Saturday, June 02, 2007

Response to Responses from Previous Response

Okay. Deep breath.

I know my original notion, which is that you shouldn't waste space on the page with non-credential credentials, or that some of them may actually harm you, is against industry wisdom. The normal advice is "list any credentials you may have." However, people have a tendency to take things to extremes, and this results in people listing every paper they ever wrote for school. I think the advice should be coupled with the more reassuring, "It's okay if you don't have any credentials."

Most novel writers don't. Most people in fiction sat down to write a novel, wrote it, and are now submitting it. They don't have "past experience." But they get nervous when they see the "writing credits" option and know they can't do it.

The general rule is that if you're not sure it's a credential or not, include it. It won't hurt you. DON'T scrape the bottom of your autobiographical barrel for something to mention. If you have something that comes to mind, great. If you don't, don't sweat it.

I'm planning on quoting the technology column (which has nothing to do with my novel) with a colleague in my query letters, because we got paid and it's a legitimate newspaper, albeit not one you'll have read if you don't live in New England. I'm *not* planning on quoting the small community newspaper for which I wrote for free for years. The key idea is that agents WILL Google on your writing creds. An agent will pull up my community newspaper columns whether she wants to or not. She will also discover I wasn't lying about the paid technology gig.

Actually, for the most part, we will not use google to search for you or your writing creds unless they're mysterious in some fashion and it's bugging us and it's a slow afternoon. Every once in a while, a guy with a terrible query writes that he wrote for a television series, but doesn't name the series. I'm confused, so I go hit up IMDB and find out he was on the writing staff of some failed cartoon show. You know, the ones that air on Sunday mornings at like 7 am on a station you've never heard of. I'm not going to hold that against him (it's a writing job), but it's still a terrible query. Reject.

I'd really like Rejecter to comment sometime on how her boss deals with PUBLISHERS' standards when it comes to author credentials. My agent and I are striking out on selling my books (fiction and nonfiction) based solely on the fact I don't have an existing "media platform." Apparently, writing well and regularly getting published in major newspapers and magazines does little for your book-deal potential these days when you don't already have your own reality show or brand of perfume, or haven't committed the crime of the century---the kind of creds that most of the big publishers seem to want from any new author they acquire (or else they won't acquire your book).

So I keep hearing this term "media platform" thrown around and I have to say I'm stumped about what it is. I think Miss Snark used to use it, but I've never heard it used by anybody else. All right, I've only worked for a few agents and only worked in an office with half a dozen more, and attended one BEA, and only read so many agent blogs, so I don't know everything. That said, it's very hard for me to give you advice on a concept that may have a different meaning than what I'll guess it means. The terms "media platform" and "platform" don't even appear in my Publication Services Glossary of Publishing Terms.

In answer to your original question, agents pitch books to editors they think will like the material. If the author has been previously published, they'll mention it initially, and where (The editor will want to know what company). There are some genres were the editor will ask about background, like non-fiction that requires heavy research or political commentary that requires some kind of media standing (because the book will sell if the person is a celebrity in that area of commentary). Otherwise, I don't think it comes up, especially not in fiction.

As for why you keep striking out, it could be because your agent is relatively new in the field (2004) with no previous experience in this country. He's gotten to a respectable start in selling commercial non-fiction titles, but it will take him time to build up his contact list with editors.

wanted to clarify the contest thing - i feel like most contests i've seen have some sort of entry fee, even from journals like the georgetown review etc. are those considered scam contests too? i always thought entry fees were just standard, but maybe i just haven't been paying attention.

also, on that subject, aside from the HUGE journals (new yorker, paris review, etc), what are some publications that are more mid-tier but would still be worth mentioning?

I'm gonna say I can't make individual rulings on the contests, so you should probably mention them unless you are SURE you got scammed. I honesty don't know every contest.

Anything mid-tier is worth mentioning, yes.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Response to Previous Post's Responses

Well, I should have seen that one coming. Still, this is way better than when people are mad at me and commenting because of it.

For your information, I will be at the BEA (Book Expo America) over at the Javitz Center tomorrow on a one-day pass. Feel free to go up to women who look under 30 and shout "ARE YOU THE REJECTER!?!?" at the top of your voice. I think that would be a funny way to get kicked out a convention.

What about contests? Are there good/bad writing contests too? Or are all of them bad? I won one where the judge was an extremely well-known publisher in my genre. Should I mention that?

The general rule with contests is that they're bad if you have to pay an entry fee. Those are scam contests. If you've won a non-scam contest, mention it. Also, mention what you just said about the judge (give the name). Dropping names is almost always good.

Hey what about working as an editorial assistant for a college literary journal that is published throughout your state.

Not going to help you. Sorry. We have to recognize the name of the journal. And yes, we're very familiar with journal names.

Quick follow-up regarding unpublished novels: down the road, with an agent, mightn't that be a selling point? I mean, suppose you wrote one, wrote a second, edited the first, wrote another, edited the second, and so on, and at some point polished the first again and sent queries out. Assuming you're a good writer and find an agent, should you mention this? It seems to me that most writers--even good writers--have one book in them, or variations on one book. Having a bunch with long-term work put into them would, I'd think, be a selling point. Or doesn't it matter?

We don't care about the work that didn't sell. We only care about the work you want us to sell. Yes, it is a good idea to write a lot of novels to work on your technique. No, it is not a good idea to mention them. We just hear "I wrote a bunch of unpublishable novels!"

As far as short stories go, should they be relevant to the topic you're querying? Also, articles in magazines relevant to your topic? thanks.

They don't have to be and probably won't be, but if they ARE, you should mention it. As in, "This short story that was published is actually the first chapter in a novel." (Like Ellison's Battle Royal)

I do have questions about some things that I guess would be considered "okayish credits," if you'll allow that term for a moment.

-- An essay / op-ed column published in the daily newspaper of a large U.S. city, though not NY or LA. Include?


-- Other articles / essays published in paying markets?

Not unless they relate to the manuscript in some fashion.

-- Published textbook material that's in use in classrooms?

Yes, but don't make a big deal out of it.

-- Working in the publishing industry? One of the blogging agents advised using this in the bio section, noting that it would convey to the agent that the writer would understand industry terminology, deadlines, the glacial slowness of publishing, etc. Granted, I didn't work in editorial; I did production and design.


Rejecter, could you please clarify Bad Credential #3, regarding having the same job as your protagonist? I was uncertain what you meant by a job that isn't hard to research. Also, why should an author not create a protagonist with a similar background?

I'm referring to the Mid-life Crisis Thriller, which usually involves a character who has the same job as the protagonist. It's a sign to us that you might not be that creative. If you have the same job, don't mention it. It's a turn-off.

Here's a question that should be near and dear to your heart: if a writer has experience working in publishing, should that be mentioned?


Is that "You sold 3000 self published copies ..." in a year? or ever?

Ever. Self-published novels sell really, really poorly.

What does an MFA give you? (Sorry, I don't even know what an MBA is good for - except 3 letters after your name).

An MFA is a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction, which is a bit like an MA except it's considered a terminal degree (you don't go on to a PhD after that). It serves to qualify people for teaching positions in English and creative writing at the college level, for which you generally need a master's.

How about professional writing in another field, such as technical writing. Does it work for me or against me (or make no difference) if I say something like:

Although this is my first novel, I've been a professional writer and editor for 18 years.

Mention it (it means you know grammar), but don't make a big deal out of it.

Your Bad Credential #1: lots of very competitive, "real" journals, don't pay. Anything. Or they pay you in a free subscription or a few contributor copies, or a token fee that--unless your story maybe is very short--will not amount to 3 cents per word. They also don't usually pay per word, but that's a whole other thing. Zoetrope or Paris Review, maybe they pay a lot. Agni, which I think is quite 'respected', pays $10 per printed page. Doesn't come out to 3 cents per word. One Story pays $100, regardless of length, and they tend to go for longer stories... and blah blah blah, I'm probably taking your comment too seriously or literally, aren't I? :oP

Taking it too literally. What I meant was, it should be a pro market, not your high school newsletter. Pro-markets generally pay, though this is not universally true.

Hmm. I've been on the fence about my one credential. I'm a staff writer for a website that does science/history articles. The negative side is that no, I'm not paid any appreciable amount. The plus side is that over this last year we've averaged more than 100,000 unique hits a day with some days topping 2.5 million.

To mention or not to mention...

Only mention if it directly pertains to the manuscript.

Not exactly a 'credential,' but would mention that I'm 17 years old be a good platform for someone writing YA fantasy?

I definitely think it creates strong marketing potential, the whole 'teen writing for teens' thing, but I'm interested if you think so too.

Oh, for the love of G-d, do not mention you are 17 years old. Feel free to submit, but don't mention you're under 20. Just keep that under wraps until we've fallen in love with your manuscript, at which point, we won't care.

I have to take issue with the comment about newspaper jobs. I worked at a mid-sized daily newspaper for seven years, so I know the crap you're talking about that can come out of those smaller papers. But you know what? These people are writing for a living. Most have a basic understanding of grammar, mechanics, spelling, etc. (I have firsthand knowledge that this isn't always the case, unfortunately). Working at a newspaper--no matter its size-- demands organization, time management, and respect for deadlines. I've always thought those would be good qualities an agent would like to see in an author.

An agent is looking for an author who has a manuscript that they love and can sell to a major publishing company. That is the ONLY real credential. Also, preferably, the author should not be a jerk.

Well, great. Being a former technical writer, having a BA in English and getting some "articles" in my published in my local newspaper ... was all I had to go on.

It doesn't matter. If you have a great manuscript, you don't need credentials. You'll be fine.

You mentioned writing for textbooks. I wrote a number of scripts for what then were VHS supplements for a series of reading textbooks from a top publisher. Is that worth mentioning?

Uh....not until it's the same subject as the manuscript.

I'm not an agent, but when I hear that an unpublished author has X novels in the trunk, it doesn't make me think, "That's dedication!" It makes me think, "...and not a one of them was good enough to sell?" It's like advertising your failures. Some agents, like Termagant 2's, might like to hear how many novels you have in the trunk, but I suspect others would be put off by it.

I just want to quote Issendai here because I totally agree with the above statement. Actually, most of the people in the previous post who've responded to other people's questions have given the same advice I would give.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Dear Rejector,

I understand the importance of following standard formating while writing a query. The problem is, I am a new writer with not much of a biography that would sway the interest of an agent (no literary accomplishments already published). Would it be better to concentrate on the work and let it sell the query? Can't an agent always call or email for more information on the writer later? Or would this be a bad move?

No. You do not need any credentials in the query letter. You only need a good novel. (If you have no published material, just don't mention anything. We'll figure it out, but it's less annoying that someone saying 'I'm an unpublished author)

I've been meaning to talk about credentials for a long time, so let's get down to it.

Every query letter advice site says to list any credentials you may have that would qualify you as a series writer. Problem is most first-time novelists (meaning, this is the first novel they're trying to get published, or the first novel that is good enough to be published) don't have any creditials. They didn't take an MFA program, they didn't publish a bunch of short stories because they don't write short stories, and they haven't written for textbooks. They've just got a novel. That's good, because it's all we really want. The advice, however, often leaves writers scrapping the bottom of the barrel for anything to put down. Good credentials help you (a little). Bad credentials are annoying and just show us you've read some query-letter-writing websites and are desperate to throw something in. We don't care. We just care about your novel.


1. You have had short stories (any amount) published in a pro-market magazine, meaning they paid you more than .3c a word.

2. You have written one or multiple non-fiction books that were published, whether they have anything to do with your novel or they don't.

3. Your manuscript is about something that was in the national news (and not just the metro section for one day) and you were involved in it.
4. You have a serious academic background (masters/PhD but from something more elite than an online masters program) in the topics the novel focuses on. If you've written historical fiction this is a big deal.

5. You have been previous published as a novelist by either a major publisher, a small press, or have sold more than 3000 copies of your self-published novel.

6. You've taken an MFA program. (Okay, we're on the fence about that, but you should mention it)


1. You have had one short story published in a non-paying literary journal we've never heard of.

2. You've had 31 short stories published in the same non-paying literary journal we've never heard of (this happened once).

3. You have the same job as the protagonist and it's not a job that would be hard to research, like being a flight attendent or an RV salesman.

4. You write for a local small-town newspaper. We will assume this means you wrote one editorial about how you saw rotten meat in the supermarket or the synagogue construction is making too much noise, because that's what most of these small-town newspapers are about.

5. You say you submitted previous novels, but they were rejected. Some people are even dumb enough to include the rejection letter because it has a few lines of praise between the "we won't want this and won't pay you any money for it because it's bad." Sometimes they highlight the generic praise part so we won't miss it. Look, it's false praise. We know because we give out a lot of it in some attempt to be nice to people.

6. You've written 10 unpublished novels and they're sitting on your shelf.

7. You have a BA in English. Most career writers went for a BA in English or history. I was history.

I hope this clears that up.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

YA and Dragons

Hey, Rejector.

Just spent three hours reading all of our blog posts (every. single. one.) I do have a question relating to trends/cliches. The YA fantasy market seems to be jam-packed nowadays, especially the dragon theme. Would an agent find it too risky to launch another book into this cooling market? is there even ROOM? (i've tried to give my manuscript a creative twist. I don't know if that will even work anymore). Should I just trust my story and go with it anyway? Thanks!

There's room for anything that's really good.

It's true everyone's been going "YA YA YA!!!" for a while now and we're seeing the results, but as it's a semi-independent market, not a trend in a genre, it will not "go away." It's like saying, "Is there room for more mysteries?" or "Are they going to keep making thrillers?" Of course they will. Genres have their own markets and as long as those markets continue to exist, we'll need books to fill them.

That said, enough with the dragons. Unless it's really good.