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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Agents give tips on query letters

The great and glorious Nathan Bransford has a helpful post on how not to write query letters. He reminds us:

"Don't tell me what your novel is about. Tell me what happens."


And Janet Reid (aka the QueryShark) has a great post on Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents blog.

She advises queriers to have a special gmail or earthlink (or, I would assume, yahoo) account for queries with your own, real name in the address. AOL accounts are problematic because the spam block will often eat your reply. Also you don't want a shared account or a cutsie address name: Sugarpiehunnybun isn't going to get the same respectful read as somebody who sounds like grown up professional. Just the way it is. All 20 of her tips are at http://ow.ly/15XETb


Friday, October 23, 2009


If you’re a diligent, talented writer who’s done your homework—and you have the good-luck fairy on speed-dial—sometime during your novel querying process, your phone will ring and you’ll hear the voice of an agent—a real, honest-to-goodness publishing industry professional—who’s impressed enough to spend money and time ringing up little old you.

(You know she’s the real thing because you researched her credentials before you sent off that query—didn’t you?)

So you’ve hit the jackpot. Somebody out there likes you; she really likes you.

But after you scrape yourself off the ceiling and order the kids to turn that noise down right NOW, you hear the agent asking for a rewrite.

Uh-oh. Maybe she doesn’t like you so much.

Not to worry. This is part of the process. Most agents make editorial suggestions before they sign a new client. That’s right: BEFORE they offer a contract. You’re asked to rewrite with no guarantee of representation.

Is it fair? No. But nothing in this industry is, so we get used to it.

Current rules dictate that you should NOT argue. You say, “Yes, sir/ma’am—O Great Publishing Industry Professional—you want the new manuscript when? Sure. I can skip my grandfather’s funeral and write while the surgeon is doing my pesky little heart bypass, and I’ll have it on your desk by Monday.”

And then she’s obligated to represent you, right?

Nope. The agent is likely to give you a pass anyway—or suggest further edits. One writer blogged about doing twenty-five requested rewrites for an agent who never did offer representation.

The first time an agent phoned me to ask for pre-contract changes, I was a newbie so clueless I didn’t know I was being honored. She asked me to change the sexual orientation of a major character so the heroine could marry him. I said I was happy to make minor changes, but that felt like a betrayal of my values. She hung up in a huff.

Did I screw up? I don’t think so, but I sure broke the rules.

Several years later, when another agent finally called—also asking for rewrites—I knew better. I agreed to edit all three manuscripts that interested her. The changes to the first were fairly easy, but for the second, she wanted massive shifts of plot, tone and character.

I put in months of painful, heartbreaking work, but she sent the manuscripts back—along with a copy of a novel she’d just placed, to show me how it was done. I found the model manuscript a boring, childish slog—something I’d never choose to read.

Obviously she didn’t sign me. I eventually sold the novels without representation and my editor took out every one of the agent’s “improvements.”

I’m not suggesting these agents did anything wrong. Editorial suggestions are a gift. They’re also subjective. Something in my work struck a chord, and they wanted to work with me. They knew what they could sell and hoped I could produce that product. I couldn’t. This is why we don’t quit our day jobs.

So what should you do if you get that call? I’d say give the edits a whirl—but stay in touch with your creative self (and save your original.) If you have to hide the new version from your friends, and/or start to sob when you sit down at the keyboard, it’s OK to say thanks but no thanks.

What you shouldn’t do is procrastinate or send the original back with only a few changes. The late, lamented Miss Snark said of an author who wouldn’t rewrite, “The author was really shocked when I said no, ’cause he believed my editorial comments meant an offer was a pretty sure thing. I said, look, you didn't make the changes I suggested…even if you did them now, I've got no confidence you'd be someone who can handle editorial direction.”

An agency is like a retail shop: it sells a certain type of merchandise. You’re being considered as a possible vendor. Don’t go into business if you can’t supply the product. If your rewrite is accepted, you’ll be expected to write more of the same.

So if an agent asks you to rewrite your western as a romance, or your biting satire as Middle Grade fantasy, agree to give it a try. But before you waste too much time, read some romances or Middle Grade fantasy he’s selling.

If you can’t read them, you can’t write them. Politely bow out and move on. There are other agents. And small presses. Keep sending those queries.


Saturday, October 10, 2009


What’s NOT HOT in publishing:
More from the CC Writers Conference

The publishing world seems to have been left in a state of befuddlement by the economic meltdown and the e-book revolution sparked by the Kindle. This situation, I learned at the CCWC, has “softened” most of the adult fiction market. (BTW, when the market is “soft” in a genre, those books are a “hard sell.” Go figure.)

The sad truth is that if you’re unpublished and write for adults, breaking in is way harder than a year ago (unless you write Romance: Harlequin/Mills and Boon sales are actually up, while most other publishers have lost their shirts and are holding tightly to their trousers.)

So what’s the level of squishiness of your WIP?

Literary Fiction hardly ever makes money, so in a bad economy, editors are even less likely to take it on. If you can pick up the pace and throw in some ZOMBIES IN ZEPPELINS (see last Monday’s post,) you might have more hope of hitting the shelves. An MFA helps, too. So does a friend on staff at the New Yorker.

Or go to England, like Catherine Ryan Hyde (author of Pay It Forward) whose new literary novel, When I Found You had to find a publisher across the pond, and isn’t yet available to us downmarket Yanks. For more info, check out her blog at http://tinyurl.com/ygawlq6

Memoirs are iffy even in good times, so if you’re not a former Vice Presidential candidate who can see Russia from her house, you need to focus on one story arc and incorporate a lot of action and tension. A good memoir should read like a novel. It helps if you’re an African kid genius who built an electric generator with a library book picture and scraps he found in the village garbage dump. (Check out The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba–and for the review police: nobody gave me a free book to say that.)

Chick Lit. I know. This makes me cry. But so much dumb stuff was published in the genre that it killed itself DEAD—as in departed, deceased & defunct. They say the smallest possibility that your novel might be called chick lit will get it laughed out of an editorial meeting.

But I’m pretty sure this is formulaic chick lit they’re talking: books about shallow, whiny 20-somethings with more disposable income than self-esteem. Wonderful comic writers like Jennifer Weiner, Marian Keyes, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, and Sophie Kinsella, whose work was sold as chick lit a few years ago, are still selling just fine.

I can’t figure out what genre their books have been assigned, so if you know, do tell me. The savvy folks at AgentQuery seem to be in the dark, too, since they still name it as a genre. But DON’T use the term in your query, even if the agent is listed as repping it. They filled out those forms a long time ago.

Inspirational Romance. A saturated market. This doesn’t mean it’s been called home to be with the Lord. Just make sure you’ve got a unique voice and fascinating heroine.

Hard SciFi. The really techie stuff. There is a niche market, but if you want to break in, make sure you know your physics. You’re writing for science ubernerds.

Epic Fantasy for adults. Too many Tolkein wannabes out there. And videogames. But rewrite your Elf vs. Orc saga for Middle Grade and you’re golden.

Zombie-Free Horror. Standard horror has chilled. Except for splatterpunk. Ick. And all that amazing stuff Neil Gaiman writes, which is not called horror any more: it’s “New Weird.”

Cozy Mysteries. These aren’t bad sellers. It’s just that this is the genre with the most competition. If you write amateur-sleuth, body-in-the-library domestic mysteries, be prepared to have a harder time breaking in. It helps if your sleuth is majorly quirky.

Westerns. You kind of have to be Larry McMurtry. This genre has ridden off into the sunset. But western romance still sells.

So am I going to rewrite my comic romantic suspense novel and make my hero a 12-year-old zombie with a steam-powered space ship? Nope. The only really predictable thing about the market is that it’s unpredictable. Next month a Literary Chick Lit Western might shoot to the top of the charts and knock those vampires off their perch.

Hey, it could happen. Who thought there was a market for the long-dead British school-boy tale—in Halloweeny costumes, no less?

So don’t delete that squishy WIP. It’s always good to have inventory.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Write it Anyway

Department of "What have you got to lose"--Over at Mediabistro, poet & blogger Caroline Hagood has a great post on why you should write that first novel anyway. Here’s a quote:

“The worst that will happen is that your novel will be forced to endure the writer’s spring cleaning, taking up residence in the sock drawer with the sobering knowledge that the socks are more likely to get a publishing contract. Just remember the old adage that the first novel is meant to function as a sort of lubrication for the next tome to come shooting out of the writing mind.”



Monday, October 5, 2009


What's Hot in Publishing.

At the CC Writers Conference, I finally heard some hope coming from the publishing industry. After last winter’s editorial carnage, and a spring and summer of discontent, life seems to be stirring in the book biz. (I hope it hasn't just been re-animated and zombified.)

That’s according to the three smart, fun, helpful agents on the faculty: Katharine Sands of the Sarah Jane Freyman Agency, Amy Burkhardt of Reece Halsey North (soon to be rechristened the Kimberly Cameron Literary Agency) and Laurie McLean of Larsen-Pomada.

I learned a lot and met some fantastic people. Also got inspired by Danish-American writer Christian Moerk (Darling Jim: Henry Holt and Co, 2009.) Yes, you still can get a first literary adult novel published in the US, but it does help if you’ve already sold it to the entire population of Denmark.

Here’s what’s hot in publishing right now.

Romance. It’s is the bread and butter of the industry—now more than ever—a whopping 50% of sales. (If you write it, and aren’t a member of RWA—join, say the agents.) Paranormal is the major seller, and Romantic Suspense is big, too. Historical is a perennial favorite, especially Regency, Medieval Scottish and Edwardian—and Elizabethan is growing.

Young Adult and Middle Grade are where the real growth is happening. This is not your mother’s YA/MG. Edgy literary/experimental fiction is alive and well and living on the YA shelves, which are now perused by young people all the way through Junior college, apparently. (They’re always nearest the coffee bar.) This means your protagonist can be as ancient as 22, and word count can be from 40K to whatever (but less is still more, Ms. Rowling notwithstanding.) Anything goes in terms of language/darkness/weirdness. Even Chick Lit still lives in YA, because of Gossip Girl et al. (But don’t even mention the term when pitching adult Women’s Fic. More later on what’s not hot.)

One caveat in YA: no boy’s adventure stories. (Pirates, mysteries, quest sagas.) Save that for MG. Marketers have proclaimed that boys don’t read after age 13.

Fantasy is still way hot in MG—over 50% of the market. What used to be YA material is now MG. Middle Grade still has restrictions on language/sexual situations, but it’s darker and grittier than it used to be. Your MC needs to be 13 or younger and word count between 20K and 40K. If you can change the age of your MC to 13 and pare down your word count, your fantasy WIP has a much better chance of being published. Funny is good too. Funny Fantasy MG for boys is golden.

Vampires are still taking a bite out of adult fiction, as well as YA, but the market may be getting saturated. The upcoming Wuthering Bites, about Heathcliff as a vampire may signal boredom with the conventional vampire saga.

But mashing undead/shapeshifter stories with classics took off with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so anybody out there with a finished ms. of Jane Eyre and Zombies, the Golden Bowl of Blood, or the Last of the Mohican Werewolves, send it NOW—you’re on the brink of fame and fortune.

Zombies are huge for all ages (publishers tend to forget the existence of readers over 30, of course) I’ve noticed most of the deals listed in Publisher’s Lunch in the last two months have been zombie-related, and the success of the film Zombieland will only fuel the trend. But beware, says Laurie McLean. Trends like this can be short lived.

Steampunk is the new Big Thing. It’s something I knew about mostly from costume catalogues, but apparently it’s the new Goth—scary-sexy retro clothes without the emo angst. But more buckles. Lots more. And goggles. For the uninitiated, steampunk is sci-fi set in Victorian and Edwardian England. Think Jules Verne. Mixed with the TV show/film The Wild, Wild West. It’s set in a universe of steam powered computers and clockwork cell phones used by spunky hotties in corsets and bustles. Oh, yeah—and maybe they do a little space travel in wooden space ships a la Firefly.

Not much hope for people who write for grownups, but unfortunately, grownups seem to be glued to their TVs watching Dancing With the Biggest Loser these days—or that’s what book marketers think. If you want them to think differently—go out and buy a book. Preferably without a zombie Mr. Rochester wooing Jane Eyre on his clockwork cell phone.

More soon on what’s NOT HOT.