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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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I queried a project that resulted in several requests for my full manuscript. Ultimately, the requesting agents passed, but several were generous in the rejection--they detailed their reasons, complimented my writing, and ended with an invitation to submit future projects if I didn't find representation through the current manuscript. I did not. Now, I have a new project and would like to query these same agents.
Barbara Poelle fielded a similar question in her recent Writers Digest column. She outline what the author should include in the body of the query, but didn't address the subject line. Is there etiquette for this? Or does it remain a standard Query: Project Name, Author Name?
One of the agents I want to revisit is currently closed to submissions, so I suspect any query sent to her would merely be deleted unless there is some clue in the subject line that she has asked to see subsequent work.
Or am I merely a poor deluded soul who didn't recognize a polite boilerplate statement to ease a rejection?
no no no, you are not deluded, you will have to try harder to be clueless, sorry.
If an agent asks to see the next work, that's something you want to keep track of.
Your question about the subject line is timely as well, given how many agents now read queries on their phones.
Here's how you do that:
Re: Query for TITLE (the next project from) AUTHOR
The FIRST line of your query is:
On DATE you were kind enough to say you'd like to see future work. This is the query for my next novel.
Then you begin your query as you normally.
Standard querying calls for starting the query with all the housekeeping stuff at the bottom, but this is the exception to that. Let the agent know right away that she's seen and liked your work.
I can track all my email conversations with queriers going back years so when I get a query like this, I look up the previous project and re-read my notes. There's a LOT more leeway for someone querying a project if I've already seen and liked previous work. Leeway means I'm much more likely to read something including all the pages even if I don't think it's a good fit.
In Monday's post on POV
, Kitty mentioned one of my favorite books Bright Lights Big City which is famously written in the second person
"You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head."
Kitty asked "I've often wondered if McInerney had to really sell the 2nd person, because some people have a knee-jerk reaction to it, or did his writing sell it for him?"
I'll opine that the writing is what carries this book. Using 2nd person POV was a device to bring the reader along with the narrator, in the closest narrative proximity possible. There is no "you and I" here, certainly no "they" there is only "us."
Long time blog reader Julie Weathers gave me a new favorite phrase on Monday too: "Holy rolling armadillos."
That pretty much had us all in stitches here in the office.
And I really liked Colin Smith's list of questions about how to figure out which POV suits the story:
* How emotionally intense is the story? How closely do I want the reader to feel what the MC feels?
* How important is it that the reader is as surprised by plot developments as the MC?
* Do I want the reader to have a broader perspective of the story than the MC? Perhaps there are multiple plot threads with minor characters that your MC isn't aware of, but play into the main plot.
* What's the focus of your story: solving a mystery step-by-step, knowing the solution to the mystery and seeing how your MC solves it (like Columbo), the hunt for a bad guy, or the unraveling of a deadly scheme? I think you can use pretty much any POV for these scenarios, but some favor particular POVs more than others (e.g., Columbo-style is probably best as 3rd Omniscient; the step-by-step would be 1st or 3rd Limited like Harry Potter).
On Wednesday's blog post on characters' names
, oh-so-useful Felix Buttonweezer (I think there are at least two spellings on that floating around!) reappeared.
This was immediate license for all the blog commenters to further build his backstory.
We're going to need a Buttonweezer Bible here before too long.
This week I paid my annual AAR dues which may seem like a small thing, but I remember when I wasn't an AAR member and how much I wanted to join as soon as I could. For those of you who aren't familiar with AAR
, it's the literary and dramatic agents professional group. There's a Canon of Ethics which members agree to abide by, and a minimum standard for associate and full membership.
Some very reputable agents elect not to belong to AAR, but I'm very happy to fork over my dues and count myself among those who do.
I can't believe next week is the last week in January! Time is just flying by...even without those flying cars or personal jetpacks that I'm still hoping for!
Some literary agents are also authors, but they have another literary agent to represent their books. Why they don't represent their own books directly?
Agents understand the value of an agent. You can't agent your own work if you want a good agent, even if you're a good agent for everyone else.
Agenting requires distance and perspective that aren't possible if you're also the writer.
Agents who agent themselves will tell you I'm wrong. Their editors will tell you I'm right.
Years ago I started an online text-based roleplay series; basically a collaborative story. It wasn't supposed to be a series. I had barely started roleplaying and it was more like a test to see what running one of those would feel like. So I didn't think too much on the fact that I was using a couple of characters from my novel (a mere project at the time) to build the story. The RP generated interest and spun two sequels, one of which is still running. The world and story of the RP are unique and completely unrelated with my novel yet I've been told that, because I used my novel characters (name and physical description, not their story) in the game, if I were to pursue traditional publishing I would have to either change the characters in the book or take down the RP since it's published online. Is this a fact?
Assuming the RP itself is not an issue. Say I sign with an agent, the book gets picked up by a publisher and all those wonderful things I tell myself to think of as 'near impossible best case scenarios' actually come true. If down the road from that me and my RP buddies would like to take the story we wrote together and make something with it along the lines of a comic or web series (we've discussed doing it for funsies, not profits), would those names and similarities pose an issue even if both works are basically authored by me?
RED LIGHT FLASHING!!!!!
(can you guess why?)
The authors I've seen write spin-offs or prequel shorts, or whatever else using their characters online, however successful, were self published. Fellow writers tell me that with traditional publishing that isn't quite possible.
Bottom line: once a work is published the traditional way how much freedom, if any, does an author have to play with his own creations in his own time without it bitting him/her in the tender meat of their sitting down area?
You're asking the wrong question.
Here's the question you SHOULD ask: "the story that my RP buddies and I wrote together" --who owns the copyright to that?
Once you have more than one person involved in the creation of a work it's no longer just yours. It does not matter if you originated the project. It does not matter that you think of it as yours. If someone else contributed in a meaningful way to plot, character development, setting, they have rights in the work. You can fix this by having everyone sign what's essentially a quit claim to the work, but the smarter thing to do was make sure everyone understood they were NOT co-owners at the start.
Publishers won't care if your RP game is online. In fact, they'll probably love it. More people to buy the book.
But I absolutely guarantee you that if your book is successful in any meaningful way (ie money) you're going to have people coming out of the woodwork claiming a piece of it.
You might think an easy solution is to change the names and character descriptions but if you make enough money, that won't matter. You WILL be targeted by people wanting a piece of the action.
You need an intellectual property lawyer. AND you need to sort this out before you do anything bold like sign a publishing contract. The boilerplate on every publishing contract in this universe and the next one over requires you to warrant that you are the creator of the work, and are not infringing on anyone else's copyright. Their insurance and yours will NOT cover you if you are found to be in violation of the warranty you gave.
Aren't you glad you asked?
I have a nearly-completed novel that I'd like to distribute to beta readers. They've all asked for a Kindle version, which I can do by generating a .mobi file which they can manually upload onto their Kindles.
I've heard horror stories about publishers declining a work because in their eyes it was published electronically. Can you explain what a publisher's definition of 'electronically published' is?
Though I'd be interested in that fuller explanation, alternatively, I would be happy for you to tell me I'm being way too paranoid and that something innocent like manually distributing Kindle-formatted files isn't going to be treated as a form of publishing.
Either answer would be greatly appreciated.
Generally "published" in book form means it has an ISBN number and was available for sale. Thus, sending a .mobi file to your beta readers is not published. You'd be smart to mark the file "draft version-not for sale, or distribution" just to be clear to the people getting the file.
My ONLY hesitation here is that Kindle is an Amazon device. You might want to read the terms of service for Kindle to make sure they don't claim you've licensed us of anything uploaded on the device. I'm not saying they do, I haven't read the TOS with this kind of question in mind, but you'd be smart to do so. My limited experience with contracts offered by companies owned by Amazon is you DO want to read the fine print.
And book publishers don't always see "previously published" as a problem. Lots of books have second, even third, lives in book publishing. Where you run in to the most problems with "previously published" are contests and submissions to anthologies.
I've seen a lot of queries where the writer starts off with the main character's full name. "Dr. Felixandro Buttonweezer III was just your average shark researcher until..." Then they're called by nickname for the rest of the query. "Felix must battle through Character Soup and Plot Salad before he's free." I can understand people doing this if the character's title or family name is important, but I see it all the time. Is there some grand unwritten rule about this? Should we just start off with Felix if we're going to call him that anyway? Or is it one of those "whatever works for the rhythm and tone" problems?
I've seen this a lot too, and it doesn't stand out as something I'd suggest be changed. Thus it's one of those "whatever works for the rhythm and tone" items.
However, there are a couple things writers do when introducing characters that do drive me batshark crazy:
(1) Dr. Felixandro "Felix" Buttonweezer III
If you're going to call him Felix, do it. If you're going to use his full name, do that. But do NOT combine them. That's newspaper style writing, and you're not writing an article for the SharkVille Times. You're writing a letter.
(2) Dr. Felixandro Buttonweezer III, 34, was just your average shark researcher
Again, adding Felix's age after his name is like newspaper writing. If his age is important, tell us when it's important. Dr. Felix Buttonweezer was only 34 when Mrs. Buttonweezer started planning for his retirement.
In one place it's part of the story, in another it's just an isolated fact with no context. You do NOT want isolated facts with no context in a query. Every piece of information should be part of the narrative. It should be there for a reason.
(3) Felix and Felicia were twins. The Buttonweezer clan thought twins were bad luck.
In a query, which is very short form, and often skimmed, you want to make rock solid certain that your reader isn't confused. Here, there is confusion because we don't know if Felix and Felicia are part of the Buttonweezer clan.
This is how you fix that: Felix and Felicia Buttonweezer were twins, something the Buttonweezer clan thought was bad luck.
Even though you use the Buttonweezer name twice in a sentence, it's CLEAR. Clarity is the goal.
I'm querying agents for the first time and it's not going well (form rejections from some, silence from others). I follow each agent's requirements, so I'm confident the problem is in the content of my work/letter. I was wondering if there was a magic number of these to get before I should read it as a sign to put on the brakes and rethink my strategy. The form letters all graciously concede that maybe another agent would like the story, but do you have any estimate for how many flat-out "no"s I should receive before I have to stop and change something dramatically?
On a similar note, how important are previous publications at the query stage? This probably varies, but I was wondering your take on it. As the rejections are coming in, I'm trying to figure out if it's the story that the agents don't like or if it's my lack of publishing experience. If it's the latter, I'd want to stop and focus my time on developing publishable short stories and building up that bio section.
Rejections don't tell you anything other than the agent you queried is not going to read the full manuscript. It's the ONLY thing a rejection tells you. At this point you do NOT know whether you have a good query for a project no one thinks they can sell right now, a good query for a project that sounds like it's a Lifetime movie, or a terrible query for something that might be ok.
This is where you get your query in front of an agent in real time and get some feedback. This is what writing conferences are good for.
Thus don't ask how many of these rejections you need to acquire before moving on. Ask how long you're going to wait before getting some advice. That answer should be sooner rather than later.
There are a LOT of writing conferences and writers groups offering workshops both in person and on-line.
I'm giving one myself on Feb 1, 2015 here in Brooklyn. Details are here on my Facebook page
for those who are interested.
I know my slithery competitor Barbara Poelle and her companion in comedy Holly Root do webinars from time to time for Writers' Digest. Barbara and Holly know their stuff, and they're good workshop leaders. You can't go wrong with them.
As for pub credits: no one says yes or no to a query based on pub credits. If you've got 'em great, if you don't, not to worry. Beefing up pub credits in a bad query won't help. Beefing up pub credits for a book I don't want to read won't help either.
My adult suspense/thriller WAS 3rd person, multiple characters. In revisions, I saw the error in my ways and cut back to two characters. Many Critique Partners recommended putting the main character in 1st (something I toyed with anyway). Now, yet another CP suggested putting my other POV character in 1st.
I have not seen many adult thrillers with alternating 1st POV characters (other than GONE GIRL). But I HAVE heard that lots of editors HATE the 1st/3rd combo.
What is your opinion?
My opinion should not matter here. I haven't read the book. You should do only what the story requires. Do you absolutely need the intimacy of first person in both points of view? Do you need distance in one POV and intimacy in the other? What the story needs is what drives the structure.
That said, I think it's extremely difficult to carry off two distinct points of view in first person in a novel. Yes, Gillian Flynn did it brilliantly in Gone Girl. Yes, that was the brilliant exception to a lot of very bad manuscripts I've seen over the years.
There's a lot to be said for straight forward third person omniscient in a suspense novel. I like close third person a lot because it gives the writer lots more flexibility with getting plot on the page.
But again, this is YOUR story, and you should do what the story needs. It's easy for critique partners to suggest changes and sometimes they can see things you didn't but for structural things like POV, absent a huge gaping problem, you should decide and stick to it. Be confident in your choices.
And what a week it was!
We're hard at work here at The Reef on the end of the year tax forms we send to clients. Making sure we've got updated addresses, and all the decimals are in the right place. I actually like this task. It's got a start date, an end date, a measurable success rate, and it only happens once a year. In other words: the exact opposite of what I do most of the time.
The rest of the week was taken up with negotiating contracts and pitching projects. That doesn't change much week to week, month to month, year to year, but what I actually DO during negotiations and pitches does change. Even boilerplate contracts change as publishing circumstances change.
As an example: routinely First Serial Rights were licensed to the publisher. Now, I never do that automatically. That's because most publishers don't actually have the staff to do those placements anymore, and there's a shortage of big magazines that actually buy first serial rights. Time to clean up the boilerplate to match reality.
My Saturday reading was Bill Loehfelm's THE DEVIL IN HER WAY. I loved the first Maureen book in the series THE DEVIL SHE KNOWS but hadn't managed to snag the second book till last week. When you need a really good break from the work week, you want a book that's utterly captivating and this one was up to the job.
Here's just one paragraph that will show you what I mean:
She breathed in the tainted air again and wondered if crime scenes became like wines, each with their own smells and flavors --top notes, grace, notes, and finishes. Girl, she thought her own ideas making her queasy, you did not get out of the cocktail business quite fast enough.
This week I was asked to lead a workshop on query letters on Feb 1, 2015 here in Brooklyn. Of course I agreed. The details are here on my Facebook pag
e. I'm working on the workshop handouts during spare minutes here and there. So far it's ten pages!
The comment section on the blog continues to amaze and delight me. A couple questions popped up that I though deserved some further attention:
Monday's blog post was about a writer whose retiring agent wanted to hold on to her manuscript that was on submission. I'd listed the steps the writer needed to take in the situation:Blog post: 5. You start querying. You mention your agent left mid-submission and you have editors who were considering the work.
sagelikethespice asked: Will this work for or against the author at this point? Assuming they were good editors for the work in question, would a potential new agent look at this list as a positive, a negative, or neutral? I know that when an author has been rejected by editors already, agents see it as a negative because they can't pitch to those editors. But these subs were pulled. Will a new agent be able to pitch to these editors again?
Short answer: yes. If a submission is withdrawn at the agent's request, then another agent can resubmit. This kind of thing (withdrawing subs) doesn't happen a lot, but it does happen. Editors are aware that circumstances can change. I've had to withdraw submissions on several projects over the years. Some were because the author wanted to make extensive revisions. We actually were able to go back to those editors with revised manuscripts when he did.
Editors, like agents, are looking for good work. That's the bottom line.
Kelsey Hutton wondered if my use of UK spellings meant that perhaps I was from Manitoba, a fact I quickly corrected and reminded everyone that I'm from the West Coast. Go Ducks!
Kelsey replied: Janet, we would welcome you as an honourary Manitoban any day!
Summer reports of our moose-size mosquitoes are almost all exaggerated, and a slug of Caribou keeps you warm in the winter. Go Jets.
Well, that's certainly an enticement to visit, but honestly we need to work on the geography here. The Jets play in New Jersey! They may pretend to be from New York, but everyone in Jersey does that.
Go NETS! They at least play in Brooklyn!
On Thursday's post about which query to use, the one that got results or the "good one" Colin Smith asks:
@Janet: Would you say crafting "the perfect query" is more important when the agent does not ask for a sample (e.g., first 5 pages)? I can imagine an agent reading a query and saying "This query sucks, but I like the idea, let's see if the writing's better in the pages." But if those pages aren't to hand, might that agent be more likely to just hit the "form reject" button?
Impossible to know, but certainly logical. If the query is the ONLY thing the agent will see, it does seem like you'll want it to be perfect. But what is perfect? Perfect means only that the agent wants to read pages. That's it. I've gotten some horrendous queries that enticed me to read on. Would I suggest writing horrendous queries? No, no I would not. I think they enticed me to read on mostly cause I had more than a passing interest in the subject matter, or concept of the novel. I'll read just about anything set in NYC. Same for horses. Africa is high on my list too.
Later in that same comment column DLM said:
I just wish I could in-person pitch 'em all. My in-person pitch rate is 100% - at least for full requests.
As you all know I hate in person pitches. I hate them with the passion of a thousand suns. I might have ranted about that
a time or two.
And DLM's comment just makes me hate them more because they induce false hope.
Here's the horrible truth about in-person pitches: It's VERY hard for an agent or editor to say no to your hopeful face. Most editors won't. Most agents will say yes to things they KNOW aren't right for them because unlike ME they can't bear to break your hearts. Me, I just chomp on you till you bleed and then swim merrily away.
Ask any agent they'll tell you that a well-written query is a much better introduction to your work.
If you do have an in-person pitch session, take your query and ASK if it's effective. Three minutes of help is going to do you more good than a request for a full that is getting rejected UNREAD in a month.
Still in the Thursday comments, SD King notices we're painting the new office!
This is completely off the topic, but didn't we just read that the QS office was being painted? Reading the archives (as directed) I noted that the office had just been painted in 2013.
I always think that after living with a paint job for about 10 years, you should take a good long look at the walls and plan to choose a new color in the next five years, or so.
The only reason to put yourself though the trouble of drop cloths and mess is if you smoke 3 packs of Lucky Strikes a day and the paint breaths smoke back at you.
No Shark could smoke like that and still swim.
I painted my apartment in 2013. Well, let me say "I was painting my apartment in 2013. I'm STILL painting it in 2015."
The office paint is new new new. Yay! And I'm NOT doing it, we have a nice guy who comes in and does a much better job. DOUBLE YAY!
And no one smokes in the office. Occasionally however we set our hair on fire.
@SD: New offices. New paint job. The last re-paint was in the old office space which, I believe, FinePrint moved into in 2011...?
We moved in to our new office on 29th Street in August 2012. Trust me, I will never forget that day, week or month. The move next door will be child's play compared to that move.
On Friday's rant about not wasting my time, Colin Smith asked:
Okay, Janet, call me a woodland creature, but define "least suitable client." Are we talking axe-murderer crazy, or won't-answer-the-phone reclusive, or...? It's a bit off-topic (like that's ever stopped me before), but I often hear "agent success stories" where either the writer or the agent talk about how they knew they would have a great working relationship because they "hit it off" over The Call. Is that what you mean?
I suspect you might answer something along the lines of "they need to be serious about their work, meeting deadlines, listening and responding to editorial comments, etc." But it seems to me that's something you would only know AFTER the query has done its job and you've had The Call. Or are there signs of problems to come you've learned to discern over many years of swimming these waters? Things you can pick up even from a query or a brief phone conversation?
Yes, I'm getting picky over a detail. Don't get me wrong. I love the spirit of your rant, and I wish you could be QOTKU so all agents would think this way. I just saw that phrase and wondered... :)
Figuring out who will fit well into the ranks of The Fabulosity is something I've honed over the years. First, of course, they can't be the wrong kind of crazy. Generally I can pick up on that in a phone call. I can pick up on unrealistic expectations there too.
But one of the best tools I have now is Twitter and Facebook. Here's where you really find out about someone. Is every Facebook post about them? All the pictures of themselves? Is the Twitter feed only about them? That's an author that you're going find is pretty self-involved.
Are they absent from social media? That's a big clue and I'll want to ask if that's intentional, or they just don't know how to use social media tools effectively.
Do they have bombastic posts on every hot button topic of the day? Probably not a good fit for me.
Do they tweet too much? Probably someone who's going to need a lot of attention…also not a good fit for me.
And the turnabout here is: authors can find out a LOT about agents by reading their social media sites. Don't want an agent who drinks whisky and swears like a sailor? Cross me off your list.
Need an agent who is available night and day to ease your fears? Nope, not Janet Reid.
Don't want an agent who HAS a social media presence at all? Cross me right off the list.
And Colin, you're right, sometimes the suitability is discovered only after the contract is signed. And that's why there's a 30-day, at will, get out of the contract clause in my author/agency agreement. If it turns out we're not a good fit, you get to decamp posthaste.
And my all time favorite question of the week was from GingerMollyMarilyn
Two things. First and foremost, thank you for your solidarity, Janet. You really "get" us writers. Second, if you're the Queen of this universe, who is Queen of the next one over?
That would be Barbara Poelle.
I self published a book of short stories a few years back. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.) It got a few good reviews, everyone I knew bought it and a few strangers took a risk and bought it as well. Hooray me.
Fast forward and I would like to submit some of these stories for consideration in contests or to lit presses / online magazines etc. (Not all of them, some of them were very bad... I can see that now... but a few of them are things I am proud of.)
My problem is that they fall under the "already published" label since my little self published book has an ISBN and is available for purchase on Amazon etc.
I guess my question goes beyond a bit of "What can I do/"... to "Do I have to leave these little gems behind me for good? Can I rework them so that they are just new and different enough to count as "not previously published"? How much rework would that be?"
I'm frustrated and feeling very foolish. Any help you could provide would be wonderful.
Don't feel frustrated, and don't feel foolish. You haven't done anything stupid or wrong. You've written and published stories that people liked. Hint: that is A Very Good Thing.
However, if you want to give these stories a second shot at finding readers, well, that's a bit more troublesome.
The rules for contests and lit mags are pretty specific. Not previously published means just that. You'd be hard-pressed to rework a short story enough to make it something other than what it is now.
And you don't want to enter, get published and then find out you're on the wrong side of previously published. You very much do NOT want your name associated with that brouhaha.
Thankfully book publishing is not quite so rigid. Collections of previously published stories are common. Some of your stories (the good ones) could be the basis for an anthology.
And some anthologies don't require new material. Look for those to send your stories to.
This is more common in genre fiction than lit fic, but you didn't say what kind of stories you published.
The best idea though is to write more stories.
In the case that you have something very unusual that presents unique challenges due to it's weirdness, where do you go to send queries that don't waste agent's time? If anything, I'm just looking for what the industry language is for "I look at really weird stuff, man, even if it's pretty much the weirdest."
Well, this is your lucky day. You've earned the second rant of the new year. Congrats!
I want to just reach through the computer screen and throttle writers who say "I don't want to waste your time by querying you for X, Y, or Z."
It's NEVER a waste of time to receive a well-written query for a well-written project. I may not take it on, it may not be in my category, and you may be the least suitable client in this universe plus the next one over, but you are NOT wasting my time.
Thinking that you might waste my time makes you FEARFUL of querying widely.
Querying widely is your best strategy for connecting with the right agent. That means you don't try to find only the ones who say "I like weird"; you strike off the list only the ones who say "I don't rep fiction."
Fortunately, you're not alone in attracting my wrath: I also want to reach through the monitor and throttle agents who prattle on Twitter about queriers wasting their time. It's both unprofessional and disrespectful. You may quote me to anyone who says it.
Writing an effective query letter is not easy. Following the various submission guidelines from agencies adds another level of difficulty. Trying to figure out what various agents want or don't want is not as easy as it sounds, even when we try to be clear about this.
If you add further hoops by making sure not to query anyone not interested you've set yourself up to fail.
DO NOT DO THIS.
The world eats writers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's an incredibly hard task to get your work seen, published well, reviewed, and read. You MUST have an ironclad sense that your work is worth everyone's time to have a tough enough hide for this business.
And let's just remember, I make my entire living selling work I find from people who send me query letters. You're not wasting ANY of my time by giving me a chance to make money with you.
Are we clear?
Are We Clear?
I have two queries. One is a red-hot mess based on feedback from my critique group. The other I perfected with your help from Chum Bucket. (Thank you again! Your response felt like a big hug across the Internet).
The problem is that the red-hot mess has gotten three requests out of ten. Two months later, the better query has netted zilch out of fifteen.
The crummier query is starting to feel like a lucky penny, and now I'm looking at the better query like it's a stumble instead of a foot in the door. Figuring out which to use is fast becoming a philosophical question. What if there is no better query, only different queries? If you and the blog readers have a any advice, I'd much appreciate it.
Figuring out which to use? Have you taken total leave of your senses?
This isn't a philosophical question at all.
I can't believe you're even asking.
USE THE ONE THAT WORKS!!!!!!!
Feedback and help and advice is great, but when it comes to results, the only thing that matters is yes or no. You have a query that's getting yes.
I don't care if I said the query is the cat's pajamas. If it's not garnering requests, DITCH IT.
I should say first, for the record, I have an agent who I love. I am completely happy with her, and I have no complaints at all. That being said, she is fairly new (4 years in, now) and has a growing list of clients. I noticed that you have 20 or so clients listed on you sidebar on the blog. I think my agent already has more clients than that.
I know there's probably a balance you strike between further developing your clients careers and signing new clients (vertical versus horizontal development), and I know that I personally want an agent who has time to dedicate to my work, and I am sure most authors would agree. I also understand some clients may only write one (perhaps non-fiction) book, while others may require much more time and effort.
My question is this: at what point (if any), for my friends who are currently seeking representation, should an author be concerned that an agent is signing too many clients? I wonder whether newer agents might sign too many clients (perhaps some who aren't really ready to have an agent) and therefore not have enough time to really represent any of them very well? Should a prospective author even worry about that?
Of course a new author IS going to worry about that. Writers are woodland creatures who worry about every single thing they can think of and when that isn't enough, they look for newly discovered things to worry about. Particularly attractive worry targets are things over which they have no control. This is one of those things.
There is no way to know when an agent has "too many" clients. 15 may be too many for some. 105 may be just right for another. And 105 one year might be 75 the following year. Client lists ebb and flow like every other living thing. I've been as high as 44 and as low as 0 (although that was the year
I decided to come over to the Dark Side, not at any point during my career....so far anyway.)
The only thing you can measure is how your agent works with you. Is she prompt on replies? Does she get work turned around quickly, or at least on a timeline or schedule? Can you talk to her about these things?
I will tell you that I'm so behind on email and reading right now I'd probably fail this test if asked to take it. It's going to get better soon, but like all living things, my inbox and To Do list waxes and wanes.
Worry only about things you can control. Assess a prospective agent's behaviour, and talk to her existing clients. Evaluate based on information received, not worries churned up to distract you from
the plot hole on page 300.
I signed with a wonderful agent and we're currently in the middle of the submission process (read: the manuscript is out with editors and we're in the excruciating waiting stage). Her plan was to send another round of pitches out in the next couple of weeks.
Then the bomb fell. Said wonderful agent just told me the agency is closing due to a retirement, and she had to make the difficult choice to leave agenting. I don't know the whole story, but it sounds to me like this was not an expected turn of events and that her decision is based more on personal circumstances than a desire to leave the business.
She will be letting many of her clients go, but wants to keep my project and continue to try to make the sale. If the project doesn't sell, severing ties will be simple and I'll go back to the query trenches. It's when I think of that hypothetical and much-dreamed of sale that I get all kinds of confused.
Is it foolish of me to let her sell this book when I already know she won't be around afterward? I'm green to the business side of publishing, but I would imagine an agent-author relationship doesn't end when a sale is made. She reassured me there would be a transition process and she would try to match me up with another agent, but would another agent really take me on immediately after someone else negotiated this first sale? They won't be the ones seeing the financial benefit, after all.
Maybe I'm over thinking this, but my career is only just beginning and I don't want to mess it up with an ignorant choice...
You're not over thinking this at all. You're asking exactly the right question and your Spidey sense is telling you Something Is Wrong.
Your agent should be thinking about what is best for you
right now. She should withdraw all submissions, and let you start fresh with a new agent. If you start fresh, your new agent earns the commission from the sale and handles the deal. If Old Agent sells the book, your new agent gets none of the revenue (ever) and most likely is stuck with all the work.
There's absolutely no reason for her to keep the book other than she loves it and wants to sell it. I'm sorry but that's NOT how a responsible agent makes choices. She is supposed to advising you on what's best for YOU, not what makes her happy.
In the best of all possible worlds, what makes her happy is also what's best for you, but this is not the best situation at all. This is an abrupt retirement that leaves you without an advocate. It's irresponsible and unethical. You may quote me in large red letters. You are NOT going to agree to that. And if you need a visual aid for that conversation here ya go:
Unless there's a death or illness or some other abrupt life event that precipitates a business closing, this is something that requires careful planning.
This is actually one of the questions you want to ask before you sign with an agent (blogged about here previously
) but it sounds like your agent was as surprised by this turn of events as you were.
Here's what to do:
1. You thank your agent for her work and offer sympathy for this turn of events that neither of you are happy about.
2. You ask for the submission list. And I mean names as well as publishers.
3. You ask her to withdraw the submission because the agency is closing.
4. You make sure she has. (I am assuming here that your agent is responsible and will do what she's supposed to)
5. You start querying. You mention your agent left mid-submission and you have editors who were considering the work.
6. You do not talk about this anywhere else ever again until you are happily published and it's one of your war stories.
You will survive this. It will make a good story.
Our first contest of 2015 was a barn-burner! 95 terrific entries! Here are the results.
Special recognition for outstanding achievement in names
Bishop Jack Daniels
Rashda Khan 10:17am
Brent Salish 10:17am
Special recognition for a great first line:
"Jonathan Bishop brought along a six-pack and a hammer to the end of the world."
"The fundraiser at the parsonage required black tie and deep pockets."
Special recognition for a great closing line:
"So long as wifey’s in the trunk and not in the ground, there’ll be no chilling,”"
Jay Stewart 9:23pm
Special recognition for a great phrase:
"another flailing nerd-brawl in the hotel lobby."
Terri Lynn Coop 2:22pm
The Kathy Bates in Misery (Except Nice! Really!) Award goes to:
El El Piper 2:23pm
Andrew Wells Douglass 5:23pm
Special recognition for the BEST prompt word adaptation (ever I think)
Here are the 9 finalists:
(1) JennyC 10:48am
On Bishop Street in London is a small park with a sandbox. I watched from a shelter of trees while my twin daughters built a sandcastle. Sarah and Sophia. Their blond hair blew in the gentle breeze. When Sarah looked up, her cornflower blue eyes mirrored my own.
Until two weeks ago, my former wife had kept their existence a secret. Her voice slurred, she’d left me a message, repenting.
Sarah laughed. My heart hammered against my ribs. Her new parents were both doctors with busy lives. One child would be enough.
I stepped out of the trees.
(2) Donnaeverhart.com 11:11am
I swung a hammer for a living. Probably drank too much Pabst. Oh, and played chess. That’s how I got the nickname. Bishop. You’re surprised? Hell, even the wife was impressed, at first.
Later, all I got was, “Loser this, loser that.”
I mean, it won’t like I married her for intellectual stimulation. As they say. Years of her bitching and come to find out? She’s got a secret bank account. Now, that shook me up. That, and the recording.
Repent? Shit. No offense, but I ain’t a believer.
So. This here drip starts, and I’ll just go to sleep?
(3) Jule M. Weathers 11:59am
Martha and Tilley sat in the church bingo hall perusing the latest issue of Duds for Studs.
Tilley stabbed a wrinkled finger at a model's jean-looking thong and tool belt. "Oh, yes. It's hammer time. I'm ordering this for Henry."
Martha instantly regretted imagining Henry in the thong. "I like the cowboy better."
The bishop's painting glowered, as if he could force them to repent from enjoying their lingerie catalog. Maryjane stuck her dried-apple face between them. "What kind of wife reads those, especially in a church?"
"The kind who isn't secretly fooling around with the mailman?" Tilley answered sweetly.
(4) Shaunna 12:42pm
Deacon Ellis was first to leave, though it was his wife in the coffin. As the other mourners followed, the caretaker fussed about the gravesite, adjusting the straps and lid latch, singing colorlessly, "If I had a hammer..."
The bishop, standing near, fingered the letter in his pocket. 'The TTX will make me look dead. I'll gladly live in secret if we are together.' One moment of weakness he would repent forever.
"Did you hear something?" the caretaker asked.
He shook his head, grabbed a fistful of dirt, and sprinkled it on the coffin.
"Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem."
(5) Chantal Nair 1:33pm
“Anything?” A tiny girl in the first pew leaned forward, eager for his answer. The bishop sighed. It was supposed to be a sermon, not a conversation.
“Did you say ‘a child can be anything’?”
If interrupting was a sin, she didn’t seem inclined to repent. He imagined this becoming a terrible new trend: children hammering him with strange questions during his sermons.
“If it’s the Lord’s will, you can be anything you want when you grow up: wife,nun, scientist. ANYTHING.”
The girl leaned further forward, as if to share a secret. “I am going to be a fish!”
(6) Unknown 3:15pm
He holds a tiny hammer above the serpent’s open mouth. “Do you know why we handle snakes in this church?”
I nod. “Mark 16: 17-18, S-sir. Our dominion over evil.”
The bishop smiles.
“People see the power of God, and repent.” He brings the hammer down with a surgeon’s precision, knocking out a fang. “Of course, this bit of ‘dominion’ is our little secret.”
He holds up the fang, a glint of venom slick on the tip. “But you know all about secrets. As does, apparently, my wife…”
I lunge for the door, but the venom has me in seconds.
(7) Matthew Wuertz 4:10pm
Alan toyed with the gun’s hammer, sliding his finger over it.
Then the passenger door opened, and a bulky man sat down while the car groaned underneath. “Don’t,” the man said.
Alan looked around the empty parking garage. “Look, pal, you better get out.”
“Your life is too valuable.”
“You’ve got no idea what I’ve been through.”
“Actually, I do. It’s no secret – not to someone like me.”
“What are you, like a bishop or something, coming to preach repentance?”
The man smiled. “I’m just a servant.”
“What brought you here?”
“Your wife’s prayers, Alan.”
Alan set down the gun.
(8) Carolynnwith2Ns 7:02pm
“Grandma, any regrets?”
“Only one to repent for.”
We stood before the small headstone of Baby Bishop, her first child, born and died same day.
She handed me a new hammer.
“Use the claw end to dig away the dirt at the back of the stone.”
Carved in the granite under the dirt line, “Mercy Killing”.
“She wasn’t right, she was suffering. Now it’s our secret.”
How could such a good wife and mother kill her baby?
At Grandma’s grave, after everyone left, I buried the bloody hammer behind her headstone.
I had carved “Mercy killing”, in the handle.
(9) Steve Forti 10:15pm
“Ugh! Bishopric, diocese – same thing. Why must you always correct me? It’s literally driving me crazy!”
“You mean fig---“
“Seriously? You’re such a grammar nazi.”
“Unrepentant. It’s not my mouth secreting fallacies.”
She glared. All the fish in the sea, and had to partner with this flippin’ alewife. “I hope you get eaten by a shark. One of those ugly malletheads.”
A shadow cawed, and a beak snatched Harry from the water. She chuckled.
“Well that took a tern
for the better.”
And fading into the distance, she could just make out, “You mean a hammerbok…”You'll all be glad to know that I read these final entries about a dozen times, and each time decided on a new winner. This was a VERY tough decision...but then, when is it not? (I can only think of two or three contests when the winner was instantly obvioius)
This week's contest winner is
JennyC if you'll email me with your mailing address, I'll send you a copy of The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison. If by some stroke of genius you already have a copy, let me know and I'll find another prize to send.
Congratulations to all the finalists and thanks to everyone who entered. I hope you had as much fun writing as I did reading your entries.
On Monday's blog post I made mention of the 38 queriers waiting forme to read their fulls. That garnered quite a round of sympathy from the comments column.
Sadly, those people are going to wait a while longer because there isn't a lot of reading time on the date book this month. January is busy!
Mostly we're getting ready to move next door. None of our contact info will change which makes this the easiest move I've ever had even before it starts. Painting commenced on Friday, and proceeded on Saturday, and continues today. I love the smell of primer in the morning!
These pictures got posted on my Facebook page first
. You do know about my Facebook page, right?
On Tuesday when we talked about things getting too twisted
, it was interesting to see this is not a fixed point on the Ewww barometer. What's "too much" can vary both with the reader and the writer. I often struggle with the idea of violence as entertainment, particularly on days like Wednesday when the violence is all too real.
On Wednesday I ranted about people not using the guidelines to write their queries
. I'm absolutely convinced after 18 months of Chum Bucket that the people who don't follow the directions when they query haven't even read them, or maybe not even looked for them. The people who ARE paying attention are almost universally giving me what I need to evaluate their queries. I guess the question now becomes, how do you get people to read the directions first?
Thursday was just filled with sorrow as the news from Paris became bleaker and bleaker. The question that keeps coming back to me is the moment on the street when the attackers forced someone to open the door. Masked men with automatic weapons….would you open the door? I have no idea if I would. I can't imagine being that scared.
And all through the week, the work continued. I always laugh when people say things like "you read queries all day" or "must be nice to be able to read all day." Here's the partial list of things I did this week, things that are the core business of an agent, and the things no one ever really talks about:
1. Auditing royalty statements. Did the correct rate get charged on ebooks? Did the reserve for returns held back on the last statement get accounted for on this statement.
2. Making sure royalty statements are sent. Some smaller publishers get behind like everyone else. My job is to make sure they don't forget entirely.
3. Hatching plans for a non-fiction proposal.
4. Helping a client build a blog
5. Calling editors who've changed jobs recently to catch up on what's on their wish list at the new place.
6. Discussing flap copy with editors and clients.
7. Soliciting blurbs for upcoming books
8. Negotiating contracts
There are some really terrific questions coming up on the blog next week and a couple that really got me jumping up and down.
See you Monday for contest results!
I read The Bishop's Wife
over the break and loved it. I think it's a sterling example of how close observation of a community can be fodder for a tense, well-plotted crime novel. You don't need shadowy billionaires, vast conspiracies, or blonde bombshell nuclear physicists when you've got husbands, wives, community standards and intense feelings.
Of course, this calls for a contest given no one writes scarier short form pieces than the murderous bunch who read this blog (and how I love you for that!)
The usual rules apply:
1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.
2. Use these words in the story:
3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. Example:
wife/midwife is ok but not bishop/bible-shopping
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)
Prize is a copy of The Bishop's Wife!
Contest opens: Saturday 1/10/15 at 10am
Contest closes: Sunday 1/11/15 at 10am
All times are Eastern Shark Time.
If you have trouble with time zones here's a link to help you
Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
12 people were gunned down in Paris yesterday for what they wrote, or helped publish. In other words, one of us.
In 2005, Elizabeth Kostova had success with her vampire novel, The Historian, a book in which the past/backstory was in set in italics. How often do literary agents see manuscripts so formatted, and do you get any gut feelings, presentiments, or intuitions when you do?
Often enough, and it makes me nuts.The book you read with the italics was published. It was NOT the manuscript form. The industry standard for manuscripts is TNR or Courier 12pt. No italics. No using different fonts for inner thoughts, IM texts, or notes passed under the table.If you need to set off chunks of the manuscript as backstory you mark it with a date that clearly distinguishes it from the present day narrative. Example: 1942Felix Buttonweazer's teddy bear had seen better days. Italic is suitable ONLY for small bits of texts: inner thoughts, IM texts or notes passed under the table.And don't underline in place of italics. The ONLY exception to this is if you are sending a manuscript to a place that has different, specific guidelines. You will be able to identify those places because they will have something called Submission Guideline and it will say "send all manuscripts in Comic San Serif" and you will do that.
How do you get over the fear of having someone else read your work? To me it feels like being stripped naked in a room full of supermodels**. I'm probably not the best resource for this but fortunately, the readers of this blog are writers in your shoes. They'll have some good answers, probably better than mine.But I'll take a whack: You get over it by doing it. Practice, in other words. Start where the stakes are lowest. Send your query to one of the many places online you can get feedback. Absolute Write is the one I know about. There are many many others I'm sure. Don't get mad. Don't quit. Just take the advice that seems useful, implement it, and try again.And remember that one of the Rules for Writers is to Be Brave Readers? Your ideas and input needed here. **supermodels look better with their clothes ON, just remember that too.
I hope everyone had a very happy new year!
It was a pretty quiet week here at the blog.
The blog post that garnered the most comments (generally how I measure interest) was this on fonts for backstory.
I thought Colin Smith's comment synthesized what I was trying to say a lot better than I did:
If I understand you correctly, you're saying that the manuscript FONT needs to be in either TNR or Courier New throughout. The font STYLE can be italicized for brief sections (e.g., a few lines of inner dialog, notes passed under the table, IM texts, etc.). But italics should not be used for extended chunks of text (e.g., back story). For those portions the writer should use a date or a section break rather than have paragraphs of italics.
As a general observation, it seems to me a bit reckless to take one's manuscript formatting tips from published novels. That's like trying to make an egg look like a chicken.
For some reason "sentient penises" were a continuing element in the comments. I'm not sure how this happened ...and I'm not sure I really want to ask. Tawna Fenske novels are about as racy as I want to get!
There was a great deal of good information on how to get over the fear of having your work
read by other people, as I predicted all of it from the comments on the post!
The comments on the week's earlier posts demonstrate we're all getting to know each other's pets. (one very hilarious benefit of posting cat/dog pictures here.)
This week I also managed to get a nice break between Christmas and New Year. Took a total shark dive on to the couch and read my face off!
For those of you interested in what I read when I'm not reading requested fulls, or client revisions, I keep a list at Library Thing (I prefer LT to GoodReads.)
This week's highlights:The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison.
I heard about this when Mette's editor Juliet Grames posted the NYT review on Facebook. I instantly ordered it, got it on Friday, and read it that day.
I was NOT disappointed. Expect to be hearing me talk about this more in the coming weeks. Neverhome by Laird Hunt.
This was a book buzz panel choice at BEA last year. I meant to read it right after BEA but got sidetracked. (The story of my reading life!) I picked it up because I was intrigued by the idea of women going to battle back in the Civil War days. It's a haunting, lyrical novel. The writing is exquisite. I think I've got a new reading rule after picking this up: the shorter the novel, the slower you need to read. My eye is geared toward "page turning commercial fiction" and I really had to remind myself to slow down and savor this.Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd.
I've had this kicking around for awhile but re-started and finished this week. I loved it. And the author is now going to be doing the James Bond books, so I may start reading those again. I'm sort of a purist on Bond. The Fleming novels were great, but I never really took a shine to the ones written by other people. I'm willing to give this guy a try though.
Show Me the Murder by Carolyn Mulford
. I heard this author on a panel at ThrillerFest and she was terrific so I bought the book. It's been here waiting for me to have some free reading time for a while. I really enjoyed how the author uses dialogue here to convey the sense of place and character. I hate the cover of the book a lot and for about 150 pages I was sneering at whoever designed it because there was NO DOG in the book...and yet there's a dog on the cover. (Clearly just to boost sales I thought meanly) Of course the dog shows up right after page 150 and I had to take back all my churlish thoughts.
This book isn't going to get anywhere near the attention it deserves so if you're looking for something good to read this is one I'd say to get.
We're back to work on Monday! I'm very much looking forward to it since I have a couple really terrific projects to talk to editors about, and my treasured minion returns from vacation (I HOPE!)
I'm new to writing and, like most newbies I'm sure, am blindly feeling my way around the entire process. I was even naive enough to believe that writing the story would be the difficult part, when in fact that was the easiest part of all! As I began my story I realized that it could not be told in one book, therefore there are two books. Having something to work on while you query that first book is better than waiting to finish both books to start querying. Querying can take a while, what with those vast stretches of silence we seem so fond of inflicting on y'all. (38 people are suffering this at my hand as we speak.)Whether to mention this is part of a two-book series depends on a lot of things. Can Book One stand alone? Does it wind up ALL the plot points or do some of the plot points remain unresolved so as to appear in Book Two? You don't want to convey the idea this is a standalone and make an agent think you don't know how to actually finish a book when s/he reads Book One and the fate of the Buttonweazer Clan is still unresolved on page The End.You can do this by saying "I envision this as the start of a two-book series. I am finishing up the second book now."
The first book is complete--edited and polished to the best of my ability and I'm ready to query. The second and final book is written, however, I still have about another 50 rewrites, some editing, and likely lots of polishing left on that one.
My question is this: should I wait and query the first book when the second one is ready? I read your blog as well as your QueryShark blog and know that you advise to query one manuscript at a time. If that is the case, should I at least mention the fact that there is a second book in my query for the first one?
Have you ever read a manuscript that was too "twisted"?No. I reject those at the query stage. I'm not the right agent for graphic violence or sadistic cruelty. I've received queries that I've literally stopped reading after one sentence to send a very quick, very terse "not for me" reply. If your book has elements that are disturbing, you'll do well to soft pedal them in the query. The query is too short to lead a reader into anything brutal. It's like being doused with a bucket of ice water and we've all see what that's like
You can lead a reader into things that are pretty graphic if you've got time and page count on your side. I've ended up reading books that were definitely more "twisted" than I'd have said I was ok with but by the time I got to those scenes, they were part of a plot that made sense.
The most recent example I can think of is in I AM PILGRIM by Terry Hayes. He's got a scene in that book that was absolutely essential to the plot but ohmygodiva...ICK.
This is another example of why it's important to query widely and not set your heart on some "dream agent." You have no way to know what is "too" anything for any agent.
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Last week I was alone in the office, catching up on all the tasks that had lingered in to the new year. Vacations are great (and man oh man, I needed that one) but coming back to work is always daunting. I had almost 300 emails waiting for me. NONE of them are emails I can just discard without reading (I'd cleaned those out the day before.)
I have 30+ full manuscripts waiting to be read.
And yes, I have more than a few projects that will be going out on submission this first week we're back at work full time.
In other words, this is not the time to be sloppy when you query.
Here's the example from the day I was in the office: A writer with several published books and a goodly number of articles is looking for an agent. He's querying me. That's great. I'm delighted to get those kinds of queries.
Unfortunately, the query had no information about the new project. None. Not category, not word count, not plot, let alone anything else.
Most days I'd probably have read a couple pages that were included with the query. I'm always on the look out for good stuff.
Most of the time this guy would have been ok.
Not this week. Form rejection.
I just wasn't in the mood to take the extra time. Might I lose out on something? Maybe. At that point I didn't much care, I just wanted to get my inbox under 300.
And here's your take away on this: you don't know when those busy times hit an agent. It could be now like it is for me; it could be next month, it could be after summer break.
You follow the guidelines so no matter when an agent reads your query s/he has the material she needs to decide about moving ahead with your project.
A savvy querier understands there are ALWAYS more good projects than there are slots on agents' list to take them on.
A savvy querier understands the guidelines are there to help her, not trip her up.
A savvy querier understands that following the guidelines especially when s/he thinks s/he doesn't have to/shouldn't need to is really really smart.