Friday, May 29, 2009

Movies and Books

There’s no doubt that nearly every writer would love to, someday, see her book made into a movie. If not to see your words brought to the big screen, maybe to see some of the money that might hopefully come with the deal. But how do movies and books and the movie and book industries really relate, and what does that have to do with you shopping your book to agents or publishers?

Let me start out by saying this: It’s rare that books get made into movies. Sure it happens all the time, but let’s take a close look at how many books are published each year and how many movies made from books are produced each year. Take a look at the bestseller lists. Many of those books or even books written by those authors have never been optioned. Sure, few things excite publishers, agents and authors more than a big option on a book, but that doesn’t mean it will be made into a movie and certainly none of us ever go into a book deal thinking about the movie rights. It just doesn’t make sense. Our job isn’t to produce movies, it’s to publish books.

Therefore, when pitching a book, focus on the book, not any movie dreams you might have. For me it’s always a bit of a turnoff when an author first tells me her book would make a great movie and then tells me about the book. Would it make a great movie or is it a great book? Because I’m not looking for movies, I’m looking for books.

What about an author who has movie interest of one kind or another before getting a book deal? Will this then hurt her chances of getting a book deal? I don’t think so. Authors primarily hold the movie rights to their books anyway, so the publisher isn’t losing any money by giving those away, and if the movie is made the publisher has the opportunity to sell more books based on the success of the movie. That, however, is unlikely to play into the publisher’s decision on how much will be paid for the book. Unless of course you have George Lucas or Ron Howard already in production. That might make a difference.

Movies and books are two very, very distinct things, and even if you think your book might make a great movie, let’s take this one step at a time. Let’s sell the book first and then we’ll start talking to agents about the movie. Agents and publishers are looking for great books, so if you want to write a book, focus on the book first.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Benefit of the Doubt

It was probably at least a year ago now, but it’s something that’s stuck with me. At that time, a reader posted a comment on the blog that I responded to and immediately other readers posted to assure me that the first comment was nothing but a troll and should simply be ignored. I wasn’t so sure.

Part of an agent’s job is to give every query she gets the benefit of the doubt. I can never assume, no matter how badly written a query may be, that an author is anything less than deadly serious about a writing career. I know that there are people out there who think they are brilliant for querying agents with a fake query based on a bestselling book just to prove how dumb we all are (although I don’t believe that does anything other than prove that either the idea for the book is now overdone or outdated or this so-called genius can’t write a query), and I know there are people who like to troll agent blogs just to spread their venom, but I also know there are real beginners out there who just don’t know any better, and I think that sometimes, people in the writing community get just impatient enough to assume all beginners are nothing but trolls.

So while I do my best to ignore the really crazy comments I get, I do feel that I need to reply to every query and that, yes, sometimes those crazy comments might even have a bit of merit in them and deserve a reply as well.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Writing Dialogue

I don’t often write about writing, I typically keep my posts and advice to publishing. Why? Because I don’t feel that I’m a writing teacher. I’m a writer, sure, in the sense that I do this blog, but having never truly written fiction I don’t feel I have the experience to really teach readers specifics about how to write. I’m also not sure that’s something that can really be taught. Certainly I think you can learn to write, but I think much of what you learn has to be self-taught through trial and error.

All of that being said, which has little to do with today’s post, I do have some thoughts on writing dialogue, some of which was inspired by a post I did on Grammar in Books. One of the biggest mistakes I see with new writers, those who have just finished the first book, is stiff dialogue. With a piece of fiction, it’s imperative that the characters come alive for your readers, and one of the best ways to learn about characters is to see them and hear them in action. When writing dialogue, I think it’s important to really note how people talk.

The next time you’re having a conversation or, better yet, observing a conversation that someone else is having, pay attention to how much you can discern about what they are saying even when you can’t hear the words. Body language, mannerisms, and even things like exhausted sighs go a long way into how our words get across to our listeners.

Dialogue made up of nothing but words rarely works. For example, how natural does this really sound to you?

“Hi, Sally. How is your day going?” asked Tanya.

“Great, Tanya, but I’m really angry about what the boss said.”

“What did the boss say, Sally?” Tanya asked.

And so on....

To make dialogue come alive and to show not tell, as well as to give us insights into who your characters really are, we need body language and we need atmosphere. Is Tanya balancing a bundle of books in her arms? Does she need to shift her weight, preparing for a long story from Sally? If Sally is so angry, how come we don’t see this, and is it logical for someone who is so angry (as she claims) to also say she’s great? Does Sally need to drop her voice so others around can’t hear her? Does she glance around to make sure no one else is listening?

Again, I’m not an expert on writing and how to create great dialogue. I’m sure there are a number of better resources than me to get that information from. But, I can tell you after years of experience that dialogue can make or break your story. Remember, it’s not just a way to have a conversation, it’s a way to introduce your characters and let readers get to know them a little.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The International Community and Publishing

I get a lot of questions about how anything outside of the U.S. is viewed in the publishing community. Do authors not located in the U.S. have a chance at publication, and what about books set outside of the U.S.? What are their chances?

Rather than do separate posts I’m going to try to answer both questions in one. I am absolutely sure there are some agents who don’t want anything to do with people outside of the U.S.; whether we like it or not that’s just the way the world works. There are people out there who just think that life is easier if you stick within your own world, so to speak. And that’s fine for them. It’s also their loss as far as I’m concerned.

BookEnds has a number of clients who are not in the U.S. or U.S. citizens. We have clients in the UK, Australia and Canada, and none of them are Americans. And yes, we consider proposals from all over the world. I know I’ve requested material from Spain, Japan, New Zealand, China, and France, to name a few. One of the reasons some agents might resist foreign clients is that it can be a tax nightmare. Trust me, we pay our accountant a lot of money to keep those things organized for us. However, in our mind a good client and a great book are more important than a few tax headaches. If you live outside of the U.S. and are seeking representation in the U.S. I would go at it as if you were in the U.S. Don’t let your locale injure your chances. If an agent rejects your work simply because of where you live the agent is too short-sighted for you to want to work with anyway.

As for books set outside of the U.S., these can be a little more tricky because, let’s face it, Americans tend to stereotypically be a little internationally challenged. That being said, I think we can all look at the bestseller lists and see a number of genre and literary authors who have written fabulous books set in locales outside of the U.S. and obviously found a market. I suspect that writing literary fiction allows you a little more leeway when it comes to international settings. Genre can be trickier, primarily because I think readers often come to them with certain expectations. However, if you really feel that you want to break the mold in your genre writing and set your thriller in a foreign land or your historical romance somewhere outside of Regency England, go for it, just make sure that there’s a real point to choosing the setting and that your point is not that you used to live there (a common answer when I ask writers why they chose a certain setting). To make an international setting work in genre fiction I think the locale itself almost needs to become a character. The reader needs to be transported into another world and not feel like the book could have just as easily taken place in Houston, Omaha, Reno or Scranton.

When it comes right down to it, most agents don’t care where you’re from or where you’re book is set, we want a really terrific book. But if you are going to set your cozy mystery in Ireland then Ireland really needs to shine through and not just be another Cute Town.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Happy Memorial Day Weekend

BookEnds will be closed today through Monday in observance of the Memorial Day weekend.

For those who haven’t already placed bids at Brenda Novak’s auction for Diabetes Research, we encourage you to check it out. Like many agents and editors, Jacky, Kim, and I have all donated proposal critiques (mine includes either a meeting or phone consultation). There are also signed books, vacations, computers, and hundreds of other fun items. The auction ends May 31 and the money goes to a wonderful cause. For more information, go to

Have a great and safe holiday and enjoy the unofficial start of summer, and we'll be back Tuesday with a new post.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Re-Pitching Agents

I did a round of querying in the fall that got a few solid nibbles, two partials and a full, and advice along the lines of "love the writing but this isn't as marketable as we'd like; make these changes and it might be." While I definitely intend to repitch to those three agents, I'd also like to requery a few others who gave encouraging rejections. What I'm wondering about is the new query letter. It feels weird to lead with a straight traditional pitch if I need to get the point across that this was a book they passed on that has undergone revisions and might deserve a second look.

If the agent has already read a partial or full you definitely need to let her know in the opening of your query that this is a re-query. Agents have short memories, sometimes, and it’s likely that if she already read part of the work she’s going to remember and feel somewhat confused. We do confuse easily. Was this something she saw before or does it just seem familiar? Make it very clear from the beginning what you’re doing.

I would simply start out with something along the lines of, “Back in December you had reviewed a partial of my book Oodles of Fun and while you declined at that time I have since done extensive revisions at the suggestion of other agents and feel the book is much stronger. I have great respect for your agency and am querying to see if you’d be interested in taking a second look at my work.”

Obviously, put that in your own words, but I think full disclosure is your best bet.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

No Reply Necessary

I know in the past I’ve written blog articles letting authors know that if they really feel the need or desire to send a thank-you note to an agent, go right ahead. It won’t hurt anything. Well I also know that there are a few agents out there who find these nice little notes irritating. They are a waste of time and a waste of inbox space. And I understand that too.

A reader recently received a rejection (via email) from an agent who had added at the end of her letter, “And you don’t need to bother replying to this email.” While the reader understands that there are a lot of writers who send scathing email replies to rejections, she was still a little put out by this line and wanted to know my opinion on why an agent would do this.

I’ll tell you exactly why an agent would do this. Because email invites conversation, conversation that many don’t know how to end and conversation that most agents don’t have time for. Sure, some of it is a simple thank you, but a lot of it includes requests for recommendations for other agents, requests for a more detailed explanation of why exactly the work was rejected, scathing, horrible, insane replies, snotty, in-your-face, “I already have an agent anyway” replies, requests for query critiques, and the list goes on.

Think of it this way: most agents are getting somewhere between 50 and 100 email queries everyday, and if every single one of those queriers decides to reply with something, anything, even a thank you, the agent is now getting somewhere between 100 and 200 queries a day. Queries that still need to be opened and read, or at least skimmed. Time that could be used for other things.

I wouldn’t be offended by this line in the agent’s letter. It’s not meant as a personal statement to you, she had no idea that you frequently send thank yous for rejection notes. Instead it was just a strongly worded request that the conversation stop here, an agent’s attempt to keep her incoming email to a minimum and protect her own time.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Women's Fiction

I seem to get a ton of questions about women’s fiction; there are a lot of people concerned with everything from word count to a definition of what women’s fiction is. So let me see if I can clear some of this up, and of course muddy the waters a little.

The first thing to understand about genre definitions is that there’s a reason they are so difficult to understand. Genre definitions, like genres themselves, are fluid. They change with the market and with the times. In other words, years ago, there was a very clear line between what was considered romance and what was considered fantasy. Now, not so much. Books that were previously considered strictly fantasy are now finding their way into the romance section at bookstores and vice versa. Which is why I try to encourage authors not to get too hung up on the specifics of a genre. If you’re not sure by definition what genre your book fits into, take a look at fairly recently published books you would consider similar in theme and style. How are those being published? That might help you define genre better than a list of rules ever will.

Women’s fiction is a strong and growing market and I don’t see that changing, ever. What I do see changing are the types of books considered women’s fiction or published in general. Let’s use chick lit as an example. While chick lit was given its own genre it was, and still is, essentially women’s fiction. A few years ago chick lit was the hottest thing going and every bookstore displayed a sea of pink martini glasses. Now, just a few short years later, the term chick lit is taboo and not to be spoken of ever again. However, that doesn’t mean you still can’t write a light, humorous book about a young woman in an urban setting. You’re just going to need to give it a little more oomph, a little more angst than a lot of the previously published chick lit titles had, and you’re not going to be able to call it chick lit. The irony of this entire post is that strangely I’ve been seeing a lot more queries of late for books formerly known as chick lit and I’ve even requested a few. The overall concept isn’t dead, just the simplified version (if that makes any sense).

I’m very frequently asked by authors what editors mean when they talk about women’s fiction and what exactly are they looking for. Are they looking for Friday Night Knitting Club, Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, or Bridget Jones’s Diary? Yes, yes, and yes. All of those titles are women’s fiction and all are being sought out by editors. Like everything in publishing and everything when it comes to reading in general, what we’re all seeking in women’s fiction is subjective. The type of women’s fiction that might really grab me and warm my heart might not be the same type of book that excites Kim or Jacky. Women’s fiction is a huge, huge genre and not as simple to define as, say, cozy mysteries. So try not to get hung up on what the editors are looking for specifically and write the book that will warm women’s hearts everywhere, because that’s what we all really want.


Monday, May 18, 2009

The Importance of Follow-Up

Recently BookEnds had some major trouble with our server. Apparently another domain also using our server (through the web hosting company we use) was hacked into and blocked for spam. That meant a fair number of emails leaving our server were blocked by the email hosts receiving the emails (namely yahoo, msn, hotmail, etc). Which means that a fair number of emails we sent over a two-day period were rejected by servers. Strangely for me, all of the emails that were rejected were responses to queries. Once our hosting company was alerted and corrected the mistake I attempted to go through and resend some of the emails. Unfortunately, many still bounced and I’m sure I didn’t catch them all.

Sadly, I barely have the time to read and answer queries, let alone figure out which got through and which didn’t. The point? Check in! If you haven’t received a response from a BookEnds agent in the “respond by” time posted on our Web site (and I do suggest you give us a week or two beyond that for things like emergencies, vacations, responses that haven’t been written yet, or just a backlog) then don’t hesitate to send a quick email checking on status. If we no longer have the query in our inbox we’ll ask you to resend, or you can preempt that by checking in and including the query a second time. Email is not perfect and I get rejected/returned emails all the time.

While BookEnds agents can, at times, be slow, we do respond to everything, so if you haven’t heard, there’s a reason.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Publishing and Social Networking

Have you ever noticed how I come up with horrible blog headlines? That of course has nothing to do with today’s post, but I just wanted to point it out.

Facebook. Today’s hot new social phenomenon, sure to be replaced next week by something not quite completely new, but just as exciting. Just like everyone else on the planet, agents have joined the revolution and signed up for Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. But how do authors, especially those who are unpublished, know if they can be “friends” with the agents in question? It’s a weird line, isn’t it? It’s weird for agents too. Do we really want our clients to know what we’re having for dinner or to see the old prom pictures someone “kindly” posted for us? I know I don’t. My solution to that dilemma was to build two different Facebook accounts for myself.

I have my personal account, where I reconnect with high school friends, share personal photos and post ridiculous status updates, and I have my Jessica Faust BookEnds account, where I chat with authors, post links to publishing stories, and check in to see who’s not writing when she should be. So far it’s worked pretty well for me, and as for my business account, I pretty much accept any friend who wants to come my way. That’s not to say that I don’t get a number of requests to my personal account as well. After all, who would know? I simply “ignore” those.

I think that if you see an agent has a Facebook account and you wonder if it’s personal or professional, there’s no harm in simply hitting that link and asking to be her friend. If you feel like you want to say something extra, don’t hesitate to send a message that simply says you’re a writer looking to network with publishing professionals. The worst that can happen is the agent will “ignore” your request.

The Internet has made the world a very public place, and if you want to be online there’s not a lot you can do about that. Your one option is to control, as much as possible, how public you want to be. Some agents are okay with mixing their business and personal accounts, others are not. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong, but what works for you and the only way you’ll know if you can be an agent’s “friend” is to ask.

***a little addendum to to today's post. Just yesterday Kim and I both made the plunge into the world of Twitter. To follow what we're doing on a more regular basis feel free to check us out. You can find Jessica here and Kim here 


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Basing Your Book on a Classic

My YA manuscript is loosely based on a classic Charlotte Bronte novel, and although some of the characters and plot lines are similar to the original, the characters' motivations and relationships have been updated to reflect modern values, choices and issues. I believe my novel and query letter are both good enough to stand on their own, but I was wondering if it would be an advantage or disadvantage to mention that it's loosely based on a classic. Right now, I mention it in a short sentence at the end of the query, but do I really need to include it?

While I caution writers against relying too heavily on comparing their books to modern literature, I don’t think in this age of “let’s remix Jane Austin just one more time” you can hurt yourself by letting agents and editors know that you are basing your book on a classic. This might be a personal bias because I’m always intrigued by books that either tell the story of a classic secondary fictional character or retell a classic or a fairy tale, but I say go for it, and I say move that line up to the beginning of your letter. Who wouldn’t want to read a really great, modern retelling of Jane Eyre (in fact, I feel inspired to read the original right now) or Wuthering Heights (yes, I know that was written by Emily)?


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two Agents, One Agency

I have a question I hope you can help me with. After passing on book 1, an agent at an esteemed house offered to consider any future work of mine. I told her about my WIP (book 2), and she said she'd like to see it when the full is ready. Subsequently, another agent at the same house (which allows non-simultaneous queries of its agents) requested a full of book 1, which she still has. It's only been two months since I sent it.

Now, book 2 is about a week away from being query-ready, and it's admittedly much stronger than book 1. I don't want to lose the chance of working with this agency because I'm waiting on a weaker book. Is full disclosure best in this case? Should I send the first agent book 2 with a disclaimer that a colleague is still considering book 1? Or should I status query the second agent, and mention book 2, as well as the outstanding request? Or something entirely different?

Uff-da. This is a tricky one and one of the reasons why BookEnds doesn’t encourage querying multiple agents at the same house. I thought about this for a while and ultimately decided that I think you have two possible options. Of course you might come up with more, but here’s what I’ve determined.

Your first option is to send the first agent a query thanking her of course for her interest and reminding her that she had suggested you requery, and then explain the situation and see what she wants to do. She might simply suggest you contact the second agent since she is already considering book 1. I know that if a situation like that were to occur at BookEnds our advice would be not to have two books out with two agents at the same agency at once, and we would suggest you simply send book 2 to the agent who already has book 1. The only thing you lose here is the possibility of working with the first agent, so, if it’s really important to you, or if your dream is to work with that first agent and you feel you want to give her first dibs (so to speak) I would suggest you move on to option #2.

Option #2 is simply to wait it out. The second agent has had the manuscript for two months, you are still about a week away from querying. Since she’s requested the full I would think you should be hearing at the three-month mark. If not, it’s perfectly appropriate to nag at that point. Start your query process and hold off on that agency for now, but give yourself a deadline. If you haven’t heard from the second agent either by the time their suggested response time is up or in four months (from submission) I would go back to option #1 and see what happens.

Ultimately it sounds like you are in a great place. You are clearly writing work that’s garnering a lot of attention and catching agents’ eyes. In my mind you aren’t going to lose by going with either option #1 or option #2, it really just depends on what feels most comfortable to you.

Good luck!


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Attitude

I apologize if my attitude of late has seemed surly, frustrated or even angry at times. I recently received a very kind email from a reader who was concerned that Agentfail had started to get me down and that I was spending too much time trying to respond and calm the detractors. She shared a personal experience of her own and really implored me not to waste my time on those who would never listen, namely the trolls and even those authors who had valid complaints, but expressed them in such a harsh and bitter way.

My concern has never been those who, let’s say, I felt were far over the top. The poster, for example, who repeatedly calls for names and seems to ignore my answer or those who have sunk to simply repeating themselves over and over again. I couldn't care less about those in the same way I couldn't care less about the ridiculously angry and, frankly, crazy emails I get (and share with you in reply to my rejection letters). Who I do care about, however, are those authors who were frightened off by Agentfail and are frightened off by the attitudes of some of these authors. My posts trying to explain why agents do certain things and those that might be in response to Agentfail are for those authors. I also care about those who have real complaints and Agentfail stories (which I did address in another post). In the end, by seemingly responding to the detractors I’m hoping that what I’m doing is teaching others, those who are willing to listen.

I think it’s human nature that we find it easier to listen to the negative and not embrace the positive. I’m very happy I did Agentfail and have no regrets about doing so. It created a wonderful and a horrible discourse within the publishing community in general. In the end, as with everything, people will take away from it what they want to hear. I have learned a lot from the blog, I have changed policies based on this blog, and I have definitely rethought the way I do things and continue to rethink the way I do things. I think Agentfail reached a lot of people and a lot of agents who are doing the same.

So, if I’ve been surly it has nothing to do or little to do with Agentfail. The truth is that sometimes I’m just a surly person, and whether you want it or not, by reading this blog on a daily basis you are going to, at times, see all my personalities shine through. You’ll see fun Jessica, snarky Jessica, surly Jessica, but hopefully, more often than not, you’ll see business Jessica.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Established v. New Clients

A reader on the blog asked how agents prioritize clients. Do established clients always get my attention first over new clients or do bestselling clients win out over those making me a little less money?

I had to think about how to answer this, not because I was afraid of offending anyone (by now you should know better), but because I’ve never thought about it and I guess it’s like a lot of things in life, I’m not sure we always analyze how we do things as much as we just do them.

The one thing to keep in mind when thinking about an agent’s day is that, luckily, we don’t have to deal with each of our clients on a daily or even a weekly basis. At some point during the year certain clients take precedence simply because of what’s happening in their careers. I think in the end, though, I never think about bestselling v. not selling or established v. new. I think I look at it in terms of each individual circumstance. For example, if three different clients send me manuscripts all in the same week, all of which need to be read, I am going to need to figure out which goes first because I’m just not going to get to them all in the same weekend. I do have a life sometimes. But I might plan to get to one. Do I take the one that came in on Monday or do I take the one that’s under deadline? I’m going to prioritize the author who needs the feedback first. So, if Author Ann is under contract and needs to deliver her book in one week, but wants my feedback first, she’s going to get priority over Author Bee who is sending her next book for review before it goes on submission, or even bestselling Author Cee who is sending her manuscript at the same time it is going to her editor and just wants my feedback for her curiosity. In that case I’m afraid Author Cee is probably going to be the last of the three I read. I know her book is just as important as the other two, but I need to focus on one at a time, and in that case, I’m going to first look at the one that’s the most pressing.

I’m not sure an agent can be really successful if she always prioritizes based on who’s making the most money. Often the authors making the most money need the most attention simply because there’s that much more work to do, but one of the things I’ve noticed, and that few really discuss, is that the clients who tend to get the most attention are those who communicate the most. It’s true, the squeaky wheel really does get the most grease. That doesn’t mean these authors complain, they just do a really great job of always keeping their agents in the loop and checking in, they aren’t afraid to give so-called deadlines when they send in a manuscript and they’re never afraid to check on status.

Of course, each agent is different. I can only tell you how I do things.


Friday, May 08, 2009

Your Agent History

In previous comments there has been some concern that the author with a history of previous agents, let’s say one, two or three, is shooting herself in the foot simply because having so many agents labels her as trouble. Someone mentioned that she heard other agents say that this would be the case for them. Frankly, I never thought of it that way.

There are so many reasons an author might leave an agent or change agents. Certainly one of the biggest and most discussed are problems—communication problems, personality differences, etc. But there’s also the agent who stops working, the author who changes genres or the agent who changes focus. None of which are the fault of either author or agent, but more a change based on circumstance.

How I work with my clients and my expectations for and of my clients are completely different from every single other agent out there. We all work differently, and what works for one author doesn’t always work for another. It doesn’t mean that because you’ve had two other agents before you won’t work well with me.

So when do you tell an agent that you’ve had other agents? In the query, when a full is requested, or upon signing an agreement? I don’t think it’s necessary to ever tell an agent that you’ve had agents in the past if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, especially if you’ve never sold with another agent. However, as with all so-called rules in publishing, there are exceptions to this. Certainly, if you are shopping around the same manuscript that was already with a previous agent, you are going to need to tell agents that up front, in the query letter. If you are under contract with a publisher and have chosen to leave your agent for another, you’re going to have to make that information known and the query letter is the best place. Frequently we’ll need to know where things stand with the previous agent and it sometimes helps to see the contract she last negotiated for you so we can make sure what we do is consistent or better.

If you’ve never sold with another agent, but have concerns based on a previous relationship I think it’s fair to let your new agent know at the time representation is offered. I’ll often ask my new clients to tell me some of the reasons they might be leaving the old agent and what their concerns are. I don’t need to know the name of the agent, but I think I can work more effectively if I have some background and knowledge of your agent baggage. Think of it this way, if you’re planning to marry someone who was in a previous marriage, doesn’t it help to know, at least in part, what in a relationship might make your new partner skittish? The same holds true for authors and agents.

When in doubt, honesty is always the best policy. In the end though, you need to do what’s most comfortable for you and there is no right or wrong.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Agents Aren't the Enemy

It may or may not have started with Agentfail, I tend to think it didn’t, but in the past month or so, maybe since the beginning of the year, there’s been some real anger, frustration, and, yes, a bit of a backlash toward agents, and while I’m certainly not going to put an end to it, or stop those who like to post the anonymous, snarky, and, frankly, insulting (to other authors typically) comments on this blog, I do have a few things to say (what else is new?).

First off, I am not going to link to those angry or vitriolic posts or articles. I frankly can’t bring myself to look at them again, but I think most of you, by now, know where you can find them. I also think it’s unnecessary. None of us really needs to read them to know what they probably say.

Second, I want you all to know that frustration is perfectly acceptable and understandable. Heck, I’m frustrated by this business at least 75% of my day. Do you have any idea what it feels like to get the final print run for a book and have it be thousands, tens of thousands less than expected? How about a book that gets amazing reviews, great publicity and fabulous feedback, and yet thousands of returns? Do you want to call an author and tell her that her publisher has decided they no longer want to work with her? I have to do all of this and more. Frustrating, yes, but is the job worth it? Absolutely, because there are few things in life more thrilling than calling a debut author to let her know I’ve sold her first book, or sharing the joy of a bestseller list or the thrill of seeing the book in print. There are few things I love more than publishing books.

The point of all of this is that the anger toward agents, the vitriol (from both sides), has to stop and it has to stop now. Agents are not the reason you’re not getting published. An agent wants to see good books in print as much as you do and agents take risks every day, despite what many of these angry authors are saying. The truth is that agents are here for you. We write these blogs because we want to help simplify and explain this process, we personalize rejection letters and give feedback because we see talent and have faith in what you might be able to do, and we take on new authors all the time because we are excited about a book and yes, because we think we can sell it and turn you into a published author. If we start snipping and sniping at each other we’re only making our own lives and the publishing process harder than it needs to be. It’s tough out there. Publishers are backing off on buying new books and published authors are being let go, so why are we turning on each other? Now more than ever we need to come together.

Are there some crummy, awful agents out there? Absolutely. There’s also a few crummy, awful authors out there who would prefer to blame agents for their lack of success than simply work on honing their craft. We’re people, none of us is perfect. I love authors and I love the community I’ve created on this blog. I have no intention of being run out by a few angry writers, but I don’t want the anger to permeate what the rest of us are doing that’s good. My fellow bloggers are doing great work and I’m continually impressed by the things they are telling authors and often admire them for their candor. The writers who comment on this blog are fabulous. One of my favorite things is when all of you start guiding each other. It is a community and it’s a good one.

So let’s start thinking about the real issue, and that’s that publishing is a difficult business, the mid-list is in trouble, and that just means we’re all going to need to step it up. Authors are going to have to write their little hearts out and really make that work sing, agents are going to need to guide those writers and negotiate the hell out of those contracts. We’re going to need to be one step ahead of everyone else when it comes to our careers and we’re going to have to do it together to really make it work.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Economy and Submissions

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from authors asking whether or not they should be holding off on the agent search until the economy is better. I think the fear is that if you’re rejected because the economy is tight you’ve lost your chances of submitting to that agent or agency when things pick up again.

This question is no different, in my mind, than asking an agent what’s hot in the market because that’s what you’ll write. None of us can predict the future, and sure, the economy stinks right now and predictions say it’s going to get better, but when? None of us really know, and do you really want to put off your writing career for another year, another five years (help us all)? The truth is that the economy does stink right now and what that means is that editors and agents are using it as an opportunity to be really picky about the books we’re either buying or taking on. But you know what, we should all be really picky, all the time, about the books we’re taking on, and a stronger economy isn’t going to suddenly guarantee that agents and editors are going to get easier.

My suggestion is get your book out there and query, write your next book and keep moving forward. The biggest mistake we can all make, in this economy or at any time, is to let someone or something else stop forward momentum. Getting published takes persistence no matter the economy. Believe in your book and keep writing.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009


I try, I really do. I try to be a good agent and fair to all authors who submit material my way. I respond to every query I get and even give advice or feedback when I can. Sometimes I can give an explanation as to why a query didn’t work for me and other times I can suggest that maybe the author consider writing a stronger query.

What I see all too often are queries that just don’t give enough information. The title might be great, leading to a potentially compelling idea, but the blurb just isn’t there. In other words, there’s nothing that tells me about the story. I’m behind. All agents are behind, so I need that blurb before I can commit to adding even more proposals to my already leaning piles. So why, when advice is given, or more information is requested, do authors need to get so dang snippy?

I’ll admit I use forms and sometimes those forms can give the wrong impression I guess, but again, my goal is to help assist the writer in as many ways as possible. In a recent exchange I asked the writer for a blurb and explained in the letter why one was necessary, that it’s difficult for an agent to really get a feel for the work without a blurb. I also gave some suggestions on how to write a strong query. The author, obviously perturbed, responded that a number of agents had already requested material based on the query. Fine. That’s great. I would like more information and said so in my previous email. Can you send me a blurb? So I responded that I was hoping to hear more about the book and was told that the exchange we had already left a bad taste in the author’s mouth for any potential relationship. Needless to say, nothing was sent my way. Not even a blurb.

Sigh. I’m not upset I missed out because in fact I don’t think I did. If an author can’t take professional advice at this stage I can only imagine how revisions will go. I’m upset that I even bother sometimes. No, that’s not true. I’m upset that so many authors seem so ready to get their panties in a twist over really casual, innocuous advice. Listen, I’m not here to try to squash you. I’m here to try to find really great authors and I need the right information to do that. In the meantime, if I can help eliminate future rejections down the road then I’m happy to do that as well.

Why burn a bridge? Requests don’t equal representation, and don’t you want as many potential agents as possible? If you’re going to get upset over such a small email exchange, how are you going to feel about reviews, editorial comments, cover art or the “kind words” of friends and family? I’m sure we aren’t a good fit, but don’t feel that by getting in my face about how “stupid” my advice is you’re hurting me any. You’re only hurting yourself.

Anyway, sorry, just needed to vent today.


Monday, May 04, 2009

Replying to Rejections

I've only recently started querying for my first manuscript. I'm wondering: Should I ever respond to a form rejection with a quick "Thank you for your time," or is that just needless clutter? I like to think I'm offsetting those angry authors who send nasty replies, but I also don't want to be a nuisance.

I also had someone respond to a query with a request for the first 5 pages. After I sent that, she replied with an extremely gracious email saying she wasn't interested. I replied back with a thank you, but also asked, *if she had a moment*, if there was anything that came to her mind that I could do to improve the writing or query. (I even said she could ignore the email if she was swamped and I wouldn't be offended.) So, basically, when is it okay to ask an agent for more info?

I’ve written about this before and mentioned how I don’t mind receiving thank-you notes, however I know other agents have written blog posts or mentioned what a colossal waste of their time it is (my words, not theirs) to receive thank-you notes for form rejections. So while I stand by my previous statement that it can never hurt to send a thank-you note, it’s not necessary to do so when what you’re receiving is a form rejection, and really just a waste of your time as well as the agent’s. I would suggest you reserve your thank-yous for those agents you felt really went above and beyond for you. Maybe they gave personal feedback or spent some time answering your questions at a conference. I think that in those instances a thank-you is definitely nice.

The problem with email is that there’s always this sense that you need to reply. You don’t.

While it’s always okay to ask an agent for more information, my guess is that more often than not you’re not going to get an answer. Typically if an agent has more information or specific feedback she feels she can give, she will. If you receive a form rejection it’s likely that either the agent didn’t have anything specific to add or won’t remember enough about your book to give specific information. Keep in mind that rejection letters aren’t always written the minute a proposal is finished. Sometimes they’ll sit with an assistant before the letter is written or in some cases, notes will be made and rejections written later.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Please Stop

I wish I had kept track, I really do, but it must be at least 20 times by now that I have received the exact same query, for the exact same book from the exact same author, but interestingly, all from different email addresses. The email arrives at least a couple of times a week and sometimes daily. I have already rejected one of these emails, asked the author to stop submitting in another, and deleted the rest.

This has been going on for over a month and yet there’s no sign of it stopping so, dear author of Elizabeth’s story about “an abused woman [who] is the greatest composer who ever lived,” please stop sending me these emails. They are a waste of your time, a waste of my time, and completely counterproductive.

Oh, and I know I’m not the only agent who is irritated by this since all of your emails are being sent to “undisclosed recipients.”