I was directed this morning to Jennifer Crusie's post on her crazy hectic life and most importantly, and shockingly, her firing by her agent. Now I make that sound much more harsh than Jennifer did. And the reason I'm writing about her post is that I was awed and amazed by the poise both Jennifer and her agent Meg maintained while handling what is always a very difficult situation. I'm not sure I could have done it.
Imagine, deciding to let go a bestselling author because you know that you are not the right agent to handle this new direction she wants to take her career. That takes a humble and very wise agent. Someone I respect greatly. I talk all the time about choosing not to represent someone, even with contract in hand, because of a lack of passion for her work. Rarely though do I talk about needing to let a client go for that very same, or similar, reason. Good agents will remind themselves that they are in the business to work for authors and sometimes the best thing you can do is let someone go.
I will use Jen's post as a reminder for the kind of agent I want to be and the kind of relationship I want with my clients. One of honesty and trust.
If you haven't read the post please do so. I can't imagine the fear it puts into the hearts of writers because I know it made my breath catch just a bit.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
I was directed this morning to Jennifer Crusie's post on her crazy hectic life and most importantly, and shockingly, her firing by her agent. Now I make that sound much more harsh than Jennifer did. And the reason I'm writing about her post is that I was awed and amazed by the poise both Jennifer and her agent Meg maintained while handling what is always a very difficult situation. I'm not sure I could have done it.
One agent requested my full, offered suggestions for revisions which I completed in a week and a half, and then proceeded to sit on it for a year. Two follow-up emails were ignored, but the third was acknowledged by the assistant. A year later, I had the opportunity to meet her during an RWA chapter meeting. I arrived, sparklingly clean and with fresh breath. I was enthusiastic. I introduced myself and gave her a thank-you card. I could tell she couldn’t remember the story. I even paid money to do all of this networking. A week later, I received a form rejection.
I agree it’s important to network, but like Reid observed, on the writer’s end, how far do we pursue a relationship? Especially if we can’t meet in person for whatever reason, and follow-up emails to rejections are frowned upon (I’m referring to the personalized ones). I intend to query the agent again from the above scenario, but part of me feels like I’m making a little bit of a fool of myself, like I’m chasing after her like a little puppy dog.
In a recent post on Networking I came across this comment and it made me feel a little sad. I think in this case the author is chasing after the agent like a puppy dog.
The truth is that you can’t successfully network with every person you come across. In this case the agent clearly isn’t all that enthusiastic for the author’s work, and if I were the author, I would take the agent’s lack of enthusiasm, and respect, as a sign that they probably aren’t compatible.
I would only pursue the relationship as far as you think it’s worth your while. If this is clearly not an agent you feel you could work with, then I wouldn’t bother. I wouldn’t call the agent and tell her she’s an idiot, but I would just cross her off your own personal list. It’s obvious it’s not a good fit.
If, however, you’ve gotten a rejection that you liked and appreciated or comments that hit home, it can never hurt to send a nice thank-you or introduce yourself at a conference. It’s true, we might not remember your name or story title, but we might remember you after that nice introduction. Let’s put it this way, it can’t hurt.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Maybe it’s a sign. Just before giving this one last look I accidentally hit quit and lost the entire post. Luckily it’s been saved, but it makes me wonder whether I should just skip it for today.
Anyway, I’ll brave it out since I have been wanting to do a day in the life post for more than a week now, but have been swamped and barely treading water. I promised though that today I would give myself 15 minutes to share a bit of that swampiness with you.
Since returning from RWA two weeks ago things have been a whirlwind. As you know I took the time in Dallas to meet with each of my clients individually. While I think it's fantastic for all of us, it always leaves me with a to-do list longer than my arm. Since returning I've been struggling to keep up with queries and submissions and I apologize because I'm not even coming close. I've been reading chapters, manuscripts, proposals and plot outlines from clients. I've been phoning editors to ask where's the money, the contract, the offer or my lunch date. And I've been generally acting like an agent. It’s great, but it’s been extremely busy.
In the past two weeks I've had three authors contact me with offers in hand. All are very talented so I need (or needed) to read those proposals and make decisions about whether or not I feel I would be the right fit. And lastly, I need to make sure I have enough blog topics to get me through August.
But beyond all of that I really wanted to write something about Nan Talese's comments regarding James Frey. As published in The Dallas Morning News Nan Talese blasted Oprah for her handling of the James Frey Million Little Pieces memoir situation and defended her own decision and the decision of others at the publishing house for publishing the book. I have a lot of mixed feelings about the situation and about its sudden reemergence in the media. I was disappointed when the issue first came up that Nan didn't speak more strongly for the publishers and extremely uncomfortable watching Oprah attack James Frey. So my question is how much of a responsibility do you expect the publisher to make when it comes to memoirs? After all, a memoir is, by definition, a story told from one person’s perspective therefore we must know that we're getting that person's interpretation of the facts and events. I'm not trying to defend James Frey. I would never do that, but I wonder why Nan Talese didn't act more boldly when on TV the first time? In all honesty, I think Nan Talese is right and given her version of the events I do suspect they were blindsided on the show. I also wonder why Oprah turned the situation into an issue about her and her feelings rather than confronting what would make a man so blatantly lie like that. As you can see I have a lot of questions and not many answers, but I thought it was worth putting out there. Besides contract, client queries and my long to-do list it’s what has me thinking today.
Every once in a while it happens. Actually, it happens a lot. A publisher gets in touch with you directly, either through contests, conference pitch appointments, or work you’ve written in a literary journal, and asks to see your work. Of course you submit it, why wouldn’t you? Why would you possibly turn down a request from a publisher to submit your work? So you happily go about your business, writing, editing, and submitting to agents, when bam! that editor calls and offers to buy your book. She likes it! She wants to publish it, and what the heck are you going to do now?!
Well, that’s entirely up to you of course. My suggestion is that if you want an agent to help negotiate your contract and guide your career, you should get one immediately. Don’t accept any offer. Don’t even say okay. Thank the editor (profusely is okay) and let her know that you are going to find an agent to work with, but will be in touch shortly. Then get out that list of dream agents and start emailing immediately.
Calling is okay too, but I think that sometimes emailing is better (and I have no idea why). Either way, get in touch. Give the agent your name, the title of your book, let her know if she has it already and when you sent it. Let her know which house and which editor made the offer and tell her you need to know within two days' time. A really interested agent shouldn’t need any longer than that. And of course let her know all the ways in which she can reach you.
And when the calls start coming in you can start evaluating who would be the best agent for you. Refer to my previous post on what Questions to Ask for more information.
I’ve actually been in this situation a great number of times. A few authors I now call clients, and a few I just didn’t feel that I loved their work enough to take them on, so I wished them well and hope they signed with someone they adore.
Since I don’t remember things that happened yesterday, let alone months ago, I’ll let others comment on how they handled this very situation when it happened to them.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Nicholas, The Lords of Satyr (first book in a trilogy)
Publisher: Kensington Aphrodisia
Pub date: July 2007
Agent: Jessica Faust
(Click to Buy)
An art historian, Elizabeth Amber has spent many months in Italy and Greece researching Etruscan and Greco-Roman art and visiting vineyards. Her studies of the cult of the wine god known as Bacchus or Dionysus provided the underlying mythology for "The Lords of Satyr" series.
Author Web site: www.elizabethamber.com
BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
Elizabeth: To all appearances, Nicholas and his brothers are wealthy heirs to a world-renowned vineyard in Tuscany. But they’re also the last in a fabled line of half-Satyr men who guard ancient secrets. When an ElseWorld king commands him to marry, Nicholas pursues a half-human, half-faerie woman unaware of her heritage.
BookEnds: What other authors do you find inspiration from?
Elizabeth: When I was a teenager, I read Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Harlequin romances, and biographies. Gone with the Wind was my favorite book back then. I still read romances, both erotic and mainstream. Linda Howard, Jayne Ann Krentz, LaVyrle Spencer, and Susan Andersen are some favorite romance authors because they know how to write intriguing stories while building romantic and sexual tension between a hero and heroine.
BookEnds: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Elizabeth: 1. Don’t read so many books on how to write that you wind up with no time to actually write. I recommend The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.
2. Find a strong plot hook. Try to focus your writing so that you’re aiming for the goal of a rough draft built around that plot, with a beginning, middle, and an end. Jettison anything that doesn’t serve your story. You can always save the jettisoned material in another file if you’re worried you might decide you want it back in your story later. I find that I never go back and add the jettisoned stuff back in. But I need the safety net of saving it in order to allow myself to release it from my story.
3. Attend a local RWA conference if you want to write romance. You’ll learn a lot about how the business works. Then go back to writing. Butt-in-chair is the only way to get a book written.
BookEnds: Where do you get your ideas?
Elizabeth: My educational background is in art history. Back in college I became fascinated with the black-figure and red-figure terra-cotta amphorae of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Not only were they useful containers for wine and olive oil, but their decoration told rich stories.
Greco-Romans weren’t squeamish about putting erotic scenes on their amphorae, bowls, vases, and urns. I was especially interested in the cult that grew up around the wine grape harvest. There are numerous depictions of the god of the grape—Bacchus (or Dionysus)—and his followers, whose ranks often included lusting satyrs involved in harvest celebrations, mysterious rites, and drunken orgies. Voila! The inspiration for my Kensington Aphrodisia trilogy, "The Lords of Satyr."
BookEnds: Why have you chosen to write in the genre in which you write?
Elizabeth: I didn’t know what genre I was writing from the outset. I got an idea for a 3-book series ("The Lords of Satyr") and I wrote the first book about the eldest satyr brother, Nicholas, not knowing if there was a market for the type of book I was writing or if anyone would publish it. But I was becoming more and more intrigued with the unfolding story of Nicholas and his pursuit of a half-faerie named Jane, so I forged ahead.
Along the way, I wrote bits and pieces for the books about Nicholas’s younger brothers, Raine (book 2) and Lyon (book 3). So by the time Nicholas was in rough draft form, I had a substantial amount written for the other two books as well.
Once Nicholas was completed, I attended two local RWA conferences, where I found out more about the business of romance publishing. I was lucky that sexy romance has recently grown in popularity and that there’s room for many genre combinations within the category. I realized I’d written not just a sexy romance, but a historical-erotic-paranormal romance.
BookEnds: What are your other hobbies or interests?
Elizabeth: I’m an animal rights advocate, and I volunteer at a no-kill pet shelter. It’s hard sometimes because I want to take so many of the animals home. They’re like sponges, soaking up any affection on offer. Make sure your pet wears a collar tag with your current phone number. We’ve reunited many lost dogs and cats with their owners by calling the number on a tag. A computer chip is very helpful, too, though some shelters don’t scan for them.
I’m a museum junkie. Chocolate, iced tea, and yogurt are some of my favorite foods. I figure skate for fun and to stay in shape. I used to quilt and make crafts, but writing has usurped the time I once devoted to that. Shopping with my sister and cooking with my mom are among my favorite, simple pleasures.
Feel free to ask Elizabeth questions in the comments section. She'll pop in during the day to answer them.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
We hear the word all the time, but I realized today, while talking with an author, that we don’t always know what it means. As anyone familiar with nonfiction knows, a platform is critical to selling a book. I hear it all the time from publishers: “We’re looking for great new business/health/parenting/finance/spiritual/sex/etc. books, but of course the author has to have a really great platform.”
So what is a platform? And what’s enough and what isn’t?
To put it plainly, a platform means that you have a great deal of media exposure (related to the topic of your book) in national media outlets, including TV, radio, major newspapers. It could mean a Web site or blog with thousands of hits daily and tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of hits yearly. It means speaking tours to hundreds of people every year. Not just one or two at your local library. It also means that you are an expert or the expert in your field. It basically means that you have the ability to sell thousands of books to an already built-in audience before the publisher even gets the book into stores.
But a platform goes beyond just who the author is. The book itself also has to have a platform. You could have a syndicated column in every major newspaper in the country, appear regularly on major television shows, and tour the country speaking to thousands each month and still not sell a book.
If your book sounds just like every other business/health/parenting/finance/spiritual/etc. that’s already been published or, even worse, sounds like every other business/health/parenting/finance/spiritual/etc. that’s already been published unsuccessfully, then you don’t have a shot at selling it to a major publisher. You need to make sure that you are going at what’s already been done (because let’s face it, almost everything has already been done) from a new direction. How can you make a book on parenting twins different? What’s your take on corporate hiring and firing that makes your book so special? Sometimes it’s in your delivery and sometimes it’s the material itself. Either way it has to be distinctly different from everything else that’s already out there. And let me tell you now, one chapter does not make a book distinct.
Now, to discredit all of what I just said. Books sell all the time by authors who have some platform, but not everything I described above. Usually they sell because the book itself is such a great idea, such a great new look at something that the publisher knows it will get the attention it needs to sell itself. In that case, though, the trick is that it can’t be too general, and it can’t be too much of a niche. It has to be a little of both.
So, next time you’re told that your platform isn’t big enough, hopefully you’ll have a better understanding of what that means.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
I recently did a post on the Evolution of the Rejection and was asked if I could talk from the publisher’s perspective. Well, I can. Having spent six years as an editor I have a pretty good idea of the travels your submission makes once it’s shipped off to the publisher.
Keep in mind that this little lesson is based on my own experiences. Every editor and every publisher works differently. To confuse you even more, every project is handled a little differently. But this should give you a general idea of what happens.
1. The proposal package or manuscript arrives in the mailroom (if emailed, skip to step #3).
2. Mail is sorted and eventually reaches the desk of the editor’s assistant (assuming it wasn’t submitted to the assistant herself).
3. The package is opened and logged in to a master submission log. Some companies use a log that all editors can access, but usually each editor (assistant, actually) tracks her own mail.
4. The proposal lands on the editor’s desk.
5. When the editor has a brief minute or two she scans through the stack of mail on her desk and pulls out those submissions that appeal to her the most.
6. All submissions are placed in (a) a pile on the floor closest to the editor’s desk, or (b) a designated shelf on her overstuffed bookshelves, or (c) used as a doorstop.
7. The editor reads the proposal. This could happen in a matter of hours, days, months, or even years, depending on how enthusiastic the editor was, her relationship with your agent, and her schedule.
8. The editor makes a decision to either pass or move forward.
9. If the editor was still enthusiastic after reading the material she will likely ask for second reads. Again, this can depend on the editor, the house, or the type of book. In some instances the editor might just go to her superior and ask to make an offer. At which point you’re about ready to start floating on cloud nine.
10. The editor may or may not contact the agent to ask a few questions and let her know of her interest. At this point there are still no guarantees, but the editor wants to make sure that she’s got her foot in the door should anyone else jump on the project.
11. Second reads can be done in a variety of ways. The editor may go to a few trusted colleagues and ask them to take a look. Once she has their opinions she could either (a) reject the work, or (b) go to her superior and ask to make an offer, or (c) present the project at the Editorial Board meeting.
12. The Editorial Board meeting . . . some projects will be presented here without second reads. The editor will verbally pitch the book, often using much of the same material from the agent’s cover letter (which might have been taken from your own query letter), and if her superior thinks that it sounds like a viable project she’ll ask other editors to do second reads. Other editors and houses might not present the book until a second read or two has already been done.
13. Wait until second reads are completed. Second reads usually take another week. If they were done through the Editorial Board meeting, readers will give their opinions during the meeting. If not, they will give their opinions when they have the chance.
14. If all goes well the editor’s superior will probably give her the go-ahead to make an offer. At this point she will need to run “numbers.” Basically a profit-and-loss statement to give her an idea of what they should be offering in terms of an advance and royalties.
15. Voila! Numbers are run, approvals have been given, and an offer is made.
Again, each house and each editor is different, but this should give you an idea of why things take so dang long and what’s really going on behind closed doors.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Wow! Last week’s post on What I Learned at RWA certainly had people talking. And I loved it! Believe it or not I read through all of your posts and was really impressed. Some of you nailed the five word pitch making me very confident that you’ll be able to nail the book as well. Others will need some work. Keep in mind that pitching the book in five words not only sells it to an agent, but is also the way the agent will sell to the editor, the editor to the publisher and eventually the publisher to the readers. Those five words can make a big difference and just to prove my point I have another little exercise for you. Pitch your favorite book. Not one that you’ve written, but one that you read and loved. If you don’t have a favorite pitch the most recent book you’ve read. In five words, no more than one sentence, I want you to make our other blog readers hungry to pick this book up. And to keep in challenging don’t reveal the title just yet. Let those commenting guess for a while before making the reveal.
I can’t wait to see what you have to say and just to start things off...
Can an Earl’s daughter save her servant from murder charges while preventing herself from falling in love?
Recently I had the strangest experience while reading a book.
I was reading an ARC (advance reading copy) of a book scheduled to be published later this year and I couldn’t shake the sneaking suspicion that I had read it before. Not only couldn’t I shake the feeling, but I knew when I had read it, the title, and what had happened. It was a manuscript I had requested and was looking forward to reading but eventually rejected because I thought it still needed a lot of work.
While I’m positive this is not the same author or the same book in a new package, I was amazed at how much the ideas matched. The settings were similar, the hero’s background was almost identical, his profession was the same, and I even wondered, but couldn’t remember, if the hero’s name was the same. The truth though is that there were enough differences, enough things that I doubt the author would have changed in a rewrite, to make the books different. I know the heroine’s profession had changed, as well as her personality. I also know that there were more characters in this book and some of the back story of each of the protagonists had been altered enough that I knew it couldn’t be the same author. And more important, the execution of each book was completely different.
No, I don’t think anyone plagiarized or stole an idea. What I think is that there are very few amazing and original ideas out there. The truth is that most of you are writing from a box of ideas, and what really matters when writing your book is the execution. I’ve seen a thousand different cozy mysteries and hundreds of vampire submissions. None of these are really new ideas. What makes a book dance for me (and for editors) is the execution. Sure we’re intrigued and initially pick up the book based on an idea, but in the end, when we offer representation or buy the book for the publisher, we’re making that decision based on how well you executed the idea and how much you made it your own at that time.
So when you hear that someone else is writing your idea, don’t sweat it, just make your execution that much stronger.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Let's say a new author signs a two or three book deal. Are books two and three for the exact same terms (advance, print run, percentages, etc.) or is everything renegotiated upon acceptance of the second MS.
I would like to think if the first novel sold well that at the very least there would be a larger print run for the second. Or maybe even a tiny bit of the elusive marketing dollar would go to promote book two or three.
What a great question! It’s been a while since I’ve gotten something that I was really excited to answer.
The answer . . . they are on the same terms. For the most part a multi-book contract will be three books (or two or six or whatever) on one contract. Which means that they usually have the same royalties, the same subsidiary rights, the same everything. The only thing that frequently differs in this case is the advances. Oftentimes you’ll see an advance escalation—Book #1 might be for $5,000; Book #2 for $7,500; and Book #3 for $10,000, for example.
Print runs are not a contractual issue. Sometimes an agent will negotiate bonus money based on a print run, but at this stage of the game (sometimes one, two, or even three years before a book is published) a print run and marketing dollars can’t be determined. And yes, absolutely, if the first book sells well then you will get a larger print run for the second book. Conversely, if the first book doesn’t sell well at all you will likely see a smaller print run for books two and three. Print runs and marketing dollars are based on a book’s sales performance and (with a first book) estimates of its sales performance. The final decision on print runs is usually made by the booksellers. If they don’t order the books it’s unlikely your publisher is going to have them printed.
So what are the pros and cons of a multi-book deal?
You get a little more cash up front (you’ll have a higher payment when you sign the contract) and you’re guaranteed that more than one book will be published.
If your first book does phenomenally well you’ve likely been underpaid. Granted, you’ll still get the money owed to you in royalties, but you might regret needing to wait for the money to come through.
When a multi-book deal is offered I often discuss these pros and cons with my clients. If we were hoping for more money, for example, we might want to accept a contract with fewer books. If, however, the author likes the security net of knowing exactly what her schedule is for the next one to two years, then I say go for the multi-book contract. Remember, in the end you will get the money you’re owed in royalties. If they underpaid you, you’ll just have more to negotiate the next time around.
I hope that answers your great question.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Not too long ago I received the following email:
I write to you, not as a perspective client, but as a young writer in need of counsel. (I find your blog most illuminating!)
Last summer, I sent out a number of query letters for my new nonfiction book. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest in my material and, within six weeks, I had secured an agent.
Let me mention here that I have no memory of ever receiving this proposal, but I suppose I can let that slide.
Initially, I was quite impressed with his speedy response. Unfortunately, as the months wore on, our correspondence slowed quite a bit. (I realize this industry is slow, by nature, but this has become a bit extreme.)
He spent the fall (August through November) editing my manuscript and nonfiction proposal. I called, several times, to check in (he's never been spectacular about returning e-mails), and he always claimed to be "backlogged" or "totally swamped." Fair enough, I thought. After all, he operates a one person agency. And, at 24, I'm just lucky to have an agent.
Wow! Four months just to edit? I think the first warning bells should be going off. Now I know I’ve sat on a client’s material for far too long, but never have I led them to believe that I was editing for that long. That’s crazy. As for being backlogged or totally swamped? Who’s not? We’re all very, very busy people and we all have those weeks when we are backlogged, but my reasons for being totally swamped are usually because I’m taking care of my clients.
And by the way, don’t think that your age has anything to do with anything. You have an agent because you have a book worth selling, not because you’re 24 or 42 or 240. How old you are or what you write, or how much money you make (or don’t make) does not, ever, excuse an agent’s rude behavior. A good agent should treat every single client as if she is her top client. Never do I want any of my clients to feel that they are less important than any others.
Finally, in mid November, he returned my (minimally) edited manuscript. (Comma here, semicolon there.) I made the adjustments, sent him ten copies, and we were off.
Ugh! Four months for commas! I’m the first person to admit that I’m comma illiterate (among many other grammatical difficulties) but it takes me far less than four months to figure out where they go. If anyone—agent or editor—is taking four months to actually edit a manuscript, then that thing better be rewritten by the time it lands on your desk. Now sometimes it might take four months to get to the edits, but never four months to actually edit.
Three months went by before I heard from him—at which point he forwarded me five rejection letters. Now, there's obviously no rush to pass along bad news, but some of these letters were 8 weeks old. Couldn't he have called, or sent an e-mail update? (I asked him to drop a line, in the future, when he heard from publishers—just so I could keep track of the progress.)
He could have and he should have. It’s one of the things I mention to authors when hiring an agent. Find out how communication is going to be handled. I try to update my clients very, very quickly when it comes to submissions. Especially since I know how nerve-wracking the process can be.
Several months went by. Nothing. I decided to e-mail, just to check in. No response. Two weeks later, I followed up. No response. Two weeks later, I called. Again, he claimed to be terribly "backlogged." "I was going to call you today," he said.
Reason being: he had received an offer (lord knows when) on my project. Unfortunately, the offer was terrible—the publishing house wanted to reshape the entire book, and have me spend an additional year traveling across the country, doing research. He advised that we turn them down.
Nevertheless, shouldn't he have called me as soon as he got the offer?!
I asked him for an updated list of rejections and prospects. He couldn't find my file, and promised to e-mail me "in a couple of days." It's been over a week. I've heard nothing.
He is always very friendly when we talk, and we often have nice chats. But, because he's so poor at correspondence, I'm concerned that perhaps he's not working very hard to sell my book.
What do you think I should do?
My response: I think you already know what you should do, now you just have to do it.
Honestly, though, I never understand why authors stick with agents who obviously don’t communicate. I know it’s great to have an agent and scary to think of starting over, but do you really have an agent if she’s not working with you?
I also have a few additional concerns. Since this is only one side of the story we don’t really know how long the agent had the offer for. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it just came in. What I am concerned about is who made the decision to turn down the offer. It sounds like it was mutual, but I hope it’s not something the agent did without checking with the author first. That would be criminal in my mind.
Again: No agent is better than a bad agent, and a bad agent isn’t necessarily someone who acts illegally, but someone who simply isn’t working for you in a way that’s comfortable for you.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
I got a lot of questions from authors wanting to use a pseudonym. When should it be used and how? Is it something the author decides or the publisher? And the answer is . . . it depends.
Often authors make the decision to use a pseudonym because they don’t like their own names, they write something they don’t want colleagues or even family members to find out about, or they just think the pseudonym is cooler. And often publishers will decide that an author should use a pseudonym for some of the same reasons, but usually for sales. If an author was previously published and the numbers aren’t good, they’ll want that author to use a new name to help up her orders when it comes time for bookstores to place them.
Whatever you decide to do, here’s a little advice: The minute, the second, you decide to use that pseudonym, you need to become that person. That means that you stop signing your name Jessica Faust writing as Fessica Jaust. Nope. If I’m writing as Fessica Jaust, then I better become Fessica in all of my correspondence, in every nametag I write and in every introduction that’s made. Why confuse people? If you want to sell books under a pseudonym, then why even bother telling them your real name? It’s not going to sell books. That means when you’re submitting to an agent you submit as Fessica Jaust. When you’re talking to your editor, you call and say this is Fessica.
Here’s the deal. I can barely remember one name, so why are you going to try to ask me to remember two? And please don’t make me remember an awful name like Fessica. Can you imagine?
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
In a comment recently I was asked to explain further why agents do or don’t give feedback and when it should be expected, if ever.
Honestly, feedback should never be expected and is never owed an author. Not when the material is unsolicited, and not even when it’s a requested full. I know, I know. It’s the polite thing to do. If an author sends you a full manuscript then the least an agent can do is give feedback, right? Wrong. In fact, in some cases the most damaging thing an agent can do is give feedback.
Let’s look at it this way. How many published books have you read that you absolutely hated? Your friends and family raved about them, and for the life of you, you can’t figure out why. You thought the plot was trite, the characters weak, and overall it was a painful read. If that’s the way I feel about your book, do you really want my feedback? Clearly my opinion about your work is nothing but an opinion and probably won’t do you any good anyway, especially if another agent feels differently. All my feedback would do for you in this instance is stress you out, make you feel like you haven’t a chance at getting published, and give you nothing to work with.
What if I just found it boring? I can’t pinpoint why or how it can be fixed without telling you to start over. The book was nothing but a snooze. Is this going to help you? No, probably not, and, again, another agent might feel completely differently.
Some agents or agencies have a policy never to give feedback unless they really feel they want to open a line of communication and see more work from an author. Others are less discriminating and will give feedback when they feel they have something to say or have the time. I’m of the less discriminating variety. If I truly find there are one or two things that I think are problematic, I’ll happily let you know. Truthfully, though, if there were only one or two things that were the problem, then I’d probably offer representation or ask you to make revisions and resubmit. Usually it’s bigger and broader than that. Usually it’s the characterization. Something that can’t be fixed easily. Or a plot issue. Again, usually something that can’t easily be fixed. And often it’s a little of both. Sometimes I just took on something similar or I don’t see a big enough market for it.
So what I’m trying to say here is that the trouble with giving feedback is that it always makes the problem look simple. Like if the author just made one quick change you’d have a sale. Since that’s rarely the case, feedback is really a catch-22. While it’s interesting to see what the agent has to say, it’s not necessarily going to help you in the way you want.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Queens Can Beat Kings: Broad-Minded Poker for Winning Women
Pub date: June 2007
Agent: Jessica Faust
(Click to Buy)
Susie Isaacs is a world-class poker player and the author of 1000 Best Poker Strategies and Secrets (Sourcebooks), MsPoker: I’m Not Bluffing, Books One and Two (Mimi Mc Corporation), Queens Can Beat Kings, and, coming soon, White Night, Black Nights – Poker is Skill, Life is the Gamble.
Author blog: susieisaacs.blogspot.com/
I have written for as long as I can remember. It began when I was so impressed to understand what my daddy wrote every night after dinner in a little brown notepad. It was a daily short journal that allowed him to tell any of us what we as a family had been doing on any given date in any given year. I thought that was neat. I began journaling at age 16. Some years later I thought I had some terrific short stories, so I began submitting to all sorts of publications, and not long after that I began my collection of rejection slips. I honestly thought about wallpapering a bathroom with them.
When I was 42, my kids were grown and in college. My husband and I retired to Las Vegas, where I began a serious study of the game of poker. It was only after I won my first poker tournament that I wrote a story about the experience, titled “A Lady's Not Supposed to Sweat,” and received my first letter of acceptance. I had been writing and submitting for 25 years, and only after I wrote about something that I was passionate about did I get noticed. Thereafter, I became the only female with a regular column in a poker publication.
After ten years of columns, I thought I had enough to say that I could write a book. I did, and guess what, nobody cared! It was only after what I call the “poker renaissance” in 2002 that my writing talent was noticed. Jessica Faust from BookEnds called me to see if I would be interested in writing a book about women in poker. "Are you kidding!" I wanted to shout, "I would be interested in writing a book about anything poker." Since that fateful call, I now have two contracts with Jessica and BookEnds.
The moral of this story is never give up. You never know what lies ahead. In 1972 I wrote what I thought was a wonderful short story about confusing the sexes. It was rejected all over the place. Guess what? This story will be in my upcoming book Queens Can Beat Kings as a lead-in to a chapter titled “Battle of the Sexes!”
If she's not busy winning the World Series of Poker Main Event, Susie will drop in during the day to answer questions.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Okay, enough sap. See. I need sleep.
I always say, and have always said, that you can hear something and be told something millions of times, but it isn't until it clicks that it's all going to come together. I've heard authors say this and I've seen it in action. Just because someone tells you what's wrong with your work or writing doesn't mean you're going to get it the first time. Often we need to be in just the right place for that to happen. Well this weekend that happened for me.
I have been talking for years about how important the hook is and how it has to be a one or two sentence pitch. Well you know what? It really clicked this weekend how important that is. For every book you write you need to pitch agents and I need to pitch editors. More importantly, all of us need to pitch readers and if we can't do that in a short sentence or two we will lose their attention.
So I want to know from you in five words if possible, or one sentence at the most. What is your book?
***WARNING! SAPPY BLOG ALERT***
I'm back from RWA with a lot of information I'm sure I'll be sharing over the course of the week. On the plane though, exhausted after only 3+ hours of sleep I was thinking about what a great event it is and how wonderful conferences are in general. If you've never attended (an RWA or otherwise) I would strongly suggest doing so. It's not only an opportunity to network and mingle with agents, editors and other authors, but it's truly a time to feel good about the craft of writing and what you do.
I want to thank all of the BookEnds clients for making me laugh so hard I cried, keeping me up at all hours of the night, and making me rise at all hours of the morning. The hours are crazy but well worth it and I'm hoping to find time this week when I can recover.
Mostly though thank all the writers in attendance for reminding me how much I love my job. I'm excited to be back and work on the projects we discussed. I can't wait to find another gem in my query stack and to read the manuscripts and the books from the gems I already represent. I'm really lucky to have found a career that couldn't be more fitting. I get to read great books and work with the authors and I get to wear great shoes. How cool is that?!
I was thinking recently of how lucky I am to have had so many inspirations in life. I truly wouldn’t be where I am, working a job I love, if it weren’t for those people who always inspired my love for books. In their own unique ways they gave me a passion that I’ve been able to build a career on. So I asked Jacky and Kim to join me in sharing the names of those people who inspired us in our love of books. . . .
Ms. Marjorie Johnson, my sixth grade teacher. She was able to pick a book that would hold the attention of 12-year-old boys while bringing the girls to tears. I still love The Outsiders.
Mrs. Rosemary Mickelson, my eighth-grade teacher, who told us that we are never too old to be read to, but if we couldn’t behave she would stop. I can still remember her voice clearly, and waited impatiently each day to discover what was going to happen next.
Grandpa Dick, who loved nothing more than a good book. I remember sitting on his cozy lap while he read to me. He is still waiting for me to write that next bestseller.
My parents (a cheat since they share a slot), who bought me endless books and let me read long into the night and all morning until I finished what I’d started.
My Aunt Becky, who bought me (and continues to buy me) a book for every birthday, Christmas, and special event from the day I was born. In my mind there has been no greater gift.
My mom: She took me to the library every week when I was a kid. We'd each get a huge stack of books and stop for an eggroll on the way home.
Those first authors whose books I picked up, who showed me I could travel anywhere in the world just by reading, such as Barbara Cartland (I was young!), Enid Blyton (who had 800 books to choose from!), Beatrix Potter, Carolyn Keane, and Stephen King.
Then later, the Romantic literary wonders like Mary Shelley, Samuel Coleridge, and William Blake.
My husband, Alex, who shares books with me all the time. At home, on the road, over the phone, by email . . . Thanks to them all!
My grandma and mom first come to mind. We all shared my grandma’s Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart, and Victoria Holt collections and would pass the books back and forth to one another, reading and rereading them. I guess we were all a bunch of romantics. Total suckers for gothics.
Next, I think of my book club: Amy, Michele, Robyn and Betsy. All friends from my college days, we live many miles away from one another, but we decided to hold book club meetings via instant messenger. It’s been a great way to stay in touch, but it’s also reinvigorated my love of books. We have the most wonderful discussions, and often one of them will point out something that I totally missed. It deepens my reading experience and makes me appreciate the written word even more.
Finally, I’d have to say my son, Nicky. He’s only two, but I’m determined to pass on my love of books to him. So far, it’s working. He just loves to sit around and flip through his books, staring intently at the photos. We read Curious George, Dr. Seuss, or one of his other favorites before bed every night. I know that as time goes on and he’s able to read the words all by himself, his sense of wonder will grow and I’ll discover the joy of reading all over again.
So, who has inspired you?
Friday, July 13, 2007
It's a jam-packed day today so I wanted to pop in early to give you an update. Since I haven't had time to even spend 10 minutes with any editors or attend any workshops I don't have much market news, but I can give you a little of the day in the conference life.
My Friday started bright and early at 12:30 am with the bright lights and loud chimes of the hotel's fire alarm. Not knowing what that gawd awful ringing could possibly be I awoke by yelling across the room to Kim, "Turn it off! Turn it off!" As the foggy haze of my dreams started to clear away I realized that no matter how much she continued to whack away at the alarm that wasn't going to make a difference. Leaping out of bed we both kept our heads and started to run around the room like wind-up toys, bumping into beds and each other. Dashing to the closet to grab shoes my immediate thought (yes it's true) was, "which shoes to wear?" Grabbing a comfortable pair of slide-ons that would safely take me down ten flights of stairs I turned to Kim and suggested that while the new pajamas we had both purchased for the trip were cute maybe we wanted to throw something on over the time. After spending seconds debating over her purple denim jacket or a white linen blazer Kim decided the jacket would be the most appropriate choice for a fire. I think the jacket was the best choice.
As we dashed out of the room Kim commented that she knew I would be seeing her new pajamas, but had no idea she would be showing them off to most of Dallas, and RWA. It wasn't until we had reached the fire stairs that she thought to ask me whether or not I had grabbed a room key. I had.
For some reason our section of stairs took us into a parking garage. It took us more time to find our way out of the garage than it did to make our excellent fashion choices and when the 15 of us (I can't believe only fifteen people in our stairwell bothered to exit) finally made it to the front of the hotel the fire engines were leaving and we were allowed to make our way back to bed.
Not exactly the way I had planned to start my day, but so far this is my favorite story of the weekend.
Yesterday was spent meeting with clients. It always amazes me how how my clients can be in completely different stages of their careers and yet I often find myself having the same conversations proving that whether you are published or unpublished or anywhere in between the same concerns can continue to come up over and over.
One of the things that struck me was the importance of writing the book and not worrying about the publishing aspect of it. I think the most successful authors are the ones who aren't afraid to dig into themselves, to push the boundaries of their genre and think outside of the box. When you start to worry about whether a book is saleable, what an editor or agent will think or how your readers will react will start to edit yourself even before you're giving the book a chance. My best advice. Let the words flow. Worry about what to do with them later.
I'm sitting next to an editor who is frantically writing an editorial revision letter for a NY Times bestselling author so if you take nothing away from this post (other than to always have your room key at the ready) it's to know that rarely is your book ever going to be perfect as is. It takes a team of people to make a book a success.
Received in response to a rejection letter. This goes into the category of “oh, brother . . .”
. . . the difference between the multitudinous, plethora of publishers that will never be Penguin, Random House, Norton or the like is that all the fore mentioned have in the genesis of the history of their company a number of stories where they took something that was very obscure and obtuse from a relative unknown or completely unknown and unproven entity; put some work into developing and marketing it, took a risk and ultimately ended up being the largest publishing houses on the planet. Many of the newer smaller publishers that advertise of “Writers Market” basically want something for nothing; they want proven established authors writing “commercial crapola” for the consumption of the Philistine farm animal masses. Your company for example in my looking over the selections of your catalogue has not an inkling, iota or modicum of anything remotely resembling something with an avant-garde idea, original thought, envelope pushing premise or anything even close to something “outside the box”.
A great philosopher once said (I think it was me)
“mediocrity is a consolation prize given to those hapless and fearful who will not take a chance, depart from security or forsake a comfort level”
“If the quills fit wear them”
Thursday, July 12, 2007
It's hot in Dallas. Although not much hotter than when I left NJ. Not that the heat really matters much. I haven't left the hotel since I arrived yesterday at four. I did make it however which is better than I can say for a lot of others leaving out of the NY area. Apparently there were storms somewhere that caused the cancellation of flights. It sounds like I was lucky.
So far things are as busy as I expected them to be. Immediately upon my arrival to the hotel (it took a lot longer than I had expected) I had just enough time to change shoes and rush to a meeting with one of my clients. My real goal at conferences like this are to spend face time with each of my clients. So far I met with one client yesterday and four this morning. I really like the opportunity to sit down face-to-face and really talk about writing, the business, fears, goals and ideas. I think all of the meetings were productive and, more importantly, really enjoyable. This face time reminds me how much I sincerely like my clients as people and as writers. It's fun to hear their ideas and let them get me excited about what's coming next.
An aside here...but have you ever noticed how weird it is to write on someone else's computer? I didn't bring my laptop, but instead chose to use the business center. Is it me or is my writing different from a different place?
Okay, back to news...
Last night I made a pass through the literacy booksigning. What an event! I'm sure you can get the figures on the RWA web site, but there were hundreds of authors and thousands of readers. I refused to wait in the long lines to pay, but was excited to see a number of clients with long lines. I thought of my grandma who would have been tripping over her credit card to get signatures from some of her favorites.
From there I attended the Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal gathering and PRISM award ceremony where our own Kate Douglas was a finalist. I also heard a number of agents as well as a TOR editor talk about what they are looking for. As many of you know, TOR publishes one paranormal/futuristic romance a month and have just this month expanded to romantic suspense with Sue Kearny's book. They are planning to publish two more romantic suspense titles next year and hopefully grow from there. Note that this is straight romantic suspense and not necessarily paranormal. With paranormal they, like the rest of us, are looking for different and unique ideas and concepts. And TOR, unlike many other houses, does accept unagented material.
I finished off my Wednesday with champagne and fondue (can you think of anything better?)at the OCC Book Buyers Best awards where Sally MacKenzie was a finalist and at around 11 pm I finally stumbled up to my room.
This afternoon will be spent meeting with more clients and after tonight's events (more cocktails and chocolate of course)I hope to have even more publishing news for you.
If you're here I hope to see you at some point this weekend and for those who couldn't make it I plan to keep you updated with any news I get. I'm following my own advice this year and taking lots of notes.
You once mentioned that April was conference season. What are the other months that would be bad for sending a requested manuscript to an agent the writer has a relationship with? And what is the calendar like for agents submitting work to editors? Obviously, December must be the worst month, but what else?
Let me clarify that it's conference season for me, but other agents might have different schedules. Traditionally I seem to be busiest March through July. I suspect that the reason is that earlier conferences contact me earlier, and because I only do so many each year I end up saying no to a lot of fall conferences. I find, though, that most conferences are either in the spring or fall, with very few falling in July or August.
If a manuscript is requested you should send it immediately no matter what month it is. When an agent requests something she's enthusiastic about it, and while you ideally want it to be as polished as possible, waiting can diminish her enthusiasm and your chances of impressing her.
As for good times to submit (and agents tend to work this way as well), I would suggest that the only time you don't submit is between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. Because of the holidays and end-of-year crunch agents are rarely looking to pick up new projects and are instead cleaning house and preparing for the new year. Come January a lot of agents and editors are eager for a new year and new submissions. I know that writers talk all the time about summer being slow, but I have to admit, traditionally August has been one of our most successful months. Because summer is slow it gives editors (and agents) time to catch up on reading and find those gems they've been looking for.
Don't try to guess about the ideal time to submit. Just send it.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
While reading through some comments on the blog I came across advice from one reader to another. The advice was that if Reader A had a special hobby or expertise (and platform, of course) it might help her to write nonfiction first, find an agent, make connections in publishing through her nonfiction, and then try to sell her fiction. The suggestion was that it might make it easier to market her fiction.
First let me thank the reader for offering advice. I always like to see writers helping each other. That being said, I want to clarify something. The fiction and nonfiction markets are two completely different beasts and getting published in one, and making contacts, won't do much of anything to get you in the door with the other. Sure, if you are a New York Times bestselling author of fiction you can probably get a book or something that relates to your work published in nonfiction, but let me tell you from experience: nonfiction doesn't often translate to fiction.
Besides your needing the ability to write both, not all agents represent both genres, and if your book fits into only one certain niche it will be even more difficult. For example, we do represent fiction and nonfiction, but not all sub-genres of either. If you write a cookbook and erotica, for example, we could represent your erotica, but not your cookbook. We don't do cookbooks.
My advice is this: If you want to write both fiction and nonfiction, go ahead and do so, but don't plan that by writing one you'll have easy entry into the other.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
I received the following email recently:
It's a bit hard to tell who does what at the various listings because although the opportunity is there to advertise yourselves selectively you all tend to not want to be left out of an opportunity. We writers in turn end up sending off a lot of mailshots, particularly with tough books like this one, to people who are not in the patch or whose feelings might be hurt with the material. Any tips you might have to avoid this problem would be much appreciated.
You all know by now that it’s imperative when looking for an agent that you do your research and make sure you submit only to those agents who represent the types of books you’re writing, but as this reader points out, there are a lot of nuances to what an agent represents that may or may not get listed.
Some examples . . .
An agent may have just taken on three new authors in a particular genre or sub-genre and might not be actively seeking out what you’re writing.
An agent might have a secret fear of cats and can’t read anything with cats.
An agent might abhor any book that even hints of child endangerment.
An agent might love redheaded men and is always searching for redheaded heroes.
An agent might be a mosaic artist and would love anything to do with mosaics.
What’s my point? You only know what the listings say and from there on out it’s a bit of a crap shoot. Your job is to narrow your list as much as possible (for your own sanity as well as that of the agents you’re approaching) and then hope you’ll find that one person who connects with your book, for whatever reason. There’s no way to avoid sending it to people who don’t feel they’re right for the book, it’s an honest reason for rejection.
So do your research to the best of your abilities and don’t worry that you’re offending an agent if you didn’t know that she refuses to read anything with cigarette smoking. How would you know?
Monday, July 09, 2007
RWA National starts this week. My heels are polished and sharpened to a fine point, I’ve been working out my right arm so it’s ready to shake hands, hold drinks, lift chocolate treats, and of course pass out business cards, and I’ve been exercising my vocal chords so I’m ready to talk from 7am to midnight about everything from romance, writing, the Dallas weather and where to eat, drink and find a decent cup of coffee.
So what tips can I give you dear readers on how to handle National? Whether it’s RWA, SFF or Thrilerfest (which is this week as well) the tips are the same so listen up and I’ll clue you in on some of the ins-and-outs of surviving a four-day networking extravaganza.
1. Look nice, but be comfortable. Okay, I know I’ll be wearing my highest and cutest heels, but there’s no reason that all of us need to destroy our feet. Leave that to the fools like me. You however should think about what you feel comfortable in all day long. Sweats won’t cut it, but jeans are fine. Seriously. You want to look professional, but agents know that it’s a long day for everyone and showing up at your agent appointment in jeans is not going to kill your chances of a request. My best advice however, wear something that makes you feel good about yourself, confident and comfortable. You’ll do better in all networking and pitch situations if you do. If you want to wear jeans, pair them with an attractive shirt or jacket. Be yourself and you’ll do better than if you’re trying to dress like someone else.
2. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Don’t sneak behind my back whispering my name (I have razor sharp hearing and am aware of what’s going on) instead stop and tell me how lovely my shoes are and how charming my blog is. Ask for a card and let me know you plan to submit. If I’m looking forlorn engage me in conversation. Remember, I LOVE, love, love talking about this business and can go on and on for hours answering questions. So use that to your advantage. Feel free to grab me and ask me all of those questions I haven’t yet answered on the blog. Agents and editors are everywhere and as long as they’re in a public area they are fair game. Don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation in line for coffee, while waiting for what are probably going to be slow elevators, and definitely chat us up at lunches, cocktail parties and other events meant for networking. When not to corner an agent or editor? The bathroom, on the treadmill, when he or she is clearly engaged in an intense conversation in a hidden corner or at a restaurant table. Oh, and don’t follow agents and editors to their rooms. That just gets creepy.
3. Take time out to process. It’s overwhelming. All of those workshops, cocktail parties, free books and free food. Whew! Who can survive that? Enjoy, but don’t be afraid to take a few minutes, or a few hours, for yourself. Lounge in the pool, hide in the corner of the lobby, or crawl into bed. Let your mind rest or take notes on what you’ve learned. Watch a bad movie or just nap. Don’t feel that every minute of your days need to be spend writing, workshopping or networking. Trust me. You’ll do a much better job at all three if you take some time for yourself.
4. Take notes. Carry a notebook and pen with you at all times. Don’t be afraid to take notes during workshops, pitch appointments or even cocktail parties. If you’ve networked well and an agent at a cocktail party gave you a few key pieces of advice don’t be afraid to go to a quiet corner and write them down so you can think about them later. I’m a big fan of small notebooks. You never know when your greatest idea is going to come crashing in.
5. Have fun! All work and no play makes Jessica a very, very dull girl. I really and truly look forward to RWA. It’s a lot of work and completely exhausting (it will take me a week or more to recover) but it’s also invigorating and thrilling. I love chatting with my clients, old friends and new editors. Relax and enjoy. Each conference is a new experience and with each stage of your writing career you’ll find that it holds new possibilities for you. New conference goers have a huge list of all the workshops they need to attend while more experienced attendees and published writers often use their time more for networking and bonding with friends and fans.
Some of you might already be settling into your rooms while others are busy packing. I fly out on Wednesday and look forward to seeing you all there. For those not able to make it this year I will, once again, be blogging from Dallas. So continue to check in and see what I’m hearing and learning along the way.
I recently rejected a work via email and got this in response:
I can’t blame you. Since I sent you the proposal, I fired the anal-retentive editor who I hired to help me write it and in the process sucked every bit of my personality out of it to make it a “best seller,” as he claimed. I have rewritten it in a completely different voice. I don’t suppose you want to give it another trial, but if you do, let me know. If not, thanks for reading the first version. It was dry and boring, and I apologize for putting you through it. At times, even a seasoned businessman gets blindsided by the promise of fame.What a great response and something we can all learn from. Editorial comments (whether from a hired editor, agents, your own editor, or a critique group) are wonderful, but we all need to follow our own voice and our own hearts first. The comments aren’t going to do anyone any good if they suck the life out of the book.
BTW—I didn’t ask to see the book a second time, but I do suspect I’ll see it on Publisher’s Lunch very soon.
Friday, July 06, 2007
Book: Wolf Tales IV
Pub date: July 2007
Agent: Jessica Faust
(Click to Buy)
Kate Douglas has written professionally, in one venue or another, since her first job in 1971 writing commercials for country-western radio, but erotic romance has become her one true love—besides her husband, kids, and grandkids, of course! She is currently working on the eleventh Wolf Tale for Kensington.
Awards: Three Eppies for contemporary romance and romantic suspense, one Quasar for cover art.
Author Web site: www.katedouglas.com
BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
Kate: Chanku are an ancient race of shapeshifters, existing in a society ruled by passion and lust. Tinker claims his mate to protect her from those who would do her harm, but, in this society, the female calls the shots, and Lisa has a few surprises for her sexy alpha male.
BookEnds: Tell us a little about your road to publication and don’t forget to share all the bumps.
Kate: If I shared all the bumps I’d be writing for the next year, and I’m not exaggerating. It took me over twenty years to get published. What I’m going to do is post part of an article I wrote for Romantic Times last year that really sums up a long, convoluted road to publication. I learned an awful lot along my road to publication and I would love the opportunity to share what I can with other aspiring authors.
(Article except begins here)
Way back in 1976 I read my first Harlequin Romance. It was Leopard in the Snow by Anne Mather. I still remember that book, not so much for the content but for the lightbulb flash of inspiration that I, too, could write a romance.
Someday, when the kids were older.
By 1985 my babies were rotten little kids with lives of their own and I was free to indulge myself in that secret dream I’d carried for almost ten years.
I started my first book.
I still have it—Rite of Passage. It’s horrible. It’s filled with every conceivable romance cliché, but it’s category length and has a beginning, a middle, and an end. What it doesn’t have is a cohesive plot, decent dialogue, or anything remotely resembling proper point of view, but it’s still a book and it’s all mine. I entered the first three chapters—all I had completed at the time—in a contest in 1987 and won first place. Obviously I was on my way to a fulfilling career as a rich and famous romance author.
Right. The first-place plaque is practically an antique. Twenty years later, I’m beginning to see the glimmer of success, but the rich and famous part is still around that ever-evolving corner.
I was a newspaper reporter during the '80s, and my creative juices went into stories about drug busts, forest fires, and high school football games. Still, the dream persisted and I finally finished writing my book and started submitting it to New York publishing houses in 1992. When I say I could wallpaper my office with the rejections I received, I’m not exaggerating. My files are a “who’s who” of the romance publishing industry in the mid-1990s, and not a single one of those wonderful editors wanted my story. The advice was always the same—write the best story you can write. Write your own story, the story of your heart.
I thought that’s what I was doing.
Obviously, I needed help if I was ever going to reach my Holy Grail—that elusive New York publishing contract. I joined Romance Writers of America, entered more contests, read everything I could on writing novels, took creative writing classes, and continued collecting rejections. I put the first book away and wrote a second, then a third. My writing grew stronger with each attempt, as did my ability to handle rejection from every editor on the face of the planet.
The reasons they gave for rejecting my stories were varied, but most of them could be listed under the “not what we’re looking for at this time” category. A few editors asked me to revise and resubmit, but that’s as far as I got. I told myself they weren’t rejecting me, merely this or that particular story, but that didn’t make it any easier to file the letters in my fat little folder. One thing I didn’t do, however, was quit. I kept writing. I kept submitting and I kept improving my craft. I found critique partners who had strengths where I was weak. I trusted their skills. I listened and learned.
I continued to write. I continued submitting my stories.
I continued filing the rejections, one after the other.
Then I discovered epublishing and suddenly I had a book coming out. Of course, the problem then was answering the “So, when are you going to write a real book?” question, but I didn’t really care. I was published, I was getting terrific reviews, and suddenly, much to my surprise, I got an agent. (Thank you, Jessica!)
Obviously, success was right around the corner—New York, mass-market publication, here I come!
I began to stretch, writing stories that were more involved, a little bit hotter, a whole lot edgier. Late in the year 2000 I discovered Ellora’s Cave and realized I’d found my match—a publisher who wanted the edgy, sexy stories I’d been writing. The company might be located in Ohio, not New York, but I finally felt as if I’d found my spot in the writing world. A couple years later I added Changeling Press and Loose Id to my résumé, both small presses publishing stories for the growing online erotic romance audience. To my surprise, at some point during the year I realized that New York contract had ceased being my Holy Grail. I loved what I was doing and felt comfortable in my niche, writing very successful paranormal and SF series for both Ellora’s Cave and Changeling Press. New York was perfectly welcome to reject someone else.
What’s that saying? Ah, yes . . . don’t get too comfortable. I sent my epublished serial, Wolf Tales (which had its origins as a “freebie” for readers on a chat list) to Jessica. In spite of my overwhelming lack of success, she hadn’t dumped me by the side of the road, and I thought the kinky, sexy, romantic series I was currently writing for Changeling Press would, if it didn’t frighten Jessica away altogether, possibly shock some unsuspecting editor into an acceptance.
Hopefully, Kensington editor Audrey LaFehr has fully recovered from that first read. Imagine my surprise when the series I wrote for myself, the stories I had never expected to see in print, found a home with Kensington Books. Though the entire process still has a surrealistic feel to it, I am absolutely thrilled to say that twenty years of writing, of critique groups, writers’ conferences, seminars and classes have finally resolved themselves into my own personal success story. Not overnight or even close, but I wouldn’t trade the journey for anything.
When you love writing, when you love the words—the process as much as the finished product—it comes down to a very simple truth. The New York contract isn’t the Holy Grail. The Grail is not the advance or even the royalty checks. Writing—the process, the personal growth, the overall mind-blowing experience of writing—is what makes it all worthwhile. When I allowed the quest for a NY contract to become more important than the process of creation, I failed.
When I wrote the stories I wanted to write, the way I wanted to write them, when I finally stayed on a path that led to my own satisfaction, the Grail fell softly into my lap. And, rocky road or not, it’s my road and I feel privileged to have traveled it.
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Feel free to ask Kate questions in the comments section. She'll pop in during the day to answer them.
To learn more about Kate Douglas, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Not too long ago I did a post on who my dream client is. Recently, though, I was asked what an author should do to become my favorite client, and while a lot of the traits are similar, there is also a distinction between dream client and favorite client because, honestly, they aren’t necessarily one and the same. I could have five dream clients, but only one favorite.
So I’ve put together a list of all of those things that make a dream client the favorite, and keep in mind, many of them are tongue-in-cheek and just lots of fun.
As a reminder, Favorite Client needs to have many of the same traits as Dream Client. She needs to:
- Write books I love and make me lots of money by doing so.
- Understand that this is a business and that making a business work takes a lot more than just a great product (although that is essential).
- Communicate. Telling me her hopes, fears, dreams, and goals helps make me more effective and helps us have a better relationship.
- Publicize her books.
- Listen to and learn from the advice I give, as well as feedback from her editor. Together we can work to build her career if we listen to each other.
- I would so prefer the client who feels the need to call or email daily just to stay in touch than the one I never hear from. I can't be effective at my job if I don't know what your expectations are or even what you need in that moment.
- Understand the relationship, that I work for you, not against you, and that we are team.
- Move forward, working on the next big thing instead of obsessing about all of those old projects under the bed.
- She is filled with endless brilliant and marketable ideas. I know that if one project fails her she’ll be ready with another for me. And each will be more brilliant than the one that came before it.
- She loves sending me small trinkets and reminds me constantly how great I am.
- Favorite Client is so much fun to be around that I can’t wait for lunch dates and plan the entire day around them. After all, Favorite Client is too much fun for just a short lunch.
- Understands that I have a life too. She doesn’t get angry at me for taking vacation or not answering emails on the weekend.
- She shares the good news as well as the bad and knows that I’m more than just a sounding board for her complaints about the publisher.
So how about you? I know what you want in a dream agent, but what would you want in your favorite agent?
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
With so much emphasis on paranormal romance today, do you see a place for romantic comedy on the shelves today?
Paranormal romantic comedies are hot. Honestly, they’re a tough sell otherwise, and if you ask me, comedy is a tough sell. The trick with comedy, romantic or otherwise, is that you have to find that one person who has the same sense of humor you do, and unless I’m a really odd duck (which is possible), I find that difficult to do.
My suggestion is to focus on writing a great romance with a great hook and make it funny while you go. I think that’s probably more powerful than trying to write a comedy.
Monday, July 02, 2007
It's snooze city here, as I imagine it is in a lot of places. I think everyone has already escaped for the holiday and with RWA next week those that haven't are trying to gear up for the big romance conference.
Despite the peacefulness though I've been busy. In the past few days I've negotiated a two-book deal for one of my romance authors as well as a foreign rights deal for another author. I'm also patiently waiting for an offer from another editor and have two contracts sitting on my desk that need reviewing.
And of course you all know about my recent trip for an author brainstorming meeting. I met with one of my mystery authors for a four-hour brainstorming session on her next book. This contract came out of the blue and actually fell between two books on her previous contract so it threw her planning and plotting for a bit of a loop. Together though I think we came up with a terrific plot outline and I'm really excited to see what she does with it. During brainstorming sessions with my clients, of which I do a lot, I see my role as someone who gets the ideas stirring. I throw out any thought that comes to me and watch the author mind work. It's really cool and I think it's one of the best things about my job. I love thinking that I can help an author create the work and generate the idea. What she does with it is, of course, entirely up to her, but it never hurts (in my mind) to throw an idea out there and see what happens. I make it perfectly clear to all of my clients that I don't expect them to listen to everything or anything I have to say, but if I thought flies into my head during conversations or while reading a manuscript I think it's only fair to share it.
I'm hoping to make this quiet week productive and so far today has proven to be very busy.
Where do you see the women's fiction market heading in the next three to five years?
Ah! A prediction. A complete and utter guess, but from an industry professional. Well, I’ll do my very best, and of course if I’m right, watch me sell some really hot books in the next three to five years.
Women’s fiction isn’t a market that’s as easy to predict as, say, romance or mystery since it’s not a market that relies so heavily on hooks. For example, romances are going to continue to get steamier simply because of the success of erotica. Does it mean all romance is going to be erotic? No, it just means that a lot of romance will be sexier than it was three or four years ago. With women’s fiction, however, there isn’t a whole lot of change. The newest trend was chick lit, mom lit, and all of those other types of lit. I actually suspect those will drop off and we’ll see a return to more traditional themes—the recent divorcee, the wife of a cheating spouse, basically the woman trying to make it after tragedy, whether it’s death, divorce, or just an empty nest. And we’ll see a return to more traditional voices. I think people tired quickly of the snappy, acerbic “lits” and want the quieter, more dramatic read.
From what editors are asking me for, everyone wants the next Jodi Picoult or Debbie Macomber, and if they’re buying those now you can bet that will be the way women’s fiction is headed.