Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Writing Apprenticeship

Something a commenter wrote on the blog got me to thinking. In a discussion about learning the business of publishing, one reader made the comment, “In many industries, there are apprenticeships where you get paid to learn. That doesn't happen with writing. You write it - it might take years - and then you try and sell it. Not the other way around.”

And that got me thinking. Why not? Why can’t publishing and writing be an industry of apprenticeships. After all, I have interns who I teach how to write reader’s reports, evaluate manuscripts, and review contracts, and of course they help me by doing things like filing and keeping up on proposal reading. Why couldn’t writers hire interns or apprentices for the very same purposes?

As we’ve all discussed on this blog, there’s a lot more to being published than just writing a book, and I think an apprentice could be very useful in this process for writers. An apprentice could help file, research information for the book, research information for publicity and marketing, handle things like mailings, etc., and yes, an apprentice could also help act as a second reader for the writer and by doing so learn why certain things work or don’t work in a book. Yes, absolutely, you are not going to learn how to write a book by following someone else around, just as you aren’t going to learn how to be an agent by simply watching another agent work. But you will learn a whole heck of a lot about what it takes to be a published author, and isn’t that what an apprenticeship is about?


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Query Specifics

Writers often bemoan the fact that agents don’t give enough specifics on their web sites when it comes to what they’re looking for. In other words, while we might say we’d like romance, you want more specifics on what kind of romance. Does the agent have a passion for Scottish historicals and shy away from anything involving werewolves, or does the agent have a particular love for any book with dogs, but despises cats?

I understand the frustration. The author worries she’s wasting the agent’s time, but more important, she worries she’s wasting her own. Even more important, she’d like it to be as easy as possible. If you know already that an agent is tired of anything with vampires, doesn’t it make it easier if you know that already and can just strike her from your list? Yes, I suppose it does. But the truth is that it’s never that simple.

The goal of the writer isn’t just to find the agent who likes what she writes. The goal is to wow an agent into discovering something she’s going to love. The reason I won’t post specifics on our web site is because that can change from day to day. If I say I’m tired of vampires I might miss out on that one query that is so brilliant it convinces me I am willing to take a leap with one more vampire book.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Query Formatting

When you receive an e-mail query where the formatting has been stripped or altered, does that play a part in your rejection? Or are agents as a whole more forgiving of these errors and look only to the writing in e-mail queries?

While agents certainly understand that these things can happen through no fault of the author’s, it does play a part in how we perceive the query, although not necessarily the rejection.

Think of how you read. Before picking up a letter, magazine, newspaper, book, or any printed material, the very first thing you see is the formatting. How that appears has an immediate impact on how you read the material. If the work is written in a childish font you’ll think it’s a piece for children, or take it less seriously than you would if the book were written in a more serious font like Times New Roman. The same goes for formatting. If a letter is formatted without any paragraph breaks or written in an incredibly small font you’re going to assume that everything this writer writes is written in that way.

While I think agents are very forgiving of formatting errors, etc.—in fact, I think agents are far more forgiving than authors often give them credit for—it’s hard to ignore what that first glance says to someone. If formatting is a mess then the letter has to wow that much more to grab the agent’s attention. If she’s on the fence about asking for more, the formatting can be the one thing, whether she’s conscious of it or not, that makes her decide not to ask for more.

Think of your interview suit. You can be the most impressive candidate a company sees, but if you’re wearing ripped jeans and a T-shirt, everything on your resume can easily be ignored.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Slush Pile Queen

It's Friday and since I gave myself permission to cut back on posting a lot of my Fridays have become free to do whatever I want so I apologize to those of you who checked in at 8 and were disappointed to see nothing new. However, after some prodding from one of the readers, I did come up with something. Something I had been thinking about writing anyway.

This week I was catching up on my Publisher's Weekly reading and read this terrific article about the slush pile.

Slush Pile Queen: "In 1985, when I was still a fledgling agent, I signed a writer fr..."

And it made me wonder how anyone builds a client list without a slush pile? I think, that when looking at my bookshelves, 99% of BookEnds clients were unsolicited material. At one point or another every single one of our authors would have been considered slush. They submitted a query or proposal (back in the day), they'd never met us, didn't have a referral, and were probably submitting blindly according to guidelines on our Web site. And we offered representation. And we sold their books to publishers.

In fact, just this month I took on a new client and, yes, she came through the "slush pile."

Don't let the phrase "slush pile" scare you off. It's were most of the greats started out.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Follow-Up to Submitting a Partial

There were a lot of questions/comments on my post about Submitting a Partial, and rather than have my answers get lost in the comments section I thought I’d address them in a follow-up post.

what about partial submissions ie., to publishers? am curious how that works

Partial submissions to publishers should be made in the same way as you submit partials to agents. Assuming the material has been requested, you should first read the publisher’s submission guidelines and follow those. If there are no guidelines, you can send the material in the way I described in the first post.

if sending via email should the document itself be Word compatible or PDF? And if it is Word compatible, should it be "read only" or otherwise locked?

I tend to recommend Word compatible, but I think a PDF would work as well. I know that Kindles accept both; I’m not sure about other ereaders and that might make a difference. I don’t think it makes a difference if the file is “read only.” Your concern was that the agent might accidentally open the doc and wreak “unintentional havoc with a few accidental keystrokes.” I just don’t see that happening. Honestly, I’ve never checked, but read-only might limit Amazon’s ability to translate the files into Kindle, so I think sending it Word compatible without locking it might be your best bet.

when you say "attach", do you mean quite literally an attachment? Or pasted into the body of the email?

I mean literally attach as an attachment. That way I can forward the doc to my Kindle. If you send it in the body of the email I would have to read it as an email.

if we put our cover letter as the first page of the requested material (for Kindles and e-readers), then the actual front page of the manuscript will have headers and page numbers on it, which it shouldn't have. The front page becomes the second page of the document with the headers and page numbers. Doesn't that look unprofessional? When snail-mailing this is no problem, but I always put my new cover letter and copied query in the email, and then the attachment.

It doesn’t look unprofessional because it’s what the agent asked for. Here’s the thinking: I open the email and I want a quick reminder not just that I’ve requested your material, but of what your material is and therefore why I’ve requested it. That entices me to open the attachment. I then send the attachment to my Kindle. Unfortunately it will take me a day or two to get to it and all it shows on my Kindle is the file name. So when I open the file on my Kindle I want to see your letter again, which, again, gives me a quick reminder that I’ve requested your material and why (your blurb again). Years ago headers on the letter might have looked unprofessional, but with most agents reading on ereaders that’s no longer the case.

I recently rec'd a Email partial request which asked me to put everything in a Word doc attachment and snail mail it. I assume it was a typo... When I checked the website guidelines, it sounded like they preferred partials snailed, so that's what I did. I didn't want to reply and ask, but in cases like this, would it be appropriate to email and ask? Or did I do right by just picking one way?

My advice would be to do exactly as you did, just send it. Don’t get too caught up in second-guessing yourself. You got a request, which is fabulous, and you got it into the agent’s hands, which is the point. I think you did the right thing by checking the guidelines and doing exactly what she asked for. She said snail mail. That’s what she meant.

All of this is an ATTACHMENT, correct? We get permission to send as an attachment at this point, I'm guessing. I would hate to get it flushed.

Yes, this is how you would send material as a requested attachment. Do not send it as an attachment unless the agent, or the agent’s guidelines, specifically say to attach. If you are sending snail mail the only difference is that one query letter would suffice. You don’t need to send two.

Hope that helps.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Coming of Age

Kim and I were recently having a discussion about the phrase "coming of age," a phrase we’ve always seen a lot of in query letters. I said I thought the phrase was off-putting, making me think of books like Bright Lights, Big City, while Kim liked the phrase, comparing it to books like Bad Haircut by Tom Perrotta and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges.

After hearing Kim’s thoughts on the books she thought of as coming of age, I started to think maybe I could like that phrase more. Interesting, isn’t it, how trying to explain your book can turn someone off only because their definition is different than yours?


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Award for Most Interesting Pitch

A recent query was sent via YouTube video—well, a link to a YouTube video. Interesting. Well, the idea was interesting. I didn’t have time to click on the link or watch the video.

Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer a good old-fashioned query.


Monday, March 22, 2010

To Answer Your Question

No, I will not consider representing you for an up-front payment in lieu of or in addition to a commission.

BookEnds abides by the AAR Canon of Ethics. We abide by the Canon not because we feel like we need to be a part of AAR, but because we feel it’s the right way to do business. Agents should be paid on commission. There are too many writers desperate to be published, writers who will do almost anything, and pay almost anything, to see their books in print to have agents work any other way. And frankly, many of these writers have books that are unpublishable. Agents need to be paid on commission to protect the writer.

There are enough scam agents out there. Let’s not make it easier for them by offering ourselves up.

. . . and yes, this post is based on actual questions/requests I’ve received in queries.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Fever

Seventy degrees and sunny in March. I have Spring fever and a pile of reading. Sounds like the perfect day to me.

Have a great weekend!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thought of the Day

There’s absolutely nothing I can do with a 500,000-word novel. If you feel you can divide it into five different novels, then do that and submit or query one at a time. There’s just no way I’m going to find a publisher for a 2,000-page book.

And don’t start arguing that some novelists can get away with it. Maybe they can, but I’m not the agent interested in representing them.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Status Updates

Since I’ve been posting regular updates on my status with query letters and submissions, I’ve been getting a lot of requests for status updates. So before doing another status post, let me give some tips on what you can do when requesting a status update to make an agent’s life easier.

On query letters do not simply ask if the query was received. If you know an agent responds to all queries and you know she is caught up well past the date your query was sent, then simply resend the query. To avoid confusion, simply start by saying something like, “I originally submitted this on such-and-such date and have yet to receive a response. Since I know you are caught up I thought it would be best to resend . . .”

On requested submissions, include the following information:
  • that the material was requested
  • your title
  • the blurb from your query
  • the date the material was sent
  • how the material was sent (email or hard copy)

If you’re following up based on posted response times, give the agent 1 to 2 weeks past the posted time (if she says she responds in 12 weeks, follow up after 14). The reason I say this is that you would be shocked how often I get requests for updates the day after I read something. This just ensures the agent has had time to read and the letter has had time to be written.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Photos with Your Proposal

When a publisher asks you for a book proposal with instructions to send copies of photo's, how should I send those photo's? They want hard copy sent through U.S. Postal service!

I’m not sure if I’m understanding your question correctly since the answer seems so easy to me. If your proposal is requested via hard copy and there are photos involved, then your photos should be sent via hard copy.

If the photos are an integral part of your book (it’s a photography book, for example) I would suggest sending actual prints rather than prints on standard paper so the publisher can get a better feel for the quality of the photo.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Thoughts on Thank You

In doing Query Recaps, you’ve noticed that I get a fair number of thank-yous in response to rejections. Not a ton, but about 3 to 5 for every 100 queries I answer. There’s been a lot of discussion on agent blogs about not doing thank-yous because it simply adds more to our in-box, and I agree. There’s a big part of me that thinks it would be easier if writers stopped sending thank-yous for every rejection. That being said, there’s a side of me that always feels a little more motivated to give some sort of feedback after receiving a thank-you. It’s nice to know you’ve helped.

So, if you want to write a thank-you, go ahead and do so. Let’s put it this way: no one is going to blacklist you for a thank-you. Unless of course you do the backhanded thank-you. Always a favorite of mine. Something that goes like this, “Thank you so much for providing feedback. It’s really too bad you can’t see the value in this. I thought after reading your blog you might be different, might have some guts. I see now I was wrong. I’ll keep plugging away and won’t quit until I find that agent who is willing to take a chance on a bestseller.”


Friday, March 12, 2010

BookEnds Status

Happy Friday! I can't believe it's March 12 only and already. I've been reporting about how far behind I've been on queries, but haven't really given you a full idea as to why. It's because I've been busy, busy, busy doing those things an agent is supposed to be doing.

In the first week of March alone (that's through March 5) BookEnds (collectively) sold 15 books. Some were multiple book deals of course, but that doesn't diminish our excitement. This week we added five more to that list. Not bad. Not bad at all.

In addition to selling books I've read and edited one full manuscript for a client, two proposals for another, one piece of fiction for yet another client and one nonfiction proposal for another. On top of all that I have actually read through one full submission and at least 5-6 proposals.

I've had lengthy conversations with three clients about career goals and I have fewer then 400 queries left to answer (that's down 100 from last week).

Certainly every week isn't this productive, but I'm going to take each day at a time and revel in my accomplishments for the last two weeks.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pet Peeves

We agent bloggers often teach, or try to teach, writers how to write a stronger query. Sometimes, though, in those lessons, we also discuss our pet peeves, those things we wish writers wouldn’t do, but things that probably don’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of how an agent considers your book.

So today’s post is going to be a list of pet peeves. Things I see all the time in queries that for whatever reason bug me, but that don’t make a lick of difference in how I consider a query. I’m sure you all have those silly things in your everyday life that drive you crazy, but that you really can’t control.

Impersonal Email Addresses—for some reason it bugs me when people don’t have a more professional-sounding email address. I hate when the email comes through and says something like Mom’s PC, Doggiedoo, PetFamily, or Brainfart. I’d prefer people set up an email address that, no matter what the actual address is, the email comes through with a name. In other words, even if your email is, I’d like it to read in my in-box as Jenny Jones.

Changing Fonts—sometimes emails come written in an array of different fonts. I always assume the changes were made after the writer hit “send,” but it still drives me crazy.

Emails in Letter Format—emails should not have your address, etc., at the top of the page. That format is reserved for hard-copy letters. Email format is to place your address and other contact information in a signature line at the bottom.

Queries addressed to Jenny or Jennifer (unless of course you really did mean to send it to Jenny or Jennifer, but there is no one with that name at BookEnds.

Quoting this line from our web site: “unique fiction with a strong hook”—yes, this is what I’m looking for and certainly it shows that you’ve done your research, but I’d rather you show me how your fiction is unique with a strong hook, then quote it back at me.

And keep in mind, this list was written with a slight smile because yes, I know none of these really matter in the grand scheme of things.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Wrong Way

All agents post a lot on our blogs about the things writers do wrong in their queries. Certainly we’ve posted the “rules” for writing a query, but since we’re constantly bombarded with new and creative ways to screw up a query, those are the things that you see most frequently. After one such post of what not to do one commenter wrote, "The fact that you (and every other literary agent) have to deal with this makes me angry, because it just makes it that much harder for those of us who follow guidelines and present ourselves professionally. Agents are burned out by those that don't by the time they get to those of us that do!"

And I wanted to make a correction to this writer’s statement. In fact, these errors do not make it harder for you. They make it easier for us to reject queries and clear out our in-box. They make us want to see something great and those really awful queries mean that when something great crosses our desk we get that much more excited. There’s no doubt that agents get fatigued by the vast numbers of queries we receive. They are part of our job, yes, and we want to receive queries because queries mean possibilities, but in any job there are things that can easily become overwhelming, things that will seemingly never go away (my filing is another example). It doesn’t make them bad, it just is what it is. Queries are the last things on our priority list and yet they are the one thing that builds up the quickest.

Anyway, back to my point. Don’t get discouraged by the writers who don’t seem to want to learn how to go about getting published. Instead, look at what an advantage you have by making an effort that many don’t want to bother making.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Possible Romance Idea

You don't know me, but I'm a big fan of romance novels and would like to try to write one. I have a really good idea, which is to write a romance novel about [information deleted by Jessica in order to protect the author’s identity and idea]. My plot idea is that [information deleted by Jessica in order to protect the author’s identity and idea].

What do you think? Does it makes sense? Would the publishing industry "subsidize" me for such a romance novel, or would they think it "senseless"?

Please let me know, as soon as you can, so I can begin writing.

Before anyone starts jumping around and screaming that this can’t possibly be a real question, let me assure you that it most certainly is. Not only that, let me assure you that I get questions like this to both the blog and my email address at least a few times a month.

What I think you need to do is write the book. Yes, a great idea can make a huge difference in whether or not a book will sell, but the execution is so much more important. Not only that, but once you write the book you might find that your idea changes and takes a different direction. Write the book, join a critique group, and learn how to strengthen your idea and your writing. A publisher does not “subsidize” an author. A publisher reads an entire manuscript and decides whether or not it’s a book they would like to publish. They then pay the author an advance against royalties to publish that book. Before you even worry about whether the idea is “senseless” or whether you’ll be paid you need to finish writing that book and then you need to revise, edit, and polish it to perfection.

Begin writing. I can’t tell you whether or not a book will be published, but I don’t think any fiction writer starts on this venture simply to get published. I think they start writing and hope they get published.


Monday, March 08, 2010

Finding Agents and Publishers

I have written a book about [insert either fiction or nonfiction subject here] and would like to know where I can find publishers or agents who handle these types of books.

I get questions like this all the time emailed to the blog, in lieu of a query, or even via phone, so while it might seem basic, let’s discuss it anyway.

There are a number of terrific books and Web sites available to get you started on the road to publication. I’m going to ask my readers to comment on some of their favorites as well, so don’t forget to read through the comments section. However, the first place I suggest writers start is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, and they do have a variety of different titles targeted to specific genres. This book will give you a basic understanding of publishing and what it takes to get published. From there you can begin your search for agents and publishers.

I also recommend Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents or Literary Marketplace as a place to begin researching which agents might be right for you. Keep in mind I say "begin" because books are written nearly a year before publication, so you can’t guarantee the information you find there is the most up-to-date. Therefore, I would use these books to write your preliminary list and then work to further perfect your list by using the various Web sites and blogs that tend to have more updated information. Sites I recommend are Preditors & Editors, Absolute Write, Backspace, or Agent Query.

I also strongly recommend that you become involved in a local or online writers group; there are many around the world, including local chapters of Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America and Science Fiction Writers of America. Whether you write in genre fiction or not these organizations all provide an amazing resource for authors.

And of course, before submitting to any agent be sure to read the submission guidelines and review the information on that agent’s Web site. This will ensure that you follow proper submission procedure and that your material fits the genres the agent represents.


Friday, March 05, 2010

Query Status

I spent a Sunday afternoon watching USA hockey and catching up on queries. Here are my latest statistics:

I am still too far behind on proposals to count, but have been slowly getting through one or two at a time. I can honestly say that I have gotten through all requested hard-copy submissions. If you submitted a proposal (by request) via hard copy in 2009 you should have received an answer by now.

Requested email proposals are another story. I have gotten through 4 or 5 this week, but that hardly makes a dent. I have roughly 6 still unanswered from 2009, 2 from September. I’m working on it.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have also requested a couple of full manuscripts in the past week or two. I’m excited to get to them, but of course this will further slow down my partial reading. Luckily I have two fabulous interns and a fabulous assistant helping me catch up on all of these things.

And lastly, the query status . . .

I’ve noticed that I’m getting a lot of queries that don’t fit what I represent. Queries for children’s books or spirituality, for example. The only good thing about that is that they make an easy rejection. My latest count is 600+ queries in my in-box. A far cry from the 700 I was reporting last week, but not far enough. I’ve also responded to everything through January 31 and am now working my way through February. So for anyone who submitted in 2009 or in January 2010, you should have an answer by now.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Submitting a Partial

An agent has just requested a partial of my manuscript, and I'm struggling to find any information (or only finding contradictory info) about how to submit this, and a full ms if she requests one.

There's loads on various blogs about the nitty gritty details of querying, but that's where it seems to stop. Could you go through the details of submitting a partial, like:
What do I put in my cover email, since I'm sending the chapters within a few days of her requesting them?
What do I put on the coverpage of the partial?
What format should the info in the header take?

I'm guessing the answers would apply to submitting full manuscripts, too. I know the most important things are the story and the way it's written, but I want to present myself in the most professional way possible.

I believe I have done posts on this and I know there’s information on the FAQ page of our Web site, but I’ll run through it anyway since it wasn’t easy to find.

When sending along a requested partial the first thing you should do is see if the agent has included any guidelines in her request and then check her agency’s web site to make sure she doesn’t have guidelines there. Do NOT email back to ask how she wants it sent or what format she prefers. If she doesn’t have specific guidelines you can safely assume these will work.

Your cover letter should match your query. In other words, include the blurb you included with your query, the title, the word count, and your author bio. In fact, the only thing I would alter from your original query is to open with a statement that says something along the lines of, "As per your request."

Since most agents are reading on ereaders these days I find it helpful, and I do know other agents agree with me, to have a copy of the cover letter submitted with the attached partial. Therefore I would simply use the exact same letter you are using in the body of the email and make it the first page of your partial. That way when it’s opened on the ereader the agent can have a refresher when she gets to it.

The attached partial should include, in this order: the cover letter; a title page that includes your name, address, phone number, and email address; the requested sample chapters (always the first three chapters of your book); and then the requested synopsis. Remember, your goal is to get the agent to read your chapters, so give them to her first.

The header should simply include your title, your name (or at least last name), and email address or phone number (or both if you prefer).

Hope that helps.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Jamie Novak on Organization

Jamie Novak
Stop Throwing Money Away
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
Pub date: March 2010
Agent: Jessica Faust

(Click to Buy)

Three Insider Secrets from a Professional Organizer

I want to thank Jessica for allowing me to be here today to clear up a long-standing myth about professional organizers. Our homes and offices are not picture-perfect 100% of the time.

In fact, to be perfectly honest, if unexpected company stopped by right now I’d have to leave them out on the porch for a few minutes while I (1) pulled the door to my office closed and (2) ran around to the other rooms scooping up clutter into a bag and stashing it in the closet.

What can I say, it’s been a busy few weeks, my new book Stop Throwing Money Away: Turn Clutter to Cash, Trash to Treasure and Save the Planet While You’re at It is out today and my desk is a sea of papers, clippings and sticky notes.

Secret #1: all my clutter has a home

Sure, I may have left it out planning to put it away later (then later never came), but when I do make the time I can put it away. That’s the difference, if I didn’t have a place to put it then I would not just be messy, I’d be disorganized.

Secret #2: organizing does not have to be expensive

Sure, you could invest in pricey drawer organizers and costly closet solutions or you could re-use common household items instead. I call it shopping from home or from a friend’s home, because what one of you doesn’t have the other one is bound to own.

I dedicated an entire section of my new book Stop Throwing Money Away (out today) to clever re-uses for stuff you already own. You can organize your entire home for under $100!

Here are some of my favorite re-uses:

Cardboard Paper Towel Insert
For cords. Bend the extension cord back and forth then insert into the tube. Don’t forget to label the tube so you know what’s inside.

An Egg Carton
As a drawer organizer. In a desk, makeup, or junk drawer, egg cartons make great organizers. They are shallow enough to fit in a slim drawer, you can leave the lid open to hold larger items or cut the lid off and just use the “cups.” You can even customize the size by trimming down the number of cups to suit your needs.

For socks. Do you have a pile of unmatched socks? Most of us do. Instead of trying to match socks after they’re laundered, keep them together through the laundering process by clipping matches together as soon as you take them off using a clothespin.

CD Cases
For necklaces. Keep your necklaces tangle-free by placing them in a CD case prior to traveling. Not only will they be protected, they’ll lie flat and will not be tangled into those disorganized knots.

In the medicine cabinet. Adhere a magnet to the inside of the medicine cabinet door or under one of the shelves. Then you can stick tweezers or clippers to the magnet so they are within reach.

Secret #3: the average home has 25 items (clutter) of value you can sell

In my new book Stop Throwing Money Away (out today) I help you find the items and show you exactly how to sell them for the most money (and no, eBay is not the only option.)

When working with a recent client, Susan, we applied the steps in the "make money" section of the book and she made a whopping $3,500! Now, Susan had an above-average amount of clutter (oh, I mean treasures), which she was ready to let go. Susan was paying for two extra-large storage units; she also had stuff stashed at her parents' home, and her car had not seen the inside of her garage in more than a year. As you might imagine, Susan was thrilled with her payday!

I hope you’ve enjoyed an insider’s look at the secrets of professional organizers. If you’re looking for ideas, support, and free classes by phone, I invite you to join me over at, where you can also read the missing chapter from my new book Stop Throwing Money Away.

Wishing you a clutter-free day, Jamie

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

New and Updated Publishing Dictionary

It’s become an ever-popular post, my Publishing Dictionary. This is the third version I’ve done. Some of the words and definitions remain the same, but at your requests there have been a number of additions. For those who have been regular readers of the blog, I apologize for the repetition. But just like any good dictionary, we need updates, and here is the New and Updated Publishing Dictionary.

AAR: The Association of Authors’ Representatives is an organization of literary and dramatic agents that sets certain guidelines and standards that professional and reputable agents must abide by. It is really the only organization for literary agents of its kind.

Advance: The amount the publisher pays up front to an author before the book is published. The advance is an advance against all future earnings.

ARCs: Advance Review Copies. Not the final book, these are advance and unfinalized copies of the book that are sent to reviewers.

Auction: During the sale of a manuscript to publishers sometimes, oftentimes if you’re lucky, you’ll have an auction. Not unlike an eBay auction, this is when multiple publishers bid on your book, and ultimately, the last man standing wins (that’s the one who offers the most lucrative deal).

BEA: BookExpo America is the largest book rights fair in the United States. This is where publishers from all over the world gather to share rights information, sell book rights, and flaunt their new, upcoming titles.

Blurb: A one-paragraph (or so) description of your book. People often compare a blurb to back cover copy, and while it’s similar, it’s frequently more streamlined and focuses on the heart and the chief conflict in the story. This is the pitch you use in your query letter as well as the pitch you would use in pitch appointments.

Book proposal: The author’s sales pitch for her book. A good book proposal is used to introduce agents and editors to your book and show them not only why it’s a book they need and want for their lists, but also how well you’ll be able to pull it off.

Category or Category Romance: “Category” is the shortened term often used to refer to category romances. These are romances typically, and almost exclusively, published by Harlequin/Silhouette in their lines. Examples of category books are published in Silhouette Desire, Harlequin Superromance, or Silhouette Special Edition. Note that not all Harlequin/Silhouette imprints are considered category.

Commercial Fiction: Fiction written to appeal to a large or mass market audience. Commercial fiction typically includes genres like mystery, romance, science fiction and fantasy. Popular commercial fiction writers include Nora Roberts, John Grisham, and James Patterson.

Commission: The percentage of your earnings paid to your agent, typically 15%.

Copy Edits: Edits that focus on the mechanics of your writing. A copy editor typically looks for grammar, punctuation, spelling, typos, and style.

Cover copy: The term used to describe all of the wording and description on the front and back cover of your book.

Cover Letter: This is the letter that should accompany any material you send to an agent or an editor. A cover letter should remind the agent that the material has been requested, where you met if you’ve met, and of course the same information that is in your query letter—title, genre, a short yet enticing blurb of your book, and bio information if you have any. This can often be interchanged with Query Letter.

Credentials: What make you qualified to write a book and knowledgeable in your field of expertise. Credentials are usually defined by your level of education and experience on the job.

Editor: The person who buys on behalf of the publishing house. While jobs differ from house to house, typically the acquisitions editor is your primary contact throughout the publishing process. Her editorial guidance comes in the form of the book’s overall structure and writing. She’ll supply major revisions if needed.

Fiction: A story/book based on research and imagination.

Foreword: An introduction to your book that’s always written by another person, preferably someone well known and highly credentialed.

Full: A full manuscript.

Galleys: Another word for ARCs. Galleys aren’t always bound, but are also sent to reviewers as well as other sources for publicity. Galleys are often a copy of your Page Proofs.

Genre: The classification of books. Examples of genre in fiction include mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, and in nonfiction you might see sub-genres like business, health, parenting, pets, art, architecture, memoir, or current events.

Hardcover: A book printed with a hard cover.

Hook: What makes your book stand out from every other title on your bookshelf. If you’re writing mystery it’s that one element that makes your book different from other mysteries, outside of the mystery. If you’re writing a business book it’s how you make your business book different from the others in your section.

Imprint: The name within the publishing house that the book is published under. Usually done as a way to market certain types of books. For example, Aphrodisia is an imprint of Kensington. It is still a Kensington book, but by publishing under Aphrodisia you are branding the book as erotic romance. Prime Crime is an imprint of Berkley that brands the books published as mysteries.

Literary Agent: A literary agent works on behalf of the author to sell her book and negotiate with publishers. A literary agent also helps with career planning and development and sometimes editing and marketing.

Literary Fiction: Fiction that appeals to a more intellectually minded, smaller audience. Literary fiction tends to have a stronger focus on writing, atmosphere, and style than commercial fiction might. Popular literary fiction authors include Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, and Elizabeth Strout.

Marketing: Marketing is advertising that is paid for, including ads in magazines, display units in stores, and things like postcards or posters.

Mass Market: Also called “rack size,” these are paperback books originally designed to fit in rotating book racks in non-bookstore outlets (like grocery stores and drugstores). Mass market paperbacks are roughly 4” x 7” in size.

MWA: Mystery Writers of America is the national organization of mystery writers and a great source of information for all writers.

Narrative Nonfiction: Nonfiction written in story form like memoir, biography, autobiography, etc.

Nonfiction: Writing based on fact.

North American Rights: These are the type of rights licensed to the publisher, allowing the publisher only to handle and represent book rights in North America. This means that the author and the author’s agent are responsible for selling/licensing rights anywhere outside of North America (and usually a designated set of territories).

Novel: Book-length fiction. Therefore, note that it is redundant to say “fiction novel.”

Option: Also called the right of first refusal. This is a clause found in almost every publishing contract that gives the publisher the right to have a first look at your next book before you can show it to any other publishers.

Partial: A partial is frequently what an agent will ask for when taking a book under consideration. For fiction and narrative nonfiction a partial usually includes a cover letter, a designated number of chapters from the book, and a synopsis. For non-narrative nonfiction a partial usually contains an extended author bio, an overview of the book, an expanded table of contents, detailed marketing and competitive information, and of course sample writing material (usually a chapter or two). Also called a Proposal.

Pitch: Frequently verbal, the pitch is your Blurb. It’s a one-paragraph (or so) description of your book. It’s what you use to describe the story and entice readers to read the book.

Placement: When your book gets special treatment in the bookstore. Outside of just putting your book on the shelf where it belongs, publishers can pay to have it put on tables or in displays. This is called giving your book placement.

Platform: A term typically used for nonfiction authors, it’s what makes a writer stand out from all of those with similar credentials. A platform is more than just your work experience or educational background, it is the media coverage or speaking engagements that give you national, or at least local, recognition to potential readers.

Preempt: When a publisher makes an advance and royalty offer high enough to take the book off the auction table. In other words, a publisher offers enough money that the author and agent agree that they will sell the book without asking for bids from other publishers.

Print-on-Demand, aka POD: With improved technology it is now possible to print copies of books based on exactly how many are purchased. Print on Demand books can be electronic or paper.

Proofs/Page proofs: This is the last stage of editing that a book goes through. They are a copy of the designed pages, and the author is given one last chance to review the typesetter's “proofs” to check for typos or other small errors. Proofs are also what are used to make review copies for reviewers and sometimes rights sales.

Proposal: A proposal is frequently what an agent will ask for when taking a book under consideration. For fiction and narrative nonfiction a proposal usually includes a cover letter, a designated number of chapters from the book, and a synopsis. For non-narrative nonfiction a proposal usually contains an extended author bio, an overview of the book, an expanded table of contents, detailed marketing and competitive information, and of course sample writing material (usually a chapter or two). Also called a Partial.

Pseudonym: A fictitious name often used by writers who want to hide their real identities. The use of a pseudonym can happen for a variety of reasons. Some writers prefer to keep their real identity hidden because they are writing something controversial (erotic romance, for example), while others like to create alternate identities for different styles of writing, and even others use a pseudonym as a way to re-launch a stalled career.

Publicity: Advertising that is free. Publicity includes magazine and newspaper articles, radio and television interviews, and of course MySpace and other networking Web sites.

Query: A one-page letter sent to agents or editors in an attempt to attain representation. A query letter should include all of the author’s contact information—name, address, phone, email, and Web site—as well as the title of the book, genre, author bio if applicable, and a short, enticing blurb of the book. A query letter is your introduction and sometimes only contact with an agent and should not be taken lightly.

Revisions: This is when the bulk of your edits are done. Revisions are typically done with the editor acquiring your book and sometimes with your agent before even submitting a project. Revisions can include anything from fixing punctuation to rewriting the entire book. It’s a collaborative process between editor and author.

Royalties: The percentage of the sales (monetary) an author receives for each copy of the book sold.

RWA: Romance Writers of America is the national organization of romance and women’s fiction writers and a great source of information for all writers.

SASE: Short for self-addressed, stamped envelope, a requirement for any author who wants a reply to a snail-mailed query.

Sell-Through: This is the most important number in publishing. It’s the percentage of books shipped that have actually sold. For example, if your publisher shipped 100,000 books but only sold 40,000, your sell-through is 40%. Not so great. However, if your publisher shipped 50,000 books, and sold 40,000, your sell-through would be 80%. A fantastic number.

Serial Rights: These are rights for serialization often sold to magazines. Cosmopolitan magazine, for example, has started serializing erotic romances, which means they pay to publish a portion of the book around the same time the book is first published.

SFWA: Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is the national organization of science fiction and fantasy writers and a great source of information for all writers.

Slush/Slush Pile: Any material sent to an agent or an editor that has not been requested.

Subsidiary Rights, aka Sub Rights: These are rights to use the books in other formats. Sub rights could include foreign translation rights, book club rights, movie rights, audio rights, etc.

Synopsis: A detailed, multipage description of the book that includes all major plot points as well as the conclusion.

Tag Line: The one line often used on the front cover of the book to grab a reader’s attention. Tag lines, while fun for writers to write, really aren’t necessary until you have a publishing contract.

TOC: An abbreviation often used in publishing to describe the table of contents, otherwise thought of as the general outline and organization of your book.

Trade: To make it easy, trade is the shortened name for trade paperback books and is basically any size that is not mass market. Typically though they run larger than a mass market edition.

Vanity Press: A publisher that publishes the author’s work at the author’s expense (not a recommended way to seek publication by most agents or editors).

Voice: The author’s style or characteristics of the author’s writing that are unique to that person.

World Rights: When World Rights are sold/licensed to the publisher the publisher has the ability to represent the book on the author’s behalf and sell foreign translation rights anywhere in the world. Keep in mind that the author does get a piece of the pie no matter where the book is published.


Monday, March 01, 2010


I recently got interested in translating a middle-grade novel written by a well-known and long-dead foreign author. Do I have to get some sort of permission from his estate? Also, once I translate it, what's the next step? Are agents open to translations?

I love questions like this. It’s not something I ever would have thought of myself.

Yes, absolutely, you must get permission from either the author’s estate or the author’s publisher. That would depend on who holds the rights for foreign translations. My suggestion is to start with the publisher, who will probably direct you to the agent for the author or the author’s estate.

Before you do that, though, let me explain a little about how selling foreign rights typically works. When a book is sold to a foreign publisher to be translated, the publisher has it translated using their own people. Very rarely is a book translated and then sold to that country. In the case of Stieg Larsson, for example, the book was sold to the U.S. publisher and then the publisher brought in a translator to translate the book. My guess is that the agent or the publisher has worked to get this book published in many other countries, but because of low sales or lack of interest they never got a buyer.

All that being said, it can never hurt to contact them to see what they say.