I’ve been asked a lot in the past few weeks to discuss various contract issues. Most notably about Simon & Schuster and Triskelion’s recent bankruptcy. The reason I didn’t get on board with the Simon & Schuster discussion was that I felt everyone else was handling it very well. I know Kristin Nelson did a post on the subject as did every news source and most other blogs. However, you asked and you shall receive...
Simon & Schuster
For those of you who have been vacationing in a cave since mid-May here’s the scoop: Simon & Schuster changed their standard contract language to hold perpetual rights to any book contracted. In other words, they would consider a book in print, under exclusive contract with S&S, as long as it’s available in any form, including erights sold only through S&S, whether or not even one copy had sold. Needless to say, authors, agents, and all their perspective organizations were up in arms. I think the real damning thing for S&S was that they claimed this clause was non-negotiable.
The question I’ve been getting a lot lately is whether or not other houses will follow. Well, to some extent houses have been trying this for years. The truth is that when a house buys you they want to hold on to your rights as long as possible. You never know when you’ll become the next Stephen King, and having that backlist can really pay off. It’s up to the agent to negotiate a minimum at which a book is considered in print (either number of copies or amount made within a certain time period).
I’m not going to get into the details of the back-and-forth between S&S and the Authors Guild. The truth is that S&S now agrees to negotiate this point and other publishers will as well. This is a business and in any business each company (whether the Publisher or Author) wants to get the most possible. It’s in your best interest to own everything for as long as necessary. The same goes for the publisher. That’s why it’s our job to negotiate tirelessly to make sure the contract is as fair as possible (and as beneficial to the author). Clauses will always be added and changed to cause an uproar, but thanks to organizations like the Authors Guild and AAR, as well as individual agents and authors, we can always and will always fight back.
Most authors in the romance world know by now that Triskelion publishing announced that it is closing its doors and filing for bankruptcy on July 2. Triskelion was a small press focusing primarily in the romance and women’s fiction market. Obviously this is a mess. A number of authors are caught in the middle, wondering if their rights are reverted to them or if they are stuck in legal limbo.
DearAuthor.com has a great discussion on the issue, but of course I wanted to add my two cents. Keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer, and since each case is different I’m not going to get caught up in a legal discussion of what could, should, or might happen. What I am going to say, quite frankly, is that I would advise most of you to look forward. In all likelihood Triskelion’s creditors are not going to want to spend the time or money to try to republish books or find a publisher for those not yet published. After all, if Triskelion couldn’t make the money off them, why would someone else, and this is a really hard business to make money in (something for all of you thinking of starting a publisher to consider), so wouldn’t it just benefit them to count their losses and walk away? I would think so, but I’m not in their boardrooms.
There is a lot of information out on how to handle this or where to get advice. I believe RWA is actually offering free advice on what authors can do. In the meantime, though, I would consider your Triskelion book, for now anyway, a book that’s tucked away under your bed and work diligently to make your next book even bigger, better, and stronger. It’s frustrating to know that a book you wrote might be stuck in nowhere land for a while, but it’s not going to do you any good to obsess over it. I am sorry for everyone who has to deal with this. It’s never good when things start to spin out of your control.
If you have any specific questions about this, please comment and ask. I’ll check in and try to answer them as best I can.
Friday, June 29, 2007
I’ve been asked a lot in the past few weeks to discuss various contract issues. Most notably about Simon & Schuster and Triskelion’s recent bankruptcy. The reason I didn’t get on board with the Simon & Schuster discussion was that I felt everyone else was handling it very well. I know Kristin Nelson did a post on the subject as did every news source and most other blogs. However, you asked and you shall receive...
High School Reunion
Pub date: May 2007
Agent: Jessica Faust
(Click to Buy)
Author Web site: www.kimberlydean.com
High School Reunion: Roma's high school reunion is approaching fast—and she's not ready. She has a good job, but she needs the whole package if she's going to make that killer entrance. A toned body, great outfit, and hunky escort are crucial. Fortunately, personal trainer Jake might be the eye candy she needs.
A Case Study in Being Flexible
In a recent post, Kim discussed the importance of remaining flexible when it comes to your work—particularly in regards to the story title. I thought I’d give you a behind-the-scenes look at what happened during the evolution of my story, High School Reunion, because you may be asked to compromise on more than just the title. As an author, the trick is knowing just how much you can bend, yet still feel comfortable.
• Be flexible on timing (aka having patience). This is the hardest one for me. I submitted the manuscript for High School Reunion under an option clause I’d committed to with Black Lace Publishing, but I waited a year to hear back from them. When I finally decided to pull my submission, my editor latched on to the story and wouldn’t let go. They’d just started a new line of erotic romance called Cheek, and they thought this story would be perfect for it. Would I be interested in changing lines? Um, let me think about it. . . . Yeah.
• Be flexible on unimportant content. My editor was concerned because my lead female character was named Rory, which is primarily a man’s name in England. (Cheek is a British publishing house.) Would I mind changing it to Roma? No big deal. That’s a cute name, too, and Word has this nifty little feature called “replace all.”
• Be flexible on titles. High School Reunion was initially titled Body Heat. My editor thought this had been overdone. She wanted something catchy, sexy, and current. Yet when she proposed High School Reunion, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. I don’t see that as being catchy, sexy, or current in any way. However, she thought that readers could relate. I conceded on this point, but it’s still my least favorite title of anything I’ve published. I bowed to her marketing sense on this one. Would I do it again? I don’t know.
• Be flexible on edits. When edits came back, my editor wanted a significant addition. She requested that more conflict be added by making one of the villains also Roma’s rival for Jake’s attention. I thought this was a great idea. What I didn’t consider great was that I was asked to do this in a week. I absolutely drew the line at that. I can not take apart a puzzle, add more pieces, and put it back together with any semblance of order in a week. I negotiated for more time. Know when being flexible might break you.
In the end, my editor was very happy with the finished product. So was I. While there had been many changes, the story was still mine—and the changes were mostly for the better. High School Reunion has received some of my best reviews to date, and now it’s being re-released in mass market format. Yay!
Feel free to ask Kimberly questions in the comments section. She'll pop in during the day to answer them.
To learn more about Kimberly Dean, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
I'm having one of those days where I'm doing nothing but business and busy work. Oh, it's very important work, but it feels like busy work sometimes.
I've just finished my expense report. Something I'll often put off for months and that needed to be done.
I'm still working on setting Linda up, our new assistant, so I ordered her a new printer (one that works) and plan on getting that together yet today.
I reviewed some royalty statements and sorted through the mail.
I booked an Amtrak ticket and hotel to Washington, DC. I'm off to meet with an author for some brainstorming, editing discussions and overall business planning. She is in the DC area on business so asked that I make the trip down so we could talk. Obviously I can't fly all over the country every week or, truthfully, all over the world since I have authors everywhere. But when an author does ask and truly feels like she needs a sit down to discuss things I will make every effort to make that happen. I don't feel that my authors take advantage of me and I will drop things when necessary. When someone calls my cell phone at 7 pm or wants to book a phone appointment at 6am it's usually an emergency or, better yet, really exciting news. And I'm willing to take that call. I think giving people time when they truly and desperately need it means that they respect your time more. I haven't been taken advantage of yet, but I'm sure I'll keep you posted.
The most interesting thing I've done yet today is read an email from an attendee at the RWA meeting I spoke at last week in St. Louis. It's from an author who I had the privilege of spending a great deal of time with. I really enjoyed talking with her and respect her opinions. So when I opened myself up on the blog to discussion points based on that talk she used the opportunity to send me a three-page email of points I should consider. The email actually came on Monday, but today was the first opportunity I had to really sit down and study it. There were times when I laughed out loud. You can definitely tell she's a professor. I felt a little like my college paper was being edited/critiqued. Don't worry though. I promise I won't call and lambaste her for her comments. In fact, I'm thrilled she did it. I printed out the email and made notes throughout. You can guarantee that you are going to see a lot of this material show up on future posts. She mentioned talking points like how to set goals and plan for contract commitments, what happens when you don't fall in love with a client's future manuscripts, and a discussion of rational disconnects in manuscripts. I hope to get to all this and a lot more before summer is out.
Now I'm off to clean my desk, continue sorting through mail and, well, just figure out what's going on.
The single-title contemporary romance market seems to be kaput for now . . . yet authors like Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Catherine Anderson, Susan Wiggs, Susan Mallery still manage to hang on to their share of the market. What common denominators account for their continued success (other than being named "Susan")? In your opinion, do they write "high concept" contemporary romance?
In your opinion, can an author build a strong career today—like the ladies above—in straight contemp romance/romantic comedy?
Wouldn’t it be great if all you had to do was change your name to Susan? The truth is that all of these women began their careers in another time, a time when straight contemporary was an easy sell. Since then they’ve built a strong readership that buys every book they write.
A market doesn’t go stagnant or dead or kaput or whatever word we’re using these days because no one, ever, anywhere isn’t reading it; it becomes that way because it gets flooded. When a market is hot, like paranormal romance is now, editors buy everything they can get their hands on and it isn’t long before there are too many books and too many authors for the readers. It’s simple supply and demand. The readers get tired of being inundated, the cream rises to the top, a few stars remain, and it suddenly becomes a market that’s called dead. It’s called dead because the numbers slow. Why do the numbers slow? There are too many books. Is it really dead? No way, it’s just more challenging. Editors are no longer needing to fill lists with contemporary romance, they already have what they need. So to break into it now you’re going to have to work a little harder than you would have had you hit it when things were hot. You’re going to have to write a better book and you’re going to have to make it different and exciting. You’re going to have to give it some kind of hook.
You also need to realize when looking at so-called dead markets that you can’t compare what editors are buying to what’s on the bestseller lists. Once authors consistently hit bestseller lists they are no longer connected with a genre or sub-genre. They are a genre onto themselves. Stephen King is a perfect example. He doesn’t write horror. He writes Stephen King.
So remember this, dear writers. Dead is never dead. The readers, they will come. Dead just means challenging.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
If you've ever done any sort of agent research at all you should know to be aware of the scam agent—those “agents” who prey on unsuspecting authors for money only. People in the publishing business preach constantly about scam agents. You can read in-depth on how to avoid them on Preditors & Editors, the amazing Writer Beware blog, and of course the esteemed Miss Snark. What I don’t think we talk enough about, though, are bad agents. Not the “agents” who are looking to scam you out of your money, but the agents who are just incompetent. While one will take your money and make you feel the fool, the other has the ability to cause some short-term damage to your career. While the damage is rarely irreparable, it is harmful nonetheless.
An incompetent agent is much more difficult to spot than a scam agent because she usually follows the rules. In other words, it’s unlikely she asks for reading fees, or “suggests” you hire outside editors. No, Bad Agent often has the best of intentions. She really does want to sell your book, she just doesn’t know how. She doesn’t have the contacts, the knowledge, or the publishing experience to truly be what an agent should be for you. If she does sell your book it’s probably a fluke and unlikely that her contract negotiation skills are really going to benefit you in the way an agent should. In many instances the author could have done just as well negotiating the contract as Bad Agent. Bad Agent also fails to realize that her job doesn’t end there. In fact, there’s a lot more she needs to do than just sell a book. Bad Agent doesn’t have a clue when it comes to marketing, market advice, or strategy, and rarely can she advise you on where you should go from here.
And what harm can Bad Agent do? Well, like I said, it’s not necessarily irreparable, but it can be endlessly frustrating. Since Bad Agent doesn’t have contacts within the industry she doesn’t know where to even submit your book. In fact, in all likelihood she doesn’t know much more than you. What she does know is what you already know—what editors are buying according to their listings on Publishers Marketplace. While that's a good start to making new contacts (and editors contact me through my posts all the time), it can't be your Rolodex. Contacts are those people who call you back and read work quickly simply because they know your letterhead. Any agent who tells you that Publishers Marketplace is the key to her selling strategy is not the agent for you. No good agent is going to start her submission process by posting your listing on the Publishers Marketplace Rights Board. She doesn't have to. She knows that she'll be more successful sending your work to her contacts. Bad Agent doesn't have contacts, and that's evident by the fact that her submission process means first posting your book on the rights board. She doesn't know how else to do it.
If Bad Agent does sell your book, it’s probably a fluke, and since it’s a fluke, it’s unlikely she has any knowledge of contracts. Any agent should know how to successfully negotiate the obvious things, like your advance and royalties, but Bad Agent thinks it stops there. She doesn’t have the proper understanding of things like option clauses, warranties, or subsidiary rights. She doesn’t think she really has to. While none of this will kill a career, a badly negotiated contract can certainly slow things down considerably. Bad Agent’s strategy is probably to negotiate the advance and maybe royalties, talk about the option clause, and add her agency clause. That’s it. In fact, in most cases Bad Agent’s “boilerplate” looks very similar to the publisher’s.
Publishing experience would probably have helped Bad Agent. If she had worked for a larger agency or a publishing house she would know who to call and how to negotiate a contract. More important, though, she would understand this very bizarre business. Do not be tricked into believing that because Bad Agent took a publishing course she knows the ins and outs of the industry. While publishing courses can be helpful, they do not teach the things an agent should know. (I’ve never taken a publishing course, so maybe someone can chime in to talk about what they do offer. I do know from talking to others that the biggest benefit was getting a job.)
So how do you avoid Bad Agent? How do you know, when there aren’t distinct warning signs like there are with scam agents? By carefully checking out every agent you query.
The biggest warning sign is that no one knows who Bad Agent is. When asking your writing groups (RWA, MWA, SFWA, etc.) about Bad Agent, you’ll get nothing but silence. Bad Agent doesn’t have a reputation, good, bad, or otherwise, because no one knows who she is.
References for Bad Agent will also be nonexistent. While no agent will give you contact information or a list of references, with a good agent you should be able to find a reference easily. A quick Internet search or a review of an agent’s Web site usually gives up client names. Once you find that, it’s not difficult to find an author Web site and contact information. Clients of good agents will happily give references. Clients of Bad Agent will be very, very difficult to find. If you do find clients of Bad Agent, pay attention to what she’s sold. Bad Agent will often claim client sales that were previously sold through another agent. Make sure that you ask references not only if Bad Agent sold the books for them, but if they were happy with the contract.
Bad Agent also won’t be able to tick off the publishers or agents she’s worked with, because they don’t exist. In fact, she’s likely to tell you more about her previous career as a marketer or car salesman.
Most important, though, with Bad Agent you’ll get Bad Vibe. It won’t feel right and yet you’ll do it anyway.
The worst part about Bad Agent is that by the time you realize you have one, you’ve probably already signed with her. My advice? Get out while you can. You know who she is and it’s important to remember that no agent truly is better than Bad Agent. The minute you know you have Bad Agent, there should be no looking back. Chalk it up as experience and move on.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
We are in a business where we feel we need to work 24/7. Spending time doing nothing or just hanging out with family and friends feels like a guilty pleasure and one we shouldn’t be allowed. If you’re a writer you think you should be writing, and an agent feels that time away from the office is time that should be spent reading client or other submissions. And email only makes this worse.
It wasn’t too long ago that a client apologized to me for not responding to the email I sent on Saturday. She was at the water park with her family. Imagine that? Apologizing for spending a weekend day with your family! Is it just us or is it the world we live in?
Let me tell you something. We all need to remind ourselves that downtime is equally important to working time. It’s where we come up with our best ideas and it’s when our brains recharge for more efficient and better work. If we don’t have time with our families, to curl up with a good book that has nothing to do with research, or to just veg out in front of the TV, we won’t be the best we can be. So if you can’t write a book every 3 to 6 months without giving up all sense of a “life,” you shouldn’t be writing a book every 3 to 6 months. If I miss out on a new client because I had to have a vacation, I missed out on a new client. You’ll be just as successful if you write a book every 12 months (as long as they are all the best book you can write) and I’ll be just as successful when I am the first to move on that next client.
I’ll admit I’m horrible at not working. I have a manuscript with me at all times and will make notes during dinner for new blog entries, revisions suggestions for authors, or even fresh book ideas. I can’t turn it off and I have to constantly remind myself that it’s okay to have a day here and there where I just don’t work. And that’s what this blog is for. To help remind all of us that it’s okay to not work.
Monday, June 25, 2007
I spent this last weekend with the Missouri Romance Writers group and want to thank them for making my time so enjoyable. I arrived in St. Louis Friday evening after a very short and uneventful flight where I was left alone to quiely read a submission I was excited about and catch up on some author material.
This particular event was not a conference, but the group flew me in to speak at their chapter meeting. I have to admit that in my old age I think I'm really starting to enjoy chapter meetings a lot better than conferences. For one, my workload is considerably lighter. Usually it's an evening and an afternoon and then I'm left to my own devices and two, since the group is smaller I'm also able to connect with them on a more personal basis.
Friday night we had an informal get-together/pot-luck dinner (I didn't bring anything) and Saturday I spoke for about 90 minutes and then took two hours of appointments. I commend the group for asking some really great questions and for not being afraid to ask whatever they wanted. We talked about contracts, what an agent does for you besides sell your book and they weren't afraid to ask about the most recent Triskelion issue, the Simon & Schuster contract clause and Harlequin in general. My only regret is that I didn't take notes as I went because I know some of the issues that came up would make good blog posts.
I wish I had a witty story about the stupid things writers do to share with you, but I don't. They were a really well put together and organized group. Everyone handled themselves professionally (yes, despite the talk of strippers) and I enjoyed meeting them all.
In addition to spending time with the MORWA group I also finished a submission I'm excited about (which I'll discuss later) and read an ARC (advanced reading copy) I enjoyed (which I'll also discuss later). Let's put it this way...I had two very interesting reading experiences this trip.
And now, I'm exhausted. It's amazing how much high heels, networking, "being on," and flying can wear a person out. So today I plan to catch up on those things I'm behind on and head out early to soak my feet, spend time with my family, and read one of my author's manuscripts.
If any MORWA members are reading and think that something came up in my talk that could or should be discussed in the blog, I'd be happy for the reminder.
I had two very interesting experiences in the same day that I wanted to share with you.
Recently I met an author during a pitch session and her enthusiasm for her book was amazing, it just bubbled over, and naturally it bubbled over onto me. She had a great idea and knew that it was her best book ever. Naturally she made me want to read it and I requested a full. Sadly I passed. I liked the writing and thought the story was a great idea, and of course I loved her, but I just didn’t fall in love with the story. I sent her an email to let her know, and of course I wished her the best of luck (which I do truly mean) and she responded so kindly. She was disappointed, too, but knows this business well enough to know that you have to find an agent who loves the work.
And then, moments later, karma intervened and I got an email from an author pulling her work from consideration. (I had only received it that week, and because it had been an insane week it was relegated to the bottom of the pile.) Anyway, this author had received another offer and, following the advice she learned from me on the blog, she interviewed the agent extensively. She told me who the agent was and that it really felt right. They clicked and she was going to accept the other offer. Ugh! I’m horribly, horribly disappointed, but thrilled. I can’t represent the world, and if I’m not going to do it I want to make sure you end up with someone who works for you, is reputable, and who will do an amazing job. It sounds like this other agent has all of those qualities.
Do you know what both of these brilliant authors did right? They acted professionally. And they started to establish a professional network. Because they acted politely, professionally, and built an email relationship, not only will I track their careers, but I will definitely stop to talk with them at conferences or other events where we might run into each other. I’ll probably buy the books when they come out and, presumably, if either of them are agent hunting again, hopefully they think I acted professionally and will think of me, and I will certainly think of them.
It never hurts to have a network of good people on your side, and that includes other authors, agents, and editors, so why not start when and where you can? I have a huge professional network, as do many, many authors, and I’m sure all of them can tell you how that’s come to help them as their careers move forward.
Friday, June 22, 2007
We've had such great responses on our posts about favorite stories and the best books we never read (I'm finally reading one now, by the way!), that I got to thinking about my favorite characters of all time. Some of them are from my top five books, but others stand out for me in a way that even transcends the works in which they were first introduced. Here are the BookEnds top picks:
Sydney Carton -- A TALE OF TWO CITIES is the first and only class assignment I can remember staying up to read with a flashlight under my bedcovers in the wee hours of morning. Sydney was such a dynamic character and I still get a little choked up thinking of his last words and the "far, far better place" he went to.
Mr. Darcy -- PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is definitely one of my favorite books of all time, but it's 90% due to the fact that Ms. Austen created my favorite hero of all time. Sure he's a jerk and a snob...but that's so HOT!
The Second Mrs. de Winter -- Well, this character certainly deserves some props somewhere, since she never even got a first name in her book. The demure, reserved narrator of REBECCA proves she's a lot stronger than she looks and turn out to be a formidable force by book's end. She represents just one of my favorite types of characters: the gothic heroine.
Perry Mason -- If only all attorneys were as honest, clever and insightful as this one. I devoured the Erle Stanley Gardner books when I was a teenager and was glued to the old TV series reruns.
Odd Thomas -- I'll try not to go on too much again about my love for Dean Koontz. But nobody's better at putting an average everyman into a certain situation or circumstance that makes him extraordinary. Odd Thomas is certainly the most fascinating short-order cook I've ever read about.
Jo March of LITTLE WOMEN -- As a young girl I related to any tomboy heroine who loved to read and write. And I love this spunky heroine with a mind of her own.
Hannibal Lecter -- I can't imagine a more fascinating, scary and brilliant character.
Lily Bart of THE HOUSE OF MIRTH-- A tragically wonderful heroine who I think we can all relate to.
Spenser -- Robert B. Parker's hero...and mine too. I just love the tough guy with the soft interior.
Scarlett O'Hara -- Selfish, spoiled and strong. I'm sure I would have hated her in real life, but I truly loved to read about her.
Heathcliff from WUTHERING HEIGHTS -- so tragic and romantic.
Stephanie Plum from Janet Evanovich's novels -- for laughing at herself and living large.
Jack Reacher from Lee Child's novels -- so clever, so strong, so good looking...and so lonely.
Hannibal Lecter from Thomas Harris -- for being so charming even while cannibalizing the wealthy.
The Creature from Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN -- for capturing rejection and alienation so completely.
What do you think of our picks and who are your best fictional friends?!
Streetwise Incorporating Your Business
Publisher: Adams Media
Pub date: June 2007
Agent: Jacky Sach
(Click to Buy)
Author Web site: http://hsi.sharpseo.com/
As I sat down to write this article, I came down with a severe case of writer’s block. I sat here for a while, alternately glaring at the blank screen and filling it with a long-running solitaire game.
I got up, threw in some wash. Did a little vacuuming. Unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher. Tidied up the action figures littering the living room. I’ll say this, writer’s block is my very best cleaning supply—better than the Swiffer any day (and I do truly love my Swiffer).
Next stop, cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer of any food I may have missed during my last bout of blockitis. After all that emotional eating, I feel obligated to take a brisk walk around the neighborhood. This serves a double purpose: burning up calories, and as a thinly disguised pathetic attempt to run into a neighbor and avoid my blank screen for even longer.
Today there was no one outside, probably because it’s raining. I do my exercise/guilt lap and head back down to the dungeon of gloom and doom—a.k.a. my office on days that the writing just won’t come. That’s a lot of days, more than I ever realized there would be when I threw in the towel on “real” jobs and threw my hat into the full-time writing ring. I used to be terrified by it, but no more.
Writer’s block is frustrating, disappointing, intimidating, and scary. And not so bad…
Once you surrender to the block, you can use that time to do virtually anything other than write. I used to fight it. I tried all the tricks: writing gibberish, retyping something I’d already written, making idea lists. The truth is that none of those things work for me, nothing really does. So rather than let myself feel desperate, frustrated, and hollow, I just surrender. I walk away and do something else, trusting that at some point the words will come back.
Now that I’ve accepted that it just happens sometimes, writer’s block doesn’t scare me quite so much anymore. And my kitchen floor looks really, really clean.
Feel free to ask Michele questions in the comments section. She'll pop in during the day to answer them.
To learn more about Michele Cagan, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
I’ve been a busy little bee the last week or so and hope I can remember all that I learned.
One of the best things about meeting editors for lunch is how much you can learn. Sure it’s about connecting, networking, and getting to know each other on a more personal level. But it’s also about getting a better understanding of a house or an imprint. During a wonderful lunch with an editor at Wiley I was told some distinctions between their separate imprints that I had never heard before. Suddenly it all made sense! It’s amazing how one person can put it into perspective.
Unlike a lot of houses where editors can buy pretty much anything across the board, Wiley focuses on keeping their editors specialized. They have someone for business, someone for health, and someone for current affairs, rather than three people buying everywhere. This particular editor’s focus is almost entirely on health titles, the more specific the better. Like a lot of editors doing health books, she likes things to be "disease-specific." It seems that few people will buy books on general issues, but the minute you get kidney stones, diabetes, or heart disease, look out. Suddenly you’re a health book buyer. One thing she sees as an up-and-coming trend in this area are brain health books, which I thought sounded interesting. She would like to see more of these. And then, in an odd switch, she told me that she also really likes pop science books like our own The Medical Science of "House, M.D." The kind of books science lovers read for fun.
In other news, and other genres, an editor from St. Martin’s Press is newly acquiring mysteries, suspense, and thrillers. Her preferences are more along the lines of Louise Penny or a younger, more modern Mary Stewart. Since she’s younger herself it’s not a surprise she prefers those over someone like Lillian Jackson Braun (her words). She likes traditional mysteries but doesn’t fall in love with the hooks that so many cozies have these days, things like recipes or cross-stitching patterns. And of course she’s always looking for something darker or more psychological, which seems to be a common theme.
And in a recent conversation with a Berkley editor I heard an oft-repeated request: women’s fiction. Every editor I talk to wants to see more women’s fiction. Of course it has to be really well written and different. If you’re going to tap into the same old stories—the older woman who’s cheating husband finally leaves, domestic violence, the death of a loved one, etc.—you need to do it with a new hook and some pizazz. Not an easy request.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
The latest trends in conferences seems to be critiques. No longer am I just expected to sit on a panel, give a workshop, and do pitch appointments. Now I'm also expected to read material ahead of time and meet the author in person for a face-to-face critique. And so far I'm hating every minute of it. Critiques are difficult for writers in the best of circumstances, but done with an agent you presumably want to impress and in person (when it's difficult to hide your reaction), I suspect that more often than not they're a recipe for disaster.
During a recent series of critiques at least one author was no less than hostile. So much so that I stopped the critique in the middle, handed her material back to her, and suggested that she read it on her own time. With every comment/suggestion I made she was argumentative and condescending. If I suggested she explain something further, she implied (through tone only) that maybe I was stupid for not understanding. As the conversation went on she got angrier and angrier, and by the time she left she suggested that quite possibly I wasn't worldly enough for her work.
I know I'm not a soft and cuddly person, but I don't think I'm an evil witch either. My impression of a critique is that you're not there so that I can simply sit and praise you. You're there because you really want to know what you can do to make your work stronger and, more important, make it marketable to a publisher. I also assume that you're asking to have a critique with me because you respect my 15 years of experience both as an agent and editor and truly want to know my professional opinion of your work. Does that mean you should take everything I say as gospel? No way. In fact, as with everything, I recommend that you feel free to always get a second opinion. However, I do expect that you'll listen respectfully to my comments with an open mind. That you'll at least consider what I'm saying and why I'm saying it. I don't do critiques as a way to tear down writers. My purpose is to try to help.
Maybe I go about things wrong, but during this particular event at least two authors were hostile and angry with me when our time was up. I really think they expected to sit down and hear me gush about their work and ideas and hand over a contract on the spot. Instead I told them both the little changes I thought they could make to strengthen their work, and the larger, more global problems. The real shame is that I wasted my time. I sat for more than an hour making notes on chapters and thinking carefully about what needed work. I know those pages ended up in the trash.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
A question for you. I am currently filling out my agreement and agent information forms for the Desert Dreams 2008 Writers Conference--I know, I know it's late and I apologize. One of the things they are asking me is what workshops I'm willing to present. One is already on BookEnds--an overview of the agency and a question and answer session. So while I have a list of conference topics I'm always speaking on I want to hear what you think. When you go to conferences what would you like agents to talk about? What have been some of the better workshops you've attended? Or what from the blog do you think might make a good workshop?
I can give up to three workshops and am more than happy to give as many as necessary, but I'm feeling drained of ideas. So I'd love to hear what you think.
Almost every week you hear me talk about the need for an agent thats right for you, and yet almost every week I get a reply to a submission that says, Come on. If you find it interesting, why dont you give it another chance? Because, in truth, its not fair to you that I do.
I find a lot of books interesting. I am an avid cook and love cookbooks. I read memoirs in the winter and literary novels when theyre recommended to me and, as a parent, I read lots and lots of childrens books. I find them all interesting and enjoy most of them. However, I dont represent them. Because theres a big difference in liking a book enough to read it for pleasure and representing it.
In order to be the best agent I can be and the most successful for you, I need to know the market. I need to have contacts within the publishing houses and with editors, but most important, I need to understand what makes a book work in that genre. There is no way I could represent childrens books because I have no idea what would make one alphabet book better than another.
Thats why I cant stress enough the importance of getting an agent who represents the types of books you write. Its not going to do anyone any good to try to convince an agent to work with you. If she doesnt have the passion for your book or knowledge of the market, she can do more harm than good.
Monday, June 18, 2007
This is going to be one heck of a week. In fact, the next few weeks are going to be crazy for me. I'm going to be out of the office a great deal at lunches, meetings, and conferences. So while I'm going to try to keep up with my Day in the Life posts please excuse me if I miss a week or two.
So what did I do today? Let's see...
My first task was to sort through the huge stack of mail that I hadn't sorted through in close to a week. Oh sure I'd glanced through and sifted and pulled out those things that were extra important--like client checks, contracts and maybe a submission or two, but for the most part I tried to ignore the toppling pile. So today I tackled it. I sorted, skimmed and even read a proposal or two. So far there were no keepers in the pile that I could see so most of it went on the submission shelf, a few were immediately rejected and of course the checks were quickly sorted for depositing.
My next task, and the biggest of the day, was to prepare a submission. I received the proposal last week from a client and was really impressed. She had done all of the work and revisions I had requested and she had done them very well. So I sent off an email letting her know that it was ready to go and I was going to start the process. And then I asked a few questions that I knew would come up before an offer was made. Questions like how long will the book be and how long will it take to write (this is a nonfiction proposal by the way). And then I got to work.
I always say to authors that submitting to agents should take nearly as long as it takes to write the book. And of course I'm exaggerating, sort of. Submitting a book does take a long time. All day in fact. I have to draft a letter. A really fabulously exciting marketing letter. I want to grab an editor's attention with my first sentence and convince her that this is the greatest book to cross her desk this year, maybe even this decade. I would say that, on average, it takes me at least an hour to draft a submission letter that I'm happy with. I need to find the perfect pitch phrases and wording. What are the most important aspects of this project? The author's credentials or the book concept itself? What should I mention first and what can I leave out? What is going to be critical to a sale and what is better left unsaid?
And then I need to do my research. Sure I know most of these editors personally, but I need to double and triple check that their tastes, houses, or names haven't changed since we've spoken last. I need to know what each editor's most recent deals were. While I'm constantly in touch with editors, I'm not constantly in touch with every editor I know which means that in two month's time someone could have quit, moved, changed their interests or just plain disappeared off the face of the earth. It's my job to find all of these things out.
Once my letter is perfect I review of Publishers Marketplace. Here I can do a contact search and refresh myself on what some of my favorite editors have been up to. Publisher's Marketplace can give me insight into what they've been buying lately and most importantly it can tell me if they've recently bought something very similar to my project, which would take them out of the running. Once I'm confident that I have a strong list of editors who will definitely clamor for my project it's time to make the calls. Either by email or phone I make that initial contact to see if they are interested in my project and how they would like it sent--email or snail mail. In most cases the editors get back to me very quickly and I have my reply letter and attachment ready to go. In this case I contacted 10 editors right off the bat and most have replied to the affirmative. I also have a list of editors that I've yet to get in touch with and will do so tomorrow. They aren't necessarily second tier (in case you're reading this) I just needed to do a little more research before choosing which editor I preferred at certain houses.
This week will be spent reviewing and updating my submission list. Making notes on how editors reacted, who seemed the most enthusiastic and which editors are on vacation and until when. In about 4 weeks it's time to check in and start bugging editors for answers. If of course I haven't already sold the book.
Wish us luck!
This recently showed up in Jacky’s inbox:
Subject: Agents for John Grisham and/or Dan Brown
Could you direct me in the right direction for these two pieces of information. If you know, I will send you $50 for the agents of the two names.
Since a quick Google search can get you this information, maybe I should take my $50 and run.
Truthfully, though, this is a question a lot of authors ask. How do you find out the name of someone’s agent? If your work is similar in vein to someone else’s, does it make sense to submit to that person’s agent?
Besides a quick Google search, I of course always recommend you read the acknowledgment section of an author’s books. Often she will list her agent’s name at some point or another. For those of you who have been down that road, do you have any suggestions of your own for the best way to search for agents?
As for whether or not you should submit to an agent who represents similar work, it really depends on how close the book is. For example, don’t send me another cozy mystery with a knitting, crocheting, collecting, supper club, rubberstamping, etc., hook. I’ve already got those covered. But if you have an idea that’s similar to one of those, but not the same, I’d be more than happy to take a look. Get it? I don’t want anything that’s going to directly compete with the work I already have on my list, but I’d love something to complement them.
Friday, June 15, 2007
Do agents often give out their cards rather than face the (hopefully) distasteful task of telling authors they aren't interested? Or did I just have a good pitch?
Also, when an agent asks for chapters, should "Requested Material" be written on the envelope? Does it get to the agent faster that way?
Yes. Agents admit to me all the time that they just request everything that’s pitched to them because it’s easier. Why is it easier? They can reject it when it gets to the office, or even have an assistant reject it, and they don’t have to deal with the author’s reaction face-to-face. Cowardice? Yes, probably. Stupid? Not when you read back through the many crazy responses I get to rejection letters. Can you imagine getting those in person?
Is it necessarily a bad thing? Not if you’re getting your work into someone’s hands. You never know what will happen when it crosses an agent’s desk. My thoughts on whether or not your pitch was good is really about how people reacted. Did it seem as if they just handed over a card mechanically? Or did the agents seem obviously enthusiastic? If you got requests universally I would safely assume you have a strong pitch. There’s always one or two who will reject the work if they don’t feel your pitch was strong.
Feel free to write "requested materials" on the envelope. In my office it doesn’t make any difference, but in another office it might.
And congratulations and good luck.
Murder Grins and Bears It
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Pub date: May 2007
Agent: Jacky Sach
(Click to Buy)
Deb Baker writes two mystery series. The Yooper series features Michigan amateur sleuth Gertie Johnson. She has a stun gun in her purse and a nose for trouble. In the Dolls to Die For series, Gretchen Birch, an Arizona doll restoration artist, unravels dollicious mysteries.
Author Web site: www.debbakerbooks.com
Murder Grins and Bears It: On opening day of bear hunting season in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a game warden is murdered right under Little Donny’s tree stand, and Little Donny has gone missing. Sixty-six-year-old Gertie Johnson is forced to use her “unique” investigative techniques to try to find her favorite grandson.
Are you a destination or a journey person? When I get in the car with my husband for a long ride, I’m already groaning and complaining even before we leave the driveway, because I know exactly what he’s going to do. I want to get there as fast as possible. “Any stops,” I announce, “five minutes tops.” But I’m wasting my breath. He likes to pull off the freeway every hour. Topping off the gas, another cup of coffee so we’ll have another bathroom break soon, reading announcements posted in waysides. How can he like diesel-smelling truck stops and highway blacktop when the tropics are awaiting us ahead?
All I can focus on is the destination. He enjoys the journey, talking to other travelers along the way.
I want to learn to slow down, make every minute count and savor the moment. Because there is no final destination in the getting published and staying published business. If you aren’t published yet, you probably think that getting an agent or publishing contract is Baja California. If you’re published, you’re thinking you’ll arrive in Key West just as soon as the numbers add up. You pick up speed, desperate to get there before the hurricane season.
I’ve had a great ride. This month, I turn in my sixth book. Two series, two contracts fulfilled, three of those books still to arrive on the shelves. I’m halfway around the world in my travels. I want to believe my final destination is right around the next corner in the form of another contract, bigger and better than the last. I could focus on that and watch the highway miles fly by, and miss all the action along the way.
But I’m trying to learn to enjoy the journey. I have to remind myself to live in the moment, to stop thinking ahead, to stop worrying about what’s coming next. We need to celebrate every little victory—a good writing day, a plot twist that surprises even us, a new story we want to tell. Anything over and above that is a gift.
Enjoy the journey, because it never ends.
See you on the road.
Feel free to ask Deb questions in the comments section. She'll pop in during the day to answer them.
To learn more about Deb Baker, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
It's been a busy, busy day here and I thought I'd take a minute to drop in to share what's going on. A rambling email if you will of all the things I've been trying to get done today. I think I'm going to attempt to do this more often. Just a simple day in the life email so you can get a feel for what my day-to-day activities might be like.
Linda our new office assistant just started and already I'm excited to see her taking on those things I just don't have time to do anymore. Primarily though I'm excited to have someone to keep me organized. I tend to think of myself as a very organized person, but I've reached the point where there are a lot of things I need to keep track of and I just don't have the time to track it all. Linda will help me track exactly what stage we're in with contracts (whether we're still waiting for the publisher to send it, whether we're waiting for the signed copy from the author or whether we're waiting for the check from the publisher). She'll also be able to tell me exactly where we are with submissions by taking over the submission log. As well as a long list of other tasks.
In preparation for Linda's arrival (which of course I didn't have time to do until today) I've been trying to get her computer and email set up and her desk somewhat organized. I'm sure she'll be happy to tell you that I failed miserably. The printer is still not hooked up and I had to order additional software. I only hope that by next week we'll be good to go. The trouble with small businesses is that you just don't have a staff to do all of the little things for you. Where is my tech support anyway?
In addition to welcoming Linda I've reviewed contracts for a couple of books I'm excited about. One is a deal I made in January or February (how did this contract negotiation take so long) for an erotic romance single author anthology by Elizabeth Amber and the other is a holiday knitting mystery that's part of Maggie Sefton's very successful series. Both contracts (after more than a few rounds with the publisher) were finally in order and finally ready to mail out to the authors. Yippee!
And, let's see, what else have I been doing? I've reviewed the reader's reports written by our interns. I'm really impressed with the two students we have this summer. So far they both seem very bright and astute. They are hard workers and I hope they like it enough to stay in the business. I think they would make great editors someday.
I also spent quite a bit of my day (in fact quite a bit of my week) talking with authors. Brainstorming future book ideas, discussing career planning and generally just checking in to see what's next. I think that you might be surprised by how much of any given day can be spent on the phone with a client, just talking over ideas and discussing current proposals. Brainstorming ways to make the book stronger and strategizing how to get the most buck for our book (boy I'm funny today).
And now I might have some time to sneak in a proposal. I have a requested full here that I'm anxious to get to and yesterday I found another book that I requested a full for...a women's fiction. I'm feeling lucky so we'll see what else is in there.
Wish me luck!
I received so many great comments and questions after Query Critique #10. Bear with me, I’ll be getting to all of your questions, but I wanted to respond to this comment first:
Admittedly, I'm at a loss as to why this query captured you so much. There's redemption and destiny, and a very generalized feel to it. I'm not sure what the conflict/story is. There's the mc who has to defend a world she doesn't like. How? Why? What's up with the angel's redemption? Why does he want to challenge Lexie to come out of her shell? Is there an attraction between them? Jessica, you have harped on getting that conflict in there at all costs and what makes the story unique. What are you seeing here that is going totally over my head? This could be a great story, it might not, but I don't see anything that tells me really what's going on. Curious.
The shape-shifting rock, of course. Paranormal is really hot right now. It might die next week, but in this very moment it’s what everyone is looking for and fallen angels, demons, and certainly a shape-shifting rock are some of the few creatures that are yet to be overdone in the paranormal romance market. So those elements alone make the book stand out. You’re right. This author failed to give me anything about conflict or story, but her writing captured my attention (in other words, she could clearly write) and ultimately I was so struck by the concept of inanimate objects that shape-shift that I’m curious to read more and learn about how a shape-shifting rock fits into a story.
In this case the author was lucky. She wrote something that happened to interest me enough that my curiosity was piqued. Would this work in every instance? Absolutely not! And because she failed to include any conflict I do have hesitations and concerns that the book overall won’t work. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not curious enough to read more. Do you know that in my younger assistant days (when I had much more time) I was actually known to request full manuscripts out of curiosity? I knew that they probably would never fly, but there was something there that struck me enough that I had to read more.
Thanks for calling me on this and asking about it. You’re correct that every good query letter will let the reader know what the conflict is, and in this case the author didn’t do that. But sometimes there’s one thing that can grab an agent enough to make her request more, even if the conflict isn’t there. For example, if you sent me a query today about a forensic medical examiner in the paranormal realm—someone who has to know all the intimate details of vampires, werewolves, and humans—I would probably request more even without a defined conflict. That alone would hook me in.
However, never count on the fact that you have that one thing. A conflict in your query will get you much further.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The Social Pitch
Yesterday I told you about that conference with roughly 50 pitch appointments. Well, what I didn’t tell you about were all of the authors who also pitched me in elevators, after panels, or at the cocktail reception. It never ended, and you know what, I hardly remember any of them. Except for two very nice men. Two guys I’m going to call John and Mike. John and Mike were not only active volunteers at the conference (they did that as a clever way to get to know the agents better), but they actually talked to me. At a conference of almost 300 attendees they were two of probably only five authors who made an effort to just have a conversation with me. Amazing, really, since I am a very clever and witty conversationalist ;)
Of all the pitches and of all the people, the two I remember most are John and Mike, and, when their material crosses my desk (whether now or five years from now), I’m going to remember them. They made themselves remarkable. How did they do it?
They bought me a drink. I know, I know, but I’m a sucker for a cocktail.
They wanted my honest opinion (and didn’t get mad when I gave it).
They could tell a joke. (Laughing is good.)
But most important, they just wanted to talk. They asked me how I felt about the conference, what my experience was, and questions about publishing as a whole. See, most agents and editors love their jobs and love to talk about nothing more. We go to conferences because we like sharing our insights into the industry, the market, and what’s what. And isn’t that information you want to know?
The one thing John and Mike didn’t do was line up to pitch. Yes, it’s true, I have had, more often than I wish to count, people literally form a line while I’m trying to enjoy my drink so that they can pitch. They don’t want to talk to me, they don’t want to join my conversation because it’s all about them (and really, we all know it should be all about me). Don’t do this! Whatever you do, do not do this! If you see a line forming, stop it. Save that agent. Buy her a drink and start a conversation with her and ask everyone else to join in. I can guarantee that you’ll always be remembered as her rescuer.
So, you’re asking, how do you go from this pleasant conversation to your pitch? You know what? You don’t. It’s not necessary. When time is up, things are winding down, or you’re ready to leave the agent to someone else, simply ask if it would be okay to submit to her and take a card. No need to pitch, because she’ll remember you. Leave the pitch for your letter.
If you don’t believe me, ask your fellow authors. I will bet that all will say the connections they made that are strongest were those made in social settings and those that didn’t have anything at all to do with a pitch.
Oh, one last thing. Thank you so, so much, John and Mike. You truly were the bright spot in a very, very long day.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
I was recently at a conference where I had been scheduled for roughly 50 author pitches. Yes, that’s right. Fifty. Can you imagine what it must have been like for me to sit in a cold room for hours listening to author after author tell me the five-minute version of their book? Think about it. Do you really think I remembered all, if any, of those pitches?
No, I didn’t. Let me tell you, there’s an art to the pitch. Whether you have a scheduled pitch appointment or happen upon an agent in an elevator, there’s a way to present yourself and your book that can almost guarantee that you lock yourself into an agent’s memory. And there’s a way that will ensure the agent forgets you before you even walk out the door.
The trick? Make friends. Make yourself stand out and be remarkable.
There are two ways I’m gong to frame this. First I’m going to talk to those of you who have a pitch appointment and I’m going to give you those key secrets that agents want when getting pitched to. And then (tomorrow), I’m going to talk to those of you who run into an agent at a cocktail party, in the elevator, or are lucky enough to find yourself seated next to one at a luncheon.
Pitch Appointments . . .
Stressful, scary, and for some reason always, always in a cold room. Pitch appointments are dreaded by authors, and you know what? By agents too. By the time I’m done I feel like I’m nothing but a means to an end, and all too often I’ve had to deal with the hostility of a disappointed and disgruntled author.
When it comes to pitch appointments I so often hear authors console themselves by saying that an agent has to read the book anyway (and agents and editors will often say this too). Well, I’m here to tell you that’s a lie and something only the “nice people” say to make you feel better. Call me jaded or just call me mean, but the truth is that after 15 years of author appointments I know within your first three sentences whether or not it’s worth my time to read more. I don’t know if your book is perfect and I don’t know if it’s publishable, but I do know whether it’s worth my time.
For those of you who haven’t yet experienced an appointment with me, let me warn you: I’m not mean (at least I don’t think I am) but I’m not phony either. I don’t request material unless you’ve convinced me to request it . . . and I’m a hard sell.
So what can you do to convince me? Know your hook. If you don’t know what makes your book different from everything out there that’s ever been published, if you don’t know what a hook is or what your hook is, then you aren’t ready to pitch. Some examples of hooks I represent . . .
* The Naked Earl (the title alone is a fabulous hook), a Regency-set historical romance with steamy sex scenes and lots of humor.
* A hot, erotic romance that begins when the main characters meet for the first time in ten years at their high school reunion.
* A cozy mystery series featuring knitters/crochet/rubberstamping/etc. In doing research, I find this is still an untapped area in the cozy market.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Rarely, if ever, does the hook have anything at all to do with the story. It’s that one line that makes you stand out from the crowd, that shows that your book is different. It’s the one thing that makes me stand up and say, “Hey, I’ve never heard of that idea before.”
Once your hook is out, move on to your background. What makes you qualified to write this story? What awards have you won? What else can make you remarkable?
So then what? Once you’ve told the agent your hook, what do you do? The most depressing thing to me is that when the pitch is made (and really, three to five sentences tops! I don’t need to listen to you ramble about your book for ten minutes) and my comments are voiced, the author gets up and (sometimes) runs from the room. Why are you wasting such valuable time? This is probably one of the few times in your life when you can actually talk, uninterrupted, with an agent. Use it! Ask her questions about herself, the agency, the business, the market, something that’s been bugging you from an earlier panel. In other words, if your hook didn’t do it, find another way to make yourself remarkable.
If it wasn’t this book it might be the next. And again, I appreciate it if someone treats me like a human rather than a pitch machine and will appreciate you more if you’ve made a personal connection with me.
For those of you who have experienced the dreaded pitch appointment, what have you found worked or didn’t work for you? How can you recommend others prepare a successful pitch?
Read on tomorrow for how to approach that agent in a social setting. . . .
Monday, June 11, 2007
When Hilary Clinton talked about needing a village she was talking about raising children. I’m talking about “raising authors.” I truly believe that to build a successful writing career it takes a village. This was never more clear to me than recently when an editor included me on her revision letter to one of my clients. The author and I had already gone our rounds—she had made some revisions at my suggestion before sending her manuscript to the editor, but somehow I had missed the terrifically valid points this editor made.
And while my client was dismayed and terrified at first—it truly is going to take some seam ripping—I think in the end she’s thrilled (or at least I hope she is) that she has an editor who cares enough to ask her to rip the seams out. When I read the revision letter I agreed with everything this editor had said. It’s not that the book is bad or even marginal. In fact the book is quite good, but this editor thinks it can be even better, and so do I.
I think that between the comments I had made previously, the revisions requested by the editor, the brainstorming between the author, the editor, and me, and of course the author’s own amazing talent, she’s going to have a real winner on her hands. Or dare I say, we’ll have a real winner on our hands?
Selling books, finding an agent, and even editing are subjective, and while I try not to get overly involved in what is not my role (since the editor has the final say on when a book is ready) I know that sometimes multiple viewpoints can truly help make a work shine.
Friday, June 08, 2007
It's the first official summer Friday of the season (for most anyway) and what a glorious day it is. Summer Fridays are (from what I understand) primarily a publishing phenomena. Most publishers, and therefore many agencies, close their offices Friday afternoons in the summer. I suspect it's so the upper-ups can head out to their beach houses before the roads get too clogged, but it's a great bonus for everyone. For me it means the option of working Friday afternoons, but better than that, it means Friday afternoons are free from editor emails and phone calls and quiet enough that I can slip out to a coffee shop or park bench armed with manuscripts to read. My goal this summer is to catch up on my submissions. Of course, every summer my goal is to catch up on my submission reading.
Already today is eerily quiet, the humidity might have something to do with that of course. It's going to be brutal here today. But I'm just about done with my office tasks and am getting ready to head outside to get some reading in.
Before I go though I want to officially welcome Jamie and Lisa our two interns for the summer. Already they've been a big help and I'm hoping that by the end of the season they have a new understanding of publishing (and still like the business) and learn something. I'm also hoping they can help me get through those stacks of submissions.
Happy Summer Friday everyone! Wish me luck in finding a gem or two in that paper stack.
Joyce and Jim Lavene
Poisoned Petals (Berkley Prime Crime) and Swapping Paint (Midnight Ink)
Pub date: May 2007
Agent: Jacky Sach
Click to Buy Poisoned Petals
Click to Buy Swapping Paint
Joyce and Jim Lavene are the authors of more than 40 novels in romance, mystery, and nonfiction. They live in North Carolina with their family, who puts up with trips to the mall to find murder weapons and new ways to poison people over Sunday buffet.
Awards: Three N.C. Press Awards
Author Web site: www.joyceandjimlavene.com
BookEnds: Describe your books in 50 words or less.
Jim: Poisoned Petals – Charlotte, NC, botanist and garden shop owner Peggy Lee is back in her third book as she tries to find the truth in a twisted scheme of lies that leaves one man dead and his brother taking the blame.
Joyce: Swapping Paint - NASCAR meets Nick and Nora as race fans Ruby and Glad Wysznewski solve the first Stock Car Mystery at Lowe’s Motor Speedway when Ruby’s brother, a rookie driver, is accused of murder.
BookEnds: Do you have advice for writers?
Joyce and Jim: Be yourself.
Sometimes we wonder if writers SHOULD belong to writing groups before they’re published. Between critique groups that tell you what you’re writing doesn’t measure up to their standards and writing groups that tell you too much of what you CAN’T do, it’s a wonder any writer ever makes it past the rigid gates of other people’s personal opinions.
Certainly it’s good to know the basics of writing, but do we have to pigeonhole every bit of creativity until we are only left with homogenous stuff that reads like everyone else’s stuff because we are all TEACHING each other to write rather than FEELING what we SHOULD be writing?
Take some chances. Write things that may not be what other writers say are going to work. Put things the way you see them, NOT the way your critique group thinks they should be. Take some chances. Maybe you’ll get it published; maybe you won’t. But if you NEVER try, you won’t know.
Too many writers out there TONIGHT are ripping their work apart because a good friend, an editor, or critique partner told them their work wasn’t worth it. Who cares? Write it anyway! Step across the line. Make your mark. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Do it YOUR way! WRITERS REVOLT!
Feel free to ask Joyce and Jim questions in the comments section. They'll pop in during the day to answer them.
To learn more about Joyce and Jim, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
[Breathing a big sigh of relief.] Finished, done, the query critiques are all posted. First let me apologize for not getting to all of them. I just didn’t have it in me. But please do give me some credit. Originally I only promised five and in the end I did just a few more. I hope you were all able to learn something from my comments.
Before ending this little lesson I wanted to talk a little about some of the comments I received and about queries in general.
First things first, saying thank you. I know this raised the ire of more than one of you, and so of course I continued in that vein throughout my comments. It’s kind of fun when you all get worked up ;) The truth though. I couldn't care less whether or not you say thank you. So why did I put an emphasis on it at all? Simply because as a marketing professional (which is a great deal of what my job is) I think it weakens the message to try to thank your potential buyers before they’ve even done anything. With a critique my job wasn’t to praise you. It was to make your letter the strongest it could possibly be. Is it wrong to say thank you? Absolutely not! I love to thank people for the things they’ve done. However, when making a sales or marketing pitch it does weaken your message. And that’s all I’m going to say on that subject.
Second, and most important, you need to realize that there is no right or wrong to a query letter. A strong query letter is written in your voice, it grabs the reader’s attention and makes them want more instantly. When I read a query letter I should know exactly what a book is about in one paragraph or less. I should know who the author is and what her credentials are to write such a book and I should know how to contact her. The rest is a wash.
I hope you’ve learned from these critiques how to strengthen your own query and I hope you’ve also realized that, like writing a book, no one is going to be able to tell you exactly how it has to be done. That’s something you’ll have to learn on your own.
More often than not it seems I get emails like this:
I have a manuscript that i hope can make an interesting novel. It has got elements of religious fiction though tight packed with a lot of true mysteries. It might as well be sensational.
Most individuals who reviewed it for me think it is quite publishable. Can you please allow me to drop in some chapters for your evaluation?
Choose your decision.
I’m not sure what you want. Is this a query? because if it is there just isn’t a lot of information. Do you want me to give you permission to send chapters? because as per our submission guidelines you don’t need permission.
A little advice to everyone. Any time you are sending business correspondence to anyone—an agent, an editor, your boss, a perspective client, anyone: Make it professional.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
A published friend of mine, Wendy Warren, has nothing but positive things to say about you. After reading your blog, it’s obvious she’s right. Beyond your humor and candor, your obvious dedication to your clients is undeniable.
Flattery is so brilliant! Wendy is a BookEnds client and it’s smart to use her name. It’s networking 101. And of course you say such nice things that I MUST read on. . . .
I’d like you to consider Relic Defender: Seal of Solomon the first book of an open-ended (Open-ended implies that the books don’t stand alone. Don’t use that word) paranormal series set in Chicago. The manuscript is complete at 95,000 words and features fallen angels, demons and a shape-shifting rock.
Cool. I’m still interested.
Though she denies it, Lexie Harrison is a lost soul desperately seeking something, and someone, to believe in. Without family, without faith, she hides behind a shell of calculated disdain allowing no one the opportunity to breach her defenses. To make her feel. To make her care. Until a battering ram in the form of a fallen angel, and a destiny she doesn’t want, shatters that shell.
On the path to his own redemption, fallen angel Simon St. John challenges Lexie to feel, to care while destiny forces her to take up the mantle of defender for a world she despises. A world which offers nothing but pain.
The previous two paragraphs are great and definitely capture my attention. Now I need one more paragraph that shows a little more about their conflicts. What is going to keep them apart/together and what they are battling. By showing some of that you’ll also (hopefully) give me a better idea of how the paranormal elements, and that cool shape-shifting rock, fit in.
I’m also not sure how this is going to be a series. Since you pitch it that way you’re going to have to tell me how that’s going to work.
If your conflict holds I would definitely request this.
I am an active member of my local RWA chapter and recently signed a contract with New Concepts Publishing, LLC for an action/adventure romance set in Earth’s future. If you are interested, I have sample pages of Relic Defender and other works in progress on my web site, under my pen name (www.cassielknight.com).
As one spoiled pet owner to another, I’m excited at the possibility of working with you. Thank you very much for your valuable time and consideration.
My time is no more valuable than yours. You could skip this sentence altogether.
Kimberly Wollenburg (If you write under a pen name it’s who you’ve become. Only use that name from here on out.)
Writing as Cassiel Knight
HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT, New Concepts, 2007
Cynthia Shapiro is the author of Corporate Confidential and an upcoming guide for job seekers. Her advice rings true for anyone working in corporate America, for a small business, and even authors.
The Internet Could Be Working Against You
What you choose to put on the Internet, in the privacy of your home or office, could be actively damaging your career and costing you opportunities.
Most of us imagine that what we do on our own time, on our own computers, voicing our personal opinions, is our personal private business, right? No. Not when it comes to the Internet.
An editor at a large publishing house recently put something on his personal blog that cost him his job.
An airline stewardess was fired for having somewhat racy personal photos of herself up on her personal website.
As a career coach I encounter employees on a regular basis who have been fired or managed out of their jobs for posting opinions about their companies on the Internet, participating in blogs, or sending emails to friends within their companies complaining about their bosses or their companys' policies. It happens every day.
Like many of you, I host a chat board on my website (www.CorporateConfidential.com). People are encouraged to share their experiences and ask career-related questions, but they are also encouraged NOT to use their real names or mention the companies they work for. One individual on my chat board unfortunately used his real name while advising fellow chatters not to use a particular reference company that he’d experienced problems with. He is now being sued for slander and defamation by that company. Apparently their business fell off sharply after my fans found out about his issues, and the company decided to take action against him.
Why is all this happening?
It’s happening because material posted on the Internet is now considered to be in the public domain. And there is a large gap in the legal definition between private statements or displays and public ones. The confusion comes from imagining that our personal opinions, photos, and statements are private. Well, they may be posted in privacy, and they may be our private opinions, but once posted on the World Wide Web they are considered public statements and are subject to all the laws surrounding public displays.
That means your private statements are now open to potential liability for slander, defamation of character, and can also be grounds for termination from your job.
And that’s not the worst of it. If you choose to post something on the Internet or on a blog about a difficult boss, company, agent or editor, there is an increasingly high chance that person will directly read it.
I personally read everything that pops up with my name on it on the Internet. I get a notification every time my name is mentioned casually on a blog, or is mentioned on someone’s website. Someone can post a casual comment about me and my book on their blog in Indiana, and I will be personally reading it the next day in my office in Los Angeles, sometimes even responding to it. And it usually surprises them.
I’m not the only one who does this. People all over the world closely monitor their “press” on the Internet. So, the chances are great that you could post something negative about an editor on the Internet, and that editor will be reading it the next day. In fact, those postings can get you blacklisted within companies and industries. Yes, blacklists do exist. I’ve worked with many disheartened employees who are experiencing it. All it takes is one posting, and your career could be over.
I was a human resources executive for many years before I switched sides to write Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You To Know and opened my own firm as an employee advocate and career advisor. I know for a fact that hiring managers are scanning the Internet for anything negative or problematic with your name on it, before they consider you for a job.
I had a client recently whose story is featured in my new book on the secrets of job searching, to be released next year. He came to me with all the right credentials, great interviewing skills, and a killer resume, but he couldn’t get a job. He’d been trying for months and had experienced nothing but slammed doors. He was getting into a desperate financial situation. As I started my investigation into the cause, I didn’t have to look far. One Google on his name showed us the problem. Tirade after angry tirade on the evils of corporate America popped up immediately under his name. The problem was, it wasn’t him. Someone with the same name was a blog tirader and it was costing my client opportunity after opportunity.
The fix was simple. We separated him from the tirader by using his middle name to differentiate him (hiring managers tend to Google candidates’ names exactly as they appear on the resume submitted). We created a MySpace page for him that showed what a fabulous candidate he was for any job. His very next interview turned into the job he so desperately needed.
If you don’t know what’s out there on the Internet with your name on it, find out. If you think you can talk negatively about and employer, boss, agent, or editor on the Internet without repercussion, think again. Everything you chose to post goes out into the public domain and the very last person you’d want to read it is most likely reading it right now. The safest course of action is: don’t put anything on a blog, your personal website, or even on company email that you wouldn’t want everyone to see and read.
The Internet is no longer a safe place to vent your personal opinions or frustrations. Once something is on the Internet, it can be almost impossible to remove, and it can do damage to your career and opportunities for years to come. One misplaced opinion can cost you more than you know.
Feel free to ask Cynthia questions in the comments section. She'll pop in during the day to answer them.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Tyler McNally has a secret—a few of them, actually. Keeping track of just who suspects what is exhausting but he doesn’t dare come clean. Being exposed as a virgin would sink his lucrative erotica (You might want to clarify it’s erotic writing. My first thought was that he’s a porn star) career, and his family discovering he pens naughty stories is not something he wants to contemplate. Juggling everyone’s expectations, Tyler goes about trying to be different things for different people—an experienced sensualist on one hand, and a successful writer on the other. (Make them more opposite. An experienced sensualist and a good boy? Or something like that. Follow through on the strong hook.)
What a great opening. It made me laugh instantly. Based on this paragraph alone I would request to read more of this book.
Jeanette Vines has hit a brick wall. Eight agents and two editors have read her beloved manuscript, only to tell her it falls flat. She needs help developing the male point of view, but since it’s an erotic romance and she’s sworn off men, she’s in a bit of a quandary. When her good friend/muse suggests a solution When her friend and muse suggests (oops) allowing a male writer to review it as the obvious solution, Jeanette bolsters herself against the possible insinuations and allows Tyler to read her story. (Obviously this sentence needs some editing. That would make me wonder how much work your manuscript needs if you can’t even edit a letter. Make sure your letters are perfect.)
From the first words he reads, Tyler knows Jeanette’s the one he's been waiting for all his life. But when he confesses everything to her, she doesn't exactly come running. Jeannette wants to take things slow and is slightly put off by his talk about marriage and working on a project together. Tyler doesn't understand her hesitancy and, thinking she doesn’t understand his ardor, doubles his pursuit. When everything comes crashing down Tyler steps back and sees that sometimes the truth is the only thing that can set you free.
This sounds really, really cheesy and not at all strong enough for a single title. Would he really be ridiculous enough to confess his love immediately? Based on this paragraph the book needs more conflict. Something bigger has to come between these two, something that will make me want to represent this book. The set-up is good, now I need follow-through.
Little White Lies is my sixth completed manuscript, my second single-title length.
Great title! How long is it and what genre are you targeting? Since they write erotica, is it erotica? That would be my assumption unless you tell me otherwise.
Currently, I have two novels with Mills & Boon’s Modern Extra line and am contracted for another. If you’d like, I could send you copies of Just One Spark and Cooking Up A Storm. I have a short story in the Dreams & Desires charity anthology, and another on eHarlequin. I am active in my local RWA chapter and in online groups like eHarlequin, Pink Heart Society, and Romance Divas.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Nice strong ending.
Check back tomorrow for one more query critique.
As much as I preach against it, every once in a while some of you will go ahead and offer an agent an exclusive. Well, you know how I feel about that, or at least you should. I hate exclusives and think they are unfair to the author. I’ve written about this before so I’ll stay off my soapbox.
Instead I’m going to tell you how to handle that exclusive when you’ve gone and done it. Believe it or not, there are definitely times when it’s okay to offer an exclusive (although I would still never recommend it). If you’ve given one to an agent you know you want to work with and you know would be a good fit, then by all means go ahead and give that exclusive, but on your terms. In other words, nothing longer than four weeks and, if you ask me, nothing longer than two to three weeks.
The problem with an exclusive of any kind is that three weeks can be shot in a minute. If an agent has a conference, is out of the office for an emergency, or is suddenly handling a rash of sales, a week can go by in the blink of an eye. So what does it mean if she hasn’t responded in the allotted time frame? It could mean that she’s lost interest and it could mean that she’s been just too busy. In other words, in could mean anything. My advice to you is that when time is up, send a nice email reminding her that the exclusive period is up, that you are still anxiously awaiting word, but that you need to continue to submit to other agents.
Remember, exclusives don’t do the author any justice. Don’t sit around and wait for any agent, the same way you shouldn’t sit around and wait for any man (or woman) because yes, this is like dating. Nothing gets someone’s interest faster than a little competition, so if you really want to grab the agent of your dreams, dangle another man, (ahem) agent, in front of her face.
And because I know that no one ever listens to me, I’ll open this up to readers. How have you handled exclusives in the past?
Monday, June 04, 2007
Congratulations to us! One year in the blogosphere! And while I'm no Miss Snark (may she agent in peace), I am thrilled with what we've done. Even more so, I'm thrilled that I'm actually able to come up with something to write about on a daily basis.
As you can see, we've decided to celebrate this day with a whole new look, and I hope you like it. We wanted to make ourselves stand out just a little more and help brand the blog—which I hope to continue writing for quite some time.
We've also added a couple of features to make reading and using the blog more easy. All of our posts will now carry labels at the bottom pertaining to the subject matter, such as submissions, queries, the romance market, etc.; simply click on any of the labels and you can see all the posts related to a given subject. (For older posts that aren't labeled, you can still enter a topic in the Search box in the upper left-hand corner of the page and see all the related posts.) And for those of you who use aggregators, we've activated full-text RSS feeds, so now you can have the full text of each new post automatically delivered to you.
I also want to reach out to all of you. Now is the time to let us know if there's anything you would like to see me talk about, questions you want to ask, or concerns about the blog in general. We'll read all of your comments and answer some soon, some later. And I know . . . some of your questions have not yet been answered from the last time I called for them. Patience, my friends, they're on their way.
Saturday, June 02, 2007
Yesterday I made my trip into the City to attend BEA. And what a madhouse it was. For those of you who have never attended, imagine book insantiy. The event is being held this weekend at New York City's Javits Center. A giant, sprawling convention center. It's where car shows, boat shows and all sorts of other shows are held. It's huge and it was very, very hot.
The best thing about BEA is of course the free books. The worst? The free books and the mad rush to get to them. I wish I could give you a better visual of what BEA is really like, but I'm not that strong of a writer (which is one of the many reasons I leave it to the pros). Think booth after booth of publisher advertising and marketing. Stacks of books for giveaways, tables where meetings are being held, booksignings with everyone from Tom Perotta, L.L. Cool J., Janet Evanovich, Julianne Moore, Khaled Hosseini, and around all of this throngs of people diving for books, stopping to chat with colleagues and generally running into everyone around them.
I spent my time at BEA in meetings with our foreign sub-agents, foreign publishers and just mingling and catching up with editors. It's amazing how among the masses you manage to run into someone you know at almost turn. I was able to chat with some of my favorite editors, former bosses, current and past colleagues, and agents I haven't seen in years. Most importantly though I was able to network and see what publishers are touting for their summer and fall lists.
Giveaways leaned toward NY Times bestsellers, a lot of mysteries, and literary or women's fiction. I didn't see much in the SF or Fantasy genres, no one ever gives away cookbooks (unless you wait in line for the few signings) and children's books are nearly impossible to find. I suspect some of this has to do with production costs as well as which books make the most money for a company. BEA is primarily a convention for librarians, booksellers and publishers. While agents certainly attend to see what's hot for foreign rights, it's more of a fun trip for me and a bigger job for our foreign rights reps. In fact, during a quick stop to chat with one of our co-agents I was thrilled to see she had one of our books sitting on her table. She mentioned that she was getting a lot of interest. Excellent news!
BookEnds was also very well represented this year with giveaways, posters, marketing materials, etc. It's fun to turn a corner and see your books staring you in the face. Even more fun when you hear the publishers talking them up.
BEA is a three day convention event (although there are other activities throughout the week). I only attended Friday this year since I was able to get all of my appointments into one day. But the madness and the excitment will continue through Sunday. I look forward to watching the books publishers were touting to see how they do and to spending my summer reading my brand new stack of books.
Friday, June 01, 2007
I'm an avid reader of your blog, and you mentioned some weeks ago that blending genres is popular. I thought you might like to consider my novel The Last Slayer, an urban fantasy with romantic elements. It’s completed at 100,000 words.
I think this is a really strong opening. You distinguished yourself by reading the blog, knowing what I like, and showing me how your work fits that. It’s compact, and yet intriguing. Good title too. Makes me want to read on.
Ashera del Cid is a demon hunter who takes great pride in her work. But when a triumvirate of demigods wants her dead for killing one of its dragons, the hunter turns hunted. Even though Ramiel, a rival demigod, offers his help, she turns him down. She isn’t naïve enough to trust anyone from the supernatural realm, especially one who arouses her senses like no other.
Ramiel has his own agenda. He has waited decades for revenge on the demigod who humiliated and irreversibly crippled him by ripping out his wing. Ramiel plans to use Ashera to destroy the world order led by his archenemy.
The stakes are raised when a member of the triumvirate poisons Ashera’s best friend. To get the antidote Ashera is forced to accept Ramiel’s help. But as Ashera and Ramiel battle demigods and dragons, there is one thing they could never have planned on: the chemistry sizzling between them despite their mutual distrust.
Couldn’t you condense all three of these paragraphs into one? Try not to get too detailed. Without reading the book it can get confusing. You might be better off simply saying: Ashera del Cid is a demon hunter who takes great pride in her work, but when she kills a dragon the hunter becomes the hunted. Forced to turn to Ramiel (her greatest enemy?) for help, the two work together to battle dragons and demigods . . . and the chemistry sizzling between them.
I’m a member of Romance Writers of America and its special interest chapters RWAOnline, and Futuristic, Fantasy & Paranormal. My previous writing credits include a classical music columnist position for Disceptatio, a webzine featured on CNN.com, a series of essays on western Japan for the Japan Travel Bureau, and several short story publications. An SASE is enclosed for your response.
Very well done. Perfect and definitely impresses me that you know what you’re doing.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Good, but might be better to just tell me that you can send the full manuscript at my request.
Encl: SASE, Synopsis, Partial
Overall this is the best I’ve seen so far. I would definitely request a partial based on this letter.
Check back Tuesday for another query critique.