Tuesday, June 30, 2009

More Thoughts on Re-Pitching Agents

I’ve always taught that if you have made significant changes to your book for one reason or another you should definitely consider re-pitching agents. I’m sure there are plenty who cringe when hearing me give that advice, but the truth is, what do you really have to lose? The one thing that always strikes me, however, when I read the comments to those types of posts is how pleased authors are, and that worries me just a little, tiny bit. What it makes me wonder is are you continuing to rework and re-pitch the same book over and over or have you moved on. I will tell you right now, if you don’t learn to move on, to write the next book and query the next book and write and query the next book after that you will never be published.

No agent and no publisher wants an author for only one book, and if you spend years reworking and re-pitching that same book you’re not making yourself a very marketable or publishable author.

So yes, while you can certainly re-pitch if you’ve done work, the key to success is forward momentum. Make sure you’re headed in the right direction.

Jessica

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Publishing Tip #1

Do not query until you’ve at least started writing the book.

It’s a disturbing trend lately, but I’m getting a lot of queries from people who have an idea and “plan to start writing soon” or are “about 5,000 words into it.” I know people are excited and I would suspect that any of you reading this blog would never dream of doing such a thing, but there it is. Happens all the time, almost every day, in fact.

Jessica

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Definition of Query

According to Dictionary.com the definition of a query as it relates to publishing is:

an inquiry from a writer to an editor of a magazine, newspaper, etc., regarding the acceptability of or interest in an idea for an article, news story, or the like: usually presented in the form of a letter that outlines or describes the projected piece.


So what, I ask you, is a prequery? If a query is “an inquiry regarding the acceptability of or interest in an idea,” then why would you need to prequery, I ask? It amazes me how so many seem to want to waste my time. Maybe that’s the idea: if enough time is spent with one author and queries, prequeries, preprequeries, and simple questions, eventually the agent will just assume they’re working together.

At least once a week I reject a query only to later be berated by the author because in fact it wasn’t a query, but she was just checking to see if it might be something I would be interested in. Or, I actually get queries that state that before querying she just wanted to make sure I’m accepting queries. Huh? And then of course there is the query that’s actually labeled “prequery.”

A query is a query is a query no matter what you want to call it or how you want to spin it. If you don’t feel you’re ready to query then don’t, but don’t waste the agent’s time by tiptoeing around the process. If you are sending any question pertaining to your book you are querying the agent, so make it good.

Jessica

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

But I Was Young and Stupid

One of the things we’re so frequently warned about is to be careful what we put on the Internet because once it’s out there it’s out there for good. So, if you plan to be a NYT bestselling author and don’t want your readers to someday know the story of exploits on a bar top, you might not want to post the story or the photos anywhere online. But for how long will we really have to worry about this?

We live in an age when the Internet is an integral part of our lives. There is rarely a day out of 365 that I don’t log on for some reason, usually it’s to check email and do work, but sometimes it’s just to find a recipe or search for Santa. We are raising children who think it’s normal to video chat with Grandma and see their dance recital photos posted online; they live a much more public life than the one we were used to as children and someday those children will be running the world. I have to think that this stress on being careful about what you post online because it could haunt you 15 years from now might be less and less important as the days go by. After all, if I find drunken spring break pictures of you I don’t judge who you are now based on that. Why would I? I assume that you are no longer feathering your hair and wearing neon leg warmers so I also have to assume you’ve stopped dancing on bars and listening to Milli Vanilli.

I know this has little to do with publishing and I’m not saying you shouldn’t be conscious of what you post, we should always be conscious of what we post, I’m just suggesting that it already doesn’t matter as much as it did five years ago and won’t matter as much five years from now.

Jessica

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Posting Your Book Online

I have started my own blog for the purpose of posting a new project as I write it. My plan is to post the entire first draft bit by bit and, hopefully, get some feedback/critiquing along the way. [Someone] alerted me to possible problems. But I wanted to get your take. If I post an entire first draft online, am I killing the chance of a final version ever being published via traditional means?

I think I have done a post on this before, but since it seems I can’t keep track of anything I’m writing anymore, I hope you all feel the same way and don’t mind getting some repeat information now and again. What I can tell you is that I agree with everything Moonrat said on this subject and would implore you, if you have any concerns, to read her post from May.

I really have nothing additional to add to her genius other than to say I don’t think this is a problem. I’m not sure I would advise you to simply go ahead and post the entire novel at once, but posting a teaser chapter or pieces at a time for critique will be unlikely to do any damage to a future sale or career.

All that being said, if you’re doing this simply for a critique you might be better off joining a critique group rather than asking random strangers who stumble upon your site for their opinion. One reason is I think you can learn just as much by critiquing the work of others as you can from having your own work critiqued.

Jessica

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Religious Mythology

I've got a question. My YA novel revolves around some biblical mythology, i.e., angels, Michael and Lucifer, Armageddon. You know, stuff like that. But it isn't a religious novel by any means. Essentially it is taking that mythology and completely twisting it and taking a fresh spin on it. But I'm afraid that agents are going to read my query letter and automatically think it is a religious novel and therefore they won't touch it with a ten foot pole. What is the best way to off-set that presumption?

While in an earlier blog post I suggested that if a writer was basing a book on a classic she should definitely go ahead and tell agents that, I’m not sure I would give the same advice to a writer basing a book on biblical mythology, and it’s for the very reason the author suggests. Do you risk turning some agents off who might assume it’s a religious novel? You do. Absolutely you do.

Religion is a tricky subject no matter which way you look at it. Basing a book on biblical mythology can turn off the non-religious who would automatically feel the book might have religious overtones they aren’t interested in, and it could offend the devoutly religious depending on your take on it. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t use biblical mythology, they are some of the best good v. evil stories out there. I’m just suggesting that instead of focusing your query on where the idea came from, maybe you should just focus it on the book itself and let your readers make their own judgments about where the idea came from.

There are no real original stories out there and many books are based on the Bible. What makes a story unique is the execution and how you take that story that we all know so well and make it feel like something we’ve never heard before.

However, all that being said, what I would like you to do is instead of looking at how people might feel about the religious beginnings of your book, I’d like you to trust your gut. If something doesn’t sit right, if it feels forced or if you worry that it’s going to give cause for rejection, then you need to do what your gut says. We all know a gut can be wrong, but do we want to spend months questioning later whether or not we would have been better off leaving that information out?

Jessica

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Twitch Week!

So, Jessica and I both finally caved and joined Twitter. To get the word out and have some fun, we decided to hold Twitch Week — a Twitter pitch contest. Follow Jessica and me @BookEndsJessica and @BookEndsKim throughout the week to see when we ask you to “Start Twitching!” and respond with your pitch. As you may or may not know, Twitter only allows 140 characters in its dialogue box, so you’re limited to that space. That means you need to keep it short and sweet and utterly fascinating!!

Here’s the rules:

1. Don’t post your pitch until Jessica and I have made the announcement (tweeted) to “Start Twitching.” We’ll be starting and stopping at random times throughout the week. Make sure you keep an eye on both of our Twitter pages to see when a Twitch session has started; we’ll each be starting and stopping contests at different times. When I post “Start Twitching” you can only respond on MY Twitter page. If you post a pitch on Jessica’s page when I’m the one that’s announced the Twitch session, it won’t be eligible. And any pitches posted before we’ve given the okay or after we’ve said to “Stop Twitching” won’t be considered.

2. You’re limited to the space in the dialogue box. No doubling up! Your pitch needs to begin and end in that one box.

3. You can pitch more than one project, but can only pitch the same project once on Jessica’s page and once on Kim’s page.

4. No ending the pitch in mid-thought. You don’t have to use complete sentences, but you must complete your thought.

5. This is not a blog contest. No pitches posted to our blog or sent to us via e-mail will be considered.


Jessica and I will pick at least one finalist from each Twitch session. We won’t be critiquing, just picking and posting the best of them. At the end of the week we’ll each pick a winner from that group of finalists and reward them with a critique of their synopses and first three chapters, as well as the title of the Twitchiest Twitchers of them all!

Have fun!


Kim

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Ready to Query?

I have a novel I finished last year, and have been holding off submitting queries to agents because I have been procrastinating editing the book. Should I just buckle down and edit the novel, or start submitting queries for the novel with the unedited draft. Should I focus more on writing the pitch instead of editing the novel? Do both? Just get off my butt and edit the dang novel already?

Oh dear, oh dear. I think it’s time to get off your butt and decide if you really want to be published or just write. A year? Well, the smartest thing you did here was hold off on querying. Never, ever, ever think of querying, don’t even think of it, until your novel is written, edited, revised, polished and as perfect as you’re ever going to get it. The top priority in every author’s writing life is always the work; pitching, publicity, marketing, blogging, twittering, facebooking, quoting all come secondary.

What you need to do is sit down and edit that novel to death. And then, you need to put it aside for two weeks or maybe even a month while you sit down and start writing that second novel. Why? Well, I’m making an assumption here, but I’m thinking that you haven’t been doing any novel writing in a year. If that’s the case you’re not ready for publication. Agents and especially publishers want career novelists, authors who will write book after book after book. If you’re the kind of author who feels she’s only got one book in her, then unless you’re Harper Lee it’s going to be difficult to find a home. Many debut contracts are for more than one book.

Editing is not always the best part of the job and it’s certainly not the prettiest, but I think editing that book is more important than writing it. It’s what makes the book really sing and it’s absolutely necessary. So get editing, keep writing, and then think of querying.

Jessica

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Confusion of Rejection

I think most authors don’t realize that agents really do have an idea of how frustrating and confusing rejection can be. Sure, it’s not the project we’ve labored for years to write, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t felt the sting in other ways. Maybe we didn’t write the book, but we have labored for years to build the business and our reputation.

In today’s example I’m actually going to move away from the work and tell you a story about an author I recently offered representation to. I made a point of meeting this author in person and we had what I thought was a very pleasant and honest chat about publishing, her career, and all of those things potential relationshipees chat about. Upon returning from our meeting, I dropped Author an email to let her know how much I enjoyed our time together and included a copy of our author/agent contract for her review. A few days later I finally heard back: not surprisingly Author had a number of agents interested and needed time to think. About a week later I followed up to see how she was doing and to let her know I was available to answer any questions she might have. A few days later she emailed back to say she had decided to go with another agent. She was very complimentary, but left no real indication of what the deciding factor in her choice might have been. There was no reason to, and honestly, she really doesn’t owe me any explanation.

I’m not broken up about this and I’m not going to spend days, weeks, hours or even minutes obsessing. In fact, I’m glad she took the time to really evaluate her choices and I suspect she’s got a winner no matter who it is. I sincerely wish her lots of luck and can tell you that she’s found a new fan in me. For agents, as well as for authors, rejection is part of the game and happens all the time. That being said, I’m disappointed. Of course I’m disappointed. I don’t go into a potential author/agent relationship lightly and I certainly don’t offer representation unless I’m enthusiastic about the potential new client. All that being said, it does sting a little because no matter how tough we try to make our skin, doesn’t rejection always sting just a little? And that’s a good thing. Stinging is good. It means that we’re alive, it means that we still have the ability to get excited and get our hopes up. And hopefully instead of sending us into a hidey-hole, it drives us to work harder.

Agents do understand rejection, but we also understand the importance of moving on and not allowing rejection to take over. I figure I have two options. I can spend the day pouting and obsessing over every email I had with this author and wonder why oh why she didn’t pick me. Or, I can use it as a kick in the pants. See, I had planned on signing a new author this week and dang it, now I’m off to find a new author. Submission piles, look out!

Jessica

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Changing the Query System

By this point we’ve all heard the many complaints from authors that the query letter system needs to be changed because, basically, it’s too hard. The reasoning authors use are that agents are too stupid to recognize a good book based on a query and because of that many great pieces of literary fiction are being lost to the times.

Do you really believe that drivel? Come on! That’s like telling the corporate world to do away with resumes and instead personally interview every candidate who might be interested in the job. That’s like saying that corporate leaders are not resume writers and expecting applicants to be judged on a resume is demeaning.

Do you believe that if a book is really that great, if you really think you’re the next Dan Brown, or Philip Roth, or Tolkien, or Nora Roberts or Stephen King, or whoever it is you aspire to be, that no one in the entire publishing community will ever see that? That you’ll never bother to meet another writer who might refer you to her agent or that, shocking idea here, you’ll never learn to write a good query?

I don’t think the query system is perfect, but I don’t think there’s ever going to be a perfect way to try to introduce a creative form into a business world. Mostly though, I don’t believe that the readers of the world are missing out on great literary fiction because of query letters. There are hundreds of agents out there, there are only a few publishers, and sometimes I feel that there are even fewer readers. More books, more manuscripts, get read than you might imagine. Fewer are published. Self-publishing and POD publishing is becoming a bigger option for many. What’s interesting however is that, while there are always a few exceptions, for the most part readers are agreeing with agents and editors. We all want good books and I strongly believe that good books will be found and published.

Jessica

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pseudonyms

I’ve been digging into the archives of questions from readers and can only hope that some of those who asked the questions are still around to read the answers.

Today’s question concerns a previously published author who was dropped by her publisher, presumably for poor sales. The author now has a terrific new idea and is more than willing to write under a pseudonym. In fact, she has one picked out already. The question is how should she approach this with agents.

I tend to think honesty is the best policy, that and the fact that since she was previously published it shows others that she’s already been validated as a publishable author. My advice is to let agents know, in the query letter, that you were previously published by Smart Books under Jane Jones, but are now looking for an agent for your next Brilliant Idea that you plan to write as Janet Janes.

Authors reinvent their careers all the time and agents know this. Sure, you’re always going to run up against an agent who has no interest in rebuilding a career. You’re also going to run up against agents who have no interest in unpublished authors and those who really have no interest in books at all (hopefully I’m just kidding here), but you need to advertise your strengths and the truth is that your strength is that others have already seen what you can do and they liked it.

Jessica

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Polite Communication

Back in my younger days as an editorial assistant I quickly learned that one of the best ways to become the best I could be was to watch those around me. I paid attention not just to my bosses and how they did their work, but also to other editors. I learned not just from the good things they did, but from the bad as well, and one of the many things that has always stuck with me was the importance of communication. It always amazed me, even back then, what poor communicators so many people were and still are.

As an editor and now as a literally agent I make it a priority to be as accessible as possible to my clients as well as to editors and other professionals who call or contact me. That means that I return phone calls and emails as quickly as possible and always remind my clients that if I haven’t returned your phone call or email by the next day, or responded in some way, it’s because somewhere along the way the message was misplaced or I lost my mind. In the very first conversation I ever have with a new client this comes up and I always, always tell them to call again, that bugging me isn’t possible and that I’d rather hear from you than have you stewing at home thinking I’m ignoring your calls. The one exception to this rule are unsolicited phone pitches. While my assistant will sometimes return those calls for me I don’t and I won’t. I don’t have time to spend the 20 to 30 minutes on the phone that every unsolicited querier seems to think they are allowed to have with me when a simple letter or, hey, following our submission guidelines would do.

Unfortunately, poor communication is as alive and well today as it was 15 years ago when I started in publishing. It amazes me sometimes how often I’ll have to call or email a single editor to get an answer to one question or how often I wonder if an editor has died and maybe, just maybe no one told me. After all, ten emails and three phone calls should illicit an answer, especially when it’s pertaining to a top author.

What I wonder is how much worse this is going to get. We live in an age when text messaging is more popular than phoning, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed the damage it’s doing. People do not want to have face-to-face or phone-to-phone conversations anymore, they don’t want to actually face things head-on, feeling everything is easier via text or email. Phone skills and verbal communication are declining and, frankly, so is written communication. A text is not the same as a business letter.

I hope that someday schools catch on and start teaching more than just English grammar, but also teach proper verbal communication. Back when I was in junior high, and public schools had money for such things, we were actually required to take a speech class, which meant getting up in front of the class and giving three different speeches for grades. It was great and I think invaluable.

Jessica

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Friday, June 12, 2009

The Editorial Process

You hear stories all the time about editors working with authors on books, maybe change an ending, add this, take out that, etc. Is this after they've bought the book? I guess what I'm after is, does an editor say, I like this book, but author is going to have to revise the first section, then I'll take it, or I'll take it now, and we'll continue to work on it?

The revisions your editor suggests and works on with you can vary greatly from book to book, editor to editor, and project to project. Like many of the answers I give on the blog, there is no real answer to this question.

The ideal is that all of you will end up with an editor who will ask for some sort of revisions. To quote the reader directly, to ask you to “add this, take out that, etc.” should be normal and expected of an editor. Presumably every single book that’s sold could use a little buffing up. Even if it’s removing one small scene that seems unnecessary.

How this is presented to the author depends on the situation. I’ve had editors call to tell me that they really want to make an offer, but need to know first if the author is willing to change such and such. The changes aren’t required at that time, but they want a sense of how open the author would be to them. In other instances I have actually had editors call and request changes just to the synopsis (this is on a partial submission). For some reason the editor, or editorial staff, felt they needed to see the revised synopsis before the offer came in, and of course I’ve had deals made and finalized and suddenly the author receives an extremely detailed revision letter with no real warning up front. I haven’t been the author of those letters in any of these situations, but my feeling is neither is better or worse than the other. Typically a revision letter will come whether there’s warning or not, and typically that revision letter will be surprising, painful, and hopefully wonderful all at the same time.

I think the best way for an author to look at the editorial process is to assume that an editor is expecting perfection, because even though revisions will always be requested, perfection is what she’s looking for. When being interviewed by potentially new clients I’m always asked whether or not I do editorial work with my clients and my answer is always yes. I will never send a book out on submission until I feel it’s as perfect as we’re going to get it. I never, ever want to receive a rejection letter back from an editor and think that I knew that was a problem, but was trying to get it by anyway. Revisions will only be requested when the editor sees them as minor in comparison to the success she envisions for the book.

Jessica

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

You Have No Business Writing

Some time ago I posted a letter from a reader in which she implied that there were certain people visiting writers forums who had “no business writing.” This comment, more than anything else in the letter, caused quite a stir. Many criticized the author for being a snob and not giving a break to newbies.

I have no idea where this statement came from, whether it was based on seeing writing samples or just on the questions people ask. What it got me thinking about though was the entire writing v. publishing discussion. I disagree that there’s anyone out there who has no business writing. In fact, writing can be a wonderful form of communication, therapy, or just plain fun and anyone who wants to write should grab pen and paper or keyboard and computer and get to it. Part of the joy of writing this blog is that I get a chance to write, something I don’t typically get to do.

What I wonder about this reader’s question though is not whether she meant people have no business writing, but whether she meant that there are people out there who have no business seeking publication, and for that I wonder if she might be right. We talk frequently about how busy and inundated agents are and the huge influx of queries we are all seeing. What we rarely talk about however is how many of those should really be seeking publication. Despite what many writers seem to think, not every word you write is brilliant and not every book should be seen by the world. In fact, I spoke recently to a writer at a conference who wanted to write and share the family stories told to her as a child. She was getting older and thought the stories would be lovely to share with family and friends. She wanted to know from me if I thought it was worth getting an agent for. I suggested that in this case she might consider self-publishing. She didn’t want to fictionalize it and really wanted it for the purpose of a family legacy. It seems like a great idea, but not likely something that would sell thousands of copies in a bookstore or appeal to a mass audience.

I think one of the problems the Internet has created for publishing is that everyone thinks every book written deserves to be published, and let’s face it, that’s just not true. I’m not saying that the people the reader was talking about have no business being published ever, but I do imagine there are a lot of books written that aren’t ready to be queried and may never be ready to be queried. The problem often is that there is no way to know that until you actually try.

Jessica

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Write What You Know

I don’t think I read agent blogs as religiously as many of you do, but I do try to keep up-to-date on what my colleagues are writing and saying, and one of the things I love is that in a weird, blog-like way, I feel we’ve developed our own little community. We often have very different things to say, and then there’s the occasion when one of us posts something the other had fully intended to post at some point that week, or when we post similar things on the same day. I have to tell you that as of yet, none of this has been planned.

The reason for this post is that something I’ve really learned while writing the blog is that I can only write what I write. I couldn’t write Nathan’s blog or Janet’s blog because they have their own unique voices and styles and the subjects they cover are uniquely theirs. Frequently I’m asked to write posts on certain subjects or why I don’t give my opinion on things, and sometimes, frankly, it’s because I have nothing to say. At other times, I’ll start writing a post and realize I’m boring myself. Instead of “post” I’ll hit “delete.”

If blogging were my job and not something I did in my spare time (often nights and weekends) I know I could push myself to make those boring topics more exciting or to post on things that don’t thrill me, but it’s not. Blogging is my hobby, which means I only have to write what I want to write.

So what’s the point of this? I’m not really sure. Ever have those days? I think, though, that it’s to say we all have to accept the certain limitations we have when it comes to what we do and we can’t look at the success of what others are doing and decide we need to be doing that. While I greatly admire bloggers like Agent Kristin, I can’t decide that’s how I’m going to write or that’s what I’m going to write. I can only be me, and while I can and should certainly push myself to be the best me possible, I still, no matter what, have to be me. And I think, more than anything, that’s what it means to write what you know. That you need to write what is you and not what everyone else is writing or write something just because it’s hot.

Jessica

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Self-Publishing

I get a lot of questions from authors about self-publishing through places like iUniverse or AuthorHouse. Usually the question is generally what you can do next. Does it hurt your chances of finding a traditional publisher later and how do agents look at such a work?

I am going to discuss the marketing/sales ramifications of self-publishing, but first I want to address something I think few authors consider. When receiving a manuscript on submission I’m allowed to use my imagination and see the possibilities. For example, if I think it’s an absolutely fabulous book but needs some editorial work, I know I can probably work with the author to get that done. A bound, self-published, previously published work makes it difficult for me to see possibilities. The book is already done, and presumably since the author had it published she also thinks it’s already done. I might be alone in this and I’m sure there are other agents who feel differently, but every book needs some editorial work, and I think we all assume that once a manuscript is made into a book that work is done. Of course that doesn’t mean the work can’t be done from self-published to published with a traditional house, it just makes it harder for me to envision.

The second answer to this question, and really the most important topic, relates to sales. Sure there are those who think that agents are old-school and traditional publishers are a waste of time, that in today’s age of do-it-yourself technology why waste your time. Go straight to a POD (print-on-demand) publisher or Amazon and get it done yourself. And you can do that. I guess I’m old-school. I like to think that the editorial work, distribution, marketing, design, cover art, etc., that a traditional publisher provides still do make a difference. It might not be the wave of the future, but for now I still think it’s important.

There are certainly stories of authors that have found success self-publishing. What’s interesting though is how much that success is called success because ultimately they were picked up by an agent and a traditional publisher. The thing to consider is that those books typically had amazing reviews and unbelievable sales. Sales that rivaled and beat many traditionally published books. What also makes those successful books so notable is that they are rare. Take a look on those POD sites and see how many books are published each month, then consider how many POD books each month are picked up by traditional publishers. I’d say the numbers speak for themselves.

If you’ve published through a POD publisher and now want to go the traditional route, all I can say is give it a try. It’s going to be a little more difficult, but that certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I think you need to address the POD publishing up front, in your query (agents do have access to Google) and just see what happens. I have requested more than a few self-published books in my time and have gone on to sell one to a traditional publisher. I am also in the process of working with an author to revise and update a self-published book in the hopes a traditional publisher will pick it up. Both of these books happen to be business titles and both sold a substantial number of copies on their own—between 10,000 and 25,000.

Jessica

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Maggie Sefton on Taking Risks

Maggie Sefton
Dropped Dead Stitch
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pub date: June 2009
Agent: Jessica Faust




(Click to Buy)



Author Web/Blog links:
www.maggiesefton.com, www.cozychicksblog.com, LinkedIn

Taking risks is a gamble, especially with your career. There’s no guarantee you’ll succeed. Some people will work at a job they hate for years rather than “risk” trying a new endeavor, something they don’t know how to do. So, they stay stuck—and unhappy.

I know how that feels. I was published in 1995 in Historical Romance by Berkley Jove with a western romance. It was fun to write, and it became my first published novel. Writing the western was a change for me. Up until then I’d been writing big historical novels set in the 1600s, 1800s, and medieval times. However, those novels weren’t selling. I was stuck. So, I took the risk of doing something different. I wrote the western, and it sold quickly.

That’s a lesson I’ve had to remind myself of several times over my 25+ year writing career. A few years after the western, I decided to take the risk of writing something different once again. This time I started listening to the contemporary mystery characters that were waiting in my “story queue.” They wanted onstage. Once I let them loose, they stormed the stage, chased the historical characters into the bushes, and took over. Later mysteries went on to become a nationally bestselling series—the Kelly Flynn Knitting Mysteries with Berkley Prime Crime.

As writers, we should never stop taking risks. Whether it be through story ideas, characterization, or our craft. We need to stay open to new ideas and different writing styles. That’s how we stay fresh. And every now and then, we need to take risks.

I took a risk with my new release, the 7th in the Kelly Flynn Knitting Mysteries, DROPPED DEAD STITCH, out June 2nd. Amidst all the good times with Kelly and the gang and warm and fuzzies in the knitting shop, something bad happens. A murder, right? Well, yes, someone is murdered, and Kelly has to solve it. But something else occurs before that. Something bad happens to one of Kelly’s close friends.

It’s a sensitive subject, and I did my best to handle it with respect and sensitivity. Why take the risk and include the subject at all? Because I had to. My characters bring the stories, and they expect me to pay attention.

Risky? You bet. I had no idea how it would be received. I’m extremely gratified that reviewers have responded so favorably. DROPPED DEAD STITCH’s cover was even featured in the May 4th Publishers Weekly article on Traditional Mysteries.
All of that is wonderful. But I didn’t take the risk for the reviews. I took it for my characters, because the whole point of what happens is not the trauma, but the transformation that follows. For me—it’s all about the characters. Always has been.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Publishing Dictionary Expanded

I’ve done a similar post on publishing terminology, but I realize that it can never hurt to do it again. For those who have been regular readers of the blog, I apologize for the repetition. What I’ve done today is pulled out that old list and added to it so that hopefully we have a strong list of terms that new and experienced authors can use when they feel stumped. Think of it as the New and Updated Publishing Dictionary.

AAR: The Association of Authors’ Representatives is an organization of literary and dramatic agents that sets certain guidelines and standards that professional and reputable agents must abide by. It is really the only organization for literary agents of its kind.

Advance: The amount the publisher pays up front to an author before the book is published. The advance is an advance on all future earnings.

ARCS: Advance Review Copies. Not the final book, these are advance and unfinalized copies of the book that are sent to reviewers.

Auction: During the sale of a manuscript to publishers sometimes, oftentimes if you’re lucky, you’ll have an auction. Not unlike an eBay auction, this is when multiple publishers bid on your book and ultimately, the last man standing wins (that’s the one who offers the most lucrative deal).

BEA: BookExpo America is the largest book rights fair in the United States. This is where publishers from all over the world gather to share rights information, sell book rights, and flaunt their new, upcoming titles.

Blurb: A one-paragraph (or so) description of your book. People often compare a blurb to back cover copy, and while it’s similar, it’s frequently more streamlined and focuses on the heart and the chief conflict in the story. This is the pitch you use in your query letter as well as the pitch you would use in pitch appointments.

Commission: The percentage of your earnings paid to your agent, typically 15%.

Copy Edits: Edits that focus on the mechanics of your writing. A copy editor typically looks for grammar, punctuation, spelling, typos, and style.

Cover Letter: This is the letter that should accompany any material you send to an agent or an editor. A cover letter should remind the agent that the material has been requested, where you met if you’ve met, and of course the same information that is in your query letter—title, genre, a short yet enticing blurb of your book, and bio information if you have any. This can often be interchanged with Query Letter.

Fiction: A story/book based on research and imagination.

Full: A full manuscript.

Galleys: Another word for ARCs. Galleys aren’t always bound, but are also sent to reviewers as well as other sources for publicity. Galleys are often a copy of your Page Proofs.

Genre: The classification of books. Examples of genre in fiction include mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, and in nonfiction you might see sub-genres like business, health, parenting, pets, art, architecture, memoir, or current events.

Hardcover: A book printed with a hard cover.

Imprint: The name within the publishing house that the book is published under. Usually done as a way to market certain types of books. For example, Aphrodisia is an imprint of Kensington. It is still a Kensington book, but by publishing under Aphrodisia you are branding the book as erotic romance. Prime Crime is an imprint of Berkley that brands the books published as mysteries.

Literary Agent: A literary agent works on behalf of the author to sell her book and negotiate with publishers. A literary agent also helps with career planning and development and sometimes editing and marketing.

Marketing: Marketing is advertising that is paid for, including ads in magazines, display units in stores, and things like postcards or posters.

Mass Market: Also called “rack size,” these are paperback books originally designed to fit in rotating book racks in non-bookstore outlets (like grocery stores and drugstores). Mass market paperbacks are roughly 4” x 7” in size.

MWA: Mystery Writers of America is the national organization of mystery writers and a great source of information for all writers.

Narrative Nonfiction: Nonfiction written in story form like memoir, biography, autobiography, etc.

Nonfiction: Writing based on fact.

North American Rights: These are the type of rights licensed to the publisher, allowing the publisher only to handle and represent book rights in North America. This means that the author and the author’s agent are responsible for selling/licensing rights anywhere outside of North America (and usually a designated set of territories).

Novel: Book-length fiction. Therefore, note that it is redundant to say “fiction novel.”

Partial: A partial is frequently what an agent will ask for when taking a book under consideration. For fiction and narrative nonfiction a partial usually includes a cover letter, a designated number of chapters from the book, and a synopsis. For non-narrative nonfiction a partial usually contains an extended author bio, an overview of the book, an expanded table of contents, detailed marketing and competitive information, and of course sample writing material (usually a chapter or two). Also called a Proposal.

Pitch: Frequently verbal, the pitch is your Blurb. It’s a one-paragraph (or so) description of your book. It’s what you use to entice readers to read the book and describe the story.

Preempt: When a publisher makes an advance and royalty offer high enough to take the book off the auction table. In other words, a publisher offers enough money that the author and agent agree that they will sell the book without asking for bids from other publishers.

Proofs/Page proofs: This is the last stage of editing that a book goes through. They are a copy of the designed pages, and the author is given one last chance to review the typesetter's “proofs” to check for typos or other small errors. Proofs are also what are used to make review copies for reviewers and sometimes rights sales.

Proposal: A proposal is frequently what an agent will ask for when taking a book under consideration. For fiction and narrative nonfiction a proposal usually includes a cover letter, a designated number of chapters from the book, and a synopsis. For non-narrative nonfiction a proposal usually contains an extended author bio, an overview of the book, an expanded table of contents, detailed marketing and competitive information, and of course sample writing material (usually a chapter or two). Also called a Partial.

Publicity: Advertising that is free. Publicity includes magazine and newspaper articles, radio and television interviews, and of course MySpace and other networking Web sites.

Query: A one-page letter sent to agents or editors in an attempt to attain representation. A query letter should include all of the author’s contact information—name, address, phone, email, and Web site—as well as the title of the book, genre, author bio if applicable, and a short, enticing blurb of the book. A query letter is your introduction and sometimes only contact with an agent and should not be taken lightly.

Revisions: This is when the bulk of your edits are done. Revisions are typically done with the editor acquiring your book and sometimes with your agent before even submitting a project. Revisions can include anything from fixing punctuation to rewriting the entire book. It’s a collaborative process between editor and author.

Royalties: The percentage of the sales (monetary) an author receives for each copy of the book sold.

RWA: Romance Writers of America is the national organization of romance and women’s fiction writers and a great source of information for all writers.

Sell-Through: This is the most important number in publishing. It’s the percentage of books shipped that have actually sold. For example, if your publisher shipped 100,000 books but only sold 40,000, your sell-through is 40%. Not so great. However, if your publisher shipped 50,000 books, and sold 40,000, your sell-through would be 80%. A fantastic number.

SFWA: Science Fiction Writers of America is the national organization of science fiction and fantasy writers and a great source of information for all writers.

Slush/Slush Pile: Any material sent to an agent or an editor that has not been requested.

Synopsis: A detailed, multipage description of the book that includes all major plot points as well as the conclusion.

Tag Line: The one line often used on the front cover of the book to grab a reader’s attention. Tag lines, while fun for writers to write, really aren’t necessary until you have a publishing contract.

Trade: To make it easy, trade is the shortened name for trade paperback books and is basically any size that is not mass market. Typically though they run larger than a mass market edition.

Vanity Press: A publisher that publishes the author’s work at the author’s expense (not a recommended way to seek publication by most agents or editors).

World Rights: When World Rights are sold/licensed to the publisher the publisher has the ability to represent the book on the author’s behalf and sell foreign translation rights anywhere in the world. Keep in mind that the author does get a piece of the pie no matter where the book is published.


Jessica

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

BookEnds Must Reads

Hello, faithful readers. I could use your help today. I’ve been thinking that it might be useful (and you tell me if I’m right) to have a section on the side of the blog entitled "Must Reads"—those blog posts you’ve found most useful that new writers could easily access to learn the basics, or sometimes not so basics, about the business.

I know that over the years a few of you have mentioned saving or printing certain posts for review later, and that’s what I’m thinking of. Those are the must reads. So if you could, in the comments section, share the names of the posts you think are must reads. I’m going to put my intern to work (and my webmaster, too, of course) to prepare a links section based on the most popular posts.

Thanks!

Jessica

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Slow Down

When I request a partial from an author, sometimes I request the material be sent via email and sometimes I request it be sent via snail mail. There are a couple of reasons for this, one being that sometimes I like to sit down with paper and sometimes I use my Kindle. Whatever the reason, it’s my own little quirk, so there you have it.

What amazes me though is how many people can’t seem to get the submission right. In my request I state clearly how I would like the material sent and say clearly “as per the guidelines on our web site,” with a link to that page. In other words, go to the web site to take a look at how it should be sent. I suspect what happens is that a lot of authors see the request and get so excited that they send the material immediately, which almost always results in a mess. I get the material emailed in three different attachments or three different versions of the same material attached to one email. I’ve received the entire partial cut and pasted into the body of an email, and then of course there are the three or four email follow-ups because the first one wasn’t quite right, so while the author apologizes, here it is again, etc.

Slow down, everyone. While we certainly recommend you submit requested material in a timely manner, speedy and timely are two different things. Take the time to review the agent’s guidelines one more time (if they exist), take the time to double-check your material, and then send it out.

I think we can all agree that when asking anyone to do anything for us we would much rather have it take an extra minute or two and be done right than rushed and sloppy. Remember, the perception of how the material is sent and how well you follow instructions also play into my perception of whether or not you’re a client I would want to work with.

Jessica

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Reactions to Rejection Letters

I often share the frustrating and sometimes humorous tales of responses I get to rejection letters. Why? It gives me something to write about. The truth though is that most of you, most writers, are kind, courteous and professional. I frequently get thank-you notes (which we’ve discussed ad nauseam at this point) and I’ve noticed a real improvement in queries. People are listening and learning and I’m delighted by that.

So why is it that there are those who feel the need to respond in anger? I’ve thought about this a lot. Of course I can’t really get into the heads of the writers who are responding. I’m not an Author Profiler after all, but I do have two theories.

The first is the newbie. The beginning writer who is at the beginning of the query process. My rejection letter is one of the first received and proper query etiquette is not yet known. The author really thought, after the glowing reviews of friends and family, that everyone would be as delighted as she is by her book. She failed to really accept that publishing is a business.

The second is the frustrated, end-of-her-rope author. She’s been querying for months and months and is running to the end of her list. She’s never taken the time to think maybe it’s something she’s doing (like the query itself) and for whatever reason, the letter I send is the one that makes her snap.

I’m sure there’s also the arrogant writer who just thinks all agents are a bunch of idiots, but I would prefer to assume that these authors, with these horrible replies, are not replying to every query this way. Can you imagine the time and energy that would take? But instead, once in a while, they feel the need to vent and, let’s face it, agents are often the machine that gets raged against the most.

Never fear though, when I share these I share them as a way to vent as well as a way to maybe add an astonished smile to your day. Rarely, very, very rarely, do these angry replies ever get me down. There are a lot of other things going on in publishing to do that.

Jessica

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Monday, June 01, 2009

LOL

I have to admit while some of the things in my LOL posts definitely make us laugh out loud, others are more of a bemused shaking of the head. Today’s list is a little bit of both, I’m afraid.

From an unsolicited query letter: “What do you think about this? Let’s talk. Lunch?” and I have to say, there wasn’t much else there.

Why is it that, often enough, authors think the best way to respond to a query rejection is to insult me, tell me I’m an idiot, too quick on the trigger, and then call me demeaning names like “dear” and “hon”? Is that supposed to inspire me to want to read the book? I have to say, though, the condescending “dears" and “hons" get to me the most. Clearly these are not written by authors I would want to work with anyway.

I received a query recently for a book that was 2,000 words. I rejected the query and kindly explained to the author that most novels are between 70,000 and 100,000 words in length. The author replied to explain that she had a typo in her letter and the book was actually 20,000 words. How was I supposed to respond to that?

The opening line in a recent query: “I am writing this query in hopes you will reject my manuscript.” I abided by the author’s wishes and didn’t bother to read the rest.

And of course, another fun and “enlightening” response to a rejection letter: “Vapid responses such as this one that ostensibly come from you or, worse, a know-nothing intern, indicate there is a ambient low-level of awareness at Bookends, no one there capable of out-of-the-box-thinking.” Sigh.

Jessica

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