Monday, May 25, 2015

Happy Memorial Day!

Our offices are closed to celebrate Memorial Day. 



We wish you a great day.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Get to Know Moe Ferrara

We are so excited to have Moe join BookEnds. It's always great to have fresh ideas come into a team, and Moe has already made some wonderful changes. At this point, you probably all know that Moe is looking for adult, young adult and middle grade submissions, especially in Science Fiction and Fantasy. She's also looking for romance and LBGBTQ characters. However, there's more to Moe than just her submission guidelines and I wanted to give her the floor to let you get to know her a little better.

Oh, and don't forget to follow Moe on Twitter: @inthesestones 



Tagline: I’m not really a coffee addict, I just play one on TV.

What Excites You About Being an Agent: I honestly cannot wait to dive into my submissions inbox. HINT: this totally means that if you are writing in the genres I represent, you should be flooding my inbox to the point I’m quoting JAWS and asking for a bigger boat. (please say I haven’t just dated myself here…)

Book Concepts You Never Want to See in Your Query Box: No vampires. Please. No vampires. I will look at literally ANY other paranormal creature… save vampires.

Glass ½ full or ½ empty: Actually, it doesn’t matter if it’s half full or half empty. What matters is that there’s still room for more coffee or more wine. My ideal glass is the one that will hold an entire bottle of wine… but I digress.

Starbucks Drink of Choice: Back in another life I worked at Starbucks, so I’ve lost the taste for it after making one too many caramel macchiatos. However, I have two drinks I absolutely adore — one is on the menu and one is something we baristas came up with. On the menu, when I need a caffeine jolt (are we seeing a trend here?) would be a grande sugar-free cinnamon dolce Americano. For those playing along at home, that is the proper way to “call” a drink. Some habits never die. However, if you want a fantastic drink in the fall/winter, ask for a “Chaider.” Order a caramel apple spice and ask for a bit of chai in it. Trust me — tastes exactly like mulled cider.

eReader or Print book: It really depends on the type of book I’m reading. If it’s submissions, I tend to read them on my iPad because it puts me in the frame of mind to read critically. My Kindle is stocked with about 90% erotic romance and the books I utterly adore and want them close to hand if I want to re-visit an old love. Otherwise… as the friends who have helped me move can attest… I own far too many print books. So the not-so-short answer is “both.”

Morning person or Evening person: Well, since it’s currently 1:38 AM as I’m answering these questions, I leave it to you to decide if I’m a morning or an evening person.

Working soundtrack: I oscillate between Broadway and film soundtracks depending on what I’m working on at any given point in time. Right now, I’m staring at Spotify waiting for the Something Rotten! soundtrack to drop so I can play it obsessively.

If You Could Move Your Office Anywhere in the world where would you go: I say this without hesitation: London. I lived abroad for five months during law school and it’s one of the few places that just feels like home to me. If money weren’t an object, I’d base my office near Earl’s Court or Kensington.

Any other questions for Moe? Now's the time to ask.



Thursday, May 21, 2015

Query Critique: YA Thriller

Jessica-

Thank you so much for offering to critique queries on your blog. I don't mind brutal honesty a bit. I understand that you will receive many query letters and that mine might not get picked. 

Best regards,

[redacted]



"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 Ms. Agent,
When [I think it would be helpful to include her age here so we know right off the top it's YA] Sasha’s [could you just say Sasha and Raj's so we can tighten?] jewel-thief father dies before completing the greatest heist of his career, she and her brother, Raj, they vow to steal a  the priceless sapphire for him in his memory. Her father had meticulously planned the heist to every detail. As long as they stick to his notes, nothing should go wrong . . . but of course everything does.  I think it's obvious everything is going to go wrong, but keep us hanging on that a little. It builds suspense and I'll want that in the book too.
Sasha and Raj discover the safe open and the sapphire already gone. Even worse, the owner’s teenage daughter lies unconscious in a pool of blood. Moments later the police arrive, and Raj believes he and Sasha have been set-up. They manage to escape, but not before being spotted by guests at a party next door. When the theft hits the news, Sasha learns her father’s darkest secret.
He stole more than jewels. He stole Sasha as well. And here's where you lose me. Suddenly this feels like two different books. I was super intrigued by two kids who were completing their dad's jewel heist. I pictured a YA Italian Job in my head. And then all of a sudden it becomes a story about an abducted child which interests me as well, but doesn't feel like it's necessarily the same book.
The girl accused of the crime, Avery, is a sister Sasha can’t remember. The newspapers tell a startling tale of Avery’s past: her identical twin was abducted from a playground in London. Since the party guests are certain they saw Avery flee the apartment building on the night in question, Sasha must unravel the tangled knots of their father’s past to win her sister’s freedom. If she can find the link between the missing jewel and whoever set them up, then perhaps she can find the sapphire and clear her sister’s name. And, most important of all, reunite with the twin she hasn’t seen in fourteen years. You start to lose me here too. Why would Sasha suddenly care about Avery? And why is Avery accused? Suddenly your query has me asking a lot of questions about the book and to me it feels like the book itself isn't working. I'm not saying that both aspects can't be in the book, I'm just saying that to me it doesn't feel like they're working. They don't feel cohesive.
My YA Thriller VANISHED is complete at 78,000 words. I envision this title as the first in a two-book series. I am working on the second book now.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to hear Ally Carter, author of the HEIST SOCIETY books, speak at a local library on her book tour. She mentioned that most of her readers are Middle School students. I believe VANISHED will appeal to readers who devoured Ms. Carter’s books in Middle School and are looking for something geared to a slightly older audience.  I'm not sure you need this. It's sort of interesting so it can't hurt, but most agents/editors will know who the YA audience is and will hope you know it too.
In your interview with Kirkus Review you mentioned an interest in YA novels about siblings. I hope you will enjoy meeting Sasha and Raj. Below is the first ten pages of VANISHED. This is good. Show that you've done your research. Obviously you can't do this for every agent you query, but it does help when you can.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
[redacted]
[phone number redacted]
@[redacted]
[redacted]@yahoo.com

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Meet Moe Ferrara, The Newest BookEnds Agent


I have been waiting and waiting to announce this news, not necessarily patiently, and here it is. I am thrilled to announce the addition of Moe Ferrara to BookEnds.

The very first time I talked with Moe I knew she was someone I wanted to have a beer with and, therefore, the perfect fit for our team. Before even officially starting at BookEnds she's proven herself to be smart, creative, passionate, motivated and a real go-getter. I feel very lucky that she's chosen to continue following her publishing dreams with BookEnds.

Moe is looking to acquire adult, young adult and middle grade fiction in science fiction, fantasy and romance. She's also actively looking for projects with LGBTQ characters. Queries can be sent to Moe at MFsubmissions@bookends-inc.com.

Moe joins Kim Lionetti, Jessica Alvarez and Beth Campbell at BookEnds. I couldn't be prouder of this team and everything they do. 

More information on all the BookEnds agents, who they are and what they are acquiring can be found on our website.

Today is a great day to celebrate at BookEnds. Please spread the word and help me welcome Moe.

--jhf

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Time to Edit

We talk a lot about the writing process and how each writer has her way of doing things.Believe it or not, editing isn't much different. Each editor has a different editing process and, like writing, it tends to be as creative as it is technical.

Most of the editing an agent does, or at least most of the editing I do, is for content. I'm not a copyeditor and therefore that's not my primary concern. My concern is helping the author create the strongest story possible to either sell it to the publisher or, in some cases, sell it to the reader.

A common misconception is that editing shouldn't take much longer than reading. I think you'd be surprised how often I'll get a book on a Monday with a request to have it edited and returned by Friday. That can only be done if I shut down everything else I have scheduled for the week and edit.

On the quick end an edit is more or less reading the book and taking notes as you go. This can be done about twice as long as it takes you to read a book. If however the book needs more work it can take a whole lot longer. Recently I edited a book and timed myself. It took me two-three hours to get 50 pages done. That means with a 400 page book I spent roughly 8-12 hours editing. And editing, like writing, cannot typically be done all in one sitting. I get sloppy, I get tired and I can't focus. So in this case I was breaking it up into 1-2 hour time slots. I still had other work to do after all.

It still took me most of the week go get finished.

My suggestion to authors looking to get an edit from their agent before sending to an editor is to give it to your agent at least 4-6 weeks prior to your due date. Your agent needs time to edit, but you also need the time to revise or incorporate those edits. I would also suggest planning this time well-ahead with your agent. Make sure you get on her schedule and she's aware it's coming. The worst thing that can happen is that you spring it on her, expect it in a week, and she's facing one of the busiest weeks of her year. That's probably not going to make anyone happy.

--jhf

Monday, May 18, 2015

Let the Main Character Drive the Bus

A special thank you to author Rebecca Petruck. I read her article in the March/April edition of the SCBWI magazine (originally published on the blog Nerdy Chicks Write) and was inspired. My original plan was to write my own version, but after reading hers about three times I realized there was no way I could do it better. This breakdown of Hunger Games is absolutely brilliant. So instead I went to the source and she was kind enough to allow me to reprint her original version. I think its valuable advice for writers of all fiction, especially those of suspense of any kind.

Let the Main Character Drive the Bus, by Rebecca Petruck

You know how “Show Don’t Tell” is both true and kind of meaningless these days? I think the same about “Start with Action.” That advice drives me crazy because it’s incomplete: “Start with an Action that Reveals the MC’s Character.”

Imagine if The Hunger Games opened with Katniss volunteering. It would be dramatic, and we’d think her brave for taking her sister’s place. But would we be invested in the decision? A lot of people are surprised when I lay out the actual opening of The Hunger Games:
·       Katniss wakes up alone—Prim isn’t there (motivating fear);
·       Katniss sneaks across the perimeter to hunt (not afraid to break what she considers senseless rules; demonstrates a skill);
·       talks with Gale (establishes rules of world; her focus on survival blinds her to his feelings);
·       stops by the market and to see the mayor’s daughter to trade (confidence in navigating her world);
·       prepares for the reaping (Katniss’ soft side revealed in her care for Prim);
·       at the reaping (Katniss’ view of the world).
Laid out like that, the scenes don’t sound very exciting do they? And, they take up twenty pages of space. Yet, the opening of The Hunger Games is deeply compelling because of the sense of dread hanging over every moment and because we are getting to know a fascinating and contrary character. On the surface, Suzanne Collins didn’t start with action that seems particularly interesting, but she started with the right action to reveal her MC’s character.

Which is why when I work with critique partners, the thing I often get most passionate about is plot. Plot is the action the MC takes to reach her external goal, and that action ultimately must reveal not only her true, internal goal but also her soul, the “Why” of everything she does. That’s a lot to ask of an action which is why a well-conceived plot is essential. I don’t care what happens next; I care how what happens next affects the MC.

In Wired for Story,* Lisa Cron discusses the action-reaction-decision triad of effective scene-making, which I interpret as plot-character-character. Plot is the speeding bus your MC can’t get off. How she reacts to her situation and the things she decides to do because of it is what your story is about. In itself, plot is fairly passive—it’s a bus. The driver is the reason we care.**

Once you know your MC well, certain decisions become inevitable, which means key elements of plot become inevitable, too. That doesn’t mean your plot becomes predictable. It’s that the logic that guides your MC’s decisions means certain actions must follow. Plot unveils that logic and reveals a compelling and unpredictable character. Often, because your MC’s worldview is skewed by some conditioning event, not only can’t the reader predict how the MC will react and what she will decide, but also the MC is frequently surprised, too. This cycle reveals the MC not only to the reader but to herself, and forces her to react and make more decisions that lead to the internal change she may not be aware she needs and actively resists.

In that sense, don’t look at plot as “What Happens Next.” Look at plot as the cattle prod that forces the MC to make decisions that reveal her strengths, weaknesses, professed goals, and secret goals, often unacknowledged even to herself. Plot is what lays bare your MC, peeling back layer after layer of flesh until we finally glimpse the beating heart. I like the way Cron decribes this, “…the heart of the story doesn’t lie in what happens; it beats in what those events mean to the protagonist.”

What does this mean in the practical sense of putting words on the page? Try out your MC in a variety of scenarios, looking for actions that she will resist the most, that will draw the strongest reactions, and force the most difficult decisions. Dig past your first two, three, four ideas and see what happens when you get down to the fifth or sixth. Once you’ve collected a number of actions your MC will particularly detest, check out Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It’s an effective tool for organizing those actions into a plot. (You may download a Beat Sheet here: http://www.savethecat.com/category/beat-sheet.)

In short, seeking the answer to a question your characters want answered should lead them to the question they actually need answered. Seeking requires movement. Plot creates that movement and in doing so reveals your characters’ true selves.


*I <3 i="" style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Wired for Story
. Seriously, it took extreme willpower to not quote half the book and call this post done.
**Did I torture that metaphor? I really wanted to use Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, so I had to shoehorn in the driving metaphor somewhere. Also, Speed, because that movie should not be so damned watchable.


Rebecca Petruck is a Minnesota girl, though she also has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, England, Connecticut and, currently, North Carolina. A former member of 4-H, she was also a Girl Scout, a cheerleader, and competed in MathCounts. She reads National Geographic cover to cover. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction, from UNC Wilmington, and is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary. 

Her debut STEERING TOWARD NORMAL is a Blue Ribbon winner as a Best Book of 2014 by the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (BCCB), an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection, as well as a Kids Indie Next List title. Vanity Fair's Hollywood dubbed it a "book we'd like to see made into a film," the L.A. Times included STEERING TOWARD NORMAL in its Summer Books Preview, Christian Science Monitor named it one of 25 Best New Middle Grade Novels, it is part of the International Reading Association's list "Books Can Be a Tool of Peace," in the 2014 ABC Best Books for Children catalog, and an American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture Recommended Publication. The BCCB gave it a starred review.
 

STEERING TOWARD NORMAL was released by Abrams/Amulet May 2014. You may visit her online at www.rebeccapetruck.com.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Prioritizing Your Submission List

This question came from a reader:

I was wondering your thoughts about prioritising agents for querying? I've got a list of agents who represent my genre. Based on the authors they represent and what I've read about them I have 6 of those agents at the top of my list. How should you query to give you the best chance of landing a top-of-list (TOL) agent:
  • Send to your top agents first and work down?
  • Send to the other agents first so you can edit your query based on the outcome of those queries before sending to your TOL agent?
  • Send a mix to TOL and other agents?


I think the best people to answer this question are probably other authors. Since my submission pool (editors and publishing houses) is a lot smaller than an author's my process is a little different. That being said, I have some thoughts.

I think you should make a list of Tier I, II and III agents. That doesn't necessarily mean the agents themselves are better or worse than each other, but make the list based on how you think the agent will suit you. What kind of books does she represent, have you ever met her and what was your rapport like, what have you heard from others about the agent.

And then I would divide them up. If you have 15 agents on each list I would take five from each for your first round of submissions, five from each for your second round, and so on. That allows you the possibility of editing while still reaching your Tier I agents, but also gives you the opportunity to explore agents who might end up quickly moving to that Tier I slot.

I also think you set a timeline for that next round. Don't wait until every agent from your first round responds, instead give them about 2-3 months (whatever works for you) and then send your next round. There are agents who don't respond, those you'll never hear from and those who are just slow. You can't let them dictate how quickly you move.

--jhf

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

An Agent's Definition of "A Lot of Work"

In response to last Friday's post on Thoughts on Sending Rejection Letters there was a great comment from a reader that I thought would be better addressed if I broke it up and posted it for the audience at large.

E.L. Wagner said...
I've heard these kinds of comments before, and as someone who is out in the trenches querying a novel, of course, it's hard not to get discouraged when an agent says they liked your book but it wasn't quite what they need for their list at the moment, but they're sure someone will end up repping it.
Out of curiosity, why would an agent feel that they personally couldn't sell a well-written and marketable novel (or get it a deal that does it justice), but another agent might be able to? It may seem like a naive question, but it's one that I've wondered about.
I get the "this is promising but it needs a lot of work yet" rejections some people get. All else being equal, who wouldn't prefer to take on a manuscript that needs a minimum amount of polishing before shopping it to publishers? But all else being equal, what makes an agent think they personally can't sell a given manuscript when someone else might be able to?



In yesterday's post I discussed why an agent might think another agent could better sell a book. Today I want to address why an agent doesn't seem willing to work with an author editorially.

Why if, "this is promising but it needs a lot of work yet" won't an agent take on the job. If this is the rejection you're getting it means that it doesn't need a minimum amount of polishing. It means that book still needs good, intense revisions, and possibly a couple of rounds of them.

I'm working with a new client right now. She just completed a very intense round of revisions for me. When I offered representation I thought the book was in great shape and of course I absolutely loved it. I did have some concerns and I addressed them with the author when I first offered, so I thought we both knew what we were getting ourselves into, but as what often happens, once I sat down to read with my editor's cap on I found a lot that was going to need revising. And let me tell you something, when an editor or agent tells you a lot needs to be changed, you better expect to move mountains. I always tell authors that "minor revisions" to an editor or agent mean something completely different (and usually much bigger) to an author.

She dove in, but I will tell you right now that book is, in some ways, a completely different book. And we might go another round or two before I'm ready to submit. And that's a minimum amount of polishing.

If an agent is telling you you have a good idea, but it still needs work you need to take a close look at the manuscript because it probably needs a good rewrite or two (or something close to that).

--jhf

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Many Reasons an Agent Rejects a Book

In response to last Friday's post on Thoughts on Sending Rejection Letters there was a great comment from a reader that I thought would be better addressed in a post to the audience at large.

E.L. Wagner said...
I've heard these kinds of comments before, and as someone who is out in the trenches querying a novel, of course, it's hard not to get discouraged when an agent says they liked your book but it wasn't quite what they need for their list at the moment, but they're sure someone will end up repping it.
Out of curiosity, why would an agent feel that they personally couldn't sell a well-written and marketable novel (or get it a deal that does it justice), but another agent might be able to? It may seem like a naive question, but it's one that I've wondered about.
I get the "this is promising but it needs a lot of work yet" rejections some people get. All else being equal, who wouldn't prefer to take on a manuscript that needs a minimum amount of polishing before shopping it to publishers? But all else being equal, what makes an agent think they personally can't sell a given manuscript when someone else might be able to?


I can imagine that as a querying author there is always so much to get discouraged about. I know I feel it myself when I'm submitting my client's work and get those second reads that don't pan out or an enthusiastic editor that can't get the support of the rest of her team. That being said, I also know that finding someone who has some level of enthusiasm is another positive step in the right direction. It means there is something there and that the author and I are on the right path. I'm also painfully optimistic that good things are always around the corner.

There are a ton of reasons an agent might personally feel she couldn't sell something. It could be that she likes it, but doesn't have the vision for it (I think I'll talk more about this tomorrow), it could mean that she sees the potential marketability in it, but also worried it's not quite there yet and doesn't have the time or enough enthusiasm to take the risk.

Different agents have different specialties and strengths. One might love editing and working on revisions while another feels she's better at selling and working with the author on the back end of things. Both might do mysteries, but one might feel her strength is historical while the other is a female protagonist. It could be a connection with the voice or a certain knowledge of just two editors who happen to be looking for this thing. Or, it could just come down to level of enthusiasm and how full an agent's list is.

There are so many different things that come into play when an agent rejects a work and its rare an author will ever know them all which is why it's best to take the good news when you can and run with it.

--jhf

Friday, May 08, 2015

Thoughts on Sending Rejection Letters


I'm not going to lie to you. More often than not I send a rejection letter without even thinking twice. In fact, sometimes I send a rejection with some relief. Relief that there's one less email for me to attend to.

Last week however the great authors in the universe got revenge on me by handing me two manuscripts that I felt I had to reject, but did so with much regret. Now to be fair, both of these manuscripts had been sitting on my Kindle for quite some time and in both cases I'd read a good chunk, but had put them down for one reason or another.

In the end, the fact that I had put them down and not rushed to get back to them, or thought about them since, was a huge factor in why I decided to reject these works. There were also some other issues/concerns I had with each book, but I don't need to get into those details here.

Rejecting a book isn't always easy. There are plenty of times an agent feels that a book needs more work than she's ready to take on or can clearly see why she wouldn't be able to sell the book despite the fact that she loved the writing, was riveted by the voice and maybe even finished it well after she knew she was rejecting. 

In both of these cases I won't be at all surprised if some other agent jumps on board and sells the book. Proof that I just wasn't the right agent for either of them.

--jhf