Agents and Publishing

DragonCon notes continue: this is a combination of:

  • Publishing YA w/Alexa Donne, Sarah Beth Durst, Moe Ferrara, AJ Hartley, Cat Scully, & Lou Anders
  • Agents & Editors w/Claire Eddy, Vanessa Dejounta, Moe Ferrara, Toni Weisskopf, Steve Saffel, and Tony Daniel

What Is An Agent?

  1. We are friends, therapists, supporters, handling submissions, query/slush piles, and contracts. Our jobs vary from day to day. – Ferrara
  2. An agent is in your corner. Look for one with similar work–they’ll have connections and are vetted. Agents don’t get paid until you do.- Durst
  3. We don’t feed on your tears (except during High Holy Days)- Ferrara
  4. If you need someone to be an asshole, you can delegate it to your agent. – Anders
  5. You’re not getting an agent to sell that book, you’re getting one to manage your career.- Hartley
  6. Agents want to feel like you picked THEM, not just that you had a niche to fill. – Ferrara
  7. Be wary of enthusiasm and vet their business side. Be wary of agents that say “don’t use Critique Partners” or “don’t compare emails” (with other clients). – Scully
  8. It took Hartley 20 years and 8 books worth of rejections to get an agent. After getting the agent, it took another 3 books before he had something accepted on submission by a publisher.
  9. A personal touch can help. – Hartley’s agent went to the same college and he mentioned that in the query letter.

Why Agents Do What They Do

  • Not for the money, it’s a higher calling. – Weisskopf
  • I get to brings the dreams and the worlds to people. – Eddy
  • I wanted to know what happens to the stories I pitched. – Ferrara
  • For the health insurance. (j/k) It’s the most meritocratic place. – Weisskopf

Finding Your Agent

Query Do’s

  • Be specific
  • Read back-cover copy for ideas – but don’t skip the plot or the emotional beats!
  • You can mention themes in the query section where you list your title, genre, and length.
  • Query explains the emotional journey, more than anything else.
    • WHO is the story happening to
    • WHY should the reader care. Why does the character care
  • [a publisher, not an agent] accepts unsolicited queries. (The senior editors are the ones who sort through the non-email submissions once a month.)
  • [a publisher, not an agent] accepts unsolicited queries. (No YA)

Query Don’t’s

  • Write the pitch like a movie plot
  • Use rhetorical questions
  • Have the bio longer than the book description
  • Query unfinished work
  • Query as though the Main Character wrote it
  • Query Agents who don’t cover your genre
  • Query more than 1 person at an agency at a time
  • Argue with the agent
  • Shine up the agent too much
  • Say ‘ask for the end’

Weisskopf once got a mailed query letter that smelled bad. When she read it, she found out why. They guy had worked on his novel for years, then decided it was shit. So… he wrote the query letter in shit.


Biggest Mistakes Made In Revisions

  • Skipping revising, polishing, and editing altogether.
  • [I] get 100’s of manuscripts a month. If I’m picking between a polished manuscript and one that needs work…. – Anders
  • It’s good to have a variety of Critique Partners, some ahead of you in the publishing process and some right there with you in the trenches. – Scully
  • If you find a Critique Partner that works for you, that’s great. You don’t have to. Feel free to wait to critique until later. – Durst
  • Pay attention to whether suggested changes are making your story a different book, instead of a better book – Durst

  • When you get a rejection letter, if the reason resonates with you, go with it. Otherwise…wait. See if it’s a consensus.  You should agree with 80% of professional edits. But, [you don’t have to go with their suggested fix.] if they want to cut a scene, you can rewrite it better, to try and convince them it’s worthwhile.

What To Do While Waiting and After Rejection

  • Don’t stop writing
  • Chocolate and wine help (and whining)
  • Remember that Agents get rejected just as much as writers by Editors/Publishers. And Editors get rejected/denied by Marketing.
  • Don’t take it personally
  • If they send anything other than a form letter, it never hurts to SEND A THANK YOU NOTE. It was a courtesy and took a lot of their time they could have spent on other things.
    • It makes it more likely that they’ll look at your next book
    • They enjoy the letter–do NOT expect any response.
    • Don’t use it to ask if you can send a revised draft. If it wasn’t ready, you shouldn’t have wasted their time with the original query.


  • Make sure your book is being rejected for reasons OTHER than the writing, itself
  • Know once you’ve self-published, you can’t be marketed as a Debut Author, and that’s something Agents like
  • Some people do it because it’s easier than Traditional Publishing. If you’re doing it because it’s easier, you’re not going to get better. [Master Thieves don’t master their thievery by walking through open doors. You’ve got to challenge yourself.]- Anders
  • Sheer pigheadedness is the most important trait for a writer

Closing Thoughts

  • There’s no silver bullet and many, many different paths. Don’t force it. – Weisskopf
  • If it’s authentic, it’s going to be real. Don’t chase the market. – Eddy
  • Your journey is your own. Don’t compare yourself. You WILL get rejected. Then, horrid reviews. – Ferrara
  • You need to put words on a page. That’s an accomplishment and why we do what we do. [Because of] YOU. – Saffel
  • Find where your strengths match what your readers like. – Weisskopf
  • All rejections are just one more out of the way [on  your way to publishing]. – Dejournta



Killing Characters

101 Fascinating Ways to Kill A Character

DragonCon panel with John Ringo, Anthony Francis, Jeanne Stein, Debbie Viguie, and moderated by John Robinson.

Despite the original name of the panel, it was a far more insightful panel than listing of ways characters could die.

Why Do We Kill Characters?

“Because we shouldn’t kill real people.” – Ringo

  • To raise the stakes, show the baddie is bad. But don’t make it gratuitous. – Francis
  • You’re writing to give your readers catharsis. Putting characters in danger, then saving them gives your reader endorphins that literally addict them to your characters.
  • We’re assinine and manipulative. We want to hurt you, then uplift you. – Ringo

The Power of Death Scenes

  • Rambo: when Viguie’s dad showed it to her, he said it would explain him to her.
  • Apocalypse Now: helped Stein understand her ex-husband, a Viet Nam vet with 3 tours.

Minimalist is best. You can do more with a teddy bear abandoned by the side of the road than with a pile of skulls. – Ringo

Sources of Deadly Inspiration

  • The depths of your soul
  • Ask your dad
  • Interesting google queries
  • Law enforcement is happy to talk to writers
  • Police Academy students
  • Your local assassins’ guild
  • Forensic specialists

Why Does Death Fascinate?

  • We all deal with the fear of death and deal with the death of loved ones. Like highway rubber-necking.
    • Viguie kept naming villains Steve until her aunt asked her mom why she kept killing her uncle. Then she cried when her asshole uncle died and asked her mom, “Why?”  “Because your villain died.” Mom said.
  • We only hear about the murderers we catch. The smart and the lucky ones get away. Like they’re doing right now. – Stein
  • Ringo’s wife has 12 1/2 ways to kill him without it showing up on an autopsy. She told him.
  • 2,000 people go missing every year. 40,000 people die from reasons unknown every year. – Francis
  • In Paleolithic times, 1/3rd of the people died from violence. Evolutionarily, we need violence to remind us of the joy of living, and not being the one to die today. – Ringo

When To Kill A Secondary Character

  • No one is too important. But, know if you need carnage or if you need emotional significance. – Viguie
  • Make sure to spread it out so the reader AND the Main Character don’t go numb from all the death. – Viguie
  • Remember, humans cut death with humor. Gallows humor is useful and reasonable for your characters that remain. – Viguie
  • Use the 3 or 5 act structure. – Ringo

Random Bits

  • “I never leave myself a way out. I killed a cat, brought it back as a zombie by a bad guy on the last page of like book 3. Then forgot to put it in book 4.” – Stein
  • “Pets suck in books.” – Ringo
  • “Dead is dead. I outline series. But, never say never. Forgetting a detail from the last book and remembering it halfway through the next one [sucks].” – Francis
  • There are 50 sq. feet within Yellowstone National Park in which murder isn’t technically illegal. – Viguie
  • A “Weber” load equals 1 million missiles. – Ringo

What death scene has stuck with you? Why?

For me: One of the deaths that I read about that has always stuck with me was Ensign Dubauer’s at the beginning of Cordelia’s Honor by Lois Bujold. I couldn’t even remember his name and wikipedia doesn’t find it worth remembering either. But to know that she could fight so hard to save someone and then have them die anyway-the futility of it all, that stuck with me.

In books, death have meaning. Even if it’s just to raise the stakes or for the Main Character’s growth, it has to make sense in the story.

Too bad life doesn’t care.

D*Con: YA After Dark

I was running a little late for this panel, but it dealt with the issues you can address in YA. And why to use YA.

Using YA stories can help us model ways of dealing with real hard issues that teens might not know how to deal with. You can use it to show teens taking active roles in overcoming trauma.

Why Do We Need YA – and YA that deals with Hard Stuff?

  • So the readers know they’re not alone
  • So the readers can see heroes fighting their own darkness
  • To provide tent poles for teens, with their wild emotions/hormones – teens get subtext
  • As an escape. They can pull the readers out of their own situations and give them the distance they need to examine it more objectively.
  • To model how to process certain things, and can identify things the readers are needing or feeling. Putting into words what they can’t.

Things to Avoid:

  • Don’t just have a quick fix for the issues
  • Don’t treat mental illness or chronic health issues as something that can be cured. Show them being lived with.

For teens who may be worried about a book being too intense or triggering:

  • the Library of Congress text on the Copyright page tells the themes the story will be dealing with.
  • Scholastic books tend to have thematic questions at the back, to demonstrate what themes are addressed
  • Best is a librarian who knows the reader and what they can handle, but responses to hard scenes can be unpredictable.

Book Recommendations:

  • Butter – Erin Jane Lang – Deals w/ obesity, suicide, and social media
  • Rage: A Love Story – Julie Anne Peters – Deals w/ lesbians in an abusive relationship
  • This Song Will Save Your Life – Leila Sales – Deals w/ friendship, identity, and suicide
  • Daughters unto Devils – Amy Lukavics – Deals w/teen pregnancy, miscarriage [Horror]
  • Beautiful Decay – Sylvia Lewis – Deals w/ Alcoholic parent [Zombies]
  • Pretty Girl-13 – Liz Coley – Deals w/ Abuse
  • Chinese Handcuffs – Chris Crutcher – Deals w/ suicide, abuse


Closing Thoughts:

YA should always offer hope.

You don’t need to “happily ever after” the book, but end in hope.

D*Con: Plotting a Sustaining Series

Plotting and Writing a Sustaining Series

Note: This is not “and ending a series” – Ringo

You have no clue how excited I was about this panel. This is the dream, especially when there’s so much more that can happen in your world.

With: John Ringo, Gail Martin, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Claire Eddy, and Bill Foscett

How Did You Decide To Write a Series

Yarbro – I always intended my series to be 5 books… now it’s 27 books and counting.

Martin – I loved the story, so I had to build the world.

Ringo – Before [he] was published, [he] hung out online in Baen’s bar and learned that Baen didn’t want 1-trick ponies. By the time Baen asked for his book, he sent the 1st book and what he had of book 2, pausing mid-chapter, mid-paragraph, mid-sentence. Didn’t hear anything for a few weeks, then Baen called and asked WHERE’S THE REST.

Foscett – Don’t write the next 2 books though, outline and write a few chapters, but move on, because things will change after book 1 is picked up.

Ringo & Martin – Unless the story is flowing. ALWAYS write if the story is flowing.

Ringo – Just remember “don’t wrap your heart around anything.”

Yarbro – You have to love it, or you’ll hate it before you’re done. Just don’t expect anyone else to love it.

Ringo –

The Last Centurian took [him] 9 days to write, 7 full days, barely sleeping. He’d been on a romantic get away with his then-girlfriend…

Ringo’s Wife – Last romantic getaway we took! (she called out from the back of the panel audience)

Ringo – And right after they got there, it just started coming to [him]. [They] talked and packed up and went home and [he] just let it pour out.

Eddy – Sometimes a book is too long, so the editor will split it in two. But you’ll need a vicarious winning experience at the end of each part.

Ringo –

There are 2 types of series:

  • Open Ended(story world with self contained stories)
  • Meta Story (1 overarching story)
    • Each story in the series ends with either a physical victory – the climax, and the moral victory – the denouement. You shouldn’t put both together until the end of the story.

Ringo – Only series [he] ever finished- Empire of Man – and then the publisher asked for 3 more books.


  • For Meta stories
    • Think about what arc for the character do you want to tell
  • For Open Ended
    • Each book has a self-contained arch

Publishing stories

Yarbro – Her editor for her original 5 books left and turned the last book over to a Romance Editor.

Ringo – He was paired up (as a Jr author as part of Baen’s mentoring program), with David Drake, who, unlike Ringo, is an organic writer. Drake sent him a 35k outline.

(They still do the mentor program – Check out Mike Massa next year)

Foscett – Note: outlining is good for collaborations, or the story turns into a bad game of telephone.

Martin – [She] outlines, but that’s for the publisher to feel good enough to write the check. The story goes where it needs to go.

What Problems Do You Run Into?

Eddy – She inherited an author with a 425k story. After reading, she found an organic stopping point around 225k words. Then told the author to make the next one’s start organic.

It’s best if, on some rainy Sunday afternoon, when a new reader stumbles across your novel in a bookstore, it shouldn’t matter if they can find book 12 or book 1, the story needs to start in an organic place. – Eddy

Yarbro- Saint-Germain wasn’t talking to [her], but Olivia did. So [Yarbro] wrote her story and focused on the character. Then, Saint-Germain started writing letters to Olivia, and that’s when [she] found his voice again.


Ringo – Back when he was a junior writer, paired with David Weber for March Upcountry, Weber sends him the outline. Chapters 1-6 are pretty detailed– about 30k words.

Then, one line “Ch 6- 19  They cross the country. This is your specialty. Just write some barbarians and city states.”

So, Ringo wrote and he wrote. And one day, he’s stuck and desperate not to ask for help. He’s literally rolling on the floor of his house, wrestling with the plot when he spots his role playing 1st edition Dungeon Master’s Guide on the shelf. He takes the book and rolls on the random terrain table: “jungle, jungle, jungle, marsh…”

The world map ended up being a cut-up Cretaceous Period world map.

Every week, he sends what he has and hears nothing. No clue if they like it, hate it, want him to do something else.

Finally he gets a [call/email?] asking for what he has. Ringo admits, “I’m only up to maybe chapter 8?” and sends the whole thing.



2 weeks later, he gets a call from Baen. “I think this is a little long.”

The story was up to 423,000+ words for “9” chapters.

Grab bag

  • Don’t collaborate until you have a strong voice
  • Publishers often prefer 3-book deals over singletons; all the work they put into your platform can be used to sell more than a 1-hit wonder.
  • Side characters can only hint at their backstories until they’re the main character
  • Terry Pratchett is famous for introducing characters with everything you need to know about them. It takes a master to do it like that.
  • Ringo called Ghost “50 Shades of Guns”, weirdest of the 5 books, more of a prologue. And Unto the Breech was the best thing he’s ever written but he doesn’t like the series.
  • 245k+ books, are known in publishing by the unit term “A Sanderson”

Chatter before the panel

Word/Phrase Meanings*

  • dixie – short for money
  • a shot of [alcohol] – from back when poor frontiersmen would trade bullets for liquor
  • passing the buck – hand off a buck-knife in a game of poker to show who was dealer

Confused Copy Editors

  • Asked why the bartender would put his fingers in the whiskey (“two fingers neat of scotch)
  • Moved all the dialogue to the beginning of the paragraph, with the action to follow. No matter what.
  • Noted that “democracy” would never have been said in ancient GREECE

*According to the group, I didn’t verify them

P.S. The feature image is of me in my Poison Ivy makeup and jewelry.

PPS. When you keep deleting text trying to italicize or move it because your ctrl-key is broke, you might get a bit frustrated. Just be glad I finished this post before bedtime.

D*Con: Fantasy Writing Discussion w/Lackey, Dixon, Paolini, Jackson

How Fantasy Writing Changed My Life

w/ Angelina Adams(mod), Mercedes Lackey, Christopher Paolini, Chris Jackson, and Larry Dixon

Stories about Readers:

  • Lackey gets told all the time how Vanyel touched gay readers
  • Dixon – this is his 263rd panel. “We’re still fans, too.

What book/story would you point to for getting you into SFF?

  • Saucer of Loneliness – Lackey
  • The Ruby Knight by David Eddings – Paolini.
    • SFF tackles the big issues
    • Paolini was a scientist for 20 years, now is a full time writer, it literally changed his life.
  • The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon & Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey – Jackson
    • – fantasy doesn’t need to be PG
  • Catseye by Andre Norton & Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey – Dixon.
    • “I was very young at a young age”.
    • It showed a time period that was neither period, nor unfamiliar
    • There was a process by which McCaffrey went from his idol to “Annie’s got my art on her guest room wall.

How do you diversify your writing style

  • honing your voice vs learning things to help the original style – Adams
  • It helps to be schizophrenic. It’s vital to stretch. His writing group has a new writing exercise every month – Jackson
  • Variety inspires your writing – Paolini
  • You cannot edit nothing – Jackson
    • NaNoWriMo is good for beginner writers.
    • Ass glue – gorilla ass glue is helpful.
  • Sanderson does vignettes that he says helps keep him from losing his minds – Paolini
    • After Eragon, [my] next dragon would be evil. (Because of burn out)
    • It’s hard to write a story from the villain’s point of view, they won’t BE the villain. (Because you make them sympathetic)

What did you think of the movie? [Eragon]

  • Paolini – Officially? It was the director’s vision and [he] can’t help but be grateful for the millions of new readers it brought in.
  • Unofficially? [He’s] trying to get it remade. The studio didn’t quite understand fantasy [tropes/etc].
  • Lackey – As Bradbury said, “at least I cashed the check.

For gamers- do you write what you game?

  • Dixon – I had to quit a game module, because the GM didn’t let anyone change anything or add anything.

Odds & Ends and Quotes

  • Lackey – Publisher won’t let her write more 500 Kingdom’s because it doesn’t make enough $$$.
  • Getting old ain’t for the weak” – Lackey
  • The books don’t age.” – CP

Who is your favorite character you’ve created?

  • Skandranon Rashkae- The black griffin – Dixon
  • Vreva Jhafae – the Courtesan Spy – Jackson
  • Saphira –  the dragon – Paolini
  • Victoria – romance writer/techno-mage and Joyeaux Charmond – a hunter in a dystopia – but that’s who I’m working on right now… – Lackey