Monday, June 28, 2010

Contest Mania! DRAW THE DARK by Ilsa J. Bick

 DRAW THE DARK by Ilsa J. Bick
"The things I draw. They tend to die..."
Seventeen-year-old Christian's parents disappeared when he was a little boy. Ever since, he's drawn obsessively: his mother's face...her eyes...and what he calls "the sideways place," where he says his parents are trapped. Christian figures if he can just see through his mother's eyes, maybe he can get there somehow and save them.

But Christian also draws other things. Ugly things. Evil things. Dark things. Things like other people's fears and nightmares. Their pasts. Their destiny.

And some things the people of Winter, Wisconsin would rather forget—like murder.

The awesomely dark and creepy DRAW THE DARK doesn't release until October but I just happen to have a couple beautiful hardback copies that I can give away. Woohoo! It's contest time!  The contest is easy:

Follow Ilsa J. Bick on Twitter & re-tweet the contest message as it is below.  That was super-easy, no? 

RT @literaticat CONTEST!! Win creepy psychic thriller DRAW
THE DARK! 1) Go follow author @ilsajbick 2) RT THIS.

Contest ends in 24 hours. International residents OK. Must both follow @ilsajbick AND RT contest message in order to be eligible.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Query-stats and Mint Chocolate Chip

Q: When you request a partial submission or a full submission based on the query and first ten pages, what makes or breaks the submission?

You apparently liked the beginning enough to consider representing the story. What later turned you off? Made you ask to see more of an authors work?  Make a decision to work with an author on revisions? Or compelled you to offer representation?

It's just that we writers get our hopes up when an agent requests a partial or a full ms., and often, in our minds, our story just keeps getting better ... If you liked the beginning, why wouldn't you like reading on?
The keywords are in your last paragraph:"get our hopes up" and "in our minds". You're just taking a leap and assuming that my liking the beginning and  requesting a partial or full means I am "consider[ing] repping the story".  In fact, it just means that I think it shows a bit more promise than the other dreck I have been served that week, and am willing to see a bit more.

Sort of like if I go to an ice cream parlor where they give samples, and I taste all of the flavors... and then I decide on one or two and get a couple scoops... that doesn't mean I am going to marry the cow.

So here's my guide, let's see if it helps:

Auto-reject, doesn't even get a look:  Queries that don't follow sub guidelines. Queries that are not for the types of books I represent. 20%

A brief glance at query & pages, then a quick form rejection: Queries that are not personalized to me at all (not even with my name). Sample pages that begin in any one of about 30 stock ways, so cliche that MOSES rolled his eyes when he got queried with them. Atrocious grammar and spelling. 10%

Read the query & 10 pages, form rejection: Pretty much everything -- seriously. See previous post "On Rejection" for more. 50%

Read the query & 10 pages, then nice personalized rejection: Things that are good, definitely have promise, but are just not for me. Things that have been referred to me by a client/friend or from somebody I met at a conference. 15%

Request full: There is something special here. Could be plot, could be funny dialogue, could be an awesome premise.  It might be actually super-awesome, or it might be a fluke -- just the best of a bad bunch. I just want to read more. 5%  (I don't bother to request partials, I consider the 10-page sample in the query your partial. Other agents do this differently).

Reject full with reasons:  I reject almost all fulls, but I try to at least give a bit of feedback.  Maybe I liked it but didn't love it. Maybe I loved it but didn't think I could sell it. No matter what... almost all of the Full roads end here.  Length or depth of notes depends on how much time I have, how far I got in the book and how much I found to say. 95%

Extensive notes and invite to re-submit: This is kinda rare actually. It means that I loved a LOT about the book but there was something deeply flawed about it. A deep enough flaw that I need to make sure you are actually capable of, or WANT, to fix it.  4%

I'LL TAKE IT! I am totally in love. A smitten kitten. Bring me this book!  I wanna make you a star! Seriously, I have to not only love it but also think I can sell it in order to make an offer of representation. That happens almost never. 1%

Saturday, June 26, 2010

What is YA anyway?

Q: Would you say there's a fine line distinguishing whether something is actually genuinely YA or whether, MC age aside, it's just fiction with a young protag? I'm writing a steampunk fantasy that may straddle it, is why I ask.
I personally don't believe that YA fiction is "just fiction with a young protag." Books like PREP by Curtis Sittenfeld are not YA because, though they have a teen protag doing very teen things, the POV is an adult looking back at high school through experienced eyes.

YA is generally about young people experiencing big things for the first time, not about an adult looking back at being young. Whether the book is 1st, 2nd or 3rd person (and yes, even if the book is historical) it is happening "in the moment", not thirty years and two failed marriages ago.

The books can be literary, sure, but they also tend to be faster-paced than most adult fiction. There tends to be lots of stuff happening on the surface -- like, you know, characters doing things, not just staring at a wall and philosophizing.  They tend to end with a note of hope, and at the end, generally resolve most loose threads, questions and relationships.

YA books can be murder mysteries or science fiction, romantic comedy or epic fantasy, dystopian or historical or literary or post-modern or steampunk or any combo of any of those things you can imagine.  What they CAN'T be, is "about grownup sh*t".

Lengthy, slow-paced works with ambiguous endings about Wall Street brokers having like - psycho-sexual crises, or going through bankruptcy, or having loads of affairs to numb the pain of a dead-end job, or whatever?   Not YA.  Even if the brokers are super-precocious 18 year olds.

Fast-paced commercial fantasy about a girl who has a gift for killing and becomes the kings assassin against her will, and must band together with an equally gifted hot guy to resist both the monarchy and their own sexual attraction, an attraction unlike anything either of them has ever known?  Very possibly YA or at least has YA-crossover potential, even if the protagonists are 19 and 22.  

So does this make sense, or did I just confusee the issue more?

From Publisher's Marketplace

It's only been a couple weeks since her last deal was announced, but really, is there such a thing as too much good news?


I'm sure that Kate won't have time to blog about this until she's done with ALA madness, but since I am just sitting at home, I've got plenty of time to brag. This is part of what will keep Ms. Messner busy for the next couple years:

Middle grade 

Kate Messner's EYE OF THE STORM, set in a dystopian world with killer tornadoes, corporations that profit from them, and a group of teens at an elite science camp who risk everything to expose their society's dark secrets and find a way to stop the storms, plus another standalone novel, again to Walker, by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Doing the Write Thing

Recently some amazing authors put together a auction called Do The Write Thing for Nashville to benefit flood relief, and raised more than $75,000 dollars. (Holy. WOW.)

Like many agents and editors, I donated an auction item. I promised to be a "personal shopper" and pick out a basket of agency-repped books for the winner.  But I sort of couldn't stop myself and basket turned into a huge box, filled with a baker's dozen agency books & arcs (plus a handful of others I couldn't resist throwing in, but didn't make it in this shot.)

I checked with the winner to be sure that I wasn't giving her things she'd already read, so several of my original choices have been switched out and new items added. Finally today I am MAKING myself put this in the mail before I choose yet more books to put in.

I sort of wish I could have won it!  ;-)

From the top, with agent listed (JL means ME!): PARTY by Tom Leveen (repped by J. Mattson); MERMAID'S MIRROR by LK Madigan (JL); FALLOUT by Ellen Hopkins (L. Rennert); DRAW THE DARK by Ilsa J. Bick (JL); THE BODY FINDER by Kimberly Derting (L. Rennert); MAGIC UNDER GLASS by Jaclyn Dolamore (JL); A LOVE STORY STARRING MY DEAD BEST FRIEND by Emily Horner (J. Mattson); HARMONIC FEEDBACK by Tara Kelly (JL); WOLVES, BOYS & OTHER THINGS THAT MIGHT KILL ME by Kristen Chandler (J. Chilton); FRONT PAGE FACE-OFF by Jo Whittemore (JL); SUGAR & ICE by Kate Messner (JL); THE HARD KIND OF PROMISE by Gina Willner-Pardo (JL); ADVENTURES OF A CAT-WHISKERED GIRL by Daniel Pinkwater (JL)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


The Hard Kind of Promise
Gina Willner-Pardo, Clarion, $16 (208p) ISBN 978-0-547-24395-5
In this quiet, strongly realistic novel, Willner-Pardo (My Mom and Other Mysteries of the Universe) explores the intricacies of preadolescent social life, where the worst possible thing is to be "weird." Seventh-grader Sarah struggles between her devotion to her longtime best friend Marjorie--who is weird, and doesn't seem to care--and her new, cooler, but not as interesting friends. She loves and admires Marjorie for her idiosyncratic individuality but, acutely aware of social mores, cringes when she sees her through the eyes of other seventh-graders (Marjorie "was still wearing shirts with cartoon characters on them"). Mild and accepting on the outside, Sarah is inwardly obsessed with trying to understand how personality and popularity develop: "If you could just turn out weird for no reason, then maybe you could become weird out of the blue. The idea absolutely terrified her." Sarah matures in a believably clear-eyed manner as she explores a new friendship, discovers a talent for playing poker, and finds unexpected joy in singing in the school choir. Willner-Pardo's avoidance of overblown crises and dramatic climaxes creates a steadily paced, authentic story. Ages 10–up. (June) -- Publishers Weekly

Book Birthday: GET REAL by Mara Rockliff

GET REAL: What Kind of World are YOU Buying? is a buy-better manifesto for kids 10+ that takes on issues like the truth about advertising to kids, the nasty side of yummy fast food and cheap t-shirts, what "green" really means, how cutting-edge tech might save our butts, and more. Mara Rockliff's voice is frank, vivid and 100% BS-free, and the book is chock full of interesting sidebars, quizzes, and cool graphics. 

I truly believe that it is a book that will change readers, long-term. Heck, it already made me stop drinking bottled water -- and that was just the intro!  I would recommend it for the young activist in your life, and for classroom and library use.
GET REAL will leave young readers fired up and ready to make a  difference with their dollars—and their lives.
"This savvy guide encourages teens to be knowledgeable and media-literate consumers...Rockliff's frank discussions should have conscientious readers reconsidering their economic actions, while expanding their green vocabulary."  -- Publishers Weekly
About the Author: When she’s not spreading dangerous ideas, Mara Rockliff can be spotted loading up on books at her town library, biking to a nearby farm for fresh ingredients for homemade ice cream, or fixing yet another mug of fair trade tea. In real life, she lives in eastern Pennsylvania with her family.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Beauty Contests

The manuscripts I want are very often desired by multiple agents, and those (in my experience at least) are pretty much always The Usual Suspects; a group of five or so of my agent pals that I know have very similar taste to me.  I know for a fact that at least one of these folks is likely to be in the running for anything I want. (This is why I always ask who else has offered - it is hilarious how often the same names come up).

I also know that they all have different styles and different personalities, but they have in common that they are all terrific agents, and none would be a bad choice. So I have to be faster, and pitch harder woo, if I want to get the author.

When multiple agents are fighting for the affection of an author, that is a Beauty Contest. And like a real beauty contest, it is kind of thrilling but mostly sucky. We are lucky in that we need not actually put vaseline on our teeth, but it's still a competition!

INTERVIEW: When I give you a call, I have to explain who I am, who the agency is, why we'd be the awesom-est for you. You get a chance to ask questions too, of course, and hopefully my answers are suitable and happy-making. I tend to be very clear up front about how and how much I like to communicate with my authors, how much I value transparency, etc, and I am pretty informal. Because I like to start as I mean to continue. If I am passionate about something, you know it -- so you might as well get used to that right off the bat!  Unscientifically, I would say that 70% of the time, authors go with the first person to express interest... so agents have to have a lot of energy in this section of the competition if they want to get in front of that statistic.

TALENT: How many sales have we made? How much hustle do we have? Are we clearly knowledgable? Have we already made notes for you?  Have we already made a submission list?  Do we love your book? HOW MUCH?  What can we do for you that nobody else can? It's showtime baby, get out there and dazzle 'em!

SWIMSUIT: This is the tackiest part of the beauty contest and it basically comes down to Hotness. If you're the kind of author who is all about the bling, you'll give more points in this section to the "neon lizard bikini" agency, the name or huge-name clients of which would be recognizable to somebody outside the industry, probably because of very strong Hollywood connections. If you are the kind of author who fancies themselves more literary, you will go with the "classy maillot", which is possibly oldest or most venerated agency. Etc. (For what it is worth, I think of my agency as the "awesomely cute boy shorts tankini" in this metaphor.)

EVENING WEAR: Look, you already know we are pretty, talented and personable at this point, but there has to be one more hoop. So you could take the largely symbolic step of checking out how we walk in a circle wearing a dress, or you could talk to some of our other clients. Now the thing is, my clients are my clients in no small part because they LIKE ME. The chances that I am going to give you the contact info of somebody who hates me is really slim. Sort of like how I would never wear the crazy unflattering dress with bugle beads all over it. Come on.

Now it is time for judgement.  Having been on both sides of the winners circle I can tell you... "Winning" can be a rush and is splendid. "Losing" ranges from disappointing-but-a-good-learning experience to Totally Heartbreaking.

In fact there are two books that I might actually never quite get over having lost, and I am sure there will be more in the future. I always keep my eyes peeled for those books and authors though, to see what happens.  In one case, the book hasn't yet sold...  but in the other case, it sold for a lot of money to somebody I NEVER would have sent to.  I don't have any doubt at all that I would have sold it, but it would have ended up a very different sort of book. So in fact, the author probably chose correctly.

And that is the whole thing about this particular beauty contest, actually. It isn't really about hotness, or who wants world peace. A lot of the judgement comes down to your own gut feeling about who has the best vision for your book and whose style you'll get along best with. I can at least content myself with knowing that I am so open about who I am and what I like, that if somebody DOESN'T pick me, it almost certainly wouldn't have worked out anyway. 

Authors, if you had multiple offers of rep, how did YOU choose? What ended up being the "clincher" for you?  Were there any surprises along the way?

The Luxury of Choice

I've spent the last couple of days trying to power through my slush pile, and I actually managed to get through all pending queries. So if you sent me anything before today, you should've gotten a response. If you didn't, it means that either I never received your missive, or you didn't follow submission guidelines.

Which brings me to a problem I've encountered a lot lately. Several times in recent months I have asked for full manuscripts, been close to the end of a great manuscript, or finished the manuscript and offered representation and had the author say, basically, "Too late, chump." Well OK, they have been very nice and polite about it but... grrr!  GRR!  I WANTED THAT!!  WTF WHY WHA?!

OK, so I take responsibility for the ones that I hadn't even gotten to at all yet. It is my fault for having an overly full inbox. I should have been more on top of it. If Agent Speedy LaRue got the jump on me, well, fair enough, I guess.

But if I have the full?  And am reading it?  And maybe like LOVING it??  Or I have read the whole thing and adore it and get in touch with the author?  It is kinda seriously crushing to hear that they've already accepted an offer of representation. If you thought you wanted me even a little bit, why would you not give me the chance to throw my hat in the ring?  And if you knew you DIDN'T want me to throw my hat in the ring, why did you query me in the first place?

Course you don't have to take my advice. I know that most people say only to contact those who have a full. But if I were you, and I got an offer, I would get in touch with everyone who has an equery, partial or full. (Yes, queries too!  Yes!  Why not? People have email now! They will be able to get back to you, or ignore you, in a very timely manner.)

MOST of them will probably say "no thanks but best of luck." But a couple might say yes please! And then you will have the luxury of choice. Why would you not want that?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

There's always a market for Awesome.

Q: Are chapter books a tough sell for a debut author? What if they are 10,000 words?
Q: Are Nonfiction picture books possible to sell? What if there are photos? 
Q: Is there a market for boy YA? What if it is paranormal? What if there are sharks?
These are examples of the class of question that is the most frequently asked, and also possibly my least favorite. Don't get me wrong, I totally understand why authors ask... it is just that I don't have an answer!

People love to make pronouncements about what will or won't sell, or what there is or isn't a "market" for, what you can or can't do as a writer, and they are mostly wrong.  For every person who has said "Picture books don't sell" in the past year, there are ten picture books that did just that. For every blog post waxing philosophical about some imaginary rule like "Picture books must NEVER be over 1000 words!" or "You must NEVER write a YA in second person!" or "Delete all prologues! -- there are examples of people who have broken those rules and thrived.  They may only be the exceptions that prove the rule... but they are out there, waiting to torment writers who just want to know for a FACT that they are on the right track.

I've said it before and I am sure I'll say it again:

There is always a market for AWESOME. 

"Boy Books" are notoriously difficult to sell. But the first thing that I ever sold -- when I barely knew how to be an agent yet! -- was a boy book, and I sold it in just a couple of weeks.  And it has gone on to garner starred reviews and awards and just general love from the universe. Why?  Because it was really, truly Awesome.   
In this down economy, when picture books are supposedly near-impossible to sell, we as an agency have sold 30+ in the past year. Why?  Are we magicians? Are we bewitching editors? No. (Well... maybe. I mean, I can't give away ALL the secrets.) But I can tell you this: We've sold this many because they're Awesome -- they are the best of the best.

How many "Kinda Good" or "Just OK" picture books have we sold?  I'm gonna guess ZERO.
Nonfiction is often said to be difficult to sell. And it is.  But if you have a perfectly wonderful, well-written, interesting, surprising, timely piece of nonfiction that will appeal to schools as well as bookstore patrons, on a topic that is not overdone but also not completely obscure, you'll probably find it fairly easy to sell.

So you see that it is pretty much impossible for me to say if your nonfiction picture book will sell (particularly without a point of reference, writing sample or anything else) -- because it totally depends on not only how good that individual book is, but also the timing of it: what other books on similar topics the editor has seen recently, the weather is like in New York that week, etc.  So a lot of it is not only being Awesome, and The Best of the Best, but also, Good Timing... which means, well, work hard and hope you have a four-leaf clover.

And no, I can't easily answer this type of question.

Get it?

Monday, June 14, 2010


Highway to Hell
Highway 61 Revisited
Highway to the Danger Zone
Life is a Highway
My Interview with YA HIGHWAY
My Way or the Highway

Saturday, June 12, 2010

As seen on Twitter...

I mentioned this on Twitter, but I know not all of you read that. So... I have news!

I'm moving to the gorgeous, historical, haunted Hudson river valley for a year long "sabbatical". I just paid deposit on adorable cottage.  

Frequently asked Questions, Answered:

YES this means I will be devoting my energies even further to agenting.

NO, this should not affect the agency work dynamic -- as you might know, many of our ABLit agents work from home and live far away from "home base" in California. We are essentially an all-electronic office and communicate with each other daily (heck, HOURLY!) by email. 

YES, I'll be able to take some more on.  Please query me... though I might be slightly busy packing and moving. So I'll remind you again in August. :-) 

YES I fully expect everyone I know to come visit me. Dude it is quiet in the countryside! And YES, I will be in NYC at least once a week, if not more.

YES I remember that one part of that one Judy Blume book where they move to the HRV and Sheila becomes convinced that the Headless Horseman is going to come get her. I have given it a lot of thought. I believe that I can escape from the Headless Horseman, because I have a car, and I know where running water is. 

YES I will still work at Books Inc. & be in charge of NYMBC... just a lot less, and from afar. 

NO, I have never dealt with snow, snow shovels, furnaces, furnace oil, lawns or hiring people to mow lawns. Nor giant spiders, wild bears, poison dart frogs, the ghosts of Dutch Patroons, or whatever other assorted menaces they have there. YES, this should make for comical blogging. 

More news as it develops!  

From Publisher's Marketplace

Some big news for Kate.
2010 E.B. White Read Aloud Award winner Kate Messner's SILVER JAGUAR SOCIETY series, in which a group of kids whose families are part of a secret society bound to protect the world's artifacts pool their unique talents to solve mysteries tied to the creations of their ancestors, starting with book one: THE STAR-SPANGLED SET-UP, to Scholastic, in a three-book deal, for publication starting in 2012, by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
If you want to get inspired (or possibly feel like the world's biggest slacker), go to Kate's blog and check out all the stuff she has on her plate. She's a 7th grade teacher, an awesome and prolific writer, an energetic mom, and she still has time for, like, kayaking. She's a constant source of amazement and bafflement to me!

Monday, June 07, 2010


 Best Friends Forever...
Sarah promised Marjorie when they were five years old that they would be best friends forever. But that was before seventh grade, when everything changed—everything except Marjorie. While Sarah wants to meet new people and try new things, Marjorie still likes doing the same things they always did. It seems the more time the two girls spend together, the more time Sarah wants to spend apart. How did a promise that was so easy to make become so hard to keep?
With beautifully drawn characters and vivid details, this incisive novel portrays middle school in all its complexity—both the promise of what is to come and the pain of what must be left behind.
Conflicted by staying true to her promise while trying to figure out what she wants for herself, Sarah suffers through a series of uncomfortable situations that pit her budding desires to sing and make new friends against loyalty to her fading friendship with Marjorie. Willner-Pardo captures Sarah's torment well...Scenes with Sarah's practical mom and salty Grandpa offer some comic relief, as do those showcasing Marjorie's fierce individualism.  -- Kirkus
THE HARD KIND OF PROMISE by Gina Willner-Pardo releases June 7. If you like middle grade stories about real kids and their friendships, with all the drama, sometimes-cruelty and sometimes-hilarity that go with... this is a book for you. PROMISE will be a hit with fans of authors like Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Kate Messner.

Gina has written 15+ books for children and lives in the SF Bay Area.