Monday, July 31, 2006

Back from RWA

Exhausting, exhilarating, and loads of fun all describe this year's RWA National Conference. A weekend of pitch appointments, goal-setting and career-planning appointments, schmoozing, networking, eating and drinking, all came to a perfect close when Christine Diehm won the Golden Heart for best short historical romance. Congratulations, Christine, you taught the world that yes, Jessica is a screamer.

Kim and I are going to work on putting together a list of what we learned at RWA and post that later this week. Right now, though, I'm struggling to catch up on everything I missed.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Morning After . . .

I'm not quite sure how I'm finding the energy to lift my fingers and type this quick note after a long and exhausting weekend at RWA. Jessica and I had a blast (maybe a little bit too much fun, which added up to only four hours of sleep Saturday night). We had the opportunity to meet clients we'd only spoken to via phone, see old friends, schmooze with editors, and hopefully discover some great new talent. Time will tell, as we eagerly await the material we requested.

First let me say I thought this year's conference was exceptional. The hotel was awesome, with the most helpful, friendly staff I've ever encountered (maybe there's something to that whole Southern hospitality thing). The appointments were run smoothly and efficiently, and as Jessica mentioned earlier, in a terrific location. And the awards banquet was entertaining and didn't run any later than it should have. The awards were particularly fabulous for BookEnds this year, but I'll let Jessica tell you all about that.

There's definitely an air of excitement and energy that comes along with the RWA organization. Now, unlike Jessica, that excitement doesn't have me up at 5:00 a.m. in the hotel gym (I mean, is she for real?), but nevertheless, I do come back to work feeling invigorated about my job and about publishing in general. Unfortunately, that does nothing for the bags under my eyes, the sore, bandaged feet that fell victim to those shoes I just HAD to have, or the few extra pounds picked up from eating too much of that yummy comfort food and drinking too many Coronas. On that note, I'm off to nap. . . .


Saturday, July 29, 2006

RWA—the Pitch Sessions

Well, I wasn't nearly as motivated this morning as I was yesterday. The late nights and early mornings are definitely wearing me out. I have a quick few minutes to check in while I drink my coffee and prepare for the rest of the day.

Yesterday Kim and I both had our pitch sessions, and finally someone figured out that agents and editors can be more effective and actually enjoy sessions a little more if they can see the outside world. Traditionally we're all locked into a drab conference room with no windows and badly circulated air. It's always either too hot or too cold. This year we had a beautiful location on the 10th-floor balcony with big floor-to-ceiling windows.

It's amazing what RWA can do for an author. Pitches given to me by RWA members are always some of the best pitches I hear. RWA members, even when it's a first-time pitch, have more knowledge of how to spend their 10 minutes wisely. They tend to know how to be concise, ask good, professional questions, and engage me. I heard some great pitches and I even had a few authors who chose to use their time not to pitch to me, but instead to ask some questions about me and the business. They already knew (from doing research) that their work fit what I was representing, so instead they wanted to get to know me a little, to learn whether or not we would be a good fit when the time came for them to choose an agent.

Kim and I both had two hours of pitch sessions, and strangely we both had the exact same experience. Pitch sessions fill up very quickly and there are always a number of people who either aren't able to get a pitch appointment at all or aren't able to get in to see their first choice person. However, there are also those who don't show up—whether they get too nervous, decide they aren't ready, or just decide I'm not the right person to pitch to. Strangely, Kim and I both had an appointment who didn't show up. When that happens, organizers will send in a fill-in, one of the very patient attendees who has chosen to wait outside the pitch sessions on the off-chance something just like this happens. And what's stranger still about this, both Kim and I requested a full from the fill-in appointment. Requesting a full rather than a partial is a very, very rare occurence, and the fact that we each did this and from a fill-in is bizarre.

Overall, though, I had some great pitches. I also learned something about what makes a successful pitch. Enthusiasm is contagious. After two hours of listening to people relay the plots of their stories, it starts to feel a little repetitious. It also starts to feel like some authors drone on and on without any real excitement. An excited and enthusiastic author can make all the difference in convincing us they have a product we too should be enthusiastic about.

Tune in either tomorrow or later this week. Kim and I are going to sit down and make a list of all of the industry news and gossip we've been hearing and share some of what we've learned.


Friday, July 28, 2006


Day two of RWA (for me anyway) and it's early. No matter how late I get to bed I seem to always wake up at 5:00 a.m. Which I love. I got up, got myself to the fitness room for a short workout, made a trip to the hotel Starbucks (which is probably why I love this hotel so much), and now I'm quietly typing away and enjoying the peace and quiet before today's onslaught.

I have to confess, I love RWA. I'm not one of those agents who turns my tag backward or tucks it in my purse to avoid recognition. On the contrary, I wear it proudly and love meeting new people, connecting with my clients and seeing familiar faces. I'm constantly amazed at how many people I know at these events and how fun it is to reconnect with familiar faces, old friends and colleagues.

So what does an agent do at RWA? Yesterday I spent my entire afternoon in client meetings. From 12:30 to 7:30 I met for one-on-one appointments with my authors to discuss everything from the status of submissions, publicity, pub dates, kids, industry gossip, and our favorite wine. Primarily, though, the purpose of these meetings is to reconnect and ensure that we are continuing to work toward the same goals and share the same vision for each author's career. Each of my clients is so incredibly different, and therefore it's not surprising that each of my meetings is very different. With some the goal is just to reconnect, eat good food, and have a good time; others plan ahead and even send an agenda of everything they are hoping to discuss. And I love both. My goal at these sessions is to have that rare face-time. This business is probably one of the few where the people you work most closely with (your agent and editor) are the people you see the least and, in some cases, never actually meet at all.

So what's on my agenda for today? I'm almost frightened to look. My morning is filled with pitch appointments and my afternoon is once again scheduled for one-on-ones with my own clients. I'm also looking forward to the many cocktail parties the publishers throw tonight. Primarily, though, I'm looking forward to chatting with fellow romance industry professionals (editors, agents, and authors—both published and unpublished) about a business we love.


Thursday, July 27, 2006


I'm leaving today for RWA—the Romance Writers of America national conference—being held this year in Atlanta. This is one of the most exhausting and energizing events of the year. Exhausting because I'll be "on" 12 to 16 hours a day—schmoozing with editors, agents and writers, talking business, and just charming the heck out of everyone. Energizing because there's nothing more exciting to me than being around literally thousands of people who share my love, my dreams, and my goals. We're all there to learn more about the romance genre and the publishing industry, to network and to connect.

My schedule at RWA is pretty booked. I have two hours of pitch appointments, at least an hour scheduled for one-on-one time with all of my attending clients, lunches, dinners, cocktail parties (I know, it sounds horrible), but despite all of that, I'm hoping to find the time each day to post and tell you what I'm seeing and hearing at the conference.

For those not writing (or reading) in romance, you're probably thinking that you have no interest in the next few days' worth of posts. But hold on: if you're a writer of women's fiction (not necessarily romance) and find that your target market is women (even if you're writing mysteries, SF, fantasy, thrillers, etc.), you should definitely consider joining RWA. I find it one of the strongest publishing professional groups out there. Not only can you learn a lot about publishing as an industry through RWA, but it's a fabulous place to network.

See you from Atlanta!


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

My Life as an Intern at BookEnds, LLC

Ever since my first post on the BookEnds blog, I'm sure everyone has been scrambling around wondering and trying to find out what it's like to be an intern at BookEnds. I'm here to put your wonderings to rest with this latest post.

A typical day here at BookEnds, LLC, starts for me when I walk up the stairs to the office, usually around 11:00 (I'm not much of a morning person, and thankfully BookEnds accommodates this). I sit down at my beautiful antique desk and start opening mail (see my first post to learn more about this process). Throughout the day I'll log in the mail, take care of the BookEnds editor email account, and, to be honest, send out a lot of rejection letters. Oh, and I read, a lot! I thought I was a bookworm before, now I think I read about 10 books every day I'm here, which is only two a week because I have a second job, since I don't get paid here. So those two days a week, Jessica, Jacky, and Kim make sure I'm busy so as to get their . . . uh . . . money's worth? Maybe that's not the right phrase. Okay, so I don't get paid in money, but I do get rewarded with knowledge—oh, and every Wednesday morning, some breakfast. That's right, BookEnds holds their weekly meetings at a diner, where I am rewarded for my hard work with an omelet, toast, home fries, and a lot of tea. Here we discuss ideas, projects, what we're reading, and of course our favorite moments in last week's reality shows (I can't wait for this week's Project Runway!) It may seem that this job is all just fun, games, and glamour, but rest assured: There's a lot of responsibility that comes with this gig (again I ask for you to refer to my first post).

In closing, I'd just really like to let everyone know that I couldn't have asked for a better internship than the one I have here at BookEnds. And I hope everyone now can live their dreams of working at BookEnds vicariously through my posts.

—The Intern

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Translating Editor- and Agent-Speak

For an insider's look at how to decipher those cryptic conversations between editors and agents, check out "Speaking in Tongues" on Jason Pinter's blog at The Man in Black.

Dos and Don'ts of Conference Etiquette

By special request, we've put together a list of conference dos and don’ts. While this was requested specifically for the RWA National Conference, we think it can certainly be used universally.

Do: Introduce yourself to editors and agents.
Don't: Monopolize all of one person's time when it's clear others would like to chat with her, or she's obviously exhausted.

Do: Ask for a business card.
Don't: Ask for a business card without making the effort to introduce yourself or at least chat the agent or editor up

Do: Ask if you can submit your work for consideration.
Don't: Try to give an agent or editor a manuscript. No one wants to carry it home. If they want it immediately, they will request it.

Do: Wear comfortable shoes.
Don't: Wear bike shorts and a T-shirt

Do: Sit near an agent or editor during banquets and get to know them.
Don't: Give them the hard sell at the table while everyone is eating. You can approach them after the meal or in the lobby the next time you see them.

Do: Ask agents or editors what types of books they're looking for these days.
Don't: Tell them they're wrong and why they should be looking for the type of book you're writing.

Do: Attend conferences and find out as much about the publishing business as you can, even if you're still hard at work on that first book.
Don't: Pitch your book unless it's 100% complete and ready to be submitted.

Do: Show up for your appointments on time, and be prepared.
Don't: Be late and spend valuable time on explanations and excuses.

Do: Approach editors and agents during business hours in public spaces.
Don't: Approach editors and agents in the bathroom.

Do: Ask if you can send a submission via the mail.
Don't: Slip anything under an agent's bedroom door.

Do: Practice your pitch before trying it out on an agent: Enlist the help of your writers' group or other writer buddies.
Don't: Come unprepared with a long-winded, hard-to-follow pitch.

Do: Try to keep to the allotted amount of time.
Don't: Hog an agent's or editor's time.

Do: Remember that as soon as you try to sell your work you have entered the business world of writing. Act professionally.
Don't: Act as though you are on the party circuit—finally free of family and obligations. Those stories get back to agents and editors and we remember the author who couldn't hold her liquor.

Do: Feel free to tell an agent or editor how much you like the work they represent (but please know what you are talking about).
Don't: Tell an agent or editor you are pitching to about another wonderful agent or editor with whom you'd like to work. (I love BookEnds, but I'd REALLY love to work with the William Morris Agency.)

Do: Ask and agent or editor about their work experience.
Don't: Ask an agent or editor if they are pregnant until they've actually given birth.

Do: Bring a notebook and jot down anything that strikes you: You might not remember some important details in the flurry of activity.
Don't: Rely on your memory for all those wonderful little tips you pick up at conferences.

Do: Make friends with lots of other writers. An important part of a writing career is networking!
Don't: Be a wallflower.

And remember: People constantly move around in publishing. Be professional and courteous at all times. That agent you don't like today might be the editor who could make an offer on your book tomorrow!

—Jessica, Jacky, Kim

Monday, July 24, 2006

Back from Backspace

On Saturday I attended the Backspace Writers Conference in NYC. As far as I could tell, the crowd of attendees was small, but they had quite an impressive list of speakers and presenters. The trouble with having a conference in NYC, as I see it, is that while you do get a long list of agents and editors who are willing to attend, it's difficult to get them to stick around. I know that most of us came in for the time allotted us, and left immediately thereafter, sadly eliminating any possibility of schmoozing at the bar or over breakfast.

I spoke on a panel first thing Saturday morning with fellow agents Miriam Goderich, Kate Epstein, and Katherine Fausset, and moderator Kristin Nelson. Not surprisingly, Kristin did a wonderful job of coming up with different questions, including things like: Tell us something about you that few people know, talk a little about the competition between agents, and what do agents and editors really do at lunch? It's been a long time since I've been on a panel that was equally interesting to me.

My next step was the Backspace "skip the pitch" sessions. To quote Backspace, "'Skip the Pitch' sessions eliminate the stress and anxiety that come with the standard pitch session format by completely skipping over the pitch. Authors who sign up in advance will be able to bring one partial to the Backspace conference with the GUARANTEE that one attending agent of their choice from the list of participating agents below will take the partial home and read it."

I have to admit, I wasn't a fan of this. While I enjoyed talking to my group of five, I'm not sure that people knew what to do without the pitch. The questions and conversation were slow to come, and I got the distinct impression that at least one member of my group wasn't getting the information she wanted. Of course, if you don't ask, I can't guarantee you'll hear what you want. In addition, it's more work for me since I have to read the proposals when I get home, instead of discussing them in the pitch and ensuring they are something I want to read. See, I'm not one of those agents who asks for things in a pitch no matter what.

All in all, it was a good conference experience and I especially enjoyed hiding out between sessions to chat with fellow speakers (agents and authors). Truthfully, this is where the fun really happens, and this is where the truth comes out. In our secret room we were able to discuss those things agents discuss when left alone—publishing rants, submission horror stories, shoes, favorite restaurants, and upcoming schedules.

And I'm now on my way to RWA.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Backspace Writers Conference

Tomorrow morning I'm heading out to the Backspace Writers Conference, where I'm scheduled to speak on a panel first thing Saturday morning and take appointments Saturday afternoon. It's been a while since I've attended a conference (almost a year), which is a long time for someone who used to participate in five to eight conferences a year.

I've cut down on my conference participation over the past year or so for a couple of reasons, the biggest one being that I just don't have the time I used to. While I know that people think I attend conferences to find new clients, the truth is that I attend conferences to teach more people about publishing. Finding a new client is a rare and delightful bonus when it does happen.

So what am I hoping for from the Backspace Conference? I'm hoping to teach people what I know about publishing and, yes, I'm hoping to promote BookEnds. And, of course, wouldn't it be great if I found that diamond in the rough? What do most writers (at least from my point of view) hope to gain from a conference? Those who are unpublished usually hope to find an agent, and those who are published usually hope to sell books.

For those of you attending this conference, or anyone going to any other conference this year, I have a few suggestions:

Take notes—bring a pen and paper wherever you go, including your pitch appointment. You are going to learn so much and be given so much information that I can guarantee you won't remember everything. Don't be afraid to jot down what editors and agents tell you (it's okay to do so while sitting in front of them), especially in the nerve-wracking pitch appointment.

Collect business cards. Whether you have an appointment or not, the primary reason for a conference is to network. Connect with agents, editors, and other writers. Even if you're not yet ready to submit, this valuable one-on-one time will let you know which professionals might be best suited for your book, and meeting with other writers is not only a great source of information, and good for bonding, but you never know when you might need a quote in the future.

Have fun! Conferences can be stressful, especially for introverted writers, but don't forget to have fun. Some of the best contacts I've ever made have been at a conference bar.

I'd love to hear any conference tips you might have. And of course I'll be taking notes during my appointments and panel in the hopes that I can bring more valuable information to next week's blog.


I'm in the Mood

Right now, while I'm sitting here looking at my huge pile of submissions, I'm thinking about what I would love to find in that stack. Of course I'm still looking for fantastic romance, mystery, business books, and all those other books listed under my profile, but today, what am I in the mood to find?

I hope I pull out a dark forensic mystery/thriller series—something like the old Patricia Cornwell or Karen Slaughter. Something that hasn't been done. If you can find an area of forensics that hasn't been done, create a very complex, fantastically written story with compelling series characters and terrific villains, then I hope you're already in my pile, because that's great summer reading. Oh, if you throw a paranormal twist in there, my heart skips a beat.

I've been blogging a lot about marketing and would love to add some fantastic marketing books to my list—books that have a unique view, are fun to read, and written by a high-profile marketing expert.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Multiple Queries to BookEnds Agents

I've frequently heard the following advice: It's totally okay to query multiple agents at the same agency–just be sure to query only one at a time. If Jacky rejects you, feel free to submit to Kim. If Kim rejects you, feel free to submit to Jessica.

No! No! No! If you submitted to Jacky and she thought your project had merit, but didn't think it was for her, she would pass it on to either Kim or me. Do not continue to submit the same project to all three of us. Do your research, know as best you can what each of us represents individually, and make sure you send to the right person the first time.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Cost of Acting Unprofessionally

I often talk to authors about the need to act professionally and what you can gain by doing so, or lose by not doing so. I often think that very few authors believe what I say, however, or understand the power of what I mean. So here's an example that should give you a better understanding of how important professionalism is.

I recently received a book proposal I loved. The concept was brilliant and the author's platform was perfect; the proposal, however, was not. Instead of simply rejecting with a form letter, I chose to write the author a very detailed rejection letter, giving her all the reasons I thought the book wouldn't sell, and making suggestions as to what I thought she could do to make it stronger. About six weeks later, the proposal was resubmitted to me.

I immediately took the material, logged it in, and placed it in my “must read" pile, and then I got to work on more pressing matters—I negotiated a few contracts, answered anxious client e-mails, and followed up on overdue checks and submission responses. Two weeks later (which only feels like two hours in my world), I had read the proposal and discussed it in our weekly meeting. Both Jacky and Kim agreed that it was fantastic. Immediately upon returning to the office, I called the author to offer representation. She was thrilled that I called and went on and on about how my letter and my comments had changed her proposal. That I was completely right and that it made it a much stronger and better project. She was sorry, however, because another agent had called just a week ago and offered representation. She had never thought to call me and had accepted. She had already signed with someone else.

Relaying this story now still makes me furious. In the grand scheme of things it isn't that big of a deal to me, but I still wasted quite a bit of time reading, researching, and presenting this proposal to my colleagues. Time I could have spent reading other submissions. What really infuriated me, though, is that this author actually had the gall to say that she wished I had called earlier because she would definitely have signed with me.

This is why I can never stress enough that when an offer comes through, you are in the driver's seat. This is your opportunity to contact all the agents reviewing your work, and, if more than one offers, interviewing them to find the one agent you feel is best for you and your work. The one who shares your vision and enthusiasm and the one that you feel you can work the best with.

By choosing the first agent that called, and burning her bridges by not at least telling other agents that she was pulling her work from submission, this author made more than one mistake. Six months later I received a phone call. The author's agent had been unable to sell her work and she now feared (six months too late) that she had made a mistake. She asked that I give her another chance. After reviewing the list of houses her work was sent to, I realized there was nothing left that I could do (and truthfully, I just didn't want to work with someone who had already wasted so much of my time). The agent she was working with had submitted to all of the houses I would have submitted to, but all of the wrong editors. I can't guarantee that I would have been able to sell the work, but I can guarantee that I would have at least had it reviewed by the right people.

I can't promise this would have been published, and that's not really my point. The point of my story is to let you know, as the author, that finding an agent you like, one that has the same vision as you, and contacts within publishing that are looking for the type of work you write is, as Mastercard says, priceless.

Oh, and never, ever assume that you won't be looking for an agent again. Keeping those doors open can make your life a whole lot easier down the road.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Love Me or Hate Me

Just last week I finally sat down with the latest survey form for Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents (or whatever the full title of his book is), and while each year most of the questions remain the same, a few change. This year, the one that struck me the most asked this: "What do you think people like about you and dislike about you?"

What an interesting question, and I can think of so many answers—my husband dislikes my singing (although he's subjected to it constantly) and my seeming inability to clean anything. I suspect though that his love for my cooking, my organizational abilities, and my charming personality override his dislikes. I'm pretty sure though that's not what Jeff Herman was looking for.

So, in a business sense, what do people like and dislike about me and, more specifically, what do my clients like and dislike about me. I'm probably opening a can of worms here, and I can only imagine the comments that will pop up from those “anonymous” posters. But in my mind, what most people like and dislike about me are actually one and the same—my honesty and directness, no matter how painful.

If you've been following this blog at all you've probably noticed one thing: I don't hold back. I pull no punches and say it the way it is (at least the way I see it as it is). My day is busy, and unfortunately I don't have a lot of time to spend coddling my authors. I've been hired by them to negotiate contracts, find the right publisher for their books, take charge when an author isn't getting everything she should be, and help guide a career. When doing all of that I often need to be blunt. If you submit a book that I don't think is your best work, I'm going to tell you. I'm also going to tell you how I think it can be fixed (if I think it can), and I won't submit something that I think you can do better with. Part of guiding an author's career is seeing that she is nothing less than the best she can be. See, I'm like the literary Army.

I try to refrain from being downright nasty, and yes, I do couch my comments in kindness, but I'm a big believer that honesty is the best policy and that it doesn't do anyone any good for me to tell an author that her work is great when it's really crap. What I'm telling you isn't always what you want to hear, but hopefully you're not paying an agent to simply tell you what you want to hear—you can get your friends to do that.


Friday, July 14, 2006

How to Keep the Interns Happy: Tips for Authors

Why should you care whether interns at a literary agency are happy or not? I'll tell you why: We're the ones who open the mail. We're the first gate you, as an author, have to get through. My job at BookEnds includes requesting proposals and recommending some to my bosses (the agents: Jessica, Kim, and Jacky). Here are a few tips that will make me happy—because a happy intern is an optimistic intern who just might take a chance on requesting your material.

Tip 1: READ THE BOOKENDS WEBSITE! I can't stress to you just how important this is. will tell you everything you need to know when sending in a proposal/query.

Tip 2: RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH! Research literary agencies before sending your material to them. BookEnds does not take on certain kinds of writings and genres. Also, each agent who works here has her own specialties. Please refer to Tip 1 to find these out.

Tip 3: WHEN ASKING FOR A SASE, WE MEAN THAT THE ENVELOPE SHOULD HAVE YOUR ADDRESS ON IT. If you send in an envelope that has our address on it, instead of yours, please don't e-mail me complaining that you haven't heard a response from us. This also goes for the authors who do not bother sending a SASE at all.

Tip 4: SELF-STICKING ENVELOPES ARE A GODSEND. This is not a necessity, but it does make my job easier, and consequently, makes me happy. It's not fun licking all those envelopes closed; so if you receive a taped envelope instead of a licked one, don't be offended.

Tip 5: PAPER DOESN'T BREAK. This means when you send a proposal or manuscript, bubble wrap is not necessary. Rest assured that your writing will impress me, not the way you package it.

Tip 6: INCLUDE A SELF-ADDRESSED POSTCARD WITH YOUR PROPOSAL. It took me a few days to realize why some people did this, but once Jessica told me, it made sense. I will send you the postcard back when we receive your materials. This will put your lost mail worries to ease and stop the many e-mails that come in daily asking whether we received a proposal or not.

—The Intern

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Author Beware: Agent Response Times

Over the years, as an editor and agent, I have built a pretty good-sized author beware file. This file is made up of the letters and e-mails I've received from authors that I know I want to avoid. From time to time I'm going to dig out one of those letters and post some of what was said. And, of course, I’m going to comment.

This e-mail came fairly recently and really amused me (most of them do at this point). In my mind it seems the author is new to the submission experience and will probably learn the hard way what this is all about.

I couldn't believe it when I saw that your response time is 10 week! That means that I can onl show my work five times a year. Do you really think that's fair to a writer? It would take us years to sell a book.
10 weeks. Honestly, if only I were that fast (as many of you can attest to). There are certainly some submissions I get to within 10 minutes, and others . . . well, they pile up faster than I can get to them.

This touches a little on previous posts (many of them will), but since BookEnds never, ever asks for exclusives, our shamefully slow turnaround time should in no way impact how many agents you can show your work to, and therefore, if your work is going to make you some money, then we shouldn't be the ones to slow you down. And this goes for most agents as well as BookEnds.

To answer your question more specifically . . . you could send your work to 500 agents in a year and still not sell the book. As many authors can attest to (many of our own as well as bestsellers like John Grisham), finding an agent and then selling a book are two completely different things, and both can take years. If you start to figure out what you should be making monetarily based on the hours you spend writing and submitting your work, you're in for a very unpleasant surprise—minimum wage is probably going to look good.

Patience is a virtue in the game of publishing, and if you know anything about how publishers pay, finding an agent and even a publisher doesn't necessarily pay off as much as one would like.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Marketing Genius

I'm constantly having conversations with my authors about what they can do to garner more publicity for their books—whether it's hitting the road, using the Internet, or contacting booksellers. While I think we have come up with a number of great ideas, no one does it better than marketing genius Seth Godin. Not only can Seth teach you everything you need to know, but he's actually an entertaining and enjoyable read. If you haven't ever read even one of Seth's books, you need to do so, or at the very least check out his blog:

I'd also love to hear from you. What brilliant marketing or publicity campaigns have you participated in or seen in action? And another question—Where do you think authors make mistakes or errors in judgment when it comes to publicity and marketing?


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What Writers Deserve

I recently received a letter that said, among other things:

Writers deserve more feedback about their work. I think every writer deserves an honest, detailed response.

Really, why? Did you pay me to read your submission? Are you paying my electric bill, expenses, and salary? No, the people who do that are my clients, and they are the ones getting an "honest, detailed response." While I would love to give every writer a personal rejection (and I really would), even if it's to say that the work is just plain horrible, I can't. I don't have the time to sit down and read and critique every proposal I get. As it is I get angry letters and e-mails that I spend too much time on just getting a form letter in the mail. And I know I take too long responding to my clients (or at least longer than I would like).

An agent's first and primary responsibility is to her clients, not to those people who send in submissions, often unsolicited. If you want an honest and detailed critique, then you should really get involved with a critique group. Let's put in this way: I assume that when you get an agent you want one who is focusing her time and attention on getting you a publishing deal, reviewing the contract and making sure it's the best contract she can negotiate on your behalf, reading and critiquing your work, helping to facilitate communication between you and your publisher, guiding you with publicity and marketing, etc. I assume you don't want an agent who is spending her time sending out detailed responses to authors who may or may not ever be published and neglecting your work because she doesn't have time.

The only people who deserve my time and attention are those listed on my client list. The best I can do to help other writers is to attend conferences, provide information on this blog, and donate the occasional critique for charity. There are times when I am able to give a detailed critique, when I truly believe an author is close and will succeed with a little push. At other times my rejection could mean almost anything—I'm not the right agent, your work didn't resonate with me, the writing was horrible, the book was clich├ęd, I have something similar on my list, I don’t like mice. . . .

I would like to see all authors succeed and learn as they go. Unfortunately, I can't make it my job to see that happen.


Monday, July 10, 2006

Author Beware—Award Winners

Over the years, as an editor and agent, I have built a pretty good-sized author beware file. This file is made up of the letters and e-mails I've received from authors that I know I want to avoid. From time to time I'm going to dig out one of those letters and post some of what was said. And, of course, I'm going to comment.

Thanks for the reply. Of course, I think you are making a mistake by not reading [my book], but I understand that you probably want to continue representing books that don't win Pulitzer Prizes or National Book Awards. 

I've been keeping an eye out for this author's name and have yet to see any nominations.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Question of the Month

Each month BookEnds agents will answer one of the questions we get from writers. This month's question is actually two questions, both of them revolving around the concept of the hook.

Here's a question, or actually, more of a request. I'd love to have you ladies discuss high concept—what it is, how necessary it is, how on earth to find one!

I've often used the word "hook," and ultimately high concept is no different than having a hook. It's an idea that is so good, so fresh, and so different that you can describe it in one quick sentence. And in that sentence you can convince someone they too want to read the book, without ever describing anything about the actual story.

While the genre is what initially attracts the reader, the concept is what gets her to buy the book. The higher the concept, the more intriguing the book is to agents, publishers, and readers.

How necessary is high concept? Very. Unfortunately, writing a really good romance or mystery just isn't enough anymore. You also have to have that extra something that makes it jump from the shelves. Charlaine Harris meets Mary Janice Davidson in Karen MacInerney's recently sold werewolf mystery series—that's high concept. Karen had two other mystery proposals before her werewolf series. Both were submitted and rejected everywhere. Had her writing changed that much? No, her writing was the same, it was her concept that had changed.

I often tell my writers that finding a concept can be more difficult than writing the book. To find your own, take a look at what is successful or working in your genre, figure out why it seems to be working, and try to guess and predict what the next big thing will be. That's high concept.


I have a few real-world passions of my own to build my stories on, but is there any "hook" in particular you'd love to see used right now?

One that sells for big money and one that I've never seen before.


If there was, we'd have someone working away on it! Sometimes publishers do call us and tell us in great detail what they are looking for. And in blue sky meetings at publishing houses and blue sky meetings at BookEnds, we sit around and brainstorm new hooks all the time, hoping to fall upon that terrific idea that makes us all pant and shake. Just keep brainstorming! In the cozy mystery market, a great hook will provide a subcategory that allows us all to attack a targeted market share: for example, The Dolls to Die For Mystery Series coming soon from Deb Baker. Deb has been contacting doll shows, doll stores, etc., to expand her audience beyond the typical mystery book reader. Same with Maggie Sefton's knitting mysteries, Kathy Brandt's Underwater Investigation Series, and most of our cozies (see to check out some of the great hooks our authors have come up with). Kathy targeted dive shop distributors to get her books in the hands of those who might have a special interest in Hannah, her police diver protagonist.

In literary fiction, the idea can be the hook if you have an irresistible idea that just screams READ ME! Who could turn down The Life of Pi when you heard it featured a boy stuck on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker? But, of course, the writing has to also be terrific, and we believe our authors deliver both a great hook and great writing.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

BookEnds Talks to Michelle Celmer

Michelle Celmer
Book: The Millionaire's Pregnant Mistress
Publisher: Silhouette
Pub date: July 2006

Michelle Celmer lives in Southeastern Michigan with her hero husband, three kids, three dogs, and three cats and loves the fact that she doesn't have to leave the house to go to work, or even change out of her pajamas.

Author Web site:

BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
Michelle: A single night of passion had shaken Tess MacDonald so deeply she ran away, to escape the breathtaking stranger who had taken her to his bed. But there were some things nobody could run from. That was why Tess returned to tell this man he was about to become a father. . . .

BookEnds: What was your road to published author like?
Michelle: Exciting, frustrating, heartbreaking, challenging. Becoming published was one of the toughest things I've ever done. And the most satisfying. There were a couple times in those eight years when I nearly gave up. But I had the support of my fellow writers and even more important, my family.

BookEnds: Many writers have stories of rejections. What are yours? What was your most memorable rejection?
Michelle: I've received over a hundred rejections in my pre-pubbed career, but two are most memorable. An editor at Harlequin who just loved my voice had requested a full manuscript from me, and after seven years of rejections I was so hopeful. I really felt as if this was it. I was going to sell. Months passed, I waited impatiently. When the rejection arrived in the mail, I was devastated. It was a lovely letter. She loved the story but it just wasn't right for the line. She suggested ways I might improve it, but didn't want to see a revised version. I sobbed. I was done. I just couldn't put myself through this torture anymore. I cried on and off for days, feeling as if I had just thrown away seven years of my life. And what next? Writing was the only thing I wanted to do. Several weeks later I got another rejection, this one an e-mail from a different editor. She said that the current manuscript I'd submitted wasn't right for the line I had targeted, but she loved my writing style. Did I have anything else I could send? I was back in the game! I revised the manuscript that had been rejected by the other editor, following her revision suggestions. I mailed it off, and a few months later I was offered a contract.

BookEnds: How do you spend your time when not writing?
Michelle: In the summer you can find me outside in either the vegetable or flower garden, or romping around the backyard with my three dogs. In the evenings my husband and I wind down with a game of Badminton. In the cooler months I lean toward crafting, sewing and crocheting. I also volunteer for a greyhound rescue in my area, interviewing potential adopters.

BookEnds: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Michelle: It takes determination and sacrifice to become a published author. If you're going to sell, you have to really want it. You have to work your tail off learning your craft and the market. You have to develop a thick skin because publishing is definitely not an industry for the overly sensitive or the faint of heart. As with any creative profession, it can be temperamental and unpredictable. You must be willing to compromise and change with the market.

BookEnds: What do you see as some of the biggest mistakes beginning writers make?
Michelle: Working on the same manuscript for years, rewriting the life out of it. Writing is a learning process. You need to move on. Put that first book aside and start something new.

To learn more about Michelle Celmer, see Our Books at

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

BookEnds Talks to Kate Douglas

Kate Douglas
Book: Wolf Tales
Publisher: Kensington Aphrodisia

Kate Douglas is a fifty-six-year-old grandmother, married for thirty-four years to a very patient man. She is and always has been a writer. She feels that her work defines her. . . . What more could anyone ask, to live in a fantasy world of your own choosing and get paid to be there?

Author Web site:

BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
Kate: Wolf Tales is an ongoing paranormal erotic romance series following various packs of shapeshifters known as Chanku. There are currently twelve titles contracted, each following the story of a different pack within the species. The stories are sexy and edgy and push a lot of boundaries.

BookEnds: What do you think distinguishes your work from other authors of this genre?
Kate: My series is highly erotic and pushes a lot of boundaries. I fully expect the reviews that are either one star or five stars because readers either love of hate my Chanku, but this is a good thing. At first, I will admit I was horrified by some of the nasty comments from reviewers, but then I realized it meant I had shocked them with my stories. I decided to take their words as my own badge of honor. I don't want to be like every other author out there. I want something so unique and so shocking that my readers will sit up and take notice. So far, they appear to be doing just that.

BookEnds: What was your road to published author like?
Kate: I wrote my first romance in the mid 1980s, entered a contest and won. I fully expected to be a rich and famous romance author within the year. Little did I know . . . it's not easy, but I never quit. I fully believed that someday I would be a published author, and I worked hard at it. I sold to an epublisher in 1998, then discovered Ellora's Cave in 2000 and never looked back. My success as an author of erotic romance gave me the confidence to try my luck with New York . . . that and the fact that my agent was too damned stubborn to quit on me. Thanks, Jessica!

BookEnds: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Kate: Don't ever quit. Study your craft. Learn how to write—and I do mean the basic technicalities like good grammar and spelling. Read the authors you like the most and learn from them. Find a good critique group, hopefully with writers whose skills are better than yours. Listen to their suggestions, but don't let someone try to change your “voice” to theirs. Enter contests, and write. Never stop writing. Sit down at your computer every day and write something, even if it's just the grocery list or your personal journal. Study people and make note of their little quirks and individual mannerisms, then turn those into characters in your books, but above all, write because you love what you do. Write because, if you don't, you won't feel complete.

BookEnds: What do you see as some of the biggest mistakes beginning writers make?
Kate: I have a lot of new writers ask me to read their work, and two things jump out at me—lack of technical skill (an inability to spell or write a coherent sentence) and trying to write the way they “think” an author should write, not the way they would naturally write—using stilted, overblown language in dialogue and trying to make their characters sound as if they're actually speaking some really dumb things . . . dialogue has to be comfortable and natural. It has to be relaxed.

BookEnds: Has being published changed you or your writing?
Kate: Definitely. I am so much more confident when I sit down to write. My stories at Ellora's Cave sold really well and the publisher bought everything I sent. Suddenly that sense of “will they like this or am I garbage?” disappeared. Once I was published and had readers sending me fan mail and editors asking for more stories, I felt vindicated. I was an author, finally! There's a lot to be said for the money you make writing—financial validation is pretty powerful stuff and it frees you to write the stories the way you want them written. Being published has definitely been empowering.

To learn more about Kate Douglas, see Our Books at