QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Truth About Prologues

The second rule in Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing is “Avoid Prologues.” At first this sounds like Mr. Leonard is telling us not to use prologues. Until you realize that the Rule 1 and Rule 3 don’t start with the word “avoid.” They start with the word “never.”

Avoid means steer clear of, think twice about, shy away from. Never means, well, never. Ever. Not even once. That’s a big difference. Particularly when Mr. Leonard’s comments about that rule consist largely of John Fucking Steinbeck brilliant use of a prologue.

The entire prologue situation (both the problem itself and the extent to which writers exaggerate that problem) was summed up beautifully by Angela James, an editor for Carina Press (a Harlequin digital first imprint). She said:

Of course, I’m an editor, and if you’ve heard it once you’ve probably heard it from an editor or agent: we’re not always fans of prologues. I think this has morphed into authors saying that we HATE prologues, but that’s not true. What’s true is this: we see a lot of stories come through our slush pile that start with prologues, and 9 out of 10 times, they’re not necessary.

I’m willing to bet she speaks for virtually every agent and editor in the business when she says it begins – and ends – with “We’re not always fans of prologues.”

That’s far from “never do it or you will immediately burst into flames and the souls of your loved ones will be doomed for all eternity,” which is how a LOT of writers tend to treat the issue. Still, it’s a really good idea to avoid them if you can.

Prologue Problems


Prologue problems come in two flavors: Problems with the prologue itself (which we will call problems with other people’s prologues, because, seriously, I’m sure yours is wonderful) and problems intrinsic to having and querying a novel with a prologue (which we will call the real problems with having a prologue).

Problems with Other People’s Prologues:

They are often used as info dumps, with all the attendant problems of info dumps.

One of the most common agent/publisher complaints about beginner novelists is that they start the novel two or three chapters too early, before the story really gets going. A prologue adds a fourth chapter of “too soon.”

Readers imprint on the first MC they meet, like baby ducks imprint on the first thing they see and follow it around assuming it’s their mama. The prologue MC usually isn’t the book MC, so readers feel cheated when you switch to your real MC.

Many readers skip them, which means they need to literally be prologues — the story needs to stand on it’s own, completely independently from the prologue. So, by definition, it has to be extra stuff.
If it’s not an info dump, it’s probably backstory, and backstory is generally a very bad way to start a novel.

Compared to working the prologue information in through flashbacks or directly through the narrative, a prologue is an easy way to get it out there (which is why the info dump/backstory concerns are so valid).

Chapter One has to manage to introduce characters and setting and lay a lot of groundwork for a story. That’s hard to do without being boring. Some people use prologues to throw something exciting on the table first, in an attempt to “hook” the reader.This often fails -- it comes off as a gimmick, then you leave the reader with your boring Chapter One (possibly more boring, since you think you’ve taken the pressure off) and the reader goes from exciting prologue to boring chapter and thinks “the first real chapter of this book sucks.” It’s like having a date show up in a Ferrari but then having him drive you to Taco Bell.

There are certainly more, but that gives a decent idea of why, as Ms. James put it, “9 out of 10 times, they’re not necessary.” Worse than not necessary, the things those other writers are trying to do through the prologue – provide backstory and worldbuild, start with something interesting, etc., are the things that separate great writers from the good. Great writers build incredible worlds and provide deep, rich backstories throughout the narrative core of their books.

The Real Problems with Having a Prologue


The real problem with having a prologue, even if it’s both necessary and brilliant, is: Seriously, prologues are tricky.

For starters, they present logistical problems. You’re ready to query and the agent you are querying asked for the first three pages or your first chapter or whatever. Does that mean your prologue, or Chapter One?

According to literary agent extraordinaire, Janet Reid a/k/a the Query Shark, “your first five pages” or “first chapter” obviously means the first part of the novel, not your prologue:

The five pages you attached don’t mention either character or any of the plot you cover in the query letter. It’s as though you sent five pages that have nothing to do with this query.
 That’s one of the (many) problems with prologues. When you query with pages, start with chapter one, page one. Leave OUT the prologue.

Nathan Bransford, on the other hand, says that “first 30 pages” obviously means the first 30 pages that are part of your book:

I want to see the first 30 pages as you want me to send them to the editor. If that involves a prologue… let’s see it.

Oops. Those are agents (well, in Nathan’s case, now an ex-agent) who blog a lot about what they expect and want to see, and the advice is diametrically opposed. If I had to guess, I’d say more agents probably agree with Nathan, but that’s a guess. I doubt Janet is completely out in left field, so it’s safe to assume a significant portion of agents agree with her take as well. Either way, having a prologue creates a new, possibly unnecessary problem.

There’s also the issue of Pavlov’s agent (or, worse, reader). Imagine having 200 queries and sample pages to wade through in a day. Ten of those had prologues, and all ten treated you to worldbuilding, backstory, and info dumps. You open your 200th query, and discover it’s the eleventh to start with the word “Prologue.” At this point, you expect it to suck. There’s a 90% chance you’ll be right. You’ve been conditioned to expect it to suck. Maybe even conditioned to think it sucks.

It’s not your prologue’s fault. It those ten other, stupid, needless prologues that came before it. But you’ve been tainted by association. Now, at best, the reader is looking to see how much of an info dumpy, backstory filled piece of shit your prologue is, not objectively looking at how good or bad it is. Prejudice is an ugly thing, but it’s also a real thing.

The Bottom Line on Prologues?


In this case, it’s also the top line. Prologues are tricky. If possible, you should avoid having one. I don’t think agent’s and editors hate them, I don’t even think most readers skip them (although I’d bet that’s more of an issue with YA readers, for example, than with lit fiction readers). But I do think they bring a host of new problems to the party, even if they don’t suffer from the problems that are endemic to prologues generally.

Put differently, there is the way you dress for a job interview, the way you dress on your first day of work, and the way you dress when you’ve been working the same job for a few years. Prologues are a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. Even if that’s how you’ll be showing up the third week, when you’re interviewing and it’s probably best to clean things up for one day. It certainly won’t hurt.

UNLESS, you absolutely understand exactly what I’m saying here, see the problems, are positive you aren’t providing background, worldbuidling, info dumping, garbage, and know that your story really, really needs a prologue for a very specific reason that can’t be handled through the body of your narrative.

Because there are some jobs – lifeguard, surf/snowboard/skateboard sales, marijuana dispensary clerk and/or gardener – where you just look like an idiot showing up for the interview in a suit.

Prologues fall into the huge category of writing issues, ranging from adjectives to introspective monologue, where the shorthand "DON'T" is inaccurately used instead of the accurate "MAKE SURE IT'S REALLY NECESSARY." If a prologue is the best way to execute and it's executed well, there's no option other than using one. The confusion arises because they are often tacked onto the beginning of novels where they aren't truly necessary and there are better ways to accomplish what the writer is trying to accomplish through a prologue. 
Michael McDonagh lives outside Boise, Idaho, with an assortment of barn cats, chickens, turkeys, and horses, as well as a cadre of stray dogs and daughters who melt his heart. A charter member of the Humor Writers of America, his personal motto is: I write dystopian fiction, but everybody else thinks it's contemporary fiction. That's what makes it satire.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

QT Open Mic: Today's Writers, Today's Topics

There is an important aspect of the writing business that is often easy to overlook.

Keeping relevant.

Writing is an intensely personal venture and many people get swept up in their personal art. We live in our stories. We eat, breath, dream our books and their inescapable grasps. After months (perhaps years!) of laboring at our novels, we emerge from the writing haze, ready to get that book out there. Only, some of us find that the publishing world changed quite a bit while we were busy dreaming.

That happens to QT bloggers, too. :)

Some of us are out of the query trenches and fast-advancing toward the front lines.  A few of us are madly managing back lists and marketing endeavors. But all of us want to continue to provide insightful, relevant posts to help you get to where you want to be with your writing, your book, and your career.

Over the years, we’ve discussed numerous topics related to writing, editing, agents, and the journey toward publication. However, maybe there’s something we haven’t covered (or haven’t covered in a while) that you’re curious to know more about. So today the QueryTracker Blog Team is taking your questions!

Need some writing advice?  Dying to ask someone that question nobody seems to be able to answer?
                    

If you have any question you want answered--even if it's something subjective that solicits an opinion--throw it at us. We'll research and compile our answers for future posts. Our blog team has an amazing range of both personal experience and professional expertise and we're here to share it all with you.
 
Please ask your questions or suggest your topics in the comments section below. (If you would like to suggest something but wish to do so on the down-low, just contact Ash through her website www.ashkrafton.com using the subject line "QT Open Mic". She'll make sure your thoughts are shared with the team.) 
 
We love our blog readers and are thrilled to have all of you with us. Our subscribership keeps growing and we are grateful for your support.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Thinking Inside The Box (Set)

Platform, platform, platform. Ugh.

Agents say it's not necessary for fiction writers to have a platform to land an agent, but it also can't hurt to build yours now, so let me introduce you to the most intriguing and fun way I've found so far to get my name out there: an anthology.

A box set. Oh, those little awesome 3D covers with their long stack of titles behind them, priced dazzingly low to entice readers in, and once you've got the readers, you have a chance to figure out how to keep them.

I've participated in anthologies for years (starting in 1994 when I had a story in Catfantastic IV, curated by Andre Norton, no joke) but this is the first time I've seen how writers wield anthologies as platform-builders. Plus, as a new writer can make yourself more marketable to agents, so let's talk box sets.

First and foremost, if you participate in an anthology, anything you publish is published. That means you're not going to query it later. So choose your work carefully. Many anthologies will have a theme, so you may be writing something specific, but try to tie it loosely to whatever work you plan to query. Same genre, for example. If it has the same characters, make sure the anthology contract doesn't lay claim to sequels or related works. (Make sure the anthology has a contract.)

Secondly, participating in an antholgy or a box set will give you a writing credit. You may not get any money (especially if the box set is being distributed for free, like mine is) but you're right at the beginning of your career and you're going into this open-eyed: writing for free is fine if you're willingly choosing to get paid in some other currency. In this case, the currency is experience.

Agents and editors like to know how a writer responds to professional guidance. If you've participated in an anthology, you've proven you know how to work with other professionals. (This goes for magazines, too.) You'll have a track record of being able to keep to deadlines, being able to accept critique, and being able to put yourself out there as a professional.

Experience also means flexibility. We had one individual leave production for personal reasons, so the remaining members divided up the responsibilities to make sure all needs were covered. Another participant needed to flex her schedule due to absolutely unavoidable conflicts, and we were able to adjust everything around her so that when she did have the chance, her work could come in late and then be streamlined right through production so everything was completed on time.

Flexibility is a skill. Taking critique is a skill. Working with others is a skill we all learned in kindergarten but needs practicing on a regular basis. In an anthology, you'll get all that.

Your currency may also come in the form of mentoring. If there are more-experienced writers in your group, watch them and soak up every single bit of information you can. Ask them to put you to work, and then go ahead and do it. Why? Because they're going to show you tricks that are second nature to them after being in the trenches. Marketing tricks. Phrasing tricks. Keyword tricks. Selling tricks. And remember, as a querying writer, you're marketing yourself.

(An unexpected side-effect of my participation in this anthology was that after I formatted the ebook versions, two members asked if I formatted on a freelance basis. I currently have my first freelance check sitting on my desk, awaiting transport to the bank. How cool is that?)

Third is that you're going to increase your platform, or maybe begin building your platform. When you participate in an anthology, each participant is going to reach out to her network in order to get support for the final product. If there are ten participants, you have ten times the reach you had before, and if you assume an equal division of readers, then 90% of the readers will be new to you.

Ah, but it won't be an equal division of readers because the other writers may have fully-developed platforms of their own already. And all together, you're each riding the others' coat-tails onto new readers' shelves. Everyone benefits. (Just make sure you have a way to keep those readers attached to you, such as a blog to follow or a Facebook page they can like.)

Side note: The authors of The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing talk about how, when they first formed The Indie Voice, they decided all of them should have the monicker "New York Times Bestselling Author." So they formed a box set with one book from each member, priced it at $.99, got a BookBub and other supporting ads, and proceeded to sell thousands of books, hitting the bestseller list. That, my friends, if you can be paid in it, is currency. (But you can't do that anymore. Both the NYT and BookBub closed that particular loophole. Sorry.)

It'll just be a sentence in your author bio. "I was previously published in Where The Light May Lead, an anthology that sold a thousand copies during its publication weekend." You don't need to harp on the fact that now you have experience and the beginning of a platform, or that you've picked up new skills and new contacts. Agents will know.

Participation in an anthology won't vault you over everyone else's head right into the agent's "request a full right this second" pile. But having a track record might tip the scales if the agent is unsure whether to look at more of your work.

And above all: participating in an anthology will make you a better writer and a better professional. Plus, it's fun. Those are always good things, even if you never want to impress an agent or an editor.

--

(Psst: If you want to check out the anthology that spurred this post, it's free in the US on Amazon and worldwide at a number of other vendors.)





Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Feature Highlight: Notes and Reminders

In the past, I've written about some of the major features and benefits of QueryTracker. But, recently, I realized I was neglecting some of the more basic tools, and so I decided to write about a few of them. And just because they're basic, doesn't mean they aren't useful.

Keeping Notes

For instance, did you know you can attach private notes to any agent or query in the system? These can be any tidbit of information you think is worth saving. And, unlike posting comments on an agent's profile, these are completely private. Only you can see them.

Creating notes is easy and can be attached to any query in your query list. Go to your query list page, or the agent search page, and click the "Notes" icon as shown below.





You can also create notes from the agent's profile page as shown here:



After adding a note, the "Notes" icon will turn green so you know a note is there.

Setting Reminders

Reminders are like notes, except they'll pop up on a day you specify and remind you to do something. You can use them to remind you to check the status of a query, or anything else you can think of. They're set much like reminders, except you click the "Bell" icon instead of the note icon. Like notes, the reminder icon is available on either the query list, the search list, or an agent' profile.




When setting a reminder, enter a short message to yourself and then specify the date to be reminded. That's all there is to it. On that date, a message will appear at the top of each QueryTracker page informing you of the reminder. If you're a Premium Member you can choose to have reminders sent to you via E-Mail.

And that's all there is to notes and reminders.



QueryTracker
Founder
Patrick McDonald is the founder and creator of QueryTracker. Though maintaining QueryTracker keeps him too busy to write anymore, back when he did he tended to write in many different genres. Not because he was eclectic, but because he was still trying to find his niche. Though he never discovered his genre of choice, he did find his home at QueryTracker, a place where he could spend time in his two favorite worlds: writing and programming.



Tuesday, April 19, 2016

It's a High Stakes Game

Stakes are king, no matter where you are in the process From roughing out a basic storyline to writing a novel, from chopping and pruning a completed novel to querying it (or, for that matter, going on submission, publishing, or talking to Oprah about your book), high stakes define success or failure more than any single factor. Unfortunately, what exactly constitutes “high stakes” in a manuscript or query defies an easy definition.

In the real world, and dictionaries, stakes refer to risk and/or the degree of interest in the outcome. That’s not a bad jumping off point. What a character stands to lose (or fail to gain) if the obstacles you so mercilessly throw at her throughout act two and the three extras you surprise her with in act three trip her up create stakes for that character. But that’s still merely a jumping off point, and mistaking it for the endpoint can make even the most revved-up powerful set of stakes sputter and stall like a 1968 Shelby GT 350 that just ran out of gas.





So, what goes in the tank? Characters. Characters are what give that engine -- the stakes, or “interest in the outcome” -- the fuel it needs to move and, hopefully, pull the reader/agent along. Even the most dire, end-of-the-world, realistic, and believable stakes are only as important as the lens through which they are seen. Which is to say, they only matter to the extent we care about the characters experiencing them. Plenty of people cried about the losses suffered at the Battle of Hogwarts, an imaginary battle at a fictional school for wizards. By contrast, I’m pretty sure everyone I was in the theater with when I saw Pearl Harbor was in the uncomfortable position of secretly rooting for the Japanese by the time they finally attacked the insipid batch of characters the screenwriters threw into what had been a truly horrific, real-world battle. Independent of the characters, there is no question which stakes should and would matter more.


But stakes simply cannot exist independently of the characters. If they could, every book would have the end of the world as its “stakes” and each would be a bestseller and there would be nothing more to worry about. When it comes to querying, that presents a bigger potential pitfall for writers with objectively huge “stakes” than it does those whose stories come down to the impact on one or two of the characters. Our pulses only quicken to (at best, when everything is going well) match the pulse of the characters who are actually facing the menace, threat, pain, problems. A beautifully broken heart or the loss of a beloved dog or a wrongfully shattered relationship being rightfully mended can outpace a nuclear war any day.

The trick, when querying, is to remember that. We don’t get enough words to actually invest agents in our characters, but they’re also painfully aware of that. We DO get enough words to show them that the stakes matter to and through our characters, which is enough to get them to read those first few sample pages where they can be introduced to them. If the description of stakes accomplishes that, it’s done its job.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Engineering a Fiction Series

My current WIP is an urban fantasy serial. I thought I'd take a break from the writing to give myself a refresher course on the business side of publishing. 

Pantsing a book--or even a series--is one thing, but authors must never pants their way through their careers. Better to lay good solid track down now before I get too deep! We all know that revisions can be a trainwreck. :) 

There is a certain appeal to the sound of the words "three book deal".

I remember the first time I read those words—my favorite author had just announced a deal to keep a beloved series going with a six figure payout. I was excited to learn there were more books coming…but those words curled themselves into a corner of my writer's brain and never left. Without realizing it, I'd set a goal.

I've long abandoned the idea of snagging a six figure payout for my work but the idea of a multi-book deal never went away. At the time I had been writing my first novel and knew that it wouldn't be a stand alone book in a stand alone world.


Choosing the Series Track

There seem to be two basic models for writing a series: there is the central idea/world with loosely-linked stand alones or there is the sequentially-linked stand alone format. When deciding to develop a series, we often choose one model or the other without ever thinking—but, once chosen, that model must be followed to the end.

I'm not sure editors want to hear the words "debut author" and "series" in the same query letter. There is a lot of risk in taking on the first of a series if the book can't stand alone. But isn't that why we pitch it as a series? You ask.

It is…but if you want to sell it as a series, you need to make sure that book will stand on its own legs. In fact, every book needs to do that—stand on its own. Very few readers like picking up a story in mid-thought and the dislike being left hanging even more.

I picture a series as I would a train—I'm the engineer and each of the boxcars is an installment. They are all linked together but they are each their own.


Continuity

A series isn't a three hundred thousand word novel that gets broken up into chunks. It's a collection of novels connected by themes and characters. A writer shouldn't assume that, in order to read the fourth installment of a talked-about series, a reader will run out and buy the first three books to study up in advance. No one likes extra homework.

That's why it's important to make each book stand on its own. But it’s a series! You insist. My characters have history! Yes, they do…which is why a writer must be sure the series has continuity.

When writing a new installment in a sequential-type series, you have an obligation to provide backstory. Please, do it with skill—no info dumps. Often, a few lines here and there serve as reminders of key elements to keep old readers in the loop and new readers in the know. Balance is key, however.

Continuity is also important in the loosely-linked format—you need to provide a balance of unique elements while still reminding the reader there are other stories to be explored in the series.

Once that balance is found, the stories of a series will display a certain continuity that readers crave in a series. You want those books to be like boxcars in a train: separate yet together. Continuity can be thought of as the hitches between the cars—it will help the reader view the series as a whole (good for consequential book sales) while letting them enjoy one book at a time.


Control

Perhaps you are the writer who is enjoying writing your story and is wondering if the story has series potential.

Maybe you are exploring future book plots, possible character interactions, subthemes and story lines. The key to writing a successful series, however, isn't how far you can blow that book out—it's how well you can control it.

Once again, I envision boxcars on a train (okay, I guess I have a thing for trains. Living where I do, it's hard not to.) In this case, each of the cars are relatively similar in size and shape. Sometimes the train has a tanker or a coal bin punctuating the link up—and the change is refreshing, in a way.

I am not thinking circus train, where one car is a box full of sad clowns and the next is a cage with giraffes hanging out the top. If your series begins to look like that, it means you let an element grow out of control—either a story line got away from you or a character is growing too fast to be contained by the story. Either element will run you into trouble and cause your series to falter…just like that circus train whose engineer doesn't know there's a low bridge around the next bend.

How do you control your stories from ruining your series? You need to always be looking ahead. Keep your characters in check. Know where story lines are going so they don't diverge so hard they split the series or converge too soon in premature collisions. Keeping tight control on the series will help you prevent crashes.


Cancellation

Another reason you may not want to consider—but absolutely must—is cancellation.

There are many reasons why a series gets cancelled and not all of them have to do with the series or even the writing. Sometimes publishing houses change direction. Editors leave. Philosophies change. Sometimes the money dries up and the house closes their doors.

If that were to happen, where do you want to be in your series?

That's why each book must be a stand alone—if there isn't a book to follow, do you want your readers satisfied or ripping their hair out in frustration? You can always pick up a well-written series someplace else…but if you alienate your readers by leaving them stranded, they won't forgive you so easily.


Does Your Story Have Series Potential?

Little did I know, back when writing my stand alone book, I was, in fact, laying the groundwork for a potentially successfully series. My publisher has since contacted the second book and is wondering when the third will show up in her inbox. I still have the responsibility to make sure each of the other books stand on their own feet.

While any story has the ability to spin off, series need better planning. However, with a little foresight, you can evaluate your work and make the important decision of turning your stand alone into a series.

You simply must make wise engineering decision to keep your work on track.


Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. She's the author of the urban fantasy trilogy The Books of the Demimonde as well as WORDS THAT BIND. She also writes for YA and NA audiences under the pen name AJ Krafton. THE HEARTBEAT THIEF, her Victorian dark fantasy inspired by Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”, is now available.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

When to email an agent or editor

Over on the QueryTracker forums, one of the perennial questions is when it's okay to contact an agent. Back when I was still in the query trenches, I remember feeling terrified whenever it had to be done...or could it be done at all?

Frankly, with my first two agents, I was scared out of my mind whenever I did attempt to contact them, and we were already yoked together with a contract. There was no reason I should have been so scared to talk to them, but I had them on pedastles in my mind, and I would shrink with fear rather than call. By the time I had my last one, I'd just pick up the phone.

So on the one hand: Don't be scared to communicate with an agent. Agents and editors are in the communications industry. For that reason, they expect a certain amount of communication to take place.

And on the other hand: Don't pester them. There are certain times an agent will expect to hear from you and won't think it's even a little unusual to do so.

So let's go over the times it's a good idea to pester an agent. Ready?

1) When you send your initial query. 

You probably don't need a whole lot of encouragement about this, but some writers do feel unnerved about querying an agent. "What if she doesn't like it?" "What if she feels I'm wasting her time?"

"What if his agency guidelines have changed
 and now he wants all queries submitted
 in iambic pentameter in a
 trebuchet font--?"

No, no, no, no. Take a deep breath and send this query. Make sure you do it according to the guidelines on the agent's website, but don't worry about upsetting the agent or wasting his/her time. This is an understood part of their position and you're not going to annoy them with your one query following the guidelines. (In fact, if you follow the guidelines, you're already in the top five percent of queriers.)

(In case I've instilled within you a false bravery: please never call the agency to pitch over the phone. Follow the guidelines.)

2) When the agent requests more material

Yay! Don't be like me and triple your blood pressure when you get that request in your inbox. (I used to exclaim at the offending email, "This is a mistake! You were supposed to reject me.")  Take your time and assemble the material requested by the agent, make sure it's attached, and then hit send. Close your eyes if you have to. Pace around the house and hyperventilate if you must. It's okay. You had permission to contact the agent this time, so you may do so without fear.

3) When it's been a long time since you submitted the requested material

For you, 48 hours is going to be a really long time since you submitted your requested material, and you'll ask yourself how freaking long it takes to read one book.

"A long time" actually means three months on a partial and six months on a full. Only then may you nudge. No, it doesn't take six months to read a book. But the agent already has a full roster of clients, contracts to read, editors to pitch, conferences to attend, and probably a stack of other full and partial requests.

(When you want to pester an agent while waiting, that's fine, but pester a different agent by returning to step 1. It works. The new agent will just see your shiny new query and won't think, "I bet she queried me because she had already waited three days on a full and couldn't sit on her hands any longer." Bonus: You may get more requests this way and then you can divide your fretting amongs several fulls and partials rather than just one.)

4) When you have an offer on the table

All bets are off here. You've had a phone conversation with an agent who has now offered you representation. This is the point where you contact every single agent who still has a live full or partial from you and let them know, even if you're not at a "nudge" point.

You give the other agents a reasonable amount of time to get back to you (anywhere from one week to two weeks) and rest assured they are happier if you contact them now than if they read your manuscript only to find out they'd wasted their time. (Don't do that.)

Some agents at this point will step aside rather than try to read your manuscript in a few days. But all of them will want to know.

Some agents want to be notified even if they have only your query letter. Other agents don't. Apparently there's no industry standard for that.

5) When the agent has given helpful advice on a rejection and you want to say thank you.

This is another one where I see agents talking on Twitter and voicing preferences that don't all agree. Everyone agrees you shouldn't CC 58 agents on the same query email, but they're really divided on whether it's okay to say thank you to helpful advice.

I always erred on the side of thanking the agent. If I found the advice helpful, I would send a two or three line email (maximum! I know we're writers and we can get carried away here, but don't) and say thank you for your time and your insights. If this manuscript doesn't land a home on this go-around, you will be in my first batch of agents to query on the next book.

On the minus side: you're taking up their time. On the plus side: it's polite and professional, and agents are human beings who take pride in their jobs, so you might as well let them know when they've helped you out. It doesn't cost you to be thankful.

Also, there are times when you should never contact an agent. Ready?

1) When you are drunk.

2) When you are angry. If you're going to react to unfair and pompous rejections, do so by screaming into a pillow or sending a nasty email to yourself, then deleting it. Later on, have a good laugh at the agent's expense.

But do not involve the agent in your venting. Ideally, the agent will never know she or he got under your skin.

3) When you're worried that your material got lost in cyberspace or it's been two whole weeks or your friend got a response from that agent faster than you did. Don't fret over this stuff. Email doesn't go missing nearly as often as you think it does, and agents tackle their inboxes in different ways. Take a deep breath and go pester a new agent.

Okay? Okay! So now go there and send your emails, and follow up appropriately, and remember to laugh. Keep those queries flying!