Friday, May 29, 2015

Flash fiction writing contest!

It's the start of summer Fridays! Time for a flash fiction writing contest! The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

plott  (note the number of t's in this word)

 (If you know what links all the words, you can include that in your post and the words do NOT count as part of the story.)

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The word must appear as a whole if used in a longer word:
Wife/midwife is ok
Heart/William Randolf Hearst is not ok

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 and then post.

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

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

7. 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.

8. Under no circumstances should post a comment that is NOT an entry here. They will be deleted and you will be severly glared at large menacing creatures.

Contest opens: Saturday May 30 10am (Eastern Shark Time)

Contest closes: Sunday May 31 10am (Eastern Shark Time)

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?


(Sorry guyz!!! I'm late opening the contest. Overslept...blame BEA!!)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Agent question: mellifluous she' aint

As you suggested, I've started querying widely, and I got a bite from an apparently-respected agent at a long-established boutique agency. While there has been no offer of representation yet, we've talked on the phone a couple of times and it's clear that she "gets" my nonfiction book, loves my platform, and has plenty of experience, expertise, and connections. She's asked for sample chapters and our next conversation will likely be The Call.

I may be getting ahead of myself, but I'm panicking because as great as this agent looks on paper, and as much as she seems to respond to my work, I found her really annoying on the phone--she talks nonstop in a whiny voice and won't stop bragging about her other clients and the great deals she's landed them.

I know she's trying to impress me as much as I'm trying to impress her, but I cringe when I imagine her pitching MY book to editors in the same way. Clearly, though, she's the real deal and has managed to represent plenty of writers effectively. I still have queries out there, but I've also had some rejections; would I be crazy to pass this up?

Most agents pitch by email, and no one cares what she sounds like anyway. Editors care about the books she's bringing them. 

The other thing to realize here is you've talked to her only a few times.  If she's making deals, she's on the phone to editors a lot, and they've gotten used to her voice if they ever noticed it at all.

And you're right to realize she was trying to impress you as much as you were trying to impress her. 

We've all got flaws. If this agent gets your work, and you think she can sell your work, that's what matters.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Query Question: how much of my book can I put on my website?

I've been working on a book series for a few years and as I'm sure all fiction writers are, am very excited about the characters, world, and story.

I am also an artist and my sister is into musical composition, and we are both decent with computers & design & such. A website for the series seemed like a great idea a few months ago --- synopses, artwork, original music, maybe quotes - i.e. things to get people excited about the story, not the story itself -- and after a lot of research on literature websites, we spent some time putting it together.

I was pretty pleased with our results and I think it could be a fun addition to a query.

In one of your posts I think I saw that a website link is acceptable as a small blurb near the end or under the electronic signature on a query letter. However, I got the feeling this was for the websites of published authors.

My question is, assuming it is of professional quality, do you think it would it be frowned upon or considered an attribute in a debut query? Or should the website remain unpublished until this is discussed with the agent? I was worried the potential agent might think, 'they've spewed all their story into cyberspace and now the rights are all screwed over' or something equally terrible. I don't know about any legal potential situations or publishing nuances for this situation and was wondering if you had any input.

For starters there is no such thing as a "fun addition to a query." Thinking like this leads to glitter, presentation folders, chocolates and unicorn plushies.  This is the road to hell, and you want to get off it asap.

A website link under your signature is for everyone, not just published authors. 

You don't mention what kind of books you're writing, other than that they are fiction, and you also don't mention what kind of website (with music) that you're building.

[Websites that play music when I click on them mean I click OFF them instantly. If this is news to you, please please please spend some time researching tips on building effective websites.]

To answer your question: you can put your entire book up on your website and not affect any of your publication rights.  You can also put up synopses, artwork and whatever else you want.  Where you plan to get quotes for an unpublished book, I do not know, but that's a whole other blog post.

But the larger question is, other than you're good at building websites, why would you do this? Is this an effective tool to employ in querying?

The ONLY time this kind of website is going to help you is if you are an author/illustrator writing picture books. [Clever music isn't going to help there either.]

I'm sensing here that you want to stand out from the crowd.

The ONLY way to stand out from the crowd is to write a book I really want to read.

You're spending a lot of time on this website idea; that's time you really should be spending on the books. Every minute you're writing html code for a synopsis, you're NOT writing your book. Every minute you spend creating art work for a book is a minute you're not reading widely in your category.

I fully understand the lure of working on something fun rather than doing the more difficult work of editing, revising, and reading. This kind of fun stuff will not get you closer to being published. It will not boost the effectiveness of your query.

It doesn't screw up your publication rights; it messes with the amount of time you're devoting to what matters: writing.

This is the modern equivalent over fussing about the kind of paper to choose for typing your query. It does NOT matter, as long as I can read what you write.

Don't be clever. Don't try to be different.

Be brilliant. That takes a whole lot more time and effort.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Query Question: how published am I?

I have a question that you’ve come close to answering in your posts, but not quite.

I have a manuscript that I have been working on for some time and after many, many rewrites I have decided once again to try to query. The problem I have is with the “previously published” status. Several years ago, when I was young and naive (okay, not young but younger), I found an article about Hulu, where you could upload and print copies of your work. I thought it would be fun to have a hard copy of my book, so I gave it a whirl.

Where I faltered was in following the steps, it asked if I wanted an ISBN, which in my naivety, I did not know and clicked yes. I also clicked on Trade Paper rather than the novel format. So, the book has an ISBN in Trade Paper format, but was never available to be purchased. How messed up have I made things?

Is this novel to be tabled for eternity? Or is there some way I can still market it as an unpublished piece of work?

Given that you did not make the novel available for purchase, and (I hope) no copies are circulating among your friends or beta readers, you do get a mulligan on this.

Simply change the title and you're fine. You will not need to reveal your sordid past to agent or publisher.

There's one exception to this:
Did you register the copyright with the copyright office?   If you DID register the copyright, or it was registered for you, than you can't get a do-over.

If you want to query the manuscript, you'll simply explain to an agent who expresses serious interest what happened (much like you did in the question above).  It will NOT get in the way of securing a publication deal since the book wasn't ever made available to readers.

You will need to file a different kind of copyright registration if you're amending one that's already been done.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Query Question: I love you, can I tell you?

Thank you for being awesome. I imagine you get that a lot. People are thankful for your help, and it can be hard not to gush.

A chronic gusher myself, I often wonder how my appreciation is being perceived by its  recipients.

And so, if I may, I'd love to know your thoughts.

See, there's this publisher. I've been following him for about two years. I love his passion and personality. He has incredible ethics and works hard for his authors. We've been in contact multiple times for various reasons, and there is no doubt in my mind that he is the one I want to publish my work.

I want to tell him how strongly I feel, yet I'm afraid of coming across as creepy or phony.

How much praise is too much? Does sincere flattery get old for your kind of wonderful?

Normally I delete all the nice things people say to me in emails before I publish their questions here. That's not to say I don't appreciate their compliments, I DO. I delete it because I think it would make everyone feel they had to start their question with some sort of praise, and that would remove any shred of sincerity from it.

The more specific you can be about what someone has done that helped you, the easier it is for us to feel it's sincere and not just idle flattery.

"I love his passion and personality" is more adulation than anything else
"He works hard for for his authors" is much more specific.

If you were to say "I want you to publish my work because you work hard for your authors" that's something that feels genuine.

"I want you to publish my book because I love your passion and personality" ....that feels like sucking up.

Sincere thanks never gets old.

So, tell the publisher what he does that makes you want to query him, and leave the gushing for fan letters to Tiger Beat.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Week in Review May 24, 2015

In last Sunday's WIR Dena Pawling picked up on my comment that summers in NYC used to be unbearable. She said
I've never heard that people move north to Maine for the summer. But this does beg the question – why do people live in NY at all, if they'd just rather be somewhere else?

Well, we don't want to be someplace else! We just like visiting someplace else in August. And yes, it used to be close on unbearable here. For starters, the subways were not air conditioned.  Men used to ride to work in their undershirts, keeping their dress shirts on hangars to put on once they reached the office.

I myself did not witness this, but one of the MANY great things about having the late (dearly, sorely missed) Richard Gilbert for a client, is that I heard many of his stories of mid-last century New York. I loved hearing them. As a devoted devout New Yorker, who would live no place else, they were like hearing old family stories.  

Richard Gilbert's memoir of the advertising biz is still in print through Diversion Books. I love this book with a passion.

And this from Colin Smith about the source of Mrs. Smith's recent hospital stay:
Thanks again for those who expressed well-wishes for my wife. I won't go into the whole story of what happened to her here (maybe I'll bless those at Bouchercon with the details), but suffice to say it had to do with pushing an 8,000 lb vehicle
Just begs for a flash fiction contest, doesn't it?

CarolynnWith2Ns had a great turn of phrase:
My first job, back when Jesus was a boy

If you're a devoted Gone With the Wind fan, you'll know that Scarlett's dad used  a wonderful oath: God's nightgown!   Well, now, thanks to Colin Smith, I have a new one: Great Despot's underpants.

 I called this out as the bunk that it is.

Susan Bonifant said
Comments that suggest what "writers should know" just leave us wondering what else we're supposed to know but don't.

Given I'm at nearly THREE THOUSAND posts on this blog, not counting QueryShark, not counting That.Earlier.Blog, if there's anything left you don't know, I'd be hard pressed to imagine what it is.

On the other hand, there will be five new blog posts this coming week, so I guess there are new ways youze guyz twist yourselves into knots no matter how fast I write!

Colin Smith let slip there's an Annual Buttonweezer Family Pig Pickin' and Swamp Diving celebration, but neglected to tell us all WHEN, so we could join in the fun. You can see why he's still on Carkoon, can't you?

And this was a VERY interesting bit of information from brianrschwarz (who is soaking wet I see)
To the Holiday comments, so far my most successful queries (statistically which ones have garnered partial/full requests) have been between November 1st and December 31st. So I think Janet is on to something here.

I think Christina Seine has the title for that book y'all keep wanting me to write: NEVER query during a zombie apocalypse.

Karen McCoy wondered:
this is a relief, as I've heard people say things like, "Don't query right after NaNo, because that's when every Buttonweezer is submitting their first-draft manuscript." But like any assumption, it's probably theoretical.

The number of queries I get does not spike after NaNoWrMo.  I've watched this for a couple years now, cause I'd also heard about people finishing on 11/30 and sending to agents on 12/1. So far, an urban legend.

Regular blog reader/commenter LynnRodz had a lovely hospital sojourn with a panic attack. Let's all give her stern looks and remind her NOT to do that again. (Panic attacks feel like heart attacks. They're NOT fun)

And it turns out that some of the exiles in Carkoon may be trying to wend their way back home, sub rosa. 
kdjames told us:
I actually came over here to tell you all that I've got a guy coming over tomorrow afternoon to evict Woodland Creatures from my attic. I haven't seen them, but the heavy thumping noises make me suspect they're not squirrels. I'm guessing raccoons. Or fellow commenters. So, fair warning. Get out while you still can. And next time, ring the doorbell. I won't answer, of course, but I won't have you forcibly removed either.
to which Colin Smith replied:
kd: I can just imagine the guy going up to your attic and finding pieces of paper with lists of dates "When Not To Query" tacked to the walls... :)

JEN Garrett said something interesting:
I'll never query Janet with my current manuscript (which is ready) because I found out Janet doesn't rep PBs. I still think she'd love one of my novels, but I need to find an agent that reps ALL my work.

Since I don't know what PBs are, I'm going to assume JEN is right that I don't rep them/it/those.  Peanut Butter? Paranormal Bats? Police Blotters? Pantie Brigade? 

Someone, help here!

On Wednesday, I ranted about a new BAD format I'm seeing in query letters. I may have gotten a bit testy.

Brandi M contributed some good info on why people might be doing this:
This is a standard format for many query contests, and I wonder if those committing such a crime are using the contests entries as a how-to guide. If so, they aren't following the other rule most contests put forward. Always check the agent's submission guidelines before sending material.

Lynn Rodz pointed out:
I heard the snarl, but there are some really big tip-top agents who want to know why you've chosen to query them before you tell them about your novel. And some of them want the housekeeping done first before you entice them with dinner. 

Here's why that's a terrible thing to ask writers to do: Many of you get the category wrong. And you (oh so many times!) have NO clue that category is one thing not seven.

I think when you put the category at the top of the query it gives agents a VERY easy reason to click NO or click bypass.

IF on the other hand you've got a good story they're more invested. AND if you've got a good story, and you also got the category wrong (this isn't urban fantasy, it's an apocalyptic thriller!) you've got a better chance of surviving to a request.

I know I tell you to follow the directions, but in this one case, I think you're MUCH better off doing it my way.  I don't think any agent rejects you for putting housekeeping in the last paragraph but we've ALL seen dozens of agents on Twitter say "sf, not for me, reject"

Later down the comment trail, I shrieked AHA! when Dena Pawling said:
In my trawling out and about the Internet, the reason I've seen given by agents who want title, genre, and word count up front is so they can quickly reject if it's not worth their time because they don't rep that genre or the manuscript is way too short or too long. It saves them time. Some of them say they'll skim the query if that info isn't first, so they read it first even if you put it last.


Jenny C makes a good point:
But seriously. If I were an agent, and I represented everything from Middle Grade to a variety of adult genres I would definitely want to know what sort of book I was reading about before I read the first line of a query.
If I can't tell what kind of book this is by how you write, we've got a bigger problem than where you put the housekeeping info.

I DO like to have an idea at the end of the query just in case what I thought was a middle grade adventure story turns out to be a memoir of your honeymoon, but generally the story should show me enough info for me to make a pretty good guess.

And yes, I've gotten queries that didn't have much detail about category including whether it was fiction or not, and that was supremely confusing.

I didn't think it was a good idea.

Kitty asked:
QUESTION: Where to you find your beta readers? And how to you choose them? I would think you'd nix your friends and family for this job. (At least I would.)

Amanda Capper said:
I found my beta readers at the local library. They have a mystery reader group and they were actually flattered I wanted their opinion on my writing. Could they be brutal? they asked. By all means, I answered.

But they weren't. Older ladies for the most part, and sharp. Picky about grammar, not really sure about POV's, but dead on about content.

Lisa Bodenheim said:
Kitty: I found my crit partners and beta readers online through blogs I follow.

I don't use family and friends. Not yet. I'll ask them once my novel is past the worst of its revisions and is ready to be read as a whole rather than chapter by chapter or section by section.

And that odd sound you hear is me weeping with envy at this from Jenz:
I have nothing relevant to add, except that I get to go see the GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE--Casablanca--at the historic Paramount Theater in Austin on Friday. You should all be jealous.

And just a housekeeping note: a whole raft of comments got deleted cause they were about the spam comment that slipped by during the day.  I try to keep the comments column pretty tidy, so if you comment on spam comments, you're most likely going to have that comment deleted when I find it.  Don't be offended, I just don't like to leave spam there.

On Thursday I asked if it was possible to wring the life out of a manuscript with critiques? The consensus is Yup, it is.

I really liked this insight from Craig:
If you paint in something like watercolor you know when to quit on a painting that isn't quite there. The colors get muddy. When that happens the more you screw with it the worse it gets.

I also liked what DeadSpiderEye said about online critiques, particularly that "people who're serious about trying to offer help are explicit"

My experience of on-line critique is limited, I gave it up as a waste of time and effort, after bumping into the resident queen bee. Trouble was he (I think it was a he) had absolute assurance in his own insight and unfortunately, his literary skill, examples of which I persistently flooded the board with.

What I did learn, is that people who're serious about trying to offer help are explicit, qualify their opinion and the really good ones, are capable of easily assimilating style or genre. I'm sure someone's pointed out here already, that a collective analysis will tend to flatten out prose, it may end up more polished but could end up lacking in individuality. In fact, I would go as far as saying that unfocused negative reaction could be a good sign. The essential problem is that writing, is intrinsically concerned with communication, and communication is -always- a two way process, even if you're just asking: message understood?

And from Kurt Dinan:
I revise, revise, revise, but try to heed the advice of my friend (and great writer) Daryl Gregory (name drop!), who always warns against "over-carving the pumpkin." I just love that phrase. (me too!)

KC had a very interesting insight:
I think as writers we're most vulnerable when we are eager for feedback (and encouragement) and show things too soon.

If we ourselves don't know what we're trying to do then it's hard to know which input is useful...

And Terri Lynn Coop is back with what sounds like a punch line to a helluva crit goup story:
Then there's someone who challenges you on the spelling of your made-up word . . .

On Friday the topic was what to do about conflicting feedback
 I said ignore it.

I think Susan Bonifant hit the nail on the head with this comment:
changing a book won't ALWAYS improve it.

And this from Linda Strader makes me want to buy her a drink and hear more:
It took me a year and a half to realize my critique group (and the editor I hired, and some comments from agents I queried) were leading me the wrong direction. I've learned to have faith in my own work.

And Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli asked:

I was wondering if "quesion" is QOTKU testing us to see when we'll see the typo.
What typo? I reply. I don't see no stinkin' typo!

On Saturday, I reprinted Dena Pawling's terrific short synopsis example.

Of course, many of you had already seen it in the comments, but I wanted to make sure it got the attention it deserves, so asked Dena if I could make it a post. Fortunately, she didn't unlease her negotiating skills on me, and I got permission without having to cough up two commenters and a weeklong stay with Amy in Paradise.

I really liked how Susan Bonifant described the pain of synopsis writing:
Synopsis writing is a huge headache, but not just because you're trying fit 250 words in a Volkswagen. It's a headache because synopsis-telling makes you write like a police chief when you would rather spook the campers.

As usual all week, the off-topic comments were some of my favorites.

AJ Blythe mentioned there is a paint color called Resene's Shark, and so of course I clicked on the link to look. Very elegant! 

And for those of you who might still be interested, yes the painting in the apartment continues. I'd planned to work on it this weekend, but the siren call of the filing in the office was just too strong.

And Amanda Capper captured my thoughts completely with this:
Julie, thanks for the picture of shark shit with worms. Another sentence I never thought I'd ever say.

This week's blog sub-heading is from a comment by Poor Dead Jed Cullan
It's not just the blog posts that make this an awesome blog, it's the comments from all the posters.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

How to Write A Brief Synopsis

Last week, a writer asked about a "brief synopsis"

I loathe synopses almost as much as writers do (they are the spawn of Satan on their best day)

They are, Satan notwithstanding, needed and useful.

Here's one of the very best descriptions of how to write a succinct synopsis.  It's by blog reader Dena Pawling, who has graciously allowed me to repost this here (it was originally a comment on this post)

I wrote out everything that happens in my manuscript, chapter by chapter, and then deleted words until I was left with only the major plot points and enough flavor to give the emotion of the story. My finished synopsis is about 825 words, which is 2-1/2 pages double spaced.

Here's an example of a shorter synopsis, from a story we all should know, which I just dashed off so I'm sure it can be improved. Total word count 250 [without the qualifiers].

Long ago, Cinderella lives with her parents, who love her. Her mother dies, and her father marries a jealous lady with two beastly daughters. [set-up]

When her father then dies, Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters treat her as a slave. She's moved to an attic bedroom and her only friends are the mice. Her home falls into disrepair because the family has little money left. She dreams one day someone will love her again. [inciting incident and goal]

Meanwhile, the king wants his son to be married so he can see his grandchildren before he dies. The king decrees a royal ball, with every eligible maiden in the kingdom required to attend. [first plot point]

Everyone is excited. Cinderella, with the help of her mouse friends, re-makes her mother's old gown into a beautiful dress. But her stepmother and stepsisters destroy the dress so she won't be able to attend. Cinderella runs out into the garden and weeps. [mid-point]

Her fairy godmother appears and makes her a magical dress, complete with glass slippers and a coach. Cinderella attends the royal ball and dances with the prince. They fall in love. At the stroke of midnight, she dashes away before the spell is broken. One glass slipper falls off, but she arrives home with the other one, which she hides. [third plot point]

The heartbroken prince travels the kingdom to determine which lady fits the glass slipper. Her stepmother locks Cinderella in the attic [black moment] but her mouse friends help her escape [climax]. The glass slipper fits her, and Cinderella and the prince live happily ever after. [resolution]

Friday, May 22, 2015

Developmental question: conflicting feedback

I am getting some conflicting feedback.  I'll keep it simple with this example - my opening is "composed and intriguing" (from a literary agent who taught a class on the first 10 pages) and that the opening was "forced" (from a submission competition with editors that promised feedback).  I have submitted to agents and when I have received a custom rejection, it's been all positive (great concept, not for me).  My CP's all love the book as well.
I'm completely new to this industry and have been targeting my queries to specific agents that have expressed interest in a book like mine.  While everyone says "Query Widely", if it's a good book that simply won't sell, I'd like to change my focus to my other work. Worse, if I'm doing something wrong, I don't want to waste anyone's time** or have to put away this book forever because I queried all my top choice agents with it already before realizing my Big Mistake.  The largely positive feedback is encouraging but the the conflicting feedback has thrown me for a loop.  What's a girl to do?  

Ignore it.

It's entirely possible they're wrong.

You're giving this feedback too much importance. For whatever reason this book doesn't resonate with those readers.

Find more readers ie query widely.

Your top choice agents might not be the right agent for this book.

Feedback is important for getting a second set of eyes on a manuscript, and maybe seeing something you missed, or helping you find where the story begins.

I've had a LOT of positive response from the Chum Bucket even when the queries were not for books I'd take on because of just those things.

BUT even I am only right 97.23 percent of the time. Books I have passed on have gone on to sell and win awards. 

Have confidence in your work.  Query widely.

**do you REALLY need me to repeat the rant on wasting an agent's time?? I am more than happy to stand on my soapbox and give loud voice to this as often as it takes. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Can you wring the life out of a manuscript?

One of the regular commenters on the blog said this recently about her novel:

The thing is the opening has already been workshopped to death. Seriously.
This is the result of the workshops, and agents', and editors' suggestions and now it's confusing.

This got me to thinking.

I spend a lot of time talking with and to writers about how to improve their query letters, and polish their novels, particularly the opening pages.

I recommend critique groups, beta readers, and classes. I'm a solid supporter of the importance of writing conferences.

What I've left off that list is confidence in your own work and your own voice.

Yet, the people most obdurate about how solid their work is are most often the ones who need the most work.

And, the people who have the least confidence, who keep showing their work in crit groups, and making changes based on those suggestions, are often the people who should leave well enough alone.

How do you know which group you fall into?

I don't know.

I do know that you should seriously consider if your lack of confidence is the problem, not the book itself.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Query question: will an agent be willing to work with me on developmental things?

I have a three book (so far) fiction series published through (book one) Amazon Encore and (books twos two and three) Booktrope Editions. I also have a novella with Booktrope as well as another one which I've self published. All have excellent and predominantly verified reviews on Amazon and sell well. I also edit fiction and nonfiction and am a published freelance writer.

My question is, given my writing experience (I am not bragging. I realize there are many more authors with more experience) would an agent (in general) be willing to work with me with a piece of fiction I'm working on but is not finished? I'd like to present a story synopsis and wonder an agent would be willing provide insight etc. to create a mutually beneficial fiction piece to then have that agent submit to publishers.

I suspect the answer is some version of, "Absolutely not", but I've had many peers send in manuscripts an agent has turned down because they weren't the right story. I thought maybe it would be advantageous for both to work on a concept together.


Here's why: a query letter (regardless of publication credits) that says "here's some of a novel, can you give me some insight on how to finish this to make it something publishers will snap right up" demonstrates a severe misunderstanding of what my job actually is.

My job is to sell your work.  It's NOT to edit, proofread, copy edit, fact check, develop, bounce ideas off of, or anything other than sell, and then advocate for you during the publishing process.

Yes, I do all those other things, but they're generally for books that were sent to me as full, finished books.  Books I loved and wanted to sell, and thus wanted to spruce up a bit before going out.

It sounds like what you want is for an agent to help you figure out what will sell.

If we knew, we'd tell you.

Well, no we wouldn't. We'd look for it, sign it and sell it and keep our mouths shut.

The best thing I can tell you here is write the book that only you can write. Write the book that you're passionate about, that if someone tells you it's not the right story, you know they're wrong.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Incorrect query format

Someone out there is telling writers to start their queries with this:

Title: Title
Genre: Literary fiction
Page count (single-spaced): (number)
Word Count: (number)
Status: Ready for publication

I don't know who it is, or where the info is listed but it's WRONG.

The only other thing explanations is that someone read a screenplay book, and thought it applied to book publishing.  It does NOT.


For starters, your pages are double spaced (please god, I hope you know THAT) and I don't care about page count. I care about WORD count.

Second, you're using up your first look with things that are housekeeping.

The first line of your email query is:

Dear Janet (or dear Snookums or whatever you're calling me)

The next line is the name of  your character and what has just happened that is going to change his life.

Absent specific directions to the contrary from a specific agency about their specific needs, this is absolute ironclad industry standard.

As more agents are reading on their phones, the last thing you want to do is make it harder to get to what matters: the story.

I've gotten a bunch of poorly formatted queries lately, thus this blog post.

After almost ten years and 250+ examples at QueryShark, this kind of thing makes me snarl with frustration. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Query question: should I not query during Book Fairs?

I’ve been told by one agent that writers should know to hold back any queries immediately before and during International Book Fairs. She particularly mentioned three: Budapest (April 23-26, 2015), London (April 14-16, 2015) and Frankfurt (Oct 14.18, 2015). Is this common practice, and, if so, how does a writer figure what other book fairs and conferences we need to avoid?

In this case, I avoided the month of April for sending out queries and sent them out in May but not have to remember to do the same in October and maybe other months.

I see this kind of advice on discussion boards all the time and it's utter bunk.

For starters, agents receive queries electronically these days and if they're busy at the London Book Fair, or Malice Domestic, or hosing out the caves on Carkoon, they just let the queries stack up till they have some free time.

You absolutely can not wait for "the right time" to query, because the right time to query me, and every other agent in this universe, was yesterday.

Trying to time your queries means only one thing: you're not sending your query when it's ready.

That's the ONLY standard by which to time a query: is it ready to go? If so, hit send.

If not, don't.

The ONLY exception to this is if an agent is closed to queries. Most agents who are closed to queries simply discard any that arrive and start with an empty inbox when they re-open. You'll notice most of these closures are triggered by workload, query volume, impending maternity leave. Nothing to do with LBF, BEA or any other industry event.

Not even Christmas.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

week in review May 17, 2015

Last week's Week in Review was also the Sunday when Mother's Day sweeps the land.

I think Carolynnwith2Ns had the perfect summation:
You don’t have to give birth to be a mother, don’t have to adopt, don’t even have to be female. If you step outside of yourself and love, guide and believe in the self-worth of someone else, you are a mother. If your kids have four legs, fins or wings you are a mother. And if your children are gone, you are still a mom, always a mom, a special mom, the kind who wears longing and loss as a badge until the day you are reunited.

I loved the visual here from Jennifer R. Donohue:
I've now performed the magic trick where my 3 dimensional Doberman is currently a Flat Dog on the Couch.

Donnaeve offered the perfect motivational phrase. I intend to steal it:
Jed - get your pants off your head and and write the damn book. I'd read it.

It turns out we're running some sort of medical ward here with Mrs. Colin's sojourn in the horsepistol, and various bouts of flu being suffered by significant others.  Time for everyone to Get Well! Summer is coming!  

For those of you who aren't familiar with a lovely publishing tradition "Summer Fridays" begin the Friday after Labor Day. Memorial Day!! (oops, thanks for the correction in the comments column!) 

This year that's Friday May 29th.  Summer Friday means most places close at 12:30pm.  Here at the Reef it's often honored in the breach than in the observance, but we do try.

It's a  holdover from when New York was close to unbearable in the summer, and people fled for country homes, and beach house shares on the weekend.

And sometimes people used to just move to the country for the entire summer.  I've got letters on stationery from old time publishing hands that listed their New York address on the left and their "summer address" in Maine on the right.  Of course, it would be very easy to do that now, what with the electronic leashes we all have, but back then? It was like work just stopped for a while. 

Many of you, myself included, wondered what would prompt someone to blackball a publisher.

Donnaeve wondered:
maybe this means the contract was dropped, not renewed, or something. But NOW I'm on my own hamster wheel trying to figure this out. HA!

If an author offered that as the reason for not doing business with a publisher, we'd have no one to submit work to. All those things happen with good and reputable publishers, all the time.  This is a BUSINESS and if a line of books isn't performing, the contract doesn't get renewed.  It's NOT personal. It's certainly not a reason to stop doing business with a publisher.

Amanda Capper wondered:
I suppose if I knew an author friend who was treated badly by a publisher, I might be leery of dealing with them

The problem here is that one person's experience with a "publisher" isn't going to be the same experience anyone else has. For starters, it's often the editor, publicist, marketing/sales people that one has experience with. And much of  that experience is dependent on the book. I can tell you that some authors have great experiences at BigAssPublisher and other authors do not.

AJ Blythe made a good point here:
The problem I see is that someone made the decision that has caused the OP to feel how they do. And that someone is just as likely to suddenly appear at the desk of a different publisher. Would that mean another publisher to be struck off? And what if they're already contracted to that publisher?

I remember being asked to send pages to an editor at one of the Big 5. Went to do so, only to find they'd moved to a non-commissioning role at another industry organisation. Fast forward a couple of years and there she was taking pitches for another of the Big 5.

Pharosian mentioned something that does stick in my craw, the altogether reprehensible involvement of otherwise reputable publishers with the printing mill Author Solutions:

Funny that you mention Penguin, Colin, as I was wondering whether the OP's concerns of an ethical nature about a certain publisher might be related to the Author Solutions fiasco.

Penguin Random House is the corporate parent of Author Solutions, which purports to offer publishing services to authors. AS is now facing two class-action lawsuits, and is accused of failure to pay royalties, predatory sales calls, and breach of contract, among a laundry list of other charges.

David Gaughran has been following this situation and has an in-depth analysis on his blog.

AS has signed 180,000 authors as clients (per its own website), and yet, according to Gaughran, they have exactly ONE employee assigned to calculate royalties for all those authors! But they have 732 sales reps (most of whom are based in the Philippines).

One has to wonder why one of the Big 5 publishers would have a subsidiary devoted to selling self-publishing services. It probably has to do with the amount of money involved, as the average client spends about $5000.

Of course it's money. LOTS of money. That's the ONLY reason anyone would do this kind of thing.
I've said this before, I'll say it again now: this kind of business is a morally bankrupt way to earn money, and publishers should be ashamed of themselves for being involved with this kind of place.

Laina wondered:
Hmm. Ellora's Cave, maybe?

for those of you not familiar with this, Ellora's Cave is a publisher with financial woes. This isn't news since many small publishers have financial travails.  The problem is how they handled them, and then, when a blogger reported about how they handled them, turned around and sued the blogger.

This is EXACTLY the kind of thing that would make me not want to do business with a publisher. It's not the money woes, it's the IDIOCY of suing someone for reporting on what's essentially public knowledge.  That kind of idiocy is something to avoid when at all possible.

As it turns out, the person who posed the question wrote to me later to say:
"I was amused and slightly horrified by the speculation. My concern is indeed about a publisher owning a 'service provider' such as Author Solutions. Being vague was an attempt at discretion."

Clearly I need to get out more cause I missed seeing these, and honestly, I count this a very serious loss, brianrschwarz:
Except for that one publisher who posted all those billboards with me in my underwear and the sound bubble that said "Go to college. Don't be a Brian. Carkoon University is now accepting MFA applications."

You'll notice brian does not mention locating of said underwear, or whether socks are involved. 

On Tuesday the talk turned to concerns about the business practices of the agency where an agent works.

Dena made a very good point:
Where are you obtaining this information? If it wasn't at a local chapter meeting, private email or text message, or on the telephone, I'd definitely consider the source. It's one thing to post on Query Tracker “this agent took 6 months to reject my query.” It's quite another, at least in my opinion, to talk about your former agent indiscriminately and/or in a public forum over the internet. It doesn't strike me as professional, and I'm sure agents talk amongst themselves, just like lawyers do. I would venture a guess that those writers would find it difficult to secure future representation. And I assume you don't want to be in those same shoes.

Dena is 100% correct that agents see or hear about these posts/discussions etc and talk about them. There is no such thing as a private discussion board.

There are some conversations I have with editors that are never reduced to email or paper. Some that I won't even have on the telephone.  It's no so much that they are top-secret as I just don't want the information repeated. 

And Dena's link was one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen.

Ardenwolfe also had a good point about sources of information:
This question reminded me of a certain lawyer/literary agent who got a lot of negative attention some time ago.

I'll be honest: I marked him as a 'do not query' . . . ever . . . after I read some of the comments and listings.

Honestly? It depends on your source. If it's random gossip? Take it for what it's worth.

But if you read it on sites like Writer Beware? Consider it more carefully.

Sour grapes are one thing. But you know what they say about smoke? Research, research, research your potential agent or publisher first. That way, you don't have to bring on an extinguisher later.

RobCeres said:
Before I sign with an agent I will ask her for references, which, I hope, she will be delighted to provide. When I call those references I hope they will tell me what a wonderful job she did for their book. And once I've signed a publishing contract, I hope I will tell her that she can use me as a reference, and I hope I am a good enough client that she does
When prospective clients talk to me, I do urge them to get in touch with clients, ANY of the clients, they get to choose.  If one is unhappy with me that day/week, oops, my loss.  I'm always leery of agents who say "ask these three" because I wonder what four, five and six would say.

And of course, you're not going to CALL, you're going to email. I'm sure you knew that, right?

Amanda Capper asked
How does one join the Imperial Stormtroopers Ladies Aid Society? Does one have to be invited, or is it open to the critters? Because, due to my mother's rigid how-to-behave-as-a-proper-young-lady upbringing (bless her heart), I should be a shoo in.

And Theresa said:
I, too, would like to sign up for the Imperial Storm Troopers Ladies Aid Society. I adore the alternate reality vibe from this blog.

It's membership by summons I think.

On Wednesday the question was what constitutes a "short synopsis" and the answer included some comments on the art of revising.

Susan Bonifant asked:
I feel slow saying this, but I am not getting how a 250 word "brief synopsis" is different from the query.

A query will have more style to it than a synopsis.
A synopsis will include the ending of the book.
The entire query is 250 words or so. That means about 200 to entice to reader to go on to the pages below.
The synopsis is NOT intended to be enticing. The purpose is to be expository: here's the plot skeleton of the book.

I'm stealing this from Colin Smith as my new description of synopsis (nee the spawn of Satan)
Beelzebub's underpants. 

Although Jenz's link later on to Miss Congeniality has a LOT of potential as well.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli asked:
I have a question. I see that Harry Potter lives with his wretched cousins. Not lived.

Does the synopsis tense need to be parallel with the m/s tense?

Synopses (plural of The Dreaded Synopsis) can be whatever tense works best. Often it's the present tense. 

paz y puente got the example sentence whittled down even further:
Thank you for the Harry Potter example. It was very helpful. Hm...looking at it again, I think this could have gone one step further. It seems it can be just 6 words! "Harry lives with his wretched cousins." After all, does his last name really matter? His first name conveys that he's a male and "boy," as you said, that he is not an adult! SIX words! ;)

and of course, most of the comments were hilariously off-topic, this time running with the underpants footnote at the bottom of the blog post.

I had to agree with what  Christina Seine said:
What jolly comments today! All I have to say is that I hope Janet uses the word "underpants" in her next flash fiction contest. ;D

On Thursday the question was the advisability of putting a link to a published piece revealing the key moment in a book in the query.

Carolynnwith2Ns had a question:
Out of this question another looms in my mind. Is it ever wise to even mention you had your manuscript professionally edited. If it's a plus, doesn't that leave us woodland creatures with less nuts, at a distinct disadvantage?

Do not include whether the ms has been professionally edited. I don't care. I only care about results. I HOPE that if you did use an independent editor, you learned a lot, and will be able to employ that knowledge on the next book yourself.

That said, I do know a lot more authors are using independent editors even when they have editors and contracts at publishing houses (ie they are not self-pubbing)

Lisa Bodenheim asked:
My question is: If this writer has their crisis moment printed in a magazine, does that influence an agent's decision of whether or not to take on this manuscript? Won't the writer need to let the agent know about copyrights for that piece of the writing?

And Dena Pawling echoed:
But then I'd be concerned an agent wouldn't want to rep it because there might be some rights issues with a portion already having been published.

Having a piece from the book published first is a plus. You'd list it in the query as a publication credit like this.

A portion of this book has appeared in GotGrants Literary Review (April:2015) 

Copyright is NOT an issue. The writer retains copyright for the piece excerpted in  the magazine, and can license it to the publisher without worry.  The warranties and indemnities clause of the book publication deal requires that the book not be previously published, but that means the entire book, not an excerpt.

Jennifer R. Donohue had this to say about my comment on a women's fiction writer getting "the go-ahead" from a writer for Rolling Stone:

But sometimes there's that dark night of the soul where rejections are everywhere and nothing is good enough where you normally look, and that bit of any source faint praise is a lifeline.

On Friday the question was whether an agent would be worried if s/he found out it took the querier 5+ years to write the novel being queried.

Beth wrote (and several more of you also agreed with her) that having a deadline helped get the work finished:

 I personally find it easier to work for something when I have an actual deadline. Right now, I'm writing with the goal of eventually being published. I don't have a true deadline. Sure, I can make a self-imposed deadline, but since there are no real stakes, who cares?

I loved what Elissa M said:
One of the questions artists are asked all the time is, "How long did it take you to paint that?" The correct answer is, "All my life."

I liked the link that bjmuntain provided on close vs distant3rd POV:

I really loved this from Carolynnwith2NNs

Speaking of first novels, we were, weren't we, anyway...

I wrote my first exactly ten years ago. September actually. I know that because it was the most stressful period of my life, new job, kid off to college for the first time, father dying, mother desperate, blah, blah, blah. I had my MC, drop everything, jump in her car and head west. I won't go into all the gory details but it wasn't until I started a second novel, I realized the first book had been my savior. I wrote what I wanted to do...leave all the BS and heartbreak behind. The book will never be published but at that time, that book not only changed my life, it saved my life.
I will always consider it my greatest writing accomplishment.

Karen McCoy asked:
And Beth's comment brought me to a question about deadlines. Probably very cart before the horse, but I'm wondering about tight deadlines from editors.

I've heard a few stories of authors having anywhere from three days to two weeks to turn around an entire novel--authors that also have full-time day jobs. And I got a small taste of this when I wrote an article for School Library Journal, and the turnaround was so quick that I ended up pulling an all-nighter.

Like most woodland creatures, I'm not afraid of hard work...but I also want to ensure that I'm putting out my best work.

So is it typical for agents to stand behind authors when they ask for extensions? Or is this scenario not as sticky as I think it is?

I think what you're talking about here is turning around copy-edits. Under no circumstances can I image a publisher requiring an entire novel in three days or two weeks!

Copy edits ARE on a tight schedule because it's the production pipeline, not editorial schedule. As long as you're only on the editorial schedule, you've got some flexibility. I've had to move books from Spring to Summer; colleagues have had to move books from one year to the next.  This happens with both fiction and non-fiction.

Once you're in the production pipeline though, it's assumed the book is ready to be published and there isn't  a lot of room for flexibility absent the most dire of circumstances.  There are a lot of reasons for this including getting time at the printer, the publication of the catalog, the production/distribution of the review copies etc.

Copy edits are part of production. The author gets the manuscript back from the copy editor and generally has ten days to two weeks to review the suggested changes.  Stet or agree, that's about it. There's some room for minor changes if needed (like changing the word panties to underpants--something that the copy editor would not have suggested but the author feels conveys the right tone)

If you mean the publication schedule, that's covered in the contract BUT it's flexible for the most part. The key is a good relationship with the editor and LOTS of advance notice. It's a whole lot easier to negotiate an extension in January  for a book due in July, than it is in June.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli gave voice one of the great writer angsts:
Often I consider how long it takes a writer to produce a polished manuscript. Then query, revise upon further request.

By the time the work is published, thanks to the team, years go by.

Then the book is read in a matter of hours, or days at best. It's crazy. Years of work for a few hours of entertainment.

Then books sit on a shelf, collect dust, are inherited and in some places banned and burned.

To fret or not to fret, this is the question.

bjmuntain's reply was lovely:

Ah, but Angie. That's just for one reader. Multiply that time by a thousand readers. Ten thousand. A hundred thousand... All those years of work go into entertaining people for years.

Not to mention, there's a very good chance that, while the book may sit on a shelf for years, it's also sitting in the reader's mind. There's that character that just won't go away. There's a couple lines that seem to fit daily occasions. And then, the book is re-read. The connections become clearer. The book becomes more entrenched in the reader's life.

A book is so much more than a few hours of entertainment.

And that exchange is just one of the many MANY reasons I think the comments section is the very best part of this blog.

On Saturday the question was from someone trying to help a writer who lives in Poland but writes in English, and who had decided to publish her book herself.

Several of you seemed to think I was disparaging self-publishing. In a way, I probably am, simply because I see a significant increase in queries these days that start out with "I self-published this and now I want a traditional publisher, cause I hate to market/publicize/etc." 

The people I see who've self published are by and large very unhappy with their experience. I'm sure there are people who are happy self-pubbing (W.R. Gingell seems to be one of them who is) but my query queue is populated with people who aren't.

I think querying is the logical first step if you have a novel you want people to read.  What happens AFTER you query is then up to you.  

Colin Smith is angling for a furlough from Carkoon. He might just get it since he's a Gary Corby fan:
I, too, agree with Janet. Both because she's correct, and because summer's about to start here on Carkoon (yukk) and I'm hoping she'll give me leave to visit Amy in Paradise. :)

And on a completely different yet very important note, Gary Corby's latest Athenian Mystery, DEATH EX MACHINA, comes out on Tuesday. Of course, I have my copy on pre-order. :D

brianrschwarz has the new blog subtitle this week with:

Now I'm a writer. I create and destroy worlds.

Have a great week. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Query Question: I'm trying to help a friend

I have a question, not a complex question, but I have hit a brick wall in the industry. No one replies. I found your site and was hoping that maybe you would have insight into this and hopefully the time to reply.

As short as I can make it - I create marketing and branding campaigns for actors, artists, and corporations. As a favor to a talented young author, I am going to create some publicity, some articles, to help introduce her name and book in the U.S.. She is in Poland but writes in English. Her book is in the professional editing stage but for this one, she has chosen to self-publish, and she hopes that in the future she will be picked up by a publisher. And so my question:

Is it detrimental for a foreign author writing in English (who is self-publishing her first book) to reveal her foreign location & first language if she wishes to get published in the U.S. sometime in the future? I thought it was mainly translation/language barrier issues that were a problem. I’m helping to market this young foreign author and don’t want to create problems for her later on. Should I conceal this info for now or use it as part of her personal “story” and marketing campaign?<

It doesn't matter at all.
The only thing that matters is the book.
And if she's self-publishing, the only thing that matters is how much she sells.

I have no idea why this author has chosen not to query the old-fashioned way. If her novel is good enough to self-publish, it should be good enough to query.

I'm sure if you've created marketing and branding campaigns for people you'll understand that you have to appeal to readers here. And readers, while they might peruse the ad copy if you've got a good hook, the only thing that is going to persuade them to buy the book is that they want to read it. That means the STORY must be enticing.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Query Question: it took me a long time to write this book

If an agent read a manuscript that they really liked and were considering taking it on, would they be put off if they found out it took the author 5+ years to write?

If this were Jeopardy and the answer is "The number of years it took to write your novel" the question would be "What is something you don't really want to know?"

That said, I think what you're worried about is the next book. If Book #1 took 5+ years to write, and the publisher has a deadline of a year from now for Book #2, well YIKES.

This is info you discuss with your agent when the time comes. You don't have to disclose it up front.

I assume that my clients spend more time on what will be their debut novel than they will on subsequent novels.  For starters, they've done it once, doing it again isn't sailing off to the undiscovered country.

But if it takes you longer, then it takes you longer. Make it worth the wait, and you'll be fine.

And yes, this also falls into the category of things you should not be thinking about now.  We're going to need a whole new category: Things You Fret About that Keep You From Writing.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

query question: should I include a link to a key moment in the book in the query?

I have an upmarket women's fiction 84,000 word polished manuscript. I had my book read by a retired senior writer for Rolling Stones who lives here in the bay area. He said the book is a go. Freshman Melanie is romantically fixated on her straight best friend.  The crisis moment of this book  was published in (Title) magazine in the fall of 2012. Here is my question: Is it TERRIBLE QUERY ETIQUETTE to include the link to this story?

Don't include a link to anything you think I should read in a query. The chances that I'll click on a link in a query are slim to none.

If you link to anything in your query, it's your website, and that is underneath your signature, at the bottom of your query, before your pages.

I will go to a website sometimes, particularly if you've been coy about who published your last books (too often such coyness means you've self-published.)

In addition, the crisis moment isn't something you'll even mention in a query. A query is intended to entice the reader to read the pages, and those pages to make the reader want more pages. It's NOT a synopsis of the book. 

If you have any doubts about what to include, there are 250+ examples now at QueryShark

And I'm really not sure why you'd trust the opinion of a writer for Rolling Stone (not Stones, that's the rock band) about an upmarket women's fiction novel, unless that's what she writes when she's not doing long form non-fiction for Rolling Stone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Query Question: what the deuce is a "brief synopsis"***

When an agent says they want a brief synopsis, what does that mean? I know you can't read the minds of other agents but would you assumethat means one page? two pages? six pages?

We really do love to torment you writers with our vagaries don't we?

My best guess, based solely on my ability to read minds of course, is that brief means one page. 250 words. 1" margins. 12 point font. In other words, don't cram 500 words on to one page with formatting shenanigans.

Brief means you're going to answer these questions:

Who is the main character?
What does he want?
Who/what is preventing him from getting it?
How does he prevail?
What does he lose/gain by prevailing?

Notice I've left out secondary characters, themes, sub-plots, backstory, prolouges, world building, and all the other things that will make your novel gorgeous, brilliant and enticing. A synopsis' job isn't to show any of those things. A synopsis is written to show me that you've got a complete plot, and that (in the words of the inimitable Lucienne Diver) "aliens don't arrive in Chapter 14."

If you've got more room (ie two pages) you can add sub plots and a secondary character.

If you can't write a 250 word synopsis to your book, you haven't learned how to revise well enough. Synopsis writing is largely a matter of spewing everything on to the page, and then taking things out, and then making every word count. 

Example: Harry Potter is a 13 year old boy whose parents were killed and now lives with his wretched cousins. (19 words)

Revised: Harry Potter is a 13 year old boy whose parents were killed and now lives with his wretched cousins. (16 words)

we don't need to know his age in the synopsis. "Boy" conveys that he's not an adult.

Revised 2: After his parents were killed, Harry Potter is  boy whose parents were killed and now lives with his wretched cousins. (13 words)

Moving things around in a sentence can help. Don't worry about style here, the novel is where your style shows.

Revised 3: His parents were killed so Harry Potter was sent to live with his wretched cousins. (15 words)

Sometimes you go in the wrong direction. This is when you really get down to "do you need this"

Revised 4: His parents were killed so Harry Potter was sent to live with his wretched cousins. (10 words)

Remember, no backstory, no world building? This is where you revise that out of the synopsis.

Revised 5:  Harry Potter lives with his wretched cousins. (7 words)

19 words down to 7 but it took five revisions, one of which was going backward in word count.

Now, this example is probably not how I'd start with a synopsis of any of the Harry Potter books, I used it because most of us are familiar with the story.

Revising is a learned art.  If you hate it, you're not doing it right. Revising is what makes your writing shine. Revising is what makes your voice clear. Revising is what makes you a writer.  

**please notice I managed to go the entire blog post without mentioning underpants, which is one of my all time favorite words (Yes I am eight years old). 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Query Question: I'm not sure you're good enough, when do I tell you?

 Your Imperial Toothiness,

I have a question for the blog, if possible, which is sort of related to the recent theme of incomplete information.

Suppose Agent A has your full, and after that request you discover some former clients saying concerning things about the practices at the agency to which Agent A belongs (not specifically about Agent A, but about the leadership team there and other agents).

For example, some former clients are telling really similar stories about different agents at the agency just spraying your MS at everyone with no thought or targeting, and then being evasive about giving clients their submission information. If true, these seem like big warning signs about the agency, no matter how cool Agent A seems. On the other hand, obviously you don't have the full story, only tales on the internet.

Is this the sort of thing that is OK to hold off on acting unless and until you get an offer? That is, should you just wait and see whether you get further interest and then raise the issues directly with Agent A so that you can decide once you have better information?

Or is it unethical to just wait and see, and potentially waste Agent A's time reading your full if in the end you're unwilling to take the risk that the rumours/reports are true? If you feel like there's a good chance you're just not going to be comfortable with the agency, should you just withdraw the MS?

Oh man, I love the interwebz! For all the good this new transparency has done for authors, it's also a source of the worst kind of gossip, backbiting and just plain vile lies. Also known as "the other guy's opinion."

For example, a former client says "she just sprayed my manuscript out there with no thought of targeting" is also what I might call "submit widely on the first round."

"Evasive about giving submission information" can mean "she wouldn't tell me which editor saw it at which imprint" --and after a former client called editors on their submission list, I'm a whole lot less likely to share that as a matter of course now, myself.

There are two sides to every sundered representation agreement, and both of them are completely true.

To the nub of your question: I think you're not wasting anyone's time if you have a good manuscript and an agent wants to read it.

If you've got concerns about how an agent submits manuscripts, ASK HER.  Don't EVER believe anything anyone else says. Some of the outright lies I've seen on author bulletin boards and discussion groups are flat out actionable, if anyone actually cared about what is said in those places.

Honest to god, some of the backbiting and ugly gossip reminds me of the most recent meeting of the Imperial Storm Troopers Ladies Aid Society.