What Do You Expect?

I remember a couple years ago I asked my husband if marriage was what he expected. He said he hadn’t really thought about what it would be like beforehand, so he couldn’t answer properly. (Of course, I thought “Really? You jumped into a lifetime commitment without any consideration of what it would mean? How very…male.”) After a few minutes, he asked me whether it was what I thought it would be. I told him there was rather a lot more baseball than I had expected.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, I think we all have certain expectations of each step in the writing process. For those who outline, they may expect that once the outline is done, the writing part will be easy. Those who sweat out a first draft expect the editing process to go more smoothly than the drafting. Unagented authors frequently believe that having an agent will automatically take the burden off. Authors with a few books under their belts may expect their series will keep going. Reality, however, has a way of confounding expectations.

I don’t outline. I do expect that the editing process for me will go relatively smoothly, and most of the time, it does. Sometimes, however, an edit has completely confounded me. I know people whose publishers have folded with nary a word of warning. I have published author friends who believed they’d be writing mysteries forever and have switched genres or left writing entirely.

Three years ago, I got an agent. A great agent. But she couldn’t sell my book. And when I wrote another one, she didn’t like it. In fact, she said it was fatally flawed, couldn’t really be fixed, and I should move on to another project. So I did. Now, I am on the third revision (fourth version) of that project. She still doesn’t like it. It’s not fatally flawed, but she believes it needs a “complete overhaul.”

More than one person who has read the manuscript has told me I should just find another agent because the manuscript is publishable. I’m grateful for their confidence in my writing ability, but I have a feeling their comments come from their expectations of what an agent can–and should–do. I remember what my own picture of the future looked like before Jessica took me on. I thought “well, once I get beyond that step, everything will get easier.”

So what would happen if I left the agent I picked out so carefully? Would things get better? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. How do I know I’m not ready to leave? Well, I live in fear that she’ll give up on me, so I guess that’s a pretty clear indication.

Also, I have other options for this manuscript. I can try hiring an outside editor. I can think about further critiques. I can put it away for a month and look at it again later. It’s not dead, at least not yet.

Of course, what all that means is that at the moment I am starting over. New manuscript, career overhaul. Not quite what I expected, but then, life rarely is.

Two Sentence Tuesday – Agent’s Critique Edition

A while back I posted a note from my agent in which she mentioned that she would have some notes for me soon. True to her word, she did indeed have notes. Lots of them. But despite my initial panic, she didn’t say “scrap this, you no-talent loser, I have no idea why I even bothered to take you on.” The work has required some fairly comprehensive rewriting, though, so here are a couple of new sentences I’ve worked in this week:

He hadn’t had a clue what he was signing on for when he took the job, but it turned out that being Dobbs Hollow’s Chief mainly meant breaking up meth deals, quelling meth-or-alcohol-fueled domestic disputes, or investigating the occasional burglary. Usually, that turned out to be meth-related, too.

This week I got a book called The Profiler by Pat Brown from Amazon Vine to review. I still have to finish it before I can write the actual review, but here are a couple of sentences:

I printed out what pictures I could find of female victims of unsolved homicides in my county, and I rented a booth at an outdoor festival. I laminated all the pictures and hung them up in a big circle around the table. Under each, I wrote, “Unsolved.”

What about you? What’s been occupying your reading and writing time this week? Let us know where to find out, and we’ll update this post as the day goes along.

Reading Into Their Words

More than any other group I’ve belonged to, writers seem able to read into other people’s statements. Notes from a critique group get transformed into indictments or paeans. A simple “not for me” from an agent or editor somehow translates into a personal commentary.

I am easily as guilty of this as anyone else. Today I got a note from my agent that said, and I quote, “I just wanted to let you know that I started the book this weekend and hope to have feedback to you by the end of the week.” That’s all. Nothing more. And you know where my mind went? “If she really liked it, she would have finished it.”

No. Just, no. She’s my agent, not my friend. She’s reading it slowly. She’s reading it for purposes other than enjoyment, though I hope she enjoys it. She didn’t say “I got halfway through and couldn’t finish it because it was so awful.” She didn’t even say “It’s going to take me at least a week to make notes on this because it still needs so much work.”

Now, it may be that she won’t like it. It may be that it will need a lot of work. Or it may be that she won’t have that many notes at all. There’s just no way to tell from that one line email, and I am going to have to keep reminding myself of that.

ThrillerFest V – July 7-10, 2010 NYC

Registration for ThrillerFest V is underway. ThrillerFest is the ITW (International Thriller Writers) annual celebration of the thriller world. It is a meeting place for authors, readers, budding writers, and publishing industry professionals.

This year’s ThrillerFest will be held from July 7-10 at the Grand Hyatt in NYC. The conference also includes CraftFest and AgentFest.

CraftFest is an event which is held on July 7 & 8 in which “ITW authors share their knowledge, experiences, and tips in highly-informative presentations.” The CraftFest Chairperson is D.P. Lyle, MD.

AgentFest is held on July 8. It is designed to put authors and agents together for the purpose of pitching projects; it’s set up like a speed-dating event. ITW has compiled a list of tips on pitching in person. A list of agents confirmed for this event can be found here.

The 2010 ThrillerMaster Ken Follett will accept his award from 2009 ThrillerMaster David Morrell.

Speaking of David Morrell, I had the pleasure of chatting with David recently at Sleuthfest in Florida. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads which is due for release on July 5, 2010.

The contributed essays are from such writers as David Baldacci, Steve Berry, Sandra Brown, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, Heather Graham, John Lescroart, Gayle Linds, Katherine Neville, Michael Palmer, James Rollins, R.L. Stine, and many more.

The Spotlight guests for ThrillerFest are Harlan Coben, Gayle Linds, and Lisa Scottoline. The 2010 True Thriller Award Recipient is Mark Bowden.

Advance rates are in effect through April 30, 2010.

For information about joining ITW, click here.

Come follow me on Twitter!

The Perfect Pitch

Last week I attended a CUNY Graduate Center seminar entitled The Art of the Pitch. Five well-respected panelist from newspapers, magazines and publishing, presented their views on “pitching” and took questions.


André Aciman, Director of The Writers’ Institute and Chair of The Graduate Center’s the doctoral program in Comparative Literature moderated the seminar.

The panelists included:

Christopher Cox, senior editor at The Paris Review, working with fiction, interviews, and reportage. Previous to the Review, he worked at Artforum, German National Radio, and NPR.

Priscilla Gilman, a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates. Formerly a professor of English literature at both Yale University and Vassar College, her own book, The Anti-Romantic Child, will be published by HarperCollins in early 2011.

Hugo Lindgren, editorial director of New York magazine will soon be moving to Business Week as executive editor. He edits all genres and stories and writes about business, music and sports. He has also worked as an editor at Metropolis, George, & The New York Times Magazine.

David Propson, deputy editor of The Week magazine, where he oversees its arts and leisure coverage. Previously he was culture and books editor at The New York Sun. He also writes about books and the arts for The Wall Street Journal and other publications.

Been Shapiro, started in journalism as a contract writer for The New York Times. He left in 1994 to join The Wall Street Journal. Leaving briefly, he returned to the WSJ in 2000 to help launch the Personal Journal section. He edits the Journal’s Weekend sections, which focus on culture and entertainment.

While the focus was mostly on pitches for non-fiction articles for both newspapers and magazines, the one book agent present, Pricilla Gilman, offered her views on querying for novels and non-fiction work. There were commonalities, which applied to pitching both areas, as well as specific information for each.

I’ve tried to organize this information so that it makes sense for those who are interested in pitching and writing articles and for those who are writing books and for what is common ground for both types of pitches.

In general the panelists agreed on the following for both media and book pitches:

  • Be clear and succinct
  • Don’t make your pitch/query too cute or too clever.
  • Avoid over-zealous adjectives such as ‘ground-breaking”, ”best-seller” and “sure-fire winner.”
  • Don’t call the person you’re pitching. Write or email instead
  • Don’t ask for a meeting
  • Be honest with your bio and background
  • State if you’ve been published and if so, where
  • Personal connections are helpful but if you mention someone, or quote them, make sure they will back you up

For pitching to newspapers, special interest, news or non-fiction publications:

  • Your first few paragraphs are crucial. They should be the best demonstration of your writing ability without any claims such as, “your readers will be interested in … ”
  • Make sure you know the publication you are pitching and understand the content that has appeared in it
  • Let the editor you’re pitching know if you’ve written a certain type of story before and if you have sources. It will help position you as the best person for the assignment
  • It’s very important that the editor you are pitching gets the sense that you know and understand what the publication does, who its readers are and what is applicable to them
  • Editors are always looking for the new person/new voice. It could be you
  • If an editor likes your tone of voice, but what you submit isn’t right at that moment, he or she may ask you to send something else
  • Find out who the right editor is for the story you are pitching before you send it
  • Don’t send the same pitch to more than one editor at a publication
  • It’s okay to include one or two clips with your pitch

For querying an agent:

  • Only send one book idea at a time. Sending several may indicate a lack of commitment on your part
  • Get to the heart of the story right away
  • Don’t make promises regarding how the reader will feel, i.e. “be blown away”
  • For fiction, make sure your manuscript is complete
  • Don’t send an your full manuscript unless it is requested
  • Only query one agent at time per agency. They share information
Image from ChristArt.com

Win a Scholarship to the Backspace Writers Conference in NYC

If you have a finished novel or narrative non-fiction manuscript and are in search of an agent, this contest may be for you.


Two days of agent panels, workshops, and small-group meetings are at the heart of the upcoming Backspace Writers Conference & Agent-Author Seminar at the Radisson Martinique (32nd & Broadway) in NYC on May 27–May 29, 2010.


Agent Colleen Lindsay has announced a contest for two lucky winners to receive a scholarship to the seminar (valued at $750 each).

There are a few stipulations, however; you MUST have a finished novel (or narrative non-fiction manuscript) that is ready to query; the contest is open only to fiction (any genre, adult, YA or middle grade) and narrative non-fiction manuscripts. The scholarship covers admission to the conference only, not travel or hotel expenses.

The contest will be judged by agents Colleen Lindsay and Suzie Townsend of the FinePrint Literary Agency.


To be considered for one of the two scholarships being offered, you must mail your query letter and the first two pages of your finished manuscript (the same two pages that you want to have critiqued at the seminar) to Colleen at FinePrint Literary Agency (address, and complete rules can be found on her blog). Entries must be postmarked no later than March 1, 2010.


The winners will be announced on March 15, 2010.


Review the agenda and a list of faculty attending the seminar here.


(When Colleen hosted this contest last year, four winners were chosen; and all four found representation as a result of attending the Backspace Writers Conference & Agent-Author Seminar. The number of attendees is limited to 150.)


Come follow me on Twitter.

Memoir and Narrative Nonfiction Contest

Do you have a completed work of memoir, narrative nonfiction or creative nonfiction that is unpublished? Then this contest might just be for you.


The Guide to Literary Agent’s “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest: Memoir and Narrative Nonfiction just opened on January 19 and ends on January 31. This is the first “Dear Lucky Agent” contest on the GLA blog that will become a recurring online contest with agent judges and prizes. The details will basically remain the same, but the niche will change for each contest — so keep an eye out for the announcement of your genre. I follow the GLA blog editor, Chuck Sambuchino, on Twitter.


This contest is for completed book-length works of memoir, narrative nonfiction or creative nonfiction. However, you only have to send 150-200 words; no more, no less. Also, to be eligible, you must mention or link to this contest twice via social media sites, or once on your blog and add Guide to Literary Agents Blog to your blogroll.


The first place winner will receive a critique of 25 pages of his/her work, by an agent judge, and will receive two free books from Writer’s Digest Books.

Second and third place winners receive a critique of 10 pages of his/her work, by an agent judge, and one free book from Writer’s Digest Books.

The agent judge for this contest will be Katharine Sands, an agent with the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency.

Follow me on Twitter.


Fall Writing Contests

There are so many writing contests this fall, here’s just a handful to consider:


Stuart Neville is hosting a Twitter Ghost Story contest to celebrate the release of his novel, The Ghosts of Belfast. He’s looking for the scariest, funniest ghost story in 124 characters; you must include #GhostsOfBelfast in the tweet.


Stuart will choose ten finalists. Those tweets will be re-tweeted by Stuart and Soho Press for a vote on Twitter; the top five will be featured on the home pages of StuartNeville.com and GhostsofBelfast.com. The five winners will each win a signed copy of The Ghosts of Belfast. The contest closes at midnight on October 31, 2009.



A serial thriller competition by ABCtales.com and SHOTS, the Crime and Thriller ezine. The winning entry will be judged by Lee Child. According to the ABCtales.com web site:


“Entrants must be 18 years old or over. Entrants must submit a 2,000 word story for the initial entry. They should have a further nine episodes of the same story in mind and be able to write these to a tight deadline. A one-page synopsis (maximum word count 400) of the nine episodes should thus also be submitted as part of the entry. This should be placed directly underneath their initial story.

The top 10 entrants will be chosen and asked to write their full ten part serial thriller. Lee Child will read these final 10 and choose the winner. The judges of the initial entries and the synopses will be Mike Stotter and Mike Ripley (author of the acclaimed Angel novels) of Shots Magazine.

The judges will be looking for a cliffhanger/ paradox/ crucial new piece of information/ major discovery etc. at the end of each episode. This may turn out to be a red herring. The aim is to keep the reader or listener ‘hooked’ and the writer may use whatever devices he/she finds suitable for this purpose.”

The deadline to enter is November 1, 2009. There is a fee of $20, payable via PayPal. The ten finalists will have between November 15 and January 5 to write their full story.

If you have a completed Adult Fiction manuscript and are looking for an agent, then this month’s Secret Agent Contest on Miss Snark’s First Victim blog might be for you:


October’s Secret Agent Submission contest will open for submissions at 12 noon EDT on Monday, October 12, 2009. It is only for completed ADULT FICTION (all genres except SF/F and erotica) manuscripts; however, you only submit the first 250 words. Read the guidelines here. For more information on what a Secret Agent contest is and how it works, read here. The maximum number of entries accepted is fifty. You will be expected to critique at least five entries. The “secret agent” will join the critique panel, leaving feedback for every entry, and will choose the winner. His/her identity is not revealed until the close of the contest.


A special thank you to Sara J. Henry, and Women of Mystery blogmates Elaine Will Sparber and Terrie Farley Moran for the heads-up on these fun fall contests.


Let us know if you’re going to give one of these a try, or if you’re working on another contest submission.


Good luck!

Win a Scholarship to the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar in NYC

Two days of agent panels, workshops, and small-group meetings are at the heart of the upcoming Backspace Agent-Author Seminar at the Radisson Martinique (32nd and Broadway) in New York City on November 5-6, 2009.


Agent Colleen Lindsay has announced a contest to win a scholarship to the seminar (valued at $500), but the deadline to enter is rapidly approaching.

There are a few stipulations, however; you MUST have a finished novel (or narrative non-fiction manuscript) that is ready to query; the contest is open only to fiction (any genre, adult, YA or middle grade) and narrative non-fiction manuscripts. The scholarship covers admission to the conference only, not travel or hotel expenses.

The contest will be judged by agents Colleen Lindsay (FinePrint Literary Agency) and Joanna Stampfel-Volpe (Nancy Coffey Agency).


To be considered for one of the two scholarships being offered, you must mail your query letter and the first two pages of your finished manuscript (the same two pages that you want to have critiqued at the seminar) to Colleen at FinePrint Literary Agency (address, and complete rules can be found on her blog). Entries must be postmarked no later than September 4, 2009.


The winners will be announced on September 17, 2009.


Review the agenda and a list of faculty attending the seminar here.