Friday, December 17, 2010

I got THE CALL! ... Um now what?

Writers often want to know what, exactly, happens AFTER an agent signs them.  Then they go on submission with their agent, and they want to know what, exactly, happens AFTER they get an offer. Then they get a contract and want to know what, exactly, happens AFTER their book is published.... and on, and on.  Well, I've got good news and bad news, kids.

Good news: That's what this post is about!

Bad news: There is no single answer to these questions, and you'll have to accept the fact that I could have answered "it depends!" to all of them, and "who in hell knows" to many of them.

You've been querying agents, and you get a call or an email -- one of them wants to sign you! NOW WHAT HAPPENS?

You take a deep breath. You schedule a phone call for a time that is good for you. Plan for this call to take at least an hour (though it could obviously be much shorter, you want to have the time dedicated.)
If the agent suggests a time that is NOT good for you, don't be afraid to say so. You are the one being wooed here.

Let the other agents who are considering your work know that you have an offer. Give them a few days or a week to read and respond. Something like "I have an offer of representation. If this manuscript interests you, can you let me know by ____x-day____? And if you need more time, let me know. Thanks so much"

During the call: You have questions that you want to ask. Ask them! You might make a list of questions ahead of time so you don't forget if you get nervous. Ask if they will let you look at the agency agreement, and if you can talk to some of their other clients.

If you get more than one offer: It is cool (but it can be sickening!) to be confronted with multiple offers from agents. Talk to each one, see whose vision most resonates with you, talk to their clients, and use your gut instinct.

You signed! Congratulations. NOW WHAT HAPPENS?

Depends on the agent, and the project. What happens with ME is, usually I send notes (or have already sent notes) and I want you to do a revision or clean up the manuscript in some way. The amount of work to do here will vary.  Meantime, I may want you to send me other material (possibly a bio, series overview, or similar) -- all of which I will discuss with you.

You send the revision and it is AWESOME! Yay you! NOW WHAT HAPPENS?

I've crafted a list of likely editors, based on my contacts, the agency database, getting input from my colleagues, and your input. I show you the list, and you can feel free to give your feedback (like if there is somebody you met at a conference and didn't like, for example).  I usually approach 8-10 editors at a time, sometimes fewer if the book is more of a specialized topic (nonfiction picture book about fire ants, for example).

Then we go on submission.  I usually call or email first, or occasionally pitch in person, and about 95% of the editors I pitch ask to see the material. The ones who don't, it is usually because it sounds too close to something they already acquired, or something like that. I think that this is pretty standard, most editors WANT to see great stuff from agents they like, so they'll say yes to taking a look.

Then we wait. YOU start writing another book. I go about my business. Editors take time - sometimes a couple of weeks, sometimes a couple of months. I usually give them about 4-6 weeks before I start gently nudging, though I would nudge much sooner than that if there'd been quick opening reads and interest off the bat, and I might hold off nudging a bit if there'd been conferences or holidays.  Of course... nudging doesn't always work; like agents, editors are often reading in whatever spare time they can grab, and I don't want them to get irritated with me and just give me a quick no to get me off their back, so I use my discretion about this.

I have gotten offers as quickly as the day after submitting something. I have had offers take as long as two years and multiple rounds of revision & submission to come through. (And some things just don't sell, and you will sell the next book, or the next, first.) Have I said BE PATIENT yet in this post? No? WELL BE PATIENT.

You have a publisher interested! OMG YAY! NOW WHAT HAPPENS?

I tell you about the offer. Then I inform all the other editors who are still reading. I give them a few days to decide to fish or cut bait.  If multiple people decide they are interested, you may have an auction, and have to decide which editor to choose. Let's say for the purposes of this post, though, that only one editor wants to make an offer, and you want to accept it.

I negotiate the main deal points with the editor. These points include advance, royalty (including escalation on royalty, in other words, after you sell x-number of copies, your royalty improves) and what rights we are keeping. These go on a "deal memo." If everything is kosher for all parties on those main points, we accept the offer. Huzzah!

So you are going to be published. Holy crap that is awesome. But um... NOW WHAT HAPPENS? 

Sometimes your agent and publisher will tell you it is OK to spill the beans and talk about your deal. Sometimes they won't. If the negotiation is still pending, or if the publisher wants to make a special splashy announcement at a later date, or something, they may ask you to wait until the contract is finalized. 

But even if you get to talk about your deal, a lot of the time, now is the worst part of the process, especially for a newbie. Not because anything terrible happens... but because nothing happens.


Weeks, sometimes months, may go by. Sometimes MANY months.  Sometimes MANY MANY months.  You may not hear from your agent, because there is nothing new to say. You won't hear from your editor -- and can you even call this person your editor? After all you've had only the one phone call, and sure they SEEMED excited, but now so many months have passed and holy freaking hell what if they forgot about you??! There's no contract yet -- what if they decided they hate your book now??!?  What if it was all IMAGINARY???!  AHHHHH!!!!

You may get the urge to throw your entire book away, or find a way to just melt into the ground, or write lengthy angry blogs post about how terrible publishers are, or write a lengthy angry letter to the editor, ccing the president of the company, about how terrible they are, or fly to Mexico and become a dance instructor, or similar.  RESIST THESE URGES.

Eventually, your contract will work its way from the bowels of the publishing house and into your agent's hands. This can take anywhere from two weeks (though that is truly VERY unusual and fast) to... well, I have one that I've been waiting six months for, and counting. Fingers crossed for January!

Once the contract comes, it will be read by your agent. Very often, the contract will be based on boilerplate that the agency has already established with that publisher, so it will be made up of language that was negotiated long ago, with changes made to reflect the terms in your deal memo. There are still always things to change, ranging from a simple typo to a mistaken deal point.

 SOMETIMES the publisher is establishing a new boilerplate with an agency (either because the agency has never worked with that publisher before, or, more likely, because the publisher has recently changed its contracts for everyone.) IF that is the case, it will take even longer, as the agency may have to do heavy negotiating and/or bring in lawyers to work out the fine details.

In either case, the agent will negotiate until the contract is satisfactory. Then the contracts department will crank out another copy of the document. Good news, this wait on this is usually much faster than the first wait was.  Now you get your copies (sometimes via snail mail, sometimes via email) - you sign them, and send them in for countersignature.  4-8 weeks later, G-d willing, you get your first check.

YAY YOU ARE A PAID WRITER!  Errr... now what happens?

That, my friends, is fodder for another post.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Open Thread, December

Hey gang,

A fresh month means a fresh place to ask agentish & bookish questions.  Short answers I will respond to on in comments, long answers I will devote blog space to. Don't be shy, I am (almost) always (fairly) nice.


Monday, November 22, 2010

But What About the Second Week of April?

I get questions from clients and non-clients alike all the time, wanting to know what "good times for subbing" are, or suggesting that there is a time when "publishing grinds to a halt." Once again it came up on the last Open Thread: "The end of the year is typically a busy time for all of us, but, in general, is there a better time of year to query agents?"

Since I am on my way to a holiday, this seemed like an apt time to revisit the question.

The fact is, yes, of course, lots of people go on vacation in August, and the week of Thanksgiving, and the time between Hanukkah and January 4 or so. This is true in publishing as well as pretty much every other profession.  I'm not quite sure why this is surprising to anyone.

However, when you are just querying agents, it doesn't matter when you do it.  You are (usually) submitting unsolicited material, aka "slush", which most agents read in whatever spare time they can muster, in the order in which it is received. So what the hell, who cares when you query an agent? When your material is ready, send it out and get in line. If you wait until a good time, you'll be waiting till the crack of doom.

The only exception to this is the rare agent who takes a query holiday where they are closed to submissions entirely - if that is the case, though, it should be clearly posted on their website.

The other side of the coin: When I am subbing material to editors, I am usually pitching it to them in person (or via phone or email) first, and so generally avoid the week of Christmas/New Years, the last two weeks of August, and any time when there is madness like BEA or Bologna going on. This is partly because I don't want my material to get lost in the shuffle... and partly because I am too busy during those times!

But if I avoided all the federal holidays, all the Jewish holidays, all the Christian holidays, all the book fairs and conferences and scbwi events and and and... dude, I'd have like two non-consecutive viable weeks per year in which to submit.  The fact is, publishing is a very slow business. Very. Very. Slow. As far as publishers go, it takes many people to make an offer, and to make a real book, and at least one of those people is ALWAYS on vacation or at a conference.

That said, I have gotten offers from publishers in the doldrums of August, and the week before Christmas, and at night, and on weekends, too. And I have offered representation to people during all those times.  I've offered representation to people while I was vacationing in Hawaii. I've rejected people from airplanes (and I am sure I will do it again today!)

Do prepare, of course, but don't overthink it. When you are ready, press "send."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Do You Even NEED an Agent?

Q: What are some of the pros and cons of skipping the agent and working directly with the publisher?
Look, you don't need an agent at all, if:

If you already have a lot of good contacts in the book world and know how to make even more.

If you don't mind taking a great deal of time and energy doing research, sending your work out to people and following up on it.

If you have a lot of knowledge of the market - what is selling, and to whom, and how much money they are paying for it.

If you are superb at self-editing and self-promoting.

If you know what good contracts look like & have a good literary attorney.

If you understand why subrights are important and how to exploit them.

If you are good at negotiation and awesome at asking for raises.

If you don't mind chasing down money from stubborn tightfisted companies.

If you are excellent at sticking up for yourself even in extremely tense or fraught situations.

HOWEVER, I find that most authors, while they might be able to do all or most of those things if they really wanted to, prefer to spend the bulk of their time... well, writing.  That is where an agent comes in handy. We do all that stuff so you don't have to.

Obviously, this is my perspective, and it would be; Surprise surprise, the agent thinks you should have an agent.  But I am curious - what do YOU think are the "pros and cons" of having an agent or not?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Open Thread, November

Hey kids! I'm starting a new Open Thread for November. I am hoping that awesome threaded comments will make the answers easier to read, huzzah!

So if you have agent-type questions (or any other questions, by gum) go for it. I'll either answer in the comments, or if the answer is getting to long, will address it in the blog.

OK.... GO.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Illustrator's Portfolio

A version of this appeared long ago on my former blog, but since that is closed to the public now and I've gotten the question several times, seems like it is time to "upcycle" the post. :-)
Q: WHAT makes a good portfolio for an aspiring children's book illustrator?
Content: There is a big difference between picture book illustration work and editorial work. You are not drawing posters or advertisements here, you are trying to tell a story over 32 or more pages. It has to be attractive and have a sense of whimsy, sure, but it also has to be kid-friendly and coherent. With that in mind, you should make sure your children's illustration portfolio includes the following:

* Children - Kids playing, kids fighting, kids mad, kids glad, cute kids, silly kids, bashful kids, wistful kids, whatever. Kids being as kid-like as possible. IF you can't draw good kids, you are probably in the wrong line of work.

* Animals - Bunnies, bears, moles, frogs, cats and dogs are often the subjects of children's books. You might consider small spot illustrations of a number of different creatures, or a larger scene with several included. If I were making a portfolio, I'd do some animals in a "natural" way (deer in a field), and some in a "personified" way (ie, a badger going to school, or a porcupine drinking tea.)   ETA: Yes, you can also include fantasy animals / monsters or similar, if that suits your style. I am not suggesting that everyone try and draw like Wind in the Willows. :-)

* B&W sketches as well as color paintings, because you might be able to do B&W interior art for chapter books in addition to picture books.

* Movement - Dancing, swinging, playground games - nothing is worse than "static" looking pictures. Even a simple portrait should have some movement - a leaf skittering by, a swing in the hair, gleam in the eye and sass in the way the subject is posed. You get the idea.

* Character Transitions In other words, multiple images that are part of a set with the same character doing different things.

* Actual Spreads If you haven't actually illustrated any children's books, you might consider doing a scene or two from a famous old fairy tale.

Again, a picture book isn't just 32 snapshots of random pretty images. Art directors and editors need to be able to tell that you can tell a whole story with no words, and follow a character and narrative thread through from the beginning of a book to the end.

Format: I think that aspiring children's book illustrators should have a clean, attractive, well-designed website that showcases their work. The illustrations have to be easy to find and link to directly.  You should also have a good-quality paper versions of your pieces to show people. Though the web will get used more, you just never know when you'll need that old-fashioned paper!

If I were you, I'd also have postcards made of some favorite pieces, including your name, contact info, website, and agents info if applicable, for you to leave with people. Your agent, once you have one, may have specific requests in terms of style, formatting or wording for your cards.

Any other tips to add?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Interview with Meeeee!

Hey all, in case you are in the mood for more Question Askin' Fun (or "QAF" as we call it in the biz), there is an interactive interview with me up on the Mother. Write. (Repeat.) Blog.  Have fun! 

On Rejection, part 2

I've been getting an unusual number of responses to rejections lately. "But I've done everything right, WHY don't you want it?" etc. 

This sort of question is basically forcing me to be rude to you. I either have to delete it with no response, or I have to give you an answer that you are not going to like. Probably "Because I don't like it." or "Because it isn't well-written." or "Because it is OK, but not good enough."  To be more polite would just be reiterating my original polite rejection.  And who cares what I think, anyway, if I don't like it, find somebody who does!

If you've sent one of these plaintive emails, I am sorry, but I just have to delete. 

And here is my lengthier post from earlier in the year on the very subject of rejection.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Big Ol' Genre Glossary

Q: Genre - it gets confusing.
Should I be labeling my work 'urban fiction', 'paranormal thriller', 'paranormal mystery'? I've read a few agent blogs where they mention not labeling it the correct genre gets a query the ol' form rejection.

How do we make sure we're getting it right?

I know it can seem daunting, but these words do actually all mean something specific. If I were you, I'd spend some time in the bookstore and figure out where your book really fits in. Meantime here's a glossary - keep in mind that these labels might mean slightly different things to different people, and some work is crossover, and some of the differences are made by marketing alone. Like, the difference between Historical Fiction and Historical Romance can be as simple as the color of the book jacket. So just get it as close as you can and then don't worry about it anymore.

"Genre" is a further classification beyond category. If I were to use a Biology class analogy (bear with me, I had to go to summer school for Biology) I'd say that in the taxonomic hierarchy Kingdom-Phylum-Class-Species, "Kingdom" is book, "Phylum" is format of book (electronic, hardbound, paperback), "Class" is category (YA, fiction, etc), "Order" is big-genre, "Species" is sub-genre. (And yes, there are even-more-specific sub-subgenres, but you don't need to get into that unless you are hardcore.)


DYSTOPIAN - These books are concerned with an end-of-the-world, or life-as-we-don't-know-it post-apocalyptic scenario. There might be mutants or bizarro creatures, but the stars are always humans struggling to survive in a terrible future-earth. Dystopian (aka "dystopic", which sounds terrible to me so I never say it) can have romance, but it doesn't have to. IF your book is NOT about a bleak futurescape, it is NOT DYSTOPIAN.

FANTASY is set in a different world from our own (sometimes VERY different) and the weirdness there is generally MAGIC, and creatures are MAGICAL. This world can certainly be earth, but it will be an earth that operates under different rules than earth and society as we understand it now, or set in a community on earth that "normals" can't see. (Hogwarts or Xanth, for example). Wizards & Witches are generally considered creatures of Fantasy, though they are human/humanoid, because they have magic. Fantasy can definitely be funny and fun, and romantic too!

HIGH FANTASY is usually set in a TOTALLY different world, and very often involves quests, swords, and people with unusually strange and strangely punctuated names. There is often a serious or "legendary" tone to High Fantasy. Lord of the Rings, for example, is High Fantasy.

HORROR Is your story scary? REALLY scary? If it was a movie, would there be blood on screen at any time, and would people scream and cover their eyes while watching it? That's horror. Horror can be paranormal or fantasy or realistic or historical.

PARANORMAL means that it is filled with human or humanoid creatures or human-something-shapeshifters in an essentially human or human-esque world, but they have extra SUPER-human abilities or powers. IE, psychics, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, kids who draw things that come to life, ghosts, visions, etc, are all paranormal phenomena. Vampires and Werewolves are arguably mythical creatures and therefore fantasy, but I'd call them paranormal actually, since they are humans that have changed into something else through some set of circumstances, not magic. (PARANORMAL ROMANCE is a little different, see "Romance" section).

Some things are sort of on the border between "paranormal" and "fantasy" - in that case I'd pick the one that you feel is the closest match.

SF/SCIENCE FICTION/SPECULATIVE FICTION- Sometimes confused with Fantasy or Dystopian, but IS NOT THOSE THINGS. SF generally seeks to answer a "what if" question, extrapolating things we know about our world and where future scientific development might go, or what might have happened if something was different in the past. Like, time travel. How would we do that REALLY, not using magic? What if in twenty years there was really a way to travel through time, and it was accessible to even high school students? Stories about space travel, aliens, time travel, faster-than-light travel, alternative history (ie, "What if England had colonized Mars?") fall under the SF banner.

STEAMPUNK Steampunk concerns itself with alternative history, usually in a Victorian (or Victorian-esque) setting where steam power and clockwork are used, but featuring anachronistic technology & fictional machines. So like, if your story has clockwork beetles with razorblade teeth who try to bite you to death onboard the dirigible you've hijacked, but you put on your goggles and spray them with your special Aether Gun... that's steampunk. Jules Verne or HG Wells were the original "steampunk" writers, though I am pretty sure they just called them Stories. There is much popular steampunk - think of LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, or the new (Robert Downey Jr) version of SHERLOCK HOLMES, or Scott Westerfeld's LEVIATHAN, for just a few examples.

URBAN FANTASY is always set in a city, and features um... FANTASY scenarios. For example, faeries that are addicted to drugs and live in the subway system. Or trolls who hang out in clubs and impregnate human chicks. Or whatever. If you haven't written a dark and gritty fantasy set what we would recognize as a human-style city, you haven't written an urban fantasy.


A mystery is by definition... mysterious, and often involves a crime or problem and a "whodunit" question. Mysteries can be either historical, or contemporary; realistic, or fantasy, or even paranormal. Something can be just a mystery, of course, but sometimes a book falls into a subsection of mystery, like one of the following:

COZY Cute mysteries, usually in series. Sometimes there is a theme to the books, like a cat solves the clues, or each book includes crossword puzzles or cookie recipes or similar. Sometimes the main character is a nice older person who lives in a cute town where trouble just seems to follow them around (think Father Dowling, or Jessica Fletcher from MURDER SHE WROTE), though modern cozies often have younger, hipper characters. Cozies may include crime or murder, but there is likely to be little to no bloodshed "onstage" and little to no sex, violence or profanity.

LOCKED DOOR MYSTERY A sleuth is given a set of circumstances that seem impossible - murders have happened in a sealed room, inaccessible to anyone, and the only possible suspects are ruled impossible, etc. Like MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE and similar. These stories are usually historical or just old (see "traditional mystery")

POLICE PROCEDURAL/FORENSIC/LEGAL A species of crime/detective novel that involves... well, POLICE, and how they go about solving a crime or crimes. Sometimes the perpetrator is known at the outset of the story and the book is more about the profiling, dna testing, forensics, and "manhunt". Anything where there is a crotchety old captain who is counting down the days to retirement, and a rookie wise-ass who doesn't want to ride a desk for the rest of his life... well, you get the idea. SUB-SUB-GENRES: If there is a lot of forensic or autopsy type material or a medical examiner at the heart of the story, it is acceptable to call it a "forensic" mystery. If there is a court case at the heart of the story, you can call it a "courtroom drama" or "legal thriller."

THRILLER is a fast-paced story usually with a mystery/crime element that is inherently THRILLING, often involving a hero who must solve a problem, or find clues, generally via adventure, daring, escapes, karate, CIA training, etc. Thrillers can be legal, or forensic, or historical, or true-crime, or actually of these CAN be thrillers, because extremely fast pacing is what really makes a thriller. (Cozies and Traditional Mysteries cannot be thrillers.)

TRADITIONAL MYSTERY like Agatha Christie or similar - a sleuth (Poirot for example, or Maisie Dobbs) who is given a crime and a set of suspects and clues, often with a specific location (train, Italian Villa, girl's school, etc) and a time frame (the end of the train ride, the end of the holiday, the end of school term) in which to solve the crime, and everything is wrapped up neatly at the end (possibly with all the suspects in one room, red herrings discussed, and villain apprehended.) "Traditional" mysteries of this sort do not necessarily have to be historical, but they often are, or they are just literally old books, and were contemporary in the 20's or whenever they were written.

TRUE CRIME This is actually non-fiction but is often shelved next to mysteries in a bookstore. Nonfiction about, well, A TRUE CRIME (duh) - but written in such a fast-paced and compelling manner that it could be fiction itself. Like DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, or the new to paperback DOGTOWN, or HELTER SKELTER.


Here's the thing that separates ROMANCE from all other kinds of fiction: It is literally ABOUT the romance. It doesn't have to be about SEX, mind you -- just romantic relationships. If you took the relationship(s) out of the book, there would be little, if anything, left. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is a romance, because if you took Elizabeth and Darcy and all talk of marriage and love and related machinations out of the book, there would be . . . like three scenes of annoying girls talking about hat trimming. Feh. There are about a million sub-sub-genres of Romance, but I am just going to hit the highlights.

CATEGORY ROMANCE, aka SERIES ROMANCE: These are books often found on supermarket or Target shelves, usually published by Harlequin in the US with a very similar look to them. New books come out in these series monthly. They are generally short and cheap. They might be sweet, they might be Inspirational-Christian-themed, they might be sexy, but whatever they are, it will be VERY clear from the cover, title and description, exactly what you'll be getting.  For example, Harlequin American Romance will generally feature small towns, everyday women, Cowboys and Navy SEALS, and storylines like "surprise baby." Harlequin Medical Romance is about Doctors and Nurses finding love.

If a romance novel is NOT part of one of these types of series, it is often called a "Single Title Romance" -- which means generally longer, more complicated, and less "cookie-cutter-esque" -- and though yes, most popular authors expand their "single titles" into series set in the same family or world, that still doesn't make them "category" or "series" romances... Just trust me on this.

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE: Do I really have to explain this? Romance, set in the here and now, with zero vampires, spaceships, etc.

EROTICA: It's allll about the sexytimes. If your book does not feature A LOT OF SEXYTIMES, it is not erotica.

HISTORICAL, aka REGENCY ROMANCE: Lots of people call all historical romance with ballgowns "Regency Romance" (I am guilty of this myself) -- but if course that is wrong. These books might be set in Victorian times, Edwardian times, Revolutionary War times, etc. And if you are talking to somebody who has WRITTEN a book set in Victorian era, they will probably get irritated if you call it Regency. The fact is, these are all sub-sub-genres of Historical.

True "regency romance" in the classic Georgette Heyer, "inspired by Jane Austen" sense probably doesn't have sex in it. Modern "regency romance" and historicals tend to have lots of steaminess and sexytimes. Personally, I'm just in it for the tempestuous heiresses, ballgowns and banter, and I'm fine with calling ALL of this "Historical" despite the fact that probably actual history had way fewer Hot Crime-Fighting Dukes and way more Hot Cases of Syphilis.

PARANORMAL ROMANCE - Does your story have smoking-hot werewolf sex, or a vampire/human love that defies the boundaries of time and mortality, or a ghost who makes out with his living girfriend in the school locker room, or forbidden incestuous desire discovered while fending off demons? That'd be Paranormal Romance.


If you don't think your book falls into ANY of these categories, but it is fictional... you can just call it fiction.

CHICK LIT This term is so out of fashion at the moment that if your book IS chick-lit, you'd probably be better off finding a different way to describe it. But basically, chick-lit is aspirational, fun, usually comedic and romantic, often a romp, often featuring a girl aged 20-38 and her search for the perfect guy. And perfect shoes. And mis-steps along the way to both. I happen to really like these books, but I think they were overpublished earlier in the decade. If your book could have shopping bags, heels, or a diamond ring on the cover, it is very likely chick lit (or another type of fiction wearing chick-lit clothing.) I would personally prefer to call these stories Romantic Comedies.

HISTORICAL Come on, you know what this is. Historical is stuff set in the past. YES, the 80's count as the past and are historical. YES, that means you are old. Historical can be romance, or fantasy, or mystery, or just fiction.

LITERARY FICTION - A term I hate! How pretentious sounding. And my first definition was very cranky. But it really is a term that people use all the time, no matter how much I personally don't like it. So I will use the words of genius Nova Ren Suma, who says, "Hard to define, but to me litfic has more of a focus on language, often voice—sometimes to the detriment of plot. It's often about HOW the story is told or crafted rather than simply the story, the action, itself."

MAGICAL REALISM Is your story basically realistic, but with one or just a few elements that are gently magical? Like for example, everything is like normal in your big huge family, except when Auntie Rosita makes her special stew, people fall in love, and when Uncle Pedro strums his guitar, watch out, because children start to dance on air... literally! Magical Realism is usually somewhat romantic and has heightened language, and is most associated with authors like Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, though certainly the books/movies CHOCOLAT, LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE and BABETTE'S FEAST are good examples too.

URBAN FICTION Urban Fiction is always realistic or at least semi-realistic fiction, often featuring hot sex, violence, thug life, gang themes, corrupt bajillionaires, gold-digging women, drug use, people doing time, etc. Often there are cars, legs, dice or guns (or some combo) on the covers. If you haven't written a book like this, do not call your book Urban Fiction.

WOMEN'S FICTION Whoa do I hate this term. I think ALL fiction is women's fiction. But this is a real marketing term, and this is the world we live in, sooo... "Women's Fiction" can be translated to mean "Fiction about Middle Class or Wealthy People and their Families and Relationships (and/or obsession with romantics of another era), usually with pastel umbrellas or rainboots or daisies or a hat on a hook or some other cutesy thing on the cover, favored by certain types of book clubs." "UPMARKET WOMEN'S FICTION" is the same thing, but more likely to win an award and/or sell a ton of copies.

I hope that this has made things MORE clear instead of less. If there are genres I am missing, let me know and I will add. If you would like more clarification, I can edit. This is a work in progress.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

To finish, or Not to finish?

Two different questions (that are really the same question) came up on the open thread:
"I know there have been a good number of sales to publishers based on partials. How does this happen? Are agents willing to sign up a client based on a partial only if those pages are truly outstanding?"
"I've attended several writing conventions in the past year and some of the information passed along from agents/publishers re:querying has been dramatically different. On a whim, I pitched my MS to an agent in attendance. She loved it and asked for a partial. Problem was, none of it was written. She said NEVER do that but earlier in the day, another agent said she welcomes it.

So, my question. When do you query? Once complete, or with a partial?"
First of all, here's a quick quiz for Fiction writers (non-fiction is a bit different):

Would any given random editor or agent recognize your name and know the title of at least one of your books without being told, and smile when they thought about it?

Have you written and published any books that have had wide acclaim and great sales and/or won major awards?


IF the answer to any of these questions is Yes, then by all means submit a partial.

In fact, if your sales are good enough or you are famous enough, don't even bother with that, just jot your great idea on a dirty cocktail napkin and call it a day.

If on the other hand you are a debut or barely-published author of fiction, what are you, nuts? You want to play reindeer games? In this economy? Who do you think you are? Do you know how many great FINISHED books we have to look at and sell?


Monday, October 18, 2010

Open Thread, October

Hi guys - once again, a place for you to ask whatever crazy or not-so-crazy agentish questions you might have, make comments, etc. Short answers I'll do in the comments, long answers may merit a blog post. I know some folks are still asking on former open threads, so this way your question and answer won't be buried.

Use responsibly. ;)


Saturday, October 02, 2010

A Little Something About You

I get a variation on this question quite often:
"I've been asked to provide a brief bio, but I have no novel credits... what do I do?!"
First of all, take a deep breath. This is not a trick question, and nobody is going to get mad or look down on you for not having credits. Everyone had to start somewhere. Personally I think NO credits are far better than half-assed ones.

If you write for magazines or newspapers, you need not mention them by name unless they are major national or international publications that there is a good chance I've heard of. You can however generically say that you are a "freelance magazine writer" or similar without getting in to the nitty gritty of a bunch of mags I've never laid eyes on.

NO: I have published short stories in the Bloomington Intelligencer, and recipes in the Lafayette Advertiser, and my quilting group put together a book of riddles and games called THREADING THE NEEDLE WITH FUN! that we had published by and sell at the local farmer's market.

YES: I have published short stories in The New Yorker and Paris Review.

OR: I am a freelance magazine writer.

OR, if you aren't: Don't mention anything.
You don't need to put your educational background unless it directly relates to your work, ie, if you write about wildlife refuges, and you have a degree in Zoology, it is a good thing to mention. As for writing degrees, if you have a masters or higher you might as well mention it, but if you don't, do not fret, nobody cares.

YES: I have an MFA in Writing for Children from Randoma College in Coldweather City.

YES: I am an expert in [book topic] and have [an advanced degree] in [field of study related to book topic]

NO: Anything else.

Keep it short and professional, and don't worry about it too much. This is NOT in lieu of the paragraph describing your book, and the main thing I want to know about is your book, anyway.

"I don't really have any publication history per se but I went to junior college and studied dental hygiene and I write a semi-annual tooth newsletter for my local tooth-enthusiasts forum. I am also a superenthusiastic mommy and I read my kids my stories about HENRY THE SQUIRREL WHO DIDN'T FLOSS and they just love them, so I know that though this is my first foray into the world of children's book writing, my toddlers laugh and laugh at my work, AND they learn a lesson, and I took this to a first grade classroom and read it to THEM and they just loved it too, and everyone will buy a copy!"

"I am a kindergarten teacher and freelance magazine writer in Skokie, Illinois. MY BRILLIANTLY RAD NOVEL ABOUT FIREMEN was inspired by my many years as a volunteer fireman's pole-waxer, and is my debut work of fiction.

Optional add-on: I am currently working on another novel, SOMETHING SOMEWHAT MORE MYSTERIOUS IN SPACE, a thriller about a troupe of mimes on a mission to Mars who must band together when one of their own is turned inside-out by invisible spacemonkeys. A synopsis is available upon request."
Did this make sense or did I muddy the waters even more?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Open Thread, September

It's that time again, kids. Open Thread time!

While I am getting ready for tomorrow's YA EXTRAVAGANZA (are you coming?), this is your chance to ask whatever agentish or bookish questions you like, give commentary, tell me some interesting facts or stories, show cute animal pix, or whatever.

Short answers will be provided in the comments, long answers might find themselves fodder for the blog.

I want to hear from you, so go to it!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Options! Options! Options!

Q: How about getting out of a never-ending option clause? Say you've gone directly to a publisher. Say that publisher keeps putting an option clause in the contract that says they get first look at your next book. Said Publisher refuses to take this clause out, and Little Known Author has very little bargaining power. Is there any way out of this situation? Or is it best to just suck it up, write another book, and query some agents?
This is going to be a long one, I apologize in advance. But it is important, I swear.

Probably not everyone reading this knows what an Option clause is, so a quick definition. The Option clause (frequently just called "option") is part of the contract that essentially says that the publisher has x amount of time to look at the author's next manuscript exclusively.

I try to remove the option from contracts whenever possible. Some publishers insist on keeping it in their contracts. Seems silly to me personally, I mean, I always try to give the current publisher first crack at a next book unless there is a pressing reason not to. It is only polite... and I don't like being contractually obligated to be polite.

I do understand the publisher's perspective. They are making an investment in publishing you, and they want the opportunity to be the ones to grow your career. After all, if they liked your writing enough to buy it the first time, they may well like the next book just as much, publishing more books from you will help the sales of the first one, and why should they spend all this time and effort and money to publish you if you're just going to run away with the next book?  I get it. Don't always agree with it, but I get it.

That said, there are some option clauses that are onerous. The good news is, even if a publisher will not remove the clause, they will often adjust it... and yes, probably even for a small-potatoes author with no agent.  Personally, I do my best to remove the option, and if I can't remove the option, I try to make the terms of the option as narrow as possible.

For example, if you have written a YA novel set in a Victorian Steampunk version of the Old West, you don't want the option to be for the next book of any kind that you write. I might say that the publisher only has an option on "your next work of YA fiction set in Victorian Steampunk Old West" or "YA set in the same world" or "with the same characters." That is fair, I think, as it would naturally make sense and be for the best if the same publisher can publish what could be considered a sequel or companion book to book 1.  But this way, if you write some totally different contemporary YA, or a Middle Grade, or nonfiction, or anything else, you aren't required to give them a brief exclusive (though you still can if you want, and it is probably polite to do so if you have a good relationship with your editor).

I also make sure that the option time limit is as short as possible (30 days is ideal, NOT 90 or 120 days or anything else). And I ask to be able to turn in a proposal/sample chapters, not an entire manuscript. And I make the date I can submit be either anytime, or anytime after delivery of the first book... NOT AFTER PUBLICATION OF THE FIRST BOOK. That could keep you hemmed up for a year or more.

Also, sometimes there are nasty bits of the clause that might say, essentially, "if we make an offer but you go elsewhere, you are not allowed to take less money than we offered you" or maybe "if you turn down our offer or we don't make an offer but somebody else does, you have to come back to us first before accepting any other offer." NO. NO. UNACCEPTABLE. If you've given them an exclusive and they make an offer and you accept it... awesome!  If they decline to make an offer at all, too bad for them.  If they decline to give you the offer that you want to see and won't negotiate, you can say no, and that is the end of it.

One (invented) example of an onerous option (there may be more text or different problems than this):
Publisher shall have the first opportunity to read and consider for publication the Author's next work, for a period of 120 days from receipt of the complete manuscript, such time period not to begin before 60 days from the publication of the Work which is the subject of this agreement. If Author and Publisher cannot agree to terms for publication of said next work, the Author shall be at liberty to negotiate with other publishers, provided that the Publisher be given the option to obtain the rights to next work by matching terms which Author shall have obtained elsewhere.
One (invented) example of a decent option (there may be more text than this, but these are the basics):
Publisher shall have the first opportunity to read and consider for publication either the complete text, synopsis, or specimen chapter from the Author's next realistic YA novel set in the same world as the Work that is the subject of this agreement, for a period of 30 days from receipt of proposal of said next work, on terms to be negotiated. If the Publisher and the Author are unable to agree terms for publication, the Author shall be at liberty to enter into an agreement with another publisher.
So quick recap. You are given a contract with an option clause in it:
You may ask to have this clause removed. If they won't remove it:
* SHORT time limit on option clock (30 days max is ideal)
* Try to specify that you can turn in proposal or sample, not completed ms. & narrow down the type of book that is covered.
* Time limit starts whenever you turn in proposal, or if not, within x time after DELIVERY of first book, not publication
* If they say no, or the option clock runs out, your obligation is complete.
Remember - if you've done your best to create a good next book or proposal, and you've given your current publisher a decent crack at it according to the rules and spirit of the contract, you are done. If they take too long, you are allowed to go elsewhere. If they give you a terrible offer, you are allowed to say no. Just because you have an option doesn't mean you are REQUIRED accept any offer.

And if all this is too late for you, or you don't know what I am talking about and all this stuff gives you a splitting headache... it's probably a good idea for you to write another book and query some agents.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

To Multi-book, or Not to Multi-book

Q: What about two-book deals? How finished does a sequel or tie-in need to be and how likely is it that a debut author can get one?
There are great reasons to sell a book in a two-book or multi-book deal:

* You get a guaranteed next book for the same amount of money, even if the first book just does "meh".

* You get more time for the publisher to "build" you -- if they've made an investment of time and money, they are expressing faith in your future and longevity, and the hope and expectation is that they will try to make sure that you do well enough for them to make some dough, at least.

* There is a sense of security that comes with knowing that this book is sold already. Some authors thrive with this knowledge. And some authors work best under a deadline.

There are great reasons NOT to go for a multi-book deal:

* You are locked in to having sold the second book for the same amount of money, even if the first book does phenomenally well. You may deserve a lot more money for book two, but the book is already sold.

* If you don't get along with the publisher, or don't agree with how they are handling your career, or think the book is being published badly... you are stuck for another book, with an potentially expensive and hassle-filled nightmare if you want to get out of the contract.

* There is a sense of excitement and freedom knowing that you don't have a contract for the next book. You could do anything you want! Some authors work better if they "stay hungry" and free in this fashion. And some authors panic under a deadline.

Maybe half of the deals I make are multi-book deals, and many of my debut novelists sold in a multibook deal. Sometimes these are series or sequels, though just as often book 2 is an entirely new book.  Whether we go in the multi-book direction depends on the author, the book, the desire of the publisher, if the book lends itself to a series or sequel, if there is competition, etc.

The good news is, the most I've ever had at this stage is a paragraph or brief synopsis describing what book 2 might be. In some cases, in fact, I have had absolutely nothing, but the publisher was ready to make a commitment to the author even without an idea for book 2.

As in so many aspects of this business, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. This is something to discuss with your agent or editor when the time comes.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Secret Ingredient is ELF

@DelilahSDawson Note to self: When you change the char's name from Tom to Jimbo with a blanket Find & Replace, you get a lot of Jimboomorrow.
That tweet from Delilah made me remember a story I meant to tell you guys!

So one of my clients wrote a manuscript. At a certain point, he decided that the "trolls" in the book should really be "elves"... and the use of Word's "Find & Replace" feature created some hi-larious mistakes.

Characters found themselves "selfing around" instead of strolling.  Trolleycars because "Elfeycars". A plate of sweetrolls became "sweeelves" - and you need a lotta coffee to wash those bad boys down, believe me.

These mistakes did not get caught until the book was almost printed, because, though they were all changed in the first pass, there was a mix-up with the versions. Whoopsie! So if it wasn't for some late-breaking intervention, there was a very real possibility that you'd have been trying to work out a good recipe for sweeelves while reading this book.

The point I am making might sound silly, but it can't be repeated often enough: Those little shortcuts and conveniences the computer lets you take with your manuscript can be handy and great, but you'd better not take for granted that they've worked properly. And when you think you are done re-reading, try taking a break, and re-reading again.

ETA: My sister sent me this episode of Radiolab- the first segment discusses innocent copyediting errors that lead to bigger unexpected problems. (Funny... but not for the person who loses their job over it)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Link & Small News Roundup

Welcome to Friday Five, evening edition!  HOW did this week go by so quickly?

1) The dog is now called Moxie.  It's a lot easier to say than Macadamia was. And easier to yell, which is good, since she has learned to take flying leaps onto my desk.  (Her formal name is Edith Macadamia Bouvier, if you must know, but Moxie will do for short.)

2) Last week (ish) my client Kate Messner wrote a terrific guest post on a blog about how she finds the time to write. And people? If don't believe that it can happen for you, if you think dealing with your job or your kids is too exhausting and you'll never be able to do all that AND write a book... you should definitely look to Kate as an example. She is a 7th grade teacher, a mom of two, and I just sold her twelfth book. If she can do it, you can do it.

3) But maybe–just maybe–you don't really want to do it. John "not my client" Scalzi has a terrific post up called Find the Time, or Don't.  To paraphrase, if you really wanted to be a writer, you'd find the time to write.  If you DON'T find the time to write... that's fine. Don't be a writer. No biggie, right?

4) All this shop talk making you hungry? Have some lemon pudding cake.  Nommity nom!  Now I have a ton of reading to do and can't stand around in the kitchen, so who is gonna bake it for me? 

5) This video made me crack up. But it contains salty language. You've been warned. "What is wrong with books?"

!!!!!!! [BESTIE x BESTIE  1] !!!!!!! from Dean Fleischer-Camp on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Breaking Waves anthology

The BREAKING WAVES e-anthology is here!  Fiction, poetry, essays, and fabulousness!

This anthology is co-edited by my client Tiffany Trent and features work by both Tiffany and another client, Patrick Samphire, as well as Hugo & Nebula award winners & luminaries like Ursula K. LeGuin. Wow! Most importantly, though, all profits from BREAKING WAVES go to support ongoing clean-up efforts in the Gulf. 

Fans of Tiffany's HALLOWMERE series should note that there's a special Hallowmere story in the antho that you will not find anywhere else.  Download it!

Monday, September 13, 2010


So, if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you've no doubt noticed that as of yesterday, there has been a new addition to the household. Meet the extra-adorable MACADAMIA!

I didn't give her that name, she came with it. Though the vet wrote "MACEDONIA" on her paperwork. I am thinking that she'll need to be something a little easier to call soon, probably "Maggie".  She is about two years old, very sweet-tempered, doesn't spook, is good with other dogs and people, is busting with personality AND is housebroken. (She doesn't really come when she's called... but that is mostly because she doesn't really have a name yet!)

The thing is... Macadamia-or-whatever-her-name-is, is a foster dog. The rescue organization I am working with saves dogs like her from being destroyed in high-kill shelters in Georgia, gives them vet treatments and finds them nice adoptive families in NY. That means that she is only with me till she finds her "forever home" somewhere.

If you are in NY and in the market for a pup, take a look at Perfect Pets Rescue.  They are nice folks, and very nice dogs. Maybe you can foster!  Or you can adopt... maybe you'll even be a home for cute little whats-her-face!  :-)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Frontlist, Backlist, Midlist

Let's talk about a dirty word.

MIDLIST. Some published authors seem to be quite worried about being called "midlist". But kids, I've got news. Almost everyone is "midlist", unless you are super of-the-moment and hot, or famous and old. I think it's time for a vocab lesson.

Frontlist: Booksellers and publishers use the term "frontlist" to describe all the brand-new books this season, the books that are in the catalogue but have never been in the store before. These titles have no sales history yet, and everyone is very excited about them because they are NEW and SHINY and ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!  (Yes, if an old title is reissued in a brand-new format, it is frontlist again).

Once books stop being imaginary and/or brand-spanking-new, they are no longer frontlist and they will start getting returned if they aren't selling. For grownup books, this is about an eight week window. Kids and teen books have a bit more time, generally until the next season's books come in, so four to six months, or maybe even up to a year if there is room on the shelf.

Backlist: Booksellers and publishers use the term "backlist" to describe the books that have been out for a while, the paperbacks, the perennials. Books that are no longer frontlist become backlist or go out of print. Titles that have earned out, and that sell for years after they've come out, or for lifetimes, or even for millenia, stay backlist. Flashy NYT bestsellers or trends be damned, backlist is where the consistent money is. A deep backlist allows publishers to survive. You might hear an editor say something like "this will backlist well" -- they mean that this is a title that may not do amazing numbers, but that they expect it to stay in print and sell steadily for many years to come. This is a very good thing.

"Midlist": This isn't really a term that booksellers traditionally use in the same way as frontlist or backlist. It is instead most often a pejorative, probably first used by a smart-ass, meant to sound like those terms, but really it just means "not hot", "meh", "Johnny Average."

I think this is something authors ought to reclaim. Look, unless you are superfamous and dead (Hemingway, Poe, Faulkner) or superfamous and filthy rich (Patterson, King, Rowling) or people who read the New Yorker and wear ironic glasses talk about your ass (Gladwell, Foer, Franzen), or you are on the NYT bestseller list right now or soon (Steifvater, Clare, Hopkins, Marr) ... YOU ARE PROBABLY "MIDLIST".  Yes, you!  AND YOU!

And yes, that probably means your book.  Get over it.  It shouldn't be an insult.  It means you are normal. You haven't hit the bigtime, nor are your books being read by generations of schoolchildren, nor do people in other countries, or even other counties, know your name... and that's OK.  It's Normal. Normal. Normal is not bad.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hudson Valley YA Society

Are you a YA writer or YA lit lover who lives in the Hudson Valley?  I'm starting a literary salon that you should be a part of.  This means teens, teachers, librarians, booksellers, writers and just readers of all ages who love Young Adult books.

We'll have monthly (or so) get-togethers, featuring an author event followed by general revelry, drinks, shenanigans, book discussions, book swaps, etc.

The Society's first "meeting" will be Sunday, September 26, 4pm at Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck.

Cecil Castellucci, Siobhan Vivian and Natalie Standiford will be reading and signing books at their event at the bookstore at 4pm, followed by revelry at a location to be decided.  Possibly still the bookstore. Possibly elsewhere.  Sort of depends how many people show up and how thirsty we all are.

I will have heaps of giveaways including loads of advance reading copies, and there will be mini-cupcakes.  :-)  So if you are a YA lit enthusiast, drop me a line, RSVP on facebook, join the fun.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Editors Do the Darndest Things

From comments: "I'm still waiting for an agent to blog or tweet about something an editor did that annoyed them. I guess either editors are perfect or all those snarky agents who dare to tell it like it is find it a little harder to tell it like it is when the power balance is shifted."
Yep, you nailed it, editors are perfect!  I love them, no matter what.*

Even when they take months... and months... to read a short picture book.  No problem! That's fine, take your time.

Or when they disappear after expressing interest in a manuscript. Yep.  Just... disappear rather than give a concrete "on second thought, not for me" or any sort of closure. I don't blame them, after all, it's hard to say no.

Same holds true when they take forever to write a rejection letter made of fluffy nothing.

Or when they woo relentlessly before they buy the book, declaring mad love for the author and their work... but then as soon as the vows are said and the ink is dry on the contract, passion seems to turn into business-as-usual, communication dries up, and, and, and...sorry, I just had a bit of a post-traumatic stress flashback.

OK, I guess I don't really love them all all the time.

But they do generally have good manners and do not pee on the rugs.  And you have to admit, they are pretty cute.  Awww...

* In all seriousness... the good that most editors do to help authors and advocate for books they love far outweighs my small annoyances about the process.  And I fully realize that some of these same grievances could be levelled against most agents from time to time.  I am just gently poking fun, and not at anyone in particular.  So authors, don't take this as a post about How Editors Are Evil. They aren't. Well... the ones I know aren't, anyway!

Saturday, August 28, 2010


The question has come up on Nathan's blog, and elsewhere... How do you feel about things like SlushPile Hell and #queryfail and all the other myriad spots on the web where agents snarkily take a piece out of authors?

I admit, I've got a big problem with this stuff. Not because I am not a fan of quick wit... goodness knows I am!  And it isn't because I'm too noble to have a laugh at truly nutso queries. My issue is, I cannot even fathom having the time or energy or desire to keep a bad query in my line of sight for long enough to formulate a tweet or a tumblr about it.  I mean really.  Bad queries are the LAST thing I want to dwell on.

Personally, I don't get the real-time blogging or tweeting of rejections, either. Fans say it is "educational", and I guess it could be, but  a) How can the author NOT know it is them, when the tweet comes directly after the rejection? and b) How do the agents even do it? I tried to just write down for myself why I rejected 30 queries in a row - and for the vast majority, it was because I DIDN'T LIKE THEM ENOUGH. Not too helpful, and why should I spend more time thinking about them?  It's a puzzler.  (I do get this kind of thing if it is something the author has signed up for, like Query Shark, for example - that is a different story, the authors know what they are signing up for, the feedback is sharp but useful, and the shark should get hazard pay.)

So rest assured that, though I may privately (quietly) chuckle, I'm not going to laugh to your face, and I'm not going to post your queries on my blog (unless there is some oddball situation in which I must, and then I'll have gotten your permission). *

Now that THAT'S clear...

* I do reserve the right to tweet in very general terms if I am seeing a multitude of the same mistakes happening a lot in one day, however... but not direct quotes!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How Many is Too Many?

Anonymous Comment: you have 24 authors already, and you're opening your email for more?? are you planning on never sleeping again?
Keep in mind, Anonymous, though I don't think that it affected my clients negatively in any way, or that they experienced any lag in communication from me because of it, I have essentially been a part-time agent for the past three years. I've had a "day job" the whole time. Now that day job is gone. Though I am still helping out a few hours here and there at a bookstore, it is for fun, just because I like it and would miss it if I stopped.

The problem with answering the question "how many clients do you have?" is, if I say a number that seems low to you, you'll think I'm not popular. If I say a number that seems too high, you'll think I don't have time. But what is normal, or average? I think that most well-established agents have many more clients than I do.

But not all those clients are active at any given time!  Let's break it down. Right now my clients are:

Writing or revising a contracted book.  5
Writing or revising a book that has not sold yet. 4
Taking a "life break".  2
Incommunicado until they come out of their hidey-holes, barring perhaps one monthly email.
On submission, waiting to hear from editors.  4
Turned in option book, waiting to hear from editor. 1
Occasional email or quick phone call touch base / nudges / questions
Sold, waiting for contracts or edits. 1
Has interest, waiting for offer. 3
Waiting game with sporadic flurrys of activity till they go code red
New Book from Client / Waiting to submit (I'm not submitting anything new during August).  4
Reading, crafting submission lists, writing letters, worrying, editing, thinking about, till projects are in editors hands and it goes to code green. 
Actively negotiating contract.  1  
Daily emails and phone calls, lots of activity for short period of time, until it goes back to code gold.

Some, of course, fall a bit into more than one category.  They are all important to me, but there is nothing I can give to Code Blue-ers right now, and percentage-wise, they are in the majority. Code Green and Gold are on the radar, but there is not a great deal to do there either besides be available if there are questions, nudge the editors, send updates, and be ready for them to go red. Code Pink and Code Red are the most active, but as you can see, they are also the least amount percentage-wise.

Aside from the immediate concerns of clients, negotiating specific contracts, etc, much of my time is spent reading, doing research and getting to know editors - which I do for all my clients, and would be the same if I had three or three hundred.

Of course, this answer is personal to me, I in no way want to imply that this is "right" or that agents who have many more or fewer clients than I do are "wrong."  I just know how my own time-management breakdown works.  The long and the short of it is, personally, I've only signed one new author this year and I have time for a few more. Not a LOT more - but a few more. Now I just have to find them.  :-)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Lots of new stuff on the life front. My insane roadtrip (11 states in 7 days) ended and my stint in New York began. When I first got here, I was suffering from general exhaustion and freaked-out-edness. I suddenly found myself in the countryside and I was scared of... I don't know. Ghosts? Wild animals? Basically I'd never slept someplace simultaneously so quiet and SO LOUD. 

But now I'm used to sleeping in what sounds like the ancient rain forest, and I've met some new friends, and gone to the county fair, and started working a couple days a week at a very cute bookstore (which is a great way to get to know the neighborhood as well as keep myself in the mix about new books)... well, let's just say it's been quite a week.

Now that I have my internet set up, and a table that doubles as a desk, I am ready to get back to work. There are about a thousand unread emails to catch up on, and some client books to read. But here's a secret: I have more time on my hands here, and I gotta pay for this place somehow. So I am definitely looking to take on a few new clients. Have something awesome?  QUERY ME! 

And I need to get back in the swing of the blog, too, so if you have questions I can answer, feel free to fire them at me in the comments. If it is a short answer, I'll reply in comments, and if something warrants a long reply, I will blog it. 

Hope everyone else is having a productive and exciting end-of-summer!  Wheeee!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

On the Road

As many of you know, I am moving to New York for a while, which means I've packed up all my stuff and am driving cross-country this week. (Currently in Wyoming!) I'm having fun, but it is exhausting, and I am definitely not going to be coming up with any new content here for a while. :-)

If you'd like to follow me on the road, I am posting occassional pictures and fun stuff on twitter at #roadtrip10

Otherwise, I do have my phone and can check internet occassionally, so if it is urgent, by all means contact me -- but if it can wait, that would be good. I should arrive by 8/20, be settling in to my New York digs by 8/23, and back in the swing of things for real by September.

Thanks for your patience!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Public Service Announcement, or, How to Insult Your Local Independent Bookstore

If you are an author and you only link to A**zon on your website, booksellers will hate you. Really.

If you go to a store, get a bunch of book recommendations and then go buy them online?  You might as well walk up to the manager, slap her, and tell her that you hope her store closes. Yeah. That's how big a jerk you are.

If you go to a booksigning at your local independent bookstore, and you don't buy a book?  YOU ARE ROBBING THEM.

If you are an author yourself, set a good example for crying out loud. Shop at bricks-and-mortar bookstores and link to indiebound or an indie store on your website. When you try to befriend booksellers, a good way to do it is by actually buying the books they recommend. When you go to "support a friend" at a signing, try actually being supportive by BUYING A BOOK.

Thank you.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

In the Spotlight

Ever wanted to know every single thing about me ever?

Check out this astonishingly thorough "Agent Spotlight" on Casey McCormick's Literary Rambles blog.  Literary Rambles looks like a terrific resource for agently research, so if you are on the hunt for representation, bookmark it!  (But never forget to visit the agents own website as well, just to make sure all the info you gather is up-to-date.)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

How to be an Agent, or, You Want a Piece of This?

Being an agent isn't all about reading books and knocking back bon-bon martinis, despite how Twitter might make it look.  I keep getting asked for career advice from would-be agents.

Oh, I have some advice:
  1. Finish school. Doesn't matter in what, but try something useful, like an advanced degree in business, medicine, engineering or law.
  2. Get a job that pays well so your mom can brag about you rather than having to loan you money.

Well, internal critic, I prefer to think of it as being realistic. But fine.

In all seriousness, these are some of the qualifications to get in the door, in no particular order:

* Must be extremely confident and outgoing (or at least able to present as such)
* Must be good at negotiation and arguing
* Must have a head for business
* Must be detail-oriented, tough, practical, no-nonsense, and ambitious.
* Must be able to deliver, and take, a crushing amount of rejection.
* Must be a book expert, have tons of market-savvy
* Must know A LOT about the ins-and-outs of publishing
* Must be able to read and understand a contract
* Must have good connections
* Must be willing to work for free

These are nearly all qualities that are easiest to get by having a career in another branch of publishing first. This is why many agents are editors, publisher rights managers, booksellers or buyers before joining agencies.

This is an apprentice business. There are no classes, there is no certification. The best way to learn to do it is by doing it, and pretty much the only way you are going to get to do that is by interning/working for an existing agency. Generally for free. Then it helps enormously if you continue being mentored by those agents when you are ready to start taking your own clients.

Should you start your OWN agency?  Probably not. If you don't have a name that will open doors yourself, you'd best work for an agency whose name and reputation will help you get those valuable connections. If you are not an expert in the areas of contract law, subrights and similar, you had better be part of an agency that has experts on the roster. Sure, anyone can theoretically just call themselves an agent, but you'll be in for a big, nasty surprise if you think you can bluff your way through with nothing to back you up.

Best case scenario, even if you join an awesome agency, build up an amazing list of clients and start selling right away, it is extremely unlikely that you will be able to earn enough consistent money to live properly until your books are published, earn out and start earning royalties - in other words, for about 5 years. The less experience you have in the publishing world to start out with, the longer you will have to intern, and the more difficult you will find the beginning of your career.

So if you're serious, start here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Celebrity Effect

One of my pals on Facebook posted a story about how Pope Benedict is writing a children's book. This inspired lots of anti-celebrity writer comments (and some Catholic-bashing ones for good measure). 

This happens on forums every time a celeb children's book is announced.  "Real" kids book writers tend to get het up about it, whether the celeb in question is a sports star, pop singer, or in this case, pontiff.  "How dare they! They  should stick to what they are good at and leave children's book writing to people who really care about children and the art of writing books!"  Then come the insults about that celebs suitability as a role model, alleged scandals, questionable morality, looks and lack of intellect.

I understand some of the ire, particularly when the celebrity in question says something dumb like "there just weren't any good kids books out there, so I had to write one!" ... but I guess I can't get too worked up about it.

a) How do we know that celeb isn't an awesome writer? Don't get me wrong, I have my doubts, but still. I'd be bummed if somebody said I couldn't or shouldn't write a book because I have a totally different day job.  Wouldn't you?

b) Yay for selling books! The buyers for celebrity books are probably not people who buy a ton of kids books anyway, but who knows, maybe this will bring them into a store to buy something else as well. Or maybe the kid who gets that book will love it and want more books. Goodness knows, I loved the Berenstain Bears when I was a kid, and you'd be hard-pressed to find something more didactic that THAT - but my love of those dumb bears turned into a love of books, which got me to keep reading.

c) If it sells well, that publisher will have more dough with which to buy books from debut and non-celeb authors.  A rich publisher is a happy publisher.

And insulting Catholics or priests, or pop-music fans or singers, or sports enthusiasts or players, because they have an interest in these books? Poorly done. Look, many millions of people are Catholic and wonderful, many hundreds of thousands of priests work their whole lives to help children, not hurt them, and many if not most of those people care about what the pope has to say. Many millions of people are Madonna fans and wonderful, and Madonna seems to care deeply about children and their issues. Many millions of people love Michael Phelps, and he is a role model and hero for many many children.

We can assume that these people are probably not evil people. Sure, many celebs are suddenly in the writing business for some cash, just like some start perfumes or clothing lines when you know they aren't exactly chemists or designers. So what?

That means that somebody out there thinks that many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of consumers, will be interested in what that person has to say.  So maybe instead of thinking of these books as "books" the same way that your books are, think of them as merchandise.

If you don't like the pope, or Madonna, or Michael Phelps, or any celebrity, you are quite free not to purchase their merchandise, whether that be books, or perfume, or leggings.

Insulting these public figures and their fans is not actually helping you, or advancing your own career or writing in any way.  Their book being published isn't taking away your chance to be published. They are not taking away "your slot" -- that slot is the "celebrity merchandise" slot, you probably aren't a celebrity, that slot wasn't going to be filled by you anyway.

So take a spoonful of sugar, and make your book as great as it can be, so that you have a shot at one of the slots you DO have a chance to fill.

And if you are a celebrity, or God's Voice on Earth, and you happen to be reading this?

Call me.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Open Thread

I keep seeing people on Twitter use this thing "Formspring." Which apparently allows anonymous people to ask whatever questions they want, and then you answer them. It seems to me there are lots of places on the internet for such things... but whatever.

Since I don't have room for another social media site in my brain, and answering questions is sort of the point of this blog, I decided to make this my Mini-Formspring section. So, anonymous or not, feel free to ASK QUESTIONS, and I will answer either in comments (if it is a short answer) or in a  post (if it is a long answer).  You may also feel free to just randomly make a comment, tell me a joke, put a picture of kitty cats, or whatever.  Comments are moderated for spam control, but anonymous comments are fine.

Andddd...  GO!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mythbusting 101

At last week's conference, I got manymany questions referring to publishing myths as if they were truths. Many of these were mentioned multiple times. Always they were brought up by smart-seeming people speaking in earnest tones. Here, once and for all, let us destroy these lies with scorching truth-beams!

LIES: and then the truth
You can't get an agent unless you are published:  Fully half of my clients are (or were) debut authors when I signed them up.

You can't get published unless you have an agent: Plenty of people get first book deals without agents. Some people even have whole writing careers without agents and do just fine. (Though to be fair, this is generally not recommended - these folks usually have serious Type-A personalities, are highly organized and business minded, love to do research, and are control-freaks and extremely confident extroverts... a rare combo for writers, in my experience) 

You can't get published, or get an agent, unless you know somebody: As far as I know, all of my debut author clients came to me with absolutely zero connections in the publishing world. 

You can't get published, or get an agent, unless you live in New York City: None of my clients live in NYC. 

You need an agent who lives in NYC: There are great agents all over the country... even in California. You need an agent with a track record, or a newbie with a well-respected agency behind them, who has connections with publishers. Where they live doesn't matter. 

You shouldn't send your work to anyone, cause they will steal your ideas: Trust me, we don't want your ideas. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Making something great out of them is the hard part! 

Don't query during the summer, nobody works in publishing during summer; don't query in the winter, nobody works in publishing in the winter:  The fact is, most agents and editors have to work year round, just like everybody else. We also often take a vacation for a couple weeks sometime during the summer and around the Christmas/New Year holidays... just like everybody else. And yes, this means sales slow down a bit. But that doesn't mean that you can't query! In fact, many agents use this time to play catch up. I have both signed clients and sold books during the supposed summer/winter doldrums.

Once you get an agent, you are 100% set. Get ready for easy street!:  Sorry, having an agent does not mean that your book will sell. Nor does it mean that your work is done.

A huge publisher is better than a small one:  Depends on the kind of book you've written. Some books and authors would get lost at a big publisher but thrive at smaller one. Large publishers might have more money, but small publishers might take risks that big publishers are too bureaucracy-ridden to take. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, and neither one is inherently "better" than the other.

Editors don't edit anymore: They really do, poor things. Though there are fewer people to do more work than ever, and they have to go to plenty of meetings during the day, all the editors I know really do still edit. Often not during office hours.

Agents don't even read the slush, they just send form rejects:  Oh but you are wrong. Yes, we reject quickly. Think about it this way: I don't need to listen to a whole concert to know that the orchestra is out of tune. 

If you get a big advance, and your book does badly, you have to pay the publisher back:  Nope. The advance is yours to keep, unless you are in breach of contract somehow. But your publisher may well be leery of taking another risk on you if they lose a lot of money the first time around.

Picture books are easy to write. OR, YA writing is fine, but eventually you should "graduate" to writing grown-up books.  Errr... screw you.

Once you get that contract, your life will change for the better. (aka: Publishing means fame and fortune!): Selling your book is probably not going to change your fortunes very dramatically. The VAST majority of authors do not make enough money on a single contract, or even several, to give up their day job. A contract is neither medicine, nor magic. It can't transform a generally unhappy person into a cockeyed optimist, it can't solve all your problems, it won't make you more popular or prettier. Sorry.

WHEW. That was fun. Any other myths for me to bust? 

Saturday, July 17, 2010


As I mentioned in the last post, my secret shame is that I ran out of books while at the week-long conference, and ended up reading terrible romance novels that I found in the bathroom of the rental cottage.  By popular demand, a book review!

 SILKEN SAVAGE: Tanya and her gal-pals get kidnapped by a bunch of Cheyenne brutes, who savagely molest, abuse and brand them as slaves. Tanya's captor is the awesomely named (and comparably progressive) A-Panther-Stalks, who wants to "gentle her" like a wild pony, so she will be his willing slave. Tanya is fine with that. She is also stone bitch who doesn't lift a finger to help her friends, or even seem to think about them at all, even though they are being raped and beaten half to death in the tipi next door. Guess she is too busy Panther-Stalking.

She becomes A-Panther-Stalks' wife/slave, and at a certain point, the clan leader "Kettle-Black" or something says that she has to do a series of tests to prove herself as a brave or... actually, I don't really know what happened at all, it just turned into gibberish.

Takeaway: Seems extremely easy to master the Cheyenne language and folkways, since Tanya the idiot (with Mane of Lioness) managed it in less than a week. Unclear who is the titular 'savage'.  Rating: Zero headdress-feathers.

Home agaiZzzzzz

I had such a great time hanging out with the folks at the Oregon Coast Children's Book Writer's Workshop this past week!  So many thanks to conference chieftan and master chef David Greenberg and his amazing wife Susan for their warmth and awesome organization skills, to the faculty for being so terrifically smart and funny (especially my roommate April Henry, WHO I LOVE SO MUCH) --  and of course to the WRITERS, who were brave enough to 'put it out there' all week.  Plus I got to see my client LK Madigan (yayyy!) and even go to bookstore mecca Powells.

But of course, the main event was the week at the coast. This is the view from the conference center -- not too shabby:

And hey, here's a little fellow who I met this morning in our yard:

There was much in the way of nature, as you can see. Including whales, porcupines, baby and mama deers, etc. (Not to mention all the wild writers...)  There was also no phone and very little internet, and I ran out of books at a certain point, which was perhaps the scariest thing of all.  Let's just say, if you've never been stuck in a vacation cottage with nothing to read but a bunch of really terrible racist romance novels* and decade-old Readers Digests, you haven't lived. 

Now I back in California and have a backlog of about a jillion emails to catch up with. If you feel that I owe you a response about something, please don't hesitate to remind me, I don't want anything to slip through the cracks.

* review to follow

Friday, July 09, 2010

Conference Time is here!

I'm prepping for a week-long conference that I am leaving for tomorrow. I have to give two speeches at this conference. Naturally I plan to subvert the topics. As I gather my notes, I give you, the loyal blogreader, a sneak preview.  Anything that I am forgetting to talk about?  Remind me in the comments, please!

Alleged Topic: State of the Industry: I will discuss "what's hot and what's not", featuring an overview of some titles that are hugely popular right now at the bookstore level and what makes them so, along with what I am seeing as trends in the slush pile. Also discussed: Which categories are selling well and which are flat, and how writers can make their work stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Real Topic: MOAR AWESOME! Quick dismissal of "what's hot and what's not" concept. Discussion about why thinking about trends is such a waste of time. Bitter complaints about how 95% of my slush pile is exactly the same as everything else. Encouragement of authors to follow their own star and MAKE trends; examples of why they are much more likely to be "hot" that way.

Bonus: Vampire jokes, curse words.


Alleged Topic: Pitch Perfect In this session, I will read and discuss samples of actual  queries that have caught my attention in slush, and then gone on to become books.  I'll explain what works, and what doesn't, and will reveal my own 'secret formula'  for a great pitch.   Attendees will be welcome to ask questions and get involved.

Real Topic: CHILLAX & TELL ME WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT!   Why you shouldn't worry about how to pitch the book until you have a book to pitch. Why conversations about just about anything else are usually more interesting and useful than your pitch. Why most query letters suck. How to not suck.  Also, Bookstore Handselling 101.

Bonus: two words.  MAD LIBS!

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Great Big All-You-Can-Stand Super-Self-Promotion Post, part 1

So you have a book coming out. Congrats!

I'll assume for the sake of this post that you are like most authors. You got a Just OK, Pretty Good or even Fairly Great advance, but you are by no means taking gold coin baths. Your publisher may be big and imposing, or teensy and quiet, but either way they are very busy and they don't seem to have much time for little old you. 

You might be feeling somewhat useless. Strangers in NYC are tinkering with your baby and you have no control over it. You want a way to do something (anything!) useful, but you don't know what, or how, or where to start. Well... I am by no means a publicist, but I do have some tips that are not hugely difficult (and may even be plain old common sense!) but that I hope will help you:

1) WRITE YOUR NEXT BOOK. Seriously. I know it doesn't SEEM like obvious marketing advice, but this is truly the most important thing you can do for yourself. If your first book comes out to a lukewarm reception or does poorly, you will need something fantastic to follow up with.  If your first book comes out and is a smash hit, your time will become even more precious than it already is. In any case, nerves, self-doubt and exhaustion may well start playing havoc with your writing once you have that first deal. It will help if you are working diligently on a new project whenever you can, so you either have it ready when you need it or at least have something else to focus on besides your own neuroses. (And let's face it, you're a writer, you probably have neuroses aplenty.)

2) WEBSITE. In my opinion, there is NO excuse for not having a website. Whether it is something flashy that cost a ton to set up, or something simple that you made yourself using free software, or anything in between... you have to have something. Preferably something that is clean, professional, has your and your agents info, has your book info (including links to buy your books, and isbns, and reviews/blurbs/contests/excerpts etc...).  This doesn't have to be the fanciest site in the world, but it has to exist. Not having a website is like a businessperson not having a card.  Or like a retail store that refuses to have a public phone number. It just doesn't make sense.

3) MAILING LIST. Your mailing list is important, and you need to actively cultivate it. Start with all the people you know personally, right now.  Whenever you do an event, have a little notebook and get people's info to add. Get to know the folks on your alumni committee. Get the info of people you work with. Go to bookstores and make friends with the children's person. Meet the teachers at your kids school. Join (and participate) in onine writer's communities. These people will all be the seeds to start a great mailing list.  Oh it will grow when you have real fans from "the wild", but I can't overstate the importance of getting that base layer in yourself.  These are the people that are going to get you school visits, or buy your books for their classroom, etc etc.  If you get postcards, you might send them to these people, or invite them to your launch party if they are local. Make new friends, and keep the old.

4) SOCIAL NETWORKING.  No matter what anyone says, you don't HAVE to have a blog, or do Facebook, or Twitter, or Tumblr. You don't have to join a debut authors group or subscribe to list-servs, or anything of the kind. For many authors, these sorts of activities are a time-suck that takes them away from what they should be doing (which is of course, say it with me - WRITING THAT NEXT BOOK!) But if you do happen to want to test the waters, I think that it would behoove you to at least try Twitter and/or Facebook. There might well be new sites next month or next year that are even better, but for the time being these ones are where its at, and will help you build up that mailing list! :-)

As for blogging - if you are a natural blogger and you enjoy doing it, by all means go for it. If you find yourself exasperated or worse, please don't bother. Blogs that are a chore to write are generally a MEGA-chore to read, and will end up reflecting badly on you.

5) NICHE MARKETING. You have a book about a tween Ice Skater coming to terms with popularity vs. family? Consider promoting this book to Ice Skating groups, and Mother-Daughter book groups. Get an ad in a popular skating magazine, if you can. Give a few copies to Skate Bloggers.  Or say you have a book about a Jewish kid who explores space. Try promoting this book at the JCC, and the Planetarium. See if you can get a local Jewish neighborhood paper to write an article about your fascinating book. Befriend the Jewseum in San Francisco and the Skirball in LA. Find out when the Jewish book fests, what your local Jewish schools are, and see if you can visit them.  These smaller niche markets are generally easier to approach, less expensive to advertise in, and very likely to be more receptive to hearing about your book, than huge markets. Whereas general-interest book bloggers get a million free books, so many they are tripping over them half the time (and they'll only read a fraction of them), your local shul or skate club president may be super-excited to get a free book and blog the heck out of it and tell everyone they know.

Doesn't seem like as big a deal as an ad in the NY Times? You'd be really surprised how many sales a few super-pumped moms, teachers or community leaders can generate. (AND you'd be surprised how little people actually pay attention to the ads in the NYT!) Remember - and this is certainly common sense, but it's amazing how often people don't get it: The personal always trumps the generic.  A recommendation from a trusted source always trumps seeing an ad you have no connection with. A hand-written note to a friend is better than a press release.

'BUT I'VE DONE ALL THESE THINGS!!!'  -- well congratulations, you are ahead of the curve. This is the most important stuff. But I am positive that you guys have more great ideas that'll be fodder for TGBAYCSSSPP part 2. Care to share them in the comments?

(And yes, the fact that there will be a part 2 means that this is NOT actually the All-You-Can-Stand ... it is the all I can stand. Sick of typing!)