It happens every year

That’s it. I’m blogged out. I knew I was getting pretty desperate when I started telling you about my reading chair, though I do really love it. In fact, when I finish this blog post I’m going to go settle down and finish a manuscript I’ve been dying to get to. But seriously, what more do I have to say? In part, I’m tired from traveling the past two weeks, and my brain refuses to do anything more than required.

So, I’m calling on you, dear readers, to help me out. Who’s got questions? I’m happy to answer some shorter ones, and I’ll keep the bigger questions for future blog posts. But big or small, I’ll try to answer them all. And, the same rules apply here as do when I’m at conferences: try to keep your questions general. Don’t ask things specifically about the book you’re writing, or ask what you should do in a particular situation. I’m hoping these can be helpful for as many people as possible.  So ask away!

35 Responses to It happens every year

  1. Dale Basye says:

    What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow? And how will this number translate to digital sales?

  2. Michael says:

    Thank goodness the first question is a serious one! Now, to the first question, we need to clarify: African or European? I need that information before I can to the calculations for the latter question.

  3. Jennifer says:

    My question is can you savage a cliche manuscript? Is it better some times to just abandon a novel and start on a new project?

    • Michael says:


      That’s a very good, if difficult, question. I think, in your first sentence, you mean “salvage,” and I do think it’s possible to edit and work on something that doesn’t come out right in the first draft. You can abandon everything that isn’t perfect on the first try. That said, if you’ve worked on a novel for many drafts and the same problems persist in the tenth draft as did in the first, it might be time to move on.


  4. Emily says:

    Have you found a good burbon? Does drinking hard liquor help when reading serious fiction? What about when reading frivolous ficton?

  5. MS says:

    I have a (serious) question about the publishing industry as it relates to the rotten economy. Is the consensus that the public is feeling dark and will therefore want to read about dark characters or that the lighter read is more of a welcome distraction?

  6. My question is about middle grade fiction: do you prefer it to be written in 3rd person or 1st or does it even matter?

    • Michael says:


      The book should be written in the right voice for the book. While more MG fiction is written in third person, that certainly doesn’t make it the only way to do things! I love a good first person MG.


  7. Cricket Chase says:

    What does it mean when an agent you sent you full to hasn’t made a peep for roughly three/four months [other than “I’ve got it.”] and you can see via Query Tracker that they’re still continuously requesting fulls in the meantime and shooting said fulls down left and right.

    Is no news REALLY good news or is it just NO NEWS?

    Whan does no news quietly turn into “lost in the shuffle”?

    • Michael says:


      Write to the agent to check in. It may have been lost in the shuffle or you didn’t receive the reply, or it’s possible that’s it’s taking longer because the agent is reading the entire manuscript. Don’t know until you ask. (Just make sure that the agency’s submission guidelines don’t ask for longer to review–if they ask that you don’t follow up for 6 months, I wouldn’t suggest checking in until that point.)


  8. NAP says:

    Why don’t agents like anthropomorphic animal stories? There are some great ones out there that have won the Newbery and still others are perennial favorites for generations of children.

  9. Sarah says:

    I have two questions actually, if that’s allowed.
    1. If you’re querying agents and forget to attach pages per the submission guidelines, is it ok to follow up when you realize your mistake and re-query with the material?

    2. What should you do if several agents request partials or fulls and you later realize one of them expected an exclusive? Contact the agent and say “Oops, my bad. I sent this to other agents after you.”?


    • Michael says:


      Checking with the judges…and yes! They’ll allow two questions. Then again, the judges are me.

      1. I wouldn’t re-query. If an agent likes the pitch, they aren’t going to reject you for forgetting to submit pages. But they may not be pleased to get another query from the same person that they haven’t yet even had a chance to consider.

      2. Honesty is always the best policy. Be sure to quickly let the agent know that you didn’t understand at first that their request was for an exclusive, and that you couldn’t grant that request because you’ve decided to also submit manuscript to other requesting agents.


  10. Kim says:

    In general, how do you feel about brief mentions in a query of ideas for marketing the manuscript if selected and published (fiction)? Is that presumptuous? Does it reflect professionalism? Cart before the horse?

    • Michael says:


      For me, that is putting the cart before the horse. I love authors with marketing and publicity ideas, but I care about the work first and foremost. I’d prefer to talk promotion after we’ve decided to work together. Now, if you have a platform, that I want to hear about. Meaning, if you’re on TV, have a radio show, get millions of hits on your website, have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers, that you should tell me.


  11. Thanks for opening up to questions. For a writer who was ready to make a choice between seeking agency representation or making a choice to explore self-publishing, what are the top three business factors that you would advise them to consider in regards to the somewhat unsettled dynamics and economics of today’s market? (and making the kind of big assumption that the writer had already received extensive reliable professional feedback on the planning, execution, other art and technical aspects of the piece).

    I have read a fair amount of other advice on the topic, but not comprehensively and not much from an agent’s perspective.

    • Michael says:


      That’s a good but very, very difficult question to answer generally. It’s something that must be determined on a case by case basis, because it requires knowledge of the work, the author’s career up to this point, personality, time commitment, ability to self-promote, and a constantly changing market. No two cases are alike.

      But I think sort of answers your question, right?


  12. Julie Nilson says:

    I’ve been a corporate writer for almost 20 years, and in that time I’ve written a few nonfiction books for clients–mostly healthcare management-related. I’m listed in the credits inside, but the organization is listed on the cover as the “author.”

    So my question is: Do agents care about these types of books? Should I mention this experience in my queries or is it irrelevant?

    • Michael says:


      I’d absolutely like to know about any relevant writing work. And co-authoring published books is most definitely relevant!


      • Julie Nilson says:

        Thank you! I hope you don’t mind that I have a follow-up question: The bulk of my corporate writing is under my married name. If you Google it, you’ll get pages and pages of results for the various press releases and hospital management articles I’ve written over the years.

        For this reason (and because my married last name is hard to pronounce), I’ve been using my maiden name for my fiction work. My newly started blog is under this name, since I wanted that to come up near the top of the Google results if any agents or other publishing professionals looked me up. I’m just getting started–I’ve submitted short stories to a few contests and my novel manuscript is still a work in progress–so my maiden name isn’t exactly well-established in the fiction-writing world yet.

        So my question is: Am I complicating things by using separate names for my corporate writing and my fiction writing? Would it be smarter to just use the same name for both?

        • Michael says:

          I don’t mind a follow-up, at all! I don’t think you’re complicating things at all. Many writers use their maiden name for one type of writing and their married name for another. And since the writing is so different, I think it’s probably good that a search won’t bring up both your new blog and tons of technical writing.


  13. Rowan says:

    If an agent asks what other projects you have on the go — and assuming that you do have a couple because you’ve been writing a while — how many would you send in the reply? Would you do a full query for each of them (without the introductory and closing bits) or is it better to summarize each of them down to a single paragraph?

    • Michael says:

      That’s tricky. It somewhat depends on how many projects you have. If it’s ten, I wouldn’t say so! You don’t want the agent to feel overwhelmed. I’d suggest you mention two or three. No need to send an entire query. Rather, I’d send a one or two sentence description of each, so the agent understand the category and general idea. He can ask for more information if he needs it.


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