Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Holidays!

BookEnds is closed for the holidays until Wednesday, January 2, 2008.

Have a wonderful holiday and we'll be blogging again in the New Year.

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The Benefits of Being an Agent

I had an interesting thought regarding Erik's comments considering this is an agent's blog. The hype machine costs money, yes. Didn't Trump just pay out something like $25K to about 1,000 people standing in line waiting to buy his book and have it autographed? Who bears the cost of promotion? Authors and, sometimes, publishers.

Do agents pick up the promotion tab, or do they simply reap the benefit of author and publisher promo? If the latter, then those NYT Bestseller spikes don't cost agents anything, and, in the long run, it's the agents that net out better than either the author or the publisher.


Interesting thought that at a 15% commission the agents ever net out better than anyone. No, agents don’t typically pick up a tab for promotion. That’s really up to the people who are making the money—the publishers and the authors. The agent, however, will often do her best to eliminate as much of that tab from the author’s own pockets as possible. In other words, the agent will do her best to get the publisher to pay.

Any author will always bear the cost of some promotion, even if it’s the cost of attending a conference, but the more successful an author becomes the more the publisher should and will bear those costs. And the publisher absolutely should. It’s part of the cost of doing business in the first place. Should an agent bear the cost of building an author’s brand? I’m not sure and I’d be interested to hear what others say about this. I do know that some of the larger agencies now are bringing on publicists. I don’t know how well that’s working or how much they are actually spending. BookEnds has started this blog, which we see as a promotional opportunity for our authors should they choose to use it. We also have a Web site where we heavily promote our authors. It only makes sense. Successful authors = successful agents.

BookEnds did briefly toy with the thought of hiring an agency publicist, but in the end we weren’t sure a publicist for the agency would do any more than a publisher’s publicity department does (or that we can get them to do). I guess I’m not convinced it makes sense.

Okay, that was not much of an answer, but I think this is worthy of more of a discussion than just one woman’s answer. Thoughts?

Jessica

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 14

I hope you’re not getting bored with these yet. I think we’re finally well beyond the halfway mark. Thanks, everyone, for submitting and commenting, and please continue to do so. I think making this a forum where everyone can improve her pitch is terrific. This has been fun for me. Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary.

77. jaxpop
Making the choice to risk your own life to rescue a friend requires great courage and selflessness. Add having to abandon $15,000,000 in gold during the process raises the stakes significantly. Following through on it, as a fifteen year old, provides reason for pause, but for Jack, the commitment must be made in an instant.

My first concern is that grammatically this is really awkward. Wouldn’t it be stronger just to say, “. . . Abandoning $15 million in gold in the process takes even greater selflessness, but for 15-year-old Jack the decision must be made in an instant when . . .”? I think we need just a little more here. I love the opening two lines, but I think we need to know a why or a what happens to force this decision.

78. anon 11:21
'See Lotty Run' is an 85,000 word Romantic Thriller:
Lotty killed her baby didn't she? With a new face and a new start, it all seems to be working out. Till she falls for a cop.


It’s missing that special oomph. My first concern is the question: Did she or didn’t she kill her baby? I wouldn’t advise starting with a question and certainly not this one, it doesn’t entice me. Why not just say, "After accidentally (you’ll need to let us know immediately how sympathetic we can be for this character) killing her own baby, Lotty starts out with a new face and a new start...”? I hope your entire conflict is not that she’s fallen for a cop. That’s not enough and, truthfully, pretty easy to get out of. You just walk away. Something more has to be happening to Lotty in this story. Something to really up the suspense. If this really is a romantic suspense I need to see the suspense in your pitch and not the romance. I’m not quite as concerned with that. If, however, you’re calling it a thriller, you need to up the stakes even more. Agents will expect a lot of fear in a thriller. We need to see that in the pitch.

79. JLT
Becky Miller is stunned to discover that her husband, Walter, is having an affair with a mentally challenged cocktail waitress. Even worse, Walter’s girlfriend has suggested that she and Walter would both be better a lot off if Becky were permanently removed from the picture. Becky thus decides to teach Walter a lesson that he’ll never forget, but as she sets her scheme into motion, things go tragically wrong and Becky suddenly finds herself in danger of becoming the principal victim of her own carefully constructed plan…

I’m sure I’m going to take a hit for this, but you want honesty, right? From your first sentence I would reject this. I have a really, really hard time with the fact that her husband is having an affair with someone who is mentally challenged. Granted, there are definitely extremes to this definition, but my first thought is that if he’s having an “affair” with someone who is mentally challenged then he is as bad as a pedophile. In other words, he’s clearly taking advantage of someone and the least of your concerns is their plot to do away with Becky. I think the real concern is that she’s married a man who is essentially a criminal. To rectify this you’ll need to clarify how challenged this waitress is, and I’m not sure that needs to be done in the pitch. Hopefully it comes across better in the book. Beyond that, though, I think your real hook is that, “Becky discovers her husband’s affair and in an attempt to teach him a lesson things go tragically wrong. Instead of simply enacting revenge on her cheating man, Becky finds herself in danger...” I think you need a little bit more, a little bit more of an idea of how dangerous the danger is, but I hope you get the idea.

80. Jduncan
Pathology Assistant, June Marigold is moving up in the world thanks to the magical ring given to her by her mother, which allows her to see and speak to the dead. After solving a notorious, deadend case, June found herself with a brand new apartment up in the Thirties, high above the dreadful waterways of a now flooded lower Manhatten. But when the corpse of a merman shows up in the morgue and then mysteriously vanishes overnight, June finds herself caught up in an ongoing struggle between the Mer and a corrupt part of NYC that wants the City's newest residents permanently removed. Having to delve into the murky underwater world of the lowest Manhatten is the last thing June wants, especially accompanied by the mysterious and unnerving Mer, Bolen, who serves her pagan mother and absurdly refers to June as 'Princess.' The entire problem would have been washed away if, when she tried returning the stupid ring to her mother, June hadn't discovered the power to see the dead didn't lie in the ring at all, but in her.

Too long! Let me ask you this: What really matters to the core of your story? In other words, if you want to attract a reader, what is your biggest hook? Is it that the ring came from her mother? That she’s moving up in the world? That she lives in the Thirties? No. I think the real core of this is that she’s a pathologist with the ability to see and speak to the dead. That’s amazing. That’s a book I want to read. The rest of it is just padding. The rest is what creates the book and builds your characters. A pathologist who can see and speak to the dead and is forced to use her powers to uncover a struggle between the Mer and the residents of NYC. I like this idea a lot; however, based on your pitch, my conclusion is that you don’t have a very fleshed-out story. That you’re trying to do too much and not really focusing on writing a great, amazing, and really coherent plot.

81. Jeanne
Neska has never been out of her native mountains and knows nothing about leading armies or defeating a usurper. She has never cast a spell or decided the course of a kingdom. All she knows is that the usurper has killed the king for the throne and had her own family murdered for their loyalty. Neska is on the run, and has no idea how she will surivive much less bring about justice. But all that will change when a mysterious mage dies transferring his tattoos and his magical power to her.

The pitch here is what happens when the mysterious mage dies and what really happens next. To me the fact that Neska has never been out of the mountains, etc., is merely backstory. Why not shorten, tighten, and get to the point faster? I’m also not entirely sure what’s going on here. Is Neska related to the king? Why is she responsible for bringing justice? And what is this story really about? Is it about Neska being on her own, outside of the mountains, or is it really what happens after the mage dies? I think you need to give a better sense of who Neska is as well as a better sense of what the story is really about. I assume it’s about the need to bring justice, but from whom and why?

82. wplasvegas
Secret Lore of the Dolphins is an epic story about a seven year old girl shipwrecked in the Bermuda Triangle, who is rescued, then befriended by dolphins, and taught their language. Now an adult, she returns to civilization appointed as, "Ambassador of the People of the Sea to the People of the Land."

Try not to give any pitch that says something along the lines of, “title is an...” It immediately reads like book report material and takes the life out of the pitch. What about something like, “When seven-year-old Tina is shipwrecked, alone, in the Bermuda Triangle, she learns to rely on a group(?) of dolphins to teach her survival....” Reading that, however, I immediately think this is a YA book, and a great idea at that. It’s only when I read your next line that I’m utterly confused. What exactly is this book about? I assume it’s not about the girl living on the island and getting to know the dolphins, but instead about her life as an adult. What does that entail and what is her conflict? Most important, though, what exactly is the Ambassador of the People of the Sea to the People of the Land and what does all of that mean?


Now I turn it over to the readers. And don’t slack off on me. If I can keep coming back with critiques, comments, and suggestions, so can you. We’ve got a lot more coming!

Jessica

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Power of an Author Blog

I was curious about your take on author blogs. First, do you think author blogs sell books? Second, do you think revealing personal information, even when presented humorously, is appropriate? Over time I’ve found myself disenchanted with some authors after reading posts about the inner-workings of their marriage, as an example. I understand the need to entertain and for blog readers to feel that they are seeing a slice of an author’s life, but is there a fine line between professional promotion and too much information?

Confession time. I don’t read that many blogs. I read a few here and there and I love it when people clue me in to an interesting post (hint, hint), but I don’t spend a lot of time surfing other blogs (although I do check out Nathan Bransford daily, because he is extremely clever). I’m not part of author fandom. Actually I’m not much of a “fan” in general. I never hung posters from Teen Beat on my wall and I never wrote fan letters to the Duke Boys. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is probably a question that’s best put out to readers. Do you read author blogs? Do they make you buy books?

My opinion. It can’t hurt, but it needs to stand out. You need to provide readers with something more than just a daily rundown of your life to make it interesting. I do think readers like getting a personal taste of who you are, but no one wants the minute details of your life. When asked by my own clients if they “have to” blog, my answer is always, You have to want to blog. I don’t care if you blog, but if you do you need to commit. You either need to join up with a group or you need to decide that you are indeed going to blog every day. Let me ask you this? Would you come to this blog regularly if it wasn’t daily? Probably not. You’d forget.

I think this is an interesting post for regular blog readers. Do you read author blogs? What do you like to read in them? Do you prefer individual blogs or group blogs? And for those authors who do blog (great time to promote your blog) do you have any parameters for yourself and your blog? Do you think it helps your sales?

Jessica

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dear Santa . . .

Every Thanksgiving my mom takes advantage of the family being all in one place and forces us to write our Christmas lists. This year — like every year — a few books made it onto my list . . . even though I should really be asking for a bookcase to store all of the piles of books I already own! I’m eager to get to the stacks I already have, but who can resist adding a few more? So I got to wondering what books are on your wish list this year. How did you hear about them? Recommendation? Review? Just the latest from your favorite author?

Here’s what’s on the BookEnds lists this year:

Kim

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield — This book has been calling to me ever since I first saw it hit the stores. The cover screams “Booklovers! Over here!” and the copy makes it sound like my idea of the perfect book. I’m kind of shocked that I don’t already own it. I think I always succumb to the guilt of those huge unread piles sitting back at home. But this is definitely at the very top of my wish list.

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo — I loved Empire Falls. While I never got around to going back and reading his previous works, I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Bridge of Sighs. I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into this one.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell — I have to admit that I added this to the list on a whim. I saw it recently in stores and decided to research it as a possible future pick for my book club. The starred Publishers Weekly review sealed it for me. (I bank heavily on those PW reviews!) And it’s a book all about family secrets. What’s better than that?

Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope by Jenna Bush and Mia Baxter — This is my book club’s next selection. I kind of like that we’re mixing things up with a young adult book, and the story intrigues me. Should make for a great discussion.


Jessica

Putting together my list for Santa was always so much easier when I had the JC Penney toy catalog in front of me. I could pore over it for days and come up with quite an impressive list. And normally I have the same feelings about coming up with books I want for Christmas, but this year I’m truly stumped. I’m a cookbook fiend so it’s baffling that I can’t even come up with one cookbook I need. As for fiction, one would think I’m always ready to add to my list, but the growing stack of books I already own and haven’t yet read is too intimidating for me to ask for more. So my version of the Christmas list is that I’m going to ask for time to read the books I already have. I’d really like to get to The Kite Runner, as well as one of the three J. R. Ward titles that have been sitting here. Of course I’m dying to catch up on some of my own clients’ books and Karin Slaughter’s latest is also in my pile. And since it’s winter I’d like something heartwarming, women’s fiction that makes me cry a little and feel good about life in the end. It should also have a bit of a romance, I suppose. Elizabeth Berg is usually good for that, but I’m open to suggestions since I’m just not sure what that book is.


Jacky

I recommend The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which was my favorite nonclient book of the year. Cormac McCarthy is an amazing, provocative writer and The Road stayed with me long after I put it down. I also recommend I Am American and So Can You! by Stephen Colbert. I listened to the audio book and laughed myself silly. He’s so clever, Nation.

On my list to read (after I read all my clients’ books, of course):

The Birds in My Life by The Supreme Master Ching Hai
The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
The Carb Conscious Vegetarian by Robin Robertson


Now it’s your turn! What books are on your list and why?

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Pitch Critiques Lucky 13

More critiques for you. I’ve seen a lot of great pitches so far. Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary.

72. Dead Man Walking
Jessica had it all - her own agency, a popular blog, and even a man who liked watching Oprah with her. But when someone steals her egg salad sandwiches from the office fridge on the morning of the annual Festivus Potluck, Jessica finds herself smack in the middle of a mystery. With toe-hair curling prose, BROUHAHA AT BOOKENDS shows what happens when an obnoxious slushpile-reader-who-doesn't-swing-her-arms-when-she-walks meets up with the agent who ruined her life with a simple form reject.

I have printed this out and hung it on my wall. Not only did it make me laugh out loud, but of course it’s a book I’m dying to read ;) Thanks, Dead Man, it’s definitely the break I needed. And brilliant as well. I’m really impressed. And of course who wouldn’t want to read a mystery with a literary agent protagonist?

73. dramabird
Set in a nearly empty college in the final stages of closure, my novel The Campus is a 103,000-word thriller. Kiley is a theatre tech major who excels behind the scenes, but in a single, terrifying night, she is propelled center stage when the school’s few remaining students are threatened by a group of masked men whose motives are not what they seem.

In a story of mayhem, secrets and loyalty (not to mention hammers, hydrochloric acid, pancakes and the gates of the Emerald City), Kiley – a heroine with moxie rather than muscles – must do whatever it takes to rescue her ex-boyfriend, protect newfound allies and keep herself alive until morning.


This has potential. I think you need to be a little more straightforward, though. I would also eliminate the line about hammers to Emerald City. If this is a thriller, you want your pitch to remain thrilling (and suspenseful) even if you have light comedy in your book—adding it to the pitch can diminish that sense of suspense you want the reader to feel. I think that the pitch is a little shorter. “Kiley is a theatre tech major who excels behind the scenes and never desires center stage, but in a single terrifying night that’s exactly where she finds herself. When a group of masked men take over the theatre, demanding ????, only Kiley, hidden in her ????, is the one left to save them.” Or something along those lines. My concern overall is that I’m not feeling that this is really something that grabs my interest. College students in a theatre don’t have that “grab me and read me” quality. So my question is do your masked men? Are their motives ones that might attract readers?

74. tracey
A Lady's Revenge is an edgy, sensual romance set in 1805 England, between a beautiful, dedicated British Operative and a resourceful English Earl, who shows her how to trust and love again.

Snoooze! This shows me absolutely nothing different about your book. The opening line gives me no sense of voice. It sounds like it’s a description from a review. Get into it and get excited. "Lady Vanessa Gray is a British Operative with ????, but when she’s left investigating Earl Jonas Frank...." Do you see what I mean? We need to know what your real hook is and everything in your description reads like almost any other historical romance. I suspect the British Operative is your real hook, so run with that.

75. anon 9:21
MARIAH, once a foundling but now the most powerful woman in the Marches, has a tongue that flicks like a lash. LINDEN, the ruler who once shared her bed with his half-brother, is her most frequent target. Mariah is tempted to withdraw from Linden’s council of advisors. Yet, she can’t abandon the descendants of the people who fought at her side during the Rebellion four centuries ago because Linden is showing signs of his mother's madness. Then, her granddaughter is used as bait in a plot to overthrow Linden's rule.

I have no idea what you're talking about. I have no sense if this is a romance, mystery, historical novel, or SF/Fantasy. Is your conflict and is your hook really that she has a sharp tongue? And what do I care if she withdraws from the council? What impact is that going to have? I assume that Mariah, Linden, and his half-brother were all lovers? What does that have to do with anything? I don’t get any real sense of conflict in this, and because of that I have a difficult time really helping you take it in a new direction.

76. Ryshia Kennie
Caught in the middle of an intrigue she doesn’t understand, in a country she once fled, reporter and freelance writer, Claire Linton, has to learn fast. What began as a trip to Cambodia to find her maternal relatives, confront her past and the long ago escape from the Khmer Rouge, has turned deadly. She becomes an involuntary mule when she purchases a souvenir, a Buddha bust. Two men follow her and both want the bust. But it is the one called Simon, the expat American, who scares her. His kisses are treacherous, fogging an already dangerous present. The biggest story of her career finds her caught in the middle of a heroin smuggling operation where she soon learns that the only one she can trust is herself.

I think this has potential. It’s definitely interesting. I think it could be tightened even a little more, and you could address the conflict with greater urgency. Especially since this is supposed to be a thriller? “Caught in the middle of an intrigue she doesn’t understand, in a country she once fled, reporter and freelance writer Claire Linton has to learn fast. What began as a trip to Cambodia to find her maternal relatives and confront her past has turned deadly.” And here is where it gets shaky for me. Are the two men following her cops? And what is the story? Is it the heroin smuggling? If so, is she really concerned about the story if she is actually it? I think your next sentence is more along the lines of, “caught in the middle of a heroin smuggling operation and what promises to be the biggest story of her career, Claire...” I’ll leave the rest to you. But keep the suspense up. Show us what Claire is really up against.


Great work, everyone. And now to the readers and your feedback. . . .

Jessica

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Michele Dunaway on When a Story Clicks

Michele Dunaway
The Christmas Date (Harlequin American Romance) and Hart’s Victory (Harlequin NASCAR)
Publisher: Harlequin Enterprises
Pub Date: December 2007
Agent: Jessica Faust


(Click to Buy) (Click to Buy)

Web site: www.micheledunaway.com

One photojournalist, one girl next door, plus one hot and sexy race car driver, and one single mom who wants nothing to do with him, all add up to one crazy month of December with my two releases, The Christmas Date from Harlequin American and Hart’s Victory from Harlequin NASCAR.

I’m Michele Dunaway, and I’m one of Jessica’s authors, having been her client since February 2006. While I sold 14 novels on my own to Harlequin, Jessica has since sold six more for me (bringing my total to 20 in 8 years). I’m also a full-time high school journalism teacher who sponsors the yearbook and the newspaper. The yearbook was named All American, which means it’s pretty darn good. My writing process is sporadic and I do a lot of it in big, huge spurts. I simply can’t focus with fewer than 45 minutes to write.

Hart’s Victory is one of those dream books for me and I’ve dedicated it, in part, to Jessica, for helping make this work a reality. The book is also dedicated to one of my former students and my daughter because this book has had this weird karma to it since inception. I first thought of the idea after my daughter got to ask Dale Earnhardt Jr. a question during a Q&A session. She stumped him, and on the way home from Nashville, the entire book formed in my head. I wrote the first eighty pages and a synopsis within a week and sent them to Jessica, who sent them to my current editor.

The book sat and I moved on to writing something else, keeping my fingers crossed for the last 2007 NASCAR slot. During this time, one of my current students died of leukemia. I was at his visitation, and as I passed under the portico of the funeral home, there sat this red, late-nineties Corvette. I'd had the hero in my book give the son in the story a Corvette (I’m a Chevy girl) but didn’t even realize the coincidence until my students told me the next day that was Charlie’s car—that his parents gave him his dream car since his driving time would be so limited.

I freaked out. It was one of those magical, surreal moments that I knew, long before Jessica fielded the call the next week offering me a contract, the power of this story. Everything I needed clicked—the teacher in the classroom next to mine mentioned my story to a student, who told her mom, who happens to work for one of the racing websites and has all sorts of contacts. I suddenly had access to all sorts of things, and Harlequin came through with the rest. I got to go behind the scenes at Roush-Fenway racing. I got to attend a media event and meet Matt Kenseth, Kenny Schrader, Brendan Gaughn, Rusty Wallace, Martin Truex Jr., and others. I got to be in the garage and pits before a race—one that Carl Edwards won (he signed my daughter’s hat).

Because of Hart’s Victory, Harlequin also asked me to do two books for the 2008 NASCAR series. I remember sitting in my car and then suddenly realizing—twenty. In September 1999, the thrill had been selling the first one. Twenty felt equally as good. Hart’s Victory is number fifteen. It has received rave reviews, including from my daughter, who agrees with Harriet Klausner that you’ll need Kleenex tissue while reading. It’s one of those books that you’ll love even if you’re not a NASCAR fan. Now if you want some heat and light romantic comedy, try my other December release, The Christmas Date. For an emotional ride of a lifetime, follow Hart Hampton as he gets the biggest victory of all, true love, in Hart’s Victory.


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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Seeking an Agent Through Contests

I recently completed my first novel, which I submitted for a contest. The first prize is a publishing contract and the contest organizers require that the book submitted not be under contract. I am wondering though, should I wait until the contest results are announced in January to start looking for an agent? Or should I try to find an agent now, and then ask them (if I am so blessed to get one) not to submit my work until the contest results are out?

Get out there now and look! Since I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to contests I’m not exactly sure which one this might be. I can tell you, however, that most contests that come with publishing contract in hand come with a non-negotiable publishing contract. Wouldn’t you rather have an agent on your side to try and turn that into something that can be negotiated? Maybe even sell it to another house? If you don’t find an agent before you win the contest, you can then use the contest to help you find one. However, I would start the hunt now.

Again, I want to defer to readers on this one since I know many of you have been in similar situations. If so, how did you handle it?

Jessica

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 12

More critiques for you. I’ve seen some great, great pitches so far, some that needed a lot of work, and some just a little tweaking. Good work, everyone. And great books! Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary.

66. linda
On the day of Victoria’s engagement to Boston blue-blood, Scott Halstead, she inherits a farm in Oklahoma and is forced to make a choice between a life of privilege or the skeleton in her closet.

Doesn’t do it for me. It just doesn’t grab me. Why is she forced to make this choice and why can’t she marry a blue-blood and have a farm? What’s really at risk for her? You’ll need to expand on this a little. We’ll need a better sense of Victoria and what this really means to her and for her.

67. sharon
Grayson Cyre lives in a world where war has gone on for so long, no one remembers why it started. After his treasonous sister is arrested, Grayson vows to seek revenge against the enemy--the anonymous forces whose surprise attack left his colony decimated and his parents dead.

This doesn’t sound different enough. So many books are about revenge, so what is different for Grayson? What about his sister’s arrest makes him decide to do something? Is he trying to finally end the war? Why does he think he can do it and no one else? Why now? What will he face? We need to know what makes this book stand out from others and I’m not seeing it here.

68. carol a. spradling
Widowed and propositioned at the gravesite is not Anna Sinclair's idea of romance, but lifelong friend Daniel Mercy is not a man easily refused. They marry within days of her husband’s funeral, and she prepares for the raised eyebrows of 1762, Charleston society.

Daniel struggles to maintain his faltering shipping company and in the process, he and Anna learn of Seth's involvement with embezzlement, smuggling, and attempted murder. When he discovers the name of Seth's murderer, Anna is kidnapped and buried alive.

Some secrets should remain buried with the dead but as Anna fights to stay alive, she uncovers one secret Daniel has hidden from her.


Too long! My first concern is why does she marry him? It’s not her idea of romance and seems rude, so why does she do it? Why would Daniel? How can Anna uncover a secret if she’s buried alive? There seems to be a lot of holes in this story, and that would make me pause with concern. I like the fact that she’s propositioned at the gravesite, but I don’t see how that connects to Daniel’s faltering shipping company and later Anna being kidnapped. This is another case where I would suggest you take a look at your book first, pitch later. It seems like the book has some plot problems that will need to be addressed before you can start pitching.

69. deborah
Pregnant and fleeing an arranged marriage, Dianna Marshall sets sail for America on board the Titanic in the company Margaret and William Stewart, a childless couple who offer Dianna sanctuary in exchange for her unborn child. But when the Titanic sinks, and William Stewart dies, Dianna is catapulted into a world completely foreign to her where she faces desperate choices: will it be the life she's been raised to lead, the man her heart desires, or the unborn child she's come to love? She can't have everything, but the wrong choice may leave her with nothing.

This is an odd case where I think the ending works better than the beginning. I think this could be tighter: “Pregnant and fleeing an arranged marriage, Dianna Marshall’s only hope is to accept sanctuary from a childless couple in exchange for her baby. But when the ship sinks (does it need to be the Titanic?) . . .” Now we need specifics. Why is the world foreign to her? Why must she face these choices? Why can’t she have the man and the baby? Why will walking away from both leave her with nothing?

70. anon 7:00
Rane is in a bind. He has a few weeks to break a witch’s curse or all his friends will die. They’ve been soul chasers for hundreds of years, blithely inhaling the spirits of nearby villagers. But now, three of them are dead and four are trapped inside their castle. As the only one who escaped, Rane must find their estranged creator, Markin, before it is too late. Along the way, he discovers the last vampire and quickly learns that the soul chasers evolved from this very creature. Rane will fight off wild chasers, fall in love with a mortal and break the curse before it’s all over.

I think your beginning is wonderful, it’s the end where I think you try to push in too much information. I think this is nearly perfect, but needs a little tightening. What about, “Rane has only a few weeks to break a witch’s curse or all his friends will die. They’ve been soul chasers for hundreds of years, blithely inhaling the spirits of nearby villagers. But now, three of them are dead and four are trapped inside a castle. As the only one who escaped, Rane must find their estranged creator, Markin . . .”? And this is where I feel it fell off. Let’s get to the point of what he must really do. Could you just say that he must find the creator and break the curse? Or is there something even more? Is time ticking? Does he learn something along the way? Many books have a similar plot line—time is ticking, someone must find the cure. What makes yours really pop? The things that I think were cool here are the soul chasers, and the last vampire. What else do you have to make it jump out at me?

71. Loquacious Me
In addition to being a loving father and devoted husband, Jesse Dawson is also a modern samurai and champion of lost souls. When his fellow champions begin to go missing, he has no choice but to complete his current contract to save the soul of an aging baseball player. But the forces of darkness want his soul, and when demons are involved, things literally go to Hell.

An instance where I feel like you’re telling instead of showing me your pitch. I don’t get any sense of atmosphere or voice from this. What about something like, “Jesse Dawsom is a loving father and devoted husband. He’s also a modern samurai and champion of lost souls. It’s Jesse’s job to . . . But when fellow samurai champions go missing, it’s up to Jesse to save them, and the only way to do that is . . .”? And I think your last line is great. You need to put some more energy into the first paragraphs to make me want to read this.


Great work, everyone. And now to the readers and your feedback. . . .

Jessica

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

An Agent's View of Contests

In your posting on Monday, Oct. 1, you mentioned that you knew a lot of writers are entering contests, and some writers are winning awards. You said these awards are "really exciting" to agents.

This sparked some questions for me. How do agents view these awards on a more nuanced level than regarding them as good news? What would be the best way to present the book along with the awards? When an agent becomes aware that a writer has won some awards, how does that change the agent's perception of the writer?


[The author also asked how to proceed if his query has been turned down by agents, but now won an award.]

First, let me clarify that what I actually said in my October 1 post: "Many of you regularly enter contests and get recognition from agents and editors, which is really exciting." And what I meant by that is that the recognition you are getting from agents and editors can be very exciting. I had to actually check this because saying that contest wins can be very exciting to an agent didn't sound like me. I was happy to know I hadn't switched personalities since that time. So what exactly did I mean? And what really is my opinion on contests?

Actually awards are only moderately exciting to this agent. It truly depends on the award. An Agatha, Edgar, RITA, Golden Heart, Nebula, Pulitzer Prize, etc.? Yes, absolutely, all very exciting. But there are a lot of awards out there. I think every single romance chapter has a contest and I think every single conference has a writing award. Let me tell you honestly, I’ve judged an awful lot of those contests and I will say that more often than not I’m picking the best of the bunch, and that doesn’t mean that any of them were any good. Sometimes, honestly, it’s the best of the worst.

Does that mean I think you should stop entering contests or letting agents and editors know about your wins? Absolutely not. Keep entering and keep spreading the news, but as a client of mine, Angie Fox, recently suggested in a comment on the blog, when she entered contests she did so with an eye toward who was judging. If none of the judges represented or bought the type of work she was writing, she didn’t feel the need to enter. Her goal was to get their attention, not just rack up wins.

When it comes down to it, you could have racked up 25 different awards and I don’t really care. The only thing I care about is whether you’ve written a great book that I can fall in love with and really, really, really want to sell.

But to answer your questions more specifically. Mention your awards in your query letter. You can toss them in at the end with your bio or mention it at the beginning as your opener. Do what you think works for you. How an agent perceives them is obviously going to differ from agent to agent. I do think the one thing awards or contest entries show me is that you are very serious about your writing and intend to really invest the time and energy it takes to become an author, and not just a writer. As for the agents who already passed on your work: Let them go. Think of them with your next project, but a contest win (unless it’s major) is unlikely to make a difference at this point.

I do want to add that I think there are many advantages to contests and I know a number of our own clients have spent and do still spend a lot of energy in the contest circuit. I think how a contest can be used to your benefit can best come from them, and I hope they (and others, of course) will pop in and share.

Jessica

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Mistakes Happen

In a recent post, When Agents Agonize, a reader commented, “I don't supposed you ever agonize over rejecting someone and wishing you hadn't? LOL That's what I wish.” And it made me think of a story, one I hope I haven’t already told you.

Earlier this year I was getting slammed with busy, busy authors, submissions from established authors, and all-around good news. In other words, I was exceptionally busy. During the midst of all of this I received an email from a published author who had just received an offer for her second erotic romance contract. While she successfully negotiated her first contract on her own she decided that now was the time to find an agent, so she was getting in touch with me. Of course I moved immediately. I read her proposal and really, really liked it. But I was getting skittish. My concern was how much room I had on my list for another erotic romance author (or another author)? I love erotic romance and I love the authors but, as I tell all of them, the problem with erotic romance is that you have a limited market. Simply because of the subject matter not everyone is going to read it. Therefore I’m reluctant to take on too many authors in this narrow genre. So with a great deal of hesitation I told the author no. In fact, my exact wording was:

“Thanks so much for giving me the weekend. You are really talented and I enjoyed reading this, but in the end I’m going to pass. While I liked your writing a lot I just don’t think I’m as passionate about it as an agent should be about her client’s work. This was a tough decision for me because you are so talented, but I also need to be fair to you.

"Congratulations on your offer. I suspect you’ll have a long career.”

And in a follow-up to her follow-up I said, “It was a tough decision and if you’re ever looking for an agent again please keep me in mind. Things might be different. I do wish you lots of luck.”

Well, this incredibly wise woman read into my hesitation and emailed me back to suggest that if I was really on the fence maybe I should give it a second look. I did. And she was right. I was a fool. I scheduled some time to talk with her about her career goals and what she had in mind, beyond more erotic romance, of course. I humbly offered representation and it’s entirely my honor that she accepted.

Now I don’t recommend that you hound every agent that rejects you. This is obviously a very, very rare instance, but it does showcase that anything is truly possible in this business. I also want to make it clear that changing my mind in no way means I’m any less dedicated or in love with this author’s work than I am with my other clients and their work. It simply means I reacted too rashly.

I think often we hear that authors are really lucky when they have an offer on the table because it makes it easier to find an agent. It also makes it harder for agents to properly evaluate an author’s work the way we would like to. Sometimes sitting on something is better than moving quickly. It gives you time to really process your dedication to it. In this case I was lucky because this probably would have been a decision I would have regretted. I thank the author every time I see her for her persistence, and of course now we both have an interesting story to tell.

Jessica

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 11

We’re almost halfway! Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary

61. bob duggan
Charlie Justice was a twisted little adolescent. Some of that twistedness could be traced to the chemicals that course through the veins of every fifteen year-old male. If chemicals were responsible for the formation of Charlie's personality, they must have come from that Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. Fortunately, he had an unusual head for numbers, which enabled some of the adults around him to excuse his perverse behavior.

R. Clifford Harbaugh was a twelve-year veteran of the FBI. A former Marine 0311, he had slogged through two thirteen-month tours of duty in Southeast Asia. A gruff, no-nonsense professional, Agent Harbaugh, despite his current affiliation with the FBI, was still at heart committed to God, country, and the Corps.

In 1986, Charlie Justice and Agent Harbaugh would meet as part of a special government program that Agent Harbaugh would later describe as "a complete and thorough cluster-fuck". Together, they would thwart one of the most horrendous financial attacks ever leveled at the United States.


Bob! This is not a query contest, just the pitch. Your pitch is almost as long as your entire query letter should be. We don’t need backstory. In other words, the first two paragraphs aren’t necessary. Let’s just get to it. What is your book really about? Is it about the history of Charlie and Agent Hargaugh, or is it the thwarted attacks, or is it the cluster-fuck? I suspect the book is about the lead-up to the attacks—what happens. That’s your pitch. Be careful that in any pitch you eliminate backstory. It’s usually not necessary.

62. v.j. Davis
FBI Special Agent Carly Benson is lost in Hell’s Gate Wilderness and she’s not alone. While playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an unknown stalker Carly solves the riddle surrounding the mysterious disappearance of Steven Younger, one of the FBI’s ten most wanted. Will Carly survive Hell’s Gate to apprehend Younger or will the secret of his location die with her in Hell’s Gate?

Cool. Although a tad confusing. Did she really get lost or was she there searching for clues? I’m concerned that this reads like she is running through the woods from a stalker and thinking about work at the same time. Suddenly she figures out what happened to Steven Younger and now she really has to get out. I imagine that’s not the story you’re trying to convey. I like the idea (but I like FBI books), but I’m not convinced your pitch works. I think you need a revamp that makes it easier to understand.

63. wanderingray
Reluctant Heroes: Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy meets BattleStar Galactica

An instance where it’s dangerous to use comparison. I’ve never read Hitchhiker and I haven’t seen BattleStar since I was a kid. Refer to an earlier critique, but if you’re going to use comparisons you need to then show how the comparison works with your book. What is it about your book that warrants that comparison?

64. anon 5:13
Evil, in the form of a psychotic terrorist known as Dante now resides in the remote mountain community of Pine Ridge, Arizona. Sheriff Gabe Navarro thought he knew his town, yet nothing could have prepared him for the journey he and Department of Justice Agents Shelby Ryan and Carson Billings of the domestic terrorism unit are about to make. Can the trio save Pine Ridge? Can they save themselves?

The opening sentence is fabulous! The rest is bland. What is the journey they are going to take and what does the psychotic terrorist have planned? Don’t end your pitch with questions. You should be answering mine, not asking them of me. I don’t know. I assume they can save Pine Ridge, but from what and why?

65. michelle
Dominion Day 106,000 word SF novel

There’s got to be more to life than being a high paid assassin.
I mean, I am taking peoples lives. That can’t be the best thing.
Even if the pay is good, it doesn’t make up for living around Commander Jensen.
I could resign…
If I resigned, Jensen would still be a thorn in my side.
However, if he thought I was dead....

Antony Danic, the Corps most renowned sniper, and munitions expert has the perfect job. Or does he? Destiny has other plans for him. He fakes his death to get out from under his commander’s thumb. Changing his name and his looks to keep his former identity dead. As Noble Standing, he begins to make decisions that change him from the coarse devil may care bad boy, to the honorable good guy that the prophecies foretell about him.

One man begins to find and fulfill his destiny.


Another case of a pitch turned query letter. Much too long. I would skip the opening lines altogether. They don't endear me to your work. The paragraph beginning with Antony Danic is good. Much better, anyway, and that’s really your pitch. Of course you also need to rewrite that last sentence. Now that he’s changed his name and looks, what is his conflict? It seems to me that’s already solved by the beginning of the book. He hated his job so he quit. What happens next? Oh, and skip your final line. Too vague.


Great work, everyone. And now to the readers and your feedback. . . .

Jessica

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Holiday Books

At Barnes & Noble I see that holiday offerings are already on display - and in the grocery store, holiday paperbacks on the kiosk near customer service. Does Bookends have an opinion on "holiday lit" as a genre, or wanna-be-genre?

Ah, yes, it’s that most wonderful time of the year and holiday books abound. I actually have my own personal collection of holiday books—titles that get packed away each season with the Christmas lights and come out to sit on the coffee table when the tree goes up. Books like 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, The Book of Christmas Questions, and My Treasury of Christmas Stories. And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Book of Thanksgiving, one of the books Jacky and I wrote in our packaging days. I don’t, however, usually look for holiday-centered novels, especially since I don’t have much time until after Christmas to actually sit down and read.

But do I have an opinion on holiday books, or I guess, more specifically, holiday novels? Well, surprise, surprise. I do. I think holiday lit (as you call it) is a great marketing opportunity for an already established author. You often get special holiday placement at bookstores, where you’ll be picked up by your regular readers and also by those looking for the perfect gift for Mom, Dad, or Grandma. For those who have not yet been published, or who are early on in your career, I will often recommend against writing a book that’s too targeted to a certain time of year. Holiday lit is great in November and December, when everyone seems to be in the spirit and can’t get enough mistletoe, nog, and good cheer, but the rest of the year most of us, including bookstores, want to avoid something that so obviously screams Christmas. Which means that often you won’t find those books (unless they are written by very-well-established authors) on the shelves at all.

I don’t think it’s a wanna-be genre. In fact, I never thought of it as a genre. Instead I think it’s a way for publishers and authors, like everyone else, to jump on the holiday bandwagon and find new opportunities to market and sell books.

But what about the readers? Do you find yourself buying books because they are holiday books or do you simply buy them because they are another book by an author you love?

Jessica

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tracking Agents' Percentages

Maybe I'm out of line asking this, but could you give us a feel for the percentage of clients you take under contract whose work you go on to sell to a publisher?

Maybe someone needs to create an independent, self-reporting database for authors to register their sales success rates with various agents. I'll consider hosting it if enough people think it's a good idea.


I thought this was a really interesting concept. The problem is that it’s just not that easy. Do you want my fiction vs. my nonfiction clients? Romance vs. mystery? And when do they have to be sold by? I think that right now a very high percentage of my clients are published, however very few of them were sold on the first book they sent or the initial project I took them on with. And what about those clients an agent was able to sell one book for, but not any others? Or, how about this . . . what about career building? There are definitely agents who can sell books, but do they have the ability to take their clients to the next step and make the bigger deals?

I have no idea what the percentage is for clients I take on whose work I sell. What I can tell you is that right now I have a small handful of clients who haven’t yet been published. We’ll get there, I know we’ll get there, but for now we’re still plugging away. In all honesty, I hope that for quite some time I always have a small handful of clients who have yet to be published. It means I’m still giving new and unpublished authors a chance and hopefully that big first sale, because there are few things as exciting. I also take on the occasional risk, the book I will tell the author straight off the top why I think it’s going to be a particularly tough sale, but I’m willing to take that chance because I love the author’s voice, the idea, and I really want to give it a shot. Taking that risk could very well bring my numbers down, or it could account for a big success. Would I want to take those kinds of risks if I knew people were tracking my percentages?

I think the more important thing to consider is how long agents are willing to stick by clients, how well they can build a client’s career, and of course track record. You wouldn’t want an agent who sells no books, of course, but I think you want someone who is happily in the 60%-75% range. Someone who is willing to take a few risks, but also willing to stick by authors knowing that this project or that project might not sell, but the author’s voice is amazing enough that the next one will.

Publishers Marketplace does a great job of tracking self-reported deals (of course not all deals are listed and not all agents list deals). I think by looking at this you can get a sense for what agents are doing.

Jessica

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Pitch Critiques Round 10

Plodding along and through. Here’s the original post, Perfecting Your Pitch, and you should be able to link back to all previous critiques if necessary.

56. cindy procter-king
(humorous romantic mystery)
Short one-sentence:
A photographer falls for her sexy trainee only to discover he’s an ex-cop investigating sabotage at her boss’s studio…and she’s a suspect.

Long one-sentence:
When a photographer falls for her sexy apprentice then discovers he’s an ex-cop working undercover investigating sabotage at the studio she wants to buy from his uncle and that she’s a suspect, she plays Nancy Drew behind his back, unearthing his uncle’s old blackmailing habit which leads to the disturbing realization that not only has the uncle sabotaged his own business but a secret enemy is now stalking him--and all their lives are in danger.


Holy run-on sentence. It’s bad enough to try to fit everything into a pitch, but one sentence is even tougher. That speaks volumes to an agent about how the work might be written. Remember a pitch is about the hook, but it should also give insight into the tone, voice, and writing of the book. What makes me nervous about this one is that you are trying to squeeze a lot of information in, but none of it is really different or interesting (at least to me). It seems to me that the book is about the secret enemy. That’s the real conflict, and the rest is just getting us to that point.

57. jeannie
Historical Romance Tagline:
A discarded widow and a Duke discover if love can survive scandal and betrayal.

Paragraph:
Michael Ashton, the Duke of Ravensdale, is caught in two scandals, neither of which is his own doing. The first involves a woman (don’t they always), and the second…well, it also involves a woman and a large sum of stolen money. In order to save the reputation Michael has spent his life rebuilding, he must track down the widow of his presumed-dead cousin in order to charm...or seduce her missing husband's whereabouts from her.


I like this. I think your tagline, while not all that different from others, has that certain something. To be honest, it’s the word “discarded”—what an interesting choice—and it says a lot about what we can expect from your heroine. And the paragraph is great. I love the tone of this and anticipate fun reading in the book. This is a case where the plot isn’t necessarily all that unique from other historical romances (they usually aren’t), but the author has put some fun twists in her tone, voice, and word choice that make this interesting to the reader. I would definitely request this.

58. inez kelly
Same name
Same address
same flight
same luggage
same life goals
But if opposites attract, what future do they have?


Interesting. . . . It grabs my attention, but I don’t think it’s enough. Think of a book cover. This would be on the top of the back cover, and then underneath you would have a paragraph telling us specifically what the book is about. In other words, this is your tagline, but now we need the pitch. Who are they and what happens?

59. chiron o’keefe
Sentence:
A wannabe Leading Lady must choose between two drool-worthy contenders for the perfect Leading Man, while masquerading as an assistant to the author of the best-selling book she secretly penned.

Paragraph:
In Adventures of a Dubious Love Goddess, a copywriter publishes the fictional exploits of her alter ego, while pretending to be the author’s assistant. When the How To book for aspiring love goddesses zooms in popularity, the pressure to reveal her true identity forces an uncomfortable realization of just how superficial her perspective might be. Her alter ego’s book features fantasy encounters coupled with flippant advice, pushing her pet theory—available men are either Leading Men or Sidekicks. The perfect example of a Leading Men is the mysterious author who pens the Man About Town column. When a handsome stranger woos Megan, hinting he’s the elusive writer, she believes all her love goddess fantasies just might come true. Except for the inconvenient, toe-curling attraction to her neighbor—the psych professor whose intense eyes and wicked grin leave her fantasizing about hot love with a Sidekick instead of her new Leading Man.


Another case of the dangerous information dump. Even your sentence is squeezing everything possible into it. Slow down and step back. I think you could skip the sentence altogether and go right to the paragraph. I like the first two paragraphs, but after that it gets a little convoluted, which makes me fear that your book is also convoluted. Outside of the romance, what is her conflict? This could be a lot tighter I suspect: “In Adventures of a Dubious Love Goddess, a copywriter publishes the fictional exploits of her alter ego, while pretending to be the author’s assistant. When the How To book for aspiring love goddesses hits bestseller lists, the pressure to reveal her true identity forces an uncomfortable realization of just how superficial her perspective might be. Forced to face reality, Susan is challenged by her own book. Are all available men either Leading Men or Sidekicks, and if given the choice, which is really better?” Okay, that needs work too, but I think you get the idea.

60. mike davis
Valentine is a Child of Loki and one of the original Berserker tribesmen of Norse Folklore. With unobstructed access to the minds of his chosen victims and the ability to assume their precise physical characteristics, he takes what he wants, when and from where he pleases. He is the ultimate identity thief, unconstrained by the password-encrypted barriers his human counterparts face. Only a conscience and the inherent loneliness his immortality brings, stand between him and the decadent life of leisure lead by his brothers and sisters.

I love this! I really think this sounds cool. My only suggestion is not to let it dwindle out. Give us the conflict in the last sentence. What is this book about and what does Valentine face? I hope the book isn’t entirely an internal battle for Valentine on whether to use his powers or not. That would be boring. No, I want to know what he’s going to be up against in this book. If you can nail that last line you have an absolute winner here.


You all must be learning. Great work, everyone. And now to the readers and your feedback. . . .

Jessica

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Where are the Other BookEnds Authors?

Thank you for the great advice . . . and free advice at that!

However, it seems you are always focusing on fiction, romance, and erotica.

Yet, I see you also represent series books, like the Dummies Guides and Idiot's Guides.

Why are there no interviews from those people? And, why little information about that genre?

I have submitted some cook books and so forth, and nothing. But I am OK with that. And, I understand you have to have a platform to write these books, but Geez... It would be interesting to see something from Bookends that isn't about romance novels. Where are the interviews from Dummie and Idiot writers? You have tons of other genres, so why are all the blogs about one genre?


I think this is my first truly critical blog question. Ouch!

BookEnds does represent a wide array of genres. Of course we represent romance and erotic romance, but we also represent mysteries, thrillers, suspense, women’s fiction, and a lot of nonfiction, both in series format (Idiot’s Guides and Dummies Guides) and single-title. So why are there no interviews from those authors? Because they have chosen not to submit them. While the BookEnds blog is primarily written by the agents of BookEnds, we do view it as a community effort and offer up to all of our clients the opportunity to post an interview or blog post at any time. We don’t, however, force our clients to post. The first year of the blog we did very specific Q&A interviews, but after some time both the readers and we got bored with them. It seemed most of our clients answered the same questions. So earlier this year we did away with the interview format and instead offered all of our clients the opportunity to blog on virtually anything at any time. However, while a lot of authors who have participated have been romance and erotic romance authors, we have also seen a number of blog posts from mystery authors, nonfiction authors, and our women’s fiction authors.

If I tend to use examples or answer questions relating more to romance or erotic romance, I apologize. I assume that would be primarily because those are the questions I get. I do, however, have a few questions in the pipeline pertaining to platform, and of course that will be more appealing to nonfiction authors.

When writing the blog I try to appeal to as many readers as possible, but as you as writers know, pleasing everyone is just not possible. So this is a good time to send a reminder to all. If you have a specific question for BookEnds (relating to anything writing, publishing, etc., in any genre) please send us an email using the link to the right and ask us. We’re more than happy to get your emails and reply as soon as we have a chance. In the same vein, if you have seen some hot publishing news or talk on other blogs, please let us know. I would never have been able to write the Jennifer Crusie piece of a few months back if it weren’t for the heads-up from a wonderful client.

And for those hoping to hear from more BookEnds clients, let us know what you’d like to hear about. Post in the comments section what you would like the BookEnds clients to reveal in a blog post. If you have questions for a specific author, post a comment. We’ll pass it along, although I know many are already readers.

Jessica

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