Monday, November 30, 2009

What Would You Do?

One of those questions that comes with a variety of answers . . .

Let's say you're an agent who has fairly specific tastes for what you like to represent. You have a client for whom you've already sold three of these type of books. This client then comes to you with a book that has very little to do with the kind of fiction you normally represent. (Not genre-jumping, but a different style.) It's a perfectly good book, just not to your taste. If this had come via query, you'd turn it down.

What do you do? Farm it out to a junior agent? Tell the writer to shelve it? Learn to love it even though it's not your cup of tea?


The first thing I’m going to grab on to is the phrase “not to your taste.” If that’s a phrase that comes from me, if I tell my client that her book isn’t to my taste, it probably means that I really don’t like it, that the writing, the style of the book, and the book itself didn’t grab me and ultimately I don’t feel I’m the right agent for it. How I handle it will be dependent on many things.

Do I feel this is a direction that doesn’t work for the author? If this is the case then I’m going to discuss my concerns with my client. If it’s a book I don’t feel is that strong or the right direction for the author’s voice or the market, I feel it’s my job to let the writer know that. How she wants to handle the next step is up to her. Does she want to consider my opinion and put the book away for something else? Or would she rather find someone else to work with?

Do I feel that there’s something there, but the execution is off? If this is the case then I’m going to talk to the author about possible revisions and what we can both do to make the book stronger.

Do I feel it has potential, but I’m not the right agent for it? If this is the case then I’m probably going to suggest that I shouldn’t be representing the book. I need to do what’s best for my client and her career, and sometimes that means stepping aside.

One of the other phrases I want to latch on to is “perfectly good book.” That’s not a term that screams sale to me. In fact, it’s a term that leaves me a little cold. See, “perfectly good books” don’t tend to sell, especially in this market. Great books sell. If this book is only “perfectly good” it sounds to me like it’s not quite enough to hang a career on. Sure, others might hear that phrase differently, but it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. If someone told you about a book she just read and called it “perfectly good,” would you run out to buy it?

And would I pass it on to another agent? If I feel the book has merit, but I’m not the right agent for it, it is likely I would talk about it with the other agents at BookEnds and ask if any of them, junior or not, might be interested. Of course, whether or not the client wants to work with that agent on the book would have to be a decision she would need to make.

As for learning to love something that’s not my cup of tea, well, it’s a little more than love. I try and love new teas all the time. In fact, I credit many of my own clients for introducing me to genres, sub-genres and writing styles that I might never have considered in the past. The issue for me comes not from loving the tea, but from being able to do what I feel is right for the author, and that means giving her the best agent possible. If I really get excited about something it doesn’t matter if it’s something I thought I might have rejected in a query; what matters is if I can do my best for it.

So I hope that variety of answers helps you. There’s no right or wrong to how an agent or a client might handle this situation and, as always, without knowing the book, the client, and the entire scope of the career it’s really a hard question to answer.

Jessica

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving

Here in the United States we’re coming up on Thanksgiving weekend, a long weekend for everyone, and for that alone we should all give thanks. However, instead I wanted to give thanks to something that’s near and dear to all of our hearts. Books.

Because of books I have been able to explore worlds and lives I never imagined existed. I have been able to travel through wardrobes, I survived the Civil War, grieved the loss of “my sister” Beth, and solved murders armed with only Forensics for Dummies. I have fallen in love with vampires, werewolves, lords, dukes, a Griffin, a hockey player, and yes, just a normal, everyday, handsome man with an attitude problem.

I’ve been able to learn things and change the way I do things. I’ve studied business books and parenting books, wedding books and health books. I’ve scoured books for advice and new ways of thinking and learned about the world from a perspective I don’t get on a daily basis.

So today I salute all books, those I read as a child and those that can still take me to new places today. And of course, I thank all of the writers who continue to bring me something new and fresh and introduce me to worlds that have been nothing but pure joy.

This weekend I’m hoping to spend time with my friends and family and yes, I think I’m going to find a book to share the holiday with.

A Happy Thanksgiving to all. Our offices are closed for the weekend, but we’ll be back on Monday.

Jessica

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Time Is Money

I have just signed with a well known commercial agency. The trouble is, the manuscript isn't finished yet. I met the agent at a writing convention, and pitched them the book. They asked me to send them the first three chapters as soon as possible. They offered me representation straight away and I signed the contract after sending them about 15,000 words (all I have so far). They were completely aware from the start that it is unfinished, but are really excited to see the rest.

My question is, do I spend as long as it takes to get the manuscript word-perfect or should I just finish it as quickly as possible and worry about any imperfections later?

I've read your blogs on 'timing' and am worried that if I take too long, the marketplace will have changed. I am generally a slow writer, and like to edit as I go along. The book is a supernatural fantasy/horror for 9-12 year olds by the way.


Congratulations are definitely in order. You must have a fantastic and unique idea and must have written 15,000 words that blew your agent away. As always when I receive a question from an agented author, I urge you to open discussions with your agent and talk with her not only about your concerns, but about her expectations. Every agent is different, and of course without knowing what your idea is it’s difficult for me to know how timely it really is. I also wonder if your agent expects you to finish the entire book or is hoping to sell on proposal. My guess is that most editors will want or need to see the finished product, but this is something only your agent will know.

All that being said, I will of course answer your question. First of all, slow writers drive me nuts, not because I have anything against them but because I’m impatient, and when I get excited about something I want it yesterday. You should see how much batter I eat when I’m craving chocolate cheesecake. That being said, waiting the hour for the cheesecake to cook and the eight hours for it to chill properly is like a little slice of heaven. The batter might have been good, but the finished product is so, so worth the wait. So is a great book. While I might get impatient with a slow writer, it’s so much better to give her the time she needs to create the perfect book than it is to rush her through and be disappointed in the end. Half-baked cheesecake misses the mark; so does a hastily written book, and I’ve definitely learned the art of patience.

Moving away from my craving for chocolate cheesecake, let me give it to you straight. Take the time to write the best book possible. Yes, there’s always the possibility that the market will change, but a poorly written book isn’t going to sell well (to publishers or readers) just because the market is looking for that. A really great book can actually create its own market.

Jessica

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Monday, November 23, 2009

What Will You Do to Publish?

There’s a difference between writing and publishing. It’s something we’ve discussed before and something that will inevitably come up over and over again on this and other blogs. Writing is a craft or a hobby, publishing is a business and for many your career.

One of the distinct differences I see between authors, those I represent and those who comment on or read the blog, are those who will do anything to be published and those who simply want to write. Now, before I go any further, let me make it clear that there’s nothing wrong with either. Some of you write simply to write and allow your creativity to flow. Others, however, have made the decision to write as a career. This means working on books, writing for magazines or writing for newspapers. I know many or all of you will say that you write because you have to. That it’s not a choice. Publishing, however, is a choice, or can be. Sometimes, unfortunately, it’s not a choice we can make on our own. But what if it is? What if you found out that there was an easy way into the publishing world? Would you take it or would you still prefer to write?

Here at BookEnds we pride ourselves on our ideas and enjoy brainstorming with our authors. Sometimes we come up with ideas in-house that we think would make a perfect mystery series or untapped romance idea. Sometimes one of these ideas is perfect for a particular author and at other times it goes on a list that we keep at hand for the author who might need an idea down the road. Editors aren’t much different. It’s common in both fiction and nonfiction for editors to have terrific ideas and search for authors to write them. I know that during my days as an editor I prepared a number of series bibles for different types of books and worked with agents to find the writers. In fact, more than ten years later, some of those series are still alive and doing very well.

How you deal with an idea that’s handed to you is really up to you and has to be a personal decision. Are you willing to write anything to build a publishing career or would you prefer to develop your own ideas and wait it out if necessary? Again, there’s no wrong answer to either of these questions. There have been many times when I’ve talked to authors about ideas I’ve had or editors have had and they’ve chosen to walk away, feeling the idea wasn’t exciting enough or wasn’t for them. I respect that. What I tell my clients any time an idea comes up is that you need to really feel passionate about it, because it’s the one idea, the one book series, you’ll be writing for the next twenty years. On top of that, there really are no guarantees. I’ve had authors write book proposals based on ideas from editors but fail to sell the book anyway, primarily because the visions the editor and author had for the book differed. I’ve had ideas I’ve given to authors that have sold, but didn’t sell well, and I’ve given authors ideas that didn’t sell.

Career writers often find that they sometimes need to write books they aren’t necessarily passionate about, but might enjoy anyway, and many have great success at it. My one bit of advice is that if you are ever offered the opportunity to write a book that comes from an agent or an editor, make sure it’s something you’re excited about no matter what and make sure you know why you write. Know if it’s more important to write your own ideas and create your own stories or know if being a career writer is what you really want. If a career is the path you choose then sometimes it’s important to remember that career writing, like any career, sometimes means doing things we aren’t necessarily passionate about, but that pays the bills.

Jessica

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Pseudonyms

Over the years I’ve received a lot of questions about pseudonyms, mostly related to query letters or at what point in an author’s career a pseudonym should be chosen. One of the things I’m not sure many authors understand is that a pseudonym isn’t always a choice you get to make yourself. Many times when an author makes a book deal or decides to use a pseudonym, there are discussions with her editor on name choices and what they can agree on would be a strong pseudonym and suit the genre and audience you are targeting.

Recently a reader asked the following question: I'm considering writing under a pseudonym, of sorts, because my name is orally very similar to that of a wildly popular author. I'm thinking of just adding an initial somewhere, but I'm wondering what the legal ramifications of that are. I know that with normal pseudonyms, the contracts all have to be signed under normal names, but would it be requisite to legally change a name for just an initial? Is adding an initial even the best route to go? Or does it even matter if my name sounds similar but maybe it really doesn't sound like it?

It’s difficult to answer this question without knowing exactly how similar your name is to another’s and who that other author is. It seems like adding an initial might not be a big enough change, but again, without knowing how similar your name is, what your plans are for that initial, or what you’re writing I really am not sure. All that being said, there is no need to ever legally change your name to a pseudonym whether you are using an entirely new name or just an initial. No matter what you choose your contract will be in your legal name and the pseudonym will be noted as the name you are writing under.

Since you came to me with this question I’m going to assume you’re unagented and unpublished, in which case I think you’re getting ahead of yourself. Worry about writing your book. Finding the name to write under can be something you discuss with your agent and your editor. I know many authors feel they need to choose a pseudonym now so any other writings they do can be under that name, and while that’s not a bad plan, it also doesn’t mean your publisher will want you to use that name when the time comes.

My best advice is to worry more about the writing and less about the name. If you achieve name branding success before finding an agent and a publisher they will likely want you to keep that name. If not, it’s not going to be a big deal to find another.

Jessica

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Dream Client

I’m often asked what my dream client would be, I think, primarily, from those hoping that when they do get an agent they can do nothing but make the agent happy. Well, just like all of you have different visions of what your dream agent would be and do for you, I think all agents have different visions of what a dream client would be.

I think there’s no doubt that there are probably some attributes about my dream client that have changed over the years, probably even since the time I first started writing these types of posts for the blog. That will be no different for you as an author. What you envision your dream agent to be like now, as an unpublished author, will change as your career changes. Those of you who have had agents and are back in the search again probably have very different criteria for what you’re looking for than you did the first time around. Those of you still with agents probably find that the criteria you had when you first signed with your agent had none of the things that you are (hopefully) thankful she does for you now.

Before I get into what I want out of a dream client, let’s clear up a little about what I don’t care about or expect. I don’t expect a client to be perfect and I don’t expect her to be a lemming. In other words, I don’t want her to blindly follow my lead and agree to everything I say. I don’t want her to yes me to death or hide when things go wrong for fear that I might get angry. In other words, the very first thing I want from my dream client is a feeling of freedom to be as open and honest as need be. When it’s wonderful, fantastic news I want to hear you squeal over the phone; when it’s the last thing you want to hear and you’re not sure you can take another round of revisions, I want you to call and vent and scream and let your frustrations out; and when you just need to spend time talking about revisions, ideas, concerns, or career goals I really want to be as involved as you want me. In other words, I want an open line of communication.

In exchange I want you to want honesty from me. I don’t want to feel like I have to couch my opinions when you ask for them. If you want my honest thoughts on your next book I’m going to give them, whether or not you want to hear them. If you want my honest thoughts on the direction you see your career going I want you to be able to hear what I have to say and not just listen and ignore later. Most important, though, my dream client will respect my professional opinion. It doesn’t always mean we’ll see eye-to-eye of course, but hopefully you’ve hired me because you’ll trust me to guide you and tell you the truth.

The last thing that popped into my head when I thought about the dream client, and I think one of the things authors should expect from dream agents as well, is the need for flexibility. Publishing is not a straight line and it’s not a circle either. It’s a series of bumps and bruises, hills and valleys, and for an author to really succeed she needs to have flexibility. She needs to be ready to shift her goals and change directions, sometimes with the market and sometimes because publishers and readers decide it for us. I’ve seen mystery authors become romance authors and romance authors become fantasy authors. I’m sure for many it wasn’t where they saw themselves, but it was where life led them, and because of the ability to be flexible and follow a new path they’ve been able to achieve the success they wanted, just not in the way they expected.

I don’t think there’s any set list of who the dream client is or what she’s like, there’s no such thing as perfection. What we can do to make a relationship work is be honest, communicate, and be the best we can be.

Jessica

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Benefit of Critique Groups

A while back on the blog one of my readers said something about critique groups that really got me thinking. Her comment was that while she loved her critique group she didn’t always trust their feedback. She had mixed feelings about that since she has learned a lot from them, but wasn’t sure they were always steering her in the right direction.

While I’ve never been in a critique group I think in some ways this is a great sign. A good critique group, like a good editor, shouldn’t always be telling you how to write or fix your book, they shouldn’t even always be able to identify what exactly is wrong. What a good critique group should do is help guide you, point out concerns, and get you thinking about your writing in different ways.

The truth about editing and edits, whether they are from an agent, an editor, a good friend or a critique group is that it’s all subjective. The dream editing partner is someone who understands you and understands your writing, but is still willing to address concerns even if she thinks you won’t be receptive to them. For example, I might tell you that the hero in your book is too manly and not sympathetic enough. Ultimately, just because I said it doesn’t make it right or doesn’t mean other agents, editors, and readers won’t feel differently. It’s just my opinion. Whether or not you make changes has to be up to you. However, if it even gets you thinking about your characterization, then I’ve done my job.

The very first step to success in this business is learning to trust yourself. Take everything you’re given from agents, editors, and critique partners and absorb it, weed through it, and decide what works for you and what doesn’t. Unfortunately, there’s never a guarantee in this business and that goes for edits too.

Okay, all of that being said, to have a good critique group I do feel you need to be getting something out of it, and that isn’t just on critiques of your own work. I honestly believe you can learn more from reading and critiquing the work of others than you can from the critiques you’re receiving.

There’s no magic answer in the arts. That goes for writing, painting, quilting, cooking, or photography. We all come to an art with our own ideas and our own baggage. Let others and their ideas help you learn, grow, and reevaluate your writing, but don’t expect someone else to tell you how to do it.

Jessica

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Writing Without Chapters

I'm writing a light fantasy, and was wondering if having chapters is absolutely necessary. So often do I read that people have to send in "their first three chapters" or some such thing. I never think in chapters, and just write as it comes to me, frequently alternating between different points of view. Do I have to put in the chapters later? If so, where do I put them?

Based on your question I’m going to assume that you’re still writing the book and haven’t reached the point where you’re revising or even finished yet. This is one of those tricky questions to answer because without reading the book myself I don’t know how your book without chapters is flowing. On top of that, it’s a stylistic issue, and when agents are asked general stylistic issues about books we haven’t read our answer is going to be advice about what generally works and what doesn’t. Of course that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try your own things, it just means you’re probably paving a more difficult road for yourself.

Okay, now that we’ve cleared that up let’s get to your actual question. Honestly, it sounds to me like you are still very much in the beginning stages of writing your book and that you’re going to have a lot of work to do before it’s finished. Why do I think that? Phrases like “write as it comes to me” and “frequently alternating between different points of view” gives me the sense that your style of writing is just to sit down and free-write, which means, basically, write as it comes to you. Once you reach the end of the book, I suspect you’re going to spend a lot of time doing serious edits and revisions to shape the book, and at that point you’ll probably find that chapters will make sense.

While I couldn’t think of any off the top of my head, I’m sure there have been books published without chapters. Unfortunately chapters aren’t always just a convenience to readers, giving us an easy place to put the book down and fetch another cup of coffee; they are also a part of building the story. One of the things new authors learn early on is the importance of ending a chapter at a point of tension in your story to make the reader want to come back for more. There’s a pacing to every book and chapter breaks can help add to that pacing. They can also help make things like shifting points of view easier for a reader to follow.

So yes, I think that at some point you’ll probably have to add chapters later. However, if for some reason you find that your book is more magical without them then you can probably just send along the first 35 to 50 pages, wherever you can find an appropriate break in your book that makes sense to readers.

Jessica

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Trusting Your Editor

In an article I posted on Editing and Authors, one reader commented that she was having trouble trusting editors and agents. Her question was, How do you trust an agent or editor when they make an obvious (not subjective opinion) mistake? How do you communicate with them professionally if you feel like you can't say a word or else? How do you clean the coffee off your computer screen when they suggest you rewrite history? And it's not an alternate history novel?

Well, first of all I don’t ever think you should have an editor you don’t feel you should be able to say a word to. You said you don’t feel you could say anything or else. Or else what? An author-editor relationship is a partnership. You’re both trying to make your book stronger. While the author is often primarily focused on the story, the editor has a secondary concern, and that’s your audience. If you really have concerns about suggestions your editor made, then you have to have a conversation addressing your concerns and, most important, really finding out from her what her concerns are. It’s all too easy for an author to misinterpret the suggestions an editor has made. Maybe she had no intention of rewriting history, but was using that as an example of what could be done in an attempt to make the book stronger in other ways.

Every editor is different and edits differently. My style is that I typically tell the author what isn’t working for me, and in my attempt to explain why something isn’t working I give suggestions for how it can be fixed. Frankly, I couldn't care less if the author takes my suggestions or not. The reason I give suggestions isn’t because I think it’s the only way to fix something or because I want to put my stamp on the book; the reason I give suggestions is to better show the author what I’m thinking and hopefully help the author start thinking in a different direction herself. It’s brainstorming for me and the author. I use the suggestions as a way to explain myself and hopefully as a way to help the author start thinking of other possibilities and in other directions and to ultimately make her book stronger.

I think your question is a clear case of why agents can be so helpful. If you find you’re really in a battle with your editor, then it’s time to call in the big guns, your agent. Hopefully your agent can take a look at the book, if she hasn’t done so already, and mediate a solution that will make your book stronger and please both you and the editor. Another option is to get a second opinion from your agent. More often than not a client of mine will get edits from her editor and then ask me to take a look and give edits as well. It’s never that she’s hoping to pit us against each other, it’s that sometimes the problem the editor has can be easily solved by a suggestion from the agent.

As to how you trust an editor when she makes an obvious mistake, I guess you’d have to ask yourself how big the mistake is. I make mistakes daily and I’m thankful my clients don’t hold them against me, just as I don’t hold mistakes against them when I see errors in their manuscripts. None of us is perfect and editing is subjective. Communication, however, can make all the difference.

Jessica

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Friday, November 13, 2009

A Query Hiatus

Since the beginning of October I have officially been on a query hiatus. In my ten years as an agent it’s something I’ve never done and was very reluctant to do. Yes, part of the reason for my reluctance is fear that I’ll miss out on something great, but another part is the fear that the queries won’t come back once I return. Probably a totally insane thought, but one I’ve had nonetheless.

I have to tell you, this hiatus is nothing like I ever expected. I’ve done query statistics reports for you where I tracked how much time it takes me to read and respond to queries—roughly two hours for 60 letters—but even with that I don’t think I knew how much time queries took out of my day. It’s enlightening and it’s unbelievably lightening. Without queries flooding my inbox I have an amazing amount of extra time in every day. I had no idea how much time I was spending just opening, sorting and responding to queries. No clue. I would guarantee you that on my hiatus there’s at least an extra hour in every day to work with my clients, get my office organized or even, on those rare evenings, put my feet up and read something I don’t have to. More then that though, it's been a really nice mental break for me. Queries are something that, no matter how much we love the possibility of a new client, always hang over our heads. They never stop coming and we will never get caught up. Taking this break is like a mini-vacation. I'm getting time to renew and refresh.

In January (not until the end, folks) I’ll be opening again to queries and I’m sure I’ll be looking forward to the discovery again. For now, though, I’m enjoying the time to get so much more done and accomplished in a day and I think that this query hiatus might become a regular thing for me. Why not take a month off here or there just to unwind from query stress and focus on what I really need to be focusing on, which is my clients?

Kim Lionetti will also be closed to submissions from 11/15 to 1/17. Therefore, BookEnds will not be accepting any queries for the next two months.

Jessica

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Who Does This?

***Warning to all reading this: It’s full of sarcasm and nothing but a rant, but I had a really good time writing it.

Not too long ago somebody (I’m not sure if it was a man or woman, or even using her real name, so we’ll go with “she”) thought it would be a good idea to send an angry diatribe of an email to roughly 400 publishing professionals. How do I know 400? Because all of our email addresses were there for the world, or at least 400 publishing professionals, to see.

The email was entitled “confidential memo.” I mean, really, how confidential can anything be when it’s from a stranger and blindly sent to 400 people, many, or most, at generic submission addresses? But if that’s what you think, I’ll respect that. Okay, no I won’t.

The email started by telling us all how much writers disregard the publishing industry and hold us all in contempt. My first thought was that you must not disregard us all that much if you’ve gone to the effort to collect 400+ email addresses and send this email, but I’ll keep reading. Apparently, according to this writer, bestseller lists only promote shallow and marketable books and there’s nothing being published that’s written by anyone with any lasting talent. Interesting, the same was said of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, but what do I know? Maybe they’re just hacks.

The funny thing about bestseller lists is that publishers don’t actually place the books on the lists themselves. They are there because readers love those books, buy them in mass quantities and, lo and behold, they become bestsellers. I guess it would be better if we only published books readers didn’t want to read or buy? Ah, so many things I’ll have to consider.

And then of course there were the usual complaints about expecting writers to “sell” their books to agents and how writers aren’t salespeople and that the system needs to change. Blah, blah, blah. How do you think we’re going to find authors if you in some way can’t at least tell me about your book in a way that’s enticing? Because if people are getting published daily, new authors, it’s somehow the system’s fault that you’re not?

Okay, so this was my favorite part. The part about how it was a crime that hardworking people spend years writing a manuscript only to get it rejected. Newsflash! I never asked you to write that manuscript. If it’s a crime, it’s a crime you perpetrated on yourself. Don’t blame me, or should I say the 400 of us, because what you wrote isn’t publishable (or at least that’s why I’m assuming I got this email).

And then of course there was a lot of misinformation about how unethical agents are, how writers who are successful are whores, how publishers only want books by actors and politicians and then something about if I liked Vanilla Ice or MC Hammer then I’m nothing but a sheep.

I really only have one thing to say to this person: insult me all you want, but insult my authors and you are a complete fool. Don’t ever assume any of the clients I represent are thieves, whores, or hacks. They are talented writers who have worked hard to get to where they are. I’m not representing them because I’m looking for easy money or to fill bestseller lists (although we’re hoping to do that too), I’m representing them because I like the books they write. No, I love what they write, and this might surprise you, so do thousands of other people.

Don’t worry, it’s people like this who only give other idiots a bad name. Oh, and give me something to rant about. I mean, seriously?!

Jessica

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Author's Credentials

When you're reading query letters for fiction books, does the background - or lack thereof - of the writer ever help or hinder a request for a partial? I realize with my query letter it probably helped considering I have a background in the subject matter I'm addressing, but what other things are you looking for that writers should potentially discuss? What would turn you away?

Luckily, for all of you authors trying to find something to put in that author bio section of your query, my answer to this is really nothing but good news.

If you have no background other than working with a critique group or being a member of one of the major writing organizations, you’re in fine shape and have nothing to worry about. In fact, I don’t even care if your only background is that you’ve been writing books. What I care about when it comes to fiction is the book, and if your query resonates with me I might not even read that final paragraph before jumping to request more.

However, if you have a background in the subject matter, writing credentials with literary magazines, have won numerous awards or are previously published that might help, especially if I’m on the fence. If I’m wowed by your query I’m not going to care about you as the author. If, however, I like your query but wasn’t wowed, those credentials will probably push me to request more simply because it looks like you can write, so I’m curious if maybe your book is more impressive than your query.

There are only a few things that really turn me off when it comes to author credentials and most of them are done by those who haven’t properly done their research before submitting. It’s the author who tries to convince me that winning a third-grade writing contest or spelling bee (and yes, it happens) qualifies you to suddenly be a published author, or the author who tells me more about her personal life and how she’s writing to fill the time than focuses on writing.

Jessica

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's Not for Me

If you were to put a percentage on the reasons you most often reject queries, what would they be? (ie: the writing, the premise, the wrong genre, etc.). Knowing that feedback from agents regarding rejections is next to impossible, considering their excessive workload, I'm just trying to get a feel for the most common problems.

Without keeping a tally while I’m reading queries, I don’t know if I could give a percentage of the reasons. I can give you some overall thoughts though.

While there are definitely times when I get an influx of inappropriate queries—wrong genre, wrong agent, unprofessional—for the most part I think the queries I receive are serious and well thought out. There’s no doubt that agent blogs, writer forums and the Internet in general has given writers an edge. While it’s probably making you all more anxious, it’s also giving you the knowledge you need to succeed.

I think the biggest reason I reject something is that it just doesn’t excite me. The idea might be okay, the writing good, the query fine, but the idea just feels done, like I’ve seen it a million times. In all the research you do on querying and all the work you do on writing the query, there’s one thing that writers will never be able to fully grasp unless you sit on my side of the desk and read the queries, and that’s what everyone else is doing. If I get 50 queries a day and 35 of them are vampire romances you’re going to have to work really hard to convince me that your vampire romance is going to excite me. After a while they all start to sound the same. I’ve talked before on the blog about insurance adjustor mysteries. How, to the best of my knowledge, there’s never been one published and yet regularly I receive a query for a mystery featuring an insurance adjustor as the sleuth. This just does not excite me.

That does not mean it’s all about the idea because certainly in reading the queries there can always be that one author who, with her voice, writing, and the presentation of her idea, can convince me that everyone wants to read about a vampire insurance adjustor.

So I think the most common problem is that the query just doesn’t resonate with the agent for some reason and often that reason is nothing more than “while I found it intriguing I don’t think it’s for me.” The truth more times than I can count.

Jessica

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Licensing Your Rights

In lit sales (books and screenwriting) there is always "the sale" of the material, which is normally an outright sale, wherein a writer gets a flat or projected agreement of residuals, but loses all power to make other sales off the same material; say to TV or games, etc. Are there attempts to update the writer's rights and to license material more instead of out right "sale"? As in licensing a "Harry Potter" or "Twilight" for x-amount of films within x-amount of time, spin-offs, TV, games, toys, novelties, etc?

To limit use of material, say by a Random House, that if sales drop below a certain number the property comes back to the writer?


In reading this email what I discovered is that my response was going to be less about answering your questions and more about correcting your misinformation. Whenever we talk about signing a contract with a publisher we discuss it in terms of “selling” the book, which is really the wrong term. Except in very rare instances (writer for hire projects), an author does not sell a publisher her book, she licenses to the publisher the right for the publisher to publish her work. What additional rights the author licenses are really up to the terms of the negotiation.

If the deal made with the publisher is for World rights that means she is giving the publisher the right to act on her behalf when licensing publication rights throughout the world. In this instance the publisher and the author both share in any earnings made on those books. What the split is (whether it’s equal or the author gets a majority) depends on the publisher and the deal made. There are other variations of how the book might be sold, North American Rights for example, in which the publisher only has the right to sell the book in North America and it is up to the author (and her agent) to find other licensees to sell the book around the world. In those cases, when the author holds the rights, the Publisher does not share in any of the earnings.

The same holds true for gaming, movie, TV and any other rights you can think of. How these are handled depends on the terms of the negotiation. Typically though an author will hold on to all performance rights (TV, movie, etc.) as well as merchandising and commercial rights (calendars, games, etc.). In these cases she and her agent will approach the appropriate parties to make the “sale” and the publisher does not share in any of the earnings (other than the increase in book sales, of course).

As for your question for limiting use, this is why you want an agent: there are frequently clauses in contracts that revert the rights back to the author if a book isn’t selling over a certain period of time, and in many cases agents can add a clause into a contract reverting any licensing possibilities if the publisher has not made any sales. For example, if the publisher has not sold any foreign rights after a certain period of time, the right to sell those reverts to the author.

I hope I was able to clarify without confusing, and please don’t worry about Stephanie Meyer and JK Rowling, the two are doing quite well on every product and movie you see based on their books.

Jessica

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Friday, November 06, 2009

National Bookstore Day









Tomorrow is Publishers Weekly’s first annual National Bookstore Day, “a day devoted to celebrating bookselling and the vibrant culture of bookstores.” And who doesn’t love a bookstore?

So check out the Publishers Weekly web site for a list of participating bookstores, and even if you can’t find one in your area, take a moment to stop in to your favorite store, pick up a book or two (the holidays are right around the corner) and thank the store for hanging on in this stinky economy and giving us a place to go to satisfy our cravings.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Choosing Your Genre

As I write Science Fantasy, Science Fiction and Fantasy it makes sense to focus on one if I want to succeed as a writer. But which? Fantasy has more shelf space, but there’s more competition: Does an agent take more Fantasy novels on knowing there’s the market for them ready and waiting? In comparison Science Fantasy seems criminally under represented, but does that mean Agents can afford to wait for the guaranteed blockbuster before taking a punt on a smaller genre? Is the truth somewhere closer to Science Fiction which lies somewhere in the middle?

Of course this applies to all genres. Paranormal romance seems to be everywhere at the moment, much like Fantasy. Crime thriller series, the Pattersons and the Deavers, appear to still be massive. Or is it simply because agents receive more MS’s in one genre from another? They just take on a similar proportion of all genres received and I’m reading too much into it?


I think you’re reading too much into it. The trick isn’t to go for a genre that you think is hotter or easier to break into, the trick is to figure out which of your ideas is the most unique and which you think you can execute the best.

I suspect the reason you’re seeing so many more agents representing Fantasy than Science Fiction these days is because of the recent crossover between Fantasy and Romance. When I was an editor there were agents who represented SF and Fantasy and those who represented Romance. While there was some crossover, it was rare. In fact, I remember when Jennifer Jackson started representing Romance in addition to her SF/Fantasy list and I remember thinking that was unusual. I suspect because of the crossover between Paranormal Romance and Fantasy there are more books in those genres being published, represented, and bought right now. However that doesn’t make it an easier area to break into; in fact, the competition can often make it more difficult. Crime thrillers are the same way. While it might seem to you that this is a massive market, the truth is that it probably seems that way because those are many of our bestsellers. I find it to be a very difficult market for debut authors to break into.

This is one of those classic situations where I would tell you not to chase the trends or, in your case, the agents. Sit down and write down your ideas and find the one that resonates best with you, the one that you think will help you stand out the most in the market and the one you’re most excited to write. That’s the genre you should be pursuing.

Jessica

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Query Length

I’m currently trying to write a query, but can’t decide on its length. When short and concise, it leaves the plot open for wide interpretation. The setting has certain elements that lend it to books with similar settings, but it truly does not follow those. I don’t want agents imagining something they're not going to get, and I don’t want to waste my time or theirs with fruitless submissions. Yet, the longer version seems overly detailed with little mystery. As an agent what do you recommend? What do you expect from a query?

I suspect that your query length belongs somewhere in the middle, although it’s really hard to critique a query I haven’t read. My very first suggestion is that you scroll through the Must-Read Posts section of the blog and take a look at some of the queries I have posted from my clients. I think, or I hope, the first thing you’ll notice is that none of them are the same. There’s no cookie cutter formula to writing a query and, if you ask me, that’s a good thing. A query, like a book, should follow general guidelines, not strict rules.

The only length I would suggest you stick to is keeping your query to one page. Beyond that, how long the blurb is, is really up to you. That being said, it sounds like you’re struggling with the two biggest mistakes I see in queries. The query that doesn’t tell me enough, that sounds more like a movie tagline and doesn’t help your book stand out from the pack, and the query that’s so long and wordy that by the time I’m done I’m actually more confused than when I got started.

My best advice is to find a trusted group of people to share your two queries with, preferably people who haven’t read your book before. Get their opinions and advice. Would they want to read your book after reading either query? If not, then it’s back to the drawing board for something that really shares the essence of your book, but not every detail.

Jessica

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Fixing a Stalled Career

Let's say you have a client who has published a handful of novels, all of which failed to earn out. The client's working on a new project. Do you recommend that she finish the new novel on spec, and submit the whole thing? Or do a handful of chapters/outline? Do you tend to get more/better offers for full manuscripts than partials, all else being equal?

Honestly there is no way to answer this question since it’s going to be different for each and every client. If all of your novels failed to earn out and you are working on a new project, I’m going to assume that you aren’t going back to your previous publisher with the book or that your publisher has already passed on your option material. It means that you are starting from scratch, except that you have those numbers dragging you down.

What this author doesn’t say, but I want to make clear, is that earning out isn’t necessarily the sign of an author who's a good or bad risk. Earning out your advance only matters to the publisher who paid the advance. What others are going to be interested in is your sales track record. Let’s say you were paid an advance in the mid-six figures, your advance didn’t earn out because the publisher only got orders for 50,000 copies of your book. However, you sold 40,000 copies. That’s not bad at all. Well, it is to the publisher who isn’t recouping the advance, but to other publishers those are pretty decent numbers, and if they like your next book it’s likely they’ll snap you up and pay an advance comparable to those 40,000 copies you sold.

Now that’s the good news. Based on your question, my guess is you got a smallish advance (say $10,000), and not earning out $10,000 means not a lot of copies were sold, essentially stalling your career. So do you need to write the full book or would a partial work? The problem isn’t going to be what you submit, it’s going to be overcoming those numbers. If I were your agent it would depend on what you’re writing. If it’s in the same vein as your previous books I don’t think you’d need a full manuscript. You might however need a pseudonym. If you’re writing something completely different (going from mystery to women’s fiction, for example) you’d probably need to complete the full manuscript, not because of your numbers, but because you are making a dramatic shift in style and editors will want to see that you can do that successfully.

The only person who can really answer this question is your agent, and the answer is going to depend on the agent, the work and you as the author.

Jessica

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Random Questions

I can’t even begin to tell you how thankful I am for all of you who continue to send questions for the blog. It certainly makes my life easier when I don’t always have to come up with a topic on my own. That being said, frequently there are questions that have merit but are not lengthy enough for a full post. And that’s what we have here. A grouping of random questions sent in by readers.

After reading your blog, I was wondering is copyrighting one's material before sending it out for proposals something I should consider? Is that even done?

It is done all the time, but I don’t think it’s necessary. For one thing, the material will likely change drastically from the time you copyright it to the time it’s published, and for another, a copyright date will show an agent exactly how long the book has been shopped for, and if I were you, I’d like to keep something like that a secret.


I'm currently writing a humorous narrative based on my blog. When I submit my work to you, do I submit a Query letter and a Proposal for non fiction? I think I understand both processes, but the proposal seems very scientific for a collection of humorous short stories.

The “scientific” proposal, as you put it, is for non-narrative nonfiction. Narrative nonfiction, whether a collection of short stories, a memoir, or a collection of essays, should typically be submitted as if it were a fiction proposal. That means you will likely submit the first 50 pages or so and a synopsis. Keep in mind, the only time you send a proposal to BookEnds is if it’s requested. We ask for simply a query first.


If you don’t mind, I am wondering if it is appropriate to send a query letter with proof of delivery? Or would that be considered rude?

I don’t think it’s rude, just a matter of peace of mind. Just make sure no one has to sign for anything, ever. It makes an agent’s life easier. All that being said, it might just be cheaper to send out your queries and requery in the specified amount of time if no answer is received (and you know you’re following guidelines).


I am currently unpublished, but I have a background in business and marketing. For work I write one of the blogs for our younger customers, as well as the product descriptions for the newsletter and promo blurbs for when we launch new products and for when we send out press kits. I never thought of actually mentioning this in my author bio. Do you think I should?

I think it’s up to you. Certainly you can mention them because they are writing credits, but if you’re currently writing fiction I don’t think it’s going to give you an edge either way. Let’s put it this way, it can’t hurt, but it’s not necessarily going to help either.

Jessica

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