Friday, November 27, 2009

Why you include pages with your query letter

You always include pages with your query letter (when you can) because telling someone about a bunch of college kids lip syncing to the Black Eyed Peas will never be quite as compelling as showing the work

the making of the video is here.

Thanks to
Bill Cameron
who always finds the coolest stuff

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm thankful for Elaine Viets

I've been doing a fair bit of travel these past few months and that has meant staying in hotels. Because I read Elaine Viets book MURDER WITH RESERVATIONS I knew hotel guests should tip the housekeeping staff.

One particular morning up in Boston at CrimeBake, I got ready then grabbed a couple small bills from my wallet so I could buy a coffee IV transfusion at Starbucks in the lobby. By the time I'd gotten my venti-mocha-no-whipped-cream- the bills were nowhere to be found. Oh crud. Fortunately the barista let me add the bill to my room charge.

When I returned to my room that afternoon, there were the bills on the bathroom vanity. Untouched. I'd obviously set them down when I was checking my halo in the mirror. They'd were right next to the fiver I'd left for the housekeeper, on a note saying "thank you housekeeping." The fiver was gone, the forgotten bills untouched.

That small act of honesty didn't so much astonish as humble me. Working for hourly wages, in a physically demanding job, the person who cleaned my room didn't make the 'mistake' of thinking all the bills were intended for the tip. I'm profoundly thankful to her for a powerful reminder that character is what you do when no one is looking.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An early Thanksgiving: Bat Segundo is back!

After a short hiatus, The Bat Segundo Show, the cultural radio program featuring unusual and insightful interviews with today's authors, filmmakers, and cultural voices, has returned to the airwaves, providing eight new installments for those contending with the exigencies of holiday travel.

And beginning in 2010, the show will adopt a more regular frequency, airing a new weekly installment every Friday.

These new shows (in no particular order) include the prolific Muslim novelist Michael Muhammad Knight (#307) discussing wrestling and religious difference, verbal banter with Laurel Snyder (#313) over the controversial topic of spaghetti eating habits and staying true to one's voice, Star Trek II director Nicholas Meyer (#310) clarifying uncanny similarities between Chekhov and Joe Wilson, Walmart work environments revealed with Marjorie Rosen (#311), a descent into walking with mystery novelist Lawrence Block (#308), and efforts to pinpoint conflicting emotion within fiction with the remarkable writer Brian Evenson (#309) .

We also have cartoonist Laurie Sandell (#306) discussing the fine line between truth and memoir and a charged colloquy with Rebecca Solnit (#312), which revealed that her recent spat with Dan Baum was hardly limited to his inflexibility.

Mr. Segundo, however, is more concerned with the unspecified relationship between humans and walls, and has become quite alarmed by the uncommon behavioral phenomenon of dissociative fugue. We remain confident that tomorrow's gustatory onslaught of turkey and mashed potatoes will quell his nerves.

As always, the main Segundo site can be found here:

To subscribe to the show with a podcatcher program (for later transfer to your iPod), copy and paste the following URL into your program:
On the main site, there is also a black box that is rather large but friendly, should you desire to subscribe to the show via iTunes.

Please note: You do not have to have an iPod to listen the show! If you go to the main Segundo site, you can save the MP3 to your lovely machine by clicking on the bat picture or, if you're the kind of person who prefers swinging a bat over clicking on one, we do have a user-friendly interface with many listening and streaming options below the capsules.

Here are links to the new shows:

SHOW #306 -- Laurie Sandell (33:39)
Direct Link to Show:
Five Second Excerpt: "I feel pretty comfortable that there’s not going to be any big explosive James Frey situation.."

* * *

SHOW #307 -- Michael Muhammad Knight (38:38)
Direct Link to Show:
Five Second Excerpt: "That’s why at the end, I deserved to have my head chopped off."

* * *

SHOW #308 -- Lawrence Block (40:29)
Direct Link to Show:
Five Second Excerpt: "You're also one of the few people left who remember."

* * *

SHOW #309 -- Brian Evenson (44:55)
Direct Link to Show:
Five Second Excerpt: "If you can’t move this bar to your body, then what do you do? I took a lot of time thinking very seriously about that and trying to figure out what would I do."

* * *

SHOW #310 -- Nicholas Meyer (47:27)
Direct Link to Show:
Five Second Excerpt: "Well, talking back to prescience is one of the weirder things that you can do. And I think the fact that Chekhov addressed Khan so disrespectfully in the well of the Botany Bay obviously qualifies him for a Federation reprimand."

* * *

SHOW #311 -- Marjorie Rosen (39:11)
Direct Link to Show:
Five Second Excerpt: "Freedom to further integrate with American culture?"

* * *

SHOW #312 -- Rebecca Solnit (1:06:02)
Direct Link to Show:
Five Second Excerpt: "I’m trying to just clarify specifically what the 'evidence' was. "

* * *

SHOW #313 -- Laurel Snyder (48:42)
Direct Link to Show:
Five Second Excerpt: "And you object to this line of reasoning, writing, 'How could you ever eat spaghetti without a fork? And how could you live without spaghetti?' I must object to your objection."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Stop what you're doing and watch this right now

It runs about two minutes and is safe for work.

Thanks to Emily Mandel for the linkage

You want description? I'll show you description

In that first class, she wore the pearls and a tab collar peeped over her sweater, but she looked as if she would punch you if you didn’t behave. She walked with a cowgirl’s stride into the classroom, and from her bag withdrew her legal pad covered in notes, a thermos of coffee and a bag of Brach’s singly wrapped caramels, and then sat down. She undid the top of the thermos with a swift twist, poured a cup of coffee into the cup that was also the thermos top, and sipped at it as she gave us a big smile and looked around the room.

Hi, she said, sort of through the smile.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Query Status update 11/22/09

I've replied to all the queries I've received by email and by post.

If you queried me you have gotten either:
1. the dreaded form rejection (sorry, I'm clearly out of my mind)
2. the less-dreaded "I need more time" email
3. the even less dreaded but more terrifying request for a full

If you did NOT get any of those, go here to
Query Letter Diagnostics.

Resend if you get all the way to #10 and don't find what went wrong.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Did I just send you a form rejection? Read this

Don't let the judgment of any editor (or agent) poison the intense, intimate, and necessary relationship that you have with your own work. Keep the two things scrupulously separate. The self that writes may need to be a delicate and protected creature, but the self that submits to magazines (and agents) ought to be as tough as a rhino's butt.

Christian Wiman, editor, Poetry
"Poets & Writers" May/June 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

C'mon Harlequin, don't try to blow smoke up our asterisk

Donna Hayes, CEO of Harlequin, sent a press release yesterday that I picked up from Kristin Nelson's blog. It says in part:

It is disappointing that the RWA has not recognized that publishing models have and will continue to change. As a leading publisher of women's fiction in a rapidly changing environment, Harlequin's intention is to provide authors access to all publishing opportunities, traditional or otherwise.

Ms. Hayes, I wonder if you know how AuthorSolutions, your new partner in publishing models, actually works? It's not a publisher, if by publisher you mean a company (like Harlequin) that licenses intellectual property (ie pays for), adds value in terms of editorial expertise, design and production expertise, and then offers the product to their wholesale and retail accounts.

AuthorSolutions prints books. That's pretty much all they do. They don't license intellectual property. They don't add value with editorial input, design and production expertise, and they sure as hell don't make the product available to their wholesale and retail accounts (do they have any?) Their accounts are by and large the authors- the very people who pay to produce the book. A nice tidy circle of pay-to-play.

And to add insult to injury by saying they are the new publishing model, let's just remember they AREN'T. They're employing a new form of PRODUCTION. They don't actually change anything about the publishing model for vanity presses: authors pay to get books printed. The only thing that has changed is how many books get printed at one time, and in what format.

Ms. Hayes, I think I know what happened here. A very smart sales team from AuthorSolutions showed up and said "We can get you money, and a lot of it, with no capital investment, and not much expense to you. We can make your bottom line look a whole lot better."

What puzzles me is you agreed.

I understand budgets are tight. I understand the siren song of "money for nothing" in hard times. But I also know you've run a tight ship over there for a long time, and you're making money. Are you worried that will end, and the spigot of POD can help you alleviate that pressure?

I believe, and I hope you do too, some things are more important than money. Things like being honest with people who do business with you. This new venture is the ultimate in dishonesty. It's exactly the reason I loathe AuthorSolutions and their ilk with a passion: they (and now you) present it as a publishing model, and boost writers hopes and dreams at their expense to enrich yours.

As an agent a human being, that sickens me.

I'm glad you're taking the Harlequin name off this project.

Now, how about you just take it off your corporate website and leave the vultures to prey on other people.

You're better than this Harlequin.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Further on the Harlequin dumpster dive

Here is a well thought out and cogent explanation of the Harlequin/AuthorSolutions mess.

This is the paragraph that makes me see red:
3. Why is Harlequin launching a self-publishing business?

Many aspiring authors choose self-publishing as a way to see their work in print – to give copies as gifts, to have a bound copy to help in finding an agent, or simply as a keepsake

A bound copy is close to useless for help in finding an agent.

Harlequin KNOWS that. They're not stupid. They're making it up so aspiring authors will pay for their services.

This whole thing just makes me sad.

(thanks to Susan Adrian for the linkage)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Publishers reveal themselves as greedy beasts; chaos ensues

Harlequin announced it was in league with Satan AuthorSolutions today, and that writers can participate in a program to self-publish their books with "Harlequin Horizon" as the printer publisher.

Needless to say a lot of people went batshit.
Some were calmer.

And just to add fuel to the raging storm, let's all remember that authors are required to sign contracts that include a clause forbidding them from publishing, or arranging to publish, distribute or sell any work which will diminish the value of the work covered in the contract.

Gander, meet sauce.

In one fell swoop Harlequin just diminished the Harlequin brand name.

And worse, what they're telling unagented authors is the only way to get noticed in the slush pile is to pay $600+ to get your book printed first.

Yup, this one's going to be fun to watch.

You're abrogating the social contract we have. Knock it off.

I have publicly ranted about the rudeness of "no reply means no."
I have stated publicly that I answer all my email queries (the real ones.)

I intend to keep my part of that social contract with you the query letter writer.

Your part of the deal is you do NOT send me other stuff.
No pictures of cute animals.
No pleas about missing children.

No newsletters.
No fundraisers.

It doesn't take too many people to create a problem. It's time for writers to add this to the list of things they make sure their friends, critique groups and writers' message boards know.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Feeling stuck? Live in the Bay area? Here's help

Two years ago at GrubStreet in Boston a very smart editor thrust a rather startled author at me and said "here, read her stuff. She's amazing."

No fool I, I did. And the author was amazing. Unfocused, without a plot anywhere near ready, but with an amazing voice.

The author reworked the opening scenes, sent it back to me. When we next met at 2008 CrimeBake I gently urged her to put this one away and start on something new. I still couldn't see a plot, and couldn't see what the hell she'd do with the situation she'd put her characters in, but oh man, her voice was AMAZING.

I also encouraged her to talk to other agents, and she did.

This year at CrimeBake as we were lying around yapping, Slithery Barbara Poelle mentioned a book she was excited about. She described it and about six of us came up off the bar.

"Wait! I read that!"
"Hey, I read that!"
"What do you mean, you fixed that!!"

What Barbara had done as pretty much only Barbara can do, is see past what's wrong, and make pretty good suggestions for how to FIX things.

Frankly, I'm in awe of SBP and her ability to do this. It's one of the many things that make her a very smart, very formidable talent spotter.

Now, what does that mean for you?

Well, if you've gotten a lot of "nice rejections" or lots of comments like "I like this but it's just not quite right" you'd benefit from some time with Barbara.

And you're in luck. This coming weekend, she'll be the agent in residence at the Berkley Crime Conference. And further luck: this is a small conference, not one with hundreds of writers. You'd get some serious time for Barbara to hear about your book, and work her magic.

Frankly, you'd be a fool to miss this chance.

Register here.

The more you know, the funnier this is

Glossary of Publishing Terms

Tuesday Morning at the Question Emporium

Q: BEA is coming to New York next May, just three weeks after my debut novel appears. Is it worth my while to attend? I'm being published by a small press; the total expense of attending the expo would exceed my advance. There's no question about wanting to go: I'd love to. But should I? From a practical perspective?

A: No. Dollar for dollar you'll get more out of attending a local book festival that connects you with readers; or a crime novel convention like Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, or Bouchercon (and there are several other good ones that escape my coffee-deprived noggin just now) that connects you with readers (unlike a writers conference that is mostly attended by writers and agents).

BEA is not a good place to make connections for an author. Bookstore owners are there to see what publishers are bringing out in the fall; publishers are there to persuade bookstore owners to order big. The rest of us are just blocking the aisles.

I've stopped encouraging my authors to attend BEA. There are lots of better ways to meet people and promote your novel.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ah yes, the query letters...

Favorite Subject line of the decade: I Have Chosen You to be my Literary Agent.

...and their replies!

Favorite reply to form letter "not for me" as of today: Thank you for your 'literary' form letter.

How to get no more rejections, EVER!

I've just returned from the fabulosity that is CrimeBake. CrimeBake is one of my favorite conferences and this year was the best yet. Every writer I met came prepared to talk about his/her book. Yes, we worked on finetuning pitches, but I didn't have a single person talk to me either in the formal pitch sessions, or informally, who was just clueless. That's pretty amazing, and I think due in large part to the emphasis CrimeBake places on teaching writers how to be prepared.

Sadly, even those who are well-prepared, and with good novels will get rejections. Some of those will be from me. I can't take on every good book I see, any more than you as a reader can read every good book you already own (let alone all the juicy new ones that keep coming out.)

There was a terrific panel called P IS FOR PERSISTENCE (the alphabet motif because Sue Grafton was the Guest of Honor) with, among others, Dana Cameron and Toni L.P. Kelner. On the panel Dana and Toni were eloquent in the extreme about how to deal with waiting, and rejection.

It got me thinking.

I realized there is a very simple solution for all your rejection problems. All of them, forever more. You really don't want any more of them do you? They're totally awful, completely depressing, and we all know Rejection Just Sucks.

Ok, here's the solution:

Stop Writing.

If you never send out another query, you'll never get another rejection.


Wait, that's not a solution you're willing to accept?

Well ok then.
How about we look at rejections like this:

You love to write. You love to write more than you hate rejections. You love being a writer. So, you love rejections the least of all the parts of writing you love, but faced with a choice of no writing/no rejections, you choose to be a writer. You choose ALL the parts of being a writer, because it's all or none, and you are a writer.

Now back to work.

(thanks to Dana Cameron for this idea)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

you know all those "day in the life" uplifting articles

about literary agents that you read in Writers Digest or perhaps on blogs?

Yea well, THIS is how my day begins:

FR: Poelle, Barbara (slithering)
TO: Reid, Janet

Subj: I just called you at the office and..

Text: Whoever answered said, "she isn't in..."
and I said, "Ahh yes, she'll stumble in sometime later smelling like yesterday's booze and broken men..." and it was dead silent for a second UNTIL I said, "can you tell her Barbara Poelle called?" and there was an AUDIBLE sigh of relief

clearly, my reputation precedes me

with friends like this, I clearly need another drink.
And it's 11:00 am.

I'm not sure if the writers attending CrimeBake are ready for us!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

talk about going to the dogs!

Clearly one particular dog was NOT happy with the form rejection letter!

Shamelessly lifted from Julie O'Connell's blog
(one of the many LIRW writers I'm always happy to hang out with)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Speaking crushing dreams-here's the query tally

I'm getting a little (well, ok, a LOT) impatient with writers who can't seem to tell me what their book is about. I get lists of characters, descriptions of setting and events, but nothing about choices/conflict/decisions.

I'm not sure if this is a trend, or it was just a bad couple of days but there were a LOT of them tonight.

Started at 10 pm with 68 queries:

Query letter missing too much plot: 21
Not enticing: 12
Nothing fresh or original: 8

Not right for me but someone else will snag happily: 6

Writer clearly uninformed about genre or category s/he intends to write in: 3
No platform (non-fiction queries only): 2

Just plain old bad writing: 4
I don't think I can sell books in this category: 4

Overwritten (probably should be included in bad writing): 1
Unable to suspend disbelief (also bad writing): 1

Writer is a crackpot: 2

Topics I really loathe: 2

Queries set aside to read more closely: 2

Let me crush your hopes and dreams. I live for it.

Sometime back there was a cris de coeur from an author who said agents lived to crush author's hopes and dreams.

Given I make my living from finding good writers and helping them get published, that statement sounded exactly right. So, I adopted it for my catch phrase, and often times now I'll sign off on Twitter with "off to crush authorial hopes and dreams" accompanied by a .wav of an evil laugh.

Thus it was with delight that I read this question over at Editorial Anonymous.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Congratulations! You got my attention...

If you emailed me today about a missing kid, complete with poster and heartfelt plea, congratulations. You've gotten my attention. My full and complete attention for about two minutes. Here's how that two minutes of attention will play out:

1. I copy your email address.
2. I paste it in my gmail "filter" program.
3. I click "bypass inbox, mark as read, delete"
4. I click "apply to previous email"
5. I close my gmail program.
6. I write a blog post about it.
7. I return to work

Net result: nothing you send me ever again will hit my email box.

If you add every address to your address book, you should NEVER hit "send to all."

If you are clueless enough to do this, you're probably not someone I want to work with anyway.

Email is not some new fangled tool that's hard to figure out.

And, honest to godiva, you shouldn't add agents to your address book until they've done something more than pass or rant about you on their blog.

Tally of email addresses added to the filter: 1 (I don't give a rat's ass about cute animal pictures either)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Alright you guys, this is WAR!

As I'm perambulating about the interwebs my eye catches on what looks to be a very spiffy event:

Berkeley Mystery Writing Intensive--
Nov. 21 & Sunday, Nov. 22

For starters, it features the ever-fabulous Cornelia Read, my boon companion in scotch, thigh high boots (hers not mine) and Edgar banquets (I think we'll need a dispensation from the MWA board to ever attend again).

And then I notice another presenter is Peter Riegert! Holy moly! For starters, Peter Riegert was in two of my all time favorite movies, Animal House and Local Hero. He was also in one of my favorite NYC movies- Crossing Delancey. I'm a drooling Peter Riegert fan! (tmi?)

I'm damn near tempted to sign up myself despite not being a mystery writer in the slightest.

Given it's at the Claremont Spa, I figure I can hang out with Cornelia when she's not busy teaching, and ogle Peter Riegert like a besotted fan girl.

Heck it's only $249, and JetBlue will get me there nicely.

I'm practically set to click on Register, when I read further. Dear Reader, I blanched:
Literary agents, published authors, and an Academy Award–nominated actor/writer/director will help aspiring authors complete and sell their work.

Wait a damn minute here. *I* am a literary agent! Why am *I* not on the roster? Who would they invite instead of ME?

And yes, there it is in black and white:

Barbara Poelle, a top-selling New York agent with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency will talk about trends in publishing and instruct authors on how to write project and query letters.

Well the only damn trend in publishing I'm noticing is that slithery Barbara Poelle is kicking ass and taking names. This must stop, and I mean NOW.

So, if you have an ounce of goodwill for me, you will register for this workshop and keep that slithery competitor of mine BUSY BUSY BUSY with seminars, and query letters. Keep her so busy I can manage to sell something while she's not looking.

If you can get in some ogle time for Peter Riegert, so much the better. Send pictures.

Here's how to register: Berkeley Mystery Workshop

And if you ever catch up with that Sophie Littlefield person, just tell it's too late now. It's a BAD DAY FOR SORRY, sister, and this is WAR!

Monday, November 02, 2009

If the novel is dead/dying, you haven't checked my purchases lately

Sean Ferrell's cogent argument against The Death of the Novel on his blog. was inspired by Jeff Somers' response to Philip Roth's assertion the novel will be dead in 25 years.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


So, what do you call the beautiful blonde who's marrying one of your clients, but is a talented and ably-represented-elsewhere writer herself? Client-in-law? Client-once-removed?

Well, how about we just call her Tasha, and say Andrew Grant is one lucky man.

photo shamelessly lifted from Wilfred Bereswill; don't mention it to him, ok?

Another reason I love GoogleReader

One of my favorite things to find on my google reader is a new post from Alexander Chee.

Particularly when it comes with this photo


You're not following his blog Koreanish? Start.

It's NYC Marathon Sunday!

The racecourse runs pretty much right past my apartment so for the past three years I've gone down to Bedford and S. 5th to watch.

At first the street looks pretty empty.

You'll see a lot of that "red overpass": it's the Williamsburg Bridge.

The first signs of the oncoming deluge are the wheelchair "runners"

Some of these competitors do things that are simply astonishing

The signal that the gazelles are about to fly by, and I do mean FLY is the arrival of the time truck

and then here they are:

and they're gone faster than you can refocus and snap a picture! The man second from the right in the white jersey with USA emblazoned in red is this year's winner!

It's always a thrill to see these guys whirl by, but the real fun comes later...MUCH later, after the elite runners, after the seriously competitive runners (like our own Stephany Evans!) after all the people who are there for more than just fun, here come the people in the costumes and the messages:

and this was of course my favorite!

Congratulations to Danette Somers, my "person to watch for" this year! She arrived in Williamsburg still vertical and still moving forward! And she's running for TEAM FOX a cause I'm very happy to support along with her. Go Danette!

I didn't get a picture of her, she was moving too fast for the camera to focus but we managed a quick hug, and she was back on track!