Wednesday, September 19, 2018

How long do they have their claws in me?

I parted ways with my agent a couple of years ago. I later found out some of the places they had claimed they had submitted the manuscript to never received it and a few editors asked me to resubmit the MS. One of the publishers is now quite excited by it. If an offer comes through, and the publisher wants me to work with an agent, then I will probably approach new agents to see if they are interested. But what happens with my previous agent? The agreement I signed says I will have to contact them to negotiate a commission to any publisher they submitted the work to, and they told me as much themselves. However, there's a few points...
1. The publisher who is now interested has a new editorial director, to whom I submitted the manuscript exclusively, the previous editor having left the company. I have no idea if my former agent sent the manuscript to that previous editor, though others in the same submission claimed they never received it. So technically my former agent may not have submitted to this company, though I won't be able to prove that.

2. I think there's usually a cap of 6 months to 12 months on this commissions maximum. My agreement indicates no such cap and seems to imply it's indefinite. It's been over 12 months.

3. The manuscript has been heavily rewritten and retitled since being submitted.

4. I am based in the UK, my former agent is in NYC, so not sure how that would work legally. I think the agreement is under NY law, whatever that means.

So, based on all of this, my question is, will I have to pay my former agent a commission or not? And if so, how big a percentage? Someone suggested I contact the agent and see if they will waive the commission, but I don't see them doing that. Someone else said to take the offer, say nothing, and wait to see what happens, but I'm not sure what I would do if this agent came looking for a commission. Any advice here would be appreciated. It's not that I'd be against paying a commission of some sorts but given a lot of the shoddy work and ethics this agent engaged in, I don't think they're entitled to one. But I'm not sure where I stand on that and have been weary to open any contact with the agent, as I feel intimidated.

Contract law varies by state, so absent language in your author agency agreement that says how long they have their claws into you, state law will govern.

Whether the editorial director changed, or the manuscript changed is not material here. The former agent submitted the work to the publishing company.

However, the agent will have to offer proof of that so you should hang on to the emails that said the publisher didn't receive it.

You would do well to buy an hour of time from a publishing attorney to ask for New York law on how long your former agent can claim commission on something.

What you need to remember is it will have to be MORE profitable for the agency to take you to court than not. If this book goes in a big sale, you're much more likely to hear from ExAgent than if it goes in a small sale. And it if does well, or godhelpus, gets made into a movie, well, stock up on carrion, cause the vultures will soon be upon you.

Ignoring this is not the best choice. Getting this sorted out before there's money involved is ideal.

Getting some advice and clarification from someone who has read your agency agreement and is familiar with New York state contract law is a better choice.

Takeaway for other writers:
make sure your author agency agrement specifies how long the agency can claim commission if you part ways and the book gets sold by someone else.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

2 R&Rs but no offer

I've been closet writing for a few years and finally felt ready to query. I received an R&R and after months of revisions sent it back. The agent was happy with the changes, but requested a second R&R with new notes and several back and forth discussions about them. The agent rejected my second round of revisions, stating we didn't "share the same vision" (What does that really mean? Is that a polite way to say "your revisions sucked?").

I know this road is full of rejection and there will be plenty more to come, but the blow seems a lot harder to take after 2x R&Rs. I've got some fulls out with other agents and each rejection seems to confirm that I've tripped on my hamster wheel and am doomed to keep tumbling until the wheel stops or I'm thrown off.

Did I screw up? Since I can't afford a blood thirsty outside editor and have exhausted my betas (old and new), do I let this one go and query something else? What if the problems I can't see in this manuscript just carry over to anything new (or is this TYFATKYFW and I should just shut up and learn to drink bourbon write?)

Any advice appreciated.

On the Hamster Wheel of Death. 

What does share the same vision mean? It means different things to different agents. When I've used it it generally means that Ive tried to stuff a novelist into a category I want and things haven't gone well.

With non-fiction it can mean that the author and I disagree about what the story is.

In other words, it's a bullet dodged, because the last thing you want is an agent thinking your book is X when you think it's Y.

Now, it can also be softspeak for you didn't nail the revisions.  Some of the ways that can happen is when I say "you need to fix X and apply it to other places in the ms" and the author fixes X and nothing else.

Things like "pick up the pacing" doesn't mean speed up the action at the end; it can also mean get to the point more briskly.  Fix one, but not the other and after two revisions, the agent now understands you can't integrate instructions, and says "done."

Revising is an art form just like writing. It's harder cause it's thinking about the entire manuscript, and thinking about every word and every piece of punctuation all at the same time.  It's keeping pace and rhythm in mind, all while you're trying to twist the plot. It's knowing you have to lay in clues in chapter three that bloom into plot points in chapter twenty seven.

Writing is chess.
Revising is three dimensional chess.

I'm going to take a wild guess here and say you need to keep writing, but move on to a new project for the time being. Often you need to write your way to a publishable novel, and it takes a couple finished novels to get there. Almost every client I have will tell me about the novels safely tucked under the bed, never to see the light of day. Or, when you pour enough liquor into them, the novels that DID see the light of day in an agent's inbox, and were (rightfully) quickly shown the door.

I think you'd also benefit from a regular critique group rather than just beta readers.  You can find those both online and in person. Reading someone else's work (like reading published novels) is one very good way to learn what doesn't (or does!) work. And  having to talk about it in a cogent, helpful way is going to be very useful to you as well as the other writer. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Building a co-career

So, I've written a manuscript. Actually, we've written a manuscript, and now my co-author and I are looking to start establishing a website and social media presence like good little not-yet-published authors, during our break before we roll up our sleeves and eviscerate our drafts.
We've been writing together for a long time, really enjoy working together, and have plans for plenty more collaboration in future. We've talked about it and neither of us is interested in working alone. It seems to us to be a bit redundant to try to each set up our own website.

Would it be very strange to set up a shared website? If we do, is it a better move to brand ourselves as AandB or to pick a singular pen-name to represent our duo act?

We've seen your post about having a collaboration agreement and of course any shared identity would have to fall under such an agreement - is there anything else you'd find reassuring to see covered when presented with our Tandem Hamster Wheels in a professional context?

The question you need to answer is how you want to present your author self: as one or two people. Neither is the better choice from my perspective, but I'm not the one to ask. Ask the people who do this. (The best source of information on a topic is someone actually doing the thing you're wondering about!)

To that end: find some writers working as a team and see what they say. Most likely it's a question they get asked in interviews all the time.

Here are some names to start you off:
Charles Todd
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Sparkle Abbey

Perri O'Shaughnessy
Philip Lawson
PJ Parrish

PJ Tracy
Renee Patrick

Once you decide if you're one or two people in the eyes of the world, you'll know if you need one or more websites etc. You'll know if you want one name or two.

None of this will make a difference to me when I read your query. The only thing I will insist on is knowing what you want me to call each of you, and that you both are on all the email/phone conversations about the business end of things.

You may want to set up a business name to handle the oodles of incoming cash that's sure to arrive, and pay the business expenses associated with this venture. Transparent bookkeeping is essential.

And just think, you'll always have someone to eat breakfast with at conferences and conventions!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Am I one and done?

Have I already used up my only shot?

A year ago I published my first novel with a small press. I am 60 and didn’t start writing seriously until ten years ago. I queried two previous novels and got a few requests, but nothing stuck. Through a series of contacts and coincidences starting with an online course I took, I got the opportunity to publish this one. Since I’m not getting any younger, I took it. I thought it would be (and was) a great compromise between endless agent querying and self-publishing, and I spent a small inheritance on a publicist and promotion. Despite some high-profile mentions in summer reading recommendations and reviews to die for (just not many of them), it hasn’t sold well.

I have another novel completed, edited, and ready to query. But am I wasting my time? Is this published book the end? If I query and don’t mention it, any agent worth the title will find it anyway. And obviously it is my main writing credit. I am an academic editor by profession.

I’m preparing psychologically for this shot to be my last one if necessary, but since I have another completed novel, one partly written, and outlines for two others I’d like to keep going. But I would feel bad taking the time away from other things if it’s going nowhere.

I love the blog although I just lurk. I learn so much. I don’t write in the genres you represent, so I have never queried you but find your take on the business to be smart and sensible. So much advice in this business is contradictory.

This isn't going to be advice about business but about life: Do what you love.

If you love to write novels, do it.

But if you feel like writing without being published would "take time away from other things" that you'd find more spiritually satisfying, then maybe it's time to have a real heart to heart with yourself about what you want your life to be about.

None of us are getting any younger (although some people it seems do not actually grow up).

I know that I feel out of sorts and cranky if I haven't tackled a blog post or a queryshark entry in any given day. I feel very fortunate to have a community of readers here that both torment me and contribute in valuable ways. Without them (and you, without the readership you desire) I'm not sure
how satisfying it would be to write this.  Thus, figure out what brings you the most joy.

And on the business side of things, mention your earlier book. It got good reviews. We all understand that some books do not get the readership they deserve.  We've all relaunched writing careers for one client or another.

I believe in trying rather than not, but I also believe there is no failure in electing to do something else.

Let your joy show you the right path.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Revising when Life Takes A Turn (for the worse)

A few weeks ago, I received an R&R from an agent I am SUPER excited about. I loved her suggestions and went straight to work.

Unfortunately, two days after that, my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The doctors gave her a week and she's barely with us 3 weeks later. I've been keeping vigil ever since we got the diagnosis. Obviously, my writing has taken a backseat. But I am still trying to keep up on it and implement the revisions. My heart isn't quite in it, but I am making progress.

My concern is that I know this will take longer than expected. I'm already behind about 3 weeks of what I could have had done by now, and I don't know when I'll be back up to full speed. But I also don't want to e-mail the agent and have them think I'm trying to earn pity points by mentioning my situation and asking if they'd still be interested 2, 3, even 6 months from now.

How do I address this situation with tact? Do I just not mention anything until I send the revised manuscript? Do I say something now but be vague about what's holding me back?

First, I'm very sorry to hear this awful news about your mother. Talk about a kick in the pants from the Universe.

Second, when life kicks you in the pants, you email the agent and tell her. Just like you told me here.

No adult will think you're trying to earn pity points. Killing grandmas is for undergrads trying to avoid tests. Most none of us wouldn't  prevaricate about our mom like this anyway.

And give yourself permission to just be where you are. This time with your mother is precious. Don't fret that you should be writing; you shouldn't. There's only one important thing right now: your mom.

When the situation is no longer immediate, you can regroup, give yourself some time to breathe, and then start in again. Don't email the agent again until you've had a couple weeks to see how you're doing.

I get emails like this more often than I wish (ie more than zero). I've never been annoyed that the revisions were derailed or would be longer in coming. I've never rejected anyone for that either. The only thing I've done is reply with reassurance that I'll be here when you're ready, and add the author to my prayer list.

You'll be ok.
You'll be different, and life won't ever be the same, but you will be ok.

Friday, September 14, 2018

So, how old are you?

How old is too old to start a writing career? (Or, to put it another way, just how ageist is the publishing world?)
But you don't need to tell anyone how old you are, or how old you're not.

The timing of this post is not random. It's in honor of my mum (today is her birthday), who had gray hair at a very young age. When she was old enough that gray hair was no longer an exception to the rule, she was often treated as a senior citizen even though she was not 65. Or even 60.

But Mum was a thrifty sort. When asked if she'd like a senior discount, her thriftiness fought with her innate honesty.  She lit upon the perfect response "why not?" which wasn't a lie, and got her the discount.

We laughed about it for years.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Assessing opportunity cost of waiting for notes

One of my novels, upmarket commercial fiction, struck out in the query trenches, though it did get a dozen requests for fulls. The sparse feedback varied too much to give me a clear sense of what wasn't working, and in one case was simply “I can’t sell this novel."

At a sort-of-pitch-session event (more like "meet an agent and editor and chat about your WIP" organised by a local literary organization), an editor at a highly respected and local-to-me publishing house which takes unagented submissions expressed interest in seeing it when it was finished.

April 2016: Since I lived within walking distance of the publisher, I handed it in to save on the postage and spare myself the “maybe it got lost in the mail” agonies (they only take unagented submissions in hard copy and I had no email address for Editor). My cover letter clearly stated that Editor had requested the material. Heard nothing back, so I assumed she’d passed on it.

January 2017: Participated in a Twitter pitch day. Editor DMd me and said, is it still available, and if so, can I see it? Turns out that the editorial assistant who ended up with the manuscript never passed it on to Editor. I emailed Editor the full manuscript.

May 2017: Sent a polite follow-up. No response.

August 2017: Sent a polite follow-up, mentioning that I had revised the MS and cut 10,000 words (!) and would be happy to send the new version. No response.

December 2017: Sent a polite follow-up. No response.

February 2018: Withdrew the manuscript (being grateful for the opportunity, etc.) because it was clear she was never going to respond.

Fifteen minutes later: Editor apologised for not responding sooner. Her comments were “it has a brilliant pitch, great characters and your writing on the line is assured, but the narrative drive wasn’t strong enough and left me feeling that work needs to be done on the novels pacing.” (Ironically, I think I figured that out myself when I cut 10k without restructuring the plot at all.) She offered to give me some written editorial notes to “make up for [her] rudeness.” I said great, that would be wonderful.

April 2018: Sent a polite follow-up. No response. I'd also been doing a selective second query round with the revised manuscript - total stats: around 16 submissions, two full requests, no offers of representation.

July 2018: Sent a polite follow-up. No response.

August 2018: In order to prevent myself from sending weepy passive-aggressive emails, I fling myself on the mercy of La Reid for advice.

My ideal solution would be - well, it would be for her to accept the revised novel, but realistically, it would be to have the editorial notes. It’s clear that this novel has a lot going for it and it doesn’t sound as though the writing is the problem, so feedback from a respected editor about how to bring it up to ‘publishable’ would be invaluable. But should I just chalk this up to bitter experience and dream of how someday I will laugh while I am watching the sunset from my Caribbean island I bought with the royalties?

It just occurred to me that I have a good relationship with the local organization that set up that sort-of-pitch-session; would asking one of my contacts there for advice be a good idea, or obnoxious going-behind-Editor’s-back? There hasn't been a similar event recently, or I'd sign up for it.


You're not going behind anyone's back to ask for advice from someone you know. You're asking for advice, not trying to finagle anything.

Second, every editor and agent has good intentions about offering help to writers.  We say things like what you heard "I'll get you some notes" but because it's a favor to you, and not linked to a project, or deadline, or even any prospect of such, it starts as a low priority in the Overall Scheme of Things, and probably gets knocked off the To Do list pretty quickly.

It's not malice, it's just lack of time.

This kind of thing happens more than you'd think, and it's not personal at all. 

Chalk this one up to experience and move ahead. You know what needs work (pacing) and her notes may be of use, but waiting for them has an opportunity cost that's too high.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Querying New Hotness when Old News is still on the reading list

I thought I'd seen this one answered already, but I can't find it on a cruise through the archive.

If you've got an Agent SlowPoke who requested A, but hasn't responded on it when you start querying B, what do you do?

Send her a note that says, "Hey, that thing you asked for two years ago? Old news. Wanna see my latest and greatest?"

Send her a query that starts out, "You requested Old News on (date). Since then, I've finished New Hotness. Would you like to take a look?" (Ooh, personalization!)

Query her just like anybody else, preferably early in the process so if she requests New Hotness, there's a chance she'll read it before you finish Even Newer, Even Hotter?


(Author) who is, yes, almost done with New Hotness (where have I heard that before?)

Why are you querying someone who hasn't responded to your last full?
It seems to me that absent a compelling reason (ie Agent SlowPoke is ME) you'd cross that agent off your list. Or at least put her way way down the priority list.

If she hasn't responded to your nudging, that's a very very bad sign.

If you haven't nudged, well, that funny sound you hear is a wet noodle heading toward your noggin, courtesy of me.  I've found things misfiled, mislaid, mislabled ONLY after an author very politely said "Hey SharkForBrains, what's up with your dawdling??"

If you really want to query her for New Hotness, just go ahead. You don't need to mention Old News.

Monday, September 10, 2018

One and Done...will anyone want me?

I have a couple of questions I hope you can help with. I’m a multi-published romance author (both smaller pubs and self-pub), with some minor success, but I’ve now written a psychological suspense thriller I’m quite happy with. Because it’s a new genre for me, I’d rather not go directly to self-publishing, hoping to get a second (third, fourth, fifth) set of professional eyes on the MS.

The publisher I’ve worked with in the past focuses primarily on romance, and though they’re open to other genres, their name is closely linked with romance and I think their readers would approach this book with genre expectations that simply aren’t met.

All the bigger publishers who work with thrillers, however, seem to require an agent to submit, and I am not represented. I have queried before (not for this book) and am willing to dive back into the trenches. But there’s a catch: I don’t expect to write any more thrillers. I wrote this because I had a great idea, and I’m happy with its execution and would like to give it the best chance at success, but I don’t consider myself a burgeoning thriller or mystery writer.

My first question, then, is this: How would an agent feel if I queried them for a MS when I had no plans to continue writing in that genre? Is it a waste of their time to work with me for one title? If there are people who are open to representing writers for one book, what’s the best way to approach it? Should I say so in the query?

My second question is whether I should tell them about my romance writing background and pen name, since the genre is different and the readers may not cross over. Can I say “I’ve written nine romances,” and leave it at that, without giving the pen name? Or is it important for them to be able to look me up? I’ve sold books in the thousands, but not hundreds of thousands, so I don’t think anyone will be blown away by what they find.

That odd sound you hear is rueful laughing from The Lair. I most often see things like "I plan a gazillion book series" which always prompts me to say "you gotta sell one before you can sell more." You can guess how well that goes over with enthusiastic writers.

This of course is the reverse of the problem.

Even if you think you're only going to write one, you don't know. Don't sabotage yourself by announcing your plans when you could change your mind. It's not as though you CAN'T write another one if you decided you wanted to.

So, just query this, and let tomorrow take care of itself.

I would query under your own name AND mention your previous books, but also include that you'd consider writing under a pen name if the agent thought it would improve the marketability of the new book.

That you've built a fan base, and had multiple books published is a good thing. That those fans may not come along with you, well, that's not a huge problem.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Out of the Dark by Gregg Hurwitz

I rappelled into the Minotaur Books Lair recently, and liberated an advance reader edition of Gregg Hurwitz' new book Out of the Dark.  Somehow his editor thinks a locked safe and armed guard will keep me from my beloved Evan Smoak. HA!

Of course it was a delicious read.
This is Gregg Hurwitz we're talking about.

I'm posting about the book though because there were a couple places where I had to put the book down and to savor the sweet little twist I'd just read.  (Friday's blog post talks about this)

Here's an example of what I mean by a small twist of expectation:

"If he was not fortunate enough to be executed"

which of course is a twist on fortunate enough NOT to be executed, the expected phrase.


"It was a civilized way to conduct an assassination"

cause really, are assassinations civilized at all?

and my favorite

"she stared at him, smugly photosynthesizing" 

about his aloe plant Vera II.

And then there's page 294 (or the page before Chapter 52 if the pagination is different in the final edition)

That turns everything around completely, and I had to read it twice to make sure I was seeing it right.

In other words, if you're a writer and you want to see a master craftsman of pacing and plot twists and deft language at work, you just can't go wrong with Gregg Hurwitz.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

No? How about this?

Do you find it odd when an author queries two projects back-to-back? Due to revision work, I have two novels ready for submission at the same time. I know each project must be queried on its own merits, so as long as I treat each individually, does it matter if I query the same agent with both, one right after the other? (Separate query letters, of course, and neither one makes a reference to the other.) Is there any reason I shouldn't do this?
Because I won't know anything about your revisions, I'll only know you queried a polished finished novel last week, and now this week you have another one.  I can intuit you've got a couple books in various stages of vision and revision, but seeing another novel this soon does give me pause.

There are enough agents in this world to stagger submissions such that sufficient time has elapsed between queries. I'd say six months or so.

This isn't any kind of industry standard. It's my sense of how to approach things. You might ask this of Jessica Faust over at BookEndsLLC. They're doing some very cool stuff on YouTube and they might be looking for questions just like this.

Friday, September 07, 2018

The Three Cackle Test

I've been reading a lot of requested fulls lately. Most requested fulls have pretty good writing. The most common problem is pacing; the second is the lack of twists/turns or surprises in the plot.

A good plot will have at least three twists or turns or places that surprise the reader.  As I read, when I come to one of those points, I often stop reading to enjoy the moment. "I didn't see that coming!" and "Yowza! Yikes! Zounds!" are what you'd hear if you were in the room. Cackling with delight, really.

Absent those kinds of twists and turns a manuscript can be perfectly fine, publishable even. But it won't be that super special book that gets people talking. "Oh my god, you have to read this!" kind of accolade.

Those three cackle books are what I'm looking for, diligently!

So, how do you get twists and turns in your book?

I don't think there's one best answer.
I do know that the very best authors do it, and reading them to see how and when is a good idea.

One place to start: Sacred by Dennis Lehane (*SPOILERS HERE*) 

The "Mormon" crowd on the green don't try to proselytize Kenzie and Manny. Instead, they're afraid of Manny.

Lehane gets Manny on to the street in a nifty twist too: Kenzie walks in to "the wrong office", but of course it's not the wrong office at all, it's the one Kenzie intends to burgle later (but the reader does not know that when the scene unfolds.)

And then, on page 204, Lehane turns the book around completely.

**end spoilers**

But twists don't have to and should not all be big ones. Twists and surprises need to be in smaller moments as well, the moments that keep readers engaged and not wanting to skip ahead. If the twists just keep getting bigger, you'll end up with a crazypants soap opera (oh my god, Erica Kane hasn't just been married 100 times, she's a VAMPIRE and a MAN!)

Other suggestions:
Sunburn by Laura Lippman;
The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz;
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley;
The Breach series by Patrick Lee (which surprises me EVERY time...even now.)

Read those with your writer notebook at hand. Write down the scenes with twists (and page numbers so you can go back and find them later--something I'm frequently kicking myself for failing to do.) Study how the writer subtly steers you and your expectations.  In the hands of a master craftsman, thinking "oh I see what's coming" is often the first sign you do NOT know what's coming!

Thursday, September 06, 2018

You're never too old to be an idiot but if you are, my guess is you started a while back

Office phone lights up; Janet grabs receiver; abacus, octopus, and Rolodex section listing people who have swimming pools all go flying.

JR: (briskly) Janet Reid

Deluded fellow:  I'm trying to reach Janet Reid

JR: Yes?

Deluded fellow: I want to send her an email. I want to make sure I have the email address right. Is it http colon slice slice w w w...

JR: (interrupting) that's a website address. The email address is jreid at new leaf literary dot com

Deluded fellow:Janet Reid at New Leaf Literacy?

JR: Please listen carefully. Jreid at New Leaf Literary dot com

Deluded fellow: (laughing lightly)  I'm old. I don't know much about computers.

JR: Really? How old are you? (hoping caller is north of 147; envisioning book deals and Vogue interviews)

Deluded fellow: (rather proudly) I'm 80 years young!

JR: 80? Eighty? Oh please. Computers have been around for more than a third of your life, email for 25% percent of your life. Are you still trying to use subway tokens? Looking for payphones on street corners? Dialing 0 for the operator? Enraged that street corner hot dogs cost more than a dollar? Wait, Are you a cloistered monk by any chance?

Deluded fellow: (wondering if he's conversing with a crazy person) I have a book that is going to change the world. I'm sure she wants to know about it.

JR: (as dryly as possible) Is it called An Idiot's Guide to Email?

I swear every single word of this is true.

your takeaway: There are lots of things about publishing that are hard to figure out but how to use email is not one of them. This is textbook asshattery: sticking your head in the sand and hoping the modern world will go away just cause you want it to. I've tried. It won't.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

About those numbers agents are always brandishing about on Twitter

Long time reader of the blog from Western Australia here. I appreciate you taking the time to share your insights on the publishing biz.

JR: Since I love maps, I thought I'd post this with the question!
I have a question regarding the numbers I see agents use about how many queries they get. Numbers like "I receive 10,000 queries a year and may take on 4 clients". (I just made those up but you get what I mean).

Those are the kinds of numbers that make a writer weep. But I'm wondering if it's wrong to take those numbers at face value. Because as we all know, there is the cliche of the slush pile being stacked full of unintelligible and derivative manuscripts.

An agent may receive 10,000 queries a year, but how many of them are any good? Quality is pretty subjective, but there is probably a baseline competence everyone can agree on. If an author is capable of writing a decent story in a marketable genre, are they really competing with 10,000 other authors? Or are they realistically competing with a far smaller number? I've thought about it like the London Marathon. If you want to win that race, you're not realistically competing against 10,000 runners; you're competing against the 50 people at the front who have trained for years and years to win.

You're smart to realize who your competition is.
It's not the dunderhead who queries me for dino porn set in Czarist Russia.

It's the author who queried me for something I DO want to read; it's the number of requested fulls in any given year.

I may get 100 queries a week, but I've requested only 69 manuscripts so far this year. Last year, 100. 2016 about half that.

Your competition, if you're writing a book I want to read, is 100, not 10,000.

This really isn't a numbers game. I can request as many fulls as I want. There's no limit. Yesterday
I requested four (two weeks of vacation will do that). Today, zip. Some weeks, nada. Some weeks
it's a deluge. (It does seem to come in spurts; I have no idea why that is.)

Thus: don't let the numbers scare you. The only question I'm asking when I read your query is  do I want to read this book?

A couple ways to catch my interest: vivid writing, plot twists, deft use of language. All that is entirely in your control. You just have to know it when you see it. Or don't.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Research about novels in queries

Is there ever an instance where the writer should mention their research in a query?

I know that in general we should leave it out and agents will assume we've done our research (unless proven otherwise). But I'm wondering if there are any exceptions to the rule?

Background: My book is Historical Fiction based on the life of a real badass lady on a quest for revenge. New scholarship about my time period is pretty directly contrary to what we've been led to believe in History class about women's roles, cultural diversity, etc. I've been lucky enough to consult with a doctor whose PhD is on women warriors of the period and a professor whose expertise is race in the period.

I'm getting questions from early readers about whether there were really women warriors (yes!) and whether there were POC in that place at that time (yes!) and because these are such common questions, I'm wondering if I should mention my consults/research so that agents don't dismiss the story as anachronistic without digging deeper.

Maybe I'm just overthinking this, but I'd love to know if you think in this case mentioning the research might help me over a possible objection hurdle.

One of the things I mention very early in a non-fiction pitch is what fresh insights and new information will be in the book.  Essentially you're going to do the same thing for your novel.

You'd put that kind of information in the housekeeping section (paragraph three) of a query.

Paragraphs one and two are the story (Miss Badass Takes on The World, but really wants the moon cause it's made of green cheese, only to find out she's lactose intolerant).

Paragraph three would be almost exactly what you wrote above:
New scholarship about my time period is pretty directly contrary to what we've been led to believe in History class about women's roles, cultural diversity, etc. I've been lucky enough to consult with a doctor whose PhD is on women warriors of the period and a professor whose expertise is race in the period.

I'm getting questions from early readers about whether there were really women warriors (yes!) and whether there were POC in that place at that time (yes!)

And if I may, please do NOT use the phrase "lucky enough" when describing consulting with an authority, unless you won the consultation in some sort of lottery.

You're making light of your effort and diligence by attributing it to luck. My guess is that luck, if it played a part at all, came AFTER you spent some time tracking down experts and asking questions. You say "I've consulted with" etc etc.

I think it's important to include this kind of information in a query because I think I know it all, and if you're telling me what I know is wrong, well, that's interesting and enticing.

Monday, September 03, 2018

The Duchess of Yowl discovers the hiatus pictures


Duchess of Yowl (catching sight of computer screen): What is THAT?

Me: (peering): She is a dog. Her name is Charlotte.

DoY: What is a DOG doing on your blog?

Me: I was on vacation;  dogs and cats and tortoises took turns being the blog post of the day.

DoY: Unacceptable! I should be the featured feline. Daily!

Me: Well, I did try to take photos, your Grace. You told me to contact your publicist.

DoY: And did you?

Me: Your publicist to me to call your manager.

DoY: And did you?

Me: Your manager told me to call your agent.

DoY: And did you?

Me; Your agent told me to call your publicist.

DoY: And did… oh wait.

Me; You see the problem.

DoY: It's a full time job being the most sought after cat in all the land.

Me: Should I call your agent to see if you want some of this nice, fresh tuna?

DoY: No need, you may serve me personally.

Me: (aside) well, at least she didn't call me Waitress.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Blog hiatus Day Fourteen!

 This is Charlotte. She was living in a cage at Westside German Shepherd Rescue in Los Angeles, and was one of the dogs I met when I was a volunteer dog walker. I brought her home as a foster, and became a foster failure within 12 hours.

She’s lived with us six years now, and we think she is ten or eleven. She had little interest in my WIP, because it is set in France, not Germany. After reading this book and finding out Rin Tin Tin was French, she’s expressed a little more interest. She’s got fans all over town, because she has that je ne sais quoi quality.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Blog Hiatues Day Thirteen

This is Harry.

He came to me for asylum. He asked all the other critters in the neighborhood and they pointed to me as the sucker.

I attempted to find a better place for him but they were all too far away. Gopher tortoises can not survive if moved more than 25 miles because of the difference in micronutrients.

He doesn’t say much about my WIP, but man he can eat up some pages. They are third behind my homegrown tomatoes and butter lettuce.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Blog Hiatus Day Twelve

Just as The Duchess of Yowl could have her own feature film, so could Whiskey, the brown pup. His would be called Ferris and Whiskey’s Day Out. The white dog, Gotti, is a cuddle buddy when rejections arrive. A job for everyone!!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Blog Hiatus Day Eleven

Here's a picture of my author familiars. They slept like this, beside me, all the time. Occasionally, they'd raise a lid when I'd read a passage of my WIP out loud which always made me take a second look at how it was parsed.

The blue is Murphy. He's our rescue guy. He has PTSD and anxiety issues and he barks at everything now that we've lost our red girl, Ciine* (Coon-yea) last month. Birds, bunnies, leaves, cars, hummingbirds at the feeders, butterflies... He's still not over her loss. Neither are we. But we're getting there.

This is how I'll remember Ciine. Pensive. Quiet. Just loving life.

Loaner Cat refused to share the limelight and would not sit still for a photo knowing she'd not be featured.

*Ciine is Romanian for dog. Yes, Thing One has a great sense of humor. Sometimes...

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Blog Hiatus Day Ten

This is Georgia, the newest member of the canine clan at Proud Spirit.

Jim is a police officer and spotted her while doing patrol near a wooded area of our rural town. She was emaciated, dehydrated, covered in fleas and ticks, her ear was ripped, and she has scars all over her face and body. She'd also clearly had several litters of pups. Jim coaxed her into his patrol car then took her to our local vet.

The Reader's Digest version is, after eight days at the vet where she had time to begin recovery and get spayed, we made her a part of our family.

From Janet: Just a reminder: you can support the work of Proud Spirit by making donations here

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Blog Hiatus Day Nine

Rufus, the Formerly Feral Feline.

All of our cats are (and have been) rescues of one sort or another, but Rufus is unique in that he's the only one who volunteered to become an indoor cat.

He'd been coming to the food bowl we put out for the neighborhood ferals for a couple of years. And then he turned up one day with an enormous abscess on his right cheek. He sat down and waited for us to bring a carrier out.

All through his recovery--and he needed multiple surgeries to remove all of his teeth--Rufus was amazingly helpful and courteous, taking his medications without protest and making no effort to escape.

When he turned out to be FIV-positive, we made the decision to bring him into our clowder, and it's worked out beautifully.

He's not much of a reader, but he often visits me in my office while I'm writing and force me to take petting breaks.

Rufus is especially fond of heavy metal, and often leans against the subwoofer when I put some on as writing music.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Blog Hiatus Day Eight

Coco the two-year-old Lynxpoint Siamese likes to work on her core. (She insists those stripes are her six-pack.) Only problem is she can’t complete the crunch, so she just lies there contemplating ways to torment her Chihuahua uncle. (We’ve all been there.)

As for my work in progress, she thinks I need to add a cat* masquerading as a sea otter. Come to think of it, maybe she’s just auditioning for the role in this photo.

*She’s corrected me. The word cat can not be used without the proper complimentary adjectives. So amend to “an amazing cat of superior intellect.”

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Blog Hiatus Day Seven

So what do you expect me to do about this?”

Brendan and the kittens, Fergus and Silas. The wrassling match ended as always in a nap with their paws around each other.

Brendan was a perfect being in the form of a cat. Always kind and tolerant to all, including kittens.

As soon as our backyard pond froze he would go ice skating while we watched hoping the ice was strong enough and we wouldn’t have to dive in after him.

The only creature he could not abide was ducks. His jowls would quiver as he watched in shock. “It flies, it swims and it walks!”  In his view, ducks should not exist.

He once fell into our indoor shallow pool while pulling a palm plant in after him. That was his only screw up ever. We did not take a photo to save his dignity.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Blog Hiatus Day Six

Only clean laundry will do!

Meet Parker and Panther. They are Bombay kitty mutts. I drove from Las Cruces New Mexico to Phoenix to adopt this father/son duo in January of 2014, after their predecessor, Pepper, was killed by a coyote.

Pepper had a starring role in my second novel, Saints & Strangers. He had been given to me and once I experienced the Bombay personality (think a dog in a cat body) I knew I had to have another Bombay--they are very friendly, talkative and will happily go for car rides.

The bottom pic is how Panther spent our ride back from Phoenix.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Blog Hiatus Day Five

This is Luna. She's an Emotional Support Animal (ESA); her author has Complex post traumatic stress syndrome (CPTSD); and a world traveler. Despite her tiny size, she can out-hike even the fittest of humans, and she loves cycle adventures that take days on end. This is her cycling in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

She's been snubbing her author's snuggles recently and it's probably because said author's current WIP features a somewhat mystical cat and no dogs. For shame.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Blog Hiatus Day Four

This is Clara. She is the most aggressively affectionate cat I've ever known. We adopted her from a local shelter shortly after we bought our house. She greatly approves of my writing efforts because it means I will sit down for a while and serve my true purpose in life as her bedding. Luckily she is content to serve as my desk, so it's a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Blog Hiatus Post Three


The Saga of the Miracle Kitten,
God may mean for me to have another cat.

At a conference in 2014 weekend a speaker, Karleen Koen, encouraged us to write what she called Morning Pages. I keep forgetting the name so I called them Morning Glories. The idea is to write, not to write perfectly. Part 1 of the Saga of the Miracle Kitten constituted about half my fourth day’s entry.

Here is the relevant portion from July 2:

Part 1

I heard the cat meow for help while I lay in bed. I’ve heard it since I got home. I heard it when I stepped out of my car at 1:00 Tuesday morning (Monday night). I searched for it then and couldn’t find it.

I heard it again last night (Tuesday) sitting at my desk (I hear it now – meow, meow, meow) and yesterday afternoon. Both times I went outside trying to find it. I checked the outside stairs to the basement. I even checked the open garbage can. I listened to see if it was in my basement or in the screened in porch. Best I could tell, it was in Babbie’s (my neighbor’s) shrubbery.

Around midnight Tuesday night I heard it again and turned on my outside flood lights. She quit her meowing while I was outside. But the cries were back this morning (Wednesday). This time I came down to the basement to see if she got caught down here – Nope.

As I write I hear her outside. She stopped. I hear a bird now, but that’s no problem.
. . . .
. . . .
The cat is back at it.
. . . .
. . . . .
Looks like I’ll have to search for that cat again. It sounds desperate.

Karleen Koen said our subconscious works in our dream state. Mine must not soak in enough to flow through a pencil.
. . . .

Better finish this page and search for that cat. She better not remind me of Poinciana. [Insert: Poinciana was my wonderful cat for eight years].

I saw a tiny baby kitten near Mary’s house in Houston. A woman stopped her car in the middle of the road. When she slowly moved it forward, a little tabby ran out from under her car and lay down in the middle of the oncoming lane. She almost got run over there before scampering under my car. I slowly moved forward and she was gone, probably in the grasses.

Part 2
Morning Glory entry #5 – this morning July 3, 2014
The entire entry

The first four morning glories were each written on different pads and I cannot locate the latest one, which I need so I can tell the story of the Miracle Kitty. [Insert: I found it - see above]
After writing yesterday’s post, I still heard her voice crying out. I went outside, thought I heard her in my neighbor’s bushes and once in a tree. Then I heard it two houses down and between my neighbor’s house and the other house. I didn’t want to go to my neighbor’s backyard so I gave up. I could still hear her every so often in my room.

Mid-afternoon my neighbor Babbie came to my door and asked about the cat wailing. I told her my story. She thought the cat was in my garage. We searched - no cat.

Next she thought it was in my car.

We looked under the car. I opened the trunk. I popped the hood – no cat, but we both heard the cat in the engine but couldn’t see it. I pulled out the water hose and sprayed under the car and over the engine thinking that might drive out the cat.

Babbie called a friend of hers – Rick ‘from’ Bottega [Insert: his name may be Jeff not Rick.]
Meanwhile we kept looking. I told Babbie about the kitten in Humble [Houston]. As I left my sister’s house in Humble I stopped behind a car that was stopped on a straight road – she was in the right lane. She walked around her car. After a while she slowly drove forward and a little kitten ran out from under her car and plopped in the middle of the on-coming lane. A car coming by stopped. The scared kitty ran under my car. I stayed parked. Finally I moved forward slowly. I looked at the rearview mirror. I didn’t see the kitten so I figured it had run into the grassy field.
I went to Momma’s, stayed there maybe three hours, then to nephew Lance’s store for gas and ice. He and I talked for maybe thirty minutes. Then I drove home to Birmingham - about thirteen hours and 700 more miles, sometimes at eighty miles an hour, in stop and go traffic in Baton Rouge for an hour, stopping for food and at rest stages. As I wrote in yesterday’s post I heard a cat crying for help as soon as I opened the car door at home.

I told Babbie it could be the kitty. Finally Jeff [Insert: Or is it Rick?] arrived and saw the kitten in ten seconds. He pulled it out of the engine area of my car. It was the same kitten I saw in Houston.

Babbie brought her cage and some food, but somehow the cat ended up in my house.

Here is what she looked like after 750 miles in my car engine and almost three days without food or water: 

She is tiny – maybe six inches long and weighs virtually zero.

She is loud. She squawks most of the time. She quiets down when I talk and when I hold her.
I bought food for her at the vet and kitty litter at the store. I put kitty litter in a small dish and put it in the cage. She has spread it over the cage and over my floor and is now lying in the bowl. The bowl is too small, even for her; but at least she is quiet for the time being. I’ll get a bigger bowl in a second.

I’m afraid I’ll have another cat if I don’t find someone to take her.
She loves being held and petted.
Today was the day I was to start walking. Let’s see if I do.
End of entry.

Part 3

I’m typing this late Thursday, so it’s not part of the Morning Glory series.
Today was a good day. The kitty litter calmed her down. She is quieter, and more active. She eats heartily. I think she’s sleeping now.

I did go walking. Immediately met a neighbor, Molly. Asked her if she wanted a cute kitty. She didn’t but she came over to see the kitten. She took pictures and said she‘d post them on her Facebook page. Later in the afternoon, Babbie called. She said she talked to two women who might want the cat. One lady’s cat died last week, and she wasn’t sure she was ready for a new cat. She would be good. Babbie says she even buys videos for her cats.

Spoke too soon about the cat’s sleeping. She’s awake and wants some attention.

The cat has more strength. She’s cleaned herself and doesn’t smell anymore.  She uses the bathroom in the kitty litter. Amazing how cats instinctively know to use the kitty litter, even kittens.

I put one of those plastic balls with a rattle inside inside her cage. She has played with it off and on today. I filmed her for six minutes playing with the ball. So cute.

I filmed her earlier in the day, too. A few hours later I watched it. When she meowed on the video, she began to answer the video’s meow. I was listening to a conversation between the video cat and the live cat.

I did put in a larger bowl with more kitty litter. She’s in it now.

She’s come a long way from yesterday. Food and sleep have been good for her. She’s more active and more curious.

I took a couple of photos with my good camera on my bed. Afterwards she climbed on my shoulder for a long time. It looks like she’s asleep. I feel like going to sleep myself.

Here is what she looked like after one day of recovery:

The Miracle Kitten is now a big fat cat named Brigada (named after the original title to my manuscript, Obrigada Pumpkin.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Blog Hiatus Day Two

Conner came to us a rescue, somewhere between one and two years old, but he didn't let his start to life affect his spirit.

I used to joke Conner’s bucket list was “meet everyone in the world and get them to pet me.” Because as soon as he saw someone, he assumed he’d just found his new best friend.

One of the things that always amazed when walking Conner was how many people had dog treats in their pocket. Homeless people who were clearly down on their luck but smiled when they saw him. People waiting for the bus. Contractors working on neighborhood houses.

Walking a friendly dog breaks down barriers and makes the world a bigger place. Walking a dog helps you live in the moment and see the new flowers budding in the spring. How fun it is to chase a leaf blowing down the street. Which yards smell especially interesting.