Monday, April 27, 2015

Query question: my novel isn't a ripoff, I swear

I've just had a terrible shock.  I have been taking my time meandering through all your author's websites.  There is so much to read on the blog AND also to keep up with the daily writing you do, fun commenters, other blogs, my own work and then, of course my full time gig, mothering/homeschooling.

I just read this in the works of Phillip DePoy: "2013 December's Thorn... Fever's wife? The mythology of Tristan and Isolde combines with Fever's dim past". And this: "To his family home in Blue Mountain, a small town in Georgia's Appalachian Mountains."

I know my story and this one cannot be the same at all from the little blurb I have read. My ms was written last summer before I had even heard of your blog. My point is, my story takes place in Appalachia in the Georgia Mountains and the mythology of Tristan and Isolde combine with my character's lives as well.  It wouldn't/couldn't happen again, such an odd coincidence? But what if I did query you and there were these bizarre similarities? What if I hadn't gone through all your authors books and queried?! I might not comb through other agent's websites as I do yours. This is so strange, would an agent see something like this as a joke? Or worse somehow, along the lines of plagiarism???

Yikes my heart skipped a beat.  To have two such strange coincidences...if this book also has to do with the Foxfire Magazine...errg. It's not like being queried for another vampire novel.  It just seems so strange. I know I am overreacting. Would you notice something like this? And if so what would your reaction be?


 I most likely will not notice if you too use a long established literary trope like Tristan and Isolde as the narrative blueprint for your novel.  Well, I'll notice the Tristan and Isolde part, I just won't assume you're lifting it wholesale from one of my client's books.

Tristant and Isolde is everyone's to use. As is Romeo and Juliet. As is "a monkey and horse walked in to a bar."

On the other hand, we're going to have some problems if you query me for an ex-military policeman, doing the vagabond shuffle, carrying only a toothbrush, and getting into trouble in cafes where he drinks too much coffee.

That's NOT a trope, that's a fully fleshed out character and Lee Child isn't a guy you'd want to steal from. 

Do you see the difference?

And even if you lifted every single element of Phillip DePoy's amazing Fever story, unless you write as well as he does, you're out of luck that I'd want to read it.

As long as you really are doing your own work you'll be ok. 

 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Week in review April 26, 2015




Last week in the WIR, Jennifer R. Donohue said 
"But really, I want to hear more about the Buttonweezers, et al." 
which reminded me to tell you all about a fabulous moment of query serendipity! I got a query from a writer named Buttonweezer! Spelled differently of course, but still. I fell upon her query with glee and told her of the Buttonweezer clan that lives here on the blog.  Even more interesting: her first name was Janet! This falls under the truth is stranger than fiction category heading!

Dena Pawling added some interesting info to her bio with us:
Besides that description of how my husband asked me out on our first date, one of my earliest memories is of his car-at-the-time, a Triumph Spitfire. All you car types are groaning now. I don't remember where we went on this date, but while he drove me home in the rain, the generator caught fire. So, wearing a dress, I helped him push the car (in the rain) into a gas station. He says he was surprised I still agreed to go out with him. I always thought our dates were like an adventure.

One of these days I'll tell you about how my car caught on fire when I had Sue Grafton with me. Her next book is the X in the series. I'm lucky it's not X for eXtinguish.

bjmuntain offered up two links on publishing rights. I'm not going to reprint them here because the first one was full of errors. (Her later comment fixes the link to the second one)  When you're researching stuff about publishing PLEASE consider the source.  The first link was written by a writer trying to be helpful. I'm all for helpful writers but it's clear to me this one didn't know much about contracts.  
The SECOND link (publishinglawyer.com)  looks like correct information.

Then bj further asked:
I spent a lot of time last night checking out submissions guidelines, payment and rights bought for several magazines. Many of them say they buy First North American Serial Rights, or First World Rights, or First Electronic Rights. Or even a combination of those. A couple bought First Australian Serial Rights. One or two bought first English language serial rights.

So maybe I'm dense, and if I am, I'd love to have it explained to me.

You're not dense. You're reading what the site says they buy.

Here's the horrible truth: they don't know what they're doing!  Contracts from magazines and smaller publishers are NOTORIOUS quagmires. I could show you some that make sharks weep. I see a LOT of these since one rule here at the Reef is that no client signs a publishing contract of ANY KIND without me looking at it.  Even if I didn't sell it; ESPECIALLY if I didn't sell it in fact.

Some contracts are just blatant rights grabs (university presses wanting copyright for published thesis) and some are a mishmash of terms that fail to cover things like the duration of exclusivity.

If you REALLY want to know about contracts join the National Writers Union or the Author's Guild and get their information on contracts.



And I'm really sad that the only thing *I* get on Capcha is "I am not a robot." I am not so very many things, I wonder how they came to decide this one the one thing I shouldn't be in order to comment.



On Monday I answered a letter from a writer that left me horrified. His agent pretty much revealed his own idiocy by submitting to editors with the assumption they'd pass it along if they weren't the right choice; used a mis-leading pitch; and gotten the category wrong.

It's the trifecta that demonstrates idiocy; we've all done one or more of the above, but I hope to garamond, never on purpose!

Lisa Bodenheim asked the question I should have answered:
Wow. So what's an author to do? Surely the author is in a contract with that agent. If the author does not appreciate what is happening, they can have a direct conversation with their agent. But if the agent doesn't get it or if the author remains unsatisfied with their agent, then what?

You fire the agent. 



MB Owen asked:
Can an agent "un-deliberately" mislead? It sounded intentional, trying to make the pitch fit with an editor's tastes while knowing his client's book was something else.

This is an interesting question, and one I actually know something about right now. I did not "deliberately mislead" an editor about a book he bought on proposal but it was clear that what I had loved about the story, and talked about in my pitch, had NOT made it in to the first draft of the book. 

The author and I realized this together, and actually decided she'd rewrite to incorporate more of what I'd seen in the story. That's why it's the trifecta of errors that is cause for alarm. I not only didn't get the category and editor wrong; I sold the book.


Christina Seine brought up another good point:
This makes me wonder if that rep has a bad rep among editors. Because it sounded like he really pooched it, to more than one editor. I bet that's not a first. So what I imagine then are editors receiving pitches from Agent Stu Pidd and going, "Not this guy again! Hey guys, did I tell you about the time he pitched a contemporary YA as historical romance? I don't think he ever even read the book!"

Under those circumstances, you're lucky if anyone reads the guy's correspondence at all. Yikes.

You're right: they DON'T read the submissions from agents they think are idiots.  I've heard from MANY editors about "schmagents" who are permanently barred from serious consideration.  It's one thing to send something an editor doesn't like, or doesn't think can sell. It's another thing entirely to get EVERYTHING (the trifecta again) wrong.

But mostly schmagents are the ones who don't have a clue how publishing really works. The good news? If your agent is one of them, your book is probably still submittable in that the editors on the submission list never saw it.


REJourneys asked:
Though, is it possible for editors to turn down books because they don't like the agent? I assume that is another business relationship that needs to be at least workable. Knowing that certain agents (well, agent) are misleading you the first time would make me question if I ever want to read something they have again.

Yes it's not just possible, I know it happens. It's not for misleading pitches or getting categories wrong though. It's cause the agents are impossible to work with. Things like insulting the editor during negotiations, or using foul language in email (even I, known dropper of the F-bomb do NOT do this!) or being intractable about things that can't be changed (or dim witted about how to ask for changes.)

The problem here is, as a writer, you'll never get this information. I can't tell you who are on those lists; I don't know more than a few names, all of which were revealed to me in total and complete confidence, usually in person, far from any publishing ears.  In other words, never even written down.  


Dena Pawling made me laugh out loud with this one:
And excuse my woodland creature brain, but thanks for clarifying this line - “I spend time talking to them on the phone, over lunch, on Twitter, and in other odd places (like conferences)....” After last week's discussion, when I read “in other odd places” I pictured you sliding your pitch under the restroom stall door.

I very rarely slide mss under bathroom stall doors when I'm meeting editors. Under their martini glass, you betcha!



On Tuesday we talked about withdrawing a novel on submission if you think another one is a better fit.

Pharosian asked this:
Wow. That's one situation I never even thought about. So if I sign with Fabulous Agent and she sells my cozy mystery (or mysteries), and then sometime down the road I write a slasher (or some other project FA finds distasteful), is FA obligated to try to sell it? And if FA doesn't want to, what's her recourse? Fire me as a client?

No, I'm not obligated to work on anything but that's not really the right question to ask.  When I talk to a potential client I ask about the kinds of books the writer wants to work on in the future. If the answer is "well, this cozy series is great but my true love is writing romance" I am NOT going to sign the client no matter how much I love the mystery series, because the author needs an agent who can do both kinds of books effectively. I'm probably not that agent. The slithery force of nature that is Barbara Poelle probably is.

Of course, if a client develops a sudden interest in a category I don't do well, it's too late not to sign them. In those cases I call in favors from friends (Brooks Sherman for example sold Sean Ferrell's picture book on my behalf) or learn the category (I have a middle grade novel on submission now.)

And it's entirely possible that if a client's work shifts to a new category, she gets traded to the other team for a draft round choice to be named later.


Sadly brianrschwarz earns a lifelong residence on Carkoon with this one:
I hate to say it QOTKU, but you might be right.

Then tried to cancel his ticket with this:
After flipping back and forth, I eventually decided to take QOTKU up on her advice and sent my email an hour ago. After all, if it failed miserably, I'd just blame my writing career on Janet. ;)

But to my surprise, it turns out sharks are sharks for a reason. TFFA responded within the last hour and recommended I leave the bloody book in question on the table, but reply with my query and full for my YA novel. I suppose then if she hates the query for YA book, she can still read bloody mess with renewed fortitude and a more accurate expectation.

So basically, I owe Janet a drink. Let me know when you're in the Midwest.

Midwest? Is that near midtown? Cause if you can't get there on the subway…

Turns out Christina Seine will be joining brianrschwarz on the trip to Carkoon.
 Also, apropos of nothing but Twitter, I was not surprised to learn that Janet is a pimp. I kind of always pictured her as one, in a John Travolta suit, leopard skin coat, flat-brimmed hat, heaps of gold jewelry, base thumping in the background, and of course the razor-sharp teeth. SO badass.

bjmuntain had an interesting question about withdrawn mss
A question just occurred to me, while reading through comments again. If an author withdraws a submitted manuscript for X reason, would it be possible - or even ethical - for the agent to decide that X isn't going to bother her and read the manuscript anyway?

I'm not saying 'ethical' as in morally right. I mean professionally ethical. Is it something that is seen as wrong in the publishing industry? Or is it really just a morally indifferent choice? I can see it going either way.

I think if an author asks you not to read a manuscript, you don't read it. From a purely pragmatic time management point of view, it makes no sense to read something if it's not on submission. I think from a business practices standpoint you really do want to convey to an author that if they ask you to do something, you honor their wishes.  I've had clients ask me to do stuff I thought was the wrong choice for their career, but it's THEIR career. I offered my opinion, the client elected to do something else.
I don't think it's morally wrong to read a withdrawn ms, but I don't think it's something I'd do.



 Susan Bonifant summed it up nicely:
My only experience with a hired editor was as a new writer when I would have taken advice from the neighborhood grocer.

It was awful. She was borderline abusive when I disagreed, found ways to charge more than she should have and made me feel like I was lucky to be wasting her time.

I think she may have even suggested a prologue. No, that's not true.

My (embittered) take, now that I would never consider it again, is this:

One, don't do this if you are not feeling strong about yourself as a writer yet. And two, consider whose advice would be more valuable - someone who is paid to find problems, or a beta reader who is going to tell you why they put the book down to get a drink and didn't come back.

And let me add that anyone you work with on your creative projects who makes you feel "lucky to be wasting her time" is not someone you want to work with. The reason for that isn't cause they hurt your feelings, it's cause they don't know what their job is.  Their job is to help you. That's the reason you're paying them. It's entirely possible to be direct, no-nonsense, AND helpful. I have the replies to rejection letters to prove it.



Amy Schaefer asked a good question about what happens NEXT:
Here is my concern. Let's say I hire Editor Redpen to fix my manuscript. She does an excellent job, and as a result of her advice, I sign with Agent Superpants. She sells the MS. Fast forward a year or two, and I'm ready to show Agent Superpants my new manuscript.

The phone rings.
"Hi, Amy, it's Agent Superpants. I've read the new manuscript you sent me."
"Great! How did you like it."
Long pause. "It's... rough."
"Rough."
"Unpolished. Flabby. Your pacing dies completely in chapter four, and doesn't come back until chapter 17. All of your male characters are generic, and your protagonist is unfocused. What happened?"

The writers I work with who hired an editor to help them  both said that it made them better writers. Not just improved the manuscript, but the process itself helped them see what a novel needed. That's really the goal of spending that money: to learn how to do it yourself next time.

BUT, that is also the reason I think hiring an editor to write your query is not a good idea. Writers need to learn  how to draft a solid query, and the only way to do it, is to do it. Sure you can get help on spotting flaws but you yourself should write your query.




Susan Bonifant brought up Grub Street:
I'm not opposed to the idea of paying for a second read. But how and why is it necessary to consider all that is available for 4K, rather than what is essential for far less? Grub Street in Boston for example charges way, WAY less to pair a writer with a completely objective, multi-traditionally published author, often an instructor, in the genre you select, who will tell you exactly where the suckage is from a reader's standpoint.

By sheer happenstance I'm writing the Week In Review here at the Delaware shore and on the next couch over is an agent who will be at Grub Street next week, and what is she doing? Reading manuscript pages from the people she has pitch sessions with. If you're looking for a place to discover the Suck, Grub Street (and other good writing conferences) can be it.

InkStainedWench had an interesting question:
Now I'm curious. Do editors reject a book with a simple "Dear agent, no thanks, have a nice day."

Generally no. They usually give me some feedback which they know I will share with the author.  If things really go wrong, I'll get a phone call and nothing is put in writing. How to share that information is then up to me.
 
Some editors do have form rejection letters. I have no problem with those, but if I get more than three, I know I'm missing the mark pretty completely with what that editor is looking for, and it's time for some digging and reading.

And Donnaeve asked:
 Janet, don't you find it strange not one acquiring editor gave the OP and their agent any feedback?

Yup. I'm hesitant to guess as to the reason however since I don't know the book, or the editor submission list.

But as it turns out there WAS some feedback: Matt Adams said
Hi guys -- OP here.

To answer some questions ...

We got some feedback and got passed around the office by three editors, but that was as far as we got. Two seemed close, but in the end decided not to offer. The feedback was diverse -- there was no universal complaint.

My agent has always thought it should be a big book and has told me she'll push it as far as it can be pushed. She's told me she feels confident she could find SOME publisher for it now, but thinks it deserves better -- I think she's more baffled by the lack of success than I am. And while I understand the concept of trunking it, that's hard to do when she's still willing to find it a home. She's not demanding the edit, but she thinks it would be helpful in helping the book become what she thinks it should be. I'm not saying that I'm sure the book is big or even publishable, but I think I owe it to myself (and her) to give it every opportunity I can to succeed. And before I give the wrong impression, my agent is awesome -- she got everyone to read, which was her job as far as I'm concerned. It was my part of the equation that was lacking.

But I think Janet's right in that saying a second read instead of the full edit is the way to go. Or second read then a full edit.

Thanks for the input everyone. I appreciate it.

I think Matt's agent is smart. If the novel isn't working, it's time for a second set of eyes. That's a demonstrable lack of ego, and business savvy there.

Amy Schaefer asked a good question:
Hmm. With 28 rejections but no consensus on what is wrong (or holding you back, or making editors say no), I sincerely wonder what insight any new editor, paid or otherwise, can give you. 28 is a decent sample size; if there were a major fault in your work, I would have expected that feedback to bubble to the surface from multiple sources by now.

Which leaves the paid editor's professional opinion about what is going wrong here. It doesn't sound like you have much to lose in buying a second read, but if there is no particular thing wrong with your book, I wonder how much she can really help you. Maybe your book is just quirky and different and hasn't found the right home yet. Best of luck!

 That's entirely possible, but remember an editor at a publishing house isn't required to tell you what doesn't work in a novel, only if s/he intends to acquire it.  Much like agents in the query queue, "not right for me" is the only required answer.
Editors often times will not say negative things in a "not for me" letter to an agent because CLEARLY the agent feels the book has merit.  "This book has no plot" is not something I'd expect an editor to say to an agent, and yes, I've sent out books where the plot could be found only with a magnifying glass…

brianrschawrz demonstrates he wants to live on Carkoon forever:
You may not always be right,

RobCeres asked a question that I think a lot of writers would ask here:
Oh to have this conundrum! Assuming the publisher is reputable, what is the downside of going both routes? If the publisher wants the book isn't that tremendous ammunition for a query letter? I mean if I was an agent I would love the first line "I am querying you because (whatever the reason is), and INHO (I'm Not a Hobby Outlet) is offering a publishing contract.

And you'll be surprised to learn that having an offer in hand doesn't make you more attractive to an agent. In fact, it can be a problem.
If you turn up with a contract in hand, you'll be thinking your novel is publishable as it stands. And it is: at THIS publisher.
I can't think of a single book I've sold that I didn't have at least one round of edits on before I sent it on submission. Most are three rounds, a couple right now are on Round Ten and Eleven.
Telling an author with a publication offer in hand that their novel isn't ready isn't fun. In fact, it often leads to hard feelings that end in fuck you and flouncing off.
If your novel is terrific, I probably want to take it out for a spin at the larger publishers.  It's hardly ever possible to say to a small publisher "Hey, can you wait on this offer for two months while we see if we can get something better?"  and even harder to say to editors "hey, can you read this really soon cause I have an offer pending from the Carkoon Illuminated Manuscript Society."
This is why agents BEG you to query them first, and publishers second.




JEN Garrett had an interesting piece of advice:
Here's one way to implement Janet's awesome advice about doing your research.
If you want to know whether a publisher sells to libraries, find a title that the publisher has published (there should be a list on their website). Then call your local librarian and ask if they CAN order the book. Make it clear you are not asking them to order it; you just want to know if the publisher is legit.

The reason you want to do this, is because library books are sold through different distributors than a bookstore. But really, you can use this simple test anywhere you want to see your book in print.


And then you guyz just went completely nuts with list of seasons you all enjoy. In other words, the kinds of comments that really make me laugh.



Colin Smith had an interesting turn of phrase here:
1) If your first book is published, as far as an agent is concerned, there's nothing more to be done with it. There's no point trying to get an agent for it, and why would you? It's published already!

I'm going to quibble here: There's a LOT more to be done with a book even after it's published. The problem is there's NO MONEY. My policy is that if I don't sell something I don't take commission. (co-agenting things are the exception). 

If an author comes to me with a book that's under contract, I don't get a commission but I DO end up doing a lot of work on the book because my job is advocating for my author NOT making money. I need to make money so I try to avoid situations where doing my job means I won't make money. 

This situation happens more than you think when you sign a client who has been repped and sold by another agent for previous books; or who has a backlist and no agent.

The conversation then turned to acronyms, and you guyz had some hilarious versions thereof.
That said, the fewer use of acronyms here on the blog the better. Acronyms create a sub-strata of readers, those "in the know" and thus a group of readers who are NOT.

I'd like to keep all of us in one group as much as possible. If you don't get the Carkoon or Buttonweezer references, you can still get value from the blog. If we start abbreviating the important stuff like Original Poster it's harder for new readers to feel welcome.

Speaking of welcome, I'm writing this from the Delaware shore where I've retreated to read requested full manuscripts.  It's been a VERY productive four days let me tell you.

On Thursday, I strolled around the little town and found a terrific bookstore.  One the shelf as I walked in, this greeted me:




On Friday, my companion in world domination and I took a short break and drove to Assateague Island to see the wild ponies.  I grew up loving the Misty of Chincoteague books. Marguerite Henry was the first author I ever met. Her kindness and graciousness to an awestruck, tongue-tied eight year old girl with a red leather autograph book warms me to this day.









Next week is the Edgars so I'll be hanging out with a lot of out of town friends coming in for the festivities.  Not much work gets done  but a good time is had by all.





Saturday, April 25, 2015

Query question: I have a contract but want an agent for film/translation

 I have recently secured a book contract without an agent for my YA novel with a small press. I retain  the film and foreign rights, which I believe should be left up to an agent. Will having a book contract provide me with more cachet to getting representation, or will my queries still be relegated to the "thanks but no thanks" pile?

First, you were smart to retain the rights your publisher is most likely not able to fully exploit.  

Second, if you're querying for a novel that's already got a contract, your situation is a bit different than most.  You'll want to query for your SECOND book, and mention that you retain the translation and film rights to the first book as well.

Most agents will not take on one book just for translation and film rights.  There simply isn't enough money in it to justify the amount of work.

But, if you secure an agent for the second book, having your sub rights for the first book will be a bonus particularly for film.

 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Query question: so I queried publishers and agents and now I'm in a pickle

I queried a bazillion agents and wasn't patient enough to give them what seemed like 17 years to reply (it had only been a month.) In a snit, I sent a query to a publishing house that takes direct submissions.

Then, in the excitement of having agents (not you, alas) request full mss, I forgot about the publisher.
Recently, the publisher has requested a detailed synopsis and a full manuscript.

On the one hand, several agent requests and one publisher request mean I'm deeper into the forest primeval than I was with my first book. Which makes anything that happens at this point good news. I'm also close to finishing my third book -- and querying that.

But...do I risk offending the agents or the publisher if I fill my dream agent (not you, alas) in on what's going on with the publisher and hope she responds saying "Let me take it from here...I was just seconds away from offering you representation because yours is the best book I've seen in a decade?"

Or do I send the mss package to the publisher and hope for cosmic coincidence  -- that they'll offer me representation the day before dream agent does?

Being a wee woodland creature, I'm tempted to hide under my rock, berating myself for snorting in the face of the guideline "Be Patient" and the one that says "Query agents first, publishers second."

Can you help clear out my muddle puddle? 








First, you're going to go back and do some in-depth research on the publisher to make sure they're serious about publishing print books.  You're going to look for things on their website that indicate they sell to wholesale accounts like bookstores, or to libraries.  You're going to make sure they actually sell books to somoene other than the author and the author's one hundred closest friends.


The reason you're going to do this is because if the publsher is NOT a serious publisher, no agent is going to want to deal with that contract, and knowing you have interest from them won't make any difference.


But, if the publisher is a professional place (rather than a hobby outlet--a phrase I'm going to catch hell for I bet) then you let the agents know. It may not make a difference, but you'll want to let them know in case it does.





Thursday, April 23, 2015

Query Question: value of second read

 I’ve been on submission for about a year. We’ve been passed on about 28 times. Not the end of the publishing world, but I feel like we’re getting closer. Recently my agent suggested that I hire a professional editor to give the book a read, because the rest of the world doesn’t love the book as much as she and I do. She re-itterated that she loves the book and her representation of it doesn’t hinge on my agreeing to do this, but in her opinion, we’re missing something and after a year, maybe we ought to let someone with experienced eyes take a look because she wants it to have the very best shot it can have. And to be fair, I’ve edited this book so many times that I can’t tell the difference between “better” and “different” anymore and she’s probably in the same boat.

She referred me to someone who’s worked for a couple of the big five houses. I checked her books and she’s thanked in a couple of the acknowledgements, so I think she’s legitimate. It’s expensive — 4 grand —and it’s still spec. I can afford it — means a little less fun this summer, but not like missing a house payment or anything. But I’m mostly thinking of the mantra that money should flow to the author, and that amount of money would be hard to recoup. And while I’m sure she’ll make it better, there’s no guarantee she’ll make it more sale-able.  At the same time, I’d hate to pass on it, exhaust the rest of the publishing pool and always wonder whether I should have had her take a look at it.

Do you ever make that kind of suggestion to your clients? I figure the worst that can happen is I do it, everyone passes and I’ve got a really well-edited book to put up on Amazon. But four grand is still four grand. If it matters, I’ve talked to her — she’s read the first few chapters — and she thinks there’s something there (but that’s also something someone would say to a prospective client) Her fee is for a detailed editorial letter and a comprehensive line edit.


Yes, I do this. I think your agent is smart to suggest it, and it's something you should seriously consider.  A second set of (fresher) eyeballs on this can help.

That said, you don't need a $4K edit. You need what's called a "second read."  That is, you need someone to read it and say "I think this sux here, here, and here. Also there."  You're NOT paying for compliments. You want the Suck. You EMBRACE the Suck.


Write to this editor and tell you need a second read, essentially a reply letter if she was considering the book for publication.

Make SURE you LIKE the books that this editor has worked on, and think they're well-written. Not every opinion is equal. 


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Query Question: paid editors

 This Question comes on the heel of wasted money and confusion.  I am committed to writing the best books I can + to getting published.  I love words.  I love the world of words.  I read authors whose works inspire + teach me.  I have solid critique + beta partners.  On occasion, I'll take a class online or otherwise.  On those occasions, I'll look into the background of the instructors + editors to ensure there aren't any crackpots.  Here's the question + the rub.  Twice I have worked with paid editors and twice I have gotten either bum advice such as: you don't need to tell the ending in synopsis; or a critique that would have changed the body of my work so dramatically as to be a Dementor's Kiss.  Thinking an editor should be seeing the landscape, I worked with (some) of their recommendations only to find that, yes, the soul truly had been sucked out of the story on their (paid) advice.

Does this happen to author's with whom you've worked?  Does this happen frequently or is it only "paid" editors?  (Is there a difference) because I'm getting jaundiced on them as a whole.  (PS. I've since written the soul back into my work.) 


It doesn't happen with editors at publishing houses because if they want to suck the soul out of a manuscript, we have a conversation that involves changing editors or moving the book to a new publisher.  My job is to find an editor who actually likes the book, not one who wants to change it completely.

Outside/paid/independent editors are a whole different kettle of fishies.  I've had terrible luck with most, and great success with a very few.


How to find the latter and avoid the former? READ the books they've edited. 

Also, have a clear idea of what you want the editor to do. Do you need the plot strengthened, the dialogue improved? The pacing quickened? 


Often an editor can make suggestions about how to do those kinds of things without going through the entire manuscript page by page.


If you're looking for someone to read for plot holes or narrative arc, then you do need someone who will read the entire manuscript.


Good editors are not thick on the ground. Finding a good one is not easy. The REALLY good ones are booked up so far in advance, even their pals can't get a project on their desk (I'm looking at you Kristen Weber!)




I wish I had more to offer on this topic but it's an ongoing problem here too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Query Question: On Second Thought


I have a full request out with one of my top-five favorite agents.  After my heart soared from the full request, I read everything left on the internet that I hadn't read prior about TFFA, over analyzing the garbage out of whether or not TFFA would like my manuscript, but I was disappointed to find (buried in a very recent interview on a little-read blog) my book contains something that I am almost certain she will reject. And it's not subjective. It's a bloody book, and she seems pretty clear on her inability to handle gore. TFFA even gave comp titles on level of acceptable and unacceptable gore.

To complicate matters, my current WIP (which is drafted, through edit 7, critiqued, and on its way to a final draft in the next 2-5 months) is literally RIGHT up her alley. It's in a different age range and genre that she represents FAR more often (still scratching my head as to why she requested my bloody full) and despite there being no guarantees, it just seems like a far better fit.

Now, I know the  answer to this question (or at least I think I do) but I'd rather look stupid asking a question than look stupid doing something silly.

1) Based on what I know, should it be on my radar at all to retract my full for fear of TFFA getting the wrong first impression and not wanting to touch my second (very non-violent) book with a 10 foot pole?

2) Or should I just wait it out and let her reject or (by some miracle of gastric fortitude) accept my blood soaked pages?

3) Has a first impression in terms of genre/style/common trope/pet peeve in writing ever set you off badly enough that you had a lurking impression on future submissions?

4) (and you can feel free to answer this one quietly) Am I... perhaps... just a tiny neurotic bit... over thinking this?

Let's take the questions in reverse order.


(4) No you are not over-thinking this.  This is a serious question of strategy.

(3) Sure, but that's not what this is. First impressions when someone says "please get back to me soon" are the ones you want to avoid.

(2) NO

(1) YES



Here's what you do. VERY SUCCINCTLY (and I think we can agree that this question to me was NOT THAT) you say "I believe, upon further research, that this novel will be too violent for your stated taste. Rather than have you invest time in reading this, I have another novel that I believe is more suited to both what you sell, and your preference on levels of gore. Thus, I'd like to withdraw this novel, and query you for TITLE."


Here's WHY you're going to do this: I'd rather read the novel that most suits my taste FIRST.  There's time enough later on to get the novel I don't like as much but since you're already a client, will have to just suck it up and sell.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Is my agent an idiot? Yes, yes he is.

 I've read your blog with interest, and have a question that I don't think is addressed. It's regarding expectations writers can have of their agents. Is it reasonable to assume that an agent will write a pitch that reflects the tone of the book, correctly identify the genre, and pitch to editors who are a good fit for the book?

I ask because while my agent acknowledges that the pitch he sent was misleading and the genre was not correctly identified, he says that had the editors truly liked the book they would have referred him to another editor in the house. I've always assumed that busy editors like busy agents simply do not have time to do this. And a blurb that doesn't match the book and mis-identified genre are the first reasons to reject a book. Am I wrong?


What?
WHAT?
WHAT???


Ok, I've applied a cool cloth to my fevered brow, taken a quick  sip of a (medicinal purposes only) libation, and am now ready to respond.

WHAT THE EVER LIVING FUCK IS THIS??



Your agent just told you in no uncertain terms that he is an idiot.


NO, you do not ever assume that an editor will pass things on to another editor. An agent's job is to get the right editor the first time. I've spent untold hours now working on my info sheets for editors. I spend time talking to them on the phone, over lunch, on Twitter, and in other odd places (like conferences) to find out what they like to read, what books they wish they'd edited, and generally what gets them enthused.  I read the books they acquire. We talk about the books they DON'T acquire (very illuminating info!) Sure, I miss the mark sometimes in that this is a very subjective industry, but at least I try to get it right.

As for wrong genre, I can understand that a bit more easily. One of my favorite JOKES is that I've sold urban fantasy "by mistake" because I thought it was something else. In fact I did think it was something else, and the urban fantasy category was decided AFTER the editor bought it and was planning the marketing for the book (and let's all notice, the book SOLD, even with the 'wrong category' which I assume from your question, is not the case with yours.)

If you get the category wrong, you're almost certain to get the wrong editor.

And a misleading pitch is deeply perplexing. It's like creating a dating profile with an old picture. Unless you're planning that the editor never read the book (or your prospective date never actually meet you) it's entirely counterproductive to get the pitch wrong. Which is not to say I haven't revised pitches if I'm not getting the enthusiasm the book deserves.  (But again, you didn't say there were revisions being made.)

What the hell was your agent thinking? The only thing I can come up with after thinking about this for several days, was that your agent was trying to assess what went wrong.  "I sent it to the wrong editors" as an assessment is really different than "I just sent it to editors without much thought."  I've sent things to editors who didn't buy the project. That doesn't mean they were the wrong editors other than in the most black and white sense of things.

It's because all three things went wrong: pitch, category, editors, that I think something is  very wrong here. You can miss two of the three (not intentionally of course) but all three is a trifecta of sloppiness. 

As to your question: if an editor is led to expect and be excited about something, only to find out the book is not that at all, yes, that's a problem.



 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Week in Review April 19, 2015

And what a week it was!

Some of you had some very odd ideas about my favorite movie, although Kregger's comment
I think your favorite movie is "Message in a Bottle." Not because of heart-string tugging syrupy tripe, but because everyone should know how Kevin Costner got it in the end. That's right...shark attack!

cracked me up completely.

and AJ Blythe did too:
Surely Janet's fave movie would have to be "Fifty Shades of Grey" - it's about paint, right?
Dena Pawling mentioned Hopscotch which I loved when I saw it the first time, so I promptly rented it on Sunday and watched it again.  It held up beautifully! (Some of my long time favorites have not!)  Did you notice the character names? Shout outs to Ludlum, Follet and Westlake, all great crime writers.  The book Hopscotch won the Edgar for Best Novel in 1976!

As for my favorite movie: none of you came close. It's Casablanca.


Apparently LynnRodz is circumnavigating the globe. Maybe she's looking for Platform 9.75, the train to Carkoon?
Don't get me started on the weather! When I left Paris it was 11°C, I landed in Dubai at midnight and it was already 26°C. When I got to Bangkok I came out of the airport to 38°C in the shade! Let me put it this way, when you're baking cookies and you open the oven door to see if they're done and that blast of hot air hits you...well I'm the cookie baking in Bangkok and Carkoon is looking like paradise!
I'm heading to Hong Kong next and hopefully the weather will be a lot cooler.


And just in case I was getting too big for my britches, John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur put me solidly in my place on the food chain:

I missed the "plumber/agent" discussion, but as someone who has had two agents and who last fall had the mother of all sewer problems, let me just say, if I had to pick one or the other, I'd take a good plumber every time. My agents have had some success with me, but my plumber made it possible for life to continue.

W.R.Gingell had an important question about the Summer Synopsis Camp slated for Carkoon:
And lol at Colin's Carkoonian Synopsis Summer Camp. Should we bring our own stakes, or will there be a Impaler Specialist? ( I hear Vlad is once more available: he might like the change).

Maybe Gary Corby can be drafted for Impaler specialist. He's sure gotten some mileage out of that one scene in The Ionia Sanction.

 



On Monday the results of the writing contest were posted. Huzzah to Calorie Bombshell for an outstanding effort, and huzzahs also to the finalists! It was a touch choice (but then, it almost always is!)



On Tuesday we talked about meeting agents at conferences in unscheduled times.

I think we're going to need a collection of Julie Weathers' comments at some point because as usual, this one cracked me up:

I keep saying agents are humans pieces of meat and I still see people giving out advice for authors to act like blind dogs after meat wagon.

I liked what Susan Bonifant had to say so much that I made it this week's blog subtitle
"Best advice I ever got when I was raising children: Never miss an opportunity to shut up."

And Abib Khorram mentioned the Midwest Writers Conference:

I am very much looking forward to Midwest Writers, though now I'm going to be very suspicious of anyone wearing a "Janet Reid" name tag.

Speaking of which, is anyone else going to Midwest Writers? I think we should try to organize a Felix J. Buttonweezer Memorial Costume Contest and Kale Cookoff.

"Janet Reid" can be the judge.

Since my former minion Brooks Sherman will also be at MWW, I might deputize him to be me.  I'll be the one with the name badge that says "I AM OTTER"





And I really liked what KD James.com said about attending conferences

I think it's worth it, if you're unpublished or perhaps haven't attended a conference, to think about what you DO want to accomplish. As fun as they can be, cons are also expensive and time consuming. It's not necessary to set conference goals, but it's a good idea. This is not MY advice--- I've heard it from dozens of experienced writers.

A goal is something you can control and achieve: to attend classes or workshops to learn about craft or publishing; to meet up with writer friends you've talked to online; to experience what it feels like to be in a huge crowd of writers who "get" you (it's awesome); to meet new people.

My goal at my first con was simply to survive the overload. Which I did. Barely. I also attended a ton of workshops. SO WORTH IT.

It's also nice to have a goal so when you look back on whether the con was a good investment of time and money, you'll have something to gauge rather than just whether it was "fun."

It is NOT a goal to say you're attending a con because you hope to get published, or want to have an agent request your ms, or even simply to meet an agent/editor/famous author. You don't control those things. And they might not even be all that valuable.


And I liked what Leone said too
My point is, we're all part of the writing community and we give to it in our own ways. So my suggestion for folks nervous about attending a conference is to worry less about how others see you and more about how you can help. For example, I offer to moderate a panel. If you prefer, you could offer to staff the registration table or some other less public activity. Whatever you do, you're giving to the community, which not only helps you get to know people without worrying about pitching, but also gets your focus off your own nervousness.




And Colin demonstrates why he has been exiled to Carkoon, by trying to find a way that the point of the blog post might not apply.

So, do you suppose it might be different for a young agent, perhaps still fairly new and building a list? Might that agent be more likely to want writers to talk about their work? In other words, might Janet and Barbara's hatred of the "elevator pitch" come from their years of experience, and the fact they are well-established?

No.
I've hated people pushing their pitches on me from Day One. There is simply NO WAY to properly evaluate or offer help to a writer without seeing pages.  Pitching is not social conversation. If we're in a social setting, DO NOT PITCH. There are NO exceptions to this.

*climbs down off soapbox*
*signs exile extension*




And I REALLY liked this from BJ Muntain

Because there's nothing about being a stay-at-home mom that deserves to be ignored. It just needs better press.



On Wednesday, a gentleman wondered about self-publishing to make money.

CarolynWith2Ns asked
Might the questioner try Kindle Scout as a no cost path to e-publishing ? And Janet, I'd love to know your opinion about Scout. Is it as good a deal as Amazon says?


I'm not a resource on Kindle Scout or really any of the self-publishing platforms because I don't work with them at all, and have no experience.  What I see are people querying me with books they've already published, or sending me finished copies of books they've essentially printed rather than published. Often times those books are just sad little messes of bad production and worse cover art.

BJ Muntain said
Yes, even if it's only printed out in a chapbook format and handed out to a few friends, it's still technically published. Will it affect future sales? As Janet said, that's very unlikely. My thought: If these have already been published, then you no longer have first rights to sell for them anyway. Reprinting them won't make a difference

There is no such thing as "first rights" although I do see that phrase used a lot on writer boards.  There IS such a thing as "first serial rights" but that means publishing an excerpt of a book before publication day.

A book, and stories, can be published more than once. If you've had stories accepted for publication in a lit mag (as the questioner had) you can publish them AGAIN once the period of exclusivity with the magazine has ended.

The rights you license to a lit mag are 1. territory 2. language 3. duration  4.exclusivity 5.format

For example: you license the short story "Felix Buttonweezer Fends off Kale on Carkoon" to the Carkoon Lit mag for publication in (1) Carkoon (2) Carkoonian, English and Klingon; (3) for the period of one Carkoonian year; (4) exclusively; (5) for the print edition and the Carkoon Lit mag website.  All rights not specifically granted to the lit mag are retained by the author.


On Thursday the discussion turned to the endlessly entertaining topic of submission guidelines.

Colin posted a question from exile:
My question(s) to agents: When was the last time you requested because the querier spelled your name correctly, gave good comp titles, had an MFA, or correctly identified their novel as YA Urban Fiction? And how many queries have you requested from because they sold you on #2 above [2) A paragraph or two selling the novel to the agent, incorporating the 4 Cs (see Craig's comment).]

Answer:
0%
100%


Lizzie said
aside from people not paying attention, one of the problems could be agents not updating their Querytracker profile.

I can't remember the last time I updated my QueryTracker profile. Probably the last time I closed for queries a few summers ago, but honestly I haven't a clue.

The reason for that that? There's no trigger to update it. No one from QueryTracker emails me an easily accessible link and says "here, update yer info, SharkForBrains"  If they did, I would.

As it is, I don't even THINK about QueryTracker.  The places I DO update when I remember, which isn't often: 1. my website 2. my Pub Mkt page and 3. this blog's incoming query status. 



And then things pretty much fell completely off topic with a discussion of the Buttonweezer clan name, origin and location. Which made for a VERY entertaining comments trail.



On Friday the topic was whether a query should mention fulls requested by other agents.

I loved this from Dena Pawling:
Carolynn, I met my husband at a friend's wedding, the summer after I graduated from high school. I was a bridesmaid and he was an usher. About a week after the wedding, he called me.

Him: “Hi... um... would you like to go to church with me? I've asked everyone else I know and no one else can come.”

Yes, that's how he asked me out on our first date. I've teased him endlessly about it, too. We've been married now for more than half my life.

Karen McCoy asked:
Say Agent B doesn't ask if anyone else is reading, and Agent A requests representation while Agent B still has the full. How does the author bring this up without burning possible bridges?

This happens ALL the time. I've been on both sides of the situation.  In fact, I have a prospective client notifying other agents even as we speak.

Here's what you do:
1. Email all the agents who have the full and say you've received an offer (or you've gotten serious interest) in the manuscript. Ask if they can let you know their decision within a specified amount of time (a week is normal but I've said two weeks on occ. if there's a holiday or vacations pending)

2. On the expiration day, advise everyone of decisions.  "Thanks for reading my full. I've chosen an agent to represent the book" kind of thing.



And maybe y'all think someone else reads the comments but it's me and I SAW THAT STUFF ABOUT PAGES!
Julie Weathers, I'm looking at you, gnomie! 

If an agent asks for 50 pages, and 50 pages ends at the wrong place to present your work well, send 48. Or 55.

The idea of asking for 50 pages is "please don't send 300" and "please don't send 5"

It is NOT: please adjust your margins, and your font to make sure that what should be 48 is really 50 pages. 

 

Never break a sentence when you send pages, NEVER. Never break a paragraph if you can possibly help it.

And it's really ok to end where the chapter ends, be that page 45 or 55; in fact it's better.

And do NOT get creative with your margins. I work on 1" margins all around, and if you send something in ANYTHING else, I adjust it because of the size of my screen and what my eye is used to seeing.

YES I NOTICE 1.25 margins!


Sheesh you guys!



On Saturday the topic turned to the newest way to torment writers: social media


I liked what Amy Schaefer suggested:
Instead of focusing on what you aren't willing to do (Twitter, FB, the internet in general), turn it around and think about what you are willing to do. Get that clear in your mind. Signings? Visiting bookstores? The aforementioned newsletters and so on? Think hard about what sort of interaction you feel capable of with strangers/potential fans. Then, when the problem arises with an agent, you'll be ready with your own solution to your so-called social media issue. Get out in front of it, is my advice.


And I read PhoenixWaller's comment about promotion with great interest particularly the closing line:
The moral of that story is that mass advertisements are iffy at best, but word of mouth is still an invaluable tool for selling books, even free ones online. ;)

The more things change, the more they are the same. Word of mouth. The best way to sell books since there were books.


Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli asked

the question that Janet could answer is if you did write under a pseudo would your agent need to know your real name and at what stage would you have to tell them.

If you had a pseudo with incorporated status, you could have a social media presence for your 'business'.

As an agent I need to know two things: what you want me to call you, and the name you want to use when I pay you. 

The PUBLISHER however has a stake in this because the contract you sign for your book has a clause called Warranties and Indemnities and that's the one where you warrant the work is yours, you didn't copy it, and no one else has a claim to it.  Publishers really want to make sure that "the author" signs that contract.  That's where you'll need more specific advice than what I'm able to give you on the blog.

If a potential client had the kinds of security concerns that the questioner had, I'd probably let the editor know about it, and we'd figure something out.

I've certainly worked with authors who've used pen names before, and it's pretty funny, we forget the pen name isn't the author's "real" name.



Spring is finally here in NYC and it's fabulous. We have a giant courtyard space next to our office building and it has a huge TV screen on the side of our building. The TV broadcasts soccer games and I can always tell when they do cause the fans gather in the courtyard and cheer. It makes World Cup a lot of fun here even if I don't have  clue who's playing.

I'm tackling my requested full pile with renewed vigor. Some very patient authors have been waiting for more months than I care to reveal in public for a reply from me. Every time I pass on a manuscript I feel bad. I really hate doing so, particularly now that I'm passing on things that are good and publishable (but just not the right books for my particular list or interest.)

This coming week I'm taking a reading break and heading to the Delaware shore with a friend. We're going to sit on the porch, read manuscripts and plot World Domination. 

I'm hoping the Wifi will be adequate. If not, well, you'll know cause I'll be tardy posting the week in review!

Have a great week!





Saturday, April 18, 2015

Query Question: I can't use social media, am I doomed?

Last summer, you covered a question about whether or not someone should bother writing when they have terrible social anxiety. When you closed out your answer, you added, "And if her writing requires her to have a public presence, well, we'll solve that problem when we get there." That's where my question comes in.

What suggestions would you have for someone who does not want (feel free to add capitals and emphatic full stops between words there) to use Twitter and Facebook and those kinds of tools? My reasons are personal -- a sociopath who worked a long, twelve year con on me and my family, something along the lines of a Janna St James situation -- and have soured me on dealing with the internet, even if it means having to work harder other ways. I was a private person before, but now, it's taking a big leap just to ask this question. Thanks to words like "friending", people tend to see even people they've never met on the other end of Facebook and Twitter discussions as friends. Details shared even in comments here make people feel like they're friends. It's oddly public and intimate at the same time and something, after what I went through, I can't open myself up to again.

How would you help someone work around an internet presence to still be a worthwhile business relationship for you?



Your question comes at an interesting time. I'm having ongoing discussions with my publicist and with my clients about the utility of social media.

More and more I'm thinking that the old-fashioned tools, the ones we thought we wouldn't use again, are more effective.

And by old-fashioned tools I mean shoe leather.  Visiting bookstores in person, writing a newsletter for fans, going to bookstore events to support other writers.

I think many of us were willing to discard those tools because then (as now) we weren't ever sure how effective they were.  In fact, there's almost no reliable method to predict the effectiveness of publicity efforts (one of the things that drove me out of the field.)

Being unwilling or unable to do social media isn't a deal breaker, but you're going to have to be willing to do SOMETHING. If I love your book, I'll be willing to help you figure out what that something is.

Thus, the first step here is to write a really great book. I have to love it with the passion of a thousand suns cause there's going to be some heavy lifting here.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Query Question: I'm popular, can I tell you?

If other agencies requested and/or are reading your manuscript, should you say or add this in your query letter to other agents? Does this make them pay more attention since there's interest? Or is the opposite true?


You mention it only if the agent requests the full, AND asks if anyone else is reading.
You do not mention it at the query stage.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Follow up on a blog post about query guidelines entice or reveal

I sent the question about some agents wanting a two paragragh "intriguing" query and some wanting a full on synopsis, and what to do when you don't knwo what they want.  I've encountered many submission guidelines like Wendy Sherman's unfortunately, I didn't write them down and can't remember who the heck they were. 

Here are the guidelines from Wendy Sherman Associates.



DO:
  • Write a gripping query letter
  • Tell us why your project would be a good fit for our agency
  • Tell us why this book has an audience, and why you’re the one to write it (particularly for non-fiction)
  • Include information about your credentials to write this book, publications and prizes, awards, and conferences
  • Compare your book to other titles that are similar
  • Tell us which well-known writer’s work yours resembles
  • Limit your query to one page
  • Include a double-spaced table of contents and overview (non-fiction)
  • Include a double spaced 1st chapter (fiction)
  • Provide us with your email, phone number, and address
  • Tell us what happens in your book. It’s not a book jacket or a movie trailer–don’t tease us, we need to know!
  • Read the books on how to find an agent – there are several. There is much valuable information that will help you throughout this process


Only when I actually read these guidelines did I understand how query guidelines can be disconcerting for the sophisticated querier.

The sophisticated querier is someone who has spent a lot of time and care researching guidelines, publishing terms, looking for what an agent wants.

The vast amounts of information now available to queriers means that more of you are sophisticated, and savvy about the process than ever before.

Look at that list again. There are 12 bullet points.  Tally up how many of them you already knew. My guess is between 10 and 12, right?

Here's where the trouble starts. "Tell us what happens in your book" means something different to you than it does to the casual querier.  I have only to look at my incoming queries to understand that "tell me what your book is about" is NOT a given.

However, if you've spent any time at all in the query trenches, you KNOW to write two enticing paragraphs. When someone says "it's not a book jacket or a movie trailer" you think...oh! I should be writing something that isn't the standard two paragraph enticement.

In fact, this bullet point is asking for EXACTLY what I've been hammering you on over at Query Shark. It's asking for the main character, the choices s/he faces and what's at stake.

If you're reading various agency guidelines, and all the bullet points seem pretty obvious to you, don't over think the one that isn't.  It's probably exactly what you thought it was the first time you saw it. Don't over think. Don't over analyze.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Query Question: what constitutes self-publishing?

 At this point in my life, I have no job and little income, and am falling behind on utility bills and mortgage. In order to keep my house and electricity, I'm thinking of using MS Word to print out a booklet of my lit-mag-published short stories and selling that to shore up my finances for a few months until I turn 62, and can start drawing Social Security. I don't intend to do a national marketing campaign or anything -- just offer the booklet to several friends and family members for a modest fee. Will the Business consider that self-published? Will it come back to bite me when I show my novel to an agent?


Yes, that's self-published. Anything you print up and offer to sell on the open market is considered published. Generally to sell on Amazon, you'll need an ISBN and having an ISBN means the book is published.

It probably won't hurt you, given that it's a collection of short stories, not a novel.

The real problem here is that you're undertaking something that requires real investment to do well, and it sounds like you're not planning on investing at all. 

A quick MS Word document will look brutally ugly unless you really know what you're doing in terms of book production. Making a book look professional, or even attractive generally requires knowledge of book design, or hiring a book designer.

And I'm absolutely certain you've not run the numbers here if you think you're going to "shore up your finances" by selling books, any books.

If you list your book at $7.99, you retain about 70% of the proceeds or $5.59 for an electronic copy. For print books it's far less.  You'll need to sell at least 100 ebooks to make a little more than $500. You'll need to sell 100 print books at somewhere north of $10 to earn $500.

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings but most self-published books sell far fewer than 100 copies. The average number of copies for ALL self-pubbed books  appears to be somewhere around 250, although I'm not sure that's still accurate. That means at least half of those published books sell fewer copies.

I say this not to discourage you, but if your house is at stake, you might want to spend your time doing something that has a more reasonable chance of earning income than self-publishing. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Conference etiquette: Agents in the wild

When you meet an unagented writer socially (i.e., not because they've scheduled time with you at a conference), do you expect them to talk about their novel? (1) Are you waiting for them to initiate that conversation? (2)  If they keep the conversation casual, are they missing an opportunity to talk about their work to you? (3) In other words, how do YOU like writers to approach you? (4)  Not that you're a benchmark for all agents, but you're the only agent in the room talking at the moment. 


(1) NO.
(2) NO
(3) NO
(4) With whisky and chocolate. Preferably with glasses, and napkins, and enough for the both of us.


I will be at several upcoming conferences*** in the next few months so this is a very timely question.

I fully understand that many people are absolutely tongue tied when meeting an agent in an unexpected spot. If we're alone in the elevator and I'm not just knackered to the point of incoherence, I generally will try to ask a general question like "are you having a good conference?" or "I see you're from Carkoon. Has anyone seen Colin there lately?"

Notice neither of those are about your book. And generally they're things you can answer pretty easily.

If you get off the elevator and kick yourself for "missing your chance" stop kicking. There's no way you can pitch your book in that moment and have me ever want to read it, or want to interact with you further, cause pitching in that moment means you're tone deaf. And by tone deaf, I mean oblivious to the situation you're in and just hell bent on getting what YOU want.  That's NOT a quality I look for in a client. Tenacity and focus are important; knowing how to be around people is equally important.

If you meet an agent in the elevator, you can use those exact same questions to initiate conversation: "Are you having a good conference?"  "I see you're from New York; has the weather warmed up yet?"

General small talk conversational gambits.

THEN, if you want to use that moment to your advantage, you WRITE me a query that says "I met you briefly in the elevator at the Summer Synopsis Camp on Carkoon and we talked about the weather in NYC."

That helps me remember you and reminds me that you are clued in about how to talk to people, and when NOT to push your book.

If someone comes up to me in a social situation and says "Can I pitch you my book" I've always wanted to say "Sure go ahead" and let them ramble on. When they finally stop, I want to say "no, that doesn't seem very well written" so they will huff and puff and say "but you haven't even read it!" to which I can reply "exactly. I need to see the writing. Send me a damn written query."

I've never been able to bring myself to do that in all these years, but man oh man I want to.

What I generally say is "I'd prefer you didn't, but please feel free to send a written query." At least half the time, people start pitching anyway.

I've made other people wear my name tag at parties to avoid this kind of thing. I've hidden behind friends to avoid this kind of thing.

I hate this kind of thing.

I mean seriously hate hate hate it.  The reason is I KNOW I am curt and dismissive and brutal in real life. (Please don't everyone pile on here to deny it; trust me, I'm self-aware)  I simply can NOT reply in the kindlier way I can on paper.  I try very hard to avoid being put in these situations, but when it's unavoidable the only person who hates this more than you is ME.

My slithery colleague Barbara Poelle is masterful at in person pitching moments like this. She's forthright without being brutal, and often very helpful. It's the only reason I stand next to her at parties (well, that and she knows the shortest route to the bar.) But even Barbara HATES this kind of in person pitching. (You'd never know it to talk to her, but she does.)
 

On the other hand, if at some point during a conference I do ask about your novel, you know to Be Ready, right?




***
ThrillerFest/CraftFest
Midwest Writers Conference in Muncie Indiana
Writers Digest Pitch Slam
Bouchercon
CrimeBake


Monday, April 13, 2015

Writing contest results, The Long Ride Home

To celebrate the publication of THE LONG RIDE HOME by Kari Dell, we had a writing contest. Herewith the results:


Special recognition for lovely lovely images

S.D.King 10:16am


A phrase I am determined to find many future uses for
“Go ride the baloney pony!” 
Kregger 10:17am

Special recogniton for excellent use of prompt words

dell/bordello Kitty 10:23am

ride/iridescent brianrschwarz 12:02pm

dell/yodelling Amy Schaefer 4:48pm

home/psychometry Steve Forti 5:42pm

long/Longfellow's Phyllis E 5:13pm



Grease is the word!

Colin Smith 10:36am



Not quite a story, but holy moly

CarolynWith2Ns 11:17am
Christine Seine 11:55am



It's says NOTHING good about me that I laughed like crazy reading this one 

Amanda Capper 11:17am
Lance 11:23am



And of course, Carkoon now appears in these stories!

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli 1:14pm



Special recognition for a story that would have been perfect if the last line got chopped.

Donnaeve 1:27pm

Dellwood Acres top child psychiatrist, Dr. Grate, glared at the young boy, “You ride him, you don’t converse with him. Keep that up and it’ll be a long time before you go home.”

The horse in the stall tossed its head.

Dr. Grate persisted, “Say it. Horses don’t talk.”

The boy, as usual, refused to speak directly to the doctor.

A voice came from the stall, “Of course, of course!”

Dr. Grate spun around, “Who said that?”

The boy, his face brightening, whispered, “See?”

Outside the barn, Doctor Grate’s assistant high-fived himself. His secret Mr. Ed routine worked every time.

And here are the nine finalists:


(1) Julie Weathers 11:34am

"I'll bring him home, little mama," I said. Then Dell and I rode off to war. She lost the baby while we were dealing death at Chicamauga. He was determined to go home to her, but I convinced him to stay. He'd be alive today if I'd let him. When he fell, she wrote and made me promise to bring him home. Like a fool, I did. Now I'm making that long ride home with his horse trailing behind that lead coffin. She'll have a husband to mourn, but be damned if I know whose he is.







(2) Geoff LaPard 4:40pm


Cruz stood back. The remodelling had worked perfectly. It had taken a long time, each brick, each joist requiring care. He allowed himself a small glow of pride.

He spent a few hours installing the furniture - the table his mother left him when she left; the horsehair sofa from his grandmother when his father disappeared; the bed in which his beloved Natalie had died.

He waited for Maisie to appear, as usual skipping - their secret, her daily cookie.

When he bolted the steel doors, designed to muffle her scream he whispered to the cold metal. ‘Quiet. You’re home now.’



(3) Amy Schaefer 4:48pm

Darla jolted awake like she had been unhorsed. She shuffled to the window and scowled. Damn neighbors and their strident yodelling. Waking an old woman in the dead of night.

Those hooligans needed a good scare, and no mistake. She fumbled her box of shotgun shells; they scattered with a sound like hail.

The door flew open. “Mama,” said Cliff. “I know the singalongs get rowdy, but this is summer camp. You can’t shoot buckshot at homesick nine-year-olds.”

She played contrite as he tucked the covers around her chin.

Then, alone in the dark, Darla grabbed the shell he’d missed.





(4) Lisa Bodenheim 6:42pm

The car tires hummed a strident refrain, ‘She’s seeing someone else, she’s seeing someone else.’ How ironic, now that gay marriage was legal. It felt like a knife to the heart.



In the backseat, the kids were zonked out after a frenetic day at the Wisconsin Dells Kalahari Waterpark. I focused on the freeway, steeling my nerves as I drove home.



That night, alone with her in the kitchen, my heart pattered like a mad hatter. “Sheila, let’s quit this horse—”



She knelt on her knees, tears of longing in her eyes, and a small box on her palm.





(5) Timothy Lowe 7:43pm

The bride threw up in her hands.

"It was a horse pill," the bride's mother whispered to an aunt.

"I can marry whomever I choose," she spat, wiping puke from her lips.

Not true. They'd found her yodelling in an alley the night before, drunk as a skunk. The pill had sobered her but made her sick.

"You belong with me," the groom said. He was a ratty little man in a monkey suit. He was also the only one who knew her sister's whereabouts.

"Shall we begin?" said the priest.

The bride swallowed her bile. She took his hand.



(6) Calorie Bombshell 8:26pm


Bride-to-be Ursula Langston Cordially Requests Your Presence.

Hand-delivered on linen paper. Name rings a bell but I can’t place her. Former co-worker? Googled address. Beverly Hills. “No gifts, please.” Classy.

I’m here. Gorgeous home. Which one’s Ursula? Face is familiar. Mannequin smile. But from where?
Headlong dash to buffet table. Mortadella and provolone pinwheels. Mouth stings of horseradish. Deathly allergic. Spit it out. Throat swelling. Mouths move as I stumble.

Remember now? Tenth grade. Ursula’s sister, Becca. Suicide. You tormented her. All of us.

I’ll tell them sorry. Beg their forgiveness. If I can just make it. to. the. door.



(7) Nadine 11:59pm


“He’s been gone a long time.” She held her handkerchief. “I think he’s met someone else. I heard he was seen in the woods with a girl.”
“Don’t think about that. You’re better off without him.”
She stood up. “Maybe he needs a ride back. I should go get him.”
“I wouldn’t bother if I were you.”
“Why?”
“He’s not coming home. He doesn’t love you.”
She glared at me. “Screw you and the horse you rode in on.”
“That’s just the thing,” I said. “He did. I was the girl in the dell.”



(8) A Velez 6:44am

She scrambles into the mill loft. The horse should be clear by now, she thinks. The children safe.

The loft is crammed with grain. No weapon. No escape. She shoves the barrels and they fall longwise like dominoes – flour explodes into air, denser than fog.

“It’s simple Della,” he emerges in the iridescence. “Sign over the homestead, you live.”

“No. I won’t.” And neither will you.

He raises the gun. A white apparition with a red, lying mouth.

He is already a ghost.

Flint to frizzen. A single spark. The glutted air ignites.

The explosion rages across the prairie.



(9) Pharosian 9:58am


"Howdy, ma'am," he said in perfect hayseed. He had that whole farmer-in-the-dell look going on, what with the overalls and straw hat.

"Let me show you where to bring the dining suite," I said, ushering him into my home.

He glanced around, presumably gauging dimensions. "Huh," he said, wiping his horsey face with a bandanna. "Never seen a chaise longue in a dining room before." He pronounced it "shayze lounge."

"It's 'shez long,' I said. I take pride in educating others.

"Smart lady." He nodded toward the wall. "So you know that Ver Meer is a fake?"

I stared.





I had to read all of these several times to make a final choice. I really loved what you all did with these prompt words.

The winner this week is Congratulations Calorie Bombshell.  A funny, yet twisted story with enough ambiguity at the end to really grab us!

Calorie Bombshell you'll email your mailing address to me, I'll send you a copy of The Long Ride Home by Kari Dell. If by some chance you have it already, let me know and we'll figure out something else.

Thanks to all of you who entered. As usual, I loved reading your work. Some of you are very very scary! (Just the way I like it!)