Wednesday, July 30, 2014


I have yet to publish a novel with my name on the cover.  With nonfiction, I contracted to write a literary cookbook only to have it fall through when the photographer backed out.  But my work has been represented.  I’m the exception to the cliché about it being harder to get an agent than a contract with a publishing house. 

Hooking up through conference pitches and query letters, eight agents have offered to represent my work.  I turned down some of those opportunities.  Roll your eyes.  I know.  This is not to brag, but to establish my credibility on the topic of finding an agent. 

Here are my suggestions for those of you who are ready to have help in selling your book.

When you pitch yourself and your book to an agent, be sure to target the right one.  Many factors will determine which will be your best advocate. 

Be sure they represent your genre.  This doesn’t only mean he likes the genre, although you want your agent to be passionate about your mystery, which may be challenging for one who doesn’t like mysteries.  It means he’s sold them before and will have connections to editors that acquire them.  If you write in more than one genre, as I do, you may be better off getting an agent who is part of an agency that is large enough to represent a variety of genres.

The large Jane Dystel agency represented my cookbook for a year and later a celebrity memoir I was ghostwriting.   If your agent is part of a larger group and is eager to sell your romance novel but doesn’t represent cookbooks, she can pass your cookbook to a partner.

Kathleen Anderson
One of my agents, Kathleen Anderson, didn’t have connections for my cookbook but had had tremendous success with mainstream novels like mine.  Because she didn't have a partner to pass my nonfiction to, my cookbook sat stagnant. 
Lilly Ghahremani

Another agent, Lilly Ghahremani, knew about that cookbook and wanted to sell it for me, but Kathleen wanted to represent all my work and believed it would be complicated if one publishing house had to bargain with two different agents on two different projects.  In retrospect, I should have signed a one book contract with each of them so my genres would get equal attention. 
There are other reasons to consider the size of an agency.  Big agencies are sometimes less attentive, their time spread thin, devoted more to their established authors.  On the other hand, big, well-established agencies have reputations that get their clients taken seriously.  The newcomers in that big agency may be the ones that are easier to pitch to and get a response.  They are still growing their clientele.  

Consider too, what kind of attention you need.  You’ll likely get more attention from a small, boutique, or individual agent.   That doesn’t mean every smaller agency will want to hold your hand through your divorce—though I’ve heard some agents do that.  It means you may have hour-long conversations about that POV fix you need to tackle or how to use Twitter before your book is even bought.  It may, as it did for me once, mean she’ll actually show up to meet you at your home.  Don’t count on that though, the visit usually happens the other way around.

Ten years ago I would have suggested getting a NY agent.  That is no longer necessary.  Kristen Nelson represents Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet), Hugh Howey (Wool) and other bestsellers.  She’s in Denver. 

Check the acknowledgments in successful books in your genre.  Which agents are mentioned?  If a book is very similar to yours, you may want to avoid querying that agent.  They typically don’t want two of their books to compete.

Do your homework at online sites such as Predators and Editors, Query Tracker, and Absolute Write.  Then make your list.

Don’t send out 100s of queries at once.  Send to a few choice agents, wait as long as they suggest on their websites, check in politely once after that, then move on.  If you get individualized feedback, that is not to be discounted.  It took him time to personalize.  He may be interested in your work after a good edit or perhaps willing to look at your next project.  Pay close attention to what he and others have written to you.  If actionable feedback is consistent among them (couldn’t buy into this character, story didn’t seem big enough, the situation was not believable), take it seriously.  But don’t be surprised if the response is generic and unhelpful (just isn’t my thing, can’t imagine who I’d sell this to, great writing but I’ll pass on this).  They are busy people.  Their job isn’t to educate you.  It’s to serve their current clients and snatch up new ones they can sell.

Whether it is 2 or 20 you are querying, never address your email (or snail mail) to Dear Agent.  Always personalize including a first line about why you chose her to query.  “We spoke at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference….”  “I saw you represented one of my favorite books….”  “Because of your success in representing hard science fiction…”  This shows you’ve done your homework, that you aren’t just blanketing the world of agents with a desperate call for help.

Limit your queries to only one agent in an agency.  Imagine the confusion that could ensue if two people in one agency decide to offer representation.  Plus they often do get together to discuss queries.   Donald Maas says his agents sit around a table once a week and go through queries committee style.  If your query pops up twice, it will, at best, seem as if you weren’t targeting a specific agent.  Wait a couple of months, then you can approach another agent within that agency. 

Finding an agent who will work for you and your book takes a bit of homework and a lot of common sense.  What would you add to my list of things to consider when choosing a literary agent?

- From the Inkpot

Friday, July 25, 2014

I Blame my Brothers

I recently flew to Nashville and thought I would download a couple of ebooks onto my phone to read while on my trip.  I perused many options (you can't have too many books!), added a dozen or so to my wish list, and eventually selected a zombie apocalypse novel and a new mystery based on the world of Peter Wimsey created by Dorothy Sayers.  

Then I sat back and laughed.  At myself.  Zombies and post WWII England!  Could just as easily have been high fantasy and literary fiction.

I really do blame my brothers.  When I was young, in the summer I regularly took the bus to the library, often with my brothers and sister.  Books, books, books!  I was in Heaven!  We could each check out five books, and after I read mine I would then dip into those my brothers and sister brought home.  I didn't care that the books were typically above my reading level or what genre they selected.  Didn't matter one whit.  I consumed those books!  Pirates, pioneers, prisoners, or pomp (and circumstance).  Fairy tales, adventures, science fiction, or romance.  I relished each and every one.

Many years ago, when asked about my favorite books and the genres I preferred, I had great difficulty settling on just one or two.  I read and enjoy them all.  Sure, there's the occasional horror that's just too specific in its gore or torture scenes and I turn away, but that's a specific book, not the entire genre.  And yes, too much technical lingo in a military thriller will sometimes make my eyes glaze over, but if I care about the characters I read on.  And on, and on, and on.

So I want to thank my brothers and sister.  I hold them responsible for not only improving my reading skills but opening my eyes to so many genres.  And for sharing their books.

~ Folio

Monday, July 21, 2014


Hooray Sister Shannon (AKA Nib)!
Shannon won RMFW Writer of the Year! 
A good time (and champagne) was had by all Saturday at the comfy BookBar in Denver. 
A rowdy crowd of RMFW members were there to celebrate
along with fellow nominees 
Christine Jorgensen (who was also nominated for a Colorado Book Award this year)
Terry Wright (a long time contributor to the organization and small publisher) 
Talented writers all! 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Can't We All Just Get Along?

by Nib

“You’re an idiot!”

Those terrible words slam over my six foot backyard fence. The irate holler is followed by a tone so filled with disgust it singes my skin. “Get your ass over here. Put that down.”

I am paralyzed. The scene I was working on vanishes from my mind’s eye and my breath catches.

“You stupid moron!”

A young voice, that of Aiden, my eight year-old neighbor, whines back in argument and what follows is five minutes of the grandfather and grandson sniping at each other with the “adult” flinging out more name-calling.
This scene plays out roughly once a week. I’ve only lived here for eight months and I’m sure this has been going on for a long time. The conflict isn’t confined to this one relationship. Three generations living next door wage frequent battle where I may not be able to overhear words but the tone is evident.

It stops me dead every time. I have a visceral reaction. My breath stutters, my heart races, my skin grows clammy. I’ve always hated conflict. Even as a kid, while my brother and sister clashed over any number of childhood problems, I’d be in the corner crying.

Why can’t my neighbors be nice to each other? Speak with kindness, encourage each other, especially Aiden?

I won’t guarantee Aiden isn’t an idiot. He might or might not be—he’s climbed our fence and done malicious mischief in our backyard, he dug a hole under a tree in the front, he threw rocks through our neighbor’s garage windows, and flung a case of empty jars against the fence in the alley shattering glass outside our yard. Obviously, he’s a troubled kid with needs I can only guess at. But I can’t imagine telling him that’s he’s a moron or an idiot will improve his IQ or his behavioral problems. I might even go so far as to say that kind of verbal battering might actually be at the root of the problem.

As disturbing as that situation is, and believe me, I am not making light of it, it brought home a powerful personal message to me.

While I was clenching my fists and teeth during one such episode, and thinking that some kindness and gentleness might bring about more cooperation and greater potential, a realization struck me. How often do I treat myself with that same impatience and contempt?

I know, we’re writers and a certain amount of that self-deprecating attitude with a dollop of insecurity goes with the job description. But I’ve been particularly abusive of myself lately. Whatever the details of my shortcomings, it all amounts to me calling myself a stupid moron and telling me to get my ass to my computer and write decent stuff.

Maybe it’s time I treat myself with the same encouragement and pride I wish for Aiden. Instead of tossing aside the colorful crayon picture and focusing on the failing report card, I ought to pin the picture to the refrigerator and shrug over the F, promising that failure isn’t permanent and I will succeed if I keep trying.
Nothing good comes of negative talk, even if it’s only going on between my ears. So I’m making a pledge to start speaking nicer to myself. I’m going to treat me with the same courtesy and respect I try to give to others. It couldn’t hurt. It might help.

What kind of encouraging things do you do for yourself?

If you’ve got a moment, send a special thought into the universe for Aiden. And even if it’s only for today, be kind to yourself.   

Friday, July 11, 2014

One Man's Junk... Subjectivity

My personal essay, The Importance of a Penis, was a top 10 finalist in the Boulder Writers' Workshop Make Me Laugh Writing Contest.  The final round was judged by legendary TV comedy writer Gene Perret.  Ultimately I was invited to read the piece aloud earlier this year.

Red Line Magazine published the essay in their Power Issue number 5.

It had made it through their screening process and was accepted for publication.  Then the committee of writer/reader peers that put together the magazine reviewed each piece.  My review was mostly negative, which is yet more proof to me that taste is subjective.  The following is my first "bad" review of a published piece.  My skin is already super-duper thick after so many years of being a writer, but it did surprise me to have a magazine pick up work despite what was considered flawed.  It seems there were varying opinions about it.  One more piece of evidence that opinions on the strength of writing can be subjective.

"Given that this is a book club with members accustomed to Chinese Traditions and Writings, the story felt hackneyed to some, heartfelt to others.  Unfortunately the writing was staccato in style, more akin to disjointed pieces of text stuck together than the expected flow of a well-constructed short story.  While the vocabulary and grammar lacked precision (for example, many of our readers were turned off by the author’s use of the word ‘hubby’) some of the analogies and descriptive language seemed unique.  Although the basic premise of the story would be considered solid if indeed it reflected a personal experience, the author should have paid more attention to its pace and flow.  There was general agreement the story lacked maturity in style and flow."

One's man junk is another man's entertaining story.

-- from the Inkpot