Thursday, August 31, 2006

Dummies and Idiots

No, not the authors, the series. Recently we were asked the following:

What about your series books? I see you do several. Any insights on those and what kind of authors they are looking for? I met a Dummies Guide author and he said the people who author these types of books must be special because it is really difficult. He would never do it again. He was not represented by you, by the way. I can't believe that. What's the scoop?

You are right. We have represented well over a hundred books in the Dummies Guide series (Wiley Publishing) and the Complete Idiot’s Guide series (Alpha), and they are a very different animal than traditional publishing.

There are two things editors of these books look for when seeking out an author. The first is the author’s credentials. Obviously, like all publishers, they want to know that the author writing the book has the credentials to back what she is saying. The second, and almost equal in importance, is the ability to write to their format and style. Surprisingly to most, these books are not written by Dummies or Idiots. In fact, the guidelines are fairly complex and difficult to follow. While some authors seem to get it without any problems, others have really struggled and many bring on coauthors or ghostwriters to help them through.

In addition to mastering the tone required for each series (and it’s very different for each series), the author needs to be able to write in a way that’s simple, without talking down and yet still being interesting. The material needs to be modular. In other words, you should be able to jump around and read each chapter separately, and you need to fit the exact page count required by the editors.

I suspect that some authors of these books get a lot of flack for not writing a “real” book, but I have to say, it’s a lot more difficult to write what someone else is telling you than it is to write the book of your heart. I also have to add that if you’ve never read a book from either of these series, go pick one up. I can guarantee there is at least one on a subject that interests you and you might actually enjoy it . . . and learn a thing or two.

—Jessica

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Maintaining Enthusiam

I posted recently about being enthusiastic for a project and then waiting months to finally get the requested materials in “Bummer,” posted August 22. A reader asked:

But . . . and it's a big but here . . . if she had gotten it back into you after working like crazy to submit, how long would you have kept your enthusiasm between asking and receiving? I mean, wow, am I running in circles on this. But how long does it normally take for a full to make it back to you?

That’s an interesting question. To be on the safe side, I guess I would assume that an agent’s enthusiasm will last no longer than the time it takes for the post office to get her letter to you and your manuscript to her. In truth, however, my enthusiasm has been known to wane hours after sending the letter of request or last for months—even after the full manuscript has been requested, read, and sometimes even rejected. And, if it’s a project I decide to offer representation on, one of my criteria is that I know it’s a project I will continue to be enthusiastic about even years after it’s been published. In this case I am still on the search for a similar idea. I really, really loved this.

Since I try to be very particular about what I request, especially since I don’t have time to even read a query letter, I usually need to feel very enthusiastic to even get to that point, but once I do, look out. I will be watching the mail more closely than normal, looking for your name and preparing to drop everything the minute the manuscript arrives. This is why I stress the importance of having that book ready to go (and feeling confident that you are done editing and revising and hopefully already working on the next book). Let’s face it, while we all know that this job takes a lot of skill, creativity, and hard work, we also know that luck is involved and grabbing that agent at a time when she is excited about your idea and looking for just the thing you have is luck, and something you certainly don’t want to miss out on.

—Jessica

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Perspective from the Publishing House

A recent comment reminded me of how lucky I am to have been an editor before becoming an agent. The knowledge I have from working inside a publishing house gives me the unique ability to fully understand the acquisition process and to know what might happen when a book is brought up in an editorial meeting.

In response to my post “The Driver’s Seat” about a recent sale, a reader asked:

My understanding is, several folks at a publishing house must read and approve a ms before an offer is made. Since Christine's book was such a hot prospect, did it still go through a committee? (I'm wondering how a group of people can get their act together quick enough on a Friday afternoon to present an offer on a Monday morning.)

While it is true that most manuscripts require multiple reads before an offer can be made, there are always exceptions to the rule. And keep in mind that every publishing house works differently and every deal is different. If an editor has years of experience and a strong track record, often she will be trusted enough that if she likes something and wants to buy it (especially in a situation with multiple offers) she will be allowed to do so. It’s also a misconception that a manuscript always goes through a committee. The “committee” reading the book can sometimes be no more than one other person. Sometimes another, well-trusted, editor, and sometimes the editorial director or publisher.

In this particular case, the editors we submitted to read the material over the weekend. All were asked to get back to me by Monday morning. If an editor loved the book she would obviously need to talk with others within the house and possibly get second reads. She would also have to run a P&L (Profit and Loss statement) to get a sense of how much they are able to offer. If I know on Monday morning that she is hoping to make an offer, then I can plan for what’s next (an auction or just multiple bids) and give them another deadline (possibly Tuesday) for when offers need to be in.

It’s amazing what people can do, and how quickly they can do it, when there’s a sense of urgency.

—Jessica

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Which Category?

What advice do you have for a manuscript that has several different possible audiences? Do you go with the strongest factor?

Most great books do straddle categories. For instance, many mysteries have romantic subplots, but they are most certainly mysteries and not romances. A thriller thrills the reader: there is the sense of chase, the page-turning anxiety, the scary plot and the element of great risk, while certainly an element of mystery engages the reader as well (for example, who is the serial killer? How will he/she be stopped?). I find that most books have mystery elements: this is what keeps the books moving forward. But yes, I'd recommend positioning your book with the strongest factor. Happy writing! P.S. When in doubt, ask your agent :-)

—Jacky

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Small Presses

What are your opinions of small presses, for example, Poisoned Pen Press? I noticed Libby Hellman's books are published by Poisoned Pen in hardcover and Berkley in paperback. Is this highly unusual?

Sometimes a house such as Poisoned Pen will buy the hardcover rights from another publisher who has published paperback editions of an author's work. In other words: Berkley Prime Crime might come out with a paperback original and license the hardcover rights to a publisher such as Poisoned Pen. As you know, there are all different kinds of subrights that make up a contract and provide opportunities for the authors and publishers.

—Jacky

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Getting the Call

We always talk about how exciting it is for an author to finally get that call, either from an agent or from the publisher (especially the publisher), but rarely do we talk about how exciting it can be for the agent or editor and the feelings we sometimes go through when making that call.

Last week I made a sale for two erotic romances and both the author and I are thrilled. She’s thrilled because, although she’s been published before, she really feels like she’s found the right home for her work. I’m thrilled because there is nothing more exciting than making that sale. I love negotiating and, even more than that, I love calling the author with the news and keeping her in the loop as things play out (we actually had two houses offer).

But what was most exciting for me, and I think for the author, is that when I finally accepted the offer on day three of negotiations, the editor actually squealed. She was as thrilled that we had accepted her offer, and agreed that she would be the editor and publisher for the project, as we were that she had offered initially.

So when you are waiting anxiously by the phone and finally do get that call, remember that the agent and/or editor making the call is usually just as excited to have found something they love as you are to have sold (or found representation for) your baby.

Keep an eye on Publisher’s Marketplace for the conclusion to this fun tale.

—Jessica

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

When an Agent Disappears

I’m with an agent right now—one-year contract. When he offered me representation, I had partials all over town, but I foolishly yanked them with the offer of representation from a reputable, well-known agent.

Said agent has never gotten back to me. Won’t return emails, won’t call. It’s been six months. At what point should I panic?


I don’t know that panicking is necessary, but I think now (actually I think three months ago) is a good time to take action. I would send an email and follow up with a phone call to let the agent know that you need to hear by the end of the week the status of all of your material. I would also let him know that you’ve been very concerned with his lack of communication and you don’t feel this relationship is working. Be firm, not wishy-washy, and stand by what you say. Whether or not you hear from the agent, my advice is to cut your losses and get out. Six weeks is too long to go without hearing (especially after numerous attempts at contact), let alone six months. Even if he gets in touch with you now, do you really want to wait another six months to hear anything again?

I’m hoping you have some sort of termination clause in the contract that allows you to get out before one year. Even if you don’t, I would send a certified letter terminating the relationship and demanding a full accounting of all submissions made on your behalf and any feedback he has received. I would also give him a time frame (probably in the contract) by which he has to finish up any work on your behalf.

Also, if I choose to go out on my own again at the end of the contract, is it okay to resend my book out to others that requested it before and explain what happened? Or will agents remember me as the “jerk that yanked his book”?

I don’t think it’s a matter of “if,” I think it’s a matter of when you’re officially released from the contract. A bad agent is not better than any agent at all. If you pulled the work respectfully and didn’t leave agents hanging, they will certainly not remember you as a “jerk.” This kind of stuff happens all the time, and like I’ve said in previous posts, handling things professionally, by either pulling the submission or giving agents a chance to offer themselves, does keep the door open for you. My biggest concern is that if he has submitted the work you don’t necessarily know who he sent it to. But, if he won’t tell you, there’s nothing you can do about it. A new agent will just have to dig in and submit as if it’s never been seen before.

Good luck!

—Jessica

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bummer

About a month ago I requested the full manuscript of this amazing novel. I loved the concept so much that immediately upon opening the package I read the first three chapters. They were terrific: well written, enticing, exactly what the market is looking for right now . . . I loved them. I emailed the author to ask her to send the full manuscript and couldn't stop talking about it at our weekly meeting.

And then I got back in the office. The author actually didn't have the manuscript done, but wondered if it was okay to submit as soon as she did. I sighed. I hate when this happens because it takes the wind out of my sails. I told her that of course I'd love to see it whenever it was completed, but to take her time. The mistake here is that an author's biggest concern is getting me the book and not making sure the book is perfect. It's happened to me many times that an author has submitted without a completed project, and sometimes it's worked out and sometimes it hasn't. In a couple of situations I've ended up with authors who were able to finish the book and I did offer representation. In most situations, however, by the time I finally got the book the market had changed, I'd lost my enthusiasm for the project, or (worse for the author) I found another, very similar project, and took that on instead.

There's a reason agents want a manuscript finished when you're submitting. Unless you're a published author (and can therefore prove that you can, indeed, finish a book successfully), it's imperative that you finish the entire book, make sure it's edited thoroughly, and have actually started your next book (so you know the first one has to be done) before submitting.

In this case the story gets even worse. I can't stress enough how perfect this book is and how much I truly, truly love it and think it's exactly what today's market is looking for. The concept alone will have editors jumping up and down. Unfortunately, it hasn't been proven to me whether or not the story can hold. About a week or so ago, the author emailed me. She was so sorry, but she isn't finishing the book. She's had difficulty with it and has turned to other ideas at this time (ideas that, by the way, aren't nearly as marketable).

WHAT!?!?! I almost cried.

I guess this proves just one of the many reasons why an agent wants a book finished before it's submitted. I wasted time, energy, and a whole lot of enthusiasm on that book. Maybe someday it will reappear, but who knows where I, or the market, will be by then.

—Jessica

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Monday, August 21, 2006

What Not to Do

I know that writers get extremely nervous when talking to agents and I do understand and forgive a lot of what is said or done because of that nervousness. However, there are still definitely some things that, no matter how nervous they are, authors should avoid doing.

One of these happened to me recently, and while I can laugh at it now, it does make me considerably less enthusiastic about reviewing the writer's work, and I will certainly keep it in mind when that proposal does cross my desk.

While chatting between sessions at a conference, a writer, in her enthusiasm to tell me everything about her book, proceeded to tell me in great detail about her submission process and the reactions (read rejections) of other agents. The first thing she did is explain the tier process in which she submits—I immediately discovered that I was not in her first tier. I truly wish you could see my face even as I write this. Seriously! Whether or not an agent is your first tier agent (or a publisher for that matter), it's better to let them think they are. I don't think I need to explain this in too much detail. It's human nature. No matter what, we all want to think that we're first tier in everything we're picked for. Think of it this way: it's like your husband telling you that he wanted to date your best friend first, but after she rejected him, he asked you out.

The next thing she did was give the details of who did reject the book and what certain (in her mind, big name) agents said in their rejections, and how close they were to offering representation. (Still shaking my head in shock). Again, imagine sitting with that cute boy before you married or dated him while he tells you every reason every other girl rejected him, and then he asks you out. I don’t think so!

So, what do I know and remember about this book? I remember the title and, primarily, I remember all of the other agents who rejected it and their reasons. This certainly doesn't bode well for my own review of the work.

—Jessica

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Friday, August 18, 2006

The Driver's Seat (cont.)

To continue from yesterday’s post, once Christine and I agreed to work together, I immediately set to work to get her manuscript in front of as many editors as I could.

My first job as Christine’s agent was to make sure that the offering editor knew I was now handling contract negotiations. My second job was to get her book in front of as many editors as possible. It was Friday morning, in the summer, which meant I only had a few hours (most publishers quit early on Fridays in the summer) to talk to editors and get the manuscript in their hands. Keeping Christine in the loop at all times, I emailed the manuscript to a number of editors, with the caveat that they would let me know Monday morning whether or not they were interested in making an offer, or at least planning to get second reads.

Well, we had great news. Come Monday afternoon we had two offers to choose from and a number of editors who really loved her work (and will probably keep an eye on her career). And even more exciting news came just a few weeks later when Christine won the Golden Heart for this exact title.

Keep an eye out for Christine’s deal in Publishers Lunch to see what Christine finally decided.

—Jessica

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Driver's Seat

I've talked a lot about how an author should act professionally, the downside of exclusives, and mistakes I've seen authors make. Well, very recently I worked with an author who did everything right, and since I like to be positive every once in a while and occasionally share some good news, I asked Christine Wells permission to tell her story, or at least my side of it. To read more about Christine's work, check out her blog at www.christine-wells.blogspot.com.

Recently Christine Wells came to me because she'd received an offer from a major publishing house. Her historical romance had finaled in a number of contests (including the very prestigious Golden Heart), and because of her contest entries she had received at least three requests for the full manuscript from editors. An aside here: While I caution against submitting blindly to publishing houses (for fear you'll burn your chances by submitting to the wrong editors), when you get specific requests from contests or conferences you should most definitely send it along.

Because I'm so far behind in my reading, I had Christine's proposal under consideration for quite some time but hadn't had the chance to read it. Smart woman that she is, however, soon after receiving the offer (hours, not days), Christine contacted me and, I presume, all the other agents who were also reviewing her work, to let them know of the offer. Rather than negotiate on her own, she made the decision to bring in an agent. Immediately upon receiving Christine's email I grabbed the proposal (dropping everything else) and started reading. It was good, very good. So I asked her to email the entire manuscript. On my train ride to lunch that day I continued to read. It didn't take long for me to realize that not only was this a very well-written book, but it was written by an author I'd love to represent. Another aside: Just because an author has an offer doesn't guarantee that I'll take her on. Since I'm hoping we're going to be in this for the long haul, I need to love the work and feel passionate about the author.

So I offered representation. And Christine accepted. I'm hoping she'll comment on how things went from her end, but I know that Christine was talking with other agents and I'm sure I'm not the only agent who loved her writing. So far things are going swimmingly. I feel very lucky to have added another talented author to my list. Especially one I'm enjoying working with so much.

Read on tomorrow and I'll share the rest of the story.

—Jessica

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

PR for the Unpublished Writer

We started this blog thinking we could do an official Question of the Month, answering readers' questions. But we get so many great questions that one a month doesn’t seem like enough. Instead we’re going to dissolve that idea entirely and simply try to answer reader questions whenever we get a chance. To have your question considered, please feel free to ask it in the comments section below and we’ll get to it as soon as possible.

In an earlier post you mentioned PR for published authors. How important do you think PR is for the unpubbed writer? Specifically, do you think there’s value in having a Web site or a blog before you’re published? Have you ever taken on a client because of something you read on their Web site or blog? Have any of the editors you submit to ever mentioned that a Web site or blog has influenced their buy decision?

In all honesty, I don’t think PR is necessary at all for the unpubbed fiction writer. A Web site or blog is great if you build an audience who will later buy your published works, but if you’re unpublished there’s not much there for us to really care or worry about. If an author has a Web site I’ll sometimes go just to check it out, and if she’s clearly active with her writing—contests, e-books, reviews—that might help sway me. But all of that information should be in the letter anyway.

The only thing that’s going to convince an editor or agent to make an offer is the writing itself (and the story, of course).

Now for non-narrative nonfiction it’s a different ball game. Selling your book is going to be based at least 60 percent on who you are. Therefore, having a successful and active Web site can make a huge difference.


—Jessica

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Why the First Chapters

I spent a recent Saturday morning making a feeble attempt to go through my submission piles (and for some of you with proposals under consideration, you know what I mean by feeble) when I came across a proposal that included chapters 1, 33, and two pages of chapter 45. So frustrating! Can you imagine buying a book where all the chapters are out of order? How would you know what the story was or even whether it was any good? That's the battle agents face when submitted random chapters.

To be honest, if you aren't sending me the first three chapters, but instead chapters of your own choosing, because "they show your strongest writing," it's an automatic rejection from me. Every chapter and every page should be your strongest writing, and if chapter 1 is good but chapter 2 isn't worth sending to me, then it probably isn't worth sending to a publisher or selling to a reader.

And as for those two pages of chapter 45, what's the point? Was this just an effort to make sure you didn't send me less than the 50-page limit we request with our proposals? Send full chapters only. If two chapters equal 48 pages, then only send two chapters instead of three. If three chapters equal 25 pages, then only send three chapters. When asking for partials or proposals, we want three chapters, but no more than 50 pages.

—Jessica

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Monday, August 14, 2006

The Handshake Agreement

It wasn't too long ago that all agents used a simple handshake agreement with authors rather than the signed contract. After all, it was a "gentleman's business." At BookEnds, most of my clients have a written agreement; there are a few, however, usually those who come to us for what is expected to be one book only, who operate with a handshake agreement. These authors still have an agency clause in their publisher's contract, and until I hear otherwise it is assumed that we are working together on future projects. No matter what type of agreement I have with an author (written or handshake), I treat all my clients equally, contacting them with ideas I might have, or with information from a publisher, arguing contract points, and keeping an eye on royalty statements to ensure everyone is getting a fair deal. In fact, many of these handshake agreements have evolved greatly over time, with authors going on to write a number of different books (one author, I believe, has 11 to her name, and another close to 20).

While some agents still use the handshake agreement, I suspect there are two reasons that more and more are making signed contracts a mandatory part of business. The first is the growth of agents and agencies. With more agencies starting up every day, there's more competition and therefore a greater need (from an agent's perspective) for a written agreement.

The second is one that I can personally vouch for, since it happened to me just last week, when this handshake agreement came back to bite me in the ass (excuse the language, but I'm still burned up about it). Through an author's newsletter I found out that she had signed a second agreement with the same publisher I had sold her to, effectively cutting me out of the deal (and by the way, she didn't use another agent).

There are so many reasons I'm upset about this. One is obvious, the loss of potential income, but the others aren't as clear to an outsider and, frankly, probably upset me far more than the loss of income. After all, 15 percent isn't really that much given what authors get paid these days.

The first (although not the most upsetting) is that I'm not sure the author realizes that there's an obvious reason the publisher contacted her directly rather than going to me (okay, it is possible they didn't do any research and “forgot” I was the agent), but in my mind the reason is that they can get a bargain. I know what publishers are paying and have paid for certain types of projects, which makes negotiating the advance and royalties easier for me and tougher for the publisher. I also know all about those little extras in a contract that aren't fair to the author (and aren't that little). I wonder how she negotiated those? And don't even tell me she used the first contract I represented as a boilerplate. While I know it's perfectly legal, it certainly doesn't ring as ethical.

The second and most upsetting issue is really this author's dishonesty. When I approached her about the situation, her reaction made me realize that she really hoped she could do this without my finding out and save herself the 15 percent commission. Sigh. You know, I don't want to work with someone who doesn't want to work with me. Owning my own business gives me the freedom to work on projects I love with people I like, but I just do not get the whole concept of sneaking around. If she had told me, up front, that she no longer wished to work together and, possibly, even mentioned this deal, I'm sure I would have let her go. My job isn't to make someone else's life difficult, it's to make it easier.

There is some recourse to this—not much, but some. Obviously I won't be working with this author anymore and am currently in search of another writer with her expertise. There are other, similar projects headed my way all the time, and I like to have someone on board who can handle them.

My last thought on this matter concerns something I read recently about selling your home. It said that people who decide to sell their own home rather than go through a realtor usually undercut themselves 15 percent (when a realtor would only cost them 5–6 percent). It makes me wonder how much more an author pays when negotiating her own deal.

—Jessica

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Rejection

Rejection. Ugh.

I understand rejection. I get rejected too, remember. Believe it or not, not every single book I send out there for publication wins the prize. So I know very well what this feels like: In fact, everyone in publishing understands rejection. Writers get rejected by agents and editors. Agents get rejected by editors. Editors get rejected by publishers and sales forces. The salespeople get rejected too, and so on down the line. There are a few things I've never done after getting rejected, however.

I've never called an editor and argued over a rejection letter.

I've never told an editor that I deserve a critique. I assume if they didn't like it . . . well, that's enough of a reason for me. I don't necessarily want an editor representing one of my authors if she's less than enthusiastic.

I've never called an editor names, told an editor he or she has no taste, or hung up on anyone.

I've never accused an editor of asking for manuscripts from me so he or she can profit from the recycling (seriously, people!).

I realize that editors work hard. They must carefully make decisions about where their time is best spent. They look for reasons to reject most manuscripts, and it's my job to try to make sure they don't find any. They read at nights and on the weekends, and not at their desks with their feet up and a box of Godivas at their side. Reading time takes time away from family, friends, fun, and nonwork obligations. They need to prove to a whole range of people that their choices are worthwhile . . . and it's my job to give them the ammunition they need.

Oh, wait, that's what agents do, too!

Next time you get a rejection, please know that it's not a personal statement, it's a professional one. And act accordingly.

Thanks! We strive to make rejection as painless as possible. We know how you feel . . . really!

—Jacky

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Editor/Agent Lunch

Last week I had lunch with an editor, and despite the ridiculous heat in New York, I had such a fabulous time. This is an editor whom I've talked to on the phone a number of times, but surprisingly never met. The two and a half hours we spent together flew by through identical lunch orders, a shared dessert, and coffee despite the heat.

So what did we do and what did we talk about? Interestingly enough these lunches, while entirely about business, are in some ways not at all about business. We talked about kids, life in the suburbs, our hobbies and backgrounds. In a nutshell, we got to know each other. While I don't think agents need to spend every day having lunches with editors (at 2.5 hours a shot, who has the time?), I do think these lunches are an essential part of the business. Because of a few hours spent over omelets and dessert I know a whole heck of a lot about this editor's personal likes, dislikes, and interests in addition to those genres she is buying for. It's really easy to tell someone that you are looking for erotica, romance, mystery, and nonfiction, but how your personal tastes vary when it comes to those genres can only be learned by spending some quality time together.

Some of the things that have come out of my lunches with editors include a submission to an unlikely source, a book that began as a simple conversation, and a lasting business relationship. Because of a lunch I've learned that an editor who I assumed was only buying romance was also looking for erotica—and I sold her an erotica. Because of a lunch I learned that a mystery editor was dying to see a mystery with a certain hook—I called an author, had her write a proposal, and we sold a mystery series. And because of lunches I've developed a working friendship with a number of talented editors whom I hope to do a lot of business with now and in the future.

—Jessica

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Making the Pitch

A couple of people commented after my RWA post on pitches and it got me to thinking about the pitching process and what it takes to be successful.

It's very obvious that some are better at public speaking, interviews, and pitches than others, and it's very true that I have read the greatest books, requested from the worst pitches, and vice versa—heard the best pitches only to read the worst books. A good or bad pitch really doesn't tell me a whole lot about your book, although it can tell me a great deal about your story and your passion for it.

Rather than ramble on, I'm going to answer questions on pitches directly.

Have you ever been so turned off by a pitch that you didn't request the manuscript, only to have another agent pick up that writer and sell the book?

I'm sure I have, but I don't have any record of this. But not having requested the material is based on a number of things. One could certainly be that the author was not able to clearly get across what her story was about. Another could simply be that no matter how good the pitch, I just didn't think it was for me.

Is hearing a great pitch really more effective in terms of piquing your interest than reading a great query?

I actually think that a good pitch can almost be written verbatim in a query letter, so no, one doesn't excite me more than the other.

How often are you disappointed when the writing doesn't fulfill the promise of a great pitch?

How often does this happen, or how often am I disappointed? I would say that the writing doesn't fulfill the promise of a great pitch almost once in every conference I attend—so that's about one in ten pitches where I'm enthusiastic enough to come back to the office and talk about the possibility of the project, but disappointed when the work comes in. That should answer both questions.

When it comes to pitches, plan and research. In my mind you should be able to tell me the plot in five sentences or less. In that one paragraph (the same one used in your query), you should be able to ably describe what makes your book different and more exciting than other similar books. And no matter what you're telling me you should be able to do it with enthusiasm, even if you are nervous. Don't be afraid to let the passion for your work shine through.

—Jessica

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Conference Likes and Dislikes

By reader request we've put together a list of those things we like and dislike about conferences. Some are just plain silly, while others are things we see conferences do that either help or hurt the attendees. Whatever we've listed, though, is something we have experienced in one way or another.


Like: A room supplied with water, other beverages, and snacks for faculty only—a place to hide and take a break.
Dislike: A full day of back-to-back appointments. No one should ever have more than two hours, it's not good for agents and certainly not useful for attendees when we're too tired to think.

Like: A ten-minute break after the first hour of appointments (for obvious reasons).
Dislike: Cash bars. If you're planning to have a cocktail party or dinner where alcohol is not complimentary, be sure to offer at least one drink ticket to faculty members.

Like: A personal escort or host—someone to make sure I get to and from the hotel, picked up at the airport, know my schedule, and am taken care of over the course of the weekend.
Dislike: Being trapped in a hotel for three days with no break.

Like: Entertainment. Often I'm traveling to a place I've never been and love the opportunity to get out of the hotel and explore (as a group or with the host). Obviously this should always be optional.
Dislike: Long, drawn-out meals. Awards ceremonies and speakers are part of the event, but it's nice to have a meal or two where there's actually a chance to talk and network with people at your table.

Like: A gift bag or small welcome gift when arriving. This doesn't have to be extravagant or expensive, but it's always nice to know you're appreciated with snacks, a bottle of water, or even a trinket or two.
Dislike: Conference organizers who say, "We're going to keep you really busy this weekend. We've got your schedule completely booked." While I am there to work, this is still my weekend and a free moment is appreciated.

Like: Attendees who are well prepared. They know how to handle pitch appointments and they know not to approach agents in the bathroom.
Dislike: A bar that closes before 11:30.

Like: Ten-minute appointments.
Dislike: Appointments that are too short or too long. Sometimes there's not enough time for an author to even get through their pitch, and other times they go on so long that my eyes start to glaze over.

Like: A pitcher of ice water at the table while I'm holding appointments.
Dislike: Dry mouth.

Like: Legible name tags that include the name of the agency and "Agent."
Dislike: Carrying around balloons or some other "neon sign" so that even planes flying overhead can see that I am a conference speaker.

Like: Being given a clear, thorough schedule of conference events and my responsibilities as soon as I arrive.
Dislike: Being asked to add impromptu appointments. I'm too nice to say no, but not too nice to resent it.

Like: A little relaxation time after my flight in.
Dislike: Required cocktail parties or meet-and-greets scheduled just an hour or two after I've spent all day traveling to the conference.

Like: Prepared, courteous conference organizers and volunteers.
Dislike: Pitches on the way to or from the airport by my escort. I am happy to speak to that person during any free time at the conference, or to receive an email from them later, reminding me who they are.


—Jessica & Kim

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Inspirational Novels

One of our readers posted the folllowing comment/question last month:

. . . erotica is big right now, but on the other end of the spectrum is Inspirational. I've recently crossed over to Inspirational romance, specifically Inspirational Chic Lit (I'd love to one day be compared to Kristin Billerbeck) and I'm still learning about the genre and who's looking. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this genre, where it seems to be going, and which are the best houses to target for Inspi Chic Lit. (And shamelessly I'll ask if anyone at your agency is interested in acquiring from this genre? lol)


Unfortunately, since no one at BookEnds is currently seeking Inspirational Chick Lit, or inspirational romances, I don't have a lot of knowledge on this genre. But there are a lot of houses—Christian and otherwise—seeking this type of work. I do believe, however, that it depends on whether you're writing inspirational or Christian, and there is a difference (much like there's a difference between erotica and erotic romance). I would suspect that inspirational might have a wider appeal. Almost every major publisher now has an imprint devoted to religious, spiritual, and inspirational writing—Penguin Praise, FaithWords (formerly Warner Faith), Warner’s Center Street, and Steeple Hill are just a few.

—Jessica

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Titles

We all know how important a title is for a book, and it's amazing how much time I spend trying to come up with good titles—first for the submission process and later when the publisher comes up with a new title that just plain stinks. And while we all know what a title is, do we really understand its purpose?

The title is a marketing tool. It's not representative of your writing, and sometimes it's not entirely representative of the plot of the book. The title's sole purpose is to grab the reader's attention and get her to take a second look at your book. A boring title can kill a possible sale without anyone even touching your book, and an enticing title can give you front-of-the-store displays.

Unfortunately, there's no hard-and-fast rules on how to come up with a great title. The best I can do is give you some things to consider. The title should briefly describe the book (one to five words) in a way that's new and unique. Some examples of great titles from our own list include The Mom Inventor's Handbook, The Naked Earl, and A Killer Collection. All of these titles give you an immediate sense of what the book is and hopefully draw you in enough that you want to learn more.

For nonfiction, that's where the subtitle usually comes in. Once the reader has stopped to look at your book , you want the subtitle to let her know that this is a book for her. One that is going to fit her needs. Examples from our list (subtitles only): 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn't Want You to Know—and What to Do About Them; A Doctor's Guide to a Healthy and Happy Multiple Pregnancy; and How to Turn Your Great Idea into the Next Big Thing. In all of these cases the title grabbed the reader's attention and the subtitle reeled her in.

The title (and subtitle, where applicable) should be like opening a package. The title is the pretty packaging and bow that grab your attention, the subtitle is that first peak you get when you open the corner of the paper, and together they've intrigued you enough to keep opening and see what's inside.

Very often a title alone has determined my initial enthusiasm for a project, and I swear that there are books out there that have sold to publishers because of the title and not the writing. So when getting your submission ready to send out, or your book ready for the stores, pay special attention to the title. It's not a throwaway and time should be spent working with your agent, critique group, and editor to come up with something that is marketable.

Tune in another day to see a list of titles we are very sick of seeing. . . .

—Jessica

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Finding Your Purple Cow

A recent comment to one of my posts had me thinking about marketing guru Seth Godin's fantastic book The Purple Cow. A quick and fun read, I highly recommend everyone get a copy. In one sentence, The Purple Cow is about making yourself marketable by being remarkable.

Published authors are always talking about how they can market their books, what they can do to increase sales, and how they can find new and inventive ways to publicize their work. The truth is that marketing begins with the unpublished work. To truly become remarkable you need to create a product that is marketable.

Whether you are selling your unpublished work to publishers and agents or your published work to readers, the work itself is your first and most important marketing tool. A hook, or creating a book with a high concept, is an agent's way of saying, “Give me something I can market.”

Selling a new romance, mystery, science fiction or fantasy novel is just another black-and-white cow in the pasture, but a werewolf mystery series, an erotic romance featuring shape-shifters, or a fantasy version of Cinderella make your book a purple cow—a standout among all other books—or at least they did at one time. Now that these have been done, it's time for you to come up with your own purple cow.

—Jessica

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

BookEnds Talks to Deb Baker

Deb Baker
Book: Murder Passes the Buck
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Pub date: August 2006





Deb Baker is the author of two debut novels this year—Murder Passes the Buck, a Michigan Yooper Mystery featuring local amateur sleuth Gertie Johnson, and Dolled Up for Murder, the first in the Dolls to Die For series with Gretchen Birch, a Phoenix doll restoration artist.

Awards: Best of Show in the Authorlink International First Novelist Contest

Author Web site: www.debbakerbooks.com

BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
Deb: When Chester Lampi gets shot dead in his deer blind on opening day of deer hunting season, sixty-six-year-old Gertie Johnson seizes the opportunity to become a detective. Gertie bends the rules and creates havoc in what was once a quiet, backwoods Michigan community.

BookEnds: 1. How did you come to write this book?
Deb: I really wanted to follow that sage advice—write what you know. But what did I know? I wasn't a medical examiner, a detective, or a forensics specialist. I didn't have an underprivileged childhood and I wasn't from an exotic country. I didn't even have a unique hobby. How could I write what I knew when I didn't know anything? After thinking about my problem, I realized that I might have something special to write about after all. I had been raised in the Michigan Upper Peninsula with the Swedes and Finns who settled the area. They were a rugged bunch and they had adopted an unusual way of life. That setting and those characters were the right ones for me because from the first page the story just flowed. Gertie, my protagonist, took over.

BookEnds: How long does it usually take you to write a book?
Deb: My writing life was so simple before signing two contracts and having dual deadlines. Experienced multiple-series authors tell me to write two different books at the same time! They say it helps with writer's block. If one isn't working, switch to the other. But I haven't been able to do that. I also can't mosey along. Every morning by seven I'm at the computer writing. That was the hardest part—forcing myself to a strict schedule. At 5,000 words per week, I have a first draft in three months. And I really try to have that draft as clean as possible. Then I have a few months to edit before starting another one. Afternoons are spent marketing.

BookEnds: What's your next book? When and where should we look for it?
Deb: The first in the Dolls to Die For series will be out in October. It's called Dolled Up for Murder. Here's a little about it: A message clutched in the fist of a doll collector found dead at the bottom of a Phoenix cliff implicates Gretchen Birch's mother. All evidence points to her as the killer, but Gretchen knows she's innocent. The problem is, her mother has disappeared—and she's left an urgent warning that Gretchen is in danger, too. . . .

BookEnds: Besides getting your first book published, what would you say have been some of the highlights of your writing career so far?
Deb: At one time I had so many rejections I decided to stop writing and run for political office. It was the only other career where I could continue to make up stuff. Then I won the Authorlink International First Novelist Award, first in the mystery category, then going on to win Best of Show. After an all-expense-paid trip to the Harriet Austin Conference in Athens, Georgia, I received the award at a special luncheon. That honor was the turning point in my writing career.

BookEnds: Do you have a manuscript that you'll never let anyone else read? Tell us a little about it.
Deb: My first mystery writing attempts were short stories. After reading the first three, my husband pointed out that they all focused on the same type of plot—women killing their husbands. Since we had recently increased my husband's life insurance, he was understandably worried. I reassured him and came up with other plotlines. Looking back, those stories were awful.

To learn more about Deb Baker, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

RWA Photos

I've taken the liberty of swiping a few photos from our clients to show you a little of what went on at RWA. If you have pictures you'd like to share, let us know where we can find them.













Jessica posing with
Kate Douglas











Kim sitting with Kate Douglas
after the awards ceremony










Audrey LaFehr of Kensington,
Kate Douglas, and Jessica









A picture of the hotel atrium
taken from above

Picture credits go to Kate Douglas (www.katedouglas.com/RWA2006/) and Jolie Mathis (http://joliemathis.blogspot.com/).

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