Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Here in the US it’s Thanksgiving, a time to eat, watch parades, watch football, eat more and eat again. Oh, and it’s also a time to be thankful. I love Thanksgiving. I love the food, the friends, the parade and the traditions. One of my favorite traditions is to have everyone say one thing they are thankful for, and since this is a publishing blog I think we should find one thing about publishing or writing that we are thankful for.

For me, it’s the writers. I’m thankful for every writer past, present and future who has given me an amazing book to read. I’m thankful for the writers I can call clients who continue to excite me with their next projects and I’m thankful for the stories these writers continue to bring to all of us.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jessica

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Market News

You asked for it. More market news. . . .

When you think of Harlequin almost all of you think of romance. Well, guess what? For a long time now Harlequin has been a lot more than romance. Just ask authors like Jason Pinter, Brenda Novak, or Susan Wiggs.

So what is Harlequin and what are they looking for these days? Harlequin still publishes their very successful and popular category romance lines—Silhouette Desire, Harlequin American, or Harlequin Superromance are some examples—but in addition to that Harlequin has increasingly popular single-title lines. What are they and what do they publish? Well, hold on to your hats and listen carefully.

Mira Books
MIRA publishes diverse fiction from commercial literary fiction and historical novels to paranormal suspense and thrillers. They are looking for women’s fiction centering on women’s relationships as well as strong historical fiction, thrillers, and paranormal romance.

HQN
HQN focuses on romance. A number of Harlequin category authors have moved “up” to HQN, but they are also looking for fresh voices. Right now they are particularly interested in sexy mainstream historicals, romantic suspense, and big contemporary romances.

Steeple Hill
Steeple Hill is Harlequin’s Christian fiction imprint. For obvious reasons Steeple Hill’s focus is fiction to help women “lead purposeful, faith-driven lives.” Steeple Hill is looking for stories with strong family values and high moral standards in women’s fiction, historicals, and even thrillers.

LUNA
LUNA is Harlequin’s answer to the very popular fantasy and paranormal trends in publishing. LUNA is looking for fantasy with strong romantic elements. Typically their books will feature strong heroines and a compelling romance. They are looking primarily for urban fantasy and otherworld fantasy. No historical fantasy.

SPICE
I think it’s obvious that SPICE is for erotic fiction. Published in trade paperback, SPICE does not necessarily need to focus on the romance, but editors are looking for full-length novels or anthology collections with great erotic content. They are looking for historical, contemporary, mystery/suspense, fantasy, multicultural, time travel . . . whatever authors can dream up.

Kimani Press
Kimani Press publishes both African-American fiction and nonfiction in a number of imprints. Arabesque is looking for contemporary romances, New Spirit is looking for multicultural inspirational fiction and nonfiction that can encourage and motivate readers, Sepia is looking for mainstream fiction featuring predominantly African-American characters, and KimaniTRU is looking for books that illustrate real-life situations that young African-American readers can relate to.

So for those of you who never considered Harlequin an option, you might want to look again. Maybe, just maybe, this is the place for your book.

Jessica

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Anatomy of a Book Deal

By popular request I thought I’d share with you an experience I had getting a book deal. This is just one story of many and I do promise to share more as time goes on.

In February I received a query from an author who claimed (which I believed) that she had previously equeried in November but never heard back from me. After reading a recent blog post in which I stressed that I always answer queries and suggested that if you hadn’t heard from me you should consider resending the query, she did. Good move. I immediately requested the partial, which I read, liked, and requested the full, which I read, liked, and offered representation.

The book was a paranormal mystery. It was a lot of fun and I was excited about it. So upon finishing the book I got on the phone, called the author, and offered representation. She seemed excited and we talked a bit about the book, the way I work, and my vision for her book. She explained that she did have at least one other agent reviewing the manuscript and asked if she could have until Monday to get back to me (this might have been sometime in the middle of the week). I said of course she should and we ended the call.

I believe it was a day or so later that I got the email. The author decided that she didn’t really know why she was waiting for the other agent since she knew she wanted to sign with me anyway. We had a deal. Now it doesn’t always go this smoothly, but in today’s story it did.

So after revisions, some that were fairly extensive, and a few conversations, the book went out on submission (about a month after representation was offered). And we waited and we waited. And the rejections came in. I resubmitted and still more rejections. The news wasn’t good, so to keep our minds off of it we were starting to think of other things. In June I had a conversation with an editor at House A. She had a short list of ideas that she wanted to see as mysteries. So I thought of my Client and sent the list along. She was intrigued. Very intrigued, in fact. So she set to work.

We had plenty of discussions about direction, plot, and characters and in July (about a month or so later) I got the first draft of the synopsis and three chapters (about 30 pages). I reviewed them and we did some revisions. There was a lot to be done so it took another two to three weeks for the author to revise. And then finally it was ready. The first place I sent it to, of course, was the editor who had specifically asked for a mystery with this hook. Less than five days later we got our answer. She passed. Ultimately she just didn’t love it. She didn’t love the characters or the mystery. Not a problem, we moved on.

Another publisher really liked it, but felt she needed to see 100 pages and wanted a few changes. We were on it. The author set to work writing more chapters and I set to work on revisions. We really put our blood and sweat into this one and made it sparkle. In the meantime, the final rejections came in for the paranormal. While we were both disappointed, we were excited about the new project, which always makes rejection easier.

In early October we had it done and I sent it off to the editor. And, voila! Ten days later we had an offer. A wonderful, beautiful offer. I talked to the editor to get the details and relayed them all to the author. She was thrilled, dancing a little dance at her three-book deal.

Before accepting though I had some work to do. I called other editors who were reviewing the material to see if we could turn this into something bigger. Alas, no takers. So I called the editor back and told her what we wanted. We went back and forth on a few issues (this took a couple of days) until finally I (with the author’s blessing) formally accepted.

And now we have the hard copy contracts in hand and I’m carefully reviewing those.

Jessica

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Do Contracts Equal Love

Can a book contract help an agent fall in love? At conferences we hear agents repeatedly proclaim that in order to be willing to represent an unpublished author in this highly competitive, very tight fiction market, they need to LOVE the author’s story and voice. The author needs to be congenial, easy to work with, promotable, and being educated in the business is a terrific plus. What if an unpublished author comes to an agent with a valid publishing offer in hand? The agent isn’t that impressed with the story or the author’s voice, but otherwise the author has the complete package. Given this situation, does the agent still need to LOVE the author’s work? I assume that from the agent’s POV, this offer comes with certain drawbacks. The offer’s on the table and the agent doesn’t have time to work with the manuscript to strengthen it and there’s no time to send it out to other houses with hopes of generating other offers and the coveted auction, but it is a guaranteed sale the agent did nothing to generate. Given that the best agents are all about building authors' careers, when approached by an unpublished author with an offer in hand, does the agent still need to LOVE the story and voice to happily and competently represent this author? Does a contract help the author attain her dream agent, or could it even be a bad thing?

My question to you is would you want it to? I’ve probably touched on this before, but let me do it again. There are plenty of agents who, while they’ll never admit it, have fallen in love with a book because of the numbers it came with (aka a book contract). There are just as many, if not more, who will say that you should never marry a man for money. In other words, if I don’t really feel a connection to the author’s work and, more important, her voice, it’s not a good match for either of us.

I have turned down a number of great books, published authors, and potential deals in my career. In fact, I’ve probably turned down more than I’ve offered on. Do I regret it? Not one bit. I wasn’t the right agent for that author and her career. Does it have to be love? No, but I do need to like that book and that voice enough to want to read it for the next 25 years. I don’t think I need to love a book to “happily and competently” represent an author. I can competently represent anyone, whether I like the book or the voice or not, and I can happily do so if I’m making money doing it. I think we can all do a competent job at McDonald’s and even a few of us might find some pleasure in it, but I would also say that a majority of us would be happier doing something different.

If you find yourself in this situation, don’t worry about whether or not the agent loves the work. Worry about whether the agent can do the best job for your work and for you. Whether she’s a good fit and whether you like the plans and strategies she’s proposing. Because there is always time to strengthen a manuscript (even if it’s after the sale) and there is always time to generate other offers and get that coveted auction.

Jessica

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Friday, November 21, 2008

An Agent's Time

Why are there never enough hours in the day? I know everyone feels this way and I’m certainly no different, however as I watch the submission piles grow and the equeries come in I sometimes wonder what I do all day. How come I can’t get any of it done? So out of curiosity I tracked myself. How long do things actually take around here. Keep in mind this is not necessarily one day’s list, but an idea of how long different projects might take me.

  • Reading and responding to 25 equeries: 1 1/2 hours on a Sunday morning
  • Reading and editing the first 100 pages of a client’s next project, including sending it back with a letter: 3 hours
  • Reading and editing a client’s proposal (synopsis for three books only): 1 hour
  • Attending the BookEnds weekly meeting: 45 minutes
  • Reading daily publishing news that comes to me through email: 10 to 20 minutes (depending on how many links I click through)
  • Breakfast with a client: 4 hours (including travel time)
  • Introductory phone call with an editor newly assigned to my client: 15 minutes
  • Receiving a phone call from an editor with an offer: 10 minutes
  • Calling and telling a client that she’s just made her first deal: 15 very excited minutes
  • Read Publishers Weekly: 20 minutes
  • Writing a blog post: 20 minutes
  • Brainstorming phone call/career discussion with client: 1 hour, 20 minutes
  • Reviewing a contract from a publisher: 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Lunch with an editor: 3 hours, 30 minutes (including travel time)
  • Career planning conversation with client: 40 minutes
So there you have it. A peek into what I do with my time.

Jessica

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Home for Latina Writers

Is there much of a market of Latina writers? I should clarify that I do not write chicano literature nor do I write my stories in Spanish. I don't write "chica-lit," either, a la Dirty Girls Social Club. I do not have a political or social agenda, and my writing reflects that. I am not interested in advocating immigrant rights; if I did, I'd be a sociologist or a politician--and I still probably wouldn't know what the right solution is. All I want to do is to take my readers to another country and introduce them to another culture and its people, while we're there, we'd enjoy a story with Latin magic. We would remain in Central America until the story ends, of course. If we talk about genre, foreign culture not withstanding, it would probably fit in General Fiction--or Women's Fiction. FYI, while immigrants do bring some of their culture with them, we must remember that with time it loses its authenticity as it melds with other cultures--they don't remain pure for very long. I'm not interested in telling stories about this process. I find it boring. I like to tell about the 'real' people that live their lives in oblivion of the United States. No offense meant. And, since you are on the other side of an agent's desk, I'd like to ask if this is a bad time in the market for Latin stories and their writers. Are the editors you know even remotely interested in this kind of fiction? How about editors in general?

Oh my goodness, yes! Absolutely. I meet with editors all the time who are actively acquiring Latina lit in all varieties. While some are looking for books set in Central America or other Latin countries, I believe a huge number of them are looking for books featuring Latina culture here in the United States, and that doesn’t mean it can’t be very cultural. I think the challenge you’re up against is that most editors are looking for stories of Latinas here in the U.S. Does that mean you can’t set it in another country? Not at all, it just means that the job you are facing might be a little more challenging and that the writing might need to be a little more literary.

And don’t discount Latinas here in the U.S. Writing a story of the culture clash many have faced and continue to face can be just as interesting as the “real” people you’re talking about.

Multicultural fiction is always very popular. I speak with editors regularly who are looking for it and the genre you’re targeting—general fiction or women’s fiction—is perfect.

Jessica

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rejected by Your Own Agent

The reason for this email is, I'm a little (okay, a lot) heart sick over the fact that my agent has turned down my most recent book. I'm feeling embarrassed and I'm starting to think, oh my gosh, what if I lost my mojo? What if she's sorry she signed me?

Can you tell me what it really means since my brain is clogged at the moment? Have you ever had to do this?

I should also mention that we have one ms on submission at the moment.


I’m so sorry to hear that. It is very frustrating and very scary when you feel like your agent might no longer be on your side. I’m afraid though that this is an impossible question for me to answer. The only one who can really answer this question is your agent. You still have something on submission so that’s a good thing. As long as she’s actively working on that submission it means she believes in you and your work and is working on your behalf.

I think the first thing you need to do is find out exactly why she rejected your most recent book. Does she think you lost your mojo? Does she think it’s the wrong direction for you? What’s missing? I’m sure my clients will happily pipe up to share stories of all the books or proposals they’ve written that I’ve rejected. In no way has it meant that I’ve rejected them, but many times it means that for whatever reason I think they could do better. Either the book paled in comparison to their other works or wasn’t up to the standards I knew they could write. Sometimes it was the hook. Whether it’s a fresh submission or a new change in career direction, hook is important. Was it a hook that would propel them in the direction we were both seeking to go?

There are millions of reasons an agent might reject a client’s work and the only way to know why is to ask. From that point you have to determine the next steps yourself. Do you agree with the agent? Do you want to stick with the agent? Ultimately only you and your agent can address your concerns.

Jessica

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Is the Kindle the Wave of the Future?

It seems like it’s the only thing book people talk about, the Amazon Kindle, the Sony Reader, and how they’ve changed their lives. From editors, authors, and agents we hear about the revolution of ebooks and how paper books are coming to an end. But is that really the case?

I have jumped on the Kindle bandwagon and I’ll admit that so far, so good. It’s not perfect and you can tell it’s not made by Apple (of which I’m a huge fan), it’s just not that fancy. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles that an Apple "ibook" would probably have. But it works and it works remarkably well. I haven’t yet used mine to read a purchased book, but I have used it to read a number of manuscripts and it’s made my life so much easier. Just imagine traveling with one small book containing four manuscripts rather than shipping the manuscripts to my destination (which is what I used to do).

What has been really interesting to me is the reaction of others when I tell them about my Kindle. One friend, a real techie (he waited in line for hours for his iPhone the day it was released) immediately asked me my thoughts and wanted to know details. He is not much of a book reader, although he did have one remarkable year when his goal was to read a book for every letter of the alphabet. He started with an author whose last name began with “A” and went through the alphabet until he hit “Z.”

Another friend, a former publishing colleague, and someone I consider incredibly well read, had no idea what I was talking about. He’d never heard of the Kindle and knew nothing about ereaders.

My mother, who is an avid online shopper, including Amazon, and a huge reader, had never heard of it.

My assistant had never heard of the Kindle until she started working here and saw the one Kim purchased. Obviously she loves books and is an avid reader.

Now of course all of these people had these reactions before Oprah made her recent announcement (and devoted a half hour of her show) that the Kindle is one of her favorite things. However, if you watched the reactions of those receiving their free Oprah gift you might also notice that for every person who was overjoyed there were two who were confused and a fourth looking for her car.

So what does this say about the future of ebooks? It says that I have a very, very small sampling, but it also says that the future is a lot farther off than many are predicting. Even with Oprah’s powerful stamp of approval? you ask. Yes, because I remember very clearly just a few short years ago when the Sony Ereader was one of Oprah’s favorite things.

While true publishing professionals and Oprah have quickly latched on to the idea of an ebook, there are still many, many people out there who have no idea what we’re talking about. Will ereaders be the end to books in the same way mp3s have been the end of CDs? I can’t think that way. It sounds so negative and dour and I just don’t believe that if it happens it will happen anytime soon. For one thing, mp3s have a different music quality. Ereaders are unlikely to change the quality of the written word and I have yet to see an ereader that will make reading a children’s picture book as enjoyable as a “real” book. The graphics just are not going to translate. Yes, it’s clear changes to the publishing industry need to be made and will be made, but let’s not think of it as an end to anything, but as a fun new addition, the same way mass market paperbacks were once new.

Jessica

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Selling Statistics

Once I have an agent, how likely am I to be published? Do you have any books that you really like, but just can't sell?

This is a great question and one that I’m surprised I haven’t addressed yet. In fact, just the other day I was mentally going through the list of some of my clients, processing those I sold, those I never sold, and those I sold but it wasn’t the first book I went out with. Frankly, I really thought that the numbers of those I sold but not the first book we went out with was going to be a lot higher than it was.

Here is an entirely unscientific look at my own facts and figures. And keep in mind these are just a random selection of my clients over the years and not necessarily everyone. For example, I only looked at fiction and didn’t include those clients who came to me with a book deal in hand.

  • Sold first book: 9 clients (and in all cases have sold multiple books, sometimes to multiple publishers)
  • Sold later works: 5 clients
  • Haven’t yet sold: 5 clients that I could think of off the top of my head, but 3 of them disappeared after the first book didn’t sell and 2 of them I have all the confidence in the world we’ll be selling very soon.
So to answer your question, there is no guarantee that you’ll be selling that first book an agent takes on, but if you stick with it and work with your agent there is a very, very good chance you will sell. I think that 14 sales out of 19 clients are pretty good odds. That’s nearly a 75% sell rating, and I know that I’ll be able to shift those figures around as long as those clients keep writing.

One of the things I did notice was how much persistence played into it. Those clients who only gave me one chance (they never sent me a second book) had lower odds of getting published. But those who were willing to stick with me, as I was willing to stick with them, were likely to get a book deal. Remember, I take on a client for her voice, not a book. If I love your writing I will do everything in my power to find a place to get it published. In fact, I took on a new client earlier this year (February, I think) and while we weren’t able to sell that book, I just made a three-book deal for her for something new, different, and, more important, something she’s excited about writing.

Oh, but to answer your last question, yes, absolutely. I have definitely had books that I can’t stop thinking about. In fact, one of them is being reworked right now and we’re going to sell the dang thing if it kills me, because I love that book.

Jessica

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Call Me Professor

I have just accepted a position to teach in NYU’s Continuing Education program and I’m incredibly excited and nervous all at the same time. First of all, how cool is that? I’m going to be an adjunct professor at New York University! Second, what the heck have I gotten myself into? Sure I’ve taught workshops and this blog is definitely a teaching device, but an entire semester, two-hour classes, grading? I’m nervous.

So to help ease my concerns, introduce myself to academic teaching, and write a syllabus—which, if you’ve never done it, is really, really hard—I took a two-class, five-hour workshop on Effective Teaching, because besides being a teacher I’m a regular workshop presenter, and I think we can all benefit from honing our craft from time to time.

The workshop was fascinating and I learned a number of teaching devices that I’m going to incorporate into my own class as well as into some of the workshops I do at writers' conferences. And since I know many of you give your own workshops and presentations, I thought I’d pass along some of what I’ve learned. Here are six quick tips to think about when giving a workshop, teaching a class, or speaking in front of a group.

  1. Use writing as a tool. When asking a question of the class, don’t just throw the question out there. Instead, give your students time to process and think about what you're asking. For example, have everyone begin by writing down three things they are hoping to get out of the class. Give them about five minutes to make the list and then open the room up for discussion by asking if anyone is willing to share some of the thoughts they had. You would be surprised at how giving people the time to think allows them the freedom to answer. It allows those people who don’t think well on the spot time to process and others who are shy time to come out of their shells.
  2. The three-second rule. Some of you may have heard of this, but it was brilliantly new to me. When asking a question of the class, slowly count to three before moving on to answer it yourself. It’s amazing. In my class I would watch the instructors stand there, counting in their heads, and just as they were about to move on someone would raise a hand, and then someone else, and before long you had a lively discussion.
  3. If possible sit with the group and even in a circle. Teaching is not preaching and can be so much more effective if you are able to sit together and look at each other. Obviously this might be tricky in a room with 300 people, but very effective in a small group. I know that I for one try to avoid standing behind a podium if possible. I much prefer to get out in front of the table or podium and wander the room a little.
  4. Allow the students to direct the class, in theory. Each class should have a syllabus or some guideline as to what students should expect, but teachers themselves need to be more flexible. We need to let the style of learning be guided somewhat by the class. If, for example, I was expecting to teach “marketing your book” to a group of published writers and walk in to discover that only five percent of the students are published, I’m probably going to need to adjust my plan in some ways.
  5. Get people moving and talking right from the start. The sooner you can get your students talking and interacting with you and with each other the livelier and more active they are apt to be throughout the class.
  6. Students as teachers. Students can learn as much from each other as they can from you. Don’t be afraid to make room for group discussions and don’t be afraid to ask your students to get up and mingle and share their own thoughts on what others are doing.


I’m looking forward to incorporating what I’ve learned into future workshops and of course into my class, which by the way is titled "How to Get Your Book Published." And for those of you in the area who are interested, I believe you can register or learn more at the NYU Continuing Education website.


Jessica

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

I Finished!

Back in July I did a post on Resistant Reading, those books that you’ve been carrying around with you for months but for some reason can never get yourself to read. It seems like I always have one of those books. Typically a book that everyone else loves and you hear about constantly, but for many reasons just can’t get yourself to read beyond the first few pages. Well, I did it! It took me nearly four months, but I finally read that book, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

In July’s post I promised that it would be the next book I read and it was, sort of. Typically it doesn’t take me four months to finish any book, so why did I take so long? I did pick up Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir as soon as I was finished with the book I was reading at that time, but I also picked up at least one other book and at least five client manuscripts as well as a large handful of submissions. In other words, other things continued to get in the way, and for me that’s always a bad sign. Anytime I can put down a book and not immediately feel the need to rush back to it, it’s a bad sign. In fact, I’m not so sure I would have finished this book if I hadn’t made such a public promise to do so.

So what were my thoughts? I liked it on a global level. I really liked her voice. I found her charming and relatable and liked her writing style immensely. The story was at times nice and interesting, but it dragged at other times for me. Sometimes I wanted the whining to end and at other times I really wanted to learn more about other people besides the author. I know, this is a memoir and so it’s about the author, but even in a memoir we want to get a glimpse of the rest of the world. And there were definitely times the story really dragged for me. There weren’t really any parts that stood out to me as amazing, and while it was fascinating to literally watch her change on the page, you could even feel the changes through her writing, it wasn’t enough to make me fall in love. My final verdict is that this is a book that I think is worthy of its bestseller status, it’s just not a book I will spend weeks and months thinking about and smiling over.

Now it’s your turn. Did you finish that book you’ve been promising yourself you’d get to, and what did you think?

Jessica

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Advent of the Kindle

I’ve finally jumped on the bandwagon and got myself a Kindle. Yippee! Since every other agent has already extolled its virtues, I think I’ll skip that for now and just tell you that it’s great. I wonder though how much I’ll use it for pleasure reading rather than submissions and client manuscripts. After all, I do get a lot of books for free.

However, getting the Kindle as well as some recent blog exchanges has made me think of the necessity of revised submission guidelines, and I suspect this isn’t just the case for BookEnds, but would probably be true for all agents across the board.

In the old days of paper and snail mail authors would typically create separate files for each document. If you had a request for a full manuscript you could open that file and print it out. If it was a request for a partial and synopsis you could open each of those files and print each out, clip them together and send them along. Now though, more and more people are asking for submissions to be emailed. So how can you ensure that your submission gets there in one piece and is all safely attached to your letter. In other words, how can you make it easy on the agent and, at the same time, make sure that you’re still getting a reply?

My advice is this (and we will be posting this on our Web site too): emailed submissions should always be sent as an attachment, preferably Microsoft Word (since that’s probably the most universally used program) in one file. And, to be extra safe, I would suggest including your letter along with the attachment. In other words, write a letter in the body of the email reminding the agent that the material was requested and that you’ve attached it. Then include the same letter (and as I’ve said numerous times before, this letter should be similar to your first query in that it also gives a blurb). Think of it as your reminder to the agent of what the book is and what made her get so excited about it in the first place. And for those who want exact rules I would say letter first (including all contact information), chapters or manuscript second, and synopsis last. One file.

I know some of this seems redundant and annoying to you, and I fully understand. However, I also know that even before the Kindle I would often print the material out and there was nothing worse than printing out a partial only to turn to it later to realize that you had no clue who wrote it or how to respond. And, since I’ve been told that our guidelines aren’t completely clear I thought I’d make them more clear.

Jessica

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Unlikable Characters

I’ve received a number of questions from readers upset because of rumors they are hearing about editors automatically rejecting books because they feel the protagonist is unlikable, and frankly, I’m not sure why that’s such a surprise to people. Have you read any Amazon reviews lately? Readers do the same thing; if they find a protagonist too unlikable, they will stop reading. What I find most interesting about these questions is the instant link writers make between unlikable and flawed, and the assumption that because your character is flawed she is instantly unlikable and the only way to make her likable is to make her perfect. Far from it. Flawed characters are wonderful, wonderful things and flaws are what helps make a character real to the readers.

Take a look at the characters of some of your favorite books. In all likelihood they are flawed in some way. How many detectives out there are also alcoholics? Cold-hearted urban fantasy heroines? Or heroes who are rakes? These are all flawed characters. The challenge the writer has is to allow the reader to catch glimpses of the reasons we are going to find the protagonist likable and the reasons we want to stick beside him.

I think it’s very possible to create an incredibly flawed character who might not be likable to all in the beginning, but has a character arc throughout the book in which we see him grow and change and we like him more and more. Don’t sell yourselves short as writers and assume it’s the editors who are the fools. If you are creating a series it’s especially important that your readers like the characters enough to want to come back and read more about them, and while we might not love them in the beginning we do need to find them likable. This is what it means to create well-rounded, multidimensional characters.

Jessica

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Monday, November 10, 2008

"How I Plot" by Sharon Page

Sharon Page
Hot Silk
Publisher: Kensington Aphrodisia
Pub date: October 2008
Agent: Jessica Faust




(Click to Buy)



Author Web site: www.SharonPage.com


My RWA chapter held a conference at the end of September, and while heading out to a local pub to meet one of our editor guests, I passed a bookstore with outdoor displays of books on sale. Of course, I couldn’t resist, and I picked up Janet Evanovich’s How I Write. That sparked the idea for my blog entry, “How I Plot.”

For the conference, I was asked to give a workshop on plotting. When I sat down to figure out what I did, I discovered a surprising fact. I’ve written nine books—eight erotic romances for Ellora’s Cave and Kensington Publishing, and one sensual historical for Dell (The Club—my February 2009 market debut). But I had not plotted any two books the same way.

Everyone wants to know the “secrets” of writing, so here are my 3 secrets of plotting:

1) Ask questions and answer them. Be like a three-year-old, who keeps asking “why?” The answer can never be “because,” and the answer should be from your character’s perspective, never the author’s.

2) Plots should be entertaining. There are supposed to be only a handful of basic plots. What makes a book an enthralling read is how the author tells the story. Example: the animated movie Ratatouille. Remy, the hero rat, must follow his dream to be a top chef in Paris, defying his father’s demands that Remy stay with the family and keep away from humans. A hero learning to defy family expectations and follow his dreams is a common plot, but it’s never been told through the eyes of a rat with a gift for cooking.

3) Plotting needs a “quiver of arrows” approach.

What does point 3 mean? When I was unpublished, I thought I would learn the “right way” to plot, and that would be it—that is, I’d plot each book the same way. I took ski lessons from an instructor who described acquiring skiing skills as having a quiver of arrows. You draw out the appropriate arrow for the situation you encounter—powder snow, ice, etc. I realized I used a “quiver of arrows” approach to plotting. So what’s in my quiver?

I start with the Concept—that is, I define what the book is about. I’m writing romance, so I think of concept in terms of hero, heroine, and the narrative drive. Here is an example of a WIP of mine: a proud, embittered duke and a feisty, flamboyant Vauxhall performer battle over an orphaned baby. With your characters, think of their internal conflicts and what is holding them back from finding love or happiness in life. Narrative drive is the external event that propels the story. For suspense it is “hero and heroine must catch the killer before the killer gets them.” In a paranormal romance, it could be “hero and heroine must destroy the demon before the demon destroys the world.”

Then I write the last line first. From a workshop by the Harlequin author Molly O’Keefe, I got the concept that the entire book hurtles toward the last line. By writing the last line first, I would get the “theme” or message for my book. Here’s an example: “But happiness waited for them both here. Here—where they had found home.” This story will be about a couple not only falling in love, but also finding out where they belong in the world.

This is the point where I write a synopsis, which is a summary of the book. A synopsis introduces your characters, their goals, motivations, and conflicts, and shows the progression of the book to the end. If you really hate writing a synopsis, here is where you can use other techniques. You can post plot points on a board or make outlines based on different plotting methods, such as the turning-point method (a book is divided into 3 or 4 "acts," each separated by a plot turning point), or the Hero’s Journey. The key for me at this point is to lay out the plot from beginning to end. I like the synopsis because it allows me to show the emotional impact on the characters of each point in the plot.

Now that I’ve done the beginning steps, I go to my second phase, which I call “The Layers of the Ogre—Refining the Plot.” (This is from the line in the movie Shrek, where Shrek points out that ogres are like onions, they’ve got layers—a reminder that inventive plots come from character.) For me this is a four-step process.

I make a list of all the narrative drives to the story. I look at the drives for the external plot, the internal plot, and the subplots. At this stage, I write down as many necessary points to take each plot from beginning to end as I can think of. For a paranormal romance, these narratives drives could include: “Heroine discovers what she really is,” “The hero overcomes grief/guilt to find the freedom to reject science,” “Defeating the demon.”

At some point I need to divide my plot, which now consists of an overall snapshot of the story (the synopsis) and a list of narrative drives, into chapters. Here I do a brief chapter by chapter outline.

Since I am writing romance and have mysteries in my stories, I also have two special extra steps. I found I needed mystery techniques to shortcut the information I required for a “who-dunnit” mystery. These include making “Suspect” and “Victim” spreadsheets. On these I have the headings “Character Name and Archetype,” “Relationship to Victim,” “Apparent Motive,” “Hidden Motive,” “Clues.” I like to put character archetypes for my suspects to quickly define them in my head. For Sin, a National Readers’ Choice Award winner, these included Arrogant Duke, Brooding Poet, Dandy, Tortured Lord.

I like to develop the sexual plot of my books. Whether I am writing erotic or more mainstream romance, I need to plan why the sex scenes are there and how they move the external plot and the growth of the characters. The sexual plot is a journey of itself—a journey of intimacy and emotion.

As I said, I haven’t plotted any two books the same way. For Hot Silk, my latest book and the last in the Rodesson’s Daughters trilogy, I used only a long synopsis. For Sin, the first book, I used a long synopsis, a short selling synopsis, mystery spreadsheets, and much on-the-fly outlining. So, while I always thought there was only one approach to plotting that would work for me, I learned that I need to use different techniques. Different stories will demand that you plot different ways.

For more information on Hot Silk (published by Kensington Aphrodisia) and my other books, please check out my Web site at www.SharonPage.com.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Gina Robinson on Voice and Style

Gina Robinson
Spy Candy
Publisher: Kensington Zebra
Pub date: November 2008
Agent: Kim Lionetti




(Click to Buy)


Author Web site: www.ginarobinson.com


Are You Who You Think You Are?

It took me a long time to sell and I’m not shy about admitting it. I hope my story encourages other writers to keep going. Lately I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what I think finally propelled me over that big barbed-wire fence into the land of the published. Everyone wants to know my secret. They weren’t really satisfied with vague answers like perseverance, luck, and timing finally all aligning. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the answer—I found out who I am as a writer. I found my voice. And who I am as a writer is not who I thought I was at all.

Pretty much since I first gained consciousness of myself as a separate entity from my mother, I’ve thought I was a serious-minded woman. So when I first began writing, I was oh so serious. About four years into my struggle to get published, I wrote what I called a silly little proposal. I was embarrassed to show it to my critique group. But they loved it. It made them laugh.

I’m not a comedienne. I can’t tell a joke to save my life. That must have been a fluke. So I went back to the straight stuff, no humor allowed. Years later, I wrote another light, humorous book. And guess what? It’s my debut novel, Spy Candy. It still amazes me that people find it funny. Because I’m not funny. At least, I don’t think of myself that way.

Sure, I make up silly dances. But that’s just to cover the fact I can’t dance. And I sing silly songs to my kids, but that’s mostly because I can never remember any real lyrics. And I make up words and crazy names for things. And I write in a humorous tone. You see where I’m going here?

So write down who you think you are. Then listen to what people say about your writing. Write down what they tell you they connect with. Does it match what you think your strengths are? When writing, try to play to those strengths you didn’t realize you had. Your writing will be stronger, I guarantee you.

And now, will the writer out there who was the class clown and could be a stand-up comic, but whose strength is writing serious give me a call? We need to talk. I think our writing personalities were switched at birth.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Over-the-Top BookEnds Marketing Strategies

At the request of a reader I’ve asked BookEnds clients to give us some of their most over-the-top marketing strategies. Here’s what some of them said . . .

Setting up a MySpace page has been a huge surprise—it’s free and takes very little time to keep current. I’ve gotten lots of new readers who “friended” me, not necessarily because they’re readers but because they like wolves, and the title of my series is Wolf Tales. They’ve gone on to buy my entire series and even post my book trailers on their own MySpace sites. Plus, they appear more comfortable contacting me through the private message link on MySpace than they might through regular email. I like the direct connection it allows me with readers.
—Kate Douglas, author of Wolf Tales

*

I write about a gang of Harley-riding biker witches, and of course did a lot of research with real-life bikers. I had a signing coming up at Barnes & Noble and invited them along. A few of them showed up and parked their huge hogs right next to the "Angie Fox: here today" sign. I did the scheduled reading from The Accidental Demon Slayer, and then sat back and had a blast telling stories with my real-life research buddies. Readers loved it—so much so that we ended up selling out of The Accidental Demon Slayer.
—Angie Fox, author of The Accidental Demon Slayer

*

For my recently released historical romance, The Dangerous Duke, I kidnapped my characters and forced them to do promotional work for me. Lady Kate and Max have a blog: http://dangerousdiary.blogspot.com and they have appeared as guests on blogs such as Romance Bandits and Jennifer's Random Musings.
—Christine Wells, author of The Dangerous Duke

*

To "prove" that my books are entertaining, I entertain crowds by holding "How To Plot A Murder" talks. These are audience-participation events and are hilarious and lighthearted, mini-mysteries that can be done with a dozen people or with hundreds. I tailor the script to the group and bring all the props. The audience does the rest. The idea is to generate a buzz—not just the night of the event, but for days or weeks afterward. I'm going for word-of-mouth sales with these talks and I find them ten times more effective than bookstore signings.
—J. B. Stanley, author of Stiffs and Swine: A Supper Club Mystery

*

To play up our Renaissance Faire themed mystery, we are visiting Renaissance fairs and festivals this fall. We have Renaissance clothing and even created a banner with the cover art that can be displayed at the festivals because it's made of cloth. We made up a simple game we can play with would-be book buyers at the festivals that incorporates elements of the story.
—Joyce and Jim Lavene, Wicked Weaves

*

Whenever I do a book signing, I make sure that I have one-page handouts that include a cover of the book, a BRIEF synopsis, three key points about the book, an author photo and BRIEF bio. On the back side, I cut and paste reviews from Amazon and any media quotes. I hand out the flyers to EVERYONE who walks through the door and begin talking up my book, or, if they seem disinterested (or alarmed) I give them a flyer and let them know I’m available for questions and to talk more about the book when they’re ready. Many circle back around and talk to me and end up buying a book, and some just take the paper home (and perhaps order later on). But a simple handout like this gives me a tool to reach more potential readers; especially as I leave any extras at the register and ask that clerks slip them into the buyers' bags when checking out. I also make a few products from my book and make an eye-catching display: this draws a lot of people over!
—Helen Coronato, author, Eco-Friendly Families

*

I've used Myspace to contact libraries, booksellers, and cozy mystery authors. (I had quite a good response from indy booksellers when I offered bookmarks.) I have a blog that I mirror post on Myspace (splitting it for
either of my author names), and LiveJournal, and I'm part of the group blog Writers Plot. I send out a lot of bookmarks to readers. I have a periodic (electronic) newsletter, and I take on just about every appearance that's offered to me. I've also found a lot of new readers on cozy mystery (Yahoo!) reader lists.
—Lorna Barrett, Murder Is Binding

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Listening to Those Writing Teachers Again

I received this question recently and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It connects beautifully with the recent posts I did on taking writing courses and what to take out of them. Well, I couldn’t have come up with a better example than this. . . .

I am in the final revisions of my manuscript. I took an all-day workshop based on Vogler's book, and I had all the plot points. I was told that my book would not sell. It is women's fiction with strong romantic elements, but the clincher is that my manuscript has a large section where the ghost of the heroine's grandmother launches her into the past to travel down a path not taken. The instructor said that women's fiction would not touch paranormal and vice versa. I am willing to rewrite half the book to expunge the paranormal aspects, finish what I have created, or shelve it and start my second book. Before I make this decision, can you tell me if I was given the correct information?

Ha! I’m dying to know what experience your instructor has in today’s market and how many women’s fiction editors he/she speaks to on a regular basis. And, I’d also be curious to know if your instructor has ever read The Lovely Bones. What is amazing about this question is that just about a month ago I was talking with an editor who was seeking women’s fiction with paranormal elements and proceeded to send me a stack of books that illustrated her point.

So, if the instructor was happy with your book overall and has no current experience in the publishing market (in other words, she’s not an editor or an agent), I would take their advice on what sells with a grain of salt. The truth here, folks, is the only way to really know what the market wants is to give it a shot. Part of getting published is to take a leap of faith and hope that someone else loves your book as much as you do.

Jessica

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

When Reading Submissions . . .

As many faithful readers know by now, BookEnds strongly believes in paying it forward. For years now we have “hired” interns to work with us throughout the course of the year (and I use the term “hired” loosely since they work for nothing more than free books). One of the reasons I subscribe so strongly to the power of internships is because I truly believe it was the work I did outside of my college coursework that got me to where I am today. My first job offer had nothing to do with the journalism classes I took and everything to do with the many internships I had and the years I worked on the student paper.

Well, one of the things I am most surprised about in having interns is how much of a learning experience it has been for me. I feel bad for those first interns who graced our offices. I didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted and didn’t always communicate my needs well. I think I’ve grown though and learned. One of the things I’ve learned is that an internship should include much more than simply reading submissions. While that is a huge part of what we want an intern for, I really need them to not get bored either. So they get to do fun things like filing, and list making, and whatever grunge work I can come up with.

The purpose of this post though is to discuss reading submissions. How do you teach someone in a very short amount of time to give you a reader’s report that will be beneficial? After close to ten interns, and a very productive lunch with an editor where we talked about interns, I came up with guidelines for how to write a reader’s report that I hope are helpful. And, because I thought you might be interested to see what we look for when reading your submission, I thought I’d share them with you.


Tips and Guidelines for Reader’s Reports

The purpose of a reader’s report (whether for a publishing house or literary agency) is to help the editor or an agent to evaluate whether or not a project is something that might be worth publishing, representing, considering, or even reading. When we ask you to do a report we are asking for honest feedback. We want to know your thoughts, all of them, on the book.

While reading you’ll want to take note of the voice, the characters, the setting, the platform (for NF), the market viability, and whether or not the story intrigues you. It might not be something you’d normally read, but in this business you’ll need to learn how to evaluate a variety of books.

When writing up the report, use a format that works for you. The important thing is that it has a summary of the proposal (in your own words, not taken from the synopsis) and your comments, and that it is legible. At the top there should be a heading like this:

Title of Book
By Author’s Name
Reader Report by Your Name
Date

From there, do what works for you, and if something needs to be changed, you will be told.

Give a brief summary or synopsis of the book as well as your impressions. Some questions to consider when writing include:

  • What was the book about?
  • Did the overall idea seem different and unique?
  • Was it a common theme, but executed in a unique way?
  • What did you think of the author’s voice?
  • Did the characters seem real and likable?
  • Was the plot seamless and did it make sense or were there a lot of holes?
  • Did the multiple plotlines blend together to create a whole book or did they seem choppy and disconnected?
  • Did the dialogue seem real and believable or did it feel forced?
  • Were you able to easily figure out what happened or did the author keep you guessing?
  • Is this a book that would seem to have viability in the market?
  • Are there other popular books you could relate this to?
  • Are there too many similar books to make this stand out?
  • What is the author’s platform? If nonfiction, is this an author with a great deal of visibility in the market (TV, radio, speaking engagements, etc.)?
  • Has the author been previously published? With whom?
  • How was the writing? Did the writing feel professional, like you were reading a published book, or amateurish?

When writing the report be specific about why you did or didn’t like what you read as well as what you did and didn’t like, and don’t be kind. In other words, we want the honest and blunt truth (the author will not see this). Occasionally you may have trouble discerning why exactly you just weren’t excited about the read, but do your best to ferret out the reason. Warning: be careful that your report is objective and not too personal. Being uncomfortable with the level of sexuality in an erotic romance, for example, is not telling me whether or not the book is publishable.

And make a recommendation. Would you suggest that the agent read the material herself because you found it that good or do you think it’s not as good as the books we already have on our shelves? Would you recommend that the agent is going to want to read the entire manuscript? Do you want to read the entire manuscript? One thing to consider when making this decision is whether or not you’d be able to sit in our office meeting and comfortably and excitedly recommend to all of us that we read more of this book.

When finished, write up (type, preferably) your report, attach it to the proposal, and return to the agent for her review.

Jessica

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Coauthor Agreements

I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve seen some really amazing relationships go downhill fast the minute money is involved. I’ve mediated between authors, I’ve been bullied and seen coauthors bullied, and I’ve seen many relationships ruined. So before you go one step further with your coauthor, before you write another word, you need to establish some kind of an agreement between you and your writing partner.

This is a subject I’ve been meaning to write about for quite some time, but because it actually takes a lot of work on my part I procrastinated. Sound familiar? How many of you are working with a coauthor, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, and thought briefly about the necessity of a coauthor agreement but procrastinated simply because it would take research and work or maybe even a lawyer? Well, I’m here to tell you right now, this very minute, sit down and get something on paper. You don’t need a lawyer to do it, you simply need wording you can both agree to.

Typically a publisher’s contract is either going to be a 50-50 split between two authors or it’s going to be a contract between the publisher and just one author, leaving the other author to rely solely on a coauthor agreement (the latter is most likely with nonfiction). In other words, don’t wait for or rely on the publisher’s contract to spell out what you’ll need to do when writing the book. For example, do you know whose name will go first on the book or what name you’ll be writing under? Do you know who is responsible for supplying what material? Do you know what deadlines you’ll be working under?

Every coauthor agreement is different and should be different. What I recently told a client when asked what was fair was, “If your agreement is comfortable for both of you, it’s fair.” And I stand by that. A coauthor agreement shouldn’t be a battle of wills, it should simply be a clear delineation of responsibilities and a level of comfort for both of you. However, that being said, here are some things that should definitely be spelled out in the agreement:

  • Due dates. What are your dates for delivery? If you are both signing the publisher’s contract, but will need to have material to each other on certain dates for editing and comparison, that should be spelled out in the agreement. If one of you is acting as an editor while the other is doing the bulk of the writing, you definitely need due dates in writing. What happens if one author does not meet the dates or if the work is deemed unacceptable by the publisher? Can the remaining coauthor fire the first and hire a new coauthor? What happens to the material written by the fired author? What about payment? Who gets payment if the work is unacceptable? Who is responsible for repaying the publisher if the contract is canceled for unacceptable work?
  • Publication Rights. Who has right to the material? Under whose name is the copyright? Who “owns” the material? Does one author have final decision-making responsibility or are all decisions equal between the co-authors?
  • Advances and Royalties. How will these be divided? Who is responsible for any agency fees or commissions? How will advances and royalties be paid?
  • Disagreements. What happens if things can’t be resolved between the coauthors? Does one’s opinion override the other? Does an agent or editor override both authors? Will this go to court? If so, where?
And then of course you need to finally decide what you both need and expect from a project like this. What agents and editors do you want to submit to? Who is responsible for submissions? Who writes the query letter? How are revisions handled? What happens if one of you wants to write a project on your own? Are you beholden to the other in any way? Is there a noncompete between the work you write on your own and the work you write with your coauthor? In other words, can you use the same characters in your solo project as you do in your coauthored project? What about the same subject matter, hook, or genre? What are your limitations?

A coauthor relationship should be harmonious and fun, but the truth is, when money is involved, anything can happen. Be prepared ahead of time and write an agreement that will make you both comfortable. To me it’s like insurance: hopefully you’ll never need it, but it’s certainly nice to have.

Jessica

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