Sunday, July 29, 2012

Notes on the Wish List

So I made what might have been a colossal mistake last week and posted my "wish list." 

It was a failure of imagination on my part not to realize the can o' worms that would be opened by this post. For several days I battled tweets, emails, private messages, comments, smoke signals etc, basically saying "OK, you say you don't like ______ -- but what about ______ ????" 

"OK, no paranormal romance - but what if it is mostly realistic but then there are GOBLINS?"  "OK, you don't like books with dead girls... what about dead BOYS?"  "OK, you like horse books... what if they are SEAHORSES?"  "OK, you want a love story, and you like animals, but you didn't mention a combo... what if it is a KANGAROO love story?" 

OMG. You guys. Killin' me.

The "wishlist" is not meant to be "A Comprehensive List of All the Types of Books That Are Good."  

Th wishlist is also not a list of all the books I enjoy reading - this is not a list of all the books that are popular - this is also not a list of what any OTHER agent might be looking for.

The wishlist is merely a SAMPLE of the kinds of books I don't already represent, that I might be especially interested in looking at if somebody out there has written one. 


For example - I didn't talk much about Historical Fiction. I like it fine, but I already represent a lot of it... I am not begging for more, unless it is totally different from what I already have. (I already have Victorian England, Victorian America, Dark Ages Europe, Weimar Republic, 1960's USA...) 

Likewise, I didn't mention fantasy, because I already have LOTS of magical stories on my list. It would have to be pretty special and different to get my attention. That isn't to say that a special, different story that I'll love isn't out there - I'm SURE it is. I just don't consider that a "hole in the list."

Are there types of books that are not on the list that I would also love to see? I am sure there are - but I haven't even imagined them.
That is where the fun of going through the submissions comes in -- I love to be surprised by what I fall in love with.

So I give up. For goodness sake, submit whatever you want. Just know that the things on the wishlist have a higher chance of getting close reads and more requested materials... and the things on the No list have an extremely good chance at swift rejection.

The things I never mentioned on either list? Go for it, why the heck not.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Wish List - A Call for Submissions

So I am all caught up on queries. Which should be a time for rejoicing!

I have plenty of stuff that I know clients are busy working on, so I don't need to find. But... there are still things I am looking for. Holes on the list, if you will.

NOTES: If I haven't mentioned it on this list, go ahead and try. Why not, right? Also, this list is only MY taste, I am speaking for nobody else at my agency. If you think you've written something I'll love, remember to follow submission guidelines carefully! So. Here's what I'd really like to see --

YES:

*MIDDLE GRADE* - I want a book that a kid is gonna read and re-read till the wheels fall off.

I tend to like MG books with a "classic" feel. I'm pretty much always partial to comedies, school stories, heartfelt family stories, mysteries, magical OR realistic adventure. I like stories where the kids are active, smart, have interests, hobbies, are super into the arts or athletics, or even have jobs or start businesses.

Recent favorite MG's include LIAR & SPY, BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX, THE SECRET TREE. Old favorites include anything E. Nesbit, Hilary McKay, and Noel Streatfeild.

I appreciate a fun format/style. ORIGAMI YODA comes to mind, or THE NAME OF THIS BOOK IS SECRET. But you know, not those, because those are taken.

I'd love a great creeptastic MG ghost story, along the lines of Antonia Barber's THE GHOSTS, Patricia Clapp's JANE-EMILY or Mary Downing Hahn's WAIT TILL HELEN COMES.

I'd also love an animal story, particularly Dog or Horse... but no DEAD animals, please. Favorites include DOG'S WAY HOME, BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, and the horse books of Farley, Smiley and Pam Munoz Ryan.

*YA* -  I want to be absolutely invested in the characters and their world.

Realistic YA (or possibly magical realism):  Examples: Character-driven weepers like Jandy Nelson's THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, which takes your heart out and stomps on it, but then puts it back together with love. Or Natalie Standiford's HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT, a 'non-traditional friendship story' that made me cry buckets and see the world through new eyes when I was done. Or romance like ANNA & THE FRENCH KISS - light, bubbly, a love interest you adore, challenges to the relationship, but a happily ever after.

GLBTQ Romance is cool, as long as it isn't stereotypical or just a coming-out narrative. I'm interested in gender issues, gender-bending, and just basically queer stuff that isn't preachy or gloomy.

Sexy Historical -- I don't want to learn some dumb lesson about history -- I want to think about dresses, kisses and intrigue. For example GILT by Katherine Longshore was a favorite (I think of it as "Gossip Girl in the Court of Henry VIII" -- or VENOM by Fiona Paul, set amongst the murderers and artists of Renaissance Italy.  I would really like a fun, sexy YA set in old Hollywood.

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.  Hard to describe but um... Have you written something with characters that the reader falls in love with, that is also as riveting & cunningly wrought as CODE NAME: VERITY? If so, please come to me, my pretty little darling.

*HIGH CONCEPT MG OR YA*

A high concept premise should resonate with the reader immediately, be super appealing, and have a compelling twist. You should be able to immediately get a picture in your head of what this book will be about. And OH YEAH, the writing and characters still have to be awesome. Note: High Concept can be in pretty much any genre or category. If you can say the plot in one snappy sentence, that is often high-concept. Many movies are high-concept. (Click for more detailed explaination)

EXAMPLES of High Concept: 

EVERY DAY by David Levithan. Every day, "A" wakes up in a new body, in a new house, in a new life... but every day, is in love with the same girl. (This is sort of a quadfecta, as it is high concept, gorgeously written, a super-romance, and tackles a lot of gender issues). 

INSIGNIA by SJ Kincaid. A loser with little school aptitude but phenomenal gaming skills is tapped by the government to become the ultimate war machine. 

OK, so that's a lot of things I like.

What do I NOT want? 

NO:

NO BORING. Whatever the book, it can't be just somebody moping around trying to figure life out or just dealing with their family issues or whatever - they have to DO something, there has to be a hook.   

NO PARANORMAL, DYSTOPIAN. Shapeshifters, Slayers, Reapers, Elementals, Were-Vamp-Mer-Hybrids, end-of-the-world scenarios. I have some excellent examples of these types of books on my list already, no more room at the inn.

NO PORTALS. I am not interested in books about kids who hang around doing nothing all day and being lamesters, until they find a portal, jump into a video game, put on a ring, or similar. In other words: "totally average in every way... until they find an amulet/get bitten by a crow/hit their head" -- this is a trope I see WAY TOO OFTEN in my inbox.

NO DEAD GIRLS. NO DEAD ANIMALS. NO RAPE, ANOREXIA OR HOLOCAUST NARRATIVES. NO MISERY LIT.  Sorry, I am sure your book is terrific, but it isn't for me, I've got all I can take.

NO GROWNUP BOOKS.

TO SUM UP
 YES: SNAPPY. NO: BORING. 
IF IT ISN'T ON THE "NO" LIST, GIVE IT A SHOT.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Said the Spider to the Fly...

This weekend, I was at the League of Vermont Writers event and somebody asked me a question which sparked a memory which sparked an anecdote, and what the hell, this is my blog, I can share it with you here. (Strap in, it might go long!)  The question was, "Can we query you over again if you say no the first time? Do you really remember stuff you've read?" Well....

Miz Rachel in 1949 - age 53
When I was growing up, I spent a good amount of time visiting my Great-Grandmother, Miz Rachel (aka Momie). She lived deep in the heart of Southwest Louisiana, in Maurice, a tiny village named after my Great-great-great Grandfather.

She was old. How old? Well, she was born in the 1800s. She graduated college during WWI. She taught first grade for 40 years or so, and retired more than a decade before I was even born. So... yeah. OLD. She passed away in 2005, aged 108.

Now Miz Rachel lived by herself on a farm from the time she became a widow in the 1960's until almost the very end of her life. Even in her 80's, 90's, and early 100's, she tended the huge garden by herself. When a water moccasin came along, she'd happily cut it to ribbons with an axe, then knock back a glass of Creme de Menthe or Cold Duck. If something worse came along, she had a loaded shotgun under her bed. Miz Rachel did NOT screw around.  (ETA: My relatives in the comments insist I amend "axe" to "shovel" - whatever, just don't cross the old dame!)

Momie's House, Maurice LA. 
She also talked a lot. If you didn't visit, she'd say in a guilt-inducing manner, "Don't worry, my plants are my family, and my flowers are my friends." If you DID visit, she'd say, "Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly!" She knew the entire history of the region and every family in it, and she would regale you with stories, songs in French, snippets of Shakespeare, and show you the shroud she wanted to be buried in, all in the same breath, if you gave her half a chance.

(She also was fond of waking us up early when she got bored by blasting the Rosary on television, or jabbing her grandchildren with her finger and remarking about their weight, then saying "I eat to live, I don't live to eat!" ... but that's another story.)
"Although she credits God and clean living, if nonstop chatting somehow prolongs a person's life, then Villien's key to longevity becomes evident as soon as introductions are made."
ANYWAY.

Every time any family member would visit, we'd take Momie out for a night on the town at someplace like Don's Seafood Hut. (Delicious stuffed crab at Don's, if you ever get the chance). Every time (and I mean EVERY time) we took her out, wherever we went in the region, elderly people would totter up to her and say something like,

"MIZ RACHEL!  You taught me FIRST GRADE, 50 years ago!"

And she would say, "JOHNNY BOUDREAUX (or whatever) -- I'd know you anywhere."

"How'd you recognize me, Miz Rachel? I'm a little older..."

"Oh," she'd say, with a glint in her eye, "I only remember the very good ones... and the very bad ones."

Then she'd leave it up to Johnny to figure out which he was. (But of course, she remembered pretty much everyone ever, in fact.)

So what does all this have to do with me, or you? Well, first of all, I am turning into Momie, since I can't shut up. Only instead of cutting out clippings, I tweet incessantly. Our houses even look alike!

And, when it comes to querying writers, well... while Momie had a shockingly good memory for faces, I have a shockingly good memory for things I've read. But still, I only remember the very good ones... and the very bad ones. (And yep, probably yours as well.)

Oh and I keep an archive. So. If you've done a significant amount of revising, and it's been 6 months or more, it's fine. But don't try and lie about it.

Welcome to my parlor!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Happy Book Birthday: PIRATERIA

"Avast! This combination of nonsense verse and everything pirate is a guaranteed winner."--Kirkus Reviews

PIRATERIA: We put the "ARG" in Bargain!

From the madcap mind of the inimitable NYT bestselling poet & artist Calef Brown comes this zany picture book tour through that Wonderful, Pluderful Pirate Emporium PIRATERIA. Young scallywags, swashbucklers and swashbucklerettes will love it.

From the publisher: When pirates need superior wares for life at sea, they head on down to Pirateria, where they can find treasure chests (the very best), peg legs, planks, eye patches, head rags, vests, pantaloons—and even satchels and pouches for gems and doubloons—all at prices that can’t be beat. Creativity runs amok in this energetic, rhyming text full of beards and barnacles and plenty of pirate fun. Arrrr ya looking for a good price on big-buckle shoes—and a rollicking read-aloud about practical pirates? Look no further!

To get your own copy of PIRATERIA, try Oblong Books, Powells Books, B&N, or your local bookstore!

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Bad Query Paradox

Look I'm NOT talking about you here.

YOU are somebody who is seeking out knowledge and absorbing it like a sponge. YOU are somebody that knows about research and takes the time to do a little before sending out query letters. YOU have a basic grasp of how the English language works, and how to be polite and sane in correspondence.

Sadly, YOU guys, the awesome folks reading this right now, represent less than half of those who send me queries. Less. Than. Half. The majority are sent by people who will never see this. And they pretty much all have one or more of the following problems:

* They do not understand who I am or what I do (generally they think I publish books... which I do not) -- or they DO know I'm an agent, but are sending me material not even close to something I represent, which the simplest google search or website glance would have revealed.

* They betray an inability to write in English. I'm not saying "they aren't brilliant" - I'm saying, they are barely coherent. I have several each day that have been seemingly run through Google Translate or Babelfish and are just nonsensical. Is it spam? I have no idea.

* Mega-typos. I really am not going to get judge-y about the occasional typo in a manuscript. Look, it happens, that stuff can get fixed, no biggie. But if you have multiple typos in a three paragraph letter... I'm going to raise an eyebrow. And if you've inconsistently spelled your own TITLE... OR YOUR OWN NAME... That's a problem.

* They are rude, psychotic, scary. ("I'm sure, as a woman, this will be hard for you to understand" -- "Jesus was a Dinosaur!" -- "My book is about MURDERING LITERARY AGENTS", etc)  (note: actually I changed these somewhat... nobody sent me these EXACT queries... but the idea is similar. And in fact, I thought I made up Dino Jesus, but apparently it's a thing. And I kinda like it.)

*  They don't follow directions. They are addressed to somebody else, or to no-one at all. There is no query letter (the pages start immediately). There are no pages (we ask for 10 pages in the body of the email). There are a query letter and pages, but they are all as an attachment (which I don't open). There is a query letter, but I have to sign on to some site to see it, or it comes in a block of graphics that I can't read, or similar.

I understand, honest mistakes happen, and I'll happily overlook it if you get my name wrong, or the formatting is weird, or you've use the wrong form of it's/its. If I like the query but you haven't put pages, I'll ask for them. 

But let's be honest. If you've got multiple gaffes in one email, what that shows me is that you don't really care about this. If you can't be bothered to proofread a short letter that is theoretically extremely important to you... how shoddy is your book?

Our official agency policy is "no response means no" -- but time permitting, I do try to just at least send a form response to everyone who seems sane and like they are trying. I don't respond to people who blatantly don't follow query guidelines, or who query with stuff I don't rep, but other than that, I do my best.

But I'm just... I'm just really burnt out on this part. I spend my entire Sundays doing this most weeks, and it is making me bitter. I REALLY DON'T WANT TO BE BITTER Y'ALL.

At the same time, I really don't want to close to queries.

Understand this: MOST of my clients came from slush, especially in the beginning. I didn't know them, they weren't referred to me - I just liked their query letters and asked to see more. I KNOW there can be gems in there. So I never want to palm off query reading to some third party, or say I can't look at all... I want to look! I have a strong desire to find awesome stuff in the box!

And this is the paradox:

Everyone will think I am being mean about THEIR query... but I promise you I am not. If you are reading this, there is a 99.999infinity% chance it is not addressed to you. Because I am not frustrated with "people who are decent writers but their story just doesn't tickle my fancy" -- or "beginners who mean well but are off-base" or "people who messed up one piece of the directions but otherwise had a pretty good query" ....  I'm really frustrated with the actual bottom half of the barrel.

The people who send me emails (or worse - find my phone number and call me) demanding information on... how to send queries. The people who send insults or screeds or threats. The people who have no sense of boundaries, or self-awareness. And those people are not reading advice blogs.  

Sigh.

THE GOOD NEWS: 

Every time I find something awesome to request? ALL of the bad feelings go away.

AND... All of you are automatically in the top 40% of queries. YAYYY!

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Happy Book Birthday: CAPTURE THE FLAG


On the same day that the enormous flag that inspired “The Star Spangled Banner” is stolen from the Smithsonian Museum of American History, three very different kids (who have more in common than they realize) are snowed in at a chaotic Washington D.C. airport, along with a mysterious tattooed man, a flamboyant Texas politician, and a rambunctious poodle named for an ancient king.  When the kids figure out that the flag and whoever stole it are snowed in at the airport, too, they decide to work together to solve the heist. They'll have to slink through baggage handling tunnels, commandeer luggage carts and other airport mayhem to  avoid getting nabbed by baddies and CAPTURE THE FLAG.

Kate Messner's CAPTURE THE FLAG is the start of a fun, funny and action-packed new series about a group of kids who are descendents of the Silver Jaguar Society -- a secret society dedicated to protecting the world's treasures. The series will appeal to fans of art-world mysteries like Chasing Vermeer and Masterpiece as well as kids who love the high-octane fun of National Treasure movies.

More about the book from Kate Messner here.

Read the first two chapters here.

CAPTURE THE FLAG teacher & librarian resources on Pinterest. 

Kate is having a launch party tomorrow, 7/2 at the Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid from 4-6pm. I'll be there! If you can join us, that would be fantastic -- if not, you can still order a personalized signed copy of this or ANY of Kate's books (here's a list) for your bookshelf. Kate says: "Their number is 518-523-2950 – you’d need to call Monday morning, 7/2 before the signing that afternoon!"

Or buy the book from Indiebound, Powells, B&N or wherever fine books are sold.