Friday, December 02, 2016

Holy moly it's December writing contest!

Where the hell did the year go? And can it go faster?

Let's celebrate the almost end of a pretty bad year with a writing contest! The usual rules apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:


3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: hope/hopefully is fine but hope/shopkeeper is not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contest opens: 7:42am Saturday 12/3 (Eastern Shark Time)

Contest closes: 9am Sunday 12/4 (Eastern Shark Time)

  what time is it in NYC?

If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's
an .xls spread sheet here

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

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!
Rats! Too late!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Follow up to yesterday's post

In response to yesterday's post Dena Pawling had some follow up questions:

Janet sent out 12 emails, 6 to writers who are still waiting and 6 to writers who presumably waited a while and then received their response. Eight responded.

1. Of the four who did not respond, were they writers who were still waiting or had they already received their response?
JR: all of the non-responsers were writers who had heard back from me.
2. If the latter, what was the response they received?
JR: All of them were passes
3. Assuming for the sake of this question that the four did not respond because they didn't think you'd like their response, would their response have been the opposite of the ones who actually did respond?
JR: I'm not sure I understand this question.

4. Changing up the question and redirecting it back to Janet - How many ms did you simply not request for the reason that you lacked reading time?

 JR: zero. If I think something has merit I ask to see it. When I get behind on reading, I stop doing other things or put off doing things, but I don't ever just pass because of time.

The ONLY time this is not true is if I've requested the full, and the author writes to me that she has an offer and the time frame to reply is less than a week. It's VERY hard for me to find time to read things at the last minute.
5. If a 2/3 response rate from writers to agents' queries is typical, does that mean writers are more professional or less professional than the significantly-lower percentage response rate of agents responding to writer queries?
JR: More of course!

And as proof of that, here's one the emails I got in reply to my thank you for helping me out email:
 Glad to help. In fact, you could ask me 47 more questions and I don't think we'd be even yet.
Here's one to get you started in case you're stuck for ideas: "Would you like to sign our agency contract?"

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Just pass and get it over with instead of dawdling"

A recent commenter said

Why do agents hold onto manuscripts so long? If you're too busy, pass and let the wrter move on. A month, sure. Two months, three, okay. But seven months? That's terrible.

There aren't too many industries where this is acceptable, and it's only given a pass in publishing because writers are desperate for the attention of editors. But just because an agent can get away with it doesn't mean that they should.

My initial reaction was "authors would rather wait than have me pass just cause I haven't gotten to it yet" but then I realized I did NOT know that for a fact.

So, I decided to ask. I emailed six writers who had heard back from me (yea or nay) on their requested fulls, and six others who were still waiting. Most had been waiting more than the 90 days I ask for in my initial reply to them.

I asked:

If  you had a choice between hearing back soon and an agent saying no simply due to a lack of reading time, would that be preferable to waiting for many (many!) months?
There's no downside to brutal honesty here. I'm genuinely curious.

Here's what I heard:

Writer One
Janet, you are absolutely correct . . . well at least from my POV. I would rather wait for you (especially you) than receive a blanket “I’m too busy to read your ms” form rejection email. I don’t see the downside of waiting.
If you’re the only agent that has requested my ms, why would I pull it? And if several agents have requested it, again, why would I pull it? If one of the other agents who has my ms says yes, then I’m in the catbird seat and can write the email every debut author dreams of sending. And, if they all reject it, then again, I still have one more bullet in the chamber. So again, why would I pull it?

Agents are not trying to “get away” with anything. Quite the contrary. You want my book to be as good as I think my book is. And nothing would make you happier than finding your next best-seller blockbuster. Not only is it your job but, from the agents I’ve met, you love discovering new writers. So if that takes an extra month or three, I’m willing to wait.
Janet, I hope this helps.
In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from you, um, whenever.

Writer Two

I really don’t care how long it takes someone to come back to me on my query, especially if they seem to be genuinely interested.  My theory is that it’s all about timing.  If the agent is busy and has a lot of clients, you probably will either not hear back or will get that short “not for me but hang in there” response.  If the agent has a little time, recently lost some clients, decided to ramp things up for whatever reason, you might get a real response.

Writer Three
Speaking for myself, I much prefer waiting for rejection than being rejected immediately. But waiting doesn't mean the writer should hover around their computer waiting for THE e-mail. There are always more novels to write. In fact, by the time the agent rejects one novel, a writer might have finished another and feel even more confident that this is the novel that will definitely SELL! Thus, a writer need never feel depressed.

At the same time, I imagine most agents would feel a bit depressed if they learned that the manuscript that had been yellowing on their desk for the last six months was scooped up by a competitor and sold for a six-figure advance. Plus, a bidding war ensued for the film rights. .  

Don't think the above hasn't happened. And recently.

Writer Four

I might have a little more perspective on this than most since I have worked in the book biz for some years now, and I have seen how slowly the sausage gets made, but here are my thoughts.

First off, this person just sounds scared to me. They can’t take the waiting so they would rather you just say “No" so they can check it off the list and move on. I don’t know in what industry, or world, that kind of impatient thinking would yield a better result. I think a lot of people assume that writing the book is the longest part of the process, but it clearly is not.

Second, even if it is a “No” or “Pass" after you read the manuscript the feedback is worth the wait. I got a few polite boilerplate rejections that offered no feedback, but the stuff you pointed out about the first 50 pages having to much backstory and not having any plot, really stuck with me. It has caused me to really rethink how the story needs to be told. I think it is going to make me a better writer. I am all ears if you ever want to talk in more details about the story, characters, or anything else.

So in answer to your original question, YES I would rather wait six (or more) months to hear back from you either way with some feedback than to have you say “No" just because you are too busy to read it right away. I think most writers would be with me on that. By the way, you were great about getting back to me when I reached out to follow up, and you even let me know when you were moving agencies - that feels like a fair deal to me. Bottom line your opinion matters and I know you have a lot to read so I’m not going to rush you.

Writer Five
It's a really interesting question. Personally, I would hate to think my book got passed over due to a lack of time to read it. I'd rather wait those seven, or eight, or nine months (or more) to know the book was read, even if it ends in a rejection. Otherwise, there would always be that what if in the back of my mind. That would drive me insane. You also did a good job of keeping in contact with me and responding right away whenever I sent a follow up. I think if you hadn't have done that it would have been a bit more painful to wait.

That being said, I do have more a laid back personality and I think that has a lot to do with it as well. I have a friend I would keep updated about the progress, and she would get irritated on my behalf. But she is a very precise, strict deadline kind of person (she's an attorney).

I'm sorry, I don't know if any of this was helpful or not. Personally, I didn't mind the wait. I'm fully aware that my book isn't the only one you'd be reading, and that you would probably have about a bajillion other things on your plate at the same time. You spend a very long time writing a book, what's another seven months wait in the long run? It's like a hiccup.

Writer Six
I would always prefer to wait over getting a "no" due to mere lack of time.
But on the other hand, if I had sent out a dozen queries on the book and nine agents responded positively, that changes things quite a bit!
Then there's the question: Does the agent have an exclusive requirement in order to read a full? I don't know the general practice on this, but I would hope that the exclusivity requirement would come with a promise to read/respond by a certain date.

Also, updates from the slow agent would go a long way towards building trust. "Hi, I haven't gotten to your MS yet, but don't give up on me. There are 3 (9) MSS ahead of you, so please be patient a little longer."

Yes, exclusives (which stink and also smell) should have a SHORT time limit.


  Writer Seven

With absolute certainty, I would rather wait extra [fill in the blank up to 12] months before asking an agent to pass on it due to a lack of reading time. I suppose there is some number of months where you'll begin to think that an agent doesn't have time for you on their roster if it takes them too long to respond. Off the top of my head, I'd say that number is between 7 and 12 months. However, that doesn't translate to "time to pass because it's taken so long." Rather, that translates more closely to "time to nudge and find out WHY it's taking so long."

If I nudge after 7 to 12 months, and an agent doesn't respond to my email, that's telling. (As in, telling me to search elsewhere because they don't have time or me.) However, if I nudge and an agent says something akin to "You again? Remember I said patience is a virtue. I'm popular, what can I say. My stack of requested fulls is getting shorter, and yours is getting eerily closer to the top. Hang with me another couple months." Well, then I'm right back to saying I'll give them more time to read rather then pulling my ms back because it's been too long. Just show me you still have interest, and I'll show you respect by granting the time.


Writer Eight (who has experienced many months waiting not just once, not just twice but THREE times with me) 

Though everyone would like to hear as soon as possible, I can't imagine they'd rather receive a quick turn-down than a reply after an agent has had an opportunity to take a good look at the work. We struggle mightily just to get our manuscripts in someone's hands who will give us an objective evaluation. If that requires a longer than normal wait I guess it's just one of the things we have to put up with.  

Bottom line: No one in my requested fulls list simply wanted me to pass after 8 weeks so they could move on.

I know waiting sucks.
I also know it's simply part of general trade publishing.
If you just can't tolerate waiting, there's a perfect alternative available now: self publishing electronically.  You can write something and publish it the same day.

Or you could work for a daily newspaper and see your work in print the very next day.

Or you can write a blog and not only see your work the next minute, you can voice your opinion on all matter of things. Like those dastardly slacker agents who are lollygagging about.

Thanks to all of the writers who helped out on this blog post.
(I'm sure they all would rather I was reading their manuscript!)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What I'm looking for: deftness and artistry

It's an ongoing battle to figure out why a book works for me, or more likely, does not.
I've spent a good deal of the past week reading requested fulls. Some were just not for me, others weren't ready for publication, and some just didn't work.

Some felt like they had all the right components but the writing was simply not deft or lovely.  Now, quantify that!

Maybe this will help:

This is the Williamsburg Bridge. I think of it as mine, although no one has offered to sell it to me yet. It's the bridge I walk over to get to work. It's functional and useful. While I love it, I'm not blind to the fact it is utilitarian, not beautiful.

W'burg Bridge about 1904 when it was built

If you want a beautiful bridge, you need to look two bridges south to the Brooklyn Bridge.

My point is this: the purpose of both these bridges is the same. The knowledge available to the engineers and construction workers was similar.  One bridge was built with an eye toward beauty. One bridge was not. One bridge is a major tourist attraction. One bridge isn't (and thus has much greater utility for me and other everyday walkers!)

When I look for projects, I'm looking for the Brooklyn Bridge, a project that transcends brick and mortar, makes something heavy look light and airy, and you can walk an elephant across with no fear of a sudden swim.

And of course, it's why you query widely. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Timeline for querying a second novel

Currently two agents have requested partials on a cross-cultural YA Coming of Age story.

I also have a quite different novel—about narcs in high school-- in the polishing stage right now which I can query at the end of the month.

I understand agents are busy, and that they may reject and never even get back to me. I don’t mind that. but how much time should I give the partials before I start querying the second novel?

The partial requests are 2 weeks old on the first,  and about a week on the second.

At this stage of your career you have to press ahead on YOUR timetable, not an agent's. If you wait for agents, you'll be writing geezer lit not YA by the time you hear back.

If your novel is ready to go, send it out.

What you need to be careful of is sending the second novel to people considering your first. Don't do that. 

If an agent has passed on your first novel, you can query with the second, but if the agent has not, leave them off the submission list for novel #2.

And just a bit of inside info here: all those agents and agencies that say "if you haven't heard from us in 30 days, assume it's a pass" are nowhere NEAR that caught up most of the time.  I'd give those folks at least 90 days if not 120.  I know for an ironclad fact that some of my colleagues are still working through queries from September (myself included, although I'm more caught up now than I was yesterday!)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Duchess of Yowl becomes the Duchess of Yule

Duchess of Yowl: Thumbs! Summon my palanquin, I'm heading out.

Me: Your grace, it's rather cold out, are you sure you want to be gamboling about the streets of New York?

DoY: I'm needed to grace the top of the Christmas tree.

Me (suspiciously): What Christmas tree?

DoY: The tree they brought in just for me. I saw it on the news.

Me: Your grace, I thought you confined your tv viewing to Animal Planet and America's Most Wanted?

DoY: You put the remote on the side table out of my reach. I couldn't help it.

Me: So, where is this tree?

DoY: The center of town of course, the only place suitable for me.

Me (feeling clever): What address are you giving the palanquin bearers?

DoY: Down Broadway, left on 50th.

Me: Oh my god, you're going to Rockefeller Center.

DoY: I prefer to think of it as the location of my tree.

Me: It's 94 feet tall! You'll need an oxygen mask!

DoY: Clawless commoner. I am high-born royalty. Rarefied air is my preferred O2 level.

Me: And you're planning on being the star on top of the tree?

DoY: Of course. Who else would even be remotely qualified?

Me: So, you have an invitation to do this?

DoY: It was lost in the mail.

Me: Was the address Duchess of Yowl, up Broadway, left on 70th?

DoY: Aha! You did get it!

Friday, November 25, 2016

How much of a PITA can you be?

Yesterday's post on nudging gave rise to this comment from blog reader delicartoons.deLLcartoons (as I recently "discovered" ie was told very nicely!)

>solid professionalism. In other words, in a way that underscored she'd be a pleasure to work with.

I know you've mentioned this before, but how important is professionalism? Would you refuse to work w/ a highly talented and skilled writer if said writer was more of a pain in the ass than red-hot caltrops on your chair?(1) Would you work w/ a writer who was far from ready, if said writer displayed excellent manners and a professional attitude?(2)

Would you suspect the writer's attitude might go public, and would lose too many potential readers.(3)

In your post "How to be Stupid" you discuss how rudeness can cause a writer to lose a publisher, especially a small publisher. You suggest that '(i)f you're the kind of person who flies off the handle or needs "translation services" an agent is a good medium between you and the publisher.' But how much rudeness will an agent take?

Obviously I need more things about which to worry. "Am I polite enough to my potential agent?" should be a good one.

Please. Thank you. I appreciate your time and effort. I apologize. And I hope you have a nice day.

If you're even thinking about this, you're going to be ok.

The writers who end up in trouble are the ones who are either oblivious or don't care.

Let's address your questions one by one:

Would you refuse to work w/ a highly talented and skilled writer if said writer was more of a pain in the ass than red-hot caltrops on your chair?

What kind of PITA is the writer? Are they meticulous about their writing and thus working right up till the deadline, causing everyone to tear out their hair? I love those writers. Line 'em up.

Is the writer unable to follow directions, or certain s/he knows the right way without asking, and when corrected, still can't get it right? Not so much. No one is born knowing all the minutiae of publishing but most clients pick it up on the first go-round. The ones who don't or can't, again, not good candidates. Those people are generally weeded out before signing though. I can spot 'em pretty quickly now.

Is the writer rude to his/her editor, publisher, the minions in my office? No dice. Unless the writer is earning multi-millions, there's little chance I'll put up with that. Life's too short to work with people who create more problems than they're worth.

(3)Would you suspect the writer's attitude might go public, and would lose too many potential readers. Yes. And that can be a huge problem. HUGE.

(2)Would you work w/ a writer who was far from ready, if said writer displayed excellent manners and a professional attitude?

I expect every writer I work with to do this. It's not a bonus. It's not something that's an afterthought.

Again, if you're even wondering about this, you're going to be just fine. Worry instead about those plot holes in chapter 11, they're much more likely to trip you up than this is.

More on Nudging

I've had a requested full from a writer for lo, these many months now.

[Ok, seven]

She's been in touch with me a couple times, always very pleasantly, always in a way that reinforced her solid professionalism. In other words, in a way that underscored she'd be a pleasure to work with.

Her most recent email:

 I have to admit that I read your blog post this morning, and was debating whether or not I should give you a little poke. As you can see, the poking decision won over the not poking decision, but that's also because I re-read our chain and realized you told me to follow up with you again at the end of October regarding [Title] :) I blame my delayed follow up on how quick these last few months have gone! Seriously, I can't believe it's November already.

At any rate, here's another picture of Comet because at this point it would be a shame for me not to include him:
Comet, hoping I've actually gotten some reading done!
I realized the key ingredient to successful nudging here is she had permission to do so. In fact, all the writers who send me full manuscripts have that explicit permission.

I'm not sure a lot of other agents do this.

If they do not, one thing writers should ask when sending a requested full is "When should I check back with you?"

I do this with editors a lot. I let them set the reading schedule since they know more about what's on their plate than I do.

And of course, it never hurts to employ the secret weapon of dog and cat photos.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Duchess of Yowl has a sinking spell

Duchess of Yowl (early this morning): Thumbs! THUMBS!

Me (rousted from sound sleep): Wha? WHAT?


Me (stumbling about, looking for glasses, or cat, or both) Where are you?


A cacophony of sound erupts from the television.

Me (befuddled): Your grace, are you in the television?

DoY (muffled):  Clearly not. Svelte as I am, even I do not fit inside a flat screen tv.

Me (now also looking for remote, and/or glasses, and/or cat): Let me turn on the light.
Oh good, it's 3am. Just the right time for a little cat hide and seek.

DoY: Get me OUT of here!

Me (spotting movement on couch): ok, are you under the cushions?  (removes cushions)
No you are not. Wait, (pulls afghan from behind back cushions, and unrolling cat)  there you are!

DoY: Finally! I was set upon by the evil afghan when I was walking along the back of the couch. It tried to eat me!

Me: Clearly the afghan is in league with the vacuum cleaner.

DoY: Evil beasts, I don't know why they are allowed to live here.

Me: Entertainment value.

DoY: I should be all the entertainment you require.

Me: You're a double act.

DoY: Speaking of acting, shouldn't you be performing your  role of tuna can opener?

Me: Of course your grace. Here you go.

DoY (through tuna scented whiskers): Thankfully, some decent service in this place.

Me: Happy Thanksgiving your grace.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Still prone

Still have the stuffing knocked out of me.
More when I'm up off the mat and back in the battle.

Monday, November 21, 2016


You’ve posted about what you’re looking for in good manuscripts.  But what about good scotch?  As a fellow scotch drinker, I’m curious about your preferences.  What do you drink most often?  What would you like to drink if someone else is buying (like a rich uncle)?  Are there any you’ve tried and would decline, even if Uncle Vitruvius is buying?

This question gets filed under the Good Intentions that pave the road to hell.

If I answer it, I risk people sending me whisky. Risk you say? Risk you scoff? RISK???
Yup, risk.

Some years back there were a bunch of us on Twitter yakking about cupcakes. Next thing you know we couldn't go a day in the office without a cupcake delivery dude showing up.

Such problems! I hear you laughing as you read this.

Well, ok, it was a nice problem, but here's the real problem: writers see this kind of stuff and think they have to send cupcakes, or whisky, or cabana boys.

It adds to the stress level of writers who are already stretched pass the sanity point on the important stuff like when to nudge, and if they should use Courier or TNR font.  And don't get me started on the obsession over where page numbers should be located.

Thus, I stopped answering these kinds of fun questions a while back.

You mean well, and I love Scotch but my goal here is keeping writers off the rodent wheel of obsession, not increase the pace.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Return of the Duchess of Yowl

Her Grace, The Duchess of Yowl: Ring up the Legal Beagle, I intend to sue these scofflaws at once!

Me: [Dialing 212-BIT-EYOU] At once your grace, but what is the problem here?

DoY: Look at this menu on the television screen!

Me: [peering] No Animal Planet?

DoY: No you furless twit, look again

Me: These are home and fashion shows Your Grace. For people who like to decorate their homes and sew clothes.

DoY: They certainly do not have MY permission to discuss me while they do so!

Me: Your Grace, I'm not sure they even know who you are, let alone are discussing you.

DoY: Everyone knows me. Everyone discusses me.

Me: [aside] I believe we have our next candidate for president here.
Your Grace, back to the menu, what are you reading that has gotten you incensed?

DoY: Look! Right there! DIY! Duchess I am of Yowl. ME! They're using me to promote their show! I am suing! Where is that lawyer??

Me: [hanging up phone] Your Grace, That's D eye Y not D oh Y. It stands for Do It Yourself. Not Duchess of Yowl.

DoY: you mean they are NOT talking about me? 

Me:No Your Grace, I'm sorry, they are not.

DoY: Ring my publicist!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

What you said, and what you really meant!

Writer: Hi Janet, Just checking in on my novel that you requested 90 days ago. Hope all is going well!

Translation: you said you needed 90 days. It's been 90 days. C'mon!!

Writer: Hi Janet, Wow, who knew summer could get here so soon! Hope you have a great vacation planned.  Just checking in on my novel sent 1/1/16!

Translation: Look at the calender you sloth! It's been six months! Twice as long as you said!

Writer: Hey Janet, I'll be away on vacation for the month of August, just in case you need to reach me.

Translation: I'm checking in to rehab after eight months of increasingly strange behaviour brought on by my anxiety waiting for you to read my novel!

Writer: Janet, just a quick note to say I'm back from vacation. Hope all is well with you!

Translation: Nine months and counting. I could have produced an entire human being, fully formed in the amount of time I've been waiting!

Writer: Snookums, Happy Thanksgiving!

Translation: Janet, you are a complete turkey for not reading my novel yet.

Writer: Dear Janet, I suddenly realized I need to revise the entire middle section of my novel. Can you put it aside till I send you a new version?

Translation: Thank god you're such a slow poke!

As we close in on the end of the year, I'm getting very deft writing in some very diplomatic notes from writers who've sent me requested fulls.  VERY!  In fact, it's some of the very best writing I see. I appreciate the panic you must be feeling at nudging me. (I nudge editors, I do know that anxiety quite well!)

It's very much ok to check in with me on requested fulls. One of these days, who knows, there might be a surprise different answer!

Translation: Hey Writer, I read your novel! I loved it!

Friday, November 18, 2016

I can't plot for love or money, should I quit writing novels?

Let me first start off by assuring you that this isn't a question about quitting writing.  I know how you feel about the Q word and, therefore, know better than to write in threatening to use it on myself.

But it is a question about changing course.  At what point do you ever feel - or would you advise a client to consider - a pivot to be inevitable?  Is there a certain number of years or number of attempts that would start to give you doubt?  I'm coming off of a particularly brutal 9-month round of querying and rejection, my 5th in ten years.  

 The feedback, not just for this novel but for every one that came before it, has been consistent.  To the point where I've written back to agents asking, very politely, if they really mean it or if their form rejections are always that gentle and encouraging.  I've been told they mean it.  "Love the writing," they promise.  "Beautiful language, great setting, believable characters.  But the story doesn't work."  The story. never. works.  

So often I see people getting rejected for the opposite reason, where they have awesome stories but struggle with the nuts and bolts of telling them clearly, and I feel envious.  Because I'm confident that they can learn the nuts and bolts.  Things like sentence structure and word choice can always be improved on and there are classes and workshops aplenty to address those kinds of issues.  I've taken lots of them myself.  

But you can't fix something that isn't there and I'm beginning to wonder if I'm just not a capable storyteller, if I'm simply missing that chip in my brain and I don't know how or where to get it.  Last night, for example, I confided my newest idea to my 10 year old daughter and she immediately pointed out a plot hole so big and obvious and embarrassing that I broke down crying as soon as she left the room.  I can't help but feel that, at this point in the game, I should know better.  I should be better.  I've always been a person who writes, it's been part of my identity for 20+ years, but I still don't feel like I am really truly a Writer.

So I have to write, obviously.  I can't not do it.  But I'm wondering if I need to try something different.  Not every writer is a novelist, after all.  There are other forms of expression - short fiction and essays and poetry - but even considering them feels, in a way, like giving up and I'm having a very difficult time mustering the energy to convince myself otherwise.  A push in either direction would be much appreciated.  A slap on the face if I'm being a big baby would probably work too.

I don't think you're being a big baby at all. I think you've identified a shortcoming in your skill set and you don't know how to fix it yourself.

This is why people have coaches.

It seems clear to me that you can either take steps to improve your story telling skills, or you can change what you write. Either of those are honorable options.

The question really is, which one will make you happy?

I believe that you know your purpose and true calling by finding and doing what brings you joy.

And I'm not talking about scotch and cigars and the tender ministrations of a well-oiled cabana boy who thinks crows feet are sexy. (Too much dino porn yesterday, our minds are in the gutter.)

What I mean is what motivates you to leap out bed in the morning clutching your stylus and reaching for your clay tablet (we are old school here, no fancy pen and ink stuff for us.)

If you want to tell stories, but just have a hard time with plot, enroll in a class on plot and story. Often it's just a matter of learning how to outline properly so you can see those plot holes sooner rather than later. Or partner with someone who does know how to plot and work together. Writing teams are all over the place these days.

And honest to godiva, quit beating yourself up about plot holes. It's not like we all haven't done or seen that before. I've seen entire novels without plot at all, let alone a gaping hole or two.

In fact, I was just telling our bright eyed and bushy tailed interns here about a client's novel which I shall Not, Understandably, Mention By name that had gone through my eyeballs, a beta reader, AND a copy edit before one of my interns caught a plot hole.

Verily how we did scamper to get that fixed before sending on submission!

And if the idea of enrolling in a class and working on a new novel just makes you shrink down and want to crawl under your duvet with a pint of Ben & Jerry's Hazed and Confused

well, here have a spoon. I've done that many a time.

Failure is not changing course.
Failure is not pursuing a new art form.
Failure is not trying new things.

Failure is stopping before you find joy.

There are a lot of things in this world that will make you cranky and crazy and scared.

You need joy. Don't let any avenue go unexplored until you find it.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

I'm not ready but the agent's #MSWL has MY BOOK!!

I'm currently drafting a manuscript that I'm loving, and I'm planning on querying it in about a year. An agent who I want to query just tweeted an MSWL** request that matches my manuscript, which of course, has me over the moon. But my novel isn't nearly ready yet. What I'm wondering is, since she did tweet about it, should I send her a private message on Twitter just to say that I'm working on it and plan on querying her in a year? Would such a message help me at all? Or would that be terrible etiquette and totally turn her off before I've even begun? Should I just leave the matter alone, use her tweet as extra motivation fuel, and hope like hell that she's still looking for a manuscript like mine by the time I'm ready to query?
Wow, yet a new way to torment writers! I love it!
I wish I'd thought of it!

Of course, you're savvy enough to know you can't query for an unfinished manuscript.
And you're savvy enough to ask before firing off an enthused email.

In fact, you know the right thing to do: it's the last sentence of your question.  
Leave the matter alone, use her tweet as extra motivation fuel, and hope like hell that she's still looking for a manuscript like mine by the time I'm ready to query?
In other words, you really do know what to do and that's really nice to see since I read a lot of queries from people who...well...don't.

For those of you who are worried that you'll miss your chance, stop. We'll be looking for good work next year, and the year after that.  Each of us may not be looking for the exact same thing next year that we are this year, but there are a lot of agents. Someone will be looking for you.


**#MSWL is ManuScript Wish List. Agents list things they are particularly looking for and hashtag it #MSWL on Twitter.

I heard my slithery competitor Barbara Poelle is looking for vegan dino porn. 200,000 words minimum, preferably in a comic sans font and if you can work in some emojis, all the better. Make sure to tell her I told you to query.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

If you're looking for a way to do something good

Today, as I was buying a new kind of daily planner (with the job at New Leaf, I'm going to need Page A Day, not Page A Week---yikes!) I noticed my donation destination for the Amazon Smile program. I'd set that account up years ago, hadn't really thought about it since.

I thought, hey, I should tell Melanie Sue Bowles about this! I'd love to be sending the Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary some dough (or better: hay!) Then of course, I realized I'd assumed she didn't know about it. (Bang head on desk Janet, you numbskull)

I looked on the list of groups one can support and sure enough, there it is and I changed my designated charity.

I don't think I've generated much money over the years, but some is better than none. It's easy and free. Click on Amazon Smile to learn more.

And if you need a persuasive reason, here's Jackson to encourage you:

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

It turns out I don't know it all...or didn't

You would think I'd have read Lou Berney by now.
He's been nominated for an Edgar more than once (won one of them too, or was it two he won?)

But, I hadn't.

Then I was called upon to moderate a panel at Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee. Since I've seen brilliant moderaters in action (Katrina Niidis Holm, I'm looking at you) I just copy what they do. Step one: read the books of the panelists.

Thus it was that a big ol' box o'books dropped on my desk a few weeks back and I had to take time away from work to read them. All of them. It was my solemn duty, you see.

"Wait a minute," said the clients. "All of them??"

Ok, ok I said, one from each panelist.

So I dove in to The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney.

And writer friends, holy moly.
What a read!
I didn't want it to end!

I slowed down. I stopped reading on the subway.
I stopped reading in the tub.
I only read on the couch, lingeringly, lovingly.

But then it did end, so I cleverly snuck a copy of his previous books inside "The Agent's Guide to Contracts on Carkoon" and read those too.

And they were just as wonderful.

Now, I do not mention this just to increase your To Be Read stack (although these books deserve your eyeballs!) but to talk about the insight I got while reading these books.

We always talk about world building in books that are other-than-here and now. World building for fantasy novels, for historical novels of all stripes.

But I realized that world building is just as important in a book set in the present day and time.  In The Long and Faraway Gone, I was right there as the story unfolded because the world building was done so subtly and so well.

I've been reading books for a good long time, and offering up my opinions on what makes good ones for almost as long.  And I just realized this now.

Which goes to show: you do learn new stuff even when you think you know it all (cause of course I do think I know it all)

world building is important no matter what you're writing.

Is there a particular book you credit with illuminating something about the writing process for you? Share in the comments column!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Have a purrfectly lovely day

"what humans are for"
"Why humans do the laundry"

This is Snuggles.
Clearly this is a cat who has trained her staff very well.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Six reasons I didn't request your manuscript

1. misused words.  
Writing gentile when you mean gentle, or maybe genial, is a huge red flag. I pretty much stop reading when I find them. Words are your tools. Misusing them is like showing me an ice sculpture you "carved" with a hammer.

How you will avoid this: proofreading. If you read your query out loud you'll find the homonyms (most likely.)  If you don't, well, that's a different problem that isn't going to be solved at the query stage.

2.  the number of free downloads of your story is less than 100,000 
The difference between how many people will pay $25.00 to buy your book and how many will say "yes" to "it's free" is a gap the size of the Grand Canyon.  I don't plan to spend any time explaining this to you.

I'm not all that keen on books that have been "market tested" anyway. I have confidence in my commercial taste. Maybe other agents feel differently.

How you will avoid this: Just tell me about the book. Save the bad news of your hamhanded marketing efforts for later.

3. "I'm following your query requirements exactly" and sending everything but what I specifically ask for.

How you will avoid this: I understand that every agent asks for different things. It's easy to get mixed up, send the wrong thing.  If you just leave out the part about how you explicitly follow directions, you're better off.  I've got a low tolerance for sloppiness right now. Make it easy on yourself.

4. Non-fiction book written by someone with no qualifications or education in the field.

How you will avoid this: you can write whatever you want, and publish it too. What you can't get is a publishing deal.  The answer to "why should anyone pay attention to what you say" is something you need to answer with credentials, not opinions.

5. Literally NOTHING about the plot in the query letter. NOTHING.

How you will avoid this: Ask someone to read your query. Then ask her/him "what is my book about?" If they can't answer the question at all, revise.  It helps to have the name of the protagonist and the choice they face, or the problem they need to overcome.

If there's no plot in the query, it's an automatic pass from me.

6. Telling me where you want your book submitted
I don't take well to authors who send me a query with a submission list. Time enough for that if I like your book. And unless you've worked in publishing, chances are you don't know enough to be making up submission lists. 

How you will avoid this: keep your query about your book. 

Bottom line: tell me about your book. If you can do that, you've done enough. Don't try to entice me with marketing numbers or your ideas on what make you special. Your writing should be special.