Fiction is the purest art. Commercial fiction is the butter, the darkest chocolate, and the finest malt. That's why we are so addicted to it. By day I'm a literary agent in NYC. By night I'm the QueryShark.
I bumped into your blog this morning--reading your posts goes well with coffee, albeit with the occasional erp-laugh spillage :-)
You provide an opportunity for readers to ask questions, so here goes: How do you recommend I address two time lines in a query?
To date, I've only addressed the main character's timeline. With queries limited to ~300 words including greeting, pitch, and bio, it's hard enough to grab the agent's attention with one timeline. I believe the essentials of the query can be communicated via the MC's timeline; will a second one surprise the agent when they (if they) ask for a partial or full ms?
You address two time lines by talking about each as a separate story line. If you've got characters in the here-and-now you'll need to tell me what they want and what's keeping them from getting it; what's at stake in their quest.
Then you do the same for the characters in whatever the other paste/future time line is.
The best way to figure out how to do this well is find other books with two time lines and look at the flap jacket copy for the book. You don't need to reinvent the wheel, just adapt it to the kind of vehicle you're querying.
The comment column will no doubt have a few more good suggestions, and your local librarian is a resource you want to avail yourself of as well.
As to your question of whether an agent will be confused, the answer is no. You can't put everything in a query, and a query is NOT a synopsis. The purpose of a query is to entice me (your reader) to dive into the pages.
I've been at work on my novel for 15 years. I've rewritten it from the ground up three times. The fourth draft alone has been in progress for nearly nine years, has benefited from the editorial feedback of numerous (many luminous) literary friends, and while I certainly expect to make more cuts and continue refining it between now and galleys, the novel is narratively swift and boiled down. It is cooked.
It is also 198,000 words.
I realize that's, just barely, within your parameters. But it has been drummed into me that the publishing industry will not consider a debut novel of more than 80,000 words. So in crafting my queries, I'm torn between a belief in transparency and in following directions, and the fear that agents will make a bee-line from my word count to the trash can icon in their email application. If I leave it out, and my query is otherwise compelling and complete, I might snag a follow-up from an agent who will agree with me that the work's merits compensate for its unorthodox length.
What would you do in my shoes?
yeesh. That's one helluva book. I'd leave out the word count and include the most tightly written first 3-5 pages in the history of publishing.
Length is a production problem of course. It costs more to print a book of that length; a book that size takes up more shelf space than a novel half its size. That means it has to be priced higher than other books, and you don't need to be an econ major to remember that lower prices increase demand.
However. If you need 198K, that's what you need. I'm always willing to take a look (other agents aren't however, so be prepared for auto-rejects) if a book intrigues me.
Where big-ass books get the boot is most often when I read flabby first pages. If I read something that's 198K and I can see a way to take out 100 words in the first three pages, I'm going to conclude your word count is due to flab, not plot.
How can you make sure you've got plot bulk, not flab? A good editor with a fist full of red pens is a good start.
A consultation at a writing conference might be in order. If you met me at a pitch session, brought your pages and told me it was 198K and did I think this ms was trim enough, I'd take a look and show you what I thought could be chopped.
A taut well-told 198K book can find an audience. It's got a much higher hurdle to overcome than a book that's half that size, but it can be done. Good luck!
I have a question about agents and requested fulls/partials. I'm in the query trenches and have gotten a few full requests, all followed by (so far) rejections a few weeks/months later. But two agents have had my full longer than any of the others - 7 and 9 months, respectively. One was initially responsive to nudges, but now neither are responding.
I realize they're both probably passes and am not holding my breath, but I've noticed a curious thing. Both these agents' QueryTracker pages are full of people like me, waiting in some cases years with no response, BUT there are occasionally folks who report that both agents got back to them immediately when they'd received an offer from someone else. I haven't seen anyone who heard back without another offer in hand.
So my question is - is it possible that some agents are requesting material and then only replying if they hear that another agent is interested? And if so, is there anything we writers can do about it?
It's entirely possible, and there's really nothing you can do about it. What's very very tempting is to tell those agents you have an offer. You know it's unethical, you know it's wrong wrong wrong, but you're tempted.
Do NOT do this.
Yes, it's wrong, yes it's unethical but it's also a good way to shoot yourself not just in one foot, but in both feet, and probably take off a couple fingers for good measure.
Here's why: we notice writers who say they have offers but never seem to sign or sell. When you query again, with no mention a previous agent, that's a huge red flag.
If you say you have an offer, but can't/won't tell me who it's from, I don't think of it as a compelling reason to read. (It's entirely ok to tell another agent who's offering. It helps us sort the legit offers from the schmagenty ones.)
If it makes you feel any better, there are some editors who do this too. I don't submit stuff to them in first rounds any more.
In other words "my novel" is the retelling of a now-classic work. I get a lot of these, and while Charlotte's Web with vampires is a total non-starter for me, the others are not. I'd keep reading.
All too often however, the query doesn't tell me what I really want to know: what have YOU added to the story? How have you built on the work that's come before? How is your book better, faster, stronger, smarter, newer, zippier, than the classic upon which it is based.
Think about Romeo and Juliet. The musical West Side Story is R&J, but set on the west side of New York, during the influx of immigrants from Puerto Rico. The story isn't about family rivals in this case; it's ethnic rivalry. It says something about the melting pot we like to think America is. It says something about the American Dream for people coming from distant places. On top of the R&J love story, there's a cultural commentary.
That's what I'd need to know if you're querying West Side Story.
If you're having a hard time figuring out what you added to the story, you're not ready to query. "Catcher in the Rye set in the present day" isn't enough to hold my interest. Holden Caulfield as a transgendered teen, yup.
Claire Bobrow won the flash fiction contest last week with this entry:
Publishing intern by day… Black Panther by night! Who would ever suspect pitiful milquetoast Clay, always hiding under chairs and slinking about the office, afraid of water and pug dogs? But when the sun went down and a tsunami of sin struck Gotham City… Hiss! Claw! Me-ow! No one could stop the Black Panther.
So he’d play along until they fired him. Purr. Pretend to enjoy traipsing on tablets and cluttering keyboards. Even reading queries, like the one he’d napped on today. No O’Henry, that author, but still… The Secret Life of Walter Kitty had distinct possibilities.
I thought it would be fun to hear more from Claire about how she writes her flash fiction.
1. When do you start thinking about your entry? Do you start with writing? I usually start noodling as soon as I read the post and the prompt words. Often a story idea will pop into my head immediately and I’ll open a Word document and do an idea dump in the form of any sentences that occur to me, stream-of-consciousness style.
2. How many drafts did you write? For this latest one, I wrote 3 drafts. I’m embarrassed to say that in my 1st draft, I literally forgot to use ANY of the prompt words. That has never happened before! But I was rushing because I was supposed to be packing and driving to the SCBWI conference! I wrote the final draft late Saturday after our evening keynote address (Vanessa Brantley-Newton!!) and socializing.
I usually try to do at least 3-4 drafts.
3. Do you read the other entries before you post? No. I don’t like to do that as a general rule. I’m so afraid I’ll subconsciously pick up on someone else’s entry, or be intimidated by the awesomeness of the entries before me. Intimidation does bad things to my creativity.
4. How long have you been entering the flash fiction contests here on the blog? I learned about your blog and QueryShark at my first-ever writing conference (at the Book Passage bookstore in Corte Madera, CA) Jan 23-24, 2016. My first FF entry on your blog was February 20, 2016 (results posted Feb 22, 2016) - you gave me a mention :-0
I’m glad I was totally clueless about how amazing all the Reiders are because if I had known, I would never have been brave enough to enter. I didn’t even realize that people commented on the entries or your blog posts, or that the sane ones lurk for a while before plucking up the courage to comment.
Based on my shoddy files, I think I’ve entered about 34 of your contests. Is that possible?
5. What, if anything, have you learned by writing flash fiction? I have learned so much about: - being concise - creating a complete story with the bare minimum - humor - word play - rhythm - unusual structure/form - and EMOTION and HEART (at which my fellow Reiders excel). This is something I struggle with.
All of this has been incredibly helpful in learning to craft picture books.
6. What kind of book are you working on? Primarily picture book manuscripts. Chapter books and middle grade are on the horizon.
7. What are you currently reading? Do you have a year? Kidding! I’m reading: - Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi) for my adult book club. - The Apothecary (Maile Meloy), MG - The Magic Words (Cheryl Klein) and Writing Magic (Gail Carson Levine) - craft books - and stacks and stacks of picture books. Most of the current ones are part of the reading list for this year’s ReFoReMo, happening now. **
** ReFoReMo is Reading For Research Month,
a challenge designed to help authors & illustrators
learn the craft of creating picture books through the study of mentor texts.
In another lifetime (14 years ago, to be exact), an indie press published a suspense novel of mine as a hardback. My mom bought a copy, bless her heart, and I suppose a few other people did, too. In 2012, an agent convinced me to self-publish an e-version of the book along with an e-version of another novel. My mom might’ve bought a copy of those, also.
After those experiences, I decided to devote myself to finding an agent and pursuing the route of traditional publishing. I’m dead set against e-publishing, and I have great reservations against pursuing the indie route.
But now an indie publisher is showing interest in re-publishing the book that came out in hardback. I don’t have a strong desire to do this, or a strong motivation not to, though the novel is a fun read, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it in print again.
Here’s my question: would republishing the hardback with the indie be a strike against me in the eyes of super agents such as yourself (though I fully recognize that you’re in a category all by yourself)? That is, I’ve heard in different places that if you’ve got books out with lackluster sales, that might hurt you when trying to publish with a traditional house.
There are no hard and fast rules about this kind of thing because a lot depends on the book, or in this case books.
When I get a query for a book from an author with backlist, the first thing I assess is whether that backlist will help us find an audience for the new book. Are the books in the same general category (both crime, or romance, or sf/f) Are there some good Amazon reviews; ones that say "can't wait for this author's next book"?
Most important though is whether the new book is really terrific. Of course I only sign really terrific books but if you've got a publishing history, the new book needs to be bigger, bolder, better on all fronts. A real break-out novel.
What you always need to remember is that agents and publishers will overlook just about anything if they think they can sell a lot of copies and make money.
When you hear "lackluster sales of a previous book kill your chances" what that means is we doubt the new book is bigger/bolder/better enough to assuage our fears that this book won't do better than the last one.
Here's the real dilemma you're facing: Most likely, there are no reliable Bookscan numbers on the first edition of your book. Bookscan was founded in 2001 and it took a while to get enough coverage to make the numbers semi-reliable. (Don't worry about the e-edition in 2012, Bookscan doesn't track electronic books)
If you republish that book now, you'll get current Bookscan numbers and without any kind of marketing push, those numbers are going to be abysmal. Bookscan misses ALL direct website sales (if the publisher sells books direct to consumers via their website) and all library sales. It does pick up Amazon, so that helps.
You need to balance the risk and reward. A book published 14 years ago isn't going to get much notice. How much money do you think you'll make from the new edition? Is this new book big enough to overcome fears of lackluster sales (if that's what you're expecting from this repubbed edition?)
Without a clear and compelling reward for repubbing, I'd hold off. There's no time constraint on repubbing that first book. In fact, if you sell the new book, you can repub the first one digitally and use it as promo for the new one. I'm in the process of doing just that for two of my clients.
You're the only one who can assess all the factors here. There's nothing to lose by waiting and a lot to be gained by holding your fire.
I meet all the requirements and my WiP meets the requirements. The only thing I need is a 250 word synopsis, and I should be able to drink enough liquor to sufficiently dull the pain to write one in less than a month. So I'm interested in submitting. The deadline is March 31.
However, the information includes the following:
"Award: The works submitted by winners will be made available on a secure webpage and presented to a hand-selected group of editors for their consideration. Although this is not a guarantee of publication, the opportunity to have your work presented to acquiring editors, along with an SCBWI endorsement, is a unique opportunity."
Remembering all of your previous warnings about not submitting directly to publishers/editors if we want an agent, should I NOT submit my almost-ready-to-query WiP to this particular opportunity?
SCBWI is a very reputable group; I encourage everyone working in kid lit to join and avail themselves of the resources there.
This award does NOT fall under the "don't send to editors before agents" rule.
The reason is you are not submitting your work. They're reading contest results.
The difference seems minor, but it's important.
When you get an agent for this work, you'll mention that you entered/won this contest and that some editors saw the manuscript.
If an editor reaches out to you after seeing your work, you alert the agents you're querying with that news. You tell the editor you're agent hunting.
Bottom line: An editor seeing something is not the same thing as a submission. Good luck with your entry!
Is it a terrible idea to write a novel in English when it's not your first language?
If your answer is just black and white "yes", then I don't want to know because my novel is finished (not necessarily including the final draft) and I am not a native English speaker.
In case you're wondering now why I haven't written in my first language: 1) my boyfriend is British and I couldn't imagine him not having a clue what I've been doing the last three and a half years. 2) The market for books in English is so much bigger.
I'm not just worried about me not matching the required level of language skills, but actually also about my story not being attractive to the American market because it's nothing to do with the US. The story happens in four European countries (Germany, Switzerland, England, France), but these places don't really matter for the plot.
So in fact, as I am writing this, my second question is about whether it's reasonable to try and find a literary agent in the US when my story takes place in Europe?
My query letter says in the fourth line "An unnamed Girl at primary school in northern Germany struggles..."
Is "northern Germany" an immediate prompt for a rejection?
I have changed my manuscript from British to American English. All "realise"s have become "realize"s, all "mum"s have become "mom"s and all "mumbling"s annoyingly turned into "mombling"s.
Should I just reverse it all to British English and try to find a literary agent in the UK only?
I live neither in the US nor in Europe.
Do you live on Carkoon? Sending royalty payments via interplanetary mail is a pain, and that's the only reason I would care if someone lived somewhere other than here. Well, actually, I also care if you have access to the internet, cause so much of publishing is now conducted electronically I can't sign someone who lives off the grid.
So don't worry about where you live.
If you think books set outside the United States are an immediate rejection, let me introduce you to:
And that's just the first four I thought of in the six seconds it took me to type their names. You might say "well, those are all genre books" but there are lots of other books set in far off lands that do quite well.
So, don't worry about your setting.
The writing in English part is a little more problematic. I can usually tell when someone is a non-native speaker because they use interesting words, and often are just a little off-key. That's not always a bad thing. I love the novels of Aleksander Hemon for example, and he writes in his non-native English. If you haven't discovered his work, hie thee to a book store at once.
But your concern is well-founded. English is a weird language and it likes to trip up natives and non-natives alike.
You'd do well to find a beta reader to make sure you haven't misused idioms, or confused liar with lyre, or worse, lair!
There are a number of people writing in English who weren't born to it. I'd say judging from the writing in this question you're going to do just fine.
So don't worry about that either. (For things to worry about, consult yesterday's blog post!)
So let’s say you wrote a book and it made the rounds, but it was rejected. You got some feedback, rewrote it, but it was still rejected. Then you got some more (but more extensive) feedback from a publisher and suddenly you had a light bulb moment and figured out how to take elements from the old novel and reimagine it completely, would this still be considered the same book? So basically what I’m asking is, at what point (if any) does a previously shopped manuscript become a new novel - i.e. if you write a new book based on elements from an old book that made the rounds, is this still considered a previously shopped work and would you have to disclose it as such when querying agents? I know if you make some rewrites it would be considered the same book, but what if you reimagined the book so extensively, it becomes a new product?
Here's the bottom line: it's not illegal or unethical or immoral to repurpose your work, slap on a new title (that's key) and send it out in the world again to find gainful employment. There's no magical makeover number that makes it "new" and it doesn't need to be all new to go out.
My ONLY concern when you query is whether I like and think I can sell this project you're now querying.
If that project started life as something else, well, we all grow and change as we figure stuff out!
If you queried me on the previous iteration, and I passed, you'd do well to not start by requerying me (or others who have passed.) Start fresh. Give your ms a chance to find friends.
Your unspoken assumption here is you don't want to end up on some sort of agent blacklist. You are in ZERO danger of that if you query politely, even for a novel with hand me down elements.
There are a couple ways to be irrevocably banned from my query inbox. In case you're wondering, they are:
1. Be rude or condescending about my assistants/interns.
2. Be snotty about my clients or their work
3. Tell me I lack taste and refinement. You're free to ignore books that have garnered starred reviews and positive critical attention but if you think I'm a dodohead, why did you query me at all? Oh wait, YOUR book is the gold standard for taste... how could I not have realized that. Perhaps I am a dunderhead.
4. Query for the same project over and over. No title change, no revision, no change at all.
Notice you're not even close to #4 here.
You now must worry about something else, cause this concern is off your list. World peace, rising sea levels and what would happen if sharks disappeared are always choices for fretting.
I work in the film industry - specifically theatrical marketing, producing movie trailers and promos. A few colleagues and friends, who work on the production side for major studios, have expressed serious interest in reading my manuscript once it's complete. They are interested in possibly optioning it as a movie. I feel that if a film studio is interested in my manuscript, it might be easier to get an agent. At the same time, I'm hesitant to send my completed manuscript to a major film studio without having an agent representing me. It's a conundrum for me and I was hoping to get your thoughts on the matter.
Does this situation fall into the same forbidden category as 'Pitching to Editor / Publishers First' or is it different since it's film?
DO NOT DO THIS!
DO NOT SEND YOUR MANUSCRIPT OUT TO ANYONE until you have secured representation, particularly to anyone in the world of film.
I'm sure your friends have the best of intentions. I'm sure they're honorable folk. Sadly, y'all work in a snake pit and I'm not telling you anything you don't know.
It is NOT easier to get an agent if there's "film interest" If anything it's harder here cause we have a film department and they don't want something people have already seen. Other agents also want a fresh slate. Something that's been seen is NOT that.
And unless your friends have the money and connections to actually get films MADE, optioning your script is just useless twaddle. I can't tell you the number of people who've slunk by my office hoping to option my client's books. Asked how much they're willing to pay, the answer is often "ummm....pay??" and that's a total non-starter.
Finish the book. Get an agent. In that order. There are exceptions. You're not going to be one.
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