Monday, December 05, 2022

12/4 flash fiction contest results (finally!)



Thanks to everyone who took the time to write and post entries. It was such a pleasure to see your work. I've missed these contests!


Herewith the entries that caught my eye.





“For the love of Mike, Doug, he can’t fly!” said Les Nessman Jr.


The yellow-helicopter blades pulsed.


“He’s fine,” came from above. “He’s got feathers. Sister’s Imaginarium paid for his stunt.”


“He’s going to buy the farm if he jumps.” Les peered up. “My dad tried this. It didn’t work.”


“It’s okay. He bought a customized insurance policy from Liberty Mutual.”


“Which is?” asked Les.


“Accidental death, and I'm the beneficiary." Doug kicked Kevin Emu from the chopper. “Next time, don’t object to LiMu’s marriage!” Cupping his mouth and shouting, “Watch out, Les!”


On the ground, Les exclaimed, “Oh, the humanity!”


Still one of the greatest episodes of all time!




Karen McCoy


The canoeing trips with my family are a more frequent occurrence. My sister, the daring one, is reluctant to steer today; says her hair is falling out. Little brother is at the helm instead, and my paddle swings fruitless while he drives the canoe into shore. I lunge, ready to thwack him with my oar but stop when father pulls me back with love. Mother says, “Chill. Johnny takes it far more hard.” My oar is now lighter than a feather, family frozen like mosquitoes emulsified in amber, showing me what life could have been. If only I’d shown up.



ohhh! I'm not sure I quite understand what's going on, but if this was the first part of a query, I'd surely want to read more.




Steve Forti


While other clutches wasted their days in what she called the Outback Imaginarium, Mom made us ready. Trained us for the day the Aussies would return. “This time we can’t merely resist. Eradication is the only way.”


Still, the day came too soon. Even with the knife at her long, feathered throat, Mom remained defiant. Her last command, drilled like the familiar tone of her zuffalo: vengeance. There may be far more of them, but this is our land. The human who killed Mom would be the first to die in the Second Emu War, but far from the last.





Love learning new words!




Colin Smith


I touch the dry blood on the feather scarf. It’s all I have of my sister after they took her. I can hear her voice: "Emu feathers." Still don't know what that is. Or where she got this thing. Black market no doubt.


When darkness falls, I slip out the back. After miles of farmland, I reach the government building. I can taste my fear, but my sister’s love is with me.


I take out my only weapon. The paint runs down the wall, but the words are clear:


bù zìyóu wúnìng sǐ


Give me liberty or give me death.


I'm a dunderhead; I don't get this. Can someone explain "as if to a young child or a golden retriever*."

from one of my all-time favorite movies Margin Call.




Michael Seese


The life of an emu is nothing to flight home about.


That's a little joke I tell myself to ease the sting of having feathers, but only vestigial wings. Even Henrietta, that annoying little clucker, sometimes takes off and alights on the roof, just to show she can.


My sister Ostrid tries to lend a sympathetic ear. But she's so tall, it's not like I can whisper into it.


How I'd love to soar, a far more glorious existence than scavenging for scraps, earthbound and ashamed.


At least I don't taste like chicken, I thought as they led Henrietta away.



As always, Michael Seese makes me laugh out loud.

This is not really a story, but I don't care.



Here are the three entries that really stood out for me. Each one produced an emotional reaction. Either laughter or gasps! Either way they reached off the page and grabbed me.





Wish List


Farmer’s Daughter

5’ 2” frame - featherweight

Sister Act

Two big cups

Black underwear


Pert (but demure)

Blender- but flashy




“Jason, about your Christmas List.”




“They don’t make Pert Shampoo anymore.”




“And 'black underwear' - do you want boxers or briefs?”


“Mom, you woke me up.”


“You need to be specific if you expect to get what you want, love.”


“I want a MacBook.”


“That’s not even on your list. “Farmer’s Daughter” - DVD? The wine? And stiletto- is that a knife? Is the featherweight frame for your bike?”


“Whoa - wrong list. Erase that. I’ll resend.”



This is wonderful.







Bethany Joy


Friends, rivals, comparing notes. Sipping cocktails sweet as nectar from stemmed glasses.


"He swept me off my feet. Literally!" He waved a token from our ex-lover. “Isn’t it divine?”


"A feather?" She laughed. "Not impressed. He showered me with gold."


"I win," said L. "Our precious daughters." One sister outshone the other, but still L had a point.


All three looked at me. Far meaner, my experience. "I don't kiss and tell."


They booed. I blushed.


Hell, I couldn't even admit to myself I fell for Zeus disguised as an emu.


What a lovely off-beat look at that notorious cad Zeus!






Sister opens the door. I hop out.

“Can’t you sleep in a bed like a normal kid?”

“It’s cozy in there.”


I get skittles on my Captain Crunch.

“Tell me again, how’d we defeat her?”


“I defeated her. You…didn’t do anything.”

“And then we ran?”


“As fast as we could?”

“Wasn’t far. Maybe a mile.”


We have some music and we bake cupcakes.

I can’t eat cookies anymore.


Late at night I go back.

The house is mostly gone now ‘cuz mice and foxes and stuff.

The old coal oven is cold.


I didn’t always have gumdrop eyes.




And this entry just took my breath away! A lovely twist on an old story.

This one takes the cake (sorry) this week! Luralee, if you'll let me know your preferred mailing address and what kind of book appeals to you, I'll send you a prize!



Contest results? Errr...slacker shark returns

 I totally forgot to work on the contest results.

Instead, I took a nose-dive onto the couch and hid from the world with the new Michael Connelly novel.

Look for the results here, later today. Today as in 12/5/22. 

Friday, December 02, 2022

Is the flash fiction contest going to the birds?




Let's celebrate Emmanuel the Emu who was felled by some sort of illness recently, but has been recovering miraculously to the joy of his many fans: about 847,000 people.


You can find out more about Emmanuel Todd Lopez on Twitter: @hiitaylorblake


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: imaginarium


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, 12/3/22 at8:23 am EST


Contest closes: Sunday, 12/4/22 at 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


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


Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid

Ready? SET?

Not yet!


Sorry, too late. Contest closed.

Look for results on Monday 12/5/22



Wednesday, November 30, 2022

pitching sub-rights

Dear QOTKU, 


My agent retained foreign (translation) and Film/TV rights for me when negotiating with my publisher. My agent says he has now "submitted" my book to some co-agents he works with in other countries, as well as to some film production companies and film co-agents in the USA.  


Since I’m used to the submission process, where my book is individually pitched to publishers, I was surprised when I learned that for subrights, my agent doesn't really submithe just sends a list of his authors’ books with a short paragraph describing each one. Then he waits to hear if anything struck a chord by way of a request to read. 


In this way, my book, which is a stand-alone in a series (three in the series so far), no longer gets an individual pitch. It isn’t, “Dear Hulu, You’ve simply got to read Felix Buttonweezer’s book about Dragon mating, it would make a fabulous limited series for Idris Elba.” It’s more like a pizza menu you find on your doorknob. Okay, maybe slightly more elegant than a pizza menu, but my book isn’t being pitched so much as it’s being passively “listed.” 


It seems it’s not particularly effective to pitch a book when it arrives in a long list of other books in the same genre, since my agent specializes in books about…dragons. It seems like a foreign co-agent looking for a book to be published in Carkoon isn’t going to be tempted by a paragraph in a list of similar books. Same with TV/Film producers and co-agents. But maybe this is just how it’s done with subrights? I should’ve mentioned my agent is a one-man show with no rights department. He’s got a lot on his plate. So perhaps my question should be, “Is this how it’s normally done with subrights under these circumstances?” 





Well, sort of.


Foreign publishers are mostly interested in big bestsellers.


And they're mostly interested in big debuts.


So Book 3 of 3 that has sold well enough but isn't hitting 20,000 copies out of the gate isn't really something they're going to grab at. And no amount of pitching is going to change that.


BUT they're also not publishing idiots and they know a big splashy debut doesn't always mean big splashy sales. So they've got their eyes peeled for books that are doing well over time. Or books that are winning awards.


Which is why savvy US agents send UPDATES to foreign publishers when there is good news to share.


So yes Felix Buttonweezer's book on Dragon Love will get the initial paragraph.


And when it wins the Dragon Con best book of the year, it gets a nice mention in the next newsletter to foreign agents. 


And because your agent was savvy enough to retain those rights for you, you don't have to split the money from any foreign sales with your publisher.  



As for TV/film, that's a whole different ballgame.

Almost everything for film and tv is driven by sales numbers. The bigger the book sales, the more likely to secure a film deal. But don't even think about film. It will drive you crazy when you need to be working on your next book.


Any questions?



Monday, November 28, 2022

Chapter length


How much do agents care about the length of chapters?


I've read many times that most of 'rules' don't matter as long as the writing is good, BUT, as any writer trying to find her place under the stars, it's my job to obsess over any/every little detail that will get me to procrastinating. :D


Jokes aside, I personally love short chapters that are packed with action and keep me going through them without breathing. Dan Brown executes them very well, but he is already established in the publishing industry.


Since I aim to get traditionally published, I wanted to know whether the length of chapters plays a role with agents and/or publishers?


And I'm talking short, not long. :)





James Patterson has elevated short chapters to an art form, and a he's hauling a lot of cash to the bank these days.


There is no one answer to this because like a lot of things about writing: it depends.


If you're writing a high octane, page turning thriller, short chapters are a good tool for keeping up the momentum.


If you're writing atmospheric character driven suspense novels, you don't want people on the edge of their seats, you want them reading more slowly and building dread.


So, it all depends on what you're writing.


I don't count words in chapters when I'm considering a book for my list.


It's only if I feel whiplashed, or as if I'm inside a pinball machine, that I go back and assess whether the chapters are too short.


If you want an example of a writer who uses long/short chapters to great effect in the same book, check out Dana Haynes' Fiero and Finnigan series, starting with St. Nicholas Salvage and Wrecking. Yes, I sold those books so this is not a truly objective recommendation.



This is place beta readers can be of help. But be careful what you ask. Not "are the chapters too short?" Rather: did you get confused? Did you feel rushed?  Ask how they feel about the book, not what needs to be fixed.


Any (short or long!) questions?



Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving!


Many years ago I lived in a wonderful apartment in Portland, Oregon adjacent to a wooded area. The second floor of the apartment had a balcony so it was like living in the trees. I loved it.


As usual my family descended upon me for Thanksgiving  and I served turkey dinner for something like 20 people. I think the bird was near on 40 pounds; I needed four strong men just to shove it in the oven.


But it was delicious and the family was very happy and all was well.

Until the clean up.


I should mention here that my dear mum was a Scot through and through. Her life mantra was to save, re-use, and never waste a thing.  She came by that honestly; her dad, my gramps was from the Old Country and he bought a lemon-yellow Pinto once because he got a big discount cause of the color. The only members of the family who were happy to drive around in that car with him were the dogs.


But I digress.


Thanksgiving dinner was now reduced to scraps and leftovers.

All were carefully popped into storage containers and lodged in the fridge.


But what to do with the turkey carcass? It was big enough to be a stand-in on the set of Jurassic Park.


Mum began to fill up a soup kettle with the idea of boiling the bones and making broth. Now that is a good idea, particularly if you do not like to waste anything.


But I'd had enough of this damn bird. I'd hauled it home from the grocery store, worked around it as it thawed on the sideboard for three days, and I had enough turkey in the fridge to send everyone home with leftovers plus make turkey sandwiches for a week.


The idea of five gallons of broth staring at me reproachfully from the fridge for the next two months was more than I could bear.


Mum, said I. Enough.

I'm not waiting for this to boil down to broth. I am not going to use five gallons of broth this month, or even this year.



Well, of course, we had to fetch the smelling salts and carry her to the fainting couch, but she revived tout suite once she heard me pouring the water from the kettle down the sink.


But she was supine once again when she watched what happened next.


I put the carcass on a baking sheet.  I opened the sliding glass doors to the balcony.  I stepped out into the brisk evening air.


And I heaved that carcass off the baking sheet, arced it over the backyard and into the woods behind our house.


There, I said. All taken care of.


Now it came to pass that night that word went out among the wildlife who inhabited the wood,  and they arrived in full fang and cry.


The noises that came out of that woods were unhinged.

It was awesome!



The next morning my younger sisters scouted around and reported back: no sign of the turkey carcass. Not a one. Not a sage leaf, not an onion shred, not a leftover stuffing crumb. There was, however,  a note that said "where's the pie?"


To this day, I attribute my love of throwing things out of windows to this seminal event.


Throwing things in dumpsters is a close second.


For years, I was the one to call if you wanted to clear out a garage or a house, or even just a room. I didn't do the sorting or the boxing, no no no. I did the heaving.


A dear friend of mine bought a house that did require some items be discarded. I quickly offered my services but was gently persuaded to stay home.  I think she was afraid of terrifying the new neighbors.


My love of throwing things out the window ended when I dropped an air conditioner out of my third floor walkup here in Brooklyn.  The noise it made when it hit the ground was not awesome. It was chilling. The fact that I didn't kill or maim anyone was a miracle, and I think god for it every time I look out the window and see that forlorn broken hull of an AC resting on my super's back patio. (He lives in the basement and has installed a tarp over his front patio.)



What are you throwing out the window this year?

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Am I A Delusional Nutbag?


I have read your many posts on comps, and I am reading (even more) books in my genre like a crazy person right now. But, I have found that the best comps for my book would be Dennis Lehane's GONE BABY, GONE and Delia Owens's WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.


Now, I'm an unpublished writer and this is my first novel, so it would be arrogant of me to compare myself to two best sellers (and I know one of these books is too old to use as a comp anyway). I'm in no way saying that I think my writing is on par with these two authors, but the themes, subject matter and structure of my novel really is a loose hybrid of both (accidentally).


I guess what I'm trying to ask, in a not-so-articulate way, is—is there a way that a querying author could mention this without sounding like a delusional nutbag? Is there a way, after mentioning more recent comps (that are as close as possible to my novel, but don't really convey what I've written) to hint at these other books being similar in the ways I've stated?


I think I may be losing my mind with this comp business.


You may be losing your mind, but you are not a delusional nutbag. Well, at least not to any greater degree than all the rest of us who work in publishing.


Your book may well compare in theme, subject matter, and structure to Gone Baby Gone or Where the Crawdads Sing, BUT.


But, the other purpose of comps is to show the size of the prospective audience.


Gone Baby Gone was the fourth book in an established series featuring Boston PIs Kenzie and Gennaro.


Readers weren't looking for theme, subject matter or structure when they considered buying the book. They were mostly looking to spend more time with characters they already liked.


As a debut, you don't have that advantage.



Where The Crawdads Sing is such an outlier that it's not an effective comp anymore for anyone. The chances of repeating that book's success are not high.


Plus, Where The Crawdads Sing isn't really crime fiction. Amazon lists it as coming of age, and literary fiction.

The publisher lists it as general fiction.


Gone Baby Gone is crime fiction.


You wouldn't want to use both of these as comps because they are on different shelves.

So, you're not a delusional nutbag, but you're not on the right path either. Figure out your category first then look for books that are:

(1) recent (pubbed no earlier than 2019);

(2) from a debut author (or close to it);

(3) from a trade house (ie not self published).


Any questions?

Monday, November 21, 2022

Huzzah for our very own Melanie Sue Bowles!

Imagine my delight when this showed up at the Shark Mail Room Saturday morning!


 As are we all, I am a devoted fan of MSB.

We've read her flash fiction entries, and her comments; we know she can wrangle words along with the horses at her sanctuary.

But even better was that the book itself was lovely. Well laid out, easy to read, correctly sized.

And the paper wasn't that cheap newsprint stuff you sometimes see in paperbacks (well, ok, hard covers too.)

I'm sorry you can't reach through the screen to feel this page!

But of course what you can do is get a copy for yourself, or for your nearest horse-mad young reader!


Thursday, November 17, 2022

I feel so seen!


"There's a hunger about book people, about anyone who gets involved with old books. To follow a path so peculiar, with so few opportunities, and with no real prospect for wealth or prestige, I think you have to have a fickle relationship with rationality."


Once Upon A Tome

Oliver Darkshire




Wednesday, November 16, 2022

How to reference a previous submission


Yesterday's blog post about querying a second project brought this comment from Steve Forti.


Always looking to find the exceptions to the rule so we can know when to break them. That's us. So my question is in response to your comment at the end. When querying for a second book to an agent that rejected your first book - let's say that agent had requested the full first book, would you now, two years later, mention that when querying for the new book? Would you open with that ("hey buddy, you liked me some but not enough last time, remember that?") or at the end? Would that be more or less likely to get you a chance for a request?



Like all things in publishing, it depends.


If your previous novel got the dreaded no response means no, I suggest NOT mentioning that. It doesn't add value to your new query.


If it got a polite form rejection (do you know how to recognize those?) I suggest NOT mentioning that in the new query either. Again, it doesn't add value.


BUT, if you got a personalized "sorry, not this one" kind of reply, particularly if the agent read a partial or full, then yes, do mention it.


That would look like this: I'm querying you because you read and liked an earlier novel of mine "Forti is Famous".


No need to mention the agent passed. Most agents have a pretty clear idea of who their clients are.

(Maybe not before the first cup of coffee, but usually by 10am.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Querying more than one project at a time

 Yesterday's blog post drew a comment from Jennifer R. Donohue

I'd been operating under the (pre plague, perhaps) notion that querying multiple projects at once was frowned upon? I don't know if I read that advice here however, and we know how these kind of nebulous Things That Are Done™ get shared around without attribution sometimes, and are permutations of what us querying writers on the hamster wheel have extrapolated, vs. being things that actual agents have said.

Response times are horrifying, harrowing, abysmal. I've had a full out for what will be a year on Wednesday (with nudges and communication, not radio silence.)


Querying more than one project at the same time seems like a database nightmare to me, BUT the reality of response time, and the prevalance of no-response-means-no require an adjustment of acceptable practices.

 Waiting a year is not unheard of, I'm sorry to say.

There are some very good writers who are being very patient with me right now, and I'm truly grateful my doormat does not have flaming bags of kangaroo poop on alternate Saturdays.


If you've queried enough agents and not heard back, it makes sense to query a second project.

You might want to query a new batch of agents instead of just sending to the same list you used before.


I have a regular querier who has queried me probably a dozen times this year for different things.

I haven't mentioned to him that a dozen unsold projects in a year isn't something I think is a plus.

 To me, it means you've got a dozen things that are half baked. Revising and thinking take time. If you're churning out a ms every three months, I'm doubtful you're doing much thinking or revising.

 But if you're not speed querying, you do need to keep your career moving.

Querying a second project makes sense.

Now the question is, do you mention the first project?

I suggest you not.

No sense in making the agents in Round 2 look like second choice.

No sense in making your project sound like the first runner up.




Monday, November 14, 2022



Bit of backstory: I submitted a local (Canadian) call for submission for BIPOC writers 50 and up. The novel that will be selected will be published by a reputable publisher (checked out - legit). The publisher is inclined towards edgy BIPOC material.


(Redacted) the person who made the call, is trans and some sort of local superstar. This is her third call for her imprint and I've seen how she promoted the first two winners, like, TV, social media, radio, etc. I thought I would love to have that support toward a Canadian presence so I revised one of my novels and sent it in. Thing is, the call was for a 50K word novel. The novel I submitted (TWW)  was something I wrote as a palate cleanser while I was revising my 88K "novel of my heart". TWW is more accessible, straightforward in terms of plot and firmly a book club fare. 


Anyway, two weeks ago I received an email from (Redacted) and she said that due to "many unforeseen factors" they won't be publishing any of the submissions this time. She then said that, however, my book was her favorite among the submissions and would love for her agent (Miss Nice),  to see if she can take my novel on. She cc'd Agent Nice on that email to which was attached my manuscript and a half page synopsis. Miss Nice, within ten minutes, sent me an email asking for my permission to read the novel as she found the premise intriguing. I said yes, yes, a thousand times yes.


Yaaaayyyyy!!!! (Although cynical/realistic me thinks it might only be a case of an agent humoring a valued client)


Here's my (kinda long winded) question: I am in the final stages of revising my novel Purple Starfish (with beta read help from 5 Reef dwellers - Tim Lowe and Mama Mel Bowles are brutally frank critiquers I tell ya). PS is the novel of my heart. PS is what I want for my debut. PS is what I fantasize holding and reading in book tours in Canada and in the Philippines. My beta readers agree that PS has more depth, more intriguing characters, more clever twists and is generally superior to TWW. 


I feel like by the time Miss Nice gets to actually reading TWW, I will have finished my revisions for PS which I also plan to have professionally edited. Would it be okay if I let her know I have this other novel that is bigger and better. (It's on the shallow end of crime fiction with elements of romance) and would she like to take a look at it? 


What do you think oh QOTKU.


Right now the very last thing you want to do is add anything to an agent's reading list.

If/When she gets in touch to tell you that she loves your novel and it's time to start thinking about next steps, you can say "I've got this other novel that I think is better."

In other words, wait till she's invested with you before springing the good news.

And when PS is ready, query widely.

Don't wait around for Agent Nice to get back to you. Response times are horrifying these days and show no signs of improving. And if she was humoring a valued client (and I hope she wasn't cause that's just NOT Nice!) you might never hear back.

Don't let this piece of good luck get in the way of moving forward.