Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

BEA for aspiring writers

I'm an aspiring novelist and an assistant editor for a travel book company. I'm going to BEA for the first time this year and I'm a little overwhelmed by the schedule. Do you have any recommendations of the best ways to spend my first BEA, given that I am trying to get published/get an agent within the next few years (knock on wood)? 

Yes. Don't go.

Unless your job for the travel book company requires you to attend, you're better off not going. If your job
does require you to attend, focus on what you need to do for your job. At your first BEA that will be more than enough to keep you busy.

BEA is NOT a place for writers to meet agents or try to get info on getting published.  Yes, I'll be there. So will everyone from my office. I'm not there to meet you. I'm there to see what publishers are doing. I'm there to meet with my co-agents from far flung lands.  I'm there to get a sense of the sea changes in the industry.  

The people who staff the booths of the publishers are most often NOT the editors who acquire manuscripts either. They're the sales people, the marketing folks, the publicity team.  They're there to talk to book buyers from bookstores, librarians, wholesalers and overseas publishers.  

Every single person working a booth at BEA has a horror story of some deluded author trying to press a manuscript on them, or asking who to send the manuscript to. Don't be that author, please.

And just in case you're absolutely sure you're the exception to this rule, here's a little known fact that should seal the deal: often times the people in the booth wear the wrong name on their badge because they share badges.  You think you're talking to a marketing person, it's really an intern brought in to help pack up boxes or hand out ARCs.

I know many authors who've gone to BEA and the most common response has been "I had no idea there were this many books." In other words, it's a daunting place to be particularly when you don't have an agent, let alone a book deal.

You want to go to WRITER'S CONFERENCES, not trade shows.  Go where agents ARE actively looking to talk to you.


W.R. Gingell said...

Haha, we do the switching/fake nametags thing at my dayjob, too. It's kinda creepy to have people who say your name after every sentence, so . . .

And then there are the shoplifters, who, when I catch 'em at it, threaten to kill or maim me (over a 5 buck box of chocolates, as like as not).

So yeah, I'd rather they didn't know my name.

It's rather amusing to think that writers are the bad guys in some stories. I can't think why someone would try to shanghai an agent at an event so clearly NOT for establishing writer/agent relationships. Embarrassing for both parties, I should think . . .

P.S. Eeek! At last! reCAPTCHA got me to type some illegible text! I feel like I'm finally part of the club!

S.P. Bowers said...

I desperately want to go to BEA just so I can walk around surrounded by stacks and stacks of books. I want to SEE that many books all in one place. I don't know if I would even notice people were there.

Sorry, I'm drooling, I need to wipe my keyboard.

LynnRodz said...

Wow, who knew? At first, "Yes. Don't go." was like a bucket of ice water being thrown on your head. Then reading the reasons why an unpublished writer should not go - well, it all makes sense. Should I be surprised? Of course not, you always make sense (except when you don't). Did I just write that? Janet, it wasn't me! It was that other me who takes over my keyboard from time to time.

AJ Blythe said...

Just googled BEA to find out what it was. Interesting they have author signings when the conference is really aimed at industry professionals. Is there something for readers besides the signing? Or are readers happy to attend just for the signing?

Sounds like approaching an agent at BEA is a little like sticking your ms under the toilet door!

Melissa said...

I'm a writer and a publishing professional and agree completely. I've attended BEA to rep my publisher and it is not a place for a writer. You might make a few connections but everyone there is selling books, not buying. They don't have time to meet with you. The classes are geared toward more the business of the book. Spend the money to go to a killer conference instead.

AJ, there are free books so that's there for the readers. I about lost a hand the first year I went as everyone grabbed books. It was like a game show when you have one minute in a store to get everything you can.

I've heard though that's changed as now you're receiving codes to download ebooks. Sigh, I'll never forget dragging bags full of books down the sidewalks of the city.

brianrschwarz said...

Now I get to speak from the heart.

I went to BEA. The first year it was combined with BookCon. To say it was a complete and absolute mess is an understatement. And for an unagented writer, it was even more useless.

All said and done, I met a bunch of people in self publishing who were merely trying to sell me on their new product (half of which have already tanked), listened to self-pub convo's from KDP people, the Audible people, and a bunch of writers and publishers talking about things so far above my head that I couldn't even gather the essence of the topic.

I ended up getting out my grabby hands to take as many free books as possible, standing in lines for author signings (and to pet Grumpy Cat) and listening to John Green, John Grisham, Tina Fey, ect talk about their books.

The problem is exactly what Janet stated. Going to BEA looking for an agent is like going to Starbucks in LA to sell a movie script. Even if you KNOW there will be producers or industry professionals present, their main intent is a cup of coffee.

Actually, the best experiences I had there were having pleasant conversations with people in the Starbucks line while they had their nametags flipped or when they introduced themselves with a different name than the tag. Thankfully these conversations were never about writing, mostly about coffee, and taking bets on which barista would crack first with the continuous stream of coffee-addicted fists banging on the door.

I learned a great deal about self publishing at BEA. Most of it I didn't want to know and most of it I learned by accident. I made few mistakes for lack of moving, and the most beneficial thing that happened was running into a director of a big NonProfit writing org and getting a beer with him after BEA was over.

All this to say - Get beers. Not BEA'rs.

And that's my new slogan for life.

Ashes said...

Stacks of books? Free books? ARCs?
Is there an author alive who wouldn't want to be there? BEA has always seemed like the publishing industry's chocolate factory and at some point I want to make it there.
Not as an aspiring author but as a reader who aspires to read everything that will sit still long enough.
If I walked face-first into an agent I think I would profusely apologize, pick up my books, and scurry off.

W.R. Gingell said...

Hmmm, yes. I can definitely see attending simply to get my hot little hands on hundreds of books . . .

MB Owen said...

Brian, you may get out of Carkoon for that post.

brianrschwarz said...

Wait... what happened? I just blacked out and woke up with my face on my laptop keyboard and my feet resting on a soapbox. Strange...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Well, cross that one off my list. Oh wait, I don't have a list. Oops, I do have a list it starts with bread, milk, eggs...

S.D.King said...

This is exactly why I always feel like Sheldon Cooper.

All I can think is, "Why would I want a bunch of free books? My library is full of free books."

(and most of the pasta does not look like pasta in the Captcha)

Julie.M.Weathers said...

Ugh, I would so not want to go to that. The powers that be with the game company I write for keep trying to get me to go to game conventions and I keep declining. At some point I'll need to go, but I am not looking forward to it.

I don't like airports. I don't like big cities. I don't like crowds. Once I get settled in one place I can deal with people fine, but I do best with adult supervision traveling. Well, according to some people, I should never be allowed out without adult supervision, but that's another story.

You know those "you are here" maps? I'm always convinced I'm not where I x marks the spot.

Craig said...

If i went it would be just so our dear Queen could anoint my pointed little head with scotch. she could pour that scotch on me while I fumbled with kissing her hand and proclaiming my undying devotion.

My devotion is for all she has attempted to pass on to us. Hopefully we now know that the writing business is not the pot at the end of the rainbow. The writing business is like any other business. You squat in the mud and search for pieces of silver.

Sorry but I'm O'Ded on blueberries and the day looked to be a washout. They are even closing some of the bridges.

Dena Pawling said...

I'm still singing That's Amore........

Jenny C said...

BEA is not the place to be as a writer unless your book is already published or going to be published and you are there to meet booksellers and librarians. I used to attend when I worked as a buyer for a bookstore and I have to say, I always had a fabulous time. I heard authors speak at breakfasts, met them, got signed ARC's and came home with lots of tote bags to share with the staff at the store. (Publishers give out tote bags and booksellers love to collect them.) I also went to fun parties and once in Miami I met Oprah! All the people who work the booths want to meet booksellers and its nice to feel appreciated! And the stacks of ARC! Absolutely the best part! Quite honestly, I never even knew agents attended. You would have to search hard to find one in the sea of booksellers, sales reps and marketing people.

Colin Smith said...

For the record, I posted a comment before 9 am (US Eastern Time), but something happened to it. I'll try to remember what I said, and if it's still relevant, I'll vomment later.

Given our new policy of acronym sensitivity, for the sake of those too afraid to ask, BEA = BookExpo America. If you're in the publishing industry, this is the place to go to find out what's happening, who's publishing what, what trends are on the horizion, etc. It's very important for publishers, editors, and literary agents.

Now, let's see if this comment posts... :)

Colin Smith said...

Cool, that posted. So, here's what I said earlier (or something like it):

I like the thought of going to BEA--all those ARCs and authors and the buzz of excitement about books. BUT, I wouldn't be able to go simply as a book lover. That old woodland creature of a writer would rear its head, and before long, the thrill and pleasure would turn to dispondency and discouragement: the same feeling I get in B&N after a while. Sure, to begin with, I'm the book-loving reader, surrounded by the written word, thousands and thousands of pages just an arm's reach away. But then the unpublished writer side takes over, and these shelves of books become "the competition." I start thinking, "with all these out there, what hope has my little novel got?" Multiply that by several thousand, and I imagine that's what BEA would be like for me after the first hour. So if I go, I'd rather go AFTER I'm published, not before. :)

Stephsco said...

Thank you Colin for spelling out Book Expo America. My day job is littered with acronyms and I've trained myself to write them out first.

I think confusion comes with bloggers and the reader event; as a newbie writer a few years back I read a ton of book blogs and many talked about the mecca of BEA. I can see why some writers might get confused thinking it was somewhere they should be to get on the inside. Great post that sets it straight.

Colin Smith said...

You're welcome, Stephsco!

Similarly, Bouchercon in October is NOT a writing conference. There will be agents there, as well as published authors, and possibly some editors. But it is a mystery/detective fiction convention. People go because they love the genre and want the opportunity to hear from and meet their favorite writers. I'll be there for that, and to meet online friends--including Janet and fellow vommenters. But I look on it as a social event, not a career-building opportunity.

Julie.M.Weathers said...

I would go to Boucheron just to see Miss Janet again. It's been far too long.

Of course, then I'd be tempted to write mysteries. The crime guys were the most interesting group at Denver. sigh


Colin Smith said...

So, Julie? Why don't you? Hmm? HMMM?? Donna will be there, too!

Dena Pawling said...

I love reading mysteries. I'm trying to write one now. They're hard! I have a new appreciation for mystery writers.

Donnaeve said...

Yes, I will be there. I will try not to act weird.

This was such a good answer. Since I'm horrible at attending things in general, I'd never considered going to it, but, having said that, I'm happy to know the inside scoop on what it's really intended for, just in case I ever got myself worked up I was missing on something.

Sounds like that would be free books, but I can't see traveling somewhere to get "free" books. The cost alone of travel would more than negate the "free." UNLESS - BEA was held in RALEIGH. Now. There's an idea!

Julie.M.Weathers said...


Oooh, Donna too.

I actually have two mysteries in notebooks somewhere. One featuring my geriatric sleuths Martha and Tilley and the other my Gibson Girl.

I'm sure if an agent ever peeked inside my scrambled noodle they would flee. I try to pretend I'm normal by focusing these days.

If I get my ducks in a row, it will be Denver or Surrey this year.



bjmuntain said...

I've always understood BEA to be a trade show. A place where things are sold (or samples are handed out).

Reasons to go to BEA:

- You work in the publishing or bookselling industries.
- You buy books for libraries.
- You are a voracious reader who wants to get lots of free (and not-so-free) books.

A writer going to BEA is like a single person going to a wedding show. Lots to see, maybe even some interesting things to buy or sample (there's often caterers at wedding shows) - but don't go there expecting to get hitched.

Colin: Don't get dejected in book stores. Do what I do. Go directly to the shelf in the store where your book will someday be found. Put your hand exactly where your book will be (mine will be in the science fiction area near the end of the Ms). Keep that image in mind and go straight home and write.

Jenny C said...

I've been nostalgic this morning, thinking back over all the BEA's I attended. My favorite one was not the time I met Oprah, who ended up canceling her autobiography, but the time I heard a relatively unknown writer named Terri Macmillan speak about her forthcoming book WAITING TO EXHALE. She blew away a room fill of bookseller who just about trampled each other like teenagers at a rock concert to get to the signing line and get a copy. I read it on the plane on the way home, and I still have it. WAITING ended up being a major bestseller for a lot of reasons, but I like to think bookseller enthusiasm generated that day was one of them.

Julie.M.Weathers said...


Wouldn't that be wonderful? What a marvelous scene.


Christina Seine said...

Well, so it looks like we back to slipping manuscripts under bathroom stall doors again.


(Oh I know, Carkoon for life.)

(Also, this is not Christina. It's the recaptcha robot. We traded names for the purpose of this blog comment. Do it all the time, hee hee).

S.P. Bowers said...

Julie, is Denver the rocky mountain fiction writers conference? If you go let me know. I might be there.

I'll get to Surrey one day, just not any day this year.

Julie.M.Weathers said...


Yes, I adore that conference. I've never seen more welcoming people anywhere in my life. If all gatherings were like that, I would happily flit from one to the next.

I can't recommend that conference enough. Donna Rubino sent me the list of presenters and the agent pickings are slim for me. I have hopes I'll have an agent by then, so that won't be a concern. If not, I shall still be overturning rocks, like a bear looking for grubs, in my search for an agent.

I was surprised Margie Lawson wasn't on the list.

I'd love to see you if we go there. Part of the gang may break away from Surrey depending on offerings. I know. Blasphemy.

REJourneys said...

bjmuntain: your comment was great. I didn't know there were wedding shows. I knew of fashion shows, but wedding shows? It makes sense. There really is a convention/conference/trade show for everything.

Also, your comment about the bookshop is great :) I visualize my book at the grocery store I shop at, under the "New Releases" section.

If I ever go to BEA, I hope it is as a marketing person. I love being part of trade shows, which is weird because it combines a lot of things I don't like (crowds because everyone is taller than me, talking to strangers).

Did you know they hand out free books/ARCs (advanced reader copies) at New York Comic Con (NYCC)? I learned that the fun way. Taking all those books on the plane was fun.

I hope everyone who is going to BEA has a great time!

Christina Seine said...

Is anybody else going to the Writers Digest conference in NYC in July-August?

REJourneys said...

Christina: Sadly, I am not. The Writers Digest conference sounds like fun, though. Hopefully one day though.

Oh! I just read the WIR (because I am so terribly behind the times these days).

Janet, thank you for addressing my comment/question from last week. It's disheartening to hear there are agents with bad relationships with editors.

Julia said...


I usually have some smart-a** comment that I tag onto my serious comment, but I've just been thrown a curveball.

I'm just (BARELY) crossing into publishing with an emerging group. A friend, who is also the founder of said group and has been in publishing for maybe 15 or so years, is thrilled to be going and encouraged me to go - my finances won't permit it.

But my heart and soul belong to writing, and she knows this; I've hired her to help me navigate the process because I'm *really* OCD about it, and I don't want to screw anything up.

Now I read this - and I fear I may have made a dreadful mistake. Perhaps many.

Janet... I know you're out there. My vital signs just shot through the roof, and not because of one shark in the water so much as because I think I may just have become shark food for the other sharks.

No, I'm not a robot.

I think maybe I'm Nemo's mom.

Or maybe Dory.


bjmuntain said...

Thanks REJourneys :)

They're often called 'Bridal shows', because it's usually the bride looking at cool things for a wedding (kind of like a guy going to a car show looking for ideas). There's a lot of fashion, but there are also caterers, music people, photographers, venues... Weddings are big business. I used to work for a charity that would get booths at these shows in exchange for the social media promotion I would do for them.

A friend of mine went to New York Comic Con a few years ago. She's a voracious reader, but she still hasn't read all the books she got there. :)

I don't care much for crowds either. I'm also short, so I get a bit claustrophic, seeing nothing but peoples' backs and chests wherever I look; being just at armpit height for some of them can make breathing a bit unpleasant. :) I don't mind being in a booth at a trade show, though. You've got a shelf or table between you and the crowd, and people will usually only talk to you about what you're selling, so you don't have to make small talk.

Someday I'd like to go to BEA, just to see everything. And then I'll go find a quiet corner with a cup of coffee and watch all the people.

bjmuntain said...

Julia, what's wrong? I know everyone here - including Janet - would love to help you. Do you have a specific question or worry?

(BTW, Dory is my favourite Nemo character.)

Julia said...

Well, if a publisher ought to know that a writer really shouldn't be investing a whole lot of time at the BEA...
And I've hired said publisher to help me navigate the publishing process...
And I'm only just entering the publishing arena....

How far can I trust this person?

I have active inquiries out there.


Julia said...

Let me emphasize for clarity's sake that she is NOT publishing my ms.

Julia said...

Good Lord.

Yeah. See, this would NOT be a good thing for me.

I would OCD myself into opening my mouth, and who the heck knows what "wisdom" would fall out that no amount of later "fixing" would repair.

Julia said...

But here's the thing. She KNOWS this. This is why I HIRED her. And now...


Here's what I should do.

I should forget I ever read this and get back to writing. I'm not going to the stupid convention anyway, so it really doesn't matter. Right? But then, what do I do with the advice I get? Wait until the August WD Con and sit there rocking, thinking, "Yeah, but then, someone else told me..."?

How the heck do people not stroke out over this stuff?

I just want to write, man!

I just want to write!

(Pulling hair out, sipping coffee, taking in comforting writing setup...)

Colin Smith said...

Julia: Janet really is the best one to answer your concerns, but if I may throw a few cents of ignorance in: might it be true that publishers and agents have very different perspectives on things? As I understand it, the agent is the author advocate, so the agent's concern (aside from making money) is whatever is in the best interest of the author. The publisher's priority, on the other hand, is marketing and selling books. Often these interests go together. Sometimes they clash. A publisher may write a contract that will guarantee the publisher making a lot of money pushing lots of books, but will tie the author up in legal knots for years. The agent's job is to negotiate that contract to make sure the author isn't exploited, but the publisher gets to make lots of money for everyone.

From that perspective, I can understand a publisher being gung-ho about people going to BEA. That's where publishers get to show off their latest wares. But aside from exposing you to the marketing side of publishing, and giving you the opportunity to be overwhelmed at the quantity of new books coming out, I'm not sure how it would benefit your career. Your money would be better invested in a writing conference, IMO.

But take my words with a granule of salt. Janet's the agent in the room (well, the one not lurking, anyway). :)

bjmuntain said...

Julia, has this person's advice ever differed from Janet's before?

As has been mentioned several times today, BEA is not a place to go to get an agent. However, it's kind of a crucible of publishing folk - there's probably a lot you can earn there. And if this person is a publisher, they might be able to use BEA to give you a different view of publishing. Perhaps this person has friends they want you to talk to.

I'm not saying 'yes, trust this person implicitly' or 'no, this person is a crook'. I'm just saying that going to BEA is not terrible, as long as you're not going there looking for an agent or publisher for your novel. I'm sure it's a huge learning experience. If nothing else, it's a place to get free books.

Ask this person why they think you should go. Then consider that reason, see if it fits what you've learned, and then make a deliberate decision.

Trust is a very important part of any partnership - business or otherwise. If you're starting to doubt them, think hard about what you want.

I can say that I've never really heard of anyone but an agent being hired to help a writer through the publishing process... but I'm not in the publishing process. There's a lot I don't know and have never heard of.

Good luck. And don't worry too much about screwing up the publishing process: as long as you are professional and patient, you won't do anything that will hurt your chances. Publishing people are people, and if you treat them with the respect you would treat any business partner, you'll do okay.

Julie.M.Weathers said...


I'm really not pimping this forum, but it is full of writers, published and non who are good about helping.

Compuserve Books and Writers Lit Forum

There have been a crap load of successful authors launched there. Many still hang out and are happy to answer questions. Barbara Rogan hangs her hat there. She was an agent and now is a full time author. Jo Bourne, Diana Gabaldon, Darlene Marshall who just won a RWA readers choice award and many, many more still call it home.

I'm saying this just because people who have been around the horn are very helpful there. I'm not sure you need to be hiring anyone at this stage when you can get about any question answered for free.

Maybe I'm completely missing the point, but this makes my penny-pinching heart cringe.

Colin Smith said...

Julia: What Julie said here:

"I'm not sure you need to be hiring anyone at this stage when you can get about any question answered for free."

Absolutely. There are a LOT of questions answered on this blog alone--many that you've probably asked, and some you never even thought to ask!

bjmuntain said...

I meant, of course, there is a lot you could *learn* there.

And you know what? Writing is the most important part of the publishing process. Because you can't sell what hasn't been created.

Julie.M.Weathers said...


Just because I don't want to do the link again and repost. Secondly. For pity sakes, relax.

I positively dreaded going to Surrey. I KNEW I was going to do something stupid. I had nightmares about it.

I dreamt I walked up to an agent and said, "I'd like to submit to you." He pulled out a collar and leash and said, "OK."

Yeah, this was long before 50 shades and this is certainly not my thing.

I worked myself into a positive stew. Then I got up there and had a blast, well, aside from the whole ditching Janet thing.

1. You will probably be so busy you don't even have time to stop and worry.

2. There will be umpteen other people there who are nervous also.

3. Unless you pull the "Insult a well-known agent in front of a packed room" routine, no one will remember you if you make a mistake.

4. Treat others as you would like to be treated, agents, authors and publishers and you'll be fine...unless you're a masochist. In that case ignore #4.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: It occurs to me: you ditched QOTKU, and you're NOT exiled to Carkoon? How did that happen?? ;)

Julia said...


1) Why go? Pretty sure it had to do with publishing, because I'm pretty sure she is anti-agent. She knows I'm a traditionalist and is quiet about her anti-agentalist views.

2) Getting questions answered for free: Yes. This is possible. However - one never knows who is answering them or why and what their bias/es are and whether you're driving them insane just by asking. I prefer to ask my stupid questions in a dark room with someone who will look at me with that, "You fool. You should already know this." look - but it will stay in the room (as in, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas).

3) Relax. I will when I can find my pressure valve and release it. Actually, to be serious for a minute, this is precisely why I hired someone who knew what the heck she was doing - to help me get through it with a minimum of rocking. For a variety of reasons, the writing means quite a lot to the family.

4) Contradicting Janet? Mm. Well, here and there. Little things. But I'm working on that. :) I started getting alarmed when she didn't know who she was. Now, as you see, I'm rocking, and very, very glad that she's going to the BEA.

Colin Smith said...

Julia: Have you been lurking around here long? Please. Do we seem like the kind of people who object to people talking like idiots? We do it every day. And each Sunday, Janet comes along, wipes up our drool, tucks our shirts in, and sends us on our way. :D

Ask your questions. Consider this your dark room full of woodland creature friends. :)

Julie.M.Weathers said...


Here's how you avoid Carkoon. You get on bended knee every single time you see Janet at said conference and beg forgiveness. It's the only way.

I am not too proud to grovel.


I agreed getting questions answered for free can be dicey, but so can getting questions answered you paid for if the person doesn't know what they're talking about. Trust me, if someone steers someone wrong on B&W, there are enough veterans there to put out the facts. Sort of like Janet does here.

Now, granted there are varying opinions on style and the like, but that's just writers being writers.

What was the last huge discussion over? Some kind of clause. Lord knows it went above my head as does the elided point of view, but I avoid intelligent conversation for the most part. Sometimes, though, I pop in unexpectedly like a stripper at a nun's birthday party and surprise everyone.

Julia said...

I ditched QOTKU?


I disappeared into ms land. It's my happy place. :)

And no, nobody seems all that threatening. I come out between manuscripts and join contests and write questions and comments and then duck back into MS Word; but at this point, I have five bloody novels, and I can't really justify writing a sixth without going for it.

And, actually, it's her sites that made me finally swallow the bile and do it. I'm pretty sure she's put it in every possible way - the only real problem comes when you're so worried that you don't do it.

I was actually going to go through the entire blog and Sharkives again - and then I realized what I was doing and did what I figured I needed to do to get it done. (Threw as many "do" variants as I could in there...)


Ramora said...

I love this post. Best, no-nonsense advice about BEA attendance for unpublished writers I've ever heard.

Aside to those of you who live in the PNW (um, Pacific NorthWest) -- of the US (United States) -- who might be considering coming here for Bouchercon, Alaska Air has just announced it will be offering non-stop flights from Seattle to Raleigh (and back again, one assumes) beginning in October. Not sure *when* in October and whether that will be in time for the con, but something to investigate if it applies to you.

I'm too new as a commenter over here for anyone to miss me, but I'll be in stealth lurker mode again the rest of this week and probably well into next. My son is getting married this weekend!

Amy Schaefer said...

"I've hired said publisher to help me navigate the publishing process...
And I'm only just entering the publishing arena...."

Hi, Julia. Take a deep breath. We're all friends here.

You've gotten some good advice already, but I'm still a little confused by your statement above. What exactly did you hire this person to do? What "navigating" is she doing for you? Do you have a completed manuscript? Is she helping you query? Or just introducing you to the publishing world in a "this is how it works" kind of way. (Don't take these questions in a critical light - I just want to understand where you are coming from.)

You are expressing a lot of fear that you might do the wrong thing. Don't. If you go into this with an open mind, a humble attitude, and a willingness to learn, you'll do fine.

If you are nervous about public encounters at this point, then the internet will help. Blogs like Janet's, writing forums like Absolute Write, and plain ol' making friends with other writers can help you find the information you need.

But be patient. I don't know how far you are in your journey, but take the time to read and absorb. Maybe you hired your guide to help you bushwack through the jungle of information out there. I hope she is helpful to you. said...

Wait a minute. Julia, you PAID a publisher to help you? I don't know your individual situation, but this is a HUGE red flag for me. Writers, in general, and I'm sure there are exceptions... but writers DO NOT pay publishers or agents. Not legitimate ones. Not that I've heard about. Be wary.

Amy Schaefer said...

I see we're all posting on top of each other now, so you can ignore most of what I said. I'll second Julie's comment that paying for advice doesn't make it good. Always consider the source. If you are seeing the benefits of what your publishing friend is telling you, then well and good. If you have doubts, do some due diligence on this person. I'm sure she is sharing her wisdom in good faith, but that doesn't make her right.

And good luck.

Colin Smith said...

Julia: No, Julie ditched QOTKU. Not that we enjoy reminding her of the fact. ;)

kd: You'll be missed, of course! Congrats to your son!! I look forward to meeting you at Bouchercon. :)

Julia said...

At the risk of having my tail bitten off by the Great White...

And having done All The Right Things (that I could figure out on my own by searching the net and finding out who had decent sites and who was willing to teach and who wasn't, and sites like AQ Connect, and Pub Weekly, and... oh, you know... I did my research) and joined local writing groups and such...

I wrote.

A lot.

And I sent everything off to betas, and got their feedback, and edited accordingly - three times, mind - and re-sent it, and all the time, sitting in the back of my head was this Big Monster of the damn Query Letter.

Every time I'd finish a novel, I'd think, "Okay. Write the letter."

But I couldn't do it, because I write too much, and, frankly, there's too much riding on it. I actually can't emphasize that enough. There's really an awful lot riding on this. So I'd write another novel.

Well, now I have five novels completed, beta'd, re-edited, and essentially ready to go, and another two in progress. I've got leadership positions in a writer's group and a publisher's group - although, admittedly, I essentially know nothing about this yet. I'm technically published, but it's in a newsletter. Still, there it is. And I've got a decent platform; I've even got (more than one or two) people asking me "where the heck is it so that I can buy it?"

It's time for the letter - there's really no excuse any more. But everywhere I look, there are these big (not literally, but you get the picture) signs saying, "no pressure, but you really don't want to screw this up."

So I wrote it.

And then I hired someone to fix whatever was wrong with it and to help me find the right agents for the ms. And to answer my (admittedly antsy) questions when they arise. I'm banking on the fact that she *doesn't* know Janet and won't see this - but that fact alone gives me pause.

And so there it is.

I know about the "you should write your own query" - and, in principle, I agree. But at this point, I've probably written well over a hundred of them, and it's truly "anything just to get the damn thing done" time.

Et la.


Julie.M.Weathers said...


Of course not.

There was much discussion among the Gnomies that night about whether they should hie to rip me away from Jack Whyte, mid class. They should have, as much as I adore Jack.

I shall never live that down, but I think I've been forgiven.

Julia said...

THANK YOU ALL so very much.

Again. (I've benefited enormously already - many times - over the past couple of years. Ta.)

I'm still not a robot.

I'm a Magical Mystery Manatee.

With a leprechaun and a unicorn for sale to the highest bidder. ;)

Julie.M.Weathers said...


Ooooh, waiting for the shark.

In the archives is a post about someone who had the perfect query. Agents requested right and left. Everyone loved it. Then they got the sample pages and the voice was all different. rejection rejection rejection.

Oddly enough, Janet's master class I ditched, was query letter writing and that is the thing I need the worst.

As tough as they are, you need to do them yourself. Your voice has to come through that letter, not someone's perfect voice.

There are a couple of publishers on twitter who have been after me for a while about FAR RIDER. One tried to give me a lot of advice regarding agents and we finally had to have a come to Jesus meeting. He's since decided he doesn't want my story or me. I was heartbroken.

What bothers me most is you've said a few times an awful lot riding on this novel. Since you've now written five, this urgency must be recent. I hope you're not depending on money. I read a break down from an author who is fairly successful and it took her five years to actually make money AFTER she was first published.

If it's so you can hold a book in your hands, that's a bit different.

For me, it's kind of like the old joke: How do you make a small fortune raising horses? Start with a large one.

I'm going to be published someday if I live long enough. Whether I will make much money? Who knows? Most writers make enough to quit their day job. said...

Julia, I agree with everything Julie just said about the query letter needing to be in your voice, your words. And also about the money. I hate like hell to disillusion you about that, but there are no guarantees about money. Never mind the kind of money that a person could count on to help with a situation where everything is riding on it. I hope your "everything" is something other than financial and wish you all the best luck. Deep breaths. You can do this.

Colin Smith said...

Julia: Again, what Julie said. If you're looking at novel writing as a way to make money now, then think again. Even if you find an agent and get a publisher, in all likelihood your book won't see publication for another 12-18 months. And any advance you get will be paid out in 3 or more installments over those 18 months. Without a publishing contract in hand, looking to writing to save you from financial ruin is almost as foolhardy as relying on the Lottery or Publisher's Clearing House.

I think (I hope) you know that--it's certainly been said here over that last 6 months, more than once no doubt.

Julia said...

Well, as you may guess, nothing will leave my computer without my voice in it.


But what WILL happen is that we agree that:

It's engaging.

It's not too long.

It's absolutely representative of what I actually wrote.

And it's representative of me.

And as for "A lot riding on it," it's not a tangible "it," but I CAN say that "it" can't be fulfilled by CreateSpace and Amazon self-pub. And "it" doesn't really have a dollar value. "It" has to do with a sense of legitimacy, and I suppose what I mean is that if I don't get traditionally published, I want it to be because I did everything within my power to do it properly - not because I did a crappy job and hurried it or irritated the wrong people by not paying attention to something obvious on their website like "if you mention the word 'Angel' to me in your Query, I'll send Mad Joe to you to break your knees." So to speak.

Does that make sense?

And that is not something that I felt I could get without face-to-face contact with someone that knew the business. It wasn't a hurried decision; it was a considered evaluation of everything - including my need to have a second set of eyes that I trusted.

Honestly, as soon as I found the Shark's waters, I wished that I could yank the Angels out of my story (almost) and replace them with detectives... but that simply wouldn't work. I did try, though. :)

Julia said...

As for the quick buck thing - if I could rationalize it, I'd likely write another five books in the series rather than jump in the pool, honestly.

So here it is. (Now, I'm REALLY banking on said individual not reading this...)

I left medicine - had to, got sick - and am now writing.

But there are tons of people out there who knew me as MD.

There are three possible outcomes at this point.

1) Someone takes the MS. Yay. It gets published and people read it. I'm validated and can put the "You're a writer? Says who?" question to bed.

2) No one takes the MS. But I did the best I could. The ABSOLUTE best. I went to conferences, read the sites, asked the questions, did the job right. But *MOST* important - the MS is the best I could make it. And then, if it doesn't happen... well, I still wrote it. And then, all right. I'll cope. But I didn't leave any stone unturned.

3) I write until my fingers fall off and never try to send the bloody thing in - and that just won't work. But that's where I am now. :)

So you see, the "lot" riding on this really has very little to do with money - it has to do with effort and ensuring that I put the same work into this that I put into seeing my patients - because this is my job now, and THAT is what's riding on this. Turning writing from "hobby" to "job." And that can't be done - not in my eyes, at least, just because I said so. Some people feel that it can. I don't happen to be one of them. (Hoping I'm not aggravating too many of you, but that's what's driving me at this point.)

Colin Smith said...

Julia: But, you know, if you write the most compelling, knocking-socks-off novel about angels, you'll find agents willing to make an exception. :) Be true to your story. It is what it is. And if agents have a problem with that, then they're not the agents for your novel.

You say you've written four novels? You're a writer. You're as legitimate a writer as Stephen King and J K Rowling. You can't be more of a writer than you are.

If by "legitimacy" you mean, you want to be published the traditional route because you have to jump through more hoops to get there, I understand, but also appreciate the fact that not every traditionally-published book is good. I have read novels that have been through agents and editors that have made my eyes roll at the horrible writing! I've seriously wondered with some novels how an agent ever thought they were worth taking on. Frankly, that gives me hope. :)

Conversely, there are many good writers going the self-pub route for all kinds of reasons. The difference between traditional and self publication is less about legitimacy and more about control. Public opinion is shifting on self-pubbed novels. And in all honesty, the wheat and the chaff tend to sort themselves out.

I still want to go the traditional route, mostly because I don't want to have to take on all the work that goes into self-publishing. Life's too short and I'm not getting any younger. I'd sooner have an agent help polish my novel and negotiate the contracts, and a publisher get me a good cover design and do all the ISBN number stuff and get my book distributed... on top of all the other things agents and publishers do that I would otherwise have to do myself ASIDE from writing!

It's certainly not so I can feel like a "real" writer. I've written 26 flash stories for my blog this month (or I will have by Thursday). I've also written a few novels and short stories. I don't need an agent to tell me I'm a writer. Neither do you! :)

Colin Smith said...

Julie: So, are you looking at your writing career like you did your medical career? To practice medicine, you had to qualify, go through med school, residencies, etc., before you were "qualified" to fully practice medicine. Is that how you're looking at writing?

If so, don't. It's a completely different beast in that regard. The same is true with any of the arts, including music and painting. Billy Joel had 10+ years of piano lessons. Does that make him more of a musician than Paul McCartney who had NONE? Or are they any more "legitimate" musicians than the people who play piano at my church (including me)? Not at all. We're all musicians doing different things with what talent we've been given. Some hone their talent through instrument tuition, others learn by experience, others do both. Writing's no different. If you have a passion to write, and you have written, and are writing, and desire to get better, then you're a writer. The fact you haven't published anything doesn't make you any less of a writer. I haven't released any records--that doesn't make me less of a musician. :)

Julia said...

Colin: I know it. My dysfunction is entirely my own. My betas are - well, a couple, anyway - are self-pubbed, awesome, authors. Do I question their legitimacy? Not a bit. Is there inconsistency and paradox there? Hypocrisy? Absolutely. Am I uncomfortable with that? Not really, because the one left exposed is me, not them.

I know attitudes and realities are changing on indy/self/traditional publishing - that's one reason I'm (albeit awkwardly) entering the field.

But I also know myself well enough that I don't want to manage myself. I don't want to deal with the contracts and the... non-writing dross... that the Agents (I started capitalizing this some time ago, and now it's habit. Hm.) deal with. I just want to write. I am willing to do my online platform and am great at doing pretty much what I'm told to do - but I would rather have someone who knows how to do that (which is what started this whole thing way back seven thousand entries ago) who can say "this is a good idea, go for it," or "this stinks, but if you really want to do it, it's your ship to sink...," or "no, really. I really think this is a bad idea." And I'm pretty happy to pay them to do it.

As long as - at the end of the day - I get to write, and they can do the other stuff. I don't want to do the publishing, I am more than willing to rewrite as necessary - but don't want to be the final editor, and I don't want to be my own Agent.

You see what I mean.

And, yup, there's someone out there who matches.

It's just a matter of swimming through the Great Blue Sea to find them.


Julia said...

And to get back to the original point, which *MIGHT* have been lost here as I have beaten the ponies on Chincoteague to death...

I would NEVER have thrust a MS upon an Agent at that conference. I would more likely have tripped upon one and spilled my coffee on them or set the place on fire with a stripped computer wire or something. That's more how I work. Try to fly completely under the proverbial horizon and end up with ALL radar squarely upon me due to some random bizarre screwup. I once scratched my cornea with an apple. I broke off a pencil in the hollow in my funny bone. And bruised my eyelid on a donut box. And woke myself up screaming because I hit my head on the bedside table in my sleep. See? That's how I work my own personal magic.

But I wouldn't have forced a MS on anyone.

And I would totally have been overwhelmed by the books.

EMS would have to have been called to rescue me from my catatonic state when it was over.

Julie.M.Weathers said...

And on the vein of editing, the revision is done, pretty much.

I need to lick the calf again on one character to make sure the accent is consistent, but that revision is done. I got it under 152,000 words. No, helpful person, I didn't get it down to 75,000 words, but 152,000 is good for me, and it's danged sparse at that.

Off to beta readers and back to agents.

Snoopy happy dance.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Julia, your ARE a writer, you ARE an author. You have written books, which means, you have bombarded the world with many more words than those which fit between a title page and "the end".
Take a deep breath, step back, write your queries and send, send send.
Over the past twenty-five-plus years I've had hundreds and hundreds of pieces published and I have made hundreds and hundreds of dollars which if I added them all up might buy half a used car.
Stand tall, keep writing, keep querying but don't depend on it to pay your bills. If it eventually does you will be the exception, not the rule.
An MD who becomes a writer sounds like a hell of a back-story to a successful novel OR a memoir where you my dear get to write your own ending.

Julia said...

Carolyn -
Thanks. You're kind.
As for "the world" - I've certainly bombarded my FB world with them, LOL. Beyond that... ;)

We shall see.

Off to be a soccer mom.


Mark G said...

'Every single person working a booth at BEA has a horror story of some deluded author trying to press a manuscript on them, or asking who to send the manuscript to. Don't be that author, please.'

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Alright? Let's move on said...

Julia, you are a writer. Period. But I know what you mean. We all want different things and sometimes those things change, but there's no right or wrong thing when it comes to dreams. Sounds like you have sheer determination and, honestly, that's probably the most important thing in pursuing a writing career. More so than talent or luck. Funny thing is, once you get your writing out there and start getting feedback, your focus shifts away from agents and publishers and the most important audience becomes the reader. As it should.

I remember way back when I first joined twitter and was absolutely paralyzed by that "bio" section. I agonized over it. For days. I finally wrote some stupid kidding around stuff. I will never forget the day I decided it WAS stupid stuff and deleted it all and simply put: Writer. One of the hardest things I've ever done, putting it out there in the world that I am a writer. That bio has changed many times over the years, but that one word has remained, in every single iteration.

You need to own it. No one will call you a fraud or come to your house and kick your dog/cat/hamster. In fact, other writers will nod and say, hey, she's one of us.

Now go pick which of your mss is the very best and start querying, if that's the path you choose. The only way you're guaranteed to fail is by doing nothing.

Now I really AM going back to lurking. Out of town company is coming and I need to clean ALL THE THINGS.

bjmuntain said...

*laughing at Mark G*

Whether you really did make that mistake or someone else did, it's a good example. We all make mistakes. As long as we come across as good people (and not snarly, self-absorbed nasties) our mistakes will most likely be forgiven - or, more likely, forgotten.

MB Owen said...

I'm coming very late to this party and I'm leaving with Julie licking the calf. That's a new one.

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

@ Jenny C - Great story; thanks for sharing. I too once had a conversation with Oprah. Well, okay, not so much a conversation as yelling, in moment of quiet, from a seat in the nosebleed section of the theatre, "Hallelujah!" lol

@ bjmuntan and REJourneys - A lifetime ago, I used to co-ordinate lingerie fashion shows at the Welcome Wagon bridal shows.

@ JulieWeaters - lol re 'submit.' I used to always think this, too, but now I've submitted/queried to so many agents, I don't anymore...

@ Julie - Tick, tick, tick - I agree with all Colin's remarks in his 4:35 post. You write, you're a writer. My humble opinion is that you need to take the leap, and submit to agents. It's a difficult path we've all chosen, nevertheless, we've chosen it. If you don't have any luck with agents, there is always self-publishing. Not my first choice, either (same reasons as Colin), but there have been many self-pubbed books on the NYTimes bestseller list. I wouldn't worry so much about what others think. There are a lot of haters in this world - it's just what they do, they do it without thought or logic, and also, mediocrity and misery love company. Listen to your gut, your intuition.

Julie.M.Weathers said...


Yep. I feel like an old war horse now. Once I get settled in my forever home, (please God, don't let it be the Autumn Daze Nursing Home) I'm going to wallpaper one wall of my office with rejection slips. I've been very blessed not to have any nasty ones and every phone call I've had from agents has been very pleasant.

I've really been very fortunate. But, the rejections are a reminder not to ever give up on anything.

Julie.M.Weathers said...


I know you want to prove yourself and I really do understand that. Truly. It's time to get your query letter polished up, think about a synopsis, get your agent list and check it twice and take the leap.

Julia said...

Julie -

LOL - my Agent list is alphabetized by firm with Agents' individual specifications and preferences, websites, emails, and addresses.

I haven't started the synopsis yet because there is no Synopsis Shark and I haven't stocked up on Depends.

Rather than write it, I offered to resend my betas my novels with all the words in alphabetical order.

I received a resounding, "GO WRITE THE DAMN LETTER!!!!"

Or something that sounded very like it.


Julie.M.Weathers said...


That danged synopsis ate my lunch. Thankfully, the B&W people were very kind and nursed me through that mess as well as the query, which still probably isn't perfect, but meh. It's there.

Time to get a deep seat and a far away look and nod for the horse.


Julia said...

Since this is a safe space ...
I didn't understand any of that.
You were speaking fish, right?
B&W people? Dalmatian owners? Best Western owners? Barnes and... Wobble?

Deep seat? Is that like Deep Space Nine? Or that movie that my parents wouldn't let me see? Or a chaise longue?

Far away look I understand. It's the one I get when I'm trying to name a new character.

Nodding for the horse... Mm... I'm back on Chincoteague again, but guessing I left you behind. Seahorse? Probably not. I know the "horse walks into a bar" joke, but again, guessing you're not there either.

Preeeetttty sure I'm sharkfood at this point. Eating Nemo. CHOMP!

This is why I lurk, and why, also, I listened to that little voice that said, "go to WD in August.... pass on BEA..."

Chicken of the Sea

Julie.M.Weathers said...

The link I put up earlier for you. Compuserve Books and Writers Lit Forum, familiarly known by me and a few others as B&W. Sorry.

Deep seat.

Cowboy saying for when you're getting ready to ride and the cowboy gets down in the chute. Once you get everything ready, stop screwing around on the horse. Just get a deep seat and a far away look, and nod for them to open the gate.

Too many writers keep sitting on those horses in the chutes and never nod for the gate. Agents are nearly as scarey as big bad horses.

You have a support system. You're ready to go. Time to nod for the gate. Try out a few agents and see what happens. All they can do is say no. If they do, those weren't the right ones for you.

Julia said...


I see.

Is there a writer saying for, "I let my muscle memory click 'Save As' instead of 'Open' on my new Manuscript file just now, and lost the last twenty four hours' worth of updates?"

I think... I'm going to start reading my Louise Penny now, and forget, for the moment, that I ever started writing. Or try, anyway. Because tomorrow I have to rewrite today, and when I'm pissed off - er - annoyed, my characters end up arguing with one another.

Not sure why that happens.


JEN Garrett said...

I recently heard advice from a former agent to go to BEA and "give chocolates" or "stuffed animals" to the publishers and agents there. The idea is to make a good impression. But I didn't like the advice at all. I didn't think publishers were there to be schmoozed by "UN" writers. I thought they were there to sell books.