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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: agents asking where you're querying

 I have a question about terminology. I received a request for a full along with a detailed synopsis "...and a list of submissions to other agencies or publishers, if any." I wasn't sure if this meant a list of queries sent or just a list of any agencies or publishers who also have the full ms.




It means a list of places that are looking at your manuscript. That's a submission. A query is only a query.


Those kinds of blanket requests bring out my inner curmudgeon too. I'm tempted to say "what the hell business is it of yours?"


On the other hand, if I've read your ms, and liked it, and want to discuss how fabulous I will be for your career, only to discover that other agents have their mitts on the manuscript too; well, then, I DO ask who has it cause if it's Barbara Poelle, I know to deliver a case of vodka to her office to distract her.

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2. Query Question: withdrawing a query

 Lets say you have sent out a certain number of queries and you're getting a rate of rejection that seems to beg a rewrite (even if its just of the first chapter). Not all agents whom you've queried have responded. 

Is it acceptable to send follow up emails to the remaining queries telling those agents that you would like to withdraw your query before they've reviewed it? (1) 
Would that be looked upon in a negative light? (2) 
Would it make querying those agents again harder? (3)

(1) Yes
(2) No
(3) No

I always want to see your best work. I'd rather you withdraw something if you've had a blinding realization that this isn't the best you can do.

This happens more than you think, and often with requested fulls. I actually have a file folder to store requested fulls that have been withdrawn pending revision and it's almost never empty.



And frankly, this is one of those things I'd rather help you avoid, instead of figuring out how to do correctly.

So, how do you figure out if your work is ready to be queried?

1. Did you let the book sit for at least a month, then go back and read with fresh eyes?
a. no--you're not ready. Do this, then go to 2.
b. yes, go to 2.

2. Have you read the book out loud to yourself?
a. no-you're not ready. Do this, then go to 3.
b. yes, go to 3.

3. Have you looked at each sentence in the book to make sure it is the leanest, most elegant sentence you can write?
a. no-you're not ready. Do this, then go to 4.
b. yes, go to 4

4. Have you asked beta readers, or critique partners to read the book?
a. no-you're not ready. Do this, then go to 5.
b. yes, go to 5.

5. Are the beta readers and/or critique partners enthusiastic about this project?
a. no-you're not ready. Time for a class or an evaluation from an agent at a conference.
b. yes, you're ready.


If you jump the gun, it won't kill you, but honestly you don't need extra rejections in your life. Making sure your work is really ready for the beady eyes of a mercenary agent isn't something you want to rush. And it's really not something you want to think "oh, it's good enough, let's just see what they say."


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3. Query Question: the hybrid author

With the growing popularity of hybrid and self-publishing options, I have a number of published authors in my writing chapter who are not represented and now wish to find agents.

Publishers like Tule, Booktrope, and Entangled are accepting authors without agents. In addition, several of these authors have pending deals that are based on proposals -- the books aren't written.

How would these authors find an agent now? What would a query letter from a published author seeking representation after-the-fact need to say? 

If you're querying for a novel that hasn't been sold, you query as normal. In your pub credits you mention the books you've sold previously and the publisher to whom you've sold them. If the books are sold but not yet published, you say "forthcoming from X Press."

If you're querying for a novel for which you have an offer in hand (book written or not), you put that information in the subject line:

RE: Query for Title (publication offer received)


One of the HUGE drawbacks of taking on clients who have not had an agent negotiate their previous publishing deal/s, is that the author is now tied up by the terms of that contract.

Sometimes that's not the best news you can bring to the table:



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4. Query Question: prioritizing agent choice by publishers sales

I've been checking where agents have gotten their clients published. Should I be concerned if I don't see any larger publishers or publishers on my wish list? I wonder if maybe the books the agents were shopping weren't of interest to the larger ones or maybe the agents didn't have the right contacts with them. Is it advisable to still query them, then if I get 'the call' inquire about such things and make a decisions from there?
You're operating from an incomplete data base, no matter how carefully you research agents.

Not all deals are reported. Not all books have acknowledgements. Not all agents list all deals on their website or blog.  (I myself am WOEFULLY behind on posting deals for example.)


You're also operating from a limited knowledge base about publishers.  There is a lot of information about publishers you'll never see in public forum, and I wouldn't tell you unless you were a client and we were reviewing the submission data base.

In other words, you don't know enough to start culling agents at this point.

Query widely.

When you get an offer of representation, be forthright with your agent about what you want and then LISTEN to her/him when she gives you some info that might change your mind.


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5. Query question: when the call isn't The Call


What are your thoughts on agents who make "the call" but only to gauge the writer's interest in revising, as opposed to offering representation?

Note: This has happened to me twice. I'm beyond frustrated and, quite frankly, a tad insulted that (proverbially speaking) an agent won't put a ring on my finger until they see how I perform in bed. Sounds crude, but it's true :/

My thoughts are, would you like it more if we called with form rejections?

I'm not sure how "the call" came to be the expectation for how agents offered representation, or that the only time an agent calls is to offer representation.

I've called several people at that query stage, and it wasn't to offer representation, it was to straighten out something like missing pages, or screwy manuscript format, or some other lesser matter. I'm really sorry if they were disappointed about the subject of the call, but it's a whole lot easier to do some of this stuff by phone rather than email.


You've set yourself up here. If an agent calls you to discuss revision, it's a whole lot better than a form rejection.
And trust me, finding out if an author is open to revision is one of the key things I'd want to know before offering to take them on as a client.

"The call" is like "happy book birthday"--something invented within the last couple years that has taken on an importance that is not warranted. It's a shorthand used by  authors to talk amongst themselves, but it's not a shorthand used here.  I can't think of a time when I've said "time to make The Call" when I was considering taking on a client. In fact, by the time we get to that point, we've had SEVERAL phone calls.

Try not to see it as an insult. It's an expression of interest. In other words, it's a good thing.


 

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6. Interacting with agents in the wild

Last week was filled with revels surrounding the Edgar Awards,  then Malice Domestic. During much of this I was in the same place with authors, published and unpublished, agented, not-agented, ept and inept.  After a week of seeing some good interactions, and more than a few bad ones,  here are some tips on what to do to increase your chances that if you are looking for an agent, your interaction with one you meet in the wild will be a good one.

First, how to introduce yourself.

1. Tell me you read the blog.  It's better if this is actually true of course. As an opening, this is gold, because then I am thanking YOU, and can then ask where you're from and what you write.

If the agent doesn't write a blog, figure out something else, like "I saw your interview in Writers Digest, it was very helpful."

2.  Tell me that QueryShark helped you.  That's a sure-fire winner because then, I can ask you about your book.  This is so much more effective than you leading with "here, let me tell you about my book."

If you start by making it personal and important to ME, you've engaged my interest.  This is the first rule of selling, and if you want to talk to me about your book, you ARE SELLING.

Second, if you want to meet me, here's how to get on my radar at a conference:

3. Be nice to my clients. Often they introduce me to their friends at conferences. Any pal of a client is ok in my book.

4. Give good panel. I attend panels that my clients are on, and if you're fabulous I will buy your books and introduce myself.  How do you give good panel? You read the books of the other panelists, interact with the other panelists in a good way, and are charming. A light-hearted bio always helps.  A willingness to be funny about yourself too.  Not everyone is capable of giving great panel, but it's a great way to get my attention.


5. Win the William F. Deeck Malice Domestic Unpublished Manuscript grant. I pay serious attention to this contest.



Third, once the conversation gets started:

6.  Don't mention previous rejections. There's simply no way to reply to that, even if you say it without rancor, with something other than:
"Oh I was deranged, please send it again?"
"Oh did you find anyone who thought it was good?"
"Yea I remember that."

None of these lead to pleasant conversation. Pleasant conversation is your goal here!

Look for another gambit.  The very best one is asking about my clients:
 "How's that amazing Stephanie Jaye Evans?"
"I loved RUNNER!"
"Steve Ulfelder's books knock my sox off."

If you don't have those salvos available (and it's ok if you don't) ask what I'm reading. Ask if I'm having a good conference. Ask me if you can buy me a drink!

Since I too am in a social situation there with you, I am fully prepared to take your opening salvo and return it with gusto; Yes, I'd love a drink. Shall we find a waitress? What do you prefer?  or I'm exhausted I had to catch a 7am train! How did you get here? Where are you from?


See how that works? Now we're having conversation, and I don't want to eject you from my table because you started out with that stupid "hey you rejected me" thing.


Fourth, be attuned to setting

7. Don't interrupt a meeting. ASK if you're not sure. I was always glad to say "no, you're not interrupting" this weekend at Malice. I'm much more likely to be in a meeting if you see me talking to someone at BEA.  That said, two of my colleagues at Malice were there for LOTS of meetings, so don't ever assume. ASK.

8. Don't hover if I'm talking on my phone. 

9. Don't start a conversation on the way in to the Ladies. Start it when I'm washing my hands.

10. If I'm wandering around looking distracted and anxious, I'm probably trying to find the room I'm supposed to be in in five minutes. Asking if you can help me is a very nice thing to do.


When you look at that list, it's true, it's all about ME. Remember, this is a sales situation. You want my attention. I'm not sure yet if I want yours.

And if this feels one-sided, just remember, I'm in YOUR position at conferences when I'm introduced to or want to meet editors. These tips apply to that situation too.

Above all, remember agents are people. You're just not going to like some of us, and that's ok. I don't like some of us either.



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7. Week in review 5/3/15

The week got off to a lovely start last Sunday. After four days of lolling around at the beach reading manuscripts we headed back to the city.  Y'all were busy reading the Week in Review.
One of the things I really love about the round up: your writing. All of you are writers of course, but sometimes there's a turn of phrase, or sentence (or like with Julie Weathers an entire post!) where I think "oh boy, there's talent!)

Here's one from Jennifer R. Donohue like that:
Does anybody else's dog like Spam? Elka went high obedience ballistic for it last night when it was cooking. Like "I am sitting. I would like that meat in my mouth. Oh, come on. I'll testify as hard as I can. spamspamspam"

LynnRodz asked:
I wonder if Barbara Poelle ever pops by here and sees all the praise you bestows upon her?
I think Barbara is too busy juggling auctions to do much blog reading. Either that or taste testing the new vodka crop.

Dena Pawling has a good idea:
I figured out that OP meant the person who had submitted the question, without really knowing what the acronym actually meant. It would take quite a bit more mental energy plus the search feature, to figure out the possible meanings of Carkoon and Buttonweezer. Therefore, not knowing what those two meant would possibly make more timid folks (1) feel like an outsider, (2) be embarrassed to ask, and (3) not feel comfortable posting their own comments. Therefore, because I've been on the excluded side of blogs and groups many times in the past [I vacillate between not wanting to join a group that would actually want me as a member, and not wanting to participate in a group that doesn't want me], and the knowledge that Ms. Reid loves her blog community and wants it all-inclusive even for the likes of me, I'll offer up my definitions. Maybe Colin, the compiler of the acronyms [Compiler Of Links creating Inclusion for Newbies], can provide that aforementioned list, complete with links if they can be found. Hopefully, having such a list would make new folks feel welcome [because they are], rather than even MORE hesitant to post a comment.

You'll notice there's now a link to terms used on the blog on the right hand side of the blog roll.  If any of you think others should be added let me know in the comments section here.



S.D. King's eagle eye caught something:
"learn the category (I have a middle grade novel on submission now.)"


Janet, You thought you could slip that in there and I wouldn't notice?

Now I really need to send my query to the shark to prepare it to send to the shark!

Here's the bad news: I don't take on middle grade. Yes, I have one on submission right now but it was written by a CLIENT that I signed for another project in a category I do take on. This was how Brooks Sherman ended up selling a picture book written by my client Sean Ferrell.  Now that Brooks is Bent, I can't force him to do my bidding.
But, to the point, middle grade queries are still going to get a redirection to a more suitable agent. (sorry!)

Lance's comment (As a serial, part-time lurker, I thank Dena for the glossary) reminded me that glossary was the word I was looking for to describe terms used on the blog. And it's such a lovely word! Glossary!

I thin Amy Schaefer summed up my intent on acronyms and now the glossary much better than I did (which is what happens when you have writers hanging about!)

I am glad to have support in my anti-acronym battle (notice how I didn't shorten that), and I think Janet's point about including one and all in our commenting nonsense here is critical. I've avoided many an internet community (and even a few real life ones) because the members seemed too clannish, too caught up in their inside jokes and common history to allow a newbie in. I'd hate for that to happen here.

Lurkers, you're just like those of us who can't keep out hands off the keyboard. Don't let our nonsense hold you back if and when you have something to say. And, if it suits you, come be nonsensical with us!


Lance also asked
 I don't understand the relationship of woodland creatures to The Shark unless it is a metaphor for how we writers yet to be published (WYTBP) exist separate from the publishing world. That is to say, we have to form pyramids of 'possums and heave our queries over the seawall into the lagoon wherein lies The Reef. Once agented, a writer is magically transformed into a creature of the reef, interacting more directly with The Shark.
Pharosian reminded us of where that term came from:
On several (okay, many) occasions, unpublished authors have posed questions to Janet that indicate a certain amount of over-thinking, anxiety, lack of self-confidence, timidity, uncertainty, and a general fear of Big Bad Agents. In her response to the questioner that day she said, "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."
Julie suggested the titmouse as a typical example. I tend to think of wide-eyed, innocent Bambi types, or twitchy-nosed bunnies. Regardless, the term stuck. One thing this group has demonstrated an aptitude for par excellence is taking an idea and running with it!



and didn't this just make you want a dinner invitation to John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur's house?
My rule is, if I can smell you across the table, you're wearing too much. If I can smell you before you come in the door you're wearing WAY too much and need to be tranqued with a dart gun.




On Monday, the we talked about novels on submission that might be too similar to what an agent represents.

brianrschwarz got his wifi on Carkoon working long enough to say this:
To the topic at hand - I want to say it was either Tolkien or Lewis who were once quoted as saying "great writers don't rip one person off... they rip EVERYONE off"

Their point was just that you can't write in a vacuum. It's just not possible. So no matter what you do, you're borrowing from somewhere or someone or something. The line between taking a usual device, name, location or trope versus copying entire segments of a story or a blueprint of a character of course are different things.

Which is exactly what I meant, but better.

And I like what Shaun Hutchinson said too:
Coincidences happen. Even really weird ones. You think you've written a wholly unique book that no one could have possibly ever come up with, but you're probably wrong. What sets books apart is how you write them. Your ideas may not be unique, but your execution is. That's how you set yourself apart from similar plots.

bjmuntain made another good point with this:
It's so, so important to understand the difference between ideas and tropes. I don't think anyone here would have that problem, but a writing group I used to belong to fell apart because a beginning writer claimed her 'ideas' were being stolen, because another writer just happened to be using the same old fantasy tropes that Terry Brooks used long before then.

brianrschwarz asked:
Question for Janet - How do intellectual rights work in writing? What is being copyrighted? The main themes? Character names and generic profiles? Is the court the ultimate decider?

I mean, if fan-fic isn't considered a copyright infringement than I think the questioner is probably quite safe. But where is the line?

Copyright protects the work you create. Another person can not copy your book or portions of your book without your permission.

Titles do not have copyright protection.
Names do not have copyright protection.
Themes do no have copyright protection.
You don't need to worry about court here. You need to worry about the warranties clause of your publishing contract where you warrant that the work is your own and indemnify the publisher against claims that it isn't. 

Fan fic is very murky in terms of copyright, but the general idea is that if you're doing it for fun, and not trying to hoodwink anyone that you actually created Jack Reacher, it's all good.

What you can NOT do is lift parts of books wholesale, and pass them off as your own.



On Tuesday, the topic was BEA and why writers should NOT plan to attend.

AJ Blythe asked:
Just googled BEA to find out what it was. Interesting they have author signings when the conference is really aimed at industry professionals. Is there something for readers besides the signing? Or are readers happy to attend just for the signing?

Jenny C provided a great answer:
BEA is not the place to be as a writer unless your book is already published or going to be published and you are there to meet booksellers and librarians. I used to attend when I worked as a buyer for a bookstore and I have to say, I always had a fabulous time. I heard authors speak at breakfasts, met them, got signed ARC's and came home with lots of tote bags to share with the staff at the store. (Publishers give out tote bags and booksellers love to collect them.) I also went to fun parties and once in Miami I met Oprah! All the people who work the booths want to meet booksellers and its nice to feel appreciated! And the stacks of ARC! Absolutely the best part! Quite honestly, I never even knew agents attended. You would have to search hard to find one in the sea of booksellers, sales reps and marketing people.

And she added this:
I've been nostalgic this morning, thinking back over all the BEA's I attended. My favorite one was not the time I met Oprah, who ended up canceling her autobiography, but the time I heard a relatively unknown writer named Terri Macmillan speak about her forthcoming book WAITING TO EXHALE. She blew away a room fill of bookseller who just about trampled each other like teenagers at a rock concert to get to the signing line and get a copy. I read it on the plane on the way home, and I still have it. WAITING ended up being a major bestseller for a lot of reasons, but I like to think bookseller enthusiasm generated that day was one of them.

And JEN Garrett took my breath away with this one:

I recently heard advice from a former agent to go to BEA and "give chocolates" or "stuffed animals" to the publishers and agents there. The idea is to make a good impression. But I didn't like the advice at all. I didn't think publishers were there to be schmoozed by "UN" writers. I thought they were there to sell books.

Holy smokestacks that was bad advice. Maybe that explains the "former" part of agent.  At the risk of repeating myself endlessly: the ONLY thing that is going to make a good impression on me is your writing. You can be nicest person in this world or the next but if your writing isn't what I'm looking for, no amount of chocolate or stuff woodland creatures will change that.  Also, those kind of geegaws are expensive and you should save your money for a publicist for when you are published.



On Wednesday the talk turned to online crits.
I like this point, made by Susan Bonifant with a hat tip to DeadSpiderEye, a lot
Dead Spider Eye (shudder) made an EXCELLENT point:

"To generalize, the problem with on-line communities is ...communal behaviour. What that means is, your standing within the community is likely to prejudice how your work is considered."

Some sites are like polite neighborhoods - welcoming, and nice enough but not useful because the polite culture suppresses honest critique.

And some are Lord of the Flies.

I liked what kregger said here:
Writing is a craft and within any craft there are beginners, journeymen and masters. I was a beginner once, and I had no idea how ineffectual my writing skills were to readers until I joined a critique forum.
I think it is important for the discussion in this forum to differentiate between getting help at the skill of writing and help about a plotline or story arc.
I agree with the majority of the pro and con about critique forums as listed above and have probably participated unwittingly in the good, bad and ugly of the forums. It's part of the learning process.
The hard part for a writer is either knowing (or not) the amount of help they need.

And Megan V made a good case for online crits:
I'm a proponent of using random people from online forums as critics. My reasoning: In the music world, some people have perfect pitch and can't sing worth a damn. Likewise, in the writing world, some people can't write worth a damn, but when they read another writer's work, suddenly they are gifted surgeons who know when their incisions should be accompanied by anesthesia.

Of course, you find out rather quickly who has the pitch and the gifted hands and who is just cutting for the sake of drawing blood.

On Thursday we talked about whether a publisher can force a writer to change the ending of a book:

Lisa Bodenheim asked:
I suppose this is NOT something to put in a query letter because we don't tell the ending in the query letter. But it would be a good question to ask an agent when The Call is received, just to be sure an agent is fully enthusiastic about our book with the ending we've chosen.

You don't put that in a query letter for a different reason. A query is not the place to be listing what you will or will not accept from a publisher. That kind of list makes you seem hard to deal with and/or uninformed.  While I can and do sign authors who are uninformed about how publishing works I don't want to deal with people who are intractable. Publishing is a team sport and authors who don't understand that generally get picked last, if at all.

I think Matt Adams has a nice summation on this topic:
I think the questioner is about ten steps early to worry about this, but I'll relate my story. After a bunch of querying, my agent offered rep. One thing though, she asked, what would you think about changing the ending (she thought it would be better a bit more ambiguous than the happy one I'd written). I thought about, asked a few people who'd read.

Then i changed the ending. Either you trust the people you work with or you don't.

And I would guess the questioner would, too, if given the actual choice between publication and non-publication. I think an editor would tell s/he that before offering to buy the book, but if they didn't, you'd have to understand they are BUYING the book. Not agreeing to print your masterpiece, but buying the print versions of it. If the questioner is uncomfortable with that idea, s/he should self publish and save everyone involved a lot of hassle.

It's like Dave Berry said after he sold the rights to his life/books/columns to a TV show (It starred Harry Anderson, the guy from Night Court). He insisted he retain complete creative control over how he spent the money. I think that's the way to look at it.

Shaun Hutchinson added to that:

Matt, you make a good point. When we were shopping my first book, a publisher was interested but only if I was willing to rewrite the last third of my book. I was initially against the idea, but when no other publishers bit, I talked it over with the editor and submitted a revised outline. She bought the book, and I rewrote the last third. As I started doing the rewrites, I was still skeptical, but by the time I'd finished them, I realized that my editor had been correct all along, and that the rewrites improved the book significantly.

That said, I think if an editor didrequest a significant change to the ending, I'd do the rewrite beforesigning the contract to make sure both the editor and I were happy with the new changes before committing to them.

Bonnie Shaljean asked:
Assuming that an author adamantly does NOT want major surgery done on her book:

Can the creator of the work require that she be given final refusal on proposed major changes, and legally ensure that the publisher cannot force them on her, without her having to actually withdraw the book and face punitive financial consequences (never mind lost time)?

After all, the publishers do know what story they're getting before they sign on: they've read it. Whereas the writer can't foresee all the changes she might be told to make, so she can't always forearm the agent. Has she any power other than bailing out and going back to the trenches?

No.
Of course, in the real world, the editor and the agent are discussing the book, and the editor's ideas long before anything drastic like "your editorial suggestions are like capcha cupcake choices: one dimensional, tasteless and serve only to block me from expressing myself fully"
I do have a deal pending in which the editor has said there will be some substantial changes requested. The author and I agreed to the deal and signed the contract, but we're both waiting to see what the editor wants before  doing anything bold like cashing the check and announcing the deal.



and then there was just this glorious little nugget of great writing from REJourneys that made me life and reminded me how amazing y'all are:

Of course, the author should stay up with the trends of the market, but when you are being flung across the globe, signing children and kissing pictures, do they really have time for that? (The answer is you have to make time, but no one has made time yet. If they had, they'd have to invent a new number for how rich that person would be. Either that or they are keeping the knowledge of how to actually make time to themselves).

On Friday, I might have gone a bit ballistic on the topic of wasting an agent's time, but the overall blog post was about querying an unfinished novel when you have a backlist of published books.

bjmuntain summed up my point very nicely:
The reason an unpublished author needs to have a completed manuscript before pitching it is because they don't have a track record of finishing publication-ready manuscripts. But I've often heard this is different for previously published authors simply because they've proven they can finish a manuscript that's appropriate for publication.

It's like the tendering process for projects. If you've never managed a project, you're not going to win a tender no matter how much you undercut the opposition. However, if you have a good background in completing projects with very good quality results, you can probably bid higher and be more likely to get the contract than someone with a less stellar background.

Mary Feliz just cracked me up with this:
I'm so torn. While I aim to be bold, brave, and brilliant in my writing career, that woodland creature cake "hand" delivered by a shark on a broomstick seems really too tempting to pass up!

Christina Seine asked:
Also, another question for QOTKU: any other traveler tips for someone who's never been to NYC before?

1. Ride the Staten Island Ferry. It's free, and it's the best way to see New York's glorious skyline at night.
2. Don't be afraid to ride the subway. It's very safe, it's the cheapest way to get around town, and there are people who will help you if you get turned around. Just ask.
3. Don't go to any chain restaurants.
4. The most beautiful view of the Chrysler Building can be had walking north on Lexington Ave on the left side of the street between 5 and 6am starting at 21st Street.
5. The best view of the Empire State building is from Sixth Avenue and 29th Street.
6. The best time to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art is Saturday night after 6pm.
7. There is no good time to visit MoMA. It's too crowded for any kind of sane experience.
8. Bryant Park is a lovely reading spot (42nd Street at Sixth Avenue)
9. The best way to see all of what makes New York glorious is to start at Broadway and 72nd street and walk south on Broadway till you hit the Staten Island Ferry (see #1)
10. If you see a lithe blonde woman on rollerblades, zooming south on the Hudson bike path, barking "I don't get out of bed for less than fifty thousand!" that's Barbara Poelle and you should get OUT of her way with alacrity.

and just PS: Happy Birthday dear Gossamer!



On Saturday we talked about Chum Bucket and junior agents.

MB Owen asked a very good question:
I'm not sure how a person could: "make triple dog sure that she isn't heading for the exit anytime soon," unless maybe a little work history.

It's really hard to ascertain that, I agree. I think it's a question of listening closely to how a new agent talks about her job and her life. Someone who hates New York isn't a good candidate for lasting a long time here. Someone who really wants to be something else either (a writer, an actor, a lawyer.)
Mostly though I'd want to make sure that the junior agent is with an agency that's been around awhile and can step in if the junior agent gets recruited for the circus.

S.D.King mentioned my former companion in query shenanigans, the erstwhile Brooks Sherman:
I queried Brooks and heard nothing back. His website says if you don't hear, resubmit the query because they respond. I resubmitted and still crickets. I suppose I could re-resubmit but I don't think he's looking for a long-term non-relationship.

Last time I asked, Brooks had 700 unanswered queries. Behind? He was so behind I threatened to lock the liquor cabinet.  I think he probably still is, but I also think he does respond to everything…eventually.



This was an incredibly busy week here at the Reef. The Edgar festivities commenced on Monday, culminating in the Awards banquet on Wednesday night. It was great fun to see everyone  and catch up on projects, new ideas, great stories, and what everyone is excited about reading.

On Thursday, after thinking my traveling was done, and I was now chained to my desk, I decided to hit Malice Domestic instead. I got on the train at 7am on Friday morning and was in Bethesda by 11, ensconced in "my" spot in the bar. More on that on tomorrow's blog post.

Spring seems to be fully here, thank all deities foreign and domestic. It's not warm really but it's not raining and it's not freezing. I'll take it!





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8. Query Question: feedback and junior agents

I have a scenario for your wonderful blog, where the readers comments are as insightful as the posts. Here’s the situation: I’ve been reading awesome agent’s (AA) blog for almost a year now. From time to time AA holds an incredible open query event for her followers, promising to provide a personal reply, even if the query isn’t right up her alley. Suspecting a fatal conceptual flaw in my manuscript, I have intended to submit to this open query event. But, being the neurotic author that I am, I waited, not wanting to blow the opportunity with a manuscript or query that wasn’t up to snuff. I’ve finally gotten my act together, but AA seems to have suspended her open query events. Meanwhile, at AA’s agency there is a new junior agent (JA) seeking in my genre and firing off #MSWL tweeter twits that look they were targeted directly at my manuscript. What’s a neurotic author to do? (1)

There are probably two specific concerns here. First, after we’ve read every bit of advice on your blog, how can we find better specific feedback than the typically vague agent rejection? A few rejections along the lines of “You certainly write great dialog, but I just don’t feel passionate about your main character,” or “I love your concept and writing, but unfortunately I’m not connecting with your story,” are nice but don’t really help. More rejections are just a flat no, or worst of all, a no reply. Your recent post on professional editing services made this approach to getting good feedbacks look like a chancy proposition at best. And my CP, despite her excellent advice on my MS has little insight into what my fatal flaw might be. (2)

The second concern is regarding the wisdom of submitting to junior or new agents. What should we be looking for in a new agent? What should we be looking out for? Is the fact that JA works for a well respected agency with people like AA surrounding her, and presumably guiding and mentoring her recommendation enough? (3)


(1) Hmmm...I wonder who that slacker AA agent is?


And let's all remember that the purpose of Chum Bucket isn't to get feedback alone. It's querying for real. And that's the problem. I've been backed up on requested fulls for more than six months. I request a HUGE percentage of manuscripts during Chum Buckets (often up to 10% of total queries) so if I'm backed up on reading, the last thing I should do is add to the inventory.

I know that's not what you want to hear, but telling people they need to wait for me to read their work in 120, 150, 180!!!! days makes me crazy.

Therefore you should be casting a wider net. Which brings us to

(2) An agent's job is NOT NOT NOT to critique your work. You can get that sometimes from requested fulls, or more likely if you meet an agent at a conference and have her look at your synopsis, with the idea of helping you identify plot holes, or look at your query to identify weaknesses. Short of that, you need to get advice from other sources.

(3) You look for a junior agent who is sitting five feet away from a fierce senior agent who will keep her out of trouble.  You look for an agent who loves your work and thinks she can sell it.  And you make triple dog sure that she isn't heading for the exit anytime soon.


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9. Query Question: pitching an unfinished novel with a backlist

I'll be attending RWA in July and intend to pitch agents. I've been told more than once not to pitch unless I have a ms polished and ready for sale, but I have a dilemma with that. Here's the situation.

I have a book releasing with a small publisher in June, and two more books completed and in the hopper with the same publisher, scheduled to release at the end of 2015 and early 2016. Since I can point to these three novels with regard to how I've been spending my time, will agents be okay with the fact that the book I'm pitching (contemporary romance, 95-100,000 w) will be incomplete with only a synopsis and five chapters written? (2)

It seems ridiculous to attend RWA and pass up the opportunity to pitch just because of timing. If the conference were in November instead of July, the ms would be complete. I have a track record to prove that I finish what I start. Will that be good enough for most agents, or will the lack of a completed and polished ms be a deterrent? (3)

If a deterrent, can I still schedule to pitch but use the time to ask for feedback on my query letter? (4)
Would that be considered bad form? (I don't want to waste anyone's time.) (1)



Let's take these questions in numerical order.

(1)  YOU ARE NOT WASTING MY TIME TALKING TO ME ABOUT YOUR WORK or your query.  Like every agent worth having, I make my living from the work you trust me to sell.  Even if your query needs work; even if your book does not fit my list, it is NEVER a waste to time to talk to a writer who is serious about his/her career, and may be a potential client (ie REVENUE SOURCE.) And clearly you are in that category (for starters, you're reading this blog)

DO NOT EVER let me hear you talking about wasting my or any agent's time again, or I will get on my broom and fly to your house and bring you a Woodland Creatures Cake....and I'll leave the cake server at HOME.


*rant over*


(2&3) Given your publication history, I think agents will be confident you can finish the book. They can probably tell you if this new one fits in a category they want to consider. They'll probably want you to finish the book but you're right, an unfinished ms in your case is not the same as an unfinished ms from an unpubbed writer. You'll want to have a reasonable estimate of when you'll be finished with the novel (which you do seem to have now.)

(4) Yes.

RWA is in New York this year so a lot of editors and agents will be there. You'd be crazy not to take advantage of this opportunity.  Bring your query, bring a list of your published books, and get as much info as you can during your meeting times.

And bring your parasol. It's going to be hot and muggy. 



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10. Query question: can the publisher make me change the ending?



Six people I asked to beta read my work completed it and had useful feedback about where the story lagged or where it might be confusing, but two of them (a third of my readers!) didn’t like the ending. They wanted a happy ending for the characters that they had invested in, and I don’t write those. I strongly feel that protagonists must face the consequences of their actions, and sometimes those consequences are heavy.

I guess the silver lining is that they cared enough about the characters to be upset about the ending.

Now obviously, when I’m looking for an agent, I’d be sure to find one that is happy with the current ending. But what happens if we sign with a publisher? Is it possible that a publisher would have a similar view as a third of my beta readers? Could they be thinking “it’s got promise and once we sign, we’ll fix the ending”? Does a writer have any control at that point?

If the publisher tries to radically change a book after the author signs, can the author withdraw the book?


Yes.
If the author doesn't want to do the edits or changes that the publisher asks for, it's entirely possible to pay back all the advance money and cancel the contract. (You'll end up paying back the agent's commission portion too--we did our job and sold the book. You back out of the deal, we don't give the money back)


This doesn't happen often, but it does happen.


The way to avoid this is to have an agent who asks the right questions of the editor: do you love the book? do you think there are major changes? if you do, what are they?


The editor doesn't want to sign up a book and work on it for months only to have the author disagree and back out of the deal.  The editor will have some serious explaining to do up his/her food chain, and those are NOT fun conversations.


Your agent should know before going on submission that changing the ending is a deal breaker for you. That will help her figure out what questions to ask when negotiating the deal.



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11. Query Question: online, public crit groups

 

I've joined an online writing group called Scribophile, where you can share you work with others to be critique. It's open to anyone, and what you share is public until you can join private groups. If i put my work up to be critiqued on this online community, will agents consider it tarnished? Or unpublishable because it's already been shared?

Nope.
As long as you don't attach an ISBN and print it up and sell it, (or the electronic version of print it up) you're fine.

On the other hand.

I'm VERY hesitant about just letting random people critique your work.

Criticism can cut you to the quick, and letting random people flail at you with knives seems like something to avoid.

Second, you don't have any idea of the quality of their work do you? Someone who can't string sentences into paragraphs isn't someone I want telling me how to write.

Third, hives like that tend to reward bland, middle of the road, unexciting writing.There's nothing "wrong" with bland; it's just not very interesting. It's when you break the rules with elegance and style that you get my interest. Breaking the rules on those kinds of sites isn't always viewed with the same enthusiasm.

The commenters today will probably have advice based on actual experience with sites like this. I'd pay attention to what they say particularly if they don't agree with me.


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12. BEA for aspiring writers


I'm an aspiring novelist and an assistant editor for a travel book company. I'm going to BEA for the first time this year and I'm a little overwhelmed by the schedule. Do you have any recommendations of the best ways to spend my first BEA, given that I am trying to get published/get an agent within the next few years (knock on wood)? 

Yes. Don't go.

Unless your job for the travel book company requires you to attend, you're better off not going. If your job
does require you to attend, focus on what you need to do for your job. At your first BEA that will be more than enough to keep you busy.

BEA is NOT a place for writers to meet agents or try to get info on getting published.  Yes, I'll be there. So will everyone from my office. I'm not there to meet you. I'm there to see what publishers are doing. I'm there to meet with my co-agents from far flung lands.  I'm there to get a sense of the sea changes in the industry.  


The people who staff the booths of the publishers are most often NOT the editors who acquire manuscripts either. They're the sales people, the marketing folks, the publicity team.  They're there to talk to book buyers from bookstores, librarians, wholesalers and overseas publishers.  


Every single person working a booth at BEA has a horror story of some deluded author trying to press a manuscript on them, or asking who to send the manuscript to. Don't be that author, please.


And just in case you're absolutely sure you're the exception to this rule, here's a little known fact that should seal the deal: often times the people in the booth wear the wrong name on their badge because they share badges.  You think you're talking to a marketing person, it's really an intern brought in to help pack up boxes or hand out ARCs.


I know many authors who've gone to BEA and the most common response has been "I had no idea there were this many books." In other words, it's a daunting place to be particularly when you don't have an agent, let alone a book deal.


You want to go to WRITER'S CONFERENCES, not trade shows.  Go where agents ARE actively looking to talk to you.



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13. Query question: my novel isn't a ripoff, I swear

I've just had a terrible shock.  I have been taking my time meandering through all your author's websites.  There is so much to read on the blog AND also to keep up with the daily writing you do, fun commenters, other blogs, my own work and then, of course my full time gig, mothering/homeschooling.

I just read this in the works of Phillip DePoy: "2013 December's Thorn... Fever's wife? The mythology of Tristan and Isolde combines with Fever's dim past". And this: "To his family home in Blue Mountain, a small town in Georgia's Appalachian Mountains."

I know my story and this one cannot be the same at all from the little blurb I have read. My ms was written last summer before I had even heard of your blog. My point is, my story takes place in Appalachia in the Georgia Mountains and the mythology of Tristan and Isolde combine with my character's lives as well.  It wouldn't/couldn't happen again, such an odd coincidence? But what if I did query you and there were these bizarre similarities? What if I hadn't gone through all your authors books and queried?! I might not comb through other agent's websites as I do yours. This is so strange, would an agent see something like this as a joke? Or worse somehow, along the lines of plagiarism???

Yikes my heart skipped a beat.  To have two such strange coincidences...if this book also has to do with the Foxfire Magazine...errg. It's not like being queried for another vampire novel.  It just seems so strange. I know I am overreacting. Would you notice something like this? And if so what would your reaction be?


 I most likely will not notice if you too use a long established literary trope like Tristan and Isolde as the narrative blueprint for your novel.  Well, I'll notice the Tristan and Isolde part, I just won't assume you're lifting it wholesale from one of my client's books.

Tristant and Isolde is everyone's to use. As is Romeo and Juliet. As is "a monkey and horse walked in to a bar."

On the other hand, we're going to have some problems if you query me for an ex-military policeman, doing the vagabond shuffle, carrying only a toothbrush, and getting into trouble in cafes where he drinks too much coffee.

That's NOT a trope, that's a fully fleshed out character and Lee Child isn't a guy you'd want to steal from. 

Do you see the difference?

And even if you lifted every single element of Phillip DePoy's amazing Fever story, unless you write as well as he does, you're out of luck that I'd want to read it.

As long as you really are doing your own work you'll be ok. 

 

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14. Week in review April 26, 2015




Last week in the WIR, Jennifer R. Donohue said 
"But really, I want to hear more about the Buttonweezers, et al." 
which reminded me to tell you all about a fabulous moment of query serendipity! I got a query from a writer named Buttonweezer! Spelled differently of course, but still. I fell upon her query with glee and told her of the Buttonweezer clan that lives here on the blog.  Even more interesting: her first name was Janet! This falls under the truth is stranger than fiction category heading!

Dena Pawling added some interesting info to her bio with us:
Besides that description of how my husband asked me out on our first date, one of my earliest memories is of his car-at-the-time, a Triumph Spitfire. All you car types are groaning now. I don't remember where we went on this date, but while he drove me home in the rain, the generator caught fire. So, wearing a dress, I helped him push the car (in the rain) into a gas station. He says he was surprised I still agreed to go out with him. I always thought our dates were like an adventure.

One of these days I'll tell you about how my car caught on fire when I had Sue Grafton with me. Her next book is the X in the series. I'm lucky it's not X for eXtinguish.

bjmuntain offered up two links on publishing rights. I'm not going to reprint them here because the first one was full of errors. (Her later comment fixes the link to the second one)  When you're researching stuff about publishing PLEASE consider the source.  The first link was written by a writer trying to be helpful. I'm all for helpful writers but it's clear to me this one didn't know much about contracts.  
The SECOND link (publishinglawyer.com)  looks like correct information.

Then bj further asked:
I spent a lot of time last night checking out submissions guidelines, payment and rights bought for several magazines. Many of them say they buy First North American Serial Rights, or First World Rights, or First Electronic Rights. Or even a combination of those. A couple bought First Australian Serial Rights. One or two bought first English language serial rights.

So maybe I'm dense, and if I am, I'd love to have it explained to me.

You're not dense. You're reading what the site says they buy.

Here's the horrible truth: they don't know what they're doing!  Contracts from magazines and smaller publishers are NOTORIOUS quagmires. I could show you some that make sharks weep. I see a LOT of these since one rule here at the Reef is that no client signs a publishing contract of ANY KIND without me looking at it.  Even if I didn't sell it; ESPECIALLY if I didn't sell it in fact.

Some contracts are just blatant rights grabs (university presses wanting copyright for published thesis) and some are a mishmash of terms that fail to cover things like the duration of exclusivity.

If you REALLY want to know about contracts join the National Writers Union or the Author's Guild and get their information on contracts.



And I'm really sad that the only thing *I* get on Capcha is "I am not a robot." I am not so very many things, I wonder how they came to decide this one the one thing I shouldn't be in order to comment.



On Monday I answered a letter from a writer that left me horrified. His agent pretty much revealed his own idiocy by submitting to editors with the assumption they'd pass it along if they weren't the right choice; used a mis-leading pitch; and gotten the category wrong.

It's the trifecta that demonstrates idiocy; we've all done one or more of the above, but I hope to garamond, never on purpose!

Lisa Bodenheim asked the question I should have answered:
Wow. So what's an author to do? Surely the author is in a contract with that agent. If the author does not appreciate what is happening, they can have a direct conversation with their agent. But if the agent doesn't get it or if the author remains unsatisfied with their agent, then what?

You fire the agent. 



MB Owen asked:
Can an agent "un-deliberately" mislead? It sounded intentional, trying to make the pitch fit with an editor's tastes while knowing his client's book was something else.

This is an interesting question, and one I actually know something about right now. I did not "deliberately mislead" an editor about a book he bought on proposal but it was clear that what I had loved about the story, and talked about in my pitch, had NOT made it in to the first draft of the book. 

The author and I realized this together, and actually decided she'd rewrite to incorporate more of what I'd seen in the story. That's why it's the trifecta of errors that is cause for alarm. I not only didn't get the category and editor wrong; I sold the book.


Christina Seine brought up another good point:
This makes me wonder if that rep has a bad rep among editors. Because it sounded like he really pooched it, to more than one editor. I bet that's not a first. So what I imagine then are editors receiving pitches from Agent Stu Pidd and going, "Not this guy again! Hey guys, did I tell you about the time he pitched a contemporary YA as historical romance? I don't think he ever even read the book!"

Under those circumstances, you're lucky if anyone reads the guy's correspondence at all. Yikes.

You're right: they DON'T read the submissions from agents they think are idiots.  I've heard from MANY editors about "schmagents" who are permanently barred from serious consideration.  It's one thing to send something an editor doesn't like, or doesn't think can sell. It's another thing entirely to get EVERYTHING (the trifecta again) wrong.

But mostly schmagents are the ones who don't have a clue how publishing really works. The good news? If your agent is one of them, your book is probably still submittable in that the editors on the submission list never saw it.


REJourneys asked:
Though, is it possible for editors to turn down books because they don't like the agent? I assume that is another business relationship that needs to be at least workable. Knowing that certain agents (well, agent) are misleading you the first time would make me question if I ever want to read something they have again.

Yes it's not just possible, I know it happens. It's not for misleading pitches or getting categories wrong though. It's cause the agents are impossible to work with. Things like insulting the editor during negotiations, or using foul language in email (even I, known dropper of the F-bomb do NOT do this!) or being intractable about things that can't be changed (or dim witted about how to ask for changes.)

The problem here is, as a writer, you'll never get this information. I can't tell you who are on those lists; I don't know more than a few names, all of which were revealed to me in total and complete confidence, usually in person, far from any publishing ears.  In other words, never even written down.  


Dena Pawling made me laugh out loud with this one:
And excuse my woodland creature brain, but thanks for clarifying this line - “I spend time talking to them on the phone, over lunch, on Twitter, and in other odd places (like conferences)....” After last week's discussion, when I read “in other odd places” I pictured you sliding your pitch under the restroom stall door.

I very rarely slide mss under bathroom stall doors when I'm meeting editors. Under their martini glass, you betcha!



On Tuesday we talked about withdrawing a novel on submission if you think another one is a better fit.

Pharosian asked this:
Wow. That's one situation I never even thought about. So if I sign with Fabulous Agent and she sells my cozy mystery (or mysteries), and then sometime down the road I write a slasher (or some other project FA finds distasteful), is FA obligated to try to sell it? And if FA doesn't want to, what's her recourse? Fire me as a client?

No, I'm not obligated to work on anything but that's not really the right question to ask.  When I talk to a potential client I ask about the kinds of books the writer wants to work on in the future. If the answer is "well, this cozy series is great but my true love is writing romance" I am NOT going to sign the client no matter how much I love the mystery series, because the author needs an agent who can do both kinds of books effectively. I'm probably not that agent. The slithery force of nature that is Barbara Poelle probably is.

Of course, if a client develops a sudden interest in a category I don't do well, it's too late not to sign them. In those cases I call in favors from friends (Brooks Sherman for example sold Sean Ferrell's picture book on my behalf) or learn the category (I have a middle grade novel on submission now.)

And it's entirely possible that if a client's work shifts to a new category, she gets traded to the other team for a draft round choice to be named later.


Sadly brianrschwarz earns a lifelong residence on Carkoon with this one:
I hate to say it QOTKU, but you might be right.

Then tried to cancel his ticket with this:
After flipping back and forth, I eventually decided to take QOTKU up on her advice and sent my email an hour ago. After all, if it failed miserably, I'd just blame my writing career on Janet. ;)

But to my surprise, it turns out sharks are sharks for a reason. TFFA responded within the last hour and recommended I leave the bloody book in question on the table, but reply with my query and full for my YA novel. I suppose then if she hates the query for YA book, she can still read bloody mess with renewed fortitude and a more accurate expectation.

So basically, I owe Janet a drink. Let me know when you're in the Midwest.

Midwest? Is that near midtown? Cause if you can't get there on the subway…

Turns out Christina Seine will be joining brianrschwarz on the trip to Carkoon.
 Also, apropos of nothing but Twitter, I was not surprised to learn that Janet is a pimp. I kind of always pictured her as one, in a John Travolta suit, leopard skin coat, flat-brimmed hat, heaps of gold jewelry, base thumping in the background, and of course the razor-sharp teeth. SO badass.

bjmuntain had an interesting question about withdrawn mss
A question just occurred to me, while reading through comments again. If an author withdraws a submitted manuscript for X reason, would it be possible - or even ethical - for the agent to decide that X isn't going to bother her and read the manuscript anyway?

I'm not saying 'ethical' as in morally right. I mean professionally ethical. Is it something that is seen as wrong in the publishing industry? Or is it really just a morally indifferent choice? I can see it going either way.

I think if an author asks you not to read a manuscript, you don't read it. From a purely pragmatic time management point of view, it makes no sense to read something if it's not on submission. I think from a business practices standpoint you really do want to convey to an author that if they ask you to do something, you honor their wishes.  I've had clients ask me to do stuff I thought was the wrong choice for their career, but it's THEIR career. I offered my opinion, the client elected to do something else.
I don't think it's morally wrong to read a withdrawn ms, but I don't think it's something I'd do.



 Susan Bonifant summed it up nicely:
My only experience with a hired editor was as a new writer when I would have taken advice from the neighborhood grocer.

It was awful. She was borderline abusive when I disagreed, found ways to charge more than she should have and made me feel like I was lucky to be wasting her time.

I think she may have even suggested a prologue. No, that's not true.

My (embittered) take, now that I would never consider it again, is this:

One, don't do this if you are not feeling strong about yourself as a writer yet. And two, consider whose advice would be more valuable - someone who is paid to find problems, or a beta reader who is going to tell you why they put the book down to get a drink and didn't come back.

And let me add that anyone you work with on your creative projects who makes you feel "lucky to be wasting her time" is not someone you want to work with. The reason for that isn't cause they hurt your feelings, it's cause they don't know what their job is.  Their job is to help you. That's the reason you're paying them. It's entirely possible to be direct, no-nonsense, AND helpful. I have the replies to rejection letters to prove it.



Amy Schaefer asked a good question about what happens NEXT:
Here is my concern. Let's say I hire Editor Redpen to fix my manuscript. She does an excellent job, and as a result of her advice, I sign with Agent Superpants. She sells the MS. Fast forward a year or two, and I'm ready to show Agent Superpants my new manuscript.

The phone rings.
"Hi, Amy, it's Agent Superpants. I've read the new manuscript you sent me."
"Great! How did you like it."
Long pause. "It's... rough."
"Rough."
"Unpolished. Flabby. Your pacing dies completely in chapter four, and doesn't come back until chapter 17. All of your male characters are generic, and your protagonist is unfocused. What happened?"

The writers I work with who hired an editor to help them  both said that it made them better writers. Not just improved the manuscript, but the process itself helped them see what a novel needed. That's really the goal of spending that money: to learn how to do it yourself next time.

BUT, that is also the reason I think hiring an editor to write your query is not a good idea. Writers need to learn  how to draft a solid query, and the only way to do it, is to do it. Sure you can get help on spotting flaws but you yourself should write your query.




Susan Bonifant brought up Grub Street:
I'm not opposed to the idea of paying for a second read. But how and why is it necessary to consider all that is available for 4K, rather than what is essential for far less? Grub Street in Boston for example charges way, WAY less to pair a writer with a completely objective, multi-traditionally published author, often an instructor, in the genre you select, who will tell you exactly where the suckage is from a reader's standpoint.

By sheer happenstance I'm writing the Week In Review here at the Delaware shore and on the next couch over is an agent who will be at Grub Street next week, and what is she doing? Reading manuscript pages from the people she has pitch sessions with. If you're looking for a place to discover the Suck, Grub Street (and other good writing conferences) can be it.

InkStainedWench had an interesting question:
Now I'm curious. Do editors reject a book with a simple "Dear agent, no thanks, have a nice day."

Generally no. They usually give me some feedback which they know I will share with the author.  If things really go wrong, I'll get a phone call and nothing is put in writing. How to share that information is then up to me.
 
Some editors do have form rejection letters. I have no problem with those, but if I get more than three, I know I'm missing the mark pretty completely with what that editor is looking for, and it's time for some digging and reading.

And Donnaeve asked:
 Janet, don't you find it strange not one acquiring editor gave the OP and their agent anyfeedback?

Yup. I'm hesitant to guess as to the reason however since I don't know the book, or the editor submission list.

But as it turns out there WAS some feedback: Matt Adams said
Hi guys -- OP here.

To answer some questions ...

We got some feedback and got passed around the office by three editors, but that was as far as we got. Two seemed close, but in the end decided not to offer. The feedback was diverse -- there was no universal complaint.

My agent has always thought it should be a big book and has told me she'll push it as far as it can be pushed. She's told me she feels confident she could find SOME publisher for it now, but thinks it deserves better -- I think she's more baffled by the lack of success than I am. And while I understand the concept of trunking it, that's hard to do when she's still willing to find it a home. She's not demanding the edit, but she thinks it would be helpful in helping the book become what she thinks it should be. I'm not saying that I'm sure the book is big or even publishable, but I think I owe it to myself (and her) to give it every opportunity I can to succeed. And before I give the wrong impression, my agent is awesome -- she got everyone to read, which was her job as far as I'm concerned. It was my part of the equation that was lacking.

But I think Janet's right in that saying a second read instead of the full edit is the way to go. Or second read then a full edit.

Thanks for the input everyone. I appreciate it.

I think Matt's agent is smart. If the novel isn't working, it's time for a second set of eyes. That's a demonstrable lack of ego, and business savvy there.

Amy Schaefer asked a good question:
Hmm. With 28 rejections but no consensus on what is wrong (or holding you back, or making editors say no), I sincerely wonder what insight any new editor, paid or otherwise, can give you. 28 is a decent sample size; if there were a major fault in your work, I would have expected that feedback to bubble to the surface from multiple sources by now.

Which leaves the paid editor's professional opinion about what is going wrong here. It doesn't sound like you have much to lose in buying a second read, but if there is no particular thing wrong with your book, I wonder how much she can really help you. Maybe your book is just quirky and different and hasn't found the right home yet. Best of luck!

 That's entirely possible, but remember an editor at a publishing house isn't required to tell you what doesn't work in a novel, only if s/he intends to acquire it.  Much like agents in the query queue, "not right for me" is the only required answer.
Editors often times will not say negative things in a "not for me" letter to an agent because CLEARLY the agent feels the book has merit.  "This book has no plot" is not something I'd expect an editor to say to an agent, and yes, I've sent out books where the plot could be found only with a magnifying glass…

brianrschawrz demonstrates he wants to live on Carkoon forever:
You may not always be right,

RobCeres asked a question that I think a lot of writers would ask here:
Oh to have this conundrum! Assuming the publisher is reputable, what is the downside of going both routes? If the publisher wants the book isn't that tremendous ammunition for a query letter? I mean if I was an agent I would love the first line "I am querying you because (whatever the reason is), and INHO (I'm Not a Hobby Outlet) is offering a publishing contract.

And you'll be surprised to learn that having an offer in hand doesn't make you more attractive to an agent. In fact, it can be a problem.
If you turn up with a contract in hand, you'll be thinking your novel is publishable as it stands. And it is: at THIS publisher.
I can't think of a single book I've sold that I didn't have at least one round of edits on before I sent it on submission. Most are three rounds, a couple right now are on Round Ten and Eleven.
Telling an author with a publication offer in hand that their novel isn't ready isn't fun. In fact, it often leads to hard feelings that end in fuck you and flouncing off.
If your novel is terrific, I probably want to take it out for a spin at the larger publishers.  It's hardly ever possible to say to a small publisher "Hey, can you wait on this offer for two months while we see if we can get something better?"  and even harder to say to editors "hey, can you read this really soon cause I have an offer pending from the Carkoon Illuminated Manuscript Society."
This is why agents BEG you to query them first, and publishers second.




JEN Garrett had an interesting piece of advice:
Here's one way to implement Janet's awesome advice about doing your research.
If you want to know whether a publisher sells to libraries, find a title that the publisher has published (there should be a list on their website). Then call your local librarian and ask if they CAN order the book. Make it clear you are not asking them to order it; you just want to know if the publisher is legit.

The reason you want to do this, is because library books are sold through different distributors than a bookstore. But really, you can use this simple test anywhere you want to see your book in print.


And then you guyz just went completely nuts with list of seasons you all enjoy. In other words, the kinds of comments that really make me laugh.



Colin Smith had an interesting turn of phrase here:
1) If your first book is published, as far as an agent is concerned, there's nothing more to be done with it. There's no point trying to get an agent for it, and why would you? It's published already!

I'm going to quibble here: There's a LOT more to be done with a book even after it's published. The problem is there's NO MONEY. My policy is that if I don't sell something I don't take commission. (co-agenting things are the exception). 

If an author comes to me with a book that's under contract, I don't get a commission but I DO end up doing a lot of work on the book because my job is advocating for my author NOT making money. I need to make money so I try to avoid situations where doing my job means I won't make money. 

This situation happens more than you think when you sign a client who has been repped and sold by another agent for previous books; or who has a backlist and no agent.

The conversation then turned to acronyms, and you guyz had some hilarious versions thereof.
That said, the fewer use of acronyms here on the blog the better. Acronyms create a sub-strata of readers, those "in the know" and thus a group of readers who are NOT.

I'd like to keep all of us in one group as much as possible. If you don't get the Carkoon or Buttonweezer references, you can still get value from the blog. If we start abbreviating the important stuff like Original Poster it's harder for new readers to feel welcome.

Speaking of welcome, I'm writing this from the Delaware shore where I've retreated to read requested full manuscripts.  It's been a VERY productive four days let me tell you.

On Thursday, I strolled around the little town and found a terrific bookstore.  One the shelf as I walked in, this greeted me:




On Friday, my companion in world domination and I took a short break and drove to Assateague Island to see the wild ponies.  I grew up loving the Misty of Chincoteague books. Marguerite Henry was the first author I ever met. Her kindness and graciousness to an awestruck, tongue-tied eight year old girl with a red leather autograph book warms me to this day.









Next week is the Edgars so I'll be hanging out with a lot of out of town friends coming in for the festivities.  Not much work gets done  but a good time is had by all.





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15. Query question: I have a contract but want an agent for film/translation

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you help clear out my muddle puddle? 









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


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


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





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17. Query Question: value of second read

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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18. Query Question: paid editors

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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




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

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19. Query Question: what constitutes self-publishing?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the guidelines from Wendy Sherman Associates.



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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23. Week in Review April 19, 2015

And what a week it was!

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

cracked me up completely.

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

 



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



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

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

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

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

And Abib Khorram mentioned the Midwest Writers Conference:

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

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

"Janet Reid" can be the judge.

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





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

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

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

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

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

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


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




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

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

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

*climbs down off soapbox*
*signs exile extension*




And I REALLY liked this from BJ Muntain

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Answer:
0%
100%


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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

YES I NOTICE 1.25 margins!


Sheesh you guys!



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


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


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

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


Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli asked

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Have a great week!





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

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

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


What?
WHAT?
WHAT???


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

WHAT THE EVER LIVING FUCK IS THIS??



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


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

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

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

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

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

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




 

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25. Query Question: On Second Thought


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's take the questions in reverse order.


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

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

(2) NO

(1) YES



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


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


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