Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holiday Critiques #6

Happy New Year's Eve! I hope everyone has been able to take some time off and enjoy a holiday vacation. I know I'm happy to report that I've enjoyed vacation and been very productive at the same time.


Here's yet another critique and here's your link to the original post. Don't hesitate to make your own comments on the pitches I've chosen. I've been pleased and impressed with what some of you have had to say.

Terri said...
If Halli Montgomery hadn’t disobeyed her father, she wouldn’t be dangling from a cross a decade later. But running out of time had her taking chances. If she didn’t get down soon, she’d have to wait two years to be free. Not from the rusted nail that had her bound but from the curse that left her unable to love.
This is an example of a pitch that is potentially intriguing, but in the end far too vague. You hint at a lot of information like her father, the cross, time running out, but give us nothing concrete on what this all means. I think we need to know why she's hanging on the cross and what happens when time is running out. More importantly though I have no sense from this pitch whether this book is contemporary, historical, paranormal or futuristic. I can figure from her name that it's not historical and probably not fantasy, but is it contemporary or paranormal? 

Heidi said...
Some Kind of Normal (literary fiction)

All that stands between her daughter’s life and death is a tenth grade education, a zealous group of Baptist ladies, and 1.8 million Google hits.

Babs’ days, once full of grit-making and house-cleaning, just got a lot harder. Her husband’s growing away from her, her son is suddenly sporting a rainbow colored Mohawk, and her twelve-year-old daughter is on the brink of death. After Ashley faints and seizes in front of her, Babs embarks on a seemingly impossible journey: establishing some kind of normal life around her daughter’s volatile diabetes while not losing her husband, son, and overbearing but well-meaning friends in the process.

But when Ashley develops a rare allergy to insulin – the only medicine that can keep her alive – Babs has to overcome her high-school-drop-out education to find a cure the doctors say isn’t there. In a frantic rush against the clock and Ashley’s quickly dwindling days, Babs turns to the Internet. The answer she discovers is the one no one wants to hear: a risky stem cell operation that pits her against her husband, her faith, and the conservative church that’s been their biggest support.
This is one instance where at first glance this pitch is far too long. This is almost a full page. It seems to me that you have a lot of repetition here. Your second paragraph is really just an introductory version of what your first and third paragraphs are. You need to get to the heart of the story faster. I like your opening paragraph. This is clearly a tagline and not a pitch, but does grab the reader's attention. I don't know that it's necessary, but it does work. And then the heart of the pitch is really the third paragraph. "When Bab's teenage daughter Ashley develops...." That's your book and your hook. What is really, in my estimation, going to grab an agent's attention is your last sentence. That's the conflict and the heart of your story.

Sherrah said...
Some things you can never forget: the touch of your mother's hand on your hair, the smell of your father's hug, your first kiss. The time you tried to fly and everyone mistook it for a suicide attempt, or trying to walk on water and nearly drowning. The day you found out your little brother is dying. Some things stay imprinted on your memory forever - the day your life changed.

Riley Kimball's life has changed. Her twelve year old brother has leukemia and is dying.

Water Walker is a story about family and self-discovery. It is the story of Riley Kimball's freshman year of high school, of her struggle to understand what is happening to her brother and to rediscover a sense of normalcy in her life. As her friendships crumble, her brother's health continues to decline. But even in the darkness that surrounds her, Riley finds hope and strength in unexpected places: a renewed relationship with her older sister, the encouraging words of a jock football coach, the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and most unexpectedly, from within herself.

What's interesting here is that you have an overly long pitch that really tells me nothing and I think that should really show people that more words don't mean a better or stronger pitch. The only line that works is the second paragraph. It's the lead in to what's really going on. From your first paragraph I would gather that this is a paranormal or YA Fantasy about a girl learning to harness her powers, but then we get farther in, it really seems to be about a girl who is struggling with the eventual death of her brother. In other words, what is this book really about? Avoid the line, "Water Walker is the story about family and self-discovery." That says absolutely nothing. I would say 90% of all young adult books are about self-discovery. No one buys a book because it's about family. They buy a book for plot and character. Get specific here. What about her brother dying is changing her life forever? What exactly is happening in this book?

Linda Hall said...
Nephilim, an ancient Biblical race. Children born of the union between the Fallen Ones and the Daughters of Man.

Pandora, half-demon, half-human; born to be bad, but desperate to be good. Possessed by the demoness Lust, she lives in a world of shadow and light and walks the gray in between. For thousands of years she did as she wanted, killed as she wanted; indulged herself in every carnal whim. But now Pandora wants to find some meaning in her life. Problem is even when she tries to be good evil finds her anyway. Vamps have overtaken the city, children are missing and an ancient god has come to life.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, she also has a Grimoran on her tail. Very little is known of the Grimoran, other than their sole purpose in life is to seek out the Nephilim and destroy them. And now one has tagged her. Named Billy, he’s all that’s dangerous, dark, and deadly and arouses every wicked instinct inside her. And yet whenever he has the chance to kill her, he doesn’t. Can she trust him? Her body and heart say yes, but something evil this way comes. Who can she trust? Or is it already too late?
This is another example of a pitch that has an awful lot of words, but doesn't say much at all. You are telling me who Pandora is and what is happening to her, but I really don't get a sense of what this book is about. Is the entire book simply about her searching for meaning in her life while being chased by Billy? Because that sounds a little on the boring side to me. I need more specifics on what is going on. Why she's being chased and what happens during the chase. I also need a better sense, through the story, of what makes this book different from others because it really doesn't stand out to me.

Ella said...
Nicholas is a hard-ass angel with one weakness, Noelle Spencer, who has been his charge since her birth. He’ll fight to the death to keep her safe from the demon world. He has more at stake than fighting demons when he learns the woman he loves has the blood of the Deities running through her veins. Divine blood the rogue demons want to infuse into their next generation of demons. Now Nicholas must face the ultimate test, as legions of demons want to claim her as their queen. If he fails, not only will he lose Noelle, but the balance between angels and demons—good vs. evil—will be turned upside down, ending in disaster.
I think you have a lot of potential here, but it just doesn't have the oomph it needs to stand out. I like the idea of the hard-ass angel, but show us a little more how he's so tough. And I like the idea that she is now wanted by the demons, but I think we need a lot more detail on what exactly is going on and, again, how this book stands out from all other paranormal romances. I love the use of claiming her as the queen. I think that's such a good hook it makes me think your title should be something like The Demon Queen. Now we need to know a little about how she plays into this and whether she knows that Nicholas is her angel. "As a tough guardian angel, Nicholas has one job and that's to protect Noelle Spencer, a no-nonesense human with no knowledge of his existence. That is until it's discovered that Noelle is no normal woman, she has the blood of the Deities running through her and the demons (explain who they are) see her as their queen..."

Have a safe New Year!

--jessica

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holiday Critiques #5

Back again...


Here's your link to the post that started it all, the final pitch critiques of 2008. If you're new to the site you might want to read that post so you have a sense of what's going on. For those who have already been following along, let's just get started.

Katherine E. Hazen said...

Lily Gardner is a freak; dyed hair, combat boots, super powers, and all. When she loses control of her powers during a meltdown at the mall the Great Lakes School for Exceptional Young People comes calling. GLS is secretly a haven for the supernatural. What Lily finds there is very little acceptance and a whole lot of rivalry. Her life has never been normal, but now it's complicated by super-powered cat fights; Vincent, her best friend who has complete access to her mind; and a crush on her classmate Reid, the hottest werewolf in school. In a place where everybody else is striving to stand out, Lily just wants to fit in.
My assumption is that this is YA which, if it is, is a great thing. It means that you've gotten across through a pitch, without telling me directly, who the audience for your book is. Watch your second sentence, it's definitely a run-on and difficult to read. I believe you need a comma in there. You might want to make the super powers stand out a little more in the first sentence by saying something like, "People think Lily Gardner is a freak because of her dyed hair and combat boots, what they don't realize is that what really makes her freaky are the super powers she can't seem to control.  When she loses control during a breakdown at the mall it's the Great Lakes School for Exceptional Young People who come calling and make her realize maybe she isn't as freaky as she thought." Other then those small things which I think tighten and exciten (yes I made that up) things up a bit, this pitch is really great and the book sounds fabulous.

Minnie said...
Cooper Wilson's life is in the tank. Not only is he the shortest kid in 8th grade, he's also the smartest. He's dying to play for the varsity basketball team, but the ones who want him belong to the math team. Throw in the fact that him mom is beginning to sub at his school, "so they can stay close," and you've just begun to peek inside Cooper's misery.
Before going into my critique I should clarify that this is far outside of my realm. YA I can do, but middle grade is a little tougher for me. I think that as a pitch this is strong and so is your writing. My concern would be that the book itself doesn't sound that different to me then the books I read as a child, which could be a problem. The hook seems rather blase, and not that different. Great pitch though.

Robena Grant said...
Gone Tropical follows the journey of two Americans through the rainforest at the northern-most tip of Australia. Written in the vein of Romancing the Stone, it asks the story question: "What if a psychologist--determined to find her ex-husband who embezzled millions from her estranged father's business--pits her wits against the skill of a solitary skip-tracer hired by her father, and finds instead that joining forces in the adventure means more than revenge?"

Gone Tropical is a completed 90,000word romantic adventure.
You are telling and not showing here and you've taken what I assume has the potential to be a very fun book and turned it into a very boring pitch. Your main focus here seems to be on the setting when, especially if you're calling this an adventure, it should be on the adventure. I also really, really implore you all to avoid questions as much as possible. A question doesn't tell you anything about a book. Let's put it his way, if a friend was telling you about a book she just read and loved and wanted to get you to read it would it work for you if she said, "Imagine a little boy living under the stairs who suddenly gets to go to wizard school?" Would that really work? I think you're much better off saying something like, "When Rosemary Van Rose learns that her ex-husband has embezzled millions..."

Lehcarjt said...
Nicole Devaney has a relaxation problem – as in she can’t. Not when she’s the only Keener Hotel Group employee who knows someone is using the Keener/Devaney family-run business for kickbacks and blackmail. Not when logic says that the person is her beloved stepfather, George Keener. Not when a quick hunt through his office ups the likelihood of his guilt and gets her caught by a curious, but helpful, knight dressed for battle (Italian wool suit – jacket missing and shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows). Jed Pruitt hasn’t arrived to solve Nicole’s problems, but to ‘clean up’ the financially floundering hotel company. He doesn’t realize his business partner landed the consulting job by offering a kickback to George Keener.

Fall a Little Farther is a 100,000 word romantic comedy about an intense, perfectionistic, and slightly klutzy accountant who must save her step-father, the hotel company, and the consultants from first - the Yakuza (mafia of Japan) and second - each other (which proves to be the more difficult). Relaxation is out of the question.
I really, really like this opening paragraph. I think your voice comes through beautifully and I love that first line, it made me smile. Watch the use of Keener Group, Keener/Devaney, I'm not sure both of them are necessary in the pitch and it bogs things down. When reading a pitch I want to be able to read quickly and easily without being slowed down. This slowed me down. I think it would be enough to say Keener Hotel Group and later just family run business. This is an example where two paragraphs work. The first paragraph is clearly the pitch paragraph, the second is just a wrap-up and explains the title, genre, etc and gives a tag line. This paragraph could be done either before or after the pitch. I think you did a great job here.

JT said...
Don Amberly is Bloodborn, destined to become a vampire. Running isn’t a choice and the local werewolf pack refuses to grant protection, so he does the only thing left to avoid his fate, he hunts those who would have him undead.
I like this. I think it's a smooth, clean pitch. I am however concerned that it doesn't say quite enough. Vampires are a tough sell these days and because of that you really do need to sell your story on it's own. I think this is a good start, but I'd like to know a little bit more about his hunting of the undead and how this book differs from other similar books.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Holiday Critique #4

I'm back with more critiques and I was amazed this morning when I opened the original post to see that there are 256 comments. Wow! Now, I realize not all of them are pitches to be critiqued, but that is certainly a little daunting and I definitely know I won't be getting to all of them over the next week or so. I will of course do my best to give as many critiques as I can and thank you to those who have said kind words and seem to be learning from this. I do believe, or at least hope, that whether I get to your critique or not that everyone can learn something from what I'm doing.


One thing to keep in mind is that while a pitch is critically important, some people may learn from the critique that your story, not just your pitch, needs work. If my concern is that the pitch seems slow or not different enough you might need to consider whether it's the pitch or the book.

If you're new to the blog I ask that you read the original post first so that you have a feel for what's going on here and then hop right in. We look forward to hearing from you. I also look forward to hearing from readers your thoughts on some of the critiques I'm pitching. All readers have different ideas, just like all agents, and it never hurts to hear from everyone.

So here we go...

Kyle Smith said...
Propositioned by a Playboy model, hit by a car, mugged, and arrested for the murder of a man he's never met, it's safe to say that Brian Green has never had a crazier day in his life.

It's about to get even weirder. A man calling himself Jack O'Lantern, with a smile to match the name, magically heals Brian's injuries and gets him out of police custody with a few words. The price tag? Simply the promise of a favor returned. But what could Brian possibly do for a man like that?
My question to you is what is this story really about? Is it one weird night or is it what Brian is going to need to do for Jack, because I'm not sure one weird night will do it, it doesn't seem different enough for a book. Jack however seems intriguing and like he's probably the hook of your story. I think you can skip the first paragraph and instead delve further into Jack and who he is as well as more on what Brian is going to need to do.

Avrild said...
Nina Weaver, a feisty, struggling NYC photographer whose photographs contain intrusive spirit messages, felt bespelled when she met Anthropology Professor Pascal Guzman… and she was right! Though he swore that he’d never unleash the power of the Stag God, Cernunus, locating the woman he once loved from afar overwhelms his self-control. And when Nina’s best friend is shot by men breaking into her apartment to steal her “magic” photos, Pascal convinces her that the answer to the mystery surrounding her work lies in his hometown of Santa Fe. She agrees to head out with him on a sex and danger filled road trip—but what neither one of them knows is that they are at the heart of a power struggle between rival gods, one of them bent on destroying Pascal.
Whew! You've got a lot of material here. My most immediate concern is that it seems you are trying to dump way too much information in here and a lot of it seems unnecessary. For example do we need to know that Nina is feisty or struggling, or even from NYC? What do we really need to know from her in a blurb? What seems to be key, and the only thing that seems important in that first sentence, are the photographs and what she shoots. I'm also very concerned about the exclamation point. I'm not sure it's appropriate here. Are you really exclaiming that entire sentence? And the second sentence has a lot of the same problems. I have no idea where this information is coming from or how it fits in. I think the heart of your pitch is when you get to Nina's best friend. Let's skip the backstory about these two and get right to the book.  In the end though, the biggest problem is that I still have no idea what this book is about.

Sarah Jackson said...
"Maximum Comfort", a Memoir

Raised in a small town as the middle child of six by a Black father and White mother, I couldn’t help but ask myself “Who am I? Where do I belong? What in the hell do I do with my hair?” These questions became urgent when my parents’ relationship exploded after 27 years of marriage. For most of my twenties I wrestled with my life, desperate to pin it down with context and meaning. There were a few excellent moves that made me feel in control for a while; Oprah-style weight loss, cool career in television, my own place in New York City. But it was an intense break-up with a guy so blonde, hot and blue-eyed that he SURFED, that finally forced me to ask myself what I truly wanted from life. Everyone knows the only place you can answer that question is at a Buddhist monastery. So thank God there was one just north of the city. There was no way I was going to India. My hair would be impossible to manage!
A word about memoirs here (and I don't think this necessarily applies to Sarah Jackson's book), memoirs are not the life story of someone from beginning to end. A memoir is a moment in time in a person's life and usually about the growth of a person or a defining moment in her life. Luckily for memoir writers we could have a lot of defining moments. Just ask Augusten Burroughs, a memoir writer could end up with a lot of memoirs. Okay, that being said I do think this pitch shows one moment in your life which is good, unfortunately I think you've buried that one moment at the end of a lot of backstory. It seems to me, unless I'm wrong, that your entire book is really about your experience at a monastery and not about your experience losing weight or growing up. In other words, this is another Eat, Pray, Love. What I need to know then is how this book differs from that one (without you saying, "this differs from that book because...". What makes it special and different and how it will stand out. I do like your sense of humor, it does give a sense of voice and tone and the story does intrigue me, I think it can be a lot stronger though.

Robin D said...
My book, titled WHIRLWIND, is a complete, 90,000 word, first person contemporary romance. It is a single title with sequel possibilities.

Melissa Williams, a practical journalism major, is not prepared when she first locks eyes with visiting med student, Jason McConnell, at her friend’s wedding. She doesn’t believe in love at first sight, and is shocked when she finds herself its unwilling victim.

Jason refuses to let Melissa hide in the background, inviting her to spend the night with him after stunning her with a single, amazing kiss. He isn’t the only man to notice Melissa, however, and as she succumbs to Jason’s pull, she also becomes the target of a killer.

Jason stays to protect Melissa, making no secret of his affection, or his responsibilities thousands of miles away. As the murderer slowly homes in on his target, it seems that Melissa is destined to lose Jason one way or another, ending their whirlwind romance just as it is beginning.
Honestly, I have no idea what this book is. You call it contemporary romance, but there's a killer hunting her so is it really romantic suspense? Either way, your pitch is much too staid and boring. It doesn't read as anything that's different enough and would grab an agent's attention. What makes this book different from all of the other books out there? Especially if you are a debut author a hook is crucially important. The first paragraph doesn't really make much sense. It's about love at first sight and then suddenly she's an unwilling victim. If those two things are in the same sentence then somehow we need to see the connection between the two and I don't. Why does she become the target of a killer? What is happening and why is Jason responsible for protecting her? What does the wedding have to do with any of this other then the fact that they met there?
This is an instance where I wonder if your book has enough oomph or is ready to go out there quite yet.

DebraLSchubert said...
Jenny Sampson’s experience as a rock goddess in the Denver music scene does nothing to prepare her for life as a domestic goddess in the suburbs of Philly. As Jenny and her family settle into a McMansion in the burbs, her country club lifestyle holds many surprises. Like a beautiful assistant DA interested in a threesome, a wealthy heiress who has eyes for Nate, and a rock club owner who falls hard for Jenny. When her longing for stardom resurfaces, will Jenny be forced to choose between the intoxicating world of rock and roll and life as a suburban doctor’s wife, or, is it possible to have it all?

75,000 words; Women's Humor Fiction
I LOVE your first sentence. It made me smile right away and is a fabulous example of the use of subtle humor to show your voice. Immediately I get the sense that this book could be hilarious. I also like the second and third sentences. I think they work nicely. The end though sounds okay, but falls a little flat for me and again, I'm not sure if this is an instance of the book needing more or the pitch needing more. Is her entire challenge making the decision between suburban housewife and rockstar? I think I would like to know more, I would like to see a bigger conflict, because I do think the conflict could be bigger here. As this is written though I do suspect you'll get some great requests from agents. Good work.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Critique #3

Merry Christmas Eve! Before I start to cook the Christmas Feast I had some time to slip in some critiques. What's funny about the reader who criticized me for typos and other grammatical errors is that I did mean to comment on the last post about that. Since I am doing this on my holiday time you can definitely expect to see a typo or two. I'm not taking the time to carefully read over my work as I often do and sadly, I never have an editor for my blog. In fact, my guess is because I tend to write the blog quickly it would be the rare post in which you didn't find a typo. I think that I, like most agents, write our blog posts quickly and somewhat stream of consciously. While the blogs are important to us other things are always more pressing and if we want to keep up the blog sometime we have to ask our readers to slog through grammar and other errors. 


There were a couple of other comments from the previous two posts that I thought I should address as well. One had to do with how I choose the pitches. Again, I have not read any of the pitches other then those I've critiqued. I'm simply scrolling through and picking wherever I stop. I'm trying to pick from the beginning, middle and end. I cannot tell which might be jokes and which might be real in the same way I cannot read queries and assume that someone is just sending it as a joke. Part of my job is to give everyone serious consideration. 

To address confusion about the pitch. A pitch is absolutely the one paragraph in your query letter that sells your book. I am reading all of these as if you've pulled them straight from your queries.

And lastly, there was a reader who seemed upset that I would take the time to do the critiques on the blog when I, or other agents, can't bother to give more then a form letter on full manuscripts. I know that I for one do make every attempt to give a personal letter any time I request a full manuscript and frankly I can't think of a time when I gave a form rejection for a full unless it was sent unsolicited. The blog is a completely separate entity from submissions and I will admit one of the concerns I have about the blog is that people will start to think I spend more time on this then I do with either clients or potential clients which, trust me, I don't. I do still request a lot of partials and can't always give feedback, although I do whenever possible. I think I've addressed this before, but he truth is that sometimes there isn't much to say.

Okay, I think I've addressed most or all of the concerns readers seem to have. I'm going to continue on giving critiques and wishing everyone a Happy Holiday! If you want your pitch considered you will need to post within the original blog post.

Melissa said...

Wil Rainolds is a painter, a father, and a husband. His marriage is crumbling, his son is in rebellion, his daughter is about to run off with a military boy, and even his paintings haven’t been cooperating lately. He could also very well be humankind’s last and only weapon against the monstrous invaders known as the creatures. What is it about Wil’s painting that makes the creatures hate and fear him? Can he save the world and still manage to keep his struggling family together?
Wow, you've squeezed in a lot here and I'm not sure I make the connection between most of it. You need to break it down a little and get to the heart. Do we really need to know the specifics about Wil's family or is it more important that we hear about the creatures?  I would also avoid questions at all cost. Don't ask me what it is about Wil's paintings tell me. "Now it's up to Wil to discover what it is about his paintings that...." I'd also suggest you be careful of some awkward wording, "his son is in rebellion" felt off to me. Would it be better to see he's rebelling against everything? And the daughter and the "military boy" also sounds off. I think it's the use of the term "boy."

Nancy Naigle said...

EXPIRATION DATE - 94k
Romantic Suspense

EXPIRATION DATE is a Nicolas Sparks meets Carla Neggers read. It has the small town moral compass of a Sparks' community, with the race against time and risk of a deadly misstep of a Neggers' story.

Riley Randalls hires Private Investigator Perry Von to prove her soon-to-be-ex is up to no good, only to find she’s in more danger with his help when a paroled serial-killer targets Riley to even the score of his personal vendetta against Von who put him away.
I'm not sure you need your first paragraph. You are telling me what your book is about and while it's okay to name authors you would compare your work too I think it's a risk as well. If I'm not a Nicolas Sparks fan or even worse, if I really hate one of those authors it's going to be tough for you to get me to read beyond that point. Instead why not simply launch into your hook/plot pitch? Which might need a little pumping up. My biggest concern is that if this is romantic suspense it doesn't feel suspenseful enough. Is the book about her hiring the PI or is it about the serial killer? And why would a serial killer target Riley to get to Von? She's just a client? Right there, in one sentence I immediately have concerns about your plot which can happen in a pitch. All too often I'll read one and think that this story doesn't make sense.

H.L. Dyer said...

Maybe if Beatrice Greyson knew someone faked her death as a child, she wouldn't wish so desperately to remember the first decade of her life.

As a young girl, she collapsed in an unfamiliar house in rural Illinois. No one knew where she came from or how she ended up on war widow Thea Greyson's front porch that stormy night. Thirty years later, Beatrice is devastated by the death of the woman who took her in. But her grief turns to a sense of betrayal when she finds the letter from her birth mother that Thea claimed was lost. Leaving everything behind to search for her birth parents, Beatrice follows the railroad tracks across the Midwest. She never imagined the fate suffered by her parents, but there are darker family secrets. Uncovering them will force her to confront a violent murderer. And maybe miss out on the love of her life.
Your opening line is brilliant! Absolutely perfect. Immediately you sucked me in and, if I wasn't in the mood to read further that could be enough for a request. Well done.  I think this is a great pitch. I read this and know clearly that it's women's fiction. I can see how it's one woman's search to find herself in many ways and I can read your voice in this which I like. A couple of words of caution though, because nothing is ever perfect, some of your wording seems awkward. for example, "She never imagined the fate suffered by her parents, but there are darker family secrets." doesn't make sense. I think you could cut out the sentence before that, about her following the railroad tracks. Instead once you mention that she discovers the letter you need to launch into more of what she learns on the journey. Something along the lines of, "On her search for her birth parents, Beatrice learns the awful secret of their death and the family secrets that now haunt her. Worse yet, she is forced to confront the violent murderer who first took her life from her..." or something along those lines.

Okay, that's all I have in me today. I'm excited about some of these and of course want to remind everyone that a pitch critique is not a submission and we at BookEnds look forward to hearing from all of you.

I'm off to cook the roast beast!

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Critiques #2

Thank you everyone for your kind words. Continental did not come through so we're home for Christmas. I'm over pouting though and looking forward to a different holiday then what I had planned, but something magical nonetheless.


Here's the link to the original post. Once January 5 hits I'm done with critiques so if you want to see the other critiques I've done simply follow through from 1-? (we'll see where we end up).

Have a wonderful holiday, whichever you celebrate and on to the critiques...

Melinda Leigh said...
A gutsy, divorced high school teacher and an emotionally adrift Iraqi war hero confront an internet predator - with some unexpected help from the family ghosts.

85,000 Romantic Suspense with light paranormal elements.
And to answer your question Melinda Leigh, yes it's too short. This is a tag line, but not the pitch. Want to know the difference? The tag line often appears as one eye-catching sentence on the cover of a book. The pitch is, more or less, your back cover blurb. the tag line grabs a reader's attention, the pitch is what makes them want more. This is too vague and too soft. You say this is a romantic suspense, yet I don't feel the suspense in the pitch. This should be less about who the characters are, especially since it's a suspense, and more about what is happening, what the suspense is. Who is the predator stalking and what is he doing that makes it suspenseful? How do the ghosts get involved?

Crystal said...
Siren has a perfect family; two adoring parents, and a sister who teases her, as sisters do. Being Princess of Sylia makes her life perfect. She can do what she pleases and lives a lavish life. The life that is her perfection however, was simply ignorance gifted to her by her Father. Unbeknownst to her, Siren's Father and Mother have both been keeping evil at bay. When this evil takes her parents lives and turns her sister against her, Siren is thrust into the role of Queen. Now quickly, she must learn how to handle ruling an entire kingdom and lead a nation into a war she didn't even know could happen.

Siren Chronicles explores how quickly a human being can mature when they are forced to do so by circumstance and what changes they must go through, both internally and externally to except this change into their lives.
What's difficult here is that the first paragraph feels very awkward to me and would make me concerned that the entire book is awkward. I think you're trying to squeeze too much in. Is it really necessary that we learn how perfect Siren's life is? Isn't it better that we get right into the heart of the conflict? Something more along the lines of, "when evil (what?) destroys Siren's perfect life by killing her parents and turning her sister against her, this once quiet princess is now thrust into the role of Queen and forced to lead a nation to war or...." Obviously that's rough, but I think it gives you a better idea of how you can jump right into a story and grab the reader's attention. As for the second paragraph, dump it. It's useless. I don't ever want to know what themes or message a novel explores. That's not why anyone buys a book, except maybe a parent buying YA to teach a teen something, but that should still come through in the story.

Julian Meteor said...

Doing Honeys - My Autobiography - Julian Meteor

Julian Meteor is somebody EVERYONE wants to BE!!! lol
He sleeps with a DIFFERENT woman every night and is in THE best band - The Argyle Style - in South-West England.
Read and prepare to be VERY jealous!!!!!!! lmao
A pitch like this would never work. Is your book really about you sleeping with a woman every night? I can't imagine anyone would want to read that. Most people read books, and even memoirs to learn about how other succeed despite the struggles they face. You call this an autobiography, I suppose there is technically little difference between an autobiography and a memoir except that unless you are hugely famous (and maybe you are and I just don't know you) it's really a memoir. I think of autobiographies for people like Mick Jagger, Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher or Paris Hilton (god help us all). Memoirs are usually the unique stories of everyday people told in a very fiction-like manner. What upsets me most about a pitch like this (and it might be a personal thing) is that you don't seem to take your pitch and therefore my job seriously. I'm not old fashioned and I'm certainly not a prude, but to say something like "read and prepare to be VERY jealous" and especially "lmao" is a bit insulting. It's like applying for a job and saying in your cover letter, "I rock! Hire me!" It just doesn't sound like you really take it seriously enough to understand what it takes to get published or to get the job.

Crimogenic said...
When Katherine Rice’s son is murdered, she doesn’t trust the system to punish the killer because twenty-five before, the same man got away with slaughtering her brother. She hunts for the killer but gets more than she bargains for when she discovers that he’s part of an online network of pedophiles called The Convent. Now Katherine’s dream of fading into oblivion is put on hold as she sets out to rid the world of these child predators.

(Crime Fiction)
This had potential in the sense that the length is perfect and I just thought maybe, maybe this is the perfect one. Unfortunately you're telling and not showing me your story. Wouldn't it be much stronger to say something like, "Katherine Rice is hunting a killer, the same man who (brutally slaughtered?) both her son and her brother twenty-five years earlier. Not trusting a legal system that has failed her before, Katherine stumbles upon The Convent, a network of pedophiles that has..." That could still be stronger, but I hope you get what I'm thinking in terms of making this more active.

Annette Gallant said...

BREAKING ALL THE RULES - Women's Fiction

The last thing Jill Sullivan intends to do is fall for her sexy new co-worker, Andrew Chisholm. She's already committed to Jamie O'Rourke, the son of her father's best friend. He's safe, in need of her support after the sudden death of his parents and is the only boyfriend her family has ever approved of. But one night Andrew kisses Jill on a crowded dance floor, which throws her emotions into complete turmoil. Finding she can no longer deny her feelings for Andrew, Jill becomes increasingly torn and soon realizes she's in love with both men. When she's eventually forced to decide which one, if either, truly owns her heart, Jill discovers that sometimes you have to give up the things you want, in order to gain the one thing you really need.
This pitch, and therefore this book, just doesn't feel that special to me. As it reads here it feels like nothing more then 80,000 or so words about a woman trying to make a decision. What makes it different? What's the hook? Other then the choice of two men what other challenges does she face? It feels to me that you've written the set-up here, but not the real story. The real story is really giving up the things you want is it not? When I read this I thought of movies for some reason, movies like 27 Dresses or Sweet Home Alabama. "Chick Flicks" are almost always girl meets boy love stories and often the girl needs to choose between two men, but what makes it stand out and what differentiates them?

Again, I'm picking these randomly and reading none of them before making a selection. You are certainly welcome to keep posting your pitches until January 3 when I can guarantee I won't be selecting any more. If you do post make sure you do so in the original post from December 19. I am always looking for one that I can say "that's it!" about and will keep you updated.

--Jessica

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holiday Critiques #1

I think by reading through the comments on my original post many some of you might have gotten a taste for what it's like to be an agent. You're right that there are no rules and it never hurts to break them, but do you see how frustrating it gets when no one even seems to hear them? Many of you were obviously frustrated by how others define the word "pitch." Well don't worry about me, I'm used to pitches of all shapes and sizes and hopefully all of you are reading through what others are doing and have done to get a real feel for what reading query letters is like. This is very close to what an agent sees in her inbox on a daily basis. Read through the original comments and see what catches your eye. Soon you'll learn why a pitch is so important.


A pitch is that one paragraph in your query letter that describes your book. If the pitch you write is strong enough it should also become the one paragraph you can use when verbally pitching to agents or editors. A pitch is not the entire query letter, that's called the query letter. A pitch is not the synopsis, that's called a synopsis.

Okay, here's a recap, on December 19 I lost my mind and the spirit of Christmas Publishing took over my body. Since our offices are closed for two weeks I made the offer to spend whatever time I felt like (which might be almost none) critiquing pitches. Well since Continental airlines conveniently decided to cancel all of my Christmas plans (and yes I'm extremely bitter) it looks like I'll have more time then I thought. 

So I am randomly picking pitches from this list and here are my critiques. Thanks to all who entered...

From Debra:
Darius and Dyla Telkur, the twin children of the powerful Duke of Telkur, lead the privileged life of royals on Otharia. Dyla has the power of empathy that surrounds her in an air of danger like a ring of razor blades. Darius, her dark brooding twin, has the power of telepathy in his piercing stare and penetrating touch. Though Darius is the heir to the Telkur throne by mere seconds, the twins share an inseparable bond. When their parents are murdered on their 16th birthday, their idyllic life is shattered. Reeling from shock, the twins are confronted with a pretender to the ducal crown, a rogue cousin bent on stealing the Telkur throne, but the worst is yet to come. Someone else wants them dead and they find themselves at the mercy of an evil mastermind bent on the annihilation of the entire Telkur dynasty.

Caught in a maelstrom of murder and deceit, Darius and Dyla are forced to run for their lives. With no safe haven on Otharia, they flee to the only place where they won’t be found, the quarantined planet of Earth. Stranded in modern day London, their only hope of returning home is to retrieve an artifact lost during an ancient Otharian exploration of Earth. Hidden within the legends of Merlin and the Lady of the Lake are clues to the artifact they seek. Along the way, they stumble upon a terrible secret, a secret that will shake the very foundations of Otharia. Everything is connected and when the twins finally understand the connection between past and present, they must find a way to return home before they don’t have a home or kingdom to return to.
This is way too long and not because it's too paragraphs, but the reason I stress to all authors to try their best to keep their pitches to one paragraph is because there is a lot of information in here I just don't need. For example, the first paragraph, do I really need to know any of this? This is backstory and in the pitch I don't need that much backstory, what I need to know is the chief conflict of the book. Another thing here that would jump out at me is that there are places here where you got caught up in the beauty of the words and, frankly, it's just overwritten. For example, "that surrounds her in an air of danger like a ring of razor blades" is a little over the top. Wouldn't it be better to simply say that "Dyla has the power of empathy while Darius is telepathic..." I'm not sure we need to know that these are dangerous powers since it's never explained why the powers are dangerous and probably doesn't need to be.

"Caught in a maelstrom of murder and deceit," is another example of overwriting. Essentially this says absolutely nothing. Skip it. Your pitch should really be more along the lines of, "when twins Darius and Dyla find themselves running for their lives and from their own land....and then we need to get into the heart of the conflict. Is there any reason you can't give us more details on what the secret is? I think it would be helpful to know some specifics so we have an understanding of what exactly they're up against and what the hook of this book really is.

Tamara said...
Because both her parents died when she was sixteen, nineteen-year-old Maggie Jordan of Loveland, Colorado, yearns for lost family. When she and an idealistic young writer named Jackdaw fall in love, she is certain that she’s found what she’s looking for. They have sex and she gets pregnant, but then he blames her for not living up to his ideal. He does the right thing, though, and they get married. But after Maggie gives birth on Christmas day to a darling boy, Jes, she struggles to cope with Jes’s severe birth defect and her husband’s distance, while Jackdaw must reconcile memories of his father’s abuse and his mother’s abandonment with his own actions.

With deceptive simplicity, LOVELAND interweaves Maggie and Jackdaw’s story with those of Maggie’s timid brother Tibs yearning to be a writer and wrestling with the success of Jackdaw’s first novel and Maggie’s straight and outspoken sister CJ unexpectedly falling in love with Jes’s female nurse.

LOVELAND is literary women’s fiction (65,000 words) comparable to Kent Haruf’s Plainsong and Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper.
The challenge you face with this pitch is that you are telling the story and not showing. A pitch is just as much about your voice and story telling technique as the book itself. When I read a pitch sure I want to know what the story is about, but I also want a sense of what your writing is about. It shouldn't be simply a breakdown of the story, but the heart of the story. Do we need to know how old Maggie was or is and do we really need to know where she's from? My concern here is that I'm not sure what this story is about. Is it about meeting a writer when she's nineteen? Struggling with a special needs child? Getting married because of a pregnancy or her husband reconciling with his childhood?

Here I think it's important to really get into the heart of the story, but even more important that you find your voice. Based on this pitch I would be concerned that your story is not yet ready to submit. Oh, and word count might be a problem here. Unless you have an incredibly powerful hook (which I haven't seen yet) 65,000 words is really on the short side for women's fiction. 80,000-100,000 words would be better.

Anonymous said...
Claire's reputation as a woman who competently balances her hectic family life with the demands of her small business tanks when she goes missing for a weekend and awakens on a church pew. But then again, at 32 she meant to be her small town's District Attorney, not a chronically ill stay-at-home mother of three and freelance chocolatier. When sleek, successful, former friend Malia appears on Claire's doorstep, she unravels the remainder of Claire's composure. But even Malia's dream life veers off course when she learns she's pregnant, her new boss is her former-lover-turned-priest, and her boyfriend isn't ready for a baby. Malia and Claire force each other to grapple with their evolving identities, careers, and families as they renew their friendship during a year of chaotic transitions.

Women's fiction, 85,000 words.
I'm thoroughly confused by this pitch. She's a chronically ill stay at home mother, but also a successful entrepreneur who should have been a DA? Again, we need to get to the heart of the story. Is this story about Claire or Malia and what are their evolving identities and how do career and family fit in? What is happening in the story? What is the who, what, where, why and how? And what does the church pew have to do with anything?

Laurel Wanrow said...

“Wildflowers and Winged Boys” is a 86,000 word YA manuscript:

Fern’s work to restore native plants to save her Gran’s meadow takes on new meaning when a winged boy reveals the land is part of a hidden enclave of Sapaksan wizards, and Fern’s Mom is their runaway Witch of the Meadows. Fern’s story about her unusual inheritance and the care of the natural world, is bound together with magic and the excitement of first love.
I think this is one of the stronger pitches I've critiqued so far, but I'm not sure it's there quite yet. It feels a little slight, like I just don't have quite enough information to really understand what's happening. I guess what I need to know is what happens next. Is this just her story about the inheritance and gardening because that sounds a little boring. What happens after she discovers that her mom is a runaway witch? It seems to me that's the exciting part.


DL said...

Legend Hunters

Four embark on a journey into insanity: a brother, a reporter, a park warden and the Nakoda guide she once loved. They’re hunting a legend; the thing that mauled a woman to death a year ago, the thing that left another man maimed both in body and in mind. Legend Hunters is a fast-paced thrill ride that takes the reader through the wilds of the Rocky Mountains, up steep mountain slopes, down turbulent rivers, over glaciers and sacred ground in search of the legendary Bigfoot. One of the four is intent on killing it. One covets its power. One doesn’t believe in it. And, one will protect it at all cost. Even though two rekindle a romance thought lost forever, only one will emerge unscathed.

This is close, but no Christmas cookie yet. I think you can benefit right from the beginning by telling us that the legend is Bigfoot and why these people are hunting him. Is it because of the mauling? Are they together or separately hunting?  Also get specific. Avoid things like, "a fast-paced thrill ride that takes the reader through the wilds of the Rocky Mountains, up steep mountain slopes, down turbulent rivers, over glaciers and sacred ground," since it really doesn't tell me much about the story, just the terrain. I want to know what the conflict is, what happens. You do have an intriguing story here though.

And that's it for now. I'm off to make cookies. 

--Jessica

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Friday, December 19, 2008

My Gift to You

I love Christmas. To me, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year, and the best part of Christmas to me is the giving. So while this is the last official blog post of the year (BookEnds is closed December 22 to January 5), I decided we should go out with a whole heck of a lot of holiday cheer.

That being said, my gift to you for 2008 is another round of pitch critiques. For newer readers, let me explain what I mean. For almost any writer the pitch is one of the most important parts of your marketing plan. It’s what you use in the one key paragraph of your query letter to explain your book to agents, it’s what your agent uses to pitch your work to editors, editors use it to pitch your work in-house, and eventually you’ll use it again to pitch your work to readers, publicists, newspaper reporters, and everyone and anyone you want to impress.

To participate, you’ll need to submit your one-paragraph pitch in the comments section of this post. I will not consider pitches posted in other posts or those e-mailed to me and I certainly won’t take pitches from any query letters I receive. Over the course of the next two weeks I’m going to randomly select and critique (on the blog) as many as I can. Since I’m officially on vacation over the course of these two weeks the posts will truly be random. In other words, I’m going to do whatever I want. I’ll post them whenever I want and I’ll critique anywhere from three to three hundred, depending on my mood.

With a HO, HO, HO, have at it!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and Happy Kwanzaa to all!

Jessica

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Unwritten Rules: Keep the Innocents Alive

When I read your post about “Unlikable Characters,” it sparked a question about likable characters who die. Although we know almost immediately the narrator in “The Lovely Bones” has died a violent death, Sebold’s novel went on to become a mega-bestseller. This seems to fly in the face of an unwritten rule, I thought existed, against killing children and dogs.

Oddly enough when I started reading Jodi Picoult’s “The Pact,” I stopped reading immediately after the father took the family dog into the woods and shot it (because it had diabetes). Yet, even though I knew the premise of “The Pact” going in -- a teenage couple enters into a suicide pact -- I would have read it had the disturbing incident with the family dog not occurred toward the beginning. This reaction confuses me even more.

So I guess my question is: how often and under what specific circumstances do readers, agents and/or editors pass on a project because an innocent dies in the story? I assume you’re going to tell me it has a lot to do with how the material is handled, possibly how “off stage” the death occurs. And then again, perhaps not, since the protagonists in “The Lovely Bones” and “My Sister’s Keeper” both end up dying. Other examples where children die are Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” (one of my all‑time favorite novels and one I read all the way through) and Jane Hamilton’s “A Map of the World” (which I stopped reading when I sensed what was coming and knew I couldn’t handle it). I’m having trouble seeing a common thread in how these deaths were handled to make them acceptable other than the voice in each of these examples being very good.

Still, among the five books cited here, I wasn’t able to finish reading two of them. Why me and not editors or other readers? Are there any hard and fast rules with respect to these questions? I’d appreciate any insight you or your readers can bring to this question.


Rules, rules, rules. Do you know one of the biggest reasons I started BookEnds? I hate rules. Well, okay, I like making my own rules, but I hate living by those created by others. Stop living under this idea that there are rules in writing. There are no rules. There are guidelines and suggestions, but for those of you following a long list of rules, I’d like to know first where the rules came from and who gave them to you, and second, how much are they holding you back? The authors willing to bend the rules, break them at times, and explore their own paths are the ones who have success.

There is no consistent thread in the examples you give because they are all very different books. And there are no rules to how to properly kill off children or dogs. If you’re looking for why these authors could get away with it, the best I can say is that it worked. It fit the story and was appropriate to building both plot and character. Sure the voice might have something to do with it, but ultimately it was a heart-wrenching moment that fits and doesn’t feel gratuitous. As to why you couldn’t get through the books when others obviously could, I can’t explain that in any way other than the fact that we all have different tastes. There are many, many books in this world that I have not been able to get though, books that were published, acclaimed and even award-winning. There have been many books I’ve loved, laughed and cried over that I couldn’t find an audience for.

Jessica

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Starting an Agency

I get a lot of questions about how to start a literary agency and it’s taken a long time for me to come up with an answer. What intrigues me about the question is that there seems to be an implied easy answer, that one with no publishing experience can simply set up shop one day and call herself an agent.

My number-one piece of advice to starting an agency is to get some experience. Find an entry-level position with either an established agency or a publishing house, learn not just the ins and outs of the office but learn and understand the difference between a good book and a marketable book, and of course learn and understand publishing contracts.

I think the biggest trick to becoming an agent is not the contract. Anyone can take a legal course and learn publishing contracts or negotiation strategies. The biggest trick to success as an agent is learning how to judge and sell books, and I didn’t learn that from a book. I learned how to really find marketable books by sitting in editorial meetings and presenting books to colleagues. I had to listen as they more or less ripped apart the books I liked and told others that they did not see it as publishable. I also had the opportunity to read books that others thought were publishable and present my opinion, as well as listen to the opinions of others.

Being an agent is not like being a doctor. I don’t hold people’s lives in my hands. I do however hold their careers, hopes, and dreams, and assuming that just anyone can do that is assuming a lot.

Jessica

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Submissions Go To . . .

I have received a number of great questions lately, either posted to the blog or e-mailed directly, and I’m busy trying to get through them all. One of my favorites though asked how I choose editors to submit my clients' work to. The reader asked if I have favorites I submit everything to or if I submit to editors knowing that the client and editor might not get along, but it would sell a book.

First things first, yes, I do have favorite editors. It’s something I’m going to discuss in a later blog post, but there are definitely editors out there if, given my druthers, I would have every client published with. That being said, though, I do not necessarily send those editors everything I have for submission. Because sadly, they are not the right editors for everything my authors write.

Okay, on to the question that intrigued me the most because it’s not something I’ve ever thought of: “Do you send to editors that you know in your gut the client may not get along with (editor is rigid, client is laid-back; editor is evasive, writer really needs consistency) in order to sell a manuscript?”

When choosing editors to submit to my first goal is to find editors I think will want to buy the book. And unless I’m wrong I would assume my clients would want me to do just that, but please tell me if I’m wrong. I assume your goal is to find a publisher and sell a book. The truth is that while there are a lot of editors out there, there are not necessarily a lot of editors who buy the exact book you are writing. I debated saying this, but I’m not sure it’s my job to judge who a client can get along with. This is a business, not a dating service. Ideally I would like to find an editor who is perfect, who can please my author in every way and who my client can get along with beautifully, but editors are people too, and frankly, I don’t always know how an editor is going to act or treat a client until we’re in the midst of a relationship. An editor can be one thing for one author and someone completely different for another. Some of that is based on the personality of the author and some of it is based on outside forces that I can’t control. For example, I have known editors to be nothing but charming and receptive, beautiful people to spend time with. When I talk to authors, though, their impressions might be completely different, some might think the editor is difficult, abrasive, and hard to get along with, while others have the same feelings and reactions I do. In other words, until you’re married to a person it’s hard to know what they’re really like.

In the same way, I don’t know that I can always judge an author’s personality either. I’ve had authors who are seemingly the most laid-back, calm authors I’ve ever met.They never seem fazed by anything and always just go with the flow. Until they get a book contract and then, wham! It’s someone I’ve never met before. I had no idea this person needed any hand-holding, that she was a nervous Nelly or that she would be difficult in any way. So while there are definitely editors I’m not thrilled to submit to, my goal is to submit to the editor I think will be the best advocate for the book.

Jessica

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Offering Representation to Published Authors

For obvious reasons there is a perception among unpublished authors that the only way to get an agent is to either have a book deal in hand or to be a published author, and while both of those things can help, I think that there’s a lack of understanding about how they can also hurt.

I’m not going to discuss how to handle having a book deal in hand in this post since I have discussed it a number of times already. Instead I’m going to shed a little light on what it’s like for published authors to seek representation, and the first thing I’m going to tell you is that being published doesn’t guarantee anything.

When I'm considering an offer of representation to an unpublished author, the only thing I have to think about is whether or not I think the book is fantastic and whether or not I think I can sell it. When considering a published author, however, the number of things to think about are much greater and the things that can stand in the way can be more extensive.

If a previously published author comes to me seeking representation, I need to, of course, look at the new work to see if it’s something I would even want to represent, and then if it passes that test I must consider the sales figures for the author’s previous work or works, and this is where things can get sticky. In case anyone has forgotten, this is a business, and when considering a new author a publisher’s, and therefore an agent’s, primary consideration needs to be how money can be made and how much. An author who only two years ago had incredibly poor sales numbers is going to have a hard time crawling out from under that. Bookstores are going to look at those numbers when placing orders and editors are going to look at those numbers when making an offer. So, unless the book is absolutely phenomenal, or a completely new direction for this author, it’s going to be a difficult sale for me.

The other thing to consider is the author’s reputation, and I don’t mean whether or not people like her, I mean her brand. If the author is known for her romances and suddenly wants to branch out into mysteries or SF, will her brand allow for it? Sure she could use a new name, but then doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having built the brand?

So before you go complaining that agents are only interested in hearing from published authors, think about what you are saying. Being published doesn’t ever guarantee an easy “in.”

Jessica

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Alliterative Characters

After years of working in publishing I have decided that it’s a common mistake all writers make. Alliterative characters, character names that all start with the same letter. I don’t think anyone does it on purpose, but instead I think authors get in a rhythm and don’t even realize what they’re doing. Remember, while these characters might seem very distinct to you they aren’t always distinct to your readers, so be very careful that the names don’t sound too close or can too easily confuse.

In other words, while Sara, Samantha, Sasha, and Sally might make really cute names for sisters, imagine how confusing they would be if they were all in the same book. Heck, even as sisters I can imagine the new boyfriend saying, “So which one is Sally?” In other words, it can be difficult for us to distinguish people who have such similar names. However, by giving very distinct names we’ve instantly created very distinct people. Would Sara, Doris, Francine, and Clara stand out more?

In addition to alliterative names, be very careful of names that are too similar to each other. For example, would it confuse you to have both Carl and Cal or Al and Arnold? It might sound easy in the blog, but imagine trying to distinguish them in a book?

While I think it’s perfectly acceptable to have a few characters with alliterative names, be careful that it’s not running to three or four or more. Remember, names are one of your strongest character traits, just ask anyone who grew up in the '80s about the name Heather, or what does Adolf or now Barack represent to you?

Jessica

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Publisher Updates

Daily I am talking with editors, whether via e-mail, on the phone, or over lunch, and catching up on what they are looking for now and what types of things they are having trouble selling either in-house or to readers. And today I’ll pass some of that on to you.

A nonfiction editor at Penguin is very actively looking for fun reference nonfiction. In addition to acquiring business books this editor likes fun reference nonfiction, books like beer guides or wine guides. Books I actually think are fun myself.

A romance editor and a fantasy editor, from two different houses, recently shared with me their frustrations for the paranormal romance market. It’s tough. Most publishers have fairly full lists and to take on something new it has to be remarkably different. While paranormal romance continues to sell, publishers are being very cautious about what they’re taking on.

An editor I’ve worked with for years has a new position at a new company and is very excited to be seeking different projects from what she was doing previously. She is looking for commercial fiction (suspense, thriller, historical, and anything page-turning with terrific characters) and on the nonfiction side she would like to see diet, health, fitness, memoir, and narrative nonfiction, of course all from authors with big platforms.

I had a really fun lunch with a new editor recently. Well, she’s not exactly new, but we have made our first deal together. She’s smart, enthusiastic, and we ate dessert! She’s looking for all kinds of mysteries from cozies to medical thrillers to all kinds of thrillers.

Jessica

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An Author Questionnaire

Publishers frequently send out author questionnaires to help them create and plan their publicity and marketing campaigns. Now, not all publishes do this, so don’t panic if you’ve never done one, but they are a great resource for publicists and marketing managers when talking about your book and pitching it. I also think they can be a great resource for planning your book and for creating your own marketing campaign (because querying is really a marketing campaign). Some of the questions really get to the heart of things like hook and how to differentiate yourself. So I went through the questionnaires I have and pulled a few questions that I thought might be useful to authors in the planning and writing stages.

  • What are the main points about you and/or the book that should be emphasized to the media?
  • Who do you think will buy your book (i.e., your market)?
  • If you could construct an interview for yourself, what questions would you want to be asked? Can you come up with about 5 to 10 questions and answers for this self-interview?
  • Are there any anniversaries, occasions or events upcoming to which we might tie the publicity for your book?
  • Is there any competition for your book? How are the other books alike? How are they dissimilar?
  • What was your inspiration for the book?
  • Who are your favorite authors?
  • Tell us anything about you as a working writer that you think might be interesting or unusual.
  • What do you hope readers will learn/discover from reading your book?

Now some of these might seem easy, but really sit down and think about them and how you would answer these if you found yourself face-to-face with an interested editor, agent, or on Oprah talking about your book.

Jessica

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Politics and Publishing

Not too long after the election a reader asked the following question, “What effect, if any, do you think the election will have on the publishing industry? Specifically, I was wondering if some of the 'boundaries' might be expanded with the advent of a more liberal administration.”

And I guess my answer would be a question for you, “What effect, if any, do you think the election will have on readers?” So frequently writers forget that the publishing industry buys for readers. I know when you’ve received your 100th rejection that might seem difficult to believe, but it’s true. I’m not sure a more liberal administration is going to make any difference at all in publishing. You’ll still see political books from both liberals and conservatives, you’ll still see romances, mysteries, SF and fantasy, you’ll still see business books and humor and health books.

I guess I’m stumped a little by this question, but intrigued enough to want to post it. Because I wonder if the reader is implying that publishing is too conservative and that a more liberal administration would mean more liberal-leaning books. But liberal how? Erotic romances seem pretty liberal with their sexcapades, thrillers liberal with blood, guts, and how a crime can be solved, and certainly paranormal and SF worlds are extremely liberal, or can be. Do you mean nonfiction? Both liberal and conservative titles have had their successes and failures and it seems to me that those were decided by the readers.

If the mind-set of the reading public changes, so does the publishing industry. If politics plays into that then so be it, but I’m not sure we can guarantee more liberal books simply because the administration is seen as more liberal. So let me throw this question to readers: What effect, if any, do you think the election will have on you as a reader?

Jessica

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Monday, December 08, 2008

The BookEnds Author-Agent Agreement

I was asked recently for details about how BookEnds agents sign a client. Do we use an actual contract or is it a verbal agreement? Do we sign for one book or all? Do we have a time limit on our contract? Great questions all and certainly questions I get from clients before they actually agree to work with us.

BookEnds does work with a formal, signed author-agent agreement. In fact, these days I think most agents do, although when we first started the agency nearly ten years ago this wasn’t always the norm. Many older agents worked (and might still work) with verbal agreements. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong, but there is a comfort level. Our feeling about the written agreement is that it’s all on paper. You know what you can expect from us and we know what we can expect from you. In addition, it’s nice to know that you actually have a piece of paper to prove to people that you have an agent.

The BookEnds contract actually states that we want all of your books, at least those that haven’t been previously sold to a publisher or represented by another agent (presumably sold). However, we do understand that there are circumstances that might require us limiting that clause. For example, if you are writing children’s books in addition to your thrillers, we will probably narrow the clause to allow you to continue writing your children’s books without us on board (since we don’t represent children’s). The idea here is that we are in this for the long haul. Our goal is to build a big, prosperous career for both of us and we can’t do that with just one book.

Of course there are the typical clauses about commission (standard 15% on books, 20% on translation), exclusivity (we ask that you are working with only BookEnds and no other agents, especially on these projects), payments (we will keep all author payments in a separate client account and issue checks within a certain time period), and our responsibility to work with the author to create a strong proposal and actually submit it.

Finally, the clause that most authors want to know about is the termination clause. This spells out the requirements of terminating the relationship. Ultimately, it’s a certified letter explaining (if possible) why you want to dissolve the relationship. We do ask that you give us four months to finalize any deals on submissions we have out, and of course it explains that we will continue to be the agent on record for any contracts we have finally executed.

Of course there is other mumbo-jumbo legal jargon in there, but in a nutshell this is the contract you will receive when becoming a BookEnds client.

Jessica

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Deb Baker on the Positive Power of Gratitude

Deb Baker
Ding Dong Dead
Publisher: Berkley
Pub date: December 2008
Agent: Jacky Sach




(Click to Buy)

I’m an eighteen-year cancer survivor, beating (a stroke of luck really) the same nasty killer that took down Robert Urich of Spenser for Hire and Vegas fame. I was a young mother when I was diagnosed, with a three-month-old daughter and an eighteen-month-old son, and a frighteningly poor prognosis.

I don’t remember much of the next five years—surgeries, radiation, and doctors’ visits, while trying to enjoy every moment with my babies. The five-year mark is what we were shooting for, but it wouldn’t necessarily mean triumph. Robert Urich made it seven years before it took him.

Once you have it, I think, you never forget what you went through, or that a killer might still lurk inside of you.

Cancer shaped me. It forced me to choose. Either I could live with fear, or I could become fearless.

Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now) tells stories of those who had to experience extreme lose before learning to really live. Stay in the present, he says, it’s where everything is happening.

The Secret
tells us to believe in ourselves, to simply ask and prepare to receive, to stay positive and confident, and life will reward us.

I love both philosophies. They require us to enjoy the journey no matter where it takes us.

My seventh mystery is out this month. How appropriate that it arrives during the holiday season. And how grateful I am. While the path to publication wasn’t short, just as that lonely walk I took eighteen years ago wasn’t, I am grateful for every new page that has turned for me—sitting down to write that first all-important paragraph, the last page where I typed “the end” and popped open the champagne, the submissions and their promises, finally the “good” rejections, then interested agents and editors before holding a bound book with my name on the cover . . . the list of small joys is endless.

Gretchen Birch is the protagonist in Ding Dong Dead. She runs a doll restoration business with her mother, who is a breast cancer survivor. Her mom made the same choice I did. She became fearless.

Cancer taught me to soar. And to be thankful for small joys, because the really big ones don’t come by that often.

So wherever you are in your journey at this moment, take time to reflect, not on what you wish you had but on how much you already have.

I’m running a contest for a $50 gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice! Here’s how to win. Get a copy of Ding Dong Dead, read it, go to my website (www.debbakerbooks.com) before January 15th and correctly answer three easy questions pertaining to the book. You will be entered into a drawing, which will take place at noon on January 15th. The winner will be notified through email and announced on my homepage. Good luck!

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Identifying the "Right Agent for Your Work"

I think one of the most frustrating challenges an author faces is trying to figure out which agents are the right agents to submit to. Sure I say I represent romance, but does that mean I represent the type of romance you are writing? Difficult to tell. A blog reader recently shared this frustration with me after receiving a rejection letter that said, “I’m not the right agent for your work.” As far as the reader could tell this agent was. Her web site clearly said she represented romance and this was a romance novel.

To put it simply, being the right agent for a book means a lot more than representing that genre. When an agent says she’s not the right agent it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s the wrong agent for the genre. It means exactly what she says, that she’s not the right agent for your work. And that could be for a number of reasons. Does your book too closely compare to something else on her list? Is she fed up with paranormal romances and can’t bear to see another? Does she even represent paranormal? Did you compare your book to Bestselling Author X, not realizing that this agent actually despises everything written by Bestselling Author X? Does she say she represents mystery, but unknown to you she doesn’t represent cozy mysteries? There are a myriad of reasons an agent might not be right for you and most of the time there’s no possible way for you to know why.

While we implore you to do your research and submit to only those agents who might be right for your work, the truth is that you can only do so much research. Web sites and blogs help, but until you are working with someone and know their reading tastes intimately there’s no way to judge exactly what an agent is looking for. And truthfully, while many of my clients have been working with me for years and many more know me well, I would bet few could pinpoint exactly what I love and don’t love to read.

At some point you just need to know that the agent represents the genre you are writing in and get the book out there. If you do get a rejection that says she isn’t the right agent, put it in your pile and move on. This tells you nothing about your work, only that she’s not the right agent, that for some reason your story didn’t resonate with her.

Jessica

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Holiday Shopping List

I’ve been trying to do a lot of my Christmas shopping early this year and I decided about a month ago that most everyone would be getting books. It’s a little tricky to gift books when you work in the publishing industry. Friends and family often assume you’re getting them free and are just unloading a space on your bookshelf.

Even so, I think it’s more important than ever to support the bookstores and publishing industry this year. Sure, my paychecks come from that industry, so it’s pretty self-serving. But, actually, it serves anyone who loves books and doesn’t want their choices to start diminishing.

So, here’s just a few books on my shopping list:

For Dad: Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty by Jeff Pearlman.

My dad is actually a Baltimore Ravens season ticket-holder. He’s not a Cowboys fan, but he loves football and I know he’ll be interested in the inside scoop on some of the game’s legendary players, like Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, and Emmitt Smith. Plus, Jeff is a friend. I could buy a copy and get it signed, and my husband’s name is listed in the acknowledgments! :)

For my son, Nicky: Merry Christmas, Curious George! by H. A. and Margret Rey, Cathy Hapka and Mary O’Keefe Young

There aren’t too many Curious George stories that my son doesn’t already own . . . and has completely memorized. His favorites are George’s trips to the chocolate factory and the pancake breakfast. He can really relate to George’s sweet tooth! I’m sure this will become another favorite that we’ll read over and over and over again.

For my daughter, Samantha: Samantha: An American Girl collection by Susan S. Adler

Well, my Samantha is only 4 months old, and while I’m sure she’s brilliant, she’s not quite up to this reading level yet. But the Samantha doll from American Girl is being retired after this holiday season, so Santa will be putting one under our tree this year, along with the set of books that details her adventures.

For the young teenage girls in our family: All About Me Teenage Edition: The Story of Your Life by Philipp Keel, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg and The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

The ages of 12 to 14 can be a difficult, awkward time. I really wanted to buy the girls in our family a journal, but one that was a bit more interactive and enticing. I was excited to find the All About Me book. It’s kind of like a cross between a journal and a Seventeen magazine quiz. Some questions are deeper than others, but who doesn’t love taking those quizzes?

These girls are booklovers, so I also wanted to throw in some classic and award-winning novels as well.

For the pre-teen boys in our family: The News Way Things Work by David Macaulay, Heat by Mike Lupica and The Big Field by Mike Lupica

One of the boys in our family is a technology junkie. The kid already has the mind of an engineer. He’ll either gobble up The News Way Things Work or declare that he could have written it himself. Either way, it’s definitely his area of interest.

Both he and his brother are big sports fans. They both play baseball, and the younger is a big Yankee fan (smart kid). I have a feeling he’ll enjoy Mike Lupica’s books about a kid’s baseball team in the Bronx.

And for the vampire lovers in my family: The Sookie Stackhouse box set by Charlaine Harris

Well, they already devoured the Twilight series and are now completely hooked on HBO’s True Blood. Somehow they overlooked the books that the series is based on. I was working at Berkley when my colleague John Morgan first discovered this author and character. I never got around to reading them while I was there, but just picked up Dead Until Dark for the first time and now I’m completely hooked. I have a feeling these family members will be too.

I’m still deciding on the rest of my list (yes—it’s a long one!). What books are on your shopping list this year?

Kim

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Agent Advertising

I’m not sure if it’s a recent phenomenon or a coincidence, but in the last few weeks I’ve received a number of questions about agents who apparently include advertisements for their books in with rejection letters. Two questions specifically asked what I think of this practice and what I think of these agents.

Well, I don’t like the practice. It seems sort of odd to me. While I haven’t written any books on publishing or literary agents, I’m not sure I would advertise quite that way. I might put the title of the book in my signature line in both email and snail mail letters, but that’s the most I think I could comfortably do. It just seems like a double hit if you’re getting a rejection letter and then an advertisement. I also wonder what’s next. An advertisement listing all of the agent’s clients? Would that be as bad? And what about the fact that they are using your postage costs (SASE) to send you an advertisement? Does that bother you? Ultimately there is probably not a right or wrong answer to these questions, but what’s right or wrong for you.

As for what I think of these agents, I was never given the names of any of the agents who follow this practice, but I think I’ll leave those impressions up to the readers. If it leaves a bad taste in your mouth then I think that’s enough for you to know how you personally feel about the agent and whether or not you want to work with that person. If the advertisement doesn’t bother you then continue to query this person. Putting an advertisement in your SASE doesn’t necessarily say anything about a person’s ability to be a good author representative. It might however say something about her ability to be your author representative.

I would imagine anyone who has received an advertisement might have their own opinions, and certainly I’d be interested to hear them.

Jessica

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Decoding Agent-Speak

I think one of the most frustrating things a submitting writer faces is how do you read those rejection letters? What exactly is an agent saying when she says that the book “didn’t grab her” or “the writing isn't strong”? Do you need to do revisions? Should you stop submitting? Or should you just ignore them all and carry on.

The truth is that these phrases are simply gentle ways for the agent to say “thanks, but no thanks,” and unless you know and understand exactly what an agent is saying to you I wouldn’t read it as a sign that revisions are needed. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, but unless you know what those revisions need to be (either from an agent’s feedback or your own evaluation) there’s really nothing you can do about it.

The reader who asked this question said that one of her fears is spending a year sending out what could possibly be a flawed manuscript. Well, the truth is that even agents spend time sending out “flawed” manuscripts, or at least manuscripts that don’t sell. This is why I encourage authors to work on something while submitting. Working on something fresh can help you worry less about the book that’s on submission and puts less pressure on that book. If it doesn’t sell and if it does have flaws, hopefully it can be okay if the next book is even better.

Jessica

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