Thursday, December 31, 2009

The perfect time is now

I was slithering around the comments section of the blog today and came across this:
I knew not to query during the holidays. Now, I wonder if agents will be barraged with queries during the first couple weeks of January, and it's better to wait a little longer(present blog host excluded of course).

I've mentioned I'm not reading queries during the holidays in a couple of recent posts. A lot of my colleagues are actually taking query hiatuses (they're deleting anything that comes in during the hiatus so they don't stare at a Stack O'Doom come Monday.)

But I really want to encourage you to NOT get in the habit of thinking there is a good or bad time to query. Short of an actual hiatus with the queries getting deleted, your query goes in the mailbox and gets read. You have zero control over when that reading happens. The only thing you can control is getting it in to the mailbox.

Send your query when it's ready to go. If you're trying to avoid the holiday deluge, everyone else is too, and Monday 1/4/10 is probably going to be the slowest day for queries since 12/25/09.

And know this: tonight I was shepherding the incoming queries into their little query corral when I saw one with a subject line that ignited my interest. Damn right I read it. And called the author that MINUTE to request a full. Had a very nice conversation with him, and I plan to read his project tomorrow.

Would every agent respond that way? No. This project is a long standing passionate interest of mine. You don't know if your book is in that category with an agent and you're better off to take action (send the query) than try to suss out the "perfect time" to do so. The perfect time is right now.

Happy 2010.

Statistics to torture yourself with in 2010

Periodically I've posted tallies of my replies to incoming query letters. After one of those posts I realized that it might be interesting to keep tabs on what happens when I request a full. I started keeping notes sometime this summer. Between that date and today, I requested 124 full novels.

Here's what happened:

Just plain not good enough: 21 (a novel needs to be in the 99th percentile-these were closer to 90%--not bad, but not good enough)

Good premise, but the rest of the novel didn't hold up: 11

Not compelling or vivid, or focused; no plot/tension: 10

Slow start or the pace was too slow: 9

I didn't believe the narrative voice: 5

Structural problems with the novel: 8

Interesting premise, but not a fresh or new take on familiar plots/tropes: 7

Had caricatures rather than characters: 2
Boring: 3
Grossed me out: 2
Major plot problems: 2

Needed more polish and editorial input than I wanted to do: 2

Good books but I couldn't figure out where to sell them: 7

Got offer elsewhere; I withdrew from scrum: 2

Great writing, just not right for me: 2

Not right for me, refer to other agents: 9

Not quite there/send me the next one: 1

Sent back for revisions with editorial suggestions and I expect to see them again in 2010: 9

Getting second read at FPLM: 1

Got offer from me: 2

(the rest fall into the miscellaneous category of problems too specific to list here)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Sox Knockers

Beat the Reaper

Ghosts of Belfast

Gone Tomorrow


The Tourist

Rogue Males

in no particular order, and excluding all my very Sox Knocking Clients.

uh...ok, buddy, if you really insist

I'm not reading queries this week; I'm catching up on partials and fulls. I am however keeping my emailbox organized by putting all the queries in their own separate folder. That means I'm glancing at them to make sure they're queries, and not really for QueryShark, or replies to old queries, or something other than A Query.

So here's what happened today:

I received a query date stamped 1:10pm. It had an interesting title. I thought "ok, that looks like one I'll want to read." I glanced at the query and it was a total frigging mess. "Dear Sir/Madam", taglines, issues covered, themes covered, and godhelpus, an attachment.

Now, what did I do?

Pause for the theme from Jeopardy to play.

Did I (a) instant reject?
Did I (b) throw it away?

Did I (c) call up the author and berate him/her for being stupid?

For all of you who voted for (d) None of the Above, you are our Grand Prize Winner.
For exactly 72 minutes anyway.

What I did was put the query in my to be read stack.

And then 72 minutes later I got this from the same author:

Subject line: For those liiterary agents who do not even look at the work (sic)
Email: I am still writing 4 more books you will keep getting these queries about every 2-3 months block this email address I will use another one

And that author friends is when the query went to junk. I can and will forgive every single mistake in the query. I will coach you through the query process as much as I can bear. I will do damn near anything to help you if you are writing something I want to read. But I will not extend even a modicum of help for someone who threatens to spamquery me before I've even had a chance to read and reply to the first one.

Here's my guess about what happened: Author sent a pile of queries out today. He got a LOT of auto-responders saying "we're closed to queries till such and such and your query has been deleted."

He got annoyed.

He emailed while annoyed.

And he emailed everyone. Not just the auto responders.
He emailed everyone, including the (at least) one agent who was interested in his book.

The very definition of what-not-to-do.

A quick refresher: I make my living, my ENTIRE living, finding good writers and selling their work. I read every query. I WANT to read your query. But I only want to read it up to the point you haven't demonstrated you are an asshat. For some people it's sooner rather than later. 72 minutes isn't the world's record, but it's certainly the record for this week since I'm not even READING queries!

Resolution #2: Clean the office

Cleaning the office is on everyone's list! I know some of my friends on Twitter have posted pictures of their clean (and some have tormented me with their NOT very organized!!) offices.

Here's the tidiest place in my office right now:

and I have a lovely new painting in a place of honor!

New Year's Resolution #1

This time, I'm getting to Alaska.

The Alaska Writing Guild was kind enough to invite me again.

Even the moose are sucking up to the conference organizer to get early registration discounts:

The Fifteen Things You Need to Know B'twixt "The End" and "Send"

In a previous post I mentioned that querying is not the first step in being published. It's not even the fifteenth. Here's the list of the fifteen things you need to learn between writing "the end" and hitting send.

1. How literary agents are paid.
(and the corollary: don't pay money to any so-called agent)

2. How to assess whether an agent is legitimate

3. What a form rejection is

4. What a referral is
(and what it is not)

5. How to cut, paste, and copy using word processing software; how to attach a .doc file to an email.

6. How to send an email

7. Your website URL: why you need one before you query and what should be on your site

8. A synopsis

9. Where you can ask entry level questions about queries and publishing
(example: Absolute

10. What a query letter is (and what it is not)

11. What submission guidelines are and where to find them

12. How publishers "sell books"

13. The difference between publishers, agents, editors, publicists

14. What the "industry standards" are for manuscripts and queries

15. What the pace of the industry is: how long does it take an agent to reply; how long does it take a book to be published etc.


Many authors have twitter accounts but there's still a lot of uncertainty about how useful Twitter is and how to use it to make it useful for book promotion.

Here's a clip from an article in Publishing Perspectives that offers some useful insight (where it says publishers, think author instead):

Using Twitter well is a skill. Publishers won’t get far by tweeting, “our book is great, buy it here!” From our experience, a direct plea results in a click-through rate of about 0.1%. Furthermore, such messages are not retweeted.

A smarter strategy is to share a compelling quote or fact from a book, one that your followers might share with their friends, who might share it in turn. A particularly poignant passage will have a much greater reach than a simple pitch for the title. The cascading effect of retweets can expose an exponentially larger audience to a book.

It also follows the golden rule of fiction workshops: show, don’t tell. If your book is great, prove it with material.

The entire article is Lessons from the Rick Moody Twitter Project

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Faces of the Gone

Remember this post about Brad Parks' new book FACES OF THE GONE?

Since even I couldn't read and reject queries on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (sharks are not cold blooded, just cold!) I had a chance to read some of the books I've bought recently.

Here's a sample from FACES OF THE GONE narrated in the first person by Carter Ross, a Newark Eagle-Examiner reporter:

Still, when you take into account that a newspaper reporter's sole creation is the written word, we have to considered writers. And, as writers go, we're tough, resilient, dependable. We quietly scoff at the softer breeds. I mean, really, some magazine writers consider themselves "on deadline" when they're three weeks away from having to deliver copy. Where I come from, that's not a deadline. That's two weeks off and a few leisurely days at the office.

Then there are those namby-pamby novelists who write what the critics deem to be "literature." They're the bichon frises of the writing world--they're poofy, pretty, and everyone fawns over them. But the moment things get tough, they're hiding under the kitchen table, making a mess on the floor.

Harlan Coben called this a "terrific debut" and he's not wrong. I tivo'ed through the short italicized sections in the third person POV of the bad guy cause I hate that device almost as much as I hate prologues. I also didn't want to leave Carter Ross's voice. I think he's the dandiest reporter since Laura Lippman didn't want to cover a fire in Season Five of The Wire.

And I love his cat.

I hope enough people discover Brad Parks, and soon, so that he'll have a long and prosperous career.

The hell with Elvis, Christmas Spirit has now left the building

I'm not reading queries this weekend. Even the shark is taking some time to chew on Christmas pudding rather than hapless authors.

I do however glance at the queries I receive as I herd them into their little holding pen with milk and cookies. And I'm seeing a lot of this: "I don't know how all this works but..."

This makes you sound lazy and stupid. DON'T PUT IT IN YOUR QUERY.

Even if you don't know how all this works.

I know you're going to make mistakes. I encourage you to make many and try for more.

But, I also assume you've done some preparation before writing to ask I read your work. That maybe you've googled the phrase "how to send a query" (1) or "how book publishing works"(2) or "how to get a literary agent"(3) BEFORE you actually DO any of those things.

Would you show up at an NFL training camp and tell the coach you're not really sure how the game is played but could he watch and see if you're any good?

Would you show up at an audition for America's Next Top Chef and mention you're not really sure about the difference between bake, broil, simmer, and saute, but you'd still like to cook for them.

Would you audition for the New York Ballet and mention you aren't really sure what this whole five positions thing is but could they watch and see if you do it right?

Well, you certainly can of course, but it pretty much means you won't be taken seriously. Querying is not the first step. It's not even the fifteenth. You need to learn about the biz if you want to be part of it. This isn't just true of publishing. It's true of any business.

(1)my blog post is #4 on the list when you google this phrase.
(2) 20,900 places with info on this phrase.
(3) 2 MILLION hits for this phrase. It may not tell you everything you'll ever need to know but it's a good place to start--a lot better place to start than my incoming query mail for sure.

Need to take down your tree FAST?

you might inquire here

(don't sign the damage waiver)

Friday, December 25, 2009

What to get a shark for Christmas

The year I was ten, I got a horse for Christmas.
Mum could have made Legume Surprise on Toast for dinner every night for the rest of my life and I still would have been a very happy cowgirl: I had my very own horse!

Some years later, I got a sister for Christmas.
Not quite as immediately fun as the horse, but she gradually improved (walking and talking were a big bonus there.) She recently demonstrated long term utility by deftly producing the Most Amazing Niece Born In This Millennium*** so I've decided to renew her sibling license again this year.

For years I enjoyed tormenting her by airily mentioning she was my second favorite Christmas present of all time.

This year I got Dan Krokos' second novel for Christmas. Here's the first line: I’m digging up a grave in the Everglades.

How am I going to break the news to my sister that she's slipped to third?

***and I'm totally objective about this so you can take my word for it, but I do have pictures which I will come show you right now in case you need verification.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I'm not sure whether to laugh...or hide

Bad reviews, even tepid reviews, are a fact of life.
I'm convinced anyone who doesn't love every single book by every single one of my clients is a witless nincompoop.

But I'm not sure witless nincompoopery is actually a federal offense.

Don't make Santa bring a casket this year

Install/test smoke detectors in your home.
Right now.

What prompted this post?

Which I found here. (via CakeWrecks)

And if you're looking for a place to send a donation, there's a way to give via PayPal.

But please, make sure your smoke detectors work.
Test them right NOW.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Comment of the Day

I'm always delighted by the amazing wit, not to mention downright hilarity, of those of you who comment here.

Today's winner (and I know it's early yet, but the local watering hole is calling to me fondly) is from the post There's Formal..and then there is just annoying.

Here's the comment:

Dear Snookie-ookums:

I am personally in dire need of the professional services of a competent octopus with close ties to the Herpet-American community.

It personally behooves me (though I'm not personally looking for anyone with hooves) to seek out only those octopi who double as sharks on occasion and I personally prefer those who do not inhabit pilfered coconuts.

My personal non-fiction novelized serial book: How to Succeed in the Office Aquarium will appeal to all creatures who live under water.

Thank you personally.
My personal-self.

Querying Non Fiction

If you are writing a proposal for a non-fiction book that includes any kind of "How To" such as

How To Rope An Alligator And Other Reptiles;
How To Defang an Agent And Other Literary Reptiles;
How To Survive And Thrive As An Intern At Fineprint Lit

one of the FIRST things you need to do is research what books already exist on the subject.

Go to Amazon, or publishers of the kind of book you propose to write and make a list of titles. Figure out the ways your book is better, faster, stronger, smarter. What NEW and IMPROVED information or strategies do you offer that these other books don't.

Example: "In my proposed book How To Survive and Thrive as a FinePrint Intern, I have surveyed all surviving interns through Summer 2009 for tips and tricks of the trade. I have also added information on all the agents that have joined FinePrint in the last year. This NEW and IMPROVED information will offer more current, more usable advice than previous books on the subject, the last of which was published in 1996 and sold six gazillion copies."

Obviously not to be used verbatim, but you get the idea, right?

Include that information in your query. You don't need all the titles, but you need a paragraph that covers the information.

The reason you need this is because the FIRST thing I do when I get a non-fiction query is research the competition. Your job is to tell me why your book offers something more than what's already out there.

This does NOT apply to narrative non fiction (by authors such as John McPhee, Tracy Kidder, Melissa Fay Greene etc) or to memoir.

There's formal..and then there is just annoying

I can certainly respect your desire to be more formal than "Hey Snookums" in a query letter. Truth be told, I'm glad of a certain formality. But "I presently require the services of a good literary agent" isn't so much formal as it is annoying.

And of course, you don't even need to include this kind of sentence in a query letter. It's one of those things I take on faith: if you're querying me, you need an agent.

Other things you don't need to cover: you're a mammal; you're breathing; you're writing in English.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My score is 8, what's yours?

Conspicuous by it's (sic!) absence: proofreader's (sic)

of course, all the best stuff is over at The Rejectionist,
and that's where I shamelessly stole this

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Madison Ross ROCKS!

You'll think so too.
Listen here.

Normally I require cash deposits to deal with people of a tender age but Miss Madison Ross is exactly the kind of kid I like.

Now, I need to go round up some kid's book authors to be on her podcast. If you'd like to volunteer, drop me an email (or have your agent get in touch.)

Thomas Hoving, THE Shark, has died

Followers of this blog know of my devotion to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a place I love to visit, and would live in if they'd let me.

Part of the reason I love the Met was the work done by Thomas Hoving, Met director from 1966-1977.

His NYT obituary includes this paragraph:

“My collecting style was pure piracy, and I got a reputation as a shark,” he wrote, adding that his little black book of “dealers and private collectors, smugglers and fixers” was bigger than anyone’s.

The mummies will mourn his passing, as will we all.

One of the best writers about art, Michael Kimmelman of the NYT, offers this appraisal of Mr. Hoving in the Sunday Times (12/13/09)

It didn't win, but I loved it most

There was a contest for writerly versions of Christmas Carols over here.

There was a lovely winner who got a critique: congrats to Sonja.

This one though, by Susie, this one is what I will now be singing:

The Twelve Tips on Queries
(to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas)

1. On most agent websites, query samples show,
word count in the very first line

2. On Cheryl Klein’s submission page, she implies
Word counts are boring-
But Most want it in the First line

3. On The Wendy Sherman webpage, sub instructions say
tell us why you chose us-
Word Counts are Boring
But Most Want it in the First Line

4. On Janet Reid’s blog, she quite often says
I Don’t care Why you Picked me-
Tell us Why You Chose Us
Word Counts are Boring
But Most Want it in the First Line.

5. On Janet Reid’s blog, she's also said
250 Words!
Don’t Care Why You Picked Me
Tell Us Why You Chose Us
Word Counts are Boring
But Most Want it in the First Line

6. On the Wendy Sherman webpage, sub instructions read
No More than 2 full pages-
250 Words!
Don’t Care Why You Picked Me
Tell Us Why You Chose Us
Word Counts are Boring
But Most Want it in the First Line

7. On the Greenburger webpage, sub instructions say
Include Bio and Synopsis-
No More than 2 pages
250 Words!
Don’t Care Why You Picked Me
Tell Us Why You Chose Us
Word Counts are Boring
But Most Want it in the First Line

8. One day in Twitterverse, Jenn Laughran wrote,
Synopses are of the Devil-
Include a Synopsis
No More than 2 pages
250 Words!
Don’t Care Why You Picked Me
Tell Us Why You Chose Us
Word Counts are Boring
But Most Want it in the First Line

9. On the Wendy Sherman webpage, sub instructions say,
Don’t refer us to your website-
Synopses are of the Devil
Include a Synopsis
No More than 2 pages
250 words!
Don’t Care Why You Picked Me
Tell Us Why You Chose Us
Word Counts are Boring
But Most Want it in the First Line

10. In Nathan’s query samples, he clearly says,
“Cool, she’s got a website!”-
Don’t refer us to you website
Synopses are of the Devil
Include a Synopsis
No More than 2 pages
250 words!
Don’t Care Why You Picked Me
Tell Us Why You Chose Us
Word Counts are Boring
But Most Want it in the First Line

11. In a panel at a conference, an editor said
“You must have a web presence”
“Cool, she’s got a website!”-
Don’t refer us to your website
Synopses are of the Devil
Include a Synopsis
No More than 2 pages
250 words!
Don’t Care Why You Picked Me
Tell Us Why You Chose Us
Word Counts are Boring
But Most Want it in the First Line

12 As I write my query, please do excuse, my head banging up against the wall.
Must have a web presence, Cool, she’s got a website,
Don’t refer us to your website
Synopses are of the Devil
Include a Synopsis
No More than 2 pages
250 words
Don’t Care Why You Picked Me
Tell Us Why You Chose Us
Word Counts are Boring
But Most Want it in the First Line

now if anyone wants to record this, I will be GLAD to post that as well. And there might even be a prize for the bravest!

Miss Madison Ross embraced the challenge!

Some very welcome news today!

The fate of Curbstone Press has been in some doubt since the death of Sandy Taylor two years ago. I was a casual friend and devoted admirer of Mr. Taylor (and his lovely company.) I'd had many phone chats with him, but only met him once at a book party for Marnie Mueller, author of MY MOTHER'S ISLAND (Curbstone: 2002).

Now comes word that Northwestern University Press and stalwart knight-editor Henry Carrigan will acquire Curbstone and the backlist.

Huzzahs all around!

Huzzah for Henry!
Huzzah for Sandy Taylor, may he rest in peace!
And mostly Huzzah for being able to read more good books from Curbstone!

I remember when this was just a concept on a cocktail napkin

but holy shit, THE BREACH looks pretty damn fierce now!

and yes, you can order it from Amazon for your grandma for Christmas.

Monday, December 07, 2009

"You did EVERYTHING wrong" what

I was working my way through the incoming email queries this morning and found one that was sent by someone who clearly had NO idea how queries worked. Every single thing, other than Dear Ms. Reid and his name (at least I assume he spelled it correctly), was wrong .

Rather than send a form rejection, I replied thus:

Dear Mr. (Name),

I keep a blog that gives out what I hope is helpful information about how to query.
Here's a post link to How To Send a Query
There are many other posts on the subject of query letters as well.

What you sent to me today can't be evaluated but rather than a form rejection,
I'm emailing you to say take a mulligan; do it over.

Very best wishes,

Only after I hit send (and drank another shot of coffee to clear my brain!) did I realize what I'd opened myself up to. I've sent these kind of emails previously, and lived to regret it.

So, this evening, I was nicely surprised, and very heartened to receive this:

I'm a terrible golfer, so I'm quite familiar with the mulligan concept. I have several per nine holes.

Thank you for the guidance. I'm as blind to the process as one could get, so it is much appreciated.


So, when you get an email that says "not that, but this" you now have a template for what to say in return.

Even if your name isn't Fore.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Query Status update

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)

1.5 the not-quite-so-dreaded, but still clearly wrong, personalized "not for me"

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 see what went wrong.

Yea, what Kristin said

As usual, she's smart and succinct.
Here's the latest on the Harlequin Filthy Lucre Love Fest.

Have I mentioned how much I love The Rejectionist lately?

Well, here's another example of why I do:

As an assistant to a literary agent, my job is to act as a human spam filter, picking out the rare promising tidbit to pass on to my boss and deflecting the rest with a polite but firm form rejection.

(full article here)

Another entry on "instant rejection"

There are now six ways to be instantly rejected.

The new, sixth, one is this:

The novel isn't finished. Finishing a novel is just the first part of writing it. After you finish, you edit. Then you let it sit for a while. Then you edit again.

If you think you're going to be done soon when you've only written 85% of the book, you're wrong. And you're also getting a rejection.

Query ONLY when you can send the fully finished and carefully edited novel as soon as I request it.

10 Things Crime Writers Can Learn From Paris Hilton

That's the title to a blog post by author Brad Parks, and it's both serious (sort of) and hilarious.

Here's part of what he says:

She has even been, yes, a bestselling author. Her 2004 memoir “Confessions of an Heiress” debuted at No. 7 on the New York Times Bestseller List. And I suspect there are more than a few of us reading (and writing) this blog who would gladly trade their knucklebones for that.

So what can we learn from Paris Hilton? As Dave White would say, “Prepare for awesomeness.” Because I have done rigorous research – and I think we can all agree that ten minutes reading the free pages of her memoir posted on Google Books qualifies as “rigorous” – and come up with…


My reason for writing this is not just to link to the post or introduce you to the blog and suggest you subscribe although both are good things to do.

My reason is this: I'd never heard of Brad Parks before 10:30am today and now I both know who he is, and have bought his book. If you're a writer, you ll want to pay attention to how that happened because you really want total strangers to find you, think you're a good writer, and buy your book.

Here's how it worked:

First, he is pals with at least one of the writers who is a regular contributor to the blog Do Some Damage.

Second, Brad Parks bribed enticed finagled arranged to do a guest blog post about the same time his book is due to be published.

But I'd never heard of the blog, and I didn't read it regularly. The crucial middleman here is
Step three: Sophie Littlefield.

I do know Sophie, but more importantly I follow her on Twitter. This morning, as I drank coffee and checked twitter to see what fresh conspiracies were being hatched by the fabulosity of clients, I saw this tweet:
swlittlefield: "Oh, that Brad Parks is so funny - had no idea he was so tight with Paris"

And I clicked on the link.

Sophie may know Brad, or she may know Dave White. Knowing Sophie as I do, she probably knows both and they think she's the cat's pjs just like I do. Sophie is one of those people that can make things happen for people. How do you know who those people are? You don't. You just meet as many people as you can and hope that one of them is a Sophie Littlefield.

But to return to the clickage trail: I clicked on the link and I read the post. And I thought Brad Parks IS funny. But I also think he makes a good point.
So I clicked the link to see about his book.
And it had some good reviews.
So I bought it.

And then I bought another book so I could get free shipping (a book I saw mentioned on Erin McKean's blog A Dress A Day)

Book promotion isn't just guest blogging, or getting good reviews, or making friends with other authors. It's all of those things coming together. Doing just one wouldn't have gotten my one-click purchase. Brad Parks had to do ALL of them, and even then had to be one degree of separation from me, via Sophie Littlefield.

This is why you go to conferences, why you tweet, why you blog.
This is why you do it twenty minutes a day, every day.
There is no direct correlation between how much you do and how successful you'll be. There's a huge dollop of serendipity at work here.

But it worked today for Brad Parks. And it can work for you.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Dan Krokos for the discerning ear!

Dan Krokos' short story The Easy Way Out is up on Lit103-- the radio show hosted by Alan Vogel.

Click the download button to hear it now.