Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How Many is Too Many?

When I was a newbie, my boss told me that I should never answer the question "How many clients do you have." See, it's a question with no right answer, in which the asker can interpret the answer any way they want.

If I say a high number, does that make me sound Healthily Busy or Totally Overwhelmed? If I say a low number, am I Selective, or Lazy? And what would BE a "low" or "high" number, anyway?

Since I'm no longer a new agent, and I believe in transparency, and I love love LOVE talking about my authors - I have a list of my clients posted on my blog. You can count them if you are so inclined. (Spoiler: it's about 50). I still shy away from saying an exact number out loud, and I don't have a number that would be a "ceiling" in mind, but, you know, basically I am pretty full. I am busy enough. I don't need more clients. But I shall certainly leap to grab one if the perfect fit comes along!

I don't remember where I got this analogy but I think it's a good one: it's kinda like being an obstetrician. While I might have dozens of clients, most of them are busy gestating or taking care of books under contract that already exist - they aren't in my waiting room with their water breaking all at the same time. This metaphor has gotten a little gross now, but you see what I mean - there are only a few pressing matters "in play" on any given day/week.

So how many authors IS too many? I think of my list kinda like Mary Poppins's bag crossed with the TARDIS. Magical, flexible, sentient, bigger on the inside, and obviously able to navigate wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. There's no answer, is what I'm saying -- how much work I can do adjusts according to how much work there is to do.

If there is ever a time I am feeling burnt out or overwhelmed - I take a break and/or ask for help. If I was feeling like that all the time, I'd cut back my list -- but so far, luckily, that has not had to happen. Other agents' answers may vary -- for some, 20 clients would be their limit. Some, I'm sure, juggle 100. But I think everyone would agree that there is no magic number, and no right answer to this question.

Make sense?

Friday, November 14, 2014

An EPIC POST about the Submission Process, from an Agent's POV.

A lot of authors are curious about what happens when a project goes "on submission", so I thought I'd lay it out here. I want to stress that this is from MY POV ONLY. There is no one way to do this -- other agents might have different styles, and that doesn't make them (or me!) wrong -- just different. And I'm only speaking for myself, I make no claims about what any other agent may or may not do, even in my own agency. Also, of course, a lot of stuff may be variable depending on the author, project, time of year, phase of moon, etc, so all of this is not even applicable to all projects! And now that the epic disclaimers are out of the way, on to the epic post:


STEP ONE: Once we've been through revisions and have a clean ms to send out, I will re-read the project. As I read, I think about the style of book it is. With a book that is really submission-ready, I'll be able to visualize what I think it will look like on the shelf. Does this FEEL like a light and fun paperback? Does it FEEL like a beautiful epic fantasy with maps and fancy gilt edges? Who will buy this book most - Librarians and teachers? Teens? Hipster parents? Doting grandparents? Based on these calculations, I narrow down the list of publishers to those who would be open to publishing this type of book. I'm also thinking about who amongst my editor acquaintance might also like the story.

STEP TWO: I create a submission list and share it with the author to see if they have any input. For example, if they worked with a certain editor before, or something of that nature. My submission strategy is to target wisely rather than widely. I don't, for example, go to multiple people at the same house. I like the editors to whom I send projects to feel they've been selected especially, as indeed they have been. You can read much more about choosing imprints and the fun game of crafting the editor submission list and all that goes into that in this post from the archives.

If I an torn between who at a given publisher might like a project, I might email or call either the boss or the editor I know the best and ask their opinion. Yes, this works. Everybody WANTS to connect successfully and find projects they love! 

STEP THREE: I either call or email the editors (unless I happen to have a meeting or lunch scheduled with them in person during this time-frame in which case I pitch in person) -- and ask if they'd like to see. 99%* of the time they DO ask to see -- I like to think I know their taste well enough and they know mine well enough that they know I'll at least show them something worth looking at, even if they end up passing. Even editors I don't know well will generally agree to look at the project because, you know, they are polite and they work with our agency a lot. :-)  Annnnd then I send it out and we wait for responses!

(* The 1% of the time they don't ask to see, that is usually because they have something too similar already in the pipeline -- like, I had a chapter book about a certain historical event go out and one person passed on looking because they have a book about the same event already coming out in 2015. So, obviously, I targeted them correctly, just somebody else was faster! That's OK, it happens.)

How do you decide between giving an exclusive and making it a multiple submission?
For me, it is nearly always a multiple submission. If I were to give an exclusive, I would explicitly state it to the editor and give a time-frame, and it would be because:

1) The author has worked with an editor before and this is the next logical book -- let's say, you have a YA fantasy out, and this is a new YA fantasy in the same world - even if we don't HAVE to show the current editor contractually, we WOULD, because it just makes sense. I like to keep good relationships going!  ... or

2) We have an option that we need to fulfill (ie, in the contract it is stated that the publisher gets first crack at anything new) -- in which case they'd only have it exclusively for whatever term the contract specified, say, 30 days ... or

3) You've discussed the project at length with an editor and you think they will LOVE it, or it was inspired by something they said, or written specifically with them in mind, or something of that nature -- in which case I'd let them know that they have a limited window head start. Not that they HAVE to get back in that amount of time -- but we'll be going out more widely after that time.

If none of these apply, then it is a multiple submission.

So what should I, the author, be doing while you, the agent, are waiting for responses?  You should be working on the next book. WORKING ON THE NEXT BOOK. Oh heavens, please be working on the next book. Outline a sequel if you like - but I wouldn't get too married to it until you have proof that somebody wants the first book. I'd rather you be working on a completely new, shiny and different project. Something you are excited about and thrilled to write! So that you will not be obsessing over the thing that is on submission.

And will you share all the responses you get with me as you get them?  When I first started as an agent, I always shared all declines immediately with my authors. But then I realized that the authors were getting majorly bummed out and oftentimes this knowledge would derail them from their work on their happy-shiny new projects! So I changed my stance on this and started doing it a little differently. 

If I get an OFFER, or a request for revision, of course I share it immediately. The same goes for a really kind/complimentary or otherwise uplifting decline. If it makes me happy to read, it will probably make my author happy to read, too, and I share. If, however, I get an ambivalent decline, a nonsensical (or even mean) decline, or just generally non-helpful decline, I just mark it in my little book as a "pass". At a certain point, when the round is winding down, around the 8-12 week mark, I'll compile all these and just give an update and 'state of the ms' report. If an author wants more frequent updates, they can ask me at any time -- some people want to know what's up more often, and that's fine. And some authors REALLY REALLY want to know every gory detail as it happens - that's fine too, they can just let me know. I happen to think it is a bit unhealthy for the majority of authors, but of course I will send as my author prefers.

How long does it take to hear back from editors, and do you nudge or give a deadline?  I don't give a deadline unless we have an offer on the table. I usually hear back on picture books and short chapter books within a few weeks -- sometimes, for novels, a few months. After 8 weeks, I'll nudge people as needed. There are often a couple of outliers who don't reply unless shaken vigorously, but the bulk of responses will come in by 8-12 weeks.

What happens if we get an offer??!  If we get an offer, I nudge everyone who is still looking immediately, letting them all know that we have an offer and that I need their responses ASAP. If that's the case, usually everyone replies immediately to either pass or express interest, and we go from there. If we do get two offers, I'll compare and contrast, and ask for improvements as needed, and the author will decide. However, if I know other offers are coming. . . .

OMG!! What if there are MULTIPLE offers?!? IS THAT AN AUCTION?? If I know we are getting multiple offers, we call an auction. (You theoretically CAN call an auction any time you want -- but I would hate to throw an auction and have nobody come! I personally only declare an auction when I know there is significant interest from more than two parties.)

The agency has "auction rules" that define what we want offers to look like and include, so that when it comes time for the author to decide between offers, they are comparing apples to apples. I'll set what's called a Closing Date (usually a week, week and a half, depending on the time of year and such) -- by which time everyone needs to come to me with offers if they are going to. Different kinds of auctions are structured in different ways, but usually auctions are either "best bids" (one round, everyone just gives their best possible offer and the author decides) or "rounds" (in which the agent can go back and forth and ask for improvements and the author decides). There are benefits and drawbacks to each, and your agent will make sure you understand what is going on when it happens!

So auction means BIG MOOLAH, yes? $$$$ WOOOOHOOO!!! $$$$$  Sorry to disappoint. Despite sounding V V Fancy, Auction doesn't mean the book will automatically sell for a million bucks. Auction just means there are multiple offers, but it does not define what those offers might be. Everyone COULD offer pocket change and belly lint! But usually auctions inspire editors to at least TRY to put their best foot forward.

What if we send it out and get ... no offers :(  ?   This happens, too, even to manuscripts I love and think will sell -- and they often DO sell, just perhaps not in the first round. Nothing to worry about. What I'll usually do is compile the feedback we've received and see if there is anything useful to be gleaned from it. Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn't. We'll discuss whether you want to revise or not, and I'll send the work out to more people and begin a new round of submissions.

What if we never ever get an offer? At what point do you consider a ms completely shopped?  Well... depends on the book, and depends on the feedback we've been getting. If we're just getting nothing useful, or no responses at all, and I don't feel I have anywhere else to go with it where the results will be different, that is quite dispiriting, and it might be time to back-burner the ms for a while and try something else, maybe revise with fresh eyes at a later date. If we're getting THISCLOSE but just not quite putting it over the top, like every editor is saying they "love it but..." -- well, then I'd be inclined to keep going even longer. I have sold books in less than a day... but I've also sold books that took a year, two years, or longer, over multiple rounds with revisions and tweaks in between. Sometimes it just takes a long time to get to that yes! So, there's no magic number of editors -- it's a case-by-case situation. The good news is, you have a lot more stories to tell, right?

Is there any question about the submission process that I forgot to answer? Ask in the comments!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

How Did I Find My Clients?

I read a forum post this morning quizzing agented authors on where they found their agents. The authors were very nicely answering, but most of the answers were the same: "I did my research and then sent a query letter."

Why was this the most likely way they answered? Because it's the most likely way to get an agent.  It just IS. I know the myth is that you have to "know somebody" but that really isn't true. Which got me to thinking about how my clients found ME (or, vice-versa). And I decided to bust out the chart-making tools again because I know you like that.

So let's break it down:

56% of my clients came to me because of straight up query letters, from the slush. They didn't know anybody, they didn't drop names, they weren't published before, they didn't go to conferences, they didn't meet me first - some of them I still haven't met in person, because they live thousands of miles away!

24% of my clients were people that I'd met somewhere before they queried me. These are people I met at conferences, in a couple of cases, or published authors that I met in my capacity as a bookseller. (There's also a former co-worker in the mix, an SCBWI RA, and one of my neighbors. What can I say, she's a great writer!). The thing is: All these people STILL HAD TO QUERY. It's not like I said, oh, I know you, so sure... they still had to show me something I thought I could sell.

16% of my clients were referrals. This means that somebody I really trust - like an editor who knows my taste, or an existing client - thought this would be a good fit for me, and e-introduced us. But, you guessed it: These people STILL HAD TO QUERY, and show me something I thought I could sell.

4% of my clients were inherited from other agents at my agency. They actually are the only people who were kinda "grandfathered in," and did not have to show me something new to be taken on. However, I also trusted that they could write, that they had great stories in them, and that we'd gel well - and we spoke before I took them on. Still, this does not always work out, so I feel very lucky that these have!

Moral of this story? 


Monday, October 06, 2014

How Similar is TOO Similar in the Great Agent Hunt?

Research agents for even a short while and you're almost sure to come up with two competing bits of wisdom: 




Guess what? BOTH these contradictory statements are true! ....Yayyy??

Of course you want to pick an agent who does the kind of books you do, and hopefully reps some authors you admire. . . but yep, that agent will likely decline if the books are too similar. I wrote a post way back in 2011 about WHY agents can't take on work that competes with what they already rep. It's all still true, so I won't rehash it here. We know the WHY. But how can you tell if your book falls into this problematic area?

A quick way to decide if your book might be too close to what an agent already reps: If you break your book and the comparable book(s) down into general CATEGORY, TONE and THEME - TWO of these can match. But if all three overlap, it's probably too close.

In other words: 

I could rep two funny picture books ... but not two funny picture books about Ninjas. I could rep two picture books about Ninjas, if one was funny, while the other was non-fiction/factual. I could rep two funny Ninja books... if one was a picture book and one was a middle grade. (That isn't to say that there isn't room IN THE WORLD for multiple funny picture books about Ninjas, btw... just that I personally would feel uncomfortable repping all of them!)

In the case of something like "heartfelt middle grade fiction about girls growing up" - where there are certainly lots of great books that seem to overlap... the differences might be more subtle. I rep both Linda Urban and Kate Messner, for example - two great authors, both sometimes writing in a similar space - but you wouldn't confuse CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT with BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. You just wouldn't. On the surface there are similarities, but there's a difference at the bone. 

So if you're researching an agent who reps what you write... and you've thought about the chart and you see the surface similarities but you still think YOUR difference is different enough... you might as well try querying the agent... why not, right? Nothing to lose. Nobody is going to be mad at you - the worst that can happen is, you get a rejection, and that isn't anything to lose sleep over.

Does this make sense? Helpful, or have I muddied the waters even further?

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Story Structure from South Park

This has been ALL over social media in the past couple days, but it is really smart plotting advice from Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of "South Park" and "Book of Mormon." Like... REALLY smart and simple advice, not just for film but also very much applicable to children's book writers. Take two minutes and watch!

If you've ever gotten a critique that your picture book "read like a series of lists" or "was more like a vignette/series of vignettes" . . .  or perhaps your novel was "too episodic" . . .  THIS is what those critiquers probably meant, and how to fix it.

Get More: www.mtvu.com

What do you think?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Spamvertisements Are Not Your Friend

What the heck are spamvertisements? They are that thing where a totally random "marketing guru" or "social media creative" - or just intrepid author with boundary issues - starts spamming people they don't know with advertisements about their or their poor client's latest book/project. The people being spammed AT are people who are big in that specific field (like in the case of books, they would be agents and editors) -- or just generally famous, like obviously Neil Gaiman, Veronica Roth, Stephen Fry, etc. -- or are huge "professional readers", popular bloggers and the like. If you look at their timeline it will probably look something like this:


Don't do that.

I don't mind if my friends text me or call me up on the phone. . . or even if somebody I don't know well emails me to tell me something important. I don't even mind ads, when I run across them in the wild. However, I mind VERY MUCH if telemarketers call me specifically and interrupt dinner. You get the distinction?


Social Media of all kinds, including/especially Twitter, is all about. . . well, being SOCIAL. It's about connecting with people on a human level - not about YOUR BOOK YOUR BOOK YOUR BOOK - but about, like, how your dog caught an opossum or you are worried because your fire alarm seems to be haunted by poltergeists, or you need to find the best Chinese restaurant in rural New York. When, in the course of talking about mundane things, you also mention YOUR BOOK, it doesn't come across as sleazy - just as a part of your life, which it is. People are significantly (like scientifically 100000%) more likely to want to support you if you come across as a genuine, cool human being who also writes books, rather than a spam-machine-robot.

When you start a twitter account from scratch, it's almost like you are standing alone on an overturned apple crate in the park and speaking into a home-made paper megaphone. You have no audience yet -- you are just a lone soul standing around talking to the air. If you're lucky, you have a few real life friends that will start hanging around you. If you're entertaining, you'll get a few more, and they'll stick around. Soon you've got a nice little crowd going. Awesome! You get off the crate and start interacting. Now it's not you being a nutbar and talking to the clouds - it's you engaging with your group, having real conversations, cracking jokes, sharing ideas about things ranging from celebrity-silly to philosophically important - and occasionally one of you whips out the old paper-megaphone again to talk about a pet project or something, and nobody really minds, because hey, you all know where each other are coming from. Wheee!

If, instead, you use your crate as a platform from which to throw garbage at people . . . well they are REALLY UNLIKELY to want to stick around for that. If you start targeting people specifically -- that means you @mention their names and barrage them with advertising even though you don't know them -- they are likely to report you for spam and your platform will get taken away altogether. 

And it should go without saying - don't HIRE somebody to do this on your behalf, either. It's a waste of your money, and it will give you a black eye with the potential readers and bigmouths you probably want to impress.