Monday, March 31, 2008

Conference Etiquette

Conferences are a lot of work for agents and a lot of pressure for authors, and very frequently I’m asked questions about how authors should and can approach agents in various situations. I know we’ve chatted about what to do in an elevator or at a pitch appointment (which I’ll touch on again), but how do you approach an agent who has already seen your work, who currently has something of yours on submission, or who has rejected you five times?

First of all, before even getting to the conference, do some research. Most conferences should let you know ahead of time who is attending, so pop on the Internet and find out what you can. Learn about the agencies they work for as well as the agents as individuals, and definitely find out what they represent. The more information you have the more confident you’ll feel when talking to an agent. And second, relax. Agents attend conferences for two reasons: to help authors by teaching them about the publishing business and to find new clients. They’re hoping to get as much out of the conference as you are.

So let’s look at a few of the possible scenarios for meeting an agent. . . .

If an agent has previously rejected your work, there’s no need to mention that when you walk up to introduce yourself. When meeting someone for the first time, try to keep your introduction positive. There’re few things more uncomfortable than an author bitterly telling you upon introduction that you’ve already rejected her work. It’s hard to have much of a conversation after that. However, if after an introduction the agent mentions that your name or the title of your book sounds familiar, don’t hesitate to spin it positively. Let her know that in fact you had submitted to her and she had passed, but you’re working on something fresh and new and you’re hoping to keep her in mind for the future. Focusing not on the rejection but on what’s next is much more appealing to everyone.

And keep in mind that just because an agent has rejected your work doesn’t mean you should avoid meeting her (unless you’ve already decided you never want to work with her). While it might seem like there are millions of agents out there, the list can seem pretty small if you start weeding people out. It’s important to remember that conferences are about networking. It can never hurt to know as many people in this business as possible and, if for some reason you don’t find representation for Book #1, you’ve already got a good connection for Book #2, a personal connection.

If you know you are going to a conference and you know you are going to have pitch appointments or just meet agents personally, do not send your work out right before the conference. In the case of a pitch appointment, you want the benefit of the pitch. Anyone can query or submit to an agent, but a pitch appointment gives you an edge. It gives you the opportunity to discuss your work with the agent before sending it along. At every conference there’s at least one person who sends me a proposal a week or two before the event. I get the feeling that they are expecting me to show up at the pitch with a critique, but what they’ve actually done is wasted a pitch. What will happen is you’ll tell me you just sent it, I’ll tell you that’s fine, I’ll read it when I get back, and your pitch is over. You’ve just missed out on the opportunity to get constructive feedback on your pitch and possibly your story. I know that often in pitch appointments the author and I will get to talking about her work, and many times I’ll have suggestions of where I see things might be off or directions she should consider.

If you have a requested full with an agent who is going to be at the conference, good for you. Definitely make the time to introduce yourself to this agent. Remind her what your story is about and thank her for requesting it. Don’t quiz her about her timing or regale her with your concerns about what’s wrong with the book, and don’t expect her to give you feedback. There’s no need to call or notify her ahead of time that you’ll be at the conference. A face-to-face introduction should suffice.

One of the reasons I advise against getting in touch with agents or submitting just before a conference is that for a lot of agents this puts them in an uncomfortable position. They feel that you’re expecting something they don’t want to give—usually feedback or more personal, detailed critiques than they would normally give. We’ve discussed before that there are a lot of agents who will honestly say that in pitch sessions they simply ask for everything. They tend not to like confrontation. I’m not one of those agents, and I will happily discuss your work if I’ve read it. However, I can only discuss your work if I remember it, and here’s where it becomes embarrassing. It’s very possible that I’ve read your work, and rejected it yesterday; that doesn’t mean I remember enough about it to give you feedback.

When meeting an agent in various public places around the hotel, here’s my advice:

In the gym: Smile, nod, and walk on. Nobody wants to make an introduction while sweating to LL Cool J on the treadmill.

In the pool: Feel free to start a casual, friendly conversation, but no business talk allowed. For one thing, I don’t want to talk business in a pool. For another, I don’t want to be reminded that now you’ve seen me in my swimsuit.

At a conference-sponsored dinner: Chat up the agent. Ask about the business, tell her about yourself. Talk about the town and what it has to offer. This is one of the best times to get to know someone. You have her trapped at your beck and call for at least a couple of hours. Use it to your benefit and don’t forget to get a business card on the way out. Whatever you do, make it your responsibility to ensure the agent is having a nice time. All too often I’ve observed agents at conference dinners left to flounder while everyone else at the table chats away. I’m not sure what it is, I suspect fear, but the worst thing you can do is leave an agent trapped in silence at the other end of the table.

In the elevator: Smile, nod, and introduce yourself. You need to take these moments when they arise, and elevators are perfectly acceptable. However, when it’s time for the agent to get off, let her off. Don’t hold up the elevator and do NOT follow her to her room.

At the airport: At this point, if you recognize the agent, she’s usually tired and exhausted. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to strike up a friendly conversation, but no one wants to be pitched at this point. We are tired, we’re homesick, and we just want to read one of our new books.

When in doubt, my suggestion is to always introduce yourself and make small talk. You can usually get a feel fairly early on if the agent is up for chatting. I don’t think it’s ever necessary to ask if you can submit. Of course we’re going to say yes, we have submission guidelines. And I don’t think it’s necessary, outside of a pitch session, to launch into your pitch. If you do feel the need to pitch, this is where short comes into play. A pitch is awkward and a bit of a conversation stopper. Instead I would simply say something along the lines of, "Would you be interested in a romantic suspense featuring a bounty hunter?" But you really only need to do this if you’re unsure. If you absolutely know your work is right for this agent, just have a chat. Enjoy your time together and query her when you get home. If the chat was nice she’ll remember you enough to request more.

I hope I covered all the bases here and I hope to see more than a few of you at conferences this year. Good luck and happy travels!

Jessica

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thriller/Suspense Honorable Mentions

As usual, everyone did a great job in this category, but there were a few more entries that really stood out for us. . . .

Jessica’s picks:
Anonymous 10:59am -- Secondary Targets

MCAS Cherry Point
Present Day

To say that General Michael Hendricks’ days were numbered was not necessarily accurate. Hours--maybe. Seconds--probably. Days--doubtful.

Midnight had crept upon him in silence, bringing with it no viable solutions. A small desk lamp cast a faint glow over his worry-ridden face.

Damn. How could I have been so careless? The words poured over him like a scalding hot shower. Reality had barged it’s way in, pulled up a chair and sat down.

There was nothing left. No time. No solutions. No easy or quick fixes. And certainly not a smidgeon of luck.

The voice is everything for me with these words. I like the quick, sharp prose and the feeling of helplessness we see in the character. I also like the military side of this, that intrigues me and makes me wonder where this is going.

Ray -- Untitled

Jake Black stretched in his car seat and imagined the suspected terrorist charging out of the house across the street, AK 47 spewing bullets. Anything to break up the boredom--in Jake's business, drowsy equaled dead.

His cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He flicked it open--damn, he'd made it clear that his daughter's nanny was never to call him on the job.

"What?"

Gretchen's whisper shook. "Your wife--she's here."

Impossible. "How?"

"I don't know. The doorbell rang, and there she was."

Dear God. "Does she have Amy?"

"I tried to stop her, Mr. Black, I tried."

I love the idea of a stakeout or a sting operation, so already I’m interested in this, but when you throw in the possibility of this man’s family getting caught in the middle you have my attention. That’s a twist you rarely see in something like this and definitely has me interested in more.


Kim’s picks:
Anonymous 4:48 pm -- A Shame Too Great

Nolan Spencer witnessed his first murder when he was eight. He wasn’t supposed to be skulking in the dark crevices of an alleyway, he was supposed to be carrying out the deed. Initiation. Was the killing of the naked lady, sprawled listlessly in the snow covered street, a part of this initiation? Nolan nibbled on his frozen knuckles and pictured his buddies huddled together in conspiracy. They were tucked safely away in the abandoned basement of the Iron Works. Be brave, he thought, this is what it’s all about. The killer turned and locked eyes with the boy.

I liked the unique POV here. Here’s a young kid that’s bound to get into all sorts of trouble in the coming years, if he’s getting mixed up with a gang. But that whole mess hasn’t even started and already he finds himself in a dangerous situation that presumably isn’t even linked to the unsavory characters he’s been hanging out with. I’m rooting for the kid: hoping he doesn’t get killed for what he’s just witnessed, and wishing the whole situation will scare him straight!

Claire -- Untitled

I had an uncanny knack for finding the kind of people who usually didn’t want to be found. Sam Weber had been no different, except that when I found her she was dead. I should never have broken my own protocol and taken the job. When I started seeing orange I ought to have trusted my instincts and quit.

“You came then.”

Harvey Lee Reynolds. Brother of the deceased and philandering ass hole.

“What‘s that supposed to mean?”

I felt naked without my gun. It had seemed right not to bring it to the funeral, now it just felt foolish.

I just really liked the voice from the first sentence. Why hadn’t Sam wanted to be found and how did she end up dead? The best part of the excerpt, however, is the last line. The reader’s led to believe this Harvey guy is just some obnoxious boob, but all of the sudden the narrator thinks he should have his gun on him. Are there going to be two dead bodies at this funeral? Great setup.


That does it for the thriller/suspense category! The contest is winding down. You’ve all done a terrific job so far. We’re really enjoying this!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Thriller/Suspense Winner . . . and the Women's Fiction Contest!

It became clear in the thriller/suspense contest that some of the contestants are either not really reading the rules or choosing not to follow them. Unfortunately, this caused a bit of a problem for Jessica and me when we judged the contest.

We went through and made our list of top picks. We agreed on three entries. Then I decided to check the word count. To this point, we’d been trusting that everyone was abiding by the rules. We hadn’t been militant about checking it. But when it became clear that other commenters were noticing the length, we decided we needed to look into it. Unfortunately, two of the three contestants disqualified themselves by going over the 100 words, so this made picking the winner a no-brainer. If it came down to just two or three extra words, we may have let it slide (after all, we’re English/Journalism majors . . . we can sympathize with the mathematically challenged), but both were over by more than 15 words. We just couldn’t ignore that, and to be honest we were disappointed and irritated. Due to that situation, there isn’t a runner-up for the category. Honorable mentions will be featured tomorrow.

So congratulations to Spyscribbler for a great entry — and for actually following the rules!
Spyscribbler — For Love or Country

I sometimes imagine things had ended differently. I imagine the special smile he gave me, the way he always knew when I slipped into a room. I imagine the way he undressed me, his hands just grazing my skin, his eyes gazing at me in wonder, as if surprised I was his.

I was only ever partly his.

It started the way it ended, with the door of my apartment crashing open. The man looked angry enough to kill, but his gun was still a bulge under his jacket.

“Who are you?” I demanded.

But I knew. I already knew.


Jessica’s thoughts: What a great setup. I like the comparison to ending the way it began and I really like the last line. This is a lead-in that wants you to read more because there’s so much left to discover. Who is it and in what direction is this story going? It’s rare that I think first person works in thrillers, so even I was surprised by my own reaction to this.

Kim’s thoughts: I really liked how the opening changed from this warm nostalgic feeling to something much more chilling. The narrator, herself, is intriguing. Why was she only “partly his”? Was there someone else? Did she have any love for the man she’s remembering? Or did she just have a physical relationship with him? And who’s at the door? How will all of it connect? I’m eager to learn the answers!

Spyscribbler, when you’re ready for your critique, please send your query letter, synopsis, and first chapter to the e-mail link on the blog. Congrats again!

TODAY IS THE WOMEN’S FICTION CONTEST!!! Both historical and contemporary entries will be accepted, but the focus of the story needs to deal with women’s issues and appeal to a female audience.

Here are the rules — READ THEM!
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, March 28th, 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. Keep an eye out for your category!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

You Do Judge a Book by Its Cover

In my post on Is Good Writing Really Enough, many of you were wonderfully honest about what leads you to buy a new book by an unknown author. I have to admit, I was surprised by how many said that the title of a book and/or its cover were two of the leading reasons why you bought a book. I don’t know why I should be, maybe it’s because I’m so frequently criticized for looking at things too narrowly that I assumed you would have bigger answers. I guess I assumed that because you harp on agents for judging from a simple query letter that you would judge from more. But there it is. I think you proved to all that whether we want to or not we do in fact judge a book by its cover.

This discussion reminded me of when I heard a Borders Romance Buyer speak at last year’s RWA. One of her key points was that when it comes to erotic romance, a naked or semi-naked man on the cover works every single time. And personally I think titles that are short and snappy usually work the best because, let’s face it, they are easier to remember.

From our own list I’ve always loved the titles Knit One, Kill Two and Red Hot Reunion. And of course I’ve already told you the story of The Accidental Demon Slayer, a title that had me from the subject line. As for covers, I remember very specifically the moment I saw the cover for Mystic River. I bought the book without even reading the back-cover copy.

And of course I spend hours, sometimes days, slaving away with authors over title ideas. I know that for some we’ve gone round after round after round trying to find that one perfect title that will grab a reader, while for other books the titles come naturally, fluidly. For some reason we hardly need to think about it because the perfect title is just there.

But what about you? What titles and which covers have spoken to you over the years? And let’s be honest here. Which titles and/or covers have you seen that turned you off, no matter how much the book was recommended?

Jessica

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

This Book Won't Sell

A comment on a recent blog post grabbed my attention. In my blog post on Is Good Writing Really Enough, Eric made a really interesting comment about how agents and editors know that a book won’t sell. It seems that publishing professionals use those words all the time, but Eric questioned how we could really know that. And that got me thinking: I’m not sure I’ve ever done a post on the criteria of why I don’t think a book is marketable. How do I get that information and where does it come from? Similarly, how does the publisher get that information?

Before I get started I want to repost Eric’s comment and thank him for making it. I thought it was thought-provoking enough to be deserving of a full post. . . .

I'm close to burning up my quota of posts for the week, so I promise I'll clam up after this.

But here's a thought to consider:

In any other industry, the sales people have a clear picture of what they can and can't sell. Their job is, more than anything, to know the customers.

In the book industry, fads are rampant. Every Harry Potter has a thousand, "Just like Harry Potter!" books following it.

If the people who are in charge of knowing what readers want really had their job nailed, they wouldn't chase every single fad. They would work on product differentiation, which is what a real sales strategy looks like, not copycatting.

So when someone tells me that "This book won't sell," I have to wonder how the Hell they think they know that. There's considerable evidence that the book industry does not have its most basic market research down at all.

If someone wants to prove me wrong, they should address the "It's just like Harry Potter!" routine that you will not see in any other industry.

Last thought - I know it rankles book industry people to the point that I am routinely ignored when I compare it to other industries. Yet when it comes to entertainment dollar, that's what the consumer is considering. Why do people read? I've elicited a lot of very useful comments off of my blog recently. The same arguments that tell us that the book industry is about what sells, not literature, can be used to say that this is just another industry that has to understand its customers, trim its distribution system, and control costs.


The truth is that publishing, agenting in particular, is not like most other sales jobs. In the real estate market, for example, you can compare like houses that have recently sold to determine a price point and the selling potential of your house. How many bedrooms? What is the square footage? How many bathrooms? Is it recently updated? What’s the neighborhood or school system like, etc.? But with books it’s much more about personal taste. Few people judge the value of a book by how many words it has or how many characters. And no one can put a value on style of writing or voice since personal tastes all get in the way. I mean, yes, we do value great prose and wonderful writing, but I can’t tell you that you will earn an additional $20,000 because your voice is an A Voice or a B Voice, etc.

But, like real estate agents, we do comparables to a certain degree. For example, if I recently tried to sell an alien cowboy erotic romance only to be told by 30 different editors that they are all glutted with alien cowboy erotic romances and none have been selling well, then it’s very likely I am going to tell an author with an alien cowboy erotic romance that I don’t think I can sell her book and she should probably come up with something new. Or let’s take chick lit, for example. Why am I telling all authors to avoid writing or at least calling your book chick lit? Because every single editor I talk to tells me not to send them chick lit. Who told editors that? You, the reader, when you stopped buying all of the chick lit books they were publishing.

And as for the lack of creativity agents and editors have when looking for books, or the inability to differentiate book choices, when the Da Vinci Code was hot everyone was buying the next Da Vinci Code, and of course the same held true of Bridget Jones’s Diary and Harry Potter. Why is that? Because when readers find a book they like and are excited about they usually want to read more books in a similar vein. For example, right now I’m reading a really incredible historical romance by one of my own clients. I will guarantee that when I finish I will head out to the bookstore to find another historical romance. I’m in that head and I’m excited about what I’m reading. Does that mean we aren’t looking for something new? Not at all. In fact, it often means we are looking harder for something new. Usually because we get almost immediately sick of all the next books we see heading our way. When something becomes hot I rarely spend time looking for the next of that hot book. Instead I will talk to my clients or co-agents about what we can come up with that will dovetail off that trend in a new and exciting way. When vampires first hit the scene, for example, I started talking to my clients about werewolves (and yes, this was before we were bombarded with werewolves).

As for whether or not we see the “just like Harry Potter” mentality in other industries, do you watch TV or movies? What do you think The Golden Compass was, or the dozens of television shows that were “just like Lost”? Or let’s look at the beverage industry . . . does anyone remember New Coke? It was “just like Pepsi.”

The difficult task of an agent is not just to know what is selling now, but to try to guess what will be selling one year from now, and that is contingent on so many things—what else is hot in entertainment (books, movies, and TV), world events, what people are burned out on, etc. I can’t just look at what people want now, because books I sell now aren’t published now. I need to help predict what people are going to be craving one year from now. As for why people read, I’m very aware of why people read, as are most industry professionals. We’re aware for the simple fact that we’re all readers. The problem with that question is that not all readers read for the same reasons. Business book readers usually read to learn about business, but learn what? I read business books to gain new insights and ideas, while others might read them to get an edge on the competition. What about fiction? Some read for escape, others for great prose. Some read for plot, while others read for characters. Publishing is a business, but books are a number of things to readers. They are entertainment, they are art, and they are an escape. The trouble with trying to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t in publishing is that what works and what doesn’t changes not only market-wide, but also individually. Books I used to love and read ten years ago were very different from what I find myself reading today, and I suspect that holds true for everyone.

I don’t mind the comparison of publishing to other industries, but it’s difficult. People buy cars because they need transportation. People buy fast cars for speed, trucks for durability, etc. People buy houses because they need a place to live. What they need in a house might differ, but the basic components are the same. That can not be said of books. Yes, they all have words, characters, and a plot, but how that is built and the needs it satisfies are entirely different to each reader.

This is a very interesting discussion and I’d love to hear more of Eric’s thoughts as well as those of other readers. Why do you read? What are you looking for in a book? What are you sick of or what would you like to see more of? What would you never want to see again? And do you have any suggestions? If someone can give me a more concrete way to evaluate books (and therefore make easy sales) I would love to hear it.

Jessica

Monday, March 24, 2008

Multiple Submissions within the Same Agency

Or maybe I should have titled this “The Trouble with Email Submissions.” There’s been a new and frustrating phenomenon lately, and that’s authors who are submitting the same work to all three BookEnds agents. I suppose in the grand scheme of things it’s no skin off your teeth and only irritating to us, but here’s what happens. I get a query, I pass. It isn’t for me and didn’t grab me. However, I think it might be interesting to either Kim or Jacky, so after rejecting I forward the email to Kim and Jacky and let them know that if they are interested they should go ahead and respond. Lately, though, Kim or Jacky have replied that they received it too and had either already passed or were reading it. Recently, though, we had an issue where the same query was sent to all three of us and all three of us expressed interest and were ready to go ahead and make offers when the problem was discovered. While I suppose it’s possible, it wouldn’t be easy for three agents to represent the same client, and it doesn’t make much sense, for us anyway. Now what? Who gets the book, or is it just easier to keep the peace and let the book go altogether? It wasn’t a big book. It wasn’t going to make anyone millions, and letting it go wouldn’t be a big financial loss, but one of us keeping it and forcing the other two agents to watch its success, bitterly, could cause problems. In the end we were able to come to an agreement everyone was happy with, but it was an uncomfortable day or two and should never have happened. Obviously the book would have found the right agent by submitting to only one of us.

Being an agent is a bit of a cutthroat job, and to a certain degree we are all out for ourselves. First things first, I want all of the good submissions to come to me, but if I think it’s a good submission, but not right for me, the second thing I want are for all of the good submissions to come to our agency. The last thing any agent is going to do is simply send anything packing if she thinks there’s potential. If it’s not for me I’m going to pass it along, and I would say that at least four to five queries a month get passed to my colleagues.

Okay, so you all know already not to send multiple submissions within the same agency, but what about submitting to Kim or Jacky once you’ve been rejected by me? Hopefully my example above already answered that for you. I would recommend against it; as far as BookEnds is concerned, it’s probably a waste of your time. If I thought it was better for Jacky or Kim, and still intriguing, I would have sent it to them. However, that being said, if you are sending queries we probably wouldn’t know that you’d sent to the other two, so if you are really, really determined to be represented by BookEnds and you don’t care who the agent is, go ahead. Once you’ve been rejected by one, feel free to submit to the others, one by one, until you’ve exhausted all of us.

One thing that wasn’t asked of me was what about your second work. If you submitted Book #1 to me and realized later that you think you’d work better with Kim, is it okay to submit Book #2 to Kim, or have you already put all of your eggs in one basket and committed to me? It’s okay to submit to Kim. Let’s say Book #2 is similar to a deal you just saw Kim post or she took on a critique partner of yours whose writing is very similar to yours. Go ahead. Sending a book at one time to one agent doesn’t mean you’ve made any commitment to that agent, and that holds true even if she sent you a personalized rejection letter and asked to see more of your work. Of course, if she asked specifically to see more of your work I’m not sure why you wouldn’t send to her.
Remember, though, that in all of this your goal shouldn’t be just to find any agent (not that BookEnds agents are any agents), but to find the right agent for your work. Jacky, Kim, and I all have specific interests and areas of expertise. We’ve posted about it on the blog here and it’s on our Web site, and one of the reasons we might pass something on to one another is because it better fits another agent’s sensibilities. And that’s what you want. An agent who has sensibilities and personal interests that match your own.

Jessica

Friday, March 21, 2008

Freakishly Unresponsive, Mysteriously Silent, Information-Withholding, Possibly Jekyll-and-Hydeish, Raging-Headache-Inducing, No Good, Very Bad

The title comes straight from the questioner herself. It’s so brilliant I had to use it . . .

Here’s the deal. I received a question from a reader in which she’s dying to fire her agent. She really wants to fire her agent, but said agent won’t answer her phone calls or emails . . . in over seven months. I must be in a mood today because your predicament, while obviously horrible and frustrating, made me laugh. I’m constantly asked about agents who don’t respond, but it never dawned on me that when they don’t respond you can’t even fire them. That is really annoying!

Send a letter. Send a certified letter announcing her immediate dismissal. If you have a written contract, use that as your guide. In the letter demand that she send you, within 14 days of receiving the letter, a list of publishers who have reviewed the proposal as well as those who might still have it or have rejected it. And, since she’s so unresponsive (and kind of mean, based on your email), I would insist that she pull all submissions currently under consideration. In other words, I would break all ties cleanly. Get out from under her thumb altogether.

You also asked if you should consult a lawyer for the list. That’s up to you. Is this a proposal you’re hoping to take to another agent? You could threaten a lawyer. If you haven’t seen the list after your letter is received, you could follow up with a letter insisting that the list be sent or you will be calling your attorney. Something like that. I don’t know why it can sometimes be so difficult to get this information out of an agent. I supply a list the minute the submission goes out and keep my clients regularly updated on where else it might be, who else has requested it and, of course, when the rejections come in. It’s a team effort and team efforts don’t work unless everyone knows the plays.

If it is a proposal you want with another agent, the submissions you pulled should be able to be re-sent at a later date. If not, let it die out and move on to another agent with another book.

I apologize on behalf of agents everywhere for this person’s behavior and hope that your next will be as wonderful as me ;)

Just kidding! (See, clearly I’m in a mood.)

Jessica

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Historical Romance Honorable Mentions

Since we had more winners and runners-up picks in the historical romance contest, the honorable mentions list is a little shorter. Three from Jessica and two from me.

Jessica’s picks:
Maggie Robinson — Paradise

Regency Noir

When he was done, she’d be the greatest whore in all Christendom.

If they’d been in London, her body would have already been sold to the highest bidder in the Marriage Mart. He’d have to dower her for some chinless earl to take his pleasure in her innocence. Since London was out of the question, a ton marriage not on her horizon, there was no better man than he to teach her. She was destined to be a prim little prude if he didn’t intervene.

And she might prove more capable than her mother in providing him with an heir.

I think it was the first line that really got me. Now that’s a challenge and I want to know more about it. Why of all things is he determined to make her a whore, and that ending! The twist with the mother is great. There’s so much you open this story to with your 100 words. Great stuff.

Donna -- The Wellspring at Bromley
(Victorian fantasy)

"Do you need anything else, sir?"

Ignoring the unopened note from Gladstone on his clerk’s tray, Jeremy Trumbull stared at the other missive he'd received. The one that had made his heart stop.

"You should check in at Hawkins' Infirmary, Harley Street. That is where your wife was taken after her accident. You have received your last warning."

He took a ragged breath.

"No, Smithson. I'm leaving on personal business now. That will be all."

"Yes, sir.”

Jeremy watched the man retreat, noted the shuffling gait, made a mental note to advertise for a younger clerk, then went quietly insane.

I have to admit, I thought this was a little odd, and that’s what made me pick it. Certainly the last thing I expected was for this man to “go quietly insane,” but that’s enough to make me want to read more. The note seems pretty straightforward, so what about it sent him over the edge and what is going to happen to the wife now?

Anonymous — Her Lover's Keeper

London, England
May, 1818

Even after twenty years, London still stank. Diana Randall von Ulrich wrinkled her nose. The stench of urine and feces, of rotting corpses and food, and of innumerable fires belching their noxious coal fumes wafted into the hired coach as it lumbered through the slums clustered near the Thames.

She had never expected to return. After fifteen years of living in the sparkling splendor of Lake Como, she had stopped wishing to return. Had long ago stopped wishing she could erase the crime that had banished her from the bosom of her family and country.

My only concern with this one is that the voice feels more contemporary than historical, and that makes me a tad worried. Other than that though I love the setup. A return to any city is always interesting since the reader gets to see it in a new way, through the eyes of someone who doesn’t look at it daily. And of course learning why she decided to return and seeing what she’s up against really has my attention.


Kim’s picks:
Renee — The Guardian's Angel

Lady Anne Wharton squirmed against the threadbare bench of the coach. Each rut in the road forced her closer to a precarious situation. Under normal circumstances she would have traveled in finer luxury.

Today, however, she was in the care of her future husband’s burly guard. And today, she was not Lady Anne Wharton, but Amelia Cutstwald unwashed and dressed in rough homespun garments, which chafed areas best left unmentioned. And today, even though she was every inch a well-bred lady she very much felt like the harlot she was supposed to be.

I guess Jessica’s fascination with loose women rubbed off on me a bit, because I was very intrigued as to why this woman was posing as a “harlot.” There are a lot of questions raised by this short excerpt. Who is this future husband she’s promised to? Why is she hiding her true identity? And will she be able to pull the charade off? I’d keep reading to find out.

Anonymous 11:03 pm

“Pretend you are dead,” a deep voice said near her ear as she stepped from the back staircase.

Across the room, a furious pounding shook the only door of the inn’s private dining room.

“Drop to the floor. Now!” Strong hands gripped her arms and roughly shoved her down.

Her knees buckled, hitting cold stone. The force jolted her entire body, gnashing her teeth.

The door flew open, crashing against the wall as two men entered.

Men with pistols.

Alexandra Gaville hurriedly flattened to the pavers. The sudden smell of stale ale mixed with rotting meat filled her nostrils.

I love that we’re placed square in the middle of a very suspenseful scene. And I can’t wait to find out more about the heroine’s savior with the deep voice. The action is described perfectly, with just enough description to set the scene and keep the fast pace. Well done!

As we mentioned before, Jessica and I were very impressed with this batch of entries. You all did a fantastic job! If you think we might be the right fit, please do query us even if you weren’t one of our picks. It’s tough to judge on just 100 words.

Thanks again to all the participants!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Historical Romance Winner . . . and the Thriller/Suspense Contest!

It was bound to happen sooner or later. . . . There were so many terrific entries in the historical romance category that Jessica and I managed to each pick five without having any matches! So we’ve decided to do something different this time. We each chose a winner and two runners-up. That’s right! We’re awarding two critiques this time. Neither one of us were willing to compromise on our choices, so this seemed the best solution.

Jessica’s thoughts:

I’m so excited that Kim and I could not agree on a winner. First of all, that means two critiques and four honorable mentions, but it also shows how completely subjective this business is. Crazy! Two people who love so many of the same books and authors have such different tastes when it comes to those first 100 words. There were so many great openings here that I really had a hard time picking, but in the end I’m required to pick a winner.

So my winner is . . .
Devon Matthews —Wild Texas Rose

Texas - 1885

Trey Delaney stood amid the cinders next to the iron rails and watched the Southern Pacific fade into the shimmering heat veils on the horizon. What did he expect? That the train might suddenly throw on its brakes and start rolling backward because one last passenger had forgotten to get off?

Not likely.

He’d never been much of a praying kind of man. He figured divine intervention was reserved for those who were too helpless to help themselves, but as he’d watched the few passengers disembark at the depot a whispered, “Please, God,” slipped from his lips.

She hadn’t come.

I even surprised myself by picking this one. As you’ll see, most of my picks are Regencies, but I was really excited by this voice and in the end this was the stand-out for me. The agony that Trey feels when she doesn’t get off the train comes through easily and makes me want to hear more. And of course I’m dying to know who he’s waiting for. I also think this opening was a little different from the rest. It stood above the others in my mind.


Kim’s winner is . . .
Anonymous 12:04 am — Myddleford

London --1486

The soles of his boots were roasting. He could feel it. He could smell it. That wasn't a problem; Ranulf wanted to die with warm feet. The problem was the fat bishop who waited for an answer like a dog waits for table scraps.

Life in return for loyalty.

For too many months Ranulf had watched as old friends were dragged off for execution. Death had become his only reliable companion. Death had become a friend.

“Sounds like a poor bargain to me.” He stamped one smoking boot on the stone floor. His feet were warm enough.

I love that we’re being thrown into the hero’s dire situation right off the bat. But what’s even better is the character’s sense of humor about the whole thing. “Ranulf wanted to die with warm feet.” I can tell that this is a hero I’ll love reading about from beginning to end . . . I’m dying to find out what will happen next. Why have his friends been executed? And how the heck is he going to get out of this mess? I’d definitely keep turning the pages!

Congratulations, Devon and Anonymous! When you’re ready for us to critique your query letters, synopses, and first chapters, please just e-mail us from the blog link.

Moving on to our runners-up . . . I have to say that I had a really hard time picking a winner out of my top three choices. There was something I absolutely loved about each one of them, and I think Jessica would agree. We felt that they were so strong, we each had to pick two runners-up this time. This means fewer honorable mentions tomorrow, but we really just felt that these entries deserved the added recognition.

Jessica’s runners-up:
Lanie Foster — Eyes on Me

“Whore…”

It was just a whisper said into the wind, something not meant to be heard, but Lucia had heard it. She had heard it, and when she did, wished that she was deaf.

The man tapped his cane in an impatient manner, lips curled into a supercilious sneer, as he watched her pull out the small vial from the depths of her cloak pocket.

“Hurry up. I haven’t got all night.”

These words had a real air of sadness to them. Who is this woman and what has she gotten herself into? Is she really a whore or just a drug dealer? I think it says a lot about my tastes though when two of my picks use the word “whore.” Of course, I’m not sure what exactly it says, but it says a lot. I also like the fact that, at least in the opening, it doesn’t seem that your heroine is going to be the typical society girl. I’m always interested in reading about those on the other side of the tracks.

Anonymous 11:36 pm — Masquerade

The Vatican, 1503

The stench of death filled Marcello DiAmante's nostrils, his stomach turning over in protest. The torch light flickered through the gallery storeroom, dimly illuminating the fresh corpse. Marcello glanced up at his companion, he could smell the Pope's fear.

"My friend, believe me when I tell you this is not what I brought you here to see." The Pope, Pius III, swept his arms across the area, indicating the priest's splayed body. "I do not know what evil dares to lurk in this holiest of places."

The two men knelt beside the twisted and badly beaten body, his throat cut.

Even though this opening read nothing like historical romance I had to add it to my list as a bonus. Is this romance or a historical thriller? Because it reads much more like a thriller. Of course anything to do with the Pope will make most readers think of The Da Vinci Code, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Great opening.

Kim’s runners-up:
Vicky Dreiling — The Duchess Competition

London, 1816

The belles of the Beau Monde had resorted to clumsiness in an effort to snag a ducal husband.

Tristan James Gatewick, the Duke of Shelbourne, conceded he’d contributed to this national disgrace. Ever since the gossip rags had declared him the most eligible bachelor in England, Tristan had rescued twenty-nine lace handkerchiefs, three kid gloves, and twelve fans.

If only it were possible to select one’s wife based on the inelegance of her fumbling, he’d have wedded and bedded the most inept candidate by now. Alas, even he wasn’t desperate enough to settle for Her Gracelessness.

Just plain wonderfully written. I can see Tristan standing there and smirking. Another hero I’m dying to hear more from. From this short excerpt, we know that he plays his role as a society gentleman, but he recognizes the silliness of it all and doesn’t take himself too seriously either. I’m dying to meet the woman who will catch his eye and get past his jaded perception on the fairer sex.

Steph — Stolen

Madeline Thorne was blessed with the kind of beauty that could, quite frankly, cause a man to overlook the fact that she was a complete bitch.

The only child of an impoverished country sir, she possessed (in abundance) two of the least attractive qualities in a future wife: she was spoiled and poor.

But she was very, very pretty.

“There is only one option for a lady such as she,” the Duke of Clarence lamented. Feeling quite charitable, he made her a proposition.

She slapped him.

Outraged, His Grace ruined her.

And she ruined him right back.

This time it’s the heroine that’s caught my attention. I’m not sure I’d like Madeline Thorne, but she certainly intrigues me. There’s something to be said for a writer that can describe a character as a spoiled bitch and yet still leave the reader rooting for her. I want to know how she ruined him right back. Such a great last line. Nice work!

Congratulations to our runners-up! We really enjoyed reading your work. Another reminder: Don’t be discouraged from querying us if we didn’t pick your entry. As I said, we thought this batch of entries was especially strong, and there’s a good chance you could hook us with a great query letter. The first 100 words isn’t the be-all and end-all.

Time to announce another contest!

TODAY IS THE THRILLER/SUSPENSE CONTEST! (Please note that a romantic suspense contest is still to come, so if you think your book is better suited to that category you may want to wait a week or so.)

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, March 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. Keep an eye out for your category!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Listening to Signs

This post is really going to be a short vent, so bare with me.

Just recently I received a nonfiction proposal with an amazing title and a terrific new take on what’s been a fairly well published topic. But I really liked what this author had to say and she had the platform to back herself up. Before making a decision on representation, though, I needed to do some research. I studied Publisher’s Marketplace to see what had been recently sold in this area and how long it had been since books on this subject had been sold. I wanted to get a sense of when the real rise of this subject matter had been and whether or not publishers were currently feeling inundated or might be ready for a new title. I also reviewed the more popular and the most successful books on the subject to see how my proposal was different and how it would stand out in what is almost always a crowded market. And of course I discussed the project with my colleagues to see what they thought.

After doing all of this I decided that I was armed and dangerous and ready to make an offer. In fact, I was very excited about the proposal. The author had great credentials and the title and concept were absolutely brilliant. Most important, though, while I didn’t think it would be an easy sell, I knew that by doing some tweaking on the proposal and making some minor adjustments, the author and I could create something that would definitely be a hit.

So I picked up the phone and grabbed the proposal for the phone number. It wasn’t there. In fact, except for an SASE, there was nothing on the proposal to indicate how I should reach the author. No phone number, no email, no web site. Nothing. Now what? Do I send an SASE with an offer? Do I Google the author and try to hunt her down? Or is this a sign from someone that maybe this is going to be too much work and I should just use that SASE for a rejection? Do you know I actually debated this one? I don’t think of myself as a spiritual person or as someone who believes in signs, but I think I might be. I know when I told Kim and Jacky, they both had the same reaction I did. Both of them wondered too if maybe it was a sign.

But I persevered. I hunted through Google and 411.com and finally in some obscure article somewhere I found her email address. I sent off an email explaining that I loved the proposal and really hoped to talk further with her about it. No word. The entire day went by and I heard nothing. Okay . . . maybe it’s an old address, the article was about five years old. Or maybe, just maybe, it was a sign.

I own a Pit Bull, and many will tell you that dog owners are a lot like their dogs. When I get that bone I refuse to let go, so the next morning I did another quick Google search, and this time I came up with the phone number of her practice. Bingo! I called and left a message and finally, that afternoon, she called me back. Only to let me know that the book proposal had already been sent to about 40 publishers and rejected by almost everyone. Now she claimed to have interest from a publisher and didn’t need an agent. She didn’t think there was anything else I could do. Okay . . . so why, less than three weeks earlier, had she sent me her dang proposal?

I guess next time I’ll pay closer attention to the signs.

Jessica

Monday, March 17, 2008

If I Were an Author

As many of you know, I do a lot of interviews for blogs, ezines, and print magazines. Often the questions are very, very similar, but recently I received this one and thought it was so great that I wanted to share it with you. I apologize ahead of time: I don’t remember which interview it came from, so if it was yours and you’re reading the blog, could you please comment and pitch yourself?

If you were pitching a novel and looking for an agent, what are some agent qualities that would be absolute "musts" for you?

The answer I gave in the interview can of course be read in my interview, but I thought more about this and am expanding on it in some ways. These are in no particular order.

  • Honesty: I want an agent who is brutally honest about everything we do together, from contracts, to my work, to future ideas, to our relationship. I want to know if the ideas stink, the contract stinks, I’m being too whiny and ridiculous, or our communication needs to improve. I won’t always like hearing it, but if I want to be a better author I will need to hear it. And of course I want to trust that my money isn’t going to her manicurist.

  • Editorial advice: I won’t always need it, but I want an agent who is willing to give it. If my book needs work I want suggestions on how it can be fixed and I want as many opinions as possible on the best way to make my books stronger.

  • Strong negotiation skills: A pit bull isn’t necessary, but someone who isn’t afraid to get in there and go a round or two with editors is. There is no such thing as a perfect contract, but I want an agent who’s willing to try her hardest to find it.

  • Contacts: Obviously these are critical, but I don’t want an agent who is relying on the same contacts this year that she relied on ten years ago. I want someone who is a networker. Who is always out there meeting fresh young editors, and selling to them.

  • Comfort: She doesn’t need to be Grandma Moses, but I need to be comfortable with her. Long talks on the phone might be necessary, and I don’t want to be sweating my way through them.

  • Growth: Almost anyone can sell a book, not everyone can build a career. I want an agent who can sell my first book and build my career from there. Who can sit with me to discuss my hopes, dreams, and goals, and come up with a plan to successfully make them happen.
Your turn. If you were an agent looking to build a client list, what would be the qualities of your dream client?

Jessica

Friday, March 14, 2008

Contemporary Romance Honorable Mentions

Jessica and I each chose three honorable mentions to highlight this week. I’d like to reiterate that you shouldn’t be discouraged from submitting to us if you didn’t make our lists. We had a lot of great work to choose from, and it’s tough to judge on just 100 words.

Here are Jessica’s picks:
Amy Nathan—Every Other Weekend

I got dressed for my first date in 16 years at the same time that my ex-husband was across town passing a kidney stone. Divine justice.

For the first time I could remember, a pleasurable selfishness enveloped me. It wasn’t about Richard’s pain; it was about Richard’s pain not interfering with my plans. I wanted to go on this date, but I didn’t realize how much until the moment I thought the evening could be in jeopardy. What if Richard had to be taken to the hospital? Who then would watch the kids?

What’s interesting is that a lot of my picks had a definite women’s fiction feel to them. This one included. The first time I skimmed the entries, this one caught my attention. Who doesn’t love divine justice? The second paragraph didn’t grab me in the same way that first line did, but I had read enough to know that I wanted to read more.

Annette—Caught in the Middle

I was twelve the first time Jamie O'Rourke kissed me.

If I could rewrite history, I'd say that even back then he knew I was the girl for him. But the truth is, I know the real reason he did it. Why he chose to kiss me instead of his girlfriend, my sister Lauren.

Looking back, I realize this is the moment when everything began to go wrong between my sister and me. How all our problems have hinged on this one event, this one stolen kiss.

But even if I could, I still wouldn't change a thing.


Another entry that had potential for woman’s fiction (of course, what can you really tell from 100 words?), but I liked the complexity that this entry alluded to. The relationship between the heroine and Jamie O’Rourke and of course the relationship between two sisters. I definitely wanted to know more about all of it.

Anonymous 12:33 pm—For One Weekend Only

When your entire future rested on your ability to seduce a man into doing the unthinkable, you needed to look the part.

Maggie Richardson was pretty sure she didn’t.

She leaned against the bar, her clothes too casual, her posture too stiff, and her overall appearance looking far less “fun professional” than “crazed librarian.”

This would never work. She was supposed to show up in four days — four! — at a no-holds-barred Southern wedding... complete with full hoop skirt, parasol, and her long-term, much-discussed, forever-kind-of-love boyfriend, Dave Andrews.

Except, Dave didn’t exist.

Which was a bit of a problem.

There are so many great questions left unanswered with this submission. Why did she lie? Why is she wearing a hoop skirt? And what’s next. Obviously this leads into a story we’ve heard before (at least we assume), the story of finding someone to pose as the boyfriend, fiancĂ©, or husband, but the voice has me wanting to know more about how this particular tale is going to play out.


Kim’s picks:

katekquinn—Everything Nice

“Go fuck yourself.”

Louisa Buznewski did not believe in cursing… but exceptions must be made, and despite her lack of experience the word shot from her mouth with enough conviction to rival the saltiest of sailors. Over ten years ago she’d used this exact phrase, directing it at the same man… although he’d been more of a boy then. It was the last time she’d seen or heard from him - until today. Now repeating it all these years later, Louisa realized this crude phrase was a type of “aloha” - it could mean both hello and goodbye.


Honestly, the last sentence is what really sold me. I thought it was hilarious. I love how the author’s explaining how universal that particular expletive can be. Obviously, I’m also curious about who this guy is and why they parted on such bad terms. I’d definitely keep reading.

sl—If It's Not One Thing - It's Your Mother

“The Lodge called. Your Mom has taken all the “N” bingo balls hostage until her demands are met.” Daniel relayed the message almost gleefully I thought and instantly felt hurt. And pissed.

“I guess this seems funny to you now that it’s my Mom huh? Wanna bet your mother is sitting on the couch with a colander on her head as we speak? Why don’t you take her for lunch today, or are Wednesdays when she rendezvous’ with the mother ship?”

“Honey, are we really fighting about whose mother is craziest?” he asked gently.

“You started it.” I snapped.

Here again I was lured by the humor. In fact all of my honorable mentions demonstrate a sense of humor. In this particular instance, I was charmed by the image of an old lady hijacking a bunch of bingo balls. This book also sounds like women’s fiction to me (since a husband is mentioned), but more than anything I’m looking forward to meeting the feisty woman who’s holding up the bingo game!

Elyssa Papa—Lay All Your Love on Me

South Africa

It wasn’t every day that an heiress landed at his feet.

Especially one who wore Hello, Kitty underwear.

With her dress flopped over her head and her back to him, the only thing Noah Harper saw was her ass.

And if he did say so himself, it was a great ass.

Then, her dress righted and straightened. Noah took a step back, his camera banging hard against his chest.

He rubbed a hand over his jaw, not quite believing who he was seeing.

Because he’d long stopped believing in ghosts… until one came back from his past.

“Simone.”

I’m immediately drawn to both of the characters introduced in this short excerpt. I sympathize with “Simone,” who’s found herself in a rather embarrassing position. I can relate. In 11th grade I fell and slid down the Math hall to the feet of my high school crush. Fortunately, I wasn’t wearing a dress (or Hello Kitty underwear). At any rate, the reader can find the situation humorous, but cringe for the poor woman at the same time. I also get an immediate “sexy” vibe from the narrator. I have a feeling this opening promises one hot novel.

Thanks to all who participated, and congratulations again to all of our top picks!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Contemporary Romance Winner . . . and the Historical Romance Contest!

We were back to a multitude of entries in the contemporary romance contest, so Jessica and I had fairly different lists of our favorites. That said, we were still able to agree on one clear winner.

Congratulations to . . .
Anonymous 5:20 am—Fractured

The dead don’t always stay dead.

Claire stood on the street corner waiting for the lights to change, staring across the road into the eyes of her late husband. Perhaps her mind was playing tricks, or perhaps he was only a rare carbon copy, but she knew it was Steve the way she knew it was lunchtime.

She was certain of two other things -- no one would believe her, and if she took her eyes off him he would vanish into the crowd before she could glance back. It was always like this.

Jessica: I think contemporary romance is a difficult category to judge in 100 words. Unlike some of the “hookier” genres it’s not the type of book to typically grab you in such a short amount of time. Because of that I’m depending on something to hook me in and the voice more than anything else. This definitely had voice. I like this voice a lot, the feelings it evokes, and of course I love the setup. Because of the category I’m assuming the husband is not a ghost, but you never know, do you? I also like the opening line: “The dead don’t always stay dead” has so many possibilities.

Kim: Great opening line. It piques my interest right off the bat. And I love “. . . she knew it was Steve the way she knew it was lunchtime.” It’s instinctual . . . almost a biological response. She was so close to this man that her body can clearly identify him. What’s great about this excerpt is that it doesn’t only make me want to know what’s going to happen next, it makes me intensely curious about what has already happened.

Great work, Anonymous! When you’re ready for your critique, please send your query letter, synopsis, and first chapter via the blog e-mail link.

And the runner-up is . . .
Christy—Viva

When I was girl, I pretended to be Scarlett O’Hara. That I grew up to be Belle Watling is no one’s fault but my own.

Ten years ago I convinced myself Belle got the better deal, but now I know the truth. Only spoiled, little rich things get tomorrow; us working girls are stuck with today. And today for me consisted of another two hour trick with an out-of-town businessman.

“Good evening, Sugar,” I said to the doorman as I entered the hotel lobby.

He hates it when I call him Sugar.

Jessica: The first line really grabs me. While I don’t think all contemporary romance needs to be Southern, there’s something about that traditional Southern woman that makes contemporary romance. Maybe it’s the romance of the South itself. And you can’t beat her turning tricks and taunting them by calling them Sugar. This grabbed my attention and left me wanting to read more.

Kim: I think what I liked about this excerpt is that the first few lines immediately let me relate to the character. We all wanted to be a princess or a movie star or a Scarlett O’Hara when we were little girls. I immediately felt a connection to Belle. Then I learned that she’s a prostitute, and it kind of took me aback. That life certainly is a far cry from her childhood dreams. Instead of passing judgment on her occupation, though, I sympathize with her. I don’t know for sure that Belle is going to be the heroine of the romance, but I have to admit that I’m intrigued by the notion. After all . . . I still love Pretty Woman, even if I have seen it more than twenty times. . . .

Nicely done, Christy!

Tomorrow, Jessica and I will discuss our honorable mention picks.

TODAY IS THE HISTORICAL ROMANCE CONTEST!

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, March 14th, 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. Keep an eye out for your category!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kimberly Dean on Dreaming and Writing

Kimberly Dean
What She Wants at Midnight
Publisher: Pocket
Pub Date: March 2008
Agent: Jessica Faust



(Click to Buy)

Author Web site: www.kimberlydean.com

What She Wants at Midnight: The man of Devon Bradshaw’s dreams is exactly that—in her dreams. For months, Cael Oneiros has watched Devon while she sleeps. As a Dream Wreaker, it’s his job to bestow dreams on sleeping humans, yet with Devon, he wants more. When she casts a love spell, he gets it. But Devon’s magic didn't come with a warning label, and soon their illicit romance has consequences nobody expected.

Dream a Little Dream

It’s always interesting what you run across when you’re doing research for a story. For my Dream Wreaker series, which kicks off with What She Wants at Midnight, I’ve done a lot of research on the subject of dreaming. It’s been fascinating to learn about the sleep stages, what happens during REM, and what dreams might mean. Yet one article I kept, but didn’t use ("Science Paying Attention to Not Paying Attention" by Malcolm Ritter, Associated Press, March 19, 2007, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17690541/),
regarded daydreams or mind wandering.

It made me wonder if writers’ thought processes are different from those of “normal” people.

According to research results, on average people are not thinking about what they are doing thirty to forty percent of the time. Unfortunately for us writers, this includes people who are reading, although to a lesser percentage. The human brain just seems hard-wired to wander. Most often, the mind slips to everyday things such as “to do” lists. Fantasies are the next most common, with worries coming in third. In this way, the human mind seems to devote time to problem solving or planning for the future.

As a writer, what do you think about when your mind goes on a little side trip? Some writers may tend to fall into the fantasy category to develop new story ideas. Personally, that requires concentrated thought for me. My wandering thoughts are like everyone else’s . . . I go to my “to do” list. Yet this is where I wonder if creative types differ. My “to do” list includes my writing. Most often, my wandering thoughts go to the mechanics of writing, such as how can I best get my point across? How can I give a hint without giving away the final storyline twist? What’s the perfect sentence to hook a reader at the end of a chapter or how can I segue from one scene to the next? The answer often comes to me in these little flashes of random thought.

I’ll get words. A sentence will pop into my head or a crystal-clear, concise idea will appear. For instance, in What She Wants at Midnight, my editor asked me to add an epilogue that showed where the characters ended up. I consciously chose a direction, but it just wouldn’t come together. I was doing something totally unrelated when a new thought hit me. Why not concentrate on a secondary character? I did, and that approach worked out much better.

So how do your daydreams work? Do you get more than grocery lists and carpooling schedules? Does anyone see pictures? How long do these little blips last? Or do your wandering thoughts never include your works in progress? Tell me, everyone, just how do we do this thing we do?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Signed: Nervous

I have an agent and I am a bit concerned now: your latest blog post said that most books are sold within a few weeks. Mine has been with my agent for about 6 months. He is still going strong at it and doesn't appear phased at all, and we've only had 4 rejections.

He is one of the biggest names in the business so I have had complete confidence in him. But do first-time novels sometimes take this long to sell?


Please do not get nervous. I believe the blog post you’re referring to was my piece on the agent submission process, where I mentioned that I usually hear from editors within a few days or a few weeks. That does not in any way mean that if your book has been on submission for longer than three weeks that you should throw in the towel. In fact, it doesn’t even mean that I have an offer in a few days or a few weeks. What usually starts happening very quickly is activity. That means editors are rejecting the book, calling to ask more questions, bringing it up at an editorial board meeting, and, yes, making offers.

What I always remind my authors is that it only takes one. It only takes one offer to sell that book, and while we would love an auction for every sale, the truth is what we want is to see these books in print. I think the record for a BookEnds sale was two years. The book had been sitting on one or two editors' desks and the author and I had pretty much forgotten about it and moved on. After a while you even stop calling and simply assume that no news means no interest. Then out of the blue I got a call with an offer. The timing was right and the publisher wanted to buy the book. Of course, on the flip side of that we’ve received offers within 24 hours of sending submissions out.

I think the important thing to note is that whether your agent is the biggest name in the business or the smallest fish in the pond, you want someone with the necessary contacts and you want someone who has more than just enthusiasm for your book, you want an agent who feels passionate about the book you’ve written and has the determination to stick with it. Whenever I’m asked how many houses I’ll send a book to or for how long I’ll try to sell it, I always give the same answer: as long as it takes until either the book is sold or we firmly believe we’ve exhausted all of our contacts.

In the case of this reader it sounds to me like you are in great shape, not because your agent is one of the biggest names in the business, but because he is still going strong and you have complete confidence. Those are more important than almost anything else. Besides that, though, four rejections is nothing. You’ve got a long way to go before this project has run its course. Good luck!

Jessica

Monday, March 10, 2008

What Credentials Do Nonfiction Writers Need

I preach regularly about the need for a platform for all nonfiction authors, but what does platform mean. Is a degree enough, job experience, what about personal experience? First let me clarify that when writing a memoir, personal experience is definitely enough. When writing self-help or prescriptive nonfiction, you’re going to need more. You’re going to need a degree and you’re going to need job experience and you’re also going to need more. You’re going to need something that makes you stand out from every other person with your degree and your job experience. What makes you an expert above all others in your field?

Do you write a column for a local or national newspaper? Do you regularly give workshops on the subject, preferably to a national audience, or, and this is the piece of platform that’s rarely discussed, is your book so radically different from all others that it stands alone as its own platform? What do I mean by this?

Here’s an example. Years ago, in my beginning days as an editor, one of my colleagues (also an assistant) presented a book proposal on being a bridesmaid. The authors had no credentials other than the fact that they had both been bridesmaids more times than they could count. At the time, however, the book was revolutionary. Their credentials and experience were enough because no one had ever done a book like this before. The book was published and I believe, nearly fifteen years later, is still in print. Because, despite the fact that other similar books have since been published, this was the one that started it all. This is an example of when the book itself was enough of a platform.

But examples like that are rare, especially now. Now publishers depend on the authors for the platform. Authors often get frustrated by this need for platform, but let’s face it, this doesn’t come from publishers without reason. You as readers demand it. There are about 15 billion (slight exaggeration maybe) books on pregnancy. Any woman who has ever been pregnant knows this. So when faced with the selection, what makes you pick up a book? Would you choose one that isn’t written by an MD when there are so many others that are? Do you gravitate toward those that are familiar or branch out to something you’ve never heard of? What about someone choosing a business book? What makes you pick one up? It’s usually because the author is respected and you’ve heard of them. You’ve heard of them because the author has a platform.

For me the author has to have a new, unique, and different idea. An idea that has a platform of its own. The author herself also needs a platform. She needs to have some sort of major credentials—regular articles in major newspapers, a Web site with millions of unique visitors, attention in national magazines, a syndicated radio show, or is simply the recognized expert on this particular subject.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are always times when people with a small platform can and do publish books, but those are rare. If you truly want to write nonfiction and you have an expertise, I would suggest you also work on building you platform.

Jessica

Friday, March 07, 2008

Divorcing Your Agent

Is it ethical to query agents, just to gauge interest in my work, while still represented by an agent? While I can understand the analogy about not quitting one job until you've lined up another, I think that a writer's relationship with an agent is more like a marriage . . . meaning, you don't start "dating" until you've ended things with your current partner.

I sat on this question for quite some time, and sat and sat. I thought about how difficult and how stressful it is for authors to finally have an agent and decide they are going to start over. And I thought about the unwritten ethics of agents poaching authors from other agents (unethical) and authors looking for new agents while still under representation (unethical), and I had to think about my feelings on all those subjects.

And here’s what I came up with. Firing an agent and hiring a new one is not the same as finding a new landscaper or changing doctors, because landscapers and doctors are getting paid for the work they are doing as they are doing it. An agent is not. An agent does a lot of work before ever getting paid and a lot of work in between royalty checks with no guarantees more payment will come. So while I know it’s incredibly stressful for an author to suddenly go agentless again, I think that you need to make the decision to fire your first agent before querying others.

Let me go into more detail. I do a lot of work for my clients that they don’t necessarily know about. If a book is out on submission I am spending hours and hours honing my query letter, I am talking to editors about your work, and researching my own list of editors to find just the right people. Finding the right publisher isn’t enough, I need to find the editor who I know your writing, your voice, and your story will speak to. Once the book is out I’m continuing to build my list of possible submissions and I’m sending editors updates, follow-ups, and checking in. In other words, I’m nagging up a storm. While doing all of this I’m spending time on you and your work and not on my other clients. And I’m not getting paid.

For those clients who are not out on submission, but who are already sold, I’m working on subsidiary rights, I’m thinking about the directions of their careers, I’m hounding editors for checks and contracts and negotiating. I’m talking to editors about list placement and what can be done to build a bigger and stronger career. In general I’m working to make my client a star. And there’s no guarantee I’m going to get paid what I’m worth. In other words, sure, I’ve taken my 15% of the advance, but in this business there’s no guarantee that I’m going to be making anything more. Royalties are not guaranteed. Most important, though, it would be a shame if I’m working with the editor to set the stage for your next deal only to find out, a short time before that deal comes, that Aggie Agent is handling it instead and that I’m out. I really have no recourse as long as I get that certified letter, and Aggie doesn’t have to do much of anything. I’ve already set it up.

I also think there’s a trust issue. Much of an agent-author relationship is built on trust. You trust that I’m not going to take on another author that’s directly competitive with your work. Sure, I’m going to take on more cozy mystery authors, but I’m not going to take on another author writing a knitting mystery. That’s a series that would cut into the exact market for the knitting mystery series I already have, and do you really want to find out that your agent is also representing your biggest competitor? I also trust that you’ll be honest with me. If you don’t think the relationship is working any longer, then I need to know that up front. I need to know what’s wrong and if, in your mind, I’m still working for you.

For me, I’m suspicious of the author who is querying agents while still under representation. It seems sneaky and underhanded to me and it immediately sends up a red flag. Many times I have been queried by authors who have fired their agents, but are waiting out the grace period. I’m fine with that because the other agent already knows what’s going on. I’m not comfortable working behind the back of my colleagues, however.

I do think your example was right. While the author-agent relationship is obviously a business relationship, we all know it goes much deeper than that and is thought of as more of a marriage. Why wouldn’t it be? You often call your books your babies, so why wouldn’t you be looking for just the right “partner” to take that book out into the world? You wouldn’t think it was right to answer personal ads while still married, while your partner is still busy keeping the relationship alive, and you wouldn’t want to know that the person who wrote the ad you just answered is already in a relationship either. I think the agent relationship is similar. It’s built on trust and, let’s face it, it involves emotions. Handing your baby over to someone to raise it and present it to the world isn’t easy. It takes trust, and if you decide to trust me enough to take that job on I trust you enough to value our relationship.

Let’s put it this way. If you promise to be honest with me, and fire me before seeking out other representation, I promise to stick by you through big deals and no deals and only quit when I feel the passion has died.

Jessica

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Angie Fox: Three Things I Had to Do in Order to Sell

It’s so hard being “almost there” with a story. You love your work, you’re getting positive rejections, so what does it take to sell? For me, it was all about making the story bigger. And, I know, you’re saying you’ve heard it before. So did I. But I didn’t know what it meant. I had to push my writing to a level I had never gone to before, but I found three things were the key:

The “No Way” Factor
My characters had to take bigger chances, have more to risk and lose. It’s easy to say, but a hard thing for a writer to do. It’s a vulnerable, risky place to be. I knew my story was big enough to sell when instead of ending my writing sessions thinking, “I hope that’s good enough to impress an editor,” I ended them thinking, “No. I did not just write that. I did not just make my character defend herself with a toilet brush and a can of Purple Prairie Clover air freshener.”

The “Brainstorm” Factor
The first thing you think of might be good, but chances are the twentieth thing will be even better. When I was trying to think of a hidden hideout for my biker witch characters, the first idea that popped into my head was an abandoned biker bar. Kind of neat, right? Instead of going with it, I sat down and brainstormed twenty ideas. The first five or so come easy. The rest really make you stretch and think. One of those twenty ideas became a fun, quirky hideout for my witches – an abandoned riverboat that they’d enchanted years earlier (while drunk on dandelion wine). Now they not only need a safe place, but they need to catch the Choking spells, Lose Your Keys spells, not to mention the Frozen Underwear spells ready to attack from around corners and behind the old jukebox.

The “Surprise” Factor
Follow your story in new directions, because if you’re enjoying the surprise, chances are your readers will too. When I sat down to write my book, I had no notes about a sidekick for my heroine. But in the second chapter, when she’d learned she was a demon slayer and all hell was after her, she took comfort in her dog. As I was writing, I thought, "This is a sweet moment. Now how do I throw her off?" Simple. I made the dog say something to her. Nothing big. After all, he’s only after the fettuccine from last week. And he knows exactly where my heroine can find it (back of the fridge, to the left of the lettuce crisper, behind the mustard). It amused me, so I did it. Thanks to her unholy powers, my heroine can now understand her smart-mouthed Jack Russell Terrier. I had fun with it. In fact, I suspect Pirate the dog is my editor’s favorite character. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if Pirate helped talk my editor into buying The Accidental Demon Slayer.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is – make your writing an adventure. Don’t be afraid to step out, take risks and push your story to the next level.

Angie Fox is the author of The Accidental Demon Slayer, coming from Dorchester this summer. Visit her at www.angiefox.com.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Resubmissions and ReQueries

Regularly I am asked about the etiquette of resubmitting work to an agent, but lately, with my query critiques, I am also being asked about the etiquette of requerying the same book (now that you have a better idea of how to pitch).

I’ve told you stories of clients who were rejected by me at one time and later, with another work, offered representation. But what about resubmitting the same work? Off the top of my head I can only think of one client who resubmitted work and became a client based on that resubmission, and that particular client did extensive revisions based on my rejection letter. The truth is that even with a bad pitch it’s probably pretty likely that I am able to see something in your query that would make me ask for more. I’m not a complete dolt, you know. But if your pitch seems boring, typical, or just doesn’t inspire me and the writing in your query doesn’t grab me, then it’s unlikely I will ask to see more.

If you have truly done extensive, and I mean massive, revisions to both your query and your work, go ahead and resubmit. However, take note that in this case I’m not going to tell you that you have nothing to lose, because in fact that’s not the case. When you make the decision to query an agent, I expect that you’ve put that book to bed. In other words, Book #1 is now sitting safely on a shelf next to your computer waiting for Wise Agent to call and request the full. It’s shiny, it’s bright, and it looks beautiful. In the meantime you’re whiling away your time, in between query letters and agent research, of course, writing Book #2. In fact, you’re so busy on Book #2 you haven’t even had time to think about Book #1. If you keep sending me Book #1, I worry that you’ve got nothing else in you, and that’s not a client I want either.

I know how difficult it can be when the rejections start rolling in. Hey, I get them too, remember. But the truth is you really do have one shot. I have one shot, and that’s why it can take me all day to write a pitch letter or query letter to editors, and I do this all the time. So the best thing you can do is make your work, including your pitch and your letter, the best it can be the first time around. And then, and here’s the really hard part, put it out of your head. Work on the second book and the second pitch and query. Make them even stronger.

Jessica

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Economy 101 and Your Book Sales

A client recently alerted me to a discussion she’s been having with other authors about the current economy and the looming $4 a gallon gas prices. She was interested in my take on how the economy would affect book sales, and what my readers thought in general and more specifically how it might effect their spending.

My answer is pretty straightforward. The higher prices are for gas, eggs, milk, and other necessities, the less we’re all going to have to spend on entertainment and, let’s face it, books are entertainment. She did ask me specifically if I thought that since people might have less money to spend on expensive luxuries like vacations would they possibly spend more on books and movies—choosing to stay home and have mini-vacations rather than actually travel. My thoughts are no. Well, some might, but overall no. If people have less money they have less money, and while some may choose to spend what disposable income they have on books, many others will choose movies or trips to the beach. I also think that for many, many people books are part of the vacation expense. They go to the beach and spend $25 on books to entertain them while they’re there. If the beach trip is out, it’s likely the books are too.

What is also interesting to point out is that during a time like this, a major financial shift in our country, you are also going to see the books that hit bestseller lists change. Obviously we’re not going to see any new books soon on how to make money in real estate or how to win in a thriving stock market. Instead we’re going to see more books on how to thrive in a struggling economy and how to live frugally. And often you’ll even see a shift in fiction. I can’t predict as easily where that shift might come, but we’ll see it.

But what about you? What do you predict for your own book sales or book sales in general in this struggling economy, and how might it affect—or has it already affected—your own spending? Are you still driving to the bookstore to browse and pick up books, or are you trying to save gas by ordering online? Has your book budget shrunk or is it still holding on—or even increasing—since your vacation budget is nil?

Jessica

Monday, March 03, 2008

Erotic Romance Winner . . . and the Contemporary Romance Contest!

With fewer entries in the erotic romance category, Jessica and I were able to find more common ground. In fact, we were able to agree on a winner and two runners-up. But since there were fewer than half the number of entries as in the previous contest, we didn’t pick any honorable mentions this time. So you won’t see a second post tomorrow.

That said, let’s announce the winner, shall we?

Anonymous 4:29 pm — Five Days

The first day, I couldn't look him in the face.

I gazed at the granite floor of the foyer while I waited for his orders.

"I'm not going to hurt you."

"You'd be within your rights if you did." I kept my gaze cast down. I owed him so much for what I'd done to him, and all he'd asked for was five days. He would have my body, and I would reclaim my soul.

"Heaven save me from martyrs," he muttered. "Are you going to mope around the place all week? It's not much of a turn-on."


Jessica: I thought this was sexy and definitely sounded like a solid erotic romance. What I also liked about these 100 words were that they kept you guessing. What is going to happen next? And what is the setup. I’m assuming because of the title that this is going to be five days of sex, but how did the protagonist get there and why? I definitely want to know more.

Kim: What makes this excerpt so sexy is the provocative setup. There’s an element of mystery: What did she do to him that’s put her in the submissive position? It creates a wonderful tension between the two of them. The opening feels pretty dark. After all, she says she needs to reclaim her soul. But before everything gets too heavy, he lightens the tone by telling her that her moping is killing the mood. I’d love to see where this is going.

Congratulations, Anonymous!! When you’re ready for your critique, please send your query letter, synopsis, and first chapter to our blog e-mail link. Great work!

Here’s our runners-up!

Jackie Barbosa — Lady Libertine

He must be the devil. He was as beautiful and tempting as sin.

If he had come for Amelia’s not-so-dearly departed husband, arriving at the funeral seemed a bit late. If he had come for her, she would gladly accompany him. Hell itself could not be worse than the dreary, meager existence that awaited her in Hanscombe’s dowager house.

Not to mention it was too near Richard.

The thought of her stepson drew Amelia’s gaze to him. Even after all these years, his proximity sent revulsion crawling over her skin.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” the vicar intoned.


Jessica: I really love sexy and erotic historical romance, and because of that I really liked this. But a funeral is also a great setup for endings as well as beginnings. And who doesn’t want to know more about Richard or the beautiful tempting devil?

Kim: Let’s face it, devils are always hot (corny pun intended)! Again, there’s a lot of mystery going on here. What happened to her “not-so-dearly departed husband” and why is her stepson such a creep? All of that leaves me curious, but most of all I’m waiting to hear more about this beautiful devil and what he’ll be doing to tempt her even more.

Shannon — When Good Demons Go Bad

The son of a bitch was going to kill her with sex . . . again, but what else could she expect from a rogue sex demon. Even while Cassandra “Raven” Caledre reveled in the feel of Fallyn’s perfect body gliding against her naked flesh, she lifted the ceremonial dagger, determined to kill him before the demon finished releasing her soul.

His small, sharp fangs bit lovingly into her shoulder as Fallyn whispered directly into her mind, Let me pleasure you, little Raven, and I swear, with your next life, the surrender will be mine. Letting the dagger fall, she accepted his bargain.


Jessica: This was great. Great title and really great opening line. Killing her with sex. I love it.

Kim: I think what was most intriguing about that first line was that she had apparently already been killed before. She knew what she was in for, but the passion is so great that she’s willing to surrender her life again to be with him. The real draw is the Fallyn character. Is he sincere? Can a rogue sex demon even be sincere? Will he surrender to her next time? Or is he just playing her to get what he wants?

Nicely done, Jackie and Shannon!

Now it’s time for another contest!

TODAY IS THE CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE CONTEST!!

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, March 4th, 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. Keep an eye out for your category!