Friday, April 28, 2006

When Hollywood Does Come A-Calling



Think how cool it will be when you can say you knew about and bought this little gem long before the masses and especially before the movie.

STATUS: Happy Friday! I actually got through some of my partials inbox last night (response letters won’t go out until Monday when Sara is back in the office) and I plan to tackle requested full manuscripts this weekend. Today has been devoted to putting the finishing touches on a submission.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? PLENTY by Sarah McLachlan

I know I’ll probably regret this. Just my luck I’ll suddenly get a bunch of screenplay queries from those who don’t read carefully but I’m going to talk about Hollywood again.

As many of you know from my previous rant, optioning the film or TV rights to any project is always a long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long shot.

And every writer thinks his or her manuscript would make a great movie.

That don’t [sic] impress me much. Hollywood wants to look at everything but rarely buys anything. Rarer still, is the project that goes into production (which means it’s actually being made into a movie).

But every once in a while, the miracle starts happening. And if this sort of thing interests you, then pop over to Ally Carter’s blog because she is actually posting as events unfold.

On her website, you can get the whole story on the inception of the book I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU and the selling of the film rights to Disney.

This week? Screenwriters were assigned—an essential step and a signal that the project is moving seriously toward production.

And, I happen to know that today Ally had a phone conference with her producer, Debra Martin Chase of the PRINCESS DIARIES and SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS fame. She hasn’t blogged it yet but my guess is that she will very shortly.

Next week, she’ll have another phone conference with Debra and the new screenwriters.

It’s rare to really hear about the process as it’s unfolding so here’s your opportunity. The inside scoop for those of you who have dreamed of this kind of scenario and Ally is truly a doll for sharing.

And to get back to beating that dead horse. Please, just don’t send me your screenplay. I only do book-to-film—which means I sell the print rights to a book before pursuing the film stuff. This means I only pursue film rights for my current clients for whom I’ve sold the print rights.

Don’t send me a query for an already published novel for which you only want me to shop the film rights. I don’t handle that (and mainly because there isn’t enough money in that to be worth the time).

Capiche?

(I know exactly zero Italian so I looked it up. I guess "capiche" is the English slang spelling and "capisce" is the more formal slang spelling--although neither is correct because the actual word in Italian is "capisci.")

So, Capisci?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Fantasy Exam

STATUS: Contract weary. Three of my contracts have reached the final stages where the final copies can be mailed off to the clients after one more look to make sure all changes are included. So close. Contracts are very time-consuming so I’m really looking forward to the completion of this batch. I can then start concentrating on the full manuscripts I’ve requested.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? HOW by The Cranberries

Last week, we had some fun with romance. This week, it’s fantasy’s turn. This website is just hilarious (and of course my agent friends and I have been passing around the link). I just wish I was this brilliant and original. I’m not. I’m happy to give the glory to those who are though.

So, fantasy writers, think you have what it takes to write the genre? Not so fast. David Parker has decided that anyone thinking about it should have to take this fantasy novel exam first. Answering “yes” to just one question means failure and you should abandon your novel at once.

My favs:

7. Does your story revolve around an ancient prophecy about "The One" who will save the world and everybody and all the forces of good?

18. Would "a clumsy cooking wench more comfortable with a frying pan than a sword" aptly describe any of your female characters?

19. Would "a fearless warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan" aptly describe any of your female characters?

27. Does your novel contain a prologue that is impossible to understand until you've read the entire book, if even then?
(You knew I had to highlight this one!)

71. Is your story about a crack team of warriors that take along a bard who is useless in a fight, though he plays a mean lute?

Enjoy and good luck taking the exam!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Chick Lit Agent

STATUS: Off to an early start. I must finish the final vet of a negotiated contract so copies can get mailed off to the client for signing. Then I’m having lunch with Kelly Notaras (formerly an editor at Hyperion until she figured out that the weather is WAY better here in Colorado and moved so she could be Editorial Director at Sounds True Audio).

What song is playing on the iPod right now? MISSING by Everything But The Girl

When I was at the Pikes Peak conference this weekend, a gentleman came up to talk to me and he literally started the conversation with, “I know you are a chick lit/women’s fiction agent and only represent women authors, but I wondered if you would still be interested in my project that has a male protagonist.”

Stop everything. I’ve been receiving email queries that reflect this same sentiment. I have to rant about this.

I only represent woman authors?

Wow this is news to me (and to the two guys who signed with my agency the week before last and the two male clients who are currently on my webpage and whose books I’ve sold).

I am the chick lit agent?

Folks, out of my 19 clients, only four of my clients (yes, count them, four) write in this field. Just because these gals are all rather high profile (bless their good-selling books), just means I’m good at picking what can work in this field but I’m not limiting what I represent to just that.

Now I do have to admit that in the last couple of years, it’s been easier to sell chick lit, romance, women’s fiction etc. so consequently, that’s what I’ve sold.

But I promise you. Nowhere on my website does it say I hate men, male protagonists, or male writers.

It says on my website that we are looking for literary, commercial mainstream, SF, Fantasy, young adult, memoir (as well as chick lit, women’s fiction, and romance) from all kinds of writers and for all kinds of stories.

I want diversity. I’m actively looking. I haven’t found that perfect project yet. The door is open.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Tuesday Query Madness


Sara on the office blue couch with the ever helpful Chutney.

STATUS: A good day and I’m ready to relax. I’m off to the Tattered Cover in Cherry Creek tonight to see a friend read. Bill Henderson is a wonderful writer so take some time to get a copy of AUGUSTA LOCKE just out by Viking.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? SAIL ON by the Commodores

First things first.

Time to introduce my new assistant—the lovely Sara Megibow.

Brief Sara Bio
On a rainy day in 1985, a young Sara picked up THE HOBBIT and was hooked. A graduate of Northwestern University, she has a B.A. in Women's Studies and a B.A. in American History. Sara has worked as a corporate trainer for GE and most recently has spent two years working for the Boulder Weekly newspaper. After a fun year as a full-time mom, she's ready to get back in to the world of words, large mugs of coffee, and a new passion with the Nelson Literary Agency.

Of course we spent the day in Query madness (and we have read and responded to all queries up to April 1).

Much to Sara’s relief, I didn’t just open the query email inbox and set her loose. We basically worked together on all the queries today. That way she could get the feel for what I look for in query, what works, and what are the very obvious passes.

We even got a form query letter like the one Dan ranted about on Friday. That was hilarious because Sara hadn’t read that blog entry yet and even she said, “what’s up with this query?”

I just knew she was going to be good.

When you read a lot of queries at one sitting, a trend always emerges. I’m not sure how or why but it does (weird synchronicity in the world or something). Today’s trend was characters being bought, abducted, or otherwise coerced into slavery, white slavery, and whatnot.

Genre didn’t seem to matter. We saw the plot device in romance, fantasy, commercial mainstream etc. but none in a Civil War historical (where such an element would be expected).

After the fourth or fifth query with this device, Sara turned to me and asked if it was a popular plot? I had to shrug. I have no idea. Conflict du jour? We didn’t ask for a partial from any of them though.

The Katie count: We must have scared the masses because I haven’t seen a Katie (or derivative) in a while. On the other hand, my partial inbox is scary and I really plan to tackle a good portion of it this weekend.

However, I do have another title entry that keeps popping up.

A Look through My Rose Colored Glasses

Or a variation of this theme. Very popular.

I’m out.

Monday, April 24, 2006

9 Things I Learned from Pikes Peak




Brian Nelson, Chutney, Kristin Nelson, & Ally Carter

STATUS: Feeling optimistic. The new assistant started today. Had to devote a lot of the workday to helping her get started etc. but I can already tell she’s going to be a great asset. I’ll be introducing her later this week.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? MAMMA MIA by ABBA

What I learned from the Pikes Peak Writers Conference:

1. That people actually read my blog. I figured it would be a few friends, a client or two, and maybe my mother but at least 20 people came up to me to tell me that they check in every day. During an agent panel, one of the audience members asked me what was playing on my iPod right then. Funny enough, I had it in my purse and I pulled it out to tell him what song was up.

2. That people think I know who Miss Snark is. That was an interesting agent panel question. My lips are sealed folks.

3. That agents are fans too! Dan Simmons was the Saturday night keynote speaker. Don’t worry. I didn’t make a fool out of myself by being a silly fan girl or anything (however much I wanted to) but it was truly an honor to meet Dan in person, to have my books signed, and to be allowed to buy him a Diet Coke while he was at his booksigning.

4. That conference attendees are delightful, respectful, and fun. This is a big conference (700 people or so I think) and not one person acted inappropriately (at least to me anyway-- perhaps some of the other agents had a hard time but I doubt it.). No stalkings. No bathroom manuscript slidings. No unexpected or undesirable pitching. Just great, savvy writers.

5. That it’s really hard to hear across the dinner table in a ballroom filled with that many people. I seriously think that all attendees assume that I shout all the time.

6. That I might have perfected the art of the on-spot critique. I highlighted things that I liked, what didn’t work, and hopefully all while being gentle but brutally honest at the same time. If I would have stopped reading, I explained why and gave great tips on how that could be revised to solve the problem. (In the past, my critiques where more rambling. Felt more constructive this time).

7. That keynotes can be truly moving and inspiring. Huge applause to Dan Simmons, Diane Mott Davidson, Johnny Boggs, and especially Wendy French who had the room in tears laughing over her Starbucks story.

8. That young people can set an example for us all. I had two pitches from youngsters under the age of 18 and let me tell you, they were both nervous but still acted professionally and gave an awesome, well-constructed pitch (in under two minutes and then asked informed questions). That’s courage folks. I’m not sure I would have been able to do the same at their age. I’d like to think I could. Don’t forget that young adults have something to say and can know what they want and how to go after it.

9. That Chutney would be a big hit. But duh, should have known that. And the picture as promised.

Friday, April 21, 2006

D FOR VENDETTA

STATUS: Slightly frantic. I have to leave for Colorado Springs in one hour for the Pikes Peak conference. Have I packed yet? Nope. Must blog first! Priorities, right?

What song is playing on the iPod right now? STONE WOMAN by Bryan Ferry
(the sexiest voice on the planet in my humble opinion)

One of the great things about this blog is that it ends up inspiring other agents to come out and play (translation: rant) as well.

Yesterday, I got an email from Dan Lazar at Writers House, a blog reader and fan (hey, I’m constantly amazed at who’s reading this page), and he asked so nicely that I bring this interesting email query trend to everyone’s attention because it’s driving him crazy. I’ve been getting them too and I have to say they are highly annoying. I’ve convinced him to guest blog because I couldn’t have said it better.

Personally, I think the readers of my blog are way too savvy for anything this amateur but hey, fair warning to all you clueless queriers who might not realize your “form” email queries are getting deleted or generating automatic NOs.

So now, without further ado, I give you Dan Lazar at is ranting best:

Ms. Nelson,

I thought you might want to see a 300-word literary rant that's available for representation and posting on your blog.

***DAN LAZAR STRIKES BACK***

"Small-town literary agent Dan Lazar has a problem. He’s happily inundated with query letters by mail and email; he reads each one with loving care and attention. But recently he’s received a host of similarly formatted email. They all open with a casual and offhanded, “Oh, I thought you’d want a shot at this available property,” as if the writer of the letter was an old friend breezing through town, catching up, and – oh yes! – here’s a project you should look at.

The title follows this opening, in caps, surrounded by stars before and after the name. Then the authors launch into a very generic, very “Hollwood” quick pitch. Which means they all sound the same, with no voice, nothing unique that makes them stand out from the crush of other (authentic) letters.

The final paragraph is usually a third person blurb about “the author's experience”—referring to the author in third person, as if he or she is too busy attending literary galas for their latest memoir to be bothered by anything as silly as writing their own query letters. Pshaw. These presumptive and overly-familiar letters are driving me nutty; and I’ve been talking to more and more fellow agents who feel the same way. Authors, we’re eager to hear from you. But some of you are just shooting yourselves in the foot.

Finally, the best (read: worst) part of these letters are the same rushed, assuming closings, which read:

“Should I send it off to you now and do you like hard copy or by email?” or “How shall I get this to you, email or hardcopy to the address below?”

Sincerely,
Dan Lazar

p.s. Thanks for passing this along. I wanted to get the word out, and frankly, I’ve also been told I’m at my most charming when I’m most self-righteous.

p.p.s. I just figured out why I'm single.

Okay, couldn't resist adding this after Dan asked me to add the pps. Doesn't this just make you want to pinch Dan? I think I need to post his pic so maybe we can line up some dates in New York City for him. Little did he know that matchmaking is my second favorite thing to do beyond agenting. I'm good at it to. I can boast three marriages from my set-ups.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Laughing All The Way To The Bank

STATUS: Chipper. I got an early start. Not to mention, late this afternoon I have my monthly massage scheduled. Blessed be all massage therapists!

What song is playing on the iPod right now? BRASS IN POCKET by The Pretenders (must be 70s week at the agency)

I love romance.

I love reading romance.

I love that I’ve been reading it since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.

I love that RWA publishes statistics like 40 to 45% of the profit in the publishing industry is generated by this genre sector. (I kid you not.)

I love that it’s mostly professional, college-educated women who read it.

I love it when reading snobs turn up their noses at stuff that’s “just” romance or chick lit so I can laugh all the way to the bank.

And I also love that we romance agents, readers, and writers can have a sense of humor and poke fun at ourselves (but woe to the misinformed idiot who pokes fun at us!).

Which is why I got a huge kick out of Bookseller Chick’s recent blog on the Top 10 Ways You Know You’re not a Romance Heroine if... Really, worth a visit and a good chuckle. Just don’t snort your coffee up your nose while reading. (I even blogged about number 9).

As always, there is a little lesson embedded here. Bookseller Chick points out these story lines because they’ve been done, and done again, and then done one more time. Just another reason you need to think about putting a really new and fresh spin on your story if you write romance.

A couple of months ago, some agent friends and I were passing around the link for Longmire does Romance Novels.

Put your coffee down before clicking this link. Seriously, put it down. I laughed so hard, I couldn’t remain seated. (LORD OF THE TUBE SOCKS is probably my favorite but my, there are a couple of close seconds.)

Publishing houses always have good intentions when it comes to book covers. They are in tune with the market. Obviously they’ve gotten good responses (as in sales numbers) to certain covers so why mess with a good thing? But sometimes, despite our best intentions, there is such a thing as good cover ideas gone bad (and of course, Longmire pokes some good fun with their re-titling when that happens).

Don’t blame the authors either! They often don’t get a say (and certainly not approval) on the final cover. If you are the proud author of one of these covers, please know that I’m laughing with you—not at you. If you’re a publishing author with good covers, don't be smug. Eventually you’ll suffer a bad cover that you’d love to re-title yourself.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Conference Power

STATUS: Hey, it’s only noon and I’ve gotten lots done today. I’m working on submission lists for two new projects that I want to send out by Friday. I also have to finish that contract. I usually like to do that first thing in the morning but alas, hasn’t happened yet. Feeling sprightly though.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? TIME by Pink Floyd

I’ll be attending the Pikes Peak Writers Conference this weekend. It’s on my home turf so I love being embraced by this organization. They do a great job, have savvy workshops, great keynote speakers, and solid faculty. In fact, I’ll be giving my signature workshop: SAY GOODBYE TO THE SLUSH PILE: WRITING EMAIL QUERIES THAT GET RESULTS.

Lots of genre fiction at this conference and since I’m actively looking for SF & F… I’m psyched.

I also signed a client via this conference and fingers crossed, her project is teetering on the edge of a sale (you will hear the celebrating in Denver when this happens).

Even better yet, one of my authors is speaking and doing a workshop there as well. I just love hanging out with Ally Carter. She’ll get to meet the hubby and the dog. What more can an author ask for? (Probably a lot but we won’t go there.)

But I bring this up because I wanted to share an interesting tidbit. When I was out in New York last week, I had a meeting with Ms. Mitchell who is Vice President and Editor-in-Chief at Ballantine Del Rey. She has looked at several of my projects but we hadn’t quite connected on the perfect book. I figured it was time for us to meet because our tastes seem to line up.

I mentioned Pikes Peak to her because it’s a big genre fiction conference and since editors are always looking for good SF & F and not a ton of agents rep the genre, her ears perked up.

So, it’s not just the “young” building editors who attend. Sometimes senior folks (movers and shakers) are also interesting in attending. Says a lot about conference power.

I mean how cool would it be for a writer to sit down and have a fun conversation with Ms. Mitchell who might impart a little of her wisdom. (And don’t waste it by doing something silly and pitching your book. Sheesh. How often do you have this chance to learn from somebody who has seen lots of stuff in this business?)

Keep an eye on PP’s website because she just might be on the faculty list for next year.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Going Standard

STATUS: Where has this day gone? I’m a little stunned that it’s already after 7 p.m. Feeling perky though. Two contracts are almost complete. A new contract came in this morning though. I’ll have to devote the tomorrow morning to that one. Sigh. So close to finishing all the contracts for all these deals. Best news? New assistant starts on Monday.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? DON’T ASK ME WHY by the Eurythmics

When I first started my agency, I had a very nice standard rejection letter that I used to respond to my email queries. I would inject the writer’s name and the title. Ah, those were the days. I only got 10 or 20 queries a day. It wasn’t a big deal.

I felt wretched when I had to switch to a really standard form with no personalization (and I even apologize for it in the letter) because the number became overwhelming when my agency was successful.

That letter is obviously standard.

In truth, so is my letter that I use to respond to 30 pages that I have requested. Why don’t I include a line or two about the manuscript? How much time can that really take?

A lot actually. Do you know how difficult it is to sometimes create a succinct line or two that will really encapsulate why I passed?

I actually did that the other day. It was a YA project. I occasionally do include a couple of lines of feedback because I thought the writing was strong enough or whatever. I feel compelled to encourage the writer even though I won’t be moving forward by requesting a full. Not often, but if something captures me but I didn’t think it was quite right for me, or strong enough for the market, I’ll let the writer know.

But for this YA, it was rather complicated on why I passed. I thought about a couple of lines that I could include. Then I realized, ten minutes later, that there was no easy way to sum up why I was passing. I ultimately threw my hands in the air and just sent the standard letter. It was too hard and taking too much time to organize my thoughts.

So, I won’t do it because

1. it might signal to the writer that I’m open to a dialogue about the work and the reality is I can’t spare the time.

2. sometimes the writing is so bad I’m not sure what in the world I would say and I’m not into crushing people’s dreams—even though a NO from me might feel crushing but I hope not.

3. sometimes it’s just my opinion and the project might very well work for another agent without him or her blinking an eye. (Every once in a while I’ll get a triumphant email from a writer that will say, “you passed but so-so took it on so you were wrong.”)

4. invariably I’ll get a reply from a writer saying that I’m wrong or I didn’t get it or whatever.

5. the extra minutes times 100 (or 200 or 300) adds up.

I know that writers would really like some feedback. You need to rely on your critique group, writer discussion boards etc.

Don’t agonize over whether a letter was personal or not (and how can you tell). Trust me, you’d know.

I’m asking a favor. Don’t email me back asking for more info on why I passed. Chances are good I don’t remember the partial well enough (between when I read it and when the email letter actually got sent) to give any feedback.

I end up just feeling mean when I have to delete the inquiry. That’s an icky feeling.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Unrequested and Unwanted

STATUS: Grumpy! First day back in the office after being gone a week is always terrible.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? IT’S TOO LATE by Carol King

Honestly, I don’t think my black mood would have descended if it weren’t for the mail. As y’all know, I’ve been interviewing a new assistant and plan to have that person in place by next week (OMG I cannot wait).

So guess who has to open up a week’s worth of mail? Yep, yours truly. It was creating too big a pile that needed to be handled so I tackled that first thing this morning.

First, there were 10 snail mail queries. Why? I clearly state on my website to query by email only. Even if you look in the Jeff Herman guide, it says that. Where do they come from?

Then, and I had to roll my eyes (because I’m grumpy), someone sent me a full manuscript. In the mail. Hundreds of pages.

Now y’all know that if I’m interested in looking at a full, I’m delightful and I actually have that person send it to me electronically so I can read and make comments right into my tablet PC.

So, I really do know when I’ve requested a full. It’s easy to keep track of because it’s in my requested manuscripts queue folder on my computer.

The temptation was to simply write NO on the cover letter and return it today. I didn’t though. I was nice. I simply extracted 30 pages from the full to put into the partial inbox.

Which reminds me, I’ve been getting lots of unrequested partials as of late. Please don’t. We really do ask for a query by email first. If we want to see it, we’ll ask for 30 pages and send you an email on how to send us those sample pages.

Right now, my reader will give a quick look to the cover letter. Most of the time, it’s not right for us so we don’t read the sample pages. I’m just trying to save you the postage.

Not to mention, if we start getting overwhelmed by this trend, we’ll just have to recycle them without answering. I’d rather do anything but that so please, follow my submission guidelines.

Okay, now that’s off my chest, I can stop being grumpy!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Hooky in the City

STATUS: Happy. I officially didn’t really work today.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? CNN—my husband is watching while I write this blog.

I had lunch with a good agent friend of mine. We were lamenting the tough market in the UK and why we couldn’t seem to break into that market with our U.S. projects.

I just heard news a couple of weeks ago about a hot project of mine getting some attention from the Publishers across the Pond. This project had gone to second reads, to ed. Board, and many a furious email had passed between all parties involved.

Ultimately, a pass.

In actuality, a UK sale (or non-sale) is no indicator of how well a project will do. The British market is tough and very tight. A break-in there just wants to feel like a big step.

Sometimes though, a UK sale is last (after a project has succeeded in the U.S.) rather than first.

Yep, short and sweet because it’s Friday.

Off to happy hour and then dinner at Bobby Flay’s restaurant near Union Square. Back in the office on Monday.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Child At Heart

STATUS: Another late post so I’m a little tired. This one will probably be a little short but sweet.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Baseball highlights on the Telly.

Wrapping up my whirlwind New York Tour today. Since Friday is Good Friday, I’m playing hooky and doing some un-publishing related stuff. The weather has been so gorgeous this week.

Today and (most of yesterday) I hung with the children’s editors. Discovering the world of teen fiction is something I’ve been actively exploring since my adult trade authors startedd making forays into the realm of YA—Jennifer O’Connell, Ally Carter, and Kelly Parra.

And boy I am so glad. First of all, teen fiction is just downright fun. There is so much great stuff being published and unlike anything I remember from my tween years. Dark fantasy, edgy, bordering on horror stuff. Terrific, witty chick lit voices. Emotional packed dramas (keep an eye out next year for MTV/Pocket’s ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS. Gee, even the title sounds just a tad creepy.)

Hell, I would have read teen fiction for much longer if the cool stuff being published today was available way back when.

The Children’s editors are just great as well. It takes a special sort of someone to solely handle children’s literature. One editor had an enormous life-size Glinda the Good Witch cardboard stand up in her office (and no, I wasn’t able to concoct a plan to steal such a gem without her noticing.)

But of all the things I’ve heard this week, what is most clear is that this genre is hot (even if film stuff is a little lukewarm at the moment).

And for the record so I don’t get a strange flood of queries, Nelson Agency does not rep children’s picture books or even middle grade books with illustrations. We do YA and what I call older middle-grade (cross-over stuff).

Editors, and at a variety of houses, are open and game to seeing all kinds of terrific new ideas, concepts etc. for this genre.

And yes, I’m beating that dead horse, but it’s all about the unique and stunning voice that will open the door to this world. If you are an already published author and have toyed with the idea of doing YA, get on the phone with your agent. Find out whether she is open to you exploring some ideas. Editors love established adult writers dipping their toes into this field.

If you just write YA, the time has never been better to try and break in as a debut.

Since you can’t read as much as we agents and editors do, I strongly suggest taking an afternoon at your local bookstore and really dig in to read the back covers of what is out and what’s selling. You’ll get a good feel for it. Another thought is to cruise the YA catalogs online at the various publishers. Check out Teens Read Too review site (or your favorite teen site) and read.

If you want to write the book of your heart, fine. I support that. Just remember that it might not be marketable enough to sell.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Inside Market Peek

STATUS: End of the day. Just got back from Mario Batali’s restaurant Casa Mono where my husband and I met Linnea’s editor Anne Groell and her husband.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Actually nothing at the moment.

I’ve been all over today and yesterday so I thought I’d share a quick summary of info passed my way.

While talking to my film agent, YA is a little harder to sell lately since SISTERHOOD didn’t do as well as anticipated in the box offices. Now we have to pray for the next Lindsey Lohan movie to break out to get the folks excited about YA material again.

What’s being asked for? Male-driven comedy and family stories. Interesting. (And please don’t send me screenplay queries. I don’t rep screenplays. I only do book to film.)

Women’s Fiction
Some editors made it very clear that they didn’t want Lifetime TV soap opera drama but
but more reality-based yet commercial stuff (think the movie FRIENDS WITH MONEY).

Several editors expressed a lovely wish to find the next Jodi Picoult (and let me tell you, I’d love to find that too!).

One editor wanted mature chick lit with tough, acerbic heroines.

Another editor wanted a smart young voice (a la PREP).

Paranormal Romance
Paranormal and romantic suspense are still hot. Would like to see some different elements tackled in paranormal rather than the same-old (so think beyond vampires and werewolves).

A ghost-hunting series would be cool. Urban fantasy and more urban fantasy.

Thrillers and Mysteries
Thrillers were mentioned (but since I don’t rep them, I didn’t pay too much attention—sorry). The emphasis seemed to be on Templars and the like. Cozy mysteries of all stripes.

One editor was avid for thriller/horror hybrid.

YA
Market is wide open to anything as long as the story encompasses an intimate point of view. Genre can be contemporary, fantasy, horror, wry chick lit, multicultural. Voice is everything.


Lots of folks looking for big historicals (a la THE HISTORIAN) or even women’s fiction historicals.

Several editors expressed interest in some new literary voices.

Lots of room for a debut author to break in. Just remember, the editors aren’t expecting your call, but mine. Big smile here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Fresh And Original


STATUS: Relaxed. I have just a few minutes before I pop out to meet my evening appointment—Jaime Levine at Warner Books (or should I say Hachette Books USA).

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Well, CNN Headline news is on instead.

As an agent, I’m sure that writers have heard us say many a times that we are open to any story as long as it is fresh and original. Funny enough, the editors feel the same way.

Now I’m positive that most writers do believe their novels to be fresh and original and sadly, that is the point that is most often missed (and usually the reason why queries or partials get passes).

At least once a day I receive a fantasy query letter that has a quest-oriented plot or dragons, or is a battle of good and evil and at the end of the query letter, the writer will state that his/her story is original because the focus is on character development.

Well, all good fantasy has strong, developed characters. I’m sorry to say that character development in itself cannot be the “original” aspect of your story. It’s standard and what you really need is a story approach, hook, or plot that’s revolutionary in its uniqueness.

What creates originality is taking a concept that is done to death (because there are no new stories under the sun) and envisioning and creating a whole new possibility that reinvents the known fantasy world. As a reader, it makes you gasp with a wow, what a brilliant idea. Why has no one thought of that before?

Then you have fresh and original.

Let me give you a great example. This author is not mine by the way so there is no self-interest in giving this example. Betsy over at Ballantine Del Rey gave me a teaser for HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON. She thought she had seen everything possible in dragon fantasy. What is left to invent?

Quite a lot actually as debut author Naomi Novik demonstrates.

Here we have an alternate-reality historical novel of the Napoleonic War where a 18th century naval captain captures a Chinese dragon, becomes a dragon master in the British aerial corps to defeat Napoleon in the war for the continent. Patrick O’Brian with Dragons.

If you’re thinking, “how cool is that?” then you are starting to get the idea of what I’m trying to explain. Now your work might not be an alternative reality historical novel but when you explain your concept to someone, it should incite that same reaction regardless of whether it’s epic, urban fantasy, or whatever.

Get the picture?

Monday, April 10, 2006

City That Never Sleeps


STATUS: Tired. It’s late here in New York City—after 11 p.m. and let me tell you, the city might never sleep but I’m more than ready.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Well, the iPod is back in Denver (probably sleeping soundly). I do have the radio on to some smooth Jazz. After the hectic day, it’s about the right pace.

I spent the morning at the Random House building on Broadway at 56th Street. Can I just highlight here my moment of joy that RH has moved up Broadway out of Times Square? No more wading through hordes of Justin Timberlake fans to fight my way to the Bertelsmann door. (Those fans are rabid and dangerous I tell you.)

I had a perfectly safe trip up Broadway.

My favorite part of the day was meeting with Allison Dickens who is the editor for my author Shanna Swendson. The countdown has begun. Only 15 more days before you can scoop up your copy of ONCE UPON STILETTOS—the sequel to ENCHANTED, INC.

Our meeting was totally hijacked by a discussion of our favorite blogs to visit. (Hey, we can’t talk business every minute of the day). But don’t worry, the launch of STILETTOS is ready. Get your frog pins ready.

For all you writers out there, the word on the RH street is erotica and more erotica. Hot, hot, hot. In more ways than one.

If you write for Ellora’s Cave or some of the other erotica e-publishers, now is probably the time to concoct bigger stories, polish off that tightly written erotic novella, land an agent, and formally make the leap if that is of interest to you. You won’t find better market timing for this genre.

I spent the afternoon at the Penguin Group and it was the same word on Hudson street.

Outside of romance, urban fantasy is also something editors ain’t got enough of on their lists.

SF still open if it can hybrid with something else (Military SF, Romance SF, Paranormal SF etc.) Much harder for the straight SF work. Epic fantasy a tough go unless it has a really original voice and storyline (so no queries on a group of friends on a quest. Need to make it stand out more.) And just so you know, I only talked with two editors today for the SF&F genre so this isn’t the word for every house so no comments about “that’s not what I heard” etc.

Now tomorrow, Anna Genoese (TOR) and I should have some fun conversations whilst we drink our coffee.

G’Night.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Titles & Originality

STATUS: Busy. Aren’t I always? I can’t wait until the assistant is in place so I can write slow, fat, and eating bon-bons as my status. Ha, ha. Speaking of, I have my other set of interviews this afternoon so will be out for the rest of the day

What song is playing on the ipod right now? YOU’VE MADE ME SO VERY HAPPY by Blood, Sweat & Tears

Just a heads up to all the readers. I plan to blog every day next week but cut me some slack if I miss, okay. I’m out in New York and will be doing crazy back-to-back editor appointments. My guess is that when I do blog, it will be around 10 p.m. (Eastern Time).

One thing I’ve noticed, after reading four years worth of partials, is that certain manuscript titles keep popping up.

One that sticks out in my mind, and it’s certainly not a bad title, is this one: THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING.

Seriously, we’ve received enough partials for this one title to really stick out. And I must really like it because I keep asking for the partial to be submitted (insert ironic laughter here). I’m thinking some of these partials were not requested at least.

Titling is tough. And I’m not any good at it. When we had to rename Paula Reed’s first pirate/puritan historical romance (INTO HIS ARMS), Paula and I spent days coming up with lists. In desperation, I met my friends out at the Wynkoop Brewery to help out.

Not one of my brightest ideas to have beer, margaritas, etc. involved in the naming process. We were way thrilled with BENT OVER THE POOP DECK and spent many a minute in joyous laughter at our own creativity over that one—and don’t worry, I apologized to Paula already for that one. In the cold, stark light of the next day, I didn’t add it to the list to send to her publisher.

So here’s a thought. When you’ve got a great title and feel it’s original, plug it into Amazon.com. I think you’ll be amazed at how many books with the same title will pop up.

You might want to play with it some more.

On the opposite end, a title too strange (and long for that matter) can be equally off-putting.

If I see some repeat titles, I’ll post ‘em here.

As for the Katie as heroine count, haven’t been seeing many lately.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Importance of being Earnest (and anonymous)

STATUS: Strangely elated and exhausted at the same time. I had forgotten how hard is to interview people. I want to make a good impression just as much as they do. I’m elated because it’s so much fun to chat with people who are excited about books and reading. I can’t wait to see who comes aboard as my new assistant.

What song is playing on the ipod right now? P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing) by Michael Jackson

I have to admit that this song takes me back to gym aerobics classes in 8th grade. Never doubt the power of association a song can bring—for good or for bad. I’ve never been overly fond of aerobics (or 8th grade for that matter). Still, the most danceable record ever made in my book (and yes I do mean record—there were no such thing as compact discs then).

Just recently I was reading Anna’s blog about not being stupid in public. She’s a little more blunt than I am (bless her soul) but I’m thinking not enough people read this journal entry and really should.

The internet seems like a big, wide open space where one can be free to write one’s opinions.

Just remember, it’s not so big a world when you are using your real name. As Anna mentions, you are not hard to find. She can see you (or a quick google search will find you easily enough). It serves no purpose to diss her publicly with your name attached with hers.

Hence the title of her blog entry.

I have to agree. I’ve been reading some discussion boards recently and perhaps it’s not the poster’s real name (although it sounds like one), but folks have been posting about how awful agents are. How they have no taste and couldn’t spot a good project if it hit them in the head, how if they just took the time to read this great query, which they’ve included in their rant, then agents would get wise (you’ve heard this whining before).

Yes, publishing is hard.

Hold the presses on that one folks.

But this is nothing but whining, in a public forum no less with your name attached. I’m too polite to say it so thank goodness Anna has already said it for me (see above teal text).

Agents visit these forums. I post but many agents I know don’t. We like to lurk as well as the next person (and before you accuse me of having too much time on my hands, I visit the boards for about 30 minutes to unwind and because I honestly find it interesting, relaxing, and it helps me to keep in touch with the writer’s world.).

I’ve been discovering many a lurker for my own blog. Just recently, I got a final contract in the mail that I needed to vet and then forward to my author. Included was a handwritten p.s. from the contracts administrator about enjoying my blog.

Holy Cow! The contracts people are reading my blog. Maybe I really should rant about that silly option clause they always want…

Kidding.

I mention this as a reminder that you never know who’s reading and if you use your real name, think twice about what you are posting. If you need to rant, I’m all for that (because I have a whole blog to do just that). I can get behind that. Publishing is tough and writers need to express frustration sometimes but don’t be stupid in public.

Choose a good pseudonym. I hear Spaceman Spiff is available.

(Free partial read to the FIRST person who correctly catches the reference and posts it in the comments section of this entry).

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Referral Power?

STATUS: Good. Signed another new client today (very exciting). Met my husband for lunch at Skyline Park. It was 75 degrees at noon in Denver today. Could work for another four hours and get some queries and partials read but it’s not going to happen unfortunately.

I apologize if you’re waiting on me. I have read all queries through March 10, 2006. Sad, I know. You’ll be happy to know that I start interviews this week for my new assistant. Can’t wait to have that person trained and set them loose.

What song is playing on the ipod right now? MYSTERY by Indigo Girls

I tried to post this earlier but my blog was down for maintenance. Sorry for the delay.

This is part rant and part observation.

Every once in a while, I’ll get an interesting query that will say that one of my current clients recommended that this writer should contact me.

Then I’ll read the query and it’s not something I would remotely handle. I’m like, “what the hey?”

Because I usually find this entertaining, I will forward the query on to my client who supposedly made the recommendation. Needless to say, they are stunned, apologetic, and a little miffed. In most cases, this query writer emailed a question to one of my clients and that person was kind enough to answer. How that got translated into a recommendation...

Tiny word of advice. Don’t smite a kind action. It might encourage already published authors to be wary of giving their time.

If my clients want to refer a writer my way, they’ll send me an email so as to give me a heads up. Don’t claim a recommendation that really isn’t because I’ll discover the truth (and then I can’t answer NO fast enough).

Now, does an actual client referral give weight? Absolutely. I usually read those partials personally (as opposed to Angie giving it first look) and in quick order (but please forgive my lapse lately because I’m really far behind.)

Have I taken on a new author via a current client referral? Not yet, but that day will come.

The best referral is when you can get an agent with a full client list to recommend you to another agent. That’s read in a hurry. Same when an editor refers an author my way (it happens) and especially when they are referring an author for whom the editor wants to make a deal with and he/she would prefer negotiating with an agent (and yes, that happens too).

I’ve signed one author from a pitch session. Would love to sign more and I think that will happen in time (I’ve got a lot of conferences coming up).

And I’ve signed two authors who got recognition thanks to POD Girl (and that’s a referral of sorts). What a gal!

But to be honest, most of the clients I’ve signed were from cold queries sent to me by email.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Pitch Perfect

STATUS: Just when I finished one contract, in comes another. I guess that’s what happens when you sell a lot of books in a short period of time. As you can probably guess, contracts are time-consuming. Analyzed some royalty statements too. I’m awaiting one more and that’s it for the spring sheets. Setting up my appts. for New York next week. Lots of lovely editors to talk to.

What song is playing on the ipod right now? MAXWELL’S SILVER HAMMER by The Beatles

Since I’m back from Dallas, I feel the urge to dispense some more little tidbits of nonsense or wisdom—depending on how you see it.

As I mentioned, it was a great conference. The writers of DARA number something like 160 and they have many already published authors. These gals (and a few guys) are quite savvy. So I haven’t got an inappropriate bathroom tale to regale you with.

I did have a person come up to me and pitch a work I had already rejected once. Not sure why. Maybe he/she thought meeting me in person would change my mind about the material but the truth was, and I told the writer this, that the work wasn’t right for me. I admire the writer’s courage though in trying again. Persistence is certainly 80% of this game if not more.

But back to my little wise tidbit.

I had some great pitch sessions while at the conference, and I wanted to distill why. Here’s what I noticed.

The best pitch sessions were

1. begun with a personal comment or observation to create rapport. A couple of writers mentioned that they read my blog and what they found helpful. (Even if you read it for the first time the night before, I’ll never know. Another hint: Mention or compliment one of my authors. Even better, if you can mention one scene you loved in one of their novels, I'll be even more impressed because then I'll know your compliment is genuine.)

2. concise and well-prepared. The writer boiled down her story to one pitch paragraph on a little note card and didn’t ramble.

3. done in 2 minutes—leaving the other eight minutes for questions—either mine or hers. I had some great, memorable conversations during these meetings because of this.

4. relaxed. A writer can be nervous and that’s fine but at least stay open to being put at ease. Your career is not riding on this meeting—contrary to popular belief. If you write well, you’ll find that perfect agent match even if you don’t pitch in person.

Monday, April 03, 2006

It’s Monday--So Partial Madness

STATUS: Beyond crazy since I was out of the office on Friday. Finished a contract, signed a new client, smiled thinking about my great weekend in Dallas.

What song is playing on the ipod right now? DIDDLEY DADDY by Chris Isaak

Once again, great aspiration to get this blog done early. Didn’t happen as you can tell. I’ll work on that.

I had a great weekend in Dallas. April is definitely the time to visit Texas. Low humidity. Temps in the 80s. I broke out my sandals and got the toenails painted hot pink just for the occasion.

I can’t tell you how many writers came up to me to say that they read my blog. It’s so nice to meet some actual faces behind the readers so thank you for that.

I also have one little tidbit of advice gleaned from the weekend. Announcing that romance is “fluff” while attending a romance conference and sitting in on a workshop that tackles the genre might not be the best way to win friends. I could feel the room temperature physically drop a notch after many cold stares were thrown the speaker’s way.

Might want to avoid that kind of social gaffe in the future. You’ll get more out of the conference that way.

I’m sure I’ll have a few more tidbits to share as the week unfolds.

But it’s Monday and you know what happens on Mondays. It’s time for some Partial Madness comments.

I’ve got two for you today since I have romance on the mind.

I’ve been noticing an interesting trend for openers in the romance partials I’ve received lately. And to be honest, this is merely an observation and certainly not a rule as something to avoid. You might want to keep them in mind just in case there’s a better way to launch your story. This might also be a personal taste thing and what doesn’t rock my boat might be a favorite thing for other agents.

If any other agents read this (or editors for that matter), feel free to pipe up in the comments section.

1. Launching into your narrative via a dream sequence.

Now, I understand the motivation for this. It allows a writer to leap into some action immediately. Usually the dream sequence is a nightmare or something unusual, which makes for a gripping start.

The problem for me is when the dream scene ends and the next scene is fairly mundane. It’s such a let down after the intensity of the opening. It’s like a false promise of what will be the story and then the reader realizes that oh, it’s just a dream. Not real. And there is a level of disappointment in that.

For the most part, if your character is dreaming, then she’s in bed. I find the next scene will often involve the heroine waking up. Not too many places to go in the narrative giving the narrowness of this perspective. She might get up and shower or something like that and suddenly, the story has lost a lot of momentum. Have you defeated the point of your opening?

2. Heroine waking up alone to find a strange man in her room.

Yikes folks. This is most women’s worst nightmare. I’m often surprised at how often this is an opening scene in a romance novel (usually a paranormal or something where time-travel might be involved). Often the stranger is going to be the hero but I can’t help thinking that it doesn’t show a lot of good judgment on his part to awaken a sleeping woman in this manner. How can she be anything other than terrified? Also, it doesn’t allow the heroine a whole lot of room to develop either. In reality, this would be beyond frightening and I don’t think it would matter how gorgeous the intruder happens to be. If a woman thinks her life is a stake, such a thought on physical beauty would be incongruous. For me, opening scenes have to make sense and this set up is something I can’t quite wrap my mind around.

Now I’m sure there is a bestselling author out there who wrote this and got away with it. I’m thinking if you’re a bestselling author, you can get away with just about anything.

However unfair, the standards are way higher for a writer trying to break in.