Monday, August 17, 2015

Is this something you believe to be true about agents?

I'm not sure literary agents are the right way to go, as their interests are bizarrely narrow, and seem to be looking continually for exact replicas of successful works from the past, rather than compelling untold stories.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Query Critique: Fantasy

I agree that the material in this email can be posted and critiqued on the BookEnds Literary Agency blog. I give permission for it to be archived for the life of the blog.

Dear Query Queen:

Sworn off family in-fighting and rivalries, Apollo has spent the last decade in Portland, Maine, incarnated as research scientist Dr. Paul Archer.  Family’s not the only thing Apollo’s sworn off  he’s also done with women (of the mortal ilk), and most of all, Pantheon, a chess-like game the gods play with human lives.  So when Venus drops by unannounced, demanding that Apollo repay a debt dating back to the Trojan War by helping her pull off a move in the game, Apollo’s intention is to execute the move, wipe the slate clean, and get right back to work in the lab.   

What Apollo doesn’t expect is how much the pawn, college senior Theresa DiPaulo reminds him of his late mother Leto.  Or how Theresa’s implication in the game revives his long-buried feelings of guilt and failure stemming from Leto’s deicide at the hands of his stepmother  in the very round of Pantheon in which he came into Venus’s debt.  Nor does he expect how compelled he feels to intervene to save Theresa from the same fate.  As the game unfolds, and the parallels to that long-ago round of Pantheon mount up, Apollo gets sucked deeper and deeper in, until he can no longer run from the intrafamilial conflict he left behind when he abdicated Olympus and took refuge DownEast.  Apollo’s got a plan  if only Theresa would open up and let him in, if only she’d stop trying to protect him, if only she loved him back, pulling it off would be so much easier.

I am seeking representation of Playing God, a contemporary fantasy with a romance component, complete at 125,000 words.Playing God picks up where mythology leaves off, bringing the petty and not-so-petty grievances of the gods, their slights and affairs and ambitions, to play out in the modern world.  Zeus, Hera, Ares, Artemis and Mercury all engage, playing for the fate of not just Theresa, but the world.  While Playing God stands alone, I envision it as the first in a series about the Pantheon games, and I have a draft of the next episode.  

I am an attorney (Harvard Law School), real estate broker, and proud alum of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME, the prototype for the college Theresa attends, and where much of my novel is based.

As directed by your website, I am including the first few pages of my manuscript below.  I’d be happy to send you the manuscript upon request.  I appreciate your consideration, and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely, 

[redacted]

You should know that this is typically not my type of story. I like fantasy, but tend not to gravitate toward stories this closely set in mythology. For that reason I would pass on this. I'm only telling you this to give you an idea of how truly subjective this business can be.

That being said, I think this is a strong query. I really only made edits to tighten this.

Congrats!

--jhf

Monday, August 10, 2015

What to Expect with a BookEnds Internship


Time is coming for our summer intern, James, to head back to school and for a new Fall intern to start. I know Beth is looking at internship prospects right now.

As I'm preparing for James's departure I'm thinking of the work that goes into having an intern, and the advantages too.

Having another person in the office is always an asset. It's great having another hand to get things done. More than that though, an intern really challenges us and helps us to see things differently. He asks questions that make us think about the way we do things and consider whether another way might be better. He tests our knowledge of the industry and, through his questions, encourages discussion that allows us to learn from each other. Discussions like how publishing houses work, what an editorial meeting is like or what we look for in a certain submission.

One of an intern's primary tasks is helping us read submissions. We will often pass a handful of requested materials on to the intern and ask the intern to write a reader's report. It doesn't end there though. When reading the report we will each give feedback, to let the intern know what worked with the report, what didn't work and explain what we're looking for. Most publishing job interviews will require a reader's report so our hope is that we're building that intern's resume and teaching him to strengthen his skills. Sometimes this requires me to read the report and the material before giving feedback. It's not necessarily a time saver.

As James's internship winds down I'm working to make sure I get him the feedback he deserves on all of his reports as well as fill out an exit evaluation. James will receive one of these from each of us. Ultimately, it's like his internship report card. We will give him feedback on his strengths and weaknesses in different areas of importance to us and hopeful advice on what he needs to work on as well as the areas that will help him succeed in a publishing career, or any career.

I enjoy having interns, but I especially enjoy the interns who make themselves a part of our team. In the short few months James was here he's become a valuable asset to BookEnds and he will definitely be missed.

--jhf

Friday, August 07, 2015

Query Critique: Nonfiction

I agree that the material in this email can be posted and critiqued on the BookEnds Literary Agency blog. I give permission for it to be archived for the life of the blog.

Greetings Query Queen:
Everyday parenting is demanding enough, but expecting parental perfection is the curse of our age. As a grandmother, I have seen way too many households ruled by small despots, with parents scurrying to clear the path for the mini-monarchs. Really? I wonder. Could this be doing anyone any good? 
            Grandma Has Seen It All, and She Suggests That You Avert Your Eyes gives moms and dads the support and tools they need to enjoy a more balanced, productive, and fun parenthood. The tone is calm, authoritative, and light. I haunt mommy blogs and toy-strewn playrooms, and load up my pocketbook with nuggets of wisdom from the best current research. The book will be 250 -300 pages.
            Some background: my book, [redacted], was quoted on the front page of the New York Times, and Time magazine, and sparked a family meals movement. Since becoming a grandmother (I now have four grandchildren.) For years, I have written a family meals blog for the [redacted] Company. I have written a blog about grandparenting for [redacted]. And I have my own grandmother blog. Now I want to help the beleaguered parents I have seen in my recent time on the playground. Many of them could do with the hugs and forgiveness and dignity that they lavish on their children.
            Today’s parents wistfully recall the freedom they enjoyed as youngsters, but insist that the world is now too dangerous to let their kids out of their sight, despite all evidence to the contrary. Child abduction? Recent research from the University of New Hampshire shows that children taken by strangers or slight acquaintances represent only one-hundredth of one percent of all missing children. We turn our worry that our kids won’t get into college or get good jobs into straight jackets for them and for us.  And our culture of competitive, fear-centric parenting doesn’t help. Today’s families are smaller, with older parents who are unlikely to have experience taking care of kids other than their own. We are facing a famine of common sense. Somebody has to call “Time!”
            I trace the beginnings of our current “priceless child” mentality to the end of the 19th century, and help parents to move themselves, and their families, out of the path of this anxiety juggernaut. The bonus is that our kids are more likely to grow up to be responsible, optimistic, capable, fun-loving adults.
            Important books about the meaning of parenting draw wide audiences and spark intense conversations across the culture. Many of the recent popular books have been written not by parenting experts, but by journalists like myself. This book, which questions current assumptions and gives parents more satisfying options, has the potential to be such a book. 
            More background: an earlier book, [redacted], won the National Jewish Book Award, was on the Boston Globe bestseller list, and was translated into German, French, and Dutch.
 Many thanks,

Miriam Weinstein

I have to say. This is a really strong query.

I love that you started out with "Greetings" instead of the typical "Dear". While it's not that big of a deal I think it opens the book in a friendly, cheerful way and I think it really represents your voice and tone.

Your first paragraph grabbed me and hooked me in. I'm not a fan of rhetorical questions, but it works here.

I don't love your title. It just doesn't grab me, but that can easily be fixed. By the way, I only thing titles can be easily fixed if the rest of the query is working for me.

It's smart to open with your credits which are quite impressive. What would add to this would be numbers. When writing nonfiction, we want to know who your audience is and how big they are. We don't need numbers on everything, but generally that you're reaching 10,000 people a week would be hugely helpful. This is almost required. Mommy bloggers were huge a few years ago, but the ones who sold books had not just a great voice and idea, but a huge following.

My only concern with the next paragraph is that it feels very specific and a little judgmental. Not the tone any parent wants, especially from a grandparent. I wonder if you can't blend the next two paragraphs, discuss some of the specific issues you will be addressing, but also talk about tracing the "priceless child" trend.

I think you have a good idea here and I won't be surprised if you get lots of requests on this.

--jhf

Thursday, August 06, 2015

How A Publisher's Decision Impacts the Author/Agent Relationship

Recently you've spoken about the changes at Berkley and how that has impacted authors. I was wondering how that impacts the author/agent relationship? If an author has their series dropped does an agent drop them as well? Or do you work together to find a new direction for the author to take their writing? 

Thank you for your great question. As I've mentioned many times before, I love questions.

As you should all know by now each situation is different so while I will speak generally on this, I'm sure every author's experience is different, whether it pertains to Berkley or simply a career experience in general.

At BookEnds we like to say that we're in it for life. When we sign an author we believe strongly enough to really want to stay through the long haul; the good, the bad and the ugly. Selling a client's book is the easy part, maintaining and continuing to grow and build a career is where it can get tricky. 

Just because one publisher makes a decision doesn't mean every publisher will feel the same. A publisher choosing not to renew a contract, in my mind, isn't a good reason to simply drop the author. As long as the author is determined and continuing to write great (or better) books, I will stick by through whatever the publishing world throws at us. 

In a situation where a publisher doesn't renew, the author and I will have conversations about what's next, but as many of my authors can attest, we often have those conversations well before any decision is made by the publisher. I'm a strong believer that every author should always have something in her back pocket.

A good agent should see the writing on the wall. We see sales numbers and talk to the publisher enough to know what might be coming so, in truth, we're prepared and ready to go with that next thing well before an official decision by the publisher is made.

In short, one decision from a publisher will not impact how I work with an author.

--jhf


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Why Query Rules are Important


If you follow me on Twitter you'll see that lately I've been doing a lot of complaining about people not following query guidelines. I'm not sure if there are some new rules out there that I'm not aware of, or if people are just spending the summer querying without doing proper research.

I've written endlessly about what makes a good query. What I don't think I've ever done is written about why there are query rules.

An agent's query inbox can be daunting. Moe just confessed to me that in two months at BookEnds she has received 1500 queries. That's, well, insane. When facing any challenge like that I think we can all agree that we set up perimeters to thin things out. It's like organizing your home. The first thing you're going to do is throw away anything that's broken. Then you might throw away anything you haven't used in years, etc, etc. A query inbox is the same.

The first thing an agent will likely do is look at the genre. If it's far outside of what the agent does she'll reject it. For me that would include short stories, children's picture books, techno-thrillers and screenplays. I don't do those, it's unlikely you'll sway me on that.

The next thing an agent will do is read the blurb. This is why you need a blurb. I need to know in a few short paragraphs if the book is what I do. Sure its a thriller, and I do those, but is it on a subject I'm interested in? Does it grab my attention? That will help me weed those out. 

Then I'm willing to read more. Once I've weeded things out I can really get to work. That's the point where I'll start looking at chapters and a synopsis. Not before. At that point I have my short list and a good idea whether or not these projects are right for me. Now I can devote time away from clients and other BookEnds duties to build my client list.

Not following the guidelines makes it more difficult for me to quickly evaluate and make decisions on things, other than what you might be like as an author. 

If you feel like sending me a paragraph about yourself and how you have dreams of writing the book and instead of a blurb have simply pasted the synopsis below I'm going to think you're someone who thinks you're above the rules. That's going to make it hard to work together and, likely, not someone I want to work with.

No matter how you spin it, we make decisions based on your query, not following the rules (or even attempting to follow the rules) gives us an immediate impression of what life would be like with you.

--jhf

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Query Critique: Cozy Mystery

I agree that the material in this email can be posted and critiqued on the Bookends Literary Agency blog. I give permission for it to be archived for the life of the blog.

Dear Query Queen,

Wildlife carer Madison Starr is in trouble. She’s back in Australia after her father’s death with one goal: to sell the family home and leave forever. But thanks to her big mouth her plan is in tatters. When Jaylee Olsen, the local realtor, offers to buy the perfectly situated property herself.  Madison lets an old grudge speak for her and refuses to sell to her childhood nemesis. Their confrontation is watched by most of the small town. Hours later Madison is horrified to find Jaylee dead on her doorstep.

I did not like the word "carer" this is super picky and a little ridiculous (no query is judged on one word), but I had to read it twice since I thought you misspelled career. Caretaker?
My only suggestion is maybe to tighten this a bit.  

Branded the number one suspect Madison is forced to surrender her passport, killing any chance of heading back to her carefully constructed life in America. She has no option but to hunt down the killer and clear her name. Her best friend from high school, along with her old teen crush, now a forensic expert, reluctantly help her delve into Jaylee’s life.

Collecting a kleptomaniac dog, assorted puppies and an orphaned ring-tailed possum along the way, Madison and her friends discover she’s not the only one who considered Jaylee their nemesis.

DEAD IS FUR-EVER is a 72,000 word, third-person cozy set in Australia. I hope to feature Madison Starr in a continuing series (The Pet Shop Mysteries - featuring a mix of Aussie wildlife and rescued domestic animals, each with their own quirky personality) and am currently working on a sequel.

I’m an environmental scientist and have lectured in wildlife caring as well as being a carer myself. I am a member and active participant of Romance Writers of Australia and Sisters in Crime Australia. This series has interest and a request from an editor of Penguin Australia but is not yet submitted.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Regards
[Redacted]

Honestly. I think this is a really solid query. My only concern is that your hook, which is vital to cozy mysteries, is buried at the end and doesn't appear in the blurb at all. 

In cozy mysteries, the hook is what initially sells the book. What makes your book stand out from every other book on the market? What will the publisher put on the cover? A gorgeous home with books out front? A lighthouse? A knitting shop? etc. 

For the cozy market I think this would be stronger if the reason she needed to return to Australia had to do more with the hook. Perhaps she's selling her father's shop of some sort. 

I love that it's set in Australia, but it might make it a more difficult sell, especially if your hook is more or less anywhere. What about a hook that's more unique to Australia? 

Lastly, on a beyond-the-query note, I think you should consider a hook that stands out a little more. A pet shop has been done. Is there something that hasn't been done yet? 

This is great overall.

--jhf

Monday, August 03, 2015

Making After Life Arrangements for Your Writing

In preparing for death we buy life insurance, longterm care insurance, we make wills and some even choose burial clothes or write out funeral wishes. Sadly, I've yet to experience a situation where an author makes similar arrangements for their literary works. And I've had a number of clients who have passed away.

I am not a legal expert so my first bit of advice is to talk to a lawyer about how best to handle your literary works after your death. When you do however I think there are some things you need to think about.
How will future earnings be distributed? Will they go to one person or set up in a trust?
Who will make decisions regarding the rights to the work? Just because a book is published doesn't mean decisions regarding its rights are finished. There are times when the publisher will ask for revisions (and in this case want to hire someone to do revisions), they might want to change or update the cover or, if its a series, continue the series. Who will be your go-to person for these decisions?
What will happen to other works? Will you allow "found" manuscripts to be published? What if you are in the middle of a contract? Are you okay if the family opts to hire an outsider to see the contract through?
Once you've established the legal portion concerning your books, don't overlook the day-to-day business of your publishing career. My suggestion is put together a file and let everyone in your family know where it is and what it's labeled. Maybe label it with the name of your children, spouse, niece or nephew so they won't need to remember what it's called, but it will easily stand out to them when they're searching for it.

In this file you should include a list of all your publications, earned or unearned. I've had situations where a book never earned out, until it did, at that point sending checks became difficult since no one kept me updated with contact information.

Include who handles the statements or sends checks for those books. If they are self-pubbed you'll need to include detailed information for each account from which you receive money. I would suggest including all passwords and how payments and statements are distributed.

If you have an agent you'll need to include the agent's name and her contact information so the family can get in touch about statements and earnings.

I don't think preparing to make your family's life easier is that difficult, but I do suggest it be done. Until I hear from next of kin and am given strict instructions on how to move forward I will continue to send checks in the name of the author. I'm unsure how long that's going to work for the family or how it will play out during tax time.

--jhf



Friday, July 31, 2015

Query Don'ts: Putting a Stop to This Latest Query Trend

There's a new query trend out there, one that isn't helping authors at all, but is driving me crazy.

Here is how the query goes:

Dear Ms. Faust, After seeing on #MSWL that you've been looking for books set in Alaska I knew I had to query you. My book is called Alaskan Cool Guy. The book is about a guy who finds himself alone in the Alaskan Bush after a freak snowstorm downs his plane. Everyone dies. It's truly horrific. Now he must get out all by himself, with only a scissors and an old seat cover as a jacket. ****please note I made up this horrible blurb on purpose --jhf
I have included a brief synopsis and bio below. I hope you like it enough to ask for more. Many thanks,Jessica Author Brief Synopsis: When Frank Franklin's plane crashes in the Alaskan Bush in the middle of Winter, this self-described Whiz Kid finds himself in a situation he never imagined. Lost in a country few could survive with only the remnants of a broken plane for tools, Frank sets out to face what the wild throws at him. At first he's fighting only Mother Nature, but after finding the dead body of what looks like a hunter, Frank starts to wonder if the Grizzlies aren't the least of his concerns. Finally he makes it to safety, changed for the better.
Jessica Author has been writing since she was 12. It's been a dream of hers to be published. Born in Alaska, she has a strong desire to bring this beautiful country to life for readers.
Jessica FaustAddressPhone Email

Okay, here's the problem, besides the fact that your synopsis isn't very good, it's buried. Why would you include the blurb for your book after your letter? I'm already done reading. It's like sending a cover letter and saying, "P.S. Here are the skills that make me best suited for the job"

Query letters should look something like this:

Opening introductory paragraph
Blurb
Author bio
Closing
That's it. Don't over complicate it.

I've done a ton of blog posts on how to write a proper query letter. Query Shark is an excellent source of information. Use them.

--jhf

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Return of Query Critiques


I've been remiss in doing critiques. Primarily because, well, they aren't that much fun for me. That being said, I've noticed a definite need for them in my inbox and have been asked by a few of you if I'll continue them. I'm continuing them.

Watch for more critiques throughout the rest of summer. I'll be going through those in my inbox. Keep in mind, if you've submitted in a genre I'm not necessarily comfortable with I will probably skip over your query (unless I can convince some of the other BookEnds gals to take it on).

Read on!

--jhf