“Thank you for your interest in Zoetrope: All Story,

 

We are a staff of two, assisted by a small team of brilliant and generous volunteers, who are collectively dedicated to reading and responding to the 12,000 submissions All Story receives annually…

…All-Story does not accept submissions via e-mail. Send stories to:…”

The above guidelines come from Zoetrope: All Story, one of the top tier literary magazines of today. My response:

Dear Zoetrope,

Your submission guidelines are fucked up. Snail mail had a purpose…once. There are better options, and the time is now.

The list of deservedly established writers published at your magazine is formidable: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Woody Allen, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Roberto Bolaño, Robert Olen Butler, Don DeLillo, Mary Gaitskill, Kathryn Harrison, Ha Jin, Jonathan Lethem, Yiyun Li, Naguib Mahfouz, Alice Munro, Salman Rushdie, Kurt Vonnegut, & David Foster Wallace. Many writers would love to join this crew, do not mind submitting, and hope to be “discovered” on the slush pile. Yet how do the majority of your authors submit? I doubt Woody Allen stuffs an envelope and drops it in the mail, fingers crossed, hoping Zoetrope will make his proverbial day. But that’s what you demand of the regular scribe, and while all writers are not stereotypical “starving artists,” they would love to save a dime or two, unlike ol’ Woody, who can afford the postage. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, Woody’s earned the privilege, but then why bother taking submissions from the masses? No matter how good an unknown’s story is, Woody and friends aren’t gettin’ bumped. Fetid grapes aside, The New Yorker now accepts E-subs, but even The Diddle Ass Review should. And so should Zoetrope.

Electronic mail or submission managers are no longer science fiction, and function more efficiently than snail. E-subs might create an overflow of stories, but there are solutions: short windows for submissions or charging nominal fees (not writer friendly, either, chief sinner Narrative Magazine, charging nasty clam so they can pay all the writers they solicit, but that’s another rant). Here’s the analysis:

Estimated annual cost of 12,000 nine-page stories plus cover letters:

  • $ 600 12,000 8½ x11 envelopes 120 x $5 per packet of 100 envelopes
  • $14,040 $1.17 Postage for 12,000 submissions
  • $ 240 12,000 4×9 envelopes for SASE 120 x $2 per packet of 100 envelopes
  • $ 5,280 $0.44 Postage for 12,000 SASE
  • $ 1,200 120,000 pages @240 x $5 per 500-page ream
  • $ 960 Printer ink cartridges @10,000 pages per cartridge = 12 x $80

Total = $22,320 or over $1,800 per month.

  • Not included but should be considered wasteful:
  • Gas to deliver 12,000 submissions plus 11,998 rejections and two rewrite requests
  • At 3 inches a 500-leaf ream, a 60-foot tall tree of paper

Time at printer preparing envelopes, etc. @five minutes/submission = 100 hours (not to mention time spent by “brilliant and generous volunteers” who, with Bartleby-like futility, refine skills in a Sisyphean search for fabulous stories that will never be accepted by Zoetrope)

Fifty Zoetrope clones would push the cost over a million dollars. Smaller mags? Every 100 subs/month = $2,232/year. Yet as the smaller mags regularly publish from slush, the waste not as egregious.


Zoetrope, your guidelines continue: “Before submitting, non-subscribers should read several issues of the magazine.” What a deal! I’m sure you’re not intentionally trying to screw writers, but c’mon, this is way totally like effin’ really just absolutely too fucked up.
Certainly, writers should do their part, not waste editors time with inappropriate submissions, and buy, read, and support literary magazines; that’s yet another topic. Bottom line: writers might buy more magazines if they had more money, and they might read more if they had more time. Right? If one writer has ten stories and submits each story twenty times that’s over $350 a year a writer could spend on food, rent, books, and subscriptions to literary magazines. Sure, Zoetrope, you are not the only guilty party. Those lovable stalwarts over at The Sun, despite their concern about social issues, environment, and poverty, refuse to evolve. Others? The list includes The Atlantic, Crab Creek Review, Creative Nonfiction, The Georgia Review, The Iowa Review, The Texas Review, Zyzzyva, etc., not to mention the publishers and agents that postpone electronic. The cost rises into millions of dollars, a forest of paper trees, and oodles of wasted hours. So Zoetrope and cohorts, big and small, agents and editors and publishers, take heed: Stop the snail. Or be fucked up.

Sincerely,

Caleb “The Mad Writer” Powell

Ladies and gentlemen of the court, all rise for the noble and knowledgeable Danielle Chiotti, literary agent at Upstart Crow Literary and esteemed judge of WordHustler’s Literary Storm Novel Contest (NEWSFLASH: due to popular demand, we’ve extended the deadline to February 26, 2010! You’ve still got time to submit!). Danielle is passionate about great writing, finding amazing new clients, and helping writers succeed in the publishing industry.

Luckily for us, Danielle made time in her busy schedule to sit down and discuss what draws her to different books, how important the query letter really is, and how she plucks talented writers out of the slush pile. Will you be the next gifted scribe to catch her eye?

Read the interview to find out, then polish those manuscripts and send them out!

WordHustler: How did you get your start in the publishing industry?

Danielle Chiotti: Completely by accident, actually. I graduated with a degree in Creative Writing, and spent a year waitressing before I basically stumbled into a job doing reader’s reports for a small literary agency. A few months later, they asked me if I wanted to come in and learn about being an agent. I had no idea what that meant, but I thought, “Oh, why not?” I’ve been working in publishing ever since.

WH: You’ve worked all over the publishing industry, at places like Kensington Publishing and Adams Media. What is the main difference between editing and agenting, and why did you decide to make the switch?

DC: Literary agents have a lot more autonomy than editors do; we’re not beholden to a certain set of parameters for publishing a book. I loved my work as an editor, but there were always so many rules about what I could and could not acquire, depending on the needs of the publisher. As an agent, I can truly sign the projects I love–in any area I choose.

WH: What draws you to a fiction book? Non-fiction?

More... DC: Goodness. The obvious answer for each of these questions is: Good writing!

For fiction, it’s really all about the voice. I’m drawn to stories in which the voice grabs you in the first line and doesn’t let go. The three main narrators of Kathryn Stockett’s THE HELP, for example, just blew me away. I also read Elizabeth Strout’s OLIVE KITTERIDGE over the holidays, and I just can’t stop thinking about Olive. Such a complex, flawed, and interesting character. Of course, plot is also important in fiction, but most of all, I look for characters who are so interesting and unique that they could be telling me about something really boring–like wallpaper– and I’d be positively riveted. I also tend to favor strong, flawed female characters, and fish-out-of-water stories.

For nonfiction, I tend toward narrative that explores a previously unexplored topic, or that brings a fresh take to a perennial topic. For example, Michael Chabon’s MANHOOD FOR AMATEURS is certainly well-trod territory, as far as “dad lit” goes, but so beautifully and heartbreakingly written that the topic doesn’t feel stale. I also adore food memoir.

WH: You also represent a fair amount of YA authors. Do you think the YA world is more challenging than the adult world?

DC: I think each has its challenges, and I don’t want to say that one is more difficult than the other. What I will say is that since YA has been the category “du jour” for so long, it’s getting crowded, and the competition is fierce.

WH: Who are a few of your favorite authors out there today? (Obviously you can include people you rep…it’s only fair!)

DC: Of course all of the authors I represent are my favorite authors! They are an enormously talented group of people. I’m honored to be working with them, and I’m always thrilled to read what they’re working on next.

My reading tastes range far and wide. Anyone who has read my profile on the Upstart Crow site knows of my undying devotion to E.B. White and CHARLOTTE’S WEB, which is pretty much the book that started it all for me. I’ve read Michael Chabon’s THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH so many times that the pages are falling out. I think I mentioned earlier that I adore food memoir, and so I’m a devoted fan of Ruth Reichl and all of her books, especially COMFORT ME WITH APPLES. I’ve also always had a soft spot for retired romance author LaVyrle Spencer; I used to steal her novels from my mother’s bookshelf and sneak them into my room!

WH: What types of books are you looking for that you haven’t found yet?

DC: A book with a kick-ass zombie heroine–think BREATHERS, only with a female protagonist. I keep putting it out there on Twitter, but no one has risen to meet my challenge yet!

WH: What’s your take on the publishing industry today? In dire straights or blooming? Both? Neither?

DC: There’s been much debate on the state of the publishing industry today, lots of doomsday speculation about the death of publishing, and even some heated debates about the role of literary agents in an author’s career, especially with the growth in popularity of e-books and the like.

I tend to think that much of the online chatter is just that: chatter. Publishing has proven itself time and time again to be a resilient industry, and though there have certainly been some dark days in the recent past, I’m always amazed by the ability of the industry to pick itself up, dust itself off, readjust, and thrive.

No matter how the content is published in the future, publishers will always be looking for talented authors, and thus authors will always need an advocate to help them navigate the publishing process and think about the trajectory of their career in the long term. So I guess that’s a long way of saying that I remain optimistic about the future of publishing, in whatever form it may take.

WH: Let’s get into the nitty-gritty: what percentage of authors that you decide to represent come from the unsolicited submissions?

DC: Oh, are you going to make me do math? No fun! The truth is, the bulk of my current client list has come from unsolicited submissions. I rely very heavily on my unsolicited submissions to find talent, and I give them very serious consideration. I’ve found (and signed and sold) some absolutely amazing writers as a result.

WH: How important is the query letter? Do you want any sample pages or does the query make enough of a first impression?

DC: Every agent seems to have a different take on query letters. For me, a clearly-written, professional query letter is incredibly important. That said, it’s nearly impossible to gauge a project’s true worth from a query letter. So at Upstart Crow, we’ve made it part of our submissions policy that writers are invited to send along the first 20 pages of their manuscript with their query letter. For more information and a complete set of submissions guidelines, visit here.

WH: What are three things in a query that make you want to read more?

DC: Ah, this is an interesting question. I know that most writers would prefer that I answer in absolutes, but the more queries I read and consider, the more convinced I become that queries are not at all a black and white issue. But in an effort to be specific, the three things in a query letter than make me want to read more are:

1. A concise summary of the book.

2. A unique/compelling premise.

3. An indication that the writer as thoroughly researched my areas of interest/background and feels we’d be a good match. It’s pretty easy to tell when a writer hasn’t done their homework and doesn’t really know a lot about the agency or my specific interests as an agent.

But if I can be totally honest here, reading a query or sample pages is kind of like going on a blind date–it’s all about the spark. When I read a query and sample pages, I’m not only looking for the elements I listed above, I’m looking to feel a connection to the writing, the story, and most of all–the characters. Call me a hopeless romantic, but when I read a query or sample pages, I’m looking to fall in love at first sight.

WH: What are three things that let you know this project/writer isn’t for you?

DC: 1. A query that tries to be too flashy/stylish, but that leaves me with too many unanswered questions about the story. It’s best to be concise and up front about the story in your query letter, and to summarize it to the best of your ability.

2. Unoriginal or “copycat” ideas that are riding a current trend (vampires, for instance!).

3. Anything that is in the mystery/thriller category, or poetry or short stories.

WH: What advice can you give aspiring writers out there?

DC: Writing your novel and then querying agents is a long process, but you have to keep the faith that something will happen for you. Be persistent and constantly dedicated to your craft!

Don’t ever stop reading, don’t ever stop asking questions, don’t ever stop striving to push your writing to the next level. Complacency is the enemy of any writer.

Also, while Internet is a great resource–for networking, researching and the like–I find that many writers are using it for a diversion these days. If you’re spending more time on writing websites, message boards, and Twitter than you are on your own writing, you should set aside time to unplug and get back into it.

WH: Do you think WordHustler helps writers successfully get their work out there and into your hands, professionally and effectively?

DC: Of course I do! It’s a most excellent resource for writers. Good luck, and write well!

We find the judge GUILTY of having amazing taste and publishing wisdom to spare! So you heard her, Hustlers- polish those manuscripts, perfect those queries, and work on getting your projects 100% up to snuff. Then send them out digitally via our brand-spankin’ new Digital Submission System which helps you find contact info and track all of your submissions in one easy place.

Yes, we said ALL of your submissions because everyone knows that getting published is a numbers game. Aim to have ten submissions out and in play at ALL TIMES. Doing this ensures that writing success is just within reach. Don’t forget to submit your novel to our Literary Storm Novel Contest as well! Danielle could very well decide your manuscript is a real WINNER! All hail the judge!

Have you ever wanted to sit a literary agent down and ask them all those burning questions bouncing around in your brain: How important is the query? What kind of books get you excited? How many author clients do you REALLY find in the slush pile?

So have we. And so we did. Enter Adriann Ranta, newly-arrived agent at Wolf Literary Services who has spent years shepherding writers through the editing and agenting processes. Adriann handled all the hard-hitting writing questions we dished out, and even asked for seconds.

Read on to discover what Adriann considers the best kind of query letters, what she thinks about YA books, and why she loves the word “percussive.” Then it’ll be time to get an agent for yourself! Success never tasted so good!

WordHustler: How did you get your start in the publishing industry?

Adriann Ranta: I graduated with my obligatory, directionless liberal arts degree having no idea what I wanted to do with books, but knowing I had to do something with them since they’re all I’ve really felt passionately about. After considering and quickly declining a phone sex job as an outlet for creativity, I got a job at The Editorial Department, the oldest freelance editing firm in the country, based in Tucson, AZ.

I worked as their managing editor of Between the Lines, gathering info and interviewing professionals in the industry. Eventually, I moved to New York and through a variety of internships, assistant positions, and odd jobs found that agenting is the niche that most suits me.

WH: What’s the main difference between editing and agenting, and why did you decide to make the switch?

AR: I really enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit of agenting. There’s a huge amount of flexibility in what an agent decides to take on, and it’s heavily based on individual sensibilities and gut. An agent is present in most every aspect of publication (from line-editing a rough manuscript to cover consultation and publicity) so it feels impossible to have a boring day.

Then there’s the chance to “discover” breathtaking new books, meet some of the warmest, most passionate people in an industry devoted to something I love, and championing authors through a difficult and unpredictable career. I still enjoy the editing process, but I find agenting more varied and eventful.

WH: What draws you to a fiction book? Non-fiction?

AR: With both, voice is very important to me. There are a lot of aspects of a manuscript that can be fixed through the editing process, but voice seems to be one of those things that you either have or you don’t. If the writing itself is boring, stilted, awkward, unrealistic, or self-conscious I don’t care what it’s about, I can’t read it.

I personally enjoy edgier books with quirky, unique protagonists. I love spunky, fresh narrators that show a different view of the world we see every day. I have a hard time with fantasy with no rooting in the real world.

An engaging voice is crucial in trade non-fiction, and a bizarre topic, new perspective, or unique credibility usually hooks me.

WH: You also represent a fair amount of YA authors. Do you think the YA world is more challenging than the adult world?

AR: The only aspect I find challenging is the misconception that YA is a dumbed-down version of an adult book. The tendency to underestimate what teenagers are capable of reading is especially frustrating. The market for YA, however, has shown to be a thriving genre with tons of exciting new voices.

WH: Who are a few of your favorite authors out there today?

AR: Ugh, I have always struggled with this question! I adore Tana French‘s police procedurals, I absolutely devoured Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER over the course of a recent weekend, and currently can’t put down Stieg Larsson‘s bestselling series. Also Sherman Alexie, Tom Robbins, Junot Diaz, and tons more.

WH: What’s your take on the publishing industry today? In dire straits or blooming? Both? Neither?

AR: I think that publishing is economizing just like other businesses are-neither dire straits nor blooming. I’m interested to see where we go with ebooks (Nathan Bransford recently made an interesting post about this), though I personally can’t imagine ever foregoing a physical, bound book for an electronic one. It’s depressing to think about a world without bookstores everywhere, but the people I speak to are just trying to be informed and flexible.

WH: Let’s get into the nitty-gritty: what percentage of authors that you decide to represent come from the unsolicited submissions?

AR: Since I’m just starting to build my list at Wolf Literary, I’m relying a lot on the slush pile at the moment. Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that I’ll start getting roped into mass emailed submissions rather than personalized, researched queries, so that percentage will get a bit grimmer.

WH: How important is the query letter? Do you want any sample pages or does the query make enough of a first impression?

AR: The query letter is indescribably important! We do ask for the first 50 pages of the manuscript, but if the query letter doesn’t exhibit the author’s skill as a writer or the hook of the manuscript, there’s no reason to read beyond that pitch letter. The query letter should be the apex of an author’s writing skill.

WH: What are three things in a query that make you want to read more?

AR: One of my authors used the word “percussive” in his query letter, which was the absolute perfect, most thought out word choice. So:

1)      Clever, elegant word choice
2)      Clear, engaging, succinct prose
3)      Research into agency guidelines and individual tastes

WH: What are three things that let you know this project/writer isn’t for you?

AR: 1)      Lack of professionalism (typos, pink stationary, head shots, scorpions set in acrylic resin…)
2)      No research into how we’d prefer to accept queries or what my interests are
3)      Obsessive emails/phone calls/faxes/smoke signals beyond just “checking in”

WH: What advice can you give aspiring writers out there?

AR: The representation process is very subjective, which makes personalization and research incredibly important. Sending a manuscript to an agent that pointedly doesn’t represent your genre is a waste of everyone’s time. Be patient, be persistent, be positive-just like any other professional relationship, sometimes random timing is everything. (That was unintentionally alliterative.)

WH: Shameless plug alert: do you think WordHustler helps writers successfully get their work out there and into your hands, professionally and effectively?

AR: I’m a huge fan of any vehicle that helps writers and agents find each other.

You heard it here first, Hustlers. Adriann accepts queries via email, which means you can sign up for our brand new Digital Submission System and be able to access Wolf Literary Services’ contact info and track your submission to them, all in one organized place: WordHustler. Sign up today!