Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Never Give Up

The statement, "A bad agent is worse than none" is true. It happened to me. I didn't sell a book until after we parted company. Now, I have 4 published books and I'm writing for two small but good quality publishers, YA fantasy for one, adult suspense for the other. I've been trying, in vain, to sign with a good agent. Nobody is interested. Shall I give up?

Never, ever give up. Remember that when it comes to publishing persistence is part of the game, and if you want to build a publishing career then you need to keep at it. You need to continue querying agents and writing books, and this isn’t just advice for the unpublished: staying published can be more difficult than finding that agent. You need just as much persistence to stay in the game as you do to get into the game.

It sounds like you’re starting off right. You’ve found a home for your work that you’re happy with and are now querying agents for new and fresh work. The smart thing is that you know when it comes to finding an agent you’ll have more success with a new project than you will with something that’s already been published. In your case, the case of the published author, the agent hopes to bring you to the next level in your career and wants to see what you have that will do that.

What I think most unpublished authors will find shocking about this is the fact that you are published and yet still struggling to find an agent. There’s a misconception that agents will snap up anyone with a publishing background or deal, and that’s just not true. I know that at BookEnds we have turned down a number of authors with careers or deals in hand. The truth is that we can’t take on every author that comes our way, and frankly, that works to your advantage. It means that when we do offer a contract we are really excited to be working with you and not just doing it because we see dollar signs.

Keep plugging away and writing books, continue to hone your craft and improve, and remind yourself that if you really want a career as a published author then giving up isn’t an option.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When to Query

There’s no doubt that I’ve discussed queries at great length in this blog, and yet there’s also no doubt that the entire process can be confusing and daunting to even those who have been loyal blog readers for quite some time. When discussing when it’s time to query, I’ve done multiple posts on when to know your work is ready, taking a leap of faith, and waiting until you’re well into your second book and have decided to move away from the one you’re ready to query. Still, I know, many writers go into querying with trepidation and I don’t blame them. What if it’s too early? What if you’re not ready? What if you find out later you should have waited? What if you wait too long and someone snaps up a book similar to the one you’ve been sitting on?

There are no easy answers and really, there are no answers. All of the advice I give on this blog as well as the advice other agents give are what we hope to be words of wisdom from our own experiences. In the end, though, what you do has to be what works best for you.

A regular reader of this and other agent blogs recently wrote in to ask when she should query. I think in reading all of the blogs she’s become overwhelmed and a little frozen, worried about doing the right thing. In her letter she said, “What about if I feel that what I’ve written is great? It flows, it’s descriptive and I’ve had at least 3 people of different backgrounds read it and they found little things I corrected but no snags in plot or underdeveloped characters.”

My answer to that question is that you should get it out. If you feel that what you’ve written is great rather than “good enough,” as we’ve discussed before, then it’s ready to go. Sure, you’re always going to be able to look back on an earlier work and see that it’s not quite as strong as the one you’re writing now, that you have better quality and greater maturity, but even bestselling authors can look back at earlier published works and say that. That doesn’t mean you’re not ready to go out, it just means that you’re doing what you should do as a writer, and that’s grow.

I think the writer said it best when she said, “I am prepared for rejection and criticism that helps me improve because unless you’re dead, there’s always room for improvement.” And there is. The only way to know if you’re ready to be published is to get that book out there. If it doesn’t work, if you’re not picked up, well, then you’ve always got that next book and you already know it’s even better.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Adding Religion to Your Book

I've got a question about religion in non-inspirational romance. My heroine is from a small town in the Bible belt - it would be in-character for her to attend church on Sunday mornings. However, I am not writing for an inspirational romance line (I love a good steamy sex scene!), and I don't plan to deal with Christianity itself. Is this something that is Just Not Done? In-character I feel I would need a pretty good reason for the heroine not to have a church community, but as a writer I realize that specifying my character is Christian has the possibility to turn off some readers and editors. I guess I can just avoid all mention of Sunday mornings, but I'd like to have the heroine be able to invite the hero to a church potluck or something.

While this particular question is specifically about romance, I think you could easily take out romance and slip in any genre. If you are writing about a spiritual character, does that automatically mean you need to be writing for the religious or inspirational market? I don’t think so, but I do think you need to write in the character’s spirituality carefully (especially for genre fiction). My first thought when reading this is why would you even need to mention that she goes to church on Sundays? In most books I read I never notice the day of the week, let alone Sunday. If I’m a churchgoer I probably assume the heroine heads to church just like I do, and if I spend my Sundays reading the Sunday Times at Starbucks it’s likely I assume the heroine is doing that very same thing.

I think that if you’re concerned about how readers, editors, and agents might perceive the religious aspects of your book, then maybe you’re writing them with too heavy a hand. I guess I’m a believer that if you have to ask it’s likely you already know it’s a problem. I see no problem inviting the hero to a church potluck or watching the heroine interact with the goofy members of her church community in much the same way she would interact with the goofy members of her work community, but be careful that it’s not all that she’s about.

What I would ask you is do we really need to know that she has a church community at all? I think there is a lot about a character’s life in a book that readers are left to assume. Do we really need to know every detail of a character’s life or daily workings, or should the book focus on those things that move the plot forward? For example, what if your character stops at the library every Wednesday night? That might be a fact you know because it helps build your character, but when you really sit down to write the book it might not be necessary to ever add that fact in.

I would also like to add that interacting with a church community is a lot different than an inspirational, which tends to be more about a relationship with God. A church community can be no different than a book club in many ways, about the people and their interactions and not actually about what they're doing or their beliefs.


Friday, September 25, 2009

The Anatomy of a Coauthor

As some of you have noticed and pointed out to me, more and more often it seems that New York Times bestselling authors are coauthoring books with lesser-name writers. In many cases, in fact, the bestselling author’s name is the only name recognizable on the cover. After reading such a book, based on the NYT author’s name, one reader had a number of questions for me, first and foremost: What is the benefit of coauthoring? and that one I think is pretty easy for me to answer. It’s the money. By coauthoring with a big-name author the coauthor is pretty much guaranteed a rather large advance and easy sales. She’s riding on the coattails of a big name, and while she certainly has her work cut out for her, she knows that the payout is going to be much more lucrative than if she did the book on her own.

But what about the big name? Why would she bother working with a coauthor? Well, there are a number of reasons, some more altruistic than others. Some big-name authors feel that by bringing a lesser-name author on board they can give back to the writing community and hopefully launch the career of someone who is talented but hasn’t yet been discovered. Others, however, are simply expanding their brand. In much the way Star Wars turned into a massive franchise selling movies, books, action figures, lunchboxes, shoes, and anything a name can be added to, authors want to sell their brand and their brand is their name. By hiring a coauthor who typically writes the entire book, the author is further expanding her brand beyond just what she’s known for. This is an opportunity to branch out from just romance (for example) to YA, children’s books, or even nonfiction. It presents an opportunity to introduce new readers to your name and hopefully build an even bigger readership.

Now, before everyone starts getting excited and emailing NYT authors with ideas of their own, you should know that getting a gig like this is difficult, competitive, and often led by the publisher or the author’s agent. In other words, this is not something that is just going to fall in your lap. While you might not recognize the name of the coauthor, typically it’s someone who has already established herself as a force in the ghostwriting community and has built a name with publishers. How the contract is handled (another question this author asked) and who gets what in terms of the advance and royalties is determined and negotiated between the authors’ agents. Either way, the big-name author is going to get final say on how the book reads, what goes into it, and what comes out.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Series Contracts

Let’s say a fiction writer was signed to a 3 book deal. She's written the first book, obviously. Now it's time to get started on the second. I believe that typically she would write an outline/proposal/synopsis (not sure which of those terms is most correct here) for the second, but I'm curious: how closely does she have to follow that? Because it's all well and good to think you know where your book is going -- whether you're a planner or a pantser -- but sometimes the writing process takes your story in an unexpected direction... I guess what I'm saying is, will the publisher still take the next manuscript if you get from A to Z, regardless of a few changes in between? Or do you have to stick strictly to the outline/proposal/synopsis?

Well, of course the answer to this question is going to depend on a lot of things, including the type of series, the editor, the publisher, and of course you as the author. Typically, if I sell a series the author submits either a full manuscript or a solid proposal (long synopsis and first three chapters) for book one and short blurbs (usually less than a page) for books two and three. In my experience most publishers will want you to stick with the general concept of those blurbed books. In other words, while they know that some of the plotting might change, they want the general idea to be there.

A few changes typically won’t make a difference; a major detour, however, should probably be discussed with your editor as you’re writing. Truthfully, even with a book that’s sold on a long synopsis (let’s say 15 pages in this case) and the first three chapters, the editor will expect some changes along the way. Maybe the protagonist is not a Mary Kay wearer after all, but more suited to Avon (that’s makeup products, not publishers). However, they did buy the book expecting that it would follow the synopsis fairly closely, so they will be expecting something similar, and since often cover copy and design is done based on this synopsis, you will want to make sure any major changes are discussed.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Planning a Future Income

I read somewhere that romance authors are some of the lowest paid, and $30,000 per book was the example given. But to me, that is a lot of money. I'm sure the pay varies greatly between authors, but is there a certain range for solid authors who develop a decent following?

I have to admit that I had to read this carefully a second time to make sure you were saying $30,000 and not $3,000, which is what I was expecting. While there are certainly surveys and reports out there on how much authors make, I would look at it all with a bit of skepticism. Have you ever seen the Publishers Weekly report on salaries? I don’t know about you, but from my first day in this business I always wanted to know where those people were working, because for some reason or another I never managed to be making as much as PW said I was. When salaries are reported, like anything else, they tend to be inflated. How much can you reasonably expect in this business? It’s so hard to say. Are you selling a debut novel or your 20th book? Are you writing in romance, mystery, or YA? Is it such a brilliant idea that publishers will go to auction for it or one that one publisher alone makes an offer for? Or how about this twist on things: Is the $30,000 quoted an advance or the total earnings on a book, subrights, and royalties included?

Advances for a debut author in genre fiction can range from $3,000 to $300,000, and sometimes less and sometimes more. The important thing isn’t so much the advance, in my mind, but how well the book does following publication and how much you’re making then. A $300,000 advance isn’t going to do you any good if you only earn out $10,000, while a $3,000 advance might be the smartest decision made when later you’re getting royalty checks totaling over $50,000 every year.

The range of an advance depends on your numbers, on how many copies of your book are selling. That’s what publishers will look at, that’s what your agent will look at, and that’s what you should be considering. If you want to be making $30,000 a year in either trade paperback or hardcover, you need to be selling (and this is by no means a true mathematical figure) roughly 30,000 copies a year. If you’re looking at mass market, plan on selling about 50,000 copies a year. These are definitely rough estimates, but it does give you something to shoot for.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When to Update Agents

Sometimes when I get letters from readers I instantly know the response and can launch right into my blog post. At other times I have to think a little harder and balance what I would really want as well as what I think other agents would really want as well as what makes sense. Recently I had one of those questions that made me stop and think a little about what really made the most sense.

The reader received a lengthy revision letter from an editor (the material was requested through a contest) and she wanted to know if it made sense to inform the agents currently reviewing the material that she was making the edits or simply go ahead, make the edits, send them to the editor, and wait and see.

I debated because for the most part I don’t think there’s any reason to inform an agent of anything until you have an offer, either from a publisher or another agent. However, after thinking it over I decided that if I were in this situation I would want to know that the author was making extensive revisions for an editor (presumably revisions she believes in). Once the author informed me of the revisions I suspect the way I would handle the situation would be to toss the material I had previously requested and advise the author to simply send me the revised material once she sent it on to the editor. That way I know I’m seeing the most recent and up-to-date material and, if the author calls to say she has an offer from the publisher, I know that I’m seeing the same work the publisher made the offer on. I also gain a bit of appreciation for the author for acting quickly and respecting my time (I’m not wasting it reading a manuscript that is essentially no longer viable).

One concern the author had was whether or not agents would get upset because she had submitted to an editor. Not at all. The author submitted because of a request through a contest and no agent would begrudge her sending it. In fact we would encourage it.

A caveat to this . . . asking agents to pull a submission because you’re doing revisions for an editor makes us happy. Asking us if we can pull a submission because you realized, on your own, it wasn’t ready and have done extensive revisions makes us sad (maybe even a little annoyed).


Monday, September 21, 2009

Male Protagonists

I'm writing a novel that I believe would be read predominately by women and has romantic elements (though the romance is not the central plot). It's a story about family and faith and hardship. The protagonist and main POV character, however, is a man. Does that automatically preclude the novel from being considered "women's fiction"?

Not in my world it doesn’t. One of the reason women’s fiction is so hard to define is because the definition is so simple, and so broad. Women’s fiction is fiction that appeals to women. In my mind that means the protagonist could be man, woman, child or even dog. I also think women’s fiction tends to have a greater level of emotion than some other books. It’s a book that tugs on the heartstrings, so to speak. I know, I know, a lot of books that wouldn’t be defined as women’s fiction could fit that definition as well, but a lot of books that would never be called romance also have romance in them.

It sounds to me like you know who the audience for your book is and have done the research to know which genre it fits into. Trust your gut and write the book. Oh, and read Say When by Elizabeth Berg and Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhust, women’s fiction with a male POV.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Choosing a Title

It’s never easy, is it? You spend months and months writing and then months more revising. You finally get the book finished, feel good about it and are now sitting down to write your query, and of course your next book, and that’s when you realize that, yes, your title is important too and slapping on just any title, including the working title, might not work anymore. Well, choosing a title is one thing agents can relate very closely to. We spend a lot of time with authors brainstorming ideas for titles before a book goes out on submission, and later when the editor calls to ask us for a list of ideas. Titles aren’t easy and they are important. In a sense, a title is the first words any reader will read when it comes to your book.

While I will tell you not to get too attached to your title because most of the time your title will be changed once the publisher gets her hands on the book, I will also tell you that it’s still important that the title you choose is strong because there’s always the chance the publisher decides to keep your title. More important, though, the title can grab an agent’s or editor’s attention before she even reads the cover letter and it can excite her or it can bore her. Second Chances, for example, is a title Kim and I mention frequently because it’s a title we see all the time. I don’t think a month goes by when I don’t get a query for Second Chances. I’m bored before I even get to the book. The title is not original; I don’t even think it sounds original to those of you reading the blog (there have been many published books with that title), and it says to me that maybe your book isn’t much more original.

To some extent, and in some genres, you can’t be as off-the-wall as you can with others; for example, paranormal romance, cozy mysteries, YA and chick lit lend themselves to creative, really fun and eye-catching titles while suspense, thrillers, and science fiction have a more staid formula. That doesn’t mean that you can’t still try to think a little outside of the box, just make sure the title you choose fits the genre. For example, Tale of the Big Green Frog is probably not the best title for suspense.

What if you find the title that works for you, Google it, and suddenly realize that it’s also the title of one or two other books out there? Since titles can’t be copyrighted (at least in the U.S.) I wouldn’t worry about it. That is, I wouldn’t worry about it unless you’ve chosen a title that’s already easily identified with something else. Twilight is out, so is The Stand, The Da Vinci Code and Pride and Prejudice. These are titles that even those who don’t read a lot recognize, and they will likely make an editor or agent wonder if you also ripped off material for your book.

It’s almost impossible to find a title that’s entirely different and unique from everything else, so the goal is to find one that fits your book, that represents the atmosphere or genre you are trying to sell and that is as strong as you can make it. As for the rest, you can worry about that once the sale is made.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Reading for Pleasure

I’m always asked whether or not I actually read books for pleasure or if it’s all about work. First let me clarify that I really dislike this phrase and should probably change it to “reading in my spare time,” but it loses a little something in that translation. I dislike the phrase because it implies that reading for work is not pleasurable, and I can’t even begin to tell you how untrue that is. If I didn’t like reading the books I read for work (my clients') I wouldn’t have signed them in the first place. Each time a client gives me a new manuscript to read, review, or edit, it’s a pleasure. It’s just more complicated than reading an already published book that has nothing to do with my client list. Books I read “for pleasure” can be read without thought or a notebook at my side. Books (or manuscripts) I read for my clients need to be read with 100% of my attention. I’m always taking notes and thinking hard as I read.

That being said, reading any book comes with a lot of thought. I’ve never been able to put a book down at the end and simply let it go. My guess is that a lot of you feel the same way, which is why we all love books so much. Books stay with me for at least a few hours, some a few days, and others forever. I relive the stories in my mind and the characters become a part of my life, but as a literary agent I feel that I take it even a step further, whether I want to or not.

Recently a client emailed to tell me about a new author she had discovered. She said that reading that author’s most recent book was a lightbulb moment for her, reminding her exactly what she wanted to be writing and putting her back on track with her work in progress. Well, I immediately put that book on the top of my reading stack and in one afternoon read it from beginning to end, and then in my usual way I obsessed about it. First I just thought about how much I enjoyed the book, reliving my favorite scenes, even sharing them with others, then I daydreamed about the book, placing the characters in different situations and experiences, and finally I dissected the book, analyzing what worked about this book for me and what didn’t.

Whether or not a book comes recommended, this is not an uncommon experience for me. Part of my job is analyzing books to make sure that I can find the flaws as well as the author’s strengths. Doing this helps me help the author make the book as strong as possible before it goes to the editor or even to readers. By dissecting already published books I learn how I can do my job better. By looking at what others do, the subtlety of creating a protagonist that’s tough but likeable, the pacing that’s perfectly balanced between fast, but descriptive, or the layering of stories without ever overshadowing the main character’s story, I become a stronger editor and a stronger agent.

So yes, absolutely, I read for pleasure as often as possible, but those books are also part of work. Luckily for me my job is one of my greatest pleasures.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Writer's Block

I'm currently working on a humor project about writer's block. One of the characters is an agent. I'm just looking for some perspective as to how an agent might deal with a formerly successful writer that hasn't been able to write anything in a couple years. What would be the realistic way in which to handle this client, and what would be the way in which you'd really like to handle this client?

I think to a great extent I’d personally leave the client alone. Writing is a process, and not a linear one at that, and I don’t even pretend to know the first thing about how it works to write a book, primarily because it works differently for everyone. What some people might call writer’s block others will call laziness and even others will call process. My belief is that each writer is different and what you need to do to tap into your most successful writing self is different for everyone. I have to allow that to happen.

As an agent my income depends on my writers, but it also depends on the fact that my clients are writing good books, and sometimes that means allowing those clients to take the time they need to develop the book. I can’t shake a book out of a writer. I can’t even beg or cajole. All I can really do is be patient and wait, offer encouragement and advice when asked. And this is one reason it’s important for agents to have multiple clients. Trust me, it’s easier on my clients when I’m not depending on one to keep my agency afloat. If one of my clients is struggling through the process, taking a break, or exploring new directions, I have the luxury to let her be while I focus on those who are actively writing and submitting material. That doesn’t mean I ignore the client with writer’s block, I just give her the room she needs to discover.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Writing the Rules

Is there ever any defense for writing memoir narrative in the present tense?

Recently an editor and I were talking about the romance market when she told me she was getting a number of romance submissions written in first person, which she didn’t think worked. She felt that romance should always be written in third person. Well, I’m sure the romance readers among you will be quicker than me to tally the list of successful romances that are being published these days in first person, something we didn’t dream of ten or more years ago.

If you haven’t noticed yet I’m not a rules person, never liked the book and never did well in strict classrooms for that very reason. I’m more of a guidelines girl. If someone is telling you a book can’t be done a certain way (in first person, as a series of vignettes, from the villain’s point of view, or whatever) it’s usually not because it can’t be done that way, but because doing it that way makes it more difficult. Sometimes I think the rules are made because so few people are successful at it that people become wary. In other words, I find that it’s often more difficult to tell a story in first person than it is third person, it’s harder to get the story out of your head and really tell it in a way that captivates the reader and brings them into the world you’re building. If anyone is saying a memoir can’t be done in present tense it’s probably because typically it doesn’t work as well, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

If you feel your memoir would be better written in present tense go ahead and write it in present tense. By simply asking this question you show you’re aware of the fact that some editors might not receive it as well as they would if it were written in past tense, but you need to do what you feel works best. My suggestion is to test it out. Write some of it in present tense and see how it feels and reads and then make a decision about whether or not you have a defense.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Computer-Generated Responses

I’m sure this recent submission question, sent to the blog questions account, came primarily out of frustration, but it presents a question that I would like to clear up.

On Saturday at 4:10 pm I submitted an e-mail query to you and on Sunday morning, 10:09 am, I received the following rejection response, obviously program-generated: [copy of rejection letter deleted for space considerations]

This response is identical to a response I received from you about a year ago for a different book.

After spending weeks crafting just the right query letter for my new novel, I find it incredibly discouraging to get an automated brush off like this. If you are so busy you can’t entertain new work or new authors, why not be honest with your followers and just say so. I chose your agency, and you in particular, because your website and blog offer encouragement to unpublished writers – from your website: ‘So often we hear about authors caught in the middle of publishers who don't want to see their work if they are unagented and agents who don't want to see their work if they haven't been published. What's a writer to do? Luckily you've found BookEnds, a literary agency accepting queries from both published and unpublished authors.’

I realize my work may not be good enough to be published, but the only way to determine that is to get someone who knows what they are doing to actually look at it.

While I definitely use form rejections for many things, the only time I use automated responses is when I’m out of the office, at which time you’ll get an out of office message. If I am closed to queries I will clearly alert readers and writers through my Twitter account, the blog, and the Web site.

Any queries that are sent to my email account are read by me and responded to by me. In fact, at least a few times a week I do take that extra step to give some feedback that may or may not be helpful to the author. As for the times you mention, I assume you gave them as a representation of how quickly I responded. In the same way authors often spend their weekends querying, agents often spend their weekends responding to queries. Sunday is the quietest morning of the week for me and I can get a lot done before the world even wakes.

I can only imagine how discouraging the query process is for authors and I do wish there was an easier way, but the fact that I’m using the same letter after a year does not mean I’m not looking for new authors. In fact, so far in 2009 I have taken on roughly six new clients in both fiction and nonfiction, many of whom have sold already. I’m always looking for something new and exciting for my list, but keep in mind those six new clients came out of roughly 1,500 queries.

I hope you’ll stick with your writing and keep sending out to agents. You’re right that there is no way to know if your work is publishable until you can get someone to read it, and for that to happen you just need to keep plugging away.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Working Seven Days a Week

Agents often discuss how much we need to work just to keep up on the emails we’re getting. You’ve heard it before, so I won’t go too far into it, but frequently our job takes us into the wee hours of the night or the early hours of morning (depends on whether the agent is a night or morning person) and rarely do we have time during office hours to catch up on proposals, queries, or even the reading we’re required to do for our own clients. I’m not complaining, because honestly, I can’t imagine doing anything else. My work is also my hobby, which is why I have things like this blog. I could blog about other things, like my life outside of my job, my cooking, or even my dog, but my biggest passion is this job and so that’s what I blog about.

What I’m looking for today is perspective. I know many of you have a very clear understanding, from your regular reading of agent blogs, about the types of hours we work. I know many of you can vouch for the fact that a three or four a.m. email from me is not as uncommon as it should be, but what I’ve been wondering lately is how common is this? I know that as writers most of you have day jobs and writing is done in your off hours, so I’m not really thinking of those of you who are writers as a second career (hopefully first, one day), but those of you who have so-called day jobs. We live in a world of constant communication where emails from work are frequently sent and received well past dinnertime, and I’m wondering if your day jobs also require you to work weekends and nights, because in my experience in publishing, as an editor and agent, it’s not an option.

And if you are required to work nights and weekends in addition to 9 to 5, how do you possibly find time to write on top of that?


Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Favorite Books

I’m frequently asked by readers, or by anyone really, what I would consider my favorite books, and I have to admit I’ve never been good at favorites. When asked who my best friend is I always have a list, my favorite color changes with my mood, and as for favorite books, movies or songs, well, I’ve never been able to have just one. There’s no doubt I’ve read thousands of books in my lifetime, and yet I am not sure I’ll ever feel well-read. There are thousands more I need to be reading, should be reading, and want to be reading, so to pick a favorite is impossible. That favorite might be waiting for me, it might be the book I just finished, the book that helped mold me as a young adult, or the one that got me through a rough patch in life.

When pushed for an answer I tend to think of those classics I read as a child, the books that featured heroines who loved books and loved to write. I often wonder if that’s a common theme among women in publishing (and by that I mean writers too). Did we all fall in love with the heroine who wanted to be a writer, like Jo from Little Women or Anne of Anne of Green Gables? What about Laura Ingalls Wilder? Of course I also loved Meg and A Wrinkle in Time. And if push came to shove I guess I would say that these classics, and books written by Edith Wharton, are probably among my favorites, but then, the minute I try to narrow it down like that I suddenly think of all the other great books I have read and held on to over the years.

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles is a book that deeply affected me. Would I call it a favorite? I don’t know, but I do know I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. And what about authors like Elizabeth Berg, JR Ward, or Robert B. Parker? All have been favorites of mine for one reason or another. And then there’s The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird, and did I mention Thomas Harris or Good in Bed? And I haven’t even mentioned nonfiction yet.

I could go on, but I think you see where I’m going with this. I love books and a lot of different types of books. In fact, I need to get this posted before I feel guilty about all the books I love and forgot to mention. I only hope that if forced to choose only one book to bring on a desert island, I can pack my Kindle (and a generator). I think it would make island life so much easier.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Importance of Writing Credits

I hear from a lot of fiction writers concerned about writing credits. You’ve been told over time that in order to get published you need to build writing credits or are concerned that when it comes to your query you don’t have much to add in terms of your bio. Don’t worry about it. Everyone has to start somewhere, and I think all agents realize this. We don’t require writing credits and certainly don’t expect them. There are plenty of authors out there—heck, there are plenty on my own list—who never published anything until that first book.

That being said, if you are getting writing credits somewhere—reputable literary magazines, epublishers, or even nonfiction venues like newspapers—you should definitely mention that. The life and travels of a writer don’t neatly fit in a box. In other words, if you see yourself as a romance writer now, it doesn’t mean that you were writing romance three years ago, and your credits might reflect that. Writing credits of any kind show that others have acknowledged your writing ability and also show that you are serious about pursuing writing as a career and not just checking out publishing to see what might happen (and we get a lot of people who do that).

If you have fairly recent credits (a contest from third grade doesn’t count), definitely mention them no matter what they are. Remember, querying agents is like sending out a resume. Your goal is to make yourself stand out from the pack and anything you have that can help that is worth mentioning.


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

How Close Am I?

I currently have a manuscript under submission with an agent. After reviewing the manuscript the first time, the agent had good things to say about my writing and my main character but ultimately felt it would do better with a female protagonist in the YA genre. So, I asked if she would be interested in reading it again once I made those changes and she said she would. It's been over two months now since I sent in the revisions and I'm just wondering if I'm close but not close enough. At this point, is there anything I can do to improve my book? I read constantly and I've been reading more YA books than usual. I know good writing when I read it, but how can you tell if your own writing is good enough? I've started outlining book #3, perhaps that's what you do :)

I don’t think you can tell anything about your own writing and that’s the tricky thing in this business. There is no ruler to compare your writing or your ideas to. Ultimately it either catches fire or it doesn’t. Good writing, like a good story, is somewhat subjective. Sure, we can all look at great authors and say that person was a great writer, but it’s just as easy to argue that someone else was or wasn’t great depending on your own opinion. My advice is to move on to your next book (making sure it’s not the next book in series) and keep writing. With each book your writing improves and you learn more about yourself and your craft and that’s the smartest thing a writer can do.

How close are you? There’s no saying. One thing I do want to make sure of though is that you aren’t making changes because of one agent’s suggestion, and instead you’re making changes because it feels like the right path for you to be taking as an author. Agents are all different. We come from different backgrounds and different experiences and all of that can affect our opinions on books in the same way that as readers you bring your own experiences to each book you read. While one agent might say this book is better as YA, another might easily say it’s perfect the way it is.

It sounds like you’re building a relationship with an agent and that’s a great start.


Friday, September 04, 2009

Happy Labor Day!

The BookEnds offices will be closed Friday through Monday in observance of Labor Day. Have a great weekend and we'll be back Tuesday with a new post.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Translation Rights

Would a bilingual writer be permitted to do his/her own translation? If so, how would this change the royalties or publishing process for foreign publication?

I can’t answer definitively whether or not you’d be able to do a translation yourself because that would depend entirely on the publisher. Certainly, if we are selling foreign rights, it’s something we could present to the publisher, but many have translators they work with already and might find it easier to continue with the same people.

As for how it would effect royalties or the publishing process, it’s hard to say. Certainly, not hiring a translator should mean the publisher could pay, as part of the advance, what they might traditionally include as the translator’s fee. In other words, it could give us more bargaining power for more money up front. It probably wouldn’t change your royalties much though.

As for the publishing process, one thought did cross my mind while answering this and that’s that it might be better to have the publisher do the translation as they traditionally would so you can be working on your next book. A translation is going to be a time-intensive project and presumably you are already going to be under contract and writing your next title when that opportunity comes up. I know that I, for one, would rather have my client moving forward to build a list rather than continuing to focus on the previous book.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Product Placement in Books

What are the guidelines for product placement in manuscripts? Are there any restrictions to using trademarked brand names or is it just better to leave them out all together?

To the best of my knowledge there are no restrictions. You might need to add either a trademark or copyright symbol, depending on how the product is registered, but I find that’s more prevalent in nonfiction. In fiction, capitalizing usually does the job. And this is why we should all be thankful for copyeditors, who help ensure these types of things are done properly prior to publication. Whether or not you choose to use the product name, however, is entirely up to the author. As of yet, authors aren’t receiving payment for product placement in books, and as of yet no company seems to be fighting the free advertising.

This is one of those things that publishers usually have specific guidelines for. I wouldn’t worry about it too much in a manuscript (whether you need trademark or copyright symbols), although if you are using a product name I would definitely capitalize since they are proper nouns.

I actually think product names can be hugely helpful in allowing us to get to know characters and even places. For example, does your protagonist drink Budweiser or Chimay? I don’t know about you, but I get an immediate impression of a character depending on which beer she might prefer. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should riddle your book with products. Not every brand of shoe needs to be named and not every cup of coffee needs to be labeled, but if you envision your character having a certain predilection for Diet Coke over Diet Pepsi, then by all means you should make that part of her character.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Friends and Agents

Two of the agents I want to query seem to be good friends. They are always twittering back and forth. Can I query them both, or is that like asking a pair of best friends if either would like to go on a date? My worst fear is that they will have a riotous evening of drinking wine and making fun of my book.

Boy, how I would love a riotous evening of drinking with my fellow agents right now. But let me tell you, when and if we do finally get together we’re very unlikely to make fun of your book. In fact, I can’t even begin to imagine why we would do that. There are so many other things to make fun of, like, for example, each other. The truth? While we certainly kvetch and complain and talk about the frustrations of our jobs, the only time we really talk about submissions, or the only time I’ve ever talked about submissions with other industry professionals, is when it was a project we both knew the other had requested (say from a conference) and we both agreed that we loved the idea or the concept, but ultimately didn’t feel it came together. All information we would have given the author. Never once did we make fun of a project, but instead talked sadly about how we felt it was so close, but just hadn’t met our expectations.

When I get together with fellow agents we rarely if ever talk about specific projects, but instead talk more generally about situations. How do you handle a client you don’t communicate well with? What did you do about that new clause in Big Publishing House Contract? What are your thoughts on the restructuring of Mid-Size Publishing House? How much do you love your Kindle? Or Where did you get that amazing pair of shoes? More important, though, we often talk about who is buying the next round. It I hadn’t made it clear, in the wise words of my husband, “we just don’t talk about you that much.”

Do not worry about pitting agent friends against each other. It’s all part of the healthy competition that is publishing. They won’t hate you, they won’t talk about you behind your back and, in many cases, they won’t even ever know. And honestly, if you provide enough booze, they’ll never remember anyway.