Sunday, December 09, 2018

The Duchess of Yowl makes her wishes known

Saturday afternoon, chez Yowl

Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl: How many days until Christmas?

Me: I'm not sure, Your Grace. A couple weeks. Why?

DoY: I want to make sure you allowed enough time for shipping.

Me: (suspicious) shipping? Am I not buying your gift at the fishmonger as usual?

DoY: I don't want a fish. I want fish!

Me: Fish, as in many fish? Fish doesn't stay fresh for more than a day or two.

DoY: It does if it's swimming in an aquarium.

Me: You want an aquarium?

DoY: Yes, I saw one on TV.

Me: An aquarium is not an All You Can Eat Buffet.

DoY: (fastidiously) I partake only in moderation.

Me: I'm not sure any fish would agree to live here if they saw you doing your vulture act above their new home.

DoY: We'll give them tax incentives. Like they do in Detroit.

Me: I'm surprised you haven't been elected to office.

DoY:  Election fraud pure and simple. The Ds are responsible of course.

Me: You blame the Democrats?

DoY: No of course not. Dogs.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Is my brilliant idea going to shoot me in the foot?

I have a YA mystery that I plan to start querying early next year. While querying, the advice is to work on something else, but I know, from experience, that personally I find it really hard to be creative while querying, so my plan is to concentrate on building an email list.

Maybe it's a bit soon to start at this before even having an agent but, again, experience has taught me that all platform building takes longer than expected, with pitfalls along the way. So my thinking is, it's better to experiment and make mistakes when nobody is paying too much attention. I'd love your opinion on this but that's not the real question.

The brilliant plan is to offer a 10K novella to potential readers to persuade them to sign up. This novella (a work-in-progress) would be exclusive to my list, so not available anywhere else. It's a prequel to the ms I plan to query, but it's separate from it. The ms stands alone and it's absolutely not necessary for anyone to have read the prequel.

My question is this: The novella uses the same setting and features a number of key characters from the real ms and, of course, I'm hoping those who read it will be curious enough to want more. Is this the great idea I think it is, or could it potentially turn into a can of worms down the road, if a publishing deal is ever on the table?

Have been an avid follower of your blog for years and love the work you do to keep us all educated, entertained and, above all, optimistic!

First, you're incredibly savvy to understand that building platform takes a long time, cause it does. And that you understand a robust mailing list is a Very Good Thing.  The only thing that prevented me from showing up at your door with an agreement, a pen and sharkly smile is that your mystery is YA.

But, to your question:  what you're asking is, if in making this work in progress available now, will you unknowingly cause problems for a future publishing contract.


A publishing contract covers ONLY the book the publisher has acquired. They do not have a license for the character, the setting, the time period, nor can they claim Prequels, sequels, writing journals with plot outlines.  As long as the novel you send out on submission hasn't been published, you're fine.

Now, if you want to send a chapter from that novel to newsletter subscribers, keep it under 7500 words, and let prospective agents know.  Most likely that will be fine too.

What you need to remember is "you can't" is often a translation of "we don't want" and they are NOT the same.

A publishing contract is an agreement between two parties and can be modified by negotiations. Thus, a book that was previously published can be republished if both parties agree.

When you see "You can't query a book that's already been published" it's translate from the original which is "we don't want to publish a book that has only sold seven copies, all to your sainted mum who is now giving them as Christmas gifts."

If you've already given away the content of your book in a newsletter, I'm going to be much less interested in working with you because we've  you've squandered those precious readers and it's unlikely they'll shell out $25 for something they've already read for free.

BUT, whet their appetite, capture their contact info, and presto you've got the start of a mailing list of avid readers.

Any questions?

Friday, December 07, 2018

So, you think you can dance?sell War and Peace?

Hi Janet!
You said last year that you could sell War and Peace. I’ve been wanting to know ever since: how would you do it? Please tell me. It’s Christmastime. :) Happy holidays!
Because agentsplaining is one of my great skills: War and Peace is a novel by Leo Tolstoy first published in 1869. It's a novel only because it's fiction and not a poem or a short story. (In other words, the structure and content doesn't conform to any kind of "a novel must or can't" edict.)
It has 1200+ pages and 100+ characters.

Impossible to sell, right?

The first thing is not get bogged down talking about who the main character/s is/are. That's the road to madness.

Nor are we going to talk about the plot, cause see above.

Talking about a book like this is akin to writing a caption for Guernica by Pablo Picasso

The first draft of the pitch:
Set during the time of the Napoleonic wars (1805-1820) this swashbuckling epic ripples and reverberates across five aristocratic families. While the invasion of Russia was the turning point in the Napoleonic wars, it was cataclysmic for Russia. The price of victory was higher than defeat.

Often novels are the only way to see the beating heart of history. This novel will be one of those.

Think The Crown flavored instead with vodka, snow, ermine, and the savagery of absolute power in the hands of a despot.

Then I'd draft a submission list with every editor who acquired a novel in the last five years that was called epic, sprawling, or saga.

Then, I'd swim off to the library and read chunks of those books if they'd been published. I'd make sure those books had sold well enough that using it as a comp was a plus.

Then I'd go through what I used to call my Rolodex of editors and ask myself if this book was a fit for the editor's tastes or needs.

Then, I'd rework the pitch for at least a week. I'd include a reference to a book that the editor bought that had page count challenges or why I thought they'd like/want this book.

Then, I'd call up the editors who remained on the list and say "just a heads up that this is a great novel, with a page count problem. It's worth a look."

my battered and bruised copy of W&P

I should also mention that it took me about an hour to write and revise this post. A challenging submission like War and Peace would get a LOT more than an hour of strategizing.

Most likely a couple people in my office would have read some of it and weighed in on the pitch and the editor list.

Our film guyz would have been consulted as a matter of course.

I'd probably have yapped about it to friends and listened to their opinions.

And of course, I'd fret about when to send it out. Is it good to send before the holidays when maybe the editor wants something to read? Or wait till everyone is back from the hols and ready to think about work?

When it was out on submission,  I'd grab my rosary, head to church, and pray.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Chair dancing of course!

On Tuesday, I sent out my final new submission for the year. (Follow ups and additions to a project already on submission are ongoing.)

I had an incredible sense of "Wow! It's done! We made it!"
I wanted to pop a champagne cork and chair dance.

I poured a cup of coffee instead of champagne (it was after all, about 11am!) but I did chair dance!

What milestones feel like big achievements in your writing journey?
How do you celebrate?

Speaking of dancing:

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Expensive life lessons

A few years ago, I got picked up by an open call at a Big 5 imprint and accepted a three-book deal with no advance. In my limited (poor) wisdom, I hired an IP lawyer instead of trying to find an agent to negotiate the deal, which I regret in the long-term. Fast-forward to the option for the next book in the same series, and the publisher declined to publish due to lack of sales. It was a huge bummer, but ultimately, I understand that publishing is a business, and no matter who was responsible, low sales are low sales and there’s not much I can do about that.

So, here I am with the fourth book in a dropped series, no agent, and no idea what to do moving forward. The “no agent” bit is the most difficult part (and I am still kicking myself for that). So, my goals are to get agent representation for future work and finish out the rest of my original series.

Should I…

1) Query agents with this fourth book in a series, using my previous publishing record to try to land representation for future works?
(1) No

2) Self-publish the rest of this series, and write something new to query?
(2) Not now/YES

3) Request rights back from the publisher (they all meet contract requirements for rights reversion) and query agents with the series as a whole in the hopes of finding a new publishing home for it?
(3) Yes/no
As this is not a common knowledge type question, I was hoping you could help! (I feel the first one is probably a ‘no’, but I’m uncertain enough to ask advice about it.)

Getting your rights back is a good idea, if only for keeping things tidy.

Those rights don't have a lot of value just now; that's not to say they won't in the future, so you're better off getting them back now.

Shopping a fourth book in a series with lackluster sales is a recipe for despair. Avoid that.

BUT, writing something new is a good idea.

AND while you're writing this New Tome of Excellence, you work on building your platform. Make book friends.

Querying with "my last series didn't do so well, here's a new book" is nowhere near as appetizing as "yea, my last series didn't do so well, but I know now have a robust mailing list of 3000+ names, oh and here's the new book."

Any questions?

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Rodent Wheel speed limit exceeded

I'm really confused about what to do next. I submitted my book to several agents, but didn't get any offer. So I sent it to a couple of publishers. One of these - a big publisher - wrote back to say they had been looking for a project like this and were very interested and would get back to me with an answer soon. That was three months ago. But I recently got an offer from another publisher (a small press). They gave me a deadline to decide by. So I let the big publisher know. They wrote back to say they were still interested and would get back to me by the deadline. The deadline is in a few days and according to twitter (we follow each other, so not stalking), the editor I was in communication with at the big publisher has just gone on a two-week vacation and wrote they'd finished up all their work before they left. So I have no idea what to do now. Am I to assume the bigger publisher is no longer interested or forgot about my book? (yes) Or that they will email from vacation to offer on it (unlikely)?(no) If I turn down the small press, will the bigger publisher think I lied about the offer? (no) If I accept the small publisher offer, what do I do if the bigger publisher comes back late and says they're interested? (nothing) Can I email the editor who is on vacation about the deadline and see if they're still interested or will this look desperate? (sure/don't worry about how things look)

I'm not sure if I want the offer from the small publisher, as would rather an offer from the bigger one. But I'm willing to accept the small press if nothing else comes up. I'm just really confused about what to do with the big publisher. If they weren't replying to me, I would assume they were no longer interested and move on, but every email they've sent me has said they ARE interested. But now with this vacation news and still no answer, I don't know what to think. It's like they keep saying they're interested but their actions indicate they're not? Why wouldn't they just say they're not interested? I just think it's really weird and I don't have an agent to chase them up so I'm on my own with this. What do you think I should do? Forgot about them and move on or try one last email attempt to seek clarification? They are a great publisher and would love an offer from them but not sure what more I can do now. If they forgot the deadline, then what else can I do?

Let's cut through all the dithering. You have an offer from a publisher. You have to say yes or no by a certain date.

That's all you know.

I have no idea what's going on behind the scenes at the other publisher. Neither do you. You've let them know you have an offer. That's all you can do.

You can certainly email the larger publisher to say you've taken the offer from the smaller publisher. Or if you elect to decline that offer, you can email them with that information as well.

My experience is that when an editor wants a project s/he takes steps to acquire it. That hasn't happened here.

I also note that you said you submitted your book to "several agents." Several means three. If you mean a few more, it still sounds like fewer than ten.

Your first mistake was giving up on securing an agent.  You can actually resume your agent search now, and see if this book which garnered interest from two publishers will resonate with someone.

Of course, you'll have to pass on the small publisher first because you can't keep them waiting, but it sounds like you want to do that anyway.

Make a list of what you know for sure.
Leave out speculation and supposition.
Act (or don't act) only on that information.

Monday, December 03, 2018

My name is Inigo Montoya, prepare for litigation

Back in 2016 you posted that an author does NOT need written permission from the copyright holder if only a short line is being used. This was challenged recently by someone in my writer's group, so I'm seeking clarification.

In a novel, I reference the heroine's adoration for the movie The Princess Bride. My novel's hero borrows the phrase, "As you wish," from the movie and this is repeated multiple times throughout the book with no ambiguity regarding where he learned the phrase and it's true meaning. I felt I could use this phrase because it's short and I've made the reference clear in the story. My author friend disagreed, because of the heavy reliance on the movie as part of my heroine's backstory. She feels the circumstances require me to acquire written permission even though the only phrase quoted is "As you wish."

If I have a character who quotes lines from different movies, as long as they're no more than a single sentence, and if I have her list the reference, does that require written permission? I have her using one of my favorites: "I am made of bourbon and poor choices." After her friend asks if it's a quote, the character says, "Yes. London Has Fallen, 2016." This is one of the character's "things" and she does it several times throughout the book with various lines from different movies. Permission required for lines like that?

The fair use issue is a bit confounding, especially when using iconic words and phrases, but I'd rather err on the side of caution. Should I change it up to "As you please?" or am I safe with "As you wish?"

Gah. You can just hear my hamster wheel going round and round, can't you? I'm making myself nuts.

Do you consult your plumber about how to cut your hair?
Or maybe you consult your coiffure stylist about how to unclog a drain.

Asking someone who apparently has zero expertise on a very technical subject is thesaurus offers up "short sighted."

Fair use is a moving target. Even intellectual property and copyright attorneys don't have a fixed standard.

The National Writers Union has this to say about fair use:
Contrary to common opinion, there is no absolute number of words one can always quote without permission. Whether an unauthorized use of copyrighted material can be considered fair use depends on four primary considerations:

1. the purpose and character of the use; e.g., whether it is commercial in nature
2. the nature of the copyrighted work
3. the proportion of the copyrighted work that was used (in both quantitative and
qualitative terms) and
4. the economic impact of the use.

These four criteria suggest some rough rules of thumb: It is easier to claim fair use when you are quoting the material for a non-commercial purpose; when the quotation is essential to what you are writing (e.g., a book review); when the material you are quoting is factual; when the amount you are using is a small portion of the total work; and when your use of the material will not undermine the market for the original work.

However, in no case would using a phrase that is in the common parlance -- "as you wish" being a good example -- qualify as infringement.

Which is a good thing because "Prepare to die!" is often heard here in the Reef as we read queries.
Not to mention "I'll be back" when heading to the loo. Let alone "we're going to need a bigger boat."

There are a lot of people who think they know more than they do, and they delight in telling other people how to live, work, and litigate.

Be careful who you listen to.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

The Duchess of Yowl sees a reindeer

Saturday afternoon, chez Yowl.

Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl: What are you doing? You're not petting me.

Me: Addressing Christmas cards, your Grace. We need to get them in the mail soon.

DoY: (glancing at cards) That is a foul hound wearing antlers as a hat!  I hope you're not including my name on that card!

Me:That's a reindeer.

DoY: (squinting) It looks like a foul hound.

Me: Well, reindeer are not dogs. They pull Santa's sleigh.

DoY: The Santa who brings me gifts?

Me: One and the same.

DoY: Perhaps those are cats...

Me: Your grace, a cat would never pull a sleigh.

DoY: Heaven forfend. What was I thinking. I must be faint from hunger.

Me: Yes, that must be it. Breakfast was twenty minutes ago.

DoY: The space time continuum is my plaything.

Me: Any chance you can adjust the number of hours in a day to 36? I'm a little behind on my reading.

DoY: Behind on your petting you mean.

Me: (petting DoY with both hands) Also true.

DoY: and ear-scricching.

Me: I only have two hands.

DoY: Your limitations are so inconvenient.

Me: It's a wonder you keep me around at all.

DoY: I'd say great minds think alike but Santa is coming!

Saturday, December 01, 2018

So, who's offering?

In yesterday's comment column Michael Seese asked

A question for Janet...

In yesterday's post, Luanne G. said "This time when I notified agents still considering the novel EVERYONE asked me who the offer was from."

Let's say my dream some day does come true, and I DO receive an offer from the Duchess Of Yowl, hand-delivered by her servant with the opposable thumbs. I dutifully write the other folks who have the book, and they ask, "Oh yeah? From whom?"

Shouldn't my answer be, "None of your business." I truly can't imagine anything good (for either me or you) coming from my saying who wants me in her posse.

A lot of good can come from telling me.

For starters if it's an agent at  PantsOnFire Literary Agency, I can say something like "Congrats on the offer. Have you seen my post on things to ask an agent before accepting their offer" and thus remind you to ask "what have you sold?" before anything else.

On the other hand if the offer is from someone I know and trust, I'm glad to say so.

And if it's Barbara Poelle, of course, I know to assemble my weaponry for the monkey knife fight we'll have over snaring you.

When I offer, I remind writers to let other agents know, and I always tell them that if someone asks who offered it's ok to say it was me.

I know some writers think it's rude to ask, and more rude to tell.

It's not.

And honestly, I'm really sorry to say this but if I ask, and the writer doesn't want to tell me, doubt about the veracity creeps in. I hate that this happens, but it does, and better you should know what the true down side of not telling is.

Bottom line: The more transparent you are and that we are, the better off you'll be.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Further on the red flag of "I have an offer"

Yesterday's blog post prompted a comment from Matt Adams

While I'm not defending the writer, this really does stink of overkill and feels a lot like piling on, especially when retweeted a bunch of times like happened yesterday. The writer tried something to get agents' attention and speed up the process a bit (or they got the name wrong, or misinterpreted something or whatever). It was a mistake, but one the agent could have easily ignored or addressed when/if she was asked about it. Instead she went public, and while she didn't use the writer's name, she added to the pantheon of how annoying queriers are.
What's troubling about this is it's all one-sided Writers don't have a forum to complain about bad agent behavior because of the very thing Janet talked about, that any bad querier behavior gets discussed in the community. I've had bad experiences with agents -- plenty of great ones, too -- but I'd never say anything about it publicly (or tweet about it) for that very fear. But agents have no such qualms about complaining about writers (even if they are just queriers) and it feels a little gross to see how quickly people pile on. Queriers are human being who have invested a lot of their time, talents and energy into a process they have little control over. Most of the time their hard-crafted (even if lousy) queries are just ignored, or their novel -- the thing they are deeply emotionally invested in -- is rejected out of hand. I'm sure bad queries, or mis-followed guidelines, or even silly attempts to rush the process are aggravating, but it would be nice if a little more empathy was presented to writers. Even bad ones. They're trying as hard as they can -- they just want it so bad. While the occasional bit of bad behavior is not justified, it's at least understandable.

Matt raises an interesting point here, one that's worth talking about. The underlying sense seems to be agents have all the power, and writers have none. If you're a writer, I'm sure it feels that way. If you're an agent, it doesn't. Both of us need to understand that.

The point that "the writer tried something to get the agent's attention and speed up the process" is the one I'm perplexed that you think is "understandable."

What this writer did was try to jump the line. If your novel is in that line, are you ok with a writer lying (literally) about an offer to get her work read before yours? If I were in that line I'm not sure I'd be so sanguine. By speeding up her consideration, she's slowing yours down. It's that simple.

Moreover this is the kind of me-first think that places the wants of one person above the needs of the community. It's ok for her to do it because really what's the harm?

Think about what happens if 30 people do it? Or a hundred? I'll tell you the first thing it would mean: exclusives. If I regularly got "hurry up I have an offer" emails I'd start requiring you send me your manuscript exclusively.

Exclusives aren't in an author's best interest. Not now, not ever.

The second thing I'd do is request fewer mss. That would be GREAT news for the writers whose ms I do request. Not so good for the other 80% who'd get passes instead. Again, what's good for a lot of people versus what's good for just a few.

Then there's the whole idea that lying to someone you want to work with is an acceptable tactic. How about we change positions. What about if I tell you that I know I can sell your book for six figures, knowing full well that the chances of that are quite slim? Is that ok, because really I WANT to sell your book for six figures?

Is it ok for me to lie to you as a tactic to get you to sign with me? A tactic to placate you? We had a recent instance of an agent lying about offers to her clients. Rightfully, there was a pile on of epic proportion when the particulars came to light. 

The sense I get from Matt's comment was it was just a little thing, it didn't matter. But it wasn't a little thing. It wasn't just "I have an offer" which is bad enough. It was very specifically an offer from a specific agent with a stellar rep, known for finding big successful books, and using her name gain interest from other agents.

That said, it was a pile on, and that is the nature of the Twitter beast. That doesn't make it right, but it's also not a reason not to let writers know about one of the very few things they can do that will hinder their search for representation in a permanent way. That's the down side of community.

Not all mistakes merit a public discussion. I'll even say most of them do not. But this one did. And knowing all y'all the way I do, I could hear the meticulous and fastidious among you thinking "wait, should I NOT tell requesting agents I have an offer." Thus, my contribution to the pile-on.

Opinions of course may will vary.

One of the things I value most about the blog readers here is your willingness to offer alternate viewpoints in a way that makes reasonable discussion and disagreement possible.

And a sidenote: The idea that writers don't have a place to complain means you just haven't found Absolute Write yet. Trust me, writers have raised complaint to an art form there. There are also private Facebook groups of all sorts. And the Author's Guild has a new message board where authors can talk about a wide variety of subjects. There are others, and some commenters yesterday mentioned them.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

When "I have an offer" is a red flag

I can here those woodland creature wheels a'spinning as you read this tweet.

Here's what you need to know:

1. When you have an offer from an agent, you SHOULD let other agents reading your work know about it. There are numerous posts on how to do that here on the blog.

2. If you're ever tempted to say you have an offer when you don't, DO NOT DO IT.

For starters, publishing is not like any other kind of business where this kind of chicanery might be seen as business as usual. It's the exact opposite.

And, unless you have an offer in hand, you won't know how to answer any questions about it, and that will give your little game away instantly.

And, most important from your point of view, it will not get us reading faster. It will get us passing faster. This is the time of year when if you want me to read something quickly, I have to say no. 

Bottom line: There are very few things that will get you blacklisted by agents. Lying like this is one of them.

I know the readers of this blog would never do such a thing.

The purpose of this post is to tell you that we, on this side of the desk, can distinguish between the skulduggery of invented offers and the email you send when you have (a legit) offer.

Don't let this one writer's idiocy and the furor it created bother you.  Just sit back and know that you're a whole lot smarter than s/he was.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

publishing on platforms like Wattpad before querying

I've been active on Wattpad for almost a year and on Tapas for almost two months. I've had a decent response to the short story and novella I've serialized on both platforms. At this time, the complete short story has a collective 3,800+ reads (it was featured on Tapas's front page as a staff pick). The ongoing/unfinished novella has a collective 1,200+ reads. These two accounts combined have 160+ subscribers with minimal crossover.

However, I'm hesitant to post content from either of my novels because I intend to seek traditional publishing for them. I've also seen others on the author forums for these platforms with the same hesitation, but nobody seems to have a definitive answer.
A. How much is too much to post?Does it matter
It doesn't matter
B. How/when should I tell an agent about my online author presence?
In the query
1. How do agents and publishers feel about work that has been previously posted online? (if the work posted online is the same work being queried)
It doesn't really matter
2. At what point does work posted online become notable/should be mentioned in a query? (if the work posted online is other than the work being queried)
Bonus questions:

C. Does it make a difference if you make money off content posted online?

Both Wattpad and Tapas offer "premium" stories, for which readers need to pay to unlock episodes/parts/chapters. None of my content is pay-to-read, but Tapas does offer ad revenue and a tipping system to authors over a certain subscriber count. So far I've received about $0.05 from ads and $6.22 in tips—does that make a difference?
D. Does it make a difference if content is part of the same series/IP?
The novella I'm serializing is a prequel to one of the novels I plan to query. Does this change whether I should mention it? Should I leave it out if the online response isn't impressive enough?

There are more than a few authors who have transitioned to traditional publishing from these newish online publishing platforms. They generally had a Wattpad readership north of six figures.

It doesn't matter if your work has been on any of these sites. You just need to tell me about it in the query. The reason you need to tell me is that if we work together to sell your book, I have to tell the editor. And we must make sure any publishing contract reflects the fact that this work has been previously published.

Previously published is NOT a deal breaker; we just need to adjust the contract language.

Previously published can be a deal breaker for other things: contests are the first thing that come to mind. But again, if I know about it, I can manage it.

The biggest problem here is not that you're on Wattpad et al. It's that your readership numbers aren't high enough to be a selling point.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

"just follow the damn directions"

"Just follow the damn directions" is a lament heard far and wide in the QueryLand town of Agentville.

Also, heard here in The Reef more than a time or ten, truth be told. Usually when someone "helpfully" sends a PDF rather than a word .doc "so the formatting doesn't get bollixed up." Or when someone sends an attachment because emails "screw up the formatting."

Good intentions, but not what I want.

This post is not about that.

This post is about how hard it is to write the directions we're all so intent on you following.

We saw a really good example of this last week.

Our very own Colin Smith read the flash fiction contest rules (as did all the people who entered) and he thought the directions meant use one of the prompt words in subsequent entries. What I intended you to do was use an entire entry.

So, Colin is a smart guy.  He's been entering these contests for a while now. I think he's clocked in at over 100. He's had some experience reading directions. Plus, he's not a dimwit, and he's not a simpleton. (In fact, he's the exact opposite)

And let's assume, if only for the sake of this discussion, that I'm not either.

Let's further assume that I didn't purposefully write those directions to befuddle you.

So, who's right?

Well, both of us.

I know what I intended, and Colin knows what he heard.

That there was a disconnect, not intentional, just happened.

Which brings me to my point: writing directions is a whole lot harder than it looks. What I think I'm saying can often morph into a horse of a different color in the eye of the person beholding the beast.

Which is why agents need to relax a little on "follow the damn directions" and consider whether the directions are clear to someone who is new or newish to publishing. (Or, even savvy like Colin.)

And why authors should not overthink things, or interpret so rigidly that they miss the intent behind the instructions. "Send three pages" doesn't mean cut off the sample pages mid sentence, or even mid paragraph. It means don't send the entire novel or 50 pages. Finish the sentence. Finish the paragraph. Finish the chapter if you can.

One of the things I value most about the blog reading community here is that I get to see first hand when my writing is NOT clear.

So, Colin actually performed a good deed by helping me see what I needed to improve. He's still bear breakfast though. I like the guy, but I'm not going to be nice to him. You want that other blog for nice.

What  are some examples of directions that have befuddled you?

Monday, November 26, 2018

I only want my work sent certain places; should I mention that in the query?

I mainly write romance, which I realize isn't in your wheelhouse, but I have no doubt that you'll be able to offer some insight. I am about to leap into the query trenches, and hoping that my perfect-for-me agent and I will find each other and begin our wonderful working relationship soon. So, here's my question (and yes, I know I'm putting the cart before the horse here, but it's been on my mind):

The romance market is unlike any other genre out there, in that there are a number of imprints, attached to large publishing houses, that accept unsolicited submissions. These imprints also, for the most part, only publish ebooks (at least as a first step). This is not what I want. I feel like submitting to these imprints is something that I could do on my own, and while having an agent in my corner when it comes to the contract is a huge deal, I'm not sure I see that benefit as the same sort of asset as an agent's editorial contacts and relationships at places that don't take material from un-agented authors. I mean, wouldn't these sort of contracts be boilerplate? I can't imagine that there would be a whole lot that an agent could negotiate, although it is very possible that I could be wrong about that. It has happened many times before. :)

Is it wrong to say to a potential agent that I don't want to submit to these particular imprints? And now that I've written this down, I feel like I'm sort of being an ass-hat. I mean, I don't want to seem ungrateful, especially if I'm lucky enough to get to a point where this becomes an issue. Finding an editor that wants to publish my work is the ultimate dream, so am I being foolish by being so picky?

The question isn't if you should mention this, but when.
Do it in the query letter and it's an instant pass.

Nothing is more offputting than a writer telling me what they will and will not let me do before I've even read their work. It's the signal the query writer is someone who doesn't know what they don't know.

If/when an agent is interested in your work, you can certainly mention this. I have this conversation with all my prospective clients. It generally starts with a discussion about their career plans and expectations. Choosing not to submit to an e-book only press is certainly valid, but you want to make that choice AFTER you discuss this with your agent so it's part of a strategy not just a statement.


You're entirely wrong that a good agent won't be of value for a small press, or ebook press deal.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Reading Retreat Flash Fiction Contest results!

This was a whole lot of fun! Thanks to all of you who joined in.  I waited till today to read all the results. You really knocked my sox off!

Herewith the results:

Day One:

Words I had to look up: argillaceous

Steve Forti Award for deft manipulation of prompt words:

Marty Weiss
Be a republican, democrat, or independent,
it matters not. Just live up to ideals of the American

Amy Schaefer
No, I don’t mind missing out - the steak béarnaise is all yours, darling. Jimson weed seasoning and all.

Writer Geek Esq
It was an honor to bear the beer to the bear’s bier at its funeral. But Jerzy couldn’t bear to.

Hat tip to current events
Karen McCoy
Smokey the Bear called the meeting to order. “It appears we have more work to do.”

Entries I thought had particular merit

Colin Smith

Hunter, gun.

Bear, hunter, gun.

AJ Blythe
There's the tree.
No, there's not.
Can't you see it? Eating gum leaves.
It's not a bear.

This is very very subtle.
I missed the point on my first read; I spotted it on the second pass.
Do you get it?

Claire Bobrow
I have eaten
the Braeburns
that were in
your icebox.

Forgive me.

The door
to your


Well, ok, there's the one that knocked it out of the park!

Day Two

Words I had to look up: bair, barege, tabaret

Steve Forti Award for deft manipulation of prompt words

Steve Forti

"Big deal. So you saw his downstairs cheeks. So what?"
"You’re not listening. I said I saw Dr Fausto’s bear bottom."

“Yeah right. Enough of your jibba jabba.”
ally. That mad genius actually did it. He made himself into a hybrid.”

Bearing no resemblance to her former self, Suzanne exited the plastic surgeon's office. Finally, she was free. (Amy Johnson)

Suzanne flinched.
"Yes?" she said, the barest hint of disdain.
She didn't know him. But he knew this face.
Totally creepy and cool!

Sherry Howard

I have eaten
the Braeburns
that were in
your icebox.

Forgive me.

The door
to your

Bear. (Claire Bobrow)

You’re right.
The door was unlocked.
But the window wasn’t broken out.

Show your bare a$$ here

Goldie’s Granny

This just cracked me up.

Thee, did you grab a red apple? Seven have MYSTERIOUSLY VANISHED.

I have eaten
the Braeburns
that were in
your icebox.

Forgive me.

The door
to your

Bear. (Claire Bobrow)

Not cute, Theodore. No pie for you.

I'm not the only one that loved Claire Bobrow's Day One entry!

Claire Bobrow
I have eaten
the Braeburns
that were in
your icebox.

Forgive me.

The door
to your cabin



I was saving
those apples
for dinner,

But my cupboard,
though bare,

I dream of plums.


Deliciously subtle.

Day Three

words I had to look up: Gomerels
Words I couldn't find: merenge

Sherry Howard
(Claire Bobrow)
I have eaten
the Braeburns
that were in
your icebox.

Forgive me.

The door
to your


You’re right.
The door was unlocked.
But the window wasn’t broken out.

Show your bare a$$ here

Goldie’s Granny



I’m your biggest fan!
These are for you.
You made me realize what an oaf I am.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Claire Bobrow

I have eaten
the Braeburns
that were in
your icebox.
Forgive me.
The door
to your cabin


I was saving
those apples
for dinner,
But my cupboard,
though bare,
I dream of plums.


Mere chance,
but I ate
the plums
from your orchard,
This is just to say –

Colin Smith

Drummer electrifies girl.

Girl electrifies drummer.

Girl drummer.

I loved this but of course, Colin didn't follow the directions so he is now being eaten by bears.

Day Four
"Be a real sport, yeah, and step into the transmogrifier. Promise it won't hurt... much."

"Can it turn me into an amoeba?"

"Really, mate, I thought you'd have more imagination than that."

"Will it change my genome? Rewrite my DNA?"

"Nothing so exotic. No permanent damage. You going in or what?"

"How do you know so much about this gizmo, remind me?"

"Well, mate, I used to be a bear."

It's that last line that really elevated the entry!

Karen McCoy
Smokey the Bear called the meeting to order. “It appears we have more work to do.”

“And cleanup?” asked Chipmunk.

“The bare essentials.” Smokey placed a map, trash can, and garden hose on the table.

“A smattering of gardening implements will merely aggravate these wildfires,” said Squirrel. “We’ll need something more drastic.”

Smokey sighed. “More might not help. We’ve reached our last recourse. Rakes.”

Chipmunk and Squirrel facepalmed in unison.

And again, it's one line (this time the penultimate) that elevates this.

Claire Bobrow
I have eaten
the Braeburns
that were in
your icebox.
Forgive me.
The door
to your cabin


I was saving
those apples
for dinner,
But my cupboard,
though bare,
I dream of plums.


Mere chance,
but I ate
the plums
from your orchard,
This is just to say –


Less is more,
but I also have popsicles.
Sweet, cold, delicious.
Oh Muse,
meet me at the icebox!

This just cracked me up.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and post entries.

There's no way to award a prize here; there are too many really wonderful things you did to pick just one, although Claire Bobrow deserves a special shout out on this one!

Regular posts resume tomorrow!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Duchess of Yowl calls fowl

Chez Yowl, morning

Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl: What the shedding dog is THAT?

Me: Turkey, your grace. It's Thanksgiving!

DoY: (suspiciously) I thought you were getting a bird for me.

Me: A turkey is a bird.

DoY: (looking askance)  More like Godzilla Bird.

Me: You don't have to eat it all yourself, we're having guests!

DoY: (suspiciously) You specified NoDogs, NoToddlers, right?

Me: Dogs and toddlers are not on the menu.

DoY: Of course not. Dogs are foul, and toddlers are sticky.

Me: Yes, that's exactly why they aren't on the menu. Now go purr on the couch, I have to stuff
the bird and get it in the oven.
(some time later, the kitchen appears to be the rehearsal venue for the food fight scene in Animal House.)
DoY: (strolling back into the kitchen) Who won?

Me: Brooklyn Meets Godzilla, no contest.

DoY: I think I saw that in a movie once.

Me: BROOKLYN, not Bambi!

DoY: Oh deer me, I'm sorry.

Me: I said I like your purring, not your punning.

DoY: As the Monterey beach said to the ocean wave "I, Sur, endure!'

Me: I have a kitchen to clean up! (hastily runs water to block out sound)

DoY: Wait, I have more! Lots more!

Me. You win! No Dogs. No Toddlers. NoPUNS!

DoY: (catisfied smirk) Just one meow for the road.

Me: Alright, alright, NoDogs, NoToddlers. More petting. You win.
DoY; I'll be on the couch! Don't forget the remote! There's a new Netflix show I want to see!

Me: (joining DoY on couch) It can't possibly be Dogs can it?

DoY: (acerbically) The Tigers of Scotland 

Me: Oh good, I love cats in kilts.

DoY:  Opposable thumbs really are wasted on you.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Flash Fiction contest day 4

Today's entry is twenty words max.
You must use this prompt word: more

As always, the letters must be in consecutive order and not backwards:
more/moreover is ok, but more/morse or more/ aeromexico is not

Your entry MUST include one from yesterday's blog post. It can be yours; it can be someone else's.  The words of the post you use must be in the same order as originally posted but they can be anywhere in the post. Commenters names DO not count against word count.

If you use another person's entry, you must credit them.


Felix Buttonweezer turned into a bear. Fortunately his wife was named Honey. (original commenters name)

Honey didn't mind the bare bear part too much until Felix decided the couch was a perfect hibernation spot; "Hello, Zoo?" (entrant's name)

The Emergency Husband Removal Cartage Company arrived in mere moments. "To the Man Cave!" was heard as they zoomed away. (entrant's name)

When Felix finally found his way home yawning, scratching, more than ravenous, Honey was long gone to Provincetown with Goldilocks. (your entry)

Post in the comment column TODAY.
Comments close at 7am tomorrow.

This is the last day of the contest.
Let's see if I can get the results up on Saturday.
I may be in a turkey coma.

Tweet to me: @Janet_Reid (I'm checking Twitter irregularly)

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Flash fiction contest Day 3

Today's entry is twenty words max.
You must use this prompt word: mere

As always, the letters must be in consecutive order and not backwards:
mere/meredith is ok, but mere/merited or mere/eremite is not

Your entry MUST include one from yesterday's blog post. It can be yours; it can be someone else's.  The words of the post you use must be in the same order as originally posted but they can be anywhere in the post. Commenters names DO not count against word count.

If you use another person's entry, you must credit them.

If the entry you use drew on a third person's entry, you must credit them as well.

Felix Buttonweezer turned into a bear. Fortunately his wife was named Honey. (original commenters name)

Honey didn't mind the bare bear part too much until Felix decided the couch was a perfect hibernation spot; "Hello, Zoo?" (entrant's name)

The Emergency Husband Removal Cartage Company arrived in mere moments. "To the Man Cave!" was heard as they zoomed away.

Post in the comment column TODAY.
Comments close at 7am tomorrow when the post for the next installment will go up.

There may or may not be a word prompt on consecutive days.

Tweet to me: @Janet_Reid (I'm checking Twitter irregularly)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Flash Fiction contest Day #2

Today's entry is twenty words max.
You must use this prompt word: bare

As always, the letters must be in consecutive order and not backwards:
bare/barely is ok, but bare/blare, or bare/herabuna is not

Your entry MUST include one from yesterday's blog post. It can be yours; it can be someone else's.  The words of the post you use must be in the same order as originally posted but they can be anywhere in the post. Commenters names DO not count against word count.

If you use another person's entry, you must credit them.


Felix Buttonweezer turned into a bear. Fortunately his wife was named Honey. (original commenters name)

Honey didn't mind the bare bear part too much until Felix decided the couch was a perfect hibernation spot; "Hello, Zoo?"

Post in the comment column TODAY.
Comments close at 7am tomorrow when the post for the next installment will go up.

There may or may not be a word prompt on consecutive days.

Tweet to me: @Janet_Reid (I'm checking Twitter irregularly)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Reading retreat flash fiction contest

I'm going to be on a reading retreat for the next six days.
That means no fresh content here, and I'm going to rely on all y'all to keep the lights on.

To do that, let's do a contest of a different sort.

Today's entry is twenty words max.
You must use this prompt word: bear
(have you seen the a_bear Twitter account?)

as always, the letters must be in consecutive order and not backwards:
bear/bearded is ok; bear/bleary is not, nor is braeburn

Post in the comment column TODAY.
Comments close at 7am tomorrow when the post for the next segment will go up.

Tomorrow, your entry MUST include one from the previous day. It can be yours; it can be someone else's.  The words of the post you use must be in the same order as originally posted but they can be anywhere in the post. Commenters names DO not count against word count.

If you use another person's entry, you must credit them.


Felix Buttonweezer turned into a bear. Fortunately his wife was named Honey. (original commenters name)

Honey didn't mind the bear part too much until Felix decided the couch was a perfect hibernation spot; "Hello, Zoo?"

There may or may not be a word prompt on the second, and consecutive days.

Tweet to me: @Janet_Reid (I'm checking Twitter irregularly)

Monday, November 19, 2018

You sorta liked me before

I had quite a few agents give me an R&R on my first novel, which I've decided to shelve for the time being after careful consideration of the feedback I've received. I'm about to start querying my second novel to many of those same agents. Should I mention that they gave me an R&R on my previous book, which I eventually decided not to follow through with? The overall opinion was that they loved my writing style/voice (which carries through into my new book) but had trouble with the plot and/or pacing (which hopefully doesn't). Would mentioning this in the query for my new book give me an advantage or disadvantage? Should I just leave it out and see if they remember me on their own?

This is counter-intuitive but don't mention the R&R.
You don't want to remind agents they saw a previous novel but didn't pounce on it.

Giving Book Two a clean start at the hurdles is my first choice.

You're under no obligation to refer to previous correspondence that didn't result in an offer.

If they bring it up, don't lie (you wouldn't of course, I just had to say that for the Artful Dodgers over there on the shady side of the racetrack.)

They may remember you; they may not. The only thing that matters is that Book Two has solved the problem of plot and pacing.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

NaNoWriMo with Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl

Chez Yowl, early morning.

Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl: What do you mean, you're going on a reading retreat? Are you abandoning your duties here?

Me: You think I'm a useless tailless twit.

DoY: You have occasional utility.

Me: Well, far from leaving, a retreat means I will be reading on the couch here, not going to the office.

DoY: Excellent, I will sit on your head. Nice and warm. A little dense.

Me: I can't read with this fur windshield wiper going back and forth.

Doy: I want to read too. Turn on the text to voice enabler.

Me: *clicking*

VOICE: The cat in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.

DoY: Surefire best seller!

Me: That's the first line from a Stephen King novel.

DoY: But better! Now it's about cats.

Me: You need permission from him to use it.

DoY: He couldn't possibly object to my improvements!

Me: I think I'm going to the office after all.

DoY: Wait, don't you want to hear my improvements to Cujo?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

"world renowned"

I'm embarking on a reading retreat this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2018

My caterpillar manuscript can be a butterfly, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That time might be better spent working on something new.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Bidding farewell to a fine man and respected friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Agent Slackerpuss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

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

This post is about formatting not asshattery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the kicker is write well enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you don't know, ASK.

Any questions?

Monday, November 12, 2018

Flash Fiction contest results!

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

Herewith the results:

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

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

Come on. How could he even know?

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

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

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

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

Suit yourself, kid. Was nice knowing ya.

Ho, ho, ho?!

Ur in deep shit now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brenda Lynn


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

Amy Johnson
To enter or not to enter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very nice work here.

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

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

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

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

No rush, no panic.
No bus stop.

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

No fort.
Ranunculus instead of a bomb shelter.

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

A man who dared to waste one hour of time.

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

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

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

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

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

""What went wrong?"

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

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

"I don't have a light folder."

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

"What are you speaking? COBOL?"

"No, poetry."

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

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


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


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


The car never saw me. The driver never stopped.


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

I saw the path home.

My new home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 09, 2018

The Extra Hour Flash Fiction contest! (updated)

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

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

A dream come true.

Let's have a flash fiction contest to celebrate!

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:


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

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.

Thus: early/pearly is ok, but light/sleight is not. Hours is fine, but grouch is not

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.

Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"

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

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

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

Contest opens: 8:53am Sat Nov. 10, 2018

Contest closes:9am Sun Nov 11, 2018

If you're wondering how what time it is in NYC right now, here's the clock

If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's an .xls spread sheet here

(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid

Ready? SET?
Not yet!

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

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

Thursday, November 08, 2018

When Dear Snookums isn't Snookums at all

Dear Janet,

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

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

Should I apologize? Or just let it go? 


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

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

Any questions?