Friday, December 18, 2015

Writers Fruit Salad

The following questions popped up in a number of writer’s groups, particularly Absolute Write. They were interesting because they were more personal than the norm. Kind of a spill your guts in nature. I’m a truth-teller. I won’t shy or back off such questions because I’ve been in this too long to hide anything. Yet they are only my experiences. So, have at me, and I hope you learn something or take a trip down a writer’s memory lane.


I have to at least be over the 65,000 word mark, 200 plus pages for a YA title before I feel adequate or accomplished. I'm more comfortable with 80,000 or more for any adult title. But I convinced my last publisher to give me the large font in the book, so I got my thieving little way of keeping my page count up there, when my word count was a little slim for a novel (my novels) at about 62,000. (For anyone who has a lean YA title, just ask your publisher to jack up the font and that will do the trick—that’s where you get your extra pages—some fluff up. I think they call them “Easy Readers” or some such. They come out real nice looking that way too). I've written five big books in the past that were all about 110,000 to 120,000--I just don't have that kind of steam anymore unless I'm writing something truly epic with a grand scale and multiple viewpoint characters. I just finished a NA genre book that came in at 216 pages and 72,000 words, and I'm not really happy about the small size of that one—I do consider it an adult novel. I do like a book that has at least enough room on the spine to be noticed or read from a distance.
I had terrific success writing short stories many years ago. I don't know why I want nothing to do with them now. I wrote two prequel shorts for my SF publisher recently, only because he asked me to. I did kind of enjoy the experience and they fit right in with the main title! I just might be afraid of shorts because I'm 28 years out of practice with churning them out.  


Out of 22 books I've only written ONE first person narrative and it was a novella. I'm so damn jealous of those who can master and write in 1rst--it's been so popular in so many YA titles that really broke out and became bestsellers these last couple of years.
During the Dinosaur era when I first started out (exact year as James M. here--1987) there was kind of standard rule or popular belief that third person tight was the only thing that had the best chance of getting published. First person was just a little bit frowned upon--just not the real favorite style. I kid you not. Oh, and memoires and auto biographies? Uh, they were discouraged much more back then.

The dinosaur era, speaking of which--there was a time when we SFWA members laughed at Whitley Strieber because of his alien contact confession—now look at him! We choked with hilarity when the fantasy writers wanted to join and merge with the Science Fiction Writers of America. We were an elite snooty ass bunch of thespians (uh, they still are a wee bit to this day). The mid-old SF guard is still mostly there, and there was an earlier time when you could exchange dozens of letters with Asimov, Robert Bloch, Anderson, Heinlein and other notables. We all had time for each other then--no Internet--lots of regular mail, some which were banged out on typewriters. Tons of us used 4th Class Special Book Rate to mail our fulls and partials--which you marked as disposable if you couldn't afford their round trip. It was a time when I made fun of Clive Barker because he was such a punk at the BEAs. Oh, boy, did I eat that one in a Hellraiser sort of way. Yeah, back then, if you were serious you mailed 400 to 500 pages.

The dinos are almost extinct now, and we're reckoning with this new age of Internet and instant publication for Indie writers. I'm confronted with massive computer storage systems, programming needs, clicks, drop downs, links, navigating social media and a hard-copy list that has over 70 passwords and user names. Motherboard crashes? I've had four of those. It makes me long for my IBM Selectric. I've been so god-damned stupid trying to adapt to all this, I rarely if ever touch any friggin key on my board that doesn't spell a word and belong in a text file. I’m more than hopelessly lost in this computer tech world.


I wrote three longhand pencil novels on yellow rule paper in 1975. My next stint was from 1987 to 1991 when I published two successful non-fiction books and about 15 short stories, which landed me in the SFWA. My agent at that time was Richard Curtis, and he failed to sell three of my completed novels. I wrote an additional 3 novels that I never bothered subbing to the agent or anywhere. I stopped writing in 1991. Total books written = eight.
My current, third stint journey has lasted from Dec, 2004 (joined Absolute Write writers group at that time) until now. Wrote about 17 books during that time which includes a really neat non-fic dinosaur book. My first two novel publications came in 2007 and six others have followed, plus two prequel shorts. My agent now has an additional six completed, revised, edited and polished novels (a trilogy and picture book in there) and my current NA WIP which was just finished, waxed to bedazzlement and sent yesterday. She's going to "stagger" sub all of them in 2016 and see which poop pie sticks to the wall. I'm counting on the trilogy to bust out with a NYC biggie—so is agent. Got everything crossed including my eyes.  

I can't even tell you how many false starts I've had--books that went from the 20,000 to 40,000 words and got dumped midstream. Maybe eight to10 of them. I'd have to look them up.

I've never been without an agent my entire writing career. Which makes me think I'm jinxed somehow, since that huge contract has been illusive, with only advances that numbered in the low thousands during my earliest years. Back then we had the “medium sized” presses--which still got you into every library in the United States and all the large franchise book stores, like Waldens and B. Dalton. Today, there is a littler gray area between small/independent presses and the Big Five and all their imprints. Either you land a publisher that has real distribution to brick and mortar stores and pays a nice advance, or you settle for a small press that will typically sell between 75 and 150 books in their lifetime. We do have some really high-end small presses which fork over advances and have distribution. These “middle” type small press publishers might have a large staff, a marketing manager, foreign rights department and other such extras. Bookatour and Entangled would be these types of successful small press/independents.

In conclusion: keep a diary or journal of your writing life and history. You might have to recall your bio when your talented little ass hits the big time.  

Friday, November 13, 2015

What is a Stealth Agent? What is an A-List Agent?

First, Stealth Agents:

My agent was/is a stealth agent. She was/is an A-lister in hiding. You will run across these in your search. Oh, God, you say. That's a whole new kettle of fish. Real short: in most cases, a stealth agent does not have a website, Twitter feed, FB account--NONE of it. No footprint. They might only be registered in a few online media listings, like Agent Query, and there you will find almost nothing about them except a phone number and an email address. They might even announce that they are closed to queries at the present. I Googled one such agent and found a few listings associated with books she had repped on Amazon.

When I Googled those authors I found them to be best-sellers and name celebrities. It was quite a shock to find out how successful she was. I also found more information about her at my AW writing site which confirmed my suspicions. Everyone agreed that she WAS a very successful agent and had dinosaur longevity. She only stays/stayed invisible because her stable was full, she wasn't taking on queries and she concentrated on furthering the careers of her current authors. Quite noble, actually. The secret handshake to her was, simply sending her a proposal whether she liked it or not! Hah! I did this and she took me on, bowled over with the number of books I had finished and ready. She said, "Oh, you know the way to my heart-you came and got me." I don't recommend this strategy for other authors. It's a coin flip. Don’t try to get into the Richard Curtiss Agency this way—he’ll flatly tell you he’s only interested in non-fiction. Yet, he has his ear open to the right scout and movie exec.

The A-lister: look up your favorite genre or contemporary books and authors at the major book stores and look in the dedication pages. Make note if the publisher is a large one, i.e S&S, Ace, Harlequin, Penguin/Random, etc. You'll find out what agent sold those books. Large, popular houses = A-list agents (for the most part). It's a good feeler gauge, but some new agents make big sales too, just not that many of them. Google the name of the agent on the Amazon book page and, wallah! You'll see how many books, ranks, best sellers the agent has dealt with. Better: ask the agent straight away for their rep history, author names she reps, length of business and so on. An A-list agent is How Big, How Many and for How Long. You’re likely to get an agent/author contract.

B-list agents, who also sometimes call themselves "boutique (or medium-sized) agencies" generally have several dozen sales under their belts with medium sized publishers and maybe a few large ones. Heh, don't get me started on Medium size, that's a whole new article. B-list agents are oft times known by first names in the industry and their over-the-line phone pitches are not frowned upon. Many of them (not all) are based in the NY area and have kissy-face lunches with publishers, as well as the A-listers. Agent/author contracts are common.

C-listers are new, have only a couple of sales and are eager to pull in new authors. I say, "pull" because they can compete and be aggressive about signing you. They're just starting out. I can’t say that I recommend them. Caveat: it can also be said that a C-list agent will pull out all stops to find you a publisher and that can mean dozens and dozens of rounds. I have heard of a few authors who are repped by C-list agents and are happy with the arrangement and have no complaints. But I beg them to wait two or three years and tell me the same thing. A no-name agent in the business can be as bad as no agent at all. Besides, do you want your book tied up for two or three years indefinitely? They are more than likely to sign an author to more than one book. You might get an author/agent contract.

Is there such a thing as a D-list agent? Well, yeah. They are the ones that sign you for a one-book contract (having no care about your career), charge a reading fee for a synopses, chapters or full and exceed the royalty share of 15%. They also tack on undefined administrative costs—postage—copying services, mailers and sometimes an hourly rate. They most likely will offer you their lofty editorial services, or refer you which gets them a kickback. You might not get a written contract with them, but it’s not likely.

ETA: Don’t fret if you don’t get a author/agent contract with any agent. It’s no reason to panic and it happens all the time. In this business, your/their word does carry a bond. No so in the movie industry.

Hope this helps a little.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Nabbing and Keeping an Agent


I like this article and I've got just about every one of those suggestions covered. It's pretty standard fair. I'm weak in a few areas. 

Get ready to submit to an agent when you have a completed, polished manuscript, an intro query letter, a full synopsis, a little bio paragraph, credit list, some social media links and maybe a brief marketing plan.  

I just found out about a year ago that series really DO sell. I didn't think it was necessary, or all that popular. Five months ago I went kicking and screaming on a writing rampage because my agent suggested I take my YA Screamcatcher book and make it into a trilogy. Actually it had crossed my mind. I'd never done a series before. The results: I finished it and it sold. I couldn't be happier. You really HAVE to love your characters enough to see them through to this length. You have to perform a little bit of sewing to tie the books together. But...alas! You can use a little magic and make them stand-alones at the same time!

I read where a professional stated that three agent queries a month was just fine. I disagree about three agent queries a month--if that's what the poster was actually suggesting. It will be years to find an agent with such a tepid sub outlay. Do you normally quit around 100 or 135 agents? That is more like a satisfactory expenditure of agent submissions. I know no one who subs that little (three a month) to agents. And did they really say wait one month and move on? Oh fiddle-e-dee--give me a break. You might not hear from an agent for three or four months or even longer. 

I'm at the different end of the spectrum; I use Guerrilla tactics but I don't recommend you do this: I subbed to 440 agents in a span of three weeks--a full-on blow out. I kid you not, there are that many thriller/suspense agents out there. I left hard mail subs off my list. Within five months I had four offers. I took the best quality A-list agent from the stack. Finito. Done. Finished. It was that fast and effective. Of course, you BETTER have a bullet proof query/synopses with a mind-bending premise and irresistible hook. Give it a tag line right up front like you would a movie script and be rewarded extra points for that. Tag line? Look it up.

Here's what I put in the left margin of my query, synopsis, three chapter sample, or even full manuscript. If required, add your social media links. At a glance, the agent can see exactly what I have and who I am:

Chris Stevenson 
18857 County Road 29 # 6
Sylvania, Alabama    35988
Phone—(256) 000-0000
Genre: Espionage Thriller (Adult)
Pages:  325
Words:  85,000 
Agent: Susie Cutie                          

Where and what in the land of Goshin is your bio and credit history? Are you supposed to leave that out if you have nothing? Let me show you how to make something out of nothing and you tell me you can't do the same thing. And believe me, I'm a paltry example.

ETA: You know where you can put this example? Right below your query or synopsis. 


Auto Repair Shams and Scams (Forward--Ralph Nader), 1990, Price Stern & Sloan, Los Angeles--226 pages, non-fiction, consumer warning and repair book.
Garage Sale Mania, 1988, Betterway Publications, Crozet, Virginia--190 pages, non-fiction—1988.
Word Wars, a SF novel, to Rain Publishing, Canada—May, 2007.
Once Upon a Goddess, a Fantasy novel, to Rain Publishing, Canada—January, 2008
Planet Janitor; Custodian of the Stars, a SF novel sold to Engage Books, May 2009
The War Gate—paranormal thriller to Pen and Press—August, 2012
Gate Walker, a Paranormal Fantasy, sold to Lyrical Press—January, 2009.
The Wolfen Strain, a fantasy thriller sold to LBF Books, February 2009
The Girl They Sold to the Moon, a YA dystopia, to Intrigue Publishing 2014
Planet Janitor, Omnibus Edition Reprint, Engage Books, March 2016
Blackmailed Bride, erotic romance to Melange Books, Jan 2018
Screamcatcher: Web World, Book 1, Melange Fire & Ice YA—March 2019
Screamcatcher: Dream Chasers, Book 2, Melange Fire & Ice YA—March 2019
Screamcatcher: The Shimmering Eye, Book 3, Melange Fire & Ice YA—March 2019

“Stella” by Starlight, to Amazing Stories, 1988.
The Lonely Astronaut, to Amazing Stories, 1988.
Temperamental Circuits, to Gordon Linzner of Space & Time, 1989.
Things that go Clump in the Night, to Richard Fawcett of Doppelganger, 1989.
Dance the Macabre and Dance it Well, to Erskine Carter of Ouroborous, 1989.
Future School, to Chris Bartholomew of Static Movement, January 2006.
The Incredible Mr. Dandy, to Not One of Us.
Planet Janitor:  The Moon is not Enough, to Enage Books, 2012
Planet Janitor:  Journey Interrupted, to Engage Books, 2012
Other magazine appearances from 1988 to 1991 include, Alpha Adventures, Small Press Writers and Artists Organization and Sycophant.

The Summit, 15-minute horror play to Night Sounds, Embassy Cassette Inc, Santa Ana, California—1990
Night of the Moa, 13-minute horror play to Night Sounds, Embassy Cassette Inc, Santa Ana, California—1990.

Finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest for Temperamental Circuits, 1987.  First place, grand prize for The Girl They Sold to the Moon—in the Entranced YA novel writing competition—cash prize.

350 newspaper profiles, stories, and interviews to Sunset Publishing, Anaheim, California, appearing in The West Coast Jewish News, The Senior Citizens Reporter and The Military Review. From 1988 to 1991. Seven automotive and home and garden articles to Dollar Stretcher Magazine, from 12-2-2011 to 2-28-2012. Eight science articles to Xiauduo Media, for Chinese translation( 8 -14 year-old audience)—Astronomy, new transportation technology, space, exoplanets, future spaced ship drives, big bang theory and inflation.

I have written and published over 1,750 non-fiction automotive, aircraft, marine, home and garden and science articles for Demand Media Studios under the Beta-Automotive and E-How stations. Six automotive articles to—6-2012. Published. 440 automotive and general articles to TextBroker--2014—plumbing, gardening, home improvement, home utilities, electricity--Content writing for a total of three years.

Served as content editor for Sunset Publication (see above) for three years. Responsible for all writing assignment content, filler and artwork.
President and founder of Heartland Writers Group, Huntington Beach, California, from 1987 to 1991.

Past agent--Richard Curtis Associates, from 1988 to 1991.
Past agent—TriadaUS (Dr. Uwe Stender), from 2005 to August 2009
Present agent—Sara Camilli Agency

Iron Maiden an adult military espionage thriller.
Valley of the Mastodons, a non-fiction book involving the Ice Age megafauna discoveries in Hemet, California, during the Diamond Valley reservoir dig in 1994--1997. Proposal, chapter outline, and 100 pages available upon request
Dispossessed Incorporated, an urban ghost fantasy with time travel.
The Omega Wars—SF, apocalyptic alien invasion (Sequel to PJ)
Screamcatcher (Web World, Dream Chasers, The Shimmering Eye), A YA fantasy trilogy about teenage paranormal investigators. (ALL ARE SOLD)
Earth Angel, a paranormal cop thriller.
Sky High—YA dystopian thriller—Logan’s Run/Hunger Games mash-up.
The Wonders of the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits—a children’s chapter book about the Ice Age and the megafauna entrapment—told in a nonfiction/storytelling format. 

Do you see any category in there that would include your history or even general writing interests? You SCRATCH deep for anything you have that is writing related. No one has nothing. That's impossible. BTW--your bio is a one-paragraph recap of your personal life--your name, location, work history, degrees, if you love hamsters and such things. I'm sterile. I don't include a bio--with me it's all business. If I must add a bio, it's very short.  

It's perfectly acceptable to contact your agent about every 30 to 40 days. You're not being intrusive with that frequency. Once you hook up with an agent, you can usually call and discuss things over the phone, UNLESS, your agent prefers email. The exception would be if you are both in discussions about revisions or a contract offer. With a bidding war you might never get off the phone!

Are you worried about writing the second book for the agent? Here's a controversial tip you'll seldom hear: ask your agent what's hot and are any publishers looking for something specific. Publishers ask agents this all the time. The agent will evaluate one of his/her writers and ask them if they would like to take a leap of faith. I've been assigned twice. If you have the chops to write in most genres, or excel in one, and your agent singles you out for a stylistic fit, you just might give it a go. Talk about putting your finger to the pulse--this one takes guts. It is NOT trend chasing.  

The normal production route: getting an agent is not as difficult as keeping one. That means you write your butt off and have a new book ready to go after your agent has exhausted all attempts at selling your first one via one, two or three rounds. My agent took my entire inventory. I was lucky she'd sold and dealt with the multiple genres I write in. If you time it right, you'll have a book making the rounds all year long, year after year. Start a second book right after your agent takes your first one.

REPEAT: You don't want a one-book agent if you can help it. You don't want a cheap date. You want a marriage ceremony. You want an agent to invest in your career. That demonstrates their faith in you.

I really don't think the Twitter calls are a waste of time. I know too many authors who participate in them and many get picked up or get solid feedback. Those hash tag ones, you know? The pitches and call outs. 

Now, wait a minute about new agents who are intent on building a stable but have NO fiction credits or very little. I'm sorry--agents who have been in the industry for eight years plus and live in NYC or near by are on a friendship-face-to-face basis with dozens of A-list publishers and routinely use the phone (or dinner) to intro a book and get FULL manuscripts read. This also includes big agencies that live in other states. Check their sales history, staff, genres covered and best-seller status and frequency (if any). Go for the gusto first. Then work your way down. My list is A-List, B-List and C-List agents.

 There's nothing wrong with a new, enthusiastic agent that will really go to bat for you and try and pull a sale. It can happen. That's your choice. You really need to speak with those types more and ask many questions.

Don't send agents gifts out of the blue. Seasonal cards are an exception.

Gobble up any critique suggestions you get and use the rule of 3. If three or more agents discuss the same problem you have in the manuscript, take it to heart. They've probably got you nailed to the wall. This goes for major R&R, grammar, syntax, POV, show not tell, passive, plot, theme, execution, adverbs/adjectives and any other nasty little trouble makers. You can rewrite and resubmit to new agents, unless an agent wants an R & R. That is a revise and resubmit according to their critique. Hint: take your deliberate time on any R & R request. Go deep and slow, not fast and shallow.

You better keep a spreadsheet/database of all your agent submissions including query, partial or full and the date of all contacts with them.

Do not protest a rejection. Read it and file it away. You can get a form rejection, a form rejection with notes, a critique letter and even, dear God Almighty, a red-lined manuscript WITHOUT representation. Savor it. They took the time which shows you have promise.

Do not refer your friends for representation to your agency even though you might have that power as an agented author. I get asked that one a lot. You might run across a potential best-seller written by a friend, but ask your agent first if they'd be interested in perusing it.

I could go on and on...but I have to stop. I'll have some more guerrilla tactics on this subject later.

 Keep writing and reading and submit till hell won't have it.