Sunday, July 12, 2015

Week in Review

Welcome to the week that was and oh boy was it.
 Sorry to be late on the posting.

During last week's review Jed Cullan offered up this story of how he came to be the scallywag he is today:

When I was a kid, we had a mobile library come round the area and I enjoyed getting books every two weeks to read. However, when I went to check out some of the James Bond books, I was told I was too young.

This didn't put me off.

I browsed around the little truck and, when the librarian wasn't looking, snuck a book under my jumper. Of course, I did return the book the next time the library was in town, and, since I didn't get caught, did it again. And again, and again. Got to read all those Bond books over the course of half a year.

Can't believe I was such a rebel when I was a kid.

And I loved how Lisa Bodenheim characterized me and Barbara Poelle at ThrillerFest:
And I'll be imagining boon companions, Ms. Slippery and Ms. Slithery, enjoying their time at Thrillerfest.

On Monday we discussed how to mention that personal experience has influenced your novel.

As it turns out, everyone in the "How to Pitch Your Novel" panel at ThrillerFest should have read this because some VERY bad advice was handed out there: lead with your credentials, or lead with the fact that something akin to the plot happened to you.

This is TERRIBLE advice and I said so on the blog (I also turned purple and sputtered in the panel but couldn't actually leap up and shriek NO NO NO as I wanted to.)

As Tony Clavelli pointed out:
Real life is full of wonderful vignettes but seldom actual stories.

Julie M. Weathers got me jumping up and down with this comment:
I have a story on the back burner about a group of lady bronc riders from the '30's, a sort of western League of Their Own. If I ever get it done, I'll mention I used to ride bucking horses and my family rodeos and leave it at that.

I was rather enthused about that story.

oh dear god Julie, I want that book about lady bronc riders. I WANT THAT BOOK.

*fans self to cool flames of desire*

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE write that book.

Jenz asked
I hate to be obtuse, but are your writing credits really supposed to be in a separate paragraph from your bio? I thought those would go together.

You're not obtuse. In fact it's a perfect illustration of the complexity of how to write a "very simple query"

It really doesn't matter if they're in the same paragraph or not.  Just put them AFTER your description of the book.

A query letter needs to have some flexibility for style and voice. As long as you get the plot down, and it's enticing me to read pages, the rest of the information can be arrayed in the way that feels best to you.

And our own Jennifer R. Donohue had a terrific story published in Science Fiction Daily.

There's a lot to love about that story, and one of them is the second person voice! Always one of my faves to see that carried off with elan.

I really liked what Christina Seine said here about readers assuming fiction must be based on the author's experiences:
However, as much as I denied it, people figured the story had to come from somewhere, right? I was judged accordingly. Since I had zero emotional investment in the story (other than the usual blood, sweat and tears that went into the writing of it) I shrugged it off. If any of it had been true, though, the resulting critique of the character's actions within the story probably would have been too much to bear.
It's one thing to see people shredding the actions of your character, and another to have the general public weigh in on the story of your life, pointing out in infinite detail how you messed up and what you should have done better. I might tell an agent *privately* that I know my stuff because I've lived it, but not for any amount of money would I admit publicly that anything I write is about me.

On Tuesday we discussed what makes a series, versus standalones.

Dena Pawling asked:
Is there a desired number of books to the series? Sue Grafton is up to X. Janet Evanovich is up to 22 in the Stephanie Plum series. But are these part of a true series? Based on your description, they appear to be defined more as connected stand-alones.

Publishers want authors to continue writing books with characters that sell. You can bet there would not have been D is for Deadbeat if Alibi, Burglar and Corpse had not done well.

Publishers want to continue a series even after the author is dead: Robert B. Parker; Robert Ludlum; V.C. Andrews; Dick Francis.

And further;
. I read a lot of “two book deal” and “three book deal” on PM. Are these descriptions used for both series books and stand-alones? Do publishers have a desired number, at least to start? Does it depend on genre?

It depends on the individual contract. It can be for three books (write anything you want) or "three Felix Buttonweezer books"-books with Felix Buttonweezer as the main character.

And if the first Felix Buttonweezer book tanks, you can bet that contract can be amended lickety split to make books 2 and 3 about The Brigands of Carkoon, an ensemble piece about literary pirates on a reality TV show.

Adib Khorram asked a very good question:

Is the desire for series fairly universal across all genres? Or are editors acquiring in, say, literary fiction or YA contemporary less worried about series potential? I seem to see far fewer series in those spaces. But maybe I'm just not noticing them.

My colleague Stephany Evans weighed in on the idea of sequels in womens' fiction and romance:

In a romance series, typically you will have the same setting (e.g., Molly Harper's Half Moon Hollow, Jennifer Snow's small town NJ, Brookhollow), but in each book the focus is on a different couple (hero/heroine) and the main characters from previous books may become supporting characters in subsequent books, while supporting characters in earlier books will become the main couple in subsequent books, and in fact, are usually "set up" in earlier books in order to become the main couple later. Since the goal is different - a HAE (happy ever after) - you can't have a couple whose story you've already told be the main couple in the rest of the series. Whereas in mystery series, the same main character can solve multiple crimes.
An "anthology" is typically the gathering of a few different authors with (usually) thematically linked stand alone stories that need not be linked in any other way.

A "continuity" is several different authors each writing a stand-alone story that is linked narratively to the other authors' stories - each having its own distinct mc couple, but will share characters, as well as developing situations, as in the romance series.

Kate Larkindale is worried:
This is one of those posts that stokes fear into my writer's heart because I just don't want to write series. I've written 11 or 12 books now (is it bad that I can't remember?), and there isn't a single one I would want to write a sequel to. Once I've finished a book, I've taken those characters on their journey and I'm ready to move on to torturing a new set of characters. Once I tried to take a minor character from one story and make him a major character in another, but I never really liked the result.

Guess I'm doomed….

Not at all. Many writers write wonderful standalones. You'll be one of them.

And it turns out I'm behind on my Kristan Higgins reading because the dear lady herself comment;ed:

I DO have a series, Ms. Reid! The Blue Heron series. Hope you like the books! xox

Of COURSE I'll love it. The books are
The Best Man (Blue Heron #1)
The Perfect Match (Blue Heron #2)
Waiting on You (Blue Heron #3)
In Your Dreams (Blue Heron #4)
If Only You Knew (coming August 25, 2015)
Anything for You (coming Winter 2015)

Well, now you know what I'll be reading over Christmas break! I can't wait to dive in. I'm a rabid Kristan Higgins fan, and if you haven't read her books, well, get on it!

On Wednesday I was miffed about writers defining words in queries.

Amanda Capper's sister has clearly not learned that unasked for advice is seldom welcome:
My sister's aim in life is to ensure I am properly educated. She corrects every word in every email I've ever written. My spelling, punctuation, grammar, pronunciation when we speak on the phone, I'm always wrong about something.

I learned that lesson the hard way. For some years I corrected query letters, or wrote notes trying to help writers. HUGE mistake. I got replies that were blistering.  I was always a bit perplexed because I was only trying to help.  At some point I realized that query writers weren't asking for help. They were asking for yes or no. So I stopped "helping" and started Chum Bucket. (Which has been on hiatus this year and I'm sorry, and I miss it a lot)

Julie M. Weathers relayed a tweet from an agent on the topic of  Big Words:
An agent doing ten queries a couple of says ago said one person had used to many big words it looked like they'd looked up every word in the thesaurus in an effort to look intelligent. Some people just like to give fifty cent answers to a nickel question and it doesn't make them look as smart as they think it does.

"The difference between Big Words used to Flaunt Your Subscription to Word A Day and The Exact Right Lesser Known Word may be a fine line," I opine, "but it's a a straight or curved continuous extent of length without breadth you should have the ocular ability to recognize."

I'm STILL laughing at this comment from Laura May:
“Composer” is a word which here means “a person who sits in a room, muttering and humming and figuring out what notes the orchestra is going to play.” This is called composing. But last night, the Composer was not muttering. He was not humming. He was not moving, or even breathing.
This is called decomposing.”

And the conversation just went completely off the rails. I mean there wasn't even a shimmer in the distance of the original topic.  It was GREAT!

On Thursday our discussions was the competition clause in contracts

My comment that contracts are negotiated, not handed down on stone tablets, prompted this tidbit from Colin Smith, from exile on Carkoon.
Contracts are negotiated--good to know. Completely irrelevant to Carkoon, however, where contracts are executed, as are the authors who fail to comply with them.

Completely off topic (as the best parts of the comment trail often are) Amanda and LynnRodz mentioned my keynote speech to be given at the upcoming MidwestWriters Workshop conference:

Amanda, did you hear that through the Carkoon grapevine? Well, it's true! Janet will be the banquet speaker for Midwest Writers Workshop 2015. The title of her speech is: Forget Kindergarten, Everything I Know About Publishing I Learned From Jack Hanna.

Apparently there's a 10 foot snake autographed by Lee Child in there somewhere. Oh, did I forget to mention, the snake is stuffed and not a real one because Lee Child said that goes beyond his author duties signing real snakes. Janet was disappointed, but what could she do? There are limits, you know.

This is my long standing Herpet-American assistant. 

brianrschwarz asked:
Janet, how often do big deals with big advances end up hopelessly unrecouped? I think you've mentioned in publishing this doesn't fall back on the author, nor on the authors future works, but I'm just wondering if a large number of new authors signing six-figure or big deals end up performing much closer to all the other debut authors.

It's entirely the norm for big advances not to earn out. Most books in fact do NOT earn out. I'm not sure what "hopelessly unrecouped" means in terms of dollars but I'm guessing you mean the advance was about 100 times more than the earnings. That's not as common as just not earning out.

And let's all remember that the publisher makes money on a book even if the advance does get fully recouped.

Christina Seine asked:
Regarding the actual topic at hand (literally, because I had to hold the screen right up to my face to read it) (see what I did there?): I wonder what happens to said books once taken off the market in accordance with said contract. Do they just ... go away? Are they relegated to a vault somewhere in Area 51? Are they re-worked into reality TV shows for NatGeo

The books that come down don't just go away. They're in what I call my client's inventory list. We periodically look at that list to see if any of the projects can be monetized. Depending on the governing contracts there are all sorts of clever things that can be done. A good agent will always be looking for ways to put money in her clients' pockets.

kdjames wondered:
No, seriously, I have a question about this. What if a writer gets a two book deal and both books get published (see how cavalier I'm being about that? like it could happen?) and maybe things don't go as well as the publisher expected and they decide not to offer a contract for anything further from that writer. In the meantime, the writer has written a third book, maybe even a fourth, and they are absolutely similar material on the same topic, with recurring characters. Or maybe things didn't go as well as the writer had hoped and she wants to find a different publisher or even self-publish the related books. Is the writer then stuck complying with a non-compete clause and those books are dead in the water, forever?

This is why most of us get the non-compete clause taken out of contracts for novels. And most publishers aren't going to fuss about books with recurring characters in subsequent books, because if the series didn't do well enough to generate another deal, they don't care enough to stop the author from doing anything.

On Friday we had a writing contest and I must say it was with some glee that I picked "dongle" as one of the prompts after reading this from Colin Smith on Thursday:

so I doubt "dongle" will be one of the words. Aren't you glad? :)

While it's true that I do write many of these posts in advance, there is the revision feature. I can change/update/delete/revise up till the actual moment of publication.  Aren't YOU glad?

And you've all spotted the varying post times this week. LynnRodz said:

Today Janet posted hours earlier than usual. Now that I think about it, poor Janet. She can't do anything out of the norm without all of us (me) commenting on it and wondering what's going on.

you know I do that just to torment you, right?

I was sad to see that someone posted a contest entry on the wrong blog post. It was deleted (sorry)

Contest entries are always on the contest announcement post. If you can't post there, it's because the contest has not opened yet, or it's closed. You can't post an entry in another place, and you can't send them to me in an email. Well, you can but it won't do you any good. I don't read them.

This week was ThrillerFest and it was wonderful to see a lot of Author Friends and clients. My bar tab wasn't quite the staggering sum it has been in years past but not for lack of trying.

I was felled by a really horrible sinus headache on Friday, and didn't return to life until Sunday. It's amazing what something that simple can do to your will to live!

Fortunately cold compresses and inhaling steam finally got me vertical enough to go get some meds on Sunday morning. Never again do I run out of meds for this stuff!

Thanks for all your good wishes as I lay around feeling sorry for myself.

Next week promises to be a good one. There are some good questions pending, and I got some great book at ThrillerFest to dive into.

Subheader nominees this week:
"You're writing what you know, so write it well."--JEN Garrett

"Lucky for me that I read this blog. I now know that the setup is to torment Agents. One of the many perks of the job of being a writer."--Craig

"Writing a great book is like being married to your best friend. Having fun, turns to commitment, doubts, satisfaction, love and a whole lotta Jim Beam."--CarolynnWith2Ns

"I edit with bright green and bright pink pen, and thus avoid the dreaded red pen. It's hard to feel dismayed by edits that are so obnoxiously cheerful."-- W.R. Gingell

" Some people have common sense and some just have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. I suppose they'll figure it out sooner or later." --Julie M. Weathers

"Your agent can't help you solve a problem she doesn't know you have." --Amy Schaefer


Adib Khorram said...

I can't wait for Midwest Writers! Is anyone else attending? I'll be the one with a ribbon that says "My ribbon is better than yours" stuck on their name badge.

Yes, I collect conference ribbons. Eventually I will have enough to make a full baldric out of them.

Incidentally, I had the great pleasure of working with Jack Hanna in January of 2014, when he was presenting to the North American Veterinary Community Conference. He was a class act and a true gentleman.

Aaand I deleted my first post because I decided to throw three verbs in a row. Sometimes it's hard to decide which one to use.

Still not a robot!

Colin Smith said...

Welcome back, Janet! Glad the meds are kicking in. :)

It's true I expected the contest post to be scheduled and locked down. But no... you had to go stick a dongle in the works! *sigh*

Great WiR. Looking forward to the next week of posts. And I like Amy's quote... but I'm committing Julie's to memory. :)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Holy smokes, thanks Janet!

I remain tickled at how much people have enjoyed and are enjoying my teensy tiny story. Even my family, most of whom are not "speculative fiction" readers, said they liked it and were able to find things to relate to, despite some of the inscrutable content (I know family is supposed to say stuff like that but I believe them anyway so there).

I understand the days-long headache woes. I had a largely headache free week and then today had electric eels darting about in my forehead for awhile. I've...mostly fended it off? I swear, some days trepanning just doesn't sound so crazy.

I thought it was super cool that Kristan Higgins swung by! She's got some dedicated readers at my library.

As always, I enjoyed reading yesterday's entries! I have no idea whose pony to bet on, though there were several I particularly liked.

My Camp NaNoWriMo workshop started at the library, and I told everybody to come read this blog as a writing resource if they're serious about getting books published.

Dena Pawling said...

“Thanks for all your good wishes as I lay around feeling sorry for myself.”

The lay/lie distinction is pretty much the only grammar trick I can't figure out. Yes, I know the rule. No, I can never apply it correctly. I therefore avoid using it at all. The fact that you used it means you're braver than I'll ever be.

Glad you're feeling better, and thanks for answering my question on series.

Craig said...

Thank you for the WIR. I do hope you are feeling better. I also hope that you didn't feel obligated to do this. We DO love you and wish you to be at your best.

By the way part of enticing an agent is in the torment. The next big thing should be something that stretches the fabric of what is on the market. The question is in how it stretches that fabric.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back to the land of the living. So glad you're feeling better! Terrific week in review, as always.

Congrats to Amy for the subheader!

Jennifer - I subscribe to Daily Science Fiction, but I somehow missed yours. It is a great story!

I don't have to worry about what my family would say about my work. One of my sisters might read it, maybe her boyfriend, maybe my older nephew and niece. My parents? Nah. My other sister? Nah. My younger nephew? Well, by the time I get something published, he might be able to read...

Anna Langford said...

I will be at Midwest Writers Workshop and I am super excited to see the keynote. So glad you're coming to Indiana!

Anonymous said...

Janet, thanks for the information re non-compete. Good to know that clause can be negotiated out.

Jennifer, congrats on the published story! And well done with second person. That's not easy.

As always, there was good stuff I missed during the week and this recap is much appreciated for pointing it out.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

It's good to hear that the headache passed. Sinus headaches are the pits

If you don't believe someone can pee on the electric fence I saw it happen this past week. I hope Julie writes that rodeo queens of the '30's.

Amy Schaefer said...

Hey, a subheader! Just a moment while I press PrtSc. I'll even overlook the fact it is attributed to boring old "blog reader Amy Schaefer," rather than "Paradise dweller Amy Schaefer" or "the massively talented Amy Schaefer" or anything else of a more descriptive nature. (Blog readers - don't give them an inch.)

Add my name to the '30s Rodeo Queens petition. Get moving, Ms Weathers!

I'm off to find Jennifer R. Donohue's piece.

John Frain said...

I am left to wonder ...

If dongle was inserted as a pinch-hitter late in the game, what was the original word we might have needed to go into battle?

inquiring minds and whatnot.

Oh, and welcome back to civilization. I'm sure you know we would have shown up at your doorstep on Monday morning with or without the Week in Review. That said, it's always a welcome addition to Sunday. Also, it's nice to be able to speak a little louder again.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you're feeling better, Janet! (Hubby gets sinus headaches and goes to bed for the day)

Congrats to Jennifer Donohue- what a coup! and in 2nd person, no less! The writerly group I sometimes go to is playing with 2nd person at the moment- when we're not painting our nails and reading excerpts from books in Mr. Gold's voice (along with assorted accents).
Also congratters to Amy Schaefer for her subheaderly status :D and also eek! at my nomination. Thanks, Janet :)

Dena, that whole lay/lie thing is ALL I'VE SEEN in my fb feed ALL WEEK. And I'm just sitting there like 'I don't care! I don't understand it and I don't wanna!' There's nothing like a good dose of willful ignorance, after all!

And Julie- I also would like to read the book about female bronc riders! Me dad used to break in horses in FNQ, so he sometimes tells stories. He just never tells enough :D

Laura Mary said...

I fear I have missed some important grammar lesson here – I thought it was simply lie – present tense, lay – past tense. As in ‘I lie down’ ‘I lay down’. Although, hang on, where does ‘laid’ fit in? I was laid down...

Unless of course you’re from Swindon, then it’s ‘I was led down…’


*goes for a lie down*

*I mean lay down*


Anonymous said...

Laura Mary, apparently 'lie' is something you do yourself "I lie down", and 'lay' is something that is done to something/someone else "I lay the knife next to the fork."

So it would be "I laid down" etc. That's just part of it. THere's more to it all. And I'm still sick of it all :D

Laura Mary said...

Ohhhhh.... *head quietly implodes*

Yeah I'm with you on the wilful ignorance!

DeadSpiderEye said...

I'm fairly sure lay is pretty much restricted to accusative case in English-English but tends to be subjected to simplification when folk start making up rules, so that it gets applied to all objective nouns. It's a bit like whom gets used outside the dative case, which happens quite a lot, I even get corrected occasionally.

Kate Larkindale said...

Glad you're feeling better, Janet. A headachy shark is about as much fun as a centipede with corns.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

That dog, the one with the ice pack on his head, well that's me yesterday and today. Maybe I got what you got, I can feel my pulse in my sinuses. Enough of my simple woes. Glad you're feeling better.

Love the WIR. Thanks for the sub header mention.
Amy, paradise and common sense. They just seem to go together.

And may all of you have a glorious day. I'm off to the couch because I do not have to go in early today. A gift from God for sure.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Congrats, Amy for subheader of the week.

And yay, Jennifer Donohue for publication of your Sci-Fi Daily story.

Amanda Capper said...

Before I forget...great writing Jennifer. Wanted to read more.

Yes, Julie, write the book but does our clamouring for it make you anxious? Increase the pressure to make it perfect? If so, I'd like to apologize in advance. Relax, write it, and be assured we already enjoy your writing.

Now I'm off to find Higgins, Kristan on B&N.

Oh, and glad you're back to Shark-version of normal, Janet.

Donnaeve said...

The WIR was stellar! Thank you!

Jennifer, loved your story! I don't read sci-fic or fantasy, but I've learned if a story has all the "right" components, I can read anything. Yours proved that.

That whole lay/lie thing bubbled up in various forms this week on my inbox feed, as if somebody somewhere wants to whack us over the head with the rules.

I can't beat DeadEyeSpider's explanation, but what DID stick in my head when I read the various tidbits, lie is used when no object is involved, and "lay" when an object is involved. The nighttime prayer was used as an example - b/c somebody asked about that, "Now I lay me down to sleep..." and the explanation was "lay" was correct because "me" became the object in this sentence.

Now. Isn't that helpful???

Anonymous said...

I'm glad Janet is feeling better. Those headaches are miserable. Yes, stay stocked up on meds. My son called the other night, "I know this is an odd question, but do you have any baby wipes?"

"Let me look. Yep. I'll bring them down. Why on earth would you think I had baby wipes?"

"Mom, you're like a corner drug store. You have everything."

The baby wipes were actually in a soldier care package. smart aleck kid.

I've been working on the bronc rider story, but it will take a while to do right and I'm torn about where to start it. I know exactly where it ends, no thanks to Gene Autry.

I just need to do some traveling and interviewing to get the soul of the story. My mother, bless her heart, has been no help. As usual she focuses on the men. "Well, Marge was with Joe. He used to stand around scratching his piles when you talked to him, but he was the nicest guy and so handsome. He and Marge used to also request I wait on them when they came to town and she wore the biggest hat. Always dressed nice."

Yes, Mom, I needed to know about Joe's piles. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Julie, but no! that's gold! Learn about ALL the piles! It's all the little character sketches that make a story a great story :D

Well, that's for me; but then, I'm all about the character-focused stories :)

Anonymous said...


God no. I am not writing about him scratching his butt. Besides, that was in the 50's and the story ends in 1941 at the Ft. Worth rodeo.

LynnRodz said...

Janet, glad to see you're feeling better. Another great WIR and as usual there were things I missed. How does that happen when I'm here everyday? It's amazing how your blog has become a part of my daily life and a good part at that.

Btw, no need to torment us (me) further, I'm tormented enough with editing dino porn. And there's someone, who shall remain nameless, who loves to send all those manuscripts over to me.

Now I'm off to read your other post and Jennifer's story.

Anonymous said...

Okay. Just because I'm a grammar nerd, and it makes me sad when people don't understand things, a quick lesson on lay/lie:

There are two different verbs we're talking about here. 'To lie' and 'To lay'.

'To lie' is to set something down. It is transitive, which means it takes an object - hence the 'something'.

'To lay' is to set down. It is *intransitive*, which means it does not take an object. That's why it's 'to set down' and NOT 'to set something down'.

The confusion is because the past tense of 'lie' is 'lay'. The past tense of 'lay' is laid'.

A mnemonic I use is "Now I lay me down to sleep".

Since it's 'now', it's present tense. 'Me' is an object, and the verb 'to lay' takes an object. So when I need to remind myself which of these two verbs take an object, I recite 'Now I lay me down to sleep'... and I know.

I'm pretty sure no one will be reading this (since the next post is up), I don't think there will be any more exploding heads.

I just read Donna's comment - yes. I won't remove mine, because I am a grammar nerd and that is what I do - talk endlessly about grammar. That's why my explanation, though very similar to Donna's, is quite a bit longer. Sorry.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Thank you again, everybody! In further news of my teeny tiny story (which I say not to denigrate said story, but rather because it's only like, 287 words), it's going to be in tomorrow's Far-Fetched Fables podcast (alongside a short story by THE Aliette de Bodard!!!).

I'll come back and link tomorrow and find out THE CONTEST RESULTS! (imagine that read in a fanfare announcer's voice)