Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The "Back In ____ " Sign

So the publishing industry is officially on vacation.

I say officially because last week we were "not in the office" the way Victorian Londoners were "not at home" when they didn't want to entertain visitors. In other words, we generally shut off our phones and spent the week getting around to the stuff that piled up. My boss called up some editors and fellow agents she needed to catch up with (contacts make an agency), now that she had the excuse of the publishing houses being closed to not be busy with them. It was also a week for reading and responding to partials, and cleaning out of the office. This included a couple of embarassing finds ("Uh, I think this requested manuscript arrived in 2005. Yeah, it did. Oops. Should we do something about this?") as we cleaned out the office - my boss is working more from home this coming year, which hopefully will not affect my job because the mail will still come to the office in Manhattan and the phone will still ring there. Many agents have offices in name only in Manhattan, because it's insanely expensive to rent office space here, and the industry has reached a point where agents can really work from home if they own a cell phone and a wireless laptop. This is why a lot of offices offer forwarding services, to make it seem like your agent has an office downtown when really they work out of their home in Brooklyn most of the time.

But this week, we're really gone. I'm only going in once, to handle the week's mail. I'm as frustrated as you guys are - I've got partials sitting at a publishing house and an agency, and I know I won't hear back until the second or third week of January at best. I feel your pain.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

POD Post. Skip if you're bored with the topic.

Since starting this blog, I've been insulted in many, many ways. I've been called incompetent, immoral, and lazy. I've been labeled as "too young" (because 25-year-olds halfway through their graduate degree in fiction are definitely too young to be reading whole pages of words), "untrained" (because there's a school for reading query letters), and a "virgin" (okay, that one's true). My spelling is bad (because there's no such thing as typos on the internet, especially during late-night posts). I've sold my soul to the publishing industry because I enjoy butter (actually, like any good Jewish girl, it's cream cheese with dairy and margarine with meat. Haha! I ruined your metaphor!).

I'm sure it's a coincidence that roughly 99.999981% of the people lodging these complaints admit to being writers with unsellable POD books. In the brief moments where clarity hits me, I try to stifle my laughter. Then I go back to quietly holding back the obvious comment here. As everyone knows, if you couldn't sell your coming-of-age yarn to any publishing house because all 100 of the agents you queried rejected you for some reason with a form letter, this is a sure sign of your unqualified genius. I also work at all 100 of these agencies thanks to my wayback machine, so clearly I'm entirely to blame. It was not 100 people independently making the decision that your work sucked, or was at the very least not marketable. And what do they know? All they do is analyze, edit, and sell novels for a living. That's not any kind of professional qualification! Fortunately you read this one article on this one place online about how the publishing industry is totally corrupt and the article validated all of your beliefs. You were not a fool for giving iUniverse $300 for like 25 copies of your novel. Someday, when all of the great houses of publishing are torn down by the independent thinks of the internet, your buddy list will replace the people on those committees and your Pulitzer will be in the mail. Thank you, interweb!

And now we come to the subject of Meika. I have to say, I've never met a guy like Meika. He's an old-fashioned good sport. He puts his work on my blog to be torn to shreds, and even after I make comments and then even a post where I outright insult him and tell him to stop writing, he emails me politely and praises my blog. Talk about rolling with the punches. Meika, you are a great guy. Your incomprehensible writing has been amusing to many of us, but when it comes right down to it, you're just a nice guy. Also, thanks for giving me permission to post the rant you sent to me and also posted on someone else's blog.

What's important with the new techonologies of the web, it's not that
filtering is not needed, for it's more needed than ever.

What is important is that the slushpile (the entire web?) is available to all who enquire. If large Publishing houses only recruit slush readers from certain universities then it is only they who benefit from the slushpile experience.

I don't know where this rumor got started that agencies and publishing houses go over to the IVY league schools and recruit people. Generally the entry-level people are a bunch of people with BAs in useless things like English or History (I was History) who spent a year slacking off before realizing they might need to do something with their lives or their parents would take away their PS2, so they went out and applied to stuff on Craigslist and got an unpaid internship somewhere. You know, like basically everyone else who graduates from college in almost any field that's not pre-med. Yes, there are internships for students, and for obvious reasons, these internships are handed out mainly to students who go to school in Manhattan, because, well, the office is in Manhattan. I know some Columbia interns, some NYU interns, someone from Hunter College. It's all location.

And then get snarky on the nitwits who end up heading for the slushpile, mostly because they have no experience there.

See, if you try and connect this sentence with the previous ones that he wrote, it implies that the nitwits who read the slushpile are making fun of the nitwits who are reading the slush pile, both of whom are by association the same person, then we all are just insulting ourselves and we all don't have experience doing the thing we're doing, even though we're doing it and getting experience.

This may or may not result in guild like
restrictions on entry into the trade. Not having been there I do not

Actually, if you join the AAR, you get a discount at the merchant's guild, the mercenary guild, and 20% off potions at the Mage's guild, and man are those potions expensive. Can a sister get a life potion here? Now? My elf friend is dying!

Now, the slushpile contains mistakes, its the process of rejecting
these that leads to the production of better work. In fact it is the
rejection more than selection that creates all our cultural
artifacts. (My very special philosophy is the life work of Mary
Douglas, so its not my personal one, mmmkay)

??? No, seriously, that's my whole response.

With the web its 'availability' of the slushpile, the juvenilia
(cough cough) and the cranks which changes the whole show. Not the
crap itself. This availability will directly affect the means of
production, which in publishing is actually publicity and control of
the author's name (brand).

I've made several reads through this and what I think he's trying to say is that if everyone just publishes everything all the time using the internet, we will realize that a lot of people are crappy writers and make decisions for ourselves. That or we will all become communists. Either one.

Now that more people can pick and choose and critique from the slush
there can be more approaches, more editing, and more conversations,
like this one. This conversation on this blog is part of the evidence
in support of my very special thesis. That is what other have said
about Web 2, I am merely applying it in the area of books and
writing, which appear to have the most hidebound voices in the arts.
(I'll return to that in response to self promotion).

Yes, there is something "very special" about your thesis.

I am not saying that therefore everyone should do this, nor am I
saying that this magically makes everyone good, nor even interesting,
but things have changed. The publishing houses have lost control of the slushpile.

I know! It just grew and grew and now it's actually gained self-awareness and lobbied for its own desk and zip code. As soon as it reaches the side of the room with the computer, we're all doomed. John Connor, save us!

And books like my "Doric Column" of old juvenilia will pop up before the
solution of an arch is arrived at. My book is not the solution, its
part of the conversation that will find solutions.

??? Not the grandstanding; the part about the arch. Does it have something to do with columns? Is this an architectural argument?

Indeed I have used this little gem of insight into the new domain to
structure my SF book .before Country. It takes place on a world
called Country built out of a slushpile of manuscripts, mostly pre-
Raphaelite, and earnest Hippies' blogs wishing to go back to nature.
I used to think of it as a library but the slushpile metaphor works a
lot better. Why use this? Perhaps because real life is more like a slushpile than
great literature.

Yes, that is true. Real life is actually quite boring and poorly-planned, without proper climaxes and conclusions to storylines. You're better off with the great literature.

But they are also near the publishers because audiences don't want to be the filters. True, Yes, yea verily.

Meika, I love you. That said, you are an insane person.

This is indeed true, and will continue to be true even as it changes (as been described above). I am not saying everyone will like it, and the process itself actually relies on what people 'do not like', so it obviously is going to take a while. Many do not like change.

Many people also don't like reading bad fiction. I think this is where my job comes in, to actually keep people from having to do that. Or am I just arguing semantics?

Also, after my recent experience on the interslush I may discover I am a better editor (or something) than a writer with a photoshop filter dodge-burning German sentence structure into my bipolar-narcissitic poetic style. (Say, that means I am likely just a second rate Nietzsche).

I think you would do well in an MFA program. By the way, that was an insult. On you or MFA programs? You decide.

The web is a mass of opportunities, simply restating past processes and past succesful models (and I do not disagree with their success, nor do I think they are evil or something) in the face of the change does not mean that change will not occur (or be evil or something). Self-Promotion Publishers promote. They generate publicity. They make things public. This completes the writing circle and completes the craft. (That slushpile is the key there).

Can you draw out this circle? Or make a flowcart or something? Because I'm a little confused here.

Self-publishers must also promote, thus as they are promoting themselves. They will be guilty of self-promotion. Case closed.

I hated that anime. You saw one episode, you saw them all. It was so formulaic. And how was Conan always just finding bodies everywhere? Tokyo must have an insanely high murder rate. Plus there was that creepy episode where the dentist drugged the kid so that she could commit a murder while she was asleep and have a perfect alibi...

[more cut for time and my sanity]

Now, even if I am crap, and no doubt about it, consensus here is near universal (never a good sign if your part of the herd by the way) if any part of my self-promotion helps create that culture for writers, then I have done a good thing. And that is why I posted at the rejector, not becuase I thought my crank writing are/were good, but because the new processes are going to slowly dissolve the publishing houses current methods.

"Send editors nothing, I say, and agents less."

"Something something something ... poor, huddled masses, yearing to breathe free ... something something ... et tu, Brute?" I'm not good at rote memorization. I'm glad I don't live in Qing Dynasty China.

Reclaim the slush!

You know what? You can have it.

Otherwise you'll just drown in your own shit and you'll never get better unless someone picks you out of it. Its a predicament and self-promotion is an act of agency rather than, yet again, choosing to be a victim. Get used to it.

Dude, she was not a victim. She totally led that rejection pile on, what with her clothing and her hair and those high heels and the I-don't-know-what's...

Kids these days! Honestly!

The ReganBooks Fallout

Unless you lived in a hole last month, you're aware that OJ Simpson wrote a book about "how he would have killed his wife." There might have been a little moral ambiguity there, considering his wife is dead and he most likely killed her. Still, it would have sold really well.

The thing that made this media story even more complex was that it actually began with Judith Regan, the head of the ReganBooks imprint at Harpercollins, being interviewed and saying that she "considered it his confession." Or at least, that's how I first heard about this nonesense, because I don't have television and get my news online.

By the end of it, Judith was fired, allegedly for "anti-Semitic remarks." Now it's somewhat known in the industry that she has a bit of a mouth on her, which is a much lesser charge than being an anti-Semite. The general consensus among ... my boss ... is that she probably would have kept her job if she kept her mouth shut and let it blow over, but she didn't, and so she's gone.

... Which is a problem. Reganbooks isn't just Judith Regan - a lot of people work there and a lot of authors have contracts with it, not all of them ex-athletes who did drugs and/or killed their wives. My boss currently has a second book option about to expire with ReganBooks, which published the author's previous book last year and it was a moderate success and has gone into translation markets. She was literally a day or so away from the author when Miss Regan was fired. My boss then had to worry that everyone else in the imprint would be fired, which eventually it was determined that they weren't and that it would continue to exist. However, there is such a shake-up over there that they're not making offers at the moment, and meanwhile the second-book clause in the contract expires December 28th. So it's a bad situation all around.

Anyway, just a little insider story for you all.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Living Wage as a Writer

Some people have been emailing me and trying to do the math about being a working writer. The fact is, it's impossible math to do. Yes, there are people who live entirely off their novel writing. These people are few and far between - and not only that, but they usually have totally different financial setups when they do their taxes. Let me give some examples:

(1) The great novelist - Has probably won a Pulitzer at some point, or the National Book Award. Everything he (it's usually a he) writes will be a bestseller no matter how bad it is, at least for the first two weeks. He'll always get a review in the New York Times Book Review, probably close to the front. To live fairly comfortably, he only has to produce a book about once a decade, which is probably around his output anyway. Examples would be Philip Roth, Thomas Pychon.

(2) The bestseller - This guy or girl just writes really, really marketable stuff, and not only that, but produces it on a regular basis of every 1-2 years. He/she usually gets hammered by critics but is at the top of the list anyway, and his/her old stuff is always in print. This person could have retired years ago, financially, but simply can't stop writing - because he's a real writer. And for real writers, writing is like breathing. His breath just happens to be very commercial. Examples would be Stephen King, Tom Clancy, John Grisham.

(3) The mid-list author: Had one break-out hit, regularly produces a book a year that goes for 30-40,000 advance, possible royalties depending on the reviews. Probably works in a genre like fantasy or horror or mystery, because mid-list authors don't survive in general fiction. Eventually, he/she will probably get an offer to write some material for some fantasy series (like the Dragonlance novels) and will do it, but under a different name.

(4) The one-book author - Very, very few one-book authors can live off the proceeds of that book. You know their names and have read their books - JD Salinger, Cervantes, Dan Brown. (I can't believe Cervantes went in the same sentence as Dan Brown) Chances are, these writers have other material - some of it published, some sitting on a shelf - that you or may not have heard of or read. The point is, they wrote a classic of literature (or just something that sold enough to have them swimming in one-dollar coins like Scrooge McDuck). These people come along maybe a couple times a century.

I'm leaving stuff out here, but it's time for Shabbos. Happy Chanukah. And no, there isn't an official spelling of the holiday.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Laughing At and With - How They're Different

I have been called many things. I have been called by my legal name, my Hebrew name, "Hey you!" Miss Rejecter, Rejector, and various other things usually related to roleplaying game characters. I have to say, being called someone's "maiden aunt on a dope free day" pretty much takes the cake. I am stupified. I understand that the words that are coming out of his mouth are meant to have some kind of meaning, and that taken apart, they can be found in a dictionary, but seriously. Does it mean I speak with exceptional clarity for a virgin with a nephew? That wasn't really the tone I was going for on this blog, but hey - whatever floats your boat.

Allow me to be clear about this - if you post a link to your crappy POD or eBook, and I respond by saying something that can be easily translated into, "Uh, you suck. No, as a writer. You might suck as a person, too, but I don't know that for sure yet," I am not offering constructive criticism. Do not thank me. Stop writing. Very few responders to the previous posts's thread posting of a .pdf novel actually meant to offer constructive criticism. They meant to insult you. I just don't know how to say it more simply. We are not laughing with you, we are laughing at you. You cannot have a positive attitude and start laughing with us in some fashion to negate the general feeling that you are a terrible writer. Also, that old adage that any publicity is good publicity is not true in the writing world. You just look like a dork who can't spell or write anything sensical to more people than you previously did. This is not a cause for celebration.

Normally I don't feel like crushing writer's dreams, but when I do, well, that's a real indicator that maybe your dreams to be crushed. Or at least, not posted on my blog.

Monday, December 11, 2006

E-Books and PODs


Perhaps I merely missed it, but what is your stance on a fully-realized PDF of a work as opposed to a manuscript.

Initially, I queried and sent out manuscripts as it has always been done. Now I am finding it hard to justify this antiquated process when I can format it as I wish and send a finished E-book PDF.

If the work is rejected, then I can go right to POD or something similar. Is this flawed logic? I have two novellas in the final stages and have to prepare myself.

I'm not sure the question that's being asked here, so I'll just ramble for a while and see where it takes us and how much trouble it gets me into.

From what I can gather, you submitted a normal manuscript and it was rejected, so now you are considering publishing it independently as an E-Book. (Whether it's in .pdf or .cbr or any other format is irrelevant, except when it comes to reading the book on iPods and whatnot)

I don't know a lot about publishers who work exclusively on E-Books, for two reasons. One, most major publishing houses now have their own ways of putting out E-Books if they think it's commercially viable for a product they already own and they normally include something about that in their contract, about rights and royalties and stuff. Two, I've never in my life purchased an E-Book. I've downloaded books in .txt format, but that's mainly been for research purposes (quote searches and the like). I've never actually sat down and read a novel on a computer screen, except when I had to at work, or when it's fanfic. I prefer things that I can hold in my hand and don't hurt my eyes after hours and hours. Stan Lee put it best when he said, "Computers will never replace the experience of holding a comic book in your hand and reading it." Of course, he was talking about comic books. And he was not anticipating Comic Book Reader, which really does make them readable on a screen.

There's not a lot of money or publicity in E-Books, though it is a growing market. Major publishers generally don't put out their regular books as E-Books unless there's a reason because the material can be so readily distributed illegally.

If you're looking at it like E-Book is a step below normal publishing and a step above POD publishing, I would say you are wrong. E-Books are really their own market, a market that's so rapidly changing that I don't really keep track of it and it usually doesn't show up on my radar. (By the way, it's a bad sign when a type of book doesn't show up on my radar)

Now getting into the larger question of whether you should go ahead with your manuscript in other publishing forms - the publishing industry answer is, "Uh, if you want to, but if we rejected it across the board, it probably sucked. Go write a better book instead." If you come and tell me that every single agent you queried didn't request a partial, I would say something was wrong with your query letter. If you say you got some hits but nobody took you on as a client, you've got something wrong with your manuscript.

There are reasons to publish POD. If you want to just have your book in print for friends and maybe some people who'll find it online and be interested, and you don't want to deal with the publishing industry or the hassle of receiving profits from your work, go ahead. If you've written poetry and it hasn't won a Pulitzer, go ahead, because we won't publish it anyway. But if you've written a novel that you actually want massive amounts of peope to read - say, more than 100 - then you should stick with traditional publishing.

Of course, this is coming from the assistant to an agent who wouldn't dream of sending her clients to a POD publisher. This is also coming from a grad student who sat in line during registration today and listened to people go on and on about how they were just going straight to POD and then build a huge following via the internet because the INTERNET can do ANYTHING and you should definitely not listen to the person behind you in line who actually works in publishing and is telling you that the chances of you actually having a successful POD book is almost nil. Yeah, yeah, is great. We all love it. You know what I don't like? Buying paperbacks of shitty quality with bad covers, no editing, poor formatting, and cost me $20.00. Thanks, iUniverse.

If you are being rejected across the board by traditional publishing when you've written a traditional manuscript - not the two novellas you discuss later in your letter - then yes, you can consider POD or E-Book. Or you could maybe question how good your manuscript was in the first place to be rejected by everyone across the board.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Oh Great Rejecter,
Can you please settle this argument for us bumbling masses. Do agents and publishers not take you seriously if you submit your manuscript in Times New Roman as opposed to Courier?

So, funny story. I always used to use Courier New for just about everything - my papers, things I submitted, stuff I published on the web. I loved to write in it. Then I started reading other people's full manuscripts in Courier New and discovered how irritating on the eyes it was in comparison to Times New Roman, Garamound, or even Arial. I won't judge your manuscript by your font (unless it's in Wingdings), but seriously, Times New Roman. 12 point.

Thank you, future authors.

Naming Assistants in Your Query

Dear Rejecter,

A friend recently gave me a name of a friend who works as an assistant at a large literary agency. I would like to query this assistant. I don't know which agent she works for or if she works for more than one. Also, I queried one of the agents there over a month ago but did not get a reply. My question is, how should I phrase my query? Is it "correct" to query an assistant at all? I enjoy reading your blog and would appreciate your insight.

I would say it's not a good idea. First of all, assistants move around a lot, and you have no idea if she still works there. Second, a good assistant is looking for work to pass to the agent, so throwing around the assistant's name might make her feel good when she opens the mail, but it won't make her look at your work any differently.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

It's Not ALL Fun and Games

Any assistant or former assistant to an agent will tell you that the most aggravating job is to review a contract. This comes up from time to time, especially when there's considerable negotiations between a bestselling author and the publishing house. The job I'm given is to make sure that the version we have lines up with the version we want, which is usually the standard boilerplate with some revisions. There are multiple reasons why we do this. We could have forgotten something to add or ask to be deleted, there could have been an honest miscommunication, or (very occasionally) the company deleted a key line here or there and hoped we wouldn't notice. This is why you should get an agent. We have all of the standard company boilerplates around in the office for each major company, and we can line them up.

It's more difficult than it sounds. A publishing contract is anywhere from 10-18 pages long, in legal-sized paper with lots of small print. Often for some ridiculous reason the font size or alignment has changed between revisions and it makes it hard to "line up" the lines with a ruler. Sometimes entire paragraphs are just realigned and I have to flip through and find them on the old version. Sometimes words are just rearranged, which is technically a change but not a significant one - it just throws you off. It's a very tiring mental activity; I'm glad I only have to do it once in a while.

The reason the contract is so long is because it covers every eventuality for anything ever, including (1b) "acts of [G-d]." The contract is meant to protect both the author and the publisher and make sure the money goes to the right people by the right time. More recently paragraphs have had to be added not just about audio books, but e-Books, "electronic media," and "media that may be invented in the future."

Standard topics include:

- The author's responsibility to get the manuscript in on time and the publishing company's deadline to ask approval for changes

- Who pays for what legal fees if the author and company are sued for content in the book (called "the Work")

- What happens if the publishing company goes bankrupt or the author expires in terms of rights to the material

- What percentage of royalties are given to the author for bargain book contracts and bulk orders.

The good news is that the language is pretty plain, and if you happen to be an author negotiating a contract without an agent's help, you just need to read it very carefully and make sure it doesn't sound like you're going to get ripped off at some point or abandoned if you get sued.

Sound exciting? The publishing world is for you!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Copyright Law

I was emailed with a clarification about copyright issues based on earlier posts. This person is far more knowledgable than me on the laws of copyright and therefore I am posting their email (with their permission) so that we all can learn a bit more. If you are a lawyer, you can respond with various other points, but I can't answer questions about this, as it is not my material.

1. The California Supreme Court has never held that everything posted on the internet is fair use. Furthermore, the California Supreme Court can only bind California courts, and because copyright is a federal statute, anyone who wanted to get around such a ridiculous decision would simply sue in federal court. If this really happened, I'd like to see a citation.

2. Everything posted on the internet is copyrighted by the author. Now, if the original author posted the material, the author's posting on the internet usually implies a pretty broad license for what other people can do with it: read it, download it to cache, maybe even save copies. But the fact that it's posted on the internet doesn't mean it can be subjected to wholesale redistribution. And in many cases, things are posted to the internet without the imprimatur of the original author. Do you really think that if I retype Harry Potter on my blog, that there's a fair use right for you to then copy what I've written? Of course not.

3. What you posted, from what I gathered, was a hunk of material and a criticism. That is fair use, plain and simple. You're allowed to quote material to ridicule it, or to prove a point, or any number of things. This country is founded on the idea that we can ridicule others' words, and copyright doesn't prevent you from doing that. See 17 U.S.C. 107 (noting that criticism and comment are fair use).

4. You can be sued for copyright infringement if you don't make money off of the infringement.
First, the person can seek an injunction forcing you to take the material off your site. You won't have to pay up, but you'll have to deal with lawyers, and lawyers suck. See 17 U.S.C. 503.
Second, the person can claim that your posting caused them to LOSE money (e.g., they were selling their story for cash on their website, but now nobody will buy it because they're downloading it for free). See 17 USC 504(b) (allowing suit for damages in addition to profits).
Third, the person can claim statutory damages in some instances. Statutory damages for willful infringement can get as high as $150,000 per infringing copy. Ouch! See 17 U.S.C. 504(c).

5. Copyright law does not prohibit you from claiming a story belongs to someone else. For instance, if I send you a link to a story and I say "I wrote it" but actually, it's Harlan Ellison's story, I am just a liar and a cheat. I haven't infringed copyright. Copyright grants certain exclusive rights. Copyright law gives no right of attribution, at least not to authors of written works. See 17 U.S.C. 106 (listing exclusive rights granted under copyright statute); 107 (granting rights of attribution to visual works only).

6. If your post is saved on a server in another country, you are still liable for copyright infringement if you committed the infringing act while in the United States.

Thank you, reader.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Query Advice: Doing Your Research

I do wonder about linking up your book with something the agent represents. Perhaps the agent represents a book that is similar in some ways to yours--and because you researched them and know this, you are querying them. I've read this is a good thing to do--is it?

Yes, this is generally a good thing to do. It definitely won't hurt and it might help. However, we still only care about your writing, so you could say you personally know every single author on our list and it wouldn't help if you don't know where commas go.

Monday, December 04, 2006

More Bad Query Advice: You Are Not Dan Brown

The third is a slightly different set of advice given out to writers: compare your work to that of established authors in your genre. I've heard a lot of reasons for this, from "it proves you know the market" to it giving the agent an idea of your book's tone. I've also heard a great many agents say it's a horrible idea. Do you have an opinion on this?

Oh G-d, yes. We see this all the time, and while I suppose there might be a way to make it not harm your query, I've yet to see that. To me it's just a technique for spotting what I call an "overedited query." While it's not necessarily a bad thing that writers do research on what a query letter is supposed to be (in fact, it's a very good thing), it becomes obvious after a while that they're pulling out every trick they read on every website to sell me their manuscript, when in fact, all I really care about is if the hook is well-written and makes the book sound interesting. The only thing we care about is your writing. Listing writing credentials is only a plus because it proves to us that other people have seen your writing and assessed that it is quality.

Do not compare yourself to a bestselling author and/or literary genius. You are not currently a bestselling author and time has yet to determine whether you are a literary genius. Also, the other reason for comparing your work to the writing of other authors is bogus when you think about it. Someone will say, "I've written a legal thriller like the works of John Grisham." Look, if you've written a legal thriller and it's good, it will be read by people who like legal thrillers, so chances are it will be read by people who like John Grisham. That doesn't mean you're him. It doesn't sell your book to us; it just makes you seem presumptous about your writing. If your hook invokes in us the feeling that, "Wow, this is just like a John Grisham novel - it'll sell a million copies!" then you've done your Grisham-related job. His name didn't have to be mentioned.

Don't waste space, don't waste words, and don't waste our time. That's all we ask. Oh, and include an SASE if you actually want a response.

Bad Query Advice: Discussing Your Audience

It's almost impossible to trace how rumors get started. There are agents with differing opinions, agents who publish books to make money, people who are NOT agents publishing books about query letters to make money, and the like. The more generous side of me thinks that at the beginning of this game of telephone, some agent or assistant was attempting to give out good advice about a specific situation, and too many people took it the wrong way.

Bad Advice #1 - "Discuss your potential audience."

This only applies to full non-fiction proposals (the ones that are formatted to go on for pages). It does not apply to query letters for both fiction and non-fiction. We know who your potential audience is: people interested in the genre/topic you are writing about. Books have built-in audiences. That's basically the reason that books are seperated into genres - so people can find what type of book they're looking for more easily in the bookstore than if every single author was just listed alphabetically.

I've seen this taken to stupidly hilarious levels, implying that either most of or all of the population is going to buy and read their book. Three examples, in order of stupidity, of things I've actually seen in query letters:

3. "My detective protagonist lives in an RV home. 4.2 million Americans own RVs, and I think this book will appeal to them." [Yeah, I'm more likely to buy a novel that has a main character living in the same type of home as me. That's a definite sell right there.]

2. "The man who must stop the terrorists is an airline pilot and the novel takes place on an airplane, so it will interest people who have seen or ridden on airplanes." [I've been on an airplane! I can immediately relate to this guy! Sold!]

1. "The protagonist is a woman, and I think that will appeal to the female population. However there is also a male love interest, so the book will cross gender barriers and also appeal to men." [What about transgendered people! Huh?!? That's a big market!]

The only thing you're telling us when you talk about your potential market is that you did some bad research on the internet that told you to do that. It doesn't mean it's an auto-reject, but it doesn't help your case.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...


According to you, the minimum practical length these days is around 70k. (Up from around 50k in the 1960s, judging from the SF paperbacks on my shelves. And that in any series, each novel in the series gets thicker and thicker.)

Has anyone considered reviving the old Ace Double format for slightly-shorter works? Two novellas or short novels (35-55k each) bound together into a single volume?

You'd probably have to abandon putting them back-to-back inverted with two front covers like the original Ace Doubles. (Which could lead to a fight over which of the two appears first.) Ideally, both works in the volume should have some sort of similarity to appeal to the same reader. This could also have potential as a breakthrough medium for newer authors, with the noob's work doubled with a similar but more established author.

It's a matter of what the market will bear. Publishing houses generally do not start major trends; they publish some random thing and the trend sort of springs up on its own. Unlike the fashion industry, the publishing industry is extremely reactionary because it's a safer financial bet.

At the moment, the "novel" of 70-100k seems to be what people want and are buying. The market for short story collections is very small, and understandably so. People generally don't read short stories unless they either seek them out in literary mags or they happen upon them in larger commercial magazines like The New Yorker. A short story collection is something that's tough to read. I know because I read a ton of the old sci-fi stories of the 60s and 70s, the ones that are now in collection form. You read a little story, and then you have to totally switch gears and accept a new reality in another ten pages. While two novellas is not as extreme, the principle is the same - the reader has to switch gears, and readers today don't like doing that for whatever societal reason.

If we saw more short stories being sold and shorter books being sold, we would be more inclined to lower the acceptable word count, but eventually it all comes down to what sells.


I did not delete the post below because I was in violation of some copyright law. Whether you want to debate my ethics about posting it or not is your business, but I was fully within my legal rights to do so. However, this blog is meant to be informative and amusing, not make people angry. Unless those people are stupid.

There are two main reasons why I had every right to post material handed out in a classroom:

(1) I was handed a piece of paper with some writing on it. It was no different (in legal terms) from finding a piece of paper on the street with some terrible writing on it, which I don't think anyone here would have objected to. I think I fulfilled my moral obligations by not naming the professor OR the student. I also did not post the story in full. Whether a writer holds copyright on their work from the first word they type is irrelevant. The only way this would come up in court would be if I were to publish it and attempt to make money off of it by claiming it was mine or claiming it was someone else's and not giving any procedes to the author. Even then, the author, who in this case we are assuming is lacking a form from the US copyright office, would have to prove that they wrote the work first and I stole it. This is actually fairly difficult to do in a courtroom. If there was NO monetary gain at stake (i.e. I had not tried to sell the work), the case would simply not go to trial because there are no losses. It might go to civil court for emotional damage, but only if the original author had good grounds for it. (If I posted her work and her name on a billboard at Times Square, for example)

(2) Basically everything written on the internet falls into the "fair use" category, as the California Supreme Court recently ruled. (And it's irrelevant, because you could easily make a post on a server that was based in another country if you really wanted to) I give the example of Something Awful, which people have attempted to sue many times for "libel and slander." None of these cases have ever gone to court, and the threatening emails to the site administrator were even posted in whole, without alteration or permission.

Freedom of speech on the internet is a two-way street, people. I'm very aware of that; material I've written on this blog or in email as The Rejecter has been reposted on other websites without my permission, and the material has been altered without my permission, and I can't do a thing about it. Most people back down from an email threat from someone else to sue pretty quickly, but they actually don't have to.

As for the other complaint, which is that I keep a folder of the worst query letters I've received for my own personal amusement, it is totally legal and I've never viewed it as immoral. When you send a letter to someone through the postal service, the letter becomes their property. They can do whatever they like with it. They can make paper airplanes out of it, they can refuse the back of the paper as scrap, they can toss it in the trash (which is what happens to most query letters that aren't sent back). Now if I attempted to make some kind of a profit by reprinting the letters on a pay site or in book form, I might run into some legal trouble with the authors if I didn't bother to change or remove their names, but I would never do that for both legal and moral reasons. I don't keep the query letters so to mock the author. (I often don't even look at the author's name when reading a query letter, except to check that it's the same name on the SASE so nothing gets screwed up in the mail) The only illegal thing that ever happens in the agency is the act of opening the envelope. (It is a crime to open an envelope sent through the US Postal Service that is not addressed to you, and the letters are always addressed to my boss, not me) Once the envelope is opened, the paper and whatever's written on it is fair game.

So there.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


The email questions are piling up, and so far I've been letting them pile, because I've been busy with school work, as my semester ends in a few weeks and I have to produce something the professor will like before that. I will be open and say I had a fight with him yesterday. He rejects just about everything I submit, and sometimes I give him whole, publishable novels, but they aren't about me, so they are apparently worthless. Somehow he then succeeds in making me feel guilty about not rising to his challenge to write from the heart, because producing stories people enjoy isn't enough - I should strive to write something great.

In retrospect, his opinion of "great" may be a little skewed. This was material that someone wrote for my class and was generally considered "good."

[Content removed because it upset a lot of people. See above post]

On the other hand, maybe I should stick to writing historical fiction. Or maybe I just don't have enough daddy issues to write quality material.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

National Novel Writing Month

Yeah, damn straight. Actually I hit 50K on the 23rd, but they wouldn't let me validate it until the 25th. Now of course I have to go finish the novel, which has another 10-15k to it. 65k is still fairly short for novel length, but I did it with very little historical research or detail, so I could easily pad it another 10k in revisions.

Recently a website interviewed me about my feelings as someone who works in publishing on the program. I'll repost it here. The website that contacted me can be found here.

I'm compiling a series of articles on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the website 101 Reasons to Stop Writing. I'm interested in getting the literary agent's perspective on this, especially the perspectiveof one who filters the submissions from overly keen Nano participants, and would appreciate youresponses to the questions below.

How did NaNoWriMo first appear on your radar?

I'm a writer myself and 2005 was the first year I participated because I heard about it through fellow unpublished writers. I have never heard of it at work and when I mention it, honestly, very few people know what it is.

NaNoWriMo, to my knowledge, has not hit the cultural consciousness of agents and the publishing industry yet, despite the publication of Chris Baty's (founder of NaNoWriMo) book, No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. In the book he discusses how 50,000 words is not actually an acceptable length for an adult book, but he chose it because it was a more reasonable goal for people achieve. Most literary agents are looking for first -time novelists to keep their work in the 70k-100k range.

Have you received queries or submissions that have mentioned NaNoWriMo? If so, have any of these submissions been accepted for representation, or at least passed up the ladder?

If the agent would recognize it, they would actually probably pass on it, for a number of reasons. First of all, 50k is just too low unless it's YA or a children's book. Second, only the fastest writers can write a quality full-length novel in a month - most authors need a year. The speed at which it was written is an indication against it. Third, if they wrote it in November and they submit it in December or January, they obviously haven't done the heavy polishing any manuscript needs before it's ready to be submitted.

What are the most common errors made by participants when submitting to you
(assuming any have)?

I honestly haven't seen anyone who has said they did the novel for NaNoWriMo, but as the program gains in popularity, I have no doubt that it will eventually start showing up in query letters and the agency world will collectively groan.

Is there a noticeable "spike" in queries or submissions, particularly for
50,000 word novels, in November to February?

Most people do NaNoWriMo for fun, and not everyone finishes. Serious writers who do it realize that they need time to revise and polish it - at least a few months. Besides, if a few extra queries come in during this time, we wouldn't notice. Query letters tend to spike in the fall, get heavy up until Christmas time, and then drop off again until about mid-January. This is because writers, like agents, are on vacation in the summer (August is notoriously the slowest month) and during the last week of December. They pick up again in February and March. Agencies review dozens, maybe hundreds of query letters a day. They're not going to notice a few more.

Do you believe that participation in NaNoWriMo is a "good thing" for
inexperienced writers?

Yes. I have been writing all my life, but I found it to be a useful exercise, which is why I'm repeating it this year. To start blank on November 1st with only the vaguest book idea and then to try and produce massive amounts of material by November 30th is an experience that builds stamina and quick-thinking. I am always surprised how much the plot I might have planned will change as I go along.

Do you believe it creates unrealistic expectations for participants?

I don't think 1667 words a day (or something like that) is particularly crazy, but it's asking a lot of someone who doesn't want to write for a living and hasn't been writing for many years. Many people don't hit 50K, but the point is, they tried, and they learned. Also, November is generally a very busy month for just about everyone, with the school cycle being what it is and the holidays approaching. In his book, Baty discusses why he put it in November instead of a month like June or July. I don't remember precisely what he said off-hand and my copy of his book is not at-hand, but I think it was something about how the program teaches you how to make time for writing despite your schedule. If you have lots of time, you may not actually be as productive as if you have to set aside an hour a day and you sit down at the computer knowing you can't waste that hour sitting at the screen or you're screwed for the day.

If you were in charge of NaNoWriMo, what rules would you set or change?

I would give people a little star next to their username on the lists for every year they've succeeded in "winning" NaNoWriMo. That would make of my friends who have been hitting 50K every year more accomplished - because it is an accomplishment.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Children's Books, Continued

Various people have questioned some of the things I said in my previous post as being accurate. While I do stand by my assumption that the asker's 65k fantasy novel is YA just based on its size unless it was specifically written for a younger crowd, I am not an expert on children's literature.

While I have dealt with children's literature in the publishing field to a small extent, most of my knowledge of what grades are reading what comes from a course I'm taking on children's literature in graduate school, by a professor who's written many children's books and runs various children's poetry and children's literature festivals in New York City. There were many things I honestly didn't know before taking this course.

I admit that the line between middle school, young adult, and adult literature gets kinda hazy in age range, and that a lot of it has to do with the school and culture you grew up in. An ESL student is obviously probably going to be a step behind in literature. As I mentioned, I was the first person in my class to read an "adult" book, which was not available in my school library and I had to get at the public library in town. This was mainly because it was Jurassic Park and the movie was coming out sooon, so I got the book, and I'll readily admit that I did not understand half of it. (Also, the first half of it doesn't make a lot of sense) The following month I read The Andromeda Strain and also didn't understand a word, except that a disease was eating a plane or something. It wasn't until I hit Sphere that I started "getting it," and breezed through The Great Train Robbery, which was easier because it was historical fiction instead of science-based fiction. Obviously, one of the reasons I've ended up in publishing is because I love to read. I read 1-3 books a week.

I distinctly remember that we stopped reading YA and started reading "literature" in eight grade, when I switched to a private school that had already been doing it for two grades. Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, and Philip Roth.

I'm sure this varies from school to school, so I wouldn't doubt that there are 15-year-olds out there who are reading YA. There are adults who've realized there is some terrific literature being put out in YA and are eating it up.

Anyway, the point is: I don't know everything.

Children's Books

I am querying agents and I would like to make an effort to target
agents that will represent my type of book. The problem is, I'm not
sure what to call it.

What's the difference between children's, middle-grades, and young

I've been describing my book as young adult, but I believe that it
will more likely appeal to readers in the 9-12 range? It's 65,000
words and is kind of similar to City of Ember.

Am I worrying about nothing or is a correct genre description

65,000 words is definitely going to be in the JA range unless you've specifically written it to younger children, which is a bad idea. The spectrum of children's literature is very well-defined by publishers based on age and mental maturity. 2-4-year-old books are largely picture books with extremely basic plots. 4-6 you can start getting into more complex ideas like morality, lessons, mythology, and you have more text to the pictures. This is also the age that kids might be reading instead of being read-to by the parent, so you have to be strict on content. This is also the age when "special topics" books begin (like books discussing gay parents, divorce, death, illness, and even abuse and incest. The only topic completely off-limits is abortion, which is not allowed until YA). By middle school, the pictures are cut down to minimum and the children are assumed to be reading on their own, but certain topics are still off-limits except if handled in a very gentle manner, hiding behind imagery. The word count is still relatively short because of attention span, but much larger than picture books. (Kids do read ultra-long Harry Potter books in middle school but this is a special case). YA applies generally to kids in 4-6th grades and is when the topics open up to things teenagers deal with, like sexuality, death, self-image, suicide, anger, etc. It really ends at around age 12-14, when kids generally move into adult books. I remember reading Jurassic Park in sixth grade, which was my first "adult" book, and I was the only one reading that kind of book in my class. By the end of 7th, everyone was reading adult books. (Actually, they were mainly reading magazines and listening to music)

It seems like you have a standard YA fantasy. Anything below YA (Young Adult) should be written with a lot of research into what are the acceptable limts to the content and you should specify the grade range.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Plot Summaries in Queries

Dear Rejecter,

I'm nearing completion on a memoir-in-blog-form, which, with a little work, could easily be reworked into a book manuscript. I've contacted one agency so far; I'm waiting to hear from them before I approach others.

The submission guidelines for the agency I've already approached request just a short paragraph summarizing the subject of the proposed book. However, I've been looking at sample queries, and I've noticed that many of them provide a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the plot, beginning to end.

For future reference, do you suggest a brief overview, or a detailed plot description? The memoir I've been working on is very much a story, rather than a "this-is-what's-happened-in-my-life-so-far" kind of thing, and I could easily provide the entire plot, but it strikes me that that's overkill in an initial query letter.

What are your thoughts? Does it simply depend on who you're querying?

I don't know what sample queries you were looking at, but in general, a blow-by-blow account of the plot is a terrible thing to do in a query. The object of the summation of the book is to entice the agent the same way a book jacket summary would entice the reader - and book jacket summaries don't summarize the plot. They just make it sound like something you would want to read.

The best thing to focus on in that 1-3 paragraph summation is the conflict of the book (known as the "hook"), because it's conflict that makes books interesting, in fiction anyway. An example of this would be: "A factory worker wakes up one morning to discover he has transformed into a bug." I don't know how to go on summarizing that because it's been a while since I read Kafka, and I'm pretty sure he dies at the end, but the point is - guy turns into bug. Okay. That's interesting. You don't see that every day. Now tell me where you're going to go with it - in terms of making the book interesting.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Diet Plans That Work

I am collecting all of your questions, but things have been crazy between NaNoWriMo, school, and work. I also would like you all to know that I am currently in the same boat as many of my readers - I am awaiting a response from a publishing company about the three chapters I sent in. Contacts within the industry only get you so far. Now my writing has to stand on its own like everyone else's. I feel your pain.

Today a query came in for a diet book. This would hardly be exceptional if not for the total idiocy of the writers. After jabbering on for three paragraphs about how much weight this husband and wife had lost (not mentioning how long it took them to lose it - it could be years for all I know), they finally got down to the actual amazing plan: "DECREASE YOUR CALORIE INTAKE AND YOU WILL LOSE WEIGHT."

...Wow. What a revelation.

Monday, November 13, 2006

One of those rare posts where I talk about myself

A couple people have emailed me about a reference I made to 6-MP, an immunosuppressive drug commonly used for various chronic illnesses involving a hyperactive immune system. Since Yahoo mail "lost" two weeks worth of stored mail and a number of those emails, I'll answer it here.

I have Crohn's Disease (link NWS). It's one of the reasons I live in New York - all of the best doctors are here and my case is rather complicated. It's also why I don't work full time, aside from also being in grad school full time - I'm always rearranging my work schedule around procedures and emergency appointments, and my boss is incredibly understanding about it.

Someone else with Crohn's asked me why there isn't more books about it. After all, we get plenty of submissions every week from cancer survivors, or friends of people who died of cancer, or crazy doctors who think they've found a cure to every disease and it's apparently eating dirt.

The answer is probably that Crohn's Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and the rest of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease family are all pretty gross to discuss in any detail. While I'm not ashamed to say I have the disease and describe the symptons to anyone who actually really wants to know, most people who have it do not come forward, because it's embarassing. And even if/when people do write about it, it probably wouldn't sell to people who don't have the disease or relatives who have it. Anything exceedingly well written will sell, but very few things are exceedingly well written, and it's even more important if the text is a sensitive topic. I've seen very few narratives, fiction or non, about waste management. (Except by environmentalists) I've never seen a protagonist who had a job cleaning septic tanks. The closest I've ever seen to that is Lore from Slow River working in a water filtration plant. It's not that the topics are "off limits" - nothing is - but they're not palatable, so they won't sell to a large audience.

Mysterious Questions from an Agent

Dear Rejecter,
I queried an agent who emailed me asking two
questions: 1)if the book had been workshopped with any
writers' groups and 2) if any publishers had seen the

Why do you think the agent would be interested,
especially in the writers' groups?

The answer to the second question is obvious. He/she wants to know if you have been rejected by any or all of the big five companies, which would be a serious reason for the agent not to take on the manuscript.

The answer to the first question is not so obvious. The agent might be implying that the book needs to be edited, but I don't know why the agent wouldn't have come out and said "You need an editor." Writer's groups are a mixed bag, and I don't know an agent who would send a client to one. What the agent is probably doing is fishing for big names - if you did a workshop with a famous author or attended Clarion or whatnot. But that's just a guess.

Creating a Synopsis

I have finished my first novel and am embarking on the
terrifying process of trying to find an agent. I have
been researching how to write a good synopsis.
However, nowhere have I found an answer to my
question: should my synopsis narrate events in
chronological order? Or should it narrate events in
the order in which they occur in the novel? The two
are not the same, in my case. The story takes place
over a span of 60 years, and is told through
alternating points of view, so a chapter set in 1949
might follow upon a chapter set in 2005.

That's a tough call. I don't pay particular attention to a synopsis unless I have to, but I know a lot of agents and assistants do. I would say .... it depends on how often you flip back and forth, because you don't want to be writing "Meanwhile, in the future" all that often. I wrote a manuscript with two parallel storylines - one involving a news reporter in 1996 and one involving his brother in the year 2016, and honestly, I would probably be stumped on a synopsis, and then eventually end up just writing it the way it appears in the book. There's not a hard and fast answer to this question that I know of. You may want to check with some other agent's blogs.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Editors, Editors, Editors

Rejecter - one tiny defense here --last week at Backspace tghe agents told us the LIKED when we hired an editor because implied that the MS might be cleaner than if we hadn't, meaning less work for YOU. And also, they liked that we had invested our own moolah in our work. I know nothing of which editor or the quality of the work presented -- just sharing some info that was bandied about last week in NY. Perhaps the writer was at Backspace? Was YOUR boss there?????

My boss was not there, but many reputable agents were from the looks of the webpage. I can only guess what they were referring to in terms of editors, but I would assume they mean reputable editors and no people like Edit Ink. I suggest you ask on Kristin Nelson's blog, as she was at the conference.

EDIT: There was a change and she was not present. Don't bother her about the conference.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The First Five Pages

Dear Rejector,

Agent Query says, "Do NOT include sample chapters of your novel with your query UNLESS an agent's submission guidelines specifically SAY to include sample pages with your snail mail query. If you really feel compelled to show an agent your writing style along with your query letter, include only the first 5 pages of your novel." I'm not trying to just provoke a battle of experts here, but what do you (or most agents) think of that? If you were to recieve five pages with a query, would you read them? Ignore them? Shred the whole package and send it back in the SASE?

This will vary from agency to agency, but in general, the 5 pages will either be ignored (if the query is so bad that we don't get that far) or actually read, depending on who's reading it. I'm paid by the hour, and I'm an insanely fast reader, so I'll read the pages. A very, very busy agent with no assistant might not, but 5 pages in manuscript format is really not a lot of text.

On the other hand, if I say, "Yeah, go ahead and send five pages," everyone who reads this will start doing it, and then it'll become a nuisance, which is why AgentQuery says that. So I answered your question, but I'm not going to take a hard line and tell everyone to send 5 pages or not. In general, listen to what the agency says they want. If they don't specify, just send a query.

New York Or Bust

Here is my question: I see a lot of uproar about how much an agent’s
location really matters. What I’d like to know is how much a writer’s
location matters to the agents. For example, if a writer is located
the big publishing countries such as USA and England.

It’s most likely a silly question, so feel free to be snarky if you
answer it. ;)

It's actually a not a silly question at all. What was silly was my original post, which skimmed your email a little too quickly and I answered the wrong question. Gack, Nanowrimo!

The answer is: No. We do not care if you live on the Upper West Side or in Tehran.

The "Holding Pen"

Dear Ms. Rejecter,

What are some of the reasons your boss might sit on a manuscript (not an exclusive) she likes after six months or more instead of offering representation right away? Miss Snark recently blogged about having a potential client in a “holding pen” for a year. As the assistant, how are you instructed to manage that type of situation given that you are probably being asked to read any requested revisions and the potential client is probably contacting you or the agent for updates?

I don't particularly know what Miss Snark is referring to by a "holding pen," but in general, agents give responses as soon as they have made a decision. We're not interested in putting people in suspense unnecessarily - that's cruel and they're in suspense enough just waiting for the mail delivery. The "six months or more" wait generally refers to a wait for the manuscript to actually be read and decided upon, or just decided upon. Sometimes the agent says, "I need to read it again" and then some emergency with a client comes up and she gets distracted for a while. I can't think of a time when I have ever seen a boss actually decide to offer presentation and then not do so in the next three minutes, maybe 5 if she got a busy signal on the first call.

Why are we STILL on the subject of gift baskets?

Just curious: If the "Gift" basket/certificate is sent to the agent as a thank you, is the agent supposed to send a thank-you for the thank-you?

A quick email acknowledging that it arrived is more than adequate if you ask me.

But you didn't, did you . . . ask me?

I would assume the same rules apply here that apply in any real life gift basket situation - you send a thank you if you feel like it or feel you should. My dad, who is a skin cancer surgeon, often does work pro-bono for needy patients or friends, so he regularly gets gift baskets. I don't know if he sends thank yous, but I've never seen him do it. On the other hand, if someone sent me a large gift basket for my birthday, I might send a thank you note. Who knows?

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Apparently my last post was accidentally cross-posted in some alternate universe in which people are born without the mass of brain known for processing "rationality" and instead just have a giant impulse center that forces them to hit "Leave Your Comment" on every website they see.

Allow me to repost:

Question: "When your boss makes a sale, does expect her client to send her a gift?" [In other words, is the agent/client relationship a tipping situation?]

Answer: No, it is not a tipping situation. Gifts are not necessary. If you feel compelled to give one, it will be appreciated, but try not to send bulky or perishable items that will take up space in the office and/or go bad if the agent happens to be on vacation. Do not send food, as you don't know if the agent is vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal, allergic to peanuts, allergic to gluten, diabetic, on TPN (intravenous feeding), or is fasting while sitting under a Bodhi tree to attain Enlightenment.

I hope this clears everything up.

(P.S. If your agent is sitting under a Bodhi tree to attain Enlightenment, he/she may be doing that for a while and you should probably seek literary representation elsewhere.)

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Giving of Gifts

When your boss makes a sale, does expect her client to send her a gift? Flowers, perhaps? A bottle of champagne? Something more expensive if it was a big sale?

No. We expect our fifteen percent. Actually we take it, because the publisher writes us a check and then we cut a smaller check to send to the author. It's part of the author/agent relationship and it's written into the publishing contract under the agency clause.

Gifts are actually sort of annoying. A lot usually come in at Christmas time, from authors on our client list who haven't written anything for a while and from publishing houses. This is a problem when they are gift baskets that contain fruit or something else that expires, because very often, the agent isn't in the office on Dember 24-25 and so the package might sit on the desk until January 2nd. Once I went in on December 23rd or so to handle the mail while my old boss was away, and I called her up because we'd gotten this huge gift package from some offer that contained a lot of different types of fruit and candy. She said, "Well, I'm not coming in to pick it up, so just take it home and eat it or whatever. Oh, and remember to tell me what it contained so I can write a thank you note." A lot of the items were unkosher and therefore went uneaten by me. Waste of money.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Sad Scam of Professional Editors

Every once in a while a writer comes along that I feel sorry for, not because I'm crushing their hopes and dreams by mailing them a rejection, but because they've clearly got no clue what they're doing.

Today we got an unrequested full manuscript. This happens from time to time - usually the author tries to make it seem in the query like it was requested by being vague. (We hate that) Today the manuscript was an especially long piece of historical fiction, something like 150K. That's not totally unacceptable for historical fiction if it's a sweeping epic, by the way (Shogun must be well over 200K), but the poor guy mailed it unrequested, and it obviously cost him a fortune to do so - especially because he sent it priority from Canada.

Rubbing salt in his own wounds was his mention of using a "profesional editor" for his manuscript. There are professional editors out there who are actually professionals, and you don't know who they are. They're usually individuals who get contract work from agencies and publishing house editors who know them and are willing to shell out the money for their services. It's sort of an in-industry thing - we only contact a professional editor if we know them personally and know their track record.

He even included the recommendation letter from the editor, who was from some scam editing company in Canada. I know the pain of being tricked into "professional" editing companies. When I was sixteen, after a slew of rejections for my terrible novel, I shelled out about $600 of my Bat Mitzvah money to use the services of a company. I think it was Edit Inc. Anyway, I got the manuscript back and all they had done was change around some punctuation. They didn't mention the obvious problems with the novel, which I had written when I was thirteen and actually made very little sense because, well, I was thirteen.

These companies usually charge by the page (I think the rate I got was 5 cents a page) or by every hundred words, so this author shelled out big for the editing, which clearly did nothing for his manuscript. I'm particularly tough on historical fiction, because I have a BA in history and about half the books I read for fun are history books, and historical fiction is really a genre that requires a lot of research and if you make a mistake, I probably have enough expertise to catch it. Well, I didn't get more than three paragraphs in before the first mistake.

The story took place in Roman Britain and the main character was a rather foul-mouthed Briton. He was so foul-mouthed that he apparently had gone forward in time to learn new curse words that hadn't been invented yet. Shit is legitimately a word that predates the Norman invasion (1066), but it probably originated the Germanic tribes who fought against the Romans and didn't make it to the isle of Britain until the Anglo-Saxon invasion, when it was scitte. It didn't become schītte until Middle English developed after the Norman invasion. (Chaucer wrote in Middle English)

Fuck is another word that probably wasn't in the regular vocabulary of a first-century Briton. It also only has origins back to the Anglo-Saxons, when it was probably a different word, because by the Norman invasion it was still fuken. In other words, having the main character say, "What is the fucking problem?" denotes a serious problem - lack of research.

This guy should have spent the probably thousand bucks he dropped on editing and mailing around his huge manuscript on some history books instead.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Living wage? Hahahahahahaha.

I'm interested in the publishing industry. I work for a small online publisher in the DC area but would like to be in the lit agency biz. That would mean, of course, doing some time in the trenches and doing that time in NYC. Like DC, New York isn't cheap. So, that leaves me wondering. What is the average salary for the entry-level agent? How much mac and cheese will I have to eat until moving up the ladder?

Standard pay for an assistant in NYC is $10/hour. Sub-agents make their money on commission, which is usually next-to-nothing when starting out. In other words, get ready to sell your plasma for cash if you want to stay financially afloat.

Me? I'm in grad school full time, so I'm supported by my parents, to be perfectly honest. My job at the agency is really more about gaining enough experience to get a full-time job at a publishing house once I graduate, where I'll get a salary plus maybe health and dental.

The Next Great Literary Genius and How I Hate Him

There's one local fanboy who fancies himself a Big Time SF/Fantasy/Horror Author. (He doesn't want to write -- too much like work -- he wants to Have Written.) All he sends out are "Proposals", never the finished stuff.

His latest "proposals" (besides the puff piece on himself he put in Wikipedia/Wikifur) are movie scripts -- to hear him motormouth at parties, he's Now A Major Playa (TM) In Hollywood (TM).

Rejecter, have you had to deal with the likes of him?

I don't know who this person is that you're referring to specifically, but there's certainly at least a dozen of them at every major gathering of unpublished writers (known as a Sci-fi Convention). I've met these people at cons, which I now avoid assiduously for that reason.

Me and My Boss

How often do read a partial and LOVE it, request the full and love that too, but end up not offering representation because your boss didn't like it as much as you did? I know every case is different, but what's a ballpark figure. 1 in 2? 1 in 5? 4 out of 5? Rarely, because you and your boss are mostly on the same page?

I have no idea what the figures would be if I was actually requesting partials and fulls myself, because I don't do that. The boss does that.

Either way, it's irrelevant. My job is not to find material that I like but material that is good and my boss would like. We have different literary tastes, but my tastes are my business and I leave them at the door. My job is to find material for her. There are some books on her list I don't care for at all. They're either not my genre (I don't care for autobiographies of courageous women escaping Iran, having read enough of them to last a lifetime) or my interest (my boss promotes a lot of political books and I have different views than her on certain things). We do have shared interests, but for the most part, the major crossover between us is being able to recognize quality writing.

Yet Another Clarification, This One Less Hilarious

You make it sound like you should leave this information out and just use a new query.

"Oh, THIS guy again."

I mean, give writer's a little credit--they are trying to improve, you supposedly encouraged them to make changes--why the apparent disdain? I know you have to deal with a lot of loser wanna-be's out there, but this type of comment/thinking is the kind of thing that makes agents appear bloodless, unless, of course, they "fall in LOVE" with your manuscript$$$. Some of us are not clowns. We take suggestions from agents and work hard to improve our manuscripts.

Again, clarification. It's our knee-jerk reaction based on years of experience. It does not necessarily refer to your novel. Most of the novels that are resubmitted with editing do not have significant changes in them, and/or the changes we were looking for. Sometimes the author just deletes a scene and adds a crazy sister or something. But we don't know that, so we read the re-submitted work, but it usually ends up being the case.

If your novel has improved to the point of being publishable, we will take it on.

Introducing Characters in a Query

Is it a good idea to introduce the main characters before giving the short synopsis in a query letter?

For example: “Sara, is nine feet tall, terrified of spiders and in love with a bald teenager etc…….”

If this is a bad idea, what is the best way to introduce main characters in a 250 word query?

This is a very bad idea. You are not required to introduce main characters at all, unless they are part of your novel description. In fact, listing characters and telling us unnecessary information about them is a terrible idea and a real turn-of. Don't do it. The characters mentioned in your introduction are enough.

The tendency to put character's names in bold is based on the old screenplay-writing standard where when a new character appears, their name is all in caps. This does not apply to prose.