Monday, December 13, 2010

Stranger Danger

When I first started agenting, I had no idea how common it was for agents to be approached by authors with deals already on the table. Be it from the outcropping of small presses who accept unsolicited submissions, new e-presses, or conference networking, it’s something that does, indeed, happen frequently.
I’ve spoken to fellow agents on the topic and witnessed several relationships forged out of such a circumstance with grim results; it seems that both sides often neglect to be as cautious as they should in light of temptation.

Here are a few things authors in this position should keep in mind to hopefully prevent these grim results:
An agent with a background in your genre will know what the acceptable standards are when negotiating the contract. But this is important not just for that book; make sure the agent is a good fit for your CAREER. If an agent doesn’t have a track record, i.e., he or she is newer, at least pay attention to what the agency has represented in the past, and what the agent says he or she is looking for in his or her bio. Just because the agency has represented your kind of work in the past isn’t a guarantee that agent does. A newer agent may be more willing to jump on ANY sure thing, but come time for the next project, they’ll be completely stumped on both any editorial feedback, and who to submit to.
I think what authors forget is that they WILL have to keep working with that agent for the lifespan of that book, NOT just for the contract. An agent’s job is to be your advocate; it’s difficult for an agent to be the best advocate for your book if they don’t love it!
More importantly, however:
An agent may not think to ask for more samples; however, YOU should. Why? Because sometimes, the book you’re writing may be an anomaly in the grand scope of your writing, or, as often happens with category romance authors, the main purpose of getting an agent when you already have an offer is to transition into a successful career. If you’ve published 15 category romance novels but want to write single title, make sure the agent likes your single title style!

Finally, have a chat with the agent. Make sure you jive with him or her personality-wise as well; ask the questions you would have asked sans deal on the table, such as response time, editorial style, communication preference, submission style, favorite 80’s hairstyle (that last one’s a deal breaker, I know).

Even with all these things in mind, there’s no guarantee that the relationship will work out; sometimes, things change and you may no longer click. Just don’t be afraid to sever ties if that happens – as respectfully and graciously as possible. No need to burn bridges, after all.
Just don't feel pressured into picking an agent fast. Be upfront with your editor about wanting to try and find an agent and, worst-case scenario, you DON'T find the perfect agent for you, and you find a publishing lawyer (note: PUBLISHING lawyer; publishing law is VERY different from other law, and lawyers not in this field tend to make the process a headache for everyone - take a look at Paul S. Levine; he is a great example of what to look for in a publishing lawyer) or send your contract off to the Author's Guild.

It's not impossible to strike agent-client relationship gold without all these cautionary measures, but hey, it's also not impossible to find the love of your life via a mail-ordered bride.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Growing Pains

One of my biggest pet peeves as an agent is dealing with an author with an ego problem. This is the author who gripes about everything, never has time to spare for an interview, let alone a question from a peon, and treats those who “work” for him or her like they should be worshipping the ground that he or she walks on, because clearly, he or she is THE only author who matters.
For a long time now, this is all I’ve been focusing on. And then, this week, it hit me: I am becoming that AGENT.
No, not the agent of the author with the ego problem; the AGENT with the ego problem.
I’ve seen the signs: tweeting snarky comments about queries, secretly relishing the ability to hit “delete” due to our agency’s “no response if not interested” policy, avoiding interaction with authors as much as possible at conferences, and my personal rejections getting more and more vague.
All in the name of “time-saving,” I convinced myself. I’m not a “new” agent anymore; I have SO many more responsibilities.
Yeah, right.
There ARE many things going on in my life right now; I’m recently engaged and dealing with a transition (to be announced…). And part of these “signs” ARE indeed part of seasoning; after all, if I can find a seat at a conference dinner next to someone who isn’t going to pitch me the whole time, and rather let me eat and enjoy conversation, then yeah, I’m going to opt for that.
But part of me is also forgetting what it feels like to be the author. What it feels like to be humiliated by a mistake.
It took a mistake of my own to realize it, and I sincerely thank the author who called me out on it (I read a submission quickly, and, long story short, rejected her manuscript based on the competition of other Nazi occupation books when her book has zero to do with that. Doh.)
That, to me, is unacceptable. A rushed response is NOT better than a delayed, helpful one. In fact, it’s worse: I’ve HARMED myself by rushing that response. It was a waste of both my time, and the author’s.
Yes, there are bitter people who will respond to me angrily no matter WHAT I say or do; but that’s not my problem. Forgetting to be as helpful as possible and as gracious and professional as I can IS.
So I am challenging myself. I am challenging myself to NOT forget where I came from. To keep my heart and ears open to criticism, and change. And to respect the restraints of growth with dignity, rather than scrambling to find excuses or ways around them.

Who knows…maybe my post will inspire one of you to take this challenge, and not become the angry self-centered author, too.
Or so this peon can only hope. ;)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Open Forum - Answered!


Michelle Merrill said...
I'm curious about the timeline on a debut novel that's in the first rounds of revision with a newly signed client. As an agent, do you typically shoot for a certain word count per week? 

There are no time lines for revisions. I think the instinct for most writers when they are asked for a revision is to get it done as quickly as possible to prove they are ON it and capable of doing it (at least, I know that’s how I used to feel!). But in reality, when I get a revised manuscript back within two or three days, if I wasn’t asking for minor things, I get wary. I don’t want a rushed revision; I want a thoughtful, TRUE revision.

Also, when you’re working with a new author on a second or third book, what's your timeline on getting that new book? Again, do you try to get the author to send a certain word count per week or do you wait until they've written a set number of chapters? 

That is completely up to my client. I don’t set goals for my clients’ work; that’s their job. If I were an editor or a publisher, then yes, there would be a deadline to turn in the next book under contract (same for revisions, too). These deadlines are stated in the contract; I’ve seen anywhere from 15-30 days for revisions, and 6 months to a year for the next book (it varies a lot by genre, too, what the deadlines are). I have clients who like to show me works in progress and get feedback, and I also have clients who like to wait until they have a finished manuscript to show me. Up to them; I’m open to any stage from my clients. That is something to discuss with your agent and decide how you will work best with him or her.

makenna.landes said...
I'm curious about the process involved once an author has been signed-more specifically, about what happens after an author's first book. 

Since a signed author already has an agent, he or she would not need to send out a query letter for subsequent books. Do these books, however, need to be approved by the agent? And how does this work?

No, an existing client does not need to pitch me (or query me) their new book. However, not all agents automatically represent the next work. Many agents sign clients on a book-by-book basis.

Typically, the client still doesn’t need to actually query again even in this situation; they just email or call and say “I have this new project…” and the agent will take a look.

Whether or not a next book is approved by an agent, well yes, whether the agent is book-by-book or career (represents all works), the agent still has to feel it’s something he or she can sell before going to market. I HAVE told clients, “no, I don’t think this idea is strongest; let’s move on.” You NEVER want an agent who will represent ANYTHING you write, regardless of what they think.

Would a signed author tell his/her agent an idea for the next book before the writing process even begins, once there is an outline, once the book is written, etc?

Again, up to the client, and often, up to the agent. For me, yes, I love when my clients run ideas by me – but it isn’t necessary.

Amie Kaufman said...
My question is about how you work with clients on second/third/later books. Do you look at their ideas together and choose a project, or brainstorm? Do you advise on what might work best for them or the market?

Since I’ve answered the ideas question, I’ll focus on what works best for the market. Yes, I do advise if I think a project won’t have market potential. However, what I usually say is: No, I don’t think I can sell this now, but if you want to write it, WRITE IT. I won’t EVER stop my client from writing what they want. I just may not take all of it to market. ;)


Cathy said...
Any advice/wisdom/enlightenment on how to determine a story's genre?

Hopefully you are reading in your genre, and so usually, the easiest way to determine what in the world you’ve written is to see what books out there resemble yours the most.

Andrea said...
What's the best thing to do if one queries you, and gets a request from office assistant T who has since begun taking on her own clients, and you're not sure your full was received (because you mailed it from another country), so you resend via email (as the agency has now gone to email), but you're still not sure it's been seen yet? Wait a month and then ask/nudge?

Well, to try and answer this as generally as possible… ;) Many agents don’t acknowledge receipt of a request. It’s not because we’re mean and rude people; honestly, it’s just that we don’t have the same perspective as the author. An agent will log in to 50 + new emails each day; letting an author know we got their email often isn’t priority! For me, usually it goes straight into my queue to be read.

That said, if you have a request, general protocol would be to wait at least two to three months before nudging (as gently as possible). And if your request was by a different agent in the office other than the one you initially queried – be flattered! It means your story wasn’t quite right for that agent, but it was still GOOD ENOUGH to be passed on to someone else.

Jenilyn Tolley said...
If an agent gives feedback (but ultimately passes) on a partial or full, is it all right to requery them after making major changes?

Yes, but always make sure to state that they’ve seen it before. You’d be surprised how good agent memories can be; since I’ve gone to email, for instance, I’ve gotten several repeat queries I saw on paper before. It annoys me. It does NOT annoy me if the person says, “I queried you a few months ago, but since then, I’ve re-written, and so just in case…” etc.

And, after making major changes, is it okay to requery other agents who passed on the query and sample pages alone?

I would say, as a general rule, unless you have MAJOR changes, I wouldn’t do it.

Joanna St. James said...
When you are successfully querying an agent, do you have to tell them what pub houses you are targeting with that manuscript or do they just look at it and think this will be good for Simon &Schuster or Harlequin?

You never need to specify what publishing houses would be perfect for your book. That’s the agent’s job to know.

However, if you write a book that you think WILL only fit in one publishing house (for example, a specific Harlequin line), you may have a problem, because agents want to represent novels they can pitch to more than one house. Because if that one perfect house rejects it…well, sh*t out of luck. You’d be better off sending directly to that house sans agent if that is the case (and you could always ask an agent to negotiate a deal for you later – though I’ll have a post on the pros and cons of this later!)

catdownunder said...
An agent says "I am not taking any more new writers at the present time." Is it the correct thing to write and ask them if they could let you know when they are going to take new clients because (a) you really want to be represented by them and (b) this is what you have to offer? Is this considered rude, too pushy, an indication that you do not listen to advice or just that you are determined to try?

NO. If an agent says they are not taking on new clients, they DO NOT want to be contacted. If you really want to be represented by them, you just have to wait it out until they are taking on new clients.

Michelle said...
What is a typical minimum word count that an agent will accept for a MG and for a YA novel?

Minimum for MG: 35,000 (on the low, low, low side; more often, 40,000).
For YA 50,000 (again on the low side, typically contemporaries more than any other genre).

Obviously, there are always exceptions, but honestly, I don’t know why anyone would TRY to be the exception. Exceptions are exceptions because they are HARD and near IMPOSSIBLE!


(Can I preface this topic with….nooooooo!? *deep breath* ok. Diving in!)

Ilima Loomis said...
Can you talk about historical fiction in the children's/middle grade market? I've heard this genre is very slow right now. Can a new author debut in this genre?

A new author can debut in ANY genre; nothing is closed. And yes, while certain genres are tougher to sell, if it’s amazing, it WILL sell. Personally, I think historical is slow only because it’s tough to do well, and tough to do in a new way.

More generally, do you think it's worthwhile for a writer to invest time in a project when the genre is supposedly "not selling"?

Yes. Never force yourself to write something just because you think it’s “hot”; it just won’t be as good of a book. Write what you’re passionate about; that’s the only way you stand a chance to make a tough sell amazing enough to sell!

Everything in publishing is cyclical. I like to use romance trends as an example: historical was out, contemporaries in, historicals were all the rage, contemporaries were dead, and now contemporaries are on the rise again – all within a 15 year time span.

Timing is the key when shopping a project – so even if you have a “slow” genre, just keep at it; eventually, it will pick up again.

Pam Harris said...
I know most agents hate the trend question, but are editors buzzing about any genre in particular right now? Something that they're just dying to have?

Honestly, the most I will say about this is that lighter books tend not to be doing so well, nor do angel and demon books (already a ton under contract at pub houses), mysteries, chick lit, or memoirs. I heard gods and goddesses and mermaids were next, but even those are already starting to glut in sales.

Again…focus on your passion, and the cyclical nature of publishing will eventually circle back your way.

:) said...
What do you think is the most important thing for fairy tale writers to know about the market?

That it is GLUTTED with spin-offs. It is VERY hard to do a fairy tale unique enough to stand out; look for more original sources than just Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast!

Is it different for writers of original fairy tales than for retellings/reimaginings/reperspectivisms?

Well yes, because original fairy tales won’t have to worry about competing with every other Cinderella and Anorexic Vegan Zombies out there! Typically, original fairy tales will appeal more to a younger crowd, however, and so the best thing for this type of writer to know is that it would have to be darker and less silly to appeal to an older audience.

I just saw a news story that said Disney is off of princesses after Tangled for the foreseeable future. Are princesses going out of style or are they timeless like vampires?

Princesses will NEVER go out of style, imho. ;) Disney is just being dumb, because they didn’t get the Russian and Fairy princess.

Michelle Merrill said…
Do you think paranormal romance will still be popular in five years? Maybe something with a fresh look on a topic that is totally new or so old it will seem new? 

Again, cyclical! I have no idea.


LTM said...
Some bleeps recently were approached by agents who'd read samples of their writing on their blogs. (Like they got full MS requests from samples.)

We were wondering:
#1-how common is this? (agents trolling blogs/reading writing samples)

Not common at all. Usually the agents who do this are newer and hungrier to build their list (and this is not telling of “good” or “bad” agents, rather, they are rising stars and real go-getters, if I don’t say so myself…!)

#2-are there any dangers? (self publishing concerns, etc.)

Yes; you don’t want to give the milk away for free, so to speak! SAMPLES are ok; anything more does indeed get into the self-publishing area.

Some agents will ask that their clients take down their samples once they go on submission. A big reason for this is that once a book sells, the publisher has the exclusive right to publish the material, and blogging is a form of publishing. Excerpts fall under “first serial” rights, and publishers will try to get these placed in magazines etc. You can still post samples, but you need to get permission first.

#3-any advice here? (if we do this, what should we post? First 250? The most exciting part?)

Post one to two sentences of description about what the book is about – your hook – and the first 250 words. The FIRST 250 words, not a random part, if it will be constant (you can participate in “teaser Tuesday” and post a random part, though usually these are snipped later so as not to build a collection of the entire book!).

Jaci said...
How important is a blog following for a fiction writer? Are blogs really seen as credible, or do you roll your eyes when someone says, "I blog!"

Not very credible at all, I’m afraid. The reason for this is that no matter HOW many followers you have, there is no guarantee they will all go out and buy your book. People with followings like SH*T MY DAD SAYS are credible because they’ve proven a very WIDE audience, and so there’s more of a probability that many people will buy the book.


Bluestocking said...
What, in particular, are you looking for in your historical romance submissions? Is there a particular time period or periods you especially enjoy?

I love Victorian romance novels. Not as much of a fan of anything too outside of those years. My favorite historical authors are Julia Quinn (earlier stuff), Lisa Kleypas, Johanna Lindsey, and Jude Deveraux.

Julie Hedlund said...
What are your favorite books right now in the young adult, middle grade and picture book genres? Just in general, not necessarily your own clients'

I like that you asked “right now,” because my favorites change the more I read! However, with that in mind, I think my classic favorites are really what continue to inspire my tastes, not anything recent.

Brief sample of all-time favorites/reading history:

YA/MG: ELLA ENCHANTED, CALLING ON DRAGONS, THE CHINA GARDEN, LIRAEL, Joan Lowery Nixon’s mysteries, Tamora Pierce’s books (all!), Caroline B. Cooney books, THE MEDIATOR series, I WAS A TEENAGE FAIRY, BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE, THE LAST VAMPIRE/Christopher Pike novels, MIRA, The Royal Diaries series


And I am SO going to think of a bazillion more I would want on this list…!

Marsha Sigman said...
What would you like to see in your slushpile right now?

Nothing. No really; I’m so swamped, if I had nothing in it it would mean I was caught up!
I’ll be honest: I had about 300 submissions to wade through when I left the office on Tuesday. The only thing that would catch my attention right now would be what any agent would want to see: something original and mind-blowing.

Ask me again when I’m less swamped, and I’ll be more optimistic. :)

Michelle Merrill said...
At writeoncon you mentioned that you like princess stories. What is your favorite thing about them?

They’re girly and underappreciated. I like princesses that kick butt, either by personality or literally. Many people think air-head when they think princess; I think rich spunky bitch who can care about her wardrobe and still save the day, and that appeals to me.

Candyland said...
If you like something about the story (voice, characters, etc), will you request a revise and re-submit or just pass? Also how long will you wait on said revision before moving on?

If I like the voice, but the plot just isn’t standing out to me, I may ask to see the next work. If I like the plot but not the voice, I’ll pass. The only time I ever ask for an R&R is if I think the story has BOTH, and they just need to be polished (maybe just some plot holes/twists that needs to be addressed). Then it’s a matter of whether or not the writer is capable of polishing!

As mentioned, I don’t have a time frame for revisions. If I liked it, I won’t ever move on; BUT, I may not be as jazzed about it in six months, say, as I would be a month later.

Makenna Landes said…
I was just wondering what your favorite fairy tale is.

Beauty and the Beast.

:) said…
How do you feel about made-up words like reperspectivisms?

Awesome in conversation, not so much in stories – unless they serve a purpose.


Beth said...
Do you ever get the impression that some writers look at publication a little like winning the lottery, in that they think it's not as much about skill and craft, but more about the luck of the draw?

Yes, and I agree to an extent, because of issues like timing (agent/editor already has a similar project, too many on the market, they’re in a transition, etc) and connections (who you know who will get your work into the hands of an agent or editor). Conferences help with connections, but timing is unpredictable.

Honestly, every author has the same chance as any other when it comes right down to it (once a manuscript is in an editor’s hands). Either the stars and planets are all in alignment with timing and the writing and voice are there, or they aren’t.

Bottom line: for most people, perseverance pays off. Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t an exception or zipping down the easy road.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Open Forum

For the life of me, I can't seem to think up a new blog post.

So I'll let YOU do it.

Post your questions below and I'll either make a blog post of it, or I'll answer it flat out in the comments section. Win win!

Oh, right...but only the first...20 posts! Go!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An Agent's Take on Some Common Writers' Frustrations

There are an incredible number of resources for writers. Googling alone will show that. Regardless, there are a few concerns I’ve seen popping up over and over again:

The Synopsis
The Book Genre
Book or Manuscript?

Some of my favorite resources to start with:

-Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents
-The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

In terms of the synopsis, it should never be over two pages long, single spaced. The biggest reason agents request this is to see where the plot is going. It’s not considered a sample of your writing; it’s considered a sample of your plotting ability. Can you describe your plot in two pages? Will the book hold together? In other words, don’t stress so much about how it’s written; worry about whether or not it shows the true nature of your book (and includes the ending!). When I turn to a synopsis, it means that I liked the sample of writing (my personal preference is to see if the book hooks me first, and then turn to the synopsis), and I want to make sure the plot isn’t going to suddenly go from chick lit to time-traveling alternate-history paranormal suspense; I want to see what I’d be getting into if I requested more. That’s it.

And regardless of what an author may think, I’m not going to throw away a submission if it’s been called a paranormal suspense and it’s really a romantic paranormal suspense. My job, as an agent, is to know which editor to send this to; an author’s job is to know which agent to send it to. If you can get the basic elements of your novel into a sentence (i.e., it’s an historical novel with supernatural mystery elements), that’s all you should need to find an agent to submit to (look for someone who works with supernatural, or mystery, and, if historical, if they have anything remotely similar to what your book is about on their list). And in fact, many agents blend genres; they don’t have to pigeon-hole themselves in quite the same way that editors do.

There are many sites that give a basic breakdown of genre; here are some of the more confusing ones:

-Commercial – it’s written to appeal to as broad an audience as possible

-Literary – Character-driven. The plot is secondary to the development of the characters; it is more about how it is written, the art of writing, than plot

-Mainstream – genre or literary fiction that sells well. (Like Stephen King – he’s technically genre, but sells to readers outside of that genre as well; his books have the ability to attract readers who wouldn’t normally read horror)

-Genre Fiction – more emphasis on plot than on fine writing and character development, appeals to fans of the genre but not to a wider audience (romance, thriller, etc)

-Upmarket – a combination of commercial and literary; can appeal to both audiences

-Mass-Market – the smallest paperback, what genre fiction is usually published in (romances, mysteries, thrillers)

-Trade Paper – the 15.00 paperback

And of course, if all else fails, you can always search on Amazon for a book you think is similar to yours, and see how they classify it.

Even if you do get your manuscript into the hands of the perfect agent, it’s not a guarantee of representation. Agents have to have passion and enthusiasm for a project in order to sell it. Rejection IS NOT PERSONAL; it’s business. I’ve rejected many manuscripts I thought were wonderful, but just didn’t “click” with me. It’s so incredibly subjective; the best advice is to take what you can from a rejection, and move on. Always think of the WHY, not the WHAT. Meaning, don’t focus on the rejection; focus on WHY it was rejected. Did you query the wrong agent? Do you need to work more on characterization? There’s always a reason someone reacts the way they do; try and focus on that reason instead of the reaction. It’ll help to gain constructive feedback from even the word “no.”

In the end, it may just be that self-publishing is a route for you. Here’s how you know: if your book is so regional or so niche that it won’t appeal to a wider audience. Or: you’ve written a non-fiction book and will use the self-published version to build a platform of 1,000 books a month for 12 months, proving there’s an audience for your book.

For fiction, self-publishing is usually not the best option; in most cases, it will serve as a handicap. Because even if you sell 5,000 copies of that fiction novel out of the back of your car…those are dismal numbers to any book buyer. Once you self-pub, you get an ISBN; publishers and book buyers WILL use that ISBN to look up sales numbers. And since self-published books are never sold in chains, where most of the numbers come from (BookScan)…it’s going to look even more dismal. Publishers will pay money for a book equal to the amount of copies they can expect book sellers to buy. If book sellers are seeing no demand for a book…they won’t buy. Period. But if you just want a few copies to share with loved ones, by all means, self-pub away.

A book is a book is a book. Yes, technically, it’s still a manuscript until it’s published; but in my opinion, if you write a book, it’s a book; a publishing contract only means someone wants to pay money to promote it widely, because they think they’ll make money on it. So don’t try and sell yourself short; even Webster’s says: “a written OR printed work of fiction or nonfiction.”

Template for a Good Query

I most definitely do NOT want a bunch of cookie-cutter query letters, but the below template should help you out if you're trying to figure out just what to say, what to add, and what not to do!

[Dear Mr./Ms. Agent’s Last Name],

[The FIRST line should indicate if this is a referral or if you’ve met the agent at a conference etc.]

[The first PARAGRAPH should show you’ve done your homework. Why this agency? Why this agent? This could be as simple as mentioning that your book is a Romantic Suspense and you read on their website that the agent is interested in this genre.]

[1-2 paragraphs about your book, including word length and hook. Write as if you’re writing the blurb for the back of the book – a quick, catchy paragraph or two to make you pick it up. The synopsis will tell the rest]

[Brief bio - if you have no publishing credentials, something as simple as "I'm a member of SCBWI and live with my cat in San Diego" works just fine.]

[Thank the agent for his/her time and consideration.]

[The LAST line should also show you’ve done your homework – on submission requirements regarding what you've enclosed. EVERY agency is different in what they want. Look it up, put it in the letter, and send it that way]

[Your name, and email]

[your full contact info]

Quick Grammar Review

I had a lovely mini crash course on grammar on Twitter a while back and, as I certainly think it's important, thought I'd post the transcript up for future perusal!

(print this and tape it to your computer!)

Lie/lay/lain=to recline
Lay/laid/laid=to put down
Who=a person, that=a thing
whom=him, her
It’s=it is, its=possessive
You’re=you are, your=possessive
Lose=not win, loose=not tight
(person) and I=we, (person) and me=us
Affect=verb, effect=noun

Ah hem. So, today's mission: sort through some of the trickiest little grammar mistakes even pros make. Hashtag will be: #crashgram. And no, I'm not an expert, though I have been known to do a few of these on occasion:
So let’s begin!

• When a character speaks: "Hey, how are you?" <-- quotes surround all

• When narrator butts in: "Hey, how are you?" she said. <-- quotes only around spoken words

• Examples of the 's: Charles Dickens's, The Club's, the boys' <- When it's a singular person, even if it ends in an s, add an 's. If it’s plural, just add an ‘

• lie/lay/lain = to recline. lay/laid/laid=to put down. (present/past/past participle)

• who=he/she, whom=him/her. Replace the "who" with the pronoun to figure out which one to use i.e.: Who do you think did it? --> He did it.

• its = possesive, it's = it is

• your = possesive. you're = you are. .There = place, they're = they are

• When writing in the past, use the past participle to denote something that has already happened. i.e.: I went to the mall and then realized I'd already been yesterday. -->past participle = has had, had had, etc

• Nick and I = we, Nick and me = us --> try using we or us in the sentence to figure out which to use i.e.: We're going to the store (Nick and I); it was closed so we left (Nick and I), Steph went to the store with us (me and Nick)

• Correct way to use a dash: he went to the store -- not the one on sixth -- and I went with him. (word space dash dash space word)

• semicolon: it's a continuation, not a side thought (like the dash), and must be followed by a complete sentence.

• Commas: Way too many rules to tweet, so:

• Capitalize Uncle/Mom etc when you use it in place of a name, but NOT if in the possessive, as in my uncle said, my mom said, Uncle Bob said, Mom said OR I saw Oxford Top at the store today, ew. <-- this is correct, if Oxford Top doesn't have a name

• There is no space between a word and any punctuation, so: the end! and not the end !

• ... (three)= you can continue the sentence ; .... (four)= you finished the sentence & will start a new one (put space after it)

• When using a dialogue tag, use a comma, not a period, at the end of the quote: "I love you," she said. <--don't cap. the "she"

• When breaking your character's speech into several paragraphs: "Quote. (new para) "Quote."
--> no " on end until IT ends

• Don't cap a continuing quote: "Hey there," he said, "want to go to the mall?" Cap new: "Hi," he said. "Want to go to the mall?"

• With commas, a lot of the time, it comes down to style. There are certain places that require it grammatically, but a lot are optional

  • for ex: with commas, a lot of the time it comes down to style. ;) 

• affect=verb (replace with the word "influence" to check), effect=noun (replace with the word "result" to check) - MOST of the time. Here are some weird times this isn't true.

And last but not least: epically cool grammar site:

Happy writing!!
Natalie M. Fischer

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


As you probably surmised from my query letters, I got a lot of rejections. In fact, I think I'd racked in close to 200 by the time I stopped submitting. But I kept going.

Why? How? Why in the WORLD did I keep paying $.24 (I think it was up to $.33 by the time I stopped) for MORE PAIN?

Because of the stories that inspired me to keep going. To never give up.

The first one I tacked to my wall was a flyer my mom brought home, which was actually supposed to be some sort of advertisement to go to church. It told the story of Theodore Geisel, the poor children's writer who sent his manuscript, THE HOUSE ON MULBERRY STREET, to 24 publishers, and was rejected by each and every one. He was on his way home to burn his manuscript and give up writing for good when he ran into an old friend of his, who had become an editor at a publishing house. A name change later and THE CAT IN THE HAT was born.

God works in mysterious ways, the flyer told me.

Yeah, and so does publishing.

My second inspiration came from a rejection letter, via email from the Intellectual Property Management Group:

Putting Rejection into Perspective

If your manuscript gets rejected, consider the company
you are in when you get rejected by an agent or
publisher who lacks the foresight to see just how
great your work may be. The following list is compiled
from Michael Larsen's book, "Literary Agents."

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck was returned fourteen
times, but it went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead was rejected
twelve times.

Patrick Dennis said of his autobiographical novel
Auntie Mame, "It circulated for five years through the
halls of fifteen publishers and finally ended up with
Vanguard Press, which, as you can see, is rather deep
into the alphabet." This illustrates why using the
alphabet may be a logical but ineffective way to find
the best agent or editor.

Twenty publishers felt that Richard Bach's Jonathan
Livingston Seagull was for the birds.

The first title of Catch-22 was Catch-18, but Simon
and Schuster planned to publish it during the same
season that Doubleday was bringing out Mila 18 by Leon
Uris. When Doubleday complained, Joseph Heller changed
the title. Why 22? Because Simon and Schuster was the
22nd publisher to read it. Catch-22 has become part of
the language and has sold more than 10 million copies.

Mary Higgins Clark was rejected forty times before
selling her first story. One editor wrote: "Your story
is light, slight, and trite." More than 30 million
copies of her books are now in print.

Before he wrote Roots, Alex Haley had received 200

Robert Persig's classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance, couldn't get started at 121 houses.

John Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, was
declined by fifteen publishers and some thirty agents.
His novels have more than 60 million copies in print.

Thirty-three publishers couldn't digest Chicken Soup
for the Soul, compiled by Jack Canfield and Mark
Victor Hansen, before it became a huge best-seller and
spawned a series.

The Baltimore Sun hailed Naked in Deccan as "a
classic" after it had been rejected over seven years
by 375 publishers.

Dr. Seuss's first book was rejected twenty-four times.
The sales of his children's books have soared to 100

Louis L'Amour received 200 rejections before he sold
his first novel. During the last forty years, Bantam
has shipped nearly 200 million of his 112 books,
making him their biggest selling author.

If you visit the House of Happy Walls, Jack London's
beautiful estate in Sonoma County, north San
Francisco, you will see some of the 600 rejection
slips that London received before selling his first
story. If you want to know how much easier it is to
make it as a writer now than it was in London's time,
read his wonderful autobiographical novel, Martin
Eden. Your sufferings will pale compared to what poor
Martin endured.

British writer John Creasy received 774 rejections
before selling his first story. He went on to write
564 books, using fourteen names.

Eight years after his novel Steps won the National
Book Award, Jerzy Kosinski permitted a writer to
change his name and the title and send a manuscript of
the novel to thirteen agents and fourteen publishers
to test the plight of new writers. They all rejected
it, including Random House, which had published it.

Every no gets you closer to yes ...


These were the little things that kept me sane, that kept me hoping even after 200 tries. As an agent, they STILL keep me going, STILL keep me sane.

We ALL know those OTHER stories, the ones where some mom in the middle of nowhere dreams up a bestseller, writes it in a month and sells it for six figures after practically NO rejection. The ones that every author seems to think are the norm.

But I want to take a moment to celebrate the TRUE inspirations; the Mandy Hubbards and Stephen Kings of the world, the ones who show that hard work and perseverance really do pay off.

So tell me - what is your story? Your inspiration?

(psst...need more? You can read a whole other version of this here!)

Monday, October 25, 2010

What You Need to Consider BEFORE you SELF-Publish

I was going to write up a big, fancy post on this topic, and then I found this site, which pretty much said everything I wanted to.

Ok I lied. I wrote up a big, fancy post anyway. ;)

You'll notice a LOT of references here -- and that's because there are a LOT of different things to consider about self-publishing. No one agent is going to be right about it (meaning, disclaimer: I do NOT claim to have the answer to or know everything about it!). Generally, it's a case-by-case basis whether or not someone should self-publish, and whether or not a self-published book can be picked up by an agent or bigger house.

But, some things to think about:

Why Agents are Cautious of Representing Them
Because it is a tough sell. A self-published author can no longer be listed as a debut author, which means that a publisher is going to have to base the advance they can offer (if any) on the author’s sales history. A publisher offers an advance based on a projection of how many copies they can expect to sell – and if the self-published book sold only 500 copies…

Why Publishers are Cautious of Acquiring Them
It’s all about numbers. The number of copies the self-published book sold, and the number of copies bookstores can expect to sell. Guess what? The latter is based on the former. What this means is that if your book sold 500 copies, bookstores aren’t going to expect large sales. Which means they won’t want to stock the book. Which means the publisher won’t make sales. Which means they won’t recoup their advance, or even enough to pay overhead for the aquiring editor’s time spent on that book.

So what if you self-publish and sell 10,000 copies? Awesome. Just keep the statistics in mind.

Why Reviewers are Cautious of Reviewing Them
There’s no indication of quality with a self-published book. A book that has gone through the traditional publishing route has made it’s way past an agent, an editor, an ed board, and a copyeditor (in the simplest example) before it reaches the reviewer’s hands. A self-published book never made it past an agent. With so many books to choose from…yeah, they’re going to review the ones they can expect will at least be free of typos.

Why Publicists are Cautious of Publicizing Them
It’s hard enough to publicize fiction from a traditional publisher. Fiction is so subjective; imagine saying to someone: read this. Why? Because I like it. Just trust me. If that book is self-published, that trust level goes way down, again, because you have no idea of the quality. A publicist is hired to promote a book – so just hearing “it’s good” from one isn’t enough to make reviewers or buyers trust that it is.

However, this IS different for non-fiction. Read more here.

Lastly, READ THIS POST by Nathan Bransford.

Finally, please keep in mind: if you self-publish, YOU ARE THE PUBLISHER. Period.

I think it’s incredibly arrogant to self-publish your book and then expect someone else to pick it up and do all the work for you. Simon and Schuster doesn’t acquire a book, design a pretty cover, send it to a few buddies, and then submit it to Random House to get sales. If you don’t think you can get the distribution and sales you want from self-publishing…it’s probably not the best option for you.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

At last!

After scoffing, resisting, hesitating, and finally, giving in....

(yes, I made my own lolcat to celebrate).

(yes, that was the exact process I went through for Twitter, too).

Now, I can read submissions on my LUNCH break! Wait...uh oh. ;)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Exclusive Requests

I recently made a post on a forum at which I wanted to share and expand on.

There were quite a few heated opinions being tossed around, but what really raised my hackles was that EVERYONE seemed to think that an exclusive request=good/bad agent.

This is just not true. It is impossible to decide if an agent is reputable or not based on whether or not they ask for exclusive requests.

When I first started agenting, I asked for exclusives. Part of the reason I did this was because my reading period was incredibly fast, and so an exclusive wasn't something that meant "I have months to finally get to this!" to me. It was rather a sigh of relief because I knew that a project I was excited about wouldn't be snatched up before I had a chance to consider it!

However, the biggest reason I asked for exclusives was: I was trained to ask for them.

My boss loves exclusives. She is so incredibly busy that when she is excited by a manuscript, she wants to KNOW that the time she spends with it was worth it, especially because the time she spends with it is fairly in-depth. She types up notes and gets second (and third) reads on manuscripts to consider every angle. Her time isn't more valuable than the author's (as is a common perception of the exclusive request), just valuable, period. (And I think notes from Sandra Dijkstra are worth an exclusive!)

My style has evolved since then, however, and at this point, I don't ever ask for exclusives anymore. I'll be honest: I like the competition. I want to know an author is signing with me because they really connect with me, not because there were no other options. I've also only gotten busier and busier, so even manuscripts I'm excited about don't get read right away, and I hate to keep someone tied up because of that.

But is it possible to label either of us GOOD or BAD based on our preferences? No.

Don't worry about the agent quality when confronted with an exclusive request; you should have already done your research on them before submitting.

Worry instead about whether or not you'd feel comfortable granting it (if they're your dream agent, why the heck not, right?!) or whether or not you are ABLE to grant it (if you have other fulls out, say so; they're already excited, so you'll either hear back, "that's ok, send and notify me immediately if you get any other offers" or "thanks for letting me know; please send to me when available for an exclusive").

And then just get up and do a little happy dance because someone is excited about your work!

Monday, October 11, 2010

E-book killed the bookstore star?

There are plenty of articles to read on this subject (read a great summary of the e-book situation here, and about e-books and kidlit here).

However, despite the myriad of opinions and resources available, the subject still comes up in every single panel and conference I've attended. And the biggest reason for this is: no one REALLY knows what’s going to happen.

Oh sure, there are plenty of very true facts, both pro and con, to add weight to the speculation.

For example:

The epic novel might make a comeback due to cost of productivity going down. Smaller presses are blossoming. Unknown authors have a chance to build audience. The invention of the mass market was supposed to end the hardcover (or video killed the radio star, whichever you prefer), and it didn’t – different genres simply boomed. Kindles really suck for research – you can’t underline and highlight. Backlist or out of print titles are now brought back to life. People become more impulsive when it comes to buying books when available at the tip of their fingers – and at the same time, physical book sales are down, which means advances are down, and authors are making less money – but maybe that’s just the economy?

It is undeniable that the book industry is changing. Personally, I don’t see that as a bad thing. I like the fact that a smaller press will take a chance on a novel in e-book or trade paper that a Big Six won’t publish in hardcover, and, from our agency’s best-selling authors, I haven’t seen royalties decrease in the slightest due to e-books: they’ve only gone up.

But really, my personal take from my personal experience is: this is exciting – and depressing, all at the same time.

What really struck home for me this weekend was this:

I found it in a "free books" pile at my local library. I thought it was funny. I picked it up, but, instead of putting it back down, I took it home because of this page (which changes all the "he" pronouns to "she"):

I ADORE used books. The smell of them, the feel of them, the footprints left behind. I love to follow along and try and imagine the stories that go with the scribblings. And you can’t do that with a Kindle.

Libraries are closing; so are bookstores. I would be devastated by the loss of physical books. But maybe I’m just in the cassette generation of publishing; maybe it’s just time to move on. After all, there are clear advantages!


And so it goes on.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Pitch Session

After two conferences in a row, there are a few things I want to share from an agent’s perspective on this rite of passage.

I’ve met a few agents who are “tough love” types when you meet them (which I secretly wish I could be), but the majority of us really try our best to be encouraging and as helpful as possible no matter the outcome of the pitch.

However, the first thing to keep in mind is that despite the fact that you only get 10-15 minutes to try and sell us your story, WE are sitting in that room for hours at a time. Sometimes (hopefully) breaks are thrown in throughout the day, but generally, we are dealing with back to back to back face time all day long. Take the last conference I attended. It started at 8:30 in the morning and I met with someone every ten minutes until noon, and then every ten minutes from 1pm to 2pm.

Needless to say, despite how encouraging and helpful we try to be, sometimes, our patience snaps mighty thin.

So without further ado: what is pissing me off after the past two conferences (the true title of this post)

Lying to Agents

One of my fellow agents approached me last weekend and said, “You know, I had a funny thing happen the other day.”


“I got a submission from a man who then called me and explained that he’d been represented by you three years ago, and had left because you didn’t do anything with his book.”


She tilted her head sideways. “But the funny thing was, I’d seen your bio recently, since you were coming to this conference, and I said to him, ‘are you sure it was Natalie Fischer at Dijkstra? Because she’s only been agenting for a year.’ He assured me it was.”

Again. WTF?!

(As a side note, no sh**t nothing happened with your book if you thought I was representing you three years ago dude…)

I’ve said this many times. Most people just don’t get it: our community is smaller than you think. You lie to us, and guess what – we’ll know.

The most common things people lie about are:

-Worked with so and so agent
-They are sending a “requested” submission
-They have an offer from another agent
-Have x amount of fulls out with other agents
-met/spoke with me at so and so event (read here for THAT terrible story…)

It really sucks that people go and ruin the exciting truths for others, but honestly, when we see any of these things in your letter, red flags go up – especially if you’re cagey about who the agents you worked with or made the offer are. And yes – we will speak to each other to verify the truth.

Teens Writing for Teens

This subject holds a very special place in my heart. I absolutely adore teen writers – I was one myself – and I encourage and will give feedback as much as possible to them.

This weekend, I had a pitch session with a twelve year old girl. I was amazed. She told me she’d written a YA about 18 year-olds – and at that point, I was still on board to be blown away.

Then she told me it was 20,000 words long.

As gently as I could, I said to her, “You know, I think it’s just a little too short. Most YA novels are at least 50,000 words long (yeah, I shortened it for her – no need to give her a heart attack). But I’ll tell you what – why don’t you send it to me. I’d love to read it and give you some feedback on where it might be expanded.” I gave her my card, spoke with her some more on whether or not it might really be MG (b/c then it could be only 30,000 words), recommended some writing sites, and again, told her how amazing she was for being there.

Apparently, after the door shut from her session, she was hysterical. She was a sobbing mess – because I’d told her that her story was too short. Mama bear was livid; she wanted to march in and kick my ass.

I was heartbroken. I couldn’t have been more supportive. And yet, she’s twelve; of course she’s going to cry! Grown adults cry at feedback like that! And my mom would have wanted to tear the head off anyone who made me sob too.

No one’s actions, in my mind, were unjustified here; but the truth is: I would have either said it to her then, or in a rejection letter. So parents, please please please take your child’s emotional maturity into consideration before tossing them to the wolves. That girl should not have been in that pitch session – alone, no less! Yes, it is ok to be supportive, but this is a business; as much as we want to help cultivate talent, that’s not our job.

The Pushy Pitch

I consider it pushy when an author has a query or synopsis with them, sits down, pushes it forward, and says, “Here. Read this.”

Oh no no no. Honestly, I can’t focus on your written words; I’ve been bombarded with pitches all day – I have no idea what I’m reading! This is not in your favor, and definitely not a good use of the time.

I also really don’t like getting business cards from authors. I have your contact information in your submission (hopefully); pushing a card to me seems pre-mature (and annoying; I get so many, and they end up flying out everywhere, and I have to try and make sure they don’t get lost or separated from the submission, etc.).

Don’t try and shove your writing on me. It just pisses me off.

The Bitter Pitch

Generally these are made by people who have been pitching their manuscript for quite a while without favorable responses. I could also call this “the complaining pitch.”

My “favorite” was a person who made absolutely sure that I didn’t represent said person’s genre before proceeding to explain how another agent had had said person’s manuscript for over a year, and finally gotten back with a rather rude letter – and could I just comment on that situation?


I’m not going to bad-mouth my colleagues with you. And I’m not going to take kindly to you when you sit there and explain to me how stupid the pitch process is, and how really, publishers say you can’t get published without an agent, but agents don’t want to speak with you unless you’ve been published, so wtf?

Deep breath. Calm. Down. Drink some wine. Bash the world in your notebook. Then you can talk to me.

The Entitled Pitch

So far, I’ve seen this most often with romance and picture book authors, but only because these are two of the only genres left it is possible to be published without an agent in.

I once had a woman sit across from me and ask me to pitch myself to her – because she was agent shopping. I’ve also had authors inform me that they’ve been published so and so many times, and do I want to work with them or not?

Well…send me a sample, I’ll say. I really still need to see if I connect with your voice.

Blank, affronted looks will follow.

Sorry folks, but there aren’t any shortcuts here. Even a published author has to query like everybody else. They’ll get more attention, sure; the process may be faster, and far easier – but it’s still the same process.

I will absolutely never sign someone who thinks they are doing me a “favor” by doing so; I want to sign clients who are with me because they appreciate what I do and can do for them – and vice versa. Even published authors need agents to help build careers; we know how to move you from a small press to a big publisher, how to move you from a publisher with no marketing to a publisher who is going to back you with 1 million dollars in marketing support. So please, don’t act like you don’t need us; if that’s really what you think, don’t speak with me!

Lessons from all of this?
Avoid the above and you’ll be golden!

The Best Pitch

My absolute favorite pitch sessions happen when an author is prepared with questions. I love to chat. I can read any day; anyone can submit to me for free, any time. This is your chance to actually talk to me. Sure, I like to hear your pitch, but I remember the conversation a heck of a lot more if we had something to talk about! There seem to be plenty of things people ask on #askagent; why not in pitch sessions?

Above all, don’t worry about being nervous. It is VERY rare that someone sits down in front of me who is NOT shaking. Or talking so fast they barely breathe. Or mispronouncing words they’re so nervous.

Don’t worry about it. Just be yourself; ask me some questions, mention if you know something about me (I LOVE when people mention my blog or twitter), share your hook, smile…and breathe. No matter what happens, use what I say as constructively as possible…and move on.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Tripod of Publishing: Establishing Priorities

Before I went to college, I was told there were three things I could have: sleep, a social life, and grades. Pick two.

In publishing, there are also three things: best home, best advance, best editor. Pick one.

As an agent, my goal is to get you all three. But usually, there are trade-offs.

For a nonfiction author, a small advance can be devastating if it’s not enough to cover the cost of writing the book. Having the wrong home can hinder support from the publishing house when it comes to marketing and PR. And having the wrong editor can deadpan the project in the water when neither can agree on edits or a direction for the book.

As an author, it’s important to establish your priorities before you sign with an agent, because each agent is going to have a different view on which of the three trumps the others.

Personally, I believe in finding the perfect editor for the project – within the right house. Advance is bottom on my list (which doesn’t mean I won’t fight tooth and nail to get what I can!). Because I work primarily with debut authors, getting them established is priority – and to get them established, they will need the devotion of their editor, and the right house, to push their book.

A small advance isn’t going to hurt your career. You’ll just see royalties faster. If the advance is small, ask what they’ll do for marketing, because low sales will hurt your career (or at least make it difficult to sell your next project).

But don’t get me started on the low numbers debate – with the expanding success many small (and big) presses have with e-book sales, I believe in royalty statements, but most publishers use BookScan and…well, check out this to read more on that!

More established agents who rely primarily on commission may see advance as top priority. And they can afford to do this, because they work with established clients. For these clients, they have a built-in platform or fan base to work from, and do not need as much PR to sell the same amount of books as a debut author – and so the advance trumps all other concerns.

As for the right house? Well, two reasons this is important: two, they’ll have a history marketing this type of book, which means they can do it well, and first, they’ll still want to publish it even if your editor leaves (and hopefully there will be someone else there who will actually be happy to take over the project).

In the end, it comes down to what you’re comfortable with. Never publish quickly – publish well. But publishing well doesn’t mean having all three factors.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

WINNERS of the Horrendously Hilarious Query Contest!

Truth be told, judging of this contest felt a lot like playing Apples to Apples -- you know, like when the word is "classic" and someone throws in "banana hammock." ALL of these entries were worthy of winning, but those "banana hammocks" hit up my funny bone in just the right way!

So, without further ado, I give you: the WINNERS!!

Please contact to claim your prize (requested items should be included).

First Place: Anne

Dear Lady Agent with nice hair,

Do you believe in magic? Well I hope you do. In my debut-yet-sure-to-be-bestselling fiction novel, I deal with the very real issues of magic. MAGIC MARKER is a story of not one but twelve classic colors forced to share one yellow box. They were picked to live in this space and see what happens when things stop being semi-permanent and start getting real. The issues in this book are ones that adults can relate to on a daily basis. Like what to do when that last marker just doesn’t fit because the second one in the box decided to stack itself vertically instead of linearly. Or the seven stages of grieving when one looses their cap and begins the slow and painful process of drying out. My debut-yet-sure-to-be-bestselling fiction novel is going to be the next Harry Potter, for adults. I know you must be drooling all over your face at the chance to rep such a mind bending literary instant classic. (like classic colors…GET IT?!?) So why wait? Call now. I will have representatives waiting to take your call 24 hours a day.

I have been a daycare worker for one year and I feel my extensive knowledge of coloring utensils makes me the prime candidate to write this thirteen book series. Why thirteen you ask? I’m not sure yet because I have only written my acknowledgments at this point. BUT I will be sure to let you know when that time comes. MAGIC MARKER is incomplete at approx -300,000 words in the genre of romantic suspense space opera with a mysterious twist.
Thank for being my future agent. I will be mailing my submissions to your home address asap--Possibly daily.

Your best friend forever and ever and ever and ever and ever,

Anna Banana. (Pen name)

Second Place: Brigid Gorry-Hines

Hi there Natalie Fisher!

I know you don't represent sci-fi but I think you'll make an exception for MY PAL SCRUFFY: AN INSPIRATIONAL STORY OF A GIRL AND HER DOG. It's the first book in an 6-book series. Books 1-5 are ready and I'll be done with number 6 in a few weeks. The first book is about 200,000 words long and it's written entirely in verse!

The two awesome main characters are Stella and her friendly talking dog, Scruffy. One day, while Stella is in the bathroom, Scruffy gets kidnapped by aliens. Because of this, Stella must make an epic journey across the desert––battling giant beavers, flying elephants, and invisible ninjas along the way. She also meets the mysterious but undeniably sexy zombie Fredward, and they fall in love at first sight. Unfortunately, Fredward is attracted to Stella's brain because it smells extra delicious. This problem is solved because Fredward catches on fire when he steps into the sunlight. Anyway, the question is, can Stella find Scruffy before it's too late?!?! Well I'll tell ya now … She does! And they live happily ever after, only it turns out that Scruffy is really Stella's brother in disguise. And he's a robot.

My goal is for this book to be read everywhere in the universe––not only a bestseller in the US but translated into languages I didn't even know existed. When a movie comes out I hope to play the part of Stella. I'm also an actress!

So, I only have the first draft write now but I can edit it if you find any mistakes in it. (I've attached the entire thing in a Word document!) 

My mom says it's the best book she's ever read. And she's a real picky reader too. So you'll love it! And if you don't, I'll eat my hat! I don't even own a hat, but if you don't like it I'll buy a hat. And eat it. LOL.

I can't wait to work with you! Your awesome! And did I mention you're really pretty too? :)

Brigid <3 <3 <3

Third Place: Meagan Spooner

Dear Mr. Ficher,

Hello Dear! Have you ever wondered what it would be like to try and concentrate on high school, first boyfriends, drugs, and rock and roll while your arms and legs are falling off? I would like to seek a publishing for my 182,426 word young adult fiction Novel titled "LOVE IN THE TIME OF DECOMPOSITION." I believe that it will appeal to a huge audience, including the special young fans of Harry Potter and Twilight, but also real people who read other books that have done well, like The DaVinci Code and that one with the tattoo of a dragon. I AM ONLY INTERSTED IN AN AGENT WHO WILL GET ME A BIG ADVANCE AND A MAJOR MOVIE DEAL, because these days no one reads books until they get reprinted with the movie-version covers.

Meet Swann, a very special sixteen year-old girl who's fragile beauty touches the Hearts of everyone who meets her. But she has no idea, she just wants to get through high school so she can leave her small town because she knows she was meant for Greatness. Little does she know, but her whole school is infested with zombies! But the thing is, zombies are people too. And no, they don't have their faces rotting off or anything, they're still sexy and everything. Well, they look a bit grey under fluorescent lights, but who doesn't? When Swann starts to fall hopelessly, eternally, epically in love with Raven, the ringleader of the Zombies, she must make the ultimate choice--life, or undeath? It all comes down to one thing: will foundation make her look less gray when she's in the Cafeteria?

I went to high school so I know exactly what Swann is going through, and I have the experience to back up my writing. I also knew from a young age that I was destined for great things, and to be so special in a mundane world is a burden no girl should have to bear alone. Like me. Like Swann. It is my delicate hope that all girls who read this will be able to tell if they are one of the special ones, or if they really are just meant for crappy day jobs like everyone else.

I already have numerous offers from other agents but I won’t share their names, only say that they are really excited about this book. You have seven days to respond to this amazing opportunity before I will move on to an agent who actually checks his mail. The novel is nearly complete, with a full outline and the whole first chapter written. It only waits for your guidance and beautiful touch to finish and polish to a shine. DON'T MISS OUT! 

Please find enclosed my hand-printed chapter. I hope you like fuschia it is my favorite too.



PS: I hope it's okay to hand-deliver it to your home address. I just really don't trust the post office. I love your mailbox!

Check out these hilarious highlights:

Sally Potter, HP's lost sister vs V'mrt's son – Lily Kaufman

You are fortunate enough to be in the beging of the alphabet – Julie Lindsay

Ms. Fairy Freak’s 12,000 word picture book about Harry Porker

Gnomes have been victimized for centuries…. [Fairies] changed my color to pink Comic Sans. –Magolla

My name is LUCAS GEORGE. I have capitalized it to make it easier for you to remember, as I will do for all the important parts of this letter….I have done this as a service to you. – Ray

I saw that you represent children’s books and since my main character has a child, I figured you would be the perfect agent for my manuscript. – thegreatpbjbattle

Jenn’s tragic love story about Aaron the playboy slug and Gwyn the sea urchin.

:) ‘s story OF THE CONTEST!

(Please note: If this email came directly to your inbox, you are in my top twenty agents. If you were CCed, you are in my top 100 agents. If you were BCCed, I only want you to see the amazing best seller you will miss out on for being such a peon.)… There was one time that I left my window open and when I came home my computer hadn’t gone to sleep. I KNOW THAT WAS WHEN THE WHORE STOLE MY BOOK – Lorelie Long

I really hope you buy my book soon, because I have a sweet bulldog who’s face is getting two saggy and I need to have a facelift done on her. – Jocelyn Rish

This book will appeal to people, including men and women, - Amy W

I picked you because I think you are a real agent, maybe…. I own a pet rock, have 11 cats and the furniture in my house loves my writing. - Dawn Embers


I do not believe in computers and will not start emailing just for your benefit. – Gabriela Lessa

There is also a cute boy named Jackson (I couldn't think of a combination of Edward and Jacob that didn't sound weird, but I could manage it given time) that is a werelieger – Tangynt

HELP, MY SOCK PUPPET STOLE MY IDENTITY (based on a true story) – Aislinn


Please request pages and you too can be stung by the purple fuzzy bumblebee of happiness. – Philangelus

When I was 15 my right hand was cut off in an accident with a combine harvester, so writing and drawing has always been a challenge for me. Also, there is something spilled on pages 148-196. It looks like blood, but I promise you it’s not. – Kate Larkindale


I don’t have any writing credits except this book which was a super-hit on Publish the Americas. I sold fourteen copies! Also I have a cat in my neighborhood so obviously I am a writer. – Julie Butcher-Fedynich

I'd love to tell you more about it, but you're a newer agent, so it wouldn't be wise for me to share a high concept story with you without the promise of representation. I've been doing my research. – Katrina Lantz


After all, if that 1-shot wonder Stephanie Meyers can do it with sparkling vampires (don’t get me started on THAT!) and J.K Rowling has those stupid Wizards that fly on BROOMSTICKS, than I can do it with vampire kittens. Oh and did I tell u, the kittens have UNICORN horns! – Jasouders

P.S.-In my pictures, which do u think is better: my L or R side? I need 2know 4 my author photo – Christina

To simply pass on this gift-wrapped piece of loveliness being offered to you here today would in fact be an absolute travesty on your part – the sort of mistake you might never live down – a blunder that would undoubtedly mark you forever with the letter “F.” 

“F” for fool. 
- Steve Novak

The owner of the ranch’s daughter’s sister’s cousin’s boyfriend stakes him and in a huge twist, he dies. – Horserider

I am ten years old and another girl at my school who is only eight is having a book published and, like, I’m really super jealous, because she is younger than me and I have been writing since way back when I was five. Life is so unfair! – Anonymous

Joanie Sunflower…found the perfect literary agent to represent her! Could life have been more perfect?
When suddenly! The agent she so carefully selected sent her a form rejection. OMG…. 
Little did Joanie know that she would run into that same agent later that night at the grocery store! …Joanie was furious at her bad luck, but at the same time, intrigued. She didn't know that her would-be agent was quite so... alluring.

Joanie finds herself caught between her resolve and her feelings. How can the agent who crushed her dreams be so kind, so gentle? How can she find the courage to tell him who she really is? COULD THIS BE LOVE?!

… He's Just Not That Into Your Query is a 250,000-word romance manuscript – Rebecca

“Yo Diggity, Barry Biddy Gets Crackalackin’,” was given benevolently to me by The Super Best Friends (Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Joseph Smith, Krishna, Lao Tzu, Muhammad, and Sea Man) – Sara Baker

So anyway, Natalie falls in love with this guy Fischer, but what she doesn't know until later is that Fisch is a ZOMBIE!!!!!! I bet you didn't see that coming. – madameduck

my name is confidential due to some ambiguous reasons – Anonymous

Oops, wait. Am I allowed to say bitch in a query? – Jennifer Fischetto

Gotta go! I only hit the nurse hard enough to steal her laptop for a few minutes! More nurses are coming, and they're bringing a shot. Time for a nap! – Anonymous

The finctional novel is the story of SPOT, a fifteen-year old kitty princess who falls into a fishbowl in the middle of a revolution. – Jessie

It's a psycho thriller with a twist of lime. Not the lime in Margaritas although one would be good right now. More of a lime-life. – Anonymous

Want to read my memoire thingy, The Barefoot Years? It’s off the hook. 
The story is about me. And being barefoot…for like…a long time. Years, even.

Please let a me know soon ‘cause I need the money from my book deal to pay for bunion surgery.
 - Marsha Sigman

What is beter than Gone With the Wind? My book. – Deborah

What's That in Mommy's Hand is a fiction picture…if you have ever had your six year old daughter walk in on you at a "private" moment you will realize just how important a book like this will be for parents of children like Sally. – Morgan Ives

Please contact me between 9:00 a.m. and 9:17 a.m. EDT on even-numbered days, or between 10:42 p.m. and 10:48 p.m. on odd-numbered days (unless there's an new moon, half moon, or full moon - then you need to add 23 minutes to odd times or subtract 4 hours and 53 minutes from even times). I only check my email on February 29th, so phone is best. – Cheryl

Especially since I channeled about 98% of what is in the book, so I can guarantee that it is the MOST accurate information available on the market. – Chersti Nieveen

So there's this sweet love to with this guy, and this girl has a family, and they are all from this other world. They are otherworldly! – Ivy Hawthorn

Thank you everyone for entering; this was so much fun!!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In Bad Taste: Horrendously Hilarious Query Contest CLOSED!

It's finally here! The Horrendously Hilarious Query Contest!

Post your query into the comments section below. Remember, it canNOT be longer than 500 words.

I will accept all entries time-stamped after 8am EST/5am PST on Monday, September 13th, until I reach either 75 entries OR Friday, September 17th 12pm EST.

Clients are welcome to post, and may remain anonymous, but MUST specify if she or he is a client (so these entries don't count in the 75!).

You are MORE than welcome to continue to post even after 75 entries have been reached (in fact, I encourage it!)

Winners will be announced and posted on Monday, September 20th; you must check back to see if you are a winner. Instructions on how to collect your fabulous prizes will also be announced then.

So get ready...set...and may the WORST query win!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Common Manuscript Mistakes, and How to Avoid Them

Quite frequently I’m asked to share what the most common themes I see in the slush are. I don’t really have an answer for that. It comes in waves; ghosts, werewolves, princesses, distressed teens dealing with peg-legs and missing dogs.

What I can talk about, however, are the most common mistakes I see with manuscripts.

Most of the time, I feel like this when I read a query and turn to pages:

CC by SA 3.0 at

Why? Top three reasons:

1. Poor pacing
2. Not connecting to voice
3. Plot not stand-out enough

In my opinion, there is a way to avoid all three: they’re called beta readers. Just kidding. That’s a copout; you should never rely on your beta to make your manuscript publishable and/or readable – which is step one on how to avoid these mistakes.

Other tips:

1. Avoiding horrible pace

Cut your prologue, dream sequence, and first chapter. Second, take a look at your synopsis. A lot of the time, the synopsis highlights the heart of the story, and will pinpoint exactly what the important details you should have – and what you shouldn’t have – are. Too much back-story upfront really drags pace, and too many tiny, unimportant, menial things like sports games, day-to-day activities, talking to mom/sister/great-aunt also really slow pace. You don’t need to tell me when your character goes pee or brushes her teeth. In other words, don’t summarize events; realize them in the plot.

The best way to improve pacing is to go back and snip snip snip from your finished manuscript; ask yourself: why is this scene really here? Does it actually serve a purpose to the plot?

Here’s a great site on pacing

2. Creating a likeable voice

This is the hardest one. Voice is impossible to fix. It’s the most subjective aspect of the book.
However, a few pointers from voices I haven’t liked: make a character snarky, not rude. Make your character believable and relatable (there’s a reason so many characters have no boyfriends and no lives and are so poor – the majority of us are like that too). If your character has un-likeable aspects, make sure there are still flaws, too. Sarcasm is great; whining is not. Think cheeky and feisty rather than arrogant and violent. Inner strength should shine through the voice, even if not in the action.

Personally, I gravitate toward more open and sarcastic voices, voices I can relate to in real life. Think of your audience – what kind of narrator would they relate to?

Voice is the aspect of the novel that lets the reader forget about the writer. In other words, it's what makes characters real. Your character should have a perspective, a unique way of thinking about and looking at things based on where he/she is from and the experiences he/she have had. Figure out that background and what that would mean for your voice.

3. Avoiding the “done” plot

RIGHT when you get your sni (shiney new idea), THINK about it. A lot. Write down the idea; see exactly how far this spark takes you. The reality is, there are a LOT of books out there, and having a “twist” alone isn’t going to make your book stand out. Adding a supernatural element is NOT enough to turn your teen love story into a sellable book, nor is changing up an existing supernatural creature or mashing two themes like death and divorce together.

Hopefully, you are reading in your genre – that is the BEST way to know if your sni is too close to what’s already been done. Make me go, “oh wow” when I read your query letter – and do not fall into the trap of the “done” plotLINE. A fabulous idea that follows the same structure as every other book out there – such as, teenaged girl discovers powers at 16, meets mysterious boy, has to save the world, or perhaps London debutante who hates the idea of marriage suddenly meets her match – is still a no for me. Avoid lighter, chick-lit plots; they often fall flat!

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Query Letter: The Death of the Dickens?

As I started to ponder the #queries question, I started to ponder on the query letter in general. I don’t know the actual history of the query letter (my strenuous two minute Google search sadly ended in failure), but I imagine that it started when aliens came down and waved a magic wand over every sleeping agent to magically cause them to all require an introduction to manuscript submissions, so they could toss it out the window immediately without having to read 500 pages in before realizing: oh, I don’t like time-travel books.

There’s obviously no one way to write a letter. It is the bane of every submitting writer’s existence to come up with the perfect form-letter-that-also-sounds-personal. Researching all these different wants, personalities, likes and dislikes…

It is undeniable that it is a very time-saving process for agents, and that it is an invaluable practice for authors. Being able to sum up the book not only prepares the author for that inevitable, “so what’s it about?” question, but it also allows him or her to finally sit down after months or years or decades of sweet, hard labor and realize…oh whoops, I just re-wrote Harry Potter.

But is the time saved and the practice gained worth the cost?

Most agents (myself included) insist that the Classics would of course still have been published today. Fine writing is fine writing no matter what.

But I have to wonder. If Charles Dickens had submitted a query and the first 50 pages of David Copperfield to me, what would I have done?

It wasn’t until the very end of my forced reading of that book that I realized the pure genius of it; it is a beautiful character study. Every single page is necessary to flesh out his characters. But 50 pages in?

Dear Charles,

Thank you for thinking of me. I really appreciate your patience in allowing me time to consider David Copperfield.

While I was very impressed with your writing, I’m sorry to say that David Copperfield was just not for me. I found the pacing a bit slow, and worried that there just wasn’t enough going on to really break it out in today’s tough market. The length also gave me pause.

I’m sorry I couldn’t have better news; I wish you the best of luck!


So what do you think? Are today’s literary geniuses being overlooked, or just transformed into more commercial and ADD-friendly authors?

Because again, there’s no doubt there are some absolutely amazing authors today. And writing styles/tastes do change over time. I personally don’t feel we're missing any genius. But do you?

Sunday, August 29, 2010


There’s been quite a bit of debate this week on sites such as SlushPile Hell and #queryfail (read here and here). So far, I’ve only been reading the opposing side. Points:

Who has time to even THINK about these bad queries, let alone TWEET about them!


I will NEVER tweet/talk of personal correspondence, so query freely! It is an ethical faux pas to do so.

To be fair, I understand that. A lot. Both are incredibly valid points, and I agree with both. The majority of people that send the worst letters aren’t even lucid when they press SEND, and for the ones that are, it’s heartbreaking to receive such humiliation.

But (of course you knew a but was coming) I DO tweet about these queries. Do I do it to be helpful? Well, yes. But 90% of the audience reading my tweets isn’t who should be getting the advice.

So why do it?

Sites like “shit my dad says” may emphasize what I’m about to say the most: really, it’s about having a sense of humor. Do I honestly take it so seriously that every time I tweet about a mistake, I’m FUMING and RANTING about the HORRIBLE quality I’m reading? No.

I still turn to the majority of manuscript pages that I tweet about, because I know for a fact that some people just plain suck at writing query letters. But that doesn’t mean they suck at writing. I also think that writers should be aware of the reality of the slush pile. If anything, I feel my tweets emphasize the importance of research, feedback, and continued perseverance and development.

I also DESERVE to be called out on ANY mistake I make. So, fair’s fair. In my eyes.

Everyone has the right to dislike policies and attitudes of other agents. But…just don’t act like your word is final. For every opinion, there is an opposite.

Ok! Onto fun stuff. How about I level the playing field?

Here is MY own PERSONAL query development. Snarky comments welcome; I made almost EVERY mistake in the book! I cringe to look back…

First Letter Ever:

If you mix a fairy, a goddess, magic, and a story, what do you get? A book written about those subjects called The Goddess of Time.

The main plot is set at no particular time, but resembles the middle- ages, with kings, queens, peasants, and other miscellaneous characters. It is fictional, having magic, folklore, and mystical creatures that you may only dream of. The main character is named Shadow, a fifteen-year-old fairy whom is compelled to tell the truth. She is most unusual, with her blue eyes and black hair, unlike all the other fairies who have brown eyes and either brown or blonde hair. Her best friends, Cider and Wheat, always try to make her have fun, and misuse her powers for simple pleasure, ending in a loss of their friendship.

Shadow finds a circlet in a cave, launching her into adventure with the task of rescuing the former Queen Lilly from the clutches of the evil King Smoldren. If Shadow does not succeed, the kingdom and world could fall into King Smoldrens grasp, allowing him all the power and money he could imagine, killing all who come in his way.

Shadow is not about to let this happen, though. With the help of a prince transformed into a squirrel, a nymph that had previously been a walnut, and Lilly’s husband, she manages to come up with a plan to over-throw the wicked king. Consulting first with her own dear king, she sets up a battle plan, proposing to enter through a secret tunnel and rescuing Moonshine, the head of the teaching department, whom had been captured during the battle. The king and his army would swamp the rear of the palace, taking them by surprise, and hopefully winning.

But the battle suddenly takes on an interesting turn, and Shadow finds herself face to face with the vile Smoldren.
In battling him, Shadow sets Lilly free, whom on her return, kills Smoldren and restores her wasted kingdom. Only then does Shadow learn whom she really is, and with that knowledge put to right the traitor that was smuggling plans to Smoldren within they’re midst.

If I have caught your attention in any way, please read the novel for yourself and decide if it is worthy to be published. The book in whole has ----words, and can be sent disk (floppy), CD, or by mail. Would you rather have a general outline, or the book itself?

I know that as an unpublished writer, I won’t have anything to show or assure you that my work is suitable. But that does not mean it is not good; it just means I may have fresh or new ideas.

My phone number is ___, and my address, ___ Brentwood, TN, 37027. My fax number is ___. Please contact me if you wish to consider my book. I know that I may and most likely won’t be successful on my first try, but that does not mean I didn’t try at all. Thank-you for your time and patience with this letter.

(I should have put the thanks for time and patience at the beginning, and yes, this was in the time of floppy disks...)

Biggest Mistakes Ever:

I am a writer. I haven’t come to you asking for proof. As a girl of only sixteen years of age I can’t truly tell you if that’s what I’ll be in ten years. All I can say is that getting there will be a long, and yes, expensive road.

Naturally a writer can’t help but go to the computer and type out a story. Mine happens to be called _____, a ___-word _________ novel.

I’ve been “agenting” for quite some time now, trying to find one to slip my manuscript under your “big, scary door”. The thing is, I am, after all, still learning about how to properly write and polish a five-paragraph essay. God forgive the unlucky soul that tries to take on and read a pitted, grammatically incorrect manuscript that may or may not even be anything more than a big run-on sentence…right? Then again, you have to consider the fact that I have actually picked up a copy of Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents to find your name. It has, unfortunately, become my Bible. You might be surprised at how many tricks a person can pick up after reading a gazillion and one books such as that.

One thing that might have you reading no further is the fact that this is a query letter, a piece of paper that pitches a novel, and I’ve only mentioned the book once. In my experience, it might not be my letter that gets me thrown away but the close-mindedness of adults who can’t imagine a future for a silly little sixteen-year-old girl. That’s why I’ve dedicated this entire cover letter to getting you used to the idea that not all teenagers sit and drool in front of the TV all day.

The thing is, I’m not out for glory and fame. I am surrounded by peers who probably can’t even read. The general audience I’m targeting prefers movies to books any day. Here’s the catch: teens also like to read things other teens have. A book, written by a teen herself? Put yourself in my shoes. I know I would personally go to the store and pay money to check out what this girl has to offer.

What does this girl have to offer? A very dedicated soul. The glossy cover of the bookfront does not blind me; I do know what work goes on to put it there. Editing, editing, and yes, editing are not beyond me, nor are promoting, cooperation, and patience. I offer you my query: please sample it. The taste might just be to your liking.


I currently have a contract with _____ Literary Agency. I am writing you because I wish to find new representation for my novel, Love and Navy Slippers, due to the unsatisfactory representation I have received so far.

Alarm bells, and several questions, should be popping into your head right now. As a contracted author, I have no right to try and find new representation before terminating a current contract on that novel. However, I have been unable to contact my agents for several months now, and I do not wish to sit around waiting for failure. I still want to succeed as an author, and to do so I cannot afford to wait for my agents to find me a publisher when it is convenient for them.

In an effort not to offend, I will not use this space, or your time, to list my complaints about my agents. All I ask is a review of my query and a response. I have enclosed an SASE for this purpose. I thank you most sincerely for your time.

(guess how far the last two letters got me? *snort* My tweet would be: "I will not use this space or your time to list my complaints" <-- data-blogger-escaped-br="" data-blogger-escaped-didn="" data-blogger-escaped-do="" data-blogger-escaped-just="" data-blogger-escaped-t="" data-blogger-escaped-that="" data-blogger-escaped-uh="" data-blogger-escaped-you="">

Last Letter Ever:

How typical of Charlotte Huntington to fall in love with the stable boy. Unfortunately, how also disastrously embarrassing that, after a passionate confession of her love, he broke her heart, coolly dismissing her passion and walking out of her life for good. Broken, Charlotte is shipped off to London for a proper season, where she bitterly decides to never let any man reject her—ever again.

Three seasons, many coy smiles, and fitted bodices later, Charlotte has become the toast of the ton, the most sought-after and elusive woman in all of London.

Until he shows up again.

The stable boy. And every ounce of her carefully trained fa├žade begins to crumble, her heart skittishly surrendering to his very presence. Not that he even bothered to notice; the man barely even acknowledged her existence. He was the most infuriating creature she’d ever come across in her life! Not that it helped that he was, apparently, her father’s new manager. When he’d left her, not only had he rejected her love, but rejected every ounce of his former self, nearly breaking his back for two years to become as ruthless and cold in business as her father, managing the astonishing feat of completely taking over Lord Huntington’s company.

But damn him, she would win. She’d learned a few tricks herself over the years. And Charlotte is going to make him pay for his cold heart. She will make him fall in love with her, and as soon as she hears the words—she’ll run off and marry someone else.

Unfortunately…that’s only if he doesn’t rekindle her weary heart first, which, as time goes by, starts to become a very frightening possibility. Because the more time she spends with him…the more she remembers as to why she fell in love with him in the first place…and the more it feels like she’ll lose, either way she decides to play. Because what she doesn’t know, is that Jake Jennings never intended to leave her at all—because he has always loved her. And he intends, now that he has gained the means to claim her, to never let her go.

Unfortunately…he’s got a new secret of his own. A secret that, innocent and darling as she is, could keep them apart forever.

No wonder it takes an entire book for the two to finally live happily ever after. It’s all the unfortunate reality of Natalie Maya Fischer’s AN ERRONEOUS ROMANCE.

(this was the point I ended up with "great writing, needs plot")


Is this proof enough that I will NEVER “write off” an author just because of a bad query? I’ve had quite a journey. I expect every writer to as well. Development. Happens.

And for the record, using my “agent hat” now, I would have ONLY looked at the pages for the last query. I am SO HAPPY I was not published at age 11!!! The universe knows. Trust it.