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.