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Viewing Blog: Janet Reid, Literary Agent, Most Recent at Top
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I'm a literary agent with FinePrint Literary Management in New York City. I specialize in crime fiction. I'll be glad to receive a query letter from you; guidelines to help you decide if I'm looking for what you write are below. There are several posts labelled "query pitfalls" and "annoy me" that may help you avoid some common mistakes when querying.
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1. Query question: former agent/when to reveal

My former agent and I recently parted company on good terms. Without going into details, we inherited each other when his partner left the business. and weren't really a good fit.

I am currently completing a non-fiction proposal, which was not completed at the time when we said "bonne chance and farewell" and which he did not send out. Do I mention previous representation in the query or bring it up later in the process?




You do not need to mention a former agent for a new project UNLESS you've been published before.

If you have been published, you'll need to mention the earlier works, the publisher and that the agent who handled the deal for you left the business.



If you haven't been published, you don't need to mention any previous agent relationships since this project did not go out on submission.


Make sure you update your website if you have the old agent's name on it.  That's one of the easiest ways for me to discover that someone has been represented/published before if they don't mention it in the query. And yes, I DO look. If I'm interested in reading your manuscript (or in this case proposal) I do some sniffing around ahead of time to see if there are any bumps in the road.

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2. Query Question: responding to suggestions in a rejection letter





I received a few requests for my full manuscript about six months ago. One agent told me that she liked the story, but one specific part at the end seemed a bit unrealistic to the situation. I thanked her for her time, said I was sorry it couldn't work out, and went off to go weep in my keyboard. A couple of days went by, and I started to think about what she said a little more. I realized that the issue she had with the ending could have been fixed with a few added sentences of explanation, or something of the like. It really think I could have made it work. I kicked myself for not realizing it sooner, and even though I've moved on from that novel (it never worked out), I still keep thinking about it.

So my question to you is:

Would it have been out of line to email the agent back with my suggested fixes? Or is a rejection on a full manuscript considered the end of the line?

I tried to convince myself that if the agent thought the manuscript would work with a few changes she would have said something, but I can't help wondering just the same.

It's the end of the line. Absent the phrase "revise and resend" or "fix this and send it back" or "if you fix this, I'll take another look" the agent has said No, thanks. In other words, absent a specific request to get in touch after revisions, don't.

Often I can point to one or two things that will help a manuscript improve and I try to give that info to writers when I'm passing on their work.  The piece of information you're missing here though is this: that's not the only reason the ms is not right for me.  There are a lot of good manuscripts out there that aren't right for me. A pass from me (or any agent) doesn't mean anything except it's not right for them.

Expand your query search. It's really easy to focus on the agent who wrote back, but you need to look for other agents because the right one won't know about you till you query her. 

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3. Query Question: questions in a query

is it okay to ask a question in a query?
I've just read this brief on the movie American Psycho
"Patrick Bateman is young, white, beautiful, ivy leagued, and indistinguishable from his Wall Street colleagues. Shielded by conformity, privilege, and wealth, Bateman is also the ultimate serial killer, roaming freely and fearlessly. His murderous impulses are fueled by zealous materialism and piercing envy when he discovers someone else has acquired more than he has. After a colleague presents a business card superior in ink and paper to his, Bateman's blood thirst sharpens, and he steps up his homicidal activities to a frenzied pitch. Hatchets fly, butcher knives chop, chainsaws rip, and surgical instruments mutilate-how far will Bateman go? How much can he get away with?


I began to ponder if someone could write something like this as a query, with those two questions at the end?

It's ok to ask questions in a query if it works. This works, which is not surprising since it's a pitch for a movie and people spend a lot of time and money making sure those pitches entice movie viewers.

What you want to avoid in a query are rhetorical questions:  what would you do if? Have you always wanted to do X?

Things that assume a mind-set of the reader are dangerous because agents on the whole are a caustic, jaded lot and we would simply prefer you tell us about the book, and leave the other stuff on the cutting room floor.



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4. Query Question: querying after another agency member said no to a full

On some agency websites, the submission guidelines state that should an agent turn down a query, the author is allowed to re-query another agent at that same agency. What happens after a full or partial manuscript is requested? If the first agent turns you down after reading your full/partial, is it still okay to query another agent at that same agency?






There's no right or wrong answer to this since it depends on the individual agent and agency involved.  My advice is always to Query Widely. That means if they don't say "don't do it" then go right ahead.


I'm always looking for good projects. If one of my colleagues was short-sighted enough to miss your brilliance, well you should have queried me first, but at least query me second.


Don't be afraid of offending agents. There's no blacklist, there's no such thing as the Query Police.  There are couple ways to shoot yourself in the foot by querying stupidly but you're clearly not in that category. 


If you spend a lot of time fretting about doing the right thing, you're going to miss out. Be bold. Query like you have the answer to my prayers.

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5. Query question: things I want in the book--include in query?

I have a novel that i want to be illustrated and its a YA novel but im afraid it would be considered New Adult because my character is 18. Is it wise to inform the agent in the query that you want the novel to be illustrated or do you wait to get represented by one and then tell them? (not illustrated by me)

My second question is the illustrations i want inside the novel fits more with graphic novels and by me wanting graphic novel artwork and panels inside the novel to work alongside the novel text, would i consider this a graphic novel or would it still be considered a illustrated novel?

P.S: This not a comic book but its a hybrid between comic book elements (artwork/Panels) with ordinary novel text.

First you're using graphic novel and illustrated novel almost interchangeably and they are VERY different kinds of books. Graphic novels add a layer of story with art. Illustrated novels do not. Graphic novels are very light on actual text. Illustrated novels are light on art.


You need to be VERY clear what you want because what you want here is not going to be easy to get. Publishers aren't keen to do graphic novels: they don't sell like books do and they're expensive to produce. Publishers aren't keen on illustrated novels either because of the added production costs.

Since you're submitting text-only queries don't include anything about illustrations in the query letter.  If an agent is interested in your work, and you have a phone call to discuss your project, that's when you mention you see this as an illustrated novel.  






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6. Query Question: I got help on my query, a lot of it.

I'm a first time novelist who is a month into the query process with limited success-- that is, I've gotten interest through my query letter and have sent out 4 full manuscripts and 3 partials (in addition to the 12 rejections I got from query alone). 

So far I've gotten three rejections for the manuscripts that I've sent. I've also noticed that any time I'm asked to submit sample writing with my query, I always get rejected. That might not mean anything (and we're still very early in the game, really, only 20 responses total so far), but the other part of the situation is that I hired someone to help me craft my query letter. She took two drafts of mine and put them together while altering quite a bit of it. She did an amazing job but now I'm concerned that agents are liking her voice, which might be misrepresenting my voice.

Was it a mistake to have someone else write my query letter? I figured, hey, I'm a novelist, I can't write concisely. But now I'm wondering if it would have been best to put my best voice forward since that's the voice I'm ultimately trying to sell.




Yes, this was an understandable but boneheaded error.  An agent is very interested in how well you write. Hiring someone else to do that writing is akin to hiring someone to woo your boyfriend and then popping in yourself for the wedding night.  Surprise!


And don't give me that hooey about "I'm a novelist, I can't write concisely"  Every single page of your book is made up of paragraphs. That's all a query letter is: three paragraphs.


And like anything else query writing is a LEARNED skill. There's an entire blog devoted to helping you acquire that skill.


Start over on the query. Write it yourself. Or better yet: work on your novel. You have prima facie evidence here that it's NOT working. 

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7. Week in Review 2/22/15

This week just flew by. Of course, a holiday on Monday does absolutely nothing for winnowing down the To Do list; meetings, events and out of town guests don't help either. This whole weekend will be devoted toward work if I have any hope of starting Monday with anything less than the entire to do list from last week.



Monday's blog post on whether reviewing books would hurt a writer's chance to connect with an agent brought up something I had not considered previously:   MB Owen wrote

"Do you review as a Reader (taste) or a Writer? (technique)."

I think that's an interesting distinction. I like to think of myself as a reader first, everything else second, but when I don't like a book, it's often for some bad technique like plot holes or raging black stallions being suddenly rideable by naked titian-haired virgins (thank Julie Weathers for that hilarity.)

The books not to my taste are often the books I don't read at all (books on child abuse etc.) I'm trying to think of a book that I've read recently that just didn't appeal to me at all on a taste level and I'm drawing a blank.

A Valez asked a good question in the comments column: "Would any of this apply to simply rating a book (through the Goodreads star system)? I don't write reviews, but I almost always rate them. Would an agent really care if I had one-stared one of their client's books?"

Oh hell YES I'd care! And the problem is that simply rating with stars doesn't even explain the reason. I would just assume you are dunderhead with no taste of any kind. (Yes, I can be a little over the top on these matters.)

Ardenwolf made a good point: "Imagine being a literary agent. You look someone up, and you find tons and tons of nasty, scathing reviews that blast the author and the author's work." If I do see your Goodreads profile and there are a lot of nasty, scathing reviews even if not of my clients, I'm going to think twice about working with you. That kind of mind-set is not one I find attractive.


But let's all remember that I do not actively search out reviews on Goodreads or elsewhere if you're querying me. I do not set the Private Detective Shark on your trail to make sure you are properly respectful of all I hold dear. Mostly I just hope you write something so fabulous that I can't wait to start talking about it to other people.



And Terri Lynn Coop pretty much summed up how to write good book reviews: use an alias and talk about the book.



On Tuesday the topic turned to querying a previously published novel without full disclosure. I pretty much had a heart attack about that idea. Lots of Capital Letters Were Involved.

What was really interesting was that most of the ensuing comments were hilariously, joyously and COMPLETELY off topic. In other words, the best kind.

First, it seems as though there's a start time for comments since Colin was tapping his toe, waiting for Susan who apparently has been watching Downton Abbey until the wee hours.


DLM mentioned we need a new label for questions like this. I rather like her suggestion: Query Shenanigans. She also confessed she is an "unrepentant fan of a certain trash TV program even I can't name because it's that shameful. :)"  Which of course makes me intensely insanely curious what it could be?

And of course, as Terri Lynn Coop pointed out Julie Weathers wins the internet for her summing up the blog topic:

It's kind of like saying you'll volunteer to be the virgin sacrifice to save the village even though you did it with Eddie Finklebottom once. It wasn't very good, so that really doesn't count, does it?



Which was followed by Donnaeverhart asking: "all I want to know at this point is, does Eddie Finklebottom know Felix Buttonweezer?" and that made me laugh so loud I think I scared the pigeons on the window sill.



DLM told us "I've been clicking the profiles of all the users I don't know as well, and saving those who have blogs" which reminded me to tell you that having contact info for your commenting name is really important. On occasion, I remove comments made by regular posters. I WILL email to let you know why if I have your email address. A lot of you are contest winners, so I have emails from you, but if I don't, I click on your profile. You should be reachable for lots of reasons, just add this one to your list.

Between the weather, the cats, and the nuts (both human and food) Tuesday's was a comment string for the ages.


On Wednesday I used an email to talk about speculative fiction and why I don't represent it. And that pretty much sent everyone into an apoplexy when I said "just ignore category, send everything." It was really rather fun to see you guys work yourselves up into a lather.

DLM made me laugh so hard with her courtroom drama, that in fact, I'm still laughing on Friday night as I write this recap.

Colin's courtroom drama had a couple lines that I think I need to tattoo somewhere. This is one of them:

DENA: How do you explain, Ms. Shark-for-brains, the sudden spike the number of queries submitted to you over the last month?

QOTKU: I don't know. My charm? My people skills?



Jenz said "So all this time, as I've been hunting for books with sci-fi elements but set in the contemporary world, Janet has been handling them and hiding them under the thriller label." Yup, guilty. Start with Patrick Lee's The Breach series and then try Jeff Somers' Avery Cates series. Patrick's new series starts with RUNNER, and Jeff's new series is WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE. That should keep you reading for a nice long time. And yes, I love those books with a passion that makes that untamed black stallion look like a pony ride in the park.



And Colin's punch line "Or just query Janet. She'll take anything. ;)" reminded me of this great ad.





RE Journey asked "I did query Janet during a Chum Bucket, with a lovely rejection saying "DO query onward." (Yes the "DO" was capitalized). I have fretted over this. Is it a typo or strong encouragement that my ramblings could be something..."


Which of course is highly insulting to think that I, ME, the Queen of the Known Universe would have a typo, GADZOOKS, a typo!!! in any of my emails to writers. Heaven forfend. *swims off in a huff*

In other words, don't assume it's a typo if it's encouraging or I will come to your house and beat you over the head with Amy's nuts(which now include melons, so this is a threat of epic proportion. Or epic fantasy, you choose.)



On Friday the topic was lack of communication from an agent to a prospective client. I suggested the writer keep querying but also not just write off the prospective agent. We're all behind, all the time, and some of us have learned (the hard way) to keep people posted on that kind of thing.



Dena mentioned "According to the CA state bar, the number one complaint the public has against lawyers is “my lawyer never communicates with me.”" Years ago I heard that the number one reason patients sued their doctors for malpractice was that the doctor didn't talk to them about problems they were having with treatment/procedures or wouldn't answer their questions.


Many of you took me to task for not recognizing that the agent missing phone calls was a bad sign this early in the relationship. As Julie Weathers pointed out "some time back [Janet} mentioned this is a wooing period. When the agent has decided they want the client and are putting their best foot forward. Am I dreaming this? Anyway, if this is their best foot, what happens later when they aren't wooing?"

Julie's not dreaming, I did say that. And it should be true, but I just hate to have a writer slam a door when she doesn't have to. More than once I've gotten an exasperated email from a non-client writer who wonders if her agent is dead/fled/taking vows at the local convent, only to have the situation resolve nicely with a phone call.

Jennifer R. Donahue gets a gold star for getting "murder of crows" into a blog comment.



On Friday the blog post was on whether to sell a second book to a small publisher or wait for "something better"

Colin Smith wrote the best description of agent versus non-agent and I'm going to steal it shamelessly and hope I remember to credit him for it when I use it from now on:



From my reading (not from experience) I would liken the difference between being agented and being unagented to traversing the jungle with or without a native guide. With a native guide you're not as likely to get lost, bitten, or attacked, and the guide will also be able to point out things along the way you may not have noticed on your own. On the other hand, without a guide, you're free to take your own path, you can detour and perhaps see things the guide might not have thought you would want to see (or maybe missed), and you get all the credit for making it through. Without a guide you have to be more savvy and you probably work and worry a bit more, but you control your journey. With a guide, you feel safer in the hands of someone who knows the terrain, but you lose some sense of control.

Pros and cons. It's really about career choices, not good vs. bad.



CarolynWith2Ns (and some odd items in her basement) revealed her strategy for connecting to an agent:

Anyway, I have held out for years for an agent and unless I kidnap and hide one in my basement I'm about ready to go small-press or on my own, double ugh. So the question is what do I feed the agent in my cellar, Doritos and whiskey or kale and Icelandic glacier water?



which is a very strange question because everyone knows lettuce is the food of the Devil, and that includes kale. Since we already have glacier water here, I'm going with whisky and Doritos.


Donnaeverhart demonstrated her desire to join Colin Smith in the The Great Pit of Carkoon by just mentioning Lima beans.



On Saturday the topic was what do you need for your second book if an editor buys the first book which quickly became a discussion of pantsers versus plotters. It looks like a bunch of you are pantsers. I heard Jeff Somers give a GREAT talk on using BOTH strategies to get over plotting bumps in the road. He did it for Writers Digest about a year ago. I have no idea if they recorded it and you can access it, but if you can, DO. Jeff may sound like a drunken bum at times but he's hiding a very keen mind and writing strategy behind that liquor cabinet.

And donnaeverhart wondered how agents "query" publishers or editors: Or maybe calls them and shrieks, "you gotta read this NOW!"

Generally I don't use the word query about what I do for sending client's work to editors I use the word pitch.

I write a bunch of pitch letters just like you write a bunch of queries. I revise it, say it out loud, recite it in to my phone so I can hear it read back to me on voice mail, and then I call editors and give them a quick phone pitch. Then I send the longer pitch by email.

So far, so good.

I have indeed called favorite editors and said "read this now or die" but I have a hard time not bursting into gales of laughter when I do.

And the cat and dog pictures were fabulous. Just the thing for a snowy afternoon.


Over on my Facebook page, I posted a link from the Bloomsbury Review with a list of words that have become obscure or outdated.

I'm pretty sure you'll see one or two of those in upcoming flash fiction contests! Slugabed seems to be the one most people know. I was in fact surprised to see it listed as outdated. It's a word that I use a LOT here, particularly on cold winter mornings.

A Facebook post that generated quite a big of discussion was the writer who "personalized" her queries but then just forwarded each one to the next person on her list. I'd never seen anything like it before. It was horribly hilariously wrong. I sure hope she figures it out soon.



This week I also read the new Lyndsay Faye novel The Fatal Flame. On-sale is May 2015. I'm a drooling devoted Lyndsay Faye fan as you should be too, and this one does not disappoint in any way.


I also finished Cop Town by Karin Slaughter, nominated for Best Novel at the Edgars. This is an absolutely stunning novel. All crime writers should read this. It evokes a specific place and time better than almost anything I can remember. The plot moves right along too. My hope is that Stuart Neville wins the Edgar cause I know him and adore him, but Cop Town is fierce competition.


I also read Uncle Janice by Matt Burgess and it too is a book every crime writer should read. It was pitched as a cross between Catch-22 and The Wire, which is a terrible set of comps until you realize it's exactly right. There's almost no plot to this book but I couldn't put it down.


And for those of you reading this who have manuscripts waiting for me to read, you might wonder why I'm reading these other books and not your manuscript. That's a fair question. I need to read published books, and particularly books that are really good so I can recalibrate my eye after reading a lot of manuscripts on submission or, worse,  queries. If the only thing I read are submissions I lose perspective. It took me a LONG time to learn that let me tell you.



Same with writing this blog and posting on Facebook. Sometimes people say "how do you find the time" and/or "shouldn't you be working?" Writing this blog has taught me a lot about good writing, how to get better, how to be clear and how to revise (oh god, some of those older posts!) All of that is very useful for my "real" work with authors. Besides, the comments column is the best part of my day. As for Facebook, it's a whole lot easier to help writers build a fan base of readers on Facebook if you've actually tried to do that yourself. Knowing how hard it is to build platform is a pretty key part of my job.

And just cause it's so weird, here's my favorite news story this week.




Next week's forecast is for more cold and more snow. I'm seriously considering moving in with Amy Schaefer, coconuts or no.


Why I am not there now, I do not know.











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8. Query Question: "next work" outline/synopsis/nothing!

I have a manuscript on submission now that's getting requests. It's part of a series. I've started working on the second book, but I'm also working on a second, entirely different book. I always have two projects going and it's possible project one will never sell.

What I wonder is, being a woodland creature, what happens if I get interest in the manuscript and they ask for an outline on the second one in the series or the second and third? I spent ten days trying to force an outline and my brain just doesn't work that way. I see scenes and write them. I know how the books start and end and some things in between, but not everything. Things just sort of fall into place at the right time. Are agents or publishers going to take a chance on an airhead who can't plot out a book?



Yup. I've got a bunch of 'em here taking up real estate on my client list. I tend not to think of them as airheads however as much as pantsers.

When you get an offer on the book on submission, the editor will often ask "what else does the author have?"  You don't need an ouline or a synsopsis, but it does help to have a concept statement and something about what the book is about.

That said, if you don't, you don't.  I've sold LOTS of books that no one knew anything about (including the author.)  Most of the time it works out just fine.

Stop worrying about this. Worry about how cold my toes are and send cat pictures to warm me up!

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9. Query Question: Strategy for second book


A little over a year ago, I published a noir novel with a small, but known crime publisher. It got good reviews, but not huge sales. Still,  I was hoping to parlay that into getting an agent for my second book, but, alas, even the shark has not bitten yet.

Now the publisher is asking about my second book. I'd like to get another title under my belt, but they don't really have the resources for marketing. My question is, should I go with a second book with them, and build my list, or keep holding out for something better?






There is no hard and fast rule to answer this question, I'm sorry to say.  The first thing you need to ask yourself is what you want your career to look like. You can stay happily published for years with a small press, selling at "not huge sales" numbers.  If you move to a traditional press, you need good sales, and then more sales. And they are generally not going to give you any more help on that than your small press did unless you're one of the top five books in their catalog. They may tell you differently; don't believe them.


What bigger publishers can do very well is make sure that trade accounts know about your book, and libraries too. What bigger publishers do NOT do very well is build a community of fans.  That is your job (whether you have it done for you, or you do it) and would be with any publisher.


One thing you do need to know is how many books your small publisher can print, and if they can print MORE if you need them.  Returns can kill a small press so they are not likely to print huge numbers without huge orders before hand.

There's nothing wrong with building a successful career with a small press. A lot of very fine writers have done that.

If you dream of moving to a bigger league though, you'll need to have an established community of readers to take with you.





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10. Query Question: I think I have an agent but she's not responding

Over my couple of years querying (had one agent I left because she never sent out my book as promised until I nudged and then never passed along the editor response until I nudged--four months apart) I have seen agent behavior deteriorating. I have had probably six agents recently who never responded to a full request, even to polite follow-up nudges. This used to seem shocking, now it's rapidly becoming standard.

And now--this agent offered rep, we talked, I accepted (no contract yet) and she has blown off two follow-up calls. I mean saying are you available tomorrow afternoon and then not calling or sending a note to cancel. This leaves me in a very uncomfortable spot. I am a consultant who always follows up with clients. I understand busy, also being a workaholic who has multiple projects at one time. If I'm in the middle of something, I send a note to let someone know.

My instinct is to pull the plug but not having a full understanding of "agent" protocol, wonder if I am alarmist and maybe she just has an extremely casual approach. I mean, if my daughter did that I wouldn't think she didn't like me or something or was a flake. But this woman supposedly wants me as a client. Not a good impression. I feel as important to her as sidewalk debris. Not a nice feeling!! 


Five years ago you would have gotten a good rant out of me about unresponsive agents and how disrespectful not answering emails etc is.

Now, not so much.

Here's the thing it's helpful for authors to remember, and it was one of the hardest things for me to learn AND figure out how to accommodate:  no matter what I plan to do today, something will come up that knocks that plan into a cocked hat.

It can be that a description of a client's book on Amazon reveals too much of the plot. I need to get in touch with the editor, make sure they get new copy written and put into the system and most important, that I have a calender item that says to follow up in a week or ten days.

I sometimes think my entire job is writing notes on my date book about things to follow up on.

It can be the arrival of a batch of royalty statements, all of which need to be scrutinized. I know I'll be writing at least one or two emails for every five pages of royalty statement I receive. Some of my clients have 35 page royalty statements. And that's just for ONE of their series.

And right now it can be clients calling with questions on their 1099 tax forms. Those questions go to the head of the line, trumping even royalty statements.



You wrote that you have "multiple projects at one time" which means you're busy I'm sure. Do you have 36 projects going not just at one time, but all the time? That's my workload. And that's just authors. Most authors have multiple books, and multiple deals for each book (translation, audio, film.)  That puts my number of multiple projects just north of 100. And that doesn't count queries, answering questions on the blog or what most other agents try to do: have a life.

Some people are better at balancing this kind of deluge than others. You might have queried an agent who isn't. It doesn't mean she's not a good agent, or will be scattered in her business dealings. It just means that when her inbox tops 100, she's not writing the kinds of "hey, I haven't forgotten you emails" that would ease your mind.

Sure, we all wish she would. But, before you pull the plug on an agent you think is a good fit, give her some time to get caught up. Continued polite nudging is OK.  Don't read more into it than she's got a lot going on.

And one of the main reasons people (not just agents) don't reply to nudging emails: it generates MORE email.  On the days I send status reports to clients or queriers I know my inbox will flood. If you're trying to get your head above water, that's daunting.


Right now, you should be querying since you don't have a contract and the agent hasn't said why that is.  You query until you have an agent, and right now, you don't.

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11. More on how to figure out what agents represent

I have finished Signal (loved it), but am left puzzled by one thing. How is it you think you don’t rep speculative fiction? Oh, I know Patrick Lee and Jeff Somers write a fast-paced story that you could nudge over to thriller/suspense, but seriously. People are going to start putting two and two together, you know. If you sell it they will come – the queriers, I mean. Heck, I might even lead the charge.


Well, I don't represent speculative fiction cause I'm not really sure what it is.  I signed Patrick Lee for a book that I think of as a thriller. I pitched it as a thriller. It got published by an imprint of Harper that does science fiction. We sold enough copies that I know it sold to people who don't read science fiction.  Same with Runner. I pitched that as a thriller. It was marketed as a thriller.  If you think it's speculative fiction, I'm ok with that as long as you buy many many copies of the book.

And Jeff Somers was signed for a book called CHUM that isn't speculative fiction (whatever that is) and when I sold Electric Church I thought it was science fiction, or a dystopian thriller.

I make jokes about this by saying I sold dystopian by mistake, I thought it was something else.

Which is of course really funny until you're a writer trying to figure out what the hell I want to read.

Well, here's a suggestion: ignore category. Just send everything. I don't particularly care. I'll read pages from enticing queries no matter what category you place it in because I've learned that what I call it can be much different than what the editor calls it, or where it gets shelved after the marketing people take a whack at it.

This is why you do NOT start a query with "here's my speculative fiction novel." You start with the name of the protagonist and what's at stake. You reel the reader into the story FIRST, then close with what you think is the category (and half the time you're wrong, but I don't care about that either.)

The reason most people who write what you might call speculative fiction won't find a place on my list though is cause I've already got Patrick Lee and Jeff Somers, and those guys keep me pretty damn busy. Fortunately Brooks Sherman likes that kind of writing too, and he's got more room on his list than I do.

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12. Query Question: I need a mulligan!

Part of your response to a blog question recently was: “And book publishers don't always see "previously published" as a problem. Lots of books have second, even third, lives in book publishing.”

I am thinking ahead to querying literary agents for my soon-to-be-completed second novel. In 2009 I came close to getting representation for my first novel by the fact that several agents had requested the full. Though I was not offered representation, I learned what I needed to do to improve my work.

Back in 2009 – 2010 the publishing industry seemed to be in upheaval because of the proliferation of digital publishing and the ease with which writers could become self-published. I did my best to avoid self-publishing, but I wanted to get my work out there for the world to see. I found a small publisher that offered what I considered a “hybrid” model—a POD arrangement with Ingram using my company name as an imprint of their publishing company. In essence, I was still self-publishing but under the guise of an actual publisher. For that reason, an earlier thriller author who had done the same thing with the same small publisher, got the ITW to place it on the ITW approved list. I therefore gained status as an ITW author-member. That was in 2011.

So, to my reason for contacting you. I envisioned the possibility of my future agent selling my second novel, and also getting a publisher to publish my first novel as a paperback because it had been published in hardcover. But yesterday, another potential option hit me. Since lack of marketing is what caused low book sales, what about querying agents about that book now, but under a different title? I am convinced that what I had done to improve it in 2010 will garner even more interest now by literary agents.






Do NOT do this under any circumstances. You should NOT query a book that's already been published without telling the agent at the query letter stage.

Oddly, I've had this happen to me more than a couple times recently. Somebody, somewhere must be advising writers to do this. It's BAD advice.


Here's why: If I don't know this book has already been published, and I pitch it to editors as a brand new book, someone is going to find out and then it's going to be a true shitstorm.


And here's how someone is going to find out: they're going to buy the "new" book and remember they read the first book, and they're going to write a one-star review on Amazon saying "this author is trying to sell old hats for new."

If a book is published, and then re-published, you need to say so on the copyright page. "This book was previously published as SharkJammies for Kittens" in 1995." 

If you think readers aren't going to make the connection, you're gambling a whole lot on your readers being stupid. 

I learned the hard way to check those copyright page notices because a lot of old time authors get re-pubbed under different titles, particularly if they have both UK and US editions.


You also really really really do not want to start what we hope will be a long term, mutually beneficial relationship by lying. Lying by omission is lying. Don't do it.

Here's what you should do: query the second novel. Tell your agent about the first novel. Decide together how to proceed.





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13. Query Question: Can reviewing books hurt my chances with an agent



One issue that keeps me up at night—aside from school, plot holes, and oh-my-god-did-my-skirt-go-with-my-top-today—is whether being a Goodreads reviewer will affect my chances of being picked up by an agent. I NEVER bash an author in negative reviews, but I do have never-reading shelves for writers that I perceive to be rude to reviewers/bloggers (e.g. Kathleen Hale). What if an agent comes across a negative review of her client's book and decides not to rep me? Should I stop reviewing altogether?


well, no, but you're right to be thinking about this. 
I've mentioned this before but it bears repeating: trash one of my client's books and we're done.


Now by "trash" I do NOT mean a well-thought out, well-written review that points out plot holes, or unbelievable characters, or lack of tension.  Those are legitimate things to criticize about a book. I may not agree with your opinion, but I'm not going to add you to my fecal roster for writing them.


Where the line gets murky is exactly what you mentioned: never-reading shelves. Or "Authors I don't like" shelves. Or "Rude authors" shelves. Or "Authors who have spouses who should just shut the hell up" shelves.


Here  you're not talking about the book. You're talking about your perceptions of an author's behaviour. You'll want to be VERY careful about that because as we all know from the Justine Sacco Twitter fiasco, things get taken out of context, or someone doesn't pick up on irony, things go viral, and soon bear no resemblance to reality. You don't want to be on the wrong side of that. 


I think writing about books is an excellent way to hone your writing skills and get practice in how to talk about books. Stay on the right side of the professional line, avoid temptation to label any author with "will never read" and you'll be fine.

If you want to see what a good review that has some well-made points about one of my clients, here's our very own Colin Smith writing about Crashers by Dana Haynes. Colin is not a client, but he's a regular blog reader. Sadly, he was banished to The Great Pit of Carkoon last week, but I think he was rescued and returned.  He was NOT banished for this review.


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14. Week in review 2/15/15


And what  a week it's been, mostly due to the weather. I'm not much on snow and ice and we've had enough of that this week to last the rest of the year. Of course, readers farther north are getting hit much harder, so I should probably remember "it could be worse!"



Last week's WIR found Colin Smith suggesting a dedicated blog for the flash fiction contests.  Flying monkeys descended on Colin's house and he was summarily freeze-fried, then transported to the Great Pit of Carkoon, where if he very lucky, some droids might come along to save him.

A dreadful typo on John "Ol Chumbucket" Baur's name had to be fixed. Baur like Reid, Kristin and Sean has a million spellings but only one is correct for each person. Honest to Godiva (only one spelling) you'd think I of all people would remember that.

Jenz has one of the best lines of the week here, continuing the discussion on suspense and tension: "Ah, the hardships of writing first person. You can't just stick a bomb under the table."



Monday was the flash fiction contest results.  Kitty pointed out that the writer with the "best typo" erased the entry (which is a shame, but it's the writer's choice, can't argue)  The typo itself was tomb for tome.  I loved it.

One of our winners was Amy Schaefer and many of you know Amy does not live in the cold dark north. In fact, the only way to get real books to her involve hand-offs at the airport and secret passwords.  Because the prize (the ARC of SIGNAL by Patrick Lee) would have been both an arm AND a fin in postage, I sent her an electronic copy.

And she replied with this.




Yea, me too.




Tuesday's blog post was a follow up from a reader's question last year. I really love follow-ups in case any of you are wondering about sending them.

Tuesday's comments included this from our own TLC: 

"Lawyers have been known to use their powers for good. I got a guy custody of his son that wasn't his biologically (he'd been in prison when the deed occurred,) but that he accepted and raised as his own. When she started making noises about the whole thing, saying he wasn't the dad, I told him to give her a copy of the divorce and say, "Bitch, I've got a receipt."   

A perfect 72-word almost-story.

Wednesday's post was on exclusives. I debated about posting this question since I've ranted about the evil of exclusives for so long I'm starting to bore even myself. But I thought, this really wasn't about an agent asking for an exclusive, so much as asking about the competition, so I thought it might be useful.

Colin Smith (rescued by droids it appears) asked
 "Is it okay for an agent to ask who else is reading a ms? If I queried you and told you Barbara Poelle, Darley Anderson, and Ellen Geiger were also looking at my ms, how would that matter? That may be an impressive list, but surely what matters most at this stage is that YOU love the query and ms, not which of your colleagues/competitors are looking at it?"


Mostly I want to know how serious the competition is when I ask who else is reading it.  If Barbara Poelle is reading, the competition is pretty stiff. My only advantage here is that I read faster than she does (sometimes) and I can sometimes divert her attention from matters at hand with a case of Polish vodka. 

If a writer tells me it's an agent in Crawdad, North Dakota that I've never heard of and hasn't made any sales, and her website mentions how much she loves writers, well, that's competition of a different sort.

And frankly if it's an agent I have serious reservations about, I've been known to reply that research is the author's friend. Even if they sign with Agent Trouble, I've at least told them how to avoid that. Some people can not be diverted, and I feel bad for them, but that's the state of the world.



Thursday we sauntered over to the prologue aisle and had some fun. Diane (DLM) asked a question that I'm sure many writers wonder: 
"As to formatting ... dropping images into Word is super easy. I may not be understanding whether/why that isn't an option if .doc is preferred?"
For me, images can make a word .doc so big I can't actually open it. AND it screws up spacing  and page count.  This is an ironclad rule of querying: leave OUT images unless the agent has expressly said ok.  In other words, at the query stage, it's text only. No exceptions. At the requested manuscript stage it might change, but don't count on it.


On Friday we were talking about how to interpret requests for "next work" when Diane realized that Gossamer has become the face of the Chum Bucket.






Funny story about how that happened:  Google sent me a notice saying I was running out of space. I futzed around in my Google account and couldn't figure out why there were so many pictures. I looked at a couple of them, and couldn't even remember why I had them.  Soooo… (insert ominous noise here) I deleted them. All of them.  And only later, and very slooowly did I realize I'd erased most of the images from this blog. All of the hilarious pictures…gone. And the Chum Bucket image, gone.  When I realized this, I just used Goss's picture, cause really, Gossamer is the best thing to look at when you're feeling very very stupid.



Saturday's blog post on "unpublishable" topicsREALLY hit a nerve. It generated the most comments of any post other than contests in quite some time.

This is the comment, from CarolynnWith2Ns, that tugged my heart:

I thought about this post all day today at work. When I left at four I had NPR on the radio in the car and listened to The Moth, their storytelling show.

Coincidence is a strange beast and it rode with me on the way home.

The first story told was by Paul Knoll a school guidance counselor. (800 Heros)
In a quiet voice he gently told the story of what happened at the school where he worked four years before Columbine. When he started to speak I thought God was playing a cruel joke on me, why this story, why today. God wasn’t joking, he was teaching me, (a person who always has an answer for something), a lesson.

As the story continued I was riveted. I had never heard about this incident and yet it seemed so familiar because of all the other incidents which have ripped at my heart.

It was snowing when I left work so I was driving slowly. As I neared home, and the story came to a close I drove even slower, not wanting to miss the ending, even though I was sure what it would be. It was not.

My comment this morning was a knee-jerk reaction to grief. I’m not apologizing for that. I do stand by my words BUT…to the questioner I say this:

If you can write your book, like Paul Knoll told his story, you will see it published. I’d read it and I never thought I say that…ever.

And this line from Julie Weathers will haunt me forever: "The salesman kept apologizing for not having more caskets, but business was so good they couldn't keep baby caskets in stock."


If the tone of the comments turned a little down, that's  ok with me. I respect that readers are willing to talk about things that aren't puppies and kittens and unicorn rainbows here.  The only comments that get deleted are those that attack other commenters (particularly for grammar or spelling) or are seriously off topic.



While reading your comments keeps me occupied, I have had time recently to finish a couple books. 

I'd been working on Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst for a long time (it was my SudsYerDuds reading for weeks.) I'm a rabid drooling fan of Alan Furst, and writers who are interested in historical fiction would do well to read him closely. He's a master at creating suspense (or tension!) in a world where we know the outcome of large events.  And he evokes time and place better than almost anyone I can think of.


The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawson was on my shelf for a while. I picked it up cause I needed subway reading.  I picked at it for weeks, finally finished it. This is a really good example of three different points of view (all written in third person) to tell one story. The precipitating event is the disappearance of Judge Crater which is an old New York mystery. 



Meet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander is a delightful new cozy set in Ashland Oregon. Well, I'm a sucker for bake shops, and Oregon, and when I got this I dove right in.  Cozies can set my teeth on edge if they're too cute, and too removed from reality, but this one hit all the right notes.  Plus, I was SHOCKED to find out who the culprit was. That does not happen often at all.


On Thursday I was delighted to get an ARC of the new Lyndsay Faye novel, The Fatal Flame.  I wrote about how it arrived here on my Facebook page.  Not much work got done on Saturday cause I was busy reading.  Let's just say if you want a good book, read Lyndsay Faye. The first in the series   [GODS OF GOTHAM] was nominated for an Edgar.  What I admire most is how she's developing her characters in the series.  This is definitely a book I'd recommend to writers. This one, the third, goes on sale May 15.  I think you can count on a flash fiction writing contest.


On Wednesday night I attend an author event for Sandra Newman's THE COUNTRY OF ICE CREAM STAR. The book is written in "future patois." Interestingly Lyndsay Faye's characters also speak a kind of patois called "flash." I thought it was interesting that I ended up with two books using a kind of special language as a device within a few days of each other.

And last of all, I've been reading the first three installments of my client Michael Bassin's trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Harrowing is just about the only word I can think of.

And of course, like everyone who reads crime, I'm watching the new Amazon series BOSCH based on Michael Connelly's novels.  Are you? What do you think?


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15. Query Question: what if my subject is "unpublishable"



I just received your rejection letter from you which is no surprise after receiving 56 other rejection emails. By this point I don't feel anything and I guess that is okay. But it makes me question something that has been in my head ever since I finished the novel. What if the writing is good but the subject is unpublishable?

My novel deals with the mass shooting in a community college, and while I've seen other novels deal with the issue I would guess that the subject itself is controversial. While googling the subject I just discovered the story about a Stephen King novel that I didn't even knew existed: Rage.

Originally published under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman, the book has been linked to several shootings and even the author wanted it out of print which is something that I didn't know when I started writing the novel. So my question is: Are there subjects like these that act like a drawing of Mohammed for publishers? Is there a list out there?(1)  Or it really just depends on the literary agent?(2)

I was thinking in putting my query to the query shark to refine but I guess no matter how much I refine a query, they would probably end up rejecting it.(3)   


If the only book you can find about school shootings is Rage by Richard Bachman, you haven't done the most rudimentary of research.  I can think of several books on this topic off the top of my head, no Googlemonster required, one of which won the Booker Prize in 2003. And if you do google the topic, you'll find lots of them.

So, it's not the topic. There are lots of books out there about this.  It's the treatment of the topic or more likely, the writing.

And no, agents don't keep a list of things that are unpublishable (2).

And yes, agents have particular likes and dislikes (3)

And if you assume rejection (4) you should stop writing now. Rejection should motivate you to work harder, not quit.

 

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16. Query Question: the next next

My question is a variation of the “next work” one you answered. I received a rejection from an agent who asked me to query other work if I didn’t find representation for the story I sent her. I don’t plan to continue to look for an agent for that one and think I may allow a m/m rom press to publish it.

However, I would like to find an agent to represent another story and wondered if it would be permissible to query that agent even though this wouldn’t fit in with her asking me to do so if I didn’t find an agent for the story I sent her. 


What the agent meant was come back with your next project if you haven't been snapped up by one of her competitors.  She likes your work, that first project wasn't right for her, but she thinks you've got potential.

It's absolutely fine to query her even if you stop looking for an agent for that first book.

This is another example of writers over thinking the query process and underestimating their own value.  All agents are looking for good work. You write good stuff. Trust me that she'll be glad to hear from you even if this second project isn't a good fit.

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17. Query Question: unusual prologue

My novel has an unusual prologue and I'm wondering how (or if) to present it when I get requests for pages.

My novel involves a sitcom, and the first chapter takes place during the taping of an episode. The book begins with four pages of the teleplay for that episode. These pages have a photographic look to ensure they are understood as intentional and not weird screenplay formatting in a novel.

This four-page scene sets the reader up with what's supposed to happen on stage. Then the actual chapter shows how that all goes wrong.

I know a prospective agent isn't going to care how well I can write sitcom pages, but how well I can write a novel. So my instinct is to never submit the pages (which can't even be pasted into the text of an email, as many agents require). But to read the first chapter without seeing the teleplay pages feels like watching the second act of "Noises Off" after skipping the first. I worry that the comedy pay-off doesn't pop without the setup.

How would you suggest I handle this?

Exactly as you did here. In your query, you tell the agent that the first four pages are the screenplay and the first chapter is how everything goes horribly wrong. The reference to Noises Off! is good because I can instantly see what you mean.

Email formatting won't allow proper script formatting as you've pointed out.  BUT you CAN simply change the format and label the first four pages TELEPLAY and then write it as dialogue with stage directions.

The point of a query is to entice an agent to read the manuscript. No agent is going to let a little thing like format stand in the way of reading a good idea, as long as the format is clean and legible.

When the time comes to submit a full manuscript, you might inquire about submitting as a PDF. I generally do not like PDFs because I can't make notes on the actual manusript or mark anything with track changes. Also, most editors I work with require mss in .doc style format so it's better to get that at the query stage rather than discover the author has no clue about that format later in the game.

This is yet another instance where meeting agents in a face to face situation will be a good thing. Actual pages will solve this problem and get you to the real question: is this a novel I want to read.

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18. Query Question: why are agents asking if they're reading exclusively?



I've recently received requests from agents for full manuscripts (yay!)
The last two have asked whether they would be looking at it exclusively.
What are the getting at? Do they think I'm querying agents one at a time? Do they only want to read my ms if they know that other kids are reading it? Are they stuck in an early century?
I replied to each that other agents were also reviewing the manuscript, and they could let me know if they had a problem with that. But honestly? It just felt so strange, and as though I must be missing something.




My thoughts on exclusivity are widely available (they stink.)  That said, sometimes I do ask a querier if I'm the only one looking at something.


My intent is not to ask for exclusivity (cause we all know that stinks) but simply to assess where we are in the query process.


If a querier has sent out 200 queries and I'm the only agent reading, well, that gives me some good intel on where we are.


If the querier has sent out 3 queries, and I'm only the first to respond, that's intel too.


Mostly this happens with non-fiction for me. When I read a proposal for a non-fiction book there's often a lot of revising and editing and shaping to come. I'm reluctant to start offering up all these suggestions if an author hasn't narrowed his search down a bit. Some of that is concern for time management: writing up all those ideas about revisions is time consuming. Some of it purely proprietary: I don't want the author to take all my ideas for revision, improve the proposal and then sign with someone else.  


I think you can assume that all agents assume you are querying more than one agent at a time. Asking about exclusives is a bit different than asking FOR an exclusive (which is good, cause we all know those STINK.)

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19. Query Question: my first choice is hard to reach

I've been researching agents that might be a good fit for me and my ms, and found the one dream agent: Agent Dream is everything I'm looking for, the only agent I found which isn't a compromise of some kind (as a fit for me, yes? I'm sure they're all wonderful agents and even more wonderful people).

Enter difficulties. The agency's website says Dream's an assistant, but some research revealed one deal to Dream's name (for 6-figures!), and there's at least one more author Dream represents. So it means that assistant or not, Dreamis already building a list. And then some more research, and I was knocked down to the harsh reality. In the past year, Dream was open for queries for literally one day.

Now I know the first rule of querying is to follow the guidelines, and the guidelines say Dream's closed for queries. But there must be something I can do. I don't want to query other agents before I give the number one on my list a chance, but I can't wait another year for Dream to open for queries again. This is beyond frustrating. Is there any advice you can share with me? Under these circumstances, won't it be a good idea to at least try and query him even though he's closed? Please advise, I'm so lost right now.






What's the worst thing that could happen if you query Dream? Unless Dream's got access to some secret stash of Query Police (in which case I'm hiring Dream tomorrow) there's literally no down side.


So query away.


Now what?


How long do you intend to wait?


When an agent is closed for queries they are not obligated to respond at all let alone in a timely fashion.  How long are you going to stay on hold, waiting for an answer?  Make sure you set a time limit for yourself or you could be waiting that full year.

And if you query widely and get an offer, and sign with another agent, are you going to perpetually feel like you settled for second best?

Trust me, that's not the way to begin a relationship with anyone particularly your agent whom you need to trust and respect.

The problem is you've allowed yourself to create a Dream Agent from "what I'm looking for" lists.  Those lists are exactly as accurate as "what I'm looking for in a guy" are in the Personals ads on HotDate.com

Setting someone up as your Dream Agent is a recipe for disaster, and if I can persuade of that, I'll have done you a very solid good dead.

I've blogged about the problems of Dream Agents before and almost any agent you meet will tell you what I've said here.


So, query if you can't stop yourself, but have a plan for AFTER in place before you start.


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20. Author/Agent Life: What does a good working relationship look like?

What does a good working relationship with an agent look like?

I've been with my agent for more than a year, and don't hear from her often. She's submitted my work to three publishers (that I know of) but I've only received feedback from one (a very kind rejection with suggestions on revisions and an open door to read my next book).

In the past year, I've had a baby, so work on my third novel took longer than I expected - I'm just wrapping up revisions, then it will go to beta readers, then I hope to have it completed by end of March.

I've emailed this agent twice since the new year, first on Jan 4 with outlining my goals and timeline, asking her opinion on whether I should attend a national conference & try to personally meet with editors, asking if she's gotten feedback from the other two publishers, detailing my plans for the rest of the series. All organized & concise. The second time was to follow up a week and a half later, as I hadn't heard anything back - not even an acknowledgement of receipt of the email. She's the president of the agency and I understand she's busy, but hearing back even from the assistant would be great at this stage! Still haven't.

I would love to know if this is typical for a relationship between an agent and an unpublished author - if not, what is? After working so hard to get an agent it's disappointing to say the least to only hear from mine once every 5-6 months and to not hear back at all in a timely manner so far this year. If this IS normal, I don't want to overreact and rock the boat!

Any and all advice would be appreciated. Thank you!


This is NOT a good working relationship because YOU are not happy with it. There are no standards about this kind of thing. If you're not happy, it's not working.

I have fallen behind on communication with my clients from time to time. It's not something I'm proud of and in fact is something I work hard to avoid. But it does happen.

BUT, if I get an email or a call that says "hey, this is a problem for me" from a client, I smarten up and pay attention.

Thus, you need to make your unhappiness known. Say to her what you said to me.  She can't fix a problem she's not aware of.

And emails can go astray. Or get buried. Or maybe her assistant was supposed to reply.

Let her know you're unhappy. See if things change. If they don't, well, you know you need an agent who is better at communication than this one.  That national conference is probably a good place to meet one.




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21. Query Question: Query POV


 Is it acceptable to write a query using two different POVS? I wrote a novel about a serial killer in the time of Jim Crow. The way the novel works is that it flips back and forth between the killer on the hunt and the detectives trying to catch him. Originally, when I wrote the novel, I wrote it in 3rd person, but then when I placed the novel on the writer's blogs, readers have commented that it would flow better if I wrote the killer's part in 1st person. So now the way the novel works is that the killer's part is in 1st while the part of the detectives is in 3rd. I wonder if I could write the query the same way. I was thinking about using this as a query.


Don't.
And NO, you can't write a query in ANY POV other than your own. Therefore, that means you can NOT write a query in two different POVs unless you (plural)  are Siamese twins or un-integrated multiple personalities , each contributing to the book.



A query is about the book. It's not the book.


Thus you will talk about your characters and what's at stake for them, rather than having the characters speak at all.


Do NOT try to be clever or gimmicky in a query.


Do NOT fall prey to the siren call of "I bet agents see that same stuff all the time, I'll be DIFFERENT."


I'll tell you what we don't see nearly often enough: a concise, enticing description of the main character and what's at stake for him/her as the plot unfolds.


Dare to be good, not clever.

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22. Flash fiction contest for SIGNAL by Patrick Lee!



Advance Reader Copies of SIGNAL by Patrick Lee!
Need I say more?
[NO!]

One (or more??) lucky contest winner will receive an ARC of SIGNAL.  These are FRESH off the press, no one else has it yet!  And if you haven't read RUNNER (the first Sam Dryden novel, you could get that too, IF you win!!)

Have I motivated you sufficiently?
[YES!]

Here's the rundown:

Usual contest rules

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:


signal
hour
crane
collapse
homer

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The word must appear as that whole word however.

Example: Signal/signals is ok but crane/cranberry is not.

4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again) It helps to work out your entry first and then post.

5. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.

6. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)

Contest opens: Saturday 10/7/15 at 10am

Contest closes: Sunday 10/8/15 at 10am

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?


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23. Blog post follow up!

Remember this post from March 2014 from a blog reader who had an offer from a small press?

Here's the rest of the story:

About a year ago, a small press was very interested in publishing my  first novel. I asked you if I still needed an agent.

You said, "Yes" but that I wouldn't find one if I was going with this small press and that what I needed was a good lawyer.

Fast forward a bit and I received the official offer and a pointer to their contract. I was hot to go. I'm over a certain age and wanted to be young enough to savor the joy of my first book in print.

Remembering your advice, I found a literary contracts lawyer (at a very reasonable price through California Lawyers for the Arts).

We went through the contract a couple of times, I made notes, wrote a letter (all vetted by him) and sent it off. Within minutes I received an  indignant letter saying the offer was withdrawn. How dare I tamper with  the contract, blah, blah, blah. Yikes.

It took about five minutes to move from remorse and mortification to relief. I had dodged a huge bullet. Even if I had violated some rule of protocol, it was clear that we were wildly incompatible.

This providential dope slap was a blessing.
- I was jolted into being patient. I needed to take the time to make sure I had the right fit, agented or not.
- Someone else (not immediate family) loved my novel enough to publish it. That validation gave me confidence.
- Big aha - I needed an agent. This publishing thing is tricky stuff.  Whether it's the Ts & Cs or following the right protocol, I didn't know and didn't particularly want to know how to navigate all that myself.

I reworked the query a bit, polished some pages, and made standardized packages of materials (query + nothing extra, query + first five pages, query + first chapter, query + synopsis + first chapter...) so that there was less emotional investment to sending out a query: identify a good agent prospect, tweak materials, send out, done.

And now I do have an agent. Of course, I have quickly learned that there is no slam dunk to landing a publisher just because I have an agent. That journey continues while I continue to write new material.

Even though consulting a lawyer cost me the contract, that was still excellent advice! There are worse things than ending up with the wrong publisher.


I am delighted to hear that you dodged this bullet and ended up with an agent I admire and respect (readers, I redacted the name for privacy)

Any publisher who takes umbrage at negotiating a contract is not a publisher you want to work with.

There are publishers that don't budge on boilerplates, and others that don't negotiate much at all--the problem here is that the publisher got mad when an author asked for changes...as though that was somehow an insult.  This is after all a business, not the Roland Park Ladies Tea. 

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24. Signal Flash fiction writing contest results


There's nothing better for a cold winter weekend  than to see hot writers at their best! You guyz (non gender specific, plural) continue to amaze me with what you can do with a couple words and a day to think.

Herewith the results

If this isn't the start to a terrific historical novel, I'll eat my hat next to the wine-dark sea
Kalli 10:09am

A great descriptive line:
"I was his first twinset-with-pearls."
Kitty 9:46am

Yet another unhappy Reds fan
Britta Boudreau 10:10 am

And a Cubs fan isn't too happy either
Sherry Howard 9:03am

Not quite a story but oh my godiva, YIKES
Madeline Mora-Summonte 10:13am
Michael Seese 1:26pm

Not quite a story, but I love the imagination in these entries
S.D. King 10:14am
Tom Perkins 11:25am
Karen McCoy 5:44pm

Not quite a story, but man oh man, you really want to know what happens next
Mira Baker 11:31am
Julie.M.Weathers 11:34am
HilaryHarwell 12:11pm
Andrew Lipkin 4:19pm
Lilac Shoshani 8:43pm
Cipher 8:49pm

Outstanding use of the prompt words:
homersexual- ColinSmith 12:18pm
homer of barley- Nina 8:51pm
Cranessia-Kate Higgins 10:31pm
shomer Shabbat- Rami McShane 8:30am


The reason you always have a backup piece when you go to a pitch session
Colin Smith 12:18pm

These entries completely cracked me up
Jeff Deitering 3:05pm
kregger 4:48pm

The best typo in YEARS in a flash fiction contest (I'll leave the readers to find it)
EllenM 11:39pm

ohhh!! Puppies!!!
White Gardenia 5:24am


Here are the nine finalists

(1) JennyC 10:18am
An hour before her lecture on Homer’s Odyssey, Eva’s books tumbled from her backpack into the gray slush on the street. The signal changed and a Honda closed in, the driver yacking away. While leaping to the sidewalk, Eva caught her boot on a chunk of ice and collapsed.

A burst of pain, then nothing.

The sound of waves crashing brought her back. A white crane stood at the ocean’s edge flapping its wings. The air smelled salty and floral. A sumptuous man in a toga reached down for Eva’s hand. “The goddess Aphrodite?”

Eva smiled. Sure. Why not?


(2) Carolynnwith2Ns 10:31am
I didn’t want him to die, I just didn’t want him.
For an hour I held Homer, my little one, than left him at the base of the crane, minutes before I knew workmen would arrive. I hid. They gathered around the box, I walked away in tears.
Sounds.
A signal blaring, rivets and bolts popping, metal and men screaming; the impact of the crane’s collapse brought me to my knees.
Silence.
If the men had not been grouped around the box they would not have lived.
I didn’t want anyone to die, I just didn’t want the puppy.


(3) Charlogo 11:11am
The crane collapse was my signal to swoop over the construction site and chat with Homer, the fool who’d cheated on his safety test.
“This is how you wake up dead, Buddy.” I didn’t want to sound rude, but anyone could have seen this coming.
“Did you read the user manual, Homer? Did you even give a thought to hoist rating? That’s what got you wedged between this rubble and the cab. Now you’re bleeding all over the place.”
I pulled out my list. Hmmm. Homer wasn’t wicked, just stupid.
“You qualify for a mulligan,” I announced. “One hour rewind.”

(4) Michael Haskin 1:33pm
“Look, there’s the signal,” Bradley whispered as twigs cracked beneath his boots.

Melissa halted. Bradley cut down a paper crane hanging from the tree. He carefully unfolded the wings.

“What’s it say?” Melissa asked. “I’ve been following you for hours. My legs are going to collapse if we don’t head back soon.”

“It’s a crudely written poem,” Bradley observed, dropping down to one knee. “Before I knew you I was just a loner. But when I met you it felt like a homer. The rest of your life may feel like forever. Please marry me and we’ll spend it together.”

(5) Calorie Bombshell 2:45pm
    Ever since he was whacked on the noggin by Billy Furrows’ historic three-run homer, old man Worthington thought he was Ichabod Crane.
    Weighing in at three hundred pounds, he now fancied himself slender, gorging on everything from pickled Twinkies to pumpkin lasagna.
    Then in a glucose-induced stupor, he mounted Cannonball, a horse that waged war on anyone harebrained enough to approach her.
    According to the Signal County Gazette, the pair was last seen galloping into rush hour.
    Police later found Cannonball collapsed from exhaustion on Highway 287.
    Worthington’s lifeless body lay sprawled twenty yards away.
    His head, however, proved elusive.

(6) Amy Schaefer 4:15pm
“Ready?”
“Take this.”
“Shhh, that’s the signal!”

It’s funny how every
homeroom is so much sand through the hourglass. After thirty-three years, déjà vu is constant.

I dawdle, working up a good reaction to their prank. I stride in. “Good morning every-aaahhhhhh!”

Silence. The class lies
collapsed – some with necks craned, others crumpled on the floor. All still as stones amongst a drift of tiny green bottles.

I wait for the inevitable cry of “April Fool’s!”

It doesn’t come.

EMTs, police, the principal are bawling, shaking me.

My brain jams on a single thought: “Well, that was a new one.”



(7) Nikola Vukoja 6:02pm
I was struggling to express the scene’s intensity.
My shoulders collapsed as inspiration evaporated.
“H-u-s-s-b-a-n-n-d,” bellowed my good lady wife. Her wail was my signal, forecasting an end to my hour of solitude.
“What wounds you Dear?” A married man knows to ask.
“It has returned.”
“What has?”
“The crane. The crane.”
“It’s an egret Dear.”
Nuisance is what it is!”
She discharged herself of her basket and proceeded to inspect my lack of progress.
“Hum,” she said. “What do you think to call this non-work?”
“Homer’s Illiad.”
“Perhaps simply Illiad, adding one’s name seems a tad pretentious.”
"Yes Dear."



(8) Terri Lynn Coop 9:29pm
“Terri’s surprise birthday is a go. She thinks it’s a flash fiction contest. Let’s run over the checklist. Jed, do we have the cupcake?”

“The crane nearly collapsed, but it was delivered an hour ago.”

Colin, how about the glitter cannon?”

“Oh yeah...”

“Hank, did you get the present?”

“Right here. I swiped a Homer Laughlin mug from that diner.”

*door rattle*

“She’s here! Wait for the signal!”

“SURPRISE!”

*gaktripbarkbarkbarkcursebarkcurse*

Lights.

“Who are you people?”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Jessie, here to feed the dogs.”

“Where’s Terri?”

“Thrifting in Kansas City. Didn’t you check Facebook?”

*group facepalm*

“Cut the cupcake.”



(9) A Velez 9:51pm
    I didn’t want to throw a water balloon at Ms. Troy. I just didn’t want to fail Latin.
    She hauled me out of homeroom, still drip, drip, dripping on the linoleum, one hand on my arm, the other dragging my cello case. I could feel all eyes on me; raised eyebrows, craned necks.
    She dumped me in the principal’s office. I waited for my signal: the release bell.
    I collapsed. Seizure? Faint? Who knew—just carted me off to the nurse.
    Hours later, a soft click from the forgotten case. Out slips my accomplice. Looks like straight As this semester.





Honest to godiva, there's simply no way to pick just one so this week, it's two winners.

First is (6) Amy Schaefer 4:15pm for an entry that knocked my sox off (as she has in the past!).

Second of the two is (8) Terri Lynn Coop who managed to not only include the prompt words, but also the names of many of the regular blog commenters, invent a great new phrase for  bedlam --
*gaktripbarkbarkbarkcursebarkcurse* -- and pluralize facepalm all in exactly100 words.


Amy, let me know if you're able to get packages shipped to you now, or if we need to wait till you're back on dry land.

Terri, I have your mailing address of course from previous wins, so look for a copy of SIGNAL  coming your way.


Thanks to all of you who entered.  The time and thought you put in to these entries is very evident.  I enjoy reading all of them!




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25. The Week in Review 2/8/15

Good morning everyone!

Last week's review had an interesting continuation of the discussion of suspense versus tension contributed by D.B. Bates:

Tension and suspense are often viewed as synonyms, but I don't see them as that. Suspense is one of many forms of tension, used to propel a reader forward. If tension is about the unknown, then what makes suspense unique? Why isn't it just a synonym?


Suspense is about what's known to the reader, but not the characters. In Alfred Hitchcock's famous bomb-under-the-table analogy, what makes the scene suspenseful is the fact that the audience knows the bomb is there, but the characters in the scene don't. Suspense interacts with readers' engagement and imagination by giving us a cheat sheet that the characters don't have. We're asking, "How are they going to get out of a jam they don't even know they're in?"

The questions we ask in a suspenseful scene do rely on what we don't know (that's how it creates tension), but we're only asking the questions because of what we do know. If we didn't know about the bomb, we'd simply be asking why these two characters met at a restaurant for polite chitchat.

Other forms of tension are created by giving us less information than the characters have, not more. What keeps us reading is a desire to catch up with what the characters already know. Suspense creates tension in the opposite way, and it engages readers' imaginations in a different way

I like this assessment very much. One thing I want to emphasize here though is that I don't think there is a right or wrong answer. The only thing that matters when we talk about the difference between suspense and tension is "Is this useful in making me a better writer."  Much of what I yammer on about here on the blog takes on the allure of The Right Way, but in all honesty, the measure of whether this blog is something to pay attention to is whether it helps you become a better writer.

Of course I hope it does, but if it doesn't, it's not cause you're stupid or doing it "wrong." Everyone learns and improves in their own way. If this doesn't work for you, try something else. You're not an idiot, and I am not omnipotent.



On Monday the flash fiction contest for Death of a Redheaded Woman were announced. Commenters  agreed Andrew Lipkin had a really terrific entry. I thought it was one of the best I've ever seen. At some point I've got to figure out a use for these gems. Over the years, there have been some entries and winners that simply knocked my sox off.



On Tuesday the post about "dream agents" elicited a really interesting insight from CarolynnWith2ns. Her comment that a "dream agent" doesn't' necessarily have to be YOUR agent was the first time I'd really considered that the online community of this blog and other agent blogs allows authors to have some of the "agent experience" without actual representation. All in all, I think that's a good thing, but I need to think about this further.


And if you need a good illustration of the reason I discourage writers from even thinking about "dream agents" take a look at Julie Weathers' comment there at 9:32am.


If you don't have time to read Julie's story, Jenz summed it up perfectly:
Ryan Gosling is my dream guy. I just know if I could meet him, he'd fall in love with me. We'd be the most perfect couple in the history of loving couples and have beautiful babies.



And Colin Smith, picking up the thread of potential clients getting The Call, only to hang up thinking it's a joke: no, this has never happened to me, but I believe it's cause Caller ID always displays "QOTKU" when I ring.



On Wednesday the topic of agent/author communication came up again. Julie Weathers had a VERY interesting comment based on her previous experience: "An agent who has time to chat you up three or four times a week or more has more time on their hands than is healthy." 

I hadn't ever really thought about that before. Honestly, I LOVE talking to my clients. I'd do it all day, every day if I could, but I'd soon run out of things to say if I wasn't actually working on getting their stuff out to editors. Or following up on getting them paid. Or the million other things that I do for them. Hammering out ideas is all well and good, but somebody has to auditing the royalty statements.



On Thursday we return to the subject of querying, with the question of whether it's ok to write a query using two points of view. I loved John "Ol' Chumbucket" Bauer's (sorry about that misspelling chum) cogent summing up: Short answer – A query is a query. It's not a story, not a gimmick, not a synopsis, not a puzzle. It's a query, and those are the rules that apply.

Colin Smith mentioned an ad to illustrate his point that a query that's memorable for something OTHER than the novel it's about isn't an effective query. Julie Weathers also loved that ad, so I had to look it up and watch. (That's one of my favorite things about this blog--looking at the stuff y'all tell me about!)







And Michael Seese gets to sit over in the corner with my favorite grammar-slinger John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun for this one: "Technically, shouldn't the plural of POV be PsOV?"

One of the benefits of checking his blog to make sure I spell his name right is discovering Mr. McIntyre has a cat named Saunders.


Friday and Saturday were taken up with the flash fiction contest. The only downside to those contests is that I really miss the blog post comments on those days. Friday particularly since it's essentially radio silence on the blog.



Of course, there's always fun over on the Facebook page even if the blog is quiet. This week I got in pictures of Sean Ferrell's picture book at the publisher's ALA booth:







And once again, the topic turns to painting! Gossamer makes his opinion known about the vacuum, but check out the paint colors in his house!







And of course, when I got the ARCs of SIGNAL I posted a photo and commenters promptly requested a contest! Which brings us full circle back to today when the contest closes at 10am, and the next week begins!



Have a great week despite this miserable cold weather. I hope you've got great stuff to read!



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