Friday, February 26, 2010

Query Status

Due to an unexpected week out of the office I’m getting no better at catching up on my queries. Give me a few weeks and this will look a lot better, but for now I stand at 700 or so queries in my in-box dating back to January 28.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chip on Your Shoulder

We all have our down days and there’s no doubt we’ve all become frustrated with the publishing process at one point or another. Published authors become frustrated with how long things take or when editors leave or reject their next book, unpublished authors become frustrated with agents and the challenges of “getting in the door,” and agents become frustrated with all of those things and more. It’s natural, normal, and understandable, but it’s not going to help anyone’s cause, least of all your own, to develop a chip on your shoulder and share it with everyone.

Imagine if your agent became frustrated with Publisher Z because they rejected the last three submissions she made to them. Instead of simply brushing the frustration away and moving on with new enthusiasm she decided to let Publisher Z know all about her frustrations, and used the submission she was making on your behalf to do so.

What if she started her pitch to your book with, “I’m sure you’re simply going to ignore this query like you’ve done with the last three books I’ve sent, but I don’t care. I believe in my clients and do this job for love. I agent for myself and my authors write for the love of writing. However, we want the world to read this book and to do so, I need you to buy this book.”

Imagine how mad you’d be. I get queries from authors like this all the time, and while I understand what they must be going through, it also makes it an easy query to reject. Let’s face it, an author who starts out that angry with the process is presenting herself as someone who won’t be easy to work with. So, while it’s understandable that you will, at times, be frustrated, try not to always share it with everyone.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Random Questions

I receive so many questions from readers. Keep them coming! Here’s a collection of those that I didn’t feel warranted a full post, but yet still deserved an answer. Also, keep in mind that some of these may have been answered more extensively in other posts, so don’t forget to search our archives for more detailed information.

I was wondering how important it is for an unpublished author to have a website. Is it really necessary at all or should you wait until you have a book on its way to the store bookshelves? I've had some of my friends tell me I should have one to show agents and editors I'm serious about my writing. Is that the truth?

I honestly don’t think it’s important at all. Work on writing your book, the web site can always (and needs to) come after a deal is made.

If a Canadian (or British, or Australian, etc.) writer ends up with an American agent, who I assume would go after American publishers first, in what currency will the writer be paid?

Typically payment is made in the currency of the publisher or agent. Checks I issue to my clients, from contracts they have, are issued in the American dollar.

Does the age of the author matter to you? Especially in the romance genre—if the author’s age is 50+, will that adversely affect your ability to successfully represent?

Do a quick search through previous blog posts, but this is a subject I’ve definitely discussed in detail. In a nutshell, no. I’m looking for a great book and in many instances there’s no reason for me to ever even discover how old an author is.

Is it a no-no to include the blog name at the end of my query?

Not at all. I think including your blog name and/or web site in your query only makes sense, and let’s put it this way, it can’t hurt anything.

When sending pages in an email (not as an attachment) is it a good idea to format it like a regular full or should I format the pages like an email message? (single space, etc.)

I think you should probably format as an email message, using the formatting options of your email program.

I have been working with two beta readers on my latest book. They have made many good suggestions and I have even changed plot elements based on their recommendations. What is your opinion of working with a beta reader while writing a story?

I think it’s a great idea! Beta readers, like a critique group, are a great way for a writer to learn the craft and get opinions from others she trusts.

What are your thoughts on Canadians finding representation from literary agents in the U.S.?

I don’t know why you wouldn’t. BookEnds has a number of Canadian authors as well as authors from other countries.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kate Douglas on the Next Step

Kate Douglas
Publisher: Kensington
Pub date: February 2010
Agent: Jessica Faust

(Click to Buy)

Taking the Next Step in a Writing Career

Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your blog with me today. (To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn she’d offered me the spot to shut me up. I’ve been driving her nuts for the past few weeks while waiting for the release of my first mass market paranormal romance, DemonFire, and I have a feeling she gave me today’s spot out of self-preservation. Did I mention the book is out today?)

Oh, maybe about a gazillion times. The funny thing is, this is far from my first book—I have a successful series at Kensington called Wolf Tales (the seventeenth in that series released in January and the eighteenth comes out next month)—but those books sell as trade-sized paperbacks with limited distribution due to their erotic content—no placement in the local Wal-Mart or Target stores for those babies. They’re limited to major bookstores—the big chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble, and online booksellers where erotic content isn’t an issue. DemonFire and the next three in the DemonSlayers series should be everywhere that paperback books are sold. They’re what I think of as “vanilla” romances—more for a general audience than my other books—which is a long segue into the main point of my post today, and that’s where an agent comes into managing an author’s career after the author is successfully published.

I’ve made no secret of the fact it took me forever to get my first New York contract. Even after I signed with Jessica, the running joke was that the best thing about having an agent was the fact she could get me rejected a whole lot faster than when I was submitting on my own. I was used to waiting a year—Jessica was getting rejections within weeks!

Luckily, I discovered I’d signed with an agent every bit as stubborn and hard-headed as I am, and eventually she got the right manuscript in front of the right editor at the right time. That submission, the first Wolf Tales, ended up launching Kensington’s new erotic romance line, Aphrodisia, in January 2006, and continues to be the best-selling series among all their titles. The first book is currently in its tenth print run, and I’m contracted into 2011 for more.

But where do you go from there, and how do you grow a career? Jessica and I talked over some different ideas, all revolving around getting out of erotic trades and into a more general audience mass market format, aiming for increased distribution. I gave her one proposal for a mass market paranormal series that she shopped around, but we couldn’t drum up any interest in it at all. We talked about it some more, and Jessica said I needed to think in terms of a “big” book.

Okay. Now I hate to admit this, but I didn’t have a clue what she meant. Agents and editors tend to toss out terms and phrases like we actually know what they mean, and usually I just nod and agree and figure that at some point it will all make sense. It’s like talking about “voice.” Until you find yours as an author, you probably haven’t got a clue what anyone means. Or that old standby, “write the book of your heart.” I hate to sound crass, but the book of my heart was whatever I could sell, and thank goodness I really loved my Chanku shapeshifters, because I’d hate to have to write over twenty books about characters I couldn’t stand.

But I digress. Jessica was still tossing out ideas, I was taking notes, and then she pulled that “big” book description again. So I shot back, “Okay. How about good versus evil?” It doesn’t get much bigger and I thought it was a nice, witty answer.

She said great. Go for it. Send me a proposal. Once I realized she wasn’t kidding, I went to work. I took the idea of good versus evil and localized it, setting a story in a small town on the flank of Mount Shasta in northern California. I’m familiar with the area, the fact Shasta is known for its energy vortex and the local legend of a lost civilization of technologically-advanced Lemurians supposedly living inside the mountain, and the more ideas I jotted down, the stronger my sense of the story became. I think it was the moment that I got a visual of demon-possessed garden gnomes that I knew I had something. I wrote the proposal, Jessica helped me tweak it, I wrote three chapters, she ripped them to shreds—nicely—but this is where trust comes into the agent/author relationship. I trust my agent’s take on things. She knows what works and how to make my writing stronger, so I adjusted my story, ignored a few of her ideas that didn’t work for me, but ultimately we worked together until I had three really great chapters and synopses for three books.

She began shopping it around in November 2008, and we didn’t hear a word. I was so busy trying to get my next Wolf Tales book written that I didn’t worry too much until she finally called and said we had an offer. It was disappointing, to say the least, and I was tempted to turn it down, but Jessica told me not to worry, that we still had a few other editors to hear from. What I didn’t realize is that often the fact an offer has been made will spur other editors to finally LOOK at the proposal that’s been sitting on their desk for weeks. A few days later, a counteroffer came in. Jessica took that one to the first editor who’d offered, and the auction was on.

I can honestly say that having your book proposal go to auction is just about the coolest thing that can possibly happen. And right before both publishers interested in my DemonSlayers trilogy broke for the Christmas holiday, Kensington came through with the winning bid—for four books, not three. I was thrilled to be able to stay with the editor who had first purchased Wolf Tales—Audrey LaFehr has championed my writing from the very beginning, and it’s made this release today even more special, to know that I have a publisher willing to bid good money for my stories and then turn them into books with gorgeous covers and send them out into the world. It wouldn’t have happened without an agent willing to take a chance on me, and it wouldn’t have happened if I’d given up when those rejections first started pouring in—back in 1985.

Twenty years from first submission to first signed contract, and I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s been a great ride and it continues to get better. I’ve never worked harder in my life or had as much fun, and if you want to see what a sixty-year-old grandmother, who always wanted to be an author, can write when she’s got a supportive agent and a terrific editor, pick up a copy of DemonFire.

Did I mention it’s out today? Thanks, Jessica!

Here’s a quick excerpt, just to give you an idea:

“You asked what would happen if things got out of balance.” Dax nodded toward the fireplace. “That’s a good example. It’s happening now. Demons are slipping into this dimension through a pathway that’s normally closed to them, a portal in the vortex which is your mountain, that gives them entrance.”

Not exactly what Eddy wanted to hear. “You’re kidding, right?” He didn’t look like he was kidding. In fact, he looked awfully serious for someone making a joke. “The vortex is all New Age folklore. No one around here really believes it exists, unless you count my father, who is the king of otherworldly theories, or the stores and companies catering to the tourists. The vortex is no more real than the Lemurians.”

“The what?” Dax frowned and stopped rubbing Bumper’s ears. Bumper growled and wagged her tale. Dax went back to rubbing.

Eddy couldn’t sit still any longer. She bounced to her feet and began pacing around the small living room. “Lemurians. They’re not real, unless you ask Dad.” She spun around and laughed. “He’s going to be thrilled when he finds out about you. Proof that some of his crazy theories are actually true.” Dax and the demons, she thought. It didn’t get any better.

“According to local lore, they’re a race of mystical beings, tall, beautiful people with strange powers who supposedly live inside Mount Shasta in rooms made of gold. Legend says they’re descendents of people from the lost continent of Lemuria that sank beneath the sea, that they had advanced science and technology thousands of years ago. They were even supposed to have flying machines, sort of like the old Atlantis myth.”

Dax shook his head. He twisted around in his seat so he could follow her erratic pacing. “Atlantis is no myth. It really existed and its descendants are still around. I’ve never heard of Lemuria. I’ll need to look into it. The vortex, though, is definitely real. How do you think I got here?”

Eddy stopped in her tracks and stared at him, looking for a twitch, a smile, anything to tell her he was teasing.

He wasn’t.

She glanced at Willow. As if the sprite knew she was being watched, she flashed bright blue and just as quickly faded.

Okay. Point made. Eddy took a deep breath. “Why don’t you tell me exactly how you did get here. Just promise to ignore me if I look incredulous.”

Dax stared at her for a long, slow moment. Then he shook his head and his gorgeous lips turned up in an unbelievably sexy grin. “Eddy Marks, I doubt I could ever ignore you . . . not for any reason.”

She felt it right between her thighs. A hot lick of heat that had no business firing her senses and making her muscles clench, especially after a hokey come-on like that. It took a tremendous amount of will to continue gazing directly into those smoldering eyes of his. Demon’s eyes. She had to remind herself that, for all his appeal, Dax was not only a stranger, he’d already admitted to being one of the bad guys.

“I’m waiting,” she said, planting her hands on her hips, ignoring his innuendo and her body’s traitorous response.

He still had that cocky grin plastered on his gorgeous face, but at least Dax settled back against the couch. “I was a demon. An immortal in a world of evil. It suited me for a long time, and then it didn’t.” He shrugged. “For some reason, I began to question the life, the constant desire to cause pain, to kill.” He shook his head, shrugged. Gave her a self-deprecating grin. “I guess I learned the hard way. One does not question evil. I got tossed out of Abyss.”

The snake tattoo crawling out of his waistband slowly writhed across his belly and chest. Mesmerized, Eddy blinked. She must be more exhausted than she’d realized.

The subtle motion stopped. The tattoo stayed put. She swallowed and raised her eyes. It was too unsettling to steal even the quickest glance at his body, not when things like that happened. “Where does a demon go that’s worse than hell?”

Dax ran his fingers lightly over his tattoo. Had he felt it move? He stared at her for a moment before he answered.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Query Recap

It’s been a while since I’ve done a recap on the queries I’m getting, but since I’ve been inundated in 2010, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at what I’m getting and how I’m responding. These are the results of two days of query reading. That does not mean I read every query I received in two days, but this is just the number I was able to respond to.

Total Number of Queries: 40

Fiction: 26

Nonfiction: 14

Total Number I Rejected: 40

Total Number of Requests for Partials: 0

Total Number of Requests for Fulls: 0

Total Number I Deleted Because It Listed 25+ Agents in the “to” Section of the email: 1

Total Number of Queries Written in First Person: 1

Rejections in which I Gave Advice: 4
(The advice I give on queries is usually fairly general, but can range from a variety of things: it could be suggesting that the author learn how to write a proper query, it could be suggesting the author work to write a stronger query, it could be telling the author that the idea is more appropriate for a magazine article than a book, etc.)

Total Number of Thank-Yous in Response to Rejections: 5

Requests for More Information, Advice, or a Query Critique: 1

Queries for Books (or Book Proposals) That Were Not Complete: 2

Duplicate Queries the Author Accidentally Submitted Twice: 3

Requeries for Work I Had Previously Rejected After Reading Partials: 2

Queries Sent or Addressed to the Wrong Agent: 1


Friday, February 19, 2010

Query Status

For those who have submitted to me or are considering submitting to me I thought I’d give you a quick update on where things stand in my office. Keep in mind, these are submissions that have been submitted to me and me alone.

E-queries: I have answered all equeries sent prior to January 27. If you sent a query prior to January 26, 2010 you should have received an answer. If you have not yet received an answer check your spam filter or resend. Currently there are 500+ queries in my inbox, all dated after January 26, 2010.

Hardcopy proposals: I have a smattering (that's about ten) of snail mailed proposals that were sent to me in late August and September. I apologize for taking so long but since I was out of the office October through December these sat longer then they should have. I promise that I will respond to all hardcopy proposals by March 1.

Email proposals: I have 31 proposals in my inbox that need my attention. These are proposals I’ve requested. Sadly there are a few that date back as far as August, a couple from September and then, since I was out of the office October through December, the rest seem to be from 2010 (although a few late submissions are there from December). I need to check carefully, but I do believe there is a full request or two in there as well. I am slowly and steadily getting through these. I hope to have all proposals from 2009 answered by April 1. The key word here is “hope.”

A couple of things to note:
All proposals are requested. If you sent an attachment with a query I consider that a query and will only read the attached material if I’m intrigued enough by the query to do so.

I respond to everything. That means I respond to all queries and all requested submissions. If you haven’t received a response and your material was sent prior to January 27 please resend. Either my response got lost in transit or stuck in your spam filter or your query got lost in transit or stuck in my spam filter.

I answer queries and read proposals randomly which means that someone who sent a query yesterday could very easily have an answer sooner then someone who sent a query on January 29. There’s no real explanation for why I do it this way. It could be because a query is short or easier to read, it could grab my attention in a way that’s either positive or negative, or it could be that I feel like going through my inbox backward instead of forward.

Now clearly I need to get reading.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Queries in First Person

I’m not sure if it’s a new trend or just one I didn’t register before, but it seems lately that I’m getting a lot of queries in first person, and I have to admit, except for maybe the very, very rare instance, these are not working for me.

Let me give you an example. . . .

Dear Jessica:

I’m your typical suburban mom. I have five children, a husband I adore most days, a dog, a cat, and a pet lobster (don’t ask). My life is what I think many expect of a housewife. I clean, I cart kids and my job is to take care of my family. And I love this life, or I loved it. Until the day I discovered a side of me I didn’t know existed. It was my erotic, sensual side. The side that discovered that monogamy isn’t always about just that one man, but that couple next door and maybe the one down the street.

Suburbia is my 90,000 word erotic romance. I’m a contest winner and member of The Greatest Writers in the World. I look forward to hearing from you.

Do you see why this format doesn’t work for me? When the query starts I wonder if it’s the author talking and really telling me her life story (because it does happen a lot) or if this is a query from the narrator. Most important, though, this doesn’t give me any information on what the story is really about.

Even if your book is written in first person I do not think it works to write your query in first person. You are selling your story, you’re not the narrator continuing your story.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Grammar Handicap

Once, long ago, I ran into an old high school English teacher at a cocktail party. She was thrilled to see me and wanted to spend some time just catching up and, of course, she wanted to pitch her book to me.

The first thing this English teacher asked when we finally had the chance to sit down and talk was how I could have become a book editor when I was so horrible at grammar in high school. Yes, I’ll admit, I was one of those students who regularly got A’s on my writing assignments, but D’s on the grammar portion. Of course high school had been years ago and I didn’t think it was necessary for her to bring it up, but that’s a rant for another time.

What I had to explain to this teacher and what I should explain to you is that there are many different types of editors in all aspects of publishing (book, magazine, newspaper, etc.) and each of these editors has a very specific job. An assignment editor at newspapers and magazines, for example, is responsible for keeping up on news and issues and assigning reporters to the stories they’ll be writing. An assignment editor will often read the story overall to make sure the writer is headed in the right direction and to edit for content. It’s the copy desk and copy editors, however, who have the job of creating the headline to go with the story and editing for grammar and punctuation.

Book publishing is not much different. When I was an editor I was an acquisitions editor, which means my job was to acquire books for the publishing house and edit for story, not for technical issues. That meant working with the author on overall big-picture issues and writing major revision letters. It was the copy editor whose job was to make sure the typos were fixed, the commas were in the right places, and the grammar was what it should be.

I love my job as an agent and I still stay true to many of my acquisitions roots. In other words, I work closely with many of my authors on those big-picture issues and write a number of revision letters. I know my limitations, however, and I leave the real grammar issues to those much more grammar-wise than me.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Quoting Rejection Letters

I don’t care who wrote it, I don’t care if it was an editor, an agent, or another author. Do not, ever, quote a rejection letter in your query.

I just received a query in which the author said, Your Best Friend from Top Literary Agency called my book, “a beautifully written book similar to Bestselling Author,” and my first thought isn’t that I need to nab this book because Best Friend Agent has impeccable taste. It’s what else did Best Friend Agent say that made her reject the book instead of offer representation, and how many other agents have rejected the book before you even thought to query me?

And then I think I’ll just trust Best Friend Agent and reject the query too because I don’t have much time on my hands and she really does have impeccable taste.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Formatting Guidelines

I recently received a partial request (first fifty pages) from a legitimate agency, but the submission guidelines and personal request never stated if the partial should be double or single spaced to include the exact fifty pages. I wanted to know if I should double space the pages just in case, since I am sending them off via mail per the agent’s request, or single space to include the actual fifty pages.

Manuscripts, partials, or any submissions to agents and editors should always, always be double-spaced. There is never, ever an exception to this rule unless the agent specifically says she wants it single-spaced.

I’m not sure what you mean by exact fifty pages, but the fifty pages the agent is asking for are double-spaced, so those would be the fifty pages she’s expecting. If you have a chapter break that’s more than fifty pages, then you choose the end of the chapter that’s closest to fifty pages.

Typically this is a question I might answer under my Random Questions posts, except I had a bigger concern when reading this, and that’s a concern about your knowledge of publishing submission guidelines. Before you send anything out to agents I suggest you spend some time on agent blogs, web sites, or, at the very least, reading a book or two on what agents expect from submissions. This is an incredibly basic detail and one I think most of my readers have known or understood for a long time. If you’re asking a question like this my concern is that you are making even bigger mistakes in your submission process and could benefit from a little knowledge before reaching out to agents.

I have a feeling my readers will be able to provide you with a great list of resources and information to help you understand this business better.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

With Valentine’s Day on Sunday, does that mean we get a whole weekend to celebrate? Well, we certainly think so, but as agents and authors of romance, there’s nothing we believe in more than celebrating love. And who better to talk about romance than the authors who specialize in it. . . .

I guess Valentine’s Day is as good a time as any to talk romance—as in books. Why we read them, why we write them, and most of all, why we love them. For me it’s simple—romances, by virtue of the genre, always have a happy ending. They suit my overall Pollyanna nature and make me feel good. What’s not to like? Granted, a good romance can really tug the heartstrings—it can bring you to tears, make you angry, make you laugh out loud, but in the end, it will always leave you satisfied and feeling good about love and relationships and life in general. The real world can be a tough and ugly place. Give me the world of romance with characters experiencing love in all its many variations, and for that time when I’m either writing or reading about love, I’m in a wonderful place—and in a lot better shape to deal with the real world when it’s time to face reality once again.

—Kate Douglas
DemonFire: Book 1 of The DemonSlayers
It's the battle of good vs. evil—and the demon's the good guy.


What better gift to myself on Valentine's Day than a hot, intelligent, alpha hero awaiting my pleasure between the sheets . . . of paper . . . in a romance novel. I love the way he watches his woman, his devotion to her, his instinct to protect her. His brawn and brains. His flaws. The way he valiantly works, fights, and thinks his way through a good, solid plot. I love that his name, the specifics of his character, and his particular battles change from one story to the next, so he keeps me intrigued. And I love that he's always loyal, always there, and always awaits my pleasure between the sheets . . . of paper . . . in a romance novel.

—Elizabeth Amber
Dane, The Lords of Satyr
Hot historical paranormal romance
Kensington Aphrodisia


My first romance: Jane Eyre. I read it when I was eleven years old because my mom said it was too hard for me. On some levels it was, but regardless I was enthralled from chapter one. The desolate manor, the intelligent temerity of Jane, dark and inscrutable Mr. Rochester, and the secret in the attic. These are the hallmarks of a gothic romance. Add madness, fire, and forbidden love and I was changed forever. It’s no wonder that I sold my first book out of the Gothic Haunted Hearts Contest. Though I write dark urban fantasy, gothic romance underpins the dynamics of my stories. I can’t help it; those shadows are in my blood.

—Erin Kellison
Shadow Bound
Dorchester/Leisure Books


The other day, while walking out of a movie theater with my brother and his wife, I saw a couple in their eighties who made me stop. And stare.

It wasn't the fact she had a walker or that he was stooped over so far you could have placed a tray of food on his back—those things are trivial. But the way she looked at him as he helped her on with her coat, wasn't. With just that look (hers) and that gesture (his), they conveyed the kind of love I wish I could bottle.

Unfortunately, I can't. People need to find that for themselves.

What I can do, though, is write about it—creating the kind of relationships that make people stop and stare . . .

And strive for the fairy tale.

Because that's what true love is. A fairy tale. Only that kind of fairy tale never ends. It just gets better and stronger with each turn of life's page.

Are there bumps and bruises along the way? Of course. Nothing good in life is ever easy. But with true love, the bumps and bruises are mere stepping-stones that are traversed together . . .

Hand in hand.

Being a romance writer just gives me the opportunity to put those hands together.

I can't imagine a better way to spend my days, can you?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

—Laura Bradford
Kayla’s Daddy
Harlequin American,


I don't remember the first romance I read, just that my mom always read them and passed her love for romances on to me when I was a teenager. In high school I would stay up way too late on school nights reading—a habit which didn't change a bit in college. In fact, my college roommate (Jami Alden) and I both became published romance novelists within months of each other. And now my mother-in-law and one of my sister-in-laws are two of my most faithful readers. Between my family and friends, there's always someone telling me about a great new author I have to read—and they all support my own career writing romance, as well!

—Bella Andre
Hot as Sin
Bantam Dell


I love to write romance because no matter what other mystery, mayhem or fantastical things appear in my books, the most exciting thing to me is the interaction between the characters and ultimately, the happily ever after. And even better, paranormal romance lets me write about love between demon slayers and griffins, voodoo mambas and zombies, although not at the same time. Happy Valentines day!

—Angie Fox
A Tale of Two Demon Slayers
My Zombie Valentine
Dorchester Publishing


Some kind librarian introduced me to Georgette Heyer—a twentieth-century writer who is credited by many with creating the Regency romance subgenre—when I was in grade school. I loved the world her books created, a world of handsome, rich, athletic, talented, and titled gentlemen who lived lives of privilege in grand houses. I loved her strong heroines, and I loved the Regency language—words like brangle and bibble-babble and buffle-headed—and the repartee. And, yes, I loved the romance even though the bedroom door was always firmly closed. I write Regency romances now—with the bedroom door open—because of all that I loved as a reader. I find writing romance gives me the opportunity to explore human relationships, not just between the hero and heroine, but between parents and children, brothers and sisters, old and young. And perhaps the most important reason I write and read romance is because I love a happy ending.

—Sally MacKenzie
The Naked Viscount
Kensington Zebra

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wrong Genre

I have written three nonfiction books in which I have gotten good feedback for. The only problem is that when I look at the feedback they all say the same thing. Great ideas, great writing but wrong genre even though the agents submission guidelines say self-help nonfiction. What am I doing wrong? (your agency is included)

I have to say, it’s nearly impossible for me to answer this question without knowing more about your book or reading your query. Although I assume I might be the one who said that, I get literally 100 queries a day and there’s no way I’ll remember one (unless it was really wacky, or really great).

My guess is that if agents are telling you wrong genre, it’s the wrong genre. I have a couple thoughts on this.

First, take a look at your query. You say your book is self-help nonfiction, but do you present it that way in the query or does it sound more like a memoir or something else? In other words, are you properly presenting your book the way you want to in your query or are you giving the wrong impression?

I would also have you take a close look at the book as well as the web sites of the agents you are targeting. If people say it’s the wrong genre, then what they mean is you are targeting the wrong agents. What do they represent that’s self-help nonfiction and would your book fit into those lists? If not, then I think you are definitely targeting the wrong people.

And lastly, it is very possible these are simply polite form letters from agents telling you they just aren’t interested.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Obtaining Permissions

I did a blog post a while back about using poetry and music in your work. In that blog a lot of people had questions about how you go about getting permission and whether or not you need an agent to do so and whether or not it’s an agent’s job to obtain permissions for you. I debated answering these questions in the comments, but then realized that it would probably benefit more of you if I wrote an entire post.

Getting permission to use the copyrighted material of others isn’t simply asking them to sign a letter, it means paying them to sign a letter for the rights in certain territories. In other words, you have to get permission to be able to reprint the work not just in the United States, but throughout the world on the chance your book sells to other countries. And, depending on the work, the author, the music, the amount you’re using, and the type of permissions you need, it can get very costly. Which is why I wouldn’t worry about obtaining permissions until you have sold the book to a publisher.

By waiting not only until the book has sold, but until you can talk to your editor, you’ll know exactly what kind of permissions your publisher requires, you can get a permission form from the publisher, and you’ll know which material is going to stay in the book and which material your editor might suggest you edit out. Because the last thing you want to do is spend a lot of money getting permissions for a book that might never sell or for material in the book that your editor thinks needs to be cut out.

As for the agent’s role: Unfortunately, an agent is not responsible for obtaining the permissions for you, just as an agent is not responsible for writing your book or getting artwork for your book (if you choose to have artwork). Since it’s part of the material you’re supplying the publisher, it’s your responsibility. Sure, an agent can help and guide you through the process, but it’s unlikely she’ll be making the calls to publishers for you.


***Let me also add a quick note. The cost of any permission is the responsibility of the author. While the publisher will tell you what's needed, they won't base your advance on the potential cost of permissions and they won't pay for them for you.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

There are No Absolutes

I was concerned about a statement I read on an agent's website:

"Fiction by unknown authors is almost impossible to sell these days."

Following that, she also went on to say:

"As a rule, I no longer take mysteries, thrillers or historical novels from unknown authors because publishers won't buy them."

Since my novels are thrillers, and since I am, as of yet, an "unknown author," as she put it (although, I prefer to call myself pre-published), this concerns me. Is there some industry secret of which I'm unaware? Are we "unknown" thriller, mystery, and historical writers just spinning our wheels, or is this merely the opinion of one very misguided literary agent?

For a long time I’ve preached that there no are absolutes, that you should never believe anyone who says “never,” and yes, I see the irony in that statement.

I think to say that no editors will ever buy books from unknown or unpublished authors is a huge, wide-sweeping generalization, and I think we all need to be careful to avoid those as much as possible. We need to avoid saying them and we need to avoid believing them. It’s no different really than authors giving advice to one another that if you say “thank you” in your query letter you’ll be automatically rejected (and yes, I know this advice came about after people misunderstood a blog post I made some time back). Both seem a little ridiculous, don’t you think?

Editors and agents are looking for good books. That’s it. Good books. Books from unpublished authors can be a more difficult sell. Of course books from published authors with a bad track record (bad sales numbers) can be an even trickier sell. I suspect that what this particular agent is really saying is that she just doesn’t want to represent books from “unknown authors.” It might be that she’s never had luck selling them or it might be that she’s at a place in her own career where she just doesn’t want to.

I don’t think this is necessarily an opinion of a “misguided” agent. I suspect it’s more an agent who has misspoken. No, you aren’t spinning your wheels. You are writing in a genre (mystery, thriller, or historical) that’s especially challenging for writers these days, but getting published is challenging, heck, selling books is challenging, but a little challenge can be good for the soul.


Monday, February 08, 2010

Should I Run?

I was recently offered representation by a one person boutique agency that doesn't handle alot of clients. I came across her via referral from an editor who I contacted about editing my book proposal. We exchanged some emails and everything seemed fine. Then one day, she mentioned that she thought my story would not only make a good book, but would also make a good movie. She told me that she had some contacts in film and tv and would pitch my project there in addition to publishers. Naturally, I was excited by this, as I also thought the story would make a good movie. I was happy to have found someone who shared my vision. Then, I asked her about pitching to tv/film
producers. She told me that she would use the same document (book proposal),
but that the pitch would be different. I know little about this business, but that doesn't sound right to me. Any thoughts?

It’s so hard to really answer your question based on the little bit of information you have given. What I think is that you should probably run. Trust your gut. Something isn’t sitting right with you about this agent, and whether this agent is legit or not might not be the problem, the problem is that you don’t really trust the agent and that right there is reason enough to run for me.

Let me break the question down a little. The agent runs a one-person boutique agency. That shouldn’t be a problem at all. We all have to start somewhere and many, many agents started as a one-person operation. In fact, the only reason some agencies are bigger is because they eventually hired an assistant who has since moved up. I don’t see a problem with that.

The agent doesn’t handle a lot of clients. Again, I don’t see an inherent problem with that. Many agents maintain very small but very successful lists. You don’t have to have hundreds of clients to be successful. The question here shouldn’t be how many clients the agent has, but her success rate with the clients she does have. In other words, has she ever sold any books to major houses, or at least the houses you are interested in pursuing?

Your biggest concern is that she feels the pitch for a book would be different than one for TV or film. I don’t see a problem with that either. I’ve said it before that books and films are two different mediums and two different worlds. It only makes sense you would pitch the book differently. In fact, I sometimes pitch the book differently to different publishers. It all depends on what the publisher might be looking for or what their expertise is.

There’s no concrete evidence in your question that this agent is a scam or a bad agent. What comes through most to me is that you aren’t sure you should trust this agent, and I think that’s the biggest concern. If you want more information before making the decision to run, then I would contact some of the agent’s clients and find out how they feel about her. If they have had success at least half of them should have web sites you can contact them through, and don’t forget to check out Writer Beware and other writer advocacy web sites.


Friday, February 05, 2010

Amazon v. Macmillan

By now you all should be keeping updated on the Amazon v. Macmillan battle. If you aren’t, you should be. For those of you who are published this will eventually affect your sales, how your books are priced, and the money you make. For those hoping to be published, knowledge is power.

Earlier this week posted this article on the issue. What I think is interesting is this belief that publishers hold a monopoly on their product. That would be like saying Coca-Cola held a monopoly on Coke products. Well, duh, they are the manufacturers of Coke. Granted, the publishing industry is hugely different from a product like Coke, but to some degree it’s not. A publisher should be able to determine the price of their product based on production costs, marketing and publicity costs, advertising, and the price paid to an author. Isn’t that how a manufacturer determines it’s costs?

Amazon and other retailers are welcome to price the products they sell however they like, and if they think the price is too high, I guess they’re welcome to not sell them. That’s how bookstores work. If they feel they can’t sell a certain book they stop selling them. They return the books to the publisher and the author’s numbers go down. It does not make sense to do this to an entire publishing house just like it doesn’t make sense to stop carrying all Coke products just because you think Dasani water might be priced too high.

Ok, I’ve launched into the same point everyone else was talking about and that’s not what I meant to do here today. What I meant to point out was what’s really missing from this discussion, and this article, and that’s the author. I believe, absolutely, that books should be priced by the publishers, but should all books be priced the same? Maybe instead of automatically charging $25 for a book we should look into the costs that go into that particular book. For example, a book with a $100,000 advance, television ads, and money spent on promotion should be priced higher then a book with a $5,000 advance and no advertising or marketing efforts. Maybe instead of putting your money into my book, publishers should start to price books based on the money they’re putting into them? After all, if you aren’t putting advertising into a book, then wouldn’t the author (and book) benefit from a lower price point?

And, if books are being priced higher, where is the author in all of this? Why are publishers still paying such low royalty rates on ebooks? I understand, and I agree, there are still costs that go into ebooks. The publisher will still (hopefully) pay for marketing and publicity, beautiful cover art, cover copy, and editors. Boy, do I hope they continue to pay editors. But if we’re not paying for paper and shipping and production, but we’re still charging the same for ebooks as we are for paper books, then isn’t it fair to start sending a little more of that money the author’s way?

Anyway, in all of this craziness about who has the right to price books, let’s not forget where these books come from in the first place. Let’s not forget the author.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Age and Publishing

Can i realistically expect to write a fantasy novel with a fairly standard Tolkienesque type of plot, as a first book, probably submitting to an agent when i'm around seventeen?

First let me answer the question as you’ve written it, and then let me answer the question I think you meant to ask.

I think it’s absolutely realistic that you could write a Tolkienesque fantasy novel and submit to an agent when you’re around seventeen. However, I don’t think you really meant to ask me what you can realistically do. I think you meant to ask if it’s realistic that you could get an agent.

There are so many variables to this question that I really can’t answer it. First of all, I have no idea how old you are, how long it will take you to write the book, or what you’re expecting. In other words, if you’re twelve now and expect to take five years to write the book, sure, you can submit to agents, but whether or not an agent is going to offer representation depends on how well the book is written, how different and exciting the book is, what the market is like, and whether or not you’re able to connect with an agent who is looking for just that kind of book. If, however, you’re sixteen and a half, I would probably have to tell you that I don’t think it’s realistic that in six months, or even a year, you could finish (assuming you haven’t started) a Tolkienesque book that’s ready to be seen by agents. My guess is that it would probably take you longer to write, revise, edit, and edit more.

I suspect one of your concerns is your age. Frankly, I don’t care. I don’t care if you’re seven, seventeen, or seventy-seven, and I don’t think anyone else should care either. If you’ve written a really great book, all an agent cares about is whether or not it can be sold. Don’t worry about your age. Write the book.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Sign of a Real Pro

Any of you who follow me on Twitter have heard me say this before: the sign of a good writer isn’t the first draft or even the second or third or fifth, but how well revisions are handled, each and every time they need to be handled.

Many of you probably know by now that I’m not an agent who simply sells projects. I tend to invest a lot of time in the manuscripts and proposals my clients send me before we even consider taking them to editors. In fact, I think my record is the nonfiction client who went 12 rounds of revisions before we finally felt the proposal was ready to send out. In that case I pushed her to make the book bigger than what she had originally submitted to me. While I know that each of you is doing round after round of revisions before even sending out the query, I will warn you that once you get an agent, and later when you get an editor, it’s likely you’re going to have to do another few rounds before that book is finally published.

The editing and the work you do on your own is difficult enough, but adding in the voices and opinions of your agent and editor is when you’ll face your true test. I’ve seen authors gut a finished manuscript down to the bones and I’ve seen others simply toss one out and start fresh. Neither of these tasks was easy, nor did they happen without complaint. However, they were done because the author trusted in the people she worked with and knew, in her heart, it was the right decision for her career.

What proves the professionalism of how an author handles revisions means that she honestly listens to what others have to say. That doesn’t mean blindly following whatever her agent and editor tell her. In fact, most of my authors will disagree with at least one of the revisions I suggest to her. The sign of a professional is that she listens and truly hears what agents and editors are saying and understands that they aren’t trying to make her a clone of everyone else, but truly trying to make the book the best it can be, because, let’s face it, the more success you have as an author the more success we have as agents and editors.

Listening to the criticism of others is not easy, but let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to revise a manuscript than it is to read reviews on a book you can’t do anything about.


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

It's Not All About You

I used to know this incredible narcissist. She was convinced that all of her “funny” stories were fodder for everyone else to share and would frequently ask, when meeting new people, what stories I hadn’t yet told them about her. The truth was the stories I shared weren’t even close to the stories she was thinking I might have shared. Finally her questions stopped when a mutual friend of ours, upon losing her patience, replied with, “you know, we really don’t talk about you that much.”

And that’s the truth. While it feels that when you’re querying and submitting, agents have nothing better to do but sit around and chat about your proposal, your book, or even your query, the truth is that we really don’t talk about you . . . at all. When getting together for drinks with my fellow agents, I usually have only one thing in mind and that’s the drink. After that, the fun. If I am in a situation where I’m going to share horror stories, it rarely if ever comes down to queries or submissions. Trust me, there are a lot of other things to be talking about.

I understand why authors get paranoid and I can relate. We all get paranoid about things. But the minute you start to think that everyone is talking about you, or worse, laughing about you, take a step back and remind yourself that it’s not all about you. Most of the time when agents and editors get together we talk about things like dating, kids, recipes, TV, published books, and cocktails. Rarely if ever do we talk about an author we aren’t representing or aren’t over-the-moon excited about.


Monday, February 01, 2010

A New Direction

It’s not uncommon to start a new year with a new outlook on things, and for me 2010 is a big year full of a lot of changes. I’m going into this year with a renewed sense of excitement for what’s to come and reminded how much I really love my job. As you know already, 2010 brings lots of change to BookEnds and I’m excited for the new challenges that will come.

With any changes come new responsibilities, and that often means a need to refocus what one is doing. While I still enjoy the blog, I’m not sure it’s as much fun for me as it used to be. It’s always been something I’ve done in my spare time, late at night, early in the morning, or on weekends, and I’ve been known to write posts days and weeks in advance in anticipation of those days when I don’t have the time, energy, or ideas for another post. Lately, though, I wonder what spare time really is. I just don’t seem to have it. So while I’m not giving up the blog yet, at least I’m not quite ready to go there, I might not be posting as frequently as I used to. You might see more three-day weekends, extended vacations, or just fun tidbits of information rather than full-blown posts.

So on those days when I’m busy tending to clients and negotiating deals, days when I don’t have the time to log on and post, please feel free to browse older posts, and definitely keep the questions coming.

And, of course, thanks for understanding.