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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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"The arm belonged to one Jim Smith, a small-time crook who, funnily enough, hadn't been seen recently"
Some time ago Fabulous Gary Corby mentioned a crime that was solved by a shark. Naturally I perked up my fins and asked for details. This morning Gary posted the story here on his blog.
Of course it cracked me up completely, as I hope it does you.
And if, like me, it reminds you of how much fun it is to read Gary Corby's work, well, we're all in luck there. SACRED GAMES, the third book in the Nico series, is being published tomorrow 5/21 and you're in for a treat. Publishers Weekly thinks so too and in addition to the starred review (even calling it "the best thus far"--and both his other books were starred reviews as well!), ran an interview with Gary.
Available whereever you buy your Fabulous books!
"And the library of my elementary school had this great biography section, and I read all of these paperback biographies until they were dog-eared. The story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Madame Curie and Martin Luther King and George Washington Carver and on and on and on. All these people who had changed the world in different ways"
--Christine Quinn, candidate for mayor of NYC (NYT 5/15/13)
This was a lovely reminder of why I enjoy working on books of history and biography. This weekend the Biographers International Conference
comes to NYC. If you're interested in writing biography, this is a wonderful group
to belong to.
From time to time I receive queries from writers who list a copyright number for the book they want me to represent. I don't pay much attention other than to note that author doesn't know much about how publishing works.
[To complete a copyright registration, you need the name of the publisher, the year of publication, and two copies of the book to lodge with the Library of Congress. At the query stage, you don't have any of that.]
Some writers think they should copyright their work to prevent plagiarism or theft, but copyright doesn't prevent that at all. Registering a copyright only means you can collect damages if someone does plagiarize your work. I am in the business of selling, not stealing, and prefer to work with people who do NOT assume I think plagiarism is just another wealth accumulation strategy. Thus, copyright registration numbers on a query are a bit of a red flag if I notice at all.
And today, someone sent a query with a copyright number that isn't a copyright number. I knew this instantly cause I've just finished registering copyright on five client books when the publisher didn't do it promptly.
I didn't respond to the query writer cause I've learned the hard way not to interact with writers other than through the Chum Bucket experiment, but I'm wondering is someone out there is scamming writers by saying they need to register copyright at the query stage, and offering "to help" a writer do it.
Registering copyright is $35 and about 20 minutes at the copyright office website (believe me, I know!) Anyone charging you money to save you time has an agenda going.
Let me know if you've seen anything like that out there, ok?
I'm going to be on query hiatus from 6/1/13 to 9/31/13. No Chum Bucket then either, sorry to say. (You know how much I love the Chum Bucket!)
Any queries sent during the hiatus will receive a form reply asking they be sent again when the hiatus is over. I won't keep or store any queries.
Yes, I'm going to miss some good stuff, but the Fabulosity is looking a little perturbed at my pace these days. I think some of them have turned in their mice and mouse pads for sharper implements!
Myles Knapp gets his arm twisted.
Gotta love it!
Here's the story.
Sending email to all your contacts about your new book?
Including all the agents you queried before you were published?
I don't know how other agents deal with this, but when you send me an email like that, I add your email address to my spam filter so I never have to hear from you again.
This might not be what you want to accomplish.
At some point in the future you might want to get in touch with me. You might want one of my clients to blurb your book, or invite me to your conference, or even ask a question for Friday Night at the Question Emporium. If your email is listed as spam, it doesn't go to my spam folder. It gets discarded. I'll never see it.
It's a Very Good Idea to use a mail service to send your promotional emails. At the bottom of those emails are instructions on how to unsubscribe. If you send me an announcement with an unsubscribe button, I'll click that rather than listing your email as spam.
Hello! I have three short query questions.
Firstly, what is the best font to use in a query? Secondly, how many credentials are too many?
Can you offer any advice on keeping my query at/under 250 words?
(1) Times New Roman or Courier
(2) It's too many if your list has more words than the number of words telling what your book is about. Prioritize: published work first. Anything else is just filler.
(3) Focus on the plot of the novel. There are a lot of queries at QueryShark.blogspot.com that show how to do that.
When sending 3-5 pages of MS over email, format gets lost. Even with RTF, the headers get lost along with page numbers. Info with web searches don't appear to address this.
You leave out the headers and the page numbers.
You just type the text from the first 3-5 pages into the email, double spaced. No tabs. No indentations. No keyboard shortcuts.
I just read about a Women's Novel competition for unpublished female authors (that's me). And I was wondering if it was acceptable to query an agent if I've already entered my manuscript in the competition?
Or should I enter my novel in the competition, and then wait and see if I make the short list before querying an agent?
Or should I query a few agents, and if those are unsuccessful, then enter it in the competition?
I'm a big fan of contests. Good ones, not the scammy kinds. And by good ones, I mean contests that are run by real publishers or organizations, don't cost a fortune to enter, don't have a gazillion categories, and the previous winners include some names you recognize.
My favorite contest is the William F. Deeck Malice Domestic Unpublished Manuscript
contest because that's where I found Stephanie Jaye Evans
and her wonderful Sugar Land mystery series. (Yes it is true I vaulted over a table and stepped on Charlaine Harris' toes to reach Stephanie before anyone else did. I regret nothing!)
If this contest looks legit, enter.
But do keep querying. If you win, someone might vault over the table to sign you up.
Last year I published a religious book with a local publisher. It has a very finite audience and will probably sell 1,000 to 1,500 copies a year. If you google me, this book comes up on Amazon. My question is this: I am now writing thriller fiction; will this pigeonhole me to agents and make it harder for me to acquire one? I have no desire to publish anymore in the nonfiction religious genre as I saw a need and filled it.
It shouldn't pigeonhole you. When I read a query for a thriller the first thing I consider is the story. The second is whether I think there's a market. The third is whether the author is an asshat. Only then do I start looking at previous publication outside the genre.
It helps that you've been published in non-fiction, rather than fiction. Being a "debut novelist" is an easier sell than "novelist being resuscitated from the dead."
I've been missing your blog posts tremendously! Every time I've checked, I see your latest post, which ends with the book titles... Sudden Violence. Silence. Truly ominous!
You can imagine what horrible scenarios a mystery writer could conjure up to explain your absence. Believe me, I thought of them all! Then I had the bright idea to check your twitter feed (duh) and was relieved to see that you're alive, if not well. Really hope you feel better soon.
If at some point you feel inspired to take a Whisky Hour (or Dr. Pepper break) and ponder a question for your Question Emporium, here's one I've been curious about. Perhaps tricky to answer, given the many variables...
Thanks for your good wishes. I'm slowly clawing my way back from the dead.
Here's the question:How many books should I expect (or hope) to sell as a first-time novelist? What's a realistic sales goal? I realize the answer is somewhere between "100 copies to friends and family" and "the NYT bestseller list" but is there a # of thousands I should aim for in the first year? What's considered
successful in the publishing industry? [My publisher is a small press and the novel is a genre novel (mystery).]
You're asking the wrong first question.
The first question you want to ask is how many books is the publisher printing? And don't squirm around and feel pushy for asking. This information is crucial for your publicity and marketing plans.
If the publisher plans to print using POD technology, that means they will print books to fill orders. Very little inventory if any.
If the publisher plans a print run and to hold some inventory, they'll most likely look at how many orders come in before publication date, and print some number more than that.
They should tell you which method they use up front. They should tell you how many books they're printing up front. (By upfront I mean close to publication date)
ASK before you do anything requiring an investment of cash or time. And to answer your question: you hope to sell your print run. And then go back for a second printing and sell those too.Questions?
You really want to read the article that accompanies this photo: David Rosenberg's Slate article about
Whimsical Stories Created by Book Titles.
Thanks to the delightful Brenda Buchanan
my Crimebake pal for the link!
Yet another reason I love Crimebake!
This news was in the trades today:
And then when we saw this coming down the Hudson:
Clearly BP the VP travels in style!
Complete text of incoming query:
Pasted below are the first five pages of TITLE, a romance and political satire.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Your name and agency came up as the result of extensive, rigorous search on the Internet, utilizing advanced heuristic criteria such as: “professionalism, exceptional reputation, quick turnaround, outstanding ethics and extraordinary rate of responsiveness”. A lot more agents
and agencies were discarded in the process for failing to meet one or several stringent selection requirements.
My latest novel, ‘Southerly Breeze’ affords an exclusive, insider’s look at some of the true crimes of the comrades, a Darwinian tale of survival of the ‘meanest’, where assets become liabilities on the spur of the moment and none is spared. I am uniquely qualified to write it,
as I have ‘been there, saw, it, done it’ as the adage goes. Additionally, a lot more literary savvy authors than me have pointed out, that we are just barely beginning to grasp the historical and literary implications of the Civil War, so the time to publish this historical thriller is now.
Next follows the complete text of my submission as a universally accepted Adobe PDF file:
Very Respectfully yours,
- Preambe and book synopsis.
- Author's Bio.
- Major Works.
- Complete Text of Chapter 1.
Faun Pischerke------------How far did I read before it dawned on me that today is 4/1?Post your estimate in the comment column.
The recent spate of queries produced a couple things that really just made me want to weep salty shark tears:
1. (C)Copyright (date). You don't need to include a copyright notice in your email query. Not now, not ever. Your work is protected without the notice and if you think I'm going to steal it, why are you querying me at all?
(2) Your comp titles are movies. This is almost never the right choice. The purpose of a comp title is to show me which readers will be attracted to your book. Thus, you need to compare your book to books.
(3) "This novel is intended for adults." You'd be surprised how unhelpful that statement is. Adults read all sorts of books from picture books to YA to academic tomes. Be specific. People who read "MAN IN THE EMPTY SUIT" by Sean Ferrell will be likely readers for this book.
Here's the text of a recent email to an editor friend of mine:
I'm just writing to confirm that you've received (title.) Our records show we sent you the manuscript on (month date) 2011.
Editors prioritize how they read just like everyone else.
They read stuff they think will go fast first (generally); they've learned the hard way not to dawdle on projects from agents that go to auction often (Hello Brooks Sherman!)
They read things from their own writers more quickly than submissions as well.
That means if you have an agent the editor doesn't know well, or hasn't worked with, the agent MUST FOLLOW UP in a timely fashion or the submission sinks to the bottom of (I'm not kidding here) 11,206 emails.
7-30 days for material sent to an editor the agent has a longstanding relationship with.
30-60 days for everyone else.
How can you tell how often your agent follows up on submissions? Ask.
Your agent should be able to send you a submissions data base with the name of the editor, the publishers, when the ms was sent, and when s/he followed up. If s/he doesn't list dates: ASK.
The worst thing in the world is to think no one likes your work when the truth is simply no one has read it.
There's a wonderful post at Crimespree by Steve Ulfelder on Five Albums That Changed My Life. I always like getting a peek into my clients lives this way, but the real revelation was the last album.
Here's what Steve says:
Joe Ely – Satisfied at Last
"This is art by a full-grown man examining his life with, by turns, bemusement and sadness and pride. Ely lists his regrets great and small; he considers God and the afterlife; he tells stories with economy and heart. Every number is perfect.
Here’s the highest compliment I can pay: If Conway Sax, my series protagonist, were one hell of a talented musician, this is the record he would write. In fact, I hereby declare “I’m a Man Now,” the album’s next-to-last song, Conway’s theme:
I’m a man now, I ain’t no kid
I done some things I never should have did
I paid the price – my weight in pain
I’m a man now, I’m free of shameI’ve been a runner for decades. I was once pretty serious about it, but I find myself running less and slower. For the past few years, if you want the truth, I’ve done nearly all my running at the local middle-school track, and only in warm weather.So on the one hand, my runs are a sad sight: a fiftysomething man scuffling around, logging 12-minute miles.But boy, do I love that track, my town, the view. There are the pretty ballfields, of course, and a wetlands area below. There’s the handsome school itself. And on every lap, I catch a glimpse of the steeple of my longtime church.To run laps in a place you love. To run them slower and slower as the years pass. To reflect and recall and regret as you run, and to laugh at yourself about all of it.I listen to Joe Ely as I run. I believe he would understand."
Steve's next novel in the Conway Sax series SHOTGUN LULLABY will be published on May 14. You can pre-order it here
I'm not sure whether to laugh, rage or whack you all with a cluestick. Maybe all three.
Honestly, you'd think one of the basic things about sending a query would be to include your name, right?
Yea, I thought so too.
I've gotten enough queries recently that did NOT have a name that I though maybe y'all needed a refresher course.
Your name goes under the closing. The closing is the last sentence of your query.
Here's how it looks:
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Now, should you be writing under a pseudonym or wish to conceal your identity at the query stage (a VERY bad idea, but what the hell) here's how you do that:
Thank you for your time and consideration,
(pseudonym for Barbara Poelle)
Thank you for your time and consideration,
How do you know if you have it right?
Answer: Can I reply with Dear NAME: after reading your email?
If I can, you're good.
If I can't, try again.
And do NOT get me started on people who query with an email address that is someone else's name.
1. Your email address is someone else's name.
If you plan to pursue a career in publishing, you need your own email address. Here are some recent examples of people who look like they're doing this just for a lark:
(this one just cracked me up)
2. You name someone as my client...who isn't.
I write about a lot of good authors who aren't my clients. My clients are listed on the right side of the blog, AND if you click "clients" in the post category on the left side, you'll see the posts about clients. Yes, it takes some research to get it right. That's EXACTLY the kind of thing I look for in a client.
3. You mistake my non-fiction interests, with what I want to read about in novels. My website lists specific categories or areas of interest for non-fiction. The death penalty, justice issues, contemporary music, contemporary art. Sending me a query for a novel about music because "that's one of my areas of interest" makes me wonder if you're paying attention.
4. You reference meeting me in a place I've never been.
When you tell me you met me in a place I've never been, and I expressed interest in seeing your novel it really does make me wonder about you. Honestly, I do know where I've been these past too-many years.
I’ve been shopping my mystery around to agents. But just recently, I revisited another novel I wrote a while back and have decided it’s actually a pretty fine book. Therefore, I’m thinking of launching a parallel agent search for that book as well. But it’s not a mystery, falling instead in the women’s fiction/general literature category. My thinking was that I would see which book found a home first, and decide from there which genre to pursue. First question: Is this a wise thing to do, or will I somehow shoot myself in the foot by not focusing on one genre?
Ideally I’d like to find an agent who handles both genres, and I have in fact identified one agent who would be my dream agent in that regard (as well as several other regards). I’m currently waiting for a response from her on my query for my mystery. So second question: Is submitting a query for a second book, in a different genre, breaking some type of querying protocol? Would Ms. Dream Agent find it strange and/or annoying, or would she be impressed with how versatile an author I am?
Versatile is not what I'm looking for in a writer. I'm looking for someone who can turn out a compelling mystery every year. That's a HUGE challenge. Being able to do that well is a rare thing.
If you query me in more than one category, I wonder if you've read enough in each category to know what's fresh and new, what's not, what the category requirements are and who breaks them well.
One of the best books I ever read about writing was about music. WAITING FOR DIZZY
is a collection of essays about musicians. One of them talks about the fact that the very best musicians play one instrument very very well. They know how to play others of course, but they focus on the one instrument. It's their performance instrument.
A lot of good athletes face this same choice. The athletes who letter in three sports athletes in high school have to choose which sport to do in college. Even the athletes who do more than one sport in college have to choose which sport to turn pro in.
Querying to be a published writer is like putting yourself in draft consideration for the major leagues. You have to be very very good at one thing, not reasonably good at several. (Sure there are exceptions you can cite, but thinking of yourself as the exception to the rule is a fast way to be out of consideration.)
In a way I had to make that same choice when deciding what to focus on as an agent. I enjoy reading romance and women's fiction. I've read some science fiction, and fantasy. But I knew that I had to read widely and deeply in a category to represent it well, and thus the choice was easy: crime fiction. I've read more of it than any other category, and I love it. Even the schlock stuff.
You need to think about your goals. What do you want to keep writing in the future? Which category are you best suited to write? Which category do you enjoy reading the most? Resist the urge to show how many categories you can write, and focus on showing one category you can write VERY well in.
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Speaking of things that make my hyperventilate with desire:
Supply Closet from one of my favorite blogs Things Organized Neatly
Click on that Poppin link at your own risk (this applies only to those of use who think office supplies are manna from heaven)