In last week's roundup, E.M. Goldsmith said
On the sub-header, funny story. I went to the Atlanta Writing Workshop yesterday where I met Penny Moore for 2nd time(she works at Fine Print with Janet). I happened to have drawn up business cards for the Slush Pile Cafe.
Well, if there's only one good reason for the week in review it's this: by the time Penny got back to the office on Thursday I'd forgotten to ask her about these cards! Writing the WIR prompted a quick email and I'll have them on Monday! Can't wait to see them, and of course, I'll post (probably on Facebook)
Lynn Rodz returned to the topic of exclusives here:
I'm at the airport so this will be short and sweet. Janet, you say exclusives are a no-no, but I would be afraid to say no to an agent who is interested in my work, more so if no other nibbles have come in. I would find it easier to say, "No, I'm sorry, on Janet Reid's blog she advices against it." Would that be wrong to say?
Well, yes. You really want to say "I'm not able to offer an exclusive but I'm glad to send this to you." And even if someone else isn't looking at the ms, you're still not able to offer an exclusive because someone else could ask to see it tomorrow, and you don't want to have to say no.
On Monday we had two versions of the results post (prelim and final) because I was having a hard time picking the winner.
Amanda Capper rebelled:
Oh no...no...no you don't. No shoving it off on us. These 100 words killers are your idea, you pick.
Lochlan Sudarsharn noticed:
I didn't realize until now that you'd snuck one by me with the prompt words. Tray sure. Treasure. You got me
Ha! I love it when I sneak one by you guyz! Picking good prompt words is more of an art than I realized when we first started. Having failed you utterly with "diddy" I am now determined to have words that are fun, but also flexible. Thus: treasure with but one really useful meaning is not as attractive as "tray" and "sure" which can be used in multiple ways.
Laura Mary wondered why luciakaku's entry wasn't a story.
Here's the entry:When I was five, my parents called me “princess,” and I thought I could be anything.
When I was ten, I stole my mother’s makeup because I wanted to be pretty, too.
When I was fifteen, I wore tank tops to school and got detention because my chest was “distracting.”
When I was twenty, I was pressured out of shop class because I wasn’t strong enough to be a smith.
Now I’m twenty-five, my boss hands me a tray--“Get to work, princess.”--and I know I’m nothing.
Of course this is good writing so I looked at it very carefully. I like the rhythm of it. I like the progression. I love the open and close "princess" lines. But it's not a story because it's a series of events. To be a story, it needs some sort of what I call a twist: something unexpected that sheds new light or interpretation on what we've read. "my boss hands me a tray" and says "get to work princess" and I discover I'm strong enough (bringing in the last line) to wrap my tank top around his neck and rein him in. (which is godawful writing, sorry, but you see the point I'm making.)
The entries that are "not quite a story" are usually very very good writing and it just kills me to see that lack of twist. This one is a perfect example of that.
Sara Halle was finally selected from among the nine finalists. She earned a copy of Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye.
And after a quick comment exchange between me and Colin Smith (cor blimey mate!) when Colin suggested some sort of something (AGAIN!) that called up eviction to Carkoon, John Frain said of my comment:
Not only is that a classic sendoff to Carkoon ... it's also 98 words!
Janet Reid, send me your address and what you like to read and I'll send you my manuscript. I mean, a book.
Which just cracked me up completely.
And I liked how kdjames listed her progression in these contests for Jason (who was feeling a bit overwhelmed at the array of talent)
Jason, I'll echo what others have said. When I first worked up the nerve to enter these contests, I was lucky if I could write a SCENE in 100 words. If I was really lucky, it was a scene that made sense. I got all sorts of "not a story" comments. Or sometimes a "nice line" comment. But I kept reading and paying attention to comments and, here's the key: I kept trying. Sometimes now I end up on a list as a finalist and it's a great feeling. But the big payoff for me is to see how I've improved, both my ability to tell a complete story (not quite, this week) and the art of being more concise (not quite, this comment). Keep trying, you'll improve too.
Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale said:
Much what makes these stories work is what the reader brings to the tale. If I wasn't familiar with the myth of a werewolf, I would not have gotten the significance of the phases of the Moon, just as I didn't get the connection of the Mayor's tab until someone enlightened me with the smoking laws of New York City.
It's not that the info is missing from the story; the clues are there, if the reader knows how to interpret them. That is the difference between missing info and subtle info, and a mark of the mastery of the craft.
"what the reader brings to the tale" varies with the reader of course, which is why there are knock down drag out fights these days about what should be included in The Canon (ie the books everyone should read to be considered educated.) I always think of those books as the ones you have to read to get the jokes.
So yes, I had to look up Benelli (sorry Craig!) but I wouldn't have to look up St. Mary Meade, or google "coffee swilling drifter" to understand the references being made.
On Tuesday I was perturbed by a querier who told me she thought the query process was backwards, and wrote a post about why she was not only incorrect, but unlikely to accomplish her goals by saying so.
I will tell you up front that the title of that blog post was Do the Fucking Math for about three days. Then I realized the symbols were funnier, and more appropriate so I changed it. Yes, I revise these blog posts like you revise your work.
s/he should just have sent you the title of the m/s.
Can't you just imagine!?!? "Dear Querier: I choose projects based solely on the title. You're welcome to query again when you think of a better one."
In other words you had me at CARKOON.
Laura Mary said:
I can partially see a (misunderstood) point here - the fear that an agent could pass on a crappy query, where the pages and the MS were excellent.
I understand that a lot of people think there can be an excellent ms and a crappy query, but in my experience that never happens. Someone who has a good manuscript (ie well written) has a well written query. If you write well, it shows in all your writing. You may have some problems in your query with what you're saying or not, but the writing is good. That's as universal a truth as I know after a lot of years reading not just queries, but blog posts, flash fiction, and writing conference contest entries.
And Laura Mary asked further
Do the majority of agents read pages anyway? Or do I really only have that short pitch to hook them?
Yes, no. Unless there's a huge problem in the query "it's a western written in haiku, 240K words" I glance at the first couple pages. If there's promise there, I flag the query and set it aside to read when I'm not skimming. I'd say 20-30% of my queries end up being flagged for closer reading. I don't know if other agents do this.
And Amen Sister to Claire for this:
Even if you privately think the query process should work differently, it takes a special kind of self-destructive hubris to destroy your chances of getting representation quite so effectively. Nobody likes being schooled in their job by someone who's not even in the field.
And Stephen Kozeniewski wins the Coffee Out The Schnozz Award this morning for:
I don't understand. Why don't you just read the entire manuscript? That's the only way you can really tell if the query's any good or not.
And honest to god, I wish I'd had this from Elissa M when I replied to that query cause she said it PERFECTLY:
I wonder how many writers go into a book store, pick up every book in the store and read the first three chapters of each before deciding which to purchase?
Yeah, I thought so.
Hungry Bob has a good point here:
Personally I get exhausted with the querying process because it feels like it's my query writing ability that's on trial, not my writing or storytelling ability, especially when so many agents admit they don't touch writing samples if the query isn't full of wow and pizazz.
Then you read stories like the one on this very blog where a writer had a "phenomenal response" to their query letters, which must mean they have a great novel, right? But then they had a 100% rejection rate based on writing samples, which makes it look like getting requests (which are obviously required to go forward) is based on how well you write a query and little else. Writing and storytelling? Unimportant if you can't write a query.
That said, using a query letter to complain about... the query letter is probably not time well spent.
What you're describing here (good query, bad first pages) happens a lot. When I help writers work on their queries at conferences, I'll often ask to see those first few pages and most (if not all) of the time, the pages need a ferocious amount of work. They start in the wrong place (weather, driving, sleeping, a prologue set 1500 years earlier) or they spend too much time moving their characters around.
One of the things you'll see on QueryShark a lot is "apply what you've learned here to your novel."
It's absolutely true that you can have a great query and a novel that isn't ready for publication. I see it more than I can tell you.
Lennon Faris said:
I'm bummed I had to skim through some of the comments for now, but this is how I think of it: A query letter is like a first date. Or maybe even earlier: when you have that initial conversation. Sure, you won't get the whole person in those few minutes. But a gal can almost always say, right then, if she MIGHT be interested.
Can you imagine a first date with the mindset of the original querier?
"Hi, I'm interested in marrying and having children, so let's have sex now to see if we're compatible."
Now that I think about it, I have gone on dates like that. And the less said about those, the better.
On Wednesday we discussed being a debut novelist even if you've published non-fiction.
Does that hold true if the book is a short story collection? Fiction, but not a novel!
Yes. This is your debut work of fiction.
Kate Larkindale asked:
Could you still be a debut novelist if you've had a novel published already, by a small e-book only press that has since closed, so the book is no longer available (except on pirate sites, but that's a whole 'nother story)? I guess not... even if the book only sold a handful of copies.
No. You're a debut novelist once.
Janice Grinyer asked:
If I query a non-fiction (memoir) book proposal, How long should it be before I contact the same agent with a novel query if they represent both? Or are they two different beasts and an Agent who turns down a non-fiction may be willing to look at the fiction, if the writing is where it should be?
Not instantly as in "hey you said no to that, but how about this" kind of thing but I don't think you have to wait longer than a couple days. Two very different projects like that shouldn't be a problem. It's two novels that I'm less eager to hear about in close proximity.
Completely but wonderfully off topic Dena Pawling mentioned The Stolen Shark Tooth
And I wondered what the rest of that story was. So I googled but still got no sense of why someone wanted to steal this shark tooth.
We may need a flash fiction contest to get to the bottom of this!
We'll need two other words to round out the list! Any suggestions?
John Frain asked:
I just read a Writer's Digest article last night that proclaimed (among other things) never mention in a query that this is your first novel.
I know, I know: no reference, it didn't happen. I'm off to find it.
But this strikes me: If I'm querying an agent and don't mention previous titles, can I be anything but a debut novelist? Or do people try to sneak some poorly sold self-pubbed books past agents?
That's interesting, but not really very good, advice. I assume it's a debut unless the author tells me otherwise, but yes, I have been gobsmacked to find five (self) published novels on Amazon that weren't mentioned in the query. Or this actual novel on Amazon and also not a word about that in the query.
And yes, authors do that. Just exactly often enough that I now google every author I'm interested in. So, not at the query stage, but definitely at the requested full stage.
And CarolynnWith2ns has provided me with my new form reply to query writers who have odd ideas about comp titles (particularly titles by authors I represent)
Madonna and me, we're a lot alike.
She sings, I listen.
At over 50 she did cartwheels in high heels during a Super bowl halftime years ago, I watched the game.
She's famous, I have lots of 'fan'.
She sang "Like a Virgin" I was one.
Yup, me and my bud, Madonna.
Now lets talk about what I have in common with the other Madonna, Mary, mother of ....
On Thursday we talked about whether it would create problems if a more junior agent chose a project that a senior agent (at the same agency) had rejected.
More on topic, I do kind of prefer for myself a more junior agent at a good firm, surrounded by experienced agents. In fact, Brooks Sherman is near the top of my list of (eventual) query targets for this very reason.
This prompts me to remind you that people who used to be junior don't stay that way. Some of them don't stay that way very long at all. Brooks is such an agent.
Sure he started out sitting six feet from my right hand (what I call thwacking distance) but he has proven himself immensely capable and been enormously successful. I would not consider him a junior agent in any way these days.
And if you want visual proof of why that is, well, here ya go.
Sure he hasn't been in the biz as long as some older sharks, but I consider Brooks a colleague, certainly NOT a junior one.
LynnRodz picked up on the comments about rejection and said:
That's why I think it would be hard to just get a no. We don't know if the rejection was for the reasons you've stated and there's no need to go back and change/edit something. Or if the reason was because the ms wasn't up to par.
It would be nice if there was a form rejection for all agents that had a few boxes where they could check off their reason(s) for saying no.
- Ms is good, but I have a similar one.
- Ms is good, but not my strong category.
- Ms isn't there yet, too much work needed.
The problem with replying with anything other than a form rejection is that it invites (or seems to) conversation. Once it's a no, it's a no, but it's impossible for writers not to ask "can you tell me just one more thing here."
And honestly, this isn't something I want to spend any time on at all. My job isn't coaching. It's selling.
ON TOPIC: "3. I've just signed a new client and I'm hesitant to take on more work just now (that happens a lot)"
That brings a question to mind for QOTKU. The first thing I thought when I read #3 was, wouldn't you close to queries for a while if the work load was getting beyond your comfort zone? And then I thought, maybe she doesn't b/c its possible someone will send her THE MS she's been waiting for. (?)
Closing to queries is more of a pain in the asterisk than not if the time period is less than a year. I've tried it a couple times and unless I'm just overwhelmed, I won't do it again. And "not wanting to take on more work at present" is farther down the busy line than "overwhelmed."
A part of me still believes that agents keep little black books with lists of authors they rejected, authors who wrote lame queries and authors who acted pissy when rejected. And, agents within an agency would pass around their little nincompoop books, while drinking cool beverages and eating pretzels, and talk about how lame they perceive us to be.
So to hear from the sharks gullet that perhaps this may not be true gives me hope.
I do keep a list but not of authors I reject, or who write lame queries, or even those who are pissy. My list is of people who scare me; people who send fake queries to QueryShark; people who've queried the same project too many times. And it's color-coded on my data base, not a little black book.
I don't think any of you need to worry about ending up in it.
And then it was Friday, and it's the flash fiction contest. Results will be posted on Monday…we hope.
"Query widely and prosper my friends." --Craig