Thursday, January 18, 2018

But, she liked me!


Most writers wonder after a rejection if they're good enough. My question is a twist on that anxiety. I met an agent at a writer's conference and really connected with her. She was excited about my query and premise and invited me to send my first 20 pages. A couple of months later, she responded with a rejection. It was a personal response, acknowledging our connection and conversation, and complimenting my writing, but saying that ultimately she didn't connect with the manuscript.

This rejection matters more to me than most, because we'd already gotten past the premise, genre, etc., so for her to not even request a full has me wondering if there's something wrong with the manuscript and if so, what I should do about it. Before querying, I had the manuscript reviewed by a developmental editor (a former editor at a major publishing house), who certainly didn't say it was a loser - and she would've if she'd thought that. The editor had suggestions and I revised the manuscript accordingly. I guess what I'm saying is that if I get past the usual query barriers and still can't wow a cool agent with my manuscript, should I keep trying? I don't want to publish something people don't connect with.

I'm not looking for the "every writer gets rejected, get over it" response, though I acknowledge that truth. I'm looking for (1) how to know when it's time to give up on a manuscript, and (2) what to do about it, either with the manuscript or with improving my writing or storytelling skills."

Let's step back here for a second and look at what you told me: one agent passed and you're wondering if your manuscript is a loser.

If someone told you this story in the bar, you'd smack 'em with that purse you have that I covet.


No matter how much you like an agent, connect with her, and NO MATTER HOW ENTHUSED she sound during in person conversation, in the end it's ONE opinion.


Meeting agents at conferences is helpful for learning how publishing works, and how to avoid the pitfalls of querying. It's not an advantage when I'm actually reading your work.

Personal connection doesn't help when considering a manuscript for rep. I've had to pass on manuscripts from people I like a lot; I've had to pass on manuscripts I didn't connect with that have gone on to do very well in the marketplace.


I will not take on a book if I can't sell it with enthusiasm even when I have met and liked the writer.

Bottom line: you're having a hiccup of insecurity here. It's entirely normal but don't let it stop you from pressing on.


But to answer the questions you actually asked:
1) how to know when it's time to give up on a manuscript, and
(2) what to do about it, either with the manuscript or with improving my writing or storytelling skills.

1. 100 rejections
2. Write more

The only way to get better is to keep at it.

I encourage you to consider if your book is fresh and new, rather than if the writing is subpar. Many of the queries I receive are well-written but they're for books I've already read.  

Thus also consider
3. You've read enough books in your category to know what's been done before.




Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Normal is a town in Illinois

I have an agent who successfully sold my memoir and I am so grateful. She has best selling clients so I don't make her much money. However, she is fairly unresponsive. I don't nudge her often at all. Perhaps 3 x a year. When this happens, my emails go unanswered or she does eventually set up a phone call, but either she never calls, or reschedules repeatedly. I sent her my latest ms a year ago and she thought she could sell it, but I have gotten nothing---either progress reports or "I can't sell this".

I hate to let go of a bird in the hand. She took a big chance on me as an unknown when she wasn't taking on new clients, because of a referral. The person who referred me loves her! (He is also a best selling author). At the same time I am not getting any younger. Technically my contract with her was only for the one work, but I wanted to stay with her because I appreciated her efforts. Now I'm not so sure! How do I tactfully approach her, keeping in mind that she likely has an unbearable workload?

Or is this normal when you have small fish?

If you have time to give me any guidance I would love it.


The question isn't what's normal, the question is what's going to advance your writing career.

I recently received an email from a valued client with the subject line "not feeling the love." She told me pretty candidly that she wasn't very happy with my lack of communication.

She was right.

Even if I thought she was wrong, she was still right, because she was telling me what she felt.

By telling me in a straightforward way I could choose to either apologize and do better (while of course explaining that yes, I HAD been kidnapped by aliens) or tell her that this was how I worked and maybe we needed to reassess whether she was happy here. (I apologized and gave her an idea of when she'd have a more cogent answer.)

Communication (or lack thereof) is the single biggest reason I hear for clients leaving agents.

There is no right or wrong way of staying in touch. There's what works and what doesn't. I probably don't need to point out that this agent's style isn't working for you.

Tell her.

Give her an opportunity to hear what will work for you and do it.

And by work for you, I don't mean something amorphous like "better" or "more." Be specific: If you email her, you expect an answer of some sort in a week. If you send a manuscript, you expect a timeline for when it will be read.

These are not unreasonable requests or petulant demands. This is business relationship, and you're providing the intellectual property that drives the revenue stream.

I urge you STRONGLY to speak up, be clear, and follow through.

Not all agents are right for every author.

All authors deserve an agent who treats them with respect.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tuesday blahs





I believe I'll just lie here for a while till the world looks a little less blurry.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

So, I really do write dino porn


As a long time lurker around your blog, I've picked up the impression that self-publishing is generally a good way to shoot myself in the foot if I plan to seek an agent for any later works unless I sell an absurd volume of books. However, if I happen to write a lot of dinosaur porn for fun, and decide to self-publish that under a pen name I never plan to associate with my real name, is this something I will need to disclose when querying? If so, will this negatively impact my chances with agents?


 No, you never need to breathe a word.
Just cash the checks and laugh all the way to the bar.

You'd be amazed how many writers have dino porn size secrets in their background. Just keep your lip zipped and you'll be fine.

This also applies to anything else you've written or done that you'd rather not have folks know about now. Agents are not looking to root through your dirty laundry; we're only interested in knowing things that will help or hurt our chances of selling your book.

You're not obliged to tell anyone any of this kind of thing. You're not applying for a security clearance, and what you do in your off hours is your business (obviously you don't want to be murdering people and calling it research, or knocking over liquor stores to support your writing habit.) 

The only thing you'll want to be careful about is awards for "first novels." You don't have to tell me when or what, but if you've got some books lurking away under a different name, you're probably better off stepping aside on any kind of award for first anything.


Any questions?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Requerying after a major revision

I queried my novel last year to mostly passive passes. Now I'm working on a revision (self-prompted, not an R&R), and I'm wondering how to handle the next round of queries.

For context, here's what I've changed:

Title
Protagonist/focus of the query
Where the book starts, therefore the included pages
About half the plot
What's stayed the same:

The characters, their relationships to each other, and their general situation
Setting
Can I requery the same agents? If so, do I treat it as a revision or a whole new novel? Or should I stick to agents who have not yet heard from me?

Why would you requery agents who've not responded? (I'm assuming that's what you mean by a passive pass.) Are you trying to torment yourself? Stop that! Tormenting writers is MY job, and I'm good enough at it for both of us.

You can requery anyone you want, and you've probably changed enough of the work so it's not going to sound familiar to most of the agents you requery, but again, why would you query them?

You're also assuming that it was the query that gave rise to the rejection. That's not always the case. No matter how well written the query, I'm likely to pass on books I don't think I can sell; books that don't sound fresh and new; books that just don't interest me. None of that can be revised out of a book.


There are a lot of us out there these days. Try some new names and find someone fierce about your work.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Exceptions to "Don't Query Two Agents at Same Agency"


A mega-agent at a big agency requested a full of my book in January 2017. They didn't respond to me "Hello, did you get the MS" email/ nudge mid-year. (I'm usually opposed to nudging but did so because another agency didn't get the full I sent around the same time). Fast forward: I wrote another book and will probably be querying it in early 2018. Another agent at this same agency would be great to query. I think book 2 has a better probability of getting signed.

Agent A sometimes requests fulls and signs someone within a week. Sometimes they take 6 months or a year to reject. Sometimes they don't respond at all. (They almost never sign anyone).

Their website says to not query two agents at the same time, but what if they are two different books? Can't I just query B without having any additional correspondence with A? I prefer to work under the "if no response by X, assume rejected" rule because it doesn't render the writer powerless or put them in an awkward situation. I hate this stuff--it feels like repeatedly sending texts like "hey just checking again--are you sure you don't want to go to prom with me?" I mean if they wanted to go to prom they would respond.



I agree that failure to resond is should incur a penalty for unneccesary rudeness. (Hang on, I need to check my inbox for any unanswered emails before I get all fired up!)

And if an agent has failed to respond to both "didja get this" and "do you want this" within a year, then s/he has de facto passed on this.

If you were querying your first project to another agent, you might run into issues but you're querying a new project so my advice is go for it.

And I STRONGLY encourage you to get over your reluctance to nudge. In the last month alone I've been glad to hear from some writers who needed to nudge about one thing or another. Stuff happens and email can disappear never to be seen again.

I've blogged about this before and it hasn't gotten any better.



The thinking behind "don't query two agents at the same time" is so authors don't just query all the agents at one agency at the same time, leading to a lot of wasted time if each agent reads and requests.  I've seen authors ignore this here at New Leaf. We have a central query email and if you query all the agents here at the same time, we all see it.



Frankly, that tells me you haven't spent a single minute trying to figure out who is a good match. There's almost nothing that overlaps on Suzie Townsend's list and my list (although I love the books she reps and sells) There's certainly some overlap with JL Stermer, but again, a book that's suited for her is most likely not suited for me.



My long standing advice to query everyone does NOT mean query everyone at the same time. IF JL says no, you might expand your reach and query me. In other words, start with the agents you think are a good match and work down the list.





And of course the first rule of querying is query me first cause I respond to (almost) every query.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

You think you're asking about word count, but uh oh

My MS is an adult thriller with a 102K word count. I recently learned of "word count expectancy" and what is perceived as typical by literary agents. I believe the anticipated word count for an adult thriller is between 60K-90K.

My question is, would the discrepancy between (current) actual and expected be considered a deal breaker? My MS contains a detail rich plot and reviews (some published) I have received have been complimentary of the books pace, so I am a little reluctant to change the content. Having said that I don't necessarily wish to be filtered out by one phrase or it being a reason for exclusion.

The only time word count is a deal breaker is when you're so far over or under that it's clear you're going to need major revisions. Word count on the upper end doesn't bother me cause I can always pare down. Word count problems on the lower end (50K thrillers, 70K historical fiction) are more troublesome cause it's figuring out what's missing.

But the real problem here is when you tell me that you have published reviews of your book. That's a huge red flag.

That more than word count would make me think twice about reading your book.

Either you don't know what reviews are (and no one was born knowing all this terminology, it's not a character flaw if you misused the word) OR you've done something like solicit prepublication reviews.

A review is generally an objective assessment by someone who doesn't know you. It's intended to be published so readers can decide if they want to buy the book, or as part of an overall, ongoing discussion of the category you're writing in.  In either instance, an unpublished book shouldn't be getting reviews. When I take on new clients, the first thing I do is have them make some editorial changes. Some have a lot. Some are just clean up. But the ms you send me is almost never the ms that goes to editors, and certainly never the ms that is the final published version.

If you've sent this out for pre-pub reviews (you can pay people to say nice things about your book) it tells me you're pretty inexperienced AND you haven't done much research about how querying works. Pre-pub reviews are utterly useless.

In any case, if your query isn't getting any traction, my first choice for why is the review mention. The word count isn't setting off any alarms.

Any questions?

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Can a writer set some privacy boundaries and still get published?

Your compassionate, thoughtful, and informative response to the person with depression (1.6.18) inspired me to break through my fear and ask you my own questions about being agented with a mental illness, albeit a different one.

Being a writer is my passion, and becoming a published (YA) fiction author is my dream career. I also have PTSD (from childhood trauma). Though therapy has helped greatly with many of the symptoms, PTSD has also left me with a great need for privacy. While I do engage with people online (and offline in real life, of course), I don't post pictures of myself on the internet, nor do I share any personally identifiable information about myself publicly online. I don't have Facebook account, Instagram account, etc.

If I become so fortunate to get a literary agent and, eventually, a book deal:

1. Will not having an author photo be a deal-breaker? (This has nothing to do with my appearance. It's simply a matter of privacy.)

Quick answer: no

1a. Further, will avoiding certain literary events as to avoid having a photo put online be a deal-breaker?

Quick answer: no

2. Will using a pseudonym as my author name and even, perhaps, putting the copyright under that pseudonym be an issue for an agent and/or publisher?

Quick answer: no

3. I would enjoy engaging with readers of my books through goodreads, my own website, or tumblr but not twitter.

Quick answer: no problem

4. When would I tell my (future) agent about the limitations on my internet presence? During "the (initial) call" so that the agent can have a choice whether to represent me/my work based on those limitations?


Quick answer: yes

These fears/questions have been holding me back from querying and moving toward having a writing career. Again, I would love to have a career in writing, but I would also be grateful for some hope that my books are, ultimately, what would be marketed, not me. My personal life and professional life must remain separate as much as possible.

(I know I sound super stiff and formal in this email. That's not my personality at all, but these are serious questions I've been frightened to ask. Your sense of humor is one of many aspects I adore and appreciate about your blog.)


I'm glad you screwed your courage to the sticking place and asked.

I'm sorry this has held you back from querying because these questions are just ones of knowledge (how publishing works) not fear.

You can present yourself to the world with the name you choose and the image you choose. Obviously you don't want to choose "Madonna" and use a picture of The Material Girl, but I've gotten along just fine with a jpg of a shark and QOTKU.



If you want to query with a pseudonym, the time to start building a public presence under that name is NOW, rather than later. I know several writers who use pseudonyms for a variety of reasons. It's not a problem.

You don't owe the world, or your readers, your life. You owe them your best work. Readers in the YA community tend to want more personal relationships with authors, but that doesn't mean you have to oblige.  Your first obligation is to your sense of safety in the world. No one gets to take that from you for the price of a book.

I will encourage you to speak out as much as you can about how you dealt with trauma. For every person like you who can bring themselves to say the words, even if by asking this question, there are a dozen more out there who have never said a word, and will benefit from learning they are not alone.

Some years ago when I worked in book publicity, I escorted Truddi Chase to media appointments when she was on tour for When Rabbit Howls. I will never forget readers clustering around her, saying "I showed your book to my doctor and said 'This is me'. Until then I didn't know what was wrong with me. I didn't know anyone else felt like this."

It was a singular experience; I've never forgotten the looks on those readers faces and the intensity of their gratitude for Truddi Chase's bravery.

Do what you can and then one thing more. It is of those small steps that great journeys are created.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Overall contest results!

Note to self: next year, don't leave all the reading till after the contest closes all rounds!


Herewith today's and the overall outstanding entries




Today's round on guessing the theme.

Steve Forti is obviously the hands down winner (as of 11:30 am)
While some may point out the similarities to the 12 Days of Christmas, they are way off base.

"Bird" + "ring" = birdring, which is a clear reference to cockfighting. "Colly" is the nickname of Cauliflower, the arch rival in the cockfighting world to the Kale Fields team. They "sent" a challenge (in the form of fried chicken wings), and now all of Carkoon is atitter with anticipation of the match.

but more than a few of you got the "right" answer which was the Twelve Days of Christmas in all its many iterations. I looked it up on Wikipedia to find all the variations, and tried not to choose words that would give it away too soon (partridge, leaping, milking etc)

But really, I think Dena Pawling is the most accurate of entries here
Personally, I think the theme of the contest has remained unchanged from the beginning - How to Torment Writers. And especially because my original word list was NOT used - the, an, it, was, said.


Round 1 outstanding entries
Timothy Lowe

“Early birds!” Gregor scoffed.

Dominic’s was a sea of blue-hairs. So much for Christmas Eve dinner.

Marie sighed. “You never plan ahead.”

Surreptitiously, he pocketed the ring.

“You’re right.”


Steve Forti
Dec24: Yitzhak caught me escaping the robbery. Made up story
about following star to magic baby. The gold a gift? Y-yeahhh… (Is now.) He and
Hebir decided to follow. Ugh.
Cecilia Ortiz Luna

Smooth
Bird saxophoning Summertime
Smooth

That handsome boy with the jaw
Crooning about someone laughable, unphotographable
Smooth

I dance in their veins
And their notes soar
Smooth

Then
I smite

Dena Pawling
Blitzen kicks me. Hard. “Why'd you pick THAT paper?”

“It was on top!” I splutter.

But he's right. What can we give four calling birds?

@%^!# North-Pole gift exchange.



Round 2 outstanding entry
Dena Pawling
Blitzen kicks me. Hard. “Why'd you pick THAT paper?”

“It was on top!” I splutter.

But he's right. What can we give four calling birds?

@%^!# North-Pole gift exchange.

“I know! Let's give them five gold rings.” I'm brilliant, thank you very much.

Blitzen snorts. “(w)Ring their little necks is more like it.”




Round 3 outstanding entry
Miriam
I wipe his vomit. “Some Christmas,” he groans.

“Matthew 2:16,” I say. Slaughter them before they grow, standard protocol.
Lymphoma treatment’s brutal as Herod.


flashfriday
-Don’t colly my collie.
-You cozened my cousin!
-No; I’m the better bettor.
-Well, I’VE the cash cache.
-I’VE the vile vial.
-Buy--?
-Bye!



Round 4 outstanding entry
Janice Grinyer

The Cows keep screaming. Smoke hangs in the air. A charred bird ensnared by barbed wire soundlessly cries. Our mercy killing begins.

Wildfire does that.

Every week until snowfall they come. Both wild and tame, staring, damaged forever. Bang! Bang! Bang! Sick, I’m kneeling in blood.

Wildfire does that.

Ash devils spirit away soil, collying blue sky. Clean, repair, rebuild. My fingertip traces pine needles seared onto windows, their trees gone.

Wildfire does that.


“The land will recover,” they say. We know better.

Sentiments don’t apply to survivors.


Wildfire does that too.


James Leisenring

Bird: “Should we tell them about us?”
Bee: “We don't have the time.”
Bird: “We should try.”
Bee: “Okay, where do we start?”
Bird: *sighs* “So there was this flower.”

Bee: “Orchid. Bird stopped for a drink.”
Bird: “Bee had a few too many.”
Bee: “Still, Bird liked me. Month later, I gave a ring.”

Bird: “Got collywobbles meeting Bee’s family.”
Bee: “But soon wanted our own kids.”
Bird: “Couldn’t conceive though. Then we found Caterpillar.”
Caterpillar: “It’s Butterfly now.”

Bee: “Aw, don’t resent us Kitty Cat!”
Caterpillar: “Boyfriend! Help! My parents are embarrassing me!”
Ladybug: “That’s their job, honey.”


Overall special salutes
Laurie Batzel because her entry was used by another writer as a building block
Brian Schwarz because his entry was used by another writer as a building block

(I think these were the only ones; did I miss anyone?)


And all of you who took the time to write and enter, particularly those of you who did all four rounds AND survived the Great Comment Delay in round four.

I've already got some ideas to improve the torment in 2018.

If the writers with bolded names will drop me a line with their mailing address, I've got some prizes to send out. US addresses on this only, sorry.






Holiday flash fiction-round 4 results (but not overall)



Absolutely perfect punchline
Crystal Cantabrana 10:05am
"No bother at all. I just put the bird in the oven."
Mom was infamous for never answering her phone. Why today? I lamented inwardly.

"We're in deep...colly," Elisabeth said, looking at her daughter.
"I don't know how to tell you this," I confessed, "but we're all vegetarians now."

I listened. Mom was quiet.
"Do you resent us now?"
"Not as much as the turkey does."


Lisa Bodenheim 3:35pm
Her partner read from the paper, “…a major seabird breeding station.”

Jeanie’s heart thudded as the catamaran rolled over swells and approached jagged green ridges jutting from the North Atlantic.


Kelly glanced at her, “Did you bring them?”

Sure her face was white as a ghost, Jeanie patted the rucksack in her lap.


The zodiac dinghy bumped the pier.

“Don’t collymoddle!” she scolded Kelly.

Jeanie marched beyond the abandoned village’s grassy street, puffed uphill.
Time to be done.

Along Hirta’s giddying cliffs, gannets swirled.

Jeanie said, “Dum and Mad. Home you are,” and sent the ashes flying.


One of the few entries that didn't use building blocks, but the simple elegance really caught my eye.
Mike Wyant Jr 3:28pm
A damned, dirty business, hell. Not a soul consents to it, but they’re here. With me.

Time to punch in.



Here are the entries that really stood out for me.
  
Barbara 12:16pm
(Round 1)
Was a Christmas miracle, for sure. Hadn't et in eight days. Slinked to the neighbor's pear tree 'cross the way, but weren't a pear on it. Was a bird, though.

(Round 2)
Partridge. Wringed its neck and took it home. We et good that night. For the next 11 nights, I found something worthwhile in that tree.

(Round 3)
Colly birds, milking cows, a parade of pipers and leapers. Gold rings was the best, though. Pawned them for good money. Then come day 13.

(Round 4)
Everything vanished. WTF?!

Cops barged in, but weren't nothing to find. Got me all sentimental.

Yep. Christmas miracle for sure.


Each of the building blocks stands alone, but the power of this story increases dramatially when read in full.  This is outstanding work.


Janice Grinyer
The Cows keep screaming. Smoke hangs in the air. A charred bird ensnared by barbed wire soundlessly cries. Our mercy killing begins.

Wildfire does that.

Every week until snowfall they come. Both wild and tame, staring, damaged forever. Bang! Bang! Bang! Sick, I’m kneeling in blood.

Wildfire does that.

Ash devils spirit away soil, collying blue sky. Clean, repair, rebuild. My fingertip traces pine needles seared onto windows, their trees gone.

Wildfire does that.


“The land will recover,” they say. We know better.

Sentiments don’t apply to survivors.


Wildfire does that too.


This is an entry that haunted me as the contest progressed. It never made a final list; I think it was too subtle and I was reading pretty quickly. But the power of this images and the rhythm just took hold and didn't let go; both are perfect.  This is really great writing and a classic example of quiet, and powerful.





Colin Smith
    We tried warning him, but he kept peering into binoculars, scribbling his notes. He didn’t see it coming. Bludgeoned from behind. He thought we were serenading him with birdsong. Ornithologists!

    We tried warning him, but he called us poulets, fearing our own shadows. It was the shadow behind him he didn’t see. Whack! Fermier fou!

    We tried warning him, but we got the collywobbles. The aviary keeper didn’t hear our coos and purrs over the swish of the cudgel. Eeek!


    No-one warned her. Her husband’s present: three men hanging on two trees. Their sightless eyes the last Mrs. Partridge saw.


This just cracked me up. I love the shifted point of view.


James Leisenring 5:12pm
Bird: “Should we tell them about us?”
Bee: “We don't have the time.”
Bird: “We should try.”
Bee: “Okay, where do we start?”
Bird: *sighs* “So there was this flower.”

Bee: “Orchid. Bird stopped for a drink.”
Bird: “Bee had a few too many.”
Bee: “Still, Bird liked me. Month later, I gave a ring.”

Bird: “Got collywobbles meeting Bee’s family.”
Bee: “But soon wanted our own kids.”
Bird: “Couldn’t conceive though. Then we found Caterpillar.”
Caterpillar: “It’s Butterfly now.”

Bee: “Aw, don’t resent us Kitty Cat!”
Caterpillar: “Boyfriend! Help! My parents are embarrassing me!”
Ladybug: “That’s their job, honey.”

Each of the components were delightful. The story as a whole is even better. The last line is utter perfection. Outstanding, and hilarious!


Jeannette Leopold
The girl squatted by it on the sidewalk.

Mrs. Morrison, passing, noted, “Fifth this week. Stupid animals.”

But the girl touched its broken neck.

And knew who’d killed the bird.

---

Susannah twisted her wedding ring around her finger. Frank had said if Peter did this again… Through the window, her daughter’s red eyes met hers.

---

Dad’s Audubon obsession'd kept him from one too many chess matches. Peter placed the final dead bird on his pillow. His colly-covered heart sang.

---

The girl used drugs. Susannah used to smile. Frank used the letters Peter sent from jail to line his birdcage.


Honestly I've run out of things to say to laud this kind of brilliance. Each piece works. The entire piece is more than the sum of its parts. Brilliant.

Just Jan
“Barcardi has a bat, not a bird.”

I concede, as I’m so toasted my vision’s blurry. Doesn’t really matter, as long as there’s enough to get me to midnight.
*****
The ringing of a clock and the lusty cry of a newborn tell me it’s time to make my exit.

I won’t be going alone.
*****
Attacking colly birds? Listeria-laden fruit kebabs? Drunken driver? The method doesn’t matter. Misery loves company, and there’s nothing so miserable as an old, used-up year.
*****
Except for a baby with malevolent eyes. Call me sentimental. I slink away, unremembered, and weep for the world.


This is an interesting example of a piece where I didn't quite understand the component parts until I saw them all together.  I'll be interested to hear what Jan was getting at here.


Overall results go up at 1pm (Eastern Shark Time)

Final results--almost

I'm still working on the overall results.

While you're waiting, do you want to take a guess at the theme of the contest?

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Holiday Flash Fiction results-Round 3

Round 3 was a toughie! 


Loved this line from Terri Lynn Coop
Immortality means I’ll outlive every beloved.


Amy Schaefer 10:05am
What would it mean, to eat the bird? I glanced nervously
around my fiancĂ©’s family. Heads cocked, beady eyes watchful, like a flock of
birds themselves.

I took a bite.

***

She took a bite.

You’re so relieved, you nearly tip your wine glass. Food matters, here.

Mother nods.

You pull the ring from your pocket.

***

The girl sobbed in Corbin’s arms. Mother approved. People were happiest
following protocol, lying to themselves
about love.

Bird eaten, ring on. Time to feast.
Brilliant work here with the POV shifts.


Miriam 10:12am
I wipe his vomit. “Some Christmas,” he groans.

“Matthew 2:16,” I say. Slaughter them before they grow, standard protocol.
Lymphoma treatment’s brutal as Herod.
One helluva Christmas story. Sweet, tender, brutal.


Barbara 11:21am
(Round 1) Was a Christmas miracle, for sure. Hadn't et in
eight days. Slinked to the neighbor's pear tree 'cross the way, but weren't a
pear on it. Was a bird, though.

(Round 2) Partridge. Wringed its neck and took it home. We et good that night.
For the next 11 nights, I found something worthwhile in that tree.

(Round 3) Colly birds, milking cows, a parade of pipers and leapers. Gold rings
was the best, though. Pawned 'em for cold cash. Then come day 13.
I don't have words for how gorgeous this writing is.

flashfriday 2:53pm
-Don’t colly my collie.
-You cozened my cousin!
-No; I’m the better bettor.
-Well, I’VE the cash cache.
-I’VE the vile vial.
-Buy--?
-Bye!
I'm a total sucker for homonym jokes, and this is just so wonderfully full of great ones. Lovely lovely work.

Lennon Faris 5:30pm
[Round 1 - Laurie Batzel]

It had to be her.
This had my sister’s fingerprints all over it.
only Christina could flip you the bird and blow you a kiss all in the same
gesture.

*****
[Round 2 – Brian Schwarz]
It wasn’t underwear we found in my bedroom. It was her knife, because
Christina cooked his dinner.
Her catering skills were famous.
my poor husband

*****
They searched the garage.
Didn’t notice bottles of ethylene glycol. Lying’s not my m.o., but
it was Christmas.
her chocolate pie totally wowed
those cops.
I believe this is the first entry that used work by other commenters, and I love it.


John Davis Frain 6:01pm
Wideload Johnson stumbled. Ogled the idling pickup. Shimmied
inside.

Perfect fit.

Next surprise—it was a convertible and defied physics.

He leaned out his window. Birds-eye view of a rooftop.

* * * * *

The sleigh stopped. A glimmering, unfamiliar house.

He knocked.

A girl answered. “Uncle Teddy?”

Wideload shook. “Ain’t nobody call me that name in twenty years.”

* * * * *

He wiped his forehead, colly clinging to his cuff.

An older woman appeared.

“Ted! How’d you—?”

He pointed toward the pickup. It was gone.


A Christmas magic story, so lovely it touches even the cold cruel heart of a Grinchy Shark like me! 


Round four results, and over all results on Monday, usual time!  ummm, probably closer to noon!

Flash fiction contest results Round 2

 
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It was interesting to see what you did with building blocks. I noticed that a lot of the entries that stood out in Round 1 didn't make it to the finalist list in Round 2.  I'm not sure why that is, but it was certainly noticeable.

Here are the entries that stood out in Round 2.



Dena Pawling 9:01am
Blitzen kicks me. Hard. “Why'd you pick THAT paper?”

“It was on top!” I splutter.

But he's right. What can we give four calling birds?

@%^!# North-Pole gift exchange.

“I know! Let's give them five gold rings.” I'm brilliant, thank you very much.

Blitzen snorts. “Ring their little necks is more like it.”
This just cracks me up.


Les Edgerton 9:21am
One day I found a volume of poetry by Robert Frost in the prison library at Pendleton and checked it out.
Back in my cell, I read: Home is the place where, when you want to go there, they have to take you in.
When I made parole, I gave my mom a ring to tell her my good news. I found out that my dad had never read Robert Frost.
At least not that poem.

I'm a sucker for what I think of as spiderweb stories: what's important is what isn't said (as in the space between the filaments of the web.)  This is a great example of that. My only quibble is with the last line. I'd have revised that out. 



Amy Schaefer 11:03am
What would it mean, to eat the bird? I glanced nervously around my fiancĂ©’s family. Heads cocked, beady eyes watchful, like a flock of birds themselves.

I took a bite.
***
She took a bite.

You’re so relieved, you nearly tip your wine glass. Food matters, here.

Mother nods.

You pull the ring from your pocket.

I love changes in POV within a story. This one is done with great dexterity.


CarolynnWith2Ns 11:57am
Dazed in the ring, hate cleared my head. I can legally kill my ex’s live-in. Hard right. Neck snapped. Won a championship belt for murder.

I'm just in awe of the depth evoked in so few words.

Beth Carpenter 2:46pm
Swans? Now? With a foot of ice on the lakes? Way too many birds in this stupid song. Wait – got it. Seven Swanson dinners swimming in gravy. Next…

Grumman Goose – the quintessential sea plane. National Guard has six of the belly-landers lying, not laying, in the snow. Close enough. Which brings us to…

 It's the "lying, not laying" that just cracked me up here. I'm not a big fan of the hanging sentences at the end though.



More to come!

Holiday Flash Fiction results- Round 1

I am just amazed at what you guyz did with 30 words. There were some really outstanding entries on this first round, and I was delighted to see some new names in addition to the known suspects of previous contests!

These are the entries that stood out for me:

James Leisenring 8:42am
Bird: “Should we tell them about us?”
Bee: “We don't have the time.”
Bird: “We should try.”
Bee: “Okay, where do we start?”
Bird: *sighs* “So there was this flower.”

Barbara 9:08am
Was a Christmas Miracle, for sure. Hadn't et in eight days.
Slinked to the neighbor's pear tree 'cross the way, but weren't a pear on it.
Was a bird, though.


Colin Smith 10:40am
We tried warning him, but he kept peering into binoculars,
scribbling his notes. He didn’t see it coming. Bludgeoned from behind. He
thought we were serenading him with birdsong. Ornithologists!

Jeffrey Schaefer 11:28am
“Lenny, whatcha’ looking at?”

“I’m not looking. Bird-dogging.”

“Huh?”

“See that telecommunications van?”

“Yeah, so? They’re just cleaning up from the storm.”

“No. They’re…”

Snap.

“Shit Lenny, hadda’ poke around.”






Beth Carpenter 12:53pm
Swans? Now? With a foot of ice on the lakes? Way too many
birds in this stupid song. Wait – got it. Seven Swanson dinners swimming in
gravy. Next…


Dena Pawling 1:24pm
Blitzen kicks me. Hard. “Why'd you pick THAT paper?”

“It was on top!” I splutter.

But he's right. What can we give four calling birds?

@%^!# North-Pole gift exchange.

Gabriella 7:33am
How can your uncle Vito want his firebird back? He’s been
dead twenty years.

What do you mean ‘presumed’?


Cecilia Ortiz Luna 11:39am
Smooth
Bird saxophoning Summertime
Smooth

That handsome boy with the jaw
Crooning about someone laughable, unphotographable
Smooth

I dance in their veins
And their notes soar
Smooth

Then
I smite


Steve Forti 9:41am
Dec24: Yitzhak caught me escaping the robbery. Made up story
about following star to magic baby. The gold a gift? Y-yeahhh… (Is now.) He and
Hebir decided to follow. Ugh.


Timothy Lowe 9:30am
“Early birds!” Gregor scoffed.

Dominic’s was a sea of blue-hairs. So much for Christmas Eve dinner.

Marie sighed. “You never plan ahead.”

Surreptitiously, he pocketed the ring.

“You’re right.”


Results for the rounds, and then results for the whole contest will be posted later.
I'm working on results for rounds 2-4 and as usual, you're being very difficult with all this display of talent.

More to come!

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Querying while suffering from depression

I've been wanting to ask this question for a while, but today's ("should I mention my impending demise") blog post gave me the courage. I want to preface this by saying if it makes you too uncomfortable, you don't have to put it on your blog or answer at all. I know this isn't the happiest of subjects, and I never want to hurt you or anyone else by bringing this up.

I suffer from severe depression. Lots of listlessness, oversleeping/eating, self-loathing, that sort of thing. Definitely not fun, do not recommend. I've had depression for seven years, but recently it's been getting worse. Sometimes, I go through these things I call "spirals," which are periods of time when I feel much worse than my normal not-doing-so-hot. I'm managing it the best I can with what I have, but it gets tough sometimes.

This brings me to my question. In December, I was at the beginnings of a spiral, and I got a partial request for a book I'd assumed was going nowhere. Which sounds great! But the thought of submitting my work and getting rejected again just about destroyed me. In my agitated state, I kept thinking about the inevitable "thanks but no thanks" and it made me feel worthless. And I know, your writing is not you, but it sure does *feel* like it. Writing is the only thing I kind of like about myself, so when I get full/partial rejections, it hurts a lot more than it should. When I'm feeling normal, full/partial rejections just ruin my day. In a spiral, I'm praying a rouge meteor will fall from the sky and smite me.(**)

So what should I do? I love writing. It's the only thing keeping me somewhat sane in this miserable existence, and I would love to share my work with the world (and get paid for it, of course). And participating in query challenges or sprints with my writing group helps motivate me to keep going. But the nature of publishing is so difficult for me. I can send a full/partial when I'm feeling okay, like today, but a response can come months later, when I might be in a spiral. It's like a book version of Russian roulette; I never know when a rejection will come, so I can't prepare myself for it. I never sent that partial request. Should I forget it, even though I'm squandering an opportunity? Should I pull my one remaining full too, so I don't risk being in a spiral for that rejection? And what does that mean for future books? I can't bear the thought of never querying again and giving up on my dream of seeing my book in bookstores. I may not always feel this terrible. My depression has gotten worse because of recent stressors, so theoretically, when those go away I'll feel closer to my normal more often. But I'm also concerned. When mere partial requests--not even rejections yet-- have me eyeing the kitchen knives, I know I have to do something different.

Again, you don't have to answer if this makes you uncomfortable! I know it's a hard thing to talk about, and I've had years of practice. Also, I want to make it clear I'm in no immediate danger. I'm feeling pretty okay right now, and I have no intention of harming myself. No need for any suicide hotline links or anything (trust me, I have them all). I'm just trying to find a solution for now, and hopefully one day I won't have to worry about querying sending me into an abyss of despair. My goal is to get to normal amounts of woodland creature despair :) Thank you so much for your time, as always, and I really appreciate your blog and the community surrounding it.


Usually I redact the personal parts of a question, but I left them in here because I think it's important to have the complete picture.

I'm glad you're doing ok and not considering harming yourself. I'm glad you realize that's something to be concerned about. Please know that this world would be a poorer place for your absence. It's clear you're a good writer. The world needs all of those it can hang on to. Therefore, (**) no meteors for you my preciousssss.

Second, there is no one true answer here. I wish there was because then I would bottle it and give it away for free to everyone who needs it.

And everyone who needs it includes aLOT of creative types. Writers. Octo-spiders. Woodland creatures of all sorts. In other words, you're not alone.


But returning to reality, let's talk about what to do when you're querying with an unquiet mind.

The first thing to do is give yourself permission to handle this in the way that allows you to best function. Fuck the rules. Fuck the guidelines. Fuck anyone who makes you feel diminished or less, in any way, for taking care of yourself.

If getting rejections isn't a good thing for you, add a step to the process. A separate email address and someone else to monitor it sounds like a good idea to me, but really anything you set up that works for you is just fine.

It takes thick skin to put your creative work into the marketplace, and sometimes you just don't have skin that thick. That's not a character flaw or a personal failing.  It's just a fact. Figure out a work around.

If you're a member of a writing community, someone there could be your stand in; sending out partials, receiving emails, keeping a data base you can look at on your timeline.


I respect your willingness to talk about your illness here, but I don't want you to feel obliged to offer it up if you don't want to. This is your personal business, and you need only share information with agents that will help us do our jobs better. For instance, if you have a stand in, tell me. Or mentioning that email replies can be delayed. Or setting up a system to alert you to the fact I have news, but not sharing it till you call back, ready to hear it.  In other words: what works for YOU.

Mental illness is illness and people telling you to buck up or get over yourself should be removed from your contacts data base as well as shunned by polite society.  It is a MANAGEABLE illness and what you do to manage it (other than binge drinking and/or developing a heroin habit!) is your choice. Choose the path that keeps you healthy. Nothing else matters.

I hope you will continue to be part of the community that has grown up around this blog. There are many wonderful caring people out there and you're one of them. There are also people who are managing mental illness like you are, who didn't write in and are benefiting from your bravery here.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Should I mention my impending demise in a query?

Recently someone asked me if I thought they should query their novel even though they know they're dying. Honestly, I didn’t know how to answer them. I couldn’t.

I wanted to say, “You’re not dead yet, you ninny! Go for it!" After all, writing is what they love and they, like so many of us woodland creatures, dream of receiving that offer of rep and being traditionally published. Plus, they have no interest in self-publishing.

But…

A rotten, practical side of me reared its ugly head and reminded me that publishing moves at a glacial pace and this person has been given a short, cruel timeline. And while IMHO people do not have and should not be given expiration dates, their question has forced me to wonder whether an agent would take on someone they knew wasn’t long for this world? Is dying something that should to be brought up in a query letter?


First, let's make sure  everyone reading this understands the asker isn't the person dying.


If the person who asked this wants to query, and feels like querying will make what could be their last months or years here happier and more fulfilled then absolutely go for it.

But leave it out of the query. Of course it would give us mercantile minded agents pause. That's why you leave it out of the query.

What's important is that this writer, facing down what sounds like a very difficult diagnosis,  do things that give them purpose and fulfillment.


I still mourn the loss of a writer named James Farmer. He had a terrific concept for a novel and we wrote back and forth over a couple of years working and revising his book. The last time I spoke to him he was in the cardiac ward for some surgery. The next email from his account was from his brother letting me know James had passed away.

His brother of course was keen to find out if there was anything to be done with the manuscript, and sadly there wasn't.  Unlike brand name authors who pass on to the book store in the sky, publishing a writer who is a debut and dead is pretty much impossible.

I'm glad I didn't know James was going to die. I'm glad he had the opportunity to talk about his work, and work toward the goal, even if unrealized, of publication. I would not change a thing we did, other than work a LOT faster.

None of us are promised tomorrow.
Do what  brings you joy.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

How long does my previous agent have her claws into me?


If you get a deal on a book that your former agent submitted to a publisher and have to contact the former agent to negotiate a commission, how much should you offer to pay? What would be a fair amount?

I think it’s fair enough to pay the former agent in most cases (as they did earn a commission by submitting it or editing it), but what if the agent was incompetent and you later find out from an editor that they never submitted the original manuscript? Do you have to pay the commission then?

I recently just got word from two editors that they never received a manuscript my agent pitched to them and claimed she submitted to them a year ago! They asked me to resubmit. If they buy the book, it looks like I still have to pay my former agent. It doesn’t seem right.

First, your contract with Previous Agent should address how long she has claim to any commission. Generally six months is the outside limit. I've waived this window for some clients on their way out the door (generally those who parted on amicable terms) but I've also held that line on projects I invested time and energy in.

If your contract does NOT include a time period, state law governs. Contract law is state law and thus varies depending on where you live, and what state's laws the contract is considered to be under.  That's in your contract too.

You'll need a lawyer's advice on that point.

But, you can negotiate with her as well. Drop her a line; say you'd like to formalize the time period in which she's entitled to collect, and how much.  I know that sounds scary but it's really better to get things worked out ahead of time.

The other thing is here, if you just pay her and think "bite the bullet, it's done now" and you earn royalties you've established that she's entitled to collect a chunk of those too. And from translation, or film, or what ever other deals flow from this print deal.

In other words, don't just let this slide. Get it worked out NOW before the money is on the table.

I'd also print out those emails from editors and keep those in your back pocket. I wouldn't mention them to start off in any kind of negotiation, but you have that ammo if you need it, or if it comes down to lawsuits or arbitration.

For future reference, when you're reviewing an author/agency agreement, make sure a time period to collect commission on previous submissions is specified. Six months is the longest amount of time you should agree to, for both foreign and domestic.


Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Should I try to win a book I'd buy anyway?

A Facebook friend has a book coming out next month, and I'm definitely going to buy it because it's just my kind of book.

The author's been publicizing a bunch of giveaways, and I feel weird about trying to get a book for free that I am otherwise dying to pay for as, like, a badge of honor. I know there's nothing stopping me (other than weird Midwestern morality) from doing both, but now I'm dying to know: would you rather have modest pre-order sales or tons of activity on giveaways?

I feel like "pre-orders, dummy" is the obvious answer, but sometimes my logic is busted. Help!


Your logic is in fine fettle.

Getting people to part with their hard-earned cash is the ultimate test for a book. If you were planning to buy the book, buy it.

There's nothing morally wrong with entering a giveaway but I'm with your Midwestern morality (and I'm at peace with being weird!) in that I believe giveaways are to entice new readers, and clearly you're already committed.

This is one of the problems I have with giveaways in general: they are a shotgun approach to finding new readers.

I'd rather reward a dedicated fan, or encourage a new reader likely to love the book (ie I'd love to promote Jeff Somers new book on writing to people who bought Stephen King's On Writing) which is what makes Amazon's algorithm "people who bought this also bought" so enticing.

When I'm offered a free copies of a book I always ask the writer to give it to someone else if I plan to buy the book anyway. Even when I get an early review copy of something like Nick Petrie's newest book, I like to buy a copy for myself and use the promo copy as a blog prize. (Several of you are pretty happy with that choice!)

Buying books is the best way to support the writing community. Talking about the books you love is good too but shelling out actual money is top of the list.




PS I'm working on the contest results and hope to have them later this week!



Tuesday, January 02, 2018

holy moly did I forget to turn on the comments for the last round?

There aren't any entries.
I could have sworn I turned them on.
They're on now, with revised hours.

Just smack me around with a kale salad, I feel really REALLY stupid.