Friday, March 30, 2007

BookEnds Talks to Peter Brandvold

Peter Brandvold, a.k.a. Frank Leslie
Book: The Lonely Breed
Publisher: Signet
Pub date: March 2007
Agent: Kim Lionetti



(Click to Buy)


Peter Brandvold has written over thirty western novels for Berkley and Tor/Forge under his own name. He’s starting the Yakima Henry series of novels under the name Frank Leslie for Signet. He’s also reviving the old western pulp hero Bat Lash for DC Comics. He lives in Colorado with his wife and three dogs.

Awards: Runner-up for Western Writers of America Spur Award, 2003, for Staring Down the Devil (Berkley).

Author Web site: www.peterbrandvold.com

BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
Peter: A rousing western adventure novel about a half-breed drifter, Yakima Henry, who finds himself on the run from a savage bounty hunter with a beautiful prostitute named Faith.

BookEnds: What do you think distinguishes your work from that of other authors of this genre?
Peter: What distinguishes my novels from other westerns is a gritty realism coupled with sex, a wry sense of humor, and fast narrative pace.

BookEnds: What is your writing process like?
Peter: I try to write 500 words over my first cup of coffee in the morning. That usually primes the pump. I try to write another 500 after my morning run up Horsetooth Mountain west of Fort Collins with my three dogs. I then try to get in another thousand words in the afternoon. I break up the day any way I can—hauling trash, grocery shopping, taking out my mountain bike—to keep myself generated and to give myself time to think through whatever section of book I’m working on. When I can see the section like a movie in my head—and it looks and feels right—I’m ready to write. The actual writing usually doesn’t take very long after I have the images situated in my head. Hard physical exercise is key. If I can’t get exercise in, the writing doesn’t usually go well.

BookEnds: Why have you chosen to write in the genre in which you write?
Peter: I’ve loved westerns ever since I was a kid growing up in little towns in North Dakota. I watched all the old '60s and '70s western series, and then I’d go out in the fields or woods and pretend to be Matt Dillon or Little Joe Cartwright myself, making up the adventures as I went. My dad took me to all the Spaghettis and the John Wayne movies that came out during that time. That really built my imagination, and I think it helped that I grew up in a remote and culturally sterile place. I had to entertain myself, make up my own stories. I started to read western novels when I was about twelve and one of my uncles sent me down to the drugstore for a couple of westerns, one for me and one for him. That first novel was Fort Starvation by Frank Gruber, and I was hooked! I got my English degree at the University of North Dakota and my MFA from the University of Arizona, and of course genre fiction was taboo. At that time I wanted to be the next great Hemingway, but after college I was hit by the western bug again—the genre was just ground into me, I guess—so I forgot everything the literary sophisticates taught me (if I learned anything from them at all, which I doubt) and began pounding out my first novel, Once a Marshal. It’s still my favorite genre, and I love reading old westerns by long-dead pulpsters and watching the western movies of the old, great directors like Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher.

BookEnds: What’s your next book? When and where should we look for it?
Peter: The next book is part of my Rogue Lawman series from Berkley. It will be out in April, and it’s called Cold Corpse, Hot Trail, my wildest and woolliest tale yet!

BookEnds: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Peter: When I was sixteen and in love with the work of the novelist Jim Harrison, I wrote him a fan letter. I also asked him for advice. He wrote me back what I’ve found to be the best advice I’ve ever been given. I lost the letter a long time ago, but memorized the whole thing, including: “You must be willing to fall on your face all by yourself countless times. To be persistent, meticulous, and energetic might work after what to you will have seemed like an unreasonable amount of time.”

BookEnds: What do you see as some of the biggest mistakes beginning writers make?
Peter: Writing for themselves instead of an audience.

BookEnds: What are you reading now?
Peter: I read everything, and I mean everything. I’m currently reading the old sports articles by Jimmy Cannon, Ring Lardner, a book about Stanley’s exploration of Africa, comic books (The Swamp Thing), and a collection of poems by Ted Kooser.

To learn more about Peter Brandvold, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What I'm Reading

I’m always asked whether I still read for pleasure and the answer is yes . . . and no. I do still love to read, but almost everything I read now, even if it’s for pleasure, is also research. I’m always trying to keep an eye on what’s out there and put into perspective what I’m looking for. So to keep you updated on what I’m reading outside of work, and to keep tabs on my New Year’s resolution to read more published books, here’s the list of some of the most recent books I’ve read:

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
Jacky has raved about this book and finally I got the chance to read it. (By the way, I hate when the movie comes out before I’ve read the book. It make me look like a follower.) I don’t think I enjoyed it nearly as much as Jacky did, but it certainly is a fascinating read.

In the Thrill of the Night by Candice Hern
I actually took the recommendation to read this book from a blog reader, and want to thank you. I do need to get in the habit of reading more historical romance and I love her hook and thought this was fun.

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barak Obama
I’ve been interested in this book for quite some time, and now that Barak Obama is in the news so much I thought it was time to check it out. This was a really interesting look at race and his writing is beautiful.

Rain Fall by Barry Eisler
Another recommendation from a blog reader and another great hook. A hit man who is also the hero. A quick, fast-paced thriller.

So, what are you reading these days and what would you recommend?

—Jessica

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Reader Questions: Web Sites for the Unpublished

At what point do you recommend a career-focused but not-yet-published author set up a website? Last year I snapped up my domain name and set up a very simple, inexpensive site, but I’m not doing much with it. Hmmm . . . should I be?

I’ve done a number of posts on Web sites and publicity, including this piece on PR for the Unpublished Writer , but this question is a little more specific. When do I recommend you set up your Web site? Yesterday. I don’t think I have to tell you that Web sites are an amazing resource and we all use them. If I get a proposal or query I’m interested in and find out the author has a Web site, I will most definitely check it out. In fact, a number of authors in Karen Tabke’s first-line contest have links to their Web sites, and you bet I checked those out while reading the entries. The smartest authors posted the first chapter or so of their books, and if I continued to read and liked what I was reading, I would most definitely drop that author an e-mail requesting material.

My suggestion for unpublished authors is to include the first chapter or chapters of any books you are submitting as well as a bio about you and your writing. Make sure the site looks professional and reflects the tone of what you’re writing. If you’re writing cozy mysteries, for example, you don’t want the site to look dark and scary.

What I can tell you not to do is use the Web site as your query. In other words, don’t e-mail agents with a link to your site and nothing more. Your site should be considered another home for you and should be listed with your address, phone, and e-mail. It’s simply more contact information, it’s not your submission.

I haven’t been surfing any sites recently, but if anyone can recommend good Web sites by unpublished authors, please do.

—Jessica

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Reader Questions: Foreign Settings

I'm working on a novel set in London (where I've lived for a while) and wondering how British I can make my own writing and the dialog before it'll be considered too much.

Not very. I can’t give you specific guidelines as to how much you can use dialect or phrasing, but there’s a common refrain in publishing, “This is too British,” and you obviously are looking to avoid that. My suggestion: read other books set in London, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales to truly see how much is too much.

And ask the readers; when you have to stop to translate a phrase or conversation, it’s hard to restart again.

—Jessica

Monday, March 26, 2007

Blog Updates

Some of you may have noticed minor changes to the blog's appearance. Following the comments of one of our readers, we've made the switch to the new version of Google Blogger, which we hope will make reading the blog and accessing older blog posts easier than ever. All of our posts are now archived under "Blog Archive," and clicking on the little triangle to the left of any month or year will expand or collapse a list of all the posts from that period. Additional changes are ahead, and while we hope the transition is smooth, bear with us as we learn our way around the new version. As always, any suggestions for improvements or new elements you'd like to see are welcome. We are always looking to improve both the blog and our Web site and believe that comments from those who benefit from them most are what can make a difference.

Reader Questions: Editing Help

A lot of writers seeking publication have asked me what to do about editing their finished manuscripts. Sure, they've handed it over to good friends who tell them it's the best thing since pepperoni pizza, but where can they turn for real editing? Could you give some advice on where aspiring writers can turn for editing help, so that when they do approach an agent, their work is the dazzling and polished piece of prose that it was destined to become.

I think rather than turning to friends and family, you are better off passing your manuscript off to other writers. A good, honest critique group can offer a lot more than friends or family will ever give you. A critique group will and should be brutally honest.

As for making sure your work is dazzling, I know a lot of authors will seek out freelance editors they can hire to make sure their work is polished, and while that’s not necessarily a bad idea, I don’t think it’s required. If you know that you can’t tell the difference between “your” and “you’re,” you need an editor. If you misplace a comma here and there (and only here and there) or have a typo here and there, you’re fine. Don’t stress about it. We don’t expect perfection, we only expect solid, clean writing, a font we can read, and double-spaced pages (with page numbers). That’s not too much to ask.

If, however, you do feel that you’re the type who needs to hire an editor, there are a lot of terrific people out there, former publishing professionals and published authors who can not only help shape and copyedit your book, but can also give honest feedback on the plotting and characterization. Just keep in mind that if you really use an editor to shape your manuscript, you might need to be prepared to call that person in on your next book.

I’m sure a number of you have used editors, or considered it, and might be able to share your experiences or even recommend a few.

—Jessica

Friday, March 23, 2007

BookEnds Talks to Sandra Beckwith

Sandra Beckwith
Book: Publicity for Nonprofits
Publisher: Kaplan Business
Pub date: June 2006
Agent: Jacky Sach



(Click to Buy)


BookEnds: What do you think distinguishes your work from other similar books?
Sandra: Publicity for Nonprofits: Generating Media Exposure That Leads to Awareness, Growth, and Contributions provides more hands-on, "here's how to do it" information than any other publicity book on the market. It is tailor-made to the needs of the nonprofit organization, where the person charged with generating publicity probably also has many other responsibilities and wants to know less about the theories behind public relations topics and more about how to create and execute a successful campaign.

BookEnds: What is your favorite thing about this book?
Sandra: I like the detailed level of instruction, the sample forms and tools, and the mini case studies sprinkled throughout the book. They do a good job of bringing the content to life. I was so grateful that nonprofit organizations coast to coast were willing to share their best practices with other nonprofits through this book.

BookEnds: If readers only take away one thing from your book, what would you like it to be?
Sandra: You don't need fairy dust to generate good publicity. You just need to understand a few basic concepts and which tools will take you the farthest fastest.

BookEnds: Why did you write this book?
Sandra: I know a lot about publicity that will help others. I've shared much of it in a book for small business owners, Streetwise Complete Publicity Plans: How to Create Publicity That Will Spark Media Exposure and Excitement, and I wanted to keep sharing it with other market segments. Nonprofits were the logical choice because they need this information perhaps more than any other type of business. I’m now sharing it with authors, too.

BookEnds: What else are you working on?
Sandra: I'm speaking at a writers' conference in Madison, Wisconsin, about book publicity (www.dcs.wisc.edu/LSA/writing/awi/friday.htm) and I'm teaching a four-week online book publicity course for authors in June (www.buildbookbuzz.com/book-publicity.htm) and publishing a free book publicity e-zine for authors (www.buildbookbuzz.com). The goal of the class is to help authors discover how easy it is to get media attention for their books, whether those books are brand-new or have been out for years. I find that authors tend to think only in terms of book reviews when it comes to publicity, and while reviews are important, there is so much more to book publicity that is equally important. Authors need to see and position themselves as topic experts and reach out to the media in an organized way on an ongoing basis. I help them discover the tools and methods for this. There’s also a lot of chatter back and forth among the students in this class that benefits everyone.

To learn more about Sandra Beckwith, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dress for the Job You Want

Cynthia Shapiro is a client of mine and the author of Corporate Confidential, a book I recommend to anyone working in the corporate world. Not only is her book a fascinating read, but it contains invaluable information that could save your job. It could also save your writing career.

Recently I was reviewing Corporate Confidential and Cynthia’s soon-to-be-published next book (still untitled), and I was amazed at how much of her information could pertain to my clients and authors in general. Information on cover letters could be used for query letters, job interviews are just like pitch sessions, and how to relate to upper management is very similar to working with an editor.

While I’m sure I could do an entire series of posts on how Cynthia’s books can relate to a publishing career, there's one secret that has stuck with me: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. This isn’t a new concept, and for anyone who has ever read a job book you’ve probably heard it before, but how does this pertain to authors? Well, it certainly doesn’t mean you have to dress in a suit to write your book. No, pajamas are still acceptable writing attire. What it does mean is if you want to be a bestselling author, then you need to dress like one. Whenever you’re out promoting yourself as Author (at conferences, signings, or meetings with your agent and editor), you need to be dressing for that part you want, and dressing the part goes way beyond just the clothes you wear. It’s the way you talk, your book covers, your publicity material, your query letter, and your Web site. It’s anything that represents you and your brand.

So who do you want to be? Whose career are you comparing yours to and who would you like to emulate? Think big, I know I do. You can be a bestselling author or you can make people think you’re going to be. Dressing the part makes people believe that you’re an author they would regret missing out on. Who would you be more impressed by, the author in jeans and a T-shirt or the author wearing a striking suit? When I meet someone, whether it’s in person, through my Web site (because truthfully that is how people first meet these days), or from a letter I send, I want their first impression of me to be, “Wow, I need to get to know this person.” For authors, the first impression you make needs to be, “Wow, I’m really missing out by not having read this person’s books.” And trust me, this works with agents and editors too.

The truth is that we do judge a book by its cover, it’s why book covers are so important. So make sure your cover is always at its best. It should be clean, professional, well pressed, and impressive. Take a look at those Web sites, book covers, and clothes and see how you can do your best to dress for the job you want and not the one you currently have, or even worse, the one you had previously.

—Jessica

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Give Me Conflict

As many of you know, when you write a query letter—whether it’s e-mail, snail mail, or a cover letter attached to a proposal, heck, even a cover letter attached to a requested manuscript—you have three seconds to grab an agent’s attention. Think of that, three seconds to convince me that I want to drop everything on my to-do list and read your material immediately.

So what is one of the biggest problems I see in query letters? Lack of conflict. And for those of you who are published or have an agent and think this post isn’t for you, think again. The same blurb you used to pitch your agent is the same type of blurb you should be writing to pitch your editor a new book idea, give cover art and text suggestions, or grab a reader through your Web site or advertising.

We all know how difficult writing that query letter is, but we also know how important it is. When it comes to grabbing an agent’s attention, it’s the packaging for your product. I don’t care about the envelope, or whether or not you wrote requested material, I only care about the material itself and how exciting it sounds when I open it. That’s the packaging. So here’s what’s not going to excite me: the type of relationship the characters have, the themes your novel explores, or the type of person your protagonist is. This isn’t what will get me to buy the book when I find it in the store and it isn’t what’s going to get me to offer representation now. What hooks people in is the conflict. Is the heroine racing against time to prove her innocence before the police catch up with her? Is the hero a vampire fighting his own demons while battling to save the only person who can save him? Don’t say things like, “These characters find themselves in increasingly dangerous situations. . . .” Yawn. What are those situations?

Think about it, folks. Do you buy a book because the back cover says it explores themes of religion and the afterlife? That it takes a look at the themes the author has fought to understand his whole life? I doubt it. I suspect you buy a book because you’re either hooked by the protagonist’s hobby and the idea that she was wrongly convicted of a crime or because she’s fallen in love with the guy who is so totally wrong for her.

So here’s what I want to know about your book in the cover letter. I want to know what makes it different from every other romance, mystery, fantasy, or women’s fiction novel I see and I want to know how the conflict makes it exciting and thrilling. That doesn’t mean I want you to say, “this book is different from . . .” No, I want you to weave it through your letter. I want it to say something like:

“Althea Yates is a vampire hunter, skilled with the crossbow and the stake. But she knows nothing of a man’s touch—or how to control the unladylike dreams that haunt her sleep. That is when they come, two men of unearthly beauty who ravish her in sweet carnal games, taking her to the precipice of exquisite desire and unimaginable erotic pleasure. It is scandalous. Forbidden. Unholy. For her lovers are not men, but vampires—the very beasts she and her father have sworn to destroy.” —taken from the back cover of Blood Red by Sharon Page.

Do you see how that works? In one paragraph I get conflict and I get a hook. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it works to make me want to read more.

—Jessica

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Page Numbers

Do you know what's worse than dropping an entire manuscript all over your floor? Going to pick it up, only to discover that the author didn't put page numbers on it. It's a weird and little-discussed phenomena, but editors and agents hate to receive manuscripts, proposals, synopsis, anything without page numbers. It just makes our lives harder.

So please, always remember to number your pages, especially if you are emailing anything.

—Jessica

Monday, March 19, 2007

Buzz Marketing

We talk a lot at BookEnds about buzz marketing and how important it is to create a buzz surrounding your book. This is probably the easiest and cheapest form of publicity you can get, but strangely the one authors seem to neglect the most. Why? Because buzz marketing means you have to brag. It means you have to tell every single person—family, friends, and strangers—who you are and what you write, but it’s because of buzz marketing, more than anything else, that books sell.

Buzz marketing is when someone tells you about the last amazing book they read and you run out to buy it. It’s why I read the last three books I read and it’s probably why you read at least one of the last three books you read.

Well, recently we saw buzz marketing at work in the most amazing way. On Sunday, February 11, a feature article appeared in a Dover, New Hampshire, newspaper covering a local woman who was one of 30 finalists for the Staples Invention Quest. During the course of the interview the woman referenced (and is photographed with) the book she credits for helping her find her way in the world of inventions, The Mom Inventors Handbook by Tamara Monosoff. Because of this great mention Tamara was also called and interviewed for the article, and because of a woman who is proud of a book that has clearly helped her reach her dreams, thousands of people will not only know of the book’s existence but know exactly what it looks like.

Amy Sanderson, the inventor interviewed, had never met Tamara, and Tamara had never officially pitched her book to this newspaper, but because of one woman’s success, and the credit she gives to a book, buzz was created.

Now obviously we can’t all get someone else to brag about our books in a newspaper, but it’s pretty cool how things can happen if you whisper in the ears of enough people.

So what sort of whispering have you done to create a buzz?

—Jessica

Friday, March 16, 2007

BookEnds Talks to Jamie Novak

Jamie Novak
Book: 1000 Best Quick and Easy Time-Saving Strategies
Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc.
Pub date: March 16, 2007
Agent: Jessica Faust



(Click to Buy)


Jamie Novak is the Organizing Expert for NBC's iVillage.com and her tips are featured in national magazines. She's also authored the #1 book 1000 Best Organizing Secrets. Jamie's infectious energy and ability to make organizing doable makes her one of the most sought after organizers nationally. Free resources at www.JamieNovak.com.

Author Web site: www.JamieNovak.com

BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
Jamie: Packed from cover to cover with down-to-earth tips for managing your time. This book is to be read a tip at a time and then kept as a reference for years to come. Well organized and easy to read, it includes tips for every area of your personal and professional life.

BookEnds: What do you think distinguishes your work from other similar books?
Jamie: First off the size of my book makes it portable, which is perfect for busy readers. The book slips easily into purses, diaper bags, and briefcases to read it on the go. The second thing that makes my book special is that it is specifically designed to be read a tip at a time, NOT cover to cover, which again works so well for busy readers. Lastly, the book is meant to remain on the reader's bookshelf as a reference for years to come since it is packed with helpful lists and resources.

BookEnds: If readers only take away one thing from your book, what would you like it to be?
Jamie: That they can manage their time and get more organized, it is not nearly as overwhelming as they may be making it out to be.

BookEnds: How have people responded to your book?
Jamie: The comments from my readers have been overwhelming. Everyone says how the tips have changed their lives for the better and that they are inspired by my manageable suggestions.

BookEnds: What is your writing process like?
Jamie: Well, as you can imagine, it is very organized, most of the time. I start out with the title and a basic outline, and then I expand and expand the outline as I fill in the tips. Because I already know I need 1,000, I divide that number by the number of sub-chapters so I know how many I need in each section. Then I write and write, drawing from my years of in-home experience with my clients. Then I go back and keep only the very best tips in each section.

BookEnds: What would readers be surprised to know about you?
Jamie: That I'm human. Most people assume my home is perfectly organized, I never lost anything, and that I'm always on time. It's simply not true, ask my husband.

To learn more about Jamie Novak, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Author Beware: SASE

Over the years, as an editor and agent, I have built a pretty good-sized author beware file. This file is made up of interesting and usually angry letters and e-mails from authors. Often they are in response to rejections or other correspondence we’ve had. No matter what the situation, the letters always give me insight into the personality and professionalism of the author, letting me know that this is not someone I want to work with. From time to time I’m going to dig out one of those letters and post some of what was said. And, of course, I’m going to comment.

Rather than just show you a letter, I wanted to give you the entire e-mail exchange on this so you could see exactly what transpired.

About 5 months ago, I mailed a hardcopy of my manuscript. I didn't include an SASE because I didn't care to receive it back, but I did want to know our opinion. When you get a chance can you let me know what you think?
My response: I’m afraid I don’t have enough memory of it to give a real opinion. I do know however that I’ve passed on it.

And in reply: Well, thanks for NOTHING! What kind of professional are you? You didn't even give me the courtesy of an email or phone call. Because of this sort of behavior I will not be recommending you in the future.


This exchange boggles my mind really. The author admitted that she didn’t include a SASE, and therefore, in my mind, didn’t care to know what happened to her book or what my opinion was. Now obviously she’s changed her mind and clearly doesn’t just want to know the status, but wants free editorial advice as well.

There are rules for a reason, and they’re not to make your life difficult. I barely have the time to send out form rejection letters, and when I do e-mail or phone manuscript revisions, it’s usually to my clients, although occasionally I’ll send one to someone who I think has real potential. I’m sorry that this person won’t be recommending me to anyone in the future, but I suspect any savvy writers she talks to will first ask why she didn’t follow the rules.

—Jessica

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Resubmissions

I got an e-mail today from a writer I had just rejected. She thanked me for my letter and asked if I would be willing to take a look at her WIP (work in progress), and I was thrilled.

With the increase in form letters, my biggest fear is that I’ll see a decrease in resubmissions. I know I’ve said this before, but a number of my clients were previously rejected, and because of that I know firsthand that a rejection means nothing. Unless I tell you that what you’re writing does not fit the type of books BookEnds represents, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t keep trying, just like there’s no reason I won’t keep trying to sell the work of my clients.

So if you meet an agent, or read her Web site, and truly feel that the two of you would be a good fit, don’t hesitate to continue submitting to her. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should put all your eggs in one basket. Obviously you should also be submitting to other agents. Since you never know when your next book or idea will suddenly be the perfect fit, it never hurts to keep trying.

—Jessica

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Agent Hand-Holding

I received this question via e-mail, and since the reader referred directly to the blog I thought it was worthy of a post. And by the way, while I don't mind e-mails, please feel free to ask questions on the blog at any time. In some cases I'll answer them in the comments section and in others I'll do a post at a later date.

I have a question regarding reading works in progress from current clients. As an agent, do you prefer to be kept in the loop about all new book ideas? Or do you want to discuss works in progress only when there is a partial manuscript already written? Where is the line between a client's needing too much hand-holding with their works in progress and clients keeping their agent in the loop?

To me there is no line. Each client is different and I don't think it's fair to treat everyone as if they're the same. Some clients need to talk through every thought and idea and others I don't hear from for weeks or months. When it comes to your specific question, though, I think I prefer discussing ideas and even brainstorming together. I'm sure some of my clients will be happy to share stories of our brainstorming sessions or when I take a simple one-line idea and either tear it apart or expand on it with ideas of my own.

I think that once you have an agent it's a waste of time to write a partial without discussing it first. If I don't think it's something that's marketable, wouldn't it be better to talk about it up front. On the other hand, for some people I've discovered that discussing an idea beforehand can actually hamper creativity. These authors need to flesh ideas out while actively writing the book. That's fine. My job is to work with you in a manner that is best for you and your writing.

Either way, if you have the agent that's right for you, you shouldn't have to worry about the level of hand-holding you need. A good agent—and I mean one that's a good fit for you—won't balk at the questions you ask or the attention you need. Instead she'll patiently work with you to build a career, alleviate anxiety, explain the business, and make it all fun.

—Jessica

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Dangers of Blogs

I’m sitting here enjoying a nice cup of tea and thinking about the dangers of blogging. By now most of you are probably aware of Jason Pinter’s reported firing from Crown for a posting he made on his blog. If not, take a look at what Galleycat has to say about the situation. While I can’t say anything specific about Jason or that situation, I can say that he is not the first to be fired because of a blog and he definitely won’t be the last. As writers, and members of the publishing industry, we should know better than most how powerful words can be. We should also try not to forget that blogs are a public forum, and when choosing to post in this public forum you need to be cautious about what you are saying about whom.

As an agent I think about it every day. After all, I might be a part owner in BookEnds, but it surely doesn’t mean I can’t be fired. What do you think would happen if I started openly sharing confidential client information? It wouldn’t be too long before those certified letters started flooding my office.

Whether or not you agree with Jason’s firing, the truth is that blogs are a public forum and companies have the right to fire employees if they feel confidentiality has been breeched or if they feel an employee has acted in a way that’s contradictory to the company’s image. That means you can’t get up in front of a roomful of people and share confidential information, you can’t streak naked while representing the company at an event, and you can’t blog about anything (company-related or not) that the company feels goes against the image they want to present.

When sitting in our pajamas, in our homes, writing blogs, we forget that hundreds of people read them—including agents, editors, other authors, and even our mothers. Do you think that as a writer you can’t be fired for a blog? See what happens when an agent or editor interested in your work does a Google search and finds the things you had to say about her, other industry professionals (her friends), or the industry in general. Trust me. She’ll get nervous and that book better be darn good for her to decide to make an offer despite the fact that she might end up on your blog someday.

If you’re unsure about what to say or not say in your blog, think about it this way: If you were being interviewed by a reporter for the New York Times, would you say the same things? Would you be willing to have those words in print and dropped on an editor’s or agent’s doorstep?

Blogs are new, fun, and a fantastic way to help publicize your work or even let off a little steam. But it’s important to remember that they aren’t the diaries of old, the ones we hid so Mom couldn’t find them.

—Jessica

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Evolution of an Agent: Part II

When I left my position as senior editor at Berkley Publishing, I felt pretty confident of my grasp of the publishing industry. Leslie Gelbman, the president of Penguin’s paperback division, and all of my editor friends there were terrific mentors.

Nevertheless, I was new to the agenting biz. Shifting my perspective took a little getting used to, but I found that the essential quality for agenting and editing is the same: knowing a great, marketable book when I see it. When I first started looking for clients, it was exhilarating to have the freedom of taking on any project my little heart desired. I opened myself up to all sorts of genres: mysteries, romance, horror, young adult, prescriptive nonfiction. But as the submissions started pouring in and I began making sales, I started to see where my strengths and interests really lay. Inevitably, my focus narrowed. I’m no longer seeking horror, but am still open to big suspense novels with paranormal elements. I’m not so interested in YA, but would be willing to help my client branch out in that direction if she/he chose. And in most cases, I’m more likely to pass on prescriptive nonfiction to Jacky or Jessica.

This kind of evolution is common in both agents and editors. Tastes change, the market changes, and sometimes we find we just have more luck concentrating in certain areas. I’m not the only publishing professional who’s still learning as she goes. A smart agent/editor/author/bookseller is always open to new ideas. The publishing industry is unpredictable. That’s what makes it so exciting! That’s why I love my job!

From time to time authors still come across my first bio for BookEnds. We get a lot of questions like “Are you still looking for horror?” My best advice is to always go straight to the agency Web site. Most agents will keep their interests updated on a regular basis.

I’m wondering how often writers evolve. Are most of you loyal to a very specific type of writing? Or are you still finding your niche?

—Kim

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Evolution of an Agent

Today marks my third anniversary at BookEnds, and my third year as a literary agent. For those of you who don’t already know, my first nine years in the industry were spent on the editorial side at Berkley Publishing, a paperback division of Penguin USA.

People ask me all the time why I left editing to become an agent. There’s the obvious reasons: At BookEnds I can make my own hours, work from home, and add years to my life by cutting out the dreaded commute into Manhattan. My husband likes to joke that the only crowd I have to jostle through now is our cats, Bill and Winston, when I hop over them coming down the stairs. But the biggest motivator for me was the allure of having a personal stake in each book I took on. I think that writers often don’t understand how thankless an editor’s job can be. Editors don’t get a cut of the profits on the books they edit, their names don’t appear anywhere on the finished product unless the author is thoughtful enough to include them in the acknowledgments (my mom found it offensive that the cover artist got a line on the copyright page, but not the editor!), and they always have homework, but don’t get paid overtime. The best an editor can hope for is that the powers that be will remember their accomplishments and sales record when review time comes around. Even still, editors are at the bottom of the publishing pay scale.

So, truth be told, I was feeling burnt out. Editing had been my dream job, but I just felt myself losing the hunger. Agenting, however, offered new motivation. Now I don’t have to rely upon others to notice my successes. Working on commission allows me to be directly rewarded for a job well done, and I find that completely energizing. Rather Pavlovian, don’t you think? It works the other way too. If I’m not getting something sold, it’s costing me time. And time IS money. . . .

Another happy difference is my relationship with my authors. As an editor, I constantly felt tugged between the interests of the authors I worked with and the interests of the publisher that signed my paychecks. As an agent, there’s a greater trust in my relationship with authors, because we both know we’re working toward the same goals. And when the call comes in for that first sale (or the fifth, or nineteenth, for that matter) I can share in the screaming and clapping and wine-toasting. Doesn’t get any better than that.

What do you use for motivation?

—Kim

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Fonts

When it comes to writing queries and formatting manuscripts, authors can make themselves crazy obsessing over font size and type, how to figure word count (which I previously covered), and how many pages a synopsis should be.

Stop! Please stop.

Stop obsessing and start thinking. When you get an email or a letter, or if you are getting hundreds of them, what is a comfortable font for you to read and what is a comfortable size? Usually about 12 pt in a standard Times or Courier. The same fonts everyone else uses.

That’s all you need to consider. Also consider the pain and suffering (small violins playing, please) that I have to endure when I receive emails like this:
Hello Miss Faust. Thank you so much for considering my book. Lost Days is a historical, although some people might consider it more hysterical, romance about the lost days of a New York City high society girl during the turn of the century. While traveling with her companion, young Lucy Cavendash falls from the carriage and bumps her head. My story reveals the truth about what happened during those lost days.
Remember, keep in simple.

—Jessica

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

When It's Not Fun Anymore

There was a very interesting discussion a while back about a client of mine who experienced writer’s block, and I was fascinated by the varied comments, suggestions, and feelings about writer’s block. Some of you felt there is no such thing, while others had a variety of suggestions on how to move beyond it. But what do you do if what you’re experiencing goes well beyond writer’s block?

I received a recent comment/question from a blog reader and have experienced this with a client. What do you do when the fun has left the writing? When you’ve become so paralyzed by the rejections and critiques that you don’t even know how to begin? You’ve gotten so caught up in what you’ve done wrong or what you should be doing that you’ve lost the ability to even find a story?

I guess I wouldn’t call this writer’s block. I would call it mid-writer’s crisis. It’s that point when you’re taking a look at your life, both personally and professionally, and you begin to wonder how you got here, why you’re doing this, and what’s the point. It’s when you suddenly realize that this craft you once loved is no longer fun. And it’s the most tragic thing for me to hear about. Yes, rejection is part of this business. Whether you’re published or not you’re going to hear it—from editors, agents, reviewers, and even readers who “don’t read that type of book,” but when it paralyzes a writer something is wrong.

I’m not a therapist (although there are days that I play one), so I can’t go into a long list of suggestions on how to get beyond your mid-writer’s crisis or even the psychological reasons for it. What I can tell you all is not to lose sight of why you got into this crazy business in the first place. It’s for no other reason than that you love to write. Just as I got into this business because I love books, I love authors, and I really love to negotiate. If we start to focus solely on something else—getting published, selling a New York Times bestseller, or making only the big deals—we lose sight of what we love. So, while it’s important to have goals, I think it’s even more important to keep the passion alive. Know and understand the market, learn from your rejections and from the comments in your critique groups, but don’t let them overpower you. You’ve been noticed for your voice and the stories you create and it’s important to hold on to that with everything you have.

—Jessica

Monday, March 05, 2007

Reader Questions: Bad Numbers

What about writers who were able to sell a couple of books in the mid-1990s, then for some reason the next books didn't sell. Is it the style? The market? I've parted ways with my original agent. She didn't try all that hard after the option books were turned down. A couple houses, then nothing. But now I'm looking for a new agent for a new book, and I'm gun-shy. Do I use my name? Put those previous books down as a credit? Or do they work against me?

If every author who had a book that didn’t sell well never sold anything again, we’d be losing out on a lot of good books. Reinventing yourself can be a painful experience, but we’ve seen it happen over and again. And rejection is a basic part of the business that most of us have to deal with at some time or another. Take a good look at past mistakes and see if you can find any areas where you could have been stronger: writing, promotion, publicity, relationships (editor, agent, booksellers, etc.). Learn from past mistakes and keep ahead of the pack on current marketing tools. If your new book is very strong, showcases your best ideas and your best writing, and is in a category that editors are buying, you should be able to find your publishing feet again. Submit under your real name and consider the possibility of publishing under a pseudonym if necessary. And be up front with prospective agents and editors about your publishing past. They will find out about the numbers anyway. If you’re gun-shy, submit regardless. The surefire way to make sure you don’t get published again is to leave your novel in the drawer.

—Jacky

Friday, March 02, 2007

BookEnds Talks to Karen MacInerney

Karen MacInerney
Book: Dead and Berried
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Pub date: February 2007
Agent: Jessica Faust


(Click to Buy)


Karen MacInerney lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, two children, and a house rabbit named Bunny. When she’s not writing mysteries, she likes to read, drink coffee, attempt unusual recipes, and hit the local hike and bike trail.

Author Web site: www.karenmacinerney.com

BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
Karen: In this delicious follow-up to Murder on the Rocks, ruthless developers, a new ghost, a former fiancĂ©—and a coldblooded murderer—are stirring things up on Cranberry Island. It’s up to innkeeper Natalie Barnes to solve the murders . . . or she may find herself on the killer’s menu next.

BookEnds: What is your writing process like?
Karen: When I’m writing, I like to write five days a week (I take weekends off), usually first thing in the morning. My first book was written longhand, then typed into the computer; these days I type directly into the laptop. I give myself a quota—it used to be 1,000 words, but I recently increased it to 1,500—and don’t let myself get up until it’s done. (Unless I have an urgent call of nature, of course.) For the first fifteen minutes or so, I revise yesterday’s work, in part so I don’t have to do the whole manuscript later and in part to get me back into the story; then I write the new scene. I do outline a little bit, so that I at least know where I’m going that day, but I am always open to new—and usually more interesting—directions. Every book is an adventure. All I have to do, it seems, is show up at the laptop. (Usually at the local coffee shop, incidentally. I love a busy background!)

BookEnds: Why have you chosen to write in the genre in which you write?
Karen: I grew up reading Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, and have always loved "cozy" feeling books. I’m also a big fan of cooking, so including recipes at the end of each Gray Whale Inn mystery was a natural fit. (I particularly love the strata in Dead and Berried . . . but I can’t make it too often, or I won’t fit into my jeans!) Another thing I love about cozy mysteries is that they always transport me to wonderful places. I wanted to write a book that would take my readers—and me—to a rugged, beautiful island, with lobsters and craggy rocks and lots of interesting people. And lobsters. Did I mention lobsters?

BookEnds: What else are you working on?
Karen: I (well, Jessica, really) recently sold a new werewolf series to Ballantine; I’m doing the final edits on the first manuscript, which features reluctant werewolf Sophie Garou, and was a howl to write. (Okay, I know. Bad pun.) The tentative title is Howling at the Moon: Tales of an Urban Werewolf, and it should be in stores next spring; I can’t wait!

BookEnds: Do you see yourself in any of your characters? If so, who and how?
Karen: I write in first person, and I think there’s a lot of me in all of my protagonists, largely because when I write I put myself in that person’s shoes and ask myself questions like, “If I were running a B&B and an annoying guest named Candy Perkins kept telling me I was getting chunky, what would I do?” Obviously Natalie can’t dump a bowl of butter-laden batter on her head, so she’s got to come up with something else. And so it goes. . . .

BookEnds: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Karen: Think of yourself as a career writer, with a bazillion potential books in your head. I tell myself that Nora Roberts has written 180 books, many of them doorstoppers, since 1979; I may not be able to write six a year, but I can manage one or two! Knowing you have more books in you helps you let go of each piece when you finish it. Get a few opinions on it, preferably from people who like to read your kind of book, and if you hear the same comment more than once, consider going back and taking a look at that particular issue. But once you’ve gone over it a few times, start sending it out to agents. (With a well-crafted query letter, of course.)

And then, as soon as that first batch of queries goes out—this is the important part—start the next book. As soon as possible. (After, of course, you’ve browsed the bookstores to see what interests you and what new twists you can come up with). Because your next book will be better than your first—and it will help ease the sting of those inevitable rejection letters. Just don’t make it the sequel to the first book . . .unless it’s already sold!

BookEnds: Is there anything we missed or anything you would like to add?
Karen: I think one of the biggest problems we writers have is that we get too attached to what we write. After all, our books are our literary offspring—of course we want them all to be golden children! As much as possible, though, it helps to let yourself get absorbed by the writing itself—and stop obsessing about how the final product is going to be received. Because that way lies madness (and a nasty case of writer’s block). That’s not to say we should be sloppy writers, though! Our job is to show up at the page, do the best work we can, and then move on. Because who knows what will come next? You may start out writing about coffee cakes and end up brewing wolfsbane tea! (Literarily speaking, of course; the stuff is pure poison. Hmm. Maybe I could work that into the next mystery. . . .)


To learn more about Karen MacInerney, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Embarrassing Truth

Lately I’ve had a couple of different conversations with people about books, specifically those books you are embarrassed to admit that you’ve never read. And I wish embarrassed were too strong a word, but it’s really not. We all have them, those books that you think everyone in the world has read but you, or that, as a “well-read person,” of course you should have read.

Well, we’re here to share the truth. We all have them, and here are the five books (or authors) we are each embarrassed to admit we’ve never read. And I think Kim speaks for all of us when she said, “I’d like to point out that I really want to read all of these book, but they always manage to go to the bottom of the pile of books I have stacked next to my bed. One of these days. . . .”

Kim’s list:
1. Catcher in the Rye
2. To Kill A Mockingbird
3. Any of the Harry Potter books
4. Beloved
5. Lord of the Flies

Jessica’s list:
1. Wuthering Heights
2. Pride and Prejudice
3. Emma
4. Romeo and Juliet
5. The Diary of Anne Frank

Jacky’s list:
1. The Bible
2. The Bell Jar
3. Hemingway
4. War and Peace
5. The Poky Little Puppy

—Jessica