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1. Query Question: freshness dates on pub credits


Can I use that time I was published in the local paper in 3rd grade as a publishing credit now? I entertained the idea, because it put a smile on my face and almost made me laugh aloud. However, the more I explored the "yes" and "no" to this question...the less sure I became. I mean, I was in the third grade 11 years ago. Some authors, I'd imagine, reference their credits that are older than that. Surely that wasn't their best work and they've grown since then. Perhaps not comparatively to the degree of a child, but still.


No.
Pub credits are works that have been published by someone who chose your submission from a competitive field and generally speaking offered you a contract for publication.

Publishing anything by a  third grader in the local newspaper is considered cute, not competitive.

If you put that in a query letter and I discovered it was something you wrote when you ten years old, I'd stop taking you seriously. 

Don't reach for pub credits you don't have. If you don't have them, you don't. I've signed and sold a LOT of writers who had zilch on their resume other than "I want to be a published writer" and were smart enough not to say "I've been writing since I could hold a pen" or "I've wanted to be a writer from when I was in kindegarten."

A query letter is a business communication. Don't do anything that makes you look silly unless you are writing the next Captain Underpants.


0 Comments on Query Question: freshness dates on pub credits as of 1/28/2015 7:07:00 AM
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2. Gingerbread Spies and Magic Pencils - Two Book Birthdays!

Mara Rockliff's latest picture book, GINGERBREAD FOR LIBERTY, is the delicious (and true!) story of the baker who helped save the American Revolution.

Christopher Lutwick was a German immigrant and, in the 1770's, a vocal advocate of revolution as well as possibly the most celebrated and popular baker in Philadelphia. When the war broke out, though he was too old for fighting, he was determined to help, and his friend George Washington made him the "baker general" of the army. He also had an even more significant, albeit more secretive role... to talk starving Hessian soldiers working for the British into abandoning the King. And he could do it because he was a former starving Hessian soldier himself.

This remarkable tale shines a light on a little known figure of the Revolution who worked alongside George Washington and the other heroes we all know about. And the scrumptious illustrations by Vincent X Kirsch are the icing on the gingerbread!

"This appealing concoction is a powerful reminder of the good one person can do." -- Kirkus

"A sweet addition to Revolutionary War units." --School Library Journal, starred review

0 Comments on Gingerbread Spies and Magic Pencils - Two Book Birthdays! as of 1/27/2015 2:49:00 PM

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3. How Jessica A Reads Queries


When it comes to how I approach my queries and submissions, I don’t have any firm rules.  Sometimes I start at the top of my inbox, sometimes I start at the bottom.  Sometimes I pick a submission in a genre that I’m in the mood to read or that I know an editor is looking for.  And sometimes I pick a submission that I think might be a pass so I can deal with it quickly and make my inbox less crowded.  By the way, I love it when I’m wrong about those submissions.  It’s great when I go into something thinking it’ll be a fast pass, and it ends up hooking me instead.  I love being surprised that way. 

I tend to answer queries quickly. When I want to procrastinate on another task, I answer queries.  When I’m watching tv at night and there’s a commercial break, sometimes I open up my queries. If things are slow, sometimes I answer queries as soon as they pop up in my email.  But sometimes things get busy and a week or two goes by without me even looking at my submissions box. 

I generally go with my gut reaction on queries. Is this something I want to read or not?  Is it marketable or not? Are there significant publishing credits in the author’s bio?  Is the writing great, just average, or terrible?  Is the query professional or does it feel amateurish?  Honestly, it probably takes me less than a minute to reach a decision on most queries. Sometimes I’ll put aside certain queries to think about more, but generally I go on my initial reaction.

I’ll admit, I’m slow with requested material.  I like to read requested material when I have a nice big chunk of time to devote to it.  I don’t like to read manuscripts in bits and pieces.  It makes it harder for me to keep my thoughts straight that way.  It’s rare I get to read a manuscript in one sitting, but I aim to at least get through 50-100 pages at a time. 

Also, as much as I try, I can’t get into the knack of reading submissions on my Kindle.  Back in the old days of hard copy submissions, I would cover the margins with Post-It notes of my thoughts.  And now, I can’t live without Track Changes and Comments in Word.  I’d probably be faster if I read on my Kindle but it just doesn’t gel with the way I like to take notes. 

With submissions, there’s still a bit of reacting on gut instinct but I also like to mull things over.  After reading something enjoyable, I like to put it aside for a day or two and think about it.  Do I still remember it clearly in two days?  Am I still as excited about it?  Is it something that I want to talk to my colleagues about and get second reads on?  Do I sit down at the dinner table at night and tell my husband all about the great story I read?  How would I pitch it to editors?  Then again, if I’m mulling over the project for too long and something is holding me back from offering quickly, I want to analyze why I’m hesitating. Sometimes it’s a problem that can be fixed with revisions, or a question of whether I want to take a risk on something that might not be super marketable at the moment, but sometimes it shows me that I’m not as enthusiastic about a project as I should be.  And, really, that’s what every decision comes down to: do I love this book enough to read it over and over again, and read anything and everything else the author writes? 

—Jessica A

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4. Query question: print books only

 I’ve seen a lot of authors talk about how they self-published their novel digitally, then sold their print rights to a publisher while retaining the rights to the digital version. However, virtually all of the query advice I’ve read says don’t bother querying an agent if you’ve already self-published, and I haven’t yet found an agent that will accept a query for the same.

So, I’m curious: What’s the best way to go about selling print-only rights to a self-published novel if most agents auto-reject this kind of query?


Make sure you open emails from editors at publishing companies.

Whereas most agents won't sign something that is a print rights only project, editors at publishing companies might have some sort of special circumstance that would allow them to acquire print only. They'll go looking for it. 

You have your email address on your website, right? It's easy to get in touch, right?

And one thing to REALLY be careful of here: anecdotes and stories from self-pubbed writers that are too old to apply to the current state of the market.

I know of several editors who did interesting kinds of deals with previously self-pubbed writers and are now looking at the resultant sales figures. Most of those are Not Good, which means deals that happened one or two years ago are not being done now.


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5. Are You Getting What You Pay For

At the beginning of every year, and usually another time mid-year, I spend some time going through all of the things I pay for (cable, internet, lawn service, accountant, etc) to make sure that I'm really getting what I pay for. In some cases it's a matter of looking at what I have and changing to less expensive alternatives (dropping some of the cable channels I pay for, but have never heard of), in other cases it's a matter of looking at how I use the item and seeing if I should be doing more with it (asking the accountant to review my books bimonthly instead of quarterly).

The same should go for your relationship with your agent. Now, I'm definitely not advocating for dumping your agent (do you think I'm insane!), but I am suggesting that since you pay your agent you take a look at how much you're actually utilizing her.

I have some clients who are terrific at using me when they need me. We brainstorm ideas for new books, titles, editorial suggestions. We discuss and help resolve emotional breakdowns, deadlines and editorial conflicts. They keep me posted and updated on marketing and career plans in general so that I can help guide, direct, or even keep them in mind when something new pops up.

There are other clients however who seem very fearful of bothering me. Usually it's because things are going along smoothly, they have a great relationship with their editor and they are great at managing it all on their own. And that's great. Until it's not. The client who is used to doing it all herself will often also put out all fires herself but, let's face it, even the best firefighter can't do the job on her own.

An agent gets paid a 15% commission and that job should entail more than just selling the book and negotiating a contract. It should be about building a career and all that goes with it. If, for example, your cover stinks but no one bothers to show your agent until it's final she can't go to the publisher and insist on changes. If the cover stinks and the book doesn't sell. Well, it's hard to build a career if your books don't sell. That's just one example, but I think you can see where I'm going.

Your agent is your business partner and if you're running a business with a partner hopefully you aren't making all of the decisions on your own. Use your business partner as much as possible. They say two heads are better than one.

--jhf


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6. Query Question: "next work" subject line


I queried a project that resulted in several requests for my full manuscript. Ultimately, the requesting agents passed, but several were generous in the rejection--they detailed their reasons, complimented my writing, and ended with an invitation to submit future projects if I didn't find representation through the current manuscript. I did not. Now, I have a new project and would like to query these same agents.

Barbara Poelle fielded a similar question in her recent Writers Digest column. She outline what the author should include in the body of the query, but didn't address the subject line. Is there etiquette for this? Or does it remain a standard Query: Project Name, Author Name?

One of the agents I want to revisit is currently closed to submissions, so I suspect any query sent to her would merely be deleted unless there is some clue in the subject line that she has asked to see subsequent work.

Or am I merely a poor deluded soul who didn't recognize a polite boilerplate statement to ease a rejection?


no no no, you are not deluded, you will have to try harder to be clueless, sorry.

If an agent asks to see the next work, that's something you want to keep track of.

Your question about the subject line is timely as well, given how many agents now read queries on their phones.

Here's how you do that:

Re: Query for TITLE (the next project from) AUTHOR

The FIRST line of your query is:

On DATE you were kind enough to say you'd like to see future work. This is the query for my next novel.

Then you begin your query as you normally.

Standard querying calls for starting the query with all the housekeeping stuff at the bottom, but this is the exception to that.  Let the agent know right away that she's seen and liked your work.

I can track all my email conversations with queriers going back years so when I get a query like this, I look up the previous project and re-read my notes.  There's a LOT more leeway for someone querying a project if I've already seen and liked previous work.  Leeway means I'm much more likely to read something including all the pages even if I don't think it's a good fit.


0 Comments on Query Question: "next work" subject line as of 1/26/2015 7:23:00 AM
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7. The Week In Review

 

In Monday's post on POV, Kitty mentioned one of my favorite books Bright Lights Big City which is famously written in the second person

"You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.  You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head."

Kitty asked "I've often wondered if McInerney had to really sell the 2nd person, because some people have a knee-jerk reaction to it, or did his writing sell it for him?" 

I'll opine that the writing is what carries this book. Using 2nd person POV was a device to bring the reader along with the narrator, in the closest narrative proximity possible. There is no "you and I" here, certainly no "they" there is only "us."

I've read other books in the second person POV notably CharlesBenoit's YOU which I might have enthused about here a time or two, but it's a tough POV to carry off well.



Long time blog reader Julie Weathers gave me a new favorite phrase on Monday too: "Holy rolling armadillos." 

That pretty much had us all in stitches here in the office.



And I really liked Colin Smith's list of questions about how to figure out which POV suits the story:

* How emotionally intense is the story? How closely do I want the reader to feel what the MC feels?

* How important is it that the reader is as surprised by plot developments as the MC?

* Do I want the reader to have a broader perspective of the story than the MC? Perhaps there are multiple plot threads with minor characters that your MC isn't aware of, but play into the main plot.

* What's the focus of your story: solving a mystery step-by-step, knowing the solution to the mystery and seeing how your MC solves it (like Columbo), the hunt for a bad guy, or the unraveling of a deadly scheme? I think you can use pretty much any POV for these scenarios, but some favor particular POVs more than others (e.g., Columbo-style is probably best as 3rd Omniscient; the step-by-step would be 1st or 3rd Limited like Harry Potter).




On Wednesday's blog post on characters' names, oh-so-useful Felix Buttonweezer (I think there are at least two spellings on that floating around!) reappeared.  This was immediate license for all the blog commenters to further build his backstory.  We're going to need a Buttonweezer Bible here before too long.



I did Facebook post on what I found to be an insightful comment at LibraryThing about building tension in historical thrillers.



Thursday was a really odd day. I posted the details of why on my Facebook page.



This week I paid my annual AAR dues which may seem like a small thing, but I remember when I wasn't an AAR member and how much I wanted to join as soon as I could.  For those of you who aren't familiar with AAR, it's the literary and dramatic agents professional group.  There's a Canon of Ethics which members agree to abide by, and a minimum standard for associate and full membership.
Some very reputable agents elect not to belong to AAR, but I'm very happy to fork over my dues and count myself among those who do.

I can't believe next week is the last week in January! Time is just flying by...even without those flying cars or personal jetpacks that I'm still hoping for!





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8. Agent question: agents for agents?



Some literary agents are also authors, but they have another literary agent to represent their books. Why they don't represent their own books directly?

Agents understand the value of an agent. You can't agent your own work if you want a good agent, even if you're a good agent for everyone else.

Agenting requires distance and perspective that aren't possible if you're also the writer.

Agents who agent themselves will tell you I'm wrong. Their editors will tell you I'm right.

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9. Kate Douglas's Cozy Reading Corner


Inspired by a Mashable piece about cozy reading spots, BookEnds will feature our own favorite reading corners. Here is author Kate Douglas's:

My favorite spot is the old recliner in my office where I write. Rufus beside me, a soft chair under my butt and books all around. It just doesn’t get any better.




--Kate DouglasDark Refuge—Book 4 Spirit Wild or coming in May, Hot Alphas anthology with Tangled

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10. Query Question: previous use of materials---and the Shark flips out



Years ago I started an online text-based roleplay series; basically a  collaborative story. It wasn't supposed to be a series. I had barely  started roleplaying and it was more like a test to see what running one of  those would feel like. So I didn't think too much on the fact that I was  using a couple of characters from my novel (a mere project at the time) to  build the story. The RP generated interest and spun two sequels, one of  which is still running. The world and story of the RP are unique and  completely unrelated with my novel yet I've been told that, because I used  my novel characters (name and physical description, not their story) in  the game, if I were to pursue traditional publishing I would have to  either change the characters in the book or take down the RP since it's  published online. Is this a fact?

Assuming the RP itself is not an issue. Say I sign with an agent, the  book gets picked up by a publisher and all those wonderful things I tell  myself to think of as 'near impossible best case scenarios' actually come  true. If down the road from that me and my RP buddies would like to take  the story we wrote together and make something with it along the lines of  a comic or web series (we've discussed doing it for funsies, not profits),  would those names and similarities pose an issue even if both works are  basically authored by me?

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!
RED LIGHT FLASHING!!!!!

(can you guess why?)


The authors I've seen write spin-offs or prequel shorts, or whatever else  using their characters online, however successful, were self published.  Fellow writers tell me that with traditional publishing that isn't quite  possible.

Bottom line: once a work is published the traditional way how much  freedom, if any, does an author have to play with his own creations in his  own time without it bitting him/her in the tender meat of their sitting  down area?


You're asking the wrong question.

Here's the question you SHOULD ask: "the story that my RP buddies and I wrote together" --who owns the copyright to that?

Once you have more than one person involved in the creation of a work it's no longer just yours.  It does not matter if you originated the project. It does not matter that you think of it as yours. If someone else contributed in a meaningful way to plot, character development, setting, they have rights in the work.  You can fix this by having everyone sign what's essentially a quit claim to the work, but the smarter thing to do was make sure everyone understood they were NOT co-owners at the start.

Publishers won't care if your RP game is online. In fact, they'll probably love it. More people to buy the book.

But I absolutely guarantee you that if your book is successful in any meaningful way (ie money) you're going to have people coming out of the woodwork claiming a piece of it.

You might think an easy solution is to change the names and character descriptions but if you make enough money, that won't matter. You WILL be targeted by people wanting a piece of the action.


You need an intellectual property lawyer. AND you need to sort this out before you do anything bold like sign a publishing contract. The boilerplate on every publishing contract in this universe and the next one over requires you to warrant that you are the creator of the work, and are not infringing on anyone else's copyright. Their insurance and yours will NOT cover you if you are found to be in violation of the warranty you gave.

Aren't you glad you asked?


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11. How Much of the Book Do You Read?

I absolutely LOVED this article from The Guardian  about how ebooks can tell us how much of the book readers are actually reading.

It's a fascinating look at how some of today's bestsellers are actually not being finished. Frankly, this information doesn't surprise me at all. I haven't read many of the books mentioned in the article, but I am notorious for putting a book down when I just don't love it any longer. Life is short and if I have time to curl up and read a book it better be a good book and not just any book. By the way, good book is entirely subjective.

As an agent I would love information on how books are being read and when they're being put down. It's great sales research. As an author advocate I'm not so sure it's great for an author's sales if this kind of information becomes widely known. After all, would you buy the next big bestseller that everyone is talking about if you found out that everyone only read the first 25%?

Either way, it's definitely cool information.

-jhf


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12. WAITING FOR UNICORNS has arrived!

WaitingforUnicorns - jacketThe wait is over! We’re thrilled to celebrate the publication of  Beth Hautala‘s debut middle grade novel WAITING FOR UNICORNS (Philomel Books).

Kirkus calls Beth “an author to watch.” School Library Journal calls her writing “poignant.” Publisher’s Weekly calls Beth’s descriptions “spellbinding.”

Talia McQuinn is much too old to believe in magic, yet she keeps a jar of wishes under her bed. When her whale-researcher father drags Tal to the Arctic for the summer following her mother’s death, she brings the jar along. During her stay, Tal learns of the ancient Inuit legend of the narwhal whale—the unicorn of the sea—she forms a plan to make the biggest wish of her life.

I discovered Beth’s work while participating in the annual agent slugfest known as the Baker’s Dozen Auction, a contest in which … [more]

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13. Query Question: beta readers using Kindle



I have a nearly-completed novel that I'd like to distribute to beta readers. They've all asked for a Kindle version, which I can do by generating a .mobi file which they can manually upload onto their Kindles.

I've heard horror stories about publishers declining a work because in their eyes it was published electronically. Can you explain what a publisher's definition of 'electronically published' is?

Though I'd be interested in that fuller explanation, alternatively, I would be happy for you to tell me I'm being way too paranoid and that something innocent like manually distributing Kindle-formatted files isn't going to be treated as a form of publishing.

Either answer would be greatly appreciated.


Generally "published" in book form means it has an ISBN number and was available for sale. Thus, sending a .mobi file to your beta readers is not published.  You'd be smart to mark the file "draft version-not for sale, or distribution" just to be clear to the people getting the file.


My ONLY hesitation here is that Kindle is an Amazon device. You might want to read the terms of service for Kindle to make sure they don't claim you've licensed us of anything  uploaded on the device. I'm not saying they do, I haven't read the TOS with this kind of question in mind, but you'd be smart to do so. My limited experience with contracts offered by companies owned by Amazon is you DO want to read the fine print.

And book publishers don't always see "previously published" as a problem. Lots of books have second, even third, lives in book publishing.  Where you run in to the most problems with "previously published" are contests and submissions to anthologies.





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14. Fingers Crossed

This is how I imagine some authors look when their material has been requested by an agent. I know that this is how some agents look when we get a call from an editor.






--jhf

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15. Query Question: introducing characters

I've seen a lot of queries where the writer starts off with the main character's full name. "Dr. Felixandro Buttonweezer III was just your average shark researcher until..." Then they're called by nickname for the rest of the query. "Felix must battle through Character Soup and Plot Salad before he's free." I can understand people doing this if the character's title or family name is important, but I see it all the time. Is there some grand unwritten rule about this? Should we just start off with Felix if we're going to call him that anyway? Or is it one of those "whatever works for the rhythm and tone" problems? 


I've seen this a lot too, and it doesn't stand out as something I'd suggest be changed.  Thus it's one of those "whatever works for the rhythm and tone" items.

However, there are a couple things writers do when introducing characters that do drive me batshark crazy:

(1) Dr. Felixandro "Felix" Buttonweezer III

If you're going to call him  Felix, do it. If you're going to use his full name, do that. But do NOT combine them.  That's newspaper style writing, and you're not writing an article for the SharkVille Times. You're writing a letter.


(2) Dr. Felixandro Buttonweezer III, 34, was just your average shark researcher

Again, adding Felix's age after his name is like newspaper writing. If his age is important, tell us when it's important.  Dr. Felix Buttonweezer was only 34 when Mrs. Buttonweezer started planning for his retirement.

In one place it's part of the story, in another it's just an isolated fact with no context.  You do NOT want isolated facts with no context in a query. Every piece of information should be part of the narrative. It should be there for a reason.



(3) Felix and Felicia were twins. The Buttonweezer clan thought twins were bad luck.

In a query, which is very short form, and often skimmed,  you want to make rock solid certain that your reader isn't confused. Here, there is confusion because we don't know if Felix and Felicia are part of the Buttonweezer clan.

This is how you fix that: Felix and Felicia Buttonweezer were twins, something the Buttonweezer clan thought was bad luck.  Even though you use the Buttonweezer name twice in a sentence, it's CLEAR. Clarity is the goal.








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16. How 5 Great Writers Got Started on Their First Books

While working on my book Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors, I found that even for the best writers in the world, getting started can be the hardest part. Here’s how 5 great authors found what they needed to get started on their very first novels…

(16 things to do prior to sending your work out to agents & editors.)

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 7.22.09 PM Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 7.21.56 PM

Column by Sarah Stodola, author of PROCESS: THE WRITING LIVES OF GREAT AUTHORS. She has contributed to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Daily Beast, and Awl, as well as Condé Nast Traveler and Slate, among others publications. She founded the literary journal Me Three and served as an adjunct scholar for Lapham’s Quarterly. Sarah is currently the editorial director of Strolby.

 

1. Toni Morrison

The Spark: A Writing Group

Morrison was a 35-year-old professor at Howard University when she joined a writing group just for fun. It soon became clear that she couldn’t remain in the group unless she actually wrote something, so she began toying with a story based on an African American girl she remembered from elementary school, who had proclaimed her wish to have blue eyes. Not too long after, Morrison divorced and moved to Syracuse, where she had few friends. To pass the time, she brought the story from her writing group back out and began expanding it into a novel. Five years after she started, Morrison had completed The Bluest Eye.

2. David Foster Wallace

The Spark: A Comment by his Girlfriend

A college girlfriend mentioned to Wallace one night that she’d rather be a character in a book than a real person. The comment hit Wallace, and he found himself turning it over and over in his mind, trying to figure out exactly what she’d meant by it. He pondered the difference between a fictional character and a real-life person, and how language could play a part in shaping our understanding of both. The idea became the catalyst for a story that developed over the course of Wallace’s final year at Amherst College into The Broom of the System, a novel about a woman who doesn’t believe in her own reality. Wallace turned the novel in as his senior thesis and a couple years later, it was published.

3. Zadie Smith

The Spark: The Turn of the Millennium

Fully anticipating a career in academia, the 20-year-old Zadie Smith nevertheless set out to write a novel about a man who comes out of the 20th century in a positive way. She worked on what eventually became White Teeth during her last couple of years at Cambridge University (“when everybody else was getting drunk,” she told The Rumpus in an interview), finishing most of it before she graduated. She showed it to a trusted group of five or so friends periodically along the way, readers she says were crucial in the development of the book. Like Wallace, Smith’s first novel came out when she was just 24.

(Excellent Tips on Writing a Query Letter.)

4. Ernest Hemingway

The Spark: A Trip to Spain

After stints as both a newspaper reporter in Kansas City and Red Cross ambulance driver in wartime Italy, Hemingway returned home just long enough to get married and gather his thoughts. Then he moved to Paris, where his fiction ambitions began in earnest. He showed promise, but nothing more, until a fateful trip to Spain with friends to take in the bullfights. The idea for The Sun Also Rises came to him and he got started before the group even began the return leg of the journey; indeed, the characters in the novel were based closely on those friends who had joined Hemingway on that particular trip. The novel spewed forth—Hemingway claimed to have averaged 2,000 words per day while working on the first draft—and he finished it in well under a year.

5. Joan Didion

The Spark: A Newspaper Blurb

A young Didion came across a newspaper article while working at Vogue in New York City and feeling homesick for her native California. It was a mere blurb about a man charged with killing his farm’s foreman in the Carolinas, but the image stuck. She relocated it to California and turned it into the seminal scene for a novel, which she worked on at night in a sublet Upper West Side apartment. With half the book written, she sent it off to publishers, the lucky 13th of which accepted it and paid her a small advance to write the last half. Run, River came out with Didion was 28 years old.

 

Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton’s guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying,
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you’ll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

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17. Following Your Passion

I recently stumbled upon this Yellow Hammer News article from October 2014 in which Mike Rowe of the TV show "Dirty Jobs" discusses why he actually doesn't believe in advising people to follow their passion. It's something Rowe has apparently said before, but a fan wrote to him questioning his reasoning for telling people not to follow their passion.

Here is Rowe's complete response,

A few years ago, I did a special called “The Dirty Truth.” In it, I challenged the conventional wisdom of popular platitudes by offering “dirtier,” more individualistic alternatives. For my inspiration, I looked to those hackneyed bromides that hang on the walls of corporate America. The ones that extoll passersby to live up to their potential by “dreaming bigger,” “working smarter,” and being a better “team player.” In that context, I first saw “Follow Your Passion” displayed in the conference room of a telemarketing firm that employed me thirty years ago. The words appeared next to an image of a rainbow, arcing gently over a waterfall and disappearing into a field of butterflies. Thinking of it now still makes me throw up in my mouth.

Like all bad advice, “Follow Your Passion” is routinely dispensed as though it’s wisdom were both incontrovertible and equally applicable to all. It’s not. Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it. And just because you’re determined to improve doesn’t mean that you will. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue a thing you’re passionate about?” Of course not. The question is, for how long, and to what end? 

When it comes to earning a living and being a productive member of society – I don’t think people should limit their options to those vocations they feel passionate towards. I met a lot of people on Dirty Jobs who really loved their work. But very few of them dreamed of having the career they ultimately chose. I remember a very successful septic tank cleaner who told me his secret of success. “I looked around to see where everyone else was headed, and then I went the opposite way,” he said. “Then I got good at my work. Then I found a way to love it. Then I got rich.”
Every time I watch The Oscars, I cringe when some famous movie star – trophy in hand – starts to deconstruct the secret to happiness. It’s always the same thing, and I can never hit “mute” fast enough to escape the inevitable cliches. “Don’t give up on your dreams kids, no matter what.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have what it takes.” And of course, “Always follow your passion!”
Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?

There are many examples – including those you mention – of passionate people with big dreams who stayed the course, worked hard, overcame adversity, and changed the world though sheer pluck and determination. We love stories that begin with a dream, and culminate when that dream comes true. And to your question, we would surely be worse off without the likes of Bill Gates and Thomas Edison and all the other innovators and Captains of Industry. But from my perspective, I don’t see a shortage of people who are willing to dream big. I see people struggling because their reach has exceeded their grasp. 

I’m fascinated by the beginning of American Idol. Every year, thousands of aspiring pop-stars show up with great expectations, only to learn that they don’t have anything close to the skills they thought they did. What’s amazing to me, isn’t their lack of talent – it’s their lack of awareness, and the resulting shock of being rejected. How is it that so many people are so blind to their own limitations? How did these peope get the impression they could sing in the first place? Then again, is their incredulity really so different than the surprise of a college graduate who learns on his first interview that his double major in Medieval Studies and French Literature doesn’t guarantee him the job he expected? In a world where everyone gets a trophy, encouragement trumps honesty, and realistic expectations go out the window. 

When I was 16, I wanted to follow in my grandfathers footsteps. I wanted to be a tradesman. I wanted to build things, and fix things, and make things with my own two hands. This was my passion, and I followed it for years. I took all the shop classes at school, and did all I could to absorb the knowledge and skill that came so easily to my granddad. Unfortunately, the handy gene skipped over me, and I became frustrated. But I remained determined to do whatever it took to become a tradesman.

One day, I brought home a sconce from woodshop that looked like a paramecium, and after a heavy sigh, my grandfather told me the truth. He explained that my life would be a lot more satisfying and productive if I got myself a different kind of toolbox. This was almost certainly the best advice I’ve ever received, but at the time, it was crushing. It felt contradictory to everything I knew about persistence, and the importance of “staying the course.” It felt like quitting. But here’s the “dirty truth,” Stephen. “Staying the course” only makes sense if you’re headed in a sensible direction. Because passion and persistence – while most often associated with success – are also essential ingredients of futility. 

That’s why I would never advise anyone to “follow their passion” until I understand who they are, what they want, and why they want it. Even then, I’d be cautious. Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by. Which is why I’m more inclined to say, “Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.”

Carry On
Mike

It's an incredibly interesting response and one that really got me thinking. We live and work in a business that is a lot about passion. We preach it at conferences and in our blogs and tell people all the time to follow that dream.

Mike Rowe's thoughts on the subject actually parallel something I've thought often, but have never verbalized or put into words myself. There have been so many times when I've read query letters or manuscripts and really thought that maybe the author of the material needed to find something else to become passionate about. While she might have loved writing, it was pretty clear that it wasn't something she was probably ever going to succeed at. And while certainly it's not my job to tell the faceless writer of a query to go and find another passion, it is something I've said to others in this business.

Once, long ago, I had an assistant who was passionate about books and publishing. She loved everything about both and had dreams of working in the business, finding authors and building careers. Unfortunately, while she had passion, she didn't have two things required to be an agent. She didn't have the drive to spend her weekends and nights culling through submission piles, reading loads of material to find those one or two great things that would rock her world. And she didn't have an editorial eye. No matter how much she read, for herself and for us, she just didn't quite understand what made a book good and marketable. What made it a potential sale. It didn't mean she wasn't good at anything, it just meant she wasn't clicking with what she thought was her passion.

In a number of different meetings I encouraged her to consider other aspects of publishing, jobs I felt she would be really good at and that played to her strengths. She ended up leaving the business altogether and, hopefully, finding other things she was passionate about.

Here's the thing about passions. Hopefully we have a lot of them and hopefully we develop more as the years grow. I got into publishing in some ways by chance. I had a passion for writing and initially thought I wanted to be a reporter. I pursued that for a while. Until I discovered that I might not have been as good at it as I thought and maybe I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life. I knew I loved words though. So I tried magazines, copy editing, design and, yes, writing. It wasn't for me. So I figured books must be next. I kept with my overall passion, but moved around until I found the fit that was right for me.

And what if I someday learn that my passion to be a literary agent isn't the right place for me? I bet I can easily find something else I love just as much. I love food and all things related to food. I'd love to cook, or create recipes, or blog, or.... I think you get the picture. I also love photography, fitness, dogs, and vacationing. Hmmm, a career vacationer maybe?

I think Mike Rowe has some really interesting things to say about passion. I liked what he said. It doesn't mean you should give up on what you're doing, it just means you should be willing to explore various aspects of that passion.

--jhf






















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18. How to Write A Plausible Character – 3 Key Tips

There are many elements writers need to pay close attention to when creating a fictional world. There’s setting, plot, pacing, voice, imagery and so on. Everything is important, everything counts. That said, one of my favorite places to focus my writing attention is on my characters.

How do your create a good character? Well, the short answer is that she has to be believable. I tell my students and the people I mentor that this means a fictional character has to closely resemble a living person.


Anne Leigh Parrish, 1

WhatIsFoundWhatIsLost_CoverThis guest post is by Anne Leigh Parrish, author of What is Found, What is Lost. Her debut story collection, All The Roads That Lead From Home (Press 53, 2011) won a silver medal in the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Her second collection, Our Love Could Light The World, (She Writes Press, 2013) is a Kirkus Reviews recommended Indie title, and a finalist in both the International Book Awards and the Best Book Awards. She is the fiction editor for the online literary magazine Eclectica. She lives in Seattle.


Keep in mind, a character doesn’t have to be nice, or moral, or a pillar of the community. Decent people with no flaws or vices don’t usually make for the most interesting reading. But nor can a character be all bad, with no redeeming traits. In other words, a character has to possess one essential element: complexity.

I don’t mean to suggest that a character should be hard to read (in fact, you don’t want them to be), or super mysterious, or generally murky and unclear. You want the reader to know what makes your person tick, what gets them up in the morning and what wakes them up at night. Your reader needs to know what your character wants, what he’s afraid of losing and willing to fight for.

Motivation

Once you know what motivates your character, you can flesh her out, so to speak. Keeping with emotional or psychological aspects of personality, think about what makes your person feel guilty, or embarrassed, angry, even terrified. Your plot will bring out these reactions, so it’s important that your character react accordingly. A wooden character who feels nothing isn’t going to cut it, I’m afraid. On the other hand, a character that goes to pieces all the time can be just as dull – unless, for example, he uses his melt-downs as a way to manipulate those around him.

[Here are 10 Questions You Need to Ask Your Characters]

Aesthetics

Now let’s move on to the physical person. The obvious question is, what does she look like? Some authors tend to give a lot of details to the reader – height, hair color, eye color, and so on, but that’s never worked for me. When I read a short story or a novel, I like to fill in the missing pieces for myself, because this keeps me engaged and interested. Keeping that in mind, I give only one or two items the reader can hang an image on – a crooked nose, a missing tooth, a small red mark on one cheek, bitten down-finger nails, a limp, a tendency to slump, mumble, laugh at sudden moments – the list is pretty long, if not endless. The important thing is to mention whatever handful of traits you’ve chosen strategically throughout the piece, sort of as reminders about the person. Someone he’s meeting for lunch can think to herself, there’s that gappy smile again, the one that made me fall for him in the first place, or, I wish I didn’t love that gappy smile so much.

Idiosyncrasy

Along with psychology and the physical reality of a fictional character are gestures or habits. Maybe these come out under stress. Maybe they’re a sign of happiness, or anticipation. I love those characters of mine who convey what they’re feeling by doing something we’ve seen them do before – like biting a lip, or twirling a strand of hair. The first time this happens, of course, you need to tell the reader what’s up. If a long period of time passes before the next gesture, and the reader hasn’t yet had a chance to see this has a habit, you’ll need to remind them. Sally always pulled her hair when she lied, or When Davie got an idea, he leaned forward and snapped the fingers of his right hand. I think it’s gestures like these, almost more than any other aspect of a fictional character, that really brings someone to life.

In sum, a fictional character must resemble a living person. Figure out what makes her tick, what he wants and is willing to fight for. Give readers a few solid physical details, and let them fill in the blanks for themselves. Lastly, endow your person with some habits and gestures that will appear more than once, and suggest an emotional state or experience.

Happy writing!

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

brian-klems-2013


Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

 

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19. Logrolling in Our Time*, or, You Can't Take Blurbs With You

Blurbs. You know,  those little quotes about how awesome an author or their book is that are often on book jackets or in advertisements? Like: "Author is a certified genius and this book is a revelation!" Yeah. Those little tricky devils are the cause of no small amount of angst for all parties concerned. So here are some blurb facts and some blurb etiquette that might help. (Maybe).

FACT: * Pretty Much Everyone Hates Blurbs. * I'm gonna go out on a limb and say the majority of people in the publishing industry LOATHE blurbs. Agents and editors and publicists and their ilk know how hard they are to get, and more than that, how little most of them are worth. Authors generally dislike being in the position of begging for favors OR having favors begged of them. The process of blurbery can cause anything from mild stress to genuine anguish in its victims. :(

FACT: * Blurbs Are Mostly Worthless. *  Did I say "how little most of them are worth"?? Am I implying that Blurbs are mostly WORTHLESS? Well... no. I wasn't implying it, I was saying it. I mean look: If you are lucky enough to get a blurb from an extremely well-regarded author in your genre, you might get some of their fans to perk up when they see it. But those fans are PROBABLY fans of the genre in general, and they probably already knew about your book or would have come across it anyway, and nobody is going to read it JUST because of the blurb.

It's much more likely that a personal recommendation or review from an author - on their twitter, blog, vlog or whatever - will bring the book to fan attention. The blurb that is in the catalogue or on the back of the book is only good if somebody has already picked up the publishers catalogue or the book to look at it. So, you know, it's SUPER NICE,  but there isn't any proof that blurbs really help move the needle, sales-wise.

I've spoken to hundreds of readers, booksellers, librarians and others, and the fact is, the vast majority of the time, the blurb is not the deciding factor about whether or not they spend time and money on a given book. It's just not.
 

FACT: * Sometimes They're Not Worthless. * I can see the value of a blurb from a LEGIT FAMOUS PERSON that may help you get customers you wouldn't normally get. There are a few "legit famous person" authors: John Green, Neil Gaiman, Judy Blume, and maybe a handful of others. A blurb from one of these people may translate to a buy from some of their fans, and that is not anything to sniff at. Most famous people, of course, are NOT authors.

I am in the publishing industry, I already knew about the book X: A NOVEL, read it in galley form with no blurbs attached. But even I, hardened and cynical, raised an eyebrow in appreciation at the nice blurbs from Chris Rock and Muhammad Ali. These quotes, if printed in advertisements in mainstream publications (ie, NOT trade publications like PW that only industry people read) will likely catch the eyes of people who aren't "the usual suspects" -- customers that DON'T normally shop in the YA section or have a clue about kids books, but who will be attracted by these very high-profile endorsements.



FACT: *Blurbs Aren't Going Anywhere. * - For better or for worse, this practice of trying to get blurbs for nearly every dang novel that comes out seems to be a trend that is lasting. Part of it, I think, is that success is so ephemeral. Nobody knows what exact combination of factors causes a breakout book. Is it about Great reviews? Word of mouth? Right place right time?  Pure dumb LUCK? Or what? WHAT? Everybody wants to catch this lightning in a bottle. But there is very little that is actually within the publisher or authors' control.

You can write the best book possible. That's in your control. But virtually nothing else about the process really is. And ultimately, even the biggest, fanciest publisher can't make people write reviews or talk the book up or influence the Great Beyond to work on the books behalf. They can make a great looking package, but they can't force people to buy or read it. They can spend money on marketing but they can't guarantee that it will DO anything. So "getting blurbs" at least makes people FEEL like they are doing something to encourage the success of the book. And it probably doesn't hurt at least, so what the hey.

Here's how to live with it, with less stress:

ADVICE: * If you are a BLURBEE * - that is to say, a person whose work is in the publication pipeline, who is seeking blurbs: If the subject doesn't come up, you really don't have to bring it up. If your publisher isn't anxious about this, you shouldn't be either. (See "mostly worthless", above).

BUT, if/when the subject DOES arise, I suggest working with your agent and editor to brainstorm a list of possible authors to approach for endorsements. These should be authors that you think are actually appropriate for the material at hand -- so I would not suggest a picture book author to blurb an edgy YA. It just doesn't make sense.  It makes logical sense that your book should appeal to the same audience as the person who is potentially endorsing you.

So you have your list of awesome, appropriate names that you brainstormed. Now you and your agent and editor figure out who will approach whom. The person with the strongest connection to that author (or their agent or editor) should be the person to approach. You as the author should NEVER have to "cold-call" (cold email?) people you don't have any connection to. Nor should you ever be asked to make the request if it makes you feel uncomfortable. When in doubt, your editor should approach their editor or agent.

YOU MIGHT HAVE WEIRD FEELINGS. Like: a) They'll feel sorry for me, as they know what it's like to "need" a blurb;  b) They'll be put on the spot and feel like they "have" to blurb and then hate me; c) They'll have to say no and then feel guilty. DO NOT FEEL WEIRD. This is just part of the process. Nobody will hate you. Nobody will give a blurb unless they are genuinely able and willing to do so. And if they aren't, that's OK. Blurbs are nice, but a lack of a blurb has never killed anybody.

If you are approaching somebody - whether they are your BFF or just somebody who you know tangentially, or even a total stranger - take Curtis Sittenfeld's advice and be polite, succinct, and pre-emptively let them off the hook.  DO tell them what the book is about, and why you think it is a fit, but do so briefly. Don't say no FOR them obviously - but don't be offended or upset if the answer IS no. When you are more famous, people will be asking YOU for blurbs, and you'll remember this experience.


ADVICE: * If you are a BLURBER * - that is to say, a person who is being approached for a blurb: Value your own time and sanity. If you are on deadline or just busy with life stuff, or hell, if the book just doesn't sound interesting to you, nobody can be offended by your saying No. If they are offended, they are jerks.

YOU MIGHT HAVE WEIRD FEELINGS. Like, a) I feel sorry for the author, and I know what it's like to "need" a blurb;  b) I'm worried the author will find out I was asked and said no and then hate me; c) I'm worried if I say no this fancy classy editor will hate me. DO NOT FEEL WEIRD. This is just part of the process. Nobody will hate you. If you have time and ability and are moved to do so, by all means do it! But if not, that's OK. Blurbs are nice, but a lack of a blurb has never killed anybody.

My Personal Blurb Rules: 1) You should genuinely like the book and want other people to read it. 2) It should fit your "brand" or target audience. Would you recommend this to the same people who buy your book? 3) Don't be a "blurb whore" - if you blurb everything, your endorsement will stop being meaningful.

Your blurb rules may vary, but whatever they are, if you want to avoid burnout, I suggest you and your agent come up with a blurb plan. Perhaps it is that you NEVER blurb, or you will only blurb one book per season or year. You can always reserve the right to CHANGE that blurb plan, you aren't locked into it with manacles, but if you are approached unawares, it will give you a handy excuse to say no if the stars aren't aligning, and you can always make your agent into the bad guy. "Ah, my agent doesn't want me to blurb until my deadlines are passed" or "Oh, my agent says only one book per year, sorry!" (Agents are fine with being the bad guys). 

But if the book does sound great, and you do have the time, and you do read it and love it -- well, what the heck. If you CAN do it and WANT to do it, by all means do! Nothing will make an authors day/month/year more than kind words from an author they admire.

Did I miss anything? What are YOUR blurby feelings?



*PS: If you are too young to get the title reference: in the late 80's/early 90's there was a satirical magazine called SPY that had a feature called "Logrolling in Our Time" that showed blurbs that famous people gave each other. Quid pro quo, Clarice. (And if you're too young for THAT reference, don't tell me).

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20. The Week in Review

And what a week it was!

We're hard at work here at The Reef on the end of the year tax forms we send to clients. Making sure we've got updated addresses, and all the decimals are in the right place. I actually like this task. It's got a start date, an end date, a measurable success rate, and it only happens once a year. In other words: the exact opposite of what I do most of the time.

The rest of the week was taken up with negotiating contracts and pitching projects. That doesn't change much week to week, month to month, year to year, but what I actually DO during negotiations and pitches does change. Even boilerplate contracts change as publishing circumstances change.

As an example: routinely First Serial Rights were licensed to the publisher. Now, I never do that automatically. That's because most publishers don't actually have the staff to do those placements anymore, and there's a shortage of big magazines that actually buy first serial rights. Time to clean up the boilerplate to match reality.

My Saturday reading was Bill Loehfelm's THE DEVIL IN HER WAY.  I loved the first Maureen book in the series THE DEVIL SHE KNOWS but hadn't managed to snag the second book till last week.  When you need a really good break from the work week, you want a book that's utterly captivating and this one was up to the job.

Here's just one paragraph that will show you what I mean:

She breathed in the tainted air again and wondered if crime scenes became like wines, each with their own smells and flavors --top notes, grace, notes, and finishes. Girl, she thought her own ideas making her queasy, you did not get out of the cocktail business quite fast enough.







This week I was asked to lead a workshop on query letters on Feb 1, 2015 here in Brooklyn.  Of course I agreed. The details are here on my Facebook page. I'm working on the workshop handouts during spare minutes here and there. So far it's ten pages!



The comment section on the blog continues to amaze and delight me. A couple questions popped up that I though deserved some further attention:



Monday's blog post was about a writer whose retiring agent wanted to hold on to her manuscript that was on submission. I'd listed the steps the writer needed to take in the situation:

Blog post: 5. You start querying. You mention your agent left mid-submission and you have editors who were considering the work.

sagelikethespice asked: Will this work for or against the author at this point? Assuming they were good editors for the work in question, would a potential new agent look at this list as a positive, a negative, or neutral? I know that when an author has been rejected by editors already, agents see it as a negative because they can't pitch to those editors. But these subs were pulled. Will a new agent be able to pitch to these editors again?

Short answer: yes. If a submission is withdrawn at the agent's request, then another agent can resubmit. This kind of thing (withdrawing subs) doesn't happen a lot, but it does happen. Editors are aware that circumstances can change. I've had to withdraw submissions on several projects over the years. Some were because the author wanted to make extensive revisions. We actually were able to go back to those editors with revised manuscripts when he did.

Editors, like agents, are looking for good work. That's the bottom line.







Kelsey Hutton wondered if my use of UK spellings meant that perhaps I was from Manitoba, a fact I quickly corrected and reminded everyone that I'm from the West Coast. Go Ducks!

Kelsey replied: Janet, we would welcome you as an honourary Manitoban any day!
Summer reports of our moose-size mosquitoes are almost all exaggerated, and a slug of Caribou keeps you warm in the winter. Go Jets.



Well, that's certainly an enticement to visit, but honestly we need to work on the geography here. The Jets play in New Jersey! They may pretend to be from New York, but everyone in Jersey does that.

Go NETS! They at least play in Brooklyn!



On Thursday's post about which query to use, the one that got results or the "good one" Colin Smith asks:

@Janet: Would you say crafting "the perfect query" is more important when the agent does not ask for a sample (e.g., first 5 pages)? I can imagine an agent reading a query and saying "This query sucks, but I like the idea, let's see if the writing's better in the pages." But if those pages aren't to hand, might that agent be more likely to just hit the "form reject" button?

Impossible to know, but certainly logical. If the query is the ONLY thing the agent will see, it does seem like you'll want it to be perfect. But what is perfect? Perfect means only that the agent wants to read pages. That's it. I've gotten some horrendous queries that enticed me to read on. Would I suggest writing horrendous queries? No, no I would not. I think they enticed me to read on mostly cause I had more than a passing interest in the subject matter, or concept of the novel. I'll read just about anything set in NYC. Same for horses. Africa is high on my list too.



Later in that same comment column DLM said:

I just wish I could in-person pitch 'em all. My in-person pitch rate is 100% - at least for full requests.

As you all know I hate in person pitches. I hate them with the passion of a thousand suns. I might have ranted about that a time or two.

And DLM's comment just makes me hate them more because they induce false hope. 

Here's the horrible truth about in-person pitches: It's VERY hard for an agent or editor to say no to your hopeful face. Most editors won't. Most agents will say yes to things they KNOW aren't right for them because unlike ME they can't bear to break your hearts. Me, I just chomp on you till you bleed and then swim merrily away.

Ask any agent they'll tell you that a well-written query is a much better introduction to your work.

If you do have an in-person pitch session, take your query and ASK if it's effective. Three minutes of help is going to do you more good than a request for a full that is getting rejected UNREAD in a month.



Still in the Thursday comments, SD King notices we're painting the new office!

This is completely off the topic, but didn't we just read that the QS office was being painted? Reading the archives (as directed) I noted that the office had just been painted in 2013.
I always think that after living with a paint job for about 10 years, you should take a good long look at the walls and plan to choose a new color in the next five years, or so.
The only reason to put yourself though the trouble of drop cloths and mess is if you smoke 3 packs of Lucky Strikes a day and the paint breaths smoke back at you.
No Shark could smoke like that and still swim.



I painted my apartment in 2013. Well, let me say "I was painting my apartment in 2013. I'm STILL painting it in 2015."

The office paint is new new new. Yay! And I'm NOT doing it, we have a nice guy who comes in and does a much better job. DOUBLE YAY!

And no one smokes in the office. Occasionally however we set our hair on fire.



Colin Smith
@SD: New offices. New paint job. The last re-paint was in the old office space which, I believe, FinePrint moved into in 2011...?



We moved in to our new office on 29th Street in August 2012. Trust me, I will never forget that day, week or month. The move next door will be child's play compared to that move.


On Friday's rant about not wasting my time, Colin Smith asked:

Okay, Janet, call me a woodland creature, but define "least suitable client." Are we talking axe-murderer crazy, or won't-answer-the-phone reclusive, or...? It's a bit off-topic (like that's ever stopped me before), but I often hear "agent success stories" where either the writer or the agent talk about how they knew they would have a great working relationship because they "hit it off" over The Call. Is that what you mean?

I suspect you might answer something along the lines of "they need to be serious about their work, meeting deadlines, listening and responding to editorial comments, etc." But it seems to me that's something you would only know AFTER the query has done its job and you've had The Call. Or are there signs of problems to come you've learned to discern over many years of swimming these waters? Things you can pick up even from a query or a brief phone conversation?

Yes, I'm getting picky over a detail. Don't get me wrong. I love the spirit of your rant, and I wish you could be QOTKU so all agents would think this way. I just saw that phrase and wondered... :)



Figuring out who will fit well into the ranks of The Fabulosity is something I've honed over the years. First, of course, they can't be the wrong kind of crazy. Generally I can pick up on that in a phone call. I can pick up on unrealistic expectations there too.

But one of the best tools I have now is Twitter and Facebook. Here's where you really find out about someone. Is every Facebook post about them? All the pictures of themselves? Is the Twitter feed only about them? That's an author that you're going find is pretty self-involved.

Are they absent from social media? That's a big clue and I'll want to ask if that's intentional, or they just don't know how to use social media tools effectively.

Do they have bombastic posts on every hot button topic of the day? Probably not a good fit for me.

Do they tweet too much? Probably someone who's going to need a lot of attention…also not a good fit for me.

And the turnabout here is: authors can find out a LOT about agents by reading their social media sites. Don't want an agent who drinks whisky and swears like a sailor? Cross me off your list.

Need an agent who is available night and day to ease your fears? Nope, not Janet Reid.

Don't want an agent who HAS a social media presence at all? Cross me right off the list.



And Colin, you're right, sometimes the suitability is discovered only after the contract is signed. And that's why there's a 30-day, at will, get out of the contract clause in my author/agency agreement. If it turns out we're not a good fit, you get to decamp posthaste.



And my all time favorite question of the week was from GingerMollyMarilyn

Two things. First and foremost, thank you for your solidarity, Janet. You really "get" us writers. Second, if you're the Queen of this universe, who is Queen of the next one over?



That would be Barbara Poelle.



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21. New Literary Agent Alert: Caitie Flum of Liza Dawson Associates

Reminder: New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Caitie Flum of Liza Dawson Associates) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

 

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About Caitie: Caitie Flum joined Liza Dawson Associates in July 2014 as assistant and audio rights manager. She graduated from Hofstra University in 2009 with a BA in English with a concentration in publishing studies. Caitie interned at Hachette Book Group and Writers House. She was an Editorial Assistant then Coordinator for Bookspan, where she worked on several clubs including the Book-of-the-Month Club, The Good Cook, and the Children’s Book-of-the-Month Club. She is taking on her own clients in 2015. Caitie grew up in Ohio where she developed her love of reading everything she could get her hands on. She lives in New Jersey with her husband where, in her free time, she can be found cooking, reading, going to the theater, or intensely playing board games.

(Hear a dozen agents explain exactly what they want to see the slush pile. See if your work is a match.)

Caitie is seeking: Commercial and upmarket fiction with great characters and superb writing, especially historical fiction, mysteries/thrillers of all kinds, magical realism, and book club fiction.

“In historical fiction, I would love to see unusual perspectives and stories told in a unique way. I am eager for police procedurals, cozy mysteries, psychological thrillers, and amateur sleuths, especially those with series potential. I love book club/women’s fiction that shows characters that have made the hard or unpredictable choice or are funny yet poignant stories. Please send me books of all these genres that have diversity!

“I am looking for Young Adult and New Adult projects, particularly romance, historical fiction, mysteries and thrillers, and contemporary books with diverse characters.

“In nonfiction, I am looking for memoirs that make people look at the world differently, narrative nonfiction that’s impossible to put down, books on pop culture, theater, current events, women’s issues, and humor.

“I am not looking for science fiction, fantasy, westerns, military fiction, self-help, science, middle grade, or picture books.”


How to submit to Caitie: Email your query in the body of the e-mail to querycaitie [at] lizadawsonassociates.com.

(How can writers compose an exciting Chapter 1?)

 

2015-GLA-smallThe biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

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GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more
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much more. Filled with all the advice you’ll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

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22. Query question: POV questions

My adult suspense/thriller WAS 3rd person, multiple characters. In revisions, I saw the error in my ways and cut back to two characters. Many Critique Partners recommended putting the main character in 1st (something I toyed with anyway). Now, yet another CP suggested putting my other POV character in 1st.

I have not seen many adult thrillers with alternating 1st POV characters (other than GONE GIRL). But I HAVE heard that lots of editors HATE the 1st/3rd combo.

What is your opinion?

My opinion should not matter here. I haven't read the book. You should do only what the story requires. Do you absolutely need the intimacy of first person in both points of view? Do you need distance in one POV and intimacy in the other?  What the story needs is what drives the structure.

That said, I think it's extremely difficult to carry off two distinct points of view in first person in a novel. Yes, Gillian Flynn did it brilliantly in Gone Girl.  Yes, that was the brilliant exception to a lot of very bad manuscripts I've seen over the years.

There's a lot to be said for straight forward third person omniscient in a suspense novel.  I like close third person a lot because it gives the writer lots more flexibility with getting plot on the page.

But again, this is YOUR story, and you should do what the story needs.   It's easy for critique partners to suggest changes and sometimes they can see things you didn't but for structural things like POV, absent a huge gaping problem, you should decide and stick to it. Be confident in your choices.

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23. Five Books or Authors I'd Love to Represent, but I Don't


In a recent interview with the NYC Writers Network I was asked what five books or authors I'd love to represent, but don't. When I get asked these kinds of questions I've learned to simply write down the first things that pop into my head (or on the Barnes & Noble website if I'm researching). If I don't do it that way these interviews would take hours.

I gave my list, in no particular order, of writers I preorder, can't wait to get my hands on or have read or own a number of books from.

Here it is in no particular order:


5. Sarah Addison Allen
4. Chelsea Cain
3. Ina Garten
2. Enemy Women, Paulette Jiles
1. Elizabeth Hoyt

And when I think of this list and these authors I usually think that, in most cases, they are writing books that I'd like to see more of from other people (hint, hint).

Now let's see if we can get other BookEnds agents to create their own five.

--jhf

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24. Writing and Selling Middle Grade Fiction — Jan. 22 Webinar (With Critique) by Agent Jennifer Laughran

Middle Grade books are generally defined as being books for children aged 8-12…. and at the moment, these books are hot-hot-hot. From the commercial successes of titles like DIARY OF A WIMPY KID and Rick Riordan’s LIGHTNING THIEF saga, to more “literary” award-winning fare, it seems most publishers are seeking the next great Middle Grade success story. But middle grade is also a tough category to write for. Much of what appears in the slush pile is cheesy or derivative, or just lacks “spark.” So what makes a great Middle Grade novel? What is selling? What are agents and editors looking for? And how can you make your book stand out and shine?

In this live webinar, “Writing and Selling Middle Grade Fiction,” instructor and literary agent Jennifer Laughran (of Andrea Brown Literary) will talk about what’s happening in the exciting Middle Grade market, as well as examine some recently published titles to see what they got right. She’ll also talk revision tips and tricks to help you take your work-in-progress to the next level. It all happens at 1 p.m., EST, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2014, and lasts 90 minutes.

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ABOUT THE CRITIQUE

All registrants are invited to submit EITHER the query letter OR the first 500 words of their complete / work-in-progress middle grade novel for critique. All submissions are guaranteed a written critique by literary agent Jennifer Laughran. Jennifer reserves the right to request more writing from attendees by e-mail following the event, if she deems the writing excellent.

Please Note: Even if you can’t attend the live webinar, registering for this live version will enable you to receive the On Demand webinar and a personal critique of your material. Purchasing the On Demand version after the live event will not include a critique.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

— What’s selling in Middle Grade… and what just isn’t.
— The all-important “Hook”, and what “High Concept” looks like
— Finding the elusive Middle Grade Voice
— Common mistakes of Middle Grade submissions
— Overused beginnings and clichés that can drag down a work
— How to polish your work and stand out from the slush pile
— What “core curriculum” guidelines for schools might mean for your book. Sign up for the webinar here.

INSTRUCTOR

Jennifer Laughran is a senior agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, the oldest children’s-only agency in the US. Before she joined the agency in 2008, she spent about a decade as a children’s book buyer and event coordinator for various successful bookstores. Her many years of experience in the children’s book field have made her one of the top kid’s book agents working today. She reps picture books through YA, but has a particular love for Middle Grade novels — the warmer and funnier the better. Clients include Daniel Pinkwater, Kate Messner, Jo Whittemore, Linda Urban, and many debut authors whose names you’ll know soon!

Sign up for the Jan 22 webinar here.

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25. Query: How many rejections (is the wrong question)

I'm querying agents for the first time and it's not going well (form rejections from some, silence from others). I follow each agent's requirements, so I'm confident the problem is in the content of my work/letter. I was wondering if there was a magic number of these to get before I should read it as a sign to put on the brakes and rethink my strategy. The form letters all graciously concede that maybe another agent would like the story, but do you have any estimate for how many flat-out "no"s I should receive before I have to stop and change something dramatically?

On a similar note, how important are previous publications at the query stage? This probably varies, but I was wondering your take on it. As the rejections are coming in, I'm trying to figure out if it's the story that the agents don't like or if it's my lack of publishing experience. If it's the latter, I'd want to stop and focus my time on developing publishable short stories and building up that bio section.


Rejections don't tell you anything other than the agent you queried is not going to read the full manuscript. It's the ONLY thing a rejection tells you.  At this point you do NOT know whether you have a good query for a project no one thinks they can sell right now, a good query for a project that sounds like it's a Lifetime movie, or a terrible query for something that might be ok.

This is where you get your query in front of an agent in real time and get some feedback. This is what writing conferences are good for.

Thus don't ask how many of these rejections you need to acquire before moving on. Ask how long you're going to wait before getting some advice.  That answer should be sooner rather than later.

There are a LOT of writing conferences and writers groups offering workshops both in person and on-line.

I'm giving one myself on Feb 1, 2015 here in Brooklyn.  Details are here on my Facebook page for those who are interested.

I know my slithery competitor Barbara Poelle and her companion in comedy Holly Root do webinars from time to time for Writers' Digest. Barbara and Holly know their stuff, and they're good workshop leaders. You can't go wrong with them.



As for pub credits: no one says yes or no to a query based on pub credits. If you've got 'em great, if you don't, not to worry. Beefing up pub credits in a bad query won't help. Beefing up pub credits for a book I don't want to read won't help either.

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