Friday, January 20, 2017

More on book pricing

I have a question about your blog post "Sales figures"

I just learned a little about bookstore/library returns when I switched to a different company to print and distribute all of my books sold outside of Amazon. I don't know how much you know about the indie options out there, but it makes financial sense to go where the money is and stay with the Amazon-run distributor for Amazon sales, but for bookstores and libraries, it's cost-effective to go directly with Company B, who has a direct relationship with bookstores and Baker and Taylor).

When I was setting up my title with Company B, there was the option to include a discount for bookstores and libraries. As the indie publisher, you could choose the percentage, which ranged from 30-55%. This significantly cuts into the royalty payout, but my research has told me that brick-and-mortar bookstores won't order books without some kind of discount. Makes sense.

There was also the option to have the books that are returned from bookstores/libraries sent to you, the publisher, or to have them destroyed (which the thought of destroying books didn't sit well with this bibliophile, not gonna lie).

So, knowing this information, my question is how do traditional publishers handle this? Since publishers deal directly with bookstores and libraries as part of the business, are these discounts and returns already embedded in the traditional publishing model? Am I right to assume that publishers set the price of the book taking this discount into account (and that it therefore won't affect the author's royalties as dramatically)?

Publishers set the suggested retail price of a book based on selling to stores at a discount. Generally indies get 40-50% discount; big box stores and big retailers (B&N, Walmart) get a higher discount.

This can lead to problems of course. If Walmart is selling a book for less than what an indie has to pay for it, indies can't compete.

If Felix Buttonweezer's red hot novel Kale Kreatures of Carkoon (co-authored by our own Donnaeve I heard) has a suggested retail price of $25, the local indie will pay 60% of that to the publisher, and keep the rest. $15 to the publisher, $10 to keep

If Walmart is buying vast loads of Kale Kreatures of Carkoon, and getting a 60% discount (not the 40% that indie stores get) they pay $10 to the publisher and keep $15. Only they don't keep $15, they discount the price dramatically, as in $17.95 (keeping only $7.95) and plan to sell a boatload and make their money on volume.

An indie store can't make any money trying to match the $17.95 Walmart price: it would leave them with $2.95 and they don't have a hope in hell of selling anywhere near the volume to make that a good pricing choice.

There are reasons indie stores have a hard time these days and that's one of the big ones.

And yes, publishers do allow retailers to discard unsold books. It's generally mass market editions. The covers are stripped off and returned to the publisher rather than sending the whole book. The reason is freight cost.

And yes, authors make different royalty rates at the different discount levels. Yes we spend a lot of time looking at royalty statements to make sure the sales are correctly accounted.

Generally libraries pay close to full price but the copies they buy are non-returnable. Libraries are not re-sellers, they are the end user (of sorts) so it makes sense they pay closer to full price.

One of the big benefits of self-publishing is being able to control the price your book sells for, and the flexibility to change it more frequently than never.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Am I writing womens fiction or YA?

I’m a fairly experienced novelist (five novels published with major houses), but I’m nevertheless stumped on the rules for women’s fiction. I wrote a NA, with a 22 year old protagonist; after some wonderful, but critical, feedback, I’m now working on a major revision of the novel. I’m changing from 1st to 3rd person, adding several more POV characters, and expanding to almost a third more in the word count, given those new characters. I hope to explode the original, slim NA novel into the women’s fiction genre. Do you think it’s possible for a novel with a 22 year protagonist to be considered in that genre?

New Adult is the most slippery of categories but it's also VERY new. And it wasn't meant to replace any of the womens fiction category, it was created to expand YA.  It's morphed into something else but it's not the only place you can find characters who are in their 20's.

Generally if you call something womens fiction in your query, I'm going to read the pages with that in mind. 

I know a lot of people get the category wrong in their query but I don't actually read your pages thinking that.

Thus: call your book women's fiction and see what happens.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What I will leap tall buildings to sign up-WITH UPDATES

I spent a good portion of yesterday morning trying to figure out how to find writers who work (or want to work) in juvenile non-fiction, specifically biography.

Then the light bulb went on and I realized I have a pretty good way to reach out to writers of all kinds and stripes: our blog.

Thus, a post on what I'm actively, rabidly looking for.

1. Writers of juvenile non-fiction specifically biography and narrative history. I have some ideas for books I think will be saleable.  If you have your own ideas, all the better. You need not have been published in book length form previously.  If you are published, tell me the circumstances (work for hire, self-pubbed, book packager deal etc.) None of those would disqualify you from serious consideration.

What to send: Your resume including the list of books you've worked on. A list of projects you want to work on (IF you have it; If you don't, do NOT worry)

A question from a reader:
Is this a work-for-hire-type situation, similar to when publishers hire ghostwriters, or are you looking for people who have already written these book and/or have proposals? I'm a little bit confused by what you're looking for (and thus intrigued) or how this works.
It is NOT a work for hire, nor must you have already written the book. I'm open to writers who are looking for suggestions for projects. If a writer has an idea or a proposal, that's fine too.  I'm looking for writer who would become agency clients and continue to write these kinds of books in to the future.

2. A comprehensive, Taylor Branch-like, narrative of the feminist movement, focusing on the Second Wave of the 60's-80's.
What to send: a proposal if you have it. An introductory letter with your writing resume if you don't.

3. The next Robert Caro
What to send: a proposal for the project you are working on

4. Re-envisioned history--history from the perspective of the other guy.
What to send: a proposal if you have it. An introductory letter with your writing resume if you don't.

A reader question:
#4 is non-fiction? Also juvenile?
Yes, to the question of whether it's non-fiction. Juvenile or adult are both welcome.

1-4  are the projects I will drop everything to read.

I'm also looking in the following areas, but with less urgency:

5. Crime novels.  If you've read Lou Berney, Nicholas Petrie, Patrick Lee and Dennis Lehane, and think you can do better, I'd love to read what you've got.
What to send: a query and the first 5 pages (in the email)

6. Narrative non-fiction. History and biography (for the adult market)
What to send: a query and the overview to your proposal

7. Anything else. I've signed and sold things I didn't know I wanted. I'll never go on Twitter to chastise you for sending me something I didn't ask for. The worst thing you'll get is a pass. In other words, there's no risk.

What I'm most likely to pass on: 
      *anything YA (fiction) or MG (fiction) because we have a lot of that already here at New Leaf.
      *horror: I already represent Laird Barron and he scares my sox off
     * self-help, memoir, prescriptive non-fiction: just not my strong suit

When I say send, I mean email me at JReid[at]NewLeafLiterary[dot]com

Any questions? (silly moi, of course you have questions.) Fire away!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

When to include "why I wrote this book" in a query for a novel

I am writing a young-adult fantasy in which nobody is white. And also in which gender issues are not an issue. I have built these qualities into my invented world because I feel that repeating the same tropes about minorities having to overcome the same old disadvantages has the unintended consequence of making these disadvantages seem normal and acceptable. Presumably non-white readers would like to see some stories about non-white people who aren’t having to slog uphill through racism on their way to the plot about as much as I’d like to see women being bad-ass without having to fight the patriarchy on the way to saving the world. For them and myself, I have cheerfully up-ended various tropes.

But! This race and gender stuff is, essentially, background. The plot of my story centers about other issues entirely. My question is: should I mention these things in my query? And if so, how?

The purpose of your query is to entice your reader (me) to want to read more.
Whatever you can use to entice me is fair game.

The most compelling enticement is a great story.
A great story is most-often something that turns expectations sideways.
(I love those. LOVE)

BUT you must SHOW me that in the story.
And if you can show me that in the query, all the better.

BUT if you're having trouble getting the plot on the page AND showing this colorful gender bending world, a paragraph like you started with at the end of the query would NOT be out of order. You'd put it at the end of the query right before Thank you for your time and consideration. You'd start with I wrote this novel because I'd like to see women being bad ass without fighting the patriarchy and people of color who don't have to fight racism.

Generally I don't much care for "why I wrote this novel" kind of stuff. I figure you wrote a novel cause you have a story to tell.

But you're right that people are looking for things that upend stereotypes.

Telling me your book is intended to do that might get you farther than not including it.

Just make sure you tell me enough about the story. Plot is the key.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Duchess of Yowl is stymied

Duchess of Yowl: What is this?

Me: That's my new backpack. I'll use it to take my laptop to work with me tomorrow.

DoY: That's going to be a tight fit with me and the laptop. I don't like that.

Me: I wasn't planning on bringing you to the office, Your Grace.

DoY: Whyever not? Class up the joint, if you ask me.

Me: No doubt you would, but we generally do not bring pets to the office.

DoY: I am NOT a pet.

Me: So sorry, I confused petting the cat with the cat being a pet. My mistake.

Doy: (huffily) very unprofessional of you. You're always yammering about picking the right words, you should be more careful.

Me: Yes indeed, Your Grace.

DoY: Now, if you're going to be gone tomorrow, who will be coming to pet me?

Me: If you care to stroll down to the elevator and push the down button, people in it will be glad to pet you.

DoY: That's not funny. You know the elevator call buttons are positioned poorly.

Me: Use your light saber.

DoY: This is another one of those not-funny opposable thumbs jokes isn't it?

Me: I'll leave the TV tuned to Animal Planet.

DoY: Not the scary parts though, right?

Me: No dogs. No wolves. No alligators.

DoY: Why they allow dogs on television I do not know.

Me: It's a world gone mad Your Grace.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

PRELIMINARY FINAL Contest results!

As usual, you guys are upping the stakes with each contest. A lot of terrific entries this week!  My standard was simply: did it make me laugh out loud?

Since I have a warped sense of humor sometimes, and the sense of humor of 12-year-old boy at other times, it's hard to predict what I will find funny. (And to my chagrin, a joke I cracked last week at the office sent my colleagues skittering off in all directions, looks of horror across their cherubic faces--oops)

Herewith the final list:

Geoff Holme 7:58am
The groom sat gazing anxiously down the aisle, as Reverend Felix Mauser slumped over the lectern, a faraway look in his eyes.
Another bridal no-show...
Chala 9:07am
“Seriously. Look away.”
“Can’t. She’s like a rat in a trap.”
“You’ll recover. I wasted four of my nine lives watching.”
“What is it?”

Laura 9:10am
Dissertation topic: Epistemology and ambiguous perspective: An analysis of the feline gaze in Internet memes

Dena Pawling 12:24pm
Which is slower? Grass growing? Paint drying? Water boiling? This author working?
Patience, Mittens. If she doesn't feed us soon, I'll sit on her keyboard.

Beth 12:51pm
Do you know what time it is, young lady?

Janice Grinyer 1:01pm

No control controlling Social Media?
Tired of never finishing THE Novel?

!!!!!!Buy JUDGEMENT CATS** now!!!!!!

**accessories & body protective gear not included

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli 1:04pm
"Mini-mi, the invite said black tie!"

Adib Khorram 2:09pm
Mr. Spock and I have made contact with a primitive culture attempting to our curry favor with offers of food and physical contact, but the Prime Directive prohibits any such interference with a developing species.

Craig F 3:18pm
Dinner party? That is where our litter box has ALWAYS BEEN. We didn’t move it or agree that you could. Quit screaming already.

I have one entry in mind as the winner (and two others really close behind that one) but I'm always interested to see who you think should win, and of course, the entries I didn't list that you loved.

Final results later today.


We have a very loose definition of "day" here at Chez Yowl apparently.
Sorry about that.

I was busy with my petting duties.

The laptop cover was closed while Her Grace stared me in to compliance.


The winner is Janice Grinyer 1:01pm.  That entry induced not just a laugh but a guffaw.
And god, knows, we need some laughs these days!

Janice, email me your mailing address and we'll get a prize in the mail to you.

Thanks to all of you who entered! It was a lot of fun to read your work, and as always I'm in awe of your abilities!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Writing Contest!

25 words or fewer.
Post in the comments column of this blog post.
ONE entry per person.

Contest opens NOW.
Contest closes at 7pm today.

Prize is a book of course (based on what you like to read)


Friday, January 13, 2017

I'm black, my book isn't.

This summer, I joined Twitter and followed several agents. I kept seeing the hashtag "we need diverse books" and/or diverse authors. Some advice I read even said to put your ethnicity into your query as a qualification. But I'm confused about what to do in my particular case. I am African-American and live in the rural South, but my book has nothing to do with my experience of being a minority in the South. Heck, my main character is Caucasian, and only one black person appears in the book at all.
But more and more, I'm seeing beta readers say things like "I will only read diverse books and/or diverse authors," and I'm confused about where I would fit into all of this. I am a minority, but I don't write about it in my work. Are agents/beta readers looking for me or not? I know I have to write an exceptional book before this even matters, but I'm curious about your opinion on this

This is a really interesting question and I'm not sure if there is one answer, let alone a right answer.

When agents talk about diverse voices, they're generally talking about story. They're looking for books with characters who aren't all mainstream white.

More than that they're looking for characters who aren't stereotypes: all (or the only) black kids speak urban slang; all (or the only) Asians are computer geeks; all the stoners are skateboarders, all the Southerners are racists.  One reason the movie Dope was so fun to watch was everyone seemed real, not two dimensional character paper dolls. Some black kids were nerds. Some were drug dealers. Some were the good guys. Others weren't. It felt real.

If your book has a rich array of characters who aren't two-dimensional, you'll be fine.

The real question here is do you want to tell agents you are African American, and if so, at what stage.

I think right now I'd be more likely to look at something if the author wasn't white, simply because I want publishing to look more like my neighborhood and less like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

But it feels weird to me to tell you to list your ethnicity, because I certainly would not tell a writer to say they are Caucasian. Yet, my own desire to have more writers of color seems to mean you should.

Like I said, I'm not sure there is an answer here.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Wait! Wait! Read this one! No, I meant THAT one.

I have a question about sending revisions to agents who have my full manuscript. You've said several times on the blog that you want writers to send their best work, and you are willing to wait on a revision up until you've actually read the manuscript, but... is there a limit to how many revisions an author can send in before it taints your opinion of them or the work?

At the end of September I received an R&R from an agent that really resonated with me. I contacted the 6 other agents that also had the full and asked them if they would wait for the revisions. All but one got back to me with a very kind "yes, I'll wait, send whenever you're ready." Some of those have rejected the manuscript since then, but 3 of them still have that revised version (one is a fellow New Leaf agent!).

I just received a rejection last week that contained more feedback that I found valuable. Should I contact those 3 agents that already have a revised version from me and ask them to wait again? Or just let it go?

This is one of those things for which there is no gold standard. Each agent will have their own particular melting point. I've gotten six or seven revisions from authors from whom I have requested fulls. I don't particularly care that it's that many, but I do wonder a bit about their inner editor not being up to speed. That said, my goal is to add projects to my list that I can sell. I'd rather add something that will sell after seven revisions than say no to something after only three.

A savvy writer will know that revisions means fixing MAJOR plot points or twists, or shifting the chronology of the book. It's not fixing the spelling in chapter three, or changing a character's name, or (this drives me bonkers) changing the title.

 I assume writers are continuing to work on the novel even after I get it. Pruning and polishing is NOT revising in the sense we mean here.  I'm not going to reject a project if I think it needs just a bit of polish. I'm going to tell you that it does and see if you can do it.

This is one of the places that Twitter can be valuable. If you follow the agents who have your requested full, check their twitter feed to see if they yap about writers sending revisions.  (Since I do not tweet about my requested fulls, this will only help with Other Agents.)

Bottom line: always offer the most revised and polished version of your novel, even if the agent has an earlier version. The worst thing they'll do is say no.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Mon Deux

I parted with my agent a couple months ago and am ready to query a new manuscript. (No, I did not write a new manuscript in two months, but it is now ready.) The parting was amicable. There has been some debate among fellow writers as to what to do with this info in the query letter.

(1) Most agree not to mention Former Agent's name, but since this is a pretty well known agent, a couple have suggested using Former Agent's name in an attempt to show I've secured rep once so can't be totally worthless. I, on the other hand, think it can totally backfire somehow, someway, but . . . ?

(2) Should the "amicably parted ways" be at the top of the query to alert New Agent of that info or is including it in the last paragraph (after comps and bio) a good place for it so I can get right to the query?

(3) Since I'm including the parting ways bit (I should include that, right?), should I mention this book has not been submitted to publishers in case New Agent is wondering if this manuscript is old news?

(4) Should I mention anywhere that I've had two other books go through the publisher sub process (only about 15 editors each, some second reads, one failed acquisitions, but rest were passes or non-responding editors)? Not sure what this info would add, but someone mentioned it'd show I'm not expecting miracles or a quick sale, etc., and am in this for the long haul.

The purpose of a query letter is to entice your reader to request the full.
Thus, try not to include information that will make your reader (ie ME) hesitate.

Here's the unvarnished truth: when I get a query from someone formerly agented I do NOT assume this is a golden opportunity do what Former Agent could not. I view it as likely to be more trouble than it will be worth.

Now, I am sure you are not more trouble than you're worth. After all, you read this blog, and you knew to ask this question. And your former agent may be a dunderhead of epic proportion (there are more than a few of those.)

But, let's leave the details until after I fall in love with your work.  It's a whole lot easier for me to talk myself into this if I love love love your book.

I have several clients who had agents before me. In almost every case, I knew and loved their (published) work before they signed with me.  Since you don't have published work (yet) your book will need to do the heavy lifting.

In your particular case, your chances are helped because you don't have any published work.

Now, I can hear you woodland creatures frantically squirming with thoughts of "but what about transparency."

Transparency does not mean revealing all instantly. Much like you don't have to explain your stint in rehab when you decline the glass of wine, or reveal that your dear mum made you practice walking with books on your noggin when you get a compliment on your perfect posture.

Remember, you are pitching a product here. The book and you, package deal. All salespeople worth their salt know to lead with benefits. While your book is not a vacuum cleaner, selling is selling. Lead with your strengths.

Obviously you WILL tell Agent New about Agent Old, and the time to do so is if Agent New requests a full manuscript.   And yes, you will say who Agent Old is. If you're an ex-client of Barbara Poelle, who has been known to sell things off cocktail napkins, in a cloud of fire and brimstone, well, you're not a good choice for me. But if you're a refugee from one of those sludge pits of agents who don't know a gin joint from joint accounting, well, you're probably going to keep my attention.

So, at the requested full stage: yes on name, yes on amicable, yes on this is a new book, and no on the other stuff unless it involved an agent.

And if you've had more than one agent when you query me, you really need to meet me at a conference and we're going to need to have a conversation cause that's a pretty big hurdle.

And just so you know here are the questions I ask prospective clients about their former agents:

1. Have you parted ways formally?

2. Did you sign an agency agreement?

3. What went wrong?

4. What are you looking for now.

Any questions?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My books got great reviews, but lackluster sales. Will an agent care?

Are there any qualifications to the “debut author” issue? Does genre matter? Vehicle of publication? I can see that an agent might be wary if my first novel had received an advance and was published by one of the larger publishers. But what if my novel was published by a small boutique press that offered no advance and helped not a whit with marketing? Or what if it was self-published? In both of those instances, the author is responsible for all the promotion and marketing, with no input or guidance from a vested source.

In my instance, I have a couple of romance novels published through a small press. No advance, and it didn’t cost me anything. They did everything—editing, formatting, distribution (online with on-demand print), etc.—in exchange for part of the royalties. I went for it because: a) I’m an idiot; b) I could put all my money into marketing; and c) I had no clue how hard marketing is when you don’t know what you’re doing and have no one to advise you.

My books have collected over 100 honest reviews with an average Amazon review rating of 4.8, but dismal sales (see above section on marketing and no clue). I’m querying my fourth book and wonder if I'm doomed in terms of finding an agent.

Am I wasting my time querying? Will I be discounted without any of the above being considered? If an agent likes my manuscript will she take me on in spite of the above or send a rejection because despite great reviews poor sales are poor sales no matter the circumstances or genre? And, of course, because of said books, I am no longer a debut author.

You're focused on the wrong thing.
If your books are getting good reviews (and I have no idea what an "honest review" is. Not a dis-honest one?) you should be focused on getting your books into the hands of readers.

I assure you that NO ONE gives a rat's ass if you've published four books if you come equipped with a thousand name email newsletter list and a devoted fan club.

Once you've elected your path, you're better off going down that road instead of trying to reverse and pretend you were never there at all.

To that end, you should be focused on learning to market. It's not rocket science.

Get Dana Kaye's book. 
I bought a copy for every single one of my clients.

Enroll in Dana Kaye's class. 

Go to the conferences that show you how to do this stuff.
(you want the DBW Indie Author Only track for $269, plus you can use this code for $25 off
the registration free: danakaye25)

There are other avenues too. I tend to recommend Dana a lot because after 10+ years in book PR I think she's one of the best I've ever seen.

Your career is in your hands now. Make something happen.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Writing contest RESULTS

None of you guessed who I chose for the winner.

 Here's a clue:

In this day of complete disjoint between truth and fact, between what's said, what's heard and what's true, there is only one entry that is hilarious beyond laughter, the true absurdist cum laud:

All the other entries were funny, but this was absurdly hilarious, and so I loved it most.

Of course, it's even funnier if Steve didn't actually intend it as an entry.

And best of all: this is going to make you all nutso, and tormenting writers is my idea of fun on a cold Monday morning.

Writing contests finalists

you guyz just crack me up completely.
That was the only standard for this contest. The entries that made me laugh the hardest are listed below. As always, it was keen competiton;

French sojourn 8:25am
I was blessed to be born a cat, but cursed having OCD, damn crooked pictures.

Sharyn Eckburg 9:29am
I can’t believe they took down the picture of me and put this shit up instead.

charlogo 9:29am
As the cat burglar checked behind every frame for the wall safe, he thought, once again, how opposable thumbs could have improved his profit margin.

Julie Weathers 10:14am
John Berendt was racking his brain for a title to his new book when he noticed Midnight attacking his garden of butterfly and dragon paintings.

lamandarin 10:44am

Claire Bowbrow 12:09pm
House rules, she said.
No climbing on the drapes, she said.
I don’t believe she did.
Mention it, I mean.
Categorically speaking

Janice Grinyer 12:46pm
~ kitty dearest

Not Jana 12:47pm
Feline Buttonweezer finishing off the sea leg adjustment room on Carkoon while cussing out Canine Buttonweezer for eating all pictures of kale.

Scott Sloan 2:53pm
Peter Parker?
Peter Parkour is more like it…

Spidercat, Spidercat…
Does whatever a Spidercat does

I don’t need no stinkin’ web…

AJ Blythe 3:37pm
Officer, you've made a mistake. I was framed!

flashfriday 4:56pm
Everybody mocked me, said Mama musta hung out with strays, cuz I sure looked funny after cocooning--tail and claws insteada wings. Who’s laughing now?

Steve Stubbs 6:33pm
This comment isn’t an entry. It is a comment about incomplete sentences. Since we are limited to 25 words I shall be brief. I can’t

Let me know your comments on the finalists.
I have a pretty good idea of who the winner is but I like to give it some time to ferment overnight in case inspiration strikes in the middle of the night!

Final results later today.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Call For Submissions: Best New England Crime Stories 2017

Snowbound: The Best New England Crime Stories 2017 Call For Submissions

Submissions open January 1st for 
Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories 2017

Beginning January 1st Level Best Books will be accepting submissions for the fifteenth Best New England Crime Stories anthology. Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories will be published in November 2017 and debut at the New England Crime Bake

The submission requirements and procedures have changed from previous years, so please read the guidelines carefully before submitting.


Stories must be set in New England or be written by a New England author* in the following genres: mystery, thriller, suspense, caper, and horror from any time period (historical, contemporary, future, etc.)

Stories must not exceed 5,000 words.

Stories must be previously unpublished in print or electronically, including self-published works (to include author websites).

Stories from both previously unpublished and published authors will be considered.

The Level Best editors will consider up to two stories from the same author per anthology**

Stories submitted previously, and not published in the interim, are welcome, especially those that have been revised.

New England stories are set in the six New England states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. If you have questions about whether your story qualifies, please query before submitting

We will not consider stories that feature graphic scenes of torture or sex

*Please note: This is a change from previous years. Authors do not need to reside in New England to submit stories for the anthology.

**While we will consider up to two stories by any author, only one story per author will appear in any anthology

How to Submit: 

Submissions will be accepted from January 1 -  May 31, 2017

Please email your submission to VerenaRose at comcast dot net

Type "SNOWBOUND Short Story Submission" in the subject line of your email (without it attachments will not be opened). We have overlapping submission periods for different anthologies so please indicate which you are submitting to.

Include your name, address, phone number, email, story title, word count, and a brief summary of your publishing experience (if any) in the body of the email

Please paginate your story (format page numbers in either the header or footer of the document)

Send your story as a Word attachment, double-spaced

Please either type ### or "The End" to indicate the ending of your story

Submissions will be read blindly by the judges. Your story will be coded to insure anonymity before it is sent to the judges, therefore your name should not appear anywhere on the document

We will promptly acknowledge the receipt of your submission

There is no entry fee

Level Best Books is a paying market & an MWA approved publisher

If eligible, you may submit your story for consideration for both the Level Best Books anthology and the Al Blanchard Award

Copyright © 2017 Level Best Books, All rights reserved.

Flash writing contest!/CLOSED!

Flash writing contest!
In 25 words or fewer, tell us what is going on here!

No prompt words.
One entry per person!

Post your entry in the comments column here.

Prize will be a book of some kind (unless you want a cat!)

Contest opens NOW.
Contest closes at 7pm Sunday 1/8/17.
Results posted Monday 1/9/17.

I assume every comment is an entry unless you tell me otherwise.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

You are here.

One day, not long after I first arrived in NYC, I was on the subway, and  these two ads by The New School caught my eye.

You are here! The metropolis of "what if"

It was as though all the deities had gathered to remind me I was exactly where I was supposed to be no matter what challenges I was facing (and boy howdy, there were a few!)

I loved these ads so much I called up the New School and asked if they could send me copies. They were glad to.

I had these in my office for a long time. Then, what with a couple office moves, and a lot more books on the shelves, they got packed away.

I found them as I was tidying up at the end of 2016. They still fill me with emotion. I look out my office window on the 22nd floor and think "You ARE here!"

I used to say I loved every single thing about New York City but I loved the rats the least.
[There is now one thing I do NOT love in New York City but it looks like he's moving to DC pretty soon.]

I have the posters back up in my office, just to remind myself of how much I love my city, my job, and every single challenge coming in the new year.

What do you keep on your desk that reminds you of how much you love writing?

Friday, January 06, 2017

NaNoWrMo--to say or not to say

I had a brief question: I just completed NaNoWriMo (yay! It only cost me all feeling in my fingers!) I’m very proud of myself and I think just writing that much is a victory in its own regard, but I’m wondering something: when I edit this baby to something resembling publishable quality and send it out to agents, would it behoove me to mention that I achieved a NaNoWriMo victory in the query letter or is that just the equivalent of stuffing your resume like a thin, meatless Thanksgiving Turkey.

Fingerless Felix

Much like revealing the trick in three card monte, or the ingredients in hot dogs, some things are better left unmentioned.

I think it's terrific you set a goal and achieved it.
I think it's really terrific you finished your novel.

None of that matters when we move to the query stage.
There are only two things I care about then: is this a book I think I can sell, and are you an asshat.

Telling me this novel started in NaNoWrMo doesn't help me with either of those questions.

You WILl however be able to use this info in promoting the novel since it's the kind of interesting fact that intriques people. Since I am actually not a person (being ferociously finned and all) it doesn't matter to me.

And I REALLY think it's terrific that you understand that finishing that first draft does not mean you're done.

Press on!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Surprise me

I was on a reading tear the last few weeks of the year. My goal was to respond to every requested full and I almost made it (three remain...I ran out of steam on 12/23/16!)

One of the consistent weaknesses I noticed was the story didn't surprise me.

Good writing requires pacing and tension, yes.
But good story telling means your audience gasps.

I want to gasp. I want to put the manuscript down and just enjoy that moment when the author turns the story upside down.

Think of the movie The Sting

(There will be spoilers here just in case you've been on Carkoon for the past 40 years and missed it.)

The movie unfolds as the confidence game being run on Doyle Lonegan is put into play. The audience sees all the important information, but what it MEANS is the surprise.

There are two particular places where the audience gasps with surprise in the movie:

The first is when Hooker (Robert Redford) is leaving the diner via the alley after breakfast and his night with Loretta the waitress. Loretta was gone when he woke up; all her clothes were gone, but his money was still in his wallet. Neither Hooker nor the audience knows what happened to her. But, in the alley, Hooker sees her. She walks toward him, smiling very slightly. He's glad to see her.

Then, a gloved gunman behind Hooker takes aim and shoots. Not Hooker,  Loretta.  Hooker and the audience are stunned.  The gunman runs up, turns Loretta over, revealing a silenced pistol in her right hand.  "She was gonna kill ya," the gunman tells Hooker.  Turns out Loretta is Loretta Salina, the killer engaged by Doyle Lonegan. There have been references to Salina earlier; but none of them used her first name, and in movie full of gents, a lady assassin was  real suprise. Plus, she'd just spent the night with Robert Redford! And now she wants to kill him! Gasp indeed!

The second surprise is of course the end, just after Doyle Lonegan is rushed out of the betting parlor by Sgt. Snyder cause "there are dead guys here." Only of course, neither Gondorff nor Hooker ARE dead. The audience gasps when Hooker opens his eyes, and gasps again when Gondorff comes "back" to life.

All this is a surprise even though we actually SEE Hooker putting blood squibs in his mouth when he dresses that morning.

That's what surprise is: we had the info, but we didn't know what it meant.

One of the best ways to build plot, and surprise, was explained pretty neatly by a terrific author named Jeff Somers: figure out what's supposed to happen. Then do something else.

If you want a great example of that, rent the delightful movie Hopscotch with Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson. Walter Matthau has worked out a timetable for the trick he needs to pull off. Everything is going well...then bam. His car gets a flat tire.  Didn't see that coming!  It's a surprise!

Surprise does NOT mean aliens arrive in chapter 14, unless you are writing a novel about aliens arriving. It does not mean Felix Buttonweazer learns to fly when he is defenestrated by his nemesis, unless you are writing magical realism and it's all a dream.

A good surprise makes perfect sense but you just didn't see it coming.

In other words, really really simple stuff...and hard as hell to carry off.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Use the pitch session for feedback on your pages

I've found a writing workshop coming to my area, and I'm thinking about going. There will be several agents in attendance, and they offer both pitch sessions and query critiques.

But the novel I'm hoping will hook me an agent isn't done. Barring catastrophe, I will have the first draft finished, or very nearly finished, by the date of the workshop. (My deadline for swapping drafts with my crit partner is the following week.) My previous novel, which did well on the query-go-round but didn't land an agent, went from "the end" to query-ready in about five months; I feel pretty confident that I could trim that down to four with this one.

So, would it be worth it go through pitches or critiques? Is there a point where "almost ready" is close enough, or should everything of this nature be avoided until I'm ready to respond to agent interest by immediately providing a complete, polished manuscript?

The reason you're asking is of course you know the rule to not pitch an unfinished manuscript. Nothing sends me into a tizzy faster than saying "oh I want to read that" only to hear "ok, I'll be done in three four oh sorry, it's six months."

Maximus is ready to read those pages NOW

But, you're also right to think this conference could be a good source of advice for you.

If you can, I'd ask the agents taking pitches if instead,  they'll look at the first three to five pages of your novel to see if there are any red flags.

Most agents are willing to read pages instead of getting pitched. We all understand we're going to need good pages no matter how good your query is. (And given your query did well last time, it sounds like the bugaboo is in the pages)

I can't tell  you how many times I excised the first ten or twenty pages of a novel in order to get to where the story begins.  

Make sure you bring properly formatted PRINTED pages. Properly formatted means 1" margins, double spaced, TNR font, 12 point. And you bring the first 30 or so pages. You only bring out the first 3 to 5 but you are READY if asked for more. [Rule for Writers: Be Ready!]

Bring more than one copy. Let the agent write on the pages. (Bring pens just in case!)

Given the recent discussions here about how far I read on requested fulls, you might get some very helpful advice, and interest in your soon to be completed novel.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

More grist for your hamster wheels

Following up on the "How Far Did You Read" post on 12/15/16, here are some answers to questions in the comment column:

Thank you for the helpful - if devastating - reality-check statistics. But oh Lord, they make for depressing reading. So, of the eleventy-zillion queries you got this year (which is pretty much over), you requested about 50-odd fulls. Then

> of the 50+ manuscripts I've read this year (so far) I read all the way to the end on about five

and the ending of one of those

> left me screeching with frustration.

This leads me directly to my question [which feels like biting down on a sore tooth that you KNOW you should just leave alone]: Assuming the screechy one fails to eventually pass muster (and I know that's not by any means a foregone conclusion) it would leave you with four submissions that you've read to the last page.

Can you give us any idea as to how many of these four manuscripts you're likely to accept? Gosh, it's getting dark in these woodlands.

At the end of the year, I requested  51 manuscripts and I offered rep on one, and the author signed with me. Her book hasn't sold yet.


I have a follow-up question for Janet: On what percentage of rejected fulls do you provide at least some feedback? Feedback could be anything from a simple "I got bored and stopped reading on page 7" (which I agree with Robert Ceres is super-useful) to a more detailed critique of what is and isn't working.

Almost all. And one thing I've learned to do is specifically tell the writers it's ok to ask follow up questions as long as it's not along the lines of "what branch of the Dunderhead family are you from?"

I think one of the biggest changes I've made in how I practice my trade is soliciting communication from queriers/writers.  Hearing their questions, seeing what they're worried about, getting their responses to my comments has been an incredible source of information for me. 

When I first started in this biz, authors were told never to reply to query rejections at any stage. Sit down, shut up, be grateful you got your query/manuscript read.  To say this led to some feelings of resentment is to say the Titanic ran into an ice cube.

I'm not sure when or how I got the idea to ask for responses. I think you blog readers helped me see the value of it first. 

I will say I think it's made me a much better agent both for writers I represent and those I don't. I have a much better visualization of that rodent wheel you're on!

This is an interesting question. I put books on the DNF list with some frequency. As others have mentioned, time is in short supply and there's always that next book on the nightstand.
However, a couple of my favorite novels started veerrryy slowly. I'm so glad I hung in there until they grabbed me. One of them, a six-book series, is at the top of my all-time list, and I only learned later that it comes with a companion book to explain the darn thing. I didn't understand what was going on for at least the first 100 pages of the initial book. in the heck does an agent last long enough to get hooked on some of this stuff?
I don't know about anyone else, but I've read novels all the way to the end that needed a lot of work, but I just had to keep reading.  However, if I didn't understand what was going on, I probably stopped reading. Those kinds of books aren't right for me. I don't like to be confused, but I do like to be surprised.

In fact, I love to be surprised. One of my favorite things when reading is to put the book down just to catch my breath and think "wow, I did not see that one coming!"

The latest book to do that to me is Nick Petrie's new one Burning Bright which I mentioned to ya'll back in September.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Getting ready!

I spent yesterday afternoon in the office, mostly to start adapting to being back at work before Tuesday lands with all four feet.  It was lovely to be back, and a client sent in a manuscript that kept me reading long past when I should have gone home.

Today, I'll be heading back in and making my To Do list first for what needs attention in the next week and then what needs attention in the next two weeks.  I have a feeling we're not all going to be full tilt boogie till next week. This was a LONG luxurious holiday break.

This is the first year in quite some time that January has not been devoted to preparing client 1099s. To say I am looking forward to going back to just agent work this week is a vast understatement.

Speaking of luxurious, here is Gossamer, my beloved furry friend from afar, whom you might recognize as the face of Chum Bucket.

I would love to be able to restart Chum Bucket. It's on my list of goals.

Is there anything you're hoping to start, or resume in 2017?

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Happy New Year!

Here are some of the nice things I've heard about y'all recently:

(1) Your Reiders have taught me so much, and they are a reminder every day that I'm not the only crazy person sitting in front of a computer stringing words together to create meaning. I am so grateful for all of you.
(2) love your blog and the kind people who post there
(3) Thank you so much for letting me use your blog to find beta readers. I now have three lined up to read (and have my first swap in my inbox to read in return).

I know people say it all the time, but I do hope you understand what the community you've built means to those of us in it. Not only do we have your expertise gnashing at our inner woodland creature, but the community as a whole is generous with their support. Thank you.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

How debut do I really have to be?

From reading both this blog and queryshark, I know being a debut author with no prior publication credits as far as novels go help your odds when submitting to agents.

I will soon have the opportunity to collaborate with a more established author on a setting book for a tabletop roleplaying game.

If this is published and my name is listed as one of the authors, does this mean I will no longer be considered a debut author to prospective agents?

Or is being a contributor for an rpg book more like writing a short story for an anthology? To my knowledge, publication credits of short stories for literary magazines and such are an asset when it comes to submitting to agents.

If doing this would harm later chances at publication of my debut novel, do you think I should defer this chance to collaborate until some other time? If it will help my odds, is there any reason not to do it?

First rule of writing: don't turn down paying gigs!

But to answer your question: you're in no danger here of not being a debut novelist. IF some sort of contest requires you to have published nothing previously (ie not just no previous novels) well, you'll have to pass that one by, but "debut" is mostly a tool for marketing and publicity.

Your novel will be your debut novel.

Much like your eldest daughter is your first daughter even if she has an older brother.

Here's what you need to remember: the reason everyone is on the hunt for debut novels is not cause they're debuts, it's cause we won't have to explain why your last novel didn't sell well. Career resuscitation is not for the faint of heart, agent or author.

Thus, sales for a book for the roleplaying game industry with a specific target audience won't have much bearing on whether an indie bookstore in Dubuque, or the crime list buyer at B&N will want to stock your novel.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Won a contest with an agent I'm leery of

Pitch contests are great, but what happens if an agent requests but you don't want to work with them for either personal/professional reasons? Ignore the request (Another agent told me pocket vetoes are fine, but I'd like a second opinion) /pretend you didn't see it? (This is substantially harder to do on blog contests as opposed to Twitter pitch parties.) Send a polite "thanks, but no thanks, I don't think we're a good fit" email? Send them materials and hope they'll reject? Send them shitty first draft materials that you know they'll reject? The latter 2 seem like Very Bad Ideas, but I have to admit it's kinda tempting to make them reject you instead of risking offending an agent by saying you don't want to work with them.

Was I wrong to enter the contest? There were some participating agents that I really liked, and I never thought the one I didn't like would request. Should I stay away from all contests in the future?

Or am I worrying about something that's absolutely meaningless?

(Also, if you want to send a Duchess of Yowl post to chase me off my hamster wheel, that would be almost as good as advice.)
Under no circumstances do you send work to an agent you don't want to work with, or knowingly send substandard work to any agent ever.
That leaves whether or not to respond. I vote for not responding. It leaves you the most options later. It's also a very nice twist on the horrible "no reply means no" practiced by some agents in their query pile.

Also, it doesn't burn any bridges.

I don't know why you don't want to work with the agent who favorited your pitch, but if you change your mind (or s/he cleans up her act?) you've not closed the door to interactions at a later date.

And a Twitter contest or a #MSWL call is a far different thing than a pitch appointment at a conference. At a conference, I assume you've asked to talk to me and would be willing to work with me. If you are not, then you should meet with another agent and not waste your scarce resource of access to an agent.

But the answer to the bigger question is this: agents are looking for good stuff to sell. They'll overlook a lot to get it. A misstep in a Twitter feed isn't that big a deal. Twenty missteps, we're going to pause. Being rude or disdainful, that we are going to notice.

That means you do NOT say on Twitter "I"m only sending this to agents I want to work with" or "Gee, I'm getting some requests from real tools here, too bad they don't vet the agent list better."

Generally someone as keen not to make an error as you are is going to do just fine.

Let your work do the heavy lifting. Write a terrific book I want to read and I'll come to your house to get it if I have to.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Yes, I live to torment writers!

Here are some fun new ways I've found to torment writers this year:

1. One of my clients works retail. At Walmart. At Christmas. So of course, her book deadline is January 1. That wasn't so bad when she was done in October and we were just making sure the i's were crossed and the t's were dotted in December. Now that she's actually still writing? Not quite as much fun. And yes, I agreed to that deadline during contract negotiations. I'm still surprised my client hasn't sent me a lump of coal.

2. A good prospect sent me a revised ms. I sent it back with notes. She hasn't replied at all. I can't call her to make sure she got it because I know her first fluttery thought at hearing "Hi this is Janet Reid" would be "oh my god, she wants to rep my book!" and even I, cold sharkly beast that I am, I cannot do that to a writer at Christmas. Can I?

3. After closing a long-awaited book deal for a client, she asked me if she could start talking about it on social media. I had to tell her to sit on her hands. It's MUCH better to announce a book deal when there's a place for people to actually pre-order, or sign up for more news or some sort of positive action. So, there she is, with great news...and she can't talk about it.

I'm looking forward to finding new and unusual ways to torment writers, both clients and queriers, in 2017.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Rules For Writers: Be Ready III

Some years back I attended Malice Domestic and during the Saturday banquet heard one of the winners of the William F. Deeck Malice Domestic Unpublished Manuscript contest give a short thank you speech.

It was a lovely, gracious speech that touched on how much the writers at Malice meant to her, and how thrilled she was to learn she might now be on her way to joining them.

I knew I was looking at a star. I leaped over the table and rushed to accost her. Fortunately she did not summon les gendarmes to escort me out of the ballroom by mon oreille.

Instead, when I asked if her novel was ready, she said "yes it is." I read it, signed it and sold it. She came that year as a contest winner, the next with a deal, and this year with a published book.

The contest only required three chapters. But if all you have is three chapters, it's hard to snag an agent. And if you win a contest, there's a golden opportunity to be in front of some people who might want to help you reach the next level.

If the contest is three chapters, finish the novel and then enter. If you win, you're ahead of the curve.

If you're querying on your first novel, have a second one ready. If you hear "I like your book, but it's not right for me, what else do you have?" you've got something else ready to go. You're ahead of the curve.

Here's the rule: Be ready for the next step.

A slightly different version of this blog post with a different title was published on  May 1, 2012

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rule for Writers: Be Positive

I'm sure that you receive many thank-yous, nonetheless I want to sincerely than you for taking the time to read through my query once again. However, I am left wondering.... You said it "sounds like a fun novel" and while I would love to be jumping for joy that Janet Reid said my novel sounds like fun!!

I can't help but wonder if maybe you were just being nice. And here I am, left to think that I would have taken it a lot better if you would have just told me that I'd written a piece of crap and that I need to change this, this, this, this, and this before it is any good at all.

Oddly enough, I feel like I can take criticisms better than compliments. I really admire your opinion and would love to know what you really meant when you said my novel sounds like fun. Or perhaps I'm reading too much into it and am better off leaving well enough alone.
Clearly I need to work on my image if you think someone with a shark avatar is ever "just being nice."

You can choose to think "oh she's just saying that" (although why I would do that is a mystery to me) OR you can choose to believe it.

One is positive. One is not. If you are to survive and thrive as writer it is imperative you choose the positive approach.

I don't mean you are Pollyanna. When you find out your sales figures aren't anywhere near what you were sure they'd be you don't clap your hands and shout "oh yay!" No, you weep and rend your garments and curse the fates, BUT THEN you pick yourself up and say to your agent "OK, let's deal with this. Strategy time."

What you do NOT say is "oh they must think I suck as a writer, woe is me."

If you're getting a lot of rejections you weep, and rend your garments and curse the fates, then pick yourself up and say "Ok, I'm riding my rocket boots to a writing conference where I can meet with agents who can give me some feedback on my query and pages."

What you do NOT say is "oh I suck as a writer, all these rejections can only mean I really suck."

If you send a query and I reply with something other than a form rejection, you say "thank you" not "oh did she really mean it" because if you disbelieve every positive thing you will create enough self-doubt to float a battle ship and you will sink yourself. And it will be exhausting for people around you.

How you respond is a choice you make. We all have that instant feeling of doubt, of panic, but the next step is crucial. Get a grip on your reptilian brain, shake it and growl "Enough of that panic horseshit! When Janet Reid read my query and wrote it was a fun novel she meant it." And then you believe it.

Rule for writers: Be positive

An earlier version of this post, with a different title appeared on August 10, 2012

Monday, December 26, 2016

Rules for Writers: Be Reachable

Some years back, the Alaska Writing Guild was brave enough to invite me to their writing conference, and given I like polar bears and hoped one or two might register for the conference, I said yes.

As part of my work for the conference  the conference coordinator emailed me queries and manuscript pages from attendees. Of course, with any such information exchange there are snags.

One person sent me the email address for an author who needed some specific questions answered. I clicked on the address, sent an email.

Boing! Boing! Bounced back faster than you can say "googleschmoogle"

What to do?
It's 2 in the morning in New York. Even with a five hour time difference it's pretty late to start calling up strangers on a Sunday night.

So, I did what I always do first: I googled. Sure enough, up pops the author's blog, and there's his email address in his bio.

Bingo, bango, bongo, much better than boing boing, yes indeed.

Even if the blog was empty, if it had the email address it would have given me what I needed. A contact page on a website would have too.

I can't tell you the number of times this year alone, I've clicked on a blogger name to get contact info, only to come up short.
And you need an email address or a contact form. NOT just Facebook, not just Twitter. I won't reach out to you in a public forum, particularly if I want to tell you why one of your comments was deleted, or if I just want to send you a personal note.

Even if you're not published, even if you're just starting out, post your contact info.

Here's the rule: Be reachable.

This blog post first appeared with a different title and somewhat different content on August 3, 2009

Sunday, December 25, 2016

When Christmas isn't full of joy

If you are beset by loss, illness or despair of any form, Christmas can be unbearable.

So, today, I'm not posting pictures of cute elves. Or reindeer. Or jolly of any sort.

Instead, here's a link to Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed which is a tender, loving book filled with just the kind of thing you might need to hear if Christmas is hard for you.

I love this book with all my heart.
I keep copies in my office just in case someone comes by who needs one.

Maybe it's just what you need today.

Even if it feels like it, you're not alone.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Rules for Writers: Be Imperfect

Some time back I attended a writing conference that featured Lincoln Child as the lunch keynote speaker. Since he's a big time thriller guy, I was interested in hearing what he had to say.

One thing struck a real chord: "I'll tell you this so you won't make my mistakes." That made me think how often I've put a blog post up here (the entire category of annoy-me for example) in hope that you won't make mistakes.

But I also hear you in the comment column and other places say how hard it is to get this stuff right; how terrifying to think you're doing something wrong.

So, here's the best advice you'll ever get from me probably:

Make Mistakes.

Make LOTS of mistakes.
Give yourself a dollar for every stupid thing you do.

Now, why on earth would I say this?

Fear of mistakes leads to paralysis. If you're so afraid of making a mistake or annoying me that you don't query, or don't write, or don't finish, the result is the same: nothing.

Do it, even if it's wrong. It's not going to kill you, and (more important) it's not going to kill me if you make every mistake in the book and invent a few new ones.

Here are some benefits for making mistakes:

1. You'll develop a thick skin, cause you'll get a lot of rejection. Rejection will not kill you.
2. You'll learn what works (because you'll figure out what doesn't)
3. You'll have moved off the starting point, even if you're going in the wrong direction, and the reason to do that is:

Even if you're standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, opportunity can knock. You have to come out of your safe little cave for the opportunity meteor to hit you.

So, what kind of mistakes should you make?

1. Query everyone.
Forget that crap about honing a list and researching what agents like. Query everyone. If they say no, so what. Maybe just maybe you'll find an agent looking to branch out, looking for a fabulous new voice, looking for you. The cost of querying right now is damn near zero since you can query almost everyone by email.

2. If you don't hear back in 30 days, query again twice more.
Don't assume silence = no until you've tried three times. As more and more agents follow the loathsome No Reply means No, writers have no way of knowing if the first query was received. Figure three times to make sure.

3. If one agent at an agency says no, query the other ones.

4. Take your manuscript and your query letter with you
to every single place you might meet an agent. This does not mean you thrust said pages under hotel room doors, under bathroom door stalls, under lunch plates, or into handbags. In fact, you don't offer them up at all. But you're READY if someone asks.

5. Write what you don't know.

I once attended a panel sponsored by the New York Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and it was interesting to me that five of the six authors had created a protagonist in their own image. That's all well and good, but I'm much more interested in the people I don't see every day. The one author who mentioned her protagonist was a Pakistani terrorist was the author I went out and bought the next day.

Don't let fear of being wrong keep you from finding out how to write.

There are some mistakes you don't want to make of course; being rude is right at the top of the list.

The corollary is LEARN from your mistakes. It's ok to make them, it's GOOD to make them. It's not ok to make the same ones over and over again.

Thus this rule for writers: Be Imperfect

An earlier version of this post appeared in a different form and headline on April 13, 2008.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Rules for Writers: Be Rational

 Some time ago a colleague forwarded a query to me with a "is this for you?" message.

I read it, and yes indeed it was for me. It practically had my name in lights at the top of the query.

As usual when I get something I think is yummy, and might have already been snapped up by any of my more slithery colleagues, I give the prospect a ring on the phone.

"Hello, this is Janet Reid," I chirp with a smile (a sharkly one of course!) "You sent a query on such and such a date and it was forwarded to me since my list is a good fit for what you write."

Hot Prospect: Hello, nice to meet you.

Me: I'm calling to make sure you haven't signed yet with any of my slithery competitors colleagues whom I'm sure have been chasing after you.

Hot Prosp: No, no I haven't.

Me: Great, well, I hope you'll be ok with me reading your book then. I'm eager to get the pages.

HP: Well, no. I don't want you to read it.

Me: stunned, incredulous silence.

I'd NEVER had someone refuse to let me read something. As you can well imagine, it's 100% the other way around, I'm refusing to read stuff left and right.

To say I'm stunned is to say Lee Child sold a few books last year.

In the next five nano-seconds I think the following things:

1. He's read my blog and he thinks I'm a foul mouthed bitch.
2. He's read my blog and he thinks I'm incompetent.

3. He knows me and doesn't like me.
4. He's heard of me and doesn't like me.

Now, these thoughts aren't as lucid as this list. It's mostly just an overwhelming feeling of self doubt and the instant assumption his refusal was about ME.

In the next moment, I have a blinding, and I mean BLINDING, realization that this is how some people who query me react to form rejections. I think the last time there was a bolt like this Saul might have been on the road to Damascus.

Then Mr. Prospect elaborates: "I've decided to re-work the novel and I'm several weeks from having it done. I'd rather send you the revised and polished up version."

Me: Sure, no problem. Glad to get it then.

I tell you this to illustrate one more time that when you query agents and you get a form rejection, it's not always about YOU. It could be about ME.

It's ME if I'm not enamored of the topic no matter how well written;

it's ME if I'm overwhelmed with work this week, and just can't read one more partial;

it's ME if I've got a project very similar to yours and can't sell it for spit;

it's ME if I can't think of an editor who would buy this book and have no idea where to even start;

it's ME if a colleague handles this genre and I don't want to encroach on his/her turf.

I don't tell you any of this, and I don't apologize for using a form rejection in these cases. I do, and you'll just have to know that.

Sometimes of course it is the writing. But not always. And if you've been paying attention to this blog and others, you've avoided some of the classic mistakes (glitter! photos! fiction novels!) If you've availed yourself of QueryShark or Evil Editor or any of the other critique sites, you've probably got a decent query.

That means you press ahead. Don't dog paddle around the slough of Despond. Climb out, hose yourself off, and get back to work.

Thus this Rule For Writers: Be rational. Understand that your first response comes from the reptilian base of your brain. Engage your thinking brain.

This post appeared in a somewhat different form and header on April 12, 2009