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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 reached a small part of the audience, now I want more



My memoir was published in 2012, both as an ebook and in print (POD), by a small independent publisher. It's done quite well on Amazon, and also through my independent sales (via book signings, speaking appearances, etc.) I have many reviews on Amazon, most at 4-5 stars, in addition to very favorable editorial reviews.

Most of my readers have come from a niche market, which I have worked hard to cultivate and have a sizable following, but I believe that there are more readers in the general public who would appreciate and learn from my memoir. I've been unable to break into major bookstores because the book is POD.

My publisher is leaving the business and I retain all rights. Do you think it would make sense to pitch it to agents or larger publishers? As a second edition, for foreign, audio book or even movie rights? And how should I present it?




I think it makes a lot of sense to pitch it to agents or a larger press.


What they'll  want to know is who you have NOT been able to reach. The first thing you can mention is the library market. You've also missed most bookstores that won't order books on a one at a time basis from small presses.  

Bookstores like to order their inventory from reliable suppliers and a small press they've never heard of us doesn't really qualify as that.  I don't know what sales terms your old publisher offered but just the fact bookstores could only order that one book from them made it a less desirable item to stock.



When you query, you need to give your sales stats, and talk about the target audience you haven't reached. (I did a previous blog post on that topic)  Your Amazon reviews aren't going to be as helpful here as you think. Sales numbers are what will get you in the door. (That's the subject of a previous blog post)


It's also not going to be helpful to say "my book was POD" because print on demand is a technology not a method of sale.  The information that the editor/agent will need is whether the publisher sold on a returns allowed basis; what the discount was; what the catalog or retail price was; whether there was distribution of any kind. You may not know this information. If you can, find out. The bookstores where you sold books will know if you can't get the information from your publisher.

Lots of large publishers use print on demand technology to fulfill small orders so they don't have to carry inventory.  You'd never know it from just buying the book.

Don't mention foreign rights, audio or film rights in the query. You need a book deal before you get subsidiary rights (and for all you clever exceptionistas out there, yes there are exceptions to this, but you don't plan to be the exception in your query letter, now do you?)



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2. Week in Review 3/29/15

 
Last week's week in review had Jennifer F. Donohue asking about one of my favorite topics: paint!
Did you repaint the office? Did I miss what colors you'd selected? We've got paint chips up in the circulation room of the library, but no consensus yet. One of the orange-y colors was called "Pompeii Clay", which I thought perhaps not in good taste, but I found a nice gray to pair with it (they did not call it "Vesuvius Ashfall"). My coworkers do not agree

we DID repaint the office and the color was my new fave: Montgomery White.
I haven't taken pictures yet cause it's still not completely pulled together. Soon though, soon!

Christina Seine's new notebook has a quote I like very much:
The very first thing I wrote in it was a line I heard today while watching the "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" - (to paraphrase): "Everything is going to work out alright in the end. If it is not alright, then it is not the end yet."

And it turns out that Amy Schaefer, while not liking acronyms much, has a some pretty good ones;
"...but of course, the EFI report was bogged down with the AWT--"
"What does EFI mean?" I asked. I already knew the answer to this question.
"Extremely Frigging Important. Then Charlie--"
"And AWT?"
"Awesome Wonder Team."
"Right. Carry on."

Kate Larkindale makes a good point that applies to people just starting a "new career" as writers:
I've just started a new job, and after 23 years at the finished end of the film production chain, going back to the beginning of it has been like learning a new language.
Publishing vernacular can be rare and strange indeed. Even for people who have been "in books" or a career that was a different kind of writing can be bewildered by all sorts of terms.
I'm reminded of this every time a query writer writes that s/he wants me to "review" a book.

On Monday the discussion turned to the value of a blurb offer in a query letter.

Colin asked:
My question for QOTKU, therefore, is: How does blurbing work? How do publishers know they're going to get good reviews from the people they ask to blurb? Do they ever get blurbers write back saying "Sorry, I hated this book. I can't give you a positive blurb." I would like to think so."

No one knows what kinds of blurbs they're going to get. Generally the unspoken protocol is that if you don't like the book, you say you don't have time now to read for a blurb.  You do NOT trash it.  Well, you can, but it would be very very rude.  And unless it's hilariously funny, a bad blurb would never be used on a book.

That said, I've used some VERY bad reviews in subsequent press releases (earlier in my career) because it was very clear that the reviewer had missed the point of the book completely. 

and bass points out one of the biggest problems with blurbs:
I do recall, however, middle-school-me almost refusing to read The Hunger Games when I borrowed it because Stephenie Meyer had blurbed it and I was in a huge anti-Twilight phase.

Colin asked:
Is it the job of the publisher or the author to ask for blurbs? Are authors required to pursue them, or are they only asked to do this if they happen to have contact with HPNYTBSAs?
The editor and agent and author cooperate jointly on blurbs usually.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli asked:
My question is do publishers pay for blurbs? Especially HPNYTBSA?
No. No one pays for blurbs. If you see anyone offering to sell you blurbs, it's a flim flam artist not a real service.

And then Chirstina Seine just blew us all out of the waterwith the Pinterest board for Carkoon.


And until I was doing this week in review I had managed to forget that last Monday was pretty awful here:


1. There is no heat in my office
2. My computer broke
3. I left my cell phone at home

Julie asked how all that happened: the boiler in the building went on the fritz and my computer just died. It was very old so not a complete shocker, but annoying all the same.  This was the desktop in the office that has all the company info, not my laptop that has my day to day stuff on it.

I seriously thought of exiling myself to Carkoon, if only to get warm.
But then I had a better idea: a writing contest. The entries in contest are always great, and make me laugh, and THAT will warm us all up.

So, Tuesday was the Surprise Writing Contest in honor of Colin's birthday.
The prompt words were chosen for their relevance to Colin:
smith: obviously, since this is his name
exile: since his exile to Carkoon, this is where he lives
link: he's become the blog's resident link master, helping everyone do clickable links
seven: well, I thought there were seven kids, but now I hear there are only six?
music: Colin blogs about music (among other topics)

And there were some fabulous entries, We saw the finalist on Thursday, including Colin's own:
(2) Colin Smith 12:20pm

"What ya doing, Dr. Smith?"

I gritted my teeth and turned to see the Robinson boy.

"Fixing the communication
linkin my ship so I can call for help."

"Where's the Robot?"

I moved to hide the disembodied pincer that sat beside my leg. After
seven years' exile with these fools, I was desperate enough to cannibalize that machine to try to fix my ship.

"I'm channeling his
musiccircuits to… uh… enhance the frequency."

"I hope it works. The rescue ship's here and there's only room for the family."

The brat even smiled and waved as he ran off.

Which I loved because it was an homage to Lost In Space from 60's TV, but even if you didn't know that the story worked perfectly. I love that in stories, the multiple layers. Incredibly hard to do in 100 words!

And the winning entry was
4) Lobo 10:50pm

Indus’rial sabotage. Murder. Same ta me (truth b’told). ’Specially after that tex’ile mill job. But we’d already hit two competitors and my sevens game was callin’.

Creep kept squintin' at the building through oily Detroit smog. “He sleeps here with all them T-cars.”

“Model Teas, ya word
smith.” I said. “An’ people say yer the smarty.”

Creep linked up the dynamite plunger, grinning so wide I thought his cheeks would bury his eyeballs. “Whatsa fella’s company again?”

I shrugged. “Stars with an F.”

“Should I start the
music?”

“Nah. Leave ’im. Man sleepin’ with cars pro’ly don’t have much a future.”


I loved this because of the creative use of the prompt words (always something I look for) and that if you knew your history, this is really funny. If you don't know your history it's just a good story. Again, layers. And that's not even mentioning voice, which is hard to nail in a novel, let alone 100 words.

All the entries had a lot going for them, it was a tough choice.
I like what donnaeverhart pointed out in the comments on the contest:

I've been thinking about something for a while. Many times we woodland creatures worry about nitpicky things like someone stealing our stupendous writing idea if we shared too much of it.

This contest actually proves what we've been told many times in the writing community; "Only you can write your story."

Think about it. We're given five words, and not one of us ever comes close to having a similar story. We might re-use a word or two in the same way (wordsmith, for example) but beyond that, our stories are as diverse as our fingerprints and voices.

And donnaeverhart also wondered:
.." I've often wondered,(one or two of mine have landed here I think)what it is that makes them not a story for you? I've come to the conclusion it's because in some way, the writer hasn't resolved the MC's situation. I.e. it's left hanging in some way. Am I close?
Mostly it's that "not a story" is more like a scene, not a story with a start, middle, and end. It's hard to describe, but there's almost always what you'd call a punch line, or a twist of some sort that gives it that extra boost to story.

On Wednesday we talked about querying magazines versus querying books,

Janet Rundquist asked:
"There are a lot of places now to publish articles that don't require querying first at all. The danger there is if your writing isn't up to par, you can damage your career pretty easily."

I'm not quite sure what this means. ie: the publication will remember your first sub-par submission and it will prejudice them for future attempts? Or that they might actually publish it and others will see this sub-par quality and make judgments from there? Or...?

If you have a lot of bad writing up on the web, and you query me, I'm going to see it. This is particularly true of non-fiction. A non-fiction query has a concept and a plan. There are a lot of good concepts and plans out there, so the trick is figuring out if this querier can actually write. First stop: the google.  Locate all the pub credits. Read.
The google is merciless though: it coughs up the bad writing as well as the good.

Colin asked:
How is it different with a short story submission to a mag?
Very different. Those rejected stories don't get published, and if you get rejected, it's not likely editors remember your name. It's also expected that writers get better over time, so some very bad work is simply ascribed to "new writer" and that's that.
 It's the rush to publish that will kill you. There are a lot of places to put work out there that have NO editorial oversight. Editorial oversight is your friend when you are a writer. Especially when you think it isn't.

Bjmuntain had some good points on writing non-fiction article as well:
One thing to take away from querying non-fiction magazines: Don't wait until you've finished writing the article to query, unless you want to prove to yourself you can write that article. Non-fiction magazines buy ideas - very unlike fiction magazines - and they'll reject the idea, too. They don't want to see a full article until they commission it, based on your idea. Since you wouldn't sell the same article to two magazines (even similar magazines have different focuses and styles), you'll just be rewriting the article again.

Basically, the difference between fiction and non-fiction magazines is: Fiction magazines buy writing. Non-fiction magazines buy ideas, and they assume you can write the idea. This latter is why it's good to have 'clippings' - articles or other writing you can point to, to tell the magazine 'See? I can write goooood.' Of course, that's where the catch 22 comes in: magazines want you to have previous published pieces, but you can't get those unless a magazine will publish them.

If you feel your non-fiction writing on your chosen topic is professional enough, you could start a blog about it, to get pub credit and followers. I believe it's not difficult to get a blog on io9, and it may attract more readers. Or, if you're able to market your blog, you can do that, too.

And I'm really sure Barbara Poelle hasn't seen her new bio courtesy of brianrschawarz, but I plan to have it engraved on something silver for her:

a woman who was clearly the sole influence in Eve's decision to eat the apple in the garden of Eden in the first place...

And then the comments just fell off into the hilarity I love, which is a good thing because this was the day that I got my new computer and discovered I couldn't get my back ups reinstalled.

Fortunately on Thursday, I was able to get tech support on the phone and several hours later, voila!, success.  Not much work got done, but all in all, we're counting that as a good day.

On Friday, we turned to the topic of very small print runs of a book.

Carolynwith2Ns had a lovely analogy for this kind of thing, and then everyone else just fell off the topic and right into hilarity, starting with Amy Schaefer wishing us happy returns from the future and Colin talking to himself about the reality of Carkoon.

LynnRodz did ask a good question though:
Am I wrong to think "this is the day and age of forever" only applies to free blogs?

Yes. The New York Times is pretty much forever online too, which is ok if you're just publishing blather cause the NYT isn't going to print that, but there are sites without those standards that last a long time.
bjmuntain has an excellent point here:
Once you put something out on the internet - no matter where - you no longer have control over it. Despite security precautions and content protection, it's out of your hands. (You still have copyright, but you don't have control. Neither does the website it was posted on.)

On Saturday, a reader asked if I had ever missed a "big book."

Melissa had an interesting story along those lines:
I heard a Pulitzer-prize winning author speak at a class and tell the story of some good advice she once gave. An editor friend asked her thoughts about a horse book that was going up for auction. This author had a love of horses and dabbled with a few books in the genre.

"Do you think I should bid on it?" the editor asked.

"No, horse books never sell," the author advised.

With this great tip, the editor passed on the chance to bid for Seabiscuit. Amazingly, they're still friends.

This actually underscores my point: that editor was not the right editor for that book. How do I know? She asked for opinions on whether she should buy it. The right editor generally LUSTS for the manuscript, wants to buy it, and the only thing she wants to know is how much she can offer.

Dena Pawling asked
How much extra work are books/authors like that? Previously you mentioned/joked that Little, Brown had an entire branch office dedicated to James Patterson. I'm sure an agent can max out on the number of clients she represents. So if, for example, you represented five Lee Child's, or apparently just one James Patterson, would that be all you could handle? Their royalty statements are probably longer, and I imagine you have to field more calls regarding sales of rights [a nice bit of extra work, I'm sure]. But is a mega-selling book/author 10% more work than your “normal” clients, or 25%, or 100%? Inquiring minds [okay, maybe just mine] want to know.

If you have a mega-best selling author, yup, you staff up for it. Much depends on the kind of work being generated. Film deals, translation deals, permissions, rights. Some of that requires planning and executing. Some of it just requires detailed record keeping and follow up.  The king of work being added determines what kind of staffing up you do.

Craig has taken my answer to the question as a personal challenge: 
Nothing you have turned down has gone on to big things. I guess that I'm going to have to prove you wrong. I'm sorry, I still love you and have all of the respect in the world for you but that is just how it has to be.

Craig, the trick here is that you're going to have to query me for the book that DOES become a big success. It doesn't count if you queried me for an earlier novel and I passed then.

Mister Furkles asked: 
With over 100 queries every week, do you even remember the ones you turn down. I imagine you might remember manuscripts, especially if you read to the end. But do you remember rejected queries?
I don't remember the queries I turn down. BUT, I read pages from most of the novels that I think might be a good fit here, so I read a lot of stuff I don't take on.

And just in case you need something to scare you more than querying, DLM gave us this:
Last night, I must've had you on my mind too, because - after running across something about "body horror" when researching agents, I ended up having a dream about having scary cysts removed from my body that turned out to be lima beans.

I honestly didn't realize just how much a part of my mental landscape this community is ...


A few housekeeping notes for y'all.

Next week is Holy Week, and I will NOT be posting original content to the blog Thursday-Sunday. I will be in church, praying for all the people of the world. Yup, we do that and it's actually very interesting to see the order folks get mentioned.  We pray for everyone including atheists this week!
Thursday is The Easter Triduum and the mass of the Lords' Supper.
Friday is the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion at 3pm, followed by Tenebae at 6pm.
This is the only day of the year that I wish I lived in a less secular world.  When exiting the church after the light has gone out of the world, it's jarring to see people just conducing their daily business as normal, laughing, eating ice cream, reading novels!  Fortunately, we DO live in a country where I can go to the church of my choice on a Friday, even if it's not the faith of the majority.
On Saturday, the Great Vigil of Easter starts at 8pm, and of course Sunday is Easter.

No matter what your religious leaning, or non-leaning, we can all celebrate the arrival of spring, and rebirth. I hope it is a lovely time for you, and the start of a great new season.

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3. Question: have you missed a big book?

 This question is a little different, but I'm curious. Have you ever rejected a query, proposal, or manuscript, but much later down the line saw the book on the shelves, selling like mad, and thought, "Damn."



Oddly, no.
I've certainly seen projects I've not taken on go on to be repped and sold, but I don't think I've passed on anything like 50 Shades of Gray, or Harry Potter, or even Lee Child.

On the other hand, I'm probably not the right person to answer this question because I don't really keep track of things I've passed on. It's entirely possible I have passed on things that went on to do well, and I'm just unaware of them.

I do know that editors are a bit more keenly aware of what they were offered [and not.] I've sold a couple books on very exclusive submission, only to have other editors call to ask if someone else at the publisher had seen the book and passed.

It's easy to have a million regrets in this business, but it's critical for morale to keep them at bay. My focus is on what's coming up that will knock your sox off, not what I missed two years ago. 

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4. Query Question: so, I did this small, really TINY novel. Am I published?

 I'm getting ready to send out query letters and I want to be as transparent as possible with potential agents. When I was 17 I wrote a ridiculous teen fiction book, and e-published it on Amazon for my friends. Only 15 people in total bought it, and then I took it off of Amazon. My current manuscript is not related at all to my past manuscript, they're not even in the same genre, but I'm worried about being technically previously published.

Does my silly teenage fanfiction mean I'm previously published, and do I have to mention that in my query letters? I feel like this is probably a stupid question, but I want to make sure I'm not doing something inadvertently wrong. Thanks for your help!

Yes.
No.
It's not.
You're welcome.


Now, let's elaborate.

First, yes, you've been published. Putting something on Amazon, and letting friends buy it is indeed "published."  

However.

You really don't need to mention that youthful peccadillo at this stage.  When you are published, and your novel is being considered for awards however, you are going to have to come clean.  That's when you mention to your AGENT (and no one else) that you had this teen novel, and together you can decide what to do from there.

This is NOT a silly or stupid question. This is a question that gets asked a lot these days cause all those folks at Amazon want your money and don't think they need to advise you of any pitfalls.

And sadly, this is the day and age of forever.  Back in my youth (when The Divine Comedy was taught as Contemporary Literature) a wordslinger could move to the next city-state, change her nom de plume and have no one the wiser. Now, not so much.

This won't kill you. It probably won't hurt you.  Just don't do it again if you get frustrated with querying and figure "oh hell, I'll just self-publish and see what happens."

 

0 Comments on Query Question: so, I did this small, really TINY novel. Am I published? as of 3/27/2015 8:35:00 AM
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5.

We celebrated Colin Smith's birthday on Tuesday with a writing contest.  Here are the results.



Beautiful but yikes, so mournful!

Jamie Kress 8:20am



A new rule in contests: no horse injuries! YIKES!

Mia Siegert 12:06pm





Hey, it's first kill all the lawyers, NOT the agents!

Roger Toll 3:23pm



A phrase for the ages:

"in-ex-whorably linked to the junk in my trunk."

kregger 9:25am



"seven starving-artist henchmen"

Kelly 10:31am



"he stands on the bow of Amy’s boat, in a Speedo"

Carolynnwith2Ns 4:46pm



"Great Hermit of Cartoon—”"

Amy Schaefer 9:28pm





A great sentence:

"He had borrowed Mr. Flintstones car, and the soles of his feet were killing him."

french sojourn 12:59pm



How we shall all be refering to Amy Schaefer now:

Atoll Amy

Christina Seine 1:20pm



terrific use of a prompt word

"graphosmithtically"

Jenny Shou 4:31pm



"sexile"

Rami McShane 3:01am





Not a story, but you can see why I've been a fan of this guy's writing for years

kregger 9:25am



Not quite a story, but don't you want to hear more? Me too.

Laura Scalzo 9:27am

Unknown 2:48pm

Jeffrey Schaefer 8:48pm







Not quite a story, but please restock the tequila

LynnRodz 2:13pm





Awwwwww!

MVB 10:15am



Always great to see an entry in the form of a poem!

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli 10:47am



bjmuntain 1:46pm





And Philomena Buttonweezer makes a cameo appearance!

Katie Loves Coffee 7:31pm



And who knew Felix Buttonweezer could carry a tune?

Just Jan 10:07pm



And it turns out Dena has been to Carkoon as well!

Lilac Shoshani 8:07pm





And it turns out that none of it is real?

Eileen 6:20am





Here are the finalists:



(1) Matt 10:24am

Samantha awoke at seven. The man she had gone to bed with – “John Smith” – was gone. She normally wouldn’t bring strange men home, but his music had been so enchanting that when he asked to buy her a drink after the show she couldn’t resist.

Outside, people were bustling about. But Samantha felt exiled from the city below. The only link she felt now was to “John.”

She rolled over and found a note on the pillow:

“I’ll find you after dark. I’ll explain everything. - JS”

Then, in larger script at the bottom:

“Stay out of the sun.”



------------------------------------------------

(2) Colin Smith 12:20pm

"What ya doing, Dr. Smith?"

I gritted my teeth and turned to see the Robinson boy.

"Fixing the communication link in my ship so I can call for help."

"Where's the Robot?"

I moved to hide the disembodied pincer that sat beside my leg. After sevenyears' exile with these fools, I was desperate enough to cannibalize that machine to try to fix my ship.

"I'm channeling his music circuits to… uh… enhance the frequency."

"I hope it works. The rescue ship's here and there's only room for the family."

The brat even smiled and waved as he ran off.



 ------------------------------------------------

(3) ashland 12:49pm

“They say music's a window to the soul. Did ya know it can also show the past?”

I shrug. “Howso?”

He flashes his iPod. “Check it out.”

Sunday: Angel's Son, Sevendust.
Monday: Teenaged Wasteland, The Who.
Tuesday: Fell in Love with a Girl, The White Stripes.
Wednesday: Your Cheatin' Heart, Hank Williams Jr.
Thursday: Exiles on Main Street, Bruce Springsteen.
Friday: Everything's OK, Elliot Smith.

“Did you know it can also predict the future?”

He shrugs. “Howso, dear?”

I smile as I flash my knife.

Saturday: Bleed It Out, Linkin Park.

 ------------------------------------------------



(4) Lobo 10:50pm

Indus’rial sabotage. Murder. Same ta me (truth b’told). ’Specially after that tex’ile mill job. But we’d already hit two competitors and my sevens game was callin’.

Creep kept squintin' at the building through oily Detroit smog. “He sleeps here with all them T-cars.”

“Model Teas, ya wordsmith.” I said. “An’ people say yer
the smarty.”

Creep linked up the dynamite plunger, grinning so wide I thought his cheeks would bury his eyeballs. “Whatsa fella’s company again?”

I shrugged. “Stars with an F.”

“Should I start the music?”

“Nah. Leave ’im. Man sleepin’ with cars pro’ly don’t have much a future.”



------------------------------------------------ 

(5) Julie Weathers 12:25am

Colin was an extraordinary wordsmith, bard among bards, and a renowned musician. He could have performed for kings, and had. Rumor was he'd been exiled because of a certain unflattering tune about a king's mistress named Esmiralia. The beautiful young golden-haired woman demanded him banned.

He was.

Forever linked to the song, she left in shame never to be heard of again. Well, almost never. Clever Colin now travels with a troupe, his seven children, and his adoring, golden-haired wife, Esmi, who sings with him about the bard who freed a damsel from an ogre and lived happily ever after.





 ------------------------------------------------



(6) flashfriday 3:41am

Her face was unmistakable - raven hair, vermillion lips, skin white as snow – but (curse my memory!) I just couldn’t place her.

“Smallville High?”

“No.”

“Metropolis Community College?”

“No.” Her voice was gloriously musical. Regal, almost.

“Gotham Fashion & Design?”

“Not a chance, Hunter.”

Her cheeks glowed like apples – enchanting creature! – and hope sprang to life. “Want a boyfriend?”

“Thanks; I’ve already got seven.”

From hope to exile. “WILL YOU AT LEAST TELL ME YOUR NAME?”

She blinked. Smith,
she said, a forest-full of birds and bunnies joining her howls of laughter.

I fled, humiliated. Never did place her.

Women.




And the winner in a very competitive field is Lobo 10:50pm.



Lobo, if you'll drop me an email at jetreidliterary (gmail)  and tell me the kinds of books you like to read, we'll get you a Fabulous Prize!

Thanks to all of you who entered! It was a terrific series of entries, and it's very clear that is a load of talent in the comment column here!


And Happy Birthday, Colin!  

 




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6. Query question: simultaneous querying in magazines

Dear Million-Toothed Goddess of the Sea,

I am currently reading "You Are A Writer (so start ACTING like one)" by Jeff Goins. and in Chapter 10 he said something that made me feel compelled to seek your advice. In this chapter, he focuses on building writing experience by submitting writing pieces for publication in magazines.

He said, "Try pitching to several publications or publishers at once, following the appropriate guidelines for each...Now, this doesn't mean to just blast the same idea to every publication. Most publications consider simultaneous submissions to be unethical. But you can create several different articles from a single idea."

That threw me for a loop. First he said submit to multiple publishers at once (following guidelines). Then he said to don't blast the same idea, but to create several different articles from a single idea or else it'll likely be unethical. Let it be known that I have zero experience with magazines. From the book industry, we submit to multiple agents at a time for the same piece.

Obviously, Jeff's experience is more broad, but he's said some more things about magazine publishing that just aren't done in the traditional book publishing process, which equates me to the usefulness of a potato. Can you clarify the basic magazine submission process? I really don't even see magazines calling for submissions anymore [those were the days, eh Stephen King?]. Thank you, because I hate being a potato. Unless there's bacon. Always say yes to bacon!



Querying for articles in a magazine is very different from querying for books. For starters, you're going to be querying NON-FICTION articles almost exclusively.  If you're submitting short stories, you follow the submission guidelines and often they DO take simultaneous subs.

For non-fiction articles the idea is to have some sort of topic that you know a lot about and come up with different stories for it.

For example, I know a lot about query letters. I might pitch The SharkBait Writer's Guide to commission an article on "Effective Queries for Fish." I'll use the same knowledge base to query the Carkoon Prison Times for an article on "How To Query From Prison." I can pitch those outlets at the same time.

Two separate story ideas, but essentially the same topic.

What I can NOT do is pitch "How To Query The Big Fish Agents" to two or more different magazines at the same time UNLESS their submission guidelines say it's ok.

See the difference?



There are a lot of places now to publish articles that don't require querying first at all. The danger there is if your writing isn't up to par, you can damage your career pretty easily.

 

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7. Surprise Writing Contest!



It's blog reader Colin Smith's birthday today.

I thought about calling him up and warbling Happy Birthday, but he did mention he was sleeping in till 10am today.

Thus we have a great chance to surprise the stuffing out of him with this contest.

Contest opens NOW (3/24/15) and runs through tomorrow (3/25/15) at 7am.




The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

smith
exile
link
seven
music


3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word.
thus: music/musician is ok, but not exile/exfiltrate

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: NOW 3/24/15 7am

Contest closes: 3/25/15 7am

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?







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8.

A high profile NYT best selling author has offered a commitment to blurb the future galleys of the ms I'm currently shopping... (and there WILL be galleys, dammit!). Good or bad idea to include this info/author's name in the housekeeping section of a query?



It won't hurt you, so why not. If you were sending that information to me, I'd want to know why HPNYTBSA has read your manuscript. Thus you may want to include that information as well.

You would say "HPNYTBSA Felix Buttonweezer has offered to blurb my novel. He read it while incarcerated at Carkoon and it soon became his favorite escapist pleasure."

The reason I'm not jumping up and down and screaming YahooooKalamazoooo about this blurb offer is that sometimes the audience for one author does not translate to the audience of another.  My fins would falter if Lee Child offered to blurb a novel by Tawna Fenske for example.  Tawna Fenske is a terrific writer, and I love her books but they are quite unlike the Reacher novels. You haven't mentioned if you think your audience will be the same as HPNYTBSA's.

At this stage though, there's no harm in including the information.


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9. Week in review 3/22/15



We were all very glad to hear that Amy is ok, and the boat likely ok. Less happy are the tidings from Vanuatu, which took the full force of the storm, and hadn't started out with all that much anyway.
Here's a link to how we can all help this tiny country with some much needed aid.


Bessie Stewart summed up the day's comments, which were largely about the efforts of those scallywags at Carkoon to take over Paradise, "This is the silliest best natured comment bunch ever. "Wow" may be an understatement."  perfectly.  At some point we're going to need a story Bible link for anyone brave enough to try to decipher the comment trail now.

On Monday, the blog topic was pre-empts and auctions, which is one of my favorite topics.

Craig asked
"Is it something that writers should aspire to? Or is it something that should cause an emotional Lesley Gore moment? Do these kinds of things happen to normal people or is it reserved for things like the Patterson Franchise?"


Well, James Patterson hasn't been in an auction for donkey's years because he's safely established at Little,Brown in what Team Carkoon would recognize as a branch office with his own publicist and editor I'm told. And probably his own royalty department.

Auctions are result of a lot of hot interest. It's a good thing. It's not something you should even start thinking about. If it happens, terrific, but most books are not sold at auction, or on a pre-empt.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli asked "How many books a year go to auction?" There's no way to know and it's not even a stat I keep here for my own books. A lot of VERY good books don't go to auction at all.

Donnaeverheart asked "I think the only question I have is this; if a book has been on submission for a while, is there any likelihood of either of these happening?"

Yes. Whenever the first serious interest comes in, the next step is a round of phone calls to all the other editors who have the manuscript. It's basically a "get this to the top of your reading pile, it's got legs" call. 

Colin set up an auction scenario:
Editor Penguin requests ms. QOTKU submits.
Editor SohoCrime requests ms. QOTKU submits (and indicates another publisher is looking at it?).
Editor Minotaur requests ms. QOTKU submits (and indicates other publishers are looking at it?).
All want the ms., so QOTKU sets up an auction wherein each editor vies for ms. The one with the best deal (according to the Agent and Author) wins out.

What actually happens is I send the manuscript to my first tier of editors. ALL of them get it at approximately the same time.  They all know this is going to everyone (I don't have to tell them.)

The first one who coughs up interest or an offer gets us off to the races. That can be days, weeks, or even months after that first submission.

And "the best deal" doesn't always mean the most money. More and more, we're asking for marketing and publicity input at the auction stage because that's a key component of being published well.

Donnaeverheart asked:
To clarify, does an agent chat up an editor about a ms to assess their interest, or, do they just investigate editors for suitable interests (much like authors search for the correct agent to read their work) and then simply send the submission package to them?

I get on the phone and talk to editors about the manuscript usually. Sometimes if I know they're looking for something, it's just an email.  BUT I've spent hours at lunches, conferences, drinks dates etc, talking to them about what they're looking for so that these submissions are not just scattershot. I know what they're looking for, but more important, I know what they're NOT looking for too.



And honest to godiva Craig's place on Carkoon is sounding damn attractive.


On Tuesday a writer asked about a call from an agent that was essentially "toss this and start again." I was stunned an agent called to say such a thing. Calls are normally reserved for good news, not that.

Shaun Hutchinson had some good advice: 
"When I was querying The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, one agent suggested I add some paranormal elements to the story. I didn't think that advice worked with what I was doing, so I ignored it. However, nearly every single agent in my first round of querying told me I'd botched the ending, so I listened to their advice and completely rewrote the ending."

Consistent advice is worth paying attention to. One agent saying a book needs paranormal elements (and having read the book in question, that advice is crazypants) not so much.

Joseph Snoe had an interesting insight
I’m a third party witness to something like this. Except it was a written message not a phone call. An editor included a long critique with her rejection. I read my friend’s manuscript making comments along the way. I read the editor’s critique again after I read the manuscript. The editor was right on target (for the most part). The interesting thing is I can see what the editor meant but my friend currently cannot. She’s moved on to a promising new story (from historical romance to technopunk). I’ll encourage her keep the editor’s critique and return to the historical romance novel when she’s ready.

Being ready to hear the comments is one of the advantages of letting a manuscript sit for a while. I can't tell you the number of emails I get from people that start out "I thought you were wrong, but now I see you were right" but it's in the dozens at this point.  Fresh advice can be painful. Advice that's had time to sit might be a little easier to take.

I thought Poor Dead Jed would win comment of the day with this one:
Does no one else go on dating sites to massage ugly people? Nope? Just me?

But Christine Seine gracefully one upped him so deftly she scooped up the trophy:
"RUBBING TINDER, an erotic thriller about a man who stalks online-dating service users, only to rub them the wrong way on purpose, in a totally tubular deal, for publication in 2016, by Janet Reid on behalf of Fuzzy Print Literary Services."

And I think everyone should pay close attention to what Kari Lynn Dell said
 "I've never rewritten a book I loved. If I couldn't see the flaws, there was no point trying to fix them."

On Wednesday I was annoyed beyond measure that someone calling him/herself an "agent" was using Twitter to pitch editors.  Just FYI, that's NOT how you do it.

Mark Songer asked
What is an example of a good query letter FROM an agent (or however you get books before publishers? Let's say you have opted to represent Felix Buttonweezer's breakout novel Deep Greens about a CIA operative posing as a world renowned kale chef and you think this baby needs to hit the presses NOW. How would you pitch it?

Often I use the query letter from the client for the description of the book. My clients are GREAT writers. Trying to out do them is insane. 

However, what I ADD to the query are things like this;

"When last we lunched, you mentioned you were looking for a great kale novel, and I think this is the one."
Or 
"I notice that in your repertoire of great chef novels, you don't have a kale chef novel, so I hope you'll be interested in filling that gap."

Or, 
"you called me last week to mention a hole in your Spring 2016 catalog. I think this kale chef novel will fit nicely next to The Carkoonian Book of Sulphur Kebobs, and Pasta From Paradise by Amy Schaefer."

Or, 
"you've been sniffing around Felix Buttonweezer for years now, and his last contract is fulfilled. Here's the new book. Wheelbarrows full of cash will be fine."

It's not so much what we say about the book it's how we know what the editor is looking for, and what s/he published before, and which author s/he wants to sink her fangs into.

Jennifer R. Donohue asked "Is this one reason people were talking about "Schmagents" on Twitter the other day?" 

Entirely possible, but "schmagents" are a hot topic with editors and agents most days. Editors send us the most egregious examples of stuff they get from these guys and we all have a laugh. Generally we stop laughing when we realize some of these people have actual clients.

Jenny Chou makes an excellent point about small presses
For 17 years I worked as a bookseller. I ordered backlist (i.e. reordered books that sold) for the store and handled special orders. In my opinion, the best way to see of a small/Indie press is legitimate is to check out their distribution to bookstores. If their website says something like "Distributed to the trade by Macmillan" then they are legit. "Books available from Ingram and other wholesalers" also means bookstores can easily get their books and you should be fine. Make sure one of your first questions to whatever Indie press contacts you is about distribution.

A publisher's website can be a very valuable source of information, often for what IS NOT there.  Is there a way for libraries to order? Is there a way for bookstores to order? Is there a wholesaler or a distributor?  Is it geared toward selling books from the website?  Are the print books significantly more expensive than you'd expect ($31 for a hardcover means the press is using POD technology and NOT printing for inventory)



At one point Colin Smith was actually talking to himself in the comments column which made me laugh out loud then and now.


On Thursday I reminded you to follow up on queries if the agent says she responds to all queries. It was prompted by a querier who pinged me for a query that DID get lost to my great chagrin.

LD Masterson asked if this applied to agents who have "no response means no?" 

It does not. It only applies to those of us who think that query writers deserver the respect of a reply even if it's a form letter.  I'll spare you a rant on this. Well, ok, no I won't.




Colin asked if we've settled in to the new office. We have, but it's not ready for photos yet. We've still got boxes on the floor and some organizing to do. It's amazing how easy it is to get all your stuff IN to a box, and how time consuming to get it out and on the right shelf.

And just when Felix Buttonweezer was thinking he had it bad, CarolynnWith2ns posted this:
Elissa and Amy, I went to school with a Honey Potts and a Sundae Monday. What's funny is that Honey complained because they always spelled Potts with one T and Sundae hated that people always spelled her name like the day...hello...what do you think your parents were thinking of.

Why do parents make up such funny names?

My brother-in-law the teacher, had a kid in his class, (the name was pronounced as Sha-theed), spelled Shithead

On Friday, the topic was your writer's notebook, which I hope you're keeping.
I was delighted to see Kitty is reading THE DEVIL IN HER WAY by Bill Loehfelm. I'm a devoted fan of his work, and just finished the latest one DOING THE DEVIL'S WORK which I bought at Left Coast Crime.

Madeline Mora-Summonte had a lovely quote from Jack Canfield "Everything you want is on the other side of fear" which I liked so much I made it the blog sub-header.

Colin asked if I had a preference between Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines. I do. AHMM. I have better luck selling client work to them, and I find more unagented writers there. EQMM seems to have more established writers. Both are very affordable though and I have subscriptions to each.

CarolynWith2ns gave us this, reprinted as it was posted, no comment from me needed:

Karen Diamond, an amazing young woman and a beyond-talented writer, shared two quotes with her blog readers when she knew her battle to survive was near over. In my writer's notebook and on my desk, I have tattooed those quotes to my soul in the hope that I may assign their sentiments to my own life. I try, I really do, but sometimes I fail because wanting more, often stands taller than the mountain of what I already have.
The quotes, the first by Joseph Campbell and the second, an edited form, ascribed to Buddha.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to live the life that is waiting for us.”
“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

Karen, my son-in-law’s sister, was 27 and very wise to share with all of us these answers to human existence. I am privileged to have known her.

And at some point in every blogger's life, it's clear that your long time readers remember WAY TOO MUCH:

Bonnie Shaljean-
What that horse trader JetReid doesn't want you to know is, she once bought two sheep. Yes, she did. Hee hee hee

On Saturday we turned to how much to reveal in a query letter. Turns out that "include everything in the query" generally means include a synopsis with the query, rather than tell the entire plot in a query letter. I was very relieved to see this because I've tried to make QueryShark useful across all sorts of agency requirements rather than just what *I* want to see.

And yes, synopses are the spawn of Satan, but you'll do well to have one. We need them ALL the time for film deals, and translation deals.

Not much else happened here at The Reef this week. Recovering from a week plus out of the office at Left Coast Crime took every extra minute I had. And the last snowstorm of this miserable winter landed on Friday. I can't wait for spring to REALLY arrive.








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10. Query Question: entice or reveal?



Reading the submission guidelines of numerous agents, many ask that a query "tell us the entire story--from beginning to end. We want (need) to know what happens." They specifically say they don't want anything akin to jacket copy or two intriguing paragraphs. Obviously, were one going to query these agents, one would follow their guidelines.

I've poured over helpful websites including Writer's Digest and, of course, Query Shark. I've deduced that you prefer the jacket copy/two intriguing paragraphs type of query.

If, however, a particular agent's submission guidelines simply say, "Send your query to such and such email and include the first 5 pages..." without expressing a preference, which is the appropriate way to go? Two intriguing paragraphs? Or a full on synopsis? 


I'm astonished to learn that someone wants a full on plot synopsis in a query. I've never heard of such a thing! However, if that's what the guidelines say, follow them.

Absent instructions to the contrary, send only the enticing two paragraphs that introduce the main character and the plot. Entice the reader to want more.  The reason that QueryShark asks for that is because that's what most agents want.

I'm interested to see who these "many" are that ask for the entire story.  Send me the links to the sites if you can dig them up without spending too much time on it.




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11. your writer's notebook?

Do you keep a writer's notebook?

A notebook is an essential tool for remembering great phrases and paragraphs you read. I've kept one for years and thumbing through it reminds me of the books I've read and loved. Actually writing things down by hand helps it stick in your brain too.

[It was when I found myself writing things from TRICKSTER in my notebook that I first fully realized what an extrordinary writer Jeff Somers is.  Don't ever tell him of course. We like to torture him with wry observations about his character and cats, not confuse him with compliments.]


Two things I added to my notebook yesterday came from Evan Lewis's new story in the upcoming May 2015 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

 
-->

Judging by the old man's hands, I'd have tagged him at sixty. The confidence and economy of his movements might shave ten years from that, but the truth was in his eyes.  Those eyes had seen Lincoln shot and Caesar stabbed, and were probably watching when Cain killed Able.  Now they were watching me.


I fished for a way to begin. "How well do you know Portland?"
The Old Man's shoulders rolled in a noncommittal way. "We've cuddled," he said, "but never kissed."








What's the most recent thing you've written in your writer's notebook, or jotted down to remember as great writing?

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12. Ping! Ping!

Late yesterday afternoon as I was winding up the affairs of the day I got an email from a writer asking the status of his query.

As most of you know I keep a running count of how current I am, right here on this blog.

It looks like this:






This writer pinged me for something sent on 1/25/15 so clearly he should have heard back.

I checked my incoming queries. Sometimes I flag something for a more thoughtful reply than the form letter that goes out, and forget to adjust for that on the "current through" date.

Sometimes I have queries on hold pending something else. (Inspiration, mostly. Sometimes just wanting to give the pages a second read.)

And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, things get lost. Or misfiled. Or tossed (by mistake.)

Which is what had happened here. Even thought it came after several rounds of conversation in the Chum Bucket (which means his emails were getting through just fine) that final query was nowhere to be found.  Yes it was in my gmail archives so I knew I'd received it, but nope, nowhere on the mail management program.  Ooops.

I asked the writer to send again, and this time I made sure it went in the Incoming Query folder and I plan to answer it tonight...just to make sure it gets a reply.

What does this mean for you? Never assume no if the agent says they'll reply to your query.  Always ping at least once.  Things get lost. Things go astray. Even here at The Reef where emails are color coded and royalty statements are numbered.


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13. How to tell if your agent is an utter nincompoop

Follow her/him on Twitter.


If you see a Tweet that looks like this:

@EDITORAMAZING I am a lit agent. Would like to send you a submission. May I have your email?
your editor is an utter nincompoop and you may quote me by name when saying that.

Let's unpack this, as they say on the postgame show:

1. A competent agent does NOT pitch editors on Twitter unless s/he knows them REALLY well. And even then, most competent agents will say something like "hey, I've Got That" to something an editor has said, and then phone or email the pitch.

2. A competent agent either knows the editor's email address, or how to  figure it out, or knows who call to get it.  At the very least a competent agent knows that an editor is NEVER going to give out her/his email address on Twitter.

When EditorAmazing shared this tweet with her coven, a few of us did some research. Turns out the "agent" in question doesn't have any background in publishing, and has no colleagues of any kind. In other words, someone who hung out a shingle and said "I'm open for business."

And even better: sent the same tweet to several editors in a row, so that all of them, while investigating who this was, could see them.

This agent is textbook nincompoop.

Any questions?

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14. Query Question: "toss this and start over"

 An agent recently requested pages and then called to discuss.  She is the first one who provided feedback, which was very much appreciated.  However, her opinion (of course, very professional and not rude) was that I should put the novel away for 6 months and then start over.  She said that the character development was weak  and this cannot be fixed by editing the novel.  There were other items she shared as well.  She said an entire re-write is in order.  What does a typical writer do when one agent gives feedback and the feedback is "start over and re-write?"  Granted, she did NOT ask to see if again after I re-write it.  Do I follow her advice?



Well, that sure wasn't what you were expecting in that call was it?  Yikes! I don't think I've ever called someone to tell them to start over. Email seems a whole lot more kind when delivering that kind of news.

And frankly, I'd wait to see what happens with other agents before taking her advice. It is after all her opinion, and unless she's me and thus completely and totally right 97.125% of the time, maybe she's wrong. 

Every single sale I've made has had at least one rejection from an editor who failed miserably to see the amazing value of the book I'd sent them. Sometimes they are able to rebound from such abject failures, but sometimes they have to be stricken from the list cause they are Blind Blind Blind.

I do think that letting a manuscript sit, and reading it aloud are two very good tools for seeing problems that are not readily apparant by reading.

I'm going to bet the Comment Team has some interesting anecdotal advice for you as well. 

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15. Question: pre-empts and auctions


The Publishers Lunch Weekly newsletter often reports deals made "in a pre-empt" or "at auction."

What is a pre-empt? (1)

I find the idea of an auction fascinating. Is there a formal set of rules for holding an auction, or does each agent have their own way of handling them? (2)

Does the author have to accept the highest bid? (3)
If all the offers are seriously below expectations, does the author still have to accept one of them? (4)

What if an agent holds an auction, and nobody bids? (5)

An auction seems like a big risk that could either pay off spectacularly well, or fail terribly, tainting the author, the book, and the agent.



(1) A pre-empt means an editor offers enough money to take the project off the sales block without going to auction, or taking further offers.

(2) Each agent has their own, and auction rules are sent to each editor who's in the scrum.

(3) The author does NOT have to accept the highest bid. If a project goes to auction it's very common for the editor to loop in sales and marketing to show their plans for the book, and have a conversation with the author about their editorial vision, and plans for success

(4) There's usually an established floor in an auction, but sometimes numbers come in that are seriously under what we thought. That's when the agent and the author have a very serious heart to heart.

(5)  That does happen. It's A VERY unhappy day.  You dust off your britches, and get back on the submission pony and send to publishers not in that previous round of submissions.An auction isn't really a risk. It's a way to handle interest from multiple editors. Nobody goes to auction if the editors are snoozing on a book.

And a "failed auction" doesn't taint a book cause no one really knows about it at other publishing houses.  

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16. Week in Review 3/15/15

 
The week in review starts with prayers for our friend Amy Schaefer who lives in paradise most of the time, but is now right smack dab in the middle of Tropical Cyclone Pam. 


I know we're all looking forward to hearing from Amy that she's ok.

***************

In last week's review Stacy asked about a book being profitable without earning out:

I said: A book can break even AND turn a profit for the publisher even if the advance is not earned out.

She asked: Is that because the author is receiving the agreed royalty rate while the book earns against the advance?

It's because the author is credited ONLY for royalties earned not the total amount earned.

If a book sells 10,000 copies here's the math:

10,000 books x $25.00 (retail price/book) x 60% (discount given to bookstores is 40%) = $250,000.00 GROSS

Less: 10,000 x $3.12 (royalty rate of 12.5%  x cover price of $25) =$31,200.00  author earnings (applied to advance)
Less: fixed costs of producing book ($5.00/book)  $50,000
Less: other costs of producing book ($2.00/book) $20,000

$250,000 GROSS
-31,200 AUTHOR SHARE
-50,000 FIXED COST
-20,000 OTHER COST

= $148,800 retained by publisher



If the author's advance is $100,000, the book hasn't earned out ($100,000 less $31,200) but the book has put money in the publisher's coffers.

These are very very broad estimates, just to demonstrate the math, and are NOT actual numbers.


********


On Monday I pretty much lost my mind and ranted to a writer who had been asked to do a marketing proposal and thought it was really her agent's job. 

Julie Weathers correctly pointed out:
"so am I paying 15% so that someone with connections will make phone calls?"
I think right there is where the whole thing went off the rails.



I respond poorly and at length plus volume to those who seem not to value what an agent does.  In this particular case, lack of fuller explanations gave rise to some misconceptions.

I very much appreciate that lunorama was willing to take the bull by horns (or the shark by the snout) and say this:

Mainly, I am uncomfortable with this post because it makes me worried for if I ever gain an agent and need to ask a question about my or their role. Will I be chewed out or "fired on the spot" for being such a total clueless noob? It is not anyone's job to hold my hand, but I also second the person who said I do not feel like I should be "grateful" to someone with whom I have a *business arrangement.*

Agents are not doing authors a free favor. The caveat that the agent only gets paid if the book sells and that it is a "bargain" for the author struck me as weird -- agents are paid for their work and they do have other clients. It's a business, not a charity, not a "bargain." That method exists for ethical reasons, and I am glad it does. It also keeps authors and agents invested in working together until it sells.

I resent the implication that I should...I don't know...feel bad for agents? They do a LOT of work, but they do not take on projects they don't think they can sell (I assume not, anyway) and they are working under the expectation of a payoff, just like the author, so...I don't understand the claim that because they have to wait for the payoff, agents are not paid for their time. It's a quibble over semantics.


I don't want to parse this paragraph out with the things I agree/disagree with but I do want to say I agree I did seem to say being "ungrateful" was cause for firing. That's not what I intended so clearly I didn't say it very well.

I was responding to the implication that "all" agents do is a very little bit of work for a percentage of the deal.  That's a real sore spot for me that comes from a lot of people not understanding what agents do.

What I should have said was that if a client really felt like s/he was not getting a valuable service, and said so, I'd part company with them.

I did NOT mean to convey that a client who asks questions will be fired on the spot or, in fact, ever.

This was a good reminder to me to think a little deeper before going off the deep end. 



*******

On Tuesday we covered the delicate issue of writing about communities of which we are not a part.

Tom Perkins asked an interesting question
is the designation "Alaska Native" a critical part of your character(s)? I mean, I have a project where I know the qualities my character has, but specific ancestry is not one of them.

Lisa Bodenheim had a good answer for it too:
In response to your question about letting the reader assign whatever mental picture they lean towards. White people will (generally) always assign white to the characters. It's the nature of the culture we live within.

There's a blog post about it here.

I think it's essential that characters be described so they are not all in the image a reader brings to the reading experience. After all, one of the many benefits of reading widely is meeting new kinds of people.

One of my favorite books by Harlan Coben used the reader's assumptions about race as a plot twist.  I love that trick.

***********

On Wednesday we discussed revising and expanding a previously published memoir but the comments took a turn into weather as we discovered Amy is right there in the middle of Tropical Cyclone Pam.

We're all keeping our fingers and fins crossed that the boat is safe!

*************

On Thursday we turned to how to use fan fiction numbers in a query.

I liked what Kathryn Clark contributed to the discussion:

A lot of the appeal of fanfic is that the readers already love the characters - no need to win anyone over. (Not to mention that I've found it easier to play with other people's characters than to create my own.) In most (though not all) cases, there's no exposition needed beyond "this takes place in episode three" or "alternate universe where Harry Potter isn't a wizard".
I hadn't really considered that writing fanfic is essentially like coming in to a fully developed story line, so much of the heavy lifting has been done already.



Jen brought up a point worth clarifying about fan fiction:

Something to consider: according to my agent, once your work is accepted by a publishing company, your contract will probably say something to the effect of "This work has never fully nor partial been available in electronic format, on public forum, available for download, etc."

So, when I suggested using a site like Wattpad to build a following for a paranormal I was brainstorming, he basically said I would be taking a big risk: if you get a million fans, the Big Five will pay attention. If you don't, you forfeit getting it traditionally published.


This info is absolutely wrong. I hate to flat out contradict an agent, particularly when this is second hand, but this kind of info can get scattered around and taken as gospel.

For starters: yes, many contracts for publication DO have a version of the "never before published" clause BUT BUT BUT if your work has been published before, this is something your agent will TELL your editor during the submission process, and this line of the contract will be struck out.

Contracts are NEGOTIATED, not handed down on stone tablets. I've had to clarify MANY things in various contracts depending on the specific situation of the author.

Second, if you publish on Wattpad, the problem is not that it's published but that Wattpad holds the rights to it.  They essentially become a co-owner of the work. I do NOT know if that can be negotiated because I've never been involved with a work that was originally published on Wattpad.  However, I do have editor friends who have acquired Wattpad works, and they tell me Wattpad gets a chunk of the dough.


*******

Friday's question about #PitMad was very illuminating for me.

S.E.Dee said, and E.Maree echoed

"It's a big target for exploitation by predator publishers and unsavory agents so you need to keep your wits about you. It's also a big, fast-moving sea of tweets and there's no guarantee the agents you like are even seeing yours."

I have seen some of the #PitMad scroll and the retweets drove me crazy, but I had NOT realized it was being targeted by the predatory and unsavory.  That's really sad news.

Janet Rundquist mentioned why she liked #PitMad:

 I like the Twitter pitches because it forces you to distill your story into a single sentence and from there, you can sometimes get a feel for whether it has enough to entice someone to read after all. I *definitely* like the twitter contests better than blog-hosted contests. Far less painful and public if you have not received requests/favorites etc. Also, the twitter pitches still require you to query, so it doesn't replace anything, just gives you a new angle.


as did Liz Mallory:
always considered PitMad a good exercise at least. It forces me to write pitches - 20 or so of them! - and it also helps me see the selling points of the book by what people retweet or what makes me retweet someone else. PitMad is what showed me comps were so important.

But this time I got 3 favorites, and I can't deny that was really exciting. Even if nothing comes from it, it was encouraging.

And Rena has a very nice success with #PitMad:
That said, I found my agent during #Pitmad last September. It was someone I'd never heard of, but when I did my research, I was very excited. We may never have connected without Pitmad. She has been an amazing friend and partner, and she sold my book less than two weeks after going on submission, so I would say I'm a fan of the pitch party that brought us together.

And Jenny Chou's benefits were interesting as well
I REALLY enjoy Twitter pitching and contests. Because I've had lots of favorites and many big publishers are now fighting over my book? No. Because I've made lots of very supportive writer friends from all over the world. I've exchanged chapters for critiques and found a CP. Many of these people were kind enough to re-tweet my tweets. I've seen a lot of really great writing in contests and look forward to Tweeting about some of these books when they are eventually published- and I'm sure some will be. I've also offered my two-cents on some not-so-great writing and I hope I've helped a few people out.


*********

As it turns out, my blog stats are sadly mistaken that I have no extra terrestrial readers because Christina Seine gave us her coordinates here:

This is Christina Seine here, coming to you live from the exclusive Bean de Lima resort on the sandy shores of the Pit of Carkoon

And it turns out she's not alone:
The weather is gorgeous here, although I have to say there is rather an overabundance of woodland creatures taking up space at the bar. There is much excited talk of the Second Annual Bucket of Chum Writer’s Conference set to be held here in the Fall – should be quite interesting.


Craig is on his way to Carkoon (something about prologues?)

Colin's report shows a few more people heading that way:

It's been a busy morning here at Carkoon setting up the branch office. My typewriter arrived, and Christine is just setting up the fax machine (though I think she's having trouble finding the phone line. I'll have Kitty put a call in to AT&T... assuming we have cell phone service).

I just wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that we here at FPLM-Carkoon (that's Fine Print Literary Management-Carkoon Division--though the way my typewriter's behaving at the moment, Fuzzy Print would be more appropriate) are embracing the philosophy of our mentor and founder, and accepting any and all queries, proposals, spirits, and former US Army Military Police Corps Majors. So please send your queries this way. I'm particularly interested in historical suspense thrillers, lima bean mysteries, and kale memoirs, and LynnRodz is reading Dino Porn (but we'll find something useful for her to do).

Address your queries along with a suitable denomination of the currency of your choice to:

FPLM-Carkoon
Third Cave Past the Waterhole
Carkoon

although it turns out Colin may be confused about where he is cause on Monday he told Julie Weathers:

Well, we're looking at hiring in the South Pacific. I hear you're particularly good with Aussies...? :)


LynnRodz updated the submission guidelines for the Carkoon satellite office:

Attention: Writers thinking of querying FPLM-CD, no more Dino Porn queries! It's an automatic rejection unless donuts and/or cookies are sent as well and none of this prepackaged or boxed crap either. A little imagination will go a long way so chocolate chip, peanut butter, and Oreo cookies will be thrown back into the slush pile.

Our head honcho here in Carkoon is a vegetarian health nut, so only fresh ingredients are allowed.

Automatic partials will be requested when accompanied with: Mexican Wedding Cookies, aka Russian Tea Cakes, macarons, and tassies.

Fulls will be requested with: Spitzbuben, Kalacky and Rugelach.

Don't worry about me Colin, I'll be the taste tester and I'll even make the tea. (Yep, I've got the sweetest job in Carkoon!)



*******


best typo of the week, and which should really BE a word: DLM's "vommenting"

******************

The Sleepy One recommended Blue Start doughnuts in addition to Voodoo Donuts here in Portlandia, and oh my gastric juices…. YUM!!! Fabulous Bill Cameron, Pirate Heidi Schulz and Publicist to the Stars Dana Kaye and I took a field trip there and it was to DIE for!


**********

I'm just stupidly behind on reading and everything else because I've been out here in Portland at Left Coast Crime, and yes it is FUN!

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17. Query Question: fretting about this whole nudging thing



I'm really confused on this whole nudging concept as it seems different for every agent. I queried Awesome Agent -- a top agent at a top agency, very popular and seemingly, well, awesome -- and his/her agency's website says to nudge after 30 days on a query (but says nothing about submissions). So after 30+ days on my initial query, I politely nudged. Nothing. Then a short time later, AA requested a partial in a Twitter contest for the same MS. I sent it and noted that I'd recently nudged on a query, in case AA wondered why I was in their inbox twice. Crickets.

Now it's been 50+ days since I sent the requested partial, and still nothing. Others have reported that AA has been silent on their nudges regarding offers of rep from other agents. AA has also not replied to anyone in quite awhile, according to Query Tracker.
I've done Advanced Searches on Twitter to make sure I'm not missing updates about where AA is in his/her submissions, but there's nothing barring one very vague reply to someone, referencing how some agents are behind.

I realize partials take longer than queries, but given AA never replied to my initial query and isn't replying to people with offers of rep, I'm tempted to query another agent at the agency, as there are others who I think would be good fits as well. I've got numerous fulls and other partials out right now, but I was really hoping to hear what AA thought. But now I just don't know.

Is it just me, or isn't this a little unprofessional? I understand agents are incredibly busy, but AA hasn't closed for queries, or even made an official mention of being behind, or time frames, or anything public I can track down. I want to give this person more leeway, as, after all, they are AA. But I don't want to be the person who nudges their way to a big fat form rejection.

Your thoughts would be appreciated!



Well, my thoughts would probably set something on fire so stand back: This kind of Radio Silence is Not Ok.


And by Not Ok, I mean bad news.

Agents are no more busy than the rest of the world. That we are somehow exempt from 1. common courtesy 2. sound business practices or 3. karma is delusional on our part.  I've been on panels where agents busily recount the number of queries in their inbox or how they have to work on the weekend to keep up, and I want to say "take care of small children and then get back to me on busy."  We're ALL busy. 

The difference is that agents are running a damn business here.  How you conduct your business tells people something.  If you can't be bothered to reply to people that you've asked to send work, that says something.

That said, people get behind. *I* get behind.  Just this week I had to meaculpa a client on letting her emails back up too long.  It happens.  The difference is: you don't let it go 50 days, and you start out with "I'm sorry." And it's NOT the norm.

Yes there's a difference between clients and queriers.  But the standard is the same: if someone asks about a project, a quick reply within a reasonable amount of time is NOT too much to expect.

So, what to do here?

You'll want to keep querying of course.

You'll have to hold off querying other agents at Agent (NotSo) Awesome's agency till you either hear from her or withdraw the ms.

And you'll want to think carefully about what to do if Agent Awesome comes out from under her rock and is excited about your ms.  Bad communication doesn't end at the query queue. It starts there.


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18. Query Question: A PitMad request with an open query



I have received a PitMad favorite, but I've already queried this agent. Do I, should I mention the previous query. My previous query was in late January, so the agent may not have reached it yet.

Yes. Just a quick note at the bottom of the query with the pages you're sending for #PitMad will suffice.  "I also queried you for this project on 1/29/15"

Congrats on the favorite!

And now, how's the #PitMad going? Do you like it? Does it seem to work better than queries? The attraction of this eludes me but it's probably cause I'm a fuddy duddy set in my ways.



 

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19. Query Question: intra-agency referral



Is it unreasonable to expect intra-agency referrals when one agent rejects a query or passes on a partial or full MS but thinks an associate may be interested? I believe that the rejecting agent would not be burdened with much extra time, and could possibly earn valuable extra credit points for a comfy (rumored) afterlife existence. 


Yes.
It's not reasonable to expect anything other than a reply to a query. Anything else is a bonus.  

Very rarely will I reply to a query with "Agent X here at FPLM might be a better fit." When I do, it's NOT a referral, it's a redirection. Agent X handles dinosaur porn, I do not. I have not read your pages of dinosuar porn, and even if I had, I have no way to judge their merit.

And what you think is not "extra much time" isn't. Inevitably there is a back and forth with Agent X so s/he can know how much I've read, and if there are any special circumstances ie it's my mom querying the dinosaur porn so X has to be polite etc.

And I'm not depending on earning afterlife points in my query queue. I earn those when I negotiate contracts.

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20. Query Question: how much revision till it's new



A year ago, I queried for a manuscript and got several full requests. They were all rejected with the primary reason being the opening was too slow, and various other style quirks as well (1), but most of these agents did request to see future projects (2). I've spent the past year revising the novel and it turned into a completely different novel, with the exceptions of character names and some character personalities, as well as a specific setting and half the title (3). Altogether, the plot is 90% new (and I did rewrite the entire thing), but in a query, there would be parts that would ring bells for agents who have already received a query on the previous version of this work.
I know in one of your recent blog posts you said that no means no. But since a few of these agents did love the premise & writing style, can I still query them with the new, different version of this project? And if I do, should I mention that I've queried a different version of this previously?

No.
See above.

Now, here's why I said no.

First, look up where I marked (1).  You got rejections saying "the opening was too slow" etc. That is NOT a complete list of why they didn't pounce on your novel with all four fins.

It's what they told you. It's not necessarily the COMPLETE reason.

What they did say clearly is FUTURE projects. (2)
That means something not-this.

You've painted and plastered, and replaced the fixtures, but this house is still at the same address.(3)

I know you want to start with the agents who expressed interest in your work, but you're better off shopping this to fresh eyes.

I've gotten a couple of these refurbished fulls, and I don't think I've ever said yes on the second go-round. 

If you elect to ignore this advice, you should mention that you queried before, took their advice to heart and rewrote the novel completely.  The part about taking their advice is the key here.

 

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21. Week in review March 8, 2015

I think Julie Weathers really summed up my thoughts on the comment community here when she said this on last week's WIR: "I love hanging out with y'all. No matter how bad the day is, I can' count on you to pick me up. What a great crew."


Turns out that if want to be kissed all we have to do is eat jam, and Poor Dead Jed will step up to the task:
"I hate both vegemite and marmite. Horrible evil stuff. Did date someone in my early twenties who always had it on her toast for breakfast, and then expected me to kiss her goodbye when we left for work. Heck, no. Eat jam instead, and then I'll kiss you."

On Monday the topic was money, and the various forms of shenanigans that contracts can have. 

Doranna was quite correct that the lag between when payments are slated and due, and when they are actually received can be a brutal wake up call. I spend entirely too much time tracking down money my authors are owed.

Sara inquired if it was wise to set up an LLC and get an employer identification number to use as your tax ID  rather than a social security number.  I think it's very smart to do that. Keeping your income and expenses separate from your personal finances is a smart business move. And this is a business.

Sunliner asked about royalties. "If a book sells, for example, $20, how much of that reaches the author's pocket?"

It depends on your contract. If you're paid a royalty based on the cover price, say 10%, then for every book sold you're credited $2.00.

Remember that books can be returned, so that number can change over several royalty statements. 

Often royalties are based on net amount received by the publisher: Books are sold to bookstores at a 40% discount, so a bookstore pays the publisher 60% of the cover price ($12.00) for each book, and your royalty is calculated on that amount.

There are a MYRIAD of ways to set up royalty percentages. All of them are listed in you publication contract. Make SURE you understand that contract before you sign.  I've seen publisher boilerplates with some pretty awful royalty clauses, but I've negotiated them out.


french sojourn asked why I hadn't included film money in the post.  Most books don't get optioned, and most options don't get picked up.  If a film deal comes along, it's gravy.       

It took wildly bestselling Lee Child YEARS to get Jack Reacher on the screen. His books had all been optioned for years, but the film business makes book publishing look like a kid's lemonade stand.


Film money is paid out differently than books: you get a lump sum for the option and the option runs for a specific amount of time. Once the option expires, it can be renewed or shopped again.

The percentages kick in when the film is actually getting made. And those percentages are negotiated at the option stage, by the kick ass books to film agent I hope you have.

I have one of the best guys in the country right now (he did the deals for DIVERGENT and THE DUFF) and he's made LOTS of deals for my guys, but none of it is on the screen…yet.

As for how does a two-book deal translate: when you option books for film,you option rights to the characters. Thus you're locking up all the characters in a series with a film deal. So, there's no difference between one or a dozen books if they all feature Felix Buttonweezer, Kale Chef to the Stars.

S.D. King asked "If an author does not earn out the advance, is that person blackballed in the industry?"

Not even close. A book can break even AND turn a profit for the publisher even if the advance is not earned out.  I like to have my books earn out because it means the book is selling well, but I'll take that hefty advance check too thank you very much!


On Tuesday we revisited the tar pit of comp titles.

Susan Bonifant rightly pointed out that "how a title does in the marketplace" is something to consider. Since most of you don't have access to that kind of data, the thing to focus on is what M.B. Owen said ""tell the agent what the experience of reading the book will be like."

And Colin is permanently living in Carkoon now. Send sunscreen.  LynnRodz, Kitty, and Janet Rundquist, not to mention Christine Seine, are hellbent on joining him. We'll need a branch office there soon.


Wednesday we shot the moon on traffic. The topic was being controversial in your blog postings. As usual your comments and insights helped me refine and revise my opinion on this.

Kitty pointed out what can happen when commenters go feral: 
I used to read another really good lit blog but quit when the blogger tip-toed into politics one day and all hell broke loose in the comments. She didn't say anything offensive, but it generated an ugly civil war amongst her readers. By the end of the day, she deleted the whole post and promised never to inject her personal political views again. I kept checking her blog periodically, but finally quit because that one incident had soured the blog, like a rotten apple in the bin.

I will say that this is the bloggers dereliction of duty. I believe that the blog keeper has a responsibility to wrangle the comments. Commenters can be crazy, off-topic, lima bean lovers, but they CAN NOT insult or belittle the other commenters.  I delete those comments as soon as I find them. I delete the ones that are intentional, and the ones that aren't. We may be wild and crazy here, but by godiva, we will be civil.

Which is exactly Colin's point here
 "truly amazes me what people come out with on Twitter sometimes. I've "unfollowed" well-known writers not because I disagreed with their views, but because they expressed their views so disagreeably."

Susan Bonifant has the best summation of this ever "People can fall so deeply in love with being seen, and lose all awareness of how they are being viewed."

Thursday we talked about sales rates.


Joan Kane Nichols's agent story made my blood boil:
 "Several years ago, I had an agent who was sending around a children's middle-grade novel I had written. He sent it to six editors. It got some nicely written rejections, but still rejections. The agent then sent me an email saying, basically, we're through. Sorry, couldn't sell the book, you're no longer my client. Needless to say, I was devastated.'

I saw a very similar thing happen this summer with an author pal of mine I met through the ChumBucket. I was appalled when his agent pulled the plug after one round of what seemed to be half-hearted submissions.  This is the kind of info that should be shared publicly on places like AbsoluteWrite and QueryTracker etc.  If an agent chooses to conduct business like this, authors should know. Also, this is something an author should ASK about ahead of time.

Christina Seine's hiking story makes me think she'll like the nice rolling desert out at Carkoon.

Amy Shaefer (logging in from Paradise) summed this all up very nicely: 

I think this falls under the heading of Bad Math. Selling books is not a random draw; we don't all have an equal chance of being published (or repped, for that matter). Whether a book sells or not depends on so many things: its quality, persistence on the part of the author to get it to agents, persistence on the part of the agent to get it to editors, publishing climate, subject matter, genre, current trends, and plain old good timing, to name a few. Yes, you can calculate what percentage of writers actually sell their first book, but don't expect it to be meaningful information. In the end, it is just another pointless thing to fret about. Go forth and write something fantastic.

And just cause my ego requires me to add to Amy's second comment about speedy sales: the fastest time from submission to offer I've ever had was five hours.  It was a helluva day let me tell you.

And then the comments veered right off into cookies, not the data kind, which meant I spent the rest of the time reading and laughing. And thinking of baking cookies.

Friday the topic turned to referrals within agencies. 
Jenz asked 
So when you reply with "Agent X here at FPLM might be a better fit," I may then query that agent and personalize with "JR suggested you may be a good fit"?
I had something like this happen at a conference, an agent just suggesting a few names. I know that's not a referral, but I was never sure if I should include that in the query, or how to word it if I did.


The best way to word is use the exact or closest possible words the first agent uses. Thus if I say "Agent X might be a better fit" you say "I queried Janet Reid for Nostrums of Carkoon" and she suggested you might be a better fit.

Or "Janet Reid suggested I try you when I met her at the Conference on Carkoon Exiled Writers last Tuesday.


Julie Weather's paper eating horse story is yet another small delightful story. And did you notice the names of those beasts?

Eileen made me reach for the smelling salts when she mentioned she'd be querying with Fifty Shade of T-Rex. But at least it's not "plane porn" an idea so weird I'm glad Stephanie mentioned it.



Saturday the discussion was resubmitting after extensive revision. 


Dena Pawling told us
"last week I sent my primary CP an email. “It's ready! Yay let's celebrate, it's finished and it's ready! So now I'm procrastinating lol”

My CP gave me the pep talk. It's a wonderful story, she said. You need to send it out, she said.

Last week, instead of working on individualized query emails to the agents on my A-list, I made some changes to my blog.

My CPs and my freelance editor say it doesn't, but my main fear is whether it starts too slow.

I think we need to collectively encourage Dena to get this puppy in the mail THIS WEEK.  She should report next Sunday on how many agents she queried.  And just to get her properly motivated she should be required to query ME as well.

After all, to quote the Poor Dead Jed 
"There can never be enough tweaking in the world to convince a writer that their novel is truly finished and completely perfect. But at some point you have to stop and say, "enough is enough, this is ready to send." And then send it."

and then GingerMollyMarilyn mentioned apple fritters and man oh man, I started thinking about my upcoming trip to Portland and Voodoo Donuts.

Which means next week's blog posts could be a bit less organized and on-topic than normal. I'll be there for Left Coast Crime which means a lot of meetings, a lot of time in the bar, and a lot of slinking around in the book room looking for new stuff to read.

It was 66 in Portland yesterday, and I've still got snow on my fire escape here in New York. Tuesday can't come soon enough.


I started a couple of really good books this week but mostly I'm back to reading full manuscripts. I know that's good news for those of you who've been waiting awhile.

My favorite link this week is this about barcodes on library books.

Daylight Savings Times sucketh.

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22. Rant: So, what exactly do you do, really?


Agent Lovely wants a marketing proposal and I'm confused.
I wrote the book--memoir--already, and that's what Agent Lovely is representing. She's asked me to create basically an entire book proposal minus the chapter summaries and sample chapters. (Thankya Jesus I've spent the last few years building "platform").

But it feels weird. Isn't any of this Agent Lovely's job, or her intern's job? (1)  I'm currently in a residency with Famous Best-Selling Memoirist, and when I asked her(2), FBSM said that sounded weird, that marketing proposals are for when you haven't written the book yet and want to sell based on a sample and platform. FBSM's position is that agents make phone calls and pitch the book based on the writing. (3)

I made the proposal, subtitling it "Let's Market, Bitches," which may be slightly passive-aggressive on my part but also reflects the voice of the manuscript. While making it, I realized it's probably better I did, because I have enough experience writing PR to do a very good job.
Now I'm wondering: I have radio appearances and social media and TV appearances and I write a mean press release, and I'm compiling all of this myself…so am I paying 15% so that someone with connections will make phone calls? (4)

How much of my own work should I be doing here? I was already planning to market as much as I can after (hopefully) selling, do I have to do a big chunk of the selling part, too? Am I just being ungrateful here? Is this all part of the strange new world of No-One-Actually-Knows-What-Sells-Books-Anymore? (5)


Let's start at the beginning.



(1) Is writing a marketing statement your agent's (or sweet mother of god, what the hell are you thinking?) her intern's job?  No, it isn't. It's your job.  You spent a year building platform (good!) and you know which people know about you and how to reach them.. You as much as said so in the next sentence.


Your publisher will know how to reach general book buyers, but if you've got niche interest readers for your book, you'll be the one to know about this.


Your agent's job is to sell the book. Your job is to write it.  Marketing plans are an essential part of the non-fiction pitch even though memoir is sold like a novel (ie finished when pitched)






(2) There are few things that drive me crazier than people asking for advice from folks who are not suited to offer it by virtue of their experience being limited or out of date. Famous Best Selling Memoirist doesn't need a marketing plan  because she is 1. Famous 2. Bestselling. And if her first book was sold more than five years ago, her experience doesn't apply to you.



Nothing has changed more in the last ten years than how books are sold to the general public. Thank you Amazon, thank you meta data, thank you social media.  FINDING your reader is an enormous challenge. Famous Best Selling has already found her readers.


And the fact that she didn't tell you to talk to your agent chaps my fin. But then we all love to be asked for advice it's true.




(3) Famous is an idiot if she thinks that's what agents do. Maybe that's what her agent does. If that's true, she has a bad agent.   A competent agent is going to do a lot more than make phone calls to sell your work. And that's just the start of things.  Negotiate the contract, make sure the editor gets an editorial letter to you on time, monitor the production schedule so you're not looking at the cover six days AFTER it went to the printer. Audit the royalty statements. Explain the royalty statements to you. And that's just the stuff I did Friday.


The fact that often times we DO write the proposal, or pieces of it, does not mean it's our job. It means we're willing to help you do yours. 




(4) You're not paying anything yet. Let's all remember that your agent doesn't see a dime until you do. If you honestly feel like your agent isn't going to be worth the money, do yourself a favor and split now. There is nothing worse than a client who does not value the service provided.  It's like dating someone who thinks going out with you is marginally better than staying home alone and watching Friends on NetFlix.


(5) Yes you are. And you should knock it off. 


Let's review:

1. Your agent will be working with you for your entire career, or the very least the sale and publication of your book. Generally you are NOT going to pay her for the value of her time. You're going to get a bargain by giving her a percentage of what you earn, and only AFTER you see money too.

2. Don't ask for advice or take advice from people who have outdated experience, or a wildly different experience on how things "should be going."

3. Talk to your agent.  If you seriously think she should be writing your book proposal tell her so. If you think you can save money by pitching directly, go right ahead.


If one of my clients had written this question, I'd fire them on the spot. I can't stand working with people who don't value the service I provide, and life is too short to do that any longer than it takes to write a termination letter. There are a LOT of people out there with terrific projects.  If you don't think I'm worth it, they sure as hell do.



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23. Query Question: my characters are people of color; I'm not



My current WIP features a young Alaska Native man, and while he’s not the MC, he has a very prominent supporting role (he is actually one of my favorite characters), and there are several other minor characters who are also Alaska Native. Since the book takes place in Alaska, this is appropriate, I believe. I am not an Alaska Native, but I have lived in Alaska for 26 years and I have many very dear friends who are. So while I don’t have personal experience being IN this culture, I hope that my associations with it (and extensive research) will create a voice that rings respectful and true. I also have zero experience being a man, but while that’s a whole different can of worms (no pun intended), for some reason don’t see that as big of an issue.

My question is this: I am hearing a lot of call for diversity in novels, which is awesome, but I am also hearing criticism about writers appropriating a culture for their own means. Obviously, writers must write outside their own reality (otherwise, what’s the point?), but when does writing about a race or culture outside your own become appropriation? We’ve discussed this a bit in our writing group, but I’d really love to hear your perspective on this. Thanks!





This is a tough but interesting question. It's very much akin to getting things "right" when simply by being a visitor to the culture, you can't know what's "right" down to the last detail. You will always see the culture through the prism of outsider.


That does not mean however that you can't write fully developed and interesting characters from that culture. The key is like that of all good writing: make it feel authentic, but not just to you, to the people from that culture.


Appropriation is a loaded word for writers, whose job it is to steal everything they can and write about it. When does it cross the line? Everyone is going to have a different view on this, but the thing to pay attention to are people in that culture.

I didn't understand that The Help wasn't a fun book until I read the comments about it written by Roxanne Gay. While it's not about appropriating culture, it does seem to say that stories are given a wider audience only when those in power agree to tell them.

I'm not sure there's a real answer to your question. I think by asking it, by being aware of the problem, you're on your way to steering clear of it.



















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24. Query question: revising/expanding a previous book

 I wrote a memoir about my childhood based on what I remember and what I was told. I didn't know anything much about my past, how to write a book, or research that goes with it. I was adopted. So, without the research I just rushed through with writing and self publishing the book. Since then I've located my biological parents and did research. I have all the research documents and people to back me up. How can I used what I have to rewrite my memoir? How so I explain the rewrite? Can I use a different title for my book?

You can do anything you want since this is your book, and your story. "Revised editions" or second editions of books are much more common with textbooks than memoir, but there are lots of people who write more than one memoir of their life. The late great Leonard Nimoy is a case in point. I AM NOT SPOCK was published in 1975.  I AM SPOCK was published in 1995.

You might think about writing a completely different book rather than revising. That will solve the biggest problem you face which is reader confusion.

You don't want readers to think they've already read the book if you want them to buy the revised and expanded version. Also, you don't want people to think it's a different book and be angry cause they'd read
the first version.

You can use a different title, but that makes it a new book.

You can call it an updated, revised, expanded version and use the same title but you MUST put "parts of this book originally appeared in an edition published in X"  OR "this edition is a revised, expanded version of TITLE published in X"


Nothing gets a reader annoyed like thinking they've been hoodwinked by old books being sold as new. 

And you might address the issue of the revision/expansion/update by writing a preface to this new book, saying what you said here: you've got  more info and more story.

The rule here is to be transparant with your readers and buyers.  
 

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25. Query Question: How to employ fan fiction numbers in a query


I know fanfiction isn't a "publication credit," but how do you feel about it in a query letter?  I started writing it about a year ago just for some stress relief, and now I've got a few thousand subscribers (people who signed up to get an email every time I post something) and I'm closing in on 1.5 million reads.  Several of those readers have specifically said they'd love to read my books if I ever publish something.  I know a lot of people look down on fanfiction (for various reasons), but those kind of numbers sound to me like they could translate into a good readership!  The book I'm gearing up to start querying soon is erotic romance and is original, not a rework of anything fan-related, but I'm really hoping some of my fanfic readers would be interested.

I don't really have anything else to count as publication credit - I'm in RWA and that's about it - so it would be nice to include this if it would be seen as a positive.  I'm worried about agents seeing the word "fanfiction" and immediately writing me off as a crackpot, though.  What do you think?



The problem here is that people read fan fiction because they're already fans of the thing you're writing about: Star Trek/Star Wars/Shark Filled Query Queues. Will they follow you OUT of that world? No one really knows. We do know that huge numbers of blog readers does not always translate to huge number of book sales. What people read for free, and what people are willing to part with $25 or $12.99 for are VERY different numbers.

Having several thousand people wanting to read your work though, that's gotta be a good thing. Even if only a few teleport over to your new work, that's better than none.

I also don't think agents and editors think of fan fiction writers as crackpots either. Some of the writing on fan fic sites is to the left of gruesomely terribly bad, but that's not you of course.

As far as I know I have but one client who wrote/writes fan fiction. S/he does it under a pseudonym and we did NOT mention it in the pitch for the novel.

But, since it's not a pub credit, and it's not an awesome number of people who want to buy your book (you said several) I'm going to vote for leaving it out only so that if I'm wrong about the crackpot thing, you won't find out the hard way.



 

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