Thursday, June 30, 2011

Social Media Doesn't Do You Any Good If No One Knows You're There

If you decide to open a Twitter account or a Facebook account with the intent of building your brand, then you need to let people know you're there. Add in your signature line a link to one or both and make sure to cross reference your accounts on your blog, your website, and in your book's bio. You aren't going to build a social network if no one can find you.

Jessica

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Wednesday, June 29, 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 Query Workshop,

Kudos to the author who actually got the spelling of BookEnds correct. That's rare.


Victor Bartleby will do anything to get his novel published. He’ll even start writing it.

Yep. LOL here. Of course you hit a soft spot for me because you're writing about publishing, but this was great.


Forty and newly divorced, Victor is facing down an identity crisis. He is, he realizes, desperately afraid of reaching the end of his life without having made a mark on the world. His legacy will be – must be – his novel, the fictionalized account of his childhood friendship with Darren Vigo, the rock star who changed the world and died of an overdose at the height of his fame.

Unfortunately you lose me for a number of reasons here. The biggest is that I thought there was a bigger reason that Victor wasn't writing the novel, and it turns out he just isn't writing it. I feel manipulated. You came up with a great hooky line to grab the reader's attention, you used it, but it really only has a little bit to do with your story (at least as far as I can tell). More important, though, the story at this point feels very blah. Some guy who is having a midlife crisis and decides to write a book. Nothing spectacular about that (at least in my world).


As his writing gathers pace, so the relationships with those around him break down, and in their place grows an unhealthy obsession with a New York author who is topping the bestseller list with his own debut novel. And the more Victor writes, the more he is willing to sacrifice in pursuit of his dream.

This is it. This is closer. This is where your query really needs to go. Dump most of the paragraph before this and make this the focus of your query, but actually show us the crux of the story. What I really want to know about, because it's what I assume your book is really about, is this obsession he has and how it's slowly destroying his life. How this obsession relates to your first line about starting to write his novel. That's what's going to bring this query home.


Semi-Autobiographical Debut is a work of literary fiction, complete at 85,000 words.

This is fine. I don't love your title. I don't think it's horrible, but it needs a little oomph.


I have a BA in English Literature from the University of York, and an MA in Feature Film Production from Goldsmiths College, London. Susan Fletcher, writer of Eve Green (winner, 2004 Whitbread First Novel Award) has described my writing as “lively, credible, witty, contemporary.”

This is good. It's all fine.


Thank you for your time and consideration.




Jessica

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ellery Adams Bares All

Ellery Adams
A Deadly Cliche
Publisher: Berkley
Pub date: March 2011
Agent: Jessica Faust


(Click to Buy)


Author web sites: www.elleryadamsmysteries.com and
www.cozychicksblog.com



I’ve received enough emails lately to make me realize that folks are fascinated by what constitutes a writer’s life. I decided to reveal the naked truth from my perspective using the uncompromising language of numbers.

Please keep in mind that these statistics are only a reflection of my work. Me, little ole mid-list cozy mystery author, but I hope they fill in some of the blanks.

Number of books I’ll have published by the end of 2011 — 15

Number of author names I’ve used or will use — 4 (Ellery Adams, J. B. Stanley, Jennifer Stanley, and I’m ½ of Lucy Arlington)

Average page count per book — 300
Average word count per book — 87,000

Number of publishers I’ve written for — 3

Average number of series I’m writing at once – 3

Average advance received from publisher — $6,000 per book
Average amount paid for large print or foreign rights — $500 or $1000

Average amount of advance spent on promotion — 25% of advance

Average money my publishers give me for promotion — 0

Average time it takes me to write a completed draft — 6 months

Average positive emails I receive per week from readers — 6

Average negative emails I receive per week — 1 (These are usually to point out a typo or to complain about a character’s conduct)

Number of personal copies I receive of each title — 50

Time it took me to sign with an agent — 5 months
Time it took my agent (Jessica Faust) to sell my first series — 2 months

Average number of conferences I attend per year — 3

Average number of library talks per year — 2

Average number of times I check my sales ranking on Amazon per day — 5

My writing income based on my 2010 tax return — $18,000

Days per year I work — 360 (This is not an exaggeration. I consider promotion work, and unless I am sick or am forced to be away from a computer, I find time every day to write, edit, promote, or research.)

Age I knew I wanted to become a writer — 7

Number of canceled series — 2 (the Molly Appleby collectible series and the Hope Street Church series)

Number of new series debuting in 2012 – 2 (The Charmed Pie Shoppe mysteries by Ellery Adams and The Novel Idea Literary Agency series by Lucy Arlington)

Series I’m planning to continue as ebooks only — 2

Current income from my sole ebook title (uploaded in March) — $250

Times I’d trade this life for another — Every time one of my books is released and fails to make the NYT list. And then I get over myself and go right back to work.

Did I miss anything? Not strip things down enough? Go ahead and ask me a question. I’ll tell you anything and you’ll get the bare bones truth.


Ellery Adams is the national bestselling author of the Books by the Bay mysteries. Her most recent title, A Deadly Cliche, was released in March. Her next book, The Last Word, comes out in December. For more info, visit www.elleryadamsmysteries.com.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

LOL

I call this recurring post LOL because they are things that usually make us LOL or respond "LOL" when we share the details via email or IM. The truth, though, is that I should call it "sigh with exasperation" at times. Because while it will make us laugh, it sometimes also makes us sigh or even feel a little sad. Anyway, I do like to share these tidbits with you because I do think that they can sometimes make us chuckle.

In a recent rejection email I suggested the author might want to work on a stronger query, that had it been a little stronger I might have requested the material rather than rejected. The author emailed back to say that unless I have specific advice I should stick to a form reject.

An oldie but goodie: Back in the day when we used to accept unsolicited proposals via snail mail (before email submissions), an author sent us an unsolicited full manuscript with no SASE. Our policy was to record all submissions, but if there was no SASE we didn't reply. The SASE was listed in our guidelines as a requirement. Some time later I received an email from the author asking for feedback on her submission. When I replied that I didn't have enough of a memory to give an opinion, but I did know we passed, her response was, "Well, thanks for absolutely NOTHING then! You didn't even show me the courtesy of an email or phone call. It may make no difference to you, but I will not be recommending you to anyone in the future." A phone call? Really?

In response to a rejection letter I sent: Jessica: You remain rejected. Bad business lady.

Another response to a rejection letter: When people you know die do you send form letters to their funeral?

Jessica

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Friday, June 24, 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 Laura Alden.

BookEnds Author Speed Date


Name (the one you’re published under): Laura Alden

Speed date Bio (one or two lines): Village clerk by day, mystery writer by night, voracious reader at all times.

Web Link: www.lauraalden.com

Next Book, pub date: Foul Play at the PTA, July 2011

Agent: Jessica Faust

About Me

Real Name or Pseudonym: Laura Alden (pseudonym), Janet Koch (what my mom calls me).

Currently Reading: Worth Dying For by Lee Child

Next on Your Reading List: Leap of Faith, Queen Noor’s memoir

Facebook or Twitter (include account name): Facebook as Laura Alden

Three authors living or dead you would want to have dinner with: Laurie R. King, Emily Dickinson, John McPhee.

Jet-setter or armchair traveler: If the checkbook is healthy, jet-setter. If the checkbook is flat, armchairs are just fine.

Glass ½ full or ½ empty: Depends on what’s in the glass!

Tea or Coffee: Tea

Live to write or Write to live: Started out as writing to live, now I live to write.

About My Writing

When (time of day) I write: Whenever I have an open ten minutes.

Writing soundtrack: Windham Hill-type music. Can’t listen to anything vocal; I stop writing and start listening.

Character Inspirations: Every person I meet. (Heh heh heh.)

Plot Inspirations: Almost any news article I read.

Setting Inspirations: Wherever I happen to be, and anywhere I’ve ever wanted to travel. (This includes time travel :)

Plotter (carefully plot books) or Pantser (write from the seat of my pants): A former pantser, I now depend on my outline to help me meet deadlines.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Word Count in an epub world

My question is perhaps a bit premature, but do you think the proliferation of e-books and e-readers will affect the idea of what constitutes standard word counts for mainstream fiction? In other words, will word count be rendered less relevant (or even irrelevant) once the cost of paper gets tossed aside by the new technology?

I don't think your question is premature at all, but very relevant. I think that in some respects word count won't matter anymore, but I think in others it will and should. In other words, if we reach the point where paper books no longer exist, then I think to a huge extent word count will be almost irrelevant. Let's face it, you won't be facing paper costs, which is one of the biggest reasons many claim word counts are what they are.

And while certainly the production costs play a role in word count, there's another hidden truth about why word counts are what they are. Because that's about what it takes to write that type of book. In other words, while 150,000 words might work for an epic fantasy with dozens of characters and complicated plot lines, in a cozy mystery it usually just means the author has overwritten the book. Sometimes word count guidelines are more about keeping a book tight and strong than they are about how much it costs to produce.

Now, before you start jumping up and down and pointing out examples of books that broke the mold, that's true, books will always be able to break the mold. That's why we have guidelines and not rules, but I think word count ranges (because they are ranges) are probably here to stay. Humans by nature want guidelines, we want something to give us direction, and word count does that. It helps you to have a sense of when you should stop and when you might have overdone it. I also think readers have expectations for books, and while they are willing to go that extra mile for a book with rave reviews or by an author they love, typically they like books that fit into an expected time frame. In other words, I know I can read a certain type of book in one night and would be disappointed if suddenly it took three.

Jessica

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Wednesday, June 22, 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,

A firefly is a curious thing. A casual glance shows a tiny flying bug that glows in the humid summer nights of the South but there’s more to that twinkle. Blinking patterns flash in different intervals and wavelengths. For the firefly, each illumination tells a story.


I love this opening so much that my usual chatter about indents and email style vs. letter style is forgotten. You grabbed me with this right away, and do you want to know why? It's the voice. There's such a lovely, Southern rhythm and flavor to this and I knew this was set in the South before you even told me. You grabbed me with this. I loved it, plain and simple.


That’s how Adeline Stewart sees everyone around her; every feeling and emotion played out in swirling colors and flowing movements. These colorful auras tell their story. Even death shows itself with its violent black clouds and waves of nausea. Adeline is all alone with her secret, careful not to stand out in her small southern town. But all secrets come out eventually. The only problem is there’s someone out there who thinks she should take her secret to the grave.

This query is not necessarily full of "don'ts," but I would suspect that if it were turned over to a query critique group it would be ripped apart for all of the things it doesn't do, all of the "rules" it doesn't follow. The biggest being that it doesn't really tell me anything about the plot. That being said, I like it a lot.

The voice in this comes through beautifully and I get from the first line of this second paragraph that it's YA. I did have to read the last paragraph to confirm, since I thought maybe it was going to be women's fiction, but I got what you were doing here. Your voice made that clear.


WATCHING FIREFLIES is young adult paranormal novel complete at 78,000 words. My manuscript was a finalist in the Santa Fe Writers Project contest. The judge was Pulitzer prize-winner Robert Olen Butler. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Great ending. Adding the contest mention is smart. It shows me that others have recognized your work and that you are actively out working on your writing and learning about publishing.

There's no question I would request this and I imagine I'm not the only one. Bravo!


Sincerely,



Jessica

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Meeting an Agent at a Conference

Will you be presenting any workshops at the RWA conference this summer?

If I saw you there and if (Big BIG IF) I had the confidance to approach you, can you give any do's and don'ts? (I imagine squeeling and pointing are a big no no.)

Can you recommend an opening line we could offer you to get the dialogue going?



Unfortunately I was not chosen to present workshops this year, which is a bummer for me because I LOVE presenting workshops. However, I will be at RWA and wandering around the hotel, and I always look forward to meeting authors, readers, and other industry professionals.

Here are some of my tips on how to approach agents, editors, or even other authors in a conference setting.

1. Do introduce yourself. Remember, we're all people too and love meeting authors, fans, readers, and generally other people. There's nothing to be nervous about.

2. Don't interrupt a conversation, especially if the agent, author, etc., is sitting down clearly talking with someone. Recently I was at a conference where people regularly came up to interrupt agent/author meetings. It was shocking really. One woman even wanted to sit at the table with us and became angry when we explained we were having a meeting.

3. Do feel free to wait for the agent to finish the conversation.

4. Don't hover. If you choose to wait, wait far, far back. Sit at another table or move to the side, but don't stand and stare. Just be patient.

5. Do just walk up and introduce yourself. Say hello, ask how the conference is going, discuss the author's latest release, or your favorite book. Discuss the agent's most recent blog post or a client you're a fan of. Or just ask how the conference is going.

6. Don't pitch. You can make a lot more headway by just talking to an agent, having a conversation, than you can pitching. At the end ask if the agent would mind if you send your material, but don't turn every introduction into a pitch. It starts to make us feel like machines and we like being people.

7. Do have fun. Because that's what it's all about.


Jessica

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Lauren Is Open for Submissions

Hi, everybody! I’m Lauren Ruth, the newest addition to BookEnds, and I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself to all of you faithful blog readers. I began my publishing career ages ago (okay, so it was really just a couple of years ago) at Simon & Schuster, where I was an editorial intern. Then, after interning at BookEnds, I was hired as a full-time literary assistant. I’ve been reading queries for a long time, but now I’m officially announcing that I’m open to submissions. I look forward to working with authors to build their careers and their voices, and to fine-tuning the brands and skills they already have. The following are the genres in which I’m interested:

In fiction:

  • Literary fiction (the love of my life)
  • Romance (all subgenres, but I’m particularly interested in erotic, historical, or paranormal—or any combination thereof!)
  • Women’s fiction
  • Chick lit
  • Young Adult
  • Middle grade
  • Mystery, (all subgenres, but especially cozies . . . I am, after all, working at BookEnds!)
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy
  • Historical fiction
  • Steampunk

In nonfiction:
  • Memoir
  • Parenting and family
  • Relationships
  • Food and lifestyle
  • Business
  • Popular science
  • Popular culture
  • Popular psychology


If your book falls under any of the above genres, please take a look at the submission guidelines on BookEnds’ website to learn how to query me. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Lauren
Lruth@bookends-inc.com

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Thought for the Day

Just as you shouldn't use neon, or any, colored paper in professional snail mail correspondence (e.g., query letters), you shouldn't use fancy email backgrounds when sending equeries.

I don't want pink backgrounds, pretty clouds, or lined notebook paper in my emails. Keep it simple, please.

Jessica

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Growth of Authors

I used to keep a file in my emails called "Author Beware"; typically these were emails I received back from authors condemning me for my rejection letters, insulting my abilities, accusing me of theft, etc. I haven't added to that file in a long time, not because I don't feel a need for it, but because I don't get that many accusatory emails anymore.

I'm often asked if I think my blog has made a difference with writers, and while I'd love to take all the credit, there's no way I can. Blogs like mine, Miss Snark, Nathan Bransford, Janet Reid, Kristin Nelson, Moon Rat, Dystel & Goderich, Pimp My Novel, Rachelle Gardner, etc., etc., as well as Twitter and writing groups have collectively made a difference. Query letters are better every day, stronger and more concise, professionalism has gone up tenfold and, frankly, this is all making my job harder.

When I go through my queries looking to reject those that are easy to reject—obviously not ready for publication—there aren't as many as there used to be and, because queries are stronger, it's easier for me to request material, harder to reject.

So kudos to you authors for making our lives harder by doing research and paying attention to what we're saying.

Jessica

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Wednesday, June 15, 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.


What’s a girl supposed to do when she sends the wrong man to another universe for the sins of his twin brother? When Karen was asked by an ageless being, Malin, to use her new found talents to rid the world of some unsavory characters, he soon found that the wealthy orphan was used to doing things her own way.

The trouble with query critiques is that it's a critique. In other words, many times the critique you're getting is far more critical than I would be if simply reading the query. Of course, sometimes I will be as critical when reading as I would in a critique, so it never hurts to be thorough.

One of the things that bugs me about this query right off the bat (though I didn't reproduce it here) is that it's double-spaced and indented. I know that's not a big deal, but we read email differently than we read snail mail. We like to have as much of an email as possible fit into a screen, and formatting for email is different than formatting for snail mail. Therefore, single space with double spaces between paragraphs is best. It simply reads better.

I prefer some sort of salutation at the beginning of the letter. It eases me into things and helps me know you're addressing me. That being said, it's not a big deal if you don't include it.

Okay, into the actual query . . .

Blech. Opening the query with a question. Some say this is the death knell. I don't think that's truly the case, but it does bug me. What if I don't care what a girl is to do? And frankly, I'm not sure I do. I also don't like the phrase "what's a girl to do." This is funny coming from the queen of cliches, but cliches in the query make me feel that the author is not as inventive or imaginative as she should be.

Beyond all of that, though, the real concern with this opening paragraph is that it doesn't make any sense. It's completely disconnected. You open with a question about what a girl is to do, but don't touch on that, and then you introduce us to some fellow named Malin and I don't see how that connects to the question or how doing things her own way connects to anything else. My best advice is to dump this entire paragraph and start over, or, maybe you don't need it at all.


Karen, and identical twins, Paul and Phillip have made their separate ways to the City, where life has deteriorated under the rule of Grand, a psychotic gang leader and the Mayor, ambitious and amoral. Phillip gets a job working with orphaned boys rescued from the streets; Paul tries to hook up with Grand because he senses they are disturbingly alike.

I'm not understanding the connection between these characters and the connection between this paragraph and the first one. Are Karen and these twins connected? Does it matter at all that they're identical? You keep saying that, but I don't know why it matters? They make their way to the City from where, for what, what is this City? And if they aren't connected (these people), why would you lump them together in the same sentence? And in the end, I don't think this paragraph matters. It all feels like backstory to me and none of it feels important. So far I've read two paragraphs and I still have no clue what your story is about.


Malin oversees that a balance between positive and negative energy is maintained in multiple universes. He recruits and directs human partners to help achieve his objective. He contacts Karen, revealing that she has inherited an unusual ability to transform energy, and asks for her help in sending Paul and Grand to the Plains, to live out the remainder of their lives in an arid purgatory of a universe that receives the outcasts from all the universes under Malin’s control. In the act of transferring Grand and Paul, she accidentally sends Phillip to the Plains too.

Again, this paragraph feels disconnected from the rest. It feels to me like you are trying too hard to tell me about everyone instead of focusing on the hook or high point of the story, the key conflict.

You start the entire query with Karen sending the wrong twin back, and then you take three paragraphs to get to that. Skip the backstory and get to the heart of the book.

So does Karen know Paul and who is Grand? Sorry, I had to look back to see that. Why the two of them?

It seems to me that we finally get to the point here. It seems that the entire book is about the fact that Karen sends the wrong twin away by accident. If that's the case, I'm not sure we need to know who Grand or Malin are. Could you just focus on the fact that Karen has special powers and lives in a certain type of world, she's charged with sending a man away for whatever reason, but when she learns she's sent the wrong fella then what happens . . .


Karen is distraught at condemning a good man to an existence of isolation and alienation and urges Malin to improve his lot. In desperation she enters The Plain against Malin’s warning that she won’t be able to return.


So the biggest problem is that she's distraught? My immediate concern is that you don't have a big enough conflict in the book. If the only thing to be worried about is Karen's feelings, that doesn't seem like enough.


She manages to return Phillip to their world and eventually Malin figures out a way for her to return also, but only after Karen starts to have feelings for Paul. Thus a triangle is created between Karen and the twins as she struggles to decide between the two men and the two universes.

This sounds to me like the end of the story and not something we need to worry about in the query. This is fine for the synopsis.

However, if you opt to keep it in, it doesn't sound that interesting. Like you've tossed this in at the end. Why does Malin care if she comes back? I'm totally confused.

In the human world, the books deal with topical issues such as drugs, joblessness, sexual slavery and political graft, in a hypothetical city; those relegated to live out their existence in the Plains have their own challenges, particularly when the boundaries between worlds are blurred.

This is one of my pet peeves in query letters. I do not care what issues your book deals with. No one reads fiction because they want to read about social issues. People love it when they learn something or can identify with something in a book, but no one picks up a book and buys it because it deals with social issues, and no back cover describes the social issues in a book.

In other words, this paragraph adds nothing to your query. Just delete it.


I’ve been a writer all my life, but never tried to publish. This story has been rattling around in my head for fifteen years; Karen became very real to me and I decided I wanted to share her adventures. I am a former senior vice president with a Wall Street firm; a long time small business owner; women’s health activist and fund raiser for breast cancer research; and a blogger on economic issues and writing.

Delete the first two sentences. All too often I hear from people who have been "writers all their lives." It just makes me wonder what took you so long. I also don't care that the book has been rattling around in your head. It concerns me, actually, that maybe you're too entrenched in it. I think the last sentence about your experience, maybe less the semicolons, is fine.


The first book, The Energy Collector is 95,000 words; the second is 65,000 words; and I have an outline and about 30,000 words completed of a third book. I have written each of them to stand on their own merits.


I'm only worried about the book you're pitching, which, by the way, has a great title. How come I couldn't see how that title played into the book?


I am not a serial submitter, but I have queried several other agents who haven’t responded. Maybe I’m not patient enough.


I don't like this at all. It's fine to see that you're querying other agents, but I don't like the fact that you're basically criticizing yourself.


Thank you for your consideration,


One thing you did do here that I didn't include was add your phone number and town under your name. I liked that. It's great to include that contact option.

Overall this query is way too long, and not because it's long in length, but because you ramble about various pieces of the book, but haven't really told me anything about the story. I worry that your book does the same thing. Most important, though, I don't see that this book is special enough or different enough from anything else.


Jessica

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Tuesday, June 14, 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 Sally MacKenzie.

BookEnds Author Speed Date


Name (the one you’re published under): Sally MacKenzie

Speed date Bio: Sally is the USA Today bestselling author of the funny, hot, Regency-set Naked Nobility series for Kensington Zebra. She’s a graduate of the University of Notre Dame (first class of women), Cornell Law School dropout (no JD, but an MRS ;)), former federal regulation writer (Ketchup as a vegetable anyone?), recovering parent volunteer (four sons!), and current Masters swimmer (middle of the pool—more a turtle than a hare).

Web Link: www.SallyMacKenzie.net and her somewhat sporadic blog, http://sallymackenzie.blogspot.com/

Next book, pub date: The Naked King, June 7, 2011

Agent: Jessica Faust


About Me

Real Name or Pseudonym: Sally MacKenzie

Currently Reading: Tiger Eye by Marjorie M. Liu and The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes

Next on Your Reading List: My TBR pile is mountainous but probably My One and Only by Kristan Higgins and The Complete Servant by Samuel & Sarah Adams

Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Sally-MacKenzie/144131384814
Twitter: @Sally_MacKenzie

Three authors living or dead you would want to have dinner with: Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and Christopher Hibbert, who was the coeditor of The London Encyclopaedia and the author of many other books, including a biography of King George IV

Jet-setter or armchair traveler: Armchair traveler—have you ever tried to travel with four little boys? However, now that they’re grown, we’re getting out a bit more.

Glass ½ full or ½ empty: Sort of depends what’s in the glass.

Tea or Coffee: Two cups of Maxwell House International Suisse Mocha—one in the morning and one after lunch—and gallons of decaf tea, usually Bigelow’s Spiced Chai with milk. (Yes, I am a creature of habit.)

Live to write or Write to live: Write to live. I find writing lets me explore feelings and relationships and think about things in a way I don’t when I’m not writing. It helps focus me . . . when things are going well. But if we’re talking about making a living, let me just say I’m very glad no one’s next meal depends on my writing income.


About My Writing

When (time of day) I write: Daily, but the time of day varies depending on what else is on my schedule. Exercise is a priority, so on days I go to the gym, I start writing later in the morning. Days I swim at night, I try to write first thing. I’m happiest when I get some solid work done in the morning, but, sadly, some days I write morning, afternoon, and night to get three “good” hours in or five pages, my daily goal.

Writing soundtrack: While in theory I like the idea of writing to music—seems like music might act like Pavlov’s bell on dogs and get me down to work immediately—I actually write in silence.

Character Inspirations: With the Naked series, many of my characters are friends or siblings of characters in earlier books, so I get inspiration for them from musing about their families, occupations or avocations, and life experiences. And I suspect there’s a little bit of me in all of them, even the villains.

Plot Inspirations: My characters lead me where they want to go.

Setting Inspirations: Since I write Regencies—and even as a reader, I wasn’t a fan of exotic Regency settings—I stick pretty much to London (1816-1821) or the English countryside and great houses. Until last September, I hadn’t been to England since I backpacked through with my best friend the summer after our senior year of high school, which was, ahem, a few years ago. So I rely heavily on the Internet and a stack of reference books.

Plotter (carefully plot books) or Pantser (write from the seat of my pants): To my surprise, I’m pretty much a pantser.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Email Etiquette

Email is a weird thing. It's different from the old snail-mail letters because it's an almost daily form of communication. And, as many of you know, there are rules to email etiquette, things that those of us who are savvy in email know about and those who aren't, don't. If you don't feel you're up on email etiquette, but are entering a business relationship (with editors and agents), I would suggest you bone up on what you need to know.

While I'm certainly no etiquette maven, here are some mistakes I've seen over the years, and I'm sure many of you see them as well.

1. All caps means you're yelling. Do NOT use all caps or caps lock unless you are truly angry and plan on yelling at your agent or editor. Even if we know you didn't intend to yell at us, it's hard to get your screaming voice out of our head as we're reading.

2. Subject lines are for a subject, not for the entire message. If an author types the entire message in the subject line and not in the email, I can't help but feel I'm being chastised. Like the author was angry and couldn't even reach the actual email space.

3. Speaking of subjects: If possible, make your subject relate to your email. That way, before even opening it I get a glimpse of what you're getting in touch about.

4. If possible avoid using fancy templates. They look great when you're composing your email, but they never seem to translate well in the sending. Basically, they usually just make an email difficult to read. Plain white emails with black, simple type work best for me.

5. Keep the message thread alive. Set up your email so that the message thread (the message you're replying to) remains at the bottom of the email. This is especially helpful with queries so that I know what query you're referring to, but also with client emails so that, if needed, I can take a quick perusal of the conversation.

6. Make sure your professional contacts are not included in chain email, or funny forwards.

7. If you have a spam clearance on your email, make sure to clear people you are expecting replies from. This is especially true of queries.


There are probably more tips that others can think of, but these are the common problems I most often see.

Jessica

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Agent 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. Since we're asking our clients to speed date with you, we thought it only fair that we participate too. In that spirit, we present Agent Speed Date. A quick 10 minutes for you to get to know us. Today we'd like you to meet Jessica Faust.


BookEnds Agent Speed Date


Name: Jessica Faust

Speed date bio: Proud owner, President, and Literary Agent of BookEnds, where I reign (or so I pretend) over an incredibly talented bunch of agents and represent some of the greatest authors ever.


About Me

Real Name or Pseudonym: It’s my real name.

Currently Reading: Pride and Prejudice and Wizard of Oz

Next on Your Reading List: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and Girl with the Steel Corset

Facebook or Twitter:
Facebook: Jessica Faust BookEnds
Twitter: BookEndsJessica

Three authors living or dead you would want to have dinner with:
**these are the hardest questions for me.
Edith Wharton
Sarah Addison Allen
Julie Child—I think mostly for the cooking

Three characters you would want to have dinner with:
Jo March
Spenser
—this is so hard. I have no clue on a #3. Should it be Anne of Green Gables or Hannibal Lector? Or . . . ? I think I’m spending far too much time on this.

Jetsetter or armchair traveler:
jetsetter

Glass ½ full or ½ empty:
½ full and then some

Tea or Coffee:
Too much coffee

Ereader or Print book:
A little of both

Morning person or Evening person:
Morning (or middle of the night, depending on how you look at it)

Working soundtrack:
Usually nothing but my typing fingers

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Disappointment in a Client

I'd like to hear from one of the agents on the subject of not liking some of their clients' works. Does that make you wonder if you messed up signing the person? or can you still see the potential and feel the love even if you don't think the plot or idea is marketable?

You know, I’d be lying if I told you that agents never feel that signing a client might have been a mistake. It rarely happens, but it happens. Honestly, it usually happens because the client is miserable to work with, but that’s a blog post for another day.

I have received many books/proposals from clients that I didn’t like. In fact, not too long ago I had a conversation with a client in which she was laughing at how nice I was trying to be, but how obvious it was that I hated the book she had sent. She was right. And then we spent over an hour on the phone brainstorming new ideas and new directions for her book and, if I do say so myself, we came up with some brilliant ideas. And never once did I regret signing her.

This is exactly why agents are so picky when it comes to signing people. We need to feel passion not only for the book we’re reading but for the potential we see in an author, because there will certainly be times when we’ll see a project that we just don’t see working, but knowing what that author can do will propel us to keep working toward the next thing.

Jessica

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Wednesday, June 08, 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 Agent,

As I always do, the obvious reminder to use the agent's name if possible.


I would like you to consider my YA urban fantasy, THRICE-BORN, complete at 65,000 words.

Simple opening that works. I don't think you need anything fancy.


Seventeen years old Andra’s life is full. On top of dealing with the aftermath of drunken sex with the best friend whose advances she’d previously rejected, concealing the growing pain caused by her fractured soul, she also has to make a choice that will determine her standing in Octavian society. As a mere Initiate, she is powerless until she makes her Offering and chooses a Discipline: the spiritual Dyaus who sacrifice a piece of their spirit at the risk of madness, or the immoral but powerful Prithvi, who offer blood.

The first sentence is rough, very rough. In fact, I rewrote it five different ways in my head and determined it's probably best to scrap it altogether and find another way to start this paragraph. I assume, though, that what you want to say is "Seventeen-year-old Andra's life is full."

As for the rest of the paragraph, I have no idea where this is going. There's a huge disconnect between the fact that this girl had drunken sex with a friend, now has a fractured soul, and suddenly, boom, you hit me with the fact that this is set in another world. That threw me completely. In terms of the information about the drunken sex: This did not sound YA to me; there was something about this description that sounded very adult, as if it were two friends having drinks in a bar when one thing led to another. To make this work I think you need to watch the wording or explain the setup a little more. Did this happen after a high school party, after the big game, or just after a night of drinking when the parents were out of town? The problem for me is still that it sounds too contemporary and not like an urban fantasy at all.

I have no idea what Octavian society is or what this world is like. What is a mere Initiate or an Offering? There's no world building in the query, which is going to lead me to believe that there's some world building missing in your manuscript.


Andra’s life takes a dramatic turn when a mercenary Disciple attacks her astral twin, Andy, and stabs him with a cursed dagger. If she can’t destroy the spell draining his life, her brother will die in twelve hours. Complications arise as Andra finds out that the Disciple holding the spell is her best friend’s estranged mother, the Prithvian Priestess Alazne. Andra and the rest of her friends battle time, family and secrets best left buried as they risk everything to save Andy, and stumble in the middle of an assassination plot that could throw their society back into war.

I'm wondering again what having sex with her best friend has to do with anything in this story. Granted, in the manuscript it might be part of building her character, but in the query it adds nothing and there's no need for it.

"Andra's life takes a dramatic turn," but I have no idea from what. I get no sense that there was a dramatic turn, and I guess I don't get what her life was really like before. Maybe it needs to read (the entire blurb) more like this: "Andra always thought her life was full. Between studying, boys, and basketball she never felt that she could fit anything more in. Andra was a typical teenager. Typical until her twin was attacked..." This way we are shown and not told what the conflict is in this book.

I think the real problem is still that you mention a lot of things like mercenary Disciple, Offering and even Prithvian Priestess and I have no idea what any of these are or what the world is about. And ultimately that makes it really impossible for me to understand your story or your query.


Thank you for your time and attention.

Yours,





Jessica

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Janet Bolin on Storytelling

Janet Bolin
Dire Threads
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pub date: June 7, 2011
Agent: Jessica Faust


(Click to Buy)


Author Web/Blog links: www.threadvillemysteries.com/
www.killercharacters.com


Little Liars

Storytelling is an art that probably predates campfires, but why do some people become chroniclers of the truth, while others (and this includes me) . . . um . . . embroider the truth to make a good story, or at least a story that we like better?

I have a theory. The tendency to tell stories starts in childhood.

Take me. I ran up to a friend and tried, “I saw elves under the forsythia bush this morning.” This was not, of course, true, but it seemed like it could be. Would she believe me?

Her eyes opened wide. She breathed, “What were the elves like?”

Her willingness to fall for my blatant lie (notice I’m blaming her, not myself) propelled me toward a life of being less than truthful. I weaved outfits for the elves, built them tiny mushroom-shaped houses in magical forests. I gave them families, pets, gardens, and most important of all—missions they had to carry out.

And my friend always went along with me, asking, “What happened next?”

I happily created dragons, giants, sea turtles, elf-devouring plants, and/or flying furniture that, together, would make it nearly impossible for my poor beleaguered elves to accomplish their goals.

I started believing that the tales I spun were about real worlds, which meant that I wasn’t quite telling falsehoods.

My friend, now my best friend, listened and asked questions for days, weeks, months. I was lucky (depending on how you view the word “lucky”). She listened for years. She played minor parts in our elf reenactments while I took on all the major characters. I draped her in the brown dress-ups, and I donned the pretty (with dress-ups, “pretty” tends to be relative) green outfits.

I created whole worlds and at least one pint-sized person begged for more. What astonishing power!

After a while, I discovered that I couldn’t stop telling stories.

You believe me, right?

My best friend grew up to be normal (though perhaps a bit more skeptical than most), with a normal career. I grew up to become . . . oh, wait. Writers don’t exactly grow up, do we?

What about you? When you were a child, did you make up stories and games for your friends? What do you think compels people to lie for a living . . . er, sorry . . . what do you think compels people to write fiction?


Janet Bolin
Dire Threads, Berkley Prime Crime, June 7, 2011
www.ThreadvilleMysteries.com
www.KillerCharacters.com

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Monday, June 06, 2011

Swag

One of the things I love about conferences is the swag, all the free fun stuff you get just for walking in the door. But after looking at all of the swag I got at this year's Romantic Times conference (this is just the stuff I got for walking in the door and attending one party), I have to wonder how beneficial swag is to the authors who hand it out.

For regular followers of the blog, this isn't a new conversation. Not even close. I've always wondered if all of those bookmarks, postcards, and pens really sell books. I'm not convinced they do. At least I've never bought a book based on the swag, and these days, bookmarks are even more useless. I try to save them, I try to use them, but they keep sliding off my ebook.

So I went through my swag and here's what I found:




Laptop-style work bag--love. Will definitely use
Two canvas shopping bags--added to the collection for grocery shopping
Pen--I can always find a use for another pen (especially a good one)
Ice scraper--if my kids don't confiscate it, it will be great for the glove compartment
Two fans--the hotel was so hot I added one to my purse
Notepads/notebooks--always good to have
Candy--tossed most, kept Werthers (yum)
Bookmarks--tossed without looking
Postcards--tossed without looking
Author bracelet--passed to kids
Books--definitely took those home
Chapter samples--kept both to read on the plane
Can cozy--love these. There's nothing better than watching a manly man drink beer from romance author's can cozy

Number of books bought based on swag--probably zero.

What about you? Swayed by swag or just overwhelmed by stuff?

Jessica

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Friday, June 03, 2011

Thought for the Day

If you want an agent to read the middle chapters of the book because "that's where things get exciting," you should probably consider editing the entire book to make it all exciting.

Jessica

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Erin Kellison on Writing and Support

Erin Kellison
Shadow Touch
Publisher: Kensington Zebra
Pub Date: June 1, 2011
Agent: Jessica Faust


(Click to Buy)


Fight to Write, and a Little Ruthlessness Doesn’t Hurt Either

Last December, the Martian Death Flu hit my family. Everyone was very sick for over two weeks during the holidays. The house should have been quarantined. And I was on a deadline, which meant unless I was with one of my kids, I had to be at my computer. It was insane.

Every author knows the secret to writing books. It’s not closely guarded, probably because it is so dang hard to do sometimes—okay, often. Ready? Here it is: Sit down and work until you have some word count, aka Butt in the Chair. The craft and story will come over time, but not if you don’t do the first step. Sit and stay and write.

Sounds easy. It’s actually the most difficult aspect of writing. Nothing will go as planned. My teenage babysitter (in)famously canceled on me one day (of many) “because she had a long weekend.” That still makes me laugh. Of course, the most insidious of time-wasters is the Internet. Add to that the doubts every writer combats as they face their manuscript, and suddenly it’s imperative to do laundry. Or organize the work area. Or read the paper. Anything but add words to a story.

The solution? An indomitable support system. Some writers can find that within their families, but just as many can’t. I’m very lucky in that respect. My husband is my rock. But also, without a doubt, it’s my critique partners that keep me going. As I write this blog today, Jessica has a post on Handling Critiques. The thoughts there and within the comments are dead-on about knowing your story and taking only what works for you. The post also got me thinking about what a powerhouse a good critique partner or group can be. Since critique partners are like-minded people, they understand the struggle to make progress. And they demand that you do your best work.

Of course, the chemistry and professionalism between critique partners must be there. Good critiques are constructive—highlighting what works as much as what doesn’t. My group’s goal is to preserve each writer’s voice and story, while making the text as strong and vibrant as possible. We’ve got our Circle of Truth, which we depend on for clear, uncluttered perspectives on our progress. (No pats on the head, please. This is my passion.) But also, we’ve got accountability. We must bring pages—although, I have on occasion brought only a paragraph. If life goes completely upside down for one of us, we don’t push, but otherwise . . . show me the word count. That support helps overcome so many obstacles.

Those of you with great critique partners know what I mean. For those who don’t, there are so many writers out there who want to be in a great critique group. Seek them out. It makes all the difference in the world.

I’ll finish with an extreme example of this support system in action. Last summer I had an appendectomy. One of my ruthless critique partners (love her) was on a deadline and pleaded (demanded) that I look over some of her stuff. I don’t know how savvy I was while on oxycodone, but I understood the passion for writing behind the request and did my best. And you better believe that when the Martian Death Flu hit my house, I had pages waiting for her when she got back from her vacation, for very quick turnaround, I might add. As always, she came through for me.

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Wednesday, June 01, 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.


SunnySide Living

Billy Botsford came down for pinochle dressed in a three thousand dollar jacket and a diaper. Norm Lamppi had seen plenty of diapers at SunnySide Living – hell, he wore the damn things himself – but Armani leather, not so much. The jacket was nowhere to be found the next morning, along with Billy, who reappeared at noon sleeping like a baby in the weeds alongside the town’s water treatment plant.

Norm and his pinochle buddies smelled a rat, and after discovering that SunnySide Living doubled as a warehouse for stolen merchandise, they smelled the opportunity to make themselves some extra cash. Life became sweeter, until the three hundred pound Mr. Fish was dispatched to investigate ‘the shrinkage’. Now Norm and his octogenarian crew - one-legged Fred, oxygen-sucking Les, Johnny the farmer and addle-brained Billy - have got to set things straight before they all end up under the weeds at the water treatment plant.



It really bugs me that there is no real query here. This is a blurb, but not a professional correspondence, and it feels very jarring to me. I know it's a query, but is it? In other words, what's your point of sending this to me? Are you querying me, telling me about your published book, asking for a critique?

Email has made things simpler and less formal and I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I find it disappointing that we're losing the art of letter writing, but there's a reason for appropriate letter writing, and it's not just because it's a nice things to do. A proper query introduces what you're writing as well as yourself and gives the agent an understanding of why you're getting in touch and what you're expecting of her.

I'll start with the title. I have no idea what kind of book this is based on the title and, of course, the fact that you didn't write a proper query doesn't help this.

Your first paragraph seems really disconnected to me. I'm understanding that this is some sort of assisted living center or maybe retirement community, although those are two very different places, but the sentence starting with "The jacket" doesn't really connect with itself, frankly. So did the jacket return with Billy? If that's the case then it doesn't seem like anything is really wrong.

What made these fellows suspect something was wrong? I'm getting none of that in this. How were they going to make themselves extra cash?

Ultimately, I'm not getting a real sense of hook or story here. It's not a horrible blurb, but it's not special enough either. I can't really figure out why anyone would really want to read this or how this would stand out on bookshelves.


Jessica

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