Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Week in Review

And what a week it was!

We're hard at work here at The Reef on the end of the year tax forms we send to clients. Making sure we've got updated addresses, and all the decimals are in the right place. I actually like this task. It's got a start date, an end date, a measurable success rate, and it only happens once a year. In other words: the exact opposite of what I do most of the time.

The rest of the week was taken up with negotiating contracts and pitching projects. That doesn't change much week to week, month to month, year to year, but what I actually DO during negotiations and pitches does change. Even boilerplate contracts change as publishing circumstances change.

As an example: routinely First Serial Rights were licensed to the publisher. Now, I never do that automatically. That's because most publishers don't actually have the staff to do those placements anymore, and there's a shortage of big magazines that actually buy first serial rights. Time to clean up the boilerplate to match reality.

My Saturday reading was Bill Loehfelm's THE DEVIL IN HER WAY.  I loved the first Maureen book in the series THE DEVIL SHE KNOWS but hadn't managed to snag the second book till last week.  When you need a really good break from the work week, you want a book that's utterly captivating and this one was up to the job.

Here's just one paragraph that will show you what I mean:

She breathed in the tainted air again and wondered if crime scenes became like wines, each with their own smells and flavors --top notes, grace, notes, and finishes. Girl, she thought her own ideas making her queasy, you did not get out of the cocktail business quite fast enough.

This week I was asked to lead a workshop on query letters on Feb 1, 2015 here in Brooklyn.  Of course I agreed. The details are here on my Facebook page. I'm working on the workshop handouts during spare minutes here and there. So far it's ten pages!

The comment section on the blog continues to amaze and delight me. A couple questions popped up that I though deserved some further attention:

Monday's blog post was about a writer whose retiring agent wanted to hold on to her manuscript that was on submission. I'd listed the steps the writer needed to take in the situation:

Blog post: 5. You start querying. You mention your agent left mid-submission and you have editors who were considering the work.

sagelikethespice asked: Will this work for or against the author at this point? Assuming they were good editors for the work in question, would a potential new agent look at this list as a positive, a negative, or neutral? I know that when an author has been rejected by editors already, agents see it as a negative because they can't pitch to those editors. But these subs were pulled. Will a new agent be able to pitch to these editors again?

Short answer: yes. If a submission is withdrawn at the agent's request, then another agent can resubmit. This kind of thing (withdrawing subs) doesn't happen a lot, but it does happen. Editors are aware that circumstances can change. I've had to withdraw submissions on several projects over the years. Some were because the author wanted to make extensive revisions. We actually were able to go back to those editors with revised manuscripts when he did.

Editors, like agents, are looking for good work. That's the bottom line.

Kelsey Hutton wondered if my use of UK spellings meant that perhaps I was from Manitoba, a fact I quickly corrected and reminded everyone that I'm from the West Coast. Go Ducks!

Kelsey replied: Janet, we would welcome you as an honourary Manitoban any day!
Summer reports of our moose-size mosquitoes are almost all exaggerated, and a slug of Caribou keeps you warm in the winter. Go Jets.

Well, that's certainly an enticement to visit, but honestly we need to work on the geography here. The Jets play in New Jersey! They may pretend to be from New York, but everyone in Jersey does that.

Go NETS! They at least play in Brooklyn!

On Thursday's post about which query to use, the one that got results or the "good one" Colin Smith asks:

@Janet: Would you say crafting "the perfect query" is more important when the agent does not ask for a sample (e.g., first 5 pages)? I can imagine an agent reading a query and saying "This query sucks, but I like the idea, let's see if the writing's better in the pages." But if those pages aren't to hand, might that agent be more likely to just hit the "form reject" button?

Impossible to know, but certainly logical. If the query is the ONLY thing the agent will see, it does seem like you'll want it to be perfect. But what is perfect? Perfect means only that the agent wants to read pages. That's it. I've gotten some horrendous queries that enticed me to read on. Would I suggest writing horrendous queries? No, no I would not. I think they enticed me to read on mostly cause I had more than a passing interest in the subject matter, or concept of the novel. I'll read just about anything set in NYC. Same for horses. Africa is high on my list too.

Later in that same comment column DLM said:

I just wish I could in-person pitch 'em all. My in-person pitch rate is 100% - at least for full requests.

As you all know I hate in person pitches. I hate them with the passion of a thousand suns. I might have ranted about that a time or two.

And DLM's comment just makes me hate them more because they induce false hope. 

Here's the horrible truth about in-person pitches: It's VERY hard for an agent or editor to say no to your hopeful face. Most editors won't. Most agents will say yes to things they KNOW aren't right for them because unlike ME they can't bear to break your hearts. Me, I just chomp on you till you bleed and then swim merrily away.

Ask any agent they'll tell you that a well-written query is a much better introduction to your work.

If you do have an in-person pitch session, take your query and ASK if it's effective. Three minutes of help is going to do you more good than a request for a full that is getting rejected UNREAD in a month.

Still in the Thursday comments, SD King notices we're painting the new office!

This is completely off the topic, but didn't we just read that the QS office was being painted? Reading the archives (as directed) I noted that the office had just been painted in 2013.
I always think that after living with a paint job for about 10 years, you should take a good long look at the walls and plan to choose a new color in the next five years, or so.
The only reason to put yourself though the trouble of drop cloths and mess is if you smoke 3 packs of Lucky Strikes a day and the paint breaths smoke back at you.
No Shark could smoke like that and still swim.

I painted my apartment in 2013. Well, let me say "I was painting my apartment in 2013. I'm STILL painting it in 2015."

The office paint is new new new. Yay! And I'm NOT doing it, we have a nice guy who comes in and does a much better job. DOUBLE YAY!

And no one smokes in the office. Occasionally however we set our hair on fire.

Colin Smith
@SD: New offices. New paint job. The last re-paint was in the old office space which, I believe, FinePrint moved into in 2011...?

We moved in to our new office on 29th Street in August 2012. Trust me, I will never forget that day, week or month. The move next door will be child's play compared to that move.

On Friday's rant about not wasting my time, Colin Smith asked:

Okay, Janet, call me a woodland creature, but define "least suitable client." Are we talking axe-murderer crazy, or won't-answer-the-phone reclusive, or...? It's a bit off-topic (like that's ever stopped me before), but I often hear "agent success stories" where either the writer or the agent talk about how they knew they would have a great working relationship because they "hit it off" over The Call. Is that what you mean?

I suspect you might answer something along the lines of "they need to be serious about their work, meeting deadlines, listening and responding to editorial comments, etc." But it seems to me that's something you would only know AFTER the query has done its job and you've had The Call. Or are there signs of problems to come you've learned to discern over many years of swimming these waters? Things you can pick up even from a query or a brief phone conversation?

Yes, I'm getting picky over a detail. Don't get me wrong. I love the spirit of your rant, and I wish you could be QOTKU so all agents would think this way. I just saw that phrase and wondered... :)

Figuring out who will fit well into the ranks of The Fabulosity is something I've honed over the years. First, of course, they can't be the wrong kind of crazy. Generally I can pick up on that in a phone call. I can pick up on unrealistic expectations there too.

But one of the best tools I have now is Twitter and Facebook. Here's where you really find out about someone. Is every Facebook post about them? All the pictures of themselves? Is the Twitter feed only about them? That's an author that you're going find is pretty self-involved.

Are they absent from social media? That's a big clue and I'll want to ask if that's intentional, or they just don't know how to use social media tools effectively.

Do they have bombastic posts on every hot button topic of the day? Probably not a good fit for me.

Do they tweet too much? Probably someone who's going to need a lot of attention…also not a good fit for me.

And the turnabout here is: authors can find out a LOT about agents by reading their social media sites. Don't want an agent who drinks whisky and swears like a sailor? Cross me off your list.

Need an agent who is available night and day to ease your fears? Nope, not Janet Reid.

Don't want an agent who HAS a social media presence at all? Cross me right off the list.

And Colin, you're right, sometimes the suitability is discovered only after the contract is signed. And that's why there's a 30-day, at will, get out of the contract clause in my author/agency agreement. If it turns out we're not a good fit, you get to decamp posthaste.

And my all time favorite question of the week was from GingerMollyMarilyn

Two things. First and foremost, thank you for your solidarity, Janet. You really "get" us writers. Second, if you're the Queen of this universe, who is Queen of the next one over?

That would be Barbara Poelle.


SiSi said...

I love the new "Week in Review" Sunday blog!

french sojourn said...

most incredible blog in the universe.

LynnRodz said...

I second SiSi and Hank. I love this new "Week in Review" and this is the most incredible blog in the universe! (I would add something original to say, but I was up half the night with a stomach flu, so I'm going back to bed instead!)

Kitty said...

Love the Barbara Poelle quote above: "Saying an agent only finds a publisher and negotiates a contract is kind of like saying a spouse just buys you a ring and then hangs out with you until you're dead." ---Barbara Poelle, [amazing] Literary Agent

Btw, Janet, I thought you were in Manhattan?

Janet Reid said...

Kitty, office in Manhattan on 29th Street at Sixth Ave; Shark jammies on in Brooklyn.

Mister Furkles said...


Would you consider a promotion to QOTUU. My physicist friends insist that the unknown universe is much larger than the known universe. I can't confirm with cosmologists because I have no cosmologist friends--although my wife has a cosmetologist friend she could ask.

While the stars of the unknown universe do not move faster than light, the universe itself is expanding such that together the light of an unknown star will never touch our galaxy. Of course, you will never know anything about your realm but neither will anybody else. So, who's going to dispute it.

Anonymous said...

I love the week in review.

Is that beige the color of the new walls or was that before he started painting? I noticed the painter's tape and it seemed to be pretty clean. Maybe my eyes are going or he's just a much better painter than I am.

"Here's the horrible truth about in-person pitches: It's VERY hard for an agent or editor to say no to your hopeful face."

Agreed. I had an editor from Tor and one from Del Rey ask me to submit Far Rider to them at the Surrey conference.

I think these may have been more than pity requests. Perhaps I'm just being Pollyanna again. I carried a leather portfolio cover with me everywhere I went at the conference. Inside were: a notebook, several pens, business cards, several copies of my query letter and five copies of the first five pages.

The Del Rey editor I did a workshop with where we went over the first 30 pages. So, she had already seen the first 30 and made comments before the workshop. At the pitch session with her, she saw the query in the binder and asked to read it.

The pitch was horrible, but she liked the query and the pages she'd already seen, so she requested. We spent the rest of the session talking about dogs. I was much better at that.

The Tor editor read the query and glanced over the pages quickly. Then we talked about the background of one of the clans. They are warrior horse masters and loosely based on Celtic lore and mythology. We spent quite a bit of time talking about Celtic women warriors and burial mounds.

Then he explained why I should try to get it down to 135,000 words, marketing and a few writing tidbits. He asked me to do some revisions and send to him.

All in all, I hate pitch sessions. The only thing I did right was bring the query letter and samples with me. Well, that and get passionate about historical women warriors and my horse lords.

"Do they have bombastic posts on every hot button topic of the day? Probably not a good fit for me."

I try very hard to keep my twitter feed clean. There are certainly times I'd like to sound off at someone, but usually if someone tweets something like, "Two dead cops a day should be our goal." other people have already launched into a diatribe about the stupidity.

I follow a lot of agents and editors on twitter. Most of them don't handle what I write, but they're interesting. A few agents I've had to cross off my list due to twitter comments. Just because I support abc doesn't mean I automatically look like someone who just got out of a brawl in a recliner sale. And, yes, I am trailer park trash. You probably wouldn't be interested in my work Super Agent 007. Just an aside, some trailers now cost over $100,000, so don't assume everyone who lives in one is trash.

And I pulled another tome. It seems I can't make a short comment. sigh

I started a new Facebook account just for author Julie.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey, whadaya really mean?

"The Jets play in New Jersey! They may pretend to be from New York, but everyone in Jersey does that."

I'm from Connecticut raised as a Jersey-girl until fifteen. The best parts of me are from Jersey, like the mouthy part, the part that drives aggressively, and the part that really believes (because the signs in my supermarket say my tomatoes come from there) the “The Garden State” misnomer. The only part of me that pretends to be from New York is the cheeky-part that sits on the southern border of CT.

I love the WIR, “week in review”.
Here’s my personal WIR.

Yup that’s about it.
Long live the WIR.

Anonymous said...

I too, will chime in and say I LOVE this new Week In Review. Personally, I like these days of the week - WTF. Because. Well, WTF.

Colin must be, make that MUST be feeling the love.

I am proud to say you'd never, ever never find anything on my Twitter/FB or Blog that would make you shy away from me as a member of the Fabulosity. One, because I usually retweet someone elses stuff. I really suk at that 140 character thing. Two, I hate selfies, and most of the sort of things one finds on FB, although I'd say to you, Ms. Janet, your FB posts are always the BEST I've seen for how to use that social media tool, and last, the blog. The blog I love, but the blog is also hard to get right when it comes to topics. I write about writing, more often than not, but not as much lately. I write about pictures I'm taking, then torture readers with downloads of blurry moons, birds, and the like, etc. Until I have something to share that's of any importance, mainly? I flounder around for topics. I've been thinking about starting a segment called "Little Dog Days."

Who can't resist cutesy?

Dena Pawling said...

Not sure you should be dissing New Jersey. After all, hasn't anyone ever told you why New Jersey has more toxic waste dumps and California has more lawyers?

Because New Jersey had first choice.

My oldest son is in the Navy. I've heard him swear, but not "swear like a sailor", altho I'm sure he cleans up his language when he talks with me lol

Your WIR sounds much more exciting than mine. In addition to [as my colleague would put it] "making more homeless people", I read TWO books and finished the first pass of my "agents who rep women's fiction" spreadsheet.

My husband sprained his ankle last weekend and one of my boys was sick, so altho all the Christmas decorations are put away until next year, I still have a patio full of furniture that needs to go back into the living room. And of course, because it's still a BIG OPEN SPACE, the Lionel trains are still chugging along....

Anonymous said...

The Jets are actually the Winnipeg Jets of the National Hockey League. There used to be a Jets team in Manitoba, then it relocated. When the Atlanta Thrashers relocated, they moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba a few years ago and became the new NHL Jets.

And now you all know I live in Canada...

Anonymous said...

Speaking of agents who are also authors, I have to admit this makes me nervous. It isn't because I'm afraid they'll steal my ideas, but rather because if they are churning out a book a year I have to wonder how much time they have left to devote to being an agent. Then you see, "Agent 001 is no longer active so they can devote more time to their writing career."

I, being a woodland creature, imagine I will be one of those clients who is suddenly looking for a new agent.

F.Lowers McGrath said...

I've signed up for your workshop. Very excited. As much to meet you as for the work. You have been so inspiring especially as a newbie.

DLM said...

Of course I do know about the problems you have with in-person pitchery, and - per your and Colin's comments bot - I'm not stupid, I do also know the bite rate (hee) is higher with those for subjective reasons.


If it gets my full in front of an agent, then it's as good as a successful query.

The only problem I have with this bite-rate is that: on no occasion yet have I actually been able to meet with an agent I would or could work with. They're either just to one side of the exact tone I take in my genre, or frankly unpleasant people, or I never hear from them again - or the one who quit agenting, having barely begun. (I try not to think my MS was responsible for that one ...) The conference I attend annually isn't specific to my genre, and I'm a secretary without the funds to travel to Britain for one of the best ones available. So the market exists for my story, I just don't have ready access to many agents who serve it.

If I could pitch the right folks, though, they'd be all, "Hey, that's a darn good ms, how hasn't this been done before!?" and off to the races I'd be, Gossamer the Editor Cat and Penelope the intern Puppy in tow.

Plus, to be fair - that day, I was running on 5 Rs and hadn't gotten this week's full request. You know I'm a writer! And writers pout! :)

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I've learned so much from Janet's blog. It's always my first stop on the sphere. Love the week in reveiew.

One book you suggested long ago that made a difference for me was Shimmering Images.

If you ever consider a webinar on query writing I would participate.

Twitter and FB bombastic posts. Yep, good to see and shy from. Normally I am pretty good but events close to home shook me a bit in the last few weeks.

Susan Bonifant said...

To revisit some of the questions of the previous week in the WIR is helpful AND generous on your part. There is always discussion after you post and often very good questions evolve which, if hard to answer one at a time, are worth addressing for everyone's benefit.

I like that most about the WIR.

I miss the cat pictures.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: I know, it looks impressive that Janet mentioned me more than once, but go back and count how many times I've commented this week. Verbosity has its rewards. :)

(Seriously, though, I'm honored and grateful for the responses.)

I really appreciated this, Janet:

"And the turnabout here is: authors can find out a LOT about agents by reading their social media sites. Don't want an agent who drinks whisky and swears like a sailor? Cross me off your list."

Yes, when I'm researching agents, I tend to favor those who have an online presence and actually give me the opportunity to get to know them a bit before I query them. I may not personalize the query too much, but I like to know the person to whom I'm writing.

As for swearing like a sailor (or "cussing" as they like to say here--a term I wasn't too familiar with until I moved to the States and started living in the South), remember the BBC World Service interview you did some years ago, Janet? Unfortunately it's now lost to the archives, but Gary Corby had linked to it. One of his commenters was surprised at how well-spoken you are considering the, um, salty language you sometimes employ. :) You do sound a lot more Meryl Streep than Rhea Perlman. :D

One last thing: Is Ms. Poelle (AKA, Janet's writing partner in that book we all want her to write) going to be at Bouchercon? To be at the same table as Janet Reid and Barbara Poelle talking shop (or probably pretty much anything) would alone be worth the conference fee.

Thanks for doing the WiR, and the blog, Janet. It's fun to read, and fun to comment on. Even despite me, you seem to attract a nice crowd of people.

Anonymous said...

@Colin - Haha! I thought all along I was such a windbag. :)

Wow, I hadn't thought of that...both of them being there would be absolutely UNbelievable! I would just have to scream WTF! I mean, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday!

Anywhoo, must remember not to go all woodland creature silent as if I'm being hunted down by something higher on the food chain. Which I'm prone to do when I'm nervous. Never here, on this blog, no. Just f2f. You won't know I'm there, Colin, or Ms. Janet, except for maybe the little slurping sounds I'll be making as I down my liquid courage(s) in order to communicate at some level of intelligence.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Dena Pawling, Hashanah!!!!!
Toxic waste vs. lawyers, love it.

Kelsey Hutton said...

THANK YOU, Christopher Meades.

C'mon, you guyz, I meant MY Jets, not New Jersey wannabes (sorry Dena!).

That's how we identify each other in the Winnipeg diaspora--when in a foreign country you hear complete strangers shout "Go Jets Go!" while wearing the classic white-and-blue.

Dena Pawling said...

I'm in Southern California.

Go Ducks!

James Ticknor said...

I feel like something not mentioned as often as it should be is the importance of not just enticing a literary agent candidate for a query, but the connection.

When I attended the 2013 James River's Writer's Conference, I had realized that agents might only say "yes" to my in-person pitch because they were afraid to say no. With that in mind, I targeted all the agents before hand that I thought were best suited for my work. I also read up on those who worked in my genre, but weren't in open submission.

During the conference, I made absolutely CERTAIN that I made an impression. I mentioned something witty, I said an odd-ball comment- anything to get me either in their favor or at least recognized.

After the conference is when I pitched to them, and in the personalized portion of the query, I wrote whatever memorable thing I said to them to jog their memory. I feel that querying is a lot like trying to build a readership. It makes it a lot easier to make them a fan if they have a connection with you.

They don't feel pressured, but make no doubt as to the opportunities of meeting a literary agent. I like to think myself meticulous. Most of the time, I ask them questions I already know, laud their accomplishments, and so forth. When talking to a literary agent for the first time, I anticipate and direct the conversation by knowing all the questions and responses. As needed, I guide it towards my ultimate goal- a connection. Query opportunity is a secondary, because it is more successful when following a connection.

Imagine this as a game of poker, and you can see the cards in both your hand, hers, and most in the deck. There is still an element of luck, but the odds of winning are much more likely. As long as she doesn't know that you can see all the cards, you can come out a big winner.

Jenz said...

I'm registered for a conference in June, and I was thinking along the same lines about simply meeting agents. But I don't know how hard I'll try to make a big impression. I'd rather not end up being that weirdo spaz they'd like to avoid.

Lisa Armosino-Morris said...

*runs to check if my twitter or fb makes me look like an asshole*

Dear Janet,

Your "Go Ducks" comment has made me love you even more, an event previously thought impossible.

Love, Lisa
AKA an Oregonian sweltering in Southern California

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

I'm happy to make a small contribution.

DLM said...

Let it be said, y'all, James Ticknor does NOT mess around when it comes to making an impression. If he weren't a generation younger than I, I might have had to come away from the JRW Conference with a big crush. As it stands, I will say he's poised (is that the right word for a man ... ?), well dressed while nattily skirting authorial "costumery", and gregarious in the right ways. :)

James Ticknor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Ticknor said...

You flatter me, DLM. I do think that some of my favorite characters in my novels have rubbed off on me. I've always postulated that our characters are an extension of whom we wish to be. It helps that those characters speak to me, despite my urge to suppress them sometimes. It is comical how greatly my characters have an effect on me.

In the novel I'm currently writing, Melissa Cardwell, the MC, is a power house real estate agent who just inherited a "haunted" house that is expanding to control other houses in the region with it's curse. For one so ready to put a price on the sentiments that come with having a home, she's going to have to understand the meaning of building a life in one of these boxes called a home if she is to relieve herself and the others of the curse- she can't run anymore. It was inspired by the finale of season 1 of American Horror Story. I wanted to know what'd happen over time if they failed, and I have yet to see a story of a haunted house taking over another. It made me wonder- is that what happened to the ghost towns in America, now nothing but tour sites? How would the curse be stopped? Abandonment, great fires like the ones in London? Was the curse in these locations to take a seat of power to expand?

Ah, but I digress. I had a brief spell of self-advocacy, didn't I? The point is, I see a lot of myself in my characters, especially my MC's. Calculated, but ultimately as feeling as the next human. I suppose it's why I bond so well with my main characters. What's interesting though is that there is one character I wrote that I struggled greatly with, because I modeled him after someone else. It caused me to critically think about his value, and what the conditions would be for compromising those values- perhaps for greater ones? It was this character that garnered the favor of most of my fans. It really surprised me. Then again, not so much. Questioning ourselves and our values, then penning that to paper is sure to inspire the same in others.

James Ticknor said...

DLM, as an example of the first comment, I will use literary agent Beth Phelan. On The Bent Agency's website, in her bio, she mentions that she loves cheese and was told by her father she'd never have any friends if she kept reading so much. I was able to relate, for I used to get in trouble for reading during class. I remember when I was sent to the principals office (of whom I was familiar with for all the wrong reasons), she sighed and asked why I was in trouble this time. I told her I was reading during class and what book I was reading. She paused, laughed, and dismissed me without punishment.

I mentioned this to Beth, and I also talked about the different kind of cheeses that I liked and recipies for multilayered macaroni. She was tenative before we met, being a fairly new agent at the time, but I noticed her loosen up quickly. She's a womderful person, and I would've like very much for her to be my agent. Alas, it was not for that novel, but who knows? Her connections will grow in the meanwhile, and I have that introduction to retain for all of time.

Oh, I will say this. I also attempted this on Deborah Grosvernor, the literary agent for Tom Clancy. I must say, this woman was a great insight to how...erm...difficult well-established literary agents are to snag. Their cards are much harder to read than a new agent. My success with her could be measured only so far as the Pitchapalooza by David Henry Sterry and Arielle Davis, of which she was on the panel. It's interesting that she spoke positively of it, albeit echoing the concern of the panel to the target audience. It just goes to show, some opportunities are better than others, despite how well they may seem. It was a big lesson that I was able to apply to writing.

Deborah strikes me as a Ms. Havisham to debut writers. I think that's the best way to put it, and I think Ms. Shark would guffaw at that comment, but be assured I mean it in a docile way, if that's the right word to use here.