Monday, July 16, 2018

Rules for Writers: Be Committed

I feel like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. My remote and deserted island is the belief that the machinations which brought forth the sudden rise of the independent self-publisher will collapse like the housing market because it cannot support its own weight. Yet, I am surrounded by an ocean of self-publishing hype and hysteria where waves of mediocre authorial success—marked by an ability to quit one’s day job (for now)—and the snake oil salesmen that are “gurus” and “industry insiders” touting the next get-published-quick scheme pound me into a pus of submission where I almost believe there is no other way to publish.

This blog (your blog) is my Wilson, offering me a tenuous tether to the kernel of hope that the reality I hold dear—that those publishing professionals who have lived and breathed the industry for decades actually know what they’re doing and will be around long after the collapse of Everything from A to Z’s publishing platform—isn’t just a dream.

Still, I am desperately trying to build the raft that will carry me to home, to the professional community dedicated to spreading as much fervor and zealotry in the world of the traditionally published author as I see in the self-publishing world.

Other than the obvious: write the best book you can, query wide, publicize the hell out of your book once you are published, rinse, repeat … can you (or the Reiders) offer any direction to the community I’m seeking? (You know, those who have also not given up on the world of traditional publishing, those who understand the patience and dedication required to commit to a craft and business such as ours.)

Thanks again for everything you do.

That community is right here.

And it's at author events in bookstores.
And book cons with authors, cons like Bouchercon, Malice Domestic and book festivals where readers meet writers. 

Your people are the authors in the trade publishing trenches. They are suffering like you are; hearing the siren call of all the self-publishing authors who think their way is the One True Way.

Go to those places, and support the authors there. You build community by participating.
Talk about and review books by authors like you.
Offer them the support you will need later.

I remember when Amazon reduced the barrier to publishing by providing a marketplace for almost any kind of book, and people gleefully told me it was The End of Publishing As We Know It.

Well, it wasn't.

Anymore than the arrival of mass markets assured the death of hardcovers.
Anymore than ebooks signaled the death of print.

Publishing is a VERY old industry and it moves glacially. That's not a selling point these days, but it means that it's weathered more than a few storms and most likely will weather this one.

To give yourself some perspective on the passage of time, read the wonderful book An Infinity of Little Hours by Nancy Klein Maguire about the Carthusian monks at Parkminster (in England).  The Carthusian order was established in 1084, and has changed little in the intervening thousand years. Carthusians make the pace of publishing look like a jackrabbit.

To fend off despair: Be the voice you need to hear. You'll be surprised how many people believe as you do. Commit yourself to being part of the community you need.

And a new Rule for Writers: Be committed.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Rules for Writers: Be Brave

You get an offer of representation.
You've been in the revision, and development, and crushed hope trenches for so long you can scarcely believe you've now got a ladder out.

You email all the agents looking at your work.
You let them know you've got an offer.

And you dig out the list of questions to ask.
And you ask.

And your heart sinks.
There are some other red flags.
Not huge red flags like reading fees, or schmagenty credentials.
She's real, she's legit.
She's just not Right.

So you take a breath.
And you say no.
And you email the agents with your manuscript and let them know that you've turned down the offer.

Not a lot of people will understand what it took to say no.

We do.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

chapter outlines on submission (or ever)

I learned from a writer/freelance editor that some agents now require chapter outlines as part of the submission package, in addition to the query letter, synopsis, and specified number of manuscript pages.

Chapter outline: single or double space? A few sentences per chapter or major plot points as bullets? Or a summary paragraph per chapter?

I'll have it in my toolbox if needed.

Wait, what??
I've never heard of this for novels.
Non-fiction sure, but for a novel?

The first question you need to ask W/FE is "who asked for that" and get actual data.
And then think about this: most novels have DOZENS of chapters.
Non-fiction may have 20; I've sold books on proposal that have had as few as 10 chapters.

But outlining 48-100 chapters is nuts.
It's like a synopsis on steroids.
And I've never had an editor ask for something like this for a novel. Synopses sure, but never chapter outlines.

So, let's verify that someone actually did ask for this.
Then let's just all agree to say "naaaahhh"
Cause this is insane.

Friday, July 13, 2018


Many years ago I was at Powell's City of Books with an author whose name is lost to my shrinking memory cache. 

After the author's reading, as we were leaving, we came across a young writer gazing at a sign that was a line from a short story by Raymond Carver.

A brief meeting of the Raymond Carver Fan Club, Chapter 97209 was called to order.

The young writer told us he was on his way, that very night, to Port Angeles, to visit the grave of Raymond Carver. A pilgrimage of sorts. He was getting ready to start a new novel, and paying homage to Raymond Carver was his way of invoking the Muse, much as the ancients did before they took up the task of taming words into a story.

I was enchanted by that idea (as you can see, I've remembered it - albeit missing bits - for years). I wondered for whom I would undertake a pilgrimage. Who would I invoke to bless my efforts?

James Crumley would top the list. But I wouldn't visit his grave, I'd visit Crumley corner in The Depot, Missoula, Montana.

And if you don't know the work of James Crumley, I envy you. You now get to buy his books and experience the raw pleasure of reading an undisputed master for the very first time. Like how Keats felt about another writer who was known to invoke the Muse:

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Do you invoke a muse?
And for whom would you make a pilgrimage?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Published authors have read my ms! Three cheers, right? right?

If I've had published authors read my manuscript and have given positive feedback, can I / should I use this in my query letter. I know you shouldn't mention beta readers, but I wondered if pubed pubbed* authors also fall in this category.

I've found people that say yes do it and people that say hell no! What's the real deal about doing this?

Well, yes you should tell me but not for the reason you think.
You should tell me so I know what blurb opportunities you've squandered.

You don't get two trips to the well on a single book.
Once someone has read your book for a blurb (be they pubbed, not pubbed, almost pubbed, regretting their life choices in pubbing) that's it.

You don't get to go back and say "hey, the book underwent substantial revisions with the agent and the editor. Can you read again and give me a blurb?"

And let's face facts. The number of books that came in and went out without a fair amount of revision is

The question you didn't ask but should have is: should I ask someone to read my book for a blurb before I send it to an agent? The answer is NO.

And if you think I'm just a fussy cross patch:

Bottom line: don't ask anyone for a blurb before you have a publishing deal.

What you CAN do is mention that you know Published Author and s/he had indicated she's up for blurbing the book. That's actually of far greater value than a blurb on a book now.

*I love this typo with all my heart, and you know I make a LOT of typos my own self!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Your book is categorically not fiction. What is it?

I'm currently in the process of drafting query letters, but I'm having a genre problem.

I've written an extensive collection of limericks on mental and social health. I know it's not fiction. It's closer to non-fiction, but submission instructions for non-fiction often ask for sample chapters, and this collection won't be in chapter format.

Ok, fine, it's a poetry book, but... I think of poetry as relatively esoteric stuff, and I don't see this book belonging in the poetry section. I think it makes more sense to present it as a kind of humorous self-help book, or a novelty book one buys near the cash register at Urban Outfitters.

Thanks for any guidance you can offer on creating an appropriate and effective query letter. 

You're closest with "novelty book" but the correct term is gift book.
You query this as you would non-fiction, and while it's true you don't have sample chapters, you have sample pages. You'd include some of the limericks.

Were this to cross my desk the first thing I'd look for is platform. This is the kind of book that needs 10,000+ Instagram followers to be viable.

Also, I don't know what "social health" means.

The trick to getting category right is find books that are like yours.  Look at the back cover. Often there will be a category listed for the book.

This is the back cover of Life's Little Instruction Book which is a gift book, and also considered self-help.  Most books have this kind of information somewhere on the back cover.

Here's are some other examples from three books pulled at random from my shelf:

Lower center

Upper Left corner

Upper left corner

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Notifying other agents of an R&R

I know you're supposed to notify other agents if you get an offer from an agent, but not to notify them if you get a full request. But what if you get a Revise and Resubmit? Should you let others with the full know? How are you supposed to know whether to proceed with the request if others still have the full? Should you give them a head's up?

Don't assume that the requested revisions improve the book. Just cause An Agent said it, doesn't make it the best choice.

It's one thing to say the pacing is off in the middle chunk of the book; it's another thing entirely to say all your characters need to be vegan cause that's the new hot thing in dino porn, and oh by the way more sex scenes so it's not Lickosaurus lite.

However, if you do decide to undertake major revisions, what you can do is withdraw your manuscript from the other agents who have it, revise, then send it back.

Most of us would rather read the version you think is best.

You don't HAVE to do that; you CAN do it.

You can also let the submissions run their course. I can hear you muttering on your hamster wheel "but what if this new revision would have worked where the first version didn't??!!??"

And that is why writer should always have bottle of hooch next to their desk.

How to decide?

Well, if the revision requests are things like "pick up the pacing", "develop the characters", "build the world" generally those are things most agents will agree on as problems.

You'd be well advised to withdraw the manuscript, fix the problems and resubmit.

Things that are more idiosyncratic, and more personal reading taste "I didn't like Felix Buttonweezer very much" vary from agent to agent and "fixing" that "problem" might not improve the ms from another agent's point of view.

If those are the revisions requested, you can make them but NOT withdraw the other manuscripts from consideration, and send this revision only to the agent who suggested it.

There is no one right way here.

How to figure out what to do: email the agents with the requested fulls and ask them.

I get these kind of emails and my standard response is "I always want to read your best work. If you intend to revise in a major way, I'd rather read the revisions."

Not all agents will respond that way, but at least you'll know the lay of the land.

Bottom line: you do not have to notify other agents of a revise and resubmit.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Revising while your novel is a requested full

I'm just back from a reading binge of 26+  novels/memoirs/proposals.
I didn't read all of them start to finish. My practice is to read until I have to say no.
Often that's within about 100 pages.

But for a couple novels I knew I was going to say no, but I still read the whole thing cause I wanted to find out what happened. That's VERY good since it means I was interested even though there were problems with the book.

Both these novels had undergone revisions while they were pending in my reading pile. (Probably more than a few, since you can't keep an author from tinkering unless you tape their hands to something, and even then they try to type with their noses or toeses).

What happened with both the books was the revisions changed key pieces of information about characters and the time line. That change had NOT been integrated into the manuscript as a whole. So, someone who majored in math in chapter 206, was introduced as someone who majored in physics on page 2.

When you're revising, and familiar with the manuscript, you don't see that.
When I'm reading, and page 2 was six hours ago, I do.

This is not the kind of meticulous writing I look for.
Enough of it, and I'm much more likely to stop reading.

So, how to fix it?
Well, don't stop revising. I often find that my 101st revision is where the really good stuff finally gets on the page.

When you finish a revision you need to let the manuscript lie fallow for a week,  then go back and read it all the way through again.

And you probably need to read it aloud to catch the homonyms and wrong words. My favorites are hoard/horde, and stubble/stumble. (In fact, I caught your/you're in the title of this blog post ONLY after I let it sit overnight.)

In other words, if you revise, you need to make sure you've improved the ms, not created problems for yourself.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Back to the real world!

Yesterday's blog post asked you guess how many manuscripts I'd read during this past reading retreat.

Some of you were pretty skeptical of my reading speed!
John Davis Frain guessed 1
Steve Forti guessed 6
Lisa Bodenheim guessed 7
AJ Blythe guessed 8

Sharyn Ekbergh, Melanie Sue Bowles
and Karen McCoy all guessed 9
Some of you were pretty skeptical of my need for sleep, food, or water!
lamandarin guessed 42
Jennifer R. Donohue guessed 48
Amy Johnson thinks I'm the Tasmanian Devil Reader: 104!!!

Here are the ones closes to the correct number:
22 Dahcee Sahaydak
22 Adele 
22 Kate Larkindale
23 April

25 Heather
25 Donnaeve

26 Jen

27 Megan V
28 Peggy Larkin 

30 MB Owen
30 Sam Mills
Jen was right on the money, it was 26.

Then I looked at the more difficult category: the most common phrase.

It's very clear a lot of you have gotten enough form letters to recognize them

Cecilia Ortiz Luna There is a lot to like about your ms, however

Adele Thank you for sending me your work, however  
Sharyn Ekbergh Some great writing here, but

RosannaM There is a lot to like about your work, but

Charlogo Just one agent's opinion

Jeannette Leopold Not quite right for me

Jennifer R. Donohue Thank you very much for the opportunity to review your manuscript, Regretfully

Jen "not what I'm looking for at at this time"

Dena Pawling Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to consider your work

Joseph Snoe I have to pass

Barbara Ellis not quite right for my list. However writing is subjective and I'm sure another agent will feel differently

Kate Larkindale While there's is a lot to love about this manuscript, I'm afraid

Some of you took the criteria literally

C.M. Monson Best of luck

Sam Hawke Very best wishes to you

AJ Blythe Regards, Janet Reid

Sam Mills Good Luck

Beth Carpenter Best of luck

Sherin Nicole I finished

Colin Smith Dear/Not right for me

April not a good fit

Some of you channeled the Hopes of All Writers
Amy Johnson (she of the 104!) love, love, love it

Craig F rewrite and resubmit

CynthiaMc I can sell this book!

Timothy Lowe I love this

And the best of the Optimist lot is Claire Bobrow's
If you have not yet found representation, I would be happy to discuss your project further. Would sometime next week be convenient for a telephone call

Some of you were pretty darn hilarious (no surprise there!)
BrendaLynn Have you any salt?

John Davis Frain This is how I define unputdownable. This is also how I define markupable

And of course, the all time prompt word wrangle champion Steve Forti:
They don't think it be like this but it do
which is not something Marlo Stanfield says in The Wire, but should be.

I didn't express myself well enough on the blog post. What I was looking for was a word or phrase I used during this particular reading retreat, one I didn't use regularly.

Some of you intuited that was what I was looking for:
Curt David Please forgive

Sherry Howard I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting so long

Megan V Thanks for/your patience/writing to me about your work/sending me your tears, they were delicious (JR: ok, 3 out of 4 here!)

Peggy Larkin I'm sorry for the long delay in my response (but I'm sure you've enjoyed a lot of exercise on your hamster wheel in the interim ) (JR:not the parenthetical, even if I thought it!)
But no one actually got it quite right: "I apologize for the unconscionable amount of time it's taken me to reply to your email of (date.)

Megan V
and Peggy Larkin and Jen all came close enough in both mss count and common phrases that I think we need three winners today!

If all y'all will email me with your mailing address, I'll get a copy of Jeff Somers' Writing Without Rules out to you you. If you already have a copy, we can pick another book!

Thanks to all of you who weighed in on the question! Reading these made a nice transition back to the real world, and, sadly, leaving Intern Ty my fuzzy friend.


Saturday, July 07, 2018

Blog Hiatus, Day Seven, Question Seven/updated

I've been reading requested fulls for over a week now.
It's been a lot of fun, and I've had some lovely conversations with writers.

For today's question/s:

1. How many manuscripts did I read this week?
2. What was the most common phrase I used in emails to writers this week?

As a prize for the answers that are closest to the mark, how about a copy of Writing Without Rules by the Pantsless Phenom Jeff Somers!

I've had to turn off the comments so I can tally the results.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Blog hiatus Day Six, Question Six

Intern Ty keeps a stern eye (and ready claw!) out to make sure I'm reading those requested fulls!

Today's question:

If you could live anywhere in the world, other than where you are now,
where would it be and why?

(If I couldn't live in NYC, I'd live in Paris. I sure hope LynnRodz has a spare room!)

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Blog hiatus Day Five, Question Five

From the morning mailbag:
What are the odds that two Reiders would find out they are on opposite ends of the same street? I’m (Sharyn Ekbergh) home and Richelle (Elberg) is visiting her property about 14 miles away on my road.

A bad selfie, I’m holding my iphone out as far as I can to get both of us in the photo. 
And if we happened to have books published we would be next to each other on the shelves!

This prompts today's question:

have you met any of the other blog readers in person?

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Blog hiatus, Day Four, Question Four

Jeff Somers at Little City Books

Today's question is courtesy of Karen McCoy
Have you met any authors in real life and what was the take-away from that experience?

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Blog hiatus Day Three, Question Three

Today's question is from John Davis (ms) Frain:
What one idea has most helped your writing practice?
(I have to thank Julie W. for the idea of a sand timer. It sits on my desk, and when I turn it over, I WRITE.

And it works!

Monday, July 02, 2018

Blog hiatus, Day two Nine Days, nine questions

Intern Ty is assessing how well I'm doing on my reading stack.
He doesn't look all that impressed, does he?

Question for today is from Dena Pawling:

Tell us about the book you read in the last year or so that had 
the biggest impact on you and why.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Blog hiatus: Day One, Question One

There's a new post at Query Shark today about Tumblr, fanfiction, and getting plot on the page.

I'm off on a reading retreat for the next week, ably assisted by Intern Ty who is wondering why I'm not petting him right now:

You all gave me some terrific ideas for Nine Days, Nine Questions.

The first question is from Julie Weathers;

Do you have a "posse" that keeps you on track with your writing? 

Answers in the comment column.
And just a reminder as current events heat up: stay on topic, please. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Finish the story!

what do you do now!?

Tell us in 25 words or fewer what you would do if you heard that sentence.
Post your answer in the comment column of this post

(Steve Forti must include the words angioplasty and pseudophedrezone in his answer.)

Friday, June 29, 2018

Short short synopses

Just when I think I've mastered the full and the short synopsis, I'm starting to see lots of requests for one-three paragraph synopses (from publishers).

This seems more like a summary or blurb to me. How can one put in the majority of plot points and emotional arcs into one to three paragraphs? I've done a ton of searches for examples but only coming up with summaries. Am I missing something?

Sorry if you've dealt with this before. When I find examples of short synopses, it's always a page or two, not a paragraph or two!

Synopses are the spawn of Satan but ya gotta have 'em. Just a couple days ago an editor asked for a synopsis of a book I'd sent her. Fortunately, my client was prepared and when I slunk over to ask her for one, she had it back to me in minutes. Two pages of course, not this lunacy of a couple paragraphs.

But if someone asks for just a few paragraphs, what you include are the major plot points. Leave out almost everything else.

Think of the framework in a newspaper article: who what when where why, then add the twist in the middle, and what happens at the end.

It will make your novel look brutalized, but honestly if that's what an editor wants, that's what they want.

My guess is they want to get the highlights and make sure it doesn't turn in to science fiction in the twist and the ending (ie aliens arrive in chapter 14.)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Why I love middle grade non-ficton

I recently started acquiring middle grade non-fiction and it's been so much fun I can barely consider it work.

Brooklyn Bridge is the latest book I've read in this category. Published in 2001 it's a lovely lyrical look at the building of the iconic "New York and Brooklyn Bridge!"

When I turned the last page, I went to the MTA map to figure out which subway got me closest cause all I wanted to do was go see what I had just read about.

I know these books are intended for young readers, but surely I can be in that group, right? 

Here's another that will delight you.

and this

Have you discovered juvenile non-fiction?
Do you have any favorites?
I'm looking for good stuff to read.

And yes, when you start acquiring in a new category, the first thing you do is
(all together now!)

read 100 books in that category!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

How now brown cow...yes, I'm losing my grip on reality.

It's three days till reading retreat, but I had to start early.
I spent a good portion of Sunday tidying up the manuscripts and database of requested reads, thus was reminded how much good stuff is in there, just waiting, so I started reading today.

I will try to get some blog posts up for tomorrow and Friday, but we may have to start the hiatus early.

In the meantime, this is a picture of a highland cow.
Isn't s/he adorable?

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


I'm in need of some sharkly wisdom. In your Query Shark post #304-FTW you said "The VERY interesting omission is comps. That's an entirely valid choice and can work in an author's favor." Then in Query Shark post #305 you use the comps to help show how the query hasn't worked. I've always been wary of comps because I've wondered an agent would know what aspect of the comp is similar to my novel - the writing style, story line, characters, tone etc. I'm also more likely to NOT pick up a book because of the comps than otherwise (and I'd hate for a comp to deter an agent). With my hamster wheel running at full tilt I'm worried my decision to leave out comps is an issue. A few questions for you to sharpen your teeth on:

(1) Is there a particular aspect of the novel an agent assumes the comp refers to (as in, should the comp always reflect plot)?

(2) I know comps are housekeeping so an agent will have read the query before the comp, but would the comp be a dealbreaker if you get it wrong?

(3) In Query Shark post #305 you mention how Gone Girl is not a good comp (it was one of those freaky success stories we all want) but how successful does a comp have to be before you can use it?

(4) If comps are left out, even when requested by an agent, but you have a rocking query will it matter? ("rocking query" is a whole other matter, so for the sake of this argument, let's roll with it)

Comps drive me bananacrackers. You know bananas, but served on crackers. Comparable to WheatThins in size and color but yanno...better tasting.

I resist the idea of comps but many agents insist on them.

Comps are a shorthand for where the book belongs on the shelf and/or what kind of reader will like the book.

When you mention comps in your query, I find it helpful if you tell me what aspect of the book is comparable to yours: the tone, the multiple points of view, the style.

If you comp your book to the tone of Carl Hiassen I'm expecting a comic novel.
If you tell me readers of Lee Child will like your book,  I'm expecting a hero-driven crime novel with three dimensional female characters and more than a few twists in the plot.

To answer your questions:
(1) Is there a particular aspect of the novel an agent assumes the comp refers to (as in, should the comp always reflect plot)?

Answer: No. That's why you clarify. Tone, style, substance, any or all.

(2) I know comps are housekeeping so an agent will have read the query before the comp, but would the comp be a dealbreaker if you get it wrong?

Answer: Yes. I've had editors not read submissions because they didn't like the comps. It annoyed the snot outta me, but underscored that some editors really insist on comps.

(3) In Query Shark post #305 you mention how Gone Girl is not a good comp (it was one of those freaky success stories we all want) but how successful does a comp have to be before you can use it?

Answer: Once there's a movie, it's probably safe to assume the book is an outlier and not a good comp. Or the author has 20+ bestsellers.

(4) If comps are left out, even when requested by an agent, but you have a rocking query will it matter? ("rocking query" is a whole other matter, so for the sake of this argument, let's roll with it)

Answer: not to me it doesn't, but some agents insist.

Comps are an evil necessity these days. They are yet another reason you need to read widely in your category.

There is no one right answer here. No matter what you do you're going to second guess yourself, and blame the comps for a pass at the query stage.  All I can say is, try your best, and write the best book you can.

Keep a detailed reading journal so when you need comps you've got good notes on books you read.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Darius the Great is Not Okay Flash Fiction contest results!

We had a low turnout this weekend, probably due to summer and the world cup but the entries were terrific.

In a category all to himself, the Steve Forti!

>>Hey pendejo. U must b loco, vato. Who u think u are?
New phone. Who dis?
>>U got huevos, holmes. But u some weak whitebread, I bet.
I don't know what you want, but eat a duck.
>>U wanna fight? Luchemos. I'll show u pain.

>>Si o no?
Go to hell.
>>I'll send u there, vato. U'll regreat messing wit my Miranda.
Wait, who?
>>Don't play dumb. Miranda. Mi amor.
I don't know any Miranda, dude.
>>Lo siento. Wrong number.
Ok, so I thought I was amping it up by giving Steve an extra word. As he dunked in my face, he used TWO prompt words back to back: Miranda, dude.  Not to mention three words for one prompt. Whitebread, I bet.

And infusion across three lines.

Honestly, next time Steve is just going to have to get different words than everyone else.

Starting with paroxysm, neologism, and probably Nefertiti, just to start with.

And just to really slam it home, notice he's the first post…again.

I love Timothy Lowe's entry with Steve Forti as the villain of the piece! Now THERE is a new idea!!

And Kitty's entry about Steve being the new copy editor made me laugh out loud!

And Steve Stubbs' great pun had me groaning out loud!

Kregger's deft wielding of "Adib" as a prompt word really stood out:
Where am I anyway? Abu a dibi?

Will McPhail
's first paragraph just cracked me up
No one knows exactly how The Great Iranian Dog and Pony Show earned its moniker, mostly because the event itself has nothing to do with what the title would lead you to believe. An annual tea bazaar put on by the Catholic Women’s League.

Sherin Nicole's entry was devastating

And John Davis (manuscript) Frain sails in and just lays infusion out there in the last sentence. I actually heard the mic drop when I read it.

Here are the entries that stood out to me.

Claire Bobrow
Ira noodled over the problem.
Kugel without cinnamon?
His mother’s kugel always had cinnamon.
Should he mention it, or…
maybe not.
She’d squawk like a cockatoo -
“Mama’s boy!”
A dibble plunged in the eardrum – that’s what her protest would be, allowing yet another seed of discord to sprout.
As if their life weren’t already a great jungle of misery.
No – best keep his trap shut so “The Mistake,” as his mother called her,
wouldn’t clutch her tea and moan loud enough to wake the Dead.
Or Dad, as I used to call him.
Until he complained about mother’s kugel.
I love how this story loops back in on itself to create a perfect circle. Very deft!

Adib sat by his father's bedside. "I'm sorry, Dad."

Darius coughed, spitting up blood. "No matter. It's the way of kings. Sons murder their fathers. Unless we are truly great men, it is how we become kings. It was the tea, wasn't it? Poison."

Adib nodded. "Yes. But I swear by our Iranian gods, never will fratricide happen in our family line again."

Darius smiled. "Good. Now bring my grandson so that I may see him before I die."

Adib looked away, ashamed to meet his father's eyes.

"I cannot. I made a vow. I gave him the tea, too."
Dark dark dark!

Marty Weiss

“I was had! I believed there was a person called the Great Oz,” said Dorothy.

“Oh, there was! I had tea with a hare who told me Oz existed,” Alice responded.

“I know that hare,” said the tortoise. “I ran a race with him and he lost, quite badly I might add.”

“It’s getting late. I think it best if we all skedaddle now and go back to our library shelves,” Mrs. Goose suggested.

“Yes. These days, the children are more interested in their Facebook, Twitter and Iphone activities. Even the young ones have forsaken us,” Aesop lamented.
This just cracked me up.

Michael Seese
The guys with the great big guns seemed surly. I suspect it had something to do with the warhead I borrowed.

"Where bomb be?” the unibrow barked in English so broken it was beyond repair.

Apparently, I'd advertised the sale on These Iranians put the “HA!” in jihad. Still, armed only with a shovel, I was underdressed for the party.

“Let’s not get our sirwals in a bunch. I'll let you have it. Gladly. One question. Coffee or tea?"


"That's what stewardesses ask folks when they fly," I said, fingering the button and counting back from ten.

Here's another guy we're going to have to up the ante on. That second line is utterly perfect.  oh hell, the whole thing is perfect.

KD James
A glance at my watch lent an infusion of panic to adrenaline.

I ran harder.

"Don't be dead, don't be dead," I begged.

Too late, my charge's tea-stained teeth bared in a rictus, skin already cooling, sluggish blood trailing down limp flesh.

Dammit, I'd only looked away for a minute. Or twenty. I'd just wanted a doughnut. Fortification.

Fresh Hot Now!

But it seemed someone had signed me up for the failure-a-day club. This made, what, an even dozen now?

"Great," I muttered, licking glaze off ghostly fingers. "I'm never going to gain guardian angel status at this rate."

Notice the use of infusin and forti-fication? Very clever.
Also a terrific story.

Melanie Sue Bowles
No one at The Reef saw it coming. Although everyone was shocked when Forti ran away with Frain’s manuscript. Perhaps a Dib Membrane moment of obsession with John’s ghostly pale complexion? Who knows. But a great brouhaha ensued.

Smith took a shot at easing the tension by telling “dad” jokes. The Reider collective eye-roll caused a shift in the tides around Carkoon.

It finally required an infusion of murmurings and incantations from Luna, Bobrow, and Faris to restore the peace.

Normally I don't go for the meta entries (the ones that are about the blog, etc.) but this one just cracked me up completely!

They added two extra Mondays per week, and scheduled daylight savings four times a year, which goes faster because they cut out July.

We’re taxed on the number of letters in our names. Dad saw it coming and named me half of a lowercase t. Calls me Plus.

I randomly open a box of food, no clue what’s inside. All packaging’s white; no labels.
Great! Pickles. I dip one into my tea, formerly known as coffee, and munch.

Why the infusion of Government Mandates?

To drive us mad, I believe.

But I know up is not down. Dad kept books.
This  is a whole lot harder to write this than it looks. Well, it's hard to write WELL-brilliantly imaginative and stylish, plus it makes total sense. That's a hat trick.

Amy Johnson
Great Scot!” exclaimed Sir Abbott Costello, International G.O.A.T. Awards Emcee.

“Steve, actually.”

“Not the bagpiper?”

“Nope. Steve: Flash—”

“Fastest superhero?”


“The truth, please.” Someone approached. “Who’s coming?”

“No, he’s by the TARDIS.”

Steve was surprised when the bearded man introduced himself. “Father Abraham: Dad.”

Then Julia Child. “The French Chef!”

“These days I’m specializing in fusion.”

“Confusion, indeed!” cried Sir Abbott Costello.

Steve tried to explain. “It’s not that bad…I…Before, she cooked French…”

“Don’t bother,” a woman whispered into Steve’s ear. “I ran into him earlier. Like talking to a nurikabe.” She sipped her sweet tea. “Julie: Vocabulary.”

And infusion and Forti appear again! You guyz are having way too much fun with this!

And the winner of the ARC of Darius the Great is Not Okay is  RosannaM.

RosannaM, if you'll email me with your mailing address, I'll get this in the  mail to you!

Thanks to all of you who wrote and posted entries. I loved reading them.
The display of talent here never fails to amaze me.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Happy Sunday!

There's a new post at QueryShark this morning and revisions to #303 and #309.

I've been prepping for the reading hiatus. What kind of prep do you need for reading, other than laying in extra eyeballs? Well, in my case, I wanted to make sure I only read manuscripts that were still available, so I had to sort out ones that had been withdrawn for any reason. Withdrawals are usually because a writer accepted other representation before I could get my fangs into the work. While I try to update as things happens, sometimes I get busy and don't.

I also want to make sure I read the most current version. All y'all have a habit of tinkering with your work while it waits to be read. I'm always glad to read the most recent, hopefully best, version, so sometimes I have three or four copies of a ms.  Again I try to tidy up as I go, but there are always a few stragglers.

So, I make sure that every requested full is numbered correctly, there's an email file with all the email from that author, and the author is tagged as a requested full in my address book.

But, two hours later, it's all tidy, and I'm ready to dive in.  I had to force myself to remember I have to work on something else today, because looking through those requests yesterday made me realize how much good stuff awaits!

And it's summer so I'm moving furniture in my apartment.

What's something you do at the start of summer?

Friday, June 22, 2018

Darius the Great Flash Fiction contest

Long time blog readers may remember Adib Khorram, a regular commenter and contest entrant from several years back.

If you're wondering what happened to him, he was busy writing a novel.

I managed to steal an Advance Review Copy. I shimmied up the exterior drainpipe, lowered myself through the chimney and found a copy cleverly concealed on a bookshelf in his agent's pied a terre. I started reading in the paddy wagon.

Let's just say, I'm not surprised Adib wrote a great book, not surprised at all. But I'm totally in awe of his story telling skills, his command of craft, and how real yet entertaining this book is. In other words, this is a total sox knocker for 2018. I'm not alone in my opinion: Darius the Great is Not Okay was also a BuzzBook pick at BEA this year. That's a pretty singular honor: only five or six books are chosen.

It goes on sale in August, but I'm glad to start talking about it early AND give away this purloined ARC to the winner of the flash fiction contest this weekend

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

Steve Forti must also incorporate this prompt word: infusion

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: tea/teal is ok, but dad/dead 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. (For example "This book sounds great!")

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: 6:43am, Saturday, June 23, 2018

Contest closes: 9am, Sunday, June 24, 2018

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. Too late! Contest closed.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Query in haste, repent in leisure!

I know you're going to bite my head off for this question, but here goes...

Hypothetically speaking...Let's say a first time novelist gets overly excited and queries a bit too soon. Perhaps she wants to test the waters and sends out a few queries before her beta readers have gotten back to her. (I know...I know...)

Well...her beta readers have gotten back to her and everyone is really loving her novel, except for one little flaming red flag...they hated the opening chapters.

She's fixed them and is very happy with the changes, but the question is...At this point, she's assuming those initial queries are all going to get rejected, which she's accepted, but is there anything she can do to let those agents know the opening has changed? Or should she just chalk it up as a lesson learned?

(And yes...she's well aware that she's tasty shark bait at this point. She's hiding safely under the covers with her toes far from the edge of the bed.)

As always, thank you so much for your time and advice. As afraid as I am to hear it, it's still very much appreciated!

You did WHAT?

Well, you can requery. There is no law that says you can't query again even if the agent has passed the first time. There are no black lists. Agents don't gather in covens to hand around lists of Bad Bad Writers. (The lists are of Bad Bad Editors!)

You'll want to change your email address if you do.  If you query me from an email address I've heard from before, gmail groups those emails even if the subject line changes.

Do NOT mention you queried before.

And don't expect a flurry of requests.
Often, the reason I pass on queries is not the first pages; it's a problem with the query, OR it's a book I don't want to read or work on.

I recently passed on a project that had a terrific query and artfully written pages. It was a book about an emotionally charged subject, and I don't have the emotional bandwidth to even consider that book right now.  Nothing the author can do about that. (I passed with a personalized email saying why, but still, not fun for the author.)

But, this time, make sure you've really polished that query and first pages till they sparkle.
A do-over is fine. A dozen-over is a sign your enthusiasm needs better management.

Your enthusiasm is the flip side of the writer who can't bear to send a query cause it might not be perfect. That writer tinkers endlessly. With the query. With the pages. With the novel.  That kind of LACK of eagerness is just as much a problem as your abundance of enthusiasm.

That sweet spot of when to query is when you're confident, and your revisions are just moving things back and forth without actually changing much at all.

Bottom line: there are no query police and I'm always looking for good work.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"I can still work!"

I've had this conversation twice in the last two weeks with hard-working clients:

Client: I'm going on vacation, but I'm taking my laptop and I'll work on these revisions.

Me: Don't.

Client: No really, I can. I have wifi in the cabin by the beach/on the zipline/at the pool.

Me: I'm sure you do, but under no circumstance, should you pull out your laptop and work.

Client: (considering the possibility that SharkForBrains might be more than a nickname) umm...huh?

Me: Look, you're going on vacation. Go On Vacation. Don't take work with you. Be fully present with your husband/wife/kids/whomever. Don't be the person holed up in the attic trying to connect to the wifi while everyone else is having fun.

Here's why I'm pretty adamant about telling clients this:

Your brain needs fallow time. It needs time to rest, recuperate, reenergize. Taking time off is NOT slacking off. It's recognizing that your brain needs rest. That's not a weakness.
It's hubris to think you're so amazing you defy the laws of being human. You need food, you need sleep, and you need a respite from work every once in a while.

There's a hilarious meme going around on Twitter about The Most Successful People I Know. It started when some douchecanoe posted a list of what the most successful people do and populated it with things like:  gets up at 4am; reads for an hour before swilling green tea steeped in a handthrown pot from Tibet; attends daily mass, twice, and recites the readings from memory.  You know, those lists that make you feel like a slacker idiot.

Of course, there were some pretty hilarious sendups.

Laird Barron posted this one:

And there are some others that made me laugh:

And some with poetic literary references:

(please tell me you recognize both references!)

My point is this:  the most successful people I know understand they are not automatons, and take vacations, and give themselves respite time, and recognize the value of doing so.

So, if when you're tempted to take work on your vacation: Don't.

Be fully present for your life instead.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

More on mobsters, hackers and other stock characters

Yesterday's post about tired old tropes that make me pass on your pages produced a plaintive wail of sorts:

Emilya Naymark said...
Mobsters period? As in no mobsters ever?
I had a vision of Emilya looking at her manuscript replete with three dimensional, interesting criminals who just happened to belong to the mob, and a solitary tear trickling down her cheek.

Of course, this amused me to no end because, as you know, tormenting writers and crushing hopes and dreams is my favorite part of the job.

And of course, my original post was a bit terse. Here's a more nuanced take on "no mobsters."

Mobsters can be something other than Don Corleone or Tony Soprano.

I'd love to see a librarian mob, with librarian street toughs enforcing reading-level-quiet, and godhelp you if you don't pay your fines.

Or simply mobsters that don't wear velour track suits, carry brass knuckles and have a Brooklyn accent that would heat up cold pizza.

To create an interesting mob person (ladies or gents!) think about why your character is IN the mob. What does being in the mob do for them, what do they get out of it? What do they have to sacrifice to stay in the mob. Do they want to be OUT of the mob, but can't figure out how to withdraw gracefully (ie alive!)

In other words, like with every character, you're going to know a lot more than your reader, because you're going to know why they are the way they are.

Mobsters and all those other tired old stock characters are all too often used when the writer needs to move the plot forward, and they don't invest time in understanding them.

A hacker is needed, presto here's the hacker from Central Casting.

So, mobsters, maybe. If you do it right. But that's true of darn near everything. Do it right, and I'll read to the end.

Now, that is a offer you can't refuse.

Monday, June 18, 2018

So, your query works. I read your pages. Then I said no. Some reasons why.

1. Over writing. "Massive red orb" when what you mean is "sun."
Unless it's science fiction, and suns can be small blue triangles as well as massive red orbs, you should save the description for things that matter. That the sun is shining does not require the sun be described as a massive red orb.

2a. The female characters are described by what they look like; the men by what they do.
I'm over this.
Completely, totally, over this.

2b. The characters are described in ways that make them caricatures. I see this a LOT with starting-out writers. Our hero isn't just smart, he's a rocket scientist. She's not just a waitress, she won the Nobel Peace Prize last year. Characters are more interesing when they're flawed.

2c. Stock characters. Alcoholic, burned out cops; brilliant but socially inept hackers; mindless thugs; mobsters; DMV employees who always manage to cough up info when the hero needs it.

Give any of these characters some fresh twist and I'm all in. This is why you read 1000 books in your category, so you know what's been done before and what hasn't.

3a. Nothing happens.
Something needs to change for the story to start. If I have to wait too long, I lose interest. It doesn't have to be someone being set on fire; it can be subtle. It just needs to be there.

3b. Not enough happens by page 50
The plot should be fully underway by this point. If the only thing that's happened is the characters have been moved around, we'll still need a sense of what's at stake. Think of it this way. Your characters are driving cross country from NYC to LA. Whether they're going too fast or too slow is something you know ONLY if you also know they have to be in LA by six pm tomorrow or the world will end. It's not just what they're doing, it's what's at stake.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sunday, and finalizing plans for upcoming vacation

A special bit of recognition to those sons and daughters who have lost their fathers this year. Father's Day is hard when your dad is gone, that first year especially so. May the memory of your dad be of comfort to you today, and always.

There's a new post at QueryShark today.

Blog hiatus starts in two weeks. I'll be using that time for a reading retreat, so think of yourself as making a sacrifice (daily content) for the good of a lot of writers (those in the requested full scrum who have been waiting for what seems like forever to them.)

Two weeks back I asked for some ideas about what to do for the week I'll be reading.

Here's a list I culled from your comments.  Let me know what you think!

For Nine Days, Nine Questions, I'd love to know what quote, advice or encouragement folks keep going back to: those sentences that you scrawled on a Post-it and suck to your wall/computer screen/desk. (Or forehead for the really rough days.)
Jan added to Sarah:
I'd love to know the one (yes, only one) writing tip that each writer feels has helped them the most.

Kristin Owens
How about: What's the first sentence from your current WIP?

Sam Mills
Nine Days, Nine Questions: What hobbies have you given up to make more time for writing? What hobbies did you keep to get a break from writing?

Dena Pawling

Have you participated in NaNoWriMo? Did you finish? What did you learn? Has your family stopped believing you're crazy?

Have you participated in writing-related twitter contests? Which ones? Why? What did you learn?

Do you submit short stories for publication? Where? What has been your experience, good or bad?

Have you ever submitted anything to a contest? Which ones? Why?

Where do you do most of your writing? Why? How many chairs have you had to replace?

Of the books you read, what percentage are purchased and what percentage from the library? How do you choose which to buy? Have you had to purchase a larger house to accommodate all your books?

Do you use writing software like Scrivener or similar? Is it better/easier than a basic word processing program? Why?

What do you see as your main strength as a writer? Main weakness?

Besides this blog, which writing-related blogs/sites do you visit? Why? Why are you reading blogs instead of writing?

What category/genre do you write? Why?

In the past year, which book have you read that impacted you the most? Why? How many copies of that book have you purchased and/or stolen and/or given away?

Have you ever let someone borrow a book and it comes back to you damaged, or does not come back at all? Does this make you happy or sad or mad? Who posted bail for you?

Have you ever borrowed a book and never returned it? Is that person still your friend? Does that library still welcome you? How many community service hours do you still have left to complete?

Julie Weathers

2. Share tips on how you keep writing even when you don't want to.

3. How do you organize your books? If you organize them by color, I don't want to know.

4. What were some of your writing goals this year? Are you on track?

5. Do you have a "posse" that keeps you on track with your writing?
What's something(s) you keep around your work/writing space that is iconic to you? 

Mike Howard
How about simply posting your word-or-idea count for the day, each day, every day


1. What are your three favorite books?
2. What are you reading now?

Colin Smith
The nine questions could be fun. Especially if they're not all writing-related questions. Maybe some interesting but not-too-personal questions about other things. E.g.,

What did you do after high-school?

If you went to college, where and what did you major in?

What's your favorite non-writing activity?

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would that be? (That could get a bit personal, but I can think of things I wouldn't mind sharing.)

John Davis (manuscript) Frain
What one idea has most helped your writing practice? (I have to thank Julie W. for the idea of a sand timer. It sits on my desk, and when I turn it over, I WRITE.

And it works!

No internet, no phone, no interruptions for one hour, one minute and twelve seconds. Even the sand timer wants me to write more--I timed it and there's an extra minute-twelve of sand in there, so I get an extra paragraph every time I play.)*
*Longest parenthetical note ever!
Lennon Faris
Weirdest writing experience.

Or creepiest!

Karen McCoy
Maybe one of the "nine questions" days could cover stories of when we met authors (or agents? or editors?), and what we learned from each experience.

-Where do you live and is it where you were born? If not, why did you move?

-What is something special or unique about where you live?

-What is your favourite local food? Fav non-local food?

-What did your grandparents do for a living?

-What is your dream vacation, if money were no object?

-Other than writing, fill in the blank: "I've always wanted to __________." What's stopping you?

-What life skills do you bring to the zombie apocalypse, and can I be on your team?

-Why is Blogger suddenly making me log into my gmail account before I can comment? (OK, so that's not a question for the blog)

-What's your favourite way to procrastinate (other than thinking up questions for this blog hiatus)?

Sherin Nicole

4 Books that Shaped Your Writing Style?

Jeannette Leopold 
Aspect of WIP that makes you most nervous to share with beta readers?

Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale

If you couldn't be a writer, what would you want to be when you grow up?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Happy Bloomsday!

I'm nowhere near a devoted Joycean; I like to read about him more than I like to read him.  The Most Dangerous Book, about the publication of Ulysses, by Kevin Birmingham is a true sox-knocker. Even if you've never read any James Joyce, and have zero interest in starting, this book is a terrific look at publishing.  Utterly readable, utterly captivating!