Queriers’ Quirks.

chloe jasmine by damien lovegrove

There are all kinds of writers, from snooty intellectual types to quirky artsy-smartsy sorts, and everything in between. But among writers, or at least, those sitting on completed projects ready for submission, just how many different types of queriers are there?

You might be the hopeful type with a phone always handy, certain the A-List literary agent’s call is coming any minute, just like model Chloe Jasmine in the Damien Lovegrove photo above. But then, look closer at that pic and take note of the automatic beside her typewriter. Jasmine may not take rejection very well.

Fantasy writer Morgan Hazelwood’s site (morganhazelwood.com) recently took a peek at the different ways writers query in her post “The 10 Types Of Queriers” (link below). “Self-published authors get to skip the query trenches,” she writes, “but, for the rest of us, we all take different approaches to querying agents. What type of querier are you?”

Morgan Hazelwood Dot Com

Hazelwood provides a pretty accurate but still whimsical list of ten typical approaches, and any writer actively engaged in the querying process will smile (or wince) once they recognize their own tactics. Sure, Hazelwood’s poking some lighthearted fun at fellow writers, but anyone being honest will concede there’s a little of each of her types in us.

There’s the “I-Know-A-Guy” type who earnestly attends genre cons and writer events in order to hook-up with industry professionals, determined to query only agents met in person. Or “The Perfectionist”, a wannabe submitter who’ll finally get that query written after the manuscript’s next revision…which has been going on for years. Or, “The Eager NaNoWriMite” who banged out a first novel during NaNoWriMo and is already querying that same first draft, cocksure that a huge book deal awaits. “Oooh, Squirrel!” may be the best querier moniker, that writer managing an initial batch of queries, but quickly distracted by some new project before following up with more.

Since Morgan Hazelwood’s last ‘type’ is labeled “The Morgan”, she’ll understand if we assume that’s where she fits on the list (and for what it’s worth, “The Morgan” isn’t a bad type to be).

I’m not sure I could spot myself among her ten types, or at least, not precisely, more likely sharing both good and bad habits of various queriers. And the fact is, right now, C.J. Thomas is no type of querier, having decided to put the entire process on hold till things get back to normal. Well…normal-ish. My last batch of three queries went out in mid-February with one straggler sent in mid-March, just days before the ‘sheltering-in’ commenced ‘round here. None of those received a reply. In fact, the only recent response received came the first of May in reply to a January 2020 query (not a form letter, but still a no).

Any naïve notions I may have had that agents stuck at home (particularly in beleaguered Manhattan) might have time to catch up on query responses was precisely that: Woefully naïve.

I couldn’t come up with cute titles like Morgan Hazelwood did, and could only label myself as A) Patient and B) Focused on who’s selling books, not merely open to looking at my type of material. Naturally, I refer to the usual online and print resources and directories, but my ‘Bible’ has been the mystery/crime fiction reviews in Publishers Weekly, which usually list the books’ agents. Yes, I like to know which agents are open to queries. But I also want to know which agents actually sell their clients’ projects and how often. PW comes in handy when you want to see who closed deals, even in so-called genre fiction. After all, that is what this query/submission process is all about.

Things will begin to get back to normal soon enough, even if only in cautious baby steps at first. Then I’ll be querying again, perhaps sometime this Summer. I’ll reassess how I fit into Morgan Hazelwood’s list of ten types of queriers once I restart. For now, if you’re a writer, take a peek at her site and this particular post to see how you fit in. It’s a fun read.

https://morganhazelwood.com/2020/04/16/the-10-types-of-queriers/

https://morganhazelwood.com/

Write. Then, Sit Tight.

claudia schiffer camilla akrans

Blog posts tell the story: Suddenly furloughed, laid-off and otherwise out-of-a-job writers and wannabe’s aren’t wallowing in lonely isolation. They’re pounding the keyboard, even if only to fill all that newfound downtime. David Barnett notes in The Guardian, “If you’re one of those people who always said they would write a novel if only they had the time: This is your moment. As more budding writers self-isolate due to the coronavirus and finally knuckle down on their manuscripts, the publishing industry has already seen a surge in submissions”. Barnett’s 3.26.20 article, “Finally Working On That Novel As You Self-Isolate? You’re Not Alone” cites literary agents who’ve seen incoming queries nearly double and editors’ submissions triple.

Turning shelter-at-home time into productive writing time might be a slightly-silver lining to the dark and ominous clouds looming overhead. But the New York publishing world must be largely shut down and grappling with much bigger things to worry about. Meanwhile, industry expos, conventions, and trade shows have been delayed or cancelled worldwide, and writers’ workshops and events are similarly on hiatus. Bookstores are temporarily shuttered, with many unsure when – or if – they’ll reopen. The world of mid-April already feels different from late March.

So, I’m thinking this is a good time to write. Write and send to your beta readers, write and share with critique partners. In fact, write like the devil. But then, maybe sit tight on all those precious pages till things return to some semblance of normal.

Golden Gloves Typewriter Illustration copy

Is this the right time to query or submit, or is it pointless when so many have bigger things to worry about? Even once we cautiously emerge from the sheltering, logic suggests there’ll still be mounds of business for agents, editors and publishers to catch up on, an enormous book inventory backlog in the pipeline to stock still-full shelves, and stalled or cancelled P.O.’s at printers and binderies waiting to go back into production.

I’ve mentioned literary agent Janet Reid’s excellent blog here before (link below), where a 3.25.20 post noted, “While there has been a lot of talk of working from home, what I’m seeing is people worrying from home”. Reid listed some business priorities that needed to be addressed, but conceded, “Reading queries isn’t on that list”. On the other hand, she sounded more upbeat just a few days later and acknowledged that she was looking at queries, reading partials and fulls and getting on with conducting business from home. After all, what else can one do?

Christina Schmidt’s Armed With Coffee site echoed this unease with submitting as if things were still normal. Her 3.31.20 post (link also below), “Publication & Covid-19 (Continuing to f*ck things up)” acknowledged that she’d be reassessing her Spring submission agenda. Sensible scribes are used to rejection and have even grown accustomed to Normans (No Response Means A No), but right now, no response could actually mean something tragically ominous: Not merely that the agent or editor is disinterested, but much worse: That they’re simply…not…there.

So…write?

You betcha, if time allows, and for many, time is the one thing available right now. But as for queries and subs, that’s your call. Me…I’m holding off for a while. There’ll be time enough to be told no or to hear nothing at all…later.

Photo: Claudia Schiffer by Camilla Akrans

https://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/

https://armedwithcoffee.com/2020/03/31/publication-covid-19-continuing-to-fck-things-up/

NORMAN’s

Ilya Rashap

“If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.”

“Silence is golden.”

“No news is good news.”

Oh yeah? Try those on for size if you’re prowling ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Glassdoor or LinkedIn for a job. Cover letters properly personalized, applications filled out, resumes (and in my biz) portfolios/websites attached or linked. Filled with hope, you hit send, and then…

You hear…nothing. Not even a form reply…nothing. Ever.

Thankfully, I haven’t had to prowl those boards for a new job and don’t expect to need to (fingers crossed). But I’ve spent enough time on them, though only on the receiving end. I ALWAYS send “sorry, but no” emails to every applicant, personalizing a pertinent note for some, form replies sent as promptly as possible to the rest. Those typically number three or four hundred per job posting, and once topped out at just over 1,400. Since I don’t trust the popular job boards’ automated features, I do it the old-fashioned way, setting aside time to copy-n-paste emails daily till I’ve worked through the list. Tedious? Sure, but it’s just part of the job. I’ve listened to enough interviewees’ horror stories about how few employers bother to follow up at all on applications, or worse (and unbelievably) actual interviews.

It’s actually a lot like the writer’s querying and submission process: redundantly filling out online query forms or composing carefully worded individual emails, partials pasted in or attached per each agent’s or editor’s individual specs (first 5 pages, first chapter, first 50 pages, first three chapters, synopsis vs. no synopsis, or even query-only with no material, etc.), and trying desperately to come up with catchy ways to personalize each cover letter without sounding silly or sycophantic. All too often the result is just…nothing. Ever. Oh, I’ve been there, and am right now, in fact.

The most maddening part? Never knowing if the query/sub was even received, much less glanced at.

David Dubnitsky

Clearly the writing/agenting/publishing marketplace trend is transitioning to “No Reply Means A No”. I guess I’m the very last writer on earth to realize that this is a ‘NORMAN’. I assume that’s: No Reply Means A No.  (I hate being clueless.)

This would’ve have made more sense in prehistory when typed letters, photocopies, pre-printed forms, licking stamps and No. 10 envelopes or at least checking off a box on a pre-stamped BRC were the norm. But now when a grade schooler (to say nothing of an undergrad/grad school intern) needs no more than a few minutes to configure auto-responses or to streamline software, it’s hard to swallow, and just seems kind of…well, bratty.

Janet Reid Blog

I’ve mentioned literary agent Janet Reid’s excellent blog here before (link below) in an August 2019 post titled “Not Sucking Up, I Swear” (link also below). Once again, I’m not sucking up. Reid, formerly an agent at New Leaf Literary and now agenting in her own operation, ran the popular Query Shark site which has since morphed into her own blog with daily posts that range from writing/submission tips, industry insights and some random musings, all relayed with a good dose of sassy, smart-assed wordsmithing. Frankly, it’s just fun to read, even if you’re not currently querying/submitting writing projects.

Last week Reid stuck her neck out. Instead of telling writers what and what not to do, the agent asked her followers for some input, writing “I’ve been asked to contribute to a list: Things That Drive Agents Bonkers. Of course, I have a list. Of one gazillion items. But it dawned on me that y’all might have a list too, and it would be interesting to see what we have in common. So, if you have a spare moment or ten…tell me what drives you crazy during the query process.”

If I was surprised by the responses, it was only that they didn’t flood her blog platform. I mean, a chance for writers to rant about agents and querying? Keyboards should’ve been melting. I tried to add my own two cents, but it never appeared (Let’s assume that I did it wrong). While the remarks touched on a range of topics, one issue came up again and again: NORMAN’s. No Reply Means A No. For the record, that’s what my comment addressed as well.

Writers querying agents about their manuscript or eager job seekers applying for a position…they’re kind of the same thing, when you think about it. If a business (and literary agencies are businesses) solicits ‘applicants’ then it should expect to respond to them, and in a reasonably timely manner. Anything less isn’t merely discourteous. It’s unprofessional. A company’s HR department is inundated with job applicants, huge portions of those unqualified for the position? A literary agency is deluged with submissions, the majority of them unpublishable? Responding – even with generic form replies – is too time consuming or costly? Boo-hoo. It’s part of the job, no different than any other nettlesome workplace task. That’s why we call it work.

Now Reid herself is on top of responses (I got my own form rejection about a week after querying her, so I can attest to that) and endorses confirmation emails to ensure a writer knows that at least their query was received. But, reading between the lines, you have to wonder if that could change at some point in the future. After all, computers have turned everyone into a writer. Online submission eliminated some of the legwork and out-of-pocket expense. Agents and editors are deluged, and everything we read tells us that the overwhelming majority of what comes in over the digital transom is bad. Really, really bad. So, creatives are (or ought to be) ready for rejection. Frequent rejection. Sometimes harsh rejection.  And as I’ve noted before, any writer whining about a curt rejection email should compare notes with an actor, musician or dancer coming off an audition. Enduring those must take nerves of steel.

raica oliviera by fulvio maiani

Rejection is what it is. It’s part of the job, so to speak. But never hearing back at all is just not cool. It’s lazy. It’s amateurish. So it’s no surprise that it’s an issue writers often raise when they’re griping about the querying/submission process. Surely, no one expects personalized responses with critiques in all but the very most select cases. (Well, no one with a brain would.) Just a form email, a brief “thanks but no thanks” so the writer can check that agent or market off and move on to the next.

The writers among you (and I know there’s a bunch at WordPress. BlogLovin’ and Tumblr based on some followers’ names and sites) should pop over to Janet Reid’s blog for a peek. The aggravating issue of NORMAN’s – and the fact that the practice is so prevalent it even earned an acronym/nickname – is a good place to start, but I bet you’ll want to linger and snoop around more…there’s a lot to digest there. Her blog is a valuable reference and as noted above, pretty fun to read.

And if NORMAN’s drive you ballistic, feel free to rant. Do it here if you need to. Just don’t do it in an ill-advised email to an agent after a few glasses of wine in the middle of the night. Promise?

http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/08/07/not-sucking-up-i-swear/

Photos: Ilya Rashap, David Dubnitsky and Fulvio Maiani

 

 

 

 

Words & Pictures

The Brass Cupcake 2

Book titles have been on my mind lately. While doing some routine computer housekeeping to finally read, file or toss the zillion things I collect, I found myself marveling at so many retro mystery/crime fiction novel and pulp magazine story titles. Say what you want about vintage genre fiction, but those writers sure could concoct some terrific titles.

The fact is, I’d been struggling with titling my own projects, originally doing some querying with just a working title (Surprise: “The Stiletto Gumshoe”) but then fretting that the title might give the wrong impression. Considering that queries and subs often garner no more than a few seconds of a busy agent or editor’s attention – if that – did I really want to stick with a title that sounds more like a ‘mystery-lite’ novel or shopaholic mystery about a modern-day well-heeled dilettante running down clues in her Louboutins?

Sure, cover art ultimately brings a book’s title to life and telegraphs the novel’s message. But in the manuscript stage, the ‘cover art’ is 12 pt. Times New Roman type on plain white 20 lb. bond or much more likely a screen…or something even more generic keyed into online submission/query forms.

Publishers Weekly

Jim Milliott reported on the importance of book titles in last week’s Publishers Weekly: “Judging A Book By Its Title” (link below), sub-headed with, “A recent test found that titles can be more important than cover art in attracting prospective readers”. Milliott writes about a Codex Group research study presenting over 50 upcoming titles to some 4,000 participants in order to probe what piqued readers’ interest or might impact purchase decisions. Book buyers being word lovers by nature, it might come as no surprise that titles, not cover art, prompted decision making, at least according to the Codex Group study. Reading Milliott’s article further, though, I’m not so sure, particularly when he quotes an Amazon creative director, who recognizes the importance of “the interplay between the title of the book and the visuals on the cover”.

The Brass Cupcake Barye Phillips 1958

If you’re reading this and follow or visit here, you already know I’m fixated on cover art…contemporary or retro, photo or illustrated. I pondered some mystery/crime fiction titles I’ve always loved…John D. MacDonald’s The Brass Cupcake came to mind as just one particular fave, for example, and I peeked at different editions of that book, from what I think is its first release from 1950 (at the top of this post) to what may be the best known, a 1958 edition with a Barye Phillips illustration (just above) and various other editions. Each says something a little different, accurate or not.

Brass Cupcake - Montage

If you’re a published writer, you may have books on shelf with covers so beautiful they could make you weep, and others you prefer to hide in your sock drawer. Or, if you’re still looking forward to the day when your name will be emblazoned on your first book, you’ll have ample time to fret about the cover art…and little voice in what it ends up as, no doubt. And if you’re an avid reader squandering too much dough on books (like me) you know how titles and cover art have lured you in…happily, sometimes…and sometimes not.

I’m experimenting with titles right now, sending out with “Title A” vs. “Title B” to see if it matters, naturally petrified that the options are awful. “The Stiletto Gumshoe” doesn’t have the zing of The Brass Cupcake. But then, what does?

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/82381-judging-a-book-by-its-title.html

 

Funny You Should Ask.

Funny You Should Ask

No schmoozing high profile agents here, just to be clear.

Veteran literary agent Barbara Poelle of NYC’s Irene Goodman Literary Agency writes the “Funny You Should Ask” Q&A column in Writer’s Digest magazine, and has compiled 100+ writers’ questions in her 2019 book Funny You Should Ask – Mostly Serious Answers To Mostly Serious Questions About The Book Publishing Industry. This Writer’s Digest Books 200+ page trade pb, with a foreword by Holly Root of the Holly Root Literary Agency, might look like a trifle at first glance when you see it on shelf. Don’t be fooled. Poelle’s lobbing zingers in an overall smartass-but-friendly tone in most of her answers and the introductions to each of the three main sections, but the fun (and it is genuinely fun) is there to make serious, no-nonsense and sometimes downright depressing information go down easy. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” …right?

Face it: Writers aren’t special. Writing isn’t a sacred endeavor. Like all creatives – painters, photographers, dancers, sculptors, actors, musicians, etc. – writers face astronomical lottery-like odds in their effort to elevate a hobby to a vocation and a vocation to a profession. You get it. I get it. Even if we all occasionally forget it. That’s precisely why we need easy to digest books like Poelle’s Funny You Should Ask (and her column of the same name in each WD issue) to make us confront the pragmatic issues artsy-smartsy scribes so easily lose track of. If the book compiles Q&A’s from Poelle’s column, is all original material or a mix of both, I couldn’t say. And couldn’t care less. It’s not like I’m about to dig through Writer’s Digest back issues to check. But I can say that it was fun to read from front to back and really helpful in many, many spots. Any writer’s book that gets down to business about the nuts and bolts of the query/submission process and provides inside peeks into what really goes on inside literary agencies and publishers is invaluable. That’s not to say that books on craft (and Lord knows, there are a lot of them) aren’t useful. But to a degree, the craft will refine itself in the doing. But once a project’s ready to share (and if it’s really ready to share) is when the really befuddling stuff begins for most writers. Trust me: You could pick worse writing books to read, and you could certainly pick less entertaining ones.

This was the perfect pre-day-job morning coffee-in-the-car book, knocked off in three such mornings (each of which got extended a bit because I didn’t want to close the book and head to the office). Frankly, I was kind of bummed when I reached the end and got to Poelle’s backmatter, a couple dozen pages of charts and exercises. If she’d wanted to include another hundred chuckle-worthy but worth remembering replies to common writers’ questions, I’d have been all-in for it.

And yes, for the record, I did previously query Barbara Poelle at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, and quite early on (maybe too early, in hindsight, my project’s many and deep revisions coming later). I received a courteous auto-reply to confirm receipt of the sub (which I wish more agencies did) but nothing more, and we all know that in the querying process, silence isn’t golden…it’s a rejection. Oh well. Funny you should ask, but there were more than a few good Q&A’s about precisely that kind of thing in the first section of Funny You Should Ask.

Why Will No-One Publish My Novel?

Why Will No-One Publish My Novel?

Fay Weldon’s Why Will No-One Publish My Novel? A Handbook For The Rejected Writer was a library find from this past weekend, but I’ll get my own copy now to keep on shelf beside the very few other writer’s how-to books I cherish like Stephen King’s On Writing (my favorite), Lawrence Block’s Writing The Novel From Plot To Print To Pixels, Elements Of Fiction by Walter Mosely or Writing Mysteries edited by Sue Grafton.

It would’ve been easy to browse right past this little gem of a book, only 4.5” x 7” with extra-heavy carboard covers like a children’s book. But I’m so glad I spotted it. Weldon’s book is a quick read, compiling a series of essays addressing the many, many reasons a writer’s projects are rejected (or simply overlooked), including all the common mistakes writers make from manuscript through submission, while also probing publishing industry issues that inevitably work against writers. The tone’s light-hearted and chatty, particularly in the first third of the book. Weldon’s wise words will get their share of knowing nods from writers in the trenches, cruel truths relayed along with more than a few chuckles. I challenge anyone – writer or not – not to laugh at Weldon’s imaginary literary agency meeting in her sixth chapter.

Fay Weldon Books

I often forego writer’s books that I probably ought to read, in-store skimming suggesting the content’s the same ol’ stuff and not worth the money, or just as often, unsure what I’ll learn from a how-to book’s author with a skimpy resume of their own (no shortage of those among Kindle and e-books). Maybe that’s why I keep returning for re-reads with King, Block, Grafton, Mosley and a few others. Fay Weldon may not be as familiar a name in the U.S as in the UK, but she’s been at it since the 1960’s, with thirty novels to her credit along with story collections, children’s books and non-fiction titles, all those following a career as an advertising copywriter and work in serial fiction, radio and teleplays. Oh yeah…and she was made a CBE, which makes her a Knight or a Lady (not sure which, but then we did fight a revolution over here so wouldn’t have to worry about those things). Suffice to say she’s been at it a while, knows what she’s talking about, and is generous with anecdotes throughout this book.

Why Will No-One Publish My Novel – A Handbook For The Rejected Writer came out in the UK in 2018, but took a while to pop up on my library’s shelf. (Technically, a nearby library. My library only has half a dozen writer’s books, if that.) I’ll be glad when I get my own copy – this one’s a keeper.

Resolutions: None. Only An Agenda.

New Years Eve 2020

With that clock ticking closer to midnight, this duo looked more apprehensive than enthusiastic. Perhaps, like many, they failed to make a suitable list of New Year’s resolutions for 2020.

Count me among that lot.

I have no resolutions for this new decade (which I realize technically doesn’t commence until 2021), knowing from prior experience that I’d never keep them anyway. My vices are few, drinking modestly (if even that), donut shop coffee my drug of choice, reasonably thrifty, diligent in the day job, unfailingly (and happily) faithful in my relationship.

Confession: I smoke, and resolving to quit would be the very best resolution. But I know I won’t, at least not now, so why kid myself? So then…what else? Eat healthy? Exercise more? Be more charitable, kinder to strangers, start going to church?

I don’t do resolutions, but I do have an agenda for 2020.  Not so different than my 2019 agenda, with some tweaks to my writing endeavors: Table The Stiletto Gumshoe’s sequel temporarily, concluding it’s presumptuous to work on the second book of a planned series when the first hasn’t even been sold, much less agented yet. But the agenda includes a refusal to lose heart while continuing the humbling (or soul-crushing) querying process. It’s not rejections that sting. Those are fairly few and, often enough, come with genuinely encouraging remarks. It’s the non-responses that bruise some, and it seems they’ve become the industry norm. But the agenda’s full with short fiction projects for The Stiletto Gumshoe and other things, coupled with a renewed zeal to pay more attention to short fiction markets, contests and competitions, anemic or non-existent compensation aside. Keeping up with all that while aiming for some better balance of ‘real’ writing time and lazy-ass blog-hobbying time is enough of an agenda for my 2020. So, here’s hoping for a happy and productive 2020, for me and all of you!

Maybe Next Year…

Maybe Next Christmas

No, The Stiletto Gumshoe won’t be in anyone’s Christmas stocking this year, least of all mine. Perhaps I spent 2019 being naughty when I should’ve been nice. Still, I’m thinking positive thoughts for 2020, and am one of those naive types who truly believe that diligence pays off (even if I’ve been proven wrong in the past). So I know what I hope to find under my tree next year: Not baubles or bangles. Just a book, and one book in particular…

Dorothy Gets The Last Word.

Dorothy Parker Quotes - Writers Digest

Pleased as always to see a new Writer’s Digest magazine tumble out of my mail box, this one the Annual Agent Roundup issue with multiple articles and interesting dialog with literary agents about their wants, pet peeves, and more. If you’re a writer currently ‘enjoying’ the humbling querying process or about to be, I suppose it’s kind of a must-read. If you’re not, then Ericka McIntyre’s Alice Hoffman interview alone makes this WD issue worth looking for.

Writers Digest

Though I follow Writer’s Digest’s e-newsletter and blog posts via an aggregator, I confess that I don’t read every single one. Poetry? Screenwriting? Memoir? Not every thing is my thing. Blogs and e-newsletters like theirs have to please a diverse audience, after all. But you don’t even have to be a writer to get a kick out of “10 Dorothy Parker Quotes For Writers And About Writing” in the 8.20.19 edition. Not everyone’s a Parker fan, and there are still some Parker detractors out there. But count me on the fan side. Sharing a Dorothy Parker bon mot or two may not make any friends at your next writers’ coffeehouse whine-fest or score points at a university writing program’s after-class soiree, but you’ll feel a kinship with one of the writing profession’s most acerbic wits. Check it out (link below).

writersdigest dot com

https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/10-dorothy-parker-quotes-for-writers-and-about-writing

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