Agents and Editors Share–Pitches We’re Sick Of!

What do agents want? What are publishers sick of? At Balticon52, I got the opportunity to hear a few of the industry leaders voice their opinions.

The panel was entitled “Pitches We’re Sick Of (And One’s We’d Like To See More Of), but since that’s not enough to fill an hour, it turned into a Question and Answer session.

***

Whose Opinions Were Shared And Why Should You Care?

Joshua Bilmes is the President of JABberwocky Literary Agency, which he founded in 1994. His clients include NY Times bestselling authors Brandon Sanderson, Charlaine Harris, Peter V. Brett, Jack Campbell, Elizabeth Moon and Simon R. Green.

Neil Clarke is best known as the editor and publisher of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning magazine, Clarkesworld. He is a six-time and current finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Editor Short Form.

The panel was moderated by Sarah Avery. Sarah’s first book, Tales from Rugosa Coven, won the 2015 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Fantasy Scroll, Great Jones Street, and Jim Baen’s Universe, as well as Black Gate, where she was a regular contributor on series fantasy and teaching fantasy literature. With David Sklar, she coedited the Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic anthology.

***

Skull and bones, half buried in a forest.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Pitches They’re Sick Of*

  • The Paranormal Boom is DEAD.
  • Superhero piles are getting supersaturated.
  • Zombies are rotting.
  • Some urban fantasy subgenres are being overplayed.
  • Oz.

Note: Even if stories are still being published in a genre, that’s often because publishing contracts and schedules are arranged years in advance. Even when a genre is dead, it can take 2-3 years for a publishing agency to get rid of their backlog.

***

Pitches They’d Like To See More Of*

  • ‘HopePunk’ (even if the term stinks)
    • I *think* it’s a dystopian future, where we actually solve current crisis. Like climate change or evolve into a more accepting species.
  • Diversified stories
    • It’s what the publishers are looking for
    • As the book reviewers themselves become more diverse, a wider variety of stories resonates with the reviewers.
  • Vampires seem to be coming back
  • Steampunk can’t be counted out for the next 3-5 years, but it’s on a downswing.
  • Short Sci-Fi sells better than short Fantasy.
  • But really? Whatever you’re passionate about! Agents can tell if you’re just chasing trends, and earnestness shows through. THAT’S the spark they want.

***

When To Approach Agents or Editors

  • NOT when they’re going into the bathroom – that’s their safe place
  • If they’re attending a convention and are on panels, they typically want to be found.
  • If they’re in a restaurant?
    • Is it next to the convention?
    • Are they at the bar, chatting away? Or off at a table in the back with one of their writers? Pay attention to context clues.

***

Rejections!

As any querying writer can tell you, a personalized rejection is worth its weight in gold!

What does it mean when an agent/publisher says, “It’s too similar to something I just bought/sold”?

It depends.

  • For some, it’s a polite brush-off.
  • For others, they only say it when it’s true.
  • For anthologies? Very likely true.
  • For magazine publishers? They can stagger release dates if needed…

*** Now, we pause for a brief interlude and the story of…***

Rejectomancy!

Once upon a time, Joshua submitted a story he was excited about from one of his writers to an editor. And this is what he heard back.

“I had to get a second read…”

“… because I couldn’t believe you’d sent me something so bad.”

Even agents get rejected.

***

Player 20 winding up to throw a pitch.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Pitching Your Story

The Dos and Don’ts of Preparing Your Pitch

  • Don’t use an adjective to describe your book itself
  • Don’t go over a page!
  • Don’t be cute or suck up
    • Your query letter is somewhere between a job interview and a cover letter for a resume.
  • Don’t write it from the main character’s point of view
  • Don’t summarize your story, especially when querying a short story
  • Don’t have a query longer than the story itself
  • Do include wordcount
  • Do follow the guidelines
  • Do pick a genre
    • Decide where your book goes on the library shelves and pick one.

Is it ever appropriate to respond to a rejection letter?

  • If they personalized the rejection, you can send a very brief ‘Thank You’ note.
  • NEVER respond negatively. If you can’t say anything nice, this is when you really shouldn’t say anything at all.

Is ManuscriptWishList.Com useful?

Joshua doesn’t use it, but at least one of his other agents does. Lack of inclusion doesn’t mean the agent isn’t skilled, inclusion doesn’t mean they are skilled. You still need to do your research.

Comp Titles

Comp titles (comparison titles) are often included in a query letter. Typically either two authors with similar writing styles and markets, or mash-ups where you can specify what aspect of that story you’re using. They have to be under 5 years, (preferably under 3), in your genre, and not run-away successes.

As I’ve said before, what sold 50 years ago isn’t what appeals to most modern audiences. Pacing, themes, POV preferences change.

So, what did our panelists have to say?

By using current novels, you’re showing that the trend you’re writing for isn’t dead.

Verdict? Useful for novels, but only if it’s a good match. If you’re trying too hard, it’s obvious and you should skip it.

Joshua noted here that no one can use Game of Thrones as a comp, (even if it wasn’t too popular) because there hasn’t been a new one published in over 5 years.

Not useful for magazines, but can be useful for anthologies.

***

Writing Contests Tips

  • NEVER pay to enter a contest or pay a “reader’s fee”
    • EXCEPT – Tenure-track professors often pay the entrance fee for college magazines…
    • EXCEPT – Some contests offer critiques/other services as a matter of course for having entered (RWA)
      • Fees currently should be <$50, preferably under $30
      • Verify their validity first, though.
  • Look at the contest’s readers
    • Who are you writing for?
      • Is that the path you want to go down?
  • Look at the past winners’ work
    • Did they write just for the contest, or are they writing like they want to be published?
      • Often, these will read very differently
  • Pay attention to how much time it takes away from your writing
    • Do you have to campaign for votes?
    • What other obligations does it create for you?

***

And finally:

When Is My Story Ready To Query?

As long as you feel that each round of edits is significantly improving your story, keep at it!

Storytime!

Brandon (Sanderson) submitted several manuscripts to Joshua. And Brandon kept getting rejected despite his wonderful (and steadily improving writing) because he couldn’t plot. Finally, when he submitted Elantris, Joshua looked at it and saw that the plotting could be fixed. That’s when he made the offer.

Submitting different stories to the same agent can pay off. But only if you keep working at your craft.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

***

Make sure to reread these dos, don’ts, and preferences! And best of luck as you work towards perfecting your craft.

* Yep. I ended those with prepositions. Whatcha gonna do? Throw red ink at me? Besides, it was the title of the panel!

#22 Query Corner: ‘MIRADEN’S FOLLY’

Welcome to:

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Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

MIRADEN’S FOLLY is a YA fantasy.

When the devilish ashenkin steal the wrong child, Miraden, a young ranger, volunteers to rescue the chieftain’s younger daughter. All he wants is to earn her big sister’s favor. What he gets is a lot more complicated.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

Nice elven fantasy! The query has got the formatting and pacing just right!

Things to think about

  1. Make sure you’re not making the women sound like McGuffins – objects to be won. Be sure to emphasize their agency or you’ve got a bad 80s RomCom.
  2. If you have 2 main characters, give them each a paragraph! (if you have more is where it gets tricky)

Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear Agent,

Aspiring ranger, Miraden is in love with Ceychell, the chieftain’s daughter. After she turns him down for the millionth time, he nearly loses hope. But when her sister Kyradel–who adores Miraden–is abducted in the night by ashenkin, Miraden jumps at the opportunity to save her in hopes to gain Ceychell’s favor. [Oh! Here’s the inciting incident!] 

Miraden sends letters back to Ceychell accounting his journeys and affection. [Is the story partially epistolary? That can be a selling point] Ceychell continues to reject his love, but as she finally understands her true feelings for him, it transforms her from a cold bitter teenager into a young leader taking her father’s place as village chieftain [Really? His love is the catalyst? Not her own growing up?]. Despite her efforts to return letters to Miraden, they fail to reach him. 

Once Miraden is on the verge of closing an Ashengate and rescuing Kyradel, he loses focus of his original quest to earn Ceychell’s favor and is left with bitter resolve. He rescues Kyradel and on the journey home, he realizes he’s falling for a companion who has accompanied him on his quest.   [Whoops! The first 3 times I read this, I thought that he’d gone solo, and was falling for Kyradel. Just realized it was a group adventure] Just before returning to his village, he receives a love letter from Ceychell and is left with a choice: embrace the woman he’s loved his entire life, or continue to battle the ashenkin with his new love interest [Love interest? She doesn’t get a description of her own?]. 

Miraden’s Folly is a YA Fantasy novel professionally at 85k words [‘professionally’ is assumed] with potential for series [not quite proper English].   

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q22


My Revision:

Dear Agent,

When Miraden volunteers to help rescue the chieftain’s younger daughter, Kyradel, from the ashenkin that abducted her, his priority is gaining the favor of her big sister, Ceychell. The [describe them a little: humanoid/monstrous/cultists] ashenkin recognize the value of their hostage. As the rescue party journeys, Miraden sends letters back to Ceychell accounting his journeys and affection.

At first, Ceychell is only concerned with her sister’s loss, ignoring the emotional comments in Miraden’s letters. As she steps up at home to help her father run the village [maybe be more explicit? starts to sit on her father’s council/steps up to help with harvest, since so much of the village is off to rescue her sister/helps deal with the aftermath of the growing ashenkin attacks], she begins to value the skills and care Miraden put, not only into the village but is using to save her sister. Realizing her feelings have shifted, she writes back to let him know that his advances are finally not only welcome but encouraged. 

Miraden is disheartened by Ceychell’s silence, but nothing will prevent his rescue of Kyradel, who has always been fond of him [cut this subordinate clause if Kyradel isn’t the love interest]. On the journey home, Miraden realizes he’s falling for the rescue party’s [other ranger/warrior]. Days out from the village, Ceychell’s letter finally reaches him. Miraden is forced to choose: embrace the woman he’s loved his entire life, or continue to battle the ashenkin with the [warrior/ranger] who’s always had his back. 

Miraden’s Folly is a YA Fantasy novel complete at 85,000 words with series potential. [Any comps? Either books it’s similar to, or authors?] I write from the [Blah blah, area]. When not writing, you can find me [interesting tidbit.] 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q22


***

I clearly still had a lot of unanswered questions in that draft! I just plain didn’t know enough about the story, so Q22 wrote back, with their new version!

 

Dear Agent,

The devilish ashenkin keep parents awake each night as children continue to disappear. Young ranger Miraden volunteers to rescue the chieftain’s daughter, Kyradel, from the ashenkin to gain favour of her sister, Ceychell.  As the rescue party journeys, Miraden sends letters back to Ceychell accounting his adventure and affection.

At first, Ceychell is consumed with grief and ignores the emotional recounts of Miraden’s letters. As she rises to her own challenges, she begins to value Miraden’s lasting impact, not only on the village but the hero he reluctantly is becoming. Realizing her feelings have rekindled, she makes every effort to return letters, but each effort is thwarted.

Miraden grows bitter from Ceychell’s silence, but his mission remains true and when his party storms the ashengate, he rescues Kyradel. On the voyage home, Miraden realizes he’s falling for a mage in his party. Days out from the village, Ceychell’s most heartfelt letter finally reaches him. Miraden is forced to choose: embrace the woman he’s loved his entire life or continue to battle the ashenkin with the mage who’s had his back and shares his new affection.

Since you represented [BOOK], I thought you might be interested in this book since, like [CHARACTER], Miraden is an unlikely hero in a fast-paced adventure with high stakes and unexpected transformation. Miraden’s Folly is a YA Fantasy novel complete at 85,000 words with a series potential. Large tech companies such as NetApp have published 18 technical whitepapers/expert blogs I’ve written in the past year. I live in [CITY] with my wife and daughter.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q22


***

But then it started to get a little long. So, we had another couple passes and this is where we ended up.

Dear [AGENT]

When the devilish ashenkin steal the chieftain’s daughter to be one of their sacrificial children, Miraden a young ranger, volunteers to help rescue her. Hoping to gain the favour of her sister, Ceychell, he sends letters to Ceychell recounting both the rescue party’s adventures and his great devotion for her personally.

At first, Ceychell is consumed with grief and resents the affectionate content of Miraden’s letters. As she rises to aid her grief-stricken parents in their duties, she starts to value not only Miraden’s lasting impact in her village but also the hero he’s becoming. Accepting her growing fondness, Ceychell tries her best to reply to his letters, but is continually thwarted.

Bitter at Ceychell’s silence, Miraden nonetheless stays true to his mission. When his party storms the ashengate, he’s the one who rescues Ceychell’s sister. On the voyage home, Miraden and the group’s mage grow close. Then, days out from the village, Ceychell’s most heartfelt letter finally reaches him. Now, Miraden is forced to choose: battle the ashenkin with the mage who’s had his back and shares his growing affections, or abandon her to embrace his childhood crush.

Since you represented [AUTHOR]’s [TITLE], I thought you might be interested in this book since, like [CHARACTER], Miraden is an unlikely hero in a fast-paced adventure with high stakes and unexpected transformation. Miraden’s Folly is a YA Fantasy novel complete at 85,000 words with a series potential. I’m also a technical writer, having had 18 white papers and expert blog posts published by large tech companies, such as NetApp, within the past year. I live in [CITY], [STATE] with my wife and daughter.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q22

 

Still long, but not too long and with a decent amount of personalization left.
Best of luck to Q22!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

What Good Is An Agent? Answers From Writers.

https://youtu.be/8bsDxJ7awgM%5BPrevious related topics: Why? How? What? ]

If you’ve been paying attention to the literary agency world in the last month or so, you probably heard about the embezzlement conviction of Darin Webb, the accountant for the 49-year-old UK literary agency: Donadio & Olson. Webb’s total theft? $3.4 MILLION DOLLARS.

Then, this opinion piece came out on kriswrites.com and was passed around, warning of the dangers and lack of oversight for all agents. It may have left you wondering… with all the risks, why would I want a literary agent?

Well, at Balticon 52, I got to hear a variety of perspectives from published authors who’ve had every sort of agent possible. Here are the stories of Leah Cypess, Keith RA DeCandido, CS Friedman, Tee Morris, and their hunt for a quality agent.

How These Writers Got Their Current Agent

CS Friedman started off with just a publisher. They handled all her negotiations and used their standard, boilerplate contract. After book 2 was published, two agents contacted her.

THAT’S when she found out that the standard contract with agents has her share at 80% of foreign sales or tv deals and the standard one, when it’s just publishers, had her share at 50%. Not a scam, just the standard rates.

Keith DeCandido got his start as an editor and broke into writing with media tie-in work, where there’s not much room for negotiation. So? Once he started original pieces, he already had contacts and knew who he wanted to ask and had the track record to appeal.

Leah Cypess spent years sending her works to publishers… 20 years ago when the market was different. And eventually, began to get rejections saying, “Not this, but do you have anything else?” Once they accepted her book, they suggested she get an agent.

Not knowing any better, she asked for their suggestions. This wasn’t a great idea for several reasons:

  • The agent felt compelled to say yes to maintain a good relationship with the publisher
  • She felt compelled to accept their suggestion
  • The agent wasn’t actually very familiar with her genre and market, and they were a mediocre match.

What Do Agents Do For You?

Other than the money, which a good contract lawyer might help with, what other reasons are there to get an agent?

  • They are your biggest fan
  • Many are editors and can make your story better
    • Or hire someone to do it for them
  • They take off the negotiation pressure
    • It’s a lot harder and trickier to run a bidding war for yourself!
  • They can yell at Editors FOR you so you can keep a good relationship with the editor
  • They have relationships with the Editors already
    • They know what books the publishers are looking for
  • They can vouch that you will fix [whatever] and that your ego won’t get in the way
    • It’s more convincing when someone else believes it
  • They manage your IP [Intellectual Property]
  • A good agent is neither a pushover nor belligerent
    • They’ll do right by you without making the editor’s life hell
Two people shaking hands, clipped to see just the arms.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Once You Have An Offer In Hand

Once you have an offer from an agent, it’s considered professional to send a notice to the other agents sitting on your query, giving them 1-2 weeks to decide.

Do NOT lie to get agents to make them respond faster. Agents talk.

Two weeks is about the limit, maybe three if it’s summer or a holiday. Longer than that will make an agent feel like you’re using their offer to find a better deal. Don’t do it.

When Should You LEAVE An Agent?

You worked so hard to GET an agent, you thought this meant you’d made it.

But sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Now, this is something you don’t usually hear writers talk about, but 3/4ths of professional writers have left an agent.

Warning Signs

  • No news is NOT good news.
    • They should check in regularly and let you know what they’re doing for you (2-3 months is fine).
  • They’re not submitting your work or following up with the publishers.
    • 6-9 months is a reasonable wait with publishers, but your agent shouldn’t just be sitting on their thumbs.
  • They’ve gone from no-contact to immediate deadlines with little warning.
  • Your career has changed direction and they don’t know your new market.
  • Your agent stopped fighting FOR you!
    • Maybe you didn’t sell like they’d hoped
    • Maybe they signed some fresher or bigger names
    • Maybe life came up and they’re distracted

It doesn’t matter the reason, once they’ve stopped being your supporter, it’s time to move on.

Orange scissors cutting an orange rose and a piece of paper that starts with the words "Marriage Certificate: This is to certi-fy that the .."

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Dealing With Leaving An Agent

No matter your personal relationship, an agent-writer partnership is a professional one. And once they’ve accepted you on as their client? Your agent is actually your employee.

You should write a VERY professional (and not personal) break-up letter.

Remember, they STILL get their percentage on all contracts they’d negotiated for you. Like a divorce, you’re sharing custody of the “kids”. And typically? Your money goes to their agency and they pay out your portion.

WHAT? It should be the other way around! — Well, maybe. But this way, you don’t have to pay taxes on THEIR portion of the money.

When Don’t You Need An Agent?

  • Short story submissions. The money isn’t there and they typically don’t come into play.
    • Note: A cover letter from an agent CAN help with the top markets, though
  • If the publisher does ANYTHING to ask for stuff
    • That turns your manuscript into ‘SOLICITED’!
    • Note: Usually, waiting to hear back this way is even LONGER than with agents.
  • If they’re shmoozing about how they can ‘see it as a movie’. Movies are a hard field to break into, and literary agents have about nill influence there.

A Few Notes About Publishers

  • Publishers are ALWAYS looking for the “Next Big Thing”
  • Small publishers are hungry
    • But before you opt to go with them, pay attention to:
      • their audience
      • their resources
      • their current market
      • the quality of their products
  • Traditional publishers have known names lined up and will bump new authors back if they’re worried about the market impact
    • Their lead books get all the marketing money and the rest are ignored
    • BUT! They get you into every bookstore in the nation, so their lack of marketing is still exponentially greater than most small publishers can hope to achieve.
      • You typically get a smaller advance — for a wider distribution

***

Getting an agent is hard, but getting the RIGHT agent is harder. Here’s to hoping it’s a good match when you both swipe right.

#21 Query Corner: ‘THE WINGS OF OBORIO’

Welcome to:

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Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

THE WINGS OF OBORIO is a fantasy.

After his father destroys a witch’s forest, Prince Braun and his new bride, Princess Martiel must learn to trust each other if they want to end the witch’s curse to save their future children and their kingdoms, and forge a lasting partnership.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

It sounds like a good story and a solid fairy tale. One of my favorite genres!

Things to think about

  1. Make sure female main/secondary characters have agency. If she’s a POV character, we’re gonna have to switch one of the paragraphs to focus on her side of the story.
  2. What does the Prince WANT? (What stands in his way– I think you’ve got that half)
  3. Specificity should replace standard lines. You need to show how your novel is DIFFERENT, not how it follows the formula.
  4. Remember to sell one book at a time. You can say it has ‘series potential’, but make sure it can stand on its own.

Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear Agent,

While Prince Braun hunts in the enchanted Dunslach wood [is he supposed to be here?], he stumbles across the mysterious Princess [cliche. Does she have any agency?] Martiel. The beautiful girl stops him in his tracks, and both of their worlds are turned upside down [give specifics!].

When Braun returns home, his father, the king, orders him to marry a stranger—and to his surprise and delight, it’s Martiel. [Is this unexpected? Maybe something more like ‘announces his betrothal. To Princess Martiel. Braun can’t believe his luck.] when [too many whens…] a witch attacks Braun on his way to the betrothal ceremony. She vows revenge for the destruction of her forest by cursing the couple’s offspring [WHAT?! We were just hunting there]. Braun’s father is responsible for the carnage, [wait. Why? And when did this happen?] but Braun and Martiel will pay for it.

Braun and Martiel are wed, and they struggle with their new marriage, the curse, and a race against time herself, a goddess called Etunima, to save Martiel’s homeland Oborio. [And… here’s a quick synopsis.] But their friends help them understand what it means to love each other, for better or worse.


THE WINGS OF OBORIO is an 81,000-word fantasy novel and the first in a planned trilogy [The book HAS to be able to stand alone. You can mention it has series potential, though].

I am a wife to X, mom to Y(two years old), and dog-mom of two crazy Labradors (A and B) [normally, I’d suggest cutting this. Who are you to yourself, not your family, but…] from the small, town of TOWN, STATE. I graduated from COLLEGE with a Bachelor’s in Literature with a minor in Religious Studies [relevant major, gets to stay].  The real inspiration for this series came after passing of my first child, Z, who would be three now. [BAM. Why your family and Son’s age are relevant.]

Sincerely,

Q21


My Revision:

Dear Agent,

Avoiding his father’s political games, Prince Braun braves the enchanted Dunslach wood to hunt its magical game, but the lonely romantic finds something far better. A beautiful girl [doing something interesting-climbing trees, playing with animals, swimming, gathering herbs] who claims to be the Princess Martiel. Entranced, Braun spends the [day/week] walking and talking with her.

When Braun returns home, his father, the king, announces his betrothal to the Princess of Oborio–Martiel. Braun can’t believe his luck. To prepare for the wedding, his father [orders his men to destroy Dunslach, to remove the border between the two kingdoms]. As Braun rides to Oborio for the betrothal, a now-homeless witch of Dunslach bars his way and curses his offspring [to die? to be bears? what sort of curse?].

 Braun and Martiel are wed, but romance and marriage are two different beasts. The lovers must learn to trust each other if they want to save their future children, keep [X] from destroying Oborio, and forge a lasting partnership.

THE WINGS OF OBORIO is an 81,000-word fantasy novel and has series potential.

I live in the small town of TOWN, STATE with my husband, X, two-year-old son, Y, and two crazy Labradors. I graduated from COLLEGE with a Bachelor’s in Literature with a minor in Religious Studies.  The real inspiration for this series came after passing of my first child, Z, who would be three now.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q21


 

Now that the reader knows that Muriel’s got her agency and what the stakes are, with a few tweaks to add more specificity–making sure the story’s unique features are accentuated, I think this query will be ready for action!

Best of luck to Q21!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

 

Top 4 Questions From An Editors & Publishers AMA (Ask Me Anything)

Sunflowers in full bloom against a bright, clear blue sky.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 (Happy Summer Solstice!)

At Balticon52, I had the opportunity to attend an Ask Me Anything panel of Editors and Publishers. Usually in my panel notes, I skim over the panelists to get to the meat, but in this case, I feel their expertise was part of the draw.

The publishers and editors in question were:

  • Walt Boyes – an award-winning journalist, writer, and editor of the Industrial Automation INSIDER, the Grantville Gazette, (the magazine of the 1632 Universe), co-editor of Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press, and a member of the 1632 Editorial Board.
  • Scott H. Andrews – a writer, musician, and the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the online fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. He’s a six-time Hugo Award finalist and with his podcast, a five-time Parsec Award finalist. [Fun fact: he always gives personalized rejections!]
    • For non-querying writers, I know that sounds kinda… pathetic. But if you’re in the querying trenches, you know what that’s worth.
  • Neil Clarke – the editor and publisher of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning magazine, Clarkesworld.
  • Ian Randal Strock– a writer, plus the owner and editor-in-chief of Gray Rabbit Publications/Fantastic Books (www.FantasticBooks.biz). Previously, he edited and published Artemis Magazine and SFScope. He also worked on the editorial staffs of Analog, Asimov’s, Science Fiction Chronicle, and many others.
  • (moderated by) Jeff Young – an award-winning author, bookseller, and editor of several anthologies.

So let’s get this rolling. Here are the questions.

1. What is Your Biggest Pet Peeve?

The top three answers were:

  1. Zombie Stories — they’ve been done to past death
  2. Writers who don’t READ THE GUIDELINES
  3. Writers who argue with critiques
    Even if you disagree with the critique or the suggestion, don’t argue with someone who spent their time and energy to give you feedback.
         Give that section of your prose a closer look

    • Is it moving the story along?
    • What is it adding?
    • Could you do it better–not necessarily the way they suggested.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

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2. Should A Writer Use Different Names For Different Genres?

As with all writing advice, it depends on the situation:

  • If you’re doing your own marketing, starting over with a new name doubles the amount of work you have to do to get traction.
  • If you’re with a large publisher, it can be helpful for the marketing.

That said, there are of course caveats:

  • You can end up getting shelved in the library/bookstores alongside whatever genre you first published in.
  • If you’re doing both Children’s books and explicit erotica — it can be helpful to make sure kids don’t end up with a book they probably didn’t mean to get.

Regarding publishing names in general:

When choosing which name to be published under (birth name or pen name), searchability reigns supreme.

You want to be high in the search result, but also easy to spell.

Simplified spelling, middle initials, mining family names, or deciding who you want to be shelved next to are good places to start.


Shelves full of books, in a decently lit library.

3. How Has The Market Changed In The Last Ten Years?

The top 3 ways the market’s changed:

  1. More exploring of the human condition in fantasy, a lot of the exploration is reactionary — which has a shorter shelf life.  Morgan’s side note: It might be more overt, but I’d argue that fantasy has ALWAYS explored the human condition.
  2. The rise in the respectability of online magazines.
  3. Massive growth in international markets.

Wood signpost, with worn red arrow pointing right. Greyed out mountains faintly behind it.

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4. Where Do Querying Writers Lose You?

There was a lot of discussion on this question, so I’ll break it into high-level and specifics.

The top three high-level answers were:

  1. When I quit caring.
  2. If you make it work to follow the narrative.
  3. If they don’t remember it the next day.
    • Note: This editor also said that the bad stories blur together, they don’t typically remember them.

Top 4 things that break their buy-in:

  1. ‘Red line of death’ – Boredom, implausibility, names that don’t fit the setting
  2. Implausibility – where all emotions are explicit rather than undercurrents. Most people don’t spell everything out for each other in real life.
  3. External commentary (even by the narrator) – “If I’d only known then…”
  4. A character doing something stupid or out-of-character (OOC)

A thought bubble drawn in chalk, with a lightbulb resting in the bubble

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I always find getting an insider perspective on the industry enlightening. Hopefully, these answers help you as much as they helped me.