Sunday, September 30, 2012

10 Queries in 10 Tweets recap

I just did a stirring round of 10 Queries in 10 Tweets (this meme shamelessly stolen from the brilliant Sara Megibow) where I go through the slush pile and tweet my reaction - what the category is, if I am passing or requesting, and why.

I don't do this in "real time" exactly, so it is pointless to try and figure out if I'm talking about you specifically. (I'm not.) I sometimes conflate multiple queries and I do NOT quote directly from query letters, and if there is a point to be made that would require a quote, I invent one to prove the point. I'm not interested in shaming any writers or being snarky or making people feel personally "dissed" -- the point of the exercise is to see the general tenor of the slush pile, the ratio of requests to passes (and the amount of it that's nothing I rep, etc.) I try to be helpful. And it is just MY perspective, I cannot say what any other agents' reactions would be to the exact same query. All that said, here are my takeaways:

* I knew this already, but now it is confirmed: At least half my slush pile is stuff I don't represent or it doesn't follow query guidelines. This is a waste of my time and your own.

* It's been said before, but seriously, if you don't follow query guidelines, or you write a messy letter, you're only hurting yourself. I don't ask for much... what's the problem? Pick one agent at the agency. Put Query in the subject line. Query and first 10 pages in the body of the email. Still, many people don't paste pages in, even though we specifically ask for them. A lot of that is forgetfulness, I reckon, and I realize everyone makes mistakes. Same goes for typos - one, OK sure. More than that? Come on. This is possibly one of the more important emails you can write. Double check spelling, grammar, agent name, and that you've followed guidelines before pressing send!

* Every day I have at least one querier who makes a point of mentioning that they will not share their work unless I reach out and contact them. I guess it's like the writers version of Stranger Danger? They are afraid random agents are going to ... steal their ideas? Or something? This is my best guess. But I don't have the time or inclination to chase after you. And if you're that unclear about how publishing works, I'm afraid we probably won't be a great fit for each other anyway. I can't assess your work if you don't show it to me.

* Of the viable queries that are left, 90% are YA. The thing is, I already represent lots of amazing YA books. This means I am not "hungry" for YA and I am VERY picky. I tend to go through these teen queries very quickly and am less inclined to give a second read or request a full unless it is very much up my alley or something extremely fresh that I've not seen before. It's just chemistry, baby, you know it when you read it. (But to start: GREAT VOICE and AWESOME PREMISE, along with some combo of smarts, wit, tension, high stakes, emotion, terrific writing? Likely to get my attention.) There's a glut, which means YA queries have to really spark, or they aren't going to be requested. Seriously. In fact, I don't just want a spark, I want FIREWORKS.

* Conversely, because I get relatively few Middle Grade queries (and because I really WANT MG) - I tend to consider each MG extra-favorably. These queries very often end up in my "think about" file for a closer and more thoughtful read, and are more likely to end up as full requests. (That doesn't mean I'm taking them all on - just that I'm looking a bit harder at them and giving them an extra chance.)

Is this helpful? I don't know. What would make it more helpful?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Happy Book Birthday to SHADOWS by Ilsa J Bick

Got ASHES cliffhanger fever? Good news - SHADOWS is here at last!

 Even before the EMPs brought down the world, Alex was on the run from the demons of her past and the monster living in her head.

After the world was gone, she believed the town of Rule could be a sanctuary for her and those she’d come to love.

But she was wrong.

Now Alex is in the fight of her life against the adults, who would use her, the survivors, who don’t trust her, and the Changed, who would eat her alive.

Welcome to Shadows, the second book in the haunting apocalyptic Ashes Trilogy: where no one is safe and humans may be the worst of the monsters.

If you read ASHES a year ago and want a refresher about who-what-where, you can get it here on Ilsa's blog. BEWARE! HUGE SPOILERS! 

If you haven't read ASHES yet, for crying out loud what are you waiting for? It's in paperback, more info and links to buy in the clickety.

“Bick’s follow-up to Ashes is another heart-pounding, frantic, action-packed adventure for those who can’t get enough of the zombie apocalypse. As protagonist Alex fights to survive in a world gone seriously haywire, she begins to piece together just how dangerous her situation is. These are not the walking dead we know from television and film; they are cognizant beings, fueled as much by shrewd instinct as by animalistic blood lust. Bick keeps her complicated plot moving with plenty of twists and turns, creating a cringe-inducing, fascinating, and utterly entertaining read.” —Megan Graves, Hooray for Books!, Alexandria, VA

You can get SHADOWS in tree-book or electronic format at Oblong Books, Powells, Anderson's, Amazon, BandN, Book Depository, or a fine bookstore near you. In the UK, release date is 9/27.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Semi-rant about Internet Safety, Personal Space Bubbles, etc.

The interwebs have been abuzz this morning with talk of the attack on agent Pam van Hylckama, allegedly by a writer whose work she'd rejected. (Pam is an agent-pal and I have no reason to doubt her story, btw, but I say "allegedly" because obviously we don't know all the facts in the case and presumably the investigation etc is ongoing and nobody has been found guilty, so. ANYWAY....)

Scary stuff, for sure. My initial reaction is, thank god Pam is ok, and seems to have no more severe injuries than a bruise (and some shattered nerves!) -- and her little dog deserves a huge reward. Hugs to Pam and family.

My second reaction is more selfish. How could this have been avoided? How, indeed, can I personally avoid a situation like this?

It's true that agents do get a lot of crap. I've had authors show up outside my house, authors drop off notes in my home mailbox or at the bookstore (with no postmark - in other words, delivered by hand) authors come talk to me while I am at an event or show up while I am working at the bookstore to ask for advice, authors follow me way too closely in conference hotels, and authors call me on my cell phone. All of which very much freaked me out, but always ended up just being genuinely nice but clueless people who I could explain "look, this is inappropriate" and they get it, or if they don't get it, they at least go away.

I've also certainly gotten my share of thoroughly weird queries and responses to rejections. The query for a thriller about a dude who kills literary agents comes to mind. (eep!) I do not respond to such queries, and I save them in a "In Case I'm Murdered" file. Yanno, to be on the safe side. I've had people snap back and accuse me of being racist or hating men, etc, when I reject them. But I myself have never gotten actual threats, thank god. And 99% of the many, many authors I interact with on a daily basis are delightful and non-freaky.

Let's be clear: The dude who attacked Pam is not a "disgruntled author." He's a CRIMINAL. I'm trying to avoid the obvious word, because I hate when people just say "he's crazy" - (is that a diagnoses, Doctor Internet?)... but the behavior is certainly crazy, whether or not the person is. If the allegations are true, he didn't attack Pam "because she rejected him" -- he attacked her BECAUSE HE HAS SOMETHING WRONG WITH HIM. And, though I don't know him personally and I am not trying to diagnose what that "something wrong" is, it's safe to assume he has emotional and/or psychological disturbances of some kind. This isn't really a case of "authors behaving badly" as it is "unbalanced individuals behaving erratically."

So what to do? Like most people, I try to keep my personal address and phone number off the internet (though strangers still find them with disconcerting regularity). I don't have phone or address on my business cards or website. I don't use 4Square or Facebook "check-in" apps. But still, like many people, I live my life online. I tweet or facebook about places I visit and things I do. And as a semi-public figure, where I work is common knowledge. Because I work all the time, it is easy to figure out where I am, pretty much all the time. Even if I unplugged completely, I still live in a small village, and if you know the name of the village (which is no big secret), you can find me - because I am usually visibly standing somewhere near the center of it!  (Of course it is also no big secret that I have a dog who craves the taste of human flesh and would love to bite a stranger on my behalf, and honestly I pity anyone who breaks into my house, so I have little fear on that front.)

I guess the point is -- writers, agents, anyone who lives part of their life in public (which is an ever increasing number of people) -- ALL OF US need to be vigilant. ALL OF US need to watch how much info goes online, and use a certain amount of discretion.

Also, ALL OF US need to be considerate about personal space bubbles -- just as you wouldn't ask a stranger to examine you in line at the supermarket if you found out he was a gynecologist, don't creep around a literary agents house and wait for her to go outside to water the plants so you can ask her questions about your work. There's a time and a place. Don't be a creep.

But you can't really predict or protect against a stranger snapping on you. And you can't live your life in fear. I guess the most we can do is just be as nice as we can to each other?

What do you think?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

On Categorization

A couple of years ago I wrote The Big Ol' Genre Glossary. This blog post was intended to be "the last word" on the subject of genre identification, etc.  Ha ha, is all I have to say to that.

As you might know if you ever go on internet writing fora, there are some genres and sub-genres that are just fuzzy, and there is a lot of overlap. Five different people might have five very different ideas about what constitutes "paranormal" versus "supernatural" versus "urban fantasy" versus WHATEVER. People can get very anxious about how to categorize their own work. I've had writers say to me, in tones of deadly earnestness, that they know agents will look for any reason to reject, and if they get the sub-genre of their own work "wrong," they will never be taken seriously and agents will hate them. That getting this bit of information "wrong" will be cause for an auto-reject.

Yes! Those terrible, dragon-like AGENTS. Always keen for any small reason to run writers through with a pike and roast them alive, the better for the feasting! Oh you didn't know we get younger every time a writer screams? Yes! Your agony is our elixir! Our blood is thrumming with your pain!

Oh, the guild tells me I was not supposed to say that last part aloud. Please strike it from the record. Also disregard the cackling. Now. In all seriousness.

For the most part... Agents are just people. People who love books, and who want to help facilitate the making of books. People whose job it is to advocate for authors. (That FOR is quite important!). We work with a lot of authors. We LOVE authors. We recognize that authors can sometimes be neurotic. We are not trying to drive authors crazy (or crazier, anyway).

This drama that the internet has cooked up about agents declining you because there was a typo in your query, or because you formatted an email query letter as a business letter complete with home address (or failed to do so), or double-spaced when you meant to single-space... or because  you said "dark fantasy" when you meant "urban fantasy" or "paranormal" when you meant "supernatural"? Is just not true.

* First of all, as I mentioned, there is a lot of overlap, and different people have different definitions. If an agent was to decline your work based on that alone? They are not somebody you'd want to work with.

* Tying yourself in knots because of this kind of minutia may be keeping you from looking at the bigger picture, and at things that actually WILL cause agents to accept or decline your work. Things like having a killer pitch and tight, great, polished writing in the actual ms. This is truly what the agent cares about most.

* Some of the most interesting books defy easy categorization. If you have a book that is gorgeously written but also highly commercial, that is a GOOD THING. If as a genre it is something that lies on the crossroads between mystery, romance and fantasy (or whatever) -- that too is probably a GOOD thing, not a bad thing.

* If you have a magical story and you just call it "fantasy" I won't even blink an eye. The default "big category" of Fiction, SF/F, Mystery or YA is actually sufficient information. If you want to get more specific, that's fine.  But if you go nuts with it and decide to make up a genre like "high-urban-splatter-steam-rotica"...well if it seems like you're joking, I'll chuckle. If it seems like you are being serious, I'll roll my eyes. But if the book sounds interesting, even that bit of silliness wouldn't stop me from continuing.

* IN fact I'll go further and contend that "overcategorizing" is self-limiting. If you've written what you consider to be "high-urban-splatter-steam-rotica"... you'll never find an agent who reps that, no matter how much research you do. If you consider your work a "Steampunk inspired paranormal-mystery" you might find a couple of agents who rep all of those categories. But if you just call it FANTASY, wow, suddenly you have a ton of potential people to query, and you can pick and choose who seems like might be the best fit from this larger pool.

* So sure, absolutely, give categorizing your best shot. But if you find yourself freaking out over which sub- or sub-sub-genre your work falls into, understand that this is of little concern to agents at the query stage. They care that the story sounds cool and the writing is excellent. And that is where you should be putting your energy.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Happy Book Birthday: BLACKWOOD

And yet more amazing book release news! Wooo! Welcome to the world BLACKWOOD by Gwenda Bond.
On Roanoke Island, the legend of the 114 people who mysteriously vanished from the Lost Colony hundreds of years ago is just an outdoor drama for the tourists, a story people tell. But when the island faces the sudden disappearance of 114 people now, an unlikely pair of 17-year-olds may be the only hope of bringing them back.

Miranda, a misfit girl from the island's most infamous family, and Phillips, an exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead, must dodge everyone from federal agents to long-dead alchemists as they work to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony. The one thing they can't dodge is each other.

BLACKWOOD is a dark, witty coming of age story that combines America’s oldest mystery with a thoroughly contemporary romance.

BUY THE BOOK at Oblong, IndieBound, Book Depository, Amazon, BandN, or wherever fine books are sold.

"With whip-smart, instantly likable characters and a gothic small-town setting, Bond weaves a dark and gorgeous tapestry from America's oldest mystery."
- Scott Westerfeld, New York Times bestselling author of the Leviathan series

"This haunting, romantic mystery intrigues, chills, and captivates."
- Cynthia Leitich Smith, New York Times bestselling author of the Tantalize series

"Miranda Blackwood's battle against her own history is utterly modern—and utterly marvelous. She's truly a heroine all readers can rally behind."
- Micol Ostow, author of family and So Punk Rock

"A deft and clever debut! Bond takes some reliably great elements—a family curse, the mark of Cain, the old and endlessly fascinating mystery of the Roanoke Colony—and makes them into something delightfully, surprisingly new. How does she do that? I suspect witchcraft."
- Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club

Happy Book Birthday: BUTTER

It's pub day for BUTTER from Erin Jade Lange. This book is unforgettable.

A lonely 423-pound boy everyone calls “Butter” is about to make history. This New Year's Eve, he’s going to eat himself to death live on the Internet – and everyone will watch.

When he makes this announcement online, he expects pity, insults, or possibly sheer indifference. Instead, his classmates become morbid cheerleaders for his deadly plan. When that encouragement tips the scales into popularity, Butter has a reason to live. But if he doesn’t go through with his plan, he’ll lose everything.

BUTTER has the relentless immediacy of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY (talk about a ticking clock!), but the keen observations and dark humor of the main character keep the book from becoming grim. I think that the thing that freaked me out most about BUTTER was that I could identify so well with both the bullied... and the bullies. And though I was disturbed by some of the content, I found myself thinking about the book long after I'd turned the last page.

Buy the book from OblongChanging Hands, IndieBound, Book DepositoryAmazon, BandN, or wherever fine books are sold.

BUTTER is a New Voices pick for 2012:

"A gripping debut about J.P. (aka "Butter") who, tired of being the fat kid at school, decides to binge-eat himself to death live on his website,, on New Year's Eve. When Butter is suddenly swept into the 'cool' crowd, he must decide if popularity is worth dying for."
--Brandi Stewart, Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, AZ

“When does an Internet dare go too far?  Erin Jade Lange tackles a timely topic with a hefty dose of in-your-face intensity, tempered by the droll sense of humor from an unexpectedly fierce narrator.  Butter’s voice is loud, funny and unapologetic. I cared deeply for him and found myself rooting for him to find a way out of the mess he’d made.”
 - Daisy Whitney, author of THE MOCKINGBIRDS 

“A clever, tender and emotional page-turner!  Butter’s sharp and witty narrative had me laughing out loud on one page and broke my heart just as easily on the next.  Debut author Erin Jade Lange proves she knows how to tell a story and this is one I won’t be forgetting any time soon.”
- Courtney Summers, author of SOME GIRLS ARE and THIS IS NOT A TEST

Monday, September 03, 2012


This one is arriving on shelves tomorrow from our friends at Feiwel and Friends. So keep your eyes peeled, mateys!

Are you brave enough—
and bold enough—
for the adventure of your life?

The award-winning author and illustrator team of Eric A. Kimmel and Andrew Glass introduce a new generation of readers to a magnificent and memorable retelling of Herman Melville’s masterpiece, Moby Dick.

Buy the book at OblongPowells, Amazon, BandN or wherever fine books are sold.

"...this rollicking yarn with its splendid art will serve as a stand-alone introduction.”--School Library Journal 

"Kimmel make[s] this classic accessible to young readers.”--Publishers Weekly