Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Friday, October 28, 2016

My kid is an amazing writer

I have a 17 year old daughter, who is an amazing writer. She is writing , and almost done, a book about a (redacted.) I was wondering if you could guide me on who to talk too about getting it published?

I could but I'm not gonna.

The best thing you can do for a kid who loves to write is just let them write.

Let them write 486 novels, short stories, novellas, poems, and cereal box copy if they want to.

Writing and being published are two very different things.

Publishing will break your heart. Writing will fill your heart.

You pick which one you want for your kid.

That said, if your kid wants to be published, she'll figure out how to google "how to get published" without any help from Mum, Dad, or Aunt SharklyOne.
And like a butterfly breaking free of her cocoon, it's important that your kid do the work herself. She needs to beat her wings against the barriers to get strong.

As in many things, it's better to sit back and let her try and fail a hundred times. It's only through that hundred failures that the strength to survive the publishing process is built.

And if you absolutely cannot help yourself, buy her a book on how to get published like Writers Digest Guide to Agents, and then sit on your hands and tape your mouth, then go bake cookies or adopt a kitten. Writers need cookies, and kittens. (The bourbon will come later.)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Sales figures

In my ongoing efforts to crush writers' hopes and dreams (one of my long time career goals as you know) I tried to give our own Donnaeve a conniption with this comment about sales figures on an earlier blog post.
For example, books that are sold to libraries don't get counted. Books that speakers sell in the back of the room don't get counted. Books sold at some indies don't get counted. This article gives more detail on what gets missed.
Donna gasped:
"For example, books that are sold to libraries don't get counted." WHAT???

"Books that speakers sell in the back of the room don't get counted." Okay, that one makes sense.

Books sold at some indies don't get counted. WHAT???

I think she might have looked like this when she was reading the blog

To keep Donna from fainting dead away, and to clear up some terminology let's talk about what "sales figures" can mean.

1. Sales figures can mean the number of actual books you sell. The ONLY place this info is found is on your royalty statement.  Your editor may tell you "oh wow, we shipped one million copies, that's great!" but remember, almost all books are sold on consignment. They can be returned. And boy howdy, do books get returned.  One hopes that returns will be low, but most publishers expect about 30% return rate. That means of the one million you shipped, only 700,000 are actually sold. Your editor doesn't know the returns number. The royalty department will. Thus, your royalty statement is the most accurate accounting of sales.

2. Sales figures can mean the number of books that Bookscan (a private company that collects sales data) sees.  They do not see sales to libraries (thus library sales aren't counted).  They don't see information from every indie store. They don't see sales information if you sell books at a speech in the back of the room.

BUT all those books (libraries, indies, BOR) are all on your royalty statement.

3. Sales figures can mean what people see on Amazon or, or PW Bestseller lists.  Again, those don't count everything, and Amazon's "rankings" don't measure quantity at all. They measure quantity over time, relative to other books.  It's a VERY volatile, unreliable number although I've known writers and agents to game out what the approximate number of books would have to be for a particular ranking.  (Yes, these people have way too much time on their hands, and yes, I might be one of them.)

So, when someone talks about sales figures, make sure you know which set they mean.

And if anyone asks you how your book is selling there's only one answer:


If you need more on why that is the ONLY answer, check out the blog post on book promotion here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Thank you God for failure

Yesterday's New York Times carried an article about the Republican nominee for President, drawing on the last extensive biographical interviews he gave before running for President.

The picture the article draws is of a man so afraid of failure that he literally cannot allow himself to do so. In other words, he readjusts reality to make failures into victories as a coping mechanism.

It's illuminating as all get out for what this man is all about, but for the first time, I started to feel sorry for him.

I feel sorry for him because without failure there is no real success. Unless you've fallen off your bike and skinned your knee, there's no soaring sense of achievement when you pedal to the end of the block and remain upright, skin intact.

I think back on some of the epic failures of my life.
There've been more than a few, most of my own making.
Times I rushed in to things when I should have walked.
Times I was sure I knew the right way, when I didn't.
Times I should have kept quiet, and didn't.

I'm going to take a wild guess and suggest you might have a list too.

Certainly if you've written a novel or ten, you've got some concrete examples of things you've tried that just didn't work. Sometimes you don't even know why.

And sometimes you think they DO work, but no one else seems to think so.
That one's really hard isn't it?

But it is these failures that teach us, shape us, and help us grow. It is failure, and our response to it that builds character.

My dad used to say that one hallmark of a good man was having the right enemies.

I'll adapt that to say that the hallmark of a good writer is having the right failures.

To risk and fail is better than not risking but not succeeding.
And acknowledging failure for all its pain and embarrassment is better than claiming the deck is stacked against you. (I'm speaking of publishing here, not the electoral process.)

The deck is stacked against everyone in publishing. All of us. Some of you will succeed. Others won't. Failure is the norm. Recognizing that, coming to peace with that, is freeing. It makes you free to try, to risk, to soar. To fail.

I don't like to fail. I'm sure you don't either.

But today I am thanking God for failure, because I do intend to succeed and I know I can't unless I start with a skinned knee.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

When Your Story Tugs You in the "Wrong" Direction

I know this depends on the story, but I'd still like to hear your opinion: is there an editorial (or agential) preference for narrative point of view or tense?

My WIP is literary fiction, a first-person retrospective of the layers of mental illness that have influenced the narrator's (a ninety-year-old woman) life and family over generations. The first person POV feels powerful, but I find myself slipping back and forth between past and present tense. (That is, either she is describing what happened, or she is in it as it happens). I have to pick one, but neither one seems obviously best yet, and I'm twenty-thousand words into the story. I'm just wondering if there might be a preference further down the editorial/publication line. 

I'm sure individual editors have preferences but that's the wrong question here.

The question is (and always should be) what's right for your story?

And it sounds like you may have one of those rule-breaking things on your hands. WHY do you have to choose one tense? Because that's the rule? If it doesn't serve the story, and you break the rule with elegance and confidence, and your readers are illuminated and not confused, well then, break the rule. In other words, both past and present tense may be perfect for your narrator's confused mind.

Know this though: you're setting a very high degree of difficulty in this trip across the balance beam. Slip, wobble, or somehow miss a step and you're on the ground, not on the beam. Or above the beam!

To answer your question: when I open a manuscript or read pages with a query I don't think "oh blerg, present tense!"  I read the pages or the manuscript and if the story isn't working, I might suggest a shift of tense.

In other words, my preference is for stories that work rather than for a specific tense or POV.

If you were my client and we were discussing what to do with this story, I'd tell you to finish it and see if the use of two tenses works. Often the only way to know is proceed ahead.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Contest results

Yesterday's flash contest was terrific! You guyz really rose to the occasion, particularly with no notice, an unknown deadline, and only 25 words. Kudos to you all!

Here's the list of entries that I thought were funny, or in some other way outstanding. The list is completely subjective, and wholly idiosyncratic.  It's not based on the caliber of the writing (except that it's all pretty good).  In other words, if your entry isn't here, don't feel bad.

frenchsojourn 9:45am
Dad turned on his Kindle, strapped on his goggles and mine.
He chose the newest supernova.
“The Adventures of Dixie Dupree” lit up the room.

Inkstained Wench (not wretch as I always try to write!) 10:15am
Pardon me; I am visually impaired. Are service humans permitted in this establishment?

Dena Pawling 10:24am
The Duchess of Yowl? No, I haven't seen her. *burp* Why do you ask?

Cecilia Ortiz Luna 10:49am
You stand guard while I blowtorch her laptop. Nanowrimo is coming.

Theresa 12:38pm
Anyone seen my siblings, Orville and Wilbur?

Scott Sloan 5:02pm
I know the Canine Secret Service is on a short leash...
I mean... C'MON...

Cipher 5:45pm
There are few things in life that cannot be cured by a damn good pair of specs. Unfortunately for Jerry, weredog-ism was one of them.

The winner is of course frenchsojourn because he worked in a reference to donnaeve's upcoming debut The Education of Dixie Dupree (pubbing Tuesday!)

Sadly, Hank is off sojourning in France, so I can't mail him the book for his prize.

Thus, Miss Congeniality gets the prize and that's of course Dena Pawling, who worked in a reference to The Duchess of Yowl (who is amused to her toes to find herself anywhere near A Dog.)

Dena, if you'll send me your mailing address, I'll get your prize off to you.

Thanks to all who took the time to enter!  As always, the array of talent on display here is pretty mind boggling!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pop contest!-NOW CLOSED!

So, what's the story of the pup in the goggles?

25 words or fewer, posted in the comment section!

Yes, there is a prize! It's a great book called Susie's Senior Dogs!

How long do you have to enter?
Well, you should do it now, cause it's going to end later today (Sunday 10/23/16)  

And it's too late now, sorry! (It ended without notice, sorry)

RESULTS on Monday!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

I'm a special snowflake, I am I am

 As a rule, publishers and agents want only previously unpublished work; I get that.
But, like everyone else, I'm a special snowflake!
I have a collection of children's stories that is being provided to a small (~30) group of friends. This edition will not be publicly available. It will not be advertised.
Does this disqualify the book in most agents' and/or publishers' eyes? If not, would I mention the private edition, and if so, at what point in the process?
A Special Snowflake Thriving in the Texas October Heat

Will it have an ISBN?
That's the kicker.
If it has an ISBN, it's published.

If it does not, it's not (for our purposes here anyway.)

Where you need to be careful is not with publishers and agents who can do anything they want (including taking on books that have already been published) but with contests and awards. Those entry requirements may specify what "published" is, and it may not be as loose a definition as I have here.

You don't want to find out the hard way about this.

I will never forget the sinking feeling in the pit of my sharkly stomach when a book I loved and publicized as hard as I could was not eligible for the Oregon Book Award because the author had done a small print run the previous year.  I had to drown my sorrows for a week.    

Friday, October 21, 2016

Can publishers see my sales numbers?

So, here's the deal. I live in a fairly rural area, but am lucky enough to have a decent writers group nearby. This group is one of the largest in the state and as a part of its function, acts as an independent publisher for many of the authors involved with the group. Aside from publishing an anthology of work from authors "with ties to the state," I have seen several of my ...peers... publish their work through this imprint.
I hesitate on the term peers for two reasons: First, I am the youngest member of the group by roughly 25 years. Second: Unlike the other members of this group, I am much more interested in trade publishing than in self-publishing, specifically because of your blog post on some hard numbers.  and this post also on sales figures.
That being said, one of my fellow writers was excited to report at our last meeting that he was close to selling 500 copies of his book. An accomplishment, to be sure, but a far cry from the 20,000 copies referenced above. During that conversation, the group turned to me and asked when I'd be ready to publish my work.
While the idea of seeing my work in print excites me, I'm not ready to jump into something just because I can. With that in mind, I asked the head of the group (the woman in charge of the imprint) whether she had a way of tracking book sales, or (more importantly) what numbers would a trade publishers see if they were to look at the books out group publishes?

The short answer was, she didn't know. The book my fellow writer is selling does have an ISBN, but is printed through Amazon's CreateSpace, and most of his sales are to local book stores, book fairs, or individuals at other events.

Are these numbers a trade publisher would be able to find later on if he eventually wanted to sign with an agent and ultimately a publisher? I told the group I'd do some research, and your blog was the first place I headed.

Short answer: If it has an ISBN. sales will get tracked (most likely).  

Longer answer: Sales numbers are collected by a company. They don't get info from every cash register in the world, nor do they have agreements to collect that info from every store that sells books. That means  their data is incomplete, thus you need to factor in a margin of error.

Generally we think of Bookscan numbers (that's what they're called) as about 70% accurate, but that can skew all the way down to 30% accurate with some kinds of books.

For example, books that are sold to libraries don't get counted. Books that speakers sell in the back of the room don't get counted. Books sold at some indies don't get counted.  This article gives more detail on what gets missed.

So, if your book is sold at county fairs, and the local chamber of commerce, chances are that Bookscan will not pick it up.

However, there's another thing I always look at, and that's Amazon rankings. Amazon doesn't measure volume, it measures volatility. Not numbers but how how the book is selling in relation to other books in its category (and Amazon has some WEIRD categories.)

A book can sell 3 copies and be #1 in the category if the category is esoteric enough.   

What I do though is look for OTHER books in the category and then search them on Bookscan. From that I can triangulate in on a number of sorts.

But truthfully, if we're looking at sales of anything less than five digits, I'm probably only looking up this info to amuse myself. 

What this means for you: anything you publish on CreateSpace and has an ISBN number can be tracked, and the fewer the sales, the less accurate the reporting which is bad news for you.  

If you want to publish professionally, you're better off to do anything like this under a pen name and then burn that identity like you are Jason Bourne on the run.

Any questions?     

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Do you need a pep talk?

Honestly, after last week, I sure did. I got mine by signing a new client, then three days later having lunch with a treasured colleague and the prospect she sent my way. It reminded me how collegial publishing can be, and how much of my career (like ALL of it) I owe to the kindness of people ahead of me in years of experience.

So, in case you need a boost:

 I am writing to tell you the denouement of my quest to publish my first novel.

To briefly recap:  I wrote to you when I was going to a conference to get my query/first pages critiqued.  I took the advice of you and the candid Reiders and sat there with my mouth shut and took notes.  I revised based on suggestions and queried my heart out on this, my third novel.  The rejections I received for that book, added to the ones for my first two, totaled somewhere around 200.  (Give or take another hundred or so but who's counting.)

But.  I learned a lot, and applied it all to novel number four's query.  Novel four won an award for unpublished authors.  I revised again anyway.  I queried agents, and I signed with an amazing one.  And this past week, the announcement for my two book deal went out in Publishers Weekly so that must mean it's real!  (Book one is a YA high school political reimagining of "Dear Mr. Henshaw" currently titled "Dear Rachel Maddow").

So though I have yet to have enough nerve to post in the comments (there is some irony in that I realize), know that I religiously read this blog and follow the consider the council of the commenters.  Thank you, thank you, thank you Janet and to the community you have created.  If I have one piece of advice for my fellow authors--never stop writing.

And this:

 Hi Janet,

I've been wanting to send this email for a while, but I just never knew how because I didn't want to be presumptuous. Your post today about anxiety and your community struck a chord, however, and I thought it was probably time, as I owe a lot to you.

I wanted to let you know I have a new book coming out soon. Part of the reason I've been hesitant to say anything is because it's self-published (I like to call it indie published because I have my own company and hire out for things like cover and interior design), and self-publishing still seems to have a poor reputation, despite the amount of work and care that goes into it.

I'm proud of this book. I'm more proud of it than anything I've ever done in my life because there was a time when I was physically and mentally unable to write due to neurological issues, and I fought for every word. And I'm proud of it because it has continued to push me forward through recovery. I was telling my mom yesterday that if this was the last book I'd ever write (it's decidedly not, but if it was...), then I would be satisfied because everything I could ever want to say is wrapped up in this book.

I don't know if you remember, but about six months ago, I reached out to you because I was really struggling with whether to go the traditional publishing route or to self-publish. I'd received some full requests and complimentary words from agents, but nothing was catching--it felt like my work didn't belong anywhere, and I didn't know what to do with that. That inner voice kept telling me that even if I did land an agent and a traditional deal, I still wanted to do it my way because this book is so personal and I didn't want to wait for it to be available. My ego and ambition wanted the glory; my heart and soul wanted to be able to help people, for it to mean something on that level.

That's when I reached out to you, and you gave me perhaps one of the greatest pieces of advice I've ever received, wrapped in a lesson I'll never forget. You said that there will be people who need this book, that in the middle of the night, when they feel alone because of their illness, they'll find my book and know that someone understands. You said--and I'll never forget this--that I'd be lighting candles in a dark world.

It made me cry then, and damnit, it's making me cry now. Because that's all I've ever wanted out of life--to be able to heal people of their pain. And now, in even a small way, I'm able to do that. With this book, I feel like I've followed a personal path that has helped me heal, that will hopefully help others heal, while staying true to myself and my purpose, and I'm more proud of that than anything else. And I owe you so much for it. Because I wouldn't have gotten here without you. You helped reignite that flame in me that had grown dim, and now I feel like I have a place in the world again, when I was once doing little more than existing. This book gave me my hope back; you gave me back my belief in myself.

Your takeaway here:

Never stop writing.
Never lose faith.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

You again!

I want to follow proper agent-writer etiquette, and I've rummaged through many a Google search trying to find the answer to this question:

Let's say you are lucky enough to receive more than one offer of rep from an agent. Happiness and joy! And you click with both Agent A and Agent B, but ultimately choose Agent B.

Two years go by, and the manuscript that got you the offers doesn't get picked up, but it also doesn't get shopped around much either. Only three editors see it before Agent B gives up on your manuscript, and since you weren't an easy sale, Agent B seemingly gives up on you. You and Agent B part ways.

Is there any hope in contacting Agent A and hoping for rep, or is said manuscript (and said agent) a lost cause because of the rejection?

Oh, how loud the lamentations when you realize you should have picked meeeee!

This happens more than you might imagine. Not always for the reasons you list, but I hear about this kind of email from writers Who Signed Elsewhere more than rarely.

My advice to the agents who are being requeried is to always have a conversation with the writer. Figure out what went wrong with Agent A. Figure out what the prospective client is now looking for with Agent Two. Take a gander at the sub list and see if there's money to be made.

Each case is so individual there's no real standard answer.

The answer to your question is however: yes of course you can reestablish communication. The worst thing that will happen is Agent Two will fly to your house on her broom, barge into your house uninvited and steal all your cookies silence/nothing.

It is not rude to do this.

What querying writers should remember whilst querying is that you may end up circling back to agents you said no to. It is of the UTMOST importance that the agent remember you as positive and professional.

Things that say Positive and Professional:

1. You gave all the agents considering your work a window of response time when you received an offer.

2. You notified them politely of your decision.

3. You did not immediately unfollow all the agents you were stalking on Twitter. (This is something other agents seem to care about. I don't. Follow/unfollow/mute/magnify it's all the same to moi.)

4. You did not add those agents to any sort of mailing list.

5. You were tactful in announcing your decision on Twitter: "I've signed with the BEST AGENT EVER" is seen with less glee than you might think by all of us you turned down.

6. You did not whine/moan/carry on in any public way about the travails of your experience with Agent A. In fact, no one reading your blog or tweet stream or Facebook posts would have a clue anything was other than hunky dory.

As to the viability of your manuscript that is too specialized a question to answer here. It depends on too many variables. It's probably best to assume it's not viable and you should query with a new project.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

You're such a PITA, but you have good info.

I'm not sure if this is an appropriate question for your blog. I doubt there's even really an answer.

I've come to a hard realization that I'm not a good storyteller. I'm a pretty decent writer, though. In my search for ways to improve my storytelling, I've recently come upon a blog (redacted) that has given me some valuable insight that I've been missing. It's given me a new way to look at stories, new suggestions for studying how they tick. In two days, I've felt noticeable progress in how I look at stories.

But sweet chocolaty godiva, Janet, this guy is condescending. At least once every blog post I've read, he reminds his readers he has The Answers, and if you don't listen to him, you'll never be published. Or you'll be converted by the sheer volume of rejections that plague your email inbox. Or you're hysterical.

Why can't people admit there is more than one way? What does it hurt this guy if people disagree with him? I'll fully admit I'm getting valuable insight out of what he has to say, but none of the good came from his threats to listen to him or consign my writing career to my parents' refrigerator door. It's difficult to learn with your teeth bared.

It's a bit like the question of whether you can learn about Shakespeare from a flaming misogynist. (Yes, you can, I'm living proof.)

And I learned a LOT about politics from some vile characters who were skilled politicians, it's true.

And I think we're dancing around the question in this year's election about whether you need to be morally upright to be President (I would say no, you don't, but you do need to know how the Constitution works.)

I'm probably the wrong person to opine on how many ways can be right since I'm convinced there is only one: mine. I've just learned to be less overt in saying so.

It's clear you're able to separate the value from the venom and that's a VERY good skill to develop and will stand you in good stead in your publishing career. Stories of agents who scream and yell and throw things at their minions are all too common urban legends I'm sure.

Yup, that's my beloved Mer-Bear

I'm sure the denizens of the comment column have some coping skills to share, if not some terrifyingly hilarious stories of their own to share.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Writing Contest FINAL RESULTS

What a lovely respite from the awful week of political news! Thanks to all of you for improving my outlook on life!

Herewith the results!

The Steve Forti Award for amazing and innovative use of prompt words goes to
Amy Johnson 5:08pm
Everything seemed apropos that morning. Almost everything. Sam in his usual overalls. Sun creating a golden hue over the llama farm. Autumn air crisp. Latte in Sam’s hand?

“Ma, maybe llama farming isn’t for me.”

“But with your brother running off to Afri
ca, that leaves just us to tend the farm.”

“Yeah, Jed’s off photographing the Serenge
ti--me, I’m stuck mucking llama dung.”

That evening we heard them. Sam took off running for the gate, yelling. “Wait! Wait!
Wa--” Llamas stampeded.

Sam’s head isn’t in this. Must have forgotten the latch.

I’ve been thinking about trying something new myself.

and the runner up for the Steve Forti award is unavoidablytiger 7:57pm
Do. Re. Do re ti me.

-Sound of Music crap.

Solf├Ęge. Shut up.

I sketch notes with my Bic. At least they didn’t throw all my pens away. Sharp nibs only.


It’s for him. Valentine’s Day. Handmade gift.

-Gross. You wanna give him a gift, go sexy. Get Li

op. It’s platonic.

-You wish, whore.

That better be a joke.
What did you do?!

The song’s crumpled. I take the pill hidden under my pillow. Stare her down in the window. Her smugness blurs.

A knock.

“Mrs. Thomas? Time to see Dr. Drake.”

“Ok. Can I bring his gift?”

Well it wouldn't be a real weekend unless we talked about paint, right?
Thankfully, we had Beth 11:06am for that!

An astonishingly wonderful opening line
A hitman looks at sixty.
Frenchsojourn 11:09am

Homage to the new Nobel Prize winner
RosannaM 11:22am

Homage to the Loaner Cat
kregger 11:26am

Beautifully subtle!
delicartoons 11:24am
CAT: Computerized Axial Tomography.
WALL: Wilson's Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
POST: Prognosis Or Status? Terminal.
SPLAT: Shock, Pleading, Learning, Acceptance, Tranquility.
TIME: Today I'm Mostly Exhausted, Though Otherwise Lately I'm Very Excited.

Great use of "catatonic"
Just Jan 10:20pm
Miss Devon Rex’s famous Cat-A-Tonic sells out completely.

Other than the Jane Austen reference, this is EXACTLY right
Kate Higgins 11:27pm

Post time. You sit resolutely at your computer, you'll get a good start on fulls.

First book; "SELACHOPHOBIA", you snicker and scroll down to #2: "NYCTOPHOBIA". Seems to be a phobic trend.

Outside, lightning and thunder collude with the flickering streetlights; you jump.

Rain splatters on the iron fire escape with determination. The wind, insistent and guttural with admonishment moans,

Your sphinx-like loner cat, green eyes glowing, sits fixated on the blank wall behind your desk.

The night intrudes as the electricity convulses into obscurity.

Decision's made – chocolate, vodka, "Pride and Prejudice" and Somniphobia.

Here's the short list for this week

Bethany Joy 9:14am
“Catatonic?” I ask.

“Nothing as serious as that,” Dr. Wallace says. “Focus on the fact the epilepsy is alleviated.”

That’s a helpful hint (I cling to those). Trace the timeline then and the only conclusion is that it must be post-surgery.

“In the 1950s it was cutting-edge treatment,” he continues.

Wet-clay thoughts splatter and drip away.

A man watches me in a white coat. Dr. Wallace? Must be. Context (I cling to that). The desk calendar reads April 8th, 1978. A precious clue.

“Catatonic?” I ask.

This literally took my breath away. With almost NO exposition, the entire story is conveyed in what is not said: the space between the filaments of the spider web of words.

And more than just a clever bit of style, it's also a wonderful story, much of it left to our imagination. 

This is just gorgeous writing and story telling. I am in awe.

JD Horn 9:47am
Tomcat, polecat, Time cover splat.
Wall Street Journal, locker room, frat.
Wheezing, flailing. Give up the ghost.
“Wrap it up,” calls The Washington Post .

this cracked me up because it's a perfect jump rope rhyme. Have you forgotten jump rope rhymes? They're such fun.  And a whole lot harder to write than you'd think. 
And of course, this conveys commentary on the current political situation in a not-too-subtle way.

Deb Smythe 12:12pm
Dry, emergency rations clatter into my bowl. Clearly some catastrophe is imminent. New kid acts like he doesn't care, gobbling his food and splattering chow everywhere. After breakfast, he joins me at my bathroom post when he's supposed to be patrolling the outside wall.

When the apocalypse comes, and perhaps if it doesn't, I'll be forced to eat him. He'll taste of the unseemly things he snacks upon, but I'll not suffer his loutish ways for all time. I clout his head as my aide exits the bathroom. Forgetting her place, she reprimands me. Another course for the apocalypse menu.

Can't you just see the cat who thinks this way?
This is a perfectly evoked point of view from the fluffball on the floor.
Excuse me, the regal feline who should be on the couch being petted.

Distinct pov and voice are very hard. This is an excellent example of one that is very well done.

flashfriday 4:03pm
“Tell us your name,” said PossumSleepingTruckDriver flatly, adjusting himself on his heavenly cloud.


“Why won’t you tell us your name?” This from GoosePlanePropeller, her formerly majestic honk now a faintly shattered squawk. “I told you mine.”

I don’t care to.”

“You think you’re better than us, don’t you?” PigSummerBarbecue said crisply.

HounddogBearTrap scowled. “She don’t look no better’n us.”

Maybe it’s not your business.”

“Everything’s our business!” shouted FruitflyVinegarBowl. “Tell us!”

I won’t.”

“Not everybody falls for peer pressure, you know,” sniffed LemmingCliffBottom.

How about you try guessing?” And CatSplatPostTimeWall’s eyes swept across the cloud, laughing as silence fell.

This cracked me up both in how it used the prompts, and the hilarity of of the dialouge. And the lemming's line made me laugh all over again when re-reading.

Brilliant imagination, and elegant taut writing.

Angel Lanphere 11:17pm
Joe walloped me good this time but I was grateful he didn't splatter me across the floor.

“No cat scan needed,” the doctor said, examining the gash on my brow. Its fresh mark crossed over an old one.

“Take Advil. Ice it for the swelling.” he finished, eyeing me.

“Do you feel safe at home?” the doctor asked abruptly. My eyes cut to Joe, seated near me. A domestic violence poster behind him.


Nowhere, really.

“I live alone,” I replied and turned to go.

The doctor watched her leave as she came, alone.

 Holy moly, talk about wanting to know what's going on here! This is a great bit of suspense writing, and in 100 words or less. Quite an achievement! 

It was hard to pick just one winner this week, I liked every single finalist and all for very different reasons.

In the end though I chose the entry that knocked my socks off: Bethany Joy 9:14am.

Bethany, if' you'll drop me an email with your mailing address and the kinds of books you like to read, I'll send you your prize for the contest!

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write stories and enter. It's always a pleasure to see what you come up with. The caliber of the writing goes up with every contest. It's getting toughter to single out finalists let alone a winner.  


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sunday pets

MeiMei and Ahab

MeiMei believes there is always room for her wherever Ahab goes.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Feline Intervention Required flash fiction contest

Well, it's been a week, yes indeed.
I actually had to subscribe to the Washington Post cause I'd read my ten free articles by 10/3 and the news was happening too fast to not actually be able to read about it right then. (I also subscribe to the NYT and the WSJ so you know it was dire.)

I'm also hanging around with my orange friend Loaner Cat this weekend. And cat petting turns out to be a very good antidote to the news cycle!
pigeon patrol!
That's definitely something to celebrate,so let's have 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: cat/catastrophe is fine but cat/chat 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: 8:12am, Saturday 10/15/16

Contest closes: 9am, Sunday, 10/16/16

If you're wondering how much time you have before the contest closes: click here.

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!


Sorry! Contest closed at 9am.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

9 reasons I did not request more pages


1. You are confused about the distinction between fiction and non-fiction.   
This is an absolute deal-breaker for me. You can write one or the other. Memoir is non-fiction, as a general rule, even if you're taking poetic license on some elements.  

How you will avoid this: do not use the word memoir AND novel to describe your work. Do not use the words non-fiction AND novel to describe your work.  If you are unclear about what you are writing you should not be querying.

2. A non-fiction proposal that is too broad to be reasonably addressed in a book length work. "Peace in the Middle East" is an example. "Ending Violence" would be another. "Why Barbara Poelle Loves Vodka" would be on that list.

How you will avoid that: Be able to answer the question "what problem does your book address."  The problem isn't war in the middle east, it's the things that lead to war. You need to address the things that lead to war. 

3. Querying for a second, third, or fourth novel in a series that was published by someone other than who you want to publish with now.

How you will avoid this: moving a series mid way through is VERY hard. The only reason a publisher will be interested in picking that series up is if you've sold REALLY well.  If I run Bookscan numbers on your title and come up with anything less than 10,000, it's probably a non-starter.

4. Querying for a book with what I think is a ridiculous premise

How you will avoid this: you can't and should not. The worst thing that will happen is I send you a rejection letter. Other agents can and will love your work. If you don't believe this, you should know that when my colleagues and I have an after-hours Read the Queries party there's always at least one query that half the room loves and the other half doesn't get at all.

5. Telling me in detail about why another agent didn't pick up the book.

How you will avoid this: Don't ever mention what anyone else thinks or did in a query. Even if you think it increases your chances with me. It Does Not.  I'm not likely to think a book a top-notch agent couldn't sell is something I'll run the table with.  Let me fall in love with your story, not your querying history.

6. A query that I literally did not understand. (All the words were in English, I double-checked)

How you will avoid this: Have someone beta-read your query, and not someone who depends on you for their livelihood or their home. In other words, objective beta readers. If they can't answer the question "who is the hero" in ten seconds, you have a problem. If they can't repeat the precipitating incident or what's at stake in the novel in 30 seconds you have another problem.

7. A query about a book that has a political agenda.

How you will avoid this: story first. Any point you want to make should come from the story being told. And please, leave your intended message OUT of the query. I reject these books without even reading the pages, cause I've NEVER actually liked any book I've read that had an overt message.

8. Word count is too short.
How you will avoid this: know the word count requirements for novels. Anything under 80K gets the fish eye from me. Anything under 50K gets an auto-reject.

9. The query talks about the theme of the book

How you will avoid this: don't do it. Tell me about the story. Tell me what matters. Tell me what happens that wasn't supposed to and how the characters are dealing with this challenge. Do NOT tell me about the theme. (See also #7)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I'll just be under the duvet, weeping

I've never been quite so depressed after reading a publishing memoir as I was this weekend.

Avid Reader by Robert Gottlieb (an extraordinary editor) in and of itself is not depressing. A lot of people might read it and enjoy it.

Me, I'm fixated on the fact he read incoming novels overnight and got back to his writers the next day.  THE NEXT FRIGGING DAY. And he did this all the time. Not only on rush jobs. Not just on important books. All the books.

I gaze upon my list of requested fulls and just weep.

And then there's the fact I'll not only never be as well-read as the Avid Reader himself, I'll never come close.

And of course, he was at S&S and Knopf back in the day before Bookscan and the tyranny of the P&L sheet.

There are some other problems with this book (as in a complete lack of any kind of exploration of challenges faced and overcome)  but I'm too depressed to come out from under the covers and discuss them.

(My favorite books about publishing are Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind by Ellen Brown and The Most Dangerous Book by Kevin Birmingham--interesting that both are about books first and people second!)

Send choccies.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Wait, you want what when?

I sent a query to an agent this morning and received a request for the full and a synopsis this afternoon. I'm through the roof, but also panicking. The full isn't an issue, but I don't have a synopsis. I have a full of the same manuscript out to another agent currently and they never requested one, so it just hasn't come up. My question is, do I write a slap-dash draft and send as soon as possible, do I respond and explain that I don't have one but that I'd be happy to draft one, or do I have some time to get back to her? I don't want to commit a rookie mistake that costs me my chances, and I don't know the etiquette when this happens.

Well, there's nothing you can do here short of calling the agent and telling her she's a dunderhead for asking for a synopsis that would cost you your chances of representation. Since, we know you're not going to do that (being a blog reader, and a person of common sense) stop worrying.

Here's what to do:  email Agent Speedy Gonzalez and say you don't have a synopsis ready right now but you will soon. 

Then get your tail feathers in gear and write a synopsis. You're going to suffer mightily doing this, so lay in the choccies and the vodka and your favorite movies.

You should plan to have it done in no less than five days from sending the email.  If she's as quick as she seems, you don't want to keep her waiting much longer than that AND you don't know if she reads the synopsis before the manuscript (some agents do.)

Me, I burn the synopsis while chanting invocations to the publishing deities.

And of course this serves as a gentle reminder that before you query, you have a synopsis ready. And a completed manuscript.  Yes querying can take forever and you might be tempted to start before you finish the novel, but this is a classic illustration of why you don't do that.