Saturday, January 31, 2009

Something VERY smart writers do

One of my favorite editors dropped me a quick email today to ask for more info about the author of a book of mine he's considering

I had a couple lines on file from the query letter, but nothing really zippy and exciting.

What to do?

Well, I knew the author had a bio listed at her work website. I clicked over. It was fun, vivacious, not silly. I copied and pasted, and sent.

Start to finish: about 120 seconds.

This client was proactive in the best possible way. I didn't have to email her to say "quick, I need a bio!"

She doesn't have a website cause she's not yet published, but that's one of the best things to have on your website, published or not. A short bio, a longer bio, and links to things that are helpful for finding out more about you.

I've realized that most conferences now don't even ask me for a bio, they just cut and paste the one on my website.

That means you keep your bio updated too (I learned that one the hard way!)

A website is a wardrobe of information about you and your book! Keep it brushed up!

uh boy, time for a new one!

I was looking up "codswallop" today in my dictionary and came to the sad realization this poor tattered book has probably reached the end of its useful life:

It can't even stand up on its own spine any longer; small wonder given there's not any spine left to speak of.

I checked the copyright page

I'm not sure if you can tell, but this book is older than three of the people who work in my office!

Verily, it's time to send Mr. Webster to the Retirement Home for Good and Faithful Reference Books, and call in the new team.

To that end, since I haven't bought a new dictionary since..oh...the last century, I thought I might prevail upon more informed people to aid in the selection.

If you've got a favorite dictionary, let me know. I need one that isn't horrendously expensive (ie I'm not buying the OED!) and won't dislocate the Octopussy's arm if it falls on her (so again, no OED!)

All advice welcome!

PS I need an actual book, not a CD ROM or a website. There are moments, rare but true, when I'm not electronically connected to the world and I need to look up "brouhaha." Yes, it's true, we have word fights here.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Where to be on Feb 18!

A Panel Discussion Sponsored by Women’s National Book Association, NYC Chapter

When: Wednesday, February 18, 2009, 6:30–8pm

Where: Jefferson Market Library; 425 Ave. of the Americas at 10th St.

Members and non-members welcome.

No admission charge, but RSVP required to: programs at wnba-nyc (dot) org


Mysteries are among the most popular fiction genres. Whether you are an avid reader or emerging writer of this wide-ranging subject, come hear our panel of experts discuss the genre, the sleuthing stories that have been perennial winners, and pick up clues on what crime waves are lurking.

Moderator: Janet Reid, WNBA member, and literary agent at Fine Print Literary management, specializing in mystery/crime novels

Jane Cleland, mystery writer and president of Mystery Writers of America/NYC

Tim McLoughlin, editor of Akashic’s best-selling "Brooklyn Noir" Series

Kizman Reeves, co-owner of Partners and Crime, a mystery bookstore in Greenwich Village

Sarah Weinman, crime fiction columnist for the Baltimore Sun and the Los Angeles Times, and best-known blogger in mystery publishing.

Following the panel there will be refreshments and an opportunity to socialize with panelists, WNBA colleagues, and other attendees before the train ride home.

Mystery/crime novels from and by the panelists will be available for purchase. (Thank you Mobil Libris!!)


directions to the Jefferson Market Library

The Women’s National Book Association is a nonprofit professional association founded in 1917 for those who work with and value books.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why You get Form Letters

Hi-ho Agent Reid:

Insincere boilerplate introduction modeled off of internet form letters segueing into the pitch for my new novel, The Madness of Method, which goes a little sumthin' like this…

No one wants to be ordinary. Least of all those who feel they're wallowing in it. And outside of a father whose death revealed a brother he didn't know he had, Hamilton Brownstone is about as dull as they come. He's not particularly educated. His mother and roommate annoy him. He works at a disco-themed lunch counter selling hot dogs. I know; hot stuff.

But he's out to change all of that.

Inspired by his intensive readings of about the author blurbs, Hamilton has decided to make himself interesting by becoming a writer. And to do so, he's modeling the process of method acting, trying to live the life of other writers whose blurbs he admires each day to channel their creativity, since he's fairly bereft of it on his own. And after several intense months of method writing, he is nearly finished with the glorious first paragraph of his revisionist historical epic, Avenging Zombie Jesus.

But even that kind of runaway success isn't enough to break him out of his funk fast enough. His mother is pressuring him to give up hot dogs as a career. His boss is pressuring him to start taking them seriously and trying to force an unwanted promotion. The pressure is on, and Hamilton's "work" is being neglected.

So, Hamilton comes to the only possible conclusion in his position: he must get himself arrested and finish his novel from the comfort of prison, since it worked so well for O'Henry. And of course, Hitler.

To aid him, Hamilton enlists the help of the only two people he trusts: the inspiration for his method writing, his actor girlfriend Tabitha, who is on a quest of personal growth and is trying to remain in character all hours of all days, and his half-brother Gardner, who won $30 million in the lottery on his 18th birthday, and has spent the subsequent time applying for minimum wage jobs to amuse himself and annoy his stepfather.

For most people, it shouldn't be that hard to get arrested. But between Hamilton's insistence that his arrest be an orderly affair with literary merit, Gardner's reckless attempts to hit rock bottom, Tabitha's attempts to keep anyone from being hurt, and a majority opinion that Jesus is far more likely to be a vampire than a zombie, things don't go smoothly. And when Hamilton is finally arrested for unpaid parking tickets, he finds jail somewhat different than he imagined.

At its core, The Madness of Method is about the collision of artistic ambition and delusion, religious nincompoopery, and the politics of fractured families. And I like to think it makes with the ha-ha something fierce.

My writing credentials include: 5 years of professional feature journalism, fiction publications in The Portland Review, Ooligan Press's Irreverant Fish, 34th Parallel, Caveat Lector, Alchemy Lit Mag, Mercury Quarterly, and Pathos Lit Mag, as well as a sold-out run of my self-published collection of short stories Secrets and Lies, and dramatic productions of three of my plays through Portland Oregon based community theatre troupes.

The full 48,131-word manuscript is available any time you like.

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to your reply.


In parting, I offer you this...

Carry a lazer down the roads that you must travel;
Carry a lazer through the darkness of the night.


Dear Writer (redacted)

Insincere form rejection carefully constructed to not convey "what the fuck" segueing into a comment about your new novel, The Madness of Method, a
48,131-word manuscript.

This is writer porn. I see it a lot. Books about writers, writer rejection, disgusting and evil literary agents (although you avoided that one, I'm not sure why) even when done with an elegant literay tone, is still writer porn. Books about writers aren't my cup of tea. Other agents may have different drinking choices.

Also, 48,131 is a tad short. Like 20,000 words. I've sold books with fewer words (one of them is in the sig line below) but I've also dropped anvils from Acme on my head and I'm not doing that again either.

Your companion in jest,



No Agent Reid, my letter was jest, commenting on the barrage of insincere letters you agents sift through every day, and writers hate to write. Having spent most of the last year doing little but writing cover letters, and the last three years reading my share of them, it's a subject I'm somewhat familiar with. And so far agents and publishers have referred to my letters as refreshingly honest. One lit-mag even published my letter alongside a short story. You may be an important person, and I may just be a c-grade Larry Flynt, but don't try to fool yourself into thinking there was anything resembling jest in your response. It was just plain mean. Small-town cop mean. But I suppose that's agent porn. We all need a little bit of it here and there.

Well, ok, back to "not right for me"

If you want something else, you've got this guy to thank for the next couple weeks at least.

John Updike has died

Rabbit at rest, indeed.

Here's the link to the Times article.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Barbara Poelle slithers again

Barbara Poelle is competitive.

I used to think I was the most aggressive, competitive agent below 42nd Street.
I'm yielding the title, not to mention the sash and sceptre.

Why you might ask?

Today I have a long list of editors to call, projects to pitch, potential clients to woo, and two novels due on second book deals.

So what does that EVIL EVIL EVIL Miss Poelle do? Oh yea, she sends me A BAD DAY FOR SORRY by Miss Sophie Littlefield.

I was just merrily opening the email attachment from Barbara thinking it was a new picture of a shark (Barbara has all the best ones) and found myself reading this:

Whuppin’ ass wasn’t so hard, Stella Hardesty thought as she took aim with the little Raven .25 she took off a cheating son-of-a-bitch in Kansas City last month.

What was hard was making sure it stayed whupped.

Especially on a day when it hit a hundred degrees before noon. And you were having hot flashes. And today’s quote on your Calendar For Women Who Do Too Much read Find serenity in unexpected places.

“Fuck serenity,” Stella said. And she shot the trailer.

Now how am I supposed to get any more work done knowing I have this waiting for me??

is available for preorder at Amazon. It comes out in August. I've got my copy on reserve as of today.

I'm not sure how I will wreck revenge on Barbara Poelle, but if you have any brilliant ideas let me know. I'll be the one reading on the couch.

Not a bullet or flame in sight..and I'm on the edge of my seat

Read this, then tell me if you are too.

Friday, January 23, 2009


I've got blurbs on my mind these days since I represent some great books coming out this year. One of my fabulous clients received this email from a blurb provider: "I know you can't use this but here's my initial reaction: Fucking A, man, this is awesome."

I'm not so sure we can't use that blurb! The raw energy and genuine enthusiasm says more to me than a lot of the more ..ahem..sanitized versions I can think of.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Barbara Poelle, menace to polite society

I've mentioned Barbara Poelle here before.
She's also the new and improved version of Miss Tuesday over at the Dead Guy blog.

Her recent post is about what she's looking for. You'll definitely want to query BP if you write what she's looking for. Right after you query ME of course. Barbara may be a menace to polite society but I'm a direct threat.

Twitter is useful, yes, but..

I discovered I'm listed on 25 good follows for writers on Twitter.

What a crock.

If you're a writer I don't represent, my tweets might seem like the ramblings of a deranged caffeine soaked cranky person. Well, ok, they ARE the ramblings of a deranged caffeine soaked cranky person but if you know me, you know that's pretty normal.

It's a crock because I don't use twitter to instruct, educate, inform, network or any of those other whizbang new benefits espoused by social networking experts. My tweets aren't useful to you unless you're on twitter to waste time.

I use twitter to hang out with my clients. And colleagues. And follow the waffle truck (which I think is the coolest use of social networking so far.)

If you want useful info about query letters and other publishing perils, that's what this blog is for. And that other one.

I follow about 75 people on Twitter, which means those are the ONLY tweets I see. If you follow me, but I don't follow you, I don't see what you write. And I don't go looking for it. I do look at the people who follow this blog. Thus, following me on Twitter isn't one of the ways to get my attention.

One of the great ways to make twitter a total waste of time is to follow someone who isn't using twitter for what YOU are using it for. Most likely I'm one of those people. You won't hurt my feelings if you quit following me. I'm not invested in that number.

And three sure ways to make sure I not only don't follow you ever, but block you from following me:

1. protect your updates. You can follow me without asking permission, but you won't let me even see what you tweet without asking? I think not, bucko. BLOCK.

2. You follow more than 1000 people. Clearly you're using twitter for some mass hypnosis evil plan for world domination, which interferes with MY evil plan for world domination. BLOCK.

3. You only post links to other places. I don't know what you're up to, I probably don't even want to guess what you're up to. I'm not letting your avatar sit on my page, nope. BLOCK.

Twitter is useful indeed but, like other useful tools, if you hit yourself in the head with it, it's not going to do much good. Tweet and follow wisely.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Query letters that work

Book Ends is reviewing query letters that worked.
Check it out!

Inaugeuration Day

Today Barack Obama takes the oath of office and becomes our President.

I remember a wealth of presidential transitions. None came with as many emotional trappings as this one. The only one that does is the 1963 transition from John Kennedy to Lyndon Johnson, but that was such a spectacularly horrible moment in history it's not right to use it as a comparison to this moment.

I don't remember the transition from Hoover to FDR in 1932 of course but I think that's probably the last one when the hopes and fears of so many people were focused on the man becoming president.

As he takes the oath of office, Barack Obama will say a few very simple words:

"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God."

Now, if we can just give the guy a chance.

How about we wait hundred days before we start nitpicking. Or expecting miracles.

As usual, Moonrat says what I'm thinking, only better.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Have you seen the whole speech?

It's splendid in its entirety.

"Shazzam!" she explained

How I've gone as long as I have without knowing about this I do not know.

Clearly The Octopus will be sending in her application. She may need to brush up on her good deeds list given that hasn't been a priority ever lately.

Interesting, contrary advice from a good writer

I've mentioned my passion for Google Reader before. It's a way to keep track of interesting and informative blogs without having to endlessly bookmark and click. I love it.

I subscribe to 157 blogs via Google Reader. I don't read 157 blogs every day. For starters, a lot of the blogs update weekly at best. With Google Reader I can see who's updated, and click on the ones I want to read first.

Sunday night is a good time to catch up on all the Cyberia Slinking I don't have time to do when I'm actually working.

Tonight my eye fell on this post at Moments in Crime. I'm one of those agents who suggests critique groups and lauds their value. It's really a default "this is a good idea" suggestion. I've never been in one so my experience is second hand at best. Some of my clients are in groups, some aren't.

If you think you need or would benefit from a crit group here's a contrary opinion and interesting suggestion from Blaize Clement.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Good advice from a good writer

I like to skulk around over at Murderati, one of my favorite blogs written by contributors Toni McGee Causey, Brett Battles, Robert Gregory Browne, Cornelia Read and other clever beasts.

This post by Tess Gerritson
resonated with me for two reasons. One, she's correct. Two, the guy asking for advice actually listened and made the changes she suggested. That's not quite as common among as advice seekers as logic would predict.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Oh yum, Edgar nomination chomping time again!

The Edgar nominations were announced today and of course everyone is in a tizzy. A tizzy cause they were nominated. A tizzy cause they weren't. A triple tizzy if they thought books should have been nominated but weren't. Pretty much everyone is having that last tizzy.

The most notable nomination omission is the book that appeared on at least five "Best of" lists: Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Now, I'm not here to throw stones at the MWA committee that reads all the submissions and selects the nominees, and not just cause I represent at least one of the people on the committee. I read submissions every day too, and I feel their pain.

You can't blame them for an oversight because the book wasn't submitted for consideration.

I checked. Twice.

Other interesting submission blanks:
Richard Price's Lush Life (which was on the Seattle Times and the Washington Post's Notable lists);

Stewart O'Nan's Songs for the Missing (Washington Post and LA Times) and
Colin Harrison's The Finder (Sun-Sentinel, LA Times).

I'm not sure why a publisher wouldn't submit a novel for Edgar consideration, but there you have it: they didn't.

Now, here's the other interesting thing. Listed below are the nominees for three Edgar categories. NO means the book wasn't on any of the Best of Lists that I looked at (not a comprehensive list to be sure). YES means it was.

NO Missing by Karin Alvtegen (Felony & Mayhem Press)

YES Blue Heaven by C.J. Box (St. Martin's Minotaur)
NO Sins of the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno (Simon & Schuster - Scribner)

NO The Price of Blood by Declan Hughes (HarperCollins – William Morrow)

YES The Night Following by Morag Joss (Random House – Delacorte Press)

NO Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster)


NO The Kind One by Tom Epperson (Five Star, div of Cengage)

NO Sweetsmoke by David Fuller (Hyperion)

NO The Foreigner by Francie Lin (Picador)
Calumet City by Charlie Newton (Simon & Schuster - Touchstone)
A Cure for Night by Justin Peacock (Random House - Doubleday)


NO The Prince of Bagram Prison by Alex Carr (Random House Trade)

NO Money Shot by Christa Faust (Hard Case Crime)

NO Enemy Combatant by Ed Gaffney (Random House - Dell)

NO China Lake by Meg Gardiner (New American Library – Obsidian Mysteries)

YES The Cold Spot by Tom Piccirilli (Random House - Bantam)

The thing that makes the Edgars so interesting is that the committee considers ALL the books submitted in a category. As far as I know, most reviewers aren't reading that same number of books and one of the reasons is cause I'm sure many publishers aren't sending all their books to every reviewer. And reviewers know they have limited space and they're writing for commercial readers not "best of".

So, who do you think should have been on the lists?

Best (Purloined) observation of the Day!

"Writing and Publishing are not the same thing"

This is good to remember.

For other good things to know, read the blog post from which I stole (shamelessly) this sage observation: Joshilyn Jackson.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's a plot I tell you, a PLOT!

Barbara Poelle (about whom I've ranted before) realized she was reading the same manuscript I was reading. She knows I'm FAST when I see something I like; she knows I'm really fast when I see something I like and there are other agents in the scrum.

Barbara Poelle has been known to use every slithery trick she can think of, and a few more dreamt up by her clever companion in slink, Holly Root.

Today though, BP and HR were at a loss for nefarious plans to waylay me. They put their clever little heads together and called in the big guns for reinforcements.

BP (on phone): Margo!

Margo (evil co-conspirator): Barbara!

BP: Hold on, I'm conference-calling Root in for this!

Root: Margo!

Margo: Root!

BP: We need to waylay Reid. She's on a reading tear. I want this client. We have to head her off at the pass. You're the only one who can do it, Margo!

Margo (warily): you're not expecting me to try to outdrink her are you?

BP/HR (collapsing in guffaws): ah no Margo, we'd never ask anyone to attempt that. The last person who tried is still under the table at the Old Town Bar crying for his ma and clutching his royalty statements.

Margo: Well, what then? I'm not sure what else could...oh wait! Wait wait wait. I have the perfect distraction.

BP/HR: excellent! We need her out of commission all night. Till 4:45am if you can manage.

Margo: Done!

And thus it came to pass that Margo slunk into the FinePrint offices yesterday evening in the guise of a friendly get to know you meeting, and oh-so-casually hauled out the usual editorial offerings: books.

Clever thing that she is, she did not try to tempt me by over praising it. No, no, just a casual mention of how much she liked the book and how fun it was.

And after a long day at work, entirely too much scotch, and hearing the siren song of reading something for just for fun, I yielded. Oh yes, yielded right onto the couch, and right smack dab away from the Kindle and that full manuscript.

And read.
And read.
And read.

I couldn't stop. Couldn't? Didn't want to!

Kristan Higgins new book Just One of the Guys is fun fun fun!
I loved it.

The only thing I didn't like about it?
It's a single title!!
I loved these characters and I want to read more about them!

Now, I must go send "your agent wears army boots" emails to all of Holly and Barbara's clients.
And I'm collecting ideas for how to best wreck revenge on the third of the conspirators!

I'm going to get you Margo! Oh yes indeed! And your little dog too!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hogwash versus Wilbur in the buttermilk

A previous post ranted on (and on!) about effusive and ineffective compliments in a query letter.

Some commenters interpreted that to mean you should not make any kind of complimentary statement, including how the agent was located.

No no.

As in all things, sincerity counts. I can tell the difference between hogwash and a lovely illustration of Wilbur in the buttermilk.**

If you say "you're one of the top agents in New York City", that's hogwash. (UTTER hogwash.)

If you say "my book is similar in tone and style to Jeff Somers' kick ass and takes names noir thriller Digital Plague" that's not hogwash (until you fail to live up to your own comparison, but that dreadful knowledge comes after the query letter.)

If you say, "I see you represent the incredibly talented Jeff Somers" that's not hogwash. Jeff is incredibly talented and I do represent him to my everlasting pride.

If you say "your reputation as an agent is revered by all", that's hogwash. I can't even type it with a straight face. My MOTHER couldn't type it with a straight face.

If however you say "I attended your class at Surrey and got a lot out of it" that's not hogwash.

You'll notice the difference is in the specificity of the compliment. "You helped me figure out how to write a query letter on QueryShark" is sincere. "Your blog is just the coolest thing since central air conditioning" isn't.

I can tell the difference. So can you. You don't need to invent compliments to get me to read your work. I WANT to read your work.

** (and if you don't get this reference, stop reading at once, and go get Charlotte's Web by EB White....NOW)

Leave the sugar for the ponies

I've noticed a disturbing trend in query letters recently.


Effusive ones.

Things like "I've noticed you have a fine reputation"; "you have a reputation for a discerning eye"; "several important people told me you're a good agent" and/or "you've drunk three editors under the table and lived to tell about it"

Don't bother.

We both know the score. You're a writer. I'm an agent. You want me to read your query. I want to find good stuff.

No hot-to-trot mating dance required.
In fact, it's counterproductive.

It's clearly made up horseshit blarney, and I've gotten over any kind of ego deficiency that would actually take such crap anything like that seriously.

About the only thing that doesn't make me reach for the barnyard shovel is if you compliment my clients' books (and it's clear you've done more than lift the title off the blog) or you've read enough of this blog to actually get something out of it.

Those I pay attention to.
The others just annoy me cause sucking up in so clueless a way makes it look like you think I'm a horse's ass too stupid for words.

I want to stand out! I want to be memorable!

You don't even have to be alive to get query letters these days if you're an agent.
You don't have to want them or need them.
Query letters arrive each and every day. They come by mail, they come by electrons, sometimes they pad in on their own two feet and sometimes they come by telephone.

If I had a sawbuck for every query I got in a week, I'd take everyone who regularly reads this blog out for lunch and have enough left over to pay my bar tab.

This fact of life is not unknown to the many of you who are writing queries. From that knowledge comes the overwhelming desire to STAND OUT, to be *~*~memorable~*~**~.

Thus you do things you think are memorable:

Send your query letter by FedEx.
Send your query letter registered mail.

Send your query letter on lovely stationery.
Send your query letter on lovely stationery with an inkwell graphic.
Send your letter on lovely stationery with !*writer!* underneath your name (just in case I thought maybe my plumber was querying)

Carefully organize everything into a three ring binder.
Carefully organize everything into a bound packet.
Carefully organize everything, then staple it once, or maybe even twice...can't be too careful!

Send photographs.
Send gifts.

Do NOT do any of this.

No one, not a single agent in the entire world, selects a query based on how it arrived or what it was printed on, or all the extra junk that comes with it. They READ it.

Let me repeat.

They READ it.

No one thinks "oh, a clever binder/notebook." They think, oh crap, my wastebasket is already overflowing where am I going to put this, and is it recyclable.

Even our very nice, very gracious and forgiving, and God bless them, EAGER TO READ YOUR QUERY interns get over their interest in gimmicks after the first two.

I read all my own queries, so you don't even get the first two gimmicks if you're querying me.

I'm looking hard for good stuff.
If you query me with a gimmick, it's not a failure of logic to conclude you don't take yourself or your work seriously.

You stand out ONLY if you have outstanding writing.
That's it.
No gimmicks, no tricks, no shortcuts.

Don't waste your time or money.

If you don't believe me, come open query letters for a week.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Embrace Your Suck"--writing advice from a damn good writer

A.S. King, author of The Dust of 100 Dogs, coming out next month from Flux has some really good advice for writers starting out. Read it here.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

One of my best jokes, gone for good

One of my favorite contract negotiation stories involves an entertainment lawyer in LA who was reviewing a book publication contract from a Big Ol' NY publisher. The BONY publisher had their usual boilerplate, plus all the stuff the agent had asked for. The lawyer was basically reviewing a done deal.

The lawyer called the VP for contracts and rather stiffly demanded a new clause. "The author's name must be on the cover of the book." The VP was rather astonished the lawyer asked for this, since of course, the author's name is always on the cover. It would be like putting "you must write the book in English" in the contract.

Well, the VP and I have laughed about that story more than once; usually when one of us is being a total nit picker about something. I've told the story myself in talks I've given about book contracts.

And then, today, I discovered via a Tweet from that clever publisher Richard Nash at Softskull Press, that my joke must now be retired.

Here's the cover of one of their new books:

There's an interesting discussion here of how the cover was chosen (and the publisher's initial response)

I'm sorry to lose one of my favorite jokes, but it's interesting to note that with electronic sales venues now, having all the info on the actual book cover might end up going the way of the dodo bird.

By the way, here's the link to Amazon in case you want to know what the book is about!

My pal Lauren over at BiblioBuffet reminded me of a book that needed no title:

One brick at a time

Last month I attended the Black Orchid banquet sponsored by the Nero Wolfe Society. One of the speakers was Jonathan Santlofer, author of the The Death Artist, among other books. He mentioned he'd turned to writing after a career in painting. He'd stopped painting when one day after a major exhibit, five years of his paintings were destroyed in a fire.

When I heard those words I didn't know if I was going to cry or throw up. Both seemed quite possible. I couldn't even speak to Mr. Santlofer after the event cause the only thing I could think about was that fire, even though it was clear he had come to terms with the loss, and rebuilt a new and satisfying creative life.

Fire is my worst fear. I know exactly what I'd take if we had 25 seconds to leave the building. Close friends of mine have had that experience in NYC: FDNY pounds on the door and says "get out NOW." You get over it but you never forget. We don't exactly have traditional fire drills, but we talk about what we'd take, where it's located, how we'd get out if the stairwell is blocked. We don't obsess, it's not some sort of well thought out plan, but we think about it more than just casually.

I know fire is a fear shared by many of my neighbors. I laugh about the smoke detector going off a lot, but when it does, and doesn't stop, my neighbors are in the hallway, making sure things are under control.

Close friends have spent a lot of money to scan all their original music compositions onto disk. A fire would have destroyed an entire career if the music had burned.

Thus it was with a heavy heart I learned our friend Travis Erwin has experienced a terrible fire, one that consumed his entire house. The people are safe, but the house is gone.

Susan Adrian's blog lists ways to help.

Please join me in doing so if you feel so inclined.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

the assssistant gets a hold of some new reading material

Tonight was the launch party for In the Shadow of the Master, an anthology of some fairly new and unknown writers that might make it big one day. Remember you heard these names here first: Nelson DeMille, Jeffery Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, Sue Grafton, Laura Lippman, Lisa Scottoline, and some guy who mentioned giving up writing to be a rock and roll star, I think his name was King, something.

Anyway, these guys got corralled by a guy named Michael Connelly and they all wrote stories honoring Edgar Allan Poe.

It was a wonderful party at Otto Penzler's Mysterious Bookshop, made all the better by runnning into Sarah Weinman and other shy woodland creature reviewers.

The asssssistant slithered out of her comfy inbasket to take a look at the book

Holy Smoke? NO! Chasing Smoke!!!

Bill Cameron's CHASING SMOKE selected as a January Notable Mystery by IndieBound, the independent bookstores list!!!

Woo hooo!!!!!!!

"For money you can have everything it is said. No, that is not true. You can buy food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; soft beds, but not sleep; knowledge but not intelligence; glitter, but not comfort; fun, but not pleasure; acquaintances, but not friendship; servants, but not faithfulness; grey hair, but not honor; quiet days, but not peace. The shell of all things you can get for money. But not the kernel. That cannot be had for money."

-Arne Garborg, writer (1851-1924)

stolen shamelessly from the Word A Day email

Three phrases to never use, ever, in a query letter.

1. "As yours is a reputable agency, I submit my..."

Well, ok. Glad we cleared that up. I'm praying you aren't submitting to any disreputable agencies of course, so telling me I'm in good standing somewhere (bribes were involved I'm sure) is pretty pointless. It also makes you sound like a stuffed shirt. Ditch that phrase.

2. "please review my work"

Well, no. Michiko reviews. Sarah Weinman reviews. ReviewerX reviews. I don't. I consider your work for representation. I know this seems like a petty distinction. Get over it. Words are your tools. Using them like they all mean the same thing, sorta, doesn't generate confidence.

3. "I know you're very busy"

well, sure, I guess. You aren't? Don't ever apologize for sending a query letter. Not to me. Not to any agent. Not now. Not ever. You want busy? Go hang out with a pre-school teacher.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Andrew Grant's EVEN on 2009 "must read" at SMB

How much fun is it to be clicking through the blogs on Google reader and find Andrew Grant's debut novel EVEN listed on the "2009 Must Read" list at Seattle Mystery Bookstore??

a LOT, let me tell ya!

Here's the backstory on that book just in case I haven't mentioned it quite enough yet!

I'm not the first stop on the Question Express

Remind me to never ever try to be nice to anyone ever again.
Give a referral, next thing you know the email back is "do you have his/her/its email/contact info"

Refer to a comparable title, the email back is "where can I buy it"

Yen Cheong's invaluable book publicity blog says it better than I can:

– Don't waste time by asking stupid questions.

What is a stupid question ? The definition of a stupid question is very simple: it's one you can pretty easily answer yourself. Kind of like, "Can you tell me who wrote this book?"

If you are asked a stupid question, you can either
1) say you don't answer stupid questions
2) answer the stupid question or
3) provide the link to the answer to the stupid question.

I suggest option 3.

so if you REALLY want to annoy me

Include a pre-printed response card with an EMAIL saying something akin to "I may be making a big mistake here, but no thanks" along with ten other options.

For starters, my responses to queries are automated. If I wanted to cut and paste text from your email and send it back to you, I'd have more staff.

Next, "I may be making a big mistake" can be very funny, but it's the kind of humor that can backfire easily. All it did was annoy me.

I know how annoying it is not to get a response to your queries.
I know this better than you might suspect cause it happens on my side of the submissions desk as well (and makes me NUTS)

However, You can not solve the no-response thing with a response card in either a snail mail or an email query. Don't do it. It's tacky. Not as tacky as not responding, but I DO respond to ALL queries and I did to this one as well: form rejection.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

So, who are you?

A conversation on Twitter about the audience for publisher's websites got me wondering. Who's reading this blog?

Take a survey and let me know who you are!

One more reason I love NYC

Can be seen here.

Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs!

I've been plowing through queries and partials and fulls, reading like my eyeballs were on fire during the past two weeks. I'm so close to caught up I can see the empty in-box glistening up ahead!

But tonight I just couldn't read one more manuscript. I had to take a break and read something just for fun. Fortunately Stephany Evans let me borrow her advance copy of Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs by Molly Harper (which she just happened to have cause she's Molly's agent!)

I inhaled it! What a splendid fun read this is! Here's the back jacket copy:

When Half Moon Hollow's children's librarian Jane Jameson is fired by her beastly boss and handed a Shenanigan's gift certificate instead of a severance check she goes on a bender of legendary proportions. On her way home, she's mistaken for a deer, shot, and left for dead. And thanks to the mysterious stranger she met while chugging neon-colored cocktails, she wakes up with a decidedly unladylike thirst for blood.

Now Jane's life-after-lifestyle is taking some getting used to. Her deceased favorite aunt is now her ghostly roommate. She has to fake breathing and endure daylight to avoid coming out of the coffin to her family. She's forced to forgo down-home Southern cooking for bags of O negative. Her relationship with her sexy, mercurial vampire sire runs hot and cold.

And it looks like someone in Half Moon Hollow is trying to frame her for a series of vampire murders. What's a nice undead girl to do?

I haven't loved a vampire story this much since I read Dana Cameron's The Night Things Changed in Wolfsbane and Mistletoe.

Molly Harper is a terrific writer! Count me in her fan club!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Prowling around your blogs

Yes, I do it.

If you subscribe to this blog, chances are, one of these days, I'll slink by. Middle of the night, start of the day, it's one of the take-a-break things I like best.

Today I found this:

Even if you don’t believe in prayer, just think kind thoughts about the person who is making your life miserable. It’s like Pepto Bismol for a troubled spirit.

Thanks Julie Weathers,
whom I actually know from
the Surrey Writers Conference
and like a whole lot.

So, How can I drive you crazy today?

I've spent quite a lot of time ranting and raving about things that make me crazy in query letters.

Let's start 2009 off right with a little list of the things agents do that drive you nutso. These are responses to a question I asked on Twitter a while back:

1. Agents who do not respond to queries. As in, silence equals "no." This is especially annoying when there's another agent at the same agency whom you want to query next, and there's no way to be completely sure how much "black hole of silence" time needs to pass before it's kosher to query the next agent. (every single person who answered me mentioned this one)

Agents who don't answer equeries they aren't interested in should have an auto responder so that we writers know our query was actually received and not lost into cyber-ether.

Agents who say they do respond to all queries (even equeries) never respond. When their web page says that they respond and they don't I feel snubbed. When they say they don't respond unless interested I assume rejection. You'd think that it would be in the best interest of the agent to respond in some way, even if it is an auto response, to prevent writers from requerying them over and over, assuming their mails were getting lost.

2. Agents who do not respond to status checks on requested material. I don't mean neurotic emails sent only three days after the partial was mailed off. I mean waiting a decent interval, politely status querying, and receiving nothing.

3. Agents who do not respond to requested material. Ever. As if they'd never asked and you'd never sent.

4. Agents who use form rejections for requested fulls. You've come this far and can't plug in the author's first name, at the very least? Rejection's part of the game, but this is beyond the bounds of decency. Especially if the full was hard copy. I've paid for you to read it -- can you at least call me by name when you tell me "no thanks?"

5. Agents who do not accept e-queries. I'm sorry, it's time to move into the millennium.

6. Agents who request some sort of release form (usually electronic) before they'll read your submission. To someone well-seasoned, this isn't a big deal. To a newbie who's already nervous, this is a stumbling block. And a bit stupid.

So, what else should be on the list?
Fill up the comment column.

Bill Cameron's CHASING SMOKE

This is a very sweet video of Barista on Duty Rhodester receiving a copy of Bill Cameron's Chasing Smoke.

It reminded me of how other people LIKE getting packages in the mail (versus me who dreads a big mail bag!)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

the assssistant wants a road trip

The amazing Julie Weathers sent this link to me. I was foolish enough to click on it in the office where the assssistant could see it. Next thing I knew she was sssslinking over to Hertz to plan a road trip. Turns out this place is in Ohio...which is right on the way to Indianapolis, location of the 2009 Bouchercon! Looks like I'm going to risk life and limb driving to B/con!

Donald Westlake, a great writer, has died

A file obituary is in the Times today, and Sarah Weinman has an early post.

There will be more, much more, to come.

His loss is a sad and bitter end to 2008.

This cracked me up

Thanks to Mindy!