The week got off to a lovely start last Sunday. After four days of lolling around at the beach reading manuscripts we headed back to the city. Y'all were busy reading the Week in Review.
One of the things I really love about the round up: your writing. All of you are writers of course, but sometimes there's a turn of phrase, or sentence (or like with Julie Weathers an entire post!) where I think "oh boy, there's talent!)
Here's one from Jennifer R. Donohue like that:
Does anybody else's dog like Spam? Elka went high obedience ballistic for it last night when it was cooking. Like "I am sitting. I would like that meat in my mouth. Oh, come on. I'll testify as hard as I can. spamspamspam"
I wonder if Barbara Poelle ever pops by here and sees all the praise you bestows upon her?
I think Barbara is too busy juggling auctions to do much blog reading. Either that or taste testing the new vodka crop.
Dena Pawling has a good idea:
I figured out that OP meant the person who had submitted the question, without really knowing what the acronym actually meant. It would take quite a bit more mental energy plus the search feature, to figure out the possible meanings of Carkoon and Buttonweezer. Therefore, not knowing what those two meant would possibly make more timid folks (1) feel like an outsider, (2) be embarrassed to ask, and (3) not feel comfortable posting their own comments. Therefore, because I've been on the excluded side of blogs and groups many times in the past [I vacillate between not wanting to join a group that would actually want me as a member, and not wanting to participate in a group that doesn't want me], and the knowledge that Ms. Reid loves her blog community and wants it all-inclusive even for the likes of me, I'll offer up my definitions. Maybe Colin, the compiler of the acronyms [Compiler Of Links creating Inclusion for Newbies], can provide that aforementioned list, complete with links if they can be found. Hopefully, having such a list would make new folks feel welcome [because they are], rather than even MORE hesitant to post a comment.
You'll notice there's now a link to terms used on the blog on the right hand side of the blog roll. If any of you think others should be added let me know in the comments section here.
S.D. King's eagle eye caught something:
"learn the category (I have a middle grade novel on submission now.)"
Janet, You thought you could slip that in there and I wouldn't notice?
Now I really need to send my query to the shark to prepare it to send to the shark!
Here's the bad news: I don't take on middle grade. Yes, I have one on submission right now but it was written by a CLIENT that I signed for another project in a category I do take on. This was how Brooks Sherman ended up selling a picture book written by my client Sean Ferrell. Now that Brooks is Bent, I can't force him to do my bidding.
But, to the point, middle grade queries are still going to get a redirection to a more suitable agent. (sorry!)
Lance's comment (As a serial, part-time lurker, I thank Dena for the glossary) reminded me that glossary was the word I was looking for to describe terms used on the blog. And it's such a lovely word! Glossary!
I thin Amy Schaefer summed up my intent on acronyms and now the glossary much better than I did (which is what happens when you have writers hanging about!)
I am glad to have support in my anti-acronym battle (notice how I didn't shorten that), and I think Janet's point about including one and all in our commenting nonsense here is critical. I've avoided many an internet community (and even a few real life ones) because the members seemed too clannish, too caught up in their inside jokes and common history to allow a newbie in. I'd hate for that to happen here.Lurkers, you're just like those of us who can't keep out hands off the keyboard. Don't let our nonsense hold you back if and when you have something to say. And, if it suits you, come be nonsensical with us!
Lance also asked
I don't understand the relationship of woodland creatures to The Shark unless it is a metaphor for how we writers yet to be published (WYTBP) exist separate from the publishing world. That is to say, we have to form pyramids of 'possums and heave our queries over the seawall into the lagoon wherein lies The Reef. Once agented, a writer is magically transformed into a creature of the reef, interacting more directly with The Shark.
Pharosian reminded us of where that term came from:
On several (okay, many) occasions, unpublished authors have posed questions to Janet that indicate a certain amount of over-thinking, anxiety, lack of self-confidence, timidity, uncertainty, and a general fear of Big Bad Agents. In her response to the questioner that day she said, "Writers are woodland creatures who worry about every single thing they can think of and when that isn't enough, they look for newly discovered things to worry about."
Julie suggested the titmouse as a typical example. I tend to think of wide-eyed, innocent Bambi types, or twitchy-nosed bunnies. Regardless, the term stuck. One thing this group has demonstrated an aptitude for par excellence is taking an idea and running with it!
and didn't this just make you want a dinner invitation to John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur's house?
My rule is, if I can smell you across the table, you're wearing too much. If I can smell you before you come in the door you're wearing WAY too much and need to be tranqued with a dart gun.
On Monday, the we talked about novels on submission that might be too similar to what an agent represents.
brianrschwarz got his wifi on Carkoon working long enough to say this:
To the topic at hand - I want to say it was either Tolkien or Lewis who were once quoted as saying "great writers don't rip one person off... they rip EVERYONE off"
Their point was just that you can't write in a vacuum. It's just not possible. So no matter what you do, you're borrowing from somewhere or someone or something. The line between taking a usual device, name, location or trope versus copying entire segments of a story or a blueprint of a character of course are different things.
Which is exactly what I meant, but better.
And I like what Shaun Hutchinson said too:
Coincidences happen. Even really weird ones. You think you've written a wholly unique book that no one could have possibly ever come up with, but you're probably wrong. What sets books apart is how you write them. Your ideas may not be unique, but your execution is. That's how you set yourself apart from similar plots.
bjmuntain made another good point with this:
It's so, so important to understand the difference between ideas and tropes. I don't think anyone here would have that problem, but a writing group I used to belong to fell apart because a beginning writer claimed her 'ideas' were being stolen, because another writer just happened to be using the same old fantasy tropes that Terry Brooks used long before then.
Question for Janet - How do intellectual rights work in writing? What is being copyrighted? The main themes? Character names and generic profiles? Is the court the ultimate decider?
I mean, if fan-fic isn't considered a copyright infringement than I think the questioner is probably quite safe. But where is the line?
Copyright protects the work you create. Another person can not copy your book or portions of your book without your permission.
Titles do not have copyright protection.
Names do not have copyright protection.
Themes do no have copyright protection.
You don't need to worry about court here. You need to worry about the warranties clause of your publishing contract where you warrant that the work is your own and indemnify the publisher against claims that it isn't.
Fan fic is very murky in terms of copyright, but the general idea is that if you're doing it for fun, and not trying to hoodwink anyone that you actually created Jack Reacher, it's all good.
What you can NOT do is lift parts of books wholesale, and pass them off as your own.
On Tuesday, the topic was BEA and why writers should NOT plan to attend.
AJ Blythe asked:
Just googled BEA to find out what it was. Interesting they have author signings when the conference is really aimed at industry professionals. Is there something for readers besides the signing? Or are readers happy to attend just for the signing?
Jenny C provided a great answer:
BEA is not the place to be as a writer unless your book is already published or going to be published and you are there to meet booksellers and librarians. I used to attend when I worked as a buyer for a bookstore and I have to say, I always had a fabulous time. I heard authors speak at breakfasts, met them, got signed ARC's and came home with lots of tote bags to share with the staff at the store. (Publishers give out tote bags and booksellers love to collect them.) I also went to fun parties and once in Miami I met Oprah! All the people who work the booths want to meet booksellers and its nice to feel appreciated! And the stacks of ARC! Absolutely the best part! Quite honestly, I never even knew agents attended. You would have to search hard to find one in the sea of booksellers, sales reps and marketing people.
And she added this:
I've been nostalgic this morning, thinking back over all the BEA's I attended. My favorite one was not the time I met Oprah, who ended up canceling her autobiography, but the time I heard a relatively unknown writer named Terri Macmillan speak about her forthcoming book WAITING TO EXHALE. She blew away a room fill of bookseller who just about trampled each other like teenagers at a rock concert to get to the signing line and get a copy. I read it on the plane on the way home, and I still have it. WAITING ended up being a major bestseller for a lot of reasons, but I like to think bookseller enthusiasm generated that day was one of them.
And JEN Garrett took my breath away with this one:
I recently heard advice from a former agent to go to BEA and "give chocolates" or "stuffed animals" to the publishers and agents there. The idea is to make a good impression. But I didn't like the advice at all. I didn't think publishers were there to be schmoozed by "UN" writers. I thought they were there to sell books.
Holy smokestacks that was bad advice. Maybe that explains the "former" part of agent. At the risk of repeating myself endlessly: the ONLY thing that is going to make a good impression on me is your writing. You can be nicest person in this world or the next but if your writing isn't what I'm looking for, no amount of chocolate or stuff woodland creatures will change that. Also, those kind of geegaws are expensive and you should save your money for a publicist for when you are published.
On Wednesday the talk turned to online crits.
I like this point, made by Susan Bonifant with a hat tip to DeadSpiderEye, a lot
Dead Spider Eye (shudder) made an EXCELLENT point:
"To generalize, the problem with on-line communities is ...communal behaviour. What that means is, your standing within the community is likely to prejudice how your work is considered."
Some sites are like polite neighborhoods - welcoming, and nice enough but not useful because the polite culture suppresses honest critique.
And some are Lord of the Flies.
I liked what kregger said here:
Writing is a craft and within any craft there are beginners, journeymen and masters. I was a beginner once, and I had no idea how ineffectual my writing skills were to readers until I joined a critique forum.
I think it is important for the discussion in this forum to differentiate between getting help at the skill of writing and help about a plotline or story arc.
I agree with the majority of the pro and con about critique forums as listed above and have probably participated unwittingly in the good, bad and ugly of the forums. It's part of the learning process.
The hard part for a writer is either knowing (or not) the amount of help they need.
And Megan V made a good case for online crits:
I'm a proponent of using random people from online forums as critics. My reasoning: In the music world, some people have perfect pitch and can't sing worth a damn. Likewise, in the writing world, some people can't write worth a damn, but when they read another writer's work, suddenly they are gifted surgeons who know when their incisions should be accompanied by anesthesia.
Of course, you find out rather quickly who has the pitch and the gifted hands and who is just cutting for the sake of drawing blood.
On Thursday we talked about whether a publisher can force a writer to change the ending of a book:
Lisa Bodenheim asked:
I suppose this is NOT something to put in a query letter because we don't tell the ending in the query letter. But it would be a good question to ask an agent when The Call is received, just to be sure an agent is fully enthusiastic about our book with the ending we've chosen.
You don't put that in a query letter for a different reason. A query is not the place to be listing what you will or will not accept from a publisher. That kind of list makes you seem hard to deal with and/or uninformed. While I can and do sign authors who are uninformed about how publishing works I don't want to deal with people who are intractable. Publishing is a team sport and authors who don't understand that generally get picked last, if at all.
I think Matt Adams has a nice summation on this topic:
I think the questioner is about ten steps early to worry about this, but I'll relate my story. After a bunch of querying, my agent offered rep. One thing though, she asked, what would you think about changing the ending (she thought it would be better a bit more ambiguous than the happy one I'd written). I thought about, asked a few people who'd read.
Then i changed the ending. Either you trust the people you work with or you don't.
And I would guess the questioner would, too, if given the actual choice between publication and non-publication. I think an editor would tell s/he that before offering to buy the book, but if they didn't, you'd have to understand they are BUYING the book. Not agreeing to print your masterpiece, but buying the print versions of it. If the questioner is uncomfortable with that idea, s/he should self publish and save everyone involved a lot of hassle.
It's like Dave Berry said after he sold the rights to his life/books/columns to a TV show (It starred Harry Anderson, the guy from Night Court). He insisted he retain complete creative control over how he spent the money. I think that's the way to look at it.
Shaun Hutchinson added to that:
Matt, you make a good point. When we were shopping my first book, a publisher was interested but only if I was willing to rewrite the last third of my book. I was initially against the idea, but when no other publishers bit, I talked it over with the editor and submitted a revised outline. She bought the book, and I rewrote the last third. As I started doing the rewrites, I was still skeptical, but by the time I'd finished them, I realized that my editor had been correct all along, and that the rewrites improved the book significantly.
That said, I think if an editor did request a significant change to the ending, I'd do the rewrite before signing the contract to make sure both the editor and I were happy with the new changes before committing to them.
Bonnie Shaljean asked:
Assuming that an author adamantly does NOT want major surgery done on her book:
Can the creator of the work require that she be given final refusal on proposed major changes, and legally ensure that the publisher cannot force them on her, without her having to actually withdraw the book and face punitive financial consequences (never mind lost time)?
After all, the publishers do know what story they're getting before they sign on: they've read it. Whereas the writer can't foresee all the changes she might be told to make, so she can't always forearm the agent. Has she any power other than bailing out and going back to the trenches?
Of course, in the real world, the editor and the agent are discussing the book, and the editor's ideas long before anything drastic like "your editorial suggestions are like capcha cupcake choices: one dimensional, tasteless and serve only to block me from expressing myself fully"
I do have a deal pending in which the editor has said there will be some substantial changes requested. The author and I agreed to the deal and signed the contract, but we're both waiting to see what the editor wants before doing anything bold like cashing the check and announcing the deal.
and then there was just this glorious little nugget of great writing from REJourneys that made me life and reminded me how amazing y'all are:
Of course, the author should stay up with the trends of the market, but when you are being flung across the globe, signing children and kissing pictures, do they really have time for that? (The answer is you have to make time, but no one has made time yet. If they had, they'd have to invent a new number for how rich that person would be. Either that or they are keeping the knowledge of how to actually make time to themselves).
On Friday, I might have gone a bit ballistic on the topic of wasting an agent's time, but the overall blog post was about querying an unfinished novel when you have a backlist of published books.
bjmuntain summed up my point very nicely:
The reason an unpublished author needs to have a completed manuscript before pitching it is because they don't have a track record of finishing publication-ready manuscripts. But I've often heard this is different for previously published authors simply because they've proven they can finish a manuscript that's appropriate for publication.
It's like the tendering process for projects. If you've never managed a project, you're not going to win a tender no matter how much you undercut the opposition. However, if you have a good background in completing projects with very good quality results, you can probably bid higher and be more likely to get the contract than someone with a less stellar background.
Mary Feliz just cracked me up with this:
I'm so torn. While I aim to be bold, brave, and brilliant in my writing career, that woodland creature cake "hand" delivered by a shark on a broomstick seems really too tempting to pass up!
Christina Seine asked:
Also, another question for QOTKU: any other traveler tips for someone who's never been to NYC before?
1. Ride the Staten Island Ferry. It's free, and it's the best way to see New York's glorious skyline at night.
2. Don't be afraid to ride the subway. It's very safe, it's the cheapest way to get around town, and there are people who will help you if you get turned around. Just ask.
3. Don't go to any chain restaurants.
4. The most beautiful view of the Chrysler Building can be had walking north on Lexington Ave on the left side of the street between 5 and 6am starting at 21st Street.
5. The best view of the Empire State building is from Sixth Avenue and 29th Street.
6. The best time to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art is Saturday night after 6pm.
7. There is no good time to visit MoMA. It's too crowded for any kind of sane experience.
8. Bryant Park is a lovely reading spot (42nd Street at Sixth Avenue)
9. The best way to see all of what makes New York glorious is to start at Broadway and 72nd street and walk south on Broadway till you hit the Staten Island Ferry (see #1)
10. If you see a lithe blonde woman on rollerblades, zooming south on the Hudson bike path, barking "I don't get out of bed for less than fifty thousand!" that's Barbara Poelle and you should get OUT of her way with alacrity.
and just PS: Happy Birthday dear Gossamer!
On Saturday we talked about Chum Bucket and junior agents.
MB Owen asked a very good question:
I'm not sure how a person could: "make triple dog sure that she isn't heading for the exit anytime soon," unless maybe a little work history.
It's really hard to ascertain that, I agree. I think it's a question of listening closely to how a new agent talks about her job and her life. Someone who hates New York isn't a good candidate for lasting a long time here. Someone who really wants to be something else either (a writer, an actor, a lawyer.)
Mostly though I'd want to make sure that the junior agent is with an agency that's been around awhile and can step in if the junior agent gets recruited for the circus.
S.D.King mentioned my former companion in query shenanigans, the erstwhile Brooks Sherman:
I queried Brooks and heard nothing back. His website says if you don't hear, resubmit the query because they respond. I resubmitted and still crickets. I suppose I could re-resubmit but I don't think he's looking for a long-term non-relationship.
Last time I asked, Brooks had 700 unanswered queries. Behind? He was so behind I threatened to lock the liquor cabinet. I think he probably still is, but I also think he does respond to everything…eventually.
This was an incredibly busy week here at the Reef. The Edgar festivities commenced on Monday, culminating in the Awards banquet on Wednesday night. It was great fun to see everyone and catch up on projects, new ideas, great stories, and what everyone is excited about reading.
On Thursday, after thinking my traveling was done, and I was now chained to my desk, I decided to hit Malice Domestic instead. I got on the train at 7am on Friday morning and was in Bethesda by 11, ensconced in "my" spot in the bar. More on that on tomorrow's blog post.
Spring seems to be fully here, thank all deities foreign and domestic. It's not warm really but it's not raining and it's not freezing. I'll take it!