Thursday, May 31, 2007

How I View a Synopsis

In a recent post on the synopsis I gave you some advice on writing your synopsis. After reading a number of comments and questions, I want to expand on that post and give you a look from the other side. How important a role does the synopsis play in my decision-making process and what happens if the book doesn't match the synopsis you've already written?

I'm going to let you in on a little secret . . . more often than not I don't read the synopsis. Every agent is different, but for me if the book is really good and I'm thoroughly enjoying it, I will often ask for more material without even reading the synopsis. After all, I hate a spoiler. However, if I'm on the fence about the book or I don't think I want to see more, but I'm just curious, I will definitely read the synopsis. Sometimes it's just to find out what happened, even though I know it's not strong enough to sell, or at least not strong enough for me to take on (the two are not the same). Where the synopsis truly comes into play for most agents is to make sure the book doesn't run aground at any point. Reading the synopsis allows me to know that the author hasn't gone off in some weird direction that doesn't make sense or doesn't suit the genre she might be targeting.

These days a lot of published authors are required to submit some sort of short synopsis to their editors either before another book deal is made or as part of a current contract. And let me tell you, very, very rarely does that synopsis match the final product. I always tell my authors to think of it as giving a rough idea to your publisher. The primary concern your publisher usually has regarding this synopsis is that your character names and general plot don't change too much since this synopsis is often used for cover and catalog copy.

—Jessica

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Query Critique #7

I offer you KILBOURNE, a psychological thriller of roughly 78,000 words. The manuscript has been vetted by a district attorney and a psychologist. It is loosely based on a true incident more than forty years ago in Texas. Furthermore, I suspect readers of James Patterson and Dean Koontz will find this topic of interest.

Snooze! I don’t care who vetted it or who would find the topic interesting. I want to know what makes your book exciting and different. As a writer it’s your responsibility to make sure facts are correct, and having your book vetted is often a part of that. It doesn’t make your book special or different. The only thing that works here is your first sentence, which is only okay. The word count is a little too low. For a thriller you should be closer to 100,000 words, and your title says nothing to me.

In my fictional world (of course it’s fictional. You’re writing fiction. Try not to add words just to make things sound better), a young attorney serves on a jury that sentences an uneducated redneck to death for the murder of his own ten-year-old niece. Fifteen years later the killer asks for the attorney to serve as his pro bono representative when it is discovered that a tainted confession put him on death row, and a new trail (spelling error) is scheduled. Now svelte and educated, the killer comes out of prison bent on revenge; not the death of the jurors, but the murder of each juror's first born.

This is a great hook, let’s get to it faster. This should be in your first paragraph. When a killer is set free he’s bent on revenge—seeking to murder the firstborn child of each of his jurors (and I think you can do a better job with this). . . . So what happens next? Is the story simply about the killer or do we follow a hero/heroine as he/she tries to stop the killer? If so, that’s really the crux of the story.

This is another instance where it sounds like a great idea, but you aren’t giving me enough to convince me it works. The way it reads now I get the impression that the entire book is following this killer. How does the lawyer fit in? What is being done to stop him? Do people know he’s doing this?


I’m a journalist and published author of four non-fiction books ranging from biography to true crime. One was a Literary Guild alternate selection, and another was a True Crime Book of the Month.

Give the titles and publishers then. That’s a huge deal, so don’t downplay it.

A complete resume and synopsis follows this letter.

It’s fine to include the synopsis, but don’t expect me to read it. I asked for queries only and you have to depend on your query to get me to ask for more. If the query doesn’t grab me I’m not going to bother with the synopsis.

I hope this piques your interest.

I hope so too.

Cordially,
Agent Seeker


*

Check back Friday for another query critique.

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Slave Labor

I’m attending a number of writers' conferences this year, more than I had planned, and am always fascinated by how differently each of them is run. Some are more professional and better organized than others, some are considerate of their guests, and some are just looking for slave labor.

When we first started BookEnds I was an easy conference attendee. I was looking to build an author base and would head off into any direction asked of me. Now, though, I’m picky. I don’t want to work too hard, I want to be treated well, and I like a nice location. I don’t think I’m asking for too much and I don’t think I’m a pain. It’s just that if I am going to give up my weekend to work for free then I expect it to be a nice weekend for me too. A lot of conference organizers think they are doing editors and agents a favor. They think that by asking us to their conferences they are giving us this amazing opportunity to find great talent and new clients. The truth is very few agents ever find a new client at a conference. In fact, I think I can only name one or two who I actually took on after meeting at a conference. And the conference had nothing to do with it. I would suspect that these people would have submitted to me anyway and I would have offered representation anyway. You can correct me if I’m wrong.

If I offer to attend a conference I expect that I’ll be asked to speak and I expect that I’ll give appointments. I happily attend all social events—dinners, lunches, cocktail parties—and I really do enjoy giving advice to and meeting new writers. I don’t, however, want to be given additional work that’s going to have to be done outside of that weekend. In other words, I prefer not to be asked to judge contests or critique work before I attend. Of course, I do it anyway. I’m too nice to say no sometimes and therefore I know I should just keep my mouth shut and not complain, but I’m complaining anyway.

So what’s my point? It’s to let conference organizers know that you’ll have a much easier time finding qualified agents and editors to attend your conferences if you offer the following:

* Plenty of time to plan. Asking people six months to a year ahead of time is smart. Our schedules fill up fast and I can’t attend conferences on two months' notice.

* Consideration of their time. Appointments should be no more than two hours (ten minutes for each appointment), and you should never expect agents or editors to read material ahead of time.

* Workshop guidance. Help people out. Give some suggestions of what your attendees would like to hear. I’m sure conferences will have more success when attendees aren’t hearing the same workshop on how to write a query letter every single year.

I actually enjoy conferences. I enjoy talking to writers and meeting people personally. Most of all, though, I truly think that I can help teach people more about publishing as a business, calm their fears and soothe nerves. I wouldn’t attend conferences if I didn’t want to. However, when I return from a conference feeling exhausted and worn out because I was run from place to place and never had a chance to just sit and chat, it’s not a conference I want to go back to, or would recommend to other agents or editors. And we do talk. We do recommend conferences to each other and even contact organizers with names of others who might consider attending.

What about authors? Those of you who have attended conferences either as speakers or attendees, what drives you crazy or what are you looking for? What would you like to see from me, as an attending agent, or from organizers, to make your experience better?

—Jessica

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Query Critique #6

It begins with a box of paperbacks sent by a dead man.

Great opening. You instantly grabbed my attention.

"Still Waters" (I think you could come up with a stronger title) is a completed 70,000 word romantic suspense that includes blackmail, murder and betrayal.

I would move this sentence to the end of your letter. Your opening is so strong that you don’t want to lose momentum. Try “In Still Waters, a romantic suspense . . .

Jessica Logan opens an ordinary cardboard box mailed by her father on the day he committed suicide. She has no idea that opening it will lead her into discoveries about her family that involve death and destruction. Travis Connors has pieces to the puzzle, but he's not sharing. As a private investigator, he prefers to work alone. But when he proves to Jessica that her father was murdered, he finds himself with a partner who both irritates him and attracts him. As they begin to unravel the murder, the answers only lead to more questions. Finding trust in each other becomes as important as finding the person who would like Jessica and Travis dead.

Again, you have a good opening, so let’s not lose the pace. What about your second paragraph reading more like this: On the day of his death, Jessica Logan’s father mailed her a box of simple paperback books. Now she finds herself running ???? with only a box of books to discover the truth. Can Jessica, together with PI Travis Connors, discover the truth before ????

I think you have to show a little more of the suspense here. Your opening grabbed my attention, but your paragraph didn’t hold me enough to make me want to see more. How do the paperbacks and suspense make this different?

I have four short stories published with a small epublisher and a romantic suspense coming out in print in September with Different Small Press. I am a member of RWA and Sacramento Valley Rose RWA. I am a reviewer for Romance Divas award-winning website.

I think this could be slightly stronger. I’m the published author of four short stories with Small EPress and a romantic suspense with Different Small Press. I am a member of . . .

Enclosed is a synopsis for "Still Waters" and the first 50 pages.

Thank you for your consideration.


As you know by now I think it’s stronger to end with “I look forward to hearing from you.” But that’s a personal opinion.

Good work.

*

Check back tomorrow for another query critique.

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Interviews

I just got off the phone with a Columbia journalism student who was doing an industry profile for a class of hers and chose me for her interview subject. She said she came across the blog. Isn’t it weird the things that come through marketing? I do a lot of interviews for different blogs, web sites, newsletters and the like, and I have to say this was one of the best, well researched, most interesting. The first thing I really liked about it was that she called me rather than sending me an email form to fill out. Granted, the advantage of a form is that I can do it whenever I get a chance, but the disadvantage is that I have to double-check my spelling, type it all out and edit it. Certainly a phone interview is quicker.

The second thing I liked, and what impressed me most, was the student herself. Could I have possibly been that put-together, well-spoken, and professional when I was that age? Somehow I don’t think so, or at least I never felt I was. She really impressed me, and if journalism is her chosen profession, she’s done well. Her questions were well thought out and interesting and she flowed with the conversation rather than read off a list.

And she didn’t just ask me the typical questions about how I got started and what I represent. She also asked questions that really made me think. She asked what I read for pleasure, whether it was primarily the same types of books I represent, and she asked who I would represent if I could represent any author living or dead. Cool question. She asked how technology has changed publishing, if at all, and what kind of impact blogs have had.

It was the kind of interview that actually got me thinking and asking questions myself. It was what an interview should be. Thought-provoking for everyone. So for those of you giving interviews, and those of you being interviewed, it’s something to think about. It’s not just enough to get out there and ask or answer the questions. It’s your job to make the article actually interesting. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough and interesting questions and don’t be afraid to expand on your answers enough to really make the article interesting and different.

—Jessica

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

We'll be closed at BookEnds Friday afternoon through Monday to celebrate Memorial Day and mark the unofficial start of summer.

Have a great holiday, and we'll see you when we resume posting on May 29.

—Jessica, Jacky, and Kim

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Query Critique #5

Six months past Hurricane Katrina, barista extraordinaire Alice Baies is finally enjoying a normal workday at Café Au Lait in uptown New Orleans when she discovers the corpse of a co-worker painted with a blue X stuffed under the café's back steps, thus forcing Alice to unravel a trail of deception and murder in the still-traumatized city. The 62,000-word cozy mystery entitled The Barista Sees the Blues is the first in a proposed series set in post-Katrina New Orleans. Featuring the amateur sleuthing duo of Alice and her retired schoolteacher aunt Trudy Baies, The Barista series will intertwine coffee lore and tips, New Orleans' famous cuisine, and mouth-watering recipes set against the backdrop of the historic city.

To put it plainly, this is a mess. If this crossed my desk there’s no way I would ask to see more. If this writing is indicative of the writing in your book it’s not strong enough for me to even spend time on.

Six months after, not six months past. Does Hurricane Katrina fit into the story at all or is it just a time stamp? If it’s not a part of the story take it out. Be careful not to time stamp things with major tragedies—September 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, etc.—unless they are integral to the story. By using Hurricane Katrina you imply that it is part of your hook, which doesn’t come through in the rest of the letter.

With this kind of book I would simply get to the hook: As a barista in a New Orleans coffee shop Alice Baies is an unlikely detective. But in The Barista Sees the Blues, the first in a cozy mystery series, Alice and her best friend set out to solve the crime of a murdered co-worker. In addition to an appealing mystery, the Barista series will include coffee tips and mouth-watering recipes. This is an example of how to get to the point. I would recommend though that your hook be even stronger. My version is only a rough example, and would still need a lot of work.

I would also change your title and your series title. Neither “say” mystery to me. If you look at other cozy mystery titles you should get a good idea of what I’m talking about.


Alice is impelled to investigate when another barista, flighty irresponsible Cassy, cannot be found, but the overworked and understaffed New Orleans Police refuse to search for her. Alice enlists the help of her aunt Trudy to help find Cassy and discover who has a grudge against the baristas. Their main suspect, Simon Dupré—the shifty general manager of Café Au Lait and the owners' only child—is brutally murdered and Alice finds herself the prime suspect. With a little help from friends, including a tarot-card reading witch, Alice tracks down the real killer, figures out the meaning of the blue X, and saves Aunt Trudy just in time from being the next victim.

I don’t know if you need all of this. You should be able to give me the highlights in one paragraph. I don’t need the details of the crime or mystery, I just need to know what makes you book distinct.

Did you know there is already a coffee shop mystery series? You should do your research and tell me how your book is different. Don’t think you can pull one over on an agent. A good agent knows the market and what books already exist. She’s not going to pretend there’s not another series like yours, she’s going to use it to her advantage to sell yours. So be upfront. Know your competition and let the agent know how you plan to beat it.


As a native New Orleanian, living north of Lake Pontchartrain at the time, I experienced firsthand the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Working as a barista/coffee master at the local branch of a large national chain, I was able to offer help and comfort to those in need. I graduated from the English program at the University of New Orleans, where I was also the editor of the college newspaper. Since then I have been an editor, English teacher, and coffee master. I've published in multiple English as a Second Language teaching journals.

Again, unless Hurricane Katrina plays into the story directly, don’t bother mentioning it. Stick to your writing and publishing credentials.

Thank you for your time.

Instead of thanking me for my time, since you don’t know if I even bothered to give you any, why don’t you let me know that the rest of the manuscript is available for review? That’s a much stronger ending.

*

Check back next week for more query critiques!

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

BookEnds Talks to Marie H. Browne, Ph.D., R.N. & Marlene M. Browne, Esq.

Marie H. Browne, Ph.D., R.N. & Marlene M. Browne, Esq.
You Can't Have Him, He's Mine: A Woman's Guide to Affair-Proofing Her Relationship
Publisher: Adams
Pub date: May 2007
Agent: Jacky Sach


(Click to Buy)


Marie H. Browne, R.N., Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist and professor of psychiatric nursing for thirty-four years, maintains a thriving private practice providing therapy for individuals, couples, and families.

Marlene M. Browne, Esq., a lawyer licensed in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Colorado, is the author of several books. In addition to writing with and without her mother, Marie, Ms. Browne lectures on the law and other topics, appearing regularly as an expert guest on local and national media outlets.

Author Web site: www.marlenebrowne.com/YCHH.htm

BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
Marlene: Using our professional experience and the latest research on attraction and love, it gives the reader information and practical tips, allowing her to protect her marriage (or relationship), making it resistant to the siren call of the would-be mate poacher.

BookEnds: What do you think distinguishes your work from other similar books?
Marie: You learn how a potential romantic rival views you, your man, and your relationship.

BookEnds: Besides the obvious audience for your book (those the publisher targets), who else do you think can benefit from what you’ve written?
Marlene: Every human who has a mate she’d like to keep for herself.

BookEnds: Why did you write this book?
Marie: To arm the wife (or significant other) with the means to ward off the would-be husband (or boyfriend) snatcher.

BookEnds: How have people responded to your book?
Marlene: The flight attendants that my husband works with (he’s a CAL pilot) think this book is amazing. (Since February, many have read with GREAT interest the bound galleys.)

BookEnds: What else are you working on?
Marie: A book about how to protect your Tween girls from the noxious culture of sex and female self-abasement.

BookEnds: Is there anything we missed or anything you would like to add?
Marlene: Yes, what is your FEAR after this book is published? My fear is, after writing this book with my mom, that my husband will, ironically, have a target on his back, i.e., that he’ll become a special kind of man-challenge to a would-be poacher because I, his wife, have cowritten a book about keeping a man safe from predators! Thank goodness I’ve got the tools to guard my mate—found, of course, in our book!

To learn more about Marie and Marlene, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Query Critique #4

I am a regular reader of your blog and am impressed by your knowledge of the industry and willingness to give struggling writers great advice. Thus, I would like you to consider my completed contemporary romance manuscript, HIDE AND SEEK, for representation.

Flattery can in fact get you everywhere. It helps to give a little information about why this agent has impressed you enough for you to query her. Well, it works for me anyway.

Set in my hometown of Orlando, Florida, HIDE AND SEEK, at 95,000 words, is the story of three women struggling with destructive secrets, past and present. Each woman appears to have a perfect life. Yet none does.

I would delete the setting altogether. Get to the point, the hook. Start with “A story of three women struggling with secrets that could destroy their seemingly perfect lives. . . .” See how much stronger that is?

Lindy is hiding emotional scars from a brutal attack, scars that threaten to destroy the man she’s fallen in love with. Mila discovers that her perfect husband is having several affairs—with men. When one of his lovers murders him, she is forced to examine her shallow life. Devon’s boyfriend Steve has fathered a secret child during an affair. That child is now ill and needs part of his liver. Rather than face the problems of her current relationship, Devon falls into the arms of another man and adds more complications to her already messy life.

Are these three different books? I’m not sure the secrets themselves are the story. I think the story is really how these women come together. In this case I need your paragraph to talk in more general terms about what brings these women together. So far what you have are three common women’s fiction plots. What makes your book different? And I still don’t know what this book is about. It feels like it’s a collection of short stories, but is it just about their problems?

I am a full-time writer with a degree in Journalism with an English minor . . .

I’d skip degrees. Unless you’re applying for your first job out of college, what people really care about is experience, not education.

. . . and am a PAN member of the Romance Writers of America and president of my local chapter. I regularly teach writing workshops at local libraries. My first print novel, THE KITTEN CLUB, a contemporary romance, was released in May (with who?). I have six other titles that have been electronically released by The Wild Rose Press and Aspen Mountain Press. Please find attached the first 50 pages of HIDE AND SEEK and a synopsis. I would be happy to send you the full. I look forward to working with you and your Agency. Thank you for your time and consideration.

“Please find” is awkward. Wouldn’t it be stronger to just say, “Attached you will find . . .”? And don’t bother thanking me. This is a sales pitch. End it with: I’m looking forward to hearing from you, or something similar. Keep wowing me, don’t grovel.




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What Does an Agent Do?

I get asked all the time what a literary agent does, and my standard reply is, “I represent authors in the sale of their work to publishers.” That’s usually boring enough to stop the conversation (which is my goal). While I love my work, I get tired of explaining it to laypeople and really tired of getting pitched at every event I go to—weddings, family reunions, dinner parties, and, yes, even funerals.

Unfortunately, this short and conversation-ending answer is too easily believed. The truth is that agents do a heck of a lot more than simply sell an author’s work. An agent is so many things rolled into one it sometimes amazes even me. I’m a salesperson, a marketing director, a publicist, a therapist. I hold hands, give tours, take notes at meetings, edit manuscripts, hail taxis, brainstorm title ideas, and even carry cocktails and purses.

All of this work is why agents are so often behind on submissions, phone calls, and emails. I think that when it comes to struggling authors seeking publication, few look beyond selling the work as the true job of an agent, and few take the many other roles of an agent into consideration when hiring an agent. All of these facets of an agent's personality, and job, are the reason you need to feel a connection with your agent. They are the reason you need to like said agent and, more important, the reason you need to trust the person you’re bringing on to work as part of your team. After all, would you want to let someone you don’t trust carry your purse?

So to bring a little perspective to an agent’s duties, I would like to hear from our agented readers. What does your agent do that’s far outside the realm of what people traditionally think of as an “agent’s job”?

—Jessica

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Choosing a Genre

Last Wednesday I did a post on the Encyclopedia of Sub-Genres and heard from a lot of you who disagreed with my definitions which I think proves a very, very good point. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Decisions on how a book is categorized or marketed is made by the publisher. It is a marketing decision and what one publisher would call erotic romance another calls erotica. I've sold erotic romance that the publisher marketed as paranormal romance and I've sold mystery that the publisher decided to call romance. Why? They felt they could better sell the book by marketing in those ways.

There are no exact guidelines to defining sub-genres. There's no publishing handbook that tells you what these are. They are all fluid and based on how each individual publisher operates and what the market demands. Just two short years ago authors writing fantasy with romance were shelved only in fantasy. Paranormal romances were primarily vampires and other beasts. Now things have changed and we see much less of a distinction between some fantasy and romance. Now it's really a matter of whether your book is more fantasy or more romance, or who it would appeal to the most.

So why would I bother with the encyclopedia in the first place? To give you a better understanding of what people might be talking about when they use these terms. When I get a "cozy mystery" that features a gory serial killer I know the writer doesn't know the market and it immediately places doubts about whether she's ready to be published. Using these guidelines you should better be able to understand where your book might fit, but ultimately it's up to your agent and publisher to decide exactly who the market is and how to make your book the most successful it can be.

I know that doesn't help the many of you who are unsure of what to call your book. What do you do then? My advice. Seek out those books that you feel would most appeal to your audience. Will readers of Jennifer Weiner or Elizabeth Berg most likely gravitate toward your book? Are you appealing more to the Christine Feehan audience or Laurell K. Hamilton before she crossed over to the romance market? Where are those books published? That's how you can define your sub-genre.

The reason for a sub-genre is so the readers (and that includes editors and agents) can more easily find your book in the bookstore and the bookstores know where to put it. So when thinking about how to categorize your book think about where it would best fit. If it doesn't fit anywhere you might have a problem. If you don't know where your book should sell how do you think the bookstores are going to feel and how do you think readers will find it?

Sub-genres are a tricky business and all of these definitions could change tomorrow.

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The Editor-Agent Relationship

We talk all the time about the author-agent relationship and how it works, but rarely if ever do we discuss the editor-agent relationship, how it works, and how the author fits into it all.

Obviously the relationship between an editor and an agent can be the key to selling books. It’s what we work so hard to build and why we’re always having those martini-free lunches (it’s sad how times have changed). It’s how we learn that one particular editor happens to be looking for a certain type of book or has a love for Civil War history and would look at anything Civil War-related. In other words, these relationships are what gives an agent the inside edge.

But what happens to this relationship once a book has sold? Where do all of the parties involved—the editor, the agent, and the author—fit into the picture?

As a former editor I believe that few relationships are as important as the one between author and editor. Your editor is your one true advocate within a publishing house. She fights for your cover and cover copy, works with Publicity and Sales to get the best bang for their very few bucks; ultimately she’s the one who gets things done. Therefore I think the best thing that can happen once that contract is signed is for the agent to step back and let the relationship grow between editor and author. It’s sort of like a mother sending her child off to college. It doesn’t do any good to call professors directly or interfere in the day-to-day activities of that child’s life. Instead the parent (and agent) take on a new role. The agent sits on the sidelines and coaches when needed, gently guiding the author through the process by answering questions, explaining situations, and nudging along the burgeoning relationship between editor and author. When major challenges come up—when an editor leaves the house, it’s time for new contract negotiations, or it’s time to career plan with the publisher, as well as the author—the agent should step in. This is when you want those big guns on your side again.

As with everything, there are no set rules for how things work in the author-agent-editor relationship, and I’m sure you each have your own experiences. I would love to hear from my published readers about how their own author-agent-editor relationship works. At what point do you depend on your editor and at what point do you call in the agent?

—Jessica

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Query Critique #3

Gerard Fauchey
Gardenias 8, Hacienda Cocoyoc
Yautepec, Morelos, MEXICO 62736
Tel & Fax: (52) 735- 356-1223/ 735-126-1770 (Cell phone)
e-mail: gfauchey@yahoo.com


Don’t forget your web site if you have one. . . .

May 1, 2007
Query: I Only Know I Fell in Love with You
Genre: Erotica / Psychology


I’m not sure how these two genres would fit together. Erotica is typically fiction, psychology nonfiction. Don’t overlabel your work.

Word Count: 100,000
Status: Finished and translated to Spanish
Editor (Spanish version): Gian Carlo Corte,
former Chief Editor of Random House-Mondadori


There’s no reason to supply the information above. Get to the point and interest me. This should all be a part of the query letter. I’m also confused by the information on the translation and your editor. If in fact it’s published in a Spanish version I would need to know which house and which country, but I do not need an editor’s name.

Ms. Jessica Faust
BookEnds, LLC
jfaust@bookends-inc.com

Dear Ms. Faust,

I Only Know I Fell in Love with You
(here’s where you can add the details of genre and word count) is a story of passionate love and conflict . . .

Passionate love and conflict are vague terms. Every single romance is about passionate love and conflict. You should only be telling me what your story is about that makes it different. Get to the plot points, the exciting differentiations.

The main obstacle in Julio and Maritza’s road to happiness is her inability to reach orgasm.

Boring! How about: For seven years Maritza has suffered from an inability to reach orgasm. Her difficulties are taking a toll on her marriage and her self-esteem. In I Only Know I Fell in Love with You we read as one couple struggles to save a failing marriage. . . .

This conflicting situation is today a sad and worrisome fact of life for a majority of women (70% according to The Hite Report), a disturbing subject that has been scarcely addressed in novels in which the act of love is generally an idealized event.

Stick with the details of the story. I have no interest in statistics about how many people suffer from anything. Whether it’s OCD, cancer, or an inability to reach orgasm, the book will sell because people fall in love with the characters and plot. The conflicts and/or challenges the characters face are part of that, but do not alone sell a work of fiction. If you’re writing nonfiction, I need stats.


I Only Know I Fell in Love with You is not a work of titillating erotica per se, although sex (or the lack of it) strongly affects and influences the development of the relationship, as it usually does in real-life.

Don’t tell me what the book isn’t, tell me what it is. My other concern is that if people aren’t having sex it’s not erotica, unless they are doing other things sexually without the intercourse. I need to know how it’s erotica if that’s what you’re going to call it.

It’s hard to tell you what your hook should be since it doesn’t come through anywhere in your letter. I need to know, in two sentences, what this book is about. Not psychologically, but what this plot is about. Is it an erotic tale of two lovers exploring new and creative ways to reach orgasm? Is it the story of a marriage that suffers because of the failed attempts of one to orgasm?


The title is long, I know, but it reflects with Socratic simplicity what the book is about.

I have no interest in what the title represents. The title should reflect the story in some way and, more important, grab a reader’s attention. That’s it. There should be no reason to explain it. If you have to explain it you should probably find a new title.


The story is told in first-person, as seen from the man’s point of view. Julio finds himself frequently baffled by Maritza’s exasperating conduct while at the same time his heart is captivated by her intoxicating joie de vivre. At the end, after losing his family and career, his beloved marries someone else and Julio has to admit that the only thing he knows is that he fell in love.

I have to admit, nothing in this paragraph tells me what the book is about. What really happens?

The story takes place in Mexico and Cuba and it evolves in a series of unexpected and sometimes funny, occasionally dramatic plot twists that keep the reader turning the pages. It is not a formula romance novel, but rather a tale of deep feelings in the style of Nabokov’s Lolita.

Delete this entire paragraph. It says nothing.


I currently work as public speaker for Omnilife, Latin America’s largest multilevel company. Sample chapters and the full manuscript are ready for your request. I thankfully appreciate your consideration and time.

But is the book published? This is a much more important issue than whether or not you are a public speaker. I need to know a writing history.

In the end, I’m not sure who would buy this book. Would people really buy a book because it’s about sexual dysfunction? No, I doubt it. What they would buy is a book about a marriage that is falling apart and the unique (key word) things a couple does to save it. Or, they would buy an erotic romance about all of the fun and exciting things a couple might do to help one achieve an orgasm she has never had. Sexual dysfunction in itself though isn’t that exciting.


*

Check back Wednesday for the next query critique.

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Author Beware: Strong Writing

Over the years, as an editor and agent, I have built a pretty good-sized author beware file. This file is made up of the letters and emails I've received from authors that I know I want to avoid. 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.


Another reason why agents don’t give feedback in their letters . . .

In your recent rejection letter you told me that writing was "strong enough." But without any details I'm afraid I'm not sure what you mean. Could you give me details? Was it my character? or the beginning of chapter three? WHAT?

Besides that though you told me to join a critique group and I want you to know that I am in a fabulous critique group full of amazing people. Some are even published.  Thanks for the advice though.

I didn't mean to sound defensive even though I probably am. I'm disappointed of course, but you're not the only agent out there and I'll keep plugging away. In the future though let me give you some advice, try not to make so many assumptions about a writer's abilities when sending out rejections, at least until you've read the entire manuscript.
And, just so you know, my writing is too strong.


I think if we all took a moment to think about it we would know the difference between strong writing and writing that isn’t strong enough to be published, whether it’s your own work, and that first manuscript sitting under your bed, or the work of one of your writing partners. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad or unreadable. It’s simply not quite there. And you know what, I can’t always give you specifics. That’s the tough part of rejection letters and why they are so often form letters. I can’t always tell you why it didn’t work. Sometimes it’s just plain horrible, sometimes it’s actually entertaining but is missing something and I can’t quite put my finger on it, and sometimes it’s a personal preference, I just didn’t like it.

As for this author’s writing group, one thing really jumped out at me and that’s the phrase “an excellent group of women.” Are they an excellent group of women or a sincerely helpful writing group? These are not necessarily one and the same. I think writing groups are an invaluable part of this business, but I also think that everyone should regularly evaluate whether or not the groups they are in are still benefiting them.

I know this author is defensive and I’m actually fine with that. We’ve all been there and blasted off that email in a weak moment when we shouldn’t have. What I wasn’t happy about was the accusation that I was making generalizations and assumptions when I was trying to honestly give my evaluation of her work. I’m sincerely sorry that it upset her, for that was not my intent. My intent was to give a real reason for my rejection. I’m not sorry I did it, but I think you can now see why I don’t do it very often.

—Jessica

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Friday, May 18, 2007

BookEnds Talks to Deanna Lee

Deanna Lee
Book: Barenaked Jane
Publisher: Kensington Aphrodisia
Pub date: April 2007
Agent: Jessica Faust



(Click to Buy)


Deanna Lee lives in the southern United States with her husband and new puppy. She is a full-time writer, an avid reader, and a haphazard blogger. Deanna believes in fate, lust at first sight, and the power of love. She would love to hear from readers: deanna@deannaleebooks.com.

Author Web site: www.deannaleebooks.com

BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
Deanna: Jane Tilwell has a take-charge approach to life. That means dealing with Mathias Montgomery head-on. He's all alpha male: arrogant, sexy, and rock-hard solid. Who is this incredibly sensual man? How does he know her so intimately? To answer each and every question, Jane lays herself bare—ready, naked, and willing. . . .

BookEnds: How did you come to write this book?
Deanna: Barenaked Jane is the sequel to Undressing Mercy (my first print novel). When I first created the character of Jane, I honestly wasn’t sure if she’d ever get her own story. But she’s the feisty sort, and not long after I finished Undressing Mercy, I realized that Jane, with her blunt and ready sexuality, had a story that needed to be told. Barenaked Jane is the result of that realization.

BookEnds: What is your writing process like?
Deanna: I’m a plotter. I plot and plot and plot some more. There are times when I’ll stop mid-novel and replot if I’m not happy with something that I’ve done. The plot for Barenaked Jane was written on a legal pad—one hundred pages of notes, scribbles, and snatches of snarky dialogue.

BookEnds: Why have you chosen to write in the genre in which you write?
Deanna: I’ve always written romance . . . though as a young woman I dabbled in fantasy a little here and there. The choice to move into erotic/sensual romance came late one night when I was trying to find a reasonable yet not silly term for the . . . uh . . . male personal/private part. Finally—I just wrote what that big C word all over the place and it was such an immense relief. I realized—hey, this is really great and I haven’t written “his sword of desire” since, honest.

BookEnds: What else are you working on?
Deanna: Currently I’m working on a novella for one of the "Sexy Beast" anthologies published at Kensington Aphrodisia. It’s a futuristic cat-shifter—he’s a big panther, she’s a ticked-off damsel in distress . . . lots of fun there!

BookEnds: Besides getting your first book published, what would you say have been some of the highlights of your writing career so far?
Deanna: I’ve had a fairy-tale career, you know! The first novella I ever submitted to a publisher (Liquid Silver Books) was accepted, I have the kind of supportive and aggressive agent that other authors dream about, and now I write every day. Life really couldn’t be sweeter. The real highlights:


• The day I opened an email from Jessica Faust telling me how much she enjoyed Undressing Mercy runs neck and neck with the day she called to tell me that I had an offer for a 3-book deal with Kensington for a new line called Aphrodisia.

• My first fan email made me cry like a big girl.

• When Undressing Mercy was nominated for Erotica Book of the Year for 2005 by Romantic Times. I called everyone I knew and some people I didn’t.

• Seeing the excerpt of Barenaked Jane in the May '07 issue of Cosmo—the clerk at Wal-Mart didn’t believe it was me when I told her but I was too excited to care.


Feel free to ask Deanna questions in the comments section. She'll pop in during the day to answer them.

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

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Query Critique #2

In most books, the lovable loser magically becomes a superstar everyone admires—in a span of mere pages. Voza has to work her hardest just to be average.

So I assume Voza is already the superstar? There is no transition here. You say “in most books,” which leads me to believe this is not most books, so I don’t get how Voza fits in.

Voza loves singing more than anything else, but everyone knows she has the worst pipsqueak voice of the entire fifth grade chorus. The choral auditions this year are especially tough: they’re going to perform for the President of the United States, so Ms. Hohum, the teacher, must be picky.

This paragraph sounds incomplete. If she’s already in the chorus why do they need to audition, and are the auditions performed in front of the president?

Voza’s enthusiasm is contagious so Ms. Hohum keeps her in the chorus as the made-up Rest Leader. Voza practices the silences and all of the notes in between with a zeal only found in someone who will never be great. Moments before the big performance, Voza is the only one backstage, due to an unfortunate ice cream mishap. Her choices in this tough situation are inspiring for readers at every skill level.

Since you are writing a picture book, known for being short, there’s certainly no reason why you need two paragraphs to explain this book.

My biggest concern is that after two paragraphs I have no idea what this book is about. Is it about Voza’s audition? Or her choices? If it’s about her choices I need one paragraph that gets to the heart of the story. What is the tough situation and how will it inspire readers?


I’ve enclosed a copy of the manuscript VOZA SINGS, a well-paced picture book for mid-elementary grades. I’ve been writing professionally for several years and am a SCBWI member. This is my first work of fiction.

Terrific ending!

*

Look for the next query critique on Monday.

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Eight Things You Don't Know About Me

Very early this morning I was tagged by Christine Wells to post eight random things you don't know about me, and that I'm willing to admit. So here I go:

1. I'm a rabid Minnesota Vikings football fan. Don't call me when there's a game on TV and certainly don't call me if they've lost. I'll be in bed.

2. I failed grammar all through high school. A's for my writing and F's for my grammar. To this day I'm never sure when to use "then" or "than" (which you may have noticed), where to put commas, or how the heck you diagram a sentence (or why).

3. I love, love, love coffee and could drink it all day long. But I almost exclusively drink decaf.

4. My office is blue and green with a pink bathroom. Trust me, it looks better than it sounds.

5. I helped to start and run an independent newspaper in college.

6. I never read a romance novel until I was asked to do a reader's report in my first publishing job interview. Apparently I did well. I aced the report and got the job. The author was Pamela Morsi.

7. I was a Girl Scout until I was 16 and finished all there was to do.

8. I cry at the drop of the hat--movies, books, the RITA's. Any time people clap or cry I will inevitably join right in. And yes Christine, I'm sure I teared up when you won the Golden Heart.

Now I'm supposed to tag eight others to share those things about yourself that few know. I trust that eight of you will pick up the ball and run with it.

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Ebook Authors

I am a multi-published author with several published ebooks and short stories from two different publishers. I have a couple of print books coming out in the next few months. But I'd like to take my career to the next level. How open are you to ebook authors? I hear our stock is rising, but I'm not seeing that with colleagues. Any thoughts?

I addressed ebooks pretty thoroughly in January when I posted Reader Question: Thoughts on e-Books and Why I Say What I Say. However, everything can bear repeating.

Without even thinking too hard about it I know that at least five of the authors we have subsequently sold to other houses were originally epublished. Certainly BookEnds is more than open to ebook authors. You should use all of those reviews you are hopefully receiving to your best advantage by letting us know the positive things people are saying about your work.

—Jessica

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Sub-genre Encyclopedia

While I think everyone has a pretty good idea of what mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction are, it seems that confusion reigns when we start to discuss the various sub-genres. Often I’m asked to explain cozy mysteries, erotic romance, romantic suspense, and paranormal. Authors want to know what the differences are and how they should categorize their own books.

So, to make your lives easier, here’s a sub-genre encyclopedia BookEnds style. Please take note that all of these can be fluid and there are no exact rules. We only hope this “encyclopedia” will give you a better idea and understanding of what publishing professionals are talking about when they mention a specific sub-genre.

Cozy mystery
First made popular by Agatha Christie, cozy mysteries always involve an amateur sleuth: someone who, truthfully, has no business trying to solve a murder. These days the most popular cozies include a sleuth with a very specific hobby—a knitter, collector, or baker, for example. However, an amateur sleuth could also be a priest, a lawyer, or a cab driver. Cozy mysteries must always have a murder (what’s the point of a mystery without a body?), but are not at all gory. They should have very little to no blood and no violence (at least onstage). While cozies often include a romance (most books do), there is no sex or profanity. BookEnds represents a vast number of cozy mysteries. A quick perusal of our list should give you a good idea of what to expect from this genre.

Suspense
Suspense novels often include a cop, PI, or forensics expert of some sort, but do not necessarily have that “whodunit” element. Suspense novels rely on fear to propel the story. The reader may know who the villain is but will still be surprised to see what they do next. They’re often gorier than cozies, and can tell the story from various points of view, including the killer’s.

Romantic Suspense
This can certainly enter into blurry territory. Romantic suspense is always a romance first, but it’s framed by a very suspenseful storyline. The best way to gauge if your book is a mainstream suspense or romantic suspense is to think about your audience. Is a reader picking up your book because of the intense attraction and relationship between the two characters? Or are they picking it up to be engrossed by the action and creeped out by the bad guys?

Erotica
With the popularity of erotica and erotic romance and the desire for readers to read books with a higher level of sensuality, the lines seem to be blurring in these categories. So I’ll try my best to clear them up. Erotica is the hottest of the hot. Books with multiple partners, S&M, etc., would fall into the category of erotica. These books, at least the ones I represent, still have a strong storyline and a romance, but the sex is much more graphic and pushes the boundaries.

Erotic Romance
Erotic romance is an incredibly hot romance. The sex scenes are graphic and integral to the storyline, but involve only one man and one woman. While they might experiment a little and are definitely brazen, you won’t find them inviting a third partner in, or participating in group activities. They might, however, use some toys or pleasure themselves.

Paranormal Romance
A romance first, but with paranormal elements. They could be vampires, werewolves, or aliens. It could take place on another planet or involve magic and witchcraft. No matter what it is, though, romance is at the core of these books.

Category Romance
Category romance almost exclusively refers to books published by Harlequin/Silhouette in their lines or categories. These books are almost always shorter than single-title romances and always fit into a very specific series, like Silhouette Desire or Harlequin American. The lines all have very distinct guidelines and a voice. Category romances are sold through bookstores and, primarily, through mail order. They usually only stay on bookshelves for one month.

Chick Lit
Chick lit is almost universally described as Bridget Jones’s Diary, the first in this relatively new genre. What most people fail to realize, or what got lost in the excitement over a hot new trend, was that Bridget Jones’s Diary was not such a smash hit because it was about a twenty-something with failed dating and work experiences and bad habits. It was a success because of its voice. Chick lit is about the voice, not necessarily the subject. It’s funny, irreverent, and a quick read. The subject matter itself can and should vary.

I hope that helps. Please let me know if I’ve missed anything, or feel free to expand on the genres as I’ve described them. For those of you writing in any of these specific genres, I’ll let you take the opportunity to pitch your own books or those you’re a fan of to give readers an idea of what they should be reading in each of these sub-genres.

—Jessica

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Query Critique #1

Thank you for this opportunity to share with you my story, Storm Shadow, an 80,000 word paranormal romance. The book is part Practical Magic meets The Twilight Zone, and part The Sixth Sense meets Rebecca.

Don’t thank me. I didn’t give you an opportunity and it sounds sniveling. Be strong right up front. There’s no need to thank me, because your story is so good I should be thanking you for giving me the chance. Try: Enclosed is Storm Shadow . . .

This book is way too many things. The only reason you compare your book to someone or something is to give your reader an easy description. I have no idea what kind of book this could possibly be. If your book is part something and something it can only be two somethings. I also think that it’s stronger to say Storm Shadow, an 80,000 word paranormal romance, is Practical Magic meets Rebecca (although I can’t see how that would work). Using the word “part” makes it sound like they aren’t fit or blended together.


Faith Carmichael never intended to get stuck on the interstate in the worst thunderstorm of the century (who does?), but when her car blows a tire she's forced to wait out the storm. The rain is so heavy, she can barely see the overpass in the distance. When the storm finally eases, she gets out to change her tire, and finds a set of Samaritans who seem to appear out of nowhere to help her continue on her way.

She arrives in the sleepy little town of Badger Creek, the birthplace and now the final resting place for her paternal grandmother, a woman she barely remembers from her childhood. She hadn't planned to attend the funeral when she first heard about it, but a call from her grandmother's lawyer explained it was imperative for her to go to the funeral and be at the bequest afterward.

The good people of Badger Creek mourn the passing of Lynella Rose Carmichael. But as the storm returns and grows into a fury, they prepare to welcome their new weather witch, and are quite prepared to do
anything to keep her.

Isn’t this your entire hook here? The two paragraphs preceding this feel like backstory. In fact, I would delete them. They add nothing. If you’re comparing your book to Practical Magic, Twilight Zone, and Sixth Sense, I need to know in the next paragraph how it compares.

Why don’t you try something like, “Strange events start occurring the minute Faith Carmichael arrives at her grandmother’s funeral. The townspeople seem intent . . .,” and since I don’t understand how the paranormal fits in, I’ll have to leave it to you here.


At present the book is only half finished, but I was curious if you thought it had merit. Thank you for your time.

If you don’t think it has merit why should I? Agents aren’t in the job to critique ideas or work, we read submissions ONLY to find new clients. If you want advice on your idea or a critique, join a writer’s group.

And don’t thank an agent for her time. Your time is just as valuable as mine. Simply let me know that you look forward to hearing from me. Stay strong. Think car salesman.

*

Check back Thursday for the next query critique.

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Using Google for Publicity

Isn’t Google one of the most amazing inventions of all time? I can find anything there, do anything there. It’s crazy! What did I ever do without Google? I was thinking recently about Google Alerts and how much fun they are. I can find out when someone is posting something new and nice, or not so nice, about me or about BookEnds. I know many of my clients use Google Alerts to track publicity and reviews for their books. But how can Google Alerts be used for more than just spying on ourselves?

Well, hear me out. What if you set up an alert for Regency romance or werewolves or even holistic moms? If those alerts came back, you could contact those Web sites or blogs who have an interest in the same subject matter you’re writing about and try to connect personally with potential readers. Granted, sending them an email might be a little intrusive, but what about posting to the blog or, better yet, offering yourself up for an interview or sending an article you’ve written on the subject?

The possibilities of Google Alerts are endless, and while I feel brilliant for coming up with this idea I’m sure many of you are already doing exactly this. If you are, how have you found that Google Alerts, Google, or other similar Web sites have helped your publicity?

—Jessica

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Publishing Is Just Guesswork

Whenever I'm asked what I think an author will get for a book, I always let them know that it's all a guessing game, but give my opinion. It looks like I have plenty of backup on how much of a guessing game this entire business is: www.iht.com/articles/2007/05/13/business/books14.php.

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Editing Your Manuscript

I recently got a full-length mirror and I hate it. For years I went without, only viewing those parts of me I was comfortable looking at—my hair, my shoulders, my neck, and of course my shoes. But now I’ve decided it’s time to really know what I look like before I face the public. After all, it benefits me to know I have a run in my tights before I’m speaking in front of a crowd.

You know why I have refused to get a full-length mirror for so long? For the same reason authors cling to their favorite chapters or passages. It’s easier to love the parts than it is the whole. To really, honestly succeed in this business you need to stop parceling out your book into those favorite parts and start looking at the entire thing. No matter how much you love that clever little sentence, does it really work with the entire book as a whole? And is it really necessary to have those first three chapters? No matter how much you love them, do they truly add anything to the story?

In the same way I need to stop closing one eye when critiquing myself in that horrible full-length mirror, you need to stop clinging to those favorite passages. Readers are not evaluating you on one sentence alone, but want the complete package.

So, I’m off to buy a new full-length mirror, one that doesn’t make me look like I’m standing in a fun house. How do you intend to start looking at the whole?

—Jessica

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Query Critiques

Are done! Whew! Look out next week because here they come. I did five as promised and if I'm feeling kind I might do a few more and give you some bonus critiques.

Thanks to everyone who participated. I haven't decided whether I'll do queries again, but I do have some other ideas for critique-like posts.

--Jessica

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BookEnds Talks to J. B. Stanley

J. B. Stanley
Book: Fit to Die
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Pub date: May 2007
Agent: Jessica Faust



(Click to Buy)


J. B. Stanley is a former middle school teacher. An eBay junkie and food lover, Stanley lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, two young children, and three cats. She is the author of the Supper Club mystery series and an Antiques & Collectibles Mysteries. Stanley is also a contributing writer for Richmond Magazine.

Author Web site: www.jbstanley.com

BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
J. B.: James Henry and his dieting group, the Flab Five, are feeling motivationally challenged. A new ice cream shop has come to town, but so has the Witness to Fitness weight-loss center, run by the fanatical Veronica Levitt. Maybe Veronica's "take-no-prisoners" approach is just what the group needs. But when they poke around in an arson case that turns into a murder investigation, the Flab Five discover that they may have bitten off more than they can chew.

BookEnds: What do you think distinguishes your work from that of other authors of this genre?
J. B.: Most culinary mysteries focus on delicious foods. Mine center around the ups and downs of “having your cake and eating it too.” For example, have you ever removed a ponytail holder or completely dried your body of excess water before stepping on the scale? Have you avoided that instrument of torture completely the morning after a large Mexican feast? I love food. I love to eat it, read about it, and write about it. But I also deal with the repercussions of my ever-slowing metabolism. My characters share my love of food and hatred of diet and exercise. In Fit to Die, the Flab Five suffer through aerobics workouts and lite frozen entrees, but I do let them cheat on their diets. After all, I do!

BookEnds: What is your favorite thing about this book?
J. B.: I like that James Henry, my librarian protagonist, has finally decided to pursue a romantic relationship with Lucy Hanover. Their tension relieves some of the villainy ensuing throughout the rest of the book. James and his father, Jackson, are also drawing closer in this book and I enjoy the brief glimpses of Jackson's softer side. I also love the fair scene in which pig races and a Ladies Literary Hat Contest are two of the main attractions. The frozen custard descriptions will leave you hungry, too, so read this book on a full stomach.

BookEnds: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
J. B.: Edit, edit, edit. Find folks to read your manuscript who have a keen grasp of the English language. Find the friends that will give you honest feedback. If they tell you those jeans that make your butt look huge are flattering, then don’t ask them to critique your manuscript. Ask a voracious reader, a librarian, or a teacher and then give them the freedom to be critical. After your manuscript is polished, show half a dozen people your agent query letter. It is the most important piece of writing you will ever craft. Make it get you and your work noticed!

BookEnds: What has surprised you most about the business of publishing?
J. B.: One word: promotion. I had no idea that I would be responsible for my book's success. Having no business background whatsoever, I was pretty anxious about promotion. Truth be told, I still am. Many mid-list authors struggle over the value of signings, newspaper ads, hiring publicists, etc. I wish I had a foolproof formula to offer, but I am in the learning phase myself. Joining MWA and Sisters in Crime has been helpful, and all aspiring writers should become members of a writer’s association in order to glean nuggets of wisdom from those authors who are more experienced in the field.

BookEnds: What one thing do your readers not know about you?
J. B.: I legally changed my name to Obi-Wan Kenobi to win a $1,000 cash prize in a radio contest. I even have the driver’s license to prove it.


Feel free to ask J. B. questions in the comments section. She'll pop in during the day to answer them.

To learn more about J. B. Stanley, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Publishing's Dark Side

I know I should be heading home but before I go I needed to log in and talk a little bit about the negative side of getting published. I know I've touched on this before, but I think it bears repeating. I spent almost my entire day boosting the confidence of some of my clients. Writers who are smart, creative and dang good. Really, I'm not just saying that. When I read one of my clients' published works I'm impressed. These are amazingly talented writers. And yet, after talking, blogging, conferencing and networking with other writers all of them (with completely different experiences) came back beaten.

I think of myself as an optimist so I hate to say this, but the downside of getting published is that almost universally authors confront jealousy and negativity. They have to deal with other authors (and I imagine editors and agents too) who feel that it's their responsibility to "set them straight." Suddenly no one is cheering them on. Instead they're tearing them down. And it drives me crazy!!! And it makes me mad.

Do you know that I honestly want to see every author succeed? When I reject your work it's not because I want you to fail it's because I don't think I am the one who can bring you the best success. And I would think that as fellow writers you could put the green-eyed monster away and truly wish each other well. This is a really, really tough business and we all know that success today doesn't necessarily mean success tomorrow which is why it's important that we all support each other and cheer each other on. After all, that author who gets the contract today might be the same one who gives you an amazing quote tomorrow.

I hope I was able to remind my clients that they truly are deserving of the success they are having. This is why I'm here. I don't just sell books and negotiate contracts I also listen and mend wounded psyches. I started this blog as a way to help everyone achieve success and I hope that all of my readers will make some attempt to pay that forward. Support each other and if my pep talk doesn't help, think of it as good karma.

Jessica

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The Evolution of the Rejection

When authors submit to agents, I always say there’s an evolution that the authors and their works go through. Now of course there’s always the possibility that some of you might skip a step or two, but for the most part all of you will go through this evolution in some form or another.

1. Form Rejections: You send out query letters or proposals and you get nothing back but form rejections. Some are nice, personal-sounding notes, while others are badly photocopied or just a red rubber-stamped “NO” across the top of the page. These aren’t easy to swallow, but it’s all part of the game.

2. Requests for More: Whoo-hoo! The agent read your letter and it must have been a dang good letter because she asked to see a partial. She wanted more . . . and then she sent you a form rejection. Hey! Don’t get upset. You’re at step two. You’ve written a query letter that’s strong enough to grab an agent’s attention. Now you need to focus on improving those chapters.

3. Requests for a Full: Holy crap! You got it! The letter was good, the first few chapters were strong, and she wanted to see the full . . . and then she sent a form rejection. Okay, okay. You’re writing is strong, your idea is good, but you’ve worked so hard on those first three chapters that you neglected the rest of the book. Back to the drawing board, but hey, you’re at step three!

4. Personal Rejections: Whether the agent read the full or just a partial she felt drawn to it enough to take time out of her hectic schedule and to give you concrete feedback. It’s still a rejection, sure, you don’t understand what she’s saying, sure, but look at it this way. She actually liked your work and your writing enough, or felt that you had enough talent, to try to tell you exactly what was wrong with it, or why it didn’t work for her. Either you’re almost there or she was just having a nice day. Either way, pat yourself on the back, you’re getting closer.

5. Asks to See More: This is huge, huge, huge and don’t you forget it. No agent needs more work and no agent asks an author to keep her in mind for future works unless she really means it. Clearly she liked your style, your writing, and even your idea. If she wants to see more of your work then you dang well better keep her in mind.

6. The wait is over! This is it. You are there! You got an offer of representation, and if you don’t know what to do about that, next week I'll post on how we recommend you handle that offer.

That’s the evolution as I see it, but let me know if there are any steps I missed.

— Jessica

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Title as Billboard

Yesterday I pointed out that you shouldn’t get too stressed about your title. Ultimately, it’s the content that should speak for itself.

However, if you happen to be a PR-savvy kind of gal/guy, a great title can indeed help you sell a book—most notably in nonfiction. Let’s use the inevitable example: The Secret. Face it, if this book was titled The Power of Positive Thinking, it would not have generated the same kind of press. It took a few years to really catch fire, but once it did everybody was whispering, “Have you heard about The Secret?” That title—okay, and Oprah—was the best marketing tool an author could have.

Publishers Weekly recently ran a column by Robert Miller (president of Hyperion) called “Perfect Book Titles.” Some of his examples for the best of the best were Don't Sweat the Small Stuff, Women Who Love Too Much, 1000 Places to See Before You Die, and the grand prize went to When Bad Things Happen to Good People. They’re all catchy, easy to remember, and give you a sense of the book without spelling everything out for you.

The key to a great title is to think of it as an advertisement. It doesn’t have to tell me everything, it just has to catch my interest.

What are some of your all-time favorite book titles?

—Kim

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Book by Any Other Name

Titles can be a real source of angst for a lot of writers. Sometimes I think my clients spend as much time trying to come up with the perfect title as they did writing their masterpiece! It’s true that titles can be important, but I’m not sure that all writers get just HOW it’s important.

To be honest, it’s much more important to avoid the wrong title than it is to have the right one. What I mean is that you shouldn't agonize over it too much. At least 50% of the time (and I’m sure it’s actually much more often) the publisher is going to change the title anyway. They’ll ask for your input, but most often the final decision rests on their shoulders. So if you get too married to your title, you may find yourself disappointed.

What editors and agents tend to notice more (and not in a good way) is a bad title. If I get a submission with a title that’s boring, way too over-the-top or overly familiar, I’m probably not going to drop everything to read it. And when I start to read the book, the author’s really going to have to work hard to regain my attention. But if I pick something up that sounds intriguing, mysterious, and catchy, I may decide to kick up my feet with the manuscript and abandon my e-mail for a while. Honestly, I’m not going to care if the title sums up the entire story to me. Don’t kill yourself trying to come up with the PERFECT title—especially if you’re writing fiction. Just endeavor to find an eye-catching one.

On that note, the three of us have compiled a list of the titles we’re tired of seeing:

  • #1 by a landslide—SECOND CHANCES
  • Anything with “DESTINY”
  • Anything with “CODE”
  • MIDNIGHT CROSSINGS
  • DEEP (or STILL) WATERS
  • THE LONG WAY (“ROAD” is interchangeable here) HOME
  • HOME AGAIN
  • FOOL’S GOLD
  • SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME
What are some titles that you’re sick of seeing on bookshelves? Better yet . . . what are some overdone blog titles? Go ahead . . . we can take it!

—Kim

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Know When to Fold 'Em

In response to a recent post I wrote on whether or not to hire an editor, I received this email:

My quandary is that I have a thriller that has gotten extremely positive feedback by my writer's group (a harsh group of folks, some of them published) and two college professors (one of whom I was a student of and who is known to be brutal in his criticisms). Over and over again I have heard how good the book is (with one main criticism, which I mention below).

So . . . of course . . . the manuscript has been rejected over 100 times now. I get more than form letters most of the time (handwritten notes, advice, etc.), which is nice, but I'm getting hit for stuff that seems unfair (I am male and my main character is female and the novel is a thriller written from the first person perspective which I guess is a no-no, especially for a rookie novelist). One editor nibbled but did not bite.

The main criticism is that the first fifty pages (of 400) moves slowly, then the novel really takes off. I set up the entire novel that way (sigh) and tossing the first fifty pages impacts almost every single chapter thereafter. I have struggled for six months now on how to get my head around fixing the issue and I am plain stuck. Do you think an editor could help dig me out of this hole? If so, is there one you could recommend?


Publishing is not about selling a good book. Publishing is about selling a book that will sell, and rarely does that have to do entirely with how good the book is. Usually it has a lot more to do with how marketable it is. Sure that has a lot to do with how the book is written, but it also has a lot to do with plotting, characterization, and hook. In this case my recommendation is to put this book safely away under your bed and start over. You know what’s wrong with it, you know you probably can’t fix it (or you don’t want to), so move forward. Take what you know about this book and use it to write something else.

—Jessica

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Malice Market News

Okay, confirmation has been made so I can now report some of the news I heard at Malice...

Rumors flew at Malice that Avon was cutting its mystery program. In talking with two editors today we learned that things have been greatly exaggerated. Avon is not cutting the mystery program. According to one editor they are still very much in the game, just becoming more selective about what they are buying.

This is the news as we know it.

Jessica

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Congratulations!

Back from Malice and slowly recovering from the late night and early mornings. A big congratulations to Sandra Parshall for her Agatha win for Best First Novel. It was really fun to have two nominees--Sandra and Karen MacInerney were nominated in the same category--but extra fun to have a winner.

I love attending a conference like Malice. It's a time for me to connect one-on-one with my clients and really sit down and discuss what their goals are and share my thoughts. We talked about new series ideas, the books they are currently working on, contracts, career concerns and overall plans for the future. I know that a conference like this renews my excitement about books we sold and are selling and I hope authors feel the same way.

So congratulations again!

Jessica

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Malice Domestic Mystery Conference

Right now I'm sitting in my hotel room at the Malice Domestic conference scrambling to get out to the cocktail party (which I'm already late for) and the banquet. I didn't arrive until 10am this morning, I hopped on the 6am train) and it's been go, go, go since I got here.

I've had great appointments with all of my clients and I'm thrilled with how hard they're all working, how publicity and marketing saavy they all are and what great ideas they have. I actually have five clients here and I've heard that BookEnds made quite the impression at the Berkley Prime Crime dinner last night with (could this be possible) close to ten clients. Someone will have to chime in and tell me if my numbers are off.

There has been some very upsetting news regarding one of the publishers, but unless I get the information from the source itself (which we haven't done yet) I'm not comfortable reporting on it. So stay tuned and we'll see what we can tell you later this week (if someone doesn't comment on it before that).

Okay, off to cheer on our two Agatha nominees and eat what's probably guaranteed to be very mediocre conference food. I'm having lots of fun and plan to report more later in the week.

Jessica

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Friday, May 04, 2007

New Submission Policy

Earth Day has come and gone, but the work we do to help the earth stay healthy needs to be an ongoing process. That’s why BookEnds is announcing a new, greener submission policy.

No longer will we be accepting unsolicited proposal submissions. Like most agencies, BookEnds now only accepts queries or e-queries. Our updated guidelines can be seen on our Web site’s Submissions page.

This is actually something we’ve discussed for quite some time. We like proposal packages because we like having the chapters in front of us. However, the amount of paper we are recycling on a weekly basis is astounding. Therefore we will now be accepting only those proposals we’ve requested.

So, if you have an unsolicited proposal with us already, that’s fine. We’ll read it. And if you are about to send one that’s been requested, continue to do so (via snail mail). However, if you are about to send an unsolicited proposal, stop. Send a query instead.

Hopefully this will help cut down on our submission response times and of course save the planet.

—Jessica

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BookEnds Talks to Bella Andre

Bella Andre
Book: Red Hot Reunion
Publisher: Pocket
Pub date: March 2007
Agent: Jessica Faust



(Click to Buy)


Before writing romance, Bella Andre got a BA in Economics at Stanford University, worked as a marketing director, and strutted hundreds of stages as a rock star. She is also a Feng Shui consultant and gives the popular workshop “Feng Shui for Writers” both online and at RWA chapter meetings. She lives in Northern California with her fabulous husband, children, and dog.

Author Web site: www.BellaAndre.com

BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
Bella: Celebrity chef Jason Roberts isn't the same guy he was in college, when Emma Holden turned her back on their thrilling unpredictable passion to marry a rich jock handpicked by her parents. Now, for their ten-year reunion, he’s cooked up a plan for revenge. It will begin with an appetizer of teasing, taunting foreplay . . . and conclude with heartbreak for dessert! But Jason is startled by divorcee Emma’s ardent response to his sensual advances. By the time he serves the main course—sizzling hot sex—Emma isn’t the only one hungering for more. So who’s turned the table on whom? Explicit sex.

BookEnds: What is your favorite thing about this book?
Bella: The book begins at a ten-year reunion at Stanford University in Northern California (where I went to college) then moves in Napa Valley (I lived in the wine country for ten years) for the rest of the book. I loved getting the chance to write settings that I know so intimately. Emma and Jason fall in love while exploring natural hot springs, hot air balloons, and—of course—vineyards.

BookEnds: What other authors do you find inspiration from?
Bella: Pretty much everyone! I adore other authors. Writers are, as a rule, fun, supportive, smart, tough, and emotional. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do without my girls. You can meet many of them on my group blog at www.fogcitydivas.typepad.com. The best bunch of people (and writers!) you are every likely to meet.

BookEnds: Where do you get your ideas?
Bella: The celebrity magazines that I devour on a weekly basis. No, I’m just kidding. Mostly, I think I get my ideas from what’s happening in my friends' lives or perhaps just a “what if?” moment. For Red Hot Reunion the idea came straight from “What if two estranged lovers saw each other at a college reunion for the first time in ten years? What if they had done terrible things to hurt each other the last time they spoke? And what if they were still as in love with each other ten years later?” It was very rewarding to write such an emotional, sizzling story.

BookEnds: Why have you chosen to write in the genre in which you write?
Bella: Honestly, because I enjoy the freedom to write very emotional stories while being given free reign over the sensuality. I think that the Romantic Times reviewer put it best when she said about Red Hot Reunion: "Another sparkling book . . . filled with emotion, excellent characters, wonderfully described settings, and sizzling sex." Plus, I really like the word "sparkling"! ;-)

BookEnds: What else are you working on?
Bella: I am very excited about my next series with Pocket—The Bad Boys of Football. I’m working on the first book right now and the one thing I know for sure is that it’s going to be a very sexy, very fun book.

Feel free to ask Bella questions in the comments section. She'll pop in during the day to answer them.

To learn more about Bella Andre, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Competitive Book Selling

I’m competitive by nature, have been my entire life. I always wanted to be the best and still do. Even as a Girl Scout it was never enough to just sell cookies, or sell the most cookies for my troop. I had to sell the most cookies for the entire town. And I did. So I know firsthand the good and the ugly of competition. What I’ve learned is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with competition; it’s comparison, competition’s ugly best friend, that we need to be afraid of.

You can’t compete unless you know what you’re competing against, and while competition can be good (in controlled doses), comparison can be deadly. And don’t try to tell me that you never compare yourself to others. We all do it: writers, agents, publishers, moms, dads, even dog owners spend their days comparing themselves to others. And while it doesn’t hurt to look at others and see the comparison, it does hurt when you start to value yourself based only on that comparison.

On a regular basis I’m fielding calls from clients who have heard that Author X was getting this and “I’m only getting that.” And regularly I’m reminding authors that they can’t compare. While you might know that Author X got a four-billion-dollar advance, that’s all you know (or at least think you know). You don’t know anything about the rest of the contract, her book sales, or even what the marketing and publicity campaign will be, if any. The only thing you know is what you are doing and what you are getting. That’s the only guarantee.

So go out there, compete with Author X. Make sure your books are edgier, funnier, and just plain better. But don’t try to compare your career to hers. You can’t control what she’s getting or doing, you can only control yourself and your writing and what you should be getting. The less time you spend comparing yourself and the more time you spend doing, the more success you will have. I can guarantee that Author X doesn’t give a lick about you. She’s too busy working to perfect her own career and make sure she’s the best.

So as an author, published or unpublished, what do you see as your biggest competition and what do you do to make sure you rise above it?

—Jessica

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

An Intervention

Over the past two weeks I’ve become obsessed with the blog. I’ve done research on how to increase traffic and studied which posts elicited more comments and more traffic than others. I’ve thought about it all day long and late into the night. And it wasn’t until Webmaster Bill suggested that we might want to try and get a mention in major publishing magazines that the light bulb went off. I suddenly realized that it had happened to me. I see it with authors all the time, but I never thought it could happen to an agent.

I had become a publicity addict. I had gotten so caught up in the ego of the blog that I lost site of my true role. My job is to sell books, not to blog. The blog is a way for me to connect with readers, publicize my authors and help teach people the business of publishing. But it’s not my job.

This realization couldn’t have come at a better time. I had been trying for weeks to write a post on publicity addiction and here I was living it. Publicity is critically important and all authors should be doing it to some extent, but as Kenny Rogers says, ‘you have to know when to walk away.”

So how do you know you’re a publicity addict? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Do you think about publicity more than you think about your next book?

Are you more concerned with seeing your name in a magazine, newspaper, online review, or other blogs than you are about seeing your name on the cover of a book?

Are you more excited about getting your name in magazines, newspapers or blogs than you are about seeing your name on the cover of your book?

Are you spending all or most of your advance on publicity?

Are you compulsively doing publicity because others have told you what they do or do you actually know that it’s working for you? In other words, have you seen a return on investment?

Are you now writing your second, third, or fourth book and spending just as much time and energy doing the same publicity you did for your first?

If you said yes to even one of these questions it’s time for an intervention. Let’s face it folks, publicity is an ego trip. Sure we are branding our names and letting people know the book exists that’s why we started publicity. But a publicity addict has lost site of that goal. She’s no longer just trying to brand. It’s become about her ego. Just like my addiction to the blog. It no longer became about promoting the business, it became about being the best blogger. You know what? It became a popularity contest.

I run a business. And in any business time is money, and money is money. No business (remember, authors are a business) succeeds by spending all of its time or money on publicity. A successful business spends no more than 10-15 percent. And that’s all any of us should be spending--ten to fifteen percent of our days and ten to fifteen percent of our advances.

If we are going to continue to do publicity and we want it to work we need to remember what our biggest campaign should be. No publicity is going to work if your product isn’t there. First priority needs to be making sure that each book you write is better, stronger, sexier, funnier, scarier and more brilliant than the last. Just like I need to remember what my true focus needs to be. Each contract I negotiate needs to be better, stronger, scarier and more brilliant than the last (I’m going to skip sexy and funny). By doing that we’ll be our own best publicity.

I am slowly coming out of my addiction and you will too. It’s going to be a long road, but for right now I’m off to sell some books…

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Reader Question: The Queries We're Getting

Hi. I'm always interested in what kinds of queries agents are getting. Are there common themes in character names, plot ideas, something that is just way out there? Did you find something in the query box that got you excited? Are people following your submission guidelines?

This is a fun question and I’m not sure how to answer it. Obviously not all agents get the same types of queries. Queries differ based on your reputation, what you represent, where your name is listed, and who knows you exist.

I don’t notice a trend in character names, although I suspect there is one. What we do notice, and what we’ve been putting together a post on, is a definite trend toward titles, especially those that seem unoriginal and that, frankly, we’re sick of seeing. Plot ideas also tend to trend—especially if writers start to see sales of a certain type of book or hear editors talk about a theme they are looking for. Almost a year ago I sold a werewolf romance. There weren’t many and the author and I both saw it as the next thing after vampires. Now I’m getting at least one werewolf romance a day and editors are close to full on both vampires and werewolves.

I’ve found a lot of really great queries and proposals lately and have requested more than a few full manuscripts. At this moment I’m most excited about fiction with more suspense elements. Of course I’m always looking for anything with a good hook, but suspense it what I’m gravitating to.

And do people follow our submission guidelines? Ha! I wish. No, really, most of you do a fantastic job. I don’t expect them to be followed to the letter, although it would be helpful, but there are the few who call, those who feel that chapters 7, 18, and 42 constitute the “first” three chapters, those who send attachments, and of course those who send illustrated children’s books or poetry. You can always tell when certain agent listings are published (and I will mention names later) by the quality of submissions we are receiving.

I will try to do more posts on queries and what we’re getting to keep reminding you all of what life can be like behind the stacks of submissions.

—Jessica

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Subjective Business

I was talking to an editor this morning, pitching a new book that I'm very excited about, when the editor said to me that she wasn't interested in the project since it went against her political leanings. And this really got me thinking. How much can you learn about an agent or editor by taking a look at the books she works on. Can you tell what year she got married or when she started to have kids? Can you tell what her political leanings are?

We say it all the time, book publishing is a completely subjective business and it goes well beyond whether or not you like a book, sometimes decisions are made based on whether or not you morally or politically agree with the author. For example, a junk food junkie is unlikely to buy an organic living title and someone who hates children is probably not interested in "mom lit."

Another reason why agents can be so important to your career. I do know which editors will openly claim to hate children and which ones are afraid of overtly sexual love scenes. I also know which editors can't read about child abductions and which ones love gore.

Now I need to go evaluate my bookshelves and ask myself what they say about me...

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Query Critiques

I may be opening myself up for more than I’m ready for, but here goes . . .

I hear it all the time, authors who complain that they can’t even get an agent to read the proposal. “How am I supposed to get published if no one will even read a chapter?” Want to know a little secret? You can be the worst writer ever but have agents clamoring for your work if you just write a strong query.

So what am I going to offer you? Five lucky readers brave enough to post their full query in the comments section will get a thorough critique on the blog. It’s not necessarily the first five, or the last, but the five that I think I can give the most thought-provoking and constructive critiques to. For one week I will post each query with my comments and suggestions for what is missing and ask readers to contribute their own thoughts.

So brave readers, here’s your chance. A free critique from me. Post away. . . .

—Jessica

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