Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Salt, Granulated

Every once in a while I do a search for people who mention this blog, to see if I'm being praised or criticized, or if there's an issue I want to address. Every single time, the same few websites pop up that take a stance against something I said, either because it was wrong or because they have a different opinion. With all the scammers out there on the internet, trying to make a buck off unpublished writers, people tend to stay away from anything they hear something bad about.

Let me establish right now: I don't know everything. Nobody knows everything, certainly not about book publishing, which is a confusing enough industry as it is. Anyone who tells you they know everything is full of shit.

In fact, there's little I can say other than anecdotal tangents that could not be argued against. If you're reading this blog trying to get an opinion of the industry, don't only read this blog. Read other agent blogs, editor blogs, and blogs of published writers. When you see a consensus, it's probably true.

These things, however, in the specific area of literary agency submissions, are facts:

(1) You should always include a SASE unless the agent says to do otherwise.

(2) If you have an email address, include it in your query letter in case your SASE gets lost, never made it into your envelope, gets destroyed by the postal service, or is sealed by moisture because your mail was delivered in the rain. We would prefer to have some way of contacting you that isn't the phone. In fact, we need it.

(3) At some point in your query letter, you should mention your manuscript and tell us what it is about.

Everything else is opinion. Maybe it's a well-formed opinion based on experience, but it's still an opinion. Most of the time.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Short Stories as First Chapters

Two PSAs:
- If you want me to answer your question and you're fairly sure it hasn't been answered in archives, email it instead of putting it in the comments, as I'm less likely to miss it.

- This is off-topic, but if you live in New York City and you get in a cab with a TV screen, shut off the volume. It's an inaccurate weather forecast and local fluff news anyway, and they only do three or four editions of it in a 24-hour period, so the cabby has probably heard it 10 times before you got in. I asked a cabbie today and yes, it's driving him mad. Do cabby a favor and talk on your cell phone instead. At least that's new material.

So, I have a book finished, and the first chapter would make a great short story. If I submit it to you, should I tell you that I'm also shopping around the first chapter, or should I hold off until you've had a chance to look at it?

So while it is kind of neat to have had the first chapter published as a short story and it builds your writing resume, there are legal issues here. When the magazine purchases your story for print, they buy the copyright for a stipulated period, usually a year. That means that we can't sell your novel if it contains the short story to a publishing house without some difficulty because there's a copyright on part of the novel and you'll have to wait for the contract to expire and the rights to publish the short story/chapter to revert back to you.

It is possible to get the first chapter published as a short story when the novel is sold and coming out; some people do this for publicity reasons, but the publishing company is involved or at least aware of it and not bothered by it. So I would say: Don't shop the short story and the novel at the same time at all, much less mention it to an agent.