Sunday, June 27, 2010

Query-stats and Mint Chocolate Chip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 26, 2010

What is YA anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Beauty Contests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Luxury of Choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

There's always a market for Awesome.

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

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

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

There is always a market for AWESOME. 

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

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

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

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

Get it?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

From Publisher's Marketplace

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