Welcome to the week that was.
During last week's review DLM offered up what is now one of my new favorite phrases
THOU ROCKEST MIGHTILY WITH THY BAD SELF.along with the confession
(I perhaps should not admit I used to keep a WordArt file that said that, to use in instant messaging at my office ...)
On Monday the topic was starting with book two, an idea that had some problems.
E.M. Goldsmith asked
I did a workshop over the weekend where agents looked at my first ten pages. I am working on a full rewrite and wanted to make sure I was heading down the right path. I promise this will be related to our OP. The agent who reviewed my work loved it, absolutely made my millennia with all the praise. I am over the moon with such a strong and crazy positive response. She had virtually no edits and wanted to talk about how my book could be sold. I also write fantasy.
The fifth in her series of suggestions for getting book ready to sell probably also applies to the OP in addition to the 2nd book before 1st. Here is her quote to me.
“The biggest issue in terms of selling this: To make sure you set the story apart from all the others of its ilk. This (fantasy) is such an over-published area right now that without a strong USP, it’s hard to break in.”
Also, I would love Janet to talk about how to establish this USP (I think this stands for Unique Sales Position) thingie in a genre that is highly competitive. I doubt this only pertains to fantasy. Please don’t throw me in the Carkoon briar patch. Please. It’s probably been talked about before, but I have only been swimming in The Reef for about nine months now. I am only asking for further guidance because I am a tender woodland creature being crushed under the publishing wheel.
You guyz don't need me to torture you; you're doing a fine job on your own. I'm not sure why you're even thinking about a USP for a novel. There isn't one. Novels are not widgets and they're not vacuum cleaners. Reading this one will not give you thinner thighs in thirty days. Reading The Singer From Memphis will not help you organize your spice shelf in a more utilitarian fashion.
A USP is something you talk about in sales meetings when you're selling a model of something that exists elsewhere. What makes our flame thrower better than yours? Well, for starters, it comes with asbestos underpants in case your aim is off.
A book is not one model among many.
This agent may know fantasy but she's MISUSING the term USP.
When Julie M. Weathers said this
The whole trick is, what makes your book unique? What makes you unique? How can you parlay that into an asset?
it's for NON-FICTION (specifically Cowgirls Wanted) not for a novel. And it's still not a USP. When we write non-fiction book proposals the question we have to answer is "what need does this book fill?" "Why would someone read it?" and let me tell you, that can be a tough question.
John Davis Frain said
SP, in my history, comes from the advertising world. Was created by a guy at Ted Bates (basis for the series Mad Men, I believe) and stood for Unique Selling Proposition. The guy who created it was a legend on par with David Ogilvy named Rosser Reeves. His life became Don Draper on Mad Men.
In advertising, USP is the ONE reason someone will buy your product over your competition. So, Ivory Soap, because it's 99 44/100% pure. Or M&Ms because they melt in your mouth, not in your hand. Or Mobil 1 because it saves gas. Pound that message home.
Translate that into your manuscript, EM. Why does a reader buy your book instead of all the other fantasy titles out there? You give that answer to that agent, and she can sell it. Easier said than done, of course.
You do NOT need to tell me why your fantasy title is better than all the other fantasy titles out there. Down that road lies madness! I am going to buy ONE vacuum cleaner in 20 years. I'm going to buy 20 novels this year. You don't have to be unique. You don't have to be better than the other guy (thank god, because the other guy is Stephen King. Or Terry Pratchett. Or Patrick Lee) You have to write a story I want to read. You do NOT have to write the ONLY story I ever want to read.
What you have to do is write a novel that isn't a knockoff of someone else's, or tells a story in a way I've seen 100 times before.
I don't know much about overused fantasy tropes, but I can tell you that in crime fiction the "Damaged war vet seeking redemption, struggling with his demons" better come with stellar writing or some other twist that lifts it above the crowd.
A good example: The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie.
Here's the jacket copy:
Peter Ash came home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with only one souvenir: what he calls his “white static,” the buzzing claustrophobia due to post-traumatic stress that has driven him to spend a year roaming in nature, sleeping under the stars. But when a friend from the Marines commits suicide, Ash returns to civilization to help the man’s widow with some home repairs. Under her dilapidated porch, he finds more than he bargained for: the largest, ugliest, meanest dog he’s ever encountered . . . and a Samsonite suitcase stuffed with cash and explosives. As Ash begins to investigate this unexpected discovery, he finds himself at the center of a plot that is far larger than he could have imagined . . . and it may lead straight back to the world he thought he’d left for good.
There is no way to describe a USP for this book. There just isn't. And yet, this is a terrific book, and you should buy it and read it. I loved it. Jenny Chou did too. The two of us lead the cheering section for this book on Twitter.
Rose Black said:
I don't think Janet torments woodland creatures. Pointing out the existence of the abattoir (perils of publishing) isn't quite the same as going at them with bolt-guns. That doesn't mean I don't want to hide under a blanket after some posts.I'm certainly not tormenting you more than y'all are tormenting yourselves. I'm feeling a bit passed over here.
On Tuesday the topic was the need for a literary executor
All I know is after I am dead, if my kids make a fortune on my finished novels, essays, columns, memoir and assorted writing, which I deem brilliant but unrecognized, I will come back and haunt the asses of every agent who said, no reply means no and every desk-jockey who sent me a form rejection.
JustJan asked about the clients left behind when I was closing up a departed agent's practice:
Thank you for this nudge. Many people need a friendly reminder now and then on this topic. But it also begs the question: What did the agent's clients do? Did they start at square one, agent-wise? Or do agents plan for this possibility, too?
They were in a terrible position because the commission on the already sold books continued to be paid into the agent's estate. They couldn't get a new agent for these works because they'd end up paying two commissions. The only bright light was that most of these clients were not writing new things.
Some years later I did help one of the clients with a reprint deal. The agent was VERY lax in her planning and that is a lesson I took to heart at once.
What should we look for in a good literary executor?
From my perspective, a good executor would know something about publishing. The less time I need to spend showing them the ropes the better. Also, someone who understands licensing a short story to the Carkoon Kale Newsletter for three heads of lettuce and a veg to be named later isn't a good idea.
It should also be someone who knows something about your work, particularly if you write non-fiction. A lot of non-fiction publishing contracts provide for revisions and updates, and new editions. If the original writer "isn't available" (ie s/he's dead) the publisher gets to decide who's doing the updates. As you might imagine, there could be some heated discussions on that point. A literary executor who understands that asking Bill O'Reilly to update a book on history is a bad idea is invaluable.
Laura Mary asked
Would your literary executor work with your agent on your behalf? Or would your relationship with the agent end along with you? Presumably there would be something in your contract about 'in the event of your death' and where rights revert to etc. That's certainly not a topic I'd want to bring up on Happy Offer Day though :-(
A very sobering thought, but a reminder that I could do with sorting a regular will out myself.
Yes, your literary executor works with your agent. Your executor is essentially "the new you." The book contract with associated earnings doesn't terminate with your death. There is no rights reversion. That's why it's so important to have someone there to be you. If you never want your books published in Fredonia, your lit executor would refuse that deal on your behalf. The reason the lit executor and the lit agent should not be the same person is I (as your agent) have a financial stake in making book deals. It would be hard to resist the five million dollar advance offered by Fredonia Bales of Books.
Even unpublished writers? So what are the possibilities, then, for unpublished or even unfinished work?
Okay, if I have a friend who's a writer (ha!) whom I trust to finish my work, can they query it as a co-writer? Or if I die moments after declaring my masterpiece finished, can my husband query it?
Finding an executor is easy--I have a few friends in the publishing industry who would know potential gold when they see it--but (self-publishing aside) what can they possibly do with unpublished work anyway?
Generally you're not going to get an agent after you die. Anyone who queries work that is written by someone else is an automatic no (at least from me.)
BUT, even if you aren't published you'll want someone who can help your family figure out what to do. With the self-publishing options available, a well-meaning family member might put up your unfinished book of poems. Or your unfinished novel. Or finish your novel for you, and publish it. Good intentions pave the road to hell, and it's a very well paved road.
Be clear what you want, and make sure there's someone there who will advocate for that.
This from BJ Muntain was just chilling to me
I do think it's important that your family know your wishes. I'm always reminded of a woman I knew who wrote her own obituary not long before she died. In it, she called herself a 'writer'. I hadn't heard that of her, so I asked her adult children. They had no idea, but one daughter said, "Oh, she's got a few journals, but that's about it. Just a few poems." I asked if I could see them, maybe get them printed, if only for the family. "Oh, no. They're not important." That floored me. She obviously thought her writing was important enough to mention it in her own obituary. It broke my heart to think those things would never be read, or that her family thought so little of them. It was a wake-up call for me.
The idea that a family member would dismiss someone's creative work like that just breaks my heart.
On Wednesday the topic was retirement age among agents
Janet, I would have assumed others in the agency would take on any clients from a retiring agent, but what happens if the potentially retiring agent is the sole agent? Or are most in an agency with other agents (the ones on my 'to query' list all seem to be)?
A sole proprietor will, most likely, help the client find new representation. I have a client who came to me that way. His last agent set about retiring and introduced us. We agreed to work together on his next book. Five years later, we're still good.
The problem comes when the client doesn't have any more work to sell and the agent who handled all the previous books is no longer available. The retiring agent referenced above was thorough: she reverted all unexploited rights in the existing contracts back to the authors. This means they were able to secure representation (or in my client's case, forward all the inquiries about subrights) to a new agent. Without that, it would be difficult to get a new agent because the money is attached to the former agent's contract. A competent retiring agent will make sure that doesn't happen.
Kae Ridwyn asked:
But the woodland creature in me is screaming that there's something else in here to freak out about - what if my incredibly awesome agent-to-be is trying to retire, and has managed to re-home all of her clients, except me?! (Because, my woodland creature brain says, "There's no chance of lightning striking twice.") What happens then? I'm guessing - I'd be back in the query trenches?
A lot depends on where you are in your publishing career. If you've got nothing published, chances are you'd be querying again. And you should! Give some of the folks a chance to make up for missing you the first time.
If you've got published books, chances are an agent will take you on if you intend to keep writing.
And this is something you should stop worrying about right now. You can worry, or you can write well. The two are mutually exclusive.
And this from Stephanie
Actually... I signed with my agent and then 2 months later, the agency owner abruptly retired, closing the company and forcing my agent and others to find homes elsewhere. 18 months later, my agent is MIA. CANT FIND HER. She's dropped off the face of the earth just when the book should be going on sub.
prompts a link to these posts:
I think my agent's dead
agents going off the rails
and of course, this from John Davis Frain, cracked me up
Age is only important if your prospective agent is a cheese.
On Thursday we discussed the importance of fleshing out both the good guy and the bad guy with a parable about Dog and Fence Post.
Colin Smith, not satisfied with exile on Carkoon, has decided to take his life in his hands with some editorial comments:
I would have said: "So one day, when Fence P. had had just quite enough of Dog P, he tilted."
But that's the kind of writing I like... :)
So, let's look at this suggested revision. First, if you give both characters the same surname initial, a savvy reader might intuit they are related. Much like Colin S might be related to Shit S. even when Mr. Smith is not really kin to Mr. Storm.
Second, look at the rhythm here:
Original: So one day, when Mr. F Post had had just quite enough of Dog P, he tilted.
Revision: So one day, when Fence P. had had just quite enough of Dog P, he tilted.
Can you see the difference? Say it out loud.
Now can you see the difference?
Ok, I can hear some of you saying no. (Hearing plaintive cries of wooodland creatures is my super power)
The phrase Mr. F Post ends on a consonant. It's a harder, more stopped sound than a vowel. Mr. P ends with a vowel sound. It doesn't have the same full stop sensibility of Post. When you read them, your eye breaks up the sentence:
So one day,
When Mr. F Post
had had just quite enough of Dog P,
There's a tiny tiny rest stop after the t in post. If one is a musician, it might be a breath mark.
Also, two vowel sounds feels windy to my ear here.
This kind of editing suggestion reveals difference in voice and style. What works for me doesn't work for Colin. It doesn't make him wrong (well, ok it does) and me right (but I am.)
What this means for you: you must know your own voice and style. You must be able to recognize when some obviously deranged red pencil pusher has started marking things up not to improve them, but to bring it more in line with his/her own style.
As you might imagine, I have a terrible time with this.
french sojourn said
So I take from this, the use of a Snidely Whiplash type mustache doesn't cut it?
Fond as I am of Snidely Whiplash and his arch nemesis Dudley DoRight
you've hit the nail on the head here: Snidely is a caricature.
The writing in this episode is pretty damn funny though. My favorite: "Spies from Juilliard"
Lennon Faris asked
In my query I talk about the protagonist and don't really go into motives of antagonist at all. It's a mystery to the protagonist in the story for the majority of the novel, and I've heard that you're supposed to craft the query from the first ~1/3 of the novel.You don't have to talk about the antagonist's motivation. You just have to make that character fully realized. As I was thinking about this post I realized The Wire is probably one of the best examples of writing fully fleshed out protagonists and antagonists. In fact, can you even decide which is which? If you haven't watched The Wire five times, including all of David Simon's commentaries, you should get on it, pronto.
And let's make sure we all understand the difference between fully fleshed out antagonist and anti-hero. An example of an anti-hero would be Don Corleone in The Godfather. His enemies are the other mob guys, certainly not "the good guys." Don Corleone is the good guy, even though he's also a mobster.
I think my favourite villains ever are the Cardassians, for that very reason. They are always antagonists, but as you learn their reasons for what they do, and get to know each as individuals, they become far more sympathetic than many.
It will slay many of you to know that I had to google Cardassian to make sure Cheryl didn't mean Kardashian.
Off topic, but germane to our overall narrative arc, Jennifer R. Donohue asked:
I have a short story submitted to The Atlantic magazine, which may not respond in case of rejection and does not want you to simultaneously submit. What does a writer even do with that? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯Since I do short story submissions for clients, I have a list of story outlets. The Atlantic is on that list. I don't see the no sim sub requirements, although their auto-reply does seem to indicate No response means no.
Here's The Atlantic's fiction sub instructions
Now of course, if you know the fiction editor at The Atlantic, you're less likely to use the general email address provided, but still … are you getting your info from a first hand source?
On Friday we talked about the specificity of a revise and resubmit response from an agent.
I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on where agents draw the line between 'I must offer representation this moment' and 'I will take the time to make thoughtful, extensive comments and will carefully consider a revision'. Is it the extent of the revisions, i.e. 'restructure the entire first third of the novel' versus 'run spellcheck'? It does seem as if it would be unfair to the writer to offer representation and THEN say, 'I heart your book but want you to change all the things, you okay with that?' but surely almost all offers would involve some kind of revision.One of the first questions you want to ask an agent offering representation is whether s/he thinks revisions are needed before going on submission, and how extensive those revisions are.
For me, it's a question of whether I think I can sell the novel and, if revisions are needed, do I know what they are. It's really hard to say to a writer "hey the pacing sucketh mightily, fix it" and not offer some suggestions on how. If the needed revisions are along those lines, I hold off on the offer. I don't want to be stuck with a client who can't revise and a ms I can't sell (and perhaps through no fault of theirs in that I couldn't give concrete suggestions.)
Generally I send even minor fixes before offering representation cause I want to know how the writer responds to suggestions. Does she bristle and immediately point out how you are wrong? (See Reid vs Smith above) or does she say "wow, you are so astute for catching those" (see Reid clients A-Z)
If my revisions aren't in line with the author's vision, we're both better off if s/he goes elsewhere.
All books have had revisions. Some are just spell check. Some are verifying particular word choices. Some are tidying up the timeline. And some are "ok, we're going to revise this whole thing to make it sound more like X" which doesn't happen often, nor does it happen in a vacuum. But yes, it happens.
Lucie Witt said
I used to have a folder labeled "rejections" and I recently changed it to "declined" because it stings a little less. Whatever works!
Sometimes I label them "idiot editors" cause really.. turning DOWN my client's fabulous work?? Rilly, they're lucky to be unsinged.
Colin Smith, referencing the jpg of my filing system said:
Janet: I don't see the trash can that says "Colin D. Smith" (I guess it's a bit much of me to think I'd have my own special filing cabinet in your system...)
Well, ok, if you really want it. Normally I just file you with Misc. Charmers and Fans, but we can rope off a section of the cheap seats for ya!
|Colin Smith's file|
John Davis Frain asked:
Janet, if I read your coding correctly (it's not exactly the Zodiac Killer cipher, so hopefully I've hacked the code here), you have an R&R out since some time in 2013. So, do NORMANs exist on the other side of the author-agent fence as well? And how long will you keep that reserved spot in their name before you move it to your "Withdrawn" folder?
That R&R is hardly a No Response, although you would not know it from the file name. I talk to that writer about once a week. Sometimes MUCH more often. And she's been R'ing since 2008. We're both insane of course, and while commitment has been mentioned, it's in fact commitment to her novel.
To answer your question though: If an author doesn't reply after a couple follow up emails "hi, are you still alive? Great, me too! How's that novel??" I move them to 501 Prospects. That way I have their emails in one place if they surface again. Generally you can live in that folder for about five years before I say "ok, clearly this isn't happening." And even then, your email address and name are in my address book with some notes on why I know you. In other words, it's really really hard to get out of my clutches.
Which sort of answers John Davis Frain's follow up question:
how does one land in your "Prospects" file? Are those writers that catch your eye with a short story or who win a flash fiction contest or post on your blog at 7:11 so you figure they must be lucky people in general?
On the phone pad, 501 spells out JOY.
Okay, that's a bit of a stretch because the "1" is blank, so like Scrabble, you can use the blank for a Y and suddenly 501 -- if indeed it exists -- is yet another reason to celebrate.
Assuming you're in there.
Moreover, 501 is currently in BLUE (arrgghh, pretend that's blue, will ya!) which means the Queen is currently on the hunt for prospects.
Oh, the Friday Encryption is almost as enjoyable as a flash fiction contest. Please, Janet, don't provide the real answer. My mind is wandering to much greener pastures than surely exist.
For those of you who are interested though: File 501
As long as we're speculating, I think Folder 501 contains cat/dog/horse/coyote pics for use on the blog. Then again, I'm convinced Folder 502 is pics of mountain vacations and Folder 504 is a sampling of quiet introspective musings.jpgs are kept on the hard drive, not in my email file folders. Thus, alphabetized, not numbered.
That way I don't have to download them every time I need a picture of Maximus
And 504 is withdrawn. Those are usually the ones where the author got an offer before I even had a chance to read the ms. It's not a pass certainly, so it goes in withdrawn.
and for those of you organizing your drafts with numbers, let me remind you that you don't know which is the last number. Have you done 8 revisions or 10? That's why I go with dates. And I'm generally pretty obsessive about throwing away previous versions, or at least storing them in a folder that says "Old stuff"
On Saturday we talked about what to do when you discover more than a few errors in a sent query;
Hint: you fix and resend right NOW
It's bad enough when agents want pages in body of email and the email client shreds all formatting. That always worries me too. Even if there are no typos in text, I worry it looks like t don't know what I am doing. Well, nobody said this was going to be easy. Best of luck, OP. Keep at it.You really want to minimize formatting in an email. Nothing that requires control X/Y/Z. Those kinds of things often go astray.
And no double spacing of pages in email query either.
And no returns.
This is why you really need to learn how to create master email then duplicate it to send individual master emails to each agent.
You'll go nuts retyping pages every time (and talk about a way for typos to creep in!) and Cut and Paste from a Word .doc will make you crazy too.
Colin Smith asked:
Janet: Do you go through submissions from earliest to latest? Assuming that's what you do, suppose you get sent a ms, and a week later the writer re-sends that manuscript because, as in Opie's case, the writer realized he sent you an old version. Will you read the first, and then the second, or will you check your inbox for a later version before you read, and then just read the latest and greatest? If you read both, will you re-read the whole second ms, or will you look for things that have changed? Would you prefer the author tell you up-front what's changed in case it's a major plot point that caused you to reject the original version?I read my queries in the order they arrived for the most part. For the most part, it takes about a week. IF during that week the querier realizes ACK! I welcome a quick email that says "oh wow, I found a typo, please read this one, not that one."
I see that FIRST because I look at queries as I sort them into the incoming query file folder. Some are so off target they get an instant rejection (screenplays.) Some are so clearly scattershot (Hey Agent, here's my stuff) they get discarded.
If I get a "hey read this, not that" I discard the first and file the second to be read. The only downside is the clock starts over cause you're now in the incomings with a new date.
Generally I don't reject something at the query stage due to SOLELY to typos. If something looks good, I might write back and say "this looks good, but it's rife with errors, what's up with that?" and see where it goes.
That is not to say you should let typos slide, no no no. If something looks sort of good and it's full of typos, I say no. Why would you take that risk? Besides, the kind of writer I prefer to work with IS the writer who frets about such detail. There's a reason Patrick Lee has runway lights on his roof, and it's cause I fly to his house on my broom to wrest pages from his ink stained fingers as he protests "NO NO I need to check just one more thing."
Dena Pawling said:
Maybe I'm confused because I've spent all day sitting at a Boy Scout archery range, watching my kids and outlining my new upper MG or younger YA (haven't decided yet) manuscript, but I thought you only sent the FIRST pages with a query, not samples from throughout the manuscript.You're right. But one problem at a time for this querier!
Then to answer What did Helena smell like in 1870, Julie M. Weathers wrote us a little story just for fun, and reminded me of why I keep her address on file (so I can go stand over her with a whip to get Cowgirls Wanted out of that typewriter!)
Off topic Julie Weathers said:
I was born in Montana, but when I got to Texas, my soul sighed and said, "I'm home."That's exactly how I feel about New York. I was born in Seattle but NYC is home. It just took me a while to figure out how to get here.
And we now have a map of Carkoon thanks to Panda In Chief!
Where There's a Quill said
I indulged in a bit of frivolous illustration this week and created a map of Carkoon, at least the major land mass, as I was informed that Carkoon is actually an entire planet. Colin has added it to the Treasure chest (I'm sure he meant to share the link here) and since I was pleased at how it turned out, I submitted it to a really fun website, They Draw and Travel. I've posted illustrated recipes to their sister site, The Draw and Cook. Here's the They Draw and Travel link for my Carkoon Map, in case you were planning to make a visit and want to know where to stay.
Panda - This They Draw & Travel website you've shared has brought me one step closer to true life bliss. I am going to waste hours over there. I just love your map, too! Particularly the subheader and all-roads-lead-to-shark compass.
The Duchess of Yowl is developing a fan base.
Julie M. Weathers said
I love the Duchess of Yowl posts. So am I correct in assuming your landlord has relaxed the rule on pets?Sadly no. She's here under the radar.
Jennifer D said
I agree with those suggesting you write a DoY book. Even a series. I'd be a loyal readerThe Duchess of Yowl needs no words
The Duchess of Yowl is not amused
The Duchess of Yowl gets Met.
The Duchess of Yowl fesses up
The Duchess of Yowl does the math
Always a pleasure to swim in such an enticing pool of words. --Timothy Lowe
I am not sure I really existed before I stumbled upon The Reef.--E.M. Goldsmith
I think one thing that helps writers create living stories is to realize you aren't creating characters, you're creating people. --Julie M. Weathers