Monday, September 25, 2023

YA or adult?



I have a question that I'm hoping you could please help with. I'm in the middle of the 3rd draft of a fantasy book and am starting to think ahead to planning a query.


My issue is I'm utterly torn over whether it's YA or adult.


The characters start the book mainly aged 16/17/18, but will be a few years older by the time the series finishes. I like getting into character and really spinning the narration so you feel like you're in the head of a teenager.


The issue is that the books also deal with very dark and sensitive themes. I know that teenage readers can handle sensitive stuff, but I also know teens are impressionable, and I don't want to upset them by exploring the subjects I want to explore. Yet if I query it as adult fantasy, I'm concerned agent's will be put off by the fact I'm very much writing from the POV of kids who...Well, act and speak like kids. They come out far more mature by the end of the story, but the fact is there's a lot to get through before that maturity hits.


This is causing me a massive headache. Do you have any advice?




Getting on my sharkly soap box and spouting advice is what I live for.



First, let's lay to rest the idea that your job as a writer is to avoid sensitive or dark themes when writing YA.


In fact, that's EXACTLY your job. Shake things up. Make your readers see things with a new perspective. Challenge the status quo. Convey reality in a way that shifts the paradigm.


Teen readers are hungry for books that talk about "adult subjects" in ways they can relate to.  The last thing they want are books that avoid those topics. Remember, these are kids who've undergone active shooter drills at their schools. They've experienced things that break our hearts. Let them read what they want.



As to whether it's YA or adult.


Yes, YA characters need to start out at16/17/18, but they can age as the series progresses.

Not to 45+ of course, you want to keep them young.


But YA is more than just age.


YA themes often include learning how to be in the world, how to navigate the world beyond family and school.


Often it's about breaking free of familial or cultural expectations.


YA often has a strong romantic element of some kind because kids are exploring their sexuality and learning how to do that as well.



Write your book.

Call it YA if it fits.

Choose your comps wisely.


Query with confidence. 

If you wrote a great book, agents want to hear about it.







Monday, September 18, 2023

Sins of the Past



I have a question regarding my WIP. I came up with a fabulous concept for a novel set in the ancient world about 8 years ago, but then (waves hands around) life intervened. I am still busy researching and writing my novel and it brings me so much joy.


But! I am increasingly concerned that in this political climate, it will be a) cancelled by the mob or, more likely, b) shunned by publishers like a plague-ridden ship overrun with toothy rats. Ancient slavery is a central theme and an important plot point could be construed as white saviorism.


I'm feeling discouraged.


Should I forge ahead? Abandon ship? Rework everything? Introduce multiple viewpoints that show I'm aware that yes, my privileged protagonist can be a complete idiot?


I'm fascinated by the complexities of Roman poverty, identity, and gender relations and really want to bring them to life.



There's only one right answer: full speed ahead and damn the (imaginary) torpedoes.


What you're describing is classic writer angst.


You envision  all sorts of slings and arrows, and probably better than most cause your writerly  imagination is a fierce weapon and sometimes .... well.... you turn it on your own sweet self.



You don't know what lies ahead. Neither do I.


The only thing you know  is you have a  great story.


And: the publisher of American Dirt is laughing all the way to the bank. Controversy sells.


I’m not saying you should be insensitive on purpose but if someone takes exception to your plot/characters, it's NOT the end of the world, it can be a darn good thing.


I've never forgotten something I learned from a brilliant publicist back in the day. An author was doing media in Portland, with a book signing slated for that evening. We heard via the grapevine (i.e. the radio stations where the author was doing interviews) that the event was going to picketed.


In a dither I called the publicist.  "Huzzah!" she yelled! "TV coverage!"


I can think of three or four books I've bought and read just because The Knicker Twisters were so incensed about it.


The thing to fear is NO ONE talking about your book at all.


So, get cracking!




Wednesday, September 13, 2023

An update!!

 Dear Janet,

I just wanted to update you and the Reefers, after you so kindly answered my questions and calmed my panic in the blog post 'How long do I have' - 25th May 2020.

I signed with my agent in January and now, after some solid revision, my folkloric horror YA is out on submission at last!

Heeding your advice, I completed the book (in the midst of the pandemic) and subsequently discovered that the original interested agent had returned to the UK and was no longer agenting. 
Thereafter followed an extensive period of querying and revising, peppered with a few fulls, partials and a mentorship until, at last, I got the call.

Now, I'll continue wishing on every star and drafting my next project in hopes that my first gets picked up!

Best wishes, 

There's only one thing to do now!

Leap for joy!

Monday, September 04, 2023

Monday, August 28, 2023

Querying after a less than steller debut



My debut novel sold very poorly, largely because the publisher is an indie press who puts 100% of the marketing on the authors' shoulders. I'm proud of the book and feel it deserved much better. 


Two questions: 1: When querying for my follow-up, do I mention the book? 2. If I do mention the book, will agents look up the numbers and be dismayed at the poor sales, and will that affect my chances? 


Is there another strategy here?


(1) Yes you need to make mention of it if only so the agent knows your situation.


(2) yup, you've got yourself a problem.



So, what to do?


If your follow up is a continuation of the story in Book #1, stop right now.

Almost no agent will consider a book that is the second on a series if they didn't sell the first one, and the first one sold badly.  The reason is they can't get editors to buy those books and they're not

going to invest time trying. EVEN if they love the books.


If your follow up book is not a continuation, you're in a better position.


But you need to query with something more than your new book and high hopes for better results.


It will help if you have a robust mailing list.


It will help if you have more than a few tepid reviews on Amazon.


In other words, if you're driving to the prom in your jalopy make sure it's in good running order and you filled the tank.


I've taken on authors who had self-published books that didn't do all that well. I read them before I signed the author, talked to him about why he'd self-pubbed, and knew I could get him a deal at a trade publisher. (And I did.)


So, all is not lost.


You need a really good book, and a strong marketing position, but it can be done.


You're on my mailing list, right? Right??




Monday, August 21, 2023




How much weight we should give to blurbs or recommendations for a novel from other authors.


I see so many blurbs for any given novel that are by writers from either the same agent's or the same publisher's stable.


** you're an anomaly in that you notice these things. Most general readers do not.


While I understand, and do believe, that authors most often do genuinely love the works of fellow authors (and are rooting for them), I sometimes wonder whether pressure is put upon them to say something positive about their stable mates regardless of how they really feel about the book. And even if an author doesn't share an agent or editor/publisher, isn't asking someone to blurb a book kind of like putting them on the spot/in a corner?


**asking for blurbs is an art form. When I go hunting for blurbs, I know I'm asking for a huge favor, not just their reading time but also lending their name/endorsement to something.


And if the writer doesn't like they book, they are under NO obligation to lie/obfuscate.


I see this mostly from the other side: my authors asked to blurb a book that turns out to be something they do NOT want to do.


That's why I have my writers run blurb requests through me. If they don't want to blurb, I am the one to reply with an artful decline.




I can only assume that if an author politely declines to blurb (does this ever happen?)

**hell yes


it would make them seem ungenerous and mean.

**no it does not.


I know that if I were in that position, I would fabricate something nice to say about a book I didn't connect with or thought was lacking.


** your agent will smack you on the snout should you reveal this to them.  Your name and endorsement have value. The last thing you want to do is undercut that value by endorsing a book you do not love. Chances are your reader won’t love it either.


It's not a big deal. I have worked in marketing (outside of the literary world) and understand the whole "process". But in the regular marketing world it's quite out in the open that X (celebrity) is being paid Y (amount of money) to endorse Z (product or brand). In the literary world, I wonder if authors are being constantly put upon to deliver positive blurbs for books they might secretly dislike.


**PAID??? Authors are not paid for blurbs. Not now. Not ever. Never.

Celebrities aren't paid to endorse books either.

If someone offered my clients money to endorse a book, I would tell them of course but I'd recommend saying no.  For starters being paid has to appear in the ad. The FTC requires that now. And it completely eliminates any value for the blurb.



As to your first question: how much attention should you give blurbs?

As much as you want to. Authors aren't paid to write them, and generally do not blurb books they don't like. Sure, there's some sense of obligation to blurb a book if it's edited by your editor, but savvy successful writers are pretty deft about not doing things they think will harm them.



But if the research holds, blurbs aren't worth much for gaining readers. The number one way to build sales and visibility is still word of mouth. People you know talking about books they liked.


That's one of the reasons I'm heartbroken that Twitter is in intensive care. It was a great place to see people talk about books they loved.


Some of that is still there but it's waning as the algorithms play havoc with what tweets are visible and people leave for other platforms.





Monday, August 14, 2023

Why is YA no longer booming?



Yo, Sharkly one.

Why is YA no longer booming?



Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was about 8 years old and got my first library card. I dove into the kids’ section with verve. Loved reading Homer Price, and Caddie Woodlawn, and trying to get my mitts on more Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew (which the library, being the upholder of rigorous reading virtue, did NOT allow to darken their doors.)


By the time I was 12, sixth grade or so, I still loved Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden but I was ready for bigger books that would expand my word hoard.


But there wasn't really a shelf or section of what we now call YA. There was the kids’ section, and the adult section.  So I migrated to adult books.  I read Gone With the Wind. I found Erle Stanley Gardner. I read romance. I even tried Dr Zhivago (but it was such a daunting experience I've never tried another Russian novel ... to this very day!)


Fast forward to 2004. I attended an event sponsored by the National Book Foundation with National Book Award nominated authors reading from their works.  The nominees in the Young Peoples Literature category just blew me away.


(here's the list in case you're interested)


I can still remember going to my office the next day and telling my colleagues that the best books there had been the "books for kids."  We didn't even call it YA then.


No one in our office was doing much in what would soon come to be known as YA. Picture books, and middle grade, sure, but not YA.


That changed a few short years later when I had a front row seat to several hotshot young colleagues who were selling YA like crazy. Big deals for big money.  Their careers were literally meteoric. And a whole lot of fun to watch.


Part of my job then was providing perspective, so I cautioned all of these amazing agents to be careful. Meteoric rises could lead to meteoric descents. Just ask Icarus.


But the stagnation of YA isn't because the readers are falling away.


It's because, 20 years in, there is now backlist.

GOOD backlist.


Were I 12 now, in 2023, and looking for bigger books, I'd have so many YA novels to choose from I wouldn't get to the adult section for years.


Here's the thing that a lot of people don't think about: people read faster than authors can write or publishers can publish.  So, when YA took off, there was a HUGE gap between inventory and demand. Publishers responded (mercantile beasts that they are) by buying, buying, buying.


And now, readers have all those hundreds (if not thousands) of titles to choose from when they want more. Books that were pubbed in 2008-2015.


There's almost no shortage.


Acquisition is no longer driven by lack of books; it's tempered by lack of space on the shelf.


There is some new space every year: books that don't sell well (a subjective measure at best) or series that the author stops writing (for whatever reason) go out of print.


That creates space on the shelf, but nowhere near as much as there once was.


Here's the metaphor. In 2004, the shelf was empty so publishers rushed to fill it with books.


In 2023, the shelf is full, but there's seepage, so publishers have to publish some new work keep the shelves full.


That translates to buying fewer debuts.


The flipside of this is some categories shrink (but for different reasons.)

I'm not sure the traditional Western will ever sell well again.

"New Adult" was a category that no one really knew what to do with, and it has tanked.

Vampires, sparkly or otherwise, had a falling off.


And 50 Shades of Gray was textbook meteoric. Both up and down.


What does this mean for you?

Even a saturated category needs fresh, new books.

This is why you need to know your category. You can NOT read every book, but you should be familiar with the ones "everyone" is talking about, the ones that win awards, the ones with 1000 reviews on Amazon or other online review sites. You should know what's a tired trope and have an idea about how to do something different.


Any questions?


Monday, August 07, 2023

Yes, I'm sure you're right


There I was, splashing about in the eX-Twitterstream, when a comment floated by from a writer who opined the current querying system was backwards. Wouldn't it just be a whole lot better if there was a forum where writers could simply post their work for agents to see, then come pitching woo and bearing gifts.


Of course I sprang into action! I donned my SuperHelpfulSharkolistic cape, and reached out with two screen shots showing that such a public showcase does exist, and has for about 15 years. It's part of Publisher's Marketplace.


Here are the screen shots.





Since every agent I know has a subscription to Publishers Marketplace this seemed to be exactly what they thought was a great idea. I was so darn pleased with myself, I planned to use it as my Good Deed of the Day.


But no.


"Oh that doesn't work," they replied.


"Doesn't work? Why not?" asked Idiotic I, still hoping for a good fixin' to get the day off to a good start.


"No one replied."


Oh so pleased with myself....





Monday, July 31, 2023

Client: Tom Lippman


Thomas W. Lippman spent nearly 40 years at the top ranks of American journalism. For most of that time he was at The Washington Post, where he was bureau chief in Saigon during the late years of the Vietnam War and later bureau chief in the Middle East, where he covered wars in Lebanon and Somalia.


He was an Edward R. Murrow fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and has been a consultant to the U.S. Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency and a frequent television and radio commentator.



His latest book is Get The Damn Story, the first biography of Homer Bigart: "a gangly, rumpled college dropout from a small town in Pennsylvania. By acclamation of his peers and colleagues, he was the best in the business, the definitive foreign correspondent and war reporter. He was the model aspiring young reporters such as myself wanted to grow up to be."


About the book:

In the decades between the Great Depression and the advent of cable television, when daily newspapers set the conversational agenda in the United States, the best reporter in the business was a rumpled, hard-drinking figure named Homer Bigart. Despite two Pulitzers and a host of other prizes, he quickly faded from public view after retirement. Few today know the extent to which he was esteemed by his peers.

Get the Damn Story is the first comprehensive biography to encompass all of Bigart's journalism, including both his war reporting and coverage of domestic events. Writing for the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Times, Bigart brought to life many events that defined the era ― the wars in Europe, the Pacific, Korea, and Vietnam; the civil rights movement; the creation of Israel; the end of colonialism in Africa; and the Cuban Revolution.

The news media's collective credibility may have diminished in the age of Twitter, but Bigart's career demonstrates the value to a democratic society of a relentless, inquiring mind examining its institutions and the people who run them. The principle remains the same today: the truth matters. Historians and journalists alike will find Bigart's story well worth reading.



"Tom Lippman has given us a deeply researched, richly detailed, vividly written biography of Homer Bigart, a great reporter and war correspondent, set against an engaging backdrop of the colorful history of American newspapers and their vital role during their mid-twentieth century heyday."

Leonard Downie Jr.,

Weil Family Professor, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, Arizona State University,

former executive editor, The Washington Post


Here's a podcast about the book

'Thomas W. Lippman, "Get the Damn Story: Homer Bigart and the Great Age of American Newspapers" (Georgetown UP, 2023)' by New Books in Journalism



Tom is the author of eight previous books; the most recent, “CRUDE OIL CRUDE MONEY: Aristotle Onassis, Saudi Arabia, and the CIA,” was published by Praeger in June 2019.



Typos in a query


Recently, an incoming query misspelled the first word in the first sentence of the query.

Of course I noticed. It was pretty hard to miss.


But, I quelled my first flush of annoyance, my intemperate desire to just pass pass pass, and read on. I don't always do that. Spelling missteps make me tetchy.


I'm a total spelling snob (all evidence to the contrary of course; I can actually hear eagle-eyed blog readers Claudie Wilson and Dena Pawling howling with laughter as they read this.)


But, not all typos generate intemperance and annoyance. There's a sliding scale.


1. Homonyms and homophones are tricky for everyone.  I can look past most of those if there aren't a lot (as in fewer than two.) Or if they're hilarious (sheik/chic.)

The best way to avoid H&H quicksand is to read your work aloud. Your ear will hear what your eyeball didn't see.


2. So many people are confounded by it's and its that I don't even count that as an error anymore (but I notice!) 

 And do NOT get me started on lie/lay/lay which is wrong so often that I only notice when it's used correctly.


3. And if you type part when you mean port, or Aeschylus when you mean Achilles, well, even Otto my Czech speller won't catch those.


So, mostly those don't set my hair on fire (but I notice!)


Here's where things go south in a big way:  sending a query with typos that Otto would catch (slacker that he often is!) Stuffing happens, but if you aren't running spell check a couple times on your queries and at least once before you hit send that's a HUGE ROUGE FLAG.  Or as some might say a HUGE ROGUE FLAG.


The poor fellow who prompted this blog post used wel instead of well. Even the normally unflappable Otto had to harumph at that.


Savvy writers are careful but not crazy.


Read your work aloud.

Run spell check again.

Then hit send.


When you find the one small thing you missed, don't worry.

Stuph happens.


Monday, July 24, 2023

Building Social Media

I've been told I need a social media presence. I work full time, and have a family so I have to be extra creative and targeted about where I invest my time.



- Email list. Is there a target size before I should query?

- Social media: What's my goal? Colleagues in the writing community? An avenue to create my email list?



Building a social media footprint is like raising kids. The job changes, but it's never over; there's no one right way.


If you're just starting out, your only goal is to sit down and work on this for 5/15/30 minutes a day (you get to pick the amount of time. The important part is doing x minutes a day consistently.)


That's all. 

If you researched other writers' websites for 30 minutes, that counts.

If you read articles/posts on how to build a mailing list, that counts too.

If you attend a seminar on book promotion, checkity checkcheckcheck.


If you're like me and love love love to set numerical goals (10 more followers by Tuesday!) you'll miss the essential first step.


The essential first step is establishing, then maintaining, the habit of working on your platform on a regular basis.


Doing this regularly is more important than hitting any sort of numerical benchmark when you start out.


If you set numerical goals and keep missing, you'll get discouraged. If you get discouraged, it's VERY HARD to build a habit.



What to start on?

1. Make sure you have a website.

I've posted about this before


2. Explore the various platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (yes, it's still there).  Give them all a try and see which one suits you.  Build your following by being an engaged follower. Follow people you find interesting. Don't worry about who they are.  Some of my best interactions are serendipitous. Don't try to limit yourself to people you think will be useful. You DO NOT KNOW who those people are.


Of course you should follow me and talk to me, if only so I can assess how tasty you will be when I need to gnaw on a writer. (Twitter @Janet_Reid)


Don't wait to query until you have some sort of number of subscribers or followers or you'll never query, and I can't fall in love with your soon-to-be best-seller if you haven't queried me about it.



3. Learn how to write a newsletter. Draft, then send some practice ones to your friends (the ones who tell you if you spelled stuff wrong, or you have an unflattering photo.)


Don't worry about content yet, but book give-aways are always popular and a great way to give your already-read books a new home.  (The books you give away don't have to be yours.)


But the number one thing to do right now is get disciplined about doing this regularly.

I have four things on my standing To Do list, and I write them on my date book so I have it in front of my eyeballs every single day.


1. Torment writers

2. Crush hopes and dreams

3. Play Wordle

4. Play NYT spelling bee


You'll get better at this the more you do it, so start and keep going.


 Any questions?





Related posts:

Rules for Writers: Be Visible

Can A Writer Set Some Privacy Boundaries (aka known as Does Visible Mean I Have To Be Nekkid?)

How Should I Prep My Website Before Querying


Monday, July 17, 2023

Accuracy isn't the only thing I'm looking for


Last week I was settling in on the couch at a new cat friend's apartment and found she was watching COPS.  I did not want to risk life and limb to move her off the remote, so I joined her.


But after about ten minutes, Her Purriness was out of luck.  It was change the channel or die.  The people being arrested were either breathtakingly witless, or drunk — sometimes both. It was worse than watching a train wreck cause it never ended. And it was hard to root for the cops cause they were clearly punching down three ‑ or ten ‑ levels at least.


As I flipped through the channel guide, and fended off Her Unhappiness, I thought about writers who tell me how accurate their books are.


Now, the stories on COPS might be at least sort-of accurate, but that was clearly not enough to hold my interest. (A lot of people watch that show. If you're one of them, I'm not saying you're an idiot.)


For me the show didn't work for a couple reasons, first and foremost because the characters were unevenly matched.  It's not all that fun to see a witless, drunken lout get baited into confessing his sins anymore than it's fun watching someone take candy from a baby.


And that meant the stories weren't emotionally satisfying.


Which led me to realize: Reality and accuracy are seldom emotionally satisfying.


Which is why when someone tells me that the novel they're writing is accurate, it's not the plus they think it is. I know what they mean (they're getting details right) but a good story has to sacrifice some accuracy to be emotionally satisfying.


I thought of this again when a friend of mine Tweeted about a very uncomfortable situation she found herself in recently. She was confronted in a public place by someone with an agenda. An agenda that involved a bullying busybody cloaked in smug self-righteousness.



My friend avoided a scene by walking away.


I think most of us would have done the same.


But that end of the story left me emotionally unsatisfied.

I wanted that prig to be struck by lightning. Or to eaten by wolves. Or both.


To make myself feel better, I wrote a new version of what happened.

There was no lightning, nor any wolves (sadly) but you can be sure revenge and retribution figured heavily in the plot.


And it dawned on me that my friend's version was accurate but emotionally unsatisfying, whereas my reimagining wasn't accurate (it's not what happened, and it's not what how most people would have handled the confrontation). But it was much more emotionally satisfying. Which is exactly what you want a story to be.




I believe this is why people invented storytelling: to make sense of the world and provide emotional resolution to what happens to us and others. To make the world feel better.



There will always be a certain number of people for whom accuracy is more important than the story. You're not writing for them.







Monday, July 10, 2023

Formatting in an email query

Since agents reasonably will not open attachments or PDFs and since there seems to be no way that works to keep original formatting, what chance does a 1000 character per line query have of being read?
I have spent dozens & dozens of hours scraping the net looking for and trying worthless protocols on How To Do it.

Only solution not tried is to type the text as an original straight into/onto the em.
What you think?

Fortunately I checked with you to verify what you are asking and it's not whether you can type 1000 characters in one line.
Cause that's just nuts beyond measure.
Turns out all you're really asking is how to include formatting in an email.
Short answer: you don't.
Trying to format an email beyond what the email software itself does
will drive you crazy (as you discovered).
The good news here is YOU DON'T NEED TO DO IT.
When you send a query and pages by email you do not include fancy fonts
Do NOT indent the pages.
Do NOT center the title.
Do NOT include pages numbers/headers or footers.

Do NOT justify anything to the right margin, or tab over to create a new column of info.
Yes, you type the query and pages into the email and let the software insert the returns.
Anything else and you risk the email being unreadable.
Would you like to hazard a guess about what happens then?