Welcome to May. At OWW we've been doing crit marathons, focus groups and crit contests. But hang on to your hats, there are plans underway to host a proposal-package event for the month of June. See below for more details.
We also have a new Challenge Dictator! Please welcome Walter Williams, master of challenges and overlord extraordinaire. Walt begins his reign of terror by daring us to write a scene involving cooking. Check out his monthly challenge for May.
We love to announce members' publications, awards, and other "woo-hoo"s, so please send them in (yours or your friends') so that our publications section belwo will not languish, but will instead flower with the many fruits of your talents. C'mon, self-promotion is an important skill for any up-and-coming writer.
And as always, also contact us if you have any questions or ideas for improving the OWW Newsletter.
Maria Zannini, newsletter editor
newsletter (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com
Special note from OWW HQ: As you can tell, the workshop has always thrived through the contributions of members who build on the basic functions of our site to offer fellow-members richer opportunities. (There are four examples just in the update above.) There's a short but very interesting article that you should read if you see the workshop as a new-style tool for collective learning rather than just a provider of reviews of your submissions! It's called Gin, Television, and Social Surplus and it was written by Clay Shirkey. Take a look--it's a 5-minute read that puts forth some really interesting ideas about the future and the Internet.
One of my favorite chapters in LOTR is Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit. JRRT does so much right and with a simple domestic moment: he advances plot, characterization, world building, and gets you hungry for more. You can do so much with cooking. All you need is the right spices and a gourmet touch. May's Challenge is to write a cooking scene or a short story that has a cooking scene. Place the words Cooking Challenge in the title of your submission so that people can find it. Now, get your recipes out and start cooking up a great scene!
Remember: Challenges are supposed to be fun, but don't forget to stretch yourself. If you normally write fantasy, try SF. If you've never tried space opera, here's your chance. It doesn't have to be great; it's all about trying new things. There's no word limit, no time limit, no nothin'. Just have fun.
Challenges can be suggested by anyone and suggestions should be sent to Maria (newsletter (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com) or Walter Williams via the discussion list. For more details on the challenges, check the OWW Writer Space.
Proposal Package Focus Group: Something we've never done before! From June 9th through June 30th, members will be able to post a query letter, synopsis and first three chapters as one package for critique by a focus group. The group will be led by long-time member Jennifer Dawson. Given the high word count, reviewers of these proposals will not do line nits, but instead give general feedback regarding plot hook, the quality of the writing sample, the likability of the characters, etc. This event will be held on the discussion forum of OWW's Writer Space wiki, where the word count doesn't matter and the replies are easy to post and easy to read. It's just as password-protected as the workshop, but these posts do not affect your OWW submissions or review points. It's a more relaxed environment and the perfect place to hold such an event. So get those proposal packages ready! Visit OWW's Writer Space wiki if you haven't already (login and password are the same as on the workshop, but case-sensitive...the workshop's are not). The fun will begin on Monday, June 9th. If you'd like more information, contact Jennifer at: jenn001 (at) mac.com
May Focus Group on Synopsis Writing: We'll be running another Synopsis Writing Focus Group led by OWW member Pen Hardy. The window is now open to sign up. The Group will start on May 10th, but if you'd like to go ahead and get on the list, you may do so at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/oww-sff-focus/. Be prepared to have a draft synopsis written within a few days after we start, and be prepared during the two-week focus period to spend time each day (or at least most days) reading, writing, and reviewing. That's why we call 'em "focus" groups!
The Editors' Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories--science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories -- receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.
This issue's reviews are written by Resident Editors Jeanne Cavelos, Susan Marie Groppi, John Klima, and Karin Lowachee. The last four months of Editors' Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop. Go to the "Read, Rate, Review" page and click on "Editors' Choices."
Congratulations to the current Editors' Choice authors!
Editor's Choice, Cross-genre chapter
ABOVE, Chapter 3 by Leah Bobet
There are a lot of great things happening in Leah Bobet's chapter from her book ABOVE. There is amazing tension and history between the characters. There's also a fully realized world that the characters are living in. All sorts of everything that I like to see in a novel. The chapter was a little confusing to read--as these all are, since I read them out of context--and I found it a little hard to keep the characters straight. I didn't realize the main character was male until halfway through the chapter. Learning that completely changed how I was reading the chapter. However, I think that's a problem I experienced because I was reading this chapter on its own rather having read all the chapters leading up to it.
Bobet uses a lot of great visual images like "I jump like it's every shadow in the sewers come to take my blood." The character, Teller, is resting in a warm comfortable bed, but this line reminds the reader that Teller's life is not normally warm and comfortable. There's a lot of danger that Teller has to face on a daily basis. In fact, Teller learns that his former leader has been killed, and that's at least part of the reason why he and his group are Above; their name for our world. Now Teller and the others need to try and pass as someone who has spent their whole life Above.
Hand in hand with this, Bobet does a great job of making our world feel unnatural. She really gets inside her character's head and makes the reader see the world through his eyes. Not to pull too many examples from the text, but I just thought there was so much in this sentence, "Normal people don't think about fire. I put the pack away." Teller is going with Whisper to the Salvation Army to buy clothes to help them pass. Teller is clearly not comfortable being out in the open. The reader starts to get a sense--and again, perhaps this was set up in the previous chapters--that Teller and his people lived underground and that knowing he had matches, i.e., light, was a source of comfort for him. Above, however, fiddling around with matches in the middle of the day wouldn't look right to your average person.
And there's more. Bobet invests time in her characters outside of the book so that when she talks about them in the book the details she gives tells more about them than if she gave encyclopedic description of them. When she talks about how one character, Jack, would never be able to pass no matter how they dressed him up, it goes a long way towards conveying Jack's emotions and motivations.
The chapter ends with a section called "Whisper's story." I did not like how this fit into the chapter as a whole. We were left at a crossroads within the normal flow of the chapter, and then left hanging as we delved into the history of one of the characters. I don't mind the cliff hangery ending to a chapter, as I like tension and things that keep the story moving for the reader. However, adding this section at the end breaks up that flow for me.
I had to go look at the other chapters online to see if this was consistent structure throughout the book so far. If this was unique to the chapter I'm reviewing, I would say to not do it. My concern with something like this is twofold: first you break up the flow of the story and potentially lose the interest of the reader; second you almost need to continue doing it through the entire novel, and I don't know how sustainable that is. As much as breaking up the flow may cause you to lose readers, continuing the so-and-so's story at the end of each chapter could be wearing on a reader. Conversely, if it drops suddenly without warning, it could irritate a reader who had come to expect it.
For the rest of this review, visit the Editor's Choice area of the OWW site!
Editor's Choice, Science Fiction
BLOOD OF POLEUS, Chapter 1 by Gene Spears
The writer stated that he had previously posted a chapter of this novel before but decided the book might begin with this one instead; truthfully I don't quite remember the other beginning, but judging from this one I'd say the writer made the right choice. There is one small upset in the beginning sentence, however, with 3 or 4 names dropped in the first few lines, and that makes situating the reader in the narrative a little unnecessarily confusing. Add to that the fact that "Cress" as a name is ambiguous as to gender and there isn't that solid anchor in the first paragraph that should be there so the reader isn't stumbling over basic questions like: who is the protagonist, what is the situation, and where are we. This of course can be fixed rather easily. The rest of the chapter sailed along very well.
One of the joys of reading this chapter was the original and imaginative descriptions. This sort of thing really makes a narrative come alive so that the novel is not merely a medium in order to say what happens, but a form in which to illustrate a story.
The old man had oozed cordiality, a tough feat over the phone. Gus Brown could charm a bishop into parting with his chasuble, a grieving widow into dropping her veil, or Cress Martin into taking on the oddest ducks in a city that bred them like fleas.
The writer definitely has a strong sense of characterization, from passing references to more in depth time spent on people the reader assumes will be the main focus of the novel: namely Cress and her younger brother Chris, as well as the object of her case, Dr. Khatami.
The mild interrogation that makes up the first scene is well paced and the author manages to show a studied distance and intelligent observation on Cress's part with regard to all the clues and details being dropped in the conversation. Not only is Cress getting a better idea of what happened, but so is the reader. Yet none of it feels too orchestrated and the logic of the first details to what will likely be the thrust of the plot is not littered with loopholes. In writing a mystery of any kind, it's a careful dance between how much to tell and when to tell it in order to create suspense, but also in order to logically follow the "investigator's" questions and conclusions along the way, because these mirror the reader's.
The second and final scene of the chapter is a well-crafted contrast to the previous one wherein Cress is shown to be all business. Here, with her brother, there is a natural ease in their interaction peppered by subtle humor and wonderful details--down to what they're eating (perverted squid tacos = hilarious). In the middle of the scene there is a very effective rundown of what happened in the previous one, deftly inserted to summarize things to the reader without being heavyhanded:
"There's a chemist at the University, a professor named Ian Mauser." Cress described her meeting with the enigmatic Dr. Khatami. Usually, Chris was an indifferent audience, too flighty and self-centered to care about her cases or clients. But this one hooked him--the mysterious gaps in the government records, the elaborate hoax perpetrated by Khatami's coworkers, the abrupt flight of Anastasia Valin from Chalk Canyon. He listened attentively, asked questions, and corrected her pronunciation of terms Khatami used in describing his work with Mauser.
This also managed to add more character details about Cress's brother without telling it like a long laundry list in one infodump. The reader is building an idea of who the characters are as much as we are putting together the details of the narrative as a whole, the mystery of it all. Based on this first chapter, it is clear the writer has a strong grip on the storytelling aspects of writing as well as the more basic and prosaic skills needed in order to put together a coherent novel. The only other (small) caution would be to pay careful attention to the use of commas, as some of them were misplaced, breaking up the sentences where they needn't be.
Ending the scene with an even more personal exchange--the introduction of Grandpa Sal's missing journal pages--amps up the mystery of it all and serves as an effective passport to the next step of the reader's journey in the book. If there was a second chapter I would definitely be turning the page.
Author of BURNDIVE and CAGEBIRD
Editor's Choice, Short Story
"Thieves' Duel" by Seth Skorkowsky
Seth Skorkowsky's "Thieves' Duel" is the story of a thief named Ahren, returning to his home city of Lichthafen after a long absence. In the years that he's been gone, Ahren has become a legendary criminal, known in rumors and gossip by the name Black Raven. His old friend Katze, however, is the Master of Thieves in Lichthafen, and she challenges him to a contest of criminal skill.
The Thieves Duel, as the contest is called, is something that has a well-established protocol, something like a scavenger hunt where all of the items in the hunt need to be stolen from their rightful owners. The duel takes up the bulk of the story, and the reader gets to see Ahren plying his trade, which in his case consists less of brute-force theft and more of clever cons and trickery. Towards the end of the competition, Katze makes a tactical mistake that places her life in danger, and Ahren helps her escape, but in the process he has to sacrifice several of the high-value targets in their criminal scavenger hunt. Technically he's now lost the duel, not having in his possession the items needed to win, but Katze declares to the crowd that it's a mutual victory.
"Thieves Duel" is an entertaining, feel-good story, and a fun read. Certainly, there are things that one could criticize--for instance, the dramatic climax of the piece doesn't have a lot of tension.
Katze and Ahren may have a complicated past, and she may not have been nice to him throughout the story, but I don't think any reasonable reader would doubt that he'd throw away his chance at winning the duel in order to save her from a bloodthirsty cult. But these criticisms are besides the point--this story isn't trying to be a complex character study, or a suspenseful thrilled, and why should it? What it's trying to be is a great fast-paced romp, and it meets that objective beautifully.
This is a fun story, and the fun comes through in all of the details, from the word choice to the events and actions. Skorkowsky makes good use of a lot of standard fantasy-world tropes, starting with the characters of Ahren and Katze. Ahren is the prototypical small-time thief made "good", returning home to show off to the people he knows best, and Katze is similarly a well-known type, the scrawny kid-sister analogue who's come into her own. While they're well-known types, though, they're far from cardboard stereotypes, and both Ahren and Katze feel like real people. I liked their relationship, too--I really, really appreciate that the author never felt a need to put a sexual or romantic edge into their interactions, and let them just showcase both the affection and competitiveness that would have grown naturally out of their history together.
Overall, "Thieves Duel" is a great lighthearted piece of entertainment, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Susan Marie Groppi
Fiction Editor/Editor-in-Chief, Strange Horizons
Editor's Choice, Horror
REHAB by Nancy Kreml
In "Rehab," Sela, a werewolf, is captured and confined for counseling, where she must stay until she gives up her werewolf ways. Sela finally begins to feel guilt over the murders she has committed and successfully completes rehab. As she prepares to leave, her counselor reveals himself to be a werewolf and bites her, reinfecting her.
The idea of a rehab for werewolves is interesting. I would actually love to spend a lot more time in this rehab. As Sela begins to feel guilt, her character really comes to life, and she's compelling and sympathetic.
I think you haven't quite figured out what this story is about yet. The climax and denouement of a story are critical to creating its themes, and I don't find clear themes yet, because most of the story tells me one set of themes, while the climax tells me another. Most of the story conveys the theme that rehab is extremely difficult but worthwhile, and one can change.
The ending tells me that one's struggles are irrelevant, because someone will come and undo whatever one has achieved. Thus, the ending doesn't seem like the right ending.
The ending not only seems wrong on a thematic level. It also seems wrong on the level of plot. The climax should feel both surprising and inevitable, and while this one is surprising, it does not seem inevitable. It seems like you were trying to find a quick ending, to make this work for the contest. I don't feel that you've set up Dr. Svengard in such a way that I can believe he's a werewolf and would bite Sela. Even if you revise the story and plant clues that Dr. Svengard has some ulterior motive, I don't see how that ending contributes to your rehab metaphor.
Every story needs to make the journey from idea to story to plot. Here's how I would describe each of these thus far:
*IDEA: what if there was a rehab for werewolves?
*STORY: Sela is captured and taken to rehab, where she feels guilt over those she's killed and renounces her inner wolf, only to be bitten and reinfected by her counselor.
*PLOT: Sela plans to attack a kid, gets anesthetized by agents from the rehab, gets drugged and returned to her human form, goes to counseling, meets a patient, Alna, who feels guilt over her murders, begins to feel guilt herself, starts to recover, graduates from rehab, and is bitten by her counselor.
Writing these out can often be helpful. I think you can see a weakness in the story, in that Sela's story is quite internal, and the ending is unconnected to her internal story. It's as if her internal story doesn't matter at all, because the doctor overrules her choice. The plot also has this disconnect between the Sela plotline and the ending. In addition, you can see in the plot that you are trying to fit a lot of plot into a short short story. I won't say it can't be done, but it's certainly a huge challenge and basically forces you to rush over important content and do a lot of telling rather than showing.
In trying solve these problems, one possibility would be to try to link the two disjointed parts of your story. For example, counseling Sela is so upsetting to Dr. Svengard, for some reason, that he reverts to werewolf state and wants to convert her back too. So his story and hers are linked. That's a much more complex story than the one you have now.
Another possibility would be to explore the metaphor further--go back to the IDEA and see if you can come up with an improved, revised STORY. If werewolves are like addicts, what are they addicted to? The thrill of the chase? The taste of the blood? The idea that they are superior? What attracts Sela to the werewolf life? What would be the most effective way to rehabilitate a werewolf? Are there psychological reasons one becomes addicted? Since werewolves became werewolves by being attacked, does this parallel the child of an abusive parent who grows up to be abusive? Does one go through physical withdrawal? Are the people who run the rehab doing this for the good of the werewolves? Or for the good of humanity? Is the rehab process good, or is it bad, like brainwashing? What themes are you trying to convey?
For the rest of this review, visit the Editor's Choice area of the OWW site!
Colleen Lindsay, agent at FinePrint Literary Management, was kind enough to let me pick her brain as long as I promised not to leave a mess. She had so many good things to say, it was hard for me to edit anything out. I hope you enjoy our interview for this month and that it'll help you on your road to publication. I'm very pleased to introduce Colleen Lindsay.
I started in the book industry in 1983 as a bookseller in a small independent bookstore in San Mateo, CA, called Central Park Books. It was an amazing experience because I was forced to learn many parts of running a small business in a very short time. I also got to drink all the coffee I wanted for free, always a nice perk! In 1991, I was hired by Ballantine Books (not yet owned by Bertelsmann at the time) as a mass-merch sales assistant. Later, I worked for Stacey's for nine years. I became the store's marketing and PR manager. I set up a series of very successful high-profile author events for the store. I also wrote and designed their newsletter, and managed the store coop and advertising budget.
On my birthday in 1999, I received a phone call from an acquaintance of mine in the sales department at Random House. He offered me a job as an in-house events marketing manager. Random House was willing to pay my way to New York City for the job, and I decided it was time to make a change in my life. Two months later, I packed up my cat, Stinkyboy, twenty-two boxes of books, and one very ugly sofa, and moved to New York.
After working as an events marketing manager for a short time, I ended up moving into a publicity position back at Ballantine Books (a publishing group of Random House, Inc.), this time heading up the publicity for their very lucrative science fiction and fantasy imprint, Del Rey Books. There I had the honor of working with SF legends such as Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Fred Pohl. I worked closely with Terry Brooks, who has since become a very good friend, as well as Anne McCaffrey and her son Todd. I was fortunate enough to be able to help some very talented new writers carve out a niche for themselves in the genre: China Miéville, Richard K. Morgan, Stephen Baxter, and Minister Faust. And I learned a great deal about licensing and licensed media properties by working alongside the fabulous people at Lucasfilm, Ltd., who licensed the Star Wars adult fiction line to Del Rey in 1999. Lastly, I was thrilled to be able to help Del Rey launch what has now become one of the leading Manga imprints in the United States. My whole time at Del Rey was an extraordinary experience, really.
I was with Del Rey through December of 2005, and then started freelancing regularly for various other publishers, always doing PR and marketing in some capacity, and occasionally taking on a large project like David Anthony Durham's ACACIA for Doubleday. For a brief period last year I worked full-time at Doubleday (yet another Random House imprint!) promoting religious books. My first big campaign there was the New York Times bestseller MOTHER TERESA: COME BE MY LIGHT. Quite a change from promoting SF/F!
For several years I'd considered agenting. Several friends--among them Terry Brooks and writer Nicola Griffith--had urged me to consider agenting. Although it was something that interested me enormously, I'd always held back because I believed--mistakenly--that all agents had to have some sort of editorial background. I began doing a series of informational interviews with agents. Many of my former Del Rey authors were gracious enough to set up interviews with their own agents for me. I talked to agents from a number of different backgrounds, some of whom had been in the business for years and some who were also just starting out.
Among the people I found most helpful and generous with their time were Anne Sibbald from Janklow & Nesbitt, Michael V. Carlisle and Richard Pine from InkWell Managment, Liza Dawson from Liza Dawson Associates, Holly Bemiss from the Susan Rabiner Literary Agency, Merrilee Heifetz from Writer's House, and Diana Fox of Fox Literary. My former colleague Betsy Mitchell at Del Rey helped me set up an informational interview with Peter Rubie and Stephany Evans of FinePrint Literary Management. I chatted with them for about two hours and by the time I'd gotten home that afternoon, there was a job offer on my voicemail. It was kismet, I guess.
Since then, I've been very busy reading queries and building up a new clientele. I was very lucky in that my strong connections in the genre community helped me get the word out about becoming an agent rather quickly. Several prominent writers blogged about my new position. I think John Scalzi alone sent about a thousand people my way that first week. I'm still digging out from under!
All right, OWW. Here are the burning questions that you asked Colleen Lindsay!
Some authors argue that a business letter (query) can't do a novel justice with so few words. Can an agent glean the potential quality of a novel by reading a query alone?
A query letter is the single most important tool a writer has in getting an agent to pay attention to his or her work. If you can't convince me to read your book in two or three tightly constructed paragraphs, how do you expect me to convince an editor to read it? A long-time agent, very well respected in the business, told me "Remember, Colleen--the writing never gets any better than it is in the query letter." I've read probably fifteen hundred queries in the past two months and I can honestly say that this holds true.
Why do authors need an agent? How do you earn your 15%?
The number one reason that an author needs an agent is that we free up your time so that you can actually write. After we offer representation to you, we work with you on initial revisions, things that we think will make your book tighter and make the editor's job easier in the long run. Make the book more marketable overall. Once we get a manuscript that is as close to perfect as we think it will get, we start the submissions process. We call and email editors to pitch your book. Once we target those editors who are open to reading your book, we have to follow up with them constantly to make sure that your book is at the top of their reading pile. Agents also spend a lot of time cultivating strong relationships in-house with editors as well as marketing and publicity staff, so that our opinions will hold weight with an editor once we start pitching your book. After the book is sold, we become your advocate at the publishing company, doing every thing from negotiating contracts with your editor to ensuring that promised marketing and publicity plans are actually carried out when the book pubs. We make sure that the checks are cut on time and according to the advance payout schedule. When royalty statements arrive, we go over them with a fine tooth comb to make sure that you are being paid what you're owed. While all this is happening, we've also begun the process of trying to sell your foreign language and audio rights, your film rights, and your graphic novel rights (where appropriate). If you as the author were to have to do all this on your own, you'd never get the next book written.
Are you seeing a trend for any particular genre device, like vampires, werewolves, or those of the elvish persuasion?
There are new trends in genre publishing all the time, sure, but what we're always looking for first and foremost is good writing and the ability to tell a story. Urban fantasy is a trend that a lot of people point to these days and say "This just came out of nowhere!" In fact, urban fantasy has been around for a very long time. Laurell K. Hamilton started writing the Anita Blake books in the mid-90s; they didn't take off for about four years. In 1997, Terry Brooks wrote an astounding urban fantasy series called The Word and the Void, set in Seattle. Charles de Lint was writing a kind of urban fantasy as far back as the 1980s. Suddenly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer took off and boom! Everyone wanted to write urban fantasy. But it certainly isn't a new sub-genre.
I'm seeing a lot of books involving angels and seraphim, especially angels and seraphim in high school. (And just a caveat: just because an agent sees a lot of something doesn't mean we don't want to see any more of it; we're just looking for writing that will help your particular book stand out in a crowded field.)
Are there any editors looking for high fantasy or is urban fantasy still the hot domain?
Again, I can't stress this enough: what editors are looking for is great writing coupled with an idea or story that is inherently marketable. It's more difficult with high or epic fantasy because new writers have such big shoes to fill: the late Robert Jordan, George R. R. Martin, among others. Where most epic fantasy fails is in its utter unoriginality. The world-building is weak and the characters are cliched. When a new epic fantasy gets it right--like David Durham's ACACIA or Greg Keyes' gorgeous BRIAR KING--the results can be heady stuff, brilliant, in fact. The themes are epic and universal in scope, but the consequences of failure for the main characters are both deeply personal and horrifically catastrophic. But yes, a well-written epic fantasy can still find a home at a major publishing house.
Urban fantasy is still very hot because it is one of the few genres that successfully bridges the gap between romance and fantasy. Romance writers have always been much more successful at spotting trends and being able to cross over into a new market. In the late 1990s, Iris Johanssen, Tami Hoag, and Kay Hooper were among the first to bridge the gap between romance and suspense, creating an entirely new genre that is still highly marketable today.
If a query interests you, will you check out the author's blog or web site? Is there anything an unpublished author can include on his/her site to prove he is serious about a writing career? For example: excerpts, affiliations, or contest wins.
Yes, the first thing I do after I read a partial that grabs me is to Google the writer and see what cyberspace has to say about him or her. For myself, I want to see whether s/he has published short fiction in legitimate markets (and by legitimate markets, I mean those that SFWA and RWA consider legit). I want to see what writer's workshops they may have attended. I'm always excited by people who have attended Clarion, Clarion West, or the Odyssey workshops. I also get very excited when I see that people are members of OWW. I think an active membership in OWW is one of the very best investments a genre writer can make in his or her future. (If you don't believe me, just scroll through agent Jennifer Jackson's client list someday and count the number of her clients who are OWW alumni. She ain't no dummy!)
Excerpts of works are always good, as are affiliations (particularly RWA and SFWA). Contest wins are different. It really has to be a contest that someone has heard of, one that carries some weight in the publishing industry. Otherwise, most of us don't really care.
Is there anything he/she shouldn't post?
An author shouldn't post an incessant chronology of his or her rejections by agents and editors. Eventually an agent who sees this is going to wonder why you're getting so many rejections. Keep these kinds of posts behind a friends-locked LiveJournal, if you must write them at all. Don't trash agents who have rejected you, don't trash other writers and don't trash editors and publishers. The publishing community--particularly the genre publishing community--is a small one, and it only functions well as a community when we remember to behave as a community. Also, we don't ever want to see a writer bragging about being self-published. Self-published books are a big red flag. I've read in queries and seen on web sites an author proudly announcing publication by Publish America. Publish America is not a publisher; they are a vanity press. As my colleague Janet Reid once said, "If you've been published by Publish America, you haven't been published--you've been printed."
Lastly, while I personally like knowing if an author has a strong fan-fic following, fan-fic should never appear on your professional blog or web site. Keep your fan-fic separate from your own original work.
What is the most common mistake you see when authors query you?
Oh, where to begin? Not putting contact info. Not putting his or her full name. (Do you know how hard it is to write or phone someone who has only an initial as a first name? "Hello, may I please speak with...um, P?" ) Not telling me enough about the story. And telling me WAY too much about what other people think of their writing. A lot of writers wax on and on about how much their friend/teacher/wife/husband/lover/plumber loves their book. Let me be clear: The only opinion that matters is mine. Do I like it enough to keep reading and request a partial? I can also tell when a writer hasn't taken the time to actually research me or my submission guidelines. A big clue is "Dear Sir or Madame"--that gets an instant rejection from me. This is a pet peeve of a lot of agents, especially those of us who make it very easy to find our submission guidelines online.
Lastly, attaching any kind of documents or files to an e-mail without first having been invited to do so. This is always a no-no. I delete these queries unread.
Do editors ever mention they are looking for something specific, or will they (and you) recognize coolness when you see it?
Yes, absolutely, editors come to us all the time with ideas about stories or plot lines they'd like to see. I had lunch with a YA editor recently who told me that she'd really like to see more gay-themed books for girls. She sees a lot of gay-themed YA for boys but rarely anything with a lesbian protagonist. She also mentioned that she'd like to see books where being gay was not the big angsty problem of the book, merely just an aspect of a character's personality. I liked that. I had lunch with another editor who wants to see steampunk with dragons. (She was very specific!)
And of course, agents and editors can usually spot something truly wonderful when it comes across the transom.
What would be a polite length of time to wait before an author checks back with an agent on an unanswered query?
It depends upon the agent. Some agents have their guidelines for such things readily available online. An agent with a particularly strong client list will probably take longer to get back to you about a query, simply because reading queries is the very last thing that these agents have time to do. Their primary focus will always be working with their established clients and the works already out on submission to editors. I'd say cut them some slack.
Every agent has different preferences. For myself, I'd say wait about four weeks. If you haven't heard anything by then, then by all means, poke me with a polite e-mail. The key word here, being polite. (::: eyes widen at the sound of a million computer keys suddenly being tapped at the very same time ::: yikes!)
How nearly right should a manuscript have to be in order to be considered for representation? In other words, if the story is almost there, would you accept the story on the proviso that the author make suggested changes?
A manuscript should be nearly perfect before you begin to query on it. As polished as you can possibly make it. An agent will nearly always have some revision requests anyway, but we're more likely to pay attention to a manuscript that is very tight and clean to begin with.
Bonus question: What do you like to read for pure personal enjoyment?
Oh, wow. I read all over the place so this is a tough call. I tend to read more fiction than non-fiction. I do have a soft spot for strong narrative non-fiction and history, of all things. I love reading about ancient history, both in fiction and non-fiction. I recently read David Anthony Durham's historical novel THE PRIDE OF CARTHAGE and really loved it! In the realm of fiction, I do love good genre fiction. Urban fantasy is fun, but I am partial to slipstream and steampunk. I rarely read epic or high fantasy only because I find much of it so very badly written. Some of my favorite genre writers are China Miéville, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Cherie M. Priest, Rachel Caine, and Justina Robson. I loved DUST by Elizabeth Bear (edited by Anne Groell at Bantam); I think it is her strongest book so far and can't wait to read the sequel. I am very much looking forward to the publication of my friend Kameron Hurley's novel; Kameron is one of Jennifer Jackson's new clients, an amazing, fresh and vibrant writer. The first manuscript that I read of hers last year blew me away. Look for her--she's going to go places. I also recently read and loved a book by a new writer named S. M. Peters, called WHITECHAPEL GODS. He was discovered by editor Liz Scheier (then at Roc) at a writer's conference. For a first novel, it is really remarkable. And Lane Robins' MALEDICTE--edited by Fleetwood Robbins at Del Rey (no relation!) was brilliant: a gender-bendy dark fantasy of manners that I hope to see nominated for the Tiptree Award.
Outside of SF/F, I am addicted to crime fiction. Set me down with a pitcher of margaritas and a stack of good police procedurals and I'm good for days. Some of my favorite writers in this area are John Connolly, Carol O'Connell, Peter Robinson, and Greg Rucka. And other novels I've loved this past year are harder to define: Nicola Griffith's ALWAYS (really, you should read all of her novels, but especially the three Aud books: The Blue Place, Stay and Always), THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak, and THREE BAGS FULL--a sheep detective novel!--by Leonie Swann. All wonderful. Go! Buy! Read!
For more information about Colleen Lindsay, visit her blog. Hopefully by the time this goes to print she will no longer be homeless, but if she is, I can promise you, you will be properly entertained by her horror stories from the files of the Craigslist housing ads. If you'd like to query her, go to FinePrint Literary Management's web site and follow the instructions.
We can't announce them if you don't let us know! So send your information to Maria at newsletter (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com whenever you have good news to share.
Vylar Kaftan just signed a contract for "What President Polk Said" to appear in the PHANTOM anthology from Prime Books.
Tochi Onyebuchi, aka Treize Aramistedian, writes: "My short story 'Sand in His Shoes' will be appearing in an upcoming issue of Crimespree Fiction. The story was actually workshopped on the OWW's Fiction Beta branch while that was still in existence, so this one's an oldie. But I'd like to thank everyone who took a look at it. This is my first short-story sale ever, so I'm pretty excited."
Camille Picott found an acceptance letter from Afterburn SF for a sci-fi story called "Gargoyle." It's slated for publication next February. She says, "I'm very excited it has found such a good home!"
Sandra Ulbrich-Almazon is pleased to announce that the anthology FIRESTORM OF DRAGONS will carry her short story "A Reptile at the Reunion." It will be available from Dragon Moon Press in mid-May and on Amazon June 1st. "This story was my first submission to OWW when I joined nearly five years ago, and I wouldn't have sold it without extensive revision based on the many comments I received on OWW."
INK EXCHANGE by Melissa Marr (HarperTeen, May 2008)
Unbeknownst to mortals, a power struggle is unfolding in a world of shadows and danger. After centuries of stability, the balance among the Faery Courts has altered, and Irial, ruler of the Dark Court, is battling to hold his rebellious and newly vulnerable fey together. If he fails, bloodshed and brutality will follow. Seventeen-year-old Leslie knows nothing of faeries or their intrigues. When she is attracted to an eerily beautiful tattoo of eyes and wings, all she knows is that she has to have it, convinced it is a tangible symbol of changes she desperately craves for her own life. The tattoo does bring changes—not the kind Leslie has dreamed of, but sinister, compelling changes that are more than symbolic. Those changes will bind Leslie and Irial together, drawing Leslie deeper and deeper into the faery world, unable to resist its allures, and helpless to withstand its perils. . . .
NEW AMSTERDAM by Elizabeth Bear (paperback, Far Territories, May 2008)
Set in a New Amsterdam that's still a royal colony at the turn of the 20th century, this engaging dark fantasy collection from John W. Campbell Award–winner Bear introduces a tough, witty female sleuth. Abigail Irene Garrett is the perfect Victorian hard-boiled detective, with the added benefit of necromantic skills that make her a formidable forensic investigator in a world where sorcery is common. Teaming occasionally with vampire sleuth Sebastien de Ulloa, Irene cuts a figure of crime-fighting confidence through five of the six stories, grappling with demonic killers summoned for personal revenge or political intrigue, and plunging into wildly unpredictable adventures such as those recounted in "Lumière," a stunning blend of steampunk and eldritch horror. Bear's tales are not only ingeniously mysterious but also richly textured with details that bring the society and history of her alternate America to vivid life.
MAGIC BURNS by Ilona Andrews (aka Ilona Gordon) (Ace, April 2008)
As a mercenary who cleans up after magic gone wrong, Kate Daniels knows how waves of paranormal energy ebb and flow across Atlanta like a tide. But once every seven years, a flare comes, a time when magic runs rampant. When Kate sets out to retrieve a set of stolen maps for the Pack, Atlanta's paramilitary clan of shape shifters, she quickly realizes much more is at stake. The stolen maps are only the opening gambit in an epic tug of war between two gods hoping for rebirth, and if Kate can't stop the cataclysmic showdown, the city may not survive.
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