Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Manuscript Read Times

The other day I received an email from an author checking on a manuscript that was submitted two weeks prior. Two weeks. I'm lucky if I get to the pressing things on my to-do list in two weeks, but submissions? Doubtful.

Anyone submitting to me can clearly see on our website that it takes me 12 weeks to respond to partial and full requests. I know that's a long time, but we discussed it in detail at BookEnds and decided we'd rather list the longer end of our response times to eliminate disgruntled authors after 8 weeks. That being said, as of this writing, I'm backed up on requested material to the beginning of the year. I have one or two from last year, but that's because they are going through some second reads.

I'm slow. I'm not going to lie about that. I also have an incredibly full client list, one that keeps me very busy, so when I do sit down to read and offer representation it's because I'm really, really, really excited about the book.

When submitting I can't stress enough how important it is to pay attention to reading times posted on an agent's website. Most agents will tell you, via their websites, that it takes a certain amount of time to read queries and an even longer amount of time to read requested material. Unless you have an offer of any sort there's no reason to contact the agent before that read time is up and, even then, I would suggested buffering it by a week or two.

If an agent doesn't have reading times posted I would assume 8-12 weeks for everything you send. While I suspect some agents are faster, and most are faster than me, 8-12 weeks is probably the standard rule.

--jhf


Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Recent Reads


I've been getting a lot of reading in lately which I love. I've also been determined to stop buying new things, including books, until I use and read what I have. Which means I'm finally working through the piles of books I've been wanting to get to (some for years).

On my train ride to Malice Domestic I finally picked up Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins. Weirdly I didn't realize what I'd done until I was about to board the train.  I've read some mixed reviews about this book, but I really liked it. Of course I really like psychological suspense. I thought the main character was intriguing and the concept was brilliant. Who doesn't ride a train and wonder about the lives beyond the windows? I definitely thought this book was worthy of the hype.

On my way home from Malice Domestic I started The Anatomist's Wife (A Lady Darby Mystery) by Anna Lee Huber. I'm embarrassed by how long this has been sitting on my shelf. Obviously I'm not finished with this yet, but so far I'm really enjoying it. I love historical mysteries with a female protagonist in an untraditional role. If all goes well I suspect I'll be looking for more in this series.

And the Malice Domestic conference? It was great fun as always. There is nothing I love more than the opportunity to sit down and talk with my clients in person. I've returned home with a list of goals and tasks I need to accomplish. So I guess it's time to put the pleasure reading down and get to work.

--jhf


Monday, May 04, 2015

Managing Creativity When It's Your Job

I've always talked about the job of getting published. That writing the book is great fun, but once you determine that it's time to seek out an agent, a publisher or even self-publish you've entered a new realm. Your writing is no longer a hobby, but a job, and you need to treat it as such. That means strict deadlines, focus, planning, management and all of those other things that drive business owners crazy.

I was reading a great article in Fast Company about The Secrets to Being Creative on A Deadline. In the article, Roman Mars, host and creator of the 99% Invisible podcast had this to say,

"Just sit yourself down and make yourself do it. That's the difference between being a professional and an amateur. Deadlines focus your attention and make sure you get stuff done rather than worrying about inspiration. The key is to sit and suffer through it. It comes to you when it has that pressure. I became a much better in the years after I had kids, because I didn't have the luxury of time."

For some authors the hardest change to being published is accepting that the writing has become a job. You now have set deadlines (even if you're self-publishing) and you have to meet those deadlines. Sometimes it means just keeping that butt in the chair and writing no matter what else is pulling at you. It means quitting your job as class mom, skipping your book club, turning off the game on Sunday or whatever it is you need to do, or say no to, to get that book done.

Often I hear authors complain that the creative process doesn't work that way, etc, etc, but to think accountants, lawyers. literary agents, chefs or mechanics don't need to be creative is short-sighted. Every job takes some amount of creativity and every worker needs to find a way to tap that at times when she least feels able to.

Taking breaks is an important part of any job. You wouldn't believe how much of BookEnds was founded in the shower or emails written on the drive to the gym. Getting out of the office and thinking helps build our business and is important, it also keeps us all on deadline.

--jhf

Friday, May 01, 2015

Happy May Day!


I love May Day. To me its filled with flowers, special treats and the anticipation of good things to come.

When I was growing up May Day was  a celebrated holiday. Children would decorate little baskets or (really) small paper cups, fill them with candy or other treats and secretly deliver them to friends and family. 

On May Day you would sneak up to a friend's door, leave the basket, ring the doorbell and run. The idea was to get away without getting caught because if you got caught you were kissed.

May Day isn't celebrated on the East Coast, or at least where I'm living, but since I love surprises I might just have to make a few little paper cup baskets and see who I can surprise.


Photo and craft idea courtesy of The Crafty Crow

--jhf

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Erika Chase's Favorite Reading Spot


Like the saying goes, if you want the best seat in  the house, remove the cat. Keesha shares my feelings that this is a comfort chair, one where you can sink down and in, relax and spend some time. Of course, nothing's better than sharing that time with a cat and a book. Always good to have a TBR pile! 



--Erika Chase

Erika Chase writes the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. The fifth in the series, LAW AND AUTHOR, is due out Sept. 1, 2015, and finds the book club members helping one of their own whose granddaughter is accused of murder. How did reading mysteries turn into solving them! www.erikachase.com

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Author Branding through Pinterest


Authors, like all other business owners, are constantly looking for new ways to use social media, find readers and, eventually, sell books.

I was recently reading a Fast Company article in which they discussed branding through Pinterest and it made me think of authors and some of the things you could be doing to build your brand through a social networking site like Pinterest.

A number of my own clients have helped expand their brand not by talking about their books, but by talking about the things their books have that make them stand out. A group of mystery writers, for example, got together and formed the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen blog where they share recipes and cooking tips. Another group of mystery writers formed The Nose for Trouble Facebook group for fans of pet related mysteries. Both of these are unique ways to take your book's hook and sell the book based on interests your readers might have, beyond the book's genre.

I'm on Pinterest primarily as a way to store all of the great things I see online. My latest pins have been motivational sayings, logo designs and shoes, because everyone loves shoes. If you're an active Pinner is there something you could do with your pins to help build a brand for yourself? What about design tips from your interior designing character? Food tips from the chef in your book or a wedding board from the character who dreams of some day finding Mr. Right? 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that when building a brand on social media the trick is to find a way to go viral. I don't think you're going to do that simply by talking about your book. You might however go viral by creating something that links to your book and help potential readers find you in a completely different way.

--jhf

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Saying No to Exclusives


Years ago, I mean back when I was a baby agent, I sat on a conference panel with about three other agents. During the panel the question of exclusives came up. Since this has always been a (odd) passion of mine I spoke up to say how wrong I felt exclusives were. Another agent disagreed.

She spoke up and said that she always asked for an exclusive. Her reasoning was that it was a waste of time not to because if a "bigger" agent offered, writers were going to go with the bigger agent and she wasted her time. First, I was shocked that she didn't believe in herself enough to think authors would benefit from being with her and second, I was shocked that she actually justified locking authors in without any options.

So we argued. And it wasn't pretty, but I bet it was fun for the conference attendees.

Agents still ask for exclusives and authors still need to respond to that. My advice on saying no to an exclusive is you kind of don't.

When an agent asks for an exclusive I would still send the material and simply say in my letter, "I'm afraid I can't offer an exclusive since I have queries/requested material out elsewhere. However, I will gladly keep you informed should another agent come forward with an offer."

Simple and straightforward and my guess is that the agent will read your material anyway.

--jhf


Monday, April 27, 2015

How Exclusives Harm Authors

Last week I wrote a blog post about exclusives and I received a lot of great comments and questions. Rather than answer in the comments I decided to use the opportunity to write another blog post, or a few blog posts. That way anyone with the same questions can see the answers and I have filled yet another day (or days) on the blog :)

For those who might not know, an exclusive is when an agent asks for you to submit material exclusively to her. That means you stop querying other agents and if you do get a request on a query that is already out you must wait to either hear from the agent with the exclusive before sending to other agents, or wait until the exclusive time period is up.

Why is this a problem?

1. We all know how long agents can take with submissions. It's not because they want to take forever, it's because other things come up. Contracts must be negotiated or reviewed, an author's manuscript needs to be read or edited, or lunches with editors must be lunched. All of these things mean the submission pile grows and before long said agent (ahem) looks at her list and realizes she has requested material from as far back as February 1 (sorry about that).

2. Giving an exclusive, even with a strict time period, means that you've already committed to this agent. You've said, "yes I want you to read my work and if you like it and offer representation I'll sign with you because I have no other options." This is the part about exclusives that tweaks me the most.

When you commit to an agent you are hiring someone to work with you. Repeat this: YOU are HIRING someone to work WITH you. Would you ever agree to have a landscaping company give you a quote only if you give them an exclusive on that? Meaning you can't ask any other landscaping company to give you a quote. I hope not. And that's just to have someone cut your lawn.

By offering an exclusive you are giving someone the opportunity to manage your career, your dream career, without the chance to interview the right person for the job. And that's a big mistake.

One more analogy. You're a business owner. You have a vision for your business and you need to bring on a partner to help make things happen. You find about 10 people you'd like to interview for the job, but one of them tells you she wants an exclusive interview, which means that you eliminate the other 9 people without even having the chance to talk to them.

Would you do it? Because I've just described exactly what an exclusive is.

Later this week I'll discuss how to handle an offer in more detail. As for Exclusives:

Just Don't Do It.

--jhf

Friday, April 24, 2015

Why You Should Resist Giving Agents Exclusives


I can't even begin to think about the number of times I've written on this subject. One search of exclusives on the blog will probably bring up a ton of posts. And yet, I still get emails like this:

I'm sorry for bothering you, but I wanted to check in with you on the status of my romance novel, SECOND CHANCES. I first submitted the book eight weeks ago and I'd like to know if I should continue to wait or start querying other agents. Thanks again for this opportunity. 

Aaaaaaaaaaaah!

Why, oh why are you waiting for me to respond before querying? I never, ever, ever asked for an exclusive and I don't think I've ever asked for an exclusive. There are very few agents who will ask for an exclusive these days and if they do, ignore it and send your queries out anyway.

Your search for an agent is about finding the best partner for your career. Waiting months for a response from one person at a time is never going to help you kick that career off the ground. So query and submit widely, talk to as many agents as possible and choose the one who is the absolute best fit for your work.

--jhf

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Query Critique: Fade to the Edge

I agree that the material in this email can be posted and critiqued on the BookEnds Literary Agency blog. I give permission for it to be archived for the life of the blog. 


Dear Query Queen:
           
Tracy Allen wakes to find DJ, her seven-year-old son, missing. With a custody hearing just days away, this could be her soon-to-be ex’s way of show how unfit a mother she really is.**this sentence feels awkward to me. Would it be cleaner to say her soon-be-be ex's way of showing that she is an unfit mother? An awkward sentence like this can completely ruin it for the reader. My thought is that if the first sentence is this awkward, what does the manuscript look like? Another concern: if the ex took the kid wouldn't he be the one who would look bad? I'm unclear about how this works which is a red flag for the plotting. But when the police locate DJ’s suitcase and the clothing inside covered with blood**this also feels awkward. I get what you're trying to say, but it doesn't read clearly, she knows this is more than a mere “get even” scheme. And once Tracy realizes she’s the mains**yet another typo suspect, she is determined to locate DJ, whatever it takes. But how can you save the one person who relies on you most when those closest to you are the ones you should trust the least?**I think this is generally a good hook overall, although nothing special, but I guess I haven't seen in the previous paragraphs who is closest to her that she trusts the least. If you're going to make a statement like this at any time you need to make sure you show it before making the statement.

I am writing in the hope you will be interested in reading my completed suspense book, Fade to the Edge. It is approximately 73,000 words in length.  

My current releases are as follows: 
  1. My award winning inspirational romantic suspense, Breathless (first place Royal Palm Literary Award), and it sequels, Catch Your Breath (Third Place in the Heart of Excellence Contest), both published with Pelican Book Group in 2012; Also the third in the series One Last Breath, self-published December 2014;
  2. Suspense short The Visitor, self-published September 2014;
  3. Game of Hearts, a humorous novella published with Astraea Press, released in March 2012;
  4. A humorous mystery, Knight & Day published by Write Words, Inc. in 2013; and
  5. Beautiful Imperfection, inspirational romantic suspense, was published through Pelican Book Group on September 29, 2013. It was also the winner of Best Inspirational Cover for 2013 in the “Show Me Your Covers Contest.”  
I was the President of Florida Sisters in Crime from January 2010 – December 2011, and am currently the Public Relations Director for Ancient City Romance Authors. I am co-chairing the September 2015 Ancient City Romance Conference. I have spoken at several writers’ events including the 2014 Florida Writers Association Conference.

I am also a Florida Certified Paralegal and work for an estate planning attorney in Jacksonville, Florida.  

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to hearing from you.  

Sincerely yours,
  

[redacted]
www.[redacted].com
Writing Clean Fiction with an Edge!

I'm always intrigued by missing child suspense novels. I'm afraid though that I probably would not request this. Setting aside the problem with the awkward sentences and errors, this just didn't feel special to me. A boy is missing and his bloody suitcase is found. That doesn't make the book stand out for me. What makes this book special? What makes it different from any other book about a mom trying to find her child?

Does the case link to an old case from her childhood? Is there a clue left behind that links to a past she's been running from? Is her ex a big muckity-muck in town and not really the boy's father? In other words...what's your hook?

The biggest mistake this makes is that it's bland. It's a common mistake, but one that equals rejection.

As for other parts of the query. I'm fine with your list of current releases, but I do feel like they are lacking information. I'm not sure they need to be a bulleted list as much as a paragraph with the publisher's name in parenthesis after.

your final paragraph about yourself is fine. You can probably skip the sentence about being a paralegal. It just isn't necessary.

I hope this helps. By focusing more on your hook I thin you'd have a strong query. If you have focused on your hook you might want to go back and rework the book itself to make it bigger.

--jhf