Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Friday, July 01, 2016

the ALOT of books writing contest!

Summer is here and it's time to clear off the bookcase and make room for new titles!

The writing contest prize this week will be 14 books, not one! In other words, your entire summer reading list.

Because I'm mailing from my office, the winner must have a US mailing address. You can enter if you don't have one of course, but if you win, we'll send the books to the first runner up.

The books are:

Eileen Cook, WITH MALICE (totally heart stopping YA, I loved it!)
Ashley Ream, The 100 YEAR MIRACLE (awesome!)

Slipping into Darkness by Peter Blauner (one of the best writers around)
The Promise (advance review copy) by Robert Crais (one of my heroes)

Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz (enough good things about this cannot be said)
The Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker (stunning)

The Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron (if you don't know his work, you'll have the joy of discovering a great talent)

Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope (debut, set in the Northwest, what's not to love!)

And to top it all off, three books by Bill Loehfelm who is so terrific I can't summon the words:
Doing the Devil's Work
The Devil in Her Way
Let the Devil Out

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: bone/boneyard is ok but bone/bonfire is not

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

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

6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses. can be sent ONLY to a US mailing address.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contest opens: 9am, Saturday, July 2

Contest closes: 9am. Sunday, July 3

If you're wondering how much time you have before the contest closes: click here.

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!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Do overs!

What if your query letter is not quite on the mark, and you do not discover the problem until a particular agent you hold in high regard points it out? Would it be a faux pas to re-query with a revised letter? Or have you burned the proverbial bridge and watched the pieces go downriver? 

That really is a sinking feeling isn't it?
It's happened to me.
I pitch editors and then think "oh crud, I shoulda said THIS, or that, or probably even THOSE"
But, no do-overs.
Not really.

(and this is a big however)

There is no such thing as the Query Police.
So, what's the very very worst thing that could happen if you requery?

You MIGHT get a stern email in return that says "you queried me for this on X date and I responded."
Which is code for "get organized, you're not keeping good records."

So, what to do when you query on Monday, and Tuesday you see a blog post like this and then realize you failed to include a plot in your query, or an overarching theme in your memoir, or forgot to mention what the story was about. Basic errors that make me reach for the "sayonara snookums" button on my computer.

sayonara snookums button

First, you redraft your query as though your life depended on it.
You make double dog sure that you have plot on the page, or an overarching theme, or are very clear what the story is about.

Make double dog sure you have your ducks in a row on the new query

In other words, you aren't rushing, and you're getting beta reads and you're letting it sit overnight, and you're not just in a panic. You're focused. If you don't know the difference, take a breath, calm down and say "this will not be the end of me."

When your query is so much better you have to cringe when you think of the old version, then and ONLY then do you resend it. And you say "I realize I left out the plot/the overarching theme/what the story is about, and this revised query fixes that problem."

This won't help if you're writing a book I don't want to read, or don't think I can sell, but I always take at least another quick look at this kind of query.

Not all agents will, so yes in some cases you are sunk, BUT it's worth the time to revise and requery cause you're going to need that revision for future querying on this book anyway.

It's better to try and not get a nibble than miss a chance.

And if some sneering agent bitches about this on Twitter, tell 'em to suck it up and go sell something instead of complaining about the source of their income.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Dr. Frankenstein I presume?

I have shelved a project, then taken a couple bits and pieces I cut from it, and am writing a new book entirely. The book is still fantasy and similar to original project but with a different plot, different POV, different title. It's essentially a new project.

1. For the agents who kindly rejected me on the original project, is it ok to query them with new project when it is done? It is a new project, so that should be cool, right?

2. For the outstanding requests, do I need to formally withdraw the original project. With one of these agents, I would like to query the new project. Do I start over at step one and query her according to her guidelines as if this is first time querying her? Or do I mention the full request I withdrew. I met this agent at conference and full request came from partial request at conference. 

1. Yes
2. Yes.Yes. No.

Let's elaborate.

You're essentially asking when does an old project change enough that it's new.
I think different plot and different POV are the key.  A different title is good, but you can't just change the title on a book and call it "new."

You do need to withdraw the old manuscript if only for tidy record-keeping.  I only consider one project at a time for prospective clients. If I've got Kale by Mooonlight on my docket, I won't ask to see Carrots by Twilight.

Given the reading stack we all moan about at Agent Summer Camp, I think it's a fair assumption most agents operate that same way.  Thus: withdraw.

And yes, you ALWAYS start over. You query as though she's never heard of you.

It's incredibly annoying to get a half-assed query "hey you requested Foliage for Felix last year but passed, here's my new one."

It's much more efficient to query this new ms as a fresh start. You might mention you met at the conference. You don't need to mention the ms you withdrew.

Give yourself as clean a slate as possible.

I try very hard to read queries and fulls with the freshest eye possible, but it's really hard when a writer says "hey you passed on something else last year, now I have something new."

Now, this is one of those things that other less brilliant agents may differ on.  Keep an eye on the agent's tweet stream to see if s/he's one of those "I want your query history with me" type people.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Marketing into an increasingly annoyed readership

I am a genial soul, but I swear if I get another telemarketer telephone call asking me to buy some woman’s memoir about how bored she was in Miss Cadiz’s kindergarten class I may hang up instead of breaking down and buying a copy I don’t want just to be nice. I don’t even answer knocks on the door anymore. The answer is no. I don’t want to buy your novel about a shape shifter who can’t get a date because all the ladies think he looks like me. If he’s a shape shifter make him look like Brad Pitt and leave me out of it.

Marketers alienate people. I never watch CNN without my finger on the mute button anymore because I know every time there is a commercial break here comes the same old Liberty Mutual Insurance Company commercial. No, I did not hydroplane into a ditch. No, I don’t want to hear about it – again. I did not want to hear about it the first thirty times.

Somewhere Donald Maass said the story sells the book, not the author. Any thoughts you have are welcome.

Your comment proves the effectiveness of marketing: you remember the name of the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. That was their goal, and even in annoying you they succeeded. You may not be their target customer, but you can bet that when someone needs to buy insurance for their hydroplane they'll remember. [Oh wait.. you meant hydroplane your car into a ditch. Much less interesting, but probably a larger customer base if it's car owners not hydroplane drivers]

Effective marketing means a reader remembers your name and book title and when they see it in the bookstore think "aha! I've heard of that."

That means you have to have put your name and book title in front of their eyeballs at least a dozen times. (It used to be far less, but we're working in a very noisy marketplace these days.)

What you really want to know is how to make those impressions without annoying your audience.

And the answer is easy: you don't do it. You have someone else do it. And I don't mean a paid publicist or cheerleader. I mean your friends and well-wishers.

For readers of this blog, if you've been reading the comment trail you'll know several readers here are champions of Donna Everhart's upcoming book, The Education of Dixie Dupree.

Jenny Chou is a champion of The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie.

Julie Weathers is a champion of Diana Gabaldon.

There are other examples of course, but I can think of these just off the top of my head as I write this post. That's prima facie evidence that I remember and that the "marketing" has been effective. Marketing in this case is a reader loving a book and talking about it. Or talking about the author.

So, how do you find those kinds of friends? You don't ask, certainly. That's the kind of thing that can lead to something like this "review request" that read more like instructions.

The way to get those friends is to BE one of those friends. You talk about books you love. You might write reviews. You might make comments on this blog and others.

You might write a Facebook post. You might tweet.
You might ask your library to buy the book.
You might ask your indie to stock the book.
You might have your reading group BUY the book and discuss it.

This is something you start long before you finish your own novel, go out on submission, find an agent and get a pub date. Making friends is a long process. The earlier you start the better.

You keep a data base of book friends.
You have a mailing list.
When the time comes, you reach out with your good news.
You respect your friends by having an "unsubscribe" button on your newsletter or email.

And you keep up being a friend too.

Monday, June 27, 2016


"There is no magic to book promotion. There's no secret formula to creating a successful book, and it doesn't always take millions of dollars to generate a bestseller.  You don't need a huge Rolodex of media contacts, large advertising budgets, or the full support of a Big Five publisher to make your book a success.  While all of those elements certainly can help, I believe that every book, with the right strategy and promotional campaign, has the opportunity to sell well, including yours."


I started my career in book pr.
I sell things for a living.

One thing I know for sure: listening to people with proven track records of success is smart.  It's a good use of two scarce resources for authors: time and money.

Dana Kaye's new book Your Book, Your Brand is a must-have for authors. For new authors, for experienced authors, for self-pubbing authors, for authors with a publisher small, medium, or large.

In other words: this book is indispensable.

It pubs in September 2016.
You can pre-order now.

PS If you get a chance to hear Dana speak, don't miss it.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Week in Review 6/26/16

Welcome to the week that was!
Holy moly, #Brexit!

Last week's review referenced the suggestion that agents go back to asking for queries on paper.

John Davis (Manuscript) Frain said:
I'm not going to double down for Donnaeve since I've learned the hard, painful lesson of doubling down here. I won't even admit that I like her idea (even though I do) on going back to the days of paper queries. But I think one MAJOR thing would change in your formula...

You'd no longer be getting 100 queries a week because querying would be a more complicated process. You'd be thinning out the herd by virtue of making the process cumbersome on the writer. Only those willing to invest the time would query, so they'd have to be confident in their product.

It's a way for an agent to play Contrarian, and I wonder if that agent would get fewer and better queries if only snail mail queries were allowed.

Let's do the math: Assume reading queries electronically and on paper takes the same amount of time. The only activity that takes different amounts of time is responding.
Electronic query reply steps:
1. Click "reply"
2. Click "No thank you"
3. Click send
Time spent:  3-5 seconds (yes, I actually timed this as I wrote this blog post.)

Paper query reply steps:
1. Hand write: Thank you for your query. I'm sorry this is not a match for me. Janet Reid
2. Fold letter
3. Insert in envelope
4. Seal envelope
Time spent: 30 seconds

5. Take to post office drop box is not accrued to individual queries since I take all my mail to the PO at the end of the day anyway. (Yes, I still mail things, and some of you have books to prove it!)

I also did  not account for sorting the incoming queries either. Someone has to wade through all the mail and direct it to the correct agent.

Analysis: since paper queries take 6-10 times longer (3-5 seconds versus 30 seconds) I'd need to get fewer than 10-16 queries to make it time efficient.

The reason I actually clocked the response time is that it's sometimes easy to scoff and say "oh that won't work" or "please, I know the answer!" when, without actual research, you don't. This is the EXACT failure of No Response Means No.  Replying to 100 query emails a week takes about five-ten minutes. I timed it.

But here's the true cost: in going back to paper queries I'd be sorting out authors based on their willingness to query on paper, and nothing else. Willingness to query on paper is NOT directly related to quality of work, meticulousness of writer, or my interest in their subject.

In fact, because it costs money to query by paper (not to mention time) I'd be erecting a barrier to writers with limited funds, and those who have to work long hours, or who can't get to the post office very often.  This seems like a bad idea to me.

Andrea mentions yet another reason: I'd miss out on international writers (no Gary Corby!?!?)
Regarding snail-mail queries, I don't query any agency who accepts submissions by post only. I don't live in the US or the UK and I couldn't afford to send all my queries by post, so I don't send any. And the postal service of the country where I live is incredibly slow and not very reliable. Things go missing all the time, from birthday cards to packages. I'd have to spend a small fortune on postage and still have no guarantee my queries actually arrive, because no agency (as far as I know) accepts registered post when it comes to queries. (Not to mention registered post would cost even more)

The Sleepy One asked:
Is QueryManager set up like Submittable? I haven't had a chance to check it out yet. I love Submittable. It's so easy to use and it's well thought out from both the writer and publisher side.

Yes. So far, I like it a lot, but I've only gotten about 10 queries or so. I'm not sure how many agents are trying it out.

Celia Reeves said:
I checked out Janet's QueryManager page when she tweeted about it last week. It looks wonderful, simple and clean, but one thing caught my eye. You know how they put red asterisks by the required fields on web forms? On this form everything is required EXCEPT THE QUERY LETTER. Is this a Shark-given free pass to submit a query without a query letter? Sadly, I know that it will be fixed before I'm ready to submit, sometime between Christmas and a decade from now.

Ha! You do have to write a query cause you actually have to email me something. If it's "Hey Snoooks, read my book" that's still a query. And don't think I haven't seen that before (not via QueryManager, but in my regular inbox)

On the topic of going to writing conferences Janice L. Grinyer said:
So even though I walk deep in the forest for work, am prepared at home to fight fire, handle all sorts of animals (does this include the rattlesnake I found wrapped up around an apple tree yesterday?) I'm terrified to go to a writers conference. PLEASEDONTTALKTOMEIDONTKNOWWHATIMDOING. I'm such an easy target right now for talking disasters.
If anyone from the Reef is going to a conference where I'll be speaking, let me know. (Drop me an email)  You can hang out with me at the conference till you get your sea legs. I know what it's like to feel like the new kid (I went to six different schools in six years from 4th-9th grade.)

Here's where I'll be:

And although I am twice as terrifying in real life as I am on this blog, you won't actually have to talk or anything. You can just hang out and show me photos of your dog/cat/apple orchard.

Colin Smith said:
Elise: You don't want to meet me. A couple of Reiders have, but Janet was there to rescue them from boredom. :)
Yea, Colin was so boring we wrote synopses for comic relief.

Yea, Colin was so boring we brought in a mime to ratchet up the conversation.

Yea, Colin was so boring we considered a writing contest about how boring he was…until we realized no one wanted to read the entries.

Yea, Colin was so boring we told him the next Bouchercon was in New Orleans France.

Yea, Colin was so boring, the table planks inducted him into their Hall of Fame.

Yea, Colin was so boring, he got a 5 star rating from the drill press review at Consumer Reports.

Yea, Colin was so boring, actuarial tables had to be revised.

Yea, Colin was so boring, we called the police to report he was missing when he was actually sitting at the table.

Speaking of conferences, Monday's topic was pitching editors at a writing conference.
I think it can get writers into trouble later when they have an agent.

Lisa Bodenheim asked:
And what if that editor comes back with an, "and when you get an agent, have them send it to me." Is it appropriate for Opie to respond or simply to forward that info to the agent when s/he lands one?
You say: "I'll pass that info along, thank you very much for your interest." And you do pass it along. While the editor may not be the best choice at the publisher, it's good to know who's interested.

Dena Pawling asked:
Does a rejection from one editor at a house, mean a rejection from all editors at that house?
Generally if you've sent it to an editor at WheelbarrowsOCash, you can't send it to another editor there. Yes, there are exceptions but you won't know what they are.
If that editor declines the book, can you submit to the "right" editor after?

Or is the danger here, that the editor who first has the submission actually offers on it, but you would have rather the offer come from someone else at that house?
The danger is the editor passes, not that they offer.

AJ Blythe asked:
As y'all know I'm in Oz. There are very limited opportunities conference wise (for writers). I go to the same one every year, and this year is no different. I've registered to pitch to a senior editor and an agent, both from the US (the conference usually has at least one agent and one editor from the US attend, in addition to the locals).

1. On the basis I want an agent, should I make it clear to the editor from the get-go I am wanting an agent? I was planning on having my query letter with me, so rather than discuss with a view to a request, am I better off using the pitch time to get their feel for market/interest?
Use the time to gather information. The editors that I know who've done this conference all work for places that only take agented submissions anyway. Pitching is pointless. Getting the scoop on what the editor is looking for is useful.

2. The agent in question doesn't personally represent my genre, but the agency itself does. I was wondering whether it would be rude to take my query letter to get their opinion of it (while secretly hoping maybe they'd offer a personal referral to another agent at the agency)?
Getting help on a query is a good idea, if the agent is up for it. Ask her. And if she says "wow, this is great, you should query AgentFabulous" so much the better.

Lennon Faris asked:
OK, sort of (mostly?) off topic - and hope I'm not risking Carkoon - I think a list of conferences and what their 'gist' is would be so helpful to someone on the outside. Janet, I think you mentioned once that Boucheron was more of a fun conference rather than a help to authors with their manuscripts (or I might be making that up). I've heard some comments here saying this or that conference was great for the panels, or the query workshop, etc. I'm thinking of going to *some* conference or workshop but it is a little overwhelming with how many types there are, and how different the prices are.
Bouchercon is a fan convention (a "con") NOT a writing conference. ThrillerFest has a craft component that is akin to a writing conference, but is largely a fan con the other days. Other cons: Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee.  There are others that I'm sure the comment column will reveal.

A writers conference focuses on craft: Writers Digest is a writing conference. So is Surrey. So is CrimeBake.

Then there are the conventions like Romance Writers of America. They are sort of a hybrid, but you need to be a member to attend.

If you want to figure out if an event is a convention or a conference look at the line up of panels. If its largely authors, it's a convention. If it's mostly agents and editors, it's a writing conference.  

Another good way to distinguish: look on the registration form. If you're asked "what you are" (as in reader, writer, librarian, fan etc.) it's a convention. Writers conferences assume you're a writer if you're planning to attend.

Rose Black said:
So, read more, write better, and suck up the fact that not everyone will love your story no matter how good it is. Would that be a fair summary?


Craig said:
I know I played the fool the first time I halfheartedly queried. I am sure that some will hold that against me but I hope to get a query good enough that even those who pass will know remorse from it.
No one will hold it against you. No one will remember. Unless you are nuts enough to remind me of a bad query, it's all water under the bridge about 30 seconds after I hit reply.

I don't have enough time to keep some sort of black list for well-intentioned but idiotic or lame queries. My black list is limited to people who have actively disparaged me or my clients. A bad query isn't insulting. It's just a bad query. I see those all the time.

Regarding the larger story needed in memoir Janice L. Grinyer said:
 I wrote the initial chapters of my fire memoir with factual evidence on what a person can do when a wildfire threatens, intertwining our story in the process. Not only have I had training, but I have colleagues in the field, respected for their knowledge. Though that could be why we survived...Here I was fretting that you shouldn't do that unless you had a Ph.d. I was wrong, but right. Don't worry; that last sentence was for me.

I've been reading (we all have!) your comments about the fire and I think it could actually be a very compelling memoir. It's not just about fire though. It's about what happens when devastation (in a variety of forms) looms.

Every single person can resonate with a memoir that talks about how to prepare for, and survive something that is out of your control and changes your life forever. Fire would certainly be one thing. Hurricanes, the levees of New Orleans failing, a spouse suddenly arrested and jailed for terrible crimes you had no idea about.

When you dig deep and answer the question "how would this apply to other situations" you'll get the larger story.

Lennon Faris asked:
It's interesting that three out of 25 had no plot. What were the queries about? Just events with no direction?
Events with nothing at stake. Plot requires a choice. If Our Hero chooses to Save The Day, he must sacrifice Something. Also described as skin in the game.

Lennon Faris also asked:
#20 confused me. "textbook illustration of what not to do, including answer the question "what is the story about"" - meaning, the query did not answer that question? Or they answered it in a textbook illustration bad way?

I should have said "what not to do, including FAIL to answer the question" because the query not only did not answer the question of what the story is about, it also made every other basic mistake you can think of. I didn't make a list because I did not want the query to be readily identified by the writer (although why I think that writer reads this blog I do not know.)

Lennon Farris went for the hat trick:
#22 Surprised me. I knew you would read queries for genres you don't represent, but I didn't know you encourage that. Strangely I would feel inexplicably nervous querying the QOTKU! Oh wait, not so strange. This agent has rows and rows of teeth!
You guyz get your categories and genres wrong so often I'd rather encourage you to send things you don't think I want, rather than miss a good thriller that you think is YA Western haiku.  It doesn't take me long to read a query and I don't view it as a waste of time to read things that may not be for me.

kdjames said:
I have to admit to feeling torn about #22. I don't doubt that you mean it, Janet, and this isn't the first time you've said it. But it would just feel so horribly gauche, like I hadn't researched an agent's genre preferences, or maybe had a severe deficit in reading comprehension. Ah, well. As my daughter recently said to me, "What have you got to lose?" I replied, "Other than fear? Not a damn thing."
Listen to your kid. She is clearly brilliant.

and kdjames said further:
Colin, I know, I know I've heard the admonishments not to assume an agent won't like something and not to self-reject. It's hard not to imagine an agent reading a query and thinking, WTF. Was I not clear? What part of *I don't rep this* did they not understand? Why would I want to work with someone so clueless? Actually, I've seen more than one agent say this on twitter.

I really like the phrase self-reject.

And let's not overlook the fact that agents who mock writers on Twitter are idiots. You may quote me. In fact, PLEASE quote me. The sooner agents quit acting like they're the frosting on the cake of publishing (rather than the baking soda in the cake) the better off we'll all be.

John Davis (Manuscript) Frain said:
Janet, looked like between the lines you were kinda asking if we'd like to see a post like this again. You had to look really hard between the lines, but it was there. Anyway, I vote YES.
It would probably be just a repeat of this post.  This was a pretty average day in the query trenches. But I hear you.

Mythical one eyed peace officer said:
#1 and #24 generate the same question so far as memoir...."why would anybody want to read this?" I get that but wonder how one would query something like the Chicken Soup books. These have obviously been quite successful commercially. I've never read one, just thumbed through at the bookstore and while after the first one I guess a readership was established I wonder how one would have queried the first one. (I think the first Chicken Soup was self published, no?)

A collection of memoir essays. The Chicken Soup series includes multiple authors in a volume but is that a significant difference? I would guess people buy them because they are just enjoyable to read for some people. So the answer to the question, "why would anybody...." perhaps is - because it is fun or enjoyable or interesting to read.

Oh the Chicken Soup books. Dear old Jack Canfield, I adore him. The first Chicken Soup book was NOT self-published. Jack tells the story of campaigning through BEA back in whatever year looking for a publisher. He found one in HCI which was just about to shutter the doors and turn in the keys.  The book of course as you know took off.

BUT the reason the series went nuts was this: the publisher said to the authors "hey, we've got some blank pages at the end. Do you want to include anything else?" And the heavens opened and the angelic voices said "include a page asking people to send their stories of hope etc."
And they did. And people did. And thus was a franchise born.

You can't query something like Chicken Soup. It's not a memoir. It's not even a collection of essays. It's more like a collection of anecdotes. A compilation. Like a joke book. The reason it got published was HCI had literally nothing to lose in doing so. And it paid off.

Linda Strader asked:
I see many references to memoirs in your post, Janet, but the last time I checked, those aren't on your wish list...correct?
I'll look at anything. Memoir is narrative non-fiction, and I do rep that.

On Wednesday I indulged in some snarling about people asking me for info that is easily found in a google search:

E.M.Goldsmith said:
But, your Majesty, you know everything and sometimes the Internet spews out poppycock. I can understand the tweeter, at risk of being dumped into Carkoon's Oblivion Cell, thinking they have stumbled upon a mythical Oracle. It is going to happen.

Boy howdy do I know it. I was researching books on how to write query letters, and honest to god, some of the information was so bad I wanted to post a review on Amazon that said something like "this is utter balderdash!"

The difference with finding poppycock on the internet and asking me to do your research is of course that you actually tried first and are confused by the results. I'm always happy to weigh in on those questions. But you gotta at least try first.

Peggy Larkin has provided me with my favorite new toy:
Oh man, what a perfect opportunity for my favorite passive-aggressive/snarky website, Let Me Google That For You!

Example: Let me google this for you
Julie Weathers said:
I don't like asking agents publishing questions on social media aside from blogs like this.
The exception is in invitation windows. For instance, The Bent Agency does an #Askagent thing from time to time. I'm convinced someone in the office knocked over a sacred statue in the Holy Order of Agent Temple and they are doomed to answer the same questions from would be authors for all eternity.

What's the word count for X?

Do you accept manuscripts that aren't finished?

What if I'm self published, but the sales aren't so good. Will you be my agent?

What do you think the next hot thing will be?

Are vampires out?

Why do I have to write a query letter? Can I just send sample pages?

Do I have to send the first five pages? They are kind of boring.

What can you do for me?

You rat B@stahd agents are all the same. You're just in it to crush dreams and kill all hope of ever getting published. I just wanted you to know how I feel.

I love those last two.
Here are my answers: nothing, and you're right.
It's kind of awesome to see the questioner's face when they've asked those kinds of questions in person at a conference panel Q&A.

DLM has provided my new answer to questions like this:
Being a secretary for 30 years now, I've fielded some extraordinarily stupid questions in my day. Usually, I just feel like they're a nice opportunity to talk with my team or someone who thinks I know more than they do. At TIMES, I may passive-aggressively ask them "Oh, you couldn't find anything when you looked in Help/Google/the manual?" - but that is only for people who annoy me. Most often, I'll just find or give the ready answer, and enjoy the sense that people are under the impression I'm a Knower of Things. It's not the worst feeling, people turning to you.

Since everyone annoys me (except my blog readers) (oh wait, and my clients too) I'm using that answer for everyone.

Except maybe not this girl, as told by Heidi the Duchess of Kneale:
My library story:

A teenage girl doing research asked me to help her find books on a subject. She had the physical Dewey subject catalogue in her hands, but wasn't sure how to make it work. She earned one point for attempting to do her own research.

Unfortunately, one point was all she earned.

"What are you looking for?" I asked.

She pointed to an entry in the catalogue: "The Great Depression". Not a problem. I'm good at history. I ask her refining questions: Any particular aspect of the Great Depression?"

She didn't know. "Social impact? Financial impact? Cultural impact?" She had no clue. Just gave me this vague look of bafflement. All my questions couldn't get a clue out of her. "I don't know." Was the best answer I could get out of her.

In frustration she abandoned me because I was asking her too many hard questions.

Two days later she shuffles up to the Check-Out desk with a stack of books on Depression in Teenagers, Clinical Depression, etc.

She was talking the Black Dog, not Black Tuesday. But what made her situation pathetic is that she didn't know how to explain herself, nor did she know how answer my questions with, "I don't think that's what I'm looking for."

Sometimes people want to know something, but they don't know what it is they want to know. No research librarian can help you if you don't know what it is you're looking for.

Kitty said:
Tinkering has turned out to be the important phase for me. When I keep going back to a word or a phrase, something that seems fine and yet it pesters me like a gnat at bedtime, then I know I've overlooked something. Sometimes the something is nothing and sometimes it isn't.

Colin Smith asked:
Here's what I'm curious to know. There are writers out there (not me) who only ever produce one draft because they edit as they go. I've heard them say that their writing day begins with looking over the previous day's work to correct mistakes, and craft it into good prose. They then begin the new stuff. My question: Do they not re-read the entire manuscript when it's done? Do they type "The End", do some work on the section they just wrote, and then send it to their agent/editor? I know I couldn't do that. I'd want one last read through to be sure everything is in place.

My first English lit prof once said Anthony Trollope wrote like that. Straight through, no revisions. When he wrote "The End" on a novel, he then pulled out a fresh blank page and started the next novel. At the time I was not sophisticated enough to ask whether this was literal truth, or a comment on the quality of Trollope but the image has stayed with me, lo these many years.

As to how other people do it: there is no one right way. There's only the way that works for you. The reason I share these things is not to say "This is the Right Way." It's to say "if you're looking for tactics, here's what I do. Try it. If it works, terrific. If it doesn't, keep looking for others."

Colin Smith also asked:
Here's something else I'm curious to know: how many published writers continue to use Beta Readers? Or once they have a few books under their belt, do writers feel like their agent/editor team is sufficient? I have heard more than one bestselling author say that the only other person who sees their manuscript before it goes to their agent or editor is their spouse. And sometimes not even their spouse!

I ask my writers to not send their work through a critique group if at all possible. Some clients don't anymore. Some still do. My preference is that I read it, and their editor read it, and the client not get bogged down by advice from a writing group. 

Kate Larkindale said
As someone coming to the end of a rather arduous revision, this post couldn't come at a better time! And to answer a question, even though I have an agent who made suggestions for the direction of the revision, I still have beta readers and crit partners I trust and I wouldn't send the MS back to my agent without a thumbs up from them… I'm still waiting to get to that point.

On Friday we talked about sales figures some more.

Donnaeve said:
"It's worse with digital publishing because I used to be able to say "he sold all the books they printed" but with ebooks, there is no limit to the number available for sale."

What if, for instance, an author is paid an advance, and depending on the price point of the ebook, they sell enough to pay it back...that would be good, right? Couldn't you say they sold enough to pay back their advance?
The term you want here is "earned out" not paid back. Don't EVER think of an advance as something you have to pay back. 

And no, I never use the phrase "he earned out his advance" because the terms of that earlier publishing contract are confidential. The writer could share the info. I cannot.

And earning out an advance isn't a reliable indicator of sales. Some very very very big name authors never earn out. Essentially they're being paid a higher royalty rate. The publisher would no more drop them for not earning out than they would shoot themselves in the foot.

Want to see the math to get a better picture?
Author Lightning Strike is paid an advance of ten million dollars for her novel Girl on the Carkoon Kale Express.

Author's royalties are 10% of jacket price: 10% x 25.99, or $2.59/book.
To earn out she'll need to sell close to 4 million books.
$2.59 x (number of books) = $10,000,000
[If the numbers seem too big to multiply think: $2.50 x 4 = $10]
If she only sells 3 million books, she doesn't earn out.
On the other hand, she's #1 on the NYT list for 66 weeks.
Essentially, the publisher is simply paying her MORE money than $2.59 a book.
They're paying her $3.33/book
3,000,000 x $3.33 = $10,000,000

Joseph Snoe said:
Is there a way trade off something (like a smaller advance) with a publisher in return for a two or three book guarantee even if the first book does not generate decent sales?
There are no guarantees. A first time novelist with a three book contract has to sell well enough that the publisher wants to publish books 2 and 3. It's not a given they will.

BUT if you're just starting to query, or you're still revising your first novel, don't even think about this stuff. This is like worrying your unborn baby won't save enough money for his retirement. Get through labor and delivery, then worry about teething. Leave off worrying about anything except what you have to do next.

On Saturday we talked about agents-as-publishers.

Jenny C said:
From what I can tell of the agent business, agents are already overwhelmingly busy. Answering queries. Reading fulls. Attending conferences. Collecting and distributing royalties. Having lunch with editors. Writing submission letters. Writing edit letters to their clients. Plus family life and pets and loaner cats all demand time. And I'm sure there's a bunch of other stuff I don't even know about.
In addition to those things, just this week I:
1. met a client in the office for some scheming, conniving, planning and plotting.
2. went with a client to a radio interview, followed by a bookstore event
3. juggled two offers on a book
4. worked on redrafting a pitch letter
5. followed up on outstanding submissions
6. updated clients on submission
7. plotted and schemed on submission next step for book that is getting no love.
8. followed up on film interest for clients
9. tracked down unpaid money for an author
10. Audited royalty statements ←HUGE HUGE HUGE part of the job

This is GREAT advice from Jenny C:
" if you're published by a small press prepare to become a salesperson for your book."
And this is where your local Indie bookseller can help. The one you shop at regularly. The one where the booksellers know your name. The one where you buy gift cards for your kid's teachers. The one whose events you attend to meet other authors to support their books.

Booksellers love to sell books! And they really love to sell their friend's books.

Dena Pawling said:
I get most of my books at my library. When I see people here on this blog, and elsewhere, raving about a book, I check for it at my library. If it's not there, I request it. So far my library has purchased two books I've requested.
This is VERY helpful for authors. Librarians take note of circulation. If lots of library users request Donnaeve's novel, and it circulates well, that will help her now, and on Book #2.
Any kind of support for a writer is good and valuable. Don't ever feel that reading books from the library is somehow less than buying books. For starters, you can read more authors. And for finishers, library sales are non-returnable. Authors LOVE library sales.

Since many of the comment trails go off topic (something I treasure!) here's a recap of things that really didn't fit other places in the WIR:

There's a new picture of our friend Gossamer!

This from DeadSpiderEye and Colin Smith just cracked me up.

Was I the only one who read "bog roll" as blog roll at first? And then thought that toilet paper was a new phrase for blog roll? When I tell you I'm self-centered, I'm really NOT kidding!

Speaking of Brit translation services, here are some of the lovely new insults I learned on Twitter after The ShihTzuHairDo said #Brexit would bring more money in to his golf course in Scotland.
#4 is my favorite.

susan said
A little off-topic, but has anyone seen the BadLiteraryAgent account on Twitter? I just discovered it yesterday and can't figure out if it's really an agent or an author. Some of the advice is good and similar to what's being said here on the blog (though you have to dig through the snark). I'm not sure how I feel about it.

I checked out @BadLitAgent (Twitter bio: Gatekeeper to the publishing industry. Regretfully, due to the volume of queries I receive, I can't respond to any.") and found it HILARIOUS! Your mileage may vary of course.

Julie Weathers:
I loved my pony Bimbo, but he was never going to win the Preakness no matter how many times we raced down that dirt road.

this falls into the so weird it has to be true category: my first horse was named Bimbo.

A new category for the Week in Review: things we need to know more about
My father was an auction addict. He probably saved my life via an auction, but that's a story for another time.--Julie Weathers
the rattlesnake I found wrapped up around an apple tree yesterday--Janice L. Grinyer
reasons Colin is boring--Colin Smith

And for those of you not on Facebook, the Loaner Cat returns!

Loaner Cat: I'd like to negotiate a raise in pay.

Me: I'm not paying you anything right now.

LC: Sad but true. However, I've added to my duties.

Me: Really? What else are you doing besides providing petting, purring, and palling around?

LC: Housekeeping. I've dusted for you.

Me: (putting on glasses) holy Charlotte's web, you're covered in dust and spider webs!

LC: Miss Tidypaws you are not.

Me: You're not the first cat to notice that. Where have you been?

LC: behind the books on the bookshelves.

Me: looking for something to read?

LC: looking for something to eat.

Me: There's kibble right here in your nice freshly washed dish.

LC: I like to stalk and kill my food.

Me: You're stalking that can of tuna right?

LC: Now, kill it with the can opener please.

Loaner Cat

Subheader nominations:
-do the research
-be interesting
-write better

Simple. But not easy.--Beth

Don't worry if there are exceptions to the rule. Assume you won't be an exception and keep working.--John Davis Frain

Have a lovely week.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Agents as publishers

A growing number of literary agencies are establishing in-house publishing divisions. I've been warned to avoid such agencies, because they may be less interested in submitting a client's work to other publishers. Are such warnings warranted, or are they out of touch with how the industry is changing?

You want to distinguish between agents who operate a digital imprint for their client's backlist (and other books) and agents who are running a front-list publishing concern.

Several very well-respected agents started publishing their clients back list in electronic form. It seemed like a pretty beneficial thing for clients: it wasn't quite self-publishing, each client didn't need to learn HTML and ebook layout on their own,  and you'd avoid the insanely low ebook royalties offered by the major trade houses who were just as unskilled at ebook publishing as everyone else back then.

There was some harrumphing about it but it seemed to work out ok for most of the authors who participated. (Generally these were authors who had books that predated ebooks, and whose print contracts made no mention of ebook rights)

Agents who are running a front-list publishing company (and I only know one, but maybe there are more) are clearly in violation of one of the basic tenants tenets of AAR: you can't represent both buyer and seller in a transaction.

In case you want the exact wording:

At the time this was written, I don't think anyone envisioned a legitimate agent actually owning a publishing company and also running a literary agency.

The only time anyone had seen this kind of thing was with vanity presses and flim flam artists.

The warnings to avoid this should be heeded.
I don't think there's a way for an agent to offer unbiased and objective information to an author if they have a stake in which choice the author makes.

And frankly, I'd wonder about an agent who said "well, we have a company that publishes ebooks, and here are the strengths and weaknesses, and that other company might be better for you."

I've always believed that every company I've been involved with was the best choice for people to buy from. That may not have been objectively true but I sure believed it.

And the one thing you really want from an agent is unbiased, objective guidance. It is in fact the value of an agent.

So, what to do: query as you normally do. If an agent offers, ask if they are also running a digital publishing company. Ask about how arms-length the relationship is. The ones that I know about don't steer clients to their digital arm at all. In fact, the digital arm is a wholly separate company and run by different staff.

Friday, June 24, 2016

more on sales figures on your "permanent record"

You've said an author is tainted by poor sales and therefore unlikely to find an agent willing to represent them. But is this true across the board, with no consideration given to who the publisher is or whether an advance was given? There are so many small publishers out there and most offer little to no help in the way of marketing. I can see if an author signed with a big house and didn't earn back the advance. But what of an author who signed with a small boutique publisher and received no advance and little to no help with marketing? Are those kinds of circumstances considered at all, or is everyone thrown into the same you'll-never-find-an-agent pot, gooses cooked?

It's all so relative it's hard to make a blanket statement.
Sufficient unto the day to say, no matter the circumstances, it's easier to shop an author with no sales figures than to shop one with sales figures that need to be explained.

And it hasn't eluded me that "shopping" someone in the parlance of spy fiction means to inform on them.

When you sign with a "small, boutique publisher" you should know what you're getting into. Of course there isn't going to be marketing or publicity help. There are (most likely) not going to be books in stores. You're going to need the online retailers to reach your target audience, and you're going to have to do it yourself.

Expecting anything else is wearing rose-colored glasses and renaming yourself Pollyanna.

It's worse with digital publishing because I used to be able to say "he sold all the books they printed" but with ebooks, there is no limit to the number available for sale. And ebook sales are assessed the way mass market paperbacks used to be. Because of the lower price (compared to hardcovers) you have to sell MORE to get attention.  300 ebooks is a blip. 3000 ebooks is ok. 30,000 ebooks is more likely to get noticed.

This is your career, and you get to do what you want but you need to know before you sign with any publisher what it will mean long term.

Everyone thinks they are going to sell more than they do. EVERYONE. If you think you can sell 10,000 copies, you'll be astounded to find you only sell 100. I won't be surprised in the slightest. Getting people to buy things is a VERY tough job.

Selling is hard work. It's not just a matter of saying "hey, here I am, aren't you glad to see me?"

Think of it like Miss America. Those ladies walk down the runway in Atlantic City and they look effortlessly beautiful don't they? Tall, slim, fit, talented, poised (ok, mostly).  Yet, it's not effortless in the least. Those ladies have spent YEARS honing their talent, practicing their walk, learning how to apply makeup, and entering local and regional pageants to practice.  They've worked hard to make it look easy.

Book sales are exactly like that. You spend months gearing up, building your mailing list, making friends, learning terminology, figuring out where your buyers are. And then you spend months actually doing the marketing and publicity.

It looks easy when the other guy is doing it.It's never easy when you're doing it.

To answer your question: while it's certainly easier to explain low sales numbers if your publisher is Podunk, Puny and Smalls, LLC, what any future publisher sees is a book no one wanted to buy. Publishers are risk averse by default. Telling them not to be afraid of low sales numbers isn't as persuasive as saying there are no low sales numbers.

What does that mean for you: if you're published by a small press prepare to become a salesperson for your book.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

So, I didn't get it right the first time

I should have written this blog post when I was fin deep in revisions!

I realized I'd given very abstract (i.e. not all that useful) guidance on how long to let something lie fallow.

Here are my updated and revised points:
1. Revise in chunks, rather than the whole novel. If that means chapters, great. If it's just pages, fine.

2. Revise from the starting point to the stopping point in one pass. Don't break for lunch midway; don't check Facebook for updates from the Duchess of Yowl.  It's REALLY important to have all that material fresh in your head as you work.

3. Repeat 2 as needed using the alt reading tools (like printing out pages, changing fonts, reading aloud etc.)   
How much time to leave between repeats?
At first you'll only need an hour. When revisions get fewer, you need more time. 

When are you done revising and ready to let it sit? When you're not fixing things any more.
Fixing is not tinkering. Fixing is revising "Siamese Cat" to "shape shifter with a yowl to die for". Tinkering is "should I put a comma here, or a hyphen?"

Once you're just tinkering, it's time to let it sit.
The longer the piece, the longer it sits.

I let an entire proposal sit at least overnight while I'm revising. It really helps to write something else while you're letting the bloody thing sit (blog posts! Facebook posts! contest entries!) 

I let it sit for three-four days when I think I'm done.

And if I'd let that original blog post sit just two days longer, I could have avoided this whole "I didn't get it quite right the first time" thing. (Yes, this post update sat overnight.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Do I look like a librarian to you?

I saw these tweets on Monday morning around 9am.
I'd logged on to Twitter to see if anything was trending that would preclude a tweet about the blog's topic that day.

(The last thing you want to do is merrily tweet out "Come read about comps!!" when there's a national tragedy unfolding)

My first reaction to this tweet was annoyance of course.
That's my default reaction to people asking me to do stuff.

But what moved this from annoyance (and maybe actually getting answered on the blog) was the second one: A link or two will do.

At that point I want to snap back "I am not the reference librarian at your local library. She is a salaried professional whose job involves answering questions.  I am not."

These are librarians

this is a shark

Any questions?

I realize my annoyance is out of proportion to the question, and that's entirely because I am prickly and grouchy. 

There is a larger point to be made though. This person didn't intend to annoy me at all.  I'm sure s/he is perfectly nice and just wants some help navigating the shoals of this industry.

I DO spend a good deal of time helping such people, and answering questions.

So, why did this ruffle my finny feathers so much?

It's clear that the questioner hadn't even tried to find the answer on her own.
I understand the befuddlement of conflicting answers, boy do I.
And some questions don't lend themselves to a search engine (example: how do I handle competing offers; how long to wait before nudging)

But this question is clearly search engine material.

This writer could have saved the day with one more tweet, one akin to these:

1. I've googled and can't find the answer
2. I've found conflicting answers

In other words: showing me that I wasn't her first stop on the Answer Quest.

Asking for clarification on things I've written here on the blog, or asking questions about things I've posted here: no problem.

General publishing questions: also no problem IF you've at least tried to find the answer before asking me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reasons I said no to 25 queries (and how to avoid being one of them)

1. Memoir: no overarching theme. The memoir was largely "this terrible but interesting thing happened to us" but there was no sense of how that would resonate with readers.

How you will avoid this: if you're writing memoir, you MUST answer the question "why would anyone else care about this." Your story must have utility for me. I'll read about sad stories on the internet but I'm not going to pay $25 for a hardcover book if the only thing it's about is your struggle with cancer.

2. Description of the novel is so abstract as to be meaningless. If your query doesn't have character names you're in danger of this.

How you will avoid this: Read QueryShark. Or any other query critique site. Apply what you learn.

3. Description of a novel I don't want to read. Ever.
How you will avoid this: you can't. Sometimes you're just going to query someone who doesn't want to read your book. Suck it up and move on.

4. Description of the plot made no sense to me (and because I was doing this list I was NOT skimming)
How you will avoid this: ask someone to answer the Who What Why questions about your novel based solely on the query. If they can't do it, it's time to revise.

5. One-dimensional characters and a plot that sounds so far fetched I actually laughed.
How you will avoid this: write better. This is text book bad writing. 

6. A juvenile book that seriously misunderstands what kids like to read
How you will avoid this: know the market. If you're writing books for kids, it will help if you've read a lot of them. Also, anything that smacks of "should" is generally a non-starter with kids.

7. All set up (which was rife with stereotypes) and no plot
How you will avoid this: get plot on the page. There's a formula for that at QueryShark. Go find it. Use it.

8. All character described in sexual terms. Profoundly boring.
How you will avoid this: don't do it. If you don't see this problem, you need better beta readers. Yes, beta readers for your query is a good idea.

9. Writing is not publishable: Confusing query, pages over laden with adjectives.
How you will avoid this: write better.

10. Leading with themes that I am not much interested in; what description of the plot that follows can't save this
How you will avoid this: you can't. Sometimes you just have a book I don't want to read. Query onward.

11. No plot of any kind.
How you will avoid this: See #2

12.Unenticing, but decent writing
How you will avoid this: See #10

13. Uninteresting premise
How you will avoid this: See #10

14. No plot.
How you will avoid this: See #2

15. I don't understand the premise of the novel.
How you will avoid this: See #4

16. Over wrought descriptions lead me to suspect overwrought prose. Yup, I was right.
How you will avoid this: Write better.

17. No plot. Events but no plot.
How you will avoid this: See #2

18. The question of who would want to read this book is "no one I know"
How you will avoid this: You can't. Query others.

19. The premise of the novel is just wildly clueless.
How you will avoid this: Read more. Watch how other writers successfully introduce things that may not be  realistic but feel authentic in the book. It's harder than it looks.

20. A query that is textbook illustration of what not to do, including answer the question "what is the story about"
How you will avoid this: Read QueryShark

21. Does not understand what "a novel" means.
How you will avoid this: I don't have a single clue here other than taking your query to a writers conference and asking an agent what's wrong with it.

22. Category is one I do not represent.
How you will avoid this: Don't. Better to query me and hear no than miss out on me saying yes.

23. "Write what you know" assumes you lead more than a mundane day to day. Not a good assumption for most of us.
How you will avoid this: thinly disguised authors-as-protagonists are often hampered by reality. "A real doctor would never behave like House." That is indeed true but this is a story, not reality TV. The whole reason for novels is to transcend and illuminate  reality, not endlessly repeat it.

24. Like #1, a memoir with no effort to answer the larger question of why anyone would want to read this.
How you will avoid this: See #1

25. Query letter is entirely about my submission guidelines.
How you will avoid this: tell me about the novel. (I've read my submission guidelines. More than once) 

The good news: four queries were not rejected in this first round but flagged for a closer read later on.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Pitching editors at a conference

Last year I asked a query question which you responded to on your blog. It had to do with pitching an incomplete manuscript during a conference.

The pitching resulted in four agents requesting the partial I had already completed. Two responded rather quickly with complimentary declines and the recommendation that I keep querying until I find the right fit. The other two ignored my original submission and a 90 day follow-up email. In addition to those four, three agents and three editors requested the full manuscript upon completion.

During the time since pitching and now, I've read on your blog that if I'm looking to sign with an agent I should not be submitting to editors. To follow your recommendation means not submitting to three people who were kind enough to request the finished manuscript. I'm not in the habit of making a commitment to do something and then not doing it, so my instinct is to go ahead and send them the now completed manuscript.

On the other hand, it has been a year since I pitched, and the likelihood that they remember me or my novel is slim to none. So, do you recommend I pitch to agents only at this point, and then submit to the requesting editors at a later date if I don't pick up the representation of an agent? And if I do sign with an agent, is it appropriate to send any sort of thank you note to the editors, explaining why I didn't fulfill the request? How long past a conference pitch is too long to submit? It has already been a year.

Let's review why it's more effective to pitch agents first (or in your case, send the now-completed manuscript to agents only.)

Once you've sent your manuscript to an editor at a publishing house, an agent can't come in and say "oops, sorry, wrong editor!" unless she's very very deft, and knows this "wrong" editor well enough to pull that off.  I can think of about ten editors I know well enough to do that, BUT it's something I'm only going to do once every five years, and only in the most dire of circumstances. In other words, this move costs me with the editors, and your project has to be something worth that cost.

The chance that the editor at the conference is the right editor for your book is a whole lot lower than if I put together an editorial submission list.  A lot of editors I work with don't do the conference circuit at all.

A lot of the editors who do attend confernces are young, starting out and looking to build a list. In other words, the ones with the least juice, or pull at a publisher. They're certainly good editors, but when the art department runs amok on your cover, are they going to be able to put a boot down on the drawing table and say "hey, this is for a book cover, not the local art gallery"?  Depends on the editor, and again you have no way of knowing.

So yes, I thnk sending to agents first is a smart tactic. I understand why authors ignore this; any kind of interest in your work is too beguiling to pass over.

However. Since you have had requests, and you appear to be well-mannered in your business dealings (an appealing trait in a client I assure you) what you do here is write to the editors NOW and say "Dear Editor Good Taste, we met at the Carkoon Kale to Jail Writing Conference in (location) on (month/year).  You kindly requested to see my manuscript when it was finished. I just wanted to let you know it's finished and I'm querying agents right now. "

Notice you do NOT say "I'll come back to you if I don't get any bites" or "I'll make sure my agent queries you."

In other words, AVOID the temptation of future action. Simply let them know what you're doing.

The vast majority of editors will prefer to receive a manuscript from an agent, not direclty from an author. You're not going to offend any of them by taking this course of action.

And a year isn't too long.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Week in Review 6/19/16

Welcome to the week that was!

On Monday, we talked about query stats.

InkStainedWench (not wretch, as I always try to write!) captured my thoughts exactly:

When I was a copy editor, we had a SINGLE KEY that saved an edited story in our file, sent it on to be typeset, and deleted it from the screen. Save/Set/Delete. It's beyond me why agents can't come up with a function that deletes an unwanted query from the inbox and fires off a canned rejection in one stroke.

That's EXACTLY what I have, and when you run the numbers it's something like five minutes to reply to 100 queries a day (not to READ, just to do some sort of reply.)

And QueryTracker is now running a service called QueryManager that does EXACTLY this.

SiSi said:
I'm with InkStainedWench. How long can it take to send a form rejection? And maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that if you are so busy and overworked that you truly don't have the time, maybe you should close to new queries until you catch up. I'm having a hard time understanding the business strategy here.
DLM replied:
SiSi, Janet has said the administrative trivia involved in closing to queries is significant, and it's a real pain.
Yup, what DLM said. TOTAL pain in the ass.

roadkills-r-us said
A year or so before that I also queried some short stories. I could only find a few markets, so there were few queries. Every query received a rejection. 100%. Including several by USPS. But those were all directly to magazines, not to editors.
If I'm reading this correctly, you are sending queries for individual short stories? You don't query short stories. You send the entire story. Most places that publish short stories now take submission only via Submittable, an electronic submissions portal that lets you know your story was received, and when it's accepted or rejected. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Submittable.

If you're querying a collection of short stories, most stories need to have been previously published for a publisher to have any interest.

Donnaeve made my blood run cold (nice work Donna!) with this:
I wonder what would happen if agents went back to another "old school?" Changed their querying process to SASE again? :) I hear screams from woodland critters. Maybe agents too. Think about it...the agent could then reply via email, thus turning NORMAN's into responders. I.e. slow the trickle at the front end of the pipeline. NO? Stupid a** idea? Am I being escorted out of the building with my box of pens, stapler, and my pathetic, almost dead, office plant?

Or escorted to my office to deal with the BINS of mail. Before email it took four interns working daily to open and sort the incoming queries. Agents who can't be bothered to hit two keys for an auto reply are going to balk at the three minutes per letter it takes to reply to a paper query.
I timed it.
*I* am going to balk at that.  100 queries a week, 3 minutes, 300 minutes, 5 hours JUST to reply, not counting reading time. nope. not doing it.

On Tuesday we had the results of the writing contest.

Coming as it did right after the massacre in Orlando, I was prompted to ask what one person could do to stand against the violence. 

Interestingly enough, later in the week I happened to be reading Killing Custer by James Welch (don't confuse this with those god-awful "historical" books by Bill O'Reilly) and was reminded  that even with only rifles and handguns, massacres happened (176 Native Americans on the Marias River in 1870 to start with.) 

When I think about this both the terrible things that are happening now, and the terrible things we know happened long ago, I remember this phrase from Nadia Bolz-Weber's memoir PASTRIX: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint 

Every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is on the other side of it.
This had great resonance for me, maybe it will for you too. For those of you uncomfortable with the Jesus part, think of it this way: every time we draw a line between us and others, love is on the other side of it.

Kate Higgins said
Life is diverse and basically good or it would not have continued on this planet. And the one thing that is impossible to murder is love, it shows up in compassion, helping hands, memorials and hugs for those who have lost their loves and their lives.

I propose that next 100 word contest be one that will discombobulate us woodland creatures. Next time we write a compelling story that does not contain a salmagundi of murder, melee, massacre, mutilation or evil minds. The twist and turns and mental angst can still be included, even enhanced, but the insinuation of extermination could be missing.

Now that would truly be a challenge (especially for a certain shark we all know and love). Can we do it with the same creativity with which we produce mayhem?

How many of you had to look up salmagundi? Just me?

On Wednesday we talked about shopping an offer

Lucie Witt asked:
So if (when, dammit) you get an offer, you tell agents with the full and anyone who you queried less than 30 days ago. What about agents who only have the partial? And I admit I'm a little confused about the less than 30 days part. Let's say I queried an agent 60 days ago and I know from query tracker stats that their average response time is four months. Would I really not let that agent know I had an offer? Why is it bad form to let an agent know you have an offer if they've had the query for more than 30 days? I have most the etiquette in this post down pat but admit I would have probably let all agents I'd queried (who aren't Normans and who state in submission guidelines they respond) know I had an offer.

First, I can't believe it takes agents four months to reply to a query. Yeesh! But Lucie makes a good point here. The 30 days I suggested was based on the idea that agents reply to queries within 30 days. Since y'all know MUCH more about response times than I do, what I should have said was "let everyone who is still in the response time window" know. I meant for you to exclude those agents who say "no response means no."
And certainly NOT to let an agent know of an offer if s/he has sent a rejection. That's akin to neener neener, and it's not going to win you any friends. I know darn good and well that things I pass on will get offers and go on to do well. I'm generally ok with this, but you don't need to remind me of it when you get an offer.

AJ Blythe asked:
have a question *waiting to see if razor sharp teeth snap this way*

If you get an offer from an editor, is sending an "I have an offer but want you to consider..." query to agents still considered shopping?

Asking because I am pitching to an editor at a conference later this year, and the answer to this particular question is the only thing that has me worried. I don't want to shoot myself in the foot because I really want an agent.

No, it's not shopping because an offer from an editor is not the same thing as an offer from an agent. And mostly you're not going to get offers from editors (at least with big publishers); you're going to get requests to read the manuscript.

I've said before, I'll say again: pitching editors and getting requests at conferences and SENDING those mss before you have an agent can twist you up like an octopus on skates.
Wait, I haven't said it. I've written it but you haven't seen it. It's one of next week's blog posts.

Kyler asked:
What about a small press offer?
It's not considered shopping an offer if you take an offer from a publisher and then query agents.

Claudette Hoffmann asked:
I hope "interest" or even "keen interest" expressed by editors after viewing one or two pages at group sessions does NOT count as a submission, let alone an offer. (I was hoping for revision feedback on a secondary project, the primary project got constructive feedback from agents).
The order of presentation can get complicated quickly.

It does not.

What counts as a submission: sending the FULL manuscript to an editor at their place of work.
What does not count: everything else, including but not limited to: 
1. sending your query to QueryShark; 
2. sending pages for a manuscript critique by an editor or agent at a conference, or as part of a contest prize; 
3. discussing your idea, pages, manuscript with an editor or agent in a pitch session, at the bar, in the hall, at the ball, on the prowl, in a towel, at the Sphinx, on the links, with some drinks, (particularly when she says it stinks.)

BJ Muntain said
Claudette: 'Interest' is only a submission if they ask for a partial or full. An offer will say 'offer'. And even then, get it in writing.

BJ normally gets things right but this isn't. Interest is NOT a submission if they ASK for a partial or full. It's a submission when you SEND it. The distinction is important here cause I can hear you parsing this out with your little woodland creature claws.

A reminder: an editor or agent asking to see your work does NOT mean you have to send it, even if you pitched it.  Not sending it feels rude I know but it's NOT. And you don't have to email to say you're not sending it. It certainly is nice if you do but it's not a requirement.

Your wording on that kind of email doesn't have to be 100% truthful either:
Dear Agent Who Turned Out To Be a Nincompoop:

It was a pleasure to meet you at the Carkoon BaleOfKale Stir Fry and Writing conference. I just wanted to let you know that the ms we discussed "1001 Ways to Caramelize Kale" is going to be undergoing substantial revisions based on feedback I received, so I won't be able to send it as requested.

Thanks for your interest in my work; it was a real plus of the whole conference."

Dead Spider Eye said:
I'm confused too because hawking for the best deal is bad form in the letter but it's hunky dunky when the prospect is in an agent's queue; as in, put the offer on hold for a fortnight and inform other agents. There might be a distinction there, if there is, it's a mighty fine one that's gonna be lost on most authors. Personally I've never been convinced, that and agent putting forward an offer is going to swallow being told to wait for a fortnight, so the author can try and trump the deal. I suppose though, that would depend on the author but... wouldn't that apply in this case too?

There is more than a fine distinction between telling the agents who already have the query or manuscript that you've received an offer, and going out to solicit more offers after having received one.
It's akin to starting to date someone after you receive a marriage proposal, versus telling your other suitors that someone has popped the question.
As to being "told to wait a fortnight" that is STANDARD practice when you make an offer. Generally it's not two weeks, it's more like one week or ten days, but I always expect to wait after making an offer. In fact, it's rather reassuring that there is other interest.

Meg Dobson said:
    I had a legit small press offer to publish while 1st 20 pgs of manuscript were in hands of agent to critique for SCBWI conference. I waited for the conference. Was that bad form? I figured editor wouldn't read it until just before attending. I did sign with original Poisoned Pen imprint offer but person in charge of conference was irate that I wanted to sign with press before seeing the agent so I waited. Press was aware of my situation and waited it out with me for which I am eternally grateful!

It's not bad form, it's sensible. I've had several prospects on hold while they attended conferences, or got feedback. My goal is to get the best manuscript possible and a client who wants to work with me. If they find an agent better suited to them at the conference, well, better now than later.
And what the hell is the conference coordinator doing sticking her/his nose into your business? That's absolutely none of their concern.

John Davis Frain (aka Manuscript Frain) said:
I heard a tale at a recent workshop I attended that was similar to Janet's cautionary tale. It was a different story because it had a different ending, but it too involved a writer who had been working with an agent on a WIP for the better part of a year. The agent had afforded this writer quite a bit of time and a number of tips for their WIP. At the workshop, the writer told the agent he was stopping by to say hi, but was going to meet with a couple other agents.

"Oh no you're not," she told the writer. "Or else..."

On Thursday we talked about meatloaf. Well, more accurately we talked about putting your own spin on tried and true tropes or characters. I just compared it to meatloaf.

Colin Smith asked:
As far as you know, Mighty Shark, is your perspective fairly universal among agents--i.e., most agents will look to the writing and the originality of the story, and not simply form reject the moment they see "werewolf" or "vampire"?

I look at the writing in the query but things like "blonde bombshell" and "shadowy billionaire" and "Muslim terrorist" often lead to quick rejections.  When you put your own spin on things, one of the things you do is describe your characters differently. That applies to werewolves, vampires and zombies too.  How to do that? Hell if I know…but I'm not the writer here, am I?

As to what other agents do? I don't know. LeahB's comment leads me to think there's a lot of skimming going on:

LeahB said:
And a slightly on topic comment this time--I can't remember the blog, but there's a writers' blog that has agents comment on queries (not queryshark, I remember that one!). In one query's opening line, a young girl says she's a vampire. From the rest of the query, it's clear that the vampirism is in her head as a coping mechanism for her terminal illness. One of the agents reading for the blog saw "vampire" in the opening and passed with the comment "I don't do vampires". Oh, it made me feel so bad for that writer.

My takeaway from that: some agents skim their queries, looking for reasons to reject. Which is why we should query widely.

Golly, that sounds familiar.

Oh man, that just hurts my heart to read. I know we skim, I know *I* skim, but to miss something like that, ow ow ow.  I really hope another more careful reader agent looked at this, cause that's a very interesting premise for a novel.

I like what Celia Reaves said here
Years ago, when I was first thinking about writing a textbook, a speaker at a conference said that before beginning a textbook writing project you have to ask yourself what he called the Passover question: What makes this book different from all other books? (For those who don't know, in the tradition of the Passover Seder there is a series of questions to be asked by the youngest present, and the first of these is this: What makes this night different from all other nights?)

Good advice. A werewolf book can work, even in today's market, if you have a solid answer to that question. (And, of course, if the writing lives up to the promise.)

And I think Steve Stubbs has the final word on this topic perfectly:
Let me add a comment to that. There is no way I would read a book about vampires but some time ago I decided to sample SALEM’S LOT, just to find out what is so great about Stephen King.

I did not expect much. The movie was majorly sucky IMO. But I cracked the book anyway. Imagine my surprise when King had me believing in vampires were real for so many pages. Imagine my astonishment when I found myself gasping for breath when some character in the book idiotically walked down the street late at night and the vampires “fell on him.” King didn’t say anything else. The vampires “fell on him.” He did not have to say anything else. My imagination took it from there.

If the OP can write like that it doesn’t make any difference how shopworn the tropes are. After all, by the sixteenth century romantic love had been done to death by uninspired hack writers. And then some English guy wrote a play about Romeo and Juliet and the world has been transfixed for four hundred years. Romantic love is still a shopworn trope.

R&J is as fresh as it was the day it was first staged.

Except of course for this from Stephen Kozeniewski which just cracked me up completely:
What if my story is about an author who's a werewolf querying an agent who's a vampire? And it's all an epistolary?

Catie Flum who prompted the post contributed this elaboration:

    As always, Janet is very smart about all of this. When I tweeted this out because someone hurt my feelings. I did not expect it to become a THING and a thing it became! It is interesting when people take what you say and misinterpret it, or don't see the follow up conversations you had with people about it on twitter. Also when people start talking about it and don't know you or how you use twitter.

    In this case, it was specifically about people who interact a lot right before they send a query and when that query or requested pages are sitting in my inbox, then the moment they get a rejection stop interacting AND then months later, they start interacting a ton again and a few days later a new query comes into my inbox. That is a case I will remember them and that they were nice and friendly only because they could get something from me. Especially when I gave them much more than a form letter the first time because I knew them on twitter I believe in being nice and friendly because, well, you are nice and friendly. It may not bother other agents, but agenting isn't the first time I've had people be nice just because I can get them things and it is something that I am sensitive to.

    The other way I have noticed that people unfollowed it is that I follow a lot of writers I don't represent. I like writers. I think they are cool people and like to see what they say. That said, I will NEVER follow a writer when I have their pages. I don't want to get their hopes up and I know many writers would obsess over that. So a few days after I send a rejection to a writer who I really like on twitter, I'll head over to their twitter to follow them and see that they have unfollowed me. And that feeling sucks.

    Just my two cents
This reminds me of the very huffy tweet I saw once from a fellow I didn't follow. He was making a big splashy statement about unfollowing me because I wasn't talking about the "biggest issue in publishing today" and he meant the advent of ebooks and private publishing.  I didn't take up arms in my own defense (it's my twitter feed and if I want to yammer about whisky and cats, then heck with you) but his bellicosity made even the idea of conversation with him seem like no fun.

I only follow about 300 people, and periodically I unfollow those who don't follow me. I figure if they don't want to talk to me, it's ok, nothing personal. But to follow and unfollow more than once? Well, asshattery.

And now that there is a mute button? No need to for anyone to know they can't be seen or heard.

I like what Megan V said here
    When it comes to agents, it's best to treat twitter like an informal professional communication. I try and think of it as a social gathering for a company. In this case, plenty of people would be miffed if a person introduced themselves and then just turned around and flounced off for no good reason...

And what RachelErin said here too:
I recently found my twitter niche by retweeting science and history writers I follow as inspiration for fiction writers, particularly SFF and histfic. It's really fun for me, and since not many fiction writers follow the crazy amount of scientists I do, I think I bring something new to the conversation.

My favorite way to interact with agents is to reply when they ask "reading anything good?" or "I just finished X, and loved it, what should I try next?" I started responding to those after Janet suggested using those questions to break the ice at conferences - completely non-threatening or clingy, but if they do remember me when I query they remember that I am well-read =). I don't try to look up their clients, or anything that fancy, I just answer honestly.
Leah B, my sense of the "I'll notice" in this case is not so much that an agent cares who follows them or unfollows, but that the pattern of following someone, perhaps chatting them up, around the time of querying - and then unfollowing when a writer doesn't get what they want is common enough to be irksome. It's not about followers so much as it is authorial behavior; if you flounce off my twitter because I rejected your work, maybe it's an indicator of how you'll behave as a client. At the very least, it shows someone's using Twitter for ulterior reasons, so even if their unfollow isn't a sign they're fickle it may align with enough people who are to look that way.

And Andrea mentioned a particularly loathsome practice by some agents on Twitter:
Oh... this reminds me of something else. Am I the only one who thinks agents making fun of queries they receive are not acting in a very professional way? I don't know if it still happens, but a few years ago I used to see it all the time. Agent receives query, shares exasperation with the rest of the world on Twitter, and a whole bunch of aspiring authors reply to show their sympathy with Agent, and in the end everyone has a good laugh about it and conclude that the poor misguided soul who sent the ridiculous query must be a complete idiot. I understand that agents must get frustrated with silly queries, but is this really necessary? I'm a teacher, and I have to deal with stupid (no, really) questions or comments from parents all the time. Well, maybe not all the time, but it happens frequently. It's exasperating and frustrating sometimes, but it's part of the job. If I started tweeting about this and my boss found out, I'd be packing my bags the same day, because it's unprofessional behaviour.

I'm not talking about the way Janet writes about queries, because she spends a lot of time trying to educate us woodland creatures and I love her common sense. I'm talking about agents who think it's necessary to make fun of potential clients, followed by a whole hoard of aspiring authors who are desperate to be "part of the club". Back then, when I came across this on Twitter a lot, it almost put me off traditional publishing, because if this was an indication of what the rest would be like.. then no thank you.
I find this loathsome.
On the other hand, I do sometimes tweet about things I see in my incoming queries that perplex or annoy me. Recently someone queried me about something that was "heartwarming" that did NOT involve a flamethrower. Perplexing. Some general tips on queries of course (like "must read" in the subject line means I probably won't) but I hope it's not perceived as making fun of writers.

And for the last word on this subject I like what Angelica R. Jackson said:
I do admit to paying closer attention to an agent's feed when they had my materials, but that's just human nature--on some level, you're hoping to see something specific enough to let you assume it's about your novel, and an impending offer. Like "OMG, I must have this MG zombie space pigs epic!"

And that's exactly what has stayed my hand at the keyboard when I've wanted to tweet "OMG you would not believe what I just read in this amazing ms!"

On Saturday we talked about one of the blog readers success stories:
I must tell you that I keep a file of these kinds of emails and on days of strife and spleen, I read them. It reminds me that publishing is indeed a long game.

Some comments that were sort of off topic but wonderful:
A month later, I met the guy who's ruined me for All the Boys ever since.--DLM

Susan Bonifant said:
I love any of Janet Reid's posts that might veer into the rant lane, but I really love a post that offers free advice on not being an asshat.

I was hoping for a dog meme, however, following that "Any questions?" closing.

Well, ok then!

Any questions?

In a horrifying moment of brutal honesty DLM revealed;
When I was querying agents, I looked for reasons to eliminate them from MY list. I'd nix an agent whose website was entirely pink and flowery,

*looks at blog background.*

*looks at DLM*
Slinks off to weep copious tears in Sunday hammock, comforted only by the NYT crossword puzzle.

Subheader noms:

Inevitably writers are either too harsh with themselves, or blind to their own weaknesses. --E.M.Goldsmith

In publishing, as in life, it's just too easy to pick the wrong hat; the one with a sphincter in it is not a winning look --DLM

An asshat on Carkoon
Shopped an offer too soon
And no amount of sphincter clenching
Could diffuse the gut wrenching
Of a derriere-chapeau NORMANed past June

--Karen McCoy

Ice water is ice water is ice water until you add lemon and sugar. Love it.
Add a lima bean... --CarolynnWith2Ns

I can understand focus in a writer. I can understand artistic writers too. What I can't understand are writers who continually knead a dead meatloaf--Craig

publishing is a long game and persistence and humility can pay off in the long run.