Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Twelve Days of Bookmas Giveaway

To celebrate the holidays BookEnds is going to host a 12 Days of Bookmas Giveaway, a book giveaway just in time for holiday gift-giving or as a little treat for yourself.

Since we close over the holidays, and we want to make sure you receive your prizes in plenty of time to place under the tree, the contest will actually be held the first 12 days of December, beginning on December 1 and ending on December 16 (posts will run Monday through Friday only).

On each day we’ll post a clue, riddle, or quiz for readers to answer. The first reader to post the correct answer in the comment section will win the prize of the day. Don’t think you’re getting off easy, though. These aren’t going to be simple quizzes. They’re going to take a little research on your part, because finding the perfect gift always means a bit of a hunt.

In order to bring everyone into the fun, we’ve asked our clients to participate. They’ll know the answer (and no, they will not give in to bribes) and will be posting clues all over the Internet, clues that can be found through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, websites, or any other social media outlet we haven’t thought of. Participating clients and their contact information (where their clues can be found) will be listed on each day’s post.

A few rules & extra hints:

If you’re a Twitter follower, note that we’ll be using the hashtag #12daysbooks

There will only be one winner each day and each person/address is only eligible to win once throughout the course of the contest.

Prizes will be at the discretion of BookEnds.

Winners will be announced on the following day’s blog.

And to make things extra special, a number of our clients will be running side contests, so don’t just go to one or two links, check them all out to double your prize.

And finally, a sneak preview of where clues can be found (in no particular order):

Lorna Barrett

Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor
Sally MacKenzie
Paige Shelton
Amy Patricia Meade
Ellery Adams
Angie Fox
Gina Robinson
Erin Kellison
Bill Crider
Elizabeth Lynn Casey
Bella Andre
Elizabeth Amber
Krista Davis
Heather Webber
Avery Aames
Kim Lenox
Joyce and Jim Lavene
C. C. Hunter
Cricket McCrae
Anita Howard
Wendy Lyn Watson
Erika Chase
Elizabeth Joy Arnold


Jessica

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Strictly Agent Territory

I’m curious about the opinion you and Kim have about the rise in e-books and the rights therein. Is this an issue authors should pay closer attention to, or is it strictly agent territory—or perhaps, is it the responsibility of both parties?

There is nothing in this business that is “strictly agent territory.” As the author and owner of your business (your author brand), it is imperative that you learn about the business and keep yourself apprised of what is going on. When I look at those authors who have truly achieved success, there is one thing all of them have in common, and that’s knowledge of publishing as a business. That doesn’t mean they necessarily understand every clause in a contract (a smart author also surrounds herself with smart people), but she does make an effort to understand the contract as a whole, the rights she’s licensing to others, and what the options are for her career. She works as a team with those smart people she’s hired, which means she has conversations with her agent about the contract and the rights that are being licensed, she discusses design and style with her website designer, and she works hand in hand with her publicist to come up with the next brilliant publicity idea.

So the answer is a resounding: It’s the responsibility of both parties to understand and seek knowledge about not just digital rights, but all rights as they pertain to the book.


Jessica

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Email Fail

There's nothing like a computer crash to really mess with your day. Mine happened on Thanksgiving morning. Luckily it was only my email and only a week's worth of material. That being said, all email, sent and received, was lost between the dates of November 19-26 which means I can't be sure which email I might have responded to during that time and I've lost any email I received during that time.

If you had sent requested material between the dates of November 19-26 please resend. It's gone. If you queried during that time and have not yet received a response I'm afraid that I'm simply going to ask you to requery after January 4 (since I'm currently closed to queries).

If I reply twice to your query I apologize in advance.

Thank you for understanding and I apologize again to those caught in the crash.

--Jessica

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have been completely crazed the past two months, crazed in a good way. In the months of October and November I have negotiated 11 contracts for a total of 18 books. It’s been a whirlwind to say the least, but it wasn’t until one of my authors said to me, “Are you happy about the deal?” that I realized what a whirlwind it has been.

I was so busy making the deals that I didn’t even have time to celebrate the deals, so that’s what I’m going to do this weekend. Here in the United States it’s Thanksgiving weekend (because one day is never enough), and I certainly have a lot to be thankful for. Eleven new contracts for one thing, but also the authors who make it all possible and who, really, make me look good.

I’m also thankful for my family and friends, those who will be joining me at the Thanksgiving table and those celebrating in other locations, because when one client asked “How do you do it all?” I only had one answer, and that’s that I have a family who takes good care of me. There’s no doubt that without them I wouldn’t be doing it all.

This weekend I’m going to take the time to reflect and give thanks for all the good things in my life, of which there are many. I’m going to cook a vegetarian, gluten-free Thanksgiving feast, enjoy cranberry martinis with those I love, and read a book that I don’t have to edit, critique, or give any feedback on.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. We’ll see you on Monday.

Jessica

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Building Your Career on Kindle, the Published

Yesterday I shared some of my thoughts on unpublished authors self-epublishing as a way to launch their careers. Hopefully I was able to present a fair and balanced portrait of my thoughts on the subject. Today I want to continue that discussion by looking at what self-epublishing can do for published authors.

Just as unpublished authors see Kindle and other self-epublishing opportunities as a way to launch a career, published authors see self-epublishing as an opportunity to keep books that might have gone out of print in print or publish books that haven’t yet been published.

There’s no doubt this can be a wonderful opportunity for many, and we’ve seen some of those success stories right here at BookEnds. Angie Fox posted about her own experience in her blog post Taking Charge of Your Career, and author Bella Andre has responded to her readers by self-epublishing some of her erotic romances. That being said, neither of these authors made the decision to self-epublish lightly. Both carefully considered why they were doing it and worked very, very hard to ensure that the product they were putting out was just as good as, if not better than, any book they’d ever written or published traditionally. Most important, they have continued to keep their author brand in mind and are always working to make sure that their next book is always better than the last, whether it’s been self-epublished or traditionally published.

When it comes to readers you are only as good as your last book, and by last book I mean the last book they read. So even if your most recently written title is the one coming out from Big Name Publishing House, the one readers will remember and base future buying decisions on is the one they last purchased. So while self-epublishing can be an exciting way to move those books out from under your bed, you need to consider whether that’s the best decision for your career.

Let’s look at it his way: You have a series of historical romances you’re publishing with Publisher XYZ and they’re doing great. Your career is on the rise and readers love you, so you start thinking of all of those paranormal romances you wrote years ago. You still love those books and why wouldn’t your readers? They’ve made it clear they can’t get enough of you. So you dust them off and send them out to self-epublish. But those books aren’t as good as your historical romances. You might love them, but let’s face it, you’ve grown a lot in the last 10 years and the reason you are having so much success is because you’ve worked hard to perfect your craft. You also have an editor who works hard with you. You constantly praise her for her brilliant mind and editorial eye. You can’t say enough about how good she makes you look, but obviously if you’re self-publishing she won’t be involved with this book. And it shows. Of course readers snatch up your books because they love you, but they’re disappointed. The books aren’t what they’ve come to expect from you, and now they feel like they’ve wasted their hard-earned money and time reading books they found unsatisfying. Your next historical romance is published and sales drop. Your publisher can’t figure it out, they blame it on the cover, but the truth is that the readers have moved on. They don’t want to risk wasting more money or more time so they’ve found another author to follow.

Is this a doomsday scenario? Yes, it is, and I realize that, but it seems we’ve read so many stories lately about authors making millions by self-epublishing that I wanted to use an extreme example to remind you not why self-epublishing is bad, because I don’t think it is, but why you need to carefully consider what you’re putting out. It’s not the fact that you self-epublished your paranormal romances that’s the problem, it’s the fact that you’ve decided to put out a product that simply wasn’t as good as what’s already on the market. And that’s what I want published authors to consider.

Self-epublishing can be a fabulous way for authors to keep in touch with their readers and meet the demands of their readers for new books. It’s also a great way to make more money, but it also needs to be considered as carefully as any business decision you make. Think of how much you thought about the offer that came in from your publisher (or how much your agent thought about it and talked about it with you), think about how hard your agent worked to negotiate the perfect publishing contract for you and how carefully you considered each step of the process. Are you doing the same with your self-epublishing decision? You need to.

As of yet, publishers haven’t figured out a way to factor epublishing sales into the numbers they run when making an offer to an author. That’s going to change, it’s going to have to change. It won’t be long before those numbers become more important than the sales you’re seeing in print, and just as they can positively impact the offer a publisher makes, they can have a negative impact as well. If sales are slow or small on your epublished books, publishers are going to look at that as an indicator of how well they’ll be able to sell the book. In fact, it’s a much better indicator than we have now because these are actual sales to readers and not just sales to bookstores with the possibility of returns. So if you’re between publishers but looking to get back in with a traditional house, really slow sales, or bad sales, can have an impact on whether a publisher considers offering. Why wouldn’t it? It’s an easy way for them to test market you.

Another reason authors are self-epublishing is that they have heard there is a lot more money to be made by doing it on their own than by going with traditional publishers. In some cases this might be right and has proven right, in others you’re just another book among thousands that readers have to sort through. There’s no doubt that epublishing is growing by the minute and that more and more people are finding this new way to read. That being said, just because it exists doesn’t mean it will be a financial boon for you. J. A. Konrath has been wonderful in sharing his numbers with the public, but the truth is that he had a strong brand before he self-epublished and has clearly worked very hard to continue building that brand. Let’s face it, he’s become the poster child of self-epublishing, and if anything, out of simple curiosity, hundreds of readers are buying his book just to see what the hype is all about. Are you willing to put that same time and energy into your product? Or, here’s another thought: Do you have the epublishing readership to support such a venture?

If you’re a published author I have no doubt you’re looking at the opportunities self-epublishing offers and considering it. It’s interesting, it’s different, and certainly when reading about the success others are having it’s tempting. It’s also a career decision and not a lark. Anytime you put out a product it’s part of your brand and needs to be considered as such. Do you think Coca-Cola put out Dasani water on a whim just because everyone else was doing it? Not likely. Whether or not people know Dasani is a Coke brand, they would find out very quickly if it failed. Obviously I’m a supporter of self-epublishing to help grow my authors’ careers, but only if it’s truly a growth move and not simply a way to get everything out there published.

Jessica

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Launching Your Career Via Kindle, the Unpublished

What is your thought about authors who publish on Kindle? I first became aware that authors were doing this with their backlist about a year ago. Kindle makes it easy by offering a 70% royalty rate at a certain price point. Then J.A. Konrath announced she was releasing a new title on Kindle. That seemed to open the floodgates. Now, I know so many multi-pubbed authors who are not only selling to NY, they are releasing their backlist and even new fiction on Kindle as well.

What do agents think about this new trend of authors self-pubbing through Kindle? In your opinion, does it harm us? Help us? Does it affect the way you look at prospective authors?


This is a post I’ve been wanting to do for some time, but knowing it would take a lot of thought and work, it took me a while to get my thoughts together or, more to the point, my thoughts on paper.

Today’s post is going to be Part One of a two-part piece on self-publishing electronically, whether it’s through Kindle or another format. Today’s post will focus on the unpublished author, as per the reader’s question, while tomorrow’s will take a look at the published author who wants to use electronic self-publishing as a way to build or enhance an already successful career.

It’s a really interesting time in publishing. Self-published electronic books are changing the way many of us think about books and giving authors quick and easy ways to get their books out to readers without the help of traditional publishers or agents. And there is no doubt that we’re seeing success stories from authors who are doing it their own way and on their own. That being said, we’ve seen this before.

When I first launched BookEnds 10+ years ago there was something hot and new on the scene, something that was going to revolutionize the way we publish and finally get rid of those “gatekeepers,” otherwise known as agents and editors. That something was POD (print on demand). Sites like iUniverse and Lulu were popping up everywhere and for a mere $99 (or something like that) authors could publish their books and find an audience themselves. The talk at the time was that we didn’t need agents anymore, we don’t need editors. Readers are going to be able to make the decision about what books should and shouldn’t be published, and some bookstores were even working with these sites to carry the books. Sound familiar?

Just as there is today, there were success stories with POD, authors who went out there and did it their own way and found readers, a lot of readers. Eventually a number of those authors were picked up by what we’re calling today “traditional publishers.” The truth, though, is that, just like today, there were many, many more authors who floundered, sold very few copies, and never had anything near the success they dreamed of.

It’s true that self-epublishing is different in the fact that you are guaranteed “bookstore” space since most of the opportunities available are directly through the sites readers are already going to for their books. Right there you see more potential for success than you did with POD. And there’s no doubt that it’s appealing to sidestep the tedious process of finding an agent and finding a publisher, but is it really easier to find a reader? I’m not so sure. Remember, just because you put the book out there doesn’t mean the readers will come. Think of it this way: If every single person who is querying me this week (that’s 300+ people) decides to epublish on their own, it’s not going to take more than a week before the market is flooded with books, and when readers are overwhelmed, what do you think they’re most likely to do? My guess is go back to those books that are tried and true, those authors they already know will deliver a good read. Heck, there might even become a time when readers rely on the brand name of publishers to help them weed through the mass of books to choose those they feel will be quality books.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against self-epublishing, not by a long shot, but I think it’s important that authors carefully consider all sides of the story before jumping in, just as I hope you would carefully review any publishing contract before signing. There’s definitely a time and place when self-publishing through places like Kindle can be beneficial to an author, and I have authors who I think it can help, but I also think you need to consider exactly what you want out of publishing or epublishing and whether putting everything you write out there is necessarily the best thing. Frankly, this is the exact same advice I gave five or ten years ago when authors were asking my opinion on self-publishing or POD publishing. What are your goals as an author and your dreams for this book?

Lately I’ve read a lot of blog posts and articles on self-epublishing and how it’s the downfall of traditional publishers and that we’re all terrified of this new world. I suppose there are some who are terrified, in the same way there were people who were terrified to give up the typewriter, wordperfect, or put a credit card online. You might be nervous about change, but eventually you’re going to have to take that step. That being said, I feel that some of the articles I’ve read have been incredibly biased and misleading. They praise the authors who have had major successes in the self-epublishing world and throw their names around like it’s so easy. Frankly, I think that’s a discredit to those authors like J. A. Konrath who have worked hard to achieve the success they’ve achieved, whether by self-publishing through Kindle or finding a home with a traditional publisher.

J. A. Konrath created quite a stir when he (not she) announced his deal on Kindle and regularly discusses his thoughts on epublishing, but this world isn’t necessarily for everyone. Joe has a following, he has an audience, and most important, Joe works damn hard to constantly promote his brand. In my opinion, he’s an exception to what’s happening, not the rule. Trust me, Joe has a lot of great points, and the biggest is the amount of money one can make going directly to places like Kindle rather than through a traditional publisher. That being said, can you make the money if no one buys your books? Joe was selling books to readers well before he entered the self-epublishing world, he had a fan base, and people were hungry to read more of what he had written. Let me put it this way: For every success story like J. A. Konrath, there are hundreds of authors who put a book out on their own, only to see a hundred or so sales to friends and family and then nothing.

Do I think it’s a mistake to go out on your own? No, but I do think you need to be aware of the pitfalls, and one of the biggest is falling into a clump with thousands of other authors who have grown tired of the query process and are convinced that no one in publishing knows any better. I think self-epublishing is much easier for those with a recognizable audience already. J. A. Konrath has that and so does Seth Godin, another author who has decided to stop using traditional publishers and epublish on his own.

While self-epublishing is certainly different from POD, primarily because in self-epublishing you can actually get your book to readers through stores, I don’t think finding readers is any easier than finding a literary agent or publisher.

The world is changing and so is publishing. It’s an exciting time and frankly, with all the discussions that are happening, I’m not convinced anyone has touched on what the future will really be like just yet. Personally, I think it’s still going to include traditional publishers, editors, and agents, because who wouldn’t want a smart team of people on their side to help market, edit, and promote their book, and who wouldn’t want a business manager to help guide their career and take on some of the headaches that any business can create? I just think we’re going to see things happening in a different way.

To sum up (to really answer your question), because obviously there’s a lot I could continue to say, I think self-epublishing is a viable option if you know why you’re doing it. If your hope or plan is to build your career and use it as a way to get out your debut novel, you might want to either rethink whether that’s the best way, or seriously consider how much work you are willing to put into it. In other words, do you have the time (and money) to spend marketing and promoting the book like you would really need to do to find readers? If, however, you have a story you love, that you want told, and you just want it out there, I certainly think it’s a great alternative to “traditional publishing.”

Jessica

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Query Status

It's only 9am and already the morning is getting away from me.


A quick update on where I am with submissions.

All queries have been answered up through November 2. Which I'm actually thrilled about. I feel very on top of things.

All requested material has been answered through the month of August. I currently have about about 50 proposals/full manuscripts I still need to read. I've been getting some fabulous queries lately and seem to be requesting more then usual. Let's hope there are a few winners in there.

And lastly, as of November 25 both Kim and I will be closing to queries for the rest of the year. November 24 will be our last day (for queries). We will both reopen on January 5.

My suggestion, if you don't have your query perfected, just hold on to it until January. If you happen to receive an offer of representation or and offer from a publisher during that time and you were really hoping to query me, send an email letting me know. That will really be the only exception to the "closed to queries" situation.

Have a great weekend!

--Jessica

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Making the Most of Media Exposure

Like many of your readers, I've worked on novels for years, with each new manuscript drawing more interest than the last. After my most recent manuscript, which drew 7 full requests, another dozen partial requests, but no offers, I decided to take a break from fiction and start writing a humor blog. Since June, I've posted one column a week.

Of course, there is nothing unique about an unpublished writer writing a blog, and there was nothing unique (other than I hope it was good) about mine until a month ago, when I sat down and wrote a short animated film called "So You Want to Go to Law School." I wrote the 5-minute script and used Xtranormal.com's free animation website to bring the video to life. I posted it to both Xtranormal's website and to YouTube.

The video has drawn nearly 1 million hits between the two sites. I've written a couple more videos, each of which have been relatively successful by YouTube standards (one has more than 10,000 hits, and the other is pushing 5,000 hits).

Now my question is this: How should I, as an aspiring novelist, take advantage of this sudden and unexpected burst of exposure?


My first reaction was how fun! If you’re willing to reveal your name, I would love it if you would jump into the comments section and post a link to your video. It sounds fun. And of course congratulations! How cool is that?

On to your question, how can an aspiring novelist take advantage of this exposure? You really can’t. I mean, certainly you can tell agents in your query about the video and provide a link and, like me, I’m sure many will be curious enough to click on the link and watch the video, but I’m afraid a viral video and a novel don’t necessarily have a connection. Let’s look at it this way: If you received a link to a viral video, no matter how hilarious you thought it was, would you automatically think you then had to buy the novel by the same creator? Probably not.

If, however, your book was nonfiction, giving humorous advice on going to law school: Score! There’s no doubt there’s a correlation then. Presumably a lot of your viewers are people who have gone through or are considering law school and get your humor. Buying a book that relates to the video would be a natural for them.

As for your novels: Seven full requests is amazing! Keep going, it sounds like you’re getting closer and closer with each new novel. My best advice is don’t give up now.


Jessica

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Your Option Clause

I'm in what I consider to be a bit of a bind. My publisher has not been the most active with my book, and not the most communicative in general. I find it rough, but understand I signed a contract, it's technically their book now.

There's a Right of First Refusal clause in the contract, which I didn't think to be a big deal when I naively signed last year. However, I'm pretty much finished with the sequel to the book, and have to show them. The clause states nothing as to time frame or terms, simply says "We have the right of first refusal".

Does this mean I HAVE to sign the contract for the next book? Do I get to negotiate the contract if I do have to sign? What would be an appropriate amount of time to wait for their response? Am I totally out of luck, or does their simple statement give me some leeway?


And this is why you want a professional to help negotiate a contract.

It’s hard to tell you exactly what you have to do or don’t have to do without having the clause and the exact terms in front of me. That being said, I will do my best to explain the clause and what you are likely required to do.

An option clause, also called right of first refusal, means that you agree to give the publisher an exclusive look at your next book. Typically, the clause appears in all or most publisher contracts, and few publishers will agree to delete it entirely. They will, however, often agree to narrow it as much as possible, which is something an agent will do for you by adding things like a time frame and a description of “next work.”

However your option clause reads, it in no way means you are required to sign a contract for the next book. The publisher can’t force you to write for them. Typically it means they have the first right to read the book and make an offer, which you would then negotiate. At that point, you can decide either to stay with the publisher or pass on the offer and shop your book to other publishers.

As for time frame, I would give them 30 days to respond before harassing them for an answer.


Jessica

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Lot of Help from Friends

I’ve received a lot of requests for a follow-up post to the request for books from Valle Vista in Albuquerque, NM, and at last I’ve received a wonderful thank you to all who helped from the folks at the school:

I wanted to write and give you an update regarding the Read-O-Ween celebration at Valle Vista Elementary. As of today, the school has received book donations totaling over two thousand dollars, and more books continue to arrive!

The students and families in our community were touched by the fact that people from so far away cared enough about their success to send them books. Each child who attended Read-O-Ween went home with a new book to call their own, and the books that continue to arrive will be given to students as they participate in the school’s nightly reading program.

Thank you so much for these generous and meaningful gifts. The event was a huge success thanks in part to you and readers of your blog. I wish I could bake cookies for each and every one of you!

With thanks and appreciation,

Kris


I would like to echo Kris’s words when she said, My faith that the overwhelming majority of people are genuinely good and kind and want to make a difference in their world was totally confirmed by this event.

Thank you, thank you all who participated. Whether you sent a book or just passed the word along, you helped contribute to a child’s love of reading.


Jessica

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Rules in Publishing

This is going to be a rant, unless I can reel myself in.

Frequently enough I reject or give my opinions on someone’s work, things like I didn’t find the character likeable enough or had a hard time understanding the world you’ve created, or the story didn’t feel like the genre you’re targeting, and all too frequently the author comes back with something along the lines of, “Well, that’s because I don’t write the typical Alpha hero or Beta heroine or I don’t write the formula plot blah, blah, blah.”

Do you really think I’m so narrow-minded as an agent that I don’t understand books unless they follow certain formulas or rules? Tell me how I could possibly have any success if that were the case.

When an agent tells you that something isn’t working, it’s typically not because you’ve decided to break whatever rules you think exist in this business, it’s because it’s not working. A character not being likeable enough usually means that readers didn’t like her. Now, sure it’s possible another reader might have another opinion, but it’s also possible that in your attempt to make her tough and damaged you’ve made her unlikeable.


Jessica

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

From a Scared Client

(And hopefully it’s not mine)

In July, I signed with a well-known, reputable agent. She said the manuscript was very “clean” and would get back to me shortly with minor editing suggestions. She even ventured to say she expected to go out on submission by the end of August. I have yet to receive her notes, but whenever I email her (which I try not to do more than 2X a month), she keeps saying "soon." How do I approach her without sounding like Crazy Author? I have a sickening feeling that once I make these edits, she'll take another 3 months to review them!

I think you (and all authors) should stop worrying about being crazy and think career first. There is no way it should ever be considered crazy to want to talk to your business partner about why she’s not meeting expectations and goals, especially those she set for herself. And I will tell you right now, from experience, the truly crazy authors never, ever question whether they are being crazy [insert wink here].

I think the biggest problem is that you don’t trust your agent already, but you’re in that frozen zone that authors land themselves in: frozen with fear that now that you finally have an agent, she might not be the right one; frozen with fear that if you fire her you’ll have to start over; and frozen with fear that you’re trapped.

Unfreeze yourself and get moving. Schedule a phone call with your agent to discuss your expectations and nail down a date for when exactly she’ll have those revisions to you. Honestly, you’re running up to the end of the year, and even if you do get the revisions tomorrow, it’s entirely possible this manuscript isn’t going out on submission until January. That’s a long time when you’re doing nothing but waiting, when you have been doing nothing but waiting.

I think you also need to really evaluate your situation and your feelings. Do you still trust that this agent has your best interests at heart? And are you still confident that she’s the best advocate for you and your career?

The strongest part of an author-agent relationship is trust and confidence in each other. If she’s not communicating well or getting back to you in a timely manner, do you still feel like this is someone you want to continue working on your behalf?

Have a conversation with her. If all goes well, you’ll get yourselves back on track and find later that this was just a bump in the road. If not, if the conversation doesn’t go well or doesn’t happen, then my advice would be to cut and run now. Get out and find yourself another agent. Find someone you’re happy to have on your team and pay your 15% to.

Jessica

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Choosing a Career Path

I finished my first novel, a humorous women's fiction (chick lit), earlier this year and began querying agents. I received my fair share of rejections off the bat, and I began to think that part of my problem is that chick lit has taken a drastic dive in popularity. But, as I had spent a year of my life writing the blasted thing, I persisted. In the meantime, I started and almost finished my second novel, a modern day Bonnie and Clyde that would probably appeal to the YA market.

In recent weeks, I have had several agents respond to my first query, asking to see partials and fulls, and one offer of representation.

My question is this: Should I abandon my second novel for now and start writing some more humorous fiction in order to build a following? Or should I finish my YA ms. and then switch back to chick lit? I hate being confined to one genre, because after spending a year writing in one style, it is very tempting to try something new. But I don't want to confuse my fans (assuming, of course, that I get any).


The simple answer to this question is that you need to talk to your agent if you choose to sign with one. Personally, I think there’s definitely a correlation between what was once chick lit and what people are writing as YA now. We’re seeing a lot of former chick lit authors go in that direction. However, yes, it could be a problem if you’re published as a women’s fiction author and suddenly switch to YA, unless you feel that you could write two books a year, let’s say, and do one of each.

If you choose to sign with an agent, or are considering signing with one, this is a discussion you should have before signing. Find out how the agent envisions your career and what she thinks about your two directions. Having this discussion may help you decide if she’s the right agent for you or what you should be doing.

Jessica

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Angie Fox on Taking Charge of Your Career

Angie Fox
The Last of the Demon Slayers
Pub date: November 2010
Agent: Jessica Faust



(Click to Buy)


Jessica talks a lot on this blog about taking charge of your publishing career. I used to think that it meant learning all you can about the business so that you can make an educated decision about agents, publishers, and how to make that first sale. And that is very important. But since I’ve been published, I’ve discovered that securing that initial book contract is only the beginning.

My first book came out in 2008 from Dorchester Publishing. The Accidental Demon Slayer went on to sell very well. In fact, it hit the New York Times bestseller list. The second and third books in the series followed. I worked hard at my craft, at telling the best stories I could, and I enjoyed the looks on some readers’ faces when I told them I write about a demon slayer who runs off with a gang of geriatric biker witches.

Then the biker witches hit a pothole. My publisher was having trouble distributing books and paying authors. Dorchester wasn’t meeting its contractual obligations regarding my books.

Jessica and I considered things carefully before we knew what we had to do. We contacted my publisher – the publisher I’d been so thrilled to sign with – and we took back the rights to my upcoming book. I would no longer publish my series with Dorchester.

Yes, it’s easy to say: Take control of your publishing career. But I’ll be the first to tell you – it’s daunting. It was the strangest feeling knowing that I alone was in charge of my next release. I mean, some days, I can barely find my car keys.

Now I had this great book on my hands – a book I’d worked so hard to write and that I was so proud of – and I had to decide what to do next. There was a demand. The Last of the Demon Slayers is a great stand-alone book. It takes the biker witches on this crazy cross-country ride. People have been asking about it, even when they haven’t read the first books. I was getting a lot of email from both new and established readers asking when they’d see the book. And after the issues with the publisher became public knowledge, many readers worried if they’d see the book.

So I took another plunge. With Jessica’s help, I’m releasing The Last of the Demon Slayers on Kindle today. But even if readers don’t have a Kindle, they can get Kindle for PC (that’s what I use) or Kindle for Mac, which are both easy ways to get the same book on your computer. We’re also hoping to follow up with a paperback version.

I owe it to my readers to give them the book that they’ve been hearing about for the past year. And I’ve come to realize I owe it to myself as a writer. I’m so stinking proud of this book and I need to get it out there, if only to stay sane and happy.


And I’ve learned an important lesson through all of this. Publishing is hard. Things don’t always turn out how we wish or how we’d planned. But the most important thing you can do is commit yourself to keep writing, and innovating, and growing.

In fact, I just signed a three-book contract with St. Martin’s Press. I’ll be writing a darkly humorous paranormal saga about an otherworldly M*A*S*H unit, called The Monster MASH. And I’m also writing two fun, quirky novellas for Kensington books. Both of those are due out next year. It just goes to show you that publishing can be rocky, but the ideas don’t stop.

Looking back, I don’t know why I thought things would always go smoothly after I sold that first book. Life just isn’t like that. We can’t always expect it to be safe or comfortable.

In fact, I’m as keyed up about today’s release as I would be if The Last of the Demon Slayers was sitting on a shelf at Walmart. This is an unknown, a whole new experience. But it was something I had to do. So I suppose today is the perfect day to take a bit of advice from the biker witches: Control what you can, let go of what you can’t, and enjoy the ride.

Would you like to learn more? Visit Angie at www.angiefox.com.

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Monday, November 08, 2010

Addressing Your Query

How should I address my cover letter to a partial request? Or queries, etc. for that matter? I am old enough that I feel Ms. Doe is extremely formal. However, at the same time I realize that respect is a necessity and an act of respect.

So I am at a road bump (something extremely annoying and slowing me down):

Is it
Dear Ms. Doe?
Dear Ms. Jane Doe?
Dear Ms. Jane?
Dear Jane?

What is common practice here? I don’t want to take allowances, but I also respect myself enough as a writer to feel the agent and I are on somewhat even ground. She addressed me by first name in request for my partial, what do you think?


I actually don’t think it matters. I get queries all the time addressed to Ms. Faust, Jessica, Jennifer, and Dear Sirs. I think it depends on the author and what feels right to the author. All that being said, if I get Dear Sirs I immediately feel that the author hasn’t bothered to do her homework and question how ready she is to be published. If I get Jennifer I just sigh.

If an author uses Jessica and I don’t know the author, I guess I do sometimes feel a bit of a jolt, a little too much familiarity. Although I get that more now that I write the blog, so I guess it doesn’t impact me in the same way anymore. For me personally, with business correspondence with someone I don’t know, I tend to stick with the more formal Mr. or Ms. (never Mrs., just so you know). I don’t think this means that you see the agent as being on higher ground, just that you see the letter as a formal business query.

Over the years I’ve responded to a million proposals (not an exact figure) and I guess I tend to use Mr. or Ms. That being said, if I feel the relationship is moving in a forward direction (I think we’ll have an ongoing relationship of some sort) I tend to switch to the author’s first name.

Everybody is different; what I want to stress, though, is that using Mr. or Ms. is not about seeing the agent, or any person, as your better, it’s about formal business etiquette. And I do think that while it’s obvious the world isn’t as formal as it used to be, it can never hurt to use good old-fashion etiquette. You’re never likely to offend anyone with a Dear Ms. or a Dear Mr.; you don’t know what their feelings might be on a Hey Jess [cringe].

Jessica

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Querying Agents at the Same Agency

By now you should know how I like to confuse things a little by stating how I like things done v. how you should be doing things—guidelines that often conflict with one another.

Kim and I both receive a lot of queries and have specific interests. We also have a number of interests that cross over, and while I do not like when authors query us both at the same time (since there’s nothing worse than sitting in a meeting when two agents bring up the exact same project), I do think it’s in your best interest to query one if the other passes and you feel both agents might be right for your work. And yes, I’m wincing a little as I type this. And yes, I’m sure there are many agents cursing my name as they read this.

Here’s the deal: There are definitely times when I’ll pass on a query, but forward it to Kim anyway. If it’s something I think she might like I’ll pass so she doesn’t have to answer if she doesn’t want to (and since I was the one queried), but if she is interested she can request more. That being said, I can’t always say that I understand the kind of books Kim might like.

One of the reasons agents specialize is that we, like readers, get certain books and don’t get others. In other words, I don’t get what makes a children’s book work. How does one ABC picture book really differ from another? I also don’t necessarily get certain voices, so I might read something that would be better for Kim, but I don’t think to pass it on to her because I didn’t connect to the voice. She might.

Recently an author queried me after getting an offer of representation. She had recently received a rejection from Kim, but thought to query me as well, just to see. I LOVED the book. Thought it was simply great. Kim apologized profusely, feeling like she should have passed it on to me, but admitted that the book was not her style so she couldn’t even tell if it was really great enough to pass along or not. She was right, and certainly I’ve been in the same situation. Sometimes we just can’t tell because it’s not our style.

There are a ton of agents out there, there are three times as many authors. If you feel there are two or more agents within the same agency who are right for your work, query them all, just not at the same time.

Jessica

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Blow Me Away

Occasionally on Twitter I host an #askagent session that allows fellow Tweeps to ask me questions live. If you’re ever up extremely early in the morning (roughly 4 a.m. EST), hop on to see if I’m hosting.

In a recent session I was asked about a recent submission that wowed me, and I thought this was a great question to share with my blogger friends as well. Very often when I read an amazing submission, or an amazing book, it makes me want more of the same. So to give you an idea of where my head is at this very moment, here is a list of some things I’ve read recently that have blown me away.

In no particular order, here are five things that I’ve read that have blown me away. Keep in mind that one of the biggest reasons they’ve all blown me away was because of the author’s voice.

  1. A narrative about a puppy and the animal control system.
  2. A memoir by a mommy blogger
  3. A steampunk YA
  4. A cross-genre fantasy romance
  5. Warrior by Zoe Archer

Believe it or not I seem to be opening more and more to memoirs and current affairs narratives.

I absolutely loved the steampunk YA. Can’t stop thinking about it. I would love to see more like this.

I’ve always really enjoyed the cross-genre fantasy romance and feel that some of the books I’ve done definitely fit this area. In my mind, they are books that go beyond paranormal and appeal to both types of readers.

Warrior is just a great book.

Jessica

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

"You Say Pushy Like It's a Bad Thing," Janet Reid

I was recently pointed to a blog post that really has me irritated for a number of different reasons. Many of these reasons have already been articulated by Janet Reid perfectly, but since this is an issue I feel is important, I wanted to have my own say.

The blog in question was written by someone who calls herself (I assume it’s a her based on the picture) Agency Gatekeeper. In it the blogger suggests that any agent who wants to know who else has offered representation is “pushy, rude and breaching etiquette.” Which is wrong, completely wrong.

What concerns me most about this post is the sweeping generalization that one simple question from an agent means run. And I don’t get that. It’s a question and I think we are all smart enough to know the difference between someone asking a question and rudeness. Most certainly, asking a question about who else is offering representation is not a breach of etiquette.

When an author comes to me with an offer of representation already on the table, it’s only natural I would want to know who made that offer. It’s the same with a publisher; it’s only natural that a publisher is going to want to know who else is offering for a book. Whether or not you answer that is entirely up to you. When offering representation I’ve had authors who are completely up front in telling me every agent who is still interested, and others who won’t tell me even after a decision is made. That’s fine, it’s really up to the authors. And yes, I suppose there are agents out there who might use that information to present a pro/con list to the author of why she’s better than the other agents. Doesn’t that only give you more insight into how this agent works? If that sort of pitch makes you uncomfortable then you know she’s not the agent for you. On the other hand, it might also help you determine what other questions you might ask the other agents. Heck, you could even ask the other agents what they know of each other and how they differ if you really wanted to. Why not? You’re the one doing the hiring.

So why would an agent ask? Well certainly there’s simple curiosity. Wouldn’t you want to know? There’s also power in knowing who your competition is and what they bring to the table that you might want to highlight in your own sales pitch, because it’s true, when you’re offering representation to a potential new client you’re selling yourself.

One of the other things Agency Gatekeeper said was,

The minute an agent asks this question, he/she is placing you in the middle of what may be an ongoing debate/competition/industry question/drama--it's pulling you into a situation (perhaps a fight, if for some reason the agents don't get along) that just isn't fair. That's like two old friends bringing you into a generations-old battle--and you just met them. It'll cloud your judgment and make it all the more challenging to make this already difficult decision.


Which I don’t get at all. Placing you in the middle of what? I have friends who are agents and I suppose there are agents out there I don’t like very much, but we are not going to stand you in the middle of a room and start taunting you, and I don’t have a “generations-old battle” to fight out with anyone. In fact, I’m not old enough to have a generations-old battle, thank you very much.

What I really don’t like about this blog by Agency Gatekeeper is the sense that authors aren’t smart or savvy enough to think for themselves. Are you not able to tell when an agent is being rude or making you uncomfortable? I also don’t like this sense that authors are just a pawn in a giant agent game of tug-of-war. There’s no doubt that when I make an offer of representation I want to be the one the author chooses, but it’s not because I want to “get one over” on my fellow agents. It’s because I feel so passionate about that book that not being the one to help present it to publishers actually makes me want to cry.

So, here’s the thing. When interviewing an agent for representation there are no wrong questions you can ask, and hopefully when the agent is talking to you there are no wrong questions she can ask. You’re getting to know each other, and the more you talk the more time you have to get a sense of how you will work together. If an agent asks a question you aren’t comfortable answering, simply tell her so; if she pushes and bullies then she’s probably not the agent for you, but asking the question itself isn’t the problem, how everyone reacts to the question can be the problem.

Jessica

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Monday, November 01, 2010

An Agent's Reaction

My primary form of communication with clients is via email. Let’s face it, it’s faster, easier, and you’ve never heard of playing “email tag.” That being said, there are a few instances where I almost always call.

When I’m offering representation. Certainly I think a big request like this, “Will you be my client?” needs to be heard and not read, but really . . . I just want to hear the excitement in an author’s voice. There’s nothing better than that pause when the potential client wants to scream, but is trying desperately to stay calm. I love it.

The second? When we get an offer from a publisher. This never gets old, and whether it’s your first contract or your fiftieth, I don’t think it ever gets old for the author either. I love the cheering, the telephone happy dance, and the ability to share good and exciting news.

Do you know what I love most about both of these calls? When an author lets go of the professionalism for just an instant and allows herself (or himself) to scream, cheer, or enjoy a little crazy laughter. It gives me chills. Even writing about it gives me chills.

So what would you do if an agent let go of that professionalism for just an instant and screamed, put down the phone for a happy dance, or let out a squeak of crazy laughter? Because I have to tell you, after years of agenting and offering representation to numerous clients, it never gets easier or any less exciting. Anytime an author makes me wait while she considers her choices, I become a crazy person. I IM Kim multiple times a day to ask why the author hasn’t gotten back to me yet, even if it’s Tuesday and the author promised she wouldn’t be making a decision until Friday. I pace around the house and obsessively talk to my family about the book and, when the author finally calls to say “yes,” I have a moment of breathless excitement, that pause when I want to scream.

Jessica

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