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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you help clear out my muddle puddle? 









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


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


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





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3. Query Question: value of second read

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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4. Query Question: paid editors

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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




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

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5. Query Question: On Second Thought


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's take the questions in reverse order.


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

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

(2) NO

(1) YES



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


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


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

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

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


What?
WHAT?
WHAT???


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

WHAT THE EVER LIVING FUCK IS THIS??



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


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

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

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

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

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

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




 

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7. Week in Review April 19, 2015

And what a week it was!

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

cracked me up completely.

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

 



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



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

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

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

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

And Abib Khorram mentioned the Midwest Writers Conference:

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

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

"Janet Reid" can be the judge.

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





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

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

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

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

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

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


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




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

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

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

*climbs down off soapbox*
*signs exile extension*




And I REALLY liked this from BJ Muntain

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Answer:
0%
100%


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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

YES I NOTICE 1.25 margins!


Sheesh you guys!



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


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


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

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


Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli asked

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Have a great week!





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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Here are the guidelines from Wendy Sherman Associates.



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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11. Query Question: what constitutes self-publishing?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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12. Conference etiquette: Agents in the wild

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

General small talk conversational gambits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hate this kind of thing.

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

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

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




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


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13. Writing contest results, The Long Ride Home

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


Special recognition for lovely lovely images

S.D.King 10:16am


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

Special recogniton for excellent use of prompt words

dell/bordello Kitty 10:23am

ride/iridescent brianrschwarz 12:02pm

dell/yodelling Amy Schaefer 4:48pm

home/psychometry Steve Forti 5:42pm

long/Longfellow's Phyllis E 5:13pm



Grease is the word!

Colin Smith 10:36am



Not quite a story, but holy moly

CarolynWith2Ns 11:17am
Christine Seine 11:55am



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

Amanda Capper 11:17am
Lance 11:23am



And of course, Carkoon now appears in these stories!

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli 1:14pm



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

Donnaeve 1:27pm

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

The horse in the stall tossed its head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here are the nine finalists:


(1) Julie Weathers 11:34am

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







(2) Geoff LaPard 4:40pm


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

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

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

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



(3) Amy Schaefer 4:48pm

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

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

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

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

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





(4) Lisa Bodenheim 6:42pm

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



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



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



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





(5) Timothy Lowe 7:43pm

The bride threw up in her hands.

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

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

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

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

"Shall we begin?" said the priest.

The bride swallowed her bile. She took his hand.



(6) Calorie Bombshell 8:26pm


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

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

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

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

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



(7) Nadine 11:59pm


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



(8) A Velez 6:44am

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

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

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

“No. I won’t.” And neither will you.

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

He is already a ghost.

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

The explosion rages across the prairie.



(9) Pharosian 9:58am


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

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

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

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

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

I stared.





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

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

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

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




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14. Week in Review April 12, 2015

It was lovely to come back on Monday and get back to work. Our topic was sex scenes in non-romance novels.

I am resisting giving any of you further encouragement on some of those double entendres. (But oh man, was I laughing)
I really liked what Craig said 
"There is nothing wrong with sex but I'd rather have it then read about it. The best sex in a book happens between chapters. The lead up to it and the after is more important than the actual act."

And didn't you all want to know the rest of the story after Mia Siegert's comment:
When working on my MFA thesis, one of my advisors famously gave me the following advice: "Needs more gay sex.

MB Owen brings up an interesting problem with the new info glut via Twitter:
 While I think writing what you want is the absolute truth...it's hard not to consider what Agents want because they are so dogmatic about it--or what they DON'T. One visit to #MSWL will do it.
In the old days when you were thumbing through the various indexes of agent listing, it was all very general. SF: yes or no. Romance: yes or no.
Now it's the Baskin Robbins menu and writers are left wondering if Cherry Delight has enough vanilla to be romance, or if all that delight makes it erotica.  And then agents kick them for not knowing, by posting those snide little tweets that assume what they want is so damn clear.  
 
 Speaking of desserts, did you see the cake AJ Blythe whipped up to celebrate the Writer's Digest news?
a woodland creatures cake! CHOMP! You taste so good!


And speaking of that award, let me just say that we ALL share this one. This blog would be nothing without you readers, question contributors, and commenters.  Huzzah for us ALL.

On Tuesday, the topic turned to deadlines and agent's missing them.

The first comment was from brianrschwarz and it's clear this man needs an ocular adjustment to remove those rose colored spectacles:
 Janet? In a towering rage? I don't believe it. Couldn't happen. She's like a teddy bear! 
You really DO NOT want to know what rage looks like here. The few who have survived it are generally unable to offer survival tips.

S.D.King bravely offered up this excellent point:
Writers treat agents like a cross between the stern headmaster and George Clooney. (Can I speak up? Will I get yelled at? Will he/she think I am stupid and cut off all communication?)

The author HIRES the agent in theory, but really the agent picks the author.

The agent is paid by the author and like all businesses, should seek to please the customer (I wonder if agents sit around thinking that a misplaced email will cause all communication to be shut off.)

When asked about my progress in finding representation, I tell people I am in the process of hiring an agent. NOT that I am wringing my hands, waiting to be picked last for dodge ball, wondering if I will ever find an agent so good they have the right to ignore me.

Janet, hope this doesn't sound like a slap to agents, since authors enable this as much as some agents allow it. I hope to someday hire an agent with whom I can have at least as respectful a relationship as I have with my plumber (a great guy whom I also hire to do work for me).

Other than the word "hire" I agree with this. Writers do not hire agents; agents are not employees.  Writers are not customers. This is not a retail, open to the public, business.  I don't spend any time at all thinking "how can I make a writer's experience here better?" Zero. I spend a LOT of time thinking "how can I do my job better."  
The difference is that we are risk takers together. Your risk is that I can sell your book; my risk is that your book is able to be sold. There's probably a more elegant way to describe this. (One weakness of the Week in Review is there is not a lot of time for revision.) 

I should have just kept reading the comment column instead of replying because brianrschwarz said it perfectly here:
S.D.King-

I see what you're saying and I think there's some valid points in there... but I do think a differentiation needs to be made between the local plumber and the agent.

Although most of my knowledge of plumbing stems from Super Mario Brothers, I do know when I call my plumber, I have a list of 500 possible plumbers who would all be happy to take me on as a client as long as I pay them money. This is not the same for an agent. To ignore this fact is to not really take in the whole picture.

Yes, basic economics would deem that the agent is paid for the service they provide, but this is not a service that is open to the public (and for that matter, what an agent actually 'provides' is not an equal service among all agents. Some are better than others.). This is a service revolving around a partnership between two parties, a partnership predicated on a mutual interest where you are the product (and you're not the only product out there).

It's similar to a producer in a record studio. Sure, I'm the artist. I pay the producer and he adds his artistic touch to make my CD better... but if I fight him on every change, I'm going to end up with a garbage CD (assuming the producer is good) and I just paid a lot of money for a guy to hit the red record button.

It's an important distinction and it changes the relationship a lot. If my plumber only offered to service my toilet after I signed an agreement to only use him for his services, and via this contract I could also earn money for referring my wonderful plumber to other people, I'd certainly not view that relationship as simply as 'money in, money out'... especially if my referrals (books) were earning me a fair amount of cash.

Partnerships are not necessary for successful businesses, but they are also not viewed as customer and company.


Susan Bonifant has a good question:

Honestly, not only would it be humane to dash off a quick "I'm sorry (excuse here)" email, I can't think of a more understanding recipient than a writer who has been trying to deal with no response at all.
The problem is that once I send an email like that, the recipient replies, and will say something like "ok, when WILL it be done" and the answer is "hell if I know right now" and that's not really something you can say.  And the other horrible possibility is someone asks "well what the hell ARE you doing if you're not getting this done" and you can't say "well, you weren't important enough to be in the top three To Do things this week" even if it's true, especially if it's true. Yes, clients know they are not the one and only, but an agent does well to remember that no one likes to feel like they are the least important person on the roster. Ever.


Dena Pawling had a good question too:
I think one thing that's not mentioned by this questioner, is whether or not there's a HARD deadline somewhere in the future. For example, if the publisher wants the completed manuscript by June 1, and the agent is then late on getting her notes to the author, does that reduce the author's time to complete the revisions before the publisher's deadline? Or is there no looming deadline? The answer to that question I think is relevant.

Generally if an author is turning in a manuscript on an editorial deadline, it's at the top of the priority list. I turn those manuscripts around overnight as often as I can. I NEVER keep them longer than a day or two unless there's some horrible problem. I can't even think of a horrible problem that would mean keeping a manuscript more than a day  right now.

The missed deadlines I've got are on projects in the developmental stage, or on getting things out on submission. Once publication is in the picture, those deadlines are a lot firmer.  Now, EDITORS missing deadlines, or getting notes back to authors late, that's something I know a lot about too. This is why you have an agent who knows when books have to be in production, and when covers have to be shown at sales meetings, and nudges the editor if the client hasn't gotten what s/he needs to make those things happen. Scratch any agent, you'll get a deadline story about editors.

And apparently there will be a Synopsis Summer Camp on Carkoon. I can't wait to see who the faculty will be.

And then, the entire conversation just went straight for the cookie and tea aisle of the market and never quite found it's way back to the topic.  And don't think I didn't notice your vegemite there AJ Blythe! We know all about vegemite here.


On Wednesday we talked about the utility of one sheets at conferences. I might have gotten a little hot under the collar because of the bad information that gets handed around to writers.

Mostly the discussion was about nerves.

Then Leone gave us this lovely story:
I've been to PitchFest (and CraftFest) twice. I agree with bjmuntain that the experience is valuable in sharpening skills and I did get requests from agents - though I realized later that I needed to work on the manuscript more. So it could be helpful for.

But the most amazing thing I saw there was author Jon Land, who spent THREE HOURS of his time meeting with a long, long line of authors who wanted advice on how to pitch. He made the offer during CraftFest and promised to stay until everyone interested had a chance to run their pitch by him. And everyone did.

Not only is Jon a successful author with plenty of other things to do, but he was in the middle of negotiating a publishing contract and several times had to interrupt the session to take a call. Yet he still stayed until everyone had pitched.

Why do I share this? Because writers are a community and the most valuable reason to go to a conference is to be part of that community. The rest is nice, but that is pure gold.

That is also why I love this blog, because it's such a vibrant part of that community. Amanda, as you can see from these posts, everyone here is pulling for you and/or praying for you and that is what it's all about.

On Thursday we talked about using pitch sessions at conference to get help, rather than to actually pitch.  There were a lot of good comments (especially CarolynnWith2Ns who really is good when she gets her rant on.)
Julie Weathers comment made me twitch:
At Surrey, Diana (Gabaldon) saw me in the vendor's hall. I was talking to a mutual friend who had a table. She waved at me and came over to visit. We'd only been talking a few minutes, she was mostly asking about my youngest son Will who was in Iraq at the time.

I wasn't going to bother Diana, because I was sure she got hounded to death, but was happy she came over to visit. Then lo and behold someone came over and did his best, nonchalant pose author. "So tell me, Diana, what do you think of the current state of publishing?"

Julie got up and left. I'd rather she sicced Mrs Chicken on him. That kind of intrusion with a faux question, which only shows what a social nincompoop the questioner is, makes me nutso.  It brings out my VERY worst instincts and had it been me, I would have likely replied "The state of publishing? Is that near North Dakota?"
Interrupting an existing conversation is a huge no no. Not just in publishing, but anytime. Unless your hair is on fire and one of the conversationalist has the only fire extinguisher in the room tucked in her purse.  The fact that Diana and Julie were pleasant about it kinda makes me nuts too. In being pleasant and non-confrontational, all we do is encourage that kind of disrespectful disruptive behavior.  If I were a better person I might say "I'll be glad to discuss the state of publishing with you after I've finished talking to my friend Julie here." And never finish talking to Julie.

I know there's no one reading this blog who would do something like that, but you're going to see it happen at conferences, mark my words.

And it turns out that Christina Seine keeps "an stash of emergency chocolate" which I think we all need to keep in mind when we meet her in person.

And just to keep you all on your toes, CarolynnWith2Ns commented:
needed a break from editing so I'm watching Janet's favorite movie.
"You're gonna' need a bigger boat."
Love it.


But my favorite movie is NOT Jaws. I do love it of course, and the theme music precedes me into any room, much like Ruffles and Flourishes is played for Mr. President, but my favorite movie is something else. Any guesses?

And Christine Seine said
Hey, I was thinking ... all of us furry woodland minions who are going the NYC conference should get together and hang out and share scary JR stories at the bar.
which NYC conference are you all going to? Cause I'm thinking we should have a party.



And Friday and Saturday was the contest, and I was a little surprised how much I missed the comments those two days!  It was…lonely!

On Saturday night I finished Catriona McPherson's new book THE CHILD GARDEN. It pubs in September. Buy it. It knocked my shark sox rightoff.


It's FINALLY getting warmer here in NYC. Some rain, but honestly if I can walk home without freezing to death, I'll take it. Although after a winter of hiding inside, walking all the way home appears to be something I'm going to have to work back into. Oof!

See you next week!





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15. Writing contest! The Long Ride Home!

To celebrate the publication of Kari Lynn Dell's debut novel THE LONG RIDE HOME we are holding a writing contest!



I love this book with all my heart. And I've loved Kari's writing since I met her, way back in 2002 I think. Or maybe 2003. Anyway, forever ago in agent years!


Lucky winner (or winners!) will receive a copy of THE LONG RIDE HOME as a prize. I read this book in draft form some time back, and then the finished version just this week. I had to prop my eyes open with toothpicks the next morning because I could NOT put the book down and go to snoozerville at a proper hour.

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:


dell
horse
long
ride
home


3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word.
Long/longer is ok. Long/lounge 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)

7. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.

Contest opens: Saturday 4/11/15 at 10am

Contest closes: Sunday 4/12/15 at 10am

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid



Ready? SET?

NOT YET! Comments will open when contest opens.


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16. Conference etiquette: asking for help rather than pitching


I'll be at the Writers Digest in New York at the end of July and I'm going to the pitch slam. Can I just bring a query for you to look at, even though it's YA and not what you represent? I'd like to say hi and get something out of it. And I have to pretend I'm doing something bc I'm helping a friend of mine. (She told me bc I paid for it I'm participating.) I just want to be there for moral support.


If you can find me at the Pitch Slam you'll have traveled back in time about five years.  I'm doing a presentation at the Writers Digest conference here on 7/31/15, but I'm not taking pitches.  Remember, I'm not a fan of pitches at all.

However, to the larger question of asking an agent for help at a pitch session, go right ahead. You do want to be careful though about what you take to heart.  Advice from an agent who's not in the YA trenches on a daily basis can be questionable.

I'll never forget listening to a panel of YA tourists talk about the category in ways that were just plain wrong....and while they were authors, the lesson applies to agents as well.

I critique a lot of pitches for things I don't represent on QueryShark, but it's mostly about form and clarity, rather than "can I include dinosaurs in YA?"




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17. Conference question: taking a one-sheet to pitch sessions



I've signed up for my first ThrillerFest and Thursday, July 9, 2015, is Pitchfest. I thought I'd get an early start on hyperventilating.

Mr.Shane Gericke, in his very helpful FAQ about Pitchfest, answers the following question;

Q. Last year, some authors brought one-page summaries of their books, which they could hand to the agents. Do you still recommend doing that?

A. It’s a good idea. My suggested template is at the bottom of this FAQ. It’s essentially a one-page form that lists your name, contact information, story synopsis, and author bio. Some agents want them, some don’t. I recommend you print up a dozen and bring them along, in case any of your agents want one.

*******
So, to get this absolutely straight, I should include a short story synopsis. Not a query, which is what I expect an agent would want, but a synopsis, which means I should include how my novel ends? (1) And what is a "full pitch package" when it's out, anyway?(2) I couldn't find this term anywhere in your archives.

The one page form Mr. Gericke shows as an example is very helpful, but the actual synopsis part is kind of vague. I've attached the example below, in case any of your subjects will also be attending Pitchfest. In fact, if anyone else is going I'd love to know.(3) I'm probably going on my own (what the hell would my husband do while I'm CraftFesting? He's up for it; he's a musician so he figures there must be some bars near the hotel with live music but then I'd worry about him getting blathered before the cocktail party even started), so I'm a tad concerned about, well, New York. Though I do hear the natives tolerate Canadians rather well.(4)

Anyway, right off topic, sorry, but I am going to ThrillerFest come hell or high water so any other tips besides Mr. Gericke's about what to include in this one-page summary would be most appreciated,

SINGLE-PAGE SUMMARY
This is my suggested template for the story summary you can hand the agents. Keep it to one page, maximum—this isn’t your full pitch package, it’s simply a reminder of who you are when they get back to the office. I used my own information to give you an idea of the length and tone for which you should strive, but feel free to write it any way you wish. If you include a photo of yourself—and you should, because it’s another way to tweak the agent’s memory —make sure it’s high-res, clear and crisp. A muddy, unfocused photo reflects badly on you.(5)

Enjoy:
Author: Shane Gericke
Book: Torn Apart

Synopsis: Tragedy strikes Emily Thompson, Martin Benedetti, Hercules Branch, Annie Bates and Ken Cross, the five Naperville, Illinois, police officers who’ve worked together since the beginning of Emily’s career . . . and one will die. A serial killer nicknamed “Hacksaw” sends Emily gift packages of human body parts while a dragnet tightens around drug traffickers, child kidnappers and spree killers in Illinois and Wisconsin. And whatever else you need to fill out your short, concise summary, which should only go a paragraph or two at the most, because, again, you’re writing this is a reminder-tweak to the agent, not as a full-blown pitch package. (6)

Bio: Shane Gericke has been held at knifepoint, hit by lightning, and shaken the cold sweaty hand of Liberace. He was born to write thriller novels! His latest is Torn Apart, a finalist for the Thriller Award for Best Novel, and a bestseller in print and Kindle. Before turning to fiction, he spent 25 years as a newspaper editor and reporter, most prominently at the Chicago Sun-Times. An original member of International Thriller Writers, he was chairman of the ThrillerFest literary festival in New York and founding director of its agent-author matching program, PitchFest.

Check him out at http://www.shanegericke.com, and on Facebook and Twitter.
Contact information:
E-mail:
Facebook:
Twitter:
Mailing address:
Home phone:
Cellphone:



This is what happens when people with good intentions but NO experience (I know Shane and like him; he's a terrific guy and his books scare the crepe outta me) tell you what agents want.



Let's look at the six biggest questions here:



(1)  So, to get this absolutely straight, I should include a short story synopsis. Not a query, which is what I expect an agent would want, but a synopsis, which means I should include how my novel ends?

No you should not. For starters, a synopsis of any utility is more than 250 words.  You're going to have space for far fewer words than that on a one-sheet.

If anything you'd include only the gist of your query: Character A faces a choice of Z or Q. If s/he chooses Z, this terrible thing will happen, but if s/he chooses Q, something else will happen that he doesn't much like either.  And just to keep it interesting, include what's at stake if s/he doesn't choose either Z or Q.

That's what I want to know if the VERY BRIEF TIME you have with an agent at a pitch session.  I think it's terrific if you have it written down. Saves you trying to memorize it.



(2) And what is a "full pitch package" when it's out, anyway?
I have NO idea. It sounds terrifying. EVERY SINGLE agent I know wants a query letter. And some pages. And maybe a synopsis. That's it.  I've never heard this called a "full pitch package" but maybe I'm just new here.

(3) in case any of your subjects will also be attending Pitchfest. In fact, if anyone else is going I'd love to know.
Well, I'm going to be there. Not taking pitches of course since I don't do that any more, but reading queries and offering advice on revising queries to make them more effective.  Details to come, but I'm really pleased that ThrillerFest and CraftFest are offering this to attendees this year.  I hope it will be a raging success.


(4) He figures there must be some bars near the hotel with live music but then I'd worry about him getting blathered before the cocktail party even started), so I'm a tad concerned about, well, New York. Though I do hear the natives tolerate Canadians rather well.
Bring him along. He can hang with us in the bar. We like Canadians a lot. They're not really foreigners more like bemused observers of American crazy. 

(5) If you include a photo of yourself—and you should, because it’s another way to tweak the agent’s memory make sure it’s high-res, clear and crisp. A muddy, unfocused photo reflects badly on you. 

DO NOT DO THIS. I don't even have photos of my clients in my office files let alone queriers (author photos are ALL electronic now). If you give me one of these, I will discard it.  Do not waste money doing this.  No one cares what you look like; I only care about what you write.  I will remember your plot and writing just fine.  PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS.   




(6) Synopsis: Tragedy strikes Emily Thompson, Martin Benedetti, Hercules Branch, Annie Bates and Ken Cross, the five Naperville, Illinois, police officers who’ve worked together since the beginning of Emily’s career . . . and one will die. A serial killer nicknamed “Hacksaw” sends Emily gift packages of human body parts while a dragnet tightens around drug traffickers, child kidnappers and spree killers in Illinois and Wisconsin. 

And whatever else you need to fill out your short, concise summary, which should only go a paragraph or two at the most, because, again, you’re writing this is a reminder-tweak to the agent, not as a full-blown pitch package. 

This isn't a synopsis. This isn't even a pitch. It might be flap copy, but it's not an effective query.  



To sum up: 

CraftFest schedules writers in five minute blocks of time.  There are a couple things I'd want to know if I were taking pitches:

1. A quick summary of how the story gets started: who is the main character, what choices does s/he face and what's at stake.  100 words.

2.  Whether the novel is finished.  I have zero interest in unfinished novels.  I've had writers ask me to just listen to a concept but that's almost entirely useless. Concepts don't make good books. Good stories make good books. In other words: THE WRITING.

3. The word count of the finished novel.


If you have those three things written on a piece of paper, along with your contact info, and a short bio, you're good.

Do NOT over think this.
Do NOT try to be clever.

Do NOT try to stand out from the crowd by doing something no one else is doing. All those people you see with cute and clever and innovative one sheets? NOT what I'm looking for. I'm looking for people who have figured out that simple is better than fancy; the information I ask for is not just mindless ramblings; and, the writing is what matters.


Generally I'm going to discard anything you give me. I don't keep paper files on prospective clients. EVERYTHING is electronic.  

You'll be just fine if you send me a query after T/fest that says "we met during CraftFest and you asked me to send a query."  I don't need to remember you specifically. I just need to see what you've written.  There's time enough to get to know each other in the bar, OR when we decide to talk about whether I'm the right agent for you.

Any questions?


 
 

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18. Agent protocol question: missed deadlines



Recently, I've noticed quite a few writers talking about the long wait times they encounter with agents they've signed with. I am including myself in this bunch as I am with my second agent (the first one left the industry and we parted on very amicable terms). I like my current agent, but just like the first, she'd say something like, "I'll have notes on your latest MS by the end of the week!" and then a few more weeks will pass by before I actually see the notes. I see a lot of this being reported on AW and on other writing sites.

I get that agents are busy as hell. I myself have a really hectic job, but when we promise our clients a project by "the end of the week", we damn well better have it in the client's inbox by the end of the week, not the end of three weeks. And if we encounter an unforeseen delay, we send the client an e-mail with apologies and a heads-up to let them know we need a new deadline.

Is it ever acceptable to talk to your agent about it and be honest about how you feel with regards to their timing? Is there an okay way of saying, "You don't have to promise to get it to me within the week. You can take all the time you need, but please have it ready when you say it will be ready"? Or should I and my fellow writers just gnaw on our fingers in silence, wondering if this would actually be the week that we get our notes?




Yes, it's entirely acceptable to be straightforward with your agent about what working style suits you. You say it just like you said it to me: "It will help me tremendously if you only tell me something is coming when you know it is. I appreciate that priorities can shift in a day and a week, particularly with things that are important not urgent, but expecting something on Friday then not getting it, or an email saying it's delayed, is very difficult."




You and your agent are on the same team. One of the best ways to have effective communication is to tell the other person what works best for you.


I have had to learn this several times.  It's particularly useful for my minions to know how to act when I am in a towering rage.  Telling them what to do saves a LOT of misunderstanding.  Telling your agent what works for you will do that too.


I think one of the reasons that agents often say nothing rather than check in with "yea, I'm not getting this done" is first they feel guilty for NOT getting it done or they don't like to explain (baldly) that something was more important than your project (my skin crawls just writing that.)

One way you can help build trust is by never saying "well when WILL you get this done; I feel neglected." That can shut down communication really quickly.  I know it shouldn't but lets all realize how things actually work, not how you want them to work.

I know a lot about this problem because it afflicts me even as I write this.  I wish I had a better solution, but I don't...yet.



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19. Meet Miss Persnikity, your ms' BFF



A recent email exchange with one of my authors:


> ...I got far too many letters from
> prisoners, so a post office box was a necessity.

I get those too!
I always reply personally to those poor guys. Their handwritten hopes for publication just kinda break my heart. A LOT of Sci-Fi writers are in prison.

If we'd been in actual conversation, that third sentence might very possibly have passed unremarked because we both knew what I meant: the majority of query letters coming from a prison address are for SFF books.

But written on the page, it stops the eye (and rightfully so!)

If you'd sent a query letter that said most of your audience was in prison, we'd have a problem. Of course, what you'd meant to say was "lots of prisoners have ordered my book."

When you write, you know what you mean. Your task is to make sure I do too.  Whether your reader does  is YOUR responsibility. If I don't understand your sentences, that's YOUR problem (generally) not mine.

How to make sure you avoid this problem: other readers. No matter how you get them, it's really important to have a second set of eyes on your manuscript that will catch things like this. Someone who is thin lipped, evil-eyed, and sucks lemons for a living. If you can pay them in lemonade and sauerkraut, so much the better.

Here's the kind of thing Miss Persnikity will catch:

should of

lie/lay/lay

There/they're

Bale/bail (misuse of found just tonight in a published book!)

How many SFF writers are in prison (or exiled in Carkoon)




I read your manuscript with Miss Persnikity looking over my shoulder. Too many tsks tsks from her and I know you're more careless than the kind of writer I want to work with regularly.

It's not a problem to write this stuff. The problem is when you fail to revise it away.

(and how many revisions are enough? This blog post had seven in three days)

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20. Query Question: Reliability of Publishers Marketplace deal announcements



Thank your for posting about auctions and pre-empts on your blog  - it seems to be a less-often talked about issue (as far as I can tell when I researched all that stuff in the past). It brought to mind a post that Kristin Nelson had a week or so ago about how some agents exaggerate their reporting in the Publisher's Marketplace venue. 
 It also reminded me of seeing a post by another agency that said they don't post in PM because it feels like bragging. (This one made me both laugh and also think, "hmm" about their success rate, neither of which I believe they were going for as they are a Christian-based agency.) They then asked about how much querying writers rely on PM.

For my part, I liked PM to help me with kinds of sales and frequency (and not necessarily about the $ end of it, which is where I feel like the agency worrying about bragging is actually considering). I know not all agents or editors report sales, but it gave me an extra piece of information to work with. I also just enjoy seeing what's coming down the pike in various genres. 

My question (finally): If a querying writer is to spend the money on PM, do you believe that is a valuable asset for him/her? How reliable is the information?

 


I think it's an amazing trove of information, but mostly about what's NOT there.  If you are considering an agent who has ZERO sales posted at Publishers Marketplace, you'll want to ask some pretty precise questions:

1. What have you sold this year?
2. What books are being published this year that you sold?
3. How do you handle foreign rights?
4. How do you handle film rights?


The answers you're looking for here are:

1. List of books with author names and publishing houses.  Preferably houses you've heard of. If you haven't heard of the publisher, fire up the google machine.

2. List of titles that you can look up on Amazon, or B&N.

3. A specific answer. It's perfectly fine if an agency lets the publisher retain translation rights. If the agency tries to retain those rights, who handles foreign rights at the agency? What kind of track record do they have. (See #1 and #2 above)

4. Just make sure they don't leave your film and performance rights with the publisher.



If you find an agent with just a few deals posted, ASK why that is.  I'm woefully behind on posting deals on a bunch of books for a lot of reasons that I won't go in to in public, but will mention to a prospective client [under the cone of silence of course.]


If you find an agent with a lot of deals, I think you're able to trust the reporting. Sure a few agents bump up their sale to the next category, but really who cares.

The purpose of making a book sound enticing on PubMkt is to attract foreign, audio, and film deals. It's not to hoodwink authors.

If a book sells in a "pre-empt" an agent thinks it's more likely to get noticed. I don't particularly care if an agent is  fast and loose with terms in order to attract attention for his/her clients. 

I will say that I insist on accurate reporting here at The Reef.  It's always easier to report correctly, so you don't have to remember what you said.



You should be MUCH more interested in the agents who have clients on the lists of books that sell well. That's where you see the folks who know how to sell books to the right editor at the right publisher and get sales and marketing excited.

 



 

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21. Who?



While I am off praying for world peace, and awaiting the Resurrection, I hope all my very treasured blog readers will use these few days to post a link to their blog or website so you can all get to know each other.

Post the link in the comments section of THIS blog post.  Comments too, if you like. 


Have a very happy start to April, and the new spring season!

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22. What?





While I am off praying for world peace, and awaiting the Resurrection, I hope all my very treasured blog readers will use these few days to post a link to their blog or website so you can all get to know each other.

The links are in the comments section of Thursday's blog post here.


Have a very happy start to April, and the new spring season!

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23. When?







While I am off praying for world peace, and awaiting the Resurrection, I hope all my very treasured blog readers will use these few days to post a link to their blog or website so you can all get to know each other.

The links are in the comments section of Thursday's blog post here.


Have a very happy start to April, and the new spring season!

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24. Where?








While I am off praying for world peace, and awaiting the Resurrection, I hope all my very treasured blog readers will use these few days to post a link to their blog or website so you can all get to know each other.

The links are in the comments section of Thursday's blog post here.


Have a very happy start to April, and the new spring season!

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25. Non-romance tangled sheets



What is your take on including sex scenes in non-Romance genres for adult category?

Most suggest: if it moves the story along and is inherent to the plot, include it.  Some say 50 Shades has opened the door to graphic sex in all genres. The genre I’m striving for is Suspense, not erotic Suspense.

In my current WIP, it is important that the two main characters are sexually involved but not being a Romance I’m not sure how to do this. Implied?  On the page? Half and half?

Writing sex scenes doesn’t bother me but reading them usually does, especially when graphic, I skip over. I find graphic sex boring. This woodland creature also fears a listing in the Bad Sex Scenes archives. Mine may be awful.  And I want to sell my m/s to the widest audience possible.

I’ve noticed agents are looking for steamy pages. What about in the Suspense genre? I’ve thought of writing two versions and querying different agents.

Is there a trend in the industry concerning sex on the page outside the Romance genre?


I'm with you. I skip over the graphic sex parts of novels. I'm not really interested in the five thousand ways one can describe Tab A into Slot B, repeat as needed.



And rather than worry about what agents think, this is the time when you MUST write to please yourself (harumph, get your mind out of the sheets there!)


If you don't want to read it, don't write it.

I'm absolutely not aware of the general taste in the reading public shifting to more steamy. Yes, 50 Shades of Grey did very well, but it doesn't mean there's going to be an outcry for  Jack Reacher going graphic when he next arrives in Portland to have lunch with Samantha Kincaid.


And more generally, don't pay any attention to "what's hot" (so to speak.)  Write the novel you want to write. If everyone is telling you dinosaur porn  is the next big thing, don't just leap to make all your werewolves over into dinosaurs.

Write YOUR novel.  That's hard enough without trying to factor in what someone else is sure is the Next Big Thing. 





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