Friday, June 24, 2022

examples of good writer websites from Reef dwellers

 Some of you asked for examples of good writer websites.

Our own Nicola Liu has a good one here

Nice horse picture for a good start.

Link to Twitter works.

I love the flash fiction! FF is a great way to show your writing chops without requiring 15 minutes of eyeball time from me.

And there's a mailing list sign up!

Nice job!


Madeline Mora-Summonte uses her blog as a website.

This works well.

It's current (VERY good)

The tab with Select Credits is terrific. Once you've got more than two or three pub credits this is an ideal way to let an agent know. You don't want a big block of text in a query that lists all this. For one thing it would be hard to read. And second, you don't want that many live links in a query (you actually don't want any.)


But what I look for here is engagement, and yup, there are 20 comments on the blog posts. That tells me there's an engaged audience.

Did I miss the place you get those engaged people to sign up for a mailing list?



Lisa Bodenheim tells us she has a page, but is there a link in her Twitter profile?

NO there is not.

(Lisa is waitlisted for Carkoon! Let's see if she evades the net!)

It doesn't do you any good to have a lovely website if you don't let us know your URL.

Make sure your Twitter profile has it, and your Blogger profile.

(When was the last time any of us looked at our Blogger profiles??

Me? ummm...)


KariV has a very nice website here!


The peril of linking to Facebook is that you can't go back from whence you came.

I'm not sure if that's adjustable on your end (open tab in new window?) but if you send people to your Facebook page and they can't get back to your webpage by clicking the back arrow, you increase the chance you'll lose them.


Kelly Claytor's website is here

NOT in your Twitter profile, but quite nice when you get there.

I notice the mailing list sign up asks for telephone number and address.

I suggest taking those out.

You're not going to need that info are you?

If you're mailing something to a reader, you'd email and ask for their preferred mailing address no matter what, right?

I've had THREE mailing addresses in the last 18 months (and no, I haven't moved even once!)

The first was my home address which I used by necessity when I could no longer receive mail at my former agency.

The second was a PO box which I thought would solve the problem. It did not. The postal workers had a hard time recognizing that Janet Reid and JetReid Literary were both on the box. 

The third address is 151 First Ave which is a mail receiving service. Staffed by real people that I can talk to. And who kindly email me when packages arrive. It's twice as expensive as a PO box and worth every nickel.

But more important, people are reluctant to hand over their info. Don't ask for anything but what you need: name, email.

What I particularly loved on Kelly's site is the self-pubbed book. Take a look.

Any questions?

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Slinking around your social media sites

I've been prowling around many an author website of late.

Some are really good.

Some could use some spiffing up.


Why should you care?

Because when you query me (as you should) and I'm interested in your work (because I'm not a complete dunderhead) I will slink over to your website to see what's what, who's who, and hopefully a picture of a cute dog/cat/horse.


Which means?


Make sure you have a website for starters.

Increasingly, being invisible is a deal breaker for me.


Make sure you list the CORRECT URL in your query.

If I cut and paste the wrong URL and end up with dino porn on my screen, that can be a  deal breaker too.


Make sure the links to your social media accounts are correct.

As in spelled right, and the buttons for Twitter et al are functional.

(Have a friend do a click through for you as added insurance.)


I don't want to have to hunt around very much.

I'll do some, but if you make me work at it, I'm less likely to want to work with you.

Read into that what you will.


What do I look for on a website?

Your bio, expanded from what's in your query.


A place to sign up for your mailing list.


Links to your social media sites.


Pictures of your dog/cat/horse.

(I STRONGLY encourage you NOT to include pictures of your small children.)


Pictures of where you live if it's someplace like End of World, Wyoming.  Remember, I live in NYC and my "vista" is the courtyard and the buildings across from me.


What you don't need:

Your blog posts

Your writing


You can link to those if you want, but if your landing page is your blog and the last update was 2018, that's not putting your best  foot forward.


You can list or link to places your writing has been published (if it has) but this isn't any kind of deal breaker. I've signed and sold writers with NO publishing credits whatsoever.


Any questions?



Monday, June 20, 2022

Effective preparation


I keep this saying in my eyeline:

Selling is 80% preparation; 20% execution.




I need to remind myself of this at least once a week and sometimes once a day.


I need to remind myself that reading books (for comps, for assessing editor's taste, for keeping up on what people are reading), reading Kirkus, reading PW, and yes following Twitter conversations is real work, not slacking off.


Effective selling is the result of effective preparation.


Effective preparation is writing a compelling pitch letter, complete with effective comps, and statements about why the book belongs on that particular publisher's list, accompanied by a carefully copy edited and formatted manuscript.


That takes time.

I'm impatient.

Thus the reminder.


Do you have sayings taped in your eyeline?

What do you need to remind yourself to do...or not do?



Friday, June 17, 2022

You asked, now let's see if these are good answers

On June 13, I wrote about queriers who sent things without any hint of their name
, or through a third party, asked me to sign an NDA in order to read the query.
EM Goldsmith asked

Just curious, these queriers that want NDAs, do they claim any reason? Celebrity? Whistle blower? Spy?

The ones I've seen have been celebrity tell-alls, or whistle-blowers from what little I could glean.
Under the best of circumstances (the book is about Idris Elba) these aren't things I'd take on.  The idea that you'd work for someone and then write a tell-all book does not sit well with me. Same with cashing in on being friends with a celebrity. Or an ex-spouse.
Whistle blowers are another matter.
For those you want articles before the book. (Example: Ronan Farrow)
But for a spy, I just might sign!
Leslie asked
If an agent signs an NDA, does that mean he or she cannot send it to publishers?
I can understand some writers using pseudonyms (I would've had to do so a long time, if I'd written a certain book I thought about writing, but was stupidly talked out of doing), even where only the agent knows. But doesn't a real name have to be on the publishing contract (if not the agent representation one)?

Each NDA is worded differently and requires non-disclosure within specific parameters, related to the case at hand.
I've asked work-for-hire writers to sign NDAs.
I've had clients sign NDAs for books they ghost write.
But NONE of this was part of a cold query in the slush pile.
Karen McCoy asked
Are these people writing nonfiction? If so, why not write under a pseudonym?

I think part of the attraction of the book is that it's verifiably written by someone in the know.
And of course, it didn't take long before you asked about the really important stuff: the cat under the afghan.
Kitty asked
Btw, is that a new couch or did you slip-cover the snot green one?
Oh Kitty, you have eagle-eyes! That's the tail of Her Grace and Sleekness the Duchess of Yowl. She's nosing her way under the afghan on her real mother's couch.
The snot green couch lives in my apartment.
Well, lives isn't really the right word.
Hospice has been called in.
And in one of those "only in NYC" moments, I have to wait to get a new couch until the detritus from a remodeled apartment is removed from the hallway.  It's only been there a month. Fingers crossed that it's gone by the end of summer.
LynnRodz asked
What I want to know, however, do I need new glasses or are there three cats in this photo?
Time to call the optometrist! There is only one sleek beast on that couch.
Well two, if you count me.
On Wednesday I wrote about a memento I kept on my desk that reminded me of a seminal moment in my life.  Reading about the things you guyz keep on your desk was quite lovely.
I really responded to this one:

Mary said
I have a small replica of the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail, which I have hiked in its entirety. It's there to remind me that I can do hard things.

John Davis Frain said
"It's where my beloved ex, now sadly gone ahead, changed my life forever."

Well, there are multiple options for where the next line would take this story, and they include opposite directions. 

Someone can change your life forever by showing up ... or by leaving. The basis of all stories, right -- someone goes on a journey or someone new comes to town.

Color me curious, but I don't expect an answer.

Too bad, you're getting one.
My first apartment in NYC came with a roommate who was a nice enough guy. I'd known him for a few years by the time I arrived in the city.
But then it took a turn for the terrifying.
First roommate wasn't psycho or drunk, or angry. He just thought playing with guns was fun. And by playing with, I mean pointing them at people in the kitchen.
When I told my soon to be beloved about this, he gave me a look I would come to know well and said I would move in with him.
That night at the Biennial, standing in the stairwell, he told me if his landlord would not allow me to move in to his apartment, he would give notice and leave.
Which is what happened.

I don't know if he saved my life but it felt like it. Still does.
I still live in the apartment we found.
I still hear him at odd times, even though I know for an iron clad fact that he has gone on ahead.
So yes, he changed my life then, and last year he changed it again when he left.
There's a line in LA Story, the wonderful Steve Martin movie: "The weather will change your life...twice." that I think of a lot these days.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Everything that came after was different


The Whitney Biennial has a very special place in my heart. It's where my beloved ex, now sadly gone ahead, changed my life forever.

I have this year's publicity promo on my desk, just as a reminder of that seminal evening.

Do you keep something on your desk to remind you of a special moment in your life?

Let us know in the comment column!

Monday, June 13, 2022

Who, me?

There's been a recent spate of queries from writers who don't want me to know who they are. (Sadly, none of them appeared to be from Idris Elba or Simon Baker.)

This is an almost instant pass for me (I'm not sure about other agents, you'll have to ask them.)

I'm all for discretion and certainly willing to have you query under a nom de plume, but not attaching your name or any name to a query just seems like starting off on the wrong foot.

I've also had people write to me and say I have to sign a non-disclosure agreement to read their query.

Well, no, no thanks.

If you're absolutely determined that your identity must be a secret or you want someone to sign an NDA you're better off hiring a publishing attorney who also makes deals. They're out there, you just need to find them.

I can't help you if you're hiding.

Thursday, June 09, 2022

"The Ancient Words, Which are the Source of Everything Done Here"

I'm a devoted fan of Poetry magazine.

I love poems and subscribing to Poetry gives me a lot of new (to me) poets and poems every month. It's like a word buffet in my mailbox.

In May, the focus of the issue was poetry in translation.

I'd never given translated poetry much thought but figured what the heck, why not.

So I did my usual: every morning after I put on my shoes I read a couple poems.

And truthfully none of them really resonated with me. I didn't feel the connection.

But I kept reading cause yanno, I don't like giving up on stuff.  (Which explains a lot about me, actually.)

And then I came across this poem:


translated by Josué Coy Dick, Juan Coy Teni & Jesse Nathan 

from the K'iche'


And here in this root-place we call K'iche'

we're going to write down the words,

we're going to write down the ancient words,

which are the source of everything done

here in this root-place called K'iche'.


And we're going to teach, tell, show how

the world was made, how light was brought

by the Maker, the Shaper

the Sustainer, the Origin who is named

Hunahpu Possum, Hunahpu Coyote,

Great White Peccaray, Wide-Eyed Coati,

Lofty Feathered Snake, Heart of the Lake,

Heart of the Sea, Great Potter

of Plate and Bowl, and also called Midwife,

Matchmaker, Gatherer, named Xpiyacoc

Xmucane, Guardian, Sponsor,

two times a midwife, two times a matchmaker —

all told as the story is told in K'iche'.



K'iche' is a Mayan language (I had to look it up) spoken in Guatemala (I had to look that up too.)

What I didn't have to look up at all was how this poem (only a small portion included here) resonated with me.


Words make the world come alive.

 I mean I knew it (or believed it)

And God said "Let there be light"

but I'd kinda forgotten.


Have you had a good surprise after a bit of a slog?

Share in the comments column!

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Happy Pub Day, James Byrne


This book knocked my sox off the first time I read it.

And the third.

 If you buy it (here's the link) and don't love it, I'll come to your house so you can explain why.

Power point presentation optional.


Booklist gave it a starred review

 And PW liked it too

 Library Journal makes it a hat trick


But the ultimate vote of confidence: Tim Lowe won't let his students borrow his copy to read at home. They have to read it in class!

Saturday, June 04, 2022

Answers to questions from last week

On Tuesday I wrote about getting salutations right in your query.


EM Goldsmith

Where does "Snookums" or "Your Toothy Majesty" fall in this list? Asking for a friend?


I LOVE both of course.




I had an editor advise that I address agent queries as "Dear Full Name" so as not to be too familiar (eg Dear First Name) or presumptuous about gender (Dear Ms./Mr.). What are your feelings on this approach?


Given that five year old children at church call me Janet (my sainted mother is rolling in her grave, let me assure you) "too familiar" is something of a lost cause.


Presumptuous about gender is a whole 'nother kettle of sushi.

Unless you know if an agent uses Ms. or Mr. Dear Felix Buttonweezer is an excellent, safe choice.




Dear Occupant.


Hank, you can call me occupant any time you like. Of course it means I'm moving in to your guest cottage there in France.




Miles O'Neal


How do you feel about "Ms"?


I'm totally fine with Ms.

I'm old enough to remember the brouhaha over using Ms instead of Miss or Mrs.


The stodgy, style guide worshipping NYTimes refused to use Ms.

Then came the 1984 Presidential campaign with Geraldine Ferraro on the ticket.


The NYT asked what she would like to be called.
Ms Ferraro, please.


Well, no, we don't do that. Miss or Mrs?


Well, of course Geraldine Ferraro was married to a man who was not her father and who had a different surname. So she was married, thus not Miss Ferraro, but Mrs. Zaccaro.  However, Mrs. Zaccaro was not the name on all those festive campaign signs, or on the ballot.


And Geraldine Ferraro was more than a little annoyed at these old stodgy dudes who couldn't seem to move with the times. Or move the Times.


So she said (and god I would have loved to have seen the look on her face!) sure, whatevs, call me Mrs. Ferrarro.


And they did.

For the entire f/ing campaign.


I was laughing at the Times for MONTHS.  I was not alone.

But as the Nixon White House discovered, don't fuck with the Times. They'll double down just to make a point.



It would take almost two more years for the Times to get with the times.


Eric Siletzky

 Reminds me a lot of dating rich girls. We're all people here. We shouldn't be encouraging obsequiousness unless we want monarchies again.


Who says we don't?

I should be Queen of the Known Universe.



On Thursday I wrote about "double-writing"


Does it apply to dialogue?


Not so much. Dialogue needs to sound right. Sometimes people talk funny (with their mouths)



John Davis Frain

Okay, legit question. You say:


"And sometimes, yes, you need the extra word.


She crouched down to give Felix CPR."


So, I assume the extra word here is "down" and I don't understand why you need it. Where else would you crouch? Seems to me it's like writing "He stood up" when you can just say "He stood."



Sometimes you need the extra word for rhythm. Writing is not an exact science. I think she crouched down sounds better.




And I kinda love that JDF feels the need to say his is a legit question.

How well he knows his audience here.


(and if you're not following @Frainstorm on Twitter for his #VSS posts, you are really missing out.)

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Things I Watch For In Queries: double-writing


I've got fresh eyeballs on your queries so I see the double-writing right away.


You might miss them this kind of thing  cause you're so familiar with your own work.



She grasped my hand in hers.


Unless she's Edward Scissorhands, the default is she's grasping things with her hands.


Only if she's using her feet, or her teeth would you want to say what she's using to grasp.


If it's the norm, you probably don't need to say it.


Suggested revision: she grasped my hand.




He was lying prone on the floor

Revision: He was  prone on the floor

OR: He lay on the floor


Lying prone: you don't sit or stand prone, no? Thus you don't need both lying and prone. Prone does the job.



She took a deep breath, inhaling  the fresh air

Revision: She inhaled the fresh air.

OR: She took a deep breath of fresh air



you don't need both inhaling and took a deep breath. They mean pretty much the same thing.



The moment when Felix Buttonweezer realized his wife Betty was a shapeshifter.

Revise: The moment when Felix Buttonweezer realized his wife Betty was a shapeshifter.



How you avoid this: reading the query and pages out loud will help.


And sometimes, yes, you need the extra word.

She crouched down to give Felix CPR.



Putting each sentence on a new line will help because it slows you down.


Example of a new line for each sentence drawn from Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan (one of two novels I think is a perfect book.)


Doug MacRay stood inside the rear door of the bank, breathing deeply through his mask.


Yawning, that was a good sign.


Getting oxygen.


He was trying to get amped up.


Breaking in overnight had left them with plenty of downtime to sit and eat their sandwiches and goof on each other and get comfortable, and that wasn't good for the job.


Doug had lost his buzz--the action, fear, and momentum that was the cocktail of banditry.


Get in, get the money, get out.


His father talking, but fuck it, on this subject the old crook was right.


Doug was ready for this thing to fall.


Any questions?



Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Avoid shooting yourself in the foot: salutations


I'm not picky about a lot of things other agents are.

But you can shoot yourself in the foot with ineffective salutations.


Here, in descending order of preference, are effective salutations in a query letter.


1. Dear Janet

It's my name, I'm ok with you calling me Janet.

Dear Jessica isn't right but it's probably just a typo, and I'll get over it. Besides I love snaring good stuff right out from under the nose of Jessica Faust.


2. Dear Ms Reid

Also my name, a tad more formal, but still very polite.



3. Hi Janet, Hi Ms Reid

More informal, but if you just can't bring yourself to say "Dear" (and I've had husbands who couldn't either) it's ok to just say hi.


The next ones make me roll my eyes, but we haven’t gotten into active yeesh mode yet


4. Dear Jet Reid Literary Agency

It is just I here at Shark Central these days. I read all my own queries (always have).

It's not a deal breaker but it seems like you're not paying attention.


5. Greetings!

I feel like I'm being drafted or summoned for jury duty. It's not wrong, but the tone is a little too military to be effective.




And now we get to the ones that really set the WRONG tone and you should avoid.


6. To Whom It May Concern.

This is a salutation you would use ONLY with letters where you do not know who the actual recipient is. For example: a reference letter you provide to someone who is job hunting, or seeking parole.


Since you're emailing your query to Janet@(yadda yadda) this situation doesn't apply.

Now, you nit pickers may ask, what if I'm querying


THEN you use the very handy form of Ladies/Gentlemen of as your salutation.


In the olden days, back when ladies in business were a well-kept secret, it was considered acceptable form to start with Gentlemen:


That is no longer acceptable. I am not a gentleman. And most of the gents I know are rapscallion scallywags anyway.



7. Dear Mrs Reid.

I am not married to Mr. Reid.

My father is not Mr. Reid either.


So, it's just plain wrong to call me Mrs. Reid.

But further, it signals a mindset that you would even use Mrs. at all, and that mindset is NOT what I'm looking for in clients. 


If a lady prefers Mrs. she'll say so.


And while we're on the subject of what people like to be called, make sure you pay attention if someone has preferred pronouns in their bio or signature line.  USE THEM.


Any sort of ham-fisted, tone-deaf, rigidity here is NOT good manners, or smart querying.


If someone wants to use the title Mx., do so.


And don't belly ache to me that it's too much trouble. It's not like I'm not doing this myself when I query editors I don't yet know. Or reaching out to anyone I don't know (think blurbs, reviews, sales pitches to bookstores.)


It's a new word my fiends, time to get with the times.



8. Dear Mr. Reid

As above, I am not a man. I may cook like one and sew like one, but I'm still not one.



9. Dear Felix,

When you send Dear Felix to I draw some unflattering conclusions about how much attention you pay to detail.


Think about this for a minute. I have a choice between someone who double checks things like salutations, and someone who doesn't. Who do you think I prefer to work with?



10. No salutation at all.

Nope nope nope.

Auto pass.


And if you want to howl about this, fine.

It's not going to change.

I don't ask you personalize in any other way, but I do like to see that you know  at least who you're querying.

I don't care about why you're querying. I'm an agent, you're a writer, enough said.


Any questions?

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Taking some down time


It's been a hard week

This week has been pretty awful.

I'm taking a short break from everything and escaping into a good book.

Are you reading anything special this weekend?

Has your reading during the pandemic changed in any way?

Friday, May 27, 2022

This is the reason there's a word count limit in queries.



My WIP is historical fiction.  It covers a year-long period during the American Revolution featuring real players and rare biographical insights I have uncovered from my extensive research, as well as narrative non-fiction-like accounts of specific battles.  The "fiction" part comes from the main POV character, whose fictional story (a composite of accounts) is interwoven among these real events, connecting everything together.  I would say the balance is 50% accurate history/50% historical dramatization.  My main goal is to introduce readers to some great unsung heroes from both sides and educate about this lesser-known saga.


I know query space is ideally limited to plot/stakes/first act, but since most agents will not be familiar with the events or people I am covering, I feel the need to explain the real history and why it's worthy of being written about.  I am afraid if I just present it as a standard fiction query, the true history I am trying to bring to light will get lost.  


For example, I would like to include something like this to introduce the agent to the real history behind the story:


Lt.-Col. The Honourable John Maitland, the son of the 6th Earl of Lauderdale, has been dubbed by military historians as the "Savior of Savannah" for his ingenuity in leading 800 troops from Beaufort under impossible odds, reaching Savannah ahead of the French blockade just in time to defend the town--despite having already lost one arm in battle and while suffering from malaria.  Even the USMC museum on Parris Island has a display memorializing this feat, despite the fact that Maitland was an "opponent." 


(1) Is it okay that I include a brief paragraph like this explaining the real history behind the story?

(2) If I do this, can I be forgiven for going over the standard query word count, or would I have to sacrifice precious plot/stakes space? 

(3) Or is this unnecessary altogether and I am overthinking it?


(1) No

(2) NO

(3) Sorta but not really


This is a textbook example of the value of an author website even if you've never published anything.


These kinds of explanations/elaborations/info dumps belong on your website, not in the query.


You need to engage the agent in your story first, not the history behind it.


If I'm interested in the story, I'll probably swim by your website BEFORE I request pages.


One reason I do that is to find out if you've self published this and "forgot" to tell me.


You can make sure I know to swim by if you include something like:


"My main goal is  I want to introduce readers to some great unsung heroes from both sides


Your main goal is to tell a good story.

Please don't hint that it's anything else.


and educate about this lesser-known saga.  There's more information about them on my website (listed below.)"

Under NO, ZERO, ZIPPO circumstances will you use the word educate in a query for a novel.  People do not buy novels to learn about things. They buy novels for the story. That they learn stuff is a bonus.


Any questions?



Thursday, May 26, 2022

Backstory and set up in a query


As I work my way through queries and requested fulls, one problem consistently crops up: the amount of backstory and set up presented in the query or the first pages of a novel.


You don't need as much as you think you do.


Consider this "query":


Felix and Betty Buttonweezer live on Carolynn Lane. They've raised four (mostly) good kids, and avoided killing each other over arguments about which way the toilet paper should hang.  Sure, Betty likes to finish Felix's sentences, and Felix has been known to tune out Betty's litany of complaints about her harridan sister in law (the wife of her otherwise quite nice sister Petunia.) They vowed for better for worse 25 years ago, and so far so good.


When Betty rescues what Felix thinks is a yappy, neurotic, scruff bomb with minimal resemblance to a dog, now called SweetumsMyPrecious (Betty's choice of course), Felix finds himself the odd mammal out.


Betty makes dinner when  SweetumsMyPrecious seems hungry, not when Felix comes home from work.


Betty sits in the backseat with  SweetumsMyPrecious when she and Felix take drives.


Worst of all, she's made Felix smoke his cigars not just outside on the porch but across the street because "the smoke bothers little Precious"


But Betty has found something to lavish her love on. With the kids grown and gone, and Felix off to work, then perfectly content to sit in his recliner after dinner watching The Great British Bake Off or Forged in Fire, Betty has felt alone and useless. Moreover, her Facebooks stories about, and photos of,  SweetumsMyPrecious has garnered her an adoring fan club.


What neither of them know is that  SweetumsMyPrecious wasn't a stray. And Felix is closer than he knows in his doubts that SweetumsMyPrecious is really a dog.


How much of this can you take out but retain verve and voice, and enough description and plot to entice an agent?


There's no one right answer, but there is at least one wrong answer: "none." At 252 words, this needs to be trimmed by at least 50 words.


Feel free to answer in the comments section.


 Hack at it!

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

"Beginner mistakes"

Dear Madam Shark,


I was taught that there are “amateur mistakes” that will likely knock a writer straight into an agent’s circular file. I’ll leave out the most obvious, such as careless typos. The ones I’m questioning include:


Creative speech tags, instead of the almost invisible “said,” “asked,” etc.


Too many exclamation points.


When I see these in excellent novels, I wonder if, when these writers were newbies, they avoided these habits, but now that they’re well-known, they can do what they like? What are your thoughts?




If I like a book, if it has a fresh, vivid voice, an interesting concept, and the writer isn't a self-aggrandizing professional PITA, do you really think I'm going to let exclamation marks get in the way??



Hello, I'm an intterobang!



Of course not.

These are minor things.


Fixable things.

That's what editing is all about, although I'm not keen on doing copyediting level work on your ms. That's YOUR job.


Authors are quick to blame almost everything but the real problem: uninteresting writing, stale concepts and inter-personal communications that make me want to smack them upside the head.



If you're reading this blog, most likely you've avoided that third one.


It's much harder to assess your own work for stale concepts and uninteresting writing.


As to seeing those small errors in published books, well sometimes established writers get away with stuff that all y'all debut author cannot.



Established authors can write terrible books and hit the NYT Bestseller list cause they have an thriving fan base.  Case in point: the otherwise amazing Robert Parker started phoning in his novels at #13 or #14. 


Don't sweat the small stuff as Richard Carlson famously said. (Which is hilariously ironic if you ever had a chance to work with him, as I did back in m publicity days. That guy was as meticulous as they come.)




Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Follow up on yesterday's blog post


Steve Forti asked

My last book didn't get picked up, but a number of agents said they loved the writing and would like to see the next one. What's the right way to remind that when querying the next one?



First thing to remember here is that agents DO NOT say that as a matter of course, or just to let you down gently. They mean it.


And if an agent says that to you, they're NOT sending you form rejections. (Also a good thing.)


And it sounds like the agent read some or all of your novel. Yesterday's post was more about writers who did not make it past the incoming query stage.


Now to the specifics:


Dear Snookums:

You read my epic tome Nemesis last year and complimented the writing and asked to see my next one. 


Quote what the agent said as closely as possible.

We have a keen ear for our own voice so you want to be as close to it as you can.


LEAD with this so that the agent knows you're not cold querying.




Does this help?

Monday, May 23, 2022

Do not make me regret replying to you

There's a great scene in Casablanca with a linen seller in the Bazaar. 

Ilsa is out shopping  (cause really what else would one do when living out of a suitcase and fleeing the Nazis?)

The seller offers increasingly special discounts for special friends of Rick's.


I always think of this scene when writers respond almost instantly to a pass with another query.


"You didn't want that, what about this?"


I'm always at a bit of a loss on what to reply.

I use a form letter, and just sending that same pass seems rude.

I like to avoid that if I can, but just saying "No, not this one either" seems worse.


So then I'm left with not replying at all, which I loathe as a business practice, and as general deportment in the Query Aisle.


So, why is this a problem for you?


If you want me to consider your work, you want to present it in a way that doesn't make me want to smack you upside the head.


That means give me some time between queries to refresh my mental desk top.

A month is a good ball park figure.


I don't reply to queries the day I receive them.

I got that habit kicked out of me by writers who were dead certain I didn't read the query cause I responded too quickly.


When a query comes into my inbox, it's sent to a file marked Incoming Queries, where it can visit with the other incoming queries, gossip, compare tattoos, and order out for pizza.


If you send me a query that starts with "you didn't want X" all that does is remind me that I didn’t want X.


It's much more effective to start with the story you're pitching.


Telling me I passed on something doesn't remind me of our "connection" cause there isn't one.

Telling me I passed on something doesn't tell me you're prolific and not a one-trick pony.


Effective queries  are about your novel not your querying history.




Any questions?

Friday, May 20, 2022

Not dead, not fled!


You have not posted anything since your wallet came home, and since stolen wallets can lead to kidnapping, I'm worried about you. Please just post something - a picture of a pine marten? Just to let everyone know you're OK. 
I see you, slacker shark!


Pine martens are one of my favorite animals. They are the cutest, sweetest-looking things, but I just saw something that said "don't be fooled...they can take down a deer." It might be my patronus.
I apologize for being a slacker shark here at the blog.
I've had my nose to the grindstone.
I've gotten a lot done but I also have a very pointy nose!

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Wallet Came Home!

 I left my wallet in the local bodega on Monday.

Didn't realize until Tuesday. Promptly retraced my steps, asked the cashier, searched my apartment just in case (I'm serious, I looked under the couch cushions, and under the ironing board cover**)

Zilch, zip, nada.

I notified the bank that my cards were gone. That instantly locks the account which is great until the auto-payments get declined, and you realize you can't get any replacement cash. (I recently saw a thread on Twitter about how people didn't use cash anymore. Man oh man, that is so Not Me!)

I had resigned myself to a week of feeling sorry for myself when today, lo and behold, Wallet came home!

No note or anything.

And of course the $96 I had just gotten from the ATM was gone gone gone.

But I now do NOT have to stand in line at the DMV.

I have my ID back, so I can go to the bank and cash a check for funds.

My vaxx card.

My voter registration card.

My Met membership card! 

And not least, my reminder to look for ways to do good in the world.

**the reason I looked under the ironing board cover is because I iron my currency.

Whoever got that $96, I hope they noticed those bills had no dog eared corners or wrinkles. (Yes I am a loon, it's a well-known fact.)

Are you a loon about something like this?

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

When World Events Intrude on Your Plot

I guess timing can be everything. I am at the querying stage for a historical fiction manuscript. Unfortunately, recent events have stopped me in my tracks.

The story takes place between 1941 and 1943, a great bulk of it in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, as well as in Soviet Russia.

I don’t want to give the impression to an agent that I’m trying to profit off the current war in Ukraine. This is not my goal. Obviously the manuscript took more than a year to write, and I will absolutely shelve this story if I have to until that conflict ends. As it took a lot of historical research about the holocaust and of the then Soviet Ukraine, that area of the world has become near and dear to me. The Russian invasion and their senseless brutality is atrocious.

Should I wait or should I continue on querying?

One of my clients, Dana Haynes, and I joke that the CIA/NSA should read his early drafts so they know about upcoming hotspots in the world.

More than once his novels have been set in places that subsequently hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

There are some events for which any query could be "too soon." 9/11 was one for me. The Pandemic is another.

But both of those are my personal opinions and not to be taken as an industry standard.

You're not exploiting the current catastrophe in Ukraine for your own ends.
Query with a clear conscience.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

More on personalization

Hello Madam Shark,

I binge-read your blog and Query Shark over the holidays, and I feel tons more educated about publishing and querying. Thank you!

You make it very clear that you believe personalization is not a good use of time/space in a query. I have absorbed this into my being.

I recently did a workshop with a long-time editor where we discussed query letters. The editor believed personalization is critical. Not just "get the agent's name right" kind of personalization, but the personalization where you mention if you were alumni of the same school or share an interest in Great British Bake-Off.

I understand personalization if you met an agent at a conference, or even a quick mention that your manuscript perfectly matches their manuscript wish list (if it's true). But if my book isn't about, say, murders on Harvard's campus or a Rhode Island baking competition, I don't see the need for the personalizations mentioned above.

I mentioned my opinion during the workshop, and the editor and I came away politely disagreeing; they thought that human connection in a personalization is critical to get an agent to read on. I know editors aren't agents, and even agents disagree about personalization. If an agent specifically mentions they want personalization, yes, I'll do it. But I'm worried now that if I do zero personalization as a default, I'll sabotage myself during the querying process.

Am I worrying too much about this as I spin my hamster wheel? Or are there agents who will reject me because I don't add a few personal sentences in my query?

Dear Chum,

The fact that I think personalization is an utter waste of a writer's time, and further, is a huge barrier to new writers, doesn't address the reasons agents ask for it.

Within the last five years the number of agents has increased a lot. I'm thinking it might have doubled. That means writers have a lot of potential agents to sort through.

But at the same time the number of agents has increased, so has the number of writers, and the barriers to querying have diminished substantially. All you need now is an email address. When I started in this biz, you mailed your queries with an SASE if you wanted to hear back. There was no Publishers Marketplace. The Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents was out of date the minute it was set in type.

Agents use personalization to sort out shotgunned queries from the more researched ones.

I understand that position, but I don't support it.

But, I've lost that battle.
The only question now is how to personalize effectively.

Here are some examples of what NOT to do that  I've seen recently:

According to your agency's website, you represent exciting debut fiction writers,

This isn't effective, you're telling me what my website says.

If you think I'll instantly conclude that you too are an exciting debut fiction writer, you're wrong.

I read your bio and it is inspiring as well as impressive. You are looking for voice, style, to gasp, and to laugh.

Again, parroting my own words back to me, and thinking if you do that, I'll tbelieve you've got voice and style. You're wrong.

Here's an older blog post on how to effectively personalize your query.

Personalization is a total pain in the ass, but you don't want to just say "the hell with it" cause in some cases, lack of personalization is an instant pass. 

The last thing you want is a pass cause you didn't at least try.