BookEnds will be closed today through Monday in observance of Labor Day. Have a great weekend and we'll be back on Tuesday.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
I have a few clients who give me continual insights into new blog posts. They are the clients I tend to have lengthy and I guess deep writing conversations with. In talking with one client and her “posse” of fellow writers I came to an interesting realization. When you look around at a major conference like RWA or Thrillerfest and see who is hanging out with who, you tend to notice a trend. Bestselling authors hang with bestselling authors, and in most cases these authors were friends before any even fathomed reaching that list.
What does that say about us or what does that say about the business. My client thinks that maybe like meets like, and I think she’s right. But how? Do these authors all have a similar writing style that we should emulate? Are they all just incredibly lucky?
No, I think one of the things these authors all have is the same drive. The drive to succeed and not just succeed through publication, but push themselves to the top. These authors find each other because of their drive and stick together because they constantly push and support one another. They don’t get into petty fights or go into jealous rages when one succeeds and the others don’t. Instead they see that as another step for them all to reach for and they see the success of one as the success of all. After all, there’s nothing like friends to give you the leg up you might eventually need.
Authors who are in a bestselling posse or future bestselling posse didn’t fall into it. They dove in. They weren’t afraid to leave their first critique group for another that pushed them harder and farther. They are able to maintain friendships with those who helped them along the way. And they know what that golden ring really means to them and aren’t afraid to say it.
So when you’re analyzing your own writing posse don’t be afraid to look around and really think about what that posse says about you. Is it saying what you want or is it time to make changes? I’m not saying you throw out the old friends for new, I’m just saying maybe it’s time to grow the posse a little.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
I received a very interesting question from a reader not too long ago, one that I think, sadly, has crossed the minds or lives of a number of writers. If you are facing insurmountable (or seemingly insurmountable) challenges in your life, how much do you tell your agent or editor? For example, what if you are going through a divorce and can’t muster up the ability to get out of bed, let alone meet a deadline? Or what if you are suddenly diagnosed with a disease like cancer that is possibly fatal, but also potentially curable, do you tell your agent or editor or quietly take care of yourself and your disease while working your best to meet deadlines?
I think the concern this reader had was whether telling could negatively affect your career. Would a publisher consider a new contract if they thought the author was battling a fatal illness? Would an agent want to continue representation if she didn’t think the author would be able to meet deadlines?
These are tough, tough questions and ones that there is no easy answer to. Life throws us curveballs, and how we hit them or even whether we swing is completely personal.
Ultimately, the decision to tell your agent and/or editor is going to be up to you and is going to be based on the relationship you have with that agent or editor. At the recent RWA RITA awards ceremony one author praised her editor, remarking that they were much more than business partners, but after 20 years of working together were truly friends. I would imagine in this case the editor knows a great deal about this author and her life. That author is lucky though. Few authors spend that many years with one editor, which is why I can’t stress enough the importance of finding an agent you truly feel can go the long haul with you.
How an incurable disease or missed deadlines affects future contracts is going to depend on the publisher, and how professionally the situation was handled. Did you eventually meet the deadlines by setting realistic goals for yourself in spite of the circumstances or did you never turn in the books? And . . . how are your numbers? Because that’s what it all comes down to, sales of your books. If sales are good you can be forgiven almost anything. If they’re not good, sickness or health probably won’t do you any good.
My advice . . . talk to your agent. Your agent is your best advocate in any situation, and if you are worried, your agent should be the one to help alleviate those fears and worries. When I mentioned that to the reader she came back with whether or not that was fair to her agent. She worried that it was putting her agent in a difficult position by asking her to lie. Well, guess what, folks, that is an agent’s job. Well, not lying exactly, but client-agent confidentiality. While I’ve never felt like I had to lie for an author (and that’s good, because I’m not good at lying), I do know that a great deal of what we talk about is confidential. Confidential from other clients, blog readers, and, yes, editors.
My feeling is that honesty is the best policy. If whatever is happening means you might miss a deadline, I think it’s best to be up front and honest, at least with your agent. After all, calling to say you need a deadline extension because of illness, death, divorce, or another crisis is going to be easier than calling to say you need an extension because you just do. If, however, you don’t want your editor told, talk to your agent about how to handle the situation and let your agent handle it. That’s the beauty of having an agent.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
I’m often asked at what point authors should stop editing and revising their manuscripts. Frequently I receive emails telling me that a submission has been fully revised and could I throw out what I have and accept the new material, or I hear that authors are submitting but still actively revising. Stop! It all stops here.
In the world of publishing a published author should never, ever turn in a book to her editor until it’s done. Once she feels the book is the best it can be she sends it on to her editor for revisions, edits, and eventually publication. She doesn’t send a draft, and an editor would be horrified to learn that she has. The editor expects everything that comes across her desk to be the best (and then she’ll help make it even better). So why should unpublished authors act any differently?
Think of the submission process as practice for your career as a published author. You wouldn’t want your readers, your fans, to read your work until you felt it was the best, and at some point you just need to decide that the book is done and it’s the best it can be.
Published authors have a lot more on their plates than simply writing a book. A published author is charged with writing a book while often editing the previous book and thinking about the next book. When Book B is complete it’s immediately time to get down to publicizing Book A, editing Book A, and writing Book C, and for that reason the futzing has to stop, whether the author wants it to or not. Unpublished authors should really start thinking of working in much the same way. Once you start submitting you should be so busy working on your next book that you can’t even think about the book that’s out with agents. If, and only if, you get feedback that resonates on the book you’re submitting, feel free to go back and make some edits. If not, keep writing and shaping your new WIP and use what you’re learning from the rejections or feedback from the other book to make the WIP stronger.
So stop futzing and get writing.
Monday, August 25, 2008
I’ve said many times that when querying one agent at BookEnds you are really querying the entire agency. That being said, it continues to amaze me how many of you will query all three of us at once or query us one at a time as the rejections come in. In the grand scheme of things, while it’s probably simpler for you (and for me) to just query one of us period, I don’t blame you for giving it that old college try (as they say).
I’m often asked how we handle forwarding queries to each other. Do we tell the writer, do we reject the book, what happens?
I think everyone handles this differently, but here’s what I do. I reject the book if I had intended to reject the book, and then forward the query to Kim and Jacky. If either of them are interested they can email the author, letting her know that I had passed on the query, and request more material. If not, it’s no extra work for them, they can simply delete the email. That doesn’t mean that everyone who gets rejected by me should then ask if I forwarded it and then query Kim and Jacky. Again, if your goal is to make sure every single agent out there sees your query, and not just every single agency, go ahead and do that. However, it’s probably not necessary. Our goal is to be successful agents and a successful agency. If we think an idea has merit and is right for another within the agency, it would be stupid on our part not to share the wealth.
Friday, August 22, 2008
In my blog posts I rarely talk about the daily happenings of the agency, for a couple of reasons: one is that nothing is ever the same from day to day, and two is that I just don’t think it makes for exciting reading. I would rather focus on teaching you things you want to know. However, lately I’ve received a few questions that don’t necessarily warrant full blog posts, but do deserve answers, and I wanted to also share a few things that have made us laugh.
- Chuckle: The submission that is clearly forwarded each time an agent rejects it. I saw it with two forwards, Jacky saw it a day or two later with fourteen.
- Question: Submissions should always be single-sided and loose (not bound or stapled, although binder clips and rubber bands are fine) with page numbers. It never hurts to include the author name and/or title on each page. And of course make sure it’s double-spaced.
- Question: We do accept submissions from outside the U.S.
- Chuckle: The author who responds to an email rejection with a list of those agents she’s still planning to submit to.
- Question: Would a completed 225-page cozy at 56,000 words be too small for cozy publishers? Typically, yes. My advice is that you try to bring it up a lot, another 20,000 words, unless you have a hook that’s out of this world. Something nobody has thought of yet, but just hearing it we know it will sell twenties of thousands of copies. In that case you could probably send it in a little short. In the end, though, you’ll probably want it longer. 55,000 words makes a very slight book, one that readers might be hesitant to spend $7 on.
- Chuckle: In response to the pitch critiques on the blog I was emailed (and Jacky and Kim were cc’ed) to be told how “narcissistic, gratuitous and self-promotional” the blog was (which, after some thought, I realized that this is really what a blog is) and accused of copyright infringement for taking plot synopses from query letters and critiquing them for my own amusement. Clearly he hadn’t read the blog carefully. However, in case anyone else is confused, the material we critique on the blog, partials, whatever—is only posted because the authors have given permission for us to do so.
- Question: Fonts: use something that’s comfortable to read. A sans serif like Arial or Courier or a standard font like Times or Times New Roman is fine. Typically 12-point is fine. If you’re not sure, test it. Print out 50 pages and read them. If your eyes start to cross, so will mine.
- Question: What’s the difference between autobiographies and memoirs. Nothing really. I think memoir has become a trendy term for autobiography. That being said, I typically think of autobiographies as being written by famous people, while memoirs are from the common man. That’s just me, though.
- Question: If my work is most similar to authors like Jodi Picoult, Jacquelyn Mitchard, or newcomers Judy Merrill Larson or Kristy Kiernan, how would I classify it? I would say Women’s Fiction.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I’ve had a request from a client to put together a publishing dictionary of sorts, an explanation of publishing words and phrases that you hear or see all the time but aren’t always sure of the meaning. I’m not going to go into great details on the how and why of these words, simply a what. In addition to the words that were requested I’ve included a few of my own that I think sometimes cause confusion.
AAR: The Association of Authors’ Representatives is an organization of literary and dramatic agents that sets certain guidelines and standards that professional and reputable agents must abide by. It is really the only organization for literary agents of its kind.
Advance: The amount the publisher pays up front to an author before the book is published. The advance is an advance on all future earnings.
ARCS: Advance Review Copies. Not the final book, these are advance and unfinalized copies of the book that are sent to reviewers.
Auction: During the sale of a manuscript to publishers sometimes, oftentimes if you’re lucky, you’ll have an auction. Not unlike an Ebay auction, this is when multiple publishers bid on your book and ultimately, the last man standing wins (that’s the one who offers the most lucrative deal).
BEA: BookExpo America is the largest book rights fair in the United States. This is where publishers from all over the world gather to share rights information, sell book rights, and flaunt their new, upcoming titles.
Cover Letter: This is the letter that should accompany any material you send to an agent or an editor. A cover letter should remind the agent that the material has been requested, where you met if you’ve met, and of course the same information that is in your query letter—title, genre, a short yet enticing blurb of your book, and bio information if you have any.
Full: A full manuscript
Genre: The classification of books. Examples of genre in fiction include mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, and in nonfiction you might see business, health, parenting, pets, art, architecture.
Hardcover: A book printed with a hard cover.
Imprint: The name within the publishing house that the book is published under. Usually done as a way to market certain types of books. For example, Aphrodisia is an imprint of Kensington. It is still a Kensington book, but by publishing under Aphrodisia you are branding the book as erotic romance.
Literary Agent: A literary agent works on behalf of the author to sell her book and negotiate with publishers. A literary agent also helps with career planning and development and sometimes editing and marketing.
Marketing: Marketing is advertising that is paid for, including ads in magazines, display units in stores, and things like postcards or posters.
Mass Market: Also called “rack size,” these are paperback books originally designed to fit in rotating book racks in non-bookstore outlets (like grocery stores and drugstores). Mass market paperbacks are roughly 4” x 7” in size.
North American Rights: These are the type of rights licensed to the publisher, allowing the publisher only to handle and represent book rights in North America. This means that the author and the author’s agent are responsible for selling/licensing rights anywhere outside of North America (and usually a designated set of territories).
Preempt: When a publisher makes an advance and royalty offer high enough to take the book off the auction table. In other words, a publisher offers enough money that the author and agent agree that they will sell the book without asking for bids from other publishers.
Proofs/Page proofs: This is the last stage of editing that a book goes through. They are a copy of the designed pages, and the author is given one last chance to review the typesetter's “proofs” to check for typos or other small errors. Proofs are also what are used to make review copies for reviewers and sometimes rights sales.
Proposal/Partial: A proposal or a partial is frequently what an agent will ask for when taking a book under consideration. For fiction and narrative nonfiction a proposal usually includes a cover letter, a designated number of chapters from the book, and a synopsis. For non-narrative nonfiction a proposal usually contains an extended author bio, an overview of the book, an expanded table of contents, detailed marketing and competitive information, and of course sample writing material (usually a chapter or two).
Publicity: Advertising that is free. Publicity includes magazine and newspaper articles, radio and television interviews, and of course MySpace and other networking Web sites.
Query: A one-page letter sent to agents or editors in an attempt to attain representation. A query letter should include all of the author’s contact information—name, address, phone, email, and Web site—as well as the title of the book, genre, author bio if applicable, and a short, enticing blurb of the book.
Royalties: The percentage of the sales (monetary) an author receives for each copy of the book sold.
Sell-Through: This is the most important number in publishing. It’s the percentage of books shipped that have actually sold. For example, if your publisher shipped 100,000 books (great number!) but only sold 40,000, your sell-through is 40%. Not so great. However, if your publisher shipped 50,000 books, and sold 40,000, your sell-through would be 80%. A fantastic number.
Slush/Slush Pile: Any material sent to an agent or an editor that has not been requested.
Synopsis: A detailed, multipage description of the book that includes all major plot points as well as the conclusion.
Trade: To make it easy, trade is the shortened name for trade paperback books and is basically any size that is not mass market. Typically though they run larger than a mass market edition.
Vanity Press: A publisher that publishes the author’s work at the author’s expense (not a recommended way to seek publication by most agents or editors).
World Rights: When World Rights are sold/licensed to the publisher the publisher has the ability to represent the book on the author’s behalf and sell foreign translation rights anywhere in the world. Keep in mind that the author does get a piece of the pie no matter where the book is published.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Is it the ultimate nail in the coffin to find out the writer you just signed has already submitted to, and been rejected by, editors? We’ve seen where querying an agent with an offer in hand is always a bonus for the agent to accept you as a client. Should eager writers refrain from submitting to the publishers that still take unagented queries?
Actually what upsets me most would not be that the material was already submitted to and rejected by editors, although that comes in closely behind what really upsets me. What really upsets me is that if you signed with me and then told me the book had been sent around and submitted to editors, I would feel lied to. Lied by omission, but still lied to. Let’s look at it this way: What if you submitted to me, we had a long, pleasant conversation and finally agreed we were going to work together. Then, after signing on with me I told you that I had decided that from now on I’m only selling books to two publishers and will only submit to those two publishers. That’s not presumably what you signed on for.
This is why it’s so, so important to talk to a number of agents, if possible, before signing a contract with any one agent. Those conversations you have with an agent when an offer of representation comes up is the time to talk frankly and honestly about what you want in your career and how an agent operates. It’s the time to make sure that the two of you see your book in the same way and have the same thoughts in terms of submission style and the same goals.
Of course, if your book has been seen by a number of editors or is currently under consideration, that should be mentioned, at the very least, in the cover letter you send with any requested materials.
I know I’ve addressed this issue before, but obviously it never hurts to bring it up again: Shopping your manuscript around to editors should only be done on request. If you enter a contest and an editor requests your work or if you are a nonfiction author who has been approached by an editor, go ahead and send the material. Otherwise, if you really want an agent it might be wise to hold off.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
If you’re a regular blog reader you know by now that I strongly advocate choosing an agent rather than letting an agent choose you. In other words, when you get that offer of representation you should definitely talk to as many agents as possible so that ideally you can choose the agent you would like to hire rather than just going with the one who was fastest on the draw.
But what about if you have publisher interest too? Of course I’ve talked about how to handle a publisher offer of representation and leverage it to get an agent, but if you have a publisher reviewing your work, how should you query agents so when the time comes you can leverage that offer?
In much the same way you query any agency at any point in the process. The difference is that you open your letter by telling agents which publishing house is already reviewing your book and how they came to receive it. Did you query blindly or did the publisher approach you in some way? If you queried them you might want to mention whether or not they are the only house you queried. The risk of course is that there is no guarantee this house will offer, and if they don’t your future agent is going to want room to submit on her own. Honestly, if they do offer, your future agent is going to want to know that she can get your proposal out to other places and hopefully turn it into a bigger offer.
Most agents will jump on the opportunity to consider a proposal that is currently under consideration with a major house. Be wary though because there are a lot of agents who will jump only because it is under consideration. The agent you want sees the possibilities even if this particular house passes and knows that nothing is an easy sale.
All of that being said, I’m sure many others can tell you that interest from a publisher in no way guarantees representation from an agent and I would never advocate going out and submitting wildly under the assumption that interest or an offer from a publisher is the only way you’ll get an agent. Not at all.
Monday, August 18, 2008
When you've signed a client and are submitting his/her work to editors, at what point do you want to hear about the writer's other ideas? When do you want to see proposals for them or want them to start working on other books? Or do you want to exhaust all avenues with the book on submission before you start talking about other projects? Does it make a difference if you're getting editors who are interested but haven't finished the book yet, so you feel confident an offer will come in soon--so you don't want the writer worrying about something new when you feel a sale is imminent?
What a great list of questions. I’ve been trying hard to make sure the blog covers areas of interest to all writers, published, unpublished, agented, unagented, and anyone in between (if there is such a thing). Unfortunately, I think often I get bogged down in information more for the unpublished/unagented and not as much for those with an agent.
I personally like to hear what a writer is thinking right from the start. Presumably you need something to do while I’m off submitting your manuscript, and it’s probably best if you and I are on the same page regarding what that something should be rather than your wasting time. To me it doesn’t make a difference what level of interest I’m hearing from editors. I’m a big believer in keeping things moving forward, and sitting around, waiting for editors (or agents, for that matter) to respond definitely isn’t forward motion.
So my advice to my authors is let’s always think ahead. I know you’re under contract, we’re submitting, or you’re busy revising, but in the back of our minds we should always be taking that next step. The worst-case scenarios are that we get an amazing deal and you suddenly need to drop your WIP to focus on the new contract, or a sale isn’t made but we’ve got something fresh and new to send out.
As far as seeing proposals, I’m happy to see them whenever you’re ready to send them. Of course, I will warn you that if I’m actively submitting and you send me a new proposal, you’re not going to go to the top of my pile. Why? For the most part I feel we should only submit one project at a time. When we feel like we’ve exhausted or nearly exhausted all of our possibilities I’ll be happy to send around something new. That being said, I will get to that proposal as quickly as I can, but we both also realize we’ll need to sit on it anyway, so there’s not a huge rush. In other words, you might have to wait a few weeks. I’ll let you know that though.
I think to be truly successful in publishing you always need to think ahead, plan for something bigger and better, and it never hurts to do that from the very beginning of your career.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Every month I get a new stack of books from publishers, books my clients have written. I’m always so excited to see these books in final form and thrilled for the authors. Well, confession time, the first thing I do when getting each book is admire the cover and spine, flip through the pages to see how it feels, and then find the acknowledgments. I never expect to be acknowledged by any client, but am always flattered and pleased when I am (and curious, of course).
Well, a month or so ago I got a very special treat. When flipping through the pages I found the dedication and there I was! This author didn’t just acknowledge me, but dedicated her book to me. Even writing this, all these weeks later, I’m still a little verklemped. A book is an amazing thing to write, and to be acknowledged as part of that process is honor enough for me, but to actually have it dedicated to me. Well, that’s truly touching.
I’m still thrilled and excited daily by what I do and awed by what you writers can do.
It’s such a cool business!
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I think I’ve told you more than once that many of my clients had been previously rejected by me. They had voices I loved, but the first book just didn’t pan out. Thank goodness they kept at it, because it’s so thrilling to me to take on a new client, especially when she’d previously written something I couldn’t stop thinking about.
But what about all of those queries or proposals I passed on before. Can this client now send them my way, especially since I am her agent, and expect that I’ll submit them on her behalf? Will I even look at the books again or is it automatic that they’ll go under the bed never to see the light of day again?
As always, this is an “it depends” answer. If the author still really believes in those books we should absolutely talk about them, and there are definitely times when I’ll take a second look. Typically, though, in all of these experiences, the author has made the decision herself that they aren’t ready. Once the offer is received I think in most cases the author was able to see that her current work is so much stronger and that if she’s going to want to sell those other works they are going to need to be completely rewritten.
I can’t think of a time when I sold or even submitted a book from a client that I had previously rejected. I think in most cases it was either completely rewritten or placed under the bed. Though I do have a story of a mystery writer that’s kind of fun. Back in 2001, the author and I had tried to sell her mystery. The hook wasn’t what editors wanted and eventually we shelved it. Well, about a two years ago, in 2006 actually, the author and I were talking about a new hobby of hers and I suggested maybe that would make an interesting mystery series. Well, she pulled out that first manuscript, took that heroine and made her into someone new and exciting. And guess what, the first book of a six-book deal just released this year. So don’t completely give up on those “other” books, but know that maybe by the time they come out again they are not going to at all resemble what you first intended.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
I was reading through some of the posts on my own blog as well as those of my colleagues and started to think about some of the dangers to authors that can occur because of these blogs.
Oftentimes we are asked to give advice, guidance, or further explanation as to some of the biggest causes of rejection we see, and certainly there are a number of things that pop up again and again. Some of these include telling and not showing your story, stiff and awkward dialogue, or lack of description. So how can knowing what often sets us off be dangerous to you? It’s dangerous when you try to generalize too much.
Sometimes, for example, a lack of description can be a good thing. Sometimes it can set a certain pace and tone. Have you ever read Robert B. Parker, especially his Spenser series? Parker has a unique style of writing that is clipped, quick, and full of energy. There is just enough description, but not too much.
My fear is that by writing about why we often reject things we are giving authors the impression that it’s just that easy. That there are only three to five reasons for rejection, and if you can get past those you’ll easily sell your book. Nothing is ever that easy, and when reading these agent blogs it’s important to remember that. I also fear that you’re getting the impression that publishing is that formulaic. That there’s a magic guideline out there and that if you find it and follow it you’ll have written a bestseller. Alas, folks, if it were that easy we’d be blogging from the beaches on our own private Agent Island.
Each agent has a unique perspective. We all work differently, we all have different tastes, opinions, and ideas. What I think might make an amazing and dynamic query letter might not work for Agent Kristin or Nathan Bransford. What Nathan sees as an instant rejection might not be the same for me.
So what am I saying? I’m asking you to of course keep reading our blogs. We enjoy writing them and enjoy hearing from you. At the same time, though, I’m asking you to understand that each of these blogs is the opinion of one agent in a sea of many. And it’s one voice, one opinion. I am not a goddess and never pretended to be. I’m just an agent who likes to share my opinion, what I know and what I’ve learned from 15+ years in this business.
So take it all with a grain of salt. Learn what you can, but write your own book and sometimes, just sometimes, forget all of the rules and let yourself go. Those are the books and the queries that really end up being the winners.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I’m often asked how an author should handle the process and logistics of changing agents, but rarely am I asked about the stigma jumping agents can cause, and lucky for you, this is something I’ve never thought of.
A reader recently emailed to ask if leaving an agent makes it more difficult to find another agent and if it labels her as high maintenance and difficult to work with. I’ve never, ever thought that because an author was changing agents she must be difficult, unless of course the previous agent came up to tell me how difficult that author was (but that’s something different entirely). Authors change agents for so many reasons. Some decide to take their careers in a different direction than their current agent represents, some just don’t mesh with the current agent, and some just decide that a career needs a shake-up and everything, including the agent, must go.
The author-agent relationship is extremely personal and so are the reasons for keeping or leaving it. Agents know this and understand this. The only red flags that go up for me is the author who is trying to get me to represent a work that another agent has already shopped. I don’t want someone else’s leftovers (so to speak) or the author who has 2 to 3 agents in 2 to 3 years. I’m looking for long-term relationships, not an agent jumper. And I guess I’d also be concerned about an author who is blaming her previous agent for everything that’s ever gone wrong in her career. While the agent might not be perfect, it’s doubtful she’s at fault for everything.
So of all the things you need to worry about, giving yourself a bad name is not one of them when switching agents.
Monday, August 11, 2008
By popular demand I’m going to address how authors can and should handle personalized rejection letters from editors. Since there was some confusion in an earlier post, let me explain that in this case what I really mean is revision rejection letters, or rejection letters with editorial suggestions. I apologize for the confusion, but I think I’ve used the word “personalized” incorrectly and received some backlash for it so I hope this helps.
So, either you have an agent who has submitted on your behalf or you’ve been asked by an editor to submit your work, and in return you’ve received a very nice letter with lots of great feedback. What next?
Of course you have to know by now that the very first thing I’m going to say is that you absolutely should not make any changes unless those comments resonate with you. Just like a personalized rejection letter from an agent is no guarantee of representation, a personalized rejection from an editor is no guarantee you’ll sell the book. Whether it’s a submission you sent on your end (presumably by request) or through your agent, the editor is rejecting the book because she thinks it needs work, but it’s unlikely that she’s going to be able to tell you everything that didn’t work for her, because that would be a revision letter.
If you have an agent you need to discuss the letter with your agent, and any rejection letters really. There are always options. If the letter does resonate with you and you feel that changes must be made, your agent can always pull all other submissions while you make changes and then resubmit. In many cases, though, editors have as many varying opinions as agents, and you might simply decide to keep moving forward and maybe incorporate those changes into your second work. And in some cases the editor might not be open to a resubmission, that’s something you’ll have to look into.
One reader asked why an author would go through editorial changes without benefit of a contract, while other authors seem to get a contract first and then go through editorial changes. Presumably, every author is going to need to go through a revision process once a publishing contract is in hand. However, as I’ve often said, editors need a book to be perfect or near perfect before they can usually be given the go-ahead to buy it. Sometimes an editor will read a book and think it's really great, but because of this, this, and that she’d never buy it. She’ll write the letter to the author telling her just that, and if the changes are made the rest can be dealt with later.
I suspect that editorial change rejections are less common from editors than they are from agents, however I know that if a client of mine received one from an editor with an offer to resubmit I will certainly put that author to work. Why not? It could mean a sale.
Friday, August 08, 2008
A reader recently expressed frustration that there is so much information on the Internet about querying and how to do so properly, but so little about what to do next. What happens once the author-agent relationship is established and what can you do if problems arise?
Now, I’ve written a number of posts on how to handle the situation when the agent stops responding and you’re hearing nothing, but what if it hasn’t gotten quite that bad yet. I’m sure a number of you will have specific questions, but I’ve tried to come up with some information here on my own.
When getting that first offer of representation, you have already established a relationship with an agent. It might not be the person you ultimately agree to hire as your agent (because presumably you’re using this fabulous opportunity to shop around for just the right person), but it is the time to begin your relationship. To find out how the agent works and to get a sense for whether or not the two of you will be compatible.
I’ve said it over and over, but I’m not sure I’ve ever said it quite so simply: The key to a successful author-agent relationship is communication. Now, I realize that communication only works if it’s coming from both sides, but someone needs to start somewhere. It’s the rare agent who will make all the initial contact with an author. We have many authors, you have one agent. Because of that I advise all of my clients to contact me as often as they want about whatever they are wondering about. I get emails and phone calls all the time from clients about the status of their submissions, concerns about the direction of their publishing careers, advice on what to write about on the blog, confirmation of gossip and rumors, just to touch base, to tell a funny story, or to make sure I still think they are great. And of course any time I have information or news to share with my clients I pass it along.
Part of what I try to remember to do when signing a client is to get a feel for career goals. Unfortunately, in the excitement of signing a new client and enthusiasm for the project we’re currently working on, sometimes that information gets pushed aside momentarily. Eventually, though, the conversation happens and needs to happen and I think it’s wonderful when it comes from the client. I have a number of clients who actually write up business plans and goal lists for themselves and their careers. If you do that, don’t hesitate to share it with your agent. An agent can work best for you if she knows exactly what you want and what you need. So don’t be afraid to let her know that.
If you have specific ideas of what an agent should be you need to talk to your agent about that before you sign on the dotted line. Do you think an agent should be available 24/7 no matter what? Ask your potential agent how she handles communication. Better yet, get in touch with some of her clients and ask them. Ask the tough questions, not only how the agent handles such things, but also what some of her negatives might be. I know a number of my more recent clients talked with more long-standing clients before signing. They weren’t hard to find, just search our Web site or Publishers Lunch.
But what if you did all of that and still there are problems: suddenly the agent is not following through on what you felt she had promised, or you just don’t feel you’re connecting. What next?
Not Keeping Promises Agent: You’ve been told repeatedly that she’ll get back to you in a week and that was four months ago. You know that your submission is on hold, because she has promised revisions, and it’s beyond frustrating. What do you do? You have a very frank talk. Assuming she is returning phone calls and emails, you get in touch and tell her that you have some concerns with the length of time it’s taking to get your book out on submission. And then you need to judge whether her reaction was the right one or not. A good agent will explain what happened, apologize, and follow through finally on getting back to you in that week, or at least in a realistic time. If she’s not receptive, maybe it’s time to consider getting out before you’ve wasted more time.
Not Following-Up Agent: Your work has been on submission, you’ve heard from three of the five publishers, but for some reason your agent refuses to follow up with the other two publishers. What is going on? Following up is an uncomfortable business. No one wants to be a nag. Unfortunately, that’s part of an agent’s job. Again, you need to pick up the phone and possibly get very firm with your agent. You need to explain that one of the reasons you need an agent is to do those things you don’t like to do, including nag editors.
Making Decisions Agent: You have an offer from a publisher! Yippeee! What next? Well, it seems that your agent is going along without talking to you and making all of the decisions without you. Some authors are fine with this, others aren’t. When your agent calls to tell you an offer is on the table, your job is to find out what’s next. What is her plan and what do you need to do? Ask pointed questions: How is she going to negotiate this? What are her thoughts on the other publishers who still have the material? And you need to share: What are your thoughts?
Not Following-Through Agent: All of those promises that were made before signing on the dotted line seem to have been nothing but words. None of those things are now happening. Again, it’s time for a conversation. If the answers aren’t satisfactory, you need to determine what’s next for you and your career.
These examples are obviously extreme. In the grand scheme of things most of you should have wonderful experiences. You hopefully found an agent you really connect and feel comfortable with. The two of you have devised a plan for what’s next—maybe revisions on your manuscript, a discussion of where and who to submit to, and a submission plan—and you are either in the middle of revisions or happily writing your next book, one you’ve discussed with your agent.
I hope that helps answer some questions and concerns.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Once the publishing contract is finalized, one of the first questions debut authors ask is what’s next. A very valid question and one I’m afraid I often forget to explain. After all, editing and publishing has been my life for 15 years; it’s sometimes hard to remember what others might not know.
This explanation of the editing process comes from my own experience as an editor at Berkley Publishing and can obviously differ from house to house or even editor to editor. However, these are the basics of what you should expect your book to go through once you turn in that completed manuscript.
Step One, Revisions: Once you’ve turned in your manuscript you should expect to hear back from your editor in about 6 to 8 weeks. I know that seems like a long time and, frankly, it is, but editors are busy and we need to be realistic about how long it can be. Unfortunately, I’ve had some editors take upwards of six months and others never give revisions at all. Again, every editor has her own technique. When you do hear back from your editor it’s going to, hopefully, be with revisions. And these can be all over the place. I’ve had editors ask that the book be completely rewritten, while others simply requested some touch-up work. My hint to you: the longer the revision letter the fewer the changes. Short revision letters tend to include things like “the protagonist is too mean and I don’t like her” or “there’s just not enough suspense here.” While long revisions letters can say things like “on page three the color of her eyes change from blue to brown” or “the dialogue on page 25 feels forced, not like the characters I was reading earlier.” Letters can be one short paragraph (the scary ones) or twenty-some pages. I think my longest was 15 pages.
Revisions are the most critical piece of the editing process. These are the changes that will make your book as strong as you can possibly make it.
Step Two, Line Edits: Once the revisions are complete and the editor is happy with what you’ve done (and by the way, some revisions can go multiple rounds), it’s time for line edits. These are the little inconsistencies the editor wants to make sure aren’t missed. Things like eye color changing, poor word choices, stiff dialogue, or awkward writing, etc. Minor things that can usually be fixed with a word change or two. Often and usually the editor does line edits on the manuscript itself and sends the entire package off to the copy editor without you seeing them. That’s fine, line edits and copy edits really go hand-in-hand.
Step Three, Copy Edits: Copy edits are typically done by hand (although that is beginning to change) on the original manuscript pages. Most copy editing is done by a freelance copy editor outside of the publishing house, although managed by someone in the copy editing department. The copy editor is someone I greatly admire because it’s certainly not a job I could ever do. The copy editor looks for things like typos, grammar errors, punctuation errors. The copy editor makes us all look good. That’s her job.
After copy edits are completed the entire manuscript is sent back to you for review. Here you can stet changes (maintain your original wording rather than the editors’), answer any questions or concerns and make any necessary changes. This is really it. Your last big chance to fix the book and add or subtract anything you might have missed.
Step Four, Page Proofs: Once you have reviewed, fixed or corrected the errors from the copy edits the book typically goes to the typesetter, and again, this is still amazingly done by hand. The typesetter takes the design given to them by the publisher’s design team and makes sample book pages. These are often call page proofs. They are printed on regular 8.5 x 11 paper, but designed to give you an idea of what the book will look like. If the book is a trade paperback you will usually get one book page per printed page. If it’s a mass market paperback you’ll get side-by-side pages on each printout.
These page proofs are then sent to you for one final review. These are not meant for major edits, but primarily to make sure all of the changes from the copy edited manuscript got into the final edition and to correct any new or missed typos. The page proofs are what are referred to in your contract when you are not allowed to make changes that affect more than 10% of the manuscript, otherwise you are charged for the changes. This of course does not refer to any errors that were caused by the typesetter.
Note: the page proof stage is also when copies are sent out for review. The publisher and reviewers know that some mistakes might be found, but the essence of the book is there and ready for review.
And once you send those page proofs back you have officially signed off on the book. The next thing you’ll see is a beautiful finished product with a shiny new cover and your name on top.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
I received a question from a writer of women’s fiction asking if she needed to tell agents up front, in the query, that she has a few explicit sex scenes in her book. She had a couple of concerns: one was what was the line between “hot” and “explicit,” and the other was that her readers/critique partners said she needed to be up front about this.
I don’t think so. I don’t think you need to tell readers in your query letter or cover copy that your book might have explicit sex, violence, or anything else. Unlike movies, books aren’t yet rated (although give it time), and do you really want an agent judging your book by what might be rather than what it is? Like readers, agents have different tolerances for different things. I represent erotic romance, so clearly my tolerance and what I might deem “hot” versus “explicit” is probably very different from the agent who not only doesn’t represent erotic romance, but focuses her list primarily to the Christian market.
I don’t think you should ever feel that you need to warn readers (whether they are book buyers, agents, or editors) about your book. Let the book speak for itself. Write a strong query that entices, intrigues, and grabs our attention and then let us judge the book on its merits, not on our own fears or preconceived notions.
But I’m curious how readers feel about this. Have you ever picked up a book only to become upset because it was too explicit for your tastes? Did you wish you had been warned? And if you had, then do you support a rating system for books much like the movies?
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
One of the things I try to do on this blog is give you an honest look at the agent’s side of things, including why I often reject some of the many queries I receive. Unfortunately, while I can be as honest with you as possible, there is no way for you to really know why I’m rejecting the queries or what I mean when I say certain things unless I do one of two things: (1) start posting the 70 queries I comment on, or (2) invite all of you over to go through my queries with me. Unfortunately, or fortunately, neither is ever going to happen.
I think that, for me anyway, it’s really hard to explain what I mean by “it’s been done too many times before” unless I can show you the queries that all start to sound the same and run together. And certainly it’s hard to explain why “first novel” might be a turn-off until you see some of the partials that I see. Does that necessarily mean that I’m punishing all authors for the mistakes of a few. I really don’t think so. In fact, I think that I am always more than willing to give authors a chance. In fact, I frequently request first novels because the idea is so compelling that I don’t care, and I also frequently see the same general stories again and again, but the twist is what makes it new and different. That’s the hook, folks.
You also need to consider that oftentimes my rejections are coming from talks I’m having with editors or experiences I’m having with my own clients. I might be rejecting your work because, believe it or not, I tried to sell something similar with no luck or because editors are telling me that there’s no way they can buy anything like that.
I’ve often heard authors say, after judging contests or talking with authors, that suddenly they get what my job must be like. Why it can be hard to say no, or sometimes, so very easy.
So when you start criticizing agents for turning down projects that have been done before or calling us names because we don’t really want original ideas, I think you need to think a little bit about our side of things. You sit down and try to read 70 to 100 queries in one weekend and the 10 or so proposals that you request that will follow. And then I want you to find five books that you absolutely love and adore. That you think are the greatest things you’ve ever seen and try to sell them. And find that no one will bite . . . oh, wait, it seems our jobs are not that different at times.
Monday, August 04, 2008
I just had a very interesting experience with a submission. After reading over the query and determining that there were many reasons the book wasn’t right for me, I sent along my standard email rejection. One I hope is kind, yet honest. The author, in a clear fit of anger, sent back a reply stating that after reviewing our web site he was pleased I had rejected the work since what we represent is “boring and insipid.” Clearly he decided we weren’t a good match anyway.
Kim likes to point out that while sometimes she gets back angry responses, no one gets insulting emails as much as I do. It must be something about my charming personality. And before you start guessing why (although I’d love to know your theories), I should point out that Kim and I have almost identical rejection letters.
Well, I must have been in a mood, because I decided to respond. I know, I know, don’t feed the trolls. But I couldn’t resist. I was lounging on the couch, “relaxing” after a day in the office, and I was in a pretty good mood, a mood to have a little fun. My response was to suggest that the author read agent Web sites before querying. In fact, I think my exact wording was, “In the future then you might want to consider actually researching agents before querying so that you only seek representation from those you deem worthy of your work.” I also suggested maybe the author consider proofreading all queries before sending them out since there were a number of spelling and grammar errors. Okay, okay. I know. Why did I stoop to this author’s level. Because I just couldn’t resist.
And then I decided to hit Google and do a little research on my own. Lo and behold, Mr. Angry Author has a business in which he calls himself a publishing consultant. Now I’m not about to name names or link to Web sites, but I did alert Writer Beware of their existence. My concern: this is a “consultant” who clearly knows nothing about the publishing business (it was also suggested to me that I’m ignorant because I base my submission decisions on queries without reading the manuscript) and is making money off authors who will depend on him and his company to guide their careers.
So the moral of this little story . . . don’t insult agents because we will fight back. No, no, that’s not really the moral. The moral is that you need to carefully research anyone who you plan to hire as part of your publishing team. Consultants (which you shouldn’t need), editors, agents, and even publishers should be researched and questioned. Review Web sites like Writer Beware and talk to other authors. Get referrals and listen to your gut. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is, and if it costs you money up front, run like the wind.
There are a lot of people in this world looking to take advantage of others. I’m not sure if Angry Author is someone looking to take advantage or simply ill-informed, but either way, my warning flags were raised.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Yesterday started out as one miss after another for me and for those of you who I put out I am deeply, deeply sorry.
Friday, August 01, 2008
Yesterday was by far my busiest day of the conference with back-to-back appointments from 8am-8pm. I tried to take notes as I was going along but honestly I hardly had time to think let alone pull out my notebook. And I apologize ahead of time if the blog is incoherent. Conference brain is settling in and I'm having a very difficult time piecing words together this morning.