Friday, December 15, 2017

R&R versus "just nice comments on a pass"

I have several fulls out (holy hell) with respectable NYC literary agents (no, you're not one of them because you don't rep my genre). In the last week, two agents rejected - but with very positive feedback. The few criticisms I received could be fixed with an easy revision. This makes me wonder: what prompts an agent to ask for an R&R versus rejecting it entirely? If you can give some perspective on this thought process - it would help me sleep better. Well, that and a nice 20-year old Scotch.

I'm not one of them because very few people would call me respectable (barroom floozy that I am) Respected might be the better word for what (other) lit agents are.

But I digress...

I can only speak to my own practices here and I really don't know how other agents do this (it's not a topic at the DisReputable Bar and Grille where I hang my hat at 5pm)

I ask for a revise and resubmit if there's a structural problem that can be fixed. Examples of this are plot holes or inconsistencies; lack of chapters (my newest client had this!); a more compelling ending.

Structural problems that need a general overhaul generally are passes. Examples: no sense of the protagonist's code; the plot didn't have any kind of twist or surprise element; lack of a narrative arc (more common in non-fiction than fiction); lack of tension.

As to your situation: you don't know if the "few criticisms" are the extent of the problem. When I pass on a manuscript I'll generally give the writer an idea of why, but it's NOT an editorial letter that lists ALL the things that need to be revised.

This can lead to authors thinking if they fix the "few criticisms" the agent will then have a novel ready to go on submission. That's almost never the case.

Instead of trying for a revise and resubmit here, look at the feedback you have. Is it consistent? If so, that's definitely something to fix.

And read the manuscript with fresh, critical eyes. Does it have twists? Can you identify the main character's code?

But mostly, keep querying. I've signed and sold things that other agents didn't want.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

"I don't want to be a nuisance"

A few years ago I did a year-long internship for a fabulous, huge literary agency. Since then I've had an agent and lost her again in an amicable breakup.

I've now written another manuscript, and the agent at the head of the agency I used to intern for is my #1 querying choice. However, she's closed to unsolicited submissions.

When I interned for her, she told us she was always interested in work her interns did. But that was a few years ago, and I can't find out whether or not this is still the case, and I can't find information about whether or not ex-interns count as exceptions to "unsolicited".

What should I do? I don't want to be a nuisance, but I don't want to miss out on what could be a great opportunity.

We're following each other on Twitter, so one option is to DM her, but the idea makes me nervous. I definitely have the patience to wait for her to open to submissions again, but knowing how popular she is, that could take years, and I don't want to wait if it would be okay to just ask her.

Thanks for reading, and for any advice you might have!

Under no circumstances (unless specifically told to do so) should you DM an agent about anything related to querying. Twitter is not where most of us conduct business, and there's no way to know if she'll ever see the message. (In fact this prompted me to check direct messages since I haven't thought of them since summer '16)

The other thing you need to do is believe people when they tell you they're interested in your work. If I had a nickle for every author who has said something akin to "well, she said that but maybe she says that to everyone" or "yes but, maybe she's changed her mind" I'd have enough money to buy myself a bar.

And you're not annoying her if you write to confirm she's still interested in looking at former intern's work.

Well, you're annoying her if you write to her sixteen times asking sixteen questions, and phoning to confirm her email address, but that's not what you intend to do is it?

While I respect your effort to behave professionally, never let that interfere with advancing your career in a polite, prepared way. When I say prepared I mean you are ready to send the query or manuscript the same day she replies with "yes I'm still interested, please send."

And by polite I mean you say thank you not apologize for writing.

The bottom line is this: Yes, you need an agent, but agents also need writers. Assume your work is something we want to see. We'll let you know if that's not the case.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Vacation flash fiction contest

I have an idea to torment you so much you start the New Year as weeping sodden pool of writer tears. In other words, just like always.

Here's what I thought of:

Round One
posted: 12/22
opens: 12/23
closes: 12/25

Prompt word/s:
Number of words: 30

Round two-building on or continuing what you wrote in R1
Posted: 12/26
Opens: 12/27
Closes: 12/28 (9am)

prompt word/s
Number of words: 25

Round Three-building on or continuing what you wrote in R1 &R2
Posted: 12/28 (noon)
Opens 12/29
Closes: 12/30 (9am)

prompt word/s
Number of words: 25

Round Four-building on or continuing what you wrote in R1, R2, and R3
Posted: 12/30 (noon)
Opens 12/31
Closes: 1/1/18 9am

prompt word/s
Number of words: 20

To be eligible for the Grand Prize, you have to write a story that is complete by the 4th round.
Each round will also have winners.

And of course, the prompt words will be utterly brutal.

So, let me know your thoughts and what questions you have.

That guffawing sound you hear in the distance is me chortling with glee. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Consensus shmensus

In the last few months, I've had several requests for my full manuscript ... eight to date. Yippee! However, three have come back (in the last week, Happy Holidays!) as rejections. These rejecting agents pointed out many things they enjoyed about the book, but only gave me a single constructive comment to work on. Even more exasperatingly, the constructive comments contradict each other. Like jellied cranberry sauce served without the ridge marks, I can't quite figure out what's happening here.

For example,

Agent A: I love your character and plot. Needs more pacing
Agent B: I love your pacing and plot. Needs more character
Agent C: I love your character and pacing. Needs more plot.

I'm at a loss for what to do.

I have no issues with revisions... I welcome them. But if I make changes only to change things back again, it will feel like eating turkey without wearing stretchy pants. None of these agents have asked for an R&R. Which leads me to believe, they just don't LOVE it.

What's your advice? Besides more pie?

Ignore them all.
The little secret we hope you never find out is we're they're not always right.

We've all had the experience of reading a book that a previously trusted friend said was terrific, only to find out they'd taken leave of their senses.  And I've loathed books that enough people liked it to  get to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. And I kid you not, there are some people who don't like Jack Reacher. I know, I didn't believe it either, but it's true.

What's wrong with a book is in the eye of the beholder.
Keep looking for the agent who sees what you see: a damn good book.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The option clause

I'm the author of a series of six novels. The company that publishes the books offers a small advance and I've made only enough to cover the costs for me to attend a conference in my field once a year. Income does not seem to be increasing, just declining as the books go along.

The publisher has an option on my next work with these characters. I'd rather get out of that option so that I can write another book in the series, if and when I feel like it, and self-publish it as an e-book, thus satisfying my fans, who keep asking about the next book.

I've been considering talking to my agent about this but wonder what would be in it for him? I mean he only makes money if I make money and obviously this cuts him out of the loop. On the other hand, neither he or the publishing company are making much money on my books.

Don't worry about what your agent wants. If this is what you want to do, talk to him about this. He'll explain that self-publishing isn't as much fun or as easy as you may think.

He can also get you out of your option with some cleverness that only agents know how to do.

The question he'll ask is do you want to write another book, and have it NOT go to your current publisher. Because the option is limited ("with these characters") you can write something new that won't be covered by the current option.

Publishers are generally reluctant to let go of options because they want to reap the reward if one of the books suddenly earns a lot of money (think film here.)

If you let the books go out of print, you can get the option cancelled pretty easily.

This is something to discuss with your agent and NOT with your author buddies. The last thing you want is for your publisher to get wind of this before you're prepared to discuss exactly what you want to do.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

You asked on Twitter about how to query me

I'm so glad you asked me on Twitter about how to query.

The first thing to know is you should read ALL the following instructions before sending a query. Don't be tempted to just hit send.

1. You should know that I only accept queries by mail.

2. Your query letter should be 250 words. It should tell me what the book is about. It should be in Times New Roman font, 12pt.

3. Make sure you include all your contact information including your cell phone and your home address.

4. Include five pages of your manuscript. Again, Times New Roman 12 pt, 1" margins all around.

5. Include a stamped, self addressed 9x12 envelope so we can return your pages if we need to. We like to return pages to you in case other writers are scouting through our garbage for manuscripts to steal.

6. Expect to hear back within 90 days or so.

7. If this seems like a lot of work, you might try what every other writer in the world does: google "query Janet Reid" and see what you find.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Format guidelines were not instituted to drive you crazy. That's just a perk.

Format guidelines were not instituted to drive you crazy.
That's just a perk.

I ask for full manuscripts to be formatted as follows:
12 point TNR
1" margins all around

page numbers in the header or footer
name/title in the header

Tabs with the tab key, not five spaces
Page breaks between chapters by command, not manual return/enter
Tab at the start of a new paragraph or line of dialogue

Recently I've had several authors who have inserted page numbers by hand, and a lot of you
seem to have lost your tab key.

When this happens, I generally send the manuscript back to you to fix.
It's easier to do it this way at the start and almost every agent or editor is going to ask for this
kind of formatting.

Here's why:
I'm reading (as are all other agents and editors) a LOT of manuscripts. When mss follow a consistent format, it helps me assess the pacing.  If I get to page twenty and I haven't yet gotten a glimmer of what's at stake for Our Hero/ine, then I know there's a problem. It's essential that page twenty be about the same amount of words across the board.

Send me a manuscript in Times New Roman, and page twenty is about 6000 words.
In Courier it's 4400 words.
In Verdana it's 5000 words.

Drop the size from 12 to 10 and 20 pages of TNR goes down to 17; 
in Courier 6500 words goes from 29 pages in 12 point to 21.

That's why when you send me something in anything other than TNR 12 the first thing I do is adjust the font and size.

Which means if you've inserted ANYTHING by hand that needs to come at the end of the page, it's now nowhere near the end of the page anywhere.

And if you've inserted manual line returns, those are affected by font and point size as well, and your sentences are now cattywampus.

A character takes up a different amount of space in various fonts. Change the font, you change how many characters make up a sentence, or how big the spaces are that you're using for a tab.

Some authors, frustrated by what seems like nit picky requirements want to send PDFs. I sympathize but it doesn't solve the problem.  A PDF in Courier still takes 29 pages for the number of words TNR 12 only needs 20 for.  I need to read a consistent format.

 So, get in the practice of using your word processing program for commands, not your keyboard.

Bottom line: don't format with your space bar. Don't use your return key for a new line unless it's a new paragraph or a new line of dialogue.

Friday, December 08, 2017

My agent is alive and well; it's my editor who's AWOL

What happens when an editor leaves a publishing house?

In my case, an editor my then-agent had submitted to left the publisher. It was a great publisher too. And my agent decided not to resubmit there. (I still often still think about emailing that publisher and explaining the situation, but I know they probably won’t take a submission directly from the author.)

But it made me think - what does an agent do if they submit to an editor who leaves? Does the editor usually give these subs to another editor or should the agent resubmit to someone else at that house? And what if the author had directly submitted to an editor at a house that takes unagented subs. Would does subs be passed along? Or in these cases (whether by agent or author) is it always best to resubmit?
I'm not sure how a publishing company that takes unagented stuff works, so I can't answer that question.

If I've submitted to an editor who then decamps for greener pastures, I send the submission to another editor (usually). It can be the case that the now-gone editor was interested in this kind of book, and other editors are not, so there might not be someone to send it to, but generally there is.

And  yes sometimes I've found out the hard way that an editor is gone (a bounce back on a follow up email) but generally editors send out an email blast saying "sayonara sweetheart, it's been good to know ya."

The problem arises when they don't so much decamp as move to another team.  Often I will have sent the ms to another editor at their new house, and you can't send to two editors at the same place. Oh yes, ain't we got fun!

I never assume that a submission gets passed on to someone else, and you shouldn't either.  If an editor leaves, it essentially restarts  the shot clock.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

R&R and R&R and R&R I need an R&offer!

I know you’ve covered R&Rs a lot recently, but I thought I’d reach out because the discussions left me feeling more alone. R&Rs were often referred to as “rare,” but I keep getting them…and I can’t seem to get over the R&R hurdle.

Over the last two years, I’ve queried two novels. (About 40 queries each.) Both resulted in 15+ fulls/partials…with no offers of rep. I mainly received R&Rs, which also didn’t work out. Either the advice didn’t resonate with me or the revision didn’t resonate with the agent, though the agents often said the revisions were really good, which…*confused* (Once, I received a R&R on a R&R.) I’m super grateful for the R&Rs, but I’m now jumping into a third novel to try again. Though I’ve learned a lot from R&Rs, I can’t help but feel like I’m stuck on repeat.

I have beta readers (new and old), I attend conferences, and I have previous publications. I expect revisions at every stage, but many of my writing friends received offers before revisions (even heavy revisions).

Is there something else I can do? 

There's something wrong with your manuscript and no one is willing to engage in the conversation that will tell you.

I certainly don't with passes on fulls, even those with requested revisions. I say exactly what you heard: this is good, but not quite there yet.

I think you need a bloodthirsty outside editor, preferably someone who worked at a major publishing house, and knows what it takes for a manuscript to get to that final level. You're going to need to shell out some cash for this, cause they need to read the whole thing.

You've got one question and one question only for this editor: what's not working.  And beg them for brutal honesty. PROMISE you will not hurl invectives at them even if they tell you your manuscript stinks. (I'm sure it doesn't.)

If I had to guess without having heard anything about the manuscript or read a single line, I'd bet it's just not fresh and new enough. That's really hard to quantify, and I hate telling writers that because there's no way to help them fix it.

I also think I'm right because all the feedback you've gotten is writing based, not sales based. And "not fresh and new" is a measure of marketability, not your writing.

This is very frustrating place to be. Time for a stiff drink, a break from all this insanity during the holidays to gather your wits, then start looking for an editor in January. They'll all need money then cause they need to pay their taxes in April.

Good luck!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Querying after a pass on an R&R

I've been doing a lot of requesting and reading this year. From that has come, sadly, a lot of rejection. When passing, I try to give writers some sense of why the manuscript didn't work for me. Frequently I mention tension, pacing, character development. I think about these emails carefully. I try to mention published books, sometimes movies, as examples of pacing done well, or characters developed in a way that makes them compelling.

This sets up my expectation that when that author queries for a new manuscript (and many of them do) the problems I saw in the first manuscript are solved.

Too often they are not.  All too often on a new manuscript from an author I've read before, I get ten or twenty pages into the new book and it's deja vu all over again.

What you should take from this: if you're going to requery agents who've read your work pay special attention to what they said in the pass letter. Chances are they've got a copy of it and they'll remember your previous work.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Hi there Author Dudes! I'll help you promote your book!**

I just got this pitch on my author website. Should I do this?

I came upon your work and am interested to interview you for our popular author series. We will share your story as a writer, promote your books and feature you on the (name redacted) to air for a full 52 weeks. We currently feature over 150 authors of all genres on the air right now. The last quarter of the year also historically attracts more listeners so the timing is right. You can take a listen at the links below.

You'll be interviewed via the telephone by me (name redacted) hostess of nationally syndicated radio programs and founder of (name redacted).  The interview is pre-recorded to allow for edits if necessary to help make you and your message shine. Your interview airs for a full year 24/7 on the
(name redacted) and you enjoy 52 weeks of exposure with your very own page on the website that features your audio interview, logo, contact information, description and links back to your site.

The small hosting donation helps to fund (charitable project) We will add your name as the donor with our next delivery following your interview.

Generally speaking any media outlet that asks for money to promote your work is a place to avoid. If you're paying for placement it's called advertising, not promotion. If you're buying advertising, the first question to ask is "how many eyeballs, and show me the stats on how many books they buy."

Places that are pay to play are usually populated by authors and books that can't get any other kind of attention. With a modicum of work, that's not you.

Consider this: even stations that rely on contributions to keep going ask their listeners for money, not their radio show guests. (Think public broadcasting radio here.)

The first red flag was the money.
The second was when I checked out the website.  It's so poorly written and so un-compelling that I almost wept.

And unfortunately the people listed as guests were all unknown to me.  It's not that you have to know every single guest, but if you don't recognize any names, the show isn't drawing middle tier, let alone top tier, authors.

Well, what can it hurt you say? Well, if you've got more money than god, it won't strap your wallet, but why spend money on something that's got a lot less chance of being effective than ways you know ARE effective.

And it really never helps you to be listed on a site that looks like hell.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Preliminary contest result-FINAL

Honestly, I think you are all gathering in some undisclosed location and plotting to torment me with these contests.  This is some damn fine work, y'all.

Herewith the results:

Special recognition for writers who used words I had to look up
I see you've upped your game this week. Some of you must have worn out that dictionary looking for new and difficult words!  I think this is the most I've ever had to look up!

Uckewallist-dellcartoons 9:10am
gluhwein-Rosanna 11:14am
bondat -Craig F 2:17pm

A double helping of recognition for the writers who had TWO words I had to look up
vesicles-Kerry Bernard 1:11pm
Stochasticity-Kerry Bernard 1:11pm

taita taiga- Rkeelan 12:29am
leukism-Rkeelan 12:29am

Nominees for the Steve Forti Prompt Words Acrobatic Performance
Dellcartoons 9:10am
Nate Wilson 12:57am

The start of a story I want to live!
Mori 9:03am

This cracked me up
Nathan Holland 9:15am
Sherryl Clark 6:16pn

A phrase I want to work into more conversations
Those carbon catastrophes Kerry Bernard 1:11pm

Big Orange Interregnum  Craig F 2:17pm

And here are the finalists:
Mallory Love 9:10am

It’s luck, they said when the new heart came right as my fragile one was about to give out.
fate, they told him when she couldn’t be revived after the accident.
I toasted to second
chances when I got the call about the job not long after my surgery.
He mixed soda and bour
bon most nights to burn away her memory.
My new boss was callous. Rough with his words. Cold with his stares.
For months, I hated him.
One day, he told me. Then, I understood him.
Now, I love him.
kismet. My heart was always his.
well of course this tugs at our heartstrings, and I'm always up for a good twisty story that does that. I love the cadence of this story.  Consider "Cold with his stares" versus "he stared coldly." That's just pure voice and style. I love it.

Laurie Betzel 10:19am
It seemed like chance when we bumped into each other at the bon voyage party on the Lido deck. It seemed like luck when neither of us had a partner for the ballroom dance class. It seemed like kismet when he quoted my favorite Pablo Neruda poem, If You Forget Me, at dinner. It seemed like fate when he offered to share a cab ride home. Now, bound and gagged in a windowless room, staring at a wall papered with photos printed off my social media accounts, I knew it was none of those things. He had planned it all.
My ONLY complaint is that the last sentence is superfluous.  The reader gets it all in the last phrase "I knew it was none of those things."  Taking out "He had planned it all" lets the reader have an aha moment (which is a very good thing)  Putting it in means we don't (not a good thing.)

I have a feeling that if this story had sat a bit longer Laurie would have excised that last bit.  The artistry comes in revisions!

Rio 11:21am
Bonilla looked around. “There’s nothing here.”

“Exactly,” Torres said. “Scene’s been stripped.”

Bonilla’s innards went cold. “Stripped?”

“All cells with human DNA, gone. Blood, hair. Even dead skin cells floating in the dust. All disintegrated.”

Oh, dear
fate, no. The KISMET-II particle stripper. “You think one of my scientists did this?”

“There’s a good
chance,” Torres said. “Someone’s been stripping crime scenes all over the city. No evidence left at all.”

“That’s some hard
luck there.”

“Sure is.”

“And you’re saying the suspect is —”

“Yes, Dr. Bonilla, a physicist by day, stripper by night.”

Damn, Bonilla thought. Another one.

This cracked me up completely. 
It's also darn good writing.

Casual-T 12:13pm
The 3:20 was on schedule, my life was not. 46, divorced, missing my kids. I always did my best, but, as my ex had so eloquently put it, "Your best just isn't good enough." Thanks dear.

Luck, chance, fate, kismet, call it what you will, all I know is that, if it hadn't been for that French girl, it would have been me. Her hand gently touched mine, as I stood, wavering, by the platform edge. She looked at me, smiled, and whispered, "C'est bon," and let go.

I don't think she felt any pain as the 3:20 pulled in.
Zowie! So much left unsaid here. I love those kinds of stories that let you fill in all sorts of things with your own imagination.

Friends, I wanted to participate in the contest, but I won’t get a chance to write today, barring a miracle. I planned to work on it yesterday. My brother had knee surgery, so my butt was bonded to a post-op waiting room chair for five hours. Talk about a perfect opportunity to spin a tale! No such luck. I tried to conjure an idea, but got bupkis. META bupkis. As a pantser, lack of inspiration is a fate worse than banana pudding. So, unless my fingers miraculously type something without my brain participating, I’m out. Sorry! Prosperous writing, all.

This cracked me up completely when I read it the first time.
Then I noticed the prompt words were used.
Clever clever writer!

Brian Schwartz
There are three ways to survive a bear attack.

First, you can run. But Edward wasn’t a runner. Too bold for that fate. He’d brought down giants in prison. Finding a bear, it was kismet.

Second, you can play dead. But Edward wasn’t the pretending type. He didn’t mind the color under his girlfriend’s eye. “She’s clumsy,” he’d shrug. And she’d never leave him.

Third, you can fight back. But with Edward’s
luck, he’d survive. And since I couldn’t leave it to chance, I watched the finessed bear meet my daughter’s boyfriend through the scope of a rifle.

Bon appetite.

What makes this story is that lovely phrase "finessed bear" because it says a lot without using a lot of words.

This is very elegant writing.

Rkirkman 5:31am
Bleedin’ luck. My heel, snapped in a crack in the sidewalk.

I leaned against the building to break off the other heel—the zombie stride not being attractive, or efficient. I would miss the
Chancellor’s reception now.

I looked up. Our eyes met through the
Kismet Cafe window.

It was
fate. In Prague, he had shoved me away from a runaway motorcycle.

He motioned me in.

“Rabbit.” He pointed to the Chinese Zodiac placemat.

“Rabbit?” I sat. “I never got your name.”

Bond. James Bond.”

“Double-oh seven,” I said, as I screwed on the silencer in my purse.
It's really hard to top a James Bond reference.
Let alone a lady with a silencer in her purse (wait, I have an electric cattle prod, does that count?)

As usual, you all are making this very difficult.
How about you weigh in on the comments and tell me who should be the winner, and if you think I missed an entry that should have been a finalist.

Further results later today!

I changed my mind twice on who wins the flag today.  I loved all of these and all of them are prize-worthy. In the end though I had to go with the entry that required that second read to truly appreciate. I love that kind of subtlety.

KathyJoyce, send me your mailing address and I'll send you a prize!

To all of you who took time to write stories and enter the contest, thank you! I enjoyed reading each of these and many of them were quite amazing, even some that didn't make that final list.

I am conjuring up new and unusual ways to torture you with a flash fiction contest over the Christmas holiday. I will have my revenge on all of you who are making these so hard to judge!
The winner today is Kathy Joyce.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Some housekeeping on queries here at the end of the year

I've  been requesting manuscripts and reading like crazy this year.  I just added 2017-90 (my 90th requested full) to the data base on Friday. 

I am bound and determined to get answers to as many of  these authors as I can by the end of the year.
(I only have 43 unread adult and 14 juvenile ms unread, not all 90!)

Yea, I know, I need my head examined.

What that means for you: this is not a good time to query. I'm not closed to queries, I've always got an eye out, particularly for non-fiction, but I'm hoping to slow the incoming tide for a couple weeks so I can get caught up.

If I read a good query and want to request the full or proposal, I'll most likely email and tell you I'm going to request in the new year. If you get an offer before then, my loss, and I'll kick myself of course.

But at some point, I want to feel like I'm not stranded on dry land (see, OTHER agents say 'under water' but since I am a shark...) as we close out the year.

Any questions?

Friday, December 01, 2017

Rabbit! Rabbit! Flash fiction contest

Have you heard about the good luck associated with saying "Rabbit Rabbit" on the first day of a new month?  I read about it in a Trixie Belden book and then years later, heard someone say it on Facebook.

Well, we could all use some good luck this month right?

Let's have a flash fiction contest (prize to be determined) to focus on luck!

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: luck/lucky is ok, but kismet/Kiss Me Ted 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: 8:39am, Saturday, 12/2

Contest closes: 9am, Sunday, 12/3

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

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

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

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!


oops too late. Contest is closed

Thursday, November 30, 2017

What do you do when two rules clash?

As I delve deeper into the writer world, I’m finding all the unspoken (and spoken) rules. What do you do when to rules clash?

Example 1 – Agent/speaker says to a group of aspiring authors: “Query me! I do my best to respond to everyone, but if you don’t hear from me in x amount of weeks, give me a nudge.”
Fast forward to query time: writer is furiously double-checking said agent’s submission guidelines 2 months and 23 days later. The submission guidelines say in no uncertain terms “if you don’t hear from us, DO NOT follow up [we thought your MS was crap]. Ok, clearly not verbatim, but you get it.

Example 2 – Twitter pitch party. Agent liked/faved your pitch. Their own tweet says something to the effect of “if I fave your tweet, email me here”. But, being a good little writer who does research on potential agents, sees that the website guidelines say there is an entirely different process. AND, those rules apply to twitter pitches.

Question is, what does the confused writer do?!

Oh how we love to torment you!
And this is such a clever way. Here are the rules, follow them. Wait no no, follow these. But we won't tell which set is them and which set is these. Can you hear me cackling with glee?

And of course we do it on purpose. Cause yanno, we pay careful close attention to what we say about queries.


My nose has grown and I've been struck by lightning. Ow Ow Ow.

The utter truth is that inconsistency happens across timelines and platforms.
And the people writing the submission guidelines for the website may very well NOT be the agent talking at the writer's conference.

And I've run into this since I moved to New Leaf. New Leaf says we don't respond unless we're interested, but I respond to almost every query.  And I've been known to respond to queries that were off the mark (a lot!) when it came to thequery guidelines if I was interested in the topic.

So, what does this mean for you? It means you're going to have to be ok with guidelines that vary even though it makes you anxious.

And what should you do? Do what is most proximate. If you are in the room when an agent says nudge, you nudge. If you saw the tweet that says email me here, email her there. The closer you are to the horse's mouth (and not the other end) the more likely you are to be ok.

And remember that sometimes agents vary the guidelines for specific events. Queries from a conference get a faster reader. Queries from #PitchWars go directly to an agent not the incoming query mailbox etc.

If you're fretting about how to best follow the guidelines  you're going to be ok. 

The writers who AREN'T ok are the ones who don't have a clue what guidelines are, let alone the reason for them, and have no interest in following them if they do know. In other words, they're pretty sure they're the answer to all my problems if I'd only read their entire 387K word haiku fantasy dino porn novel.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The business end of biography

How are biography subjects handled contractually? For example, do they (or their estates) receive a cut of book proceeds? Is there contract language that makes a book an "authorized" biography? Does the author's agent handle the subject's contractual issues?

I'm working on a proposal for a series of biographies for MG, and would like to include a list of possible subjects who have agreed to participate. Now that I'm ready to talk with them, I realize I'm clueless about the business end of what I'm asking.

Subjects of biographies are not parties to the publishing contract.  The publishing contract is between the publisher and the writer.  The terms of the contract require the writer to affirm that the book will be true to the best of their knowledge so writers can't just make up stuff willy-nilly, but the subjects of the biographies can't say "no you can't write this without my permission."

An "authorized" biography is one that that subject or the estate of the subject has agreed will be authorized. Generally it means the subject is fully cooperating with the project.. It also can mean the subject has some say in the final version, and that can be tricky if the biographer discovers some interesting and pertinent dirt.

Writing about public figures is protected speech. Hilary Clinton can't sue writers who say she's the anti-christ because that's the writer's opinion. Donald Trump would have a better case against someone who wrote he was a moron because Trump clearly has an IQ above 80 even if you don't like him.  (IQ is a fact, anti-christ is an opinion)

For people doing important work but who are largely unknown, it will help to have secured their permission to be part of the project.  They can't keep you from writing the book, but lacking celebrity, their UNsupport would be troublesome come publication.

As for payment, sometimes a portion of the author's proceeds is paid to a charity and that charity could be one the subject has chosen. If someone were to write about me (and don't even think about it you clever beasts) I would designate a charity to receive some of the proceeds before I would agreed to invest time in interviews and revealing my Evil Plan for World Domination, let alone the map of the Kale fields of Carkoon.

For those of you thinking of writing biographies, there's a wonderful organization that lets me be a member called BiographersInternational Organization (BIO, get it!)  Members are both published and unpublished biographers, and their annual meeting is a huge resource for writers in the field.  Membership is inexpensive and of great value.

Now, any questions?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

an offer direct from a publisher

Could an author contact you if they received an offer directly from a publisher - and what kind of offer would it have to be to make it worthwhile for an agent?

Sure, I hear from authors with offers in hand all the time.
I've only signed two, and it was a long time ago, when I was eager to build my list.

The problem with offers in hand is that many times the author has already agreed to the terms and there's no way to go back and renegotiate to improve the deal.  [Unless you know what standard royalty rates are and the difference between World, World English and what's on the Open Market list for the UK and what's on the Open Market list for the US, chances are you've agreed to something you don't understand.]

The other problem is that with an offer in hand, there's often a deadline for yes/no before an agent can shop the book to anyone else. That is, you can't leave an offer hanging while you go out to try to get a better deal.

And often the deals are with publishers who simply can't sell enough books to have any hope of building the book into good backlist; the publisher doesn't have a distributor, there's no sales or marketing plan in place; there's little or no chance of trade reviews; there's very limited chance of library sales.

Those are all the things I look at if someone arrives with an offer.

And a lot of times, the offer is so low that it just doesn't make financial sense to take it on. Remember, my commission is 15%, so your $2000 advance nets me $300. The opportunity cost for a small deal is what I give up to work on the deal. I'd rather wait for a big deal to pop up than commit myself to a smaller one. In other words, it's not just what I earn, but what I could earn if I took on a different book.

Of course, all this varies by book, author, publisher, and deal. There's no one answer to this question.

Generally a publisher will give you some time before they need an answer because most publishers prefer to have an agent do the deal. There's less to explain, agents understand boilerplate (like all the stuff I mentioned above) and we can handle the author's questions rather than the editor needing to do it.

Of course there's a publisher doing click bait tweets with the quite the opposite point of view

which cracks me up completely.

I had a conversation with a client recently in which the subject was all the ways a publisher could tank a good book and my client was aghast. He had no idea of problems like publishing too quickly, or pricing a book too high just to name the obvious things.  The value an agent brings to a book deal for an author is expertise and knowledge. A publisher who doesn't value that, to my mind, is a publisher who either doesn't understand their interests are not the same as the author's, or who do understand and want to exploit an author's lack of knowledge.

But, this is America, and you get to run your business on any moral compass you want to.

And that's actually beside the point of this question so I'll get off my soapbox now, and go back to crushing hopes and dreams (and annoying publishers.)

Bottom line: If you have an offer, email the agent/s you'd like to work with using the subject line OFFER from Publisher/Title. Generally I respond to those emails pretty quickly cause I know you're in a time crunch.

Any questions?

Monday, November 27, 2017

How do I break up with my agent?

I've heard that writers often have several agents in their careers. My first book did not sell, and though I do not blame my agent for that, part of me thinks it might be time to part ways. How would a writer go about doing that? Would the agent take it personally? If a writer's contract says they have to give 60 days notice before ending the agreement, how quickly after giving their written notice can a writer begin searching for new representation (for a new book the previous agent has not put on submission)? 

I'm glad you don't blame your agent for your book not selling well since sales, marketing and publicity aren't her job at all. [Amy points out in the comments column that this probably means the book didn't get sold to a publisher, which upon a closer read I think it is correct.]

If you want to part ways with your agent you send her a certified letter saying so (if that's what the contract calls for, and most of them do.)

And most reputable agents won't discuss representation with you until after you've parted ways with Agent #1.

As to whether an agent takes it personally, it doesn't matter. It's not a personal relationship, it's a business relationship.  Sure I regret losing some clients more than others, but I've remained cordial with 95% of my former clients.  

You need to be aware of the fact that authors who have already had an agent have a higher hurdle at the query stage than those who haven't. I always ask what went wrong, and what they're now looking for. "My book didn't sell but I don't blame her for that" would be a huge red flag to me.

I notice that you don't actually have any specific problems with your agent, just a general sense that you can do better. That would also be a huge red flag to me since you've demonstrated you'll decamp even if I'm doing my job well. That bodes poorly for the investment you want me to make in your career.

Be careful about thinking you can just get another agent and things will improve. This is utterly unrealistic.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Happy Sunday!

 One last lick of the pie dish before going back to work, right?

What are you doing this last lovely day of the holiday weekend?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Why you heard no

1. Query talks about what happens but doesn't give me a sense of what the story is
(9 queries in this category)

How you will avoid this: Make sure you've given me a sense of how the character must change, or what's at stake, or what's at risk for the character. Telling me what happens is just a series of events. Why it will change the character is what I'm interested in.

2. Outside the categories I take on
(4 queries in this category)

How you will avoid this: you can't. Query me for anything even if I don't rep it. I'd rather see something outside my area of interest than miss something fabulous. Of course you have to BE fabulous.

3. Overdone topic
(3 queries here)

How you will avoid this: know what's been done before. Make sure you're not writing a new version of Starksy and Hutch. If you love Starsky and Hutch tell it in new way, don't just make the characters female, or green, or on pogo sticks instead of cars.

4. A book I know I can't sell
(3 queries here)
Categories go in and out of fashion just like hem lengths. It's hard to write vampires right now. Also, medical and academic mysteries.

How you will avoid this: Know your category. If you're going to write a medical mystery it needs a fresh spin.

5. short story collection
(2 queries here)
Some agents will take on a collection as an initial project. I generally do not. I start with a novel. If I can sell that, then we talk about a collection.

6. The opioid epidemic.
(2 queries here)

Like domestic violence or sexual abuse, this is a topic I just don't want to read about for entertainment. There's almost no nuance to these topics; they're just plain sorrow on a stick.

7. cliche ridden query means a cliche ridden novel
(2 of these)

How you will avoid this: know what cliches are. Avoid them.

8. the category so gummed up it's clear the writer doesn't have a clue

How you will avoid this: pick one category. Stick to it.

There is no such thing as an fictional biographical memoir.

9. query written in character's voice
This is so confusing you have no idea. Everyone who does this should be sentenced to reading my incoming queries for a week. You'd never do it again.

How to avoid this: DO NOT DO THIS. And remember: plain and simple is best. I'm not sitting down with tea and a ruler and a notepad and pen (pens!!) to parse your query letter. I'm reading it right now at 7:11pm on a weekday evening while I wait for everyone to log on to a conference phone call. Plain. Simple. Elegant.

10. physicist by day/stripper by night-I'm REALLY over this trope
If your female characters are caricatures, I'm done. Really really done.

11. boring villain
If your villains are just plain evil for no apparent reason, we're done.

12. the query letter so clueless I just can't even
How you will avoid this: Don't worry, you're not at risk. If you're reading industry blogs and paying even a modicum of attention you'll be fine.

13. Query letter attached to the email
How you will avoid this: Don't do it.

14. If you write what you know, you're writing non-fiction.
Novels need imagination. The opposite of that is science fiction that defies science. If you're going to defy earth's science, set your book on Pluto

How you will avoid this: Accuracy is vastly over rated as a story telling technique BUT you gotta have it for things like gravity. If people can fly, aerodynamics is in play. If gravity doesn't factor into your story, set it on Pluto. I hear it's nice and light out there.

15. impossible to read 1600 word query, single space, one block of text.

How you will avoid this: don't do it. A query is 250 words. There's a compelling reason you should follow that rule: it forces you to be concise. And a big block of text is impossible to read. Make SURE you have white space.

16. No clue what writer is querying for
How you will avoid this: See #12

17. So overwritten I went to adjective/adverb detox after reading
Not every noun needs an adjective, especially rain, sky, hair, and gait. Unless of course it's raining cats and dogs from an purple sky and your hair is green and you're pulling me in a sedan chair toward the bar. In other words, use an adjective or adverb if you need to distinguish your noun. Undistinguished nouns are not lesser nouns.

18. Not enough story /word count too light for category

This is tricky because not enough story is often measured by low word count, but not always. Not enough story means the stakes are too low to carry a novel, or not enough happens. Editors often say the book isn't "big enough." And any novel under 60K with some few category exceptions is too short. Anything that requires real world building should START at 100K.

As always, remember I keep these stats from queries I saw a while back. If you heard from me recently, this isn't about you.

On the other hand, these kinds of problems pop up over and over again....

Friday, November 24, 2017

You're doing a great job driving me crazy

I've previously mentioned here that I'm on the hunt for new projects to take on; I'm reading more fulls and signing more new clients than I have in the last few years.  In other words, your chances are better now than they have been in a while.

But of course a few of you have taken this opportunity to wreak revenge. You've queried in ways that make me NUTSO.  Well, job well done. I am mad as hatter these days, and the head of Hat Wearers of the World has noticed:

How have you accomplished this?
Here's a list:

1. Start your query with some sort of startling statistic or news event, only to tell me later on that this is a novel, not a non-fiction book proposal.  Don't gear your novel to statistics or current events. Just do NOT.

2. Tell me how well published you are, but tell me nothing about the new book. I discard those cause I am not going to presume to instruct you on how to query if you're well-published.

3. Insert page numbers or headings (like ms title/author name) by hand rather than using the commands in your word processing program.  This means that when you send me a full manuscript, and I change the font, or the margins, the page numbers are NOT at the bottom of the page any longer.  I can't imagine why anyone inserts page numbers by hand anymore (perhaps a reader here could shed some light?) but DO NOT DO IT.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your herd!

I am profoundly thankful for Melanie Sue Bowles who does God's work here on earth.

Tell us who you're thankful for this year.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

no one wants my zombies!

My first book has zombies in it. I knew it would be a hard sell because of them, but I didn't imagine just how difficult it really is. I'm confident in my query and pages, but I've had a ton of agents reject based on the zombies alone. I got a rejection the other day that said she really liked my pages, but couldn't sell it. So now I'm thinking about trying to find a more zombie-friendly option, like small press or even self-publishing.

BUT I also have another book. It's way more marketable than my zombie one, and I think with some work, I could make it shine. So my question is, should I wait on searching for small presses and query this second book when it's ready? Is it better to wait and see if I can get an agent with the second book and see if they want to try selling the zombie book too? The zombie one is important to me, and I definitely want to publish it in some form, some way. How important is a debut book to a brand new author?

Under ZERO circumstances should you self-publish a book unless you are willing to become a publisher. Finding an audience for a self-published book is a big job and what I hear you saying is you want to be a writer, not a publicist, marketer, salesperson, returns manager, bean counter.

And while small presses are terrific, and I've sold to more than a few, they're not more likely to take on a book with a dwindling market than a larger publisher.

Pay attention to what that last agent said: she can't sell the book. And it's not cause she's a twit. Zombies are a hard sell right now because of market saturation.

Even Stringer Bell knows about market saturation!

The good thing about market saturation? It's not set in stone. One of these days zombies will be back. And you'll be ready. In the meantime, polish up that second novel and query on it.

When you have an agent, tell her about the zombie novel. She's going to throw her hands in the air and rend her garments as she wails, but assuage her pain by saying you don't expect her to sell it NOW. It's part of your inventory.

And I've had authors dusting off inventory left and right lately.

The best thing about zombie books? They're never really dead.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

literary agencies that also offer, "book development and custom publishing"

May I ask your opinion of literary agencies that also offer, "book development and custom publishing?" Is this the same thing as a vanity press? Some of the titles on their website are best sellers and one of the agents has a mswl tailor made for my book. I feel like that means it's too good to be true?
Some years back the answer would have been an instant and heartfelt RUN!
With the advent of ebooks, the lines blurred a LOT.

Some very reputable agents started ebook publishing companies to get their client's backlist into ebook form directly, rather than having the client split the money with the print publisher. That seems like a good idea, but it's a very prickly situation when the agent is making money from a book that is beyond the earned commission.

AAR is pretty clear on this: the agents that operate these companies can't be members of AAR.

Which is not to say they're doing something sketchy. Most of them aren't.

But "custom publishing" is code for vanity press. There's a place for this kind of publishing, there's nothing wrong with it. Vanity presses provide the front half service a publisher does: they get a book into print. What they don't do is get it into the retail market. That's not a flaw, that's their business model. 

For example David Rockefeller's memoir was first published by a private publisher called Easton Press

The problem is if an agent directs authors to the vanity press, rather than selling the work to a publisher.

Much like "editorial services" run by agents on the side the opportunities for abuse are both large and small.

I googled the agency using those terms and they're pretty upfront about what they do. I take that as a good sign. They've sold books I've heard of by writers I recognize. Also a good sign.

I'd skulk around Absolute Write to see what other writers say, but as long as everyone is transparent, this is a new world, and things are changing.

Not for me of course. I'd go back to querying on paper and dial phones if I could (although I really do love this spiffy new phone that lets me take pictures of all sorts of fun things awesome rulers of the sofa.)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Flash fiction contest preliminary FINAL results

Despite some caterwauling about the prompt words on Twitter, you guyz really embraced the challenge this week!  I thought I'd really stymie you but you just sneered at my paltry challenge and whipped up some really great stuff.

Herewith the results:

Special recognition for Excellence in Prompt Words (the Steve Forti award)
Steve Forti 9:16am
Dellcartoons 9:17am

Utterly strangely wonderful. A veritable word circus
Kerry Bernard 9:45am

A sentence that just cracked me up
Mike Hays 9:55am
"Hopefully, the Bat was away chasing other fools in tights."

E.M. Goldsmtih 8:08am
A succubus’ job is never done.

Kathy Joyce 10:32am
"Equal partners, us, fifty-fifty-fifty."

Special recognition for excellence in an unappreciated art form: the pun
Dena Pawling 10:19am

Not quite a story but terrific writing
Chelsea Owens 10:55am
J. Corpas 2:08pm

A phrase that is pure gold
Craig F
"A phone zombie"

Not quite a story but a perfect example of what to leave unsaid, and what details to include.
Waiting for my Whopper I heard, "Excuse me. Have we met?"
I turned to look. Twenty years faded away. "You were hitchhiking. To Nyack."
"You gave me a ride in your
Mick Truck."
"You mean Mack, but it was a
"You were very kind."
"You weren't. You
nicked the bills stashed in the console."
She blushed. "I'm sorry. I was young, desperate, and stupid. I can repay you." She seemed sincere, but who knows?
I spent twenty years in Rikers for that truck theft. She looked well off. I smiled. "Water under the bridge. Want to share a table?"

Here's the long list

S.D. King
“In a story we first reported Monday, thousands of men across the country are reporting mysterious blindness, followed by sudden clarity of vision. In stony silence, victims refuse to tell details, but many mimicked that they were alone with a woman and remember a bright flash.”

“And now to Wall Street: a team of women programmers developing phone apps specifically aimed at female users. With an IPO set for this week, these soon-to-be billionaire engineers are solving a host of problems specific to women. We will attempt to learn more about beta-testing on the top-secret app nicknamed ‘HARVEY.’”

This just cracked me up completely. I want it to be non-fiction SO MUCH!

The Noise In Space

    Passing into the light didn’t hurt nearly as much as she’d thought. Soft, cottony clouds billowed underfoot, and harp music filled the air. Not a bad way to spend eternity. She nodded to a man, who she took for St. Peter, and passed through the gates. Perhaps Nana would be waiting for her, or her cat Mickey.

    But wait. That man—she’d seen him before. The other driver. At his feet, a car seat. “Baby on board.”

    This wasn’t right. She heard someone snicker. Her face felt flush—if only she had a fan, she was so hot, and—


I love the twisty ending, and how much is left unsaid here. What's left unsaid is a good way to measure of how much tension is in a story. (Tension in a story is a good thing!)  Here I'm left wanting to know more, which is EXACTLY what you want at the start of a novel.

Nate Wilson
Tony: Award-winning author William Shakes is talking with us today about his new children's book, titled...

Peter: Cottontail. It's the story of a most unexpected friendship. It begins...

Nick: At night, with a tiger's stomach growling. Yet, when...

Tony: The tiger goes in search of a meal and finds a...

Peter: Rabbit, he doesn't eat him. William, you've said you wrote this to educate children.

Bill: Of rights and wrongs, yes. Though truly, it's more gimmick than actual story. And the end is rather...

Tony: Stark. Agreed. Unfortunately, listeners, it seems we've run...

Peter: Out...

Nick: Of time. Until tomorrow...

I'm a sucker for writers playing with form, and this is a terrific example. (No suprise, it's Nate Wilson's; he's known for this kind of word dexterity.)

Like all great short form work it's a whole lot harder than it looks, and when it looks this easy, I know bullets got sweated writing it.

I saw you playing in the park,
the little boy with the broken heart,
and your father who would practice catch with you.
Each day you came out with new hope,
terrible and stupid hope,
that you could bear the role he put on you.

He knew your dreams were far from there.
He smiled at you as if he cared,
but your dreams weren’t worth a nickel in his eyes.
Still hope, it billowed out from you,
in your Mickey shirts and your light-up shoes.
I had no choice but to save you from that life.

The twist at the end is a literal body blow. I was left gasping, and then re-reading. Packing that kind of wallop into 100 words or fewer is not easy.

E. Berg
Tony.” Mickie spoke so softly only I heard her.

The name caused tiny
nicks to tingle on my skin.

Beside us, Jamie whispered, “

We all looked at each other.

The bitchy girl in front of us whipped around. I braced for her quip.

Billy,” she said.

We sat in silence. Outside were high calls and low grunts of boys lacrosse. Inside, the sun illuminated dust particles people pretended not to see.

My heart rumbled. I walked to the chalkboard and wrote #MeToo.

Soon the bell rang but we stayed there. We were on our own time now.

There's nothing I can add here. This may be fiction but it's also utterly true.  This is the kind of work I point to when people tell me they only like to read non-fiction.

My brother's joint was the kind they'd slip you a mickey sooner than start an honest fistfight.

The regulars played billiards in the back, the snick of balls an accent to rough voices. Couldn't compete with the tony clubs on the north side, but the table felt was immaculate. Priorities.

Conversation petered out as I stepped up to the bar.

"We don't serve cops."

"Good thing I ain't planning to order one."

We traded hard stares, harder memories.

"Cut bait while you still can, Frank."

He sneered.



I held the door for the Feds on my way out.
That first line is one of the best I've seen in a long time. The importance of a good first line can not be overstated. And the ending is sublime. This is a perfect story.

Reflowered were once a boy band.

They refused to be considered washed up, but did acknowledge some vigorous wiping with a damp cloth.

Enter: A reality show.

Just them, the elements, 60 crew.

Tony realised he only loved reality TV for the lack of reality. The same reason Bill missed alcohol. The others arrived with identical rhinoplasty so hadn’t spoken.

The fight was gluten related. While Mick and Nick had the size advantage, Peter really knew his way around a kick ball change.

Six weeks later, they hated each other.

Seven weeks later, they hated each other in sold-out arenas.
This cracked me up. I think the line that made laugh out loud was "Peter really knew his way around a kick ball change." For those of you who weren't dragged to dancing class as an innocent child that's a term from dance, not fisticuffs.

And "identical rhinoplasty" is a genius phrase.

This is really terrific.

Karen McCoy
The salesman emitted a gimmicky smile. “This one’s a beaut. Bit rickety, though.”

The chair sighed, missing Mexico, and the girl who painted him stony red. An old woman, now, if she was still alive.

The woman inspected the armrest. “Paint looks cracked.”

Nicks--constant pokes and prods that deepened each year the chair was stuck here, with the store’s soul-killing Muzak.


“I’ll take it, along with another coat of paint. Send me the bill.”

“Might peter out on the journey. You certain?”

“I’ll make sure it passes the border,” the woman said. “My grandmother will be thrilled.”

I'm a sucker for odd points of view, and this one, from the POV of a chair really charmed me. It tells a lovely story without overtelling. Notice the choice of a few perfect modifiers: gimmicky, stony, soul-killing." This is great writing.

“Button your shirt,” said Mom, as though a grave hadn’t just appeared in the living room floor, “company’s coming.”

She didn’t mention the grave, not the next day or even the next as the stench grew, though she did—stepping round carefully—spritz the room with lemon.

By Week Two, guests were gagging.

“Waiting on the recarpeter,” Mom said, eyes mimicking steel. “Tea?”

Eventually friends quit coming by. But Mom never panicked, just kept spritzing, once, twice, a billion times.

Bizarre, all those years we lived in that house before she died, how she never mentioned the grave at all.

A few of you mentioned you didn't get this story. That's what makes it so good: there's nothing to get. A grave opens up in the middle of the living room, and no one says a thing. It's like the elephenat in the room with horror overtones. The reader brings all the interpretations to this story; it's a perfect example of letting the reader terrify herself. This is the kind of story you think about for years afterwards.

Richelle Elberg
At Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, there’s a memorial where the World Trade Center once stood. Two immense square pools have been built into the Twin Towers’ footprint. Water falls thirty feet into the pools along each wall. Flanking the pools are great sheets of bronze built into a protective barrier. Some 3,000 names have been cut into these great bronze sheets, for all to remember.

I remember.

Bill, Tony, Mick. Peter and Nick. There were all there with me.

I trace my finger over another name.

My name.

I turn and leave.
I love this story because it's entirely up to the reader to decide what's happened. Is "I" dead? Or did "I" use the events of 9/11 to walk away from a life and start another.

Look at the very artful use of punctuation in the names: Bill, Tony, Mick. Peter and Nick. They were all there with me (yes, there was a typo, but for this entry I don't care)

Richelle didn't put all the names in one sentence, or make sentences out of each name. This is a textbook mastery of rhythm which you know I yap about a lot. 

Let me know if you have a favorite among the finalists, and who you think should have been a finalist but wasn't.

Final results later today.

Choosing a winner was just brutal. I can hear you all saying "good! Revenge!" when I say that. We should call these contests Writers Revenge on the Agent instead of the tepid Flash Fiction contests.

Each one of these entries is worthy of winning. When I read through them the first time, each time I said "this is the one" so each one did win if only for a couple minutes.  

In the end I came back and read them all again this afternoon, and I picked the one that haunted me. 

Richelle Elberg, you're the winner this week.

Let me know your mailing address. If you live outside the US, you can pick someone to get the books and I'll send you something else.

To all who took the time to write and enter this contest, thank you. It's amazing to see the pool of talent among the readers of this blog. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Duchess of Yowl Plans Her Menu

Duchess of Yowl: Thumbs! Thumbs!

Me: (rather annoyed) What have I told you about calling me Thumbs!

DoY: Oh, right sorry. Tailless Two Legs, what is my address?

Me: (rethinking the Thumbs name)  Penthouse 1...wait. Why are you asking?

DoY: The delivery dog needs to know. What is it?

Me: Wait a second here, Your Grace. What are you having delivered?

DoY: Pie of course. It's a holiday. We're having turkey and pie.

Me: Have you ever had pie? Do you know what pie is?

DoY: Well, no, but I know I'll like it. It's BIRD pie. I like birds.

Me: Your grace you've never caught a bird in your life.

DoY: If you'd let me go outside I'd catch a bird.

Me: If I let you go outside, we'd get even more noise complaints -- from the apartments across the street.

DoY: That is unfair, and untrue, and has nothing to do with PIE. I want this PIE.

Me: Show me what you're ordering.

DoY: Here: Bird Pie.

Me: That is a company that makes pies called Four and Twenty Blackbirds.

DoY: See...PIE. Yummy bird pie!

Me: They make chocolate chess pie, lemon chess pie and apple pie. No bird pie.

DoY: That is absurd. They should have a different name. Names should tell you what someone does.

Me: Yes Your Grace, I quite agree.

(pause while the Duchess of Yowl considers that last comment)

DoY: You're not as funny as you think you are, Thumbs.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Flash fiction contest with one helluva prize

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

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

The usual rules apply:
1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: mick/mickey is ok, but tony/To New York is not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!

oops, sorry, too late. Contest is closed. (Look for results on Monday)