It’s rare that I find the need to write a blog post on scam agents because sometimes I live in a bubble, feeling that anyone who has done the work to reach my blog has also done enough research to know what makes a reputable agent. Well, recently I was proven wrong. . . .
I have written two novels—well, one is technically a manuscript and the other has been published by PublishAmerica (which I seriously DO NOT recommend). My questions pertain to that of my manuscript. You see, I submitted it to the New York Literary Agency almost a year ago, knowing that a sale was not guaranteed or that being a new author. Now, after a year, I feel that my manuscript is just sitting there, idling because my agent is unable to be bothered by it. I get a monthly report in a form letter saying "...this is a normal progression of a manuscript in our care...do not get discouraged..." And I can't help but wonder if another agency would be better suited to handle my manuscript and other future works. I am in serious need some advice on the subject.
This email makes me angry, sad, and irritated. Irritated that the author didn’t bother to do any research at all. In a simple Google search of New York Literary Agency the first three hits were writers' message board warnings about the agency, the third was the agency’s horrible Web site, and the fourth was Preditors and Editors saying, “New York Literary Agency, The: Strongly not recommended.” I’m also angry and sad that there are people out there taking advantage of writers who are just desperate to find a home for their works.
Once I got beyond that I decided I would check out the New York Literary Agency, and let me tell you that with just a little research into what makes a reputable agency, that site alone should have you running. Why? Well, here are just a few of the things I see wrong with it. Nowhere is there a list of clients, books, or sales. Instead they seem busy touting the types of manuscripts they receive and how they will market your book. They are located in NYC, where they meet with “buyers.” Buyers? What does that mean? The only people I know who meet with buyers are sales reps from the publishing houses. What about editors? You know. The people who buy the books from agents. Oh, and I could go on and on. Take a moment to look at their diverse list of clients. Doctors and lawyers! Whoo-hoo.
I can go on and on, but the smartest thing I can do is remind everyone that when researching agents there are a couple of key places to visit. The first is the above-mentioned Preditors and Editors, the second is Writer Beware, and the third is your heart. You know when something isn’t right, so listen to those guts of yours.
And please, feel free to add to the list of scam agents you are more than happy to warn others about.
On another note, BookEnds is closing early today to celebrate the Labor Day weekend. Have a safe and happy holiday, and we'll see you again on Tuesday, September 4.
Friday, August 31, 2007
It’s rare that I find the need to write a blog post on scam agents because sometimes I live in a bubble, feeling that anyone who has done the work to reach my blog has also done enough research to know what makes a reputable agent. Well, recently I was proven wrong. . . .
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Quite some time ago I received the following letter from an author I had corresponded with and read a number of manuscripts from.
I am extremely frustrated by your repeated rejection letters. Each time I receive one I do the work you ask for and each time I submit revisions I get a new rejection. Clearly you are not making yourself very clear and explaining what you want. In one breath you encourage me and the next moment you tell me I'm not ready for an agent. Well do your job, make me ready. I want to learn and it's your job to tell me what needs to be changed and to make me ready.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Have you ever found yourself at a cocktail party quoting some new and interesting fact only to suddenly recall that it came from fiction? I’m always amazed by the things you can learn by books and the odd facts that authors know.
To really write a good book research is the name of the game. You have to know what kind of damage a hunting knife can really do or in what time period bloomers were really worn. You need to know what can happen to someone hit by lightning or have some idea of what wolf pack mentality is like.
Sure it’s fiction so things can be fudged a little, but to make fiction believable the facts need to be there and be made believable. I can’t imagine any book was ever written without at least a little research.
So tell me. What strange facts have you learned in your own research?
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
We’ve done posts on your favorite books and on those you are embarrassed to admit you’ve never read, but I have a new one for you. What about the unsung books? Those books or authors that haven’t made a bestseller list and aren’t raved about in reviews. They should be because we love them, but they haven’t made it there (yet).
Having just read Elizabeth Hoyt’s The Leopard Prince, she is one of my new unsung favorites. Who is yours?
Monday, August 27, 2007
What can I say? I have the late summer blahs.
I’m ready for a submission that really stirs my emotions. My feelings tend to manifest in physical reactions. I’ve cried during every single episode of Friday Night Lights when Coach Taylor’s wife had some sort of meaningful lecture for her daughter. I’ve been known to snort with laughter at just about anything Dwight says on The Office. And my heart pounds hard in my chest during reality-show competitions. I know. Pathetic.
But it’s not just TV that gets to me this way. I recently finished A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I was sitting in my in-laws’ living room reading the last pages and bawling like a baby. Normally I wouldn’t have chosen that specific place to put my emotions on display like that, but I also couldn’t put the book down. It was wonderful. I have a few friends who think I read too many “depressing” books. But I love a good cry. I want to feel invested in the books I read.
Unfortunately, I’m having trouble finding that kind of emotional connection in my submissions lately. Can you help me? I’m really longing for a 5-Kleenex kind of read, but I’d be happy to see something that makes me laugh out loud or turn the pages breathlessly. I’m gravitating toward women’s fiction more than ever, but if you have any book that you think can snap me out of my apathy, please send it my way. Give it your best shot! I’m off to Costco to stock up on those tissues!
I'm using agentquery.com. The profiles of your agents clearly state that your agency doesn't represent children's books, but when I search using "children's books," several of your agents' names come up in the search. I'm going to notify the site, but if I were you, I'd complain!
Thank you so much for the heads-up. Unfortunately this is the number-one reason why I tell authors to research, research, research. Few of these agent research Web sites and even books ask agents directly what they are looking for, and even those that do often manage to get the information wrong. When researching agents always go to an agent’s Web site when possible. This is the one place where you should be guaranteed to get the correct information.
Friday, August 24, 2007
In a continuation of trying to let you know what happens to your work in an agency and in a publishing house, I’m going to address what happens when an editor finally does make that offer to your agent. Of course it’s different in every instance, but here is a basic look at how I handle the situation.
When a phone call is made (in rare cases an editor will email the offer) I thank the editor, let her know I’ll be getting back to her after discussing the offer with the author, and hang up. If it’s a first-time deal for an author or project I’m really excited about, my first calls are to Kim and Jacky. I know, I know, I should call the author first, but often I need to get my squealing under control before doing that. Once some semblance of professionalism has returned I’ll call the author to let her know the good news and listen to her squealing. I LOVE doing this. Once the author and I have gotten our excitement down to a dull roar we’ll discuss the steps I would like to take in negotiations.
Remember, I think this business is about teamwork and I like to include the author in all my negotiations as much as possible. I like to think it might give her a better understanding of what’s going on, and she might have some ideas, thoughts, or concerns that she would like to share at this time.
If the book is with multiple houses my goal is to try and get multiple offers. The more the merrier, I always say. In that case my first step will be to contact all the editors who still have the project, let them know we have an offer and what it is (but not who), and give them a deadline for when I need to hear of their interest.
If it’s a situation where it’s a continuation of an already established career or an offer on option material, we’ll discuss whether it’s even an offer we want to consider or if we think it’s too low or insufficient to even counter-offer. Traditionally, though, I’ll begin by counter-offering on the money issues—advances and royalties—and we’ll discuss rights (world, North American, etc.) and due dates.
At this point it’s a little wait-and-see and a little strategic planning. My conversations with the author are usually about what would make her very happy, happy, and not happy at all. I want perspective on exactly what her feelings are so that I know in what direction negotiations should be going.
From the negotiations side I’m talking to editors (in the case of multiple offers) and negotiating deal points.
The only time I’ll counter-offer on the spot (before calling the author) is when it’s an offer we knew was coming (usually an option), something from a series publisher like Harlequin, Dummies, or Complete Idiot’s Guides when I know exactly what they usually offer or what I should expect, and when negotiations are rather limited (like in the cases of the publishers mentioned above).
I’ve had negotiations take a mere few hours and I’ve had them last weeks. How intense they get can depends on a number of things—how many publishers are involved, how successful the author is, how badly the publisher wants her, and the house we’re dealing with. Of course, things like vacation can also come into play, as can forgetful editors.
When the deal is done, though, I make sure I get a finalized deal memo from the editor and then we wait for contracts. At which point my job is to negotiate all over again. Those things that we might need new boilerplate wording for or that are traditionally negotiated with a contracts person rather than the editor, things like indemnification wording, schedules, or reversion clauses.
Keep tuned in and I’ll do a future post on what exactly is negotiated with the editor versus with the legal department.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Publisher: Kensington Aphrodisia
Pub date: August 2007
Agent: Jessica Faust
(Click to Buy)
Sharon Page has always loved to write (tapping out a first novel at 14), and juggles managing an R&D program with writing. She finds writing tales of sexy Regency rakes and seductive vampires is the perfect escape from her technical world. Sharon will be an erotica panelist at the 2008 Romantic Times convention.
Awards: 2006 National Readers’ Choice Award Winner for Erotic Romance
Author Web site: www.Sharon Page.com
Blood Rose: Serena Lark’s erotic dreams of vampires are so vivid, so intense . . . could she be one? Drake Swift and Lord Sommersby, two daring vampire hunters, might know the truth about her past—and her future. But Serena cannot say no when the two men introduce her to another existence entirely, one in which only extraordinary sensual pleasure matters. . . .
What do you think distinguishes your work from that of other authors of this genre?
My “Blood” stories are distinctive because they weave action, magic, and danger into highly emotional menage a trois stories. Blood Rose gave me the chance to really stretch my limits, allowing me the chance to develop an intensely emotional relationship between two strong heroes. These men had both faced death as vampire hunters, both saved each other’s lives, and while they are jealous of each other on the surface, they have a deep, powerful bond that neither would admit to. Both, though, fall passionately in love with the heroine.
What is your writing process like?
Blood Rose took my writing process in a completely new direction. Normally I write a short marketing synopsis, and then expand that into a longer synopsis. But with Blood Rose, I first “storyboarded” the book by writing small sections of scenes—mainly dialogue and the emotional turning points of the scene. In each snippet I had to capture the motivation for the scene and its emotional impact. From that storyboard, I wrote a chapter-by-chapter outline, again focusing on the emotional importance of each plot point. This let me develop my characters with more depth and work out subplots before I began writing. I liked the technique so much, I’m using it for my current work in progress.
Where do you get your ideas?
I find my stories come together from a lot of unrelated ideas. Suddenly the pieces that I’ve mulled over connect and I have a book! I wanted to explore vampire-hunting heroes in Blood Rose. I was reading The Da Vinci Code at the time, and suddenly found I was writing an intense action-adventure plot for Blood Rose. While out for a walk (a great time to develop ideas), I realized my heroine should be a governess who was fired from her post due to impropriety. She suddenly became the perfect foil for my heroes—one is illiterate and a former child of the slums; the other was always punished by his governesses.
What do you see as some of the biggest mistakes beginning writers make?
Since hindsight is twenty-twenty, I feel that I’ve made a few mistakes in the launching of my career. Here’s two:
1. Thinking that once you’ve sold, you’ll definitely sell again on a nice, regular schedule. I assumed that once I got into the publishing world, I’d be able to write two books a year, have regular releases (again two a year), and slowly and steadily build a career. Now I realize that I may have to reinvent myself regularly. Markets change, so I may not be able to sell stories in a genre I love to write. Schedules, slotting, and all sorts of other variables could mean that I have long droughts without sales. Salable ideas may not come for a long time. Or ideas that I think are great may not click with editors.
The solution, I think, is to keep your writing fresh, keep the faith, and explore new genres. Discover where your voice fits, what your strongest writing skills are, and play to those strengths even if you do have to switch gears and move from writing frothy comedy to angst-ridden paranormals.
2. Thinking release dates will stay set in stone. I’ve learned that schedules change. This happens to many authors, and there is nothing to do but roll with that punch and make lemonade out of those lemons. I wrote a Christmas-set story for a December release that’s been moved to April. But the book is still hot, sexy, exciting, and fun—even with the snow.
Feel free to ask Sharon any questions in the comments section and she will pop in during the day to answer them.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
I’ve had a crazy busy week. That’s what happens when you have an offer on the table. Yippee! So needless to say I’ve been negotiating, talking with editors and trying to keep up on my usual day-to-day activities. I wanted to pop in this afternoon with a list of things that have come to my attention today.
The first is that we’re saying farewell to Intern Lisa today and there's nothing good about that. Both Intern Lisa and Intern Jamie were absolutely amazing and I’m really impressed with the editorial eye each of them has. Very different, but very talented. So a warning to all of you editors out there. If either of them wants a publishing job after graduation next year I’ll be personally hounding you to give them a shot. I think we’ve found some real talent here and I know I’ll definitely miss them.
My second thought comes from an email I received this morning about The Gather.com romance writing competition. I’ll admit that I had heard nothing about this until receiving the email, but from what I can tell the winner of this competition will receive a $5000 advance and publishing contract with Pocket Books, which sounds absolutely amazing, but I have to wonder how successful these types of contests really are for authors. Most authors, when getting a publishing deal, have had the opportunity to really feel the sting of rejection, polish their work and essentially when chosen they are chosen because an agent, an editor and an entire publishing staff is excited, enthusiastic and feel personally vested in making that author’s work shine. Does winning a competition for publication give you that same sort of chance? Or do most writers who win such a contest end up with one published book and then find out it’s back to the drawing board? I have never done a formal evaluation of this, but would be curious to know.
My third thought comes from an AP story on how much Americans read (I first got wind of this through) Media Bistro). According to the story 1 in 4 adults say they read no books last year. My first thought when hearing this has nothing to do with the future of the publishing industry or my career, but everything to do with sadness for those who went an entire year without exploring the world a book can open up for you. I have no idea how many books I read in a year. I guess if you don’t count manuscripts I probably read 2-3 books a month. If you count manuscripts, proposals and all the reading I do for work you’re talking a whole heck of a lot more. I just can’t imagine living without books.
And my final thought...it’s driving me crazy that blogspot was down this morning. Really! How are people supposed to learn from my witty antidotes?
Minnesotans are known to be the nicest people in America, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a native Minnesotan and bleed Vikings purple during football season. No, I’m saying that because it’s true. Really, I’ve read it in articles and seen it on TV so it must be true.
Minnesota Nice is truly a big part of who I am and who I always want to be. Even while living in Brooklyn and adopting some really great strategies for sticky situations or sidewalk arguments (and I’ve had some doozies), I’ve always held on to that Minnesota girl. Well, recently that girl came out again when I received an email from the head of contracts at one of the publishers I deal with thanking me for being so nice during contract negotiations. We had gone back and forth for more than a couple of weeks on things and finally we were able to settle on points that made us both happy and built a much stronger contract for my client. Ironically, an editor at that same house said almost the exact thing to me earlier this year. It really makes you wonder what other agents are doing.
But I digress . . . upon receiving her email I jokingly replied that next time I would try harder to make her life miserable. Her reply? She knew that would never be the case, which is why I always got my contracts so quickly. Not all agents are as lucky.
Minnesota Nice rules again!
In this business, and in all business, it never hurts to be nice, or at least polite. I’ve shown it numerous times through my “author beware” posts. It is very possible to be a bestselling author, tough businessperson, and successful negotiator and still retain your niceness. And it amazes me how many people don’t realize that. Remember, I used to be on the other side of the table. I was an editor for more than five years and I saw a spectrum of negotiation techniques. Never did the nasty agents or the whiney agents get what they wanted from me. No, sometimes I held back simply out of irritation. The agents who always got the better deals, the fastest contracts, and the smoothest negotiations were the ones who knew and respected that I was doing my job, just as I knew and respected that they were doing theirs.
And now that I sit on this side of the table the nice still rules. The editors who receive my best projects and first looks are those I know are nice, respectful, good editors, and strong author advocates. They are the editors who take the time to answer emails and make my authors feel special and they are the editors who negotiate fairly and respectfully.
In this business especially, personality matters, and while I remind authors all the time not to burn bridges, the same can be true of editors and agents. Nice and strong can actually be used in the same sentence.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I hear it from authors all the time and frankly I don’t understand it. You have an agent, she was excited and passionate about your work and you signed on with glee. She submitted and kept you updated on what was happening, but for all of her enthusiasm and all of your hard work the book didn’t sell. Now she’s gone. You haven’t heard “boo” from her and can’t get a response via email, phone or even telegraph (if that were possible).
Why do agents do this and is there any way to predict that this might happen to you down the line?
To the best of my knowledge I’ve never ignored a client, whether published, unpublished, or a pain in the butt. It only makes me feel guilty and causes more stress than just answering the phone or email ever would. But that’s my Minnesota Nice upbringing. Based on what authors tell me, this does seem to happen a lot, and in my opinion (although I’ve never asked agents why they do this) I think it’s the agent’s way of firing a client. Face it. If she’s not returning your calls or responding to your emails she’s just not that into you. She just doesn’t want to be the bad guy. She doesn’t want to be the one to break up with you so she simply makes herself inaccessible and becomes, well, rude. So what can authors do to stop this behavior? You need to tell those agents that you’re not going to take it. Quit sitting around and hoping the phone is going to ring. Whether the book has sold or not this agent works for you, and if she’s not responsive, if she’s not giving you the time of day you deserve, especially after repeated attempts, than get rid of her! Or him.
Don’t wait for months for an answer. How long did it usually take her to respond in the past? If you’ve called more than three times and she hasn’t returned your call, if you wrote more than five emails and she hasn’t responded (and keep in mind all of this should not be done in one day), then it’s not working. You know when it’s not working, you’re just waiting for me to tell you. You don’t need me. Trust your gut. You’ve done it before and it worked so do it now. When you feel that you need to ask this question it’s long past time to send that certified letter. Why do you want to have an agent who is clearly not that into you?
How do you know ahead of time that you are signing with an agent who’s answer to you is no answer? Well, there really isn’t much you can do. I guess you could ask the agent what happens if your book doesn’t sell and if she’s ever acted this way, but you probably won’t get a straight answer. Your best bet is to talk to the agent’s clients. Find out from them how they feel they’ve been treated and whether they know of any instances of said agent behaving this way. If you aren’t talking to other writers now, about agents, writing, and publishing, you should be. When it comes time to choose an agent they can often be your best resource. Just remember to take it all in and know that the more you talk to people the more you learn that with every agent and every publisher you’ll hear a little good, a little bad, and even some ugly.
Monday, August 20, 2007
In my blog post on Getting Your Work in the Right Hands, a commenter asked the following:
Aren't agents in the business of finding books that will make them money; sussing out what will appeal to the end user? Are editors like agents, i.e. do they choose books based on their personal likes, dislikes and phobias? Seems to me, that would constitute a very bad business model. Since agents are the conduit for getting a product to market, one would hope they would choose the products they feel are most likely to sell, setting aside their personal foibles as much as possible.
And I didn’t think you were being argumentative at all, but asking reasonable questions that any writer should want to know the answers to. You are just asking me how the heck this business makes any sense. Let me start by saying that it doesn’t.
And that’s the real trick of publishing, or any entertainment business. Choosing what should be published is a little bit about finding books that are most likely to sell and a little bit about personal preferences. Agents and editors are in the business to make money for themselves and their companies, and yes, making money means finding those projects that will sell. But the biggest thing agents and editors have learned to rely on, and what makes an agent or editor successful, is her own instincts, which is why we specialize. But I understand what you’re getting at. You’re looking at the narrower picture here. It’s not about why an agent represents romance and not science fiction. The question is how an agent can reject a work simply because she has a phobia of cats and the characters in the book she’s considering are shape-shifting cats? Easy. I receive hundreds of submissions every week, as do most agents, and part of my job is to weed through those and find the books that I not only think I can sell but those books I’m excited to sell. Almost every week I reject something that I know will sell but that I do not feel I have the passion to sell. Does that mean the book will never be published or that down the line I’ll regret not offering representation? No, not at all. It means that I’m not the right advocate for that book. Ask any agent or editor and they will all say that at one time or another they rejected a book that later became a success. Keep in mind, though, that part of becoming a success is having the right team and perfect timing. Just because a book is successful with one agent or one house doesn’t mean another house or agent could have done as well with it. Of course, it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have either.
There are a lot of really great books being written every single day, and by turning down one because of a fear, phobia, or dislike is not going to hurt my business, or any other agent’s business. It’s also not going to hurt that writer’s career. If a book is publishable, marketable, and has all of those things the public wants to see, it will be published. It doesn’t mean, however, that every agent would have wanted to take the plunge, or every editor would have made an offer. We all have limited resources. I can only successfully represent so many clients, and editors and publishers can only publish so many books a year, and if I'm choosing between two titles that are equally good and will probably be equally successful I will probably bow to my personal preferences and choose the book I like personally.
Keep in mind that personal preferences play into every aspect of this business. Good writing, a great plot, and strong characterization are all somewhat subjective. We’ve all read books that friends, family, and even reviewers have adored, books that publishers spent thousands to market and sell because they saw the book and author as the next big thing but that we couldn’t even get past page 50 on.
So yes, personal preferences can play a role in why an agent or editor makes a decision. However, those preferences are usually a bit stronger than the examples I used. I really can’t imagine anyone rejecting a book that has a dog in it just because they hate or are afraid of dogs (of course, I can’t imagine anyone hating dogs). And usually those preferences are somewhat subconscious. Rather than an agent reading the query and thinking, “I dislike that, I won’t read it,” the dislike comes through while reading and the agent simply loses her enthusiasm or enjoyment for the book.
Agents and editors are successful partly because they have good instincts as to what works and what doesn’t, and for all of us, personal preferences do play into those instincts.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Recently I got a call from an author asking advice for a friend of hers. The friend had received an offer from a publisher and was unagented, and while she was over the moon, she was also in a panic. What to do? What to do?
I covered this topic once before here, but it bears repeating and elaborating on.
While most of us preach against submitting directly to a publisher, there are still a few publishers who accept unagented material and will consider it. And yes, they will, on occasion, make an offer. In fact, I have four clients who came to me with a publisher’s offer in hand. In two instances the author was previously published with this publisher and decided that this time she wanted to use the offer as leverage to find an agent. In another instance the author had never been published before and wanted an agent to negotiate the finer points of the deal. In that case we sent the material around to a number of different publishers, and while we got some interest, in the end we signed with the publisher who originally offered. In another case the author had never been published before but had submitted to a couple of publishers based on contest requests. In that case we used the offer as leverage to sell the book to another publisher for an even better deal.
So what are your choices if you’re unagented and receive an offer directly from the publisher? As I see it you have two: (1) sign with the publisher and move on to working with the editor on your book, or (2) use the offer as leverage to contact all of your favorite agents and find the one you think is best suited to your work and work style.
Of course my suggestion would always be choice #2, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with choice #1 either.
If, however, you decide to try to find an agent, here’s my advice. . . .
1. Thank the editor and let her know that you’re planning to find an agent to negotiate on your behalf. Let her know that you’ll get back to her in 7 to 10 days (and then of course get back to her in that time frame). Do NOT tell the editor you accept her offer or anything even remotely similar. This will ruin any possibility of the agent negotiating on your behalf.
2. Contact every agent who has your work (at least those you are most interested in working with) and give them the details of your deal. You don’t need to reveal money matters at this point, but let them know that you have an offer, with what house (you can leave out the editor’s name) and for how many books. And give them a deadline. Let them know you’d like to hear back in 3 to 5 days.
3. Contact new agents who you’ve always liked and wanted to submit to, but who don’t have your work. Let them know why you’re contacting them and provide all the same information as in point #2.
4. And then wait. Most agents will get back to you in the time asked. For those who don’t, they should at least ask for more time or let you know when they can get back to you. For anyone who seems uncommunicative or lacks the ability to get back to you in time, cross them off your list. Either they aren’t interested enough for you to want to work with them or their communication style isn’t what you want in an agent (unless of course you’re fine with being ignored).
5. Once the agents get in touch with you, read my blog post on Questions to Ask Before Signing with an Agent and don’t forget to read the comments. This should help give you an idea of what the agents are about and who you would be most comfortable working with. And then go for it. Sign with the agent.
6. Now that you’ve found your perfect business partner let the editor know that So-and-So agent will be getting in touch to handle the deal.
7. And Celebrate!
And lastly, don’t worry that editors or agents will be put off by your demands. You’re demanding nothing. You are acting as a smart and wise businessperson.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
I talked in an earlier post about sticking to a pseudonym. Once you have one it should be the name you use on all of your correspondence, conference name tags, and even when introducing yourself to people. After my post, though, a couple of readers were curious to know when an author should reveal her legal name. My answer is if it doesn’t have anything to do with your platform you’ll only need to reveal it when it comes time to sign contracts. Obviously you need to be forthright with your agent and let her know both your legal name and your pseudonym, but you only need to do that when she offers representation. The same goes for the publisher. I rarely let the publisher know the legal names of my authors until we need it for the contract.
If, however, your legal name, or another pseudonym, builds your platform, you’ll want to include that from the start. For example, you might say something along the lines of, “Having published successfully under Jessica Faust I’ve decided to spin my career in a new direction with thrillers under the name J. H. Faust,” or something like that.
Don’t get too hung up on this. Until you’re published it’s not that big of a deal. Just keep in mind that it’s hard enough for agents to remember one name, let alone two, so when checking on submissions or following up with requested material it makes everyone’s lives easier if you are using that name you want to publish under.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
I received a couple of great questions on my first Contracts 101: Advances post yesterday that I think are worth a follow-up. One reader pointed out that while agents will tell you to get the highest advance you can, publishers will go on and on about how that can be a mistake. Let me clarify that while I think it’s important to negotiate the hell out of an advance, I’m not always in the camp of getting the highest advance of all time. Maybe it’s from my years as an editor, but I think that all too often agents do authors a disservice by selling that big six-figure deal when everyone somehow knew it should have only been a nice mid-five-figure deal.
So let me try to explain a little of what everyone’s thinking is on this . . .
Agents: The reason most agents will shoot the moon on getting you the highest advance possible is twofold. The first is that authors often judge how effective an agent is based on the advance an agent gets for you. In other words, when talking about the amazing things your agent has done for you, what most people focus on is how your agent was able to get you that big advance. Few authors look at the fact that your agent was able to negotiate a better royalty rate or stronger option clause. So in order to get street cred, or build a big reputation, it somehow comes down to advance. A bigger reason, though, is that very, very few books earn much in royalties. So the goal is to make as much as possible up front, therefore guaranteeing you are at least making money on the book.
Publishers: Publishers obviously want to keep the advance as low as possible because they don’t want to pay up front. In other words, you are making your money at the same time the publisher is and it’s not coming out of their pocket.
Basically both camps are trying to eliminate their own risk as much as possible. By getting a bigger advance the agent lessens the risk of making little to no money on a project. By keeping the advance small the publisher lessens the risk of losing any money on the project. Get it?
Authors: The truth is that you want to be somewhere in the middle. Ideally you want an advance that does earn out in the first year, but not necessarily in the first week. You want to make enough to pay for what you’ve already done, but not too much that it takes five years before you actually see your first royalty payments. Because yes, if you make a $10,000 advance, but only earn $6,000 of it out in the first one to two years, it might be difficult for the publisher to really get behind you for another book deal. Why? They’ve already lost money on you and they don’t necessarily want to do it again.
The question was also asked why agents don't focus more on negotiating the royalties rather than the advance. They do, and often they can’t. Most royalties are pretty well set in stone. My first negotiating technique is always to hit the money first, and that means advance, royalty, and the territories I sell (or keep), but few publishers are willing, especially with a new author, to budge even a percentage on those royalties.
For an unpublished author this is essentially a guessing game. No one really has any idea how well the book will or might do. The publisher knows how much they are willing to put into it and can base the advance on that, and the agent hopes that by increasing the publisher’s investment they will be willing to put even more into it. How much negotiation can an agent do at this stage? That really depends. It depends on how many publishers are playing. It depends on the author’s track record, on sales of other similar books, on the author’s platform, and yes, it depends on the publisher’s enthusiasm for the project.
There seems to be a lot of discussion again about whether you should post sample pages on your Web site and tell an agent about it in your query. Obviously different agents are going to say different things on the issue, but ultimately, if your writing is good, no one is going to reject you simply because you’ve posted a chapter or two on your Web site. What they might do, however, is reject you because your entire query letter says this:
Dear Ms. Faust:
Please read my amazing new book at www.bookends-inc.com.
Your Web site is another address and promotional tool for you. Posting pages can help attract agents. I know that when I see an author’s name again and again in contest wins, on my blog, or as a conference attendee, I’m going to look for a Web site and I’m going to read any pages that are there. Never will I contact an author out of the blue if I haven’t read her work. However, if I’ve had the opportunity to read a sample chapter on her Web site, I might think it’s good enough to ask to see more.
One of the concerns I've been asked about is how a publisher feels about authors posting a chapter on the Internet. There seems to be the feeling that publishers will then consider the work published and not touch it. In other words, putting a chapter up on a web site ultimately means that you self-published the book. Not true at all. I have never had a publisher ask me if a chapter was published. In fact, most will encourage authors to promote using that tool. Should you post your entire book? I would recommend against it. Think of it as promotion. You wouldn't promote your book by posting the entire thing therefore you shouldn't promote your unpublished work any differently.
I honestly don't see any cons to posting a piece of your best writing on your Web site. It gives people the opportunity to really see what they can expect from you and, you never know.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
It's been a while since I've done a day in the life post so I thought I'd check in. The last two weeks have actually been painfully quiet. You can definitely tell it's August and everyone is on vacation. I've been having periodic conversations with editors about various things, but other than that I've been doing what everyone should do in August. I've been catching up. I have to say, it's amazing.
My submission piles have gone down significantly. Of course they've gone up too. The other day I recieved seven! full manuscripts. Amazing. I didn't even know I had requested that many. Clearly I'm seeing some really great material cross my desk. And it's been lots of fun. As of this writing I haven't made any calls, but I'm hoping there's a real keeper in that stack.
What else have I been up to? I'm currently in the middle of submitting a nonfiction project I'm very excited about, I've been reading and critiquing/revising client manuscripts. So thrilling to see the ideas they're coming up with as well as the work they're doing. Some of the critiquing has been for material I'll hopefully be ready to submit soon and others has been for already contracted material. I have a couple of projects under serious consideration with publishers--I'm just waiting for the calls--and of course I've been reviewing contracts, hounding editors about payments, making sure the bills are paid and catching up on fun reading.
For now I'm off to read yet another full manuscript. I'll keep you posted!
As requested, I’m going to start a contract workshop. Now and then I’ll do a post explaining some (probably not all) contract terms that you might want to be aware of. And what they mean. Since this is our first day of class I want to break you in easy and begin with the advance. While most of you should know what an advance is, I’m often surprised by how few know what it really means.
An advance is NOT what you are getting paid for your work. It’s not like working a job and getting paid $100,000 a year. In other words, it’s not at all intended to reflect your “value.” An advance is just that, it’s an advance against future earnings. Think of it this way: if you went to work and your boss knew you were having hard times and offered to give you a $10,000 advance on your salary, he’s not saying you’re worth only $10,000 to him. No, he’s saying that he has faith that you’ll complete the work you need to complete for him, successfully, and he’ll gladly dock your future pay to help you out. That’s an advance.
With most publishers an advance usually reflects your book’s earning potential the first year it’s on sale, less costs to the publisher. What does that mean? Traditionally when publishers run those elusive numbers they try to figure in how many copies a book will sell it’s first year in print, then they try to figure out how much it’s going to cost them to make that book—design the cover, pay for paper, printing, and shipping costs—and then they will figure out how much you might make on the book based on your royalty percentage. And that’s your advance. It’s your share of the book’s profit its first year in print. Of course the publisher (and you) hopes you far exceed that number and that first royalty statement blows the advance out of the water.
Advances are usually paid out in segments. Ideally it’s half the payment on signing of the contract and half the payment upon delivery and acceptance of the manuscript. The key word there is "acceptance." Just because you delivered the book on May 2 doesn’t mean your payment is put through on May 3. No, your payment will be put through when your editor has finally had time to read the book, write a revision letter, received your revisions and approved your revisions (in other words, found time to read your book again). Sometimes (ideally) you can get a time frame written in on when acceptance needs to happen by. Oftentimes, you cannot.
Nowadays, though, the ideal is changing. It seems that more and more publishers are dividing payments into thirds, or more. Partial payment on signing, partial on delivery and acceptance, sometimes partial on the delivery and acceptance of proposals for any other books, and the dreaded partial payment upon publication. I hate that. Authors hate it. Agents hate it and publishers love it. It’s becoming standard now at most houses, so complain all you want, you’re not getting out of it, no matter how small your advance is.
My advice on how to handle a really small advance? Negotiate the hell out of it. And if that doesn’t work, prove them wrong. Sell so many copies of that first book that they will have to pay you a ton on the next.
Monday, August 13, 2007
I hope we’ve all had one. That book that implanted itself into your heart. The one that when you finished you just sat there holding it, wishing it hadn’t ended, still caught up in its emotion and afraid that if you move the feeling will go away. Although it’s been years since I’ve read it, one of those books for me was Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles. The ending left me feeling a myriad of emotions that I just couldn’t grab. I was happy and sad, heartbroken and yet uplifted. More than five years since its publication I still can’t shake this book.
So what was it for you? Was it a recent read or one from years ago that you just can’t shake? What was that book that found its way into your soul and left you thinking about it for days, months, and even years?
Friday, August 10, 2007
I recently entered a "hook" contest in which I was advised to rewrite mine to focus on just one of three major characters. This bothered me a great deal—I feel it is dishonest. The three characters' plots intertwine by the end, and they all get equal playing time. Why send a hook that focuses on one character, but then send a partial (if requested) featuring totally different characters? The one the judge wanted me to target doesn't even appear until Chapter 3, and the story isn't uniquely hers (even if she appears the "most conflicted" as the judge advised).
So—what do you prefer to see in queries with multiple protags? Is it OK to have a hook focus on one character, or would you rather see a strong hook for all 3?
Without reading your hook it’s difficult for me to really assess what’s going on here, but it sounds to me that the judge’s feedback was based more on the story overall and less on the hook. My guess is that her feedback is saying that your description of one of the characters was more enticing than the other two and that maybe that character is your hook. In other words, maybe it’s less about writing a hook about just one character and more about writing a book about just one character.
Your description above is a little confusing, and if that’s any indication of how your hook reads you’re probably in trouble. The difficulty of writing a hook with multiple characters is that it does usually get confusing and makes the reader wonder if that’s really your hook. For example, Tempt Me, Taste Me, Touch Me by Bella Andre is a novella collection and therefore a book with three different stories. Her hook, however, is universal: On a road trip to California wine country three women give in to a world of sensual delights. There’s the hook in one sentence and it neatly encompasses what is about to happen to all three women. It also grabs your attention.
My suggestion is you look at things in two different ways. First of all look at your book. Is the hook really what happens to each character or is there something universal that connects them that is in fact your hook? Or is my interpretation of the judge’s suggestion correct? Is the hook in fact that one woman’s story, and should she really become the central character of your book? Of course that’s a lot more work, but would it make a stronger book?
Also refer back to the posts I've done on writing a hook in five words, but no more than one sentence.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Elizabeth Joy Arnold
Pieces of My Sister’s Life
Pub date: July 2007
Agent: Kim Lionetti
(Click to Buy)
Author Web site: www.ElizabethJoyArnold.com.
My debut novel tells the story of identical twin sisters, Kerry and Eve, whose childhood is upended when they learn that what they both want is a future only one of them can have. After an estrangement of thirteen years, Kerry returns to her childhood home to be with her ill sister and to confront Justin, the husband she thought would be hers, and Gillian, the niece who looks just like her—hoping to finally bring closure to the dark secrets and cruel betrayals that tore the sisters apart.
My publication story started like almost every writer’s, in that I suffered for years from not even being able to get agents to ask for material after I sent queries. Now somehow here I am, with a really nice deal from a big publisher, my book sitting on the lead spot in that publisher’s catalogue, a first print run number that absolutely blows my mind, newspaper interviews and print and radio ads coming up—absolutely a dream come true; I literally have to pinch myself every day, because it still doesn’t seem real to me.
So how did I get from there to here? I wish I had an easy answer to give you, but that would be acting like the herbal-supplement people who tell you they’ve got the secret to losing weight. Anyone who says they have a surefire way of getting you published is either trying to scam you or they’re a vanity publisher. I’d have to say it’s about 80% perseverance, 10% luck, and 10% “talent.” (I put quotes around talent, by the way, because although I guess there are some people who are innately talented, almost anyone can learn to write better. Talent comes primarily from hard work, I think.) So that means 90% of it is up to you.
Just a quick note on each of these:
People will tell you it’s nearly impossible to publish a first novel without prior publishing credits, but that’s obviously not true. In my case, I never stopped believing this was what I was meant to do, and so I kept papering my walls with rejection slips, writing new manuscripts and sending them out, and then filling another wall with rejections. I kept trying because I loved to write, not because I ever expected to get published; publication was just the cherry on top. I was happiest when I was immersed in the worlds I’d created, and so I never gave up. And eventually, people started getting interested. A few years ago, I actually had an editor at Soho Press send me an encouraging letter, along with my manuscript (he actually paid for postage) with editing marks all over it, which meant he’d read the whole thing. That little pat on the back was enough to keep me going for another few years worth of rejections.
I think part of the success of this novel is that I found the right story, one that my agent and publisher believe people will connect to. I learned how to write by writing daily, sometimes from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., to the point where my husband was starting to feel like a widower. And I learned by reading—I still read every spare minute, sometimes three books at a time, everything from Chekhov to Vampire novels, and I pay attention to what I like and don’t like, think of different choices I would’ve made in the writing, and what works and doesn’t work for me. (By the way, there’s very little in Chekhov that doesn’t work. . . .) For most people, this is where “talent” comes from. Not copying or emulating, of course, but learning with every book you read.
Well, this is the tricky one, because luck is mostly outside your control. But to some extent, you do make your own luck. Write the best book you can possibly write—Do rewrite after rewrite until you feel like the book is as good as it’s ever going to get. (I’ve probably written twenty versions of my second novel, and it hasn’t even gone through the editing process yet.) Do a lot of research before you decide who to query, and write a kick-ass query letter that’ll get their attention. I owe a ton to Kim, my agent, who showed so much enthusiasm for the book when she called to take me on, and I know that enthusiasm must’ve carried through to the editors she met with. So I was incredibly lucky to find the right agent, one who truly believed in my story, and just as lucky to find Caitlin, my editor, who also had so much excitement about the book that she got me excited all over again, and really pushed it to her publisher. But the luck wouldn’t have come without the hard work and perseverance.
It’s been a year and a half since I first got my acceptance from Bantam, and finally the book’s out there in the world. The book’s only just been published, and I’ve already gotten seven pieces of “fan mail,” from people who’ve bought the book. Getting those e-mails was the first time the whole thing actually began to feel real for me. The realization that people are now reading the story and meeting the characters that were alone in my head for months and months just blows me away. And that’s what made all the pain of rejection and the hard work (not to mention the carpal tunnel syndrome) worth it.
Best of luck in your own publishing adventures!
Feel free to ask Elizabeth questions in the comments. She'll drop in during the day to read and answer them.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
I’ve been getting a lot of email questions from blog readers and want to thank you all for your input. As you all know, I try to keep up on reading your comments and answering them the best I can, but there are definitely times when I miss things. So if you ever have a question you’d like me to answer on the blog or you’ve read something somewhere else you’d like me to comment on (you are the source for some of my best material), please email me at our new blog email address (just click on the "Email Us" link at the right) and I’ll get to it as soon as I can.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
I received a comment last week with a list of questions about e-publishing, and while I do represent a number of authors with an e-pub background I’m afraid I don’t know a great deal about e-publishers. Usually my clients handle their own e-books while I worry about NYC.
But in an effort to answer all the questions you have I turned to an acquaintance of mine, Margaret Riley, Publisher of Changeling Press. I asked Margaret to help me out and explain a little about how e-publishing works—from editorial to money to what authors can do to protect themselves when looking for reputable e-publishers.
Take a look at what Margaret had to say, and feel free to pop in to ask questions. I’m sure Margaret or many of my e-published readers will be glad to answer if they can.
Let’s talk about the business of publishing. We'll do a compare and contrast, like English 101. We'll call it “Follow the Money.”
Let’s assume, for our model, that our aspiring author has written a completed novel, joined all the appropriate organizations, been to all the appropriate classes and lectures, and has a pretty good book in hand. Now. What to do with said book.
If our author has been brought up in the traditions of publishing, as I was, she will have submitted said book not to publishers, but to agents. Several. First in succession, then, as years go by and her frustration grows, simultaneously. Let us also establish that our author has now found an agent who not only believes in her book, but has sold said book to a traditional publishing company. For comparative purposes, we will waive the three years this process took, during which time our author made no money. Because that doesn’t count. Right? It’s part of the process of proving oneself. Like the smaller races that lead up to the Preakness. Oh, wait. Those races all have substantial purses. Okay. Bad analogy. Never mind.
Traditional publishing is a tiered class structure, aspiring authors at the bottom, NY Times Best Sellers at the top. For every thousand aspiring writers, one might become established, and for every thousand established authors, one might become a best seller.
Advances are paid after the book is contracted, half before edits, half about the time the book is ready to release–a process that takes a minimum of nine months these days. Newly published authors get a small advance. Established writers get a slightly larger advance. Best sellers get a considerably larger advance. Eventually, if the book sells enough copies to repay the advance, the author may receive a residual. This check arrives approximately two years after the book was contracted. All of these checks are less a 15% commission to the aforementioned agent, without whom said manuscript would sit in a slush pile for years.
Now. What if our author failed in New York? Let’s just trot that book over to an E-Pub, right?
No. On the whole, E-Publishers don’t want books written for New York. They want things New York would never consider. Why? Because people who want to buy New York books will buy them from the same places you’d submit them to. E-Publishing isn’t about publishing more of the same. It’s about alternative books for an alternative market.
Okay. So we start over. Our author spends some time asking questions, learning who publishes what, who pays on time and who doesn’t, etc. (Incidentally, on the paying-on-time thing, that’s a viable question to ask of print publishers as well.) Having chalked up her previous experience to education, she writes another book. A novella this time. She’s targeted a house, read their new releases, and knows what she wants. Takes her two months. After reading the submission guidelines one last time, she closes her eyes as she clicks the mouse. SEND. It’s done. Her newest creation is out of her hands. Two glasses of wine and she’s off to bed.
Imagine her surprise when in the next day’s email she receives a note telling her the submission has been received, and she can expect to hear back in approximately four weeks. Weeks? Sure enough, four weeks later, there’s a contract offer in her inbox. (Because after all, even though only 5% or so of E-Books submissions ever get published, we’re interested in following the story of one that does.)
Sixty to one hundred twenty days later, after several rounds of the toughest edits she’s ever imagined, her book releases. Thirty days later she receives her first check. By now she’s got contracts for three more books in the series, and the next one releases two months later. And two months after that.
None of these books sells thousands of copies. Her first book sells only four hundred copies over the first six months, and she’s made about $500 on it. But with books coming out every other month, the checks are adding up. Three books, at $500 each . . . and the first book is still selling. And she has three more contracted, and her publisher tells her the numbers are good. They’re happy with her, and looking for more books.
Are these figures hypothetical? Yes. Your mileage may vary. Numbers and percentages and production times differ from house to house. A good bit depends on what you write and who you write it for. Neither market’s going to repay you for those three lost years. It makes no sense to write something you don’t enjoy just because you think it will sell. But if your heart’s set on genres and themes whose potentials lend themselves better to niche markets than mass market, where there’s a niche, there’s a house to fill it.
Long term, a single NY contract with a $3,000 to $5,000 advance may well pay more per book than a single E-book contract. No one in E-Publishing will argue with that. But few NY houses offer authors the opportunity to publish quarterly, bi-monthly, or even monthly, with monthly paychecks, no reserves, no returns, and royalties that keep paying months and even years after the book first releases.
What’s the downside? E-Publishers are small businesses, and as such, owners usually have everything “at risk,” as financial analysts say. Personal and professional tragedies and market turns can catch any small business in their wake.
So how do you protect yourself? Most E-Published authors write for more than one house. And I highly recommend authors join EPIC, the Electronically Published Internet Connection www.epicauthors.com. Authors from the electronic community are usually ready and willing to share information, ideas, warnings, and potential new market news.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
While traveling recently I brought along a full manuscript submission to read. I had already read the first three chapters and was thrilled. It was a thriller with a unique and different hook. The characters were well drawn and likable and the writing was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t have been more excited. In fact, I rarely travel with manuscripts, using airtime to read for pleasure, but in this case the manuscript was entirely pleasurable. Until I finished.
I loved the idea and could picture it not only on bestseller lists but also as a movie option. I loved the writing. The author had real talent, and although she’d been published before with a small house I knew she could make it big with the big houses. So what was my dilemma? The plot was a disaster. This was a thriller with no mystery at all. Intern Lisa and I both read the partial first and were shocked to discover that every suspect in fact did commit the crime, we were picking up on clues faster than the protagonist, and in fact we had solved the entire mystery before finishing the first 50 pages. It took the protagonist 400.
Easy reject, right? No. For some reason I was stumped by this one. I knew the author could write mystery and had, in fact, been well reviewed for her previous works. But why couldn’t she write this? I had a long list of revisions, but did I really want to take on the task of working with the author on them? What if she couldn’t do the rewrites? I mean this was big. It wasn’t just a piece here or there that needed correcting, this needed to be an entirely new book. And did I want to risk that? Did I want to ask her to do rewrites only to get them back and discover that it couldn’t be fixed? On the other hand, asking her to make the changes could result in just the book it could and needed to be.
Decisions, decisions. I was leaning toward offering representation. I really felt this was a book that I could do amazing things with, but I wanted to talk it over with the BookEnds team. I didn’t need them to read the book since I knew very well what was wrong with it, but I just needed their opinions and advice on how to handle the situation. I was waiting to bring it up at our Wednesday meeting.
Well, the decision was made for me. That author got a call from another agent who signed her right out from under me. Sure I was disappointed, and of course knowing someone else moved a day faster than me bummed me out, but I suppose it took the pressure off too. The decision was made for me. Do I think I lost out by not moving faster? Yes and no. I lost out on an opportunity to work with a really talented author whom I was excited about. On the other hand, the book needed a great deal of work, and doing that would take time away from my other busy clients. In the end I’m not concerned, I’ll find something else just as fabulous and that needs a lot less work.
So now I’m on a thriller hunt. I’m looking for the next Karin Slaughter or Kathy Reichs. I want a female protagonist who is tough with weaknesses. I want someone readers can relate to and a book that keeps me turning the pages late into the night.
Monday, August 06, 2007
I love your blog but see that you and other agents also write books. How does that happen and why?
I think that you have the right to also be authors but what happens when you have an author who is as qualified as you to write a book, a publisher is looking for an author, and you get the job? Is this an agent perk? I write this with all the most respect. Seems you are always saying you are busy, so why writing books and not agenting? I have never been published but trying to understand the business.
If you do a little research you’ll probably see that a lot of agents and editors are also or have been authors. And I was not at all offended by this question. In fact, I think it’s fabulous.
How does this happen? Well, in a variety of ways. Being entrenched in publishing allows agents to come up with new and fresh ideas every day. Sometimes they are ideas that we’ll pass on to our authors. We’re excited, we think it’s great, and we think we have the perfect client to write it. Therefore, we’ll pass it along. But every once in a while agents might feel the need or desire to stretch their own creative wings. When the idea comes in an agent might feel so passionate or so excited about it that she just needs to write it herself. In that case she would write a book in the same way most of you are writing a book—in her off hours. It’s very rare that any writer has the luxury of writing full-time. Most if not all of you have other jobs. Some of you are teachers, doctors, engineers, librarians, lawyers, priests, or stay-at-home moms. Whatever it is, few of you are spending all day in front of the computer. If an agent takes on a book project she would do it in the same way you do, in her personal time. Her writing would not be done in the office, but late at night, early in the morning, or even while on vacation.
The other way agents become authors is exactly as you suggest. There are definitely times when publishers go to agents they trust and ask for books on certain subjects. Usually they will ask if the agent has any clients that might be right, but there is the rare time when an editor is looking for just a writer (no platform necessary), and in that case, if the agent is also a writer, the editor might ask the agent if she’s available to do it. This is very, very rare though. An example of this are two books that Jacky and I wrote together. The Book of Thanksgiving and The Book of Christmas. Both were done very early in our careers as agents (in fact, at that time BookEnds was operating as a packager). I had a meeting with an editor/former colleague who suggested that they were looking to do a book on Thanksgiving and possibly other holidays and suggested that I could probably write it. Since Jacky and I were very new packagers, as was BookEnds, we decided that it might be a fun project for us to undertake ourselves rather than try to find an author to write it. It was fun to do at the time, but would I do it today? Probably not. As you well know writing a book is a time-consuming process, and at this point the only books I would willingly undertake would be those that speak to my passion. If approached, I might consider authoring a book on publishing, but most likely I would only author again if it’s an idea I truly felt passionate about or came up with on my own.
As you know, agents and editors preach platform, platform, platform. And rarely does an agent have the type of platform an editor is looking for when seeking an author. Therefore it benefits the agent best to talk to her clients rather than try to write the book on her own.
I guess your concern is whether or not you run the risk of losing out on work to an agent (your own) who would take projects for herself rather than pass them on to her clients. Unlikely. Unless I’m representing another agent it’s not very likely I am as qualified to write a book as any of my authors. Why? Publishing is truly the only thing I am qualified to write about. I am not a doctor so that rules out all books related to health; I’m not a professional speaker or well-known sales professional so that rules out sales titles. I don’t think I could write fiction to save my soul, and if I could I would want it to be an idea I came up with. I’m stubborn that way.
So don’t fear the agent who also writes, since many of us do in some capacity. If she’s a good, hardworking agent with a solid reputation, you’re in good hands. And if she has good connections it’s very likely she’ll be bringing projects or at least ideas your way.
Friday, August 03, 2007
Would it be ok to say something like "I've been studying your career for a few years and I am very impressed"? Or will I sound like a stalker? There are a few agents I'd love to work with because I've seen what they've been selling and how their authors have grown professionally. I watch agents in the news. What you're selling, new agents who come on board, or when someone moves to a different firm. It helps me know who might be interested in my work.
I think that would be great. There’s nothing wrong with stalking if it’s done well. By letting me know that you’ve been watching my career you’ve also let me know that you are a professional who knows and understands the publishing business. To follow my career you are probably keeping up to date on publishing news and trends.
To me, watching agents in the news and knowing what they’re up to is the sign of a smart and savvy author.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
A challenge was made and I fully intend to meet it. In yesterday's comments I was asked where I see myself in five years and again in 10 years. Ironically I was asked this same question during an RWA pitch appointment. An author met with me not to pitch something (I'd already seen work from her) but to have a chance to talk with me face-to-face for ten minutes. Not a bad idea considering how little downtime I really had at the conference to chat with authors.
Okay, back to the challenge. It's hard to say really. The beauty of starting BookEnds was that Jacky and I did so believing that it would always be something that was fluid. We would never establish what we had to be because that could easily change over time. We originally started as packagers, but in just a short year we decided we needed more and switched our business to agenting. I never saw myself as the agent of erotica, until I noticed the success of ebooks and started reading it. It's been a good fit so far.
In five and ten years I honestly seeing myself doing the one job I truly, truly love. Agenting. I can't imagine leaving behind this business that I'm so proud of and a job that really makes me happy. I imagine I'll be taking on fewer new clients and I hope I'll continue to represent the amazing talent I already have on my list. A client once said to me that she has fantasies that the two of us will be in our 80's together. She'll still be writing and I'll still be negotiating. I have the same dream.
I also hope that in five and ten years publishing takes me in unforeseen directions. I can already see inklings of fantasy in my future and hope that I'll continue to represent strong and interesting business titles. Of course I imagine my workload will get heavier, with all of those bestselling authors I'm going to represent.
Will the agency grow as well? It's hard to say. Right now Jacky and I are really happy with just Kim and Linda our assistant. And of course the interns, but you never know. Maybe someone else (besides Kim) will con us into hiring her. And if it works nearly as well as it's worked with Kim I don't think we'll mind a bit.
In a nutshell I guess I see myself sitting behind this very desk, typing away on my Mac (always a Mac) and staring at walls and walls of "my" books.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years or 10?
Why do authors offer up exclusives when they aren’t even asked? This has happened to us on more than one occasion and I’ll never understand it. An author queries us and we reply that the project sounds interesting, please send along a partial. To which we hear, “I’ve promised that I will only send material to two agents at a time. Since two agents have already requested partials I’m afraid I can’t send it now, but if one should reject the material I will certainly get it out to you right away.”
Why, why, why!? [I’m banging my head on the wall to this.] It just doesn’t make sense to me. Why would you ever ask an agent to wait longer than they will already make you wait? Oftentimes enthusiasm has waned by this point or, worse yet, they get something similar (because there is always something similar) and offer on that project while you’re waiting patiently for exclusives that were never even requested.
Can you imagine if I queried editors and then said, “Sorry, Penguin and Random House, I already sent it to two other publishers. You’ll just have to wait.” I’m not sure they would like hearing that they’re second best and I’m not so sure their enthusiasm would be as high the next time I came around.
Don’t make this job harder on yourself than it already is. If you’re going to query 500 agents at once then be ready to submit partials to 500 agents. If you only want to submit to 2, 5, or 10 at a time, that’s fine. It’s your choice. But then you should only query 2, 5, or 10 at a time.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Yesterday's post on Jennifer Crusie's post about being fired by her agent elicited some interesting comments from all of you. The biggest question though seems to be what happens next. Do I think Ms. Crusie received hundreds of emails and phone calls from agents trying to woo her and what do agents do to distinguish themselves in a field obviously filled with agents?
First questions first. I want to address a few comments from Jennifer's blog. A few readers felt that her agent was making a huge mistake and were concerned that if even bestselling authors get fired what kind of hope do unpublished authors have. I addressed this yesterday, but want to repeat that I have the utmost respect for an agent who is willing to let a bestselling author go for the good of that author's career. According to the original post on the subject the agent didn't agree with the new direction Jennifer saw her career going and therefore (my words) didn't feel she would be the best agent for the job. This is the agent everyone wants. Not a "big name," not your best friend's agent or not someone who buys you great drinks. You want someone who truly believes in you as a writer and your work and who is willing to risk losing money if it means honestly telling you that the direction you're going in doesn't fit what she can and should do for you. Remember, the author/agent relationship is about teamwork and if not everyone on the team is able to play the same game you don't have a chance in heck of winning.
Now on to your questions...Yes, I suspect there were more than a few phone calls and emails from agents looking to sign Jennifer in about five minutes flat. More importantly though I suspect all authors already have a list of agents they've met over the years and liked, know very well or have just heard good things about. If something should go awry they already know who they might contact. While this might not be a conscious list, I would suspect everyone has a list nonetheless. After all, it never hurts to be prepared. In the same way I have built acquaintances with many published authors who are not my clients, authors are regularly building relationships with publishing professionals. It's only natural. For me, I would be thrilled to sign some of these acquaintances immediately, while others I would have to talk to first. Jennifer Cruisie mentioned that she is going in a new direction that her now former agent doesn't feel she can support. Without knowing what this direction is any agent worth her salt is going to want to talk to Jennifer before committing. She too will want to make sure she's the best agent for the job. But to really answer your question, few agents feel the need to go about trying to rally up clients. I don't know Jennifer Cruisie personally. If I did would I be dropping her an email? Probably not. Most likely I would already have an idea of whether she'd be calling to talk to me anyway.
The question that was asked that intrigues me most is what does an agent do to make herself distinct. I talk over and over about making your work and your queries stand out, but what can agents do. Well I'm going to throw that right back at you? Imagine yourself in this situation or, if that's too big of a stretch, imagine yourself faced with multiple offers of representation. What would you want to hear, see or know about an agent that would make her win the ultimate prize (your business)?
How does one address an agent in a query? Dear Jessica? Dear Jessica Faust? Dear Ms. Faust?
Such a little thing to obsess over, I know, but since I rarely query/submit to people I haven't met at conferences or other places, it feels odd to call them "Ms. So-and-so."
I guess it depends on the agent. If you met an agent personally I suggest first names first. I’m always happy to be addressed by my first name when I’ve met someone. Please note, though: My name is Jessica, not Jennifer. I HATE it when people get it wrong, and if I'm in the wrong mood I will possibly reject you based on this alone. I know, I can be such a witch.
I’m a little old-fashioned, though. If we’ve never met then I guess I prefer either Jessica Faust or Ms. Faust. I’m not sure why, but it bugs me when people use my name informally if we’ve never met. I guess by the same token, if we’ve never met (or at least corresponded in an informal way) I will always address you by your full name or Ms./Mr.
Keep in mind, meetings can sometimes happen over email. When in doubt, go with Jessica Faust and wait to see how I respond to you. In the end, though, as long as you get the name right it’s probably not that big of a deal.