Friday, February 29, 2008

Gender-Hopping Pseudonyms

We’ve had a lot of discussions on the blog about the use of pseudonyms. Why you would choose to use one, when you would choose to use one, and how best to use it. A question came in recently regarding pseudonyms that we haven’t discussed before. . . .

Now can anyone tell me what's the situation on gender hopping with a pseudonym? For example, plain old Alfred Churchgate (former plant auto worker), who has written a historical romance set in 16th century Rome and wishes to market his book as Cassandra Castiglione. Let's face it . . . it actually would sell more copies, wouldn't it? What are the practical objections to gender hopping with pen names?

One would assume that yes, a romance novel written under a woman’s name would sell more copies or more easily find new readers than if it were published under a man's name. I also suspect military fiction or a military thriller would have better luck under a man’s name. And honestly, I can’t think of any downsides to gender hopping when it comes to your pseudonym. At some point or another it’s very likely your readers will discover that your real name is Alfred, but is that a problem if you’ve already garnered an audience of devoted fans?

Let me throw this to my readers, though, because I’m curious. Would you be disappointed if you found out that Cassandra Castiglione was really Alfred Churchgate? And would you romance readers be less likely to pick up a book if it were written by a man? What about military fiction readers? Would you be less likely to pick up a tough-guy military, Tom Clancy-style book if it were written by Candy Cane?

Jessica

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Choosing an Agent versus a Packager

I have a book idea, a self-help feel-good book, with a line of products. I am not a writer, so I am not familiar with this industry. I have obtained much information from your site, I just found out about book packagers, but am still in need of a direction. I believe I need trademarks, etc. The line of products compliment the book, and visa versa. My vision is enormous. I was researching the team that put together The Secret, but Beyond Words Publishing only want to hear from agents. It's still just an idea, but I have this burning desire to try and bring all this to fruition. Do I contact a book packager with this idea? Do I need an agent? Do I need an investor? Any advise would be helpful.

If you are writing nonfiction it never hurts to think big-picture and imagine the products, calendars, and other merchandise that can go along with your book. In fact, that’s why an agent can be so important, by negotiating a contract that allows you to control all of those possibilities when the time comes. However, this is not the job of a packager and not necessarily the job of the publisher. Let me explain each role a little bit further and then explain how these products based on books come about.

Typically a packager is an idea generator. Usually they come up with their own ideas in-house and approach licensees to put their name on a project. The ASPCA, for example, has a guide to dogs. I would have to check the book, but I would bet that’s a packaged product. In other words, someone approached the ASPCA about their idea, hired the writers, photographers, and designers, and sold what was essentially a finished product to the publisher. This contract probably did not include things like calendars or pads of paper since that’s something the ASPCA might want to pursue on their own.

In some cases packagers will approach a company to do a small line of products that are sold in bookstores. They might approach a blog like (I’m making this up, folks) BookEnds, for example, and ask us to put our name on a mini-writing kit or the copyeditors cards. Again, they would do most of the work, while we would supply them with the known name.

What you are looking for, however, is a literary agent. Rarely, very, very rarely—in fact, I could probably say almost never—does a book sell alongside all of the merchandise ideas. The Secret, The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, or even Chicken Soup for the Soul, whether packaged or agented, were only dreamed up as books first. Once they took off and had the successes they did, merchandise followed. No one would have ever bought the calendars, games, or other merchandise for any of these titles had they not been bestsellers first.

So my advice to you is to start slowly and build big. Your first task is to write an amazing book proposal, find an agent and a publisher, and sell the heck out of it. Once you’ve made that book a major national or international success, you can easily move on to products and the other merchandise ideas you have.

Jessica

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why Snail Mail Is Sometimes Preferred

As you all should know by now, the BookEnds submission policy requires equeries first and the submission of proposals or manuscripts only at our request. Now I know a lot of agents accept everything via email—all manuscripts and proposals—but I’m still fairly old-fashioned and prefer that anything more than a query be sent via snail mail. Why is this? Primarily because I don’t do my reading in the office, and while I do have a laptop, I don’t find it comfortable to sit on the couch reading proposal after proposal from a computer screen. There is another reason, though, and that’s because there’s something different in the experience for me when I’m holding paper in my hand versus a computer. I can settle in and take the time to enjoy myself. I’m less distracted by incoming email or the Internet and I feel less of this feeling of getting through the piles. In other words, I can actually take the time to enjoy the book.

Despite that, there are definitely occasions when I will ask an author to email me the material. Some reasons for that could be she has an offer in hand, it’s exactly what I’m looking for, and I want to read it instantly, or she’s from another country and it’s not easy for her to snail mail the material. I know email is great. I love it, you love it, and I certainly know it makes the submission process easier for authors. However, there is a downside and I’m in the middle of it right now. A few months ago I got myself a spanking new MacBook. I love it! In making the transition from my old iMac, though, there was a problem with the Microsoft software and I lost a couple of days' worth of emails. Let me clarify here that his was not a problem with Apple, but entirely Microsoft. I’m not going to get into details, but I was annoyed.

Anyway, I had printed out the first 50 pages of an emailed manuscript I was excited to read. For some reason, though, my printer went wonky too and I only managed to get pages five through fifty. And now the email is gone. I have no contact information for this author, no way to reach her, and since I haven’t heard from her, no way to tell her what I think of these fifty pages. Worse yet, I have no way to read the rest of the material.

I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to find this author, but I do hope all of you can use this as a lesson. Put your name, title, page number, phone number, and email address in the header of every page of your manuscript. In addition, make sure the cover page of your manuscript, in addition to your query letter, contains your name, address, email, phone, web address, mother’s maiden name, first dog’s name, hospital where you were born . . . well, you get the picture. Pages get shifted and manuscripts dropped all the time. If an agent is loving your work, don’t make it difficult for her to find you.

Jessica

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Paranormal Romance/Fantasy Honorable Mentions

So, once again Jessica and I proved that we have very different tastes. We’re hoping that by posting these entries and detailing what we liked about them, we’re not only giving these authors the recognition they deserve but also providing some insight into whether we might be the right target for your own work.

JESSICA’S THOUGHTS AND PICKS

I think it’s hilarious that so far Kim and I are two for two when it comes to picking a winner. In each contest so far we’ve picked our five top choices and only one was a match—we dug deeper into our favorites for the runner-up.

So here are my honorable mentions. I think you’ll see that I tend to gravitate toward a darker voice and more suspense, but of course there is always a surprise in there. I don’t like to be too predictable. Oh, and by the way, these are in no particular order, except, well, the order you submitted them. . . .

Aj -- Wings of Desire

(Fantasy with Romantic Elements)

Lorelei froze when she saw the envelope on the mantel.

She’d known it was coming, despite her denials; foretold by a prickling restlessness, an itch in her joints, a preoccupation with sex – and a premonition of flight. Though something rose joyfully within her bones at the thought of flying, she remained torn.

The invitation that must not be refused had arrived. She would have to decide.

She fingered it thoughtfully, unsurprised to see it had been opened. Although it concerned her fate this summons bore her mother’s name, not her own.

Dragons were not only traditional, but matriarchal.

I like this setup a lot. It’s dark, but yet has a touch of humor. I like that she had the premonition that this horrible letter was coming and I really like that she’s a dragon. That grabbed my attention, but I also want to know more about this letter. I want to know what’s in it and what’s going to happen next and that’s certainly key.

Harris Channing -- Witchy Woman (Paranormal Romance)

The mat read, "Welcome". Unfortunately, nothing else about the house offered a cheerful greeting. Peeling paint, pollen tinted windows and the musty smell of rotten wood spoke of aged neglect.

With tentative fingers, Stella Campbell grasped the tarnished brass doorknob to her aunt's house. Thirteen years ago, she had fled through this door, vowing that she'd never return. Thirteen years had passed, the memory of that horrible night still haunting her every waking moment. Thirteen years had slipped away since her aunt held her down and sacrificed her virginity to a demon.

Wow! I thought this was so powerful. And so very creepy. I have a feeling that this is one of those times when the last line, the aunt holding her down to sacrifice her virginity, could backfire on you. Don’t change it, though. It’s one of those things that just might catch the wrong agent the wrong way. It’s great, though. It’s intriguing, it’s dark and, like I said, it’s very powerful. It leaves me dying to know more about Stella and what brought her back. I love the atmosphere you’ve created and your setting. Terrific work.

Anonymous 12:11 pm -- Hex Appeal (paranormal romance)

As far as Sara Wardwell was concerned, J.K. Rowling could bite her.

Harry Potter wannabes hadn't annoyed her until four months ago, when her assignments from the Witches Council had directed her to start tracking teenagers with no sense of self-preservation. If she had to run in one more hormonal teen for dabbling with dangerous magic or performing an illegal spell, she might sell off what little she owned and move to Mexico.

She stood under the limbs of a tree darkened by moon-cast shadows and watched five hooded teenagers, their black robes swaying in a faint onshore breeze.

Obviously this has a very, very different voice from the previous two entries, but I liked it. Of course the fact that J. K. Rowling could bite her might have everything to do with it. Who didn’t laugh out loud at that comment? I thought this was funny and it left me wanting to know more about Sara’s anger toward Harry Potter.

Chessie -- Chains of Honor

“Damn it, Hatch! This is war. If you can’t handle it, get your ass back to the transport.” Cyani slammed her back against the tunnel wall as the shattering explosion of a K-bomb shook the ground. Fine pebbles and dust crumbled over her head, illuminating the laser sights streaming from her team’s eyepieces. She scanned her men to see if any of them were beginning to panic. They couldn’t lose focus.

“I’m fine, Captain,” Hatch shouted back. He cringed as another blast rumbled in the distance. “Don’t like tight spaces is all.”

Earthlen, they could be so damn unpredictable.

My enjoyment of these 100 words might have everything to do with my earlier stated love of things like task forces and special teams or units, but I liked this. I thought it had a great dry humor to it. You also do a really good job of setting the stage and weaving in that this is not your typical military mission. The use of the word "Earthlen" is really what pushes it over the edge. It shows in one simple word that this is something different. Good work.


KIM’S PICKS

Anonymous 11:00 am -- Gargoyle Alliance

Death didn’t improve the looks of a gargoyle. Or the smell.

Lyana wrinkled her nose as she scanned the scattered remains of at least three of the creatures. There didn’t seem to be any live ones nearby.

Davios gave a protesting whine. I’ve been in swamps that smelled better. His complaint rang in her head.

Sorry. Lyana choked back a surge of nausea, breathing through her mouth. It must be worse for you. Your nose is more sensitive than mine.

But you’re closer. Happy to leave this one to you, boss.

I realized after I picked this entry that I made some assumptions about it that could very well be off the mark. When I first read the scene, I got the impression that Lyana was some type of investigator or forensic specialist in the supernatural. Reading back over it again, I see that that’s not necessarily the case. But what I like about the excerpt is the image of these dead otherworldly creatures. (What can I say? I’m morbid.) It reads like a supernatural crime scene. I like that Lyana has some sort of mysterious, magical partner that communicates by thought. And since this world seems so familiar to Lyana, I’m interested to find out if she is magical too.

Anonymous 11:14 am -- Untitled

When I was younger, I used to think our next door neighbor--bent, gray, cackling Miss Ravenwhistle--was a witch. It wasn't until I caught her dousing our doorstep in holy water that I realized she thought my mother was one. I even asked my mother about it once, when I was about ten. She laughed. I laughed. But she didn't say yes or no.

Like all the women in our family, uncanny luck follows Mama wherever she goes. But luck takes two forms: good and bad.

Today, we fought against the bad.

I liked the surprising turn this entry took in the second sentence. I’m thinking, “okay, yeah, the old lady next door is a witch.” Then it turns out that the mother may be the real witch. I also like the interesting mother-daughter dynamic this sets up. A suspicious daughter. A secretive mother. And finally, we’re left with that great feeling of suspense. What’s the bad luck? I’d definitely keep turning the pages to find out!

Laura — Untitled or A Comedy of Witches

The Committee of the Disaffected met every week for personal growth and enlightenment. This usually involved tequila and always involved a debate.

Tonight’s featured discussion was the yoga class they had decided to take together at the town rec center. When they soon found themselves in the emergency room in hopes of having Diana extricated from a difficult Astravakransana pose, The Committee of the Disaffected knew it was time to implement plan C.

After an infinite number of med students and an adequate supply of muscle relaxants were employed to rescue the woman from her predicament, they retired to a nearby restaurant to discuss their options.

I liked the light tone of this entry. The voice is terrific and I feel like it holds the promise of a lot of great, quirky characters. I think what drew me to this excerpt is that it feels that it’s more about the relationships between these women. It reads like the beginning of a witchy women’s fiction, and I find that extremely intriguing.

Alex Adams — Family Ghouls

William Jollybanks was dead. I knew this because he was walking up Main Street, frank 'n' beans dangling out through the slit in his pajamas. They were the same blue-and-white checked bottoms he was wearing last month when a silver BMW crushed him.

That had ended badly for everyone involved. Missy Caper ended up with a broken nose and a busted bumper, and William was chopped in two. His walker had done zip to protect him.

Yeah, William definitely got the worst deal. And Missy? She got a new nose which made her pretty damn happy, from what I hear.

I just loved the voice of this entry. It’s funny and very conversational. Part of the charm is that we’re immediately introduced to a ghost, but we don’t dwell on the apparition or go on to descriptions of him in infinite detail. (I mean, do we want to see any more after we’ve seen the “frank ‘n’ beans” anyway?) Instead, the narrator goes on to tell us what happened to the other victims in the crash and about Missy’s nose job. I can see from the first 100 words that this manuscript promises a good laugh.

That wraps up the paranormal/fantasy category. Thanks to all who participated and congratulations to the honorable mentions!

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Paranormal Romance/Fantasy Winner . . . and the Erotic Romance Contest

It happened again! Jessica and I shared only one common entry in our top five picks, so the winner was obvious. Drum roll, please . . .

Shannon — Dragon Born

I was six the day my mother realized I wasn’t normal. I was fourteen the day I realized she would kill me for it.

I envy those who tell stories about their wonderful lives. I want to warn them, every time I seem them . . . at the movies, out for dinner, laughing and talking like they have nothing to fear.

I was like that once. I thought my life was perfect once. The creatures took that away from me one dark night. They stole it from me with my mother’s blessing and changed me forever.


Jessica: I was thrilled when I saw that Kim had picked Shannon’s as well and that it was the only one we had in common because I had already decided I was going to fight for this one to win. I absolutely loved it. I thought these 100 words were brilliant. I love the setup. Isn’t it amazing how much you can learn from a character in only 100 words? And what an opening for a book . . . "they stole it from me with my mother’s blessing and changed me forever.” This is the kind of opening to a book that makes me get up from my desk and move to a comfy chair in the hopes that I’ll be there for the rest of the day. It has atmosphere, brilliant setup to what’s to come, and a real feel for the character. Great work, Shannon!

Kim: This one grabbed me immediately. It sets a tone and creates a tremendous feeling of suspense. I want to know how the narrator is different and I want to know why his/her own mother would want to kill because of it. Shannon’s created a dark and mysterious world that feels thick with danger. I wouldn’t want to be in it, but I sure do want to read about it. Good stuff!

Congratulations, Shannon! When you’re ready for us to critique your query letter, synopsis, and first chapter, please just send them to the blog e-mail link.

Jessica and I were also able to agree on a runner-up:

Diane — Out of the Shade

Some days having wings is a bitch; especially when a smelly assed goblin is holding me by them in front of his mouth like a French fry.

I looked out the broken shop window at my coworkers; members of the Supernatural Task Force, waiting for their brilliant surprise attack to begin. I had been sent in as the decoy. Six inches of faery with a bad case of PMS, supercharged by the earth’s energy that I had absorbed to shrink to this size. The goblin gang, high as kites, laughed and their leader then plucked me out of the air.


Jessica: Another case of leaving me laughing out loud. I love the thought of this poor Tinkerbell-like fairy stuck in the claws of a greasy goblin while her coworkers are outside planning their “attack.” I also love the title Supernatural Task Force. Those kinds of things always grab my attention. I’m a sucker for task forces, forensic teams, and the like. And like all of those I choose as winners, runners-up, or honorable mentions, I love this voice.

Kim: I love how this excerpt paints a picture. I could immediately visualize the whole scene, which isn’t easy when we’re talking about goblins and faeries. I think it’s largely due to that image of the goblin “holding me by [the wings] in front of his mouth like a French fry.” I also like the feistiness of the narrator. I mean she’s obviously in a pretty vulnerable position if she can compare herself to a French fry, so to still have so much spunk really speaks to the faery’s character. This was just plain fun to read.

Tomorrow we’ll be talking about our honorable mentions again, so you can once again get a feel for what we’re looking for. I want to reiterate what we said the last time (and I know I’ll be repeating this after every contest): Please don’t be discouraged from submitting to us if you weren’t chosen as one of our top picks. We saw a lot of great writing and interesting stories in these entries, and it’s still quite possible you could pique our interest with your query letter.

That said, it’s time to introduce a new contest!

TODAY IS THE EROTIC ROMANCE CONTEST!

We’re accepting all types of erotic romance, including contemporary, historical, and paranormal.

***PLEASE NOTE THAT SOME OF THESE ENTRIES MAY DESCRIBE GRAPHIC SEX SCENES. WE KNOW THIS KIND OF MATERIAL ISN’T FOR EVERYBODY. IF YOU FIND THIS TYPE OF WRITING PERSONALLY OFFENSIVE, THEN PLEASE REFRAIN FROM READING THE COMMENTS SECTION.***

Here are the rules:

1. We’ll only accept entries that are posted in the comments section of this blog article. No e-mailed entries will be considered.

2. Include your title and the first 100 words of your book. Now, we’re not saying to leave us hanging mid-sentence here. Stop wherever the previous sentence ends, but do not exceed 100 words.

3. The same work cannot be entered in more than one genre. If you think your book straddles more than one genre, you’ll have to pick one. We will, however, accept multiple works from the same author in the same or different categories.

4. Once the material is entered, it’s your final entry. We won’t allow revised versions of the same work.

5. We’re accepting excerpts of both finished and unfinished works.

6. The deadline is tomorrow, February 26th, at 9:00 a.m. EST.


And in case you’ve forgotten, the prize is a critique of the query letter, synopsis, and first chapter of the winning entry! The winner will e-mail us the additional material and we’ll provide our notes privately, not on the blog. We will, however, discuss what we liked about each winning 100-word entry on the blog, and will pull out a few honorable mentions to highlight other excerpts that came close and why.

We’ll post the winners in a few days and then move on to the next genre. But this time we’ll make it a surprise, just to keep you on your toes!

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Am I Believing in Something Bad?

In my post on Am I Missing Something Good?, there was a comment by Anonymous 11:59 that I wanted to point out to readers and ask your advice on. Since the comment was made the day after the original post I suspect many of you may have missed it. Rather than quote Anonymous directly, I’ll paraphrase and let you read the comment for yourself. I also want to note that Kim did comment and had a brilliant answer, but again, I felt strongly enough about Anonymous’s accusations that I felt I should comment as well. I also wanted others to see what people are saying.

What Anonymous essentially said, or maybe accused me of, is that because I choose, and most agents choose, to represent only those books they “like” or “believe in,” we are bad salespeople. In addition, making a decision based on a single query shows that we are also bad agents. And, it’s because of us that the publishing industry is being run into the ground (which I didn’t know was happening).

An interesting theory, but one I heartily disagree with. However, maybe my world is too insular. Maybe all writers feel this way. Maybe you all think that agents should represent everything that’s well written, even if they don’t have the contacts or knowledge of the genre. Maybe I should represent children’s picture books simply because they’re well written, despite the fact that I don’t know the first thing about what makes a children’s book successful, marketable, or enjoyable for children.

Let me address one issue first, and that’s the issue of selling something we like or believe in. I believe that most people who choose to work in sales prefer to sell something they like or believe in. I know a real estate agent, for example, who never in a million years would sell cars. Cars aren’t his passion, homes are. The truth, though, is that liking or believing in something is only part of what goes into an agent’s decision process. Yes, we have to like the book and yes we have to believe in the book, but we also have to feel that it’s marketable to publishers as well as readers, we have to feel that the plotting is strong, the characterization good, and the writing has to be terrific, and those last three things are all subjective and come down to my belief that the writing, characterization, and plotting are good. And not all editors, agents, or readers will agree with me. That’s why I need to believe in this book and believe that I can find the editors and readers who will feel the same way I do. Because if no one feels that way, the book will not sell.

What I’m saying is that the difference between selling cars and selling books is that what makes a book good is subjective. A car has a concrete value that can be judged against all other cars. A book does not. I don’t just sell my books to editors who are looking to buy books. I sell my books to editors looking to buy books in a specific genre and with a specific voice, because whether we like it or not, we all buy books because we like them and believe that they are good and enjoyable. We buy cars because we need cars. We might pick the color or the features because we want them, but in the end it’s more of a need-based item than simply want-based.

So yes, in order to successfully sell books I need to have a solid understanding of the market and of what makes a good book, and I need to believe in it and love it. Because honestly, with the way publishing pays, I don’t think any of us would be in it otherwise.

As to the second point, judging a book based on a query letter. I think I addressed this in my original post, but I’ll address it again since I don’t think Anonymous read very carefully. I judge material based on query letters because I know I can. If you write your own query letter and you’ve written your own book I should get a sense of voice from that one page. If you’ve written a strong pitch I should also get a sense for the market the book is aimed for, or the marketability of the book. And if you’ve written your own query letter I should get a sense for how strong your writing is. I do base my decisions on the writing, but writing isn’t everything. Not to readers, not to agents, not to editors. It takes a lot more than good writing to make a query letter and a book.

But what about readers? Would you all simply prefer that agents take on whomever they choose and whatever book they choose because the writing is good? Or would you want an agent who believes in your work, likes your work, and specializes so that she understands the genre and the market? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this because, believe it or not, I get this a lot.

Jessica

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Stacey Kayne on Promotion

Stacey Kayne
Maverick Wild
Publisher: Harlequin Historical
Pub date: January 2008
Agent: Kim Lionetti




(Click to Buy)


Stacey Kayne is a multi-published author of western historical romance. The second book in her WILD series, Maverick Wild, blazed into bookstores this January. Watch for the second book in her BRIDE series, The Gunslinger’s Untamed Bride, coming this July.






Awards: Stacey is a four-time Golden Heart finalist and multi-award-winning author.

Web/Blog links:
Website: www.StaceyKayne.com
Home Blog: staceykayne.blogspot.com
Group Blog: www.PetticoatsAndPistols.com
Group Blog: www.WritersAtPlay.com

Maverick Wild: Haunted by a promise he couldn’t keep, and a past he can’t forget. Chance Morgan locked his heart away from the world—until part of his past travels halfway across the states to find him. Plagued by horse thieves and marriage-minded females, the last thing Chance needs is a woman on his ranch. Cora Mae Tindale is more than a distracting array of curls and curves . . . she holds the key to his heart and unleashes a desire he refuses to trust.

Stacey Kayne’s WILD World of Promotion

On July 24, 2006, lightning finally struck and I sold my first book! Two days later I was flying off to Atlanta for RWA National and had an amazing time cheering and celebrating with all my writing pals. My plane touched back down in California a week later, and that was when it hit me . . . in eight short months I would have a book on the shelves . . . that gave me four months to prepare . . . in the midst of meeting new deadlines—aaahhhh!!!!

For those on the brink of taking the fast drop from “When will I ever sell a blasted book!” to “Oh crap! I have a book coming out!!!” here’s some helpful tools to guide you into that rollicking world we call BOOK PROMOTION.

Stacey’s Promo Starter Kit:

  • Website—nowadays many websites are free (Go Daddy, HostMySite.com) or cost next to nothin’ and everyone is on the Internet! Websites are awesome for keeping your readers up to date with new books and what’s happening in your career.
  • Online Newsletter–don’t wait for that book to hit the shelves, get that book info up on your site and start growing your reader list during the excitement of your sale! Life flies by and many months pass before your baby makes it into bookstores. With a newsletter, you can help out those like me with memory-deficiency disorders, letting me know the book I’ve been waiting for is finally available. Some online newsletter services are actually free until your member list hits a certain number. I use Constant Contact, and I have friends who use Mail Chimp.
  • FREE Promo–ya just can’t beat it, and those promo dollars add up quick, so don’t pass these up! Your book is HUGE NEWS!!
  1. Send a press release (one-page announcement with book info, cover, a little bio and picture) to all your local newspapers, local news shows, online and local writing chapters.
  2. Book reviews–does your publisher send out for reviews? If not, this is another free promotion opportunity you want to jump on early, as most reviewers like to get the book 3-4 months before its release. Many review sites allow you to upload a pdf file of the book, which is handy and saves postage. Some quick review sites: Romance Junkies, All About Romance, Love Western Romances, Romance Reader At Heart, CataRomance, The Romance Reader, Historical Romance Club, Novel Spot, Arm Chair Reviews, New and Used Books . . . (there’s a ton–Google).
  3. Many online book review sites and industry blogs (perhaps your agent’s *g*) offer Author Interviews and Guest Spots–great venue for meeting new readers. Check it out and get hooked up!
  • Bookmarks–readers, booksellers, and reader groups love ’em! They’re handy, useful, and easy to pass out. I use Earthly Charms for mine (sample posted on my blog), but there are many online bookmark sources available. If you’re going to do bookmark promotion, I also suggest using Pat Rouse’s Reader Group List. The list is purchased through Pat for around $80, and lists just about every Reader Group in existence with names and contact information, genre preferences (this alone is fabulous, because you know you’re sending your bookmarks to folks who read your kind of book), and ready-print Avery mailing label files with all the addresses and the number of members in each reader group. Romantic Times also offers a program called RT Booksellers That Care program—you send them 7,000 bookmarks bundled in groups of ten, and for about a hundred dollars they’ll distribute the bookmarks to bookstores across the U.S.—info can be found on the RT website. Personally I prefer Pat Rouse’s list, simply because I hear back from booksellers who’ve appreciated my bookmarks—if you can do both bookmark programs, even better.
  • Author Promotion Site–such as Fresh Fiction, The Romance Club, Author Island (to name a few) reach a broad audience and offer all kinds of promotion packages. I’ve used features on each of these and have a membership with Fresh Fiction. Running a contest on these sites is great for building an online Newsletter list—Fresh Fiction offers an Excel spreadsheet of entrants (can be in the 1000s!) that is easily uploaded to online Newsletter sites.
  • Online Book Banners–reader sites and review sites often have space for website book banners that link to your website (sample posted on my blog). Some review sites and author promotion sites create banners that can be fairly inexpensive, $10-$50. Some sites will post banners for free, others charge between $10 and $25 a month.
  • Magazine Ads–personally, I do three mag ads for each book–Romantic Times, The Romance Writers Report, Romance Sells. All have to be reserved 3-4 months in advance. If you have a release date, it’s never too early to reserve your spot. Because I like one-stop shopping and Su at Earthly Charms is great to work with, she also designs my ads for me, but you can do them yourself if you’re far more computer savvy than I am.
  • Group Blog–I joined up with Petticoats & Pistols, a western authors' blog started by Pam Crooks, a site devoted to western readers. This year some other writer pals and I launched Writers At Play, a multi-genre group blog. I love group blogs for two specific reasons, cross-promotion (sharing of friends and readers), and shared responsibility—blogging is time-consuming, but a day or two a month is manageable (usually!).
  • Extras–totally not a necessity, but a couple things I like to have for book signings and writing conferences are fridge magnets with my logo and pens with my website and logo. I also offer them free to my readers who want to mail me a SASE. I used Earthly Charms for my pens, and have purchased buttons and magnets with my logo on them from VistaPrint.com and Zazzle.com. A logo is another option. I went with a dragonfly theme because I wanted something that was visually appealing and, well, I love dragonflies. Perhaps not the best branding strategy, but they sure look nice on the fridge or pinned to a conference badge!

And last but not least, an author's best promotion is to write another great book.

So, that wraps up my spiel on quick-start promotion—a list I wish I would have had a year and a half ago. Anyone else have promo tips that have worked well? For the readers out there, help us out—what type of promo items do you like best?

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mystery Honorable Mentions

As I mentioned yesterday, Jessica and I found that we had fairly different tastes when it came to our judging. I guess that’s why we all complement one another so well at BookEnds. In terms of category we all overlap quite a bit in what we represent, but we each gravitate toward different types of writing. We each see different strengths and establish relationships with editors that we know are looking for those same qualities. It makes for a well-rounded agency. It’s also one of the reasons we would recommend actually reading books represented by agents you are interested in. Not only will you get a sense of the types of books they represent, but also the voice they gravitate toward.


JESSICA’S THOUGHTS AND PICKS:

First of all, I need to say that I was really impressed. In the end I had to narrow down my list of favorites from about 12 or 15 to just 5 (since that’s what Kim and I had decided on), which means that beyond these honorable mentions there were quite a few others that grabbed my attention. I think one reader mentioned that 100 words was an interesting contest and that in a lot of cases you couldn’t really judge what the book was based on that. And you were right. But 100 words is enough to grab any reader’s attention and leave them wanting more, or not. I also know that 100 words won’t always give the flavor of the book that the author wants the reader to end with. In other words, with a cozy mystery, for example, the first 100 words might be spent introducing the sleuth and have absolutely nothing to do with the mystery, while a thriller might open with the killer and give you no insight into your protagonist. In the end, though, 100 words is enough to let us know whether or not we want to read another 100 words.

I had read somewhere that when talking about our pitch critiques someone said it was an easy way to be rejected by BookEnds. I hope that those who entered do not feel this way. A lot of these 100-word entries intrigued us (as did a lot of the pitch critiques), and just because we didn’t pick you as a winner, runner-up, or honorable mention doesn’t mean you should rule BookEnds out as someone to query. There were a lot of great ideas in there and I can’t wait to see what the rest of you have to say in other genres.

Okay, so that being said, here are my honorable mentions . . .

THE SURPRISE ENDING — Green Ray

I’ve always known, ever since I was a little boy, that one day I would kill someone. I never told anyone this, however – not even my mother – or any of my psychiatrists. That’s why I’m telling you now from this strange place in which I find myself. Such a very strange place; not at all what I expected. And what a surprise! Life is full of surprises, but death is full of certainty.

Let me begin my story – for I desperately need to tell it – at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City. It was the second intermission of Wagner’s Parsifal –


This is my kind of writing. I liked the dark, suspenseful feel and you hooked me from the first sentence. Who isn’t intrigued by someone who has always known he would kill? I love that and I love your setting. The Metropolitan Opera gives it a spooky, Phantom of the Opera appeal, and I’m not even a fan of musicals. Very well done. Great tone and voice.

Mercy Me — Denise McDonald

“He did what?” Sophie Gallagher stopped halfway through the office door, her cell phone gripped so tight her fingers ached.

“Dad said Ray put an ad in the Pennysaver.” Sophie’s mother hurried on, “He advertised as a mercenary for hire.”

“Lord.” Sophie ran her free hand over her face. When she’d moved five hundred miles to take the job with her Uncle Ray four years ago, it had been as a favor to her father. To help keep her scatterbrained uncle’s PI business solvent. Not to babysit for the ever-addled uncle who fancied himself MacGyver and Magnum rolled into one.


It’s funny how very different this pitch is from the one before. While that one was dark and brooding this is clearly light and funny. Just goes to show what a split personality I am. This pitch made me laugh out loud. I love the Pennysaver ad and who can resist a man who thinks of himself as MacGyver and Magnum rolled into one. I definitely want to see what else this book has to offer.

The Myth-Chaser — Suzanne Perazzini

I was born intense, with a purpose, with a steadfastness that no man can unsettle. As a child I knew which path to take through the woods to find the otter in the stream and as an adult, if I listen closely enough to my heart, I know where to look for the answers, even those which have defied generations of seekers.

I grew up to follow an unusual career path.


This pitch intrigues me in a different way from the others. It leaves a lot of questions and I like that. Of course, I also hope that a number of those are answered shortly. But I’m interested to know more about this intense person who listens to her/his heart and obviously I want to know what the unusual career path is. I like the dark, mysteriousness of this pitch and I like that the author discusses an intense hero and shows us intensity in the writing.

BLUE DIAMONDS — Jackie B.

In the bedroom, dark except for the cool blue moonlight slanting in through the blinds, Ronan brushed his hand over his wife's bare thigh.

He crawled into bed and with one arm, held himself over her, admired her laying beneath him. Her long, auburn hair fanning out across the pillow.

Settling in between her legs, he heard her soft giggle, followed by a sigh. Her hazel eyes danced.

He smiled down at her and trailed a finger slowly up the inside of her leg, higher and higher, until her mouth parted and her back arched.

“Yes...”


I know this pitch doesn’t sound anything like a mystery, and that’s exactly why it appeals to me. It doesn’t have the obvious opening and it allows my imagination to run. I could assume that she’s saying “yes” in ecstasy, but is she really? And how is this going to end? Is it just a great erotic sex scene or, since it’s a mystery, is it going to end badly? Either way I want to know.

KIM’S PICKS:

CASE ONE — Keri Ford

I hadn’t been raised a dummy and knew trash talking coupled with charm, fit body, and skimpy clothes equaled large tips for a bar waitress. Momma thought my work to be a bit degrading, but not me. Not when I had my own air conditioned home, with cable. At the moment I poured a cosmo as I had every other one, but this time an unfamiliar man watching me made my knees knock. He was a pleasant upgrade from the usual types looking for my number since he was physically fit, dressed nicely, and had all his teeth.


The voice is terrific. The narrator speaks to us in a way that seems familiar and casual — as if we’ve known her for years. She’s street smart, witty and interesting. Even though the mystery part of the story hasn’t become evident, I’d love to see this narrator stuck in the middle of a complicated crime.

CONFLUENCE POINT — Anonymous 5:22 pm

The guard unshackled the kid outside of my cell, saying, “Another cop killer for you, Warren.”

After eleven years in Corcoran State Prison, I’d had my share of new cellmates, none of them as young as Nick. Slight and smooth-faced, Nick acted as though his long rap sheet and conviction for triple homicide made him tough. That first night, he used my mattress as a stepping stool to get to his bunk. Either he was testing me or he was stupid. The result was the same. I bounced him off the wall.


Again, great voice. I’m intrigued by the notion of a mystery that begins from a convicted criminal’s point of view, but it’s more than that. The guy is tough, observant and funny. The reader knows that he’s incarcerated, and sees that he thinks he owns the joint, but yet there’s something likable about him. I want to get to know him better.

FIRST CALL — Liz Mugavero

Luther Trott could smell death.

He knew because he’d smelled it before, more times in his thirty-eight years than he cared to count. Over time, he’d learned the scent did not overpower; in fact, most people traveling this road at this moment would not notice anything amiss.

But Luther was trained to notice when something, or someone, was amiss.

This smell, this vibe, promised a painful death: The pungent aroma of blood mixing with earth, the faint stench of gasoline right before a fire erupted to life, both evident despite the heavy scent of the ocean simmering in the background.


I loved this setup. Who is Luther and why is he able to smell death? Is it some sort of paranormal ability or something much simpler and less literal than that? I’m also fascinated by the idea that different types of death have different smells. I’m thoroughly intrigued and was hooked by the very first sentence.

FALSE CONFESSION — Pamelad

At first glance, the young mother and baby looked as though they were sharing a peaceful nap. Until you looked closer, and saw the single clean bullet wounds in their chests.

“Why would he do this? He looks like he adores her. It just doesn’t make sense.” My partner Jen was looking at a recent picture, taken on Christmas day, showing the husband smiling down at his wife and baby.

“This happens more often than you’d think,” I said as I lightly traced an old scar near my collarbone. I was lucky, my ex-husband hadn’t been very good with a gun.


I liked this entry, because it surprised me. It opens as any police procedural might, but then we get an unexpected glimpse into the narrator’s life. Right away I feel an intimacy with the narrator that I’m betting a lot of the characters in the book don’t have with her. All of a sudden, it’s not about the crime scene, it’s about her past.

Congratulations to all of the honorable mentions. We hope this gives all of our blog readers a glimpse into our heads, so that you have a better idea of what each of us looks for in a submission. Looking forward to the next round!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

We Have a Winner . . . and Another Contest!

Well, it turns out that there was a very clear winner in the Mystery contest, because it was the only entry that both Jessica and I picked for our top 5! And the winner is . . .

Mark Terry, The Zombie Zoo

Samantha Black was dressed to kill. She liked that expression. Dressed to kill. She smiled at her reflection in the mirror behind the bar, just another beautiful face in the crowd. She picked up her drink, a zombie, the club’s specialty, vodka and grapefruit juice, and made a modest toast to herself. She took a sip, intending to nurse it. She needed a clear head. She didn’t need the buzz. She already had one of her own making and it was better than alcohol. She smiled. The image in the mirror smiled back.
Jessica: I personally liked Mark’s entry because it’s just a great setup. From those 100 short words you get a great sense of voice and you are beyond curious. Is she literally dressed to kill? Who is this woman and what is she up to? Mark’s 100 words have me wanting to read more. Thanks!

Kim: I agree. I loved the voice in this excerpt. It pulls you in from the very first sentence or two. Plus, it’s a great mystery opening. Is she literally “dressed to kill”? The writing is very lean. Not a single wasted word.

Nice work, Mark! When you’re ready to send the query letter, synopsis, and first chapter of The Zombie Zoo for our critique, just send it through the blog e-mail link. We look forward to seeing more!

While it turned out that Jessica and I had pretty different tastes overall, we were able to pick one runner-up that made both of our radars.

The runner-up is:

Anonymous 10:34, Peripherals
It was gone.

He blinked a few times in case there was something wrong with his vision, but it didn’t change the fact that his body wasn’t where he left it.

He'd seen the sheet pulled over his face before he was yanked to the light so he knew he was supposed to be dead. What he didn't expect was to be kicked to the curb when he reached it.

His mother was waiting for him when he got there, arms crossed, a pissed look on her face, tapping her foot.
Jessica: I thought this was hysterical, and funny usually makes me want to read more. The general setup, someone being dead, isn’t completely new. I’ve seen that one before, but the mother at the other end, the pissed-off mother, is brilliant. I love this! I’m intrigued and would definitely want more.

Kim: Again, for me it’s the voice. Like Jessica said, a dead narrator isn’t uncharted territory, but the notion of “losing” his dead body and the eye-rolling dead mother was fun and intriguing. Plus, it’s succinct. No time’s wasted getting to the point. We learn a lot about the narrator in just a few sentences.

Beyond these two that we agreed upon, Jessica and I had very different lists of our favorites. I think each of us actually look for different qualities in those first pages. So tomorrow we’re going to talk about our honorable mentions. We each chose four more excerpts that really stood out for us. We’ll highlight those and tell you why we liked them.

Overall, we were really impressed with the quality of the writing in all of the entries. If your excerpt didn’t make it in our honorable mentions or top picks, please don’t be discouraged from querying us. Obviously, it’s tough to judge a complete book based on the first 100 words, and just because we didn’t select your work for the blog doesn’t mean you couldn’t grab our attention with your proposal or query letter.

TODAY IS THE PARANORMAL ROMANCE/ROMANCE WITH FANTASY ELEMENTS/FANTASY WITH ROMANTIC ELEMENTS CONTEST! (That’s a mouthful!)

Here are the rules:
1. We’ll only accept entries that are posted in the comments section of this blog article. No e-mailed entries will be considered.

2. Include your title and the first 100 words of your book. Now, we’re not saying to leave us hanging mid-sentence here. Stop wherever the previous sentence ends, but do not exceed 100 words.

3. The same work cannot be entered in more than one genre. If you think your book straddles more than one genre, you’ll have to pick one. We will, however, accept multiple works from the same author in the same or different categories.

4. Once the material is entered, it’s your final entry. We won’t allow revised versions of the same work.

5. We’re accepting excerpts of both finished and unfinished works.

6. The deadline is tomorrow, February 20th, at 9:00 a.m. EST.
And in case you’ve forgotten, the prize is a critique of the query letter, synopsis, and first chapter of the winning entry! The winner will e-mail us the additional material and we’ll provide our notes privately, not on the blog. We will, however, discuss what we liked about each winning 100-word entry on the blog, and will pull out a few honorable mentions to highlight other excerpts that came close and why.

We’ll post the winners in a few days and then move on to the next genre: Erotic Romance!

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Writing What You Know

“Write what you know.” In my fifteen years of publishing experience, I must have heard that phrase millions of times. I can’t imagine how many times you authors have heard it. But what does it really mean? Does that mean that all mystery writers must have stumbled on a dead body and all romance writers have experienced happily ever after? Nope, not at all. It also doesn’t mean that fantasy writers have relationships with vampires, shape shifters, or demons. What it does mean is that you need to have experience with at least some aspects of your book. You need to know and understand your characters; in other words, often the characteristics of a character aren’t too far outside the author’s own experiences or personality (at least in some ways), and often we find that authors set books in their hometowns or home states (Tom Perrotta). Some authors give their characters a profession that matches their own (think Kathy Reichs), while others focus on writing nonfiction—memoirs, or self-help books that they have the platform to defend.

There is one aspect of writing what you know that seems to be frequently ignored, and interestingly enough this is probably the single most important piece of knowledge that every writer should have. And that’s genre. Whether you are writing memoir, literary fiction, romance, SF, or whatever, you need to know, understand, and like the genre to truly be successful. As an agent of commercial fiction I am very lucky that people like to regularly diminish what I do and the books I represent. I suspect anyone who’s not writing literary fiction understands what I’m talking about, and I suspect that even those writing literary fiction have experienced this a few times.

I regularly receive submissions from authors who tell me sheepishly that in a different time in life they were reading such-and-such genre and thought that they could easily write that genre, so here’s the book. And years ago I was attending a small writing conference where it seemed every attendee was working on their memoir. It wasn’t long before I developed one easy question to establish whether or not I felt that memoir might be worth considering, and that was whether the author read memoirs. Do you know that not one single writer was reading or had read memoirs? Sure, some had read one or two, haven’t we all? But no one was reading them to learn what a memoir really was.

Does this mean that because you have spent the last ten years reading historical romances you can only write historical romance? Not at all. I think it’s important for all authors to stretch their creativity and explore new genres and new directions. We wouldn’t be seeing some of the exciting things we’re seeing in publishing these days, like the merging of genres, if it weren’t for authors expanding what they know and taking it in new directions, but I do think all of these authors are students of the genres they are writing in. In other words, they read the genre. Maybe you thought you were writing a fantasy only to discover it reads more like a romance. If you haven’t been reading romance, you need to do that. You need to understand what the genre offers and, most important, what the agents, editors, and readers expect. That doesn’t mean you need to copy another’s work, and it certainly doesn’t mean any of these genres are formulaic, but readers gravitate toward a genre for a reason, and as a writer it’s your job to figure out why and what you will offer them that stretches that.

Jessica

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Friday, February 15, 2008

More on the Agent Submission Process

Do agents submit a manuscript to the acquisitions editor at each imprint (meaning, if the house accepts unagented manuscripts, it goes through the same editor whether you have an agent or not) or do agents somehow bypass the acquisitions editor and send their queries directly to any editor working at the imprint that might be interested in the manuscript? I've read one agent blog that seems to say the first option and another agent blog that implies the second option.

I hope I am understanding your question correctly, and if I am, the answer is a little of both—yes and no. All editors who buy books for a publishing house are essentially acquisitions editors. Their jobs are to acquire books for the publishing house to publish. However, if what you’re asking is whether or not agents simply send your material to publishers and direct it to “acquisitions editor,” then no. At least not a good, reputable agent. All agents should have a list of editors they work with, know, and sell to. Most important, though, all agents should know what the personal tastes are of those editors, and that goes beyond just knowing who loves fantasy versus romance or contemporaries versus historicals. In addition to knowing generally what editors want, I should also have a sense of the style of writing they like and gravitate toward.

The advantage of an agent is more than just getting your book in the door, it’s also about how it’s treated when it gets there. When unagented authors send unsolicited material to an editor, it is often passed on to a freelance reader to be read. When an agent sends material, it is usually read by the editor herself or, at the very least, the editor’s assistant. Agented material also has an edge in that it’s been screened first. When an agent sends out a book to an editor who knows and respects the agent’s opinion, she will read it as quickly as she can. When an editor receives unsolicited material, she’ll usually sit on it until she’s cleaned up everything else.

Now, there are exceptions to this rule. Harlequin/Silhouette, for example, is a house that actively seeks out unagented authors, and often I will recommend authors submit directly to them rather than work with an agent. Many epublishers are the same way. As are university and small presses.

An agent’s success is based largely on reputation, and it’s that reputation you are piggy-backing on to get your book read, read quickly, and to facilitate an offer or two.

Jessica

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Our Valentine to You

Happy Valentine’s Day! We have a surprise for you! So if your significant other drops the ball and doesn’t come home with a dozen roses or a bottle of expensive aftershave, you can’t say you didn’t get anything this year. (But you can still lay on that guilt trip pretty thick. . . .)

We’re launching a new contest today, and this one is going to be something a little different. We’ll actually be judging a whole series of contests. We decided to try several genre-specific competitions of the first 100 words of the work. We’ll be limiting the types of books to the areas that we represent. Honestly, do you want someone judging your YA who hasn’t read anything in the genre since Judy Blume’s Forever first hit shelves? Probably not. And we’re not going to presume to call ourselves experts in genres we just don’t read on a regular basis. Selfishly, it also gives us a very real opportunity to find a potential new client. Seems like a win-win.

Honestly, we also think it can be tough to declare an ultimate winner in a contest that includes a variety of book types. What if the top three are a terrific cozy, an emotional women’s fiction, and a really hot romance? They may all be great in their own ways, but it can be impossible sometimes to decide which is ultimately the best when the three genres rely on very different writing devices to make them work. Frankly, we don’t want to put ourselves through that hair-pulling, so this seemed the best alternative.

In the next few months we’ll be holding contests in the following genres:

Mystery (traditional and cozy)
Paranormal Romance/Romance With Fantasy Elements
Erotic Romance
Women’s Fiction
Romantic Suspense
Contemporary Romance
Thriller/Suspense
Historical Romance

WE’RE LAUNCHING TODAY WITH THE MYSTERY CONTEST!

The rules are as follows:

1. We’ll only accept entries that are posted in the comments section of this blog article. No e-mailed entries will be considered.

2. Include your title and the first 100 words of your book. Now, we’re not saying to leave us hanging mid-sentence here. Stop wherever the previous sentence ends, but do not exceed 100 words.

3. The same work cannot be entered in more than one genre. If you think your book straddles more than one genre, you’ll have to pick one. We will, however, accept multiple works from the same author in different categories.

4. Once the material is entered, it’s your final entry. We won’t allow revised versions of the same work.

5. The deadline is tomorrow, February 15th, at 9:00 a.m. EST.


The prize, you ask? Accolades from the masses! Oh, and we’ll critique the query letter, synopsis, and first chapter of the winning entry in each genre! The winner will e-mail us the additional material and we’ll provide our notes privately, not on the blog. We will, however, discuss what we liked about each winning 100-word entry on the blog, and will pull out a few honorable mentions to highlight other excerpts that came close and why.

Jessica and I will post the winner within the next couple of days, and at that time we’ll go on to the paranormal romance category. So start whipping those projects into shape!

Let the games begin!

Kim

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Am I Missing Something Good

Do you ever wonder if you miss out on a really great book because the pitch is so-so?

I was reading the one about the revenge comment here and you were asking what makes it unique, which isn't unreasonable, but it's a little bit like:

An obsessed whaling captain drives his crew to destruction in revenge for a fishing accident that took his leg.

You can make the same comments about Moby Dick, but it doesn't really change that a 3-sentence pitch doesn't take into account the things that generally make books wonderful--characterization, unique setting, writer's voice, etc.


This question appeared in the comments of one of my pitch critiques and it’s a great one. Up until recently BookEnds was one of the few agencies to accept unsolicited proposal packages. This meant that anyone could send us the first three chapters and a synopsis of their book without querying first. We stopped this for a number of reasons. The first was that we found it was a huge waste of paper. We were rejecting 99% of those submissions and recycling, but still killing trees. We also found that we were rejecting a lot of them based on a read of the query letter and a read of only one or two pages, and in some cases based on the query alone. When all was said and done we discovered that 99% of the time we were really just rejecting on query letter alone. Now we are probably requesting 1-3% of all email queries we receive (about 100 a week) and still rejecting 99% of those, but saving a lot of trees.

The truth is that the query, and pitch, of course, is representative of the work. Often I will have concerns that something isn’t going to work, but request it anyway. Usually I’m right. And yes, I suppose I’ve missed out on a thing or two. But do you really read the first few chapters of every book you touch before deciding what to buy? You know, you might be missing out on some good books. The same holds true for agents. Every agent is going to admit that she missed out on a book or two simply because she didn’t get it. Of course, I can’t represent every single book. I can only represent those that grab me, those I believe in, and those I can market.
In my experience, if you can’t succinctly explain your story in a paragraph or two, and make it enticing to the reader, it’s very likely the book itself needs a lot of work.

Oh, and if Moby-Dick were pitched to me, I would not request it and I would not regret it. It’s not a book I believe would sell in today’s market.

Jessica

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Final Word on Pitches

Thank you so much to everyone who was brave enough to submit a pitch for critique and thank you to all the readers who stuck it through and actually read and commented on all the critiques. It was really amazing to me to hear you all give your own feedback and support. Pitches and queries are as important as your manuscript, especially if you are an unpublished author, and sharing your knowledge and advice can be invaluable.

I hope I was able to help more than confuse in my critiques. In reading some of your comments and concerns I wanted to end on what I hope is a final and uplifting note about pitches.

Pitches, like writing a book, a query letter, or, really, any other aspect of this business, is not an exact science. So often I hear desperation from authors who are looking for that magic answer. They want me to tell them exactly what they should and should not be doing. Trust me, if I could tell you that I would be living in a nice penthouse overlooking the Hudson River right now. I'm not (just in case you were wondering).

In my initial challenge I think I encouraged readers to try to give a pitch in one sentence, and yes, that's nearly impossible. But yes, it can be done. Why did I place such a difficult guideline on an already difficult challenge? Because I think by focusing on one sentence you are forced to be as concise as possible. The real question, though, is whether or not you can pitch your book in one sentence. It is possible, but it also depends on how big of a concept you have and the genre the book is in. I've sold books on basically that, one sentence. A cozy mystery series featuring a Bible study group. A thrilling romantic adventure series featuring heroes who are hotshots, elite firefighters often considered the Navy SEALs of the firefighting world. Both of these would need more of a description, but when asked what their books are the authors can describe them in one concise sentence. Do these pitches do what I'm requiring you to do? Do they give you the plot, the characters, and the conflict? No, not in so many words, but they do hook an editor in (at least one who might be looking for these types of books).

I get a lot of questions from readers wanting to know how long a pitch should be and how long is too long. For those of you who need numbers, I would say one to five sentences. The truth, though, is that a pitch is too long when an agent stops reading. You aren’t writing a synopsis, you are simply trying to hook someone in, and let’s face it, none of us have attention spans that will hold for more than one to five sentences. If we want more we’ll start reading the book.

I also know that many of you are looking to these critiques for a format or formula that you can simply drop your own storyline into. The truth is that no one format works for all persons or all books. For some the conflict is going to have to come from the characters, for others the plot. The trick is that you need to figure out what really makes your book stand out from every single other book in your genre. Is it the unique situation the characters find themselves in or is it the characters themselves? It will also depend on your readers. Cozy readers often pick up a new series simply based on the crafty, cozy hook; romance readers often look for a unique hero or heroine; and fantasy readers will want a world they haven’t been in yet. Of course that’s oversimplifying, but I think you might know what I mean. Knowing your reader and what she looks for can help you define your pitch.

And last, it’s important to remember that a pitch is different from a query letter. A pitch is that enticing paragraph that grabs the reader and only talks about the book. The query letter will include title, word count, series potential, genre, etc. But of course in a pitch session it’s always a great opener to start with title, etc., and then launch into your actual pitch.

So thanks again to everyone who contributed and played. I had fun and I hope you did too. And I’d love to hear what you learned from these sessions that you can share with those who might still be struggling.

Jessica

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Pitch Critiques Round 25

I’ve critiqued the first 150 pitches that came in and I want to thank everyone who participated. I know there are closer to 250 entries, but there’s just no way I can do them all and do them justice. Here are my final, randomly picked, pitch critiques. I noticed a few of you resubmitted, and in most cases I tried to avoid critiquing the same person multiple times. I also apologize to all of those I wasn’t able to get to and thank you for sending them in. If I ever find the energy to do this again, I would encourage everyone to get your submissions in early and fast.

Here’s the original post . . . Perfecting Your Pitch. And please feel free to use the comments to critique those pitches I missed on your own or tell me what some of your favorites were. I’ll follow up tomorrow with a recap of the entire experience.


151. Ken McConnell
Two of the four members of programmer Joshua Jones' web team are dead. Killed at their computers without a mark on their bodies. How were they killed and by whom? Only Joshua and his odd assortment of geek friends are capable of finding out how the murders were committed. Can they succeed before Joshua and his coder girlfriend become the next victims of a psychotic hacker?

Your first two sentences are enough to grab my attention. You lose me after that, I’m afraid. How were they killed and by whom is what nearly every mystery/suspense is about, so it seems redundant to put that in the paragraph. Instead I want to know about the desperate time constraints Joshua and his team are up against and what unique tactics they need to use to solve these crimes. Other questions that come to me, though, are why can only Joshua solve the crimes? What about the police?


152. Karen
Murder was the beginning of Hope’s short life together with Ian, but before that, she had a past; as a priest, a homeless person and a Broadway dresser. Now she has a different life, as a 64 year old single mother of a 16 year old replica of herself. But what will she do when the actor she turned away for love walks back into her life to claim their daughter and her reason for living?

The opening line is great, but the rest I don’t care about. The opening line grabs me, but then you mention nothing about murder and instead it turns into what sounds like a very typical love story—nothing special.


153. Mystery Robin
Anya Swanson knows broken—whether bodies or hearts. As an insurance adjustor for the perilous fishing industry, she's seen her share of hurt. But when she probes too deeply into one suspicious claim, the casualties hit closer to home than she ever imagined.

It appears to be just a tragic accident—an inexperienced deckhand washed overboard in the Bering Sea. But when another deckhand on another boat goes over in a similar manner—and dragging a woman along with him—Anya takes it personally. They had dinner plans.

But before she can file the death claim, Anya discovers he may not be dead at all. In fact, he may be behind both deaths. And wouldn't you know…he intends to keep that date.


Almost every week I receive a submission for an insurance adjuster or claims adjuster or something similar, so my first question would be how yours stands out. As you have it written here, this doesn’t stand out enough for me to ask for more. Although, that being said, it is a great pitch, I enjoyed reading it, and it does pique my interest, so there’s a very good chance that if you catch me on a good day I might request more. In the end, though, I just don’t think your hook is quite strong enough.


154. Kath
A fear of flying sounds normal enough – unless you have wings. Already a misfit within her tribe, it is certainly not aiding Lani’s ambitions to live up to family tradition. When a cursed stone comes into her possession, Lani’s greatest fear transpires. No longer able to fly, how will she heed the Seer’s warning and travel across the ravine to a friend in danger? As Lani fights to unravel the curse of THE BLACK LUCK STONE and draw from her true strengths, a life hangs in the balance.

Love this! Great pitch, great idea. Really well done. Congrats!


155. anon 3:58
Toni Tutoro just wants to go home…to the city where she died, where her human family was murdered, and to a dangerous man she’s never met, who’ll love her in ways she thought were lost the day her heart stopped beating.

This has potential. I like this pitch a lot, but would want to know more. What is she if she died? Honestly, I hope she’s not a vampire. There are so many of those it’s hard to sell another now. But this is a great example of a short pitch.


Thanks again to all who participated!

Jessica

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Friday, February 08, 2008

I'm in the Mood . . .

It’s been a quiet week for me here at BookEnds, and by that I mean I’m not running around like a chicken with my head cut off staring at 150 fresh emails and 8 new voice mails. No, I actually feel on top of things this week. I’ve gotten to all of my clients proposals, they’ve gotten their feedback and are busy at work. I’ve gone through my handy little notebook and made notes on where all my clients are with their projects and followed up with editors and clients where necessary. I’ve reviewed and negotiated contracts, I’ve touched base with a number of editors I haven’t talked to in a while, and I even read some queries and proposals.

And I hate it. I hate peace and quiet and I hate having time to do things. I suppose some would say that makes me a type A personality. I have no idea what personality type I am, but I do know that I thrive on at least a little bit of chaos. I like to have things hanging over my head. I like to feel needed and wanted and I like to be running around like a chicken with at least half my head severed (sorry).

When I have downtime, though, it makes me think. It makes me think that right now, at this very moment, I’m looking for something. I want something fresh and new to add to my client list, something that will keep me up all night reading and make me pop open the computer at 3 a.m. to let the author know I need to talk to her asap. Obviously that something has to be different, it has to be well-written. and it has to grab me by the throat. But beyond that. what else am I looking for? What do I want to add to my 2008 client list? Here’s a rundown in no particular order. . . .

Thrillers: I really want a good thriller. I want a tough but soft character. Someone I want to be or be around. I’ve been reading Karin Slaughter and Barry Eisler. I really love Barry Eisler. I would love to see something that hasn’t been done before. One of the things I love about Barry Eisler is his ability to make a seemingly unsympathetic character sympathetic, but of course I love more traditional forensic or criminal investigation-type books as well. I like the darkness of a thriller, and of course I love that thrillers are thrilling. If comparing books to TV, I love The Closer, Criminal Minds, and Cold Case. I especially love Cold Case. Brilliant!

Romantic Suspense: I’ve always been a huge fan of romantic suspense, so it’s surprising I have so few on my list. I think part of it is that I’m incredibly picky; I don’t think it’s an easy genre to write. I do want to add more romantic suspense to my list, though. I want the huge sexy men and I love the women-in-jeopardy stories. There are few things more exciting to me than stalkers and serial killers, but I also like the team approach, the man and woman who can work together to save the day, and keep me at the edge of my seat while doing it. And I refer above to some of my favorite TV shows, which are also great romantic suspense ideas—especially Criminal Minds. Just plain creepy.

Contemporary Romance: Lately I’ve been reading a good deal more contemporary romance and I’ve been surprised (I don’t know why) by how difficult it is to find these days. With the glut of paranormals, it seems that this is the latest genre to be neglected. The trick with contemporary romance is that it still has to have some sort of hook to make it stand out. I’m on the hunt, though. I believe it’s not going to be long before editors are begging me for a good contemporary romance, and I plan to be ready.

Historical Romance: I like big, lofty, sexy historicals. Of course I like any historical. I’ve been doing well with my historical romances lately, or I suppose I should say my authors are doing well, and I’m enjoying reading them, so I’m always looking for something new. As you might know, Elizabeth Hoyt was one of my new favorites of last season, but I also discovered Samantha James and loved her. I like historicals with an interesting hook, and I tend to think a high level of sensuality plays well in the historical market, so I like that too.

Commercial Women’s Fiction: I tend not to be a reader of much “literary fiction.” I like more commercial stories, books that I’ve heard a lot of writers refer to as mainstream. Often there’s a romance involved, but not always. I love stories of friendship and I love stories of a woman overcoming hardship. I’m always a fan of the abused woman who is able to escape, the abandoned woman who is able to discover that she can, in fact, survive on her own, and I love stories about the mother-daughter relationship. I love TV shows like Brothers and Sisters and Army Wives, and these are the types of stories I would like translated into women’s fiction (not literally, of course).

Nonfiction: It’s been a while since I’ve taken on a new nonfiction author, and I think it’s time for something fresh. Of course the author is going to need to have a platform, both personally and with the subject she is writing about. I’m most interested these days in career, health, parenting, and current events titles. But wow me. I’d love to see some truly funny humor (we just sold a hilarious pop culture humor book), some brilliant business book, or a self-help book that really stands out.

And of course don’t forget that I’m always looking for mysteries, erotic romances, paranormal romances, and fantasy romances. The only reason I didn’t go into detail on any of these particular subjects is that I’m seeing a lot of them cross my desk. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get at least ten paranormal or fantasy queries and three cozy mysteries. The problem is that none of them have stood out. The vampires all sound the same and every cozy protagonist works in academia. I definitely want to see more of these genres, but you’ve got to push yourselves in these flooded markets to stand out. To really show me what you’re doing that hasn’t yet been thought of and to write it in such a way that your writing takes my breath away from the first sentence.

So there you go, a public admission that I am looking for new clients. A little scary on my part, maybe, but that’s what happens when your clients are all busy writing away.

Jessica

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Choosing the Best Agent

I recently did a post on Agent Research Sites, and I thought the related question below was a great one. I’ve done a couple of posts on how to identify a bad agent and the scam agents everyone should avoid, but I’m not sure there’s been a lot on how to find a list of good agents. Probably because there is only sort of a list.

How do you determine which are the better/best agents out there? I've done research on Publishers Marketplace, read countless webpages - both agencies own and places like Absolute Write - but still, at best, it seems agents are listing maybe 2-3 deals so far this year, with maybe 1 in a specific genre. I know not all agents list every deal, but how do you know who will give you the best chance to sell your book? Is there somewhere else I should look? My book is upper YA - is there a list somewhere (other than Agent Query) of the most successful agents by genre? What is the typical number of deals an agent does annually? What percentage of books are likely to find a legit agent, but still not sell? I know there are a lot of questions in this, but any/all advice would be appreciated!

It sounds like you are doing the right things. I would always recommend Publishers Marketplace and of course Preditors and Editors, but beyond that things can get a little sketchy. You can check out AAR, too, although to be a member you have to have been agenting for 18 months, which means that if you are only reviewing AAR, you might be missing out on some very talented, experienced fresh blood. Eighteen months is a long time, and I know that by the time we became AAR members we were already well established and looking for authors with less of a need to fill spots.

However, despite all of that advice, I don’t think that’s what you are looking for. It seems you’ve already done your research and know who is reputable. Now you just want to know who is actually good and who will be good for you. Well, unfortunately that’s going to require conversations with other writers, visits to discussion boards, writers' loops and chats at writers' group meetings. And of course it’s going to take some gut instincts. If an agent is reputable, selling books in your genre (and Publishers Marketplace, of course, only has those deals that people are reporting; most agents have, or should have, a great number of deals outside of just those on Pub Marketplace), and experienced in contract negotiation and career building, you’re probably in good shape.

Unfortunately there’s no place that I know of, other than maybe an agent’s web site, that will list all of the deals an agent does annually, or who is the most successful. Especially since that would be somewhat subjective. Is an agent who has 300 clients and some bestsellers but no time to really give to any of them more successful than the agent who has only one client who just happens to be Dan Brown? Or is the agent more successful who has 25 published clients but has never really moved any of them forward in their careers, versus the agent who has three published clients but has gradually and successfully built all of their careers over time? I think what makes an agent successful is one who is able to give each of her clients what they want and need and help each of them attain their individual goals.

It sounds like you’ve done all the research you can. Now it’s up to you to send the work out there and make the final decision when the call comes. Is the agent who offers the right agent for you? And, of course, maybe my readers can share their own experiences and advice on how they went about choosing which agents to query.

Jessica

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Pitch Critiques Round 24

I’m winding down. Hoping to get to as many as possible, but just can’t agree to do them all. So here we go again . . . Perfecting Your Pitch.


144. Phoenix
In 305 A.D., the Roman gods are preparing to die; the Seventh Seal is about to be opened; and inside a waking Mt. Vesuvius, pagan prophecy and Christian canon will soon converge.

Now, a devout young mage must defy Church and Emperor to not only initiate an apocalypse but to win over the Persian mercenary he suddenly finds himself soul-bonded to. All before the gods rebel and a thriving empire falls.


I like your opening line, your setup. This definitely grabs my interest and makes me want to see where this is going. Your follow-up, though, falls flat for me. Be a little more specific. Who is the devout young mage and why must he defy the Church? What does it take for someone who is devout to do this? What does it mean that he’s soul-bonded? In other words, you’ve piqued my interest, now you need to reel me in. At the end of your pitch I should want to read more, not think, “Hmm, interesting,” and put it away.


145. Tricia Grissom
Natalya Petrofsky is a zombie with authority issues. She was just about to escape her crazy immigrant family when someone killed them all. Now Grandma Nama is in a coma from changing the curse intended to wipe out their family into something that made them zombies instead. Big improvement. But that doesn't stop her from interfering with Natalya's life. Grandma’s telepathic running commentary can really kill a date night.

And when Natalya finally meets a sexy guy who won't freak because she has no heartbeat, it's because vampire Victor wants her to swear an undead oath to the vamps.

Natalya just wants to keep the family funeral home afloat and find a way to reverse whatever curse killed her entire clan, preferably before her dysfunctional relatives meet Homeland Security. Coping with her own death is hard enough. How will she avoid becoming a vampire lackey?


I am completely confused by this story. I assume by “killed” you mean made into Zombies, and if Grandma Nama is a part of her family, why wasn’t she killed? What does being a crazy immigrant family have to do with anything? That actually piqued my interest more than the zombies. I wanted to know more about this crazy family. My problem is that when I’m finished reading what is really a pretty long pitch, I still have no idea what your book is about. I know it’s about Natalya, who is a zombie, but does anything else happen? I’m getting bits and pieces of information, but I never feel like I get any true taste of this story. I also like the ending. Again, I’m intrigued by the family funeral home, but you don’t take me far enough into it to really tell me about it.


146. Laura Elliott
Owner of the galaxy’s largest freight company, Lucy McAllister gets to do what she’s always wanted – travel the stars. Wealth, fame, family, and friends, she has it all. If not for that one old debt…

Her family taken hostage, Lucy must fly to Rogusta and assassinate the planet’s most respected senator, or she’ll lose everything she loves. She has no choice but to play along while she plans a rescue mission. Just two steps out of the ship, Lucy finds herself the target of a hired assassin. She’s tossed into GIA protective custody with the sexy Chief Agent Finn Droverson watching her every move. Things heat up between them, and she begins to suspect something is a bit different about their relationship – especially when their hands fuse together during a romantic moment. Lucy must figure out her unexpected (and complicated) relationship with Finn, battle with GIA double agents, and somehow outwit the smartest criminal in the galaxy – and save her family.


Your two paragraphs don’t connect for me. The tone is different and, again, I’m not sure we need to know the backstory. How does owning the freight company have anything to do with Lucy’s family being taken hostage. The second paragraph feels like you’ve run out of time and you're trying to rush through and get out as much information as possible. I picture you standing at the front of the room giving a five-minute book report only to realize that there’s just one minute left, so you are busy top-lining the key points in order to finish on time. This just didn’t grab me. It felt like you were trying to be too many things. I didn’t get a good sense of what the tone of the book was. It felt very light and funny, but didn’t feel like that’s what it should be, and in the end the story just doesn’t seem different enough.


147. D.C. England
Five words
Phil Collins stops my imprisonment.

One paragraph
My name is Steve. When I was younger I had big dreams. Jamie, Brian and I, we all had big dreams. We wanted to change the world – and we did. We wanted to be rock stars – and we were. We wanted girlfriends - that was the difficult one. We had all been great friends. Jamie and I still were. I wouldn’t have been here today if not for Jamie. But I wasn’t sure I’d ever forgive Brian.

One sentence
A semi-fictional tale of WOMAD 1982, one of the greatest but financially most disastrous music festivals ever - seen through the eyes of an utterly helpless organiser, and told alongside the story of punk rock in the provinces.


What’s most interesting about this to me is that none of your pitches connect. What does Phil Collins have to do with punk rock or the fact that your name is Steve? And what is this book about? Is it a memoir? Is it coming-of-age? Is it about a disastrous music festival? My suggestion is to focus on writing one strong paragraph first that really tells me what your story is about, and from there you can shorten if necessary.


148. Jael
My book is about a woman who gets younger, and her husband, who doesn't. When Gretchen turns 30, she suddenly starts to age backward, and her body begins to undo both the negative aspects of aging (scars, wrinkles) and the positive ones (wisdom, stability, memories). The book alternates between Gretchen's point of view and Charlie's, as they struggle with the ever-growing gap between them, as he turns 31 and 35 and 41 while she turns 29 and 25 and 19.

This just sounds odd and, I hate to say it, not that interesting. Of course I’m concerned that your pitch tells me instead of shows me your story, but I’m also concerned that you don’t have a story there. This sounds like it would be categorized as women’s fiction, and yet I don’t see the readership for it (please, readers, tell me if I’m wrong). It might be more interesting if you tell me some of what this couple is dealing with, why she does this and what is eventually going to happen. Does the reverse aging affect her mind as well? Will she become a baby? Does she have reverse puberty? I’m curious, but from the pitch the story doesn’t feel as well thought out as it needs to.


149. anon 9:36p
Lady Elizabeth Dunham and her brother have been hiding a secret that could ruin them. When the blackmail letters arrive Lady Elizabeth sets out to save her family. She is prevented from attaining this goal because her brother has enlisted the help of the mysterious “Messenger” who Elizabeth believes will only ruin her family and she sets out to find and stop him.

Daniel Reming, Earl of Clauster, is The Messanger. He believes in justice and wants to right the wrongs of the ton, because he failed his sister and family and needs to make it up, even if it is only to himself. He is prevented from attaining this goal because the woman in his latest assignment is doing everything in her power to prevent him from succeeding.


You are telling me and not showing me and, as I’ve mentioned before, a pitch should be representative of your writing. Based on the first paragraph, I would pass on this. The writing feels choppy and stilted. And ultimately, I’m not sure what this story is really about or how it stands out from others. Be careful . . . in both paragraphs you use the phrase “prevented from attaining this goal,” which distances me from the characters and tells me instead of shows me. I think you might be better melding these two paragraphs and focusing on the heart of the story, which, I imagine, is when Daniel and Lady Elizabeth come together to try to reach both of their goals.


150. Shayla Kersten
Did you ever have a dream so real you could taste it?

Catlin Landry has. Her nights are filled with visions of a sexy man, the feel of his muscles, and the taste of his skin. Too bad they aren't real, or are they?


I think that this is a good pitch, but in the end I wouldn’t request it. I assume this is for an erotic romance, and so many of those involve a dream man that as you have this here it wouldn’t stand out in the market. What else makes your book unique?


Okay, readers, it’s up to you now (and no slacking off on me!). I want to hear what you have to say. . . .


Jessica

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Writer's Worst Nightmare . . .

Last week I received an awful bit of news regarding two of my clients in Texas. James and Livia Reasoner are a husband-and-wife writing team with well over 150 published books between the two of them. Unfortunately, they’ve lost everything—except, thankfully, one another and their family—in a devastating fire that ripped through their home last Tuesday. They’re amazing people. Talking to James last week, he was incredibly upbeat and said, “I told Livia, ‘Everybody has their rough days. We had ours on Tuesday.’”

Some of their most precious possessions—and I’m sure you can relate—were their books. They’ve lost the entire collection of their published works, their valuable research materials, and favorite classics. Then, of course, there was their computer and their works-in-progress. But James was already writing again in a spiral notebook. Not surprising. Both he and Livia are two of the most professional, conscientious writers I’ve ever worked with.

The two of them hold a special place in my heart. There’s no one I’ve worked with longer—since the day I first started as an editorial assistant at Berkley Publishing in 1995. In fact, Livia’s romance novel Mending Fences was my very first acquisition as a young editor. I need to dig through my collection to check, but I’m really hoping I still have a copy of that one to send to her.

The real story here, though, is the amazing support that’s rallied around them. They’re receiving all sorts of wonderful donations in the form of money, clothes, books, etc. Their writing community has gotten the word out quickly and I think all of them, like you, sympathize with the notion of losing an entire library built over two lifetimes. Below I’ve attached a notice issued by the Western Writers of America, for anyone who’d like to help.



Longtime Western writer and WWA member James Reasoner and wife Livia lost their house and studio, and all their belongings, in a fire earlier this week. They're OK, as are their dogs and children, but got out with only their clothes they were wearing. Books, pulps, comics, everything else, gone. "This is totally overwhelming," James says.

To help the family, Western Writers of America and Kensington Books have agreed to make sizable contributions and ask anyone who would also like to contribute to send cash donations to the WWA Executive Director's office in Albuquerque, N.M. Make the check out to Western Writers of America and put in the memo that the money is for the James Reasoner Emergency Fund.

Checks should be mailed to:
WWA
MSC06 3770
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001

Since James and Livia also lost their sizable library, donations are also being sought to help restock their bookcases whenever they have a new home. Kim Lionetti, Livia's agent at BookEnds, has generously agreed to accept any BOOK donations and keep them until the Reasoners have a place to put them. Books should be sent to:
Kim Lionetti
BookEnds Inc.
136 Long Hill Road
Gillette, NJ 07933

Our thoughts and prayers are with James, Livia and family during this trying time. Thanks for your help.
Johnny D. Boggs
WWA Vice President


Knowing the Reasoners, and seeing the generous support they’ve received, I’m sure they’re going to be just fine. But news like this sure does make you sit back and put everything into perspective, doesn’t it?

Kim

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Pitch Critiques Round 23

I’m winding down. Hoping to get to as many as possible, but just can’t agree to do them all. So here we go again . . . Perfecting Your Pitch.


137. Paul Lamb
Why does an inept burglar keep trying to break into a lonely bed and breakfast in rural Iowa? Could it be for the antique Christmas ornaments? Or is a thug for an unscrupulous land developer trying to harass the innkeeper into leaving? Does a peculiar guest have a hidden agenda? Or is there a different reason? And how is this connected to a mysterious death in the snow a decade before? The answers may lie locked inside the mind of an old woman with Alzheimer’s.

When two guests are awakened by another of the sorry burglar’s attempts, they decide to set a trap, as much to see what the burglar is after as to catch him. Not only are they surprised when the burglar is unmasked, but they discover a family treasure nearly lost for all time.


I hate to say this, but the premise of your story does not grab me at all. If the inept burglar is really inept, it seems to me that after a second attempt he’d probably be pretty easy to catch and more of an annoyance than anything really interesting. I hope there’s more to the heart of your story, something bigger and stronger. Maybe the family treasure?


138. Renee Lynn Scott
A Highlander turned English border warden discovers his biggest challenge is fighting the overwhelming desire for the delectable Border Hellion who insists on becoming his mistress in exchange for her murderous brother.

This doesn’t feel quite different enough. I think you have to focus on more of the plot outside of the romance to make this stand out. Fighting overwhelming desire is the basic thread in almost every romance novel. What about this story or plot line makes your book different? Usually it has nothing to do with the romance.


139. honey
When a presidential nominee is among the dead in a series of attacks on US seaports and natural gas terminals, Caro Wilson, a retired CIA Security manager, enlists a group of unique former spies to avert potentially devastating political and economic consequences.

Caro survived the Honey Project, the CIA’s counterpart to the notorious Soviet sex spies. She and the other former agents, her close friends, have hidden their sordid past, married well, and overcome their emotional scars. Caro wears the bland mask of a competent bureaucrat until she nearly dies in the attacks. She’s collected scraps of ambiguous evidence, enough to launch an investigation, and she’s scared. The friends she turns to for help, who also dread exposure, are suddenly dangerous: one is the widow of the slain politician, and the other two are married to men in the conspiracy, confederates of Caro’s own husband.


I like this. I think it needs some tightening, but Caro and the Honey Project really grab my attention. The opening paragraph, though, is a little confusing. If a presidential nominee is dead, why would it be up to a retired security manager and her friends to solve the problem? It seems like the working CIA would be on it already. I think you should focus more on your second paragraph. I like Caro’s background a lot and the fact that she’s now being sucked into a new political turmoil. I would stick with the second paragraph and add one sentence at the end to wrap it all up. Good work. Very interesting idea. I probably would request based on this. You’ve got my curiosity piqued.


140. Michelle
In this historical romantic suspense novel, set in Victorian England, young Minuette Sinclair is swept into an illicit affair with a reformed thief, Bryant Westley, and becomes entangled in the search for a priceless necklace with a bloody past.

I like the setup immediately only because I am a fan of historical romantic suspense. I like the twist. However, the pitch isn’t there for me. Even your opening, “In this historical romance,” tells rather than shows and gives no sense of your voice or your story. I also don’t see the suspense in your description and don’t feel that the way you pitch the book makes it stand out. Would the search for a priceless necklace really be enough to get you to spend $10 on a book? Your pitch has to be thrilling and enticing and enough to make readers want to spend money.


141. anon 10:20
Two ancient alien races, in war of annihilation are heading toward Earth. Terrorist Adiak Peller seeks power and revenge for a son's death. 18 year old
Del Baldura is the flash point where it all intersects.


The way this pitch is written, I don’t see the connection between any of your stories. This doesn’t tell me anything about your book, but instead tells me about three different plot lines in your book. My other concern is that if your pitch is this disconnected and rough, what does that say about your story? It’s important to remember that a pitch isn’t just telling readers about your story, but is representative of your book, your writing, and the tone of your book. So in these few short sentences I should get a sense of your voice as well as the energy of your book.


142. lllQuill
After someone begins assassinating L.A.'s most depraved criminals, former drug-runner, turned cop, turned millionaire playboy, Hale Parrish, is asked to use his special talents to investigate. By "gleaning," Hale can relive the final moments of the dead, often leading to indisputable evidence against murderers. When Hale and the vigilante cross paths, their lost family ties are revealed, forcing Hale to contend with the darkest shadows from his past.

This is another situation where I don’t feel the connect between the stories. What is this book really about? Is it the assassination of depraved criminals (and if that were the case, would the police really be concerned enough to bring in a special, probably really expensive expert)? Or is the book about Hale and the killer crossing paths? Make sure you focus on the key plot point of the story. I don’t think it’s necessary in the pitch to give us Hale’s background. What we need to know is who he is now and why he would be brought into a high-profile case and what happens next.


143. Christyne Butler
A single mom ranch owner desperate to save her land. An ex-con cowboy running from his past.
She needed a hero . . . what she got was him.

Maggie Stevens only priority is keeping her Wyoming spread afloat. With a neighbor stealing her cowboys, a long list of repairs and a loan payment due, she’s running out of options. Cowboy Landon Cartwright is fresh from prison on an overturned conviction for a crime that robbed him of all he cherished. Broke, he’s forced to take a job working for the lady rancher.

How long can Landon run from the horrifying memories that always find him, and will Maggie be able to overlook the dark sensuality she finds in a cowboy’s eyes when she hires THE RIGHT KIND OF WRONG.


I like your opening sentences. A great tagline for the cover of your book. In fact I like this pitch a lot. You give us a great look at your story and the perfect description. In fact, I could see a publisher using this verbatim on the cover. My only comment is that this sounds perfect for category romance (something I’ll discuss in more detail in another post), so if you intended that, my suggestion is to figure out which line you’re targeting and get it into an editor’s hands. If, however, you see this as a single title you’ll need to do some tweaking to your pitch and possibly your story. As written, it doesn’t sound multilayered enough for a single-title romance.


Okay, readers, it’s up to you now (and no slacking off on me!). I want to hear what you have to say. . . .

Jessica

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