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<<November 2014>>
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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: revising after rejections and how long to wait

You've suggested revising submission material after receiving either no response or rejections from agents and I'm good with that. 
However, as so many agents invite queries with pages/chapters in the submission, I'm unsure which to revise when that time comes. How to know where the "no" happened?
As for no response, if an agent is reading the query and pages/chapters, but doesn't offer a response window in the submission guidelines, is it reasonable to wait longer before closing it out? 

I'm not sure when I advised revising during the query process, but I'd like to see the source, since I think this might be out of context.

I think it's out of context for just the reason you mention in paragraph two. You don't know why/when/where there's a problem. Absent concrete suggestions for revisions, you run the very real risk of revising BADLY.

By badly I mean you don't know if an agent rejected your work (or failed to respond, nowadays the more likely situation -grrrrrrrrr) for something that had nothing to do with the quality or caliber of your work.

Take a look at the Chum Bucket post from last week. Fully EIGHT of the queries were for good books but just not books right for me. 

Look at the Chum Bucket results before that:  it's 14 good projects.

That's a substantial portion of the queries I get, and normally those receive ONLY a form reply.

If you're not getting the results you're looking for in the query process, that's when you invest some of your hard-earned dough in an editor, or a conference.  Get your pages in front of brutal, critical eyeballs.

Don't assume something is wrong with you if you're not hearing back; find out first.

As for timing, here's the definitive time table on dealing with scallywag agents who fail to reply to queries:

1. Send query.

2 A: IF agent auto-responds that query is received, wait prescribed amount of time plus 50% of prescribed time. Thus if they say they respond in 30 days, you give them 45. If they say six weeks, you give them nine.

2 B: IF agent does NOT have auto-responder, wait prescribed amount of time, then RE-SEND if no reply.

3. IF you are querying me, and you do not hear back follow 2B.

4. IF you are querying me, and you do not hear back after #3, email me or tweet to me. I respond to ALL queries that follow the general guidelines (Query Letter Diagnostics can help with that)

If you've tried twice, and not heard back, time to move on.

I find that incredibly rude and condescending in most instances, but so far I have yet to change the adoption of this course of action by many otherwise quite nice and polite agents whom I call my friends.


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2. Query Question: Novel two with memorable elements from novel one

I’m preparing to query my second novel, a mystery, which features the same main character as my first novel. I made clear in the queries for the first novel that it had series potential, but both novels stand alone. I sent out about 40 queries for the first novel, with 5 requests for fulls and 3 for partials.

I plan to query four of the agents who read the full and gave me some useful feedback. I know they will remember the first novel and I feel I have enough of a relationship with them to let them know the situation. What I’m not sure about is how to approach agents who rejected the first novel at the query stage, some of whom I would like to query again.

The main character has a distinctive name and a memorable background, and I want to make clear that this is neither a revision nor a sequel. If I ignore the first query, I’m afraid they will think they’ve already seen (and rejected) it. But if I explain that this is a different, better novel, they might think it’s stupid to expect them to be interested in a concept they already rejected. Do you have suggestions as to how I can address this?

And yeah, I know I should have written something completely unrelated, but this wouldn’t go away, and I just decided to write what I wanted to write. I’m glad I did.

You're operating under the assumption that agents who rejected that first novel at the query stage will remember it, and that's probably not accurate.

When I receive a query that seems familiar, I look up the author's previous emails to me. (Yes, I keep ALL the queries and replies)

I look at the TITLE first.  If it's a different title from a writer,  I assume I have not seen the book, and read the query.  If it's the same title, I look at both queries to see if it's the same book. If it is, I mention that I've already responded to this project on such and such a date.  If it's NOT the same book (ie the query is substantially different) I read the query.

Here's what you need to remember first and foremost: we're all looking for work we can sell.  If the book sounds interesting NOW I don't care if you queried me 500 times before for the same title that DIDN'T.

So, the answer to your question is make sure the title is different, and write the query so it is clear this is a new project.

0 Comments on Query Question: Novel two with memorable elements from novel one as of 11/24/2014 8:14:00 AM
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3. Have a lovely day filled with good surprises!

Toronto Maple Leaf fans (that's Toronto Canadia, our non-US neighbors to the north) finish singing the AMERICAN national anthem when the mic kicks out. So, how many of us could even START the Canadian national anthem? (Let alone finish, on time, and largely on key?) Way to go Leafs fans!

0 Comments on Have a lovely day filled with good surprises! as of 11/23/2014 5:00:00 AM
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4. Query Question: social media is not fungible

 I really despise facebook and twitter.  It's a personality thing I am sure.  I find it also addictive and confusing.  It feels like many of the agents and other writers and youtubers etc, they just are sort of using each other for numbers or something. Does that really work? Do numbers of followers equate to sales really? Many of the writers I followed seemed more like tweeters than real writers. I want to be joyful about my career path and it feels like facebook and twitter suck that away and un-motivate me. Could I just have my platform efforts be selective as I go along, just youtube and a blog?  Vlogging is a lot of fun.  I could do it regularly and improve at it.  Is it necessary I try to gather numbers of followers and friends?  I know you have said it doesn't matter in some ways, but I also think it seems to. There is so much referring to twitter and facebook.

It's ok to despise Facebook and Twitter. It's NOT ok to ignore them as useful tools. When  your book
is published, you'll want to be skilled in a variety of social media platforms because you want to be able to reach your readers where THEY are, not where  you are.

That said, it's totally ok to prefer one platform to another as you start out. Get good on one, learn another. If you're good at vlogging, and youtubing, build your audience there. Then learn how to promote your vlogging and youtbuing on Facebook and Twitter. You don't have to like it to utilize it.

As to whether it sells books: like all publicity methods there is no way to quantify results. I know that drives many people nuts. (Some of those people are my clients in fact.)  My philosphy as a publicist (back in the day) was "do everything you can to promote your book, and then one more thing." Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I do know for an ironclad fact that people don't buy books they've never heard of.

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5. Query question: can you have Stockholm Syndrome without Sweden?

I wrote a scene in my fantasy WIP where a character was beginning to agree with the antagonist. Later on in the work, a supporting character asked him if the MC had Stockholm Syndrome. Then my brain, with a very good catch, thought of something really interesting that made me stop in my tracks.

In a fictional work, specifically works that do not take place in the world as we know it, is it even possible to use a phrase like "Stockholm Syndrome" when Stockholm never existed and the Norrmalmstorg robbery never happened? I tried thinking of other words or phrases to describe this syndrome, but none of them are as concise. I'm stuck on this one, and my research has proved unfruitful. What's your take? Yay or nay?

VERY interesting question.

If we take the lead from historicals, then the answer is no. The always Fabulous Gary Corby's great crime novels set in ancient Athens can't refer to things that the ancient Athenians didn't know or have.  Let me tell you, that's a really interesting list. You can be if we miss something, his discerning readers let us know pronto.

However, if the world is fictional, who's to know what happened or when?  I think Stockholm Syndrome which is so closely identified with a modern event, and entered the lexicon relatively recently is more problematic than say January, which indicates have a concept of linear time and cyclical seasons.

Not being able to use Stockholm Syndrome, or 23Skidoo, or QueryShark, or selfie, is a high price to pay for writing fantasy.  On the other hand...dragons!

I don't think there's a right or wrong answer here, but if you use it, you'll hear from readers who do have strong opinions one way or the other.

0 Comments on Query question: can you have Stockholm Syndrome without Sweden? as of 11/21/2014 7:14:00 AM
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6. Chum Bucket tonight

Chum Bucket tonight.

Remember: do not link to this post from elsewhere (your blog or Facebook page), or post/tweet about it.

Chum Bucket works because everyone who participates has invested some time in learning how it works.  I LOVE doing Chum Bucket so I really want to keep it to those people who buy in to the premise.

The premise is that if you query me between 7pm and 8pm tonight, I will reply to you personally, not with a form letter.

The response can range from "this isn't for me" to "send full" but you'll know I'm sitting there typing it out when I get your query.

Of course, I often do reply with more than "not for me" because I think it's helpful to say why it's not for me. Sometimes it's because I'm not much on eyeball removal (eww!) and sometimes it's cause you
think a 240,000 memoir is publishable.

If I think I can help you, I'll try to do so.

Chum Bucket is NOT a critique.

And your part of the bargain is you will not email me back telling me I'm a cretin of the first order for failing to appreciate your masterpiece.  (While that may be true, we will observe the social niceties of not stating the obvious.)

The reason I ask you to NOT tweet or link is that people who aren't regular blog readers, or twitter followers, who only see the announcement, may not know about the social contract not to reply with venom.  I really want to keep doing Chum Bucket so the longer we can keep it to invested readers, the more likely it is to continue.

The comment column awaits.

And in case you're interested, here's the run down from last week's Chum Bucket:

Total queries: 19

1. Not for me/some comments on why: 5
2. Suggestions to improve red hot mess queries: 5
3. Request full: 3
4. Not for me/suggest other agents: 2
5. Misc. 2
6. Not for me/some comments on correct category: 1
7. Writing needs a lot of work 1

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7. Writing about writing

Your opinion--should writers blog about writing, or about the other things they do? I've read different opinions, and I'd be interested in yours. :) 

Well, who do you want to read your blog? Me? Better not write about writing then, cause frankly, I'm not interested in how many pages you finished today, or your difficulties figuring out how to get that 15th point of view in your 49k manuscript.

I think writing about writing is best done in small doses and infrequently. 

If you're writing to build a readership, no one is interested in your process except other writers.  You want to reach beyond that group.  You want to reach READERS.

Thus, writing about BOOKS is better suited to building a readership.

Of course, Chuck Wendig's blog is an absolute exception to this, but he writes so fiercely that really, I'd probably read anything he wrote including  "17 Uses for Kale"

Writing short form blog posts is a really good way to practice writing. I encourage you to do so, but it's all pointless without readers.  Plus, it's a whole lot less fun.  The readers of this blog crack me up , and I look forward to reading the comments column every day.

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8. Query Question: Now that I have an agent, what mistakes can I avoid?

What the most common mistake debut authors make when they sign with an agent? (Yes, I'm asking for myself *throws confetti*) I've read every QueryShark blog post on catching the eye of an agent, but now that I'm signed, I couldn't find much info (other than not being rude to support staff) on How Not To Screw It Up. 

 Yay for you *plucks confetti from gills*!  Congrats and huzzahs.  There's not just one thing to remember there are nine:

1. Surrender the idea that things get done on a schedule or to deadline. I think this is the number one thing that bugs my clients. It bugs me too, but it's just a fact of life.  If I tell a client I plan to read a manuscript over the weekend, I do plan to do it. Many times, I don't get it done. One thing or another happens to keep me from it.  Sometimes it's just I'm really tired and cranky and that's NOT when you want to be reading your stuff. (Trust me on this.)

A lot of times manuscript reading is delayed for weeks. Sometimes longer. That's no one's preference but the world operating system does not run on Janet Reid Preferences. Would that it did.


2. Do Not Assume/Fear casual comments made on Twitter or Facebook about the job are about you. They never are. Never. They're always about That Other Client.

3. Support the other clients.  Retweet their book news, good reviews, awards and accolades.  Follow them on Twitter; like them on Facebook.  Several of my clients have build lasting friendships after meeting across my bar.  Of course, you don't have to be a slave about this. Follow your gut on this. Not all my clients appeal to each other.  Some agents have lists where not all clients appeal to each other.

4. Don't be afraid to ask for what you need.  If I can do it, I will. If I can't, at least I'll know and we'll avoid misunderstandings.

5. Don't suffer in silence. If somethings wrong, tell me. I am a mind reader but only if you're within a certain number of feet of my desk.

6. Ask when you don't understand something. You're not stupid. Royalty statements and contracts aren't pleasure reading, and my job is to make sure you understand them.

7. Never, ever, ever be dismissive of the support staff.  I've fired clients for that. I have no trouble doing it again if the need arises.  Support staff here are called godsends and there's a reason for that.   IF you have a problem with the people who work for or with me, you will tell ME. 

8. Don't worry about calling or emailing me.  I'd rather hear from you than not if you've got something on your mind.  

9. Never EVER send an email to your editor, or anyone at your publisher that is less than polite. EVER. My job is to run interference for you.  If you've got a problem with your editor or publisher, we'll figure out how to deal with it together.  Or I'll tell you you're all wet. Or you'll fire me.  

Most of this is second nature to the civilized among us. If you're thinking about this, you're going to be ok. It's the people who make assumptions that will go astray.


0 Comments on Query Question: Now that I have an agent, what mistakes can I avoid? as of 11/18/2014 7:27:00 AM
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9. Query Question: more on who to feature in the query

Dear Sharkly One:

I have a quick follow-up question to your most excellent post of 30 October, about starting a book with the MC or not. I'm wondering - does your stand on this change, when the book is a mystery? It seems fairly common for mysteries, thrillers, and other books of that ilk to begin with the crime, not necessarily the main character and his/her problem(s).

So if I query you about Miss Detective and her New Cozy Quilt-'n'-Criminology Shop, which the local Knitting Society is trying to shut down, and my sample pages open with Chris Corpse, and how he came to be lying in a forest covered in shark bites, would you stop reading? Or would you keep going, assuming that Miss Detective will show up shortly to begin unraveling the mystery?

(Of course, my query would be about Miss D and her problems - quilting, sleuthing, or otherwise. I'm just wondering about your comment on opening the book with what appears to be a secondary - or even tertiary - character rather than the main protagonist.)

Thank you for your most excellent insight. I await your response with shark-baited* breath!

* Yes, I know it's supposed to be "bated," not "baited," lest I offend your grammatical sensibilities. But I couldn't resist the pun!

Why would you tell me how Chris Corpse came to be in the copse when Miss Detective will be trying to figure that out in the book?  In other words, don't tell me more than your main character knows UNLESS that's what you're also doing in the book.  

In the soon to be published DEATH AND THE RED-HEADED WOMAN, Fabulous Loretta Ross told me about Wren Morgan finding a dead body in the house she's preparing for an upcoming auction.  She did NOT tell me how Mr. Corpse came to be there because that's one of the things Wren needs to solve very early in the book.


There is one rule, and one rule ONLY for effective queries: entice me to read on. Generally I try to give you advice that will steer you in that direction.  Things like avoiding rhetorical questions, or don't give away all the plot points, or don't start with weather, driving or waking up.  Those generalizations apply to 98% of all queries.  If you're the 2% it doesn't apply to, well have at it.

The problem is, it's hard to know if you're in the 2% catetogory, and you're the worst judge of it.  That's why you don't query everyone in the known universe on round one. Leave some wiggle room to change up your query if you're not getting the response you hoped for.

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10. uh oh, Mom's ROFL again

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11. Dispatches from the query queue

Don't joke around at the start of your query

By this I mean don't start with something that is "obviously" funny or not to be taken seriously, then say "oops, let's try again" and start over.

Here's why: I never assume you're joking. When you start out with "my memoir as Felix Buttonweezer's gun moll is 300,000 words in the second person" my first thought is NOT "oh this is clearly a joke."

I stop reading and send the "not for me" form rejection.

The only reason I noticed what might be a joke in the query that prompted this post was I paused before replying to swill some shark brew and got to the "oh I'm kidding" part of the morning's entertainment.

What's obviously outlandish to you is stuff I've seen in my queries for real.
You simply can NOT make up something that is "worse" than what I've already seen. And please, do not take that as a challenge. 

Leave your hilarity to the comments column of the blog and the flash fiction writing contests.

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12. Query Question: incorporating parts of the novel in the query

I've just started the query process (only seven sent so far), and of the two query letters I've composed, one incorporates dialogue from the novel to highlight plot point's. Is this okay to do, or frowned upon?

It's not so much whether it's ok or frowned upon, as whether it's effective.

And generally it's not.

Your query should focus on the precipitating incident of the plot: what changes for the main character? What's at stake with that change?

Lines of dialogue that are explanation of plot points sounds like bad dialogue.  There's a now classic blog post on Turkey City Lexicon that names this kind of dialogue "As you know Bob."  It's bad in a book, it's death in a query.

For help on figuring out how to get plot on the page, consult the QueryShark blog.

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13. Query Question: Enthusiastic Silence

Is it wrong to expect an answer back from an agent who requests a full manuscript?

An agent enthusiastically requested my full almost eight months ago and emailed me when she received it, saying "I'm reviewing it now and will get back to you soon."

Twelve weeks later, after no word back, I sent a polite nudge. She immediately responded, apologizing for the delay and telling me she planned to get back to me "in the next couple of weeks."

I did not hear back. After another twelve weeks, I sent a short, polite nudge. This time she did not reply at all.

In the meantime, we tweeted back and forth twice about general topics (not my ms!). She's always been friendly.

In a last-ditch (probably ill-advised?) effort a month later, I sent one last nudge. I apologized if somehow my email had been lost in cyberspace, mentioned my new WIP and that I was excited to hear the head of her agency speak at an upcoming conference, and asked where my MS stood. This was 28 weeks after sending my full.

No response. I have to admit I'm embarrassed, mystified, angry, and disappointed at the same time. I would prefer a short "I'm no longer interested" over this complete radio silence. I'm starting to doubt myself, wondering if my three short, well-spaced (I thought) nudges over eight months have offended her in some way.

I know agents are swamped. But am I wrong to think it would be common courtesy to let me know where I stand? Or is "no response a no" when it comes to full manuscripts?

Note: I haven't stopped everything to wait for this agent. I've continued querying, have had a couple other requests (one still out) and am working on another novel in the meantime.

I read through your blog and didn't see anything addressing how long a writer should hold out hope in a situation like this. I apologize if I missed an entry that would help me!

My first thought on getting questions like this is to wonder if they're about me.  I have manuscripts in my requested full queue that have been there for quite some time. 


One thing I've learned from doing this blog and from listening to writers at conferences is that agent's silence makes writers crazy.  It took me a while to realize that responding to nudges even with the very lame "sorry, I just haven't read it yet" is mortifying but better than silence.

Now when I request a full I specifically say it's ok to check in as needed, and it's ok to do so on the WRITER'S schedule. For anxiety prone folks that's once a month. For the calmer ones, it's less often.

And surprisingly, for MANY of the writers in my queue it's not at all. With permission to check in, they don't feel the need to.  Interesting isn't it?

And agents know this pain first hand. There are editors who don't reply. Don't reply to pitches, don't reply to submissions. We talk about those editors All The Time amongst ourselves. And share names.  And often, remove them from lists of editors we submit to.

So, yes, you deserve a reply.
Yes, it's rude of this agent to not reply.

But, what to do? Exactly what you have been: keep querying. Nudge every 90 days.  I've signed and sold manuscripts that languished for a year. (But the author did hear from me in that time, I must say.)

You might check in on AbsoluteWrite to see if other authors are experiencing this delay with this agent.

And bottom line: you know something now about how this agent conducts business.  How you treat the people you don't "have to" be polite to says a lot about character.

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14. Query Question: previous agent shopped earlier version of my novel

When I query an agent regarding my novel, am I obligated to disclose that my then-agent pitched it to a number of publishers unsuccessfully ten years ago, even though it has been substantially rewritten since then?

If a manuscript has been previously shopped, it may affect whether the agent wants to read it. I've taken on previously shopped manuscripts, so it's not an instant deal breaker, but if I were to find out AFTER I'd read something that it was a revise/resubmit, I'd be more than a little unhappy.

And this is not something you want to finesse either. Many of the editors I work with regularly have been at their current job for ten+ years, and they remember stuff like you would not believe.

My next question is why aren't you working on something else?  It's MUCH better to query new work, and have your R&R novel as back up for the second book of a two book deal.

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15. Query Question: offer of rep from an agent I'm not sure of

I've been querying my novel for a year. Several agents loved the concept of my novel, but ultimately came back not loving the book enough to rep.

Unfortunately, the one who has offered is not my first choice. She showed strong interest in the MS and then left me hanging. My email nudges went unanswered and finally she said they were in her spam box, also stating she had a huge list to consider and she would let me know. I kind of  forgot about her and forged on.  After another two months, she contacted me to say that she was still interested  and she would like to make the call to discuss representation.

I queried the owner of the relatively large and successful agency (Agent A) and (Agent B) is the person who initially asked for a partial. She was an intern two years ago and I can't seem to find who she represents, or anything she has sold since signing on as an agent. She's not very active on Twitter nor does she have a blog; two things I like and want in an agent.

My question is this: do I sign with an agent that I'm not thrilled with just to have an agent? I'm at the point where I am about to shelve my novel. I don't want to lose the opportunity to have this thing out there because I worked my ass off on it.

And I love it and self pub is not an option for me. At the same time, am I wasting my time with an agent who is flaky? Is a flaky agent better than no agent?? Should I just take what I can get??

No, you don't just take what you can get.
No, a flaky agent is not better than no agent.
and No, you aren't wasting your time, because you've learned something.

But, just because an agent isn't on twitter and doesn't have a blog and takes a long time on queries does NOT mean she is flaky.

The best way to find out who she represents and what she's sold is to ASK.  If she's offered you a place on her roster, you should be asking those questions, and she should be answering. It's entirely appropriate for her to share the information with you.  If she hasn't sold anything and doesn't represent anyone, well, you get to be first.  Five lucky writers were my first five clients, long before
I'd sold much of anything or had anything but enthusiasm to offer them.

That said, do NOT sign with someone you don't have confidence in. Don't sign with someone you don't trust to conduct your business well.  The last thing you want is to be second guessing your agent. And trust me, she doesn't want it either.

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16. Flash fiction contest results!

Honestly you guys are writing some stuff that really scares the bejeebers outta me! I'm may have to ask Laird Barron to start judging these since he's the horror expert.

Without further ado, the contest results for this week's flash fiction.


Special recognition for entries that had a nice little twist at the end
Ashes 10:12am

french sojourn 10:23am

Special recognition for a line that just cracked me up
Rocco and I were tied to chairs, as usual.
Andrew Lipkin 10:17am

"I think, therefore I am. But let's not put Descartes before the horse."
Lenny Liang 9:24pm

Always glad to see a shout out to Rosanne Cash (and if you haven't bought The River and The Thread, get on it NOW)
Sisi 10:27am

Special recognition for extraordinary form
Ashland 10:57am

Not quite a story, but oh I loved this
kregger 10:45am

Not quite a story but awesome
JennyC 11:33am

Taramoc  11:45am

Not quite a story, but brilliant, totally brilliant
Brig 8:34pm

Not quite a story, but certainly the stuff of nightmares for a good long time
catjenkins.com 12:17am

And speaking of horrible nightmares, thanks
Angie Brooksy-Arcangioli  12:22pm

I may never go to the beach again, EVER, thanks to
MeganV 5:04pm

Homage to the Never Ending Paint Saga!
Loulymar 7:15pm

Who told you about my evil plan for world domination?
CED 8:29am

And this week, the largest number of finalists I can remember in a good long while:

(1) Carolynnwith2Ns 10:43am
It was written in the sand, “Will you marry me, love Bill.” I looked up and down the long expanse of beach, it was empty and the tide was coming in. A little further on, “I love you to the max but I must say no.”

I wondered who they were and was he heartbroken. If she loved him so much why did she say no?
A set of small footprints lead away from the “no”, another set, those of a man, disappeared into the water. As the tide washed away the writing, I walked back to my car.

(2) Debbiedorris 11:02am
Jared hid his face from the blowing sand. The magical duck he rescued lay snug inside his jacket.

“What’s with this wind?” Jared asked Max. “We’re on a beach, not a desert.”

“Quack,” Max replied and poked his bill against Jared’s side.

“Really? You caused this? So, can ya gimme a golden egg?”

“Quack, quack.”

“I know you’re not a goose. Don’t get smart with me.”


“That’s it! Hey, duck eaters, over here!” Jared smiled. “Let’s see ya get outta this one.”

Max ruffled his long feathers. “Quaaack.”

The wind stopped.

*POOF* Jared became a duck.

*POOF* Max disappeared.

(3) Lobo 11:18am
The body lay face up, one hand clutched near his face like he was eating an invisible sandwich. Snowflakes melted on the bullet wound.

“Women’s footprints coming down the frozen beach. Nothing leaving. Perfect ground for a sniper.”

I nodded. “Guy was a sitting duck here. Strange though.”


“She’s never left prints before. Orwitnesses. Too smart.”

Max grinned. “Not as smart as us. Right, Lieutenant?”

The billowing fog shifted, unveiling a long stretch of tundra. In the distance was a dark object—one that seemed to resemble a prone female. And a rifle.

“I don’t know about that…”

(4) S.D. King 1:20pm
Scanning the crowded airport he spotted her: long sandy hair, squatting by her backpack, eyes closed, looking sick. He just needed fifty bills max for a cab to the beach and a cheap motel. Snatching the bag, the straps tangled round her feet, and she fell forward. Grabbing his ankles, she pulled him to the floor.
To reach her bag, she crawled atop him, and it almost looked like she might plant a kiss, but instead she vomited in his hair, and collapsed.
Still dripping in the cab he read her passport: Emergency Medical Personnel, World Health Organization, Sierra Leone.

(5) Steve Forti 2:18pm
“You ready?”


“Good, let’s go.” Chet donned his mask and charged the door like he was storming a French beach. I followed, gun drawn.

The beautiful
sandwich artist screamed, feebly waving an oblongwheat roll in defense. Chet leveled his weapon.

“All the
bills in the register. Now!”

Her pretty fingers fumbled to open the drawer. Empty, save a small velvet box. Her fear became confusion. And I went to one knee, removing my mask.

“I’d serve a
max sentence for this crime of loving you, Luanne.”

She still trembled. I smirked.

“And you said I couldn’t surprise you.”

(6) Amy Schaefer 4:13pm
The general squinted along the beach. “Biters?”

“Ready, sir,” hummed the sand-flies.


“Maximum strength,” quivered the jellyfish.


“Caw!” shouted a seagull, french-fry in its bill.

“We shall not fail or falter,” thundered the general, “we shall not weaken or tire—”

“Is he quoting Churchill?”


“We shall defend this beach to the last grain of sand!”

The soldiers cheered. The general smiled. They would crush the human menace.

“Mommy, look!”

An enormous pink hand plucked the general from his sandy bunker. The sand-flies began defensive manoeuvres.

“So cuuuuuuute!” shrieked the giant.

“Fucking hell,” muttered General Hermit Crab.

(7) Curt David 9:18pm
The police were listening to a tape of Ms. Misandry, Ms. Dishabille, Mr. Longanimity and Mr. Maximalist.

“Beachboys?” said one.
“Makes me uncomfortable,” said two.
“I’m hot,” said four.
“Okay, Beatles?” said one.
“Or Aretha?” said two.
“ARETHA, OR I QUIT!” yelled three.
“I have to take off my sweater,” said four.
“Anything works,” said one.
“Thanks,” said two.
“HAPPY DAY!” yelled three.
“I would kill for a massage,” said four.

The police figured out who said what. Can you?

(8) Michael Seese 10:32pm
I have so many good memories of this place. Building sandcastles with my brothers. Chasing seagulls. My Dad’s white nose. Sometimes, seeing dolphins dancing above the waves. And eating ice cream ALL DAY LONG!

So many good memories.

And one horrible memory. Hearing my Mom’s screams when she looked out into the ocean and saw that Bill and Max were gone.

We come back to this beach every year. I think my parents hope they’ll see them again.

Why don’t they? I wonder.

I do.

I tell them. But they don’t believe me.

“Maybe when
they’re in heaven,” Max says.

(9) Kelsie Kasandria 11:18pm
She opened her eyes.

A man wearing a beach shirt stared at her. “Miss Billie, do you remember me?”

“Who is Billie?” she asked.

“What does this mean, Doctor Max?”

“I'm afraid the attack caused amnesia.” He turned to his computer, his long sand-colored fingers typing away.

“Well, aren't you gonna do something?”

“I can't, but you must. Take her home.”

A smile crept across his face as he picked her up. Then she had a vision.

Her horror replayed before her, and she realized who this man was.

His hand prevented her scream.

(10) Hillary Cusack 11:27pm

Veteran’s Day made her miss her father.
She trampled leaves in the silent graveyard and wished she could see him again.

Worms wriggled in the sandy dirt on my face.
I held my breath and dug upwards.

There he was, William “Bill” Maxwell.
So far from the French beach where he died.
She sat along the line of gravestones, waiting for a sign.

I was close; light filtered down.

She sighed and stood to go.

Don’t leave. I came to see you.

She panicked, pulling her leg away. White, shriveled fingers, growing out of the dirt, held her ankle.

(11) Lilac Shoshani 4:54am
"Maximize your potential," the huge billboard said.

Going to Mars had nothing to do with my potential. The space cop cuffed me, as if I was going to run away to some sandy beach on Venus.

"You are not going to last long. Not where you are heading." He looked smug.

Someone walked in. Dressed in an army uniform she said, "We will take her now."

The cop was going to argue, but her rank was higher than his.

"What took you so long, sis?" I asked.

"Real rebels."

She didn’t know that I was one too.

(12) TheOneWriting 9:33am
The first date was disastrous. The guy – named Max, a name she’d always hated – ordered a “Sex on the Beach” with his steak. Who gets those? Then when the bill came, he’d explained he was a modern man, and they’d split it down the middle. Split his steak and cocktails versus my sandwich and water.

“So, wanna come along to my place?” he asked, eyebrows wriggling.

“Not in a million years.”

His eyes widened. Then he laughed.

He apologized for the whole thing, and asked for a redo.

We married a year later, the rest of the royal family beaming.

This week's winner in an EXTREMELY competitive field, and for an entry that is both topical, and a masterpiece of understated, elegant story telling:

(4) S.D. King 1:20pm

Many thanks to all of you who entered. I really love reading your work, and you're making it very very hard to choose just one entry each week. 

S.D. King, if you'll email me with your mailing address, we'll get your prize off to you.

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17. Have a lovely "fall" day!

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18. Writing contest!

In honor of the Bouchercon anthology let's have a writing contest!

 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. Thus: Billiard is ok but breach is not.

4. Post your entry in the comments 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.

6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for overseas addresses

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

8. PRIZE is the brand new Bouchercon anthology with a whole host of amazing stories.

Contest opens: Saturday, 11/8/14 at 10am

Contest closes: Sunday, 11/9/14 at 10am

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

NOT YET! (comments are closed until the contest is underway)

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19. TBTTAUA writing contest!

In honor of the paperback edition of THE BEAUTIFUL THING THAT AWAITS US ALL by Fabulous Laird Barron, let's have a writing contest!

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: so backboard is ok, but black is not.

4. 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.

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

Contest opens: Saturday 11/1/14 at noon

Contest closes: Sunday 11/2/14 at noon

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid

Ready? SET?


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20. Your extra hour is accounted for

You have an extra hour today. You will spend it petting ME. Any questions?

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21. Query Question: what to do when an agent clearly misunderstands

I was merrily reading queries the other day and came across one that sounded terrific. A great story, about a women in revolutionary war times, one about whom not much had been written.

I got to the end of the query, saw "manuscript" and "word count" but no, that would not deter me! No no! I donned my SuperQueryShark cape and swung into action.

My reply:

Hi guys (the non-gender specific use of the word)

For non-fiction like this, you need a proposal, not a finished ms.

1. Do you have a proposal?
2. If you do not, do you know what one is (many writers do not, it's ok)

3. If you do, send to me as a word .doc attachment.

4. If you don't, and you don't know what one is, let me know.

5. If you don't, and you do know what one is, I need one (see item #3)

Questions? Of course you have questions. Fire away

Some 48 hours later, a reply landed in my mailbox. It practically quivered with gentility.

As we tried to explain to you in our initial query, TITLE is historical fiction, usually defined as fiction based upon historical facts whose main character is fictional.

I could hear her socks knocking as I read.

And sure enough. The initial query didn't try to explain. It was a bald-faced statement at the start: THIS IS A NOVEL (caps are mine)


I can just imagine the scene when the querier got my reply.

Email bell pings.
Reply pops in mailbox.
Querier opens email.

That dawning dread of realization that Something Is Very Very Wrong Here.

Is the agent insane? Has she lost what few marbles she had?

Was the query (oh dear godiva, what if OTHER agents think this??) unclear???
Hurriedly examining query.

Yes, it's right there at the top of the query: A NOVEL.

What to do???

1. Email agent to suggest remedial reading lessons?
2. Email agent to suggest she is a dunderhead and should consider work as a box of rocks very soon.

3. Reply to email with "um, it IS a novel, you dunderhead."
4. Pretend the agent is not a dunderhead, and perhaps just maybe, she forgot to read the first sentence.

Should this happen to you, that an agent has clearly missed something important (as in this is a novel, not non-fiction) this querier's example is the one you want to follow:

1. She wrote back.
2. She did NOT say "you're wrong"
3. She did not say "you dunderhead" although clearly that was the case.
4. She did not put A NOVEL all in caps as though to say "you dunderhead."
5. She called my attention to the fact this was a novel, without telling me I'd made a mistake.

In other words, she handled this like a pro.
And boy, am I glad for that, cause I feel like anything but.

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22. Contest results

I think this was the best set of contest entries I've ever seen.   Either you guys are getting better at this, or Laird Barron brings out the wordsmith in you. Maybe both!

Here are the results:

Things I wish Mum had said to me:
"Mother always said that a girl should carry two things: a paperback and a shotgun."
Megan V 11:58am

Entries that aren't quite a story, but are enticing starts to something bigger for sure
Ray 10:28am

Andrew Lipkin 11:56am

JennyC 12:32pm

Rea Tarvydas 7:14pm

Special recognition for a great final line!
Michael Field 12:12pm

Special recognition for a great phrase
"his hands snatching at the heat"
Shaunna 12:28pm

Special recognition for a GREAT line
“Quick, Jenkins,” I cried. “Use the literary flare!”
feyngirl 2:33pm

Special recognition for a very very creepy opening line
"I'm so hungry," the thing whispered from the attic."
Matthew Wuertz 2:05pm

Name checking Laird!
saustin 5:21pm

A beautiful example of perspective
Kristine Poptanich 6:54pm

Not quite a story but totally gripping
Carolynnwith2Ns 8:06pm

TheOneWriting 10:06pm

AnnieColleen 12:25pm

this one grips my heart
NotAWarriorPrincess 2:04am

This isn't a story but I love it
Lenny Liang 9:43am

I can't even say how sad and angry this makes me feel
nicoleroder.com 10:35am

These five made it to the semi-finals
Mattew Masucci 11:27am

Janet Ursel 1:26pm

Lobo 1:29pm

Kat Waciawik 11:17pm

RM Moji 10:00am

These are the ten finalists.  I don't think we've ever had this many before.

(1) Belynda 10:31am
The field glistens under ice. It’s beautiful, slicked back like hair fresh from the shower. The still air seems appalled into silence by acres of proud red wheat, backs broken by the storm. This was my long awaited boom year, a season of fair weather and fulfilled promises. "When the crop comes in, we'll have the money."

I too am silent as my father carries on with the now useless harvester, his hands turned brutal with cold and engine oil. My mother, pale as paper, gazes upon it all. Her eyes apologize for all the things she cannot change.

(2) french sojourn 10:48am
“Love’s a beautiful thing.”

“That sounds so trite.”

“How did you meet her?”

“I was shy, didn’t really know a lot about dating back then. She was like a flower awaiting bloom by the light of a fountain, and when she smiled at me. Well, I wrote my name and number on a piece of newspaper, smiled, prayed, and passed it to her.”

“You’re such a romantic.”

“Unfortunately, it didn’t end well; I just wish I had taken my father’s advice.”

“What was that?”

“I asked him what I should wear for that first date.”


“He suggested a condom.”

(3) Colin Smith 11:25am
"You make the place sound idyllic, Michael," she said.

"It is, honey, it is.

"And we'll go when I get out?"

"We'll go as soon as you’re ready." I stroked the paper-thin skin of her hand with my thumb, feeling it move over the bones.

"I'll be back," I said, forcing a smile and grazing her fragile cheek with my lips.

"It'll be so beautiful," she said, watching me from the bed, her eyes glassy from the meds.

The doctor showed me the results this morning. Two days max.

I swallowed hard.

"It’s the beautiful thing that awaits us all."

(4) Kitty 12:50pm
Arnold Briar knelt down in the confessional.

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been years since my last confession. Father...?"


"Do people go to hell?"

"Why do you ask?"

"I've sinned a lot, Father."

"Tell me your sins."

"I've committed adultery. I've never paid child support. I've plagiarized newspaper columns for my own. I lied about my background. I..."

Footsteps approached the confessional.

"Don't worry. To reach the
beautiful thing that awaits you, just keep up the good work."

The priest's door opened and Arnold caught a whiff of sulfur.

"Sorry to keep you waiting," he said.

(5) Steve Forti 2:45pm
“What a beautifulbaby!”

I freeze. A tipsy woman with a sand
paper voice ogles my sleeping infant.

“Such a precious
thing. So peaceful. Hi, I’m Dotty.”

Before I can react, her rapid fire continues.

“I just moved in next door and I’m so happy Carol invited me and…”

I look around, trapped. Voices of other partygoers spill from the next room.

“Silly me. I should get you a drink. Do you want a drink?”

She scurries off and I slip out the
back door, baby in arms. Soon enough Carol will find the ransom note awaiting her in the crib.

(6) Christine Seine 3:32pm
It was in the newspapers. FAMILY WITH 9 BOYS AWAITS BABY GIRL. Everybody sympathized.

Well, mostly everyone. “Get a hobby!” was common. And, “Buddy, don’t you know how to prevent that?”

To be fair, there’d been two sets of twins. And once, triplets.

Like that was his fault.

But this time, the ultrasound picked up only two legs. They’d bought every pink frilly thing in the store.

His wife screamed.


And out Baby came. He went to cut the cord. “Wait … what’s…?”

Definitely not a girl. He sighed. “Beautiful.”

Those sweet little dresses. They’d have to go back.

(7) donnaeverhart.com 3:59pm
Andy’s face was turned towards the steamy window of the restaurant where distorted shapes strolled by.

She’d always said, “If you hafta’ wait, it’s because I’m making myself beautiful.”

Finally, her hand on his back, their thing, announced her arrival. He wrinkled his nose.

“What?” she said.

“You smell different.”

“I do?”

“That’s Polo Black.”


Voice gritty, he said, “There’s someone else, isn’t there.”

His eyes wandered during her silence. A reeking box was thrust into his hands, gift paper crackling.

“Happy Birthday.”

For the first time ever, his blindness embarrassed him.

“I’m sorry,” fell on her empty chair.

(8) catjenkins.com 4:12pm
“She’ll make an excellent wife.”
He can only see her back, bent beneath the folds of a rose silk kimono. Stepping closer, he watches her hands fly with clever speed. Tiny, fancifully beautiful things emerge from the flurried movement.
How charming. How quaint.
A stack of exquisitely textured paper sheets rest at her elbow, awaiting transformation…life… from her skilled fingers.
“She is very talented. And her dowry is…shall we say…extravagant.”
He bends closer, looks into the flat flesh devoid of eyes, mouth. One hole; a nostril.
“Yes, an excellent wife. She will never argue. And such skillful hands…Imagine…”

(9) Karen McCoy 8:54pm
The heating duct sighed, its rusted fan clogged with paper. “You really need to stop chirping like that.”

“My battery needs changing,” the smoke detector retorted back.

“Boo hoo. Try awaiting a new fan for months on end. You don’t even need a battery to work properly.”

“So? I’ll chirp until I get one, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“Really.” The heating duct whirred and clanged.

“What are you doing?” The smoke detector asked. “What’s that smell?”

“The start of a beautiful fire.” And with that, the heating duct exploded.

(10) Jennifer Moorhead 10:06am
You got the backbone of a soft shell crab” my husband liked to say. Correct. “You ain’t gonna win no beauty contests neither.” Again correct.
On paper, I was strong and outspoken and awaiting the moment I would turn into a swan. In reality, I was freezing my ass off in a deer stand, shrinking from my husband’s glare.
“Kill it!”
The buck waited.
“Idiot. He’ll get away.”
The butt of the rifle dug into my bruised shoulder.
“Gimme the gun.”
My trembling finger found the trigger.
“Hey dumbass, you’re pointin that thing in the wrong di—”

And the winner is

(9) Karen McCoy 8:54pm

I chose this from a VERY competitive field because I liked the originality.  The entry surprised and delighted me.  

Thanks to all who entered the contest. This was the most competitive field we've had. I'm looking forward to seeing what you can do next week.  (which means, yes, there will be a contest next week)

Karen, if you'll send me your mailing address and an idea of what you like to read I'll send you a book.

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23. Chum Bucket tonight 7pm

Chum Bucket tonight.

Remember: do not link to this post from elsewhere (your blog or Facebook page), or post/tweet about it.

Chum Bucket works because everyone who participates has invested some time in learning how it works.  I LOVE doing Chum Bucket so I really want to keep it to those people who buy in to the premise.

The premise is that if you query me between 7pm and 8pm tonight, I will reply to you personally, not with a form letter.

The response can range from "this isn't for me" to "send full" but you'll know I'm sitting there typing it out when I get your query.

Of course, I often do reply with more than "not for me" because I think it's helpful to say why it's not for me. Sometimes it's because I'm not much on eyeball removal (eww!) and sometimes it's cause you
think a 240,000 memoir is publishable.

If I think I can help you, I'll try to do so.

Chum Bucket is NOT a critique.

And your part of the bargain is you will not email me back telling me I'm a cretin of the first order for failing to appreciate your masterpiece.  (While that may be true, we will observe the social niceties of not stating the obvious.)

The reason I ask you to NOT tweet or link is that people who aren't regular blog readers, or twitter followers, who only see the announcement, may not know about the social contract not to reply with venom.  I really want to keep doing Chum Bucket so the longer we can keep it to invested readers, the more likely it is to continue.

The comment column awaits.

And in case you're interested, here's the run down from last week's Chum Bucket:

Total queries: 18

1. Not for me/some comments on why: 8
2. Not for me/some comments on correct category: 4
3. Suggestions to improve red hot mess queries: 2
4. Not for me/suggest other agents: 1
5. Not my category: 1
6. Query after other FPLM agent considering this has replied: 1
7. Request full: 1

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24. Dispatches from the Query Queue

Late last week I finally got to reading the incoming queries I'd flagged for more careful reading.

My preferred practice is to go through my incoming queries as soon as I can and reply as quickly as I can. Most of the time I know yes/no pretty easily.  The nos are the easiest to see. Yeses often need an extra look. Thus, I flag them, and return to read after some time has passed.

Sometimes on that second read I wonder what the hell I was thinking. Most often though, the query holds up and I ask for the full.

Thus, last Thursday night I chased my new minion out of the office (the good ones have to be forced to leave most of the time,) and dove back into the query queue.

And there was one that I'd flagged just cause I liked the writer's stylish presentation of himself. 
And because I didn't want to just blindly say no to a 280,000 word novel.

As Jenny Bent said quite recently "sometimes this business kicks the certainty right out of you. And maybe that's not such a bad thing."

And quite by chance that day I'd gone over to Amazon to copy and past the flap copy for George RR Martin's first book in his Game of Thrones series.  The book is what? 284K or so? Yup, about that.

So, I asked for the full.
280K words.

And what is your takeaway from that?

What I try to remember to tell you as often as I can: you learn the rules, but you don't have to always follow them.  You learn them so you can break them on purpose if you choose, not by mistake cause you don't.

And how in the hell do you get me to request a tome of this size?

Well, some of it was timing (George RR Martin and Jenny Bent)
Some of it was stylish presentation (the query)
Some of it was the concept of the novel.

And most of it was the writing. It's good writing.
And I'll leap tall buildings in a single vault to get my hands on good writing.
I'll leap tall buildings AND elbow my slithering colleagues aside for good writing.
I'll leap tall buildings, elbow my slithering colleagues aside AND let you break every rule in the book for good writing.

Now, back to work. I have a lot more reading to do now than I'd planned on.

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25. Promotion: details are your friend

Recently a pal of mine tweeted that he would be at the New York Public Library that evening.  Yay! Oh wait, rats. AAR meeting. No go.

BUT I wanted to promote the event so other people would attend because I really love my pal's book and he's a pretty cool guy to boot.

So I retweeted his tweet.

Then I looked at the tweet.

NYPL is a huge, multi-borough library system. At WHICH library was he appearing?

I checked his website for event details: nada.
I googled his name and "nypl" and there it was.

So I linked to the NYPL site and tweeted the more specific location.

What's your takeaway on this? A couple things:

1. Always always always have your events listed on your website. Front page if possible. If you don't know how to update your page to add (and remove) events, learn how, or find a webmaster who can update with alacrity.

2. When you're promoting, ask yourself what someone who knows NOTHING about the event needs to know to attend.

You're going to do a panel at Bouchercon? Yay! Except Bouchercon is a three day long event and this year has more than 60 panels. Don't make your fans comb through the schedule. TELL THEM it's This Day and at That Time. And if you have the room number, so much the better.

3. Repetition is the key to people remembering things.  If you've got an event in NYC, it helps to tweet about it at least two weeks ahead of time. Your devoted fans will mark it on their calendars. Then you tweet periodically up to the day of the event. And the day of the event you tweet at least three times: morning, lunch, right before.

Bonus content:
At every event no matter large or small, you collect names on a sign up sheet for your mailing list. You invite people to join the mailing list, and then you thank them for doing so as soon as possible.  Being able to reach your specific fans in a specific city is promotional gold.

Facebook and Twitter is scattershot for announcing events. A personal email to someone is a direct hit. Which one bags more attendees?  Well, I know at least two  authors who worked their mailing list to build their fan base to the level they now enjoy: well-established NYT best sellers.

Promotion is tough. A lot of writers don't like doing it.  I've never quite understood why, since you are in fact telling your fans how to find you.

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