A Vintage Thanksgiving Card


The Trials and Tribulations of a Forkless Hostess

placesettingsPlace Settings

I don’t know about you, but my Thanksgiving table won’t look like the Warsaw Royal Castle place settings pictured above. No eighteenth or nineteenth century silver service, gilt brass, or crystal goblets. Not even six spoons, knives, and forks. Well, I could probably scrape together six mismatched spoons and knives but not the forks.

Unlike the wealthy Victorians whose silverware included numerous forks, I possess a collection, which pales in comparison. I don’t have task-specific forks for lemons, oysters, strawberries, olives, pickles, berries, fish, lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, cake, cold meats, toasting, or ice-cream. Yes, ice-cream.


Vintage English brass toasting fork collection for sale

I’m not sure how the ice-cream fork functioned, nor do I know why my dinner forks keep vanishing. Perhaps they’re in the same villainous vortex that lures socks from their mates, but one would think forks would make louder protests.

Since I doubt police interest in the multi-tined disappearance of six mismatched dinner forks, I’m off in search of replacements. Again. Meanwhile, peruse the links about the history of forks. Just don’t abscond with the rest of my silverware.


History of Victorian forks:

History of forks:

Choosing the correct Victorian fork:

Collecting forks:

What do you lose other than socks and forks?

Literary Agent Kristin Nelson with a Side of Scones


What did I learn at a recent Skype chat my local chapter arranged with literary agent, Kristin Nelson? Read my notes below. ~ Jillian

Disclaimer:  Any resemblance to real comments, given or intended by Kristin Nelson, is purely fabulous. All comments are my recollections. They were discerned under the influence of sleep-deprivation courtesy of my new neighbors who partied until 3:00 a.m. and the delicious raisin amandine scones procured by our Special Events coordinator. No scones were unharmed during the making of this post.



  • The Nelson Literary Agency (NLA) offers a digital liaison support program with a full time software engineer who uses the same In Design layout as the Big 5 publishers. This program is for current clients who want to keep full control and rights to their work. NLA is also test piloting a similar program for guest authors who are referred by agency clients.
  • Why use a traditional publisher? If they are 100% behind a book, they have access to markets, which aren’t reachable by other means.
  • Growth is faster in adult markets than teen markets, because adults buy the majority of books.
  • The largest sales revenue comes from Amazon. Kobo outsells Apple depending on the genre. Google sales are improving. Sony’s are not.
  • Should you submit your self-pub books to traditional publishers? Publishers want to see sales in the 150,000 copies per 2 months range or more. If you’re already selling 150, 000 copies a month, the current publisher rate of  $250,000 per book advance may not be worth losing all rights to your book(s), especially if you can earn that much money on your own within 3 months.


  • Subscription services offered by publishers can affect backlists and percentages. Find out how they pay for content access. If your backlist has already reverted back, you don’t have to worry. If you’re a debut author in the next 12 months, you may have to agree to the publisher’s terms or walk away from the contract.
  • Non-compete clauses, which are narrow and specific, benefit authors. Try to restrict genre and limit time period to 6-9 mos. Check how terms affect print and digital. Sometimes these clauses are clearly labeled in the contract, but they can be hidden in the author warranties and indemnities section.
  • If you sign with a traditional publisher in the next 12 months, chances are the out of print clause will prevent you from ever getting your rights back. Avoid sales thresholds of 250-400 copies in 12 mos. for all editions. Try to narrow the clause to just trade, not special editions like audio, book club, etc. If terms are revenue based rather than copy based, check conversion amount needed. Best term is a finite time period, but few U.S. publishers want to agree. If your novel breaks out, they don’t want to renegotiate. You’ll have more clout.
  • Most publishers want world English rights rather than North American rights. Try to keep your world rights.
  • If you have a contract, fulfill it.

Career Longevity:

  • During this period of change explore and learn more about options for traditional, hybrid, and Indie paths. Decide what’s best for you and don’t feel guilty about not choosing another path.
  • Hope for more parity in author royalty rates from 25% net to a more equal partnership of 50% net for physical and print.

Current Trends:

Romance outsells other genres in digital markets. About 10 fantasy /sci-fi and 50 romance Indie authors are well known or have break out novels. Some mystery and thriller authors are successful, and a few Young Adult authors cross over into adult markets. There aren’t any successful authors in literary fiction or middle grade yet.

Historical romance is down a bit, but the readers are still there. Paranormal and magical realism are hard sells. Publishers want contemporary like Rachel Gibson or New Adult, which is chick lit repackaged. Instead of discovering identity through career and girlfriends with a bit of romance, New Adult puts more emphasis on the romance and identity elements. Most traditional publishers offer debut authors a digital contract first with little marketing support. If debut author does well, publisher may offer print and stronger marketing especially if an agent or the author pushes for support.


Kristin’s Submission Advice:

Kristin wants a voice and story she can’t put down. She hasn’t acquired a romance novel in 2 years and isn’t actively shopping for one. Her client list is full, but she can be convinced. Check the submissions page of The Nelson Agency website for what she and Sara Megibow are seeking. Her agency closes Dec. 20th-Jan. 6th. Queries received during that period will receive auto delete and resend notice. Wait until Jan. 7th to query.

Common problems with first 3 chapters:

  • Reader not physically anchored in scene. Too cryptic or obscure.
  • Opening with big action or traumatic scene. Can be simple everyday action as long as the author makes the scene powerful and creates tension.
  • Characters don’t have a purpose for their actions.
  • No escalating tension.
  • No plot or enough plot with stakes to move the story forward.
  • Witty dialogue without crucial information.
  • Taking reader away from the crucial focus in a scene to include the senses.

How can you fix common problems? Roadmap. Have a partner read your first 3 chapters. Then ask them to reread them listing the plot elements (only what happens) in each chapter. Process will reveal too many or too few plot elements in a chapter and why. Aim for balance of plot, dialogue, introspection, etc. Revise and continue the process throughout your manuscript. (The Nelson Agency will have 2014 webinars for writers including How To Think Like an Agent, which covers roadmapping in more detail.)

How do you break in and gain a contract? Make sure your manuscript is ready.  Debut authors have to earn their contracts. There are no new stories only new ways of telling stories. Even experienced writers will whiff or blow a story at some point forgetting everything they knew. Stay positive!


What do you think about Kristin’s take on publishing, contracts, career longevity, current trends, and submissions?


The Nelson Agency website

The Golden Heart Part 2: Entering the Contest

 golden_ticket copy =  golden_ticket ?

Is being a winner or finalist a Golden Ticket to a publishing contract? It’s not a guarantee, but it attracts the attention of agents and editors. Since the contest opens to entries today, make sure your expectations are realistic and your entry is ready. Check out the links below.
Good luck! ~ Jillian


Golden Heart Guidelines: http://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=536

Contests and Careers Series by Darynda Jones

Reasons for Entering by Jennie Lin, 2009 Golden Heart Winner:

Tips for Entering the Golden Heart:

From 2011 finalist, Clarissa Southwick

From 2011 finalist, Erin Knightley

Checklist from the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood blog

Related Posts:

The Golden Heart Part 1: Judging Contests

What Are Your Experiences with Contests?

Future Posts in The Golden Heart Series:  

Dec. 2013 – Mar. 2014  Click here to follow my blog.

Have you entered writing contests? If so, what advice do you have?

The Golden Heart Part 1: Judging Contests

judge_ribbonA simple rationale and guest blog by the Grammar Wench, Jody Wallace

Not all contests are created equal. The Golden Heart requires a first round judge to read 55 pages (partial + synopsis) per entry. The scores based on only the partial are tallied using a four-part rubric. The judges are not allowed to comment, but they certainly have opinions about the entries and reasons for judging.

So, why take time to judge writing contests when you’re so Gol Dern busy?

Because you’re a writer.

That’s what it boils down to. You’re probably a writer if you plan to read this series of posts. If you’re not, you at least have a mad love for reading, hence your involvement with RWA or a similar organization.

As a writer, you’re curious.

As a curious writer, you want to know things. Such as what other people are writing. Especially people who aren’t published yet, because published stuff is already available.

One way to find out what’s unpublished and lurking in the wings is to judge contests.

Thus, judging contests fulfills your curiosity.

If that’s not enough rationale for you (and if that’s not a long enough post for our esteemed Ms. Jillian Lark), consider the distinct probability that you, as a writer, can hone your talent for words and become better at what you do by judging contests.

No, I’m not talking about your razor sharp wit. Contest judging isn’t an invitation to hone your predilection for pithy putdowns. Leave that to Simon Cowell, your fiction, your battles with your nemesis, and occasional encounters with rude strangers who totally deserve it.

Contest judging is an opportunity to exercise your skill in literary analysis, which you need in order to, I don’t know, solve your own plotting issues, combined with your skill at finding the perfect words for difficult situations. And that, my friends, comes in handy anytime you write anything.

Can you look at a piece of writing and think, “I see what she did there, and that’s clever?” Can you look at a piece of writing and think, “There but for the grace of Dog, go I?” Dogs not being particularly graceful, when you read a piece of writing with an eye for judgment, you can become more aware of the underpinnings of said writing and your own writing as well. You can figure out what ingredients were used to create this stew of plot and character. What ingredients were used…and what ingredients might make the stew more palatable.

In your opinion.

In your perfectly worded, because you’re an awesome writer, but honest opinion. That opinion may be in the vein of Yippee I Love You, and that opinion may be less salubrious, but equally supportive. You’re a contest judge, not a book reviewer, whose job is to share an opinion with other readers. What you have to say is literally FOR the author, who does not deserve to be kicked in the face no matter how much you disliked the partial. That’s called punching down, friends, and mostly it’s something power-tripping jerks do. You’re not a power-tripping jerk with limited writing skills, are you?

Which is to say, if you cannot find the right words to be honest yet diplomatic with a fellow writer, you may not be as talented a writer yourself as you think.

It takes no effort to be snarky, rude or insulting, given the anonymity of most contest judging. Look at any Internet comments section, if you dare. The difference between a crappy contest judge and an Internet troll is that the judge will (maybe) spell more words correctly and not mention Hitler. One hopes. On the other hand, it takes a lot of effort—and skill—to build up without putting down.

Can you do it? Can you satisfy your curiosity about the “competition,” enrich your writerly competence, and fairly judge contests? Can you give your peer who entered the contest something to chew on, not something that will gag her? There’s a wonderful reward in it for you—a unique look at works-in-progress, improved mastery of words, and the chocolate you will buy yourself because yum. And that reward is why you should judge contests, if you can find the time, the opportunity, and the grace.

Happy Judging! ~ Jody Wallace

Jody Wallace photo

The Grammar Wench, aka Jody Wallace, spent umpteen or sevenish years coordinating her local RWA chapter contest and enters and judges a lot of contests as well. Ms. Wallace loves grammar, commas, cats, amigurumi, writing romance novels, drinking a maximum of two cups of coffee a day, watching her handsome husband do dishes, and battling her nemesis with razor sharp wit.

You can find out more about Ms. Wallace at http://www.jodywallace.com, and you can find out more about the mistress of the Wallace household, Meankitty, at http://www.meankitty.com.


Are you judging the Golden Heart contest?  If so, why did you volunteer?  Have you judged other contests?



Scoring Guidelines and Registration for Judging The Golden Heart (RWA members only)

Kristan Huxman

Erin O’Quinn

Kay Hudson

Loucinda McGary

Related posts:

How to Build a Better Writing Contest

Future posts:

Golden Heart series continues next week and ends in Mar. 2014. Click here to follow my blog.