Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Knock it off, will ya??

I had very big plans to tackle my queries this past week.
And I did. Got most of them answered.

The law of unintended consequences kicked in of course.
Now I have MORE requested fulls because You Guyz keep writing good novels.

Knock it OFF.

Either that or send me a time machine with your pages.

All this to say I have been reading and I didn't have time to write anything remotely ready for posting.

So, what are you behind on?

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Is a writing conference something to mention in a query?

I'm planning on attending the Big Sur writing workshop, and (as with anything) have been digging online to see the pros and cons. If I were to query the project I bring to Big Sur, (1) should I mention the event to agents? (2) Would they even care? (3) Do you have any tips for events like this?

(1) No
(2) No
(3) I have opinions on EVERYTHING!

But let's dig in

(1 and 2) 
Attending a writing conference is often a very good use of your resources, both time and money. But it's like many other aspects of becoming a published writer in that it's not something agents consider when they have your query in hand. The first thing they're looking for is "can I sell this?" and second "is this someone I want to work with?"

That you attended any writing conference doesn't really contribute to either of those questions.

The exception is a writing workshop that is application based. Clarion is the best known example. Lots of people want to attend, few are chosen. If you've been selected for Clarion, that's worth mentioning.

(3) Attending a writing conference can do a lot of things for you including getting time with an editor or an agent, and meeting other writers. You'll pick up some good ideas and tips at the panels and workshops and maybe get a chance to ask a question.

If you get time with an editor or agent, bring your written query and ask for feedback. Don't pitch. Ask for help.

Then pay attention to what you hear.
I've had more than one author shut down in cold silence (ie this agent is an idiot but I'm not going to tell her) when I've mentioned their work isn't immediately submitable.  When do I get that most often? Word count. For some reason, people who write 250Kword novels all think they are GRRM.

When you go to a panel or workshop, sit in front.
You're more likely to get "picked on" which is GREAT for you cause you're the demo, and it's much more likely the presenter will remember you.

Take notes.
Get the handouts.
Take photos of the slides with your phone.

If the slide is the answer, make sure you note the questions:

SLIDE answer: 120K
Presenter's question: what's the max word count on debut SF novels given you are not GRRM?

Monday, February 17, 2020

True or False: 3 x 2 = 6?

I've been through the archives and can't find anything to enlighten me about my query. (Though that might not be saying much as I haven't been able to find out on Google either)

My question is: For a non-fiction book proposal,(1) is it expected that the book's projected length is included in the book specs section? (2) If so, is there more than one way to express a book's length?

My problem is, that if an estimated word count is required, my query will boil down to: " ... a relaxed, but succinct, refresher on fractions for teenagers and adults who need to know how-to for a next step in their lives ... of 513972 words." Word counting software counts each number and symbol as a word. e.g. 3 x 2 = 6 is five words.

Is there another way I can describe the length? Should I just leave it out? Put size as a comp? Is there a standard for this kind of thing? It's definitely not a textbook. I do have a pretty good idea of the size of the book but no idea what I should say about it.

(1) yes. The proposed size of the book is included in a section called Book Specs and you're right, it usually means word count.

(2) yes. Not all books are about words. And yours is a classic example.

When you don't fit the mold, the trick is to go find books like yours, in this case ones that include math, numbers, or figures like graphs.
Here's one that I love love love: Two Trains Leave Paris

Then count up the PAGES of content.

The good news is that agents and editors are looking for a general idea, not a specific number.
Is it going to be 50 or 500 pages is the question we're asking, not is it 87 or 88 pages.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Hello Mr. UPS!

I've been indulging my night owl habits this last week or so; falling out of my hammock nearer to noon than cock crow. It's been lovely to work late although it has introduced me to some of my nocturnal neighbors, a select few of whom have very complicated love lives largely conducted by phone while sitting on the staircase.

One day last week I'd just stumbled to the kitchen, ready to pitch woo to the coffee pot, when a knock sounded at the door.

Thinking it might be my building Super(man) who periodically stops by to make sure I haven't tried to use the oven and burn the place down, I check the spy hole.

It is NOT Super(man). It is UPS man whom I have known for going on 20 years now. We greet each other effusively since it has been some time since I've had a UPS delivery at home.

I sign for the parcel, wish him well, then close the door.

Only then do I realize these things:
1. My hair would look better were it on fire;
2. I'm wearing my shark jammies, and have been for some time.
In other words, hell warmed over would have been a marked improvement.

And UPS man hadn't turned a hair, or even raised an eyebrow.

Now that is a true gentleman! Doorbell discretion at its finest!

The parcel was some delicious new reading.

So, what were you wearing the last time you scared an unexpected caller?

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Query me for anything you want but these almost always are a pass

I'm digging in to my queries with renewed zest.
I'm glad to see almost anything even if it's not a good fit for me.
I'll never shame you in public (ie Twitter) for sending me a query that's "not what I do."
It's  absolutely ok to query me for anything.

That said, there are some things I'm not keen on:

1. Abuse memoirs.
I'm very glad to hear you survived the challenges of being victimized and powerless.  I'm glad you wrote about it because I think writing about things can give you needed perspective not to mention healing.

I just don't want to read it. I'm sorry but I don't.

2. Pedophilia in any form.
I don't want that ugliness in my head.

3. Catholic Church bashing.
The Church is so far from perfect it's not even worth discussing, but I am a Catholic, and I'm not going to participate in bashing it.

You're welcome to your opinion, and god knows we can find common ground with how great the movie Spotlight is, but I don't want to read books on this subject.

4. Polemics of any kind.
I'm not interested in attacking anything other than the sushi buffet.

5. The novel you wrote to prove a point.
I am entirely story-based. If you have a compelling story, you can make any point you want to, but I'm not going to read your novel to hear how global warming is a problem.

6. Serial killers. 
I don't find them interesting. Other people do.

7. Books set in the publishing industry, or featuring writers as the main character.
In this, I simply know too much for any kind of fiction to be interesting. Much like cops don't like Law and Order, and hookers don't either.

8. Books about illness, contagion, pandemics, epidemics.
Just not my cup of tea.

9. Anything with vampires.
I've never warmed (ha) to vampires, even when all the cool girls at school were head over heals for them. Never read Anne Rice, never saw the Tom Cruise movie. Just not my thing.

10. Books about 9/11.
I can't. I just can't. Other agents can and do. Query them.

But again, you can't go wrong querying me.
Just note that if your book falls into any of these categories, it's me, not you.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Happy Valentines Day to the invisible heros of publishing: editors

Kari Dell on editors:

I am doing edits and have been handed a perfect example of why having sharp, experienced eyes on your work is invaluable. And especially eyes that are very well versed in your specific genre. This is one of THE key moments in the entire book, where the reader finally gets the big romantic payoff. This one chapter can either leave them swooning, or vaguely dissatisfied, or if I really screw it up, furious.

I wrote a scene where the hero declared his love and presented the heroine with all the plans he's made for where they'll live and how they'll meld their family and work situations, etc. etc., He had already started putting some of them in place. In my mind, he was demonstrating his commitment by showing her how much he'd actually been thinking and planning for their future, even though he'd been holding back saying so for fairly valid reasons.

It came back red-lined by my editor with the comment that he's once again being the control freak who makes all the decisions and expects her to accept them, instead of asking what she wants and needs, and her letting him roll right over her. What I thought was proof of his love she saw as him being the alpha asshole and her being a doormat. And of course she was right. I'd slotted them back into the roles they occupied at the beginning of the book, invalidating their character arcs. The heroine could push back, but an argument in the middle of the big romantic climax sorta kills the mood, ya know?

I rewrote the scene and it is a hundred times more emotionally satisfying since it puts them on equal footing, showing the sacrifices he's willing to make and control he's forcing himself to cede,.and her accepting that power instead of metaphorically batting her eyelashes and saying, "Whatever you want, big boy."

It's a bit of a spoiler, but I don't think that many of your blog readers are also my readers****, and it's general enough so it really doesn't give much away. It's not like everyone isn't expecting a happily-ever-after, and with this issue of bulldozer versus enabler being the central conflict of the book, it's revealed early on.

Have I mentioned how much I love my editor? There are days I swear she is the other half of my brain. The one that fails to engage more often than I think.
I should also add that this is my seventh published novel, so let this be a lesson to anyone who thinks there comes a day when they'll have this writing thing down and won't need editors. I have actually heard a best-selling author say, "...and I told her, 'Honey, I've written sixty books, I don't need you to tell me how to tell a story.'" Yes. Yes you do. The day you stop soliciting and listening to expert outside advice is the day your work starts going downhill. 

***if you're not reading Kari Dell's books, you're missing out. 
I was the first to recognize she's an amazing writer, but not the last!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

When your past comes back to haunt you

I'm working through a backlog of queries this week and finding some really interesting projects. I've noticed however that some of you think I don't skulk around in your publishing past.

If you've been published previously, and tell me about it, I look up your book/s.

Which means if you self-published them, I know that and wonder why you didn't say that in the query.

Which means if your first book got six reviews, all of them bad, I see that too.

Which means if your last book was published ten years ago, and you don't have any social media presence, I see that too.

If you've got a less than stellar publishing history,


If that that first book with the terrible reviews isn't indicative of your work today,

Query Under a New Name. 
It's not lying.
It's not obfuscating.
It's not a violation of trust.

At some point you'll have to tell me, but it's ok that it's Not Now.

I am not actively looking for people who need career resuscitation.
I'm not sure any agent is.

Any questions?

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

I want to ditch my agent. Do I still have to pay them?

Asking for a friend... suppose he has an options clause with a publisher, and his agent has shown them the new manuscript. The publisher really likes it. No offer has been set yet, and no negotiations have been made at this point. Publisher says the agent and the author will hear back in a few months.
Since then, the friend has noticed some red flags about their agent, and would really rather this deal NOT be brokered by the agency. Unfortunately, since the agent was the one who subbed the MS, if the publisher accepts, that agent would get the 15% commission, plus whatever sub rights they keep, right? Is there a legal way to withdraw this and not have the agency be involved?

Also, is it better for him to just take this book deal, even with a bad agent "signing it off"? I.e., a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush type of thing?
Yes. The agent did the deal for the book and the option book. The commission stays with them.

That is, absent a new agreement that the agent forgo this commission and let the deal go.
That happens sometimes, particularly if the client is turning out to be more trouble than they are worth. Red flags happen on this end too.

And worse, those rights extend past this submission.
Friend needs to check his contract because MY contract says if you sever your relationship with me and sell the book anyplace I had it on sub, I get my commission. There is a time period attached but it's not five minutes.

Without knowing any further details it sounds like something went off the rails here.
Often that can be solved by direct communication:

"You're not responding to my emails. I can't work like that."

"I haven't seen a royalty statement in a year and you keep brushing me off."

The bottom line is Friend is going to have to talk to his agent. Either to negotiate a release of rights, or to deal with the problem. Don't pussyfoot around in this conversation either. If you have to, write down what you want to say and revise it so it sounds brutal and harsh. Often difficult conversations are hard to have cause everyone is being so damn indirect you don't know what's bothering them.

That's one benefit of being rude and abrasive (a description I now fully embrace but was hell on wheels when I was 22). No one is unclear about what I'm saying.

Any questions?

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Writer Beware! plus, if this happens to you, what to do

I was HORRIFIED to read that Jennifer Jackson's name and reputation have been used by filthy scammers to promote themselves.

Details here on the Writer Beware blog.

All of us are vulnerable to this kind of thing.
You, getting the email.
Agents, being used as cover.

So, what to do.

First, it's true that, while rare, agents do reach out to authors if they've seen something they like. It happens more often with agents who are building a list, but experienced agents do it as well. Nat Sobel often found writers by reaching out to short story writers. (I remain insanely envious of the talent he scooped up this way.)

So, if you hear from an agent, do not just assume it's a hoax.

How to investigate?
See if the email address matches for starters.

My email address has my name and no  one else's.
The email address I use matches the one on my website, and on Publishers Marketplace.

Use the email on the agent's website to follow up on these kinds of pitches.

You can always Tweet to the agent as well: Hi Janet, I got an email offering marketing plans that says it's from you. Is it?

After I extinguish the blaze on top of my head, I'll let you know it isn't.

Trust your instincts. If you read this blog you know a lot about publishing by now, and you know when something looks off.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Idris Elba is perfect for this!**

I'm digging in to my queries with renewed zest.

Sadly the number of things you do to shoot yourselves in the foot isn't shrinking.

The latest is casting the leads for the movie to be made from your book.
Now, in and of itself, this is a fun game.
I've played it myself.
The most fun is when you're playing with the folks who'd just optioned the book and will actually  DO the casting.

But it's not harmless fun when you do it in a query.

What this tells me is you have unrealistic expectations. I'll do just about anything to avoid dealing with that.

Publishing beats the crap out of writers left right and sideways. I am often the bearer of very hard news: the book didn't sell, the advance is crap, your editor left to pursue a career in the circus.

And even when the book does sell, the advance is amazing, and the editor just signed a lifetime contract, there are still things that will (not may, WILL) go wrong.

If you add to that explaining:

*why your book isn't being picked up for film (most books aren't),
*why you aren't being consulted on casting (cause you don't know anything about how that works) *and not only is Idris Elba not the lead, they've just signed Carrot Top

then you understand why I don't just overlook this rookie mistake.

So, don't make this rookie mistake.
Make other ones.

**Idris Elba is perfect for anything.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

This just blows my mind

A poem from the collection Whereas, by Layli Long Soldier

It literally never crossed my mind to write a poem like this.

What have you seen recently that just boggled your mind?

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Is this the new norm?

I was scrolling through a Facebook group that I belong to and ran across a post from a fellow author, asking for advice. She had received this response from a publisher and wanted to know if anyone had any experience with them (I know the pic is small, I'm hoping you can still read it):

Needless to say, I just about fell off my chair. Is this honestly the direction that publishing is going? A book a month? I mean, I realize that this is a single publisher, but with the way the algorithms and such work over at Amazon... this seems to be the direction that we're headed in. Honestly, though, this just screams quantity over quality to me. I did do a little research and the publisher is not a vanity press. They are a romance and erotica publisher that pays an advance and 50% royalties once the advance is earned out. They also pay for editing and cover art. The majority of the marketing seems to be up to the author (but that doesn't seem to be unusual in today's publishing landscape). Is the self-publishing model of rapid release going to eventually squirm its way over to traditional publishing? Will writers just become word monkeys, chained to their desks, churning out pages as fast as they can?

No. And no.
Which is not to say this model doesn't work, because it does.

Back in the day and that was The Day, I worked as a telephone operator on the night shift. Calls were not frequent but we were staffed up just in case. Which meant we were sitting around between calls for sometimes five minutes or more.

Fortunately, we were allowed to read.

The first time I worked nights, I hadn't known to bring a book.
Well, no problem. The lovely ladies I was joining had books to spare.
And ALL of them were Harlequin romances. Old style, mass market paperbacks.
The ladies bought these books by the multiple dozens.
And lest you think they just gobbled them down, oh no.
They regaled me with plot lines, characters and settings on the dozen or so books they had with them that night.

I never ever disrespected the romance genre after that. 
I don't read much of it, but those books were treasured by those ladies (and a lot of other readers too) and who am I to judge their taste. Let's all remember I loved Perry Mason books at one time.
Which is to say, this model that involves producing a lot of books on a quick time line isn't new. It's in fact, rather old school in this category.

It didn't overtake the publishing biz then, and it won't now.
This kind of book appeals to a certain type of reader.
And that's exactly how publishing should work.

As a writer, if you can write at this speed, have at it.
But if you can't, don't want to, don't worry. There's a place for us slowpoke writers and readers too.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Let’s pretend my query isn’t the problem

I’ve been sloshing around the query trenches for awhile now, picking up my rejections as I march through the mud and revising as I go. I started thinking. Have I made it harder for myself without even knowing it? The hamster wheel is heating up and ready to spin off its frame.

Let’s pretend my query isn’t the problem. When potential agents see that my book is dual POV written in the first person, how much will that deter the average agent from reading on, if at all? I know that a lot of people prefer third person. I’m wondering if it’s harder to sell books written in the first person especially one written in multiple POV? Do I have to accept that it may be harder to find an agent, or does it mostly come down to the writing and story and POV doesn't matter much?
Let's pretend agents have a checklist.
Dual POV?

Dual POV in first person?

In other words for every single thing you think might be a deal breaker I can name an exception in 30 seconds. And these are just the books I know well.

You do NOT KNOW what goes on at the receiving end of  incoming queries.

So, it just might be your query. But let's pretend it's not.

It might be that your story is something I've seen one gazillion times, and you haven't added anything fresh and new to the mix. PASS

It might be that you're starting the story in the wrong place and the pages you include with your query are not compelling. PASS

It might be that you're writing dinoporn and no one is looking for dinoporn these days. PASS

You have NO way of knowing, sitting there at your desk, fretting.

You can find out if you get some eyeballs on your query, or you have a consult with an agent at a conference.

Let's all remember those VERY difficult conversations I had last year at T/fest with authors writing in categories that weren't really big sellers any more.

Until you know otherwise, don't assume it's anything structural about the book.
That's not even a factor until I read the pages and see if this is something I want to consider further.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Results A Thon

I've been down for the count so long there are THREE posts with comment contributions to mention!

First is the photo of Chagrin Falls.
I asked you to describe character in 20 words or fewer.

Jenn Griffin
Espresso, ever-faithful rescue pup, waited eagerly for his person to share his Bacon & Gruyere Egg Bites.

You can tell us so much by what characters name their pets, what they eat, and what they feed their dogs!

This is very nice, very subtle, very effective description.

It was a town where it seemed a Fourth of July parade could break out at any moment. Complete with kids with paper streams from their bike handles, the off key high school band and the mayor riding in his convertible.

This evokes the town perfectly.

John Davis Frain
The door swung open. I waited for Norman Rockwell to step out. Instead, it was the pastor. In his sheriff's uniform.

This is a really nice example of first person description.

Youse guyz brought your A-game to the Medic post!
These made me laugh so hard I snorted medicinal whisky out my gills.

Steve Forti
He's the Rockodile. He doesn't have a specialty, per se, but he does have a favorite Elton John song to blast while riding his steel horse down the highway.
Looks like the flu-gator-abater is motoring to your rescue. Feel better soon.
Colin Smith
Dr. Allie Gaytor, the only physician in town brave enough to treat a shark. Her patients can be curmudgeonly, but she's as snappy as the worst of them. A few shots of medicinal whiskey soon makes everything right--for both of them. :)

french sojourn
Dr. Thelonious Monk Rx. ( T-Rx )

A Doctor that specializes in the medicine of the soul, sure to Jazz up your life, when you're feeling the Blues.

Feel better Janet! I hope Dr. Gnash there, the mordologist, restores your chomp soon.

Lee Nire
Have a care, Janet, and do beware!

You mustn't trust that moto-bike mountebank.
He specializes in balderdash and chicanery.
He believes bloodletting means letting him have some blood.

This disreputable reptile would negotiate a nefarious nostrum, would offer snake oil to a shark, a quack remedy for a queen.

Stay under the blanket until he's gone. (T-Rex cannot see you if you don't move.)
Get well soon.

Claire Bobrow
Sorry you're under the weather again, Janet. Hope the V8 helps! I'm not sure ol' Rx T. Rex is the medic you need. His specialty is Dino sores.

AJ Blythe
Crook-a-dial...kinda like Uber Eats, but comes bearing V8, paracetomol and the entire set of Coupling DVDs.

(Is "crook" an Aussie word? In case I need to translate, it means sick.)
My MIL feeds us yangmeijiu if we get sick. It's a type of Chinese fruit steeped in something that's about a gazillion percent proof. It doesn't matter if it doesn't kill off the bugs, because you won't feel your throat after swallowing it.

Surprisingly effective.

Something you might like to try??

Slithery Flash Fiction Contest result

Kudos for a great line:
Steve Forti (of course)
Thwart plotting’ is not a deductible business loss.

Here is the short list of entries that stood out this week.

There was once a woman who set out to find the perfect kiss.
Money no object.

Naïve, she thought her first would be perfect.

It wasn't.

Neither was her fiftieth.

She imagined it was the guy. So she switched up: the fierce, the funny. The female.


Was it circumstantial? She investigated: cruise ships, ancient ruins, flared skirts and seedy bars. A fervent snog by the Seine.

Imperfect. Lacking.

She tried princes. She tried frogs. Eventually, she just tried.

In the end, she wept. "I only wanted one perfect kiss!"

"What, like this?" asked Death.

And took her breath away.
Talk about take your breath away.
This is perfect.


Maria shivered. “Feels funny – so empty - quiet.” She rolled her cart off the elevator. “Buenas noches, Lupe."

A bomb scare emptied the IRS building at noon, yet night staff were required.

The first offices were tidy, probably away on audits, but here - papers everywhere.

She attempted to dust around documents when a name caught her eye. A name that fiercely kept Carlos from her. Her nostrils flared as she fingered through sheaves.

Glancing around, she cleared the desk into her cart, then fervently emptied five more boxes. Next- elevator to parking garage. Cousin Luis cleaned at CNN.
I normally don't go for the political topics much. There are a lot of us here and we don't all think alike. But this was so lovely and evocative, I could not pass it by.

Mallory Love
First, there was light, fierce in intensity. A flare so blinding, minutes passed before shapes appeared.

Then, she was in a kitchen. Two women sat on barstools, talking. In the corner, a little girl entertained at a table. Stuffed animals filled three small chairs, while two elderly gentlemen filled the remainder. Such a funny sight.

The girl, spotting her, fervently waved her over. The women paid her no attention.

“You’re young.”

“Probably an accident. Sad.” The old men shook their heads.

“Tea?” offered the girl.

“Don’t mind Libby,” one woman said to the other. “She’s playing with her imaginary friends.”
Lovely and subtle.

Lee Nire
"It wants our lunch!" Charlie guarded his food, but cowered before the fierce beast. He stumbled backward, gasping, as sand sloughed away beneath his feet.

"It wants us for lunch," Sam said, bent in fervent prayer. Fight, flight, or have faith, he thought.

The beast lumbered toward them, gurgling, nostrils aflare. It'd be funny, it's wobbling gait, if it weren't so hideous. Artificial coconut wafted off gangly limbs as it reached for them.

Charlie gulped crabmeat. Sam just cried for mercy.

Another beast, bigger than the first, said, "Jaydin, leave them seagulls be, child, you're making em squawk something awful!"
I had to read this three times to suss it out.
It was worth it.

MA Hudson
Headed to NYC, show ‘em how it’s done.
First out the plane, first out the gates, at JFK.

Set off the flares.
Set off the fireworks.
The city’s impatient, waiting for the likes of me.

But whoa, hold on... that’s funny.
No one notices, anything.

Not my fervent theatrical frown.
Not my fiercely angelic alto.
Not my death defying dance steps.

Triple threats’ serve coffee around here.

I head home... with my head held low.

Back to the bottom of the ladder.
Back to one rung at a time.
Back... to doing it for fun.

This just breaks my heart.

Karen McCoy
“I’ve been commercialized into a joke,” The Easter Bunny moaned.

The Tooth Fairy shrugged. “You are kinda cuddly.”

“You ever see rabbits in the wild? I am fierce!” The Easter Bunny growled fervently.

“But there’s no superiority behind it. You need an RBF first.”

The Easter Bunny frowned. “RBF?”

“Resting Bitch Face. Like this.” The Tooth Fairy narrowed her eyes into flares.

“Let me see.” The Easter Bunny scrunched up her face.

The Tooth Fairy said, “No. Stop. I guess there’s always that Rabbit, Rabbit thing. Jump on that, maybe.”

“Not funny,” The Easter Bunny deadpanned.
I'm a sucker for these "out of character" stories.

Michael Seese
"The first rule of clownage. Be funny," Tooty said, pulling a rubber chicken, and a live chicken, from his roadside-flare red hair disaster.

"Be funny. Got it."

I scribbled fervently, capturing his words of fooldom on a page torn from Clowning For Dummies, aka the Bible Of Buffoonery. Being that today was my first day on the job, I couldn't make an ass of my... The point being, competition for these gigs is fierce. Guys literally fall over themselves to snag one.

"Okay, what's the second rule?"

"Be unpredictable," Tooty said, delivering my diploma via a pie to the face.
You had me at roadside-flare red hair disaster.

This is funny without being over the top, a very hard balance to strike.
Of course, this is Michael Seese; we've come to expect this kind of perfection.

But this week my heart belongs to NLiu.

NLiu if you'll send me your email address I'll pop a copy of Funny You Should Ask in the mail to you. If you already have a copy (excellent choice!) we'll come up with an alternative.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write stories and enter the contest.
There is a truly terrifying amount of talent here.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Alot better!

I am feeling ALOT better!
I spent yesterday doing catch up and should have the contest results up tomorrow!

Do you know the Alot story?

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

ok, not a sloth but very much back under the weather

I thought I'd be done with this stupid whatever crapola, but I'm not.
It's one of those crawl out of bed for 20 minutes, and then back under the cover for three hours.

You know that sick feeling: when climbing back into bed feels so good you never want to get out.
When you're hungry but the idea of eating is more than you can bear?
(the cure for that is V8 by the way)

Time to call for a specialist!
art by Seth Taylor

Now, what is this medic's name and specialty?

Monday, February 03, 2020

Is your agent a sloth?

So, what was I doing yesterday instead of reading contest results??

Well, watching this

And I think you'll understand why after you watch the trailer.

and also: reading my requested fulls! I'm making progress and feeling VERY happy to be responding to people who've been waiting for more than a year (I hang my head in shame at that, truly) in some cases.

What's the longest you've had to wait to hear back on a requested full?
(Yes, I'm trying to believe I'm not the slothiest sloth in slothdom)

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Slithery Flash Fiction Contest

Here's your chance to win a copy of Barbara Poelle's wonderful new book "Everything I Know I Learned from Janet Reid" Funny You Should Ask.

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 the PHRASE: La Slitherina Rules the World.

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.

9. 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.)

10. 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"

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

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

13. 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 open: 6:18am, Saturday, 2/1/20

Contest closes: 9am Sunday, 2/2/20

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!

rats, sorry, too late. Contest closed.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

tell me about this photo

I think I've mentioned this, but we live in a little town called Chagrin Falls. I call it "Mayberry North."

I'm ranting and raving about description this week.
Mostly to those poor unfortunate writers who had the misfortune to submit a novel that describes how people look as though eyes (gold flecked green eyes!) and hair (tumbling curls of red!) are something a reader needs to know.

Here's the thing to remember: description that reveals character is more memorable than just knowing what I call wanted poster details (height hair color, tattoos etc.)

Callng this street Mayberry North tells me a lot more than "three stores and a blue truck"

So, have at it.

Tell me something about this street that reveals character.
20 words or fewer.
Post in the comment column here.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Just plain querying still works

I'm curious. Rachelle Gardener said this in her December 10th blog post "Lone Ranger Writer" ( There are still stories of writers getting their agent through the query process, without ever networking or getting a referral or going to a conference. I thought querying was how most writers landed an agent. And unless networking includes critique partners and beta readers, surely not every writer needs to have networking, referrals or conferences to get an agent?

I was perplexed by this statement as well,  until I read the entire post.

Rachelle's point is that getting feedback (going to a conference, crit groups) is an important, if not essential, part of polishing your work to publication level.

I think she's right 98% of the time.
Most of my clients have some sort of beta reader system.

But a couple do not, and they're doing just fine.

And Rachelle isn't saying one size fits all here.

But she's not talking about querying requirements either. She's talking about polishing  your work.

You're quite right that most of us still get our clients from incoming queries.
Sure, there are conference finds, and referrals, but querying works.

But before you query, it really really helps if you get eyeballs other than your own on your work. If only to avoid homophones. My favorite this year is chic/sheik. The runner up is fey/fay.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Tweeting about your story to build interest from editors and agents

Hi Janet,

Another Pitch Wars mentee here.

I've heard conflicting advice about sharing story details on Twitter ahead of having rep and/or a book deal.

Several writers have said they’ve gotten representation or deals at least in part because people saw their story details on Twitter.

But a while ago I saw another agent Tweet that you shouldn't share story details (except for pitch contests) because it ruins the freshness when the agent goes to sell your book (editors will think ‘I’ve heard that before’ or ‘doesn’t sound unique’).

I’m just coming out of Pitch Wars and would love to build hype around my story ahead of the agent showcase, but not if it’s going to sully future excitement. 

The agent is right but for the wrong reason.
Twitter is certainly a nice tool for getting attention from agents and editors. 
A couple times even sharkly curmudgeons have seen something tasty and commented.

But Twitter isn't the main way we find out about your book. Query letters, Pitch Wars, #PitchMad are all much more focused ways to find an agent.

BUT you want to save any kind of public excitement building for when you have rep, and a book deal, and a pub date.  In other words, when you can build excitement for your book and give us a way to do something about that excitement: pre-order the book. 

Twitter is often the best if not only way to connect with potential readers.  Thus you want to save tweeting about your book until you're looking for readers, not representation.

There's nothing useful for you in building interest in your book before your readers can buy it.

And more than once, recently, I've seen a book I want to read, with no way to order it, so I promptly forgot about it.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Scheduling "the call"

I'm in this year's Pitch Wars class (hoorah!) and we're getting ready for the agent showcase in a little over a week. A question came up in the mentee group chat and I can't find a good answer online:

If an agent asks to schedule a call, is it okay to ask for a weekend or after-hours time? Everyone wants to be respectful of the agent's time, but we also have mentees across time zones and with varying schedules, so we were curious about protocol on that.

Thanks for any insight you can provide!

Schedule the call for the best time for YOU.
Agents do several of these a year.
You're doing one and maybe your first.
You get the home court advantage.

An agent may not be able to schedule a Sunday, but most of us work at least one of the weekend days even if religious observance means we don't work the others.

I have clients all over the world, and I ask them to set the time/day for calls as much as possible.

And if an agent gets up in your grille about only working 9-5 Monday to Friday, and you need to accommodate her, well, now you have some important info.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

What are you looking at today?

You're going to get sick of seeing pictures of my dogs, but this one...I miss this very much. Ciine (Coon-ya) the red, was the sweetest dog ever and I miss her every day. So does Murphy. But this was their usual mode of dozing.

The picture is out my back door. I'm very fortunate to live where I do. It's beautiful, to me, all through the year but a tiny bit magical in the snow.

Ciine and Murphy!

Ciine and Murphy
What are you looking at today?

Her Grace and Sleekness and I are looking at overcast skies, but at least it's stopped raining. The Royal Balcony is chilly but fresh air feels good after a day inside.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The DoY causes consternation

All is quiet in the early afternoon hours Chez Yowl.
It is a cold winter day, overcast, with no sun heating the apartment.

Her Grace and Sleekness thinks it's a bit nippy so she steps off her (heated) pillow and burrows under the afghan  currently hogged by the Waitress in Residence who is napping on the couch.

It is very cozy under the afghan, and Her Grace stretches out to better warm her tummy.

As she stretches, she notices there is a faint odor of tuna.
Yes, it's coming from the Waitress, who seems to have tuna ...somewhere on her.
Her Grace and Sleekness investigates carefully.

Abruptly the quiet is shattered by a scream that leaves Her Grace certain the world is coming to an end.

She notices Waitress is no longer under the afghan, or even on the couch.

She's hanging from the chandelier, yowling, although no where near as musically as Her Grace.

"Alexa! Call the Fire Department to get me off this ceiling!"

Before Her Grace has had time to resettle on her heated cushion on her royal chair, there is a brutal pounding on the door, and a number of bipeds race into the room, collect Waitress from the chandelier, and settle her on the Royal Couch.

It's clear they are mystified how Waitress teleported eight feet into the air. Her Grace gives a disdainful sniff. Only a biped would think an 8-foot-leap to be remarkable.

She hears one ask "how did you get on the ceiling?"

And Thumbs says, "The cat licked my lips. While I was sleeping."

"It's not MY fault you had a toasted tuna sandwich for lunch."

Friday, January 24, 2020

So, Goodreads?

My hamster wheel has been spinning since the recent blog post regarding book reviews when you're a writer (

It got me thinking about Goodreads. I have a Goodreads page in my personal name. When I'm published I assume I will need to be there in my professional (pen name) capacity. I can't manage two accounts so I'd been thinking I should restart. But as you said in that recent post, writers shouldn't be reviewing other writers. So what do you do about Goodreads? Should you just shelve and not review?

I think you CAN keep two Goodreads accounts; one for your personal stuff with reviews, and one for your author stuff.

My understanding (secondhand) is that Goodreads users like authors to stay in their own lane as much as possible. Post stuff about their books, answer questions, be friendly, but NOT also behave like a reader.

The thing to guide these kinds of decisions is the sure and certain knowledge that if you put it on the internet someone will find it and usually the last person you want.

You don't want to create problems for yourself if you can help it.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Do publishers like working with agents?

Good morning Janet! Well, it’s early morning here on the East Coast of Australia, anyway. 

And I’ve been lying awake wondering something. Here in Australia, from what I can tell, publishing houses deal with unagented authors as well as agented ones.

(1)Would publishing houses prefer to deal with the former (unagented)?
(2) Or the latter (agented)?
(3) Or is that difficult to say, as in America it seems they only deal with the agented variety? And if it’s the former - they’d prefer unagented writers - why is this so?
(4) Can they get a bigger slice of the pie if the author receives little or no agent assistance?
(5) Or are we talking about only unscrupulous organisations here? I’m assuming these do exist...

Anyway, my mind was happily turning that hamster wheel. And I had no answers, and wasn’t sure how to google such things, hence this email.

Any and all enlightenment greatly appreciated!

The easiest questions to answer are  #4 and #5. Publishers do not get to keep the money that would be paid out for a commission. The author would get it.  Even with the least scrupled in the publishing world.

Now, let's go back to questions #1-#3
Remember: I don't work for a publisher, and never have. I talk to a lot of them, and I pay a lot of attention to when editors talk about agents.

What I know I've gleaned from that.

My sense is that most publishers like to have an agent on the writer's team.
It saves them difficult conversations at times.
It provides an intermediary when one is needed.
And probably best of all, it means someone else has to explain royalty statements and returns to a new author.

Earlier in the process, it means the editor doesn't have to read a lot of queries to find a good book and an author who isn't an asshat. Agents do that work.

I've run across editors who loathe agents.
When you dig deeper it's usually because the agents they dealt with didn't do their job very well.
Disappearing after the sale is the biggest complaint.
Not keeping the writers from doing stupid stuff is another.

I've run across publishers who won't deal with agents.
I believe that to be a serious red flag (obvious bias of course.)
A publisher who doesn't want the author to have a knowledgeable advocate is a publisher trying to pull a fast one (OPINION!)

And the question you didn't ask, but I see looming in subtext: do you keep more money if you don't have to fork out a commission?  Contrary to what you might think, probably not. There aren't a lot of studies about how an agent gets a client more money than a non-agented client would but here's my experience.

Unagented writers often take the first deal offered. They're reluctant to negotiate because they don't want to anger the publisher.

Agents often do several rounds of negotiation to improve the offer, which includes improving the amount of money offered as an advance, limiting the grants of rights, and improving the split of proceeds on rights granted.

In other words, I say with confidence, most writers will benefit from having an agent, and most publishers understand we have value to them as well.

Any questions?

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

more on comps cause where would we be without X meeting Y at the corner of Zed

Hi Janet*,
I have one comp that's recent and is a good fit for my MS. My other comp is James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. I can hear your sharkly teeth grinding. However, if played for laughs, I wonder if it would break the rules in the right way as you mention on the Query Shark blog? Cooper's novel shares some significant themes with my MS. Did I mention that my MS's genre is sci-fi? And--you know--not written in 1826.

The comp section of my query:

[TITLE] will appeal to fans of John Scalzi's The Collapsing Empire and anyone who thought that The Last of the Mohicans would have worked better in space.

*Your Sharkliness?
This is clever and funny.
And pretty useless.

The purpose of comps is not to prove how clever and funny you are.

Comps are intended to do a couple things: give the agent a sense of who will read this book right now, today. That's one of the reasons you want to use current books.

Second comps give us a sense of tone or style.

Mostly though, comps are so when you tell me it's SF/fanstasy and your comp is Anne McCaffrey, I know it's fantasy.

Or if you tell me it's comedic noir like Agatha Christie, I know you're seriously deluded.

Don't try to be clever or funny with comps.

Leave that for your pages, or #PitMad posts on Twitter.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Getting to the next level as a writer

What's the best way to 'level up' as a writer, when you've already hit a few early milestones for success?

As someone who is agented with books under contract but still early career, I’m curious about the best ways to improve. I’m following the basics, meaning writing, reading critically, and listening carefully to both my agent and editor(s) feedback. Plus I’ve developed online and real-life writer friends who are always up craft discussions.

I’ve found writing conferences—at least the ones I’ve been to—have a diminishing rate of returns because there tends to be a strong focus on querying and (generally excellent) content for beginning writers. Don’t get me wrong: I still learn something, and they’re useful, plus it’s fun to catch up with fellow writers and meet the wide-eyed fresh chum having their minds blown by their first conference. The craft sorts of talks I’d love to hear are hard to teach at a traditional conference when talks are maybe an hour with Q&A. Plus, when the crowd trends toward beginners, it makes sense to offer business and craft content that helps them.

I’d appreciate suggestions on how to continue to grow as a writer if you or any of the reiders have suggestions, including recommendations for ‘continuing ed’ type classes or events.
This is a really interesting question, and one that will resonate with many blog readers.

What I know for sure is only what worked for me.
Will it work for you?
But like a lot of things, trial and error is probably the best way forward.
That is, try some of the ideas you'll see here, and see if they work. If they don't, try some other ideas.

I have a unique crit group: regular blog readers.  While all y'all are kind enough to not criticize my writing, what you do is ask questions about what wasn't clear. Or comment in a way that makes me realize I wasn't clear (most recent example can be seen on Question 3 here)

Being forced to write clearly, and think about how a reader will understand something, has been enormously helpful.

Writing a blog post every day (well, the last six weeks not so much) is also VERY helpful.

Extrapolating from my specific experience to a more general answer: write every day for an audience.  How you find that audience is tricky for people who don't work in jobs like mine with a built in sea of chums.

The other thing that has been enormously useful is critiquing. A lot. Writing cogently about why something doesn't work is a GREAT learning tool.

There are lots of places to find folks looking for crit help.

But if you don't want to involve real people, assess essays or short stories on your own.
Force yourself to write 100 words about every story in an MWA anthology.

That's just me.
I hope there will be a lot more ideas in the comment column today.

Monday, January 20, 2020

I recently attended the annual meeting of the American Historians Association here in NYC.

I knew I was in a whole different world when I passed the bar at 6pm and it was empty.  One of the main complaints at every Bouchercon is that the hotel doesn't provide enough bar staff.  They don't believe the organizers who tell them writers will be in the bar before they'll be just about anywhere else.  Now I see why the hotel has doubts: these historians, although fun and festive, do not lollygag about in the bar.  (I liked them anyway.)

One of the panels I attended was about
I'd never heard of it before (probably because I was busy lollygagging in the bar) but the description sounded interesting.  It's a place anyone can ask questions about things in history.

Some caveats: it's not the substitute for research you can do on your own.
A question like "When did Germany invade Poland?" isn't going to survive moderation.

But a more nuanced question  like "I'm a young woman in Mongolia in 1066. What are my chances of being kidnapped by a rival tribe and married off to a total stranger?" is what they're looking for.

The Q&As are hosted on Reddit, which scared the crap out of me cause I have always found Reddit to be a cesspool, but this little corner is remarkably non-toxic.  That's most likely due to the very careful moderators who are all volunteers (bless them!).

The reason I mention this is that many of you are writing historical fiction. This is a good place to get world building info, or verify something you've read that sounds weird. Or just find out cool things that get you thinking.

I've just gotten started so I haven't posted my first question yet, but I'm going to ask about literacy and books in Mongolia.

Yes, you can sense a theme now. Mongolia, right? Yup. For some reason I came away from the AHA meeting with a real thirst for All Things Mongolia.

I promptly bought two books:

The Mongol Empire by Timothy May


Women and Making of the Mongol Empire by Anne E Broadbridge

If anyone is writing historical fiction set in Mongolia I hope you'll query me.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Readers, a reader needs your help!

O Toothy Queen of the Known Universe, 

I have a request for the Reiders, actually. I know that your Esteemed, Salty Majesty is not a fantasy reader, but I am a fantasy writer. And what I'm writing, I'm rather ashamed to say, I can't find other books to read that match it. 

I'm probably not the most well-read writer that ever was. But I definitely do read my genre, including debuts and new releases when I can. This isn't only my integrity for reading on the line, though. I've asked my reading friends; I've asked fantasy readers who work in bookstores; I've asked librarians. No one has a good answer. 

The book I'm writing, and thus the type I want to read, is fantasy of course. Set in modern day, so you might think urban fantasy, but in my book, the existence of magic is not a secret. It's so in the open, in fact, that laws and government organizations revolve around regulating its use. Nor is it post-apocalyptic. Magic didn't bash its way in and wreck society. Magic is, and has always been, a known part of society, but it's not the most practical thing to use, and it doesn't do a lot of things that technology does, so technology also evolved. It's not magic realism because it's definitely MAGIC, not ambiguity. 

It's today, but with magic, and everyone knows magic is a thing. There's no magical creatures, like vampires or fairies. 

And I swear, may I be trapped forever on my hamster wheel, I haven't read a book like this not from any lack of trying. I had resigned myself to leaving off comps and just not telling any agent I query that I've never read a book like the one I've written before, but then I thought maybe the Reiders knew of books that had slipped through all my efforts.