Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Eleven queries that did not get to yes

1. Fourth novel in a series.
Further scouting revealed the series is self-published and has fewer than ten reviews on each of  the other books. 

How you will avoid this: Generally agents aren't going to take on a novel that's not the first in a series. When they do, it's usually because the previous books sold well. Selling well means more than 10 reviews on Amazon. If you intend to self-publish, you are also signing up to self-promote and self-market and a lot of writers either don't know, don't care or just plain don't do it.

2. Identifying something as a hot topic that isn't.
How you will avoid this: Know what people are talking about, and by people I don't mean your friends and family. You have to watch the news, see what's trending on Twitter, take a look around at what people are holding protest marches about.  Something that was a hot topic 40 years ago probably isn't today.  (Although, honest to godiva, this election season is making me rethink that position.)

3. Previously published
How you will avoid this: I don't take on novels that have already been published. You just have to know this by osmosis, since I don't think it's in any of the guidelines I've posted.

4. So so query letter, really kind of a mess, but I read pages. Writing not compelling enough for me to ask for more pages to figure out where the story really starts.

How you will avoid this: If you query talks about an event, it's really helpful if that event is near the start of the book. Avoid all the stuff of moving the characters into place, explaining why they are there. They're here, you tell me, I go along for the ride.

5. Novel is a thinly disguised revenge memoir.
How you will avoid this: If you're writing a novel to showcase a grievous wrong done to you, you're better off writing something else.  Writing novels to make a point leads to very bad novels.

6. A: Overlooking the "Dear Mr. Reid" salutation
I don't get my fins in a frenzy about that stuff but I should warn you, a lot of agents do.  

How you will avoid this:  If you don't know if the agent is Mr/Ms/SnookieBaby, then Dear Janet Reid is your safest bet.

6  B: A ho-hum plot that stinks of repetition. In other words, a book I don't want to read cause I've already read 700+ versions of it, and there's nothing new here to catch my interest.

How you will avoid this: you have to bring your own particular spin to a plot, something that elevates it beyond the books I've seen before. What is NEW about your book? What are contributing to the genre? How are you adding on to the work of the others that came before you?

7. Absurd plot, categories that don't make any sense (honestly cowboy porn haiku is a damn JOKE!)
How you will avoid this: pick one category. Stick with it. As for absurd plot, I really don't know. If you don't recognize it when you see it, maybe I'm just the wrong agent for you.

8. A To: Undisclosed Recipients. In other words: spam. 
How you will avoid this: address your email to the agent you want to read your work

8. B. The first four paragraphs were about the author's writing journey.
How you will avoid this: Talk about your book, not your writing journey. I care about the former, not a fig about the latter.

9. Not enough about the plot to entice me to read the pages or the full.
How you will avoid this: Get the plot on the page. Set up and background, and rhetorical questions to "entice" the reader are a waste of space.  Tell me what happens in the first act that will change the characters for good or ill. Without that your query is boring. Boring queries get a pass.

10. NOTHING about the plot in the query. Literally NOTHING.
How you will avoid this: get the plot on the fucking page. It's not like there isn't an entire blog with  260 query letter examples to show you how to do this! This kind of stuff just kills me cause rejection SUCKETH for writers but what the hell am I going to do if you don't tell me what the fucking book is about!!!!!!!!!!!!  (yes, I need a vacation)

11. A collection of short stories. Generally short stories need to have been published before they're collected into one volume.

How you will avoid this: If you want to do a collection of short fiction, get some of them published first and mention that in the query letter.

No requests on this round, which is probably just as well since I clearly need a vacation, a drink, and review of what kind of language is appropriate for public forums.  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Announcing a blog hiatus for August

Dear Readers,
I'm going to take a hiatus from posting in August, but I'd miss the community here too much if I let it go dark.

Thus, August will be pictures of your dogs/cats/horses (Melanie Sue Bowles, I'm looking at you!) or any other critter in your life.

Send me an email with a jpg (ONE!!) of the critter, and if you want to include name, anecdote, etc, that's fine.

Example: one of my all time fave dog pics is Miles!

I figure y'all will find something to talk about in the comment threads.

This would be a GREAT time to visit each other's websites, blogs etc.

I'll be back in September of course, so don't worry.

(I really need to catch up on my reading in August, or the next image of me will be swimming in a cauldron of boiling oil, surrounding by chanting writers with torches!)

Email to use is: jetreidliterary @ gmail
no spaces
.com of course too

Thursday, July 28, 2016

In space, no one can hear you scream paginate

In space, no one can hear you scream.

They also can't see you paginate your email submission.

"Whut?" I can hear you say.

"What on earth are you talking about? Did you leave your mental acuities in Canada?"

Well, no, all evidence to the contrary this week.

What I mean is this: you guyz are sweating bullets on three-page synopsis, five-synopsis, three-five page synopsis, when in fact page numbers do NOT appear in email submissions.  Thus no one really knows the difference between a three, four, or five page synopsis.

Generally you want to keep a three page at about 750-900 words. If it hits 1000 words (thus 3.5 pages) no one will notice or care.

When agents say 3-5 pages, or 3-5 page synopsis what they mean is "don't send ten" or "don't send the whole manuscript."

There is no magic distillation of the synopsis to 3-5 pages that makes it better. It's simply to avoid the splat of words that would come if we didn't specify. "Here's my entire novel plus a synopsis, and it's a lovely 165,000 page epic fantasy that really starts in chapter 10"  And don't think I haven't seen those.

Submission guidelines are just that: guidelines. They're intended to help you, not make you crazy.

That they do make you crazy is just a bonus of course.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


This little woodland creature has just leapt her way into the query pool, and unfortunately some agents are cruel enough to request synopsis in addition to the normal query and pages. My question is this: when querying such agents, if they don’t specify, where the heck am I supposed to put this darn thing? Usually my queries are laid out as such:

The Query
Contact Info

So should it be:

The Query
Contact Info


The Query
Contact Info

I really have no idea and both options look pretty bad to me, and while I know you don’t request synopsis, do you have any advice for where, in general, the evil little thing belongs?

Yes, we saw you make the dive into the query pool.



To keep you afloat, here's the answer:

contact info

Here's why: You want the agent to read your most compelling work first and I hope that will be your pages.  Synopsis are by definition terse and not-tasty. Your pages are (we hope) quite the opposite.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How the hell did Janet get pried out of NY writing contest results-AND A WINNER

I am back home in my beloved NYC, having met cows, writers, and Canadians. It was quite the adventure!

You guyz were up to your usual shenanigans with the contests. Entirely too many very good entries. I'm still cogitating about the final winner. There are some finalists to choose from. Let me know what you think.

Herewith the results:

Homage to one of my favorites, the story of Anastasia, the one who lived!
Erin Scruggs 11:56am

Homage to DB Cooper one of the great mysteries of the 20th century!
RosannaM 12:17pm

Homage to one of the all time best SNL skits!
Melanie Sue Bowles 8:56am

Not quite a story but sufficiently creepy and so well written it really doesn't matter
Timothy Lowe 11:57am
Just Jan 12:48pm

Not quite a story but exquisite writing
Amy Schaefer 12:17pm

Not quite a story but just wonderful!
Katie Loves Coffee 9:22pm

A bit of writerly revenge!
Sherry Howard 12:04pm

A little election commentary for us
Dena Pawling 12:09pm

Patricia Cox 5:11pm wins the Punniest Story of the Contest with her entry. Her prize is duct tape on her keyboard for a week! 


Leilani 1:41pm
LizellaPrescott 1:46pm
Johnell DeWitt 4:05pm
Jennifer Dlozier 5:32pm

Steve Forti 12:10pm
Left at the intersection.

Right into traffic.

Left patience at home, rear-ended a pinstriped Miata.

Right place, right road to meet its driver.

Left her number with the insurance information.

Right words chosen to earn a first date.

Left our inhibitions behind.

Right to the jeweler, but need a loan. 15% APR. Yikes. Still worth it.

Left at the altar.

Right in the middle of the ceremony.

Left beleaguered by broken dreams.

Right to the bottom of a bottle.

Left my will to live behind.

Right where she stomped it out.

Left with one option – cowardice.

Right into traffic.

Our beloved Steve Forti, experimenting with form again. I love the symmetry here, and the rhythm. Notice the brilliant use of sentence fragments. Right in the middle of the ceremony. Right where she stomped it out.

Of course this is brilliant, Steve Forti wrote it.

french sojourn 12:54pm
I watched her from the shadows in a bush league, roadhouse bar. She was searching for redemption the same way she viewed the world, from the bottom of a shot glass.

I knew her, a cowed and broken woman. Her faith had rewarded her with a stillborn, a daughter that lived for five minutes, and a son missing in some foreign sandbox.

I tripped getting up and used my cane to balance myself. I wasn’t as spry as I used to be. I hobbled over.

“Excuse me,” I said to her.

She turned and froze.

“Don’t be so sad, Ma.”

Ohhhh! This just grabbed my heart. I love that the clues are there but it's not till the end that we realize what we read.  Those two opening lines are an exquisite establishing shot.

Beth 1:13pm
“What’d you and him do for fun here, anyway? Trip cows?”

“It’s tip cows, and no. Watch the road. It should be right along here.”

“There?” He pointed at a sagging mailbox, much beleaguered by woodbine and baseball bats.

“That’s it.” The lane petered out after a mile. “Now we walk.”

Three arguments, two hours of digging, and one hornet’s nest later, they were prying the lid from a metal box.

“How much?”

“He didn’t say.”

The box popped open.

“Stamps? Dude. He punked you good.”

“But he said --”

“They’re not even real. Look, the airplane’s upside down.”
I love this! Of course you have to know your philately!

Claire Boborw 2:05pm
Ben: I hate it when we have to bury one.

Jerry: City dweller got in over her head.

Ben: Found her with a spoon clutched in her hand. Couldn't even pry it loose.

Jerry: Yeah, she was out of her league.

Ben: Guess it was the fudge cows that got her.

Jerry: Or maybe the coffee liqueur.

Ben: Total shame. Not like the road's paved with ways to use chocolate cookie crumb swirls.

Jerry: Pretty trippy name, too.

Ben: Vermonty Python? Yeah, the Flavor Graveyard's full of 'em.

Jerry: Shoulda given that city dweller Pfish Food, like she asked for.

This is deliciously subtle and really funny. Of course you have to know your Ben and Jerry flavors...but who wouldn't know that! And Vermonty Python??  Yea baby!

Sara Halle 3:08pm
The maple monopoly had been stripped of power, thanks to my Quebec syrup heist. Ben, Jerry, and cow colleagues had vowed to support me. Away from prying eyes, I congratulated myself.
Then an unexpected visitor arrived.
"It's been a long time," I stammered.
"I get better with age." He smiled. "Unlike you."
Anger flashed, but as always I kept my cool. "You want something?"
"You're gonna hit the road. I'm the big cheese here."
I laughed. "Not anymore — I rule Vermont now."
"That's why I brought outside help." Cheddar nodded toward the door. "Ice cream — meet my cousin from Wisconsin."
I'm not sure I quite get this but it's a fun idea and has some hilarious word play. 

Brigid 7:12pm
Lucinda was the kind of fairy who wore 10,000 league boots to squaredance. Lovely lady (spry dancer), but only the desperate asked for her help.

"Typically one quests to earn wishes," Lucinda said peevishly. "Rescuing my cow, or waving a broadsword heroically."

"But that's for 3 wishes. I only need one. Please."

Lucinda sighed. "Choose wisely, speak carefully."

"I would like a basket that fills itself with any food I request."

"That's IT?" A basket appeared with a pop. "What are you? Queen of a starving country? A failing chef?"

She spoke around her chicken. "Oh no, pregnant with triplets."

This cracked me up. I love the description of Lucinda. And the idea of the ever-filled food basket
is perfect. This is fun and clever.

lizosisek 11:27pm
We count cows as we drive south, because it’s easier than counting our mistakes. We’ve played the blame game enough to be league MVPs. Why go down that road again?

We pass a billboard for a triple X store. Maybe…

No. Sex won’t fix five years of distance, regret and crippling grief our only glue. No matter how kinky it is, or how spry we are.

We pull into the cemetery. Visit separately with our children. We know the routine, though we haven’t signed the papers.

This is how our marriage ends – with separate mourning for everything we made together.

That opening line just drags you into that story with the force of a punch to the gut. That little bit of hope (Maybe...), self-squashed, is just heartbreaking. Do you see the homage to T.S. Eliot   at the end? This is exquisite writing.

tell me later 3:41pm
I'd never met Donald in person, but there was no avoiding him on Twitter. He called us every name in the book: broads, cows, and a few more that would never make it into a kids' movie.

I could forgive what he said about me. What he said about my colleagues had to be punished.

So I called in a favor.

"Just cause him some trouble. Trip him on the sidewalk. Mess up his bedsheets. Pry his window open and wail whenever he so much as blinks."

"Got it," my invisible friend says.

"Thank you."

That will take the troll down, I'm positive.

After all, who's he gonna call? Not us.

I love this! It's hilarious and subtle. It requires the reader know about the new all-female Ghostbusters movie and the hilariously misogynistic response some gents have had to it ("it ruined my childhood," wailed one fella from his mom's basement Commodore 64)

Donnaeve 7:52pm

Away from Mama, she starts.

“Get away from me, you little prick.”

I think about tripping her while my fingers worry a cowlick. Hers are busy texting.

When a stranger’s car sidles up, I dare to speak, “That ain’t the school bus.”

She yanks my arm. “Shut up, moron. One word, you’ll regret it.”

She climbs in, and the car speeds down the road.

I consider her words, the outcome.

Mama’s worried.

Not me. I eat like a horse, sleep even better.

Bonus. Despite the police, those prying questions, my Little League game improves.

Not one word.

Definitely no regrets.

So, just so you know, I've met Donna in person, and she is a very nice, well-mannered southern lady of great decorum. Of course, you read her stories and you might not believe me, but it's true.  This raises subtle to a whole new level. Do you get it?

You've stymied me again.
I know you love doing this.
I sense a vast conspiracy amongst y'all!

Let me know who you think should take home the cow.
Of course the prize is a cow.
You didn't think I'd come home from Vermont without a cow did you?

I read these all over again several more times.
Honestly, any of these could be the winner this week, they're all really good.

In the end I went with the one that didn't require any outside knowledge, only a close reading of the text.

This week's winner, and proud owner of a new cow is Donnaeve.

Donna, I have your address, and FedEx is on the way.  Mabel likes grass so I hope you haven't mowed the lawn recently.

Congratulations to all the finalists, and a big thank you to all who took the time to enter. It was a real pleasure to read your work!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Probably a good reminder

Although I am up here in the wilds of Not-NYC I am checking my email periodically.  Last night I got a note from an author who had a requested full pending. 

"I've signed with someone else," she said.

Wait, what??

I checked my file and sure enough, we're well within the 90 days requested reading time.
And I hadn't heard from her that offers were pending, or she even had an offer.

Zoinks! Well! Huffily, I marked her file "W" for withdrawn and thought "harumph harumph."

In the clear light of morning, I realized I was miffed because I felt dissed. The author had taken an offer without giving me a chance to get into the scrum. From my POV that means she got an offer from someone she wanted more than me. From someone she wanted so much more than me, she didn't even want to take up my time reading the ms.

Harumph harumph, boy did my feelings ego hurt.

And yes, it is ego. I realized (again) that I like to be the one who says yes or no. All my talk about "don't burn bridges with agents" largely stems from bruised ego.

Burning bridges would be if I actually followed through on my "well, I'll never consider another manuscript from YOU again, I sure hope things don't go wrong with this Bright Shiny Agent you want more than ME!!"

But in fact, the author gets to sign with an agent if she wants to. Maybe this agent did a better pitch than I did. (I didn't pitch the author at all, just said I wanted to read the ms)  Certainly this agent was a faster read than I was.

And if the author didn't want me to read a ms when she knew she was signing with someone else, well who am I to fault her for what she thought was a kindness.

AND the self-involved three year old I become when thwarted from something I *might* want really should be kept out of my office!

BUT, just a reminder, that if you get an offer from an agent on your work, we (the other agents who've requested it) do like to know before you've made a decision if at all possible. Even if you're sure you're going to sign with Agent Nimble.

While it's  not burning a bridge with me (despite my snarling) other lesser mortals agents do get their pantaloons in  twist over this.

Contest results? well, no, not so much

I'm still in Vermont.
Getting home has been a slower trip than we thought.
Traffic is not really moooooooo-ving very fast.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

WIR, like JR, is awol

Hello Reader friends!
Yes there is no WIR because I was busy tormenting writers in person yesterday.
And now I'm totally taken up with listening to birds and looking at the bluest sky I've seen in a long time. In other words, lazing about.

I MIGHT come home. Maybe.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The How The Hell Did Janet Get Pried Out Of New York? writing contest

Yes, dear readers, I am Not In New York this morning. Verily unto thee, I am on my way to Vermont. I'm not sure what one does in Vermont. Not ride the subway is likely. Not sneer at tourists is also likely. I think there are cows.  Perhaps one will be hollering "cowabunga!" on a's all deliciously uncertain!**

This great disturbance in The Force should be marked by a writing contest of course

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: cow/cowabunga is ok, but pry/pretty is not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contest opens: 9am (EDT) 7/23/16

Contest closes: 9am (EDT) 7/24/16

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!

SORRRY!!!!!! I got caught up in yammering to writers!!
I'm late opening the contest!

Sorry, too late, contest is closed.


**All levity aside, I'm looking forward to being with the Vermont League of Writers at their conference, talking about query letters, and tormenting writers in person

Thursday, July 21, 2016

I'm the bee's knees!

I recently got feedback from a well-known, award-winning author in my genre about the first two chapters of my MS. The author was very positive and enthusiastic, while also giving me great notes on what I needed to improve.

Sad woodland creature that I am, once my initial euphoria moderated itself, I began to wonder whether I could include this in a query. My guess is that for a read-through of two chapters, and not even the final version, the answer is "probably not." But I also hold out hope that the author might be willing to read the entire thing.

Should I mention it in a query as it stands now, or if the author does end up reading the whole MS? How would I refer to it ("So-and-so has read it and said I'm the bee's knees*")? Should I ask for the author's permission?

* they didn't actually say i was the bee's knees but it was clearly implied 

Well, I'm sure you are the bee's knees but I don't really care if anyone else thinks so. The only opinion I care about is my own.

You're right to hesitate to include this in a query particularly since the Well Known, Award Winning Author only read a partial.

And you did not mention the circumstances under which this reading occurred.

I'm sorry to dash water on your bee wings, but if it was in conjunction with a writing contest, or a writing conference, chances are the WK,AW,A did not point out the flaws.

I'm very careful at writing conferences to be helpful rather than critical. When I'm assessing manuscripts in the safety of my writer-free Lair, no such compunction exists.


The value of this is that clearly you can write, and WK, AW,A gave you some validation of that.  That's not nothin' in this cold cruel world. That it's not going to be useful in your query doesn't mean it's not useful to you.

The only exception to this is if WK, AW, A is one of my clients. Then you'd lead with that in the query, cause I think my clients are pretty astute readers.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why is there women's fiction but not men's fiction?

My question is why a category called "Women's Fiction" exists (particularly when I'm unaware of a corresponding category called "Men's Fiction").

Given that women are the ones buying most books (if what I've read about this is accurate), it's not as if we need to specifically target them. It seems to me that the only group we target with this category label is men, telling them "Hey, sorry, but this book isn't for you."

When my books are published one day, I want everyone to read them. My goal isn't simply to be published, it's to be read. I don't want to signal to anyone that my book isn't for them. The thought that someone could get it into their head to categorize and market my book this way terrifies me. It seems like sabotage.

Are there stats that show the "women's Fiction" label creates more additional sales to women than the lack of that label would provide in sales to men? That might explain its persistence, but I don't know where one would get such stats, if they exist (I mean, you'd need a control group for comparison, right? Or no?).

And if that's so, then I'm even more surprised that there isn't a corresponding category "Men's Fiction" that would increase sales to them for books that deal with . . . Men Stuff? (we had the borderline-dismissive category "chick-lit" for a while, but I never saw "dick lit". Like Rodney Dangerfield, women writers get no respect, it seems).

Given the richness of the English language, there must be some more inclusive words to describe this category that could appeal to all genders. Why don't we use those words instead? From a marketing standpoint, this doesn't make much sense to me.

You missed Tucker Max?

And "lad lit"?

Tucker Max (I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell) is the epitome of Men Stuff lit. Take a look and you'll see what I mean.

Lad lit was coined to describe books like High Fidelity. The term never caught on.

It sounds like you're viewing categories like the NAACP views redlining. Categories aren't "you can buy a house here but not there." Categories are "if you like that book, you might like this one too."

Categories are designed to put books in front of readers most likely to pick them up.

Using myself as an example: I gravitate toward the crime/mystery section of the bookstore. Put a book there and if it's got an compelling cover I'm likely to pick it up and read the flap copy.

If you shelve a book in crime that isn't about crime, and is mostly about relationships and love ever after, I'm going to put it back on the shelf. And readers who gravitate toward love ever after themes aren't going to find this book cause they're shopping over in women's fiction not crime. Notice I say readers, not women. Women's fiction is read by a lot of people who aren't women. I know this because it's a HUGE category and sells well.

Categories are a way for book stores to help readers find books they will like. It's the same reason all the cereal is in one area of a grocery store, not shelved alphabetically with all the other products being sold. I don't want to sort through frankfurters to get to Frosted Flakes, much less wiener schnitzel to get to Wheaties!

When you say you want everyone to read your book I can appreciate that goal. What I know about selling books though is that you want your book in the place where readers are looking for it. Not everybody is going to want to read your book. The sooner that isn't heartbreaking news and just a recognition of how things are in the world, the better off you're going to be.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

How to evaluate contests

Is there a way to check how well known a prize is? Is the standard - I haven't heard of it in multiple places so it must not be a thing? I ask because some of this is crowd dependent. Living in CT, where there are a lot of successful authors, I recently learned about an award that is big locally - they get ten or twelve agents and editors to jury it. But aside from people who've been judges, I'm not sure if anyone's heard of it. Is there a quick google test? (Not that I've won the Tassy award, nor a I querying yet; this is a classic cart before horse question.)

When a person queries me and mentions they've won "first place in the Carkoon Garden Show Writing Contest" I look up the contest.

I look for the following things:
1. Number of categories. A contest that has eleven hundred categories is no contest at all.

2. Who's nominated: If I haven't heard of any of the books on the short list, I'm less likely to value that contest.

3. Who published the books that are nominated: If I haven't heard of any of the publishers, I discount the contest entirely.

4. The entry fee: if it costs more than $25 to enter I'm less likely to consider it a good contest. Contests with steep entry fees are often very profitable for the people who run it, not so much for the people who enter or "win."

5. Contest footprint: If I google the contest and the only thing that shows up is the contest website, that's a problem.  If people aren't talking about the prize, or lauding the winners, it's less valuable.

Let's look at the contest you mention: The Tassy Award

1. There are five categories for this award. They're all categories that make sense. I've seen contests that have a category each for suspense, mystery, thriller, procedural, private eye and zombie detectives. The purpose is to get more entries (and money) not to honor one particular book as outstanding

2 and 3. Here's a list of winners. They provide a link to the author's website which is helpful.
I don't know any of these authors, but I know the trade publications that are talking about the books. That's a good sign.

 4. The entry fee is $20. That's reasonable for an organization like this.

5. Here's the google search. It's clear that it's pretty well known. Not the Pulitzer, but not everything can be.

So, if you enter and win this, I'd definitely list it in your bio. When I google it, it's clear that this contest should be taken seriously.

Monday, July 18, 2016


For my day job I'm a communications officer/science writer for a department at a major university. Ten years ago the director, my boss, co-wrote a book with the then-director. It didn't differentiate itself very well; sales were low.

Now, the agent and my boss want to try again, this time with a series (the first book was both too big and too shallow). As the resident writer, I get to help. It is likely I will be doing the bulk of the work for at least the first book.

My boss is a wonderful, collaborative, and humble person who will probably want to credit me on the cover with her. I imagine the publishers will balk at this - the platform comes from reputation of the university, department and my boss. If I were an established journalist with ten years of bylines, it would be different.

Professionally, of course I would like public credit for the work. We'll likely move in 2-3 years, and I will probably freelance again - being co-author on a series like this would be huge.

The questions:
1. Aside from doing good research, being timely, and writing well, is there any other aspect to impressing the pants off the agent? She is lovely, by the way, and I'm excited to work with her. 

Meeting deadlines is critical. Writing well too. Asking questions when you're not sure of something is also good. I'm sure she'd rather have you ask, than have to solve a problem created by a mistake made cause you didn't know.
It won't hurt to have a passing familiarity with the books she's sold too. You can't read them all but knowing what they are is a good piece of info to have.

2. What kind of credit can I reasonably aim for?  If it's not credited publicly, how can I use this work in my non-fiction portfolio later?

You can ask for credit on the cover. Cover credit includes several possibilities.

Department head AND (You)
Department head with (you)

If you don't get cover credit you simply list it as a work for hire on your CV (which sounds like what it is since it's part of your job)

3A. If I do manage to impress the agent, and I leave in two or three years, could I let her know I'm ghostwriting as a freelancer, in case one of her clients is looking?
3B What are the chances of continuing to be the primary writer for the series even if I leave the department?
3A: Yes of course.
3B:  not a clue. That's a political decision inside the department and not anything I can predict.  However. Make yourself essential and it's hard to see how they'd want to change writers mid-series.

4. because I write fiction, too, do agents ever talk cross category? Say if Ms. LovelyAgent is having a drink at a conference and Ms.FictionAgent mentions they are reading my full, would she ever say - "I've been working with her on a non-fiction project, she's great" - or are the two worlds too separate to matter? (Her agency is exclusively non-fiction). 

I'm always amused when writers think we talk about them at cocktails.
We don't.
We kvetch about editors.

Your ace in the hole here is that Lovely Agent knows you. When the time comes, you say to her, I'm going to be looking for an agent for my novel. Do you have any reccs. Coming to an agent by way of a recc from Lovely is much better than any drunken gossip would be.

You'd query with "I got your name from Agent Lovely, with whom I worked on (Title)."

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Week in Review 7/17/16

Welcome to the week that was, and what a week indeed.

Scott G took note of the time I pasted my name tag on someone else at a cocktail party full of writers:
So what you're saying is, if I approach a woman at a bar with a name tag that says "Janet Reid" and I say, "Can I buy you a drink Snookums?" I will get slapped, or a drink thrown in my face, if you have given your name tag to someone else.

Similarly, if I approach a woman at a bar with a name tag that says "Janet Reid" and I say, "Can I pitch you my book?" I will get slapped, or a drink thrown in my face, if you have not given your name tag to someone else.

Therefore, I can only conclude that the only way to approach a woman at a bar with a name tag that says "Janet Reid" and not get slapped or a drink thrown in my face is to say, "Can I pitch you my book, Snookums?"

Again I say, the advice I continue to take away from this blog is immeasurable.

You left out Option D: say hello.
Cause you'll have me at hello.


Dena Pawling was hilarious on the subject of name tags, RSVPs and judges, and this line was perfect:
As you might expect, this is not necessarily terrifying because, as attorneys, we're not human in the first place.

Colin asked for confirmation about querying through an all agency portal
When you're querying through an all-agency portal: Ladies/Gentlemen of the Agency

Really? I have never seen this anywhere, and would never have guessed. Am I missing another joke, or are you serious about this, Mighty Snookums?

No joke.
You can leave off the salutation if you want, but if you just can't, that's the one to use.

The conversation then drifted, as it tends to do, this time to cats, dogs, ice packs, and air conditioners.

On Monday the results of the flash fiction contest were announced

The quality of the entries this time was mind boggling. I think you're all plotting against me in some waterfront dive bar, exchanging ideas, critting each other's work and coming up with new and nefarious permutations of the prompt words. In other words: writer's revenge.

Keep it up.

Mark Thurber said
Sorry not to join you all this week, though my silly office story about whisky and a disguised ex-wife would not have stood a chance against this week's masterpieces. I finished it two minutes before post time, then I got flustered and couldn't convince blogger that I wasn't a robot. Shouldn't the fact that I got flustered prove that I am not a robot?

It killed me to see those two entries that were marked deleted by author. Then the last one was after the deadline. I honest to godiva thought about letting it stay up, but that seemed like the start of a very slippery slope.

Kae Ridwyn was enthused about her entry getting recognized
And now I'm off for some celebratory cake. Because that's what you eat to celebrate a brilliant achievement like this, yes?
YES! And really, you should share with the poor overworked contest judge!

And I think Janice L. Grinyer summed up all our feelings about the winning entry by Steven D
Steven D. That has to be the creepiest story I've ever read written here. I needed to hug puppies and eat ice cream and sing Mister Rogers songs to clear my mind! Please take that as a compliment- not too many things can creep me out.

But yep, that story of yours did so.

And it sounds as though Colin's family will be moving house, whilst he is off in Carkoon….again
Thinking about it, it might make an interesting twist to the contests if Janet did, every now and again, throw in a theme restriction. E.g., "No gun violence", or "Must reference one of Patrick Lee's novels." Just to spice things up a bit... :)

BJ Muntain asked
Should we hold a vote? Send Colin to Carkoon or not?

I think that's a terrific idea.

Here's the poll


On Tuesday we talked about "super agents" and trading up.

Mister Furkles cracked me up with this
The chances of this happening are less than lightning striking and killing you.

If you want to improve your chances, put on ESD bootstraps and stand on a steel manhole cover during a thunderstorm.

Uh, ...that's for being struck by lightning. No help on the breakout novel. Sorry about that.

Adib Khorram makes a good point here
I think it's also worth pointing out that even if you sign with a so-called "super agent," it's no guarantee of some sort of smash success and a giant advance. Those books aren't only outliers in the market—they're outliers for those agents, too.

And then had some questions about the asbestos underpants part of today's entertainment.
Here's my question about the asbestos underpants: are they made of 100% asbestos? Or is it a pair of underpants with some sort of asbestos lining? I feel like the risk of inhalation is lower with the lined pair vs. the 100% asbestos pair, but of course it depends on the breathability of the material housing the lining.

Asbestos underpants is one of my favorite phrases and I seize every  opportunity to use it. Thus, some time ago I emailed Steve Ulfelder (Edgar nominee in Best First for Purgatory Chasm--the fourth book he wrote after I signed him) who is a great writer and a race car driver.

I mentioned asbestos underpants (I can't remember why)
Turns out, yes, race car drivers wear this stuff. It's discreetly referred to as your "base layer"
I guess flame resistant lingerie doesn't have the same appeal.

Bethany Elizabeth makes a good point here
Hello all! I'm checking in from the beach (beautiful Cannon Beach, to be specific) and my week of reading to add my two cents. I've got some sympathy with OP here. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you sold a book with an agent and there's no line in your agreement specifying that they have the right to pick up your next book if they want it, you don't actually owe the agent your forever loyalty.

Loyalty is certainly important, but if you feel like your novel isn't in good hands, then you may build mistrust and resentment into the relationship, which hurts everyone. Agent-author relationships are more akin to dating then marriage. No one really expects them to last forever, though it's wonderful if they do, and if either partner starts wanting something more, it's not necessarily wrong to end it.

Although I wonder if OP has honestly talked through their ambitions with their agent. Have you been honest with what you want and sought advice on how to get there?

I think Jen gets the last word on this topic
My novel landed me a New York "super agent." And when he couldn't get me an advance for my novel, he stopped pitching it. He wants novels that will sell, and sell well.

I wanted to be a small fish in a big pond. I wanted an agent with contacts in the major houses. I wanted an agent who could get me good deals.

I got an agent who is lax about communicating. I got an agent who puts his top clients at the top of his "to-do" list. I got an agent who won't touch a second novel I wrote because he doesn't have the motivation to sell it.

Be VERY careful what you wish for. If you have an agent who you can communicate with on a regular basis and who SOLD YOUR NOVEL, I'd stay where you are. The grass always looks greener when you're not the one doing the mowing.

On Wednesday we talked about whether you can use other people's character names in your novel

Michael Seese generously stepped up
If someone wants to have a character named Michael Seese who is a brilliant author (and bears a striking resemblance to Brad Pitt) that would be OK with me. Just formally putting that out there

Theresa has her eye on my office:
World Domination Cloakroom and Plotting Center--I want one of those!

Joyce Tremel is planning ahead:
So, in other words, if there's a book 4 in my series I can add a slightly grumpy agent bearing your name who comes into Max's brewpub and is incensed that they only serve beer and not twelve-year-old scotch. Got it.

Yup. But you should also have me be the corpse in the case too!And I really hope there is a Book #4. I really loved To Brew or Not to Brew!

Stephen Kozeniewski said
I always assumed Janet from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was based on you.

I did too.

Colin Smith asked:

Here's a question for Janet: Has any published writer who isn't one of your clients put you in one of their novels? I think it's only a matter of time before you show up in a Jack Reacher novel. :)
Not that I know of but one can always hope.

Janice L. Grinyer is getting caught up on blog posts:
In one WIR, JR so eloquently invites us to visit with her at the Writers Conferences she will be attending - I must admit, I was over the moon at her generosity for newbie Writer's conference people like me!

"How WONDERFUL! I MUST email her with my appreciation!!!"

In the next WIR, she admits to switching her nametag with other people at Writers Conferences.




I think we have been given a little insight to as why her name has been used in those Novels...?

No no no. If you're going to a conference I'm attending, and you don't know anyone, LET ME KNOW AHEAD OF TIME!!! I promise not to torment you with switched name tags. The switched name tags were for cocktail parties where people were so aggressive about pitching that it was down right frightening.

And I'm really serious about this offer for hanging out at writing conferences. A little background here will make you understand: I went to seven different school in seven years when I was in elementary, junior high and high school. I well remember the first day of school when I didn't know a soul, and didn't have anyone to eat lunch with. Some years were easier than others, but sometimes it was pure torture.

If you're a blog reader, don't torture yourself! Let me do it!

Craig F had some interesting info:
Donna: murder of crows is called a venery term. Those date back to the late middle ages. Almost every animal that is used for hunting or is hunted have a term for them. Some are quite complicated, like vultures.

Flying vultures are a kettle. If they are resting in tress they can be a committee, volt or venue.

A wake of vultures are vultures that are feeding.

What do you call a group of agents? I think we need some suggestions here!

On Thursday we talked about reasons nine queries didn't get to yes:

RachelErin said:
Oh Janet - now the woodland creatures get to agonize over whether we comment enough to call you Snookums! You've achieved daily torment.

Exactly my goal.

Craig F asked:
The questions I have are more on what makes you consider a query successful?

Well, there's a blog here that will help with that.

Joseph Snoe asked
I'm curious what about each of the two fulls said that tipped the scales in their favor.

Pretty simple. I wanted to read the novel.
A query has two goals: entice me to read the pages, show you are not an asshat.
Your enclosed pages have but ONE goal: entice me to read on.

Both these queries did that. Simple yes. Not easy. (as our subheader some weeks back said!)

John Davis (manuscript) Frain asked:
From #1: "How you will avoid that: do not open your query with a rhetorical question. If anyone advises you to do this, ignore them."

First, I LOVE any advice where I get to ignore people. So thanks for that pre-approval. Second, I've seen this advice before and I don't get it. Why is opening your query with a rhetorical question so horrendous? Trust me, I won't do it. I just like to understand why I'm not doing something. This strikes me as a reasonable way to get into your 250-word query. Why are rhetorical questions taboo?

This was explained deftly by someone else a while back and I'll try to come as close as I can to their answer. Rhetorical questions are about the reader, not the story. Rhetorical questions assume your reader comes to the story with the same world view as the writer (an act of hubris we don't need to explore further.)

So "what would you do if a terrorist kidnapped your child" doesn't have much resonance with agents who don't have children.

And of course you run the low, but terrible risk, of saying that to a person who has lost a child. (Something you simply can't know ahead of time.)

What would you do if you got fired from your job? isn't going to resonate with an agent who owns the agency.

The "right" answer to "what would you do if " is all too often not the answer you're going to get from a whisky swilling, abrasive, fuck genteel kind of agent. Yanno, the kind you want negotiating your contracts.

But mostly cause it then is about the reader, not the story. Start with your characters. Tell me what they want. Tell me what's at stake. That's all you need to do.

and then JD(ms)F dropped the mic with this one:


You must be a hoot in brainstorm sessions. I suddenly have a dozen rhetorical questions in my head and the answer to all 12 is: Julie Weathers.

and youse guyz are just Very Lucky there is a WIR cause of this from Timothy Lowe
BTW - Janet has mentioned "The Wire" - "Marcella" (on Netflix) has been pretty boss lately. If you're looking for something to suck you in on a summer night, I recommend it.

On Friday we talked about how we pay authors in other countries

I'd tossed off a comment that paying authors outside the US was a PITA. I should know better than to do that. It caused the woodland creatures in far flung ports of call to worry. Sorry guys.

How you get paid has zero bearing on whether I sign you. I'll pay you in pennies in a wheelbarrow if you want. Jeff Somers can vouch for this.

On Saturday we talked about agents looking for writers in anthologies and periodicals.

Michael Seese asked
I'm curious about one thing. If you read a particularly tasty piece, do you:

a) file away the author's name in the hopes that he or she some day submits to you, or
b) reach out to the author and say, "I really liked you short story about Felicia Buttonweezer. (Sister of Felix.) Are you working on any fiction novels that might interest me?"

(Yes, that last part was to yank your chain.)

More B than A. I reach out and see what they're working on next and what they want to do. Some already have representation, some have a pretty good novel tucked away.

Jennifer R. Donohue asked:
How many books have authors killed you in, Janet? I think Jeff Somers did in one of the Avery Cates books, any others? I didn't realize it was such a badge of honor!

I don't know. I do think of it as a badge of honor though. Most agents look at acknowledgements or dedications for kudos. Me, I look for my prone form and the hint of sulphur.

I'm heading to Vermont this weekend to look at cows and torment writers. At some point, a writing conference may be involved, and a talk on query letters. That is unless I keel over and die after watching the Republican Convention.

As a life-long Republican, this year it's like watching the Titanic sail off. I finally read a piece that seems to explain the ShihTzu HairDo's resonance with the non-deranged class. When Trump Happens to Good People.

And on that note, that's the week that was.

There's only one choice for the subheader this week but it's perfect:

"Life is short. Play with your dog."--CynthiaMc.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


I'm on the mailing list for Level Best Books, a delightful small publishing company that does short story anthologies. I met them at CrimeBake some years back, one of my favorite writing conferences of all time.

I mention this because I got an email from LBB yesterday announcing the line up in their new collection:

The Selected Stories for Windward
We are very pleased to announce the selected stories for Windward: The Best New England Crime Stories 2016! We received a record 225 submissions for the anthology, which were read blindly by the editors. We are so pleased at the response we received for Windward and are very much looking forward to its publication this November, in time for The New England Crime Bake.
Windward will be available for purchase in paperback as well as electronically via online book retailers. Congratulations to the contributing authors and many thanks to those who submitted their work for consideration.
The Selected Stories Are:

“The Burren” by Christine Bagley
“Tainted Image” by V R Barkowski

“A Good Lard Crust is Hard to Find…” by Mara Buck
“Bagatelle” by P Jo Anne Burgh

“Grateful Touring” by Sarah Chen
“Tinkle Tinkle” by Frank Cook

“The Haunting at the Orleans Inn” by Daemon Crowe
“A Glutton for Punishment” by Sharon Daynard

“God of Money” by Stephen Doyle
“The Case of the Burqa-ed Busker” by Gerald Elias

“The Boston Post Cane” by Kathy Lynn Emerson
“Daybreak Dismay in Dallas” by Sanford Emerson

“Careful What You Wish For” by Kate Flora
“Three Sisters” by Kimberly Gray

“Murder at Midnight” by Janet Halpin
“Giving Voice” by Connie Johnson Hambley

“The Allagoosalum” by Jill Hand
“Yemaya’s Revenge” by Lisa Lieberman

“Family Business” by Cyndy Lively
“The List” by Ruth McCarty

“Mendicants in the Median” by Peter Murray
“The Ridge” by Rick Ollerman

“Cheap Medz” by Alan Orloff
“Fresh Start” by Anita Page

“Dead Weight” by Dale Phillips
“An Old Man’s Regret” by Verena Rose

“Seals” by Erica Ruppert
“The Mountain” by Harriette Sackler

“Snow Devils” by Brenda Seabrooke
“Look Away” by Shawn Reilly Simmons

“Clean Windows” by Gabriel Valjan
“Daddy” by Lilla Waltch

I read the list to see if included anyone I knew. Sure enough, I'd met five of the twenty writers. But then I realized, that means I did NOT know fifteen of them.

My next thought, because I am an avaricious beast was "I better buy this and read those stories to see if any of them look tasty."

What that means for you: submitting work for these kinds of open calls can be the avenue to securing the interest of an agent. I'm not the only agent who reads story anthologies with an eye for finding clients. Nat Sobel is famous for doing so (and I've read some of the books he found that way

Level Best has an upcoming open call

A lot of you are very fine writers (and I have the flash fiction contest results to prove it!) and getting your work out there is a really good idea.

You can thank me by killing me in your next novel!

Friday, July 15, 2016

When Payment is a Pain in the ***

Y'know how you say we're always looking for something to worry about... My question relates to something you wrote as part of your most recent Query Shark (#281) comments: I hope you have a US bank account cause otherwise getting you paid is a pain in the asterisk.

Does this mean non-US authors need a US bank account? I'm guessing it can be done, because I'm sure Gary Corby isn't writing for the sole reason of keeping Colin happy. But the nervous woodland creature inside me does wonder if causing an agent pain in their asterix would be grounds for rejection?

We pay our international clients via wire transfer.
The problem is that it costs them money to get a transfer, plus we bill them for the cost our bank charges us to make the transfer.

And then there's the fun of getting a taxpayer number which even foreign nationals need to get paid here.  It's not a simple process.


I don't use any of that as a measure of whether I will sign someone. In fact if you write as well as Gary Corby, I will pursue you to sign you!

Bottom line: do not worry about this.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Nine queries, seven passes

A recent batch of queries produced the following:

(1) Query opens with a rhetorical question that makes me lose all interest in the book

How you will avoid that: do not open your query with a rhetorical question. If anyone advises you to do this, ignore them.

(2) Query had someVERY undeft sentences that are intended to be compliments but fail. Not enough about the book to get me past the idea this author will be an ass-hat.

How you will avoid this:
being cheeky in a query is great if you know someone. Blog readers that comment often (Colin Smith, I see you!) can get away with "Hey Snookums" or the equivalent. Almost no one else should try this. You don't know if I'm reading your query at the end of a long tiring day when humor just hits me the wrong way. Do Not Chance It. Be professional.

The purpose of a query is two-fold: tell me about your book and show me you are not an ass-hat.

(3) Word count problem: too short.

How you will avoid this: be familiar with the word count requirements of your category. I'm more likely to look at things that are too long than things that are too short. Too long can be pared. Too short means you finished a book and didn't see what was missing.

(4) List of events but no plot.

How you will avoid this:
Get plot on the page. Unless you have the choice the hero faces, and what's at stake for him/her with that choice, you do not have plot on the page. No plot is almost always an automatic pass.

(5) So abstract as to be uninteresting.

How you will avoid this: For starters, name your characters. I read a query advice book that said not to. That advice is so bad it should come with criminal charges. Name your characters and be specific about the FIRST choice they need to make. You don't need to list every event in the book. just entice me to read more.

(6) Characters are one-dimensional, and the plot is something from a 70's movie.

How you will avoid this: Watch for descriptions that are hyperbolic: billionaire, sadistic, super hacker, former Miss America now a Navy Seal, world's best (anything). Jack Reacher is a big, highly competent guy. He also has flaws and if you asked him to describe himself he probably wouldn't start with "world class marksman" even though he is. If one of your characters introduced themselves with the words you use to describe them, would you want to keep talking to them or would you roll your eyes at their self-importance?

(7) self-aggrandizing bio that is very off-putting

How you will avoid this: Don't tell me anything in your bio that can't be verified. "Nominated for an Edgar" doesn't mean the publisher sent your book for consideration. Same with the Pushcart Prize. And I don't care if you were first in your class at the LakeWoebegon School of Writing and Beet Farming. I've heard everyone there is above average.

The good news: 2 requested fulls!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

My character is a shark named Janet

I was wondering if you could tell me if character names are protected under copyright or trademark laws. For example, I'd like to use the name Bilbo for the family dog in my book. I do mention that the father collects Lord of the Rings memorabilia, so there is a connection/tie-in to the original source, but is this still grounds for copyright or trademark infringement?

I've been trying to research this, and everything I've found says that, unless I portray the character as a hobbit, confusing the two works, it should be OK. I also looked up the name using the Trademark Electronic Search System, and while there are a number of trademarks related to the name, those are for goods and services and not fiction.

What are the rules regarding this when it comes to fiction? Especially if the book is being sold commercially?


You can use a character name, but probably not the character.
So, the dog named Bilbo is fine. Putting in a hobbit named Bilbo, not so much.


You'll see references to the actual character Jack Reacher in books written by someone other than Lee Child. Alafair Burke's Samantha Kincaid sleeps with Reacher; Lee Child references Samantha in a book as well.

This works because the intent is homage, and fun. If Lee Child had objected and threatened to sue, he would have had to show damage of some kind; that using Jack Reacher as a character confused readers who thought they were buying a Reacher book only to end up with a NOT-Reacher book. Hard to imagine anyone confusing the two authors since they have not only different names, different publishers, and different styles, but who the hell knows about lawsuits anymore.

Create a sweet, kind, soft-spoken, clean-living, temperance advocate agent who apologetically burps unicorns after eating lettuce and tofu, then name her Janet Reid, and you're going to be hearing from me in ways you won't like. It's not just cause you used my name, it's cause you used my name, job AND described me in ways that would tarnish my reputation. I mean really, BURPING?? Not to mention that other stuff. I'd be laughed out of the World Domination Cloakroom and Plotting Center if they heard I ate lettuce.

Bottom line: From what you describe, you're going to be fine.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

What if I want a super agent?

I landed an agent from a small boutique agency in 2014 & she successfully sold my first book (it comes out in October). The advance was okay (nothing earth-shattering) and I'm thrilled about being published. However...when I see books like Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist or Emma Cline's The Girls getting huge advances, and realize that those authors have extremely successful agents, it makes me want to pitch my next novel to these so-called super agents.

Maybe this makes me a bad person and completely disloyal, but I'm quite ambitious (aren't we all?). I've read your past posts about switching agents and would be willing to start my agent search again (realizing there's a chance it might end up in abject failure). My question to you - is this unwise? Should I be counting my blessings and staying put? Or should I be doing everything I can to put myself in a position to succeed?

You're going to get some heat in the comment column for even asking this question, so best put on your asbestos underpants right now.

Whether any of those "superagents" is even going to want you is pretty much dependent on how this first book sells.  If it sells off the shelf and gets a big ass movie deal, well, sure, you'll have some interest.

The chances of this happening are less than lightning striking and killing you. [There are 40-50 lightning deaths in a given year. There are a lot fewer breakout books.]

You say you realize "there's a chance it might end up in abject failure." The truth is there is an extreme likelihood this will end up in abject failure even if you have a good book, even if it sells ok. That's just reality. Those "superagents" get lots of queries. They get to be very very selective in who they take on.

So, the answer to this question simply depends on how much you want to risk. You can sever from an agent who got you book deal and query someone you think will do a better job for you. If you can't "land" a new agent, you're going to be a lot worse off than you were before.

Since you're quite ambitious (and I don't fault you for that at all) you'd do a LOT more for yourself by making sure this first book is a huge success and having agents try to swoop in and steal you away (this is called poaching, and it's reviled by everyone who doesn't practice it) rather than trying to query your way to the top.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Writing contest results-FINAL (finally)

Youse guyz are back to your usual tricks of writing so well it was just torture to choose a winner. I can hear you all cackling with delight at turning the tables on me.

Herewith the results

Not quite a story but intensely evocative 
Marie McKay 9:03am
Kelli 5:26pm

Special recognition for a great line:
Natalie is a high priestess of OCD.
LizellaPrescott 12:33pm

thirty years (concurrent plus good behavior) in the making
Dena Pawling 12:48pm

This might just be the perfect Reacher homage
Reacher didn’t wear sunglasses. The sun feared him
John Davis Frain 3:25pm

This made me laugh so hard!
Dena Pawling 12:38pm
Nate Wilson 10:16pm

Not quite a story but oh so true
Kate Higgins 9:11pm

Not quite a story, but holy moly!
Scott G 11:01pm
Kae Ridwyn 12:05am

Homage to Four Weddings and a Funeral
Peggy Rothschild 12:49am

I love the juxtaposition of this:
I dared God to kill me. / God dared me to live.
SiSi 1:01am

Gin while we play rummy. Rum while we play gin.
sdbullard 1:26am

These are the entries that made the long list.

Steve Forti 11:32am
LizellaPrescott 12:33pm

Celia Reaves 12:37pm
Megan V 1:54pm

Donnaeve 2:18pm
Rkeelan 7:22pm

JustJan 9:41pm
Gypmar 4:36am


french sojourn 9:32am
“You couldn’t ask for better weather for a B.B.Q., huh Winslow?”

“It’s certainly a thrilling time when the Circus rolls through town.”

“The guy with the big hat, what was his job again?”

“He’s the Grand Master of the big top, Stanley.”

“And those girls hanging from the ropes?”

“My favorite…acrobats.”

“The fellas with the make-up?”

“They’re clowns, they do funny things to make children under 16 laugh, they pitch buckets of confetti, and other hi-jinx.”

“I think my guy’s a clown.”

“Whys that?

“Just a gut feeling.”

“Spit it out, Stanley.”

“Well, he tastes funny, I prefer Safari’s.”

The twist at the end just cracked me up. So Hank has written a story that makes us laugh about people being eaten. Honest to godiva, that's one heckuva feat.  And "spit it out" and "just a gut feeling"  and "my favorite" are perfect little double entendres (although of course, not risque!)

And it took me awhile to find "gin"!

Steven D. 10:08am
Ginger’s Sweet 16 party concludes. Nostalgia blooms.

I’ve watched her blossom, from an awkward tomboy pitching apples in the backyard, to a fellow shut-in logging uncountable hours on Grand Theft Auto, to the delicate flower facing her mirror now.

The benefits of semi-confinement.

Her beauty clearly descends from her exquisite mother.

I’d hoped we’d be a formal family by now. Yet, rejected advances after a few non-thrilling dates, three … no, four-years ago, have forced me into this non-traditional husband/father role.

The mirror betrayed my untimely glimpse.

My family seems irrationally horrified as the officer extracts me from our attic.

Holy murgatroyd! Does this just creep the hell out of you? Yea, me too. What I most appreciate about this is the subtlety. It's not till that last line that we fully understand what's going on, and it's all right there in that one phrase "irrationally horrified." And then just to put the cherry on top of the cake "My family."  Steven D made this look easy. It's not.

Beth 1:32pm
“Happy Birthday, Grandma!”

And so it begins. Her eyes go round and she claps her bony hands, thrilled to be the center of attention. “You remembered!”

She swallows her meal without complaint, eager to blow out the candle on the pink-frosted cherry cupcake. She tells the story of her surprise Sweet 16, when she was so startled she spit chocolate milk all over her boyfriend’s shirt. We laugh on cue.

As he pushes the wheelchair away, the aid gives me a thumbs-up. It’s working. Five pounds so far. Doc’s pleased.

I think tomorrow, I’ll make it a red velvet cupcake.

Everything here rests on what's not said. And ya'll know I'm just a sucker for that. When you get to the end you realize that "we laugh on cue" was a clue, but this is so deftly written you didn't know till later.

RosannaM 2:49pm
We split up, like always.

I like the food court, she likes Macy’s.

We both like crowds.

She tries on one outfit at a time.

Back and forth to the dressing room.

Bumps a ginger-haired woman with her cane.

Armloads of clothes fall, purse spills.

I sit near a Mom with a kid pitching a fit.

Eat my fries.

Watch the Mom juggle the tray, push the stroller.

Brush against her at the trashcan.

Grandma returns.

We compare.

16 bucks short.

Sends me out again.

Not thrilled, but we gotta make rent.

I fix my ponytail.
This is lovely writing. Very short, but very powerful. Did you ever think you'd have sympathy
for a kid stealing from a mom at the mall? Yea, me either but "we gotta make the rent" gives
you that one piece of info to change your mind.

Ashes 2:58pm
Ah yes, my Oscar. My grand debut. An acting virgin, I arrived on set 16 minutes early, thrilled to see my name on the door.

My co-star was swoon-worthy, years my senior but playing a teenager. Industry standard.

Our love scene was a disaster. He was too handsome and I was too nervous. Later, when he suggested we practice, I pitched myself into his arms and lost another virginity.

His love faded after we nailed the scene. He was a better actor than I’d realized.

Oscar would be a cute baby name, for someone who didn’t choose career over motherhood. 

I love the double use of Oscar. I like the subtlety. Nothing overt but the whole story revealed in "he was a better actor than I'd realized."

Jennifer Delozier 8:38pm
"Betcha you can't." He sat next to me at the writing conference, blinged-out in pens and bookmarks splashed with the name of his soon-to-be bestseller.
"Betcha I can."
"If you can use all 5 in 1 coherent, grammatically correct sentence, I'll buy you a drink - 2 if you do it in less than 25 words."
I accept his challenge. "Begin the Beguine was a grand, musical experiment which pitched convention aside by utilizing 16 measure phrases to thrilling effect."
I love the smell of whiskey in the morning.

For starters, this entry is homage to the inspiration for the contest: ThrillerFest and particularly the pitch practice I helped with. And then the true mastery of syntax displayed by NOT using pitch in musical terms even though the sentence is about music. That's just throwing in a triple axel for the fun of soaring over the ice. And that final sentence: I love the smell of whiskey in the morning, just perfect.

This is funny. It's a story. It uses words deftly. It made me laugh. And it displayed mastery of craft. 

And just in case you've never heard Begin the Beguine, here ya go:

of course I can't choose a winner.
I've read all of these finalists multiple times.
I have my choices narrowed down to two but I thought I'd let y'all weigh in on this before trying to pick just one.

And of course, some coffee might help, so I'm going to put on a pot now and see if it helps focus my thinking.

So, have at it.

Two cups of coffee and three more reads later I think we have a winner.

There was so much to admire about each entry but in the end, I chose the one (of the last two I was dithering about) which did not depend on any specialized or inside info.  Steven D's entry is universal, and today that was what I based it on.  Next contest might be different so don't go carving that in stone!

Congrats to Steven D! (Send my your mailing address and what you like to read and I'll get a book in the mail to you)

Thanks to all who took the time to write entries and enter the contest.  It's always a treat to read them.