Saturday, September 20, 2014

Query: whackadoodle submission guidelines anyone?

I am about to (re)start my query process and when checking agencies, came across this submission guideline:

Highlight your vision for marketing your book, your writing experience, the name of the person (if any) who referred you to (redact), and whether you’re currently submitting your query to other agents.

I find these requests curious for several reasons. One, I think it's premature at the query stage to ask my opinions on how I would market my would-be book. (I wonder, is the agency trying to gauge my expectations as to what I think an agent/publisher will do for me, or do they want a five page business plan, addressing the 4P's of fiction marketing?) Secondly, regarding querying other agents, isn't that a given?

Part of me is inclined to ignore this portion of the submission guideline and submit my query letter as is, and part of me is inclined to ignore this agency altogether. While some of their agents do appeal to me, I almost feel as though this guideline is some sort of stealth Meyers-Briggs test, given to would-be clients. Plus, I honestly fear what could come next: Before we can sign you potential author, we need you to answer the following: You are locked in a room with an angry agent, an emaciated alligator, and an African ape. Which creature scares you most?

It's all I can do to drag a coherent query letter out of y'all. I'm astonished that any agency wants you to try for more.

I'm with you on this. I think this is not just getting the cart in front of the horse, it's so far ahead the horse is still in the pasture with his breakfast oats and apple, contentedly reading the Equine Morning Post-Rider.

The idea of a "vision" for marketing annoys me as well. For starters the idea of "a vision" for marketing is just sloppy. You have a plan for marketing. Visions are what you get when you're doing peyote during research, not when you're actually back at the office writing the marketing plan.

And holy hell, marketing? That's the PUBLISHER'S call. I often ask writers of non-fiction proposals how readers will know about them (platform) but I don't ever ask them how to market their books. I much prefer the sales and marketing department tell me their plans for the book, and then if there's other things to be done to fill in, well, there's the list again (no peyote required here either.)

As for writing experience, Double Holy Hell. I've been trying for years to get writers to quit telling me they've been writing since their mom swallowed a pen and paper so they could write in the womb. I don't care about your writing experience. I care about this book you want me to represent. I always thought most agents were of like mind--maybe not.

As for "the name of the person who referred you" well, that's clearly designed to make writers crazy. I can hear your little mental rodent wheels spinning on this one: do I need a referral? What if no one told me to query? Does this mean they won't even consider me?

Much as I love tormenting writers (and I do, yes indeed I do) it's really only fun to torment them when they're wilfully ignorant. That means you don't actively try to confuse them. That's just mean.

As for who else is reading, that's clearly how they're prioritizing their reading and that's just stupid. Exclusives are bad for business. Any agent or agency who asks for one at this stage clearly thinks their time is more important than yours, and that tells you a lot.

I have no idea why an agency would ask for all this material. Since I know an agent who works there, I don't believe they're actively trying to make you crazy or cranky. They just haven't fully realized how this can make writers fret.

The trouble with guidelines is the clearer we try to make them, the more y'all parse them out and become fretful.

If I could I'd just say "send me your best work. Make it so I can read it. Try not to be fancy" and leave it at that.  Of course, we'd then find ourselves in a long drawn out discussion about whether times new roman is fancy.

I've said this before, I'll say it again: if the submission guidelines for an agency make you think they're hard to work with, don't query. There are a lot of us out here.  You don't have to query someone you don't want to.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Query question: submission guidelines that are off-putting

During the query process I stumbled across that clause I thought was really off putting and it is as follows:

"I understand that Z has access to materials and ideas that may be similar to my Material in theme, idea, plot or format. I understand that I will not be entitled to compensation because of the use of any such similar or identical material if such material is created independently by Z or its clients."

Is this a typical clause for agencies? I don't recall seeing it on any other agency site and it definitely stopped my submission in its track.

"X may already have (or may in the future) independently develop a project based upon an idea or theme that is identical or similar to your material, and you acknowledge that you will have no interest or claim therein."

I can understand why you'd look at this and think "Whoa! They're saying it's ok to steal my stuff."

That is not the case.

What this clause recognizes is that ideas are more common than you think, and it's the execution of the ideas that differentiates projects.

It's not unheard of for less-than-savvy writers to think their ideas are one of a kind. We can identify these writers pretty easily: they'll often actually say they have an idea no one has heard of;  they'll express concern about who sees their manuscript pages; or (my favorite so far) how we dispose of manuscript pages.

These big companies are protecting themselves from lawsuits and my guess is that they're doing this because someone sued saying "hey I sent you a query about a menage a huit and you just produced the EXACT same thing only you called it Snow White and the Seven Samurai."

There are a lot of people stealing work out there these days but it's generally not an agent or agency.  We're pretty busy trying to find writers who have ideas AND execution. The folks stealing work are the ones downloading pirated ebooks or the ones taking your work, slapping on a new cover and selling it on Amazon.  Or just outright plagiarizing.  It's a big problem, but it's not a problem on this side of the query line.

If it really bothers you though, don't submit your work there. Peace of mind is not always rational. If it's going to make you fretful, query elsewhere.  You should trust your agent to do right by you from the very start of the relationship.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Query Question: setting

Does it matter if my roots are showing in my query? Will American agents and/or publishers see my Canadian setting as a drawback? So many agents claim they want fresh settings, but I've been told this might be a bad idea. I can't write a mystery that takes place in America unless it's at Disney World. What say you?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Here's my four-thousand word essay:

If you haven't read the lovely, luminous novels of Louise Penny, stop reading this drivel, and get to the library RIGHT NOW. And my real point here is that it doesn't matter if your books are set in Canada, Canadia, or Freedonia if you write a novel that grabs me by the throat and doesn't let me draw a full breath until I've read through to The End.

It's your voice and your story that will draw me in. Your setting will be important if it's material to the story, not if it isn't.  But no agent rejects a manuscript because it's set in Canadia.  That would be rejecting something because it's set in Alaska. I mean, they're practically the same place, right?***

**stop spluttering with outraged geographical hand flailing. I know where Canada is. Up.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Question: so, how do you do it?

My question is, hopefully, simple. How do you do it? The daily posts on your blog, Facebook, and other outlets? How do you manage the torrential downpour of queries *(let alone dealing with the ones who don't read the QueryShark forums and responding to the ones who do)? How do you manage to do all that and maintain connections with your clientele while shopping their books around to publishing houses/editors who also require a certain depth of connection with you? Even on vacation, you put SOMETHING on for us to look at, completely flying in my smug little face when I thought for sure you'd not put up anything while on vacation or at ThrillerFest. All the while, I cringe at having a definite daily word count!

We aren't even talking about reading or how you manage home life *(which I have a growing suspicion that you must live in a hovel under your desk at the office).

Lastly, as a fun little tid-bit, what kind of shark are you anyways? Keep ripping up the seas!

How do I do it?
Time goblins. I buy the minutes you squander from a team of traveling goblins who steal those extra minutes and resell them. I don't have 24 hours in a day; I have 36.  Every time you come to your senses after drifting off into some sort of vacant stare, well, thank you. Those are now my minutes, and I intend to use them to torment you.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Question: staying in touch with an agent from a conference who liked your work

In March 2014 I attended a pitch session organized with SCBWI and met Agent X. Already in the introduction when she listened to everyone’s ideas, she expressed that she was interested in my project.  Then after my 5 minute pitch and her reading a sample query that I addressed to her as if it were by mail, she was explicit in her interest.  

During the ninety minutes she told me three times that she was interested in my manuscript, to  send it when it when ready.  She gave me her business card and told me she was very pleased to meet me. I told her I would send her something by Christmas.

I will not have a polished manuscript by Christmas but revising first draft.

My question to you is: Should I contact her (end of November)and say that I am still working on the manuscript and need a few more months to send her my query and that she will be the first.  Or should I just wait until I am ready.  This may be June 2015.

It's never wrong to stay in touch (gently) with someone who has expressed interest in your work.  By gently I mean, you recognize that while your manuscript and her interest in it are of Burning Hot Importance to you, they fall somewhat to the cooler side of the lava flow for the agent.  Yes, she's interested but she's not planning her vacation schedule around your promised delivery date.

Here's how you do this:  About 30 days before the date you'd thought the manuscript would be ready (in your case December, so November) you drop her a SHORT email reminding her that you met at the conference, she expressed interest in your work, and while you thought you'd be sending in December, you are still in a preliminary draft.

This email is NO LONGER than five sentences of no more than 15 words each.  In other words: short! In other words: you're going to have several drafts of this, and it's going to take longer than five minutes to write. It's hard to write succinctly, but it is imperative you do so. (Your question to me above is 178 words in four paragraphs. Your email to her will be one paragraph of no more than 75 words.)

Why is it imperative to be short?  Because you want to convey the impression that you write well (long emails conveying ONE piece of information do NOT do that) and you only want her to use three seconds to get the info.

If you aren't ready six months later, repeat the above.

Don't fret if you don't hear back on something like this. Don't fret that she's dead, fled, or no longer interested.  Time to worry about those things when the manuscript is ready.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Query Pitfall: failure to include pages

This morning I emerged from the incoming mail deluge, clutching my queries, ready to read. 

The first query I opened had a problem: no pages.

My submissions guidelines (designed to make sure you know what I want) always say "include the first 3-5 pages."  Most people do this.

This fellow did not.  But, he had a concept that wasn't an instant rejection. The writing wasn't great, but then I never want to decide yes/no based on queries alone because I think queries can be harder to write than novels.  (One of the MANY reasons I ask for pages.)

Instead of saying no to the query at this point (my normal reply) I noticed the author had written an earlier book. I looked it up on Amazon, and availing myself of the "look inside" feature, read the first pages.

And then I wrote the rejection.

What's your takeaway from this? Three things:

1. Notice I didn't ruthlessly discard the query for "not following the submission guidelines."  Honestly I don't care overmuch if you follow them or not. The reason submission guidelines exist is to give you information about what I need to evaluate your work. If you don't send what I need, well, ok, sayonara sasquatch.

2. Notice I looked at the previous book.  I decided his new project wasn't getting a request based on the writing in the previous novel.  If you're ok with that, well, so am I.

3. Notice I didn't email the writer back asking for pages.  That's because the query came by mail.  I'm never going to tell you not to query by email, but querying on paper means you're the least likely querier to hear back from me with ANYTHING but a form rejection.  If you query by email, and you're writing something I don't take on, chances are I'll email back to say "sorry, I don't take on adult westerns."  When you query by mail, the only thing I'm going to say is "sorry not for me."

Any questions?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

oh yes indeed!

One of the funniest things I've seen in a while. Well worth the 8 minute run time.

 Thanks to poor dead @JedCullan for the link

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Query Question: What do I do with multiple offers

I attended the Pikes Peak Writers Conference and got up my guts to pitch the heck out of my latest manuscript. I got two requests. I was on the plane home with one of the gals and she remembered my pitch, mentioned specifics about the plot that intrigued her, and reminded me to send--which I take as a good sign. I also got to chat with the other NOT about books; we hit it off and hung out for three hours talking about life and giggles. I take it she will remember me too.

With the manuscript now in their hands, I came to the nervous realization that I don't know what I'd do in the {extremely unlikely} instance they both made offers. Is there a way to handle this? Do I just ask for a week to think about it or do I tell them both that the other offered (and should I name names)?

Lastly, how the heck am I supposed to know who I'll work better with? I've chatted with both and thought them perfectly delightful people. Are there things a wise writer should ask before signing on with an agent?

We're all perfectly delightful people when we're out in public. It's how we are in the throes of client despair that you want to hear about.

That's why when you get an offer from any agent, the first thing you do is ask if they are ok with you contacting clients to see what being a client is like. If they say YES, you do so. If they say NO, well, that's not such a good sign.

If someone wants to know what it's like to work with me, I direct them to my client roster on the right hand side of this blog. They can email any one they choose. I don't give the clients a heads up either. If they loath me at the moment the prospect calls, well, ooops.

Generally speaking however, my clients like me and will give a prospect a pretty good idea of what life here in the Reef is like.

Also, there are lists of questions to ask prospective agents. Most of them are designed to weed out the ne'er do wells, and you sure want to do that. Attendance at a conference does NOT mean an agent is good. (Some conferences are more lax about this than others.)

Some years back I did a post about the questions you ask after that. 

And yes, you do this for multiple offers as well.
And you tell an offering agent if there are other offers.
And yes you can tell them who's in the scrum.  

Friday, September 12, 2014

Question: I'm re-agenting. Isn't my manuscript more appealing for having been loved previously?

 What are your thoughts on opening a query letter with this:

I recently parted ways with my agent before the novel was shopped, so I would love to submit for your consideration...

My colleagues and I feel very different about this opening line. I think it's a red flag for prospective representation, running the risk of that agent wondering "what's wrong?" with either me or my manuscript. On the other hand, fellow writers think it sends a powerful message that I/my work was strong enough to have had agent representation.

You're both right. How's that for confounding your expectations!

This is information that does NOT have to be in a query. Sans submission, you are not required to reveal that you had worked with an agent on this very same manuscript. However, as your coven fellow writers points out, knowing it had attracted representation before does say something good about it.

You are quite right to intuit that "formerly represented" is a red flag for any agent. We do not assume our ilk let good ms slide out of their mercenary paws readily, nor that they are idiots (although we know that to be the case with more than a few.)

What to do, what to do.

Like all sales pitches, you lead with the good stuff. If you really want to tell your prospective new agent that someone else liked you too, you put it at the END of the query. Notice in your question you said "opening a query letter." You never open a query with this. Not with any housekeeping stuff either like word count or genre. Snag the reader's attention with what matters: the plot.

Truthfully though, I'm voting with leaving this out. I'm less likely to request something if I know I'm clearly second choice, for any reason. [Yes, my ego is that big.]

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Query Question: Can I be Forced to change my long, punctuated surname?

Dear Sharkly One,

As someone with a decidedly Upper Austrian name (I checked), I wonder if there are names where agents/editors/publishers advise/demand the use of a pseudonym. On one hand, sure, the name's unique, but on the other hand, people might want to spell it without tripping up badly encoded software and/or non-native speakers. The same thing goes for overly long or unfortunate names.

On the legal end: Can such a thing be mandated? Is this a thing you/your slithery colleagues ever negotiated? Or am I just being completely ridiculous and this isn't a thing?

Yours truly, Ten-Characters-With-An-Umlaut

I've never heard of someone being asked to change their name for spelling sake. I'm sure it's happened, but I don't know of any specific examples. And honestly now, in this day and age, we're all used to umlauts and other festive punctuation:

Jo Nesbø

Camilla Läckberg 

Not to mention my favorite author name:

Jennifer 8 Lee 

And it's not like Emily and Charlotte Bron
-->të used nom de plums because of  their surname.

As for demanding it, well, you're not being forced to sign a contract at gunpoint, so if a publisher insists on something you don't want, you just say "sayonara."  Or as we like to spell it:


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Query Question: is August a good month to query?

I have the impression that August is a month during which the publishing industry if not shuts down, then at least ramps down.
Nonetheless, I sent out a query, just one, to my 'dream' agent. Being accepted is a long shot, but if I was to be refused, I wanted to get it out of the way.
 In the future, I'll send queries to multiple agents. After five years and many drafts, my manuscript is ready. I 'rested' it for several months, then re-read it, after which I gave it to several trusted readers. Even though it was August, I just couldn't wait any longer to get the process going.
Does August really affect response time? Should I not even start to fret until well into September?
 Also, the agent does not list a time frame by which she says she will reply. To me, a reasonable reply time is 4-6 weeks. It has only been 3 weeks, but seems like a year. Now I wonder: will she ever reply?
Maybe I should just have a stiff drink and focus on my next project.***

I'm always amused when people think publishing shuts down in August. Not anymore it doesn't, and we're all the poorer for it, I must confess.

A lot of higher-echelon decision makers take vacations in August and early September, so it's harder to get contracts signed, or deal memos ok'd but that has NOTHING to do with queries.

Frankly, agents are behind on answering queries (well, I'm not, everyone else is) all the time.

The normal wait time for a query is 30 days.  However, that means nothing to you because you will send queries out to agents starting now, and continuing until you get an offer.  You can follow up in 30 days with that first agent, but chances are unless she's committed to replying to every query, you won't hear back unless she's interested.  ( rant about "No response means no" here)

 [And don't get me started on why you should not set your hopes on a Dream Agent.  Oops...too late ]

*** that is always the correct course of action when querying

Monday, September 08, 2014

Query Question: book from an original movie

For books based off films (films that are not adaptions), how would one go about obtaining the rights? It is difficult (I personally tried to research) to find the correct person to contact.

I do have an outline and details for an idea but I am unsure about going forth writing the piece if I have no way of the ability to send the final manuscript out to agents with copyright issues.

What would I go about doing?

What you are proposing to write is called a novelization.
The rights are owned by the studio (generally.)

Finding out who to contact is impossible for someone with no connections or an agent. And frankly, even if you find the right guy, they won't call you back if you're on your own.

Several publishers have novel tie-in publishing programs. They hire writers (usually on a work for hire basis) to write novelizations.  As far as I know, those authors all have agents.

But here's my question to you: why on God's green earth do you want to do this?  Novelizations generally don't sell all that well, unless they're something like Star Wars or other big brand name franchises or blockbusters.

Write your own book. Find an agent.  If you still want to write novelizations, then you'll at least have someone who can help you do that.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Comment of the week

There's been rumbling in the readership for a new contest so I decided to surprise you by having a contest and NOT telling you about it.  [This is in honor of  Jeff Somers' amazing essay over at about how People Are The Worst. --so blame Jeff for this new wrinkle of cruelty in your life.]

I decided to look back through the blog posts this week and select a Comment of the Week.

Of course I was instantly stymied by you, dear readers, even though you didn't know about the contest.  Stymied in that the comment I loved was quickly followed by two more that were equally amazing and funny.

So, instead of one winner, we have three.

french sojourn 9/6/14 10:21am
It pains me that you would throw my name out as a cautionary tale. Maybe you don't remember me, but i'll never forget you.

Bora bora, sunsets, blue whale cocktails and our chums at the hookie-lau-a go-go.

Felix Buttonweazer.

LynnRodz  9/6/14 10:53am
Ahh, how soon they forget, Felix! (Too many fish in the sea, I suppose.) I will say, this wasn't the first post where your name was mentioned, so you aren't completely forgotten.

yes indeed, Felix has appeared when
his email was wrong on a conference list

 using pen names (with a name like Buttonweazer, why would you want to!)

 and there have been several others.

Carolynnwith2ns 9/6/14 11:20am
 Janet, a dear friend and wife of my former writing teacher and literary agent, has asked if I would please pass this message on to you.

Dear Ms. Reid,
May I respectably request that you cease referring to my loving husband, Felix Buttonweazer, as anyone less than informed and stellar as a writer. When I think of the hours my dear Felix spends on his computer researching websites related to the importance of relationships, (thank God he doesn’t call those 900 numbers anymore) and how this has enhanced our relationship, I just bristle because of your flippancy.
We have a passel of little Buttonweazers who look up to their father, so please do not belittle the man, history will eventually recognize and admire as the writer whose last name has more letters in it than Hemmingway.
Betty Buttonweazer

Of course there are prizes! If our three winners drop me a line with their mailing address, we'll send them body parts books .

There were some other terrific comments as well. By terrific I mean ones that cracked me up usually. Here they are in chrono order

Terri Lynn Coop 9/3/14 3:18pm
No matter the question . . .

Jack Reacher is always an acceptable answer.

Sort of a little black dress of characters.


Anastasia Stratu 9/2/14 10:24am
Added to "1,000,000 books to read before I die" list.

List growing alarmingly fast.

List owner feeling more and more like the protagonist of that joke about the creative writing college admission commission interviewing a candidate. When asked about favorite books and authors, the candidate says: "None. Joe is not a reader. Joe is a writer."

General sentiment of self-addressed peevishness explainable by circumstances entailing a dulled sense of comedy and ignoble pilfering from folklore.

Generally inane tone hereof justifiable by severe sleep deprivation.

Decision to post this comment anyway triggered by general inability to shut up.

Lance 9/1/14 9:04pm
Is that why you're having to repaint? 

NotAWarriorPrincess 8/31/14 12:19pm
My husband came home one day in July to find I had removed the floor, subfloor, toilet, and fixtures from the masterbath. I had the new subfloor and vinyl down and the new toilet halfway installed and was cursing the skies that a part was missing from the box it came in so I had to return to Home Depot. If it hadn't been for that extra trip I'd have had it all done except for the paint. And then the paint... the saga of ugly paint rivals some of the sagas of Norse Iceland for length and tedium, if not violence. And maybe a little of the violence. In the midst of it all a wise woman told me "Teal is not your friend. Teal is no one;s friend." ALways listen to your wise woman, folks.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Question: 5 Key Things to know about personalizing your query

I am cold querying and wondering how much time I should spend on personalization.

I mean, of course I'm reading about each agent to make sure he or she reps and will be interested in what I'm querying. But aside from addressing the query to the agent, is it worth it to write a sentence or two about why I think the agent would be a good fit for my work?

I'm sure it probably wouldn't hurt, but would my time be better spent sending more queries rather than writing a few individual lines in each? Does a cold query stand only on the merits of the work being queried, or would a few lines of personalization really make a difference?

There is no industry standard on this. Some agents like personalization, some don't give a hoot. I am among the latter.
However, just cause I don't care if you personalize doesn't mean I have no opinion on how to do it well. Of course I do.  (Janet Reid has an opinion IS an industry standard!)

Here are the five key things to know about how to personalize your query:

(1) Most important is if you've met the agent in a positive way.

YES:  We met at the Rocky Mountain Writers Conference and you offered me some help on my query letter.  

NO: We met at the Fecal Roster Writers Conference and you said no to my pitch.

See the difference?

(2) if you've had previous contact with the agent that was personal.

YES: I've participated in the Chum Bucket experiment and you gave me advice which I have taken to heart.

NO: I've queried you before but it wasn't right for you (this is particularly bad when I look up your name and see that I sent you a form rejection)

See the difference?

(3) if someone I know said to query me.

YES: Barbara Poelle read my manuscript and said it was too high falutin for her vodka swilling tastes, so she sent me over to you.

NO: Felix Buttonweazer said you were a good agent (this is particularly bad when the person you name is NOT someone I know)

How do you know if the person knows me? Ask them. If it's someone giving a presentation at a writers conference, the odds are lower that they know me.  If it's someone with a whisky bottle and bite marks, the odds improve.


(4)  if you've read and LOVED my clients' books

YES: I read RUN by Andrew Grant and it knocked my sox clean off. I'm hoping my high concept, action packed thriller will be right up your alley.

NO: I read The Electric Church by Jeff Somers and my book on the influence of electronic music in churches is just like his but MUCH better.

In other words, read the book. And don't say yours is better (even if you think it is.) No one is better than my guys. That's just an ironclad fact. Most agents feel that way about all their clients too.

The bottom line here is:

(5) Personalization MUST be real.  Don't over reach. It's better to leave it off than get it wrong.

Here's why: if you demonstrate that you don't know what you're doing in the first line of the query, I'm less likely to want to work with you. That means your novel has to be A+++ not just A+.

As I said though at the start, tastes vary on personalization.  This is one of the major advantages to agent blogs, and Twitter and Facebook.  You can get a better sense of HOW to personalize a query and whether that personalization is important to the agent.

Me, all you need to do is write like Patrick Lee and it's all good.

Friday, September 05, 2014

UK/US editors

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is being released in 30 countries and I'm reading it in large part because I think there's lots a writer can learn from a book that sold so well. In her acknowledgements, she thanks both her UK and her US editors (both belonging to different publishing houses). I know it's being translated in some countries, but the multiple English-speaking editors surprised me.

Do multinational releases have editors in different countries that result in slightly (or not so slightly) different versions of the book being released?

Maybe.  It depends on how the book is initially sold.  For example, if an agent sells only North American rights to the US publisher, the UK rights can be sold to a UK publisher, and the editor there is not working in concert with the American publisher.

If an agent sells World English, generally the editor who buys those rights  here will make a deal with a UK publisher and they will decide how closely the UK edition will match the US edition.  Often there is tweaking but only for what we fondly call "britspeak"--garden means yard, bonnet means hood, lorry means truck, and do NOT ask what a fanny pack means in the UK.

How much Britspeak is understood here is always a subject of debate, most recently in the Bouchercon anthology where two of the contributors are from the UK. We decided in this case to let most of the UKisms stand because crime readers are used to it. 

Thursday, September 04, 2014 your money-UPDATED**

I was working my way through the backlog of email yesterday morning when I come across "a newsletter" from an outfit called

Since I'd spent a day of vacation cleaning up my subscription lists to better manage my email, I didn't just discard this, I took a closer look to see why I'd subscribed (I didn't remember this company at all.)

You can imagine my annoyance to find out this was one of those pay to play services designed to "help" authors and agents by avoiding the slush pile.  "Let an agent find you" is their tag line.

All for the very very low sum of something or other.

Here's the first page of the newsletter

The reason there's a gap is that I didn't post the password that was included. (Yes, I thought about doing that, but decided to avoid that particular fecalfrenzy)

Obviously these guys don't have a clue that most agents already take email queries and thus "keeping the industry green" isn't a problem we're trying to solve at the query letter level.

And of course, it completely overlooks why a query is important.  I wasn't surprised to find out the creators of this site are authors.  Most authors would love to avoid writing queries.  Sadly, that's never going to happen.  At some point, you have to be able to tell someone what the plot of your book is, and where it goes in a bookstore, and how many words are in it.

But this is just mere annoyance.

Where the steam started coming out of my ears is here: the list of agents

These scallywags make it sound as though all these agents are reading manuscripts from their site.

I checked with every agent at FinePrint and NONE of them knew anything about this site.  They'd all gotten emails with the newsletter password. They all had "access" but that is not the same as actually using the site to find materials.  We're not.  I haven't asked any of my colleagues in other agencies if they are, but I have a feeling we're not the only ones listed like this.

In other words, they're using our company's name and appeal to sell their services. Without our permission. (you can now understand why I thought about posting the password)

From a writer's perspective this is worse than the slush pile: you have no idea who has seen your work, and who hasn't.  This is worse than no-response-means-no; here you don't even know which agent on this list (if ANY) have seen your work. 

But the final absolutely unforgivable straw is this on the FAQ:

So, they're going to take your money, convey the impression that real agents will read your work, but they don't actually vet the agents with access to the site? They don't even make sure they're legit, let alone any good?

I know what their goal is: making money.

I know what my goal is: advocating for writers.

I know that this is a website that solves a problem that doesn't exist, and is text book Let The Buyer Beware.

Save your money for a good writing conference. is hogwash, pure and simple.

**At 7:28pm I clicked the list of agents link again, and guess what: the list is gone.

So, now they aren't trading on our name, but what they're doing is even worse from your perspective.  That is they want your money and they won't tell you BEFOREHAND who is reading your stuff.

My opinion not only hasn't changed, if anything it's more adamant:  HOGWASH

Here's confirmation that they took the list down on purpose from Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware:

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

ahem there, fishy one

wait, you're back from vacation and you haven't written your blog post for today?

Oh, you were reading PERSONAL by Lee Child last night instead of writing your blog post?

Ok, I'll let it slide this ONCE.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Vacation Reading!

Ranchero by Rick Gavin was a hoot.

A little short on plot, but I barely noticed cause the writing is so good and the characters are beyond memorable.

Here's an example of a total throw away character, a dog who appears exactly once in the book:

The neighbor off the back has some kind of short-haired dog with three legs and one eye and a sour disposition.  He looked like a veteran of the Great War.  I know him a little. His name was Rusty.  I'd made his acquaintance a few months back when he'd spent about thirty-six straight hours barking at a stump.  I think Rusty's remaining eye was clouded with cataracts, and just generally Rusty had lost all interest in caring what was what.

The main character Nick Reid is a repo man. He's hunting the ne'er do well who got the drop on him and made off with his borrowed coral colored Ranchero. 

Here's what happens at one critical juncture:

Weary now, I raised the shotgun barrel toward the ceiling, more or less aimed it at an orange and black MOWING AHEAD sign, and squeezed off a shell without really thinking just what I was up to.

[I should mention here that the MOWING AHEAD sign is on the ceiling, not on the street.]

Lead pellets would have punched on through, and we'd have been left with just some instructive racket, but the little rubber balls I was shooting stayed in the house and went everywhere fast.  They hit that sign and came back down, bounced all over the place. They filled that room just like a swarm of hornets.

Those pellets hurt so much through my clothes I was doubly glad I wasn't standing around naked. Tommy [who was standing around naked] for his part, balled up on the couch and ducked under his filthy blanket while Eugene [also naked] couldn't think of a thing to do but wail and leap and dance.

"What the hell did you do that for?" Luther wanted to know.

"Crazy son-of-a-bitch," Percy Dwayne added.

Tommy came out from under his blanket to add a few choice words as well. Eugene just whined and flopped around on the floor.

Like most rash things I get up to, that one hadn't been helpful.

Even Desmond, after a great while, told me, "Let's don't be doing that again."

This book conveys place (the Mississippi Delta) so beautifully that I felt like I lived there. The rhythm of the prose is gorgeous, nary a misstep.

It's funny without being comic or over the top, and gorgeously written without standing around admiring itself in the mirror.

I loved it.  You might too.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Not yet

I am still on vacation.
All electronic devices have been hidden for safekeeping.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Query Question: Sequels

At LonCon last week I had a conversation with a published author about sequels. Now, if you were to believe the internet, when unpublished, you shouldn't really write sequels and should instead work on making the first book a stand alone. According to the internet, it's pointless working on sequels because the first book might not sell well, meaning you'll be left with a backlog of books that no one wants.

But during my discussion, I heard of two book contracts where these particular authors were given deadlines to hand in the sequel to their first book...before the first book had even gone on sale.
Now I know the demand for a second book would probably happen with two stand alone books, but both authors expressed a little bit of angst at having to produce something that would have - to some degree - been finished had they just written the sequels in the first place.

So what's the truth? Is it better to finish that trilogy before pitching? Or is it better to just plan the hell out of the second book and move on? Or are these simply isolated cases? And are most debut authors asked to produce a second book regardless of the sales of the first? 

You're missing a key piece of information here: what does the contract say?  Most first time authors that I represent get deals with a contract asking for two or three books.  Not stand alones at all. SERIES.

So yes, it's good to have that second book well underway when you get a deal.

Here's what I think you've heard and misinterpreted: don't say you have a series in a query letter.

What that means is you focus on querying the book you have in hand. Don't mention it's the first of N more books, because if I don't like this one, I don't care how many more you have.

Most publishers want books (at least in the categories I rep) that can be built into series. They want this cause once they've invested in you, they want readers to come back for more, and More means More of the Same stuff we loved in Book One.

Focus on writing the very best book you can. Query that book. While you're waiting for us to get off our slacker asses  read our queries, you work on Book Two.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Query Question: How the hell can you know this?

What is this magic future-seer gizmo agents have and where can I get one?
I have the test results and they say "yes".

I have attended a few writing conferences this year and another one is coming up rather quickly in a few weeks 'round my parts of the sea. I always shell out the extra money to have a pitch session/practice with the agents brave enough to sit all day with eager writers. I've swam through the chum, followed The Shark (tm) query letter guidelines for over a year now and practiced, practiced, practiced my pitch along the way. Feeling confident-enough, I sent my letter out to agents. The responses are all over.

I have some replies that tell me "... I'm not sure how these types of books are doing with all the success of the xxx and xxx series out now. It sounds super interesting and I hope you hit on an agent that knows this market well," or , "The concept grabbed me, and you deserve an enthusiastic agent who can champion your work..."

I am not writing anything YA, distopian, Twilight-y at all. I am writing for another, younger, age group that I have at least 3 years of weekly hands-on experience with that equates market research for my book. I have adults in my critique group that try to pry the next scene from my carpel tunnel hands before the next group meeting because they cannot wait.

I'm sorry, but most of these agents I meet in person or have queried cannot possibly have had any interaction with a group of children like this since they were children themselves. Most are fresh off the college circuit (which is completely fine), travel frequently, etc. How do they know what my age group wants if they have no/ limited experience with the end user? Are agents just following trends? I know a variety of books are selling, but many would be selling anyway because that is all that is out there. How is a writer to know which seashell is a good sell down by the seashore?

Snarly Seahorse

Dear SnarlyOne,

You can't conflate the agents who attend writing conferences with the agents who are reading your queries/manuscripts. A lot of us aren't on the conference circuit. And guess who REALLY isn't on the conference circuit: agents with kids.

The other thing you're missing is that agents don't work in a bubble.  We hear from readers via our authors, and we see the feedback from school visits, and we watch what librarians are interested in like hawks. Librarians and teachers make the buying decisions for a lot of middle grade books (which is what I assume you're writing)

In other words, its our job to pay attention to what sells, and we do.

Also you don't have test results.  You have friends and people you know telling you they like the book.  A book they didn't have to pay to read I might add.  There's a world of difference between "did you like my book" and "hey, will you pay me $15 to read this?"

I've recommended the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators before.  You should join and hear from the people who are in the field you're writing in.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Query Question: full requests, but no rep

I've been querying agents and have gotten a partial or full request from quite a few, but I seem to get stuck at the last step: an offer of representation. They give the same reasons - they like my writing, my plot, even my characters, but they just don't fall in love with the novel.

As an example, the last agent (who had a partial) said: "You have a great imagination - I love the premise - and you're a good writer, but I'm sad to say that I just wasn't passionate enough about this to ask to see more. I wish I could offer constructive suggestions, but I thought the dialogue was fine, the characters well-crafted, and the plot well-conceived. I think it's the kind of thing that really is subjective - why some people adore the book on the top of the NYTimes bestseller list, and others don't." I've received similar comments from other agents.

What should I do? I don't even know what I'm doing wrong.

You're not doing anything wrong, you're just not doing something that excites agents and gets them to keep reading.

My esteemed colleague Jenny Bent (who knows a thing or ten about good books) once tweeted that pacing was the single biggest problem she found in requested fulls that she didn't offer to represent.

Clearly you need help with something. This is where you find a brutal critique group or enroll in a year long class (Grub Street  offers this kind of workshop.)

You don't mention which novel this is for you: first, second or Nth.  I remember Jenny Milchman saying she wrote something like nine novels before her "first" published novel.

It takes a long time to learn to write a good novel.  Clearly you've got talent if you're getting requests, but maybe you're just not quite there yet.  (Remember the 10,000 hour theory made famous by Malcolm Gladwell)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Query Question: I'd like to avoid fame, please

I have a question for you (I have only read so far back on your blog posts, so I apologize if you have addressed this farther back) regarding anonymity. My first novel that I am working on right now is a bit like Grisham, Crichton, and King having an orgy produced love child with Veronica Mars, including Big Themes about free will, power structures, Biblical metaphors, neuropsychogy, feminism and the nature of creative vs destructive genius all wrapped up in the palatable presentation of a suspense novel from a female perspective (with a tiny bit of sarcastic comic relief interspersed throughout to play with the tension - I have been writing/performing stand-up comedy for 2 years).

I would love to write across genres as I have always been a fan of horror, scifi, fantasy, and suspense. I also would like to avoid fame as long as possible so that I may continue to interact with real humans in order to continue widening my reality tunnel so I can understand as many diverse perspectives as possible.

Would a literary agent take on a writer who has the desire to avoid fame under one name, instead preferring to write under a variety of names, or is the publishing industry as such that they rely on the Cult of Personality to sell books?

I have found that people only pay attention to the message for so long before they begin deifying the messenger instead. I would rather people understand the complex scientific and philosophical concepts I am translatong into more common language through metaphor while enjoying the entertainment aspects instead of just blindly worshipping a favorite author. I am aware that it may sound like hubris to imagine myself as a literary rock star, but I have confidence in my wisdom and understanding of humanity and my ability to convey that in various metaphorical languages for wide audiences.

Given that I would like to remain relatively unknown for as long as possible, should I go the literary agent/publishing house or the self publishing route?

Thanks in advance and I hope that wasn't a duplicate question.

I think you're the perfect candidate for self-publishing. Make sure you hire an excellent book designer, a good copy editor and leave your author photo off the dust jacket.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Query Question: Full request, but did they receive it?

A few months ago I started the querying process for a supernatural thriller of mine. Within the first couple of weeks I received three requests for the full manuscript. About a week later, two of those three agents politely declined. Three months later, and one of them has yet to get back to me. My problem is this: I emailed the manuscript to the agent's assistant as requested. The agent's website indicates response time of 4-6 weeks. It's been well over that, so last week I sent a polite follow up to the assistant just to make sure the manuscript was received, and I have yet to get a response.

Is it considered 'too pushy' to email the agent directly for a follow up? I'm worried that perhaps the assistant isn't receiving my emails. I say this because the other two agents I emailed responded right away with a "thank you! I will get back to you in ____ amount of time," but I didn't receive any confirmation from the assistant what so ever.

Thanks for you time! I hope I'm not being too paranoid.

There's no such thing as too paranoid when you're a writer. You guys can work yourselves into a frenzy over correct punctuation. I've seen it happen:

However in this case you are not paranoid. You are correct to be concerned.  I can think of several things that might have happened:

1. The assistant is no longer employed there and the agency hasn't fixed her email yet.

2. The assistant doesn't know she's supposed to acknowledge receipts of full manuscripts.

3. They didn't get it, the assistant lost it, or some other cataclysmic event that is giving the assistant conniptions.

Therefore, because this is your career, and your manuscript, you politely email the agent and say "I just want to confirm that you received the manuscript you requested from me on DATE.  Thank you for your time and consideration.  Love, You.  PS Your assistant is a slacker.

 Never assume someone got a file.  I've seen this happen, and in fact, wrote a blog post about it.

And the reason I know this is the correct path? It happens with editors too.