Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Who Owns Fictional Characters?

First off, thanks very much to the amazing Ginger Clark for her guest post yesterday -- not only is she a great agent, I think she has a future as a blogger. Also, linking to her PublishersMarketplace page reminded me that I also have a PublishersMarketplace page that I recently updated, so please check it out. It will blow your mind. (not really.) But please at least take a look, that html code doesn't write itself.

So as I'm sure you've heard by now, Dumbledore is gay. I knew I should have read those sequels!!! But here's the thing: those who have read the books tell me that he doesn't even so much as hold hands with anyone. Hmmm...

This we know: he's a bachelor (not this kind), he kind of maybe liked this other wizard dude but it's kind of ambiguous.... Oh! and JK Rowling says he is. But then, the New York Times kind of put him back in the closet, basically saying it doesn't matter.

In order to decide whether or not Dumbledore actually is gay, it opens up a bigger literary can of worms. Who gets final say on the interpretation of a character, especially when the evidence on the page is ambiguous? Does the author get final say based on her intention? Do the readers get final say based on what's there on the page? Who gets to decide?

So you tell me: who owns the characters on a page? The Author? The readers? A combination?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Guest Blog: Ginger Clark on How to Handle an Offer of Representation

After running last week's Largely Indispensible First Paragraph Contest (and, um, people are still entering paragraphs. It's over, man. Let it go.), I am now much in need of some R&R - Rest and Reconstitution-of-the-liver.

So I'm very pleased to have a guest blog post today from my esteemed colleague and fellow Curtis Brown agent Ginger Clark regarding how one should handle themselves when offered the golden ticket of representation. For more information on the genres Ginger represents, her clients, and her submissions guidelines, please visit her PublishersMarketplace page.

Thanks, Ginger!!!

Dear Nathan’s many, many readers:

Nathan very kindly said I could write an entry for his blog about handling an offer of representation. Recently, an author contacted me saying they’d been offered representation by another agency. I congratulated them, asked them a couple of questions…and things went downhill from there. I realized afterwards that perhaps this author just didn’t know how to handle a situation where one agent offers representation and there are multiple other agents considering your work.

So here is what I expect to happen when I contact an author and offer representation:

1. I expect the author will tell me "Great. I need to think about it."
2. I expect the author to ask me a lot of questions, and to do a generous amount of research about me online.
3. I expect the author will then call or email any other agents who are considering their work and let them know they have an offer of representation.
4. I expect the author will, when asked by these agents, tell them that I was the agent who offered representation.

Here’s why:

1. When you are deciding on an agent, don’t rush into the relationship. I never, ever pressure a potential client for an immediate answer. Take a day or more to think over whether you want to work with me. And if an agent is pressuring you to give you an answer that day, be wary. (If an agent ever tells you, “I need an answer today,” just say something like, “well, if you have to have an answer now, my answer is no. I don’t make major career decisions without taking a night to sleep on it.”)

2. Do your research. I have a Publishers Marketplace page, and I’m easily found on Google. Ask me as many questions as you want. If you want to talk to clients, that can be arranged. If you forget to ask me a question on the phone, you can email me later to ask.

3. This happens regularly to me, and while I grumble to myself about having to compete with other wonderful agents, I am perfectly fine with being in a multiple horse race. I'm positive I'd be the right agent for you--but I could be wrong.

4. Several times recently an author whose work I was considering told me they had an offer of representation from another agent, but then refused to tell me who the agent was. Look--I will answer almost all questions a potential client asks me; I'll chat with them at length about my experience and how I’d market the book; I've even let some authors speak to some of my clients (with my foreknowledge and permission, of course). I will be completely forthcoming with a potential client; and yet they would not do the same for me. I am immediately wary when this happens, and hesitant about working with the author further.

Further, I do have legitimate reasons for wanting to know. The first is, I want to make sure the author has not been approached by a scam artist, or a well-intentioned but incompetent agent. Secondly, I admit—I want to know who I am up against in the horse race. And thirdly, I’m probably going to have to bump some clients from the top of my reading pile in order to read work that has interest elsewhere. I want to make sure I’m putting aside work for my clients for something that really does have legitimate interest.

I’m sure most of you know this already, but in case you didn’t, I hope it helps. Really, just be professional, calm, confident, and honest.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Most Largely Indispensable First Paragraph Is...

Thank you so much to everyone who entered in and voted in the Largely Indispensable First Paragraph Challenge! Turnout was unprecedented, quality was high, and livers were destroyed. Thanks again also to May Vanderbilt for her help picking the finalists.

The people have spoken, and while the voting was extremely close, we have a winner. The author of the most largely indispensable first paragraph is....

EMILY RYAN-DAVIS. Whose last name I initially transposed when I announced the finalists (sorry about that!). Emily's winning paragraph is:

Life inside a piano isn’t all knitting cobweb sweaters and napping. It’s dangerous. Every time a clumsy student flings himself at the bench and bangs on the ivories, just to see his fingers walk across the black and whites, I face death. The action’s unpredictable. If I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time, I could lose my head.

Whew! And that concludes the Largely Indispensable First Paragraph Challenge. Please stay tuned this week as we return to our regularly scheduled blog programming.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Finalists Are... (announced in the form of a Bachelor rose ceremony)


Ladies... gentlemen... Chris Harrison...

This has been an incredible journey. I can honestly say this has been the hardest decision of my life, and it just kills me to have to decide who gets to stay... and who has to go home. I really hate to say goodbye to these amazing paragraphs, but I had to look inside my heart and find the first paragraphs I really connected with on an emotional level. Thank you to all of you for being here tonight.

(deep breath)

I only have 7 roses to give out tonight.

But first, let me discuss with the camera in a pained voice some of the things that helped me make my decision.

While I met over 600 beautiful women er, paragraphs in the course of this journey, some of them just weren't in it for the right reasons. Here are some of the things I was looking for, and a few of the reasons some of the paragraphs did not receive a rose this evening (besides the fact that some of the paragraphs had shotgun-wielding fathers).

I crave originality. When establishing a world in a first paragraph, it is so so so important to avoid cliches and sentence crutches. One easy way of telling if you're using one of these is to run a "find" in the comments section for key phrases in your paragraph. For instance, Chris, I hate to single these lovely paragraphs out but the phrase "the last thing X expected" was used five times.

Also, trust is just so important in a relationship, and I really had a lot of respect for the first paragraphs who trusted me as a reader. Some of the paragraphs who will not receive roses tonight had too many redundant words of emphasis. When they said something unexpected, they followed up with superfluous emphasis, as in "No, really." or "Literally." or "Seriously." or "I'm not talking about this, I'm talking about THIS" You have to trust the reader to recognize when something is surprising, and if you do have to qualify it, it means you probably could have written it better the first time.

Lastly, I found myself attracted to first paragraphs who didn't try too hard -- they didn't try too hard to be literary, and they weren't too chatty. A healthy middle ground is simply amazing.

(another dramatic pause -- have I mentioned the candles??)

The first rose.... goes to MAY VANDERBILT.

Let me tell you -- it took hours and hours to go through the entrants to pick finalists, and I seriously cannot thank May enough for her help. For the love of all things Bachelor, please subscribe to Good Girl Lit, buy THE BOOK OF JANE, and express your appreciation to May -- this was a tremendous task, and the mere thought of trying to choose finalists without May gives me hives. Not that I get hives. Moving on.

Now for the finalists in the Largely Indispensible First Paragraph Challenge...


The second rose.... goes to Sophie W.:

Oh no, it's some kind of infestation, Rosemary thought, prodding the ground with her boot. Next to the barn were several fist-sized holes, just big enough for rats, or worse, imps. She hated imps. They were always getting into the larder and causing a fuss.

The third rose.... goes to eric:

There’s this girl I’ve never met that I know everything in the world about. Well, most everything. Not the big stuff, I guess. Like what she prayed about when she would cry at her bedside or whether she really believed those prayers might get answered. And I never knew all of the reasons for the crazy shit she did, but hey, who really does? I did know other stuff though. The real freaky-deaky shit. Like how she would crack open her father’s disposable razors with a pair of pliers she kept stashed behind her dresser and how she’d slice herself up. Sometimes I think she left her window blinds open that way just so somebody, anybody, me--a guy she never met--would know. Not that she was some kind of attention whore. Just about everybody is some kind of attention whore. Not Scissors, though. And I could testify in court to that, since, I’m like, some kind of authority on the girl.

The fourth rose.... goes to CC:

Brooklyn didn't know very much about me. Actually, the girl knew surprisingly little, which was exactly what I needed in a friend. She didn't ask intrusive questions and I didn't have to lie or have my heart pound while I searched for acceptable answers. She wasn't into meaningful conversation and heartfelt talks. She was light, snappy, and never depressed. And most importantly, she wasn't my responsibility.

The fifth rose.... goes to Emily Ryan-Davis:

Life inside a piano isn’t all knitting cobweb sweaters and napping. It’s dangerous. Every time a clumsy student flings himself at the bench and bangs on the ivories, just to see his fingers walk across the black and whites, I face death. The action’s unpredictable. If I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time, I could lose my head.

The sixth rose.... goes to Aden:

He was short and skinny, shorter than the others, and never wore a shirt when he ran. His thin arms flailed as he kept ahead of us and we all wondered how. He was so fast. But mostly we watched the bouncing scars on his back and thought about how he got them. We called him the Wizard. It was because of his hair, wild black mass with a white shock hanging in the front. That’s how I thought of him. The Wizard. I wish I knew what names they had given him but I never asked. Between us, there was an unspoken rule: everything would remain unspoken.

Chris Harrison: "Paragraphs, Bachelor... this is the final rose this evening."

The last and final rose.... goes to Regan:

The great flaw in the system was that some of the Children remembered what it felt like when they were taken. It was impossible to tell who would remember--temperament, age, gender, none of them seemed to matter. The flaw persisted despite all of the technicians' attempts to eradicate it. In rare cases a Child, newly imprinted, would awaken at odd hours of the night, crying for reasons she couldn't explain or shaking with a nameless dread and a desperate feeling that something wasn't right.

Chris Harrison: "Paragraphs, Bachelor.... If you did not receive a rose this evening, please take a moment.. and say your goodbyes."

IF YOU RECEIVED A ROSE TONIGHT: please e-mail me at -- you are entitled to a query critique. I know some of you don't need a query critique because you're all agented and everything, but we'll figure something to properly reward your awesomeness so e-mail me anyway.

Now is the time for voting. Here are the procedures:

In the comments section of THIS POST, please vote for your favorite paragraph. Anonymous votes will not be counted, so please either sign in to Blogger or use your real name. Please do not openly campaign for yourself or others on the Internet or via e-mail (this is a meritocracy), and irregular voting activity will be monitored and mercilessly punished.

Thank you so much to everyone who entered -- I really appreciate that everyone put themselves out there by entering, the response was seriously overwhelming. And trust me, it was ridiculously difficult to pick finalists -- there were many close calls and tough decisions.

What an amazing journey.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

LIFPC Update #5 (also some query advice re: ignoring guidelines)

Lainey is right, we've not yet hit 700 entries so my resolve should not be crumbling, particularly after I expressed so much confidence that I could handle a billion.

It's just... I mean... Have you seen the....

But no matter. Please continue to enter!! And sure, tell your friends. Because I'm crazy. But please note that the deadline for entering is 5:00 PM Pacific Time. Then it will be time for the bourbon I mean judging. Or maybe both. Preferably both. Definitely both.

And I cannot thank May Vanderbilt from Good Girl Lit enough for helping me judge the entries. Please buy her books!

Now then. Due to the contest, this week has been light on ye olde publishing advice, and I thought I would offer some query advice to balance out the contest.

Lately I have been receiving a solid number of queries who mention my blog, which is great, because a personalized query increases your chances of a partial or full manuscript request by about 7,000 percent (and not just with me -- this goes for any agent). But then a good portion of these individuals then proceed to ignore nearly all of my submission guidelines and tips on how to write a good query letter.

Let me assure you that I do not expect you to wade through all 200 blog posts before you query me, and, for instance, a rhetorical question at the beginning of your query won't doom your chances (it will merely cause me to shake my fist and yell, "Cursed rhetorical questions, I WILL DEFEAT YOU YET!" before I read on). But some people will even go so far and tell me, "I know you like shorter query letters but I can't do that so here's a really long one." Hmm...

By no means do I expect you to read this blog like your life as an author depends on it, and you should take everything I say with a heaping grain of salt. But at the same time, I do not host this blog for my health (if anything, maintaining it is detrimental to my health and personal hygiene). If you mention the blog in your query, there's a certain level of responsibility that goes along with it in order for you to receive the accompanying increase-in-partial-requesting-odds.

So before you mention the blog in a query, please please please, at the very least read the "Essential" posts on the right hand side of the blog, and you ignore the Good Query Letters and Query Critiques at your peril.

And now back to the contest!

LIFPC Update #4


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

LIFPC Update #3: Come for the Contest, Stay for the The Hills References (er, I mean, stay for the publishing advice)

You may be surprised and/or heartened to know that I am still completely ready for the challenge of choosing finalists out of the, um, lots of entries in the Largely Indispensable First Paragraph Challenge. I'll have you know I have only broken down in tears once in the last few days (that was when I woke up to 47 e-mails and a corresponding number of new entries). But then I remembered that we're not even a close to a billion entries! 500? Pshaw! I've done worse.

Meanwhile, May Vanderbilt of Good Girl Lit has not yet threatened to back out of judging the contest (I think that may have something to do with the fact that she apparently hasn't checked the number of entries). She wrote me this morning:

"I'm getting so excited about judging the first paragraph contest. You're still giving me a bottle of bourbon for helping you, right? Do you think you should pass along that anyone using the words "plethora" or "veritable cornucopia" will automatically shoot to the top of my list? Also please tell the entrants that I have a big thing for unique adverbs like coquettishly, quaintly, and pallidly. Oh, and do I get the bourbon after services are rendered...or during the judging?"

Shhh... let's not tell her how many entries there are until after I've given her bourbon. A veritable cornucopia of bourbon.

Please continue to enter, and remember to enter in the comments section of the original post.

So as a result of the contest there are lots of new faces around these parts, and I hope you will pull up a chair and stay awhile. The regular commenters are very friendly, and they don't even mind when I talk about The Hills (Heidi to Spencer this week: "It's called a job, you should try it sometime." DIS.) when I'm supposed to be giving publishing advice. Please click around the archives, subscribe, and stick around!

Remember, you have until Thursday night to enter! Thanks everybody!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

LIFPC Update #2

To answer your questions: yes, I still prefer bourbon, and no, Captain Morgan are not corporate sponsors (more like corporate enablers). Hooray for the LIFPC!

And now's the part of the Largely Indisipensible First Paragraph Challenge where I puff out my chest and act like I'm totally ready for the task of selecting a winner from the 260... er, 261... er, 262... entries and that I am totally content and serene and not at all scared. Mostly. Ok, not really.

Announcement time!! We have our first rule I mean guideline change: you now have until Thursday night to get your entries in. Why am I giving you an extra full day? I feel no pain!! (also I have plans on Wednesday). So remember: you have until Thursday night. Spread the word. Nominees will be announced on Friday and the winner will still be announced on Monday.

Please continue to enter if you haven't already, I actually am having a great time with this. Let's see who is the most largely indispensible of them all!

Monday, October 22, 2007

LIFPC Update #1

Me at 8:36 Pacific Time.

The Largely Indispensable First Paragraph Challenge


After the deluge I mean success of the Stupendously Ultimate First Line Challenge, and after seeing so many wonderful first lines, I couldn't help but wonder -- what came next??

Well. Now's your chance to fire off more than just a sentence. This week's contest is THE LARGELY INDISPENSABLE FIRST PARAGRAPH CHALLENGE!! (aka the sensation that's sweeping the nation) Who can write the best opening to a book EVER?

The guidelines (subject to change upon a whim):

1) All may participate. First paragraphs can be from your work in progress or one you made up solely for the purposes of the challenge. Your choice. Please limit yourself to three (3) entries.

2) Leave your first paragraph in the comments section. Paragraphs stretching on and on into infinity will be judged, well, not necessarily with impunity but definitely with hearty skepticism.

3) Entries may be made between now and Wednesday evening Pacific time. On Thursday nominees will be announced and voting will commence, and the winner will be announced on Monday.

4) After the fantastically generous help of Anne Dayton in the SUFLC, I've enlisted the other half of Good Girl Lit, May Vanderbilt, to help me judge this week's contest. (Because Good Girls make good judges.)

5) Spreading the word about the challenge by means of the Internet is encouraged. Let's make this one the most largely indispensible ever. 700 entries? 10,000? A BILLION? Bring it!! I'm ready.

6) Oh yes, and the prizes. The winner will receive a partial mansucript critique from yours truly and a copy of one of my client's books (your choice!). Runners-up will win, as always, my everlasting admiration and the satisfaction of a job well done. Oh, and a query critique as well. (yes, prizes for the runners-up! I've gone soft in my old age.)

Annnd that should cover it! Please keep checking back because new rules may be announced without notice.

Good luck! Only one paragraph can win. Who will it be?

Friday, October 19, 2007

This Week in Publishing 10/19/07

First, before we get to this week's news and notes, the Sherlock Holmeses of the blogosphere might have noticed that I added labels to all of my previous blog posts, so if you want to, say, see posts about "query letters" or you want to easily see "query critiques" you'll be able to do that. And of course, this blog being what it is, I also included labels for "America's Next Top Model," "Cormac McCarthy," "monkeys" and "The Hills." Which is kind of embarassing, really, especially since I ended up tagging posts with "The Hills", um, 23 times.

Annnnnnnnd speaking of The Hills, Spencer gave an extremely hilarious interview with People where he 1) stated he wants to be a billionaire by 30 (I think should patent his homeboy phone), 2) called Heidi "an angel, and 3) says it's cooler to be him than Orlando Bloom because Orlando is just famous for "being some pirate." Words. They desert me. Speechless.

Meanwhile, in book-related news, Christopher Hitchens wrote an article in Slate in praise of the Nobel Prize committee's choice of Doris Lessing, marking the first time Mr. Hitchens has agreed with something in over 25 years.

And in other huge award news, the Man Booker prize went to dark horse THE GATHERING by Anne Enright, which is described as "exhiliratingly bleak." And haven't you heard?? "Exhiliratingly bleak" is the new "uplifting and inspiring." Hooray for 2007!! We're all going to die.

Via Shelf Awareness, ABC News has a somewhat hilarious article on the most-stolen books at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I guess if your book is stolen it means more people will buy it. Assuming they haven't already stolen it. Wait, I'm confused.

And finally, Jonathan Lyons has some fantastically indispensible advice if you hope to get anywhere in publishing: BE NICE TO ASSISTANTS. Whatever you do, do not be rude to them, do not call them secretaries, and do not make fun of them for being underpaid. Unless you want your manuscript to end up in the special slush pile called the "trash can."

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

More on Writing Series

This is a sequel post! Get it? Sequel? Oh, I slay myself.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I've blogged previously about how to phrase it in the query when you want to write a book that you intend to be the first in a series (short version: you only kinda sorta mention that it could maybe possibly be turned into a sequel).

But I haven't actually blogged about whether an unpublished author should set out to write a series in the first place. My opinion? You shouldn't.

Yes, series are popular, especially in fantasy and other genre fiction, yes, people love to read and write them. But here's the thing: getting a first novel published is really, really difficult. And getting a second novel published can be even more difficult. You shouldn't be saving your best ideas for the third, fifth, or seventh book in an unpublished series: when you're starting out you should go for broke with that one novel, throwing in everything including the kitchen sink, and making that one novel as stellar as possible. Sure, leave a few threads dangling if you want, leave open the possibility of revisiting the characters and the world, but the novel should be completely self-contained and satisfying on its own.

If the novel is successful in a big way or the publisher that buys it wants it to be more? Then you talk to your agent and editor and decide amongst yourselves if you're going to keep going with it or go into new territory. Or heck, maybe then you can map out a five book epic if your publisher is excited about the idea.

But if you go for broke and can't find a taker for that first novel: Start a new one. Do not write a sequel. Unless it's just for fun. Agents are not going to spring for the sequel to an unpublished novel.

Now, I do want to make a distinction here between series with a serial plot where one book depends upon the other and series that are set in the same world with the same characters but feature a stand-alone plot. If you wanted to write a new stand-alone novel set in the same world, that I could understand, and when querying you just treat it like a first novel and don't even mention that it's the second in a series to an agent until you've already hooked them.

But I really think that most times it's very important to leave a world and characters you love behind and start fresh. Who says you can't create another world that's better than the first?

I actually secretly think (I guess it's not a secret anymore) that this is a fairly good distinction between professional writers and for-fun writers. Professional writers are RUTHLESS with their own worlds and work. They will walk away from something or delete 150 pages faster than you can say Justin Bobby, and half the time they won't even really sweat it (the other half of the time they'll start the drinking and wonder why in the world anyone thinks writing is fun). Professional writers press the delete button because know they can do better. For-fun writers linger and linger in the same world or with the same characters and can't bear to start a new world or delete anything. And unless you press that delete button or start fresh or create a new world it's impossible to get better.

So if you don't sell a novel? Move on. Write something new and something better.

I will end with a major CAVEAT ALERT that I'm sure there are all sorts of first time novelists who found great success with series and are exceptions and you can probably name some brand name authors who broke these "rules" and I can think of a few off the top of my head without even trying hard. But whenever I'm offering general advice, it's all about odds -- your best odds are with a self-contained first novel, and when you're facing long odds to begin with, I think it's smart to avoid anything that makes you even more of an underdog.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Series or Stand-alone?

In lieu of a snarky intro about last night's television (since Tuesday night TV is dead to me and I went and had Burmese food instead), I will instead provide you with this teaser:

Next week? Contest week.

Details are still being formulated by the elves I lock in the basement to concoct blog ideas (look, it's not slave labor if they're ELVES -- just ask Santa), but there will be a contest and it will either be the greatest contest in the history of the blog or it will be the second or third greatest contest in the history of the blog. I know I'm excited. Anyway...


But since it's still this week, we have a You Tell Me:

I've blogged previously about the protocol for mentioning that the novel you're querying is actually the first in a seven book series, and my advice stands: casually drop at the end that the novel could be expanded into a series but never imply that it has to be. Flexibility, my friends.

But all the same: series are hot right now. Publishers want series, booksellers want series... heck, the world wants a series (and how the Colorado freaking Rockies ended up in said series is beyond me). This does not mean you should necessarily go and write a five book series if you're an unpublished author since your best odds are being flexible with that all-important first book, but there seems to be somewhat of a trend in favor of series at the moment.

So You Tell Me: do you like reading series? Or do you prefer to finish a book and move on to a different world? Do you like sticking with the same characters as they tackle new challenges or do you prefer to leave them and find new ones?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Query Critique: Spot the Plot

This blog post is dedicated to the fraternity brothers of Pi Kappa Alpha of Columbia University, who, when they heard that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was going to be speaking across from their frathouse, contemplated making a banner that read, "Heidi and Spencer are the real issue."

Although they did not actually make the banner and went with the more cerebral "Ahmadinejad is NOT a baller," I salute them nevertheless.

It's been a while since I've done a query critique, and I'd like to remind everyone that if I pass on your project and you would like to offer up your query for some anonymous and (hopefully) polite critiquing, please send a follow-up e-mail. Unfortunately I can't critique all queries, but if I feel it would be helpful to blog readers to do so I will, uh, do so.

And please remember to be exceedingly polite to the author in the comments section, or I shall enlist Pi Kappa Alpha to make a banner that mocks you, and trust me, you WILL feel shamed and humiliated. Or you'll be made President of Iran.

Without further ado, I will first print the query in its entirety and then respond with my comments:


When Emo-Goth teen Rhiannon Joy Vorhies is forced to move from the hustle-and-bustle of the city to her grandmother’s house in the countryside following her father’s death, she thinks her own life may well have come to an end.

She is angry, depressed, and not looking to make friends with a bunch of hicks—or with her grandmother’s God, either. Through counseling, letters to her father, and many prayers offered up by Gram, R.J. learns there’s more to life than just living in the darkness that has been consuming her. Just when R.J. thinks her life is over, she discovers she's been given a brand-new one. The 57,000 words of my often poignant, always quirky young adult novel JOY IN THE DARKNESS follow R.J.'s journey out of the darkness and into the light.

I am a former newspaper reporter and personal columnist with a local daily newspaper. During my five years at The Shelbyville News, I won a Hoosier State Press Association award for Best Profile Feature. Since that time, my personal pro-life testimony was published in the Spring/Summer 2006 issue of At the Center; and my short story, “Lake Effect”, finished in the top 18 in the 2007 Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition.

I chose to submit this novel for your consideration after I saw Emily Conrad’s query letter for THE BOY IN THE BASEMENT on your very informative and amusing blog, to which I now subscribe. Conrad’s premise is similar to my writing in that it focuses on a grieving teen girl as she learns how Christianity fits into real life. Upon your request, I am prepared to send a partial or the complete manuscript.

Thank you in advance for your time and for considering representation of my work. I look forward to hearing from you.


This query gets off to a good start, and I think there's a great hook at the beginning -- Emo-Goth kid moving to the country after sad event. Good start. I also think the author handles the personalization well -- comparing their work in a positive way to something I liked. However, I'm afraid what made me ultimately decide to pass on this query was the second paragraph -- I just didn't get a sense of the plot.

One very tricky thing about writing queries is that because it's so difficult to distill a story into a few lines, it's tempting to resort to generalities and vague catch-alls in order to try and capture the story. But unfortunately, rather than giving a sense of the whole story, this has the opposite effect of making the story sound generic. So for instance, R.J. "learns that there's more to life than living in the darkness" and when she thinks her life is over "she discovers she's been given a brand-new one."

How does she do this? I suspect that's the really interesting part of the story, but the author doesn't highlight it apart from the counseling, letters and prayers, which doesn't really constitute a plot, and thus I'm only left with a sketch. When you combine the vagueness with some slightly awkward phrasing (I got stuck on "her grandmother's God" -- her grandmother has her own God?), I'm afraid the query just didn't end up standing out for me even though I really like the premise. With some more specificity and some more key details? Who knows, I might have felt differently.

It's so important to let some key specific details illustrate what you're leaving out.

Also, one final note: the author highlights a pro-life article in a journal, and while yes, this is a publishing credit, I would really try to avoid politics in your query when it doesn't have a direct bearing on your work, particularly on hot-button issues. Why give someone who disagrees with you a reason to hit the reject button? And this goes for liberals, conservatives, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Thanks very much to the author for sharing!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Before You Add Random Agents To Your Mailing List...

I was all set to do a real live blog post today when, for reasons known only to PG&E, tech support, and the Internet gods, my web connection went out for most of the day and thus I am now aggressively clearing out my Inbox. Hellooooo Monday!

So instead of a blog post in which I solve the global warming issue while mediating the Spencer/Heidi and Lauren Conrad feud with one hand tied around my back, I'm afraid I'll have to, well, quickly complain about something and call it a blog post.

And here I had such high hopes for the day...

Anyway, individuals I do not know have lately thought it a good idea to add me to their e-mail announcement lists, and so I am very regularly receiving e-mails about articles appearing in magazines and am basically updated whenever these individuals breathe in the direction of an online lit journal.

People. Look. My Inbox sees more action than a fish at a polar bear convention. I don't need any more e-mails than I already receive.

If I know you, yes, absolutely, I want to hear about what you're up to, send those announcements along and I appreciate it. If, however, you're adding agents to your spam I mean mailing list willy-nilly, just remember this: no one has ever spammed their way to representation.

Also, if you're thinking of calling an agent, Jonathan Lyons has some thoughts for you.

Enjoy the Monday and back tomorrow with, well, something I hope!

Friday, October 12, 2007

This Week in Publishing 10/12/07

This!! weekinpublishing.

This was the "huge awards announced" publishing week, and thanks to mkcbunny for being the very first to tell me that Cormac McCar.. I mean Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Congratulations to Ms. Lessing, who is now 10 million Swedish crowns richer. That's a whole lot of meatballs and cheap-but-functional furniture!! (yay Swedish stereotypes! Don't hit me with your salted fish!) And due to the wonders of the Internet and aggressive journalism we can see her extremely awesome reaction upon first being told the news (thanks to GalleyCat for the heads up)!!

Meanwhile, Al Gore, author of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH and THE ASSAULT ON REASON (I think he might have been a politician or something too) won the Nobel Peace Prize. We don't, sadly, have video of him saying "Oh Christ" when he heard the news, but even still I don't think he'd be able to top Ms. Lessing for sheer hilarious deadpannery.

In other awards news, the National Book Award shortlist was announced. Congratulations to all the shortlistees!

In agent advice news, Janet Reid at FinePrint would like you to name your files something, you know, LOGICAL when you electronically submit them. And Kim Lionetti at BookEnds wants you to watch Friday Night Lights (and join the lively TV discussion in the comments section!).

The Washington Post has started a new book blog called Short Stack, which is poised to throw down with New York Times book blog Paper Cuts. They haven't actually gotten in a fight yet, but let's face it folks, this situation is as incendiary as two librarians quietly arguing over Dewey or LOC book classification. Stay tuned. It could get ugly.

And finally, Stephen Colbert has drafted a letter to Oprah congratulating her on being selected to promote his new book I AM AMERICA (AND SO CAN YOU!) on her bookclub. You can sign the petition to support Colbert's unilateral bid to be on Oprah here.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Talking to Yourself

I have talked myself into many things. For instance, in the Spring of 1998 I talked myself into the idea of seeing "Spice World," the pseudo-documentary about the Spice Girls. And then afterwards I talked myself into thinking it actually wasn't all that bad. And then, perhaps most impressively of all, I talked myself into not being embarrassed about paying to see it (this took some doing).

I tell you this because when you're an agent who so badly want to discover new authors and sell books and when you are reading thousands of queries in search of new projects, it's very very very tempting to talk yourself into a project from a new author. If you squint right, a whole bunch of projects can sort of touch on the same chord as that other project that kind of hit this other nerve as this other project that enjoyed so much success.

But every now and then, a project comes along through the Discovery Pile (I have to pay Edward Necarsulmer IV a dollar every time I use that phrase) that is just so good and such an absolute no-brainer that it reminds you what it feels like when you have something that works. You don't even have to think about whether it's good or whether you want to rep it or whether it will sell, you just know.

And it always reminds me that if you have to talk yourself into something it means it isn't right. Especially if it's a movie about a British girl group.

SPICE UP YOUR LIFE! People of the world! Spice up your life! Every boy every girl!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Who Is Your Favorite Author?

We've covered a lot of ground on the weekly You Tell Me. We've talked about the future of e-books, whether reviews matter, how you like to write, and whether Justin Bobby will someday find it in his heart to forgive Lo for calling him Justin Bobby (ok, well, we didn't talk about that one, but only because I restrained myself. Which wasn't easy.)

So, now that the blog is back (no, really this time), I thought I would ask quite possibly the hardest, most difficult, most agonizing You Tell Me OF ALL TIME.

Brace yourself. Are you ready? It's going to be tough. I bet you're dying to know what the question is going to be. Oh, er, I guess you already know what I'm going to ask because of the subject line. Curse you, subject line!!! Curse you!!!! Ahem.

So You Tell Me: Who is your favorite author of all time? Whose body of work do you wish was yours? Who makes you throw away the pen because you could never hope to write as well so you might as well just give up (only to pick it up again because writing is kinda fun)? And remember, you can only pick one!

My favorite novel is MOBY DICK, but when we're talking body of work, as much as I love THE CONFIDENCE MAN and TYPEE, I'd have to go with William Faulkner (sorry, Ghost of Herman Melville! You can stop haunting me now! You were on some boats, I get it!).

What about you?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I'm Back! (also swamped)

Ah, San Francisco. How I missed thee. Let me count the ways. Your briny ocean smell. Your temperate climate and fog. Your vastly underappreciated donuts (the bagels of San Francisco). Your elections between the liberal candidate and the more liberal candidate! Your residents, who are a bit more fashionable than some places but generally are unconcerned with their appearances!! Sigh.

Yes, I'm back. And while I know it's been long since I've been able to get it together to write a full post, I'm finally going to be able to together to write a proper post... well, not today.

But soon.

I think.

Friday, October 5, 2007

This Week in Publishing 10/5/07


After a week of lunches, meetings, drinks, subway and taxi rides, a Brooklyn reunion, and lots of "Wow, that's new!"s I just had my New York bagel. My trip is complete. Well, I still have to brave the Port Authority bus terminal. Cross your fingers for me.

Also this week: there was publishing news!

After a week of meetings where I said things like, "Wait, so your imprint is changing its identity how?", let me tell you: keeping imprints straight is a full time job. Luckily Jessica Faust at BookEnds gave a great breakdown this week on how it all works.

In other agent blog news, Jonathan Lyons provides a very helpful, succinct summary of what you should include in your author bio. He doesn't mention that you probably shouldn't tell your prospective about the time you had worms, but that's my only addition to his list.

Friend o' the blog John Elder Robison will debut at #13 on the NY Times bestseller list, so congrats! And we can all say we knew him when. Well, I met him when he was an author with a highly anticipated forthcoming book that was the subject of a heated auction, but hey -- now he's a real live bestseller.

As discussed by Maya Reynolds and others (and thanks to Marti for giving me a heads up), Amazon is getting into the contest game as they are looking for the next Breakthrough Author. The press release tells us that the winner gets a publishing contract with Penguin, promotional support from Amazon, and everyone who enters is eligible to have their novel self-published. Of course, everyone in the entire world is eligible to have their novel self-published, but somehow that didn't make the press release.

And finally, I haven't yet blogged about the new season of the Bachelor, which is quite an omission given that Bachelor host Chris Harrison tells us repeatedly that he is THE SEXIEST BACHELOR EVER, and someone in the first episode thought it was a good idea to immediately show THE SEXIEST BACHELOR EVER her webbed feet. But if you are truly needing your Bachelor fix, definitely check out my friend Holly's awesome blog, which, full disclosure, features e-mails we sent back and forth during the premiere (viewer discretion advised -- we were e-mailing about THE BACHELOR after all), but which also includes Holly's top five things said to the Bach in the first episode.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Waiting for the Next Big Thing

Hello all! I know we'd normally have a You Tell Me on Wednesday, but then the subject line would have been something along the lines of You Tell Me How You Like to Unwind After a Crazy Week of Lunches and Meetings, and, well, I didn't know if that would be the most useful thread.

SO. Instead I thought I would generalize a bunch of separate conversations I've had and provide a vague "state of NYC editors" message. Tremendously helpful, I know.

Basically what I'm hearing from editors here is that everyone is sort of looking around wondering what the Next Big Thing is going to be. It's been a while since THE DA VINCI CODE and THE LOVELY BONES and Harry Potter is done. The people who you'd expect to sell a bazillion copies are selling a bazillion copies, but there hasn't been a megahit breakout in a while and I think people are playing the guessing game on who/what that is going to be.

There's a lot of anticipation for the Justin Cronin books and everyone I know who's read THE BRIEF, WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO is raving (I unfortunately left it on my nightstand in SF). But what is going to really break out in a major way? Not sure!

And that's the vague, generalized message that I've gotten. I have to say this week has been so interesting and it's been wonderful to see old friends and colleagues and meet new editors and pitch projects and have lunches and meetings and just wander around thinking, "Wow, I used to live here."

But if you have any tips on how to unwind from an incredibly busy week..... I'm going to need them.

Monday, October 1, 2007

I Heart NY

Yes, I am here, and yes, it is great to be back. Everything is pretty much as I left it, although no one consulted me about the brand spanking new N trains -- I mean, don't get me wrong, I absolutely would have said it was a great idea, but it might have been nice to at least have been ASKED if I thought it was a good idea so that at least I knew NYC was thinking about me, but I guess NYC has just moved on from our two year relationship, and that's sort of hard. NYC, you're supposed to PINE for me, not act like there are seven million other fish in the sea!!! Sigh.

But it's so great to catch up with old friends and my amazing cross-country co-workers, and I'm just so happy to be here. Of course, the next car alarm that wakes me up in the middle of the night might be the one that sends me into a New York-style rage, but hey -- that would be fun too.

So thanks to NYC for welcoming me back with open arms. You look good. No, I mean it, really, you look great. Oh, this old thing? Gee. Nice of you to notice. Sigh. It really is good to be back.

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