Thursday, October 02, 2014

Rant: can agents be replaced by a service like Submittable

I've conquered the query hurdle and secured representation only to find that being on submission is ten times worse! After years of hard work, research, diligence, and above all, patience, I have to think there must be a better way for writers to find publishers that would be less frustrating and more transparent. It feels like the open waters out there and lots of talented writers are getting eaten alive! You've been very disparaging of some of the referral services that have popped up, perhaps rightfully so, but it seems to me that a service like Submittable could eventually replace the job of an agent.

So my question to you is, do you think the current agenting model is the pinnacle of publishing or is there a better way? What would that way look like?

You'll pardon me please if I get a little hot under the collar about the idea that you think I can be replaced by an Excel spread sheet.

For starters, even asking the question tells me you don't have a clue what an agent really does. The question implies that all we do is send manuscripts and wait for replies.

Here's a brief list of some of the OTHER things I do:

1. Make sure the author knows where to meet his editor at ComicCon to get his badge.  I do this because my author has never been to ComicCon, and never been to the Javits Center and didn't know that "I'll meet you there" is the same thing as saying "I'll meet you in Seattle."

2. Edit proposals

3. Re-edit proposals

4. Review books in a new category to prepare for submission of a project in 2015.

5. Review royalty statements.

6. Call royalty departments to get information on line items that are unclear.

7. Explain royalty statements to authors.

8. Call editor to nudge about getting publication date in a particular month because of client's career commitments.

9. Call editor to nudge about timely payment

10.  Call editor to follow up on manuscripts.

11. Call client to update on manuscript submission.

12. Reply to a "good news" email from client with suggestions on how to leverage that good news.

13. Consult with colleagues about contract language that isn't in author's best interest and determine strategy for negotiating.

14.  Nudge editor for information missing from royalty statement.

15. Update author on information missing from royalty statement.

16. Facilitate lunch meeting with client and colleague who solicits his work for anthologies.

17. Attend reading with client.

18. Answer email from fan about how to purchase client's books.

19. Follow up with client about expired website domain name.

20. Send submissions to editors.

And gentle readers, that's just what I can remember from Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.  And you'll notice that doesn't including writing this, or any other, blog post. Or reading submissions from queriers.

I'm not sure why you find the process of being on submission "frustrating" or why you think  it isn't "transparent."  I've said this before, I'll say it again now: you should be able to get a list of where your project is on submission from your agent in five minutes.  Ten if she's busy. A day if she's in the middle of follow ups.

And what's frustrating? The wait? Trust me, sending your work to someone via Submittable doesn't cut the wait time. I'm very familiar with Submittable because many of the lit mags I send my clients short stories to use it to manage submissions.

Do I think think the agenting model is perfect? No, of course not. Nothing but Our Risen Lord is perfect, and He doesn't work in publishing. Trust me, we've called for him enough.

Do I think it works pretty well? Yes I do. Not every agent is good at his/her job, and not every good agent is a good fit for every writer.

But if you think for one tiny second that what I can do can be replaced by some fucking spread sheet, well,  think again.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Query Question: Revising novel when on submission to agents

I received an encouraging revise and resend with some great feedback from one of my top agents. I realized reading it that she was completely bang on in identifying some of the flaws in my novel, and began revising right away.

A little later, I received a full request from agent #2, whom I had queried some time ago. It's been about a week now and I haven't sent said full to agent #2, and I don't really want to until I've finished addressing agent #1's critique. But I'm worried that if too much time passes, agent #2 will wonder what's up. My manuscript was fully edited and ready to go (or so I thought) when I queried her. Should I let her know that I'm revising my manuscript based on feedback from another agent, or just send the full when it's ready (probably in another week or two) without an explanation? Is knowing that another agent has asked for revisions to a manuscript a positive or a negative in most agents' eyes? 

Here's the absolute ironclad rule: always send your best work. If you're doing revisions to fix some flaws in your novel, it's in BOTH our interests to have you send the better version.

Here's how you do this: You email Agent #2  RIGHT NOW and say "yo, snooks, got your request. Little late to the party, but ok for now.  I'm revising right now (I thought the novel was done!) and I plan to have it finished on X date. I will send it then unless you tell me otherwise.  Thanks again for your interest. I look forward to sending you my novel." Of course you put this in your own deathless prose. Remember to keep it SHORT. No more than 30 words total.

The thing to avoid here is a long period of silence. If I request a full, I pretty much expect to hear back promptly. That's because mostly I DO hear back promptly, not because it's critical to the submission process.

If I don't hear back within a week or so, my assumption is  my email went astray, and I email again.  In fact, this past year, I ended up emailing the writer who had REFERRED the querier because I hadn't heard back after several pings.

My colleagues are generally NOT going to do this. They're going to request and if they don't hear from you they're going to move on.  They'll remember you but they generally aren't going to track you down. I wrote a blog post that showed that a while back.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Query Question: chapters pubbed before querying

I read your blog every day, and I have also gone through posts in the archive. Still, I could not find the answer to a question that has been bugging me for a while.

Suppose I have a novel (draft version) and my chapters are stand alone.

Suppose I submit the first chapter, which is polished, to journals accepting unsolicited submissions for fiction. Of course, I would mention it is a novel excerpt.

Suppose it gets published. My question is: in the future, when I will be querying agents, having one chapter out there, published, will be seen as pro or con?

It's seen as a pro. This is called a "publishing credit."  It's a Good Thing indeed. And you don't need to mention it's part of a novel in your submission to lit journals.

The reason it's a good thing is that someone else has seen your work, and liked it.  That tells me that you can string sentences together nicely, or at least have been able to do so in the past. That's reassuring when you're reading queries.

And for all you crazed rodent-wheel running authors out there: NO you do not NEED publishing credits in a query. It's worse to list idiotic ones (I won honorable mention in the XYZ writing contest!) than to list nothing at all.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Question: Women are my audience, should I query only the lady agents?

Because agents must ‘fall in love’ with a book, in order to represent it to the fullest, this raises a question. How much does personal taste, (influenced by life experience), as opposed to commercial viability, (influenced by market), help an agent make a choice?

Because my memoir appeals more to women I am hesitant to query male agents. Certainly male bias on my part but I just don’t think men will get it. Which leaves me thinking, if men are not my readers, why waste my time querying male agents.

As readers we don’t have to actually experience an author’s travails in order to feel his/her pain and be moved by their strength and ordeal. Just because my mom never ate out of a dumpster does not mean I am not moved by Jeanette Walls. But repping and reading are two different things.

Authors and readers cross gender lines all the time, (your post 9/22), but would/could a male best rep a female nuanced memoir even though his life-experiences negate the emotional and physiological connection?

This does bring to mind male gynecologists and obstetricians. Even though they don’t have the equipment they certainly can do the job.

The only way you can find out if someone responds to your work is to query them.  If you're asking if you should only query women agents, you're asking the wrong question.

The right question is: if you have to choose between agents at an agency should you choose a female agent over a male agent.

Now, if you were in my sophomore year econ class you'd hear the dreaded phrase "all things being equal" which means the two agents in question have no variable OTHER than gender.

And I can assure you that is never ever ever the case. Agents vary by taste, success at picking commercial projects, success at picking award-winning projects, and number of writers consumed for breakfast annually.

So, what to do:
The first thing you do is make a list of ALL the agents who say they're looking for memoir.  You don't leave any of them off the list.

Then you pare down first by "what have they sold" and you remove the agents who are clearly not selling anything, or not selling memoir.

Then you have a list.

IF you have more than one agent at an agency, you check the guidelines to see if you can query all of them (but obviously not at the same time.)  If you can, then you just prioritize the list for who gets first crack at you. You can pick the women over the men here cause there's zero cost. If they say no, you can query down the list.

If it's one and done though (query one agent at the agency and that's it) then you must decide which agent is best suited for your work. The LAST thing you look at here is gender, in my opinion.  I can absolutely garuntee you that in a contest between who would do a better job with memoir the best indicator is what an agent has sold, not their gender.

Lots of gents have sold lots of books that appeal to mostly female readers. Don't limit your chances by assuming men won't get you.  Some of these guys are pretty smart. One of them used to work for me in fact until he wandered off and got Bent.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday caption contest

Here's a photo. Enter your best suggestion for a caption (ie 10 words or fewer) in the comments column below.  Prize to be determined!  Contest closes at 7am on Monday 9/29.

Questions?  Tweet to me @Janet_Reid (but I'm not going be able to answer till later this evening)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Query question: all that publicity and networking, do I really hafta?

I'm 65, have never published fiction, used to publish a fair amount of nonfiction but that was 20 years ago. Here's my question: can I hope to publish a novel I write just out of the blue without jumping through all the hoops of publicity and networking, etc. I know that no one would have heard of me, so why would anybody take a risk? But if it's good enough, is that enough?

Sure you can write a novel, no hoops involved.

And you can query an agent for that novel, and the agent can sell that novel, and you can do all that with no hoops involved either.

And you knew that was coming, right?

What you describe as "hoops of publicity and networking" is what the rest of us call "finding people who will want to read your book."

Is your goal just to write, or is your goal to have your books read by more than your critique group?

If you want to enter the business side of publishing, you will find a set of hoops delivered to your doorstep by your agent, along with a plan for how you will be jumping through them for quite some time.

And you know what? It's not all that miserable.  Talking to readers is really a lot of fun. I do it everyday here on the blog, and it's one of the things I like most about my job.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Query Question: I'm not the norm, is that ok?

I'm writing a memoir, but I'm writing it in the third person using a semi-omniscient narrator. Is that an absolute no-no or might it be acceptable if the writing and story is superior?(1)
Also, it is not chronological, but most of the chapters/segments could stand on their own -- some are like flash fiction (100 to 500 words) and some are like a short story. They are all intrinsically connected (a somewhat difficult task) and I think I've managed to put the thing together in a way that won't confuse anyone.(2) Is it ever possible to have a photo at the beginning of every chapter?(3)


Let's take your questions in order.  

(1) Writing a memoir in the third person is fairly unusual. Oddly enough, I have such a memoir on submission right now.  Writing in the third person creates a distance between subject and reader that often defeats the purpose of memoir: sharing the emotional journey of a life.

You might want to do some research here. Find memoirs written in the third person. Salman Rushdie JOE ANTON is one. I'm sure there are others. Read them, and try to assess whether they work. Were you enticed to keep reading? Did you feel connected to the story?

There's no hard and fast rule that memoir MUST be in first person but it's like writing a novel in second person: you've got to be really really deft to overcome that POV hurdle.

And ask yourself bluntly what you want to accomplish by writing in the third person. Unless there's a very specific reason to do so, first person is just going to make your life a whole lot easier.

(2) You're not the right person to assess whether this works. You're entirely too close to the project. This is where you need beta readers, and honest ones.  Have them read this. Ask "where did you lose interest?" to find out where the problems are.  You ask that rather than "did you like it?" cause no one will say no,and/or "what's wrong" because often people don't know what's wrong. They only know when they stopped being interested or started to skim.

Beta readers are NOT editors. Editors help you fix things. Readers tell you if you've got things that need fixing.

(3) Honestly, probably not. Printing photos in books adds ENORMOUSLY to the bottom line. You can put the photos on your website, keyed to the chapter numbers.  

If you publish electronically of course, this problem goes away, but you're limited to those e-readers that do pictures as well as texts.  This isn't an area I know a lot about, sorry.

I want to encourage you to think not about how you want to write your book, but how it will be experienced by your reader. You can do anything you want with your book if you don't care if anyone publishes it, buys it or reads it. Chapters that go vary from 100 words to 20 pages can be perceived as awkward and bumpy. Third person POV can make it hard to connect with the narrator. It's not whether you CAN do these things, sure you can, it's your book. The question is do you want to? Consider your reader as think about this.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Query Question: more on starting over

 I’m hoping you can help me with a dilemma. A little over a year ago, I queried a novel and received several offers of rep and came close with a few other agents. I accepted one of the offers and the agent has shopped my book around. We’ve come heartbreakingly close, but have had no offers on the book.

In the meantime, I wrote a second book, which my agent is not enthusiastic about (and that is a tale of woe best saved for another day). Because of this, we have parted ways amicably. As sad as I am to be agent-less, I feel savvier now and am excited about the possibilities. I know, from reading past posts on your blog, that since I am querying a brand new book, I don’t need to mention my previous representation in queries, but that it may come up should I receive an offer.

My question is a bit different. I would like to requery the 2 agents who did not offer on my first book, but came close. One of them said “if you ever find yourself without representation, I hope that you will think of me.” The other stopped short of saying that, but gave me extensive positive feedback and was extremely encouraging. Is it okay, in either case, for me to reply to their emails from over a year ago, or personalize a new email, letting them know that I have a new novel that I am seeking representation for, and then launch into my query pitch? Or should I start fresh with both? I don’t want to be unprofessional, but I also don’t want to miss out on any opportunities.

There's nothing unprofessional about a polite concise email that says "hey, it's your lucky day Snookums, I got rid of that lesser hack, and now I want you." "your email of Date said to be in touch if I found myself without an agent, and thus hello, here I am."

This happens with enough frequency that no one is surprised to get these kind of emails at all.  You'll mention the book they read is not the book you're querying for now; this new book has not been on submission.  

I hope you're not writing in a new or vastly different category cause that would have an impact on their willingness to read.  Example: if you queried me on a thriller, I'm not going to read a romance on the second time around.

As long as your emails are polite and concise you're fine.  Unprofessional is calling my office, or sending the manuscript without a request. You've proposed neither of those things, so I'm confident you're going to do just fine.

(It's the people who worry about being unprofessional who never are.  The other ones...well, they make good stories.)


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Question: spending money on a publicist

A friend of mine is about to sign their first ever book deal with a small press.  I am overjoyed for them and they are, quite obviously, over the moon.  Question/Problem I have is this: Their agent just suggested that they spend over $10K on a publicist to promote the book.  I suspect the advance on this deal will be well south of that amount and that expected sales will probably not generate enough sales to cover that cost.  I could be wrong and the publicist could be what pushes them up the bestseller lists.  I just worry.

So, thoughts? 

First you (and the author) need to understand that what pushes a book onto the bestseller list is not publicity, it's sales. Number of copies ordered, number of copies shipped, number of copies across the cash register in a given day/week/month. (Each list has a different measuring standard.)

You can have GREAT publicity but if people can't buy the book, it's all for naught.

So, the first question your pal needs to ask the publisher: who's going to sell my book? And by this I don't mean bookstores.  I mean who is going to introduce the book to the people who order stock for bookstores.  Is there a sales team at the publisher? Is there a sales staff at all?  Is it one of the (many) hats the publisher wears?

My guess is the latter since small publishers tend not to have sales departments.  

The next question to ask is how many books the publisher intends to print in the initial print run.  If the book is going to be print on demand, that means they're going to print the books to satisfy orders. No running inventory.  This is a perfectly acceptable business practice but it means that publicity is almost useless. 

If the publisher is going to print for inventory, ask how many.  Any number UNDER five thousand means the best seller lists are largely out of reach. The ones that are in reach are local stores best seller lists. If you do a signing, and sell 700 copies, you're going to be on that week's store best seller list.  But you're not going to be on PW's. Or the NYT's.

Publishers Weekly actually prints the number of copies sold in a given week of the 20 top selling books on each of their lists (hardcover, ppbk in both fiction and non-fiction)  If you don't subscribe to PW, your library sure does, and they'll let you read back issues. Take a look to see some real numbers.

Here's an example:

Instead of spending money on publicity, your friend should spend money on marketing advice. There are lots of good ways to market a book from a small press, and many of them can be done by the author.

If your friend is determined to hire a publicist, they should spend their money on consulting with one, not hiring a publicist to address envelopes and mail books to radio stations.  A good publicist can help you spit polish your web presences, shore up your social media, and give you ten ideas about effective ways to promote yourself to readers. 

Here at The Reef, we have a publicist on retainer who does that for all my clients. It's damn useful let me tell you. She doesn't do the work, she more of a stern taskmaster who reminds you that tweeting cute baby shark pictures is all well and good, but it's not actually accomplishing what we want our twitter feed to do.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Question: digital backlist

As a reader, is there anything I can do to advocate an author's backlist being made available digitally? There are several authors I love (such as Brian Jacques and Robin McKinley) who had some well-known books a decade or two before ebooks were a thing--and these books aren't available digitally. Who's best to talk to--authors, agents, editors, or publishers? Will my begging do any good?

The best person to talk to is the author. Generally the author controls any unexploited rights (which is what you're talking about.)  If you and many others clamor for an ebook, the author is the one who can show the demand to a publisher, or see there's a enough market to publish themselves.

Even if the author is sadly dead (as in the case of Brian Jacques) there's generally a way to get in touch via the webpage.

Fire off an email!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Query Question: crossing gender lines

I have written a YA fiction with a male protagonist/narrator. I don't intend to only write for boys forever but I have two teenage sons who I have homeschooled and it's been 18 years of working hard at taking a walk in young men's shoes, so it felt easy for me. When I research authors of teen boy fiction or when authors recommend teen boy fiction, it's primarily male writers. I do know my sons sort of side with the boy world quite unconsciously, but do agents/publishers also go along those lines. I want to use a pen name, anyhow. Should I consider an androgynous name since my first book is boy oriented? Or do you think I should begin querying without a pseudonym and bring it up if/when it goes that far? I've even wondered if I should specifically target male agents. I feel like getting boys to read, sometimes is harder than girls who read male writers pretty much as effortlessly as women's writers. I guess this is a strange question about gender.  

It's a confusing question about gender because it's all over the place.  First you're asking if readers think books with male protagonists/narrators have to be written by men. If you're seriously asking that question, you haven't read enough to query. Read enough in your category and read enough over all.  In other words I'm telling you that your reading alone should tell you that it doesn't matter if you're a man, a woman, a shark or a nincompoop: the story is what counts. Get your story right and we're off to the races.

And if you're asking if male agents have a preference for male writers, or writers they think are male, well, no, they don't. They have a preference for (all together now) Good Stories!

And if you're asking if it's a truism that getting boys to read is harder than getting girls to read, well, that's not something you as a writer have any control over whatsoever and thus you should not worry about.

What do you have control over? Your story.
Make it fabulous and everyone will want to read it.  Make the characters people we want to be, or hang out with, and you've got yourself a book.

I'm chastising you here because you've fallen into a trap that snares many writers at the start of their careers: you're worrying about things you can't control.  All that fear keeps you from thinking about writing.  Stop it.  When your mind starts whirring with these thoughts, say to yourself "Stop worrying about this."  You might need to say it out loud. (That will amuse your sons endlessly of course.)  And you might need something to think about INSTEAD of these worrisome thoughts.  Turn your mind to sitting down and writing.  Or scotch. I've found one or the other always works.

Now, quit worrying about this. Back to work.

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.