Monday, December 31, 2007

Revising and Critiquing

Here are some more useful links to help you revise your manuscript or get and give useful critiques of other people's manuscripts.

These articles are on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America website:

Murder Your Darlings
by James Patrick Kelly

Writerisms and other Sins: A Writer's Shortcut to Stronger Writing
by C.J. Cherryh

Hardcore Critique Guidelines
by Amy Sterling Casil

And these posts are from the Deep Genre website:

From First to Final Draft: A Case Study
by David Louis Edelman

Stupid Writer Tricks: 10 Writing Tricks to Avoid
by David Louis Edelman

And a bit of related advice from Evil Editor's website: Does it pay to use an editing service?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Word Building

This post is geared a bit more towards those who write speculative fiction. Below are some links of articles written by authors about world building.

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions
by Patricia C. Wrede

The Devil in the Details
Devil in the Details Redux: China Dolls and Chandlers
Gates of Damascus chili--the spice trade and worldbuilding
by Kevin Andrew Murphy

Where’s the Latrine?
by Madeleine Robins

Uses and Abuses of Multiple Languages in SF/F Worldbuilding
by Kate Elliott

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pen Names

I've found a variety of links about whether or not you should use a pen name.

From one author's viewpoint, Using a pen name: myths and realities.

What Agent Miss Snark thinks of them: A Rose is a Rose.

What author and agent-assistant, The Rejecter, thinks is that it's a thinking too far ahead syndrome.

Everyone seems to have their own slant on this, so I'll let you read the posts for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

Publishing Terms -- Pre-Empts

If you've read Publishers Marketplace book deals, you're probably heard of books being sold on pre-empts to publishers. So what is a pre-empt? To quote Miss Snark,

A pre-empt is when a publisher coughs up enough dough to keep all the other players off the field. They say I'll give you x gazillion dollars and you tell everyone else drooling onto your doorstep that the project is sold.

It's ALSO when you hold an auction and only get one bid. We call those preempts rather than "ooops".

On Jonathan Lyons blog at Lyons Literary LLC, he defines it a little more formally as:

A "pre-empt" is a preemptive offer. A publisher conveys this offer in advance of an auction or an expected auction in an attempt to preempt other publishers from getting the book. Typically this offer is conveyed for a short period of time (24 to 48 hours) before it's pulled from the table.

The biggest issue is whether the offer is good enough in order to preclude going to auction. Problems also arise when the offer is for more rights than the author and the agent want to grant.

In case you don't know what an auction is, Jonathan Lyons defines that as:

An auction is a process which allows multiple publishers to bid on your work. Auctions can vary in shape and type, depending on the number of editors interested, the type of book, and the agent involved.

He then goes on to talk about the details of how various auctions can work, so follow the link to read the rest of his informative blog post.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Books on Writing

Here are some of the books that I found very helpful in learning how to write better. Some of these books I own, others I picked up at the library.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, 2nd Edition
by Renni Browne and Dave King

This is a great book to help you improve your writing, but make sure to keep in mind that this advice should be taken in moderation! This is one place where the oft-cited "don't use adverbs" advice comes from. (What they actually say is don't use adverbs with a verb when you can replace them with one stronger verb that does the job of both.) That said, I highly recommend this book and have read it many times.

Beginnings, Middles, and Ends
by Nancy Kress

Agents and editors say that they often read short stories and novels that start with one idea/focus, then, part way through, it suddenly turns into a different story and the end "wraps up" a completely different story. I've come across stories like this when I've done critiques. I'm not talking about twist ends. The author apparently started writing one story but then had a great idea and took off on another track partway through but never bothered to go back to revise the beginning to make it fit the new story. This book helps you stay on track by helping you identify the questions you raise at the beginning that need to be answered by the end. It also helps you improve whatever stage of writing (beginning, middle, or end) that's the most difficult for you to write well.

I've read most of the other books in the Elements of Fiction Writing series by Writer's Digest, but this is the one I own because I found it so useful.

The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing
complied by Meg Leder, Jack Heffron, and the Editors of Writer's Digest

This book has articles by published authors on writing a variety of different genres. It really helped me bring my work from a generic "we've all seen that before" story to a story that really comes alive.

Writing Great Screenplays for Film and TV, 2nd Edition
by Dona Cooper

This is one of those books I got from the library and took several pages of notes on. No, I don't write screenplays, but this really helped me view my writing from a different perspective. I talks about different types of heros and how to increase tension as well as many other things.

If you're interested in writing Sci-Fi/Fantasy, then I'd recommend:

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy
by Orson Scott Card

He gives a lot of good ideas on how to build unique worlds as well as some good, basic writing advice.

Author Kathleen Dalton Woodbury recommended a book for those who want to improve their short story writing.

Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular
by L Rust Hills

I've never read it, though, so I can't describe it further.

If you have a favorite book about writing that you'd like to tell other writers about, feel free to post about them in the comments section.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Running the Numbers Update

Jennifer Jackson updated her requested partial and new client statistics today. To quote her blog post:

Well, this morning I asked for another partial, so that's 50 for this year. And I also signed a new client -- so that's 6. Which I think is a higher number than ususal.

She also said:

Two of the partials that I upgraded to full manuscript readings became clients. Of the other four, I read three of them in full right off, and signed one on a partial.

According to these stats, my query to partial percentage was .6% -- the number I see batted around most often for requests is usally more like 1-2% so I was a bit on the low side this year.... My partial to full percentage was also on the low side for me this year. But the number of clients signed is higher than usual. I believe in 2006 I only signed up 3. That's probably around typical for an agent with a client list my size and with my experience. Younger, hungrier agents will sometimes sign up more -- but the turnover on their lists also tends to be higher as well.

The 1-2% query-to-partial requests statistic is one of the statistics I've now heard tossed several times. Either the truth is that it's actually lower than 1-2% or the two agents I've quoted (see the previous post on this subject) were on the low end for requests this year. In any case, it seems to vary from agent to agent and from year to year.

In the comments section of her post, Jennifer also said that of the six people she signed as clients:

3 of them had short story credits, but nothing novel-length

2 of them had previously published novels (1 of those was branching out into a new genre)

1 of them had no short story credits, but novels forthcoming that I did not sell

By the way, with these updated statistics, someone querying Jennifer had a 0.075% chance of becoming a client in 2007 and had a 0.0375% chance of becoming a client in 2006. Obviously, having some sort of valid publishing credits helped, though those credits also indicate that their writing was already better than average.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Running the Numbers

Agent Jennifer Jackson listed her 2007 query statistics on her blog. They were:

Queries this year: Approximately 8,000

Partials requested: 49 (4 of which I have not yet received)

Full manuscripts requested: 18 (2 if which were requested after reading the partials)

Number of new clients signed: 5

This means that someone querying her has a 0.8% chance of having material requested and a 0.06% chance of becoming a client. Generally, 95-99% of all queried material is sent to an agent who doesn't handle that genre or is unpublishable due to grammar, poor story mechanics, or an over-used story idea. Using a hopeful 5%-is-well-written rate, then there were 400 queries that came to Jennifer that were well written and potentially publishable. Of those 400 queries, she requested partials or fulls on 16.24% and signed 1.25% as clients.

This helps illustrate that your manuscript may be well-written, but it may still be rejected if it doesn't match the personal preferences of the agent queried. Here's another example using Kristin Nelson's query statistics:

Estimated number of queries: 30,000

Full manuscripts requested: 74

New clients: 8

This means that someone querying her has a 0.03% chance of becoming a client. Assuming that 5% of all the queried material was well-written, then there were 1,500 queries that came to Kristin that were well-written and potentially publishable. Of those 1,500 queries, she requested fulls on 4.9% and signed 0.5% as clients.

I can see why Miss Snark recommended that you query at least 100 agents before giving up. That seems like a realistic number in the face of the above statistics.

Books on Grammar and Spelling

I know that I need to use good grammar and spelling to effectively communicate my stories. I've collected several books that I regularly consult when I have a question about grammar or basic writing.

The Elements of Style
by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

I have a feeling I'd be lynched if I didn't start with this old favorite. It's a slim book that's a great place to start to learn more about basic grammar and effective writing.

Errors in English and Ways to Correct Them
by Harry Shaw

I received this book through the Institute of Children's Literature course I took. It's a good book on (to quote the subtitle) "correct word usage, sentence structure, and grammar." It's also easy to understand.

The Chicago Manual of Style
by the University of Chicago Press

I got this book because I read that the book publishers I was most interested in probably used it as their standard for grammar and such. I only recently bought it and am still slowly working my way through it. I find it interesting, and it's certainly informative and thorough.

If anyone else would like to talk about their favorite grammar books or give links to online sources, feel free to talk about them in the comments section of this post. (By the way, my favorite online source for easy-to-understand grammar is the Blue Book, and the link is also in the sidebar of this blog.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Industry Statistics for 2006

I found some interesting industry statistics on the Romance Writers of America website. To quote a portion of the article:

Simba Information reports U.S. book sales (net revenue from retail sources) at $6.31 billion for 2006...

  • Romance: $1.37 billion
  • Religion/inspirational: $1.68 billion
  • Science fiction/fantasy: $495 million
  • Classic literary fiction: $448 million
  • Mystery: $422 million
  • Graphic novels: $128 million

I thought it was interesting to see what books people are spending their money on.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Agency Contracts -- A Writer's Beware Note

Victoria Strauss on her Writer's Beware blog has written an important post on The Interminable Agency Clause. As usual, I recommend that you read the whole thing.

To quote Victoria:

An "interminable agency clause" (sometimes called an "interminable rights clause" or a "perpetual agency clause") is language inserted into an author-agency agreement whereby the agency claims the right to remain the agency of record not just for the duration of any contracts it negotiates, but for the life of copyright. In other words, once the agency sells your book, it has the right to represent that book for as long as the book is in copyright (currently your life plus 70 years).

She explains why this could be a problem. The short version of the post is:

Many professional writers' groups warn against interminable agency clauses....

Trouble is, the language can be subtle enough that it's easy to overlook or misunderstand. Several of the authors who sent me contracts were aware of the warnings against interminable agency language, but still failed to spot it.

She gives several examples of different ways this clause might be stated. As always, thanks to Victoria for pointing these problems out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On Contests

Jessica Faust wrote about an agent's view of contest wins on the Bookends blog. There were a lot of informative comments.

Kris Fletcher wrote in the comment's section about why an author might want to do contests. Here's an excerpt of Kris' post:

These were some of the top reasons I found for entering:

1. To get your work in front of a particular agent or editor, especially if that person would be hard to reach otherwise - for example, an editor from a house that does not accept unagented work.

2. To get impartial feedback on a story. Useful both for those without critique groups & those who do have a group, but are afraid they might be too nice (or otherwise) to tell the truth.

3. for the prize. Some contests offer free registration to their conference....

4. For the prestige. There are some contests, such as the Golden Heart, the Maggie, and the Emily (I know only romance), which carry a lot more oomph than others. Those ones can be VERY helpful to mention in a query letter.

5. And sometimes, contests can be the only bit of positive reinforcement you receive. If you're receiving nothing but "I like this, but ..." rejections...well, at times like that, it can be very encouraging to know that a bunch of strangers think your work is totally wonderful.

Kate Douglas wrote:

As a published author, I view contests differently--I enter the RITA, for instance, to get my books in front of judges who might otherwise not be willing to read my edgy, erotic romance. There are a couple of other contests judged by booksellers and librarians--again, I am hoping to expose my writing to new readers in a position to help me further my career. I currently have two of my titles entered in the Lambda Literary Awards contest--in this case, it's to reach a new community of readers. It's not about the win, so much as the exposure.

Angie Fox wrote:

Another thing that was valuable (at least to me), I picked contests where I could attend the awards. For example, the Daphnes are at the RWA nationals every year, so since I was going to be there, I entered. ....there is a high chance the agent/editor judges will also be at the awards. And that’s what happened. As a Daphne finalist, I was not only able to sit next to the agent who judged my category, but when the award packet contained a request for a full, she was right there for me to mention an editor had also requested a full (from a contest the week before). And, in a stroke of blind luck, that editor who made the request also happened to be at the awards.

Christie Craig wrote:

I sold my first book in '94 via a contest. I got my an indirect way via a contest, and my last sells were also indirectly set off due to some contests.

I'll just back up what everyone else has said by saying... Entering contests is a game. You have to know the rules to make sure you get the most out of it.

I (currently) only know of one valid unpublished writers contest for my genre, but I had no idea that contests could be so valuable if done correctly. Agents so regularly say that contests don't matter much that I hadn't given a second thought about taking the time to enter. Now that I've gotten the other side of the story, I'm more inclined to check some contests out.

Monday, December 10, 2007

How Agents Submit Manuscripts to Editors

Of course this will vary somewhat from agent to agent, but Kristin Nelson has written in detail on her Pub Rants blog about the process she goes through to submit projects to editors. It's an interesting read.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Another Round of Pitch Critiques

Jessica Faust has completed an eleventh round of pitch critiques. Yet again, good stuff. I'll probably just link all future critiques to this post rather than continuing to make a new post each time she does a critique.

In the twelfth round of pitch critiques, the pitches mainly lacked an explanation of what was uniquely at risk for the main character, how the story was different than other books on that same theme, or that tied everything in the pitch together coherently.

Jessica's at it again in the thirteenth round of pitch critiques. As always, more good stuff worth reading.

And now Jessica has finished a fourteenth round of pitch critiques.

And a fifteenth round of pitch critiques. And a sixteenth rough of pitch critiques. And a seventeenth round of pitch critiques. And an eighteenth round of pitch critiques. And a nineteenth round of pitch critiques.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Dangers of Overwriting

Agent Nathan Bransford critiqued a query today on his blog. The query was good enough to get him to read the sample pages, but that's were things fell through. There were several important points he made, and here's one of them: thing I never realized until I became an agent and began reading so many books is that it takes a great deal of mental work just to start a novel, because it takes a lot of brain energy to get your bearings. Every detail you read in the beginning establishes where you are, who the characters are, what they're like, etc. and your mind has to piece things together, which isn't always easy.

....As much as I like the premise of this query, I'm afraid I didn't feel that there was solid grounding here. Starting off with a conversation is tricky, and rather than learning as I went along I found myself more and more confused about what was happening and where and when it was happening.

I also had some concerns about the writing. There were times when the dialogue was stilted ("That, I still retain,") but perhaps more importantly, I honestly felt that although the author really tried to create some unique imagery, I felt like the description tried too hard. As a very rudimentary rule of thumb, description should be as clear as possible, except when something is indescribable in simple language, in which case it can be more expansive.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Books on Contracts

In reading a number of agent blogs, I've come across the following books on contract negotiation that were mentioned by agents and published authors. These books would be useful reading for anyone wanting to understand contracts better or who want to negotiate their own contract. I'm reading the Kirsch book right now because Miss Snark recommended it.

Kirsch's Guide to the Book Contract: For Authors, Publishers, Editors and Agents
by Jonathan Kirsch

A Writer's Guide to Contract Negotiations
by Richard Balkin

Business and Legal Forms for Authors and Self Publishers
by Tad Crawford

(More of a book of fill-in contracts for writing-for-hire and such.)

And, finally, a book that wasn't recommended on an agent blog, but is recommended on Amazon despite its age:

Negotiating a Book Contract: A Guide for Authors, Agents and Lawyers
by Mark L. Levine

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The News about Book Tours

Teresa Méndez has written an interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor on Why Book Tours Are Passé. It discusses why fewer and fewer authors are being sent on book tours to promote their books. Here are a few interesting quotes from the article:

Among the many reasons for this shift are marketing tools that have made it possible to orchestrate a virtual encounter, without the hassle or expense of travel. Publishers and authors are now touting books through podcasts, film tours, blog tours, book videos, and book trailers....

Man Booker Prize-winner Ian McEwan opted not to take his 10th novel, "On Chesil Beach," on the road this past summer. In his place, a short film was screened by bookstores in 54 U.S. cities....

Meanwhile, a company called TurnHere has launched an ambitious project to create an online book channel with short Internet videos - the founder likens it to an MTV for books. So far, has exclusively aired Simon & Schuster authors. But it recently announced plans to expand coverage to 10 other publishers.

Some More Pitch Critiques

Jessica Faust at Bookends has completed the tenth round of pitch critiques. There were several good pitches in this group. The remaining pitches tended to have the same problem: trying to fit too much information into the pitch.

To summarize what we've learned so far: A pitch is not a synopsis. In a pitch, focus on two or three plot points that capture the main conflict and that illustrate your story's unique points. Don't throw a lot of character names into the pitch even if the character is an important one in the story. Pretty much stick with naming the protagonist and antagonist, or even just the protagonist, in your pitch.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Timeline for Publishing a Book

I just ran across some information that I thought others might like to know. In the comments section of Jessica Faust's daily blog post, several of her clients answered a question about what happens after a book is sold to a publisher.

J.B. Stanley wrote:
It takes me about six months to write and revise each of my mysteries. I then email it to whichever editor is awaiting the manuscript and within a month, they usually provide feedback on the book. Sometimes I do some quick revisions following that editorial letter, but mostly, the book gets circulated among the copy editing team. A few months later, the first round of editing begins. This process lasts for two-three months and the book is edited by many eyes three times. About 10-12 months after I originally turned the book in is when it hits the shelves.

Afterwards: The life of one's published book is amazingly varied. My first mystery, A Killer Collection, debuted Jan. 6,2006. It is already out of print. In other words, the print run sold out and it didn't do well enough to merit another printing. So far, my supper club series, which debuted with Carbs & Cadavers, is still alive, but only the sales numbers can determine how long each book will stay in print.

Kate Douglas wrote:
The author's job doesn't end when the manuscript is accepted by an editor--in fact, a lot of the work is just starting. There can be requests for revision and there will definitely be copy edits to review and page proofs to read--I've discovered those surprise packages generally arrive on a Friday afternoon with instructions to return them "ASAP."

Sally MacKenzie wrote:
The thing to remember is often the process, while somewhat standard--at least at NY publishers--does vary from book to book and from house to house. I usually get only get copy edits and page proofs--and yes, they do come while you are working on the next book, and usually when you are just getting up steam and into that new project! I can't proof and write at the same time, so I have to put aside the new book to work on the book in production--and then get back into it once I send the production book back to my editor.

I actually came up with my book titles--well, I came up with The Naked Duke and everything has followed--Nakedly--from there. But I would say most times the house comes up with the title, though usually there is some back and forthing. I had no say on my covers--I think only the very big names do--but I was very happy, so no problems. I guess if there was something I really didn't like, I'd see what Jessica could do. But it is usually better to keep in mind that the house's sales/marketing team just might have a better idea of what will get people to pick up a book than the author--there are unfortunate mistakes, of course, but that is their area of expertise. They want the book to sell, too.

I pick my deadlines when I sign a new contract, but--and I'm in that position now--when the date approaches, if I'm running late, I contact my editor. If the book is on a tight production schedule, the author had better turn it in on time. But if the deadline really has no direct bearing on the production/scheduling of the book, then there's more wiggle room.

The house will schedule books way in advance--I think 2008 is probably already pretty full at my house, but 2009 isn't on the boards yet, though they have already got books coming in for that year--I'm contracted for a novel and novella for 2009. The actual scheduling--slots and what not--is another whole topic.

As to how I propose new books, I've been lucky--I just say, well, I'll do something Naked. (Though I'm running out of Naked guys and will have to come up with a new idea soon.) The contract is usually for a book or two with an option on the next work. So, for the option book, most folks do a synopsis and three chapters--but again, that can vary.

I thought these answers were quite informative and wanted to put them in the spotlight (if a post on my blog can be considered a spotlight) so it won't be overlooked. Many thanks to these authors for taking the time to explain how things work.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Good Pitches, Bad Pitches at Bookends

Jessica Faust at Bookends has done a heroic ninth round of pitch critiques. For anyone who is depressed that your query isn't perfect, this round has proof of just how hard it is to write a good pitch. Jessica critiqued a pitch by a published author today and pointed out a number of problems with it. She also pointed out several new problems in this round of pitches and said she really liked one of them. So it's worth your time to check out her blog post if you're working on your pitch.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Some More Good Pitches at Bookends

Jessica Faust at Bookends has valiantly completed an eighth round of pitch critiques. She points out several good pitches in this group, so click on through to check out what a good pitch looks like.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Q & A #4: How Many Sales?

Q: Do you know how many sales an agent should be making each year if they are legitimate?

A: Actually, no, but I can give you an idea of what a reasonable number is. I checked out the AAR site to see what they require for membership. To become a member of AAR, the agent needs to have worked full-time as an agent for two years, agree to follow the AAR's Canon of Ethics, and sell ten projects in eighteen months.

Basically, they believe a reputable agent who has been in business for two years or more should be selling at least one project approximately every two months. Most agents who are actively building their client list say are taking on about three or four clients a year (though those just starting out probably take on more). Hopefully most of those clients produce a new book each year, and hopefully the agent can sell a high percentage of those books as well as the books of their new clients. The longer the agent has been in business, the easier this standard should be to meet.

However, a few, rare legitimate agents only have a couple best-selling authors on their client list and only sell a couple books each year. The number of books sold per year is a good question to research or ask (especially of a non-AAR agent), but it's not the "all or nothing" question to determine how good an agent is.

If you want to double-check if your prospective agent is an AAR member (since lists like AgentQuery are sometimes wrong about this), you can check the AAR membership database here.

Hope this helped.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Number of Writers and Editors in the U.S.A.

Here are some interesting statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to their May 2006 statistics:
  • There are 59,530 editors in the United States working at newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers. Their annual mean wage is $52,580. There are 15,380 editors in New York alone, and they are paid an annual mean wage of $67,020.
  • There are 45,330 technical writers in the United States, and they have an annual mean wage of $60,850.
  • There are 53,060 reporters and correspondents in the United States, and they have an annual mean wage of $41,900. Of those, 39,650 are employed by newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers and have an annual mean wage of $38,620.
  • There are 43,260 writers and authors (excluding technical writers and public relations specialists) in the United States, and they have an annual mean wage of $58,080. Of those, 8,220 are employed by newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers and have an annual mean wage of $47,140.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What Rejection Numbers are Good?

Miss Snark wrote a post on her blog that inlcuded the following quote:

You got 3 [requests to see the manuscript] from 40 queries. That's not bad....That's actually pretty good.

I keep hearing people complain about only getting five or eight requests for partials (with subsequent rejections). Of course, they never said how many query letters they've sent out. In any case, I began to wonder just what numbers were considered "pretty good." Now I know. Three of forty works out to 1 out of every 13 agents requesting a full manuscript.

Pressure to Sell

Miss Snark wrote an interesting post about the pressure on authors to sell more of each subsequent book that is released. I recommend you read all of the post, but to quote the best of it:

Publishers demand that writers sell increasing quantities of subsequent books they publish. Book one can sell five thousand copies, book two six thousand but by book five you've got to sell forty thousand. If you don't, the publisher doesn't renew the contract. .... Why do this you ask? ....The reason is that if you've got ten authors selling 40,000 books each year, you've got a full list and no way for someone new to break in. ...It's harder [for them] to publish the novelist they're all looking for: the breakout book that is going to sell a zillion copies.

....Add up all the cost for printing, editorial time, design time, and a percentage of the fixed cost like heats light and water and voila and voila: what it costs to make a book happen. That cost is almost same if you sell 3000 books or 30000 books. ....The REVENUE is significantly higher for 30,000 books than for 3,000 so publishers with the roughly the same costs would really rather sell more than less.'ll see a lot more smaller publishers picking up big names and happily publishing 40,000 copies till the cows come home.

Query Letters--Level of Detail

Here's another good quote from Miss Snark from a post on her blog:

Detail is the devil in query letters. You can't go into much, but broad generalizations are boring. You have to find one or two compelling details that really entice a reader. Try not to panic though. Even if your query letter truly sux (9 out of 10 do), if your pages are good, you're still in the game.

Character-driven stories

Some writer friends of mine once started a discussion on what, exactly, magazines were asking for when they said they wanted character-driven stories. I've been slowly reading through Miss Snark's old posts and came across a post by her that has a good explaination.

I think the thing that's missing in most of the novels I reject is that the characters don't seem to grow or change enough. I read a lot of mystery and thriller submissions and it's like dead bodies are leaves on the ground: no impact. Even in cozies, there has to be some sense that this isn't quite normal and will mean something to the characters.

So, no I don't think there has to be social relevance. I think there has to be emotional resonance. How that is achieved can vary, but I think that's the key.

Have a fun Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Some Good Pitches at Bookends

We're back to talking about pitches critiques at Bookends. Jessica Faust liked several of the pitches. If you want to see what a good pitch looks like, follow the link and read the post.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Word Count

I've been reading a number of cozy mysteries lately and began to wonder if mysteries and certain types of romance novels had a lower word count than I'd given in my answer to Q&A #1. Jessica Faust at Bookends must have read my mind because she answered the question of word counts in today's post before I even had a chance to research the topic.

Her post includes this information:

Most novels are roughly 80,000 to 100,000 words. Anything I don’t mention here should be within that range, give or take 5,000 words. And by the way, when I think word count I think 250 words per double-spaced page with one-inch margins. That’s the way most publishers look at word count. ...

Cozy mysteries: 70,000 to 90,000 words. Usually on the short end of that.

Category romance: Anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 (note this is Harlequin/Silhouette only)

Fantasy: Can run longer, up to 120,000 words

If your novel falls outside of these ranges, either too long or too short, you're less likely to get an agent or editor interested in the book.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Manuscript Format Mistakes

Jessica Faust at Bookends answered a question about Bound Submissions. She basically said that it's okay to send your manuscript bound like a finished book, but the agent and editor will be unconsciously thinking of it like it is a finished product and like no more revisions are possible. If there are some revisions needed, they'll be less likely to take on the person with the bound submission than one who submitted a manuscript. Furthermore, Jessica said:

I would also suggest you avoid putting your acknowledgments and dedication in your manuscript. Not only is this the signal of a newbie, but it also says that you are discounting any work your future agent and editor might have to do for you.

I had wondered when an author sent in the acknowledgments and such since those pages are never mentioned on "how to format your manuscript" websites and books. I had supposed I'd do that after I had a contract signed with a publisher, so it's nice to know I (probably) guessed correctly.

It's been a busy week, so I've been taking the easy way to get blog posts up. I promise I'll write something that doesn't mention Jessica Faust someday soon. ;)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pitches at Bookends, Round Six

Jessica Faust at Bookends is still slowly but surely critiquing her way through the submitted pitches. A lot of the mistakes are the same as in previous rounds, but her critiques are still very worth reading. Today's quote from the critiques is:

A lot going on here and very confusing. I think this is the hardest thing about complicated plots, it’s hard to tell what’s important and what’s not. Even I have that trouble when pitching to editors. It can also be a sign that maybe the book itself is confusing or not tight enough. You need to ask yourself what’s the point? What’s the conflict? ....what is the real journey? What is the real issue for [the heroine]?

As in, if your book is complex, figure out what the overall problem your hero(ine) needs to solve is and focus on that rather than talk about all the problems she faces.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Handling Interviews

Jessica Faust at Bookends posted today about how interviews can go wrong. From my own experience, I agree that the worst problem is quotes taken out of context. Sometimes this is done deliberately by the reporter to slant the article a certain way, but other times the out-of-context quote makes you look bad even though that wasn't the reporter's specific intent. Another problem I noticed at some interviews is that the reporter only wrote down "reminder words" when talking with me and then essentially made up quotes based on what he remembered based on this information. To combat this problem, I started having reporters send me their questions over e-mail so they would have a written copy of my responses. That helps a lot, but won't work in every situation.

In the comments section of Jessica's interview post, Jenny said:

Back when I was promoting my books in the media someone taught me a helpful technique that really improves interviews: do the interview but bring along a page of basic information that includes a couple well-written paragraphs that say whatever it is that you would like to see in print. Give it to the journalist at the end of the interview.

Journalists are busy and love to have their work done for them. When I used that technique quite a few hour long interviews resulted in a newspaper article that contained nothing but the text of the paragraphs I'd supplied to the interviewer.

Jenny's advice sounds pretty good to me. Most of the people reading this blog probably don't have to deal with this problem very often, but it's something to keep in mind on that day when you are asked for an interview!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pitches at Bookends - Focus on the Conflict

Jessica Faust has now completed the fifth round of pitch critiques. The main problem in the pitches this time seemed to be that the pitches were focused on the things leading up to the conflict instead of starting with the conflict.

In the comments section, Karen Duvall said:

[This] is not a pitch, but filling in the blanks will help you focus on the important details when you're ready to create your pitch. The following was created by the great late Gary Provost, writing instructor master:

Once upon a time, something happened to someone, and he decided that he would pursue a goal. So he devised a plan of action, and even though there were forces trying to stop him, he moved forward because there was a lot at stake. And just as things seemed as bad as they could get, he learned an important lesson, and when offered the prize he had sought so strenuously, he had to decide whether or not to take it, and in making that decision he satisfied a need that had been created by something in his past.

Friday, November 9, 2007

How Much Does It Pay?

For those who are interested in about how much to expect as an advance for your book or how much it's likely to pay out over time, here are two useful links:

Author Survey
Show Me the Money!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Pitches at Bookends - Movie Comparisons

Jessica Faust at Bookends has completed her fourth round of pitch critiques. As usual, I highly recommend reading her whole post, but I thought I'd quote her comments about solely pitching your book as a certain movie or book meets another movie or book. Frankly, I can never figure out this type of pitch even if I have read the books or watched the movie. Jessica explains why this method doesn't work and how to make it work:

I’ve never read a Bourne book, and since I’m not much of a movie watcher (note to everyone submitting to me) I’ve never seen either of these movies. So basically, this is lost on me. However, even if I had seen these movies I still need more. This is a tagline, but not a pitch. To give you an example of how to pitch by comparing your book, here’s the tagline I wrote for Karen MacInerney’s Howling at the Moon: Tales of an Urban Werewolf: "Charlaine Harris meets Mary Janice Davidson in this series featuring Sophie Garou, a twenty-eight-year-old whose life is just about perfect—except for one minor detail . . . she's also a werewolf." ...this is enough of a tagline to grab the editor’s attention and actually give her some of the book’s details. You now know how it’s like the two books I’m comparing it to.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thoughts on Exclusives

As I'm sure most of you already know, some agents wouldn't look at a partial or full manuscript unless you guarantee that they will be the only one reading it. Keep in mind that you can and should put a time limit of about three weeks on that exclusivity if you chose to give it.

Agent Miss Snark wrote a blog entry about I want you alllll to myself.

Agent Jessica Faust at Bookends wrote on Handling Exclusive Requests, Reasons to Hate Exclusives, Exclusives: Time's Up, Why Offer Exclusives?, and More on Exclusives.

Agent Kristin Nelson at PubRants wrote on Exclusively Yours.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

More Pitches at Bookends

Jessica Faust at Bookends did another six pitch critiques today. Again, I recommend following the link to read her post. While her critiques are good, there's very little for me to quote this time that will make sense out of context. Maybe:

What’s the real conflict here? When does the story really get going? Does it start moving at the Breaking of the World or the pact with the Ethereans? Is it about Ellusia or about her father? I think you need to clarify exactly who the protagonist is and what the conflict is.

Monday, November 5, 2007

When Small Publishers Go Bankrupt

Jessica Faust over at Bookends wrote about what to do if your book publisher goes bankrupt in The Fall of a Publisher. It's excellent advice. I suggest you read the whole thing, but here's a except of the most important information:

The first thing you need to do is, if you are under contract, officially terminate the agreement. Demand that rights be reverted in a letter sent by you, your lawyer, or your agent via certified mail. Then you need to wait. Yes, I’m afraid you’ll need to wait and see how things play out a little. No publisher is going to want to touch a book that might get them into legal entanglements, so changing a title or a few character names is risky business for you, for the publisher, and for your career.

In the comments section of the post, Chumplet wrote:

Many of the reputable small presses are adding a clause in the contract that states if there is a bankruptcy or if the publisher ceases operations, the rights immediately return to the author. I'm sure there's still a bit of waltzing involved before the author is free of the contract, but it's a start.

Going through this is not a happy thought to contemplate, but now authors have some good advice on how to handle the situation professionally.

Friday, November 2, 2007

News on E-Books

Kimberly Maul reported in an article on The Book Standard that Hachette Book Group USA is the first publisher to officially adopt the .epub format. The other big publishing houses may follow suit. To quote from the article:

"...the new .epub standard...simplifies the creation of digital content, benefiting publishers and consumers alike," said David Young, chairman and CEO of Hachette Book Group USA. "Not only will it enable us to create more digital files more efficiently, it will allow us to provide consumers with more types of digital books than in the past."

Things may be looking up for e-books.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Pitches at Bookends

Jessica Faust at Bookends did the next six pitch critiques today. Again, I found her critiques very helpful and easy to understand. Most of the critiques in this round had the same problem: they weren't focused on the right part of the story.

To quote a few things she said (which are better understood in context, so go read her post):

We need to get to the conflict in the plot.

Is the book really about the fact that they make plans to meet each other each year? Or is it about what happens each year?

Also, she explained why stating the theme of the story rather than specific things that occur in the story doesn't work:

This is exactly what I mean when I warn against describing your book by using themes. Few readers care what the theme of a book is. We don’t buy a book based on themes. We buy because we’re looking for a riveting plot and engaging characters.

Again, thanks for doing these critiques, Jessica!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I thought I'd talk about e-publishing today. Kathleen Bolton at Writer Unboxed has a nice post about the history of e-publishing. It seems that the many of the e-publishers that are doing well started their imprints as a way to distribute books that are outside the bounds of what NY print publishers would normally publish, like gay erotica novels or niche books. Thus, it can be as difficult for an author to get published by a reputable e-publishers as by a reputable print publisher.

According to this Dear Author post, some e-publishers are even taking their e-books into print and getting them into brick-and-mortar stores.

As usual, Victoria Strauss has written an excellent article on electronic publishing, including the advantages, disadvantages, and things to watch out for. Also, The Rejecter wrote a post about E-books, and Jessica Faust at Bookends wrote an informative post on A Look at E-Publishing.

Briefly, the cost of putting an e-book together is substantially less than the cost of producing a print book, so the author gets more money per book sold and often receives that money more quickly due to the shorter time from contract to published book. However, the number of people buying your book is much smaller, so you will probably be paid less overall than if your book was printed by a reputable print publisher. As with print publishers, you need to do your research and make sure that the e-publisher is reputable before submitting your work to them.

The Dear Author blog has several other good posts on e-publishing for people interested in learning more.
What Authors Should Look for in an E Publisher
Will eBooks Revolutionize e-Publishing?
The Marriage of Ebook and Print Can Ring Profit Bells

Hope this was helpful for anyone considering e-publishing or just wanting to know more about it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Three-sentence pitches

Jessica Faust at Bookends is currently critiquing pitches or hooks from query letters. She asked that they be one to three sentences long, though she graciously seems to be critiquing pitches that are a bit longer. Of all the hook critiques contests I've read, in my opinion, Jessica Faust gives the clearest explanations of what works and what doesn't. Here are a few things I picked up from the first day of critiques:

Remember, you have about two sentences to grab an agent in a query letter and about two minutes in a verbal pitch session.

Eek! I didn't know that. I thought agents read until they were confused, completely turned off by the idea or writing, or reached the end of the query. That information certainly changes how I'd write my query letter.

Things that she brought up that bear repeating are:

I need to know the why more than the who. Why are they solving this case? What’s their motivation? What’s the threat?

What's your character's motivation to start in the quest, the investigation, or whatever, and why do they continue despite the danger to themselves? Jessica also stated that you should start your pitch where the conflict starts.

Since condensing a plot makes it sound like a lot of others, include what makes your book different. What is it about the conflict that makes your story stand out? Why would readers buy your book instead of the many others with similar plots?

And don't forget to show, not tell, and let your "voice" come through in the pitch.

As usual, I'm left staring in dismay. I keep wondering why it's resonable to expect that we can do all that in three sentences. Especially when what sounds unique and intriguing to one agent seems totally uninteresting to another agent. Still, this pitch critique series will be a good learning experience for everybody. Thanks, Jessica, for taking the time to do it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sample Publisher-Author Contracts

SFWA has a section on their website with sample publisher-author contracts that authors might find interesting.

Author's Guild gives advice on negotiating your own contract if that's what you decide to do (or if you just want to better understand what your agent is doing) at Improving Your Book Contract.

There is also a Writer's Digest Article on negotiating your own contracts.

Agent Jonathan Lyons at Lyons Literary LLC is writing a series on the various parts of a contract:
Grant of Rights
Net Royalties
Reserve for Returns
Flow Through

And author Madeleine Robins at DeepGenre wrote about Contracts 101: Copyright.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What Are Your Chances?

The Rejecter wrote about your chances of getting taken on by an agent in What Are Your Chances Really and why agents don't take on many new writers in Why We Seem to Hate New Writers.

Agent Miss Snark talked about how often she requests partials or fulls based on a query letter in her Speaking of Numbers blog entry. Most agents agree that they only request partials about 1-7% of the time based on query letters and request full manuscripts for only about 2-5% of those. To break that down further, most agents are getting 100-200 query letters a week (about 10,000 queries a year!) but are only taking on 3 or 4 new clients (some take more, others less) each year. The depressing news is that even good, picky agents only manage to sell about 70-95% of the manuscripts that they take on.

By the way, Miss Snark also talked about what things made her more inclined to reject a manuscript in her blog entry The Tipping Point. At least agents like her are willing to help us avoid some of the common errors that knock our manuscripts into the "rejection" percentages.

Monday, October 22, 2007

More About Query Letters

Query letters seem to be a never-ending source of blog posts. Here are a few more that I found which might be helpful:

The Rejecter wrote about Query Letter Basics and Credentials that you should or should not use in query letters.

Author Victoria Strauss at Writers Beware! wrote about More Reasons Not to Use Automated Query Services.

Agent Kristin Nelson on her Pub Rants blog gives examples of query letters that her clients sent her and what she thought about them. This includes her posts on Query for Demon’s Lexicon and Query for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. She also shared the letters that she wrote to the publishers for Demon's Lexicon and Hotel on the corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Jessica Faust at Bookends wrote about Give Me Conflict to capture her attention in your query letter.

Agent Nathan Bransford wrote about the Anatomy of a Good Query Letter and Anatomy of a Good Query Letter II and 101 Things in Queries That Catch My Eye. Make sure to read his post on You Know All Those Rules About How to Write a Query Letter? before you get too stressed out about writing your query letter.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Watch Out For...Publishers

In the Writer's Beware article mentioned in the below POD post, there are several warning signs given for identifying questionable publishers. These signs include:

Is there a fee? Many indies can't afford to pay advances, but they don't ask for money....

Fee-charging publishers are often inventive about hiding their fees. They may bury them in the fine print, so it's not until you actually read the
publishing contract that you realize you have to pay a "setup" charge.... Don't be fooled by token one- or two-digit advances--this is usually a marketing ploy designed to produce an appearance of legitimacy, rather than a sign of legitimate practice....

Are the books professionally-produced and of good physical quality? Order one or two. Have they been edited? Does the print look good? Is the formatting uniform? Is the text free of errors? Bad writing, sloppy formatting, and large numbers of typos or grammatical errors indicate a less-than-professional operation....

Is the pricing reasonable? As noted, POD has a higher unit cost than offset [printing], and prices can be correspondingly higher.... A reputable POD-based publisher will make an effort to keep prices at least generally comparable to traditionally-printed trade paperbacks, which run between $12 and $18.

Does the publisher accept returns? Again, this is a sign of a more professional operation, and gives the publisher a better chance of selling its books into stores. Beware, though--some POD-based independents put so many restrictions on their returns policies (for instance, limiting the return period to three months, or offering returnability only on bulk orders) that booksellers won't find them attractive....

Are the books reviewed in professional venues (Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, etc.)? Reviews in these [professional] publications, which are read by booksellers and librarians, indicate that the company is sending out advance reading copies--an important component of marketing to the book trade....

Can you order the publisher's books in a brick-and-mortar bookstore? Even if a bookstore isn't willing to stock POD-produced books, it should at least be able to order them....

What's the focus of the publisher's website? Is it designed to promote the publisher's publishing services, or to promote the publisher's books? A reputable publisher's marketing will be book-focused--it will publicize its authors, and try to attract readers....

Is the contract standard? ....A questionable or amateur POD-based indie...can ask you to sign your life away and then some.

Typical problems include demanding all rights for the full term of copyright without an adequate reversion clause, claiming subsidiary rights the publisher isn't capable of marketing, basing royalties on net rather than gross income, retaining a financial interest in the author's work even after the contract has terminated, claiming the right to edit at will without seeking the author's permission, tying next-book option clauses to current contract terms, tying rights reversion to purchase of overstock, and offering a contract that's not negotiable.

If you're concerned about the publisher you are considering, I'd recommend reading the full article written by Victoria Strauss.

Q & A #3: Print on Demand

Q: Print on Demand is a technology, not another name for "vanity press." So why do some agents recommend not mentioning a POD book in your query letter as a publishing credit?

A: You want to be a professional author with your book published by one of the big publishing houses, but your rejection pile is growing larger and your options are becoming slim. You're tired of all this waiting. You see an ad for a company that promises to publish your book promptly and even let you control a lot of the publishing process. It sounds tempting, but are alternatives to traditional publishing worth the risk?

Print on demand (POD) is a digital printing technology that allows a complete book to be printed and bound in a matter of minutes for a decent cost. This technology may be a great way to get a small number of books published for certain uses, but be careful when considering POD publishers as a way to print your "break out" book that you think will make you famous. I highly recommend reading the Writer Beware--Print on Demand article. First, keep in mind that most companies offering POD services aren't offering true self-publishing. Second, don't expect to make big sales on your book even if you work hard at selling it. According to the Writer Beware article:

POD services' own statistics support these low sales figures. The most recent online Fact Sheet for AuthorHouse reported 27,000 titles in print in 2004, with total book sales of over 3 million. It sounds like a lot, but averages out to around 111 sales per title. iUniverse's most recent Facts and Figures sheet reports that the company published 22,265 titles through 2005, with sales of 3.7 million: an average of 166 sales per title. (Obviously some titles can boast better sales--but not many. According to an article in Publishers Weekly, only 83 iUniverse titles had sold more than 500 copies as of 2004). A 2004 Wall Street Journal article revealed similar stats for Xlibris: 85% of its books had sold fewer than 200 copies, and only around 3%--or 352 in all--had sold more than 500 copies.

Sales numbers like these don't impress agents or editors. Unless it's a niche book with sales in the thousands, most agents say that they view a POD book credit as indicating that you don't have the patience to deal with the slow pace of the publishing business. They say it's probably better to write a new novel and submit it rather than spend all your time and money trying to sale your POD book. If you have a POD book, agents generally recommend not mentioning it. If they find out about it, then just tell them that you learned from the experience and want to do it right this time.

Yes, some valid independent publishers--one that rigorously screen submissions and professionally edit, design, and market books--use POD technology. If you have a book published by one of these publishers, understand that you're still fighting the POD stigma. I haven't seen any agent answers on how to deal with this situation in a query letter, but mentioning the name of the publisher and the sales figures might help let the POD book mention work in your favor.

Hope this helped.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Several blogs are talking about the subrights mentioned in contracts with publishers.

Author Madeleine Robins at Deep Genre gave a brief overview of subrights in Contracts 101: Grant of Rights.

Agent Jessica Faust at Bookends discussed merchandising rights in The Branded Author.

Agent Lauren Abramo at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management wrote an excellent, detailed post about Subrights. In that post, he talks about film rights (among other subrights) and gives a link to a Publishers Weekly article. According to this article, both HarperCollins and Random House are partnering with film companies to make film adaptations based on their books. So it looks like more books are going to be making it to film now.

Monday, October 8, 2007

About Imprints

Jessica Faust recently did a blog entry on Imprints. To quote her,

Before we begin, what is an imprint? An imprint is essentially the line under which a book is published. Imprints are usually formed as a way for a publishing house to distinguish the types of books published under that line.

For example, Penguin is the overall corporation. Berkley is one of its houses. Berkley has many imprints. A publishing house might have one imprint for fantasy/sci-fi books, another for mysteries, and several for different types of romance.

Jessica was asked how did she know which imprints could be submitted to simultaneously. See her post for the details, but the summary answer was:

To cannot usually submit to multiple imprints within a publishing house, but you can submit to multiple houses within the master publishing conglomerate.

The "big four" publishing conglomerates are Random House, HarperCollins, Penguin Putnam, Simon & Schuster, though there are other large publishers out there like Hachette, Thomas Nelson, and Holtzbrinck. Who owns what houses and what imprints are currently viable seems to constantly be changing, so you may wish to check out their websites to determine who has what (or even if they allow non-agents to simultaneously submit) before trying this.

Update on Oct. 9th, 2007: Today, Holtzbrinck officially changed the name of their US trade publishing unit to Macmillan.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Confusion on What Agents Want

*laugh* Today must be my day for confusion. The Donald Maass Literary Agency is now posting a monthly listing of plots they would be interested in seeing. To quote, "This month we’ve devised a list of hypothetical novels the premise of which would by itself pique our interest." For fantasy plots, they list:

  • A Huck Finn-like fantasy featuring a raft trip down the Mississippi, with magic.
  • An African-American Lord of the Rings.
So here we have a suggestion to write a journey-focused novel and a quest novel. Agents normally say that they get so many quest and/or journey novel queries that they practically get an automatic rejection letter. Does this mean that they would be interested in my novel if I mentioned that it's set in a Japan-influenced setting? Or that they like epic quests or humorous journeys after all? It would have been more helpful to me if they said what, exactly, they found appealing about these ideas. Oh, well. At least they're trying to be helpful.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Agency Contracts

Agent Kristin Nelson has explained the clauses in her agency's contract on her Pub Rants blog. You can read this interesting information at:

Anatomy Of An Agency Agreement--Part One
Anatomy Of An Agency Agreement--Part Two
Anatomy Of An Agency Agreement--Part Three
Anatomy Of An Agency Agreement--Part Four
Anatomy Of An Agency Agreement--Part Five
Anatomy Of An Agency Agreement--Part Six
Anatomy Of An Agency Agreement--Part Seven
Anatomy Of An Agency Agreement--Part Eight
Anatomy Of An Agency Agreement--Part Nine
Anatomy Of An Agency Agreement--Part Ten
Reading The Fine Print

Other agencies will have different author-agency contracts, but this is helpful for those who want to learn what type of things are generally in such a contract.

Jessica Faust at Bookends also mentions something you might want to consider in her blog post on At What Point Is a Work No Longer Under Submission.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

More on Advances and Royalties

Here is another important link to what agents have to say about advances and royalties, specifically about what happens after that contract is signed:

Agent Ethan Ellenberg:
All About Royalties

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Revising Your Manuscript

I thought I'd point out a few links on how to make your manuscript shine through revision.

Author David Louis Edelman on Deep Genre wrote about Line Editing in 10 Easy Steps.

Author Sherwood Smith on Deep Genre wrote about Craft (Revisions) and Revisions II--Muzzies.

Freelance editor Jerry Gross wrote about ER for Writers: Some of the Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Avoid Them.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

What Agents Look For

Agent Kristin Nelson wrote an article on An Insider Look At How An Agent Reads and Evaluates The Requested Sample Pages For Your Novel.

Here's an excerpt on what she's looking for in a manuscript:

On average, about five percent of what my agency receives is very well written and either the story will engage me or not. Ninety percent of what is submitted is adequately done. The writing is solid but there is nothing special about the voice or the story line that will make it stand out. Five percent is so poorly written, it’s laughable. I’m actually pretty amazed and pleased that the number is that low.

The Evaluation Process
Here is another moment of truth. Agents decide whether or not a manuscript is right for them in literally 5 - 10 pages. I’m not kidding. It’s that fast. We know exactly what we are looking for and whether the manuscript can deliver. Every once in a while a submitted partial is intriguing enough that I’ll read the full 30 pages requested, set it aside for a day or two, and then go back and reread to see if I’m still intrigued enough to ask for a full.

What we look for:

Voice. Many writers can learn to write well at a writing program or through a critique group. I don’t know if you can teach Voice. A writer either discovers it or not. It’s an elusive concept but it’s the writer’s voice that makes the words stand out on the page. The best way I can describe this is to have you imagine that you are in a bookstore. A cover grabs your attention so you pick it up. You read the back cover copy and it entices you to flip the book over to read the opening pages. You start reading and either you are hooked (from page one) and you can’t put the book down and fifteen minutes later you look up and realize you’ve been blocking the aisle, or you shrug your shoulders and stop reading. You put the book back on the table or shelf. The author’s voice didn’t speak to you. It’s the same gut reaction for agents.

A fresh and original storyline. I see partials every day that are well executed but don’t have an original story to tell. Bookshelves are crowded. Editors are buying very little fiction. I need to take something on with an original story idea.

Editors who would love to see this. Off the top of my head, can I think of five editors who would enjoy this partial I’m reading? If so, I’m probably going to ask for a full.

What Agents and Editors Do

I thought that people would be interested in learning about some of the things that agents and editors do.

From Bookends blog, Jessica Faust explains:
The Anatomy of a Submission to Publishers
An Offer is Made

From Agent Nathan Bransford:
An Ex Publishing Insider Talks About What Editors Really Do

From Agent 007:
SPY VS. SPY: The Acquisition Process

Monday, September 3, 2007

On Agents Rejecting Manuscripts

I ran across an interesting article by Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light. The most interesting part, in my opinion, is why she rejects manuscripts.

Herewith, the rough breakdown of manuscript characteristics, from most to least obvious rejections:

1. Author is functionally illiterate.
2. Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.
3. Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.
4. Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, dire straights, nearly penultimate, incentiary, reeking havoc, hare’s breath escape, plaintiff melody, viscous/vicious, causal/casual, clamoured to her feet, a shutter went through her body, his body went ridged, empirical storm troopers, ex-patriot Englishmen, et cetera.
5. Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.
6. Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.
7. Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.

(At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)

8. It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.
9. Nobody but the author is ever going to care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.
10. The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.

(You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)

11. Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.
12. Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.
13. It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.

14. Buy this book.

Aspiring writers are forever asking what the odds are that they’ll wind up in category #14. That’s the wrong question. If you’ve written a book that surprises, amuses, and delights the readers, and gives them a strong incentive to read all the pages in order, your chances are very good indeed. If not, your chances are poor.

By the way, joining a good critique group, online or offline, will help an author eliminate most of items #1-10. Of course, the author also has to listen when several critique partners point out these problems. And someone in the group needs to be skilled enough as a writer to notice and point out these problems. Anyway.

Writing a Synopsis

It seems like all writers hate to write a synopsis for their novel, but most agents and editors want a synopsis.

Agent Nathan Bransford gives some advice on writing a synopsis:
How to Write a Synopsis

Agent Jessica Faust at Bookends talks about synopsis and what they are actually used for:
How I View a Synopsis

A synopsis is written in present tense and in third person. It should cover what happens in the story in the same order in which the events occur in your book. (Some people start a synopsis with a paragraph summary of the two or three major characters and what their motivations are, and then summarize what happens in the story. This is also fine.) You should include the major plot twists and must reveal the ending.

Short synopsis are generally up to three double-spaced pages. It is generally fine to single-space if the synopsis is only one page long. Stick to describing the major characters and events, and try to describe how one event naturally flows into the next. As in, Heroine does this, but Villain takes it as a personal insult and retaliates with that.

For a longer synopsis, you can summarize each chapter in a paragraph and include more of the minor characters.

The way I did my synopsis was to work on describing my novel in one sentence. It took several weeks, but I finally realized what the heart of the conflict in the story was and I put it in this one sentence. Once I understood what conflicting wants drove the story, I then knew what was important to put into my query letter. After that, I wrote a one page synopsis, then expanded to a three page (double-spaced) version.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How to Avoid an Auto-Reject

From the blogs I've read, there are some things that will automatically count against you. For example, obviously sending a query letter out in a mass-mailing to every available agent. Other things are self defeating, like a query letter that only gives your website address and states that the agent must go there to view your synopsis and sample chapters. Agents are busy. They aren't going to bother.

Other things will get you automatically rejected, like sending a query letter to an agent who doesn't represent your genre. This happens all the time, partly due to bad information. For example, I've done a "fantasy genre" search on and had some agents listed in the search results that clearly state that they don't represent fantasy. Always double-check that the agent represents your genre before sending them a query letter. Go to their website and check, if they have one.

Also make sure that you know about how long a book in your genre should be. If it's an adult fantasy novel and has only 20,000 words or a whopping 400,000 words, it will be rejected. Not only would an agent have difficulties finding someone to buy a book outside of the normal word count range, but it shows that you didn't bother to find out what was expected in your genre.

Make sure to talk about your story in your query letter. Agents tell stories of query letters that talk about what a great writer the person is and lists their writing credits, but which forget to explain what the story is about.

Agents have said that don't like it when authors compare their book to a best seller. Some agents like you to tell them what books are like yours, but comparing it to a best seller or saying that it will be a best seller just seems laughable to them.

Agents have also said that they're turned off by people who don't write their query letter in a professional manner. They aren't interested in working with someone who bashes on their own book, or who pleads with the agent/editor to publish them, or who acts very arrogant in the query letter.

They also don't like gimmicks in query letters, like writing the query letter from the characters point of view. Query letters are business letters, so treat them like a business letter.

According to The Rejecter, assistant at a literary agency, here are some more reasons why query letters are rejected:
A Typical Day's Mail
Bad Query Advice: Discussing Your Audience

Evil Editor also has pointers on What Not to Put in Your Query Letter.

On the other hand, Agent Pam Claughton talks about what you should put into the query letter:
Demystifying the Query Letter

Hope this information has helped someone.

Agents on Query letters

I'm constantly reading agent and editor blogs in the hopes of learning something new, so I thought I'd start linking to blog entries that I found the most useful. Here's one on how not to start query letters.

Like most literary agents, Nathan Bransford doesn't like query letters that start with rhetorical questions. See: Queries Beginning With Rhetorical Questions. A comment made by a reader named Scott points out why starting a query letter this way is a bad idea:

In rewriting my rhetorical question as a statement, I think I landed on the reason rhetorical questions don't work. They address "you" instead of being based on the character.

When you read a question, you might think something like, "Who cares what I can imagine? Who is your character and what's his problem?

I didn't realize what a big turn-off starting with rhetorical questions was when I wrote my query letter, but I'm relieved to say that I didn't make this mistake. Now you know to avoid it, too--especially if you're sending a query letter to Nathan Bransford.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Q & A #2: High Word Count

Q: I noticed that my story is on the high end of the word count that you give for a novel. In fact, I'm a little over 200k. Does it really matter how long the book is?

A: Yes, it does matter--especially in the case of first-time authors. Publishers are generally looking for novels between 80,000 and 100,000 words in length because that's the size that sells the best.

On average, a published book has about 300 words per page. A book might have as few as 250 words or as many as 400 words on each page depending on the typesetting. So a 80,000 word novel will end up at around 250 pages when published, and a 100,000 word novel is about 333 pages when published. (Don't forget the additional pages needed for the title page, acknowledgements page, and other preliminaries.)

So your 200,000 novel is over 666 pages long.

If this is your first novel, I'd strongly suggest ruthlessly cutting anything non-essential from the book. Read a scene or a description and mentally remove it from the book. Would the book still make sense? If so, then cut the scene. If the scene is necessary to further the plot, then could you cut some of the description and still get the important points in? Remember, only describe what is unusual or absolutely necessary to describe to prevent misunderstandings.

Another option is to split your book into two books of about 100,000 words each. Just make sure that at least some of the major problems in the story are resolved by the end of the first book so that your readers can have some closure at the end.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Q & A #1: Normal Word Count

Q: Everyone seems to describe their book by the word count. I'm worried that my story isn't long enough. Just how many words are needed for my story to count as a novel?

A: You may get different answers depending on your source, but a short story is generally between 1,000 and 7,500 words long. It can be shorter or longer. A novella is around 17,500 to 40,000 words in length. Novels tend to have a count of 60,000-200,000 words.

Children's books have lower word counts. Picture books are generally between 25 an 1,500 words in length while picture story books (ages 7-10) run about 1,000 to 10,000 words. Books for 8 to 12 year olds are generally around 20,000 to 40,000 words. Teenagers often read adult-length books, but younger teenagers read books closer to the range of 45,000-65,000 words.

Hope that helps.