Sunday, March 20, 2011

When Your Agent Isn't Feeling the Love

Q: I am agented and my agent has sold several books for me. But he told me last week that he really doesn't like my latest book and he doesn't think he can sell it. I don't know what my next step should be. I really like working with him and trust his opinion, but I have to say... I love this book and it might be my favorite thing I've written. And he hates it??? Ack. My confidence has really taken a hit. I'm freaked out. What do I do?
Oh sweetie, this is a tough one.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how sympatico a client and agent might be in terms of taste and and personality, there are bound to be some occasions where you don't quite see eye-to-eye. This is normal, and OK. Agents aren't always right... but by the same token, manuscripts aren't always good.

Sometimes your agent will advise you to drop a project because it is something that they think they cannot sell. Other times they are thinking of your career as a whole, and how this book might be problematic for you in a big picture way. Or they think that this particular effort is just not good enough, and they want you to always put your best foot forward. And of course, sometimes they simply don't get it, are dead wrong and missing the boat.

In any event, getting an agent was likely a relatively fraught process to begin with. You may have a lot of time invested in this relationship, and it isn't something you want to throw away. But you need your agent to be out there confidently representing you and your work, and if he HATES it... well, that's no good.

So I think you need to do a gut-check.

1) You adore this manuscript. Why? Do you love it so much because it is truly the best you've written, or is it a pet topic or theme that you might have an attachment to for some personal reason, but that other people may not "get"?

2) Have you shown it to trusted crit partners or beta readers? Ones who tell the truth? Have they also had reservations, or have they loved it as much as you do?

3) After a day (or three), having had the chance to calm down and breathe, have you had a heart-to-heart conversation with your agent? Does he ACTUALLY hate it, or were you over-reacting? Does he have a problem with the topic, or the execution, or does he object because he thinks it will be bad for your career, or what? Does he think it is unredeemable, or does he just think it needs some work and the problems he sees are possible to tweak with revision?

4) Would he be willing to at least shop it a few places, perhaps editors you've had close calls with in the past? Maybe if the book starts to get good feedback from editors he trusts, it will make the him feel more excited about the possibilities, and more comfortable sending it widely. Alternatively, maybe if the project gets BAD feedback, it will be enough to convince you to chill out on it for a while or rework it.

5) Do you really trust your agent? Do you think that he has generally good taste and good advice?

6) Are you willing to put this manuscript away for a while, or perhaps forever?

If the answers are YES this is really the best book you've written, YES your unbiased readers agree, YES you've had a talk with your agent, but NO he doesn't think you should bother revising, and NO he won't send it out, and most of all NO you don't trust his judgment and NO you aren't willing to set the book aside... well then it is time to part ways. I'm sorry. It's a sucky situation to be in.

But the good news is, if having to find a new agent is the worst thing in your world, you are lucky. And if your manuscript is really that damn-hell awesome, you'll have no problem getting a new agent.

Otherwise it is probably a good idea to work on something new and let this one rest for a while. Then later, try coming back to the project with fresh eyes. See if you still feel so strongly about it, and if any of your agent's comments made sense. Perhaps you will decide to revise, or if you can't revise it, maybe you can cannibalize it for parts. Whatever you do, remember that any manuscript you write, whether you sell it or not, is something you will learn and grow from as a writer. No manuscript is a waste.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tweet-a-Query Challenge & Conclusions

Earlier this evening, I issued a unique challenge to my tweeps: Tweet me a query, including type of project & a killer log-line, in less than 140 characters. The project could be real or fake - the challenge was to come up with something irresistible in the short space given.

An hour and literally hundreds of tweet-entries later, I've come to some conclusions. Of course this was just an exercise for fun, and some of these projects are jokes, but I think the lessons here are applicable to the regular query process too:

* You only have a few words. Use the right ones, and make them all count.
Transplantee Mishca's heart is not her own, now someone wants it back. Fight's on where she's most venerable - her dreams.-- Venerable? or Vulnerable?  Totally different meanings, totally different stories.
* When you introduce a bunch of foreign or peculiar words & names, the reader gets lost fast.  
Krishani brings war to Avristar and the girl he loves sacrifices herself to save him. Wait, what? Perhaps pick a word to tell us what kind of person (?) Krishani is, and what Avristar is, to ground us in the situation?
Can L`Arc live with Maria in happiness or will The Sodalis end it all again? -- Huh? Am I supposed to know what L'Arc or The Sodalis are?
* Remember that the book you sell today will probably not be released for a year or more.  
Tabby isn't a terrorist but when her bro blows up a genetics lab she might as well be. She's accused and in 2012 that = death. -- Really? 2012? Like, less than a year from now? I know it's an election year and all, but um...
* Premise is not the same as problem. Sometimes a unique enough premise can be enough to pique interest in a book (Werewolf Roller Derby!)... but usually we need a bit more than that.
 Eccentric family of inventors live in a zeppelin & fly around the world solving weather-related mysteries. -- OK, this is a setting, but so what? What happens? What is the problem? (And yes, I am interested in eccentric families, inventors, mysteries and zeppelins... but I still need to know that something happens in the book.) 
* Beware the List of Awesome  
A mashup of scifi, gaming, jedis, genetically enhanced heroes from space, a girl, an evil Mistress and a guy named Scrappy.  I am totally guilty of doing this "list of awesome things" pitch myself - and sometimes it works, particularly to set the scene or give a feeling of tone. But a list of awesome things, no matter how awesome they are, can't take the place of telling us what the problem is.
* Cliche is a shortcut, but it's also a crutch and your query will be stronger without it.

All Miah brought home from band trip was a hungry mosquito's gift of lycanthrophy. As if high school wasn't bad enough.  -- The first sentence was pretty hot, actually. But then the second ruined it. It would have been much better to introduce a specific reason or reasons why high school sucks for this kid, or to introduce it by saying what the kid EXPECTED to get out of Band Camp. ("Summer band camp was a break from getting slushee facials in the hall, but..." or "All he wanted from Band Camp was a shot with the sexy clarinet player, but instead...")  
* Don't Editorialize.
The heartwarming story of a Mathlete turned Sexpert. -- This is one of my clients books, full disclosure - and I think she is a great writer. But this is problematic as a pitch, primarily because of the "heartwarming story." Don't editorialize with "hilarious", "uproarious", "heartwarming", "pageturning", "unputdownable" or similar. Heartwarming? I'll be the judge of that. I'd have rather she used this space to tell us a tiny bit more about the Mathlete, or the Sexpert, or the setting, or what MAKES the Mathlete turn into a Sexpert.
 * It has to make sense. Beware derailing & straying too far from the point.  
4 new grads get first real jobs, find they can't cook, & set out to learn, while figuring out the mystery at work. -- I am not sure how any of these things have to do with the other. Is the problem that they can't cook and have to learn? What does that have to do with getting jobs? What mystery, and what does that have to do with cooking? They all work at the same place? Why didn't you say so? This leaves me with a lot of questions.
Taken by humans and made into a sex slave, 15 yrs old Effie struggles with PTSD and the deadly butterflies that consume her.  -- If she's taken by humans, that implies that she is NOT a human... so please tell me what she is. Does she have PTSD because of being taken and abused, or did she have it before? Are the deadly butterflies real, or imaginary? Are they literally consuming her? I am confused.
All that said, there were a few that made me crack up (Dude Looks Like M'Lady made me laugh for like, a full minute) -- and a lot of really fun sounding entries. These were my favorite, and I am going to let YOU guys vote on the winner. Please pick one (1) of the following & vote in comments or by tweet. Winner gets something nice:
  1. BLOOD OF WOLVES is a reverse Beauty and the Beast tale set in a pre-steampunk world of ice, alchemy and monsters. 
  2. Boy finds blank book, when he touches it it fills with his life story. Will he commit to his destiny or rewrite it? 
  3. 12yo overachiever leads world's worst boy scouts in earning toughest merit badge yet - saving the world from alien invasion.
  4. A student at one of the most competitive schools in Paris by day, a jewel thief on the city rooftops by night.
  5. Werewolf Roller Derby. Splitting hairs, bones and wheels for the sake of the pack.
ETA: Based on extremely scientific polling data here and on twitter (ahem), WE HAVE WINNERS - #3 is the winner, #5 is the runner up. Books are on their way! Wooohooo! :D JL

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Kinks

These are elements of a story that I am a total sucker for. I do love regular old contemporary YA and middle grade stories too, and I love plenty of stories that have NONE of these elements -- but these are my (not-so-secret) kinks. Seriously - if any of these are present I am almost guaranteed to like the book/movie/tv show/story, or at least give it a huge chance.


* Regency / Victorian / Edwardian Era - UK, Europe and US (1811-1910)

* WW1 / between the wars / WW2 / Blitz / Relocated Children - England

* 1920's - 1940's USA (especially Hollywood & NYC)

* Wiemar-era Berlin  (or anything with German Expressionist flavor)

* British Raj / Partition India

* Boarding School / Prep School / Drama School

* Secret Societies / Insular Groups different from "norm" society

* Ensemble Performance / Behind the Scenes - in other words, the reality behind busy restaurant, theatre, hotel, newspaper, sports team, movie set, etc.


* Girls Dressed as Boys / Drag Queens / Dandies / Disguises / Secret Identities / Cross-dressing

* Makeovers

* Fashion Shows / Modeling / Clothes & Fabric

* Star is Born / Rags to Riches stories (Or even better: Riches to Rags to Riches, a la Little Princess)

* Theatre / Circus / Vaudeville or other Artist/performer

* The Olympics / Olympic-level training (esp: Skating, Gymnastics and similar 'artistic' solitary sports)

* Charismatic Older Men Taking Care of Young Girls and Vice-Versa (think: The Professional, Daddy Long-Legs, Paper Moon, True Grit -- or, Bela Karolyi & Nadia Comeneci)

* Con Artists / Art Fraud / Grifters / Mafia

* Prostitutes / Dance-Hall Girls / Rough Trade

* Gypsies / Fortune Tellers

* Servants / Butlers / Governesses "goings on below stairs" stories

* Assassins / Spies / Sleuths / Genius Problem Solvers (Sherlock, Dr. Who, Jeeves)

* Golems / Manikins / Androids / Humanoids / Automatons


What about you? What are the 'kinks' that you tend to go for in a story?

ETA: I am cheating - my client Jackie Dolamore did her own post on the subject, and I want to take all of her answers too!  LOVE!

Monday, March 07, 2011

No Fighting, No Biting

In case you have been snoozing in a sunny hammock for a week (in which case, may I say a hearty grrr to you), you've probably noticed rumblings about the supposed "YA Mafia." I am totally not going to get into it here, as it has been pretty well discussed and dissected by everyone everywhere, and the topic is done as far as I'm concerned.  YA Highway has a great roundup in case you missed any of the kerfuffle and are still interested.

One sort of side-tangent that has been mentioned by a few folks is the rumor that AN AGENT WON'T TAKE YOU ON IF YOU PUBLICLY HATE THEIR CLIENTS WORK.  Am I missing something? This doesn't seem like a threat, it seems like a very obvious and non-scandalous fact to me.

But the reaction I'm reading seems to be that such agents are obviously short-sighted, crazy, "in the pay of the YA Mafia", idiots, etc etc. 


I'm extremely passionate about any book I rep. I LOVE IT.

Besides the author themselves, I was probably the first person to be a total champion for the book. I've read it many times, sometimes over the course of years. I might have helped edit it, or at least thought about it hard, possibly through multiple drafts. In some way, maybe a big way or maybe a small, I helped that book be what it is. I am quite proud of them; each book really means a great deal to me.

If you love my books too, we might have very similar taste. The chances are good that if you are an excellent writer, with taste similar to mine, we might be a very good fit.

If you love some but are ambivalent about others, or like a couple but are "meh" about some, or even thought some were fine but privately disliked a couple, hey, that's cool, not everyone can like everything, everyone has their own opinion, that's what makes the world go round. (Well that and like, science.)

But if you totally hate a book of mine, like seriously detest, and have gone out of your way to slam it publicly...why would you even want me as an agent?

Your agent is your partner, hopefully for many years and through many successes (and yes, often failures as well.) You will be talking to them quite a lot. You have to be able to trust that they understand and "get you."

Your agent also needs to trust that his or her clients are relatively stable, happy, and not going to turn on each other or start getting into online (or real life!) monkey knife fights with one another. Drama creates a hostile work environment for all and can escalate to toxic levels quickly, which results in a loss of productivity, which results in a loss of money. Feh. Not for me, thanks. I would rather have fun, sell lots of books, and make money.  Wouldn't you?

You will also more than likely be in situations where you are in a group of your fellow-clients, out at a dinner, at a conference, or a school visit, or on a retreat. These are your colleagues, again, hopefully for many years. If you totally hate their work... ugh, awkward!  Why would you possibly want to knit your future together with people you hold in contempt?

Basically, if you loathe the books I represent, we clearly have very different taste. That isn't bad or good -- it's just a fact. Pick an agent who seems to like the same kind of stuff you do. Obvious, right?

*ETA: I am not suggesting that people should not blog, or be honest, or censor themselves, or anything of the kind.  I have book bloggers as clients.  Go forth and blog!  I am just saying, you put out into the world what you want to get back.  You can't say you HATE something, but then turn around and want to be just like that thing. 

Like, I like gold, and I like lemon yellow, and I like orange, but I hate certain shades of the color yellow (to wit: Goldenrod). Seriously. Worst. Color. Ever. I've said it on my blog, and I will say it to anyone who asks. I'd say it to Yellow's face. I am not allowed to be surprised if Yellow doesn't hire me as its spokesperson.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Facebook Stuff

Hey there -- For those of you who are interested in keeping up with ALL SORTS of news about my authors (from interviews, upcoming events, new book releases, book reviews etc) - and want to know when my upcoming conferences and similar are - I've started a Facebook page just for that purpose.

This way my friends and family won't have to read about my work all the time, and people who want book news won't have to wade through baby pictures and such. ;-)

Yes, big stuff will probably still show up in my personal Facebook, and on this very blog, but The Page will be really specifically a catch-all location. So clients, if you have news to share, let me know and I will post it!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Link Roundup

There have been a lot of goings-on lately - time for a LINK ROUNDUP!

A totally phenomenal review of the reissue of Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater, from B&N Review.

Should you be blogging to help your writing career? Or is it a big waste of time?

A lengthy interview with me at the wonderful Shrinking Violets blog, about self-promotion, introversion and more.

A slightly more goofy interview at the Middle Grade Ninja, with fave movies and more - as well as what I am looking for.

If your local Borders is closing, you might take a look at this list of nearby indie bookstores.

Finally (and perhaps most importantly) - 22 Manly Ways to reuse an Altoids Tin - from tiny bbq to electronics lab!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Namedropping in Picture Books

Q: What is the general rule regarding naming movies, song titles, book titles in a manuscript? For example, in a PB manuscript, mentioning that the MC loves to pretend she's Fancy Nancy or reads Madeline?
It can be OK to namedrop characters, movies, songs (provided you aren't quoting directly from songs, or if you are, you have the proper permission) in a middle grade or YA. I can think of dozens of examples of main characters who are bookworms, for example, and who reference real books that they've read.

Picture books are a different story.

I assume you'd be using these examples as a sort of shorthand way to show the sort of kid your character is.  To me, this shorthand of referencing somebody else's character almost feels like cheating; you've let the other author do the heavy lifting on characterization. Plus, what if the actual young readers enjoying your book haven't gotten to Fancy Nancy or Madeline yet? The shorthand won't work for those kids, and you'll have lost them.

Even more importantly, though, picture books are just... sooo... short. Most that sell nowadays are less than 500 words long. The picture book is like a very small, very well lit stage. Every single word has to mean something and be there for a reason, because every single word will be measured and judged and tweaked and pondered over. There is no room for anything extra, any word that is not moving the book forward or in some way doing work.

You are creating your very own tiny world here, and you have so very little room to spare... why drag somebody else's world into it?

That's my opinion. Doubtless I am forgetting some big huge example that will prove me wrong. Readers, can you think of any examples of picture books that have referenced real movies, songs or picture books by other authors (in the text, not in the illustrations) successfully?