At the end of last week (and the post on speculative fiction) Amy Schaefer (who really should be dead to us living here in the cold frozen island that used to be Manhattan, since she lives in Paradise!) commented
"I also find it funny, Janet, that you think your category post amounted to: "why I don't rep spec fic", whereas all I got out of it was: "send me everything." I'll bet you a wheelbarrow full of nuts that I wasn't alone."
You'll be perplexed to discover that the number of queries neither rose nor fell but held quite steady at about 100 a week. Later in the week I had an opportunity to compare query stats with other agents. Some of my pals are getting upwards of 200/week. Interesting. Unexplained, but interesting.
Also in the WIR, Kitty linked to a good article by Cheryl Strayed on how the money flows in publishing. This prompted me to write a blog post for this coming Monday about money, specifically how advances work.
And it turns out that blog readers AJ Blythe and newcomer Sam Hawke are both in Australia. Sam mentioned the dreaded vegemite. I have a beloved client (Gary Corby) who also lives in Australia and he tried to poison the interns with vegemite on his first visit to FPLM.
Yup that's Joanna Volpe now of New Leaf Literary, the agent for Divergent and The Duff. She's the only one who sort of liked it. Given Joanna's great professional success, maybe we should all be eating more vegemite!
On Monday, the discussion turned to a writer who asked about having gotten a lot of help on her query, only to discover when agents read her pages, she was getting almost universal rejections.
No one picked up on Julie Weathers mentioning she'd entered hog calling contests. I think we need to fund a pool to pay Julie for video of that fine event. I'm in for $100.
There was some question about whether you needed a finished manuscript to send a query to the QueryShark.
Here's a list of the various ways to interact with me, and what you need:
QueryShark: a completed query letter that you think is ready for submission to agents. Whether the novel is done is less important.
Chum Bucket: a query and a finished novel. If you query on Chum Bucket and your novel isn't ready, I will not respond well. ChumBucket is querying for real, and you do NOT query unless your novel is ready to go out the door, that very day.
Query Questions: a question, hopefully succinct, sent to my email address with Query Question in the subject line.
Blog comments: just post away and I'll read.
And Julie also gave us the Mrs. Chicken story. Sometime soon we're going to have a book-length work of Julie Weathers hilarity, and wouldn't it be hilarious if THAT was her first published work?
MeganV told us of her experiences querying as a 12year old writer. Turns out her MamaBear wrote the query. This was very illuminating. I do get mail from writers who tell me they are 12 but the tone and syntax of the letter is very clearly adult. It had actually never crossed my mind that MamaBear was writing the query.
If you're wondering about whether to do that for your kid, DON'T! A kid who sounds like an adult gets a form rejection. A kid who sounds like a kid gets a much much different reply.
S.P. Bowers had the most succinct thought on voice: "Voice is like an accent. You never hear your own. But that doesn't mean you don't have one." I like this a great deal and plan to steal the line shamelessly.
And donnaeverhart mentioned the late, great amazing Larry Brown, with whom I had the great fortune to meet briefly in my days in the publicity trenches. Gone too soon indeed.
On Tuesday, we talked about illustrations in novels, and when to mention that you envision your work including them.
Jenz commented on the cost of a good illustrator (not cheap) and from what little I know of picture books, she's right on the money.
Adib Khorram was the first to mention THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY as an example of a novel that included a graphic novel in it.
Then we heard from the author of FIVE STAGES, Shaun Hutchinson, and what he said was very illuminating and applicable I think to all authors who want to include things other than text in their novels.
The agent I signed with (the amazing Amy Boggs) was totally on board with the graphic novel elements, but we both knew that when we went on submission that the publishers might be less receptive since they'd have to hire and artist and such, and I prepared myself mentally to redo those sections as prose if a publisher made an offer but didn't want the added burden of doing the graphic novel.
Luckily, the editor who acquired my book was enthusiastic about the graphic novel portions of the book, and they did hire an artist to turn my script into a graphic novel.
So it can be done. But I think you need to be very clear as to what you're looking for and you need to be very sure that those graphic elements are absolutely vital to the story. If the book can exist without them, an agent or editor is probably not going to want to do them.
If you want to read my query for the book, my agent did a breakdown of it over here.
Of course I went out and bought a copy of FIVE STAGES immediately, and had a chance to start reading it on the train Friday night. It's fucking amazing. I haven't finished yet (despite letting three trains go by at West 4th cause I didn't want to stop reading--it's impossible to read in a really crowded train) but look for more on this in the coming weeks. Let me just say this now. The first line is "The boy is on fire."
On Wednesday we return to the question of query decorum: is it ok to query another agent at an agency where an agent has said no. (say that fast five times!)
My reply was Be Bold, and in fact I've updated the blog post to make that the latest in the Rules for Writers. [Rules for Writers are on the right hand side of the blog in a separate column.]
I liked how Susan Bonifant phrased it: "err on the side of possible success."
Dena Pawling gave us a hilarious bad query example, but sadly, writes too well for it to give off the true aroma of badBadBAD queries.
KrisM asked if the writer should mention the first agent query whilst querying the second.
Yes you should. Here's why: you don't know the inner workings of the agency. If someone queries me, and said they queried another agent here at FPLM, I'll know if that agent is just behind on queries, or doesn't respond to queries if not interested, or is slacking off in the south of France eating lima beans and looking at kale, thus giving me a chance to scoop this treasure from under his/her nez. The querier won't know any of that, and it's better to let the agent know than run into a problem down the road.
And after that the comments just fell right off topic into a soup pot of lima beans that ended when Colin Smith exiled himself back to Carkoon.
The fact that these comments crack me up again three days later means you all really are hilarious.
Thursday, we're back to correct form in a query. Is it ok to ask questions?
Kelsey Hutton has a nice take on this:
"I read a lot of queries on QueryShark and Evil Editor, and I find questions that boil down to "Will Jane Smith save the day??" get rather tiresome, since, after all, readers usually expect the hero to end up saving the day. There's no tension there; I already know the answer.
"How far will Jane Smith go to save the day?" is a far more interesting question to me."
Susan Bonifant (with an assist from Colin Smith) phrased it best: "One (question) rising naturally from the conflict of the character, rather than one aimed at the agent's personal curiosity seems workable to me."
Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli (a name that I just love to say aloud!) is going into the nostrum business with lima beans and kale. Felix Buttonweaver is involved (cleverly concealing his real name of Felix Buttonweezer!)
And Craig is writing lima bean thrillers, which while not as terrifying as dinosaur porn, is pretty much immediately on my This Will Not Fly list.
Christina Seine riffed on Goldilocks and questions in query which prompted Colin Smith to give us the other side of the story.
Agent Goldie Lox had only been in the program three months and already she was staking out the humble home base of the feared Bear Family. Suspecting they had hijacked the village's much-needed supply of lima beans to sell on the black market, she tears the place apart looking for evidence. However, she is seduced by Mama Bear's intoxicating porridge, and falls unconscious just as The Bears return.
Meanwhile, her hapless companion, Woodman "Woody" Cutter is investigating Lox's disappearance. But his is more than a quest of duty. He gave his heart to Lox when they were in the Academy together, though he hasn't yet revealed the truth of his feelings for her.
Does Cutter have enough courage to take on the Bears and declare his love for Agent Lox, whatever the cost?
LOX AND THE LIMA BEAN CONSPIRACY is a 70,000 word suspense fiction novel. It's truly amazing. Really.
Amazing is one word for it.
And honestly I'm getting pretty spoiled: if the comments trail doesn't have a hilarious story from Julie the world feels a little bleak. No pressure there One L.
Friday we return to query decorum: is it wise to resend after fixing what an agent said was wrong with a requested full?
Colin Smith took the shark by the teeth and wrote:
"It really would help cut down the chattering in the forest if agents would be clear and honest in their feedback to the woodland creatures. "I liked your writing, but in the end I didn't love it enough to feel I could give it the representation it deserves. If I might, let me make a couple of suggestions that I think will help you win over another agent..."
I can tell you that's never going to happen. There are a couple reason. The first and most often is that agent's live in fear of someone quoting their rejection of a novel that went on to sell a million copies. I've been in ballrooms where authors giving keynotes have done EXACTLY that. Let me tell you, it's gawdawful, even if it's not your rejection, or no names are mentioned. It's the flip side of those insanely stupid agent tweets about why a query is rejected. It may not be yours but it still makes you feel icky.
Second, unasked for advice or commentary is very seldom received well. I know this of my own experience, experience learned the hard way. You've never seen true venom and vitriol until you offer unsolicited "help" on a query that desperately needs it.
There's a reason I limit ChumBucket to people who pay attention and know the parameters: they've signed on for feedback. Same with QueryShark. I no longer reply to a regular query with specifics.
Third, what's crap for me is gold for someone else and better to have them query on, than give up because I or another agent didn't like the project. Which is exactly what Colin Smith said better here "Just because an agent rejects your novel, it doesn't mean s/he doesn't love you. Indeed, maybe the kindest thing they'll do is say NO."
Then Bill Negotiator reminded us:
I thought I was ready for rejection when I started querying five months ago. Form responses rolled off my back, and I was proud that the process hadn't gotten to me, as it had so many others. I was all doors and windows, no means yes somewhere else, this is a breeze.
But then the partial requests came in, and the fulls. The stakes felt impossibly high when I remembered where I began, twenty-something me with a whim to write chick-lit. Chick-lit? So I tried not to think about it. I obsessed over Twitter and reassured myself when agents tweeted pitfalls I didn't enter. "No More Unicorn Samurais with Cancers" #checkmywishlist, or the very Breaking Bad pleas for us to remember their names. #I'mNotDearAgent.
It's no surprise that I got a personalized rejection on a full. But what I didn't know, what nobody had told me in this rush to stay positive, was that the compliments, the glimmers of someone almost on board with my writing, would be the hardest part to swallow.
Which was a valuable reminder for me particularly since some of you who comment here have had novels on submission with me. "Almost" is really tough.
DLM's comment was salve:
Yesterday, the light in my living room was unlike I've ever seen it. It was a snow day, and the sky was clearing, and the sun came out in that peculiarly platinum-colored glare it does over a world gone highly reflective white. I saw the paint color in a way it has never appeared, and it was an almost creative experience - the pleasure we as writers can take in seeing something a new way. Literal new light.
I chose that paint color with a lifetime's taste, expectations, some wisdom, and a lot of creative hope. I'd lived in this house and had strong ideas about what would work and what I wanted to see. Yesterday, it told me (as it always has) I made the right choice.
When you are a professional in the business of choosing creativity itself for a catalog of product you can believe in and SELL - as well as you can - it takes that combination of experience, expectation, and creativity.
I'm nothing like any of the rest of you as an author. None of you is like the rest of us. Each of us has demonstrated here - we're not merely good with words, we're good storytellers. But how many of us does Janet rep? Janet, who clearly appreciates our ways with words - she says it, with highly specific examples, over and over again, and not even only in the WIR posts. She sees and supports every one of us.
But she's not the right agent for MOST of us.
I can't wait to find out who the right agent is for me. I've had theories, some of them haven't borne out; some may still come to something. We'll just have to see. Like when the sun comes out after the snow.
On Saturday we discussed when/if a query needed to reveal previous representation. I casually mentioned that I do sniff around your websites etc if I'm interested in your work.
elisabethcrisp contributed this comment to the discussion of what kind of blog content works:
Long term planning has helped me get back up on my blog horse. Four days a week, I write topic-based posts. One day, I post a photo. One day, I post an excerpt. One day, I write a journal-type post for the past week. I keep everything under 350 words. It works for me.
I agree. When I started this blog, it was rather haphazard. Over the months and years I developed a plan and stuck to it. The results is an enormous increase in traffic and comment volume. I'm not sure if this is replicable for authors, but I know it worked for me.
Karen McCoy commented "Mostly, I try to remember that my writing comes first, because without it, my platform accounts for nil." which is an excellent thing for all of us to remember. Even me! (instead of writing, think clients!)
This week I'm reading THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY, and just finished MURDER AT THE BRIGHTWELL, which I loved. It's an old fashioned British seaside, sprawling cast of suspects murder mystery. It's absolutely in the tradition of Agatha Christie, and I was surprised in the end by whodunit.
And just as a reminder that yes, I do crawl around your websites and blogs, here a post from our own Susan Bonifant that is lovely homily this cold winter morning.
My favorite story of the weekis has a terrible clickbait headline, but I love the story, want to lead three cheers for the mum who understands that HOW you tell the story is really important.
Over on my Facebook page, there were two posts with cat pictures, one with a fish movie, and two slice of life scenes from the office.
I love the fish movie so much!
Have a swimmingly great day!