Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What Titles Evoke

Titles are important, there’s no doubt about it. When a book is published the editor, publisher, and author can often spend weeks debating over title ideas and coming up with list after list of potential titles. And titles can certainly help sell your work to an agent. I think I’ve told the story before of Angie Fox’s The Accidental Demon Slayer. Typically when I receive equeries I drop them immediately, without looking, into my query folder. In Angie’s case, however, she put the title in her subject line and I couldn’t resist. I read the query the minute it came and requested material immediately, partially based on that great title. Sally MacKenzie’s The Naked Duke (the first in her Naked series) is another example of a great title. Everyone I talk to, editors, agents, and booksellers, continually comment on what a brilliant title that is, and I swear that Kensington was equally swayed when they bought that book.

But one thing I think writers often forget is that the image a title evokes is just as important as the words in the title. Let’s take the two examples I used already. The Accidental Demon Slayer is a fabulous and fun title and immediately you get the feeling that this is going to be a fun fantasy. You might not pick up that it’s paranormal romance, but that has actually worked to Angie’s advantage since the audience for the book has bled over to fantasy readers. The Naked Duke gives you an image of a fun, sexy romance. Which it is. But what about a title like The Case of the Missing Sword. When I hear a title like that I think of Nancy Drew or something similar. I think of a light mystery very possibly geared to a young adult audience. So why is it that I see titles similar to that on romantic suspense or thrillers? A thriller should never be The Case of . . . Or Death of . . . A thriller needs to have a title that evokes scary. Thrillers or romantic suspense need to have titles like Whispers, or Dead Fall. Titles that seem ominous. By the way, these would also be great titles for horror.

Another mistake I often see are titles on adult books that sound like they should be on children’s book. Something like The Cricket Who Croaked. While that might work for a mystery, it really sounds more like a picture book to me.

Titles are important, and when thinking of a title for your book don’t just think of a clever saying or phrase, think of what will pop into the heads of potential readers when they first hear that title.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Question on Agent Etiquette

I queried Agent Jane sometime back. Agent Jane has been great. Agent Jane offered revisions and Author Me liked the changes and resubmitted. Now Agent Jane is MIA. Author Me should have gotten a response a few weeks ago as promised from Agent Jane. Agent Jane did not respond. Agent Jane did not give a ‘busy now, give me another week or so’. Agent Jane just disappeared even though she always seems excited about my work. Author Me sent follow-up. Agent Jane still not respond. I know Agent Jane is busy. This busy time with conferences ending. *please note, this not first time I had to send follow-up to get Agent Jane’s attention* Author Me would like to submit other material to Agent Amy at same agency sometime in the future. Since I can’t seem to get a yes or no answer from Agent Jane, would it be in poor taste to query Agent Amy in a couple months?

This is one of those frustrating situations for authors. What do you do when you still like the agency, but realize the agent you’ve been communicating with is not the agent for you? I think that yes, you can definitely submit to Agent Amy as long as it is not the same work you have submitted to Agent Jane, and I would also suggest that you either wait until Agent Jane has officially responded (read rejected) or until a sufficiently lengthy amount of time has passed. Do they have posted submission response times? Since you have been working with Agent Jane it seems that you would have some idea of how long she takes. Give her a little extra time beyond that and then, if you are really anxious to submit to Agent Amy and Agent Jane is not responding, you can always send an official email pulling your work from submission. Something along the lines of, “Thank you so much for your consideration of Title of My Work sent on Date, but at this time I must respectfully pull my work from consideration.” The reason for this is that you can put the agents and then of course yourself in a difficult situation if for some reason they both come forward with two different books and suddenly want to offer representation.

Once you have pulled the work from consideration wait a week or two and send to Agent Amy. Every office works differently and I can’t tell you how closely this office shares things like submission lists or projects, but waiting a week or two should take the sting out of you pulling the work from consideration if that’s what you need to do.

One last bit of advice, that you didn’t necessarily ask for: don’t put all of your books in one agency basket. While you obviously like this particular agency and want to work with them, there are a lot of fabulous agencies out there and fabulous agents, so try not to get too fixated on “the one.” The other thing to consider is what if Agent Jane does come forward and offer representation? Based on your question it seems that you should and do have some concerns about her lack of response. If she does offer, I would address that concern directly. Tell her flat out that based on your correspondence while the work was under consideration you have some concerns about her communication style. And then make sure you have that book (or another) out with other agents so you can leverage the offer if you don’t feel Agent Jane is right for you. Because yes, an offer is an offer no matter what book it is on, so don’t be afraid to leverage any offer of representation into the best offer of representation.


Friday, September 26, 2008

When to Tell About "You"

I’ve been asked a number of times about the protocol of telling agents about all of those things besides the novel you are pitching. At what point do you talk about the next novel you’re working on, your ability and willingness to publicize your book, or anything else that might mark you as the perfect author? Obviously the query letter is probably not the best time. Why? You want to make your current novel, the one you're pitching, the focus of the query and you don’t want to muddy that letter with information the agent doesn’t yet need. That is, for fiction queries. For nonfiction queries it is imperative that you stress your ability to publicize and market the book. That’s a huge part of selling nonfiction.

Information on how willing you are to publicize and market is not at all a factor in my offering to represent a fiction author. It helps and I certainly encourage my authors to do at least some, but publicity and marketing can quickly become overwhelming for the published author who is now working on deadline, editing and revising one book while writing another and simply trying to stay on top of everything. So what you say you’ll do can very well change when the time comes. While we all want an author who can market the book, we don’t expect it.

So, at what point should you mention this? When the agent asks. If you are talking about a plan for the book, including publication, you can certainly then talk about your ability to publicize and market and any ideas you might have. Some agents really stress the importance of publicity and might want to hear it, while others are always happy to hear what you’re thinking, but not that concerned overall.

When do I ask the author about her plans or goals? With an unpublished author I usually wait until I offer representation. With a published author, however, her goals are usually part of why she’s seeking an agent or a new agent and is usually a bigger factor. If for example a mystery author comes to me after firing her agent because the agent wouldn’t support the new direction she wants to take, it’s important for me to know that I can support that new direction before offering representation.

It really does all come back to that one thing you’re all sick of hearing . . . it’s about the book. Our biggest concern is the book.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Why Not Theory

I’m a big believer in “why not” take the chance, because what do you have to lose? I hear from authors all the time who say that they were thinking of submitting to BookEnds but figured it might not be quite right for us. Well, why not? Obviously there are areas I’d advise you never to submit to us—poetry, children’s books, or screenplays—because frankly we know nothing about those genres. But if you think your book even remotely fits into a genre we represent and you want to submit, then do it. Throw out all of those other rules and blog posts and just do it. What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen? We send you a rejection that says we don’t do that and maybe suggest you do some research. What’s the best thing that can happen? You’ve hit an agent at a time when her interests are changing or broadening, or she has a secret love for just what you are writing. Or maybe you’ll just grab her with something new and different, but something she can’t put down.

A Why Not is how I came into fantasy. It was never a genre I saw myself representing or reading, but after offering representation to an author for a book that crossed the line between fantasy and romance, I discovered it was a genre I really wanted to be involved in, and now regularly seek and read.

And for those of you who are published, the same holds true of your editors. If you’re unsure, just say “why not?” It’s the why nots of the world that become what everyone else wants to be.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What I'm Looking For

Spring and fall, post-holidays and post-summer, the time when editors step forward and make lunch appointments and send out wish lists. Well, I guess it’s my turn too, and after looking at the wish lists of others as well as reading reviews of some recent releases, I definitely have some ideas of what I’d like to be seeing these days. As always I want to add the disclaimer that this in no way means I’m not looking for everything I list on our Web site at www.bookends-inc.com/about_us.html, it simply means these are things I’d be ultra excited to see right now.


I have a lot of cozy authors on my list, and while I’m always open to a new, very different, very fun cozy hook, what I’d really like to see is a fresh new, dark, and scary mystery or, preferably, thriller series. I love female protagonists, but will certainly not rule out a sexy new man. I tend to lean toward protagonists that are officially involved in the case. Give me forensics or the dark side of things, like bounty hunters. I’m not a huge fan of the PI, but of course if it’s great I’ll always consider.


I just love romance. I would love to add a few new sweeping and sexy historicals to my list, and of course I’m always looking for that ultimate scary romantic suspense. I think like a lot of agents and editors I’m feeling paranormal fatigue these days. What that means is that while we’re looking for something amazing, we see so much of it that it truly has to be amazing. Right now I’m leaning toward paranormal romance that crosses with urban fantasy.

Women’s Fiction

Women’s fiction is so dependent on voice, but like everyone else I’m looking for a book with that strong voice. I love stories about friendship and relationships. I love women who are older, wiser, and looking at life in a new way, and I love women’s fiction where women are facing some of our deepest fears and rising above it all.


I’d love to see some financial books dealing with the down economy, but of course they would have to be written by top people, and I’m always interested in current affairs and more controversial subjects—more narrative than self-help. I would love to do some food memoirs or food writing books.


My focus in fantasy is really urban fantasy and I do tend to lean toward the strong female heroine. But surprise me. This is still an area I’m exploring and falling in love with more and more.

I’m hungry for something fresh and exciting and the best I can say is that I’ll know it when I see it, so don’t be afraid to send it my way.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What to Do Next

Some time ago I wrote a post on Freakishly Unresponsive, Mysteriously Silent, Information-Withholding, Possibly Jekyll-and-Hydeish, Raging-Headache-Inducing, No Good, Very Bad Agents in which I said, “If it is a proposal you want with another agent, the submissions you pulled should be able to be re-sent at a later date. If not, let it die out and move on to another agent with another book.”

Obviously this is a topic that concerns a lot of authors because I’m still receiving questions on the subject. What happens if you can’t get the list of publishers your previous agent has submitted to? How long must you wait before resubmitting that work?

This is a tough situation for anyone and I can warn you my answer isn’t going to be pretty. My advice is that while you should certainly feel free to try and find an agent with that previously shopped work, because you just never know, the best and easiest thing you can do is start writing something fresh and new. Don’t just saddle yourself to the same work. There’s no set time limit to how long you should wait to shop the same work a second time. Some agents might fall in love with it and take the risk of sending it to the same editors a second time. Truthfully though, without having a history, most agents are going to be a tad gun shy, unless they are absolutely confident they know the right person for the book.

In one situation a reader noted that the book her agent was shopping was the first in a nine-part part series of which she was working on the later books. I’ve talked about this before, but will mention it again. I think it’s a mistake to put all of your eggs in one series basket, and this is a prime example of why. Even if your agent had been in close contact and kept you up-to-date on her submission process, what did you plan to do if book number one didn’t sell? My suggestion is to put down the series now, you’ve already gone above and beyond what you can do with it at this point, and start writing something fresh. Something new you can shop to agents and publishers “just in case.”

This is a difficult situation for anyone, but this is why I so strongly suggest career planning. Having a plan ahead of time can help prepare you for any situation, good or bad.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Disagreeing With Your Agent

Is it right/wrong/stupid for a writer to disagree with her agent's revision suggestions?

The right thing to do is what’s best for your book. With this particular question the reader explained that her agent suggested she remove a chapter in the novel, and while the author was concerned, she did it anyway (and made some revisions). Now editors are rejecting the book and the author is feeling that removing this chapter was part of the problem. And of course now, after expressing her concern to her agent, the agent has become nonresponsive.

Is it wrong to disagree with your agent or express concerns about something your agent has done? Absolutely not! If you can’t have an open and honest relationship with your agent you shouldn’t have an agent at all.

I often give revisions and suggestions to my clients. In revisions I often give suggestions on possible fixes. Do I expect my clients to do things my way? No, I expect them to take what I say and pave their own way. Once a client even said to me, “I actually took your suggestion and did exactly what you said.” It made me laugh out loud.

The revision/editing process should be collaborative. What an agent suggests or advises should be taken under consideration, but followed through on only if you believe it works. Sometimes it’s not a matter of removing an entire chapter, but simply a matter of finding out from the agent why the chapter didn’t work for her and making it work in other ways.

If your agent stopped corresponding simply because you expressed concern that she might have been wrong, that’s wrong. And not someone I would want a professional relationship with. As far as I can tell, you did nothing wrong here. Try to open the lines of communication again and see what happens. If she still won’t respond it’s not you, it’s her. You can’t have a good working relationship with someone you can’t be honest with.

The author also asked if her manuscript was now considered “a ship that has sailed” as far as editors were concerned. In all likelihood yes. But keep in mind, one chapter is not going to make or break a book. If editors really felt passionate enough, that can be edited. I think blaming it on one missing chapter is making this process all too easy.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Working with New Agents

I signed with an agent that doesn't have a lot of sales but has been with one of the best agencies in New York for a couple years. Everyone she works with says she's great but I'm worried that she won't be able to make the sale come time, simply because she hasn't had any so far. I think she has a lot of books waiting to close but I don't know what that means. Do these new agents work with their more experienced agents at their agency to help them break in? Should I have gone with another agent with more sales under her belt even though this agent really seems to get my work?

It can be tricky signing with a new agency, and certainly I think even more so than when you’re signing with a more experienced agent—you are certainly putting your trust in someone. I know that I am eternally grateful to all of those clients who signed with me when I was still new and had few to no sales.

In some cases I think these are questions you should have talked over with the agent before signing. Working for “one of the best agencies in New York” doesn’t mean anything if she was a receptionist. If she doesn’t have any sales under her belt as a new agent, what was her experience at the other agency? Did she represent clients there? Make sales? Negotiate contracts? What did she learn that can help give you confidence that she can do the job for you now? Knowing the answers to at least some of these questions can help calm you and help you feel more confident about this agent.

What the answers to these questions are though aren’t what worries me. What worries me most about this question is that it seems to me that you signed with an agent that you don’t have confidence in, and I would ask why you signed with her. It’s always, always stressful signing with an agent, but it's important that when you do you feel that you’ve signed with someone you can work with and who can work for you. Granted, she might not be able to sell that book immediately (as is so often the case), but will she be able to build a career for you? These are the questions you need to be asking yourself.

I can’t tell you whether or not you’re with the right agent or should have signed with someone else. There’s no way to tell anyone that no matter how big the agent’s track record or how many sales they’ve had. What I can tell you is that you should probably have a heart-to-heart with your agent about your concerns and find out more about her and, more important, find out about her plan for your book. If you’re still not feeling confident that you’ve made the right decision with this agent, maybe it’s time to cut and run now. You aren’t doing anyone any favors if you can’t trust the one person who is supposed to be on your side in this crazy business.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don't Learn the Hard Way

September 15th was my first day back from maternity leave, and while I didn’t return to a flood of e-mails, it didn’t provide me with the relief you might expect. Unfortunately, my computer must’ve felt neglected while I was tending to a newborn and decided to conk out on me. Dead. Kaput.

I’d never been good about backing up my work. I just didn’t do it. But luckily, just a few months ago I finally wised up and bought an external hard drive. I still held my breath for a few days until I could upload the information to my new computer and see that my address book and other vital information were intact. Even so, I’d last backed up my computer on June 27th, so I lost almost everything sent to me over my maternity leave.

If you e-queried me between June 27th and September 5th, your message is lost in the ether somewhere. Please resend.

And the rest of you . . . go back up your work right now! I would’ve been seriously miffed if I’d lost all of my contact information, etc., but almost all of that stuff was recoverable by digging through my filing cabinet. I can’t imagine the loss for a writer who’s put months and months of heart and soul into a manuscript that could disappear with the blink of an eye!!

I’m off to start digging through the piles!!!


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

September: Terri Thayer's Favorite Month

Terri Thayer
Old Maid’s Puzzle, Midnight Ink, September 2008
Stamped Out, Berkley Prime Crime, September 2008
Agent: Jessica Faust

(Click to Buy) (Click to Buy)

Author's Web site/blog: www.territhayer.com and www.killerhobbies.blogspot.com

I’ve always liked Septembers. Growing up, it meant back-to-school clothes in pretty fall colors. I had to be stopped from wearing my new wool plaid skirt in September as the temperatures soared into the nineties. And new school supplies. Who doesn’t love the smell of fresh books and the length of unsharpened pencils?

The hope of exciting times and the promise of learning.

Back then September meant the nip of fall air. Here in San Jose, there’s a change in the air, too. Mostly, that’s the noise of extra traffic on the road as every child is being driven or driving to school.

September 2006 was a good month. I got the phone call every writer wants to get. Jessica called. “Are you sitting down?” she asked. I was but I was driving. “Should I pull over?” I managed to get out, past the huge lump in my throat. If it was good news, I could keep driving. Bad news, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep the car on the freeway.

“Keep driving. Midnight Ink wants Wild Goose Chase, the quilting mystery, and two more.” WooHoo. Advance money was on its way.

After five years of working in the dark, my book would see the light of day.

Jessica wasn’t done yet. Earlier that summer, she’d asked me to write a proposal for a different book. A rubber-stamping mystery.

Eight days later, still in September, Jessica called again. She’d sold that series to Berkley Prime Crime.

This September, my second book has come out. And my third. Old Maid’s Puzzle, the second in the quilting mystery series, is out. Stamped Out, the first in the Stamping Sisters series, has also been released. It’s so exciting to see the books on the shelves.

September is my favorite month. For sure.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Blurring of Genres

With all of the blurring of genres lately, how does an author know when to query an agent calling their novel Contemporary Romance or Women's Fiction With Romance?

A great question because in truth, with the blurring of genres these days, how does one know when to call their book anything? Is it a paranormal romance or a fantasy, women’s fiction or contemporary fiction, mystery or suspense? If you thought it was difficult to define your book five years ago, try doing so now, and the tough thing is many of these different genres require different agents. The good thing is, it also means you can target more agents than ever before.

Do you want to know what I would do and what I have done when sending out submissions? I would make the decision based on who you are submitting to and what you really want. When writing, who was your inspiration? Was it Nora Roberts or Nora Efron? Nora Roberts is contemporary romance, Nora Efron, women’s fiction (okay, not really, but you get what I’m saying). Did you just read here that I’m actively seeking women’s fiction, but I said nothing about contemporary romance? Call it women’s fiction.

Now, all that being said, ignore it. Because there are slight differences between all of the genres I mentioned above. There does tend to be a difference between paranormal romance and fantasy, and contemporary romance and women’s fiction, etc. Read the books and know the differences. If you tend to read a lot of one genre over another, then just call your book the genre you know it fits best. And in the end, let the agent or publisher decide. So frequently, books are sold as one thing and published as another. I know many romances that were published as fantasy and even mysteries that were published as romance. Don’t get too caught up in naming your book and don’t try to name it everything. Call women’s fiction, women’s fiction. No need to add the “with romance” part. Almost every book in every genre has a romance. So don’t try to muddy it more than it can already be muddied.

Keep it simple and don’t worry about it too much, unless you’ve decided it doesn’t fit anywhere. Then you might be in trouble.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Moving the Plot Forward

During a recent BookEnds meeting we were discussing a manuscript in which our biggest concern (collectively) was that the author hadn’t done enough to move the plot forward. Her writing was beautiful and we all loved the idea and really wanted to love the book, but felt it moved much too slowly. In this particular case the book was a mystery, and so the discussion naturally fell to mysteries and how when writing a mystery it’s imperative that each scene somehow takes the reader one step closer to the final outcome. Of course, during this discussion what we all agreed on was that it’s not just mysteries that require this, but all books. In any book you read you’ll notice, sometimes subtly, that every scene has a purpose, and that purpose is to take the reader to the end, or give the reader the information required to get to the end of the book.

What this means is that you need to be very, very careful of endless coffee chatter. Those scenes where characters are sitting around and waxing poetic about life, love, and themselves. While these are great for character building, they do nothing for novel building. It was Katelynn, our assistant, who actually pointed out that writing courses can be a real hindrance to writers when it comes to novel building. As a student with a number of creative writing courses under her belt, she would know. She pointed out that teachers and professors will frequently encourage writers to sit and “have coffee” with their characters; that by writing a scene in which characters do little but chat you’ll learn a lot about who they are. And that’s certainly true and fabulous advice for getting a handle on who your characters are, but not great advice for how to write a novel. Once you’ve written that coffee chat scene, my suggestion is put it into a character file and start the book.

One of the mistakes we often see with beginning authors are those who just love their characters and want you to love them too. They want to welcome you into their world and have you sit and share their experiences. Which is great, but not necessarily the best thing to build a novel on. Now, if that coffee chat is somehow discussing the state of the world you are building, clues from the mystery, or the heroine’s latest romantic adventure, in other words, if it’s moving the plot along, great. Keep it in. If not, you’ll need to find a different way to introduce your characters to readers.


Friday, September 12, 2008

A Report on Historical Romance

I seem to be getting a number of questions about historical romance lately so I thought I’d dedicate an entire blog post to answering those questions.

What kind of historical romance is making a come-back? I seem to only be seeing regency based novels (which never left), and if I do happen to see medievals, for example, they're erotica and published by smaller publishers.

And you are right. The historicals making the biggest comeback tend to be Regency-based novels and they tend to be sexier than some of the historical romances of the past. Does that mean historical romances set in the Old West or in medieval times are never going to sell? No, not necessarily, but at this point they are going to be a little tougher sell. I do talk to a number of editors who would love to see more Westerns or historicals set in other times, but the books themselves need to be really amazing. In my experience, when one author (a new author, not a bestselling author) hits it big with a new time period or sub-genre, that’s when we start to see market shifts. In other words, we need one new author to come up and really hit it big with a sexy Western historical romance and then, look out. The entire market will shift.

Regarding historical romance is there any interest in old west romances based on real women?

I think I answered the Old West question earlier, so instead I’m going to touch on real women. I’m not convinced that heroines based on real women work in romance. I think they definitely work in historical fiction and certainly I think real women can be fabulous secondary characters, but as a straight romance I think it’s a little more difficult because for most of us romance isn’t a whole heck of a lot like life.

When was the last time you signed a historical author cold? And by cold I mean, no publisher is looking or as yet interested in their work. Just your average unpublished submission with no big wins (GH), no deals on the table. Just plain cold.

Honestly, I have no clue. I would have to speculate that it’s been at least a couple of years. Does that mean that the only way you’re going to get in the door with an agent is to have a contest win or an offer on the table? No, it just means that that’s the way it’s worked out for us lately. We are always looking for fresh new voices, and while contest wins and deals are great, a book we think we can sell and that we’re excited about is all we really need.

I hope that answers some of your questions. I am actively looking for sweeping, sexy historical romances and think the market is great and growing and definitely strong right now.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Perfect Book

Lately I’ve been receiving a number of questions about the editorial letters and the explanation of the “perfect” book. In addition to that, a number of questions came up in my post about the stages of editing that I think deserve follow-up as well.

So, while I explained how a book is edited within a publishing house, what I didn’t really explain is how a book is acquired that might need editorial help and why it’s acquired if the only thing authors are regularly told about selling a book is that it has to be perfect. All valid and all about to be explained.

You’ve heard it here a number of times and I know you’ve heard it on other agent blogs as well. If you want to sell a book to a publisher it has to be perfect. These days editors receive so many great submissions that they aren’t about to take someone or something on if they know right out of the gate that it’s going to need a lot of work. So if that is the case, one would assume that the first book you sell is never going to need an edit. Wrong. Perfect to you is not necessarily perfect to an editor, and perfect enough to buy isn’t necessarily perfect enough to publish.

In other words, don’t ever send anything out on submission until you deem it’s as perfect as you’re going to get it, and certainly don’t send anything out on submission when you know it’s going to need a good editor. The goal isn’t to find an editor to edit you book. The goal is to find an editor who can get your book published and make it more than you ever dreamed it could be.

It’s rare that an editor buys a book without some thoughts of what she might want to have the author do to it. Sometimes, if these edits are major, she’ll communicate them to the agent or author first. Typically though she won’t know exactly what those changes will be until the deal is done and she has time to give the book a second read, this time with an editorial eye. One reader asked, “Would an agent let an editor acquire a book without a clear idea first of how much further work was going to be wanted? I'm surprised that a short letter asking for major changes could come as a nasty surprise -- wouldn't one insist on knowing what the editor had in mind before signing the contract?”

Yes, I’m afraid an agent would “let” an editor acquire a book without knowing exactly what the revisions would be. Sometimes the editor might let us know that changes to A, B, or C must be considered before they would be willing to make an offer. However, an editorial letter is a timely and extensive process and no editor is going to willingly pass on a full revision letter without knowing that she is the one editing the book. Truthfully, I’m not sure the editor always knows what changes she wants until she sits down to write the letter. I know I don’t. When I read a book for acquisition I read to enjoy. When I read for revision I read to pick apart. Also consider that in a lot of cases we sell a book on proposal. Reading a proposal is a lot different from reading the entire book.

Also keep in mind when we talk about the “perfect book” that the book you are submitting is usually read by more than just one person. Most books are bought by consensus. In other words, multiple editors at a house are asked to read the project and give their opinion. The “perfect book” has a better chance of appealing to more people than the one that needs work. One thing I’ve been saying to my clients for years is that editors have no imagination. While the editor buying the book might have great vision and wonderful ideas for how it can go from great to amazing, the other members of her editorial team might not be able to see that, and that could be enough to get the book rejected.

Another question I received was about the editorial changes an editor will ask the author for. I was asked if I ever disagree with them and how involved I get. Frankly, I don’t always see the letter. Some editors will cc me on the email or letter and others won’t, and sometimes my clients will forward the letter to me and other times they won’t. I don’t see it as my job to agree or disagree unless asked. If the editor and author are working well together and they both agree with the changes, then that’s the best I can ask for. If the author, however, has some concerns and disagrees with the changes she will sometimes ask my opinion. At that point I will step in if needed or asked to.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Michele Dunaway on Goals

Michele Dunaway
Publisher: Harlequin Enterprises
Pub date: September 2008
Agent: Jessica Faust

(Click to Buy)

Author Web/Blog links: www.micheledunaway.com & www.micheledunaway.blogspot.com

It’s now September, and I bet all those resolutions have long ago fallen by the wayside. That’s why I refuse to make New Year’s resolutions. Yet anyone who knows me knows I’m a firm believer in goal setting. The principal of the high school where I teach is also a big believer.

So why do so many fail? Because the goals they set aren’t SMART. I’m not sure where this SMART goal stuff came from, so I claim no ownership. It’s probably from a book my principal bought, for he taught it to all the staff and we help our students set class and personal goals. (By the way, I did a Google search, and more information can be found here: www.topachievement.com/smart.html)

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Here is a goal: I will write 10 pages by the end of this week.

Note that this goal is stated simply and makes a specific statement. It’s clear and not paragraphs long. It’s also measurable and manageable, which means you can create steps to get it done and it has clear parameters on what you want done. It’s also realistic and relatable to your life, and it has a time limit. Too often we forget that goals need time limits. These limits are not set to make you fail, but rather to force you to reassess why you didn’t meet the goal, or if you did, to celebrate your achievement.

Here is my current writing goal: By Sept. 30, I will revise and complete Recovery, Inc. (my single title) and send it to my agent.

Your goals help you define how you spend your time. What do you need to accomplish each day? Plot action steps to achieve your goals. To complete this book, I will need to get my rear end in the chair on a daily basis. I will need to write X number of pages per day (or X a week), etc.

However, if goal setting is so easy, why do we fail so often? Because other things steal your attention. I call these villains, and these can be emotional, like rejection; social, as in it’s more fun to talk with friends than sit in your office and write; physical, as in illness or laziness; and monetary, as in you must work at the day job. You also have your family and your home, which are often your biggest priorities and in turn your biggest unintentional villains. For example, driving your family around eats into your writing time. Yet your family is important. So the guilt arrives when you don’t get your book done and so does the stress.

I suggest evaluating how you handle stress. I eat. My hero in my 21st novel exercises. There are all sorts of things we do to compensate. However, some strategies are much more productive than others. Oftentimes, since we are focusing on the external compensations (like eating, drinking, exercising, etc.), our villains don’t go away.

The key to defeating the villains ultimately comes from within. Ask yourself the questions: Why am I doing what I am doing? Why is this goal so important? How do my actions and my compensations help me meet my goals? Have I set unrealistic goals? What can I do to help myself? Are my priorities out of whack? How can I make adjustments to meet my goals?

These are sample questions just to get you thinking. You’ll have to be introspective and listen to yourself. I had my priorities out of whack last year and by asking myself those questions above, I was able to regain my focus. I can also tell you that goal I told you above will probably not be met. I’ve just come up with another idea that is bigger and better, and getting that project to Jessica is a much more important priority. So I’ve set another goal, and come Sept. 30, I will revise the other one regarding Recovery, Inc.

A big villain for writers is jealousy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but really, what it comes down to is the fact that you are dissatisfied with the time frame of your goals. You aren’t where you want to be. Someone has something you don’t. If you are feeling like this, reassess all your goals and priorities. Ask yourself why it is you want it so bad. Does never making contest finals mean you are less of a writer? Does getting fifty rejections mean you’ll never find an agent or publisher? No. Some aspects of timing we can’t control. It’s not meant to sound trite, but rather freeing. So shed those villains who keep you down, set those goals, and monitor them often. I hope it works for you as well as it does for me.

Tailspin is Michele Dunaway’s 19th book for Harlequin. Michele is currently writing her 22nd novel, all while balancing teaching full-time, organizing a November charity auction, writing an article for Communication: Journalism Education Today, and most important, being a mom. She couldn’t do it all without prioritizing or goal setting. Twins for the Teacher, her 20th book, debuts in March.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Query Letter Phrasing to Reconsider

I originally thought to title this “Query Letter Phrasing to Avoid,” but then I remembered how different agents can be and thought it would be better to use the word "reconsider." These are phrases that I often see or see variations of that I don’t think help your cause, and I’ll explain why.

Reconsider: “appeals to young adult and adult readers alike” or “appeals to readers from 8 to 98”

Because few agents, editors, or readers are looking for books that are targeting such a wide audience. Sure, there have been plenty of books over the years that can thank their success primarily to the fact that they did have such broad audience appeal, Harry Potter being the most recent, but no one wrote, bought, or sold that book with the intent of appealing to everyone in the world. That book was bought as a YA book and for the YA audience. It was shelved in YA in bookstores. Most important, it was written to appeal to YA readers and edited for YA readers. Having mass appeal doesn’t necessarily help you, but might confuse the matter. You don’t want to write a book that some bookstores shelve in YA while others shelve in mystery and even others put in fantasy. It confuses readers and makes it hard to find. So know your focus.

Reconsider: “my book covers themes of . . .”

Unless you can convince me otherwise, very few people buy books based on themes; people typically buy books based on the appeal of plot or character. Examples of this I see, to better explain what I mean, are things like, “a way to help women learn more about why they stay in unhealthy relationships,” or “a book that centers around the themes of love, loss, and greed.” If you’re writing nonfiction self-help, sure. But fiction? This is not going to sell books. If part of your goal in writing fiction is to explore issues that are either political or religious, I think that’s great, but don’t use it as a selling point.

“readers have called the book . . .”

I know how quotes work and how getting quotes works. It’s very easy for you to parse down “this book was boring and lacking in any true story, but nonetheless it was an entertaining read” to “an entertaining read.” The best way to tell me about the story is to tell me by using your own words, not those of others.

“other agents have called the book . . .”

Quoting other rejection letters is not the way to convince agents that you have a hot commodity everyone is going to want to grab up.

“I once won an award in eighth grade for my writing and have been working on it ever since.”

Unless you’re in ninth grade this doesn’t show me the kind of professional growth that I’m looking for in an author. A query letter should focus first and foremost on the book and secondarily on your current writing achievements. Focus on those things that a professional would want to see.

“I have written a number of poems and articles and while I haven’t yet written a novel I have some terrific ideas that I’d love to discuss with you and see if you’re interested in representing. Please call me immediately. I know you won’t be disappointed.”

Besides the obvious, this is too vague. A query or any correspondence with an agent should be as clear and concise as possible. Give us all the information you have to entice us to read your book. And, yes, you must have written the book, of course.

“I’m sure you’re tired of reading pathetic emails from authors begging for your attention so I’ll try my best to be quick about it.”

Do I really need to explain? Don’t demean yourself or your work. I should be overjoyed to continue receiving submissions from authors and should be lucky to have the opportunity to read your work. Treat yourself and your work with pride. It will get you further.


Monday, September 08, 2008

Hiring an Editor

I’ve been asked to give advice on hiring editors. As many of you know, there are a number of fabulous manuscript editors out there, many of them former editors at major publishing houses. For any of you who have ever done research into editors, you know that it is an incredibly costly venture, but is it worth it and do I have any warnings?

While I have had a few fiction authors use editors, most of the time I do that editing myself (if necessary). However, I have occasionally recommended editors to my nonfiction authors. Now, before everyone gets all riled up and reports me to Ann and Victoria, let me explain that I don’t recommend any one editor or editing service. Instead, I have a list of editors I know and trust and let the author make the decision about whether or not that would be the right path for her. Frequently, when representing nonfiction, you come across an author with an absolutely brilliant idea and incredible credentials, but not the time, ability, or inclination to write the book. In these cases an editor (or ghostwriter) can often be the author’s best bet. The two can work together to create a proposal that will sell.

One of the cautions I have given to authors using editors is that you might need to be prepared to pay that editor not only for helping you with this book but also for helping with your next books. An editor’s job is to polish and perfect your book. In a recent case where a client of mine used an editor to make her proposal shine, and sell at auction, she later talked to her new editor (the one at the publishing house) to ask the editor’s opinion on her raw material and whether or not she should consider continuing with the original editor. In this case the editor at the publishing house felt that they would work well together and the original editor would not be necessary. That’s not always the case though. In many cases, the publishing house editor will expect the entire manuscript to be delivered in the same shape as the proposal was, requiring that the editor continue to be hired.

In fiction things work a little differently. Your career is only as good as your last book, and if your hired editor was able to take your first book to a level that you aren’t sure you can do on your own, it’s very likely you’ll need to consider hiring that editor for each subsequent book. Hopefully not, but it's certainly possible. Now many of you will say that’s a small price to pay for publication, but is it really if it means paying out most of your advance to an editor? Certainly something you’ll probably need to consider.

I think my readers might have better advice on hiring editors than I do. My biggest piece of advice is do your research and make sure that the editor you’re hiring fully understands not only what you are looking for but also what the market might be looking for. And make sure it’s a reputable editor with good experience in the business.


Friday, September 05, 2008

Submitting Collections

I'd like to edit a collection of essays on a specific topic and am unsure how to proceed. Should I query an agent or publisher with a proposal before I begin to reach out to potential contributors? Should I have my contributor list firmly in place? Should my query look like a nonfiction query or take another form altogether?

This is a great question and one that I would imagine would be hard to find information on. Anytime you are doing a collection, whether it’s an essay collection or a nonfiction collection similar to a book on our list, The Secrets of Millionaire Moms by Tamara Monosoff, you need to have at least some of the contributors firmly in place.

With any collection, whether it’s essays or a nonfiction collection of insider tips, the selling points to editors and readers is not the subject matter, but who is involved. Let’s face it, a book on how to get published that features essays from a bunch of authors or agents who have only been out for a year and are relative no-names is far less interesting to you than a book that features essays from the top agents, editors, and bestselling authors in the business.

So, in a case like this you will want to have a commitment from at least 25 to 50 percent of your contributors and a list of who else you intend to approach.

As for writing the query letter, yes, I guess in some ways your query would more closely resemble a nonfiction query than a fiction query. In other words, your focus would be less on the subject matter and more on the contributors.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

Publishing Demographics

I frequently hear writers complain that publishing professionals are out of touch with lifestyles outside of the East Coast, or more specifically, the New York area, and that a very high percentage of fiction is set in these areas. Obviously my view on this might be a little distorted because I am a publishing professional, and certainly in the life of my career I’ve been shocked by the publication of some books that I knew would never sell because they were just too regional. But is the industry as a whole too regional? I tend not to think so. In fact, without even thinking about it, I can certainly come up with a long list of authors who stay very far away from New York or even the East Coast.

Certainly chick-lit books were set primarily in the New York area or London, but that was sort of the nature of those books. They tended to be about young urban professionals living the dream, and the settings coincided with the lifestyle that was expected of the heroine. That and the fact that the first successful books were set in London, the UK version of NYC.

As a native Minnesotan I tend to seek out what might be popular in other parts of the country, and in fact, one of my recent sales was a Bunco mystery series, a game I know is incredibly popular in the South and the Midwest, but not that well known in the New York area. Believe me when I tell you that I sent that book around with some facts and figures about the popularity of Bunco.

But you tell me. Do you feel that we are too regional in what we publish, and if we are, what do you feel we’re lacking?


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

When an Agent Isn't Loving Your Work

A lot of fellow authors I know got an agent BECAUSE of a deal. In other words, the publisher wanted them and the agent came next. The thing is, an author can't know whether that agent is going to LOVE the author's work. I want an agent who will do what Barbara Poelle said she'd do for one of her authors--go to a monkey fight and win to get that sucker published. What do you do if the agent came AFTER the deal? And if the agent isn't really loving your work, isn't it time to walk away? What do you think?

It’s an interesting question because sure, we all want everyone to love our work, certainly our agent and our editor. However, the question I think you really need to ask is do you need an agent to love your work?

It’s ironic really that an agent will often claim the reason for rejection as being that she “just didn’t love it,” which is true to some extent. But what you really want is an agent to fight for you, believe in you and your work, and be your advocate in all situations. Loving? Well, I think you can have a great author-agent relationship without the love. So no, I don’t think an agent not loving your work is necessarily a good reason to walk away. Now an agent not supporting you and your work or believing in your work, an agent who isn’t pushing to get you bigger things and grow your career, that might be a reason. But of course my advice to you would and will always be to have a conversation. Talk to your agent first to see whether or not the two of you are on the same page. Does she believe in you and your career in the way you want her to? Is this the agent you really want or do you think that someone else might be a better fit?

There are two points to this question. The first, which I addressed above, is the need for an agent to love your work. The second, though, is a justifiable fear that I think a lot of authors have. If you get that offer from a publisher and then go agent shopping, there is a very real possibility that you’re going to end up with an agent who only takes you on for the money. Or at least there’s a very real fear that you’ll end up with an agent who is only looking for the easy money. I can tell you now that of all the agents I know there are very few who would do that. Why? Because they are all busy, successful agents and don’t have the time to take on someone for what is usually not that much money. If the agents I know are going to invest time and energy into a new client they want it to be someone who they see a long future (and lots of money) with. In other words, if they are offering representation they are doing so because they believe in you and your work.

So to wrap up what might have become a convoluted post . . . if you ever are in a situation where you have an offer in hand that you are agent shopping with, it’s time to ask the very tough questions. What about my work do you like? Do you see any room for improvement? And discuss your future goals. Is the agent simply saying the right things or is she really saying the right things? And if things don’t feel right with your agent anymore it’s time to communicate and identify why. Is she not working for you the way you’d like or are you simply feeling a little unloved?


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Looking for a Beach Read

I was asked recently about the term “beach read” and what this really means to both industry insiders and to readers. I don’t think that publishers or editors typically go in search of the beach read; instead it just sort of happens. It’s a book that is usually at some point or another published as a mass-market paperback and is a fairly quick and easy read.

To me beach reads are fast-paced and, most important, engrossing. But they aren’t books you have to think about too hard. In other words, Anna Karenina would not be a beach read for me. If I had to put it down for a quick dip or because I was distracted by a beach volleyball game, it’s hard to pick up without thinking about where you are. Nora Roberts, however, makes a great beach read.

Another interesting tidbit about beach reads is that it seems that on the beach readers tend to like to read books set on a beach and that, strangely enough, beach chairs on the covers of books sell books.

But what about you? If headed for a day at the beach what’s your choice of the perfect beach read?