Friday, October 20, 2017

Flash Fiction contest: Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly

oh my dear writer friends, you want want want to win this!

It's entirely true that I stole this ARC from the sleeping hand of MarcyKate Connolly's trusting agent, and slithered back to my office to read it posthaste.

And now my criminal spoils are yours for the winning!

The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:


3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: flesh/fleshy is ok but flesh/flemish 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: 6:37am Saturday 10/21/17

Contest closes: 9am Sunday 10/22/17

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

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

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

young agent/small agency

I've been lucky enough to get an offer of representation for my first novel. Unsurprisingly, various top agents had passed on it, and the person who offered rep is relatively inexperienced (a few years in the business) and works for a relatively small agency.

Are there any things to look out for in particular with inexperienced agents, or ways to help evaluate them given a shorter history of selling books? For example, how many sales (in PM) would you expect a good-but-young agent to have after 2-3 years of experience?
The most important thing to ask is "what have you sold?" And not just the young agent, the agency as a whole.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, takes the place of experience when problems arise on the path to publication. A youngish agent may not have the requisite experience, but someone at the agency should.

That means you look at what the entire agency has sold. If they haven't sold anything to a big publisher, you're going to be first. And we all know how I feel about being first, right?

The number of sales doesn't matter as much as where the books have sold (to my way of thinking.)

With a youngish agent, I'd also want to have a pretty straightforward discussion about what happens if the agent leaves. Agenting is a tough business and not everyone keeps at it.

Every agent starts small (well, ok a couple didn't but they are the exception, not the rule). Make sure they're surrounded by people who didn't stay small.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Good project: check. Good client...err not so much

Recently, I wrote a post about showing me that you're going to be difficult.

In today's incoming email I found a whole new way you can outsmart yourself:


Putting anything like this on your email flags you as the rawest of raw recruits to the Publishing Horde.

It also tells me that you think manuscripts get stolen so often that you need to make sure to warn everyone not to do it.  That's the first sign that you're this guy

You never need this on a query.

Any questions?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Yesterday's blog post mentioned the value of poetry and some of you asked for recommendations.

My go-to journal for poetry is called (drum roll!) POETRY and it's the journal of the Poetry Foundation.

What I like best is that it's an anthology, so if the work of one poet is too obscure or abstract for me, I can just turn the page.

I love the poetry of Richard Blanco.

And Jane Kenyon. Well, enough good cannot be said of Jane Kenyon. Her poem Happiness is a touchstone for me.

And if your poetry taste runs to Dr. Seuss, or Ogden Nash, or Shel Silverstein, well thats' some rollicking good stanzas.

Those of you who find beauty in the Psalms, or Shakespeare, or Keats, have at it.  Keats famously said truth is beauty but he didn't say there was but one of each.

And while you may not think of Homer's Odyssey as poetry, it is.
The Iliad too.

There's a wealth to read and remember. Don't spend time with poets or poetry that doesn't resonate with you. If you "don't understand" a poem, read another one. Or another poet. Or look for poetry designed for younger readers.  Just cause you're old doesn't mean you have to give up kids books. Robert Louis Stevenson's poem about swings is with me to this day.

My favorite poem of all time is called We Are Going to Mars by Nikki Giovanni and I had the experience of a lifetime listening to her speak the poem aloud here in New York at Symphony Space.

A good poem is one that illuminates your world.
 That's the ONLY measure of poetry in my opinion.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Great concept, terrific query, and no bites. What the hell is wrong?

It's your writing.
I'm sorry, but that's just the honest to godiva truth, and it doesn't mean you're a bad person or even a bad writer. It means your eye or your ear isn't keen enough.

What do I mean by keen eye?

Your keen eye is your revising eye. We all write god-awful first drafts. I do it here with blog posts. You do it there with pages, chapters, entire novels.

It's the revising that spruces things up, but some of you haven't yet learned how to read for bland or redundant.

For example: describing farmland as pastoral.
It's not a crime.
It's not even wrong.

It's just bad writing.
Farm land is by expectation pastoral. You don't have to tell me so (that means you don't have to use the word). Much like you don't have to describe cats as four-legged felines. Now, if a cat has five legs, that's worth noting. Or perhaps just three. In any case you get the point. Don't use adjectives and adverbs to illustrate the obvious. Use them for when you want your reader to notice something.

Only if the farm land ISN'T pastoral would it be interesting. It's the unexpected that intrigues us.

What do I mean by ear?
Clunky sentences.
I can't use any examples because I don't use the work of people who query me here on the blog. But I see some sentences that feel like pretzels.

How to avoid this: say them out loud. Yes, every single one.

And if you can't hear any clunky sentences it's NOT cause you aren't writing them. It's cause your ear isn't tuned correctly.

How to avoid that: well you can't avoid it but you can fix it. And I think one way you fix it is by listening to audio books and reading poetry. Actually HEARING a book you love will allow good rhythm to sink into your brain.

And reading poetry is just plain good for you. If you don't understand a poem, read it again. I don't understand every poem I read -- actually more like I don't understand a third of the poems I read. I just skip over those after the second read.

The ones I do get, I read those more than a couple times. And yes, sometimes I say them out loud, and you bet your bookmark, it does clear out some room on the L-train when I start reciting aloud.

Your eye and ear develop with practice. Practice means pages.

You want to get some practice in? NaNoWrMo is coming. Several of my clients use it to really hit the writing desk. Think about it.

Not for nothing Stephen King famously said "the first million words are practice."

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Duchess of Yowl has a cross word for the waitress

Duchess of Yowl: The answer to 7 Down is Feline.

Me: (counting squares) Seven letters, your grace, not six.

Duchess of Yowl: Felines. That's seven.

Me: The clue says "ice cream treat"

Duchess of Yowl: I don't like ice cream. You can just hold the ice and bring the cream. Chop chop, waitress, I'm peckish.

Me: Your grace, it's less than an hour since I served you lunch. How can you be peckish?

Duchess of Yowl: Do I question your atrocious eating patterns? You wait till noon to eat tuna!

Me: Tuna! That's four across: served in sushi bars!

Duchess of Yowl: I am the answer for everything, it's true.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Can I use something from my first chapter in the query?

I'm writing a story set in a dystopian world. If I have a section in my first chapter that I think nicely summarizes this new world, can I use that in my query? Of course, I will add the main story points as well, but I really like how I've managed to establish this setting. It does a great job grabbing the readers attention and I would like to use it in my query.

I guess my real question is: Will an agent get upset / frustrated / bored three pages into my MS when they realized they're re-reading the same two paragraphs that were in my query?

You haven't found the QueryShark blog yet have you?

Short answer to your question: yes

Some context: Nothing annoys me faster than re-reading things in a query.  It's a textbook illustration of the writer not thinking about the purpose of a query. The purpose of a query (all together now) is to entice me to read the pages, and then more pages after that.

Repeating yourself does not accomplish that goal.

Furthermore, you're under the impression (hence the QS comment) that you NEED to tell me about the world.  You do not. You need to tell me about the plot. You need to beguile me into wanting to know what happens next.  World building rarely does that. Plot does.

So, first, hie thee over to Query Shark.
And get your plot on the page.
You only have about 250 words to intrigue me. Use them wisely.

I don't have to know how dragons learned to read to believe that they can.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Querying as author and artist

I have a question for your blog. You've said before that it's really hard to do two things well. But just supposing someone is crazy enough to do both writing and illustration, how would they best seek representation? How would that work? Say this person wants to write and illustrate their own graphic novel.

Oh you mean like


Otter is of course not a graphic novel; it's a picture book but the author, Sam Garton, is also the illustrator.

And I believe Marjane Satrapi did the art for Persepolis as well as the text.

This isn't two things. Each of them are one: a graphic novel, a picture book.
And you are the author/illustrator. You can be a good author/illustrator, you can be a GREAT author/illustrator. You can be a terrific graphic novelist. 

And you query for it with text about the story. It will help a LOT if you have a website with your art on it so I can click on the link you provide in your query and see what you've got.

You'd be a savvy author to check out the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators. They have author/illustrators by the wheelbarrowful.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The reason I have nothing to say today

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

 not only knocked my sox off, it put them in the laundry basket and brought me my shark slippers.

This book is so wonderful I don't want it to end so I'm reading as slowly as I can (and not writing blog posts.)

Even if you don't read YA or fantasy this book is not to be missed.

The writing is superlative, and every author can get a lot of value from watching how Kelly Barnhill does even the simplest things (like character names) with deft perfection.

This isn't going to be a contest prize (sorry guyz) cause I can't wait to send it to my nieces. They're too young yet, but soon! Soon!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

More on querying agencies with "one and done" policies

I have a question about one and done agencies. In other words, if you query one agent from our agency don't even think about querying anyone else here. Now that I think about it I have two questions, maybe three but they are all related.

If an agency has a one and done policy but you (and by you I mean me) have made a MAJOR revision to the point where the plot is the same but the novel and style is not. Is it okay to query another agent at the one and done agency since it is substantially different from when you (and by you I mean me) first submitted to the agency over a year ago?

While I was typing I had a second thought pop into my head. What if you queried an agent at a one and done agency and that agent since left, are the other agents at that agency now fair game?

Sorry to be long winded but that last question leads to a follow up question. What if an agent you (and by you I mean me) queried in the past while at another agency moved to a one and done agency I have not queried yet, am I @#*& out of luck at that agency?

I'm confusing myself but you are brilliant so I'm sure you can keep up.

So here is my question. Should I stick to querying agents I haven't queried at agencies that I also haven't queried yet or can I expand my net since my novel is not the same novel I queried a year ago? I'm afraid of angering the Query gods and having plagues bestowed on me.

It will help you to know WHY some agencies have a one and done policy.

Some agencies have a pooled query in-box. All queries land there and are then sorted out to various agents depending on who's looking for what; who's busy; who's looking for anything they can sell etc.

If you've queried here, your query has been assessed and delivered (we hope) to the agent that best fits it.

Thus, no matter what, you're done here.

Some agencies on the other hand ask that you query one at a time so that three different agents are not reading the same material and worse requesting the same material. Time is a scarce resource and if an agent finds out she's third on your priority list AFTER spending six hours reading your manuscript she's going to be damn unhappy.

Here at New Leaf we ask you query one agent at a time for just that reason.

Some people don't follow those guidelines, and what they don't know is that we see ALL their emails so we know they've ignored that request.

It's not a good way to get started.

Now, to your specific questions:

1. Unless asked, you generally don't send a query for a revision. "Asked" means the agent specifically says "I'd like to see a revision"

If you've revised the book so it doesn't resemble the first one, call it something else and query like it's a new novel.

2. If the agent you've queried has left the agency, you can query another agent.

3. If the AGENCY you queried is one and done, no matter which agents come and go, you're done

4. The publishing gods won't eviscerate you for this. The publishing gods eviscerate you for hubris and idiocy and twice for hubris combined with idiocy. You're neither.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Funny you should ask

I'm curious why comedy is not a genre for novels. I realize there are comedy books, but these are generally joke books, novelties, autobiographies/essay collections by comedians, etc. Why aren't funny novels just considered comedies? I suspect the answer has something to do with genres bleeding into each other and a funny book is never just a comedy and nothing else. But that's true in movies as well yet we still have comedy films. "Blazing Saddles" is a comedy. But if "Blazing Saddles" was a book it would be filed under western. Right? Why? Any thoughts on this?

Would Blazing Saddles be funny if it was a book? I haven't seen it for a while, but my recollection is that it depends heavily on visual (and audible) cues for the humor.

(One great thing about this job: I can now go watch Blazing Saddles and chalk it up as time spent on research. Please someone ask a complex question about Michael Gilbert so I can re-read his novels with a clear conscience!)

But on to your question.

While there was not a gathering of Arbiters of the Bookshelf who deemed comedy Not A Genre, it's also true that comedy is largely not considered a genre.

My best guess on the subject is that because humor is so subjective, there's no way to say "this belongs in comedy before it belongs in crime" if you're talking about the very funny novels of Gary Corby.

Or "this belongs in comedy before it belongs in science fiction or literary fiction" if you're talking about The Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell.

Humor is not only subjective by person, it varies within each person as they grow up.

Think about what you found funny when you were ten. Or twenty. Or now. While some of us still think Captain Underpants is hysterical (me! me!) others have a more …ahem…reserved view of that kind of humor. Have you ever seen a movie or read a book that you loved loved loved as a kid, only to find it did not "age well?" Some of that is cause what's funny when you're 12 isn't funny when you're not.

Romance, westerns, mysteries and science fiction all have universal tropes that cross age lines. You'd recognize a romance in a book for teens, you'd recognize it in a sophisticated book of manners.

Comedy doesn't have tropes. You either think it's funny or you don't.

Comedy is too general to be a useful sorting tool. And too personal to be a useful designation.

Funny how that works, isn't it?

Monday, October 09, 2017

More on trigger warnings

A recent blog post on what to say when querying a book with potentially difficult scenes generated some very thoughtful comments in response.

My initial answer (which I stand by) is to not include a trigger warning in a query. Let the chips fall where they may.

Here's why I believe that: putting trigger warnings on a book is someone else telling you what you should/should not  read. I am unalterably opposed to that. (It's not censorship because censorship is the government making that choice. )It is dangerous because the foundation of democracy is the freedom to read what we choose, unfettered.

Now, am I in favor of small children reading The Lottery by Shirley Jackson? No I am not, but we're not talking about small children, or children of any size or stripe here.

Trigger warnings are intended for grown ups and soon to be grown ups.  The implied warning is "don't read this, it will upset you."

I think you should be darn careful about who you give that kind of power to.

Do you give it to me? Not on your life. I'm not responsible for your mental health (and you're not responsible for mine.)

Do you give it to librarians or a form in the copyright office? No no no. There's no way one designation will work for the myriad of needs people have. Trigger warnings are not quantifiable.

So who do you listen to?
People you know, and people who care about you. In other words, your community.

Here's an example of what I mean:  Manchester By The Sea is brilliant (if you disagree, totally fine, but this blog post isn't about that, ok?) and deeply disturbing movie. I will never forget it, but I never want to see it again.

And when I was talking to a good friend who has two little girls, I told her to never let her husband see that movie. I was afraid it would disturb him deeply.

I knew her husband, I'd seen the movie. I offered an opinion. He's free to make his own choices.

But once we start labeling things, or giving blanket warnings "this is disturbing" we've removed the "I know her husband" element of the equation.

If you're querying a troublesome book, remember you DON'T know me. For all our conviviality on the blog, my personal life and my mental health are not things you know about.

And I don't know about yours (with some very few exceptions.)

Thus I'm not going to warn you off of Manchester By The Sea other than by saying that movie will haunt me forever.

I'm not going to warn you off The Lottery by Shirley Jackson other than to say it was so disturbing I haven't forgotten it for more years than I care to number, and I never read anything else she wrote.

I'm never going to tell you to not read a Vince Kohler mystery despite the fact I never forgave him for a scene in one of his books, and he's been dead for 20+ years.

You are in charge of your own mental health. If you're finding a lot of books disturb you, you might want to read more reviews ahead of time. If you find a book had a troublesome scene for you, you might want to post that on an Amazon or GoodReads review as your opinion.

Trigger warnings are well-intentioned but we all know what paves the road to hell.

oh, right, Monday...umm...

I knew I forgot something!
Blog post later today...

Blog post is up so comments are closed here.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

The Duchess of Yowl takes exception

To the editor:

I write to note that you have featured a horse on page D1 of Friday's paper.
There are no cats in the entire D section.
This is clearly some sort of terrible oversight since everyone knows pictures of cats increase readership.

I have enclosed several of my own headshots for your use should you be faced with this situation again.

My agent will be in touch about the very modest licensing fee.

Yours faithfully,

Duchess of Yowl (and all she surveys)

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Don't even hope you're exempt

I have one burning question that has tormented me for years:

Clearly, queries are evil inventions, the diabolical brainchildren of pissed off agents who'd reached the end of their Conrad-esque tether with generic "Please just read my book" letters, and decided to overcomplicate the process to an obscene out-of-control level that borders on criminal lunacy.

...okay, that isn't true. Apologies. I just wanted to write that and see what it looked like.

Anyway, my question is simple: Is it really true that the quality of the query AND the book is entirely irrelevant? And the only thing that matters is whether or not it can be sold? I mean, the most brilliant query letter for War and Peace wouldn't matter because no agent would offer to read it, as no agent could sell it to a publisher, right?

Or is that just a profoundly cynical, I-hate-how-marketing-and-the-masses-have-killed-art mentality?

Yeah, I have a book (literary fiction blended with historical fiction, with themes akin to those found in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and "Total Recall"), and I think it's good. But I keep coming back to my question and I worry.

At any rate, thanks for indulging me,

This is like asking if you can get a second date with the Miss Felicity Buttonweezer if you didn't comb your hair, wore last week's underpants, and chewed with your mouth open when you met her.

Yes, it's possible.

It is however not the norm or even probable.

You think I invented queries to make you crazy, and while that is true (and my fiendish plan has brought me unfettered joy at your wails of woe and hapless tears) it is also true that I too must write the Dreaded Query cause what you call a query, I call a pitch letter to editors.

And yes it is true that I have sold things by saying "read this or else" and yes it is also true that I know of a book deal that was nice and juicy that started with the pitch "this made me cry" and I also know that Barbara Poelle sometimes just waves her bottle of vodka at a chosen editor who then trundles over with a wheelbarrow of cash, but MOSTLY I spend a good deal of time writing and revising pitch letters (two hours today just in case you're wondering why I'm still in the office at 6:51pm)

In other words, none of us are spared this Fate Worse Than Death so time to get used to it.

And yes, I could sell War and Peace today just in case you're wondering.

Friday, October 06, 2017

My character changes names, how to query?

My main character uses a fake name (let's say "Strider"). He introduces himself as Strider, and that's how most people refer to him.

Halfway through the book, he admits that his real name is something else (let's say "Aragorn"). He starts going by his real name after that.

When I'm writing my query and synopsis, and talking to my agent... how do I refer to him?

I mean, his name is Aragorn. But I don't want to write a query about "Aragorn" and then confuse people by handing them a book about "Strider."

In the query you call him the name that he uses in the first part of the book.
Lots of things change as the book unfolds; in this case your character's name is one of them.

The synopsis is a different kettle o'fish (Pail o'perch; bucket o'bass)

There you start out calling him Strider but when his name changes it's Aragorn (nee Strider.)
Nee is that clever, popular crossword clue that means "former name."

You used to see it a lot more when lady spouses almost always changed their names to that of gentlemen spouses.

(For example: Betty Buttonweezer nee Zippersneezer)

Thursday, October 05, 2017

I want to be sensitive to agents with trigger issues

When an author has a manuscript with graphic scenes (abuse) and it is not in the Horror or Thriller genre where such events may be expected, what is the best way to mention this in a query letter as to be sensitive to agents / editors who may have certain “trigger” issues?

Your job is not to protect me from anything.
Your job is to tell your story as well, as compelling, as possible.

If that involves graphic scenes of abuse, don't pussy foot around and warn people. Tell your story in a way that makes me compelled to read on.

[I'm going to spare everyone a rant about the recent move to put warning signs on reading matter for adults.]

I will say this however: agents and readers may elect not to read things that have graphic scenes of abuse and they don't have to explain why that is to you either.

For example, I don't take on any projects about child abuse. I read Bastard Out of Carolina, and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and The Bluest Eye, and the was pretty much it for me.

That said, I think Spotlight is one of the best movies I've ever seen and in fact use it as an example of when/how to effectively include a prologue in your work.

If this is the novel that you must write, do it.
Query it.
Let the chips fall where they may.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Querying with co-authors

May I ask what is the best way to present a query letter when the book has been co-authored? Does one author primarily take the literary reins and handle most of the communications? If bios are required, is it best to present a bio of the group or each individual?

You both sign the query, and you include a bio for each author.

If one of you is the designated point person (i.e. using your email rather than the other person's) that's ok with me, but I really prefer to email each author so that all communication is direct and clear.

Both authors are signed as clients to the agency.

And before you get started querying, make sure you have a collaboration agreement in place. A collaboration agreement covers the financial split, the credit on the book cover (stuff like whose name comes first), who is responsible for revisions, and what happens if one of the authors decides not to continue with the project before it's published.

I won't send a project on submission without those questions being answered and part of an agreement.

This does NOT apply to author/illustrator pairings for picture books in case you're wondering. Art and text are separate not joint contributions to the book, and each is covered by a different contract.

We see this mostly with academic books and non-fiction.

This is NOT how ghost writing or co-writing for hire books are handled either.

Any questions?

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

I've got an offer, what's the agent doing while I'm considering?

I am fortunate enough to have had an agent offer rep on Friday. I have sent emails to everyone who has a query or any of my material, and am now responding to their request for more in some cases, and it makes me wonder... What is the offering agent doing during this week while I decide what to do? She had already researched me, I found out when we called, but is there anything else she'd be doing this week? Besides, maybe, worrying that someone else will steal me away?

I can't find anything about this online, and I'm just curious how the process feels and works from the other side. I'm sure it's different for every agent, but are there any universal things to be doing?

This is interesting timing because I have two offers out right now, and I'm in the midst of wating for replies.

Mostly I'm doing a lot of nothing.
(well, nothing about the pending offers!)

As you noted, I'd done my research before setting up the call. I had revision notes prepped and sent them after I'd spoken with the writers.

While they're getting in touch with my clients (and I'm hoping no one's disgruntled this week) I'm just hoping we get to the next step.

You might think I'd be putting together editor list or a working on a submission strategy but I do that only after the writer has agreed to become a client. 

I made notes in my date book about when to get in touch with the writers again, or when to expect things from them.

And of course, since I invited them to email me with any questions, I'll be watching my inbox to make sure I don't miss an email from either of them.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Rant: if you put me in a quandry the answer is silence

I received a query recently from a writer with a familiar name. I wasn't quite sure why I recognized the name; it wasn't Stephen King or JK Rowling, but it certainly was someone I'd met somewhere along the way.

The query opened with the writer's publishing credits. I began googling the titles, figuring I'd find our connection point that way. Maybe I'd read one of the novels and liked it enough to tweet about it.

I soon discovered that all 10+ published novels were actually self-published. I was then pretty sure  I hadn't read them. (One of the "publishers" actually includes a warning label that the book has not received any editing whatsover, which I thought was an odd thing to mention as a selling point.)

The publishing credits also included a powerhouse line up of reviews and essays published in major outlets. Outlets to which I had paid subscriptions.  That was most likely where I'd seen the name.

So clearly this writer had chops.

The query said NOTHING about the book.

My quandry: do I write back and say "Hey Writer friend, I need to know about the book" or do I refer writer friend to QueryShark (as in "you didn't send a very effective query, here are some pointers.")

In other words, I'm in the rather mortifying position of telling someone who's pretty well published that s/he can't write a query for spit, and no I'm not going to request a novel simply on spec. I need to know a little something about it before I add it to the SEVENTY PLUS NOVELS I've got here to be read.

*excuse me, I had a brief fainting spell when I looked at my backlog of reading*

*snorts smelling salts like an asthmatic rhino on oxygen*

This is a quandry. Sure I don't want to miss good stuff, but I also don't want to engage in a back and forth with a writer about what I need before requesting a full manuscript.

And I don't want to be one of those people who "explains publishing" to someone who's clearly been in it for a good long time.

At this point, I've now spent 10 minutes flailing, another 20 minutes writing this blog post, and I still don't know what to do.

I'll tell you what the easy answer is: do nothing.

The initial query didn't tell me about the book. That's an automatic pass.

What a savvy writer at any level in this business knows: send an agent or editor what they ask for at the query stage. It's really simple. Most of us even have readily available lists or guidelines on how to do that.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Wait time with my agent

I can't tell if I'm being rational or if I'm on the crazy writer hamster wheel. I have an agent at a legit, reputable agency who has a great track record of sales. After unsuccessfully attempting to sell my debut last year, I wrote something new and sent it to him about three months ago. We worked together to develop the idea and I sent him a synopsis before diving into the writing as per his request, so I know he definitely liked the general direction it was going. But he still hasn't gotten back to me after I sent him my draft--the first time I followed up politely after about five weeks, he promised he would get to it ASAP, and I recently followed up again silence. Here are my questions:

1a) Do I need to hop off the crazy wheel


1b) is the feeling of "Oh, my gosh, I'm about to get dumped" legitimate?

2) Is the following up obnoxious? I feel like since I'm a client it's ok, but I also don't want to be That Person.

3) What should I do if the radio silence continues?

Drink more

Ok, enough jocularity about a very real problem: writers who live in Mercury's time zone trying to synchronize their watches with agents who use Pluto's clock.

Agents exist in publishing time. It is the time of epochs, glaciers, and dentist drill duration.

Writers, while spinning on their rodent wheels, are capable of counting nanoseconds out loud.

As you might imagine this leads to some confusion toes getting stomped whilst trying to dance the fandango.

An agent saying "asap" does not mean as soon as possible, or rather it does only if you remember that soon involves hell freezing over...twice.

Your agent does intend to get back to you in a timely fashion. It's just that stuff happens that makes that almost impossible.

For starters, remember this is an edit, and it's not on editorial deadline. That means there's no money attached to increased wait time.

And if your agent is trying to figure out how to tell you s/he doesn't like it, or it needs more work than you think, well forgive her for being slow to write that email. Those are no fun.

To give you some context:

In the last week I've had several things set fire to my do list including: reading a manuscript that had a next day decision offer pending; a client casually mentioning a crucial piece of information that meant the proposal needed to be revised instantly; three things that arose from other client calls that needed to be addressed pronto.

My to do list and to be read list is a moving target. What I think I'll do and read this coming week may not be what I planned.

I've learned (and maybe your agent hasn't) that a quick "not yet" often soothes a writer's fears.

Your agent may not do that because his/her clients reply not with "ok, thanks for the heads up" but "damn it, when then?' which is an email I don't like to get either.

And for all my virtuous words here, I had to send eight emails this week to writers who wondered if I was dead or fled (I am neither which I hope they were happy to hear.)

That said, you need to figure out what you're doing for the next year and waiting isn't it.

So the answer to (3) is this: email your agent with a kind but firm tone. You need to know if the ms is headed in the right direction. Ask him/her to reply with a simple yes/no (and be willing to abide by this!) by Date Certain (a week not less.)

By "abide by that" I mean you do not follow up asking for any other input. [One of the reasons I often don't answer emails from non-clients or query writers is cause I know it means a conversation will ensue and I don't have time for that what with fending off the torch carrying mob of writers who are chanting and boiling oil in my foyer as we speak.]

If you don't hear back, call.
If you don't get a call back or an email, call again.
If you have silence after that, you've got a problem, but let's deal with that later.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Slam bam, rewind Ma'am

 just read an article that criticizes using a flash forward scene to start a novel, and it made some good points. The gist was that flash forward is a crutch if the real opening scene (i.e., the next chapter) is weak.

Thrillers are my favorite read, and many start this way. I can think of other books that do too, (e.g., Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn). And, other writing advice seems to favor starting with a big scene, which is kind of the point in using flash forward.

Of course, I ask because, after trying several openings, my in-final-stages-of-editing domestic thriller has a flash forward opening. Of course!

Is there a general agenting/publishing consensus about flash forward openings? Are they considered a form of prologue (which I know is a no-no)? Does it depend on genre? Am I giving one article too much credence?


You guyz really love those rodent wheels don't you?

First ONE article can be illuminating, insightful and helpful but it can't be the One True Answer.
Unless you read it here of course.

You've answered your own question: you've seen flash forward chapters in other books including one by Kate Atkinson. Thus if the story needs it, use it.

You're also right though that using it in place of developing the story correctly could be a big problemo.

There's almost nothing I hate more than a great action scene followed by "meanwhile six days ago, in the kale fields of Carkoon."

The answer to your question is the same as the answer to all questions about how to write a book: it depends on the book.

If your book needs a postlogue, use it. But you might want to get eyeballs on it before querying just to make sure you're heading the right direction.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

So, top ten in a contest!

I entered a novel contest known as [REDACTED] and out of 152 submissions, I got....10th place.
As you can imagine, I’m over the moon about this, but I’m not sure if or how I should include it in a query letter. Is that high enough place to even bring up? Should I say ‘came in top ten at such-and-such contest’? Should I not even bother because even though I got my name on the scoreboard, I didn’t win top three?
Contests are terrific, and I recommend entering them if they don't cost an arm or a leg.  The one you entered is pretty close to an arm but that's not relevant here.

The question you want to ask is: will it help my query to include it?

Think of it this way: to be Miss America, a contestant has to win a state competition first. To win a state competition, contestants often practice by entering other pageants like Miss Kale, Miss Kudzu, Miss Kazoo, Miss Kalamazoo; contests to hone the skills needed to compete in Miss America.

It doesn't matter if you were Miss Kale when you're competing for Miss America.

Writing contests are the same way. They're terrific practice, and a good way to get some validation in this cold hard publishing world, but they aren't often relevant in your query letter.

The downside of mentioning contests is it takes up word count, and often a writer would do better to tell me more about the book than a contest.

It also very rarely matters what anyone else (contest judges in this case) think about your book. It only matters what I think.

And it never matters what other writers think (the contest you entered was judged largely by writers from what I could see.)  Yes, I need beautiful writing, but I need writing I can SELL and that's often a very different set of standards.  

Bottom line: focus on telling me about your book before you include anything else. If you can't resist mentioning the contest, it won't hurt your query at all, but it makes me think you're pretty new to the game.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Either dead or fled, is it ok to move ahead?

I started querying a few weeks ago and today I was looking through Query Tracker to get a sense of agent response times. I found that one of the agents I queried had been removed from the agency website (and is presumably no longer with said agency).

I checked and my query email was not viewed (I track my email opens just in case I end up in spam).

With that in mind, should I still wait the eight weeks that agency suggests between querying agents or is it fair game to send to someone else within the agency? There are several other agents there that I think may be a fit.

Each agency handles email to no-longer-there agents in their own way, but once an agent is gone, and has not seen your query, it's fair game to move ahead. For one and done agencies (query one agent you're done with all the agents) it's ok to query another agent.  For other agencies, query as though you hadn't queried before.  You do NOT need to mention you queried previously.

Here at New Leaf if you query an agent who is no longer here, you'll probably get an email from me saying so, and telling you to requery another agent.  I don't know if other agencies do that but it helps me keep our incoming queries tidy.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Don't outsmart yourself

Recently I received a query at the "wrong" email address.
Since this happens a lot, I didn't think much about it, just glanced at it briefly and moved it to my Incoming Queries folder to be read later in the day.

An hour or so later, I get an email from one of our hotshot godsends.  She monitors the general email inbox.  She'd received the same query, and was forwarding it to several of us here for consideration.

Within a minute, a third agent chimed in: she'd also received the same query.

So, CleverBoots/IDon'tNeedNoStinkin'Guidelines in one fell swoop positioned himself as a difficult client. One who didn't read guidelines, or couldn't be bothered to follow them.

In other words, not someone I'm eager to work with.

Am I going to read his query? Sure. I'm not going to miss out just because an author did something relatively stupid and self-sabotaging.

BUT, your takeaway here is knowing work that arrives like this has to clear a much  higher hurdle than the queries that arrive in proper order.

I've already drawn some conclusions about Clever Boots that aren't doing him much good.

When you query, and you follow the guidelines the best you can, you're SHOWING me you're someone I want to work with.

Yes, I'm looking for good projects, but I'm also looking for good clients.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Revealing secrets

My main character has a "secret" that is slowly revealed to her love interest throughout the first half of the book. I would never reveal this secret on the back of the book cover, but I have reveled the secret in the query. The discovery of the secret is a pivotal plot point and my understanding is that agents prefer that you tell them what the book is about without a lot of innuendo or mystery (but obviously with a good hook and great writing!).

Revealing the secret has caused a problem for a number of my critique partners, who then spend the first half of the book commenting, "I know XYZ. Why do you only allude to it?"

I have been assuming that agents will separate what they know based on the query from how the book will read to someone who picks it up in a bookstore.

So this is my long winded way of asking: Should I reveal the secret in the query?


If you won't put it on the back of the book jacket, don't put it in the query.

I like to read queries and pages as though I am a reader in a bookstore. Surprise me!

Of course, you have to entice me to read the entire novel in the query so you need the good hook and great writing, but you don't need to reveal the secret in the query.

Also secret should not be in quotes. Putting quotes around something means it's not what you're calling it.

Example: writing  Janet is "nice" means you know Janet isn't.

Misuse of quotes is often pretty funny as in chalkboards outside grocery stores advertising "fresh" veg, or "tasty" cookies.

It's not funny in queries.

If you're not sure about proper use of quotes, don't kick yourself. We all learn by doing. Get a copy of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss and learn through laughter.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

what the heck is a writer's CV ?

What the heck does a writer CV look like? I've applied for a few residencies and awards, and several request one to be included with the application. I work a corporate day gig (like I suspect many writers do) and don't quite know what I should be including. Google is no help and most my writer friends have never done one. Any thoughts on that, or have any of your clients ever needed one?
Yup, they sure have. For applying for residencies and awards!

A CV is a fancy word for a resume. It stands for curriculum vitae. You see it used most often in academia.

A writer's CV would include all the published writing you've done (yup, ALL, unless it runs to ten+ pages, then you start prioritizing). It includes previous awards or residencies. It included jobs that involve writing (If you teach in the English Department at Buttonweezer School for Wayward Sharks for example)

Generally you're not going to include non-writing stuff. Leave off your work as a contract killer for example, but do include your paid gigs as a query critiquer even though they are essentially the same job.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Everything old is new again

The market has been awash with "girl" thrillers and mysteries in the wake of _Gone Girl_ (don't even get me started on how much I despise adult women being referred to as "girl").

Along with the wave of girls (gone, on a train, tattooed, or other), I've noticed a rise in what I see a sort of hybrid -- books that have elements (sometimes very strong elements) of either mystery or suspense, but which have a co-equal emphasis on the inner journey of the protagonist. These are often marketed as "women's fiction" (why is fiction with a male protagonist simply "fiction"? again, don't get me started). Liane Moriarty and Beatriz Williams are two that come to mind.

Although I normally write mysteries and thrillers, my latest project falls along this hybrid spectrum. Assuming the novel ends up with wings and fur in roughly equal measure, how does one query a bat? Suspenseful women's fiction? An emotional journey wrapped up in a mystery? Do I point to comp titles? What about just weeping? Would weeping work? Scratch that, we already know that sharks are unmoved by tears.

It's called domestic suspense and it's just Mary Stewart in the the new fall fashions.

Haven't read Mary Stewart?  Start with my favorite The Gabriel Hounds, and then Airs Above the Ground.

Mary Stewart's books used to be called romantic suspense.

Romantic suspense required a strong romantic element. Domestic suspense doesn't.

If you're querying domestic suspense you can certainly include comp titles. Liane Moriarty is a good place to start. Make sure you've read her work before you use it as a comp (as in don't just watch the TV show.)

I love Liane Moriarty's novels so I'm actively looking for domestic suspense.  Don't tell Jack Reacher though.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Does a teen main character mean my novel is YA?

I have been following your blog and Query shark for a bit now. I have seen multiple posts on YA novels (of the fiction variety) and am wondering if it is true that one cannot have the protagonist be a young adult without the MS falling into that category. If this is the case would most agents give a form rejection to a YA novel that is over 100K words? 

Last time I looked The Lovely Bones was not YA but the main character was not an adult. That's the first example I thought of. There are lots of others.

YA is about age, sure, but it's more than that. It's about a kid navigating the increasing complex and bewildering world they're coming into.  Often it's about figuring out gender roles, and trying to not look like a dork to prospective romantic partners.

I don't know enough about YA to know if your word count is high, but my guess is that 100K for contemporary YA is right at the upper limit.  Dystopian, fantasy, historical all require more words than a contemporary but you still want to aim for 100K or so.

I've seen agents arbitrarily dismiss projects with word count that seems high to them.

I periodically send the lit team here into hysterics when I mention I've got a 176K novel here to read.  They shriek "too many words" while hiding under the table.

I'll read stuff that's probably too long if I love the writing. I read it with my scissors in hand of course, knowing that I can usually chop 5000 words per 100K without losing a single bit of story. (My super power involves a machete.)

To answer your question directly: no, and I don't know.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Getting eyeballs on your work

I often recommend getting a set of professional eyeballs on your work.
Here's a way to do that without spending money.
You have to contribute time, but sometimes a writer has more time than money.

I've been friends with Ben for a long time.
I've sold him books.
His editorial eye is one of the best.

Here's the link to his offer.