Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Different Way of Doing Business

I get a lot of referrals from clients, which, of course, I absolutely love. In fact, just last month (or maybe the month before) I signed a new client who came through a referral. But I digress.

The reason I’m writing this post is because there is definitely a different way of doing business in every industry, and publishing is no exception. When a nonfiction client refers me or introduces me (usually through email) to a potentially new writer, almost inevitably the writer follows up with an email suggesting times when we should talk on the phone. She always has a list of book ideas she’d like to discuss and I never get the feeling she has a book proposal.

Frankly, I still haven’t quite figured out how I want to handle these situations. More often than not these phone calls end with me saying that the idea sounds viable, and rarely do I ever see a proposal when I tell the author that’s what I would need. Now, I’ve scheduled time out of my day to have the call, wasted time explaining the business to an author, and nothing much comes from it.

So I’ve responded via email instead, explaining how the process works in publishing and letting the author know I’d need to hear more about the book. The author, of course, seems miffed that I can’t take the time for a phone call and, again, I never see a proposal.

Most of the authors I experience this with are business authors, and obviously they are doing business in the way they are used to. I don’t think it’s wrong, it just doesn’t necessarily work for publishing.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Erin Kellison on Writing

Erin Kellison
Shadow Bound
Publisher: Leisure
Pub date: July 2010
Agent: Jessica Faust

(Click to Buy)

When I started Shadow Bound, I had zero aspirations for the manuscript to get published. Zero. My goal was this: learn to write a book while having fun. I assumed, when complete, it would languish on my computer for a while, and then I’d go back months later to see if there was anything to salvage. Shadow Bound was a self-imposed course on writing a novel. This approach gave me all sorts of room to do what I wanted, without my internal editor doubting each step. I believe that this broad creative license is what eventually got me published. And to the readers of this blog, I’d like to encourage a pursuit of that same semi-reckless license. I say "semi" because, of course, there are realities of craft and the publishing business that should be observed. An easy example would be keeping your word count within typical publishing parameters. Another would be making sure you maintain the hallmarks of your genre; a romance should end with a happily ever after. Basic stuff.

Here’s something I didn’t know that was painful to discover: There are innumerable ways to tell a story. Let me explain. At first I didn’t have a critique group to get feedback on my chapters, so I entered contests, the most expensive critique group of all. And I got feedback, but often it pulled my story in different kinds of directions. I’d get comments like “try starting here,” or “if you were to restructure this chapter in such and such way,” or worse, “there’s no market for this.” And you know what? A lot of the comments made perfect sense. I felt the rightness of them, and the wrongness of my approach. I could start it differently. I could restructure. I could rework a character arc in a different way. I think this tug-of-war can be illuminating, but it can also be deadly to a manuscript.

Luckily, I had an out. Because I started Shadow Bound with no expectation of it being published, I had a giddy sense of freedom to disregard any comment that pulled me away from my sense of the story. Was there a suggestion in there that might have made my book a whole lot better? Probably. But with all the feedback, I could only pick and choose what I thought would work for me, and then move on. Churn out the chapters. Enjoy the ride. Finish. If the book worked, great. If it didn’t, then I learned a lot. My next one would be better. I sound easygoing about that perspective, but it was very difficult. Still is, and I’m on my third book. I think it’s about finding and trusting your voice. Not just your narrative voice, but the voice in your head, too. In fact, at times it’s excruciating.

I continued entering Shadow Bound in contests, received some requests for fulls. Did the pitch thing at conferences, mostly for experience. I completed the manuscript, sent it out. Started another book. Five weeks later, I had an offer, a week after that, an agent, Jessica Faust. And the bliss of that experience? My editor and my agent understood and loved where I was coming from. Sure, I had revisions to do. I cut upwards of 6,000 words, revisited a whole bunch of scenes for clarity and impact. That’s part of the work of getting the manuscript ready. But the sense of the story was preserved.

Now, my idea for Shadow Bound is a little bit out there: I’ve got a banshee for a heroine, a bunch of soul-sucking wraiths planning to take over the world, and a hero on a personal mission to kill his brother. It’s a dark and twisted combination and I had a blast writing it. My wish for the writers reading this is to go for it. To refuse to belabor your manuscripts with doubts. There are a million ways to tell a story, some brilliant, some not so good. The only one that counts is yours.


Erin Kellison is the author of the Shadow Series, which includes Shadow Bound and Shadow Fall. Stories have always been a central part of Erin Kellison's life. She attempted her first book in sixth grade, a dark fantasy adventure, and still has those early handwritten chapters. She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English Language and Literature, and went on for a master's in Cultural Anthropology, focusing on oral storytelling. When she had children, nothing scared her anymore, so her focus shifted to writing fiction. She lives in Arizona with her two beautiful daughters and husband, and she will have a dog (breed undetermined) when her youngest turns five.

Learn more about Erin at

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dead or Alive

What Four Authors Dead or Alive Would You Want to Have Lunch With?

I have to admit, this idea was stolen from my client Jennifer Stanley and her Cozy Chicks blog. And I would suggest picking your four before reading what other people have to say. That only makes it harder. Thanks for the idea, J.B.


Edith Wharton—Not only do I love her books, but I’m fascinated by her life and want to know more about New York during the turn of the twentieth century.
Louisa May Alcott—She is the author of one of my all-time favorite books. She’s also from a time period I would like to know more about.
Julia Child—My second love, after books, is cooking. I think Julia would help us choose amazing foods and add a lovely, wonderful liveliness to the conversation.
Robert B. Parker—I always imagine that Robert B. Parker is Spencer personified and I think we ladies need a sexy, dashing man at the table too.


Phyllis Whitney—My grandmother read all of her books, passed them on to my mom, and finally on to me. When I picked up my first Phyllis Whitney novel in middle school, my love of books began.
Temple Grandin—As the mother of an autistic child, I’m inspired by her story and her success. She’s living proof that “different” doesn’t mean “less.” I can’t think of anyone who’s done more to help the world understand Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Dean Koontz—I’ll read anything he writes. Few authors have mastered characterization and suspense as expertly as he has.
Jane Austen—Well, if I had my druthers, I’d have lunch with Mr. Darcy. But I’ll settle for a lunch spent talking about Mr. Darcy with the woman who created him.


Ted Dekker—Although I haven’t read all of his books, I love his psychological thrillers and really want to know what goes on inside his head.
Ann Rinaldi—I ate her books up as a teen and was amazed by her ability to draw me into various historical time periods.
Audrey Niffenegger—Books rarely make me cry. I bawled at the end of The Time Traveler’s Wife and the story haunted me—in a good way—for weeks. I also want to know how she kept all of those time travel details straight!
My first fiction author—Whether this is one of my nonfiction clients who branches into fiction or a brand-new client I have yet to take on, I dream of having a brainstorming lunch with that author, hashing out ideas for his/her future projects.


Jodi Picoult—She has a beautiful mind and how wonderful to spend lunch listening to it.
Charlotte Bronte—I would never pass up the chance to meet the author of my favorite book and favorite romance hero, Mr. Rochester.
Stephen King—His creepiness is fascinating. I also grew up on his books and would like to meet their maker.
Barbara Kingsolver—I consider her a master (mistress?) of the English language. How interesting to have a conversation with a person who can express herself so beautifully. She also knows a lot about foreign cultures and I’d like to pick her brain!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Query Status

Want to know where things stand with me and queries at this point? I'm not sure you really do. It's been a crazy busy month and the last two weeks have been the craziest. Needless to say, while I've been very busy submitting new projects, handing out revisions to clients and reading new material I've fallen very behind on my query reading.

In my inbox right now I have 360+ queries and am caught up through June 5, anything submitted prior to June 5 has been answered. If you have not received an answer on a query only I did not receive it.

I have roughly 14 proposals I still need to read. The oldest dates back to May 1 and I hope to get to it very soon.

I have 3 client submissions of various lengths that need to be read. Of course these are top priority.

This week I did a preliminary read on one client proposal. I need to read it a second time to give feedback. I did incredibly thorough revision on another client proposal, I read a full manuscript for consideration (had an offer from another agent) and I read another proposal that also had an offer.

Oh, and of course I did things like answer emails, make lunch appointments, review contracts, negotiate contracts and talk to authors.

Life is good. Have a great weekend.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Have You Ever . . .

Have you ever requested the full of a manuscript where you knew it was not something you could represent, but you were dying to find out how it ended?

Yep. Absolutely. I don’t do that as much now, but that’s because I’ve made a concerted effort not to. I think there are plenty of times when agents request material from queries or even from a proposal that they aren’t sure about. We know the storyline is tired or the voice seems off, but the idea intrigues us; we know we’ll probably reject it, but there’s something about it that makes us curious enough to ask for more.

Agents are readers and as readers we’re curious people. The problem is that this is also our job and, like in any job, we need to be very careful about how we manage our time. That means being somewhat sure about what we’re requesting when we request it.

That being said, there are plenty of manuscripts I’ve read all the way through when I knew by page 50 it was a rejection. There are even times I rejected a book, but finished it anyway. It’s the natural curiosity of a reader.


**after reading a few comments and reading the post again I decided some clarification needed to be made. Sometimes I suspect I read the question and then go off on my own little rant of what I'd like to say without fully connecting with the original question.


I don't think agents ever request a full if after reading the partial they know definitively they will be rejecting the book. That is something no one has time for. More than that though, I don't think an agent ever wants to purposely give an author false hope.

With every full request an agent makes, with every partial request, the agent has hope just like the author. We don't request things unless we're sincerely hoping there's a potential new client in there. That being said, there are plenty of times an agent will continue reading already requested material well beyond the point the decision is made to reject. This is the curiosity of the reader.

I apologize for not being clear or for being obtuse. That's what I get for writing blog posts in the middle of the night.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Why Agents Get Cranky

I received a query.

I rejected it and suggested the author do some research on how to write a strong query.

She responded by thanking me for my advice, but assuring me it’s a great book and wanting to set up a meeting so she could pitch it to me in person.

Me, “I do not accept verbal pitches.”

She responds by sending the proposal anyway and telling me she looks forward to hearing my thoughts.

I delete.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What Is Love?

In the blog post The Need to Fall in Love, I made a comment in reply to one reader’s question about how an agent knows if she’ll love the author’s next book. Since I was so impressed with myself [said with preening smirk] I thought I would share my comment in a post. I also hope it will help others who feel they’ve been burned by an agent’s love.

I just set down a proposal from a client of mine. I think it's the fifth time I've read this proposal. She's published seven books and I can tell you I love everything I read every time I read it. Even when I send it back for revisions, rewrites and a gutting.

Want to know what love is? Love is getting swept up in the voice no matter how much work the book or proposal needs. Love is feeling like crying when you put it down because it's just that good. Love is emailing the author with changes and honestly telling her you love her because the book was just that amazing.

The problem with love is that sometimes, sadly, it ends. No relationship is perfect and while we might love someone, we might learn later that we don't love them enough or maybe we love them for who we thought they were, but learn later that they really aren’t who or what we thought.

There are no guarantees when it comes to love and publishing. And sadly, sometimes we just have to pick up the pieces of our broken heart and move on.
**let me clarify that the love for the author I've been working with has not ended. in fact, I am happily working with her on revisions for yet another book. What I am saying though, is that love ends and can end. It can end for authors as well. There are plenty of times an author signs with "the perfect agent" only to discover later that for whatever reason, she's had a change of heart.


Monday, June 21, 2010

It Doesn't Really Bother Me . . .

When people say “fiction novel” in queries. Sure, I know it’s wrong, but I think it’s because I see it so often that, frankly, it really just doesn’t bother me that much.

Now “nonfiction novel,” that bothers me.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

How Does Social Networking Work for You

Not too long ago I did a post on how social networking can be damaging if not used properly and I want to thank everyone who contributed. It really turned out to be a fabulous discussion.

A couple of comments caught my eye and made me think further. What do you want to see from authors? In other words, if you’re looking at an author’s web site, blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, whatever, what has worked for you and what hasn’t. Some of you mentioned the need for personal information, but what kind are you looking for and what’s the balance you’ve found that has worked? What hasn’t worked?

What about an author’s Internet presence grabs your attention and impresses you, what turns you off?

I’d love to hear about what you like, what you don’t like, and what makes you go from reader to fan. And I’m not just talking about content. Does design matter as well?


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A BookEnds Reading Pile

For something fun and different we thought we’d put together a quick post about what’s happening in the BookEnds reading piles.

What I’m Reading Now:
  • Jessica: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
  • Kim: Marked: House of Night Series by P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast
  • Katelynn: Tea with Hezbollah by Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis and Devil of the Highlands by Lyndsay Sands
  • Lauren our intern: Requiem of the Human Soul by Jeremy Lent

How I Came to This Book:
  • Jessica: It was recommended by a client
  • Kim: It’s part of the same line my client’s book will be published into next year—a big NYT bestselling series.
  • Katelynn: Tea—I’ve read Dekker before and was intrigued; Devil—I love Scottish historical romance (sexy warriors, yum!)
  • Lauren our intern: It was a freebie sent to me by a self-published author who is marketing his book on

The Last Book I Read:
  • Jessica: House Rules by Jodi Picoult
  • Kim: Dead to the World: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel by Charlaine Harris
  • Katelynn: Glass Houses (Morganville Vampires Book 1) by Rachel Caine
  • Lauren our intern: Twilight

How I Came to This Book:
  • Jessica: I enjoy her writing, but was also very intrigued by the story of a boy with Asperger’s
  • Kim: I’m a fan of the series, the TV show and most important . . . Vampire Eric.
  • Katelynn: Someone mentioned it on Twitter
  • Lauren our intern: I had to see what all the buzz was about!

What’s Next Up on My To Be Read Pile:
  • Jessica: Changeless by Gail Carriger or The Art of Mending by Elizabeth Berg
  • Kim: Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin
  • Katelynn: Dangerous Highlander by Donna Grant or Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Lauren our intern: House Rules by Jodi Picoult

What I’ve Most Recently Read (or am reading) for BookEnds:
  • Jessica: The next proposal by Bella Andre and The Naked Prince, Sally MacKenzie’s next novella
  • Kim: The first seven chapters of Rosemary DiBattista’s women’s fiction manuscript and Born at Midnight, C. C. Hunter’s YA paranormal debut with St. Martin’s.
  • Katelynn: A manuscript about the war in Afghanistan
  • Lauren our intern: A paranormal romantic suspense manuscript about an elite soldier and the doctor who discovers his secret and then relieves him of its burden.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Christie Craig on Writing Advice

Christie Craig
Shut Up and Kiss Me
Publisher: Lovespell
Pub date: May 2010
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

Five Pieces of Well-Meaning Writing Advice That I’m Glad I Didn’t Take

With no degree in my pocket, my youth was spent flipping burgers and taking orders. Today, I have written for twenty years, most of that time spent either trying to get published or struggling to stay published. My main goal was simple: make more money than I could by asking if you wanted fries with that burger. During my twenty-year career climb, I’ve gotten my share of advice from respected people in the publishing industry.

Honestly, I wouldn’t be where I am today—making more than I would peddling burgers—without the advice of others. Nevertheless, there’re several bits of counsel that I’m glad I ignored.

Does this mean that you should ignore them, too? Not necessarily; as my grandpa used to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a rabbit.” Or to put it another way, your journey may be completely different from mine. However, below are five pieces of well-meaning advice that wouldn’t have worked in my favor.

1. Ignore the trends and just write the book of your heart.

I’m not saying don’t write the book of your heart, but I am saying don’t completely ignore the trends. As hard as it is for some of us to accept, if we want to see our books on the bookshelf, we have to accept that this is a business. And like all businesses, we are producing a commodity—a commodity has to have commercial value.

Commercial value is often directly related to the trends. I’m not saying sell yourself out; I’m saying find a way to make the book of your heart more marketable. Find a way to fit your idea into the trendy box.

Let’s say the book of your heart is a western, but westerns aren’t the hottest French fry in the pack. The genre that’s jumping out of the fryer and onto readers’ plates is paranormal. Can you add a paranormal twist to your western? Can you write a paranormal that takes place in the ol’ west?

When I dove back into novel writing in 2000, my goal was to write a romantic comedy. But RCs were not the meal ticket. At the time, romantic suspense was on the favored menu. By combining my humorous voice with suspenseful plots, I eventually found my way to the bookshelves.

2. Don’t worry about marketing or selling yourself, that’s what you have an agent for.

Sure, it’s your agent’s job to sell and market you, but that doesn’t mean you should stop being your own advocate. You and your agent should be working as a team. Considering that less than one percent of all books written are sold, the more team players the better.

While many books are sold as a direct result of an agent’s submission, others are sold because you met an editor at a conference, because a published author read your book and recommended you to her editor, or because your book was requested in a contest. A good agent-client team works together; once you’ve made a personal contact, then your agent steps in and does her thing. The left hand should always know what the right hand is doing. Together your goal is to get your book sold, get a good contract, and create a career plan.

3. Decide what you are going to write and stick with it. Better to be a master of one trade than a jack of all.

Any form of writing will help you hone you craft. And isn’t writing what we want to master and not just a type of genre? Writing for magazines allowed me the opportunity to work at home, kept the wolves off the front porch and me away from serving up French fries, and allowed me time to work on my novels. Being paid for my work kept me believing in my talent and helped keep my dream alive while the rejections on the novels poured in. I’ve since written three nonfiction books—two or which are The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel and my June 18 release, Wild, Wicked & Wanton: 101 Ways to Love Like You’re in a Romance Novel. I chose to write these two titles to help build my name in the fiction market. Writing nonfiction also helps me write PR for my fiction work.

When my first humorous romantic suspense didn’t sell right after being shopped around, Kim Lionetti recommended I try my hand at writing a paranormal, which was the hot trend. That proposal was submitted to ten publishing houses, went to a buying committee at two, but much to our dismay, it didn’t sell. Does that mean it was a waste of my time? Heck, no. Two years later, a St. Martin’s editor who’d read and enjoyed my sassy approach to writing paranormals phoned my agent and asked if I would write a young adult series for them.

My first young adult novel, Born at Midnight, in my Shadow Falls Series, will be released in early 2011 and has already racked up some really nice foreign right sales to Germany, France, and Russia. Beats working fast food any day of the week!

4. You can never spend too much time rewriting.

I’m not saying don’t polish or rework. But DO NOT get caught in rewrititious. I know people who have been writing and rewriting the same novel for ten years.

Truth is, you learn something each time you write a new book that rewriting doesn’t teach you. To grow, and hone your skills as a writer, you need to write and finish several books. From 2000 to 2006, I had written eight completed novels and six proposals. Six of those projects have sold.

5. Learn the writing rules and follow them.

While I’m a believer in rules and believe some should not be broken, oftentimes it’s the bending of a rule, a slight deviation of what is considered the norm, that helps a writer stand out.

When I started writing romantic comedy, I was told by respected RC authors that most of my humor should stem from my secondary characters—thus allowing the main character to come across grounded in emotion. However, my best lines, and my best scenes, entailed humor. Why would I only give those to a secondary character? Instead, I looked at why the rule was stipulated and I worked diligently at making sure my main characters had emotional motivations.

I was also warned against writing dual romances in a book. However, my plots seemed to always include a secondary romance, and at times even a third one. I knew the dangers of this could dilute the main plot of the book. However, I ran with my dual romance plots and worked overtime to make sure the addition of a secondary romance didn’t overshadow the main story line. Today, I’m often praised by reviewers for the layers of story and plot brought on by my secondary romances. (I’m even blogging over at Romance Writer’s Revenge on secondary characters. Pop over and leave a comment, I’m giving a book away.)

Basically, I recommend that when you bend a rule, you know why the rule is in place and protect your work from suffering from this breach.

So there you have it, five pieces of advice that if I’d taken, I could still be toasting buns instead of toasting and celebrating new contracts. Hopefully, my own list will help you define what advice works for you, and what advice you will set aside in your personal pursuit to reach your own dreams. Good luck on reaching those dreams. Good luck on learning your best method of skinning your own rabbit.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What It Takes to Be an Agent

I've been pondering this for awhile, so I figured I'd just ask. I've played around with the thought of becoming a literary agent after graduating from college. What I'm wondering is, what does it take to be an agent? Is there a certain personality type that is perfect for agenting and no other would work, or simply the proper motivation/drive to do so. Do you just know you want to be an agent, or is it a sort of trial and error sort of thing.

This is such an interesting question, and while I’m going to make an attempt to answer it, I don’t know if I’m the right person to really give the answer. I think I’m too close to it.

That being said, let’s see what I can do.

I do not believe there is any one personality type to a successful agent, just like there’s not one way to write a successful book. I do however think there is one thing every successful agent needs and that’s passion. Passion not just for reading, but passion for being a part of the process, for new discoveries, and for bringing books to the market.

So often I hear people say that they love to read, therefore they want to be agents. Oh, if only it were that simple. As any of you who have followed agents on Twitter or through blogs have probably come to realize, being an agent is not a 9-5 job. It’s a 9-9 job and then some, and the truth is the reading is such a small part of what we do. In fact, one of the struggles I think all agents face is that when you’re done strategizing with clients, negotiating contracts, talking to editors, submitting proposals, and selling books, there is very little time left for actual reading, and when there is, it isn’t really reading. It’s editing or reading with a critical eye. That’s not the type of reading most people think of when they imagine life as an agent.

After writing that I realized that I haven’t at all answered the question. Oops. Passion isn’t necessarily a personality trait. So what types of traits do I think all or most agents have?

Drive. All agents are essentially entrepreneurs. Even if you work for another agency you more than likely work on commission. That means no one is standing over your shoulder telling you what you need to do today to get the job done. In order to succeed you need to have the drive to spend your nights and your weekends working. There’s no such thing as paid overtime, but if you want to get ahead—and earn a living—you have to commit a lot of extra hours to make it happen. You need to realize that you might be spending eight hours in the office, but it’s also likely you’ll be spending 5-6 hours working at home. It’s this drive that ensures you find the best books and move on them before another agent gets the chance. It’s also this drive that ensures helping your authors become a success. You don’t have the time to work with an author’s manuscript during the day. You’re doing that at night.

A competitive nature. Let’s face it, agents need to be competitive. We’re competing with each other to discover the hottest new authors and we’re competing again with each other to sell our books to editors. I strongly believe this nature—and there are different levels of how competitive we are—helps us to both read quickly and is also driven by our passion.

An eye. This is not something you can learn in school, but I do believe successful agents have a certain eye/intuition for books that will work.

Open-mindedness. You have to be willing and able to read books that you may never have picked up for leisure. An agent can get excited about a book because she sees its marketability and merit, even if it’s not something she personally would’ve picked up at the bookstore.

Perseverance. You’re going to get knocked down a lot in this business. You’ll lose out on potential clients to other agents, you’ll fail to sell books you’ve fallen in love with, and you’ll lose clients who no longer feel it’s a good fit. To be successful you need to know how to get up and brush yourself off, to continue on again.

Patience. Success doesn’t come overnight. The first or second books you submit for your client may get rejection after rejection, but that third book could be a bestseller.

Let me hear from you, though. Many of you have agents and many others have met different agents over the years. While we’re all very different, are there any similar traits you’ve seen among the successful agents you’ve met?

Jessica and Kim

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pet Peeve

Stupid pet peeve of the day . . .

When people write out word count. In other words, 50,000 words is correct.

These are not correct:
  • Fifty-thousand words
  • 50 thousand words
  • Fifty 1000 words


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Self-Published Revisited

A comment appeared on my post about self-published works that I felt warranted its own post.

Question: Where do the agents and publishers get the sales numbers for a self-published book? The author? Does the author provide financials as proof? Or is there another way to know for sure how many copies have been sold (not just printed)?

Publishers and agents will get this information from Bookscan, and while we all know by now that Bookscan isn’t perfect, and you can read more in my previous post on the subject, we also know that it’s the go-to for publishing professionals when it comes to numbers.

And this is the struggle with Bookscan. If you’ve gotten even a few stores to carry your books it can tweak your numbers significantly and, if you’re getting the kinds of numbers most publishers and agents are looking for, it should appear somewhere on Bookscan.


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Style Sheet

Nathan Bransford recently did a post on the importance of a series bible for authors and it kicked me into gear to do a post I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. A post on the importance of a style sheet.

As Nathan explains, a series bible is helpful for the author to keep track of characters, phrases, worlds, and whatever else you might have in your series that carries through from book to book. A style sheet is similar, but meant as a resource not just for the author but for your editors as well.

Any published author has probably seen the style sheet that comes back from the copyeditor with your copyedited manuscript. It’s the sheet the copyeditor prepares as she’s editing to make sure she maintains the style of your book and series. For example, if you’ve decided, in your world, that Maribelle is actually spelled Mariebell, that will be on the style sheet. If your world capitalizes "werewolf," that will be on the style sheet. But why wait for the copyeditor to put together your style sheet? Why not do it yourself?

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve fielded phone calls from authors dismayed with the changes a copyeditor has made. Changes that were technically correct (according to the Chicago Manual of Style), but not necessarily in line with what the author was trying to convey.

Let me make it clear. A style sheet is different from a series bible. A style sheet does not include the nitty-gritty details of your world or your characters. It’s for editing purposes. A style sheet should include spellings of names or stylistic changes you’ve made to the spelling of other common words. For example, if you’ve decided that "Prom" is capitalized throughout your book, that would be something you would include on the style sheet. "Prom" is not technically a proper noun.

When your manuscript is finished and your style sheet is finalized, submit them together to your editor. I can’t guarantee the copyeditor won’t try to change some of your style to fit what Chicago has to say, but it will very possibly save you a lot of stetting in the future.


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Turn That Deal Around

After reading my post about author-agent agreements one reader had a question . . .

I'm confused by this line:

"possibly turning that small press deal into a big press, bigger deal"

Are you saying an agent would submit to bigger presses and make the small press wait? Or even turn the small press down all together for the chance of a big press? Or if you publish with the small press, an agent can still submit and make a deal with a big press regardless of first publishing rights?

I’m saying that’s a possibility. As with anything there are a lot of “it depends.” Yes, you could turn down the small press offer and take it to larger presses. You could also take it to larger presses with the small press in hand (you could do the same if it’s a big press offer that comes in first). You could also have an agent simply negotiate the small press deal to your best advantage.

All of this will depend on the project, the press, and the agent’s opinions and knowledge of what that press is bringing. No matter what, an agent brings experience to the table that can truly help you get the best deal.


Monday, June 07, 2010

Selling Foreign Rights

I sold a novel direct to a small/medium press for an advance; I had no agent. It releases soon.

I would like to sell some foreign rights translation for this book; those rights are owned by my publisher but I get a percentage.

Do agents ever represent foreign or sub-rights only for a book if the traditional rights have already been sold? I guess the query would say something to the effect of, "I'm seeking an agent to represent foreign rights only for my recent release..."

Or is that kind of thing too small-potatoes? Lemme guess: depends on the sales of the recent release?

I can't help but feel that if they're not coming to you, it's just not that big. If the writer has to seek representation, then they don't really need it. Because if the book sells a million copies, then the foreign rights people will come running no matter what you do. So, is it a waste to seek representation for that?

First let me clarify that those rights are not “owned” by the publisher. You have licensed them to the publisher to sell on your behalf, and if that’s the case there’s nothing for you to do in terms of selling or licensing those rights. If part of your deal was that the publisher handles those rights, that’s their job to do.

Agents will possibly represent foreign or subrights in a case where the author holds on to them, but typically that’s because the agent also wants to represent the author for other works and not simply the foreign rights for this work.

At this point you have nothing to seek representation for since you don’t hold the rights. If you did, I guess I would worry less about finding an agent for those rights and more about finding an agent for your next book. Once you’ve found an agent you can definitely discuss foreign rights possibilities.


Friday, June 04, 2010

Ellery Adams on Establishing an Online Presence

Ellery Adams
A Killer Plot
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pub date: June 2010
Agent: Jessica Faust

(Click to Buy)

Perhaps you’re ready to pitch agents or have already begun and have started getting bites. Suddenly, your dream of being a professional writer is closer to becoming a reality. What else can you do to prepare? I recommend establishing an online presence right now.

Step 1: Create an author page on Facebook. Befriend other authors in your genre, book reviewers, librarians, booksellers, agents, editors–anyone who could prove to be a useful connection once your book sells.

Trade Secrets of Facebook: On your professional page, avoid photo albums of family members, girls in bikinis, or scenes from poker night with the guys. You want your page, from the favorite quotation to the books you like to read, to be a reflection of you and your work. Don’t litter it with YouTube videos or political statements. Allow your daily updates to express your “voice.” You could even create a page using your protagonist’s name. By the time your book comes out, you’ll have 5,000 friends just waiting to buy it.

Step 2: Create a website. It’s never too early to put your work out there for all to see. For unpublished writers, I suggest a simple website in which the graphic design reflects the feel of your book. If you write romance, your website should be romantic. I don’t mean to sound overly simplistic, but I’ve seen dozens of author sites that send the wrong signals due to poor color choice and graphics.

Writing Resume Page: Like your Facebook page, keep your personal life private. Include a page that shows off your writing. Add links showing your flexibility as a writer. For example, even though you’ve penned an urban fantasy novel, you also have samples of newspaper articles, short stories, poetry, children’s tales, works on Smashwords, etc.–that have been published. This is your writing resume. Go ahead and post it.

Professional Associations: Here, you can mention that you’ve been a long-standing member of RWA or MWA, etc. Add positions you’ve held. You could also include conferences you’ve attended. This might be a good place to mention contests you’ve won.

Contact info: You never know. Someone in the publishing field might want to send you an email. If your current email address is, you might want to create a new one that sounds more professional, such as Same goes for the name of your website. Use your author name or the title of your series. Try to keep it as short as you can.

Trade Secrets of Web Sites: Looks Are Important: Trust me, unless you’re an IT person, you want a professional to create your site. It costs less than you think and a homemade site often looks just that–homemade. You want sleek, polished, pleasing-to-the-eye professionalism.

Once you’ve got a website and a Facebook page that you routinely update, the transition from unpublished to published will be much smoother. You’ll announce your release, post a cover, and already have thousands of followers dying to pre-order.

The Boy Scouts knew what they were talking about: Be Prepared. And good luck!

(For ideas on website layout and design, feel free to visit my website––or send an inquiry to my fabulous web designer, Brian. His site is, and he’d be glad to answer any questions.)

Ellery Adams is the author of the new Books By the Bay Mysteries. The first installment, A Killer Plot, was released on June 1st.

In the small coastal town of Oyster Bay, North Carolina, you’ll find plenty of characters, ne’er-do-wells, and even a few celebs trying to duck the paparazzi. But when murder joins this curious community, the Bayside Book Writers are there to get the story...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Thought of the Day

If you read an agent’s blog regularly, any agent’s blog, and have ever, even once, read a post that gave you a mild case of anxiety, fear that you might have screwed up, you didn’t. Just the fact that you had that fear means you’re probably doing everything right, or close to right.


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

How the Intern Reads Your Proposal

Hi everybody! I’m the intern, Lauren. I’ve been working for Jessica, Kim, and their assistant, Katelynn, for about four months now. I do administrative tasks in exchange for being allowed to hang out with real publishing people. I don’t get paid—in dollars, anyway. I get paid in experience. As my internship comes to a close, it’s a nice wrap-up to guest-blog for Jessica!

How the Intern Reads your Proposal

When I started interning, I was so excited to read actual proposals from real writers. I mean, now I was really in the business. Sort of. But I couldn’t help but wonder what those authors would think if they knew the first person to read their “baby” was an intern with no college degree (yet). Would they be angry? Disappointed? Probably.

The thing is, after writing forty reader reports these past few months, and receiving feedback on those reports from Jessica and Kim, I realize that the situation is different than I thought it was. First, the intern isn’t a person who knows nothing of literature. She applied for this unpaid position because she loves books and is probably three or even four years into her English degree. No person in her right mind would happily rearrange an agent’s bookshelves and do her filing for free unless she was in love with the publishing business.

I’ve come to know that authors are actually at a bit of an advantage if the intern reads their proposal first. You see, most successful literary agents have been in the business for quite some time. They’ve seen heaps of ideas and pages upon pages of writing from all types of authors. They continue to receive a slew of queries and proposals daily. Their goal, when reading proposals, is to find a good reason to reject, because they know, from all that experience, that the gems in the pile are few and far between.

But the intern is new in the business. All she knows of publishing is that glittery afterglow. Think J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyers. Stephen King. The intern, to align her own experience with her starry-eyed preconceived notions, desperately wants each proposal to be the next big thing. And she wants to be the first to have read it. This rarely happens, as I’m rapidly learning.

The intern also reads the slush pile—the notorious pile of unsolicited queries and proposals. All that reading makes it impossible for the intern to read for pleasure (who has time?), so she sees a great deal of writing that is inadequate and sub-par. When something even marginally resembles the work of a professional author, she’s going to sing its praises. Her face is going to light up with glee. It’s the best she’s seen in a long time!

When the agent gets around to reading the proposal the intern liked so much, she can’t help but read it with the intern’s thoughts—the intern’s selling points—in the back of her mind. So, if your work has anything good about it—anything at all—the intern, whether she’s aware of it or not—is actually shopping it to the agent.

So fear not, fellow slush-pile dwellers! You’re in good, optimistic hands.

Lauren is a senior at Pace University, where she is working on an English degree. The BookEnds internship is the second one she has completed. She began her first internship at Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone/Fireside imprint in the spring of 2009 and, in September 2010, will be starting her third internship at Hannacroix Creek Books. Lauren has been the editor-in-chief of a student literary magazine, news and features editor of her school newspaper. She volunteers as a freelance editor. She blogs at

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Business of Writing by Sally MacKenzie

The Naked Viscount
Publisher: Kensington Zebra
Pub date: June 2010
Agent: Jessica Faust

Before I was published, I thought of writing as a calling. My stories were my art. I still think these things, but now I understand that writing for publication is also very much a business. My stories are products I’m peddling.

Does that sound harsh? It does grate on me a little, but I try very hard to adopt this point of view when I’m dealing with the business side of publishing. Besides making general good sense, it helps cut down on the psychic wear and tear as my “baby” is evaluated and changed by the publishing/review process.

Let’s look at The Call first, shall we? When I got my first offer, I was ecstatic. My life-long dream had come true. A real, live editor wanted to buy my story. I wouldn’t have paid her to publish it, but beyond that I wasn’t much concerned about money.

Mistake number one. Money is very important, as my lovely editor on the other end of that phone line knew very well. If I’d been agented at the time, Jessica would have pointed that out--but if I’d been agented, the editor would have called Jessica, not me. (When I was touring my publisher’s office with my editor and Jessica once, I asked about foreign copies, saying I was more interested in seeing the covers than the money. Jessica politely pointed out that I was also very interested in the money.)

It’s an editor’s job to acquire manuscripts that will sell and make her publishing house buckets of money. Maybe little tiny buckets given the current economy, but the goal is definitely to land in the black. Yes, she should love the story, but chances are--at least in commercial fiction--she’s offering to buy your manuscript because she thinks it will sell well. Jessica or Kim would know better than I since they’ve been editors, but I imagine an editor’s career is on the line somewhat with every book she acquires. Buying one or two manuscripts that sink like a stone when tossed into the bookselling pond probably isn’t the end of the world, but an editor with enough such stones to build an underwater castle will likely soon be looking for other work.

When calling to offer for your book, the editor may well start off telling you what a wonderful writer you are and how wonderful your book is, but before she hangs up, she’ll mention the advance she’s willing to offer and that might not be so very wonderful. This is where the real business fun begins if you’re a good negotiator. (And this is one reason I have Jessica--I’m more like the dog you meet that will just turn over on her back to get her belly scratched. I am NOT a negotiator.) You won’t be talking about character development or pacing, but about such very important business-y things as advance amount and payment schedule, royalty rates on print and e-book formats, delivery dates, and option clauses. If you reach an agreement, then you’ll get a contract in the mail. Chances are reading that will make your head hurt. (And even though I have Jessica, I always do read my contracts very carefully.)

Here’s something I learned about contracts. The acquiring editor may well tell you the contract she’s sending you is boilerplate. This is true. However there are different boilerplates. The boilerplate contract your publisher has negotiated with Bookends, for example, is different from the boilerplate they’ve negotiated with Curtis Brown which is different from the one with the Nelson Literary Agency. The boilerplate contract for an unagented writer is the worst of the publisher’s contracts.

Writing becomes very much a business once you have contractual deadlines. You can’t write only when the muse moves you; you have to write in whatever fashion will permit you to hand your manuscript in on time. If you miss your deadline, besides being in breach of contract, you may cause a number of problems for your publisher and their other authors.

But there’s more to the business than making deadlines. You need a career plan.

I sold by accident, so you may all be much more prepared for the transition from hopeful writer to published author than I was. To say I found the change a shock is a bit of an understatement. There are many levels to this transformation, from dealing with book production--editorial edits, copy edits, page proofs--to pulling on your big girl (or big boy) panties when you get your first negative review. One of the biggest shocks--pleasant, but frightening--was that I was supposed to keep producing. Ever since I was in grade school, I’d had this dream of publishing a book. That was the prize, the top of the mountain. I’d never looked beyond that first sale to publishing a second book and a third.

My first contract was for two books, which meant I had to write book number two in months rather than years. I’d started a futuristic before I’d sold, but that wouldn’t suffice. My publisher didn’t do futuristics, but more importantly my readers probably wouldn’t follow me from the regency to some future time on a distant planet.

Devising a career plan is more than a little tricky given the unpredictable nature of publishing. Much of the business is out of your control, and it’s often harder to get a second contract than it is to get the first. So you have to be flexible, and you may not be able to plan far in advance, but you should still plan. Here are some questions to consider.

What subgenre do you want to concentrate on? It’s possible to write in multiple subgenres--regencies and futuristics, for example--but building a readership and “brand” identity is harder that way. And while I don’t advocate writing to trends, I think it’s wise to consider the market when making this decision. In my case, regency historicals are a bigger piece of the romance market than futuristics so following that path had a better chance of leading to success, at least by some measures.

How fast can you write and still produce quality work and maintain some kind of sane, non-writing life? Some writers can write multiple books in a year; some can write multiple books only by risking serious mental and physical health issues. Sometimes you might have to turn down an offer; however, if you can only manage a book every two years, you might not have a future in commercial fiction.

Where do you want to be in a year, five years, ten years? Aiming for the big lists probably isn’t a good goal--that’s something that’s largely out of your control--but I think you do increase your chances by focusing on writing one type of book. Do you want to stay with your current publisher or would some other house publish you better? Are you and your agent on the same page?

If you want to stay in the game, you need to look ahead even while you’re working your way through your current contract. What will you write next? You’ll probably have to do a proposal for a new book or series while your current book is in production if you don’t want a large gap between releases. Do you want to do connected books or standalones? If you vote for connected, how many in the group? A trilogy? Four books? More?

And then there’s all the other business issues--promotion, taxes, reversion of rights, the need for a literary executor, and the thing that’s bedeviling me currently--stuff management. (Where to store all the author copies, foreign copies, backlist, and promotional materials, oh my!)

The business of writing can get overwhelming, but when I feel that happening, I take a deep breath and remind myself that writing the best book I can is my very best business decision.

USA Today bestselling author Sally MacKenzie writes funny, hot Regency-set historicals for Kensington’s Zebra line, and her books have been translated into Czech, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian. Her sixth book, The Naked Viscount, arrives on bookstore shelves today. A native of Washington, D. C., she still lives in suburban Maryland with her husband and whichever of her four sons are stopping back in the nest. To find out more about Sally and her books, visit her website at