Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Can you curse in a query letter?

In a recent discussion in a writers' Facebook group, it was generally agreed that curse words shouldn't be used in the query, since the query is a professional letter, similar to a cover letter for a job. You would never use curse words in a cover letter. However, you would never write about time travel, or faeries, or love, or adventure in a cover letter either (unless maybe you were a physicist, or a safari guide, or…well, you know what I mean). I’m not suggesting that a writer drop F-bombs all over their query, but I’m wondering if there are any instances where a curse word might be acceptable.

I’m thinking of cases where a curse word might help to show a character’s voice. For example, my character’s goal is to escape her rundown neighborhood and life of poverty. I’ve tried “decaying neighborhood,” I’ve tried “rundown neighborhood,” but the truth is, if you asked my character, she’d call it “shitty.”

Thank you for your time and consideration 

Like all similes, "a query is like a business letter" has some limitations. The question you pose is one of them.

When I say a query letter is a business letter, the implication is you don't use the salutation"Hi there honey!" or close with "Love" or write in crayon or colored gel pens (creatively discombobulating, but there you have it.)

I also mean to convey you don't write in the third person, and you don't tell me personal things like "I've been writing since before I was born" and "my children hate me and want me out of their house, so I need to sell this book to make rent on a new place"

As for the specific language you use: a query should reflect your voice and your style without being over the top on either.  I swear a LOT but I generally don't drop the f-bomb in pitch letters. I'm VERY judicious about other kinds of words as well, because I want the reader to hear what I'm saying not be slapped upside the head by the word choices.

Is shitty the best word? Only you can decide.  I can think of colorful language that isn't blue: ramshackle, rat corners, dogpatch, a place that aspires to be just rundown.

There are lots of ways to say shitty without actually invoking the fecal matter.

Can you use it? Sure.
Do you think it's the exact right word? That's your call.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Nudging timeline



What is the appropriate timing and wording to use when following up with an agent or editor? I know a little more about the former, from what I’ve seen online, but I haven’t been able to find out much about following up directly with editors/publishers, if you’re currently not represented. How long do you give an editor/agent if they don’t specify a timeframe. Is it 3 months? More or less? And what do you say without sounding pushy or desperate? Would be curious to know if they’re similar!


A lot of agent websites will tell you their timeline.
Mine is 30 days on queries, 90 days on full.
I miss that deadline a LOT.

I have reconciled myself to nudging emails from writers even though I hate to get them cause it means I've made a writer anxious, without actually being there to enjoy it. Wasted torture.

In fact, in my email acknowledging receipt of a requested full, I specifically tell them it's ok to nudge or check in as their nerves require. Waiting sucks.

That said, not all agents are as awesome as I am, and they might not tell you their timeline, or they might tweet something rude like "don't nudge me you writerly types, I'll get to you when I get to you."

Now, that kind of stance tells you something about the agent of course, but it's also not some sort of legal restriction.

My view is you nudge after a businesslike 30 days on queries, and 90-120 days on fulls.

Now, what to say.
Well, "get off your asterisk and read, you slaggard" is of course what I prefer to see, but again, not all agents are as awesome as I am.

I recently received a GREAT nudge email from a writer.


I hope January is treating you well. I've managed to keep half of my resolution (Muay Thai) but have yet to kick in the dietary side, which I've postponed in the name of family stress (I'm back up to Maine again in the morning to help out-maddening things, families). I rationalize that my ability to rationalize the delay in diet is a sign of free will, ahem. I managed to close out 2017 with a fit of writing and finish a draft of a novel and have half of another written, so that side of life is productive.

Oh, another plus - I'll admit I sank into a cynical funk prior to the recent Women's March (I attended last year's march in DC) and was blown away by the tremendous turn out in cities across the country this year. It was deeply satisfying to feel cynicism collapse in the face of such a massive display.

I'm looking forward to your thoughts on (REQUESTED FULL TITLE) when it claws its way to the top of the TBR pile. Oh - if you haven't read Victor LaValle's The Changeling yet, grab a copy. It's spectacular and my favorite read of 2017.

Here's what made it great: it was interesting, illuminating AND also about something other than his novel. He didn't ask me if I'd read it yet. He didn't remind me how long I'd had the ms (120 days).

And he mentioned a writer I admire a lot: Victor LaValle.

In other words, this wasn't so much a nudge as a friendly note, and of course, I responded with alacrity, both about Victor LaValle and about the requested full.

The entire email exchange did a very important thing: it showed me this author is professional, interesting and subtle. All of those are very good things.

So, I'm not going to give you specific wording here, but more of a guideline: be pleasant, be interesting, be about more than the nudge.  Easy peasy, right?

That's for agents.

Double everything for editors. As an unagented writer, you're generally in the lowest priority strata, and editors have incoming submissions that would make you weep.

Monday, January 29, 2018

My #ownvoices is the voice of mental illness

Many agents require some information about the author in a query. I have no publications so I assume I should include a little about my day job, but I am torn on including more sensitive information.
I am about to start querying a book with a LGBTQ focus, and thus I am focusing on agents who want diverse books. Many of these agents also say they want diverse authors. I am a very private person, but I am willing to disclose that I am bisexual if it will help.
However, I am also bipolar with an anxiety disorder, and I am concerned that this could be an issue either at the querying stage, if I mention it, or later if I were offered representation.
It's easy for agents to say they want authors with under-represented voices of all kinds, but I feel like mental health is an issue most people don't even want to touch.
Will agents automatically write me off as a crazy person that will be too difficult to deal with?
Should I conceal this information? Or should I be upfront about it? And if so, when?


We talked about what and how to to disclose this kind of information generally back in 2016, but it's a good time to talk about specifics in a query.

You are not obliged legally, ethically or by "best practices" to disclose any information about yourself that you don't want to. You can't lie but you don't have to strip down even metaphorically.

Mental illness comes with a whole host of negative stereotypes, incorrect assumptions, and fear. It's a tough illness to have because people can be ignorant and cruel before they learn to be sympathetic.


I think you're right to be cognizant of the stigma that comes with a mental illness.
I think you're right to be careful how you disclose.
I know you're right to understand some agents will shy away from your work solely because of this.

If you want to disclose you're going to need more than a line in a query. You might consider putting something on your website about what your diagnosis is, and how you manage it in your daily and creative life.

In your query you might say "I am one of the six million Americans who have a mental illness diagnosis. I have specific information about it on my website" and include a link.

If you want to keep this information to yourself at the query stage, that's totally ok.
If you want to hint with #OwnVoices in the description of your book, that's ok.

If you want to tell me when we begin discussion representation, that's ok.

If you never want to tell me, that's ok too.

If you think your diagnosis may have an impact on your professional life, tell me what you can and cannot do. The WHY you can or can not isn't relevant. If you can tell me the WHY it will help a lot if you can tell me BEFORE it creates a problem for you (I know, that crystal ball doesn't work as well as the reviews on Amazon led you to think.)

You do not owe me the details of your life.
You owe me great writing and professional deportment.






Sunday, January 28, 2018

Happy Sunday!






I no longer remember when  this was taken.  It must have been sometime when Laird Barron was doing something amazing (which doesn't narrow it down at all.)

My best guess on where is the Old Town Bar here in NYC. 

The desperadoes are (left to right) Brooks Sherman, agent to the stars; Jeff Somers writer provocateur; Sean Ferrell, writer extraordinaire.

My role in this group: audience. All I do is laugh so hard I have to be careful not to blow whisky out the schnoz.

One of the great percs of this job is hanging out with these guys.

What's one of the percs of your job?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

So, why is this such a bad thing?

So, I saw this tweet today and I read all the replies, and I still don't know why this is such a bad idea. It's money for writing, right? It's a pub cred right? So what if they're shotgunning emails to people, it's not like they're asking me for money, right?

Well, sure, they're not asking you for cash up front, but they ARE asking you for something of value and proposing they not pay for it.

Let's unpack this offer: you send them a pitch for a book. IF they like it and want you to write it, they'll pay you $1350 for all rights. No royalties. No indication of any kind of further participation at all.

If this book sells 1 copy you get $1350.
If this book sells 100,000 copies, you still get $1350.

If the book gets any kind of interest from foreign or audio publishers, you see none of that money.
If the book is optioned for tv or film, you see none of the money.

Their business plan is that you do not share in any success your work might have.


A publisher who wants to develop projects for a new series knows the better way to do it: contact all the agents they work with to see if anyone has a writer interested in this sort of thing. When an agent is involved, we know to ask for things like royalties, and duration of license, and how to protect the intellectual property of writers, EVEN IN WORK FOR HIRE contracts.

By contacting writers from a list (and not contacting agents), they're hoping to find the writers who don't know this is exploitative, and who don't know that not getting royalties is a terrible deal for a writer, and who don't know how to protect themselves.

In other words, they are hoping to make money from your lack of knowledge. I've said it before, I'll say it again: this is morally bankrupt way to conduct business and this company should be ashamed of itself.



Bottom line: Work with people who respect what you create.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Did your comment disappear?

I read the comment column on the blog posts.

Generally I don't zap comments that offer up differing opinions from my own UNLESS the writer is making statements that simply aren't correct, and would lead a reader down the wrong path. An example of that kind of statement would be "when publishers buy first publication rights, you can't sell them to anyone else."

That statement is wrong because publishers don't buy anything, they license rights (but that's a quibble, and not likely to get you zapped) but also wrong because there's no such thing as "first publication rights" in a book contract. Those might exist in a contract from a online site wanting to publish a short story, but it indicates the people writing the contract don't know what they're doing.

I do zap comments that seem to be geared toward stirring the pot rather than furthering discussion. Fortunately, those comments are few and far between as most of the blog readers here value the community (as I do) and the ability to discuss things without everyone going crazy.

I do zap comments with links to contests or other opportunities if they are things I would not recommend. I'm very careful about what appears on this blog because casual readers don't remember if someone other than me posted it. They think "I saw that on her blog; it must be ok."

If you have any questions about what's ok to link to, drop me an email. I'm always glad to take a look. I value the chance to see and hear about things I don't know about, but I just want to make sure they are things we DO want to see!

I do try to let you know if your comment has been zapped. Those of you who do not have contact info on your website, or linked to your posting name---well, I try but don't always succeed.



Any questions?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

But, maybe not.

On last week's blog post "but she liked me" one commenter said

I have had several full requests from agents. They all connected strongly with my premise. They all complimented my voice and writing. They all passed.

At this point, I have to conclude (because agents are not much for specifics) that there's something off with my execution. Therefore, I'm back to reworking.

I know the queries and concepts were good because I had so many requests. I know I can write because I've had books published before.

Execution.
Maybe not. When you query me for a novel and mention you've been previously published the very first thing I do is look up the publisher, publication year, and sales stats.
No matter how well you write, it's tough to revitalize a career after a long fallow period, or if you've got books that haven't sold well.

Yes, it can be done. Yes, I've done it.
BUT it's difficult and time consuming, and most important: a whole lot harder than selling a debut writer.

It helps if you've got a new book that is flat out amazing.
It helps if you're writing in a new category.
It will probably help if you're willing to write under a new name.

But, when I'm reading your query and looking up your sales, most often my thought is "am I up for this?" and a lot of times the answer is "no, I'm not."

Thankfully, there are other agents out there to query, some of whom might be younger and hungrier than I am. Or who have a brilliant idea about how to resuscitate your career. Or who love your work so much they just HAVE to sign you up.

This is yet another reason you query widely, that you don't have a dream agent such that anyone else feels like settling, and you understand that if you've got a track record,  it isn't always about the writing.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ursula Le Guin

I am deeply saddened to hear that Ursula Le Guin has died.
She was both a terrific writer, and a lovely, gracious woman who was kind to a lot of people, including me, long after she had any reason to be so generous with her time.

Mrs. Le Guin wrote glorious books, poem, essays and stories that changed the SFF genre and the canon itself; she will be remembered as a pioneer, and a feminist writer. She earned those accolades the hard way: word by word.

But my favorite of her books is one that many of you won't know.  It's Blue Moon Over Thurman Street. I'm not sure if it's even in print any more.  It's about a street in Portland, the town she lived in for most of her life. I lived there too, which is how I came to know her.

The world is a darker, dimmer place today and I am going to hide under my duvet and escape for a while.



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Horror and thriller

Please, please, please tell me I am not cracking up.
Please, please, for the love of all that is scary, tell me that YES, there IS a difference between the genres of HORROR and THRILLER!

I know that they are not the same.
Other writers and authors who write in the genres know they are not the same.

But why, oh Mary Shelley, why do some agents not?!?

I can't tell you how many rejection letters I have received over the past two months that say "sorry I don't represent that genre" when (*clears throat*) YES YOU DO, IT'S ON YOUR AGENT PAGE, I DID MY RESEARCH!! Agents list HORROR and THRILLER on their info page, but when they are sent an actual true for real horror novel they reject it with the "I don't represent..." form letter.

Now, perhaps a good indicator that some agents have no clue what they are talking about is when they dare put a diagonal slash in between the two genres like such - HORROR/THRILLER. They are NOT the same and that little line seems to say that they are darn near interchangeable. They aren't.

HORROR = a genre of fiction which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten, scare, disgust or startle its readers by inducing feeling of horror or terror. Horror writing may include elements of the fantastical and supernatural, (i.e. swamp monsters, werewolves, brain-eating aliens, blood-thirsty agents and the like).

THRILLER = a broad genre of fiction designed to elicit feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation and anxiety. Thrillers do NOT include any fantasy/supernatural elements and have a villain-driven plot, whereby he or she presents obstacles that the protagonist must overcome. Thrillers are also set in the real world and utilize such literary devices as red herrings, plot twists and cliffhangers.

While some might argue that both genres share some similarities (albeit SLIGHT), they are not the same.

Am I possessed? Am I crazy? Am I wrong? Horror and Thriller, they are different. Right??

Unfortunately, until there is a clear consensus on the matter, it seems that my MS's will continue to get rejected because my blood-thirsty agents from the underworld of Rejectomondus should instead be a drunk riding a train, looking out of the window at her old house, seemingly glimpsing a crime going down in order to get a request.

I would love to hear what you think on the matter.


I think you're going nuts, but not for the reason you think you are. When an agent says I don't rep Horror/Thriller, they're not conflating the two. They're telling you they don't represent either one.

Much like I might say "I don't represent romance/women's fiction" and hope you won't jump to the conclusion I think they are one and the same.




As to why any agent's page says they represent a category and authors get a form letter saying they don't, well, we should all update our pages more often, or pay more attention to which form letter we're sending.




I also think your definition of thriller is a bit narrow and as proof, let me just offer up one of the best thriller writers I know.





To the larger question however: your cris de couer is EXACTLY why I advise writers to not mention the category of the book NO MATTER WHAT THE GUIDELINES SAY until the closing paragraph of the query.


The reason I advise this is to tell an agent about the story first, before you give them a reason to hit the pass key.


I generally do not take on horror novels. I represent Laird Barron and he's all the cosmic dread I can handle.


When a query letter arrives and the first thing the author tells me is "this is a horror novel" I generally stop reading.


If the story intrigues me, and I haven't gotten to the bad news yet, I might read pages even if I don't think the book is for me, because you guys get the category wrong  A LOT.

So, here's what you need to remember: even though I KNOW you get the category wrong a lot, I still stop reading. I don't pause to think "oh maybe this isn't really horror, it's a thriller." I just move on to the next query.





Monday, January 22, 2018

Comps vs influences

After the blog post on influences, this comment was made:

Great question OP. Does this ("my seminal influence turns out to be a douchecanoe") apply to comps too? I read a tweet by an agent claiming they will not look at anything comped to Ender's Game, since (according to the article listed in the tweet, anyway) Orson Scott Card is an avowed homophobe.

Are we torturing ourselves? Sure. But we're also trying to be sensitive.

And, by the way, does this apply to pitches made to editors? Aren't they looking for comps and influences? I was under the impression that that was an important piece of the pitch.

Any information anyone can provide on this will be very helpful to me - all this stuff is swimming in my head and I'm trying to quickly make sense of it.

The purpose of comparing your book to another is to give the editor or agent (or reader) a sense of where your book belongs on the shelf.

You can be influenced by books that are completely unlike your book in tone, style, plot and category.  An example of this is that I often say one of the best books I read about writing is in fact a book about music.

That book is an influence but unless you're writing essays about music, it's NOT a comp.

If you are writing a crime novel about a man who encounters people doing bad things to folks for money, well, you might use Lee Child as a comp even if you've never read a Jack Reacher novel, let alone been influenced by one.

Influences are more about how you got to be the writer you are today.
Comps are where a book store is going to shelve the book you wrote.

As to agents saying "don't comp to Orson Scott Card" they're telling you something about their political beliefs.

A savvy writer would NEVER use Ender's Game as a comp. It's old, and it's an outlier. It's the same reason you don't comp to Stephen King, JK Rowling, and Dan Brown.  Your comp books should be recent (within two years) and by writers who haven't published one gazillion books.  In other words, fight in your weight class, don't assume you're a heavyweight quite yet.

As to your question: comps are relevant, influences are not. And both are secondary to the story of the book you're writing. That's all I care about. And it's all readers care about.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Friday, January 19, 2018

One of my seminal influences turns out to be a real douchecanoe

I was wondering what you think when a potential client likes an author who you dislike. I'd heard the author of one of my favorite series was kind of a jerk, and after avoiding it for a while, I finally looked further into it.

Oh boy. It's bad. Real bad. In an interview they essentially insulted their entire genre, authors and fans alike. Many years later, they tried to correct themselves, but still came off as extremely arrogant. Other research also indicated the author is hard to work with. There's another issue: the writing isn't great. Especially with books later in the series. There are these huge, pages long monologues about philosophy that get in the way of the story.

While I recognize all of this, the series was still a major influence on me. So I'm wondering if you like someone's manuscript, and then they say Author Terrible was one of their biggest influences, would that be a red flag? I know it's hard for us to know an author is a jerk when we pick up a book. But even still, I could see how it might make an agent pause and go "Uh oh, if they are anything like Mr. Terrible, we are going to have some issues."



I love the fresh and new ways you devise to torture yourself!
Honestly, I hope you query me one day cause you've really got a gift for inventing things.

For starters, stop worrying. If you list Attila the Hun as one of your seminal influences I don't care one way or another. I have a few blackguards in my reading past as well (Robert Heinlein anyone? Mickey Spillane?)

If you can't stop worrying, just don't mention this in the query. Truthfully I don't care who your influences are. I care about what you wrote.

All of us develop more sophisticated reading tastes as we go through life (I hope). It can give rise to those lovely self-tortures of watching a movie or reading a book you loved as a kid/teen and thinking "Holy Helvetica, what was I thinking?"

Well, you were thinking like a kid/teen, and hopefully now you are not.

I won't judge you by the costume you chose for your fifth grade school photo, if you won't judge my hairdo for any or all of my four years of high school.

You are not what you read. You are what you write.

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

 
-->
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.