The "Rules" of Contemporary Romance--from a major romance reviewer

GK’s note: We’ve had a few posts about the line between contemporary romance, women’s fiction, chick lit and literary fiction. (There’s even a quiz, if you’re interested.) My friend, the author of this post, writes for a major book-reviewing outlet. She’s witty, pleasantly cynical, and—yes—delightful in real life.

We all found it odd that she, of all people, was assigned to the romance department. Happily, you get to benefit from this strange juxtaposition.

Here you are, the “rules”—or, more accurately, the often unfortunate, now-cliché patterns—of romance novels, from a reluctant top reviewer. And yes: GK believes you can do much better.

*

After reading what I think amounts to at least two hundred trashy romance novels (note that not all romance novels are trashy, and not all trashiness is romantic) in the last two years, I am beginning to consider myself a reluctant expert on the subject.

I decided that the only way to maintain my sanity is to foist off what I've learned onto anyone who will listen. Writing a contemporary romance? Great. You should know the rules (some consciously adhered to, some not) before you break them.

Yes, these are tongue-in-cheek.

And yes, these are the rules I hope you will break. Please see my conclusion before you get your lingerie (specifically chosen for that rich, romantic vampire) in a twist.

RULES OF WRITING A ROMANCE NOVEL:

#1-- Only rich people fall in love. Because if you can't whisk someone off to Paris at a moment's notice, you can't possibly show them how much you love them. Rather, only rich men fall in love. Women can have independent careers, but they never worry about anything as mundane as the rent... which leads us to...

#2-- A career is something that happens while you're waiting for a rich man (or in some cases, a rich vampire) to sweep you off your feet. If there is ever a choice between pursuing your career, maintaining friendships and enjoying daylight versus becoming a blood-sucking immortal fiend of the night who forsakes all human contact and can't practice medicine anymore, a woman will always choose her man.

#3-- Only white people of European descent fall in love. They also are the only ones who become vampires, get to time travel or do anything cool--especially the guys (see rule #1). Also, all the guys in question have accents. Never indecipherable or annoying accents, but always really cute ones that get American girls excited.

#4-- Minorities are allowed to fall in love--but only once their white best friend/the protagonist does.

#5-- The best friend of the heroine and the hero must also always fall for each other. But they also must always get it on offstage. They are also almost invariably more interesting than the protagonists.

#6-- Beautiful women come in all shapes and sizes, and anyone who says differently is an ignorant ass. This must be repeated at least three times per book.

#7-- Beautiful men only come as 6'+, brawny, aggressive, with long flowing hair (and “manhoods” exceeding nine inches). Facial hair is optional, depending on the author. Furry chests are becoming popular again, but of course, any man with a furry chest does NOT have back hair or hair anywhere else they aren't supposed to. And remember, they're rich too.

#8-- All women are self-conscious about the curve of their derrieres; all men love them well-curved. Somehow, this comes up in every book, and yet real women haven't realized that, yes, men (and, for that matter, women) love these curves.

#9-- Everyone is a good kisser and has perfect breath all the time.

#10-- Foreplay, for the most part, can be accomplished with smoldering looks and approximately 200 pages of sexual tension. And while an occasional woman loves to perform oral sex and an occasional man will do the same, the greatest sexual satisfaction (and guarantee of mind-blowing, always mutual and simultaneous orgasm) comes from less than five minutes of missionary.

#11-- Only vampires and other supernatural creatures engage in kink. Kink in this case can be defined as anything that does not fit into the narrow perimeters of #10.


In conclusion:

I know that you’re probably looking at this list and feeling some pretty legitimate criticisms coming on—particularly if you’re a genre enthusiast.

It’s no fun having escapist fantasy where the protagonists have to struggle to pay their bills all the time—so of course rich is key. But that doesn’t mean that the only romantic gestures worth a damn are grandiose ones.

Sometimes it’s the little things that count, and those are few and far between in romance fiction. J.R. Ward (The Black Dagger Brotherhood series) does a good job of bending these rules--at least here the vampires come with a dose of homosexuality, kink (edge play!) and psychological problems.

The career thing is trickier, because again, this is escapism. Now there’s a whole other line of feminist critique that we could go into about the choice to opt out of a career, etc. etc. (if you’re interested in a good debunking of that in a larger way, I suggest reading Gloria Feldt’s No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change The Way We Think About Power and Leadership) but, let’s face it, for a lot of us, fantasy involves not having to work. Totally fine, but could we also see some assertive women who know how to draw boundaries? THAT is sexy.



So what does make a good romance novel work?

Surprising the reader is key--within the genre conventions, of course.

Heroes who aren’t Neanderthals, but who are funny, warm (under a gruff exterior, naturally) and protective without being overbearing—these are sexy and fun.

Women who are intelligent, directed and happy with themselves, even before they find a man, and are happier and still directed afterwards—love those.

Original supporting characters, ideally witty, who serve as good foils.

Flirtatious dialogue—before you get to the deep penetration, please.

Surprise me with something I haven’t seen before, something that will actually make me laugh out loud while I read—because, if that happens, I’m almost guaranteed to like your book—even if it’s another story of a Scottish laird and his reluctant, fiery bride who is forced to marry him against her will.

I don’t expect all genre conventions to be turned on their head. They’re there for a reason, after all, but it takes a very good writer to take those conventions, own them and then write something truly special within their constraints.

And never use the word “tumescent.” Please.

Got it? Great. I feel much better for getting this off my chest.

Now I'm going to go write a review of a book about a time traveling Scottish laird and the American writer he falls in love with...

Query tip of the day:

Please do not make X-rated jokes in your queries. Especially if they do not make sense. And especially if they have nothing to do with the cookbook you're presenting--which just happens to be a straight-laced cookbook that could have come right out of the 1950s.

Now, cookbooks of this variety are just fine. I'm all about the period piece book. But your tone (as an author) should match that of your work--or I'm going to wonder if your project is more Betty Crocker--or I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. Do you see Martha Stewart making dirty jokes? (Unless they're about stain removal?) Or, for that matter, Gael Greene suddenly advocating chastity and a straight-edge lifestyle?

No. You, as an author, are also a character. This is just as true in pitching as it is when you're reading your published work in front of an audience.

Let Your Book Be the Rice Krispie Treats, or: Six Things I Learned from [Title of Show]

Gatekeeper's note: this post was written by the lovely and talented Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency. And no, she didn't know about my adventures making cocoa in the office yesterday. That's just a delicious, chocolatey coincidence. 

I  love the transition into fall: fresh hearty produce, crisp winds, light sweaters and cardigans with long sleeves rolled to the elbow. I feel newly inspired, the snapping air waking me up after the brutal melty summer. And my soundtrack for fall usually includes [Title of Show].

If you didn't have the opportunity to know or see this crazy amazing show, [Title of Show] is a musical about writing a musical and performing the musical. Hilariously self-examining and irreverently worshipful with sassy lyrics and catchy music, [TOS] gives me a booster shot when I feel sluggish or doubtful.

One day, I was listening to the soundtrack on a loop between reading queries and partials, and I realized that Jeff and Hunter and Susan and Heidi talk a lot about the rollercoaster of the creative process, something that I think about a lot as an agent. In a moment of 2am brilliance, I asked GK if I could make a list of my favorite moments from [TOS] for writers--well, she must have been sleep-deprived too, because she said yes.

Of course, there's tons of things that writers can take from this show, but here's my list for this fall:

It's a Gamble, But Dream Big: Jeff and Hunter vocalize a lot of thoughts and concerns that writers and many artists try to balance. The guys acknowledge that "Nothing guarantees it will stand out/ And its future is unknown," which is a fear that I hear from almost every author. Hunter and Jeff ask, "Are we writing for art/ And is art a springboard for fame/ And will fame get us a paycheck/ But will a paycheck mean that we’re sellouts," and the ultimate concern, will they get to appear on Ellen. But their real ultimate concern is "creating a vehicle to showcase our voices/ And I don’t mean our vocal cords, I mean what’s below." A backup plan is good, but don't be afraid to pursue your passions and your dreams, to let the world hear your voice.

Plot Quick-Fixes are Fun but Not Useful: One of the most fun and most bizarre numbers is "Monkeys and Playbills," but it demonstrates why plot band-aids are distracting while writing and a huge red flag in a finished book. As I've written before, dragons and long-lost twin sisters that happen to have the key to the Deus Ex Machina are messy and don't work. Or, as Susan says, "Writing should feel easy, like a monkey driving a speedboat."

Secondary Characters are Uber Important: While Jeff and Hunter are awesome sauce on their own, [TOS] would not be the same without Susan and Heidi, as would your book without any other supporting cast members. They create and heighten tension and help define protags, who don't live in vacuums and are informed by their relationships. Letting S&H speak for themselves, "The secondary characters are singing a song/ While the stars are snacking off-stage/ It was their idea to bring us along/ And now we’re hijacking this page/ Of the script/ We’re equipped/ To steer the ship/ ‘Til this trippy skit ends/ And by the end of this song, we’ll be best friends."

"Success" is Not an Endpoint: "Part of It All" picks apart the details of success, which often starts as wanting "a paycheck in my pocket to help me pay the rent" but can morph into "negotiating my personal trainer’s salary" and "forgetting the names of everyone we meet." But Jeff and Hunter acknowledge that part of entering the market is "wanting to throw the towel in now and then/ A part of knowing that the way we’ll stay afloat is/ To rise back up and just start over again." Even when you reach your personal level of success, you have to keep striving to set and fulfill your creative goals.

Vampires Aren't Cuddly (Despite what TWILIGHT Says): "Die, Vampire Die!" is my favorite song (besides the next one)--I can picture some nasty creepster vampire trying to suck out the inspiration and vitality from a writer (then sparkle-vaporizing). Doubt can creep in at any moment in your career, and there will be people trying to tear you down, change your artistic vision, or convince you that it's not worth it: "Shakespeare, Sondheim, and Sadaris/ Did it before you and better than you." Sound familiar? Unfortunately, the most dangerous critic can be yourself, whether you absorb outside criticism into your brain-loop, or you are naturally crippled by yucko vampiric thoughts. But as RuPaul says, "If you don't love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love someone else!?"

Do What YOU Love: Every time I listen to "Nine People's Favorite Thing," I remember that I shouldn't be afraid to be who I am and do what I love. I rep YA not because its popular but because I have a deep connection with the genre; I like thrillers but I don't rep them because I'm not passionate about them. Markets fluctuate and trends change; instead of trying to jump on a trend, stick with what you are driven to write. And why not see if you can make a trend?

Yes, publishing is a business, but I call it the industry of stories, a creative endeavor at the heart of the machine. So if you need me, I'll be the one in a cardigan, drinking hot chocolate, searching for the rice-krispie-treat book.


This is a video Nine People's Favorite Thing.

Preferring a series versus preferring communication

After a lovely chat (it was: she's very nice, and I also had a cup of cocoa, the recipe from the Hershey's cocoa box, at my side) with one of my authors (and blog readers) today, I realize I should clarify something:

It's not that I prefer a series to a stand-alone work. It's that I really, really, really think you should tell agents (especially if it's your agent!) if you see your work as a series!

Apologies for any confusion.

More on the series question

A good point an editor brought up in the chat last night: she'd, you know, really kind of like to know right away if the author envisioned the work as a series.

If you don't tell your agent this until after he/she begins sending your work out, you could put him/her in a really awkward position.

Okay, imagine this. I've just sent out a manuscript. The author writes, "GK, GK! I have a brilliant idea! This is a series! This is only a series! It cannot be anything but a series! Go tell the editors!"

I will then probably:

  1. Panic
  2. Consider whether the author is just kidding, like the "And my next book is about vampires! Just kidding!" kind of way/if I think it would be better for the work to be a stand-alone or a series. If I think the author just wants a multi-book deal but that the work will not be as good editorially in multiple parts, that's a separate discussion. But, assuming it would work as a series, I'd...
  3. Get mad at author.
  4. Consider the best way of contacting editors. 
Step four is the hardest: I'd look rather dumb if I try the "Hi! So, funny story. My author didn't tell me until now that he/she thinks this is a series! Funny, huh? So this agent walks into a bar..."--which makes it look like I didn't bother to ask really important questions, and/or the author cannot be trusted, and/or this project is pretty much a train wreck waiting to happen. 

It's not a good impression. It makes me look bad, and the editors will remember this in the future. In other words, it will hurt me for this project, and it may hurt my relationships with these editors long-term. 

I've never (knock on a forest) had this happen, but this is the sort of thing that will make agents wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. Yeah. The stuff of agent nightmares.

I could wait until an editor is interested and then float the idea of a series. There are a number of things I could do that would go a little better.

But the bottom line is that this possibility is so incredibly uncomfortable for agents, that I really think you should always err on the side of telling your agent (once they're yours) everything. 

If you don't, it'd be kind of like being on trial for murder, and "forgetting" to tell your lawyer that there are, I don't know, gloves that may or may not fit just waiting to be discovered--thus leaving your agent without a rebuttal in a really rather uncomfortable situation. Had you just told your agent everything immediately, he/she could have found a way to present/respond to the information in the best honest way possible.

Yeah. Just don't hide things from your agent. It's poor form, and it will hurt you in the long run. 

GK's Trauma-Rama and The Blue Screen of Death

Do you remember those features in magazines like Teen, Seventeen, and Teen Vogue--the embarrassing moments section, where you get to read all about how another teen (somewhat implausibly) tripped, fell, and landed on a plate of spaghetti in front of her crush? While wearing white pants? And just after he'd said that he thinks spaghetti is gross?

Well, GK had one of those moments.

See, last night I was taking part in an online chat for agents and editors. I'd gone over to my friend's house, one of the other agents on the panel, because--well, because there's only one company in Brooklyn that provides internet, and they're well aware of that fact--it would seem that it's company policy that everyone goes home at the sighting of a single raindrop.

So I lugged my laptop in the rain over to her house. Then it was time for us to practice the chat beforehand, and my wireless wouldn't configure. I was getting really nervous.

I hijacked my friend's computer, wrote, "Hi! This is GK! We have gingerbread, gummi bears, and chocolate-covered espresso beans!" (We did. They were delicious. But the gingerbread was, at that writing, still just a mix.)

My internet still wasn't connecting, and I started to worry. After all, I'd gotten the Blue Screen of Death just a few hours before. What if I couldn't connect at all?!

"And my INTERNET WON'T EFFING CONFIGURE!" I all-caps yelled.

"Um, GK?" one of the moderators said. "You do realize everyone can see this?"

Oh.

Oops.

So, 400+ attendees now know that 1) I eat too many sweets, and 2) I say "effing"--yes, just like that--when mad.

Good times, good times.

_____________________
* For a good gingerbread, call--no, just kidding. Make the TJ's gingerbread mix, then sautée some sliced strawberries with sugar and cinnamon to taste. Be sure to use enough butter that there is a sort of buttery, sugary, cinnamon-y liquid left over. Pour over gingerbread while it's still warm, and serve immediately.

Hey GK,
Quick question for you. You've said you requested more info for 17 of the queries you read in a day. Would this be considered high? From reading other agent blogs these numbers often seem a lot lower. One in particular comes to mind who only requests 1-2 partials for around every 200 queries read.


Yipes--1 one 200? No no no. The odds are not like that, for me or on average. That seems closer to manuscript odds--though that'd be more like 1 in 1,000 (or more) that receive offers of representation. I'm sure there are a few agents out there that are that hardcore with their queries, but I don't think that's the standard.

17 out of 153 is a little high for my requesting rates--17 out of 200 would be normal--but, for whatever reason, I always seem to be hit with a large number of amazing queries in September. I probably have more unread work marked "promising" in my inbox--something I do when I send especially interesting queries over from the query account--and more work in general than I've had since, well, last year--when a big interview sent huge waves of queries into my inbox.

I won't tell you the exact numbers, though, because I may just go on a coffee binge if I think about it too much. Do know, though, that the vast majority of my spare time has been taken up with reading things on the Kindle--even in tiny increments, like while I'm in line to buy bagels. (Mmm, whole wheat everything toasted with melty butter...) If you're wondering if that's a fair read, yes, it is--one can't help but be in a good mood when smelling the deliciousness that is a giant New York bagel.

Also, I've seen enough ho-hum queries attached to great manuscripts to know that--if I feel a glimmer of possibility when reading something--it's worth saying yes on the chance that it's good. Does this leave me with an inbox larger than that of the average agent? Yes. But I'd much rather take the chance, risk spending time on something that I say no to (which, by the way, I don't consider time wasted), than wonder if I'd said no to something great.

This is so interesting. Most of the agent blogs will tell you not to mention [that you're writing a series]. That they have to sell the first book first. I see it everywhere. Now I'm confused.

I can only speak for myself. That very well may be the standard (hide information from your potential agent for fear of scaring them off with your prolific tendencies), but if it is I, personally, think it's a stupid standard.

Whether it's a series or just one book, yes, we'll have to read the first book first--and if we love it, we'll help you shape it into the best form for everyone. Sometimes writers write a series that would be better in one book. Sometimes they write one book that would be better as two.

The only time I'd get annoyed is if a writer demanded I read more than one book before making a decision. If the first book is great, I'm going to want to say yes. If the first book has me tearing my hair out, I'm going to say no. And not just because those spray-on, "make it look like you're not bald" products are expensive.

So, I don't want you to risk scaring off potential agents. But I do think it's worth mentioning--especially if you've had some sort of dialogue with them, like they write to you, "Hi! Read fifty pages and this is sweeeeeeeeeeeet! More soon"--then I think you should gently slip in that you'd considered making it into a series/writing books with the same characters after this one--you can always say something like, "By the way, I've been considering turning this into a series--though it's a stand-alone now, do let me know if this is something you'd like to explore."

I maintain that I think it's good to slip in something about series potential in your query--as long as it's potential, it implies that this is currently a stand-alone--but if you don't, you're also okay. Just don't spring it on your agent after your work has gone out to editors.

But I really don't think any agent is going to turn you down if you dare allude to a work's potential to become a series. Is it best if your work is a stand-alone that can be expanded (versus a book with a cliffhanger ending)? Yes. It gives us more options. (If we hate the idea of a series, we can have you edit the work into one volume.) Will mentioning this fact in your query (so long as it's not in the first paragraph, like, "Dear Agent, This could be a series! OMG! I want a four-book deal right nooooooowwwwww! Oh yeah, and here's what the book is about...") be the deciding factor in whether we say Yes or No?

I should certainly hope not.

Okay. It's come to GK's attention that there really needs to be a good guide to writing a synopsis. (Surely there are some out there already, but I'd like to create my own.)

I'm off to Boston (and the Emily Dickinson house! Squeeeee!) but this is a very important topic, so I'll think over the weekend and will tell you more next week.

Happy (official) fall, everyone!
Dear GK,
When do you prefer to find out that a writer was formerly represented by another agent?

Right away--in your query. I'm sure there are other schools of thought on this, but here's mine: if you're good enough to have nabbed an agent, we know you're better than the majority of writers who send us queries.

You can get into why they're not currently your agent later. But a word like "amicably" when describing your parting doesn't hurt. I, for one, don't automatically assume you were fired/set your agent's office on fire/parted on terrible terms, though some might. So, yes. Amicably is best.

It's also tricky when it comes to sending out a work that was formerly represented (if, say, that work didn't sell, and that's the reason you're breaking up now) because it limits the editors/houses we can send your work to--if they've already seen it and said no, well, that's difficult.

But if it's a whole new work (that can, therefore, be sent to anyone we deem fit) then I think you're just fine. Mention it--mention it was (I hope!) an amicable split--and move on.

What if it wasn't amicable? Well, you're just going to have to prove to us (with measured, non-angry, non-diva-esque correspondence) that sometimes these things just happen.

Let's say you broke up for "creative differences"--it's better to say that you had different visions of the work, and both agreed it was best (leave out that he/she threw hot coffee at you, you tossed a scone, the printer went out the window...) that you follow your heart and vision.

A bad break-up won't hurt your future chances, in other words, unless you did something truly dreadful to your agent (in which case we may have already heard about it). We may be iffy about taking on a client that once belonged to someone we know; we may also think it odd if you went with an agent who we heard is not, for whatever reason, reputable--but, by and large, so long as you seem a reasonable human being with a good book, we won't care.
Do agents really turn down queries just because the author is pitching part of a series? Should I mention that the book can accommodate changes and stand alone? I would really apreciate your input on this.

WHAT?! No! Especially if you're writing fiction, particularly YA fiction, agents love when you send books in a series, because then they can do this nifty thing: make a two-book, or three-book, or MORE-book deal. We love that, because it means 1) we get a higher commission because you get a higher advance--since it's for several books 2) it keeps you busy for the next few years.

They *do* say that agents get annoyed if you pitch more than one project at a time--which is true. But multiple books in the same series is different. It counts as one project with multiple parts.

Here's what (I think) you do:

1) Mention in your query that the book is the first in a series. You can describe this anywhere you want along the "This is a stand-alone novel with series potential" to "This is the first in a series" spectrum. It's probably easiest for an agent to sell a stand-alone novel (no cliffhanger ending) with series potential.

2) Though you don't have to finish more than the first book before you pitch, you should have a synopsis/outline for the subsequent books.

3) Don't offer to send the entire series. Offer to send the synopsis and full manuscript for the first book.

*


I can't speak for other agents, but when I see a series, I think "Multi-book deal!"--not "Oh geez, more books I have to read." I like books. And, were I an evil agent, I could just read the first one, sell the series, and not read any more. Which would be less reading. 

And if your first book isn't a stand-alone...it is part of a series, so I see no reason to hide that fact. Especially since, once the agent reads to the end and they're hanging from the edge of a cliff and have no idea what's happening next--well, they'll either figure it out or reject you for a really unsatisfying ending. 

Can anyone find for me a good argument as to why you shouldn't mention the book is part of a series?

*

Here's one hypothetical: the agent thinks, for whatever reason, that it'd be harder to sell your work as a series than a stand-alone. If he/she loves your book, he/she would/probably will just tell you to make it one stand-alone and get back in touch when that's done.

Free Gotham Classes!

If you're in the NYC area, check this out--Gotham Writers' Workshop is offering 42 free writing classes today and tomorrow (September 21 & 22).

Many are still open. You must register, but tuition is free.
Who just got through (and made notes on) an entire manuscript in one evening?

GK, fueled by cous cous, that's who!

GK! GK! What's for dinner? Huh? Huh?

Are you, perhaps, in need of a carbalicious snack to help get you through an evening of reading/editing manuscripts? (Or just in need of a carbalicious snack because it's a day that ends in Y?)

GK recommends that you (re)visit the very delicious land of Israeli cous cous--found in your grocer's imported section--near the Manischewitz products. (Please note: GK does not recommend the eponymous "wine.")

The texture of Israeli cous cous is incredible--springy, chompy, in the very best way possible. Each piece (is the singular "cous"?) is about five times the size of one's average cous cous.

Boil it with a bouillon cube (till pasta-tender, then drain), nuke some sweet potatoes (peeled, if you like) and cube them, cut up a roma tomato, toss in 1/2 drained can of corn, 1/2 can drained garbanzo beans, whatever veggies you have on hand--smash a little garlic, and add (good--not the crazy low-cal stuff that has a strange sweet taste) Italian or Ceasar dressing to taste--and you have deliciousness in a big bowl. Line that bowl with lettuce leaves and you can even call it a salad. Add a topping of hummus and/or sour cream with chives and you'll have even more deliciousness.

Best of all, it's easily eaten with one fork, so the other hand is free to hold the Kindle.

Mmm. Dinner.

So...Snarky lost his temper this afternoon.

Snarky wrote:

EVEN WHEN I SAY PLEASE REPLY TO THIS EMAIL, they still send it separately. Do no authors use Gmail conversations?!? AHHHHHHHHHHH.

Most of the new emails start with "REQUESTED MATERIAL" or something like that. Yes, I KNOW it's supposed to be there and isn't random stuff because I DID THE REQUESTING.


His email goes on to detail the violent acts he wishes to (but probably will not) perform.

So. I think it's pretty safe to say that it's generally best to submit your manuscript like this:
  1. Send your query with a subject line like "Query for [name of project]."
  2. When you get a request (likely with the same subject line as the one you sent), hit Reply to that agent's email. If they ask that you send the work to a different email address, still hit Reply and then copy and paste the specified address.
  3. In the body of that email, paste a nice 2-3 line note and, below that, your query.
  4. Attach your synopsis and full manuscript (as a total of two files) or your proposal and sample chapters (again, a total of two files) to this email. 
In other news, doing things like sending emails that say, "Hi, I got an automatic response that says you got my work. Does that mean you have it? Please let me know ASAP, because I think you probably didn't receive it"--not impressive.

Fondue--in the 1970s.

GK spent the weekend chasing butterflies around Fire Island (they're migrating), taking air conditioners out of windows, and--because a fondue set was recently given to me--obsessing about melted cheese.

With the fondue set came stories of fondue parties in the seventies ("It was like the internet back then!" my friend's mother said. "These parties were THAT popular!") and a recipe for cheddar-beer fondue. From a book from the seventies, yellowed with age. Very exciting. I think I may just have to have a party with giant, cartoon flower invitations--and may find a gaudy orange rug for the occasion.

So, pretty much the minute I returned home from the Long Island Rail Road, fondue kit in tow (after an unsuccessful search for sterno at Target--"Try the stationery department," the crew said), we set it up, invited friends over, and started playing.

You don't need a fondue kit. Or even a double-boiler. Really, you need a pan big enough to boil water, a metal bowl or smaller pan that fits inside it, and forks. Just boil water in the bigger pan, put the bowl/pan inside, and put the ingredients in there. (You could probably even use a microwave and a nuke-safe bowl.) We ended up using three tea lights instead of sterno, and that worked well--and seemed like much less of a fire hazard.

We found these recipes to be surprisingly delicious--and easy.

*


Cheese/beer fondue (real 1970s recipe!):

Note that this does not taste like beer, but the beer is necessary to the recipe.

1 tablespoon butter

1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half

1/2 pound (or 8 ounces) grated or small-diced cheddar. Sharp is good.

1/2 cup beer--I used Yuengling's half porter/half beer mix, but anything dark will do

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Bread and veggies for dunking in the cheese

1. Rub the inside of the bowl or small pan with the garlic, then drop the clove halves in. Add the tablespoon of butter.

2. Turn up the heat under the outer pan (with the water) to medium, until the water starts to simmer and the butter in the inner pan melts.

3. Toss the grated (or finely diced, if you got it sliced from a deli) cheddar with the tablespoon of flour, then add to the butter and garlic. Add the 1/2 cup beer.

4. Get someone to stir the cheese mixture until it melts--you do need to stir constantly.

5. While the cheese is melting, lightly toast your bread--and, after it's toasted, cut into chunks.

6. When the cheese is melted and mixture well-combined, stir. It's best to keep it in something warm or over a few candles, as it will re-solidify quickly.

7. Eat with toasted bread chunks, veggies, whatever you have on hand. It. Is. Amazing.



Chocolate fondue (GK's recipe):

You will need:

1. One 16oz  bag of milk chocolate or semi-sweet chips. I like Ghirardelli. You can also use 16 oz of Toblerone. Oh-em-gee. Melting (chocolate) Swiss Alps never tasted so good.

2. 1/3 to 1/2 cup half and half or cream

3. 1.5 tsp good vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in inner bowl, as described above (this would probably also work in the microwave, if you use a non-metal pan and you nuke in 30-second increments and stir between each). Melt. Eat with cubes of pound cake, strawberries, or whatever fruit you have on hand. Pretty darn amazing.

A quick bit of query quantification

Today's queries: 153 total

Today's requests:

Food memoirs: 1
Family memoir: 1
Women's fiction: 4
Surreal fiction: 1
YA/Historical: 3
YA/Paranormal: 2
YA/Contemporary: 1
Historical fiction: 2
Popular fiction: 2

Parents dying, leaving behind terrible secrets: 3 + last week's = 7

Collections of thoughts/stories/wisdom (all of which I rejected, though two wrote well): 3

Linked In requests/other spam: 5

Works rejected because the letter just screamed "I'm an evil author": 2

Insufficient data/wished for a sample: 3

"I've had other work published"--without specifying--never mind that a piece in, say, the New York Times could, you know, sway my opinion: 2

Requests of mine that included jokes referring to the query (one: "Yes! I AM tired of getting body-checked on the subway! I'd be happy to take a look"): 1

Requests entirely on the basis of an excellent title: 1

Authors who thought it a good idea to say, "Well, [this bestseller] and [this bestseller] had trouble getting published, and I've been trying for years, too--so that must mean I'm going to be a bestseller!": 1

Queries of 42 words or fewer: 2

Thank you notes from authors: 4

Projects that came in before I even switched over to the manuscripts account: 2
GK *may* have added the 30 Rock premiere to her Google Calendar. A few weeks ago.
Some of you have written in to see if, after the tornado that hit NYC, I've permanently relocated to Oz.

Nope. Fortunately or unfortunately (I'm a little disappointed that I missed seeing such a weather event--and, since our neighborhood suffered no more than a trash can casualty, I know I would have been okay), it hit at rush hour, so I was on the subway. I actually had no idea there'd even been a tornado until I read about it on Facebook.

Apparently the sky turned green and trees were waving "like blades of grass." Creepy. But cool.

Writing a contemporary romance? (Not sure? Take the quiz.) Want to know what a major reviewer thinks works--and doesn't work--when it comes to acknowledging and challenging the conventions of the genre?

GK's speaking with the author of a guest post that will make you laugh, cry and want to kiss the nearest  (sexy, white, rich) vampire/entrepreneur/baron/man with a private jet who wants to whisk you to Paris.

Yes, really. Stay tuned.
Today I had a meeting with a very pleasant foreign book scout.

What's selling in the world of YA abroad? (Reader, I asked him.) Dystopian fiction. And, still, paranormal--especially, for some reason, in Russia. Yes. Demons to keep you warm, I guess.

This is fitting: GK is reading Russian Debutante's Handbook for book group, and has just heard about Pravda, a Russian lounge in Nolita that supposedly specializes in infused vodka. Yes, bottles of it, frozen into a block of ice. For $30. (Do they serve it with mittens? How does one pour?) I don't even like vodka, but sure--sounds fun.
<Begin Squee>

I get to go to the Emily Dickinson house!  I get to go to the Emily Dickinson house!  I get to go to the Emily Dickinson house!

</End Squee>

Note to self: always hire interns that also work at Starbucks.

*Bounces*

This is your competition, version 4,896. Or so.

So, since we're transitioning from summer to fall interns, there's been a bit of time where we're taking turns answering the office phone. This time, I got a doozy. And while in the middle of preparing myself for the meeting with aforementioned make-up dude (AMD), too.

Him: Yeah. I called this morning, and now I'm calling again. See, I met [GK's boss] five years ago at a retreat. And we really hit it off. And now my friend has a book. It's REAL good. It's about [goes on to describe the entire book, which takes slightly less time than my reading it. Okay, it takes about 60 seconds, but it seemed like it. And no, it's not even close to a good fit for us.].

Me: (Wondering when AMD will arrive) Mmm-hmm.

Him: And I sent you a copy a week and a half ago! Why haven't you gotten back to me yet?!

Me: It takes longer than that. Also, I need more information to see if it's been entered in our system--received. See--

Him: I sent it to [wrong address by about two miles], just like your website said!

Me: (Thinking: Actually, our website says to e-mail!) That's not our address. Our correct address, if you'd like to re-send the material, is--

Him: Why don't you just get the person who lives at [other address] to bring the work over to you?

Me: Uhh...

Him: This is vitally important. The author will be in NYC next week! I need you to set up a meeting with [GK's boss]!

Me: She doesn't take meetings with authors she hasn't met.

Him: But I met her!

Me: Now, if you'd like to re-send the material, our address is--

Him: I'm not re-sending it! I'm coming to the city tomorrow!

Me: That really isn't necessary.

Him: I'm coming to the city!

Me: Okay. Then drop it in a postal box in our neighborhood. The mail is fast here. We'll get it in a day or so.

Him: I'm dropping it off!

Me: We strongly discourage authors from doing that-- (All while looking at the clock. Just where is that lipstick?!)

Him: I'M NOT AN AUTHOR! I TOLD YOU--

Me: Yes, you're the author's friend.

Him: Yes! I'm his friend! I met [GK's boss]! We're friends!

Me: (Knowing that my boss mentioned, when she heard the voice mail message, that she did not know him), Mmm-kay. Please hold.

Him: No! This book! I know her! I--

Me: Yeah. Hold, please. (Takes a moment to calm down.)

Him: This book is great! It's about (launches into the pitch again)

Me: I'm sure it is. Please mail us your materials.

Him: I'm dropping it off! I'm not leaving the city until I drop it off!

Me: Okay. I'll make an exception--a big exception--for you. You can leave it downstairs. We're in meetings all day and cannot meet with you.

Him: I'll just leave it with your office--

Me: Downstairs.

Him: With your office, and will be (gets all sarcastic) on my way. 

Me: Great. Thanks.

Him: But can't I--

[Click.]

And yes. I fully expect that he'll send a note to my boss and tell her that "whoever answers the phone" was very rude and should be taught proper phone etiquette.

It's amazing: obnoxious callers always think that whoever answers the phone is some twenty-year-old gum-smacking type who deserves treatment straight out of, say, Mad Men. At smaller agencies, quite often, it's an agent.

"How did you not lose it?" my boss asked, when I recounted the conversation.

Superhuman patience, I say. I am, officially, Super Woman. With a telephone. Which is probably a cell, since that's better for flying.

It's six a.m. Do you know where your GK is?

If you guessed "not sleeping, even though it's a perfectly good hour for sleep"--you're right!

One of the perks (and, in this case, drawbacks) of working in books (especially if you're a fiction and nonfiction agent) is that you have to be a bit of a generalist: any material that can be bound in book form is, officially, your territory. This is great, in that you can learn about all sorts of neat things. But it can be stressful, too, when you're expected to know enough to have intelligent conversations on unfamiliar topics.

So my boss sprung something on me yesterday, just before I left for the Kid Lit party--which was awesome--it was held in the historic The Ginger Man on East 36th, and I met everyone from a digital rights coordinator at a major house who says that more than 25 percent e-book royalties would shut down publishing houses--but she's very nice and wants to work in editorial; to aspiring authors, to Scholastic editors to really bouncy children's librarians. In argyle. The invite said to look for the people in glasses--and, yes, that'd be about 50 percent of those present.

So, yes, just as I was walking out the door, my boss slipped in a little, Oh yeah, and tomorrow, we're courting a high-profile make-up author. 



Um. This normally wouldn't be a problem, but I haven't read about make-up trends since my days of reading Seventeen--which, of course, no one reads past the age of fourteen or so. Walking through midtown is often like walking through a fashion magazine (it is, after all, where all of the fashion-industry people work and hang out--and they're surprisingly nice; I've shared Bryant Park tables, when they were in short supply, with these ladies, and they say sweet, absurd things like, "Oh, do you work in fashion too?"), so a stroll along these blocks feels like a frugal, 3-d equivalent to picking up a magazine.

But I've been doing research: after all, today I need to converse about concealer. Enthuse about eye shadow. Pontificate about powder and be brilliant with regard to blush and its application in late 2010.

Apparently the current brow trend is "shaped and well-groomed"--but not too thin. Eye shadow is to be two to three coordinating shades, preferably brown, gray, or "silvery blue." Or, depending on the website, gold and bronze--or one solid, enormous color--or "bright"--or "understated."  Lips are supposed to be nude/pale pink and shiny. With smoky eyes. No, wait, you're supposed to wear no makeup and bright, matte red. No, wait--

Somehow, I don't imagine the editors of Glamour, Elle, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Allure and Marie Claire picture their readers taking bullet-pointed notes. With scratch-outs. And lots of big arrows. 

Imagine GK looking something like Mel Gibson in What Women Want, trying out all those beauty care products.

Okay, of course it's not that bad. For one thing, there have been no electrocutions via hair dryer. Even if it might be cool to read minds for awhile. 

But I have spilled a vial of Daisy over everything. (I'm not sure how my friend managed, but she got a sample large enough that it can easily spill.) I don't know if it's good or bad to smell like Marc Jacobs. Supposedly this is the scent all of the Penguin edit-staffers were wearing two years ago, so if you're wondering what the editing of, say, Bed of Roses smelled like--it wasn't roses, it was daisies. (Yes, bad joke. It's early.)

So how will GK start the day? With research. 

And then a big, flaky pastry, perhaps even with layers of something creamy and sweet, to celebrate the fact that I do not work in fashion and this research is (I hope!) a one-time thing. They can keep their make-up, eyelash curlers, tweezing and exfoliation. I just want books. 
So, it's very nearly sweater weather (and, yes, GK counts the seasons by what all of the NYC women seem to decide, en masse, to wear--it always seems there are "Get your sweaters!" and "Wear heavier sweaters!" and "Switch to wool coats!" memos--though it's hard to know how to get on this mailing list), and GK is here for a little autumnal housekeeping:

1. Back up your files. Even if that just means emailing them to yourself. A writer today--one with an excellent sales record--wrote to tell me that the file for his manuscript has disappeared. Disappeared! The computer guy is coming today, he says, but--yikes. Back up your files. Years ago, a now-famous poet spoke about losing 500 pages of poems. I was in pain just thinking about it.

2. Check out this article about a Brooklyn Sci Fi writer whose death seems like something out of one of his novels. Please note that GK does not recommend lighting your apartment on fire. Or killing yourself. Both bad ideas.

3. Need something to tell the relatives who keep bothering you for choosing a creative career? Here's an article about an out-of-work lawyer who's taken up housekeeping. And is still struggling (that said, she lives on the Upper West Side, so her rent is probably $1500 minimum--most would struggle in such circumstances). And yes, she really exists--she's my friend's friend's ex.

4. Should you be in the Brooklyn area, you're likely to run into Maggie Gyllenhaal at cute little Blue Sky Bakery, featured in the Times today. And the descriptions of the muffins! Zucchini raspberry chocolate chip?! Wowza.

Also, you know how I was telling you about cupcake graffiti? Here's one specimen from East 14th Street, near the Trader Joe's. I've seen similarly fanciful cupcakes on the Upper West Side--this cupcake artist must get around. I really like how the icing is so plump and swirly.

Aaaand....Gk might have gone a bit overboard.

Allow me to explain. One of the perks of living in NYC is that you end up with a lot of friends who do really cool things. Now, not everyone has this perk (I imagine it's much more difficult to have interesting friends if you work in, say, investment banking--apologies to any i-bankers out there!) but, simply because there's a very limited amount of space, the interesting-people-to-square-block ratio is very high. It's a Darwinian city, but sometimes in a good way. 

And GK's been asking these interesting friends to guest post.

So, so far, we have the following who have verbally agreed to my prodding (and occasional bribery--hey, what's the point of bringing arancini balls to a party, as I did on Friday, if they can't be used for guest post bribes?): 
  • A reporter, who works for a major NYC paper. Don't you wonder about her crazy life? I did. I just heard little snippets of stories about what it was like to be paid to write about the world, as it happens. She's got stories, let me tell you. And, yes, "the scoop," too. 
  • An assistant to an editor at a small but prominent NYC press.
  • A (former--but the memories linger on...) member of the production team (yes, the non-editorial people who make books happen) at one of the "big six" publishing houses in NYC.
  • And as previously mentioned, a major player in the book reviewing industry.  
If you have any questions for any of them, let me know. I'm putting together interviews as we speak (or, more accurately, munch. I got this incredible heirloom eggplant which I have been pan-frying in paper-thin slices. It's AMAZING). And, as much as I'd love to have a series of personal essays, I think only some of them will agree--though they all write brilliantly.

But yes. Questions more than welcome. 

GK reporting live from Brooklyn Book Fest. It may be raining, but the lineup is mind-blowing (so too is the schedule--organized impossibly, as if we were in Berkeley, not Brooklyn). And the indoor spaces, like this one, are quite pretty. Just saw Jennifer Egan; waiting for a new panel, including Elizabeth Nunez, to begin. Then Sam Lipsyte and Rakesh Satyal. Sweet!
Are you anywhere near Brooklyn?

Come to these amazing free events at the Brooklyn Book Fest!

It's so much awesome in so little time. I'm overwhelmed.
After years of writing workshops, GK now hates this phrase.

But if you must use it, at least use it correctly. Courtesy of Merriam Webster online:

Should You "Flush Out" or "Flesh Out" Your Plan?
To counter the long post from yesterday (which yes, Kate, is time I could have spent writing--thank you) :) I bring you a very short post today.

Ahem: do not break your manuscript into a gazillion files. Do not break it by chapter. Do not break it by section. Do not (oh please please please) break it into pages. Send one complete file, your entire manuscript, instead. And one file that is your synopsis. Two total.

Why...?

I cannot read them on my Kindle.*
And so my interest starts to dwindle.
Why do you make me cut and paste?
For, to me, it is time waste.
I'd love to love your character
I'd turn the page--but that file's...where?**
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
So merge your files. And keep your ham.

In other news, GK does not recommend soy ham.

* And yes, technically, I can. But usually at least one part gets lost, it never comes through in order, and then Amazon gets to charge 15 cents per file. So I end up cutting and pasting into one big file. Grrr.

**And you'd do something to take a reader out of the story...why? No. Not good.

Hang out with Snarky and GK--live!

As inspired by this post, and the WriteOnCon (which is awesome and likely the conference style of the future--and GK will participate soon--email if you'd like details), Snarky and GK bring you...Snarky & GK's happy hour! Log in, have a drink, and hang out with us. We can't promise we'll be especially useful, but we're likely to be rather amusing.

Date, time, and location all TBA (probably a Thursday at 9 pm EST). We're in the market for some free chat room services everyone can easily access (suggestions welcome).

This won't be a serious, conference-style chat, but rather an opportunity for all of this blog's lovely followers to hang out.

Updates to follow.

Agent Triage

As previously mentioned, this time of year is kind of ridiculous. I get into the coffee, (Freudian slip! I meant office!) and I can feel the blood change in my veins: it's sort of a cross between AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHH, I'll never keep up! and OMG there is so much awesome. I am overloading on awesome. This is like eating an entire pint of Phish Food and not caring about the approaching stomachache awesome. (Yes, GK likes the little chocolate fishies.) 

Though I no longer get to have the yearly ritual of sharpening pencils (that smell! That delicious smell!), trying out new pens (always the ones that make a mark like liquid ink Pilots), deciding between wide or college-ruled (always college) and binders (I do miss the Lisa Frank--and even Trapper Keepers) and erasers and white-out and those donut-shaped stickers that reinforce binder holes--there's still something special. The leaves are rustling differently; I can tell they're starting to dry and think about changing colors. The NYU and Columbia kids have shown up, and the city is overflowing with OMG NYC is AMAZING and all my dreams are going to come true! Here! Right now! excitement. And Starbucks is releasing their pumpkin-flavored products. I can't wait for those cream cheese pumpkin cupcakes. 

But what's happening in the meantime? Well. I've been avoiding looking at my queries inbox because, quite frankly, I'm kind of terrified. My guess? 800-something. Here we go...and....

158. Wow! I guess everyone is on vacation too. 

Manuscripts waiting? GK's guess: 130. 

Actual manuscripts? 128. Ha! Off by two. But there are a few that were sent to my account, so add about 10 more. 

Contracts to edit a final time: 1

Clients' manuscripts to edit: 2. 

Angry author check-ins: 6

Polite author check-ins: 2. 

Publishing parties coming up this week: 2. One Brooklyn Book Mingle or something-or-other (same people), one KidLit. 

Former intern to meet for drinks (yesterday): 1. We had frozen cosmopolitans, which were like red slurpees + vodka...but in a good way. 

Interns to interview: 6

Out-of-town guests expected: 1

Housewarming to help throw for a friend who finally realized, after years in Manhattan, that Brooklyn is the way to go: 1

Cards to send: 3 (one birthday, one thank you, one "I miss you, you're in France"). I'm on a huge real mail kick, even if it's a dollar and takes a week (!) to get stuff to France. 

Times this week I've wished I didn't kill my color printer, so I could print cards with images of my choosing: 4-5

IKEA desk chairs assembled, thus invalidating my last excuse for not writing: 1. I had to use an oven mitt to avoid harming my hands while using their included wrench-like tool. Felt pretty buff...but now I have to, you know, write stuff. And find something for its four feet, so it doesn't ruin my floor.  

* * *

What does all of this mean? GK's been really, really busy. 

Now, all agents are busy. All the time. Some handle it better than others. Some (like Snarky) drink a lot. (Though I think he exaggerates about how much he drinks at work.) Some (though not so much any more) blog about how they have stacks of manuscripts everywhere--on the stove, under the cat. Some start blasting form-rejects in every which direction, just to clear their desks. Some go into hiding. And some put up auto-responses and start revising their website's guidelines for how and when to check in. 

But there's a general order of priorities for us, and by knowing our psychology, you can better gauge when to check in with us, and how. 

By the way, a few of you from this blog checked in with me this week, and I'm not talking about you. You are always lovely. I'm referring to the uninformed masses here.

First of all. Here's now not check in on a manuscript (yes, actual material from the past two weeks):

Dear GK,
At your early convenience, I would appreciate an update on where you are with [Manuscript]. If the book is to cause the change in today’s thinking about [subject matter] it must sell extensively.

I forwarded [Manuscript] to you for consideration in late July. At that time I discontinued all efforts to find an agent, as I felt it might be counterproductive to the Agency’s representation of it.

I am mailing a hard copy of it to you separately as it is too lengthy to email easily.
Sincerely,
[Author]



Then the author overnighted a copy of her book. $16 in postage! Way to make GK feel awful.

As I mentioned before, it's never a good idea to give an agent an unrequested exclusive--especially without telling them about it! And don't spend so darn much on postage. Priority mail, if you must mail something hard copy, is just fine.

As a follow-up, this did not work. This was received last week, and I haven't gotten back to her. Why?

Because whenever I think about it, I feel guilty. Guilt is the least productive emotion to evoke in an agent.

Now, all agents feel some amount of guilt all of the time. There's simply no way that we can keep up. There will always be at least a few authors we don't get back to in a timely fashion. So we develop a tolerance for guilt--we learn to live with it, and in some cases, repress it. Giving us more guilt  won't get us to hop-to; it'll make us try not to think about you and your manuscript. Will we feel instantly better when we get back to you? Yes. Does that mean that, like a kid who has a report due in two weeks, we'll get right on that? No.

* * *

Here's how we usually prioritize:

  1. Our clients. Always first, unless they've done something like gone on Jerry Springer and ranted about their agents. Bad behavior makes us prioritize other clients first.  
  2. Other agency stuff to do. There's always something, whether it's preparing for meetings or finding interns or planning parties for authors that belong to the agency but aren't, personally, ours. 
  3. The authors we're most excited about, whose work we've read a little of and/or know will be good. We know we have to say Yes before another agent does. These works get placed immediately on Kindles and are read whenever possible.
  4. The requested manuscripts. 
  5. Requesting work from queries.
  6. Rejecting manuscripts
  7. Rejecting queries
In other words, saying Yes is of much higher priority than saying No. Saying yes is exciting and needs to be done quickly; saying No is uncomfortable and, sometimes, we're not sure--and the no is quite reluctant. However, this doesn't mean that a longer wait is necessarily a no--it sometimes just means that we haven't read your work yet and will get excited about it when we do. Sometimes queries don't do manuscripts justice--or are just good enough to get a request.

So, when your work comes in, it gets quickly sorted into one of three groups:

  1. Totally amazing. Read right-effing-now. I mark these with a bright green Promising label. Thank you, Gmail. 
  2. Not sure yet. Will have to read.
  3. Reluctantly requested. If, for example, an author has an amazing platform but I don't like their query (but feel obligated to request it), the work goes here.
Then, after reading about fifty pages, they're sorted again:
  1. OMFG. I'm finishing this right now. If I had a desk of manuscripts, I would, like in the movies, pick up everything else and shove it off. 
  2. Mehhhh. Not sure. I'll have the interns read it to see what they think. Then, if they say no and I disagree and worry about losing it, I'll read the rest; if they say yes and I still don't feel excited about it, I'll know to say no. 
  3. Next! Marked to reject later. Sometimes I read things the same day they came in--and make decisions that day, too. Or I'll be home, reading the manuscript at 11 pm--and won't, of course, email the author then. This leads to an unfortunate impression for the author, so I'll wait a few days.
Also, another dirty secret: if we're not sure about a manuscript, we'll sit on it. Think about it. See if it keeps popping up in our brains. If it does, it gets another look. If not--and if no one else gives it an offer (another reason to never grant exclusives!)--we edge toward No. 

There you have it--GK in the midst of manuscript triage. 

Hope this finds you well, happy, and pencil shaving-scented,

GK

World vs. creatures; contemporary vs. paranormal

Also, a distinction I finally articulated when at drinks with my former intern last night: in terms of paranormal fading out and contemps fading in, it's not necessarily the unusual world that's going out of style--but the creatures.

For example, dystopian, steam punk, period pieces, and (human) ghost stories still, I think, have a lot of time left in them. There are other examples; those are just the ones that come immediately to mind.

So long as there are no vampires, werewolves, etc., I think you're good.

Again, am I advising that you toss out your creatures if you're just finishing a work with them now? No. There are always works that are purchased against the fashion. But they're nearing their expiration date, and my guess is that most will be out of style by the winter.

And the winner is...!

Best poetic license as rejection letter: Lt. Cccyxx

Best use of Mormon Vampire Porn: kate

Best unprofessional-but-he-wishes-he-could-use-it-anyway query: Terry Stonecrop

Best entry and blog post to appeal to Snarky's vanity: Julie Lindsay

And the winner is... [drumroll, please]

Theresa Milstein! Snarky loved her sarcastic tone, which fits him like a custom-tailored suit and hi-tops--and, with fill-in-the-blank rejections, Snarky has more time to drink at work. Oh, yes, and read more queries!

GK Fail

So, GK had a last-minute invite--to camp out at a (friend of a friend's) beach shack. You know what you think about when you have those invites (assuming all supposed hurricanes have passed)? Nothing. It was literally steps from the water, with sand that felt like walking in brown sugar. It had a woven floor, minimal electricity, and a vacuum cleaner for all of the sand that, naturally, came in. What didn't it have? 3G signal. Hence the lack of contest announcement.

Not to worry. Though my hair's still wet and Snarky's probably wondering if a seal ate me, the winner will be announced (barring further invites) tonight.
I can assure you, I said a very impolite word when I saw this:

Oxford English Dictionary 'will not be printed again'


All of this has GK worried. Imagine how easy it would be for future evil rulers to discard our books--no book-burnings necessary! Just delete the files from Amazon--and there wouldn't even be the fun of playing with fire. (Then again, GK worries about things like, "And what if, one day, there were no more electricity?")

Sigh.

Deadline approaches!

If, like GK, you're a procrastinator--well, then make that coffee, down those sugary snacks, and chain yourself to your desk, because the Snarky Rejection Contest ends at midnight tonight!

Author does The Carlton Dance; GK gets nostalgic for the 90s.


So I told one of my authors that his book contract is ready. 

He responded by saying that he's doing "The Carlton Dance." 

"The what?" I asked. 

Then he sent me this link. And I can picture it perfectly.

Themes in this week's reading

I've spoken about the (sometimes disconcerting) way that a number of writers who are not communicating with each other will often send me incredibly similar works in a short period of time. Here's what's been most common this week:
  1. Dead parents who leave behind shocking secrets. Four this week.
  2. Books vaguely resembling The Road. Most feature female protagonists who get violent pretty quickly. Sometimes I cheer them on, sometimes I wish I hadn't read the manuscript with lunch. Three so far.
  3. Hipster fiction. The sort of thing that makes you think of Gary Shteyngart's description of how to behave at a Paris Review party. Not badly written, but not for me. Around four or five manuscripts, to varying degrees. See minute 1:29 in the video below: 


I saw Mr. Shteyngart read a few weeks ago. It was like stand-up comedy hour. He's much funnier in person. In this video, I found him simply bizarre. But his impression of partygoers is, unfortunately, spot-on. 
In very cool news, one of my friends--a reviewer at a major book reviewing outlet, and hilarious to boot--has agreed to write a guest post.
May I just say that your entries in the Snarky rejection contest are really rather wonderful?

Yes. I am simply delighted.

The first week of September is always something of an avalanche (perhaps flood is more apt: we've been reaching 90 degrees by ten in the morning; Frosty wouldn't have a chance), and I'm slogging through, seeing wonderful things go by at high email speeds while trying to keep head above water. We've received several manuscripts that make me want to abandon all other duties (contracts? Editors? Deals? Forget them!) and curl up with with (iced) tea, Kindle and scone (and yes--what luck!--I have one in my bag).

It's a relay race through hot, so-humid-it-feels-solid air. GK's got a list of household chores that have been put on hold. You know those ads where mops miss the woman who switched to Swiffer? My mop's given up hope, but without the bittersweet comfort of knowing it was for someone else. Wonderful vegetables go uneaten in favor of instant street meat (or, in my case, street vegetable samosas and curry fries). Every evening has a new, necessary, wonderful but tiring social obligation/book event/cultural event.

I haven't even finished Mockingjay.

Yes. It's that bad.

Then again, I have a problem finishing books I love: I don't want them to be over. I want more!

In other news, we're expecting a hurricane. The rain may be powerful enough that it'll shut down the subway.

Good times, good times.

New and different ways to annoy GK. In one of the busiest weeks of the year.

And yes: this is your competition.

1) Call the office while drunk. At 10:30 in the morning.

2) Insist on reading our entire GLA listing (the list of books we've sold) to us.

3) Ask twice if we're interested and/or prefer comical works.

4) Insist all of our works, from their titles, sound comical. Therefore you're a good fit. Then slur, "But I'm a very serious writer."

5) Argue when I say that some are, in fact, not humor pieces. Some are actually quite serious.

6) Refuse to send a query unless you get to speak to an agent. Refuse to believe me when I say I am one.

7) Tell me that you showed up--ten, twelve, or was it twenty-three?--years ago and spoke with someone over the intercom from the lobby. Or was it the phone? No, it was definitely the lobby.

8) Ask, "Can I take just a little more of your time? See, all of your titles really look comical...Does she [my boss] prefer humorous works?"

9) Ask, "How do I pronounce her name? Is it [wrong pronunciation]?" Me: "No, it's [correct pronunciation]." You: "Ah, [original wrong pronunciation]. Of course."

10) After being told, kindly but firmly, to send a letter--at least three times--and after hearing that it's a good idea to include all of this information in the query--say, "Fine. FINE! Fine. I'll do that." Get sarcastic. "Thank you for everything."

[Click.] Four minutes, thirty-eight seconds gone.