Monday, October 14, 2019

offer in hand, what the hell do I do now?

I've been reading your blog as well as Query Shark for years now. Much of what I learned there helped me shape my queries and pitches, and also taught me a ton about the publishing business.

I searched the blog but couldn't find an answer to my specific situation, though it probably exists and I just missed it or am bad at Search Terms.

I wrote a novel and queried extensively. To put it simply, I wrote a dystopian vampire book. I knew when I wrote it that most people were over dystopian AND vampire, myself included, but that's the book that came out of my brain. Surprise! After 70+ queries, I didn't sign an agent.

Then, this past spring, well known SFF publisher announced that it would take unagented submissions for one month. I found out about it via Twitter and sent my query/synopsis on the final day. They got over 600 subs! They asked for my full, then three months later an OFFER! A real one. With an advance!

So I'm sitting here with a contract. I consider myself *informed* and not entirely ignorant of publishing contract issues, but now I wonder how I should proceed. Few considerations:

Optimally, I'd have an agent, but I don't.

(1) Should I try to get an agent before I sign the contract, and
(2) How the heck would I do that? Dear Agent Bathory**, I already secured a book deal. Want to be my agent now? I assume I don't do it in standard query form. Or do I? 
You put "offer from X(name of publisher) received" in the subject line of the query. And then, your query is in the email.

I hope you also told the publisher you were going to secure representation. Don't just leave them hanging.
(3) If they do want to be my agent, what is the correct way to address the agent's percentage on this first book, considering that I secured the deal without said agent? Is it just one of those things where I say good for me, but the agent should still get their 15% going forward?
Your agent is going to do a lot for you, even if you got the offer before you got the agent.
They get the entire 15% and you're going to see why they deserve it after you see the contract offer, and the negotiated contract.
(4) If I go ahead and sign the contract without an agent, how does that change my approach in looking for an agent going forward?
Under ZERO circumstances should you sign this contract without seeking advice. An agent taking you on is ideal, but if that doesn't happen, you need someone to review the contract and make sure you're not signing your life away. Or more likely, f/ing up your career. Publishers write contracts in their favor. Signing it as is is almost always a terrible idea.


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Call me Ish!


This is Ish, who is also modest and good-natured, unlike his rather reclusive and curmudgeonly owner. His full name is Anara Call Me Ishmael RE. That last stands for Rally Excellent, a high-level performance title, because Ish has brains as well as beauty.

Isn't he a handsome fellow!!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

At long last, the flash fiction contest results.

I should have just lied through my fangs and said all your entries required so much dictionary time that results would be late.

Truthfully of course, I was on a reading binge Monday-Wednesday, and by Thursday and Friday I was cleaning up all the stuff that got pushed from M-W. 160K tomes will do that to you!

The good news is the bio is quite amazing, and I can't wait to be able to talk about it! (Probably a year; editing this is going to take some time, but that's someone else's job!)

Herewith, at long last, results!

Aphra Pell sends me to Word School!
fornent (wait, it's not there!)
fortalice (not there either!)
formicaries (aha! ant's nests!)

Unknown chordata

Lance: shabbaba (not there)

Sandra J: fortalice

Jenn Griffin: fortin (not there, so I googled, and it turns out to mean little fort, and it's so obscure it's ONLY in the MW Unabridged edition.  Thanks Jenn, now I need to buy a NEW dictionary!)

KD James: Tardigrada, arthropoda

Special recognition for a great line
Marie McKay
The canals stank of misfortune.

NLiu: It's so bleak, the muse never visits.

nightmusic scares the salt from my sea!

Angel L does too

Brilliant juxtaposition of unicorns and rhinos!
Laurel Neme

CarolynnWith2Ns cracked me up

Megan V did too
"A fortifying beverage, your majesty?"
"No, no, Fortescue.” The Queen said. “What I need is a Forti-defying beverage."

Why do I even try.
Phylum!! He used PHYLUM!!

Steve Forti
Dana came to Prague for the chance to work with her dream director, but he’d been ignoring her for ten minutes, listening to some local extra talk in great detail about her wordless cameo. If I end the audition, she thought. No, there aren’t many killer lead roles for timid forty-something actresses.

Still, she bit her tongue when he dropped his pants and the extra joined him in, well, public pornography.

bering back, the director shook Dana’s hand. “You got the part.”

“What the hell was that?”

He shrugged. “Before I hire anyone, I always do a thorough background Czech.”

honestly, I surrender.
This is world class word play.
I'm outclassed.

Even Casual-T recognized my pain
O Fortuna velut luna statu variabilis… The choir’s triple-forte shook me awake. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy an evening at Carnegie Hall as much as the next gal, but I’d been going forty hours straight, searching for six words to finally thwart Forti. It’s no picnic, being a literary agent in NYC, you know. Cocktail parties, celebrity meetings, author’s bribes… Oh, it’s all such a drag. But what really irks me, is that Steve keeps besting me.

Hold on; let me check this week’s contest.

Argh… Forti you fiend, you’ve outsmarted me again. Come and get your trophy, Lummox!

Special recognition
Just Jan
It ain’t easy being Four.

“Without you,” sniffs Eight, “there’d be no double-dates. Your position’s admirable.”

I disagree. Stuck between the fiendish threesome and high-five, I’m upstaged constantly.

“Watch your elbows!” they say. All straight lines and angles, it’s hard to fortify myself between their voluptuous curves.

“I get no respect,” Twenty whines.

Guess what? Thirty is the zest; Fifty, a fortress. No one wants to be Forty. Even at Christmas, I’m challenged.

“What’s a colly bird?” asks Nine.

I rest my case.

Six sighs. “You have love.”

Adornment of my namesake digit? Not my forte, but I’ll take it.
This is so clever I read it twice just to laugh again.
The colly bird line is perfection.

The family sat in stony silence.
Timothy Fortesque chose a box from the mountain of gifts and read the label--for:Timmy. "May I open it now?" No one objected. He tore off the paper. "Little surgeon set! Awesome!" He fingered the scalpel--so realistic. Now he could do the job properly.
"Thanks for this, Uncle Gus!"
Cadaver smiles all around.
Who's next? Not Gertrude. Old fiend might pass for forty, but she smelled of atrophy, lumbago, and formaldehyde.

Yesterday, Father complained Tim hadn't gotten his brain along with his looks.

He had it now.

Cadaver smiles all around just slides in like an ice pick doesn't it?

french sojourn
“Forty days and forty nights of rain… just for teaching them faith.”

“Bullshit, that was written later.”

“I can give you scripture and verse, my son.”

“Well… ok, maybe, but it didn’t go as per plan, so heavenly in its simplicity, right father?”

“Mistakes were made, lest we never forget… for time heals all wounds.”

“Listen, I know Noah worked his ass off, but he was completely miscast.”

“The man fiendishly built an ark, he laid away stores, he was flawless in his faith… who did he disappoint?”

“Well, how about Philip and Ernie, you know… the two unicorns.”
absolute subtle perfection here

Timothy Lowe
For teething: liquid ibuprofen and a benzocaine necklace.

For timid steps along the foyer hall: a ring pop pacifier.

For toilet-training: M and Ms (#1), donut holes (#2).

For tying your shoes: a bag of snickers (baby-size).

For the T-ball tournament (4th place): a shiny trophy, lumberjack-proud on your shelf.

For a C in history: a nasty blast email to the teacher.

For coming home with the sheriff: I endeavor to explain.

For tying one on, wallpapering the living room in puke: a shiny new Lexus.

For T-boning a school bus, a gentle head shake: “When will you learn?”

and speaking of subtle.
everything that's on the page shapes the story, but the story is what isn't said.
Brilliant work Tim.

I'm invisible. I can walk down the street, go into a store, and no one sees me. I can speak and not be heard. Neat, right? Is this an autobiography lumped together with science fiction, you wonder.

No. I wasn't always this way, quite the opposite. For the longest time I wished to be invisible, but careful what you wish for. Test the waters first. Then again, you can't.

If I ended up this way, well I'm not alone and don't judge me for typecasting. We're millions out there and just you wait, for time will render you invisible too. 
How interesing it would be to have a crime novel depend on the idea that people don't see middle-aged women. Undercover in plain sight.

“We’ve a bet going. It might cause a fuss.”
“Cut me in. Terms?” the bartender asked.
“We need to fortify ourselves.”
“Roger thinks someone’ll buy our drinks.”
“Steven thinks our talent won’t impress your clientele.”
“Nothing impresses them. Twenty for Steve. Whaddya planning?”
“I played Hamlet in my youth. Well, Fortinbras. Practically the same.”
“We could use the piano instead,” Steven suggested.
“Heart and Soul” never sounded worse. Their fingers flew like fiends from forte to pianissimo.
“HEY! You’re awful. Everyone’s gone.”
“Good,” they said.
Roger slapped down forty. Steven pulled a .40.
“We’ll need that back. With the register.”

I always love a good caper story, and this one is hilarioius to boot. And these two lines are cracked me up.
“I played Hamlet in my youth. Well, Fortinbras. Practically the same.”

After a week the casseroles stopped coming. Jeanne shoved the extras in the freezer, disassembled his blanket-fort, boxed up his Legos, and went back to work.

Play the dirge piano,

“Thanks,” said Jeanne, blowing her nose with fiendish force.
“You still cry a lot.”
“It’s been a long time though.”
“Not that long,” said Jeanne.

Sing the dirge now mezzo,

“He’d be forty today.”
“Wow. Crazy. Life goes on, I guess.”
“Does it?” said Jeanne.

Shout the foul dirge forte,
Shout the foul dirge forte,
Like Timothy Lowe, what's here isn't the story but the story is crystal clear in what isn't on the page.
Brilliant writing.

Of course, this was an insane choice.
Any one of these isn't "better" than the others. They're all absolutely wonderful in their own right, and could have been chosen for the prize.

This week though, JustJan really made me laugh, and that's what felt right.

The other entries, particulary my beloved nemesis Steve Forti, were all amazing. I'm in awe of the talent that turns up here in these contests.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and post.
It's always a pleasure to read your work.

Jan, drop me a line and let's get your prize worked out!

Friday, October 11, 2019

Author names

KDJames brought up a good point about name recognition for authors. This is something I’ve been mulling over for quite some time, and I’d be very interested in getting your opinion on.

The question is: Having used the name Casual-T for all my public, professional, and online activity (social media accounts), how feasible is it to expect that I will be able to use it for TRADITIONAL publishing purposes? It is a, let’s just say, somewhat unusual name in the world of literature, and I’m wondering if there might be pushback along the lines of “Well, son, this is a great book you’ve written there, but with this name we won’t be able to get it to the right people? How about A.V. Erage. Now there’s a fine name for an author!”

I do think that part of a good branding strategy is to stand out (in a good way)... In my opinion the name Casual-T does just that. It’s gets people’s attention.

Use the name people know you by.
It's worked before.

Besides, how will I know to buy your book if it says something other than Casual-T?

The ONLY question people will have is whether to shelve you as a C or a T.

PS I have NOT forgotten contest results. I'm hoping to get to those this weekend.
Sorry for the delay.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


While I finished the reading project yesterday, and got notes off to the writer, I still haven't fully regained my wits.

And you want me to have all my wits about me when I read your contest entries!

So, I'm hoping to get that done today.
A lot got pushed off Mon-Wed so getting re-balanced will take most of the morning.

In the meantime,
Meet George.
George is a mini-greyhound/black lab mix. After running around like a wild monkey on crank and being a couch potato--unlike a full-blown greyhound after a vigorous sprint--his lab nature kicks in, and he is ready to go again in about an hour.

George is a rescue dog, uncomfortable with men. For the longest time, he would growl and occasionally snap at me. That behavior troubled the rest of the family. They probably expected me to tell them to take him back to the shelter.

However, I never gave up on George. In between his skittishness and anxiety, I believed if shown kindness and respect, he would eventually come around. I understood where he was coming from.

And George did come around. After a hard session of Couch Potato, he'll come to me to go outside for a vigorous game of fetch. Sometimes he just wants to be near me or some pets.

George is my buddy

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

You won't even notice I'm not here

Readers, even if I were able to post today (I'm still reading, but the end zone is in sight!) I'd have posted this. 

As your blogging plans have run aground on the rocks of reality, here's my contribution to plugging the hole. Amber, our grumpy old lab/weimeraner mix, was... being herself a couple days ago, and the picture inspired my wife to write lyrics.


Every nap you take...
Every carb you bake...
Every snack you ate...
I'll be watching you.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

AWOL again, dear readers

I'm reading a 160K biogoraphy, five years in the research and writing, that is now due in on an editorial deadline. The great new is that it's FANTASTIC.  The not so great news is I'm unable to do much of anything else till I finish.  I'd slated two days to read this, but when it arrived at 160K I knew I'd underestimated.

I plan to be back here on Thursday, with contest results. (anyone want to wager if I'll make that?)

In the meantime, here's Michael Seese's Allie.
This is Allie, a rescue dog, the day we got her a little over a year ago. She since has grown into that face, especially the ears. In fact, when she's feeling embarrassed, she folds them back, bearing a striking resemblance to Dobby the House Elf.

Doing her Dobby look!

Monday, October 07, 2019

Thumbs is busy

Thumbs is busy petting me right now.
She'll get to her blog when I'm ready to take my morning snooze.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was published in 2004. I had a copy, and I'd heard great things, so I dove in.

I gave up 100 pages in.
This was NOT oh so NOT my cup of tea.

Of course I told no one and hoped my serious lack of reading taste never came to light. I mean, as an agent, I'm supposed to know what's good and publishable. Clearly I needed a tune up.

Then over the years other non-aficionados crept from their hiding spots and revealed themselves.
And I learned that not every book, not even one touted by Neil Gaimen, was for every reader (or agent.)

I cautiously revealed to a few, a chosen small few, that I too Did Not Cotton to JS & Mr N.
We vowed to keep the dastardly truth to ourselves.

But then, a writer I admire, and a client I adore, BOTH said how much they loved this book. And the writer pal said "you just have to keep going past page 100."

So I bought another copy, the previous copy having gone the way of The Strand, and knowing what first editions bring now, boy do I rue THAT trip to the used book counter!

When it arrived this week, I was daunted at the page count. When the hell am I going to read this? I wondered. But, I'll need something to dive into between the courses of on the requested fulls buffet, so it might as well be this.

Have you picked up a book a second time and had a different response to it?
Let me know what you read and the time elapsed between Read one and Read two in the comment column!

Friday, October 04, 2019

F-it Flash Fiction Writing Contest

This frigging weather! 90 on Wednesday, 60 on Thursday. And of course, the lovely bonus of rain. We need a quick pick me up for Fall!

Of course, that means a writing contest!

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

2. Use these words in the story:

To compete for the Steve Forti Deft Use of Prompt Words prize (or if you are Steve Forti) you must also use: phylum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 open: Saturday 10/5/19 at 8:54am

Contest closes: Sunday 10/6/19 at 9am

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

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

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

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet! 
Rats! Too late, contest has closed.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

What's missing here?-UPDATED

Blog reader SP Bowers made a comment recently that prompted an earlier blog post. But the comment itself also caught my eye:
I'll be querying again soon, about a matriarchal, nomadic, goat herding society. Hopefully they'll all love this next one.
I perked up immediately.

I mean who doesn't want a book about matriarchal, goat herding nomads?

BUT, and this is a big but, there was a missed opportunity here.

Want a minute to think what it was?

How about you post your ideas of what's missing, and I'll come back this afternoon and tell you what I think is missing.

Thanks to Sara for generously allowing me to use her as the demo-chum.

2:20pm update from the comments

Hank references great old movie: The Gods Must Be Crazy
There needs to be an empty coke / pepsi bottle that fell from the sky.

Post a blog filled with writers, and sure enough, you get a story:

Fearless Reider
I’m guessing magic beans, which Suri the surly goat-herder (and reluctant heir to her grandmother’s goat fur crown) will feed to the goats in the hopes that they’ll sprout wings and fly away so she can skip off (on a flying goat, with any luck) to the bright lights of faraway Oasis and fulfill her dream of becoming a forensic accountant. And the trouble that ensues when it turns out that her lifelong nemesis, Carbuncle the Foul, has tainted the magic beans so that instead of bestowing the power of flight, they cause the goats to multiply exponentially every 10 minutes and follow Suri wherever she goes. In other words, a compelling protagonist with a knotty problem and a ticking clock.

In other words, a story. Which I’m sure S.P. Bowers has —we just didn’t get to hear about it yet, and we are poorer for it. I hope we’ll get to hear it soon.

Heading in the right direction
Jenn Griffin

My Nemeis/Steve Forti: What's the story.
K. White Stakes and conflict.
Atlantic: I was missing conflict.
Claire Bobrow: I'm guessing what several of you already said: stakes and conflict.
Beth Carpenter: I agree with several of you. The story is about a matriarchal, goat herding society AND what happens when something important changes. In other words, the instigating event.
Barbara Etlin: Conflict and stakes.

Nailed it
Here's my take. There is no verb. No action. No DO and therefore no conflict.

"A story about a matriarchal, nomadic, goat herding society THAT ..."

They need to DO something. Like others have said ... that is where story and conflict happen.

An example would be:

Jaws is a story about three men--a sheriff, a scientist and a semi-loon fisherman.

But that is not what Jaws is about. That's just who is involved.

Jaws is a story about three men--a sheriff, a scientist and a semi-loon fisherman--who risk their lives hunting down a giant great white in a small boat. (or something to that effect)

Mister Furkles
All stories are about conflict. So what is missing:

A matriarchal, nomadic, goat herding society battles vampires, dragons, and zombies for survival.

My update

Here's what's missing: a taste of the plot, or the challenges faced by the characters. Clearly in a blog comment you don't have 25 words or even 10 words to describe it. Two or three at MOST.

Which means it's going to take a while to get it right. The fewer the words, the longer the writing time.

So: matriarchal, goat herding society
who get caught up in a war
who get kidnapped by aliens
who find dragons at the next oasis
or whatever the change in situation is that prompts the start of the book.

And why do you need that?
Because if you have that, and if I read it, I'm probably going to say something like "I want to read that."

You've seen me do that with Julie Weathers and the Lady Bronc Riders. No pressure Julie. Nope, none.

You spend time on this blog and on Twitter. Think of it as investing not spending.
Don't miss a chance to catch my eye, or the eye of other agents on Twitter.

If you think we're not looking for good stuff, well you haven't been paying attention.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

"Don't sound like an agent"

While scanning the website of a small press recently, I ran across a submission requirement instructing authors to ensure that their cover letters not sound like agent queries. Is this an editorial pet peeve or is there a significant difference between an agent query and the type of cover letter you might submit to a press?

I often put something in a pitch letter akin to this knocked my sox clean off, which a writer would not say  (SHOULD NOT SAY!)

They might mean taking a more personal tack than an agent would.
I wrote this book cause .... 
Small presses can be one-person editorial acquisition outfits, thus their guidelines more personal preferences than industry standard.

It sure would be helpful if they'd given you some examples wouldn't it?

You can go crazy trying to suss out what this means.

The best way to handle this is make sure your query talks about the story.  Everything after that is just decoration on the cake.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

when does set up / backstory become necessary to avoid confusion?

Your recent critique on Query Shark mentioned cutting set up and backstory to keep a query lean and effective. My question is ... when does set up / backstory become necessary to avoid confusion (the great query sin)?

My current ms (should be sending queries this month!!) has an odd-but-important element that I feel would be weird if I left out of the query (don't want the agent to read the pages and feel surprised/betrayed), but to put this in the query requires a fair amount of what looks like set up / backstory (looks like it because that's what it is).

I guess my real question is this. If we do attempt to include set up / backstory, is it better to just be blunt with it and get it out of the way (avoid confusion) or try to "say as much as you can without saying it" (avoid it looking like set up / backstory)???
You say surprise like it's a bad thing.
I love twists and turns. I LOVE it when writing surprises a good way.

But my guess is you mean that the agent won't understand the story without some set up.

And that's the answer to your question. You need set up if the reader won't understand the plot without the key element.

But often times writer fail to understand that your reader isn't looking for problems. We're looking for a great story. And we'll buy in to what you tell us if we can.

So, do I believe dragons fly on Pern?
You bet.
I don't need any of the backstory or explanation about how.

Do I believe there are monks from The Electric Church who will offer you eternal salvation for a price?
I don't need to know how the church started or much of anything else.

Do I believe that the Emperor can shoot electricity from his hands even though no one else in the Galaxy can?
And I want me some of that.

Do I believe that Abraham Lincoln was a vampire hunter?
Well, ok, sure. I get that this is a novel with a wacko premise.

But do I believe you when you tell me there are tunnels in New Orleans?
Because the watertable in NOLA is so high, they can't even bury people there.
Tunnels would collapse.
So there, you need some explanation.

So dragons can fly but you can't have tunnels in New Orleans.
How do you know the difference?

Well, for starters dragons fly on Pern, which is not earth. I have no expectations of what is real on Pern cause it's all made up.

But New Orleans is real.  I'm willing to suspend disbelief for minor things, but something that is literally impossible is a deal breaker without explanation.

How can you asses? assess?**
Here's where you need a beta reader, or more than one actually.
Give them the query without the explanation or set up or backstory.
Ask one question: did you understand this.
Then ask: did you believe this could happen?

Make sure they were confused by lack of information, not lack of connection between events.

Most of your readers will be glad to make intuitive jumps with you and believe what you tell them.

Over-explaining things is one of the big problems I see in query pages.

Any questions?
Where's MY sushi, Thumbs?

**Otto the Czech speller thinks highly of all y'all I see, and did not correct that!

Monday, September 30, 2019

The value of an electronic footprint

I read the comments all ya'll post here, daily. Even if you don't sense me skulking about, I have you in my sights.

And from that you can extrapolate that OTHER agents are also skulking about eyeballing you.

Twitter would be the best first example of this, but anything you have out there gets eyeballs.

Recently S.P. Bowers posted a comment, and I wanted to use it for a post, so I clicked on her blog commenter ID. And she had listed her email. (If you don't, do.)

I noticed she had two blogs.
One was about bears....I thought.
I clicked.

And read a couple posts, including this one.

Take a minute to read it; you don't want to skip that step.

That piece resonated with me deeply.
It made me think of all my uncharitable thoughts seeing kids out late at night on the subway or on the street.  I was seeing them through my expectation and preconception colored glasses. Sara's blog post reminded me that not everyone has the luxury of an organized, orderly life with bedtimes and a dinner hour.

I felt very ashamed.
I vowed to remember this the next time I was too quick to don my expectation spectacles.

Now, will I remember Sara if she queries?
Damn right I will.
Will she even know it?
Well she will now, but if I hadn't done this blog post, no.

So what's your takeaway?
You don't know what an agent sees, or when.
You don't know what will catch their attention.
You don't know what their takeaway is.

You don't have any control over this, so you CAN NOT FRET about it.

What you can do:
(1) Make sure you are reachable.
(2) Write the truth about your life.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Happy Sunday!

The most fun thing on my to do list today is packing my saddlebag for a brief stay with Her Grace and Sleekness the Duchess of Yowl, commencing Wednesday.

I can't wait to see her!
I even created a countdown clock for it.

"I am invisible." said Her Grace. "I don't know how you found me"
What are you looking forward to this week?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

standing out from the crowd

"Has me thinking hard about how to separate (in pages and query) my post-apoc YA novel from the other 3 million out there."

Ms Hunter didn't actually ask the question, but that's never stopped me from offering an opinion!

It certainly helps to have a plot that isn't so tried and true that it feels familiar.
But there are only about seven stories in the world, and I think it was Stephen King who said there's only one: "a stranger comes to town."

Within those limits how do you stand out?

Words, Roxanne, words!

The right words, the best words, the most vivid words, molded into distinctive turns of phrase, and images you: that's how you stand out.

She sailed on the high tide.

She fled Liverpool on the evening tide.

She ditched Liverpool like she was a lover wanting to borrow money.

Felix Buttonweezer went to the stage depot to meet his new bride.

Felix Buttonweezer met the Wells Fargo wagon as it pulled up at the depot. His mail order bride emerged, slipped in a pile of horse manure and fell into his arms.

Specific words are usually better.
Words that convey an image are usually better.

You don't want too many, and you don't want people to notice the writing.

So: she raked her flaxen locks with her brand new french manicure is NOT what you want.

Learning the difference is a matter of training your eye.
One of the best writers I know for seeing this on the page is Patrick Lee.

Just after three in the morning, Sam Dryden surrendered the night to insomnia and went running on the boardwalk. Cool humidity clung to him and filtered the lights of El Sedero to his left, the town sliding past like a tanker in the fog. To his right was the Pacific, black and silent as the edge of the world tonight. His footfalls on the old wood came back to him from every part of the darkness.

It was just as well not to sleep. Sleep brought dreams of happier times, worse than nightmares in their own way.

Mercury lights over the boardwalk shone down into the mist. They snaked away in a chain to the south, the farthest all but lost in the gloom where the boardwalk terminated at the channel. Dryden passed the occasional campfire on the beach and caught fragments of conversations amplified in the fog. Soft voices, laughter, huddled silhouettes haloed by firelight. Shutter glimpses of what life could be. Dryden felt like an intruder, seeing them. Like a ghost passing them in the dark.

These nighttime runs were a new thing, though he’d lived in El Sedero for years. He’d started taking them a few weeks before, at all hours of the night. They came on like fits—compulsions he wasn’t sure he could fight. He hadn’t tried to, so far. He found the exertion and the cold air refreshing, if not quite enjoyable. No doubt the exercise was good for him, too, though outwardly he didn’t seem to need it. He was lean for his six-foot frame and looked at least no older than his thirty-six years. Maybe the jogs were just his mind’s attempt to kick-start him from inertia.

--opening or Runner by Patrick Lee

Friday, September 27, 2019

is a cover letter a query?

My question is about the agents out there who do not ask for a query letter, but instead request cover letters; are they the same thing? Can I just send them my query, or do I need to master a whole new genre of introductory letter? As always, thanks for all you do for us anxious woodland creatures.

Generally: yes and yes.

I did a search for agencies and publishers using the phrase "cover letter" and there were several.

In each case, cover letter meant the letter with the submission which is what a query letter is.

University presses used "cover letter" a lot.
They also list what they want the cover letter to include.
Of course, you know to follow the directions.

Bottom line: you don't need a cover and a query. One letter can be the template for what an agent wants to see.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

"Why don't people want to rep the book? "

Here's the situation: My coauthors and I had a 23% request rate from our query letter. I thought this wasn't high enough.

So we hired a (highly recommended) editor to review our entire submissions package and she thought it was so good she changed very little. While this is encouraging, it wasn't really helpful. Our request rate also didn't go up.

So far, many agents have sent us nonform rejects in which they say only positive things (great voice, great plot, unique concept, solid hook, they gasped out loud, they loved specific things), but that it wasn't a good fit for them. Beta readers have also been solidly positive, with some minor edits on pacing we incorporated and little else.
But we've also received a few rejects that say the agents weren't drawn into the narrative as much as they hoped or that they don't emotionally connect to the voice. Two of these rejects came from agents who'd only seen the pages the editor had edited and loved! (I don't know how to edit the first chapter anymore. I just don't.)
So what's wrong? Why don't people want to rep the book?
A handful of people have said it's because it's too diverse (that there should be one minority main character, not four). I've also been told to make the main characters white.
Not only are those people idiots, they should be banished from polite society.
Feel free to quote me.

It's not, as with your July 12, 2017 post, that it's like other books on the market; the plot is unique, though there are market comps. It's contemporary YA with a criminal justice plot.

Advice? Is it the voice and other agents are just saving my feelings when they say the voice is good? I'm thinking of hiring another editor to go over the whole novel (or at least the first pages again), but that's a bit expensive for my budget.
What does it ACTUALLY MEAN when agents say it's "not a perfect fit for them" or they "didn't fall in love," though it's a "great novel" they're sure another agent will want? People keep saying that, but we're not finding that agent who's supposed to love this.
And how many full rejects is too many?

Thank you very much! I just need some shark wisdom.  

 I'm sure it's very frustrating to hear "it's great but no."
What you need to remember is the no one, NO ONE, is going to tell you what the problem is unless they are asking for a revise and resubmit.

They won't for two reasons. First,  because if you get notes, you'll "fix what's wrong" then resubmit, even if the agent doesn't want/didn't ask. And the one or two things an agent notes are generally NOT the full scope of the problem.

Second, because agents don't want their rejection letters "this sucketh the almighty lemon" read aloud at a writers' conference, or posted on a bestselling author's neener neener page. Not even thick skinned, healthy ego, I don't give a rat's asterisk what you think, shark.

So, the problem here is that you think it's a given: if the novel is good, you'll get an offer.

What you've left out of the equation is the sales aspect. I see a lot of good novels that I  don't think I can sell.

Assuming you're querying agents who sell contemporary YA (versus agents who sell adult NF) why would an agent think this isn't something she can sell? There are four reasons.

1. It doesn't add to the shelf. That is, it's not fresh and new. It's something I've seen before, or it just feels a bit shopworn.

2. It isn't interesting. There are a lot of well-written books I don't want to read anymore: alcoholic love bedraggled detectives who must solve the heroine's terrible travails. Blah blah blah.

3. The market isn't growing. This is when you hear "no more vampires; no more police procedurals; no more medical thrillers.  Those books might be on the shelf, and there might be a steady stream of books being published but the audience is not GROWING. Demand is saturated. (Yes, this is why you took econ in college; it's not all dangling participles and Moby Dick at agent school.)

4. Something else is wrong and you don't know it. Agents are now, as a matter of course, stalking potential clients online. What does your social media face tell me? If you look like a douchecanoe, you're up a creek without a paddle. And I'm NEVER going to tell you that.

So, what to do?
You don't need an editor, and you really do not need whatever a publishing consultant is.

You need an agent's eyeballs on your ms, and your query.
You can get this at a writers conference.
You can often get these in charity auctions.

When I see these opportunities, I try to retweet them on Twitter.

Good books don't win the prize more often than you'd think.

In a nutshell, it's the Miss America contest.  If you've ever watched the pageant, you've seen each of the young ladies, from Miss Alabama to Miss Wyoming is lovely to behold, accomplished in a skill of some kind, and usually damn articulate.

What's wrong with any of them?
Absolutely nothing.
You'd be an idiot to think that.

But only one wins the sash and sceptre.  The contest isn't who's accomplished and talented and lovely. It's who is the MOST accomplished and talented and lovely this year, from among these assembled contestants. You might be Miss Idaho. Which is not to say you are Miss Potatohead.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

what the hell are you DOING Janet??

Well, not writing blog posts.

I had my head in manuscripts today and forgot I hadn't prepared a post until nearly 10pm.
Rather than do something hasty and slapdash, I'll show you the new stamps I got from the PO.

Yes I am a stamp snob.
Also, pen and paper snob.

However, I'll drink any kind of vodka that's offered, and any kind of chocolate that's put in front of me.

What are you a snob about?
And what are you a non-snob about?

And I'll watch Idris Elba in anything including mime.


Monday, September 23, 2019

Flash fiction contest results-FINAL

Sorry for the delay on posting this. The weekend was guzzled up with reading. It was good, but there wasn't time for much else.

Herewith the results:

Words I had to look up

Aphra Pell elecampane

Things I had to look up (otherwise known forevermore as the Neflix and chill category)

flashfriday: IKR

Steve Forti eats my lunch.

I don't know why I even try.

Marshal Marshall marshalled martial artists through the church, feeling déjà vu. Eight years had passed, but this time his martial artists were here for marital artistry. As they began their graceful accompaniment down the aisle, Marshall watched Marsha from the altar.

They’d worshipped here after taking out the chic sheik called Gucci Gafir. They’d tracked him to Sachs, to Fashion Curiosities, to Two Tutus, too. Finally caught him at Au Bon Pain, his blood splattering the glass-paned ceiling, sealing their love with a crimson kiss.

He smiled, vowing to always praise how she prays and preys. “Oh yes, I do.”

Not really a story but evocative as hell.

french sojourn

Kate Outhwaite

Not quite a story but as deft a bit of word play we've seen in a while

Marie McKay

Exhibit A: Seaman Luke Wright's Log:

When songstress Bec Hickory flu into HQ, she praised hour oversees gifts too her, liking how they wear both waterproof and sheik. Eye reported we'd loched away most mail crew members when we herd she was visiting. She said only sailors with cheating hearts wear in danger and knot too feel two much sympathy for her pray. She always preys for those she seduces, and they are entranced in the blink of an I.
How wood won know they'd been seduced?: "Most experience disruption to sounds." She winked.

Exhibit B: Harp.

Not really a story but holy moly, this is really funny


Darkeyes, the fierce warrior princess and sole surviving heir of murdered King Myzylyzylyz, after a terrible war which decimated the kingdom and left the patriarchal populace of simple but good-hearted sheepherders trembling, at last and at great cost defeated terrible Chanii the Chicaner, and behold, locked him away deep within the Crevasse of Credere, where he will languish praiseless and unremarked for a thousand years, until the day—while the monster Smoggish preys—her descendant, the fair-haired but prophetically doomed Elewyn, prays for the birth of the Chosen One.

He: Wow, math class today.
She: IKR?

Here are the entries that stood out for me

Timothy Lowe

“The family that prays together, stays together,” beamed the four Jehovah’s Witnesses on my stoop. I groaned and ushered them through the panel door.

“Do you know the way to God’s heart?” said the woman, pressing a bible into my callused hand.

“Through the chest?” I replied.

Blank stares.

“Never mind,” I assured. “I know the way to yours.”

“Praise Jesus!” howled the kids, two painful little chickadees with the manners of drunken sheiks.

“Indeed,” I said, drawing the shades. Faintly, I could hear Mom and Dad stirring in the cellar.

The family that preys together, stays together.

This made me laugh.
I haven't had too many religious folk calling at the door lately. I think there's some sort of mark on it now--some years back I thought my sweetheart had lost his keys so I jumped out of the shower, grabbed a hand towel for my hair and flipped the deadbolt and opened the door just a smidge.

Two nice Mormon boys had knocked.
I'm not sure who was more mortified.


Gonzales glanced under the tarp, raised his eyes and said, “¿Quién es?”

Nobody answered him.

He tried again. “Who is he?”

“I know him,” one boy whispered. It was Ray, age six. “I saw the monster get him. El chupacabra.”

“There are no monsters, son.”

That wasn’t true. That monster under the tarp had swindled the whole town. “I tried to get help,” Ray said. “But chupacabra rips apart its prey so fast.”

Gonzales looked around. Nobody else spoke.

“Killed our chickens last month,” Ray added.

“Dear heavens,” Gonzales said.

Ray’s mama squeezed his hand. Nicely done, mijito. Nicely done.

Love love love this twist.
It's clear from the comments that many of you do as well.


"It preys on my patience," the old director ranted, "this dubious premature praise for a remake everyone prays won't be disastrous."

"They plan to shake it up, subbing a sheikh for the Dread Pirate. A romantic sheik with taut… cheeks. Nose like a blade. Très chic."

"How dare they write such drivel?"

"Someone sold the rights."

"Have I taught them nothing?"

"God knows, you tried," the nurse agreed, ever willing to humor his patients.

"I'll be raising a pint of ale…"

"Always good for what ails you."

"…'to the pain,' indeed."

"Best dialog ever delivered from a counterpane."

This was like applying paint to a canvas with a slingshot. Wildly entertaining.

Dena Pawling

October 31, NYC

Jaws crouches beneath the pier, peers out from behind her shark “mask”, prays for fresh prey.

Sammy, a regal sheik, and Abigail, a chic Princess Jasmine, prance down the boardwalk.

Jaws prepares to pounce and pare the population.

The cute pair knock on a door. Curtains twitch, door opens. “Trick or treat!”

Homeowner presents pears. Children mumble polite “thank you”. Jaws sighs. These two already have their pain. Where's the fun in that?

Jaws peers through windowpane. Homeowner types at computer.

“Praise all deities! Fresh prey!”

Jaws changes name and careers. Becomes Janet, literary agent.

This just cracked me up.


I leave the house with nothing but my driver’s license and pick up a couple of chicks, fully loaded, with chic backpacks and a wary dog. They pray, shimmy into the back, and give me an address. For forty minutes, I feel like a sheikh. The dog, riding shotgun, watches my every move.

Mission accomplished. They praise my driving while their dog preys on a nearby chipmunk.

I head home before my wife takes notice. She says we didn’t move to Orlando so I could live in Fantasyland, but, hey, isn’t that what being an Uber driver is all about?

Nice twist!!!


A muezzin calls the faithful to pray, soaring voice battling car horns.

"Praise be you were not inside!"

The driver's round eyes.

She opens her compact, hands trembling.

The Chichester Herald had screamed "Local Lass Marries Sheik". Not strictly true, though Saif had a Swiss bank account, a house with fountains, marble, flunkies. Real gold cufflinks. Crisp white shirts. Swoonworthy cologne.


But the tins in the basement - though labelled osprey, tulip, anemone - weren't paint.

And he wasn't in oil.

The blooming dust cloud reflects in the compact.

"Praise be," she says.

MI6 better give her a pay rise.

"and he wasn't oil" is one of those perfect little phrases that makes the story turn a corner and smack you in the nose.

As has become the pattern, I'll post the final results later today.
In the meantime, look these over, and tell me who you think should take home a prize (there might be more than one this week!)

Who did I overlook?


I knew from the first read through that Rio would take home the prize.
Then I read through the second time and had to add JustJan.

There's just too much excellence to choose only one.

And honestly, all of them are really wonderful!

Rio and Jan, let me know what you like to read and I'll get your prize books in the mail.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and enter.
This was utterly delightful!

woefully behind, what else is new-with update

I'm behind this morning, I'm sorry.
I had a book on editorial deadline this weekend, and by 5pm Sunday, when I reached The End,
and sent it back to the client I looked like this;

There was only one thing to do:
call for sushi

then Netflix and chill

What did you do on Sunday?

 Dear SharkForBrains:
There's like a 99% chance that you know this, but I was the 1% who didn't until somebody told me I was confusing people a bit as to my intentions so here goes...

Netflix & Chill, at least among my millennial peers, refers specifically to putting Netflix on so there is background noise then engaging in sexual activities with somebody. If that's what you meant to say about your Sunday evening, more power to you.

I, on the other hand, was using it to mean 'relax' and really confused the heck out of some of my soldiers by telling them (after they did something dumb) to go back to their shared hotel room and "netflix and chill" instead of going to the bars with their buddies.

They, knowing the common meaning, thought their commanding officer was ordering two men, both married to women, to engage in sexual relations. It was awkward. Really awkward. And then undeniably funny, after they asked for clarification. It totally threw off the momentum of the ass-chewing, which is almost impossible to recover from.

uh, no.
I'm very very mortified to find myself in that 1% with you.

Friday, September 20, 2019

It sounds like a flash fiction contest!

A new wrinkle in flash fiction!

I've been pulling out my hair with homophones recently, so time to get some use out of the damn things.

In other words, a flash fiction contest!

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:


To compete for the Steve Forti Deft Use of Prompt Words prize (or if you are Steve Forti) you must also use: pain, pane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contest opens: Saturday, 9/21, 7:17am

Contest closes: Sunday, 9/22, 9am

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

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

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

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid

Ready? SET?
Not yet! 


oops, sorry, contest closed

Look for results on Monday 9/23/19!

yup, I'm behind. Let's go for Tuesday 9/24/19