Thursday, April 12, 2012

And So We Say Good-Bye

In 2006 I had the idea to start a blog. Not a lot of thought went into this idea other than the fact that blogs were the hot new medium for marketing and it could help not only build our agency but our clients as well. At the same time I was cutting back on my conference speaking schedule and missed the interaction with authors and the ability to teach what I know. The blog seemed the perfect way to continue this.

It's been five years and a terrific ride, but after much thought and deliberation I've decided that it's time to say good-bye to the blog (obviously my work with BookEnds and the agency will continue). And while I can't promise I'll stay away forever (watch for the occasional blog post to pop up) I also can't promise those posts will pop up.

It doesn't seem like blogs have as much "power" as they used to, especially with the ease and speed of sources like Twitter and Facebook. Most important, however, I don't have the passion for the blog that I once did. While I will surely miss hearing from the authors I've learned so much from, I think I will find other ways to interact.


The blog and all posts will remain up indefinitely for those who are still learning or want to refer to previous posts and you can always fine all of the BookEnds agents on Twitter if you have questions or want to know what we're up to.

I can't thank you enough for all I've learned from you. Because of feedback and comments I've grown as an agent and changed a number of BookEnds policies. Because of you I've stayed connected with the writers and, hopefully, gained a better understanding of what this business is like from your end.

I'm going to miss the blog and all of you. I feel like I should have something grand and profound to say, but all I can come up with is a slight bow, a wave, and a heartfelt thank-you for joining me in this journey.

Jessica

Reactions:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Publishers Taking Risks

We've heard so often the complaint that publishers never take risks, that agents never take risks, and of course there are some who will say those are the reasons we're seeing the "downfall of publishing" today. I don't necessarily believe that. I think given how many new authors are published each year and how many of those succeed as well as how many fail shows that publishers take risks every day. Every book is a risk, whether it's a debut or not. No matter how much experience we all have we're never quite sure what's going to grab the attention of the reader.

That being said, recently when I heard that lament it made me think back to a publisher I once worked for, and by publisher I mean the individual, not the company. This particular publisher was a dreamer and a believer in all the good ways. The publisher loved the business and was enthusiastic about all the things about it, especially the books. One of the things this publisher charged was that each editor was allowed to buy one "book of the heart" each year. What that meant was that even if everyone in-house had doubts about whether the book would sell or could sell, the editor was given the ability to make a modest go of it, meaning the editor couldn't spend a million dollars for a book no one thought the house could do justice, but the editor could take a chance on something everyone else felt a little on the fence about.

For a young editor like me this was a really exciting opportunity, and while I never was able to buy my "book of the heart" before the publisher went another way, I held that feeling of excitement and carry it with me as an agent today.

I can't begin to tell you how often I've offered representation to an author for a book that I honestly thought would be a challenge to sell, but one I was excited about. And before all of my clients get worried, upon making the offer I've always been up front with the author about my belief that the book might be a long shot, but one that I thought was worth the risk. Some have sold, others have not, but either way I've never regretted taking the chance.

One caveat to all of this is that, as a writer, if you have an agent or publisher taking a chance on your book you still want to make sure it's a place that has some knowledge of where they're taking the chance to. In other words, you probably don't want me to take a chance on your illustrated children's book since that's so outside of my knowledge base that it just wouldn't be a smart move. I wouldn't even begin to know where to sell it to. You probably wouldn't want a business publisher taking a chance on your romance novel. Again, do they have the sales force available to even talk to the right buyers?


Jessica

Reactions:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Interns

There's been a lot of discussion in small business circles about whether or not interns need to be paid for the work they are doing. The concern is that companies are "hiring" unpaid interns to do work that should be done by paid assistants. That an unpaid internship should be a learning experience. And I agree. I agree with much of what's being said. What I have concerns about, however, is what's defined as "learning."

When one gets a job in publishing you usually start out as an assistant of some kind, whether an agent assistant, an editorial assistant, publicity, etc. As an assistant you aren't expected to know the ins and outs of publishing, although some knowledge can be to your credit, but you are expected to do a whole bunch of menial tasks. As an editorial assistant I was in charge of all the filing. Lots and lots of filing, and my boss didn't check the files. It was my job to find a paper for her whenever she needed it, and quickly. I was also in charge of the Science Fiction library, which meant lugging boxes of books in and out of a small windowless room every month to stack, sort and rearrange, to make sure we had enough copies of each author and to find the space for them on the ever-crowded shelves. I spent a great deal of time faxing, collecting faxes, making photocopies, fixing the copy machine and sometimes, yes sometimes, I had to do things like run out for a cup of coffee or clean out the disgusting office refrigerator. Was it glamorous? No. Was it a job I loved? Absolutely. I also got to read and edit yet-to-be published books, meet famous authors, get autographed books for Christmas presents, and I got to read and discover new authors. It was my dream job, or would be once I jumped through the hoops.

These are exactly the kinds of jobs (minus running for coffee and cleaning out the fridge) I ask both my assistant and my interns to do. Because what I've sadly discovered is that learning how to file is something that a lot of interns need. I'm amazed at the number of people who have come through the BookEnds doors who don't seem to have a basic grasp of how to file or how to fax (or figure out for themselves how to fax) or even how to mail a package. I wonder if doing these tasks would be considered learning, because in my mind they should be.

I remember Kim telling me once about her own internship at Berkley and how one of her tasks was cleaning out and reorganizing all of the files of a huge NYT bestselling author. She said she loved it. She got to read revision letters and contracts and correspondence between the author and her editor. She learned a ton about the process of publishing. And that's something I've noticed with my interns. Filing is a huge part of this job and some of them will pull up a chair and spend the day filing and reading the files and papers and, yes, learning. Others just seem to chuck the files in any folder (and yes, this has caused us many a headache) and not bothered to use the experience to learn.

Another job I often give the interns is reading. We ask the interns to do a great deal of reading and write readers reports, and I think all of us make an effort to give feedback on the reports and show the intern how to write a stronger and better report (something they'll need to do when applying for any editorial job). What they do with that is up to them. They can learn from the feedback we give them or ignore it. Again, I'm amazed by how many ignore it.

I also ask interns to review contracts for me. These are typically contracts I've already reviewed and negotiated, but now I want a second set of eyes to compare it to the one I negotiated and make sure every "i" is dotted, "t" is crossed, and comma is in its place. Let's face it, for any of you who have ever read a publishing contract, there is a lot of "stuff" in that stack of papers, and yet I'm amazed by how few interns have ever asked me questions about the contract, even when I ask if they have any questions. Isn't this a huge opportunity to learn?

An internship is not like school. No matter whether you're paid or not you're not going to get written assignments, papers and tests. You're going to be given tasks that will help the agency or business move forward. How you decide to learn from these tasks is up to you. In my mind, it's a first step to adulthood and a career outside of school. If you want success in this world you have to be bold enough to take the steps to find it and to participate in it. That's how you're going to learn. Two of the assistants I've had were interns. They were the kind who read the files, asked the questions and made themselves invaluable in their short time here. In fact, the interns who learned the most were always the ones who spoke up and showed a desire to learn more. We were always happy to give them more to learn from.

Jessica

Reactions:

Monday, April 09, 2012

Submissions

Those of you who follow us on Twitter have probably seen the news already. All BookEnds agents have new email addresses that should be used for future submissions and queries.

All changes have been made accordingly to our website Submissions and About Us pages. And, in addition to telling you about our email addresses, we thought we'd use this opportunity to let you know what we're looking for these days.

Jessica


Jessica Faust
JFsubmissions@bookends-inc.com

Jessica is currently accepting queries via referral only. There is an office rumor that she might open for a month or so at a time later in the year. If that occurs she'll be looking for cozy mysteries, contemporary romance, historical romance, steampunk (romance and otherwise), and a very limited amount of paranormal romance. She's also looking for women's fiction. In nonfiction Jessica is looking for business books only.


Kim Lionetti
KLsubmissions@bookends-inc.com

Kim is currently closed to submissions. Please check the Submissions page of the BookEnds website periodically for an announcement about when she's open to queries again.


Jessica Alvarez
JAsubmissions@bookends-inc.com

Not too much has changed in what I’m looking for since this post in September. I still have a fairly narrow focus—romance, women’s fiction, and female-focused erotica—but I’ve decided to add cozy mysteries to the mix. In terms of romance, I’m looking for all types of adult romance (in other words, not YA). I had some success in 2011 with historical and inspirational romance, and would like plenty more of those, but I’d like to see contemporaries and books with high sensuality too. With my editorial background at Harlequin, I am open to category romance submissions. I will warn you now that I have been very tough on my romantic suspense and paranormal submissions. I’m still looking for books in both areas, but they have to be phenomenal to keep my attention. Please note that I’m not looking for fantasy, sci-fi, YA, novellas, or nonfiction.


Lauren Ruth
submissions@bookends-inc.com

In fiction, Lauren is looking for: romance—all genres; literary fiction; commercial fiction, especially up-market urban fantasy with romantic elements; middle-grade—all subgenres; young adult—all subgenres; mystery, with a strong focus on cozies; women's fiction on the literary side; and smart chick lit, a la The Devil Wears Prada. On the nonfiction side, she's looking for memoir, parenting and family, relationships, food and lifestyle, business, popular science, popular culture, and popular psychology.

Reactions:

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Updating Your Website

Websites for published authors are becoming more and more important, not just for your readers but for the future of your career. I can't tell you how many times I go to an author's website to check out not just the author's books and career but for quotes and reviews. Which is why it's important to keep your site updated as much as possible. If you have a section for reviews but nothing is there, it looks like you've gotten no good reviews.

I know how hard it is to keep up a website, I know that there are plenty of things I've missed when I don't update enough, which is why, over time, I've simply removed those sections from my site. If you find you can't blog regularly or haven't blogged in months, then simply take down your blog. I think it looks better not to have one than to have a neglected one. The same holds true of reviews. If you can't remember to get in there once a month and update those sections, then simply remove them.

Jessica

Reactions:

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Bitter or Misunderstood?

I've just had a disappointing experience. I'd joined a big writers' network in my state, hoping to find some community but also because they offer a critiquing service. "The Network’s roster of critiquers is selected in accordance with the highest standards of excellence, including publication requirements and extensive mentoring and editing experience."

Yeah.

Well, I chose my critiquer and also began following her on Facebook. (She has an author's page.) Hours before I was going to send the manuscript to the administrator, who would then forward the Word doc. on to the critiquer, I needed a break from reading my novel for the 77th time and went on Facebook. A post from my chosen critiquer just happened to pop into my news feed: New ms for me to critique coming from the ... Writer's Network. Oh boy. My favorite job.
about an hour ago · Like · [Comment]

I did not hit "Like." That's my ms she's complaining about! Now, I know a lot of this work is f@#%ing tiresome. I'm not a professional writer, but I've taken a LOT of classes and reading bad writing is painful. But, then again, I SIGNED up for the class. If the woman, a published author, a teacher (for Gawd's sakes) doesn't want to participate in the critiquing service, why in blazes is she doing it? Why is this industry filled with so many damn bitter people? And I've read plenty of agents' and writers' blogs to know it to be true. (Not Bookends, of course.)

I guess my question, after the whinefest, is how does an unpublished author find someone to edit or critique their manuscript who will approach it with the best intentions, not already pissed off that they HAVE to read another novice's manuscript? How do we find someone who can help us improve? Who will not make us feel as though we're some stray dog showing up at the backdoor, begging for scraps.

I could sign up for another class, but, for one thing, I want my entire novel read, not just the first thirty pages. Also, I'd rather have a one-on-one with someone with skills, not, this time, participate in a big class.




I think this is one of the big problems with social networking. We all think every Tweet could be or is about us and we all read Tweets, blogs, statuses, etc., with our own anxieties in place. In other words, I can't even begin to tell you how many times a blog I've written has been misinterpreted by someone who came to it with their own experience and interpreted what I said in their own way, and in a way I never intended.

I'm sure everyone will have their own impression, but I did not read this in the same way you did. I read this as the status from someone who is enthusiastic about the critique she's about to be doing. I didn't see it as complaining at all.

I suppose it's easy to say that this industry is filled with bitter people, but I guess that also depends on how you see things. When I read the blogs, websites, Tweets and statuses of my colleagues I mostly see enthusiasm and excitement. Of course I'm in the mix too so I know that often the complaints aren't necessarily bitterness, just something to talk about since, honestly, most of us feel that about 80% of our actual day can't be talked about. I can't Tweet when I'm in the middle of contract negotiations. I can't Tweet about the specifics of phone calls I'm having daily with authors and editors, I can't Tweet about the painful revisions I just sent back to a client, etc. I think, based on the comments I see on my own blog, there's bitterness everywhere and, trust me, I know, it's easy for the negative to overpower the positive, but when I take a step back and really look at what people are saying I'll quickly realize that most people are happy and positive.

If you don't feel the person critiquing your book did a good job you can certainly look for someone new, and I suspect the best way to do that is to ask others who they've used or to form a group of your own. Honestly, I think some of the best learning experiences come not from the critiques we receive on our own work, but on what we see or don't see in the work of others. I would skip the classes and find a critique group and/or some beta readers.

Jessica

Reactions:

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Agent Contract Expiration

If you sign with a literary agent and have no success placing your novel over the course of a year, what are your options after the official contract runs out? Can you search for a different agent and try again after some serious re-writes and editing? Is self-publishing worth considering? Is it time to give up, even if you believe the novel has potential?


Well, that depends on the contract. We don't have a contract that automatically expires so I'm not sure I'm the best one to answer this question. Our contract, in all jest, is for the rest of your life. What I mean by that is while we have a very easy termination clause, we hope to take on a client for a career and we don't want to be limited by time, either on our behalf or yours.

So I guess what I would ask you is what does that contract say. Does the expiration date mean automatic cancellation or does the expiration date only mean that you are now allowed to terminate? Once a contract is terminated, however that happens, you are allowed to do whatever you want. You are allowed to search for another agent, self-publish, or even quit and do something different. You know, you are also allowed to take a new project to your agent and continue with that. Many of my clients were signed with one project and first sold with another. Just because you sign with a project doesn't mean that's the one you're going to sell. Signing that contract should be a commitment on both sides to venture forth and build a career together, not just sell a book.

What I would say is that if the book has already been around, and a year has passed, I would hope that you have something new and fresh to take back to your old agent or to new agents. It never does a writer any good to spend a career focusing on just one book.

Jessica

Reactions:

Monday, April 02, 2012

Permissions for Quotes

I am revising the draft of my first novel, and part of it takes place in a school setting, where can see different inscriptions/quotes above doors and in various other places. These quotes are from works by well-known science fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov (such as "Violence is the last refuse of the incompetent" from Asimov's Foundation series). I am curious whether or not I need to approach these writers' estates and ask permission to use them, or if that falls under a caveat in copyright law.


Quotes are probably okay, but don't quote me on that. Whenever you use any material from other sources--quotes, song lyrics, poems, etc.--it is your responsibility as the author to obtain permission for use in whatever format the book will be published. That means use in print, ebook, possible audio, in the U.S. and probably around the world. It is also your responsibility to pay for those permissions should any fees be required.

I can't tell you specifically which quotes you will need permission for and which you won't. I can't say that without knowing exact details and I'm not going to give advice here for fear I might be wrong. That being said, what I can tell you is that you don't need to get the permissions prior to submitting the material. The publisher will require all necessary permissions prior to publication, but for submissions you'll be fine.

What I can also say is when in doubt, ask. In other words, there are definitely copyright laws and then there is the protectiveness of an estate, which can be two separate things. If you have concerns it never hurts to contact the estate to ask.

Jessica

Reactions:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Episodic Nonfiction

Reading your April 8, 2008, blog about narrative nonfiction, I wondered about the storyline for nonfiction, e.g. The Perfect Storm, In Cold Blood, Jon Krakauer's work, and other well-known stories.

Is there such a thing as "episodic" narrative nonfiction? Where the stories are short vignettes? So instead of one continuous long thread, a series of short threads that maybe by the end become a total memoir?

The reason I ask: I am a poet who also writes creative nonfiction, but they are not continuous chapters. They are episodes.



Well, I'm a believer that pretty much anything can be done if done well. Certainly there has been nonfiction published that's really a series of essays. Are you talking about something different from that? I think there's been a great deal of nonfiction published that's really a collection of stories that create a larger tale. If that makes sense.


Jessica

Reactions:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Agent Shopping

I currently have an agent who has a good reputation and has a decent track record. I have done all the background checks I can and when I signed felt I would be well represented by this person. However, through a series of situations and over a six month period with 0 submissions to publishing houses despite a great deal of talk about multiple submissions, I am beginning to believe that this business relationship is not a good match.

What I would like to know from you is, is it bad protocol to start feeling out the waters with other agents (querying) while still under contract? I don't want to do anything unethical or something that would tarnish my reputation as a new author, however I also would like to have an agent that is doing their job asap. And if it is okay to start querying while under contract, do I mention that I am under contract and looking for a more suitable agent?



First let me congratulate you on making the decision early on that this might not be the right relationship. Too often I see authors flounder with an agent who they don't feel is a good fit, but out of fear they won't find another. Taking control of your career from the beginning is a smart move.

I'm going to assume that you've talked with your agent about your concerns. Often I find that assumptions are made about what others are doing without really knowing the facts. For example, I'm constantly shopping books, talking to editors about the work my clients do, hounding publishers for money and contracts, etc., but I'm not always filling my clients in on every step I'm taking for them. For all you know, the agent could be talking you up to editors.

Okay, on to your question. Yes, it's bad protocol to shop for an agent while you're under contract. Honestly, it's a breach of contract and puts all parties, including the agents you're talking to, in a very uncomfortable position. What if your agent happens to be best friends with one of the other agents you're talking to? How does it make you look to other agents if they know you're the kind of author who might go behind their backs when unhappy? That being said, it does happen all the time. While certainly some agents will feel "protocol be damned," others might tell you to get back in touch after your relationship has been dissolved.

The smart and easy thing to do is quit the relationship and then query. After all, what if you're querying at about the same time your agent decides to start talking to editors about your book? Suddenly you're not going to have much of a project to talk to agents about since by that time it will have been shopped.


Jessica

Reactions: