Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012: A Year in Queries

This will be my last post of 2012, so let me take the opportunity to say THANK YOU. Seriously. Thank you all for reading and helping this blog continue for another year! I'll be back in 2013 with more of your brilliant stories to share and more posts about writing, pop culture, and pictures of corgis.

Last year, I decided to choose three months at random to do an average of the queries I received in 2011. This year I did inventory of every month, cutting December off on the 21st because that's when the office closed for the holidays. (Though, as of today I have 20 queries in my inbox, including two that were sent on Christmas Day. I'll answer those in January.)

So, because writers love stats (right?), I present... my year in queries!

Note: These stats were compiled from ONLY emailed, unsolicited queries. Or, as the kids call it, the slush pile. Requests I had made at conferences, from blog/Twitter contests, and referrals were not counted among the following totals. Requested revisions for manuscripts I had read in 2011 were also not counted since they fall under solicited submissions. I receive maybe ten queries a year via regular mail, so I didn't count those either. (Thank you, writers who follow directions and send their queries via email!)

Second Note: I answer every query I receive with the exception of the following (which were also not counted in the totals):

- If the query was addressed to more than one person.
Mass queries only show that a writer has put no thought into who they want representing their work or, in a best-case scenario, is trying to take an easy way out. If you want writing to be your career, take the time to care about it.

- Pre-queries (emails from writers who ask if they can query me.)
I don't answer these because they are pointless and unprofessional. The query itself determines whether I'll be interested in reading your book. Asking me if you can ask me to read your book is redundant, so I don't bother answering. Just query me.

- Query sent as an attachment with nothing in the body of the email.
Do you open unsolicited attachments from complete strangers? Neither do agents.

- Queries not addressed to me.
These could often be an innocent mistake, but if you address me by a different agent's name, I'm going to assume you meant to query them, not me.

- Unsure whether a self-pubbed author was querying their novel, or if they were just promoting their self-pubbed book.

OK, on to the stats!

January:
Queries Received: 430
Manuscripts Requested: 12
Genres Requested: Contemporary YA (4); YA Mystery (1); YA Fantasy (1); Adult Literary Supernatural/Dark Fairytale (2); Adult Literary Fiction (2); Adult Sci-Fi (1)

February:
Queries Received: 388
Manuscripts Requested: 14
Genres Requested: YA Fantasy (3); Adult Fantasy (1); YA Mystery (1); YA Sci-fi (1); Adult Magican Realism (1); YA Magical Realism (1); YA gothic (1); MG magical realism (1); Adult Dark Mystery (1)

March:
Queries Received: 373
Manuscripts Requested: 4
Genres Requested: YA steampunk (1); YA magical realism; YA paranormal (1); Adult literary fiction (1)

April:
Queries Received: 346
Manuscripts Requested: 5
Genres Requested: YA dark fantasy (1); YA contemporary (2); Adult literary fiction (1); Adult commercial fiction (1)

May:
Queries Received: 344
Manuscripts Requested: 6
Genres Requested: Adult literary fiction (1); YA fantasy (2); YA contemp. (2); Adult sci-fi mystery (1)

June:
Queries Received: 339
Manuscripts Requested: 4
Genres Requested: Adult Dark Fantasy (1); Adult Memoir (1); YA sci-fi (1); Adult horror (1)

July:
Queries Received: 366
Manuscripts Requested: 6
Genres Requested: YA contemporary (3); YA fairytale (1); YA horror (1); YA sci-fi (1)

August:
Queries Received: 330
Manuscripts Requested: 5
Genres Requested: Adult Mystery (2); YA Mystery (2); YA Horror (1)

September:
Queries Received: 298
Manuscripts Requested: 5
Genres Requested: Adult Urban Fantasy (1); Adult Sci-Fi (1); Adult Literary Mystery (2); YA Contemp. (1)

October:
Queries Received: 300
Manuscripts Requested: 1
Genres Requested: Contemporary YA (1)

November:
Queries Received: 248
Manuscripts Requested: 7
Genres Requested: YA thriller (1); YA fantasy (1); YA contemp. (1); Adult Literary Fiction (3); Adult Magical Realism (1)

December (1-21)
Queries Received: 152
Manuscripts Requested: 2
Genres Requested: Women’s Fiction (1); Adult Suspense (1)

Total queries received in 2012: 3,914

Total manuscripts requested from those queries: 71

Most requested genres: YA Contemporary and Adult Literary Fiction

Second most requested genres: Adult Literary Mystery/Suspense and YA Horror

Least requested genres: MG and Adult Memoir

Total clients signed from the 2012 slush pile: 2

Total clients signed in 2012: 7
(1 from Cupid's Blind Speed Dating Contest contest; 1 from the Midwest Writer's Conference; 1 referral; and 4 from queries, two of which were R&Rs that had carried over from 2011, but officially signed in early 2012.)

These stats can be a bit daunting for writers whose queries are currently sitting in inboxes or who haven't yet started querying. Keep in mind that agents receive queries for genres they don't represent, trends they can't sell (yep, I still got my fair share of vampire and werewolf romances in 2012!), and books from writers who put no thought into whom they were querying. There are hundreds and hundreds of writers out there who have brilliant books in search for an agent, but when you see numbers that reach almost 4,000 total queries received, remember your competition may not be as fierce as it appears.

But I'll repeat - there are hundreds and hundreds of excellent writers out there, but agents can't have a client list that accommodates all of them. We have to reject good writers and good books all the time and trust that there are other agents with more room on their lists to give them proper attention.

To any writers getting ready to query, or re-query, this year - good luck and don't be scared! Writers tend to ask about how to "avoid the slush pile," but really the slush pile is just what agents call queries. It's where we find talent. The slush pile is a crowded place, but it's not a bad place to be. New agents depend on it to grow their own lists and established agents continue to use it to find new clients. Hope to see you there at some point in 2013... if you think I'm a good fit for you, of course.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Year of Self-Publishing

Whether you're still on the fence with how you feeling about self-publishing, or if you're 100% for it or 100% against it, it would be hard to argue that 2012 was not the year self-publishing became a legitimate force in the market. This has been brewing for a couple of years (see: Amanda Hocking and John Locke), but 2012 - with a little indie book called 50 Shades of Grey and a "New Adult" sub-genre trying desperately to prove itself - we've seen several headlines that have read something like "Former Self-Published Author Lands 6-Figure Deal."

The thing is, there are plenty of self-published authors who are perfectly happy to remain self-published authors. The headlines we see are about self-published authors becoming traditionally published, and that's where I think other writers have been getting confused about how self-publishing should work. To the self-published authors who have enjoyed your experience and have no plans to go traditional unless a 6-figure deal lands in your lap, feel free to ignore this post. Or, if you do have plans to get an agent and try for a traditional publisher, just not with the book you self-pubbed, you can ignore this post too.

To the other writers out there who think that "Self-Pub to Traditional Deal" is the norm, pull up a chair.

I have no beef with self-publishing. I find it to be a separate entity from traditional publishing, with some notable titles crossing over from both sides. Mostly, I think the two can co-exist peacefully and separately. (It's sort of like the Blue-Ray to traditional's DVD. Each provide a way for you to be entertained. For consumers, having another source to get content is a good thing... made even better when they don't have to choose and can use both.)

That's why it's disheartening to get so many queries for books the authors have already self-published. While agents have had more success with getting self-pubbed books sold to traditional publishers this year, it's important to keep in mind that all of those books were the exceptions - not the rule.

Turning a self-published book into a traditional book deal still takes:
1) huge sales figures (over 5,000 copies sold at the very least)
2) a healthy online presence
3) glowing reviews from major publications (think Kirkus; not just someone with a book blog or a writer-friend, unless your writer-friend is Stephen King).

If you have all three of these things, chances are agents are going to find you and you don't need to query. If you have one or two of these things, then query away and hope for the best. If you don't have any of these things, it's not the end of the world, but query a different project entirely.

Self-publishing has proven itself to be lucrative and viable, and the stigma of it has drastically lessened. I include myself among those who turned up their noses at it, and I'm proud to say I've changed my mind because writers have made it impossible for me not to. (Woo!)

But I'm still wary when I see writers - too many writers - query me with their self-published books. Despite my evolving opinion, the original reasons I didn't like self-publishing end up rushing back to me. I have to wonder why the writer self-pubbed in the first place. Was it out of frustration with rejection? Did they think a self-pubbed book would get my attention? Or were they misled to believe that self-pubbing before querying is now the norm?

Don't let success stories change your mind about your own career path. Remember that no one ever writes front-page articles about all of the people who don't win the lottery. Stay true to what you want out of your writing career, and if you end up changing your mind about the best way to reach your audience, then be smart about how you make that switch. If you read about how a certain self-published book got a traditional book deal, you'll rarely find it was because the writer queried an agent with that same project before it was ready to be seen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Moments

I'm very excited to bring you today's flash fiction. It's called Moments and is by 14-year-old (!) Vancouver high school student, Nels Duff. Nels is currently writing a novel and starting to explore his options as a young author. Once again, I am thoroughly impressed by the teenagers I come across in the book world. Enjoy!

Moments
By Nels Duff

Sometimes a moment means more than anything. 

A passing glance, a word, a smile. 

You’re somewhere, wherever you are usually on a rainy Saturday, in the early evening. Not at home, for once. 

You sit there, nursing a cup of something hot. Maybe this is a coffee house on The Drive, without the usual hipster population. It’s too wet, even for this city. 

You take a sip of the drink. Chai, maybe, or a coffee with milk. You’re too cheap to pay for the latte, so you mix your own milk in at the counter, ignoring the server glaring at you. 

You’re tired. It’s been a long day and a longer night before, because you didn’t sleep. You can feel when you’re going to have another nightmare and you didn’t think you could deal with it. 

So you sit there, your hands around your mug, still a little cold in a thin sweater - no, a loose plaid shirt over your favourite t-shirt, the soft greenpeace one that someone wore as pajamas before it came into your possession. 

A song you know comes on the radio behind the counter. The first lyrics make you listen in a way you don’t usually.

If you’d agree to be my love, I’d build you a world to fit like a glove, And there you’d rule and be my queen, a world with no crying. 

You look down into the porcelain mug between your hands and bite your lip. There’s a kind of heaviness in your chest, the feeling that you’ve been trying to get rid of. It’s been getting worse, the night after night after night of not sleeping, of an empty heart and running out of tears. You close your eyes and try to just breathe. 

“A coffee, please.” You hear a voice and you clench your teeth. Looking up, fighting back your emotions, you see a woman at the counter. For a second you forget to breathe.

She’s beautiful. 

She turns to you and gives you a lopsided, quizzical smile. It’s beautiful and funny and smart and you can tell you want to know her. You smile back, shy, hesitant. Hers widens. 

“Americano for Enzula,” says the server, and the beautiful woman turns away and takes her coffee. Your heart sinks when you see it’s a cardboard to-go cup. 

She turns to leave, but before she does, she glances at you like you share a secret, one that connects you. Her smile is true and a bright happiness shines through it. 

She walks to the door and opens it, letting a trickle of cold air in. You can hear a car rush by on the wet asphalt. 

She turns back to you and smiles that crooked smile that makes your heart beat faster. “It’ll get better.” she says, her voice a lilt of something southern, something exotic. 

You stare at her and her eyes crinkle with a kind of wise joy. 

She pushes the door open and walks out into the rain, her smile still wide on her bronze-skinned face. Through the window, you see her look up at the sky, mouth open in a silent laugh, an expression of intense joy. You find yourself smiling too. 

You look back at your mug and find the weight that was in your chest is lessened. It’s still there, you won’t ever be really rid of it...but that woman’s smile has lightened it.

Sometimes a moment means more than anything.

Sometimes it means everything.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Omegaball

Today, Robert Peterson (who you may remember from The Hanging Tree) is sharing some YA sci-fi that, according to him, draws inspiration from Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, and the 1975 action movie Rollerball. Enjoy!

Omegaball
By Robert Peterson

Laurie

When I was a baby, my mom let my head slip under the water during a bath. It was only for a second. One instant she was holding me by my shoulders, the next I was submerged and helpless, water squirting up my nose, and when mom yanked me back above the surface, I started crying so hard my eyes swelled shut. That’s what she told me, at least.

I have nightmares about it all the time. I never thought those nightmares would come true, but they have, now, years later as I look up at the churning surface of a roaring river, a summertime moon rippling through the waves as the water whips me along like a rag-doll, my limbs as useless as they were when I was a baby.

Ever since I was a baby. 

Don’t worry. This time around, I know not to breathe underwater, but my chest is already aching from holding in my breath, and freezing water keeps spraying up my nose and into my mouth. Any moment now, I’ll have to cough.

And then that’ll be it for Laurie Everett, high school genius. That’ll be it for Laurie Everett, inventor. That’ll be it for Laurie Everett, athlete.

Athlete. I’m not an athlete. I’m a joke. One big joke for everyone at the party, including my twin sister. Helen, I know you hate me, but I can’t believe you murdered me in front of everyone. 

The moon just winked out overhead. It’ll all be over soon.


#

The following IRC exchange was recovered from a magnetic-platter hard drive that had been in operation since the late 21st century. 

When Intersol agents discovered the drive, which was being housed in an underground server farm in the Martian colony New Nashville, a zero-out command had already been executed. The agents disengaged the drive before the zero-out was complete.

Intersol agents have reason to believe that one of the participants in this chat may be the Darknet hacktivist known only as Mr. Chalk.

who’s going to the d-crypt this sunday? We’re playing the bad news backups.
I’m in!
we know YOU’RE in, nova
great who let teh spherefags in
I’d watch it if I were you, gtfo.
buncha roiders playing a videogame
BLASPHEMY
gtfo, I’ve never banned a user on this channel, but you may force me to press the big, nasty red button I have mounted to my battle station if you continue to sully the name of our favorite sport, sir.
doesnt even make any sense. like watching a lottoball spin around
well, the rules *are* pretty byzantine, I’ll grant you that.
no they’re not! It’s simple!!!
watch out. got a butthurt blackguard here. ^_^
nova, gtfo has a point. they’re simple when you’ve maintained a monastic, Fischer-esque lifestyle dedicated to the study of O-ball theory and practice. Like you.
He has NO point. And a stupid face.
Watch the name-calling, please. We’re not babynet savages here.
sorry sorry. I can explain the rules right now
toodles
WAIT. If I can explain the rules, will you come watch us play?
lol u mad?
come on. will you come?
can’t. my chyron’s sick. but go ahead. this ought to be good.
OK, sucka. Here’s how to play. First of all, there are no time-outs.

#

Laurie

The world’s biggest fan of Omegaball is just a stupid, deformed, crippled little girl who’s about to die. The river tossed me up to the surface a moment ago, long enough for me to gulp down a breath.

Postponing the inevitable.

Postponing what I deserve. 

Stupid, stupid, stupid. You never should’ve taken those risks, Laurie. You know this. You told yourself over and over: It feels better to avoid the risk than to take it and fail. Or get rejected. Like you did tonight. I’m glad it’s coming to an end. I can’t imagine the look on her smug little face — the face that should’ve been mine. The body that should’ve been mine. I don’t deserve any of this!

Yes, you do deserve it. Every bit. Every frozen moment before you die alone, you deserve it, because you’re just s stupid, deformed, crippled little girl. 

No. That’s not true.

It’s not entirely true, because when Helen and I were waiting to be born, something went wrong. Twenty-six weeks in, and we both came out — me a minute earlier — and while she cried and screamed and squirmed, I just sat there. They thought I was a stillbirth, but then my eyes moved.

“They danced,” my mom always told me. 

What a joke. My whole life is a joke. I don’t blame Helen for hating me. The way I acted, even before the procedure. The cheering, the games, the sweaters, the fight songs, and all the orange, orange, orange. It’s no wonder she laughed and sneered at me. 

Oh, Helen. I’m so sorry.

No, I’m not.

God, how long have we been fighting? Since we were born, really. But it got so much worse this year. Fighting over the same guy, even though it was never a fight. Fighting to see who’d be class valedictorian, even though we didn’t know we were both up for it. 

We fought about other things, too. The Darknet. Chyrons. Bolting. Mindbending.

Omegaball.

Yes, it always comes back to me and Omegaball.

Everything that led to this moment — me, in a river, about to die — started at an Omegaball match.
Chicago versus Detroit. The day before Valentine’s Day.


#

I knew they were looking at me.

They kept trying to avert their eyes, but it was like I was a speedboat leaving a wake through the crowd. We arrived half an hour before kickoff like always — dad, Helen and I — and as we crept under the stone ramparts of Soldier Field, swerving around hot-dog vendors, my dad waving away smartpaper game programs, the reactions of passers-by varied. Some of them smiled at me. Fine. Some of them spotted me from across the walkway and course-corrected around us so they didn’t even have to avert their eyes. Like they could catch “being paralyzed from the neck down” just by looking at me.

But the ones who pissed me off the most were the ones who stared.

I could spot them easily. They’d stop mid-step, their arms floating down by their side. Some of them were fundies, muttering prayers at the poor, sorry, motherless family with the girl in the motorized wheelchair. Some of them talked about us at full volume as we passed by.

“It’s too much for her her.”

“Why would he bring her here? She’s just going to get hurt.”

“You think the mother would say something. Where is she?”

Hey, I’m paralyzed, not deaf. 

None of them knew anything about me. One lady heard my grunts and wheezes, and I swear, her eyes misted over. Give me a break, lady. Did you know that every time I grunt, my chair moves right, and every time I wheeze, it turns left? That’s how I designed it.

Another old lady must’ve noticed the resemblance between me and Helen, and it was like someone told her Santa Claus wasn’t real. Listen, I get it. It must’ve been tough to look at Helen, who’s gorgeous, and then at me, who was strapped into a wheelchair with an oxygen tube crusted to my nose with dried snot, my head lolled to the side like my neck was broken, but you don’t know anything about me. 

None of you knew that every O-ball Sunday was like Christmas morning for me. None of you knew that our dad had to take us both to the match, because the last time he left Helen alone, he got home to find his furniture in the front yard and his datadisks in the dishwasher, with Helen passed out in a sea of red cups, her breath reeking of Tennessee sour mash.

None of you knew that I was a genius. I designed every inch of this wheelchair, from the smartscreen interface that helps me speak, to the six articulated wheels that crawl over any terrain like a caterpillar.
None of you knew that I hadn’t missed a Dreadnoughts home match since eighth grade, when my mom first took me, and I saw the ‘Noughts stream into the sphere while 80,000 fans in tangerine jersey-sweaters screamed and cheered. 

None of you knew that eighteen months ago, dad had to tell us mom died.

And finally, none of you knew that I had secrets. Lots of ‘em.

For example: I wasn’t just at Soldier Field to watch an Omegaball match.

I was there to play in one.