Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Query Question: when is a novella not a novella?

I have a question regarding submitting my work to literary agents. I write juvenile horror novellas for ages 8-14 (I like to think between Goosebumps & Twilight Zone) and what I'm finding is that several agents don't represent novella writers. Is this pretty standard or am I unfortunately finding only those that don't? 

You're confused about what you're writing. You're not writing novellas. You're writing chapter books. Novellas are shorter than novels, but that only applies to adult trade books.

You're writing for kids. That means you look for agents who say they are looking for MG (middle grade) or YA (young adult)

You describe your work as scary chapter books akin to R.L. Stine.

And I'm guessing you don't belong to SCBWI because you didn't know this.  Join. Learn. It's a resource you'll come to value a great deal.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Query Question: editor interest but no agent

I recently parted ways with my first agent (amicably, of course) and have had requests from editors at mid-size and larger houses to see my future work. I have a manuscript that has been polished and is ready for submission. Should I send to those editors while I'm querying, or should I wait to see if I can secure an agent before doing so?

Don't send your work to editors before securing an agent.  If you do so, you'll find getting an agent is MUCH harder because you've trampled all over the crime scene and contaminated the evidence. 

When an agent takes on a project, she puts her knowledge and expertise to work on your behalf. That might mean revisions to this "polished" manuscript and it certainly means a tailored submission list.  All you know are the editors who've said they'd like to see you work. What your agent will tell you is which editors SHOULD see your work.

Don't let your impatience get the better of you.  I posted about this recently but it bears repeating: I'm not keen on stepping in to a project after it's started, and once you've sent your book to a publisher, you've started.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Query Question: Absolute Write

I've been reading your blog for awhile now and have seen you speak highly of on multiple occasions.

I admit, I am biased in the opposite direction. Every time I see you tell writers to check out their writing forums, a little part of me dies inside.

Why do you like AbsoluteWrite so much?

Every time I have posted or read and replied to posts there, I have been bullied, belittled or ignored. I always leave their forums feeling like I need to crawl into a tight space and cry, or wanting to pick up my monitor and chuck it across the room.

I don't want to sound haughty, but I'm almost positive I am not the only person who feels this way. With a simple Google search of "bullying on AbsoluteWrite" a variety of results come up where people talk about their experiences.

Now I'm sure there are gems of people out there in the AbsoluteWrite community, but it seems like the majority like to tear new writers down in an attempt to make themselves feel better.

This leaves me wondering why someone I respect (you) and go to for answers, and who seems to really care about writers trying to pursue their dreams, would advocate a place that has such strong ties to bullying behavior.

I am not trying to be rude here, or trying to serve up a smack down. I am genuinely curious. Have you experienced otherwise on the forums? Did you not realize that such behavior was going on there? Or do you think writers need a strong backbone and if they can't handle AbsoluteWrite, then writing isn't for them?

On a side note, I haven't been to their forums in about a year now. I had an absolutely awful experience there around that time and swore them off completely. COMPLETELY (I am being extremely civil here in expressing the amount of mouth-foaming, eye-popping rage I have for that community). So, maybe the moderators have changed? And the community is much better now than it was? I hope that might be the case, but am doubting it.

For starters, that's never been my experience at AW, but it never would be. As an agent, people over there tread pretty lightly around me. The last time someone was dismissive of me, they were quickly chastised by other posters.

Which may illustrate your point. 

Yes AW is a free for all, but there are moderators and I've seen them step in and close down threads that were getting out of hand, and remove users for inappropriate posts.

And yes, groups of people tend to sort themselves into In/Out and woe betide the new writer who doesn't understand that dynamic is fully at work in any bulletin board community, let alone one as long standing as AW.

You didn't mention which forums you participated in.  I've only seen Ask The Agent and Bewares and Background Checks.  The people who get smacked down there tend to be the ones who come in full steam ahead without doing any research, and who tend to have opinions that don't match the majority.  And people who don't listen very well (or read other posts very well.)

AW is an incredible resource for information for writers.  Before AW there wasn't a place for writers to exchange information about response time, or experiences with agents, agencies or editors. I think that's a VERY good tool for a writer to have.

But I also think that AW, like all groups, has its own way of doing things, and that can be No Fun if you don't know what those unspoken rules are or if you fall afoul of them.

I don't want to get in to a big debate about AW here. Your experience there is yours.  I will tell you though that you can find blog posts around the web from writers talking about THIS blog and how mean, rude, and awful I am to people. Not every resource is suitable to every person.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

query question: more on the dreaded synopsis

When writing a synopsis and trying to distill 85K words into a meager 750, I feel like I have to leave out so much (subplots, minor characters) that it hardly feels representative of the same manuscript.

My question is, will an agent count as a strike against when reading a full that so much is missing? For example, 20% of my current manuscript is told from a particular character's POV. But there's just not enough room in the synopsis to even mention this character, so I've summed up that storyline as if from the main character's POV. Feels like cheating, or am I being paranoid? 

For starters you don't write a synopsis from any one's point of view. Synopsis are always in the objective third person. You list the main events of the book and the main characters and the main plot twists.

For example: In Gone With the Wind you obviously have three time periods: before the war, the War, after the war.

In the book there is a long section about how Gerald O'Hara came to America from Ireland and won the hand of Ellen Robillard.  This is in the before the war section of course.

As important as that is to the woop and warf of the book, you leave it out of the synopsis because GWTW is mainly the story of their first born daughter Katie Scarlett.

The movie version leaves out all of SueEllen's story with Will, the man who comes to Tara after the war.  You'd leave that out of the synopsis as well.

A synopsis isn't intended to be a miniature replica of the book as a whole.

Instead, it's more like the interior support of the building.  It's what holds the novel together
and gives it shape and form.

This is the synopsis:

This is the query:

This is the book:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Query Question: more on earning out

Last Friday's blog post half-answered a question I've long had. As the follow up....

Let us say this publisher gives me a $10K advance, and that I'll need to move 4,000 books to earn that back. ON AVERAGE, ABOUT how long would it take a book to sell 4,000 copies? I understand we're working with SWAG numbers here. But are we talking 6 months, or 6 years? 

Well, I don't know what SWAG numbers are (are they like imaginary numbers, cause that's what ended my math career?!) but what I do know is there's no answer to this.

It varies, seemingly indiscriminantly from one book to the next. Not even from one author, but book by book.

I do know this: generally books sell well their first year of publication. There are a lot of exceptions to this. I can think of ten off the top of my head right now.

Generally second books do not sell as well as first books. There are exceptions to this too. Lots.

I know Veronica Roth sold upwards of 19 million books last year.  I know Lee Child sold something like that too. (Those numbers are in the trades.)

I know that most books published by small presses have no hope of selling 3000 copies in any time frame at all because the publisher only printed 1000 copies and doesn't intend to print more.

Average THAT!

What you're trying to do here is linear analysis of a Jackson Pollock painting.

It can't be done. NOR SHOULD IT.

It shouldn't be done because you're setting yourself up to drive yourself crazy.

It's also insane to measure yourself against some phantom average because the ONLY book
that matters to you is YOURS.

The only thing you can reasonably plan on is EFFORT.  You can not plan on results. 

Do I know if I can sell a book?  No.
Do I know that I can pitch a book? Hell yes.
Do I know that if the first pitch doesn't get the results I want I can analyze my effort and change up? HELL YES.

Do I know how to find new places to pitch? Yes.
Do I pay attention to what has worked for other agents and steal their ideas relentlessly? You better believe it.

So, if you know you have to sell 4000 books, and you WANT to do it within a year, you make a list of the things you can do to make that happen. And then you do them.

What I know is that it might work, and it's surely more likely to succeed than doing nothing.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Query Question: I want you to love me only for my writing

I wasn't 100% honest in all my queries to this point. I usually go by Jim not J.D., really creative pen name right? I sign J.D. Because I am currently [doing something that draws public attention] and I didn't think it would be a good idea to put that [something] in my bio. I didn't want anyone to take me on just because of the built in fan base since I will be writing as J.D. not Jim. I didn't want anyone getting too excited about something I'm not going to even attempt to capitalize on. Also, [the activity could end very soon.] Basically I didn't want anyone taking me on based on who I am, but I do realize that it might be somewhat misleading if I don't at least mention it. What do you think - mention it in future queries, or just let it be? Thanks again.

I absolutely guarantee you that you should not mention anything like this. It's not a writing credit and it does not build platform.  Let's say, just for fun,  that you've qualified for the Miss America pageant.  Do you mention that in your query? No you do not. It has nothing to do with your writing, and come September 14, you very well might be Miss Congeniality or even the third runner-up, but chances are you will not be Miss America.  If you ARE, well, you'll be busy and you'll put your querying on hold.

A lot of things that are REALLY important to you as a person are not things you put in your query: your kids, your spouse, your dog, your cat***, your hobbies, your desire to be a writer, your hope that I will love your book, and that you are Miss Bumblebee, Arkansas and headed to Atlantic City.

***those go on your Facebook page!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Platform versus writing credits

I've heard this question asked before, and the answers are all over the map. I've read many of your query posts, but not all. If you've already addressed this, my apologies.

When querying, should you include mention of works published on websites--like for example if you been a long-time contributor at a certain site that highlights your work, and have a dedicated page there?

Do professionals in the agenting business really care about short stories, personal essays, articles published online? Do agents or their gatekeepers even click the links to check such work out, or are they just considered an encumbrance in the way of making a decision about the work the writer is seeking representation for? 

You're confusing platform with writing credits.

A writing credit is work that has been curated, edited or selected in some way.  Most work published on websites isn't curated. You submit a post, it's posted. That's GOOD for your platform, but it's not a writing credit.

The best example I can use is this blog: these posts are not writing credits. I hope the posts are well written, informative and useful, but there's no one looking over my shoulder saying "no, that post is awful, you can't use it."  This blog IS platform: it's an indication of how many readers would know my name if I published a book.

If you have a regular page on  blog, that's terrific, but you list it as platform.  If you have short stories published online you mention it as a credit if there was an editor saying yes/no in a submission process.

Generally I do not click links in a query letter.  I look at your query, and I look at your pages. I'm only concerned with the work you've sent me right then.  IF I like the concept and the writing is good, and I've requested a full, then I swim over to get a more complete picture of your body of work.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Query Question: submitting to small presses during "open window" whilst querying agents

You commented in one of your last posts that an agent would not want to take on a client that had already approached some publishers. Understandable.

In a previous post, I understood one of your comments to say that an agent would not be interested in working with a small press, as there's no real financial incentive.

I'm mid-querying process - a healthy number of rejections, a good deal of radio silence and
a gratifying handful of manuscript requests. While all this is going on - and I do understand (sort of) the leisurely pace of the process - some small presses open the window for direct author submissions for perhaps a month. After a month, they will close and not open til summer of next year. They respond at the end of a month.

So, there is a well regarded (for my genre and little universe) small press open for submissions now. Some colleagues encourage me to submit although I still have manuscripts out there in agent world - assuming that the whole process is so slow and there is no guarantee that any of these fine agents will pick me up, and that submitting to this small press or another could give me more more potential options.

May I have your thoughts? Also, what's the deal with agents and small presses?

There is no right or wrong answer on this because it's a question of strategy, and whether a strategy is right or wrong can only be measured when you've got results.

Things to consider: if you "win" the open submission process and you're offered a contract, do you have tools at hand to negotiate for yourself?  I've done a couple blog posts on this topic so I know there are some resources in the archives.

Next thing to consider: if you "lose" the open submission process, are you willing to close off a potential publisher once you have an agent (if you get one of course.)  If a publisher has seen, and passed, on your work, they're not willing to look at it again from an agent (most likely.)

This is the kind of one hand or the other that can paralyze you with indecision, I know. Me, I'm a risk taker (no surprise, given my profession.)  I'd rather go for something than not.

Thus, if this were my decision, I'd submit my work to the publisher, but then I'd make SURE I was prepped for that next step.  And I'd keep querying.

As for "what's the deal with agents and small presses?" I'll leave it at this: working with small presses can be great, but inevitably it's more work for less money. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Question: my friend wants me to be his agent

Hello - I came across your blog recently, and have found it a very interesting insight into the world of literary agent-ness. I was hoping you could help me answer a question. A friend of mine has asked me to serve as his agent in getting his first book published. I have zero experience, but I am trained as a lawyer, so I figured that I could handle the legal side of things, at least. I also truly love my friend's writing style, and would love to see him get exposed to a wider audience. My question for you is: is this completely crazy, or is it possible for me to get my friend's book published on my own? I'd love to do it if I can, but I don't want to hurt my friend's chances. Any advice would be super appreciated. Thanks! 

Here are the questions you need to ask yourself:

1. How many editors do you know well enough to have their direct phone line AND have them pick up the phone when you call?

2. How many books have you read in your friend's category so that you know what's current, what's not, and what an editor will consider fresh and new?

3. Do you know what the standard splits are on sub-rights in a publishing contract? Do you know what to actually ask for instead?

4. Do you know what rights are normally reserved to the author in a publishing contract?

5. Do you know what a first proceeds clause is and why it's important?

6. Do you know what a royalty audit clause is and have boiler plate wording for it to insert when the publisher doesn't?

7. Do you know what a production editor does and why it's important to know that?

8. Do you know what countries to exclude from a contract that includes a non-exclusive license for the open market?

9. Have you ever seen a royalty statement, and if so, do you know how to read one and explain it to your client?

10.  Do you know what should always be excluded from the warranties and indemnities clause of a contract?

An effective agent has a complex set of skills and knowledge that go far beyond Contracts 101 in law school.

An effective agent knows the people to call, and the people s/he's calling know her. Or have heard of her. Or her agency.

An effective agent has boilerplate language for contract clauses that the publisher doesn't include in the initial draft, and knows that you're supposed to do that.

An effective agent knows the importance of the production department and what their deadlines are.

An effective agent knows how to read a royalty statement, knows who to call when the statement needs explaining, and can then in turn explain it to a client.

An effective agent is someone who has experience doing all these things, and most important has a network of colleagues to call on when a situation arises that she doesn't know about.

If your friend wants a brand new agent, well, you're probably no worse than some of the other beginners I've seen.  But if your friend wants an EFFECTIVE agent, well, he might want to query people who've done more than just read his book.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Have a lovely Sunday!

For philosophical anarchists like Joyce, rejecting authority meant rejecting the entire conceptual category to which "authority" belonged: abstractions and foundational assumptions.  Anarchists believed that states and churches rested upon phantom concepts (like legitimacy or moral obligation) masquerading as fundamental truths when they were really just inventions helping tyrants wield power. 

The philosophical core of anarchism was thus a skepticism of the ostensibly self-evident concepts that held sway over people.  It was the conviction that big ideas could enslave, whether they be duty, rights or God; your home, your fatherland or your church.

Anarchism emerged as a response to the rapid growth of the modern state, and, more particularly, to the growth of one of the nineteenth century's biggest ideas: the police. 

When the British Parliament created the Metropolitan Police in 1829, it invented a form of state power that was diffused throughout the city.  Ten years later, Parliament empowered the police to arrest loiterers, "riotous" drunkards and anyone committing  misdemeanor whose name and residence couldn't be verified.  The act banned cockfighting and shooting firearms within three hundred yards of homes.  It banned driving "furiously," wantonly ringing doorbells and flying annoying kites. 

It banned the sale and distribution of "profane, indecent, or obscene" books, and the laws would only get stronger over time. 

By 1878, the British government had passed more than one hundred laws expanding police powers, and Britain set the example for police expansion all around the world.

For people suspicious of authority, the multiplying laws were self-perpetuating: more ordinances created more criminals and, thus, the need for more police officers and an ever-exploding government.  The professionalize of law enforcement made patrolmen seem like foot soldiers in an increasingly centralized apparatus staffed with detectives, jailers and bureaucrats who thought of state power as job security. 

To artists like Joyce, who considered free expression sacrosanct, censorship epitomized the tyranny of state power, for the state not only banned obscenity, it decided what obscenity was. Unlike firearms or kites, the violation was arbitrary--the law hemmed the government in with limits of the government's choosing -- and that fact censors acted as if indecency were self-evident only made the arbitrariness more blatant.  To publish a gratuitously obscene text -- to deny "obscenity" as a legitimate category altogether -- was  away to expose and reject the arbitrary basis of all state power.  It was a form of literary anarchy.

The MOST DANGEROUS BOOK: The Battle for James Joyce Ulysses
 Kevin Birmingham
 (The Penguin Press: 2014)
 p 50-51

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Question: Agent commissions on self-pubbed, previously subbed work

My question is this:

Actual scenario:

Writer: I have a backlist of titles I'd like to self-publish.
Agent: That's a great idea! And we'll revise your contract to exclude self-published works from my commission structure. It's only fair, since I never worked on those books.
Writer: Yay!

Agent: Remember that book we worked on together, the one I loved so much and submitted to 10000 publishers? No one's biting. I'm afraid we have to take it off submission now.
{{Writer sobs}}

Still later:
Writer: Hey, maybe I can self-publish that one too...

Ah, but what happens next?

Possible scenario 1:
Agent: You self-published that? The one I worked several hundred hours on?
Writer: Well, it sucks to be you. Agents are working on spec, so if you don't make the sale, you don't get any of the cash.
God Almighty: Um, Writer, have you never heard of theft of services...? Don't answer that. I know you have.

Possible Scenario 2:
Writer: Here, a freelance editor would have gotten $$$ for all the work you did, so take this check.
Agent: Oh boy!
People Who Oversee Agent Ethics: Bad agent! Bad! No cookie! whisky for you!

Possible Scenario 3:
Writer, thirty-five years later: Well, I earned another five bucks this month from Amazon. I guess it's time to write my agent a check for eighty-six cents.***

My Question then is this:
Writer doesn't like any of these scenarios. What does the Shark say? #2 seems like the best option, except Writer isn't sure if it's an ethics violation for an agent to accept payment for services rendered to a client.

Well, it's not theft of services because the service the agent offers is selling your manuscript. She didn't. Thus no theft. God is very clear on this.

It's entirely ok with the AAR if you compensate your agent for sales of a book. Whether you write the check, or Random House writes the check, it matters not a whit.

This is something you want to discuss with your agent BEFORE the situation arises.  You'll say "Hey, if this book doesn't sell because every editor in NYC has lost his/her mind, followed soon thereafter by all editors in the known universe, and I self-publish this, how do we work your commission?"

And you'll find out what the agent wants to do. It's then up to you to agree. If you don't agree, negotiate.


Scenario #4
Agent: Remember that book we worked on together, the one I loved so much and submitted to 10000 publishers? No one's biting. I'm afraid we have to take it off submission now.
{{Writer sobs}}

Still later:
Writer: Hey, maybe I can self-publish that one too...

Still later:
Writer: Hey, I sold 5000 copies of that book that all those stupid editors said wouldn't fly, and that you and I really believed in.  Here's a check for x% of my earnings.  Rock on!

Agent: Yay! Booze fund money!

A lot of agents are doing this these days.

I'm not.

I've been accused by dear friends and colleagues of being "too pure" which cracks me up to no end, but my position is this: I signed on to sell your book. If I don't do that, you don't pay me.  If you elect to self-publish, you assume the risk, and you get the reward.

This is something to work out ahead of time though. The last thing you want is a disagreement about who owes who what when there's actual money on the table.  Actual money at stake brings out the knives faster than you can say "fillet of shark."

*** Agent commissions are generally 10% on subrights, and 15% on domestic sales. Thus the commission is either .50 or .75 .  If someone wants you to pay 17.2% on a book you self-pubbed you might want to shop around.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Query Question: yes, this is why you pay attention in math class

I believe you have said** that $10K is common for an advance. Approximately how many books have to sell to earn out the advance?

It depends on what your royalty rate is. Royalty rates are negotiable so you'll need to know what your contract says before you can make these calculations. In other words, you won't know till you've got a deal in hand.

Let's use easy numbers to demonstrate.

You are offered an advance against royalties of $10,000.

You are offered royalties of 10% of jacket price for the first 10,000 books sold.

Assume your book will be published in hardcover at a book jacket price of $25.00

You will earn 10% of $25 for every book sold.  That's $2.50
You'll need to sell 4000 books to earn out.

You won't be surprised to learn there are at least a dozen royalty rates in a standard publishing contract.  Often there are many more.

One of the many things that have changed in publishing in the last twenty years are the proliferation of ways to sell books, each with its own formula and rate.

Your agent should be able to explain ALL royalty rates to you in ways you can understand. And s/he should be able to do the math for them too.  If that's not the case, you need a new agent because auditing royalty statements is one of the biggest values an agent brings to the table.

**Well, I didn't say that but that doesn't matter for the question to be useful.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

QueryQuestion: Have we met before?

An agent recently tweeted that she wanted people to mention in their query letter if they had submitted past projects to her. Now, if someone had requested a full from me before I could see the benefit to this, but what about someone who declined to request material or didn't even respond? Should we remind even the rejections that they've seen our names before?

I'm going to take a wild guess here and mean "submitted past projects" means submitted full manuscripts, not queries.

I'm not sure why anyone wants to know this, but if she does, she does. On the other hand if it's not in her submission guidelines, how the hell is anyone to know unless they happen to see that particular tweet?

And truly, honest to god, this is just one more way to make writers crazy.  I'm of a mind that making it as easy and straightforward to query the better. Time enough to make your clients crazy when you need a synopsis for a film deal in 30 minutes.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Going to conferences with pals

"And going WITH writing friends is a great way to get more than your money's worth from the conference."

This line from your Wed. July 16th blog post has been gnawing at me ever since.

There's this writing conference I'd like to go to in September and a few others from the online writing group I'm part of are also considering it.

We're all in agreement that it's meant to be a good conference and it would be great fun to finally meet some of the online crew face to face.

But, that there might be a further benefit of turning up in a group, en masse, hadn't remotely occurred to any of us.

Anyway, even though I've been thinking it over, probably too much, I'm still wondering what exactly you meant...

Going to conferences with friends means you have someone to eat lunch with just for starters. There's a lot to be said for that since we all know what it's like to be in a room full of people and know NO ONE at all.

There are other benefits as well. You can divide and conquer the workshops more easily. Each person in the the group attends a workshop, and you trade notes and tips and insights.

Everyone compares notes on the agents you meet. Was Agent Amazing really all that amazing?  Was Agent Bilious really as sickening as she sounded?

If you have a bad experience and others do too, you know it's not you.  That's HUGELY valuable at a writing conference because talking about writing is very subjective.

Even if you go with pals, I strongly encourage you to reach out to new people while you are there. Boldly introduce yourself to the writer sitting next to you at a workshop. S/he'll be just as shy as you are, and glad to meet you. Need a starting point for the conversation? Ask about her book!

One of the great things about being an agent at a conference is you can walk up to total strangers who are clearly alone and shy, introduce yourself and be fairly confident they want to talk to you.  I've met some very nice people doing that.  You will too.

Have fun!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Beyond the Form Rejection: jumping the gun

From the incoming queries today:

I am writing to ask if you are interested in representing me. I have written a business book entitled X

I have started submitting it to publishers that I am in discussion with. I would be glad to send you some sample chapters if you are interested to see more.

My reply: form rejection.

Beyond the form rejection however is this:

I'm not keen on stepping in to a project after it's started, and once you've sent your book to a publisher, you've started.

Here are the steps that were bypassed:

1. Polishing the proposal.  Even if you think your proposal is perfect, a second set of eyes can pick up many things you miss. And, let's be honest, most proposals aren't perfect. They're not even close.  I can give you ten names right now of queriers and clients who are in the throes of learning that.  We're polishing their proposals and for some of them, the process can take months.

2. Tailoring a submission list to editor's tastes, and publisher's strengths.  A writer can't do this on his/her own.  Not all business book publishers are equal and the editors who work there are looking for different things.

3. Sending to all the publishers who might be interested at the same time.  If you only query the publishers you know, you're missing out on a lot of good companies.  My job is know all of them.  If I come in half way through the submission process it's MUCH harder to get the proposal in the hands of all the right editors with enough time for them to consider it carefully.

Even if this had been a book on a topic I was red hot to represent, knowing the author had jumped the gun would but a serious hitch in my gallop toward offering representation.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Query Question: Should I give up before I start?

When does sticking with a project, and believing in its significance, become futile?(you haven't even started yet!)

The structure of my memoir has, as far as I can research, no comp.

Years ago,  Jonathan Livingston Seagull opened up the publishing world to small books with substance. Harry Potter’s length and actual size defied publishing’s idea of what children would accept as readable. Their actual structure confronted the norm, which could have stifled publication, (tragic), if someone hadn’t taken a risk. Do publishers take risks anymore? (all the time, and they have the balance sheets to prove it)

The substance of what I have written engages, entertains and enlightens, (my opinion which I know means little at this point), but the way I have structured the story/stories opens up a new way of presenting memoir. Do I search for an agent with a couple of big ones, a publisher with vision, go it alone or give it up?

I am within days of beginning the query process and will stick with my belief that ‘different’ isn’t necessarily a dirty word. I just want to know if I should pad my head before I start banging it against the wall.

This is the kind of question that makes me beat my head against the wall.  The problem is you only see the books that worked, not the books that didn't.  For every Jonathan Livingston Seagull there are THOUSANDS  of little books that didn't work.  That book wasn't acquired in the usual agent/editor etc process either but most people now don't remember that.

Harry Potter is seen as a landmark book because it WORKED, not because of anything else. You check any publisher's catalog the year that book launched (here or in the UK) and you'll see a lot of titles that you've never heard of. In other words, books that didn't sell.

Both of these books are examples of anomalies in publishing. The experience is NOT replicable by anyone else.  Every year or so there's one of these. 50 Shades of Gray was a recent example.  Bridges of Madison County another.  DaVinci Code another.

These books don't prove anything except that publishing has weird aberrations every few years, and some of them are more permanent than other.

When I hear someone say they've done something crazy with the structure of their book, I'll tell you honestly, I'm very leery.  Most often what I find is someone who has been unwilling to revise, or edit to make the story work in a more usual fashion.  It's akin to someone telling me the book is in 27 points of view cause they REALLY needed all of them.

But if you think this structure works, why would you not query? What's the worst thing that can happen?  Form rejection or silence.  I can tell you right now those things won't kill you. If they could, Brooklyn would be a whole lot less populated. 

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Question: oops, wrong version of full, what now?

I sent out my queries a couple days ago and I was asked for a full manuscript from one of the agents pretty quickly. I was kind of in shock that someone asked so fast, so I just opened my email and sent it over without a second thought. A little later I realized I sent him an older version of the manuscript. It's the full thing, but it had a bunch of obvious typos and some minor formatting issues (chapter numbers weren't reassigned after I deleted one). Should I even bother following up or just chalk it up as a missed opportunity?

Tsk tsk tsk. (Like I haven't done this before, oh yes indeed I have)

This is why I have a folder for EACH client manuscript that says "old versions" and the old version of the manuscript goes to live there when the new one comes in. (Don't throw away your old versions!) That way, no matter what the title, date, datestamp when I reach into my files to attach, I know I get the most current version cause I DON'T reach into "old versions."

Yea, well, I didn't learn that the first day on the job. Or even the first year.

Stuff happens.

I see this ALL the time. Here's how to handle it.

You IMMEDIATELY email a corrected version. You say "oops, I sent an outdated version of the manuscript you requested on N/N/2014"

You don't spend a lot of time bloviating about how sorry you are or how busy I am.  We both know you're busy and I'm sorry too, and stuff happens.

Then you forget about it, except only after you've created a file for outdated versions.  If you do it once, you get a mulligan.  Twice and I'm not quite so forgiving (don't ask me how many times I did this before figuring out the solution.)

Friday, August 01, 2014

Query Question: Dumped

After a short query process, I was fortunate to sign with a new, young agent at an established literary agency. She and I worked out an explicit revision outline and timetable. I did my best to incorporate her suggestions; I turned in said revisions on deadline. I did three rewrites this way over the course of about a year. She was always effusive with praise and enthusiastic about my project. However, after reading the third revision (that I honestly thought was “the one”) she emailed me to say that her editorial vision was not guiding me effectively. She wished me well in finding a new agent for my next project and apologized for this “false start.” I was blindsided; I asked if she’d reconsider. She wished me good luck and godspeed.

So my question is threefold: Is my current project washed up? (It never went on submission.) If not, should I mention that I was previously represented in my queries to other agents? Do I have to wait to query until our contract is void (sixty days after written termination of the contract)?

Zoinks! Talk about blind-sided, dumb-founded, and caught flat footed.  That sounds like a pretty wretched day for you.  Ok...week.

This is very bizarre behaviour on the part of the agent. Normally, (and I've had to do this) when a project isn't working, the client or potential client knows it cause we've had several back and forths,
and it's gone on for a good long while. When "that call" comes, the most frequent reply from writers? "Yea, I saw this coming."

So if you DIDN'T see it coming, my guess is that it's not about the work.  Two things to look at:

The only way I can see this happening in my office is if the client was giving off the beeping sound of impending doom.  Were you too clingy? Did you call at weird times? Did you harass the agent about reply time (that more than anything else will sever a relationship with me)  Did you get snotty with the office staff (that's a firing offense here)

So, was there anything else in play? I'm not asking you to fess up in the comments column or even in an email to me. Just look over your email communications and see if you had started giving off a crazy vibe.  It's hard to recognize your own crazy, but give it a shot.

Be honest with yourself here.  If this is what happened, you need to be recognize it and resolve to NOT DO IT again.

If you can't see anything amiss, well, this agent might be one of those that just went bonkers; I've seen it happen a lot recently and it's hell on all concerned.

But regardless of why, now you have to deal with the situation at hand.

In her termination letter to you (you have one, right? if not GET ONE) she'll say whether the 60 day period is being waived. If not, you should wait.

And you never have to mention this to anyone, ever again. And I suggest you don't.  Your ms didn't go on submission, you have no ties to the agency that repped you, it's like an annulment not a divorce.

This is brutal, no matter the reason it happened. Give yourself some time to be angry, and vengeful and all those wonderful writing prompts before starting back on the query trail.  The LAST thing you want is hot words of vengeance pouring out of your mouth when your next agent calls to discuss your work.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Query Question: niche, very niche appeal

I've written a whole series of novels (I'm on the seventh and final one). I know you're not supposed to complete a series unless you can sell the first one, but I quite literally couldn't help myself. The world drew me in.

I just started querying agents on Book One, after going through it with critique groups and beta readers. It's not a shelf's far from perfect, but I think it's good, and I don't think I'll change my mind about that with time. My problem, besides my inexperience querying agents, is that it's not a broad-audience series. They're decidedly weird books, hard to pigeonhole into an exact genre. I mean, imagine if Hunter S. Thompson came back to life, huffed a bunch of ether and said, "I'm going to write a young adult fantasy novel!" (Except maybe the ether impaired his glorious writing abilities a little. And to be clear here, I don't huff ether).

If I continue having no luck with agents (only queried about 15 so far), would it hurt me so badly to self-publish this series and try to market to my narrow audience? My future books might be more marketable: I'm having very good luck getting my little narrative nonfiction anecdotes published, and wanted to compile them at some point into a memoir. My idea for my next fiction novel seems more mainstream, too.

You think there aren't small publishers out there who appeal to very niche audiences? You haven't done enough research my friend.

Of course, some small publishers are complete and utter disasters, whereas others are chugging along  producing beautiful books.  Your job is to find out who they are and which side of the line they live on.  You can do this instead of writing and it still counts as work! Wheee!

A small publisher can be a whole lot better than going it alone. For starters, you have comrades in arms (other writers on the publisher's list) and that will help you when you need to learn how this
publishing game works. And you have people to ask if it's just you or if everyone's royalty statement is late.  Or a bunch of people to contribute toward the PW ad that features all your titles. 

Small presses are a great place to find the niche audience you think will be yours. 

And having niche work is no barrier when you have wider appeal books in the future.  Everyone in publishing understands that there's a limited audience for dinosaur erotica....or was.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Query Question: Plan B

My first book is self published. The publisher I used call themselves a subsidy publisher. They have an acquisitions department, are very selective about the books they choose, and accept submissions without an agent. I had read about the near impossibility of getting noticed by an agent and published by a traditional publisher in multiple articles and blogs. So their claims to be an innovative publisher changing the publishing market were intriguing. While I was deciding the best career path to follow, I sent my manuscript to them. They loved it, and gave me the hard sell to publish with them. It seemed too easy, so I asked a lot of questions. Because they are one of the largest publishing companies, they assured me they could give me more options and exposure than a traditional publisher. Of course, they couldn't predict sales or give statistics, but I understood there's no crystal ball in this business. Since then I have realized, marketing my book was completely my responsibility, noone gets rejected by this publisher, and everyone in the industry considers my book self published.

I've sold close to 900 books from personal book sales, book club discussions, and in the marketplace. That's small scale, but not bad for self publishing. Just not big enough to get attention from anyone in the traditional publishing world. From your blog it seems self publishing is a negative mark against me for future traditional publishing? It's impossible to know if agents are passing because they aren't interested in my second novel or because of my previous publishing faux pas. I just don't want to waste my time. If the vast majority of agents will pass on me, even if they really love my next novel, should I even send query letters to agents? Should I just self publish on my own, use the platform I've already started to build and sidestep all the rejection?

You don't have to mention your previous run in with the brutal reality of a company earning money by selling snake oil to writers. You query as you normally would. You simply don't say "this is my first novel."

Agents are passing because they aren't enticed by your novel.  You must have missed the day when I mentioned that agents are mostly rapacious sharks who will eat their siblings to get ahead in this world, and if we think a book will help us make money we are going to pounce on it like it was a seal in a salty sea.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Question: follow up time frame on full requests

I am wondering how long is appropriate to follow up on a full request. I saw one of your posts that said to absolutely follow up, but you did not specify the appropriate amount of time. I'm hearing 8 weeks, 12 weeks, six months.

Also, when following up with said agent, should I mention that the MS has been requested by other agents in the interim? I have not received offers, but requests. 

The industry standard here is ironclad:
1. Follow up in the time frame suggested by the agent's website or submission guidelines.

2. If there are no guidelines, you follow up in 30 days on a query, and 90 days on a full.  NO sooner.

I actually have a list of what to do if I don't respond to your query in 30 days.  It's here at Query Letter Diagnostics.  You can apply that to most other agents as well since most of us do these same things.

As to the second part of your question, no you don't mention how many requests you have. You DO mention if you get an offer.  In fact, if you get an offer you email everyone who requested a full and tell them. You also mention your time frame: you have a week to reply to the offer; you have ten days to reply to the offer; you have 7 minutes to reply, get out your rocket propelled eyeballs for a quick skim.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Dodged a bullet!

Last Saturday July 26, 2014 was the 16th Chum Bucket of 2014.

It's been running since July of 2012. In that time span I've received ONE reply that was slightly snotty.

Then Saturday, I got this:

"Why don't you read the inside of my butt, you smartass little cunt."

Now, you might think this would get me all ruffled and righteously angry.
You'd be wrong.

My first, last and only thought is "whew! Dodged a bullet on this one!'

Part of the query process is sorting out the folks you want to work with from the sort you don't.  Guess where this querier falls? And so nice to know so early in the process.

Can you imagine the querier's response to an editorial rejection? To a "review" on GoodReads? An Amazon one-star review?

Whew indeed!

I really do have to laugh because along with that email I got about eight others that thanked me, either just very politely and simply or much more effusively.  I know this guy is an amusing anomaly in a long run of otherwise amazing interactions.

I will say this though: this is the kind of response that burns bridges forever.  There's absolutely no coming back from this no matter how sincere any kind of follow up might be. 

Queriers are in a tough position. There's absolute no doubt about that. But, you can make it worse, and flying off the handle is one very good way to do it.  Flying off the handle with insulting, invective filled language is a better, faster way. Flying off the handle with insulting, invective filled language when you know you agreed NOT to is the very best, fastest, most thorough way. Please don't find out for yourself.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Happy Sunday!

I thought this list of words that have a different meaning if you're a writer on BuzzFeed was pretty funny.

Which one is your favorite?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Query Question: Should an introvert try for a writing career?

Greetings oh cartilage-finned QOTKU,

I happen to know a young lady who is immensely talented at writing. However, she is also VERY introverted. And by introverted, I mean that she has a minor disability (which is possibly worse to her mind than it really is, but still) which makes it unusually stressful for her to meet new people, speak in public, and sometimes even travel. I can relate to her on a smaller scale – at least I no longer vomit in anticipation of social gatherings; age and the necessity of holding an actual job go a long way toward lessening that kind of thing. Plus, you just learn to fake it. However, it’s one thing to overcome a bad case of shyness and another thing to have a real problem that is sometimes recognized and understood by the general public, and sometimes not.

This woman asked my advice on whether or not she’s wise under these conditions pursue a career at writing. On the one hand I wanted to say HOLY COW, YES (she’s so talented!). On the other hand I wanted to say, DO YOU LIKE GIN? Seriously though, here’s the thing: I’ve been told that promoting your work – regardless of genre – is of vital import. I know that many (most?) writers are introverts, and I imagine that giving readings/doing book signings/ attending release parties is probably difficult for a lot of us. But for my friend, this is the stuff of nightmares.

I know that if anyone can be trusted to deliver the straight poop on this (or any) subject, it’s you. What is your advice to someone who would have a hard time with the social aspect of the writing biz?

Pursue a career in writing? Please, hold my tiara while I gasp for air. I'd sooner advise her to pursue a career in taxi-dancing.

"A career" implies that this is how she will earn her daily bread. That's not something most writers can do. Most writers need a full time day job and a spouse to make ends meet.


If you were to ask me if this woman, lovely and talented as she is, should write with the goal of being published, I give that my rousing support.

Writing is how many people express themselves creatively, how they learn to think clearly and communicate well.  It's one of the most satisfying things in the world to know you've said something with pith and vinegar.

To connect with readers, to have readers write to say they find value, or solace, or entertainment in your words, well...I've never done heroin but I'm thinking that feeling of euphoria might come close.

Of course she should write.  All that other stuff is just an excuse not to sit down, stare at the wall, and commence with "it was a dark and stormy night."

And if her writing requires her to have a public presence, well, we'll solve that problem when we get there.  You won't achieve anything in this life if the only thing you can see are reasons you shouldn't try something.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Query: Golden oldies...not so much

In trying to figure out which of my book elements are appropriate for a query, I'm stumbling on how to say "it takes place in the 1970s."  Much easier to say "contemporary" or "historical" romance, but online research is showing different definitions for these (i.e., different time periods as cut-offs). Someone even coined a new word: "retro." Point is, I'm finding few periods for either era that include the 1960s through 1980s. How do you recommend handling this?

oh boy, this is a really tough question.  Since agents come in all ages, you want to be VERY careful about calling something set in the 70's (when they were in high school, or college, or working their first job in publishing!) historical!

I've often heard agents of a certain age grouse that nothing after their birth year better be "historical."

But there's no way to know just exactly how old Barbara Poelle IS (sharks live for years and years) or how young Brooks Sherman isn't.

There was a recent quiz on Buzzfeed to guess one's age, and my result was off by so much it was ludicrous.

So, no "historical."
Retro isn't a word you want to use either since it refers to style, not time frame.

I think you want to be very very plain: my novel is set in the 70's. And you might want to mention why it is as well, given that's always one of the things I wonder about.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Question: The currency of queries

I was recently lurking around Twitter when I saw your retweet about your home skillet Brooks Sherman here: Pens for Paws

I had every intention of placing a last-minute 9:59pm bid and winning the whole shebang.
At the last second, I couldn’t click “publish,” and here’s the question that stopped me: am I ruining my chances with an agent by paying (even for a good cause) for them to critique my work? What if he’s my “dream agent,” but hates my first chapter + query after I pay to have him critique both?

The bloated final bid belched in at a staggering $324. Would an agent secretly frown upon the person who paid this amount of money for a query + one-chapter critique should the same person query them later? Or am I taking a really positive, fun, amazing auction and being crazy over-thinking it? Thanks for your time.

Of course you're over thinking this. You're a writer. I've seen writers parse out the hidden meaning of replies to a query received after midnight versus before midnight.  

However, since telling you not to worry is pretty much a non-starter, how about I tell you why you don't have to worry.

For starters, if I like your work I don't care how I find it: query letter stolen from slithery Barbara Poelle under the guise of tidying her desk, Chum Bucket, written missive sent to my office (sans glitter and any other cutsie items), a short story published in a magazine, a drunken brawl at ThrillerFest, or a contest.

If I like your work, I want to read it.

If I don't like your work, it doesn't matter how it found its way to me, I still don't like it.

In other words: the medium is not the message here, all due respect to Marshall McLuhan

And if I'm your dream agent (and you know I hate that very idea right??) I won't even know about it till much later if ever.

And if you think $325 is a lot to pay for a critique, boy have I got a rude surprise for you.  I know several agents who commanded four figures on a ms critique, and of course promptly gave four crits instead of one so as to raise more money for the cause.

I'm actually rather fond of the people who fork over money for my amazingly cogent and pithy opinions.  They're supporting a cause I care about and flattering my already quite robust ego. Win/Win.

So, don't work yourself into a frenzy here. Don't spend money you don't have thinking it's a good way to get special attention; it's not. But also don't think you've closed off an avenue by bidding for a crit
instead of just straight querying.

Gnaw yourself into a frenzy about the rhythm of your sentences, and whether writing in the second person is really a good idea.  You know you can.

PS Yea, I had to look up home skillet. I'm not as with it as I like to think I am.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Query: research by living

I am preparing to query my novel and have a quick question for you about author bios.

A few agents go so far as to ask queriers to justify why they are qualified to write their novel. You've already answered this question in another post (in short, I'm qualified to write it because it's my novel!). I was both relieved and amused by your response and your usual down to earth common sense.

But even if agents are simply asking for a basic author bio, I wonder about what is helpful to include. In my case, the MC of my novel is a teenage girl who has been abandoned by her parents to live in a home for at-risk youth.

When I was thirteen I lived in a girls' shelter. While I did not experience the same degree of abuse and peril my MC is faced with, I certainly did glean a pretty personal understanding of what life in an institution is like for a teenager.

Because my book is set in this milieu, is it relevant to mention my own history (briefly and succinctly of course) in my bio? Is this information worth including? Would it mean anything to an agent?

It's certainly not out of place to mention you have some experience in the world your protagonist inhabits.  For some agents that's a valuable thing. Me, I don't care. Make it all up, but just get the details right.

You've hit exactly the right spot knowing you need to be brief and succinct.  What irks me is when someone starts their query with what they think is relevant info and go on and on and on.

You've got 250 words to entice me to read the story.  Get that part done first. If you've got words to spare, mention your experiences that influenced the writing of the book. More than having lived in a girls home, I'm interested in what drew you to tell this story.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

question: how important is a querier's social media to an agent?

My question is: I am working on completing my first MS (YA fiction). I currently don't have a presence on social media. Should I start socializing electronically in anticipation of building a platform? How important is a social media presence to an agent when deciding whether to represent a new author?
You don't need platform for a novel.

Sure, it's nice if you have 10,000 friends and people are hanging on your every word, but generally that's going to happen AFTER you write Divergent, not before.

And the idea that you're "busy" on Facebook and Twitter when you're not writing is a terrible trap.  It's a trap beause you need, nay REQUIRE, fallow time. By fallow time I mean time when you're not doing anything.  Not tweeting, not reading, not driving the kids to school. Time when you're staring into space.

Sometimes this manifests as writers block and sometimes it manifests as "oh my god I can't get started" but what ever it is, you need it.  Your brain works in strange ways when it's working on writing a novel.  Not all writing is tapping the keyboard.  A lot of it is thinking. A lot of it is just dreaming.

It's one of the reasons I always advise buying a museum membership when you take up novel writing. Walking through the galleries, just looking, not thinking, not analyzing, just looking and seeing, juices up your creative spark.

So lay off the social media for now. Learn to be the very best writer you can. Once you start querying, it's time enough to make friends.