Friday, February 05, 2016

Orphan X flash fiction writing contest

Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz is one of the best books I've read in a long time. I read the ARC last year and it blew me away. I emailed the editor with my version of a rave review: "holy fuckamoli!"

I have a brand new finished copy of Orphan X to give away as the prize in this week's flash fiction contest!

(Sorry, the author is not included in the prize)

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: ore/bore is ok, her/hear 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.

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

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

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

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

Contest opens: Saturday 2/6/16 at 10am EST

Contest closes: Sunday 2/7/16 at 10am EST

Is the contest closed yet?

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

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

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!


Thursday, February 04, 2016

put your contact info on your damn blog

Recently, a writer made a very astute comment on a QueryShark blog post.
A comment that gave me a real epiphany.

Naturally, being sharklike, I wished to send an email chastising her for being brilliant and insightful.

She, being clever, did not have her contact info on her blog. Or on her blog commenting profile.


But I will not be deterred.

Bethany, I'm looking at you.

And in case you're wondering, here's the comment (I underlined her comments I found particularly helpful and blue ink is a comment I added):

The problem with fantasy is that there's so much world building that it can be hard to write a sensible query without spending too much time on world-building. There's also a LOT of fantasy out there, and since high fantasy doesn't depend as much on current culture as other genres, you have more competition. There's no intrinsic reason why a high fantasy novel written in 2016 will mean more to me as a reader than one written in 1975. (This would apply to historical fiction as well)

So how do you set your query apart? I don't think the answer is by focusing on the plot. By all means, describe the stakes and the plot in the query, but that's not where your edge should come from. Your edge should come from your characters. There is nothing new under the sun, plot-wise. But fun, engaging, rascally characters? They're timeless.

Why should I care about Blackwater? Is he noble? Blah. Is he a reluctant hero? Yawn. Is he funny? Hmm... I could work with that. Brooding? I'm a sucker for brooding heroes. Is he finicky, whiny, feisty, big-hearted, foolish, intelligent, beautiful, ugly, sharp, dull? The only things I know about your characters are their circumstances. That isn't enough.

You've got a little of this with your first two paragraphs, though the shark is right. First person is confusing. But I sense reluctance, bitterness, and regret - three things that make characters interesting. You lose that in the rest of your query. Give me the regret, give me the heartache, give me the spilled blood. I want to see your character staring over the edge of a cliff. Gimme! :)  

My insight: What's at stake for the hero/heroine, what s/he wants, should reveal his/her character.

I don't think I've ever said that when we've talked about getting plot on the page, but I think it will be very useful.

Thanks Bethany. Now put your damn contact info on your blog so I can swim over with a thank you note.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Author names for mutually exclusive categories

I have several projects aimed at a fairly wide variety of audiences:

(1) YA fantasy
(2) children's short story collection (Christian)
(3) intimacy and sex

I've been told the general trend is not to use multiple names, that I need to focus on building my brand. While I understand building a brand, and that building multiple brands is a lot more work, I also feel that these particular markets might not mix well. Some parents of genre #2 might be put off by #1, and some would *definitely*[1] be put off by #3. And it seems that some readers of genre #3 would likely not take seriously an author in #2, and possibly even #1.

I have a book out under my real name in genre #1, and books nearly ready in the other two.)

If I were looking at you as a prospective client, the first thing I'd tell you is to focus. You've got a lot going on here.

I'm assuming the third category is non-fiction, and that's where platform is a requirement. You must have visibility there for any kind of book proposal to have traction.

Thus, pick the name you want to use for that, and start building your platform there.

You don't need platform for novels. I don't know enough about the Christian market to know why they don't like fantasy (for that you'll need to read Rachelle Gardner's invaluable blog---something you should be doing anyway.)

We've talked a lot here on the blog recently about how hard it is to do more than one thing really well. You might want to think about which of these projects is the most important to you, and focus on that. 

I'm not sure you need a different name. In this day and age of total transparency, trying to be two people is a whole lot more difficult than it used to be.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Comp titles: mine is a bestseller, can I still use it?

I am currently in the editing phase of my novel and therefore also in the query-drafting / dream-agent-list-making phase. I've been mentally tossing around a few comp titles for months but none of them have stuck. And this morning it hit me. The perfect one! Quirky in the same ways, relatable in the same ways. I literally yelped with joy, I was that excited! It felt so right. And then immediately so wrong as I remembered two things about the novel that totally deflated me.

1) It was a bestseller. Just last year. And I am under the impression that it's generally advised to steer clear of those, as a million other people are undoubtedly using them on their own query letters.

2) It's very similar structurally. The plot, tone, and themes are different. Mine is written in first person and the other in third. But there is a very familiar feeling to the way the story moves, as far as action and flashbacks and such. Two of our main characters even share a name! (I'm not married to the name. I'm willing to change it and wont feel at all bad about doing so as soon as I come up with a better one.) Still, I'm worried that, despite the differences, drawing attention to the similarities by using this bestseller as a comp title might do more harm than good to the impression I'm trying to make.

If I give you a thousand dollars cash, do you worry about getting paper cuts from those crisp new bills?

I swear, writers can worry about everything! It's rather touching when you worry about things out of your control, but now you're worrying about the good stuff. That's getting ...well, it's not a good sign. I think you need a vacation.

This is EXACTLY the purpose of a comp title. Your book will appeal to the readers of this book, and this book did well.

What's not to love?

When agents tell you not to use bestsellers, what they mean are books that have moved into a category of their own. John Green books are like that. Divergent is like that. Harry Potter is like that. So is anything by Nicholas Sparks or Stephen King.

How can you tell the difference? Ask yourself if someone buys a book because of the author or the book.

People buy books by Stephen King because he wrote them, not because of the book. He can (and does) write across genre and category.

People read J.K. Rowling books because she wrote them. If you don't believe me, google Robert Galbraith.

If your comp book isn't written by one of these outliers, you're going to be ok.

Bestseller is a good thing in a comp, particularly if it's a true comp title, not just something you hope is comparable.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Now that I have your attention

My queries piled up in the last few weeks so I spent an hour reading them last Friday morning. (Two requested fulls out of fifty or so, for those of you torturing yourselves with stats.)

All too frequently I'd get a reply along the lines of "well, if you didn't want that, how about this."

And of course, what followed wasn't a real query. Sometimes it was just a line or two with pages included, or maybe just a paragraph.

I can't tell you how annoying that is. Maybe this will help.

Just because I'm replying to a query does not mean you get to avoid actually writing the next one.

You write a real query every SINGLE time you want me to consider reading a project.

No half-baked, after thought, second hand prose. NO NO NO.

Here's why:

My answer is always no.

First, I've just told you no so I remember that. You want to give yourself some time here so when I get the query for that next book, my first thought isn't "oh yea, that's the guy I just said no to."

Second, if you reply to a query you've got the wrong subject line most often. And you've got RE: whatever that wrong subject line is. I think I've got a reply, not a query. Which means I'm skimming at BEST and tossing in the trash unread at worst. 

Third, it's ineffective. I'm not MORE likely to consider your work at this moment. I'm less. That's NOT something you want.

A real query every single time, no matter what. No exceptions. NONE.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Week in review 1/31/16 (oh where the hell did January go?)

Welcome to the weeks that were. This post goes back two weeks cause I was lollygagging about last Sunday.

Mister Furkles asked:
what if a robot writes a killer novel and wants to comment about querying. How is it to comment on your blog?
They** will have to suck it up and lie about their cold mechanical heart, just like agents do when asked about their humanity.

**they singular of course, per the first part of Mister Furkles comment

Sarah Meral found my diddybop mentions in What It Takes! I had it as two words; it's actually one.
Janet when I use the look inside feature on for WHAT IT TAKES and enter "diddybop" (without space) I get 15 results, let me know if you want me to send you screen shots of them :)

Just another example of the value of the blog readers! (there are so many!)

Jessica Snell mentioned my favorite books as a young reader:
Lucie - I remember Trixie Belden! When I was younger, I read a few of the Nancy Drew books, but Trixie Belden? I read them all, and more than once.

I think what made me love those books was the group dynamic. Trixie was the focus, yes, but you couldn't understand Trixie w/o knowing her family and friends. And she wasn't a perfect little saint of a detective: she was a smart girl, but one who messed up a lot and then had to fix it.
Come to think of it, I still love heroines like that.

Oh my god YES! I loved Trixie Belden too. I had the first ten or twelve I think. To this day I can name the characters and probably tell you the plot basics of each. How I wanted to live at Crabapple Farm!

Turns out  quite a few blog readers did too!

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli asked:
Janet, I think there may be a t missing in promoing. Or that's how it sounded when I first read it. Maybe you do want to write promoing.

I do use promo-ing without the t. I'm not sure how I got started. It's probably not a real word, but it's what we use in the office to talk about book promos.

Janice L. Grinyer mentioned the Loaner Cat posts.
Another great WIR - Did Loaner cat assist? Bet they did - at 2:14 am...Your posts on FB were hilarious!
Here's the link to the Facebook page with the Loaner Cat stories.

Speaking of cats, kdjames cracked me up with this cat story:
And that Shopkins video! I'd never heard of them so I watched it. The cat was sitting on my lap and I think she was attracted to the crinkly wrapper noises and got all tense when she saw the cat come on screen. I don't think she's ever "seen" anything on my laptop before. She put her face all up close to the screen and then the cat walked off and she went around to the back of my laptop trying to find it. Gone! And then she ran to the windows looking out at the deck to see whether it was outside. Then she glared at me for a good 20 minutes, unhappy that I was hiding other cats from her. It was pretty funny, so thanks for that.

And John Frain just cracked me up with this:
My assumption is that car dealers started this Loaner concept when they give you a loaner car while yours is in for repairs. So my first thought was that one of Janet's cats cashed in one of its nine lives and she had a temporary Loaner Cat while hers reincarnated.

So it could work anywhere, right? I'm ready to march into Subway with an old bologna sandwich and see if I can upgrade to a Loaner Roast Beef. And my shoes need new laces. Could take a while to get to Target, so I've confiscated my son's Loaner Shoes because of course ALL his shoes are better than my best shoes. Imma start calling my dog Loaner, see how he reacts.

Oh, I do love a WiR that gets me thinking of story ideas, and this one does the trick again. Thanks, Ms. Reid. You're awesome. Did I mention I misplaced my agent? I might need a Loaner for a ms I'm working on...

And I love love love Janice L. Grinyer's Sniper Writer designation, and her point about being visible:

    Yes, you who writes great flash fiction and then has NO LINK on your name, I'm talking to YOU. I have a small jar of cash (and lots of screws & bolts in others, and...nevermind) with a book budget. If I like your writing (even if you don't make it to the mentionables/semis/finalists!) I would be willing to gamble to buy YOUR book. BUT HOW CAN I IF I DONT KNOW WHERE, SNIPER WRITER??? And if you don't have a book, I might want to follow your writing. WHY? Because, WRITING. I like to do it, read it, and enjoy it. We all do. You write good stuff, it's okay to come out and own it! Do we need to get Glinda the good witch out with that wand and have her wave it around a bit, singing the "come out" song? I have my own cat I could dress up; she sings pretty 4 am.

    Okay. Can you tell we are on day four of snow here? Yes. Day four. I'm feeding everyone and everything in sight, keeping things from getting frozen and I need at least three days to sleep to catch up. IN the meanwhile, I am now an official member of "Women writing the West", "a nonprofit organization of writers and other professionals writing and promoting the Women's West." Though I won't be posting comments over there until I get that sleep. Don't want to scare anyone or get kicked out too soon.

A LOT of you ran into trouble with ditty versus diddy. That was an interesting lesson for me.
And of course, this was the contest where I got the name of the winner wrong: Ink Stained Wench, not Wretch. I'm sure it says something about me that I got that word wrong. Sorry Wench!

And of course your comments on wench/wretch were hilarious, particularly this from french sojourn
Way to go Wretch....I always read it as wench as well...must be my aixelsyd?

And John Frain asked:
And, confession: To further prove my ignorance, even on second reflection I'm still not sure why Colin's entry isn't a story.

As in all things flash-fiction, the results are subjective. As sorry as I am to admit this, it's true: my opinions are not actually facts. In other words, you can think it's a story and both of us can be right.

I didn't think it was a story because it doesn't have an arc to it. It's more of an elegy, a prose poem. If you look at the entries I picked I think there's more movement in them. But, you can disagree with me. Colin himself has pointed out that a different judge would have very different results most weeks.

And OnlyTheGoodDieYoung asked:
PS - am I missing something with the 'your not Sam" line? Isn't the word "you're" or is there something there I'm not seeing?

Ahhh…this is the "on purpose mistake" that a careful reader has to watch for. Yes, you're quite right that "you're not Sam" is correct grammar. But recall that the story is essentially text transmissions, where "proper" punctuation goes by the wayside.

But more important to the story, this is the reveal, the moment when folks realize something has gone horribly wrong. The lack of proper punctuation SHOWS the reader this.
This is why you know the rules of proper punctuation: you can break them to great effect when you need to.

On Tuesday we talked about the query submission service

Interestingly I heard from the CEO of after the blog post. She emailed:
I smiled this morning when I read your blog, "They certainly didn't ask ME what would improve the query process."

So I'm reaching out now! Of course I'd love to get your opinion and show you how it works. We've interviewed so many agents before, during, and after the release of the platform. You perpetuated a good bit of misunderstandings in your blog, but I understand why writers and agents are a suspicious group. They've put up with a lot through the years. And we are always trying to communicate better on the website-- you have certainly pointed out areas for improvement.

I can point out the terms which are very protective of the writers' manuscripts, and also tell you about the problems we do solve for the agents and publishers. On our last customer survey we got 10 out of 10's on the question, "How likely are you to recommend AUTHORS to a friend or colleague?"  So, we're doing something right.

Let me know when you want to jump on the phone or skype. I have several windows available this Thursday and am pretty open next week or over the weekend. 

Look forward to talking to you! 

Since I'm not going to spend any time at all on the phone with these folks, I'll just post the questions here:

1. What's the vetting process for agents and publishers wanting to use your service? In other words, can anyone calling themself an agent or a publisher sign up?

2. What exact problem are you solving for agents?
3. Do you offer writers information on the status of their query? (ie Open/Read/Requested/Passed) ***

And in what can only be described as a hilarious coincidence, and from which nothing should be concluded I ran into an agency that uses this service. It was an agency I was researching for a blog reader who couldn't find an actual physical address for the agency; one she could use  to send a termination letter to.
I'd never really thought about having an actual physical address being something you'd want to verify for an agency.  The Publishers Marketplace page for this particular agency says "NY NY" but no street address. There's no address on the website, or any other place I could find.
I thought that was strange.

Dena Pawling asked:
>>There's a fundamental flaw in the logic here. "Making the process of discovering new manuscripts better for writers" implies that the process in use now doesn't work well. It works just fine. You write to me about your novel. I write back. There's direct communication. No forms to fill out, no perplexing multiple choice. No money changes hands.

Here's the fundamental flaw in Janet's logic. “You write to me about your novel. I write back.”

More and more agents are NOT writing back. Colin's NORMANs. Shall we blame all our writer angst and the proliferation of these query outfits on them thar folks who don't write back?

Maybe. On the other hand, that's something we don't know here. Does this service let an author know when their query has been read and passed on? ***

Mark Ellis had an experience with this kind of service for scripts:
Years ago, when I thought that screenwriting was my ticket, I tried a service, ostensibly run by people with Hollywood cred, that promised to scattershot a pitch for my script all over Tinseltown. For $100 bucks they rewrote my pitch (made it better, actually) and pushed a database button. When I got home from work that day I had approaching 200 emails. Most were form rejections, many were out-of-office notifications (one from Farah Fawcett Major's production company) and about six requests for the script, which came to naught (there were inherent flaws in the script).

Manuscript querying is a horse of a different color, of course, but I didn't feel the pitch site ripped me off, because I got six requests and had my chance. Later, at a conference, a big-time Hollywood agent told us that when he or most of his colleagues received such mass pitch emails, they were summarily deleted.

My books to film agent is adamant about discarding any kind of unsolicited script unread. Particularly in film, where ideas get thrown around a LOT,  we need to make it abundantly clear that the scripts were not read at all, lest someone come out of the woodwork later and say "hey, that was MY idea you used in that mega-successful film."  And that kind of thing happens ALL the time.

And Colin Smith has been back from Carkoon for less than a month but clearly itching to return:
In other words, if writers had to stick to the "rules" of querying, writers wouldn't be so quick to query, and agents would get fewer and better queries?
One solution to this problem might be for every agent/agency to have a Query Form on their website. This form would have fields like: NAME, PEN NAME (if different), AGENT TO QUERY, HAVE WE MET (Conference, Twitter, Comments, etc.)?, TITLE, WORD COUNT, GENRE (as best you can determine), COMP TITLES (optional), BRIEF DESCRIPTION (250 words), PUBLISHING CREDITS (if any), OTHER BIO, BLOG (optional), WEBSITE (optional), CONTACT INFO (email, phone), FIRST FIVE PAGES (copy and paste).

If every querying writer could ONLY use such forms to query agents, might this help increase the quality of queries? It would certainly help agents get to the info they need, and force writers to be succinct and keep to the point.

It sounds like a good idea doesn't it? I'll make it even simpler: write me an email and tell me about your book. That's all. You know how many people do that? Fewer than half.
I've kept a blog for MORE THAN TEN YEARS about how to write effective queries, and I still get stuff that's half-baked, half-assed, and half-witted.

A colleague of mine did subscribe to one of those services that regulated submissions into that kind of format. It didn't help.
And truthfully, direct queries help me weed out the folks I don't want to work with. People who can't write even a half-assed query letter are generally not people I want to work with.

On Wednesday 1/20 we talked about writers working as lit agents.

This was the post that got the most comments (well, a content-based post anyway. The post saying I was out ill got more but that was just ya'll being nice and sympathetic)

Lucie Witt mentioned her experience agreed with my assessment that doing two creative things is really hard:

I've done the teaching thing on the side for almost five years. The first two years of teaching my writing output plummeted. Horribly. I was creating new classes, developing my materials, and getting used to managing my time reading, preparing lectures, answering student emails, and grading. This consumed my time and my creative energy. After a few years I got a system in place (and experience), and started writing regularly again.

Donnaeve made my blood run cold with this:
On the other hand, and depending on the position in the publishing company (agent maybe) or editing assistant, or...whichever it is, I could almost see inspiration coming from seeing other people's work. Sort of like when I read REALLY good books, and I'm so inspired I want to get up out of bed at 2:00 a.m. and go write something down. If you're driven like that, it MIGHT work. It depends on your inner gumption and drive, I suppose.

Some years ago when interviewing prospective interns we had an applicant who said she wanted to be an intern so she could be inspired for her own writing. That was the end of the interview although she didn't know it.
Nothing makes my hair stand on end faster than the idea that an agency employee is reading queries while thinking of her own writing. Or worse, reading client manuscripts! Or worse reading manuscripts on submission!
Talk about a situation just begging for problems!
Several of my clients say they can't read novels at all while they're working on their own stuff because voice and ideas from elsewhere can drift into their heads with little cat paws.

The last thing I need is a writer I rejected thinking "wow, that plot sure looks familiar" about a book written by an employee.

I really liked what Colin said here about passion:
If this is what I'm stuck with as a full time job, I can live with that--it can be fun and creative at times. But my passion is elsewhere, which means I'll never be as good at my job as I could be. *looks over shoulder, checks boss isn't reading*

And BJ Muntain pointed out something that I think is really important:
One thing I found was that, if you want to make writing a career while you're working full time, you have to understand that it's going to take longer. If you think that starting a career takes a certain number of hours, and if you can only afford an hour or two a day, rather than eight or more, it's going to take longer. Unfortunately, writing doesn't compress into the time you have available. You just have to make sure that you spend that time productively.

And congrats to Kat Waclawik on the birth of your daughter! I love what you said here:
Laura Mary: Congratulations! I just gave birth to my little girl 11 weeks ago. (Eleven weeks?! It seriously does go so fast!) I had all these grand ideas about using my maternity leave to make a serious dent in the WIP. Ha. That was crazy. I think I had two main problems:

The first, obviously, is time. Newborns consume all of it. I know you've heard the old adage about sleeping when the baby sleeps. My favorite response to that: so am I also supposed to do laundry when the baby does laundry, dishes when the baby does dishes, etc.? There is SO MUCH TO DO, and so little time when your arms are not full of baby. Besides, if you're anything like me, you need sleep to be creative. Writing takes mental energy. Don't worry--it gets better!

My other problem (which is not a real problem) is I've just been too darn happy. We tried to conceive for five years before finally having success with IVF. She is everything I'd ever dreamed of and prayed for and more. I couldn't make conflict for my characters when my entire world was floating in a rosy, baby-scented haze. Now that I'm back at work part time, I've relearned how to make trouble for my characters.

In her first 8 weeks of life, I wrote about 100 words. I was really beating myself up about not writing, which was dumb. So I hereby give you permission to take a break, if it's what you need. You still get to call yourself a writer. Your stories will be there when you're ready.

From Thursday 1/21 through Monday 1/25 I was lying on my couch contemplating death. Your comments were very cheery and as therapeutic as chicken soup. Thank you!

Sherry Howard offered up an idea for using this time wisely:
There once was a shark named JR
Who ruled her kingdom from afar
One day she fell sick
Now's our chance, hurry quick,
Entertain her today
Make the blues go away
And she'll unbanish all Carkoonish miscreants.

And of course Adib Khorram had to do it:
I'm surprised no one has started a flash fiction contest in the comments section yet.

And Colin Smith was right there aiding and abetting:
Prompt words: snark, malevolent, evil, booze, vitriol
"Contest" closes: Midnight according to your timezone.

2ns "entry" just cracked me up completely (particularly the parts I  underlined)
Okay, so I made up my own prompt-words. Not sure which ones they are, just pick five.
Here goes, my less than a hundred (96) begins here:

Janet liked books, the authority of books and the power of the words in the books. So one day she decided that her passion was to help word-people share with the reader-people, that which itched their souls.
Word-people from all over looked too Janet for the guidance she offered which soothed their writing irritations, their tickles and tingles and made them feel worthy.
They wrote, readers read and everybody lived happily ever after.
Janet found fame and fortune as the really smart agent-queen.
Moral of the story:
Read this blog and learn, once written twice sly.

Turns out Jearl Rugh is on the injured reserved list as well:
Wow, and I was feeling bad yesterday because my arm had ached for 26 hours, only to find that I broke my the elbow of my mouse hand, my fork hand and, most importantly, my coffee hand.

OW!OW! OW!!!!!

as is Susan Helene Gottfried
Three days? Lightweight.

Today marks three weeks since I fell off my bike. I still have six weeks to go... minimum.

And the impromptu flash fiction contest has a winner:
LC-2 leapt at snarky lark on the window sill.
One down – Eight left;

LC-2 od’d on booze tainted milk.
Two down – Seven left;

Prancing 200 feet above on high-voltage powerlines, sneezed.
Three down – Six left;

Attacking the evil live extension cord.
Four down – Five left;

LC-2 caught a plague carrying malevolent mole.
Five down – four left;

LC-2 took vitriolic advice and smoked sulfuric-acid laced catnip.
Six down – three left;

LC-2 played tag with neighbors Doberman.
Seven down – Two left;

LC-2 got a shark sick.
Eight down – one left;

Shark sick, day 2.
Nine down…countdown reset by QOTKU.

LC-2 now immortal.

Congrats french sojourn! This is brilliant. And those prompt words were brutal!

S.D. King's comment made me laugh with horror;
Aside: people really need to be more aware of how they look on a FUZE screen sharing meeting app. We had one woman who seemed to think the screen was more a mirror for her grooming (some of it quite personal). It is going to be awhile before I can get some of those images out of my head.

and honest to godiva, Lance knows how to set a scene:
I was in the most unusual bar the other night. Not in the classiest part of town. The clientele had evolved as a hangout almost exclusively for retired, female, Marine gunnery sergeants and nuns bitter over not making Mother Superior.

and if I hadn't been feeling bad already, this from luciakaku would have sent me wailing with despair into a tailspin:

On a writing-related topic, someone was stirring up the woodland critters in my writer's FB group with an old article (written five years ago about experiences five years before that) about how your query isn't "done" until you get a 75% request rate.

To make it better, the article starts off by calling everyone who disagrees with him "wrong" in so many words. Gotta love it.

I'm so glad you recognized this "advice" for the crapola that it is.

Megan V offered up "sick movie"
Oh, and sending you some dvds. If you don't have some comfort movies—you know, the ones you have to watch when you're sick because they make you feel a little less miserable—it'll have to be a copy of our favorites.

*Packs Newsies, You've got Mail, Funny Face, North By Northwest, LOTR, Sense and Sensibility(1995 version), Gladiator, Flight of the Navigator, Monty Python, Gone in 60 seconds, Matrix, Jurassic Park, Oceans Eleven*

All five seasons of The Wire for me. Followed by seasons six and seven of The West Wing.

Lennon Faris's comment here
Spammers, ugh. In undergrad, a friend from Korea pulled me aside one day after ESL class. She seemed slightly embarrassed but showed me an envelope she had just gotten in the mail. "YOU'VE WON A MILLION DOLLARS!!!" it said. As a super intelligent, grown woman, she suspected it was false, but still felt the need to confirm because she just didn't know for sure. So, as BJ Muntain pointed out, I could see how someone not very computer-savvy would think it harmless to click something to investigate.

reminded me of an incident when I was an undergrad. I had an engineering class in Statics and Dynamics (don't ask) and the man who sat next to me was from a different country (Asian as I recall only dimly now)  We had used textbooks for this class and one day as we were working through some sort of example he pushed his book over to me and asked what a penciled in word meant, as  he could not find it in his dictionary.
I was one of  three women in the class. I think I turned the color of Superman's cape and fumbled to explain like Clark Kent.  There was NO WAY I was going to tell him what it meant of course but what to actually say?  I wrote "obscenity" on my notebook and said "that word is one of these."
He thumbed his dictionary again, his face turned brick red (we were a pair, oh yes) and I don't think he spoke another word to me all term.
Oy oy oy.

And no, I'm NOT telling you what the word is.

And I was delighted to see this from Jessica Snell
I also wanted to post this morning because I am feeling very thankful to the QOTKU and to all the other Reiders. Some time ago, Janet congratulated a commenter on her (his?) first fiction sale, and I'm sorry that I don't remember who it was (sieves-for-brains here, I blame my four kids), but that link led me to my first sci-fi flash fiction site, which led me to others, which led to (deep breath!) my own first fiction sale*!

And I'm not sure how AJ Blythe got pictures from inside my apartment:
So I was imagining Janet with no power: snuggled under every dropcloth she owns, loaner cat wrapped around her neck, empty whisky bottle at her feet, muttering "Reiders, Carkoon, Rant, Kale, Flash Fiction' over and over while staring at a blank screen.

Finally on Tuesday 1/26/16 we got back to normal. Our topic was proposals for a novel.

I'd never really seen one but reader Joyce Tremel has
My Brewing Trouble mystery series was sold on a proposal. An editor read a previous manuscript that didn't quite fit their line, so she asked my agent if I'd be interested in writing a cozy. I wrote a synopsis and three chapters, plus ideas for the next two books. I also included info on why this series would fit their line, comparing it to some of their published books. Maybe this is different than a proposal for a single novel, but I know several mystery authors who have proposed series this way. 
This is good info, thanks Joyce. I should also mention that I read and loved Joyce's debut novel. We've been pals for a long time (thanks to the PennWriters conference!) and it was great to finally get to buy a book with her name on the cover.

Megan V also mentioned she'd seen requests for novel proposal on agent websites:
As to the OP-the few times I've seen agency website request a proposal for a novel, it said to include the query or cover letter, a synopsis and/or outline, and a partial or complete manuscript, a bio, and anything else the editor has requested.

On Wednesday I was waving my arms and harrumphing about bad first impressions when I google you:

DLM made a very good point:
One tip: try Googling yourself from a computer or device YOU DO NOT USE regularly, and if possible, not from a friend's, if they happen to read your blog.

With Google's algorithms, you're a lot more likely to find yourself with ease on your own devices because Google's intuitive search will "learn" that you spend a lot of time on your own blog. Try it at a library or something, see what the results look like from a computer that's ignorant of your patterns. You may discover you're not as close to the top of Google's stats as it looks like when you use the laptop you blog with to search.

Colin Smith asked:
What I want to know is, what on earth do you look for from Goodreads? I have a Goodreads account, and up until a few years ago, I listed every book I had read along with a review. When it got to the point the thought of writing a review for every book affected which books I chose to read, I stopped doing that. Now I review selected books on my blog, and only enter those in Goodreads. So, what should my Goodreads account be like? How do I make sure it's not off-putting to a reader or agent? Are you looking to see what I'm reading? Or more? Or less?

I just wander over to see what you're reading. Goodreads is much lower on the priority list for what I like to see about a prospect, but if it's the only thing I can find, I'll look. Plus, yanno…if you're writing Goodreads reviews, that's writing.

Kitty makes an excellent point:
Most of the blogs I've visited by the BIG NAME writers have been a waste of time. They don't respond to comments, so I quit going. I cut them some slack because I figure they're busy writing the next book, which of course I'll read.

I have stopped following some big name authors on Facebook and Twitter simply because I want social media to be social. Without interaction, it's just broadcasting. There are some exceptions: Bloom County. The Rockettes. Humans of New York. But not authors.

this from Amanda Capper just cracked me up:
Recently Donnaeve replied to something I posted on her website and though I could see she responded(my smarter than I android phone told me), I couldn't find her comment. I checked my website, Google, Gmail, everywhere. I thought.

There was a clue. My phone showed a WP icon. So I checked my website (again) because it's a WordPress. Nothing there. But I didn't even think of my WP blog site (that I don't remember ever setting up), so when I finally thought to click on the icon next to my post on Donna's site...up came this sprightly little lamb and...nothing else.

In my enthusiasm to be known I created my presence everywhere and then forgot where I was. If it wasn't so pathetically needy it would be funny.

And DLM had a great suggestion:
Amanda, hee. I think most of us have defunct profiles lying around; you should perhaps write the detective story hinging on these clues!

Janice Grinyer asked:
My blog is basically for my enjoyment and others entertainment - "Gowestferalwoman" is basically what I am known by or "feral woman" :D. However, I do list my real name. I have combined followers of over 400+ who are a great bunch of people, and a good amount of traffic per month.
But my blog is just for fun - funny writing, poetry, photos, stories, what's going on with the animals/work etc. There are no rants of any religious/political/cursing nature, but there is no mention of any writing process as a writer. I also have a Forestry business website but I do not link to my blog. I am currently working on setting up an author website for when I query. Should I link to my blog I currently have (do I have to go and grammar check all 350+ posts?! wah!), or should I set up a new blog that is more "professional" and link to that?

Link to it if you don't mind me reading it. I strongly urge you NOT to set up a blog just for writing if you've already got one going. Keeping two blogs going is HARD (trust me on this!!) A website yes, a blog no.

The purpose of reading your blog is not to find out about you as a writer. It's to find out about you as a person. How you write your blog is more important that what you write about (unless you're trashing publishing, my clients, me ---in that order)

Lucie Witt asked
Am I the only one who thinks comments on blogs are not the metric they once were? In the age of Twitter and tumblr it seems less and less people comment, with the exception of communities like this. In my mind, if you have a nice, accessible website/blog with good content and contact info that would be a plus to an agent even with low comment count

I don't really look at how many people comment although I do look at the comments. I understand that most writer blogs don't get lots of comments. The effort required to build a blog that gets 30+ comments a day is effort that could be better spent WRITING.

Julie M. Weathers said
I am totally disappointed my posts on Wrangler patches are not what I'm supposed to post. Or how to starch Wranglers. It's my most popular post. The legend of black eyed peas complete with recipe gets lots of hits every New Year.

Your posts on Wrangler patches and ironing are exactly what you should post. The purpose of your blog is to introduce me to you, the person. I can't think of a better way to do that than talking about real stuff. Like ironing.

And here's  Botanist, headed for Carkoon on his debut comment:
Janet, you did such a brilliant job with Query Shark coaching people on their queries. That forum has quietened down because you must have shredded almost every possible example of bad query form, and amassed an impressive reference archive in the process. How about a similar venture for web sites now? Seems you have a lot of valuable advice to offer there too...

Actually I was thinking of first pages. But don't tell anyone.

On Thursday we talked about agents who only do very limited submissions then call it day.

I really liked what Matt Adams said:
I am always amazed at how easily the words "Write another book" slips from the mouths of people other than the one who's being told to write another book. The singer Dar Williams described it as "the easy courage of my distant friends," the idea that something as hard and personal should be discarded simply because it's the logical next step. Or as if just writing another book is a minor thing.

And he's right. I did just blithely say "write another book" as though it was some sort of do-over on a fallen soufflé.
And it's not. But, my experience tells me that most writers have inventory. If this one didn't sell, there's more in the hopper. When my clients have come up short on submissions, we've moved on to the next book fairly quickly.

As to whether the book is dead, I should have been more clear. This book is dead in terms of acquiring an agent. As several of you pointed out,  the next new agent may be able to shop it as a second or third book. It's not so much dead as not useful for right now.

Colin asked
Janet: Is this kind of scenario more likely among newer, or junior agents, or is this something you see across the whole spectrum of agenting?

Actually I see it most amongst established agents.

Karen McCoy asked
My other question to Opie is one that has been addressed in the past: does this WhamBam agent have other clients, and if so, is Opie allowed to contact them to see if they had similar experiences? That might help put some of the puzzle pieces together.

Allowed is an odd word choice here. No one can prevent you from talking to other writers, or other writers who have the same agent. It was a bit daunting the first time I realized my clients were talking to each other but experience has proved it to be a very good thing. They help each other, torment each other, cheer each other on, and so far at least, have not decided to fire me.

I think it's entirely appropriate to ask other clients about this. If the agent objects, well, now you know something more about that agent.

Claire asked
I'm always a bit dubious about the idea that certain topics are 'in' or 'out', like Capri pants or hipster beards. Surely if the book is good enough, it doesn't matter what it's about? Like I might enjoy a really well-written novel about the Gold Rush, but it wouldn't necessarily make me want to read other books by other authors about the same subject.

Certain topics or tropes or even genres go in and out of fashion. Chick lit (those delicious frothy tales of young women making their way in the world) are largely out of fashion now.
Dystopian YA? Tough sell
Vampires of any kind? Tough sell.
Westerns? A small but devoted niche market that probably won't be expanding any time soon.

What makes things in and out of fashion for a publisher is largely how many successful writers there are working in that field right now.  If you're publishing a dozen successful thriller writers, there isn't a lot of room to add even one more. And given that even when writers die, they still "keep writing" that shelf space isn't loosening up anytime soon.

Charlotte Grubbs asked a very astute question:
Janet, I had a question: I know that, when talking to an agent that has offered representation, you should ask what happens if the book doesn't sell. Is it also appropriate to ask where the agent plans to submit, how many submissions they plan to make, which editor do they think would be a good fit for the book, etc? It seems like knowing an agent's submission strategy before signing with them is the only way to avoid the OP's situation, but I don't want to offend an agent by micromanaging or appearing to doubt their abilities. If I signed with an agent who then told me "oh, btw, I'm only submitting to ten editors," I would feel very misled, but at the same time I'm worried that asking "you're not just going to submit to ten editors and then call it quits, right?" would make me seem pushy and paranoid.

It's certainly fine to discuss submissions in general. I do that with prospects all the time. I do NOT get in to specifics. For starters, I'm not going to invest time in creating a submission list until I know I've got the client.
And second, there's no way I'm going to tell a prospect about my sub list on the off chance they sign with someone else and then pass along all that info to a different agent.
I've seen some very unhappy things happen when prospects get revision notes, and shop a revised manuscript widely and sign with someone else. I see this particularly with younger agents; those who have more time to offer revision notes and then get left in the lurch when the writer uses those revisions to query others.

I will talk generally about submissions means I'll talk publishers but not editors. I'd never share a pitch unless a writer had signed with me.

A.J. Blythe asked
Janet, at the risk of finding myself with a one-way ticket to Carkoon, I was wondering if you could blog about what authors should do/ask an agent before signing (a la the things Charlotte mentioned and anything else we don't know to ask) and accepted protocols? By the latter I mean things like... Is it okay to ask questions and then think about saying yes? I'd be so worried they'd think I wasn't keen that they'd change their mind, so I'm liable to agree in panic and excitement.

I know you've talked about a lot of these things in the past, but I can't remember a post where it's all on the one page. Please forgive me, your Sharkness, if my brain is just faulty.

Google is indeed your friend. Search terms "Janet Reid" and "Questions to ask agents"
will cough up a couple places. This is the one I wrote.

Colin Smith had another

Panda in Chief related this
When I was first dipping my toes in the kid-lit river, I went to a SCBWI event to hear an agent speak, and she said she rarely (if ever) gives up, and had submitted work as many as 32 or more times before selling it. And that she would have kept on submitting until it sold or there were no publishers left.

And let's all just remember that Phil Spitzer had James Lee Burke's first Robicheaux novel on submission for 17 YEARS before he sold it. I revere Phil Spitzer, and that's just one reason why.

But, I'm also really clear with prospective clients: if this book doesn't sell, I'm not kicking you to the kerb for that reason alone.

On Friday we talked about the importance of consistent email addresses:
Colin Smith said
Of course, I would never presume you actually *want* to get my emails, so I would never presume to bother to notify you with a change of email address. I would just hope you check the spam filter once in a while, and that somehow you would recognize my message as not being spam and fish it out. :)

While that is generally true, if a writer has sent a manuscript and doesn't hear back from me, it creates anxiety. I prefer to induce anxiety in writers only when I can sit back and enjoy it, not inadvertently with an email glitch.

Colin asked
Janet: Do you only look at the social media someone says they have, or do you search Goodreads (for example) to see if that person is there, or do you just Google that person's name and see what comes up? At the moment, I'm operating on the assumption that you (or any agent I query) might visit my blog because that's listed on my email signature, and you might then visit any social media I list on my blog. So if I have an outdated MySpace account, if I don't mention it, you'll never visit it or go looking for it. Is this incorrect?

if you've sent a query, I generally look at the sites you reference in your query letter.
If a client or a blog reader or someone-not-you says they are referring me to you, then I google you. Thus you want to clean up your electronic presence before you ever whisper to a soul that you're agent stalking. As in: start NOW.

E.M.Goldsmith said:
At least one request got bounced back to me due to volume. I do wonder if agents have a way of keeping their inboxes from becoming full because that will bounce your request as well. I think this was how this agent took vacation myself- spam full the inbox, hit the sunny Caribbean for a week, clear out the inbox, and resume the madness. It's better than Norman- you get a lovely notification that your email was not delivered because there was no room for it. Sigh. I needed to do one more revision anyhow.

We had that problem here till we figured out not to leave mail on the server after it had been forwarded to us. Fortunately we realized we had a problem before too much time had passed.
That's one reason I run everything through gmail: no volume limits.

Colin Smith asked:
Since we seem to be tallying, let's see how I do on the "friend of the Shark" checklist:

* Contest Winner: CHECK!
* Regular Commenter: CHECK!
* Have corresponded with QOTKU via email in the past: CHECK!
* Has a Carkoon record: STRIKE!
* Consistently and painfully violates commenting rules: STRIKE!
* Likes kale and lima beans: STRIKE STRIKE!!!
* Uses italics: STRIKE STRIKE STRIKE!!!!

Does your spam filter have an address, Janet? Maybe I should just cut out the middle-person... :)

Priscilla, Queen of the Just Desserts does indeed have an email address; FictionNovels@JetReidLiterary.LOL

On Saturday, the question was why big name authors don't just self publish and it was a chance to trot out my Econ 201 notes from undergrad school.

Kitty's comment here
Self-pub books used to be called PODs (print on demand). Ten years ago Goldberg thought PODs were a waste of time and money, that a great book will get noticed eventually. Then he discovered Amazon’s self-pub service. He’s written a lot on this subject. I searched his blog for “POD” and “self-publish” and found quite a bit.
reminded me to emphasize POD is a way to print books, NOT a way to publish books. Trade and academic presses use POD technology all the time.

The reason it came to be associated with self-publishing (which simply means that you the writer are the final word on the book being published) is that POD made self-publishing affordable.
Previously, you'd need to order hundreds of books to self-publish something that looked like a real book.
With POD technology you can order one or a hundred or a thousand.
The difference is there is no price break for multiple copies
One book costs $5.00
Ten books cost $50.00
100 cost $500.00
When  you buy books from an off-set press, you pay $75.00 for one and $500.00 bucks for 100.
It's like pricing at Kinkos: one copy is 25cents. 100 copies is $10.00

The problem with POD printing was the lack of quality control. It looked like a book but the production values were often so bad they were laughable. And of course, the content was ..spotty.

Craig said
I notice you didn't put Patterson on the list with Rowling and King. I know why I wouldn't have done it; he is a franchise and not a writer. Would you explain yourself or can you not read formulaic crud either?

I don't think James Patterson was included in the questioner's list. And I suspect  James Patterson doesn't actually write his books anymore. I think he has writers. He's the creative leader (he comes up with the concepts or the stories) but the actual writing is done by others, or certainly with others. Thus his opportunity costs are much different.

This is a long week in review since we missed last week. There wasn't a lot of time for revision and letting this sit for a while to catch those pesky typos. Let me know when you find them!

I can't believe January is ending!

Blogger sub header noms:
"I am slowly slipping into madness. Is that usual during revisions?" E.M. Goldsmith

"Oh, hello horse. Is that cart in your way ... ? " DLM

"When you put a lot on your plate something will inevitably fall off." Lucie Witt

"The flash fiction contests are a devastatingly effective gateway drug." Mark Thurber

Next time someone asks me where I live, I'm gonna reply: "The Known Universe. Have you met our Queen?" --John Frain

"can't imagine my time being worth $10,000/hr." --kdjames
"kd: And yet every minute of our lives is priceless"-- Colin Smith

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Why don't big name authors just self-pub and make more money?

I don't believe this has been addressed on your blog and perhaps that's because the answer is too long, but, I was wondering why it is that big brand name authors (JK Rowling, Dan Brown, Stephen King, Lee Child etc) don't self-publish their books instead of going with a traditional publisher that will keep 90% of the revenue from sales?

I understand that traditional publishers will get the book into the stores through distributors and handle marketing etc, but it seems to me that by self-publishing these authors would still make more money. Let's say Stephen King can sell 1-million copies through a traditional publisher, taking a 10% royalty. He could surely easily sell more than 100,000 copies on his own, through his website and Amazon, and therefore make more money because he's keeping most of the revenue?

I'm sure I'm missing something here, so your expert insight would be most appreciated.

What you're missing is a concept economists call opportunity cost. That's the cost of what you don't choose. If I do not choose to hire an assistant, the opportunity cost is what I would have earned if I'd spent my time making sales calls instead of filing, copying and tracking royalty statements.

When you earn a lot of money with work you do, it's smart to hire people who cost LESS than you and invest your time in things only you can do (ie the things you cannot hire out.)

The opportunity cost for self-publishing is writing time.

Particularly with big name (ie successful) authors, writing time is VERY expensive: the money they earn from the book divided by the number of hours it took to write.

If they use some of that writing time to do things like accounting, production, sales and marketing, they forgo writing time.

Doing the work of self-publishing instead of writing is expensive for them. MUCH more expensive than it is for a writer making less money.

If a writer makes ten million dollars a year, that's a nice paycheck.

If it takes 25 weeks of 8 hour days to write and revise the book the hourly "wage" is:

$10,000,000/(8 x 5x 25)
Ten million dollars divided by the number of hours it takes to write the book
(figure 8 hours a day, five days a week, 25 weeks)

$10,000.00/hour is your opportunity cost for every hour you forgo writing to do something you could have someone else do.

Now, you don't have to be a math genius to see that it makes a lot of sense to hire people who cost a whole lot less than $10,000 an hour to do all the things that aren't writing.

Essentially big name authors "hire" publishers to do this work. They "pay" by letting the publisher take a chunk of  the ensuing royalties.

So why do they "hire" publishers instead of hiring a team to run a company that publishes only their own books?

First, they do it because self-publishing still requires hands on supervision of the work even if someone else is doing it. Reviewing 500 drafts of a cover, tracking down an errant shipment of books (because it's not just electronic books you'd need to deal with)....ALL of that costs you $10,000 an hour.

Second, if you hire your own team, you pay all the cost. By "hiring" a publisher, these big name authors only pay a piece of the cost. Other big name authors at the publisher are availing themselves of the warehouse space, the marketing department, the accounting department.

They've also realized there are certain aspects of being published by an reputable trade publisher, rather than self publishing that can't be quantified on a balance sheet: availability of reviews, access to the marketplace, retail relationships, editorial expertise.

The more successful you are, the more you focus on doing the one thing only you can do, and you hire people to do things someone else can.

Only JK Rowling can write Harry Potter. Only Stephen King can write his novels.

I think too that most of these very successful writers have figured out something pretty important: writing well and publishing well are two very different skill sets. It's hard to do two things really well.

On the other hand, this is EXACTLY why many writers have turned to self-publishing. They can earn more than what it costs them to publish their books.

Each writer has to decide what's important, where they want to spend their time, and their money. One answer is not right for everyone.

Friday, January 29, 2016

So, who were you again?

Recently I received a late night email from a writer I've been in touch with for about seven months. He'd queried me and I'd sent back his requested full with some chipper notes and a flinty-eyed demand for revised pages. In other words, we're as close to pals as anyone can be with a shark.

He's also a regular commenter here and might have won a flash fiction contest.

In other words, we're pals AND I know his name.

Too bad my spam filter didn't.

Priscilla is a petulant thing. She is stupid as only a literal-minded thing can be (not quite on the level of sheep in that she's not quite suicidal but close.)

When I tell her in no uncertain terms that is a pal, and his emails should be color coded green and speedily sent to my inbox with a trumpet flourish, she will do that.

But she'll ONLY do that if the email is
If it's, Priscilla balks.

And by balking I mean she does not color code it green, does not speedily deliver it to my inbox and all trumpets have fallen silent.

Given we all have multiple email addresses (I have six, three of which you'll see associated with my agenting gig) it's really important to remember that Priscilla and her ilk require consistency.

Always query from the same email address. Always follow up from that address if you're doing revisions or anything else.

If you're pals with a shark, and you know you're going to change email addresses, let me know. That way I can make sure Priscilla's instructions are updated.

Here's the reason you want to do that: If you send something with an attachment, it's likely to get sorted into spam if your address isn't in my address book. Once you're in spam, my response time drops like a rock cause I do forget to check it sometimes.  Oh, I'll find you eventually sure, but neither of us really want a delay like that.

I do pay attention to the people I know, but the way I make sure of that is by color coding your email address. Change your email address and you've stymied me. I'm pretty sure this is NOT what you want to do.

Is it?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Well, that was quick

This fall I signed with a literary agent for a YA novel. When we discussed plans for submission, she said she would contact approximately 10 editors, we would examine the responses, and (if no offer was made) decide if any revisions were necessary before expanding the submission. Well, we did not receive any offers in response to the first 10 submissions and the agent has decided to step aside. She felt there might be issues with marketability (it's a historical novel, set in a somewhat unusual time period), but only one editor actually mentioned that as a reason for passing. To my eye, there wasn't a clear pattern in the editors' responses (they all liked different things and disliked different things). She has said I am free to seek other representation. So I am wondering:

1. How common or uncommon is this scenario?

2. As an agent, how many submissions would you expect to send out before getting an offer?

3. Is it worth seeking another agent or will these 10 submissions effectively kill my chances?

4. How much of this should be mentioned in the query?

While I'm reluctant to stick my long pointy nose into another agent's business practices,
A couple things perplex me here.

1. The initial statement that she's only sending to ten editors. While I do not work in YA, I know some pretty successful agents who do. Their war stories often have ten editors coming to an auction. That means there are LOTS more than ten places to submit YA projects. Hell, I can think of more than ten myself.

This seems like an early warning sign that the editor isn't in this with you for the long haul. That's certainly one way to agent, but it sure leaves authors in a pickle more times than not.

2. She's ditching you rather than asking you to write something else.

3. If you signed with her in the fall, and it's now the last week of January, that's barely four months, and one of those months had a lot of "out of office" email replies cause we were all snogging Santa or his reindeer or both (Fifty Shades of Doe, Ray and Me)

Now for your questions:

1. I've seen this kind of thing before. I've blogged about it too.

I think it's becoming more common as agents need to sell big books and decide not to spend time on books that aren't going to go big.

2. My practice is to send out rounds of submissions. If you have ten first choice editors, and they say no, I send to ten second-choice. I've sold books to publishers who weren't my first or second choice, but the author and I discussed the submission and agreed on it. If I run out of places to submit, I generally have already asked the author to start on something new.

3. This book is dead. You need to write something new. I never take on "lightly shopped" let alone seriously shopped books.

4. None. You'll write a new book, and when your next agent calls to chat, you'll mention this and I hope it will become a hilarious story.

The lesson to be learned from this is: ASK what strategy an agent employs for a book they can't sell. If it's the WhamBamPartingGiftsPlan, you'll want to think long and hard about signing with that agent.

Almost without exception each client I've signed wrote a book I loved. If editors turned it down, I thought they were short-sighted and I wanted to make sure they'd live to rue that rejection.

When the client and I have parted ways over my inability to sell their work, it's absolutely not for lack of effort on my part. Yes, sometimes a fresh perspective is needed. Sometimes a new agent will know a category better than I do. When that happens, I am sorry to see the client leave, but I understand their thinking. I have some very successful former clients and I'm pleased as punch for them.

I can't think of a single instance where I sent a book to ten editors and four months later fired the client (even passively) unless there was something else going on. You've mentioned nothing that leads me to think that might be the case here and I hope it isn't.

Some of the things that can lead an agent to lose enthusiasm quickly:

1. Nagging. I don't mean follow up emails once a week, I mean "what are you doing" emails once a day.

2. Micro-managing: "I saw this editor bought Book X on Pub Lunch. Are you sending to them?"

3. Incessant over-analyzing "what does she mean "the book isn't big enough.""

4. Eeyore emails "oh, I'm so discouraged, woe is me, maybe I'll just self-publish" after each rejection.

If by some dreadful coincidence, you see yourself in this list, it's not the book and it's not the agent, it's you. (I hope it's not.)

In any case you now know three things:

1. Your agent has fired you.
2. You need to write a new book
3. You're never going to sign with someone who practices the WhamBamPartingGifts Submission plan again.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Unfortunate first impressions

Referrals can be a good way to warm up the otherwise-arctic query process. Good referrals are a recommendation to an agent from someone the agent knows. Really good referrals are when that someone has read your book, likes it and says so.

I pay very close attention to these kinds of referrals; when they come from my clients, I act on them immediately.

By act immediately I mean I google the author being referred.

Recently, one of my clients gave me the name of an author who was looking for an agent. The author was talking to friends, getting names. My client sent me a heads up that she's read the author's book, liked it, and had passed my name along to the author.

When I got my client's email, I immediately googled the author. Her website was the first item on the google results list so I clicked on it. (The other options were Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, her publisher's site, Twitter, and then some book reviews.)

The website was a disaster of epic proportion.

Not least among the problems was that her website allows comments on her pages, and her comment column was filled with spam. (Remember discussing using blogs as websites?)

This is a TERRIBLE first impression.

If you're querying, you want to make sure your website or blog is spiffy.

Now, I can hear some of you plaintively asking why? why? It has nothing to do with the writing!
That's very true. It has nothing to do with the writing.
It has an ENORMOUS amount to do with the my impression of how much coaching you'll need on what are now the fundamentals of Being a Published Writer.

When you're a published writer, your competition is no longer the slapdash, the ignoramus, or the wretchedly bad writer. It's GOOD writers. It's PUBLISHED (or about to be published) writers. You're no longer competing for agents. You're competing for readers.

And if you think agents are tough to please, wait till you meet real readers in the trenches of the Amazon reviews. Or on your blog.

Or worse: not at all.

You want a website that gives readers value for their eyeball time. They're looking for info on your books, probably some info about you, and often a way to contact you. What they're not looking for (at least on your site) are cheap term papers or scented dog poop bags or ways to attract a man.

And yes, I help my clients with that stuff. So yes, I'm much MUCH more interested in someone who's at least on the ball enough to watch their blog for spam.

If you're at this stage of querying, google yourself to find out what I'll see first. Then make sure what I can see looks polished. At the very least clean up the spam! And have you checked your Goodreads page lately? What impression will I get there?

You'll notice all this happened BEFORE I knew anything about her writing or had even gotten a query from the author. In other words, this is something to take care of EARLY rather than waiting till you think you need it.

This kind of googling tells me how to prioritize this referral and subsequent query. If I'd seen something less daunting, I might have reached out to the author. As it is I'll wait for the query, and it's not going to be one of those I drop everything to read.

Any questions?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

novel proposal

My agent has asked me to write a proposal for my new novel. Since he wrote the proposal for my last (and only other) novel before submitting it over a year ago, I am genuinely terrified I'm going to mess this up. This novel is in a genre he normally doesn't rep, so I guess I'm the best qualified to write this.

Is this something literary agents expect their clients to know how to do (and do often)? I've bought a couple books and have googled a ton to make sure I get this right, but I can't get my agent to even answer my (few and far between) emails to ask him (I know... I know... that's a whole other problem). Thanks in advance for your advice. 

I'm a tad perplexed here since  I've never asked anyone to write a proposal for a novel. Generally my clients write either
1. a novel or
2. several chapters and an outline.

Which is not to say I haven't sold books based on notes on a cocktail napkin but that's not a proposal either.

Maybe several chapters and an outline is what your agent means.

The best thing to do though is ask him to show you what he wrote for your first novel proposal.  In fact, why is it that you haven't seen it?

You've also not mentioned if the first book sold. If it did, what the publisher needs in order to decide on acquiring the second book (or option book) is spelled out in the contract. It should say "full manuscript" or "synopsis" or "three chapters" or something very similar. It should be clear what's expected.

If your book did NOT sell, you've pointed out a problem with communication with your agent. You might think about addressing that before moving ahead on the next project.

Communication only improves when both parties are aware of the problem and working to fix it.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

I'm a writer and I'm thinking of applying to work at a lit agency

I'm both a young writer and currently working my first job in publishing at a Big Five publishing company. I'm not sure where I'm planning to go next career-wise, but I have considered trying to move over to the agenting side of the business, and I did previously intern at a literary agency and interview for several internships and assistant positions at different agencies. My question is, how do I handle querying an agency that I previously interviewed with, and how do I handle applying for a job at an agency that once requested my full manuscript?

You keep quiet about the writing. Don't mention you've queried, don't mention you write. If you're applying for a job, focus on the job they want you to do. Don't tell anyone you're really just here till you sell your novel.

I cannot urge you strongly enough to NOT consider working at lit agency while trying to forge a career as a writer.

It takes a lot of time and attention to become good at a job. Literary agenting isn't 9-5 or even 9-9 if you want to be good at it. You're thinking about work even when you're out at brunch with your pals.

And if you're an assistant, it's worse.

The problem is: writing is the EXACT same kind of work. It's not 9-5 even if you only write for a couple hours a day. Writing a novel of any kind requires your creative brain to engage, and there's no schedule for that.

If you want to be a writer, you want a job you don't take home with you after quitting time.

The other part of the problem is wearing two hats in the publishing industry at this stage of your career means it's almost impossible to network effectively.  You've got to build your career as one thing, then branch out later when you've got an established base.

If you ignore this, and apply for a lit agency job anyway: do not mention anything about writing.

I know you think you're the exception to this, that you can do everything you want and do it well. That's exactly the kind of bravado and confidence required to be a good agent, BUT you also need to be realistic.  It's very very hard to do two things very well (just ask Michael Jordan.)  Do you want to be really good at one thing, or sort of ok at two?  That's the real choice here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016 query service

Have you come across It purports to be a new way of querying for writers and query management, up through publication, for agents. Could this be a new wave for the future and could it eliminate the traditional querying practice? Do you have thoughts on this industry evolution (or devolution)? Below is a quote from their website.


AUTHORS, Inc. is an Austin technology company dedicated to making the process of discovering new manuscripts better for the writers who write them and for the agents and publishers who publish them. AUTHORS has created a breakthrough service that puts everyone on the same platform for better communication, discovery, and submissions

I had not heard of this particular company, but I've seen this "new way of querying" before...many times.  It's trying to solve a problem we don't have. And by we I mean you the writer and me the agent.

There's a fundamental flaw in the logic here. "Making the process of discovering new manuscripts better for writers" implies that the process in use now doesn't work well. It works just fine. You write to me about your novel. I write back. There's direct communication. No forms to fill out, no perplexing multiple choice. No money changes hands.

If the problem is that I don't take on your project, that's not a problem with the process, and fixing/changing/altering the process won't mean diddly squat.

The problem with querying isn't the platform. It's that supply exceeds demand. There are more good writers out there than there are reader eyeballs. No change of platform will address that.

Any reputable agent and publisher will tell you that. From looking at the staff of this company, I'm not sure any agents or publishers are involved. They certainly didn't ask ME what would improve the query process. (And don't think I'm lacking in an idea or two on that front!)

And the first thing you always want to do is find out who's being asked for money:

And tucked away in the Terms of Use (which is utterly confusing since it refers to the company as Authors; the agent as Licensee; and godiva knows what they call the actual writer, I didn't get that far) is this:

I don't know a single agent willing to pay to receive queries.

The first rule of sales: talk benefits, not features.

I get more than enough queries right now. I turn down good and publishable work every single day, and twice on Sunday.

What's in this for me? Nothing as far as I can tell.

There is however one group of folks in the industry for whom this is a sumptuous all you can eat buffet: faux publishers. And by faux I mean the publishing companies who make money from authors not book sales.

What better place to find a bunch of those inexperienced, gullible authors just waiting to believe they can be a success with a hundred bucks and a query letter.

These kinds of services come along once every couple years. Almost universally they are started by people who have no experience in publishing (and think that's a plus) and claim successes without actually giving details.

The site has a thread on and the CEO claims "11 publishing deals have been signed."

The next question of course is "with who" but that information wasn't provided.

I also didn't see the terms of service for writer submissions, but some comments on that waved some major red flags.

Bottom line: a lot of people will tell you the query system is flawed. Generally they have a solution for you that involves your money and their pocket. Believe little, if anything, from them.

PS If you describe your service as "intelligent design" it displays an absolutely tin ear for sales and marketing.