Monday, July 27, 2015

Handling an Offer of Representation

I've done posts on this subject before and I will likely do it again, but some things have come up lately that make me think it's time for a refresher course.

That and Sally MacKenzie suggested I write this. Sally knows.

Congratulations! You just got the call. All of your hard work, all of the rewrites, the query rewrites and the angst have paid off. An agent (or possibly an editor) wants to work with you. This is a big deal, a big step in your professional career, so let me give some tips on how you should handle this in a way that helps make it a successful step in your career.

1. If at all possible, be prepared. Hopefully you're not reading this post after the offer came in, but instead you're reading it as a way to prepare and make a plan for when the offer does come in. I'm a planner so I like having plans. They don't have to be rock solid, but when something this important happens to me I like to have some idea of what I'm going to be doing and how I'm going to be handling it.

2. Spend some time talking to the agent making the offer. Don't expect this to happen in the first phone call, you're going to be way too freaked out, but plan to have a second phone call. In other words, thank the agent, listen to what she has to say and ask her if you can set up another time to talk when you're thinking more clearly. And yes, its absolutely acceptable to let the agent know that you're overwhelmed with excitement. In fact, I often tell authors to get off the phone, tell friends and family, and let's set up time to talk the next day when she's more prepared with questions and can absorb the answers.

3. Ask questions. This goes back to #1. There are a lot of places online where you can find lists of questions to ask an agent before signing. There is even a list on this blog (one I should probably update). In all likelihood, if you've done your research before submitting, you'll know the answers to a lot of these questions. The more important questions are those that relate directly to you and your career. Some of this will mean knowing what you want out of an agent or what you expect from an agent. Are you looking for someone who edits, who gives marketing guidance, who talks on the phone a lot or prefers email communication? Thinking about what you want in an agent will help you find the questions you need answered. Also knowing what you want from your career (hybrid, traditional, ebook, hardcover, paperback, which houses, etc) will help you formulate questions.

3. Give a time frame. Assuming you have queries and partials or fulls out with other agents you will need to give that first agent a timeframe for when you'll get back to her. I usually think 7-10 days is more than enough time. Anyone who can't respond in that timeframe isn't enthusiastic enough to want to work with you and, let's face it, you want to get your career started so waiting weeks and weeks isn't advantageous to you. So tell the first agent that you do have other agents considering your work, but will get back to her in the timeframe you've established. One little thing here. I would suggest, if you have the opportunity, to always, always, always use this time to get as many agents interested as possible. The agent offering might have been the top of your list, but that's usually not based on actually meeting and talking to the agent. Talking to other agents will give you some level of comparison to know if, yes, this agent is still the top of my list.

4. Contact all the other agents who have your work. There might be some on that list you definitely want to talk to, there might be some you queried, but already know you aren't interested in any longer (this first agent would beat them hands down). That's fine. Knowing that is great. Either way contact them all. For those agents you'd still love to work with, email (or call) to let them know you have an offer and give them a date by which you need to hear. If you've given the first agent 10 days, you might want to give these agents 7 so you have time to deal with any more offers that come in. If there are agents on that list who you just know you aren't that interested in, let them know that you received an offer and you're pulling your material from consideration. That way they won't read the submission unnecessarily and you've given up your time slot (time the agent spends reading submissions) to another author. If there are agents who you've only queried, but still desperately have on your "A" list, email them. A lot of times agents get behind in queries so giving them a chance to request and read the material only works to your advantage.

5. Wait for the offers to come in, spend some time talking to the agents and enjoy the ride. This is your time as an author, your time to make some smart decisions, enjoy the competition for your time, and find a business partner who is truly best suited for you. Go with your gut. Assuming the agent is reputable and experienced then it doesn't matter who else is with the agent or what your friends think. All that matters is that over the course of a phone call this agent feels like she's the right fit for you and your work. No one else's.

There's a kid chant, "first is the worst, second is the best, third is the one with the treasure chest." While obviously first is not likely the worst, I do think this little chant is worth keeping in mind. The first agent will often get the edge just for being first (which makes perfect sense), but in the end the agent you choose, no matter the order she offered, will be the one who is the best fit for you and your work. Her vision for your work, communication style and a general feeling of connection will be what determines who is best for you, no matter the order she came in.

--jhf





Thursday, July 23, 2015

Steps to Creating an Author Brand

I received this question from a reader. I can't thank you enough for that. I'm clearly running out of ideas and need all the help I can get. That being said, you didn't exactly send me an easy question to answer. ;)


I was wondering if you'd do a post regarding author branding? Specifically, how an author should brand his/herself. How an agent can help this process. And the importance of creating a brand.

Kudos on thinking about this and what it means for your career. Branding is important. Think about some of our most famous brands. In almost any decision, Coke, Rolex and Harlequin make they consider their brand. Sometimes a brand changes or brands shift, but everything you do from your website to your social media, your book covers, the next book you write, and even your presentation at a writers conference should reflect your brand.

When we think of branding let's look at publishers as our guide. Every publisher has an overarching brand--Grand Central for example. Under that brand Grand Central has found a way to distinguish the various things they do. Forever is the line that focuses on romance,  Grand Central Life & Style focuses on, well, life and style books (nonfiction), and Twelve their specialty imprint (for lack of a better term).

As Jessica Author you need to determine what your brand or brands are. If you want to write in multiple genres then the best thing to do is create your own "imprints" which would be brands under one brand umbrella. Maybe Jessica Author is where you start so that's also your thrillers, but Jessica Writer is where you want to start your historical romance career. In some cases the areas might crossover so you might be able to stick to one brand (thrillers and romantic suspense or YA thrillers for example). If they don't cross over you might have to start an "imprint."

No matter what you do your brand needs to become so representative of what you write that when someone says Jessica Author people know exactly what you write. Think Stephen King, Nora Roberts, or Sarah Dessen. Authors often get frustrated with agents and publishers who encourage them to write in one genre. But this is why. If you want a brand, you need to stick with something to build it with. Later, once you have that brand name, you can expand and build, maybe add Dassani water to your list ;)

As for how to brand yourself, well there are no easy answers to that and it would depend on what you're writing. How do you want to brand yourself? Would you like to be the author who dispenses writing advice or legal advice? Maybe the one who makes great pies. Whatever you do, make sure it ties in to what you're writing and the person you are. And everything you do should match the tone of your books. Design a website that matches the cover of your books (use the same font even) and use a social media picture that constantly sells your brand (book covers probably).

This is where your agent can help.  Together you can talk about the website and social media, your bookmarks, ideas for marketing and new and different ideas for building a brand.

Just like writing a book, there are no tried and true guarantees to what works and what doesn't when it comes to brand building. However, thinking about it is the first step to success.

--jhf


Note: I did not credit the reader for the question. I wasn't sure if you wanted your name public. If you'd like the credit leave your name and a link to your website (if you have one) in the comments and I'll add it to the post.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Meet the Intern: James McGowan

Ooh, my first interview. I feel important. I’m coming for you, Oprah.

What's your name?
James McGowan

Where do you go to school?
CUNY- College of Staten Island

What are you studying?
English-Writing

What kind of books do you most like to read?
I’m a big YA reader. I love pretty much all subgenres, from Fantasy to Contemporary. I’ll also take this time to tell you that Harry Potter has been proven to be the best book series on the face of the Earth. Proven by me. Just now.

I also love a good Psychological Thriller. If you can keep me confused for 200 pages and then reveal a killer in the last 50, I’m down.

What's the last book you read (not including a submission)?
So, I’m always juggling reading. The last book I’ve completed was THE YOUNG ELITES by Marie Lu. I’m still on LEGACY OF KINGS by Eleanor Herman, and loving it immensely.

What interests you about a career in publishing (assuming you'd like a career in publishing)?
It took me a lot of sitting and wondering to figure out what I finally wanted to do, and I didn’t even figure it out when I was sitting and wondering. When I finally discovered that there were people behind the books besides the author, I was immediately hooked. I’ve tried my hand at writing a thing or two (and those of you who can do it have been touched by an angel), but to no avail. I began to immerse myself in the publishing industry and researching the logo on the spine of every book. I’m just interested in all that I haven’t read. I want to see the behind the scenes of the things I love most and discover everything I haven’t already.

What lead you to BookEnds? 
Long story or short story?

Short story- I realized no one would hire a college grad without some experience, and did my research into agencies I would like to be a part of.

Long story- I was born on a snowy night in late Decem— I’m kidding. After reading the acknowledgments in Divergent and discovering my career goals, I researched all positions in the industry. I came to the logical plan of applying to internships in the agenting world first, before applying to a House for an internship. I can’t decide where I would rather be. I’ve applied to many agencies before coming across Jessica Faust on twitter. I’ve read every word on the BookEnds website, including the internship post and what made me apply was how nice the posting was. Seriously, go look- so nice. So I applied, and I had a good feeling after polishing my cover letter to as best as I could. The excitement was real when I got an email back.

What has surprised you most about your internship at BookEnds?
Truthfully, I am endlessly surprised by the amount of knowledge that the BookEnds ladies hold in their brains. I am constantly learning new things. I always try to contribute at meetings, but at many of them I just to sit back and watch. Seriously, my head bobbles back and forth from agent to agent. The way they talk about market trends, submissions, contracts, royalties, everything from legal to industry news… it amazes me. I understand an internship is a learning opportunity, but I never, in a million years, would have expected to learn as much as I have.

What have you enjoyed the most at BookEnds?
Okay, two answers.

1. My weekly run-ins with Buford the BookEnds Mascot-Dog. Quite the character.

2. Just being in the office and listening. The one-on-one conversations that I’m able to have with any of the agents, about any topic are truly enjoyable. They’ve allowed me to come into my own more in the publishing world, and I could talk, or sit and listen for hours. 

What do you think authors or other prospective interns might like to know about the BookEnds team?
I think authors and fellow students/interns to be need to know that this is the agency that should be at the top of your list. Everyone here loves their job, clients, and work.

Authors- These agents are some of the most helpful, knowledgeable and creative people that I’ve had the pleasure of working for.

Interns- You’ll never feel uncomfortable in the office. Everyone is down to earth and personable. You’re constantly learning, and if you’re going to spend time interning, at least make sure you are getting the most out of it.

I’m also going to take this time to publicly thank every agent for everything they’ve taught or done for me. I appreciate all the guidance and working opportunities you’ve given me. I’m proud and grateful to have begun my publishing career at BookEnds.

After nearly completing your internship, what are your thoughts on being an agent or working in publishing in general?
After almost finishing (sadly) my internship at BookEnds, I have many thoughts about the field. For instance, Agenting is the most freedom any human could ever have in a professional position. It’s fun and creative and ever changing. You abide by your rules and only take on projects you love.

As far as the industry, in general, I’m happy that I’ve found something I love and am passionate about, and that it is within my arm’s reach.

Hey, if you’ve made it this far into the post without checking Twitter or Facebook, Thank you for reading!

And what’s a self-respecting Tweeter without some self-promotion? Follow me here!

Over and out,
James




Tuesday, July 21, 2015

BookEnds Takes on #RWA15

For those who aren't a member of the romance community, RWA is the Romance Writers of America national convention. Each year it's in a new location and brings in close to 2000 writers, editors, agents and other industry pros. There are workshops, signings, appointments, cocktail parties and meet n' greets. The entire week wraps up with a giant awards ceremony.

Just typing that exhausted me.

This year RWA convenes in NYC and while that makes it more fun for the writers, it makes for more work for the rest of us. My week started on Monday and I have appointments and meetings through Saturday. It's exhausting, it's exhilarating and it's definitely productive. Like with any professional conference (Malice, Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, etc) I'll be leaving with a long to-do list.

All of BookEnds (including our intern James) will be traveling the halls of the Marriott. We'll be taking meetings, taking notes and posting a lot of what we're learning on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. So keep an eye out to learn not just what's hot in romance, but what's hot in all of publishing.

If you see any of us, make sure to take a moment to say hi. If we have a spare moment we'd love the chance to pull up a stool and talk.

--jhf


Monday, July 20, 2015

My Thoughts on Go Set a Watchman

Everywhere I turn people are talking about Go Set a Watchman. And I don't blame them. This is probably one of the most exciting things to happen in publishing since Harry Potter. But unlike Harry Potter, I'm not sure I'm going to read this one.

To read this book I'd have to read To Kill a Mockingbird first. I've read it, and I've seen the movie, I believe as an assignment sometime back in my teen years. I have incredibly fond memories of the characters. They live on in my head in the same way an old friend lives on. I don't remember all the details, but I do remember them with a fondness that I hope never to lose.

It's because of those memories that I might never read Go Set a Watchman. I've been saddened by the controversy surrounding the book and even further saddened by some of the reviews I've read. Everyone is entitled to an opinion of course and I think many will find they need to read the book to see what people are talking about and, possibly, prove reviewers wrong. For me though, I'd like to hide my head in the sand on this one and remember Scout as she was in my childhood.

--jhf

Friday, July 17, 2015

What Jessica F Has Been Reading #MSWL

Summer is here and so is summer reading. I actually have a stack of books sitting here by my side. All great potential beach reads. Some are new, books I've begged editors for, and some are older books that I've pulled from my shelves. I'm embarrassed to admit that some are galleys for books that were published a few years ago.

I was just updating my Goodreads account and realized I hadn't updated the blog in a few books.

At #BEA I picked up The Killing Kind by Chris Holm. I devoured this book. This is exactly the kind of book I love and would love to see. How can you go wrong with a hit man who targets hit men? The way the story plays out is really the true magic though, the twists are perfect and the end leaves you satisfied, but still desperate for the next in the series, which is really disappointing since this book doesn't even officially publish until September. Put it on your pre-order list.

Two great things happened to me at #CCWC. I had a terrific conference experience and I was given a copy of Charlaine Harris's Midnight Crossroad, the first book in her new Midnight Texas series. Charlaine has such a great style, one that's truly all her own and I love the mix of the paranormal with a true mystery. This was a fun read and one I know Jessica Alvarez has been chomping at the bit to get her hands on so I'll be passing it along to her.

Now to go through my stack and decide what's next.

--jhf


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Query Right or Expect Rejection

I'm not sure what's going on out there or on what list my name has been placed, but the queries I've been receiving lately are absolutely horrible. I'm not talking about the books that are being queried, but the queries themselves.

For some reason no one wants to write a blurb, feeling instead that cutting and pasting a 2-5 page synopsis is a better idea. I'm getting details about the writer's path to writing (I don't care that you started at 13 or how old you are now). I'm even getting details of the person's family life.

Queries are really very simple. Just as simple as a cover letter. I need you title, your genre, your word count and I need a brief 2-3 paragraph blurb about your book. Essentially the back cover copy for your book.

If you can't put that together I am going to immediately figure that you couldn't write the book either or are too lazy to do the many rounds of revisions you'll likely need prior to publication.

The only thing these poor queries do are irritate me and make it easier for me to empty out my inbox.

--jhf 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Passing a Submission to Another Agent

The other day I read a submission that I thought was really strong and had great potential. However, given my already busy client list I didn't think I was going to be the best agent for the project. This book needed someone who could be truly passionate about it, who had a love for the genre and who had the time and desire to really work with the author on the project. Instead of just passing however, I passed it on to another agent at BookEnds. Someone who fit every one of the criteria I thought the book needed.

When I do something like this I often wonder what the author will think. Does the author later think less of the offer she receives because it isn't the agent she submitted to, although it is the agency? or Does the author think this is a great opportunity because her project definitely landed in the right hands?

As we see when we receive responses to rejections, every author is different. Some will be offended that the agent they first submitted to didn't want it in the first place and others will be elated that the agency as a whole felt so strongly about the book.

Like everyone else, an agent only has a finite number of hours in the day and can only represent so many clients and give them the attention she feels they deserve. When reviewing submissions, we at BookEnds are reviewing for ourselves first and the agency second. We all work very closely together and that doesn't just mean bouncing ideas off each other, it means working hard to get as many great books published as we can, and helping each other build a strong career as an agent.

When we pass a project on to another agent within BookEnds it doesn't mean we didn't think it was great and are tossing our trash onto someone else's pile. In fact, it's the complete opposite, we think the book has some real potential and were excited about its possibilities, but feel it needs to be with the right agent, not any agent.

I'm going to pre-empt some questions here and say that we don't always pass everything on so if you feel there are two agents at BookEnds who might be right for your book feel free to query them both. Never at the same time, but if the first passes there's no reason you can't try the second. Just don't tell anyone else I said that. ;)

--jhf




Friday, July 10, 2015

The Summer Slowdown & A Submission Update


Summer is killer for me. It feels like I'm constantly running around trying to get things done, but never actually able to get things done. Vacations and the general "slow-down of summer" can be partially to blame for this. Naturally a lot of people vacation in the summer and because of that it always seems like it takes days instead of just a day or two to get the answers you want. 

In addition to summer vacations however, there are summer conferences. RWA and Thrillerfest are the two biggies that I'll be attending. I'm excited to go to both and will have a lot to celebrate at both, but there's also no doubt that they're exhausting and time consuming. 

The weirdest part of all of this is that because of all the running around I'll be doing this summer I'll be less likely to get to submissions in a timely manner however because of all the running around I'll also be getting a lot more submissions. 

If it weren't for a recent Kindle glitch, I'd be reading more submissions, but that's not helping things either. 

So, I'm caught up on all queries through the end of June. I'm caught up on all requested submissions through (gulp) the end of March. If you sent something that should have been answered by now please feel free to resend. If you sent material or a query in the time periods that I have not yet gotten to I thank you for your patience.

--jhf 

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

A Writer's Guide to Being Pitch Perfect


It's July and that means pitches. Lots and lots of pitches.

This month I'll be attending both Thrillerfest and RWA and I'll be taking appointed pitches at both as well as, I hope and assume, I'll be meeting authors throughout the conference who might want to pitch their work. 

There are a ton of great places to find tips on pitching, including this blog, instead I'm just going to talk generally about pitch appointments. 

First things first, I think there is far too much emphasis placed on the pitch. I've been told by conference organizers that I have to take five hours (8 hours sometimes) of pitches because that's all the authors want. If that's really the case that's a shame, but I don't believe it's true. I think pitch appointments make it easy for conference organizers to fill time and not have to juggle workshop schedules for agents and editors.

Pitch appointments will not get you published. They are no different from a query letter except they are in person and will probably stress you out a whole lot more. In fact, most standard pitch appointments won't do you any good at all unless you take control of the pitch.

Of course every agent feels differently about how those 10 minutes (3 minutes sometimes) should be used, but since this is my blog I'm going to tell you how I think it should be used.

I think pitches are an opportunity for you to get to meet agents personally and see if they might be the right person for your book. I know I've told this story before, but one of my best pitch appointments was with author Shelley Coriell. Shelley sat down not to pitch her book, but to meet me. She told me this right away. She explained her goals for her career, talked briefly about her book and handed me a recipe for one of her favorite desserts (Blackberry Cobbler). She told me that since her book wasn't ready she would simply query me when the time came. In the 10 minutes we had Shelley made herself memorable. We chatted about a few things, her career, publishing in general and my philosophy as an agent (she did ask me questions as well as told me about herself). There was no point in Shelley pitching because she knew she could query me when the time was right.

All that being said, let's find a way to make pitches more enjoyable for both of us.

Relax. Don't think of me as the interviewer, think of yourself as the interviewer.

Have your pitch ready, but don't think of it as the only thing you're going to do. Also come prepared with some questions. Ask about me, the agency, publishing, or ask me my opinion on something that came up in an earlier panel or a discussion with other agents.

Listen. I will listen to your pitch and then I'm going to critique it. If I'm not asking for material I'm going to ask you questions that address my concerns. It could be that the hook feels slight or the plot feels overly complicated. Don't try to argue with me about why I'm wrong or how that's in there. If you need to take the full 10 minutes to explain your story there's a problem with your story. Even if I am asking for material I might ask some questions. Don't just defend your book, think of my questions as something you can use to hone your pitch and your query.

Enjoy. Conferences are a great way to feel energized about what you're doing. Pat yourself on the back for going to a pitch appointment in the first place. It's not easy and it's one more step toward publication.

--jhf