Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Power of Reviews

On Friday author Kathleen Hale wrote an article for The Guardian about her experience being catfished. On Monday Twitter, and a number of blogs, got quite excited about this topic and lots of people had lots of opinions. I came upon the article when Jessica Alvarez mentioned it to me and before reading anything about it I went to The Guardian article. I wanted to base any opinion I had on what Kathleen Hale had to say rather than read the opinions of others first.

Even without reading what others thought I know that some people feel that Kathleen Hale was catfished, others feel she crossed a line herself and was not the victim or the only victim and still others wonder if the entire post was made up. After reading just Kathleen Hale's post I do stand behind her in some respects. Not all, but some.

I've been in this business long enough to know the impact a review can have on an author. I've seen smart, successful authors completely lose all self-confidence because of one review or one comment on a writing loop or in a blog. In most cases authors who reacted this way were not the stereotypical "neurotic" or introverted authors. They are almost always people who are successful in various different aspects of their lives. They deal with high stress jobs, families and seem to juggle an entire life on top of a writing life. In other words, these are people who have faced adversity before and wore it well.

In fact, while I'm not an author, I've been one of those people. After six years of blogging about what I really thought it was bound to happen. And happen it did. Time and time again. There were times when the comments on the blog got so contentious I would stop sleeping. I panicked that I had alienated my clients, editors or ruined it for all of us. There were times I would have to shut down the computer and walk away for the day. But each and every time it happened walking away was always the best answer for me.

In Kathleen Hale's case the only story we know is hers. As of yet, to the best of my knowledge, we haven't heard from the reviewer she's charging with catfishing. A term by the way I had never heard until reading her article. Whether or not she was catfished, in my mind, doesn't really matter.  Fro a variety of reasons reviewers and bloggers act anonymously. In some ways it's one of the great things about the Internet. It's also one of worst things. Being anonymous allows us to really say what we want to say and what we think. Something a lot of people wouldn't be comfortable doing under their own name or couldn't do (it might hurt a career or their own reputation in some way). True confession here, before starting the blog I used to comment anonymously all the time on writing forums. I acknowledged that I was an agent, but I was uncomfortable giving my real name. I didn't want what I said to bite a new agency in the butt. Was I catfishing? I don't think so, I was just giving an opinion. And certainly there have been a ton of anonymous publishing bloggers and Tweeters, people who just want to say what they believe without facing repercussions.

Did Kathleen Hale go to far? Probably. Personally I think any time you start tracking down someone in person you are probably going to far. But I get how someone can go there. Putting yourself out there, whether its by writing a book, an opinion piece in a magazine, or a blog, is a scary, scary thing. Sure you feel great about saying what you believe or finding others to read your work, but at the same time you know you're going to face a backlash. That reviewers will hate what you write and have an opinion about it that differs from your own and you know they're not going to be afraid to say something. Especially because they have the right to remain anonymous in any way they see fit. And when we or our opinion or our writing is attacked it's hard. It often impacts our psyche in a big way.

Personally I've never gone to the lengths Kathleen Hale did to discover the truth about her naysayer, but I get it. Sort of. When someone says something really awful about you or your work you want a chance to discuss it with them. You want a chance to defend yourself without sounding defensive (which is often what happens when you start that discussion on comments). And probably you want the chance to discredit that person. To say, you are wrong and how would you know anyway because.... When someone posts anonymously she knows a whole lot about us, but we know nothing about her. It takes all the power away from us and gives it to her.

There were times when I have been attacked on this blog. Right or wrong, people came out to do whatever they could to discredit me and attack me and my professional integrity. I was scared, I was angry and I Googled. What I learned early on however, and what Kathleen Hale admits to learning in the long run, is that the best answer is to just sit quietly and, as they say, this too shall pass. Let the topic speak for itself or let the other readers comment and take care of it. Sometimes the biggest mistake we can make is saying something at all. What we're doing in that case is exactly what the naysayer wants. We're giving her attention. It's sort of like when Buford grabs my slipper and runs around the office with it. I have the option to chase him, call him and feed him treats. To give him the attention he wants. Or I can sit and work and watch him slowly drop the slipper, confused about why he's not getting the attention he wants.

I'm actually pretty impressed that Kathleen Hale wrote the article at all. Maybe she did it to finally get back at the reviewer, or maybe she just decided to put it out there and get rid of her moment of weakness once and for all. Either way it took bravery. Once again she's getting hit with a lot of opinions from a lot of people who don't know her. Sure its a choice she's making, but as writers I think we all know how difficult it is to face the opinions of others.

--jhf


Monday, October 20, 2014

Thinking of Gone Girl

A few weeks ago I posted my review for Gone Girl to GoodReads and boy did I get some flack. Keep in mind that I usually write short reviews on GoodReads. I don't have a lot of time or energy to write out everything I'm thinking and with Gone Girl that was especially the case.

There will be no spoilers in this post so if you haven't yet read the book or seen the movie you are safe.

Gone Girl was the kind of book that left me really thinking, maybe even reeling, and yet I only gave it three stars. I guess I'm not sure I loved it or maybe I just didn't love the way it made me feel? I felt the beginning was long and it was difficult for me to want to continue going back for more since I really did not like the characters. I don't know that I liked any of them. Okay, maybe one.

I would say it easily took me six months to read the book and I would say I easily read six books in between chapters of Gone Girl.

And finally I got to the twist. At that point I could totally see what everyone was quacking about. Crazy good! Now I'm reading like a demon. But the end. The end just didn't do it for me. I wonder if I'm too much of a romantic and I want an ending that's wrapped up differently or if I just felt it was a little too contrived. Frankly, I'm not really sure.

So here's my take on Gone Girl for those who were horrified by my GoodReads review. I think it probably deserves more than three stars for the simple fact that I'm still thinking about it. Or is that because Ben Affleck is in the movie and I get to see his lovely face every time I turn on the tv? No matter what star rating I give it though I do think it's a book worth reading for everyone. It's one of the few times I wished I was in a book club because it's a book I'd love to sit around and discuss with others. It's a book worth talking about.

--jhf


Friday, October 17, 2014

Meet Buford


The last in a five-part series introducing the BookEnds team.

Buford
BookEnds Hound

Tagline: I'm a big-headed beast with an even bigger heart.

How long have you been at BookEnds? since June 2014

Do you have a favorite book? I don't read, but when I first came into the office I immediately grabbed Sally MacKenzie's Loving Lord Ash and carried it away with me. I think it was the adorable little dog on the cover that got me.

If you're going all out, calories don't count, what's your Starbucks treat of choice? I've never been inside an actual Starbucks (although I have lounged around on the patio), but I would probably say anything with peanut butter, cheese or bacon.

Name five things on your desk bed right now: a bone, remnants from a bone, a stuffed animal, remnants from a stuffed animal and peanut butter smears

Where did you live before coming to BookEnds? for a while I lived in Newark, NJ in the shelter there until some nice people from St. Hubert's came to get me and find me a Forever Home. I was there for just a few weeks before the Fausts came and snapped me. I have to say. It's not bad here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Meet Jessica Alvarez


Jessica Alvarez
Literary Agent, BookEnds





Tagline:  Whipping novels into submission.*
*Special thanks to Peter Senftleben for coming up with the tag line

If your dream submission were to arrive in your inbox today what would it be? I have to admit, my tastes are fickle. Today’s dream submission could be different than tomorrow’s.  I have an eclectic list, and that variety is really what makes me love my job so much.  Right this very second, I’d love to find some sexy, funny contemporary romances with great hooks and great writing.  It should be so funny that it would be dangerous for me to drink and read at the same time.  

Book Concepts you never really want to see in your inbox: I’m typically turned off by sports-themed books, books with protagonists in the performing arts (musicians, actors, ballerinas), and those with chefs.  But I should never say never.  I’ve sold books I love that contain all of those.  Andrea Laurence’s FACING THE MUSIC has a rock star heroine.  Melissa Cutler got me twice with a chef heroine in THE TROUBLE WITH COWBOYS and a trio of hockey playing heroes in her Bomb Squad series. 

What was the last book you read and what did you think of it?  ONE KICK by Chelsea Cain.  I really enjoyed it. I’m a fan of tough, kick-ass heroines who are complicated and damaged, and Chelsea delivered that for me.  The heroine has a slightly shady romantic interest, and I’m also attracted to books that have morally ambiguous characters.  Minerva Koenig’s NINE DAYS is a perfect example from my list of a book that has all those elements.

If you're going all out, calories don't count, what's your Starbucks treat of choice?  Oooh, a toffee nut latte with a drizzle of caramel and sea salt. And whipped cream.  Just writing those words is making me want one...

If you could move your office anywhere in the world where would you like to work from?  It’s a tie between a villa in Tuscany with a view of an olive grove out my office window, or the beach.  I’m lucky that I get to work on books that could be beach reads all year round, so why not have my environment match the work?



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Meet Kim Lionetti



Kim Lionetti
Literary Agent, BookEnds




Tagline:  Puts the “chic” in book geek and the “bestseller” in storyteller…

What book characters would you want to have as your love interest, best friend and arch nemesis? 
Love interest — Darcy is too easy an answer, so i’m going with Julian McCabe from Phyllis Whitney’s SNOWFIRE, because he’s dark, enigmatic and damaged, just like I like all of my heroes.  Plus he’s got a cool house with a tower.

Best friend — Cassie Sullivan from Rick Yancey’s THE 5TH WAVE, because she’s kinda insecure but still kickass and would totally come in handy in an alien apocalypse.

Arch nemesis —  Tracy Flick from Tom Perrotta’s ELECTION.  There’s nothing I hate more than stuck-up know-it-alls, so I’d love to be the one to take her down a notch.  But then again I’d probably eventually feel sorry for her and take her under my wing.

What movie could you watch a thousand times and never get sick of?  Hey Girl, I could never get too much of Ryan Gosling in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”

What’s the number one thing that jumps out at you in a submission that you’re loving?  Dynamic characters.  When an author can make me believe that the darkest most tortured hero or the funniest, most outrageous heroine or the quirkiest, most lovable sidekick is real, they have me hooked. 

What genre of books/movies is your cup of tea?  I’m not sure I have one.  I have eclectic tastes, but generally, I like anything that makes me feel.  If I laugh my butt off, cry my eyes out or jump out of my skin, then I am a fan.

What books/movies do you stay away from? Personally, I’m not a fan of anything that screams “Look at me!  I’m clever, clever!”   I’m turned off by any form of entertainment that makes me feel as if it was created more for self-interest than for an audience.  That’s pretty much why I hated “Being John Malkovich” and “Inception."

Monday, October 13, 2014

Meet Jessica Faust

The first in a five part series introducing the BookEnds team.


Jessica Faust
President & Founder, BookEnds Literary Agency 


Tagline: I'm part Vampire, part Beast, all professional pain in the ass. 
**credit to Janet Reid and Kim Lionetti for helping create this tagline.

Book Concepts you can't resist: dark, creepy and different serial killers, magical realism ala Sarah Addison Allen, a never-seen-before cozy hook

Book Concepts you never really want to see in your inbox: anything to do with the mob/mafia, vampires, rockstar/muscian/actor heroes (or heroines)

If you're going all out, calories don't count, what's your Starbucks treat of choice? Definitely a decaf venti, 2 pump salted caramel mocha with whipped cream (iced if it's warm out) and since calories don't count I'd probably go for a cinnamon roll, chocolate croissant or, when in season, a cranberry bliss bar. Just reading this over gives me a stomach ache.

Name five things on your desk right now: royalty statements, a pint glass of water, L'Occitane hand cream, Publisher's Weekly, and my purple Montblanc pen.

If you could move your office anywhere in the world where would you like to work from? I love Sweden and Southern California and could happily live in both, but I think my dream office/home would be a cabin on a lake in Minnesota. I'm a Nice Viking Girl at heart.


Friday, October 10, 2014

15 Years


Today, for lack of any really official date, BookEnds is celebrating 15 years. While I never doubted we'd make it this far and this long, I can't believe it's already here. It feels like just last week I was riding the subway in Brooklyn hashing a scheme to get out of the rat race and do things the way I wanted to do them. Thankfully Jacky Sach was a big enough sucker to think I had a good idea.

When we first dreamed up BookEnds we had the idea to start a packager. In many ways it was what I was already doing as an editor for The Complete Idiot's Guides series. I was dreaming up ideas, finding authors and selling the book to the Publisher. By starting BookEnds I would be able to do that on my own with a bigger canvas. 

BookEnds was first conceived on that subway ride in May 1999, but it wasn't until October that I officially walked out of a publishing house office for the last time (as an employee). I have to confess, never once was I afraid. Never once did I doubt that we'd have success. 

It was in the Spring of 2001 that we decided that packaging wasn't enough for us. We felt confined by what we could do and frankly, really missed working closely with authors and their ideas. It was at that time that we transitioned our business model to an agency and never once did we look back. I can still remember a mailbox stuffed full of partials and manuscripts. In fact, I can still remember receiving the manuscript for some of our first clients, many who we're still working with today.

I always say that my best team members bamboozled me into a job. Kim Lionetti was the first. She had heard through the grapevine that I was vaguely considering hiring another agent, so wise woman that she is she called me up to "schedule a lunch date" where we talked business and she very slyly asked if we would ever consider expanding. In 2005 Kim joined BookEnds. 

2010 was a time of big transition for BookEnds. It was the year Jacky Sach officially stepped down to forge another path for herself. It was a bittersweet ending. Certainly I was sad to see my partner in business and crime go, but I was also thrilled that she was moving on to do something she was truly passionate about. I'm a big believer in following your passions. I am not sure I could have started BookEnds without Jacky by my side and, yes, we are still very close to this day.

Jessica Alvarez, sensing that I would never advertise a position, sent a very flattering email out of the blue (we had never met before). She must have been reading the blog and knew what a sucker I am for flattery. After putting her through a tortuous series of interviews (I have a rule that since we're a very close team everyone has input into any hiring), Jessica joined the team in 2011.

And actually, I'm not sure Beth knows this, but I give Jessica most of the credit for Beth Campbell's hiring in 2012. Beth was one of the smartest interns we've ever had. She also made it a point to "check in" with us regularly, filling us in on her job search and just checking to see how we were doing. Naturally when it came to hiring a new assistant Beth was the first on our list (well on Jessica's list). 

Tonight I will be taking my team out and toasting them. It is because they have stuck by me, called me crazy, and went along with my madcap ideas that I've gotten this company where it is today. There's no way I could have done it without them.

I'll also toast the authors who put their faith in me when I was fledging agency and now that we're established, who have taught me so much about writing, editing and myself.

Thank you to all. Here's to many, many more years!

--JHF

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Problem with Feedback on Rejections


I've seen a lot of agents write blogs on the problem with giving feedback on rejections, or the answer to why they don't give feedback. Primarily it's a consideration for time with most agents. One I completely understand. 

That being said, I do make an effort to give some sort of feedback on every partial or manuscript that I've requested and am subsequently rejecting. The problem with that is that the feedback I'm giving is usually not going to be nearly as comprehensive as what you need.

I've got a few form letters I use when giving feedback. I tend to tweak them to fit each manuscript so that what I'm saying still fits each manuscript personally. My concern with that, always, is that I think too often the feedback comes across as simplistic, giving the author the misunderstanding that it's an easy fix and therefore the road to an easy agent.

Usually an agent's feedback is the tip of the iceberg of what needs to be changed. In other words, you're going to have to read between the lines a bit to see what the agent is saying specifically and what that could mean globally to your manuscript. And, of course, before you ever make any changes you need to make sure that what the agent is saying actually resonates with you because I guarantee you won't be able to successfully revise your book unless you believe, in your heart, in the changes.

--jhf

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Saying It Loud, But Not Proud

I suck at grammar and punctuation.

There you have it.

I said it.

Grammar rules are like algebra to me. I get the basic concepts, but for whatever reason I can't really grasp them. I'm so bad in fact, that an old high school teacher of mine once cornered me at a cocktail party (I actually think it might have been my own bridal shower) to ask how I could possibly have success in publishing if my grades in HS grammar were always so poor. Sigh.

I'm not a copyeditor, I've never pretended to be. When I look at books I look at the larger picture. Does this book grab me, is it compelling and will it sell? I'll leave the details to the experts.

So I ask you to be kind when reading the blog. I don't have an editor and sometimes I only have time to skim each post before it runs. There will be errors, probably a lot. If it's really bothersome, you might just want to stop reading.

There. Phew. I got that out. I'm not proud of it, but I've come to accept it.

--JHF

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Getting a Taste of the Writing Life

I think the best thing about the blog for me is the taste I've gotten of what it must be like to be an author. Coming back to the blog only accentuated that feeling.

After Monday I can now say that I have a clear understanding of what it must be like to be an author who has taken a hiatus. The one who, for whatever reason, decided to take some time off after having a reasonably successful publishing career. In the blog world I think I'm that author.

In looking at my analytics I see that even though the blog has been closed for over two years we have still had close to 500 visitors or page views daily. That's amazing to me. However, now that I'm back writing, like an author returned from hiatus, I have to accept that those 500 page views, a lot lower than the 1500 hundred I used to get daily, might be all I get. There's no guarantee that my once faithful readers will return. There lives have changed too. Maybe they no longer have time for blogs, maybe they quit writing, or maybe their tastes have changed and my voice is no longer one they want to read. Whatever the reason, I can't count on those past "sales" as any indication of what the future will be. Too much time has passed.

For me, yesterday was like starting over, as if I'd never been here. I need to go out and convince a new audience that I'm worth visiting 3-5 times a week and that they're going to like what they read. Or at least have a strong opinion about what they read.

I also need to convince my once faithful readers that the new me is as good as what they once thought of the old me. We'll see how that goes.

So as I climb back up that ladder on my return, know that I do pretend to have an understanding of what it must be like for all of you.

--jhf