Sunday, May 27, 2018

Your input needed!

I'm going on a reading retreat the first week of July.

My requested fulls are so numerous, I'm too mortified to request anything new since I'm so behind with what I've got.

To assist on focusing my eyeballs on those mss, I'm going to step away from blog posting for nine whole days. (June 30-July 8)

I know. I'll be in withdrawal too.

BUT, let's not go dark here. If I can post content ahead of time that is more fun focused, reader focused, I'd like to do so. In August 2016, we did pet pictures. We can certainly do that again, but I thought I'd ask for input here.

Let me know your thoughts in the comment column.


And for your Sunday amusement, here is the latest from Her Grace, The Duchess of Yowl

DoY: Leave the door unlocked when you abandon me today.

Me: I'm not abandoning you, I'm going to work! And I'm not leaving the door unlocked.

DoY: I know you're worried someone might steal me while you're off indulging your filthy employment fetish.

Me: Yes, that's it exactly. But, why do you want the door left unlocked?

DoY: The photographer is coming today.

Me: Your grace, why is a photographer coming today?

DoY: I need headshots.

Me: You need headshots.

DoY: Casting agents sounded skeptical when I informed them I am the most beautiful cat in the world.

Me: What kind of theatrical work are you thinking of doing, Your Grace?

DoY: I will let them feature me in cat food commercials.

Me: You know the food in those cat food commercials isn't real, right?

DoY: I will let them feature me in Animal Planet commercials.

Me: You really aren't a major predator.

DoY: Tell that to your curtains.

Me: I'll leave the door open.

Her Grace, The Duchess of Yowl

Saturday, May 26, 2018

How should I prep my website before I query?

After 6 years my novel is ready to be queried. I am redoing my website to include showing me as an author in addition to the other ways I'm known in the world before querying it so that my platform looks professional and thought through.
 If I'm querying a novel, is it a no-no if I present it, talk about it, post images that reflect it, say I am currently querying it, offer excerpts, read excerpts or in other ways make it look it juicy and fun on my website? Or should I keep it under wraps until an agent decides they would like to work with it/me. Is it OK to show or record, for example, a few short stories I've written that haven't been published or articles that have been published, etc. I would like to create a sense of intrigue or excitement around it without giving away the goods.

You misunderstand why an agent would be looking at your website.
It's not to find out more about the book.
Everything I need to know about the book should be in the query; the pages with the query; and/or, the requested full.

In other words the LAST thing you want to post is writing that might not be as fluid and stylish as your novel.

The reason I prowl around your website is to know more about you.
Are you nuts?
Are you really nuts?
Are you only creatively nutso?

Thus post pictures of you doing fun things like hanging out with your backyard chickens.

or of your handsome dog

or of places you've been

or of books you've read and loved

Leave off anything about the querying process, your frustrations with publishing, and things that makes you sound cranky.

I like to work with people who love books. And aren't asshats.  All you need to do with your website is demonstrate what you are, and what you are not.  It's easier said than done of course for rodent wheel running writers, but it can be done.

Any questions?

Friday, May 25, 2018

Publishing poetry

I know poetry is technically non-fiction**. I have an idea to pitch a book that is humorous poems about parenthood with drawings (like Shel Silverstein for grown ups). Since it's poetry, would I query once the entire MS is completed, or would I send agents a book proposal similar to what would be sent for a NF MS?

From what I've seen, most agents don't rep poetry at all. Is it best to just submit to small presses directly?

I'm glad you asked this question because it gives me a chance to talk about a terrific new kind of poetry that's appealing to a whole new audience.

Instagram poetry.
No, I'm not kidding.

There are a lot of folks posting poems on Instagram and building a fan base for their work.

This isn't the formal poetry published by Graywolf, FSG, Norton, Copper Canyon Press, etc.

The Instagram poet I'm familiar with is Christopher Poindexter.

If you're interested in publishing your work, getting it up on Instagram and building a follower base is the way to do it.  Non-traditional poetry publishers are very interested in Instagram poets, but they don't assess the work so much as evaluate the platform. (Notice the number of followers Christopher Poindexter has.)

If you don't know how to post stuff on Instagram, or use hash tags effectively, that's the first thing to learn.

In other words, you don't query agents with your work, you post it and build a following then agents will come for you.

Good luck!

**PS Poetry isn't fiction or non-fiction. It's its own category.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

My query covers more than the first 30 pages of the book!

I have an issue I haven't seen addressed elsewhere, and I'm hoping you can offer some guidance. I nearly fainted when I read that a query should cover roughly the first thirty pages of a story. I can't think of any way to make that work with my three-act manuscript. The first act has the main character as a child, along with the life-altering event that shapes him. However, in the two remaining acts (the meat of the story), he's an adult, and the antagonist is introduced to wreak havoc on his life. My query covers escalating events almost to the end without revealing the ending.
Is this style of query all that unusual? If it is, could it possibly irritate an agent as they're reading the manuscript, thinking they've been manipulated or deceived? Am I setting myself up for a world of querying disappointment, or just greatly overthinking things?

Nearly fainted? I was hoping for full loss of consciousness, and ongoing consternation. Tormenting writers is really the only reason I love this job.

But enough jocularity.

There are no absolutes in querying. There is only what works.

While I jump up and down and insist you tell me about the book in a query, there are a couple books that could be an exception to that rule:

1. The Duchess of Sussex' memoir.
2. The Duchess of Sussex' rescue dog story.

3. Ivanka Trump's memoir.

You get the idea. I call those cocktail napkin books. I can sell them on a cocktail napkin.

And thus your question, can you talk about more than the first 30 pages of the book in a query, is really "can I do something not the norm in my query?"

Yes you can.

The only benchmark for an effective query is does it work?

You can not assess whether it could "possibly irritate an agent as they're reading the manuscript, thinking they've been manipulated or deceived."

You can only evaluate the query by the responses you get from readers before you send it out. Do they want to read the book?

The purpose of QueryShark and other query crit opportunities is to help you get out of your own way, include the information an agent usually needs to assess a project, and help you talk about your work in a compelling way.

QueryShark et al are NOT the way to figure out the right way and the wrong way. Every query is different and every agent is different.

You're not overthinking this, but you're also too worried about rules. Learn the rules so you can break them with grace, and style.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Someone stole my NF idea.

Last year at a conference, I pitched an idea for a non-fiction book to two people from a Big Publisher. I was convinced my idea would be a perfect fit for BP. I gave them a synopsis, a list of chapters and my contact details.

For months, I heard nothing.

Recently, I learnt that the very same publisher has an Already Established Writer working on the book I pitched. This is definitely not a coincidence. The subject and approach are exactly what I pitched to them. They are a bit too specific to be a matter of chance.

I know that an idea in itself is not legally protected. But this seems a bit unfair.

When does an idea stop and the execution of an idea start? Is there anything I can do about this? Can I ask for a credit for example?

I sure wish I had really, really, really sharp teeth now too.

Thank you in advance for your time and advice!

Where does the idea stop and execution begin? In the writing. The actual words. Not the approach and certainly not the idea.

I'm sure you are convinced your idea was stolen but it probably was not. Here's why:

1. The people you met at the conference from Big Ass Publisher are two of THOUSANDS of BAP employees, and two among hundreds of editors. Unless those two specific people are the editors of the book similar to yours, the chances they told someone who then ran with the idea is very very low.

2. Non-fiction is often years in the making. If you've heard about a book similar to yours it's entirely possible that book was under contract long before you pitched your idea.

3. You'd be surprised at how many people have the same kinds of ideas. Just recently a client of mine and I were tossing around ideas for her next book, and we were pretty excited about the topic we hit on. A couple weeks later, that topic was a deal announced in Publishers Marketplace. If my author had mentioned that book to a publisher at a conference, it would look very much like what you described.

But it wasn't. Two authors had the same idea. It happens, PARTICULARLY IN NON-FICTION all the damn time. Nobody's stealing ideas, but we're all looking at bookshelves to see what's not there. We all see gaps, then propose books. It's not beyond belief that two people would have the same idea.

Now, where you are headed for real trouble is contacting Big Ass Publisher, or author, or author's editor/agent and asking for credit.

This will get you flagged as a crackpot, and honestly, it would get you noted as someone I'd never work with or communicate with again. There is nothing you're going to do about this, other than write to me and believe what I tell you.

Never discuss this with anyone or mention it again. Don't let it fester. Don't hope the other book fails.

You're going to come up with another idea, or a different approach to your first idea, and you're going to write a proposal and query again.

If you had one publishable idea, you'll have others. Time to dust yourself off, count this as an experience you don't want to repeat (don't pitch editors at conferences) and get back to work.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Querying another agent at the same agency

Some agencies have an explicit policy of only allowing one agent at the agency to be queried for a project (One Off and Bust Off.) That is clear enough. Others, though, do NOT make it explicit that OOBO is their policy and have separate e-mail addresses for each agent. Presumably they do not read each others' mail.

it seems courteous not to query more than one agent at the agency at a time. But is it OK to query an agent, then have fun getting rejected elsewhere for a couple of months, then query another agent at the first agency? Or should we assume the policy is OOBO even if it is not explicitly stated.

Obviously one e-mail address for everyone implies OOBO even if the policy guidelines do not state it.

Well, not obviously, cause we have Query@New Leaf for our incoming queries but you can query as many agents as you want to, just one at a time.

Unless an agency says one and done assume you can query more than one agent. BUT only one at a time.

And you're right to give it some time between queries. While we say 30 days here I know I've been much farther behind than that at times, but you have no way of knowing that.  Giving me some extra time is a good idea.

In the end the most important thing to remember is this: there's no such thing as the query police. Querying multiple agents here doesn't get you blacklisted; it might get you ignored. You can recover from that since we don't keep a list of inept queriers. (it would be in the thousands by the end of the summer.)

Any questions?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Finish the story contest results

This was a really interesting contest twist! I was surpised at how many "almost there" entries this week. I bet I overlooked some of the ones all y'all are going to mention.

Here's my list of entries that stood out: 

Steve Forti 
I knew that I would find my three emergency passports somewhere in my house, but I had no money on in his sock drawer, under his gun.
Especially since his gun was still in my hand, smoking. And he was still on the floor, bleeding. What was this other gun for?
Love the twist here!

I knew that I would find my three emergency passports somewhere in my house, but I had no money on in his sock drawer, under his gun.
We had been living together for 2 years and I thought I was the one with secrets.
If I made back alive from The Vatican, we would need to talk.
It's The Vatican that really made me laugh here. Those unexpected little things are my faves.

Colin Smith
I knew that I would find my three emergency passports somewhere in my house, but I had no money on in his sock drawer, under his gun.
Thankfully he’s yet to find my cape and mask. Trust me my sweet, when the bad guys come calling, we’re protected.
It's hard not to giggle at the idea of Colin in a cape and mask. 

Marty Weiss
I knew I would find my three emergency passports somewhere in my house, but I had no money on in his sock drawer, under his gun.
What am I saying? My head hurts and I’m talking gibberish! Whose bedroom is this, and why the hell am I naked?
This just made me laugh. I know it's kind of an old joke, but it's evergreen.

Bonnie Shaljean
I knew that I would find my three emergency passports somewhere in my house, but I had no money on in his sock drawer, under his gun.
But then, he had no money on my fourth emergency passport. “Bon Voyage,” I wrote on the mirror in lipstick. His girlfriend and I caught a cab to the airport.
of course I love the twist of that last line!

Michael Seese
I knew that I would find my three emergency passports somewhere in my house, but I had no money on in his sock drawer, under his gun.
The floorboard creaked. One second too late. 
I'd forgotten what chloroform smells like. Sweet. Seductive. Sinister. 
When I refound consciousness, an unfamiliar voice -- out there -- intoned.
"Ashes to ashes..."

I almost missed this one. It took me two reads to get it. Do you?

This week's winner is Michael Seese.

Honestly we're going to have to make it harder for some of you multiple winners from now on. Like you have to write everything in iambic pentameter. Better yet, we'll do like those loonie password requirements do: you can only have two nouns, and you must include three separate kinds of punctuation.

Drop me a line Michael and let's see about getting you something delicious to read.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and post entries. Each of them were a pleasure to read. I really admire the talent assembled here!

Next week, we'll do the shift in POV that we talked about in the comments column yesterday.  Be forwarned: I might choose something you guys provide in the comments columns this week. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018


I'm at the Biographers International Organization annual conference here in New York today.
I was there yesterday too.

Yesterday between panels I was sitting at a table diving into one of the two books I'd just bought.
I noticed a gentleman at the next table with the same book.

"Ahoy," I warbled. "We're reading the same book!" I waved the book like a semaphore.

"Indeed," he replied kindly. "I wrote it."

After I picked myself up and dusted off my mortification at not recognizing him, I skedaddled over and had him sign my copy.

Turns out Mr. Atlas had forgotten his own copy and for his talk he'd had to buy another from the on-site bookseller.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Flash contest! Finish the story!

Last weeks Lipp-libs gave me an idea for this week's prompts; thanks to Adele!

I knew that I would find my three emergency passports somewhere in my house, but I had no money on in his sock drawer, under his gun.

 This week's contest is to write the next couple lines.

Thirty words max.

One entry per person.

Enter in the comments column of this post.
Results on Monday (I hope!)

I'm out all day at a conference so I won't see any Twitter questions. At this point though, you guyz know the drill.


Contest closed at 7pm on Saturday May 19.

Friday, May 18, 2018

This, that, the other, but no, it's not any of those.

An author who spoke at the last conference I attended said something along the lines of :
“You can’t have a book that straddles genres. It’s either this or that, it can never be both.”

First, I narrowed the genres to Thriller, Crime, Mystery, and Sci-Fi, but it also fits with Police Procedural and Speculative Fiction, but these aren’t listed as “main” genres.

Then I looked up my comps and found that one was filed at the bookstore under “Police Procedural” and another with a similar concept was “Science Fiction”, and yet another was “Thriller”. Truthfully, mine has all of these aspects, and all had similar themes and concepts - so I’m well and truly befuddled.

Can you (or should you) not categorize your book in two genres? Do you list a “main”, then mention the others nonchalantly in the rest of the query?

“I write Erotica, but it’s a period piece set in prehistoric times with interspecies elements.”

Books can't straddle genres?
That's utter bunk.

Your own research verifies that; you found books in multiple places, listed in a variety of genres.

Category and genre is often in the eye of the beholder. Books I thought were thrillers got published and sold as science fiction.  Books I thought were literary fiction got picked up by the Science Fiction Book Club.

There's no one right or wrong answer on category for a lot of books, particularly ones that play with form, setting, style and genre "requirements."

In fact some of the most interesting books I know are ones that straddle genre.

Which makes me wonder who is saying this kind of absolutlist nonsense.  People who make definitive statements about what is or isn't ok/acceptable/done/not done are just begging to be proved wrong.

My turn at bat was one cozy afternoon sitting with a bunch of sharks in training. They were reading queries, and I was amusing them with hilariarious anecdotes running my mouth.  The subject of word count arose. I asserted boldly that one million words was Just Too Long. It would Never Be Published.

Silently, a senior colleague walked to her office and returned with a very thick paperback.


1400+ pages.
1.2 pound mass market (mass market paperbacks run 6-8 ounces--I checked!)

About a million words.
And that is verifiable because the woman who handed it to me was the editor of the book.

So just when you think there are absolute rules, you find out there aren't.

BUT category is a slippery beast. Y'all get it wrong almost as often as you get it right.

To get it right: know the rules of your genre and category. Even if you break them, it doesn't mean you're not in that category.

Pick the one where your book mostly falls. If it's two categories like science fiction thriller, know that thriller readers don't often shop in the sf section of book stores.  Who is the more likely reader for your book? What published book will your reader know and like?

This is exactly why I tell writers to put category LAST in their query no matter what the query guidelines say to do. You don't want an agent passing on your SF novel cause she doesn't do SF when in fact you've got a thriller set in space.

And be wary of anyone telling you things are always this or always that and never this other. EVEN  ME. When figuring out how to query, I'd listen to agents first, editors second, and authors last. Authors aren't reading the incoming queries. I am. Authors aren't wrangling with editors on category for a variety of books. I am. Authors know a lot about writing, and listening to them about craft is a good idea.

Sorry this was late. I thought I'd hit publish but it was saved as a draft.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Lipp-Mad results!

This was so much fun we're just going to have to do it again!

For any of you who don't know the author Laura Lippman who inspired this contest, I advise that you remedy that instantly. Her latest novel SUNBURN is, in my opinion, a perfect novel. It's a standalone, so you can read it without reading the backlist. However, reading the backlist, particularly her standalones is just plain smart reading.

Herewith the results:

In the category of oh boy, been there done that!
Kandace Chapple
I knew that I would find the missing TV remote somewhere in my house, but I had no money on “where it belonged.”

I knew that I would find my missing newly-purchased-thanks-to-pregnancy-foot-spread shoes somewhere in my house, but I had no money on "on my feet."

I liked these entries because they referenced other stories!

I knew I would find my porridge-scented home invader somewhere in my house, but I had no money on 'asleep in my bed'.

Catherine Graham
I knew that I would find those frozen peas somewhere in my house, but I had no money on "between the box spring and the mattress."

I loved this because of course: panda socks!

I knew I would find panda chair socks somewhere in my house, but I had no money on the octopus-by-day and spider-by-night pawning them off.

I loved these cause they were true stories!

I knew I would find my idiot anxious cat somewhere in the house, but I had no money on “behind the backboard of the kitchen cupboard, from where he would have to be sawn out”.

(true story)
Sharyn Ekbergh
I knew that I would find my mother’s life savings somewhere in my house but I had no money on rubies, sapphires, emeralds, opals and pearls in dusty fifty-year-old paper envelopes stuffed in cardboard boxes under her bed.

also a true story. I have a cat story too!

Melanie Sue Bowles
I knew that I'd find our three AWOL donkeys somewhere on our property, but I had no money on them sashaying along our easement - on the wrong side of the fence, next to the highway - with a police escort.

"Are these your donkeys, ma'am?"
"Yes, sir. The ringleader's name is Biscuit. I have a halter and apples."

I may be able to cure my bad cursing habit now that I have "fluffing" to use instead!

Lisa Bodenheim
I knew that I would find my fluffing coffee cup somewhere in my house, but I had no money on the hole in the basement wall that leads to the crawl space under the bathroom.

Mine is Big Fat Gay Wedding Rocky Road, but same diff!

I knew I would find my dear damnable dignity somewhere in my house, but I had no money on the lid of my latest Ben and Jerry's.

I know I'm a terrible terrible person, but this made me laugh. (ruefully of course!)

I knew that I would find my sense of humour somewhere in my house, but I had no money on the empty ‘Offers of Representation’ folder.

Speaking of publishing hopes and dreams:

french sojourn
I knew I would find my hopes and dreams somewhere in my house, but I had no money on the kitchen sink's, noisy garbage disposal unit.

Jennifer Rueff
I knew that I would find my hopes and dreams somewhere in my house, but I had no money on "the seat of my pants at the keyboard."

speaking of manuscripts, this just cracked me up.

Colin Smith
I knew that I would find my pilfered Frain manuscript somewhere in my house, but I had no money on "my outgoing submissions mailbox." Okay, maybe I did... ;)

Honest to Godiva, you guyz are storytellers to your finger tips. Even with something this short, and this limited, many of you wrote stories. I'm in awe

Claire Bobrow
I knew that I would find my missing engagement ring somewhere in my house, but I had no money on “third finger, left hand - of my sister. ”

Colin Smith
I knew that I would find my emergency cyanide pills somewhere in my house, but I had no money on "my wine glass."

Miles O'Neal
I knew that I would find my mistress's missing lingerie somewhere in my house, but I had no money on "underneath my wife's current outfit."
I knew that I would find my red pumps somewhere in my house but I had no money on finding them beneath a tasteful size 14 frock in the back of my son's closet.
I knew that I would find my wife’s mistress hidden somewhere in my house, but I had no money on in the chest freezer with her throat slit.
John Davis Frain
I knew I would find my Smith & Wesson .38 somewhere in my house, but I had no money on "the last place I looked" ... ever--

Colin Smith
I knew that I would find my best friend's knife somewhere in my house, but I had no money on "my back."
I knew that I would find my three emergency passports somewhere in my house, but I had no money on in his sock drawer, under his gun.

Michael Seese
I knew that I would find the evil voices somewhere in the house, but I had no money on the television, which hasn't worked for years. Or the kitchen, with its wainscoted walls laughing at me. Again. Or the knife drawer, empty, save for one.
Or the imposter, sleeping next to me.

And this one just cracked me up on general principles.
Lennon Faris
I knew that I would find my winning entry inspiration somewhere in my house, but I had no money on my ability to think up something before the timer went off. Three hours after closing! Maybe if I used a little magic? But then everyone on the Reef would know I'm a wizard! Oh heck.


We'll see if this thing goes throu

And I think the next contest should be writing the next three sentences after Adele's entry!
I knew that I would find my three emergency passports somewhere in my house, but I had no money on in his sock drawer, under his gun.

The winner for this contest was an easy choice for me:

Claire Bobrow
I knew that I would find my missing engagement ring somewhere in my house, but I had no money on “third finger, left hand - of my sister. ”

Does it help to know my sister tried on MY engagement ring (many years ago) and couldn't get it off? We were sitting in a movie theatre at the time, with my fiance, her boyfriend (soon to be fiance, now her wonderful husband) and another friend staying with us for the summer.  I've never laughed so hard at a movie in my life, but it was because of the commentary from my movie pals, not the actual movie.

Good times!

Claire, I hope you haven't moved since I last sent you something! If you have, let me know!

This was just wonderful! Thank you all so very much for a good hour of reading fun! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Interesting bio vs relevant bio

As you know, every agent/agency has different asks and preferences--some say "include a short biography" in the query letter and others have online forms with a specific text box (a required field!) and others don't mention it at all. Since I am unpublished and my life experience doesn't really have anything to do with the fiction I write (i.e., I am not a former spy writing about spying)... I was planning on just saying, "This is my first novel."

But for those who specifically ask for it (especially those pesky online forms) -- and because I promised you a question at the beginning of this email -- is there any currency in an "interesting" bio rather than a "relevant to this story I'm querying" bio?

I understand everyone thinks their own bio is interesting, which is where this idea gets hairy (and why so many folks try their hands in memoir)... but I think my life has been interesting so far: I do make my money from writing (copywriter at an ad agency), I've written / directed several video ads, I co-directed (but did not write) an indie feature film (very small budget, around 200-300k, that is playing at festivals), and I kinda almost starred in a Reality TV Show along with my 4 brothers for a major cable network (we filmed the entire first season before the show was cancelled before airing, womp womp), and I've even sold a Reality TV Cooking Show concept (which also didn't air, womp womp); oh! and me and my brothers have created and sold several board/card games to major gaming companies ... all things that are the result of being "Creative" and even some writing, but none of which have anything to do with novel writing / publishing.

Because the show didn't air, I wasn't able to benefit from developing a social platform, though my brothers and I have a mailing list of about 6k people ... so I guess that's something?

Anyways... my book I'm querying is a YA speculative fiction that has nothing to do with board games, reality TV, or advertising. Do you and your agenty folk care about an Interesting Bio. Or do you only care about a Relevant Bio?

What's the purpose of a bio? It's to find out things about you that are interesting (clue!) and info we can use to pique the interest of an editor, then the marketing team, then the book buyer at B&N, then prospective readers.

So, yes, this is your first novel. BUT you've had some grand old times with all this other stuff. Write it up as humorously as possible, limit yourself to 100 words or fewer, be self-deprecating, rather than self-aggrandizing, and you'll be fine.

You should know: The most compelling and enticing thing you told me was you had a mailing list of six thousand people.

The general rule on bios is give me something I can use to help you stand out from the crowd. I've never rejected a book because an author sounded boring, but I must confess I've read pages when an author sounded witty, funny, and interesting.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Laura Lippman libs

When I saw this on Twitter it cracked me up completely.

Then I realized it was a perfect sentence for a Mad Libs kind of contest.

In honor of the author, think of it as Lipp-Libs!

Here's the contest: replace "missing credit card" with a new three word phrase, and "the filter in the dishwasher" with a location (word count not specified.)

Post in the comment column of this blog post.

Contest opens at 7am.
Contest closes around 7pm.
All are Eastern Daylight Time zone.

The new Jeff Somers writing book of course!


Oops too late; contest closed!

Results on Thursday cause I'm slothing about with Her Grace;   my time with her is ending this weekend and I will be furribly deprived after Saturday.

Monday, May 14, 2018

More on series, and how to talk about them in a query

In your latest blog post "Talking about books within a series" you mention how nothing scares editors more than mentioning series. What about books that are expected to form part of a series, like cozies? Do you mention anything about series potential? My finger is perched on the delete button in anticipation...

No no. Don't delete yet.

Most contracts for traditional mysteries are multiple-book contracts. That is, you submit the first one, editors offer to buy two or more,  most often with the same characters, in the same setting etc.

A good example is Loretta Sue Ross's Auctionblock series.

The first was Death and the Red-Headed Woman, and then three more followed.

When I pitched this I did NOT say "it's a six book, ten book, six hundred book series." This, despite the fact that LSR would have written six hundred books without a single complaint if I'd told her that was the plan.

What I did say is "this is a book that lends itself to a series."

Particularly with traditionals, readers come to hang out with the characters, they don't come for the plot. This is true of most series actually. I don't care what the plot of the next Reacher novel is; I just want Jack. I don't care what Harry Bosch is solving; I just want to hang out with him while he does it.

This was the interesting fresh twist that Dick Wolfe provided in his ground breaking Law & Order series: it wasn't about the characters, it was ALL about what the crime was. We came to watch stories ripped from the headlines, not to see Chris Noth looking ferociously sexy. (oh wait...)

To answer your question: the distinction is specificity. "This book is the first of six" implies all six are needed to complete a narrative arc.  "This book lends itself to a series" suggests it can function as a standalone.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Happy Sunday!

"Did someone say a shark was swimming around in here?"

There's a new post at QueryShark today.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

More on pitching (cause that seems to be our obsession these days)

The last two pitch sessions have been an insightful, growing experience. I think I know what I am doing wrong now, I say with a cringe. The pitch is about what makes the story different, about what makes it stand out from the stories that are similar. The pitch is about the twist. Right? Or am I still not getting it?

An effective pitch is one that works.
What works on me may not work for another agent and vice versa.
What works for one book may not work for another.

However, some pitches don't work at all, and mastering that first step is what we're trying to do in these pitch posts.

I think of this as akin to learning to ice skate.

The instructions are the same for everyone: lace on your skates, and then stand on the ice.  HOW you do that is by finding your balance while standing on skate blades.

Everyone finds their balance in their own way.

There's no magic formula or guaranteed way to create a successful pitch. It's trial and error.

All those really funny people you see on late-night TV, or doing standup routines? They've taken those stories and jokes out for more than a few practice runs to figure out where the laughs come, where the audience doesn't respond, where to pause, where to make a funny face.

The reason it's so hard to perfect a pitch is cause you don't have an audience to help you hone your timing. These posts are designed to be your audience; to see what works and what doesn't.

You'll still need to refine it further, but you'll be skating, not falling, on the ice.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Grief as character flaw

I’m still thinking about the character flaw post from March 24. I understand grief isn’t a character flaw, but I’m thinking about grief as a part of someone’s backstory. The character who keeps rattling around inside my brain is Darth Vader.

I'd say he has many flaws, but the biggest ones are his explosive temper (or tendency to overreact in general) and that he is easily manipulated. So when he is grieving the loss of a loved one (or even anticipating the loss of a loved one), his flaws really shine through in those situations.

I know he is not the hero (well I guess that depends on your perspective) and I know a novel written in 2018 should have more complex characters than one that originated in a movie from a few decades ago. But I’m wondering if the issue is just mistaking grief as a flaw, or is it also that characters dealing with grief/ptsd has been overdone so we should be staying away from it in general?

And no, I do not have a Vader-esque character in my WIP who I’m now super worried about, why do you ask?

I'm glad I saved this question for a while because a tv channel recently broadcast the Star Wars movies (in chrono order I think) and I got to see parts of the first three movies (the ones I'll always think of as first anyway.)

I'm going to take issue with your assertion that Darth Vader's character flaw is his explosive temper. I think it's his impatience. Remember Yoda talking about Vader being impatient with how long it took to become a Jedi and thus being sucked into the Dark Side?

However, I do agree with  your overall point that grief is backstory, and illuminates character.  I also think grief/ptsd are overdone, and unless there's some new twist in how it's presented in the book, it does feel old hat.

And in the larger perspective: I think character flaws are the parts of ourselves that we often think of as strengths. Vader's impatience means he acts quickly and decisively. That can be a good thing, particularly if you're leading an army. It's a good thing if your kid is about to run into traffic. Impatience is a not a good thing when you're teaching a two year old how to tie their shoes.

I'm well known for plain speaking. I think of it as a strength. Some call it brutal honesty. Others have different phrases, not all of them complimentary. I've had to learn to temper that part of myself. Writing conferences are the best example. Plain spoken brutal honesty is NOT the correct choice for talking with  a novice writer showing her first work, a memoir of her difficult life and hard won survival.

In fact brutal honesty here is the absolutely wrong choice.
I had to learn that lesson more than once, to my everlasting shame.

Think of your own flaws. There are some you wouldn't change, aren't there? Those are the ones that are interesting.

I'm always drawn to complex characters who do the wrong thing for the right reason, or even better, the right thing for the wrong reason. Characters who are perplexed when people don't understand their "pure motives."

Telling me a man has PTSD from the war (any war) doesn't tell me much about him. When you say a man is scared to be part of a family because his PTSD manifests itself in ways he's afraid will teach a child to think of the world as a scary place, that illuminates character.

I think the question to ask as you build characters is whether something is an emotion (fear) or a flaw (impatience). Everyone has emotions. They're not right or wrong. What we do with them, how we act upon them, that's the good stuff.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Talking about books within a series

I am writing a historical fiction series that will be about six books. It’s a saga chronicling events surrounding significant points in the evolution of early man, each book separated by thousands of years. The second book in the series is overly long and I must separate it into two books. The second book (of the two) will immediately follow the first with no ‘thousands of years’ separation.

Here’s my question: How do I describe the two books within the series? Are they a diptych? And would I then describe them as a diptych within a series?

Nothing will scare off editors faster than telling them you've got a six book series.
You think I'm joking?
I've got rejections letters on that very topic. (I revised the pitch promptly.)

Book One must function as a stand alone.
You query that.

If you get a two book deal, you tell your editor about what you envision as Book Two and Son of Book Two.

It may come as a surprise to you that editors might not want a book that happens several thousand years later as a sequel. For starters, all those characters we loved in Book One are dead. Long dead.

While series are certainly common, what you describe here doesn't really sound like a series. Series are connected by something other than significant points in history.

You do have something here that I've never seen before (but perhaps I'm missing something; if you think so, let me know in the comments column) and that's a plus.

I had to look up diptych cause it's one of those words I never remember the exact meaning of, and it seems to describe visual art more than how books relate to one another.

If at some point you need to describe the first three books in your planned six-title series, you call them books 1, 2 and 3. I like the power and clarity of plain words in a query (but I also love Jackson Pollock so there's that.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Various platforms for social media

I’m curious when looking at an author’s platform, is it better to find them on all social media sites or to be doing well on one?

I ask, because I have started an Instagram account and have had success there. As my following continues to grow more quickly, I’m wondering if I should focus my efforts there or start a YouTube channel, Facebook, Twitter, etc.?

Learning each one is a lot of work. I don’t want to be distracted from writing if it isn’t necessary, but I also want to have an established online presence when I query. What’s a woodland creature to do?

The best social media platform is where your audience is.
For some books, it's Facebook.
For others it's Instagram.

I find Twitter useful only as a way to tap blog readers on the shoulder to say "hey, new post at QueryShark."

If you're doing well on Instagram, keep at it!

Bottom line: if something is working, keep doing it till it doesn't.

Also: You don't need a robust presence on every social media platform.

I look at platform ONLY for non-fiction writers, and the things I value there are, in order,
1. a robust mailing list
2. an active speaking schedule
3. a social media following
4. everything else

In other words: solidly old school.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Rejection code

I've been querying my upmarket/book club (I think!) novel for a few months now. Last week I had a full requested and the agent was very enthusiastic--so much so that she's already read it and turned it down.

My question is, is "wouldn't break out at a commercial level" code for something else.....?
"Thanks for sending me this -- I was keen to dig in as I thought the premise was very interesting. I liked a lot about the novel - your prose is really lovely - but I'm afraid in the end, particularly given that I don't have room to take on much at the moment, I thought this probably wasn't a work I'd be able to break out at a commercial level. I wish you great luck with it."

I'm wondering if that means it's too slow--which I can fix. Should I ask (but just yesterday you said don't ask)? Or are there multiple flaws this comment might encompass?

This means she thinks it won't sell enough copies, early enough, to be a book people notice.

There's no way to know if that means it's too slow, or not vivid enough, or the plot doesn't have twists to it.

BUT this is ONE agent's opinion, and thus should not be taken as some sort of edict from on high about your book, and even more important, what to revise.


Don't write back to ask what she means, or for elaboration on what she said: it does not matter.
I've passed on books that went on to do well.
We've all read published books that utterly mystified us about how the hell they got published.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Pitch me your book -- results

This was a very interesting challenge! First of all, thanks to all of you who posted entries. I know some of you set alarms and got up at unholy hours to do so. And many of you were ready, but got shut out by the quick closing. Sorry about that--I wanted to keep the number of entries at a manageable level and this is the only way I know how. (suggestions for alternate plans will be much appreciated!)

Here's how I approached this. I read the PITCH first. I've noted the pitches that caught my eye.

The purpose of a pitch is to get your reader or listener to say "oh wow, I want to read that!" In other words, this is an entirely subjective process and what may not entice me, may very well entice another. You'll see that very clearly if you read the comments on yesterday's post where blog readers discuss what enticed them.

Herewith my choices for pitches that worked well:

Two women compete to become co-ruler of their country. They become friends. When the winner dies unexpectedly the runner-up takes power, only to find her friend is alive.
I like this a lot because it's clear what's at stake. There's also a big picture (ruling the country) and the little picture (the friendship.) If Cheryl pitched this book to me in an elevator I'd say "yup, I want to read that."

Mallory Love
Pitch: A letter she was never supposed to read leads a terminally ill girl to find the family she was never supposed to know and her last hope for survival.
While this is a well-used plot line, it's evergreen. If the book has a fresh, new twist I'd be all in.


When an undercover’s case against the Russian mob is compromised, she quits the NYPD and escapes upstate with her troubled son. Zero crime rate. Perfect schools. Then her boy vanishes.
Instant tension. This is a terrific pitch example.

french sojourn

George Archer’s a veteran, he fights inner demons, tilting windmills, and now, a very real oil company pursuing a dubious pipeline permit…and the psycho they’ve hired to frame him.
"he fights inner demons, tilting windmills" tells us a a lot about George in a fresh, compelling way. I'm not much on psychos as antagonists, but I'd def ask for more with this pitch.

Pitch: All he wanted was her. All she wanted was to change the world.
I like the juxtaposition here. This could describe almost any kind of book, and I'd still want to take a look.

Jennifer Rueff

Pitch: My mother disappeared when I was 13. It would take 17 years to bring my father to trial for her murder. A trial with no body, weapon, or eyewitness.
This pitch is sufficiently compelling that I checked my email to see if I'd done something stupid like pass on the query. This pitch is perfect.


An Appalachian King Lear without the armies.
I don't need to know anything more. I'd want to take a look.

Steve Stubbs

Harold finds a body in his apartment. Harold's problem is, the police think it's his. When his would-be killers find out it isn't, his problems will get worse.
The only thing I'd suggest changing is "getting worse" to something more…compelling.

I'd ask for pages from this pitch as is though, so it does work.

Mori Irvine

Pitch (under 30 words): William the Conqueror's overlords have always been men. Until now.
Who wouldn't want to read this!


Bad news? Dad's inherited a run-down farm.
Worse news? The only kid within miles is a scowling, weirdly-dressed boy.
Worst news? He’s not even alive.

Now, here's an example of something you might think you couldn't say out loud if someone asked you "what's your book about?" but you CAN. This is a really good pitch, and if I heard it in an elevator, I'd ask for pages then and there. And that's a pretty neat trick given I don't read much in this category.

Your take away here: A really effective pitch makes people want to read something they normally wouldn't.

William Darrah Whitaker

When Hollywood agent dies, he learns God ends the world if we can’t get along. He negotiates a second chance for everyone including himself. What’s God got up his sleeve?
I like the premise here. I think it sounds pretty funny. Books with God as a character are very tricky, but this pitch is solid enough to overcome those doubts.

When King Phillip IV unjustly executes her husband, 42-year-old French noblewoman Jeanne will do anything for revenge—including trading her castles for a pirate fleet. Based on a true story.
Who wouldn't want to read this!

Susan Bosscawen

Veteran airline pilot Roscoe Edwards moonlights as courier for the Partners, elite operatives who recover lost property for select clients, but he is a sociopathic thief who will betray anyone.

This is a pitch that's effective for me cause I’m always in on novels with thieves. What doesn't work well is the "sociopathic thief who will betray anyone." Sociopathic is overused to describe characters. Worse, It doesn't really tell us anything specific about the character. And "betray anyone" doesn't link back to thieves. Something more specific about what Roscoe does/plans to do/will do will help here.

After I read the entries to find the pitches I liked, I went back and read them again, this time also reading the context material.  Here are some entries with some suggested revisions. I didn't do every entry because I didn't have time, and a lot of the entries are in categories I don't actively represent, and thus may not be the right person to ask about what's enticing.

Karen McCoy:

Seeking truth amid her father’s bullying and her mother’s secrets, sixteen-year-old Priya unlocks a series of questions better left unanswered. Her friend—her love—Xander dies during a scuffle with a Phospholis city official, and King Devon orders Priya’s eye removed for witnessing Xander’s death. She’s banished to the secret underground city of Oblitus, where everyone is maimed to mark them as outsiders. To prevent war between the two cities, Priya needs to reunite as many people as she can—especially after she finds out the real reason they took her eye.

Pitch: Sixteen-year-old Priya loses an eye, and gains a new kind of sight, which she’ll need to save two cities from a war based on ignorance.

This pitch didn't entice me cause it was too abstract.

Suggested pitch revision:

Sixteen-year-old Priya is maimed and banished for witnessing her lover's death.  When she discovers the real reason she was half-blinded, impending war pits her home city against her safe haven.

(31 words, not 30, but this is just a couple drafts)  Also, it links Priya's maiming with the impending war, and I'm not sure if that's accurate from the context. 

Giving this pitch some specifics will help.

Emily Kelly-Padden
Commercial Fiction (Domestic Suspense)

Jackie Mason is running from her violent criminal ex-boss (ex-lover, ex-whatever), Cort. He thinks she stole from him. She did. She’s planning a temporary stop-over at home to pick up the inheritance from her dead parents’ estate, pay off Cort, then start over somewhere else to rebuild her life. Nothing goes to plan. At home, Jackie runs directly into the icy wall of her ex-fiancĂ© David Mann (with whom she’s still in love), and her sister Sara. Sara Mason Mann. One of them may have murdered her parents. She has a choice: investigate or keep running. Neither option is trouble-free.

The only way out of trouble means wading into a different kind.
Then the old trouble comes knocking.
Her perfect sister holds the invitation.
And twists the knife.

This pitch didn't work for me cause it's too abstract to be interesting.
The context is actually pretty interesting.

Suggested pitch revision:

During Jackie's brief stopover at home on her way to a new life (stolen cash in hand) to pick up her dead parents inheritance she runs smack dab into former love David Mann and her sister Sara. Sara Mason Mann. One of them may have murdered her parents. She has a choice: investigate or keep running. (56 words)

During Jackie's brief stopover (on her way to a new life) to pick up her dead parents inheritance she runs into former love David Mann and her sister Sara. Sara Mason Mann. One of them may have murdered her parents. She has a choice: investigate or keep running. (48 words)

On Jackie's quick visit to pick up her dead parents inheritance she runs into former love David Mann and her sister Sara. Sara Mason Mann. One of them may have murdered her parents. Her choice: investigate or keep running. (39 words)

Karen Nunes

Justice isn’t black and white, it’s blood-red. Lily runs The Center where the broken enter and avengers emerge. With help from the finest minds, she molds victims into elite teams trained to rescue, retrieve, redeem . . . and eliminate. Her dark secrets are about to come out. At six, she witnessed Sissy’s murder. At seventeen, she stole a piece of Center equipment and took revenge. Only her best friend knows the whole story, including the lives lost that night. The truth could destroy her, and bring down The Center. Letting it happen on her terms could save her trainees.

Pitch: QUANTICO meets REVENGE. In a heart-wrenching 180, Lily grows from terrified child to lethal revenge master rescuing victims and exacting justice, her way.
The pitch didn't work for me cause I don't know what Quantico and Revenge are. (My guess is televisions shows, but I'm woefully behind the times on tv. Many agents are so be careful using them as comps)

It was also too abstract to be interesting. I had no sense of plot, or choices.

Suggested revision:

Lily molds victims into elite teams to rescue, retrieve, redeem. The truth about what she did for revenge herself could destroy the good work she does.

This isn't a great pitch (in my defense, let's remember the first few drafts of something are always the worst!) but it brings more specifics, and a sense of what's at stake.

Melissa Alexander
Category: Commercial fiction
Adult or YA: Adult

After his sister’s husband is killed in a car accident, former runaway Charm Freeman returns home to find a fragile family still shadowed by long unresolved issues. Drawn in against his better judgment, he finds himself at odds with his sister over how to best help her ten-year-old son, Lucas, deal with the death of his father. Against his sister's wishes, Charm and Lucas join together to turn an injured retriever into a champion, a journey that forces the family to face the issues that still threaten to tear them apart.

A wayward traveler and his suddenly-fatherless nephew defy family and challenge their faith to turn an injured retriever into a field champion.

The pitch isn't terrible but it's not very compelling. And there's not enough about the dog!

Suggested revision:
An injured retriever brings Charm and Lucas together despite family problems as they work together to train the dog to …whatever it is they're training for.

In other words, more about the dog, less about the people.


Some things to avoid in a pitch

Alina Sergachov
Pitch: Immigrant kid gets mistaken for refugee alien + transported to space between neither this nor that. Struggles to return home. Help = tree-like creature + albino alligator allergic to tears.
+ = stuff is like text-speak.

While I don't do YA, and thus this advice should be compared to what other agents who do work in YA say, I find symbols distracting in a query. I'm not sure if + means and or then or and then..

Anything that makes me think "huh??" while reading your query is generally to be avoided.

(this was one of the pitches I liked a lot last week!)

Category: Issue Book
this isn't a real category. Avoid doing this in a pitch. Pick the category closest to what you're writing (I'm guessing YA contemporary) and let your reader suss out that there are serious issues in the book.

Category: Adult. Women’s fiction that takes domestic suspense to another level.
don't laud your own book!  That's a real no-no in queries and pitching, in that there's no way to do it without coming across as an asshat, which I know you are NOT.

I hope this was useful for all y'all.
I know I can't do this every weekend but let's try to do more of these, if you're willing.

I very much appreciate the bravery of every one of you who posted your work and let us comment on it, and learn from it.  I know this is very very hard to do. You've earned the respect of every blog reader here.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

The Duchess of Yowl wants petting not pitching

Petting is the order of the day, not this crazy pitching stuff. Get busy!

So, what did you think of the pitch post yesterday?

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Pitch Me Your Book 5/5/18

Here are the pitch guidelines:

Write out your pitch ahead of time (as in don't type it directly in the comment column first!)
Let it sit for a bit.
Go back and review/revise.
Do this till you have something you like.

Select your target audience: adult/YA/MG/picture book. PICK ONLY ONE

Select your genre: romance, crime, SF, fantasy, western, or commercial fiction. PICK ONE

Select your "context material"--generally this will be what develops and explains your pitch. I think of it as the first paragraph of your query. This is a work in progress, so don't worry about making a mistake.

THEN POST all of this as one comment in the comment column of this blog post.
ONE entry per person

(that is, you cannot erase your entry and start over)
This means it's essential to draft in a place that is NOT the comment you intend to post.

30 words max. Fewer are fine.

Please do NOT talk about this on Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms. I'd like to keep this to regular blog readers for now.

Be prepared for me to discuss your work here on this blog if you enter.
If you do NOT want me to do that, DO NOT ENTER.

The comments are now open
I will close the comments when we've reach the number I think I can read and consider. It won't take long: 10:31am

On Sunday, a post for discussing this will go up. Please do NOT post anything here other than pitches.

My comments will be posted no earlier than Monday.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Questions about the Pitch Me Your Book post for 5/5/18


Does our entry have to be for something we've already written? Or can it be about something still in its infancy?

It can be for any thing you choose.
would you prefer we do a different story pitch (supposing we got to enter last time), or could we rehash the last one and try again?

It can be a reworking of previous entries, or a new one

You wrote "whether it's YA or adult." What about those of us who write younger?
I thought ADULT was a default setting. Should that spot not be blank unless it is something other than Adult?

Adult is NOT the default setting. Make sure you tell me what your target audience age group is

If we're in the throes of editing one novel (with beta readers) and in the process of writing another, can we submit TWO or is that getting too BONKERS?

I must be kind of slow today. I don't understand what the 100-word paragraph is.
It's the first paragraph of your query I think. It's intended to give me fodder for understanding the pitch and helping you pick out details that might be more helpful to include in the pitch.

Can a pitch be given in the form of a question? For example, "What if..."
You can do whatever you want. The only test is "does it work?"

If we missed the short version contest, would it be okay to include two versions of your pitch (one under 15 words, one up to 30)?

Lotsa chum in the Pacific Ocean as well. Y'know, out west, three hours later? O mighty Sharkstress, could a Puget Sound herring prevail on you to start feeding at a time when we might be awake 'n' swimming out here? :-)
How about 3am?

What was the deal you made with the devil that grants you 32 hours in a day when most of us mortals are limited to 24? (from JD ms Frain)
I promised to show him your manuscript.

Here are the pitch guidelines:

Write out your pitch ahead of time (as in don't type it directly in the comment column first!)
Let it sit for a bit.
Go back and review/revise.
Do this till you have something you like.

Select your target audience: adult/YA/MG/picture book. PICK ONLY ONE

Select your genre: romance, crime, SF, fantasy, western, or commercial fiction. PICK ONE

Select your "context material"--generally this will be what develops and explains your pitch. I think of it as the first paragraph of your query. This is a work in progress, so don't worry about making a mistake.

THEN POST all of this as one comment in the comment column of this blog post.
ONE entry per person

(that is, you cannot erase your entry and start over)
This means it's essential to draft in a place that is NOT the comment you intend to post.

30 words max. Fewer are fine.

Please do NOT talk about this on Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms. I'd like to keep this to regular blog readers for now.

Be prepared for me to discuss your work here on this blog if you enter.
If you do NOT want me to do that, DO NOT ENTER.

The contest will for this will open tomorrow (5/5/18) at 10am in a separate blog post.
I will close the comments on this post. (In other words, post to the right place!)

They will close sometime thereafter, sooner if we get a lot of entries, rather than later.

My comments will be posted no earlier than Monday.

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid

Querying while life looms

I don't think this question has been asked before, and I may be totally off the mark in worrying about this, but it's been on my mind and I wanted to ask: is it a good idea to query while pregnant with one's first child?

I've been working a manuscript for years now and I feel as though I almost at the querying stage. My plan was to query this summer or fall. But I recently found out I'm pregnant (with my first baby) and am now worried that I'll send out queries, get responses, and they'll want revisions/ responses ASAP and what if that comes right when I go into labor or am in a new parent haze?

I know this is all super theoretical, because who knows, maybe no one will even bite. My first instinct is to say "I'll do whatever it takes, new baby or no!" but I've heard babies can be somewhat time-consuming, especially at first.

Do you think it's better to wait until the new parent-phase is over to even start querying? Or just do it, and deal with what comes after?

I'm also super worried about how having a baby is going to affect my writing time (makes me feel so selfish for even thinking it but there it is, I love my writing time, it's so important to me) so if there are other mother/writers out there I'd love to hear how they handled this at some point.

There's always a reason not to do something, particularly if that something is new, or scary.

I can think of ten reasons right now that I should go home and pet Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl, rather than tackle this rather daunting project I have staring at me. Seven of those ten reasons will be utterly compelling.

You have a very reasonable and compelling reason to hold off querying. A new baby is a life changing event, and you don't have a clue what you're getting into.


As a writer, it's your job to keep your career on-track. Things can HAPPEN that get you off track, but just being uncertain about what lies ahead isn't something that has happened. It's fear.

Fear can kill your career.
Move ahead, and deal with things when they happen, rather than worrying about them ahead of time.

I've had clients whose lives have thrown them curve balls. We've managed to navigate those storms. Sometimes it meant the author stopped working for a while. Sometimes it didn't. But we didn't stop until we had to, not cause we were afraid of what was coming.

And huzzah for the new baby. I think Reid is a lovely name!

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Author/agency termination clauses

I was recently given an offer of representation, and of course I'm thrilled. I did my research and the agent and agency seem to be reputable. I plan to speak to a few of the agent's current clients and ask a lot of questions before I sign, and I read the Author/Agency agreement and compared it to your blog post on this topic. Everything seems to be pretty much as you stated, except that I have some concerns about the timeframe that the agreement lasts, which is two years.

I want to sign with an agent who will be with me for the long haul, and who is interested in helping me build my career and not just sell one book. But there is a part of me that worries that two years is a much bigger risk for me than for her. If it doesn't work out (for whatever reason), she can turn her focus to her other clients until the time runs out. But I'll be contracted to an agent who isn't interested in selling my books, and I won't able to look for a new agent for potentially two years.

You mentioned that New Leaf's agreement is 30 days. I'd love to get your advice on whether I'm right to be concerned about a two-year agreement, and if so, in your experience, would something like this ever be negotiable? I don't want to give the impression that I'm planning to ditch the agent at the first sign of trouble, or a book that won't sell. I'm not! But I'm thinking of situations where maybe the agent is non-responsive, or perhaps can't sell my first book and isn't interested in trying with my second. Will I be stuck waiting to move on?

(This is the line in the contract:

The initial term of this agreement shall be two (2) years from the date of my signature below. Such term will be extended automatically on a two-year basis unless either party gives the other written notice of termination at least sixty (60) days prior to the end of such contractual period.)

Yes this troubles me too. Two years is a long time if you run into problems.  Given that author/agent relationships can resemble an arranged marriage in that you really don't know much about how the other party works, communicates, deals with frustrations etc until you're bound to each other.

And I've heard more than enough horror stories about agents not doing their jobs that two years seems particularly onerous for the writer.

I'd ask the prospective agent about this. Specifically, if she doesn't sell the book, or you are in any way no longer wanting to be repped, what happens?

If the agency won't modify this, ask them to strike it entirely and have the contract terminable by either party, at any time, with 60 days notice.

We also include a longer period for any sub rights, in that those deals take much longer to germinate and we don't want to pull the plug till we've had time to follow up and finalize any offers.

Be aware that if the agent sells any of your work, and you terminate the contract, her commissions are still payable to her.

There's probably a good bit of information on this through the Author's Guild. You might join and take advantage of their knowledge base. They tend to be a bit absolutist, but the information is valuable.

And, our contract at New Leaf is for a year, renewable by either party. That said, if you're unhappy with me, or the quality of representation I'm providing, I usually waive that clause. I only want to work with people who want to be here. I can't imagine an agent wanting anything else.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Morality clauses

I just read an article at Publishers Weekly about the advent of morality clauses in author contracts from major publishers. Considering the recent furor over misbehaving authors, I understand their dilemma. But how do authors protect themselves from the nebulous nature of this development? Or, to be clearer, how will our agents protect us? I'd love to know your take on this, and what we need to be aware of before we sign off on one of these.
Morality clauses regulate author behavior not book content. And not too long ago it was "immoral" to live with a man you were not married to, engage in "homosexual acts", or any of a number of other things. Funnily enough it was not immoral to beat your wife, drive while drunk, or fire women who had the temerity to demand equal pay for equal work.

I find morality clauses repugnant, never in the author's best interest, and oddly NEVER applied to a publisher's behaviour.

As such, when a contract arrives that includes such a beast, we routinely ask it be stricken in its entirety.

If there is push back, there are ways to limit what a publisher can do, and when they can do it.

And what I say to publishers who want to include a morality clause: None of these #MeToo stories about badly behaving people are new. They've been circulating for YEARS in many cases. No one was surprised when the people in question were outed as douchebags. The only surprise is they're finally being held to account for their trespasses.

If publishers want to avoid being tarnished by people behaving badly here's an idea: don't buy books from douchebags.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

More on the pitch me your book posts

A recent email to me said:
The funny thing is, I swear I've heard you talk on your blog before about how you don't like Twitter pitch parties for exactly the reason that the pitches have to be so short. Something about how we drive ourselves bonkers and don't always succeed when we have 250 words, so 240 characters is absurd. So, change of heart?
well, sorta, no, not really?
How's that for definitive!

The Pitch Me Your Book post started when a reader asked what a good pitch looked like. I had a flash of deja vu all over again, cause that's how QueryShark got started: what does a good query look like. And pitching on Twitter is still absurd but being able to talk about your book at a party where agents and readers lurk is an essential.

I thought it would be fun to pitch for practice. Since the stakes are pretty low (you're not really pitching and you get feedback) I'm hoping the bonkers level is reduced.

And another email from Sarah
This isn't a complaint. I was one of the folks you picked. But once I posted my pitch:
Enchanted prince.
By her.
Now she’ll rescue him, whether he wants saving or not.
. . . .and read the others, I was SO embarrassed! Mine seemed horribly vague– and not a bit clever. I did, however, know that the last line was the strongest. I just didn't know what to do with the rest of it.

Anyways, I opened today's post fully prepared to see my pitch as an example of general failure. I'd pulled my big girl panties up to somewhere near my chin and was ready to accept a toothy lesson in what not to do.

Thing is, I think I need a lesson in what I did right. (I'd like to be able to get it right again, you see.) And based on the confusion in some of the comments, I'd say I'm not the only one who would like to know a bit more about how you picked the folks you picked. Or was this simply an example of how subjective this industry is?

Yes and no.

This industry is entirely subjective, but I don't think this was an example of that.

You yourself knew that last line was the best. And it is. What you didn't know (or do) is cut the other lines, and then build on that.
Enchanted prince.
By her.
Now she’ll rescue him, whether he wants saving or not.

It was fun to see what y'all are working on so I'd like to keep going with this for as long as it's manageable.

Manageable means not hundreds of entries and no one going postal in the comments section, or in emails to me.

Not hundreds of entries means let's NOT talk about this on Twitter or Facebook or other social media platforms (like Chum Bucket.) If we keep the pitching to folks who read the blog, we'll minimize the influx of johnnie-come-latelies, and also reduce the risk of people going postal.

Disagree with me all you want in the comments (bring it!! no REALLY! opinions are the foundation of this industry!) but civility is required. I may be wrong, but Mum does not wear Army boots even if she did march us with a cadence to the library.

And because of the email from Sarah, let's try a new wrinkle. Along with the 30 word pitch, include another paragraph, as in the first paragraph of your query. The paragraph is longer (about 100 words at most) but it gives information NOT in the pitch. That way, we can see what you left out, and perhaps, what you should have included.

So, for the next go round, let's try 30 words, listing the category, whether it's YA or adult, and your bonus content.  Your entry will look like this:

Category: Crime/sci fi/fantasy/dino porn

Adult or YA: YA

 Paragraph: (100 words or fewer)

Pitch: And we're off to the races.

The ONLY words that count for the pitch are what's in the pitch.

I'm figuring post the pitches on Saturday, comments from all y'all on Sunday, results on Monday.(like the flash fiction contests)

To keep the entries to a reasonable number I'm going to close comments at an arbitrary time.

Now, what questions have you got? I'd like to get those sorted out ahead of time.

I have a question. Why aren't you petting me?

PS Don't post pitches in the comment column of this blog post. I'll delete them. You gotta wait for the actual blog post.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Pitch me your book results

This was fun!
Do you want to do it again?

I read through all the entries a couple times to make sure that I didn't overlook something cause I was cranky or tired.

I'm posting ONLY the ones that caught my eye. I'm not critting any of the others cause I think this is too early to start chomping on y'all.

However ... next time!!!

Also, I think we need to increase the word count to 30, and have you list category or genre. Let me know what you think.

And remember, a pitch is NOT NOT NOT a sense of your entire novel. It's an enticement to read. It's the sample bite of something at the grocery store, not the full meal.

Here are the ones I noticed:


Saving his friend cost Prok his future. Saving the world may cost him his friend.

I really like this one. It sets up a nice dichotomy.

french sojourn

Perfect fall-guy?
He’s after them, now.

Enter a stunning Judge, because convictions matter.

I'd cut the last two sentences.

I'd cut the "stunning" cause as you regular readers know, describing women by how they look drives me bonkers. And "because convictions matter" is probably clever but there's not enough context to know why.

William Whitaker

Hollywood agent is tasked by God to save the world. Love thy neighbor or else.

Again, a nice dichotomy.
I'd put in ellipses:  Love thy neighbor ... or else.

Enchanted prince.


By her.

Now she’ll rescue him, whether he wants saving or not.

This could even be trimmed to "she’ll rescue him, whether he wants saving or not. " and be effective.

If it weren’t for the car wreck, Jonny could have kept pretending he was fine.

Again, here we have a sense of something awry. It makes us wonder what's going on. That's the essence of enticement.

Claire Bowbrow
Most yaks don’t dream of opera stardom. But most yaks are not…ARLETTE!
This is just plain hilarious, and thus, engages my interest.
I'm really hoping this a book for kids.

Cecila Ortiz Luna

Miguel suspects psychologist Emily committed a perfect murder.
Emily believes she conducted a perfect experiment.
This is, again, a nice dichotomy.

Julie Weathers
When war comes calling, Lorena has to make a decision . . . sometimes spies wear crinolines.

I'd start with spies wear crinolines, and work in what kind of danger she faces or what choice she had to make (I think this suffered from the word count limit.)

Brenda Lynn
Domestic suspense with a wilderness twist: a teenager held captive by his father.
This didn't grab me but I recognized the book (with some help from the poster's name!) and the query letter that I have on file.

This is from Brenda's query to me:

Bear vs Dog. Son vs father.
Notice that it sets up conflict. And I think that's the essence of a good pitch. If there's conflict, there's tension. If there's tension I'm interested.

(I should mention I requested her novel!)

Alina Sergachov

A girl gets mistaken for an alien. And accused of violating the Statute of Secrecy.
I get mistaken for a human being all too often, so I'm interested in this one. I'm really hoping this is middle grade, cause I think it sounds fun.

Luralee Kiesel

Altered Universe
Time travel
Love story

Paranormal clones


I'd cut everything but the last line, which I think is pretty funny.

And PS, some housekeeping: if you want me to answer a question on the blog, you have to ask via email. Don't post questions that are off-topic on the blog comment trail. I'll delete it. (of course you're worried I mean you. Go look at the comment column and most of you will see you're worried for nothing.)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Pitch me your book, place for comments

For those of you who want to discuss the post on Pitch Me Your Book, the comments there are closed, but this post has open comments.  Let me know what you think!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Pitch me your book in 15 words!

To follow up on a comment in today's earlier blog post about what an effective pitch looks like, let's get some volunteers to pitch and see if they're effective.

Here's how to do this:

Write out your pitch ahead of time (as in don't type it directly in the comment column first!)
Let it sit for a bit.
Go back and review/revise.
Do this till you have something you like.

THEN POST your entry in the comment column of this blog post.
ONE entry per person (sorry 2Ns, it's a time management thing)

(that is, you cannot erase your entry and start over)
This means it's essential to draft in a place that is NOT the comment you intend to post.

Fifteen words max. Fewer are fine.

Be prepared for me to discuss your work here on this blog if you enter.
If you do NOT want me to do that, DO NOT ENTER.

Comments for this will open tomorrow at 7am.
They will close sometime thereafter, sooner if we get a lot of entries, rather than later.

Closed at 10:56am with 64 comments. That's about all I can look at in a day. 

My comments will be posted no earlier than Monday cause I'm traveling on Sunday.

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid

speaking of new ways to torment you

I forgot to post the winner of last week's contest.

Just to remind you, here are the entries that stood out:

James Leisenring

The soup is nearly ready. At least, soup is the closest translation in the native language. I knock on the door.

“Hold on, Martin, I’m on the can.”

On the can. Disposing of bodily waste. Nettlesome, the way they regularly use language in such a way.

The human I wait for is called Harris Guster Williams, or Harry for short (their naming system is especially flawed). Unable to pronounce my proper name, Harry chose Martin due to its proximity to the name the humans give our species.

I allow this cartoonish transgression. By rule, one does not bother correcting soup.

It took me three passes to find most of these prompt words. Our Steve Forti is getting a run for his money this week.

And this entry is seriously imaginative and totally creepy.
That's a real feat in 97 words.

Madeline Mora-Summonte
Gregory, old and gnarled, slumps on his porch. His lawn, overgrown with weeds and wild things, chokes the once neat path. At the gate, nettles cling, watch deserted streets. He calls out, can only hope for more survivors.

A man and woman appear, dirty, laden with packs.

"Please help! I fell."

They hesitate, the rules different now.

Gregory is desperate. "I have food, water. It's yours.
They nod, start toward him.

He watches the lawn shiver, the monsters within slither out to feed. He listens to the screams.

Gregory is spared. Again. He stands, stretches.

The rules are different now.

Honestly this creeped me out so much I could barely read it the second time.
Thank all deities foreign and domestic that I live in Brooklyn, a place with few lawns.
Of course, the more creeped out you are, the better the writing.

Michael Seese
Susa was livid, though limited.

“Your hoor, this ma stole all my ehs. I ca’t eve say it anymore.” She punctuated her pathos with a plaintiff plea of “Please!”

Cases in the Alphabellate Court can be tricky, often turning on some obscure rule or twisted tenetcality. Susa stumbled into the latter.

“He should face a firig squad. Or a canon.”

A collective gasp sucked the air from the courtroom, and her argument. My smirk turned to face the judge.

“You see, your honor. Reg ipsa loquitur. I didn't steal them all. I borrowed a few. That's not against the lawn.”

Of course this is witty, it's Michael Seese.
It took me a minute to get the joke, which means it's terrific!
Even with all the joking around, it's still easy to understand.
True mastery is making something look easy. And Michael does.

Claire Bobrow
By the tenets, rules, covenants, laws, and regulations of this confounded profession, we, his peers, do find and declare the perpetrator GUILTY as charged.

Henceforth, nowhere shall it ever again be written:

“Chuckles buttoned up his suit, painted a smile on his face, adjusted his pompoms, and, with trembling size 18 feet, climbed into the canon.”

It is our judgment, intention, and pronouncement that the sentence shall fit the crime:

Author to be shot at dawn.

Out of a cannon.

Honestly, I'd have voted for the punishment twice.
This entry just cracked me up.

As usual, I'm having a hard time picking only one of these entries to win the prize.

Let me know your choice, or if you think an entry of note got overlooked.  I'll update the post with the winner tomorrow morning (along with some fresh content!)

Weill I must be on Martian time cause my clock says "tomorrow morning" looks remarkably like Friday 4/27 at 4pm

I'd like to tell you it took me this long to pick the winner, and honestly the caliber of the entries wouldn't make you doubt that, but the truth is I forgot.

Between recovering from travel to Minnesota, and getting ready to travel to Maryland, I had a very limited grasp on reality for much of this week.

Perhaps you've known the feeling!

I'm here at Malice Domestic now, enjoying myself more than the law allows, and while reading the comments on today's blog post realized I'd failed to announce the winner.

It's Michael Seese.
The story, the clever word play, the brilliant homonym use of the prompt word: it's just amazing.  In other words: exactly what we've come to expect from Michael Seese.

Michael, let me know your preferred mailing address, and let's figure out what your prize should be. I was thinking Jeff Somers new book, but if you already have it, let me know.

And for all y'all:
And posting directly after this is Saturday's Pitch Me Your Book in 15 Words.
I love the smell of consternation in the morning.