Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Random Questions

I get a ton of questions emailed to me for the blog and I appreciate each and every one. I apologize if I haven’t yet gotten to yours, but I’m working on it. Some are hard and I haven’t figured out how to answer them yet, while others are too short and don’t necessarily warrant a full post. So today’s blog is dedicated to those that are just too short.

Here’s a collection of random blog questions and answers.

How long should women’s fiction be? Is 270,000 words too long?

In the author’s own words, “yikes!” 200,000 words is too long. Women’s fiction is general fiction, mainstream, whatever you want to call it, it should be like most novels, in the range of 80,000 to 100,000 words. Of course there’s always some leeway in there, but keep in mind in this crazy economy, publishers are really not happy to see longer books. They’re more expensive for everyone.

If an agent’s Web site doesn’t specifically mention to send snail mail or email queries, but provides both addresses, how should the query be sent? How can I ensure my query gets more face time?

However you want to send it, and as for guaranteeing more face time, that’s on your shoulders. Write a really great query.

When you (or another agent) ask for a chapter or pages to be pasted into the body of an email, does it need to be in any certain format? When I paste from Word into my email program, all formatting is lost. I've tried plain text and rich text with negligible results.

First let me clarify that I would never ask for material to be pasted into the email (other than the query itself). If I did, though, and even with queries, I want it to read as if it were the email. Maybe the best thing to do is paste it in and then reformat it using your email program? I don’t have an answer to this, but maybe other readers have some advice?

Earlier this year you mentioned that an editor was looking for “strong, poignant, commercial women’s fiction, not chick lit.” Can you elaborate a little on what type of stories we're talking about? What sort of heroines? What are the editors looking for?

What do you have? They would like to see older, younger, married, single, divorced, widowed, grandmothers, mothers, childless. . . . The key to these types of books isn’t necessarily that editors are looking for a particular story, but they want a story and characters that evoke certain feelings. How that’s done is up to the writer, that’s the beauty of a book.

Can you interpret the phrase: "I didn't make a strong enough connection with the manuscript in order to offer representation." I've had three agents respond in this way after reading my full manuscript and one agent respond this way after reading fifty pages. Is there some revision work I should be considering based on this information?

You’ve been rejected with a form rejection. Make revisions if you see the need, otherwise simply continue to plug away.

I have completed 41,00 words of my manuscript, which is approximately 50% of my book. At what point should I begin to contact literary agents?

When the book is done.

Several of us were comparing agent responses and noticed a weird trend . . . or lack of trend . . . with some agents and wonder if there was a rationale behind it. A group of us use the same query tracking system and have noticed that there will be huge gaps on no-response and we'll never hear back (we're talking 12+ months). But scattered in there will be a couple of rejections. When checked, these rejections are form letters that state nothing more than the typical "not for me" rejection. I'm all for the form letter. Is there a reason a very small number receive the rejection but the majority receive nothing? Is there something going on we don't know as writers?

I want so bad to say something really funny and snarky here, but I don’t think I’ve got it in me. What I will say is quit over-analyzing. Agents just don’t have that much time to plan elaborate ruses. I’m sure it’s just a fluke.

I have finished writing my first fiction novel. However, when I typed it out it ended up being about 75 pages. Is it me or does that seem a bit short? Of course, I haven't gone through and edited but the point of the story is completely in there. Can anyone give me any advice on this?

Let me clarify first that “fiction novel” is redundant. Learn to erase that phrase from your vocabulary. Second, even if you still need to double-space, 75 pages is far too short. I think the best advice I can give you is keep writing and join a writer’s group. You have about 250 pages to go before you have a book.

My professors keep telling me that student publications count as a publication, but I was wondering if they were worth mentioning in a query letter? What about writing articles for internships?

I’d definitely mention them, but only if you are newly out of school. Ten years later they aren’t going to have the same significance.

I have a question regarding query etiquette. Is it appropriate to mention, in a query letter, work that has not been published yet if the author has it on good authority that their work will be featured in a future magazine publication?

If by good authority you mean a contract, then yes, go ahead and mention it. Otherwise I would just be patient.