Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Holidays!

BookEnds is closed for the holidays until Wednesday, January 2, 2008.

Have a wonderful holiday and we'll be blogging again in the New Year.

The Benefits of Being an Agent

I had an interesting thought regarding Erik's comments considering this is an agent's blog. The hype machine costs money, yes. Didn't Trump just pay out something like $25K to about 1,000 people standing in line waiting to buy his book and have it autographed? Who bears the cost of promotion? Authors and, sometimes, publishers.

Do agents pick up the promotion tab, or do they simply reap the benefit of author and publisher promo? If the latter, then those NYT Bestseller spikes don't cost agents anything, and, in the long run, it's the agents that net out better than either the author or the publisher.

Interesting thought that at a 15% commission the agents ever net out better than anyone. No, agents don’t typically pick up a tab for promotion. That’s really up to the people who are making the money—the publishers and the authors. The agent, however, will often do her best to eliminate as much of that tab from the author’s own pockets as possible. In other words, the agent will do her best to get the publisher to pay.

Any author will always bear the cost of some promotion, even if it’s the cost of attending a conference, but the more successful an author becomes the more the publisher should and will bear those costs. And the publisher absolutely should. It’s part of the cost of doing business in the first place. Should an agent bear the cost of building an author’s brand? I’m not sure and I’d be interested to hear what others say about this. I do know that some of the larger agencies now are bringing on publicists. I don’t know how well that’s working or how much they are actually spending. BookEnds has started this blog, which we see as a promotional opportunity for our authors should they choose to use it. We also have a Web site where we heavily promote our authors. It only makes sense. Successful authors = successful agents.

BookEnds did briefly toy with the thought of hiring an agency publicist, but in the end we weren’t sure a publicist for the agency would do any more than a publisher’s publicity department does (or that we can get them to do). I guess I’m not convinced it makes sense.

Okay, that was not much of an answer, but I think this is worthy of more of a discussion than just one woman’s answer. Thoughts?


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 14

I hope you’re not getting bored with these yet. I think we’re finally well beyond the halfway mark. Thanks, everyone, for submitting and commenting, and please continue to do so. I think making this a forum where everyone can improve her pitch is terrific. This has been fun for me. Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary.

77. jaxpop
Making the choice to risk your own life to rescue a friend requires great courage and selflessness. Add having to abandon $15,000,000 in gold during the process raises the stakes significantly. Following through on it, as a fifteen year old, provides reason for pause, but for Jack, the commitment must be made in an instant.

My first concern is that grammatically this is really awkward. Wouldn’t it be stronger just to say, “. . . Abandoning $15 million in gold in the process takes even greater selflessness, but for 15-year-old Jack the decision must be made in an instant when . . .”? I think we need just a little more here. I love the opening two lines, but I think we need to know a why or a what happens to force this decision.

78. anon 11:21
'See Lotty Run' is an 85,000 word Romantic Thriller:
Lotty killed her baby didn't she? With a new face and a new start, it all seems to be working out. Till she falls for a cop.

It’s missing that special oomph. My first concern is the question: Did she or didn’t she kill her baby? I wouldn’t advise starting with a question and certainly not this one, it doesn’t entice me. Why not just say, "After accidentally (you’ll need to let us know immediately how sympathetic we can be for this character) killing her own baby, Lotty starts out with a new face and a new start...”? I hope your entire conflict is not that she’s fallen for a cop. That’s not enough and, truthfully, pretty easy to get out of. You just walk away. Something more has to be happening to Lotty in this story. Something to really up the suspense. If this really is a romantic suspense I need to see the suspense in your pitch and not the romance. I’m not quite as concerned with that. If, however, you’re calling it a thriller, you need to up the stakes even more. Agents will expect a lot of fear in a thriller. We need to see that in the pitch.

79. JLT
Becky Miller is stunned to discover that her husband, Walter, is having an affair with a mentally challenged cocktail waitress. Even worse, Walter’s girlfriend has suggested that she and Walter would both be better a lot off if Becky were permanently removed from the picture. Becky thus decides to teach Walter a lesson that he’ll never forget, but as she sets her scheme into motion, things go tragically wrong and Becky suddenly finds herself in danger of becoming the principal victim of her own carefully constructed plan…

I’m sure I’m going to take a hit for this, but you want honesty, right? From your first sentence I would reject this. I have a really, really hard time with the fact that her husband is having an affair with someone who is mentally challenged. Granted, there are definitely extremes to this definition, but my first thought is that if he’s having an “affair” with someone who is mentally challenged then he is as bad as a pedophile. In other words, he’s clearly taking advantage of someone and the least of your concerns is their plot to do away with Becky. I think the real concern is that she’s married a man who is essentially a criminal. To rectify this you’ll need to clarify how challenged this waitress is, and I’m not sure that needs to be done in the pitch. Hopefully it comes across better in the book. Beyond that, though, I think your real hook is that, “Becky discovers her husband’s affair and in an attempt to teach him a lesson things go tragically wrong. Instead of simply enacting revenge on her cheating man, Becky finds herself in danger...” I think you need a little bit more, a little bit more of an idea of how dangerous the danger is, but I hope you get the idea.

80. Jduncan
Pathology Assistant, June Marigold is moving up in the world thanks to the magical ring given to her by her mother, which allows her to see and speak to the dead. After solving a notorious, deadend case, June found herself with a brand new apartment up in the Thirties, high above the dreadful waterways of a now flooded lower Manhatten. But when the corpse of a merman shows up in the morgue and then mysteriously vanishes overnight, June finds herself caught up in an ongoing struggle between the Mer and a corrupt part of NYC that wants the City's newest residents permanently removed. Having to delve into the murky underwater world of the lowest Manhatten is the last thing June wants, especially accompanied by the mysterious and unnerving Mer, Bolen, who serves her pagan mother and absurdly refers to June as 'Princess.' The entire problem would have been washed away if, when she tried returning the stupid ring to her mother, June hadn't discovered the power to see the dead didn't lie in the ring at all, but in her.

Too long! Let me ask you this: What really matters to the core of your story? In other words, if you want to attract a reader, what is your biggest hook? Is it that the ring came from her mother? That she’s moving up in the world? That she lives in the Thirties? No. I think the real core of this is that she’s a pathologist with the ability to see and speak to the dead. That’s amazing. That’s a book I want to read. The rest of it is just padding. The rest is what creates the book and builds your characters. A pathologist who can see and speak to the dead and is forced to use her powers to uncover a struggle between the Mer and the residents of NYC. I like this idea a lot; however, based on your pitch, my conclusion is that you don’t have a very fleshed-out story. That you’re trying to do too much and not really focusing on writing a great, amazing, and really coherent plot.

81. Jeanne
Neska has never been out of her native mountains and knows nothing about leading armies or defeating a usurper. She has never cast a spell or decided the course of a kingdom. All she knows is that the usurper has killed the king for the throne and had her own family murdered for their loyalty. Neska is on the run, and has no idea how she will surivive much less bring about justice. But all that will change when a mysterious mage dies transferring his tattoos and his magical power to her.

The pitch here is what happens when the mysterious mage dies and what really happens next. To me the fact that Neska has never been out of the mountains, etc., is merely backstory. Why not shorten, tighten, and get to the point faster? I’m also not entirely sure what’s going on here. Is Neska related to the king? Why is she responsible for bringing justice? And what is this story really about? Is it about Neska being on her own, outside of the mountains, or is it really what happens after the mage dies? I think you need to give a better sense of who Neska is as well as a better sense of what the story is really about. I assume it’s about the need to bring justice, but from whom and why?

82. wplasvegas
Secret Lore of the Dolphins is an epic story about a seven year old girl shipwrecked in the Bermuda Triangle, who is rescued, then befriended by dolphins, and taught their language. Now an adult, she returns to civilization appointed as, "Ambassador of the People of the Sea to the People of the Land."

Try not to give any pitch that says something along the lines of, “title is an...” It immediately reads like book report material and takes the life out of the pitch. What about something like, “When seven-year-old Tina is shipwrecked, alone, in the Bermuda Triangle, she learns to rely on a group(?) of dolphins to teach her survival....” Reading that, however, I immediately think this is a YA book, and a great idea at that. It’s only when I read your next line that I’m utterly confused. What exactly is this book about? I assume it’s not about the girl living on the island and getting to know the dolphins, but instead about her life as an adult. What does that entail and what is her conflict? Most important, though, what exactly is the Ambassador of the People of the Sea to the People of the Land and what does all of that mean?

Now I turn it over to the readers. And don’t slack off on me. If I can keep coming back with critiques, comments, and suggestions, so can you. We’ve got a lot more coming!


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Power of an Author Blog

I was curious about your take on author blogs. First, do you think author blogs sell books? Second, do you think revealing personal information, even when presented humorously, is appropriate? Over time I’ve found myself disenchanted with some authors after reading posts about the inner-workings of their marriage, as an example. I understand the need to entertain and for blog readers to feel that they are seeing a slice of an author’s life, but is there a fine line between professional promotion and too much information?

Confession time. I don’t read that many blogs. I read a few here and there and I love it when people clue me in to an interesting post (hint, hint), but I don’t spend a lot of time surfing other blogs (although I do check out Nathan Bransford daily, because he is extremely clever). I’m not part of author fandom. Actually I’m not much of a “fan” in general. I never hung posters from Teen Beat on my wall and I never wrote fan letters to the Duke Boys. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is probably a question that’s best put out to readers. Do you read author blogs? Do they make you buy books?

My opinion. It can’t hurt, but it needs to stand out. You need to provide readers with something more than just a daily rundown of your life to make it interesting. I do think readers like getting a personal taste of who you are, but no one wants the minute details of your life. When asked by my own clients if they “have to” blog, my answer is always, You have to want to blog. I don’t care if you blog, but if you do you need to commit. You either need to join up with a group or you need to decide that you are indeed going to blog every day. Let me ask you this? Would you come to this blog regularly if it wasn’t daily? Probably not. You’d forget.

I think this is an interesting post for regular blog readers. Do you read author blogs? What do you like to read in them? Do you prefer individual blogs or group blogs? And for those authors who do blog (great time to promote your blog) do you have any parameters for yourself and your blog? Do you think it helps your sales?


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dear Santa . . .

Every Thanksgiving my mom takes advantage of the family being all in one place and forces us to write our Christmas lists. This year — like every year — a few books made it onto my list . . . even though I should really be asking for a bookcase to store all of the piles of books I already own! I’m eager to get to the stacks I already have, but who can resist adding a few more? So I got to wondering what books are on your wish list this year. How did you hear about them? Recommendation? Review? Just the latest from your favorite author?

Here’s what’s on the BookEnds lists this year:


The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield — This book has been calling to me ever since I first saw it hit the stores. The cover screams “Booklovers! Over here!” and the copy makes it sound like my idea of the perfect book. I’m kind of shocked that I don’t already own it. I think I always succumb to the guilt of those huge unread piles sitting back at home. But this is definitely at the very top of my wish list.

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo — I loved Empire Falls. While I never got around to going back and reading his previous works, I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Bridge of Sighs. I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into this one.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell — I have to admit that I added this to the list on a whim. I saw it recently in stores and decided to research it as a possible future pick for my book club. The starred Publishers Weekly review sealed it for me. (I bank heavily on those PW reviews!) And it’s a book all about family secrets. What’s better than that?

Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope by Jenna Bush and Mia Baxter — This is my book club’s next selection. I kind of like that we’re mixing things up with a young adult book, and the story intrigues me. Should make for a great discussion.


Putting together my list for Santa was always so much easier when I had the JC Penney toy catalog in front of me. I could pore over it for days and come up with quite an impressive list. And normally I have the same feelings about coming up with books I want for Christmas, but this year I’m truly stumped. I’m a cookbook fiend so it’s baffling that I can’t even come up with one cookbook I need. As for fiction, one would think I’m always ready to add to my list, but the growing stack of books I already own and haven’t yet read is too intimidating for me to ask for more. So my version of the Christmas list is that I’m going to ask for time to read the books I already have. I’d really like to get to The Kite Runner, as well as one of the three J. R. Ward titles that have been sitting here. Of course I’m dying to catch up on some of my own clients’ books and Karin Slaughter’s latest is also in my pile. And since it’s winter I’d like something heartwarming, women’s fiction that makes me cry a little and feel good about life in the end. It should also have a bit of a romance, I suppose. Elizabeth Berg is usually good for that, but I’m open to suggestions since I’m just not sure what that book is.


I recommend The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which was my favorite nonclient book of the year. Cormac McCarthy is an amazing, provocative writer and The Road stayed with me long after I put it down. I also recommend I Am American and So Can You! by Stephen Colbert. I listened to the audio book and laughed myself silly. He’s so clever, Nation.

On my list to read (after I read all my clients’ books, of course):

The Birds in My Life by The Supreme Master Ching Hai
The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
The Carb Conscious Vegetarian by Robin Robertson

Now it’s your turn! What books are on your list and why?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Pitch Critiques Lucky 13

More critiques for you. I’ve seen a lot of great pitches so far. Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary.

72. Dead Man Walking
Jessica had it all - her own agency, a popular blog, and even a man who liked watching Oprah with her. But when someone steals her egg salad sandwiches from the office fridge on the morning of the annual Festivus Potluck, Jessica finds herself smack in the middle of a mystery. With toe-hair curling prose, BROUHAHA AT BOOKENDS shows what happens when an obnoxious slushpile-reader-who-doesn't-swing-her-arms-when-she-walks meets up with the agent who ruined her life with a simple form reject.

I have printed this out and hung it on my wall. Not only did it make me laugh out loud, but of course it’s a book I’m dying to read ;) Thanks, Dead Man, it’s definitely the break I needed. And brilliant as well. I’m really impressed. And of course who wouldn’t want to read a mystery with a literary agent protagonist?

73. dramabird
Set in a nearly empty college in the final stages of closure, my novel The Campus is a 103,000-word thriller. Kiley is a theatre tech major who excels behind the scenes, but in a single, terrifying night, she is propelled center stage when the school’s few remaining students are threatened by a group of masked men whose motives are not what they seem.

In a story of mayhem, secrets and loyalty (not to mention hammers, hydrochloric acid, pancakes and the gates of the Emerald City), Kiley – a heroine with moxie rather than muscles – must do whatever it takes to rescue her ex-boyfriend, protect newfound allies and keep herself alive until morning.

This has potential. I think you need to be a little more straightforward, though. I would also eliminate the line about hammers to Emerald City. If this is a thriller, you want your pitch to remain thrilling (and suspenseful) even if you have light comedy in your book—adding it to the pitch can diminish that sense of suspense you want the reader to feel. I think that the pitch is a little shorter. “Kiley is a theatre tech major who excels behind the scenes and never desires center stage, but in a single terrifying night that’s exactly where she finds herself. When a group of masked men take over the theatre, demanding ????, only Kiley, hidden in her ????, is the one left to save them.” Or something along those lines. My concern overall is that I’m not feeling that this is really something that grabs my interest. College students in a theatre don’t have that “grab me and read me” quality. So my question is do your masked men? Are their motives ones that might attract readers?

74. tracey
A Lady's Revenge is an edgy, sensual romance set in 1805 England, between a beautiful, dedicated British Operative and a resourceful English Earl, who shows her how to trust and love again.

Snoooze! This shows me absolutely nothing different about your book. The opening line gives me no sense of voice. It sounds like it’s a description from a review. Get into it and get excited. "Lady Vanessa Gray is a British Operative with ????, but when she’s left investigating Earl Jonas Frank...." Do you see what I mean? We need to know what your real hook is and everything in your description reads like almost any other historical romance. I suspect the British Operative is your real hook, so run with that.

75. anon 9:21
MARIAH, once a foundling but now the most powerful woman in the Marches, has a tongue that flicks like a lash. LINDEN, the ruler who once shared her bed with his half-brother, is her most frequent target. Mariah is tempted to withdraw from Linden’s council of advisors. Yet, she can’t abandon the descendants of the people who fought at her side during the Rebellion four centuries ago because Linden is showing signs of his mother's madness. Then, her granddaughter is used as bait in a plot to overthrow Linden's rule.

I have no idea what you're talking about. I have no sense if this is a romance, mystery, historical novel, or SF/Fantasy. Is your conflict and is your hook really that she has a sharp tongue? And what do I care if she withdraws from the council? What impact is that going to have? I assume that Mariah, Linden, and his half-brother were all lovers? What does that have to do with anything? I don’t get any real sense of conflict in this, and because of that I have a difficult time really helping you take it in a new direction.

76. Ryshia Kennie
Caught in the middle of an intrigue she doesn’t understand, in a country she once fled, reporter and freelance writer, Claire Linton, has to learn fast. What began as a trip to Cambodia to find her maternal relatives, confront her past and the long ago escape from the Khmer Rouge, has turned deadly. She becomes an involuntary mule when she purchases a souvenir, a Buddha bust. Two men follow her and both want the bust. But it is the one called Simon, the expat American, who scares her. His kisses are treacherous, fogging an already dangerous present. The biggest story of her career finds her caught in the middle of a heroin smuggling operation where she soon learns that the only one she can trust is herself.

I think this has potential. It’s definitely interesting. I think it could be tightened even a little more, and you could address the conflict with greater urgency. Especially since this is supposed to be a thriller? “Caught in the middle of an intrigue she doesn’t understand, in a country she once fled, reporter and freelance writer Claire Linton has to learn fast. What began as a trip to Cambodia to find her maternal relatives and confront her past has turned deadly.” And here is where it gets shaky for me. Are the two men following her cops? And what is the story? Is it the heroin smuggling? If so, is she really concerned about the story if she is actually it? I think your next sentence is more along the lines of, “caught in the middle of a heroin smuggling operation and what promises to be the biggest story of her career, Claire...” I’ll leave the rest to you. But keep the suspense up. Show us what Claire is really up against.

Great work, everyone. And now to the readers and your feedback. . . .


Friday, December 14, 2007

Michele Dunaway on When a Story Clicks

Michele Dunaway
The Christmas Date (Harlequin American Romance) and Hart’s Victory (Harlequin NASCAR)
Publisher: Harlequin Enterprises
Pub Date: December 2007
Agent: Jessica Faust

(Click to Buy) (Click to Buy)

Web site:

One photojournalist, one girl next door, plus one hot and sexy race car driver, and one single mom who wants nothing to do with him, all add up to one crazy month of December with my two releases, The Christmas Date from Harlequin American and Hart’s Victory from Harlequin NASCAR.

I’m Michele Dunaway, and I’m one of Jessica’s authors, having been her client since February 2006. While I sold 14 novels on my own to Harlequin, Jessica has since sold six more for me (bringing my total to 20 in 8 years). I’m also a full-time high school journalism teacher who sponsors the yearbook and the newspaper. The yearbook was named All American, which means it’s pretty darn good. My writing process is sporadic and I do a lot of it in big, huge spurts. I simply can’t focus with fewer than 45 minutes to write.

Hart’s Victory is one of those dream books for me and I’ve dedicated it, in part, to Jessica, for helping make this work a reality. The book is also dedicated to one of my former students and my daughter because this book has had this weird karma to it since inception. I first thought of the idea after my daughter got to ask Dale Earnhardt Jr. a question during a Q&A session. She stumped him, and on the way home from Nashville, the entire book formed in my head. I wrote the first eighty pages and a synopsis within a week and sent them to Jessica, who sent them to my current editor.

The book sat and I moved on to writing something else, keeping my fingers crossed for the last 2007 NASCAR slot. During this time, one of my current students died of leukemia. I was at his visitation, and as I passed under the portico of the funeral home, there sat this red, late-nineties Corvette. I'd had the hero in my book give the son in the story a Corvette (I’m a Chevy girl) but didn’t even realize the coincidence until my students told me the next day that was Charlie’s car—that his parents gave him his dream car since his driving time would be so limited.

I freaked out. It was one of those magical, surreal moments that I knew, long before Jessica fielded the call the next week offering me a contract, the power of this story. Everything I needed clicked—the teacher in the classroom next to mine mentioned my story to a student, who told her mom, who happens to work for one of the racing websites and has all sorts of contacts. I suddenly had access to all sorts of things, and Harlequin came through with the rest. I got to go behind the scenes at Roush-Fenway racing. I got to attend a media event and meet Matt Kenseth, Kenny Schrader, Brendan Gaughn, Rusty Wallace, Martin Truex Jr., and others. I got to be in the garage and pits before a race—one that Carl Edwards won (he signed my daughter’s hat).

Because of Hart’s Victory, Harlequin also asked me to do two books for the 2008 NASCAR series. I remember sitting in my car and then suddenly realizing—twenty. In September 1999, the thrill had been selling the first one. Twenty felt equally as good. Hart’s Victory is number fifteen. It has received rave reviews, including from my daughter, who agrees with Harriet Klausner that you’ll need Kleenex tissue while reading. It’s one of those books that you’ll love even if you’re not a NASCAR fan. Now if you want some heat and light romantic comedy, try my other December release, The Christmas Date. For an emotional ride of a lifetime, follow Hart Hampton as he gets the biggest victory of all, true love, in Hart’s Victory.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Seeking an Agent Through Contests

I recently completed my first novel, which I submitted for a contest. The first prize is a publishing contract and the contest organizers require that the book submitted not be under contract. I am wondering though, should I wait until the contest results are announced in January to start looking for an agent? Or should I try to find an agent now, and then ask them (if I am so blessed to get one) not to submit my work until the contest results are out?

Get out there now and look! Since I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to contests I’m not exactly sure which one this might be. I can tell you, however, that most contests that come with publishing contract in hand come with a non-negotiable publishing contract. Wouldn’t you rather have an agent on your side to try and turn that into something that can be negotiated? Maybe even sell it to another house? If you don’t find an agent before you win the contest, you can then use the contest to help you find one. However, I would start the hunt now.

Again, I want to defer to readers on this one since I know many of you have been in similar situations. If so, how did you handle it?


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 12

More critiques for you. I’ve seen some great, great pitches so far, some that needed a lot of work, and some just a little tweaking. Good work, everyone. And great books! Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary.

66. linda
On the day of Victoria’s engagement to Boston blue-blood, Scott Halstead, she inherits a farm in Oklahoma and is forced to make a choice between a life of privilege or the skeleton in her closet.

Doesn’t do it for me. It just doesn’t grab me. Why is she forced to make this choice and why can’t she marry a blue-blood and have a farm? What’s really at risk for her? You’ll need to expand on this a little. We’ll need a better sense of Victoria and what this really means to her and for her.

67. sharon
Grayson Cyre lives in a world where war has gone on for so long, no one remembers why it started. After his treasonous sister is arrested, Grayson vows to seek revenge against the enemy--the anonymous forces whose surprise attack left his colony decimated and his parents dead.

This doesn’t sound different enough. So many books are about revenge, so what is different for Grayson? What about his sister’s arrest makes him decide to do something? Is he trying to finally end the war? Why does he think he can do it and no one else? Why now? What will he face? We need to know what makes this book stand out from others and I’m not seeing it here.

68. carol a. spradling
Widowed and propositioned at the gravesite is not Anna Sinclair's idea of romance, but lifelong friend Daniel Mercy is not a man easily refused. They marry within days of her husband’s funeral, and she prepares for the raised eyebrows of 1762, Charleston society.

Daniel struggles to maintain his faltering shipping company and in the process, he and Anna learn of Seth's involvement with embezzlement, smuggling, and attempted murder. When he discovers the name of Seth's murderer, Anna is kidnapped and buried alive.

Some secrets should remain buried with the dead but as Anna fights to stay alive, she uncovers one secret Daniel has hidden from her.

Too long! My first concern is why does she marry him? It’s not her idea of romance and seems rude, so why does she do it? Why would Daniel? How can Anna uncover a secret if she’s buried alive? There seems to be a lot of holes in this story, and that would make me pause with concern. I like the fact that she’s propositioned at the gravesite, but I don’t see how that connects to Daniel’s faltering shipping company and later Anna being kidnapped. This is another case where I would suggest you take a look at your book first, pitch later. It seems like the book has some plot problems that will need to be addressed before you can start pitching.

69. deborah
Pregnant and fleeing an arranged marriage, Dianna Marshall sets sail for America on board the Titanic in the company Margaret and William Stewart, a childless couple who offer Dianna sanctuary in exchange for her unborn child. But when the Titanic sinks, and William Stewart dies, Dianna is catapulted into a world completely foreign to her where she faces desperate choices: will it be the life she's been raised to lead, the man her heart desires, or the unborn child she's come to love? She can't have everything, but the wrong choice may leave her with nothing.

This is an odd case where I think the ending works better than the beginning. I think this could be tighter: “Pregnant and fleeing an arranged marriage, Dianna Marshall’s only hope is to accept sanctuary from a childless couple in exchange for her baby. But when the ship sinks (does it need to be the Titanic?) . . .” Now we need specifics. Why is the world foreign to her? Why must she face these choices? Why can’t she have the man and the baby? Why will walking away from both leave her with nothing?

70. anon 7:00
Rane is in a bind. He has a few weeks to break a witch’s curse or all his friends will die. They’ve been soul chasers for hundreds of years, blithely inhaling the spirits of nearby villagers. But now, three of them are dead and four are trapped inside their castle. As the only one who escaped, Rane must find their estranged creator, Markin, before it is too late. Along the way, he discovers the last vampire and quickly learns that the soul chasers evolved from this very creature. Rane will fight off wild chasers, fall in love with a mortal and break the curse before it’s all over.

I think your beginning is wonderful, it’s the end where I think you try to push in too much information. I think this is nearly perfect, but needs a little tightening. What about, “Rane has only a few weeks to break a witch’s curse or all his friends will die. They’ve been soul chasers for hundreds of years, blithely inhaling the spirits of nearby villagers. But now, three of them are dead and four are trapped inside a castle. As the only one who escaped, Rane must find their estranged creator, Markin . . .”? And this is where I feel it fell off. Let’s get to the point of what he must really do. Could you just say that he must find the creator and break the curse? Or is there something even more? Is time ticking? Does he learn something along the way? Many books have a similar plot line—time is ticking, someone must find the cure. What makes yours really pop? The things that I think were cool here are the soul chasers, and the last vampire. What else do you have to make it jump out at me?

71. Loquacious Me
In addition to being a loving father and devoted husband, Jesse Dawson is also a modern samurai and champion of lost souls. When his fellow champions begin to go missing, he has no choice but to complete his current contract to save the soul of an aging baseball player. But the forces of darkness want his soul, and when demons are involved, things literally go to Hell.

An instance where I feel like you’re telling instead of showing me your pitch. I don’t get any sense of atmosphere or voice from this. What about something like, “Jesse Dawsom is a loving father and devoted husband. He’s also a modern samurai and champion of lost souls. It’s Jesse’s job to . . . But when fellow samurai champions go missing, it’s up to Jesse to save them, and the only way to do that is . . .”? And I think your last line is great. You need to put some more energy into the first paragraphs to make me want to read this.

Great work, everyone. And now to the readers and your feedback. . . .


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

An Agent's View of Contests

In your posting on Monday, Oct. 1, you mentioned that you knew a lot of writers are entering contests, and some writers are winning awards. You said these awards are "really exciting" to agents.

This sparked some questions for me. How do agents view these awards on a more nuanced level than regarding them as good news? What would be the best way to present the book along with the awards? When an agent becomes aware that a writer has won some awards, how does that change the agent's perception of the writer?

[The author also asked how to proceed if his query has been turned down by agents, but now won an award.]

First, let me clarify that what I actually said in my October 1 post: "Many of you regularly enter contests and get recognition from agents and editors, which is really exciting." And what I meant by that is that the recognition you are getting from agents and editors can be very exciting. I had to actually check this because saying that contest wins can be very exciting to an agent didn't sound like me. I was happy to know I hadn't switched personalities since that time. So what exactly did I mean? And what really is my opinion on contests?

Actually awards are only moderately exciting to this agent. It truly depends on the award. An Agatha, Edgar, RITA, Golden Heart, Nebula, Pulitzer Prize, etc.? Yes, absolutely, all very exciting. But there are a lot of awards out there. I think every single romance chapter has a contest and I think every single conference has a writing award. Let me tell you honestly, I’ve judged an awful lot of those contests and I will say that more often than not I’m picking the best of the bunch, and that doesn’t mean that any of them were any good. Sometimes, honestly, it’s the best of the worst.

Does that mean I think you should stop entering contests or letting agents and editors know about your wins? Absolutely not. Keep entering and keep spreading the news, but as a client of mine, Angie Fox, recently suggested in a comment on the blog, when she entered contests she did so with an eye toward who was judging. If none of the judges represented or bought the type of work she was writing, she didn’t feel the need to enter. Her goal was to get their attention, not just rack up wins.

When it comes down to it, you could have racked up 25 different awards and I don’t really care. The only thing I care about is whether you’ve written a great book that I can fall in love with and really, really, really want to sell.

But to answer your questions more specifically. Mention your awards in your query letter. You can toss them in at the end with your bio or mention it at the beginning as your opener. Do what you think works for you. How an agent perceives them is obviously going to differ from agent to agent. I do think the one thing awards or contest entries show me is that you are very serious about your writing and intend to really invest the time and energy it takes to become an author, and not just a writer. As for the agents who already passed on your work: Let them go. Think of them with your next project, but a contest win (unless it’s major) is unlikely to make a difference at this point.

I do want to add that I think there are many advantages to contests and I know a number of our own clients have spent and do still spend a lot of energy in the contest circuit. I think how a contest can be used to your benefit can best come from them, and I hope they (and others, of course) will pop in and share.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Mistakes Happen

In a recent post, When Agents Agonize, a reader commented, “I don't supposed you ever agonize over rejecting someone and wishing you hadn't? LOL That's what I wish.” And it made me think of a story, one I hope I haven’t already told you.

Earlier this year I was getting slammed with busy, busy authors, submissions from established authors, and all-around good news. In other words, I was exceptionally busy. During the midst of all of this I received an email from a published author who had just received an offer for her second erotic romance contract. While she successfully negotiated her first contract on her own she decided that now was the time to find an agent, so she was getting in touch with me. Of course I moved immediately. I read her proposal and really, really liked it. But I was getting skittish. My concern was how much room I had on my list for another erotic romance author (or another author)? I love erotic romance and I love the authors but, as I tell all of them, the problem with erotic romance is that you have a limited market. Simply because of the subject matter not everyone is going to read it. Therefore I’m reluctant to take on too many authors in this narrow genre. So with a great deal of hesitation I told the author no. In fact, my exact wording was:

“Thanks so much for giving me the weekend. You are really talented and I enjoyed reading this, but in the end I’m going to pass. While I liked your writing a lot I just don’t think I’m as passionate about it as an agent should be about her client’s work. This was a tough decision for me because you are so talented, but I also need to be fair to you.

"Congratulations on your offer. I suspect you’ll have a long career.”

And in a follow-up to her follow-up I said, “It was a tough decision and if you’re ever looking for an agent again please keep me in mind. Things might be different. I do wish you lots of luck.”

Well, this incredibly wise woman read into my hesitation and emailed me back to suggest that if I was really on the fence maybe I should give it a second look. I did. And she was right. I was a fool. I scheduled some time to talk with her about her career goals and what she had in mind, beyond more erotic romance, of course. I humbly offered representation and it’s entirely my honor that she accepted.

Now I don’t recommend that you hound every agent that rejects you. This is obviously a very, very rare instance, but it does showcase that anything is truly possible in this business. I also want to make it clear that changing my mind in no way means I’m any less dedicated or in love with this author’s work than I am with my other clients and their work. It simply means I reacted too rashly.

I think often we hear that authors are really lucky when they have an offer on the table because it makes it easier to find an agent. It also makes it harder for agents to properly evaluate an author’s work the way we would like to. Sometimes sitting on something is better than moving quickly. It gives you time to really process your dedication to it. In this case I was lucky because this probably would have been a decision I would have regretted. I thank the author every time I see her for her persistence, and of course now we both have an interesting story to tell.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 11

We’re almost halfway! Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary

61. bob duggan
Charlie Justice was a twisted little adolescent. Some of that twistedness could be traced to the chemicals that course through the veins of every fifteen year-old male. If chemicals were responsible for the formation of Charlie's personality, they must have come from that Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. Fortunately, he had an unusual head for numbers, which enabled some of the adults around him to excuse his perverse behavior.

R. Clifford Harbaugh was a twelve-year veteran of the FBI. A former Marine 0311, he had slogged through two thirteen-month tours of duty in Southeast Asia. A gruff, no-nonsense professional, Agent Harbaugh, despite his current affiliation with the FBI, was still at heart committed to God, country, and the Corps.

In 1986, Charlie Justice and Agent Harbaugh would meet as part of a special government program that Agent Harbaugh would later describe as "a complete and thorough cluster-fuck". Together, they would thwart one of the most horrendous financial attacks ever leveled at the United States.

Bob! This is not a query contest, just the pitch. Your pitch is almost as long as your entire query letter should be. We don’t need backstory. In other words, the first two paragraphs aren’t necessary. Let’s just get to it. What is your book really about? Is it about the history of Charlie and Agent Hargaugh, or is it the thwarted attacks, or is it the cluster-fuck? I suspect the book is about the lead-up to the attacks—what happens. That’s your pitch. Be careful that in any pitch you eliminate backstory. It’s usually not necessary.

62. v.j. Davis
FBI Special Agent Carly Benson is lost in Hell’s Gate Wilderness and she’s not alone. While playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an unknown stalker Carly solves the riddle surrounding the mysterious disappearance of Steven Younger, one of the FBI’s ten most wanted. Will Carly survive Hell’s Gate to apprehend Younger or will the secret of his location die with her in Hell’s Gate?

Cool. Although a tad confusing. Did she really get lost or was she there searching for clues? I’m concerned that this reads like she is running through the woods from a stalker and thinking about work at the same time. Suddenly she figures out what happened to Steven Younger and now she really has to get out. I imagine that’s not the story you’re trying to convey. I like the idea (but I like FBI books), but I’m not convinced your pitch works. I think you need a revamp that makes it easier to understand.

63. wanderingray
Reluctant Heroes: Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy meets BattleStar Galactica

An instance where it’s dangerous to use comparison. I’ve never read Hitchhiker and I haven’t seen BattleStar since I was a kid. Refer to an earlier critique, but if you’re going to use comparisons you need to then show how the comparison works with your book. What is it about your book that warrants that comparison?

64. anon 5:13
Evil, in the form of a psychotic terrorist known as Dante now resides in the remote mountain community of Pine Ridge, Arizona. Sheriff Gabe Navarro thought he knew his town, yet nothing could have prepared him for the journey he and Department of Justice Agents Shelby Ryan and Carson Billings of the domestic terrorism unit are about to make. Can the trio save Pine Ridge? Can they save themselves?

The opening sentence is fabulous! The rest is bland. What is the journey they are going to take and what does the psychotic terrorist have planned? Don’t end your pitch with questions. You should be answering mine, not asking them of me. I don’t know. I assume they can save Pine Ridge, but from what and why?

65. michelle
Dominion Day 106,000 word SF novel

There’s got to be more to life than being a high paid assassin.
I mean, I am taking peoples lives. That can’t be the best thing.
Even if the pay is good, it doesn’t make up for living around Commander Jensen.
I could resign…
If I resigned, Jensen would still be a thorn in my side.
However, if he thought I was dead....

Antony Danic, the Corps most renowned sniper, and munitions expert has the perfect job. Or does he? Destiny has other plans for him. He fakes his death to get out from under his commander’s thumb. Changing his name and his looks to keep his former identity dead. As Noble Standing, he begins to make decisions that change him from the coarse devil may care bad boy, to the honorable good guy that the prophecies foretell about him.

One man begins to find and fulfill his destiny.

Another case of a pitch turned query letter. Much too long. I would skip the opening lines altogether. They don't endear me to your work. The paragraph beginning with Antony Danic is good. Much better, anyway, and that’s really your pitch. Of course you also need to rewrite that last sentence. Now that he’s changed his name and looks, what is his conflict? It seems to me that’s already solved by the beginning of the book. He hated his job so he quit. What happens next? Oh, and skip your final line. Too vague.

Great work, everyone. And now to the readers and your feedback. . . .


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Holiday Books

At Barnes & Noble I see that holiday offerings are already on display - and in the grocery store, holiday paperbacks on the kiosk near customer service. Does Bookends have an opinion on "holiday lit" as a genre, or wanna-be-genre?

Ah, yes, it’s that most wonderful time of the year and holiday books abound. I actually have my own personal collection of holiday books—titles that get packed away each season with the Christmas lights and come out to sit on the coffee table when the tree goes up. Books like 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, The Book of Christmas Questions, and My Treasury of Christmas Stories. And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Book of Thanksgiving, one of the books Jacky and I wrote in our packaging days. I don’t, however, usually look for holiday-centered novels, especially since I don’t have much time until after Christmas to actually sit down and read.

But do I have an opinion on holiday books, or I guess, more specifically, holiday novels? Well, surprise, surprise. I do. I think holiday lit (as you call it) is a great marketing opportunity for an already established author. You often get special holiday placement at bookstores, where you’ll be picked up by your regular readers and also by those looking for the perfect gift for Mom, Dad, or Grandma. For those who have not yet been published, or who are early on in your career, I will often recommend against writing a book that’s too targeted to a certain time of year. Holiday lit is great in November and December, when everyone seems to be in the spirit and can’t get enough mistletoe, nog, and good cheer, but the rest of the year most of us, including bookstores, want to avoid something that so obviously screams Christmas. Which means that often you won’t find those books (unless they are written by very-well-established authors) on the shelves at all.

I don’t think it’s a wanna-be genre. In fact, I never thought of it as a genre. Instead I think it’s a way for publishers and authors, like everyone else, to jump on the holiday bandwagon and find new opportunities to market and sell books.

But what about the readers? Do you find yourself buying books because they are holiday books or do you simply buy them because they are another book by an author you love?


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tracking Agents' Percentages

Maybe I'm out of line asking this, but could you give us a feel for the percentage of clients you take under contract whose work you go on to sell to a publisher?

Maybe someone needs to create an independent, self-reporting database for authors to register their sales success rates with various agents. I'll consider hosting it if enough people think it's a good idea.

I thought this was a really interesting concept. The problem is that it’s just not that easy. Do you want my fiction vs. my nonfiction clients? Romance vs. mystery? And when do they have to be sold by? I think that right now a very high percentage of my clients are published, however very few of them were sold on the first book they sent or the initial project I took them on with. And what about those clients an agent was able to sell one book for, but not any others? Or, how about this . . . what about career building? There are definitely agents who can sell books, but do they have the ability to take their clients to the next step and make the bigger deals?

I have no idea what the percentage is for clients I take on whose work I sell. What I can tell you is that right now I have a small handful of clients who haven’t yet been published. We’ll get there, I know we’ll get there, but for now we’re still plugging away. In all honesty, I hope that for quite some time I always have a small handful of clients who have yet to be published. It means I’m still giving new and unpublished authors a chance and hopefully that big first sale, because there are few things as exciting. I also take on the occasional risk, the book I will tell the author straight off the top why I think it’s going to be a particularly tough sale, but I’m willing to take that chance because I love the author’s voice, the idea, and I really want to give it a shot. Taking that risk could very well bring my numbers down, or it could account for a big success. Would I want to take those kinds of risks if I knew people were tracking my percentages?

I think the more important thing to consider is how long agents are willing to stick by clients, how well they can build a client’s career, and of course track record. You wouldn’t want an agent who sells no books, of course, but I think you want someone who is happily in the 60%-75% range. Someone who is willing to take a few risks, but also willing to stick by authors knowing that this project or that project might not sell, but the author’s voice is amazing enough that the next one will.

Publishers Marketplace does a great job of tracking self-reported deals (of course not all deals are listed and not all agents list deals). I think by looking at this you can get a sense for what agents are doing.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 10

Plodding along and through. Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary.

56. cindy procter-king
(humorous romantic mystery)
Short one-sentence:
A photographer falls for her sexy trainee only to discover he’s an ex-cop investigating sabotage at her boss’s studio…and she’s a suspect.

Long one-sentence:
When a photographer falls for her sexy apprentice then discovers he’s an ex-cop working undercover investigating sabotage at the studio she wants to buy from his uncle and that she’s a suspect, she plays Nancy Drew behind his back, unearthing his uncle’s old blackmailing habit which leads to the disturbing realization that not only has the uncle sabotaged his own business but a secret enemy is now stalking him--and all their lives are in danger.

Holy run-on sentence. It’s bad enough to try to fit everything into a pitch, but one sentence is even tougher. That speaks volumes to an agent about how the work might be written. Remember a pitch is about the hook, but it should also give insight into the tone, voice, and writing of the book. What makes me nervous about this one is that you are trying to squeeze a lot of information in, but none of it is really different or interesting (at least to me). It seems to me that the book is about the secret enemy. That’s the real conflict, and the rest is just getting us to that point.

57. jeannie
Historical Romance Tagline:
A discarded widow and a Duke discover if love can survive scandal and betrayal.

Michael Ashton, the Duke of Ravensdale, is caught in two scandals, neither of which is his own doing. The first involves a woman (don’t they always), and the second…well, it also involves a woman and a large sum of stolen money. In order to save the reputation Michael has spent his life rebuilding, he must track down the widow of his presumed-dead cousin in order to charm...or seduce her missing husband's whereabouts from her.

I like this. I think your tagline, while not all that different from others, has that certain something. To be honest, it’s the word “discarded”—what an interesting choice—and it says a lot about what we can expect from your heroine. And the paragraph is great. I love the tone of this and anticipate fun reading in the book. This is a case where the plot isn’t necessarily all that unique from other historical romances (they usually aren’t), but the author has put some fun twists in her tone, voice, and word choice that make this interesting to the reader. I would definitely request this.

58. inez kelly
Same name
Same address
same flight
same luggage
same life goals
But if opposites attract, what future do they have?

Interesting. . . . It grabs my attention, but I don’t think it’s enough. Think of a book cover. This would be on the top of the back cover, and then underneath you would have a paragraph telling us specifically what the book is about. In other words, this is your tagline, but now we need the pitch. Who are they and what happens?

59. chiron o’keefe
A wannabe Leading Lady must choose between two drool-worthy contenders for the perfect Leading Man, while masquerading as an assistant to the author of the best-selling book she secretly penned.

In Adventures of a Dubious Love Goddess, a copywriter publishes the fictional exploits of her alter ego, while pretending to be the author’s assistant. When the How To book for aspiring love goddesses zooms in popularity, the pressure to reveal her true identity forces an uncomfortable realization of just how superficial her perspective might be. Her alter ego’s book features fantasy encounters coupled with flippant advice, pushing her pet theory—available men are either Leading Men or Sidekicks. The perfect example of a Leading Men is the mysterious author who pens the Man About Town column. When a handsome stranger woos Megan, hinting he’s the elusive writer, she believes all her love goddess fantasies just might come true. Except for the inconvenient, toe-curling attraction to her neighbor—the psych professor whose intense eyes and wicked grin leave her fantasizing about hot love with a Sidekick instead of her new Leading Man.

Another case of the dangerous information dump. Even your sentence is squeezing everything possible into it. Slow down and step back. I think you could skip the sentence altogether and go right to the paragraph. I like the first two paragraphs, but after that it gets a little convoluted, which makes me fear that your book is also convoluted. Outside of the romance, what is her conflict? This could be a lot tighter I suspect: “In Adventures of a Dubious Love Goddess, a copywriter publishes the fictional exploits of her alter ego, while pretending to be the author’s assistant. When the How To book for aspiring love goddesses hits bestseller lists, the pressure to reveal her true identity forces an uncomfortable realization of just how superficial her perspective might be. Forced to face reality, Susan is challenged by her own book. Are all available men either Leading Men or Sidekicks, and if given the choice, which is really better?” Okay, that needs work too, but I think you get the idea.

60. mike davis
Valentine is a Child of Loki and one of the original Berserker tribesmen of Norse Folklore. With unobstructed access to the minds of his chosen victims and the ability to assume their precise physical characteristics, he takes what he wants, when and from where he pleases. He is the ultimate identity thief, unconstrained by the password-encrypted barriers his human counterparts face. Only a conscience and the inherent loneliness his immortality brings, stand between him and the decadent life of leisure lead by his brothers and sisters.

I love this! I really think this sounds cool. My only suggestion is not to let it dwindle out. Give us the conflict in the last sentence. What is this book about and what does Valentine face? I hope the book isn’t entirely an internal battle for Valentine on whether to use his powers or not. That would be boring. No, I want to know what he’s going to be up against in this book. If you can nail that last line you have an absolute winner here.

You all must be learning. Great work, everyone. And now to the readers and your feedback. . . .


Monday, December 03, 2007

Where are the Other BookEnds Authors?

Thank you for the great advice . . . and free advice at that!

However, it seems you are always focusing on fiction, romance, and erotica.

Yet, I see you also represent series books, like the Dummies Guides and Idiot's Guides.

Why are there no interviews from those people? And, why little information about that genre?

I have submitted some cook books and so forth, and nothing. But I am OK with that. And, I understand you have to have a platform to write these books, but Geez... It would be interesting to see something from Bookends that isn't about romance novels. Where are the interviews from Dummie and Idiot writers? You have tons of other genres, so why are all the blogs about one genre?

I think this is my first truly critical blog question. Ouch!

BookEnds does represent a wide array of genres. Of course we represent romance and erotic romance, but we also represent mysteries, thrillers, suspense, women’s fiction, and a lot of nonfiction, both in series format (Idiot’s Guides and Dummies Guides) and single-title. So why are there no interviews from those authors? Because they have chosen not to submit them. While the BookEnds blog is primarily written by the agents of BookEnds, we do view it as a community effort and offer up to all of our clients the opportunity to post an interview or blog post at any time. We don’t, however, force our clients to post. The first year of the blog we did very specific Q&A interviews, but after some time both the readers and we got bored with them. It seemed most of our clients answered the same questions. So earlier this year we did away with the interview format and instead offered all of our clients the opportunity to blog on virtually anything at any time. However, while a lot of authors who have participated have been romance and erotic romance authors, we have also seen a number of blog posts from mystery authors, nonfiction authors, and our women’s fiction authors.

If I tend to use examples or answer questions relating more to romance or erotic romance, I apologize. I assume that would be primarily because those are the questions I get. I do, however, have a few questions in the pipeline pertaining to platform, and of course that will be more appealing to nonfiction authors.

When writing the blog I try to appeal to as many readers as possible, but as you as writers know, pleasing everyone is just not possible. So this is a good time to send a reminder to all. If you have a specific question for BookEnds (relating to anything writing, publishing, etc., in any genre) please send us an email using the link to the right and ask us. We’re more than happy to get your emails and reply as soon as we have a chance. In the same vein, if you have seen some hot publishing news or talk on other blogs, please let us know. I would never have been able to write the Jennifer Crusie piece of a few months back if it weren’t for the heads-up from a wonderful client.

And for those hoping to hear from more BookEnds clients, let us know what you’d like to hear about. Post in the comments section what you would like the BookEnds clients to reveal in a blog post. If you have questions for a specific author, post a comment. We’ll pass it along, although I know many are already readers.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Livia Washburn on Writing and Research

Murder by the Slice
Livia J. Washburn
Publisher: NAL/Obsidian
Pub date: October 2007
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

I have had the privilege of being a professional writer for over twenty years. I live in a small Texas town with my husband, James Reasoner, and two daughters.

Awards: American Mystery Award and Shamus Award, both for Wild Night

Author Web site:

Murder by the Slice is the second book in the Fresh-Baked Mystery series. Retired schoolteacher Phyllis Newsom and her friends once again enter a baking contest and encounter a murder, this time at an elementary school carnival.

One of the things I really enjoy about the writing process is the research involved. There’s a lot of truth to the old adage about writing what you know—or what you can find out. For example, the novels in my Fresh-Baked Mystery series are set in Weatherford, Texas. While I don’t live in Weatherford, it’s nearby and I’ve been there many times and know the town well. It’s close enough so that if there’s something I don’t know, I can drive over and investigate it. The first book in the series, A Peach of a Murder, centers around Weatherford’s annual Peach Festival. I was able to attend the Peach Festival before I wrote the book. While I took a few dramatic liberties (this is fiction, after all), my descriptions of the festival itself are fairly accurate.

For the second book in the series, the recently released Murder by the Slice, my research drew heavily on personal experience. For several years, my husband and I were very involved in the Parent-Teacher Organizations at our children’s schools. We helped out with the elementary school carnivals, and we served as members of the PTO board. When I had an elementary school carnival play a prominent part in Murder by the Slice, I knew how such things worked and I also knew about the inner workings of a PTO board. (Although I should hasten to point out that none of the characters in Murder by the Slice are based in any way on any of the wonderful ladies who served with me on various boards! Fiction, total fiction!)

In an upcoming book in the series, my characters will get out of Weatherford for a change and travel to the Gulf Coast of Texas, where they will take part in a dessert competition at the annual SeaFair in Rockport, Texas. The SeaFair is a real event and has been going on every autumn for years, but this is the first year for the Just Desserts competition. When I read about it I knew this would make a perfect background for a mystery novel. My husband and I not only attended the SeaFair and Just Desserts—and got to sample all the entries!—we also spent several weeks in the Rockport area, getting to know it better. We had been there before, but a place tends to look different when you’re researching it as the setting for a novel. You have to find just the perfect spot for your murder to happen, and once you’ve settled on that, it opens up all sorts of exciting questions that have to be worked out for the plot, such as “Who’s the victim?” “Why was he or she killed?” and the all-important “Who’s the killer?” The setting can be a vital part of the answers to all of these questions and more, so it helps to be as familiar as possible with it.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all the expenses incurred in a research trip are tax-deductible, however. Day-to-day living expenses aren’t, even if you’re in a different place and there only to do research. Only expenses pertaining directly to the trip are deductible.

Of course, it’s possible to do a great deal of research in libraries and online, too, and I certainly do my share of that. It’s not unusual for me to have stacks of research books piled up around my desk as I write (and for the Fresh-Baked Mysteries, that includes recipe books to get ideas from, naturally!). But there’s something special in writing about places that you know, a freshness and authenticity that it’s hard to get any other way. So if you’re an aspiring mystery author, look around. There could be a good place for a murder right there under your nose. . . .

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 9

Holy cow! I’m not even halfway there yet! What have I done?! My fingers are tired, but I’m still having fun. Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary.

49. mark terry
CIA operative Monaco Grace flies to Beijing to investigate the disappearance of undercover agent Peter Lee. Soon after making contact with Lee’s American friend, college professor Alan Richter, they find themselves on the run from assassins intent on retrieving information Lee gave to Richter. Trying to keep herself and Richter alive, Monaco makes a devil’s deal with a Chinese crime organization while attempting to untangle a web of lies and deceit that reaches back to the heights of U.S. government and threatens to topple the balance of world power.

True confession first. I’ve been a little nervous about critiquing Mark’s pitch since I know he worked on it, blogged on it, and has an agent. For so many obvious reasons this might make me a little biased going in. It’s so much easier when you’re anonymous. Of course then I worry you’re a client and I totally didn’t recognize the book ;) So here goes . . .

I don’t love this. Of course, I don’t love this kind of book. I think you are still overcomplicating it. Do we need to even mention the name of Peter Lee or Alan Richter, for that matter? I find that in pitches things tend to get confusing the more people you mention. When you are trying to hook someone with just a few short sentences it’s best to keep the characters to a minimum and the suspense/conflict to a maximum. My major concern though is that this doesn’t jump out at me as something that’s really different from other similar books (of course, I also don’t read a lot of other similar books). How about something more like . . . ”In an attempt to untangle the web of lies that threaten to topple the balance of world power, CIA operative Monaco Grace (LOVE this name) has made a devil’s deal with a Chinese crime organization. Now it’s a race against time while she . . ."? (more specifics here on what exactly might be happening?). This was a hard one for even a pitchmaster like me. I find thrillers to be some of the hardest pitches to write since the plots are often very complicated.

50. phammonds
Maggie Allen, recently pregnant, is abandoned by her college boyfriend in small-town Durban, Alabama. Seven years later, Maggie finds herself back in college and back in love. This time it’s with young college professor, Wade Evans. Confined to a wheelchair, Wade became paralyzed in a motorcycle accident that claimed another man’s life. Perhaps Maggie can learn to trust again from a man who knows much about love and loss.

Snooze. This just doesn’t grab me and it really doesn’t sound any different from any other book. I also see too much information and a lot of disconnects. Does it matter that she was recently pregnant or is she recently pregnant? If the book takes place seven years after the pregnancy, it seems that’s really old news and simply a part of her past. My other question is who is this book about, Maggie or Wade? Is this romance or women’s fiction? It reads like romance, but the story doesn’t sound remarkable enough. I think what I’m getting at is that there must be more to your story than love and loss, because almost all romances and/or women’s fiction are about love and loss. What is the true conflict?

51. bernita
Urban fantasy: A Malignity of Ghosts.
Lillie St. Clair is a full-spectrum, mega-Talent, employed as one of the city's official Freaks to remove unwanted apparitions.
She doesn't do zombies, however; her specialty is ghosts.
But some believe that Lillie's exorcism of the disembodied is genocide, and someone re-animated her dead husband for revenge.
And Lillie isn't sure she can trust her black spectral hound, Dumbarton, or the chatty bean sidhe from the laundromat, or even big, ugly psi-crime detective Johnnie Thresher.
She isn't sure she can trust herself.

You’ve got potential, but you’re trying to be too clever. Your title is first. “Malignity?” This word is too uncommon for a title and immediately detracts. What are you really trying to say? Spitefulness of Ghosts? Then say that. You need to think about your common, everyday reader. If they have to look up a word in the title they will certainly never buy the book. What is the point of the zombie line? It’s obviously part of her shtick, but I don’t think it adds to the pitch. In fact, if anything, it confuses. I think you have a series of one-sentence pitches, but nothing connects. What’s Lillie’s true conflict? The reanimation of her husband or the belief that what she’s doing is genocide? Why does she need to trust her dog, the sidhe, or even herself?

52. heidi
Caroline Hayes installs gutters on a house that sees only two inches of rain a year, bubble-wraps her CDs so they won’t get scratched, and scotch-guards her car seats religiously every six months, but the one thing she values most she can’t protect. When a drunk driver careens around a curve on California’s coastal highway, Caroline’s life as she knew it is ripped apart. The secret she’s kept from her husband about that night tear at the seams of their relationship, and she finds herself turning to a stranger who is keeping secrets of his own. Little does she know how deeply her life is intertwined with the drunken woman who died beside her, who left her with scars that would not heal, and a gift beyond anything she could fathom. My novel Ocean Deep delves into the murky waters of secrets, lies, and the ties that bind people together.

LOVE this! Wow. What a great pitch. I see who Caroline is and I clearly see her conflict. This one gives me chills and I would definitely request based on this. In fact, this pitch is so strong it has the potential to get full requests right off the bat. This is the type of pitch that has editors and agents at conferences talking. It also has a great title. I even think the very vague last line works. Why? Because you had very specific opening sentences prior to that. Well done!

53. belinda (worderella)
Tagline for Trentwood's Orphan:
A grieving daughter encounters love and ghosts in Victorian England.
Paragraph: Eight years ago, Mary and her father, Lord Trentwood, were in a riding accident that left him paralyzed. Two years ago, Trentwood died, making Mary promise to go to London and make amends with her guilt. Two minutes ago, Mary broke her engagement to Mr Spencer, and Trentwood isn't going to let her just walk away without an argument.

I’m confused. I assume by the tagline that Trentwood is a ghost, but that isn’t made clear in your actual pitch. I also don’t get the guilt aspect. I think we need to see what is really happening. Don’t try to be too clever here, just get to the point. Does Trentwood’s paralysis have anything to do with the story or Mary’s conflict? If not, delete it. What happens to Mary in London and why can’t she walk away from her engagement? What is Mary’s real conflict, because we don’t see that at all.

54. picks by pat
A pair of FBI agents must hunt down an internet sex predator, not to arrest him, but to arrest his intended victim. A trail of murdered pedophiles leads the FBI to conclude that one young girl is seeking revenge for past abuse by allowing herself to be picked up and then icing her much older suitors.
It's hard to care about her victims, but the latest one just happened to be a close friend of the President, and the sooner this girl is caught (and silenced) the easier for the president's re-election campaign.

I like this concept a lot, until you get to the part about the president. That seems to be pushing the limits for me. If a young girl is killing off pedophiles she’s a serial killer. That alone would put the FBI on the case and it would have nothing to do with the president. Once you throw the president in there you add a level of disbelief for me that makes it sound a little sillier than I would like. However, what a great premise—FBI agents (we should have some sense of who they are if they are the protagonists) hunting a killer they don’t really care if they find. The real challenge for the writer here is that something has to be done so that the reader cares. Books that hunt killers mean that we have to somehow care for the victims or potential victim. It doesn’t sound like anyone here is likable.

55. elizabeth bemis
Holiday – Romantic Suspense WIP
MEGAN MILLER is on her honeymoon (sans groom) in an effort to get over the louse who dumped her days before her wedding. In the past two days, she’s met a guy who isn’t what he seems, been shot at, jumped overboard into (potentially) shark infested waters and stranded in the Mayan jungle with nothing but the clothes on her back and a copy of the Girls’ Guide to Hero-Hunting and an undercover FBI Agent named REY RODRIGUEZ. So far, she’s ignored the book’s every piece of advice, and yet, Rey is proving time and again to be her hero. The question is: will he still be her hero, after their holiday is over?

This is familiar. Must be a do-over. This is fine, but nothing special. Most important, though, the pitch reads like a chick lit/romantic comedy and yet you are calling it suspense. Where’s the suspense? What is she really up against and what is her conflict? It seems her biggest concern is the Girls’ Guide to Hero-Hunting and not that someone might be out to kill her.

Some good ones here. Some I really got excited about. Great work, everyone. And now to the readers and your feedback. . . .


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 8

Yes, it seems that I’ve decided to critique all of these. I’m insane, I know, but there were some good pitches in there, I’m enjoying myself, and I think you all deserve something. So I’ll keep going until I can go no more. Note that you can continue adding pitches in the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, until I let you know you should stop (I’ll place a comment to tell you that as well as try to do a post). Pitches placed in the comments of critiques will not be critiqued.

43. heather b. moore
QUEEN (thriller)
An ancient legend reborn.
For centuries, historians have theorized the Queen of Sheba is only a seductive legend. When OMAR ZAGOURI, an undercover Israeli agent, stumbles onto a tomb in Northern Jerusalem, he unknowingly finds the final clue that could overthrow governments, pit wealthy collectors against one another, and send ruthless archaeologists scrambling to find the queen’s secret burial place. Can Omar prevent the greatest discovery of the century from becoming the most deadly, or will he himself be buried with the very mummies he unearthed?

Mmmm. Interesting. I like this. I think it sounds very interesting and I’m close to asking to see more. My only thought is why is this the greatest discovery and how will it become deadly? And why will Omar be buried? In other words, don’t leave us hanging quite like that. Give it to us! Keep the first up until, “that could overthrow governments.” Why not say something like, “he finds the final clue of the Queen’s life. A discovery that has the power to overthrow governments (why?). Now Omar’s greatest discovery might also be his last. With ruthless collectors tracking him down it’s up to Omar to put all of his work ethics aside and hide the one thing he has spent his life seeking...”? Okay, that’s still too vague. You know, it’s hard to rewrite your pitches without having you here to tell me more. What you need to do is be more specific.

44. anon 1:08
When Anne realizes the world’s emotions are reined by another, darker set of beings and that she is part of it, she has to do a lot more than overcome selfishness…or put up with children with a certain knack for mischief, to stay alive.

Trying to fit too much in without giving us anything. I’m intrigued by the fact that “the world’s emotions are reined (controlled a better word?) by another...,” but I need a better idea of what that means. I also suspect that your last line about putting up with children is a hint to the fact that Anne is probably a mom or teacher? That doesn’t seem important to your pitch. If it is, you’ll need to be more specific since it really threw me. What you need to focus on is the emotions aspect, the darker beings and why Anne is involved and why she needs to do something about it.

45. josephine damian
Everyone believes criminal profiler Caroline Armstrong is a European woman with the quintessential American name. She’s afraid that her ex-lover, forensic psychologist Rhys Garrison, will find out she’s really Nina Gorić, a Bosnian war crimes victim turned assassin who killed so her unborn child could survive. When the two profilers reunite to uncover a sadistic serial killer’s identity, old flames rekindle along with new fears when Rhys suspects Caroline’s violent past and secret identity.

Inside scoop here. Anything doing with a criminal profiler or other such things always gets my attention personally. LOVE THIS! Really, really love this. You tell me who she is and how she is haunted. You tell me what she’s up against now and you grab my attention with a very unique twist on an old but always successful story. I would definitely ask to see this (and of course hope you’d send it).

46. jduncan
Just a thought here. Why not pick a 'winner' here, when all is said and done, amongst the pitches that are within the purview of genres you rep, and let them get to send a partial? Just a thought of course.

Well, this seems like a silly pitch ;) Good question. I think instead of asking to see a winner I'm going to say that all of you are of course welcome to later query BookEnds if you think I'd be the right agent for your work. I chose not to do a contest because I really hate judging contests. Instead I want to give feedback to everyone, if possible, to help improve pitches. Those I remark on that I love and would ask for, I mean it. If you aren't already agented I'd love to see a partial based on your pitch. That doesn't mean I wouldn't want to see any of the other works, it just means you should work on your pitch first.

47. zany mom
Ethan Burke has it all--Adonis good looks, a promising career as a veterinary surgeon, a beautiful girlfriend, and a cocky arrogance that lands him a mistress--until a freak mountain biking accident shatters it all. Ethan must now come to terms with his physical limitations. His perspective on life gradually shifts when, in the hospital, he is befriended by an unlikely hero: a five-year-old boy with leukemia.

It sounds too internal to me, and not different enough. I like your first sentence a lot, but now we need to know more about the conflict besides his physical limitations. I also think we need to make sure we get a sense for Ethan. I would assume based on the first sentence that he’s a jerk, but what happens next? Does everything leave him (girlfriend included)? What is the real conflict in this story that makes it stand out from other similar tales (because there are other similar tales)? And what is the tone? Your opening makes it sound light and very genre or commercial, but the plot doesn’t seem to fit that. The plot sounds more serious. More like women’s fiction. I should get a sense of the tone through your pitch. Not easy, I know, but if your opening is great but doesn’t match the tone of the book, it’s not effective.

48. mrs. Revis
There is a perfect good reason for sixteen year old Chloe to be in the middle of the street, crying, and naked. You would be to if you (but not your clothes) were plopped into a world where monsters are real and indoor plumbing isn't.

The knight in shining armor Chloe thought would save her turns out to be a berserker who tends to go mad with bloodlust at the most inconvenient times. The knight, Heath, is on a quest to save a kidnapped princess and defeat an evil tyrant. After Chloe joins Heath, she learns that the enemy Heath is fighting is linked to her own brother. In THE RED THREAD, Chloe must figure out how she can save her brother, even if he doesn't want to be saved, and how far she is willing to go for the knight she's falling in love with...even if he doesn't love her back.

Too long and a little messy. It’s definitely a case of trying to be too clever and give too much information all at the same time. I’m not a big fan of pitches (or books) that talk to the reader. In other words, I don’t like the phrasing “there is a perfect(ly?) good reason . . .” I think I would like it better if it was something more along the lines of, "Sixteen-year-old Chloe felt no shame about standing in the middle of the street crying. Wouldn’t anyone who was plopped naked into a world where monsters are real and indoor plumbing isn’t? On the search to save a brother who doesn’t want to be saved, Chloe meets with a berserker who tends to go mad with bloodlust at the most inconvenient times and finds herself falling in love with a knight who is more focused on saving a kidnapped princess . . ." (you need one final closer here). And then I think you’ve got it. This one is close, very close, and I suspect any good YA agent would request at least a partial.

I feel like I’m winding down already and I hope it’s not showing in my critiques. Good work, as always. I’ll leave it here for the rest of the readers to give their two cents.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Christie Craig on Finding Your Voice

Christie Craig
Divorced, Desperate and Delicious
Publisher: Dorchester Publishing
Pub date: November 2007
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

Christie Craig writes romance fiction that has both witty humor and a suspenseful, sexy tone. Published by Silhouette in the '90s, she recently broke back into fiction in a big way, acquiring a three-book deal with Dorchester. The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel is her latest nonfiction book, coauthored with Faye Hughes and scheduled for release in September '08 through Adams Media.

Awards: A Golden Heart finalist, Christie has also finaled in over 50 RWA-sponsored contests.

Web site:

Divorced, Desperate and Delicious is a humorous romantic suspense about a wounded cop on the run who is being framed by this partner, and a divorced animal-loving heroine who is finished with men forever . . . but has a weak spot for all strays, even wounded cops.

Because my book Divorced, Desperate and Delicious was released today, Kim, Jessica, and Jacky gave me the floor at the BookEnds blog. They even said I could choose my topic. Pretty fearless of them, isn’t it? I considered sharing about the night I saw Kim and Jessica in their pajamas running down the stairwell of a Dallas hotel. But then I’d have to explain that I, too, was there, donned in my PJs. So nope, that wouldn’t work.

Instead, I chose to blog about something I heard at one of my first writing conferences. This piece of advice sent me on a frantic search, too. A well-respected editor said, “The one thing a new writer can do to guarantee her/his success is to go home and find their writing voice.”

So I did just that. I went straight home, got into my comfy clothes, poured myself a glass of wine, went into my office and . . . looked under my desk. I found a few dust bunnies, some dirty socks, a surprise my cat had left for me, but no voice. Where and how did a new writer find her voice?

Over the years, I learned a few things. I’m not saying I’ve found the answer, but I have discovered more than just dirty socks and hair balls. I’ve found there are many debates concerning the elusive thing called a writer’s voice.

Some believe the writer’s voice is encoded in the author’s DNA, that it’s a mere reflection of his or her personality. They insist it lurks within, and if the writer is patient, it will simply come.

Others argue that voice is not something that comes from within, but writers must be willing to shop for it. (Like at Wal-Mart . . . or Neiman-Marcus.) Still others believe the writer’s voice must be tracked down, clubbed, and dragged back by the scruff of its neck, then be caged to avoid its escape.

What’s more, some think a writer gets one voice, while others believe you can have several, or you can train and retrain your voice to work in different types of genres and tones, like a singer who is famous for country and rock.

What do I believe? Well, I think there’s some truth is every one of those debates. I think voice is connected to personality, but I think some people don’t know who they are. I don’t think it hurts to shop around—to try to write in different genres—until you find something that clicks. I also don’t think your voice can run away—there are no cages in my office—but I admit I keep a close eye on mine at all times. I don’t think you can lose your voice, either, but I believe you can get writing laryngitis.

I think voice is a combination of how words are threaded together, how sentences are sewn into paragraphs. It’s also about mood, tone, pacing, and word choice; it’s that elusive something you recognize when you pick up a Jennifer Crusie, or a Lisa Jackson. I think most of us can train ourselves to sing/write in different genres, to use different tones, but perhaps not everyone can. Or perhaps, voice and how it works is as unique to each writer as is . . . well, the types of things found under our desks.

Anyway, I’m hoping that when Divorced, Desperate and Delicious hits the bookstores, people will connect with my voice. Mostly, I hope readers will discover my voice to be entertaining and they’ll be waiting with bated breath for my next release to come out in June of '08.

So what about you? What is your definition and thoughts on voice? Have you found yours, or are you still searching for it behind the dust bunnies?

A BookEnds Anniversary

Today is a very exciting anniversary for BookEnds. No, it’s not the official day we started the business; in fact, I would have to do some work to figure out when exactly that would be. No, today is a day that sticks in my head as well as my own wedding anniversary or my birthday. Today is the day that BookEnds sold its first book.

November 27, 1999, just months after opening our doors and proclaiming ourselves packagers (of course you all know by now that BookEnds started as packagers and not literary agents) we got an offer from Hyperion for two books. For My Daughter on Her Wedding Day and For My Daughter on the Birth of Her First Child were write-in journals that Jacky and I wrote ourselves. Boy, did we think we were so clever. The journals, like those you might have done as a child (The Book of Me) or those they sell now for grandparents to fill out for grandchildren, or the two I received from our soon-to-be Hyperion editor, The Book of Us and The Book of My Pet, were meant as a gift from mother to daughter on two of the most important days of her life. The mother’s job was to fill in the questions we asked—memories of her own wedding or the birth of her own children, advice, and of course memories and thoughts about her daughter. And if I do say so myself, they were damn good books and apparently Hyperion thought so too.

I remember getting the call and being stunned into silence. I was excited, sweating with nervousness, and trying to get off the phone as quickly as possible to call Jacky. Starting our own business was a thrilling and interesting experience. When asked what I was most surprised about by starting BookEnds, I always say it was how many contacts I didn’t have. After five years in publishing for me and more than ten for Jacky, we were convinced we knew a great number of editors and would have no problem networking more. Boy, were we shocked to realize that most of those editors were at the same one or two houses and that in the grand scheme of things we knew no one. That’s why selling these books was a very special surprise. Not only was the sale to a house we had never worked with, but it was to an editor we had never met before. In other words, after careful research and planning we had chosen editors we thought would like the book and we’d been lucky to hit the nail on the head. Selling these books was validation that we did in fact know what we were doing. We hadn’t been in business for more than six months (and certainly this hadn’t been out on submission for that long) when we made that first and very fruitful sale.

Although the books have since gone out of print I still look at them fondly (the cover for one hangs on my wall). It was an idea that I believe worked and it was the launching point for BookEnds in so many ways. Not only did it pay the bills, but it gave us the confidence and the reassurance that we knew what we were doing and yes, we would succeed. Now, eight years later, it’s so amazing to look back and see how far we’ve come. From gift books written by us to big business and health titles that we could never write ourselves, bestselling authors in romance, mystery, and women’s fiction, and fun every day on the job.

The best thing, though, is that with each new offer I get, no matter how small, I get the same feelings I did with that first book. The same thrill of excitement and rush of pride that yes, I do know what I’m doing.


Monday, November 26, 2007

At What Point Is a Work No Longer Under Submission

I have an agent who I've been with for about 2 years. I am considering leaving this agency. I read the contract (and your posts on this subject) and noticed that she retains the right to receive her cut of any manuscripts I might sell that are still in "negotiation," even if we have parted ways. "In negotiation" in the contract is defined as "on submission."

There is one house which expressed strong interest in my work. Ultimately, the editor wasn't able to get the support of other editors—she's still somewhat junior—and the manuscript was rejected. However, the door was left open for me to revise and submit again.

The editor and I have plans to talk and discuss ways to revise the work.

Now for the question: in the event that I do revise and resubmit, is this still part of the original "negotiation" or is it a new submission? If I have a new agent, can the new agent handle this "negotiation," or will it legally be in the hands of the old agent?

The author goes on to explain her reasoning for leaving her agent, which was nice, but she didn’t need to do it. When making the decision to leave an agent you shouldn’t ever feel the need to justify your actions. If you no longer feel the agent you’re with is doing the job you need her to do, that’s enough reason to leave. Be that as it may, I don’t think she’s trying to pull something over on her agent. She doesn’t feel she’s the right person for the job anymore and wants to seek other representation.

This is a tricky question, since I assume there’s no end date to the amount of time the agent has to finalize any deals. For example, the BookEnds contract gives us four months to finalize any outstanding submissions, at which time everything reverts back to the author and we no longer have a right to those sales. I think it’s fair to both us and the author and gives a final end date at which we can all move on. It also gives us sufficient time to wrap anything up, without limiting the author.

My belief is if you don’t have anything physically sitting on an editor’s desk you don’t have anything under submission. When ending your relationship you should say as much in a letter. In other words, send that certified letter saying that you are ending the relationship and since you have no outstanding submissions together you will be moving forward effective immediately, etc., etc. Make sure you are very clear that the old agent has no more rights to your work.

Another thing to consider. Presumably when you resubmit this work, if the editor still wants to see it, it will be an entirely new work and not the same book your agent submitted.

I’m sure advice would be welcome from anyone else who has ever found him/herself in this situation.