Tuesday, June 18, 2019

How does one actually write a query letter for a short story collection?

How does one actually write a query letter for a short story collection? Query letters don't come handily to me in the first place, but compounding it with trying to highlight the best aspects of already-published stories while also hinting at new stock just eludes me in the absence of examples.

Also, how does one send pages? If the query criteria are "the first ten pages", I've got short stories that fit that. If it says "the first three chapters", I'd assume that's three stories but. You know what happens when you assume!

In all, I've had 14 short stories published and have at least five more forthcoming in 2019, with yet more on submission. One of my stories made it onto the Nebula recommended reading list in 2017 and another story was a Baen Fantasy Adventure Award finalist. So I'm confident that I've got enough stories to make a good collection, but not confident enough to just kind of wing it when it comes to the query letter.

First, make sure you have a novel ready to go as well.
Oops, didn't know that part did you?

An agent friend of mine sells a lot of literary fiction: short stories and novels.
She always laughed about the fact that when she went out with a collection, the editor always asked if there was a novel too.

So, heads up on that.

Smaller genre publishers may well have different take on "you need a novel."

It's essential that a hefty percentage of the stories have been published but you will need new content as well.

You query stories by talking about the narrative arc that defines the collection.
You list the story title, and where it was first published and the word count.
You list the NEW stories, and their word count.

Include one story with the query. Don't worry about page count but don't send a novella.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Five reasons I passed on your query, and you're right, some of them are NOT FAIR

1. You tell me we corresponded X YEARS AGO and would I like to see your manuscript now that you've extensively revised?
You don't tell me anything about the manuscript of course.

At 8:05 on Saturday night I'm not going to spend ten minutes digging around in my email archives to find you.

It's YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to give me the information I need to assess your query and "what the book is about" is #1 on that list.

Mess that up and you're in the pass pile.
Don't worry though; you'll have lots of company.

HOW TO AVOID THIS: Always tell me what the book is about. Even if you're rock solid sure I have the whole thing memorized, and have been poised at the inbox just waiting for you to send it.

HOW TO RECOVER IF YOU DID THIS: Just requery. Don't mention your previous #QueryFail.

2. You include the rundown on the ENTIRE novel, and the ending sucketh.
Honestly give yourself a break here. Tell me about the START of the novel and let me discover the crappy ending on my own. I might even have some suggestions on how to fix it.

HOW TO AVOID THIS: Your query should only cover the book up to the first act, or the first 30 pages, or some other cutoff point in the first 25% of the book.

HOW TO RECOVER IF YOU DID THIS:  Just requery. Correctly this time.

3. You commissioned a cover and include it with the query.
This doesn't just shriek unprepared, it put Unprepared in fancy togs and sends it to the Homecoming Dance.

I've spent ten years doing blog posts about how to query effectively. You don't have to read the posts. It's not a requirement.

But I AM going to hold you to the standards I talk about in those posts. It's YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to be prepared. I've helped you as much as I can and if you don't listen, it's on you. Not fair? I'm ok with that.

HOW TO AVOID THIS: Don't do it. Recognize you are not prepared to query and invest time in learning how querying works. If you think I'm an idiot, there are other agent blogs out there, Jessica Faust for starters.

HOW TO RECOVER IF YOU DID THIS:  Just requery. Correctly this time.

4. The log line is boring.
Here's the big plus: you don't need a log line in your query for me.
I'm convinced log lines are a total waste of time, and hurt you more than they help.

At least twice in the last week I've thought a book was about one thing cause of the log line, and I was wrong.

But a boring log line in a query intended to showcase that you can write in a compelling way? Game over. Not fair? Probably.  I don't care.

HOW TO AVOID THIS: If you think you need a log line, understand they must be compelling and visual.

HOW TO RECOVER IF YOU DID THIS:  Just requery (and leave off the log line if you're querying me)

5. Your query was "can you just take a look and tell me what you think?"
What I think is you are unprepared and believe you're entitled to be the exception to the guidelines I've posted.

HOW TO AVOID THIS:  Learn how querying works. Follow the guidelines which are there to help you, not to make things more difficult.

HOW TO RECOVER IF YOU DID THIS: Wait a while before requerying. The emails with the stench of unprepared disdain take longer to fumigate from the inbox.

Are you sensing some rancor here?
I'm actively seeking good work and it just makes me cranky when you shoot yourself in the foot.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

What a great idea...badly executed

It looks like a guy with more means than most set up a publishing company to publish his own book, and then set about legitimising it. Am I too cynical? And even if I am, could this be something to consider anyway?

I can see a lot of authors jumping at the idea of a full salary to write books even if they don’t even publish them, but the system also just seems plain weird (psychometric testing? hedge funds?).

My favorite line in the article is this:
Also a writer, he decided to set up the company after “experiencing the difficulties of writing and publishing a novel”
This is like the query writer who wants to "improve" the incoming query process cause his/her book didn't get any requests for a full manuscript.

Cause yanno, failure is systemic; it has nothing to do with their book.

Even when you know what you're doing, and have funding, starting a publishing company is hard. I've watched a couple people do it and they were smart, savvy, experienced, and didn't try to do too much at first (like offer salaries to writers.) It takes years to make something like this work, and any entrepreneur will tell you that controlling costs is one of the keys. Salaries are a huge, fixed cost.

Victoria Strauss has a long blog post about this company, and some of the red flags.

Any company that wants to own your work better have a solid track record and deep pockets.

You're not cynical; you're smart.
This isn't a terrible idea; it's just aimed badly.

I'd have been a whole lot more intrigued if they'd been trying to solve an actual problem in publishing: lack of diverse voices.

I'd love to see people with great writing chops and not a lot of financial wherewithal get a leg up in this business, particularly those people we need to hear more from.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Pre-pub podcasting

I am working on a non-fiction book. In the book I also speak about my own journey. Almost everyone I talk with casually about the book says to me, “That would make a really great podcast!”
If I have a podcast out there with the same material that’s in the book, would my chances of garnering an agent’s interest be diminished? My sense is that an agent would put it in the same category as working with an author whose book has already been previously self-published, in other words – no dice.

Would it be necessary for the podcast to contain different material than what’s in the book on the same subject for an agent’s interest to be peaked?

And if I did have different material in each, is it even an asset to have a podcast?

Or would it be an asset only if my podcast had lots of subscriptions? My preference would be to podcast the same material as in the book.  I wonder if a podcast might open up a time-consuming can of worms that may not pay off in terms of my primary goal which is publishing the book or would it help?

Your questions can be synthesized into one: will it hurt my chances to secure representation if I have a podcast covering the same material as the proposed book.

Answer: Maybe.  You've circled around the real problem: if you have a podcast without a lot of subscribers it won't help you cause it will look like no one's interested. I've seen far too many queries for interesting topics that mention their YouTube channel ... only to find their YouTube viewers are fewer than 100.

You need THOUSANDS of viewers to make the platform worthwhile.

Do you want to spend time and effort on a building a podcast audience? Only you can answer that question.

At some point though, you are going to need platform for this book. What form that platform takes is up to you, but you MUST have people interested in your topic before you go on submission with a book proposal.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Just another day at the Query Parade

Query letter arrives in inbox. I happen to be working on my queries, so I see it very quickly.

I skim, category is an absolute non-starter for me; writing doesn't persuade me to consider making an exception; a LOT of other problems including word count.

Elapsed time: 60 seconds.

Me (to query writer): Thank you for your query.  I'm not very strong in (category).I don't read enough of it  to be an effective advocate for you.

Very best wish as you query onward.


Email inbox catches on fire; klaxons sound; IT rushes in with fire extinguishers.

Query Writer (to me): I can't believe you passed on this so quickly. Clearly you didn't read it. You're just looking for a way to reject me.  (further vitriol)

Me (to query writer): I'm sorry you interpreted a pass based on category as a rejection of your work.  Fortunately, most agents now are no response means no, so I'm sure you won't be insulted this way again.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Do I have to lay off the snark to avoid lawsuits?

I am wondering about the use of real people's names in my novel. I currently have 3 different references in my WIP, and only one is flattering to the person mentioned:

"That gem came from a local wannabee liberal, Latina version of Tomi Lahren."

"At the mention of a foster home, I’m struck by a squalid, Dickensian scene: crowded single-wide, chain-smoking Mama June embedded in a sagging sofa watching The Bachelor on a 72-inch wide-screen while a dozen filthy, rail-thin kids suck ketchup out of McDonald’s packets."

"He may not look like Matthew McConaughey, and he may need those thick-soled boots to reach five seven in height, but what I realize now is that Holly is oozing with self-confidence."

I find I like making reference to current people/events quite a lot. But Mama June might not love my reference above. And since we know my novel will become a global, best-selling phenomenon, I have to worry about this! (lol).

But seriously, is this kind of thing okay or do I need to keep my snarkiness more generic?

All of these people are public figures, thus any action they bring for libel must meet a higher standard: actual malice. Unless you intend to defame Mama June with this description, you're on the right side of the line.

That said, anyone can bring action for anything (see Devin Nunes).

There's a clause in most publishing contracts that says the publisher has the right to vet your manuscript for anything that is likely to subject them to legal action (like a lawsuit claiming defamation) and that you, the author, agree to make changes as they require to avoid that.

Bottom line: don't worry about this at the query stage. Your query isn't public nor is your unsold manuscript.  At such time that your book is slated to become public, if there's a potential problem, your publisher will let you know.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

I’m nowhere near needing the answer to this question, but I’m still curious.

I’m nowhere near needing the answer to this question, but I’m still curious. 
When an author is working their way through their agent or editors revision notes, should they only make changes to the parts that have been marked up? Or can they/should they add in new elements they were suddenly hit with the inspiration to include? Can they add in a sub plot, a character flaw, a world-building description etc, or should they just stick to the revision notes and leave everything else alone? I could see how adding new stuff could get messy, but on the other hand, they could possible add more sparkle.

Did the rodent wheel need a good workout?
You let it sit, unrun, too long?

Why you're even thinking about this right now just underscores that writers will think about ANYTHING to avoid thinking about the novel they're working on.


To answer your question: this is entirely dependent on where you are in the editorial process.

If you're doing revisions based on my comments before I send your work on submission, I'd rather have the most fully developed polished sparkly manuscript I can get.

Applying the notes to all of the book is generally a good idea.

When the book is on submission, but not acquired, and you're asked for an R&R, ASK YOUR AGENT.  She'll know what the editor expects and can advise you.

If the book is sold, and your editor has sent notes, ASK YOUR EDITOR.

And if the book is sold, and you're marking up the galley proofs:

Marking up galleys is not the time to revise the book (generally).

But again, you're thinking about this to avoid thinking about something else.
What is that something else?
Fix that, and you'll be better off than listening to me yammer about Events Yet To Be.

"That hamster looked tasty, where did it go?"--Her Grace The Duchess of Yowl

Monday, June 10, 2019

June 8 writing contest results-FINAL

Some really outstanding work here this week!

Words I had to look up

 theblondepi: nugatory

People who are going to receive an audio sound track of groaning
Scott Sloan

The day started with murder…
Specifically, my murder…
It went downhill from there…
Like a watermelon precariously perched on Pikes Peak…
If you’re looking to get off-ed in Colorado…
I’m thinking getting plunked on the melon with a melon ain’t the way I’d want to go…
Looks like I’m gonna be way out in front at any seed-spitting contest…
My girlfriend wanted to get married, but I cantaloupe…
Honeydew quickly became honey don’t…
Murder is usually involved when things get puny around here…
Looks like the time’s ripe for forensics…
Speaking of Fiber…I got Fiber coming out my ears… literally…

Outstanding opening line
Beth Carpenter
The day started with murder and ended with cosmetology.

Outstanding second line:
Blue Sage
Chad brought a live chicken to his dorm at four in the morning two hours after a drunken fight with Abby about the difference between vegans and douchbags.
Joh Davis Frain
Ashes keep secrets better than I ever could.

Outstanding final lines
Steph Ellis
Monday is murder. Tuesday is robbery.

Outstanding line for all seasons and reasons
“Ma’am, there’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich stuck to your head.”
At 2 am the target walked out of the bar into a bullet

A descriptive phrase for the ages

Where There's a Quill
(the marching band) dominos to a halt

Steve Forti is now just toying with me for his own amusement.
“Theda, y?” started W. “I th-“

M, Ur derisive attitude towards us true starlets has gone on long enough!

Martin turned to studio boss W. Caldwell. “See? This is what I’m talking about.
Talking. I can’t have a conversation when all her responses are on title cards.”

“I thought you two worked this out,” W finished.

This vamp will not acquiesce to your silly Talkies!.

Martin sighed, frowning at his broken director’s chair. “Get with the times, Ms. Bara. The silent era is over.” He pointed. “You don’t want to speak, quit the picture. But stop breaking my chairs!”

The fact that he's involved Theda Bara in his shenanigans ...perfect.

Here's the semi-final list.

Jennifer Delozier
Writer of Wrongs

Beth Carpenter
Nate Wilson

Timothy Lowe
Marie McKay
Sandra Schmidtke

Stack Attack

Here's the list of stories I think deserve special notice

The day started with murder! Two bodies this time. Was I Shocked? Repulsed? No. I’m a “cleaner.” My job is cleaning up messes like this—wiping up bloody evidence, leaving no trace, visible or otherwise. I am the best there is.

Until today.

A kidney.

Left behind.

Under the pea green armchair.

I had gone back to the scene to check one more time when I spotted the remaining body part.

I no sooner cleaned up this bit when people started arriving to dinner. And I spotted the murderer behind the chair with yet another mouse in his mouth.

When I first read this, I thought it was a cleaner like Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction.
Then the twist!
I love stories with twists!

Aphra Pell
The day started with murder. 24 points.

Mike plays croze straight onto a triple letter score. Smug git.

Grandma’s in the background. “Your sister always loved Christmas”

Ha! At least 6 ft under, she’s free from Boxing Day games.

Qualms. Double word and 40 points for me.” Vi, all marshmallow smiles and acrid eyes.

Qualms – what I lack.

Jester. That’s how they see me. But it gives me murders as well. Puts me in control.

Mike plays jounce; showing off.

“Tripe word score – exit!” Yes Vi, and soon you’ll meet yours.

Time for my favourite word, tontine.

Very very subtle.
Do you get it? 

Dena Pawling
An extensive vocabulary is absolutely required. A man can't simply walk down the street. He must walk quickly or carefully or slowly or hesitantly. The street must be wide or narrow or busy or eerie or picturesque.

Adjectives and adverbs are the guaranteed most important. They make tremendously exciting an otherwise dreadfully boring noun or verb.

Today's unfortunate clueless authors don't understand that.

I copiously drooled over my new behemoth doorstopper dictionary and extensive comprehensive thesaurus. I'm serious about my craft. Agents will be desperately fighting over my groundbreaking life-changing manuscript.

I lovingly opened the dictionary.

Today started with murder.
this is a poke at my beloved Thesaurus and Dictionary.
The only thing you missed Dena, is my beloved RandMcNally Road Atlas.
I use it to find  places mentioned in the news.

I love the stories that are insider info!

Barbara Lund
The day started with murder, and went downhill from there.

Recalcitrant neighbors, uncooperative suspects, media circus.

Ninth murder and likely more to come.

Suspicious partner, side-eye sergeant, disavowing chief.

When they brought me in, accusations flew like crows, but I followed my own advice: deny, deny, deny, and if you can’t do that, shut ya mouth.

Didn’t help. I had no alibi and plenty of motive.

I tell ya, the only thing a cop hates more than going bad is being sent up for the one murder she didn’t do.

Love that last line!

The day started with murder—an impromptu performance.

“I say!” she muttered. “Rather unfortunate affair.”

The blood-spattered shovel scooped up another heap of soil and scattered it onto the leaking body below. Luckily her mother never minded her playing in the backyard before breakfast. The girl hadn’t planned on bloodshed this early in the morning, but sometimes death demands action.

“The day started with murder,” she mused. “Darling book title, that. Perhaps I shall write it someday.” She was the creative type.

“Breakfast, dear!” Mrs. Miller called from the kitchen.

“Right there, mother!” young Agatha replied. “Just washing my hands.”
 Delightful story, even more delightful reveal at the end!

The day started with murder. It was Jorge’s idea. Last week, he renamed Monday “Murderday” on the office calendar because, you know, Mondays are murder. Maybe he thought no one would notice.

But everyone did.

Some thought it was funny. Stupid Jorge and his stupid sense of humor. Others called it “highly unprofessional.” We had to apologize to them because, you know, that’s what we do. We apologize for Stupid Jorge and his stupid sense of humor. One person -- just one -- took it literally. There’s always that one, isn’t there? The one who didn’t get the joke?
This really isn't a story, as much as it is a description, but I love love love it.

Katelyn Y
The day started with murders.

The first victim was expecting me and died easily. Typical mob boss. Too calm when facing Death.

The second was frantic. Most people are, particularly the guilty ones. “Please. My family... I need more time –”

I ushered him into eternity anyway. Justice is elusive, but occasionally mine.

A stray bullet sent the third. Young, stubborn. A born negotiator. “Surely there’s someone worse you’d rather meet,” she said. “Give me the name and I’ll arrange the meeting.”

A word for the dying: they say you can’t cheat Death, but I assure you I take bribes.
I Bribed Death--great title for something!

Megan V
The day started with murder wrapped in a bow. Well, wrapped in a manila folder. Even as coffee bubbled in a battered percolator, Dee thumbed through reports, photographs, and ruined lives.

All around her, the room hummed. The walls breathed. Whispers echoed. Footsteps clicked, clacked, and faded down the hall.

Had she missed something? Forgotten to write something—something important—down?

Not that she could see. It was all pretty straightforward, from the witness statements to the shitty surveillance. And yet, she stared at the eleven raised hands in disbelief.

“Well?” Someone said.

Dee swallowed. Then raised her own.
 I love the ambiguity here.
My take is Dee is the murderer, and is now serving on the jury.
Is that what all yall saw? Or what Megan V meant??

The day started with murder, Rufus chuckled as he looked down at the yellow goldfish gasping on the floor amongst the shards of glass. He watched its gills heave back and forth desperate for oxygen. It was his first time inside Mary Conroy’s house and he hadn’t seen the bookcase with the small globe of water perched on top in the dim light. All those months of watching her, studying her, and yet he never knew she had a pet. There was always so much more to learn, and he was finally here. Rufus sat on the couch, and waited.

 This entry reminded me of one of the creepiest books I've ever read: A Pleasure and a Calling, by Phil Hogan. I loved it.

The day started with murder. Not mine of course, though given how my day’s going it would’ve proved—convenient.

“Jessa, for hells sake.”


“Help me pick it up.”

“It’s still moving.”

We stared down at the jittering wings. Fairies.

Slender. Horrible. Murderously glittery.

I nudged the shimmering scaled-body with my heel. Word to the wise. Don’t trust anything that sparkles. And don’t trust books.

Fairy godmothers my ass. Unless you liked getting dusted with flesh-eating green acid, Tinkerbell wasn’t for you. Or apparently, as the fairy dissolved in a plume of rancid smoke, was just riding the Tube in peace.
I love things that are Murderously glittery. 
Don't trust anything that sparkles is my new motto.

And I love the ideat that this all takes place on the uptown IRT.

As usual, I'm dithering about which entries to select
Let me know your thoughts on the  matter here in the comment column.

This was a REALLY strong field. There were a lot of entries that were really good that didn't get a shout out.

I hope you all enjoyed my pain.
I agonized over this, but in the end I went with the one that was clever and made me laugh.

This week's winner is Casual-T.

T if you'll send me your preferred mailing address I'll send you your prize.
It's a puppy.

No, it's really a book. 

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and enter.
This was an amazing turn out, and amazing work from all y'all.

I like this prompt phrase stuff!

Next one: "What's this handbasket doing here?" sounds good to me! What do y'all think?

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Hello Sunday!

Have you ever started to read a book, and found the writing so beautiful and sublime, that you didn't even care about the story, you'd keep reading just for the prose?

This is one of those for me.

Tell me one on your list.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Writing contest!

Let's have a writing contest this weekend!

Some time back, someone suggested this prompt:

The day started with murder

I think it's a terrific idea!
MOST of the usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story: 

The story must START or END with

The day started with murder

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

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.

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: Saturday, June 8, 3:31am (ok, I'm still up which means I'm hoping NOT to be at 9am!)

Contest closes:  Sunday,  June 9, 9am

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 http://www.colindsmith.com/TreasureChest/

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

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid

Ready? SET?

Not yet!

Rats! Too late. Contest closed.
Results on Monday? Let's see if Slackerpuss can get it done.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Required bio fields on portal querying

Many agents are using an online query manager (vs. email), with standard "fill in the field" required questions, one of which is the ubiquitous "Tell us about yourself and your many achievements" biography.

When a fledgling writer - with no credentials to her name - puts said potential agents in a tidy bucket and sets them aside for "future" attempted queries...and the future arrives e.g. it's time to quit pansying about and actually query them, what is one to do?

The straight up question is: What is the expectation of a biography, when there is no useful biography to be had?

In conventional queries, I simply skip it - and close with title and word count, etc. The online variety doesn't allow for that. 


My first choice is always to be funny, but that's often not the best choice.
Agents understand that many writers are not leading headliner lives, and that's ok. Or that you haven't been published before, also ok.

What's absolutely required: almost anything other than "I don't know what to say here, I'm dull" will do the trick. It's not so much what you say about yourself it's that you say something.

Something can be where you live and your job if you have one.  (Do NOT let me hear you say you're a "boring" stay at home parent!)  Your dogs/cats/geckos are always a nice touch.

"Instant requested full when you  mention me, of course"--Duchess of Yowl

If you don't have that, tell me what kind of books you like to read.

You're introducing yourself at a noisy cocktail party. Tell me something about yourself that you'd want to know about me.

My knee-jerk response to required fields is "and the horse you rode in on" but that's not at all helpful.

No Janet, it isn't helpful, and what did I ever do to YOU?

A mailing list sign up once asked for something like ten pieces of information. I filled it out with nonsense, and I'm STILL on the mailing list. I do NOT recommend doing that here.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Now that you're dead, about that novel

The tragic recent death of a journalist who had recently signed a two-book deal made me wonder – I am keen to think about anything other than the death itself -- what happens in this case? Would the project be abandoned by the publisher or would the first of the two, perhaps, be carried on if that manuscript was mostly on its way?

Sometimes a publisher will include a clause that says "if the author dies, the publisher can find a new author to complete the book."

I usually have that clause struck out because it's my client's work, not the publisher's, and they don't get to dictate stuff like that.

The heirs who now own the intellectual property, or the literary executor, decide what to do.

It's case by case; there's no industry standard; there's no common practice.

Unfortunately I know this first hand. When Andrew Britton died at a very young age, his agent worked in the office next to mine, albeit for a different agency.  She came in to tell me, and I knew at once from the shock and sorrow on her face that something was terribly wrong.

When the dust had settled, so to speak, the question was what to do with Andrew's unfinished novel. His family, his agent, and his publisher worked it out.

It was a matter of solving the problem, not doing what a contract dictated.
And often times, that's the way things really get done in publishing.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

"Ok, I believe you now"

I've been querying, revising and resubmitting, and waiting (and waiting...) with a manuscript that had R&R requests from several agents. It's been a task, to say the least, keeping everything sorted as to which R&R's I wanted to pursue, which agents had which requested versions, which agents have yet to be queried with this way better verson, etc.

In the midst of me learning new patterns in which to anxiously twiddle my thumbs... my inbox lit up with the pink 'full request' marker I use in Gmail. 

My heart skipped several beats, thinking it might be a reply from an agent who has an R&R from me.

...it was a reply from an agent who had the very first version of the manuscript, which I sent them 14 months ago.

I'd nudged them once, a year ago, with no response. 

It turns out agents do respond to manuscripts they've had in their inbox for ages. 

I'd like to now present you with this well-earned ticket: YOU WERE RIGHT.*

*redeemable for 1 prize at the You Were Right prize booth. No cash value. Void where prohibited.

Believe it or not, after all the work I've done on this manuscript, all the revision, all the waiting, it was really nice having a surprise reply that said, 'It's not for me, but I still had fun reading it.'

Monday, June 03, 2019

over explaining

A recent manuscript I was reading suffered from lack of confidence.
How can a manuscript lack confidence you ask?
Well, it wasn't the manuscript so much as the writer.
How can a writer lack confi...oh wait, you know all about that don't you?

In this instance it meant that the writer did not have the confidence to just say something. The something had to be elaborated, explained, or just said again in different words.

That kind of accessorizing undercuts the power of your work.
Just say it.

Have the confidence to let the words just be there on the page.

This is the kind of thing you watch for when revising. Are you repeating something you just said? Which version is better? Keep that one.

Intended repetition is a powerful tool.
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

UNINTENDED repetition is cumbersome.
Watch for it.

It's not wrong. It's not an error.
Spell check, or even most beta readers won't catch it.
You'll catch it when you're looking at your work on a granular level.
Word by word; sentence by sentence.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

The Duchess of Yowl reads a Twitter thread

DoY: Did you see this? A toddler cried because his dad wouldn't let the dog drive him to daycare.*

Me: I'm still laughing.

DoY: That child needs psychiatric intervention.

Me: He's a toddler. They aren't rational.

DoY: He's unhinged poor thing. Why would he want a filthy hound in his car?

Me: A cat should drive him to daycare?

DoY: My point exactly.

Me: Do you know how to drive?

DoY: You have often been heard to mutter that *I* drive you crazy.

Me: I must be tired from BEA. I just walked into that one.

DoY: After you serve dinner, you may lie on my couch.

Me: You've had dinner. It's 9pm!

DoY: I think you're so tired you forgot to serve me.

Me: Have I ever forgotten to serve your victuals?

DoY: (darkly) Not yet.

Me: About as much chance of that as the dog driving the kid to daycare.

DoY: Filthy hounds and sticky toddlers. How did Dante overlook them?


Saturday, June 01, 2019

and and and

I've often advised writers to perform a That-ectomy on their work. Search out all instances of THAT and make sure you need THAT word then and there. Often times, you don't.

I'm adding a word to the -ectomy list: and

I've been noticing a lot of writing that connects things that aren't linked.

Run on sentences, or just long ass sentences often link two things that don't fit together.

This can rob your pages, and novel, of energy.

It's too daunting to think of and-ectomizing your novel. The thought of it gives me the shivers and my reputation for being mean and cruel is already burnished enough (see what I did there?)

Just take a look at the pages you send with your query.
If you see a lot (like more than three) of instances where you've linked things that shouldn't be, you'll know it's also in your novel. Set a schedule of 3-5 pages a day and tackle it.

Once you know to start looking for this, you'll see it on the first revision passes you do.

Let me know what you find!

Friday, May 31, 2019

My book has a doppleganger

I'm looking for advice or maybe some insight into a problem I'm sure (I hope) other writers have experienced. 

I've been working on a book for many years off and on, but I recently discovered a book that was just published that has an eerily similar premise to my work in progress. They are the same category, same genre, and same story if you boil it down to a sentence. They both have the same type of magic. We both even named our rulers the same name! (In my defense, it wasn't that inventive of a royal name.) 

Obviously, this author's book was published first, so I'll admit defeat and change the name, but I'm worried about the other similarities. I know the meat of my book is different. The tone is different. The character arc is different. Is that enough? I just don't know where to go from here. I've spent years on my book. It's changed a lot in those years, but it's always been that basic premise. Just when I finally feel I have the book figured out and I'm ready to start querying... I find my book's doppelganger. I'm crushed, to say the least. 

So, should I shelve it and move on? Or is there still hope? 

You know what else is different?
The writing.

I see LOTS of books with similar plots, even similar log lines. It's what the writer does with these basics that draws my interest.

And if you think I'm just trying to make you feel better (wait, you're a blog reader, you know that isn't even possible) take a look at the flash fiction contests. The writers start with exact same words, and no one has ever written a duplicate. Not even the ones who have the same ideas.

When I read queries, yes I want plot. Yes, I want the plot to have something fresh and new. But I'm mostly looking at your writing. Can you fling, and zing, and sling words and sentences? Can you make me care about the villain? Can you make me desperate to find out what happens next?

So to answer your question: no don't shelve it, no don't move on, yes there is still hope.
You've hit the trifecta. Buy a lottery ticket.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

ok, not this, that one instead

I have written a series of picture books, and queried the first book. After replies and careful consideration, I have concluded that the series should start with the second book. Can I requery agents with this second book, even though it is from the same series as the book being scrapped?
If so, would you address this in the query letter, and how would you do it?
Thank you!

Yes, you can query the agents again.
Don't mention the first book.

However, don't expect different results. If an agent liked the idea behind the series enough to pursue
it you would have gotten an email saying "what other books do you have in this series."

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Going Going Gone Baby Gone

Hello Janet,

I’ve noticed several recent deals on Publishers Marketplace that say “in a nice deal, at auction”, and I wondered what triggers an auction for a manuscript?

It sounds like a wonderful position to be in for the agent and author.

It is!
Sold at auction means that more than one editor was interested in acquiring the project.
When that happens, the agent conducts an auction, and it's much like what you've come to expect from seeing auctions on TV.

Initial bids come in. Rounds continue until one editor "wins."

That's the GENERAL scenario and there are a lot of variations.

The bids aren't just about money either; territory, royalty rates, terms, can all come in to play.

It's a harrowing couple of days, often, but yes, it's a wonderful position to have a lot of interest in a project.

The "nice deal" refers to the ballpark level of money for the deal. Those are defined at PM if you're interested. 

You might be interested to know that PM invented those categories, and what numbers are associated with them, but I now see them used in a myriad of places, such that they are fast becoming an industry standard.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Querying a whodunit

Greetings, Janet.

I am working on my query with the help of query shark and was wondering if you could clarify something for me:

As I understand it, when writing a QL, you need to explain what the main character wants, and who is thwarting them, but what if you are writing a "who dunnit" mystery and the antagonist isn't revealed until much later?

How much of the plot should I keep up my sleeve?

Not all queries follow the template.
It helps to know the rules, so you know when you need to break them.

And if the murderer can't be revealed until the end, you'll have to talk about the plot in a different way.

Much depends of course on how the plot unfolds. If you're writing a police procedural, the plot unfolds as the investigation progresses.

If you're writing a traditional, the plot unfolds as the main character proceeds.

The best way to figure out how to talk about your book is look at how similar books are discussed.

I use Amazon as a starting point.

Three of my favorite Agatha Christie novels:

The Secret of Chimneys:
Little did Anthony Cade suspect that an errand for a friend would place him at the center of a deadly conspiracy. Drawn into a web of intrigue, he begins to realize that the simple favor has placed him in serious danger.
As events unfold, the combined forces of Scotland Yard and the French Sûreté gradually converge on Chimneys, the great country estate that hides an amazing secret. . . .

Or Lord Edgeware Dies
When Lord Edgeware is found murdered the police are baffled. His estranged actress wife was seen visiting him just before his death and Hercule Poirot himself heard her brag of her plan to “get rid” of him.
But how could she have stabbed Lord Edgeware in his library at exactly the same time she was seen dining with friends? It’s a case that almost proves to be too much for the great Poirot.

Or The Hollow
A far-from-warm welcome greets Hercule Poirot as he arrives for lunch at Lucy Angkatell’s country house. A man lies dying by the swimming pool, his blood dripping into the water. His wife stands over him, holding a revolver.
As Poirot investigates, he begins to realize that beneath the respectable surface lies a tangle of family secrets and everyone becomes a suspect.

These are all from Amazon, but you'll want more recent comps or examples, so looking at the reviews in PW is a good guide too.

In short: you set up the scene and who's investigating. In an amateur sleuth mystery, one of my requirements (but this isn't industry standard) is that the sleuth have a compelling reason to investigate.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Call for photos!

Art room BEFORE

Art room DURING

Art Room AFTER

Art Room BONUS

It's almost summer, and you know what that means!!!

BUT, before we get caught up in drop cloths and painter's tape let's take a look at your writing or working or art room spaces!

I'll post them along with anything you want to write about the space during the next blog hiatus, which is the first week of June when I'm going on a reading retreat.

The example today is Lennon Faris' art room.
Isn't it GORGEOUS???

I want her to come to my house.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Duchess of Yowl would like to speak to the F&B manager

Scene: early afternoon, lovely summerish day, Chez Yowl

A high pitched yowl of cinematic length unfolds such that foundations tremble, windowpanes shudder, and Thumbs, handmaiden to the Duchess, bolts upright from the couch so quickly she falls over.

DoY: I'm hungreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Me: [scrambling to regain footing] There's food in your dish.

DoY: That dish is filthy.

Me: It's your elevenses!

DoY: I require a clean dish.

Me: Ok! Ok! I'll put this in a clean dish

DoY: No. I do not want used food.

Me: Used food?

DoY: That is not fresh from the can.

Me: It's YOUR food. You're the one who ate it.

DoY: How do I know that?

Me: This is food for cats. You're the only cat here

DoY: I beg your pardon.

Me: Oh! Right. Sorry, I mean this is food for a Duchess. You're the only royalty here

DoY: Exactly my point. I know you want my food. How do I know you didn't put your flat-eared, sadly lacking in fur, whisker-less face into my dish?

Me: [at a complete and utter loss for words]

DoY: You know I'm right.

Me: [opens fresh can]

DoY: No, the other can.

Me: That's MY used food.

DoY: It smells like tuna.

Me: It is tuna. I made a tuna sandwich for lunch.

DoY: I want tuna.

Me: Used tuna?

DoY: Repurposed tuna. And some of that ice cream you're hiding in my freezer too.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

How long do I have?

Dear Shark-leader,

I am one of the many who follow your blog - often silently, lurking in the shallows but always close by.

I recently had a short story published (spec-fic) in a pretty respectable magazine. It was my biggest sale to date and a real boost to my confidence.

A week later, I received an email from a credible literary agent (who represents a handful of the most well known writers in Australia) asking if I was working on anything long-form, as they would be interested in seeing my work.
I currently have half of a novel and explained this.

Essentially, they have said they would like to read it when complete and consider me for representation.
My mind is officially blown!

Now, of course, the terror begins.
I have another 30 000 words of this thing to write and a whole lotta editing/streamlining/cleaning up to do before it is ready to read.
I also have two young kids, 2 jobs, various volunteer roles, and am currently in the process of building one house and selling another.

I am swamped. I'm desperately trying to carve out more time from life for my writing but there's not a lot to work with. Less sleep is the only option.

My question is, how long might they be expecting it to take me to complete this draft?
I don't want to shoot myself in the foot by sending it off half-baked but I also don't want to squander this amazing opportunity! I'm thinking 3-6 months is likely the best I can possibly hope for in terms of delivery. Are they likely to still care by then?
Yours in terror,              

First, let's remember the most important thing here is not to make yourself crazy. You have a full life and a lot of responsibilities, and getting enough sleep isn't an option, it's a requirement.

The agent reached out to you asking if you had work ready. You said sortof/maybe/kinda.  They did NOT say "oh never mind." They said they'll read it when it's ready.
No agent in their right mind expects you to finish and polish a novel in three months if you're writing on spec.

If you have a contract and some signing money that's a different story.

Do not send it half baked.
You'll squander a lovely opportunity.

The truth is you don't know how long it will take. Life has a habit of smacking you in the expectations just for fun.

Plus you may write the thing in three months, but take it from me, your revisions will take another three months if you do it right.

And now for the question: They will still be interested. I keep open files on writers I've reached out to in the past. I don't close them unless they sign elsewhere or die.

Take the time you need. Don't rush and don't dawdle. Make sure you don't rush your revisions.
More than anything other than bad writing, failure to revise enough is the biggest problem I see.

Friday, May 24, 2019

My agent is great but...

How does a writer make the decision to leave an agent?  My agent has been wonderful and has all the qualities I need (valuable editorial input, great communication, in love with one of my manuscripts).  Unfortunately she's shopped just one of my middle grade novels and it hasn't sold yet (10+ rejections so far-still waiting on four editors). She is not interested in reading/shopping my adult novel (domestic thriller-my favorite), or my second MG novel.  I'm thinking I need to find an agent who wants to represent me-all of my work, not just one book.  But breaking up is so hard.   

You have an agent who doesn't want to shop your next work.
How is that different from having no agent?

The first thing I'd want to know is why she doesn't want to shop the next MG book. Does she think it needs work?  Was she discouraged by the results on the first MG?

Despite all our good press for being coldly calculating, ruthless and fierce, agents are in fact people. Sometimes it's hard to muster enthusiasm for a project that doesn't seem to be finding a home.

But that's not YOUR problem.
Your problem is she's not advancing your career.

Find out why, then decide if you need to revise or resign.
Yes breaking up is hard, but if you're not happy, she isn't either. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Grieving the loss and mourning the death of someone you never knew

A big part of my job is working on non-fiction proposals in history and biography.
Part of that job is to make readers mourn people they've never met. Could not have met.

A current project involves a Polish woman, a ballerina, a Jew in the Warsaw ghetto.  She did not survive the war. One of six million who did not. An unimaginable number until you think about the fact that it's 3/4 of the population of New York City. Wiped out by an unnatural disaster.

What is one person among these six million?

She's a lens to see the time period. When we read about her life, we learn the stark reality of trying to survive in the hostile urban environment that was Warsaw 1939-1943.

Often history re-writes reality.
People are cast as good guys or bad guys, when no one is one or the other.
Capturing nuance and context is difficult, precision work.

Learning how to do that is an ongoing process.
One way to learn is listen to the people who've done it before.

Robert Caro is one such person. In my opinion, he's more than the cat's pjs. He's the entire wardrobe.

He has a new book out.
If you write non-fiction, On Working is one of three essential books you simply must have. Susan Rabiner's is the second, and a good book on what a non-fiction book proposals contains is the third.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

pages with a query

I'm about to query an agent who asks for a query letter and the first ten pages of the ms. My first chapter runs to 11 pages and a bit. I don't think it would be a deal killer simply to send 10 pages as specified, but would rather send the whole chapter. Would that be a deal killer do you think?

Oh please,  you'd rather send the whole book if you could!
That's the whole reason query guidelines specify  the number of pages to include in a query.

If the agent asks for the first 3-5 pages, you should send 750-1250 words.

If the agent asks for the first 10 pages, you can send 2500 words.

There is a  wiggle factor here is so you don't have to end mid-sentence (do NOT do this, it's maddening)

Try to end at the end of a paragraph.

And of course, ending at the close of chapter is ideal.

BUT you can't send 17 pages to do any of that.

750-1250 words +/- about 10% or 125 words

2500 words +/- 10%  or 250 words (which is about a page)

So 11 pages is probably fine.
I don't know anyone who actually passes on a project if you send 11 rather than 10.

I do know a whole raft of agents who are annoyed when you send the whole manuscript with a query. And it doesn't do you any good, I won't read much past six or seven pages.  (I ask for 3-5 pages in the query)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

At what point do awards become too old to be relevant?

 Scooped up from the comment section yesterday:

At what point do awards become too old to be relevant (for the bio section of your query)?

It depends.
That's pretty much the answer to everything of course, so the next question is depends on what?

The what is the significance of the award. Win an Oscar? It's never too old to be irrelevant. In publishing, that's the equivalent of a Pulitzer or a National Book Award or the National Book Critics Circle Award.  Those are evergreen.

NYT Bestseller is evergreen for #1 of course, and more green for every week you held off the riffraff trying to topple you.

The bigger the prize or accolade, the greener.

Things that are pretty useless to mention, but sure won't hurt you are things like conference prizes, Amazon Breakout novel short list.

What will hurt you is mentioning a faux prize.
Faux prizes are the ones that want big money up front to enter; have so many categories that being in the top three probably means only three books were in the category, and have no prestige what so ever.

These prizes are intended ONLY to make money for the organizers. 

The New York Festival of Books is a great example.
The organizers have a LA phone number.
Lots of categories.
They publish a list of winners; I've never heard of any of them.
(Notice the conspicuous absence of PUBLISHER names by the titles?)

Telling me you won this prize is a big red flag. It means you're not only wet behind the ears, you didn't do much research before entering.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Questions from the comment section

I was accepted to this year's Odyssey Writing Workshop. I even won a prize for my submission entry! I'm looking forward to learning a ton about writing, and about my own writing, and generally just being with a bunch of other writers in an intensive learning environment.

Janet, is this something I would include in the short bio/relevant personal info part of a query letter? I imagine its real value is going to be in the improvement in my writing, but if it helps to mention it, I want to do so.
Yes, you should certainly mention it. It's a competitive selection for your current work. The things you don't mention are classes you signed up for (ie no selection process) or things done when you were in high school.

The more proximate the prize is to your current work, and the current year, the better.

And right now when pub credits are still just a few, if any, this is exactly the kind of thing to use.

You said: "My agency agreement says you've already agreed that I represent everything you give me to sell."
OK, so - just to clarify. What if I write something and don't give it to you to sell? Say I'm a name author and I write a freebie to help out a charity. Technically, I haven't given it to you to sell, so you don't represent it. On the other hand, they would take it and sell it, so you should get a cut. And yet ... you didn't actually do anything, but then again ... my hamster wheel just fell off its axle.

If you write a freebie, you aren't getting paid. Thus, I'm not getting paid. I've done more than a few of these for Bouchercon anthologies and other charity donation.

I'm still going to review the contract and make sure it doesn't tie you up in knots.

If you're asked to write something for an anthology, and you're getting paid, generally I get paid too.

These statements about how things work  are impossible to write to cover every instance. Not all agents work like this this. Situations vary from client to client.

My point was not about the exceptions to the rule; it was about the general rule. You get one agent at a time and I rep you for all your work we sell. In other words you don't owe me a commission for your blog posts, even if they earn money.

Any questions?

Morning? Is it morning now?

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Early morning conversation with Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl

Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl: I'm chilly.

Me: The sun will be up in an hour; it will pour in through those windows and this place will be an oven. You'll be telling me to turn on the AC.

DoY: I've never asked you to turn on the AC.

Me: Not since you learned how to open the refrigerator door.

DoY: (smug look of satisfaction crosses her royal whiskers) Oh, right, you need more cream.

Me: Please tell me you left me enough for my morning coffee!

DoY: You drink too much coffee.

Me: That's it, I'm getting up and going to the coffee cart across the street.


Me: Here's a warm spot in the bed.

DoY: Cover me up.

Me: How about the sheet, blanket, and the afghan.

DoY: For a start. And turn on the TV to Project Runway

Me: you know, the catwalk they talk about isn't about actual cats.

DoY: Everything should be about cats.

Me: You're right, the world would be a better place if we spent more time petting cats.

DoY: I am the way to world peace.

Me: I'm not sure peace is a word I associate with you, but you make a good point.

DoY: More cats, fewer spats.

Me: Your slogan?

DoY: I should run for president.

Me: What's your platform?

DoY: Gun control!

Me: More cats, fewer gats?

DoY: Exactly. Also, an end to the designated hitter rule

Me: More cats, fewer bats?

DoY: And no more talking heads on TV.

Me: More cats, fewer yaps?

DoY: and world peace.

Me: More cats, fewer flaps?

DoY: I'm a shoo-in.

Me: Speaking of shoes, Project Runway starts in an hour.

DoY: Rightyoh, first things first.

Me: More cats, more naps?

DoY: Fetch my eyeshade, the sun is coming up. I'm getting too warm under this afghan.

Me: Plus ca change!

DoY:  Plus vous avez besoin de chats