The Micro-Autobiography Writing Challenge: Winners!

20100216writingchallengeblog It's time to announce the winners of the bi-weekly writing challenge. If you're new to the challenges (or to WEbook) these are short writing exercises geared towards helping authors improve a specific aspect of their craft while promoting healthy discourse between contestants.

We received 190 submissions to The Micro-Autobiography Challenge. Thanks for all of the great glimpses into your lives—it was interesting to get such an in-depth (albeit concise) look into the WEbook community. 

The winners:

Bumps, Bruises, Scars and Smiles by Silverwolf21
A Look Inside by WordsAndMusic
Not done yet by Matineeidol

Honorable Mention:

No Miracle Comes in Two's by Klemenkie8

Congratulations to all of the winners, you will receive a coupon code in your inbox soon!

The next writing challenge is only open for a few more days, so hop over to The Non-Dialogue Challenge, if you haven't already. We still need another 75 submissions to double the number of winners. This one is trickier than some of the most recent challenges, so bring your figurative writing work gloves.

If you need some inspiration for you entry, check out the past winners of the Travel Scene and The Cheating writing challenges.  

And before you do ANYTHING else, be sure to read Silverwolf21's winning micro-autobiography:

Bumps, Bruises, Scars and Smiles

Memphis, DeFuniak Springs, Vancouver, and Albany. A chicken bone stuck in my throat. Hyper-extending my knee Christmas morning. Crying harder than my brother when I gave him his first stitch.  Croaking like a frog while singing Mariah Carey's 'Hero.' Redding, Anderson, Quincy, Modesto, Redwood City and Wichita Falls. Shoving my front tooth through my bottom lip. Singing my younger sister to sleep 2 nights before her heart surgery. Dugway. A book, music, and Dr. Pepper. 

Author Corey Whaley On His Writing Techniques and Habits

Wherethingscomebacklogo Since my last post, Good God Bird's Flight to a New Name, I’ve gone back to my “day job” of teaching public school. I’ve taught every grade from 6th through 12th, but this year I teach Gifted English to 7th and 8th graders and, while it is a completely different and amazing experience, it hasn’t left me much time to even think about writing.  

Most days, for the past month or so, I come home and take naps instead of working on storylines or drafting ideas for characters. I wrote, once before, about juggling work with writing and at the time I didn't realize that I am a completely unmotivated writer when I’m distracted. I know this to be the case because as soon as I get myself away from work for just a few days, I am drawn back to my laptop…sentences dangling on the edge of my mind.

Since all of this book business has come about, people often ask me: “What’s your writing regimen?” “How many hours a day do you spend writing?” “Do you set goals for yourself as far as how much you’ll write per week?”

And, sadly, the answer to all of the above is that I have no plan for how and when I write. Sometimes I go months without writing a word. Sometimes I go a few days. My most recent bout of writer’s block? Five weeks and counting.

So, do I let it stress me out? Do I succumb to the pressures of a world that is more comfortable with people doing things in a uniform, structured manner? Or, do I continue the way I’ve always done things concerning my writing—wait around until inspiration strikes me and then fly with as many words/ideas I can manage to get out in a single sitting? I prefer the latter. Why? Because, to me, that’s just the way I’m supposed to work at this. I know there are so many writers out there who spend hours a day pounding away at their keyboards or huddled on a sofa with a pen and pad or even talking into a tape recorder. But, for me, every time I try to introduce structure into my writing, I seem to fail miserably. With my first novel, I waited and waited and then, one day, I started up on page 14 after two years of waiting for the perfect combination of ideas to somehow piece themselves together in my brain, and then boom, I had a novel completed a month later.

Writing isn’t easy. It isn’t always fun. But, and this is my favorite part about it, it’s always personal. Everyone has his or her own way. I’ve learned that as a writer, but even more so as a teacher. Many of us were born to tell stories and it seems that, though it may take a lifetime for some and a few weeks for others, one way or another, we all find a way to share.

I’m so grateful to be a part of a community of individuals who share a passion for seeing the world through others’ eyes time and time again.  

Happy Writing,


Corey Whaley hails from Shreveport, LA, where he teaches seventh and eighth grade English. He signed with Ken Wright, a literary agent at Writers House, last fall using WEbook's AgentInbox query service. His debut novel, Where Things Come Back was purchased by Simon & Schuster early in 2010. Read more about Corey's amazing story, or pre-order his book!

Literary Agents Representing Literary Fiction

Car chases, murder intrigue, and epic adventures are well and good, but sometimes it's nice to sit back and enjoy an old fashioned internal conflict: A man at odds with the modern world (Ulysses), a house-wife smoldering beneath a loveless marriage (Little Children), or maybe just a group of ex-pats wandering listlessly from one European city to the next, searching for meaning amidst their memories of war (The Sun Also Rises).

If you've written a literary novel, you'll need an agent who's familiar with the terrain to help you on your path to publication. WEbook's AgentInbox has 38 literary agents currently seeking literary fiction. That means they have established relationships with literary editors (think Knopf or Grove Atlantic), and they're looking for more writing to pitch to them.

Here are some details about a few of our literary fiction agents, but be sure to check out our full list of agents actively seeking submissions.

ScottWaxman Scott Waxman, Waxman Literary Agency: Scott Waxman began his career as an editor at HarperCollins and started his own agency in 1997. Most recently, he co-founded Division Books, a publisher of eBook originals. For all you literary fiction writers looking for a hands-on agent to help guide you through your career, Scott is a great fit. When asked about the changing roll of  literary agents as the publishing industry tightens its belt, Scott said: 

“The agents’ role has become much more hands-on. The agents have to take a very strong editorial hand in the shaping of proposals and making sure that what they submit is top quality.” 

Read more of this interview at DigitalBook world, or see Scott Waxman's WEbook profile.  

Abigail Koons, The Park Literary Agency: Abigail came to the publishing industry after working for a large Swedish company specializing in educational travel. She's is an agent and the director or foreign rights TPLA. Here's Abigail's thoughts on what can be left out of a query, from an interview at Guide to Literary Agents

"If your query letter is more than one page long, there are things in there that are superfluous. The most common unnecessary addition is a description of the writer’s family/personal life if the book is not a memoir. Some personal background is good, but I would much prefer to know about the amazing novel you wrote. The personal information can come later." 

See Abigail's full WEbook profile.  

VictoriaMarini Victoria Marini, The Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency: Victoria Marini started working at GSLA as an agency assistant in 2008, and began building her own client list in 2009. Like many young agents, Victoria is seeking debut writers, making her the perfect agent to query if you're a fledgling author. If you're interested in querying her, take note of her interview with Shiny, where she revealed the type of queries that catch her eye the fastest: 

"The query letters I am drawn to the most are the ones that get right to the point and are written with the author’s unique voice. Be original, engaging and informative. Tell me about your book. I don’t need statistics, marketing ideas, generic letters, and overly formal introductions."

See Victoria's full WEbook profile.  

Looking for literary agents representing Romance, Young Adult Fiction and much more? Check out our previous posts about AgentInbox agents! You can also sign up for WEbook and get more feedback on your work from our writing community, or try out PageToFame.  

The Latest Writing Challenge

20100216writingchallengeblogIt's time to announce the next bi-weekly writing challenge. If you're new to the challenges (or to WEbook) these are short writing exercises geared towards helping authors improve a specific aspect of their craft and promote a healthy discourse between contestants.  

Submissions to the previous challenge, The Micro-Autobiography Challenge are now closed. We received 190 submissions in total, which left you just a bit shy of the extra-winner mark, which was set at 250. We'll announce the winners as soon as possible.

Since WEbook is a generous contest organizing entity, we're going to lower the extra-winner mark to 200 for the next writing challenge. Which is.....

The Non-Dialogue Challenge!!!!

Non-dialogue challenge
Describe an interaction between two characters based solely on body language. (max 200 words)

A few different WEbookers suggested ideas this challenge the forums. A big thanks to M_A_Granse, Adrishya, and Beruthiel! M_A_Granse had an especially good description, so we're running with it:

"Write a scene in which a conversation happens between two characters, but not a word is spoken. The reader should be able to understand what is going on based on the characters’ body language and WITHOUT using first-person POV (as getting into a character’s thoughts is too much like dialogue)."

This will likely be one of the more difficult challenges thus far, so plan your scenes carefully!


If you need some inspiration, check out the previous winners of the Travel Scene Challenge, The Cheating Challenge, and wayyyyy back there, the Inanimate Object Challenge.

Not a member of WEbook yet? Sign up and get writing

Improved User-Testing: A Better Way to Publish Books

AdvanceCheck In my previous post about slush piles, I started out with a daunting statistic. And I’m not trying to be a downer here, but I have another one: according to publishing expert Shira Boss and literary agent Kristin Nelson, an estimated 70-80% of trade books don’t earn out their advance.

That means the author never sees a royalty check after getting that initial payment, and the publisher loses money, probably.

This begs the question: how do publishers make a living if the majority of titles aren’t earning their spot on bookshelves? 

Answer: Most major publishing houses rely on a small percentage of bestsellers to “pay for” the rest of the books they produce. For example, six books may have lost a combined $60,000 for HarperCollins in 2005, but Marley & Me sold over 1 million copies and was made into a movie, so HarperCollins still made a profit. 

Why don’t publishers only publish the bestsellers? Because it’s very, very hard to know what’s going to sell and what isn’t—especially with new authors. The Help received almost 60 rejections from literary agents, and slow-rolled its way onto the NYT bestseller list. It’s now picking up the slack for less successful Penguin titles, but I suspect very few people (if any) predicted this result. If publishers only pay attention to established bestsellers like Steven King or James Patterson, they risk missing out on the next big thing. 

Is there a better way to publish books? Some innovative approaches have been tried out—for example, Hachette’s imprint, Twelve, only publishes one book a month. Instead of taking a shotgun approach, they market the daylights out of a single book each month and try to connect with as many readers as possible. Their current record is 37 titles published, 19 NYT bestsellers. That means not only did 50% of their books not fail, but they took home some serious bacon. That’s way above the publishing norm.

With PageToFame, we’re trying another approach: better user-testing for unpublished books. Before getting the “green light,” a book typically gets approval from 2-6 people at a literary agency (assuming most agents confer with at least one intern, assistant, or colleague before offering representation), an editorial team, and a publishing board. So as a rough total, let’s say between 15-20 people are intimately involved in choosing a published book. 

What if it were 200? 300? 500? What if these people were the target audience of book buyers? PageToFame makes this possible—one of the writers who has made it to Round 3 of PageToFame has received 326 ratings! This boost in readers allows agents and publishers to get a more accurate feel for a book’s market potential before they buy. 

Traditionally, publishing has been a business of gut feelings and guess work. But, the creative use of crowd-sourcing is changing that. With services like PageToFame gaining prominence, I think we can turn that percentage of earned out advances on its head.

—Ardy Khazaei, President of WEbook  

AK headshotArdy is a veteran of the digital media world—both as an entrepreneur and a corporate executive, including six years at HarperCollins Publishers where he was the SVP of Electronic Media. Learn more about him.

Curious about PageToFame? Want to test out your writing? Submit to PageToFame or sign up for WEbook.  

Literary Agents Representing Romance Fiction

The world of Romance fiction is constantly growing. From paranormal stories filled with vampires and werewolves to historical yarns rife with imperious governors and strong-willed maidens, readers love their love stories.

WEbook's AgentInbox has 18 literary agents that specialize in Romance fiction. Since Romance is such a broad genre, with many subsets and categories, they aren't all looking for the same story—but our slick submission tool makes it easy to pin-point the agent that's perfect for you and your Romance novel.

To get you started, here are three AgentInbox literary agents who are all open for Romance queries, but have specific guidelines and tastes.  Go here to see our full list of active literary agents currently open to submission

AlexandraMachinist Alexandra Machinist, The Linda Chester Literary Agency: Before joining The Linda Chester Literary Agency, Alexandra worked as an attorney and is a member of the New York Bar. She has a B.A. in English from The University of Michigan and a J.D. from the University of Virginia. As stated in her LCLA profile, when her nose momentarily emerges from a book, she can usually be found hunting down the best noodle bar in New York or skiing fresh powder.

Alexandra represents everything from Jane Austen to cyberpunk, but when it comes to Romance, she's looking for historical and paranormal. See Alexandra Machinist's profile here. 

SallyHarding Sally Harding, The Cooke Agency: Sally ran her own agency for two years prior to merging with The Cooke Agency in 2007.  Sally is based in Vancouver, and is able to keep her thumb on the literary pulse of many different time zones (she began her career in Australia and New Zealand, and keeps strong ties in those markets). When asked in an interview at Novelist, Inc. what she looks for in a manuscript, she said:

"Great story-telling, a fresh take, an original voice. These are key, because they are the elements that excite readers. I’ll add three more factors that I look for: intelligence, edginess, authenticity. I particularly warm to stories that provide insights into our humanness."

See Sally Harding's complete profile. 

Saritza Hernandez Saritza Hernandez, The Lori Perkins Literary Agency: Saritza holds the unique (but soon to be commonplace, we think) position of E-Pub agent. What does that mean exactly? Here's her answer from an interview with Ryan Field:

"The job, I believe is really the same as a traditional agent. But having an agent familiar with electronic rights and one passionate about the evolution of publishing in the digital marketplace is crucial to the success of those authors who venture into this new frontier." 

Currently, Saritza is looking for: Erotic Romance with paranormal, steampunk, or cyberpunk elements. See Saritza Hernandez's complete profile. 

If you've got a Romance novel that seems like a good fit for these agents, sign up for WEbook and start the AgentInbox query process! Or, read some previous posts to see the other genres our agents represent. 

And for all you Romance enthusiasts, what novels are you reading right now? Anything good?  

John Meils on The Power of Research in Novel Writing

6a00e54ff9f2cf88340120a786bd73970b In a perfect world, we’d all sit down with our best idea and write, write, and write some more. After say, six months to two years, we’d give birth to a shiny healthy manuscript that was complete, well-rounded, and ready for publication. Indeed, this works for some. For the rest of us, however, our imaginations need a little help. 

While writing my first novel, I needed to learn about life in colonial Connecticut. To do this, I visited a few local libraries in the area where I wanted to set my novel. What I found was a trove of invaluable information that not only helped me with setting, but inspired a range of back stories for my novel that I never would’ve dreamed up on my own. Moreover, I could only have found these old newspaper clippings and local histories in these little town libraries. After only two research trips, I not only had a wealth of information to backstop my story, but a surprising surge of inspiration to carry it forward.
For those who’ve been reading my last few columns, you know that I’m zeroing in on an idea for my next manuscript. I live in Peru at the moment, so I plan to set the story here, which has been a challenge. I grew up in Connecticut—the setting for my last manuscript—so it wasn’t difficult to nail the place. The background research was fairly minimal. It’s different here, obviously. But in a sense, my research has worked almost exactly as it did before.

To wit, my next story will revolve around a kidnapping in South America. But where exactly? Why? Who’s involved? Now that I’ve been in Peru for a couple months and traveled a bit in the country, I came to see that mining and oil exploration is booming here and has caused all kinds of tension with indigenous communities. Then there are the politicians, many of whom are corrupt and benefit hugely from kickbacks and other graft related to the mining and oil boom. Essentially, there is a triangle of tension in Peru between the indigenous population, multinationals, and oil companies—one that could serve as a perfect backdrop to my basic idea of a tourist kidnapping.

This past weekend I was touring a gold mine (yes, literally) in the northern Peruvian Andes. (FYI, my girlfriend does aid work—that’s why we’re in Peru and why we're at the mine.) During the tour, I came to see that, though the damage done by mining companies to the environment is horrific, many of them do a good job of helping the communities directly impacted by their mining. As it turns out, much of the tension and problems that Peru has with mining companies and the communities affected by them are stirred up by local politicians and aggressive foreign environmental groups, both of whom often use violence and intimidation to achieve their ends. This was unexpected, which immediately made me think it’d work well if woven into my original idea.

The trip, from a research standpoint, was a huge success. By the time I returned home to Lima, I had the basic characters and plot for my next manuscript set. All I need now is a locale, which I’m fairly sure is going to be in the Amazon (but that’s another trip, and story, altogether). More to the point is how, for a second time, a simple research trip took my ideas in a whole new and more defined direction. Yes, they ultimately led me to realize that I need to do more research before I begin writing, but my planning process took a huge leap forward.

This week’s question: Is research important for your writing and if so, how do you go about doing it?


JMHammock1 John Meils is currently finishing a first novel, tentatively titled The Warring House. He has written for Elle, Men’s Health, and, among others. To learn more about him, visit

To continue the research discussion, head to our Reality Check Forum. Or, sign up for WEbook here.

911 Writer's Block: Unlocking Creative Writing Ideas

As anyone who has tried their hand at creative writing knows, inspiration doesn't grow on trees. At times, it can seem like it doesn't grow anywhere.

Sometimes the best cure for writer's block is a healthy barrage of fresh ideas, and that's what we provide with our writing tool, 911 Writer's Block. Any writer who has run into an idea wall can visit 911 WB and immediately find new ideas sorted into nine different categories, including: settings, characters, dialogue, verbs, character deaths, and endings.

To get a better sense of how it works, check out this video preview:


Best of all, 911 Writer's Block is constantly growing. If you've got your own great piece of writing inspiration, post it as a chapter in this writing project. If we like it too, we'll add it to the tool.

So, go share the writing wealth!

Writing Challenge Winners: The Travel Scene Challenge

20100216writingchallengeblog Thanks to everyone who submitted to the Travel Scene Challenge. We enjoyed reading your entries, which took us everywhere from across a kitchen floor, down an open road, through the time space continuum, and into the next life. 

We didn't quite hit the 250 submission mark, so we'll still be announcing the standard three winners. However, the same offer stands for The Autobiography Challenge, which is sitting cool at 112 submissions right now—if we receive 250 submission, we'll award six authors PageToFame coupons.  

The Winners:

Little Wing by Coll

To a Friend's House by DaisyBug
The Great Escape by KaileyWhite

Honorable Mentions

Bangkok Killing Zone by CM_Swanson
Ima Lake by CJHendricks 

Congratulations, you will receive your PageToFame coupon via direct message. 

If you're new to the challenges, feel free to cruise through some past winner authors here. Once you've gotten  your fill, head over to The Autobiography Challenge to get some non-fiction muscles working. Some details:

Write an EXTREMELY short autobiography, max 75 words.The goal here is to convey the essence of your life in a very short space (yes, Twitter inspired this challenge). 
Full sentences and proper grammar are not required. A long period of inner reflection to determine what life experiences were most important to your formation as a person may be required. 

Start a new chapter on this project to submit. Before you go, give Coll's lyrical travel scene a read:

Little Wing

Stevie Ray Vaughn replaces his guitar for the taught chord of my pickled aorta, strumming relentlessly to "Little Wing." My car's wheels beat a steady tattoo over the yellow reflectors in the road. I wait for my all-seeing, all-knowing headlights to steer me back to plumb. I panic, realizing that's not what they do. I do. I jerk the wheel with a terse, obedient bark of rubber.

Concentrate. Have a point of reference. Something to repeat, to continue. The soothing yellow, undulating  line of the breakdown pulls at me. I list toward it, tickle its underside with my hood ornament. The sharp Pontiac symbol rips the road like a razor, rending it in two behind me like so much dark fabric. Lights against my back. An engine roar mounts, passes, screams gear in my ear, mid-curse. My yellow line splits and fluctuates on a lever. A pair of calm chop sticks plucking something in its own vanishing point.

Has it been raining all along? Lightning conducts a flashcard geography quiz, impatiently pointing out this and that feature of the landscape, flashing its electric pointer against the broad slate of the sky, and thunderously grumbling at the lack of response. 

First Lines by Poets and Writers: September and October

Firstlinescut Autumn is fast approaching, and with it, a big stack of new titles from various publishers. As part of our continued partnership with Poets and Writers, we're happy to share a few first sentences from some recently, or soon to be published novels. 

If you enjoy these, you can check out longer excerpts at Poets and Writers or more first sentences in previous posts on the WEbook blog. 


"It was the year my uncle got arrested for killing his wife, and our family was the subject of all the town gossip." Vida (Black Cat, September 2010) by Patricia Engel. First book, story collection. Agent: Ayesha Pande. Editor: Lauren Wein. Publicist: Martin Wilson.

"Skippy and Ruprecht are having a doughnut-eating race one evening when Skippy turns purple and falls off his chair." Skippy Dies (Faber and Faber, September 2010) by Paul Murray. Second book, novel. Agent: Peter Straus. Editor: Mitzi Angel. Publicist: Brian Gittis.

"There was a squirrel trapped in the wall behind my stove in October." The Physics of Imaginary Objects (University of Pittsburgh Press, September 2010) by Tina May Hall. First book, story collection. Editor: Deborah Meade. Publicist: Maria Sticco. 

"We were so happy." Half Empty (Doubleday, September 2010) by David Rakoff. Third book, essay collection. Agent: Irene Skolnick. Editor: William Thomas. Publicist: Rachel Lapal. 

Literary Agents Representing Thriller and Suspense Fiction

The Thriller/Suspense fiction market is healthier than ever. From Ken Follet to Tom Clancy to Steig Larson, readers just can't get enough of their spies, thieves, and tension-packed plot lines. If you've written a thriller or suspense novel, you'll need an agent who specializes in that genre to represent you in your journey to publication.  

WEbook's AgentInbox has 33 agents that specialize in the Thriller/Suspense Genre. That means they already represent T&S authors, have built connections with like-minded editors and publishers, and they're looking for more!

Here's some background information on a few of our agents, you can check out our full list of active literary agents here.  

Johntalbot John Talbot, Talbot-Fortune Agency: Prior to becoming an agent, John spent three years with Pocket Books and seven years with Putnam Berkley (now part of Penguin USA), where he rose to the rank of senior editor and worked with such major bestselling authors as Tom Clancy, W.E.B. Griffin, and Jack Higgins.

When GalleyCat asked John what kinds of books he thought were likely to get published, here's what he said:

"Honestly, I only know what's hot for me and what might be hot for the editors I'm working with and submitting to. Lately, I've done very well with big thrillers and with cozy mysteries."

So strike while the big-thriller-iron is hot, see John's full WEbook profile here

JoshGetzler Josh Getzler, Russell & Volkening: Josh began his publishing career at Harcourt, and went to get his M.B.A in 1993. After spending 11 years owning and operating a minor league baseball team, Josh returned to the publishing industry as a junior agent at Writers House. He became an Agent and Director of Film/Television Rights at Russel & Volkening in November of 2009. Here's a bit about what Josh is looking for in a thriller from Miss Snark's blog:

"I'm particularly into foreign and historical thrillers and mysteries, so send me your ruthless doges and impious cardinals. Give me atmosphere, let me learn something about another time or another place (or both), and kill off nasty Uncle Mortimer in the process--I'll be yours!"

Check our Josh's WEbook profile here

Peterriva Peter Riva, International Transactions, Inc: Peter represents Steig Larson, an author you might have heard about. He wrote The Millenium Trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, ect.). You may have noticed his books in the hands of every other person on the beach, train, and plane this summer. So, if you think you've got the next mega-hit-thriller, Peter is the man to see. But before you query, take note of his interview at GumboWriters, where he revealed the best way to get his attention:

"Send a letter that is literate, to the point and – like a dust jacket – quickly gets our attention." 

You can see Peter's WEbook profile here, or check out our query letter tutorial for help writing that literate, to the point letter. 

Those are just a few of the Thriller/Suspense agents, submit to AgentInbox to see them all. If you also dabble in young adult fiction, see our earlier post about YA literary agents (who knows, thriller YA could become the new paranormal YA).  

A New Writing Contest: The Micro-Autobiography Challenge

20100216writingchallengeblog We hope that everyone had an great Labor Day weekend. With all of those BBQ's to attend, it's possible that you may not have gotten a chance to enter our latest writing contest, The Micro-Autobiography Challenge. 

We've been keeping these challenges fiction oriented, and figured it was time to switch things up a bit. So for this one, we're moving into the non-fiction realm. Even better, you get to write about yourself! The details:

Autobiopic The Micro-Autobiography Challenge

Write an EXTREMELY short autobiography, max 75 words.

The goal here is to convey the essence of your life in a very short space (yes, Twitter inspired this challenge). Full sentences and proper grammar are not required. A long period of inner reflection to determine what life experiences were most important to your formation as a person may be required.  

To submit, start a new chapter in this project. The deadline to ender is Friday, September 17 at 4 pm.

As always, the WEbook editorial staff will pick our 3 favorite endings and award the authors free entry to PageToFame

If you need some inspiration before diving in, check out the winners of some past challenges, or some of our writing tips.

Good luck! 

The New Slush Pile: Benefits and Drawbacks

Slushpile Here’s a daunting figure for aspiring writers: most literary agents receive 100-300 queries per week. Of those, they usually request extra material from 1 or 2 writers, at most. Out of that coveted request pile, agents typically only take on a handful of new clients per year.

So, basically, the slush pile odds are not good. If you take a look around places like Slush Pile Hell, or un-agented author websites that advertise their litany of rejection notes, it can seem like getting signed is impossible. Futhermore, it doesn't help anyone feel better to read the streams of articles about the entertainment industry’s universal belt tightening in their search for new writing talent.

Despite these foreboding signs and predictions, I do not believe the slush pile is dead, nor is it a futile climb to nowhere—it’s just changing with the times, like everything else in publishing. And in some important ways, it’s changing for the better.

Remember the old-school query process? Authors found agent addresses in Writers Digest, printed their queries on some stationary, mailed them in with an SASE enclosed, and crossed their fingers. It was a lonely and slow moving process.

Things are different now. Almost all agents accept queries via email or through online submission forms. Even better, some agents check there email continuously throughout the day, and may respond to queries much more rapidly than before—sometimes even within minutes! It’s also a short online skip and jump to find a database of agent contact info and submission guidelines. Basically, access to agents is often easier, faster, and more transparent than it was, say, ten years ago.

However, with this ease of communication comes a substantial increase in the number of queries agents receive. For writers, this makes it all the more important to write a concise, eye-catching query letter. Screen shot 2010-09-02 at 5.05.07 PM This need played a key role in the design of our AgentInbox application’s online interface, which helps writers quickly display the unique elements of their project to interested literary agents. I believe that, for better or worse, querying will continue evolving into a more streamlined and efficient process as agents explore ways of moving through their slush faster.

Yet, with all the changes that are taking place in publishing, some constants remain: if a writer understands the current market, is persistent and strategic with their querying efforts, and (most importantly) has a good manuscript that engages readers, they stand a good chance at securing representation from an agent. To catch that glimmer of hope and some inspiration from the bottom the slush pile, (if that’s where you’re currently standing) check out some success stories (from WEbookers too!) and remember, they all started in the same place.

I'm interested to hear from writers as well. How do  you feel about the changing agent submission process and slush pile?

—Ardy Khazaei, President of WEbook 

AK headshotArdy is a veteran of the digital media world—both as an entrepreneur and a corporate executive, including six years at HarperCollins Publishers where he was the SVP of Electronic Media. Go here to learn more about him.

Finding Ideas for a New Novel

6a00e54ff9f2cf88340120a786bd73970b Every few years, a writer or prognosticator of some repute declares the death of something monumental: originality, fiction, physical books, etc. Last week, Wired magazine declared that the “Web is Dead” on the front of its print edition (though they first released it on their website, go figure). As I troll around for a new idea for my next manuscript, I can’t help but wonder if there are any left. Clearly, if I listen to the “wisdom” of those “in the know,” I’m in trouble. If new ideas, print and now the web are all dead, well, I guess there’s no point in even trying to write, yeah?

I certainly can’t write a love story now that Romeo & Juliet has been written. Can’t write a road trip book after Don Quixote (which was totally ripped off by Kerouc in On the Road and Che Guevera in The Motorcycle Diaries, fyi). I’d try my hand at sci-fi but after Neuromancer and, frankly, anything by Philip K. Dick, what’s the point?

I’m not black but I couldn’t write a story about race anyway, because it wouldn’t be as good as Invisible Man (which certainly “inspired” White Teeth by Zadie Smith) or, dare I even say the words, To Kill a Mockingbird. Ditto on being Jewish, because Philip Roth already has the market cornered on that! I’m a white American male, which might be the hardest “genre” of all. All I have to do is come up with a sweeping epic that compares to anything that Faulkner, Hemmingway, Updike, DeLilo, Ford, Foster Wallace and/or Franzen has written. No prob. Will get right on it.

Or, I could simply remind myself that the book business in the U.S. did almost $24 billion in sales in 2009, according the Association of American Publishers. Which means, erm, “it” (books, print, web, originality) is very much alive. Sure, overall sales were down by a few hundred million, but given the economy that’s hardly surprising. And a lot of publishers are already announcing quarterly profits up from last year. Which leaves me back where I started—in search of an idea, a new one, if that’s even possible.

Here’s what I think: maybe there aren’t any wholly new ideas. There probably haven’t been since before there was even written words. People have been falling in love, having adventures, fighting wars, ripping each other off, imagining the future and dealing with crazy families since forever. And yet there are new stories to tell every day. Because the way I tell it will be very different from the way you tell it, even if we’re trying to spin the exact same yarn. And my experience, imagination and voice are what make my story original. And what is originality anyway, but perhaps a new way to spin an old story?

Which still leaves me where I started—in need of an idea. Perhaps all I have to do is find a great classic book to “inspire” me towards realizing my next story. Got any suggestions?

This week’s question: Where do your best ideas come from?


JMHammock1 John Meils is currently finishing a first novel, tentatively titled The Warring House. He has written for Elle, Men’s Health, and, among others. To learn more about him, visit

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