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February 20, 2004

On the getting of agents
Posted by Teresa at 08:54 AM *

(Note: In its previous version, this piece was a comment posted to Slushkiller, but I’ve gotten a surprising number of requests (surprising to me, that is) to break it out as a separate post.)

Getting an agent. Here we open an institutional-size can of worms.

A bad agent is worse than no agent at all. A really bad agent is worse than not being a writer. Getting past the “no unagented submissions” barrier is not sufficient justification for hooking up with a bad agent.

The easiest time to get an agent is when you’ve just gotten an offer on a book. The editor phones you and says, “I want to buy your book.”

“Wow! Gosh! Gee Whiz!” you say coherently. Then you thank the editor, make sure you have their correct phone number, and tell them you’ll get right back to them. Call the agent who’s your first choice. Politely explain that you’ve just gotten an offer, and would they be interested in having you as a client? If they say they’re not interested, call your second choice. It’s hard to imagine your having to call a third choice. You’re offering them a commission on a book you sold.

It’s harder if you haven’t sold a book. Selling short stories helps. Having a really good novel in hand also helps.

(If you’ve never sold anything, and one of the top agents in the genre not only takes you on as a client, but gives you his Saturday-night dinner timeslot at the next Worldcon, please believe that he’s taking your prospects very seriously indeed. You know who you are.)

Least appreciated fact about agents: There are very few real ones. Of the gormless, the not very helpful, and the confirmed scammers, there are a great many.

Real agents learn how to be agents by working for other real agents. It’s like a medieval apprenticeship, except the authorities don’t bring back the ones that run away. After a while the young assistant becomes a sort of junior agent (I’m a little vague on this part) and starts taking on authors. Eventually they decide to set up on their own, taking some fraction of their former employer’s client list with them. This is not always accomplished without friction, but as far as we can tell, that’s part of the natural life cycle of the agent.

Gormless agents aren’t consciously dishonest. They just think it would be a swell thing to be a literary agent, and they don’t see why they shouldn’t be one. Trouble is, they don’t know how agenting and publishing work. They trade ignorance with others of their kind. Many of them have gotten their ideas about how the industry works by reading websites maintained by scammers. They may have the best intentions in the world, but they can’t figure out a standard contract, much less negotiate an advantageous one, and they don’t know who’s who and who’s doing what.

Note: Sometimes benign-but-gormless agents metamorphose into scam agents, kickback bookdoctors, or vanity publishers. There may be one or two who’ve metamorphosed into real agents, but if so I’ve never heard of them.

Not very helpful agents have some knowledge of and connection with the industry, but what they know isn’t current, and the people who were their best connections at various houses no longer hold those positions. They tend to have one or two notable clients plus a bunch of small fry and marginal types. These agents have two virtues: they won’t deliberately cheat you, and they can get you past the “agented mss. only” barriers. It’s still a bit like marrying someone you don’t care for because at least that way you’ll get laid: the imagined benefits will rapidly pall, while the underlying discontents will only become more irritating.

Scam agents are legion. The wiliest ones are constantly refining their approach, and the merely sneaky ones steal riffs from them, so I won’t even try to describe their current cabana acts. For that, see Writer Beware and the Preditors & Editors mirrored sites. Meanwhile, observe the following rules:
1. Never pay them. The real ones make their money by collecting a percentage of what the publisher pays you, and they collect it after the publisher pays it out.

2. Ask to see their client list. If for any reason they refuse to show it to you, run away. If you don’t recognize their authors, be suspicious. If their authors turn out to be published by vanity or subsidy outfits, run away even faster.

3. If they try to refer you to a book doctor or freelance editor, start edging away. If they tell you that “No publisher will look at your book unless it’s been professionally edited,” see earlier remarks regarding fast getaways. (Note: It’s okay for them to do some editing—it’s a normal, if not an invariable practice—as long as they don’t charge anything and it’s a competent edit.)

4. If they try to place your book via a deal that has you paying anything (that includes PublishAmerica’s deal), vide supra.

5. The internet may have given scam agents a vast new playground for their operations, but Google is on your side, not theirs. Use it.

6. In a pinch, Victoria Strauss and Yog Sysop (a.k.a. Jim Macdonald) will always give you the straight dope. If they’re not available, ask at The Rumor Mill, specifically the “Caveat Scrivener” section. They may not know the answers right off, and you sometimes get scammers posting bad information there, but the board has a good track record for collectively muddling through to the truth.

And now I’m off to work. I have books to make.
Comments on On the getting of agents:
#1 ::: Claude Hayward ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 10:22 AM:


Timing is all.

I have bumped into your blog just as I am reading (again) my daughter's amazing memoir of growing up hippie. She's been stuck for a couple of years, and I've offered to pick up the ball and try to find a publisher for her. My last publishing experience was back in the sixties, when I was the first publisher of Richard Brautigan's "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" and Willard Bain's "Informed Sources: Day East Received" (both The Communication Company, San Francisco, 1967), so I'm a little out of touch with that world. I have an intro to the agent of a friend of mine who's memoir of those times was published several years ago (Peter Coyote, "Sleeping Where I Fall"), which I have not yet acted upon. My question is: am I better off starting with the agent, or am I better off trying to interest a publisher's editor on my own? I'm starting to write an initial "query/cover letter", which is, I'm told, the crucial first step in the process. How do I determine if this agent is the right one to work with?

My own (highly subjective) opinion is that my daughter has written a fine book, but it would be good to have the opinion of a sophisticated reader who doesn't know her and could render a more objective opinion. What's a good way to get some second opinions without compromising any of our options? Thanks for any help you can give>

#2 ::: Jon ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 11:33 AM:

Refering to the easiest way to get an agent scenario: if your first and second choices for agents actually do pass you over, does that mean you did a bad job in picking agents, you've got bad luck/timing, or does it reflect in some strange way on the publisher who bought your book?

Just wondering.

#3 ::: Kathleen David ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 11:48 AM:

Finally somewhere one can send authors to read about agents. Between this and the slush thread, I think you might have the beginnings of a book I would recommend to up and coming authors and some of the older ones I know or maybe you can create an online (or off-line) short course on writing.

#4 ::: jane yolen ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 12:14 PM:

Wunnerful, wunnerful.

Only one small caveat. There are some agents (mine for example) who will not share information about clients and are totally legitimate. There are, however, other ways to find out the client list. A happy client, for example. The SFWA membership list. Etc.


#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 12:28 PM:

First: Who told you a query letter is essential, and what did they tell you about it? Give me some sense of where you're coming from.

Onward to the real advice. Start by using the connections you already have. Who you know? If you have friends who are published authors, ask them whether they'll take a look at the manuscript and/or recommend you to their agents. That's a much better starting point than a query letter. Agents get query letters like we get slush.

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 12:30 PM:

Claude Hayward, that last message of mine was addressed to you. Stuff intervened while I had it sitting there half-written on my screen.

#7 ::: Sherwood Smith ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 01:54 PM:

To Kathleen David: my suggestion is to point beginning writers to the PARTICLES section of Teresa's blog, and have then click on "Learn Writing with Uncle Jim."

Jim Macdonald, AKA Yog Sysop of SFF.NET, wrote this, and it's chock-full of excellent advice for the new writer wanting to become a professional.

#8 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 02:26 PM:

The 'life cycle of agents", described above, seems to be analagous to the life cycle of attorneys, physicians in private practice, insurance agents, and NY taxi/limo companies.

#9 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 02:53 PM:

There's also this (sub division of the "not very helpful"): landing a very young agent at a large agency who is enthusiastic about your work--but not very good at basic following up.

My first agent called to represent me at exactly the same time I heard from an editor at a NY house who wanted to see the rest of the novel a chunk of which I had sent her.

I called my new agent. She had me send her the entire ms. and she sent it to the editor. She also sent it out to other editors she said would be interested.

I assumed for professional reasons that I should not follow up with the first editor myself and just let my agent keep in touch with her to find out whether they wanted the book. My agent said that was the right way to go.

This was a HUGE mistake on my part and I have regretted it ever since. Months went by during which my agent told me she was not hearing back, blah blah blah.

Long story short--2 years after this agent tired of shopping the novel (as well as representing me) I found out that in fact the said first editor had not been followed up with properly. But by now it was too late, really.

File under: stories to make a writer want to become an alcoholic.

#10 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 04:16 PM:

I like reading your blog regularly, so I was surprised to see my site mentioned here. Thanks for the confidence in P&E. We'll try to always deserve it.

#11 ::: Elayne Riggs ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 04:18 PM:

Start by using the connections you already have.

Oh, cool. 'Cause I already know you and Kath, so if I ever decide to move from amateur to pro I'll be sure and whine in your direction. ;)

Are there really a lot of places that don't accept unagented submissions? It's weird, in corporate employment the trend seems to be going the other way, lots of prospective employers don't want to go through agencies at all any more because it's so easy to connect directly now.

#12 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 05:16 PM:

There are some agents (mine for example) who will not share information about clients and are totally legitimate.

There are some bars that tourists shouldn't walk into wearing a Hawaiian shirt, Bermuda shorts, with a camera slung around their neck and all their vacation money in their pocket. A big bearded guy with scarred knuckles, tattooed arms, and wearing scuffed leathers might be able to go into that same bar and have a perfectly lovely time. A hole-in-the-wall joint with no windows, with a row of Harleys parked out front, and a sign that reads "Girls! All nude!" over the door might be such a place.

In the same way, there are some agents who have some of the red-flag signs about them. If you're already a professional writer or well-connected in the publishing field you'll be able to tell who's a legitimate agent and who's going to steal your money.

As some of you know, I volunteer on my local ambulance squad. Tourists can get into trouble in one bar or another. I know that you aren't supposed to blame the victim, but sometimes I just want to ask people, "If you didn't want an unemployed lumberjack to punch your lights out, what the heck were you doing in there trying to pick up his girl at two in the morning?"

#13 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 05:38 PM:
Are there really a lot of places that don't accept unagented submissions? It's weird, in corporate employment the trend seems to be going the other way, lots of prospective employers don't want to go through agencies at all any more because it's so easy to connect directly now.

There's a significant difference in the costs in the two cases. When a publisher gets a book through an agent, they don't pay any more for it - the agent's fee comes out of the author's advance and royalties (right?). When an employer gets an employee through a recruiter, they have to pay the recruiter a hefty fee on top of the new employee's salary and benefits.

#14 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 06:12 PM:

I have to admit to curiousity here: Why would an agent want to avoid sharing a list of clients?

(And I'm not even thinking of a whole shebang list here. I'm thinking of the sort of thing that crops up places like Writer's Market: a couple-few authors and maybe their most recent published book the agent handled.)

#15 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 08:33 PM:

Why would an agent want to avoid sharing a list of clients?

1. Poachers from other agencies. 2. To cut down on the amount of mail that has to be forwarded to the writer from the fanboys. Let the publishers pay the extra postage...

#16 ::: Jennifer Jackson ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 10:16 PM:

I have to admit to curiousity here: Why would an agent want to avoid sharing a list of clients?

And also, in some cases, the clients themselves have requested confidentiality. (Some of them are not in a position where they are comfortable being approached by writers who are seeking agents and happen to be aware of their affiliation. It can be potentially awkward, I understand.)

#17 ::: Claude Hayward ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 12:24 AM:


Onward to the real advice. Start by using the connections you already have. Who you know? If you have friends who are published authors, ask them whether they'll take a look at the manuscript and/or recommend you to their agents. That's a much better starting point than a query letter. Agents get query letters like we get slush.

What I hear you saying is that if I am so fortunate as to have an old friend, published, who has said: "Call my agent, here's his number, use my name.", then I should just do that and e-mail him the MS if he agrees to look at it. Sounds good to me. I'm just concerned that I put energy towards the best shot, and didn't realize that a contact like that IS the avenue to follow.


#18 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 02:09 AM:

"If you didn't want an unemployed lumberjack to punch your lights out, what the heck were you doing in there at two in the morning?"

I thought I was hard enough to do the punching out.

#19 ::: TL Hines ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 09:54 AM:

More great advice from TNH. I suggest one other way to meet agents (well, one other way that beats blind query letters): go to conferences/cons. Actually getting to meet someone goes a long way.

It's even a great way to meet living, breathing editors. I went to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference in Denver last year, and met with an editor named Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

She seemed nice.

#20 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 10:31 AM:

I'd rather try and get my short stories (or a novel, if I ever had time to write something that long) published than go through the review process for an academic journal again.

Oh wait, I'm applying to grad schools, and my boss wants me to finish this abstract for a conference this fall... and there are two more journal articles to read... and I just printed draft #2 of chapters 1-3 of The Thesis....

I'll never escape peer review. Arrgh.

( on a side note: I honestly can't remember the last time I saw an issue of Asimov's, Analog, or F&SF.... I've been a busy little student. I have, started a Pile Of Books to read after graduation: 84 days and counting.)

#21 ::: Hope Richards ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 01:10 PM:

What about young writers - young teens who are still in high school or middle school, who have manuscripts that are pretty good but don't know how to publish them? I mean, Andew Clements book about the sixth grader getting published seems pretty unrealistic. THeoretically, if the book's good enough, it gets published - but how do you even get it to the publisher?

#22 ::: Hope Richards ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 01:11 PM:

What about young writers - young teens who are still in high school or middle school, who have manuscripts that are pretty good but don't know how to publish them? I mean, Andew Clements book about the sixth grader getting published seems pretty unrealistic. THeoretically, if the book's good enough, it gets published - but how do you even get it to the publisher?

#23 ::: Adriana Williams ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 01:26 PM:

Hope -
Lots of people would say the situation you described is unrealistic, but I've got the same problem. I'm only in seventh grade and I've written a novel. I have no idea how to get it published - who publishes stuff by a twelve-year-old? A couple of my friends have read my book, and they think it's pretty good, but I haven't shown it to any adults yet. What should I do?

#24 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 01:50 PM:

I have no idea how to get it published - who publishes stuff by a twelve-year-old? A couple of my friends have read my book, and they think it's pretty good, but I haven't shown it to any adults yet. What should I do?

Print it out in standard manuscript format (black ink/white paper/double spaced/Courier 10 font/numbered pages/1-inch margins/running header top right with your name and the book's title) and submit it to a publisher who publishes books more or less like the one you've written. You aren't required to tell them that you're twelve years old, because if your book is good enough to get published, your age isn't going to matter.

Most likely, what will happen is that you won't hear anything about your book for about a year, and then you'll get it back with a note saying that it doesn't meet their needs at the present time. This happens to most people with their first submission; it isn't personal.

What do you do while you're waiting for that first book to come back to you?

Start working on the next one.

#25 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 05:33 PM:

Hope, Adriana,
What Debra Doyle said, above. Your writing isn't 12, or 18, or 64 years old. Your writing will speak for itself.

I started submitting when I was in middle school...granted, it took until after I'd graduated from high school to make a sale. (Short stories only.) The amusing bit is that I was in South Korea at the time. So I sent out the story (sometime around graduation, I think; don't remember clearly), then figured it was a lost cause and went off to college in the U.S. The acceptance letter went all the way to Korea, of course, because that was where I'd addressed the SASE to, my younger sister phoned me in glee with the good news sometimes during the first or second week of classes, and then the poor letter had to travel all the way across the Pacific and most of the North American continent again so I could hold it in my hands.

Some of your early work will probably be dreck, and some of it will eventually be good, or is in fact good right now. The only way to tell is to get feedback and to submit. The only way to get better is to keep writing. (I speak as someone who inflicted a fair amount of dreck on slushreaders. Mea culpa.)

Also, if people are going to quibble about the age of the author independently of the writing's quality, they'll do so no matter what, so you might as well ignore them and get on with the writing. I got that when I wasn't yet 20, and I daresay that even when (if?) I became a curmudgeonly nonagerian (not that I'm not a curmudgeon right now), someone is going to grumble about that young whippersnapper's stories. :-) So hang in there, and best wishes!

#26 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 05:49 PM:

Mid-teenagers in recent memory who've had books published: Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, born in 1984 and published at 13. Her fourth book was published in 2002. The author of ERAGON, named Paolini, recently got published at (IIRC) 14. It can happen; it's uncommon, but not unheard of. Good luck!

#27 ::: jane yolen ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 06:13 PM:

I believe Paolini was 16 when his parents published his book which was republished by a major publisher when he was 18. He sent it to me in mss. when he was 15.


#28 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 06:54 PM:

Adriana: I'm pretty certain Gordon Korman's first book was published while he was in his teens. Gordon writes YA books and is probably best known for the YA book, Son of Interflux.

(Upon checking Google for "Gordon Korman first book" I found this page. Reportedly, his first book--also the book I first read, waaaay back in fourth grade--was written as a grade seven English project.)

#29 ::: Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 07:25 PM:

I started to submit my writing (using proper manuscript format and cover letters) to magazines, and collecting rejections in jr. high. And I made my first pro sale to a DAW anthology when I was 17, a month after my high school graduation.

How did I do it? First and foremost, I did it myself. In other words, I did not rely on a grownup to investigate markets or proper manuscript format procedures for me. And back then, there was no Google and no internet for quick research. I had no money, so I would go to bookstores with a piece of paper, stand in the aisle and copy market info by hand from the Writer's Market and Writer's Digest and The Writer.

My advice for any young person who is passionate about being a writer and publishing their work professionally is to act like an adult. Be a sponge of industry information. Do your own homework in the field, read writer's magazines, hang out in online places such as here where professional writers and other industry professionals can be found. Submit your work and deal with the rejections. Act grown up and you will pick up the needed methods. If you have your parent look things up for you, then you will not learn as quickly as you might otherwise. I had to do it all, despite the handicap of English as a second language, and you can do it too.

Second, be intense and passionate about the act of learning all this, as much as you can. Asking questions about writing. No matter how old or young you are, look upon it as your true calling and your profession. Treat it as such even when you are still turning in school homework.

#30 ::: Karen Junker ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 07:48 PM:

For young writers who bring their parent/s, we give scholarships to our conference. I hope it's not inappropriate for me to mention this here.

#31 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 08:19 PM:

Back again. The thing I have to say first of all is that Jane Yolen's agent is entirely respectable, distinguished even, and yet she doesn't like giving out her client list. I don't know any other agents -- the unquestionably real sort, I mean -- who take that attitude, but she is and she does.

Jennifer, Glenn, Tina, I don't know why Jane's agent would want to keep her list private, but it's her call. However, an author/agent relationship can never be truly confidential, because by definition the agent is the author's public representative. If they're the agent of a pseudonymous author, they're the public representative of that pseudonym. And while Jane's agent may not make her list public, but if you're publishing Jane's books, you darned well know who her agent is.

When this question came up online some years ago, I came up with three examples for why it would be absurd to cleaim that relationship is entirely confidential:

"You want to make a movie from a novel we published? Great! Sorry, I can't tell you who that author's agent is, though; that information's confidential."

"Tell Sylvia down in Accounting that I'm sorry she's having trouble mailing out royalty checks, but I can't give her names or addresses for those agents -- it's confidential information."

"Hiya, I'm Stephen King's new agent. I know, I know -- you thought it was Ralph Vicinanza. That was then. Now it's me. No, I can't show you an agenting agreement -- that's confidential information. Now, about those checks I should start receiving ..."

We know perfectly well why scam agents don't want to give out their client lists; it's because B&N and Amazon have made it easy to run through a list of client names and see who's sold what to whom. An agent with no selling clients has got to be living on something. If the money's not coming from publishers, it has to be coming from the authors, somewhere along the line.

When you read my mention of agents who sell their clients into vanity publishing operations, some of you may have wondered how the agent collects 15% of a negative cashflow. The answer is simple: they add a 15% surcharge to the amount the vanity publisher collects from the author, and keep that as their agenting fee.

John, I feel I've been a tad unfair to the not-very-helpful agents. At minimum I should have said that they're rare, and that they do have a third virtue, which is understanding the language and provisions of publishing contracts.

At the same time, I should have also put in that category the new writer's family lawyer, who's not a publishing specialist doesn't see why a publishing contract shouldn't be like any other kind of contract. We truly dread hearing from those. They have all the suspiciousness about being told that something is "standard industry practice" that baby writers ought to have; but alas, where baby writers believe such claims about horrid vanity-press contracts, the lawyers don't believe them about standard industry practices.

My all-time favorite response to a contract (for certain values of "favorite") was a long letter about the assignment of territorial rights clauses, in which a long list of countries are identified as being part of the British Commonwealth. The author explained in painstaking detail that, that, and the other country no longer belonged to the Commonwealth, or had altered their relationship to it, or had changed their name, etc. etc. etc. He was right on every count, but it didn't matter, because for purposes of selling books, all those countries are still part of the British Commonwealth. The ghost of the Empire lives on in bookselling territories.

About young authors: The book is all that matters, except when signing the contract, when the author's parent[s] or guardian[s] will probably have to sign as well. But that's all. At Tor, you're free to submit a book if you're twelve, or a four-armed green alien, or a sentient computer, or an elephant who's learned to hold a pen with your trunk; so if you're any of those things, you might as well say so. Depending on the entity and the book, it might turn out to be a good sales angle.

I'm just a little envious of kids these days. The internet gives you guys so many opportunities to talk about writing, find out about how to do it, and show your work to others, without ever having to admit how old you are.

Claude, that is indeed a good way to go about it. Of course, you could be sending out query letters too; no reason not to. Throw out enough hooks, and sooner or later the universe will catch on one of them.

BSD, would that be the set of all professions where you learn by doing, and clients become attached to individual practitioners?

Mr. Hines, it's good to hear from you again. I had good hunting at that conference, and met a lot of very interesting people.

Jim: Ah, that bar! You pointed it out to me when I was in Colebrook. I think I can tell you one reason tourists come to grief there: it would not have been obvious to me that it was an untowardly place to have a drink. I've been in establishments where the clientele included local cattlemen or fishermen, and while I could tell they were working-class joints, I couldn't tell whether they were dangerous. And recollect that in my city, the Hell's Angels' block is a relatively safe street to walk down, as long as you don't do something mega-stupid like touch the bikes.

You, on the other hand, have had extensive experience with bars, joints, dives, and places like that one in Valparaiso that had the late-night pay phone. Or that SEAL bar you were telling me about that had no windows, no furniture, and no drinks served in glass containers. Or the bar near the Brooklyn Navy Yards that employed the ballet dancer. Or ... I'm sure I'm forgetting some, but I think I've made my point.

Not that it has anything to do with agents.

Elayne, the last time Tor metered its annual flow of slush was some years back, and near as we can tell we handled close to three thousand submissions. Our estimate for this year is closer to five thousand. An editor can read slush from one year to the next without finding a manuscript that pans out. The vast majority of our books come from other sources. Is it any wonder that many houses stop accepting raw unagented slush?

Dang! That reminds me of something I should have said in my main post, which is that anyone, absolutely anyone, can set themselves up as an agent. The Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) maintains certain criteria for membership, but to be an agent takes nothing at all.

Have I gotten letters from "agents" I was reasonably sure were the authors themselves? Many times. None of the books were all that good, but perhaps if they'd been better writers, I wouldn't have noticed that their agents weren't real.

In the wake of 9/11 and the anthrax scares, we were making fun of all the lists of suspicious characteristics that are supposed to alert you to the potential for danger in anonymous parcels that come in the mail. We get those every day of every week. During one especially low period in the months that followed the disaster, we kicked around the idea of dealing with the backed-up slush by phoning the FBI and telling them we'd received exactly the sort of thing they were looking for.

Dave Kuzminski, you guys are a major resource for beginning authors everywhere, and you do an incalculable amount of good.

Kathleen, I wish there were more material available on real agenting and what it's like -- ideally, written by real agents. I do what I can, but agents are the next universe over.

Jon, I hate to say this, but: it depends.

Karen, that info is both helpful and appropriate.

#32 ::: Azadeh ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 09:00 PM:

How do you tell if something's good? How do you know when you're done revising? If you get rejected, does that mean its not good enough or you didn't revise enough or both?

#34 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 09:11 PM:

Vera: What good advice. Incidentally, I remember reading your stories in some of the Sword and Sorceress anthologies when I was in middle and high school, and finding them beautiful, and your example inspirational. I wish I knew where in storage those books were; I have a sudden hankering to reread--was it "The Starry King," or "The Starry Queen"? And the one about the executioner who was the queen's sister? (I apologize for a lousy memory and poor recordkeeping.)

I didn't have access to Writer's Market, but internet was around by the time I was really seriously submitting, although I think I got all my submissions guidelines by snail. I also scoured the introductions to the Datlow & Windling Year's Best Fantasy and Horror and the Dozois Year's Best Science Fiction anthologies when my high school library started acquiring those, O happy day. I hunted down books on writing--Ben Bova, Damon Knight, the one edited by J.N. Williamson (okay, there might be multiples, these are all books I don't have access to anymore but which helped immensely in getting started).

And having grownups look things up for you assumes that the grownups are supportive of the endeavor. :-p My parents, who think that sf/f is a waste of time (sigh), did the next best thing and never stood in my way.

#35 ::: Adriana ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 09:29 PM:

Okay, this is a really stupid thing that shouldn't matter, but it does - I don't have the Courier font on my computer.

#36 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 09:47 PM:

I approached my friends' agents first, because I thought a query letter to a successful agent who didn't have some personal connection with me would be ignored.

The friends' agents didn't work out. The query letter to an agent who didn't know me did. (After he offered to represent me, it turned out that we did have some mutual friends and acquaintances. But I didn't know that when I queried him.)

He told me that he gets about 200 queries a week. But mine was the one he liked.

So don't lose hope if the personal connections don't work or you don't have any. Just write a really good query letter, with the same mindset that you had when you wrote your really good book.

#37 ::: Alex Roston ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 10:06 PM:

"Okay, this is a really stupid thing that shouldn't matter, but it does - I don't have the Courier font on my computer."

Courier is the monospace font (monospace means that each letter occupies the same amount of horizontal space) that looks like it came from an old typewriter. If you don't have a font that looks exactly like that, you can probably download a good version of the font off the web. Just google for "font courier."


#38 ::: Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 12:26 AM:

Yoon Ha:
Goodness, no apologies, and thank you for your kind words about my stories ("The Starry King" and the other one about the Executioner is "A Thing of Love"). It is always somewhat amazing to hear that anyone has even read or remembers them. Again, thank you!

Here is a link to download "Dark Courier," which is a better-looking print version of Courier. For some reason on most modern printers the regular "Courier" or "Courier New" font looks too wispy when printed and is therefore hard on the eyes. But the regular Courier looks better on the computer screen than the Dark Courier does, so when in doubt, download both and simply switch your final print document to the Dark Courier.

Download Dark Courier

#39 ::: Abigail ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 01:30 AM:

I've never understood the Courier fixation in mss submissions. It's not a very good-looking font, is it? Or is it just that it's a fixed-width that's easy on the eyes? I guess if editors hadn't decided to lay down the law, font-wise, they would be inundated with manuscripts in fourteen different varieties of fonts, including italics, dingbats and handwriting fonts. Still, why specifically Courier?

#40 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 02:06 AM:

Re: Abigail's question about why Courier?

Answer: that's how it's always been done. (Well,
for the last 70 years or so.)

Typewriters had one font-- Courier-- and there's no
compelling reason to change an existing standard.
A manuscript isn't supposed to be *pretty*, it's
supposed to be easy to work with-- and bookmakers
have been working with Courier for 3.5 generations.
(Side note: 12 point Courier, not 10 point.)

#41 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 05:02 AM:

It's not really that it was "an existing standard." There were a lot of minor variations in the slab-serif faces typewriters used (the FBI has a master file of them); "Courier" was a common one for IBM Selectrics, which were enough of a de-facto standard for anybody who could afford one that they licensed Remington to make them to meet demand.

The point is that it is a distinctly readable face, in the specific terms of being able to distinguish letters from one another, and especially to spot wrong letters. In monospaced faces, skinny characters like "i" and "l" can be mistaken for each other.

(Hmm. Suddenly I want to write a short book called "Infamous Characters," about the personalities of the alphabet. But I digress, as usual.)

Monospaced faces also greatly simplify wordcount, to wit:

--Characters per line (generally 65, on a 10-pitch line with an inch margin to either side)
--times lines per page (around 25, as there are 66 12pt lines on a page, an inch margin top and bottom, and double-spacing)
--divided by six (a theoretical average 5-character word plus a space)
--times number of pages.

Yes, computers can count words, but what counts in printing is not the exact number of words, it's the amount of space the document is going to take up. And, for this reason, rounding to the nearest 50-100 words is fine. I can remember, in the days before WP, getting slush manuscripts with "8643 words" on the header, and feeling for the person who had gone to the effort. I even saw a couple of novels counted out.

As for size, yes, 12-point is right. Again before WP, the specification was "10-pitch" -- 10 characters per inch on the line -- which for Courier happens to be the same as 12pt.

At the risk of going into waytoomuch boring historical detail, a printer's point is 1/72 inch, and the rules for determining point size, because they take into account ascenders and descenders, mean that two "12-point" faces may be rather different in actual appearance. There are twelve points in a pica, another printer's term, and 12-point typewriters were also known as "Pica" machines, the smaller 10-point (12-pitch -- a curious symmetry) being called "Elite."

Now, where the heck are my composing stick and quoin keys?

#42 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 08:43 AM:


Thanks for the link to the Dark Courier font... looks like it'll be useful.


I hid your composing stick underneath my case of 10pt Cheltenham type. You can't have it back. Sorry.

#43 ::: Therese ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 08:56 AM:

John M Ford wrote:
(Hmm. Suddenly I want to write a short book called "Infamous Characters," about the personalities of the alphabet. But I digress, as usual.)

Oh, yes, please do! That would be lovely to read, as a book, as a web page or as an article anywhere.

My brother, who's a font freak, used to tell me all about the evils of Helvetica. Since the standard font in the small print of official documents is Helvetica, and it's also used on road signs and in the subway, I've started to understand what he means. Above all, the lack of distinction between "a" and "o" is bothersome.

#44 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 11:22 AM:

Do the characters of the characters change from font to font, Mr. Ford?

#45 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 01:25 PM:

Therese wrote:
My brother, who's a font freak...

Hmmm. If I right-click on C:\Fonts, it shows 2900 items. (of which, only 90-100 are installed at any one time.)

I'm clearly well on my way to being a font freak.

Helvetica isn't useful anymore, for me at least. I'm partial to Officina Sans, or ITC Conduit. Gill Sans is another favorite.

#46 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 01:53 PM:

Mid-teenagers in recent memory who've had books published

The company that Teresa used to work for was founded by a person who started writing professionally at the age of 13. And he kept on doing so for decades, producing numerous bestsellers and becoming quite well known in the industry-- he is, in fact, one of the few people I look up to.

Of course, that's because he's one of the few people in the world taller than me...

#47 ::: Seth Ellis ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 02:04 PM:

Helvetica isn't very good for masses of text, but it's coming into a sort of retro vogue for signage. Trollback & Co. just re-did all of AMC's advertising in aggressively simple Helvetica-family typeface. If the only thing on the page are the letters AMC, legibility isn't such a big deal.

Myriad is another nice sans-serif font for block text, such as footnotes. So is Scala Sans.

#48 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 02:24 PM:

I was talking to a colleague the other day about how we both went through love affairs with Comic Sans in the late 1990s. I used Comic Sans as the default font on EVERYTHING on my PC, most especially my web browser. Read the New York Times in Comic Sans!

Now, Comic Sans looks grotesque.

Comic Sans is the leisure suit of fonts.

#49 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 02:34 PM:

Yes, that's a good characterization -- also, where absolute trust is absolutely essential.

#50 ::: Seth Ellis ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 02:48 PM:

Mitch - That may be the best thing anybody's ever said about Comic Sans.

BSD - I suspect no one's ever said that about Comic Sans, and I suspect you didn't either, but I like it anyway. It's hard to have absolute trust in a document printed in Comic Sans.

#51 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 02:51 PM:

On a somewhat unrelated note: I apparently just ate an entire box of girlscout cookies while working on my thesis.

I have to get up from the computer now, and go ride my bike some more. (30 miles already today).

#52 ::: Adriana ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 02:58 PM:

Sometimes it's impossible to find time to write. I make time, right before I go to bed, after I get back from swim practice... but the problem with being in seventh grade is all this HOMEWORK! And if I ever finish my book report Dad wants to go play some lacrosse (lacrosse in February - he's a fanatic) and my sister wants me to go on the trampoline with her... but I HATE book reports, especially on complicated books with fifty characters. I've written about ten pages today, but most of them were in the book report.

#53 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 03:28 PM:

Adriana: I remember reading all those writing-advice books on how you must make time to write, and thinking to myself: that's true to a point, but graduating was a higher priority. And college. So I could have a hope of getting a day-job to keep a roof over my head to facilitate future writing. College and/or grad school are not a necessary part of this equation, and high school might not be either, but I think of them as very good investments.

One thing I used to do, even in classes that bored me silly, was to doodle. I mined history, science, and math classes for story/worldbuilding ideas. Or, if all else failed, brainstormed in the margins of my notes. I was a very good student, but a good half of the time my teachers thought I was there in the front row taking mad reams of notes, I was either writing a story or brainstorming or sketching.

Some years later, when I student-taught math at the high school level, I made it a habit to walk around the classroom (I almost never sat down unless I was ill) and see what students were up to, what they were struggling with, what problem-solving techniques they were using (so we could share 'em with the rest of the class), what love notes they were writing...granted, with math, "off-topic" note-taking is perhaps more obvious, but I'm flabbergasted that not one of my high school teachers ever twigged on. Maybe it takes being peripatetic.

Other ways to milk writing out of your day: wake up a little earlier or stay up a little later (parents permitting). If you get lunch at the school cafeteria and it has long lines, you can get a notepad and write while in line. Write during lunch, even once a week. If you have a long school bus ride, or a subway ride, write on the bus/subway (assuming you don't need the sleep worse). If your school is set up such that you can get to your next class a few minutes early, squeeze in a couple sentences after you've gotten out your homework, looked at the day's agenda, and so on.

A paragraph here, a sentence there. It adds up.

I should add that I used to spend about 2 hours a night on calculus homework alone, and another 1-3 hours a night on the physics, and add an hour for English/history, which I was better at and which therefore took me less time except when big papers were due. So I know it's tough, but it can be done. Plus, you have vacations--squeeze in writing then, too. If your family travels, bring a notebook along. A change of scenery can be inspiring in itself!

Note that most of the above suggestions for squeezing in writing can also be used to squeeze in getting-homework-done. The key is to figure out when you write best, and when you do homework best, and arrange the time accordingly. I used to get a head start on my calculus during lunch, and would photocopy or hand-copy the assigments out of the books because taking home four textbooks every night with a mile's walk home from the bus stop was backbreaking. (Yeah, I know, back in the day, it would have been four miles uphill both ways, but...)

I should write a book on how to write while you're a student, except I don't think I'm qualified yet/anymore. :-)

Hang in there, keep writing, make may not be able to devote as much time as you'd like, but that's true, I suspect, of a lot of us. And at least (I trust) you don't have to file taxes yet! Best wishes.

#54 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 05:44 PM:

Whatever happened to "Tekton" and its derivatives? It was very faddish back in the early-to-mid '90s. I remember seeing whole ads set in it (ads that were, to be sure, obviously put together by total amateurs at graphic design). I rather liked it for a while, but nowadays think it looks stupid; I suspect that a lot of people feel the same way, which is why we never see it anymore.

#55 ::: Seth Ellis ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 07:29 PM:

Tekton was treated for a while as a slightly more classy Comic Sans, I think. People in the early 90's with their first really powerful desktop computers got all excited about type that didn't look like, you know, type. Tekton is actually an architectural script, but it was seized on and made popular for a while, like a hard-working touring band that suddenly has an unexpected hit on the radio. Now the thrill is gone, and Tekton has gone back to its day job.

#56 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 07:45 PM:

A neat thing about Tekton is that it is based on the handwriting of an individual person. That's a kind of immortality - like being a cancer patient whose cells, used for research, live on for decades after the rest of the body has died.

Around 1990, I discovered a program that you could run in DOS to change the default DOS font - there was a choice of, IIRC, four fonts, and one of them was called Tektite. It was a Tekton clone. I used that as my default DOS font thereafter, well into the Windows 95 era when I continued to use it in DOS programs run under Windows.

I'll hazard a guess that I stopped using the DOS font program on the day that Genie went out of business, and I stopped using DOS dial-up software to access the service.

#57 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 08:26 PM:

We seem perilously close to generating a daughter thread.

And she's a cute little thing, too.

A quick check of the Fonts directory shows 1058 of them, though many of those are isotopes (I've got something like eight language-specific Courier Newses).

For what it's worth, I've got Gill Sans as the standard Windows display face. I'd use Johnston (the London Underground face) but it gets a little grainy at small sizes.

Bit of language transformatics that nobody but me thinks is interesting: a "font" was originally a block of type -- that is, several hundred little bits of cast metal -- and the word referred to a typeface at a specific point size. 12pt and 18pt Bodoni were the same face, but different fonts. In the land of cold type, however, point size is infinitely variable; you buy the typeface and adjust it to whatever fits, whether that's 10 or 12 or 11.374. I've italicized faces that don't have an italic by using skew functions, and with some faces you can create Kludge Bold by thickening the outline. (Yeah, I'm a vector-graphics guy.)

Backing up a bit, the word "typeface" has now been almost universally replaced by "font." It saves four letters and a syllable, and I don't actually have a problem with it, but it's a curious bit of evolution.

#58 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 10:06 PM:

John M Ford: actually, I think that's interesting, even though I have been calling them "fonts" instead of "typefaces" for a long time now, and you're probably more of a typography geek than I am.

I think the simple answer to the question of "why did it change?" is that the Mac had a "Font" menu instead of a "Typeface" menu, and that did the trick. Jordin might know more, given his sister's involvement.

Fun font tricks: in Mac OS X, open TextEdit. Change the font to Zapfino, in a reasonably large point size (48 or higher). Then type the word "Zapfino" and watch what happens as you add each letter. (Then type your name, or my name, since your name turns out much less interesting in Zapfino.) Auto-ligatures can be fun!

#59 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 12:32 AM:

You'd probably have guessed that I already knew that, Mike.... still, it's interesting.

#60 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 11:17 AM:

It's true that writers must take time to write. But no one said how much time or how often, both of which can and do vary per writer.

(Okay, not "no one"; I've seen people who say you must write x hours a day every day. But I don't believe they're correct.)

Write on the weekends if that's all school (or work) leaves you time for. Or 15 minutes at lunch, if that's all there's time for. Sooner or later it adds up. Better two hours on Saturday every Saturday than not at all.

And don't let not writing regularly for a while keep you from doing it again later.

#61 ::: The Magician ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 11:54 AM:

Adriana, "the impact of homework on academic achievement is relatively limited", it's official!

The report also says
"Homework is bad for your family, [...] it causes arguments and upsets.
A study of the impact of homework in different countries says that the pressure of homework causes friction between children and parents.

This pressure is worst in families where parents are most keen for their children to succeed at school.

And the survey claims that homework causes "anxiety" and "emotional exhaustion".

#62 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 02:34 PM:

Mike: when I used to edit an Events Guide, we used to produce it as camera-ready -- one print out -- and it was then printed for distribution by traditional old fashioned printers. The elderly owner of the firm remembered using literal lead for leading.

One day I bought fifty new fonts for Avagio, the charming DOS program I used to produce the thing. "I've bought fifty new fonts!" I said to him enthusiastically.

"Fifty *scalable* fonts?" he asked, with a little sigh and a longing gleam in his eye.

Somewhere in between the lead and then, he'd used Ventura, where you apparently bought fonts as character-set-at-size -- so you'd pay so much for it at 12 point, so much for it at 30 and so on.

Oh, and if you do the thing about the personalities of letters, bear in mind that "c" is very shy and doesn't like going alone at the end of words without "k" being prepared to beat up strangers on its behalf, and that "q" keeps its nose in the air and absolutely refuses to be seen in public without humble "u" to carry its train, oh and "e" is a frightful busybody, but I'm sure you knew that. Anthropomorphism. Gets me every time.

#63 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 02:43 PM:

Therese urges Mike to write Interesting Characters.

For a taste -- is his narration of a dingbat font (IIRC, first published in NYRSF many years ago) anywhere on the web?

#64 ::: Seth Ellis ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 02:49 PM:

But when "c" does break out of its shell, it makes quite a statement, as in antic or magic. It just hangs out there being a hard sound all on its own.

On these occasions "k" gets a bit jealous. Sometimes he tags along anyway, making a nuisance of himself, as in magick. "K" can be a little bit of a bully that way. They have a conflicted relationship.

#65 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 03:05 PM:

'c' has multiple personalities, depending on whether it's at the end of a word ('electric') or followed by a vowel ('electricity'). It pretends to be 'k' or 's', respectively. In that way, I guess it's sort of the Lugh ("Yeah, but do you have anybody who can do ALL those things?") of the alphabet...

#66 ::: Adriana ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 04:13 PM:

Wow! Finally someone figured out that homework causes stress, takes WAY TOO MUCH TIME and is often pointless. I get tons of homework, especially because I'm in a math class that's two years above grade level, and I like school and I like to learn, but I hate having to come home and spend hours on homework. My parents don’t pressure me about school, because they know I’m a perfectionist myself, and I get all A’s anyway.

#67 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 05:27 PM:

Jo, have you read Language Visible? If you ignore the blecky graphics (someone didn't smooth the pixels in the examples. I was shocked, horrified, and appalled.) it's not a bad general-interest look at the alphabet, and does assign personalities to the letters. If we can manage to hook up the next time I'm up your way, I can loan my copy to you.

Adriana, you've received a lot of really sensible advice. Honest, if your writing is good, and it hits an acquiring editor right, then that editor won't care how old you are. If it hits them wrong, they also won't care how old you are---they'll just send you a rejection letter. Do follow the submission guidelines for wherever you send your writing to the letter. Do have someone---a sympathetic, linguistucally competent friend, a writing buddy, a mentor, anyone whose knowledge of English you can trust, read over your work before you send it in. If you can, do get involved in a writer's group with people whose writing you respect and learn how to give and take constructive criticism---stuff like "I liked your opening paragraph, but then it felt like your story just got bogged down with descriptions of your setting. I think you need to spread that stuff out a bit, and make it part of your narrative." (I'm just making this up, I have no idea what Adriana's writing is like beyond her posting to this comment thread.) Having sensitive, sensible, constructive criticism can be a really good way to learn how to look critically at your own work. Giving the same kind of criticism can also teach you how to look at writing carefully and find where it stops working for you. Do learn to accept this kind of criticism gracefully and use it to make your writing better. Do learn how to put stories away for a few days when you think they're finished, and revise them again when you can look at them with a fresher pair of eyes.

And, as everyone else has said, keep writing, keep submitting, read everything you can, don't take the rejections personally, and take every chance you can to learn from pros, editors, and other folks who want to write.

#68 ::: Adriana ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 09:40 PM:

Thanks for the great advice, everybody!
p.s. I saw this ad for a six hundred dollar manual about how to write a book into two weeks - its supposed to turn you into a "wrting machine" and they say not to be creative. If you ask me, its a bunch of $#@&.

#69 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 09:45 PM:

Two weeks, huh? I suppose it IS possible - have you ever heard of NaNoWriMo? It's where you write a novel (50K+ words?) in a month. My husband participated in it last year. He made it with 5 days and several hundred words to spare.

I won't comment on quality - he won't let me read it until he's revised it a few times.

#70 ::: Karen Junker ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 01:04 AM:

Didn't one of last year's NaNoWriMo folks sell her novel to an actual publisher? Now I have to spend days trying to find her name...

#71 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 02:00 AM:

From the NaNoWriMo FAQ:
Has anyone had their novel published?

Jon F. Merz was one of Team 2001's winners; his NaNo book The Destructor was published by Pinnacle Books in March 2003. So far, two NaNoWriMo 2002 participants have sold their works to publishers, including Lani Diane Rich, whose NaNo-penned manuscript will be coming out on Warner Books in Fall 2004.

I don't think any of the 2003 participants have sold a book yet, but I could be wrong.

Two weeks is a short time to do a draft in, but it's possible. There's a 3 Day novel marathon (40k word draft, which is short for a novel) over Labor Day weekend. And I did nearly half my NaNo 2003 in the last three days (about 23.5k words).

(I don't recommend this as a normal part of one's writing plans. I was just bound and determined to finish.)

But that's a draft. More importantly, that's a first draft, the draft in which I allow myself to make mistakes, leave plot holes, change world rules halfway through, etc. as necessary. I also write very short first drafts; I'm averaging just about 55k for the first three novels' first drafts.

So, eh. You can write a book in two weeks, but it'd probably need a lot of revision.

#72 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 10:27 AM:

> Adriana, "the impact of homework on academic achievement is relatively limited", it's official!

> The report also says "Homework is bad for your family, [...] it causes arguments and upsets. A study of the impact of homework in different countries says that the pressure of homework causes friction between children and parents.

> This pressure is worst in families where parents are most keen for their children to succeed at school.

Teresa, thanks for this, which I am going to check out. My daughter's only in 2nd grade and homework has been a bugaboo for us from the first. Either it was make-work which she could toss off in 5 minutes and therefore didn't give a rat's ass about or it was some piece of idiocy where I felt you had to have a PhD to understand the instructions. Even in the "homework help" part of her afterschool program, actual teachers didn't always understand the instructions on the worksheets!

Anyway, homework is a bane of my existence. Not because I care that much about it, but because my child does. I don't mind the extra-credit reports--we generally have more time to do those and they are on topics that are actually interesting--but the day-to-day stuff is just killer, dull, boring, repetitive. My daughter learns better from things other than worksheets (god help me, those math flashcards I sword I'd never use when she was in K really made a difference this year).

But if the kid forgets her homework in school or gets something wrong, she flips out. It's a hard juggling act as a parent--you want your child to do well in school _and_ get a good education (those are not always the same thing) but at the same time you don't want to pressure them, especially the ones who are self-motivated.

Last night the local station showed the episode of the Simpsons where Lisa wigged out because of a teacher's strike--I told my daughter she was a little too much like that, and I hope she is getting the point . . .

Anyway, I'm going to look at that article and maybe take it the to Parent Coordinator at school.

#73 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 02:30 PM:

When I was a kid, back in the late 60s and 70s, we got a half-hour to an hour of homework, a couple of times a week, but not every night.

I have read that now parents expect their children should have HOURS of homework, every single day.

I have no children myself, but I am concerned that children today -- children of the last 20 years, really -- don't get nearly enough unstructured play time. Time to sit around, get bored, and figure out something to do to alleviate that boredom ("Hey, let's BLOW THINGS UP!")

#74 ::: Adriana ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 04:32 PM:

Melissa -
My parents never pressure me in school because they know I'm a perfectionist and I get stressed out enough without them saying anything.

Mitch -
I know EXACTLY what you mean, I spend hours on homework every night, book reports, worksheets, math problems, projects, etc and then I have about six hours of swimming total every week and I write whenever I can and I have basically no time to play because of all this homework. Last year I never did my homework until my teacher forced me to at the end of the year, so it sort of came as a shock this year. I hate how there's never enough time.

#75 ::: Jed Hartman ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 03:16 AM:

I can't find the font-related movie clip I wanted to post, so this'll have to do: Helvetica Bold Oblique Sweeps Fontys (from the Onion a few years back).

#76 ::: Kristjan Wager ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 07:37 AM:

There is a flash movie about the Cooper Black font - rather fun, and more interesting than one might think (well, perhaps not given the company).

It can be found here

#77 ::: adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 10:32 AM:

Anyone see some striking similarities between this Making Light thread and this new piece in Media Bistro, which is called, coincidentally, "Making Book?"

#78 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 11:17 AM:

One final note on assessing agents: ask how your book will be presented to editors. There are agents who never seem to submit individual books; instead they send out their client lists, with a paragraph or two on each book, or a group presentation of half a dozen projects at a time (which includes some combination of a synopsis, sample text, and author bio). The editor is asked to respond by requesting works they are interested in seeing.

I don't think this gives each book a fair chance and generally such presentations are not well targeted to specific editors. If I were looking for an agent, I'd want one who could assure me that my book would be submitted on its own.

#79 ::: Kristjan Wager ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2004, 02:27 AM:

It was pointed out that the link I made to the Cooper Black flash movie didn't work, so I'll just repost it:

Cooper Black flash movie

#80 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2004, 03:16 PM:

Question for Teresa and the other pros here: Do legitimate agents charge editing fees? Ever?

The reason I ask is this: As a couple of you know, I was recently shopping for a writing group here in San Diego. One of the people I talked to was a nice woman who was involved in a writing group in the area. I didn't join her group - one of the main reasons was that it was run on the teacher-student model, with a pro who was paid to critique manuscripts and dispense writing advice. When she was stating the credentials of the members of the group, she said several of them were in talks with publishers and agents.

I know enough about publishing scams to ask whether these agents and editors charged fees. The woman said, no, but several of them made referrals to editors who, of course, charged fees for editing the writer's ms.

By this time my scam alarm was setting off red alerts all over the place.

(You may now envision the canned film clip they used to use on the original Star Trek, with the klaxon going WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP! and the shot of the red light flashing, cut to a shot of velour-clad crewmen hurrying this way and that while Capt. Kirk's voice comes over the loudspeaker: "This is not a drill. Repeat: this is NOT a drill.")

I still have this woman's e-mail address, and I'd like to do my good deed for the day by passing along some advice. So, here's my question for Teresa and the other pros here: is this woman and her colleages getting scammed, or is it possible they have found legitimate editors and agents who charge editing fees? Do legitimate editors and agents charge editing fees?

Please state your name and credentials - my plan is to pass this URL on to the woman, and she'll want to know, "Who are these people? And why should I listen to THEM?"

And if you can point me to any other URLs I can pass along, on how to tell legitimate agents and publishers from scams, I'll be grateful for that information as well.

#81 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2004, 04:02 PM:

The Cooper Black movie is fantastic!! Thank you Kristjan! Now - can anyone identify the book of type that is photographed about 3/4 through the film? It looks absolutely delicious and I'd love to find a copy.....

#82 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 10:04 AM:

Today's San Francisco Chronicle had an article on what sounds like the worst possible way to get an agent -- "agent dating". For the ugly details, see:

#83 ::: Elaine Isaak ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 03:11 PM:

I have recently been given the name of a former editor who is becoming an agent, but will be working from the west coast. I've been advised on several occasions to get a New York agent because of the time difference. In the e-mail age, is this still an issue?

#84 ::: Karen Junker ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 04:22 PM:

Faren- thanks for the link...I'm having the agents who organized the event at my con this summer. They plan to do a longer meeting with writers, go over the first page of a manuscript and talk with groups of 10. The speed-dating seems similar, if shorter, to agent appointments I've had at other writing cons.

It would be fun to know what the follow-up numbers turn out to be and if anyone gets a contract as a result of the SF event. I practically stalk my alumni to find out how their careers are going. It's not as if coming here is the turning point (well, in a few cases I know of, it was), but it all adds up.

I think speed pitches must prepare a writer to pitch a book succinctly, if nothing else. I like to watch the movie The Player for hints on how to get the meat and potatoes into a dazzling package.

Mitch - I'm curious about paying for editing help, too. The publisher I'm trying to write for has a paid manuscript critique service and they are the only publisher that puts out the sub-genre I'm writing. So, if it's okay for them to do it, where do we draw the line? PS a friend paid for the critique, submitted the corrected manuscript and was rejected. It seems opinions vary in-house.

#85 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 05:19 PM:

"Speed pitching" a book would prepare a writer for nothing except writing books that can be condensed into a couple of lines of shallow, context-free "big ideas."

Yes, this is done in the movie business. But it does not -work- for the movie business, either. It produces a continuous flow of derivative crap that's "like" something that sold tickets last year. I thought the point of the pitch scene in "The Player" was how meaningless and empty everything became after being first reduced to a slightly blackened fond and then modified on the fly to suit the offhand whim of the producer.

There's a reason a partial is chapters-and-outline, not slogan-and-outline.

#86 ::: Karen Junker ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 07:25 PM:

Thank you, John, I appreciate and respect your opinion. I'm not saying I'm an expert...I'm operating under the advice of published romance authors who teach in their workshops that a writer ought to condense their novel into a high-concept pitch. They say this is to provide a hook that will grab the agent/editor and provoke a conversation about the work. Also, I've been to dozens of workshops that advise (romance) writers to open a query letter the same way, one to three sentences. My question to you is - do you think this means writing anything else is not like writing romance? I'm not phrasing that very well, but...I've been repeating this advice to a lot of people, so if there's a better way, I want to change what I've been telling folks. Also, if you think this may apply to romance but not to other types of writing, I'd like to hear your views on that.

I guess the point is that they don't want the editor/agent's eyes to start to glaze over too soon. How would you advise a new writer to pitch to an agent?

#87 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 08:36 PM:

I personally deal with lots of non-NYC agents, for what that's worth.

#88 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 09:39 PM:

>>How do you advise a new writer to pitch to an agent?

"I have a book contract. Do you have a possible opening in your list, and would you like to see the novel?"

An agent isn't a movie producer, though it sounds like some of them are pretending to be. Her job (along with a great deal of bookkeeping and file-minding) is to present your work to potential publishers, to some degree using her reputation as a person capable of recognizing quality work to push the door open a little. An agent can't sell a book to an editor who doesn't want to buy it (for whatever reason), though a lot of people think so. An agent who constantly sends junk to editors (and there are some) falls into the "worse than nobody" category. An agent with a full client list may not have time to read a new author's work, but one who would simply rather not go to the trouble of reading a whole novel is in the wrong business -- as this thread has noted, possibly deliberately.

As for the "short pitch" idea, I think that this -may- (note that word) be applicable to highly formularized fiction. It -might- apply to romance if you're talking about Mills & Boonies; it doesn't if you mean Jane Austen or Cecelia Holland, or even Tom "Jennifer Wilde" Huff. The assumption of the short pitch is that all this book -has- to differentiate itself from the vast pile of generic romances, or police procedurals, or space-war sagas, is that the romance takes place on the Moon, or the cops are ancient Minoans, or the space war is being fought with vacuum-sealed cream pies.

This happens a lot in slushpile science fiction: the author points out how new and fantastic his idea is. First, he's usually wrong, but more importantly, it's not "the idea," it's how the idea is developed, what difference it makes to the characters, how they respond to it. One is presumbably writing a book, and not a bumper sticker, because the characters and the context matter.

And a query letter is not a cover blurb, though again, lots of folks think so. You cannot convince anybody that your book is "new" or "different" or even "good" in two sentences, any more than "New and Improved!" on a cereal box is evidence of novelty or improvement. Somebody's gotta read it, and that person is not caused to read it because the query letter was so wonderful; they're reading it because that's their job. The overwhelming effect of "Let me describe my book in a few choice words" queries is to make the book sound lame and unoriginal. Doubled and vulnerable if it's a comparison to something else.

Do I think writing "anything else" is not like writing romance? I think that writing one kind of formula fiction is a lot like writing any other kind, and that no genre (romance included) is forced into formula. There are succesful publishing lines, and successful authors, who do well by producing highly generic work, and I'm not sneering at them; that's a voluntary choice to serve a real market.

But I don't think that novels aspire to the condition of movies, though sometimes authors do.

#89 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 09:45 PM:

Karen --

Please understand that I am not by any means angry or upset with you; I -am- often exasperated with the current state of the business (particularly the infusion of concepts from the movie and music industries, like "the people who actually do the creative work are disposable day labor"). Apologies if you feel caught in the blast radius.

#90 ::: Karen Junker ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 09:53 PM:

Many thanks, Mr. Ford!

#91 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 10:20 AM:

While I think that 3 minutes is too short for a pitch, it's pretty routine for pitches given at conventions, during formal "pitch sessions," to run 5-7 minutes. That's enough time (sometimes more than enough time) for me to figure out if I really want to see a submission.

And from a human interaction point of view, I do feel that authors should be able to talk about the main points of their plots and their main characters without seeming to have to summon that information from the deepest recesses of their memory. I know that authors are nervous/scared, and I've been told more than once that I'm intimidating (which I don't understand), and I try to be warm and welcoming to the prospective writer, but sometimes I feel like I'm dragging info out of people one detail at a time. I'm only human, and situations like that can be exhausting, especially when you have to do it half a dozen times in a row.

RWA-trained people give the most together pitches I've ever seen, whether it's for romance or mystery or something else entirely. I don't take more submissions from these writers, but we do get to the point of the submission more quickly and then have time to discuss nuance or for me to ask questions of more depth than "are there any women in your book?"

#92 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 10:33 AM:

It should be clarified for readers not familiar with the various genre-fiction industries that the "conventions" Melissa refers to above are somewhat different from the science-fiction "conventions" that Teresa and I go to intermittently.

The events Melissa is referring to are gatherings of aspiring writers, generally over a weekend, full of panels and workshops and often featuring the opportunity for each attendee to deliver a brief "pitch" to a working editor or agent. Teresa and I have each been the Real Editor at an event like this a time or two, and it's exhausting, although not without its rewards.

Science fiction conventions, on the other hand, while they may feature events geared to the aspiring writer, are primarily run by and for avid readers of the stuff; their central orientation isn't necessarily toward "breaking in." Exceptions, as in all things, abound.

Mike Ford is also right that different genres are more or less amenable to the "brief pitch."

#93 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 10:53 AM:

Now I want to read about a space war fought with vacuum-sealed cream pies.


#94 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 11:39 AM:

It happened once before
We fought the Solar War
With cream pies...

#95 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 12:30 PM:

Regarding verbally pitching books... I don't know if I could do this unless I came prepared with something I'd written out and then memorized, not so much out of nervousness (although there's no doubt that'd figure in) but out of a much simpler thing: writing, I can do. Speaking is rather different.

I have a much harder time explaining things to people verbally than writing out instructions; I'm quite good at the latter, because I have time to revise and reword, whereas the people who get verbal tutoring from me are stuck with listening to me search for the right way to explain and going back and saying "Oh, yeah, I left out a step". Okay, not always, but...

Likewise, I have yet to be able to answer the question "so what's the book about?" without either sounding like a moron, leaving out half the things I'd put in a one-paragraph written answer to that, or taking 10 minutes to explain. Trying to condense it on the spot just doesn't work for me. (Though I can babble at length about it!)

I mention this because I doubt it's just me.

Of course, the obvious solution would be to come prepared -- set it down on paper first, read it until it stuck, and hope I didn't leave something out when presenting it verbally. But that would be where the nervousness would come in...

#96 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 02:32 PM:

Patrick speaketh sooth wrt to "my" conventions; I have been off the SF&F convention circuit for many years now, with the occasional exception of World Horror, World Fantasy, or Necon.

Instead, I spend most of my limited travel time at conventions that are equal part dedicated-to-analysing-and-appreciating-a-genre and equal part I-want-to-be-a-writer-how-do-I-do-it? and at writers conferences, which are totally oriented toward breaking in. Said conventions/conferences are often of a genre like mystery or romance. However, I've done some more general ones as well, where writers of virtually any type of fiction (or even nonfiction) may find help and encouragement.

#97 ::: Julie Mensch ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 02:56 PM:

Karen--practically? There's no practically. :)

I would think that many basic courtesies of writing would bleed over no matter what the genre. Boring is boring.

And FWIW, my agent isn't in NY and I have no complaints. I think our society has advanced sufficiently.

#98 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 04:29 PM:

My answer to "What's the book about?" is "About 320 pages."

My answer to "What happens in the book?" is "The good guys win."

#99 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 04:48 PM:

Heh. I can see I am going to have to steal those answers. They sound so much better than mine.

"Oh, well, see, first there's this... well, actually, no, first you find out... And there's this woman... well, and this guy, too... and they're...

"You know what? How about you wait until I write a synopsis. I'll hand them out."

#100 ::: Elaine Isaak ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 05:21 PM:

Re, the short pitch.
I think that Tina has articulated an important use for the one-sentence summary of your book, which is marketing yourself and your work to whomever might take an interest--even if that means a stranger in an elevator. Obviously, the novel is more complex than that sentence, but if you can attract the attention of a reader, agent, editor with something brief that can't be a bad thing. My dad, the marketing man, pointed out that a key issue in being self-employed is selling yourself. One way to do that is to know your message (i.e. your short pitch) and be ready to use it at any time.
I think it is also useful from the writing perspective because crafting that sentence should clarify for you what the important issue or question of the work is. You can use the sentence as somewhat of a yardstick to be sure that your digressions don't get out of hand.

#101 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 06:29 PM:

Tina, when I talk about my nearly-finished novel project, I don't even try to say what it's Really About. I give a brief list. "What's it about? Oh, Finnish mythology, the Cold War, and vacuum-tube computing." When in fact it's only sort-of about any of those things and largely about, well, see, there's this guy, and also these two women....

I have no idea how well this works, as I haven't tried it with Real Live Editors yet. But it makes me feel much more "put together" than the flustered versions I've used in the past.

#102 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 08:05 PM:

Karen: Also, I've been to dozens of workshops that advise (romance) writers to open a query letter the same way, one to three sentences. My question to you is - do you think this means writing anything else is not like writing romance?

Looking at this purely as a longtime reader (rarely of more than a few paragraphs of anything labeled solely as "romance") -- it seems that romance writing in this country is much more oriented towards formula, particularly formula that reads as "different but the same"; from what I've seen there are (inter alia) several labeled grades of (e.g.) how close the characters come to intercourse before marriage (and if they do how much detail is provided). The labels are of course nothing as clear as PG-13 -- but they do represent, from what I've heard, very specific maximum (and minimum) levels of activity.

Many years ago I was told by a sometimes-reliable source that Laser (the SF line that came from the same source as Harlequin romances) lasted only 18 months because the management was utterly unused to the books selling according to quality (in themselves or as perceived from the author's name); they expected every title in their line to sell a similar number of copies. They might move a writer who showed some usable individuality or skill to a different line, or even a solo line (e.g. Barbara Cartland) but expected all of the titles under the same label to sell at the same rate. Again, this was an outsider's view.

In case you're not familiar with Mike's work, you should know that he's done two line books, both of which are said to have caused substantial enlargements of the rule book for that line (original Star Trek). My prejudiced view is that in a romance line the manuscripts would simply have been recycled as firelighters, losing us two exceptional works; Melissa is only one of the participants knowledgeable enough to correct that belief.

#103 ::: Karen Junker ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 12:03 AM:

CHip - I've started with trying to write romance as a form because I've figured out those are the writers who have the most (or so it seems to me) support in place- workshops, classes, writer's association that doesn't require members be published, magazines devoted to the genre, lots of websites and other online groups. The romance writers seemed less fearsome to me than wading through a crowd of Klingons. No offense meant to any Klingons, of course...

Some of my friends and I write cross-genre stuff, maybe not exactly what you'd call interstitial, but we don't throw our hats squarely into any one ring. I've discovered the expectations for mystery writers are not the same as romance or fantasy, yet some of us include all of those elements in our work. I'm going to spend $1500 to go to a conference in April so I can ask Diana Gabaldon how she pitched her books (okay, and take a class from Donald Maass...)

A lot of us spend our days writing, learning how to write better and networking to divine how best to position ourselves - to get a recommendation from a friend to their agent or anything else that will get us closer to the top of a slush pile. For those of us who didn't fit in well at school, these networking skills are a bugger to learn in adulthood. Some of us will never have the capacity to self-select out of the game. Like the morbid hoarder, I'm pretty much obessed with acquiring all the scoop I can get about agent/editor likes and dislikes and how the winners ran. Some of us talk about this amongst ourselves so we know not to bother Famous Editor X or why we don't want to get hooked up with Available Agent, but I'm all for spreading the word. Writer's Digest doesn't tell us all we need to know.

And yes, I've got 'read Mike's work' on my list.

#104 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 09:41 AM:

From my reviewerly perspective, the problem with condensations is that they can completely fail to capture the spirit of a book. I've read many novels whose bare-bones plot seems ludicrous, but either the plot isn't the point or some authorial magic (could be characterization, overall wit, lurking sense of wider/wiser vision, any number of things) makes the "unworkable" work brilliantly. I've also been drawn in by masterful opening paragraphs in books whose blurbs failed to capture my interest. So how should a writer encapsulate his/her own real powers in a one-minute speech or a brief written summary? I have no idea!

#105 ::: Julie Mensch ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 09:50 AM:

Yes, since many blurbs are written by someone other than the author, one has to expect that the flavor of the novel will not always prevail.

#106 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 09:59 AM:

Chip, not being a romance editor, I can't say exactly how books like Mike's line novels (one of which I reread every few years because it always makes me laugh, though in different places each time [except for the piano]) would have been received _at that time_. Romance in those days was much more rigid than it is now; I remember seeing the guidelines for Second Chance at Love when I was working at Berkley and being just astonished at how specific they were. And Second Chance was something of a groundbreaker, since the heroines were all people who had had prior lives/relationships, whereas the typical romance heroine of the time had never had a serious relationship before the one in the book.

Like SF&F, romance has many subgenres; it seems to have developed more of them in the last 20 years. It used to be that romances fell into small groups: Contemporary, Regency, Historical, etc. Now there's Contemporary with all sorts of subdivisions according to how sensual/sexual the books are; there's the whole "secret daddy/secret pregnancy" thing, which would have been unthinkable a little more than a decade ago; there's various levels of suspense, etc. Yes, there are still cowboy heroes and even royalty (this boggles my mind as a reader), but women work, often in demanding jobs, run their own businesses, have children from previous marriages, etc.

Then there's the whole paranormal thing--vampires, werewolves/shapeshifters, time travel (sort of a subgenre of historical, I guess), futuristic (a la Anne McCaffrey's Restoree or even Star Trek), witches, possessed objects and other hallmarks of occult fiction.

Romantic suspense goes in and out of fashion; there were once whole lines devoted to suspense novels with romance or romance novels with suspense; nowadays many category novels include suspense or mystery without being part of a suspense "line."

Then you have the even newer types of romances--multicultural, inspirational, etc. And one of the category publishers this year has started a fantasy line which is publishing known fantasy authors like Mercedes Lackey. So a book like Mike's might work in romance today, but might not have at the time that Mike wrote the books in question.

Please note that most of what I have said in here comes from indirect observation, from articles I've read, from seeing what's going on in bookstores and following industry trends. It is therefore not to be considered gospel.

#107 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 11:54 AM:

Karen: I'm going to spend $1500 to go to a conference in April so I can ask Diana Gabaldon how she pitched her books (okay, and take a class from Donald Maass...)

Glad you threw the last part in, because I'm pretty sure you can find the story various places.

Hmm. Quick poke around her site turns up this interview, there's probably stuff in her writer's corner, and of course there's the _Outlandish Companion_ (which is at home but I think also has something about the process).

#108 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 12:36 PM:

The Outlandish Companion definitely has the story of how she got her agent, and how her series outgrew her original contract proposal. (I really enjoyed reading the Companion, btw. The little nuts and bolts on how she cobbles her books together really intrigued me, although its not precisely a process that works for me, except with modifications.)

#109 ::: Karen Junker ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 03:39 PM:

Thank you for the links, Kate - I think maybe what I meant above was that I want to hear it from her own lips. As in the theory that we all learn in different ways, reinforced visually, aurally, etc...I like to cover all the bases.

This conversation is a wonderful resource. Thank you, all.

#110 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 06:01 PM:

Melissa --
I am glad you like the piano.

Someday the world will be ready for the story of how there was a paper diagram of the hotel, with cardboard counters for the characters, so I could keep track of where they all were and arrange interesting meetings ("I begin with two characters who must never meet, and then I bring them together as quickly as possible" -- Charles Feydeau) and stuff like that, and the world had darn well be ready half a paragraph ago.

#111 ::: Adriana ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 06:39 PM:


It happened once before
We fought the solar war
With the cream pies
Who descended from the skies
And changed dessert forever

They came in mid December
A day we all remember
Suddenly the sky went dark
Each pie falling left a mark:
A pile of white glop.

Brave men cowered under
Tabletops, list'ning to the rumble
But soon the storm did subside
And the children ventured outside
To devour the delicacies

A carelful glance revealed
That they were vacuum sealed
And just when we thought
We were safe - we were not
Now came the ice-cream cakes

Once again we did flee
We could hardly see
We tried to battle the cakes
But ut was a big mistake
The war had begun

The warriors prepared in
THeir kitchens, armed with tin
Spoons and pans and plates
The rushed to save their planet
But alas! they were too late

A few escaped in a spaceship
To the distant planet Iktakip
They organized a counter attack
But one thing their plan did lack:
They were four in number.

Brave Uktara, the young cook
Left their shelter to take a look
She discovered that they
Were being pursued
By a glass of milk
And a lot of food.

She charged them with her spoon
CHasing them towards Iktakip's moon
Her companions ambushed the pies
And flung them into the skies
But they had reinforcements.

Towards the twim stars
Past a planet like Mars
The young warriors were forced to retreat.
They landed on a moon
Not a moment too soon -
They narrowly escaped the stars' heat.


Will evil prevail? Will good triumph? WHat will become of Uktara and her friends?
Find out in the next episode of...


#112 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2004, 10:00 AM:


#113 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2004, 11:29 AM:

The thought of encapsulating what makes a novel different makes me want to put my head in a bucket. If I could have written it in three lines, I'd have written a haiku in the first place.

I think this is particularly a problem in SF/F because you don't even know in advance what the world is like, or even if there is a world, everything is open. So there's a world, and there's an idea, and there's also characters and something happening to them which we could call plot -- I don't think even the world's greatest summarizer could get A Fire Upon the Deep or A Million Open Doors down to three lines.

And if you say "Actually it's just like Trollope, except that all the characters are dragons and eat each other," most sensible people think you're joking.

#114 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2004, 01:11 PM:

I tried to write that once (well, to order Austen = Trollope) but it kept turning Bronte and I trunked it as stillborn. I can't do Bronte.

ObOnTopic: Will we ever get a thread on the spending of agents?


#115 ::: KMcClymer ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 07:24 AM:

What is a good verbal pitch for any book? "Would you be interested in my novel on the rise and rise of a new religion? Think Jesus does the U.S. Told from the alternating points of view of his little sister and the detective assigned to solve his murder."

Hearing this, any editor is able to say "Nope, we don't do religion." or "Send me the proposal." Or ask a few questions to determine whether they're talking to a nutter or not before they decide whether the book is worth looking at.

Should I instead try to explain the complexities and nuances? "An exploration of faith and its miracles and fallacies and the evil done in its name? A close in view of how power and faith intermingle and corrupt. An examination of man's need to believe in an overarching authority to make sense of the brief chaotic lives humankind leads." Oh, and don't forget the underlying theme of patriarchy flayed open and laid under the microscope.

The only thing that will sell a book is the writing. A pitch is meant to get the editor to say "Send it." A way out of the slush pile. That's it...although if you can make it sound interesting or different or intelligent enough, the editor may actually look forward to seeing if it's publishable.

I am a romance writer, and have done one 5 minute pitch (I'm quite awful at it, having the tendency to babble on about everything inconsequential to the book from my middle child inspired the my nervousness...can you see the sweat rings on my shirt?). If I were ever forced to pitch a book again verbally, I would do the quick concept pitch that hits a few high points or none at all. No one needs to hear a five minute rendition of the complexities of my plot when the only thing that will sell the book is the writing.

I feel extra passionately about this because I have been leading a discussion in my writing group on pitches for those who are about to pitch at upcoming conferences. So far, I've turned two two page pitches into one paragraph pitches. Next, we're going to talk about two way conversation and how to generate questions. I hope the editors appreciate a little bit of verbal white space. And the writers appreciate being able to look the editor in the eye and smile, instead of staring at their paper, trying to read as much as possible in the time allotted.

Please note my inability to be brief, even here. It's only worse when I talk. And it still all comes down to the manuscript :-)

#116 ::: Charles Boyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2004, 02:14 PM:

You say to be wary of publishing assistance that requires payment by the author.
A group called The Writers' Collective seems to be different.
Can you provide an opinion, please.

#117 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2004, 03:13 PM:

A group called The Writers' Collective seems to be different.

The only way it seems different from your standard PoD vanity press is that they've added a dollop of the Professional Editor scheme.

#118 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2004, 06:54 PM:

Yes. There's one throbbing luminous mindbendingly huge distinction: this particular vanity publisher calls itself a writers' collective. Aside from that, it's just another vanity publisher.

They charge you $275 the first year and $150 each year thereafter, and call it membership fees or dues. There's also a separate charge for having your book printed -- had you spotted that yet? It doesn't matter what TWC calls it. You're still paying to have your book published.

Different vanity publishers have come up with a bunch of different terms for that money they want you to pay them. That's why Yog's Law doesn't specify what that payment is called. It simply says, "Money should always flow toward the author." (Alternately: "The only time an author signs a check is when he endorses it on the back.")

For those who want to follow along, here's TWC's main URL. Here's their FAQ.

As I said, TWC charges $275 the first year and $150 each year thereafter, in return for which you get an ISBN, a Library of Congress CIP number, a barcode (by which they may or may not mean you get an EAN), the right to set up a promotional page on their website, an optional free conversion of your text into e-book format, a listing at Baker & Taylor, and an XML conversion of info about your title for use in databases. Note: if they're going to list you at Baker & Taylor, I believe they have to do that XML conversion anyway, so listing it as a separate benefit is a bit of a rip.

In addition, you get access to their cover template pages, where you get to design your own book cover using the materials they provide. It looks like they had someone dummy up a bunch of generic cover treatments. You can spot the ones nobody's wanted to use yet, because they don't have any back cover copy.

Is this enough to get you into print? It is not. That $275 is only the beginning. You're going to pay your own production costs. Here's their page where you input your information in order to get a quote on your printing costs. This is a sure sign of expenditures to come.

In the meantime, there are a bunch of printing companies out there who for years now have made exactly this kind of "get a price quote" page available to the public. Theirs are far more detailed and complete, and there's no charge for using them. You input your info, you get your quote. Weeks or months later you may get a follow-up letter from them, asking whether you ever got your book printed, and are you still interested; but that's all. You can find out more about this and related matters in an article called "Self-publication without Pretense," available here, here, and here. It's a few years old now, but the basic principles haven't changed.

Assimilated all that? Okay, here are their printing charges. Don't feel bad if you didn't spot them right off. That page is a bit hard to find. TWC has a deal going with a printer called Fidlar Doubleday, in Kalamazoo MI. (I very much doubt they're connected with Doubleday Books.) Note all those minimum print runs and setup charges and other jollifications.

There are a couple of gotchas you may not fully appreciate, so I'll point them out to you:

Prepress Charges

If Fidlar Doubleday services are required to help format, create, or make changes to the files over and above the time allotted by the Writers' Collective package, the charge will be $80 per hour. Yet another reason to double and triple check your files before submission.

Never think they don't mean it. Surcharges for tardiness, carelessness, poor organization, and (in some cases) naivete about the exact services for which one is being invoiced, are a major profit center for the printing industry.
Proof Samples: $ 0.05/page, $15/cover
Grit your teeth and pay it. If there are more than a few small corrections, grit your teeth and pay for a second pass.
Changes To Text After Proof Approval: $9.50 per page
Woof. That provision's a bitch. In my experience, corrections made at that stage have normally been priced at a buck or two per line. At $9.50 a page, you had better have that thing proofread to within an inch of its life before you send it in, or you're going to learn a salutary lesson about ground-level capitalism.

Maybe Fidlar Doubleday's offering you a good deal. Maybe they aren't. Personally, I'd want to check out the prices at a few other printing companies, just to see. Or, if you've written a decent book, you can just take it to Booklocker. It still won't be free, but their prices were quite reasonable last time I looked, and they're straight shooters.

My overall take on TWC is that they're a prime example of rent-seeking behavior. They're not proposing to edit your book, or sell it, or publicize it, or design its cover and write the copy for it, or any of that other hard stuff. They're just going to provide you with a few semi-automated services, and broker you a few more services (some of them of a highly dubious nature), and sit back to collect an annual fee on the arrangement.

Should I be more merciful? Are these well-meaning but gormless newbies? I'm sorry to say I have my doubts. There are too many places where they address difficult questions with a flurry of hand-waving and tap-dancing, then move on without answering them. For examples, look here and here.

Sometimes they're deliberately misleading. For instance:

Until now, writers who wanted to self-publish had to pay a minimum of $250 for ISBN numbers. About $200 for an LOC number. Another $200 in printer set-up fees. At least $300 for a decent cover. And the only other company on the net converting title info into XML (about to be made mandatory by major wholesalers) charges $150 per title. Per year. Well over $1000 before you've paid for a single book. The cost to join The Writers' Collective and get everything listed above while retaining 100% of the sales price? Just $275. That's it. No hidden charges. No catches. Your work. Your book. Your profit.
When they say "$250 for ISBN numbers", they mean the minimum purchase of a block of 10 ISBNs from Bowker will cost you $220. However, there are a number of places where you can get them for considerably less than that. (By the way, I'm fairly sure TWC paid eight bucks apiece for the ISBNs in their block.) The rest of their quoted figures there are likewise questionable. And for a newbie, those last fifteen words are going to suggest something which I can tell they don't mean, but the newbie can't.

Now check out this:

True, there's no advance, but if your book is really good and you promote it well, you'll make more money than with a small advance going to pay for a PR person, which new writers are expected to provide these days.
To put it bluntly: no, they aren't. That is an untruth. I've never heard of a legit publishing house requiring a new author to hire their own PR person. Publishers may or may not pay for PR, but they don't make authors pay for it when they don't. Some writers hire PR agents anyway; but it's far more common for any extra PR work to be done by the author.

Here's one more quote from them. This one's not only untrue; it's disturbing:

Any book not professionally edited has a fool for an author. We have several great editors whom we've personally vetted, and who give generous discounts to members. Use them, or use someone else who makes you happy. Use none — and you're not going to sell many books.
As I mentioned briefly in my original post, "Professional editor" has become a warning sign. (As a professional editor, I resent this.) When you're trying to size up an unfamiliar agent, catching them asserting that "no publisher will look at a manuscript unless it's been professionally edited" practically constitutes prima facie evidence that you're dealing with a scammer. There is no such requirement.

The reason scam agents do the "you have to be professionally edited" song and dance is that they're in cahoots with shady book doctors. Baby authors who know they're not supposed to be paying their agent will fail to realize that the very expensive (and not very good) editor to whom they've been referred is paying the agent a substantial kickback. For some scam agents, it's the most profitable part of their operation.

Maybe that's not what's going on at TWC. Maybe this time, "let me refer you to one of the excellent professional editors we work with" is nothing more than a helpful offer to refer you to an experienced freelancer. I have to believe in the possibility. Of course, it's also possible various mid-size mammals will sprout wings and fly. Wouldn't it be cool if that happened? We can but hope.

#119 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2004, 07:28 PM:

I've seen two very close friends shell out HUGE sums of money to TWC, with apparently nothing to show for it...

#120 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2004, 07:30 PM:

Oh, hi there, Jim. While I was laboriously explaining everything in detail, you cut right to the chase.

#122 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2004, 08:51 PM:

This entry from their FAQ fills me with a combination of rage and despair.

If this is such a great idea, why hasn't it been done already?
The number of people willing to build an organization dedicated to not parting writers from their last dime is finite. Make that miniscule. No, make that… me. The publishing world (online and off) is filled with middlemen dipping a lot of hands in an awfully small stream. With a collective we can stand that business model on its head. A true gift from all of you to each of us. And vice-versa. If this sounds like A Good Thing (and you've read all the fine print), come join us. If not, we wish you a brilliant career elsewhere. But whatever you do — keep writing!

Where to start with that false, misleading, mendacious, lying ... thing?

First of all, "why hasn't it been done already?"

Fellah, it's already been done. Hundreds of times, hundreds places, all over the web, and off of it. For years. It's called "Vanity." Vanity publishing has a long and dishonorable history. This is yet another bog-standard vanity press, with the misleading label "collective" pasted on it.

The number of people willing to build an organization dedicated to not parting writers from their last dime is finite. Make that miniscule. No, make that… me.

Shall we enumerate the people who are building organizations that are a) paying writers and b) getting their books on bookstore shelves, and c) into the hands of readers not related to the writers. Can we name 'em? Sure. Random House, Time/Warner, Harper, Doubleday, St. Martin's, Dell, Penguin ... we can just keep on going.

But you, chum. You. You're one of the people sucking money out of writers' pockets and giving them a pinch of pixie dust. Fairy gold. Smoke, mirrors, and dreams.

This isn't a collective. A collective shares the rist. You aren't risking a god-damned thing. You're sitting back and collecting money no matter if an author sells a single book. (Maybe that's why you're calling it a "collective.") Selling books is hard. Cheating writers is easy. You took the easy path.

Yeah, it's a "true gift." A gift is when you give something to someone else and don't expect anything back. The question is why you expect writers to make gifts of money to you.

This scheme falls in that vast grey area between a Very Bad Idea and an Outright Scam. I'm sure TWC does everything it promises to do, even if those things are overpriced or unnecessary.


Make no mistake about it. This guy has built an organization dedicated to parting writers from their last dime.

Our chum ought to get a job with the Bush campaign. I'm sure he'd fit right in.

Kids: Don't pay to get published.

#123 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2004, 09:18 PM:


I misspoke earlier, one of the parties concerned is NOT using TWC, but was going with another vanity publishing house, but has apparently came to his senses, and decided to try short stories first.

The party still involved with TWC? The last time I checked, she was still working overtime to try and come up with more money for fees. I'd inquire further as to her experience with the outfit, but I'm afraid that she'd ask me to read the book again.

#124 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2004, 09:20 PM:

Anybody who spells minuscule miniscule lacks something important.

I envy the way MJ Engh got and kept her agent - the agent thought MJ was a writer in a class with the best of the agent's clients - regardless of sales.

#125 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2004, 09:35 PM:

That FAQ entry reminds me of The Outlandish Knight:

She fetched him some of her father's gold,
And some of her mother's fee,
Two of the best horses out of the stable,
Where there stood thirty and three.

She mounted on her milk white steed,
And he on the dapple grey,
They rode till they came unto the seaside,
Not long before it was day.

Light off, light off your milk white steed,
Deliver it now unto me,
For six pretty fair maids I have drowned here,
The seventh one thou shalt be.

The ethics involved are not dissimilar.

#126 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2004, 11:28 PM:

I stumbled across TWC a while back, while accumulating urls for submissions guidelines. May I extend my grateful thanks to Writer Beware, the Rumor Mill, various con panelists and sundry other sf anti-scam resources for ensuring that it took me about five seconds to decide that this was a "Run away, run away!" situation. :-)

Just back from Baycon, where I was picking the brains of those with ebook experience on something I encountered recently. An ebook publisher says in its submissions guidelines that it conforms to EPIC guidelines on fair contracts, so I wandered over to look at the EPIC website. In the contract red flags pages, number 6 is some advice on when it may be appropriate to take a subsidy contract, *if* you know that's what it is. And it says "at this time it is routine for e-authors to pay the costs of registering copyright". My immediate reaction here is "money is flowing in the wrong dirction", but I can actually see why a publisher with a non-exclusive contract, also common in some areas of epublishing, would be reluctant to pay for copyright registration. Anyone with more experience care to comment? I'm not giving the site Googlejuice, but it's the .org of what you'd expect.

#127 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 12:50 AM:

Bill, I was afraid of that. The site starts out looking like you aren't going to pay much at all, relatively speaking; but the further down I dug, the more stipulations and provisions I found that were going to cost like smoke.

Thank you, Clark. TWC also refers to "ISBN numbers", and the colors on their template covers are spec'd as names: Latte. Goldenglo. Putty. Lapis. (Falls over, twitching in a sudden access of anaphylactic production shock.)

I first met M. J. Engh many years ago, at an early Readercon. I shyly mumbled something about freelancing for Tor, and how much I'd admired her punctuation in Wheel of the Winds. "Oh my goodness," she said, taking both my hands; "you're that copy editor." At that moment, I very nearly worshipped her.

That was a great copy edit. The first pass, I did very little. The second pass, I mostly deleted marks I'd put in on the first pass, and gradually became aware that there was a quiet logical error running through the book, and confirmed the perfect regularity of her language and punctuation. The unpaid third pass, I tracked and documented the logical error. I also did did the same for her usage, just for the joy of it. I was so happy.

Do you know how rare it is to find someone using idiosyncratic but perfectly regular and perfectly logical capitalization? And what she did with grammatical units and parentheses was just lovely.

Julia, the scamhunter's joy is to see authors not fall into these con artists' snares.

There's more than one variety of e-publication. For instance, ebook versions of Tor titles have their copyrights registered by the company. However, many e-publishing operations are marginallly profitable even by industry standards (think about that, eh?), while others are essentially semi-amateur subsidy publishing; and where copyright registrations are concerned, they're unclear about both the utility of and their responsibility for. If they were publishing my books, I'd register my own copyrights without a second thought.

Okay, I'm also a former Managing Editor. You know how many Managing Editors it takes to screw in a lightbulb? "Look, I've already replaced that bulb and all the other bulbs we bought in that batch, I've ordered a case of new ones, and I have a building-wide lightbulb replacement schedule worked out ... so just let me handle this, okay?"

Heaven help the copy editor who ever works on one of my manuscripts.

#128 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2004, 11:50 AM:

Jacques Barzun did a lovely piece in the American Scholar many years ago on the general theme that a good editor is beyond pearls.

He also acknowledged a malicious pleasure in being able to say OK, as usage authority for the American Heritage Dictionary, he'd change the dictionary before he changed his copy when that dictionary was cited against his usage.

#129 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2004, 07:19 PM:

This conversation continues here.

#130 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2004, 10:34 AM:

There was a question a bit back that wasn't answered:

And it says "at this time it is routine for e-authors to pay the costs of registering copyright". My immediate reaction here is "money is flowing in the wrong dirction", but I can actually see why a publisher with a non-exclusive contract, also common in some areas of epublishing, would be reluctant to pay for copyright registration.

If you have non-exclusive e-publishing contracts with several e-publishers, each of them would be quite reasonable to say "Why should we register that copyright for you? Let one of those other guys register it, if you're so hot to get it registered."

So, if it's non-exclusive and in multiple markets, I think that registering the copyright is your lookout. (The work is still copyrighted even if you don't register it; all that registering it buys you (for $30) is the ability to get punitive damages if someone uses your work without your permission (IANAL).)

I say in this case, if and only if you've already made more than $30 on the whole deal considering all your e-publishers as a whole, the author spending money does not violate Yog's Law.

#131 ::: Sarah Avery ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2004, 02:16 AM:

I'm a recently escaped academic returning to the sf/f world of my youth; I got to be reasonably savvy about the etiquettes and conventions of academia, but find now that I am a babe in the woods about the etiquettes and conventions in sf/f publishing. Here is my quandary: at a genre fiction conference next month, I'm registered for appointments for what folks in this discussion are calling speed-dating with agents, and only now does it occur to me that my manuscript might be far enough from a state of professional polish as to be a waste of an agent's time, as of the conference dates. On the one hand, I've seen lots of advice in print saying that until the manuscript is complete, it's of no interest to anyone. On the other hand, a Publishers Weekly article recently said that the current gold rush for fantasy novels is sufficiently intense that there are editors out there buying whole series of novels of which not one volume is yet in working draft. (This doesn't sound like a good state of affairs even from where I sit.) Is it bad form for a first-time novelist to pitch a ms that's only 75% written? Should I blunder forward with these speed-dating appointments anyway? I figure it's inevitable that I'll make some laughable newbie mistakes, but I hope to avoid making them in person.

Thanks, all.

#132 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2004, 05:26 PM:

Priceless. Absolutely priceless. The more you know about selling books the funnier it gets.

A Day In the Life of One of our Literary Agents.

The funniest thing is, it's supposed to be serious.

Really, when an agent gets a manuscript bounced back from Doubleday by return post with a note saying "This isn't the sort of thing we publish," it means the agent is incompetent. The agent's response, "Well, what do you publish?" is even better.

#133 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2004, 06:25 PM:

I see indications they may be dishonest rather than incompetent (of course, I'm being narrow-minded - they could well be both), in that Ann Crispin was looking for feedback from writers who had dealings with them on behalf of Writers Beware.

#134 ::: John Houghton finds more comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2004, 06:32 PM:


#135 ::: Harry Connolly finds comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 07:27 AM:

Man, they've really hit you hard.

#136 ::: Soraya ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2004, 09:31 PM:

Hi. Great comments, but I still don't know how to find a reputable agent! I live in New Zealand and would like to take a trip to the USA with my manuscript, but would like to find a list of good agents first, so I know where to go etc. Can anyone help me??

Also, for all the highschool writers, I spent most of my classes brainstorming or scribbling notes for novels, you just have to learn how to listen (or look like you are) and write!! But, I've only just finished my first novel now at 21, when I was younger I just had too many ideas and became bored easily once I was halfway through.

#137 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2005, 11:23 AM:

Mark Brent, the agent of "A Day in the Life of an Agent" above, is back with My Editor is a Saint.

Finding a US agent if you're in New Zealand? (Are there any agents in New Zealand who have relationships with any US agents?)

Try looking at Preditors & Editors and at the AAR website for agents. Then write a lot of letters.

#138 ::: Tabooma Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2005, 01:06 PM:

There's so much good information here, I'm afraid I've entered overload zone! First, I know nothing about publishing, or for that matter, what the 'secrets' of successful story telling and writing might really be! I just write from life's experiences and personal observations.

Currently I've 'completed' about 2/3 (180 pages) of what I intend to say on life, philosophy (not heavy), and the good times had on a, sometimes zany, 4,000 mile motorcycle ride with a long time friend. Now... if only I were famous this 'book' might have an interest to others, but, alas, taint' so!

Trying to make a cohesive, interesting, and readable story, I've edited and rewriten the 'book' 20 - 30 times, giving evidence that this has been a 'labor of love'. But, is it any good? Or, does it suck? I don't know! But, I kinda' like it!

So... without any inside connections to the publishing industry, where does someone like me turn for objective advice regarding any possible redeemable qualities the work may, or may not, have? You see, I'd like to have the confidence of knowing it's entertainment value before pursuing an agent, or hiring a self publishing company. Thanks for listening guys. Any response would be appreciated.

#139 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2005, 03:47 PM:

Reposted from elsewhere:

If you believe you were defrauded by Cris Robins and the The Robins Agency, file a complaint against her with your local police department's White Collar Crime Division (or whatever the equivalent is in your jurisdiction). Provide documentation.

Then, have your P.D email or Fax a copy of the complaint to Detective Barry Mertz at the Creve Coeur Police Department, in Creve Coeur, MO.

Detective Mertz's email address is:

Detective Mertz's fax number is: (314) 432-5691. Be sure to put "Attn: Detective Mertz" on the Fax.

Hope this helps. Pass it on.

-Ann C. Crispin

Writer Beware

#140 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2005, 06:28 PM:

Tabooma Some reputable freelance editors offer a service called manuscript evaluation. The editor reads the manuscript through, and writes you a report on what is working and what isn't. Most also offer suggestions on how to address the problems they have identified. In Canada, the service is available through the Writers' Union of Canada and from members of the Editors' Association of Canada. The going rate is about $500. (For more info on evaluations and some idea of how much you can expect to pay, check out this page from the TWUC site.)

I'm not sure who in the US offers the service. Presumably the members of any of the reputable editors' associations do. Anyone?

#141 ::: Ben ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2005, 09:00 PM:

Hello, I'm an eighteen-year-old writer who has just finished writing and revising novel.

I am sending out query letters to agents, and though I take pains to research their agency, make sure that I conform to their preferences, I keep getting responses that my particular story isn't right for them.

Now, I'm wondering, could it be possible I'm miscalculating my story? It is about an FBI agent on the hunt for a serial killer; I label it as mystery/suspense since we spend equal amounts of time with the killer and the protagonist. The novel reads like a game of cat and mouse. Could it be that this format boarders horror?

I could use some advice.

Thank you

PS. I'm also curious if I should tell the agent my age on the query letter. I fear that they would not take me, or my writing, seriously if they find out I am so young.

#142 ::: Ben ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2005, 09:19 PM:

Hello, I'm an eighteen year old writer and have just finished writing and revising my first novel.

I am sending out query letters to agents, and though I take pains to research their agency, making sure that I conform to their preferences, I keep getting responses that my particular story isn't right for them.

Now, I'm wondering, could it be possible I'm miscalculating my story? It is about an FBI agent on the hunt for a serial killer, I label it as mystery/suspense since we spend equal amounts of time with the killer and the protagonist, and because the novel reads like a game of cat and mouse. Could it be that this genre boarders horror?

I could use some advice.

Thank you

PS. I'm also curious if I should tell the agent my age on the query letter. I fear that they would not take me, or my writing, seriously if they find out I am so young.

#143 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2005, 09:58 PM:

Ben, other people here will have more experience than I, but it's my understanding from hearing people talk that:

1) "this story isn't right for us" is a general standard no-thank-you line, and doesn't necessarily mean the *genre* is wrong, just that the query letter doesn't grab for whatever reason, which is sometimes hard to articulate (see the Slushkiller post and comments here), and

2) age is irrelevant as long as you're old enough to sign a contract, except that _later_ it might be relevant for marketing purposes, so leave it out of the query letter.

#144 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2005, 03:42 AM:

The thing that will most powerfully attract a legitimate agent is a serious offer from a publisher. It is not necessary to have an agent to submit novels (there are markets that will not look at unagented submissions, but they are normally up-front about this).

It is a very common misconception (and forgive me if you know better than this) that an agent can sell a book that the editor wouldn't have purchased on its own merits. There's nothing that can do that (once in a while a book is bought over editorial judgement by management order, but that's a whole 'nother story). What you need to sell is something worth buying. Period. The End.

It is extremely unlikely that genre labeling, especially by the author, has anything whatsoever to do with a purchase decision, by anybody, agent or publisher. Labeling is often a matter of convenience, or marketing -- there are many books that could be either "historical novels" or "romances," depending on what someone in marketing thought was the largest potential audience. "Horror" just about always means supernatural horror, and you haven't indicated any supernatural element; even the most violent serial killer yarns are marketed as thrillers; Thomas Harris's Lecter books aren't called horror.

From the copyeditorial side of things, the word you want is "borders," not "boarders."

And good luck. (Oh, by the way, I made my first professional sale when I was 17. Nobody asked.)

#145 ::: Jorin Burr ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2005, 01:30 PM:

There is a LOT of useful information here regarding fiction manuscripts, but not a whole lot for works that are specifically non-fiction. I've heard that the query letters should be sent out BEFORE the book is written because publishers like to be "in on" the development of the work.

Also, re getting an agent by getting an offer first, does that mean I should be sending query letters to publishers instead of agents?

#146 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2005, 07:22 AM:

Did you know that if you want to write a computer book, that agents are not required? Agents only represent about 5% of all computer books written...

James McGovern

#147 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2005, 01:46 AM:

This here post just above this one is more or less comment spam.

#148 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2005, 02:01 AM:

Fairly soon now, the spambots will be generating spam indistinguishable from human conversation. I dunno as that's how Turing saw it working out.

Who predicted that the spammers would lead us to this breakthrough in AI?

#149 ::: Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2005, 04:18 AM:

Someone — either Cory Doctrow or Charlie Stross, I think — wanted to write a story about an intelligent spam filter taking over the world. I remember thinking, when I first heard the idea, that an intelligent spambot was just as likely, given the amount of AI required for some future spambot to circumvent captchas.

After that, I envisioned an ever-escalating cold war between AI spambots and AI spam filters, with humanity trapped helplessly in between.

<punchline>I call it "the internet"</punchline>

#150 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2005, 11:23 AM:

Someone — either Cory Doctrow or Charlie Stross, I think — wanted to write a story about an intelligent spam filter taking over the world

That sounds like Cory's WIP, /usr/bin/god.

#151 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2005, 12:13 PM:


Surely you know that that's because 95% of computer books are solicited. A bunch of editors sit in a room and say, "We need a title on Perl scripting for non-programmers. Who can we get to write that?"

It's not like people sit at home banging out a 300-page instructional text in the fervent hope that O'Reilly or IDG or MCP will pick it up.

#152 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2005, 01:52 PM:

HP, James:

"It's not like people sit at home banging out a 300-page instructional text in the fervent hope that O'Reilly or IDG or MCP will pick it up."

Not a good idea, that. Those darned software publishers are unlikely to respect your Unique Artistic Vision, and then you'll never get an agent.

Now, I've got to get back on my spec manuscript: Blogging for Dummies...

#153 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2005, 02:20 PM:

It can make sense to use an agent, even when you've been solicited to write a book. Good agents do more than just find a publisher for your manuscript. They also negotiate advances and royalty rates and review contracts, among other things.

For some people it may well be worthwhile to use an agent, even if they already have a publisher. An agent can negotiate a better deal than some writers would negotiate for themselves, and can also point out pitfalls in the proposed contract.

Most writers don't use agents for solicited work, although I think many should. When I spoke to a science writer last week about a possible project, she said simply "discuss the money stuff with my agent."

#154 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2005, 02:31 PM:

Jonathan, that's actually not a bad book idea -- but it has basically been done.

Not a good idea to write a Dummies book on spec --just send a query letter if you're interested in doing one. (The Dummies people do approach people to write books for them.) They like to work up the outline with the writer, and you're very unlikely to be able to match their rigid format without the package they send their writers.

#155 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2005, 03:14 PM:

Greg Ioannou:

Thanks! Nice link. What little I know about good book ideas, I learned fromn my father, Samuel H. Post. Besides acquisitions, and grooming authors for decades, he also dreamed up the idea, coined the title, designed the cover, wrote the contracts, hired the ghostwriter, and so forth. This once yielded 11 consecutive bestsellers. It's no surprise that he rose from editor to publisher to executive in conglomerates that owned media.

Opinions differ on what constitutes a good idea. I've already posted the Einstein anecdote about good ideas. One comic says that people undervalue good ideas, thinking them easy to invent. Such people, he concludes, think that "let's go to the beach" is an exemplar of good ideas.

This new book:
"Popstrology: The Art and Science of Reading the Popstars," Ian Van Tuyl, Owen Grover [Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, Nov 2004]ISBN: 1582344221
Paperback, 384pp

is an idea I'd worked on myself, and even pitched. Glad someone else did it, though, and it made for a good NPR interview.

I have others, but I'd rather pitch in private, to people whose handshake deals are trusted.

#156 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2005, 03:40 PM:

Those darned software publishers are unlikely to respect your Unique Artistic Vision, and then you'll never get an agent.

Many, many years ago, I was a copyeditor for a software publisher. Essentially, my job was to strip out any vestiges of Unique Artistic Vision and replace them with Generic Series Style.

Greg, I agree with you, but when I was in the business, the acquiring editors were pretty cutthroat about getting the best possible deal for the company. If you mentioned an agent, they were just as likely to go to the next name on the list.

#157 ::: Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2005, 01:54 AM:
That sounds like Cory's WIP, /usr/bin/god.

Yeah, that title definitely rings a bell. Thanks.

#158 ::: willie gonzales ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2005, 12:44 PM:

I thought I had a good book, and an agent thought so too. The agent requested a retainers fee of $250. for six months or three hundred dollars for a whole year of representation by the agent. It turned me off, so I decided to continue improving my manuscript, and I now don't have an agent.

#159 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2005, 02:26 PM:

Real agents don't charge retainer fees. If they know what they are doing, their income is 15% of what your advance and royalities are. If they don't get you the contracts, they don't earn. Their job is not to take money from you. Their job is to get money TO you, and live off the percentage of what comes from the publisher. On the other hand, if you have a good book manuscript (not a book until published) then stop "improving" it. Let an editor decide if rewrite is needed, and meanwhile start writing another book manuscript.

#160 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2005, 05:11 PM:

Willie, you had a lucky escape. An agent who wants to charge you hundreds of dollars for representation is not in the business of selling literary properties to publishers. He or she is in the business of selling would-be authors the illusion of representation. Going with one of those guys is far worse than having no agent at all.

#161 ::: Mintichen ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 06:23 AM:

I don't know if you've read Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles, but at one point, John Cavendish comments that Lawrence has lost all his money publishing verses in fancy covers that didn't sell, so my question is, was publishing done differently in early 20th Century England, did Lawrence fall into the hands of unscrupulous publishers, or did Agatha Christie not know what she was talking about?

#162 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2005, 09:28 AM:

Self-publishing has a long and honorable tradition among poets. Print up your own chap books, sell them from the back of the hall after readings. It's one of the few ways to sell poetry.

Making money self publishing, especially with poetry, wasn't any easier last century than it is now.

#163 ::: David ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2005, 04:34 PM:

To Jane Yolen, or ?,
My novel's been published and now I'd like to get an agent. Is this the "cart before the horse" syndrome? I'd be willing to pay 15% of my advance for a good agent (and royalties, of course)? How does one find a good agent who'll handle an already published work?

#164 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2005, 01:53 AM:


Mind if I ask a few questions to clarify a point or two?

First, David, who published your novel? Second, do you have another novel that you want to shop around, or are you thinking of selling reprint or subsidiary rights for your current novel? What's the situation?

#165 ::: Wolfgang G. Wettach ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2005, 07:58 PM:

When I was even younger than I was now, I ventured into vanity small press (as a small publisher for small vanity, including my associate's and mine). And I became a gormless agent as mentioned above for a handfull of clients, figuring that if I wouldn't find anyone else to publish something I thought good enough, I could still sell it to my own small press. No, it wasn't a rip-off, it was ...well meaning. And long-gone.

Fast forward to later. For a large fanbased website I keep for a very large merchandise I kept a blog which was very popular back when I updated regularly and was the only one in my language to do so. Through this website I've been contacted to make appearances at book- or audiobook- or film-based events, have appeared on national public radio and prime-time tv (briefly, but I had my 15secs of famousness) and done some event marketing for companies, all around that theme. My website speaks of that.

Fast forward to today: I've been asked to do a book on the subject. Legal aspects seem to be out of the way and the person who contacted me (asking if I knew someone who could write in the specific way he was looking for, then asking how and what I'd write, then scheduling a meeting) has since found a well-known publishing house that is interested and will meet me -and him- later this week. At the Frankfurt Book Fair, which I would have attended anyway.

I don't know the person f2f, but he had his own very well-known publishing company (the company still has his name, even though he no longer owns it) and he has still a good name in the industry, as far as I can tell.

My only problem is: He asks, as an agent, for this work he solicited, as much as I was asking back then as a "gormless agent" for first works: 50%. I'm under the impression that 10-15% are rather standard. He doesn't promise any extra services (like editing or PR work) besides getting me and the publishing house together to do the book. The idea for the style and feel of the book is his, but everything else... isn't.

As flattering as it is, to have a well known former publisher who starts as a literary agent wanting me to be his client... should I do this for 50% commission? I'd be willing to say 20%, more -maybe 30%- if extra services (like editing/ proofreading/ special PR) are included.

What's your advice?


#166 ::: fallenangelwriter ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 10:32 AM:

50% is entirely too much. even with an agent you had confidence in, even with all the extra services in the world, you don't wasnt your royalty check cut in half, or it's not really worth the writing.

#167 ::: Florino N. Velasco ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2005, 02:52 PM:

I'm from the philippines and I want to know how to get a good agent for my book get it published there in the U.S.
I can submit to you a brief synopsis of what I wrote and the title, maybe you can recommend someone. It is given that we all came into the same route of being a novice and your advice will be of great help.

waiting for some advice,
Reno V.

#168 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2005, 06:21 PM:

Where you live doesn't matter much. You have access to a post office? You have as much as you need.

To find an agent: Try here first: AAR.

I don't believe that Our Genial Hosts can recommend agents.

Another source for agents: Preditors & Editors.

#169 ::: Florino N. Velasco ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2005, 02:22 PM:

Thank you very much for your kind reply. I really appreciate the fact that my email merited a response. Your kindheartedness will not be forgotten as you were the first one who took the time to reply to my queries with regards to my wanting to find an agent.

as always,

Reno V.

#170 ::: lexie ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 04:00 PM:

I have been reading many of your opinions on writing and publishing books. I have just finished a Memoir that I think can be a very good seller. However, I do not know which way to go. After researching I am somewhat leary of an agent and when I call New York Publishing companies, they tell me that I must have an agent. I have talked to a man from Author House Publishing about self publishing my book and find that it could go into a few thousand dollars. Can anyone help me? Are there any major publishing companies that will review your book without an agent. Personally, I think my book will stand on its on if I can just find the right connections. I would appreciate any comments or advice. Lexie

#171 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 12:28 AM:

AuthorHouse is a vanity POD publisher. They'll take your money, sure. What you won't get are readers.

Yes, there are major publishers who will read your book without an agent. Go look at the guidelines from publishers who publish memoirs.

While you're at it, find the names of the agents who have sold memoirs recently, and query them.

If your book can be a good seller, one of them will recognize it as such. If it won't sell well -- it won't sell well if you self-publish either.

#172 ::: lexie ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 12:47 PM:

I am so glad that I found this site. Author House is pushing hard for me to sign a contract. I know that most of you are much more savy about which direction to go with a finished manuscript. But I know that I have a great book and am determined to get it out there. Should I get a copywrite before I send any of the manuscript to an agent or publishing company? I am so leary now that I don't know if I can trust any of them. I just need a good agent or publishing company that I can trust and you will see my book on the shelves within months. Help me, Please

#173 ::: michael omiles ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2006, 08:36 AM:

i want to know if my plot could be written into a proper novel

#174 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2006, 09:17 AM:

# Watt-Evans' Law of Literary Creation: There is no idea so stupid or hackneyed that a sufficiently-talented writer can't get a good story out of it.

# Feist's Corollary: There is no idea so brilliant or original that a sufficiently-untalented writer can't screw it up.

No, you don't need to register the copyright on your manuscript before you start submitting it.

#175 ::: Darrell Mc Graw ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 03:55 PM:

My book will cover the male side of dating starting with news paper ads along will phone dating and ending with today's Internet.

I have collected information room the different ladies that I have met over the years. Messages and on line chats.
Women have sent me money to come to visit with them and also paid on my rent and so on. I was even flown to visit the White House of all places.
Have I got some stories to tell you? Stories fill with a lot of hot steamy information that will raise the reader boil pressure for sure.

#176 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2006, 05:00 PM:

It's certainly off-topic.

When Darrell writes his book, then he should look for an agent.

But first he should write his book.

#177 ::: . ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2008, 03:07 PM:

Make love, not war!

I'm with you on that, I very much am.
But what's it to do with medical spam?

[posted from]

#178 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2008, 03:13 PM:

That would be a start, but how would you ensure that the get would become an agent?

#179 ::: M.F. Stout ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2013, 01:36 PM:

Jim Macdonald, I just found this site, and you're a swell human being. Thanks for the info and encouragement. As an unpublished writer, this makes my day.

Be well.


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