Thursday, July 31, 2008

Report from the Front--Thursday

My Thursday morning report on Wednesday's happenings at the RWA conference.

The boring stuff out of the way first...I landed easily and safely yesterday and spent much of my five hours on the plane reading proposals from clients and submissions. Okay, maybe not much of my time. I also got in a movie and read part of a book--China Lake by Meg Gardiner. A new author for me, but one I'm really enjoying. Super creepy and scary!

San Francisco is terrific. How could it not be? The weather is lovely, the hotel is fantastic and so far not a glitch to be had. Let's keep our fingers crossed that everyone is having such luck.

Starting almost immediately from my arrival at the hotel I had scheduled one-on-one appointments with a few of my clients and a tea for all BookEnds clients. It's so difficult to organize anything like that since of course a number of people won't be able to make it. We did have a nice turn out though and it was fun just to sit and relax and do something so girly. If you're ever in the area and want a tea I highly recommend Lovejoy's Tearoom. They were marvelous to us.

Before launching into yesterday's news I want to address an anonymous comment from yesterday's post. Anon 11:13am expressed sincere concern that submissions or queries coming in from anyone not attending the conference are going to look  dull in comparison to those coming in from the busy networking authors in SF. Never fear! While it definitely can give you a bit of an edge to be able to say we met at a conference or shared scones over tea, if you are submitting to BookEnds you can say you read my blog. Equally advantageous. the truth is whether I met you at the conference or not, and no matter how much I liked you, the proof is in the pudding as they say and your query still has to wow me on it's own, beyond the, "we met or I love you" line. There's no need to stop querying because you didn't make it to conference. Jump in and keep those submissions rolling, just make sure your query letter rocks.

On to conference/publishing news. Since I was so busy in my own little world, and it was technically the first day of conference, I don't have a lot of news or gossip I can share with you yet. Okay, I do have news and gossip, but nothing for public consumption [waggling eyebrows].

The big Wednesday event at every RWA National Conference is the Literacy Autographing and this year was no different. Over 500 authors attend and sign and are placed in rows and rows of tables in a hotel ballroom. It's really amazing. I have no official facts and figures on the number of attendees buying books, but I think I could safely say close to 1000. The room is big, noisy and full of energy. I don't like lines and the last thing I need to do is go home with more books, but I do like to walk around and chat with the authors. I get to touch base with my own clients of course and get reports on what their fans are saying and I get to chat with many of the other romance authors I only see and talk to once each year.

What really caught my eye at this year's signing was not the wild hats or costumes some authors wear, but one lone author with a fairly good sized line of his own. Barry Eisler. Certainly not a romance author, but probably one of the most marketing and publicity saavvy authors around. I've often advised that you read articles Barry has written and, as a fan, I've frequently recommended his books.

I mentioned yesterday that RWA is not just for romance authors and I hope that Barry's attendance at this year's conference helps you see that even more clearly. I have frequently mentioned to my own clients that they should consider joining RWA. It is one of the best writing organizations out there, and I know that not because I'm a member, but because when doing pitch appointments at various conferences across the country or even when receiving query letters there is a difference, a significant difference, between what I'm seeing from RWA members and those I'm getting from other writers. RWA is an organization that really teaches and supports its members no matter what they write. Most importantly though, RWA really keeps in touch with the business-side of publishing and works on behalf of it's authors to fight unfair contract clauses, scam publishers and agents as well as keeps all of its members updated on industry news, publishing trends and simply the ins-and-outs of writing.

Truthfully, it might be worth the cost of membership simply to receive the monthly RWR report (the magazine) and to be able to get involved in your local chapter or even one of the many online chapters. Hey, you know what? They already have the Kiss of Death chapter which supports mystery and suspense (hint, hint), but maybe one of you wants to be the founding member of the RWA Fantasy Writers or RWA SF Writers.

OK RWA rah, rah over. All cheerleading aside, I do think Barry Eisler had the right idea. He is from the Bay Area so obviously it was easy for him to come to the conference, but he didn't miss out on the opportunity to meet, greet, and shake hands with potentially 2000 new and/or current fans. Think about it.

So another busy day today with back-to-back meetings with many of my clients. I'm sorry to say that because of the expense of San Francisco a number of authors were not able to make it this year [waving] and you are missed. But there is a very special treat for me in today's the mix. The Fog City Divas are hosting a cupcake and champagne party (invitation only I'm afraid). Two of my most favorite things!! And no matter what happens to my schedule today I will not be missing that.

I'm heading out now to run off all of the treats I plan to eat today and hopefully gather more news and information for you for tomorrow. 


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane

Before I go though I must check my list twice to make sure I’m not missing a thing. Let’s see, I’ve got about 100 business cards, let’s hope that does it. I have my handy-dandy notebook for tracking all of my clients' projects, I have my computer, my calendar (which is exhausting to say the least), I have phone numbers, my phone. I have cute shoes (five pairs), running shoes (in case authors get desperate), outfits for every cocktail party and a few extras. I have books for the plane, queries for the plane, proposals for the plane, a snack for the plane, music for the plane . . . whew, that flight better be a long one.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, RWA is upon us. For those who aren’t members of Romance Writers of America, you don’t yet know that this is the conference to end all conferences. Everyone who is anyone in the romance community attends, and from Wednesday to Sunday I’ll be joining the hordes of agents and editors to enlighten you about the business, meet and greet, and hopefully make a few dreams come true.

My calendar is a busy one with back-to-back individual meetings with each of my clients. These are really my favorite. They give us time to sit down, face-to-face, and really talk about what’s going on. Are you happy? Unhappy? Are you having fun or just plodding along? What are your goals for this year, next year, the next decade? And did you see the dress on that editor last night? Wowza!

Now I know a number of my readers are not romance writers or RWA members (did you know you don’t have to write romance to be a member?), but there’s still a great deal that can be learned from this conference. One of my favorites is how, despite the bickering that can go on in any organization, RWA really comes together and supports all of its writers. The erotic romance authors stand shoulder to shoulder with the inspirational authors to cheer on everyone as they win a RITA, another book contract, or finish a manuscript. That’s cool.

So what’s my advice to those who are reading this from a San Francisco hotel room, getting ready to board my plane (I see you) or sitting at home taking a year off? In fact, what’s my advice to anyone attending a conference this weekend or any other weekend whether it’s a romance conference, SF/Fantasy, or a general conference? My advice . . . relax, have fun, and learn a lot.

If you have a pitch appointment with me you might be surprised to find out that I’m really not that scary. I like to think I am, but am told time and time again that I’m really not that mean. It’s a little bit of a disappointment for me really. Oh well. When you're meeting with me for a pitch, all I ask is that you make the best use of your 10 minutes. Come prepared. Give your pitch and then listen to what I have to say. I find that sometimes I can be full of useful information and I won’t mind at all if you want to take notes. If we both finish early, get ready with your list of questions. Ask me about me, about the business, if I know of any good restaurants in the Bay Area. Ask me to dispel any myths or gossip you’ve heard over the course of the weekend. In other words, engage me. It works, it really does. Remember me? I’m easily charmed.

If you meet me in the hallway, by all means smile, say hi, and introduce or reintroduce yourself. As tired as I might look or be, I’m always happy to meet another author. This is why I go to these things and, between you and me, I really do love the attention.

If you attend my workshop, laugh at all my jokes. It makes me feel good. Tee-hee. No really, feel free to stop up and say hi afterward, and if I didn’t get to your question, don’t hesitate to ask it then.

I’ll be blogging from the conference and I’ll try to keep you updated on what I’m seeing and hearing about the romance market, but also about other markets as well. With the blending of so many genres these days I think that all of you—fantasy, sf, mystery, women’s fiction authors—and everyone else will find something useful from my posts this weekend.

And before I board I’m going to sign off with this little teaser from a workshop I’m doing with BookEnds wunder-client Christie Craig, her partner in crime Faye Hughes, and Faye’s agent, Caren Johnson: The Great Agent Hunt.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Blog Today Compliments of Kimber An

I made the mistake of noting recently that I seem to be running out of things to say, so Kimber An kindly gave me a list of questions to answer and requested they be strictly my observations, so here we go . . .

1) Aside from Young Adult and Inspirational, must a Romance novel contain explicit sex scenes to be published these days?

No, absolutely not. Of course, the definition of “explicit sex scenes” differs from agent to agent, but no. In fact, I’m selling a book right now that doesn’t have explicit sex scenes at all. Sexy is in and hot, but sexy can easily be done without sex.

2) How is Science Fiction Romance doing these days?

IMHO it isn’t doing well. SF with romantic elements (shelved in SF) is doing well, but SF Romance hasn’t taken off like some would have expected it to.

3) Is Time Travel Romance dead?

Never say dead, but not selling so well. It’s been really difficult, seemingly impossible, to get me excited about a time travel book in years (try 10), but I think a new, different, and completely original take on time travel would work. Otherwise, yes, practically dead.

4) How is Women's Fiction doing these days?

Fabulous! [said in singsong voice]. Everyone wants it, so get it out there if you’re writing it.

5) What genre/subgenre do you see gaining popularity or remaining strong?

Paranormal romance won’t go away whether you want it to or not, historical romances are coming back, cozy mysteries still sell if you have the right hobby/craft hook and are with the right publisher.

6) What's the dog-honest truth - do agents/editors want "fresh and original" or "same old thing, but with a new twist"?

Same old thing with a new twist. I’m reluctant to say fresh and original because someone will then send me something that’s so out there it doesn’t even make sense and tell me, when I reject it, that I lied. The new twist has to make it feel fresh and original, though.

7) As a reader, I'm sick of "Dark & Gritty." Have you heard of any fun, humorous, and adventurous novels coming out?

Accidental Demon Slayer by Angie Fox releases in August. Hilarious, fun, and with lots of adventure.

8) How do I teach my kid not to talk with her mouth full if I have to talk with my mouth full to tell her not to?

Ugh, there’s nothing worse than being reminded that you’re talking with food in your mouth by a two-year-old. Have you tried hand signals?


Monday, July 28, 2008

Changes at BookEnds

I’m gearing up to head out to RWA National on Wednesday, but before I go I wanted to tell you about all of the exciting changes that have been happening here at BookEnds. To really put it into perspective, though, I’m going to have to give you some backstory, so please bear with me.

In May we lost our assistant, which was disappointing because we really liked her and she did a great job (she completely reorganized us in so many incredible ways), but she was moving on to something different and we wished her well. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for us, though. Holly, our intern, was graduating and looking for a full-time job as an editor. Now obviously we couldn’t offer that, but we could offer a temporary assistant position (and resume builder) while she looked for a job and we looked for a permanent assistant. It worked out great. Holly transitioned smoothly into the job and kept us on track, giving us time to look for someone new at our leisure and giving her experience in the career she wanted while looking for a job.

Well, Friday was Holly’s last day and we wish her well and are thrilled for her. A few weeks ago I learned of an opening for an editorial assistant position at St. Martin’s Press, immediately sent Holly’s resume over, and she did the rest. Wowed them with her experience and love of publishing and got the job. This is, as far as I know, our first real BookEnds success story and we are all very excited. Someday I hope to report on Publisher’s Marketplace that I sold a book to Holly, a former BookEnds intern. How cool will that be?

So what are we doing in the meantime? Well, once again the stars aligned for us. Katelynn, our summer intern, was perusing the want ads when she coincidentally came across the one I had posted for an assistant. Figuring she might as well give it a shot, she sent me an email letting me know that while she still has a year left at college, she is looking for a part-time position (at this point we feel we only need a part-time assistant as well as interns) and wondered if we would consider her. Why not? Of course we would. So officially, Katelynn is no longer the BookEnds intern, but now the BookEnds assistant.

This entire experience has been so cool. Everything fell into place for everyone and we couldn’t be happier. What it’s reminded me is how much of life is timing, perseverance, and the willingness to give something a shot because, well, you never know. Hiring an assistant in publishing is not unlike getting a book published. You need to stick with it, write and take those chances. You need to jump at the opportunities whenever they arise, even if you aren’t sure it’s going to work out, and sometimes you just have to have the right timing.

So we wish Holly the very best of luck and can’t wait to hear from her in her new role as editor (I better be one of her first lunch appointments when she starts taking agents to lunch), and we re-welcome Katelynn, who is enthusiastic and organized, and what more do we need in an assistant?


Friday, July 25, 2008

To Series or Not to Series

I’m often asked by writers how to deal with the “series issue” in your query letter. If you know that your book is the first in a series, should you tell the agent up front or just tell her about the book in question and bring up the idea that it’s a series later. With some genres, like cozy mysteries, for example, the answer is obvious. Address up front that this is a series since that’s the way those particular books are published. With other genres, when a series is not necessarily a requirement, I would leave it up to you. I think it never hurts to tell the agent your thoughts. If the agent likes the book well enough but doesn’t agree with you that it’s a series, she can always tell you as much.

But all of this series talk got me thinking about other things. I represent a great number of series. Some are short, only a few books, like Elizabeth Amber’s Satyr series, while others, like Maggie Sefton’s Knitting Mysteries or Kate Douglas’s Wolf Tales series, are planned to seemingly go on forever (we could only hope). In genre fiction there seems to be a greater stress on series from some publishers. There’s at least a publisher or two who want a series that will go on forever, while others prefer an author who can write a two- or three-book series and then move on to something else. But what do we prefer as readers? I have to confess, other than the books I read as a child, I am not much of a series reader. Sure I’ve read a couple of Robert B. Parker’s Spencer books (more than a couple, actually) and I was a big fan of Patricia Cornwell for a while, and I will confess I did read all of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Prince series (only three books), but typically I’m not the type of reader who latches on to a series and waits impatiently for the next to come out. By then I’ve usually moved on to something else I’m enjoying. For me there are so many books, so many authors, and so little time that I tend to jump around.

As an agent I’m also on the fence about series. I think they work very well in some genres and see nothing wrong with the endless series if it’s working. My one hesitation about series writing is that it might limit your readership. Readers who don’t love knitting might not gravitate toward the endless knitting mysteries even if they would enjoy the books, which is why, except for cozy mysteries and other genres that lend themselves to the endless series, I tend to like the idea of a short three or so book series. A shorter series gives authors the ability to tap into a number of different audiences. If you don’t love werewolves you might avoid an author’s werewolf series, but if her next three books focus on vampires you might jump all over that, and even eventually give the werewolves a try.

What about you? As authors, readers, or publishing professionals, where do you fall on the series debate?


Thursday, July 24, 2008

To Each His Own . . .

Obviously the appreciation of any form of media is wildly subjective. Sometimes my opinion falls in line with the popular vote. Hey—I thought David Cook could sing circles around David Archuleta. Other times I’m in the minority. Frankly, Titanic and Leo couldn’t sink fast enough for my liking. But I think books are steeped in an even deeper form of subjectivity. There’s so much more left to individual interpretation than anything we see at the theater or hear on the radio. So it’s no surprise that even the opinions of experienced publishing professionals can completely contradict each other.

Most of us embrace the subjectivity of this business. Instead of begrudging the success of books we didn’t like, we try to understand what made them work. Still, in the spirit of demonstrating just how subjective this business is, we’ve decided to talk about the New York Times bestsellers we did and didn’t “get.”

Successes Kim totally “gets”:

THE KITE RUNNER by Khaled Hosseini — This book and Hosseini’s second, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, are two of my favorites of the last five years. These novels blend storytelling and enlightenment more seamlessly than any others in recent memory. They’re timely, riveting, and thought-provoking. I’ll admit that a few plot points in THE KITE RUNNER bugged me a bit, but the book still delivered and I found SUNS to be pretty close to perfect.

THE DA VINCI CODE by Dan Brown — It’s one of the more controversial successes in the industry, but also one of the biggest blockbusters. There are a lot of naysayers out there—many of them inside the industry—who say that Brown didn’t break any new ground here . . . that it wasn’t so unique an idea to have made the splash that it did. I won’t disagree with that. The more newsworthy themes of the book weren’t exactly fresh—but may have felt so to the average reader. Still, I’m not convinced that’s what made the book take fire like it did. The truth is that Dan Brown is an expert in the art of the chapter cliffhanger. This book is a brilliantly crafted page-turner. Brown defies the reader to put the book down and it completely works.

Successes Kim didn’t “get”:

THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY by Robert James Waller — Quite possibly the longest 200 pages I’ve ever read. I never found myself caught up in the romance and I was never able to sympathize with the characters. I’ll admit that I read this book as a senior in college, while interning at Putnam Berkley, so maybe my perspective would be different now. Unfortunately, though, I just don’t think I can force myself to crack this one open again.

SHE’S COME UNDONE by Wally Lamb — I’ve admitted many times here that I love a good cry, but this book made me want to gouge my eyes out. This has to be one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. I give the author credit for so effectively putting the reader inside the character’s head. But it wasn’t a place I could stand to stay for very long. My timing was bad with this one too. I read it on my honeymoon. It didn’t exactly set the right mood.

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL by John Berendt — I didn’t dislike this book. In fact, I think it’s beautifully written and it totally made me want to go to Savannah. But I never would’ve predicted the type of success it had. And I’m sure many would say the same. I’m surprised that the book’s format (observations of the locals at the front with the true crime story starting almost halfway through the book) was so readily accepted by a mass audience. It’s heartening to see a book that’s not so clearly categorized find astronomical success.

Jacky’s thoughts:

I can chime in here since there are those NYT bestsellers I completely got behind and those that left me wondering, “Go figure.”


EAT PRAY LOVE: Ate it up. Prayed for more. Loved it. I went to an event that Liz Gilbert did in New Hope, PA, and she delivered in person as well. She’s a beautiful writer whose humility hit home with me. I’ve bought many, many copies of this book for friends and family. It’s a home run.

THE ROAD: Cormac McCarthy is one of a kind. The writing in this book and ALL THE PRETTY HORSES is breathtaking. It’s a tough story, and one that feels sadly prophetic. Absolutely amazing.


MARLEY AND ME: I have a yellow lab. He makes my heart sing. But Marley, he did nothing for me. I was bored.

90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN: Okay, admittedly I’m not the audience for this and I read it at the request of a friend, but the writing, the story, the cover . . . it was a big flop for me. I REALLY don’t get it.

And of course, we have to mention . . .
A MILLION LITTLE PIECES: I knew it was bs from page 1. Who is letting a bloody and battered man on a plane post-9/11 with a hole in his cheek? Who orders lobsters and gambles on football in rehab? Come on, I had no sympathy for anyone who bought this one.

I’m also with Kim on THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY and SHE'S COME UNDONE, though I enjoyed (but didn’t love) MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL. THE DA VINCI CODE did nothing for me, but THE KITE RUNNER . . . wow.

Jessica’s thoughts:

This is a really tough question for me to answer and frankly I’m surprised by that. While there are a lot of New York Times bestsellers that I haven’t loved, I can often see why they’ve hit the list or why they’ve had the success they’ve had, even if they didn’t appeal to me in the same way.

To make my list I actually had to do some thinking and reviewing of the bestseller list now and in days gone by. But after doing so I was able to come up with a few. These aren’t necessarily my favorite books or my least favorite books, they are just books I either clearly did or did not get.

One book that I know has been incredibly controversial for its success, but that I really enjoyed is THE DA VINCI CODE. One of the things I’ve found interesting about this book though is that when talking to people who read both THE DA VINCI CODE and Brown’s ANGELS AND DEMONS, the one readers tended to like the best was the one they read first. For me it was ANGELS AND DEMONS. Either way, what so clearly made THE DA VINCI CODE a bestseller was the broad appeal. It introduced readers to an interesting and secretive world, it explored historical and religious beliefs, and it was easily accessible for all readers. It was also a thrilling adventure and I think I read it in a day.

Another book or series of books I do get is the Harry Potter series. I do get why these books have captured the imagination of children worldwide and I applaud that. How can you not be thrilled with a book that gets kids reading again? And you know what? I enjoyed them too. I haven’t finished the series yet, but I have read the first two books and I really do like rooting for the kid who lived in a cupboard.

There are two books that I never got, but before talking about them I need to fully confess that I’ve never read either of them from cover to cover. However, I think I’ve read enough to know why I don’t get them. They are THE RULES and SHE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. There is such a narrow audience for these books, single women who are desperate to understand men, and yet they sold thousands and thousands of copies. I do not get it. I didn’t get the appeal of these books when I was single and I don’t get them now.

And another book that I never got and that, quite frankly, irritated me a little was DECEPTIVELY DELICIOUS by Jessica Seinfeld. There was obviously a huge controversy over the publication of this cookbook on how to sneak vegetables into your child’s diet, but that should not have made this a bestseller. I know, I know, it’s all because she was on Oprah. But really?! A bestseller. No way.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Resistant Reading

I am one of those people who has a hard time doing something if I’ve heard too many things about it. Instead of rushing out to read The Girl with the Pearl Earring, for example, because everyone was raving about it, I took five years from its publication to finally read it. And I did love it too. It’s hard, though; if everyone loves something your expectations become awfully high and it becomes difficult to meet those expectations.

The same holds true for movies. I’ll admit I’m not much of a moviegoer anyway, but if I hear over and over that I must see a move it’s likely I will never see that movie. Is it a stubborn streak? Maybe, but I think it’s mostly fear. Fear that I won’t love it as much or that my expectations are too high.

A prime example of this in the book world is a book I’m resisting right now, Eat, Pray, Love. I’ve owned the book for more than six months and I really do want to read it, but I think I’m afraid. What if it doesn’t meet my expectations, what if I don’t love it as much as everyone else? When you hear so much about a book it starts to take out some of the surprise and joy of the book, at least for me.

What about you? Is there a book out there that you’ve heard so much about, that everyone keeps telling you to read, but you just haven’t been able to get yourself to read yet?

Let’s make a pact. Let’s all read those books next. Put them on our list, and when I’m done with Eat, Pray, Love I’ll do a post on whether or not the hype ruined it for me and you can all talk about how the hype effected that book you’ve been resisting.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Agent Frustrations

I know I’ve vented about this before, but it’s happened again so I get to vent again. Lucky you!

I realize I’m behind on proposals, but I’m not that behind. So I had a nonfiction proposal that was a few weeks old. I liked the idea a lot, but was unsure whether or not it was the right direction to go in, so I brought the proposal up in our weekly meeting to discuss it with others here. We discussed the proposal as it was and everyone had varying opinions. I really liked it though.

In the end I decided to pass, but sent the author some of my detailed thoughts on why I was passing. I also offered to take a look again or at other work. The response . . . she had already signed with another agent and was sorry she didn’t tell me.

Aaaaah! This lack of professionalism kills me every single time. Are you kidding me?! If you’ve sent a query that’s one thing, but a proposal? Why wouldn’t you at least have the courtesy to let me know. I know, I know. I rejected it so why do I care? I care because of all of the time I wasted. It took up about 10 to 15 minutes of time at our meeting. I know Jacky went and did some research on the book on her own after the meeting and I did a great deal on my own both before and after the meeting. Not to mention the time spent reading, emailing my detailed letter, and simply thinking about. All of that time could have been spent reading your proposals—the other proposals that I’m really behind on.

The funny thing about this is now if this person does come back to me at some point I’m really going to have to think twice. After all, the professionalism just isn’t there.

Thanks for letting me vent.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Handling Personalized Rejections

I receive a lot of questions about what to do with a personalized rejection from an agent. Whether handwritten or nicely typed (by the way, you’ll never see handwritten from me since you’d never be able to read it) authors wonder what to do next. If you’ve read the multiple posts I’ve written on making sure the revisions resonate with you and they do, what do you do next? Do you contact the agent? Do you submit again? What if they never mentioned or specifically asked to see the work a second time?

My first bit of advice . . . go with your gut. Do what works best for you and what you feel should be done in such a case. That being said, here are some tips.

Don’t ever assume that because an agent failed to say, “Please keep me in mind for future works” or “I’d love to see this again once the revisions are made,” that means they don’t want to see your work again. In all honesty, I’m usually happy to see almost anything again. Why not? What do I have to lose? If you’ve made extensive revisions either because of something I said, because the book needed it, or because of something another agent said, I’d love to see it again. I’m in the business of selling books and without books to sell I’m in no business at all. So I’m always happy to be given another shot. That, and it makes me feel important, like you really like me.

So the revisions resonate and you’re excited. You see something that might change your entire book but it works for you. You agree with every bit of it. At what point should you contact the agent? Should you email her immediately to tell her you’re making the changes or should you wait until the changes are made? That’s up to you. I think sending off an email or a thank-you note is perfectly acceptable, and personally, I always like hearing that the comments I’ve made are working for someone. However, if you’re nervous about the amount of work you’re going to be doing and aren’t sure how long it might take, it’s also fine just to get right to work and wait until you’ve completed your revisions. At that point I would suggest emailing the agent to thank her for her marvelous suggestions and let her know the revisions are done. You can also ask if she’d like you to snail mail or email the project over.

What about emailing the agent for clarification on the letter she sent or with other questions? Is that acceptable? Absolutely, just don’t expect a response from every agent. There are times when I’m really, really swamped and I might not be able to answer the questions you have. Frankly, I might not remember the book enough to give you fair advice. There are other times, however, when I’ve opened an email exchange with an unpublished author I’m very interested in. The questions were fair and I had answers. Not all agents will feel the same way, so how you handle this is up to you. You should judge your decision to contact an agent while doing revisions again on your gut. If the agent seemed really enthusiastic and open, go ahead and email over a few questions (email is easier than phone); if, however, the agent felt distant to you, I would skip it. While some agents might be fine answering questions, others might see it as bothersome and tag you as needy and trouble before a relationship even starts.

Do what you feel you need to do and what works best for you. If asking a few questions sours the relationship, it probably wasn’t the relationship for you anyway.

I hope that helps. No matter what you do or how you proceed, remember that personalized rejections deserve a pat on the back. Congratulations for making it that far.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Another Submission Count

I was out of the office recently and flagged those e-queries I received when I downloaded them on Saturday morning. Now keep in mind these are only queries received Wednesday through Friday.

In those three days I had 70 e-queries. What a nice round number! Once I got to them, about a week or so after they arrived, it took me roughly four days to get through the list. So here is how I responded . . .

24 were rejected for really no other reason than that the story didn’t grab me. In most cases the queries were well written, but the stories often felt blasé. They just didn’t have that spark.

In 2 cases the word count was noticeably short. Now I didn’t reject on word count alone, but if I was on the fence, the word count would have pushed me to reject.

In 6 cases the query was rejected because it was YA and I don’t represent YA. I realize I don’t specifically say on the Web site that I don’t represent YA, but I don’t.

In 5 cases the query was for something that clearly I don’t represent (other than YA). This could have been a variety of things—screenplay, poetry, military fiction (a la Tom Clancy) or just things that seemed a little too far outside of my comfort level.

In 10 cases I just didn’t feel the concept was different enough, and this holds for both fiction and nonfiction. It just felt way too familiar, like a story or a book that’s been done before.

In 5 cases I really just did not like the voice of the letter and assumed that would be similar to the voice of the book.

1 submission was for a children’s book, which I definitely don’t represent.

In 7 cases the query was so obscure that I really couldn’t understand or follow it at all.

In 1 case the query was forwarded, but the forwarded query had the name of another agent/agency, and in 1 case there was a long list of agent email addresses in the “to” column.

The good news is that I did request or respond positively to 4 queries. For 1 I simply asked for more information, and for 3 I requested partials. The bummer was that one of the requests had apparently been emailed to all of us at once and the work was being sent to Jacky instead.

So, some interesting information about the queries:

1 did not include a letter at all, but just partial material.

1 was sent to me, but addressed to Kim.

1 requested feedback on a query I had already rejected.

9 of the queries were nonfiction and 4 included attachments.

4 were addressed generically to “literary agent,” “dear sir,” or “BookEnds Agent.”

2 used the phrase “first novel,” which never works for me.

1 response to my rejection was urging me to read more, implying that I hadn’t read enough to make an informed decision.

And 5 of you were very, very sweet and sent thank-you emails after receiving my response. Thank you.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

How Much to Tell

I often get questions about how much information authors should reveal to an agent in their query or cover letters. A very valid question, and one, unfortunately, with no right or wrong answer. As I’m sure you all know by now from reading my posts and those from other agents, preferences are long and varied about what we all want or prefer to see.

Recently, though, I was asked whether or not you should reveal to an agent how many books you have sitting under the bed or whether or not this is a first novel. I have actually had this discussion with other agents and have seen a variety of preferences. For me, though, I prefer not to know that this is a first novel. I also prefer not to know that this is your 12th and you haven’t yet been published. While it’s entirely reasonable that you could sell on your first or your twentieth novel, I think we all prefer that you land somewhere in between—say third or fourth. Or at least that’s what our little fantasy worlds tell us we want to hear.

I will admit that if I’m on the fence when reading a query letter and I come across “this is my first novel,” it’s more likely to lead to a rejection than not because while it’s true that some people have sold the first novel they ever wrote, more often than not the first novel gets stashed away never to be seen again. So why do I want to see it?

What I like to know, more than how many novels you’ve written, is what your connections are. I’d rather hear that you are a member of a writer’s organization or critique group. That shows me that you are putting the effort in to improve your writing and to learn about publishing.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Is the Economy Ruining Your Chance at Publication

With the economy tanking and all eyes focused on the election, do you believe non-genre, fiction writers might be wise to delay trying to peddle their wares until early next year? I ask because I have read that this is a dreadful time for fiction writers seeking to enter the marketplace for the first time. I’m considering shelving my medical thriller for the time being and concentrating my efforts on a new writing project. What do you think?

This is an interesting question. First let me tell you that at this point the election is going to have absolutely no impact on whether or not you sell a book. Publishers usually schedule their books a year ahead of time. In fact, in a recent conversation with an editor we were discussing what year it was and she said to me, “I’m already in 2009.” Editors buying books right now are buying for 2009. Some might have spots to fill with books in early 2009, but no one is concerned with the election when it comes to publishing; those books were bought in 2007 at the very latest and are now well into the pipeline. They are being edited or are even done with the editing process and the covers are even done or almost done.

As for the economy, well, it stinks. And yes, like everything else book publishing is being impacted. Costs are going up everywhere and that includes the cost of book production. Everyone is spending less money and books are not usually a need like food or fuel, so they are one of the first things to go when it comes to budgeting. In other words, not as many people are buying books. Does this mean you should sit back and wait until things clear out to start submitting? Absolutely not. Not, that is, unless you’re a seer and you know the economy is going to take an upswing in August. If that’s the case, though, could you give me a buzz and let me know what you know?

From an author’s point of view it’s always a “dreadful time for fiction writers to enter the marketplace.” I’ve never, in my 15 years in publishing, heard people talk about what a great time it is for beginning authors to launch their careers. At least I’ve never heard authors say that. Editors and agents will say that all the time. It is a tough economy and it is difficult for beginning writers to break out and find readers, but that’s not going to change that much when the economy hits an upswing. So my advice to you, as always, is to write the absolute best book you can write and proudly and confidently send it out to agents. If it doesn’t sell, get that next book out there. Don’t worry about the economy, the election, or anything else. Just write a good book (with a great hook).


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Working with an Agent (I Think)

I get a lot of questions from readers who have been working back and forth with an agent on revisions to a book or proposal, but have never been told whether or not they are actually working together. In other words, did this agent offer representation somewhere along the way and the author forgot?

While I’ve never been on the other side of an offer of representation, I think I can safely say that it’s not something you would forget. So what’s going on? If you’ve gone three rounds of revisions, or one or two, with an agent, at what point are you working exclusively and at what point should you still be querying other agents? This is an interesting conundrum for authors, but the answer is really simple. You need to ask. You simply need to say that you appreciate all of the work the agent is doing for you, but wonder the status of the relationship. You might even be so bold as to ask at what point representation might be offered. Take the bull by the horns and, honestly, put the agent on the spot a little. Remember, you’re the one hiring the agent and this is a great interview opportunity for you. When I work with an author on revisions I sincerely hope that the author will be giving me first shot at being her agent. But I know all too well from experience that that’s not always going to happen. It’s a risk I take, I know, but usually it’s a risk worth taking (although if you’ve been a longtime blog reader you’ll also know I have been burned by this in the past).

If the agent is vague about representation and the tweaking is almost done you need to consider what’s best for you and your career. If you feel that you need to keep submitting queries to other agents, do so. My feeling on the entire process is that if I offer revisions and the author comes incredibly close, but the proposal might still need some tweaks, it’s time to offer representation. Why would I want to lose such a gem? I know she can do the work so anything else that can be done we can do together. Other agents might feel the work is absolutely perfect before they’ll offer. You need to find out what kind of agent you’re working with.

I would say, though, that if you’re submitting around and get another offer, you want to make sure that the agent who is working with you knows that you’re planning to keep querying or are still getting requests from other agents, and you might want to consider the work she’s put into it when choosing your final agent.

Another reason to have the conversation about official representation sooner rather than later is what if this agent thinks you’re working together and you don’t? What if she starts submitting without your knowledge?Don’t get yourself locked into something you’ll be unhappy about. Communication is KEY to a good author-agent relationship. Start that communication as soon as you can.

I’ve also been asked at what point you should talk to said agent about other works you’re writing. My answer . . . at any point, but especially if you’ve stopped querying and are working with this agent exclusively. If she offers and you are no longer querying, will she be ready to represent everything you’re doing? You need to know that before you lock yourself into what you hope will be a permanent relationship.

Hiring an agent means trusting your gut and trusting your agent. If you don’t feel comfortable having frank discussions with a potential agent now, how is that going to change when the contract is signed?


Monday, July 14, 2008

Out of Control Clients

Everyone has been talking about Moonrat’s experience with a boorish author over lunch. And since I didn’t want to be left out I thought I’d better jump into the fray, albeit about a week too late (that’s what happens when you have a really rockin’ July 4th BBQ). . . .

If you haven’t read Moonrat’s story, hop on over to take a look, and if you haven’t read how Janet Reid would react if she had been the agent, you should hop on over there too.

What this all made me think of was not so much the crap Moonrat had to deal with over lunch, because I’ll tell you right now that almost everyone in this business has had to deal with something similar, but of the difficulties of being an agent when placed in such a position. As an agent, my job is to help shape an author’s career, but how much of that author’s personality do I have to try to control during the shaping process?

I had a client tell me recently that if she ever starts acting like a Diva she expects me to tell her and straighten her out. Really? That makes me nervous. I can tell clients that a certain book or book idea isn’t working and I can certainly tell them to email or call me with questions or concerns before talking to their editors (in cases where the client is being disruptive or the editor has asked me to step in), but can I really tell the client that she’s acting like a diva, an ass, or just an idiot? And is that my job?

At what point is a client’s personality or behavior starting to impact my career and my reputation? And at what point am I responsible for another’s behavior? Let me tell you my theory on this and a little insider secret. The insider secret is that as agents and editors we are friends to a degree. Probably not BFFs, but friendly anyway, and if there is a client or author who is difficult it’s not uncommon for us to talk about that person over lunch. Not in a snotty, snippy, snarky, gossip girl way, but in a coping, how should we handle this situation way. If I have a client who is a diva (thank god I don’t) discussions of strategy will occur with the editor. How should we approach Diva Author about her revisions? Who should tell her she’s not getting the six-page color ad in the NY Times Book Review she’s demanding? And what are we going to do about the fact that she’s now emailing the publisher about her cover changes? Remember that while an agent works for the author, sometimes the best thing an agent can do for you and your career is team up with the editor as well. It’s a team effort on all of our parts.

How do I keep my reputation in tact when my client is out there trying to mess it up? By understanding what the editor is being put through. And yes, as Janet Reid said, praying for a large whole to open and swallow me whole. I was an editor, remember? And what saved an agent from obnoxious clients was by not being an obnoxious agent. There are definitely agents out there who feel that the best way to represent a client is to keep that client happy at all costs, and that for some reason that often means becoming as obnoxious as the client. Luckily for editors these agents are few and far between. Almost every agent has dealt with a difficult client at one point or another and the best way to do so without damaging your reputation, and in fact often building an even stronger reputation, is to do so with professionalism. This means guiding your client as best you can, conferring with the editor, and apologizing when necessary.

The troubling thing about situations like this is that I am not responsible for anyone’s behavior other than my own, and while I can guide my clients into how to act, or react, and try to tone them down or cut them off, I am not a parent to any of them. In other words, I’m not going to be giving any time-outs. So while I doubt many of you will become the author from Moonrat’s story, I can almost guarantee one of you might. How to know you’re headed down that path? Listen to the subtleties of what your agent is saying. If she’s suggesting you no longer email your editor with your questions, but go through her first, you might want to do that. If she’s kindly cutting you off during conversations with your editor, you might find it’s time to stop. And if she’s raising a large, heavy object over your head, you might want to move.

Luckily for us, most authors are charming, wonderful, and a delight to work with, but with any business and any aspect of life, there’s always one.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Angie Fox: Going Beyond the Book

Angie FoxThe Accidental Demon Slayer
Publisher: Dorchester
Pub Date: July 2008
Agent: Jessica Faust

(Click to Buy)

Author Web site:

Confession time. My favorite kinds of books are always going to be the ones that make me want to try something new. And most of the time, that means commercial fiction: mysteries with wine-tasting tips, thrillers set in exotic locations, and basically any book that makes me want to explore a new city.

My jeans have gotten snug after reading too many mysteries with recipes in the back. Anybody try the chocolate cherry brownie recipe in the back of Karen MacInerney’s Dead and Berried? Oh my. Talk about making reading fun.

And now ChariDee at Novel Reads has been inspired by The Accidental Demon Slayer . . . in a slightly less traditional way. She’s giving away "Kiss My Asphalt" T-shirts, based on the T-shirt one of the biker witches wears on the very first page. I had to laugh. While some authors are inspiring their readers to discover out-of-the-way places, it seems I’ve inspired readers to wear slightly profane T-shirts. But you know what, I was actually quite touched, because don’t we all want to move people with our writing?

For the longest time, I tried to be one of those writers who could make a reader cry. But I never got there. I’m better at pointing out ironies, delivering a smile. And when I finally realized that, I was able to sit down and write the kind of books that will hopefully help readers crack a grin. In today’s world, it can be nice to spend 300 pages in a completely different place.

We hear about voice all of the time, and I wonder if this is part of that. What we write about and how we choose to frame it is unique to each of us. What we say and how we say it not only tells a story, but it gives readers permission to make a book their own – in the kitchen, on a new adventure, or with an obnoxious T-shirt.

So you tell me – what have you discovered about your voice? And if you could ask readers to take just one thing from your books, what would it be?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Stacey Kayne on Sticking to Your Guns

Stacey Kayne
The Gunslinger's Untamed Bride
Publisher: Harlequin Historical
Pub date: July 2008
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

Author Web/Blog links:,,

Nothing calls to my writer’s soul like the lawless untamed setting of the old west, where opportunity and danger lurk beyond every bend. Rugged, wild, resilient—there’s such an elemental connection between the wild west scenery and the characters. While those first pioneers were packing up all their belongings and heading into the wild frontier you know they had friends and neighbors who thought they’d lost their minds to take such risk, to venture into unknown territory. In a sense writing a book is a lot like answering that call of the wild. We are taking a leap into a great unknown and finding faith in ourselves when it seems the world is against us. For the aspiring author, keeping that faith can become a daunting challenge. Surrounded by nonwriters in our day-to-day life, as most of us are, believing in yourself in the face of rejection and constant doubt can become downright grueling.

I remember the exact moment I heard the call of wild . . . when I realized I wanted to be a published author. I had just turned thirty, my two rambunctious boys had just started school, and I’d gone back to college. My American History night class had spawned a flood of daydreams and there I was, huddled up to my first computer, writing out these daydreams into the wee hours of the morning—and it hit me. I wasn’t just writing out a daydream, I was writing a romance novel. My initial reaction to that revelation was sheer shock, followed by mild amusement: Who am I to think I could possibly publish a romance novel? And then utter self-sympathy. I mean, I really wanted this . . . what if I put in all that effort . . . and failed? But it was too late to go back. I’d heard the call and I had to answer.

I told NO ONE about my newly budding ambitions to become a published author. A few months later I had started several manuscripts and closet writing was starting to pose some challenges. How could I grow, learn, become a stronger writer if I didn’t step outside? So I took the plunge, truly answering the call of the wild by making the announcement: I’M GOING TO BE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR . . . of, uh . . . romance novels. (No one was more surprised than my husband.)

Over the next five years of pursuing my dream I came to expect the startled reactions of nonwriters to this audacious claim—you’d have thought I said I was headed to the woods to wrestle me a b’ar. Common replies were along the lines of, “Are you crazy? Publishing a book is like winning the lottery.” My favorite was that burst of laughter followed by rounded eyes and, “Oh, you’re serious?” Or the sympathetic smile and, “Oh, honey, if publishing a book was that easy, everyone would do it.” Well, that’s true. Writing a book isn’t easy and getting that book published isn’t for the faint of heart. And none of these reactions are entirely encouraging to the aspiring author. Compile that with years of rejections and near sales, and faith is going to waiver. In my first year of writing I entered several contests, finished two manuscripts, signed with an agent, and finaled in the Golden Heart—and then dug in for four frustrating, enlightening, and disappointing years. This business requires persistence and somehow we have to stick to our guns and overcome doubt. Which brings me to the first of FIVE important aspects of the writer’s life that helped me to keep pressing on when there were those urging me to turn back—YOU have to be the first believer.

Keeping That Dream Fully Loaded:

1. BELIEVE in your ability to publish—no one else is going to carry this torch—it’s up to us to find faith in our work, to keep learning, polishing, and to make writing part of our reality. One way to make writing “real” in your life is to tell people you’re a writer. Another is to give yourself a workspace—doesn’t matter if it’s a corner or an office—have your writer’s domain. Set some short-range goals, whether it’s to finish a chapter, outline a book, send work out to be read, enter a contest . . . and print them. Make your goals something you can touch. I placed a corkboard beside my desk and would tack up goals, which became SASE postcards for submissions and contest entries. SEE IT—BELIEVE IT—ACHIEVE IT.

2. ENGAGE—stepping into the writer’s world can be a powerful driving force and helps to keep the focus on writing. Interacting with published authors and aspiring authors is energizing and fuel for ambition. If you aren’t near any local writers' groups look for online groups. For the Romance writer, the chapters and resources available through Romance Writers of America are phenomenal. If you can swing the expense, go to RWA National!

3. COMMISERATE—with other authors. Seriously, you have to be an aspiring author to understand the trials, tribulations, and achievements of this business. Your nonwriter friends and family may try to understand, but they can’t. It’s not their fault. Seek out other writers! A tight network of writers can be the best support. When I first started writing I used contests as my first critique partner—I could keep advice I believe in and toss the rest. I joined the Yahoo group ContestAlert and met other contest entrants online, which is where I met most of my pals at Writer’s At Play. We banded together as twenty disgruntled unpublished hopefuls. By sharing our experiences and struggles to overcome we learn from each other. More than half of us are now published and we still gripe, share, and cheer for one another—as well as cross-promote.

4. SUBMIT—to contests, critique partners, editors, agents—putting your work out there for feedback and criticism is the fastest way to grow, and likely the scariest step for any aspiring author. It’s best to go into submitting by first accepting this simple fact: No matter how brilliant the writing, not everyone is going to like your work. I don’t care who ya are—even the NYT Bestsellers have their tough critics. So suck it up, expect criticism, and revert back to step one whenever necessary.

5. KEEP WRITING—for anyone pursuing a career as an author, keep in mind that you aren’t selling A BOOK—you’re selling YOUR VOICE, your unique blend of energy, dialogue, prose, and pacing that creates compelling stories. If you have a manuscript in the hopper making submission rounds, be fast at work on the next one. With every completed manuscript we learn more about our strengths and weaknesses as writers, which helps to define and polish that voice. The only way to develop consistency is to keep finishing manuscripts. For me personally, I wasn’t able to see the elements that made up my voice until my fourth manuscript—which happened to be the first book I sold, Mustang Wild. I was then able to go back and polish my other three manuscripts to reflect the same style and voice—and I sold all of them. Every completed manuscript is more ammunition.

I have to admit I was surprised by the general negative reactions of nonwriters to my aspirations of publishing a book. It seemed most wanted to save me from my disillusions. Anyone else out there have similar experiences? Do you remember the moment you answered the call of the wild—to write a book? For those still pounding on publishers' doors, stick to your guns and keep the faith! Persistence is EVERYTHING.

Stacey’s fourth western historical romance novel is in bookstores now!
What reviewers are saying about The Gunslinger’s Untamed Bride:

“This second installment in Kayne’s Bride series is fast-paced and laced with humor, action and sexual tension. The characters are well developed and the plot suspenseful as it rushes headlong to an exciting conclusion.” 4 Stars ~ Romantic Times

“Kayne’s ability to craft multi-faceted characters, intriguing plots, action-packed adventure and sizzling romance promises to keep her in the forefront of the western romance genre.” 5 SPURS ~ Love Western Romances

“The deep level of emotionality combined with everyday human complexity gives this book, and this author, a new dimension.” Grade: A ~ The Good, The Bad, And The Unread

“Stacey Kayne has brought to life two incredible characters with Lily and Juniper. Their learning and changing is what made this book such a delight. Witty conversations, non-stop action and romance at its best—The Gunslingers Untamed Bride has it all.” 4.5 Stars ~ CataRo

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Books of My Childhood

I’m often asked to guest blog, and while I love doing it I fear I might have to cut back. I’m running out of ideas for my own blog. However, one of my more recent guest posts really made me think about the books I read as a child and inspired today’s post.

Over on Editorial Ass Moonrat has been doing a series of guest posts on celebrating reading and those books that have meant something to us. When writing my post I immediately thought of the books of my childhood, as did a lot of other posters. The post I did for Moonrat, which can be read here, talked about a book that I still love today and that has meant a lot to me. But it wasn’t easy to choose. There were so many books I read as a child that meant a lot to me and so many that I think helped define who I am today. So I thought I’d share a few others with you, those books that I still think about from time to time and want everyone to read and enjoy as much as I did.

One of my all-time favorites is A Wrinkle in Time. I had the pleasure of buying this book last Christmas for my eight-year-old niece and I was so excited to introduce her to Meg. Meg was someone I admired greatly. Brave, smart, strong . . . who didn’t want to be Meg? I haven’t read A Wrinkle in Time in years, but I still think about it, and its sequels, often. And a bonus, my niece loved the book. Oh, what to buy her next?

If you’ve never met Betsy, Tacy or Tib you must read the Deep Valley books by Maud Hart Lovelace. There is a small but incredibly loyal readership for this series (they even have a fan club on The great thing for me is that Deep Valley is actually based on the town next to my hometown in Minnesota, but the greater thing was that Betsy was a hero for me. A burgeoning writer with spunk and determination, she was the little girl I always hoped to be and Tacy was a lot like my best friend Melissa.

And being a Minnesota girl, how could I resist Laura Ingalls Wilder? I read every book at least twice and even remember my parents reading Little House in the Big Woods to me before I was old enough to read such a “big book.” Again, another writer . . . do you see a theme here with my heroines? And again, a heroine with spunk and determination. Growing up in the '70s I was lucky enough to read the books and then watch the show (talk about cheesy), and the best part for me was that I could always tell everyone where the show went wrong because that wasn’t what really happened.

And last I’m going to pick Anne of Green Gables. Yes, I know, another writer. This one a feisty, smart redhead with a mind of her own. I think Anne is one of the greatest girls in literature. She had adventure, spirit and bright red hair. I read the entire series through and loved every book.

I find it interesting that as a child my favorite books were so often historical. Sure I read Nancy Drew and the younger version, Trixie Belden, but I rarely read contemporary or commercial YA of my time, sticking primarily to the classics. I’m looking forward to introducing my niece to these same girls and can’t wait to hear what she thinks.

But what about you? What were some of the your greatest book memories from childhood, and if you were passing down just a few of your favorites to a new generation, what would you choose?


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Does Ageism Exist in Publishing?

I received an interesting note from a reader recently that was spurred on by an interview in the Writer's Digest Handbook of Making Money Freelance Writing. In the book, the reader came across an essay by another agent who said, basically, that he’s nervous taking on new clients who are older since there’s less opportunity there to build a career, and certainly he would be nervous about revealing the writer’s age to editors.

In the essay the agent states clearly that if you’re older than 50 you’re in trouble and will have a harder time getting published, simply because of your age. I can hear the panicked gasping now. Never fear. Stop, breathe, and let me explain. The agent in question was looking at a writer’s career from a long-term perspective. Without having read the essay I think what he was saying is that most author careers can take years to build and a good agent sees that. When I take on a new client I don’t take on that client for one book. I take on that client because there was so much I loved about the one book I read and I look forward to using that book as a basis for a much bigger career in the future. If you’re 50 and planning to retire at 62, it’s very possible that your career will finally reach its high point the day you are applying for your social security.

Does that mean that if you’re 50 or older you should keep your age a deep dark secret? Or just give up and quit now? No, not at all, but I think you should be aware that some agents and editors might think this way. In the same way that some would think that a 19-year-old is too young to write a book. Which is why I’ve always said, don’t tell anyone your age. You wouldn’t include it on a resume (although it’s easy to figure out), so why include it in a cover letter?

What’s interesting about this concern is that I definitely think it works both ways. I remember being a young editor and trying very hard to appear older as often as possible. Which wasn’t easy for someone who had a baby face. So often I would hear people exclaim about what a baby I was or how young I looked or ask outright my age. I knew this put me at a disadvantage. After all, given the choice between a fresh-faced young thing or a more experienced editor in her 30s, who would you choose? What about an agent? If all things were equal and you had offers from someone who was 25, 45, or 60, who would you likely go with?

Ageism exists, but the book matters the most. Write a good book and no one will even think to ask you your age. And I hope that works both ways too. I’m looking forward to agenting far into my senior years, if you’ll have me, that is.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Writing Dialogue

I received an interesting question from a reader recently, interesting because it’s something that I’m sure is often discussed in writers' groups, but not anything I’ve ever really thought of. . . .

I've had an ongoing discussion with some writer friends about adverbs and dialog tags other than "said," and I'd like a professional agent's opinion.

I've read just about every book on writing, and if they address the topic, they say not to use adverbs ever, and that "said" or "asked" is sufficient (no shouted, yelled, whispered, groaned, commanded, etc.). But I also read published books that have their characters "whispering" and "grunting" and "saying questioningly" with abandon. A lot of published books use mostly said and asked, but an equal number do not.

So here's my question: Is there a real "rule" in the publishing world against descriptive dialog tags, or is that just something authors of writing books tell writers to get us to buy more books on how to make our writing more descriptive using nouns and strong verbs? Has an editor ever told you they liked a book, but they were passing because there were too many adverbs?

My simple answer is “no,” there’s no real rule about dialogue tags. At least no rule I’ve heard of. I suspect that the concern about dialogue tags isn’t so much about there being a rule but about how writers could easily use dialogue tags as a cop-out. For example, by saying that your character “grunted” you don’t need to show the character actually doing the labor or feeling the pain. It’s a lot easier to use one word than it is to write an entire paragraph describing why the character might grunt later.

I think dialogue tags could actually add a lot to the story if used carefully and properly. They should never interrupt the flow of the story or become a distraction to the reader and they should never be used in place of showing versus telling the story. If your character is going to whisper we need to see very clearly why she is whispering before it even happens.


Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 4th of July!

BookEnds is closed today to celebrate the 4th of July. Have a safe and fun weekend, and we'll return with a new post on Monday.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Explain Voice

I did a post not too long ago on What Makes Me Say “Yes” and one of my readers reacted by saying,

Without a better explanation of "voice," I think this post seems like a cop-out. Isn't "voice" just another way of saying that you like the way they write? To put this in another context, if you were asked what you look for in a dessert, for example, and you said, "First, I want a dessert that is delicious. Then, I want it to look good on the plate," wouldn't that beg the question--what do you find delicious? I would ask, what kind of voice appeals to you?

Well, to some degree I agree with you. I probably should have given a better explanation of voice and what I want in voice, but I do not think my answer was a cop-out. While I can try to find an answer for what voice is I don’t think I can easily give you an answer for what I look for when I’m saying I look for voice. Have you ever read any of the books on my list? If you’ve read more than one of my clients I think you’ll easily see a wide range of voices, styles, ideas, and techniques.

I think Kim gave a really great explanation of what voice is in the comments to that post and I’m going to simply quote her here. Why change brilliance?

I can see why the "voice" answer may seem like a cop-out. At the same time, though, I'm not sure it's something that can be so easily explained.

I think of "voice" as a kind of elusive "X factor." Your manuscript either has a strong one or it doesn't. It's true that not every strong voice will be to my liking, but I do think that any strong voice will catch my attention.

It's more than being able to put together a good sentence. Consider the example of hearing the same story from two different friends. The delivery is going to be completely different from one person to the next. With Friend #1 you find your mind wandering off, with Friend #2 you're completely riveted and hanging on every word. It's not necessarily because one of them has a better command of the English language than the other -- though that could be part of it. The great storyteller can deliver a tale with a certain amount of confidence, energy, affect, and immediacy that the other friend can't. That's a great, strong voice. But until someone tells me the story that way, it's impossible for me to say how I want to hear it told.

But your later question, what kind of voice appeals to me, is much, much trickier to answer, and let me use your own dessert analogy to explain why. I’m a huge fan of ice cream. I like chunks in my ice cream, substance, and I like rich flavors like caramel swirl and peanut better, but I don’t like peanut butter in chocolate ice cream and the peanut butter can’t be too sweet. Now, that being said, I do love a really rich chocolate cake with ice cream on the side, but am not a huge fan of cheesecake, unless it’s chocolate cheesecake, but not all chocolate cheesecake. Some of my favorite treats aren’t dessert at all, but donuts. I’m a sucker for an old-fashioned donut with chocolate frosting on top, the kind you really can’t find anymore except in small mom and pop donut shops. So how can I explain what I look for in a dessert? I can’t because I look for something delicious. Do you see where I’m going with this? My tastes are wide and varied and to try to narrow down the kind of voice I’m attracted to just isn’t going to work. Not only that, it isn’t fair to pastry chefs worldwide.

I think if you look at your own stack of favorite books you’ll probably see many variations in voice, but variations that really appealed to you.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Christie Craig on Writer's Block

Christie Craig
Weddings Can be Murder
Publisher: Dorchester
Pub Date: June 2008
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

Fact or Fiction?

We’ve seen them played out in the movies, such as Stranger Than Fiction and The Muse. I don’t think there’s a writer alive who hasn’t given these questions some thought.

And what questions are those?

Does writer’s block really exist? Are writers dependent upon whims or what some so frequently refer to as their muses to be productive and successful writers? Can our talent, or means of livelihood, be yanked from our clutches by things we cannot control?

It’s a debatable subject, one I’ve discussed with numerous other writers over numerous glasses of Merlot. I’ve heard the stories of writer’s block preventions: lucky rabbit foots, sprinkling desks with holy water, of odd, sometimes bizarre, rituals repeated daily to show honor to so-called muses.

Of course, I have my own rituals. I stumble out of my bed, pour a cup of cinnamon half decaf/half peel-me-off-the-ceiling java, find my way to my office, still in my pajamas, mind you, hair only finger-combed and . . . here’s the most important part, I plop my butt in the chair and start to work.

Personally, I think writer’s block and those so-called muses are a tad more fiction that fact. Why?

It goes back to my childhood. Yup, I come from the age when we blame everything on our parents. However, Dad won’t threaten to disinherit me for this one. You see, my dad was a plumber. He got up every day and went to work. Never, not once, do I ever recall him saying, “I can’t plumb today. I have plumber’s block.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know there were days he plumbed better than others. Days his job was crappy. (And I don’t mean he literally dealt with crap, but hey, he unclogged toilets, so . . .) And as a writer, I have days I write better than others, and days I question my ability to write even a grocery list.

But do I believe it’s because my muse packed his bags and ran off to count zebra stripes in Africa? (And I say “his” because if I had a muse, he would look like Johnny Depp—he’d also love to do massages, and do housework without being asked. Hey, this is my fantasy, leave it alone.) Do I believe it’s because I’ve suddenly been struck by the ominous fate of writer’s block? Oh, heck no.

I guess I refuse to believe that this thing I do, called writing, is all based on luck, on some supernatural power, and not on the years I spent toiling, studying, and learning craft. If I was a baseball player, I wouldn’t feel as if I had to grab my crotch, wear the same dirty socks, or chew the same tobacco to win a game.

But now that I’ve told you what I don’t believe, let me tell you what I do believe. I do believe in burn-out. It is something brain surgeons, garbagemen, and even plumbers can face when they don’t take the time to live a well-rounded life.

I believe when I’m no longer inspired about a project, I’ve probably written myself into a corner and if I go back and reread, I’ll find the scene where I took a wrong turn. Or maybe I just need to take a day off. Yeah, days off are good.

I believe there is sometimes a fine line between being obsessed and being determined.

I believe that writers who stop living life and only write about it will eventually become uninspired writers.

I believe this career and the challenges that it takes to even get published can be a hard pill to swallow, and one needs to find ways to stay motivated. And if it means grabbing your crotch and wearing dirty socks and having a spittoon by your desk, then so be it. Doing things to stay motivated is different from doing things to prevent yourself from being robbed of a talent for which you’ve worked and earned.

So what about you? Do you believe and shudder at the thought of writer’s block? Do you fear and pray your muse will never abandon you? What do you do when you find yourself suddenly uninspired?

Christie Craig’s book Weddings Can Be Murder hit the bookstands May 27th. Check out her regular Tuesday Blog at Killer Fiction, her website, and her website for writers about writing at Write With Us Online.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Follow-Up to Revisions from an Agent

I received some interesting comments on my post on Revisions Before Representation and wanted to do a quick follow-up post to answer some concerns/questions that popped up. First let me clarify something I have talked about before, but probably should touch on again. I never, ever recommend an author do revisions simply because an agent asked for them. Revisions should only be done if they resonate with you, the author, and if you agree that they will probably make the book stronger. Revisions that are done only because an agent asked for them are never going to work. If you don’t believe in them you probably don’t understand why they are needed and aren’t going to do exactly what that agent feels needs to be done.

Remember, usually if revisions are as easy as they might sound from the letter there is more going on. An agent will happily take on a project that needs minor work, but won’t always give feedback that encompasses everything she found wrong with the book. Which is usually why she’s not offering representation. So if it seems too easy, there’s probably more there you aren’t seeing.

If you do get feedback from an agent you really agree with I would suggest you stop querying, do the revisions, and begin querying again. If you think this is going to make a stronger book, why would you want to query the old, weaker version?

And last, one of the reasons I recommend only doing revisions is if they feel right to you is because there are no guarantees. There seems to be bitterness at times that since an agent asks to see revisions and material again they are automatically ready to offer representation if those revisions are done correctly. Sadly, no, but they do want to offer representation, which is why the revisions were requested. They see something special there and hope it can come out. There are many reasons why, once revisions are done, representation might not be offered. It’s possible not enough was done or the revisions weren’t done in the way the agent envisioned. It’s possible that since that time the market has changed and the agent is no longer as enthusiastic for the book or that she has taken on something similar in the interim and now doesn’t feel she can represent two such books. Or, she’s just lost enthusiasm. Don’t let it get you down. If the book is stronger there’s always another agent out there.