Friday, July 30, 2010

RWA 2010

Jessica rushed off to a breakfast meeting this morning, so I thought I'd pop on here and say hello from the Romance Writers of America conference in hot, sticky Walt Disney World.

Most of our days have been spent meeting clients to catch up and talk career strategy, speaking on workshop panels (I'm presenting today with St. Martin's editor, Rose Hilliard, and my client Christie Craig and her writing partner Faye Hughes about "Surviving, Overcoming, and Learning the Truth about Rejection'), and attending various cocktail parties to network with authors and other industry professionals.

Obviously, the highlight of the RWA conference came Wednesday night at the BookEnds party. ;) I coerced Jessica into holding it at a sushi/karaoke bar in the hotel. And well, I just didn't think it would be very sporting of us to host a party there without getting up on stage and belting out a little number, ourselves. We felt it was pretty reasonable to assume the place would have the "Mickey Mouse Club" Song in their system, but I thought it would be more fun to change up the lyrics a bit. Here's the BookEnds version:

Who's the best agency
With books for all to read?

Hey there, Hi there, Ho there
Come share a drink with me

BookEnds Lit! Read our blog!
BookEnds Lit! Read our books!
Forever let us hold our authors high!
High! High! High!

Come along and write a book
And join the agency!

Frankly, our performance wasn't exactly seamless. Simon Cowell would NOT have approved. And I'm not sure our clients could even discern my clever, cutesy little lyrics. But we truly had a blast. And we're pretty sure our clients got a kick out of us making fools out of ourselves. But that's half the fun, right?

Now to brainstorm how to top it with next year's bash!

Have a great weekend!


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Spending Money to Make Money

I’ve always been a huge fan of Seth Godin, and now that I finally got my act together to follow him on Twitter I can guarantee that many future blog posts are going to be inspired by his words of wisdom. If you’ve never read Seth Godin, do. He’s a must-read for any business owner, and as writers seeking publication, you are business owners.

Seth says it perfectly in his post on Spending Money to Make Money. There is a point in your business when it makes sense to have others do things for you. As writers the most important thing you can do is write a great book. Obviously once you start publishing a lot of things are going to cut into what was once dedicated writing time. Now, in addition to writing and revising in the way you’ve always done, you are also going to have to revise for your editor, review copyedits, review page proofs, work on the proposal for your next book, and write your next book. Add in publicity, marketing, fan mail, and a conference schedule and you’re going to begin to wonder where sleep fits in.

The problem with finding time to do all of this is that the first thing that often suffers is the writing. Your family is still going to have the same demands, and while you might be able to miss a soccer game here or there it’s likely you’re not going to be able to shut them out completely. Your day job? Well, most of you are still going to need the day job and I can’t imagine your boss will allow you to write, answer fan mail, or review your copyedits on her time. The problem is that you can’t let it cut into your writing time either. You cannot allow your next book to suffer. In fact, your next book has to be even better than your last.

Many of you will immediately say that you can’t afford to hire someone to help. Have you tried? Have you even looked into it? Have you considered the fact that if you spent a portion of your advance on hiring someone to do something (even if it’s mailing out your publicity materials for you) you might have made a bigger investment than spending the same amount on bookmarks could ever do?

Just as Seth Godin says, what works is going to depend on how you’re currently spending your money, but it might be worth considering.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mastering the Elevator Pitch

Anyone who is a member of RWA knows that today kicks off the RWA National conference in Orlando, and, as always, I will be in attendance. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I will be doing things a little differently this year. This year, I have not signed up to hold author pitch appointments. I’m already participating in two workshops and at least one agent panel. Adding in appointments would severely cut into the time I have with clients, and since that’s why I’m really there, it just didn’t make sense for me this year.

So what do you do if you were hoping to pitch to me and are disappointed I’m not taking pitches, or what if you planned to pitch to another agent but didn’t get a slot with her? Why, the elevator pitch, of course. Or the bar pitch, the breakfast pitch, the lobby pitch. Just whatever you do, don’t try the bathroom pitch or the gym pitch.

Every agent will have a different suggestion for how to pitch agents outside of a traditional pitch appointment. What’s mine? Toss the pitch altogether. I hate the feeling that the only reason an author is talking to me is for the opportunity to pitch a story. That being said, I love to talk about this business. If you happen to catch me at the bar by myself or enjoying a cup of coffee in the corner, don’t hesitate to approach me. It’s almost guaranteed that I’ll be reading something, but if I’m in public I’m expecting to talk to people. If I want a break I’ll sneak out of the hotel for a walk or up to my room for a nap.

How do you approach? Walk right up, say excuse me and ask if I would mind if you joined me for a minute or if you could talk to me. I like to think I’m a pretty friendly person and I don’t think I’ve ever turned anyone down. I might tell you I only have a few minutes, but since it’s National I always only have a few minutes.

What to say? Come with some questions, some comments, or compliment me on my brilliant shoe choice that day. In other words, have a conversation with me. It’s almost guaranteed that I’ll ask you about your writing at some point, but if not, what you’re doing is making an impression. Listen, I accept queries from everyone. Getting a query to me isn’t the point. Making yourself memorable is. If you have questions about the business, want a professional’s advice on your book idea, or just want to sit down and take a load off for a minute, this is the time for that. If our time is cut short and you haven’t pitched, I think that’s fine. In fact, it’s great. I’m usually tired of the pitches and networking is about far more than pitches. And this way, when you query (which is often a more comfortable way to pitch anyway) you can say that we enjoyed a nice talk in the corner of Starbucks right before my meeting with Sally MacKenzie. I’m sure to remember you and that’s what networking is all about. As to whether or not it means I’ll request your work: A verbal pitch won’t do that either, but it might give your work that extra little push if I’m on the fence.

Can’t wait to meet you.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Erin Kellison on Series

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

(Click to Buy)

Books in a Series: What Are You Writing?

I attended RomCon earlier this month, a conference dedicated to readers of romance. During one of the sessions, a panel asked readers (including booksellers, bloggers, and reviewers) what their tastes were about books in a series. The conversation briefly settled on a debate between a series of stand-alone books (e.g., books set in the same world, but each featuring different sets of main characters) versus a series driven by continuing characters. While it was mentioned that mystery often has a continuing character, no one firmly attributed either kind of series to a specific genre (like romance, UF, mystery), I think because in many cases the genre lines are blurred.

Here’s my experience, from pre-pubbed to pubbed: When I started Shadow Bound, the first book in my Shadow series, there was no doubt that it would be a stand-alone. It was my first book, so I really felt it needed to have complete character arcs, but I also believed that the world had definite series potential. When I sold Shadow Bound, the acquiring editor asked if I had a series in mind, referencing a secondary character for the next book. We settled on Custo Santovari, probably my favorite character thus far. It seemed that the stand-alone was the way to go. My contract was for two books; they each needed to be complete in and of themselves. I held out hope that I’d get to write more. And, thank goodness, I do.

Shadow Bound was released last month, so now I’m starting to get feedback from readers. The story straddles the line between romance and fantasy (in B&N I’m in the fantasy/sci-fi section; elsewhere I’m in romance), where both kinds of series are prevalent. And sure enough, many readers have expressed interest in what happens next for my Shadow Bound protagonists. They want the second kind of series, with continuing characters, which has made me pause and think (and write this blog). I think it’s a good sign, and I love that readers are invested enough to want to follow these characters. And of course now I have all these possibilities popping into my head for the characters of the previous book.☺ Even so, I think this series is better suited to stand-alones than a single overarching story. The next book still shifts to Custo’s story, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I tortured Custo in Shadow Bound, and it gets worse in Shadow Fall. And then a whole lot better.☺

So today I’m asking the readers of the BookEnds blog a similar question about series: What are you writing (and why)? Do you see it having series potential? If so, what kind of series–stand-alone or continuing characters? And what type of series do you prefer to read?


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, July 26, 2010

Silly Bandz and Books

What do Silly Bandz have to do with books? Well, nothing really. Sort of.

Silly Bandz, for those who don’t know, are the new craze in preteen fun and fashion. These innocuous little toys sell for about $5 for a box of twenty and kids love them. They wear them, trade them, and collect them. They can’t get enough. Who would have thought?

I mean really. Who would have thought that a box of rubber bands would become the next Pet Rock. I mean, for that matter, who would have thought that the Pet Rock would have become the Pet Rock?

And that’s how it works. That’s how books work too. No one, no one in this entire business, is absolutely sure about anything. There are no guarantees. I’ve seen agents and editors snap up books they are sure will be the next hot book and author only to see it fizzle, and I’ve seen agents and editors pay next to nothing for what eventually becomes the next hottest thing ever (Da Vinci Code, anyone?).

So when you decide that everyone is too stupid to see the next big bestseller or wonder why a certain book has become what it has become, think of Silly Bandz. Sure, now it’s easy to see why kids love them, but I personally am still confounded by how much. I mean really, sold out?


Friday, July 23, 2010

Contest Winners

Christie Craig & Faye Hughes
Wild, Wicked & Wanton
Publisher: Adams Media
Pub date: June 2010
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

Once again, Faye and I would like to thank Jessica and Kim for letting us take over the BookEnds blog and for helping us celebrate romance novels.

The winners are:

Abigail Sharpe – Angie Fox - A Tale of Two Demon Slayers
Florence – Christie Craig & Faye Hughes - Wild, Wicked & Wanton: 101 Ways to Love Like You’re in a Romance Novel
Refhater – Elizabeth Amber - Dane, The Lords of Satyr
Lynn – Christie Craig – Shut Up and Kiss Me
HistoricalRomanceJunkieRita – Kim Lenox - Darker Than Night
Sugar – Lisa Dale - It Happened One Night
ChristiCorbett– Maureen Smith - Recipe for Temptation
Sammy – Gina Robinson - Spy Games
R.S. Bohn - Kate Douglas - Wolf Tales I, Wolf Tales X, or DemonFire [Your choice]

Congratulations! To claim your prize, please send us an email containing your name and mailing address to: info (at) WritewithUs (dot) net.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Selling Category

I'm polishing a novel that I think would make a great Harlequin Superromance.

But what happens if I’m rejected? It feels like writing a category-length romance novel is like putting all your eggs in one basket - there's really only one line it's suitable for, and if the acquiring editors there don't want it, they don't want it. Assuming they reject it because they don't think it's right for their line, and not because the writing sucks, is there anywhere else to submit to?

As an unpublished author, is it possible to sell these manuscripts to other publishers as novellas? Would an agent be less likely to take you on if you're submitting a novella to them, instead of a single-title romance?

I think the thing to understand here, and the thing that many authors forget, is that writing for category is not just about length. Yes, typically category-length means a shorter book since many category romances are shorter than other books. That being said, what makes a category romance is a lot more than just length. There’s a particular style to the story, to the voice, and to the plot, a style that might not work as a single title or novella.

There is often this misconception among category writers that to break out into single title you need to write a longer book. Well, yes, the book will be longer, but that doesn’t mean it’s simply the same book with more words. A single title book tends to be more complex and multilayered than category. I think category romance is a great place to be for those writers who find they really shine there, and for some I think it’s a stepping-stone to single-title romance, but I think that those who only see it as a stepping-stone are doing a disservice to themselves and others. Category can be an amazing career in itself. There are a number of very successful authors who enjoy writing category, do it well, and are making a pretty decent living writing those books.

Writing for category is great, but yes, it is a smaller market. In other words, there is only one publisher you can shoot for. What happens if you’re rejected? You learn why and take what you’ve learned to your next book and you keep going until it’s accepted. It’s the same thing you do if your single title is rejected.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Thing About Names

I have recently become a fan of a new author, one who has been around for a few years, but who I’ve just discovered. I’ve made attempts to recommend her work to everyone I meet. That’s how much I love it. The problem? I can never remember her name.

The author is publishing with two last names. You know, like Jessica Faust Smith, and for the life of me I can’t keep those names straight. I can’t remember which goes first, and for some reason, in her case, the names are similar enough that they blend together for me. This is why a name does matter and a pseudonym might be important. Names are tricky things, and when choosing what to publish under I always recommend something that’s simple, classic, stands out a little, but not too much. And you also want a name that people will be able to remember well enough to repeat to everyone they know.

The other problem with two last names is that the bookstores don’t always know where to shelve the book. If I'm publishing under Jessica Faust Smith, I will guarantee some will place my books under F while others will drop them under S. This is only a problem for those readers searching for books who refuse to ask for help.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Romance Authors on Romance

Christie Craig & Faye Hughes
Wild, Wicked & Wanton
Publisher: Adams Media
Pub date: June 2010
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

First, a huge thank-you to Jessica and Kim for letting us play at the BookEnds blog today. My nonfiction writing partner, Faye Hughes, and I are celebrating the June release of our humorous relationship/self-help book, Wild, Wicked & Wanton: 101 Ways to Love Like You’re in a Romance Novel. In the book, we talk about all the lessons that a real woman can learn about men and relationships from reading romance novels. That got us thinking, what lessons do romance authors think their books can teach?

To find out, we asked seven BookEnds romance authors, myself included, to share their thoughts about their latest novels. Now, to make it even more fun, each author will be giving away an autographed copy of one of their books to a lucky commenter. Faye and I will also give away a copy of Wild, Wicked & Wanton. Plus, since we all write in a variety of styles, sub-genres, and tones, not only can you win a free book, but you can get a glimpse into what Jessica’s and Kim’s tastes are when it comes to romance fiction. How cool is that? Oh, and before I forget: Faye and I are also running a contest at through the end of August. Please check it out.

Christie Craig


Christie Craig (Kim’s client): Shut Up and Kiss Me offers insight into how a man, especially those tall, dark and silent types, might say one thing, but mean another. For some men, just getting in touch with their feelings, and then voicing them, is as hard as teaching a cat to tap dance. And sometimes watching those creatures learn to dance can be a whole lot of fun and worth the wait.

Giving away a copy of Shut Up and Kiss Me


Kate Douglas (Jessica’s client): The emails I received when my Wolf Tales series first debuted in January 2006 were NOT what I expected—thank-you notes! Women writing to say the stories’ explicit sex scenes were perking up their sex lives (they were sharing the books with their husbands with instructions to “pay attention to how these guys do it!”), and men thanking me for writing books that had their wives chasing them around the bedroom. I had no idea I’d created a set of instruction manuals—not that that’s a bad thing, you understand—it just wasn’t quite what I expected.

Giving away a copy of one book–choose from Wolf Tales I, Wolf Tales X, or DemonFire


Elizabeth Amber (Jessica’s client): Dane, The Lords of Satyr reminds us of the bonds of loyalty between alpha brothers, and the bonds of secrecy they share as they engage in ancient family rituals in their Tuscany vineyard. It allows us to experience how deeply, fiercely, and thoroughly they love their women. It leaves us longing for alpha brothers of our own, especially those who are descended from the satyr–the carnal followers of the Roman god of wine.

Giving away a copy of Dane, The Lords of Satyr


Gina Robinson (Kim’s client): Spy Games offers hope, encouragement, and the possibility of empowerment to women, especially those coming from abusive or unhappy relationships. Not all handsome men are controlling, wacko stalkers. You can find one of the good guys—the hot hero who will defend and protect you against violent ex-boyfriends, power-hungry Hollywood producers, mafia bosses, and overzealous jewelry salesgirls. His love and loyalty may even make you want to go deep undercover.

Giving away a copy of Spy Games


Angie Fox (Jessica’s client): A Tale of Two Demon Slayers teaches that even though a man can occasionally act like a beast–or even turn into a griffin–things aren’t always as they appear. Be persistent, let him know how you feel, beware of meddling biker witches and soon you’ll chip away at that tough exterior and find a heart of gold.

Giving away a copy of A Tale of Two Demon Slayers


Maureen Smith (Jessica’s client): Readers who pick up a copy of Recipe for Temptation will discover that falling in love with a sexy celebrity chef can be an exhilarating, decadent experience. Especially when the culinary Casanova knows his way around a woman’s body as well as he knows his way around a kitchen. Bon app├ętit, ladies!

Giving away a copy of Recipe for Temptation


Kim Lenox (Kim’s client): Besides getting a spooky, sexy read in Darker Than Night, readers will find that true love doesn’t have to be a “perfect” love. Men can be flawed. Women can be flawed. We aren’t pieces of a puzzle that once matched, will perfectly fit. Happily-ever-after requires a love that is wholehearted and passionate, and above all—a love that forgives.

Giving away a copy of Darker Than Night


Lisa Dale (Kim’s client): I suppose if my books do teach something it's this: that fantasy romance can be born from real-life situations. For example, in my latest release, It Happened One Night, true love hides in plain sight. Lana Biel dreams of her perfect happily ever after (she longs to leave her family's wildflower farm to travel the world), but when a one-night stand leaves her expecting, plans change. She turns to her best friend Eli for help—and discovers that the stuff of dreams grows from the seemingly impossible tangles of real life.

Giving away a copy of It Happened One Night

Monday, July 19, 2010

Query Red Flags

These are actual details from query letters that ultimately caused me to reject the query almost immediately. To me these are red flags, or obvious signs that either the work isn’t ready or the author and I are not compatible.

I have written three books and three screenplays in the past three months.

My thought: written, but not edited or revised

I am writing this book to promote my website and business.

My thought: I would like you to think of the book as a business separate from your other work. It’s also just not that easy.

We are not interested in a contract that does not provide an advance something on the order of six figures.

My thought: While it’s admirable to have high hopes, this particular genre is not going to garner that type of advance for a debut author, and I do not want to waste my time working with an author who is likely to turn down any other offer we get.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Query Recap & Query Announcement

I’m getting ready to close for queries for a time, and given the state of my inbox, I think it’s probably a good idea. At the time I sat down to do this recap I had over 500 unanswered queries to get to. There’s no doubt that once I reach the 400 mark I’m overwhelmed, so when answering these queries there wasn’t much of a system to my approach. I started with the newer queries because that gives me the opportunity to weed out the easy rejections, things like children’s books, unrequested attachments, and other types of submissions that are nowhere near the type of book I represent; from there I randomly went from query to query.

In 45 minutes, early one morning, here’s what I got through:

  • Total Answered: 47
  • Of those total number that were nonfiction (the rest were fiction): 11
  • Total Rejected: 47
  • Requested Partials: 0
  • Number who attached the query instead of placing it in the body of the email: 1
  • Rejections in which I supplied more detailed information of why I was rejecting: 11 (Note that the reasons for these are usually because there are obvious problems: the book is a novella, the author has no idea how to write a query, the author’s platform isn’t enough for the subject matter, etc.)
  • Number of pre-queries: 1
  • Number of queries with too many (one is usually too many) exclamation points: 2
  • Letters deleted without being read: 2 (In one case it was because the author had submitted twice in a row, and yes, I realize this could have been computer/server error so I deleted one and responded to the other. In the other case the author’s query was obviously sent to 50+ agents).

Random thoughts:

  • I get a lot of “pre-queries” asking if we accept international submissions. We do, but even if you aren’t sure, just query. Let us be so wowed by your book that even if we didn’t, we will now.
  • I get a lot of submissions with fancy “letterhead”-looking paper. Made to look like a spiral notebook or resume paper. Don’t do this. It often makes the query hard to read. Remember the golden rule of queries: KISS—Keep It Simple Stupid (although I hate that word).
  • I know I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating. I am not interested in what your novel does. I am only interested in what your book is. In other words, I don’t care what mysteries it explores or what it will teach readers. That’s nonfiction. No one picks up fiction because they want to be taught a lesson. They want to read a story. I also don’t care how your book is written (first person narrative, etc.). Again, I want the story.
When finished I still have 450+ queries in my inbox, the oldest dating back to June 16. As I mentioned, I am closing for queries as of Monday. In other words, this is the last weekend to get your query in before Labor Day. My plan is to reopen September 7. During this time I will work to catch up on all reading, which includes queries, proposals, client work, and some books that don’t have anything to do with work at all.

If you receive an offer from another agent or publisher between July 19 and September 6 and you want me to participate in that offer, please email me with the word “offer” in the subject line. Whatever you do, do not include “query” or “submission,” since those subjects will automatically be deleted. And don’t try to trick me by putting anything other than “query” or “submission” in an email query. I am not taking queries no matter how you try to get around the system.


Oh, and one final word, five authors replied to my rejection letters. Most were to thank me, one was to supply information that wasn't included in the letter in the hopes of swaying me, and one was to tell me that it wasn't a query, just a note to ask if I wanted to see the proposal.

***Did you really think I would have only one final word? Silly people.

Janet Reid just posted an interesting blog asking readers their opinions of the practice of agents closing for submissions. If you have a moment pop on over and give your opinion. I did put something up myself, but if any of you are worried let me fill you in on a few things.

Anyone who queries during the time I'm "away" will receive an automatic reply letting them know that I am not accepting queries, that their query will be deleted, and asking them to resubmit in September. I'm very aware that being closed to queries might mean a few missed opportunities and for years I've been afraid to close for that very reason. The truth though is that I need a break. Summer is upon us and I would like the time to hit the pool with my family, lose myself in a good beach read and prepare my desk for a fresh start in September. I want to be enthusiastic about queries and new authors and sometimes the best way to do that is to reboot myself and take time to recharge. This is my time to recharge.

Someone on Janet's blog thought it was very European or very French. I like that. It means I can pretend I'm sitting on the Riveria instead of the concrete of my neighbor's pool.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Query Don'ts

While reading through some queries I very quickly developed a list of things that turn me off immediately. The book might be great, but these are signs that it’s a relationship that just won’t work:

  • Don’t rant about how readers are no longer buying books in your particular genre because they all stink, but then tell me how you’re determined to change that. In case you’ve forgotten, I represent the authors you’ve just dissed.
  • Don’t go on and on about your shortcomings. I don’t care that you’ve never been published before, that you have no real writing history, or that this is your first book. Of course, now that it’s all I know about you, I care.
  • Don’t spend more time telling me every detail about how long it took you to write the book than you do telling me about the book itself. I don’t care, but now I worry that it will also take you six years to write your next book.
  • I will not sign any sort of confidentiality clause, especially when you won’t even tell me what I’m signing it about.
  • Don’t use the term “chick lit.” This term is dead and, at least at this time, is a turn-off to agents and editors.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Avery Aames on Perseverance

Avery Aames
The Long Quiche Goodbye
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pub date: June 2010
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

A Writer’s Journey: Say Cheese!

Getting published is hard work. It takes tenacity. It takes passion. It takes friends who won’t let you give up. J. A. Konrath says: "What do you call a writer with perseverance? PUBLISHED!"

Are you just about to give up? Don’t!

Over the course of fifteen years, I wrote a number of books, both traditional mystery and suspense thrillers. I submitted these books to agent after agent and received a number of comments, like “This is so close, but it’s just not for me.” [Sound familiar?]

Two years ago, when I was ready to give up, my critique partner, Krista Davis (who writes The Domestic Diva Mystery series), suggested I write to the market. "Cozies are selling," she said. With nothing to lose, I decided to give it a whirl.

But before I wrote another full book, I wanted to make sure that the cozy hook that I’d chosen was a good hook. I approached agent Jessica Faust at Bookends, whom I had met at a writers’ conference. She had given me encouragement on previous work. I asked if I could submit cozy ideas to her to see if they would fly with a publisher. She agreed. I submitted professionally crafted bibles [my bibles included sample chapters, an overview of the series, character sketches, and a basic outline], but none captured her fancy. After a few tries, we agreed that maybe we weren’t of like mind, so I asked if she’d be upset if I approached her fellow agent, Jacky Sach, whom I had also met at a conference. Jessica gave her blessing.

I approached Jacky with the same request. Jacky agreed. I tried three, but she didn’t think any would appeal to a publisher, so I tried three more. Mind you, each of these took me a while to write, and mind you, Jacky was such a good sport! Again, I received encouragement from Jacky, but none of the ideas were “just right.” Because I knew of people who had been “hired” to write books based on a bible created by the publisher, I asked Jacky if she would keep me in mind if she heard of an opportunity. [Note: I used to write in Hollywood. I created the format for a series on TV called Out of This World. I had no qualms about writing somebody else’s idea.] Jacky said she would.

I didn’t waste another moment thinking about the possibility, and I returned to what I had been writing before I changed track – a suspense thriller. Note: I was still considering giving up writing, but I hadn’t decided what I would do next with my life, and sitting on the couch day in, day out was out of the question (for me). I polished my new novel and started the quest again to find an agent who would think it was the most brilliant piece of writing ever. I received requests for full manuscripts and was feeling pretty sure that something was going to break for me this time . . . soon. [Perseverance requires that you see the rainbow behind the clouds!] At the same time, I took a cozy writing class and a suspense writing class. I polished new chapters and ideas through my critique group. And, yes, I had the occasional mini-pity party. [Note: Don’t let pity parties last longer than twenty-four hours. It takes grit to stop a pity party, but you can do it.]

And then one day, out of the blue, I received an email from Jacky. She had a work-for-hire possibility. Would I be interested in auditioning for A Cheese Shop Mystery series? Of course I would! A cheese shop sounded tasty, fun, and felt like a perfect fit for me. I loved to cook. I used to cater. I almost sold wine and The Cheese Shop, per the publisher’s bible, had a wine annex. Last but not least, the grandmother who raised the protagonist was a sassy character who managed the local theater. It just so happened that I had acted in local theaters and on television and in film.

To audition for the job, I was asked to provide three chapters. I set to work, researching, tasting, and writing. Working within the publisher’s parameters provided a freedom I’d never felt before. I was writing something that had a strong hook and was already “wanted” by the publisher. In a matter of weeks, I turned in the chapters.

But I didn’t kid myself that I would be hired. I’d been rejected before. So I returned to my regular job of writing the next book.

When I was offered a three-book deal, I just about fell off my chair. I was going to be published, writing something I truly enjoyed!

In the future, I hope to sell one of my own stories, but for now, I write as Avery Aames, author of A Cheese Shop Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime, and I’m thrilled and proud.

My advice: If opportunity knocks on your door, open it and: Say Cheese!


Avery Aames, the author of A Cheese Shop Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime, is the pseudonym for Daryl Wood Gerber. Daryl created the format for the popular sitcom Out of This World and has won awards for her screenplays. She also writes short stories and suspense novels. Both Avery and Daryl like to read, cook, garden, and do amateur photography. Avery blogs at Mystery Lovers Kitchen, www.mysteryloverskitchen, a blog for foodies who love mysteries, as well as at Killer Characters, You can visit Avery at

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Another fun round of things that make us laugh in the office.

After querying Kim and getting a message (I suspect) that she’s not accepting queries, the author simply forwarded the entire email to me, “Dear Ms. Lionetti” and all.

As per our guidelines we don’t accept unrequested attachments. In other words, we prefer the query to be in the body of the email, and if we request the material we’ll ask for it to be attached. Of course there are times when authors miss this, so I will reply with an email explaining the procedure and reminding authors that most agents don’t accept attachments and that reviewing guidelines before submitting is helpful. In response to one of these emails I received this, and trust me, with an email like this there is nothing you can do but laugh. Oh, and by the way, the expletives were modified by me, not by the author.

I suggest you open the attachments that are sent to you. Then you won't miss great material from great authors!!!

This message means (F**k You!) Maybe you can read that since it's some of my best writing! (emphasis added!)

Well it's not in the attachment... You did not ask for this either!!! It makes me feel better to express my thoughts and use some Freedom of Speech!

I'm sure many writer's want to say it! While you're at it kiss my a** also!!! Take as long as you need to for that!!!

I take the road that is less traveled by!!!!

I suppose I should be flattered by this response to a rejection:

I'm not too surprised at your lack of interest in my manuscript. I believe you to be "much too young" to grasp the full meaning, let alone the appreciation of the time and the setting for which this story took place in

This one should really be a ROFL. It’s a follow-up to a query:



Monday, July 12, 2010

Where Do You Get Ideas

This might seem like a silly question but is it ok to use a news story for the basis of a novel? The story in question is about 3 particular non-celebrity teenagers. I'm fascinated by what happened and would like to write a fictional account of the events that might have led to the incident but I don't want to infringe on anyone's rights obviously.

Never a silly question! There are no silly questions, just questions that aggravate me. This, however, is not a question that aggravates me. It’s a great question.

You can get your ideas from anywhere you want. I think news stories are probably the basis of more novels than I can count, just like other novels are the basis for novels. As are music lyrics, actual life events, dreams, brilliant agents, and your mom’s bedtime stories.

To be honest with you, when it comes to a great idea, it’s not the idea or where it came from that really matters, it’s what you do with it. I wish I knew how many times I read an article, saw a news story or read a book and had an “aha” moment. Ask my authors. I’m regularly taking notes on “brilliant” (I use that word loosely) ideas and shipping them off to my clients for execution.

Being fascinated is the first step to creating a great story. As long as you’re not using actual names, details, etc. In other words, as long as you’re fictionalizing the story you can do whatever you want with it. That’s the beauty of fiction.


Thursday, July 08, 2010

BookEnds Pet Peeves

We’ve done a lot on pet peeves on queries and everyday agent life, but I don’t think we’ve done anything yet that focuses solely on the blog, and I’m sure that some of these will hit home for our regular readers as well. So, as usual with pet peeves, in the grand scheme of life none of these are really that big of a deal, but they drive us crazy nonetheless . . .

Blog comments that exist solely to promote the commenter's book -- for example, "Great post. My new book blah blah blah is just out, and I wish I'd had this info before I sold it/published it/whatever."

Similarly, the ones who post a comment saying something like, "Great post. Check out my blog on a similar subject."

Comments that seem to exist solely for the purpose of criticizing agents and the entire publishing process. Usually the author in these cases picks out one sentence of the original post to harp on.

Authors who read all the comments and then harp on something someone said as if it came from the original post.


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A World of Ebooks

I would love to hear your perspective on the topic of e-readers and their impact on us as social creatures. Growing up, I was surrounded by books, and to this day I love to touch, feel, and read them . I gauged whether a man was "date-worthy" depending on not only whether he had a library of books but more important, whether he read the classics. Have you ever spied on someone at the grocery store and painted a fairly quick picture of them based on what they purchased? The same goes with personal libraries.

My son was born last year and I try to envision what the world will be like when he's my age (41) and everyone's library is stored in a small electronic device. If you want to draw a
New Yorker-style cartoon in your head, the future home libraries will still have the overstuffed leather chair and the tasteful red Persian carpet. The bookshelves stand empty and in one stands a lone Kindle.

Respecting your thoughts and opinions, I would love to hear what you think about e-books and the inevitable death of the paper book and hope to read a blog one day on this topic.

The strangest thing about this question is that on the same morning this landed in my inbox I had been thinking the same thing. I was walking down the stairs in my house eyeing the bookshelf overflowing with books and wondering if my children and their children and their children’s children would love books a little less because they won’t be surrounded by them?

As a child I too was surrounded by books and was often encouraged to read based on the books in the bookshelves around me. In other words, the books themselves inspired me to read. I remember sitting at friends’ houses and scouring their bookshelves, and like this reader, I remember gauging my interest in other people based on what they read. In fact, I remember meeting people and talking to strangers on the subway all because one of us was reading a certain book.

I do think that a world of e-readers will change that and I hope it doesn’t change things for the worse. Will children, will people, be less inspired to read because they don’t have walls of books to grab their interest? Will strangers avoid spontaneous conversation because an e-reader has no cover and there’s no way to know what someone is reading, there’s no opening for an offhand comment about the book one is reading?

I guess, when you think about it, it’s a little like the loss of the front porch. There was a time when the front porch was the heart of a neighborhood. People didn’t drive everywhere, they walked. People didn’t sit inside, in the air-conditioning, in front of TVs, they sat on the front porch to keep cool and talked to neighbors as they passed by. In fact, they sat on the front porch and read books.

I like my e-book. I still really like paper books. I certainly think e-books are the wave of the future, but I’m not entirely convinced they are going to fully replace paper books any time soon. I don’t know what’s going to happen to readers and to “the love of books.” But it certainly does give one much to think about.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The End of an Era

As many of you surely know by now, Law & Order, after 20 years, was canceled. I know many were sad to see it go. I was not a die-hard fan, but like most I've seen my share of episodes in reruns. How could you miss it? Every time you turn on the TV there is an episode of Law & Order somewhere.

Actually, though, Law & Order has very little to do with today’s post. What got me thinking about today’s post was a radio interview I was listening to where they discussed that with the end of Law & Order there is no series finale. Like many shows, Law & Order was canceled, and since there wasn’t a decision on the producer’s end to finish out the show, no series finale was filmed. It just ended.

This happens to authors all the time. I can’t begin to tell you how many authors discover, in the middle of their series, that a contract won’t be renewed, and they fret that they didn’t have time to wrap up the series the way they would have liked. Let me explain for those who have never been in such a situation. Let’s say you sign a three-book contract for a series, a series you can see writing for the rest of your life. You deliver the third book and then wait, and hope, that the publisher will want to buy three more. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. If they don’t, you typically won’t find out until well after you’ve completed that third book, and at that point there’s no going back. You’ve left storylines unfinished and fear that you’ve left your readers hanging. This happens all the time. It happens in TV and it happens in books. In fact, it happens in life. We can’t always wrap things up neat and tidy like we would prefer.

When I thought about Law & Order ending without a finale, it felt right to me. This is a series where you didn’t become that invested in the characters and you can easily imagine them simply continuing on as they left off, solving and prosecuting crimes. But does the same hold true for books? Can you be equally satisfied without a series ending wrapping things up neat and tight? Can you imagine the characters simply going on as they have been, or are you (and have you been) upset to discover that the reason you can’t find the next book in the series is because it doesn’t exist, and now you’ll never really know if the protagonist got what you hope she wanted?

I wonder because authors are always so upset when they don’t feel they can wrap things up, and certainly I understand that, but do they really need to?


Monday, July 05, 2010

Settle Down

I don’t know if it’s the warm weather, but I seem to be getting a rash of panicky query emails lately, authors who seem to be especially concerned about whether or not their emails/queries have been received.

Relax, slow down, and do not, ever, check in on your query after only two weeks. I have to admit, it’s driving me crazy. Lately I seem to be spending more time responding to authors checking in after two weeks, checking in to ask if I got the query just days after they sent it, or sending 13 variations of the same query because the wrong name was used or there was a misspelling.

In fact, not too long ago, my assistant got an email from a querier who had received an out-of-office message from me (I was out for one day) and felt the need to follow up with her, to respond to the out-of-office note, to say thank you and she would wait patiently for my response. I’m also amazed at how many people, in general, feel the need to respond to out-of-office messages. Responding to an out-of-office message, any out-of-office message, is not being patient.

I give regular query updates on the blog and through my Twitter address. If you haven’t heard in six weeks' time I probably have not received the queries. Patience, people, please have patience.


Thursday, July 01, 2010

Does It Get Any Better?

I’m not sure if you can answer this, but I thought maybe some of your readers could. I’m just curious if you ever get past the rejection part of the query process.

I sent my first queries recently, and I have received four rejections so far. I know that’s not a lot (yet anyway), but those four have had an overwhelming negative effect on me. I’m really surprised it affected me so negative, because I read hundreds of post that informed me prior to sending the queries that the majority will be rejections.

My dilemma is this; I seem to have lost the joy to write anything. When I was writing my novel, I was divinely engrossed in doing so. I was so eager to see what was going to happen myself that I stayed up till 4am almost every morning writing (even though I had to wake up with my 2 year old and go to work). I continuously did research on writing, querying, etc. I loved it. After I sent my queries, I was excited every time I saw the light flashing on my blackberry. Then with each passing rejection, it felt like someone was twisting a knife in my gut a little more each time. Now, I literally hate opening my e-mail. I still have several more responses I’m waiting on, and I’m dreading them. It's like these rejections are pretty much a slap in the face. That I need to wake up and realize that I’ve never been any good. I feel like one of those singers on American Idol; you know the ones who sing ok, but still don’t make it to Hollywood. Because no matter how good they sound to themselves and their loved ones, to the world they just weren’t good enough to win.

So is this normal? Does every writer go through this when they are trying to get published? I just don’t understand why I literally can’t find the enthusiasm to write anything. I think I need the electronic form of Zoloft to bring me out of this writing depression. I would assume that electronic form would be an e-mail from an agent, in which they would tell me how much they loved my work. Something tells me though that FDA hasn’t approved that OTC yet, so until then, I’m in rejection hell.

I’m so sorry to hear about what you’re going through. No one said this business was easy and I think that in publishing there is definitely something to the saying “only the strong survive.” You’re right. I don’t know if I can really give you the answer to this. As an agent I have seen my share of rejections and I have definitely had days, weeks, and months where I wondered if I would ever sell anything again, if all editors were laughing at me and my submissions, or if I was better suited to vacuum sales instead of book sales. That being said, the work I was submitting wasn’t a work of my heart. Sure I loved it, but I wasn’t the one who wrote it. There’s no doubt that there’s a distinct difference between what an agent feels when getting a rejection and what an author feels.

I hope that a lot of our readers, both published and unpublished, pipe in today to lend their advice and support. What I can tell you is hang in there. Try to find a way to separate yourself from the submission and find the joy in writing again. Rejection is inevitably a part of this business and you’ll experience it at all stages of your career. You’ll get rejected before you ever find an agent, you’ll get rejected again before you find a publisher, and almost every author gets rejected once again, in some way or another, after publication. What you need to remind yourself is that these rejection letters have absolutely nothing to do with you. Heck, they might not even have anything to do with your writing. Instead of thinking of these letters as letters of rejection, think of them as part of your journey to publication. Each rejection is one step closer to achieving your dream. Go on to your next book and find that joy in writing again. Focus on your writing, not on what others are saying.