Monday, December 22, 2014

Blog contest results

I ran a quick contest on Saturday, induced when I needed some of the restorative powers of the comment column, and after requesting three count em three full manuscripts in one day.

I asked you to guess how many full manuscripts I'd requested this year.

Some of you clearly missed the "this year" part and thought I meant "ever"

879  Bill Negotiator
741  Laurie Lamb
716  El El Piper
617  Lynn Guelzow
427  Michele Lynn
427   Kalli
402   Erin
333   Denise Beucler
326   Stacy
303   Lisa Bodenheim
301  Ruthy

Some of you might have thought I meant in this decade:

279   Sarah Meral
266   Janet Johnson
258   JennyC
247   Unknown #2
222   Deep River
219   Ellen
212   mrsfringe
205    Alyssa Carlier
204     Becky Mushko
189 Josh Johnstun
178   Dan McFadden
176   MB Owen
162   Wordnerdlove
158   S.P.Bowers
157   Rami McShane
156   Dena
151   Kevin

And then there are those of you who really think I either don't work very hard or am VERY hard to please:

17    Christine Edwards
12    Antonia Malchik
8     slcortazar

 The remainder were in the ballpark at least.

Angela V. Cook was only off by 9
Unknown #3  and Poor Dead Jed were only off by 8

Britta Boudreau and DLM were only off by 1.

That makes Verna Austen the very best guesser at 78.

BUT, the most amazing part of the contest were your comments. Honestly you've outdone yourselves this time. I think I laughed about every single one.  What a great weekend tonic you provided.

Here are just a very few of the standouts:

Ones about the numbers:
Mister Furkles: 
I don't believe it is 47 but I like 47 and it doesn't get the attention it deserves.

Rae Chang: 
49 because it is just so pretty

I'm gonna guess 51. It seems like a cute and oft forgotten number.

My best guess is 8, for no other reason that I like that number. It's neat and tidy.

And comments about the couch and everything else:

Come sob on my sofa. No cats, but a dog who thinks she is one.

poor dead jed: 
I can rent some kittens for the day if you swing the contest my way, Sharky-Snookums. ;-)

Michele Lynn: 
If I win please send a book.
My couch is usually full of teenage girls sobbing over their less than perfect suburban lives,

You are welcome to cry on my sofa. I like a challenge and I need someone new to bake for. These people are animals and not in a good way.

You can come sob on my couch. I haven't done any querying in a while, so my couch could use a good watering.

Unknown (8:49am) 
And I'm going to say book because I have a 5 year old and a 2 year old--I have enough people sobbing on my couch from time to time!

You can come and squall to your heart's content on my couch. Trust me, you'd wail at the sight of it anyway. It's very comfy, but 20 years old. Little dog has decided it's his chore to end it's misery and attempts to destroy a bit more of it everyday. If you're still weeping on it on January 2nd, I'm sorry to say you'll be hauled away to wherever old sofas go.

If I win I'll take the book, because I'm not willing to pay for your airfare all the way to Tokyo. ;)

Amy Simonson: 
138, and I offer my couch and access to all the alcohol in my house which is significant at the moment as I'm hosting Christmas dinner for 14.

If I win, I would like a book please. I was tempted by the idea of you sobbing on my sofa, because I've been doing exactly that ever since my beloved bunny passed away just over two weeks ago, and I figured it was someone else's turn, but I think a book might cheer me up more :-)

p.s. that was not a shameless bid for the sympathy vote. After all, this is not the X factor final

p.p.s if a shameless bid for the sympathy vote would have worked, then please disregard my previous statement

Becky Mushko: 
Should I win, I'll take the book. My couch is full of cats, and they yield space to no one—not even sharks

You can come sob on my sofa, but can you bring a book? I'll make tiny red velvet cupcakes, or green Christmas tree spritz cookies.

Dena Pawling: 
I choose book, because I have a teen-aged daughter, and honestly my house is already way too full of drama.

But nothing by Laird Barron. I scare easily.

Kari Lynn Dell: 
102, because that was my kid's temperature last evening and it's approximately the number of cows and horses I have to pack feed to this morning. And I should take a book because I'm quite sure you don't want to experience the sensation of tears freezing on your cheeks.

Jennifer D: 
Couch, so you can hang with my very sad 5 year old son who thinks he's in an freaking Annie movie because I made him help me clean the house this morning.

S.D. King: 
And somebody's got to sleep on my couch this Christmas - it might as well be you!

LynnRodz: 26 
You can come cry on my couch, it makes out into a queen size bed and quite comfy actually. I'll even have my French chef whip up a wonderful dinner with warm crusty baguette straight from the oven. The wine will be flowing and you'll soon stop crying, because who cries in Paris???

Will be in FL at my parent's with lots of nieces and nephews. Mom and Dad have a comfy couch for sobbing and the girls will paint your toenails cheerful colors.

And here are the two top comments, chosen for very different reasons of course!

Colin Smith:
My guess: 128 (the average of all the guesses as of 11:58 ET).

And I think I'd rather have you sobbing on my couch. It's a win-win for everyone:

My wife will feed you her grandmother's cheesecake, which is beyond awesome.

#1 child will share makeup tips and talk to you about her favorite books.

#2 child will teach you Korean, Chinese, and Japanese, and make her incredible Lo Mein for you.

#3 child will dazzle you with his Legend of Zelda skills, and invite you to team up with him... if you dare!

#4 child will draw your portrait.

#5 child will give you hugs and wait on you hand-and-foot.

#6 child will talk to you about anything. Anything. Don't expect to say much back.

And I won't need a book, because you'll bring all those awesome manuscripts with you for us to read. :)

I pick you sobbing on my couch(it really is comfy), that way I can read you my novel and you can't escape. I can also tuck you in, prop your feet up, it'll be like Misery. That was a feel good story right?

Colin, Brian, and Verna, if you'll email me your mailing address and an idea of what kinds of books you like, we'll get your prizes in the mail.

Thanks to everyone for participating. You not only made my day, you made my whole weekend!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A quick contest of sorts-Now closed

I don't have a blog post prepared for today. I spent much of yesterday reading queries and watching my minion tidy her desk before she abandoned me for two whole weeks of something she called vacation (I had to look it up. Sounds fun.)

I ended up requesting three manuscripts yesterday. As you know I keep them in a file folder, numbered and dated so I can keep track of how behind I am on my reading.  I'll talk more about why this number is what it is next week (it's been an interesting year.)  In the meantime, let's have some fun.

The first person to correctly guess the number of requested full manuscripts in 2014 (both proposals and manuscripts) wins a prize.  (That prize may be me, lying on their couch weeping at the stack of unread work...or a book.)

You can enter ONCE and there are no do-overs. Enter twice and you're disqualified.  Assume it's a whole number. Assume more than three and  fewer than 1000.

Also, (this is an add-on after 7:56am--you can choose which prize you want: me sobbing on your sofa, OR a book. And why.)


Someone has in fact guessed the right number, and the comments are topping three digits so I'm going to close them.

I haven't laughed this much on a Saturday morning in years. (Usually I'm reading your contest entries on Sunday)

Results will be posted on Monday.

Thanks for a GREAT deal of hilarity.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Query question: repurposing your short story

I have a question for you/your blog regarding first rights and turning a published short story into a novel. My short story has not been published yet, and in the end I’d rather have it as a novel than a short story. That being said, if I send the short version out to literary magazines now, do I run into trouble with rights when, on the chance that it does get published, I later query agents with the novel version? I realize this is a “what-if” question, but I would hate to make a rookie mistake, discovering that I never should have sent the short story out if I had grander plans for it, etc.

One of the HUGE problems with the increased transparency in publishing is that a lot of terms get thrown around by people who really don't understand what they mean. Case in point: "first rights"

There's really no such thing because first needs to describe some form of a publishing agreement. First serial? First electronic? First print?

What you're asking is whether a short story can later be republished as part of a novel.  The answer is "maybe" and a lot depends on the contract you sign for the short story.  You don't want to sign a contract that gives anyone the right to post the story online forever. (The publication clause should have an expiry date for the exclusivity period, or a way for you to recapture your rights after a certain length of time)

The second thing this depends on is the offer from the publisher on the novel.  You MUST disclose that part of the novel was published previously as a short story. The good news is those things are called "writing credits" and they're good to have.

The good news? This repurposing  happens  all the time (think anthologies of short stories to start with) , so you won't have a problem "re-using" your short story as long as you've been careful about the contracts beforehand.

This is one of the reasons I insist my Fabulous clients show me every contract they sign even if I didn't negotiate it or get a chunk of their earnings from it.

Small press contracts are frequently snake pits and more than once this year I've jumped up and down about terms that my author simply can NOT sign.  (Most publishers have been gracious enough to amend the contracts to conform to my suggestions, so you should not worry about negotiating yours either.)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Query question: asking to resubmit a manuscript

I just received the following from an agent to whom I had sent a query in early November:

"Please know I carefully considered your project, but I don't feel I can offer representation at this time... This is an accomplished story, and you’re a talented writer, but your pages need further editing, and the beginning could be reworked so that it is more compelling."

I agree with the need to make the beginning more compelling. In fact, a few weeks after submitting the query, I had an epiphany, and DID re-work the beginning to make it (I think) far more compelling.

Question: after thanking the agent profusely and buttering her up sufficiently, is it worth mentioning this in a reply email? Am I reading too much into the "at this time" phrase by thinking that she would be interested in a follow-up / revision? This particular agent is pretty high on my list, by the way, so I was excited to get a thoughtful response.

I get this a lot. I'm getting more of it now with Chum Bucket.  It's difficult impossible for a writer to stand down when there's still a shred of hope. 

Since it's impossible, I won't waste time telling you not to do it.

Instead, here's how to do it effectively:  

Thank you for your  helpful comments on (date) about my manuscript (title.)  In fact, I had an epiphany about the same problem in the manuscript as you were considering it, and I have revised along the lines you suggested.  Would you be willing to take another look at the same number of pages you read before?  Thank you very much for your time and special consideration.  Your chum, Writer

Be prepared for a vast swath of silence because it's easier to say nothing than say no.

I generally take a look at a couple pages when asked to re-consider something but that's it since this was not a requested revision.

These kinds of helpful comments from agents are often just a few of the things they think need work.  In other words, you've got long ass sentences and too much description but I haven't yet mentioned that I detest the plot, cause at least if you fix the sentences and the excess description you'll be better off with another agent who may not hate the plot at all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Query question: art on the blog

I'm an (aspiring) professional writer but an amateur illustrator. I draw characters and scenes from my book strictly for my own amusement and to help me develop my ideas. They are not intended to be part of the published book. Obviously, I don't mention my art in queries or anything like that, but I'm wondering what is and isn't wise to do with this art. For instance, can I post it on my blog and social media, where it isn't directed at agents, but they're likely to see it if they research me? Or should I keep it under wraps to avoid looking amateurish? (For the sake of argument, let's assume that I'm a fairly good artist.)

You haven't mentioned what kind of books you're writing. If you plan to write novels for adults, art work won't help much at all, since most of those book don't contain any illustrations.

If you're planning on writing for kids, illustrations are used in varying amounts depending on the kind of book: picture, early reader, middle grade etc.

Art is a very tricky topic. Some really awkward looking things can end up as phenomenal successes:

And some images are so wonderful they just grab your heart the second you see them and never let go:

And some aren't cute or funny, but they really make you want to read the book:

But in the end, this is your art, and your blog, and if you want to share your work, you should. You can't predict what anyone's response will be. I can't imagine an agent looking at your blog and saying no to a project that was otherwise a yes simply because s/he didn't like your art. (although, I do have very strong feelings about certain fonts....but that's another blog post)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rant: personalization is a waste time

I've studied through the archives on both your sites, getting my query lean and mean, giving a preview of my story that's tasty and enticing—250-some words, spare and clean-looking on the page—and now, ready to send. But.....

In my preparation I've also read a lot of agents I must respect to whom it's nothing more than common sense that all queriers explain "why I queried." So, my first batch is six—including three solid references—and I came up with one very short rationale for querying each and stuck it at the end of my carefully honed, muscularly worded, winsomely teasing query.

Now my query looks terrible. It looks like a big fat book-report, where some kid threw in EVERYTHING he had in order to fill up the page. It blobs the whole landscape. To speak aesthetically, it's OVERWEIGHT.

I know you've discussed this before, but for the love of mercy, please discuss it again. Do we REALLY have to do this? If this or that well-desired agent says, "Of course you MUST give me some special reason you queried: you MUST do ten minutes of research, and you MUST prove to me you did so....."

Must we? On aesthetic grounds I object.

Thank you for giving me the chance for one last rant this year. Here it is: Personalization is a waste of time.

I started thinking about this a while back. It was prompted by a post at about ineffective, spammy PR pitches. Here's the post I was reading: Dear PR person who just sent me a robo pitch

Robo pitches are the kiss of death in PR. Since my career path was via book publicity I've known that since forever. When I read that post, I was strategizing how long it would take to get an in-house PR person up to speed if starting from scratch, since you absolutely cannot just email everyone you know with "hey, here's my book, how about a nice review in your next column/blogpost/twitter feed."

And the answer was a substantial number of months if not a year would be required to build a data base from scratch.

The only reason that didn't make me run screaming into the night, is that once that data base is built, it's usable for other clients and other projects. It gets MORE valuable the more you work it and use it, because you end up with lots of contacts and lots of information that you can use and reuse.

When I sold my PR business, what I was selling was the data base of contacts and the information about them.

That's the same kind of data base that many of you are creating for querying.

Except, once you have an agent you don't need it anymore. One thing that makes a PR date base worth building well is that it GAINS value over time and use.

One thing that makes an agent data base less worthwhile is that it ceases to have value once you have an agent.

Another value to a PR data base is one person is pitching different writers. A columnist/reviewer who doesn't respond to Thriller A may well respond to Thriller B from a different writer.

An agent data base that you're building is for one writer: you.  An agent who doesn't respond to your Thriller A can't be queried for Thriller B the next day. Your pitching inventory is one project at a time. When I worked in PR I was pitching five or six books in any given month.

Thus, asking queriers to have individual details about individual agents to put in a query letter means we're asking you for months if not a year of work that will benefit you once, then not again.

Think about that for a second.
Well, no, think about that for a minute.

If you had to pay someone to do build that data base, would you? If I had to pay someone to build a PR database that's usable for just one client would I? No. It doesn't make any business sense to do that.

That's when I realized that asking writers to build a data base of agents wasn't a good use of time or resources, unless you think you'll be querying ten books in two years.

The good news for writers is that an agent isn't going to reject your work if you haven't included some personalizing detail or reason for querying. Write well- that's all that matters.

And frankly that's why ANY time spent building a data base of agents likes/dislikes etc is a bad use of time: writing well takes an enormous amount of time. Taking time away from that is not in your best interest. And frankly it's not in mine either.

You'll serve both our interests in spending as much time doing what you're good at: writing. I'll serve both our interests by doing what I'm good at: keeping you chained to your desk and demanding pages.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Chum Bucket tonight, 7pm (EST), 12/15/14

Chum Bucket tonight. 12/15/14. (If it's NOT 12/15/14 do not send a chum bucket query!)

Remember: do not link to this post from elsewhere (your blog or Facebook page), or post/tweet about it.

Chum Bucket works because everyone who participates has invested some time in learning how it works.  I LOVE doing Chum Bucket so I really want to keep it to those people who buy in to the premise.

The premise is that if you query me between 7pm and 8pm tonight, I will reply to you personally, not with a form letter.

The response can range from "this isn't for me" to "send full" but you'll know I'm sitting there typing it out when I get your query.

Of course, I often do reply with more than "not for me" because I think it's helpful to say why it's not for me. Sometimes it's because I'm not much on eyeball removal (eww!) and sometimes it's cause you
think a 240,000 memoir is publishable.

If I think I can help you, I'll try to do so.

Chum Bucket is NOT a critique.

And your part of the bargain is you will not email me back telling me I'm a cretin of the first order for failing to appreciate your masterpiece.  (While that may be true, we will observe the social niceties of not stating the obvious.)

The reason I ask you to NOT tweet or link is that people who aren't regular blog readers, or twitter followers, who only see the announcement, may not know about the social contract not to reply with venom.  I really want to keep doing Chum Bucket so the longer we can keep it to invested readers, the more likely it is to continue.

The comment column awaits.

Here's the rundown on queries from the previous Chum Bucket:

01. Not for me/some comments on why: 7
05. Not my category: 6
02. Not for me/some comments on correct category or comps 1
03. Suggestions to improve red hot mess queries: 1
07. Request full: 1
08. Writing needs a lot of work 1
14. Not for me/some comments on improving query 1
15. Failed to send pages on a good query    1

That last one is really shortsighted. If pages aren't included in a regular query, even if I like it, I'm much more likely to just respond with a form letter passing on the project.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

It's Sunday! Time for fun!

Why aren't we outside?


 MUCH better!!

**this is Miles, who helps his human write novels

Saturday, December 13, 2014

More on referrals

Thank you for your blog post today. You specifically mention referrals by other agents. I was wondering - what's the difference between a referral by an agent & a referral by an author? If one of an agent's (currently represented) authors refer someone, is it all that big a deal? Does it get you to the top of the pile & an extra close read? Or does it happen so frequently that it's like receiving just another query?

Recently a writer on a bulletin board discussion told me in no uncertain terms that "a referral from a client that doesn't shoot to the top of the to-be-read list means something is seriously wrong with the agent."

It took the Shark Delay Team to keep my reply ("so glad you know so much about working in an agency and getting referrals") in Drafts, which was good, since this fellow didn't seem prepared to listen to someone actually doing the job he was talking about.

Here's how I prioritize referrals. By prioritize, I mean how fast I am likely to read. It's MY list, not the industry standard by any matter of means. (1 is fastes, 10 is least likely to be read at all)

1:  An editor read your manuscript, wants it, but you need an agent, so editor gave you my name; or
an agent read your manuscript, loved it, couldn't take it on, gave you my name.  Editor/agent then emailed me independently to say "hey, I loved this, you will too;"  [just so you know: THESE ARE RARE.]

2: An editor read your manuscript (or currently edits you) and suggested getting in touch with me; an agent read your manuscript, loved it, couldn't take it on and gave you several names (including mine) to contact on your own;

3:  An agent or editor read some of your manuscript, and liked it, and suggested agents (including me) to contact;

4:  An agent at a conference suggested I might be better suited to the manuscript;

5: One of my fabulous clients read and loved the manuscript and suggested getting in touch with me, whom he/she has called to enthuse about said manuscript;

6:  One of my fabulous clients read the manuscript and thought it might be something I would want to read and contacts me to say so;

7: A querier asks  one of my fabulous clients who his/her agent is, then sends manuscript to me saying client referred him/her;

8: A presenter at a conference who is not an agent or editor says I am a good person to query;

9:  A form letter from an agent saying s/he is not taking on new clients but someone else at the agency might be interested;

10:  A paid editor/book doctor/someone said I was cat's pjs, and author should query.

The value of a referral depends on two things:

1. has the person read your entire manuscript; and

2. how close to the buy/sell transaction process is the person making the referral.

Agents/editors are primary actors in the sales transaction. They know what gets acquired. Thus, their opinion counts MUCH more than anyone else's including clients. Clients know what's good to their eye, and many of them are close, careful readers with exquisite taste, or seriously tuned in to what's commercially viable BUT they don't have a broad sense of what's being acquired now. Their opinion is important but it's not got the impact of an editor's.

Now remember, this is MY hierarchy. Other agents may vary.  Someone should email the Amazing Jessica Faust at BookEndsLLC and ask how she prioritizes referrals. (I think she only takes queries
by referral now too, so her opinion actually counts more than mine on this!)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Query Queston: other agents if first agent does not respond

An agent has my full and disappeared. I sent nudges timed appropriately and haven't received any response. They're not a no-response-means-no agent, either (supposedly.)

I haven't pinned hope on this one agent, and have other fulls out. However, there are others at this agent's agency who I think would be interested. The main reason I queried the first agent before the others is because I was given a referral. How long should I wait before querying others at their agency? Can I not query them if this agent just never responds to me? 

 Oh lord referrals. They are troublesome things they are. The good ones are when an agent has read your manuscript, knows it's not for her/him for X reason, and says "query so and so at AgencyAuctionLLC"

In fact, I'm now cackling with glee reading the reviews of a book where that exact thing happened. I read the manuscript, loved it, knew it needed what I didn't have, sent the author to one of my favorite competitors; they had a fistfight in the office over who got it pounced on it with glee. The rest is happy publishing all around.

The other kind of referrals are the ones that start "Such and Such said this was your kind of novel" and I've not spoken to Such for five years. Such hasn't read your novel and is just trying to get you off her query pile and onto mine.

It's hard for you the querier to know which one you have, of course, but my guess is you've got the second one based on the agent's behavior.  She's "disappeared" which means she's probably trying to figure out what to say other than  form rejection. (It feels awkward to form reject a referral which is why you guys are so hot for them of course.)

Here's what to do:

Step one: withdraw the manuscript from Agent Absent. Politely of course.  I'm sure you know how to do this.  If you don't I know I've posted wording previously.

Step two: submit the manuscript to Agent BetterChoice.  At this point, there's no need to mention Agent Absent. Absent has dropped the ball here and you should NOT let that have an impact on you.

This is your career. Even if Agent Beta calls you up at midnight to spew and splutter that you are RUDE RUDE RUDE to submit this manuscript, it won't kill you, and two, you have my permission to say "horsefeathers BetaBreath."

This querying process is starting to resemble elaborate rules of court in some crazed Balkan country. This must be done, that must be done. Double space this, and make sure your font doesn't frolic on the page...yikes!

A query is a business letter. If the person to whom you are proposing a business arrangement fails to respond to your overture, and three polite follow ups, then time to move on to the next person on the list.  As long as you're polite and observe the guidelines posted on the website, you're fine.  And even if you don't and you're not: There Are No Query Police!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bonus Content: pictures of The Reef

I love my office! We moved to this space in August 2012 and in two weeks, we're moving next door (no change on our contact details) to a bigger space that gets The Minion away from the window and a cold draft. I, of course, need the cold draft since I am a ferocious cold-blooded sea monster when I'm at work.

So, here are the pictures of our office before we leave!

And I'm sure you'll all be glad to know: yes we are PAINTING the new office before we move in!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Query question: querying over the holidays

I found the pointed advice that querying anywhere between Thanksgiving and mid-January is pointless, and everyone should stop. 
 Certainly, you’ve mentioned it’s not worthwhile making perishable offerings to agents during the holidays, but the advice seems to me counter to progress; even if I have to wait longer for a response (goes my way of thinking), surely it’s not actually *wrong* to query on right now, particularly if it’s possible and there’s motivation!
I’m an A-number-one slacker given the option, but it seems to me no aspirant should flat-out quit trying for six or eight weeks out of the year.
Is this agent just tired of the post-NaNo na├»ve query glut – if there is such a thing – or do some honestly just give winter a full on pass, so to speak, and queries during this period really will fall on deaf eyes? Subsidiary, selfish question: why wouldn’t they just go closed for queries, if this is the case?


Well, it's a real pain to close for queries let me tell you. I've done it a couple times, and getting the info to all the sites, and then getting it taken down again..well, it's a pain.

That blog post you mentioned is by Jessica Faust and I must tell you she's a terrific agent, and I watch what she does like a hawk.  If I could spy on her in her office wearing some sort of invisible suit like Patrick Lee has in The Breach, I'd be there right now. 

So, far be it from me to tell you not to pay attention to what she says.


There really is no industry standard for this. It's not WRONG to query any time you want (unless the agent is closed of course.)  The question is whether it's effective.  And I don't think there's a way to measure that other than to try. And by trying, you're querying, so that's that.

For every agent who doesn't want queries during the holiday, there are at least a couple who will be reading their email on Christmas Day and wondering if they should reply, or wait till 12/26.

Here's the one thing you know after reading Jessica's blog post: Don't query her right now. Query me.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

2014 Sox Knocker list-first item

It's time for the list of things that just knocked my sox off this year!

First up is THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK: The Battle for James Joyce Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham.

Frankly, this guy could probably write about paint drying and I'd be fascinated. He's got a real gift for exposition and it serves him well in this complex story of author, publisher, smut laws, and anarchists.

If you're a writer, you'll want to read this to learn more about James Joyce and the novel. If you're on the other side of the desk, you'll want to read it for the story of how hard it was to publish difficult books in the early part of the last century.

And if you're neither of those, you'll still want to read it cause it's just a great story, well told.

Here's one of my favorite paragraphs (there were many)

[Despite all of this] she [Sylvia Beach] decided that Shakespeare & Co. a company of one, after all, of a thirty-four-year-old American expatriate who was until recently sleeping on a cot in the back room of a diminutive bookshop on a street nobody could find--would issue the single most difficult book anyone had published in decades. It would be monstrously large, prohibitively expensive and impossible to proof read. It was a book without a home, an Irish novel written in Trieste, Zurich, and Paris, to be published in France in riddling English by a bookseller from New Jersey.

The highest praise I can think of for this book is that it made me eager to read Ulysses.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Chum Bucket tonight,12/8/14, 7pm

Chum Bucket tonight. 12/8/14. (If it's NOT 12/8/14 do not send a chum bucket query!)

Remember: do not link to this post from elsewhere (your blog or Facebook page), or post/tweet about it.

Chum Bucket works because everyone who participates has invested some time in learning how it works.  I LOVE doing Chum Bucket so I really want to keep it to those people who buy in to the premise.

The premise is that if you query me between 7pm and 8pm tonight, I will reply to you personally, not with a form letter.

The response can range from "this isn't for me" to "send full" but you'll know I'm sitting there typing it out when I get your query.

Of course, I often do reply with more than "not for me" because I think it's helpful to say why it's not for me. Sometimes it's because I'm not much on eyeball removal (eww!) and sometimes it's cause you
think a 240,000 memoir is publishable.

If I think I can help you, I'll try to do so.

Chum Bucket is NOT a critique.

And your part of the bargain is you will not email me back telling me I'm a cretin of the first order for failing to appreciate your masterpiece.  (While that may be true, we will observe the social niceties of not stating the obvious.)

The reason I ask you to NOT tweet or link is that people who aren't regular blog readers, or twitter followers, who only see the announcement, may not know about the social contract not to reply with venom.  I really want to keep doing Chum Bucket so the longer we can keep it to invested readers, the more likely it is to continue.

The comment column awaits.

And in case you're interested, here's the run down from the last Chum Bucket on 11/20/14

1. Not for me/some comments on why: 10
3. Suggestions to improve red hot mess queries: 3
2. Not for me/some comments on correct category or comps 2
5. Not my category: 2
10. Requery/not for me 2
11. Word count (unsupported by the writing) 1
12. Great query/problem pages 1
13. Requery on red hot mess 1

Word count unsupported by writing means I look at your pages even if you send a query for a novel with some sort of horrible word count (like 230K)  If the writing is polished and tight, no problem. Often it isn't. Thus the "nope."

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Get a free copy of the Bouchercon Anthology!

RUNNER by Patrick Lee is enjoying the spotlight at Barnes &Noble this week.  There should be a  display of mass market books, including RUNNER near the front of the store.

Here's my offer:

1. Take a photo of yourself (or anyone else!) holding a copy of the mass market edition of RUNNER
next to the display.

2. SEND the photo and a copy of your receipt for RUNNER to me electronically.

Include your mailing address in the email!

3. I'll post the photo AND send you a copy of the 2014 Bouchercon anthology "Murder At The Beach) at no cost! (or I'll just send you the book if you don't want your photo posted!)

Two good books for the price of one!

Offer is for a limited time. Feel free to email me or tweet to me to see if it's still open.

Still open as of 12/10/14

Questions?  Ask in the comments section of the blog.

Ready? Set? FOTO!

Friday, December 05, 2014

Query Question: I'm afraid I can't get an agent for a mainstream publishing deal

I have finally completed my first novel, and I've gotten some very positive reviews from my beta readers. I'm afraid though that I may not be able to break out into mainstream publishing and/or get an agent.

It's a New Adult LGBT novel and the advice from a friend is that I may have to go to publishing sites such as Dreamspinner, Carina, or TotallyBound. I really feel that it can be more than just a M/M novel because of the different issues that are presented. Unfortunately, I may have lost my chance because I've tried querying with agents that are LGBT accepting but my query might not have been strong enough to get their attention.

I don't even know how hard it might be for an agent to sell that kind of genre. Should I go with one of the aforementioned publishing sites or stick with self-publishing and spread the word myself?  Any help would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you for your time.

Confronted with this dilemma, the first thing you want to do is make a list of questions:

1. Is your query strong enough to entice an agent to read your book?
2. Is your book strong enough to entice an agent to take it on and send it on submission?
3. Is it hard for an agent to sell LGBT books that are M/M themed?
4. Do you want to self-publish?

When you have the list, look at each question and ask yourself if you have enough information to answer the questions with FACTS, not fears, suppositions or someone else's opinions.

And from what you've written here, you do NOT have enough facts to answer any of these questions, and thus what you need to be doing is getting more facts, not making decisions.

How do you get facts?  First, you need to know how strong your query is.

You can visit query revising sites (Absolute Write runs one and there are others) or you can attend a writing conference. Take your query letter to a pitch session. Ask the agent for her opinion on  your query.  You might be making some very-readily-fixable errors. You might be using a word or phrase that's a red flag.  Use that information to answer your first question.

If you find an agent who requests your full manuscript, generally you're going to get some kind of feedback that will help you on Question #2.

And a writing conference, with panels presented by agents on various topics, is a great way to learn more about Question #3.

And of course, you'll want to do a LOT of research to answer Question #4.

Bottom line: don't flail around wondering what to do. Assemble facts, analyze them, do research, invest in your career, and make decisions based on information not fear. Fear will kill your writing career faster than a bad agent.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Query Question: The first 50 pages

We had a request for 50 pages. The pages end in a better place at about page 53 (12 font). We know not to send more, however, would changing the font to 11.5 from 12 be okay? The agent's site didn't specify 11 or 12 and I have seen both sizes. What should we do? 

What an illuminating question, and by this I mean, illuminating for me, not you. I always wondered why manuscripts showed up in a weird font and 11.5 point. I assumed it was a platform conversion problem.

NOW I see it's clever little hands trying to be smarter than my Format key.

When you send something in ANYTHING other than Times New Roman 12pt font, I immediatly convert to that.

Often I end up with more pages than I asked for. I don't care.

When you send in a font like Courier I end up with FEWER pages than requested. Again, I don't care, but you should. If I ask for ten pages and you end up sending seven you are asking seven pages to do the work of ten. (Your pages will be unionizing soon if you keep doing that, and rightfully so)

Here's what you need to know: An agent says "send 50 pages" but what that means is "don't send the whole novel" and/or "don't send too little." Send enough so that I can see what you're doing here.

If the best place to end is on page 53, send 53 pages.

DO NOT SEND a cover sheet.
Don't send acknowledgment pages.
Don't send a page dedicated to "Chapter One and an epigraph"

Start where the first chapter starts. In an effort to "follow the guidelines" don't make an agent nuts: Don't break a sentence or a paragraph EVER;
Don't break a chapter if you can help it.
UNLESS you have a natural break in the chapter that lends itself to an ending.

 And don't go haywire on your font: TNR 12 is the gold standard.

I sometimes get the idea that querying writers think agents are like the old style compulsories judges in figure skating. Those judges sometimes got down on the ice and measured the accuracy of figures the skaters were required to complete.

 Agents are not like that. Querying is more like the interpretive section of the competiton. We expect your technical skills are up to par and we want to see what you bring to the program.  We're not measuring your figure 8s and not counting your pages. You on the other hand are not falling on your asterisk and sliding off the cliff.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Social media question: posting about troublesome topics

Can an author have a public opinion on a controversial matter? I posted about the Ferguson case on my private Facebook and a reader went over-the-top. While it cost me a reader, I stand by what I said (which was neither in favor or against the verdict). It got me thinking that if an author has a measure of renown, will they be forever constrained to keeping their mouth shut about issues that, while controversial, are important? That would seem like a waste of influence to me.

There is no right or wrong answer here. There's only the measure of how much you're willing to risk for posting your opinions. You have every right to say whatever you want on your blog, up to and including posts that are racist, sexist, xenophobic and poorly spelled.

In exercising that right, you also tacitly agree to the consequences: readers may unfollow, unlike, and/or respond strongly to your opinions. Whether they continue to buy your books may be a very real concern.

Frankly I'm not interested in what a rock star has to say about Africa (and honest to god, I wish that man would learn some facts before going all We're Here to Save You) and I'm also extremely uninterested in what a movie star has to say about political matters, but I fear I am the exception since people with a lot of profile tend to get attention for every issue they want to speak on.

Am I going to stop buying U2 albums or seeing George Clooney movies? Probably not. BUT, and here's the great exception: I can't avoid seeing the promotions for U2 albums or George Clooney movies. I can NOT see anything about your book if I've stopped following you on Facebook and Twitter because you said something I thought was racist, sexist, xenophobic or poorly spelled.

You say it's a waste of influence. I ask you: what do you want to spend your influence capital on? Comments on current events or getting people to buy your book? It's your choice. Just understand you ARE making a choice when you post opinions on divisive topics.

On the other hand, you also get to find out who's nuts among your Facebook friends and Twitter followers.  That's always an interesting byproduct of a post like that.

And I'm assuming that your posts are well-reasoned and articulate, that the writing is clean and cogent, that you are writing to explain your position or persuade others to join your position. If you are writing to be bombastic or for click-bait, well, even if I agree with everything you say, I'm still removing myself from your radar screen.

Short answer: sure, post away but be prepared to cough up the price of the fall out, if any.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Bonus content: actual email received by actual agent

Hello Janet,

Before I invest the time in preparing a submission, I wanted to confirm that you have time to review it.

Thank you.

Kind Regards

Dear Mr Regards,

I'm very sorry I do not have time to review a submission you haven't written. I'm currently occupied with editing a manuscript I haven't received.

Yours truly,

Monday, December 01, 2014

Query Question: two manuscripts on submission

I started querying a manuscript (YA Urban Fantasy) a couple months ago, and I expect to begin querying a new manuscript (YA Sci-Fi) early next year. Since the query/submission process takes time, I figure there's a good chance I'll end up querying both manuscripts at once. (But of course, I won't query the same agent with a second manuscript until a decision's been made on the first. And on a side note, any suggestions as to how long I should wait between a rejection and sending a new manuscript?)

It occurs to me that the Sci-Fi manuscript may grab an agent for me before, or instead of, the UF manuscript. I mean (1) the Sci-Fi is being written with more experience under my belt, and (2) it's in a slightly less tough market, I think. So what happens if I get an agent with the Sci-Fi, where that same agent has already declined to represent the UF?

In that case, is the UF dead in the water, or might the agent still consider submitting it? Or will this just depend on the agent? And out of curiosity, how would you handle a situation like this?

You writers really like to worry ahead of yourselves.  What-if questions like this are your rodent wheel minds whirring in the middle of the night, using up all that nervous energy that didn't get poured on the page that day.

If you're querying two manuscripts at the same time, one will get an offer before the other. Which manuscript that will be is a crapshoot and SOMETHING YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER.

The agent making the offer may love your other novel like her own, or may feel about it as Travis Erwin feels about lettuce:

Neither of those things are something you have control over.

And my opinion is absolutely irrelevant unless I'm the agent doing the offering.

Thus, when this happy situation arises, you tell the offering agent about The Other Book. Together you will decide the course of action.

I mentioned yesterday that the book I've signed clients for is sometimes not the book I sell first. I always ask about "inventory" when talking to a prospective client. Even if it's a very different book, I'd rather have more inventory than less.

So, stop fretting about this.
Get back to working on the ONE thing you do have control over: your novel.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Query Question: one at a time, vs all your work contracts with agents

In researching agents, I found two categories: those who rep "one book at a time" and those who take on a writer for a contracted amount of time, or perhaps "career." What is the benefit of the former situation? 

One book at a time means the author and agent contract with each other for the one book (and presumably for the option book if there is one.)  The other option is the author and agent contract with each other to work for all the work a client will do.

The benefits of One and Done are:

1. If you decide the working relationship isn't to your liking, you're free to seek another agent at the end of the project.  When querying for the next book, it's a whole lot easier to say "my previous agent
repped books one at a time" rather than "my previous agent and I didn't get along."

2. You're not committing blindly to a future you know nothing about.  You're in for a year or two at most.

Both of these are true from the agent and the author point of view. If the client turns out to be a troublesome diva, well, the next book isn't automatically your problem.

I offer contracts for careers, not books. The reason is I've found over years of experience that first book may not be the first one I sell.  I prefer to be in for the long haul at the start. I want my clients to know they can have confidence for the long term.

Of course, there's a 30-day termination clause so either of us can end the representation agreement without cause at any time.

There's a lot to be said for both types of agency agreement. When you're interviewing all the agents who offer on your book, ask them why they offer the type of contract they do.  Make your decision based on that.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Navigating Sharque Infested Waters: gifts to agents and editors

I am extremely fortunate to have an agent I love (yea!) and, recently, a brand-spanking new editor (new to me; not new to the business)! So excited that my novel will—after lots more work—see the light of day. Here’s the question: the holidays are approaching. What is an appropriate token of appreciation from an author to an agent and to an editor? I feel like especially now I should be sending a holiday/thank you gift, but don’t know what is considered nice and what is considered too much. Is there something I should definitely NOT send (like teachers who have cabinets full of “Greatest Teacher Ever” mugs)?

Any advice you have for the holiday season would be most appreciated. We writers do tend to stress over the little things. :-)

First, congrats on your pending publication. This is a terrific achievement!

Gifts, even at the holidays, are not needed or required. It is NOT rude, forgetful, impolite or socially unacceptable to not give gifts to business associates.

If you are moved to send something, a lovely card with your own words of appreciation would be very nice.  {I save those.}

What you don't want to send is food or perishables of any kind. Deliveries slow down in NYC due to weather and volume.  Agents aren't in the office every day of the week, and particularly not during the holidays.  For example, this holiday week, I was out of the office the entire week.  Most people didn't know it because I was still "working" but if you'd sent something fresh or perishable, well, my minion would have enjoyed it very much but I would not have seen it.

I can't tell you how awful it is to get lovely boxes of what had been fresh fruit on January 3rd.  That happens more than you think.

If you absolutely must send something to say thank you, it's really hard to go wrong with a gift card. Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, all good things.

But I strongly encourage you to not send gifts. Save that for when we do something above and beyond the call of duty like bail you out of the hoosegow after you and Jeff Somers decided to re-enact the bathtub scene from We Are Not Good People.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm profoundly grateful today for many things:

a job I love, in a city I love, with people I respect and admire;
the readers of and commenters on this blog who provide on-going enlightenment and entertainment;
health, happiness, and the friends to enjoy it with.

I hope you have a lovely holiday filled with the things that make you happy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Winter weather!

It's cold out here!!
The winter storm alert means we've
gone on vacation a little bit early.

What are you doing to stay warm?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Query Question: revising after rejections and how long to wait

You've suggested revising submission material after receiving either no response or rejections from agents and I'm good with that. 
However, as so many agents invite queries with pages/chapters in the submission, I'm unsure which to revise when that time comes. How to know where the "no" happened?
As for no response, if an agent is reading the query and pages/chapters, but doesn't offer a response window in the submission guidelines, is it reasonable to wait longer before closing it out? 

I'm not sure when I advised revising during the query process, but I'd like to see the source, since I think this might be out of context.

I think it's out of context for just the reason you mention in paragraph two. You don't know why/when/where there's a problem. Absent concrete suggestions for revisions, you run the very real risk of revising BADLY.

By badly I mean you don't know if an agent rejected your work (or failed to respond, nowadays the more likely situation -grrrrrrrrr) for something that had nothing to do with the quality or caliber of your work.

Take a look at the Chum Bucket post from last week. Fully EIGHT of the queries were for good books but just not books right for me. 

Look at the Chum Bucket results before that:  it's 14 good projects.

That's a substantial portion of the queries I get, and normally those receive ONLY a form reply.

If you're not getting the results you're looking for in the query process, that's when you invest some of your hard-earned dough in an editor, or a conference.  Get your pages in front of brutal, critical eyeballs.

Don't assume something is wrong with you if you're not hearing back; find out first.

As for timing, here's the definitive time table on dealing with scallywag agents who fail to reply to queries:

1. Send query.

2 A: IF agent auto-responds that query is received, wait prescribed amount of time plus 50% of prescribed time. Thus if they say they respond in 30 days, you give them 45. If they say six weeks, you give them nine.

2 B: IF agent does NOT have auto-responder, wait prescribed amount of time, then RE-SEND if no reply.

3. IF you are querying me, and you do not hear back follow 2B.

4. IF you are querying me, and you do not hear back after #3, email me or tweet to me. I respond to ALL queries that follow the general guidelines (Query Letter Diagnostics can help with that)

If you've tried twice, and not heard back, time to move on.

I find that incredibly rude and condescending in most instances, but so far I have yet to change the adoption of this course of action by many otherwise quite nice and polite agents whom I call my friends.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Query Question: Novel two with memorable elements from novel one

I’m preparing to query my second novel, a mystery, which features the same main character as my first novel. I made clear in the queries for the first novel that it had series potential, but both novels stand alone. I sent out about 40 queries for the first novel, with 5 requests for fulls and 3 for partials.

I plan to query four of the agents who read the full and gave me some useful feedback. I know they will remember the first novel and I feel I have enough of a relationship with them to let them know the situation. What I’m not sure about is how to approach agents who rejected the first novel at the query stage, some of whom I would like to query again.

The main character has a distinctive name and a memorable background, and I want to make clear that this is neither a revision nor a sequel. If I ignore the first query, I’m afraid they will think they’ve already seen (and rejected) it. But if I explain that this is a different, better novel, they might think it’s stupid to expect them to be interested in a concept they already rejected. Do you have suggestions as to how I can address this?

And yeah, I know I should have written something completely unrelated, but this wouldn’t go away, and I just decided to write what I wanted to write. I’m glad I did.

You're operating under the assumption that agents who rejected that first novel at the query stage will remember it, and that's probably not accurate.

When I receive a query that seems familiar, I look up the author's previous emails to me. (Yes, I keep ALL the queries and replies)

I look at the TITLE first.  If it's a different title from a writer,  I assume I have not seen the book, and read the query.  If it's the same title, I look at both queries to see if it's the same book. If it is, I mention that I've already responded to this project on such and such a date.  If it's NOT the same book (ie the query is substantially different) I read the query.

Here's what you need to remember first and foremost: we're all looking for work we can sell.  If the book sounds interesting NOW I don't care if you queried me 500 times before for the same title that DIDN'T.

So, the answer to your question is make sure the title is different, and write the query so it is clear this is a new project.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Have a lovely day filled with good surprises!

Toronto Maple Leaf fans (that's Toronto Canadia, our non-US neighbors to the north) finish singing the AMERICAN national anthem when the mic kicks out. So, how many of us could even START the Canadian national anthem? (Let alone finish, on time, and largely on key?) Way to go Leafs fans!