Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Winning The Lottery Is Not A Theme

STATUS: Finally back in the office after my super long weekend. Yep, piles of paper that need my attention. Actually, two contracts. One needs the final vet before sending to the author for signing and the other is awaiting a response from the house Contracts Manager. Digging right in.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? THANK YOU by Dido

I have to admit that this topic has bothered me for the longest time, and I’m finally getting around to giving it a good rant.

I’m nixing all manuscripts that have winning the lottery as a plot device. No more. Lay this tired ole topic down (or shoot it).

This might work as a movie theme (a la Eddie Murphy in that rags to riches tale TRADING PLACES or something quirky like the Irish WAKING NED DEVINE) but as a novel plot element, it’s just blah.

Usually the queries received revolve around one character winning the lottery and that changes his or her life.

Well, duh.

But there really isn’t anything all that interesting in the premise. It’s not a great vehicle for exploring character development or an interesting tool to explore a human conflict.

It is, however, a nice, worn out plot device.

I’m not kidding when I say that the majority of “winning the lottery” queries we receive have an outline that looks like this:

1. Main character wins lotto
2. Character becomes irresponsible and materialistic
3. Alienates family, lover, colleague or all in various order
4. Must learn the true meaning of life (which usually means something like money can’t buy you love or happiness)

Sign me up for that one. Not.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Free Speech and All That

STATUS: Working. After a long weekend though, it’s often fun to get back to work.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Hum… I should get Dad to turn on the stereo. I could use a little Johnny Cash today (that’s been his latest playlist since we watched WALK THE LINE).

First off, I must start the blog by telling y’all about the agent warm fuzzies PODDY MOUTH is inspiring today over at her blog. I just love it when folks outside the industry “get” our job and send kudos out into the world. It’s much, much appreciated.

My mom asked me an interesting question the other day. She asked me if I read the comments left on my blog.

The answer is yes, I read them. I don’t respond. It’s not my MO but I read them. Then she asked me if I edited them as she noticed that some comments were removed by author and since I am the “author” of the blog, it must be my doing.

The answer is NO actually. I’ve never removed a comment or edited anything posted there. If a comment has been removed, it was removed by the poster—not by me. Free speech and all that. I’m not one for censorship.

I guess I would have to if someone posted a comment that was wildly inappropriate (as in pornographic) or if it specifically (and in detail) libeled another person, or if the poster was posing as somebody else and posting at will inappropriately (because I know this has happened at other blogs) because ultimately I would be responsible for it on my blog.

That’s never happened and I can always hope that it never will.

If it did, I would then remove the comment, but I’d leave a message that I had done so.

But in general, differences of opinions, other viewpoints, people who don’t like me and say so on the comments… hey, it’s all part of your first amendment right.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Take A Holiday

STATUS: Feeling blessed to be with my family.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? No Stereo today.

My rant for the day.

Why am I receiving queries on Memorial Day?

I just fired up the computer briefly in order to decide whether I wanted to blog (even though it’s Monday, it’s a holiday). Oddly enough, I’ve received 15 email queries. Let’s take a break from publishing for one day. Tomorrow is soon enough for us to look at your story idea.

Today is about remembering those who have given their lives while serving in our armed forces.

That touches all of us.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Scammer Agent Behaving Badly

STATUS: Working today via my parents’ brand new wifi system that they installed just so I could work while visiting them. Think that’s a hint to visit more often? Have wifi, have instant office. After 5 p.m. tonight, I’m looking forward to a great long weekend with the fam here in Saint Louis. And just so folks aren’t worried, yes, Chutney came with. She’s a trooper on airplanes.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Dad has the stereo on. He’s listening to the MY FAIR LADY Soundtrack.

Tsk. Tsk.

It looks like a very naughty scam agent by the name of Barbara Bauer thinks she can intimidate a watch dog group from posting her on a list of the 20worstagents.

I think I’m a little late to this party and y’all have probably already heard all the details over at Miss Snark etc. but just in case, I want Absolute Write to know that I support its effort to protect writers by providing links on my blog as well.

So, here’s where the story starts on Teresa Hayden’s blog when Absolute Write’s ISP was pulled.

The good news is that AW is up and running again at a new home.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Too Short

STATUS: Traveling yet again today. I know. Go figure. I’ll be happy when June comes and things can settle down at the office.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? No music at the moment

My agent friends and I just recently discussed an interesting trend on our chat loop—queries for novels with really short word counts (like 50,000 or 60,000 words) that aren’t category romance, cozy mysteries, or YA.

Queries for “full-length” novels.

In fact, according to one agent friend, she says that about half the queries she receives highlights this short word length.

We are all stymied by this.

Where are writers getting the info that this might be an appropriate length for a work? That it would be a marketable length? Standard word length is usually between 70,000 to 100,000 words for a novel. Fantasy can push up to 110,000 but for a debut, it’s going to be a tough go if the word count is higher.

Now I have been told that word parameters are more flexible in the mystery genre but because I don’t rep that, I couldn’t say.

However, all the agents agree that these queries usually receive a NO response because such a work just wouldn’t be marketable (outside of category romance, cozies, and YA).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Clever Marketing

STATUS: Not too frazzled. My day was devoted to a contract as well as following up on submissions.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART by Bonnie Tyler (Boy, does that trigger some memories or what?)

It’s not too often an author gets to indulge in really creative marketing for a novel and to be honest, I don’t know how much of an impact it makes on the bottom line of book sales but I have to hand it to my author Shanna Swendson who daily sacrifices comfort for that little extra push.

You see. Her current novel is entitled ONCE UPON STILETTOS. On the cover, it features a young woman in red stilettos and the cute frog (that I think is rapidly becoming famous).

If you’ve read the novel, you’ll know that the stilettos actually play a major role in the events unfolding. The fun fact is that the shoes are real because Shanna owns them.

And she wears them to every book signing. Me, I’d be wearing Hush Puppies or something. Spiked heels? My feet are screaming just thinking about them.

At RT, she even went the extra distance to market herself and her books. She attended the Friday Night Fairy Ball dressed as the girl on her cover—red shoes and all. (notice the little fairy wings).

Then she had a miniature version of her cover art affixed to her name badge. Lots of people totally caught the connection and asked about it. And who knows, maybe it sold a couple of extra books.

Now, that’s what I love. Clients going that extra distance to sell just one more book.

And here's the frog pin. How perfect. Sorry, it's not the best picture in the world.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Recap—Top 10 Things I’d Rather Not See in Opening Chapters

STATUS: Super busy. It’s 8 p.m. and I’m thinking I can’t skip blogging today. I’ve never missed!

What song is playing on the iPod right now? HERE COMES MY GIRL by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Back by popular demand (or I didn’t title my blog posts well and previous rants are difficult to find).

I mentioned yesterday that I gave a presentation on the top ten things I’d rather not see in the opening chapters of your SF, Fantasy, and paranormal romance (because that sort of fits and I needed 10 things to make a nice round number).

Notice I gave this rant a handy title.

Here’s my ten list and they aren’t any particular order. Most of these will be quite familiar to my regular blog readers.

1. Characters inexplicably getting sucked into a portal for no apparent reason

This is mostly a YA fantasy device and yes, I realize there is long tradition of portals into other worlds in young adult fiction (Chronicles of Narnia and all that).

All I’m saying is that portal needs to be really necessary and not just an excuse to transport characters into another world so you can now finally tell your story

2. A person gathering herbs in the forest

Honestly, it can’t happen as frequent as I seem to see it in opening chapters.

3. A battle scene.

Goodness, let me get attached to some characters before you start whacking them. Seriously, there’s no connection to the world, characters, etc. Without it, it’s impossible for me to know who to care about.

4. A prologue.

I’ve been doing this for four years (granted—not a long time) but I have yet to see a well-done prologue in sample pages I’ve received. Even if you have one, for goodness sake, don’t send it as part of your sample. If I offer representation because I love your work, then you can spring it on me.

5. A distant third person narrative to start (ie. The boy, the old man, the healer)

Once again, hard to feel connection to a story that’s about to unfold when this is used.

6. Clumsy incorporating of back story in your dialogue (see handy example)

Character 1: I must find the elusive stone of magic (of death, of life, insert appropriate fantasy element here).

Character 2: Yes, my Queen, it is imperative we find it but you also need to remember to collect the six other crystals/stones/talismans for without it, you will not have the power of the XYZ and will be unable to rule your domain.

Ah, if she’s the Queen, wouldn’t she know all this? This dialogue is obviously for the reader’s benefit and not because it’s necessary to the story unfolding.

7. Launching your narrative via a dream sequence

I see this a lot in paranormal romance (but it can still apply to SF & F). It’s a cheap trick. Reader gets invested and then the character “wakes up.” Ugh. It’s such a let down.

8. Heroine waking up alone with a man in her room

This seems to be another popular theme in paranormal romance. This is not sexy. Any woman with a lick of sense would be terrified if this really happened. Hard to move the story forward from there.

9. Tired SF or Fantasy staples: i.e.: quest for a magical artifact, typical characters (dwarf, elf, the warrioress who doesn’t know she has magical powers), a modern woman who is really the savior on an alternate world.

Pretty self-explanatory.

10. Starting your cover letter for your sample pages with: this is a 250,000 word manuscript…

Guaranteed to send me running while screaming.

Now remember, this is just one agent’s opinion.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Taming the RT Convention

STATUS: I’m actually having a pretty fine day for a Monday. It’s usually so crazy the first day back in the office. Folks are still recovering from BEA so I bet tomorrow goes nuts. Still, I’m a little late in getting to this blog today.

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

And I have a rant for today that’s for sure.

Before I hop to it, I just had to laugh at an email Sara and I received today. We are really caught up on queries (except for the ones I still need to review—which means I might ask for 30 pages still). If it was a NO, Sara responded to all queries—even up through 3 p.m. today! Wow. What a gal. I’m so excited to be this on top of things (except this all falls apart when I get behind on the stuff—such as partials--Sara screened for me—I’m working on that). We got an email that accused us of sending an auto-response.

I assure you. If you emailed us a query, it was read before a response was sent.

So here’s my rant for today.

I was regaled with wild stories of the Romantic Times Convention. Half-naked men. Drunken debaucheries. Parties all night long.

I’m thinking I was at the wrong convention.

Well there were half-naked men…

Here I am on the left, my author Shanna Swendson, and that's my sister (who came with me for a little R&R), Lisa Horner looking pretty startled.

Picture compliments of Linnea Sinclair.

In case you were wondering what she was seeing, here's a sample. It might be a little dark.

Big smile.

Hey, I just read on Editor Anna’s blog that she was there and I kid you not, I didn’t see her once. There were at least a 1000 people there but sheesh, to not even pass each other in the hallway or elevators. The hotel was rather large and well, I’ll fess up. I did spend a lot of time on the beach.

But just in case you thought I wasn’t really working. I have proof that I did. Here is Anne Groell (Linnea’s editor at Bantam), Linnea, and I. We are obviously working very hard.

Seriously, here I am at the SF & F Panel –giving my top ten things I’d rather not see in the opening chapters of your manuscript (and you guys all know this since I’ve blogged about all 10 of them). I figured the people in the audience might not read my blog so it would be fun to share.

See, I worked.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Working, Truly I am

STATUS: Another beautiful and sunny day in Daytona. Yippee!

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Just listening to ocean waves—the usual morning ritual. I could get use to that (but I don’t think I can get used to humidity).

And lest you think I’m just being a slacker for this whole trip, I’m actually working today (at least working in terms of writers seeing me and thinking, ah, she’s working). Have Blackberry, can work on beach.

I’m taking pitch appointments from 9 to 11 a.m. I’m doing a Paranormal/Fantasy panel from 11 to noon.

Then it’s off to the RT Awards Luncheon. My author Cheryl Sawyer has been nominated for her novel SIREN.

She lives in Australia so I’ll be present on her behalf. Keep your fingers crossed that we bring back a win.

Then I have the other half of the panel this afternoon. Then Linnea and I need to do some quality agent/author time (translation: having a drink at the bar).

Dinner with Becky Motew—the funniest lady at RT.

All in a day’s work!

Ps. If you are around RT, you should look for me. I’ve been wearing a sparkly frog brooch—the same frog on the cover of ONCE UPON STILETTOS.

It’s the cutest darn thing let me tell you. Shanna found it in a little novelty store and just about fainted with delight it was such a perfect match. Today it’s on my bag. Then you’ll know it’s me (if for some reason you can’t seen my name emblazoned on the name tag).

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Authors Behaving Badly

STATUS: Off to St. Augustine for the day. I’m out.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? No ipod today.

Since I’m off to discover the old city, head on over to Bookseller Chick’s blog. She’s discussing author bad behavior and how not to win booksellers and influence readers.

If you are a published author, heed this lesson. Never underestimate (or under appreciate) the power of individual booksellers to sell or not sell your book.

Put on that charming smile and keep it there when in public!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

One that Got Away—And I regret it (Part Three)

STATUS: Pleeeaassse… The beach is a calling. Working? What’s that? Yep, I’m in Daytona. I actually to plan to go to the registration desk and check in for the conference. Then a little breakfast and then right to the beach. Oh yeah!

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Listening to the crash of waves. Oceanfront view!

Definition 3: One that got away can mean a manuscript for which I read the full but then decided to pass.

I remember reading an article (and this was at least a year or two ago) and in it was a story from literary agent Stuart Krichevsky (and since my memory is faulty it might not have been Stuart but I’m pretty sure it was). In it, he divulged a very amusing tidbit about passing on a project called MUTANT MESSAGE FROM DOWN UNDER, which later when on to sell a million copies.


He just laughed at himself in the article. That work just didn’t grab him when he gave it a look. Now he kind of half-heartedly kicks himself. Not really because he’s got Sebastian Junger on his roster (and a bunch of other great names). So what? He missed one great project. After agents are in the business for 25 years or more, we probably have a bunch of big sellers on our list (at least I do in my dreams of when I’ve been in the business for that long—big smile here). I’ve had my own agency now for only 4 years and I’m not unhappy as to where it is. My clients are building and their name recognition growing. In 25 years, they’ll all be big sellers (hear that clients? Get busy!)

Yeah, I imagine that if I had been an agent 10 years ago and was in the UK and passed on a little project called Harry Potter, I’d probably want to kick myself. Good thing it wasn’t even a possibility for me because that would feel pretty yucky.

Luckily, I think that was a phenomenon and unlikely to occur again in my lifetime.

Most “overnight” successes take about 10 years (Dan Brown a prime example).

But there is one project that I read a full manuscript for and do sort of feel some regret for passing on it. The book hasn’t actually published yet so I have no idea if it will be a big seller or not.

That in itself wouldn’t necessarily trigger regret.

No, I regret passing on this book because I really, really liked it but thought it needed some editorial input before submitting. At the time, days in the office were crazy with the negotiation of the Disney deal and a bunch of other projects. I felt overwhelmed and thought, gee, I haven’t got the time to really do this justice right now.

I even called the author and chatted with her. But, I passed. In the months that followed, I kept thinking about that novel and would give myself a little kick. I should have taken it on because the story kept coming back to me.

Then I saw the deal post in deal lunch. Here it is:

Terri Garey's DEAD GIRLS ARE EASY, about a former Goth girl who wakes up from a near-death experience to find herself an unwilling 'ghoulfriend' to the dead - described as Mary Janice Davidson meets The Sixth Sense, to Erika Tsang at Avon, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, by Annelise Robey at Jane Rotrosen Agency (world English).

This one got away. For me.

For Terri, she’s probably thrilled that Annelise was one smart cookie and took it on. It should be coming out this fall or early next spring. Look for it!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Ones that Got Away (Part Two)

STATUS: Fast-paced day. I did manage to get up at 6 a.m., leave the house by 7:15 a.m. to catch the bus to the airport, make my flight, arrive in Orlando on time only to discover that the person whom I’m meeting at the airport won’t be here for another two hours because her plane is delayed. Best laid plans…

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Since I’m sitting at the Orlando airport typing this, I’m listening to CNN headline news or something similar being piped in through the speakers.

In good news, this gives me plenty of time to blog (although I have my tablet PC with me and I should be reading the full manuscripts I’ve requested). I’ll do that in 15 minutes when I finish this entry.

Definition 2: The Ones that Got Away can mean the projects I read 30 pages of and decided it wasn’t for me so I passed.

As I mentioned yesterday, agents rarely expend a lot of time worrying about sample pages we passed on. I often track full manuscripts I’ve read and then passed on, but sample pages--no.

Every once in a while I’ll see a sale posted on deal lunch and I’ll remember that yeah, I didn’t request a full for that one.

In fact, I have no ego. I’m happy to share the covers of two books I had the pleasure of reading sample pages of but didn’t end up asking for a full or offering representation.

So here they are.

I actually know both the authors too. Mario is part of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and is beyond a delightful gentleman. Carrie is a part of Backspace: The Writer’s Place and so we often interact online. Great people. Great books. They found a perfect agent to rep them.

For whatever reason, the stories just didn’t work for me (and it obviously wasn’t because of the writing or because it wasn’t publishable). I just wasn’t 100% in love with what I read to ask for the full.

In fact, I think the only reason these two stand out in my mind is because Mario's novel had a unique title and Carrie’s novel was fairly early in my career and I wasn’t reading nearly as many partials as I do now. I’d be hard pressed to remember stuff today given the current volume of what I receive and read.

But back to my point. This business is so subjective. For agents, it’s all about our individual tastes.

Heck, do a test yourself. Walk into a bookstore. Not every book on the shelf is going to tickle your fancy. Some authors you loathe and wonder how ANYONE can read through such dreck, but it’s your best friend’s favorite author of all time.

Now you are getting the picture.

I think I need to debunk some myths that writers hold in their minds.

1. Agents will take on any project they think they can sell.

Nope. It takes an awful lot to champion a novel. Often, I’ve read the darn thing twice before it even goes on submission. I have to love something 100% to take it on knowing that I might be reading this project a couple of more times if necessary. If it doesn’t sell right away, I have to stay enthusiastic enough to reread and work with the author on another edit. Also, I have to make the assumption that I’ll love future works by this author (even if the first book doesn’t sell).

If I’m only lukewarm about project despite the fact that I think it can sell…

2. Agents won’t pass on good writing.

Wrong. I pass on stuff that’s written well all the time. Maybe I don’t see a big enough story. Maybe I like it but I don’t LOVE it. Maybe I can totally see the value but have no idea what editor would love it so the author is best served by another agent. It’s not a novel I would pick up and buy at the Bookstore. Blah, blah, blah. The list goes on.

3. Agents are infallible in their judgment.

Ha. That’s silly. I was just reading the most recent Publishers Weekly and there was a tidbit on E. Lynn Harris who failed to find an agent or a publisher for his first novel INVISIBLE LIFE. He publishing it himself in 1991, sold well, and then was later picked up by a publisher in 1994. Now his current book I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER is on the bestseller lists. Harris can now boast more than three million copies in print of his books.

Right. Infallible.

The market constantly surprises agents, but I’m not going to kick myself on the stuff I passed on (especially if I only read 30 pages of it). Why? Because I know that another great project that I’m going to love is just around the corner and I’ll sign that author and then sell the work (for big money--LOL) and then sell all the foreign rights and then sell the film rights and then it will hit the bestseller list and then…

And that’s what makes this job so delightful.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Ones that Got Away (Part One)

STATUS: Crazy day. Monday always is. I’m finishing up a submission—to make sure it’s all completed before I leave town tomorrow morning. Also, I’m in the middle of negotiating the film/tv rights for one of my books. Flurry of emails going back and forth as we try and resolve some outstanding issues and see if we can settle this down so I can present the offer to my author.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? THAT’S HEAVEN TO ME by Sam Cooke

Just a warning, I’m going to be leaving for the RT Convention in Daytona Beach, FL bright and early tomorrow morning. I actually don’t think I’ll have time to blog. We’ll see. I have to catch the bus to the airport at by 7:30 a.m. Ouch. That’s early folks. (As an aside, this is way too much travel in such a short period of time. I plan to be smarter when scheduling next year.)

I thought it would be fun to rant about what I think is an interesting topic—the projects that got away. I define “projects that got away” in a couple of different ways so it will make a good theme for the week. Also, I imagine that writers might find this rather fascinating. Do we have regrets? The quick and dirty answer? No. Not really. I see lots of stuff that’s publishable but not right for me. Every once in a while though…

Definition 1: The Ones that Got Away can mean the writers whose projects I offered representation to, vied for, but lost to another agent.

This happens. I wish it wouldn’t happen as often as it does but when I see a great project, chances are good that other agents think it’s good too. I offer and the writer mentions she already has a couple of offers on the table.

I am my charming self on the phone. I toot my horn—highlight my terrific sales record, high sell-through, movie deals but alas, the writer chooses another agent.

Darn. The project that got away.

For the most part, there really isn’t any regret. I tried hard for the project and lost. Karma in the world. The author/project wasn’t meant for me (and I know this is corny but I really do think certain agent/author hook ups are meant to be).

Of course, this sanguine approach sounds great until just a couple of weeks later I see the sale on deal lunch that it went in a pre-empt.

Grrr… Then I sigh. Maybe mutter an expletive (but that’s pretty rare) and move on.

I’m happy for the author. He/she deserved the quick sale and I would never begrudge him/her that. Still, it would have been more fun if it had been my sale…

Friday, May 12, 2006

School’s In

STATUS: Feeling lazy. It’s so beautiful out right now. Sara and I went to lunch so we could sit outside. Struggling to get back into the groove this afternoon.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? THIS IS IT by Kenny Loggins

Because I’m being supremely lazy today, I’m going to point out some really terrific and recent blogs if you want to learn about the publishing industry. So, if you are feeling chipper, head on over and check out these two.

Editor Anna blogged about Profit & Loss Statements and how editors decide what to buy and for how much.

Then Bookseller Chick took the mystery out of the term “mid-list.”

Curious? Truly some edifying blogs.

I’m out.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

3 Cheers for Writer Beware!

STATUS: Feeling happy. I’m really close to resolving an outstanding issue. My New Zealand/Australian author Cheryl Sawyer needed an ITIN (International Tax Identification Number) so her publisher could pay her without withholding 30% of her royalties for tax purposes. It has been a long, frustrating road for Cheryl. Many IRS hoops to jump through, but finally the ITIN is here and the W8BEN form has been completed. We can now benefit from the US tax treaty with Australia. No 30% for you IRS!

What song is playing on the iPod right now? TRULY MADLY DEEPLY by Savage Garden

If you know me personally, you’d know that nothing burns me more then hearing about writers who are fleeced by scam agents. It makes me truly irate that there are unethical people in the world who prey on the hopes, dreams, (and I have to say) ignorance of aspiring authors.

Lucky for me, there are brilliant people in the world like Dave Kuzminski for Preditors and Editors and A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware.

Well guess what? Ann and Victoria have just nailed another scam b*stard. Click here to read the whole story. These folks unselfishly take a lot of heat and keep the world safe for the newbies in the publishing world.

Three Cheers! Three Cheers! Three Cheers!

And while I’m on this topic, I want to throw in a warning about marginal agents—folks who might mean well and aren't scammers but also aren’t very effective (folks that might be on the writer conference circuit but don’t seem to be selling any books). And just to be clear, I’m not talking about new agents who are brand new to an already established agency or have recently established their own agencies. These folks are either paying their dues or have paid their dues by working at other agencies or by being actual editors at publishing houses. Obviously these folks won’t have a lot of sales to their credit. I’m talking about “agents” for whom you can’t find any information about recent sales or past publishing jobs. Trust me, this information should not be hard to find and if it is…

That’s a red flag (as are any fees: editorial, reading, submission, or whatever they are being called. Money flows to the author—not the other way around).

Remember, anyone can hang a shingle and state that he/she is an agent. Hanging the shingle doesn’t make that true. Only good contacts and a solid sales record can.

(And Victoria has a brilliant blog post on marginal agents too! As well as evaluating an agent's website. Boy these gals are smart. Bookmark this page right now.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


STATUS: A good day. The final contracts came by FedEx overnight and joy of joy, all pages were included. Definitely makes my job easier. However, I did just get a new contract for another project I just sold. Price to pay I guess for selling but delight, contracts are time-consuming.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? STAND BACK by Stevie Nicks (sometimes I just need my Divas)

Sample pages update: Sara and I have read and responded to all partials up to about April 3, 2006. If you haven’t received a response, hold off for a week before inquiring because I still need to evaluate a few before the response letters go out.

I was at the Silicon Valley Writers Conference this past weekend. I have to say, on the whole, I was pretty impressed with the good pitches I heard. If the writing matches the pitches, there could be some exciting reading happening soon.

On Saturday night, the conference held a speed-pitching session—kind of like speed dating (but for a professional relationship rather than personal). The writer has 3 minutes in which to pitch and make a connection with the agent. Then the bell rings and whisks the writer away to the next person.

On Sunday morning, several attendees asked me what I thought about it.

It’s a good question. I actually needed to process it a bit but here are some thoughts.

What I liked:

1. It forced participants to nail their pitch in the allotted amount of time.

I really do think this is a valuable skill. You need to be able to talk about your work in a succinct but engaging manner. Y’all know that I’ve commented on this blog before that all pitches should be in 2 minutes or under. In a regular pitch session, the remaining time would be spent in actual conversation with the agent (you asking questions, the agent asking questions or whatever).

2. Hear ‘em all in an hour rather than spending a whole morning on pitch sessions.

It’s usually clear in the first two minutes or so of a pitch whether it’s something for me. Get ‘em in, swing ‘em out. The pace worked for me. It was fun, didn’t feel as serious, yet work was getting done.

3. When a writer missed and pitched a project I didn’t rep, I just told her to scoot and head on to the next appropriate agent (and was able to point her in the right direction).

No guilt feelings! Okay, the writer messed up. Move on to the next agent who does rep mysteries (or whatever). There’s no wasted 10 minutes staring at a person I can’t help.

The downside:

1. That’s an awful lot of pitches in one hour.

I did feel a little dazed and confused by the end. I hoped that I didn’t have that glassy-eyed look for the last person. (I also made the mistake of thinking the final bell had rung; I got up to walk down to the bar—of course—and panicked two participants who were still waiting. I apologize for that).

2. Some writers still rambled the whole 3 minutes—giving a roundabout synopsis, not a pitch (and there is a difference).

I have to say that I was firm this time around. Adhering to the rules of the game, I was only going to request pages for projects that grabbed me. If I wasn’t sold in the 3 minutes, I passed on asking for sample pages. I think this might have stunned a couple of people and I know one person was particularly upset with me. Please remember, it’s not personal. There are a lot of published books at the bookstore that don’t grab me but still managed to be published. It’s just not something I was particularly interested in. It doesn’t mean the work doesn’t have value (although I still strongly encourage the writer to work on her pitch).

3. The hour passed in a blur.

I’m not sure how much of a memory I’m going to have about the writer who presented the pitch. Sometimes there is a nice recall connected to the sample pages when I sit down to read them. The pace might not be conducive to that.

In the end, does speed-pitching work? Guess I won’t know until I ask somebody to come aboard from a speed pitch. Truly, the only barometer of success.

An aside, does speed-dating actually work? I’ve been married for years so have no idea…

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

When The Pseudonym Makes More Sense

STATUS: It’s an okay morning. Got lots to do still so this rant will be short. A nice wrap up to the Name Game.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? LONG HOT SUMMER by The Style Council

One last story.

My author Kelly Parra is Latina/Asian (and if you visit her website and read her bio, you’ll discover that she’s actually Mexican-Filipino-Italian-American to be exact). And yes, you guessed it. Her last name is not “Parra.”

That is actually her mother’s maiden name.

Since she’s writing edgy Latina fiction (adult romantic suspense and young adult), we wanted a name to reflect her mixed heritage so readers would be able to identify her as a multi-cultural author who knows what she’s writing about.

You see. Kelly married a terrific guy with an Irish last name and she uses her married name in everyday life. That coupled with her first name Kelly made her sound full-blooded Irish and not even remotely Latina (and Irish is not even in the mix—except for her kids who are now Mexican-Filipino- Italian-Irish-American). Get the picture?

So, this was actually an occasion where a pseudonym made more sense and Kelly Parra was born.

Now, it wouldn’t really have been a big deal if she wanted to use her Irish married name. We just both agreed that connecting with readers was most important and since she’s writing Latina characters…why alienate readers who might make the misassumption that she didn’t have the heritage?

Besides, I don’t know about you, but I just love the look of the last name “Parra.” The double “r.” It even looks a little edgy on the page/cover and boy, does that really fit what she writes.

Tomorrow, off on a new rant so stay-tuned.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Stories Behind The Names

STATUS: Is it possible to be unhappy while in San Francisco? I had a great day. There is publishing out West (just in case some of you didn’t know that). I had coffee with Kate Nitze from MacAdam/Cage and then lunch with Renee Sedliar, Marlowe & Company. Now I'm back at the hotel but the conference starts in an hour.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? Telly in the hotel room is on instead.

I have to say that although my last two rants are pretty pointless, I’ve had a great time with them. I promised you a story so finally, here it is. I actually have two stories to share.

Okay. I’ve included the cover of PLAN B from the author of BACHELORETTE #1. Take a close look. Do you notice anything different? Don’t read on until you catch it.

It’s subtle so give yourself a pat on the back if you caught it right away. Yes, this is the debut YA cover for my adult market author Jennifer O’Connell.

And yes, her publisher is the one who decided to change her name from Jennifer to Jenny O’Connell for her YA stuff.

The big question is why.

Well, her editor actually thought that the name “Jenny” had a hipper, younger feel than Jennifer and since we wanted to appeal to that younger audience, we choose to change her name slightly and go with the Jenny.

Even better (and this is what cracks me up) Jennifer, being the savvy author that she is, decided to do a photo op that had a younger feel. She even decided to remove her wedding rings for the photo since being “married” might feel too stodgy and established for her younger readers. There’s no disguising that she’s not in her 20s but she’s looking pretty hip if I do say so myself.

I’ve got another story but must head out now. Will have to wait until Monday.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Writer Name Rant (cont.)

STATUS: Giddy. Got my Brilliance audio copy of LOVE YOU KILL YOU today. It’s the agency's first bona fide audio book.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? CRUEL TO BE KIND by Letters To Cleo

Methinks that sometimes the readers of this blog take me too seriously. Unless your name is Charles Manson or something equally creepy, I’m certainly not going to nix somebody’s query or partial based on their name alone or how they sign it.

A name can be changed. Story in a moment.

But let’s talk about this some more.

I think an author’s name should fit the genre they write. A nice hyphenated last name might work well for a literary work but would be too cumbersome for romance, mystery, and thriller. SF and Fantasy can swing either way I think.

Middle initials are just the bane of my existence. Drop ‘em. If your name is super common (as is Kristin Nelson), I’d seriously consider a pseudonym for your writing career. And, no need to provide that middle initial for your query either. Trust me, that single letter isn’t going to distinguish you enough if your name is Jane Smith.

When we respond to partials and actually do put the writers name in the heading, we leave off any titles (Mr., Ms., or Dr.) and initials. First and last name only. We don’t have time for anything else.

Not to mention, long or difficult names are not easy to remember. Let’s do a quick quiz.

Name five literary writers. Go….

Okay, off the top of my head without even thinking, these writers pop to mind:
Salman Rushdie
Toni Morrison
Marilynne Robinson
Alice Munro
John Fowles

Easily remembered names.

As much as I would like them to, folks like Michael Ondaatje and Chuck Palahnuik (and Annie Proulx for that matter) don’t leap to mind easily.

Is it hurting their sales? Probably not. I will venture a guess that book buyers probably don’t ask for them by name (if they are like me, pronunciation is slippery) but by title.

Gets the job done. Still…

Off to the airport. Will have to share my good author name story tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Esoteric Rant on Writer Names

STATUS: Doing okay. I wish I had gotten a few more things completed today but… that’s life. Off to San Fran tomorrow for the Silicon Valley Conference. I will try and blog whilst traveling but Friday might be iffy.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? GOLD FEVER by Clint Eastwood (yes, he does sing—or should I say did at one time.) This is from the PAINT YOUR WAGON soundtrack. I’m in a musical kind of mood. I’ve got tickets for LES MISERABLES tonight!

I have to admit that this is a purely esoteric rant because ultimately, what author name you use isn’t that big of a deal. This is purely something that annoys me and really isn’t a huge issue in the grand scheme of things.

I want to talk about author names because ultimately, promoting your work and getting published is all part of one big package of professionalism.

And, I think writers are potentially too hung up on their formal names (as in using first, middle, maiden, and last name).

I wouldn’t blame you if you are scratching your head at this moment, so let me explain.

If you write literary fiction, I think using three names is fine as long as there is a memorable rhythm to it (Jonathan Safran Foer pops to mind).

Otherwise, three names is overkill and potentially not in your best interest (in terms of name recognition, ease of finding you in the bookstore, etc.) It can sound pretentious and if you are writing a big, bad thriller, it’s potentially defeatist. It’s James Patterson, Lisa Scottoline, Iris Johansen, John Grisham, Robert Crais, Lee Child. Boom, boom, boom.

Of course there is also Mary Higgins Clark… (always exceptions to the rules). I also love Orson Scott Card as a name and that’s SF. But notice, it’s got memorable rhythm. It works. The name itself mesmerizes.

And notice something else about these names. There are no middle initials used. I see a lot of signed queries/partials with “Jane P. Smith” or whatever. Personally, I don’t think that translates well to a front cover.

When BACHELORETTE #1 was getting published, my author originally wanted her name on the cover to read Jennifer L. O’Connell, and I talked her out of it. Why? Because Jennifer L. O’Connell doesn’t really roll off the tongue as well as just plain Jennifer O’Connell. The “L” just visually interrupts and looks out of place. Not as memorable. Discord in what could have rhythm.

I do like just first initials and a last name—especially for genre fiction. RL Stine, JK Rowling, JD Robb. It’s got a nice feel.

I know what you are thinking. Who cares? I’m not even published yet. My name is the last thing I’m worried about. I understand. Still, it’s all a part of showing a polished package in the business that is writing. Think like a professional writer and you’ll become one (well, as long as you have talent too). Now, I don’t want y’all getting hung up on all these silly details and neglect what is most important—your writing—but it’s still worth thinking about.

I’ve got more to rant on this subject so until tomorrow…

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Not Because It’s Good For Me

STATUS: Happy. It’s almost 80 degrees in Denver. Had lunch outside with the Hubby. Finished a submission. No contracts awaiting my attention since final copies need to arrive for the final vet. Three of my clients had release dates this week: Becky Motew for COUPON GIRL; Shanna Swendson for ONCE UPON STILETTOS; Ally Carter for I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU. On top of that, Jennifer O’Connell’s YA debut PLAN B is selling super well. All in all, I’m having a great day.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? BELLE from Walt Disney’s Beauty and The Beast soundtrack

Do you want to know what turns me off when reading a query letter for YA or a middle grade project? Even if you don’t, I’m going to tell you anyway. I love this blog sometimes.

Nothing will generate a quicker NO than highlighting the “educational” value of your children’s work in your query letter.

For picture books or lower level middle grade, it can make sense. The books might be geared towards education and specifically designed to be a learning tool. (As a reminder though, I don’t handle either.)

But for Harry Potter level middle-grade and especially for YA, the “educational value” is the kiss of death to a query in my book. Why?

Goodness, don’t you remember reading as a kid? I certainly didn’t pick up a novel because I thought I might “learn” something from it. Ick. I choose a novel to read because I thought the story would be wildly entertaining. And, if I happened to learn something because the writer was that good, well then, bully for me. The educational value was the absolute last thing on my mind (but boy did I incidentally learn a lot from some of my favorite novels).

Same should apply to your query letter. If you can’t sell me on a really original and engaging story (that would actually be enticing to young people), I’m not really interested and all the educational value in the world won’t change my mind.

All I’m thinking is boy, that would be dull as dirt. Who wants to read because it’s good for me? I certainly didn’t as a tween and I’m guessing that things haven’t changed all that much in the last 28 years.

Tell a good story. Highlight that in your query. If you’ve got that, I’m positive you are a strong enough writer to embed lessons worth learning in the novel because it would be a natural part of the story unfolding.

Monday, May 01, 2006

There’s No Escaping It! Embrace the Chick Lit Moniker.

STATUS: A little annoyed. More to come in a moment.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? PAINTER SONG by Norah Jones

Ugh! Wasn’t I just ranting about not wanting to be labeled the chick lit agent?

Well, I did an interview for my local Denver magazine: 5280.

Yep, you guessed it. The angle the writer took was that I’m Denver’s Chick Lit Savant. That was even the title of the profile. Honestly, I talked about more than chick lit and discussed many of my other authors. But alas, I guess Chick Lit Savant sounds more “catchy.”

My favorite line from the profile? “Nelson specializes in the modern romance fiction genre affectionately known as ‘chick lit,’ so beach-worthy brain candy is her bread and butter.”

Kristin slaps head in resignation.

I specialize? I’m not specializing folks. I’m open to lots of stuff outside of the world of romance and chick lit.

“Beach-worthy brain candy”? Well, it does sound catchy. The writer obviously has not read any of my four chick lit authors because although they might be beach-worthy, not one of them is “brain candy.” They are smart, witty, and razor-sharp in their observations of what real woman must face.

Now I feel like I need to give a formal apology to my four chick lit authors and an apology for my fourteen other clients (who make up the majority of my list and are certainly part of my “bread and butter”) but who don’t write chick lit.

Sorry all. I’m not throwing in the towel and embracing the chick lit moniker. I will fight, fight, fight.


Ps. In this day and age, can’t they touch up magazine photos? For heavens sake, they shave off inches from Cindy Crawford’s thighs for the cover of Cosmo? Can’t they smooth out some of my wrinkles for 5280…