Time for the Query Critique. First I’ll present the query without comment, then I’ll offer my thoughts and a redline.

From Nathan Bransford:

Now then. Time for the Query Critique. First I’ll present the query without comment, then I’ll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to Dan, whose query is below.

December 19, 2023

Ms. XXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXX Literary Agency

Dear Ms.XXX,

I hope this letter finds you well. I see that you are registered for the upcoming Thrillerfest 2024, and I would like to introduce my novel, ONCE A DETECTIVE…, and express my interest in securing your representation.

ONCE A DETECTIVE… is a work of commercial fiction in the private detective genre. In present time, Detective Dan Burnett, with 30 years of experience with the NYPD, fails his physical and chooses retirement over desk duty. At fifty-five, he’s too young to do nothing, so he becomes a private investigator and learns the ropes from a P.I. with a similar history. Divorced, his one source of true happiness is his college-aged daughter. After assisting his new partner with some ongoing cases, he lands a case of his own: a beautiful woman whose brother was murdered. After two years, the NYPD had given up on the case, so it’s now up to him to find the murderer. The suspects are Las Vegas casinos, where the brother owed a million dollars, and his second wife, who inherited millions upon his death. He doggedly works the case using his life-long skills with the help of a former colleague, the NYPD detective originally assigned to the case. Tracking a mob hitman leads him on a chase across the country, searching for the truth and ultimately finding it.

Inspired by my favorite novels by Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Robert B. Parker, and others, I have woven a story of mystery, suspense, and romance.

I have recently retired from a life as a real estate developer and ocean sailor, and I finally have the time to pursue my longtime passion for writing and storytelling. To promote my work, I am in the process of creating an author’s web page that will link to social media.

Following is the first chapter for your review. I am happy to provide the complete 61,000-word manuscript at your request, and am also open to discussing revisions to align with your publishing vision.

Thank you for considering ONCE A DETECTIVE… I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this project with you further. Feel free to contact me by phone or e-mail to arrange a meeting or provide feedback.

Sincerely,
XXXXXXXXXXX

As with so many queries, this one could benefit from more vivid details. The plot here feels extremely standard (retired detective becomes PI and investigates murder). That’s not necessarily an issue, provided the details, style, and setting feel fresh.

. . . .

Here’s a pretty simple formula you can use to stick the landing:

[PROTAGONIST(s)] must [DO X AND/OR Y AND/OR Z] in order to [GOAL/REWARDS] / or else [CONSEQUENCES].

Not every final line needs to follow this precise formula. Maybe in some plots you want to spell out the rewards a bit more, others to clearly articulate the consequences. But if you utilize this formula, you’ll quickly give the agent a sense of what’s ultimately at stake for the protagonist as the novel heads toward the climax.

. . . .

Here’s my redline:

December 19, 2023

Ms. XXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXX Literary Agency
 [This is almost assuredly an email, not a business letter]

Dear Ms.XXX,

I hope this letter finds you well. I see that you are registered for the upcoming Thrillerfest 2024, and. I would like to introduce my commercial fiction novel, ONCE A DETECTIVE…, and express my interest in securing your representation.

ONCE A DETECTIVE… is a work of commercial fiction in the private detective genre. In present time, After 30 years with the NYPD, Detective Dan Burnett, with 30 years of experience with the NYPD, fails his physical and chooses retirement over desk duty. At fifty-five and divorced, with a college-aged daughter as his one true source of happiness, he’s too young to do nothing, so he becomes a private investigator and learns the ropes from a P.I. with a similar history. [Missed opportunity to portray the other P.I. more vividly] Divorced, his one source of true happiness is his college-aged daughter.

¶After assisting his new partner with some ongoing cases, he lands a case of his own: a beautiful woman whose brother was murdered two years ago [Be more vivid/specific about both the woman and the brother]After two years, tThe NYPD hads given up on the case, so it’s now up to him to find the murderer. The suspects are Las Vegas casinos, where tThe brother owed a million dollars to Las Vegas casinos, and his second wife, who inherited millions upon his death. HeDan doggedly works the case using his life-long skills with the help of a former colleague, the NYPD detective originally assigned to the case. Tracking a mob hitman leads him on a chase across the country, searching for the truth and ultimately finding it. [Very flat final line. Consider something more like “Dan must do [X AND Y] in order to [GOAL/REWARDS] or else [CONSEQUENCES].]

ONCE A DETECTIVE… is complete at 61,000 words and will appeal to readers of Inspired by my favorite novels by Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Robert B. Parker, and others, I have woven a story of mystery, suspense, and romance[Consider more current comp titles]

I have recently retired from a life as a real estate developer and ocean sailor, and I finally have the time to pursue my longtime passion for writing and storytelling. To promote my work, I am in the process of creating an author’s web page that will link to social media[This isn’t going to inspire an agent’s confidence that you are at the baseline competency for technology usage as an author]

Following is the first chapter for your review. I am happy to provide the complete 61,000 word manuscript at your request, and am also open to discussing revisions to align with your publishing vision. [Goes without saying] Thank you for considering ONCE A DETECTIVE… I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this project with you further. Feel free to contact me by phone or e-mail to arrange a meeting or provide feedback. [Goes without saying]

Sincerely,
XXXXXXXXXXX

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Is Self-Publishing a Good Choice for Authors in 2024?

Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Talk about self-publishing has diminished in the last few years.  Most of the “Kindle Millionaires” that surged onto the scene a decade or so ago have evaporated from indie writing communities.

Some of them are, of course, busy writing their next bestseller. But a lot either got traditional publishing contracts, like Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking (remember them?), or they moved on to more lucrative careers.

Writing about self-publishing isn’t wildly fashionable these days. Formerly prolific indie advocate Joe Konrath has only updated his blog, The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, once since 2019. D. D. Scott, of the Writers Guide to E-Publishing dropped the blog long ago

But the hottest phenom in publishing last year, Colleen Hoover, started as an indie author — and she still self-publishes some of her books. You can’t argue with her amazing success.

Why Self-Publishing is No Longer Big News
Here’s the thing: The Self-Publishing “Revolution” of the previous decade was tied directly to the “Ebook Revolution.” Indie publishing was sparked by the advent of the Kindle.

When Amazon launched the Kindle in the late ‘oughties, customers needed ebooks to read on it. And Amazon opened up a marketplace for self-publishing to flourish. Indie authors who sold their ebooks for under $5 became bestsellers when they competed against trad-pubbed ebooks priced at $10 and up.

And wise indie authors still price their books below the Big 5 prices. They can afford to, because there are no agents and publishers to skim off the bulk of the profits.

The fact self-publishing isn’t big news now is exactly because it’s so successful. It’s zooming along with no roadblocks, so there’s no news. Authors who take their indie careers seriously are making a lot of money self-publishing. They’re doing their own marketing and turning out books quickly for their growing fan bases.

They also write in genres that sell to voracious readers who generally buy ebooks, like Romance, mystery, thrillers, and sci-fi/fantasy.

These genres do well in subscription services like Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, Kobo Plus, Scribd, etc. Subscription services are growing fast, according to The New Publishing Standard. Kindle Unlimited paid out $575 million to self-publishers last year.

However, children’s, literary, upmarket fiction and “book-club” women’s fiction still tends to sell better in hard copy.

. . . .

I see that a lot of new writers who are planning to self-publish will immediately start talking about book signings and getting books into physical bookshops.

But that’s not where an indie should be putting their energy. Book signings can be fun, and a physical book launch party can be an important celebration for the author. Swag like bookmarks, mugs and T-shirts can be a blast to design and prepare.

But these things are about fun, not making big sales.

That’s because in-person events are not the way most indies sell their books. (With the exception of nonfiction self-help books. If you’re a motivational speaker, you can sell a lot of hard copy books at your speaking engagements.)

. . . .

Self-publishing does mean giving up some fantasies. Self-published authors rarely, if ever, are interviewed on NPR or reviewed in The New Yorker. Chances of being invited to participate in a TV talk show are minimal.  You probably won’t see your book in the window of your local Barnes and Noble, and you won’t be chosen for Reese’s or Oprah’s book clubs.

If these things are essential to your image of being a published author, either let them go, or keep slogging on that query-go-round and get yourself an agent and traditional publishing deal. Not a lot of traditionally published authors get national radio interviews or reviews in prestigious magazines either, but you’ll have a fighting chance.

. . . .

If you’re self-publishing, you’re going to be selling mostly ebooks, you are going to need to do most of your marketing online. Online marketing means establishing a major social media presence, as well as having an enticing website (and preferably, a blog. ) You’ll also want a strong email list of subscribers.

If you’re not interested in online marketing, self-publishing probably isn’t for you. The slow death of X-Twitter has made online marketing more difficult. If your demographic is over 40, Facebook can still help, but for most genres, you need to be on Instagram, and if you write Romance or YA, you definitely need Tiktok.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

The OP was generally right about the facts, but PG wonders if serious indie authors have the sort of “fantasies” the OP describes.

PG has known a great many indie authors, including more than a few who hired him to break out of their traditional publishing contracts with large New York publishers.

(Reminder: PG is retired, so he doesn’t this sort of thing any more. Please don’t ask.)

Typically, the authors who wanted to escape from traditional publishing contracts and the necessary New York literary agency 15% taken off the top wanted to self-publish so they could make more money and run their own shows.

They wanted to make more money because most traditionally published authors don’t make much money from their writing either. “Don’t give up your day job,” is advice a large number of traditionally-published authors hear from their agents.

As with any endeavor, some of PG’s now former clients did very well financially, adding a zero, sometimes two zeroes, to their previous annual writing incomes. Others didn’t have the knack of running their own business and didn’t do so well.

Everybody who escaped from their publishers and agents did share one benefit that was important to them.

They were the boss now.

They ran their own business the way they thought best. They could write what they wanted to write their books in the way they wanted to write them without explaining or justifying their choices to anybody else.

One more simple fact is that traditionally published authors whose last name isn’t Obama or another with similar public awareness also have to do social media marketing. And lots of other chores and homework assigned to most traditionally published authors by somebody at their publisher or their agent.

Who Needs a Literary Agent Anyway? Do They Deserve That Percentage?

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

As last September ended, a report from the Association of American Literary Agents painted a bleak picture of the American literary agent — working long hours and struggling to pay the bills, worrying for their future.

Among the members of the author community who had ever received a rejection slip from an agent, reactions ran the gamut of emoticon abbreviations, from LOL to RAOTFL to LMAO.*

These people get paid to read books! What are they whining about?

And who needs an agent anyway? One rejected the sample chapters of my interplanetary erotica fantasy, Fifty Shades of Venus, without even reading it, despite me sending a great query letter. I even used the spell-checker! But they emailed back the same day to tell me they only repped children’s books. These people just cannot move with the times!

So the next time, I sent the full 400,000 word manuscript, even though they only asked for the first two chapters. I figured it would save them time later, and helpfully told them that the action doesn’t really start until chapter 38, so they might want to start there. Rejected again. What do agents know anyway?

. . . .

Yeah, we’ve all been there. Most authors only see agents from the rejection slip end. It’s no wonder we don’t like them. And believe me, I accumulated a suitcase full of rejection slips back when I was querying.

Along the road, my books attracted the attention of two agents. One New York agent, having found my self-published book in the best-seller charts in three countries, made vague promises of movie deals and the like. And then they lost interest.

The other agent, a fellow Brit, was really excited, and had the manuscript being read by top commissioning editors at big publishing houses. A gazillion-digit publishing deal seemed to be just an email away. And then nothing.

That was disappointing, of course. But it didn’t turn me off agents. Because years previously I had worked in a London literary agency for a week as part of a journalism deal. My editor was sending me on week-long “job challenges”, most of which were not fun in any way. An abattoir… An undertakers… A fish factory… A sausage factory…

And just when I was ready to quit the magazine and strangle the editor, a literary agency. In London!

I was ecstatic! Every journalist wants to be a book writer, of course. This was my chance to spend a week drinking coffee, reading future bestsellers, mixing with big-name author over expensive lunches, and casually bringing into the conversation the two books I’d got sitting in a drawer at home that less reputable agents had foolishly turned down.

Maybe I could be a literary agent myself? No qualifications needed. Just stick an advert in the paper (yes, this was back in 1999), wait for the unpublished books to arrive in the post, call a publisher with the good news, and collect the commission. Money for old rope! My dream job had arrived!

. . . .

By the end of my first day all my illusions had been shot to pieces. Not a single famous author passed through the doors with a lunch invite at the Savoy. Lunch was a sandwich and a coffee from the greasy spoon café next door. In fact, famous authors never seemed to get mentioned at all.

Watching the daily delivery of unsolicited manuscripts was a revelation. At least 200 over the course of the week (this before email submissions and before self-publishing), and each one was dutifully opened and scanned for potential.

Sometimes the query letter was enough to warrant a rejection slip. As a writer myself, I was initially appalled. A rejection without even looking at the manuscript? A manuscript some poor soul had spent months, maybe years, slaving over, rewriting, revising, honing to perfection? Then I read the query letters and realised the standard of English on just one page was often more than enough to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

This in the early days of home PCs and MS Word, when many wannabe authors were still typing manuscripts through worn-out ribbons and with gallons of correction fluid.

Then came the first chapter reads. So many authors would send the full MS despite clear instructions to only send the initial chapters, but every package was unwrapped and glanced over. One of the agents has a memo framed above her desk: “Think JK, Every Day.” This was the year Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was published, and the legend of the agents and publishers who had sneered and told JK Rowling not to give up the day job was discussed in hushed tones in every corner of every agency and publishing house around the world.

. . . .

But despite every package being opened, and every query letter scrutinised, many author careers stalled at this point. Some manuscripts showed no promise, some were simply derivative, some just came in at the wrong time. Agents had to judge what would be hot in the market years down the road. The speed the publishing industry operates at makes the South American three-toed sloth look like an Olympic sprinter.

And then there was the actual reading of the manuscripts – not finely polished books with pretty covers, fine type-setting and all the typos edited out by Spell-Check, but raw paper and faded double-spaced ink drowning in correction fluid on dog-eared pages that had spent days in the postal system in a flimsy envelope.

Then would come the redrafting and the re-redrafting and the re-re-re-drafting for those that cleared the first hurdle, the agent. All while trying not to upset the prospective future bestselling author that still had a lot to learn. This was happening over weeks or months — having to read and re-read the same manuscript.

And the agent all the time was losing the will to live as the wannabe author insisted their work was already perfect and the agents didn’t deserve the commission that at this point was far from guaranteed. And all the time trying to explain to said author that being repped was no guarantee of a publisher agreeing to actually publish. Let alone handing out the mega-advances newbie authors fantasise about.

This was happening in between the existing client representation, fighting for better deals, trying to find foreign rights (and nowadays audio and translation rights – not so common back in the nineties). Plus the agony of having to tell a one-time bestselling author that the market had moved on. Their latest book would not earn out the advance, and that their next book would not find a publisher.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

US literary agents question the business model’s viability, but some are missing the bigger picture

From The New Publishing Standard:

Today, publishing is a different planet. There is so much opportunity. So much potential. So much agents can offer authors, traditionally-published or self-published. And it is the younger, newer generation of agents, that are best poised to take full advantage and take their careers to new levels.

As September ended, the biennial report from the Association of American Literary Agents (AALA) was released, painting a bleak picture of American’s literary agents working long hours and struggling to pay the bills, while worrying for their future, and questioning the viability of the commission model.

I logged the report on my To Do List, where of course it was promptly subsumed in the flood of pre-Frankfurt industry news and reports, and only resurfaced thanks to Porter Anderson over at Publishing Perspectives, who summarised the report during Frankfurt week, to shine the spotlight on the Buchmesse LitAg programme. Anderson took time out to remind us literary agents work hard and are not always appreciated for their pivotal role in bringing authors and publishers together, and looking after author interests.

As an industry professional, there were few surprises in the Association of American Literary Agents report. Those of us who have had dealings with literary agents will know it’s not quite the romantic dream job those outside the industry might imagine.

Ready-to-print future bestsellers rarely arrive on the desk, and those that do, unless from existing clients, go through the slush pile process of being filtered and evaluated, with the AALA reporting some agents handling over 100 submissions a week, often without an assistant.

Separating the wheat from the chaff can be dispiriting, when you know the querying author may have spent years of their life working on a manuscript that they truly believe in, but that sadly isn’t readable past the first few paragraphs. I cannot imagine there are any literary agents who relish the next stage – the rejection email saying thanks, but no thanks.

And then there’s the anguish of rejecting a manuscript that shows promise, but just needs too much work, or a well-written submission that simply doesn’t tick the right boxes for the prevailing market conditions.

All this alongside the lurking fear that the agent might have just rejected what will go on to be the next publishing industry legend. Just ask the many agents who told JK Rowling not to give up the day job.

As an author and one-time editor, being a literary agent is probably the last job I would want to choose in this industry. Although sympathy towards the plight of the literary agents’ struggles as reported by the AALA is tempered by, as always, real life.

There are plenty of jobs out there that pay less, have longer hours, zero job satisfaction, and involve exhausting manual labour. So my gut reaction whenever I see reports emerging like this from any sector of the publishing industry, is to sigh and prepare for a pity-fest of victim-of-a-cruel-world gripes.

The latest Authors Guild report, published the same week as the AALA report, is an example, with Jim Milliot reporting for PW that “Writing Books Remains a Tough Way to Make a Living“, explaining that, “A new Authors Guild survey finds that median book and writing-related income for authors in 2022 was below the poverty level.

That’s an op-ed in its own right. The idea that book authors can somehow be equated with people who stack shelves in supermarkets, make bread or cars or widgets, serve coffee or pizza, or do some other weekly-waged job never fails to amuse me. Back in the UK I spent many years sat in coffee bars all day, slaving hard to keep the baristas busy replenishing my lattes for a pittance weekly wage, while I pecked away at the keyboard between blueberry muffins, writing books that in their time sold almost two million copies, and fifteen years on, still bring in a trickle of revenue. The barista, who worked far harder than I ever did, got paid for the day’s work and then had to do it all over again the next day to get paid again. My work, all those years ago still earns me something, and if I can ever find the time away from school and TNPS, there’s probably a lot more mileage to be had from them. Real life? No thank you.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Of course, there are many ways to be poor. For the large majority of would-be authors who wish to be published by traditional publishers, absent independent means, that path is doomed to failure.

Being poor and young can be a hoot (PG speaks from experience). However, being poor and middle-aged or, worse, poor and old is a different sort of existence altogether (Thankfully, PG doesn’t speak from experience about that sort of life).

PG has helped/tried to help a number of people who have found themselves old or pre-old without enough money to make ends meet. More than a few employers would rather hire young and train than spend more money to get additional experienced employees. While it’s supposed to be illegal, there is more than a little age discrimination that goes on in contemporary US businesses.

Generally, PG advises would-be authors who aren’t able to crash on a friend’s couch each night to not give up their day jobs until they start receiving some actual money in meaningful amounts from their writing.

A literary agent

A literary agent is nothing but a cheap salesman (or woman); while a writer is a cheap salesman (or woman) who also has to actually write the books.

John Hodgman

The brutal truth about earning out

From Blake Atwood:

What does earning out mean?

When an author signs a book deal with a publisher, the publisher pays the author in the form of an advance on future sales, aka an advance against royalties, aka an advance.

Let’s be optimistic and say that your literary agent sold your book to a publisher for $100,000. That means that prior to your book having gone on sale, you will have made $85,000.

Don’t forget: your lit agent gets 15 percent of what you earn. That number isn’t always the same for every agent, but 15 percent is typical.

That advance money may be paid in a lump sum, but it may also be doled out to you at specific publishing milestones, e.g., when you sign the contract, when you submit your manuscript to the publisher, and when the book is published.

Let’s assume that it takes approximately two years for those three events to happen. At that rate, you’re paid $28,333 three times over two years. Can you already see how even a sizable advance may not mean an author can quit their day job? We haven’t even accounted for taxes yet!

To “earn out” means that a publisher sells enough of that author’s book so that the publisher recoups their investment in the author.

In other words, the publisher needs to earn $100,000 before the author will ever see more money as a result of sales of their book.

Considering that an author stands to earn maybe $2.50 per hardcover book and less for other editions, at best, the publisher will have to sell 40,000 books for the author to earn out their $100,000 advance.

. . . .

According to Jane Friedman, 70 percent of authors don’t earn out their advance.

In other words, a majority of authors are paid anywhere between $5,000 and $1,000,000 in an advance and their book sales never match how many the publisher thought they could sell.

Fortunately for these authors, they don’t have to pay the advance back to the publisher. The advance is a calculated financial risk that publishers take on their authors.

. . . .

Literary agent Jeff Kleinman shared an apt visual for advances and royalties: Imagine a jar filled with 100,000 marbles. When you sign a book deal, you and your agent are given those 100,000 marbles. The publisher takes the jar back. Once they fill it back up with 100,000 marbles made through book sales, then the jar overflows and the author (and agent) “earn out” and begin to see royalty checks on top of what they’ve already been paid through the advance.

But that only happens 30 percent of the time.

Link to the rest at Blake Atwood

Here’s a link to Blake Atwood’s Author Page on Amazon. If you appreciate Blake’s insights, you might want to check out his books.

PG notes that it’s not unusual for a wide variety of little nibbles that some publishers and agents sometimes take from the author’s royalties. Some publishers and some agents add little fees for this and that, which can add up. Fedex fees charged by the agent to send you your royalty statements and royalty checks are one small example.

PG regards items such as these as part of the cost of doing business as a literary agent and, as such, the costs should be borne by the agency.

(Note: For simplicity’s sake, the following hypothetical does not include book wholesalers that all large and many small publishers use to warehouse and ship orders to individual bookstores and book chains and whoever else wants to purchase them.)

And don’t forget the notorious reserve against returns. For those who are unfamiliar with this process and how it is sometimes manipulated, PG will provide a quick overview.

  1. Publishers are happy to ship bookstores as many printed copies as the store is willing to accept. How can you expect the bookstore to make towering stacks of a book unless they have lots and lots of copies?
  2. All big bookstores and most small bookstores have the right to return any unsold hardcopies of a book the publisher has shipped to them and receive for full credit of the wholesale price the publisher charged them for the books in the first place.
  3. As an example, Bob’s Big Books orders 200,000 printed copies of Lucky Anna’s first book at the wholesale price of of $10 per book. To spare you any arithmetic, this means that Bob is receiving books with a retail price of Two Million Dollars. If Bob sells all 200,000 copies of the books at the suggested retail price, Bob will be depositing Two Million Dollars into his bank account. Of course, out of the two million, he’ll be paying rent, salaries, taxes, etc., but if Bob is a good manager, he’ll make a bunch of money after paying the related expenses involved with selling 200,000 copies of the book.
  4. However, although Bob has plenty of Lucky Anna’s books to stack up in his bookstore, he sells only 25,000 copies of the book.
  5. What is Bob going to do with 175,000 unsold copies?
  6. Under a long-standing system used by traditional publishing in the US, Bob can send his unsold 175,000 copies of Lucky Anna’s book back to the publisher for full credit.
  7. Bob only has to pay for the 25,000 books he sells for a total of $250,000
  8. The publisher then has 175,000 more hardcopy books sitting copies sitting in a warehouse somewhere.

What’s a Publisher to Do?

1. In a reasonable-sounding accounting manner, the Publisher holds a financial reserve against book returns. Lucky Anna is only paid a royalty for amounts the publisher has actually received, less a reserve for returns.

2. Let’s assume hypothetically that a salesperson for a traditional publisher makes a two million dollar sale of a single title written by Lucky Anna to Bob’s Bookstore. The Publisher determined that setting a return against reserves of $1,900,000 would be prudent.

3. Conveniently, even though the Publisher shipped Two Million Dollars worth of one of Lucky Anna’s books to Bob’s Bookstore, after subtracting the $1,900,000, the reserve amount the Publisher set, The Publisher is required to pay Lucky Anna royalties only on the $100,000 remaining after subtracting the $1,900,000, the amount the publisher has set as a reserve against returns.

4. Multiply the calculations for Bob’s Books by 1,000 other bookstores, and you can see the calculations getting very sticky.

5. When Bob’s Bookstore returns $1,750,000 worth of Lucky Anna’s books to the Publisher, theoretically, the Publisher should pay Lucky Anna royalties on the $150,000 Bob sold beyond the amount the Publisher estimated that Bob would return for credit.

6. “However,” the Publisher thinks, “not every bookstore is like Bob’s. Some of the other bookstores will certainly return a higher percentage of books they didn’t sell than Bob did.”

7. Traditional publishing contracts allow the Publisher to withhold “a reasonable reserve for returns.”

8. “Reasonable” is, of course, in the mind of the Publisher.

9. Back to our hypothetical, the Publisher has sold books to a zillion other bookstores. The Publisher reasonably decides that not every bookstore is exactly like Bob’s. Some will sell a higher percentage of the books shipped to them than Bob did and others will sell a much smaller portion of the books shipped to them than Bob did.

10. Theoretically, a smart and highly computerized publisher would have track records on what the rate of returns each bookstore demonstrated for at least a few hundred of the titles the Publisher had released. But that would require the Publisher to spend a lot of money on analysts and statisticians to examine the data and calculate probable return rates for fiction, non-fiction, various genres, etc. And what English major wants to walk into that bramblebush?

11. PG’s understanding is that, to the extent traditional publishers think about the number or percentage of books that will be returned for credit, they either use intuition and listen to the music of the publishing spheres or they just lump almost all books into a big bucket. Rules of thumb prevail to the extent anyone thinks about accurate forecasting.

12. Given this fundamental truth, PG understands that most traditional publishers hold a higher amount of reserves against returns than they expect they will ever need.

13. Whether anyone does an accurate job of recalculating Lucky Anna’s past royalties should reserves for returns be much higher than the number of actual returns would justify, PG doesn’t know. He has his suspicions, however.

14. However, PG is certain that mistakes will be made by the Publisher and its underlings. He suspects that, on occasion, a mistake will be identified and remedied. On other occasions, a mistake will go unidentified or be ignored on the theory that the Lucky Anna will never ask about it.

15. Theoretically, Lucky Anna’s literary agent is double-checking the publisher’s reports for errors and jumping on the publisher when she locates one. Or, more often than not, the agent is out pushing for new business and delegates the arithmetic to the agent’s underpaid staff. This brings in more English majors earning low salaries into the mix.

16. More than a few agents have lots of turnover of back-office staff and not a lot of time to train newbies thoroughly. Or they have close to no back-office staff.

17. In the United States, there is no official set of requirements that must be met before an individual hangs out a shingle saying they’re a literary agent and are accepting new submissions.

18. Someone can get out of prison after serving a ten-year sentence for accounting fraud on one day and open up shop as a literary agent the next day.

19. What could go wrong?

20. PG acknowledges that there are some very hard-working and dedicated employees in at least some publishers and at least some literary agencies. He has no intention of slandering such individuals. However, he will say that for most authors, accurately assessing who will do a good job on their books and who will not is effectively impossible.

Anatomy of a Fake Literary Agency Scam

From Writer Beware:

Among the most common scams targeting self-published and small press authors these days are fake literary agency scams.

These are slightly different from the agent/agency impersonation scams I’ve written a number of posts about, in that they don’t appropriate the identities of real people (most of the time). But that doesn’t mean they’re not equally deceptive.

They work like this.

  • You’re contacted out of the blue by phone or email by someone describing themselves as a literary agent, offering to represent you or endorse you or otherwise transition you to a traditional publishing contract or have your book made into a movie. Sometimes they’ll even tell you they already have interest from a Big 5 publisher or a major film studio. The agent claims to work on commission only–no upfront fees!
  • But wait–there are things you need to do in order to access that coveted contract or movie rights offer: re-publish your book, have a screenplay written, undertake a PR campaign, buy “book insurance”…the list goes on. If you don’t have those things on hand, or don’t know how to access someone to provide them, the agent just happens to know of a trustworthy company that can provide them for you. Of course, there’s a fee. But you have to spend money to make money, right?
  • You hand over the payment: anywhere between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars. Sometimes that’s the last you’ll hear from your “agent”. More often, your payment tells the scammer you’re a willing mark. And so….
  • You’re bombarded with offers to spend more money on book fair representation, bookstore promotions, book-to-screen services, New York Times ads, pay-to-play radio and TV interviews, and more. Every time you pay, you incentivize the scammer to ask again. The prices get higher, the services more fraudulent–all supposedly in aid of obtaining the coveted contract you were promised at the start. Eventually you may receive forged contracts from Big 5 publishers or production companies–always, somehow, requiring you to pay enormous sums of cash.
  • Once you get suspicious and start asking questions, or balk at payment, or the scammer decides you’re tapped out, they ghost you.

I’ve heard from writers who’ve spent $70,000, $100,000, $300,000, and even more on such frauds.

There are three components to a fake literary agency scam.

  • One (or more) fake agencies
  • One (or more) “trustworthy” service providers
  • A parent company overseas, usually in the Philippines, that runs the scam with a brigade of sales reps using American-sounding aliases. This is where your money ultimately goes.

Here’s a real-life example.

Acquisitions NY purports to be a literary agency with a mission of “Empowering Authors Everyday…by providing contemporary solutions that have been tried and tested throughout time.” Its web domain was registered in July 2022.

If you visit Acquisitions NY’s website today, you’ll note that it’s bare of certain things a reputable agency’s website typically includes, such as a client list and a list of recent sales. In an earlier incarnation, those things were present…but oops…

Tweets from editor Virginia Lloyd about her clients' books and testimonials appearing on Acquisitions NY's website with her name removed from testimonials

Acquisitions NY removed the pilfered book images and testimonials, but continued to use them in solicitations for some time afterward, as you can see from this flashy document they were sending out as late as last December. (Here’s Virginia Lloyd’s testimonial page for comparison.)

In another theft, Acquisitions NY’s Who We Are page for some time falsely claimed real agent Ian Bonaparte of Janklow & Nesbit as part of its team. Again, they got caught out:

Tweet from agent Ian Bonaparte confirming that Acquisitions NY is falsely using his name: "THAT IS NOT ME!"

Ian’s (real) bio and (fake) photo are no longer on the website, but his name is still being used, as you’ll see below.

Acquisitions NY’s solicitations have varied over time, but the ones they’re currently sending out claim that authors have been chosen for “one of the most-coveted 10 spots” in the (entirely fictional) Mark Twain Literary Fund, which supposedly makes it possible for representation to be provided “pro bono” (which of course is not a thing).

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

Lots of links in the OP.

Don’t rely on abstractions (query critique)

From Nathan Bransford:

Now then. Time for the Query Critique. First I’ll present the query without comment, then I’ll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to lovu_sarah, whose query is below.

Dear [agent name],

We all have things we regret in our life. Things that haunt our sleep and deprive us of peace. And all those actions we take that lead to those regrets are influenced by our surroundings, are they not? Or does the blame fall solely on us?

A BLAMELESS MURDER is a 65,000 words literary fiction novel that explores the life of a nameless girl in a nameless world in hopes of understanding why she became a killer at nineteen. It dives into her reasoning as to why she did what she did while the girl tries to guide the reader through every event in her life.

It is a conversation and it starts as if she’s talking to the reader; explaining how her whole life leads her to become that person at that specific point in time, much like The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe.

When I saw that one of your favorite authors was Carlos Ruiz Zafron I knew I had to query you. I grew up reading his work back when I was a little girl in the Dominican Republic.

I have included the first ten pages of my manuscript per your request. Please note that even though the book starts with quotation marks that are never closed in this short excerpt, it is not a typo.

Thank you so much for your time.
Sincerely,
[Signature]

Here’s how I’d boil down this query by paragraph:

  1. Abstract philosophizing
  2. A plot description that tells us absolutely nothing about the book (essentially: “there’s a woman who killed someone”), while smushing in the “nuts and bolts” of genre and word count
  3. An outdated comp
  4. Personalization (which should be the first paragraph)
  5. A confusing detail about how a quotation mark is meant to be interpreted

And…that’s about it.

The goal of a query letter is to inspire an agent to want to read your manuscript or proposal. The way to do that is to actually tell them about the book you’ve written.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Please Hold for Sterling Lord

From Publisher’s Weekly:

There was a time when the words “please hold for Sterling Lord” could be a tricky moment for an acquiring editor. How do you reject a manuscript from a relentless agent who specializes in launching bestselling authors?

When Sterling Lord died in Florida on Sept. 3, 2022—his 102nd birthday—the impact of his eponymous agency could easily be identified on the shelves of every American library and bookstore. He was best known as the agent who spent four years on the uphill battle to find a house willing to take on the risky business of publishing Jack Kerouac’s widely rejected novel On the Road. (Sterling even talked Viking up from its original $900 offer to $1,000.) From Kerouac and Ken Kesey to Doris Kearns Goodwin, Erica Jong, Gordon Parks, and the bear-centric Berenstains, his authors continue to be widely read and assigned at home and abroad.

Born in the Mississippi River town of Burlington, Iowa, at a time when you had to take a ship to get to Europe, Sterling launched the Sterling Lord Agency in 1952. It happened after he was fired from Cosmopolitan—which, years later, would be one of many magazines he’d help me and other clients break into. At the time, many major publishing houses were still owned by their founders, and the entire paperback output of the dominant publishers could be found on a single floor at Brentano’s.

I am writing at a disadvantage because I only knew Sterling for his last 54 years. (He began representing me in 1968.) Nonetheless, I think his against-all-odds story is as intriguing as many of the impressive bestselling biographies he agented, such as Ralph G. Martin’s Jennie, the story of Winston Churchill’s mother.

“I believed in Jennie, so the mound of rejections never discouraged me,” Sterling told me one afternoon as we were sitting courtside during a Knicks game time-out. “I kept telling myself that I was smarter than many editors. I may not have been smarter, but I had to believe that I was—and I had to really believe in the book—to keep on going.”

“Survival in publishing,” he said another evening, at a Hungarian restaurant overlooking San Francisco Bay, “is always a matter of timing. Whether it was a major triumph or a serious disaster, I would take only 10 minutes to moan or celebrate before moving on to the next client or the next deal.”

. . . .

He relentlessly pursued deals that became turning points in the lives of many of his authors. After On the Road made the broke Kerouac an overnight success, Sterling wired him bus fare for the ride from Florida to New York. That book has sold more than five million copies. When Stan and Jan Berenstain were not getting what Sterling thought they deserved from Random House, he secretly, without letting anyone in his own agency know, put together a $3.2 million deal with HarperCollins.

During Sterling’s nearly 70 years in the book business, there was just one surefire bestseller that never made it to the proposal stage, much less an acquisition editor’s desk: his own story. Ironically, the legendary agent who represented everyone from flat-out broke novelists to Teddy Kennedy, Howard Fast, and Jaqueline Susann did not work with a writer to publish his own biography.

Readers will never be able to learn all about how Sterling’s agency landed four of the top 10 bestsellers on a year-end New York Times list. Nor will they ever have a chance to get all the details on his four marriages, or his decision to quit Sterling Lord Literistic a few years ago to start a new agency with old clients like Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Proof of Life

PG is still around, taking the occasional breath and unable to stop being a smarty-pants when he makes blog posts about traditional publishing in all of its multi-faceted shortcomings.

Over the past several days, Casa PG has been invaded by a fast-moving flock of small offspring who are unable to prevent themselves from being irresistibly cute and displaying the exceptional intelligence they inherited from Mrs. PG.

PG hopes one and all had an enjoyable Christmas or other holiday of their choice. Extended exposure to cute offspring may stun PG’s sarcasm gene for a bit, but it will soon be pricked to attention by something stupid a publisher says or does.

And agents! How could PG forget about the schoolmarmish Miss Mannersessesses of the publishing world – dot this i just so and cross that t you missed crossing, keep your hands on your lap and your knees together and don’t forget to say pretty please whenever you disturb my professional slumbers with a phone call or letter. (Remember, no emails! Letters are required and must be in block printed form with absolutely no cursive allowed!!)

The Eighth Element

From Writer Unboxed:

[PG note: The OP is written by a long-time literary agent.)

As you can imagine, I’ve read a lot of manuscripts.  How many?  Many thousands, certainly.  Generally, they are good, just not ready.  Why not?  There are eight common lacks but the last one is the hardest to pin down.  It’s not so much a craft technique as it is a quality.

The missing quality is one that falls somewhere between insouciance and recklessness.  It has aspects of courage and authority.  It’s easier to say what it’s not.  It’s not safe.  It’s not careful.  Few writers believe themselves to be writing timidly but like I say, I’ve read a lot of manuscripts.  Most are quite readable or, looked at another way, unobjectionable.  Not that a novel should offend readers, but neither should it make few ripples in readers’ minds.

In writing fiction, the learning curve is long and the bar to leap over to print publication is high.  It’s understandable that over time many writers bend toward getting their fiction “right”.  Maybe not a slavish fit for a given market sector but at least one that will smoothly please finicky gatekeepers.  Not without art, no-no, and definitely with an original premise and solid craft but, in the reading, a product that dutifully shows high respect for everything from characters’ sensitivities to marketability.

It’s paradoxical, but the very values that would seem to make a manuscript acceptable can be the same values that produce a novel that isn’t particularly memorable.  The quality of being memorable or—let’s be ambitious—timeless, doesn’t come about by writing safe.  I don’t mean breaking rules, although there’s a lot to be said for that.  What I mean is writing without regard to “don’t”.

Timeless stories are written with high authority.  It’s authors who don’t apologize or wonder if they are worthy.  They assume that they are and not only that, they have been appointed to tell us who’s who, what’s what, and to do that in their own quirky way and if you don’t like it then go jump in a lake.  It’s as if those authors don’t care a damn who approves their novels but care like hell about the ache and joy of the human condition.

Proust, Woolf, Faulkner and Vonnegut did not write timidly.  Tolkein did not think small.  Bridget Jones, let’s be honest, is a drunk.  Neil Gaiman doesn’t give a damn if you think he’s borrowing heavily from myth or fairy tale.  Neither J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins care if you find their novels of derivative of others’ stuff.  Angie Thomas tells it like it is, so take that.  Mary Gaitskill, by no means alone, has no problem making you blush.  And then there’s that fattest of middle fingers to middle brow literature, Lolita, a jaw dropper first published in 1955.

I’m talking about fearlessness, being recklessly independent of all expectations and at the same time utterly bonded to all of us.  A lot of things get in the way of that, not just the intimidating standards of publishing—whatever those are—but authors’ inhibitions and influences.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Desperate Writer Query Template

From Electric Lit:

Esteemed Agent,

I’m seeking representation for my [300,000-word rhyming memoir novel-in-grocery-coupons famous literary graves calendar**] which is a cross between [Maid and Green Eggs and Ham / a bag of Halloween candy and that novel-in-texts you just sold / an apple watch and a mortuary pamphlet]. I was referred to you by [my cousin, who babysits your three incorr—admirably independent children / a writer you represented until you discovered his historical novel was actually The Diary of Anais Nin / Stephen King, if by referred you mean escorted off his property by security]. I thought of you for said [memoir / novel / calendar] because [I once saw someone who looked like you reading Angela’s Ashes in the Strand / you represent authors? / given the direction of publishing, I figured you’d get excited about something featuring famous authors, even dead ones]. 

Slogging away in this hair shirt they call a profession for fifteen years, I’ve racked up some impressive publishing credentials: [My work has appeared in the literary magazines Wish We Could Pay You and About To Fold and are forthcoming (I think) in Didn’t We Ghost You? and on my memaw’s PC / Last time I was querying, my prose poem “Shoot Me Now” went viral on TikTok / My Writer Affirmation Calendar sold out after Christo used the entire run to wrap a bookstore in an installation titled, “Despair”].

(Describe your memoir’s arc here. If it has no arc, use lyrics to an Adele song.) / (Describe your novel’s plot here. If it has no plot—wait, your MFA cost more than the Hope Diamond, and your novel has no plot?) / (Describe calendar images here. There’s no way you’ll be able to license those photos, but first things first.)

I look forward to hearing from you [in a few years when technology changes have rendered my manuscript file inaccessible / after I’ve given up and painstakingly published the book in a series of sand paintings / Is tomorrow good for you? I’ve canceled all my appointments and await your call].

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

What we gain from independent publishers and bookstores

From Nathan Bransford:

The antitrust trial over Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of Simon & Schuster is now in its third week. There’s a whole lot of coverage and smaller bits to chew on, and if you want a deep dive, Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch ($ link) have comprehensive coverage.

Just two of the eyebrow-raisers yesterday came when agent Andrew Wylie testified that he doesn’t do auctions, and when author Charles Duhigg asserted that authors don’t want advances higher than they can possibly earn out. (Um, yes they very much do).

But I also wanted to touch on two articles that discuss the impact on authors and the independent publishing ecosystem. Bookseller Richard Howorth argues in the NY Times that industry consolidation threatens the number of quality midlist books that get published, and Nicole Chung writes about the need for independent publishers to survive so they can nurture authors.

. . . .

It’s not personal, but it can really feel like that sometimes. Jillian Medoff talks about breaking up with her agent.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Lots of links in the OP.

The Dreaded Synopsis

From Writers Helping Writers:

Many authors would rather write a whole new novel than cram the one they’ve already written into a five-hundred-word summary. If I wanted to write a short story, I would have written one. Right?

The reason we hate writing synopses is because they’re hard. The reason they’re hard is because, more than any other tool available to us, they show us what’s wrong with the novel we’ve labored over for months, if not years.

The synopsis is the equivalent of a house inspector—that man or woman who walks around with a clipboard and goes through the house you thought you were ready to sell, pointing out all the structural issues you either didn’t know about or pretended weren’t a problem: roof damage, termites, a saggy bearing wall, you name it. You can do all the fancy writing in the world. If there’s something fundamentally wrong with your novel, it will come out in the synopsis.

            That’s why we hate them.

            That’s why most agents ask for one.

Reading a synopsis is the quickest way to know if a novel will work or not. It’s also the surest way to find out if the author knows what they’re doing when it comes to things like structure, causality, story arc and characterization—you know, those critical developmental issues you hoped wouldn’t matter.

Guess what? They do.

If your plot is anecdotal, it will show up in the synopsis. If your protagonist doesn’t have a goal that they’re actively pursuing throughout the story; if there are no stakes, a weak antagonist, a plot that’s bursting with too much superficial business and no depth—yup, the synopsis will reveal all of that.

If you, the author, are willing to see it, the synopsis will be that heart-sinking moment of truth where you can no longer deny that this house is not ready to sell, not by a long-shot. It needs help. It might even need to be razed to the ground.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Agenting Changes

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

This past week I got one of those letters. Someone wrote to me to tell me how great his agent is and what a great deal his agent got him. Not for his novel, but for his movie option.

I get “my agent is great” letters all the time, but usually they’re about book deals. If someone feels the need to write to me about how great their book deal is and how I don’t know anything about traditional publishing anymore, more power to them.

I figure someone who feels the need to write to me about this stuff is actually hearing me, and is writing to their future self. Some day, that letter will come back to haunt them.

But this one, the one with the movie deal, made me feel sad. This guy was very careful to tell me that he was indie published with his books, that the agent reached out to him because his book is so good, and the agent got him the best deal ever.

I have no idea if the agent got him the best deal ever. I do know that the option sounds weird or maybe it’s the way the guy communicated it. There are four payments involved. Until this week, I had never seen an option agreement broken into four payments, the way that a book publishing agreement is broken up. This week, I heard of two such deals.

Let me focus on the email guy first. Maybe the guy didn’t understand what he was seeing (which is likely). Maybe he misunderstands that the first “payment” is actually for the option and its term, the second “payment” will be to seal the actual deal if there is one, and the third and fourth “payments” are due and owing on things like principal photography or distribution or something.

Or maybe the guy got a new kind of option, one that might be coming out of what I’m going to write about below.

I really don’t know, because, as I said, I’m speculating. I don’t want to see his deal. I really don’t.

The reason? He’s a new writer with an agent who approached him and who got a deal that paid, in the new writer’s words, “a lot of money.”

Generally speaking, “a lot of money” in movie terms equals a major loss of rights. For all I know, this guy got tens of thousands of dollars up front…and will not be able to license any part of his book until this option ends (or, in some cases, even past that. Yes, these deals can be bad).

Why am I concerned? Because of two things that hit the trades recently.

First, the Association of American Literary Agents changed their Canon of Ethics. For those of you who don’t know what AALA is, it’s a loose organization of literary agents. Unlike many organizations, AALA has no real teeth and honestly, no one really cares about them.

I’ll bet those of you once had literary agents didn’t even know the organization existed. It used to be AAR (the Association of Authors’ Representatives) and back then, its president was the agent who embezzled from me and half the science fiction field. So excuse me if I think little of this organization, even now.

However, I’m telling you about it because the organization changed its code of ethics…ostensibly so that it can diversify its membership. Publishers Weekly says that the change came “in the wake of an anti-racism workshop and a retreat taken by the board of directors.”

If they had simply said that they were trying to diversify by bringing in younger agents (read newer agents), then the change wouldn’t be as insulting as it is. But think about this for a moment: If this was only about younger (newer) agents, then nothing would have happened after the anti-racism workshop. But the idea here, which is so very New York publishing, is that the standards had to be lowered for people of color.

. . . .

Anyway, that’s not the most head-shaking part of these so-called ethics changes. The other head-shaking part is buried in the middle of the press release.

While AALA continues to advocate for a future where commissions on royalties and advances will sustain an agent, many literary agents currently struggle to support themselves by agenting alone.

Lookie this: “agents currently struggle to support themselves by agenting alone.” Yep, that’s right. Traditional publishing deals have gotten smaller, the terms have gotten worse, almost no one earns royalties anymore, so AALA has decided that an agent is now

any individual employed by a literary agency–including members of contracts departments, accounting departments, and other teams within agencies engaged in the support of author care.

And…an “agent” can now provide “editorial services for a fee” to any writer who is not a client. If that writer becomes a client, then the agent must refund the fees. Of course, there’s no timeline on the refund. If you want to see how the AALA is negotiating this bit of garbage, look at the flowchart at the bottom of the Canon of “Ethics.”

These aren’t ethics. This is an organization that’s trying to continue to get its dues and to provide some people whose job no longer has relevance with cover.

The point that I really want you to see here, though, is this.

Agents struggle to support themselves on agenting alone.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG has mentioned this before, but will do so again.

There are no qualifications or licensing requirements for literary agents. None. Someone can walk out of prison one day and start working as a literary agent the next day.

If an agent acts unscrupulously, serving the agent’s needs and benefits at the expense of the author/client, nobody can make the person stop being an agent.

There is a remote possibility that an author could persuade law enforcement authorities in New York City investigate the agent’s behavior as a crime, but PG wouldn’t advise holding your breath while waiting for that to happen. The New York City Police Department just released crime statistics for the city which indicate that it may not be prioritizing literary agent misconduct:

Overall index crime in New York City increased by 31.1% in June 2022 compared with June 2021 (11,073 v. 8,448). Six of the seven major index-crime categories saw increases, driven by a 41.0% increase in grand larceny (4,467 v. 3,168), a 36.1% increase in robbery (1,548 v. 1,137), and a 33.8% rise in burglary (1,279 v. 956).

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

To Nail Your Memoir’s Beginning, Stop Looking in the Wrong Direction

From Jane Friedman:

You’ve been told the first fifty pages of your memoir can make or break your publishing dreams. . . . So, you’ve active-verbed the hell out of your sentences, sharpened your imagery, and made sure every period is correctly placed.

But when the queries aren’t answered, or they’re answered with an unhelpful “thank you for submitting, but it’s not right for me,” you wonder what’s missing from your manuscript.

The beginning of every memoir must hook the reader, establish the setting, and reveal the situation and stakes. Most writers work tirelessly to develop these elements. But spending all your time at the beginning of act one might mean you’re looking in the wrong direction. Instead, try studying the end of your manuscript. Your closing pages shouldn’t just reflect all you’ve learned, or the triumph you feel—they must reveal your story’s resolution.

Once you know what you’re resolving, you can establish a clear path for getting there. This is essential because most openings are revised to death in an exhaustive line-by-line edit. The tedium of this process can cause you to rush through the rest of your manuscript, resulting in a middle that sags and an ending that flags.

Even if your opening pages light up an agent’s enthusiasm, that fervor will quickly wane if the writing that follows seem like it’s not going anywhere specific. Sadly, beautiful sentences can’t hide this issue. That’s why you must know your destination, no matter how your memoir is structured.

In artfully rendered manuscripts, the opening and closing pages give the story a sense of symmetry. Screenwriter Blake Snyder . . . says, “[The opening image] sets the tone, mood, and style … and shows us a before snapshot of him or her.” The before snapshot is the narrator in full problem mode, well before they’ve figured things out. “The final image is the opposite of the opening image. It is your proof that change has occurred and that it’s real.”

. . . .

In The Glass Castle opening, Jeannette Walls avoids the homeless, dysfunctional parents she ran away from at eighteen. By the end, the entire family eats Thanksgiving together, showing that her shame has morphed into acceptance.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Or, you could format your well-written and polished memoir, hire a freelance cover designer to make a terrific cover and publish it on KDP and never worry about trying to impress a name-dropping New York agent.

And keep all the money.

The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Changing Genres

From Writer Unboxed:

You may know me as Greer Macallister, bestselling author of historical fiction, but lately, I’ve taken on another identity. I have a new book out (you may have heard of it) and as the author of Scorpica, my identity has shifted in two key respects: my name on the book jacket is G.R. Macallister, and it’s not historical fiction, but epic fantasy.

All in all, the genre shift has been a pleasure. I wrote something ambitious, complex, and satisfying, proving to myself I was capable of something entirely new. As to the less-pleasant aspects, I went in with my eyes open. I knew that putting out a new book in a new genre, different from the one in which I’ve established myself, would require flexibility and patience. Of course that’s what’s needed as an author in general, but the genre switch put extra pressure on both of those character traits, to say the least.

Do I regret changing genres after four books (while reserving the right to switch back at any time)? Not at all. But do I have advice for those thinking about making the switch? You bet.

If you’re an author with an established readership in one genre looking to publish in another, here are three things to watch out for:

Don’t underestimate the time that it takes. Maybe if you’re shifting between subgenres this might not be an issue, but in my case, making the move from writing historical fiction to writing epic fantasy wasn’t just about writing a different book. It was about learning to write a different kind of book, almost from the ground up. Reading up on current fantasy was a fun task to assign myself, but it was a task nonetheless — hours and hours of reading, to fit in among all the other reading I do for work and for fun. So that’s a bunch of time up front. Plus there’s…

You might need to shake up your team, which takes even more time. The agent who has sold all of my historical novels is fabulous and wonderful, but she doesn’t represent epic fantasy, and the publisher who published those books doesn’t really do adult fantasy either. Which meant it wasn’t just the writing itself that was different, but every other aspect of managing and selling this new book. My incredibly kind agent gave me the go-ahead to connect with a separate agent just for my fantasy work, and my agreements with both were written to accommodate the other, and it’s been a dream so far. But making that dream happen through querying and negotiation took an extra half-year on top of the writing work, and without extraordinary luck it could have been much worse. Other friends shifting genres have had to leave old agents and find new ones, or strike out on their own with self-publishing ventures, and both of those are even more time-consuming. And on top of that…

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Crave Rejection? 7 Never-Fail, 100% Guaranteed Tips for Raising your R-Score.

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Here’s some advice for those who feel they are missing out on one of the basic building blocks of a successful author’s career: Rejection.

For those who feel they are not paying their dues.

For every writer who is not receiving an adequate, soul-satisfying number of rejections, try these pro tips to help you pump up your pathetic, wimpy R-score.

1)  Embrace the Jackalope.

From the gory, surgical details of a tummy tuck to the onslaught of grammar Nazis and an attack by vicious sabertoothed cave rats, you must heed the advice of everyone in your crit group.

By all means pay attention to advice from “experts” who know almost nada about your book or your genre.

For example — the James Bond fan who wants “more action” in your sweet, sensitive romance about disabled teenagers looking for love.

Or the James Patterson reader who wants shorter chapters in your elegant, carefully-considered literary deconstruction of Finnegan’s Wake.

Be sure to give in to the devastating ego destroyers whose nasty tone and censorious delivery cause you to go to bed for a week and even contemplate suicide. They must know what they’re talking about, don’t they, these hit-and-run drive-by “authorities” who aim right for your confidence?

Heed the amateur shrinks who want to know “motivation” of every character including the guy behind the counter at Dunkin Donut who serves a Double Chocolate Donut instead of the Boston Kreme Donut your adorable but scared alien from another planet ordered.

The counter guy must be suffering trauma cuz he screwed up the order. Or is he enduring an unhealed childhood wound? Or did he just get fired from the rotten job at DD he needs to pay the rent?

And what about the adorable but scared alien? Where is his family? His parents or grandparents? Does he have siblings? If so, where are they? What happened to them? If not, why not?

To guarantee producing an unreadable mess, and sure fire instant rejection, be certain to pay attention to every comment and your dreams of infinite rejection will come true.

. . . .

2) Write the Best Horror-Thriller-Mystery Ever Created — and Send it to the Wrong Agent.

Your villain makes Hannibal Lecter look like a pussycat.

Your victims are so vulnerable, defenseless and forlorn they will make a stone weep.

The prose sparkles.

Your grammar is of such flawless perfection a revision of Strunk & White is being published at this moment to acknowledge your excellence.

The whole manuscript has been edited so scrupulously it contains not one single typo.

Your use of the Oxford comma and the activating hyphen are impeccable.

You’ve worked for years, neglected your spouse and children, let your dog go hungry and unwalked.

You’re survived without food and sleep.

The time has come at last for submission.  Which lucky agent will get first look at the best horror/thriller/mystery ever composed in Word/Pages/Scrivener?

Still determined to bulk up your wimpy stack of rejection slips? The answer is obvious. What you want is an agent who specializes in — Ta Da! — Romance.

However:

If you might just conceivably be interested in getting the best horror/thriller/mystery ever written actually published, why not do some research first?

Find out which agent(s) specializes in your genre. That agent will be up on all the latest developments in the market you’re trying to break into and will have close contacts with the editors who are looking for exactly what you write.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

How to Close the Racial Pay Gap in Publishing

From Publishers Weekly:

As an immigrant woman of color, I wouldn’t have considered negotiating my author advance (and, indeed, didn’t in 2015, when I pitched my first book without an agent). Five years later, when I went through an auction for my second book, I was lucky to have an agent represent me. But as I reflect on the process—and talk to white author peers with similar professional backgrounds as mine—I imagine that having a young woman of color represent me could also have led me to receive a lower offer than my white peers. Many of my white peers could—and did—take years off to write their books, funded by their advances alone. I wrote my manuscript in the depths of the pandemic, while managing an out-of-school three-year-old and continuing to work on my business full-time to pay the bills.

I’ve dedicated my life to creating inclusive workplaces, so facing bias and exclusion in my own career feels particularly painful. It’s no secret that the publishing industry is very white: 85% of acquisitions editors are white and nearly 90% of books published are by white authors, according to a 2020 New York Times piece. Author advances are opaque, and publishing expert Maris Kreizman says deals are made on “mostly a gut feeling.”

How much of a gut feeling? Well, in June 2020, the viral social media campaign #PublishingPaidMe revealed just how inequitable author advances can be.

L.L. McKinney, a Black woman, urged other authors to share the sizes of their advances. The results revealed staggering disparities between the advances offered for debut books by women of color authors and those by white authors.

Two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, a Black woman, tweeted she had to “wrestle” her way to a $100,000 advance after winning awards. By contrast, Chip Cheek, a white man, tweeted he received an $800,000 advance for his debut.

Advances in publishing illustrate how, like in any industry, those who are given more money are expected to perform better; they’re given the resources to succeed. These advances reflect what sort of authors publishers think are “worth” taking chances on.

. . . .

  1. We urgently need more transparency about how author advances are decided. What are the metrics used to make these decisions? What if each publisher could create a range of how they’ve paid authors in the past and use this matrix (or update it) for future decisions? This would greatly help every author of color—and their agents—come in on equal footing and advocate based on a shared understanding of how decisions are made.
  2. Each publisher must perform a regular review, using demographic data (on race and gender at the very least, and as much other data as is available), of authors acquired and the advances paid. The data doesn’t lie, and as many of my corporate clients have found, even well-meaning organizations that believe themselves to be progressive are shocked to see the racial disparities when comparing the data. It is only when more acquisitions editors face up to the existing challenges that they can meaningfully make progress.
  3. Removing negotiations altogether would create more equity. When there’s transparency in numbers, there is a better shot at bias being removed from the equation. Don’t believe me? A study in the corporate sector found hiring managers were likely to offer Black candidates lower starting salaries if they felt they were negotiating too hard. As a woman of color, I’m often expected to be grateful for what I’m offered and have been penalized for asking for more. Negotiation as a practice favors those who are already (over)represented in the industry and workforce.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Yet more evidence that traditional publishing is a racist, sexist mire that all decent people should avoid like the plague or toxic effluent or pimples or Covid.

To Everyone Who Wants Me to Read Their Writing and Tell Them What to Do

From Jane Friedman:

Every year, countless people attempting to write their first book will reach out to me directly and ask if I’ll read their work and tell them what to do next.

The request is perfectly natural, especially for those who know me in some way. I’ve spent 20+ years in the writing and publishing community, and my name gets around as an expert. Yes, I can often read something and know exactly what a writer should do.

But here’s the real superpower: I often know what writers should do without reading a single word of their work.

Here is what I say, assuming it’s someone’s first book.

Maybe your loved ones have told you to write this book, or you’ve long wanted to give voice to a story or an experience—or share your expertise. Possibly you’ve been holding onto a story idea for years and now you finally have time to realize it on the page.

But as you get started, uncertainty creeps in. It’s hard to keep moving forward, alone, as innumerable questions arise. Questions like:

  • Is this any good? Am I any good?
  • How do I know if this is worth my time?
  • Should I continue based on what I have?
  • Am I wasting my time? Does anyone care about this except for me?

You might be seeking a verdict on your effort or validation of the idea, or even permission to continue. Maybe you don’t know much or anything about writing and publishing and feel it’s better to secure guidance before making any further investment of time and energy. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you want help. Hopefully encouragement.

Here’s the tough part.

You’ve just taken the first step in a long journey. Right now, you’re likely at a delicate stage, where I could either crush your dreams or provide that encouragement.

To write, to create something, then open it up to the judgment of others, requires courage. I hope you continue, but at the same time, I have to be straight and honest that most people’s dreams of what will happen with their book do not come to fruition because they give up early in the process. At some point, the criticism (both constructive and not-constructive), along with rejection, arrives. And what so often determines success is what you do in response. Will you shut down and stop, or will you grapple with the challenge and grow?

If I were to tell you today that your project is a waste of time, would you abandon it? If so, perhaps it’s best that you did. To keep writing in the face of rejection is required of every professional and published writer I know. I can offer encouragement and tell you it’s a wholly worthwhile endeavor—and that will be true—but to achieve results that spell success (especially on a commercial level) requires more than my blessing or validation or permission. It requires an inner drive that pushes you forward no matter what feedback you receive. In the end, I believe it requires enjoyment of the writing process in and of itself—to see that as the reward.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman