Thursday, September 30, 2010

No, all interns aren't idiots, in fact most of them are anything but.

 From the morning mailbag, in response to a running discussion on Twitter about an intern who  tweets about queries she's reading for her employer.

I'm sorry to unload on you but amongst us aspiring writers this whole intern thing has us feeling really low. We know they exist but we liked it when they were quietly behind closed doors doing their jobs. Now we have them tweeting like twits, blogging, and ladies like me are seriously pulling back. I'll take my chances nailing an agent at a conference or something.
I wonder now what the point of querying is, agents may never see it. Interns see them first, and they are tactless. Are all interns made of this same douch-baggy quality? The more I see online, I am believing, yes.

Don't believe it. Not for a minute.  Most interns I've worked with want nothing more than to learn everything they can and find a job they love.

Acceptance into our intern program at FinePrint is highly competitive.  Suzie Townsend and Meredith Barnes (along with Joanna Volpe and Sara Kendall at the Nancy Coffey Literary Agency) regularly receive more than a hundred applications for each intern class.  They winnow the list down to the best candidates who are then asked to write reading reports and answer questions. From that group, only five or six are chosen.

As a rule our interns are smart,  eager to learn, and a whole lot of fun. I tease them about being bright eyed and bushy tailed but they are balm to my grumpy soul (do NOT ever tell them, ok?)

Many are not kids at all; they have disparate backgrounds and professional experience.  Several have had careers in other fields, or jobs in other branches of publishing.

And yes you want them to read your queries.

Why?  They aren't jaded. They have more time.  They'll read 50 pages when I would have stopped at one.  One of the things it's hardest to teach them is "stop reading when it doesn't grab you." They are so eager to find good stuff they come early, stay late, and work on days they are not scheduled.

One thing I admire and respect about our interns is they know they don't know a lot yet.  It's why they are there: to learn. They pay attention.  When someone (me) says something, they pay attention.  They soak up information and ask questions.

When I saw the anonymous tweeter doing queries,  I was confident none of our interns were likely suspects.  I was confident becuase they read queries here in the office, right under our pointy little noses.  I was confident because they respect our agency's stringent rules and expectations of confidentiality.  I was confident because our interns understand their job isn't teaching writers how to query, or about what sells.  Their job is to learn.  And they do it with a grace and enthusiasm that gives me hope for the future of this industry that I love more than I should.

So, don't put our interns in with one bad apple.  They're a whole lot better than that. And that is pretty
clear even to the people who don't work here in the office.


Today's New York Times brought a pleasant surprise:

Thank you Penguin Young Readers Group for giving the #speakloudly message a very very big footprint.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I dare you!

Yup, I knew that!

I've always said David Simon is a genius.

The MacArthur Foundation agrees.

Congratulations David Simon on the well-deserved recognition of your work.

Thinking about writing

I think Elisabeth Black writes about writing in a way that is very illuminating. She doesn't post on her blog a lot, but when she does it's worth reading.  Like it is today.

And if you think Twitter is a waste of time consider this: I "met" Elisabeth Black on twitter.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hello Hello!

Remember this?

Well, we're going to be proactive now:


For information on what to do next, PRESS 1.

For information on how to sell your stellar idea, PRESS 2.

For information about how to locate our website, which is conveniently named the same as the listing in whatever registry gave you this number, PRESS 3

For information on how to find someone to tell you how to write the book yourself, PRESS 4

For back patting and hand-holding, PRESS 5

For an open-ended call to vent your frustration, PRESS 6

To be considered as canon (get it! get it!?) fodder in one of our clients' next books, PRESS 7

To pitch the whole dang thing over the phone, query first, then your synopsis, and five pages (please enunciate clearly and spell any "odd" names of people, places, or species), Press 8

If you believe someone is still waiting to answer your questions, Press 9, then do some research.

Please be aware that pressing any number will result in the call being immediately terminated.

Thank you for calling. Have a nice day.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

So, whadda ya know?

Today, my answer is "not much" since a truck rolled to a stop on my head and is now unloading elephants for the circus. Thankfully my nose is imitating the Boulder Dam so I don't have the olfactory element of the elephants to contend with.

The silver lining is this is the perfect excuse to not leave the house, and thus roam around the Internet.

Which brings me to one of my favorite blogs "You Don't Say."  In a recent post John E. McIntyre offers up career advice for a student.  One thing on the list is "be knowledgeable." I think that's very good advice.

Right now I know too much about elephants and noses.  Tomorrow, I hope to know a lot more about something much more interesting.

What are you knowledgeable about and did it help your writing?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010


So, you think publishing is glacial.

Get a load of this!

Best review site name: Bite Club

I found it when they reviewed BRAINS by Robin Becker. Clearly this site belongs on my google reader!

Their take on BRAINS? "Go on. Take a chance. Get bitten!"

Look who's listed at Successful Queries!

Why yes, that would be Sean Ferrell!

Truthfully though, I think of the day Sean's query letter arrived as "My Lucky Day" since he's an amazing writer and keeps me in stitches on Twitter.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

YOU are so right!

In tonight's mailbag:

I read 'You' (Charles Benoit) as you suggested at the conference. If I remember correctly you offered to pay for it if it was less than you said. That's why I'm writing...

to tell you to keep your dough... damn thing's a winner

It's been one of those days

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I believe this with all my heart

I believe we can learn truth by reading fiction.

I believe it because people tell me it is their experience; I believe it because it is my experience.

Thus I think it is incredibly important that people who are learning how to live in the world get to read about people like themselves.

And very bad things can happen to people.

Let me be specific: I think it's incredibly important that books for teenagers about horrible subjects-rape, incest, school shootings, death- get published. And even more important that those books are available in libraries so kids can read them even if they can't afford to buy them, or don't want anyone to know they are reading them.

If I had my way, if YOU had your way, no kid would ever need to hear or see or know anything about rape, incest, school shootings, death. Not the kids we love. Not even the kids we don't.

But we live in the real world. A world we wish was different. But it's not. It is what it is.

The reason I'm talking about this today is there is a "controversery" about a book called SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson. I put "controversy" in quotes because it feels like people are using this book to make political hay, rather than actually deal with the issues the book is about.

The book is about a young woman who keeps quiet about being raped.

I wish it could be shelved in the fantasy section, but more than half of all people who are raped never report the crime.

I think it is our duty to make sure books like this are written, published, and bought. Not called "pornography" and banned.

Banning books about what real people experience in their lives makes us co-conspirators in their shame.

The reason I'm talking about this today is I read a blog post by Myra McEntire about SPEAK. I have the deepest respect for what she says, and I agree with her. Read it.

Veronica Roth's post on this subject says what I think, but a whole lot better.

CJ Redwine's post on the subject will break your heart.

Truth is not pornography. I believe that with all my heart.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Putting the ohhhhhhh in 02

It had to be done.

I confess, I am the culprit.

It all started when our Fearless FinePrint Leader Stephany Evans mentioned she had a galley I wanted. Casually taunting me. Casually sneering (except I'm pretty sure Steph doesn't actually sneer since she's quite nice if you're not trying to grab galleys from her.)

I yearned for that book!

I could not involve the minions. They were busy doing actual work.

I could not involve the new interns. They are too wide-eyed and innocent to corrupt into my Evil Ways (this soon week all bets are off)

I could not involve The Suzenator. She was off making sure more copies of PERSONAL DEMONS were being delivered to every store in the country....personally.

Fortunately the Herpet American assistant rose to the call of duty. She slithered into Stephany's office and embraced her. REALLY e.m.b.r.a.c.e.d her. Stephany was too busy gasping for air to see me stealthily swim by.

I searched the office.

The bag o'mss
The second bag o'running gear.

The shelves! The desk! The chair! The Lair! The godsend's perch! Frantically I searched high and low!

Then, my prize was revealed! I grabbed it. I kissed it! I leaped out the window clutching the galley and my parasol as a parachute!

Oh...could someone go tell the Herpet-American assistant it's time to go home, and get Stephany some oxygen?

I'm kinda busy reading here.

I wonder if I'll have a job on Monday?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The first sign this is not going to go well


Meredith-the-godsend and I look at each other. The Suzenator is standing on her desk, autographing dollar bills from her last heated auction. Meredith and I race each reach for the phone. I win.

Me: Hello, FinePrint!

Caller: Is this a literary agent?

Me: (not sure of my name or job title after 12 hour flight from Alaska) Yes?

Caller: Well, can you tell me what to do?

Me: ----pause--- I'm pretty sure what I'm actually thinking is the wrong answer here.

Caller: What?

Me: I'm sorry, what did you want to know?

Caller: I want to know how to send in my idea so it can be a book that gets published.

Me: Do you have access to the web? All the information is on our website.

Caller: What's the name of your website?

Me: (deeply suspicious that perhaps Dan Krokos is prank calling now) It's the name of the company.

Caller: Well, what's the name of your company?

Me: Do you know who you're calling?

Caller: You're a literary agent.

Me: Yes but do you know which one?

Caller: no.

Me: Madam, where did you get this number?

Caller: it's on a website.

Me: which website?

Caller: I don't know exactly. It's a website that has names and phone numbers of literary agents.

Me: Our website address is Please feel free to call again any time.

Only sixteen words of this are not true. You can pick which ones.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


There are a lot of ways to get left out in the cold these days. Some can't be avoided; this one can.

A post over at Pimp My Novel asked writers to list their dream agents.

On the face of it, a harmless question.

But let's think a bit.

There are two ways I'm going to see my name: on it or not on it.

Will it do you any good if I'm not on it? What if your dream agent refers you to me. And I love your writing? Am I suddenly worthy of your love?

Or worse, I am on it, and I wonder what other kinds of TMI things you're going to post during your career, so pass on working with you cause I don't want to supervise your social networking.

I know there are agents you want to work with. Agents you'd rip out your liver, hell you'd rip out MINE, to offer up to the gods as a sacrifice for the chance to work with. These are conversations best left where they will do some good: your daily prayers.

Leave them out of Cyberia and its unforgiving, unrelenting, un-erasable cold sneer.

The prize! The prize!

Our most recent contest winner was told "well, we'll figure out what the prize is later." Patience being its own reward, the contest prize turned out to be pretty good.

Sadly, it won't be delivered by The Suzenator Herself:

but it will come directly to you delivered by a uniformed representative of the federal government. Or by a good-looking muscular guy in brown shorts. Your choice!

Turns out our winner, Phoenix Sullivan, is a query shark in training!

You might consider getting her advice; I think her writing is pretty darn good.


The dog whines at her name and paws my hand.

She's a Labrador. Black, like uncreamed coffee or the fading night.

Hope had been a Golden, a sun-filled garden, her bright devotion burning like Hannukah oil for eight precious years.

Black, though, is a color I understand. A bond buds where I thought no new would grow.

She waits patient in her harness. I take up the handle, eager yet cautious, aware she's my freedom, my salvation. My own miracle worker, ready to serve.

"Forward," I say to Java -- but what I'm really saying is good-bye to Hope.

When we say our hearts are broken, this is what we mean

David Thompson, a vital part of the crime fiction community, a friend and valued voice, has died.

It is shocking news, and sad beyond words.

I can't say I will miss him because I can't believe he's gone. There simply are no words that cover this.

Bat Segundo and Sean Ferrell...wit so dry, the rain was a relief

Friday, September 10, 2010

100th Anniversary of Policewomen in America

Adam Eisenberg's op-ed piece in the LAT about Alice Stebbin Wells is a fascinating look at what the first female cops were hired to do.

We've come a long way Kima!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Happy Birthday Writing Contest winner!

Of course the special birthday celebrant is the lovely and talented Rachelle Gardner!

Thanks to everyone who entered.

I really liked these lines:

"java in Java" by Stephanie Thornton 12:36am

"puddle of nun" by Rachel Searles 12:59pm

"the snakes were restless tonight" by Janet T 2:09pm

"I'm no jumped up java drinking labradoodle either" by Alex 2:18pm

"Times, they hadn't changed; they'd revolted" by Rebecca LuElla Miller 8:45pm

Most Terrifying: Tom M. Franklin 12:36pm

Most Enticing: Michael G-G 12:34pm

Most poetical!: jdh 7:36pm

Great word play from Catherine 11:44pm

Great punch line: Sue Harrison 9:41pm

Disqualified for word count but very nice: JenninReality 10:45pm

The four stories that stood out are:

Justwritecat 12:42am
“What’s that, dear? You’re a gardener?”

“No, ma’am. My name is Rachelle Gardner.”

“And you’re looking for your Labrador today? Be a miracle if you found him here, what with my hundred cats.”

“No - Labor Day parade. I can’t read this map. Do you know—”

“That’s considerate, but my cats don’t need a nap. Serve you some tea? Or are you one of those hippie java types?”

“Um, tea is fine, but I don’t really have—”

“Course not, dear. Go find that dog of yours. Such devotion. Be sure to take him round the corner - there’s a parade going on.”

Matt 2:26am
Java is a clueless dog. I consider it a minor miracle every time he finds his way back into the house from the yard. However, you train him in a few simple tasks, serve doggie treats as rewards, and he'll carry them out with a boundless, simple-minded devotion.

For example: Did you know that many banks allow seeing eye dogs on their premises? And with proper motivation, a two-year-old Labrador with a canvas tote bag will go to every guard in a room and retrieve their guns for you?

In theory, anyway.

See you in ten, three with good behavior.

Abogash 3:03am

"Doesn't matter how much devotion he shows to his family. Look at that cute black labrador puppy in the yard, for God's sake! Or if we like it...can't think about it, we still have to serve him." Rachelle slumped in defeat against her squad car's seat, gripping the foreclosure summons tightly.

"Yeah, I know. But still, we could go get some java and forget the whole thing- you know- pray for a miracle or something?"

Neither felt up to shattering yet another American dream.

She shoved the summons into his hand. "You serve, I'll buy."

Phoenix 8:57am


The dog whines at her name and paws my hand.

She's a Labrador. Black, like uncreamed coffee or the fading night.

Hope had been a Golden, a sun-filled garden, her bright devotion burning like Hannukah oil for eight precious years.

Black, though, is a color I understand. A bond buds where I thought no new would grow.

She waits patient in her harness. I take up the handle, eager yet cautious, aware she's my freedom, my salvation. My own miracle worker, ready to serve.

"Forward," I say to Java -- but what I'm really saying is good-bye to Hope.

The winner of the last writing contest of the summer, the Happy Birthday Rachelle Gardner contest is Phoenix.

Phoenix, drop me a line at and we'll figure out what delicious prize you've won!

Thank you to everyone who entered (these are a lot of fun to read!) and congratulations to all who were singled out!

And Happy Birthday old did you claim to be??

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Thursday September 9 7pm

An event you do NOT want to miss:

RiverRun books in Portsmouth NH (just an hour north of Boston) hosts the incredibly talented Jess Walter, author of THE ZERO, and CITIZEN VINCE. His new novel is called THE FINANCIAL LIVES OF POETS and if I was more organized, I'd have it in my hot little hand instead of on order.

Also on the program is some debut author dude. Ferrell something, Sean I think. The novel just "sucked..." You might want to read it and see if you agree.

"A fantastic read from start to finish"

Have you overlooked THE BREACH?

John DeNardo at SF Signal did but when he did read it, well, you can read what he said right here.

Further cracking up via Jeff Somers

No, no, no.

"This is a fictional memoir."

noooo no no.

For starters, publishers are a trifle leery these days of "fiction" and "memoir" appearing in the same sentence. Frey-tened you might say.

Second, if it's fiction, and thinly disguised, you can STILL get sued, and LOSE. Anybody can sue about anything, but until last year, we all comforted ourselves that the disclaimer "this is a novel, I made it all up" would protect us.

After the court case in Hall County, Georgia, that changed.

So, no "fictional memoirs" and no "thinly disguised roman a clefs" As a novelist you always got to make stuff up; now you really have to.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Happy Birthday Who?? Writing Contest

There's a very delightful friend having a birthday today Monday, September 6

In her honor, let's have the last writing contest of summer!

I'm not sure what the prize will be but we'll think of something delicious!

Usual rules: Tell me a story in 100 words or fewer. If you identify the birthday celebrant by name, so much the better.

Use these words in the story:


Contest opens now and runs till 11:59pm. 24 hours start to finish. All times are Eastern Shark Time.


Sunday, September 05, 2010

I love it when the clients get clever!

Tonight on twitter is was business as usual: biting wit, some discussion of The Wire, SundaySoup, and welcoming Kathleen Ortiz back from Florida.

Then here came Kari Dell. You will remember her as the author of the hilarious blog Montana for Real. She tweeted this:

For your Sunday afternoon amusement, the next four or five tweets shall comprise the best shark joke ever, in honor of You Know Who. (that would be me)
Father and son sharks come upon a bunch of shipwreck survivors thrashing around in the water. Father says, "Follow my lead."
"First, swim a bunch of circles around them with just your fin showing."
They did.
The people thrashed harder and screamed a lot.
Then the father said, "Okay, now we can eat them."
And they did.
Afterward, the son said, "Why did we have to swim circles around them?"

"Because they taste better without all the crap inside."

Well, of course I thought that was the funniest thing I'd seen since someone chastised me for responding to an email query sent to me with the wrong agent's name on it.

And now here's Kari's final tweet, and the real punchline:
I've gotta say it: Now we know why you circle the lobby 5 times before settling in to take conference pitches. #waitstodie

I'm still laughing.

Of course there's only one thing to say now: Alaska Here I Come!

Get yourself a good SDT

The Shark Delay Team has five members. They rotate duty schedules so someone is always on call.

The call looks something like this:

SHARK: Oh my F/ing G/ing D/ing H/ing Hornswoggle Hootenanny! Did you see THIS! Can you believe THAT! Oh MY GARAMOND. I must set them straight! Here's the text of my reply (email drenched in gasoline proffered)

SDT#1: (reading text) Egad! My eyeballs are on fire!

SHARK: I'm amazingly cogent when I'm furious aren't I?

SDT #2: Step away from the keyboard, Shark. Here, let's play some nice Bach. Light a candle, not a blowtorch. Would you like a cupcake?

SHARK: Are you daft? Didn't you see this? Read this, I added a new pithy phrase and snide point (waving flame singed email text)!

SDT #1: (wiping soot from eyes) Sit down SharkForBrains. Do. Not. Hit. Reply.

SHARK: What? I must reply! The fate of the free world, not to mention my ego, depends on my personal one and only refudiation of this malicious and totally stupid blog post. I Must Reply or..or Die! (grand theatrical leap out of the water, splashing noises and shrieks of terrified swimmers)

SDT#2: Have you picked the hymns? Called the priest for last rites? Because I will murder you myself if you touch that keyboard. AND I will take all your scotch.

SHARK: oh. Hmmm. (pause for conniving thoughts)

SDT#1: No. You cannot connive your way past us. We have the liquor cabinet key.

SHARK: (whimpering noises)

SDT#2 (comforting tone): Put it aside. You can always send it later.

~~Later arrives~~

SHARKFORBRAINS: oof. That was really not a good idea. Thank goodness yet again for the Shark Delay Team. Saved!

I mention this to you, who perhaps do not come unglued quite so readily, because now that query season has reopened I'm hearing back from people who aren't happy that I respond with a form letter, or respond too soon.

Quick reminder: the only reply to a rejection letter is either "thank you" or silence. No other option.

I need trusted friends to talk me off the Reply ledge periodically. You might too.

The reason is *Not* a mystery!

Yes indeed EVEN by Andrew Grant is on the bestseller list at Seattle Mystery Bookstore!

It's not a mystery about why:

"Think a young, British, Jason Bourne framed and trapped in New York City and running for his life. Think about a new author on the scene who writes action like a veteran. Think about trying to put this book down, and then clear your calendar: it ain't going to happen."

—Ridley Pearson

Gimme back my money!

Not a phrase any author wants to hear, let alone his agent but honestly...yowza!

A marker of how things have changed in publishing

One of the veterans of publishing, Larry Ashmead, has died. His obituary in the New York Times notes without comment that:

Early in his career, Mr. Ashmead ran ads in a local newspapers announcing that he was coming to town to hear book ideas. That openness to ideas extended to junior employees at Harper who thought they had written masterpieces — a type of writer not exactly popular with editors.

But he finally read Kate Morgenroth’s psychological thriller about a mass murder in a retirement home, partly because she had baked brownies for the office. The novel, “Kill Me First,” was published in 1999, received good reviews and was followed by more books.

Can you imagine an editor running ads in a local paper to hear book ideas now? The very thought sends me (and most likely them) under the desk quivering and sobbing.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Required reading

Laura Lippman. If she's not on your must-read list, put her on it. Now.

The first books are the Tess Monaghan series, which is good. Then there are the stand-alones, which I think will be considered classics.

The latest is I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE. I just finished reading it and I'm in awe.

I've yammered for years about Ken Follet and THE KEY TO REBECCA and THE EYE OF NEEDLE. What knocked my sox off with those books is how Follet changes how we feel about characters so deftly we only realize it later. The character we think is the hero in KEY TO REBECCA, the first character we see, isn't. Only later, much later, do we realize that.

What Laura Lippman does is more nuanced: she makes us wonder about the characters. We think Eliza is one thing, then we start wondering if maybe she's something else. Walter is the bad guy... right? This sense of wanting to find out about the characters kept me turning pages. And because Laura Lippman is a brilliant writer I not only found out, I was surprised by the ending and not disappointed at what I found out.

I think this book should be required reading for every writer.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Be Confident: Let your writing do the talking

What are you?

Multipley published?
Award winning?
Cantankerously represented?


You're a writer. Even if your books have not been published. Or if they have. Or if there is more than one. You may have won an award (congrats!). You may be agented, not-agented, soon-to-be-separated from the agent from Hell.

But: you're a writer.

That's all you need to tell me, and you don't need to tell me even that. Let your writing show me you're a talented and amazing writer. Show me. Don't tell me.

I'm cantankerous, sardonic and perpetually annoyed enough at this stage of my career that I don't believe anything anyone tells me.

"I was nominated for an Edgar" means I look up the Edgar list for that year.

"I have been published before" means I look you up on Amazon.

"My agent slithers" means I call up Barbara Poelle and ask why she's letting you go.

All you need to do is tell me about a novel I want to read. And I'll read it. Have confidence enough to let your writing speak for itself. You're a writer. I'm a reader. That's all we know, and all we need to know (sorry Keats, couldn't resist.)

What rhymes with lunatic?

Some days ago I made an off-hand reference to a poem by Yeats. The ever-clever, and highly utilitarian Meredith-the-Godsend gave me a quizzical look. (I am used to those by now; they come most often when I talk to myself in the office a bit too loudly)

M-t-G's look did not say "pipe down, I'm working here" as much as it did "what the hell are you talking about over there bucko."

Aha! The moments I live for! When I can pontificate (at length!) from my superior reservoir of knowledge since I am older than M-t-G by a factor of 600 and have the laugh lines to prove it.

"Yeats," said I. "It's a poem by Yeats. You know, the guy who wrote The Widening Gyre." Well, of course he didn't write The Widening Gyre, he wrote The Second Coming of which "turning and turning in the widening gyre" is a line.

Ok, the superior reservoir of knowledge obviously needs to be skimmed like a swimming pool after a downpour, but still you get the point.

I went on and on (and on!) about the value of reading poems. How they Enlighten! Make you Smart! Witty! Educated! I might even have issued a reading list. Threatened a quiz.

And now it turns out that reading too much poetry can turn you into a lunatic.

(link lifted ruthlessly from BookNinja)

This explains a LOT about Jeff Somers, demigod