Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Fine Art of Querying

For those that don't know, I've got a novel I've written that I'm trying to get published.  So this month, I'm sending out another round of queries.  My usual approach has been to put together a list of a dozen or so agents that I think might be interested in my book, do a bit or research on each to make sure there aren't any red flags (not taking my genre anymore, died, left agenting, serious complaints of possible scam, etc.), then polish up the query letter and send them out.

Usually, if something catches my eye in the research, I'll try to add in a couple sentences about why I chose that particular agent to send to.  But If nothing jumps out, I just send the query without it.

Lately, though, I've noticed a trend -every single request I've gotten (full or partial) has been from a query that I had that personalized paragraph in.  Now, not every personalized one has gotten a request, but none of the non-personalized ones did.  So this time I'm trying to make sure that every one I send has something personal to say.  I guess it makes sense, if I can't think of even one special reason why I want this person as my agent, other than they have a proven track record of good sales in my genre, then maybe I should reconsider them as an agent.

So far, I've got about a half dozen or so that I've got really good ideas for personalizing.  The biggest problem with some is finding information on them.  Some just don't have much web presence at all, even some established ones.  It takes a lot of digging to find anything to work with.  But there are some great resources out there.  I've put some in my links on this blog, like Literary Rambles, which is a wonderful place to find YA agents. 

Also, if you are starting to query, I strongly suggest Query Shark, a blog by a wonderful agent who gives a lot of tips on creating a good query.  Read the site, read the archives.  Do understand this is one agent's take, so YMMV, but it really was a big help to me just in rethinking how I was writing my query.  I know after I reformatted my query after reading her site, I got a lot more positive responses from agents.

One thing I've found this time around, in researching agents I've twice found out that the agent I was interested in was about to be part of a query contest through a blog.  So I jumped in right away and got my query out there in front of the agent.  I've gotten some good feedback and even wound up tweaking my query a bit as a result of comments on those contests.  Even got one request for a partial out of it, so far.  So look for contests like this, too (for one agent, I just happened to check her Twttier feed for the first time right after she announced she'd be doing the contest, which was at the last minute to enter).  They seem to be fun, but intimidating, since everyone can comment on your query, though my experiences have been very positive.
Well, guess I'd better get back to the querying.  If anyone has their own tips and tricks for querying, please share them in the comments.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Identity Theft Sucks, But At Least You Can Do Something About It

So this all started a few days ago. 

First, I received a letter from a collection agency for a credit card I never opened, that was closed back in 2000.  We've argued with them before.  The last big one was back in '07, when I tried, again, to get the police to file a report on it as ID theft, just to get the collection agency to back off.  Sadly, it was past any statute of limitations, so they wouldn't even take the report.  But I had told the agency and the original bank that it was fraud repeatedly.   (When I tried filing a police report in 2000, the police where I lived then told me it was a civil matter, and not their problem.) 

Then last year, while going over my Free Annual Credit Report ( and found the fraudulent card was still being reported on one of them.  However, the woman I talked to at their customer service line was very friendly and helpful.  I got that removed from my report, along with a name, another Social Security number and a couple of addresses that didn't belong. 

So flash forward to this week.  I get the letter asking for over $500 to settle the account (which has now grown to over $5000).  I called them to tell them, again, that it was fraudulent.  They again said they need a police report to do anything about it.  So I tried to figure out what to do, since it was so long ago now.

Then on Wednesday, I get a letter from Capital One saying they think someone was trying to open a fraudulent card in my name with my Social Security number.  I call them immediately.  The woman I talk to is polite and helpful and we get the application denied.  However, she tells me they can't give me any information about the application.  I'd have to file a police report and have them request it.

So back to the police.  Though with a first stop to one of the credit agencies to place a Fraud Alert on my account.  Luckily, they say they'll file it with the other two as well.  To save time, I leave it at that, for now. 

When i talk to the police, the guy taking the report is friendly, but not very hopeful.  He takes what little information I have (Capitol One, the date, and the Case Number) and tells me they can't get any more information without a grand jury subpoena.  Great, just great.

When I post a comment about all this on Facebook, a friend tells me to file an ID Theft report with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).  I check their website for consumer fraud protection.  The information there is great, though there is a lot.  At one point, despite the fact that it is well-organized and very readable, I felt a bit of information overload.  Just so much there.

But I easily found the form to fill out to file a complaint.  And they even have a cover letter for law enforcement to go with it when you file a police report and a cover letter to send with it to the CRAs (Credit Reporting Agencies).  All very user-friendly.  

Also, I find out that I was told wrong.  In fact, the law says that all I need is a copy of the FTC complaint form and a copy of the police report to request the fraudulent application for the bank.  Oh, but I had to make the request in writing. 

So, today I need to print out my copy of the FTC report, with the cover letter for law-enforcement, and drop it with the police.  Then I'll need to get a copy of the police report, once it's available.  Hopefully, in a week or two, I'll be able to send those out to Capital One and get the information on the application.  Don't know what happens then, but at least I may find out something about who's doing it this time.

And actually, after reading the FTC site and going through the reporting process, I may go back and file a complaint on the one from 2000 as well.  Nothing they can do about whoever did it now, but at least it's on record and maybe sending a copy of the FTC report to the collection agency will be enough to get them to finally back off.

Well, my advice to everyone out there is this: go to the FTC website, even if you haven't been victimized by ID theft, yet.  Read what's there.  It will make you so much better prepared in case it happens.  I know it would have saved me a lot of time and fear if I'd known my rights and what to do from the start. 

If you think you have been a victim, or could be (had ID like wallet, purse, etc, lost or stolen and so on), contact the three CRAs (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) and file a Fraud Alert.  Then contact the FTC and file a report there.  Then file with the police.  It will save you time and aggravation. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What Do You Call Work?

Just read an interesting post.  Miss Snark's First Victim - Friday Fricassee  In the post, Authoress asks the question of writers, when someone asks what you're doing, do you say "writing" or "working"?

An interesting point made is that a lot of artistic types, don't say "working".  An actor may say they have a rehearsal or are practicing lines.  A painter is painting, a writer is writing, etc.

So why is creative work labeled differently than "normal" work?  And should it be?

I can see why people use other terms than "work" for artistic work.  I think part of it is that most people can't do it, so they don't relate to it like they would to a "real" job.  They see it as doing something you enjoy, so how is that work?  It's even worse if you're not supporting yourself financially through your art.  Then it's just a hobby, right?  So how is that work?

To be fair, I also know a lot of people who have similar impressions of professional athletes, they're just playing games, so how is that work?  Especially, why do these people make all that money for playing games?

So maybe the real question should  be why do we have such an ambivalent attitude towards work?  

There was a guy I used to work with, many companies ago, who was called (for reasons not related to this story) Crazy Jeff. During the time I knew him, Jeff was probably in his early to mid 30s, and we worked at a chemical plant.  Nothing too hazardous, especially compared to some of the places I've worked since.

While I knew him, every time someone left the company (voluntarily or not) Jeff would always say, "They can't leave, they haven't suffered enough yet."

The weird part was, while no one really would say they agreed with him, no one really objected to the idea either.  It was like they all felt it was unfair that they had to stay in such a crapsack job, while these people got to leave, probably for somewhere better (better pay, better benefits, better conditions, etc.).  The interesting part, to me, was the automatic assumption that anywhere else would be an improvement.

To be fair, I have worked at places since then that have been both much better and much worse than that one was, even for the guys in production.  But I've seen the same attitude at many of them, even some of the better ones.     

So why doesn't everyone follow the advice of Joseph Campbell: "Follow your bliss"?

Of course, who's bliss would involve most of the jobs shown on the series Dirty Jobs?  Seriously, there are a lot of jobs that are necessary for our society to continue, even ones that aren't so obviously disgusting, that I doubt most people would qualify as following their bliss.  Maybe there are some people who would love to spend their days amortizing mortgages or typing and sorting employee records.  But I've never met ones that really love their factory jobs, at least not at the chemical plants I've worked for.  Some did feel they were the best jobs they'd had, but it was still just what they did for a paycheck.  It's not like they'd do this on their own time.

So maybe that's part of the problem, we view work, to paraphrase Twain, as that which we have to do, while play is what we choose to do.  So if you love your job, it isn't work.  But since so many of these jobs have to be done, we have this idea of the superiority of suffering.  Those with the worst jobs, who suffer the most, have a certain pride, because those with easy jobs are just playing.

It seems kind of screwed up to me.  But then again, without that sense of pride, how could you keep on doing those kinds of jobs?  I mean, is it really worth the paycheck?  I've even had jobs where I had to justify to myself why I was doing them for the crappy paycheck I was getting.  So I tell myself the job was important, or that there was something good about it.  I had to convince myself that it was worth spending my time doing it, in direct contrast to the obvious fact that it was a crappy job, I hated it, and it didn't pay me nearly enough.

So is it okay to say we're working, even if we love what we do?  Personally, I think so.  I think if it is what you are doing, especially if it is something you get paid for, then it's work.  If it's something you are doing that you aren't getting paid for yet, I think it can still be work, especially if you are trying to get paid for it.  I am writing.  I haven't sold any of my books yet.  However, it's still work, because I'm trying to sell them.  I also include the time I spend researching agents, preparing queries and so on as part of my work as well.  I'll also count the time I spend studying the craft of writing, editing, publishing and so on as part of my work, because it is.

But I also love doing all that stuff.

So what about everyone else?  Work, play, hobby, love suffering, what are your thoughts?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year! Now What?

So it's now 2012, the end of the Mayan Long-Count Calender.  I guess that's as good a reason as any for making plans for this year.  I think I like the idea of plans more than resolutions, because most people treat resolutions as things they think they should do, but  maybe don't really want to do (like giving up smoking or bad eating habits), or don't want to do the work to get there (like exercising or losing weight).  It's more of an intention, but with nothing to back it up.

With a plan, you have a goal, as well as an idea how you'll actually get there.  Now all you need is the will to accomplish it.

My plan for this year is to finally get my book published.  I've spent the last few years searching for an agent.  This year, I plan to make a more aggressive search, while also exploring other options.  I've already done some research on options for self-publishing it as an e-book.  Probably start with Amazon and Smashwords, since they seem to give me the widest audience the quickest.  That is, if I can't find an agent before the end of the year.

I've got my list together, about 25 carefully selected and researched agents that actually sell in my field (contemporary YA), are open to submissions, and seem to be people I would enjoy working with.  Also, ones who seem like they would be interested in my particular work.

I have the first couple of queries in this set out already.  I plan to have the rest out by the end of this week.  Then I give them a reasonable amount of time to respond, while getting the next round of potentials together.  If I keep this up for the rest of the year, I should either find an agent, or exhaust all the worthwhile possibilities.  :)

Now don't get me wrong, I'd love to get a big contract with one of the Big 6 publishing houses.  Something with a huge advance (okay, mid to upper 5 figures would be nice, and far more possible than dreaming of those 7 figure advances).  But I'm realistic.  There are a lot of books out there.  Some are great, some aren't.  And quality doesn't always dictate what gets published by the Big 6.  They've all put out their share of the literary equivalent of Warterworld over the years.  (Obviously, considering how many books they lose money on each year)  Maybe my book is the shining gem I think it is, but even then it may never find the right agent, the right editor to take a chance on it.

But I have enough faith in myself and in the work to try.  And if I don't find them, I have enough faith to go it alone.  I'm also realistic enough to know that self-publishing isn't going to be a golden path to easy money either.  There will be up-front costs I wouldn't have with a traditional publisher, like editing, cover art, ad copy, and so on.  I'll have to handle it all, and pay for anything I can't do myself.  But I'm already looking into alternatives there, if the need arises. 

So I have my plan and my back-up plan for this year.  How about anyone else out there?