Thursday, September 29, 2011

Working with an Agent

I do not have a U.S. literary agent, but I do have an agent in Turkey who approached me a few months ago. At that time, she said she had a publisher seriously interested in one of my novels, and has now offered it to multiple publishers in Turkey. She says she is close to making a deal. My question is whether there is a commission involved when the author hasn't "hired" the agent, rather, the foreign agent is working on the author's behalf sort of in the background.

What concerns me most about this question, and the many similar questions I have received through the years, is the author who jumps into a deal or an agreement without asking any questions. These aren't questions you should be asking me, but questions you should be asking your agent.

My answer, though, is of course there's a commission involved. The agent is not working to sell your book because she loves to sell books, it's a job for her and she will expect to get paid a percentage of the sale and royalties. Typically with foreign rights sales she will seek somewhere between 10% and 20%, depending on how many people are involved, but that's a question you'll have to ask her. And note, this is the way an agent works. She's not working in the background, she's working to sell your book as any agent would do.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

We've been doing Workshop Wednesday for a few months now and so far I've been very happy with the way things are going. I wanted to take a break today from an actual critique to answer some of the questions and respond to some of the feedback we've received.

You may have noticed that we've only done, to the best of my knowledge, one nonfiction query. That's because we haven't received very many nonfiction queries for the workshop. We've had requests from readers to workshop more, but unless we're getting them we can't workshop them.

We also had a comment from a reader asking to see more critiques on queries that were "close" but not quite there. We've been receiving queries for the workshop since February. Every Wednesday we receive a few more. When choosing which queries to workshop we choose randomly. I scroll through the query folder, drop my cursor on an email and critique that query. I know that when Kim, Jessica, or Lauren critiques a query they do the same thing. In other words, what you're seeing from our query critiques is a very real example of what an agent's query inbox must look like. There are a few hits and a lot of misses for various reasons. We're not choosing queries that necessarily need more work, we're just choosing queries.

And last, I want to thank all of you who have been regularly participating and giving feedback of your own. Some of your insight has been fantastic and I've noticed that some of you have a real eye for queries and writing, a real editorial eye.

Stay tuned next week for another critique.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Sharing with you those things that can really make us laugh.

In a query the author started by going into great detail to tell the story of Famous Bestselling Author and how she struggled to find an agent and publisher. It was only "one visionary agent" who took it on. The Author then continued, after telling me the title of her book, to say, "I expect most agents and editors will dismiss it out of hand."

So before even telling me anything about your book, you've told me I'm not a visionary and that your book won't sell. . . .

Your query tells me nothing about your book. It talks about you, your children, your life (sort of like a Christmas letter) and finishes by asking me to take a look at your writing. The clincher? You know I'm going to pass so in your P.S. you tell me that you've researched lots of sample queries, they seem odd, so you're just going to write from the heart. That's all well and good. Writing from the heart is great. I still need to know something about your book.

"I have many different ideas for books. There are 3 major reasons why I have no manuscript for you 2 look at. A. Honestly, my grammar skills suck and writing a full manuscript would be futile. B. I just don't have the time to finish one and if I was living comfortably and had a person to help me with my writing dos and donts than I could finish one pretty quickly. C. I'm too ignorant about the process and would be embarrassed to hand people my work that didn't completely encompass my vision. Anyways, what I lack as writer, I make up for it with my story telling.

"I have four kids; I am single; and I am available. . . ." Now, the author did add: "for all aspects of editing, writing, and polishing my book," but those first words were rather jarring.


Monday, September 26, 2011

The Perfect Pitch

When I first queried editors about Bella Riley’s books I asked Bella to supply the pitch. This is something I frequently do because it helps give me a starting point for my own pitch. The one thing I say to authors when sending my request is, “Feel free to keep it rough. I’ll probably edit and change it anyway.”

Not the case for Bella Riley, and not the case with many other clients. Bella’s pitch was perfect. So perfect, in fact, that when I first queried her editor at Grand Central to ask if she’d be interested in seeing the proposal, the editor responded immediately with, “Wow. I’m not sure if I’ve been desperate for a vacation to the mountains or if you need a book deal yourself—could be both—but your pitch sounds awesome. I’d love to take a look.”

Don’t I wish it was my writing? I told her the pitch was straight from Bella herself, and it wasn’t long before we had a three-book deal.

Bella Riley is the contemporary romance pseudonym for erotic romance author Bella Andre. We like to think of these books as Bella Andre meets Susan Wiggs. Home Sweet Home is her first contemporary romance with Grand Central, and here’s the pitch that got her that deal:

After thinking she had left Emerald Lake – and the girl she had once been – behind forever, Andi Powell must return for one more summer at the lake to save her family's knitting store. She isn't prepared for Nate Turner, the boy from the wrong side of the tracks that she'd always loved from afar, to have turned into a man who takes her breath away. She isn't ready for his determined sensual plays for her body . . . and her heart. And she definitely isn't prepared to discover that the darkness he hides so well from everyone else tugs at her heart – and makes her wonder if leaving again is really the right thing to do after all.

But with the help of the Thursday Night Knitting Group, Nate's sister, Andi's mother and grandmother, and a pair of missing carousel horses, Andi just might find the love she's always deserved in the arms of the one man who has waited his entire life for her to come back and heal the hole in his heart with her love.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Sucked into Negativity

The other day I sat down with a group of publishing professionals to talk about the state of the industry, and by the end of the hour I was a wreck. This particular group was full of doomsday predictors, something I'm not, and it got to me. It got to me really fast. And then I walked out of the meeting, went home, chatted with Kim, had a glass of wine, and centered myself again.

I will not be meeting with that particular group again.

It's really, really easy to get sucked into other people's angst. I see it all the time with authors, especially after conferences. Suddenly everyone is in a panic and it's usually incited by one or two people. If you're a negative person, I'm sorry. If you tend to think the glass is half full, keep away from those who don't.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Seeking an Agent Is Not Seeking a Job

When talking about query letters we often use the analogy of the job hunter. We say things like, "Your query letter is like the business suit you wear to a job interview. It's your first impression." But that analogy has never been quite right because you are not looking for a job, and the agent is not looking to hire you. In fact, it's just the opposite: You are looking to hire the agent. That being said, the agent still has the chance to say no, unlike many in today's job market.

So instead of thinking of your agent search as comparable to a job search, I think you should look at it as the search for an investor in your new business, because that is, in fact, what you're looking for. An investor will only agree to back your business if she feels it's going to be profitable for both of you. She has a certain level of financial success, a gain or return on her investment that she hopes to achieve, and her decision to invest or not invest in your business is based entirely on her personal feelings and experiences with the business you are proposing.

In other words, you might be pitching a profitable-looking business plan, but the investor might personally feel that it's not enough profit or simply not the type of business she wants to spend her money on, especially if she has six other business plans to consider.

Finding an agent to work with is about finding the right person to invest in your future as an author.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Dear :

Sentimental Journey is a 98,000-word women’s fiction. My style has been described by writing instructors as having similarities to Anne Tyler, with some Maeve Binchy, voice of Barbara Delinsky, and the emotional appeal of Nicholas Sparks.

It's funny that I should open this just hours after we were discussing whether or not it's good to compare your book or writing to others. Our thought was that it's usually not. The reason? If the agent you're pitching happens to really dislike one of those authors you might be doing yourself a disservice. In this case you've picked a variety of writers so I don't think it's a huge problem, but I also don't think it adds much. You've pretty much just described what I would expect from women's fiction.

Meredith Fields’ formerly placid suburban life is shattering piece by piece. She feels guilty over placing her mother, Katherine, in a nursing home. Keith, her husband, has fallen in love with his young assistant, and wants a divorce. An accomplished author, she’s bored with her romance books, and has a tight deadline for her next book – which she hasn’t quite started.

Here's one of the problems with comparing your writing style to other writers: You've set me up to have really high expectations for your writing and you don't carry it through in your query. Either your voice isn't coming through in the query or your voice isn't what you described, and that's a concern.

That being said, so far I'm liking the description of your book, and this is where it gets personal. This is a plot that would interest me. I think part of the problem with this paragraph is that it feels very choppy. It doesn't really sing for me.

As Meredith sorts through her mother’s house and finds clues to the woman’s shadowy past, she recognizes much of her mother in herself. She begins to understand why her mother related so poorly to her children, and is shaken by parallels in her relationships with her own children. Her growing compassion for Katherine’s difficult life becomes the catalyst for her new novel, Hope’s Illusion, the early chapters of which are included in Sentimental Journey. Meanwhile Meredith finds a journal she kept in her twenties, she is reminded of the love she once felt for Keith, and the extent of his loss settles in. A series of crises forces them to confront their relationship, showing Meredith the way to restore her spirit and mend her shattered life.

Did she know her mother had a shadowy past or is that part of the discovery? I would skip using her mother's given name and continue calling her "her mother." I think that will make it clear who we're focusing on (Meredith) and prevent any confusion from too many names. The information about the new novel seems dropped in and unnecessary. In fact, it kind of throws me. I'm not sure you need it here.

Last, I think I'd change the title. It sounds rather flat and unexciting.

I am the author of Autumn Colors, a romance, released by Author House on March 23, 2011.

I’ve also published several articles in professional journals, an article in Runners’ World, and contributed chapters for two nonfiction books. More information and excerpts from Autumn Colors can be found on my website (

I’ve enclosed a synopsis and first five pages of Sentimental Journey. Thank you for your time and consideration.



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Resending Queries

This may sound like an unprofessional and very likely stupid question, but I had to make certain before giving up entirely: I was wondering whether it was alright to send a revised query letter to your agency when the first has not been replied to yet? I know that the query letter you send should have been edited and revised until it was polished but I just have to ask.

Hey, we all make mistakes. In fact, just recently I sent an email out to an editor, querying a book, with a major grammatical error in the subject heading. It happens. I don't think the editor judged me or the submission any less.

You must have caught me on one of those days because I'm of two minds on this. First of all, yes, I would rather the query be right the first time, but as everyone knows sometimes it takes a few days or months and a few rejections before you realize it isn't right. And in the end I think I would rather not miss out on an opportunity than have one less query in my inbox. But do you send it while still waiting for an answer? That does feel like it's mucking up my inbox to me. People do it all the time though.

The truth is that unless I happen to read the queries in backward order and notice that you've sent the revised and asked me to delete the original, I will probably just end up reading them both and wonder if they were both sent accidentally or on purpose.

So here's what I'm going to say: Just send the revised one whenever you want to.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Handling Editor Interest

Two years ago, an editor was interested in my previous novel. The novel was taken to acquisitions and not acquired. Subsequently, I withdrew that novel from sale and began to work on another novel. Over a year and a half later, the same editor contacted my agent to see if I had anything new he could look at. (I know, pretty flattering, huh?) In the intervening time my agent had retired and I hadn't found a new agent because the book was unfinished (and there was no point looking for an agent for an already-shopped book), so I emailed the editor directly and told him about my new project.

Well, he was really interested. Took a look at the partial and made some brilliant editorial suggestions. Which I have implemented. (They meant an entire rewrite, so I'm not quite done, but nearly there.) But when I sent him a partial with the changes, he sent them to another Senior editor, and they both got a little excited, and now they're waiting on the full. No promises, but lots of interest.

So what's the protocol here, in regards to queries? I really want to work with this editor should an offer be forthcoming, but I also want an agent. Preferably first, so they can negotiate the contract and make sure I'm getting a fair deal and for other novels - to help me turn this into a career. Should I mention anything in the query title or open with, 'I have an interested editor'? Or do I wait until I have an offer in hand?

Life never works the way it's supposed to, does it? All the time people do things out of order or "not the way they're supposed to" and it works brilliantly for them. The difference between these people and those who "do everything right" with little success is that the people who use the back door first also grab every opportunity the moment it arises.

Grab this opportunity. The moment you feel the manuscript is in fighting shape you get it off to that editor. You have someone waiting for your work, don't let too much time slip by (of course, don't rush it too quickly either). Then get your queries out to agents and yes, definitely mention that Editor Name at House Name is reviewing the manuscript by request. You can explain the details later if necessary.

If you get an offer from the editor before you hear from agents you can use the offer to push an agent offer. Simply follow my guidelines, ask the editor to wait, and get the agent on board before you agree to anything. You don't need an agent first to negotiate the contract. You're just going in through the back door.

Hope that helps. Best of luck!


Friday, September 16, 2011

Do You Limit Yourself

I have this friend who "can't" or "doesn't" do so many things I sometimes wonder how she gets out of bed in the morning. She's a writer, but she "can't" write a synopsis because it's not how she writes and she's a reader but she "can't" read dark thrillers because she's too happy of a person, and she's a foodie but she "doesn't" eat curry (which by the way is a fancy term for a blend of spices).

Ultimately what this friend is saying is that she's afraid. She's afraid to try new things or re-explore areas that might not have worked all that well for her in the past. She's afraid of failing or of not liking something, so afraid that she's "can't"-ed herself into a box. Her world has become increasingly smaller because of all of the things she "can't" or "doesn't" do. It's frustrating and sad because this same friend will complain about how hard it is to get published or find new restaurants or discover great books, but when offered suggestions, before trying, she comes up with a list of excuses why she can't.

I firmly believe that the only limitations we have in this world are those we make for ourselves. You want to climb Mt. Everest? What's stopping you? No, really? What's stopping you? You want to write a great novel? What's stopping you?

To break free and find great success you need to break free of the limitations you place on yourself. There are enough people in this world trying to tell you what you can't do, why are you doing it to yourself?


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Following Up

We writers always wonder about how long it takes agents to respond (if they do at all) and whether to follow up and so forth, but I was wondering - what about agents and editors? How long do agents (or just you guys, since I'm sure it's different for everyone) wait for a response from an editor before following up?

This is a great question to ask any agent when you get an offer of representation, because the answer is going to differ from agent to agent and situation to situation. Overall, I tend to follow up four to six weeks after a submission. How long I wait will depend on how quick other feedback is coming in, whether the book was submitted on proposal or full, how busy the editors are (sometimes I know that an editor has just returned from vacation or the time fell around a major holiday), generally how responsive the editors are (some tend to respond faster than others), etc.

Generally though, I will follow up in about four weeks.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Ms. Jessica Faust:

Lexy’s not the type of girl to stand by and watch a fight—after all she’s been training all of her life to fight the infected. In her world there are two simple rules 1. Zombies are bad. 2. Werewolves are worse. But when a rogue zombie breaks into her family’s compound it sets off a series of events that challenge everything Lexy’s ever been taught.

I think this opening was spot-on. I knew from this that it was YA and you instantly grabbed my attention.

Her family moves to the city where Lexy meets up with long-time friend Jason. Their relationship heats up and Lexy’s sure she’s found her one and only—until Jason becomes infected. Stunned and reeling from the news Lexy runs away straight into a trap. She’s abducted by a kickass werewolf clan—turns out that they’ve been genetically engineered to combat zombies and protect humanity. Kaden, their leader, promises Lexy that they can save Jason if she’ll join them in their fight. The only catch is she has to change. Lexy has to choose between following what her family has taught her or following Kaden, a werewolf, for a chance to save Jason the boy—I mean zombie of her dreams.

I'm a little less enthused about this paragraph. The phrase "heats up" made me question whether this was still YA or a romance. Mostly though, I think you have a little too much information here. I'm not sure that we need to know that she's moved or just met up with Jason. I think you could probably start right in with the fact that her boyfriend is infected, and then I think I'd tie it back in to the first paragraph and suggest that now she's in for the fight of her life. I guess my other question is what does that rogue zombie in paragraph one have to do with this paragraph? I'm not seeing the connection and I would expect to.

DECEPTION, a young adult novel, is complete at 75,000 words. It will appeal to readers who loved the intrigue of THE SUMMONING by Kelley Armstrong and to those who enjoyed the paranormal romance of NEED by Carrie Jones.

This is a good, strong finish.

I am a graduate of Brigham Young University, where I studied English teaching with a focus on young adult literature. If you would like to consider DECEPTION, I would be glad to send you the complete manuscript at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Despite my concerns about the second paragraph I would probably request this. However, I think you'll have many who won't, so I would work on making sure you tie in what you've started in paragraph one with paragraph two and keep on course with the voice you were writing in.



Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Writers Beware

It's been a long, long time since I've written a post on writers beware in publishing. I think that after a certain amount of time I've made the incorrect assumption that my readers know this already. I forget that daily I'm reaching new people and that some of those who were here in the early days have moved on to other things.

Not too long ago I received an email from an author with an offer. She had a contract in hand from Tate Publishing and was seeking representation. Of course she was really excited. Tate was offering to publish her book for free and, for an additional $4,000, would supply a publicist. Ouch.

It took me two seconds to google "Tate Publishing Preditors and Editors" and find that this publisher was not recommended. I immediately notified the author, told her she should never pay to get published, and sent the link. She replied that payment was for the publicist only and optional. I'm doubtful, but I don't know for sure.

And then I read some of the manuscript. And my heart hurt. This manuscript was nowhere near ready for publication. It needed a lot of work, and I'm not saying the author won't get there someday, because let's face it, we've all written something that should never have been shown to a beta reader, let alone been published, but it's not ready now. And I worried. Will this author sign this contract simply because it's there, because all other avenues have been exhausted and because she figures it's time?

I don't know what the final outcome was. I never heard back from the author. What I do know is that there are those out there in all areas of our lives, preying on those who are desperate for a good word, positive feedback, and success.

If you've never been to Preditors and Editors or Writer Beware or the Writer Beware blog, please go now. Even if you think you know how to spot a someone trying to take advantage of you go. It's up to all of us to protect the writing community and each other, and the more information we arm ourselves with the more we can help others.

I hope this author shredded that contract and went back to honing her writing skills. I really do hope that.


Monday, September 12, 2011

What I’m Looking For

Though I’ve only been with BookEnds since April, I’ve already made some shifts in what kinds of projects I’m looking to represent. Some of this has to do with changes in market trends, but a lot really has to do with my personal reading preferences. I want to be enthusiastic about each and every book I work on, and if I’m just not getting excited about submissions in a particular genre, I think it’s better for everyone if I concentrate my energies elsewhere. With that said, my focus is absolutely still on a wide variety of full-length, adult romance and women’s fiction. I’m not actively looking for YA, novellas, or nonfiction.

To help give you a better idea of what I’m looking for, maybe I should tell you about some of the clients I’ve taken on. I have a bit of a spread. So far, I have clients who write historical romance, historical erotica, paranormal erotica, category romance, romantic suspense, women’s fiction, and African literary fiction.

That last one may have surprised you, right? It’s actually not quite as outside of my stated interests as you might think. While I am looking to focus on commercial fiction, I absolutely love women’s fiction set in exotic locations, and would love to receive more projects set abroad. I have a special interest in books set in Iran, India, and Southeast Asia, but would also welcome more submissions set in African or European countries, or set in the US but with a focus on immigrant communities.

I’m looking for a wide variety of contemporary romance, but I’d particularly like to see more small-town books in which the town and community are richly developed. Southern settings and New England settings work particularly well for me. Overall, I tend to gravitate toward darker voices and storylines, but quirky, comedic stories can be great, too.

With historicals, I have a strong preference for very sexy Regencies and Victorians. Also, it’s probably worth noting that I tend not to enjoy historical fiction as much as I do historical romance. As with contemporaries, I tend to like darker voices in historicals, and I like books with seemingly insurmountable obstacles to the protagonists’ relationship—like a story about a duke and a fishmonger’s widow.

While I still am looking for paranormal romances, I’m no longer looking for urban fantasy. I love kick-ass heroines, but I prefer to see them falling in love. What I really want in paranormal is something so different and original that I’m incapable of even coming close to now imagining what that might be. I enjoy a good vampire or werewolf tale, but the market (and my in-box) has been so saturated with them that it’s difficult for me to find something I get excited about.

For erotica, I’m mostly looking for books in which the central storyline is m/f. These can be contemporary, historical, and/or suspenseful or paranormal, but I’m probably not the right agent for anything futuristic or sci-fi. A few things that are absolutely necessary to me in erotica are emotional depth, rich characterization, and an actual plot. I may live to regret saying this, but it’s pretty darn hard to shock me with erotica. Graphic, kinky novels are welcome.

The above doesn’t encompass everything I’m looking to represent, but I hope it gives you more insight into my preferences. As always, I look forward to reading your queries!

Jessica A

Friday, September 09, 2011


In response to rejections . . .

Jessica F. received this:
I understand this:
Literature is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.
- Jules Renard

Jessica A. received this:
Subject: You Are an A**Hole!

Jessica F. received this in reply to the auto-reply letting authors know the query was received:
Well, that confirms it. Take your form and stick it up your fat stuck-up ass.

. . . and this from the same author in reply to the rejection:
Interesting. You're not "hooked" yet you waste your time writing back to me. Anyway, the blood will continue to flow at BookEnds and beyond.

. . . and then, because the author continued to reply, he continued to receive the auto-reply about his query being received:
I did not query bookends this time though I did previously. Here's an idea. How about you get a fucking life, stop sending me these forms actually read the query I sent to you previously.

And so it went:
I don't mean to tie up your system or anything but this is getting kind of stupid. There must be some human somewhere to stop this madness. How about this? Read my query, feel its urgency and let's get started. If not, kindly stop your silly forms.

And again:

*** Now, keep in mind that I can go days without checking my queries. Luckily I popped into that mailbox and did finally stop the insanity. Although it was tempting to see how long my computer and this author were going to go at it.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

How an Agent Learns Craft

I am currently an intern for [redacted] Literary Agency. I read your blog post about switching genres when writing, and it made me think of a question that I have been wrestling with. I am in the process of becoming an associate agent, and my strength is fiction. However, I want to continue to improve in non-fiction and memoir. Other than reading a lot of best-selling non-fiction and memoir, what are some ways that I might gain a really good sense of the genre. With fiction, I just know what works (plus, I have an English BA and MA (creative writing emphasis). I want to get to that place with non-fiction and memoir. Ideas?

After having a number of interns come through BookEnds, roughly three or four a year for five or more years, I've gotten a better understanding of what it takes to make a good agent. Certainly reading is big, but so is instinct. I'm not sure how else to describe it. I've seen some of the most well-read people come through and yet have no understanding of what makes a book work or what doesn't. It's not about properly placed commas, it's about pacing and market, plotting and characterization. And of course it's about voice.

I think to a certain extent agents have an instinct for certain genres and, yes, I think some of it comes from what we love, but it's also a basic understanding of why certain genres work. I credit most of my knowledge from working in the business. For five years I was an editor, and every week for five years I sat in an editorial meeting and watched and listened to editors discuss books. Not only did we discuss books that were published, but of course we discussed books we were hoping to publish. For almost every book an editor wanted to acquire she had to have others read it and discuss it in front of everyone in the meeting. Some of those discussions were brutal, but all were passionate. I learned more from those weekly meetings than I ever could from reading on my own.

We have similar meetings at BookEnds, but I'm afraid we don't discuss as many books we offer representation to as we probably should. Instead my interns are required to read and write a lot of reader's reports for me, and I make a concerted effort to comment on those reports and discuss the books with them myself. I ask them to write revision letters for me on books I already represent. Sometimes they'll see something I missed and a lot of the time it's a way for me to teach them what they should be looking for.

There's no magical way to understanding a genre. Read, talk to agents about books, ask for second reads on manuscripts. That's probably the best advice I can offer. However, I really think that if it's a real struggle to understand a genre, it's probably just not the genre you should be focusing on.


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Dear Ms. Faust,

Daphne knew something was wrong when she started sleepwalking, sleep-stalking and (apparently) sleep-eating.

This opening sentence is fine, but that's about it. It lacks any real punch and I have to say there's nothing really different or hooky about sleepwalking, etc. In fact, it is sort of like opening a book with a dream. It happens so often (at least we see it so often) that it lacks the power writers are hoping for.

She soon discovers her nocturnal wanderings are not an undiagnosed psychological condition, but the first sign of her other nature. Daphne is one of the Ulv, shapeshifters descended from Norsemen blessed by the gods. As if discovering she can turn into a wolf isn’t bad enough, Daphne has to face the fact that her father’s death wasn’t a hunting accident and her grandfather was responsible.

I think rather than explaining the Ulv as "shapeshifters descended from Norsemen" you'd be better by getting more specific about Daphne instead. What kind of shapeshifter is she? I don't think we need the history, we need the now.

Daphne begins digging into the past while attempting to control her second nature and avoid her grandfather's assassins. He wants to be Overking of all the Ulv, and he’ll kill anyone who get’s in his way, including the actual heir--Daphne.

After reading this I wonder if we need the opening line at all? Can you instead focus on Daphne's discovery and her need to escape her grandfather? That seems to be the hook of the book, not the fact that she's sleepwalking.

I also think I'd like a better sense of the world here and, ultimately, there's nothing in this query that really makes it jump out for me. Sadly, I feel that might be true of the book. There's nothing that makes this sound different in today's market.

BLOODLINES is a YA contemporary fantasy novel of 50,000 words.

What concerns me most about this is that at no time in your query did I have any sense that this was going to be YA. This came as quite a shock actually and, possibly because of that, the word count seems too short for this kind of story as well. Ultimately, in reading your query I got no sense of a YA voice or that Daphne could be a YA character. She felt way too old.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Jessica's Query Status

As promised: I said to check back in September to see when I would open for queries. Well, there's been a change of plans. I've so enjoyed the time I have had to just spend with my clients that for the time being I'm going to accept queries by referral only. This means what it says, you need to have a bona fide referral from someone I know in order for your query to be considered by me.

It's not such bad news however. 2011 has been a fabulous year for BookEnds. We've added Jessica Alvarez to our team and longtime assistant and former intern Lauren Ruth has also started growing her list. And of course, Kim Lionetti is always looking to add talented new authors to her roster. So even though I'm closed, there are plenty of opportunities with BookEnds.

Keep an eye on the blog in the following days and weeks for updates on exactly what excites Kim, Jessica, and Lauren these days.


Friday, September 02, 2011

Happy Labor Day Weekend!

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

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Limitations of Common Knowledge

What are the limitations of common knowledge?

The better portion of my manuscript is about Ragnarok and at some point in my working query I mention it.

So while going around the AW and QT forums, one person so far has asked: (Who or what is Ragnarok? I'm left guessing and guessing isn't good.)

I figure you would know better. I assume what is common for some isn't common for others, but where do we make that distinction? Our education levels and personal experiences make us different.

Actually I didn't know what Ragnarok was. And here I always thought I was a good Swede.

This is an interesting question because there are limitations to what all of us know or should know and we have no idea what limitations others might have. One of the most important aspects of writing fiction is the world building, not just in fantasy or paranormal but in any piece of fiction. Even in a contemporary novel the author is required to create a world the reader, any reader, can connect with and understand. The same holds true for a query letter. A common problem I see in queries is when the world isn't defined and therefore I don't understand the query.

It's hard to give an opinion without actually reading your query, but I think that if even one reader questions an aspect of your query it's worth assuming others will as well. I wouldn't assume that this reader is less knowledgeable than your average agent.

The truth is that we all hold a vast amount of knowledge, and assuming someone knows something just because you do, or judging them because they don't know something you assume is common knowledge, is always a mistake. I think in this instance rather than name Ragnarok in your query you might define it without using the name at all.