HEARING a book you love will allow good rhythm to sink into your brain.

And reading poetry is just plain good for you. If you don't understand a poem, read it again. I don't understand every poem I read -- actually more like I don't understand a third of the poems I read. I just skip over those after the second read.

The ones I do get, I read those more than a couple times. And yes, sometimes I say them out loud, and you bet your bookmark, it does clear out some room on the L-train when I start reciting aloud.

Your eye and ear develop with practice. Practice means pages.

You want to get some practice in? NaNoWrMo is coming. Several of my clients use it to really hit the writing desk. Think about it.

Not for nothing Stephen King famously said "the first million words are practice."