Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Exclusives, the Dorian Gray topic

I am putting together a query plan, and one of the agents I'd like to query (because she has sold books similar to mine) has the following requirements:

- she accepts queries by snail mail only (50 pages plus synopsis plus SASE)
- if she requests a full, her site says, "we require one-month exclusivity"

I am of course hoping that agents will swarm over this book like sharks over chum, so where do I put this agent in the plan? I'm leaning toward dead last so her exclusivity requirement doesn't cause me issues, but again there's that whole "has sold books like mine" thing. Plus she'll receive the query later than the e-query agents (which is all the rest) so perhaps I'll already have an agent by the time she contacts me. (Heh. I am hilarious.) But if not, if others have the full, what do I say to her? If I tell her others have it and then later tell her she can have the exclusive, that tells her nobody else wanted it. Which isn't information I necessarily want her to know.
I'm sure you know my position on exclusives. They stink.
And a month is just ridiculous.

I wonder if she conducts all her business by snail mail?

Which is not to say I haven't thought about going back to written queries. I miss the paper and the ink. And I like to read on paper. And I think I read more carefully on paper.

But I also miss civilized air travel, actual card catalogs, and Cary Grant, but we're not getting those back either.

I digress.

If you want to query her, you abide by her guidelines regardless of what we think of them. You query on paper. If she requests the full, you send it to her only if you can give her the exclusivity she asks for OR if you write back to her request for the full and say other people have it, but you're glad to send if she still wants it.

Guidelines are not an indication of character. They're intended to help you send your work in the way that makes it easiest for the agent to read and consider it. If she wants her queries on paper, so be it.  If you elect to query her last, that's a reasonable prioritization.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Critiquing books while you're querying

I run a blog where I analyze books from a writing perspective to find a lesson, of sorts, for other writers. Mostly the posts show what a book did right, but occasionally they highlight where (I thought) the book went wrong. How careful do I need to be about highlighting negative aspects? I'm passionate about what I read, good or bad, and that (should) show in my writing. But I don't want to alienate a potential agent if I disliked a book they repped- especially since the main point of my posts isn't to review a story, but to learn from it.
You're right to know this is squishy territory. I am very fond of my clients, and the books they write. However, I do not confuse that fondness with the idea that all the books they write are perfect.

A judicious post, pointing out what worked or didn't, is generally safe ground.

What ISN'T safe is drawing any kind of conclusion about how the book got that way. To wit "the author phoned it in" "the editor was asleep at the wheel" "the agent lost her mind when she signed this one."

You have no way of knowing what went on behind the scenes creatively or editorially.

Focusing on the book is your best plan.

You should also remember that if I love your work, and sign you as a client, all my OTHER clients will be skulking around your blog to learn about you. A lot of my clients are in a mutual admiration society, which I strongly encourage.

What that means for you is:  Make sure the author of the book you're talking about will recognize it as a thoughtful, well-written piece, not some sort of hatchet job (at least after the first read!)

What you're also not going to do -- EVER --  is tweet or link to the author or editor or agent about this review.

It's one thing to know there are critical reviews out there; it's another thing to have someone put a reference to it in your timeline.

Your very hesitation on this tells me you'll err on the correct side of caution.

And remember; all the books I sell are AMAZING!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Egad, what a weekend to lose my wifi!

Sorry guyz!
Just got back from hanging out Elsewhere and as it turns out, Elsewhere didn't allow me access to the wifi network!


I should have remembered my gmail passwords! And my blog passwords!
I change them often enough that I have to write them down,
and if I get to a place where I have to log on as someone else cause my computer is being snobbish
about "local wifi" ...well...let's not do that again.

Content resumes tomorrow!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Someone will always gleefully tell you how hard it is

(a)Word on the street is that diversity gets double the rejection rate of a story that's not diverse. Several of my friends who are People of Color reported rejection rates from 100+ before getting accepted, while the people who wrote say straight white (cis) (males) often report reject rates around 40-50 average. This doesn't seem to matter on genre either.

(b)Given the larger rejection rates for diverse and highly diverse manuscripts in the industry and me hearing that it sometimes takes 2+! years to get through all of the rejections before getting a hit, is it wiser or less wise to send in more than 5 submissions per round per month. I'm tempted to double it considering the higher rejection rate, but equally nervous about burning bridges while doing so.

(c)Also, I have a habit of writing outside of the usual American gold standard for "What makes a story good" by borrowing from the cultures I'm writing in (Of course with extensive research). I figure my primary audience should be the real life people that are represented by the characters. However, I also recognize that often agents and (white) readers won't recognize those conventions up front and say NO, that's a "wrong" way to tell a story. I'm also semi-frustrated because reports from College Lit class students report that the "World Lit" section only covers things like "Greek" and "Roman" which doesn't really help. (And most of the time they don't hit up the diversity within those lits either. Like the LGBTQIA.) I'm aware this results in a higher rejection rate for me as most people probably reading my stories while professing to want diversity, probably haven't say, studied what a Dream Record (Korea) is. I have no idea if the agent knows what Kishotenketsu looks like. Never gotten to read outside of American (and maybe European) Lit. Is there a professional way to battle this misconception in a query, so they don't auto-reject and give the story a fair shake just because it doesn't fit the gold standard American Mold?

Kinda trying to battle the systemic prejudice within publishing here and would love some tips on how to get through it in a less painful way.

Thanks for any tips you can give.

For starters "word on the street" means writer anecdotes, and listening to those at all, let alone drawing conclusions from them will make you crazy. It's akin to "my cousin's hairdresser's boyfriend had his kidney stolen by organ brokers and woke up in the park with an ice pack and a note to get to a hospital." Unless you know the guy's name, and saw the note, don't be so quick to believe things.

There's simply no way to draw conclusions based on rejection rates. Those are not measurable, replicable numbers. And given "no response means no" has become the norm, you're using the absence of data as data.

My little math loving heart quivers.

What you CAN measure is books that are PUBLISHED. And yes, there is a stunning lack of diversity in published books. That situation is starting to change, but publishing moves at a glacial pace in every single way except author rodent wheels, so that change is going to take a while to see.

And there's NOTHING you can do about this other than buy and talk about books that are the kind of books you write and want to read.

Your question about increasing your submission rate from five queries a month to ten implies you burn bridges by sending queries out too fast. I can't imagine why you think that. Querying doesn't burn bridges. Querying gets your project in front of agent's eyeballs.That's ALL it does.

As to paragraph (c) I literally don't understand what you are trying to say here. You've got a reference to gold standard (which has nothing to do with writing or novels), college lit classes (which have nothing to do with trade publishing) and references to auto-reject (which is generally due to things like "fiction novel" not things we might have to google like Kishotenketsu.)

Bottom line: You're missing a key quality for someone who wants to be a professional novelist. That quality is die hard certainty you are the exception to all the stats, all the anecdotes, all the BBS denizens that say you will fail. You have to look at daunting stats (and while you haven't collected those stats properly here, the stats ARE daunting) and say "that will not apply to me."

Without that determination, you will always find a reason you didn't succeed.And there will always always ALWAYS be a cacophony of voices telling you how hard it is, how racist, ableist, out of touch; how the powers that be are stacked against you. And all of it will be true. That can't matter to you.

Every single time I read a query I'm not thinking "this won't be the one." I'm hoping just the opposite. Your job is to write the one that is.

And every single person in my office is looking diligently for underrepresented voices. I sit in those meetings, I beta read those manuscripts. If anyone tells you agents aren't looking for this, ask if they're in the meeting, or reading the manuscripts.Yes it takes a lot of rejection to get to yes. That's always been true. It will never change.

Here's the answer to your question (Kinda trying to battle the systemic prejudice within publishing here and would love some tips on how to get through it in a less painful way) at long last: There is no less painful way. This is the reality you're working in. It's going to be a battle. It's going to have very few victories. I don't know if it's better to know that going in, or discover the hard way via experience.

What I can tell you is this:  Don't listen to anyone who tells you that your book didn't get picked up cause agents are racist and insensitive and full of white privilege idiots. Yes, there are certainly some of those in the field. BUT, the biggest reason we don't take things we're actively looking for is the story or the writing aren't compelling.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Should I buy a Kirkus ad?

Earlier this year my debut novel was published by an independent publisher. I recently received a pretty sweet review from Kirkus Reviews for my book.

I'm on the verge of purchasing a half-page ad in Kirkus' trade mag that will hopefully be seen by many agents/execs.

Here's my question(s)

1. Do you think buying this ad is worth the money? It's $1,100 for the first two weeks in August.

2. Is there an optimum time for placing an ad like this that will have the best chance of being seen by the most people?

3. Are these ads a good idea?

4. The contract with my publisher expires in December 2018. Will this prove to be detrimental in attracting an agent now?

(1) No

(2) No

(3) No

(4) Yes, but not for the reason you think

First, congrats on a good review from Kirkus. Those aren't easy to come by. I love reading Kirkus' reviews cause they are blunt to the point of being eligible to swim with the sharks.

Buying an ad in the Kirkus magazine is a terrible idea. Kirkus is a TRADE publication. Bookstore buyers and librarians are their target audience. NOT agents. Certainly not editors. We do read it but mostly to see what's been published and the reviews for books we sold or recognize. We do NOT read it to find projects to work on. (That is what the incoming queries are for)

Given Kirkus is for bookstores and librarians, I went to your publisher's website. It's clear they don't work in the wholesale market at all. There's no information for bookstores or libraries on how to place an order; there's no mention of discounts or terms. In other words, if you did place an ad, and a librarian wanted your book, there's no information on the publisher's website about how to get it.

Orders for your book are MUCH more likely to be generated by readers asking for the book, either at the bookstore or from their local library.

Thus, any outreach should be to READERS not retailers. If you're hellbent on spending $1000 research Facebook ads or google ads, or other places that a reader will see.

As to question (4): Your chances of attracting an agent for this book are close to zero. The book has already been published, and Bookscan shows you sold three copies. Yes, I know you sold more, probably a lot more, but you sold them one on one, on consignment, or in other ways that don't register on Bookscan. Bookscan is not even close to accurate for these kinds of books, which is why I also look up sales stats on Amazon. Amazon doesn't measure volume, it measures velocity, but we still look to see what's happening. And not surprising, since this is a small press, it's not speeding along the sales highway. It's kind of dawdling.

Agents (and editors) are looking for books that are sprinting, not dawdling, for taking on a book with a publishing history.

Here's a deal announcement for a book like that:
POMODORO TECHNIQUE, a time management system that breaks work into 25-minute segments, based on a self-published book that has been downloaded more than 2 million times, to Roger Scholl at Crown Business, at auction, by Howard Yoon of Ross Yoon Agency (World English). Translation: Dara Kaye of the Ross Yoon Agency

If you want to snag an agent's attention, your focus now is finding readers for this book. You'll find those people on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. You will not find them via advertising. You'll find them via conversation.

Use your Amazon author page; use GoodReads. I've said it before, I'll say it again now: books are most often sold by word of mouth. The best thing you can do for book is make friends.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Speaking of prologues, those poor inoffensive often maligned, numberless chapter before the chapter...

Recently I watched the movie Spotlight. If Spotlight was a novel it would have a prologue. The first four or five scenes take place in 1976 (25 years before the main focus of the movie begins.) The scenes take place in a police station. It's not quite clear what has happened but we know that a priest has been brought in for some kind of crime, and will not be held to answer for it.

The last of that prologue is the faceless priest, escorted by the assistant district attorney, being driven away from the station, free to go.

The next scene is at the Boston Globe and the main story begins.

The function of the prologue is important: it lets us the viewer know something that the characters in the movie do not: something is very wrong, it's been going on a long time, and the powers that be are covering it up.

The tension in Spotlight comes not from "did he do it" but "will they get away with it …again."

That's all possible because of the prologue. It's hard to hate something that plays such a pivotal role, no?

Well, that's the trick of course: pivotal role.

Unless a prologue IS pivotal to the manuscript, it's probably not useful and can be discarded. I often tell writers that if the backstory in a prologue is important, weave it into the narrative. In the case of Spotlight that would be impossible. No one involved in the coverup, nor any of the contemptible priests are going to be visiting with the staff of the Boston Globe to give them backstory. If anything quite the opposite.

You need to ask yourself: what's my story? Is it "did he do it" or "will he get away with it again." Knowing the kind of story you want to write, and the kind of tension you want to build will help you know if a prologue is the right tool to use.

And as an afterthought: you just gotta love a movie where one of the lines is "golfing is not a verb."

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Can I demand accessibility?

Equal accessibility is important to me, so I would want my book available in large print, braille, and/or audio-book formats, so it would be accessible to people w/ poor or no vision or w/ other conditions that would limit their ability to read a standard-printed book .

I know these formats can be expensive, and certainly many books are unavailable any of these ways. My question is, considering that this would be my first published book, and that I therefore have no clout at all, can I actually make this demand? Or would the publisher simply skip me for someone whose first book would be much cheaper to publish?

Should I mention I'd be willing to compromise elsewhere as needed, such as a smaller advance or giving up other rights, to make this happen?

And at what point in the query process do I tell my would-be agent how important this is to me?

The author is the seller of rights, and the publishers who acquire audio/large print rights etc. are the buyers. You can't actually force someone to buy something, (Oh how I wish you could!) even if you reduce the price to zero (your reference to smaller advance/other rights.)

Audio is the most likely subsidiary right to be licensed. Often the print publisher will acquire audio rights as part of their initial deal. If they do not, your agent can pitch them to an audio publisher. Whether an audio publisher is interested is entirely up to them. Even if it's hugely important to the author.

Large print rights are much more difficult to license. Large print publishers usually seek titles that are best sellers, and from established brand name authors. Large print rights are also often acquired by the publisher making the initial print deal. Of all the books I've sold, fewer than 10% have been licensed to large print publishers either thorough the initial print publisher or in a direct deal.

As for Braille, those rights are also addressed in the print contract. Most often they are made available at no charge to publishers who want them. It's a pretty standard clause.

That said, I've never seen a Braille book. But then again, maybe I'm just not looking in the right place.

I commend your enthusiasm for making your book available to people with reading challenges. It contrasts quite favorably to the fellow who was peeved that Braille rights were being given away. ("I wrote it why shouldn't I get paid" was his position. He did not sign the contract and I was happy to sever my relationship with him--for that and MANY other reasons)

But, as with many parts of the publishing process, whether your book will be available in these formats is almost entirely out of your control. You can certainly mention it to your agent but under ZERO circumstances will you make this a deal breaker.

And I should remind you that many people use electronic books, which can alter the font size, in lieu of buying or borrowing (from the library) large print books.  Most publishers will produce an ebook simultaneously with print, so your desire to be accessible can be met that way.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Contest results

As usual, you guyz were in amazon form on this contest! No surprise there of course, each contest seems to get better and better.

Sadly, our own Kate Higgins had her entry dq'ed for time. (Cue wailing from professional quality mourners, and rending of garments)  Kate, it looks like you posted twice, deleted the two (maybe for a typo?) and the third and final post was at 9:02am.

Special recognition for using words I had to look up
pogonip (Kerry Bernard 9:02am)
Amontillado (D. Willadsen 10:34am)
rime (Amy Schaefer 10:47am)
luchador (Shaunna 11:26a)--which I first read as luNchador, and thought it was competitive lunching.

pogonophile (Terri Lynn Coop 5:52pm)
pomodoro (Lisa Bodenheim 8:15am)

Special recogniton for innovative use of prompt words
Hypogonadism. (Cally Orr 11:47am)
Hippo goop (Karen McCoy 1:46am

Not quite a story, but zowie, evocative!
Emalborn 9:06am

Not a story in the slightest but cracked me up completely
Steve Stubbs 12:23pm

Steve Forti does not disappoint with his dexterous use of prompt words. I tried to foil him with "pogo" but got him instead with letter! as in Let'er ride, not Lett' er ride!

AJ Blythe's entry about Steve Forti's entry cracked me up
A shark once thought she'd have the last laugh
But with
letters Steve's too clever by half
po Gone" he wrote
eased he could gloat
lime” carved the shark for his epitaph

An idea whose time has come: slalom pogo
Dena Pawling 7:55pm

Not to mention: pogo-a-gogo
John Davis (manuscript) Frain 2:01am

I'm pretty sure this is brilliant but I didn't quite get it
Lisa Bodenheim  8:15am

Long list
Just Jan 8:44pm
Scott Sloan 10:51am
Megan V 11:20am
Madeline Mora-Summonte 4:19pm
Marie McKay 5:33pm

And the short list
Timothy Lowe 9:18am
Approach plotted, Excelsior. Commence flameout.

(A murderous tempo. Going down fast.
No way to attain the speed of the last
Man to fall from the sky like a sublime lost sun -
Shot from a gaping black hole like a gun.)

You’re too shallow, Excelsior! Pull up!

(Streaming down from the stars, a diaphanous cape
Filled with burning unease and a need to escape.
It’s like killing a miracle, just give in and pull it.
It’s dancing with fireworks, ballet with a bullet.

Terminal velocity: so easy, achieved -
But beginnings are deadly if not well conceived.)


“Fuck off, pickup artist!”

You have to read this carefully and realize there are two points of view. One is a guy getting shot out of a cannon. (Or so I surmised. There are a couple interpretations possible.)

Amy Schaefer 10:47am
“Get up.”
“Get out of bed.”
She staggered as another blast rocked the building. The glowing letters on the skyscrapers outside disappeared under rime.
ease. The city needs you.”
He hid under a pillow. “I won’t fight Captain Cold. He’s bush-league.”
She grabbed the pillow. “You petty… The city is trapped in an ice fog!”
“It’s called
pogonips,” he muttered. She flared her nostrils. “What?”
She sighed. “Fine. I thought asking you was a comp
liment, but they’d better find someone else.” She paused. “Maybe Batman—“
Lois caught her balance and smiled. “Faster than a speeding bullet.”

 This cracked me up. It's a complete story with a delicious little twist.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna 2:04pm
“Where did Mr. Hippo go?”
Michael talked about hippos . I reached for the phone inside my pocket, pressed the letter S - just as Mama taught me.

Last night, while Mama hid her laptop behind Mr. Hippo, she said Michael might show up in my room and invite me for a ride.
“He’s creepy”. I said.
“Go with him”.
“Please, sweetheart. Do this and Papa will be gone forever”.
I like that. Gone forever - Papa, his guns, his hairy hands.
Mama said she’ll find me. “Just keep Michael talking”.

“… lime sherbet.”
“That’s my favorite!”

This one stopped me dead in my tracks. At first I thought "oh no, someone is actually duplicating another entry!"  We'd never had that happen before! I was aflutter. Then I realized that far from lifting someone else's entry, Cecilia had written her story around Michael Seese's entry:

Michael Seese's entry at 9:35am
“Where did Mr. Hippo go?”

Children lack the capacity to understand “gone forever.” So you ease them into it. With a story, perhaps.

“Hippos are what's called an endangered species. To protect them a man takes them somewhere safe. Like a zoo. There they practice the letters of the alphabet. And eat lime sherbet.”

“That's my favorite!”

“It is? Imagine that. So I think Mr Hippos’s at the zoo, with his friends. Koalas, tigers ...”

“No. He's at my house. When are you taking me home?”

I imagine her parents will have trouble wrapping their heads around “gone forever” as well.

This is utterly brilliant and a deft feat of imagination and SPEED!, given Cecilia had to first read Michael's entry and THEN compose her own.  As I said, this knocked my socks off.

flashfriday 8:34pm
You want fellas, this is the happening place, the matchmaker says. No more boyfriend roulette.

Really??? I say.

Yep. Og—

Ogres? No way, I say. Dated those. Scars to prove it. See?

Ogres’ll never hassle you here, I was gonna say, she says. And that’s gross.

I want brawny knights, princes on horseback, fellas like that.

Huh, she says. You got expensive tastes for a scaly ol’--

Please, I say. I’m so flaming hungry.


Lonely! I meant LONELY! I shout, but she’s already gone.

I weep a little for myself. Slim, exotic, gorgeous—so why’s my love life draggin?

I'm a sucker for a good pun, and anything with dragons has my vote, and Hungry? I mean lonely, just cracked me up completely.

This week it wasn't hard to pick a winner.  It's  Cecilia Ortiz Luna for her amazing imaginative work.  Cecilia wins the prize, but Michael Seese also gets a prize since he was provided the spark.

Thanks to each and every one of you who took the time to write and enter this contest. It's always a highlight of my weekend to read your work and see what new and amazing things you come up...not to mention new and amazing ways to make me laugh. You are a talented bunch, even the ones not on this list.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday purrfection

A couple weeks ago our clinic got a call from Health Services (not sure if that's their exact title) saying that a client of ours was recently put into the hospital for mental issues. They weren't expecting her to make it home. Very sad, because we'd known her for years and she has always taken remarkable care of her cats. Sharp, smart woman. Last time she was in (about six months ago), she said a couple things that made us tilt our heads, but we all forgot about it till the call.

Her husband is elderly, has one prosthetic arm, and sadly drinks a lot. He was currently feeding their 11 cats Trail Mix (that's right, like nuts and raisins and M&M's). Health Services came in, more or less condemned the house, and said the cats had to go. Most weren't vaccinated or vetted at all, because things had been declining for a while and no one else knew.

We took the cats for a while, vetted them (owner of the clinic reduced the cost and partially used a relief fund we have). Health Services was going to take them all to the SPCA, but before they came back, we were able to find homes for all the aging cats but one.

I realized she was a 13 yr old gal I'd seen 3 years ago, when I'd surgically removed a fibrosarcoma (a bad type of cancer that can come from a vaccine reaction) from her hip. Even with extensive surgery, this type of growth has a high chance of coming back, and when it does, it's always fatal.

Well this tiny sweet gray & white gal had no growth and was still kicking it just fine. If I sent this old gal to the SPCA without vaccines, best case scenario would be that she find a home and get vaccinated... and gets the same thing she miraculously got over already. I just couldn't. Even though we didn't have a home for her, when they came back for the others, I snuck her under the radar and kept her in the clinic.

A few days later, our very elderly clinic cat had to be put down, which was sad but she'd had a very good long life and was surrounded by people who loved her.

And, now we have a new little gray clinic cat.

I see you discussing me. More petting, less talking.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Contest #101

Well I think this week needs a writing contest!

How about we do one with blog reader Susan Pogorzelski's The Last Letter (which got a lovely reveiw in PW recently!) for the prize!

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

pogo (I put this one in just to see what Steve Forti will do with it!)

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: pogo/pogostick is ok, but last/least is not

4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.

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

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

8. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.

8a. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE. (You can however discuss your entry with the commenters in the comment trail...just leave me out of it.)

9. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.
Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"

10. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!")

11. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.

12. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.

Contest opens: 9am, Saturdy, 6/17/17

Contest closes: 9am, Sunday, 6/18/17

If you're wondering how what time it is in NYC right now, here's the clock

If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's an .xls spread sheet here in Colin Smith's treasure chest list

(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!


oopes, too late! Contest closed!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Rant: Dear Ms. Reid

Ms,Mrs, Miss Reid, (Trying to stay politically correct),

No you're not.
You're being sarcastic about the use of Ms.

When people trot out "I'm trying to be politically correct" the subtext is you people who want to define yourselves, rather than be defined by others, are just too cute, and don't need to be taken seriously by the rest of us.

Maybe the very idea of "Ms" offends you; you think it's bizarre or wrong or something other than "the real world, deal with it like a human being."  Fine. Think that. Rant about it on your blog. Holler it to the stars if you so desire.

But do not make the mistake of assuming everyone agrees with you. Or that I agree with you. 

I don't care what you think; I care how you behave.

Now I can hear the prickly pears amongst you saying "jeeze Sharkly it's just a damn salutation" and you're perfectly correct. BUT it tells me something about you. Something I don't much like. And it's a HUGE red flag for a potential client, who in the course of what I would hope will be a long and prosperous career, will need to interact politely with all sorts of people, some of whom might prefer Ms. Or be gender fluid. Or transitioning genders. And I need to have confidence that you're not going to just bulldoze your way through those interactions with "well, you look like girl, why is your name Homer?"

Bottom line: I am very happy to coach you on the arcane practices of the publishing world, but you have to come fully actualized on basic etiquette.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bookscan for the indie writer

Last week, you mentioned BookScan numbers when publishers are looking at self-published titles. So I naturally went to look up mine and was dismayed to find that it only reflected a little over two dozen copies sold online. (retail) I understand why, of course. But in reality, I've sold a couple hundred copies (directly)through my own website and at conferences, which is also more lucrative for me because I make more money that way.

Does this hurt me in the eyes of the industry? I'm thinking of querying my next novel because while I really do love indie publishing, my ambition is calling again and I'd like that greater reach. And I think, now, that maybe I'm capable of it. But if an agent looks at my sales record through BookScan, it'll look petty dismal in comparison to the reality of my offline sales (which I know aren't great comparatively, but I'm mostly happy with the snowball effect that's happening).

Everyone understands that self-pubbed books rarely sell well, even good ones.

And everyone REALLY understands that Bookscan is not an accurate snapshot of sales.  The normal proviso one hears is "Bookscan captures about 70% of the market." That's sort of true. I've seen titles that showed only 30% of the total sales. And not just isolated examples either.

Your case is one clear example of why: the sales Bookscan sees are from reporting stores. Not all stores report. And it misses all DIRECT sales like yours: at speeches and conferences (these are called back of the room sales.)

The real question you're asking though is how to address this (or not) when you query for that new novel.  You don't have to mention it if you don't want, and for someone without the good reviews you've gotten that's probably the best choice.

But, if you've got good reviews, and if you've sold a couple hundred copies, you might say "I self published Novel X to good reviews (with a link to said review) and sold better than what Bookscan would have you believe."

The reason previous sales numbers are such a big deal is because bookstores look at them to determine how much to order of the next book.  Knowing you sold 1000 copies of your debut, they will expect to sell somewhat fewer of Book #2. If you sold 10 copies of your debut, don't be surprised if not a lot of stores are interested in stocking your book.

BUT, bookstore buyers do not audit publisher catalogs for previous sales numbers. If they don't know your work they're liable to treat you as a new commodity, even if the catalog copy doesn't say debut.

Your agent will work with you on this kind of positioning.  How to finesse your misspent youth is a whole seminar, complete with final exam, at Agent School.

For proof that I will overlook a misspent youth in publishing for the right project I offer up Jeff Somers, who queried me with the cheerful news that he was a publisher killer. And yet, here we are, eight novels and three replacement bars later,

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Agent's dead, what happens to my money!

What happens if you part ways with the agent, or they quit the field? Do you arrange payment directly from the publisher and then wrangle with them over errors? It seems as though the old agent would still have a stake in whether the statement is accurate, since their 15% depends on it, but can they still intercept the checks at that point?

If you secure a new agent, are they generally willing to help look over statements for your prior books, or do they only deal with the ones they've negotiated? (My head is swimming with complications, especially all the different potential sources for subrights money).

Related thought, though perhaps this is a different topic: what happens when an agent dies? Can somebody 'inherit' their income, the way authors' rights can go to their estates?
The way you describe this--"intercept checks"--makes me wonder if you suspect tomfoolery. I don't intercept checks from publishers. They're actually addressed to me, and there is a full time, highly competent bookkeeper here at New Leaf who makes sure you get your money in a timely fashion and correctly accounted. Every single agent in the world is REQUIRED to handle your money properly. If you suspect that is not happening, please email me for private guidance.

To your more general question:

The agent who sold the book is, in theory, responsible for explaining the royalty statement and handling any problems. More often than not, the default agent who fields question about statements from previous sales will be your current agent. My authors are used to asking me first. Sometimes they'll preface it with "I'm not sure I should ask you" but my stance is: my client, ask me first.

If your agent parts ways with you via death, the commission proceeds are part of her estate. The publisher can split the money and pay the estate directly, and pay you directly. You can request the split without the agent's consent if you need to. (It's your money.) Generally most agents have plans for what happens when they kick the bucket.  (Mine involve a large Viking funeral, professional mourners who wail and rend their garments, some sort of whisky bucket brigade led by Jeff Somers, and the lovely people at New Leaf seamlessly taking over my list.)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Searching the blog for info

I have a question for the blog! If this has been covered I couldn't figure out the search terms to find it.

I've been remiss in labeling posts, and labels aren't as helpful as a good keyword search.

When you search for a post, use google. Type in "Janet Reid" and then the keywords you're looking for: Felix Buttonweezer, Carkoon, La Slitherina, rant...whatever it is you're looking for.

Most times that will get you what you need, or pretty close.

I always have to use that to find this post, cause I can never remember the phrase I coined.

If anyone has any other brilliant ideas I'm glad to hear them!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sunday Purrfection


All my pets have been rescues, and although she's a purebred Ragdoll, Mitzi is also a rescue of sorts. The lady down the street died and willed her to me. When she first came, Mitzi wouldn't eat. At first we thought it was grief, but then a consulting vet diagnosed small-cell lymphoma. Luckily this is one of the most treatable forms of feline cancer and after a year of oral chemo she was right as rain. She's fifteen years old now, in her third year of remission and rules the household with a velvet paw. What would you not do for this beautiful face?

I'm off reading today so here's a picture of Mitzi instead! (Thanks to Cathy for providing!)

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

More on requested revisions

I entered a twitter pitch contest last month that resulted in three agents asking for my full. I was blown away by the response, but I sent my book baby away with a quick prayer and settled in to wait. And then a few days ago...an agent contacted me to schedule a phone call to discuss an R&R.

I am over the moon with happiness. I am also on hamster wheel overdrive. After panicking for a few days, I calmed down and looked up info about R&R's. I feel a tad bit better, but I have a few questions I can't find the answer to. Should I offer the agent an exclusive while I work on revisions? (1) I know your policy on exclusives, but this feels a little different...she's taking time to work with me one on one, so I'm not sure if I should still send out queries. What about twitter contests? I'm currently knee-deep in one, so I feel like this is murky territory.

Also, it seems like phone call R&R's are kind of rare. From an agent's point of view, do you do phone call R&R's or email ones? (2) Does this mean there are a ton of problems with the book and it would be easier to talk them out than send suggestions in an email? (3) Or am I overthinking it? (I'm overthinking it, aren't I) (4/5)

(1) NO

(2) Both

(3) Sort of

(4/5) of course you are, but you're a writer. It's what you do.

Ok, let's get down to details. In reverse order:

(3) Does this mean there are a ton of problems with the book?
Sometimes it's easier just to chat about revisions that write out a whole long email. It's more helpful sometimes to hear what the writer is thinking, and have her able to ask me questions. It doesn't mean there are ton of problems. It probably means there are a few, but something the agent thinks can be fixed. (It's not a given that all problems in manuscripts can be fixed)

(2) do you do phone call R&R's or email ones?
I do emails but that's by choice. I like to have a written record of what I asked for. Recently one of my colleagues mentioned she just didn't want to write a long email so asked the writer to have a phone convo instead. Both are used; there's no one better way.

(1) Should I offer the agent an exclusive while I work on revisions?
Never offer an exclusive. Never. I know you sometimes can't resist but RESIST. It's never in your best interest. If an agent asks, it's hard to say no, I understand, but at the very least you can duct tape your beak shut about offering one. (Don't make me come over there and gnaw on you.)

You should continue to query and whatever else you're doing to get eyeballs on your manuscript while you revise with this agent.

It's entirely possible an agent will suggest changes you think are bilge water. It's also possible you'll have second or third thoughts about whether you want to work with this agent.

This revision time is where you two get to know each other. Don't commit before you know what you're getting, and an exclusive is a commitment.

Some of my colleagues have been burned by authors doing revisions with them, then querying the freshened manuscript and signing elsewhere. I look on that as a bullet dodged frankly. An author willing to do that is someone I probably wouldn't want to work with, but it rankles agents when it happens. (And it poisons the well for that author forever as far as I'm concerned.)

What that means for you is that if you think the revisions are bilgewater, or the agent isn't a good fit, you don't keep the conversation going. You don't take up her time if you know you're not willing to sign if she offers.

Any questions?

Friday, June 09, 2017

The distinction between rhythm and cadence

Recently a twitter follower asked me.

That's a good question.

If you look in my new favorite dictionary, Merriam Webster you find:

Rhythm: the effect created by the elements in a play, movie, or novel that relate to the temporal development of the action

Cadence:  a rhythmic sequence or flow of sounds in language the grand cadence of his poetry

The definitions aren't going to help much are they? This is one of the most interesting parts of being a word wrangler: really delving into the nuances of similar words.

I think the best way to talk about cadence is to read it or hear it.

This recent article in the WaPo has undeniable cadence: notice the short alternating paragraphs. It's almost like the call and response of the drill Sergeant calling cadence. 


or for those Bill Murray fans in the audience

Clearly cadence is rhythmic, but not all rhythm is cadence.

Here's rhythm that isn't cadence

Bob Fosse is probably the closest to a cadence style in his choreography (oh god, what a great artist he was) but it's still not the call and response and repetition of true cadence.

Here's why this is important to think about: you always need rhythm, and sometimes the rhythm you need is cadence. Rhythm and cadence are conveyed with word choices.  You can have flexible, flowy phrases and still have rhythm (think Faulkner) but cadence is going to use short sharp words. Think of the difference between marching and dancing.

Making these kinds of distinctions will help you choose just the right word which is a key element of compelling, interesting writing.  Here are some examples to start you out:

1. Pale and wan
2. Amble and saunter
3. Rage and fume
4. author and writer
5. trump and win (oh yes, I did that one on purpose)
6. hurl and toss
7. invective and insult
8. gamble and risk
9. pay and remit
10. shark and agent (ok, ok, that's just a joke)

Yes you can go overboard on this, much like you can on commas and other forms of rebellious punctuation, but I'd rather fish you out of the lagoon, than not have you dive in.

11. Chastise and upbraid
12. snarl and growl
13. nefarious and underhanded
14. the devil and the deep blue sea (ok, that's also a joke)

Now, marching off to the office:
I don't know but I've been told
Query No's are really cold
Sound off! Sound off! Three, four
Requested fulls are sent with hope
Waiting time will make you mope
Sound off! Sound off! Three, four.
Get "the call" and leap for joy
Ours is just to write and die!
Sound off! Sound off! Three, four

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Cold requerying

After finishing a 91k word crime novel I was so excited that I couldn’t wait to hit “send.” And of course the first five queries were quickly rejected, as were the second batch of five, and the third and fourth. After licking my rejection wounds, I evaluated my ms and query, read a couple of great books about the “first pages hook” thing, and "starting your book in the right place." I revised the ms accordingly, polished it, revised the query and hit “send’ on another batch of five. I was elated to get two requests for partials and one for the entire ms! Hey, maybe I was getting somewhere with my dream!

One of the partial requests was from a big name agent with years of churning out ‘Big” books. The response was a rejection with detailed feedback and praise, but no request to R&R. The full is still out there with another partial.

My question is: should I resubmit to the Big Name agent after revising? Or am I wasting his time, and mine? And why would someone as busy as this man give such a detailed revision request just to reject it?

Generally speaking, you don't requery for the same manuscript unless asked to do so by the agent.

On the other hand, what's the worst that could happen if you do?  Well, ok, you could get eaten by sharks, consigned to Carkoon, subtweeted by Agent SnootyPants.  Last I looked none of those were actually fatal. Not even metaphorically fatal.

And what you need to succeed in this business is to be bold. In fact, it's one of the Rules for Writers.

So, here's what you'll do. You make sure that revised manuscript is polished till it gleams. No typos. No missing words (that's a big one). No homonyms. The standard for revised mss is even higher than requested-only-once mss.

Then you query Agent Big Name and say "your advice on revising the manuscript was invaluable, and I followed it. May I send you the revised version for consideration?"

You might hear no. You might hear nothing. No harm, no foul.
But you might hear yes.

Trying and failing is better than not trying at all.

And remember, agents are on the hunt for good work. If you've got it, I want to see it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Interning at a lit agency (or anywhere in publishing)

I've been an aspiring novelist since i was 5 and I discovered a true love of reading other authors when I was 8. I've secretly wanted to be an editor ever since I learned that was a job, but didn't quite know how to make that happen. I live in a suburb of Los Angeles and I know there has to be some sort of publishing world out here, but I find it overwhelming trying to find good information on the internet and I was hoping you could steer me in the right direction.

One of the reasons I never pursued editing/publishing is because I know that I don't have all of the qualifications that most places are looking for, even for entry level positions. I was agoraphobic from the ages of 17-27, and then I worked as a cashier for 7 years and then my mom died and I quit everything, but not before getting my AA from the local community college.

I currently work at a comedy club. I started as an intern about 3 years ago, and have worked my way up to Booker of the smaller, developmental room of the club. Some of my duties include scheduling talent for 13 shows a week, training interns to run shows, hosting and running auditions twice a week, teaching an emcee workshop, and figuring out how to promote the shows so that audiences will come out and see them.

I'm not technically qualified for the job I have now, but that doesn't stop me from doing it. The problem is that every time I get promoted, I can't help but feel that there is someone out there who would a) be more suited for it and b) appreciate it more. I love comedy and I love the owners of the club, but I feel that the energy that I pour into my job is flowing in the wrong direction. I really want to be a part of the publishing industry. Not being qualified for the job I have now has given me the spark of confidence to pursue something in the field I really want to be a part of but I am a little lost, so any direction you could give me would be very much appreciated.

What exactly do you think we're looking for in an intern?

I read this list of what you've accomplished and the only reason I didn't ask you in for an interview is cause you live in LA.

(Most publishing internships are in NYC, cause most of publishing is in NYC)

Fuck this qualification nonsense you're using to doubt yourself.

What you've DONE is what impresses me. You've exhibited initiative, courage and organization skills. That's EXACTLY what we look for.

Here's what you do: write a polite letter asking for an informational interview to every company associated with publishing that you can find. Explain that you are looking to make a career change, and you're eager to learn about the industry so you can apply for jobs.

A lot of people will ignore you (they are idiots); a few will say sure come on in. Go with a list of questions. Don't be afraid of sounding stupid. Ask, take notes. Expect to get about no more than 20-30 minutes. At the close of the interview ask if they have suggestions for you. FOLLOW THOSE even the ones you think are beyond your grasp.

Write a nice thank you note after you leave. (On paper, with an envelope and stamp.)

Expect to spend some time learning. Don't think of this as being stalled. Think of this as filling your gas tank for the road trip ahead.

If you move to New York, get in touch. Yes, I'm dead serious here.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Lit mag subs before querying or publication

 I've seen a lot of literary magazines and journals that take submissions for novel excerpts. Are those typically published novels only, or is it okay to send in an excerpt from a finished, but currently being queried novel?

Also, if the excerpt was accepted for publication (likely with rights reverting to the author on pub), could that then be added to the query bio?
Generally excerpts are from UNpubbed novels. Check the submission guidelines for the magazines in question about what they take. It varies widely.

If the excerpt is published, even if the rights don't revert to you, you're fine. In fact, most short story
collections include previously published stories.

How to query for this: write "excerpts from this novel have been accepted for publication by The Good Taste Review" or "excerpts from this novel have appeared in The Better Taste Review and The Carkoon Review."

And yes, you really should include those with your publishing credits in a query.

When your book is sold, you'll include "an excerpt from this novel in a different form appeared in The Good Taste Review" on the copyright page.

You'll also make sure your publishing contract acknowledges that excerpts have been previously published. 
Your agent will know what to do.

Having excerpts already published is something I view as a plus. It means someone else looked at your writing and found it publishable. That's almost always a good thing to see in a query.

Any questions?

Monday, June 05, 2017

Contest results-preliminary FINAL

You guyz really come up with some good stuff on short notice.

Here are the ones that made me laugh, or made me go "awwww."

The Seasick Mermaid
He sees you when you're sleeping.
He nuzzles you awake.
He knows if your tuna is bad or good.
Hurry up with the can opener, for goodness' sake!

Brian Schwarz
Ever get that feeling someone is watching you? Can't imagine why...

BJ Muntain
Secret agent cat, secret agent cat.
They've encroached upon your naptime and posted it online.

Gossamer's superpower: horizontal surveillance.

Steve Forti
Pssssst. Hey kid. Down here. Wanna buy some catnip?

E.M. Goldsmith
Socks and quarters - that is my mission. No matching socks. Any spare change. If a human looks, disguise myself as the cat. No word will ever be said of the lurking sock demon of the couch.

Beth Carpenter
It's there, isn't it? That rejection, waiting in my special inbox. Well, it will never find me here.

Welcome to my new flat. I'd ask you in but...

Lisa Bodenheim
Is it safe? La Slitherina and The Wombat are ok. But Death Kitten? Watch out!

Robert Ceres
I see you.

I have a winner in mind but let me know who you think it should be. Final results around noon (Eastern Shark Time)


Each of these was worthy of a win, and it was very hard to choose let me tell you.

Although I only posted a snippet of BJ Muntain's entry, there was an entire song offered up. That was effort above and beyond the call of the catnip.

And I'm glad to see that many of you agreed with me. The winner this week is indeed BJ Muntain!

BJ if you'll send me your mailing address and some of the books on your wish list, I'll send you a prize!

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write entries and post them. It was a lovely break in the weekend and a serious mood elevator.  Very much appreciated by all of us who read them.

And now, back to the trenches. BEA is over. BookCon is wrapped up for a year. Time to wade into the work that arrived while I wasn't looking!

Sunday, June 04, 2017

A caption contest!

I haven't been a total slacker this weekend; there's a new post up at QueryShark.
But I'm also trying to catch up on all the things not done this week when I was off revelling at BEA. Thus, no blog post here today.

So, instead, a caption contest.

{Do you recognize the paw or the nose? (It's one of our regular blog reader's kitty!)}

Post your suggested caption for this photo in the comments column. Long or short, doesn't matter.
I'll cut off the entries later today.  Contest closed (sorry!)

Of course there's a prize! It wouldn't be fun without a prize.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

post BEA crash landing

I didn't fall out of my chair at the bar this year, and the wait staff didn't hustle us out the door as they have in years past, and best of all it wasn't raining when we all need to flag cabs to get home, so all in all, the post BEA drinks date with La Slitherina, Death Kitten and The Wombat was quite the revel.

Which is why there is no blog post today.

I'm busy locating my senses. I may have left them with my shoes.  I'm calling in the experts for help.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Some reasons you heard no

1. You queried a novel that is the second in a series, and you self-pubbed the first. It's almost impossible to sell a second novel in a series even if the first one was published by a major house.  And self-pubbed is almost always a non-starter cause of the sales figures. Publishers just aren't interested in a book that sold 600 copies, unless it won some sort of prestigious award, or got optioned for a movie, or some other reason that persuades them more copies will fly off the shelves.

How you will avoid this: write something new, or treat book two as the first in the series. It will also help if you remove it from Amazon before querying.

2. Your memoir is a retelling of Eat Pray Love.  You even use it as a comp.
How you will avoid this: If you want to write this kind of memoir, you're going to need to talk about it in a way that makes me think you've got something new to say. And "new to say" doesn't mean "it's about ME, not someone else."

3. The title indicates your values are so out of sync with mine that I don't even read the query. (Example: Only Sluts Get Abortions; Gays are Evil; Immigrants are Terrorists) I respond poorly to these kinds of hot-button-pushing projects in general.

How you will avoid this: if you want to write a book that takes a position on a issue, frame your argument in something less incendiary than good versus evil. And remember that most people won 't shell out money for a book if the title just makes them mad.

4. You self pubbed the book you're querying me for.  Other agents consider them. I don't.
How you'll avoid this: Either don't self-publish, or just leave me off your query list. 

5. Ho-hum. The plot of the book is so run of the mill that even good writing can't save it.
How you will avoid this: know your category. If you don't know what's already been done, and done to death, it's hard to know what's fresh and new.

6. You describe how characters look but not how they are. I'm less interested in eye color than I am in moral compass. One is filler. The other isn't. If you don't know which is which, stop querying.

How you will avoid this: learn to read your own work with a critical eye. Make a list of the adjectives and adverbs you use to develop character. If they're all external (big, strong, tall, glamourous, sexy) or patronizing (spunky, feisty, Mr. Mom) you've got a problem.

Any questions?

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Will working in publishing help my career as a novelist?

I work in social media for consumer goods and have for about five years now as I've toiled away on my novels on evenings and weekends. I accepted a few years ago that it's unlikely I'll make a living on just writing novels, so I've really made an effort to pick day jobs I like. Despite my best efforts, my jobs have been just kind of okay.

Recently an opportunity has arisen to apply for a job at a publisher! Social Media Manager role. The problem: it pays 2/3 my current salary. However, a writer some time ago told me that she credits working in publishing with her ability to eventually get published. "At least it's a salary," she said. "I'd do that over going to get an MFA." (Which is something I also briefly considered before ruling it out due to not wanting to go into debt.)

I know it's really the strength of the story that sells a book, but I do wonder if I don't consider at least applying for this job, I'll be missing a huge opportunity to see the inner workings of the industry and somehow putting myself at an advantage when I'm ready to query again.

I'm not expecting you to decide my life for me, but I'd love any insight you can provide.

You don't say where the job is located.
If it means moving to NYC and working at the actual publishing company, well, that's gonna test your budgeting skills, but it is a good way to get the low down on how this industry actually works (if you can call this working.)

If it's a job that's done remotely, you'll see and experience less of the day to day stuff and insider knowledge will be harder to come by.

Moving to NYC isn't for everyone, of course. I always say the only reason you should be here is if you want to be. It's too hard to live here if you don't.

But the bottom line is I think it's a good thing to experience if you want to be a writer.

And for those of you who don't have the option of working in publishing or moving to NYC, that's ok. It won't hurt your career at all. That's why you'll have me. I know enough about how publishing works for the both of us.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

All the more reason to have a dedicated writer email

A friend of mine mentioned what she called "coping skills" in a recent email to me. I'd never thought about that idea before, but it instantly rang true.  Coping skills come from experience of course, which means that if you don't have experience with something it's harder to cope skillfully.

As it happened, I was replying to writers about requested fulls just about the same time I read my friend's email.

And of course:

Wile E Coyote and I have a bright idea

Getting a lot of rejection on your work is a part of the publishing process. Every writer endures it. You will not be the exception to the rule. You will NEVER stop getting rejections.

That doesn't make rejection any easier to deal with, but after a couple hundred of them, your coping skills are going to improve (a bottle of bourbon and watching Jaws to see the shark get blown up is a good start.)

At the START of your career though, those coping skills aren't as honed. And rejections tend to arrive, in the way of all bad news, at the worst possible time. And you take them more personally, which means it takes longer to regain your equilibrium.

So, here's an idea:

If you query from a dedicated author email that you do not use for anything else, you don't have to check the email if you know you're not feeling up to it.

There are a lot of other good reasons to have a dedicated email address: you won't include agents on some kind of send-all with your holiday cards; you won't spam agents if your regular email address gets hacked (this happens a LOT); you won't need to engage an away message when you're on your holiday in the Swiss Alps and I am at home reading your manuscript.

But mostly, the idea of managing the circumstances when you hear back from agents is a good idea. It gives you more control than if the email just shows up on your birthday, or Christmas, or any of a hundred other days you really didn't want to hear this.

Having an email you can turn off or ignore without losing contacts with the other parts of your life seems a pretty good idea for coping with this crazy industry.

What other tricks have you developed for coping with the query process?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Editor suggested books

I have a writer friend who mentioned last year that after quite a few published novels, she was going to be curious to see how her most recent novel did. She said her editor had more input on this book than any other, basically giving the author the subject matter to write about. The book sold very well, better than any of her other previous books, even making bestseller lists.

I wrote this off as a one-time thing, but then I recently heard from another writer, with whom I share an editor. She said that our editor told her that the imprint would be publishing fewer books and as a result, the editor wanted to make sure she got exactly the books she wanted. The editor told the writer that she wanted a novel on a specific topic. The writer was offered the opportunity to write that specific novel. (Both of these writers are with Big 5 imprints.)

Now, two does not make a trend (not even for the New York Times Style section), but it made me wonder: Is this a thing? Editors asking for specific novels to be written? I understand this in nonfiction, but hadn’t realized this happened in fiction. Are we all destined to all be works for hire?

First, let's get our terminology clarified. Just because an editor asks for a particular kind of book does NOT make it a work for hire.  My guess is your writer friends had standard publishing contracts with advances and royalties and (here's the key part) they retain the copyright to their work.

Now, to what you're actually asking about.

This happens ALL the time. I've got a client who has had 10+ books published and his editor suggested an idea, and my client wrote the book.  I'm not sure the editor ever mentioned to the sales team that the ideas was his. He certainly didn't push it any harder than he did the other (not-his) books my client wrote.

Editors hear about books the sales team is hungry for; editors then pass that along to agents and writers.

When you see editors tweet about their manuscript wish list (#MSWL) it's exactly this kind of thing. Editors don't dream up projects based solely on their own idea of what would be good to read. They're listening to the sales and marketing team, who are talking to booksellers and librarians, who are talking to library patrons and readers.

It's not efficient communication by a long shot, but then this is publishing. For efficiency, you need to go someplace else.

Don't worry about this. Write the best novel you can.

Monday, May 29, 2017

When trade publishing isn't the way to go

This weekend will be the tenth anniversary of the first time I finished writing my manuscript. It sucked then, but I had no idea. I thought it was a victory. I'd overcome my demons and turned them into something that would help someone else overcome theirs, or at least help a loved one understand. And so I set out on a journey to get it out there to all the someones and the people who love them.

I committed rookie author sins. I submitted my 38,287 word first draft manuscript to agents. My query letters were embarrassing. Worst of all, I didn't really know yet what I had to say.

Then, I started to learn. I took classes and workshops, attended conferences and critique groups, and I read books and blogs. Your blog is one of my favorites. Also, through following you, I met others whose help was invaluable. But in submitting to you, I was given something even more precious. You answered me. Not a form rejection, but an answer. With you, I felt heard. Your rejection was fair, so please don't fear I'm asking you to do consider my work again. You've also been very generous in answering questions. For all of this, I sincerely thank you.

If I may be so bold to trouble you one more time, this silly anniversary has prompted one last question. As I worked over the years, I also prayed for the words God wanted someone to see. Now, despite the constant rejections I receive, I feel a responsibility to get my work to  the right eyes. My story is finally ready. Following a professional edit, I'd like to self-publish. I'm not a career writer, nor do I expect to make any money through this venture. I can't, however, afford to make books on my own.

Are you aware of a way in which I could have books printed and sold at cost?

Maybe I'm being foolish. Perhaps sharing this victory is what I need to make it real. I don't know, but I have to do something.

You're not being foolish, and it's not a silly anniversary.
You tried something new, and persevered to get better at it.
That's something to celebrate.

And if anyone says anything to you disparaging your accomplishment, punch them in the nose. Well ok, maybe just a pithy retort will do. Something akin to "even your dog knows you stink."

But on to your question.

There is indeed a way to have books printed and sold at cost.  But that's not what you want to do. You want to self-publish and use POD.  I don't know how to do this, but a lot of other people do.  You can sell your books on Amazon, and you can have a buy button on your website.

Do what you did when you researching trade publishing: google, find people who know what they're talking about, ask questions and listen to the answers.

And when you publish your book, let me know. I like to support writers, even the ones I don't represent.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Youthful indiscretions in the fiction section of your life

I am grateful for both of your blogs. I check both of them every day.***

On my query letter, should I note that I self-published a bad novel seven years ago that didn't sell because, basically...........


and if so how should I mention it? Or, should I avoid it on the query and address it honestly if an agent brings it up - assuming, hopefully, that discussions get that far?

You don't have to mention this in the query letter.
DO however, make sure that all evidence of your youthful fling are removed from your website, and from Amazon.

Do NOT reference this work you're querying for as a debut. You can be silent on that point until an agent asks for more info. Then you have to reveal the first book.

The first book is NOT a deal breaker at all. As long as you don't want me to try to sell it, we're good.

And truthfully, it's actually a plus for me. Now that you know how hard it is to sell and promote, hopefully you've been in training for the marathon of publishing for lo, these seven years.

Wait, what, you say? Training??

Yes, training.  If you want to write and be published, even though you're still at the early stages,  you should be training for publication.

By training I mean things like building contacts among other writers. Those writers will become your first readers and early champions.  The community that has grown up around this blog's comment section is the perfect example of that.

By training I mean you avail yourself of information on industry blogs so you learn terminology. You read more than the deals section of Publishers Marketplace. You ask your librarian for the copies of Publishers Weekly they keep behind the desk.

By training I mean you read widely in your category.

By training I mean you support your local bookstores. When you are published, they will be your bosom buddies.

You can do all this without a finished novel, without an agent, without a contract.  Then when you have those, you're tuned up and ready to go.

***While this blog updates most every day, QueryShark is much more irregular. 
If you follow QueryShark on Twitter, you'll see when that blog has new content.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

My freelance editor wants to send my ms to contacts at publishers

A funny thing happened on the way home from the edit.

I have novel that I swear is the best novel I can make it without another set of eyes. And I swear I’m not a completely terrible writer, despite my use of the preceding adverb. Except for commas. I suck at commas.

So, with a year of querying behind me (part of the 100 club), those last ten fulls out there, and me ready to move on to a new project, I decided to find an editor, because I didn’t get it—everyone who read the book liked it and many agents who did request and said no wanted to see everything I wrote next, so I figured there had to be something wrong with THIS book.

I went on Reedsy and found a former acquisitions editor for one of the Big 5 imprints now freelancing. Good, someone who could tell me what was wrong. He had some good ideas that we discussed, and he was excited for me to query this book until I told him I was pretty much queried out.

Maybe I had a terrible query. Maybe it was the 1st person thing. I also made edits whenever I got useful feedback, so maybe that was part of it too. Who knows? But when I told him this—that my point in hiring him was to learn from this book if I could and to grow as a writer, his response was that the things to fix were minor, and that he still had friends at the Big 5 and would be happy to send them my work as a referral.

I checked and his background is legitimate. He also did not ask for anything, money or otherwise. I have another WIP, but it’s 4-6 months away from querying.

(1) Should I consider accepting this referral?
(2) Do agents know something he doesn’t?
(3) Am I disadvantaging myself?
(4) If someone offers, should I try to get an agent?

I know agents know many things I don’t with regards to contracts etc., but what’s the procedure for trying to find an agent after a publisher offers if you answer yes to questions 1&4 and lightning strikes (or I get bitten by a shark of the publishing variety)?

I am happy I do math for a living. Publishing is crazy. :) 

(1) Sure, why not. No one will die if you do.**
(2) Yes
(3) No**
(4) YES

You didn't ask him the defining question: if he'd gotten this ms while he was an aquiring editor, would he/could he have bought it? The god's honest truth is a lot of good work doesn't get published.  That happens for a lot of reasons, none of which you have control over.

And that's what agents know that editors don't. We see many more manuscripts than editors do. I can hear my editor friends screaming disbelief, while pointing at their overflowing inboxes.  As proof let me tell you that an editor recently mentioned she had 30 manuscripts in her inbox from agents.  I have triple that in queries on a weekly basis.

And if he sends the ms to friends at publishers, remember, that means the ms has been submitted. If they say no, that's a no for the imprint, if not the entire publisher.  Since you're at the END of your querying process for this book, the risk is low. If you were just at the start of the querying process, I would throw myself in front of your keyboard to prevent you from doing that. (notice the *** after questions 1 and 3. That means this answer is NOT one-size-fits-all.)

And if an offer results from this, email the agents who read your full with this subject line: OFFER from PUBLISHER on TITLE.

If you don't get any bites, let me know and I'll help you find a publishing contract specialist who (for an hourly fee) will review your contract and keep you out of hot water.

Yes, publishing is crazy.
And the people who work in it, including writers, are crazy too.
You have to be; it's an actual job requirement.