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.
Hey, we got a shout out in SAM HAWKE'S book!! How cool is that!
Of course we need a flash fiction contest to celebrate! Prize is a copy of City of Lies!
The usual rules apply:
1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.
2. Use these words in the story: city lie sam hawke woo hoo
If you want to compete the Steve Forti Category of Advanced Word Acrobatics, you must also include: Canberra
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: lie/liege is ok but woo-hoo/wool hood is not
4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.
5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.
6. International entries are allowed.
7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)
8. 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.
Hope all is well and you're chomping some tasty queries this week. (I bypassed the queries and went directly to chomping on tasty writers at ThrillerFest. They were delicious!)
Question for you:
In recent blog posts, you've talked about author blurbs, stressing how unhelpful it is to try and get blurbs before your book is acquired and how important it is to save those author reads for when the book is done and ready to be blurbed.
This got me to thinking about blurbs (something I really hadn't been considering at this stage) and made me wonder: who should we hope for blurbs from?
If we have a network of author friends, when it comes time to ask about blurbs, should we focus our energies on the people whose books are most similar to ours? If we know a bestselling author in another genre (who might have a crossover audience), should we put them on our list?
I know I've seen non-fiction on the Middle Ages touted as the book George R.R. Martin used for research, for example. So, is the person's bestseller status the key or do we need to stay within the bounds of our own genres and categories?
The bigger the author name, the better the blurb. If George RR Martin likes your book, and you write dino porn, it doesn't matter that he doesn't.
Most blurbs however are going to come from writers working in your genre or category. You want names that your readers (or prospective readers) will recognize.
But there are also blurbs that tell industry folks that you're something special. A lot of readers may not recognize the name James Crumley, but within the crime writing community he's something pretty special.
The flip side of that is blurbs that industry folks know are worthless. I believe it is Robert Parker who is credited with "I'll read your book, or I'll blurb your book but I won't do both" which I think is hilarious but doesn't help the author with a Parker blurb.
Blurbs from bookstore owners are also helpful for building buzz inside the industry. Those people are real readers, and generally have pretty good taste in books. They also are pretty savvy about what will sell. Their opinions really matter to other booksellers too.
The good news is you're not going to be working on this by yourself. Your agent and editor should be doing some of the heavy lifting with you. And you're not even going to think about this until you have a book deal.
I have begun querying agents about my novel. It's undergone judicious pruning and the query has been edited more times than I can count. I'm pretty confident in my submission--or at least I was. Now I'm suddenly noticing flaws in the query after sending it to fifteen agents. Whoops....
The query doesn't mention the first few events at all, and skips right to the major plot point. I'm afraid this might deter agents, as what happens in the query doesn't happen until later in the novel. I also feel it's too dull and uninteresting, with very little life in the words. Should I:
1) Rewrite the query and resubmit?
2) Rewrite the query and submit to new agents, putting the old ones behind me?
3) Stop freaking out and wait to see their responses?
Or am I making a big deal out of nothing?
Well, you're not making a big deal out of nothing if you think your query is dull and uninteresting. I had to laugh at the phrase "too dull" cause it sounds like you think there might be an acceptable level of dull in a query.
I'm less concerned about the fact that your query focuses on a major plot point. That's probably a good thing. You may be starting your novel in the wrong place (which happens a LOT) if you're not getting to that point until "later in the novel."
The story starts where something changes.
Yes you need to set things up. For example Romeo and Juliet need to be introduced, the feud of the Montagues and Capulets revealed. But the story starts when Romeo sees Juliet. It is from that event that the story flows.
Consider one of my favorite movies, Heat. In a previous post, I used it to illustrate building tension in a novel. The movie starts with DeNiro stealing an ambulance, Val Kilmer buying explosives, Al Pacino canoodling with his sweetheart, and the other characters brought on stage.
But it's not until Waingro shoots the armored car guards, where something goes wrong, that the plot starts. It's about nine minutes into the movie which runs 160 minutes total.
If you're querying Heat, or Romeo and Juliet you talk about where the story starts, even if there are things that happen before that.
But notice in both Heat and R&J, the precipitating incident happens pretty close to the start.
Now, as to your question. Once you've queried an agent and gotten a reply, that's game set match. If you've revised the novel substantially, you might requery. Revising only the query itself, not so much.
That means the correct answer is #2.
That said, there's no such thing as the query police and requerying with a revised missive will not kill you, or me. It will annoy me most likely, but almost everything does, and that's not really a downside you need to worry about.
What would be the best use of my time in private meetings with agents if the agents are not good matches for me personally? Normally I would just ask for feedback on my query regardless but I think my query's already working (8 of about 40 queries requested a full or partial).
Not good matches= they have rejected my first book and don't rep the genre of my current book (well one does but specifically says "don't send me books about X" and mine is about X). Would it be uncouth to (politely) say we wouldn't be a match, but here's what my book's about and here are my creds, and can you think of anyone where this would be up their alley? (But I also don't want to come across like I haven't been doing my basic homework, like scouring the internet for agents who *I* think would be up my alley.)
I'm not sure why you're participating in pitch sessions, or one on one sessions, with agents who aren't a good fit for your work. Surely you can ask to be re-assigned to another agent if a conference organizer made the matches. Or just not use the appointment and give it to someone who needs it.
However, to answer your question, ask them about books they'd advise writers to read. Or books they think are really good. Ask them what they've read recently that they loved or hated.
Ask them what they wish all querying writers knew.
In other words, ask them about their tastes and preferences, not the tastes of other agents.
And certainly don't ask agents for info on who to send your book to. They probably don't know anywhere near as much about what other agents are looking for as you do. Plus, there's something a little offputting about a writer sitting down and saying "you aren't a match for me, but who else would be." Like asking a guy you don't want to date for info on the the other guys.
I feel like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. My remote and deserted island is the belief that the machinations which brought forth the sudden rise of the independent self-publisher will collapse like the housing market because it cannot support its own weight. Yet, I am surrounded by an ocean of self-publishing hype and hysteria where waves of mediocre authorial success—marked by an ability to quit one’s day job (for now)—and the snake oil salesmen that are “gurus” and “industry insiders” touting the next get-published-quick scheme pound me into a pus of submission where I almost believe there is no other way to publish.
This blog (your blog) is my Wilson, offering me a tenuous tether to the kernel of hope that the reality I hold dear—that those publishing professionals who have lived and breathed the industry for decades actually know what they’re doing and will be around long after the collapse of Everything from A to Z’s publishing platform—isn’t just a dream.
Still, I am desperately trying to build the raft that will carry me to home, to the professional community dedicated to spreading as much fervor and zealotry in the world of the traditionally published author as I see in the self-publishing world.
Other than the obvious: write the best book you can, query wide, publicize the hell out of your book once you are published, rinse, repeat … can you (or the Reiders) offer any direction to the community I’m seeking? (You know, those who have also not given up on the world of traditional publishing, those who understand the patience and dedication required to commit to a craft and business such as ours.)
Thanks again for everything you do.
That community is right here.
And it's at author events in bookstores. And book cons with authors, cons like Bouchercon, Malice Domestic and book festivals where readers meet writers.
Your people are the authors in the trade publishing trenches. They are suffering like you are; hearing the siren call of all the self-publishing authors who think their way is the One True Way.
Go to those places, and support the authors there. You build community by participating. Talk about and review books by authors like you. Offer them the support you will need later.
I remember when Amazon reduced the barrier to publishing by providing a marketplace for almost any kind of book, and people gleefully told me it was The End of Publishing As We Know It.
Well, it wasn't.
Anymore than the arrival of mass markets assured the death of hardcovers. Anymore than ebooks signaled the death of print.
Publishing is a VERY old industry and it moves glacially. That's not a selling point these days, but it means that it's weathered more than a few storms and most likely will weather this one.
To give yourself some perspective on the passage of time, read the wonderful book An Infinity of Little Hours by Nancy Klein Maguire about the Carthusian monks at Parkminster (in England). The Carthusian order was established in 1084, and has changed little in the intervening thousand years. Carthusians make the pace of publishing look like a jackrabbit.
To fend off despair: Be the voice you need to hear. You'll be surprised how many people believe as you do. Commit yourself to being part of the community you need. And a new Rule for Writers: Be committed.
I learned from a writer/freelance editor that some agents now require chapter outlines as part of the submission package, in addition to the query letter, synopsis, and specified number of manuscript pages.
Chapter outline: single or double space? A few sentences per chapter or major plot points as bullets? Or a summary paragraph per chapter?
I'll have it in my toolbox if needed.
Wait, what?? I've never heard of this for novels. Non-fiction sure, but for a novel?
The first question you need to ask W/FE is "who asked for that" and get actual data. And then think about this: most novels have DOZENS of chapters. Non-fiction may have 20; I've sold books on proposal that have had as few as 10 chapters.
But outlining 48-100 chapters is nuts. It's like a synopsis on steroids. And I've never had an editor ask for something like this for a novel. Synopses sure, but never chapter outlines.
So, let's verify that someone actually did ask for this. Then let's just all agree to say "naaaahhh" Cause this is insane.
Many years ago I was at Powell's City of Books with an author whose name is lost to my shrinking memory cache.
After the author's reading, as we were leaving, we came across a young writer gazing at a sign that was a line from a short story by Raymond Carver.
A brief meeting of the Raymond Carver Fan Club, Chapter 97209 was called to order.
The young writer told us he was on his way, that very night, to Port Angeles, to visit the grave of Raymond Carver. A pilgrimage of sorts. He was getting ready to start a new novel, and paying homage to Raymond Carver was his way of invoking the Muse, much as the ancients did before they took up the task of taming words into a story.
I was enchanted by that idea (as you can see, I've remembered it - albeit missing bits - for years). I wondered for whom I would undertake a pilgrimage. Who would I invoke to bless my efforts?
James Crumley would top the list. But I wouldn't visit his grave, I'd visit Crumley corner in The Depot, Missoula, Montana.
And if you don't know the work of James Crumley, I envy you. You now get to buy his books and experience the raw pleasure of reading an undisputed master for the very first time. Like how Keats felt about another writer who was known to invoke the Muse:
On First Looking into Chapman's Homer
Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold, And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne; Yet did I never breathe its pure serene Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Do you invoke a muse? And for whom would you make a pilgrimage?
If I've had published authors read my manuscript and have given positive feedback, can I / should I use this in my query letter. I know you shouldn't mention beta readers, but I wondered if pubed pubbed* authors also fall in this category.
I've found people that say yes do it and people that say hell no! What's the real deal about doing this?
Well, yes you should tell me but not for the reason you think. You should tell me so I know what blurb opportunities you've squandered.
You don't get two trips to the well on a single book. Once someone has read your book for a blurb (be they pubbed, not pubbed, almost pubbed, regretting their life choices in pubbing) that's it.
You don't get to go back and say "hey, the book underwent substantial revisions with the agent and the editor. Can you read again and give me a blurb?"
And let's face facts. The number of books that came in and went out without a fair amount of revision is
The question you didn't ask but should have is: should I ask someone to read my book for a blurb before I send it to an agent? The answer is NO.
And if you think I'm just a fussy cross patch:
Bottom line: don't ask anyone for a blurb before you have a publishing deal.
What you CAN do is mention that you know Published Author and s/he had indicated she's up for blurbing the book. That's actually of far greater value than a blurb on a book now.
*I love this typo with all my heart, and you know I make a LOT of typos my own self!
I'm currently in the process of drafting query letters, but I'm having a genre problem.
I've written an extensive collection of limericks on mental and social health. I know it's not fiction. It's closer to non-fiction, but submission instructions for non-fiction often ask for sample chapters, and this collection won't be in chapter format.
Ok, fine, it's a poetry book, but... I think of poetry as relatively esoteric stuff, and I don't see this book belonging in the poetry section. I think it makes more sense to present it as a kind of humorous self-help book, or a novelty book one buys near the cash register at Urban Outfitters.
Thanks for any guidance you can offer on creating an appropriate and effective query letter.
You're closest with "novelty book" but the correct term is gift book. You query this as you would non-fiction, and while it's true you don't have sample chapters, you have sample pages. You'd include some of the limericks.
Were this to cross my desk the first thing I'd look for is platform. This is the kind of book that needs 10,000+ Instagram followers to be viable.
Also, I don't know what "social health" means.
The trick to getting category right is find books that are like yours. Look at the back cover. Often there will be a category listed for the book.
This is the back cover of Life's Little Instruction Book which is a gift book, and also considered self-help. Most books have this kind of information somewhere on the back cover.
Here's are some other examples from three books pulled at random from my shelf: