Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Trick or Treat

I love Halloween. I’m a decorator and any excuse to deck out my house and yard is a good one. So as a special Halloween Trick and Treat I want to make sure everyone gets the opportunity to check out the International Independent Literary Agents Association list of Publishing Myths at www.iilaa.com (click "Enter" then "Publishing Myths"). I promise that it’s guaranteed to both give you a treat and scare you all at the same time. Sadly, it might also trick a few unsuspecting authors.

For those not interested in linking to the site, here are my thoughts on the IILAA list of Publishing Myths:

Myth #1: Writers don’t need an agent—they are a luxury and not a necessity.

I agree, more or less, that this is a myth. It’s true that in this day and age an agent is more and more important to your publishing career. However, I do know a lot of very successful writers who don’t have an agent or went quite some time without one. The little treat in this myth isn’t the myth itself, but the answer. IILAA actually believes that computers are to blame for agents and that because agents are necessary to sell to publishers, retainer fees are necessary as well. Please! So now we are, in a sense, blaming computers for agents who charge fees. Those dang computers! Clearly they are to blame for all the crooks in the world.

Myth #2: Fee-charging agents are scam artists.

So here’s your trick. IILAA is actually trying to convince you that because advances are so small it’s necessary to pay an agent upfront and help cover marketing expenses. Hello! If the advance is so small that your agency can’t live on commission alone, maybe you need to sell more books or work on your negotiating skills.

Myth #3: Your agent needs to be based in NYC.

Okay, here again I can agree that this is a myth. Obviously you don’t need to be in NYC anymore to be an effective and successful agent. However, it’s not because publishers have imprints all over the country (another myth created by IILAA). It’s because email, fax, and phones make it possible to work closely with editors without needing to be in their backyards.

Myth #4: Anything posted on one or more Web sites must be true.

Another instance where I can agree that it’s a myth, but with this one for exactly the opposite reason that IILAA has it posted. As far as I’m concerned you need to be careful about the many scam agents out there who would lead you to believe that charging retainer fees and reading fees is ethical. And one or all of them are happy to put up a Web site and post on message boards their version of how an agent does business.

Myth #5: That Preditors and Editors, SFWA, and Writer Beware, among others, are working for the author.

Certainly not a myth. These are some of the hardest working groups in the business. They have made it their mission to stop scam agents and have been very effective in more than one case. You would do yourself a lot of good to pay attention to what these sites say. IILAA also says that these sites are not trying to protect the author, but destroy independent agents. Another myth. BookEnds is an independent agency and has received nothing but support from these people; it’s bound to happen when you run a fair and ethical agency.

So take a look at the Web site and have yourself a good treat, but do not be tricked by what IILAA is trying to tell you. A good, reputable agency does not charge reading or retainer fees (reasonable expenses are fairly common though).

Happy Halloween! I’m dressing as a witch.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Still Accepting Submissions

Recently a reader emailed us to ask the following question:

I've noticed a bunch of discussions on your blog regarding submission response time. If agents are too busy working with their current clients to respond to queries, and even requested fulls, in a timely manner, then they must not need any new clients. Why not simply close your doors to submissions temporarily?

It amazes me how much mileage we are getting out of this one conversation, and while it feels like I continue to repeat myself (and Kim), it seems to bear repeating: The truth is that we are constantly reading submissions—daily. It’s just that there is no way we can read fifty partials or manuscripts a day (roughly the amount we are receiving). So for every author complaining that we are taking too long, there are hopefully just as many getting speedy responses.

We are very, very busy working with our current clients, but since we can’t control the amount of submissions we receive (it doesn’t seem worthwhile to only accept five a day and “return to sender” the rest), we sometimes fall behind. I know many of you have suggestions on how we can fix this or what we should be doing. But the truth is that we are doing the best we can to read and we are using all of our resources to catch up at all times, but as our new assistant said after only one week on the job, “I just realized that there is no point when you’re ever caught up.”

And by the way, I wouldn’t recommend emailing questions, but please do feel free to ask questions in the comments section. We will make every effort to address them in future posts.


Friday, October 27, 2006

BookEnds Talks to Mary Ellen Hughes

Mary Ellen Hughes
Book: Wreath of Deception
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pub date: September 2006
Agent: Jacky Sach

Mary Ellen Hughes, in addition to being the author of Wreath of Deception, is the author of two previous mystery novels, Resort to Murder and A Taste of Death, as well as a few short stories. She's raised a son and daughter, has enjoyed dabbling in various crafts, and lives in Maryland with her husband.

Author Web site: www.maryellenhughes.com

BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
Mary Ellen: Wreath of Deception centers on Jo McAllister, a young widow, who attempts to start life anew as the owner of an arts and crafts shop. Her plans are jeopardized when the clown she’s hired for the grand opening is found dead in her stock room.

BookEnds: What is your favorite thing about this book?
Mary Ellen: I like the little world I’ve created for my protagonist, Jo McAllister. It’s generally a cozy, small town, with good people who look after each other. Bad things happen, of course, but I think there’s a comforting feeling hovering that all will be well, eventually.

BookEnds: What’s your next book? When and where should we look for it?
Mary Ellen: My next book is tentatively titled String of Lies. The craft it will focus on is beading, and the murder this time will greatly affect Jo’s good friends, Carrie and Dan. It will appear in September 2007.

BookEnds: What was your road to published author like?
Mary Ellen: I always enjoyed writing, joining the school newspapers in both high school and college. I didn’t, though, see journalism as a career for me, so I put writing aside to work in medical laboratories—definitely not a place for creativity. In time, though, my leanings pulled me back, and I started taking creative writing classes and writing short stories. Getting published in mystery magazines was a great encouragement, and I joined a mystery critique group and began writing novels. My first novel was bought by Avalon in 2000, the second in 2002. Then I signed on with Jacky Sach of BookEnds, and very soon had a contract with Berkley Prime Crime for the Craft Corner mystery series. It probably all sounds easier than it was, when condensed to these few sentences, since there were plenty of ups and downs along the way. But the joy of writing makes it all worthwhile.

BookEnds: How do you spend your time when not writing?
Mary Ellen: Writing has been taking up more and more of my time lately, as well as the effort toward promotion that writers need to do, such as book signings, panel talks, and such. I’ve also spent plenty of time learning more about the various crafts that my protagonist is an expert in, so that I don’t have her making silly mistakes. But when I have time off, I like to play tennis with a group of women who give me a challenging (but not TOO challenging) match. There’s nothing more relaxing, I find, than becoming engrossed in the strategy of the game, as well as the exercise it provides. I highly recommend it.

BookEnds: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Mary Ellen: My advice, not terribly original, I’m afraid, is to write as much as possible. Joining a critique group is a great step toward doing that, because having to read other critique members’ writing critically, in order to give constructive comments on it, really helps you to understand the finer points of writing. You’ll need to develop a thick skin to take critical comments on your own writing, and you may not agree with every comment. But it can’t help but make you examine your own writing more closely, and that can only help you improve.

To learn more about Mary Ellen Hughes, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

BookEnds Talks to Livia J. Washburn

Livia J. Washburn
Book: A Peach of a Murder (A Fresh Baked Mystery)
Publisher: Signet
Pub date: October 2006
Agent: Kim Lionetti

Livia J. Washburn has had the privilege of being a professional writer for over twenty years. She lives in a small Texas town with her husband, James Reasoner, and two daughters.

Awards received: Livia received the Private Eye Writers of America award and the American Mystery award for her first mystery, Wild Night, written under the name L. J. Washburn, and was nominated for a Spur Award by the Western Writers of America for a novel written with her husband.

Author Web site: http://liviawashburn.com

BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
Livia: Phyllis Newsom and her friends, a group of retired teachers, become involved in a series of murders centered around the town’s annual Peach Festival. Rich in the colorful and sometimes deadly details of small-town life, this book features not only intriguing mystery plots and likable characters but also delicious recipes.

BookEnds: Where do you get your ideas?
Livia: Depends on whether you’re talking about the story or the recipes. The idea of writing a cook-off novel came from my agent, Kim Lionetti. The characters and locations come from life experiences and the murder comes from research. The recipes were developed to fit the story and came from many experiments in the kitchen.

BookEnds: What’s your next book? When and where should we look for it?
Livia: Murder by the Slice, the second book in the Fresh Baked Mystery series, will come out in October 2007.

BookEnds: Who are your favorite characters and why?
Livia: Phyllis and Carolyn are fun with their different personalities and their competitive natures, but I have to say I love the interaction between Phyllis and Sam. I can’t wait to see how their relationship will grow.

BookEnds: Do you see yourself in any of your characters? If so, who and how?
Livia: The characters grew from a blend of my family and all the other teachers I’ve known over the years. I see very little of myself in any of the characters, just some of my experiences.

BookEnds: How do you spend your time when not writing?
Livia: Baking to come up with the original recipes in my books. But I also spend as much time as possible reading. Both my husband and I love to read and our library continues to take over our offices and house. And when I have the time and money I enjoy building. I recently purchased a cordless nailer and have had fun building tables, shelves, and putting up ceiling trim.

To learn more about Livia J. Washburn, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Nielson's Numbers

You’ve probably seen this on other blogs since it’s old news and all over the Internet, but for those of you who haven’t, these are interesting statistics that really show what we’re all up against in this business.

In 2004, Nielsen Bookscan tracked the sales of 1.2 million books in the United States and here’s what they came up with:

  • Of those 1.2 million, 950,000 sold fewer than 99 copies.

  • Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies.

  • Only 25,000 books sold more than 5,000 copies.

  • Fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000 copies.

  • Only 10 books sold more than a million copies each.

  • The average book in the United States sells about 500 copies.

Now, my opinion . . . these numbers are skewed somewhat. When most of us think of books published in the U.S. we think of the major publishers—Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, etc. To come up with these figures, I suspect that smaller publishers, academic and professional books, and even gift/art books were included, which is going to bring the average down considerably. However, that being said, the statistics still show that only 25,000 books sold more that 5,000 copies. And that’s not a lot.

Strangely, I find these statistics enlightening, discouraging, and, hold on, encouraging, all at the same time. By looking at this you know why publishers are so picky when buying books, and so cheap when paying for them. You also know why it’s so hard to be published. It’s discouraging to know that so few authors have success even after making that much-dreamed-about sale, and it’s encouraging to know that most of my clients are seeing some real success, and that everyone has sold more than 99 copies.

To put this even further into perspective, I’m going to extract some numbers from the "On Sale Next Week" column published regularly in Publishers Weekly. Keep in mind these are first print runs and not final sales numbers, and that publishers are only going to share the big-number books and not the average or midlist numbers. However, what interests me about them is that sometimes the numbers aren’t as high as what you might expect them to be. At least that’s what I think. . . .

The following are hardcover books released in 2006:

  • Motor Mouth by Janet Evanovich, 1,000,000 first printing

  • Strange Candy by Laurell K. Hamilton, 150,000 first printing

  • Culture Warrior by Bill O’Reilly, 975,000 first printing

  • Under Orders by Dick Francis, 192,000 first printing

  • The New Adventures of Curious George by Margret and H. A. Rey, 150,000 first printing

  • The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer, 350,000 first printing

  • Dark Angels by Karleen Koen, 250,000 first printing

  • After This by Alice McDermott, 125,000 first printing

Unfortunately, publishing is a business and business is a numbers game. However, the first printing means nothing if you can’t sell more than 99 copies. Which of course brings us all around to the importance of promotion and publicity on behalf of the author.

Oh, and how is it that Curious George only has a first printing of 150,000 copies?!


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Growing Numbers

As a published author, how do you know you made it? When can you sit back and relax a little and stop worrying that the party will end and someone is going to tell you it’s time to go home? At what point are your numbers good enough?

Many published authors spent years just getting to that contract, and now that they’re there, signing contracts, writing to new deadlines, and promoting like mad, they wonder what is the meaning of success. Is it 25,000 copies sold, 50,000 copies, 150,000, a New York Times bestseller? When can an author sit back and relax (at least a little), knowing that she’s selling strongly and that the publisher is happy?

How does never sound? I’m kidding.

First of all, let me tell you that success is in the numbers. Remember, this is a business and what everyone cares about is that you are making money (for them, of course). Unfortunately, there is no magic number. A cozy mystery, a business book, an erotic romance, and a travel guide are all judged differently and have, luckily for us, completely different expectations. Some books are bought not because they will sell hundreds of thousands of copies in the first week, but because they have backlist potential. In other words, because they will be around for years and years. A baby name book is a good example of this. It’s not a book that everyone will rush to the bookstore and buy the minute it is released, but it’s a book that people will continue to buy regularly year after year.

So what do the numbers mean? The numbers mean you are selling books. Obviously you want your numbers to be high, but even more important you want your numbers to grow. Don’t worry or stress if the initial print run on your first book is 10,000 copies. Instead worry about how you can increase that in reprints to 20,000 copies and how you can make sure that the print run on your second book is 12,000 copies and 20,000 copies on your third book.

When a book buyer buys your first book she buys it on the sales pitch of the publisher. When she buys your second, third, fourth, and fifth books she bases her decision entirely on your track record (the track record of the series and/or the author name). Therefore, if the publisher initially printed 50,000 copies of your first book, but only sold 12,000, it’s almost guaranteed that the second book is going to get a much smaller print run—probably close to 12,000 copies. However, if your first book had an initial print run of 25,000 copies, a quick reprint of 2,000 copies, and subsequent reprints over time, I will almost guarantee that the print run of your second book is going to be somewhere close to 50,000 copies. And that’s what you want. Growth through sales.

So try not to focus too much on what number is magic. Instead focus on the continued growth of those numbers. Remember, Janet Evanovich didn’t start her career with first printings of 1 million copies.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Romance in the News

As you all know (or should know by now) I represent a great deal of romance and obviously read a great deal as well. I love these books, as do the millions of fans who spend $1.2 billion a year on romance novels. So why is it that romance writers—no matter how successful—editors, and agents have to continually defend the genre and what we do? Do you know that there are times when we even need to defend it to other industry professionals?

Lately, though, the defense of romance has reached national proportions with two recent, and very different, news articles. For those of you who aren't in the romance loop, or from Texas, you might not have heard of the political race for comptroller between Democrat Fred Head and Republican Susan Combs. The race took an ugly and very interesting turn when Fred Head uncovered a romance novel Susan Combs wrote more than ten years ago. Besides calling the book pornographic, among other things, the most disturbing thing about this is that Fred Head is implying that because Susan Combs once wrote a romance novel she is not capable of representing her constituents. What if she had written a western, mystery, or science fiction? My guess is that no one ever would have taken notice. It is still shocking to me that in this day we have to defend these books and the people who both write and read them. Not only are we constantly defending the contents and how well they are written, but most
exasperating is that we are defending the intelligence of those involved, me included. Because here we are, in 2006, still looking for ways to prove that women are the lesser sex and that women who read romance are even worse.

The second incident ocurred in a recent Dear Abby column (http://www.uexpress.com/dearabby) in which several romance writers were inspired to write in and defend the genre, giving Abby the what-for and letting her know that we've come a long way, baby. To paraphrase, romance is no longer the damsel in distress needing help from her manly lover. Romance novels are strong women looking for equally strong men and hoping for a little passion along the way.

So fight on, romance warriors! Continue defending your genre. And for those of you who still consider romance novels not worthy of your attention, read before you judge. If you're a mystery or suspense reader, pick up a book by one of our fabulous romantic suspense authors; if you prefer a little SF or fantasy in your books, buy yourself a paranormal romance. You might be pleasantly surprised, even inspired to join our fight.


Friday, October 20, 2006

BookEnds Talks to Andrew Holtz

Andrew Holtz
Book: The Medical Science of "House, M.D."
Publisher: Berkley
Pub date: October 2006
Agent: Kim Lionetti

Andrew Holtz, MPH, a former CNN Medical Correspondent, is an independent journalist in Portland, Oregon. He is a board member and past President of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

Author Web site: www.holtzreport.com

BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
Andrew: How realistic are the bizarre cases and desperate treatments portrayed each week on the hit Fox TV show House, M.D.? My book finds both surprising facts and thought-provoking fictions.

BookEnds: Besides the obvious audience for your book (those the publisher targets), who else do you think can benefit from what you’ve written?
Andrew: In addition to satisfying the curiosity of House, M.D. fans, my book uses themes and episodes from the show as springboards to examine important issues of health and medicine, such as the rights of patients, the sources of medical errors, the transformation of medicine away from responding to sudden crises (like those seen on the show) toward long-term management of chronic ailments (such as diabetes, heart disease, and the challenges facing cancer survivors).

BookEnds: If readers only take away one thing from your book, what would you like it to be?
Andrew: While we all would want a brilliant doctor caring for us if we faced a mysterious, life-threatening ailment, all the high-tech devices and aggressive treatments showcased on House, M.D. are essentially irrelevant to protecting our health. Staying healthy in the first place depends mostly on where and how we live, factors that Dr. House would be powerless to change.

BookEnds: What else are you working on?
Andrew: Writing this book created an opportunity for me to begin a magazine column examining how medicine is portrayed on TV. Rather than explaining medicine to viewers, however, my column (which will appear first in Oncology Times) explains to doctors and nurses why TV portrays medicine the way it does and what they could learn from TV about the beliefs and knowledge patients and policymakers have about health care.

BookEnds: What are you reading now?
Andrew: The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America by Ray Suarez. Ray and I worked together in the CNN Los Angeles bureau many years ago . . . but the main reason to read this book is his marvelous style and insightful perspective.

Your Money or Your Life: Strong Medicine for America's Health Care System by David M. Cutler. I’m developing a documentary film project on the relationship of medicine to health. Dr. Cutler mounts a passionate argument on behalf of the value of medicine—but other researchers question some of his basic assumptions, noting that although Americans use far more medicine than people in other countries, we are slipping behind in global measures of health and longevity.

BookEnds: What are your hobbies or outside interests?
Andrew: I bicycle everywhere . . . in one of the most bike-friendly cities in America. And I’m involved in community and government efforts to improve the livability of the community by making it an even better place to walk and bike.

My many years of covering health and medicine have taught me that I want to avoid hospitals as much as possible. Living in a community where adequate physical activity is just part of everyday life (and not just something you have to join a gym for) is one of the best ways to stay healthy. If forced to choose who would be most likely to help me and those I love live long and healthy lives, I’d pick an innovative urban planner of Dr. House any day.

To learn more about Andrew Holtz, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Last weekend I was invited to San Francisco to speak with the RWA chapter there. First of all let me say that this is a brilliant idea. For those chapters (or writers' groups) unable to put together a conference (which is very costly and time-consuming), inviting an agent or editor to speak at a chapter meeting is a great alternative. All expenses paid, of course, the group flew me in Friday night for a small dinner (delicious Thai food) with a select few and to speak to their group at their monthly meeting on Saturday (delicious donuts).

Of course I knew ahead of time that this group has some very talented authors (since two of my clients are members), but I was really impressed with the talent, professionalism, and thought that was put behind my trip. When I speak to a group I tend to prefer an open forum of questions and answers rather than me standing there jabbering on for an hour. Since I’m never sure what place the group is at with their writing, I find it’s a better way to ensure that they are going to get the information they want, and make it worth their money.

I was so impressed with the questions this group was willing to ask. They weren’t afraid to get personal and push me further if they didn’t feel I gave them a thorough enough answer and I really appreciated that. In the grand scheme of your writing career, it’s rare for authors to get the chance to sit down with an agent or editor and really find out what goes on behind closed doors, so when you do I really encourage you to not be afraid. You will never be blackballed for asking a question, and if it’s something an agent is uncomfortable answering, I will guarantee that she knows how to talk around it.

What was a little nerve-wracking for me though is that another agent, a colleague, attended as well. This is someone I worked with a number of times as an editor, and she was kind enough to stop in when she heard I was speaking, just to say hi. It is always so fun to see old friends. But there I was, standing in front of a crowd, and a fellow agent, giving my perspective on the industry, what authors should expect, and what an agent does. And as some of you have probably figured out, I’m not afraid to voice my opinion, which often flies in the face of what other agents are willing to say. A few times during my talk I had a brief flash of, “Oh no, I wonder what she thinks about this.” You can imagine how reassuring it was then when she came up to me after my talk to chat and say how right on target she thought I was because, you see, no matter who we are we always need reassurance that we’re doing it right.

So thanks to the SF group for being so welcoming and making my trip fun. I always enjoy an interaction more when the questions are a little different and challenging. And, if I can remember them I’m going to try to use some of those questions as later blog posts.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Coping with Rejection

How do you do it?

As an agent I face rejection every day on behalf of my clients, and I have to say, it hurts. When I take on a project or agree to submit something new on behalf of a client, I am doing it because I truly believe it’s a book that needs an audience, that people will love, and that people will buy. So when editor after editor tells me “no,” I start to doubt my own judgment and, even worse, I start to feel that somehow I’ve failed my client.

I know that there isn’t an agent out there with a 100% success rate. Heck, there’s not an editor out there with a 100% success rate, so it’s guaranteed that I will submit things and get rejected. It doesn’t help my self-esteem any better to know those facts and I’m sure it doesn’t help you, as authors, to know those facts either. I truly admire everyone who puts pen to paper and then takes that next huge step and puts it out there for others to see, read, critique, and, yes, judge.

My coping mechanism for when the rejections start to get me down depends on how down I am. Often I have to leave the office. When I’m feeling discouraged it’s better to leave and start fresh another day. Usually I’ll go home, put on cozy clothes, pour myself a glass of wine and browse the Internet. I will actually go to the BookEnds blog and Web site and just admire all of the great things we’ve done with this business and all the fabulous authors (published and unpublished) that we have the privilege to work with. And then I make a list. I make a list of all the things I will do and all the successes I will have. And the next day, when I walk into the office, I’m energized, strong, and very determined. I’m not going to let those rejections get me down because I will find that one person who loves these books as much as I do.

So what do you do? How do you cope with rejection?


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A New Record

We’ve all talked a lot about what we require and/or ask for in query letters and submissions. We’ve done a number of posts on what a proper and successful query letter should look like and articles on how to make queries work to your advantage. Just recently, though, I got the most mind-boggling submission letter ever. This one holds the record for least amount of effort put into finding an agent.

A self-published book came into my office with a Post-it on the front saying “represent this!”

That’s it. No letter, no phone number, email, nothing. Just a Post-it.

Now that’s professionalism!


Monday, October 16, 2006

Author Beware: Submission Quality

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.

Quoted exactly, including typos. . . .

It is always a pleasure for a writer when an agent or editor summarily dismmisses a submission with a form letter, having no consideration for the time, effort and money in the effort.

Particularly when Writer’s Digest, which in a way sponsored you with their listing, offers proof of the submission's quality and appeal.

Congratulations. You have the talent and mind to go far in this business.

First of all, thank you. I do think I have the talent and mind to go far in this business, and I guess what you are saying is that rejecting you was the right thing to do.

As for form letters, see the post on Form Rejections. What I would like to focus on here is Writer's Digest. Because you went to the bookstore and paid $5 or so for a magazine, that alone is proof that your book is publishable? So, because I'm a subscriber to Cooking Light I have the abilities to become a top chef, or my husband, a fan of This Old House Magazine, should begin a second career renovating old homes (ironic, since he doesn't know how to use my drill)?

The only thing that offers proof of your submission's quality and appeal is the submission itself, and clearly this didn't have either.

Oh, and one last thing: I can't believe I don't get credit for the time, money, and effort that went into printing, signing, folding, and mailing my form letter.


Friday, October 13, 2006

BookEnds Talks to Margaret H. Bonham

Margaret H. Bonham
Book: Bring Me Home: Dogs/Cats Make Great Pets
Publisher: Howell
Pub date: August 2005

Margaret H. Bonham is a multiple award-winning author in nonfiction and fiction, with 22 books published or under contract.

Author Web site: www.shadowhelm.net

BookEnds: How have people responded to your books?
Margaret: Overall, the response has been really positive toward my writing. The one book that constantly stirs up controversy is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Designer Dogs because it’s such a controversial and hot topic. But people who read the book think I’ve done I pretty fair job with it.

BookEnds: What is your writing process like?
Margaret: I sit and write for ten to sixteen hours a day. I’ll often work on several different books or assignments at a time because it breaks the monotony of one subject.

BookEnds: How long does it take you to write a book?
Margaret: It usually takes me about one to three months to write a nonfiction book, but it largely depends on how much other work I have besides the one book.

BookEnds: What else are you working on?
Margaret: Right now I’m working on a cat book tentatively called Cat Problem Solving, and I’m also working on a short novel called The King’s Champion, a fantasy/romance piece.

BookEnds: What’s your next book? When and where should we look for it?
Margaret: Next nonfiction book: Labradoodles. It’s already available for preorder on Amazon.com.

Next novels: Runestone of Teiwas (Yard Dog Press) and Lachlei (Dragon Moon Press)—both will be available sometime in 2007. Lachlei is already available for preorder at www.dragonmoonpress.com. Both will be available for purchase through the publishers, through Amazon.com, and through bookstores when they become available.

BookEnds: How has your life changed since becoming published?
Margaret: I went into writing full-time—that certainly is a big change. I’m happier as a full-time author, even though I don’t make what I did in my previous jobs.

BookEnds: What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions of the publishing world?
Margaret: Whoa, that’s a toughie. There are so many of them out there. I guess I would say that a lot of people think that once they get published, everything gets easier. The truth is, it doesn’t. Yes, it’s easier to get published, but all the complexity with publishing suddenly hits you like a twenty-ton weight—especially if you’re trying to make a living at this. Money, contracts, editors, copyeditors, reviewers—all the business side of writing usually blindsides you. Oh, and getting published won’t solve your problems. You’ll just find out that you’re the same person with different problems.

BookEnds: What are you reading now?
Margaret: Dadgum Martians Invade the Lucky Nickel Saloon by Ken Rand (Yard Dog Press, 2006). You asked, didn’t you?

To learn more about Margaret H. Bonham, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Using Referrals and Requests

When it comes to submitting your work to an agent, the golden ticket is always the referral—when a friend or colleague kindly passes on your name to her agent, makes the introductions, and the agent asks to see more of your work. The most common (and most trusted) referrals are those I get from my clients. However, I’ve also received them from authors I’ve worked with when I was an editor, other agents, editors, my grandmother, and even my sixth-grade teacher (thanks, Ms. Johnson). Anytime I get a referral it’s guaranteed that I’m going to take a close and careful look at the work and most likely respond with a critique if I’m not offering representation.

What’s amazing to me is how many people screw up a referral, or even a request for material. How hard is it to do it right? That’s what I’d like to know. Recently a client of mine referred an author with a great project. One that’s not only perfect for my list, but one I was very excited about. I believe I even chatted with the author via email. So what happens? Instead of addressing the project to me it was addressed to Ms. Faust and Ms. Sach (always an instant addition to the slush pile in our minds) and ended up on Jacky’s desk. Which is fine, but it wasn’t at all the type of project Jacky does and would have elicited a rejection on her part had the author not used the name of my client in the letter. I know this isn’t a huge deal and it ended just fine, but if the author had already made contact with me why wouldn’t she simply address it to me?

The other odd submission decision comes from a request. And this is really odd. There have been a number of times when one of us has requested material via an email query. Let’s say it was me. I read the query, liked the project, and requested more material. When it comes in, the letter reads as follows: ”Dear Ms. Sach: I originally queried Jessica Faust on this project and she asked to see more of my proposal. However, after reviewing your Web site, I think you might be the better agent for it. . . .” Huh?!? Again, why wouldn’t you send it to the person who requested it?

As most of you know, BookEnds consists of three very accomplished agents (if I do say so myself), and each of us has our own list of talented clients and our own personal tastes. Although it might appear on paper that we all represent the same types of books, in truth the nuances of those books differ. When one of us requests a project it’s because she feels strongly about that idea personally and the other two might not have the same connection. So use your referrals and requests wisely. Just because one agent wants to see your work doesn’t mean everyone else at the same agency will feel the same way.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

NJ Romance Writers

Last Saturday I attended the NJ Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book conference. I'm a regular. I've learned that if I don't make it to the conference those Jersey girls will hunt me down and get me into a meeting to speak, and some years they'll have me do both. They keep telling me that after all these years people still want me to attend. I'm convinced they should be sick of me by now, but what do I know?

If you're a romance writer and have never attended the NJ conference I would encourage you to do so. And, honestly, the booksigning on Saturday is a guarantee sale for many authors, so if you aren't a romance writer but think the audience might like your book anyway, it doesn't hurt to attend and learn from the pros. I really think that any author with romance in their book should consider joining RWA. It's an amazing group with a lot of readers.

For my part I went in just for the morning and lunch. I skipped the agent panel this year so I could get home to my family. In an aside, I do feel bad about this, but the panel is so far into the afternoon. . . . Anyway, I had 90 minutes of pitch appointments and the one thing I would recommend to everyone making a pitch is to practice and learn some of the "rules." While doing our pitches Kim and I came up with a short list of dos and don'ts that I want to share with you. And I imagine Kim might comment on a few I missed:

Do: Introduce yourself and shake hands before sitting down.
Don't: Miss an appointment or come running in late—I am taking time out of my weekend to work when I could be raking the yard, baking cookies, or reading submissions, so please give me the courtesy of treating your appointment with professionalism.

Do: Get comfortable. It's okay to take a minute to settle yourself in, pull out your notes and relax with a little bit of small talk.
Don't: Spend too much time on the small talk. You are there for a reason and I'd hate for you to waste it talking about your dog. That being said, I do tend to best remember the appointments with those who bring something different to the table, or those I connected with on a personal level.

Do: Know that it's okay to be nervous, and to tell me just that. Most of my appointments are and it's really my job to try and make you feel more comfortable.
Don't: Badmouth other agents, editors or other attendees.

Do: Dress professionally but comfortably. Look nice, but also make sure you'll survive the day in whatever you choose to wear. I know you're there all day, so if tennis shoes are the best for you, I don't expect you to wear otherwise.
Don't: Show up in your pajamas. Okay, I think this is obvious.

Do: Come prepared. Bring notes if necessary and take notes if you need to. There's no harm in a cheat sheet.
Don't: Prattle on about everything you've ever written. While it's good to let me know what else you have in the works or the direction your writing has taken, you are only pitching one book, so pick one and pitch that.

Do: Know the agent you're pitching to. The best appointments are those who have done their research. Know a little about BookEnds and about me and don't be afraid to let me know you've been checking me out (it's always flattering no matter who it is).
Don't: Submit to me just weeks before the appointment. I hate it when I get a submission that says the author is scheduled to meet with me in two weeks and comes in expecting a critique. That's not what appointments are for.

Do: Let me know if an editor has also requested the material. An editor requesting a full is a sure guarantee that I'll request the full too.
Don't: Tell me about all the other agents who have rejected you or who you'd rather be working with.

Do: Ask me questions. A pitch appointment doesn't have to be all pitch, or any pitch. Feel free to book an appointment with me just to talk, get to know me, ask me about the industry, BookEnds, or my personal interests. If you have questions about the state of the market and how it relates to your work and your writing I'd be happy to discuss it.
Don't: Waste your time. You have ten minutes of one-on-one time with an agent, so use all ten of those minutes.

Do: Give me a business card with the title and details of the book on it (even if it's handwritten). I love this and use them to contact people when work I'm excited about hasn't come in yet. And feel free to take more than one business card from me if you feel you need it.
Don't: Give me any material—proposal, manuscript or even synopsis—to take home with me. I don't want to carry it and I can almost guarantee it will get lost.

And lastly . . .

Do: Have fun. That's what we're all there for.

**For those of you who don't know, I'm off on Friday to San Francisco (I know, my life is so hard) to speak at the San Francisco Romance Writers chapter meeting. I'm looking forward to meeting with a couple of my clients and talking to that very, very talented group. If you're in the area I hope to see you there.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Agent Response Time

In response to a recent post on Maintaining Enthusiasm, a reader asked:

So if a writer doesn't receive a request for more material or an offer if they sent in a full manuscript, fairly quickly after they submitted, does that mean the agent in question probably isn't interested? I understand your agency gives a 10 to 12 week response time, but some agencies do not give a time table at all. And does your agency respond back faster if they're interested?

Typically I, and probably most agents, do weed through submissions and pull out those that seem most promising or of the greatest interest, so yes, a fast response can mean that an agent was interested and therefore got to it faster. Of course, a fast response can mean the exact opposite, that an agent thought, from your letter, that the project was so not right for her that she rejected it immediately, possibly not even reading the material.

It certainly benefits us to respond as quickly as possible, especially if the project is of interest. I want to be the first agent to get back to you so hopefully you sign with me before even hearing from anyone else. Of course, what benefits us and what we can actually do are two different things. We do hope to get to all submissions in the 10-12 week timeframe, but I’ll be honest, that doesn’t always happen. And more often than not I come across something that has been sitting on my shelf for much longer than I’m comfortable with. Something I think sounds fantastic, and reads just like it sounds. Something that I will request and possibly offer representation for.

Ultimately there is no one answer to your question, but I hope I’ve at least given you a little insight. And by the way, this same logic works for submissions to publishers, but keep in mind I did once sell a project that had been sitting with an editor for (and I’m not exaggerating) two years. Sometimes it just takes a while for the timing to be right.


Monday, October 09, 2006

Author Beware: Do Your Homework

Over the years, as an editor and agent, I have built a pretty good-sized author beware file. This file is made up of interesting and usually angry letters and emails from authors. Often they are in response to rejections or other correspondence we’ve had. No matter what the situation, the letters always give me insight into the personality and professionalism of the author, letting me know that this is not someone I want to work with. 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.

There are few comments for this letter because, to be honest, there just isn’t much to say. . . .

Hey, Kim. I'm running to the post office with hard copy requested by Jessica Faust and Jacky Sach, who both requested the proposal and sample chapters. With your "editor" title, I'm assuming you're da boss of dem and I should just save the postage. Am I right?

Seriously?! There are so many things wrong with this letter that I don’t even know where to start. The first is that this author clearly emailed Jacky, at the general BookEnds account (editor@bookends-inc.com), which Kim got to answer that day, and me. So did she really plan to send a proposal to all three of us? An obvious example of why you only target one agent and do your homework first. I’m pretty sure that this particular author was automatically rejected.


Friday, October 06, 2006

BookEnds Talks to Salvatore R. Maddi & Deborah M. Khoshaba

Salvatore R. Maddi & Deborah M. Khoshaba
Book: Resilience at Work: How to Succeed No Matter What Life Throws at You
Publisher: Amacom
Pub date: February 2005

In order to help others, Maddi and Khoshaba obtained their doctorates in clinical and health psychology, teach at the University of California, Irvine, and engage in psychotherapy, consulting, research, and writing. Their emphasis on resilience through hardiness is known throughout the world, and has led to much recognition, awards, and media coverage.

Author Web site: www.HardinessInstitute.com

BookEnds: Describe your book in 50 words or less.
In our turbulent times, resilience is badly needed. Our self-help book emphasizes the importance of the pattern of attitudes and skills we call hardiness in providing the courage and strategies that help people turn stressful circumstances from potential disasters into growth opportunities.

BookEnds: What do you think distinguishes your work from other similar books?
We provide hardiness assessment and training for resilience that is supported by twenty-five years of scientific research and state-of-the-art practice. There is nothing as definitive out there. Our book provides an especially unusual and validated introduction as to how to think about, and work on transforming, stressful circumstances to personal and social advantage.

BookEnds: How do you think your book is important to readers?
Our book helps readers understand and accept that life (especially these days) is inherently stressful, but that this need not be undermining. Indeed, addressing stresses through hardiness makes them milestones for learning and developing, which process leads to the most fulfilling and satisfying life.

BookEnds: If readers only take away one thing from your book, what would you like it to be?
That our turbulent times, looked at and dealt with through hardiness, are a gift rather than a curse.

BookEnds: How have people responded to your book?
We continue to receive appreciative reactions from people who are quite willing to share with us their stressful lives, and how they are dealing with that better through the courage and strategies of hardiness they learned in the book. Reactions have come not only from people in the U.S., but also from other countries, such as Japan, Italy, and Singapore. Also, a number of consultants and companies here and abroad have become involved with hardiness assessment and training through having been introduced to the approach by our book.

BookEnds: What else are you working on?
Debbie Khoshaba is working on another self-help book on how to become an experience architect by reflecting on your ongoing experiences in a way whereby you can better select directions that make sense and lead to greater fulfillment. Sal Maddi is considering another self-help book on how parents can raise offspring with sufficient hardiness to be resilient in our turbulent times.

To learn more about Salvatore R. Maddi & Deborah M. Khoshaba, see Our Books at www.BookEnds-Inc.com.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Knowing Your Market

A recent response to my post Submitting Before Completion elicited a terrific question:

I was wondering if you could answer a question for me—It has to do with the query letter to an agent. I realize that my question is not something that boarders on the "necessary" to include in the letter, but I once came across the idea from some other agent and liked it. It is about adding where you think your book is a good fit.

What if you have searched the publishers and feel it could possibly fit with several—do you just mention one or several? And on this same line of thinking—do you think it wise for the writer to submit the book to some of these publishers before or at the same time they are enquiring with an agent they like?

I think it’s always a good idea to help show an agent the marketability of your book. When people ask what I do for a living, one of the things I always say to describe agenting is that my job is essentially sales and marketing. I’m selling books and marketing my clients and their manuscripts to publishers. If you are querying agents you are doing the same. So yes, if you know that a certain publisher publishes the kind of book you have written, you should absolutely mention that in your letter. Not only does it show the agent the marketability of your book, but it shows that you, the author, have a knowledge and understanding of the market.

As to whether or not you should submit directly to the publisher, I always have hesitations about that. The first is because few publishers actually accept unsolicited or unagented material, and by doing so it’s very likely you’ll simply end up in a slush pile read by a freelance reader and not an editor. The other, much larger concern is that getting it to the publisher is one thing, but do you know which editor to send to? It’s often easy to know which publishers publish the kind of material you write, but not always as easy to know which editors are interested in that genre. Just because Berkley is buying paranormal romance doesn’t mean that every romance editor at Berkley is interested in paranormals. It can also make it difficult for an agent to submit to a publisher if you’ve already done so. Of course, if you make a connection with an editor who is interested, you should always send it.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Rejection = Unpublishable

As you know by now, my article on Maintaining Enthusiasm has given me a lot to talk about. While this particular comment wasn’t directed as a question, it got me so riled I had to say something:

The concept of "luck" and timing appeals to me and gives me hope. I read a blog yesterday that said that if you were rejected, then you had to conclude that your work was unpublishable.

People who say things like this are the same people who tell you that a “market is dead” or that “a New York publisher would never buy that.” Strangely they are usually people with no publishing background and living in Bumbletwit (or someplace far from the publishing world). Or they are just incredibly bitter.

One or two rejections mean only that—that one or two people have rejected you. Every single author has been rejected, whether it’s by an editor, an agent, or even a reviewer. I think the key to figuring out whether or not your work is publishable is to keep at it. Keep writing new things, hone your craft, and work to make yourself and your work stronger. It is always possible that the work you are submitting now isn’t the one that will be published, but there are so many factors that determine what makes a work publishable that to say that it will never be published is wrong. It could be the market today, which might be different tomorrow, it could be your writing or characters, or it could just be that it’s not the book you should be writing.

I encourage you all to keep submitting your work to agents and editors, to continue to learn about the business, and to get to work on your next project. What might be deemed unpublishable today could be called brilliant tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Book Tours and Signings

A client of mine recently let me know that the MWA (Mystery Writers of America) listserve has been having an active discussion about the value of book tours and signings, and she thought my opinion might make an interesting blog post. I’ll let you decide whether or not she’s right.

The legendary book tour. It’s what most writers aspire to, right? Being flown around by your publisher, staying in posh hotels, being wined and dined by publicists, reporters, and booksellers, all while meeting with hundreds of adoring fans. Well, in truth, most book tours are usually done from behind the wheel of your own car, staying with friends and family (even if it means on the couch), wining and dining on caffeine and Big Macs, and meeting and greeting sometimes no more than eight fans.

So what is the benefit of a book tour? Truthfully, sometimes there isn’t one. Unless you do it right. While authors often look to a book tour to meet and greet fans, in truth the real success of a book tour is meeting and greeting booksellers—those people who are going to handsell your book to hundreds of future fans. Is this worth setting up a tour for? Not necessarily, but it is worth making the effort to do. Whenever you pass by a new bookstore, whether it’s in your neighborhood or one across the country, take a few minutes to go in and introduce yourself to the manager, clerk, and whoever else might be around. Offer to autograph any books they might have on their shelves and, if you find you have a fan, buy a book for her and autograph it. These are the people who are asked recommendations for new authors and these are the people who can get your books into the hands of readers everywhere.

Book tours can be incredibly costly for little reward, and while there are authors who will tell you that it worked wonders for them, I bet there are twice as many with tales of sitting for hours in a dark corner of the bookstore only to sell one book . . . to their mothers.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Growing Pains

Observing the past few posts about busy agents and the responses we’ve received, I felt the need to address this same topic of an agent’s workload. Jessica detailed all of the responsibilities that come first in our job: the obligations to our clients. Something I don’t think we’ve addressed quite enough is the enormous volume of submissions and queries we receive every day.

Honestly, I just think it's hard to conceptualize without sitting in our offices and experiencing it for yourselves. (I know . . . you’re all playing your tiny, invisible violins for us right now.) There’s really no other business that’s comparable. Real estate agents don’t receive hundreds of requests from home owners to sell their homes on a weekly basis. The sheer volume of potential clients pales in comparison to most other industries. And think about how long it takes you to read a book. Even if you can read a book a day, how do you keep up with a mailbox full of manuscripts, proposals, letters and the hundreds of e-mails that come in every 24 hours. Not only do you have to read the books and letters, but you have to make a decision about them, perhaps research the competition, and then compose the proper correspondence. Pretty soon you find that you have to read every night and every weekend, even if you'd rather be finding out if Pam’s going to choose Jim over that lunkhead fiance of hers on The Office that night. Still, with all that extra homework you’ve been doing, it soon becomes clear that you can’t keep up.

Does this mean you've grown tired of reading fresh new voices or have become jaded by the whole process? Absolutely not! Even the almost-but-not-quite-there manuscripts energize me. But does the constant backlog stress me out? ABSOLUTELY. Just as I'm sure the author's frustrated and anxious about what my answer is going to be, I'm frustrated and anxious about the fact that I haven't given them an answer yet.

So what’s the alternative? One comment suggested that we stop taking submissions for a while. Well, to be honest, there aren’t a whole lot of growing, reputable agencies out there who ARE taking on new authors. It seems a shame to make this group even smaller. As I’ve pointed out, we ARE still reading. We are constantly taking on new clients. In fact, I just sold a mystery series from an author that I signed just a few weeks ago.

As current clients sell and work on their contracted works, we find more time to take on new projects, and BookEnds continues to grow. If we ever get to the point where there’s no more room to grow, we’ll certainly let you know. But for now, we just thank you for your patience.