Outrageous Agent Contest

In honor of all the hardworking agents in this business, I’m holding a contest today for the most outrageous story about a writer’s experience with an agent. The winner gets a copy of my novel (or if you already have my novel, I’ll host you on my blog—whoopee!) Being a good host, I’ll go first.

In August 2003, I attended a writers’ conference and pitched two novels to an agent I’ll call “Susie Strange.” (You can name your agent, if you’d like. I have good reason not to.) She loved both pitches and asked to see full manuscripts for both novels, which I happened to have with me. So off she went to New York with about 170,000 words of mine. I waited the customary two months, then sent an e-mail. No response. I eventually sent another e-mail and made a phone call with absolutely no acknowledgment that I even existed. But this is not the bizarre part.

I went on with my life and wrote yet another novel called The Sex Club. As I neared the end of process, I started sending out query letters (with 3 chapters) to agents—knowing how long it takes them to respond. I sent one (on a whim) to Susie Strange. You know the opening: “We met once at a conference …” The date on that Word document is October 21, 2004.

A year later, I signed with a different agent, spent another year working with her on the story, then she failed to sell it. Then I spent another year or so bringing it to print through a niche publisher, followed by months of promoting it.

Then on February 7, 2008, I received a call from someone in Susie Strange’s agency. I didn’t recognize the caller’s name, but I knew the agency. The caller said she had read the first three chapters of The Sex Club and wanted to see the entire manuscript. I was confused at first. “What do you mean you want to see the manuscript? It’s a published book.” Then it hit me. She was responding to the query I had sent THREE YEARS AND THREE MONTHS ago!

The poor woman was new to the agency and had inherited an old slush pile, but she handled the situation gracefully. She asked if I was working on anything else and agreed to read the first 50 pages of Secrets to Die For. She got back to me within three weeks and said she loved it. Now she’s waiting for me to send the entire manuscript. As much as I want to be represented (as all writers do!), the idea of working with her makes a little nervous. After all, she is a protégée of Susie Strange.

First, I mean no disrespect to other agents. In fact, I have a very positive agent story to tell someday.
Second, the poll: Should I send her the manuscript? Should I send it to other agents as well?
Third, the contest: Can you top that outrageous agent story?

Mystery/Suspense Review Sites

Another very busy day ahead (editing corporate profiles), so today I offer another version of the “lazy woman’s blog.” (Actually, it took a while, but I didn’t have to think much!) Crime writers might find it useful. Following is a list of places to send your mystery and/or suspense novel for review:

Ellery Queen

Crime Spree
Mystery News (Black Raven Press)
Mystery Scene
Deadly Pleasures
The Strand
Crime Time
Spinetingler
Mystery Readers Journal (if it fits a theme)
Crime and Suspense Ezine
Over My Dead Body
January Magazine
The Mystery Reader
Reviewing the Evidence
Gumshoe
Tangled Web
January Magazine
Dead End Books
Mysterious Reviews
Bloodstained Book Reviews

If you know other good mystery review sites, please share.

New Book Cover (or Lazy Woman's Blog)


After 17 straight days of blogging, I’m giving my readers a rest. (I never actually run out of things to say.) I’m in the middle of revamping my website, with the main purpose of putting up a mock book cover for Secrets to Die For. . . so readers don’t think I’m a one-book wonder. This is what my good friend and talented graphic artist Gwen Rhoads came up with on short notice.

The blurb (which will eventually go on the back cover) reads:
A brutal murder, conflicting evidence, and a target victim with a secret to hide—can Detective Jackson uncover the truth in time to save her?

Slowing Down for Feedback

I am one of the most impatient people I know. I want everything to happen now! And this is most true when it comes to sending out my work: articles to magazines, letters to potential clients, fiction manuscript to agents and publishers. I am always excited about my project and want to send it off as soon as I’ve finished it. And in the past, I have—only to discover later a typo or inconsistency. Or to come up with a better idea that it’s too late to include.

I am learning—the hard way—to slow down. Let the piece chill for a day, or a week, or a month. Look at it again. Show it others first. Rethink the whole thing. This is not easy for me.

Recently, Helen posted a question about the reader hook. Does the book have to grab you in the first line, the first paragraph, the first page, or the first chapter? I responded: First line is best, but by the end of the first page is essential. So now I need to know if I can pass my own litmus test. This is the first paragraph of my new novel, Secrets to Die For. Is it good enough to make you keep reading?

Sierra shut off the motor and glanced up at the puke-green doublewide with a chunk of plywood over the front window. The near dusk couldn’t hide the broken dreams of the trailer’s occupants, Bruce and Cindy Gorman. But Sierra wasn’t here to see them. She was here for Josh, their eight-year-old son.

To Blurb or Not to Blurb

I’ve been sending my novel (with permission) to other writers I’ve gotten to know online. I haven’t directly asked them for a blurb, but that is my hope, that they’ll saying something nice that I can use for promotion. I’m also lining up writers to read and blurb (yes, it can be used as a verb) my new Detective Jackson manuscript with the idea that it will help sell it. This is common practice in the industry. I haven’t asked, nor do I want, anyone to lie or fudge or say something they don’t mean. But apparently, this is common practice in the industry too.

J.A. Konrath
has written extensively about the dishonesty in the blurbing business (authors who give rave blurbs without ever reading the book), but now the NY Times reports that a company has taken it to a new level: Blurbs for Sale.

Now I wonder if there’s any point in what I’d doing. Does the blurb still have value or has it become meaningless? Have you ever bought a book because a writer you like said good things about it? Will you do it again in the future?

Online Promotional Etiquette

This seems to be a hot topic, and so it’s worth revisiting.

Even though I’ve been participating in the online community (in a significant way) for six months, I still feel like I don’t know all the rules about promotion. Yesterday, for example, a woman on a mystery list serv said she was in a funk and couldn’t get into any of the books she had at the house. So I sent her an e-mail and offered to mail her a copy of The Sex Club. Then instantly wondered: Was that improper? Will that be considered blatant self-promotion and therefore, unwelcome? So I sent another e-mail immediately afterwards and apologized. She was not offended and sent back her mailing address. But it’s so easy to cross this line. I know. I’ve done it. Because I’m never sure where it is. Especially after reading the following post from another blog about online promotional etiquette:

“You can’t just barrel in and announce you’re everyone’s friend and aren’t they lucky you have a book out now for everyone to buy. Well, you could. But I’m trying to be effective, not stupid. I get those emails a lot from people. I routinely delete them without reply. Every other blogger I talk to does the same thing. I see those kinds of posts on listservs I belong to, and I skim right over it as the ineffective mention that it is. The books I do mention on my blog, are by people I know, and like, and want to promote. The books I do notice on listservs are those talked about by actual readers as books they liked . . .”

I’m the kind of person who usually doesn’t hesitate to introduce myself or ask a question. I figure there’s no harm in doing so. But now I wonder if I can do actual harm to my writing career if I cross the line too many times or offend the wrong person by sending an unwanted e-mail. So what are the rules? Tell me what you think.

Master of Interruptions

One of my corporate freelance clients sends me work in waves, and right now I’m riding a tsunami of company profiles that just keep coming. So my nearly completed second Detective Jackson manuscript (Secrets to Die For) is languishing, with only an hour dedicated to it each morning—and half of that spent trying to wake up.

The bigger problem is my family members (for whom I am the go-to guy) don’t really get it when I say, “I can’t talk right now, I’m working” or “I can’t give you a ride, I’m on the clock.” They assume that if I’m home—and setting my own hours—I should be flexible enough to accommodate just about anything.

I’m sure thousands of writers have learned to deal with this, and I will too. I’ve only been a full-time freelance for five months. (I did work at home for a magazine for a year, but that’s another blog.) Yesterday, I started screening calls and simply let the phone ring. Then felt so guilty. What if my brother needed me to drive him to the hospital? What if my mother fell down and couldn’t get up? (I checked in late last night and they’re both okay.)

But still, I have another profile to crank out today… and I have to decide how to handle all the interruptions (mine included). I’d love to hear from freelancers who have mastered this situation.

Things I Want to Know

I’m veering off the subject of writing again for a moment to do a little more raving. Here are some hump-day humdinger questions:

Why do bills (i.e., monthly invoices from the electric and cable company) say “amount enclosed”? Is the payable amount optional? Can I send $49 instead of the $178 that’s listed in the amount due box? Or do they think this little phrase might encourage some people to pay extra?

Why is the checker at Albertsons wearing a wrinkled white t-shirt and plaid pajama bottoms? Is it “come as you are day” or has our culture gone that casual? (I work at home, and I still get dressed every day.) But does it matter? Is he any less efficient? Why does it bug me?

Why do men reorganize everything in the dishwasher before starting it? What difference does it make if the plates are lined up straight or not? Did men all attend the same disherwasher-loading class? And if they have five minutes to donate to housework—why don’t they do something useful instead and scrub a toilet?

Speaking of toilets, why is it so hard to start a roll of toilet paper? It’s as if the first six layers are melded together with Super Glue. Why is that necessary? Why can’t it be more like peeling up a little yellow sticky note?

If you know the answers, please share.

L.J.'s Many Names

It’s serendipitous that Dani tagged me in this meme. I was just thinking about why I have always used my initials as a writer, as opposed to my given name: Linda. When I was young, I heard my father say that men were better writers than women. So from day one as a journalist, I submitted my work under the name L.J. Sellers, so readers could not prejudge my writing based on gender. And as an employee in the work place, there were usually too many other Lindas, so I always said, “Call me L.J.” But if I were to write under pseudonyms, here’s some possibilities.

1. Real name plus my husband’s last name: Linda Hutchison

2. Gangsta name: (first 3 letters of real name plus izzle) Linizzle

3. Detective name: (favorite color/favorite animal) Blue Lemur

4. Soap Opera name: (middle name and street) Jean Lorrane

5. Star Wars name: (first 3 letters last name, first 2 letters first name) Selli

6. Superhero name: (2nd favorite color/favorite drink) Fuchsia D. Pepper

7. Witness Protection name: (parents’ middle names) Patricia Clark

8. Goth name: (black plus the name of one of your pets) Black Magoo

If I were ever to write a romance, Jean Lorrane would be the byline. And someday, when I write the futuristic thriller I have in mind, I think I’ll go with Fuchsia Pepper. She’s somebody I’d like to be some days. What’s your favorite pseudonym?

Blog Surfing Etiquette

All this blogging and reading and commenting on other blogs has brought up a question about etiquette. Most comment sections identify the commenter by name only (whatever they’ve signed in as). My instinct (as Karen Syed has trained me now) is to always include a link to one of my sites after my name or some kind of reference, such as: Author of The Sex Club. If someone likes what I’ve said and wants to know more about me, my blog, or my novel, it seems logical to let them know where to find me.

But I wonder: Is this socially acceptable in the blogosphere? A random survey of the blogs I visit indicates that most posters do not even include a full name signature, they just let the comment box identify them. So it uncool to post a url? Does it depend on the blog site and how well you know the person? What is your practice? What is your opinion?