Saturday, May 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


You didn't ask him the defining question: if he'd gotten this ms while he was an aquiring editor, would he/could he have bought it? The god's honest truth is a lot of good work doesn't get published.  That happens for a lot of reasons, none of which you have control over.
And that's what agents know that editors don't. We see many more manuscripts than editors do. I can hear my editor friends screaming disbelief, while pointing at their overflowing inboxes.  As proof let me tell you that an editor recently mentioned she had 30 manuscripts in her inbox from agents.  I have triple that in queries on a weekly basis.


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

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

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

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


Friday, May 26, 2017

No one asked, he just stepped up

I was on my way to lunch with an editor yesterday. It was raining the way it does in spring: torrents followed by buckets, followed by mist. Rain, rinse, repeat.  Sogginess all around.

In other words it was a wretched day to be out.

But it was a worse day to be in an ambulance.

Traffic was snarled. Tempers were flaring. The ambulance siren was LOUD. And it wasn't moving.

The ambulance was coming west on Fulton, about 200 feet before the intersection with Broadway which runs north/south.  The cars ahead of the ambulance on Fulton couldn't pull to the side due to the construction. They couldn't pull ahead onto Broadway because traffic was moving at a good clip with the light in their favor.

A man just ahead of me on the sidewalk stepped out onto Broadway. He raised his arms in the universal message of STOP.  He stopped all three lanes of traffic on Broadway, then turned his back and waved to the cars on Fulton. This time it was the universally recognized sign for "get your ass moving!"

And the Fulton street cars did, pulling aside in the space created at the intersection of Broadway and Fulton. The ambulance roared past. Without turning to anyone else on the street for any kind of acknowledgement,  the man continued on his way across the street.

At that moment it was clear I'd seen an everyday hero. He stepped up and did what needed to be done. No one asked. No one thanked him. The ambulance patient will never know about this moment.

But it's this kind of small but epic moment of which lives of uncommon valour are made.

I thought of this today because a friend lost her father this week. He had lived a long, well-loved life. He'd been married for 59 years, raised four daughters, one of whom I know to be the kind of person you want with you in the life boat.

Her dad was not famous. He did not have an epic resume. But it was clear to me in the space between the lines of his obituary that he was an everyday hero.

Now more than ever I need to remember there are truly good people in this world.

Tell me about an everyday hero you've seen.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Word count, cause why drop a topic after only a gazillion posts?

 Dear Almighty Queen of the Reef,

I recently read a blog post by Veronica Roth from 2011 (no depths of the internet are safe when I have a strong case of writer's block). She states Divergent was initially 56k, then 85k after agent revisions, then 105k after more edits with the publisher.

I'm guessing a famous, successful author is an exception. Especially considering she states in bold in the very same blog post: "don't compare yourself to other people." But it's too late to heed that advice, and my curiosity's taken over.

How much/often does a book's word count typically change? (1) Would it be better to submit a cleanly edited 60k to an agent and have to add scenes rather than 100k where I might have added the wrong scenes?(2) Or what about "BOOK TITLE is 80k, with another 20k ready to be added"? (3)

That last idea is really dumb, isn't it? ($) It really depends on the agent/manuscript, doesn't it?(5) I should just stop thinking about word count and get back to writing, shouldn't I?(6)

I'll just swim back into my hole now.

Please don't eat me,

But, but, you're so tasty! 

Ok, here's the short version:
(1)  How much/often does a book's word count typically change? 
There's no way to put a number on this. Books are too varied. It's not apples and oranges; it's people and Klingons. With dragons. 

(2) Would it be better to submit a cleanly edited 60k to an agent and have to add scenes rather than 100k where I might have added the wrong scenes?
No

(3)

what about "BOOK TITLE is 80k, with another 20k ready to be added"? 
You know the answer to this question.


(4 and 5 and 6)  
That last idea is really dumb, isn't it? 
It really depends on the agent/manuscript, doesn't it?
I should just stop thinking about word count and get back to writing, shouldn't I?

YES

Ok, now let's talk about WHY those are the answers.

I didn't read the V.Roth article but I was around when that whole thing was happening.  Veronica's initial manuscript was amazing of course but with a set of fresh eyes on it, her agent Joanna Volpe was able to point out some places that needed development.

This happens a LOT with manuscripts. You're so familiar with your world and your characters that you sometimes miss things a reader UNfamiliar with the story wants to know.

That happens again at the editorial stage with the publisher.

The point though is this: when Veronica sent that ms to Joanna she thought it was finished and publishable. It was the very best she could make it.  She didn't try to hit some kind of word count; she wrote the best book she could.

With fresh eyes and new questions there were characters and scenes to add. That might not have been the case. It's entirely possible characters and scenes might need to be removed.

There's one bench mark here, and it's not word count. The benchmark is: is this the best book you can write? 

That's why it's so important, crucial actually, to let your manuscript sit for at least a month before you start querying. Until you're only moving one word a page, and debating yourself blue in the face about commas, keep working.

Your takeaway here is exactly what you think it is: don't compare yourself to other people. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Genderfluidity in the query

I finished and polished an urban fantasy novel some time ago and queried for a while, getting a couple bites for fulls and partials but nothing panned out. My novel features a genderfluid character in the lead role, and a part of me worries that might be a turn off for some agents, despite hearing so much about people wanting diverse books. I fear that this is one of the reasons agents aren't willing to touch the novel.

Another worry on my mind is the fact that I am also genderfluid, and I write mostly under my female name. But that name doesn't match my legal name and I wonder if an agent would let something like this name and pronoun business with the author prevent them from offering representation.

I started querying under my male name, stating my preferred name as my pen name, which is female. Later I queried entirely under the pen name but stated in the query that I am genderfluid mostly so they didn't think I was just doing it for kicks. I live my personal and online lives as genderfluid, though my professional life still requires me to generally be male.

I realize this looks like a bigger mess than it probably is, but would you let something like gender confusion be a reason to shoot down a pretty good book?

Short answer: no

Longer answer: you know me well enough by now I hope to understand that NOTHING gets between me and a project I want. Not gender fluidity, not names, not location, not even threats from La Slitherina Herself.



In other words, it's not you, it's the book.

You've gotten some requests. They haven't progressed.
That tells me that something is wrong with the novel.

If you don't have a good crit group, or a tough-minded (but not vile!) beta reader, that's the first step.

The second is to get pro-eyes on it. A good writing class, an agent pitch session at a conference, or any other of a lot of other options is a good idea.


And a side note: you do NOT need to explain your genderfluidity in a query. You are who you are: a writer. Your name and gender are your business. Just tell me what you like to be called and let me how to make out the check. If it's important to you that you explain your name and genderfluidity, that's ok too. Just tell me what you like to be called and let me know how to make out the check!








Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A book I pray you'll never need






I think this is the most important book I will ever work on.

I don't say that lightly. I've worked on some books I'm very proud of; books that will make or have made a difference in people's lives.

But this is the book of my heart.


Some years back Deb Vlock queried me on a novel she'd written about a mom with an autistic son. One day, the mom snapped and left her son alone in a park. He's found the next day, terrified but not injured. The mom returns home three days later. The novel is about what happens after an unforgivable act.

I loved this book with all my heart but finding an audience was tricky. Deb and I worked on the book a lot- changing the title, adding and subtracting characters, digging deep into how to convey what it means to be overwhelmed and at the end of your rope, yet retain the audience's loyalty. What forgiveness means.

Over the course of three years we both poured sweat and blood into that novel. And of course, in that time we became friends. And I learned more about Deb's personal life. Like her protagonist, she too had a son on the spectrum. I met him. I fell in love. This lad is just amazing. Smart and funny. Engaging. And sweet. Oh my god, what a delight to be around. He found my heart and my heart never let go.

In addition to Asperger's, Deb's son suffers with severe mental health issues. One day, just as part of a casual conversation, Deb mentioned he'd first told her he wanted to end his life when he was four. He'd told her how he'd do it

I had to pause the conversation. I could not speak then upon hearing this. I wept then, as I do now, and as I do every time I've written about this. All these years later, just thinking about that wonderful boy in such pain that he wanted to die breaks my heart.

Clutching my barely regained composure, our conversation continued. Deb told me she was not alone.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among middle schoolers.

I'll wait for a moment while you think about that.

After accidents and illness, little children die most often by their own hand.

It dawned on us both that there was a non-fiction book here. A book for parents by a parent. Not a clinician, not an outsider, but a mom who had stood watch by night, making sure her son did not pad into the kitchen to find and use the knives.

It's been a long road. For Deb. For her son. For the proposal, for the book. We needed a complete story arc. When I tell you I was petrified of what one of those arcs might be, no doubt you can intuit what I mean.

But this story ends on a much better note. Deb's son just turned 17. He's doing very well.

And the proposal is too. In fact, it's not a proposal any more. It's going to be a book.

I believe this book will save lives.
I believe this book will comfort people in dire need of care and kindness and information.
I am very proud to have been a small part of Deb's family's journey.

I pray you do not need, nor will never need this book. But if you do, if you or your family are coping with the devastation of mental illness in children, this book will be for you.

You can reach out directly to Deb via her website here.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Final #100 contest results

I posted the preliminary results yesterday here

Herewith the final results:
 
-->
Semi-finalists
Melanie Sue Bowles
PAH 9:00am
Michael Seese
Donnaeve
FlashFriday
Robert Ceres



And here are the finalists:

Cheryl 8:39am
The landscape, graced with ferns taller than the stars, cries out in fortissimo for a mark, some proof of my final, greatest achievement.

For who would know I made it here? My time machine has dissolved to dust, victim of its own energy, and I am alone.

My signature will be a joke to anthropologists, who will no doubt scramble to decode the anachronism.

The cave will protect my work, I will descend tonight to draw gazelle in the age of dinosaurs, leave coded messages in my handprints.

Millennia from now, before I am even born, I will be famous.

I love the concept of this story (that the earliest cave paintings were done by visitors from other worlds) but I also love the voice. And that last line is simply haunting to anyone who has created art.


Lisa Bodenheim
Breakfast
He asks about her date.
Happily, she chatters.
I place the milk pitcher. By him.
“Scapegallows,” he insults. Of course. “He wouldn’t know a fortissimo from a finocchio.” He eats his cornflakes.
Our daughter gazes, blankly.
Angered, I touch her shoulder, “Fatherly humor.”
He rolls his eyes.
Stiff-backed, I sit, “Finish your breakfast, dear. How was the band?”
She shrugs.
Her cannolo remains untouched.
Damn him.
Patient, I sip my Italian Roast.
He stands—slender and handsome as ever—and scrams.
I accept his tainted kiss, airbrush-style this morning.
He leaves. Scapegoat.
And now?
Anticipation!
“How was your date?”

I love the perspective/S here. The dad is both the antagonist and still the mom's true love (slender and handsome as ever.)  And use of the word "scrams" gives us a sense that maybe dad understands what he's done here.  This is a lovely subtle piece of writing.


Beth Carpenter
Wednesday night. She’s cramming. If interrupted, she says, she might never reach the goal. He understands. As a future doctor’s spouse, he can be a time-thief or timesaver. But she has to eat. He brings her a chimichanga, zealous in his need to prove himself supportive.

A gentle knock. No answer. He knocks again. Frets. Faint from hunger? Asleep? He tries the door. Locked. Panicking, he locates the key he hid under the eaves.

Empty – her escape gracefully executed.

He sighs, glad he installed that tracker on her cell phone yesterday. She’d better be at the library. Or else.

I think it's "a gentle knock" that really sets up this very very creepy story. And of course those last two lines bring it home. This is lovely spider web construction: the story is not just what's written, it's the story between the filaments.



Lennon Faris
Horoscope: a moment today will make you a hero!
Woot!

Half marathon: I’m a gazelle!
…Silver by one millimoment.

Brother’s audition: his cape graces boulder shoulders, regal Phantom rendition. In finale, baritone voice squeaks. Audience laughs.
My 'moment?' Punch them all in the suckers?

Job interview: nail it. “Thank you, sir,” I close.
“…That’s, ‘ma’am’.”
I scram.

Candlelit proposal: girlfriend confesses moment of indiscretion, aka ‘Shawn.’

Universe has dark humor.

11:58 PM, can’t sleep. I text brother: beer fortification??
Phone gleams: sure. I’ll postpone suicide
Bah-ha. Love his morbid jokes.
And, screw you, horoscope.

Midnight: Grab keys.
Brother flushes pills.


 I just love this. It speaks to the very core of my faith: you might never know what good you do in the world, but have faith you will be put where you're needed.




Kate Outhwaite
I found a photograph of you today but the pictures in my head are better.

Your wedding day: honeysuckle scrambling over the gazebo, framing us, as you wave your bouquet at the bee circling my mother-of-the bride hat.

Or this one of Graduation. You,
finished with school, chomping at the bit to make your mark on this world.

And here! 7-year old you: a tumbling, tree-climbing
scapegrace; all legs and laughing independence one moment; claiming comforting knee-kisses the next.

Yes. These pictures in my head are much better than the faded polaroid of you in my arms. Perfect. Newborn. Breathless.


This took my breath away. I literally gasped aloud when I realized what that last word did to the story. This is brilliant.



Rkeelan
Every morning I escape grace and wake in an unfamiliar bed.

There's a woman next to me. We're lying side-by-side like two corpses in a double-wide coffin.

I have no idea who she is.

She's old, but beautiful. I probably know her. I hope I do.

Her gaze is on me.

I try to ignore the fortissimo beat of my heart, scrambling for something to say, something to ease the worry in her eyes.

I know I'm supposed to recognize her, but I don't.

I'm supposed to know her name, but I don't.

"Good morning, Dear. I love you."


 And it's that last line that grabbed me. It's unclear to me who is speaking, and that's the beauty of it. 




Nate Wilson
I will not beg a zebra mussel for forgiveness.

The beastly bivalves take over our lake and starve thousands, yet we're supposed to be grateful for cleaner water? No. I'm done paying.

Someone needs to take down this mollu
sc a peg.

"Race
is a social construct," I say.

"Don't care. Apologize or owe triple the algae tomorrow."

"Stripes aside, we're not so different, you and I."

"Don't try to appeal to--"

"Except you're small."

"Careful..."

"And small-minded."

"Ooh, you're dead, Clam.
Finished."

"Not yet."

With great ef
fort, I dig in and drag myself directly at the infernal mollusc. Ramming speed!


I've come to expect hilarity from Nate Wilson; we all have in fact, I'm sure. This may be one of the best ever. It's that last line that left me laughing out loud in my apartment by myself.

 And there are pretty deft prompt word uses here. We may need to have a Steve Forti/Nate Wilson head to head competition with some kick ass prompts: scallywag comes to mind.

     


There was never a doubt in my mind about the winner this week. There were many fabulous entries; probably the best field of finalists we've seen. It was tough competition but this story, in both subtlety and grace led the field.

The winner is Kate Outhwaite.

Kate, drop me a line and let me know if you already have the map book. If you do, we'll figure out something else.  Otherwise, I'll get that out to you at once.

Thanks to all who took the time to write and enter this contest. I loved reading your work.  I wish all of you had contact info on your google sign in names cause a couple of you really piqued my interest about what you're writing and if you have an agent or are looking for one. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Preliminary Contest #100 results

Wow! Y'all exceeded yourselves WILDLY this time.
From the great prompt words, to the entries, you just knocked my sox right off.


Here are the prompt words again:
gaze (provided by Melanie Sue Bowles)
scapegrace (provided byJulie Weathers)
scram (provided byLennon Faris)
forti (provided byMegan V)
fin (provided by the comment column on 4/26/17)

And here are the first round results:
The Steve Forti Award to Steve Forti, cause really who else even comes close?
Security had to bag a zealot last night. Tried to escape. Gr. A cell should be secure, dammit. Requesting reinforcements.
Sincerely,
CFO, R. Tiddlywinks

Get those hens in line. Scramble a few eggs if needed, so to speak. Not literally, of course. Fortify that compound, or I'll find some guards with more testicular fortitude. Fire anyone who is aloof or timid. For time is short. The big day approaches.
Sent by,
CEO, E. Bunny

We managed to escape gracefully. Unlike your impending downfall. For 'tis certain you'll never find these eggs. And vengeance hops your way.
Ex-servants,
The Free Hens


Imaginative use of prompt words

fortinet firewall. Patricia L. Shelton 9:27am
forticating whale Barbara 1:49pm

A character that begs for a novel
Colin Smith Knuckles the Emasculator.


I didn't quite get these three entries, but the writing is just lovely
Alina 10:01am
Megan V 11:44am
Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale 8:41pm


Words I had to look up
finocchio
scramaseax
tilmicosin
Lohikeitto


Homage to the Bard
D Willadsen 10:50am

I think this might be the best opening line in a very long time
BJ Muntain
Mrs. FasterThanLightning sat at Mrs. StrongerThanSteel's table, drinking coffee, as Mrs. S folded laundry, including her husband's red costume.

And then here comes Terri Lynn Coop to give BJ a run for her money
I gazed at my reality show team -- a chef, a clown, and a motivational consultant.

The ending here made me laugh for a solid minute
Mark Thurber 10:56am
Giant tentacles rise from pond behind gazebo as orchestra plays three fortissimo chords.

--Fin--

Not quite a story but holy moly!
abnormalalien (Jamie A. Elias) 3:22pm

Not quite a story but these cracked me up completely
Peter Taylor 8:30pm
LynnRodz 8:12am
Kitty 8:25am


Not quite a story, but lovely lyrical writing and a GREAT concept
EM Goldsmith 10:08pm


This is hilarious IF you know the sourcecode!
John Davis (Manuscript) Frain 12:07am


This isn't quite a story but the writing and imagery are breathtaking
Leilani
Fortissimama A. Capella, she a neon girl. She triangle-orange in a blue-circle world. She don’t want no dust-town life, never find a color in this old world. She scram. Saunter downcity, catch her some gaze.

Boys whistle. Boys catcall. She flip her hair and wink. They follow.

They follow down the years. It be one year, it be two years, it be ten. One by one, blue-circle girls smile at them boys. One day, nobody follow. All them scapegrace boys, they turn into dust-town papas.

Fortissimama ain’t a mama, but she still laughing neon-orange.


Here's the long list of finalists

 
-->
Melanie Sue Bowles
She adjusts my feeding tube then grabs a handful of raisins, cramming them in her mouth.

Late again, because of me.

“All set?” Her words are garbled.

I smile and nod. Wordless.

She adjusts my oxygen then waves from the door spoofing a Charlie Chaplin soft-shoe. The whoosh of the regulator settles into a comforting rhythm, but I can’t dance to it.

She navigates the city landscape, graceful as a gazelle in neon Chucks and a floral sundress. I navigate our apartment in a motorized wheelchair wearing an easy-access gown.

She adjusts her body-cam. Because of her, I live vicariously.

PAH 9:00am
One murder. Three suspects. Zero alibis. And me.

They were all there when the stubby bastard died.

The tall one, scarred, met my gaze with indifference. The other, nondescript except the obnoxious gold collar, avoided eye contact at all costs. And the slender fellow, a scapegrace in need of a trim, grinned. Discomforting.

“Wasn’t me,” they each said.

“Anyway, who put you in charge?” the Tall One asked.

Not my first rodeo, friends.

Apply some pressure; they scrambled, broke like fingers.

“Middle did it,” the small one finally squeaked.

“I’ll kill you!” Middle cried.

Thus solved the Murder of Thumb.

Michael Seese
Grandma didn't tolerate no lip.

“Some people have grace, and some just don't, dear,” she said, pouring a crisp cup of tea.

Grandma was sharp as a tack, though occasionally she'd fall prey to this faraway gaze that left her thoughts mired mid-order between scrambled and poached.

“You OK?”

“I'm fine, dear. I --”

The banging beneath my feet startled me. As always.

Grandma got down on all fours, most unladylike.

“You can't escape, Grace!” she yelled through a crack, rattling the fortified box below the floor. “So give it up!”

She glanced up and smiled.

“Now where was I, dear?”


Ashley Turcotte
The question again: “Why did you do it?”

I ignored everyone else. The doctors. My parents. But I’m ready to talk. “To escape grace.”

The new shrink frowns. Gazes at her notes. “Who’s Grace?”

“Not a person. The thing. The idea.”

She’s not getting it.

“You know. God?”

“You…don’t want to go to heaven? Why?”

I move cold scrambled eggs around my plate with a plastic spoon, wishing they’d let me have a fork. Run a finger around the bandages on my left wrist.

“For Tim.”

“Your stepfather?”

“Everyone says he’s in heaven.”

So I’d rather be in hell.

Donnaeve
We scramble towards him, two starving girls, legs like gazelles.
He’s brought food.
After we finish eating, he says to Grace, “Let’s go.”
This was the agreement. She would go
Only eight, she cries.

I don’t have the fortitude to watch them walk away.
~~~
Mama behaves as expected, using child support to buy drugs

I call the police – as planned.
“Where’s Grace?” they ask.
I cry. Play dumb.
Mama’s charged
~~~
Foster care’s okay. There’s food!
I often think, Lucky you to escape, Grace.”
Postcards come often, regular.

The foster parents are suspicious, though they’re never signed Love, Daddy and Grace.

FlashFriday
I showed him my heartsick gaze, vowed to abandon my scapegrace ways. From beneath demure faux lashes I promised to scram when he wants space, never Forti the truth, never answer a fin “nothing” when a great white “something” lurks.

So he married me.

Now he follows me everywhere. Every week-a-versary’s another (suffocating) bouquet of roses, every meal’s a (tacky) candlelit banquet, every email’s a (clich├ęd) Petrarchan sonnet, and even simple grocery lists are now obscured by swarms of his (immature) x’s and o’s.

Dammit.

Dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit.

Dammit.

Cheryl 8:39am
The landscape, graced with ferns taller than the stars, cries out in fortissimo for a mark, some proof of my final, greatest achievement.

For who would know I made it here? My time machine has dissolved to dust, victim of its own energy, and I am alone.

My signature will be a joke to anthropologists, who will no doubt scramble to decode the anachronism.

The cave will protect my work, I will descend tonight to draw gazelle in the age of dinosaurs, leave coded messages in my handprints.

Millennia from now, before I am even born, I will be famous.


Lisa Bodenheim
Breakfast
He asks about her date.
Happily, she chatters.
I place the milk pitcher. By him.

“Scapegallows,” he insults. Of course. “He wouldn’t know a fortissimo from a finocchio.” He eats his cornflakes.
Our daughter gazes, blankly.
Angered, I touch her shoulder, “Fatherly humor.”

He rolls his eyes.
Stiff-backed, I sit, “Finish your breakfast, dear. How was the band?”
She shrugs.

Her cannolo remains untouched.
Damn him.
Patient, I sip my Italian Roast.
He stands—slender and handsome as ever—and scrams.
I accept his tainted kiss, airbrush-style this morning.

He leaves. Scapegoat.

And now?
Anticipation!
“How was your date?”


Beth Carpenter
Wednesday night. She’s cramming. If interrupted, she says, she might never reach the goal. He understands. As a future doctor’s spouse, he can be a time-thief or timesaver. But she has to eat. He brings her a chimichanga, zealous in his need to prove himself supportive.

A gentle knock. No answer. He knocks again. Frets. Faint from hunger? Asleep? He tries the door. Locked. Panicking, he locates the key he hid under the eaves.

Empty – her escape gracefully executed.

He sighs, glad he installed that tracker on her cell phone yesterday. She’d better be at the library. Or else.

--Fin--

Lennon Faris
Horoscope: a moment today will make you a hero!
Woot!

Half marathon: I’m a gazelle!
…Silver by one millimoment.

Brother’s audition: his cape graces boulder shoulders, regal Phantom rendition. In finale, baritone voice squeaks. Audience laughs.

My 'moment?' Punch them all in the suckers?

Job interview: nail it. “Thank you, sir,” I close.
“…That’s, ‘ma’am’.”
I scram.

Candlelit proposal: girlfriend confesses moment of indiscretion, aka ‘Shawn.’

Universe has dark humor.

11:58 PM, can’t sleep. I text brother: beer fortification??
Phone gleams: sure. I’ll postpone suicide
Bah-ha. Love his morbid jokes.
And, screw you, horoscope.

Midnight: Grab keys.
Brother flushes pills.

Kate Outhwaite
I found a photograph of you today but the pictures in my head are better.

Your wedding day: honeysuckle scrambling over the gazebo, framing us, as you wave your bouquet at the bee circling my mother-of-the bride hat.

Or this one of Graduation. You, finished with school, chomping at the bit to make your mark on this world.

And here! 7-year old you: a tumbling, tree-climbing scapegrace; all legs and laughing independence one moment; claiming comforting knee-kisses the next.

Yes. These pictures in my head are much better than the faded polaroid of you in my arms. Perfect. Newborn. Breathless

Rkeelan
Every morning I escape grace and wake in an unfamiliar bed.

There's a woman next to me. We're lying side-by-side like two corpses in a double-wide coffin.

I have no idea who she is.

She's old, but beautiful. I probably know her. I hope I do.

Her gaze is on me.

I try to ignore the fortissimo beat of my heart, scrambling for something to say, something to ease the worry in her eyes.

I know I'm supposed to recognize her, but I don't.

I'm supposed to know her name, but I don't.

"Good morning, Dear. I love you."


Robert Ceres
Her head poked in, gaze full of questions. Apparently I’d stolen her fort.

“I’m sorry. Scram,” my voice weak with cold.

The dog whined, then squirmed in, warming the air enough to silence my aching, chattering teeth. I slept. Dreamed of panting, then whining, growling, biting.

Not a dream. “Ow, ouch.” I was too weak to pull away.

Barking. Angry. Harsh. She struggled to leave, kicking my stomach, turning to bark in my face. Voices approaching.

“Yo, Scapegrace! Easy. What’d you find? A—Dad? Dad!! It’s a kid.“

Bright light, the dog just whining now. Hands reaching in.

Fading out...

Nate Wilson
I will not beg a zebra mussel for forgiveness.

The beastly bivalves take over our lake and starve thousands, yet we're supposed to be grateful for cleaner water? No. I'm done paying.

Someone needs to take down this mollusc a peg.

"Race is a social construct," I say.

"Don't care. Apologize or owe triple the algae tomorrow."

"Stripes aside, we're not so different, you and I."

"Don't try to appeal to--"

"Except you're small."

"Careful..."

"And small-minded."

"Ooh, you're dead, Clam. Finished."

"Not yet."

With great effort, I dig in and drag myself directly at the infernal mollusc. Ramming speed!


The short list and the winner will be posted tomorrow at NOON (Eastern time).
Please feel free to weigh in on your faves, or what I missed, in the comment section!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Here it is! Contest #100

At long last, the day of the contest has arrived!

Contest #100!

The prize is pretty spiffy if I do say so myself. A copy of Vargic's Miscellany of Curious Maps,  which is one of my all time faves.



The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

gaze (provided by Melanie Sue Bowles)

scapegrace (provided byJulie Weathers)

scram (provided byLennon Faris)

forti (provided byMegan V)

fin (provided by thecomment column on 4/26/17)

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: scram/scrambled is ok but scram/secret agent man 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.

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

8. Do not tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.

8a. Never ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. There are no circumstances in which this is ok. (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: 7:25am, Saturday, May 20

Contest closes: 9am, Sunday, May 21


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 http://www.colindsmith.com/TreasureChest/

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

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!
ENTER!

oops! Too late; contest closed.

Results will be posted on Monday 5/22

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Being out in public while on submission

The Amazing and Brilliant conference is coming up in a couple of weeks.

Ordinarily I would wade through a writers' conference with happy anonymity, drink to my liver's discontent, and leave with a few new business cards (which I don't personally carry) go home, and report to my husband that I'm in the wrong career.

Then I'd boot up and carry on.

The good old days.

I'm looking through the attendee list, and seeing death traps everywhere.

For example, quite a few people from Publisher X are going, including Editor Mute who's had my manuscript for months.

Must I avoid him at all cost? Or, must I mention my novel has passed through his inbox?

How about this scenario: I encounter an editor from Publisher GotRox not the editor who passed on the manuscript, but a different editor. She politely asks about my work. Do I tell the truth? (Your colleague hated it) or do I pretend to be wait staff? (Me, a writer? Hahaha.)

Am I over-thinking this? I over-think everything, why not this?

You're a writer. This is par for the course.

Here's the horrible, terrible, no-good, rotten truth: most editors won't remember your name even if they read your manuscript recently. They will remember the plot points perhaps, but most of us don't keep names in our head like that.


Second, a conference is no place to discuss sensitive topics like submissions. If anyone asks how the submission process is going, your one and only answer is "GREAT!" because you never reveal your insecurities, or fears, or fretting to the reading public, let alone editors. That's for friends and family, or here on the blog under cover of OP anonymity.

If asked you say "my agent takes care of all that stuff. I keep her stocked with liquor so I never have to worry about those things."

In other words, you are not on the witness stand, and truth is not required. Most people who ask about the book or your submissions do so because they don't know what else to say. Go prepared with several topics you can steer the conversation toward. This is why you subscribe to the Washington Post. They will have all sorts of odd and wonderful news items that provide grist for the conversational mill.

Like the sea-monster story.

Or the skunk in a Coke can

and in a pinch, sex is always a good topic: and you thought Yertle was king of the turtles!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wait, that's all?

Friend of mine queried last summer, got multiple offers by October/November. Signed with agent awesome (great sales record - powerhouse in the category/genre) in December. After signing, communication was virtually non existent (3-4 emails total in six months). Author didn't mind. Figured it was just how this agent functions. After two rounds of edits with pretty limited editorial notes, agent says it might be best to step aside without much explanation at all.

Now that recently signed debut* author is again agentless with a book that never went on sub,

1) would protocol dictate that it's okay to reach back out to agents b or c who offered but weren't selected explaining the situation?

2) can author re-query or reach out to those who had partials/fulls who were interrupted by competing agents offer for rep and passed. Or

3) is author pretty much stuck writing a new debut and starting from square one (write new book, query, etc)?


(1) Yes
(2) Yes
(3) Nope

Your friend (who is NOT a *debut author because the book hasn't been sold, let alone published) missed one key element of the signing process: ask the agent offering representation how much work s/he thinks the novel needs before it can go on submission. It sounds like your pal thought s/he would sign with agent, and the ms would go on submision fairly soon thereafter.

This is almost never the case. I can think of only one author I sent out without revisions (Patrick Lee). Everyone else had at least some typos to fix and probably more than half had some major revisions.

My guess here is that your friend did not nail the revisions the agent was looking for. This happens more than any of us would like. It's actually one of the reasons I often ask for revisions BEFORE I sign someone. If they can't revise, it's a huge red flag. Editors will ask for revisions too. I can think of only a couple books that didn't have multiple-page editorial letters before the book was sent into production.

But back to your question: if the book has not been sent to editors, it's fine to query again. Your friend needs the "my former agent I parted ways amicably, before this was sent on submission" probably near the top of the letter for those agents being requeried.

Your friend should be prepared to talk about why s/he parted ways with the agent. When I see that in a query, I do not assume the agent is a dunderhead.







Tuesday, May 16, 2017

so, I'm really behind on stuff

After being down for the count this weekend, I'm a tad behind on blog posts (as well as every other single thing on my To Do list)



To hold you over, here's one of my favorite posts: it's about That Guy at booksignings.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Cation contest results

Argh! Sorry for the long delay in cation contest results! I was felled by a brutal headache yesterday, brought on by staring into the computer for too long, lack of coffee, and probably the stupid weather we're having here.  Nothing to do but medicate and sleep. (Sitting up of course; with a headache I can't lie down, and that's a whole 'nother lovely bout of fun.)

Your contest entries have cheered me immeasurably this morning!  Herewith the results:

E.M. Goldsmith's entry captured cat-ness for sure
I am the cat.
No, I am the cat.
I am quite certain I am the cat.
No. There can only be one.
Yes, that's me.

as did Linda Strader's
"Well, she better be offering something good, or I'm not moving."

as did CynthiaMc's
While you're up, bring us some tuna and the remote.

as did Claire Bobrow
We are magnifique, n'est ce pas?

That was not a question.


An insult I'm adding to my repertoire, courtesy John Davis (ms) Frain
And your mother is a lynx.


Homage to the last caption contest from Colin Smith
"This isn't the entry you were looking for."
"Colin didn't enter."
"You can go about your business."
"Move along."


I was wondering what the cats were celebrating earlier this month!
Cecilia Ortiz  Luna: 
"Cinco De Meow!"


Perfection (of course) from Kate Higgins
Stereo mind reiders


Pure brilliance from Craig F:
“She makes me tired, Cation.”

“Take a couple of electrons, Anion. I’ll rub against her, replace them back by static.”

It will help to know that cation and anion are real things. This is a terrific entry on several levels and thus it is our winner today. Craig F if you'll email me your mailing address and what kinds of books you like to read, I'll get your prize in the mail.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write and enter.  Not only were your entries fun to read, they were therapeutic as well!


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Cation contest!


What are these two fine felines thinking?

20 words or fewer!
One entry per person (or per cat!)
Post your answer in the comment column!

Contest opens now.
Contest closes around 7pm Eastern Shark time.

You're on your own for questions (sorry!) I'm fin deep in my requested reading stash.

Friday, May 12, 2017

"Nothing can save you"

I'm an amateur writer at best, but what do you do when a beta reader not only rips into your manuscript (which is fine) but also criticizes you as a writer? My last beta reader did just that.

The whole problem stemmed from a question I wasn’t able to answer to her satisfaction. To her, it seemed improbable that there could be humans on other planets. I told her there were theories that I wasn’t willing to go into detail about because 1.) it didn’t have anything to do with the story and 2.) I really hadn’t thought to expand on that particular detail. She persisted in getting an answer so I gave her a few theories.

This is a small portion of what she said in her 2,000-word email reply:

“Now, b/c my reaction was so strong, I decided to wait until I could discuss this with other writers… When I asked the group what they thought about this attitude the nicest ones responded the way I did. Both professors/authors gave me a look that screamed I’d just blasphemed the entire field of writing.”

“You aren’t ready to write. You need to scrap what you’ve written… and take a basic creative writing college course. The one lady suggested hers (and she’s a great teacher), but since you’re in GA I told her that wasn’t possible.”

“You need at least a bachelor’s intro level of understanding, if not a masters.”

“And if this isn’t something you can agree with then I’m afraid there really isn’t anything that can save your story.”

After reading her reply, I felt betrayed. I never gave her permission to share my manuscript or emails. To make things worse, she claimed to only have my best interest at heart.


I gave a polite response and thanked her for her help despite how I felt. I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but this one stings.

Oh sweet mother of godiva! First, pour yourself a stiff drink. You not only earned it, you deserve it. Second, erase that  For Your Own Gooder's name from your email list, your contact list, your "friend" list, your list of people you will ever ask for anything again.

She's quite clearly someone who takes great satisfaction in making people feel small.

There's a word for that...actually there are several words for that but let's just use this simple one: vile.

This Vile Person doesn't know how to critique.
She doesn't know how to help a writer.
And she has swathed herself in righteousness to cover her vile, mean-spirited self.

It's too bad you can't tattoo her in some way so other writers will not suffer at her hand.


Let's unpack this a little more: You said "To her, it seemed improbable that there could be humans on other planets."

Unless you are writing non-fiction, you can have cats on Mars, you can have cats solving crimes, and  cats can have publicists and lawyers. 

It's a novel: YOU CAN MAKE IT ALL UP!

Now, the real question here is could this particular reader, vile as she is, suspend disbelief for the notion of humans on other planets.  If she could not, that might be a weakness in the story, but you'll notice she didn't know to say that. She tried to get you to justify an artistic choice.  That's like asking why Picasso chose blue instead of purple.

Second, she passed along cruel and unhelpful comments to bolster her position. That's Not Only Do I Think This, All My Friends Think So Too. It's the behaviour of a third grade bully. Again, not the conduct of a self-actualized adult or even a person who understands the role of a beta reader.

This is my favorite part of her reply to you: The one lady suggested hers (and she’s a great teacher).
This is a textbook example of someone you don't want reviewing your work: somoene who has an agenda for "fixing" what you've done wrong. I'm sure you've heard of the "agents" who tell you they can help you fix things; here's a little side editorial service they run. (I should also note it's a poorly written sentence.)


All of us who read pages either for a living, or as a service to fellow writers, have come across people who need more help than they realize. You may fall into this category (although I have doubts given that your email is pretty damn cogent.)   If you do, a beta reader might say something like "it's hard to get into the story because there are a lot of mistakes that bring me out of the story." Or, "I was never able to fully believe that humans could be on other planets." If something is truly terrible (and yes, I've seen that) you simply step back from being a beta reader and say "I'm sorry, I'm unable to read this for you."

It's clear to me that Vile enjoys being the arbiter of what Is and Is Not the One True Way. People like that are zealots. Zealotry is the antithesis of artistry.

I have but one question and it is this: how the ever loving hell did you get mixed up with this person? The answer to that is important because the takeaway here is that you chose poorly in selecting a beta reader. You MUST figure out how this happened so as to avoid repeating it. 



There is no way her words won't continue to cut at you. Words do that. It will take a while to stop thinking about what she said. One way to do that (and you do need to stop that) is give yourself a mantra to say every time you think of her, and a specific thing to divert your mind to instead. (I use the rosary for this; when I think of something that is unsettling me I recite one Hail Mary and then turn my mind to something else. It takes practice but it works.)

Here's your takeaway: Not only was she wrong, she's a toxic waste of human space, and you deserve better. Your job now is to figure out what got you ensnarled with her so as to avoid doing this again.

I'm sorry this happened to you, and I hope that you'll be able to connect with better readers soon.



I have some other suggestions on dealing with Vile.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

This novel seems very weak


I absolutely love the Harry Potter series. I've read it 15 times and I never get tired of it. I wish I could live in those worlds. So I'm not coming from a spot of jealousy — at least I don't think I am — but either way, it's not relevant to my question.

My question is actually related to the writing within however. I'm only going to use the first book, Philosopher's Stone, as an example. All throughout I notice many examples of what professors, teachers, and editors often call weak writing.

1) The use of filter words such as — seemed as an example:

As he sat in the usual morning traffic jam, he couldn't help noticing that there seemed to be a lot of strangely dressed people about.

It seemed to be a silver cigarette lighter.

It seemed that Professor McGonagall had reached the point she was most anxious to discuss, the real reason she had been waiting on a cold, hard wall all day...

It seemed to be coming from a large metal tub in the sink.

All in all, there are 72 instances of seemed used in book one, most of which "seem," to be acting as a filter word. That's without addressing any of the other common filter words.

2) The extensive use of adverbs: There are too many examples to cite, and I personally like adverbs anyways! When there is enough plot, they don't slow down the story for me, but editors generally hate them.

3) The overuse of exclamation marks and ellipses: Once again, a faux pas when taking writing classes and studying literature — I don't personally mind them and I think in a children's book they convey meaning easily.

4) Writing in passive vs. active voice: He bent his great, shaggy head over Harry and gave him what must have been a very scratchy, whiskery kiss.

There are many other examples of this in "he was, she was type sentences.

5) Use of weak words like very: Harry found their way into the house, rolled up and hidden inside each of the two dozen eggs that their very confused milkman had handed Aunt Petunia through the living room window.

It was very cold outside the car.

He was in a very good mood.

6) Show don't tell:

For a famous place, it was very dark and shabby

He pushed his trolley around and stared at the barrier. It looked very solid.


There are countless examples for telling instead of showing, above in this email, as well as all throughout the book.

Obviously JK Rowling does more things well than she does poorly; the plot all throughout is incredible, the underlying story, the world she creates, her characters and her conflicts are excellent.

My question is: As writers should we be more focused on the story, than on "good," writing? By good I mean technically sound writing that editors, agents and teachers often ask for.

How much credence should we give to the general rules about what constitutes good and bad writing?

Have you ever watched an episode of Law & Order with a lawyer? Or a cop? Or CSI with a forensic technician? Or The Proposal with an editor? Or The West Wing with anyone who's ever worked in DC?

Mostly they scream at the TV. There is often throwing of objects, stomping, and mass consumption of liquor to ease the pain.

Those TV shows get so much wrong it's really painful to watch for some folks. I loved The American President the first two times I saw it. Then I paid attention and I can barely watch it now. (Although "I'll be in the Roosevelt Room giving Lewis oxygen" remains one of my favorite movie lines of all time.)

My point is this: you're a writer so you look at things with an expert writing eye. Most readers don't even come close to seeing what you see.

James Patterson will never win an award for beautiful sentences or complex plotting but by god the man makes more money writing books than I'll ever see (and is very generous to libraries with it I might add.) While he hasn't sold more books than God, I think he might be second on the list.

We have this discussion in the office a LOT. If something is compelling but not great writing, do we take it on, hoping it will sell?


JK Rowling didn't sell despite "weak writing." I doubt most of her readers even noticed. She sold because she had, as you point out: incredible plot, compelling story, an enticing strange world, and characters we couldn't get enough of.  Give me that, and I'll spot you how ever many extra verys and seems you've got in your ms.















Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Betabaloo


What do you do when all of your beta readers have totally different advice?

I've traded beta reads on the first section (approx. 50 pages) of my manuscript with four other writers. I was expecting the beta read to unearth any overarching issues, but instead the feedback barely overlaps. A scene one person loved another hated. A line that gave someone an ah-ha moment is tagged by another person as unnecessary. There are a couple small overlapping points, but for the most part I'm having trouble finding patterns.

Obviously, to some degree this is how books are. A book I love might not be someone else's cup of tea. A scene that speaks to me might not speak to others.

But in the context of polishing a manuscript till it shines, how should I interpret this?If there's no consistency in feedback, how do I proceed with editing?

Do I just go with my gut, taking each piece of feedback individually?

Do I go solicit a few more betas to see if they add any consistency to the mix (or just continue to complicate it)?

Do I focus on the one or two consistent things (two of three people wanted to see more of one of the scenes - an easy fix) and assume a lack of overlap means there aren't any glaring red flags in those first 50 pages and it's time to get some full manuscript reads?

Or something else entirely?


This reminds me of a very old, but always painful comedy sketch in which a lady trying on her new hat says to her husband "I'm going to wear this to the Ladies auxiliary meeting today; what do you think?" and he replies "Shouldn't you put on a dress?"

Because of course, she was asking about the hat whilst wearing her only her slip.

Her failure to ask a specific question led to the very unsatisfactory answer.

So first: what are you asking your beta readers to do?

"Do you like this?"
"Do you think this works?" might be too general.

"Where did you stop reading?" or "where did you get confused?" are often what I ask my interns to tell me when they're reading something for me.

As to your question: beta readers are useful for pointing out problems, but not fixes. If there's no consistency in what they say, you've probably got a book that doesn't have big problems. Not every reader likes every book.

But only probably.
In  reading only a chunk, rather than the whole, you might not have all the info you need.  A lot of structural problems show up after page 50 and I've got the editorial notes to verify that on a lot of novels.

Time for some whole-novel reads.


I'm sure our coterie of enlightened commenters will also have contributions on this topic.







Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Yog's Law

How do you feel about the recent practice of "query contest hosts" requesting donations with entries? To me, it feels like it is coming dangerously close to a pay-to-play scenario. Is it right for hosts to profit off of these contests, when the agents participating are the ones adding value? The following is from the Query Kombat website:

Contests are very time-consuming, and in order to continue hosting each year, we’re asking contestants to give a $5-$10 donation when making their entries. Asking for donations is one way to ensure we’re able to give you the time needed to carefully consider every entry. Chosen Kontestants receive feedback from up to 27 agented/published writers on their query and first page, plus the ability to query agents they otherwise may not have connected with. Some agents even read requested contest entries before the rest of the slush pile! All Kontestants, chosen are not, receive free slush tips from the hosts and the camaraderie that develops from entering contests together. Many writers find lifelong critique partners and good friends from these contests (I did).


Donating this year is strictly voluntary. Giving a donation does not increase your chances of being picked. Giving less than $5 or more than $10 will also have no impact on your chances. Donating will not affect how many rounds a person makes it through if chosen. People who are not able to donate will not be disqualified.

Maybe it's because I'm a volunteer that this rubs me the wrong way. I understand that hours can add up when you're coordinating hosting an event, I've planned many myself. But while I might ask for donations to Girl Guides of Canada or the Red Cross, I would never ask someone to compensate me for my time.

And these hosts already benefit in other ways. There's networking, increased traffic to their websites, and name recognition.

What are your feelings on query contest hosts soliciting donations?
Pretty simple; it violates Yog's Law which is money flows TOWARD the writer.

I also note with some acerbity that whoever wrote that explanation really doesn't know how to pitch for shit.

Anyone who think an effective pitch is "send money, but it won't get you anything", or worse "send money cause it's helpful to me but not beneficial to you" is delusional.

These nice, well-intentioned people are not flim-flam artists (versus for example these lovely folks),
they're just trying to monetize something they like to do. It certainly isn't illegal or a scam. It's not even shady. They're upfront about the money and who gets it and who pays it.


That said: money should flow toward the writer. That's the best rule of thumb to remember when considering anything of this sort.


Lennon Faris asked in the comment column

Yog bothers me. It feels inconsistent. I'm not clever enough to be a Devil's advocate, but I'm genuinely confuzzled.

People almost always have to pay money for a service they want (barring Query Shark in which you pay with blood). I can see why you would never pay someone to be an agent ("agent") for your novel, but a service is a service. Writers pay for conferences, pitch time at conferences, and critiques all the time. If you use your brains and reviews, you can generally spot a scam. This isn't the initial premise of the post, but I would consider a good critique money well spent.

So what's up, Yog??


This is a good question. The difference here is you are not paying for a service. What you get  depends entirely on whether you're chosen (Chosen Kontestants). The organizers say the money doesn't affect that, and I believe them, but it still means you're sending money to people for an unspecified result.

I'm not saying don't do this.
I'm saying that when you see something like this, remember that money should flow TOWARD the writer, and evaluate the merits of an offer based on that. In this same vein are submission fees for magazines or journals, contest entry fees, prize entry fees etc.

It might also help you to know that they can't set up a pay for query critique service with agents if the agents are members of AAR. The AAR Canon of Ethics is VERY clear on that (it's #8 on the list)


Monday, May 08, 2017

What to ask on agent reference calls



I'm a huge fan of the blog (have been reading it since the first time I started querying, which was more than six years ago). 3 books later, I've received several offers of representation, and am thrilled! I've asked these agents questions from your blog post highlighting what to ask in this situation, including requesting to speak to the agents' clients. My question is, (1) what should I be asking the agents' clients, and how do I even approach this? (2) Do I ask my questions via email? (3)What would the subject line be?


Let's take these questions in reverse order:

(3) What would the subject line be:
You want your subject line to be clear and informative, thus "been offered rep by Janet Reid"
would be a good way to start.
You want to leave out anything like "checking references" or "is she loony tunes" here.

(2) Yes.
Do NOT NOT NOT expect to call a client on the phone.
Do NOT do this on Facebook even in a private message. Do not do this on Twitter via Direct Message.

And if you do this in a public forum, you will find the offer of representation (at least from me) withdrawn VERY quickly. Doing that indicates you're too much of a novice on social media and will probably be tone deaf.

The best way to avoid any mistake here is ask the agent how to contact her clients.

(1) What to ask.
The first thing you want to know is what she's like to work with. How long does it take her to answer your emails. How fast does she turn around manuscripts? Does she read your work at all? Is she responsive when problems surface? Is she proactive (bringing ideas or projects to the table)

Would the client recommend her?
Would the client have any tips on building a good relationship with the agent?

I'm stunned sometimes to hear writers talk about what their agents don't do. The most startling one for me is offer any kind of editorial feedback on manuscripts. Almost nothing goes to an editor unless I've read it first, even manuscripts that are second or third books in a series.  I look at myself as the second set of eyes and the nit picky fact checker. I've caught lots of things that needed to be revised out of a manuscript. And I've heard from editors that they appreciate that what they get from me is a pretty clean draft.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Caption Contest results


Yesterday's caption contest provided some welcome comic relief to the week. Is anyone else just slogging along right now? I can't quite seem to find my joie de vivre these days, so your hilarious comments were very welcome.

Herewith the entirely subjective, and totally un-scientific results.

First, noted for his absence: Colin Smith.
Ok, so, I missed it. Honestly, I need supervision these days. This is what happens when you post things 20 minutes after you write them. I need to take my own best advice: let something sit for a while. Argh. (Sorry Colin!)


 

Steve Forti dared to go there!
Say "fiction novel" one more time. I dare you.
as did CynthiaMc
You didn't read all the queries on Query Shark.

Jennifer R. Donohue is exactly on target
I was told there'd be ham.

PAH  is both subtle and hilarious
Resting Bitch Face.

These all made me laugh out loud

Melanie Sue Bowles
That moment when your song comes on, but you're too cold to dance...

kdjames.com
You're making this whole "Man's Best Friend" thing harder than it needs to be.

As did Patricia L. Shelton , but somewhat with an ewww mixed in as well
Cover your mouth. Please.

Unfortunately for Theresa, the caption Celebrity Guest Judge was not Her Grace
All right, where's the Duchess of Yowl?
otherwise this would have been a sure fire winner!


In a Forti-esque tour de force Kitty!
Speaking of the Canon… Yeah, I lifted my leg on it. I’m a dog. What would you have done? In my defense, She said no before but now said yes “in a Twitter pitch fest.” So I asked her, “Where’s this twitter thing? I can pee anywhere.” I don’t think she heard me because she said, “When your life goes off the rails, try Twitter pitching. C’mon, let’s go home. I’ve got Some housekeeping to do. Plus, it’s time for a Caption contest!”

and in a stunning reminder of The World is Weird, this entry from Sam Hawke
If you brush the snow off right now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you.

was posted just about the time I was watching - for the first time mind you - the movie from which this is quoted. What are the chances?!


Hands down, not even close, the winner is Mallory Love
When you wake up and realize the 100th flash fiction contest isn't posted yet. ; )
Mallory Love if you'll email me with your mailing address and what you like to read, we'll fix you up with a prize!


Thanks to all of you who contributed captions and hilarity to this rather rainy dreary weekend.  And to Susan Pogorzelski for lending us all her wonderful Riley for the photo. 

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Caption contest!



Enter your caption for this photo in the comments section below.
Of course there's a prize!

Figure the contest will close around 7pm New York time.
(Here's how to figure out what time it is in NYC)

Friday, May 05, 2017

Margin Call and the value of a dive bar chanteuse

A client of mine and I were thrashing out ideas for a book recently, and I used the movie Margin Call as a comparable title.  My client had not seen the movie so we both retired to our respective sofas to refresh our memories.

I really love that movie. It's an absolute study in pacing and tension.

We reconvened the next day, extolling the movie again, when my client made a very interesting observation.  He said the movie is tense because the movie's gaze (ie the viewer) never turns away. There is literally no break in the main story line; no subplot, no segue for character development.

He said that's what makes the movie work, but it wouldn't work in a novel. It would be too short for starters, and the pacing would be too relentless. It would be claustrophobic.

Aha!

I stopped to think about what he said.  If you've seen Margin Call (and if you haven't you should! Right now!) you'll realize that we know next to nothing about the characters. We know Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) is a former rocket scientist ("the money here was more attractive" is one of my favorite lines.) We know Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) has a dog that's dying. We know Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) got fired that morning cause it's one of the very early scenes of the movie. And we know what Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) spends his money on.

As far as character development, it's so subtle you have to really think about it.

This is a forward motion, no pauses to breathe movie.

In a book, you need to give your reader pauses to breathe and characters that are more than one-dimensional

A book is a marathon, Margin Call is a sprint. At 107 minutes it's an Olympic paced sprint too.

So what's the point here? Don't leave your writer's notebook on the desk when you watch movies. I've learned a lot about pacing from watching movies. Both Margin Call, and another favorite Heat.
I've often mentioned that one of the best books about writing is actually a book about jazz: Waiting For Dizzy by Gene Lees.

Movies, and other art forms, can show you a lot about craft and style and discipline. It's not goofing off if you go to the movies, or go to a dive bar to hear the chanteuse. It's actually work, and I'll write a note saying so to your skeptical spouse as needed.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Twitter pitching

I don't participate in the manuscript cattle calls that happen on Twitter, so I hadn't heard about this problem until a colleague mentioned it.

Writer A, in whom she was interested, had participated in one of the many Twitter #Pitch events, gotten some bites from editors, and then sent the manuscript being considered by my colleague to the editors.

All of us at the bar listening to this groaned simultaneously.

Once you've sent your manuscript to an editor, that's mostly game, set, match for the editor and the publisher.

In other words, you may pick the wrong editor to send to (cause you have no way of knowing) and instead of getting interest or an offer from the right editor, you get a pass from the wrong editor.

If you send the entire manuscript that needs work, instead of a strategic submission of a partial 100 pages, you get a pass from an editor who sees only the problems, not an offer from the editor who sees possibilities.

In other words, the reason you query agents first, is our job is to strategize submissions, not just shotgun the manuscript all over town.

I understand how enticing it can be to get interest in your work is, particularly if you've been laboring on it for years, alone in your attic.

Don't shoot yourself in the foot by jumping the gun.

Always always always query agents first: at conferences, and now with #PitchFests.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Some housekeeping

I have no one to blame but myself for this (Sunday's post on the interruption at Malice Domestic started the whole thing) but our comment column is drifting far afield these days.

If we can hew closer to the topic I think fewer ruffles will be feathered, and that will be a good thing.


Comments need to be fewer than 100 words.
If you're regularly typing more, time to go have a drink and a read.

In case you want to do both:



I'm a devoted fan of Tracy Kiely's books, and if you love Nick and Nora movies and books, you will be too.
Plus, there's a fabulous dog!

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Where do I belong?

Is there a genre or sub-genre for "men's romance?"

Basically a story of a young man solving a business problem while making a few "conquests" along the way- until he finds true love.

Story doesn't seem to fit any of the standard categories.

That's cause it's not a category in a genre; it's general fiction.
There is a category of romance novels that have men as the main characters. Those are called (I think, but if I get this wrong let me know) hero-driven romance.

My most beloved former client Kari Dell wrote two of them. The most recent is Tangled in Texas. Notice the cover is just the cowboy, and while his shirt is unbuttoned, he's not shirtless, nor is he grasping a delightfully disheveled woman to his manly man chest.




If you're having a hard time figuring out category, there's nothing wrong with "commercial fiction."

Monday, May 01, 2017

Have I run out of agents?

I've been querying a particular novel for some time now. At the beginning of the query track, I made a list of "dream agents". Blew through those. Revised the query letter, sent out the next batch, expanded my list.... all those things you do in an attempt to improve one's chances of getting a full request, and possibly an offer. But I think I've come to the end of my agent list.

My issue is that I tend to write in two specific genres, with projects often crossing over. (I am pleased at how many authors are writing crossover novels between my two genres, so I know this isn't an outlier idea, and I'm never at a loss for comp titles.)

My list was comprised of agents who said they repped these two genres. While most agents have been form rejects or NORMANs**, those few who have offered personal replies, either on my initial query, or on a full request, have had good things to say about my novel... just not that it's suitable to their list at this time. Alas.

Looking for agents who rep both my genres has limited the field somewhat, enough that I've now reached the end of agents who are open to queries and who rep my two genres.

My question is, should I risk querying agents who only rep one of my genres (and say they don't rep the other), knowing that they might not be interested in projects that skew towards another genre?

Or am I better off putting this novel aside and waiting six months until my next novel is ready for querying (again, another cross-genre project), and start from the top of my list once more? I'm not looking for an agent to rep a single project. I'm looking for a long-term relationship with an agent who wants to stick with me for my career (or significant part thereof).
You don't mention which genres you're working in, but it's not the genre that might be tripping you up; it might be category.

Some categories just don't lend themselves to blending: Amish romance and serial killers; zombies and police procedurals; dystopian chick lit.

My hunch is you're probably not testing those boundaries since you got some requests, but sometimes agents look at something and think "nawww" without even reading to see if you pulled off Bakers in Space: The Final Fondue Tier

That said, I'm firmly in the camp of query every agent you're willing to work with regardless of what they say about genre or category. Sometimes we don't know we're looking for you till we hear from you.

As an example,  I have a science fiction project on my list right now. If you were to ask me if I rep sf I'd say no, but this novel blew my sox off, and I will sell this thing if it requires I read the entire SF canon to be able to talk about it knowledgeably.

Thus: query everyone.

And, you might enter some of those Twitter manuscript cattle calls too. Those things are stalked by younger, less well known agents who are building their lists; agents you might not have heard of but work for agencies you have.



Junior agent stalking manuscript


**NO Response MeAns No agents 
(NORMAN is a coinage of this blog; don't feel foolish you didn't know what it meant.)