Saturday, August 18, 2018

Otto strikes again!

It's somewhere around 10 am on Sunday.
The renovations on my apartment building seem to require drilling holes in sheetmetal. The work crew is eager to get started.

The noise levitates me from my shark hammock: I search for coffee, locate my glasses (which I find  in the freezer cause I was checking for an expiration date on the vodka last night) and am very glad to remember it's Sunday and not Monday.

But, this is the last day I have to talk to one of my clients before she swans off to some paradise in Central America for a week of sunning, reading, and not working (which I had to pretty much insist on.)

Since we can't talk, we text:

Client: Will reviews come out before the book is published?
(we'd been discussing how to use reviews for publicity purposes)

Me: Yes, prepubescent reviews in the trades are common.


Client: I hate to sound stupid but what is a prepubescent review?

Me: (tapping furiously) Pre PUBLICATION. Fucking Otto Kerrect!

Client: gotcha.

Me:  Prepub like Kikis and LJ


Client: who are Kiki and LJ?

Me: (contemplating Otto-cide)  Kirkus. Library Journal.

Client: aha! Got it.  And how will we know if they review the book?

Me: Reviews will turn up on Amazing.

Client: oh, I know this one: AMAZON!

Me: I'm going back to bed! Don't fall off the zipper in Costa Richard.

Me: Zip line

Client: I'm laughing too hard to type.

Client: you should blog about this.

Me: Great minds work aloe.

Yet another place I am not!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Memoir, the category that cannot die

Memoir is a very tough sell these days. Although you see memoir in the deal news on Publishers Marketplace, for every deal made, there are probably ten thousand memoirs that didn't get picked up either by agents or publishers.

One of the big reasons is that most of us do not lead plot driven lives (thank all deities large and small!) and character driven books are excruciatingly hard to write if you're one of the characters.

When I talk to memoir writers I always ask five questions:

1. What choices did you make?
2. What did you sacrifice in making those choices?
3. How are your choices relevant to me?
4. What surprised you about yourself in this book?
5. What did you learn about yourself from writing this book?

Your memoir  has to be about more than what happened, and it has to have significance beyond your life.

If your memoir doesn't have those things, it's usually not suitable for a trade book deal.
That is not to say you shouldn't write it or have it published. More and more of these kinds
of memoir will be how historians research how people lived.

But there are excellent memoirs being published. A recent one that resonated with me is Vikki Warner's Tenemental which at first glance is about her adventures owning a three family house and renting apartments to a cast of characters that could find work in a Fellini film.

But it's also about much more than that as a good memoir always is.

And although I'm certainly never going to buy a house in Providence, Rhode Island, or a have a plumber on speed dial, the book gave me a lot of insight into aspects of my life too.

For example, in the introduction Ms. Warner says "I have chosen to own a complicated home" which I identified with having chosen to live in a converted tenement which is totally unlike the places I've lived before, or that anyone in my family has lived.

And "If you live among new ruins (ie dilapidated houses) you have to constantly remember not to take them as an indicator of your own worth in the world."  I liked that because once a (now former) client said to me "I hope this book sells well so you can move out of that closet you live in" not realizing I'd actually chosen "the closet", and I really loved it.

And lastly "we are safe from perfection" which I think I may have tattooed on my forearm just so I remember to read it every day. The context of it in the book is probably different than it is for me now, but that's the power of lovely insightful writing: it means more than what it's about.

I got a real sense of Ms. Warner as a person in this book; she did not present herself as either a paragon of virtue or vice. She was a three-dimensional character, interesting, compelling, real. And that's a hard thing to do when writing about yourself!

If you're working on a memoir, this is a book you should read as part of the "100 books to learn your category"

Thursday, August 16, 2018

60 is the new 50

I've recently had an agent request the first 50 pages of my manuscript after being "intrigued" by my query and first 5 pages. Good news, for sure. Here's the thing: a MAJOR plot development happens on page 60; a real WOW moment (at least I hope).

I didn't press my luck. I submitted the first 50 as requested. But I really wrestled with the idea of emailing the agent and letting her know about the major plot development and asking if it would be okay to send the first 60 as opposed to just the first 50. Would that have been okay? Or did I do the right thing but just giving her what she asked for and not pushing it (even though it would have potentially meant she'd have gotten to experience a real juicy moment)?


What you didn't understand (and not cause you're stupid, but cause you're not sitting on my side of the desk) is that "the first 50 pages" really means: don't send the whole thing but let me get a better sense of the book than those first couple pages.

In other words, if you have a major plot development at page 60, send 60 pages.
The agent wants to find work she can sell, and major plot developments are often a reliable indicator of just that.

Querying is not engineering. You don't get extra points for sending exactly 50 pages and no more.

While, yes, you hear agents moan "please follow the directions" what they mean is "don't send a PDF when I need a word .doc"

If I were in your shoes, I'd email her and say "yanno Snookums, there's a major plot development at page 60 so I've sent you that as well as that earlier email with just the 50."

Honestly, if she lambastes you, you'll have some good info about her communication style which might actually be more valuable than you know.

 Understanding WHY this is a rule will help you know when you can break it. It's a rule so that authors don't send the whole manuscript. It's also a holdover from when everything arrived on paper and mailing 50 pages was less expensive than all 300+

But knowing that, you send 60 pages and NOT the whole manuscript because you know what she's really asking for.

Be super careful about knowing what agents really want. It's best to follow the directions as exactly as you can, but still, look at the bigger picture when you face a question like this.

Any questions?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

So, we want to find you on google earth

Recently I received a response to a query I found a bit strange.

As someone with almost no publishing history, my bio tends to be pretty bare bones. I have something a couple lines long that works enough, and sometimes I mention the book is #ownvoices when it seems that would be worth adding, but mostly I let the query stand on its own (or alongside the pages).

Finding myself more interesting is probably something I should work on, but to get back on point, a recent query got a response asking me to re-submit with a bio that included where I live (something amusingly my "extended bio" does make a bit of a joke about, but also something included in my contact information? So a bit confusing), my occupation and my writing credits.

My occupation is "currently unemployed" and my credits are "none". These are literally the only things they've asked me to change in my submission, and I'm honestly just confused. Is this like one of those "see if you can follow directions" thing, or do you think it really makes a difference here? (For the record this is a novel, not non-fiction.)

Thanks for letting me vent if nothing else, and thanks for the blog!

Generally guidelines for submissions are not set up as tests of whether you can follow directions. They're set up so that I can evaluate your work without having to ask you for more information, or reformatting your pages.

In other words, submission guidelines are intended to help you tell me about your work.

So, asking for where you live and your occupation does seem a tad offbeat to me absent "I loved your book and want to begin discussing next steps."  Sure, I may need to know if I'm interested in your book, but unless you live on Mars (in which case, contact me immediately, cause you now have an agent) your location in the world may be needed for talk about promotion, but it really doesn't have anything to do with the caliber of your book.

Your writing credits on the other hand, that's info that I do need. If this is your 13th published novel, we've got a very different situation than if this is your debut.

If you've published three stories in the New Yorker, yes, I really want to know about that (and yes, you now have an agent, please sign right here!)

But unless someone wants to look you up on google earth, they really don't need your address.

As to "unemployed" please don't use that word if you are a stay at home parent. Or a full time writer even if you are not yet published.  In the first case you are a stay at home parent; in the second you are a writer. The government may not count that as employment for statistical purposes but you're sure as hell not lazing about on the porch, firing off tabaccy juice at the one-eyed tom cat come calling on your sweet little tabby.

And if you're taking a break (voluntary or not) from a paid job, you can list your occupation as "asbestos abatement specialist" or "steelworker" or "taxi dancer" even if you are not currently abating, smelting, or shimmying.

I have a real thing about agents who just casually ask writers to jump through hoops, as though their time and fretting is of no consequence.  When I am Queen of the Known Universe things will be much MUCH different.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Why I hate personalization with a passion

Personalization is a foolish requirement in query letters. It wastes time that is better spent writing. It  asks writers to behave as though agents need to be wooed, when in fact, we're the ones making money from your creative endeavours. Yes, we add value (I hope!) but honestly, what more do I need to know than you're a writer, and I want to sign clients?

But the truth of why I really truly hate personalization is that replying to them with a form letter, no matter how nice the form letter is, feels like a rude brush off.

I mean really, consider this example:

Dear Janet,
I've read Patrick Lee's The Breach, and Jeff Somers' Writing Without Rules, and both of them mention how much they enjoy working with you. My novel The Kale Fields of Carkoon is a thriller much like The Breach, with a sardonic hero much like Avery Cates.

Dear Writer
Thank you for your query. I'm sorry it's not a good fit for my list.
blah blah blah

The truth is I cannot respond personally to every query.
Form letters are going to be a part of this job.
So it seems to me that the only thing that we can alter is this insane requirement to personalize a query.

I can't seem to stop writing conferences from offering pitch sessions, so I'm probably not going to make much headway here either, but if you're querying me, it's really ok to just tell me about the book.

If you've read my clients' work, and genuinely loved it, the place I'd rather you  say it is the review section of Amazon, GoodReads, or on Twitter.

Personalization is not right for my list!

Monday, August 13, 2018

My next seminar at #WDC

Last Friday I spent the day with new writers at #WDC18. At the end of my workshops I was able to meet one-on-one with quite a few people who had questions.

A nice young man in cheerful blue print shirt sat down and although I forget the question he started with, the problem was that his novel was 274,000 words. And no, it couldn't be cut. Not at all. Plus,  an editor read it, and she loved it. A lot. Not an editor from a publisher that acquired his genre (fantasy) sadly.

You know what I said: it's too long.

But but he spluttered, this editor doesn't think so! She loved it!

I explained that the reason it was too long had nothing to do with love; it was all about money. It would cost more to print a book that long, and a debut trade paperback  novel priced at $30 was a dealbreaker for most publishers who profess to want to turn a profit.

He literally could not hear what I was saying.

He said goodbye, and thank you (he was a nice guy!) and off he went.

Several more people came and went than another lovely lady sat down, and I squinted a bit; she looked familiar.  "How do we know each other?" I asked.

"I met you here last year, and you told me my novel was too long."

Now this can go one of two ways. I have been known to tell writers that if they discover my advice was wrong (usually about how to pitch something) they should email me and tell me "neener neener." After all, unchecked, I will continue to think I'm right 100% of the time.

"How long was it?" I asked, with trepidation.

"274,000 words."


"I spent the last year cutting it down to 175,000 words," she continued.  "I don't have question, I want to thank you. Telling me to cut was the best and hardest advice I got at the conference."


And of course, how I wished that Mr. BlueShirt could meet Miss Chopping Block.

But it gave me an idea I have for the next seminar: what's the most difficult advice you've ever gotten that actually helped you? And how long did it take for you to realize it was actually good advice.

Tales from the trenches!

Feel free to chime in with comments!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Duchess of Yowl is a cereal killer

Duchess of Yowl: (suspiciously) what are you eating?

Me: cereal. Honey nut cheerios in fact.

DoY: It sounds crunchy.

Me: it IS crunchy. And delish.

DoY: Are you sure you're not eating my cat treats? I know you want them.

Me: This is definitely a bowl of cereal not cat treats.

DoY: (leaping onto table, poking nose in bowl) there's MILK in this bowl!

Me: yes, I pour milk on my cereal.

DoY: you have never offered milk to ME.

Me: Your grace, you've been quite clear you only drink cream and only on special occasions. Like National Cat Day. Or your birthday.

DoY: There's a national day for cats?

Me: Certainly your grace.

DoY: ALL cats?

Me: well, yes.

DoY: It should be just for me!

Me: It's true your grace, you are the pinnacle of catness.

DoY: Don't even think you're diverting me from that purloined bowl of cat treats.

Me: Honey Nut Cheerios your grace.

DoY: whatevs. Pet me while I sample this.

Me: Have at it Your Grace, I'm off to work.

DoY: Bring home better treats, this does not taste like tuna.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Offer on A, but you've also got Novel B C and D on submission

I have officially purchased my hamster wheel! After years of prep, I've begun to query. I've kept my mind off the wait by editing my next book and outlining the one after that.

I have one full out (woo) but with somebody who tends to have a year+ backlog of fulls (boo). And I've realized: between very long full waits, ambiguous NORMANs, and finding new agents who might love Project A long after I've given up and started querying Project B/C/D, I'll end up with multiple projects floating around.

If you get an offer, do you only notify everyone with the same project? Or everyone with anything and a note of "I've been offered on something else, want to see that too?" Except if I get a rogue offer on Project A, the person looking at Project B likely already rejected Project A?? Here I go, SPIN SPIN SPIN.
Get off that hamster wheel and get back to writing!

Here's the definitive answer: you notify everyone who has requested a partial or full manuscript, and has not yet passed.

So: do you notify:

1. An agent you've queried? NO* (unless it's been less than 30 days)
2. An agent who requested A when you have an offer on B? YES

3. An agent who passed on B, but requested A, and you have an offer on B? YES
4. An agent who passed on A, and didn't respond to the query for B? NO*

5. An agent who passed on A, requested B, and it's been a long silence since? YES
6. An agent who passed on A, passed on B, but is your dream agent so why not?/NO

7. An agent who never responded after requesting A, B, C and Q/YES

*unless it's been less than 30 days---30 days is the window for a response to a query. If you have an offer, and you queried me less than 29 days ago, let me know.

Here's how you can answer this question with any permutation:

If you accept any offer of representation from an agent, they will represent all of your work (presumably.) Thus another agent can no longer sign you. Thus: Notify an agent who still is considering any of your projects.

Here's how the email looks:
Dear Agent SlowPoke,
I've received an offer of representation for my novel Steve Forti Versus the Word Prompts (a lexicography novel with a acrobatics).  You requested another novel of mine Carolynn Adds An N on (date.)  The offering agent has asked for my answer on (date.)  Love and kisses, you.

You'll be just fine here since you're not actively trying to hoodwink anyone.

Of course you have questions. Fire away!

Thursday, August 09, 2018


Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend auditions for a play opening in the fall.  I had a vision of Michael Douglas in A Chorus Line (the gawdawful movie), sitting in the back of a dark theatre; a disinterested and disembodied voice shouting Next!

Uh, no.

For starters, the auditions aren't held at a theatre. They're in what look like rehearsal rooms, about 300-400 square feet. In other words, we're front row center. The lighting is good, the paint is fresh and cheerful, there are benches outside the door for "next!" to wait.

We got started late of course, but the first actor through the door was totally calm ...or appeared that way. He had been asked to prepare a song, and two short scenes (sides) from the play.  And when he started, he just owned the room.  I couldn't take my eyes off him.

15 minutes later, the next actor arrived. And did the same thing.

For three hours, actor after actor, all good, all TERRIFIC came through the door.  As the day progressed I could start to see where a few of the actors had made choices in the script; some of which I thought were good, some I thought could have been better.

The director gave notes to the actors.  Giving notes is akin to making suggestions for revisions to a manuscript, except she did it out loud and immediately. While the notes were different every time,  what she asked each actor to change was pretty similar. In other words she tailored her notes to the actor, and did it right then with no time to stop, think, change her mind.

It was like watching a ballerina on a highwire.Without a net.

And then came the really interesting part.  The actors were terrific, but the ones I thought were the very best didn't rate callbacks. Cause in theatre you not only have to be terrific, you have to mesh with the OTHER actors. So if the leading lady is short, the leading man can't be 6'5". You can't cast a tenor for a role that is to be sung by a bass.

Which perfectly showcases the challenges writers face: a perfectly good and publishable book can be a bad fit for an agent's list so it gets a pass. Nothing wrong with it at all, in fact it's darn good. It's just not a good FIT.

The only thing actors have better than writers is all those guys only had to wait a couple of hours to find out if they were getting a callback instead of lingering for 30 days in the incoming queries.

It was a day drenched in awesome sauce, and for a bonus, I got home before it poured buckets.


Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Question regarding non-fiction agent and proposal

I have an agent who represents my fiction, but has a conflict of interest and isn't able to represent me on this topic. We've talked, and we both agree that I'll try to find a different agent for this book and for all of my non-fiction from this point onward.

Do I include this information in a query? Or should I wait until later in the process, if I get that far with an agent? Do I even have a chance at getting an agent when I'm in this situation? I want to handle this correctly, and I definitely don’t want to come across as unprofessional.

Any advice you have would be very much appreciated. I read your blog and have learned a lot through the years. Thank you for fostering such a great online community and being so generous with your time and expertise.

Let's start with the basics first: no matter what you do, you will not come off as unprofessional because you are not unprofessional. You've clearly realized this is not just barrel ahead, throw caution to the winds, see what sticks when you throw it at the wall; and, you're asking the right questions.

The next question is Do you have a chance of getting an agent? Sure. The question is can you get the agent who's right for you, and will be able to help you. That's more complicated.

If you were querying me, the first question I'd ask is "are you under contract to any other publisher right now?"

If you still need to deliver a novel on an existing contract, you'll need to finish that before you really dive in to writing the proposal for the non-fiction book.

Writing a proposal can take MONTHS of work. Several of my clients have standing weekly phone calls with me to send drafts of proposal sections back and forth. The most recent NF book I sold (not yet announced) was in draft from September - April. And that was with a proposal that the author thought was ready to go. In fact, he'd had a previous agent who subbed the book on that proposal.

The next NF book I send out will have been in draft from March-August.

And none of this even begins to talk about building platform.

So, yes, I want to know what your contractual obligations are, and how much time you'd have.

While it's not a deal breaker to need to finish a book, I'm always more eager for books that I can work on NOW rather than later.

Now, the big question: when do you reveal this info. As an agent, I want to know right away. As an author, I think you should leave it out of the query, and let your subject matter rise or fall on its own.

However, you MUST tell the agent before s/he starts to read or invest much time.

You'll need to provide the name of your fiction agent, the details (and probably a copy) of any contracts you've got going, and the time line you envision.

Here's the problem you didn't ask about: because you come with baggage, you're going to need to have something better, faster, stronger, smarter about your topic. Info that no one else has; source material that changes our perception of the events; new information on the topic. In other words, you're going to need to be worth the extra work.

To that end: you might have a list tucked in your back pocket of OTHER topics you want to write about. I can't tell you the number of times I've had a conversation with a writer about representation, and we've come away with a different topic for a book than the one we started.

Does this help?

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Are you ready for the Writers Digest conference?

I'm very much looking forward to meeting you at #WDC18, this coming Friday. I'll be giving two presentations.

The first is for queriers who are just getting their toes wet in the Query Pond (10:15am)

The second is for those who've sent queries out, have revised a couple times, but still aren't getting results. (1:15pm)

Of course you can come to one or both (or neither: there are some terrific panels happening at the same time!)

If you've never been to a conference here are some things to know:

1. Every single person there is as nervous and apprehensive as you are. Agents too. We're meeting total strangers, some of whom will be writing blog posts on how we interacted with them. Talk about nerve-wracking!

Your take away: don't think everyone else is cool calm and collected and you're the only one there who just might puke with nerves.

2. How much value you get from this conference is directly proportional to how many people you talk to.

Your take away: don't sit down and get out your phone to hide from everyone else. BE the one who greets the person sitting next to you. If they are standoffish, greet someone else.

Remember, a LOT of people are nervous and may come off as cold when in fact they are trying to not puke with nerves.

3. How much value you get from this conference will also be in how brave you are. Got a chance to talk to an agent at lunch? DO IT. (Don't ask if s/he'll read your query. That's asshattery at its finest. Ask about the book of her heart.)

4. Take business cards. Don't have time to get them made? Buy postcards at a gift shop on Sixth Avenue (where the hotel is located) and write your contact info on the back.

What's your contact info? YOUR NAME, your email, your twitter handle, your website. And if you're ready, the name of your book and one sentence about the book.

Janet Reid
The Query Shark Guide to Effective Queries
How to write an effective query letter

5. If a panel is not what you thought it would be, or you're not getting anything from it after about 15 minutes, go to another panel. (This is why you sit on the aisle) Leaving a panel is not rude. Being disruptive in your departure is.

6. Take notes at the panel! Keep the handouts. When the panel is done, go back through your notes to flesh them out while the information is fresh in your mind.

A note like: 30 days to follow up might not be as clear in a week as it is right now when you know it means "follow up on a query after 30 days if no response"
A note like "standalone is not cat" will befuddle you next week.
Standalone is not a category will be much clearer.

7. If you're pitching, prepare a very brief introduction to your book, and remember to STOP TALKING so the agent can ask questions.

Example: Hi, my name is Janet Reid. I have a non-fiction book proposal for how to write effective query letters. I am a working literary agent with a blog that has hundreds of thousands of page views, and is widely credited with being one of the best query resources available to writers.

Example: Hi my name is Felix Buttonweezer. I have a completed 98,000 word thriller, The Duchess of Yowl Takes on the Dogs. In it, the Duchess of Yowl must discover how spies have infiltrated the American electoral process, and must do it quickly as the mid-term elections are only days away. Unfortunately, her handler has been kidnapped by dogs, intent on thwarting the voting process and installing dogs in every elected office.


Each agent will have different things they want to know.

If you keep talking, they won't have a chance to ask, and at the end of three minutes, you'll just be sitting there wondering what the hell happened.

I often will interrupt a writer who can't seem to stop, but if they're not looking at me, or reading from a printed page, or have their eyes closed so they can recite from memory, it's hard to get their attention and say "hold on a second, let me ask you this."

Pitching is INTERACTIVE. Make sure you're not the only one talking.

8. Wear comfortable shoes.

9. New York is humid as hell in August and this week looks to be no exception. The hotel will be air conditioned to meat locker temps. Layers. Layers. Layers.

10. Don't stand at the top or bottom of an escalator or staircase. Always be aware of where you are in the flow of traffic. Nothing will make a New Yorker bark at you faster than if you stop at the top of the subway stairs to figure out where you are. (Just keep walking about five steps and you'll be fine.)

Any questions?

Monday, August 06, 2018

Contest results!-FINAL

I was very glad to have your contest entries to cheer me up since I had to leave Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl on Sunday morning. I hadn't been able to talk her real mom into a spontaneous trip around the world in order to extend my stay.

As always, the depth of talent among the readers of this blog is daunting.

Special recognition for using words I had to look up:
urial: Kat Waclawik
ergot: Kat Waclawik
lepton: Joey Collard

Special recognition for what should become an all time classic line:
Kat Waclawik
“We need an ingredient,” an eyeless newt sneers. “Heart of witch.”

Special recognition for one of the very best starts to an entry EVER: 
Michael Seese
Whiskers weighed down by the morning dew, I struggled to leo-locate my backyard. I could have sworn I left it here somewhere.

Special recognition for a compelling image:
We held hands as our clothes mated in the dryer.

Here are the entries that stood out for me:
Amy Schaefer
A woman perched on the next barstool. “Pretty owl.”
“Thanks.” Owl, cursed concoction of wires and flesh – tomatoh-tomahto.
“Greetings,” squawked Xavier.
She dimpled. We chatted.
I hoped.
Xavier and I hunt as a pack. If he would just keep quie—
Xavier unfurled his filament-whiskers. “Madame, have you ever considered buying land on one of the outer planets? It just so happens… today… amazing oppor-tu-ni…” He trailed off in a series of purrs and whirrs.
She sneered and left.
I sighed and scratched my dementia-ravaged telemarketowl. “It’s okay. We’ll find someone to feed us.”
A woman perched on the next barstool.

If only for the idea of a telemarketowl, this entry is wonderful! And I'm always a sucker for a circular narrative. 

Claire Bobrow
It came out of nowhere,
that scary surprise,
lying prone on the floor -
playing dead, I realized.
I unleashed
a loud caterwaul
to scare the bad thing
out the door, down the hall.
The clock struck 3:30 -
a.m., let’s be clear.
My servant ran forth,
all atremble with fear:
“What’s that yowling, dear Duchess? Please settle your fur.
“Would a whisker of tuna help bring back your purr?
I threw her a sneer, arched my back, looked askance.
A plastic bag fright calls for more, said my stance.

“Beluga!” I hissed, “or you’re working freelance.”

Of course, it's always a special treat to have a poem for a story, but what made this stand out for me was the last line. It absolutely captured Her Grace in a nutshell.

french sojourn
"You’re saying, the sun sneezed …and fried anything with circuitry.”

“Yep, a massive solar flare.”

“Well, can we make more circuits?” he asked, nervously rubbing his shaggy whiskers.

“Nope, technology’s dead.” I spurred him on.

“So, it’s…”

“Set the way-back machine to 500 A.D. Sherman, to the dark ages, again.”

“Fuck sake, how we gonna live?” he sneered as a furious glint crossed his eyes.

“Easy.” I nodded in the direction behind him.

As he turned to look, I swung my hammer and caved in the back of his skull. A yowl escaped his lips, followed by his soul.


You had me at sun sneezed. That's such a wonderful phrase and while the purists are going to have conniptions, I think it's a wonderful metaphor.

And really, it's hard not to love a story with time travel AND cannibalism.

Sherry Howard
Barn Food Chain

T’was ‘n eerie night at the barn. Full of shadows and mews.
y owl searched for his favorite little kitty.
He needed the
purrfect location to meet his furry new friend.
He’d put the time in. Kitty loved to play with him.
Hide and seek. Chase the mice. Share a snack.
Now the time had come—before Kitty got any bigger.
A plan. A pounce. No
caterwauling about.
whisk ‘er off her paws and enjoy some playful times with her.
Kitty waited. She’d brought her Daddy, Wild Cat, to meet her new friend.

The End.
Honestly there's probably something wrong with me that I love these kind of twisted stories, but I do!

Just Jan
It buzzed in without warning.

“Imperfect,” it droned.



Yow!” Leo skedaddled under the rug.


Vlad gave us his trademark sneer. “I-N-S-U-F-F-U-R-


We snickered into our whiskers as he scampered back to Mummy.


There was a collective mew at the sound of the forbidden word. Queens covered their eyes. Even the old tom in the corner was quaking.

Berthilde strolled to the center of the room, pupils wide and focused. One paw struck like lightning. With a grimace, she swallowed the offender in one gulp. “Never did like spelling bees,” she muttered.

I'm a sucker for a good pun, and this one is purr-fect.

“Szechuan down,” she said, as the boys filed in from the field. “Sneer as I can tell, you boys is famished! I’ll fix some food fur yowl.” Her purr love of cooking made her whisker self to the kitchen, where she laid out the everyday china.
Soon she had made about one ton of soup (and fortunately she had enough cookies for dessert). She thought about inviting her German neighbor, Mrs. Hottensauer, but decided against it, reflecting that “Ever since my husband came back from Siamese against having fureign guests!”
“It’s ready!” she called out to the boys. “No Peking!”
I don't even know where to start.
This is utterly wonderful.
Not only is it a deft use of prompt words, it's dexterity with language itself.
I'm in awe.

Sherin Nicole
_ shh txt...grumpy owl is listening
_ we cld kill him??
_ we’d get xtra cred 4 knife skills
_ and As for irony
_ who even needs cooking class in our biz?
_ idk…kinda like potions for wizards??
_ UR r
eally cool
_ it’s da fumes from da poison he’s mixing
_ stinky sulfur
_ welp he’s da devil
_ …but calls us ne’er-do-wells??
_ totes not gunna pass
_ got a plan?
_ kitchen accidents r deadly
_ utensil to da head??
_ whisk error…ur such a schemer
_ I owe it all to assn school.
This is giving Mr. Forti a run for his money!

Amy Johnson
QOTKU: What’s this?

DoY: My entry.

“Throw me a party,” I instruct her, as I preen serenely.

”Shall I make a guest list?”

“I made m
y own list.”

“Party games?”



“That’s what you
call it.”


“The guest list indicates the menu.”




“Your Grace, what do you want then?”

“I want you to stop interrupting my caterwauling, figure out what I want served, and pet my scruff.”

QOTKU: No dice. You need to use the prompt words:
yowl, fur, purr, sneer, whisker. And follow the rules.

DoY: I make my own rules.

I laughed so hard at this my neighbors called to ask if I'd adopted a hyena.
That last line makes me laugh every single time I read it.

Susurrafax had silver-grey fur like a hoary old oak and a sneer fit to cast one down.

Most pressingly, he had a slavering beast’s jaws clamped around his neck. “Any last words?” it said.

Susurrafax’s whisker twitched. “A last request: to taste the forbidden fruit before I die.”

In the kitchen, Susurrafax indicated a cabinet. “In there. The tall cylinder.”

The beast pinned Susurrafax to the ground with a massive paw and nosed the door open.

It tore the cylinder open, devouring the dark brown powder within, ignoring Susurrafax’s yowls of false outrage and the purring beneath.

Get it?
And regular readers of the flash fiction contests will recognize Susurrafax from previous entries!

Dan Castro
I massage Waffles’ fur, working fingers behind thick whiskers.
He purrs.
I stop. Waffles is dangerous.
He snarls at the door. I go, hand brushing faux jungle. Swing the squeaky door open.
Step out.
In the darkness, a man. With rifle.
He steps up, sneering. Butts the rifle into my stomach.
I yowl. Collapse.
“Where’s your elephant?”
My hand keeps the enclosure door ajar.
I glance across the compound. Instinct.
He nods. Smiles sickly.
“No witnesses.” He raises his rifle. I cringe…when from the enclosure, the orange-black-white comet of Waffles, 500 pounds of Bengal tiger, crushes the poacher.

I love the concept of this story!  

I think I know who the winner will be but I like hearing what all y'll think before posting.

Look for final results around noon, so weigh in sooner rather than later! 

So, I meant noon in Samoa, not NYC!

Ok, I've been contemplating and the entry that makes me laugh every time I read it just has to be this week's winner: Amy Johnson!

Amy if you'll drop me an email and let know your mailing address, we can also figure out a great prize for you.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and post entries. It really helped get through the bleak Sunday departure from Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

The Duchess of Yowl studies geography

DoY: What are you doing? Why aren't you petting me?

Me: Your sleekness, I'm sorry, but I really do need to get some work done here.

DoY: You're not working very hard; you're just staring at that screen.

Me: I'm putting together a submission data base.

DoY: (looking at screen) There's a town called Prince George?

Me: Yes, in Maryland.

DoY: This is outrageous!

Me: It's been there a long time, they didn't name it after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge' son.

DoY: Tailless twit! That's not the problem!

Me: Sorry, your grace. What IS the problem?

DoY: Why is there not a town named for ME?

Me: There's an entire county named for you Your Grace (quickly white-outing the T) See, Du chess County.

DoY: (only slightly mollified) well good. Now, arrange for a state visit. I want to see my subjects.

Me: You don't like to travel very much Your Grace. Remember how much you didn't like going just to Brooklyn? Your county is much farther away.

DoY: Emissaries. They should send emissaries. With gifts.

Me: What do you want as a gift, your Grace? You have everything you need right here.

DoY: more petting of course. Even for a giant furrlorn bi-ped, you are particularly dense this morning.

Me: My apologies your Grace. Now, should I type the royal decree demanding emissaries, or should I pet you?

DoY: I can't believe you think that's even a real question.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Flash fiction writing contest!

I've been serving as handmaiden to Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl this week. Lots of petting, not quite so much working.

Her Grace was rather miffed to discover we had not had a flash fiction in her honor every day this week. I explained that most people read this blog for information on publishing, not purring. She was not mollified.

To assuage her bruised feelings, here we go!

 The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

To compete for the Steve Forti Deft Use of Prompt Words prize (or if you are Steve Forti) you must also use: caterwaul

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: fur/furry is ok, but fur/ruffian is not; whisker/whiskers is fine but whisker/whisk her is not.

4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.

6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.

7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)

8. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.

8a. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE. (You can however discuss your entry with the commenters in the comment trail...just leave me out of it.)

9. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.
Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"

10. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!")

11. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.

12. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.

Contest opens: 8:55am, Saturday, August 4 (EDT)

Contest closes: 9am, Sunday, August 5 (EDT)

If you're wondering how what time it is in NYC right now, here's the clock

If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's an .xls spread sheet here

(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!

oh no! Too late! Contest closed.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Wait, WHAT?

On Jane Friedman's blog post about the state of publishing for the first half of this year (post: ) she talked about agents moving away from requesting only a query letter and a few pages. One agent she interviewed, Carly Watters (who also tweeted about her submission requirements, said because of the industry changing so are her fiction submission requests:
Aside from a synopsis, any author asked for a full manuscript will have to provide a list of five comparable titles from the past five years, a short marketing plan, a description of the next work in progress, and a list of alternate titles for the work being submitted. She added, “This reflects the seriousness authors need to take when launching their career & it starts with you.” If there was any good news for the debut novelist, it was that this request applies only to writers being asked for a full manuscript, not to writers sending initial queries.
I'm curious, is this a trend or an outlier?

I have no idea.

I've never seen it before, so all y'all out there in the querying trenches will have a much better overall view of who's asking for what.

And I was glad I looked at what she said in the Jane Friedman article:

When I reached out to Watters about her Twitter thread, she illuminated more of the thinking behind her request. First, she said this is more of a “test” of mindset and understanding than anything. “I care about how the author responds to my request, that they engage with it, and that they have some idea about how their book fits in the marketplace.” The marketing plan is the most test-oriented part of the equation; Watters wants to see that writers have given the marketing of their work some thought, even if their points are off the mark or things the publisher would do. “I just want to learn what they know at this stage,” she said. “What I don’t want to see is a short list of things that they ‘will do in the future once they get a deal.’” She’s most interested in what they’re doing now to grow their platform and brand.

After I cooled down from my initial read, and took out all the swears in this post,  I'm still left wondering:

Why would you write a marketing plan for a book that hasn't sold?

I don't write marketing plans for non-fiction books I send on submission. I talk about where we'll find readers, I talk about platform, I talk about people and places that are likely reviewers but there's simply no way to devise a marketing plan for a book independent of the marketing department and knowledge of the budget.

Even if a writer is going to do all the marketing his or her ownself, you still need to know if it's paperback, hardcover, e-original and what the print run is.

And let's all consider this: I've NEVER had an editor ask me for a marketing plan for a novel. Not ONCE in twenty years.

When a book is SOLD and we have a sense of what's hot now, when the book is going to be published, the format, the print run, the interest from the film folks, the sales in foreign countries, the blurbs we're getting, the early reads from key bookstore folks, etc. then we put our heads together WITH THE MARKETING TEAM and work on ideas, plotting and planning.

To give you an idea of the incredible waste of time this is consider: many of the first novels I sell for authors are NOT the novel they queried me for. Maybe you've heard of some of them: Patrick Lee, Jeff Somers, Loretta Sue Ross, Steve Ulfelder.

And how about the fact that Deb Vlock queried me for a novel which didn't sell, and we worked together over the years to conceptualize and then create a proposal for a non-fiction book which did.

But this is at least better the incredible time suck of a chapter outlines that got mentioned two weeks back; even if you don't use it, writing a marketing plan is good practice for when you will need one.
And I concur that a writer with reasonable expectations of where their book fits in the bookstore, and what readers will resonate with it is a good idea.

But here's the true measure of why this is a terrible idea: it wastes the most precious asset a writer has: time.

And my guess is that writers seeing that in the submission guidelines will prioritize their submissions accordingly.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

So, that novel you had on sub for nine years...

I have so many questions about your revelation that you once had a book on submission for nine years.

In no particular order:

(1)  What did the author do during those nine years? Write more books, I assume?
yes indeed. Seven of them sold.

(2) Did you also represent/send out on submission those other books during this 9-year time period?

(3) Did the author have to re-query you for those books?
No. Once I've got you, you don't query, you just send me mss. Then we discuss.

(4) Is that the sort of thing authors should discuss with agents before accepting an offer of representation?

Yes, clarify if the agreement is for one book or for a career

(5) Would it be unheard of for you to rep this 9-year book and another agent to be repping other books??

For me it would be. I like to have all my author's work on my list.

(6)  How many times was the book submitted? Were there simultaneous submissions? Did the book get SOCLOSE a couple times? HOW MUCH SCOTCH DID YOU DRINK?

I've lost count of how many editors had it. It was a lot.

(7)  Did you change literary agencies during those 9 years? How did that work?


(8) In nine years, did some editors see the book twice because they switched jobs and had different lists??

No. It would be rare for an editor to request a book they'd passed on. It happens SOMETIMES if an editor can't muster in house support for a book, then moves to a more amenable publisher.

(9)  Were there edits during those 9 years?

oh jebus, yes. More than I care to think about.

(10) Was this the author's first book?
Not even close. 

I think the full story is in Writing Without Rules by Jeff Somers. It's his novel CHUM that sold after nine years.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Duchess of Yowl is apostrophic

Sunday afternoon

Me: Yoo hoo! Your Grace! I'm here! Let the petting commence!


Me: Your Grace! I'm desperate for your sleek self to sit on my lap and purr!


Me: Your Grace? Are you here? I brought pizza!!!

Me: (to self) If that cat has gone out the window, no doubt she had a parachute but how am I going to explain this to her mom?

(Knocking at door)

Me: yes?

Voice from without: I believe I have your cat.

Me: (flinging door wide): Your Grace!


Me: (utterly bewildered) Your Grace! Have I offended you??

DoY: (burying her head under Voice's left arm) NO. DO NOT EVEN TRY TO GET ME TO COME BACK IN!

Me (to Voice): I'm so sorry, she doesn't want to come back in.

Voice: At best she weighs eight pounds even in her jumpsuit and helmet. I'm sure you can persuade her.

Me: Not likely. But here, let me get her scruff and tummy.

DoY: Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Voice: Jebus that cat can yowl.

Me: Thanks, I've got it from here.

Voice: I'll bring the parachute by later. It's tangled in the geraniums on my balcony.

Me: Thank you. Um…which floor are you on?

Voice: I live on the other side of Central Park.

Me: Oh, I see. Gotcha. Thanks again. Here, have the pizza I just bought.

Voice: anchovies?

Me: Indeed, Her Grace loves anchovies.

Voice:  A duchess lives here?

Me: (aside) uh oh

DoY: (despite being gripped fiercely by scruff and in half-nelson tummy lock) Don't you know who I think I am?

Me: May I present Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl.

Voice: I'll rain check that pizza. See ya! (flees down the hall)

Me: Now, your grace, I brought you pizza. I'm here to pet you non-stop. What the hellhound is going on?

DoY: (wrapping tail around door knob) There is a CAT EATER at large in my penthouse!

Me: (perplexed) there's a dog?

DoY: (aside) Those thumbs really aren't a sign of superior intelligence, are they?

DoY: (as if speaking to a small child or a golden retriever) There is an evil force, a cat eater, here on the premises.

Me: Your grace, I would never let anyone hurt you, let alone eat you. Can you show me what made you think there is a cat eater here?

DoY: (points to kitchen with enraged claw) LOOK!

Me: it's the kitchen?


Me: Your Waterford crystal libation dish? Your hand blown Venetian glass victual bowl?''


Me: (walking into kitchen to get a better look)

DoY: (parkours her way to ceiling light fixture) Noooooooooooooooooo

Me: (looks at personalized placemat under two cat dishes.)

Me: (reading) Let's eat Your Grace.

DoY: I told you! Someone wants to eat me!

Me: aha! Nothing a little proper punctuation won't cure. (retrieves black marker from reticule.) Here, your Grace: "Let's eat, Your Grace"

DoY: (sniffs) I knew that. (nails five point landing on dining room table) I hope you got extra anchovies on that pizza.

Monday, July 30, 2018

using your query letter with the outline of the novel

Your post today on querying got me thinking. I'm currently in the early stages of planning my next novel (to be a series). I'm paying extra attention to plot and twists, as I think that's where I've been weakest in the past. But as I read the query advice, I started thinking that I can use that to shape my plot, at the outset, to make sure I don't write a 100k words without making it crystal clear what the stakes are. What MC wants. What's stopping him/her from getting it. Etc.

Do you recommend that writers start the query and the novel outline at the same time, to make sure all those boxes are checked? Of course, at least in my experience, novels and characters can get opinionated about where they want to go and what they do and sometimes those early outlines look nothing like the final ms. But then, if MC wants to take a left in Albuquerque, maybe a test is how that plays in the draft query? Am I just having a light bulb moment on something that should have been obvious? Any thoughts most welcome, thank you!

well, actually I try not to tell writers how to write.
I can evaluate if the results fit my list, appeal to me, are something I think I can sell, yadda yadda yabbadabbadoo, but how you get there? That's all you.

Which is not to say I won't weigh in on this, cause  I've always got an opinion!

Try it.
See if it helps.

if it does, yahooooo!
If it doesn't, well, now you know.

Pantsing vs plotting is one of the subjects discussed in Jeff Somers' Writing Without Rules, which is one of the best and most hilarious craft books I've ever read. Of course, Jeff is a client and I sold that book, so maybe I'm incredibly smart biased.

The writers who read this blog probably have opinions worth listening to!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Author Dog Elka

This is Elka.
She was a very good author dog.
Sadly  her time here with her people was all too short, and last week she made her transition to the great dogpark that awaits us all.

Here's what her leash-holder had to say about Elka:
This is my favorite picture of Elka. It makes me happy every time I see it, and is probably the best photograph I will take in my entire life.

I took it through sheer luck. She isn't always pleased to have the camera (or cell phone) in her face, especially if we're on a walk and there's just! so! much! to! see! I forget why I had the camera out; We were at a new park, and I must have seen the merit in something she was doing, or I was going to ask her for a behavior, but instead I waited.

See, Elka likes looking at things that fly. She dances around with stray moths in the house, she looks up for an airplane or a helicopter if she hears them (but they're just too fast), and birds....well, when I took this picture, she'd just watched a bird hop across an expanse of grass and take wing, and then whipped around and looked at me as if to say "Did you just see that?" Sheer joy and wonder.

I thought about sending you the picture of her in bunny ears, but I guess I'll save that 'til I query you.

 Elka, we'll miss you.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Submission fretting fuels the rodent wheel

Through a combination of good fortune and by diligently following your guidelines I'm happy to say I am now represented by a fantastic agent, with my manuscript currently on submission.
By any standard I should be incredibly proud of that achievement, and I AM, though some two years into the publisher submissions process and more than a couple dozen rejections in, I'm finding it hard to know where things exactly stand.

I recently read Alexander Chee's How To Write An Autobiographical Novel, in which he mentions that the submission process for his first novel, Edinburgh, went for a similar length of time and for a similar amount of rejections.

This was tremendously helpful to me.

At the same time, I know there are writers who have been out there for far longer, and with many more rejections, either ultimately successful in publication or not. So: I don't think my place on this spectrum is remarkable in any way, but I AM finding it hard to find resources that shed much light on what to expect when it comes to expectations for writers on submission, and who have been on submission for some time.

In that vein, I hope you could answer a couple of questions that I am too embarrassed to ask my own agent.

1. In the hopes of getting a better sense of what to expect re: chances, is there a generally accepted ballpark number of how many US literary fiction imprints - independent, big 5 or otherwise - are out there?

2. Is there any even remote publishing industry equivalent to Hollywood's Black List? Or, to re-phrase, do editors ever talk across publishing houses, imprints? Or to re-phrase yet again, does a manuscript's slowly accruing history of rejection contribute in any way to any sort of stink for current and future consideration by completely different editors at different publishing houses?

3. Are there any nightmare submissions scenarios you and your authors have experienced that you might share to entertain and terrify us poor woodland creatures?

(1) You could probably tally them up, but the number of imprints isn't the info you need. It's how many editors there are, and does your agent know them. 

(2) No

(3) You don't have to look too far this week to see the one that scare us all.
Or how about the one that happened to me some years back: sold the book, got the money, the author had completed the copyedits only to learn the entire division was being shuttered. No book. We got to keep the money of course, but oh man, that just plain hurt.

Or how about being told after 19 books that you're not getting a contract for #20 cause the publisher is cutting the list in half.  Been there, done that.

There are lots of ways for things to go south, but if you focus on that you might as well go home now. It's not whether something untoward is going to happen; it will. The test is how you (and your agent) deal with it and move forward. 

Here's what you need to remember: Phil Spitzer, an agent I admire and respect a great deal, kept a novel on submission for 18 years before it sold. The author? James Lee Burke. JLB is one of the finest writers alive. And it took 18 years.

I've sold novels that were on submission for nine years.
I've got novels NOW that have been on sub for two+ years.

There is no real comfort in this, I know.

Start doing what you love: writing.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Employment contract includes right of first refusal on any book

I just started a new job writing content for a non-profit. This organization sells books and has ties to a privately-owned publisher (both non-fiction and fiction imprints). Because the nature of this organization's work is so wrapped up in publishing and writing, as a content creator, my contract includes a "Right of First Refusal" clause for any books I write (though they seem pretty chill about it).


1) How do I mention this when querying agents?

2) Does this tell agents: "Hey! He writes for a living and has connections with a publisher." Or does it tell them: "This dope signed a dumb contract that limits where I want to send the ms... pass!"

Holy Hosanna! Don't do this again!

You are not an indentured servant here. Work done on your own time should not belong to your employer.

I hope the clause contains a time limit. You show them the work, they have X days to buy it. And please god, I hope the phrase "mutually agreeable terms" appears, or they can buy it for zippo and there's not much you can do about it. It would be nice if it specified what kind of book is covered/not covered as well.

These kinds of clauses are never in the writer's best interest, and even if you employer insists on including one, you should negotiate some modifications.

All that said, you need to get clearance from your employer BEFORE you query.

If I invest five hours in reading your manuscript, another two in talking to you, and however many in writing up notes, I'm going to be HUGELY annoyed if you break the bad news that I can't sell this after I've invested the time.

Get the clearance in writing.

When you sign a trade publishing contract, the warranties clause expressly says you warrant that no one else has claim to this book. The last thing you want is your employer coming out of the woodwork claiming title. And yes, if you have a hit movie based on the book, this kind of stuff happens All The Time.

So, never do this again. Now that you have, get your clearances in order before you query.

In answer to your questions, (1) yes, but you also include that you have a clearance, and (2) the latter, sort of and definitely not the former.

Now, pull up a seat at the bar here cause I think we both need a medicinal beverage after thinking about this.

Any questions?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

#BadAgent (oh man, NOT kidding)

This popped up in my Twitter feed yesterday:

Of course  my blood ran cold.
And I can't imagine how much it terrifies writers.

But after the gasping and the wailing and the rending of garments, the next question is "how the hell would you know she was forging offers?"

The way we heard the story, she told clients she had gotten offers that were "bad" and had turned them down on the author's behalf.

That's a HUGE RED FLAG. Reputable agents don't turn down (or accept!) offers without consulting the writer first. Sure, offers get turned down. When they are, the author and I made that choice together.

But if she's forging the offer, how would you know?
This is so rare, you'll probably never need to know BUT:
If you're suspicious ask to see the original email. If it doesn't have the headers of the publishing company, you know you've got problems.

This agent had sold stuff.
We all knew her, many of us liked her.

It's clear she's slipped off the rails in a very terrible way, destroyed her own career and damaged the writers she was supposed to be helping.  There's no silver lining here; this is an all around disaster of life lesson proportion.

Actually there is a silver lining of sorts: a lot of agents have raised their hand to be resources for the writers affected by this situation.  It's nice to see that kind of instant, here-let-me-help response.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Here's your chance to turn the tables and critique me!

Here's your chance to turn the tables and critique me!

I'm doing a workshop at the upcoming Writers Digest Conference in August.

These are the handouts for the workshop for writers NEW to the query process.  If you're new, you can really help me out here by telling me (in the comment column) what you don't understand, a term you don't recognize, or anything else that puzzles you. Please don't be afraid to "look stupid" because you're NOT. You're learning and we all learned this stuff, even me.

And if you're wondering, at least three other readers are wondering too.

Effective Query Letters for Writers Jumping in to the Query Pond

1. A query letter is what you send to an agent to introduce yourself and entice her to read your full manuscript.

A. By introduce yourself, I do not mean "Hi my name is Felix Buttonweezer"

B. By entice her to read I do not mean "Hi my name is Felix Buttonweezer, and I've written a book that will knock your sox off!"

C. Avoid the temptation to do something new, innovative or "more sensible" when querying.

(2) The one thing you must do in a query is tell me about the story:

Even in character driven books, someone  (usually the main character) has to want something.

Example: In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen wants to save her sister's life

Example: In every Perry Mason novel ever written, Mason wants justice for his clients.

So, what does Harry Potter want?

Resist the temptation to build the world, include a synopsis (that's a separate document) or tell me EVERYTHING.

(3)  Getting plot on the page: once you know what your main character wants, what's keeping him from getting it? (What/who is the antagonist?)

(4) Getting stakes on the page: how will your main character have skin in the game? What will s/he have to sacrifice, change, give up to attain her goal?
Stakes are why we care.

It's essential to show me why I will care about what happens if you want me to read the book.

(6) Close with "thank you for your time and consideration. (thanks Dena!)

(7) The bad news: this is true for memoir as well.

 (page two)
General tips (there will be examples when needed on the overhead projector, but NOT on the handouts)

1. Queries should run about 250 words, excluding the pages you are asked to send with the query.

2. Don't put your contact info or my name/address at the top of the query.

3. Don't tell me what I'm looking for UNLESS you are querying in reply to something specific like #MSWL

4. Don't tell me you followed the directions. I can tell when you didn't.

5. Some agents like queries to be personalized. I think it's an utter waste of time, but pay attention to whether you need that.

6. Most agents get annoyed if you spell their name wrong. Some of us get over it more easily than others.

7. Don't worry about making mistakes. There is no such thing as the query police nor a black list. The worst thing you can do is not query.

8. Obsessing about following the directions will not make the difference between yes and no.
Personalization doesn't change no to yes.
A misplaced comma will not kill you.

9. There are lots of ways to screw up. The only one that is fatal is bad writing.
Signs of bad writing: homonyms, spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes. Describing women by how they look, men by how they act. Describing any woman as a blonde bombshell (i.e. cliché and BAD ONES)

10. Rejection isn't personal (although I never take it well either.)   

I have to turn down GOOD AND PUBLISHABLE  books that don't fit what I'm looking for, are too close to something I have already, I don't think I can sell, are on a topic I really can't get too excited about, categories I'm not strong in. Every single agent in the world does the same.

11. If you've only revised 10 times, you're barely getting started. I routinely revise 20+ times on my "query" letters (which are pitch letters to editors). 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Contest results!-FINAL

As usual there was entirely too much talent on display here. Picking a winner is no longer about picking the best entry cause there are TOO MANY GOOD ONES! Really youse guyz! Dangle a participle or two, will ya??

Also, thank you all for slaying my spell Czech. After this post, he stormed into my office, threw his red pen on my desk, and resigned effective immediately.

Herewith the results. Spelling not verified!

Just when I think I've got him confounded, Steve Forti stymies me again!
Woo hoo! I found him. He's dynamic. I typically scout pitchers, but this catcher was a magician.”
“Yeah? What's his name?”
“Yogi Berra.”
“Yogi? That's funny. So can Yogi be a good fit?”
He smirked. “He can be r-”
“Rare talent level good?”
“For real - ie, worth the first pick. Don't hem and haw. Keep his name on top of your draft board.”
“Just tell me he doesn't joke he's smarter than the average bear.”
Another smirk. “I didn't make the obvious word play here, and trust me, he never will, either.”

This isn't quite a story, but it's outstanding in several ways:
1. It's about my subway
2. I had to look up three words (want to guess which ones?) and
3. It's about my subway.
Also: Canberra!
Alina Sergachov
Sudoriparous straphangers stink. But boisterous bucket
beaters are even worse. They call themselves “drummers”. Ambitious, huh. A
kwela it’s not.
Subterranean preachers. A special level of hell I endure daily.
La Cucaracha ya no puede caminar
porque no tiene, porque le falta
una pata de atrás.
Woo... Hootenanny about a cockroach that has lost one of its legs should be
Ya murió la cucaracha
ya la llevan a ente—

Can be—


—defined as “atrocity” for sure.
In short, all was well on the Brooklyn bound L train till a man got on at Union
Square station.

Not quite a story, but outstanding
Dan Castro 
Imitating Homer Simpson, I yelled: "Woo hoo. I won Sam Hawke's 'City of Lies.'"
"Not good enough," Janet said.
"D'oh! Give me direction. What if I break the words up? Say Homer likes 'Hee Haw,' kestrels, amaretto--"
"What about interruptions? Like, I want, I w-- Ooh! Oolong tea."
"What if I use Latin abbreviations?"
"You won't!"
"I will! I.e.--"
"Et al., e.g., op. cit., ya know?"
"Woo hoo?"
"World...Organization...Of... ...Holistic--"
"Better off with oolong tea."
"So you're giving me direction? Go for interrupted--"
"I'm not giving you anything. Especially 'City of Lies.'"

Here are the entries that were real standouts for me.

Dear Sire or Madam:

I am applying for the position of tying instructor at your city office.
My qualifications are impeachable. I have eyes like a hawke.

I would very much lie to be part of your company and would appreciate
the chance to woo hoo in person.

Very Truly Yours,

Sam I. M. Keene


Dear Sam:

Thank you for your delightful application. Regretfully, this posting has
already been filled.

We are, however, searching for someone to coordinate our breakfast buffet.
Suffice it to say the job is yours if you want it.


Canberra Typing Services
None of you mentioned the sheer brilliance of this entry so I'm going to inquire if you got the joke.
If you note the missing letters (you realized there were missing letters, right?)  they spell out PUNK. It took me three passes to get it, but I knew there was something hidden so I went searching.  My guess after looking yet again, is that I still didn't get the whole joke.

Still, this is funny and clever, and I loved it.

East India Trading Company,
4 Getta Way,
London, England.

Dear Sirs,
My felicity is forever destroyed.
Your Captain Hawkeye has besmirched the fairest and most pure-minded of
maidens: namely, my fiancé, Miss Hymenoptera A. Bandond, who in June sailed on
the Fancy Lass bound for Australia. She joined his cutthroat band the day she
boarded the ship and has since quit her missionary position entirely. What will
happen to the undeserving of Canberra now, I ask you?
Your guarantee of a safe passage is a lie.

Sincerely, a litigious American customer,

W.O. O’Hooligan III
Boston , Massachusetts
This just cracked me up. From "Miss Hymenoptera" to "quit her missionaary position" this was clever clever clever.

Madeline Mora-Summonte
Deer Momma

I shouldn't open the door when your working, but Mister Sam
said it was an emrgenz. The city is full of flew bugs!

We're going someplace safe, sekret. He'll keep a hawk eye on
me until you come. He's a nabor, not a stranger so it's okay. And I scarred of

Missus Woo came, yelled NO GO! ALL LIES! Missus Woo hooked
her fingers into claws, scratched Mister Sam's face! They fighted until she
fell down asleep.

Mister Sam screamed HURRY! so I am.

Don't be scarred, Momma. See you soon!

Your sun Marty
This made me gasp out loud.  The story is icy, but what elevates this is that it's written in a vernacular of sorts, but you still understand every word. That's not as easy as it looks.

Timothy Lowe
They let him lie until the thaw. Kept the dowry themselves.

Moved on to Tucson. Wealthy city, no snow. An army of suitors to woo.
Hoofprints in the sand, harder to follow.

Same plan, different circumstances. But Molly was getting edgy.

“I’m sick of poison.”

“It’s the easiest.”

“Why can’t we just hit them with a shovel? More fun.”

“You’re impossible.” They needed the shovel. No use denting it.

“And why do I always have to be the sister? Always a bridesmaid.”

“Shut up.”

After Tucson, Canberra. Softer ground, little snow. Molly hated Australia, but
she was past complaining.

My new favorite sentence:  “Why can’t we just hit them with a shovel? More fun.”
And of course, that little twist at the end makes this delightful. 

Marie McKay
Samson Hawkens had been a ghost for a year. He'd tried to find his place in the city. He'd let out a 'wwwoohooo' to scare passers-by but he gained no pleasure from it. On buses, he'd lie across passengers' laps until their spines tingled. That only served to make them feel more alive, and he more dead. He'd rattle sticks on school fences. The kids would cry. Often he'd cry too.
Some days, he'd visit himself in the hospital, kiss his wife, touch his daughter's hand, not sure whether he was ready for them to pull the plug or not.

I had to read this twice to fully grasp the story.
Brilliant work. 

Let me know what you think!
Final results when I recover my wits.
(ok ok, we all know THAT's a lost cause!)

After another pass (or three) at the standout list, Madeline Mora-Summonte is the winner.

Congrats Madeline! Send me your mailing address and your prize will soon be winging its way to you.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and post entries. It was a great pleasure to read your work! 

Monday, July 23, 2018

No contest results?! .... here's who to blame!

In a fit of housecleaning mania I decided to wash the floor in my office yesterday.
It's a wood floor so it's Murphy's Oil Soap and a special mop.

Mop mop mop.

All set.

Only I forgot that with the high humidity yesterday, it was going to take a couple hours to be dry enough to walk on, rather than the usual 30 minutes or so.

Ok, no problem, I'll plop down on the couch and read. And it just so happens a new book rolled in this week: Last Call by Paula Matter.

I've been friends with Paula for years, and when I saw her recently at Malice Domestic and she mentioned her upcoming book, I ordered it on the spot.

It inveigled me from where it reclined on the to be read pile, giving me the come-hither eye as only a new book and new author can do.

I capitulated, of course.

Three hours skated by.
Then another.
By the time the floor was dry and I'd finished the book, it was time to fall into the shark hammock and swim off to the Land of Nod.

Of course, only when the cold cruel light of daybreak hit my eyeballs, did I realize I'd forgotten to read and post the contest results.

I think we can all agree, the blame for my slacking off rests entirely on Paula Matter. In fact I think I'll review Last Call on Amazon with the title "Paula Matter has much to answer for." Four stars of course, but much to answer for.

Contest results...well, hopefully today.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Got your Rosco?

Say hello to Rosco!
He's a very good boy.

Rosco knows several dogs with important jobs:
seeing eye dogs
police dogs
military dogs
therapy dogs

Rosco has a very important job too!

He takes his human on long thinking walks.
He listens when his human needs to read aloud.
He's really understands the pain of those rejection letters.
He is an Author Dog.

He is a very good boy!

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Hey We Got a Shout Out Flash Fiction Contest!

Hey, we got a shout out in SAM HAWKE'S book!!
How cool is that!

Of course we need a flash fiction contest to celebrate!
Prize is a copy of City of Lies!

 The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:
woo hoo

If you want to compete the Steve Forti Category of Advanced Word Acrobatics, you must also include: Canberra

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: lie/liege is ok but woo-hoo/wool hood is not

4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.

6. International entries are allowed.

7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)

8. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.

8a. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE. (You can however discuss your entry with the commenters in the comment trail...just leave me out of it.)

9. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.
Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"

10. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!")

11. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.

12. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.

Contest opens: 4:05am am, Saturday 7/21/18

Contest closes: 9am, Sunday, 7/22/18

If you're wondering how what time it is in NYC right now, here's the clock

If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's an .xls spread sheet here

(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!
Sorry, contest closed. Results on Monday 7/23/18