Friday, January 23, 2015

Kate Douglas's Cozy Reading Corner


Inspired by a Mashable piece about cozy reading spots, BookEnds will feature our own favorite reading corners. Here is author Kate Douglas's:

My favorite spot is the old recliner in my office where I write. Rufus beside me, a soft chair under my butt and books all around. It just doesn’t get any better.




--Kate DouglasDark Refuge—Book 4 Spirit Wild or coming in May, Hot Alphas anthology with Tangled

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How Much of the Book Do You Read?

I absolutely LOVED this article from The Guardian  about how ebooks can tell us how much of the book readers are actually reading.

It's a fascinating look at how some of today's bestsellers are actually not being finished. Frankly, this information doesn't surprise me at all. I haven't read many of the books mentioned in the article, but I am notorious for putting a book down when I just don't love it any longer. Life is short and if I have time to curl up and read a book it better be a good book and not just any book. By the way, good book is entirely subjective.

As an agent I would love information on how books are being read and when they're being put down. It's great sales research. As an author advocate I'm not so sure it's great for an author's sales if this kind of information becomes widely known. After all, would you buy the next big bestseller that everyone is talking about if you found out that everyone only read the first 25%?

Either way, it's definitely cool information.

-jhf


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Fingers Crossed

This is how I imagine some authors look when their material has been requested by an agent. I know that this is how some agents look when we get a call from an editor.






--jhf

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Following Your Passion

I recently stumbled upon this Yellow Hammer News article from October 2014 in which Mike Rowe of the TV show "Dirty Jobs" discusses why he actually doesn't believe in advising people to follow their passion. It's something Rowe has apparently said before, but a fan wrote to him questioning his reasoning for telling people not to follow their passion.

Here is Rowe's complete response,

A few years ago, I did a special called “The Dirty Truth.” In it, I challenged the conventional wisdom of popular platitudes by offering “dirtier,” more individualistic alternatives. For my inspiration, I looked to those hackneyed bromides that hang on the walls of corporate America. The ones that extoll passersby to live up to their potential by “dreaming bigger,” “working smarter,” and being a better “team player.” In that context, I first saw “Follow Your Passion” displayed in the conference room of a telemarketing firm that employed me thirty years ago. The words appeared next to an image of a rainbow, arcing gently over a waterfall and disappearing into a field of butterflies. Thinking of it now still makes me throw up in my mouth.

Like all bad advice, “Follow Your Passion” is routinely dispensed as though it’s wisdom were both incontrovertible and equally applicable to all. It’s not. Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it. And just because you’re determined to improve doesn’t mean that you will. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue a thing you’re passionate about?” Of course not. The question is, for how long, and to what end? 

When it comes to earning a living and being a productive member of society – I don’t think people should limit their options to those vocations they feel passionate towards. I met a lot of people on Dirty Jobs who really loved their work. But very few of them dreamed of having the career they ultimately chose. I remember a very successful septic tank cleaner who told me his secret of success. “I looked around to see where everyone else was headed, and then I went the opposite way,” he said. “Then I got good at my work. Then I found a way to love it. Then I got rich.”
Every time I watch The Oscars, I cringe when some famous movie star – trophy in hand – starts to deconstruct the secret to happiness. It’s always the same thing, and I can never hit “mute” fast enough to escape the inevitable cliches. “Don’t give up on your dreams kids, no matter what.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have what it takes.” And of course, “Always follow your passion!”
Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?

There are many examples – including those you mention – of passionate people with big dreams who stayed the course, worked hard, overcame adversity, and changed the world though sheer pluck and determination. We love stories that begin with a dream, and culminate when that dream comes true. And to your question, we would surely be worse off without the likes of Bill Gates and Thomas Edison and all the other innovators and Captains of Industry. But from my perspective, I don’t see a shortage of people who are willing to dream big. I see people struggling because their reach has exceeded their grasp. 

I’m fascinated by the beginning of American Idol. Every year, thousands of aspiring pop-stars show up with great expectations, only to learn that they don’t have anything close to the skills they thought they did. What’s amazing to me, isn’t their lack of talent – it’s their lack of awareness, and the resulting shock of being rejected. How is it that so many people are so blind to their own limitations? How did these peope get the impression they could sing in the first place? Then again, is their incredulity really so different than the surprise of a college graduate who learns on his first interview that his double major in Medieval Studies and French Literature doesn’t guarantee him the job he expected? In a world where everyone gets a trophy, encouragement trumps honesty, and realistic expectations go out the window. 

When I was 16, I wanted to follow in my grandfathers footsteps. I wanted to be a tradesman. I wanted to build things, and fix things, and make things with my own two hands. This was my passion, and I followed it for years. I took all the shop classes at school, and did all I could to absorb the knowledge and skill that came so easily to my granddad. Unfortunately, the handy gene skipped over me, and I became frustrated. But I remained determined to do whatever it took to become a tradesman.

One day, I brought home a sconce from woodshop that looked like a paramecium, and after a heavy sigh, my grandfather told me the truth. He explained that my life would be a lot more satisfying and productive if I got myself a different kind of toolbox. This was almost certainly the best advice I’ve ever received, but at the time, it was crushing. It felt contradictory to everything I knew about persistence, and the importance of “staying the course.” It felt like quitting. But here’s the “dirty truth,” Stephen. “Staying the course” only makes sense if you’re headed in a sensible direction. Because passion and persistence – while most often associated with success – are also essential ingredients of futility. 

That’s why I would never advise anyone to “follow their passion” until I understand who they are, what they want, and why they want it. Even then, I’d be cautious. Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by. Which is why I’m more inclined to say, “Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.”

Carry On
Mike

It's an incredibly interesting response and one that really got me thinking. We live and work in a business that is a lot about passion. We preach it at conferences and in our blogs and tell people all the time to follow that dream.

Mike Rowe's thoughts on the subject actually parallel something I've thought often, but have never verbalized or put into words myself. There have been so many times when I've read query letters or manuscripts and really thought that maybe the author of the material needed to find something else to become passionate about. While she might have loved writing, it was pretty clear that it wasn't something she was probably ever going to succeed at. And while certainly it's not my job to tell the faceless writer of a query to go and find another passion, it is something I've said to others in this business.

Once, long ago, I had an assistant who was passionate about books and publishing. She loved everything about both and had dreams of working in the business, finding authors and building careers. Unfortunately, while she had passion, she didn't have two things required to be an agent. She didn't have the drive to spend her weekends and nights culling through submission piles, reading loads of material to find those one or two great things that would rock her world. And she didn't have an editorial eye. No matter how much she read, for herself and for us, she just didn't quite understand what made a book good and marketable. What made it a potential sale. It didn't mean she wasn't good at anything, it just meant she wasn't clicking with what she thought was her passion.

In a number of different meetings I encouraged her to consider other aspects of publishing, jobs I felt she would be really good at and that played to her strengths. She ended up leaving the business altogether and, hopefully, finding other things she was passionate about.

Here's the thing about passions. Hopefully we have a lot of them and hopefully we develop more as the years grow. I got into publishing in some ways by chance. I had a passion for writing and initially thought I wanted to be a reporter. I pursued that for a while. Until I discovered that I might not have been as good at it as I thought and maybe I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life. I knew I loved words though. So I tried magazines, copy editing, design and, yes, writing. It wasn't for me. So I figured books must be next. I kept with my overall passion, but moved around until I found the fit that was right for me.

And what if I someday learn that my passion to be a literary agent isn't the right place for me? I bet I can easily find something else I love just as much. I love food and all things related to food. I'd love to cook, or create recipes, or blog, or.... I think you get the picture. I also love photography, fitness, dogs, and vacationing. Hmmm, a career vacationer maybe?

I think Mike Rowe has some really interesting things to say about passion. I liked what he said. It doesn't mean you should give up on what you're doing, it just means you should be willing to explore various aspects of that passion.

--jhf






















Monday, January 19, 2015

Five Books or Authors I'd Love to Represent, but I Don't


In a recent interview with the NYC Writers Network I was asked what five books or authors I'd love to represent, but don't. When I get asked these kinds of questions I've learned to simply write down the first things that pop into my head (or on the Barnes & Noble website if I'm researching). If I don't do it that way these interviews would take hours.

I gave my list, in no particular order, of writers I preorder, can't wait to get my hands on or have read or own a number of books from.

Here it is in no particular order:


5. Sarah Addison Allen
4. Chelsea Cain
3. Ina Garten
2. Enemy Women, Paulette Jiles
1. Elizabeth Hoyt

And when I think of this list and these authors I usually think that, in most cases, they are writing books that I'd like to see more of from other people (hint, hint).

Now let's see if we can get other BookEnds agents to create their own five.

--jhf

Friday, January 16, 2015

Your Favorite Cozy Reading Corner

Thanks to Twitter I just came across this great article on Mashable about cozy reading spots. I loved it! So immediately I went to my own Instagram account to check on the one or two photos I've taken that might fit. Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered a whole slew of cozy reading spot photos. I guess it might be an obsession of mine.

This was not the photo I initially thought I'd share when I read the article, but when I saw the photo I knew it was perfect. I actually love to fly primarily because it allows me hours of peace and quiet, time when I can lose myself in a book with few interruptions. Just me, a bag of peanuts (aka lunch), a glass of water and a great book.





Throughout the year I'm going to share some more of these photos with you and ask other members of the BookEnds family to do the same. But we'd love to hear from you too. Whether it's on our Facebook page, tagging #BookEnds on Twitter or Instagram we'd love to see your cozy reading corners.

--jhf

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Reading Queries

After returning from a long holiday I sat down to tackle my query inbox. Doing this got me thinking about how I tackle my inbox and wondering how other agents handle this job.

Here's a typical query day for me.

The first thing I do is read through the queries. I immediately reject those that don't fit what I'm doing. Some I read and skip over for the time being. There's something there that interests me, but I'm not sure if I'm interested enough to want to read more. At least not right now. And of course I request material from those that grab me.

The next thing I do is choose a few requested submissions to forward to my Kindle. Occasionally I'll read on the computer, but usually it's more comfortable for me on the Kindle. One thing to keep in mind is that pdfs don't work as well as Word docs so I usually prefer a doc over a pdf.

Sometimes, but rarely I'll work from the bottom up, simply grabbing a few of the oldest submissions to ready. Typically however I want to get a jump on something that really excites me so I'll skim through my requested material to forward the 2-3 things that grab me the most, that I think have the most potential (again based entirely on the query). Then I'll read.

So if you're waiting for a response from me this is typically how I'm working.

--jhf

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A New Year, New Goals

Every year at this time the BookEnds team sits down to reevaluate what started out as the company's business plan. We take a look at things like our mission statement and company objectives, both short-term and long-term. We also take a look at our own personal goals for the upcoming year and share them with one another.

I just finished making a couple of goal lists. The gym I belong to asked each of it's members to write up two goals and pass them to our trainers. I think it's a great idea. Obviously these goals are gym related, but by sharing them I have the support I need to help make them happen. I then made a list of personal goals. I printed these out and hung it on the Vision Board I told you about last year. This list includes the goals for my gym, some goals for things I'd like to achieve at home and the BookEnds goals I'll be passing along to my team for our business plan.

The thing to remember about goals is that it's good to have some that seem tough, nearly unattainable, and that it might take you a year to achieve. Those could include things like selling your first book or finishing your first book. But to make goals really effective you need to also include those things that you're better able to achieve. Maybe finishing the first draft or actually querying agents.

In my case I'd like to discover a wonderful new suspense or general mystery and add it to my list. I'd also like to sell that mystery. The first might take me at least 6 months, it's conceivable the second will too. No matter, I'm looking forward to the challenges.

--jhf


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How to Query Multiple Books

After responding to a query I received this email from the writer:


Thank you, Jessica. I know I'm not supposed to ask questions of an agent, but this time I'm going to chance it, as the answer will influence any queries I send in the future: I have three finished ms, all in the same genre, but I never know which one to send to an agent. Should I send one and add a note that I have two others? Or stay quiet on the other two?
Again, Jessica, thanks for your quick reply, and if I'm off base just delete and I'll understand.


I'll admit I don't always respond to questions like this on queries. Not because I wouldn't like to, but there are some days when I barely have time to get my coffee in and on those days I usually delete. In this instance however I was able to write back a very quick reply and with the blog I can expand on that a bit.

I don't think it ever really hurts to let an editor or agent know that you have other books that you've written and might be available. That being said, the response you receive on a query letter will be solely based on that query alone. So I would worry less about trying to tempt them with everything and focus on that one thing you think is the strongest. What is the strongest story with the strongest hook and the strongest writing? Put everything else aside and make that your focus.

Also keep in mind that an agent usually assumes that what you're querying is your most recent work so if this doesn't grab her it's unlikely something she thinks will be less polished will.

--jhf

Monday, January 12, 2015

Some Thoughts on Referrals

Thank you AJ Blythe for following Janet Reid's direction and emailing me on this subject. I actually like this back and forth blogging that Janet and I have going and would like to issue a directive. If you ever read a post either of us has done, or in my case any agent has done, that would you would like a second opinion on, please email me. I'd be happy to post my thoughts on the same subject.

For those who didn't read Jane't original blog post here's the gist:

Janet received a question on how she prioritizes referrals. The author wanted to know the difference between a referral by an agent or an author and she explained her process in great and impressive detail. I'll do my best to do the same.

For a long while I was open to submissions by referral only. Then for a while I was open to submissions for various types of mysteries and everything else by referral only. I think now I'm more or less open to everything. More or less.

Believe it or not referrals don't happen very often. I know from experience that most of my clients are very cautious about passing someone my way. I think they feel like I'm busy and they don't want to add to my piles and don't want to be judged on something they might or might not have read. What if they refer something and I think it's absolute crap for example? And I think most agents feel the same. We all have a lot on our plate and we hate to just pass things off to other people, unless of course we really feel it has potential, but needs someone who has a different or better vision for it.

Believe it or not, most frequently I get "referrals" from people I don't even know or have even ever heard of. I'm not sure if its confusion on the author's part or someone really trying to snow me. Those, obviously, I don't consider real referrals.

In Janet's original post the author implied that any agent who didn't respond quickly to a referral from a client was problematic. I'm not so sure. For me a referral usually means that I'll automatically request to read the material. How quickly I read the material however depends on a variety of things and who the referral is from is just one of those things, but not everything.

Remember, I'm a strong believer that an agent should never be judged on the speed she reads submissions because presumably, if she's slow at submissions, it's because she's spending her time where she should be spending her time, with her clients.

So how do I prioritize? Usually by what excites me first. Sometimes I'll just start at the bottom of the pile (those that came in first) and read up, but many times I'll go through, evaluate the queries, and read what I want to read. It's the same way I prioritize the reading pile next to my bed.

That being said, a referral from another agent will often peek my interest enough to move it pretty near the top of the pile. After all, what did my trusted colleague see in this project that they thought warranted a referral? I also tend to move client referrals up a bit and treat them more delicately (you might get a more detailed rejection than normal). In my mind it's a matter of helping the client out. If she went so far to refer someone to me I want the person she referred to have real appreciation for her efforts.

In a nutshell, I would say that referrals from editors or agents probably move to the top of my pile the fastest, clients next and lastly referrals from friends, family, or the random person on the street. In the end however, it's all about the book and whether it works for me.

--jhf