Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's Not You, It's Your Query

I know this is something we’ve discussed before on this blog, but after (holy crap!) almost five years of blogging, there are bound to be things we’ve discussed before.

Can I stop here for a minute to point out that this blog started in 2006. Where the heck did five years go?!

Okay, back to the query.

I was talking to an author recently who told me that she had been rejected by 120 agents on query alone. Not one had requested a partial. How does that happen? Here’s how. Your query isn’t strong enough.

To be honest, even the crappiest (apparently word of the day) book should be getting requests because a good query, like a good car salesman, can sell anything. If you aren’t getting any requests on 20 queries (that means at least one request for every 20 queries you send), you need to rewrite your query. It’s not working.

If you find that you can’t rewrite it, that you’re having a difficult time writing a really amazing query, then you need to look at your book. It’s likely not working.


Jessica

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.


Dear Ms. Faust,
In my novel BOUND TO YOU, an emotionally reserved woman struggles to reconnect with the adoptive family that raised her after discovering a natural affinity with the biological one she’s just met.


If I have to read a sentence twice to figure out what the author is saying you need to rework the sentence. You've got a lot of information in here, but honestly, it doesn't say anything. This is a common mistake in queries, an attempt to give your book an overall theme. Besides the fact that this is an awkward sentence, it doesn't grab me. There's nothing here that makes me care about the book. There's nothing in this sentence that feels special and, frankly, I think you could just keep it simple. Bound to You is an 84,000-word women's fiction novel about a woman coming to terms with her own adoption.


At 28, Aden Crawford relegates most of her relationships to the backburner. In the ten years since she uncovered adoption papers in the attic—and was met with silence in place of answers—she’s almost convinced herself she’s better off alone. But that’s easier said than done. Especially when her adoptive parents, sister and long-time boyfriend are determined to change her mind.

For some reason her age hit me wrong. The way you described her in the opening, "an emotionally reserved woman," made me think this character was going to be a lot older. Discovering she's 28 shifts my thinking on the book. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it's a bad thing, I just think your description above made her sound older. It might make a difference in your character if you make her five years older; that way you clearly move out of the realm of chick lit.

It seems like there's a lot of potential in this paragraph, but no oomph. There's also the potential for a lot of conflict, but I don't see the conflict as being that big of a deal. She's moved her relationships to the back burner, and yet she clearly has a lot of people in her life. You need to take this to the next level. Frankly, this query suffers from what I think is the biggest reason queries get rejected. The book just doesn't sound that interesting. It sounds a little "eh." There's nothing special here, nothing that makes it stand out from any other book about an adult who discovers she's adopted.


They convince her that meeting her biological father, Shawn Channing, will erase any lingering questions about who she is. Aden tracks down Shawn and is baffled by his unquestioning acceptance. She bonds with her two half-brothers through hours-long phone calls, rounds of 20 Questions via email and a few cross-country visits. And she slips into the family dynamic as if she’s always been there.

If she was met with silence then why are those same parents suddenly working so hard to help her connect with her biological parents? That doesn't make sense. When I see things like this, conflicts in the query, it makes me believe that there are a lot of plot errors in the book. These might be small, but let's face it, I'm judging your book on the query, and if you don't see the conflicting information here then it's likely you aren't seeing it in 400 pages.


The ease of her new family life, however, leaves her desperate to regain that same closeness with her adoptive family. Insecurity from years of estrangement keeps her from reaching out to them. Aden must find a way to let go of the past if she hopes to wind up with everything—and everyone—she’s ever wanted.

It feels like I've totally missed the conflict in the story. This just seems like a nice tale about a woman who has two families. I'm not at all connecting with what her growth is or what she needs to overcome. She seems upset that she's adopted, but in the meantime both her families seem incredibly supportive. Frankly, it makes her sound a little whiny. Again, this all ties into this book not feeling special.


BOUND TO YOU is a completed 84,000-word women’s fiction novel. I earned my BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina - Wilmington.

This is good. Great bio. This is all I really need.


Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sales Percentages

I am wondering what percentage of the works you accept to represent actually get a deal?

You know, of course, that there’s no easy answer to this question, and to really get figures I’d have to go back over 10 years of paperwork to get the numbers.

Here’s what I will tell you. There have been many, many times when the “work” I accepted to represent didn’t get a deal, but the author later did for another work.

I can’t imagine there is any agent out there with a 100% success rate when it comes to submitting projects and selling. Each project we take on is a risk, a calculated risk, but still a risk.

I take on a client for her voice, writing, and the life of her work, so even if I don’t sell that first book, I’m determined we’ll work until we sell the next one.

As my career advances my sell rates go up. That being said, I’m taking on fewer new authors now than I was 10 years ago, so I guess that makes sense.

In the end, though, I would say somewhere around 90% of the authors I offer representation to eventually get a book deal, the percentage of “works” I offer representation to that get a deal might be lower.

Jessica

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Packager v. Agent

Help! I feel like a bunny in a lions den! I had an idea for a non-fiction book, not being a writer and knowing absolutely nothing about the publishing industry, I searched for books on similar subjects and contacted them with my idea and asking if they would like to collaborate. One of the authors who replied was a book packager who began working with me on the proposal. We both had the same ideas on what the book should be so I thought it would be a good fit . . . until they sent me the contract. It was a work for hire agreement - no way was I going to agree to it, this was my baby and I was the one doing the work, they weren't planning on helping me write - just the packaging and finding a publisher, yet here they wanted to pay me a small fee and keep the copywrite. I began to querry agents. In the meantime they agreed verbally to most of my terms but wanted to split any advance 70/30 - net, my cut being thirty and any future royalties 50/50 - net. They wouldn't budge on this stating that their expenses were going to be high and this was normal for first time authors. Mabe I'm being stubborn but since their expenses are taken out before the split why does their split have to be so high? To make me trust them less, when they sent the new contract they stated that the split for advance AND royalties at 70/30. They have since sent a corrected contract but I just feel as if they are trying to take advantage of my inexperience and there may be something else I am missing. In the meantime, one of the agents I had contacted asked me to send my full proposal. I should be hearing back from her in a few weeks. I don't know if I can put the book packagers off for that long but there are moments when I think I'd rather not do it at all than get ripped off!
Any advise???


There’s a lot here. In other words, there’s a lot for me to comment on and a lot of different issues to address. I’m going to try to take it step by step.

You started by saying you had a book idea but you aren’t a writer, so it sounds to me like you were looking for someone to write the book for you because you thought the idea was so revolutionary. That might be the case, but the truth is that an idea is nothing without the execution, at least in the book world. I have seen some of the most amazing ideas cross my desk in both fiction and nonfiction, but without the right execution it never made it to publication.

As for the book packager. This is a typical book packager agreement and why I urge all writers to do their research before putting things out there. Without knowing what the book is or what is being done to package the book, I can’t tell you for sure if what they’re doing is fair. It sounds to me like it is. A 70/30 split and 50/50 royalties is far more than most authors receive from packagers. Do you know what they’re doing for you? Is this a heavily illustrated book and are they supplying the illustrations? You claimed earlier you are not a writer and were looking for a writer, but now you say you are the one doing all the work. I’m a little confused by this. Are you actually writing the book or is someone else? Are they doing a lot of work preparing the package and editing or are you expected to do all of that yourself?

Here’s the deal. Here’s what a book packager typically does. If what you want is to keep the majority of the money and hold on to the rights, you need a literary agent. To find one, however, you need to be prepared to write the book proposal yourself (or pay someone to write it for you) and submit it to agents for consideration. If illustrations or art are required you will need to be the one to pay for and supply those.

As for what you should do? I can’t tell you that. I don’t have enough information for one thing, but I also don’t know if you’re getting ripped off. That depends on what the packager is doing to make this a project that can be sold.

Jessica

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Author Speed Date

The idea of speed dating is that you get 10 minutes to sit down with a prospective date and get to know them. In that spirit, we present Author Speed Date. A quick 10 minutes for you to get to know some of our clients. Today we'd like you to meet Christie Craig.

BookEnds Author Speed Date

Name (the one you’re published under): Christie Craig/C. C. Hunter or “hey you.”

Speed date Bio (one or two lines): When Christie Craig isn’t sipping wine and telling a joke, she writes humorous romantic suspense for Grand Central and young adult paranormal romances for St. Martin’s Griffin as C. C. Hunter. (Is that longer than two lines? Sorry, I’m Southern, and long-winded. Plus, math was never my best subject.)

Web Link: www.christie-craig.com and www.cchunterbooks.com

Next Book, pub date: Born at Midnight, March 29th (C. C. Hunter) and Don’t Mess With Texas, August 23rd (Christie Craig)

Agent: What’s her name . . . Oh, yeah, Kim Lionetti. (Did I spell that right?)


About Me

Real Name or Pseudonym: Christie Craig is my real name. C. C. Hunter is a pseudonym.

Currently Reading: Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

Next on Your Reading List: Falling Under by Gwen Hayes

Facebook or Twitter (include account name): ChristieCraigFans and @Christie_Craig, plus CCHunterFans and @CCHunterBooks

Three authors living or dead you would want to have dinner with: Janet Evanovich (because people keep comparing my Christie Craig books to hers), E. B. White (he wrote my favorite children’s book, Charlotte’s Web), and Stephenie Meyer (so I could ask her why Bella chose Edward).

Jet-setter or armchair traveler: Jet-setter, love to travel. I’ve visited China, France, South America and almost all the U.S. And I’m just getting started.

Glass ½ full or ½ empty: The glass is always half full. If you want to make it as a writer, you have to keep going in spite of the hurdles, so having a positive outlook is essential to success.

Tea or Coffee: Coffee with cream, please. I’m waiting . . . where is it?

Live to write or Write to live: Both. Wouldn’t stop, couldn’t stop, can’t stop.


About My Writing

When (time of day) I write: 7 a.m. – whenever. I’m bad about writing ten or more hours a day, especially when I’m on a deadline.

Writing soundtrack: None. Shh, silence, please. I can’t write with music if it has lyrics.

Character Inspirations: I steal from the world, from my own personal experiences and waitresses who wait on me. All is fair in the author’s world.

Plot Inspirations: What ifs. Anything that makes me stop and think. Imagine me, sipping coffee, looking out my office window. A garbage truck roars down my street. What if the thing that had the garbageman looking so hard into the neighbor’s garbage can was a human head? Did my neighbor kill his wife? You know, I’ve always thought he was a Colombian drug lord. But wait! (Flipping into my paranormal mode of thinking.) What if the garbageman’s not really a garbageman but a rogue vampire? And my Colombian drug lord neighbor is really a werewolf . . . Oh yeah, oh yeah, this is going to work.

Setting Inspirations: Sunsets, sunrises, the moon, the Waffle House. Put me somewhere and I’ll find something in that setting that inspires me to write about it.

Plotter (carefully plot books) or Pantser (write from the seat of my pants): Complete pantser. Even my synopses go to my editors with sentences that read, “I don’t know who the villain is right now, but it will be the least likely person the reader expects.”



Thanks for the interview, guys. Signing off, going to stand by the window and watch the garbagemen a while.


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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Advance Expectations

I am having a lot of trouble finding information on what type of advance one might expect for a fictional work that has been previously published in another country but not the United States. The work was originally published a few years ago in England by one of the big publishers. What sort of offer might be expected if it's accepted for publication by another of the big publishers in the States?

You’re having trouble finding the information because there’s no answer. How well did the book sell in England? What is its marketability in the U.S. (just because a book is successful in one country doesn’t mean it will work in another)? These are just a couple of questions that will come into play when a publisher considers whether or not to even offer on a new book, let alone how much to pay.

When it comes to how much of an advance an author can expect, whether it’s for a foreign rights sale or a first sale, there are no answers. How much a publisher offers is going to come down to your background as an author (previous sales numbers), the marketability of the book, the timing of the market, and generally how much passion people feel about the book.


Jessica

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.


Because your agency represents many authors whose titles I've read, I would like to be considered for your query workshop.

I think this opening is fine. You show that you've done your research on the agency, and that's good.


I have been on the receiving end of many a query when I worked for a literary journal. However, drafting a query for the specific type of genre I've chosen to write -- women's fiction/romance -- has been the most challenging and confusing aspect of seeing this m.s. through to completion. (Synopsis? Cake walk.)

I actually like the way you slip in your experience at the literary journal and connect with the agent by showing that you have a background in publishing and writing. The same holds true for the genre. This is very conversational. I would suggest you spell out "manuscript." One of the problems with email is it can easily become too casual, especially if you're also a Tweeter. It's easy for all of us to get lazy and start to shorten or abbreviate. I've been guilty of this many times. When it comes to professional correspondence, no matter how conversational, use your best grammar. Remember, we're judging your writing on this query first. I also like the parenthetical comment you made. Again, conversational, which, even though it's a professional correspondence, works nicely.


The hapless query attached has been through so many incarnations, with so much (conflicting) input from various mentors, I'm beginning to wonder if the poor thing will ever reach its zen. I keep fingers crossed that your agency can give me gentle guidance.

And here's the problem. You've attached the query. Many are going to wonder why I even bothered to include this in the query workshop when it's not actually a query. Because many times it is the query I receive and only the query I read. At least once a week I receive a query very similar to this. The author spends a great deal of time writing a nice email explaining the query and then attaches it. It states on our website that queries should be written in the body of the email, and most agents will agree. Few will open an unrequested attachment. Contrary to popular belief, this is not entirely about a fear of viruses. In fact, as far as I'm concerned it's not about viruses at all. The BookEnds policy to not open query attachments is about time management. I can easily spend an hour a day answering queries and still not be even close to caught up. Opening attachments and then going back to the email to respond adds extra time, and to be successful in life we all need to carefully manage our time. This is one way I try to streamline the query process for myself. Think of it this way: What if every response to a query you sent came as an attachment, including my response telling you the query was received?


Fond regards from Austin,

There's nothing wrong with this. The "fond regards" bugs me personally for some reason, but in the grand scheme of a query critique that doesn't matter.


Jessica

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Character Copyright

What is the proper use/copyright requirements if I want to allude to a copyrighted character in another work? Can I do it? Specifically, I'm looking at a single reference - as in a single line of dialog, something like "You're quite the Nancy Drew, aren't you?" (this is an example, not a quote). Am I required to get permission to use the term "Nancy Drew" from the copyright holder (I am referencing their description of the character, I suppose, but it's a term that's commonly used), or is noting the copyright holder enough?

Copyright becomes an issue if you plan to use that character in your work. If, for example, you want Nancy Drew herself to be a character in your work. To talk about a pop culture reference, whether it’s a character, a famous person, a book, a movie, etc., is not a copyright issue. Therefore your example is not a copyright issue at all, and you don’t need to reference the copyright holder or obtain permission.

Jessica

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Idea Testing

Is there any forum for / opportunity to share novel ideas, prior to writing them?

I have three ideas that I am playing about with, and I would love to get some industry feedback. It is possible that a similar book has been written, or the topic doesn't have a large enough platform, and I would hate to find this out after investing a year in the writing. A forum where writers could pitch their story ideas - not for representation or sale, but to get a feel for viability - would be an excellent resource for writers and agents alike. I am sure if anyone knows about the existence of something like this, it would be you.


I don’t know of any such forum, and while it’s not a bad idea, I think you’d have a difficult time getting both authors and industry pros to participate.

My guess is that authors would be hesitant to participate because an idea is just an idea, and the fear of idea theft would be huge.

My guess is that industry pros would be hesitant because an idea is great, but it’s the execution that makes all the difference. Take a look at published books, and let’s use vampires as an example. There are hundreds of romances written featuring vampires, but it’s the execution of the story that makes all the difference when it comes to grabbing readers.

Unfortunately there are no shortcuts in this business. You can use your writing group as a sounding board for your ideas, but ultimately you need to sit down and execute the book and then see if it works.

Jessica

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Author Speed Date

The idea of speed dating is that you get 10 minutes to sit down with a prospective date and get to know them. In that spirit, we present Author Speed Date. A quick 10 minutes for you to get to know some of our clients. Today we'd like you to meet Lynn LaFleur.

BookEnds Author Speed Date

Name (the one you’re published under): Lynn LaFleur

Speed date Bio (one or two lines): Author of over 30 erotic romance books.

Web Link: www.lynnlafleur.com

Next Book, pub date: The Birthday Gift, from Ellora’s Cave February 2011

Agent: Jessica Faust

About Me

Real Name or Pseudonym: Lynn LaFleur

Currently Reading: RWA RITA contest entries

Next on Your Reading List: Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Facebook or Twitter (include account name):

Facebook: www.facebook.com/lynn.lafleur
Twitter: www.twitter.com/lynn_lafleur


Three authors living or dead you would want to have dinner with: Sandra Brown, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jill Shalvis

Jet-setter or armchair traveler: Armchair traveler

Glass ½ full or ½ empty: Always ½ full

Tea or Coffee: Tea

Live to write or Write to live: Live to write

About My Writing

When (time of day) I write: Morning to late afternoon.

Writing soundtrack: New Age instrumentals.

Character Inspirations: They all come out of my head.

Plot Inspirations: Most of those come out of my head too, but sometimes a simple phrase I hear someone say will spark an idea.

Setting Inspirations: I usually set my books in either Texas or Washington, as I’ve lived in both states.

Plotter (carefully plot books) or Pantser (write from the seat of my pants): Big-time pantser!

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

From Self-Pubbed to Contract

After finishing my novel I sent it out into the slush piles. I got 5 requests, 2 of them for the full. All of them decided to pass in the end, despite them saying that they liked it, thought it was well written, and that it was very original. None of them really gave me a reason for passing. After playing out the attempt to get an agent, I decided to make my novel available through print-on-demand service since all of my family and friends were begging to read it. I’ve gotten great reviews on it, not just from people I know, most of them people I have never met. I’ve had half a dozen book review bloggers contact me about reviewing a copy and have gotten amazing support and reviews. I’ve made a decent establishment of myself online, if you search my name I pop up everywhere.

I am realistic about the potential of success using a POD service though. The chances of getting this off the ground are slim to none. Feeling a little more confident that people will actually and do actually like my work, I would like to send it back out to agents. My concern is, however, that an agent will be more hesitant to look at me because I have done the POD service. Many agents seem to see this option as the “kiss of death.” I recently sent a submission to a medium-sized publishing house who said they liked it but since it had been “published in any form” they would not be interested.

So I wonder- is it going to help me at all, even though I’ve gotten such amazing feedback and have started to make a name for myself? Have I done myself a great disservice by making it available already?


It will definitely help you that you’ve received good reviews and feedback. It will help you even more if your sales have been exceptional, because when it comes right down to it, publishers are only really interested in sales numbers.

I don’t think you’ve done yourself a disservice by making this book available, I think you’re doing yourself a disservice by not moving on from this book. The smartest thing you can do at this point is move on to your next book and start submitting that to agents. The feedback you’ve received on your first book might help present your book but, more important, your next book is bound to be stronger.


Jessica

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Dear Bookends,

Always address your query to a specific agent, not just the agency’s name. Queries that aren’t aimed at a specific agent will most likely be read by an intern first, or will be passed over quickly because the agent will perceive you as someone who didn’t do their homework. And, at any rate, it should be spelled “BookEnds.”


I am writing you in regards to my first novel. I am a 23 year old aspiring author. I currently work as a stonemason.

Honestly, I wouldn’t divulge any of this information to an agent or editor. Don’t tell me it’s your first novel. That makes the agent immediately think that you’re sending the first writing project to ever come out of your printer — whether that’s the case or not. Writing generally gets better with practice, just like anything else. Perhaps you’re the exception and have penned a classic the first time you sat down to write. It doesn’t matter, because agents and editors have preconceived notions. And you don’t need to give up that information anyway.

I also don’t need to know your age and occupation. When you’re coming to me with a book project, you’re a writer first. Unless your occupation plays into the credibility of the story you’ve written, it’s not relevant to the letter. Especially in fiction. If your protagonist was a stonemason and that played heavily into the story, then it would be worth mentioning.


Ben awakes from deep freeze, but not in the utopia he'd been promised; in fact it's quite the opposite. He's been shipwrecked on some undiscovered backwater planet. He thought his prospects were bad on earth. His job had been taken over by droid workers, the girl he loved left him and his last living family member just died. Now, however, this may be worse. There is no food, no shelter and his only companion is a shirtless old man who constantly rummages through the landscape for edible plants. Ben decides to preserve his own sanity by finding other survivors.

This setup is a little wordy, but intriguing. I think it would capture the reader’s interest even more, however, if I understood what world and what circumstances Ben was coming from. What caused the deep freeze? And why did he think he’d wake up in utopia?


Ben and Leon rescue others from starvation and begin to establish a small society. One day they discover a crashed military vessel. Could it be a rescue crew? The only passenger is an unconscious young man. When he wakes he is barely coherent, but in a rage tries to kill Ben, claiming Ben murdered his father. Ben left earth before this kid was even born and he certainly never murdered anyone. It's assumed the young man is just some escaped lunatic - until they find Ben's mug shot tattooed on the young man's chest.

A flashback to earth presents the alternate reality that climaxes in a life and death scenario - not only for Ben, but for all of mankind as well.


Okay. Now the plot is starting to sound a bit convoluted, and I believe that’s largely due to the fact that I don’t have a frame of reference for this story. Is Earth still in existence? If so, why did Ben leave? If Ben left Earth before this young man was born, does that mean he’s been on this other planet for 20 years or more before the man shows up? If not, where was he in the interim?

Also, with that setup paragraph it really seemed like this book was going to be about starting a new society on this planet. Instead it sounds like the focus of the book is this mystery that actually took place on Earth. If that’s the case you need to focus much less on Leon and this survival story and more on the context of this world and the arrival of the young man and the mystery he carries with him.


START ANEW is a 45,000 word science fiction. It is my debut novel and the first in a potential series.

45,000 words is very short. Adult science fiction with a scope as large as the one you’ve described should be about twice as long. You should probably research the market a bit more and get a better grasp of what’s out there.


Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,




Kim

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Buying the Bestseller List

Suppose a debut writer lands a book deal. For a modest advance; no one's expecting fireworks. Now, further suppose this writer has a war chest set aside for this day, and is willing to spend $100k+ of his own money on publicity, and quit his day job to make darn sure the book earns out the advance (this writer is determined, independently wealthy, and doesn't really care whether, objectively, this shot in the dark makes good business sense - it clearly does not).

My question is NOT "is it possible to buy your way to the bestseller list?" Let's presume it is with enough money and effort, albeit highly unlikely. Rather, my question is this: will the publisher stand behind this writer and allow him to buy ads in the trade pubs and co-op space at the front of bookstores, bring in an outside PR firm and purchase a few thousand review copies, etc.? Or is this sort of thing considered "untoward" in the industry?


Publishers are incredibly supportive/enthusiastic about an author who wants to work hard on their own publicity and marketing. It’s not untoward at all; in fact, these days, it’s almost required. The one thing I would encourage you to do when spending your money is make sure you’re working with the publisher to make the most of your dollar. In other words, make sure that you’re constantly communicating about what you’re both doing so you’re not wasting money simply doubling efforts.

A question for you though. If you have $100k to spend, why wouldn’t you simply epublish and make more in royalties? Forget the modest advance.

Jessica

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Real-Life Characters

I am writing my first YA novel and most of the characters in it are based on someone I knew in real life. What, if any, problems would this pose for me if the novel ever became published? Many of the people written in to the story gave me their blessing (over email or Facebook) before I began, but nothing "in stone". I have changed all names and many obvious identifying characteristics, but if one of these people read my novel, which hopefully they will some day, there will be no question who the characters were based on.

I think it does pose problems for a number of reasons. You’ve gotten vague permission from people to use them in your novel, but let me tell you, people have a very different idea of what that means once they read the novel. Certainly things could be fine and no one could complain, but let’s face it, that’s not going to happen. One person is going to complain. At worst, that person could sue you for defamation of character if she feels she’s easily identifiable in your book and feels your portrayal is unflattering. At best, you could lose a lot of friends. Remember, we all have a bit of a warped view of who we are, and someone else’s vision of who we are can be a little shocking. For example, I was recently asked if I was “too nice” to be a really great agent. When I told my husband this he howled in laughter that anyone would ever think I’m “too nice.” I’m still trying to figure out how I should feel about this ;).

From a creative standpoint I wonder if writing this way is holding you back. There’s no doubt writers get a lot of their characters from the people around them, but from what I understand most take bits and pieces to create new people rather than simply inserting people they know in the book. In other words, one character is an amalgamation of the characteristics of many people, not just friends and family, but people they observe in public. Not only do I think this is safer, but I think it allows you the creative freedom to really let your characters be who they want to be or need to be rather than fit them into a mold.

Personally I worry less about the possibility that people will sue down the road and more about the fact that you aren’t really letting your creativity take the book to new places. That by limiting yourself to writing about the people you know, you’re not pushing the book to new heights.

I’m curious, though, what other writers think about this.

Jessica

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Author Speed Date

The idea of speed dating is that you get 10 minutes to sit down with a prospective date and get to know them. In that spirit, we present Author Speed Date. A quick 10 minutes for you to get to know some of our clients. Today we'd like you to meet Paige Shelton.

BookEnds Author Speed Date

Name (the one you’re published under): Paige Shelton

Speed date Bio (one or two lines): A Midwesterner transplanted to the Rocky Mountain west after college and too many years of humidity-infused frizzy hair. Always wanted to be a writer, but have had a few advertising-like jobs in order to pay the bills.

Web Link: www.paigeshelton.com

Next Book, pub date: Fruit of All Evil, just released!

Agent: Jessica Faust

About Me
Real Name or Pseudonym: Well, my legal name is Paige Shelton-Ferrell, so my writing name is pretty close.

Currently Reading: The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

Next on Your Reading List: Matched by Ally Condie

Facebook or Twitter (include account name): Facebook, Paige Shelton

Three authors living or dead you would want to have dinner with: Phyllis A. Whitney, V. C. Andrews (yeah, really), Laura Ingalls Wilder

Jet-setter or armchair traveler: Armchair

Glass ½ full or ½ empty: 3/4 empty for sure. I'm working on this.

Tea or Coffee: Diet Pepsi

Live to write or Write to live: Live to write, but it'd be fun to actually make a living from it someday.

About My Writing
When (time of day) I write: I write morning and evening.

Writing soundtrack: Playlists on iPod. Sometimes I'm adventurous and leave it on Shuffle. My playlists have all kinds of music, but always lots of Springsteen.

Character Inspirations: I have no idea where these people come from, but when they arrive they're pretty vivid.

Plot Inspirations: Well, there's got to be a body, but other than that it happens as I write.

Setting Inspirations: Farmers' Market books: Even though the characters haven't been to Myrtle Beach yet, it was my visit there that inspired me to set the stories in South Carolina. Two places inspired Broken Rope, Missouri, the setting for the upcoming Gram's Cooking School: Tombstone, Arizona, and Rolla, Missouri (where my parents grew up).

Plotter (carefully plot books) or Pantser (write from the seat of my pants): Total pantser. Pre-planning puts me in a panic.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Writer's Trip to NYC

Out of the blue I found myself preparing for a trip to New York (first time). Trying to be practical I decided to make a plan of things I can do to take full advantage of my trip. Soon, I noticed that aside from the many tourist stuff (museums) and not-so-tourist stuff (trapeze school) I can do there’s nothing publishing/writing related to do . . . I mean there are tours of NBC studios, NYSE and the Federal Reserve, but, understandably, nothing similar for any companies in publishing. There are lots of internships, but I can’t do anything like that. . . . So I thought I’d ask. I did manage to find some writing classes that will be taking place at various Borders stores, but if you or other agents/editors/writers who read your blog have any suggestions I’d really appreciate the input.

I honestly can’t think of anything like you describe. In other words, there are a lot of museum-type things—visiting famous writers' bars, for example—but I can’t think of publishing excursions where you learn about publishing. Although, I don’t know that a trip to NBC studios teaches you much about being a news anchor, either.

The thought of a trip to a publishing company makes me laugh. I imagine tour groups squeezing around piles of books and peering into editors’ offices, trying to see an editor around the stacks of paper on her desk. Trust me, a publishing office in reality is nothing like those you see on TV or in the movies.

Certainly there are classes available in NYC for writers, through NYU or other schools, but that’s probably not going to work for someone who is just taking a short trip. I’ll turn this over to my readers. Anyone have favorite literary trips in NYC, or elsewhere for that matter?

Jessica

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.


Dear Ms. Anonymous,

Your intimate involvement with the agent/author relationship combined with your hands-on, editorially-focused approach would be invaluable to my journey as a writer. Your years of experience in the industry plus your love for characters placed in wacky situations that remain grounded to a relatable reality, would be a perfect match for my novel,
Gaia’s Secret.

I think it's great to include a personal connection in your query whenever possible. The problem with this opening is that it's not at all personal, it's an impersonal attempt to be personal, or at least it feels that way to me. In other words, it feels like you're doing nothing more but attempting to butter me up, not showing how you might know me personally. If I were you I'd skip the attempt at flattery and simply get to the point. "I'm querying you today about my novel Gaia's Secret" is perfect.


In a parallel world, connected by an ancient system of portals, eighteen-year old Daria Jones is the heir to the Regius dynasty, the keeper of untold powers, and the final link uniting Earth-as-we-know-it with its magical sister, Gaia. The only problem? No one bothered to tell her. And to make matters worse, a reawakened race of evil sorcerers make a house call; someone wants Daria dead.

In some ways this paragraph suffers from the same problem as your opening paragraph. It uses a lot of words, but in the end it doesn't really say anything. It leaves me with more questions than answers. Be careful that you aren't working too hard to set up the story by including too much information. For example, does it matter for the pitch that this world is parallel (I assume you mean parallel to ours, although I'm not sure) or that it's connected by portals? I also assume that Gaia is this world, although that's not clear either.

In fact, I don't even see how "keeper of untold powers" fits in. It sounds like this could be interesting, but in the end it's not, because I don't know anything about it.

I think this would be stronger if you went more along these lines: No one bothered to tell eighteen-year-old Daria Jones, heir to the Regius Dynasty, that she's also the final link uniting Earth with Gaia (and now I need to know why that even matters). When she suddenly discovers . . .


When her overprotective father disappears, she turns to Cicero and Sonya Anderson, the only family she trusts to find him. With the illusion of her once-mundane life now completely shattered, she’s forced to follow them through the nearest portal—Yosemite National Park—into the heart of this beautiful and deceptively dangerous new world. Further compounding her problems, their son Alex, her childhood crush, plans to join them. But after a bad break and three years of silence, Alex is the last person she wants to see. And he’s changed. He’s completely gorgeous.

The problem with this paragraph is that it doesn't answer any of the questions I have from the previous paragraph. What does her father's overprotectiveness have to do with the pitch? Why doesn't she trust anyone, and who are these people she turns to and why does she turn to them? Does it even matter who they are? It doesn't seem like they play any big role in the pitch, which should probably focus more on Daria and less on everyone else.

What makes her think she needs help? This seems like it's probably the most important question of the entire pitch.

The biggest problem is that you have told me nothing about this story. You've told me what leads us to the story, why we have a story (because Gaia is in danger and her father has disappeared, although we don't have a connection between the two), but we don't know what this story is about.

My suggestion is you need to make the focus on Daria and Alex, since I assume there is a romance there, and you need to stress how these two travel from the magical world of Gaia to Earth in order to . . . what? Are they planning to find her father? Save Earth? Save Gaia? What is their purpose and what do they face during their journey? Most important, your pitch should be about what happens once they are on Earth, since I'm assuming this is the most important piece of the story.


Not your average coming-of-age story, Gaia’s Secret brings a new twist to life-as-we-know-it. This 106,316 YA fantasy tells us of a world just beyond ours that was never meant to be separate. Through the determination of a strong female heroine, the worlds may find peace and be unite once again.

The problem with saying something like "not your average" is that so far the book sounds pretty average. You haven't given me anything to show how this book stands out from others. And personally, I'm not sure if I see this as "coming-of-age." I mean, I guess all or most YA is coming-of-age in some way, so I think you could skip that.

Your tag line, "tells the story of a world beyond ours that was never meant to be . . ." is interesting. I find this probably the most interesting part of the pitch, but I didn't get any of that from the pitch. I didn't get that these worlds weren't meant to be separate or why it's important that they unite.


This novel has strong series potential but tells a complete tale and stands alone.

I think you could skip this sentence. All books, except in a very, very rare instance, should be a complete tale and stand alone. This doesn't add anything to the query and, in fact, might make the agent instead wonder why you would have to point out that the story is a complete story.


I completed post-graduate work in Clinical Laboratory Science and have an all-consuming passion for literature and the extraordinary.

This short bio is fine, although if you have bio info on your writing that would be more powerful. In other words, are you in a critique group or part of a writing organization? I would be more interested in that. The other thing, which isn't that important, but when it comes to a bio I'm more interested in what you are doing now. In other words, you "completed" post-graduate work, but what's going on with you now?


Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Best wishes,






Jessica

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Random Questions

Do you prefer italics or underlining in manuscripts?

I don’t really care.


If you please, could you respond via email as well as on the blog?

I’m afraid I only respond on the blog, and not personally through email. My schedule is incredibly tight, and while I love helping authors by answering their questions, I need to be able to do so in a way that helps as many people as possible. If I responded individually as well as posting to the blog, I wouldn’t have time to do the work I’m actually getting paid to do. And I do need to write somewhere close to 200 blog posts a year and need to find my material somewhere.


I have an idea for a funny, faux non-fiction book - think "The Zombie Survival Guide" or similar. A book that sounds non-fictioney, but is completely fake. Thinking ahead, should I write this book to completion, since it is technically fiction (as in, it is based on nothing real), or approach it as a classic non-fiction, and complete a non-fiction book proposal, with all the items that go into one of those?

I have noticed that a lot of funny fiction gets lumped into the "non-fiction - humor" category, at least on Publishers Marketplace. It sounds like you’re writing humor to me, which would mean you would need to write a proposal, not the entire book.


I am getting ready to query my second book and am wondering how I should approach agents who requested previous material from a different manuscript. Should I remind them that they've requested my material before, or just send a normal query letter without mentioning
it?


Always, always mention it. Remember, querying is networking, and you are reminding the agent that she liked you previously. If you can, it might help to describe the previous book in one sentence, too, so that she has a reminder of what the book was, an extra memory jolt, so to speak.

Jessica

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Monday, March 07, 2011

Pitching Effectively

I'll be attending a writers' conference and have a 10-minute appointment with a literary agent. Do you have any suggestions on what the pitch should - and shouldn't - include? Is there something people do that really annoys you? Anything that's particularly effective?

The most important thing your pitch should include is your blurb. Really, it doesn’t need to be that different from your query letter, a short, compelling description of your book. Everyone is different, very different, when it comes to what makes a successful pitch. I think it’s Janet Reid who has posted on the subject, and what she’s looking for is different from what I want to see. All that being said, if you give a short, compelling pitch you’ll win an agent over every time.

Here are my tips for pitching successfully.

  1. Bring along your query, a short 1-2 page synopsis, and the first chapter of your book. Have it out when you sit down in case the agent finds it easier to read off that.
  2. When you sit down, introduce yourself and take a moment to ask the agent how she’s doing or how she’s enjoying the conference. In other words, a few seconds or a minute of small talk tends to break the ice and make everyone a little more comfortable.
  3. Start your pitch with your title and genre, then give your blurb. Your blurb should not go on and on. It only needs to be a written paragraph, and if it’s easier for you to read it go ahead and read it.
  4. Have questions. In other words, use your time wisely. When authors pitch to me I’ll often ask questions about the book, but I always ask the author if she has any questions for me. Have some. This is your one-on-one time with an agent, so use it. Ask questions about her, the agency, the business of publishing. Think of it as a pre-interview. If she calls to offer representation, you already have a sense of how well you talk and how comfortable you are with her.
  5. Relax and enjoy yourself. 10 minutes can go quickly.

Jessica

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Friday, March 04, 2011

Author Speed Date

The idea of speed dating is that you get 10 minutes to sit down with a prospective date and get to know them. In that spirit, we present Author Speed Date. A quick 10 minutes for you to get to know some of our clients. Today we'd like you to meet Lorraine Bartlett.

BookEnds Author Speed Date

Name (the one you’re published under): Lorraine Bartlett, Lorna Barrett, and L. L. Bartlett

Speed date Bio (one or two lines): Before she became a New York Times bestselling author, Lorraine Bartlett had done it all—from drilling holes for NASA to typing scripts in Hollywood.

Web Link: LornaBarrett.com; LorraineBartlett.com; LLBartlett.com

Next Book, pub date: Sentence to Death, June 2011

Agent: Jessica Faust

About Me
Real Name or Pseudonym: Lorraine Bartlett

Currently Reading: Julie and Julia by Julie Powell (I have a large and elderly to-be-read pile.)

Next on Your Reading List: Off Season by Anne Rivers Siddons

Facebook or Twitter (include account name):

Lorraine Bartlett; Lorna Barrett; L.L.Bartlett;
@LorraineBartlet; @LornaBarrett; @LLBartlettbooks


Three authors living or dead you would want to have dinner with: Betty MacDonald, Dick Francis, John Mortimer (Good grief, they’re ALL dead!)

Jet-setter or armchair traveler: Definitely armchair traveler.

Glass ½ full or ½ empty: Half empty most days. Half full on launch days.

Tea or Coffee: Tea.

Live to write or Write to live: A little of both.

About My Writing

When (time of day) I write: Mid-morning through afternoon.

Writing soundtrack: New Age music.

Character Inspirations: People I meet.

Plot Inspirations: Out of thin air.

Setting Inspirations: Places I have been. Usually placid places.

Plotter (carefully plot books) or Pantser (write from the seat of my pants): A pantser all the way.

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Picking Your Agent

I’ve done a number of blog posts on choosing an agent. What questions to ask, how to shop around, and how to know if an agent is right for you. Obviously, all of my posts are from my perspective and not from the perspective of someone who has actually made that decision herself.

Recently, though, in talking with an author I had offered representation to, I learned a lot about the process and felt more secure about the ability authors have in making that decision. This author had received multiple offers from agents. We were talking for the second time, and I asked how it was going. She said it was overwhelming, but the one thing she discovered is that you can learn a lot about an agent by the way she offers representation. And I thought that made a lot of sense. For those who have never received an offer, think of it this way. Did the agent call or email? Did she take the time to talk with you or simply offer and let it go at that? Did she offer with stipulations on revisions or simply offer and tell you she loved it?

Now, keep in mind there is no right answer to how an agent offers or how an agent answers your questions. In other words, the right answer is the one you deem correct, because the agent is working for you, not your friends or critique partners.

And while I’ve covered this information before, I think it’s worthwhile to hear it from another author as well: http://jmeadows.livejournal.com/819549.html

Jessica

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Workshop Wednesdays

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.


Dear Ms. Faust:

I am submitting "Coffee, Ghosts, and College," a 76,000 word completed urban fantasy for your consideration.


This is a fine opening; basic and to the point. The only thing you might want to work on is your title. I know I frequently say that your publisher will probably change the title anyway, and while that's true, it doesn't mean you don't what a strong title to grab the attention of everyone else along the way. This title does nothing for me; it gives me no real picture of what I can expect from your book, other than the fact that your book includes ghosts, coffee, and college. It doesn't sound original or exciting.


Brigid started the night by setting her hand on fire with magic, freaking herself out and proving her parents weren't deluded Wizards after all. Her friends weren't entirely convinced it wasn't a trick.

On the way to dinner, she slipped on the ice, tripped over a homeless man, and saw his ghost walk off. "I'm even pissing off the ghosts today," she thought. Then it hit her--ghosts meant murder.


These first two paragraphs about Brigid are kind of intriguing. Not great, but not horrible either. What's missing is a real sense of understanding. You mention a lot of things, but I still think we need more context.


More great news.

She had to persuade her friends that magic was real, ghosts existed, and there was a magical murderer running around. Oh, and she hadn't studied for her Environmental Economics test.


Why? Why did she have to persuade her friends and what does any of that have to do with setting her hand on fire? The answer to these questions seems to be the heart of the book, and instead you've pitched the lead-up or background. When thinking about your query, think about what happens in the middle of the book (or roughly), not what happens in the opening pages. In other words, what makes this book interesting centers around the climax. Why does she need to convince her friends that magic is real, and, honestly, what does that have to do with your opening paragraph, in which we seem concerned that her friends might think it's real?

I think it would be more powerful to get to the point. Brigid spent her life scoffing at her parents' belief that they were Wizards, but when . . . Now it's up to Brigid to . . . how you finish these sentences are probably your query.

One thought about the title again—from the description I could have sworn this was YA, but yet the title says "College." I'm confused. Make sure your title is not only eye-catching, but that it helps define the genre you're pitching to.


Gotta love Mondays.

I get what you're trying to do with this line, but it feels lost.


Thank you for your time.


Jessica

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

International Authors

I’m curious about how the fact the author isn’t in the U.S. affects the marketing or sales of a book. For example, an author overseas cannot conduct a signing event, a literary journalist might not want to call an overseas author, or an overseas author could not participate in a physical interview.

In your experience has this ever affected sales or any stage of the publishing in some way?


Our world is so much smaller than it was 10 to 15 years ago. With avenues such as Twitter and email it’s so easy to connect with people all over the world. The only thing that might be tricky for an international author is a book signing. That being said, I think book signings are the least important of all promotional activities.

Most authors connect with readers through social networking, blogs, and articles, and I don’t know of any journalist who has difficulty connecting with a source, no matter where that source might be.

Jessica

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