Thursday, December 18, 2014

Have a Wonderful Holiday and #GiveaBook

The BookEnds team is headed out for our annual holiday lunch. We're going to eat well, drink well and celebrate an amazing year. I can't give thanks enough for the team I'm lucky enough to work with every day, for the authors I have the pleasure of representing and for all the great books, published and unpublished, that I get to read.

Remember, before you pack up for the holidays, to include a book in the gift box to those you love.

Happy Holidays! See you in 2015!


Help donate a book to a U.S. child in need this holiday season. Simply post or tweet #GiveaBook on Facebook or Twitter before 12/25 and Penguin Random House will donate up to 25,000 new books to Save the Children – helping build a better future for us all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Kim's #GiveABook Holiday picks

I bought A LOT of books for Christmas gifts this year.  I went crazy with my daughter’s Scholastic club flyers and realized the other day that my kids are getting a combined total of 18 books from us this year, and that’s not even counting the ones I bought for other family members.  Here’s just a few:

For my 6-year-old daughter: 

THE SNOW QUEEN: A POP-UP ADAPTATION OF A CLASSIC FAIRY TALE by Hans Christian Andersen (Author), Yevgeniya Yeretskaya (Illustrator) — Like most girls her age, my daughter is “Frozen”-obsessed.  While the original tale is darker than the Disney version, I think she’ll enjoy seeing where the whole idea came from.  She also LOVES my crusty old mildewy pop-up version of SLEEPING BEAUTY from when I was a kid.  The illustrations in THE SNOW QUEEN are much more beautiful and elaborate and I think she’ll be in awe of it.

For my 9-year-old son:

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LITTLE KIDS FIRST BIG BOOK OF WHY by Amy Shields — My son is in 3rd grade, but he’s on the Autism Spectrum and doesn’t quite read at grade level.  He is obsessed with the National Geographic joke books (Can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “Why did the chicken cross the dusty road twice?”  “Because he was a dirty double-crosser!”)  He also loves Science.  It’s his favorite subject.  I think he’ll really enjoy the bright beautiful photos in these books as well as the layout which will be easier for him to read the cool information.  And his aunt has him covered on more joke books!

For my mother: 

THE INDIA FAN by Victoria Holt — I’ve mentioned several times in the past that my mother and grandmother instilled my love of books through their collection of gothic romances by Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt.  Recently, I asked my mom for what remaining books she had so that I could reread them.  In her search she realized that she’d given away her Victoria Holts while she was downsizing and she sounded somewhat regretful. When I was searching for more of my favorite Phyllis Whitneys to read on my Nook, I was disappointed to see that most of them are not available in ebook and are all out of print.  But when I searched for Victoria Holt, I was thrilled to learn that Sourcebooks Casablanca had reprinted a bunch of them into beautifully packaged trade paperbacks.  I’m buying this one for my mother so that she can reread a favorite too.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jessica A’s 2014 #GiveaBook picks

As many of you know, Penguin Random House has started the #GiveaBook social media campaign to promote books this holiday season.  If you haven’t already heard about it, check out this page (  for all the details.  You won’t see me doing a video (I didn’t do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video either—thanks a lot for that nomination, Andrea Laurence!) but you can consider this post my contribution to the campaign.  

Books have always been among my favorite gifts, both to give and receive. I love being given something I might not have found on my own but that was picked out with my tastes in mind. And I love being able to do that for others.  So, for fun, I decided to pick out the books I would gift to everyone at BookEnds.  Here’s what I chose:

For Jessica F:  Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi. Kim gave me Jerusalem last Christmas.  I love it and I have a feeling Jessica would enjoy Ottolenghi’s newest cookbook. She’s a pescetarian and she enjoys cooking, so this collection of creative vegetable recipes should hit the spot with her.  

For Kim: As everyone who follows her on Twitter knows, Kim loves nothing more than a tortured, wounded, scarred, maimed, beat-up hero.  Especially in historicals.  And, if I remember correctly, she’s never read Judith Ivory.  She would get Ivory’s Beauty and the Beast retelling, The Beast.  How can you go wrong with a scarred man who pretends to be an Arab pasha in order to seduce his beautiful fiancee under the cover of darkness on a boat?  But I might have to give Kim two books because I don’t think she’s read Mary Jo Putney’s Thunder & Roses either.  I don’t think I could count on my two hands alone the number of times I’ve read and re-read Mary Jo Putney’s Fallen Angels series.  They were among the first romances I ever read and they got me hooked on the genre.  Thunder & Roses is the first in the series and is about an earl who is part Gypsy.  He doesn’t have any physical injuries but he’s angry and bitter and feared by everyone around him.  But a schoolteacher with a spotless reputation is brave enough to ask his help, and is reckless enough to agree when his help comes with the condition that she stay with him for three months, even if it means her reputation is left in shreds.

For Beth:  Beth is a hard one for me.  Our reading interests are very different so I wouldn’t attempt to pick out fiction for her.  But I think every English major of drinking age needs a copy of Tim Federle’s Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist.  This witty collection of literary-inspired drink recipes is a must.  The S(ide)carlet Letter is one of my favorites.

For Me: I’m a big believer in giving gifts to myself so I had to include myself on this list. As much as I love my work, sometimes I need to take a step away from romance and women’s fiction and read something completely different.  For some reason I can’t explain, what I choose usually ends up being morbid and, well, gross nonfiction. Two books I’ve been dying to read and might be gifting myself for Christmas are Dr. Mutter’s Marvels by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz and Working Stiff by Dr. Judy Melinek.  The first is an account of Dr. Thomas Mutter’s life as an innovative plastic surgeon and collector of medical oddities.  The second is a memoir of a New York City medical examiner who started working right before 9/11. 

-Jessica Alvarez

Friday, December 12, 2014

That Holly Jolly Feeling

Here's what happens this time of year. I become extra thankful. Actually, this is something that happens regularly throughout the year, but right now I'm blogging about it.

I have been an agent for 15 years. It's a job I've always been proud of and a job that I have never really felt was a job. Sure I get to read for a living and sure I get to be the one who helps a great book find its way into the hands of thousands of others, but one of the unexpected side benefits of my  job is the people. I really, truly adore my clients.

Some of my clients have been with me for nearly 15 years, others for only 15 months and a few even less. No matter how long we've been together, each client has a way of bringing a smile to my face, not just because of the great books they write, but because I really enjoy spending time with them. I love tweeting silly comments or exchanging emails about grandbabies, kids, books you can't miss, travel, recipes, dogs, home repairs, antique hunting, the weather, and anything else you can think of.

My clients have a way of publicly thanking me through the acknowledgements in their books. Some have even dedicated a book to me. Those words mean the world to me and each time I read them I feel like it's my first book all over again. Guaranteed that an acknowledgment or dedication will make me tear up. I wish I had a way to dedicate or acknowledge each of them for how much joy they bring to my days. But truly, every day these people are what give me a holly jolly feeling.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Have a Bookish Holiday #GiveaBook

I'm sure I'm not the only one who loves to gift books and loves the gift of a book. Typically everyone on my list is doing to get a book of some kind or another. Sometimes it's a book I've read, loved and want to share and other times it's just something that seems to fit. I'm always looking for new ideas for books for the people on my list and want to share a few that I hope you'll love as well.

Years ago I gave a copy of I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron to my mother-in-law. I'm not going to lie, it was a brave move on my part and she didn't look thrilled when she opened it. No, let me correct that, she looked completely confused. However, I won her over. She agreed that the book was charming and hilarious. Phew.

The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak is not just adorably fun, but its actually a great family activity. It seems odd I know, but I recommend it for anyone with small children. Kids and adults will find this one hard to resist.

If you haven't seen it, because it's everywhere, Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) has a new cookbook out. This one is Make It Ahead. I haven't read, or even looked through this one yet, but hands down The Barefoot Contessa is one of my favorite cookbook authors. Nearly every recipe I've made of hers is simply and amazing. If you have a cook on your list, whether she's experienced or a novice, I would recommend any of the many Barefoot Contessa Cookbooks. They are all amazing (I own most of them).

And since many of you know that I'm a Gluten Free cook I think I would be remiss in not sharing one of my favorite Gluten Free cookbooks. I have a number on my cookbook shelf and I tend to use a little from this and a little from that. But if there's one cookbook that looks the most tattered it would probably be Kelli Bronski's Artisanal Gluten Free Cupcakes.  I've been told time and time again that my cupcakes and cakes do not taste gluten free (whatever that means) and I credit this cookbook. It's divine.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is back in the news with the publication of Christopher McCandless's (the protagonist of the story) sister's memoir. I haven't yet read this and I first read Into the Wild a million years ago. But it's a book that sticks with you, haunts you and is an amazing story. It's a great gift for anyone who likes adventure. Honestly, it's a great gift.  

This book came up in a post just a few weeks ago, but since it seems so few people have read or heard of the series I have to mention it again. Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace is a wonderful book for any young reader. I first gifted it to a 7-year-old friend of mine who loved books and she fell in love. Fans of Anne of Green Gables will love it. I know I did.

There are so many other great books. So many that I'm missing. So help me out. I still have some shopping to do and could use some nonfiction, something for the Broadway musical lover, something for a teen girl and, well, maybe something for me.


Help donate a book to a U.S. child in need this holiday season. Simply post or tweet #GiveaBook on Facebook or Twitter before 12/25 and Penguin Random House will donate up to 25,000 new books to Save the Children – helping build a better future for us all.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Publishing Facts and Figures

A few months ago I was asked to be a guest on Writers2Writers  a local cable show for writers. Just as I thought it was a really fun and different experience. I'm not sure I've ever been on TV as an actual guest. The group I met were all so wonderful that I wished I had been able to hang around longer.

So with only some nervousness I'm passing along my first TV interview:

And if you liked it you should definitely check out their other interviews. There's a lot to learn there.


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Branding Yourself for Publishing Pros

We talk so much to authors about the importance of branding yourselves. Of picking a genre and sticking with it or at least identifying what you're really strong at and making sure that comes through in your brand. We encourage authors to have a brand and a hook and tell them that they should be able to pitch themselves easily and succinctly when asked. But what about agents and editors? Shouldn't we be required to do the same?

Yes, absolutely. And it drives me crazy that so few can or do.

When anyone asks an agent or editor what they are looking for we should be able to give a few really strong concrete answers.

It drives me crazy when I'm meeting a new editor and looking to find a way to make her stand out and feel special enough to submit to and what she gives me when I ask what she's looking for is the company line. Yes, I know your company publishes contemporary romance and suspense, but what I want to know is what floats your boat personally. If I already have a relationship with Jane, Betsy, and Amy at your publisher than I need to know what you're doing that makes me want to send to you. Do you have a passion for werewolves or sexy lawyers or erotica? Are you confused by historicals or exhausted by suspense? Those are the details that build you as a brand in my mind and make me think of you when I have a sexy lawyer novel and submit to you over Jane, Betsy or Amy.

Agents need to do the same. When we're meeting authors at conferences or mingling at the airport bar we need to be able to tell the author specifically what we're looking for. Sure I represent romance, but my true love is dark, gritty suspense or right now I'm just tired of anything involving a CEO bachelor.

Our brand is going to evolve and change a bit as the market changes. An author's brand might do the same. Sure we're all still looking for romance, but now we miss those CEO bachelors and might want more of them. So updating the brand on your website and through social media is important, but so is making yourself stand out by saying, once in a while, this is exactly what I want on my desk right now.


Monday, December 08, 2014

Hold Up, It's the Holidays!

If you're still actively submitting queries and submissions my suggestion is stop. In fact, stop by Thanksgiving. It's exactly what most agents have done when it comes to submitting.

Let's face it, publishing isn't that much different from many other companies. People are busy with holiday parties, shopping and daydreaming about sugar plums (whatever those are). Getting to submissions at the end of the year is either bottom of the priority list or falls somewhere between clean off the desk for the new year and regift the fruitcake. In other words, you don't want to be part of the office cleanup.

So hold off, polish your letter and your manuscript, take some time out to enjoy a festivity (or holiday cocktail) or two and be ready to hit the ground running come January. Maybe January 15 so you give agents some time to clean out everything that's come in while they were busy eating the figgy pudding.


Friday, December 05, 2014

The Synopsis: The Final Word (at least for this week)

Unintentionally we had a week devoted to the synopsis, two of the posts came organically from your comments. I love that.

I had no plan to do a Friday post on the synopsis until I saw this comment from yesterday:

This actually exemplifies for me *exactly* why synopsis-writing is frustrating. Not only is there a very wide range of quantity requested ("three to five paragraphs" or "one page" or "three pages" and so on), but there are a number of agents I've queried who in fact specify that all characters *must* be mentioned. I know this is a sure way to clunk-ifying a synopsis. And mine is clunked, because I've seen more guidelines instructing the inclusion of characters than not. Like a lot of neurotic pre-published authors - I obey like a spanked puppy.
Then there is the reworking of the clunker for almost every single query, because of all those varying particulars in submission guidelines. It's a bit like the Biblical genealogies; "who really reads The Begats?" But The Begats are canon.
Unless they're not! 

I think this comment illustrates the feeling most writers have about submitting in general. There are too many rules, too many different requests and when a writer tries to please everyone she comes up with a clunky mess.

My one suggestion to this is write the synopsis that works, that shines and that tells your story in your voice. Forget everyone's peccadilloes and do what works for your book. I'm pretty sure Melissa Cutler never rewrote that synopsis to please a different agent or a different editor. She wrote one synopsis, submitted her project and published her book. Done.

One paragraph or three to five paragraphs is not a synopsis. That's your summary for your query. If someone asks for that you should have it when you wrote the query. So that's easy. As for other preferred page lengths, no one is going to reject your book because your synopsis is longer than a page or longer than two pages. No one. Write a solid three-page synopsis, give or take a page, and you have all you'll need for every submission.


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Synopsis Tips from an Expert

The majority of my clients view writing a synopsis as a necessary evil.  They don’t like writing them, but they know they have to.  There are one or two who might give away their firstborn children if it meant getting out of writing a synopsis, but there actually is a handful that seem to like writing them.  Then there’s Melissa Cutler. She does workshops on how to write a synopsis and openly declares her love of writing them.  And, I gotta tell you, her love shines through in the synopses she writes.  They’re vibrant and entertaining and they not only maintain the reader’s interest, they make the reader want more.

Melissa was kind enough to share with us her top tips for synopsis writing as well as the synopsis for her most recent release, The Mistletoe Effect, so you can see how a great synopsis is done.  If you’re as inspired to read more as Melissa’s St. Martin’s editor and I were, I’m including some handy-dandy buy links at the end of the post.  I hope you enjoy!

-Jessica Alvarez

Melissa's Top Tips for Synopsis Writing1. Don't include any secondary characters' names if you can help it.2. Don't include backstory in the first few paragraphs.3. Write the synopsis in the same hook-heavy language and tone as a back cover blurb--in your written voice--because that's what your proposal is actually selling: a hook, the tone, and your voice.4. Contrary to what editors and agents say they want, don't "just tell me what the book is about". Only use plot points and backstory as supporting details to explain characters' emotional arcs. This means you're not utilizing very much plot. 

The Mistletoe Effect: Synopsis
Melissa Cutler

Anyone who thinks shotgun weddings disappeared along with the rest of San Antonio’s Wild West history has never stood in Carina Briscoe’s boots. But there she is with a bouquet in hand, in front of a crowd of hundreds, standing next to the bad boy she’s crushed on since her awkward teenage, and all because her overbearing family insists the show must go on after Carina’s sister and her fiancĂ© call it quits and flee the altar.

After years of fighting for their hotel’s success in the competitive market of destination weddings, the Briscoe family is banking on the publicity surrounding their month-long fiftieth anniversary celebration of the hotel’s Mistletoe Effect—a perfect record of divorce-free marriages during the month of December—to secure a coveted spot in Wedding World magazine’s annual “Best of the Best” issue. But when Carina’s superstitious and not-quite-all-there granny decries that if a wedding doesn’t happen, then the Mistletoe Effect will be jinxed, the rest of the family springs into action. They’re determined that nothing, not even a bride and groom’s imploding relationship, will interfere with their company’s future.

Carina has never been good about standing up to her family, and with them making her feel like the fate of the business rests in her hands, she doesn’t see any choice but to agree to the charade. She comforts herself with the fact that it’s only an act, not a real wedding on paper. And besides, maybe playing along will help smooth things out if and when she finally gets the courage to tell her family about her dream to quit her job at the resort and strike out on her own.

Stable manager James Decker doesn’t know much about weddings, but he does know that Best Man duties definitely do not include standing in for the groom—even if said Best Man harbors a secret soft spot for the Maid of Honor, who also happens to be his boss’s daughter. But one look at the panicked expression in Carina’s big brown eyes as her family tries to fake-marry her off to any willing male with a pulse, and he’s powerless to refuse.

Playing bride and groom with Decker at the lavish reception that follows is way more fun than Carina expected. How could she not enjoy a night of dancing and laughing with the sexy cowboy-in-residence whom she’d never wound up the courage to flirt with, much less get her hands on? But when their harmless evening of jinx prevention ends with a scorching, sleepless night in the honeymoon suite, Carina knows she’s in way over her head.

For years, she’s dreamt of putting some breathing room between herself and her family by quitting the family business and leaving the resort to live on her own in the city, but as holiday festivities celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Mistletoe Effect go into full swing, she and Decker find themselves swept into even more jinx prevention duties…and sheet-sizzling, sleepless nights.

Haunted by a bad boy past that won’t let him go, Decker has poured years of blood and sweat into building a career-launching resume. Briscoe Ranch Resort was supposed to be a stepping stone to bigger and brighter plans, but embarking on a torrid affair with the daughter of his hotel baron boss just might ruin everything. The trouble is, he can’t keep his hands or his heart away from Carina no matter how much he fights it.

Carina had no idea that falling hard for a cowboy would be just the ticket to bring her out of her shell. She’s never felt so free or strong as when she’s in Decker’s arms or stealing secret kisses from him in the stable, despite daily dealings with her pushy father, her superstitious granny, and the Texas-sized list of duties she has at the resort as Christmas marches closer. Decker brings out the best in her, and before long, she has enough courage to stand up to her pushy family and pursue her own neglected dreams.

Decker started out in his fake marriage with the goal of helping Carina gain the courage to pursue her dream career, just as he was pursuing his, but he never could have imagined that he’d fall in love with her in the process—or that the pursuit of her dreams would be the one thing that would end their relationship after she receives a life-changing career opportunity thousands of miles away from the dream job Decker is all set to start after the holidays. He refuses to be one more person in her life holding her back, and so he doesn’t see any choice but to let her go.

He quits his job at the resort and she quits hers, both determined to support the other’s dreams by letting them go so they can spread their wings and fly. The problem is, as soon as Decker quits, he realizes that his dream has changed. A life with the woman he loves is more important than a career, so he decides to follow Carina to California and turns down his new job. Little does he know that Carina has reached the same conclusion, and has turned down her new job in order to follow Decker. After all, what good is a dream career if you can’t share it with the person you love?

Decker and Carina’s final jinx prevention duty is at the resort’s annual Christmas Eve vow renewal ceremony being held for fifty-years’-worth of couples who’d had December weddings at the resort. Decker comes armed with an engagement ring and a plan for the woman he has fallen head-over-boot heels in love with. But he’s not the only one with a plan up his sleeve to keep the couple together. With a little bit of Christmas magic and a surprise proposal from Carina’s family to bankroll both of Carina and Decker’s dream careers at the resort, this cowboy and his lady love prove that there might just be some truth to the Mistletoe Effect after all…

Barnes & Noble:

Google Play:

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Mastering the Synopsis

The title of this post is a little bit of a misnomer because I'm not sure I have the ability to teach you how to master anything. I suspect that only practice can do that.

That being said, I think I can give you some tips on writing a strong synopsis. 

1. Actually write it. A synopsis isn't a rough outline for your eyes only. You will be judged on the synopsis in the same way you are judged on your chapters. So if your synopsis goes something like this you're definitely in trouble:

Margie found a dead body. It was brutal. She cries and carries on, but calls the police. Police come, do their stuff, she's not happy. A few days later or so Margie is back at work when she remembers what the police says. She calls friend. Friend tells her to relax. Yada, yada. After a few days Margie meets a dark and mysterious man who is really creepy....

A synopsis needs to be written with the same skill and effort you put into the entire book. You need to show the editor that you're a hard worker and that at no point will you think anything about your book is a throwaway.

3. Write to the expectations of your genre. In other words, if you are writing a romance, your synopsis should show (notice I said show and not tell) that the reader can expect a romance, romantic tension and probably some romantic scenes. If you're writing a dark mystery than you need to show the darker aspects of the plot as well as how the protagonist will solve the mystery. And the voice should give a feeling of the same darkness your readers will find in the book. If you're writing SF you'll need to show what makes the book SF and not just the general plotting. If you're writing a cozy, show what will appeal to the cozy audience.

4. Make your hook present. Every book has a hook of some sort. That distinguishing factor that makes your book stand out from others in the genre. In a cozy mystery it might be a hat shop, in a romance it might be a Spinster House, in a fantasy it might Steampunk elements or a dystopian world. Whatever it is, you need to make sure you show how this hook factors into the plot and the story as well as showing the plot.

5. Give us everything, but not quite. In other words, a synopsis definitely needs to show us how the book plays out, but we don't need every single tedious thing and every secondary storyline. Stick to the parts that are relevant, but leave some elements open to allow you to edit and play around a bit as you write.

6. Have fun with it. Don't make your synopsis too stiff and formal. Let your voice and your writing shine through. Imagine sitting down to tell someone about your book, or have someone sit down and tell you about your book. What are the important elements and what can the reader discover for herself?


Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Dreaded Synopsis

I've yet to meet an author who likes the synopsis. The word seems to spark fear and hatred in the hearts of writers. Well get over it.

The synopsis is going to be part of your writing life for as long as you decide to be a writer so it's something you better learn how to do and how to do well. Most agents and editors are going to want a synopsis when they're reviewing materials. It helps them get perspective on your story, allows them to know how the story plays out before they finish reading, and allows you to, potentially, sell on proposal rather than writing the entire book.

As your publishing career grows you might have the opportunity to sell a new book, or the next book in the series, on synopsis only. If you plan on doing that you better understand what makes a good synopsis.

And if that's not enough, your synopsis goes a lot further than just selling your book. It's what will be used to write your cover copy and create your cover. It's what the office will pass around to sales reps and marketing people and possibly some version will even go out as publicity. 

In other words, you better learn how to write a synopsis.


Monday, December 01, 2014

Queries: Getting Pickier and Pickier

When I first started out as an agent I was desperate. I'm not going to lie about that. I was sitting in my spare bedroom, turned home office, aka BookEnds headquarters trying to eek out a living by reading query after query (all via snail mail in those days) hoping one or two would be a winner. Needless to say I wasn't very picky. 

It wasn't long before stacks of binder clipped pages lined my walls and filled my one bookshelf. Each shelf had it's own month designating when the materials had arrived. The sad thing was that in about an hour I could get through 5-6 of those proposals. Most of the time I didn't read much beyond the first 10-15 pages. Most of the time I probably knew that from the query letter alone.

As time went on and I started building a client list I got pickier and pickier. I would trust my gut when reading a query and stop requesting things that were outside of my expertise just because they sounded interesting. Still though, there were times when I was asking for things I knew would be clunkers, but I just had to see for myself.

My time is even more precious now. I have a pretty full client list and with email queries I get tons and tons. I barely have time to read the submissions I request and I'm just not adding that many new clients to my list. Therefore I am much stricter with my queries. In fact, I just rejected one. 

In the past I know I would have asked to see more. The idea was really intriguing. But the writing was weak. The query felt unpolished and a little cliche. It didn't grab me in every way. So I passed. 

I'm not alone in this. I would say most agents (except those who are new and building a business) are going to be just as picky as I am. As much as they'd love to read just because it might have potential, they usually don't have the time. Queries are there for a purpose, they are to allow us to weed through what we want to spend our time on and what we don't. They're an introduction not just to the author's plot and characters, but to the author's writing as well and we're going to look at all of that when making our decision.

So write those queries carefully.