Saturday, May 30, 2020

June 8!!!!

The Guv says NY will be moving toward opening up again on June 8.

Things are slowly normalizing here: my favorite coffee shop is open again, but with acrylic shields to help the staff stay safe.

And honestly, when I saw the laundromat was open I nearly wept.
I can't wait to do the 400 pounds of wash that now have their own room and air cleaner in my apartment.

We're all in masks, and publishing seems to be "work from home" for the summer, but I think maybe, we're going to find a new balance.

The only thing that's still not certain is when the diocese will reopen the churches.

What will mark a turning point for you?

Friday, May 29, 2020

The main character comes on stage later

In my novel, the inciting incident is a car accident that occurs at the end of chapter 1. A lot happens in that first chapter; it is crucial for setting up/beginning the main plot arc and several subplots. Most importantly, it shows the life this family is struggling to recapture through the rest of the book.

My problem is the protagonist of the novel isn't in that chapter. He comes to town to help after the car accident. There are several reasons why starting the novel with his arrival wouldn't work.

My questions:

The query focuses on the protagonist, not the pov character in chapter 1. Will agents reject my query because the opening pages don't start with the protagonist?

If so, should my sample pages be chapter 2, rather than chapter 1?

This kind of question will get you into all kinds of trouble because the correct answer to all query questions is: Do what works.

Sometimes that means you start your pages before the main character steps on the page.
Sometimes it means you start the query with the setting, not the plot.

I will say this about your worry on insta-rejection: agents aren't reading in a vacuum. We understand that the story doesn't always begin with the main character. Look how long it takes Romeo and Juliet both to get on stage!

The purpose of pages is this: entice me to read more.
What I look for in pages is whether you can tell a story with elan and style, and whether I want to read more.

That's it.

I don't have a checklist for any of those things you hear me rail about: starting with weather, driving, phone calls, waking up.

That all falls under "elan and style".  Boring is not a style I'm looking for. (I'm guessing no other agents are either.)

Don't start with chapter two, no matter what.

If you're in a true crisis about this, get to a writing conference where you can get your query under an agent's eyeballs, and ASK if it's effective.

Alternatively, there are often charity fundraisers that offer query crits in exchange for a donation.

Also backstory doesn't need to always be on the page.
It can sometimes create a lot of tension if the reader doesn't know everything.
Over-explaining is one of the biggest problems I see in pages. It can kill the pacing.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Well, fancy meeting you here

The day got away from me again, probably because it was 72degrees and I just had to get outside to enjoy it.  Of course, I came in with a touch of whatever that is when you get too much sun, and had to lie down with a cool beverage.

This is a photo of the HR Department that would like to speak to me about my attendance record!

How's your week going?

(I know I owe you contest results!)

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Narrative NF for kids

What would be the response if you received a query for a nonfiction novel?

Burning curiosity aside, at the serious end of the question I'm ignorant about the scope of the descriptor 'narrative non-fiction'. It seems to be reserved for historical persons and events, told as a story, with as much factual accuracy as possible of course, but with invented supporting characters, conversations, and so on. what about the other way round? If a book (thinking particularly aimed for children) is basically for the purpose of imparting factual knowledge (say; science, how government works, hobbies or crafts) but is presented in story format via fictional persons and events, what is it considered to be? At what point comes the distinction between fiction and non-fiction?

Many thanks for the blog, and thoughts to everyone in some kind of lockdown.

There is no one answer.
Non-fiction novel is now usually called narrative non-fiction, and the first book I think of is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, a book so chilling I remember how I felt reading it all these years later.

An adult biography that inserted fictional characters is generally going to hit some bumps in the road. Dutch by Edmund Morris is the best example.
To this day, biographers hiss when that book is mentioned.

Those are adult books, and you're asking about kids books.
The lattitude for kids books is often much wider.
A lot of it depends on the editor and publisher.
Some editors want the facts and only the facts.

Other editors have a looser approach.

If the goal of your book is to teach kids about science or government, or hobbies and crafts, you'll generally find yourself with the non-fiction label even if you include fictional people.

If the goal of your book is to tell a story, you're on the fiction aisle.

One of the best ways to get a sense of this is go sit in the library (when it opens) and read shelf after shelf of non-fiction.

Keep notes on what books (and publishers) had non-fiction with fictional elements, and how the fictional elements were used.

I can't wait till the libraries open up again, but I'm willing to wait till it's safe for librarians, as I'm sure you are too.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A quick round of Jeopardy, Shark style!

A mental health break glued to Netflix was the order of the day over the weekend.
Of course, that means I didn't get back to reality with enough time to prepare a blog post.

Instead, let's do a round of Jeopardy!

One of my clients posted this in reply to a general Twitter Question:
"It was the second time I was accidentally on fire."

So, what do you think the question was?

(and accuracy is not the point here. Sure you could go look it up, but where's the fun in that?"

Monday, May 25, 2020

How's your Monday?

or, on this particular Monday,  lolling under the duvet, not turning the day planner page from Sunday at all!

What are you doing today?

Friday, May 22, 2020

Let's Get Cookin' Flash Fiction contest!

I love the 101 Things I Learned series with all my heart.
I've been a huge fan since the very first book, and my devotion has only increased over the years.

But, just because I love it, why should you?
Because it will teach you stuff you need to know. And not just about cooking.

Like how to boil water (Lesson #15). And no, I'm not kidding.

I've been cooking for a while now, and I learned that you should salt boiling water AFTER it's boiling, not while it's heating up! Who knew!

And if you're cooking a lot more since the pandemic, there's good info here for you too. Like Quick Fixes for Kitchen Problems (Lesson #58) which comes in handy if you can't just dash to the market.

And the one on dating eggs (Lesson #50) will be useful to all.

To celebrate the new and improved Second Editon let's have a flash fiction contest!

The prize is a copy of the book. US mailing addresses only for prizes (but anyone can enter).

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

(NO Steve Forti extra prompt word this week. I have retired from the field of battle. Forti Thwarts the Shark!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE.

10. 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"

11. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!"). Save that for the contest results post.

12. 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.

13. 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, 5/23, 4:15am
Contest closes: Sunday, 5/24, 9am

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

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

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

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid

Ready? SET?
Not yet!
Sorry, contest is closed!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Owl are you?

Dear Janet,
I enjoy your blog from Indiana. My family and I have been watching a pair of barred owls become parents. Their nest was nestled in the hollow of a branch at the top of very tall tree across the street from our home. Over the course of the several weeks, the owlets ventured farther and farther away from their home, moving east at the rate of one front yard per week. 

I am a teacher and shared both photos and video with my students. Then I offered to host "owl excursions." Their parents would text as they were leaving home. I ventured outside to find the owls and would stand, pointing at the owls, when my students arrived. Then I headed back indoors and my students got out of their cars to owl watch.

Owl Excursions!
Love it!
And look at the talons on that bird in flight!

(yesterday was a great day here at the office, but that meant I didn't have time to get thoughts in order for a blog post. Fortunately, readers have come to the rescue on days like that!)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

marketing in the pandemic

Physical forms of publicity and marketing - such as book tours, festivals, conferences, author signings and readings in bookshops - are possibly not going to return for a very long time, even years (and people could remain scared of close contact and gathering with strangers for longer).
I am still months away from submitting but I wonder if there is, generally, any ideas floating around about how a need to substitute the above for different forms of promotion might affect the process from querying through submission to distribution and sales?

Specifically, how might such future differences affect submissions that need to address marketing, such as non-fiction proposals?
Back to basics: word of mouth.
Have a robust mailing list.
Have a significant social media presence.
Now, as before, most books are purchased after hearing about it from a friend.
Make sure you have a lot of friends.
Bookstores are doing a lot of virtual events, that certainly will help, but nothing takes the place of a 3000 name mailing list.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

When to query a travel memoir?

I'm currently about halfway through a 50-state road trip around the United States. I'm stopping in cities and small towns to talk with people about community and identity. There are many multimedia parts to the project (including an upcoming podcast series) but the ultimate goal is to turn everything I've learned into a published book.
I envision the book as one part ethnography, one part memoir. I'll be pairing the interviews and research I've conducted on the road with the personal lessons and growth I've experienced over what will be 18 months of full-time travel.

I'm looking to get this work published by a more traditional publisher, rather than self-publishing. I've been researching agents and preparing a book proposal and sample chapter. But, due to the combination of narrative non-fiction and memoir, I'm wondering:

When should I query agents? Should it happen now, with a book proposal like narrative non-fiction? Or should I wait until the project is complete and submit it like a memoir?

You want to wait until the trip is over to query.
You won't know what the trip is about until you've done the whole thing.
You won't know what the memoir is about until you've done the personal growth you're undertaking.

Use this time to build your mailing list.
An Instagram account with photos of your travels will woo the many of us stuck at home right now.

I'd actually be very interested to hear more about travelling during this social isolation, and seeing how different communities are dealing with this.

Of course, when I hear you're on a road trip, my first thought is this:

Monday, May 18, 2020

Requested fulls met with silence

I’ve been querying a novel with a good response rate for more material. Some rejected early on, and then I hired a freelance editor recommended by my Sisters in Crime chapter leader, an award winning author. The editor, who has worked with many traditionally published authors, enjoyed the story and said her edits were light. She ending up charging me less than the original estimate because it didn’t require much work. 

I began querying with renewed vigor. More requests! And now...I’ve been waiting anywhere from 5 months to over a year to hear back from four agents on the full. What...what on earth? Is this timeline normal? 

I’ve mildly nudged the 2 who’ve had it the longest and still nothing. I recognize that we are now in A Very Strange Time and responses may be delayed, but I celebrated a 1 year anniversary with an 
agent long before this. NB: they are all reputable agents. Is it time to assume these are rejections and retreat, weeping?

There are two problems here.
The first is slow response time.
The second is lack of communication.

I'm not one to point fingers about laggardly response times.
I've got things in my to be read stack that have been here a year or more.'
That's NOT the norm, which I am reminded of (to my everlasting mortification) when I see agents on Twitter say they are all caught up on fulls as of the previous month.

So yes, it can take a while.
Some of us a good long while.

BUT, in my defense I will say that when an author nudges, I do reply.

To hang on to something for a year, and not reply when nudged, that's a bad combination.

I understand not wanting to be nudged. It's VERY embarrassing to be reminded one is being a slowpoke.

If you've sent something, and it's been a year without any kind of communication, the first thing I'd advise doing is make sure the agent is still alive, and still working, and moreover at the same agency.  All three of those things can cause delayed replies.

But, if the agent is alive, and in the right place, and still not responding, well, now you know something you didn't know before.

It's up to you about withdrawing.
Some authors do, just to keep themselves sane.
Some authors don't, thinking "well, ya never know."

Do the one that makes you feel least-crazy.

Mt. St. Helens May 18, 1980

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sunday chickens...but not for dinner!

How many of you keep chickens?
I've been delighfully surprised at how much fun it's been to watch client Bill Cameron's Hen Adventures.

Tell us about your chicks!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Happy Whole Entire Weekend!

Blog reader Dave Wolf sent this to me.
Happy Saturday! 
Sean McCarren, a UPS driver, created a group, named UPS DoG . It was an instant hit.
It currently has an overwhelming 1.4 million viewers. Once you check out the page, you’ll immediately understand what the fuss is about.

Friday, May 15, 2020

what does "on behalf of" mean?

In researching agents I came across one that not only looks like a good fit category/genre-wise, but also has a somewhat recent sale listed on PM that's very much in the wheelhouse of my MS, but different age category, etc.---ie. not too close a match.
However, reading the entry, it states that the deal was made by this agent/agency "on behalf of" another agent/agency.
What does that mean exactly?
Is it likely this book wasn't one the agent I'm researching was necessarily invested in and more of just a business transaction? The author of said book is listed as one of her clients. Was just curious to understand that scenario before making a possibly irrelevant reference in my query.

You'll see this phrase most often in sub-rights deals.
If my film agent sells the option on a book, it's on my behalf: I made the first deal, selling to the publisher.

If an agent sells rights to publish on Carkoon, it's often on behalf of the agent who sold domestic rights, again, the first sale.

Sometimes an agent sells a book on behalf of a colleague if the colleague is sick, on mat leave, or some other long term out of the office situation.

When I looked on Publishers Marketplace, I also noticed that non-US agents sometimes had US deals made on their behalf by US-based agents.

Clearly that's an agent who had a book she loved, and wanted to make sure it found a good home here so partnered with someone who knows the US market.

What this means for you: most likely the on-behalf-of agent reps the author and for some reason called in air support.  You wouldn't be making an irrelevant reference to mention the book.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

What the hell was I thinking?

I was digging around in my blog post drafts file to find something pithy to say today.

I came across this, dated May 15, 2019.
In the intervening year, I've totally lost track of the point I wanted to make.

Which taught me: when I save a blog post draft I should probably make a note to myself about the point of the post.

I see a lot of new or starting-out writers in my incoming queries.
I always want to send them a big thumbs up (high fin!) for finishing a novel. In case you haven't tried it, I'm told it's damn hard. Given how I bleed over 250 word blog posts, I can only imagine the hemorrhaging over 75,000.

And often these writers have terrific ideas, and sometimes but not as often a zesty voice. I WANT to like their books.


The writing is the weak leg of the triangle.

And a lot of times, the weakness in the writing is cause the paragraphs don't hold up.

Let's take a look:

Myrtle and Mable were joined at the hip. Not literally any more, surgery at birth had solved that little surprise. They dressed alike, they both plucked a mean ukulele, and they were both in love with Tex Arkana, a Texas cowboy

Unfortunately Tex would rather kiss his horse than kiss a girl. No femmes, fatale or otherwise for him. The call of the open range. The squeak of leather chaps. Long nights under the stars with only Bud Weiser his trusty sidekick.

Myrtle and Mable tried their best. They sashayed past the barn, twirling parasols. All that did was frighten Tex's horse, and get them banned from the ranch.

They trash talked his mama, hoping to get a rise out of him. Sadly, Tex's mama was a Lowell from Boston, (yes, those Lowells who talk only to Cabots, and Cabots talk only to God)  so she not only couldn't understand Myrtle and Mable's Texas twang, if she could she would have only been amused.

In desperation they enrolled in rodeo clown training. Which would have been a brilliant idea, since it's impossible to ignore the person saving you from a snorting, slavering three thousand pound bull intent on crushing you into tofu on the rodeo arena floor, but for one thing.

Tex Arkana didn't ride bulls. Or broncs.  He was a singing cowboy.
Have you ever found something later and were totally puzzled by what you were thinking when you wrote it?

Do tell!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Igilisi o se saua sauaga

I am originally from Serbia (living in Mexico for the past year) so English is not my primary language.
Non the less I have always preferred writing and reading in English.

Do you think that is absolutely necessary for non-English speakers to get a proof-reader and a copy-editor before submitting to an agent? 

There are some financial struggles that make me question if I should start saving up money, before finishing the book.

Since it is my first book and I never submitted my work to an agent, I really don't know how tolerant they are to writers who manage English as a second language.

It's not absolutely necessary, but you should.
English is a bitch of a language that delights in tormenting writers.

Things that make sense in English grammar are nuts.

If funds are limited, you may be able to find help from critique groups or beta readers.

But you should ALWAYS tell me that you're writing in your non-native language, no matter what.

When I get a query that has weird syntax, or odd mistakes, my first thought is the writer isn't skilled. It's NOT the writer is using her second (or third!) language.

It's in your best interest (and mine too!) to alert me to the fact you're following in the footsteps of Joseph Conrad, Aleksandar Hemon, Vladimir Nabokov, and Khaled Hosseini.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Do this! No that! Wait, shouldn't you be writing with vermillion ink?

I saw a long Tweet recently with advice on the difference between action with tension.
The tweet stream bemoaned the emphasis on starting a novel with action; saying instead that starting with tension was better.

I think the writer made a good point.

And I can think of some very fine books that start with tension rather than action.

But I can also think of some very fine books that start with action; the reader is dropped into the novel without any clues at all.

Which led me to realize that it's important to differentiate between advice in general (the tweet stream) and advice in particular (someone with their eyes on your work).

I spend a lot of time talking to authors about what to fix in their manuscripts.  The guiding question is always "does this work?"

That's the ONLY criteria to use.

So, when you read good writing advice, pay attention.
But when you're deep into your manuscript, ask only "does it work?"

Readers don't have a checklist of rules writers must follow.
They want a good story, one that draws them in and keeps them reading.

Like this:
"The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house."
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Good storytelling is a mystical process.
There is no one right answer.
Not even here.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Querying work you posted for free

I saw your recent post on a reader's three book deal, and how it was better for her to shelve a manuscript rather than posting it on her blog. Would Wattpad hold this same weight? I put my rejected manuscripts on there after six months in the trenches, but I've never mentioned them in a query letter. When you type in my name, my Wattpad stories are one of the first results (I am a featured author). Your 2015 and 2018 posts have answered another one of my questions, but is this a red flag for agents? How would I explain this in a query letter?

Yes it's a red flag.
A big one.
A lot of editors don't want things that have been previously published.

Wattpad counts.

You need hundreds of thousands of Wattpad "reads" to get any real interest in republishing something.

You explain just as you have here: "I published this on Wattpad and I'm now a featured author."

Under zero circumstances do you "forget" to mention this.
A publishing contract requires you to warrant that the material being licensed to the publisher is not previously published.

Yes, that can be negotiated but the time for that is NOT when you're at contract.
The time for that is when your agent is talking to prospective editors.

Any questions?

Saturday, May 09, 2020

How's your week been?

Happy Birthday Ulrike!

This has been a helluva week.

This photo just made me laugh!
She's just not sure if this is something she wants to do, but the people seem to like it, and so...well,ok, why not.

How's your week been?

Friday, May 08, 2020

What is the legal line between reality and fiction?

What is the legal line between reality and fiction?

Thinking about the The Morning Show featured on Apple TV, it is clear who the piece is actually about coughMattLauercough.

Let’s talk legalities. Say a person has had a deeply personal experience and wants to pen a novel on said topic, which I believe is how 95% of novels are born. How much detail on persons, places and things (specifically persons) can you get away with before the people/ characters you’re writing about are recognizable to that person and they can sue you? What are the boundaries of this? Can superfluous details be changed (hair color, location, career) or is that not enough?

The story is going to be told with fictional details, dialogue and events that aren’t factually accurate (just pieced together from emails and texts) and of course an ending that is entirely and wildly fictional. But the scenario in which the story happens is real. How far can an author go?

If you mean how far can someone go and not get sued, put down your pen.
Anyone can be sued for just about anything these days.
I think of Devin Nunes suing a parody Twitter account cow for example.

If you mean how far can you go and LOSE in a suit for libel, that's much much trickier.

You can say almost anything about a public figure (Hilary Clinton kills her pets) and be ok.
You can say almost nothing about a private person with deep pockets and a thirst for revenge.

What's going to define how far you can go is the warranties clause of your contract which will say you can not knowingly libel someone.
The Work does not contain any material that violates any right of privacy, that is libelous or that violates any personal or other right of any kind of any person or entity.
So, what's libel?
It depends.
And you don't want my opinion on this because it's not my area of expertise.

You want to dig around and research what constitutes libel.
Here's a place to start: NOLO Press.

Libel is often in the ego of the beholder.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Dear Who?

When an agent requests on their website that all email queries be sent to their assistant, do you then open your letter by greeting the agent...or the assistant? Or both? 

Short answer: you address the agent. She is your intended reader.

Much like you start your letter to Her Majesty the Queen with "Hey Your Majesty" even though her long-suffering Lady in Waiting, Priscilla of the Pen and Papyrus, will be reading it first.

You may wonder why agents have queries sent to their long suffering Assistants.
Mostly it's to weed out the ones that don't need the agent's attention.

The ones where someone hasn't finished their novel and just needs a "quick assessment of whether they're on the right track."

The ones where the comps are Mickey Spillane and Harold Robbins.

The ones who request a reply this week, or they'll just self-publish.

And prioritize the ones that need immediate attention.

Any questions?
(copy my assistant Felix Buttonweezer of course)

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

When to stop getting "help"

Four years ago, an agent from a well-known agency ended up hearing about my work from a friend. They hunted me down through Facebook of all things and asked to see my YA manuscript. Ecstatic, I sent it off. They asked for revisions, and then after those revisions, eventually decided to pass, but gave me incredibly helpful feedback and invited me to please reach out to them when I had another project in the works. Skip ahead three years; I have now rinsed and repeated this process with this wonderful, gracious person with two more altogether different projects. Both times, they’ve gotten excited, given some revisions, and then passed, as they have a very selective list. Both times have continued to help shape me as a story-teller and show me where my beginnings in particular struggle, and I owe so much of my evolution as a writer to this person. Being represented by their agency would be a dream.

But. *squeak squeak*

Each time I package up a new book and send it off to them, it’s exclusively in their hands for 3-4 months before I get notes on revisions, and then off it goes for another 3-4 months. I decided in each of these cases after the fact to shop it with the other agents on my list. I was asked for pages, shown some interest, and passed. Shake out the shoulders, take a deep swig, try again. And now I have a new finished project that I feel and have been told by beta readers is my strongest yet. I have this agent acquaintance who’s been nothing but enthusiastic and kind about my work, but I know if I continue our years-long e-mail chain, it will mean that this book goes into hold-your-breath mode for another seven months without any other agents’ eyes on it. I don’t want to burn any bridges, and it seems like any kind of in with an agent should be followed through on. But at the same time...should I keep putting all my eggs in one basket? Is it worth it to be painfully patient, or should I be knocking on as many doors as I can? My wee legs are getting tired.

Oh the dreaded exclusive.
If this new work is your best yet, don't send it exclusively to anyone.
Query widely.

I've had a particular writer's work here for three revisions, the most recent of which is January 2020. I'm hoping I'm not lollygagging about too much and lose her to a more nimble agent, but that's MY risk, not hers.

I would NEVER ask for an exclusive, let alone an exclusive of many months because it's NOT in a writer's best interest to do that.

You should never give one unless it's SHORT (a week, ten days at MOST).

You've gotten a lot of help from this agent, and she deserves your thanks, but she does NOT get to hold you hostage, even with golden threads of grateful.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

update on The New Reality

I love your blog and have turned to it many times throughout my querying process. I have had an agent for close to a year now, but I have never felt like it was a perfect fit. Currently, I don't think she is in the process of submitting my book anywhere because she says publishing is slowing down due to Covid. Is this a reasonable way for her to be responding to the pandemic - not submitting anywhere? I am so aware that everyone's lives are in limbo (or worse) right now, and have had a very rough quarentine season, so I don't lack empathy or patience. I just want to make sure that her actions (pulling my novel from submission for the foreseeable future, ostensibly due solely to Covid) make sense and aren't a cause for my concern regarding her abilities/desire to sell my novel.

I don't want to second guess another agent's strategy for dealing with a situation that has no precedent.

And the problem isn't how she's dealing, it's that you don't have confidence in her choices.

A couple things to consider: this is YOUR book, and withdrawing it from submission is something you should have a say in.

I have clients both past and present who've wanted to do things I advised against. I made my case, they stood their ground, in the end, I did what they wanted. That's my job.

The caveat there of course is that if they want to ignore my advice a lot, it's time to part ways because the reason you have an agent is so you can rely on their advice and expertise.

It's time to have a conversation with Agent. Withdrawing things from submission is a different kettle of sharks than not sending work out.

Remember, she may be utterly overwhelmed. If she's got small children at home, in a small NYC apartment, you may not have any idea of how fraught her life is right now.

And that's something to think about for a couple more weeks, but NOT forever.

One of the big tasks right now is figuring out how to get back to work in these new and trying circumstances. We're on isolation till the end of May, if not longer. We can't push the pause button forever.

TALK to your agent.
Get a sense of where she is.
Then sit back and think a while.

Monday, May 04, 2020

No Book 3 on a 3-book deal

Over a year ago I got an offer from a small publisher to publish a trilogy of books. The first and second were published but now I’ve been told that the decision was taken to drop the series and the rights have been returned to me. I would imagine it’s pointless to query other publishers to take up the series, which means I have few options: shelve 5 years of work, self-publish (which I really would not like to do) or, I’m toying with the idea of publishing the books one chapter a week on my blog as a thank you to those who loved the series so far and also as self-promotion. Is this another decision as bad as trusting a small publisher? I no longer trust my judgement! I’m writing another novel and hope to find an agent who will help me find a good home for it, so I don’t wish to ruin any little credibility I still have!

I'd really appreciate any advice you and your readers care to give to help me put things in perspective.
That's a whole lot of dream stomping there. I've been through this with some clients and it's very hard to find any kind of silver lining.

But, there's no reason you have to do anything with Book #3 right now.
In fact, it's probably better to let it sit for awhile while you regroup and plan.

Get started finding a new agent with the new book.
Then, with your agent, who probably knows a thing or two about this kind of problem, figure out what to do.

The LAST thing you want to do is post it for free.
That limits your options down the road in ways you don't want to imagine.

If you don't want to self-publish, please please please listen to your self and DO NOT DO IT.

Self publishing is a VERY hard task, even when you're all in.

Shelve Book #3, and you'll have all your options preserved for when you need them.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Saturday, May 02, 2020

So, you really didn't want me to consider your pages, ok, no problem

Reasons I stop reading before getting to your page:

(1) Your query insults as many other published books as fall into "that dreck they're publishing today."
Why I stop reading: trade publishing is not a solo endeavor. You need those "dreck" authors for blurbs, signal boosts, maybe even book store co-appearances. I know that. You apparently do not. I don't want to spend time coaching you on how to not be an asshat.

How you can avoid this: buy a clue at the Clue Emporium

(2) You hope you'll peak my interest with this wonderful novel.
Why I stop reading: If you don't catch pique/peak, I know for an ironclad fact I'll find more mistakes like this in the book and end up copy editing.

How you can avoid this: Make friends with Miss Prunella Picklepuss the Pedant Most Peculiar, or find someone with similar meticulous reading skills who can help you avoid these snafus. Yes, money will most likely be involved.

(3) Your book uses body size an indication of character.
Why I stop reading: I can't sell a book like this, and I don't want to work with someone who writes characters in shorthand stereotypes.

How you can avoid this: Back to the Clue Emporium!

(4) You managed to avoid telling me anything about the story.
If you can't get to the point in three paragraphs, I'm not confident you'll do in three pages either.

Why I stop reading: If I don't know what the story is, why would I read it?

How you can avoid this: Tell me about the story. Start with the name of the main character and what's changed or about to change for them. What's the problem with the change, and what's at stake in how s/he's going to deal with the change (that's a starting point, not a template.)

(5) You don't serve up a problem for your proposed prescriptive non-fiction.
Why I stop reading: if you're not solving a problem, why would anyone buy your book?

How you can avoid this: Understand what prescriptive non-fiction means. If you want to help people, you MUST describe the problem you intend to help them solve. There are no exceptions here.

If you have a book called Thin Thighs In Thirty Days, you have to be clear about the problem created by not-thin thighs.

(6) I can't tell if you're writing fiction or non-fiction
Why I stop reading: Fiction and non-fiction are assessed and acquired quite differently. If I can't tell from the outset, your query isn't effective.

How you can avoid this: Starting your query with a historical event is a clue for NF. Don't start a query for a novel that way.

(7) Word count.
Why I stop reading: it's not worth it if the book is too long or too short. If you want to be a professional writer, you need to know the parameters of the category you're writing in.

For adult trade books, excluding category romance, you really want to be 70K -100K.
For fantasy, or historicals, add another 20K and you're still ok.

These are general guidelines. No one shows up at your house with a smackeroo stick if your word count is 68,087, or if it's 122,343.

In other words, guidelines, not etched in stone but not to be ignored like they don't exist.

Friday, May 01, 2020

opening pages-set the scene or dive right in

Hi Janet,
If we're supposed to be doing things normal, then I'm picture-perfect right now. It's approaching 1 a.m., the sand timer is about half-way drained (or is it half full?), and I'm editing the opening chapter of my WIP because I've only fixed it a dozen times so far.

Which segues into my question, and you are the perfect person to answer because who sees more first chapters than a good agent? (Answer: Nobody.)

I read and hear lots of conflicting advice about all aspects of writing, but perhaps none more than a particular piece of advice about first chapters.

One school of thought says this: Ground the reader in your protagonist's ordinary world. Then, get your reader to care about your protagonist. Because if they don't care about your protagonist, then they won't care when some inciting incident occurs to upset their ordinary world. After your reader is grounded in the ordinary world, they've met and liked your protagonist ... THEN the inciting incident occurs that obliterates the ordinary world and your protagonist is given a challenge that they will either accept or refuse.

A second school of thought says: Open with action. Pull the reader in immediately. Why wait until Page 3 to deliver an inciting incident when you can do it in the first page, first paragraph, first sentence? Hit them over the head from the first word and don't let up until they can't put the book down anymore because they're invested in your character.

For me, it doesn't feel like you can do both. You either jump right in or you paint the picture of an ordinary world that will soon be shattered.

You see chapter 1's and page 1's ALL THE TIME. Which version do you prefer based on the knowledge of which version editors and publishers prefer?

Thank you, as always, for your wisdom. I'm still recovering from previous fin slaps, so if this question is too obvious, I'm asking for a friend ... who doesn't swim.

The answer is of course: it depends.

And what do you call grounding?

Take a look at this:
When Sean Devine and Jimmy Marcus were kids, their fathers worked together at the Coleman Candy plant and carried the stench of warm chocolate back home with them. It became a permanent character of their clothes, the beds they slept in, the vinyl backs of their car seats. Sean's kitchen smelled like a fudgsicle, his bathroom like a Coleman Chew-Chew bar. By the time they were eleven, Sean and Jimmy had developed a hatred of sweets so total that they took their coffee black for the rest of their lives and never ate dessert.
or this
One lonesome winter, many years ago, I went hunting in the mountains with Gene Kavanaugh, a grandmaster hitman emeritus. Sinister constellations blazed over our camp on the edge of a plateau scaled with ice. The stars are always cold and jagged as smashed glass in the winter in Alaska. Thin air seared my lungs if I inhaled too deeply. Nearby a herd of caribou rested under the mist of its collected breath.

We weren't there for them.

or this
The last camel collapsed at noon.

It was the five-year-old white bull he had bought in Gialo, the youngest and strongest of the three beasts, and the least ill-tempered: he liked the animal as much as a man could like a camel, which is to say that he hated it only a little.

They climbed the leeward side of a small hill, man and camel planting big clumsy feet in the inconstant sand, and at the top they stopped. They looked ahead, seeing nothing but another hillock to climb, and after that a thousand more, and it was as if the camel despaired at the thought. Its forelegs folded, then its rear went down and it couched on top of the hill like a monument, staring across the empty desert with the indifference of the dying.

The man hauled on its nose rope. Its head came forward and its neck stretched out, but it would not get up. The man went behind and kicked its hindquarters as hard as he could, three or four times. Finally he took out a razor-sharp curved Bedouin knife with a narrow point and stabbed the camel's rump. Blood flowed from the wound but the camel did not even look around.

The first, from Mystic River by Dennis Lehane, is pure background or grounding. The fathers don't figure in the story after the first section. But it gives us a sense of where these boys came from, and that's the blood of the novel.

In the second example from Blood Mountain by Laird Barron we know a lot about the main character from the start. Background yes, but also very very quickly the start of the story ("we weren't there for them.")

In the third example, The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett, we don't know anything about background or the character, or what's going on other than what's on the page. But that's enough to hold our interest.

Which is what you want: engage and hold their interest. If it's background (Mystic River) or start of the story (Black Mountain), great, use that.

But if you can, you write something so utterly compelling that I don't stop to wonder about anything. I just keep turning pages (Key to Rebecca.)

It's a whole lot harder than it sounds, of course.

It's one of the reasons you want to read widely: see what the other guys are doing, and assessing if it works (or not!) and more important, is it a technique you can utilize in your story.

If you haven't read Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, maybe this will persuade you:
Doug MacRay stood inside the rear door of the bank, breathing deeply through his mask. Yawning, that was a good sign. Getting oxygen. He was trying to get amped up. Breaking in overnight had left them with plenty of downtime to sit and eat their sandwiches and goof on each other and get comfortable, and that wasn't good for the job. Dough had lost his buzz--the action, fear, and momentum that was the cocktail of banditry. Get in, get the money, get out. His father talking, but fuck it, on this subject the old crook was right. Doug was ready for this thing to fall.
You know something about Doug MacRay, and you get a solid hint of what's about to unfold.

In other words, the answer to your question is do what works best for your story.
Which may mean writing and rewriting, and starting over.
Who am I kidding, may?
Of course it means writing and rewriting and starting over.

That's not failure.
That's process.

And be very careful about anyone who tells you there's one right way to start a book. Either they haven't read enough to understand they're wrong, or they're so intent on being right they ignore when things don't work.

Trust your own artistic vision and voice. If something isn't working, change it.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

April 30

I spent most of yesterday proof reading a contract and my eyeballs are rolling around in my head...backwards.

Contracts require a particular kind of cohesion, and that requires concentration, and concentration is in short supply here.

which explains the abrupt shift now to a new topic, right?

We're at the end of April.
It's 10 days AFTER 4/20, the first date we got for how long everything would be closed.
Now it looks like May 15.

And no back to normal.

Only one thing is going to save us: art.

That's you!
I hope you're working hard!

'Solar System' quilt by Ellen Harding Baker of Cedar County, Iowa, US in 1876, used as a teaching aid for her lectures on astronomy in the small towns of her state---spotted on the Twitter feed of @WomensArt (which is saving my sanity day by day)

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Include or exclude reference to this damn pandemic

Hi Janet!
I hope you're well and keeping your spirits pieced together during this very weird time. On the phone with my son this morning:

Me: So, since this is Friday --
Sam: Thursday. Today is Thursday.
Me: Wait, are you sure?

Sam: Positive.
Sam: I'm sure.
Me: I'll just google it.

I have been wondering if you are getting questions from writers about incorporating the pandemic in stories set in the present time.

I am on the new novel now, and can go in a few directions. But I wondered what your thoughts are about including/excluding such a massively influential time in life.

Stay safe, and keep your sense of humor where you grab it easily.

P.S. I checked and it's definitely Thursday.
Don't alter your book to include the pandemic. We're too close to current events right now to have any kind of perspective.

Given the glacial nature of publishing, you'll have a chance to revise later if your editor thinks it's a good idea.

But look back at books set in the early 60s. Not all of them mention Sputnik, and that was a real game-changer (1957).

Not all books set in the 80s mention AIDS. And that was cataclysmic beyond measure, particularly in the arts.

On the other hand, am I the only one who thinks we're due for a resurgence of country house murders in the coming months? Locked in, no where to go!