Friday, June 30, 2006

Agenting 101 (part two)

STATUS: It’s a quiet day. Most of publishing skipped out of the office at 1 p.m. Eastern time. And then I just heard the news, a moment of silence for Jim Baen: 1943-2006.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? MYSTERY by Anita Baker

Got your notebooks ready? Here we go.

Yesterday, I spent enough time highlighting the importance of getting an agent on board and when. That’s totally up to you and what you need for your career.

Let’s go back to yesterday’s scenario. You are a hard-working author who is building her career. You don’t currently have an agent and a call with an offer comes in from an editor at a large, NYC publisher. You plan to go it alone.

First off, this is great news! You’ve done an amazing job of getting your unagented manuscript noticed out of a slush pile. Congratulate yourself. This is a triumph. You’ve beat some tremendous odds.

But chances are good you weren’t expecting the editor’s call so it probably takes you completely by surprise—not to mention your heart is pounding with excitement.

My first recommendation to you is to be warm, gracious, and excited while talking to the editor but don’t commit to anything during that phone call. You need time to process, to analyze the deal points, to figure out the questions that you might have or to talk with your fellow authors to get help and advice (so many published writers are savvy because they belong to RWA, or SFWA, or Sisters In Crime and so have a lot of knowledge). And you can’t do that while on the phone with the editor.

So ask the editor to email you the terms of agreement so you can review them at your leisure (and ask for the time frame for when you need to respond by). This allows you a little breathing room, a little distance in which to start the negotiation. This also allows you to calm your frantically beating heart so you can be in a better space to do the actual negotiation.

Deal Points

Agents call the initial phone (and a lot of times by email) negotiation the hammering out of the deal points. What this means is that these are the main components and potentially the deal breakers. If we can’t agree on these terms, there’s no point in sending on the rest of the contract.

Now, what the deal points are can really vary depending on the authors and what level they are in their careers. That’s complicated so I’m just going to stick with the basic deal points.

By the way, what I’m sharing certainly isn’t top secret. In fact, Agent Richard Curtis even wrote a book entitled HOW TO BE YOUR OWN LITERARY AGENT.

I wouldn’t recommend being your own agent (as you well know) but this book is a great resource if you want to learn about the business of contracts and all the nitty-gritty.

When an editor offers, you want to get answers to these 6 elements of the deal.

1. Rights Granted
2. Advance
3. Payout
4. Royalty structure/format
5. Bonus clauses
6. option clause

There are also three other questions you should probably ask as well:

1. What editorial changes do you see as necessary?
2. Potential pub date?
3. If a two-book offer, make sure that they will be separately accounted.

You also want to include another clause in the deal point negotiation that will read (and this can vary depending on rights granted):

"All rights not specifically granted hereunder are reserved by the Author, including, but not limited to motion picture, television, radio, commercial merchandising, audio, video, multimedia and/or interactive electronic rights."

Got that jotted down? On Monday, I’ll start breaking down each one of the deal points and talking about them.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Agenting 101 (part one)

STATUS: Don’t you love it when things happen out of the blue? For example, my author Ally Carter got an email from Carly Phillips (yes, that NYT Bestselling Carly). She was at the airport and needed a book. She grabbed CHEATING AT SOLITAIRE and loved it so much she had to email Ally. She even gave us a quote to use for LEARNING TO PLAY GIN promotional materials, “Fresh, fun and fabulous. Solitaire has never been so much fun!”


Now Carly is my new favorite person. Run out right now and buy Ally’s book and then buy one of Carly’s. Because such magnanimity should be rewarded. Most NYT bestselling authors are overwhelmed by blurb requests and make a policy of simply saying 'no' so as to be consistent and fair—so Carly’s generosity is much appreciated.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? I WILL NOT BE DENIED by Bonnie Raitt

Earlier this week, I got an email from an author who had gotten an offer from an established NYC publisher after having been at a small, independent for her first book.

Great I think. Send me the novel as an electronic file, and I’ll take a look and see if we can be a good fit.

(Side note explanation here. Most of you are probably thinking, wow, deal on the table, easy money. Truth is, I only take on clients whose work I love, which means if I read the novel and it’s not for me, I’m going to pass on representation—even with a deal on the table. And I’m not joking. I have passed on two projects where the deal was already there because when I take on a client, I need to believe I can rep you for your whole career—that I will love your future stuff. Not just rep you for one book and for the money.)

So, I need to see the novel before I can offer representation. The author sends back an email saying she has already verbally accepted the offer from the NYC publisher (because the deal was not unlike the one she had for the small independent publisher so it looked fine to her) but would like an agent for future stuff and could she send the next project she has.

Kristin groans and raps forehead on desk.

This author expects an NYC publisher to offer the same terms as a small publisher? Oh, heavens.

And now I’m angry on behalf of this author I don’t even know because she’s just accepted a potentially silly offer (with the unchanged boilerplate contract—and I’m cringing while writing this) simply because she didn’t know any better. And you know I HATE when authors are taken advantage of. It really burns me. I think Miss Snark might call this the nitwit of the day.

But I’ll just call it excited, naïve author makes a mistake (and not an uncommon one at that).

So open your notebooks and grab a pen. Kristin is opening up the Pub Rants University and will now teach you Agenting 101 for the next week (except 4th of July). She’s going to teach you how to handle an NYC publisher offer without an agent on board.

First off, as they say when watching the Xtreme sports channel, don’t try this at home. There is a reason why authors pay us the big bucks (chortles) or to be exact, 15% for domestic.

We know what we are doing. You don’t. We aren’t excitable because somebody has just offered to publish our baby. You are. The editor knows that she’s dealing with a professional when working with an agent and that all aspects of the deal will be discussed in detail whereas with you, the editor knows she’s going to get a project cheap—that you’ll be so happy, you’ll verbally agree (without understanding all the deal points) and that you’ll probably sign an unchanged boilerplate (which basically is in the publishing houses favor—not yours).

Now is the NYC publishing house evil for doing so? No. If they can get what they can get and in their favor, why shouldn’t they?

Lesson #1: Editor calls to offer for your project.

What you do (possibility 1): You say, “I’m delighted that you are interested in this novel (or novels or whatever). I’m very open to considering XYZ publishing house. Here is my email address. Would you please email me the deal points or terms of the offer so I can sit down and take a close look at it?”

The editor is going to be more than fine with doing this. You aren’t jeopardizing the offer. The editor is not going to retract it with this request. In fact, you might have just leapt up a notch in her estimation. You are smart, professional, savvy.

Now, I recommend that once you have the deal points in hand, call your absolute favorite agents—the ones you’ve had your eye on. Call and say, I have an unaccepted offer in hand from XYZ publisher and I’m looking for an agent to negotiate this deal and potentially represent my future works.

Let me tell you. Your phone will be ringing—and promptly. Agents love the words “deal on the table from a big time, reputable, can-pay-real-money publisher.”

Obviously I’m biased here but an Agent works for you—to protect your interest. Why not get this expertise on board instead of going on your own (unless of course you are really savvy about publishing etc)—although I’ll tell you right now that agents and editors who write, hire another agent to rep them. We know the biz and we STILL hire another agent to represent our interests. Why? Because a layer is created. The agent gets to be the mean chick, fight for the deal points, be stubborn if she has to, and the author gets an untarnished, pristine relationship with her editor—full of good will and good cheer.

Your agent is the tiger so you can be the easy-to-work-with lamb.

What you do (possibility 2): “I’m delighted that you are interested in this novel (or novels or whatever). I’m very open to considering XYZ publishing house. Here is my email address. Would you please email me the deal points or terms of the offer so I can sit down and take a close look at it? Also, I would like to find an agent who might be able to work on my behalf. Do you have any recommendations of who I might contact or who you enjoy working with.”

Most editors prefer to work with us and they are usually happy to offer recommendations. Then do your research, see if these agents work for you, and contact them.

What you do (possibility 3): “I’m delighted that you are interested in this novel (or novels or whatever). I’m very open to considering XYZ publishing house. Here is my email address. Would you please email me the deal points or terms of the offer so I can sit down and take a close look at it.”

And you plan to go it alone. I don’t recommend it but if you are adamant, take your time. Nothing has to be done in one phone call or in one day even. Ask if there is a deadline by which to conclude (so you have the time frame), and now it’s time to learn what you need to negotiate the initial offer. As for the rest of the contract, it would take more than a week of blogging to teach you that and alas, I’m not up to that level of education—not to mention, it’s why I have a contracts manager.

Agenting 101 begins tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Agents-What Are We Good For?

STATUS: What a fun day. Bookseller chick rocks by answering my bookseller questions right there on her blog (and heartily shamed me into ALWAYS talking to my local booksellers when I’m at the store) and Linnea, her editor Anne Groell, and I have been having an email fest to work out the kinks in Linnea’s world for her next, upcoming SF romance tentatively titled GAMES OF COMMAND. Talk about a brainstorming session! We nailed some pretty important distinctions concerning furzels (read: felines) and space travel.

(And Bookseller Chick, if you’re reading, you might try moving Linnea’s stuff to your romance section. We even had a bookseller email us to say that she sold 10 copies in one day after the move and many other booksellers have emailed us to say they’ve done the same and were happy with sales).


What song is playing on the iPod right now? EVERYTHING (IS NEVER QUITE ENOUGH) by Wasis Diop

Well, if you’re reading writer discussion boards and an irate, rejected writer has posted, sometimes we aren’t good for much.

Huge grin here.

Even my status update today gives a little hint of what we do besides reading the slush pile, sending massive reams of rejections, and eating bon-bons with one hand tied behind our backs.

And I hope some of my other blog posts have revealed tiny glimpses of our secret lives (and yes, sending Chutney pics to Ms. Groell today technically still counts as working) but in case that’s not enough, I’ve discovered a new blog (thank you Diana Peterfreund) and The Man in Black, New York Editor Jason Pinter, is revealing The Truth About Literary Agents.

You might want to give that a look.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

That Non-Gripping Plane Opening

STATUS: Prep time. I have a trip to New York and RWA fast approaching so it’s time to set up my appointments.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? WALKING ON SUNSHINE by Katrina and The Waves

I’m convinced that one cannot be unhappy while this song is playing—that it’s literally physically impossible to be so because your foot is tapping uncontrollably.

Last night I had a chance to read the partials that Sara had set aside for me. I think there were eight or so. Out of that eight, three of the partials all had airplane openings—as in the main character is sitting in a seat on an airplane and flying somewhere. Usually there is an overly large person in the seat next to him or her.

I’ve seen this a lot recently. Enough to rant about it.

Hum… not very gripping. Why? Because there is nowhere to go from here. Unless you are doing the screenplay for SNAKES ON A PLANE, not much is going to happen in this opening scene because the real conflict (and any events that will convey it) will come when the character has reached the intended destination.

Basically, it’s a scene where the main character is discomfited by lack of space. Although I can greatly sympathize (I’m flying to New York in three weeks after all), it’s not gripping.

I’ve seen a couple of partials where the main protagonist was afraid of flying and the scene was probably meant to show the intensity or importance of having the character take this step (but is the fear of flying an essential character trait that must be revealed?). Not if it doesn’t play a role anywhere else in the novel.

Besides, I’m so bored by the opening scene, chances are good I won’t be reading further to find out.

Now I imagine that it is possible for a writer to create an absolutely thrilling opening plane scene (as it is about to crash or because the main character is a Federal Marshall, or something like that), I just have never seen it.

And, I have to admit, I’ve read one opening plane scene that kind of worked because the main character was a witch and she used a spell to comfort the frightened passenger next to her.

Still, I’m thinking that there is a more powerful scene out there to show off the witch’s talent.

So unless it’s an integral, absolutely imperative part of the plot, why not start the novel with a scene at the destination?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Gimmicky Query Letters

STATUS: What a great weekend. I read a full manuscript starting on Friday night. Finished Saturday morning. Called the author. Have a new client. Time frame from when sample pages were received to requesting and reading the full to offering representation: 4 weeks.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? THE WEAKNESS IN ME by Joan Armatrading

I belong to a writers’ discussion board called Backspace and since I’m not the only agent there, the administrator of the site decided to do a quick opinion poll. She asked us to weigh in on what we thought of query letters with a gimmick (and what I mean by gimmick is that the query letter had a strange format that mirrored the story line in some fashion—like the query was in the form of a legal brief for a legal thriller etc.)

I definitely want to give points to the writer for creativity. And I think the purpose was to make the query letter stand out from the hundreds received.

But basically, all of us pretty much agreed that the gimmicky format just distracted us from concentrating on the story summary itself (and might accidentally get mistaken for spam—at least in this case).

I was flexible if I thought the gimmick worked (I didn’t for this case) but all the other agents were adamant. They hated it and would have sent an instant NO.

So, my advice to you? No gimmicks in your query letters.

If you want to grab interest, be sure to incorporate the tone of your manuscript into the query letter blurb (as in if chick lit, use the chick lit tone, if thriller, your summary blurb had better be suspenseful, if literary, the writing should be gorgeous in your query as well).

Ultimately, we just want to focus on your story in the query letter. Hope that helps.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Conflict Is Not A Lifetime Movie

STATUS: I rarely get a chance to read manuscripts during the day but I literally cleared my desk (and FedEx’d that final contract off to the author). So what fun, I get to read today. This is my kind of Friday.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? (JUST LIKE) STARTING OVER by John Lennon

A couple of months ago, a writer sent me an unsolicited POD novel. Now, as I mentioned before, I’m optimistic. I look at previously self-published works but only if I have requested it. Please query first before sending ANYTHING in the mail.

Back to my story. This novel just arrived in the mail. Because I’m curious, I flipped it over to take a quick look at the back cover copy. When I could stop laughing, I read it aloud to Sara and shook my head. Folks, a good novel shouldn’t be a melodramatic Lifetime Movie.

Needless to say, the unrequested POD novel didn’t get read.

But I have seen this in a lot of recent queries lately as well—where the writer has confused conflict with dramatic plot elements.

I just want to clarify here that these two things are not the same.

Conflict is what motivates and drives your character (and can be internal and well as external).

Dramatic plot elements are simply events that occur in the story.

Not the same thing. So what I’m seeing is that writers are confusing the two and making the assumption that if they have a lot of big events in their novels, that’s enough “conflict” to carry the story.

So a query (or back cover copy) will end up looking like this (and I’m just making this up off the top of my head.)

Jane Smith had the perfect life: a husband, two children, and a great home in the suburbs. But when her family is killed in what looks like a car accident but isn’t, Jane must unravel the truth. She must look to her past and discover that the old boyfriend who stalked, raped, and beat her might be involved. Can she hide the fact she gave up their secret baby for adoption? Will the crazy boyfriend learn this truth, track down her only living child, and kill that innocent soul as well?

But Jane can’t uncover the truth alone and she must open her heart to allow sexy detective Joe Boxer, who moonlights as a movie star, into her life and into her secret. Jane Smith wasn’t always a happy suburban mom. She originally worked for the FBI as a ….

And the list of huge events just continues.

I know it’s a Lifetime movie error when, as I read, I’m thinking, “what the hey? Now there’s a secret baby? She was raped as teenager? She led a secret life? She’s had huge tragedy in her life but now she’s meeting a movie star?”

It’s all too much. Like I said--Lifetime movie. And folks, what works well on TV doesn’t necessarily work in a novel. (Just like what works in a novel often doesn’t translate well to the screen.)

And don’t make the assumption that all Lifetime Movie-like queries are done by women or for a romance/women’s fiction novel.

No. The POD novel I received was written by a man and had a male protagonist but still a crazy abundance of tragic events to make up the “conflict” of the story.

And don't assume you're safe if you write SF & F. I've seen the same problem in queries for that genre. Just the context of the events are changed to reflect the SF & F setting.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

When Strong Writing Is Not Enough

STATUS: Exciting news today. Just heard word that Ally Carter’s I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU has hit the #7 spot on the Barnes & Noble YA Hardcover Bestseller list and managed to grab the #27 spot on the entire Barnes & Noble Children’s Hardcover Bestseller list. This after being out on shelves for only 6 weeks!

What song is playing on the iPod right now? HOLD ME NOW by The Thompson Twins

I’ve been reading a lot of fulls lately and it occurred to me that there are a lot of strong writers out there—writers with enough talent to break into publishing but the current manuscripts I’m reviewing probably won’t be the ones to open the door.

I think writers assume that good writing is enough. Well, it’s not. You have to couple good writing with an original storyline—something that will stand out as fresh and original. A story never told in this way before (even if elements are similar to what is already out on the market).

And lately, I’ve been seeing great writing but the story is too familiar, and I pass (with a warm letter complimenting the talent and then an outline of why I decided not to offer representation.) I even called one of the writers because I wanted to explain to her in detail why I was passing so she wouldn’t make the same mistake for her next novel (because I want to see that next novel).

Let me give you an example.

Recently, I had the pleasure of reading three full paranormal novels featuring Vampires. All three were really well-written. Had interesting characters that were developed. And even had interesting twists to the Vampire plot to make it unique.

Sounds good, right? So what happened?

The scenes the writers chose to create (in order to unveil the plot) were almost identical in each novel. I literally could have taken scenes out of one novel and plopped it into another and it wouldn’t have impacted the story much. (Obviously the characters were different but I’m not kidding when I say the scenes mirrored each other).

These three writers did not know each other either. They weren’t sharing a critique group or anything like that. This was coincidental.

So, let me list some of the repetitive scenes I saw:

1. The backstory of how the vampire was made in the first place.

2. Opening scene where the two main protagonists (usually male and female) are enemies but somehow must break through the barrier to work together. This usually involves a violent, confrontational scene to jumpstart the narrative. This scene usually happens in a dark place.

3. The main protagonists are being chased or must travel in order to accomplish what must be done. This is usually done in a car and there are motel/hotel scenes.

4. A vampire sleeping scene (the how, what, where, when etc.)

5. Obligatory scene with main protagonist vampire and an elder of the race

The list could go on but this should give you an idea.

And the real culprit is a lack of world building. Writers aren't choosing scenes that will build an original story and world—which is so necessary in the crowded Vampire market. How is your Vampire world different? Unique? What intriguing rules must they abide by? What are some mind-blowing scenes that could really tell an original story?

And let me reiterate, these writers all had talent. No question.

Which is why I tell writers to read as much as you can of what’s already out there—because you don’t have the advantage of seeing the hundreds of partials and fulls like we do.

You probably thought your novel was original. But your awesome writing might not be enough.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Drawback of Being Prompt?

STATUS: Doing well. Had a productive day despite the fact that I found two omissions of okay’d changes in what was supposed to be the final contract. That will probably get cleaned up tomorrow.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? THE ONE THING by INXS

It never occurred to me that there might be a drawback to actually being caught up on queries, sample pages, and being almost caught up on reading fulls.

We are literally responding to queries within 1-5 days and sample pages within 2 weeks. We are so on top of things that we have been accused today of sending auto-responses. In fact, one writer was so irate, he emailed back to say I should de-list myself as an agent looking for new clients because obviously, since I sent such a quick NO response to his query, I must not be taking on new clients.

Snort. Wasn’t I just talking about writer responsibility on Monday?

But seriously, Sara and I had a conversation today on whether she should read and respond to queries that literally came in today—even though she was open to tackling them.

We decided not to. It seemed harsh or cruel to respond with a NO to a query we received only 10 minutes ago.

We are softies.

But it really shouldn’t matter. We read every query we receive. Give it careful consideration but it’s usually pretty darn clear what is right for us and what’s not.

Now, there are 20 queries Sara has set aside for me to review and I’m actually going to read and respond to them right now—it will take me about 15 or 20 minutes and that will close out the day.

Trust me. It’s not an auto-response.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Bad Novel Opening Mirrors Reality!

STATUS: An editor just emailed to say she’s sending me a review copy of THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA. How cool is that? Love my job.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? LATE AT NIGHT by Buffalo Tom
(Okay, who could forget the scene when Jordan Catalano finally decides to publicly recognize his relationship with Angela Chase and this song is playing. Truly a classic High School scene.)

A blog fan emailed this link to me (thanks Matt) and I just couldn’t stop laughing. I had to share.

Remember when I blogged about novel openings I never wanted to see and yet, for some reason, I was seeing a lot of “woman awaking to find a strange man in her room” scenarios?

Well, this novel opening just happened for real in Sheridan, Wyoming and you have to read about what really happened when the woman woke up to discover a man trying to climb into bed with her.

Yep. There were no ruminations about broad chests, muscled arms, or even a fleeting thought about equipment.

Just show him the door Eve!

Monday, June 19, 2006

When You Feel The Response Urge—Don’t

STATUS: Mondays are usually just crazy but today was quite good. Lots of money came in the mail. Love that. Also, final contracts to be signed are here. My author will be so thrilled to see this deal officially concluded. I’m also have dinner with another client on Thursday. Looking forward to that.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? OTRO DIA MAS SIN VERTE by Jon Secada

I just have to shake my head. So much of what we need to know to get by in this world (and be successful) would happen naturally if we just adhered to our common sense.

And common sense should dictate that writers maintain their professionalism—even in the face of disappointment.

If I (or even Sara) send you a NO response to your sample pages, why in the world would you respond with a long diatribe of all our failings? Of how we wouldn’t know a good project (or the next Da Vinci Code--can I count how many times I’ve heard that) if it hit us on the head (although I think my sales record speaks for itself), of how we are responsible for the all the garbage that is currently on bookstore shelves (matter of opinion and certainly not fact and I don’t believe that all those books are garbage), and of how we are wasting our time representing something as mundane as historical romances (when in this writer’s opinion, only “real” historicals with “real” history should be published).

Seriously, this writer slammed a genre that had nothing to do with his work. Not to mention, what is he implying about my intelligence since I happen to rep romance (and thoroughly enjoy doing so)? What a way to win friends and influence agents.

Really, it boggles the mind.

I understand writer frustration. I understand that it isn’t easy to get NOs all the dang time. I really do. But this biz is tough. Nobody said it would be easy, and it shouldn’t be.

Not to mention, what would keep an agent from adding this writer’s name to a black list?

I don’t keep one but I know agents who do.

Yikes.

But this is what bothers me the most. If it’s our fault that the project isn’t being picked up for representation and then published, then writers don’t have to take responsibility for their work.

I’m positive this person did not consider the fact that maybe the writing wasn’t up to snuff, or the story idea didn’t have a place in the market, or that it simply didn’t interest me (and that isn’t a failing on my part—maybe another agent will love it.)

No. We are to blame. And I will tell you one thing I know. My guess is that writers who indulge in this kind of response will never get published because they don’t get it and if you don’t get it, how can you ever strive to be a better writer?

So when you feel the response urge? Go for it. Write it all down—every word, every feeling, every moment of frustration. Get it out.

Just don’t send it.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Name Dropping—the Editor Request (part three)

STATUS: Not so lovely. Email is currently down. How did agents do this job before the internet, email, and FedEx? I’m lost in the dark. Without email, I’m nothing. I’m, I’m, I’m being way melodramatic. Still, frustrating. Blogspot is working though.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? THRILLER by Michael Jackson (appropriate ain’t it?)

The editor name dropping actually doesn’t bother me that much—but it all depends on how the writer handles it in the query letter.

Often writers will include the information that their manuscript has been requested by Ms. Hot Shot Editor at Hot Shot Publishing House. (This tends to happen more in the romance and the SF & F genres because these editors will often still consider unsolicited material and will look at queries. They also attend more conferences etc. because good material is hard to find and not a ton of agents rep it.)

Okay. You’ve name dropped the editor’s name.

My question is this: Why are you telling me this information? There are actually two intentions you could have.

Intention 1: You’re feeling pretty proud of the fact that you got a full manuscript request from an editor and you are hoping it will be impressive if you start your query letter with that information.

First, I’m thrilled for you that this editor requested your full. I’m positive it feels like a big milestone on the road to publishing. You should be proud. It’s a great first step.

But here’s my view. I know Ms. Hot Editor personally. I know she requests a lot of fulls when she attends conferences and such. She’s actively building her list. She may or may not actually be the person to read it. Her assistant or an outside reader might do the first read. She takes over a year to respond to these requests. She… and the list could go on.

If the intention is to impress, I’m not that impressed.

Intention 2: You are simply providing me with all the information about the current status of your manuscript.

I actually like that.

Now, I can always tell the difference between the intention by how this information is presented and where it goes in the query letter.

If Intention 1, it’s always in the beginning and the tone is off.

If Intention 2, the info is always part of the concluding paragraph and stated matter-of-factly (as in “The manuscript is also currently being reviewed by Ms. Hot Shot Editor at Hot Shot Publishing House).

No frills. Just the facts Ma’am.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Name Dropping—the Faux Pas (part two)

STATUS: Ah, decided to get grubby on that contract and got some nice results. I think it will wrap up tomorrow. That will make it TGIF!

What song is playing on the iPod right now? THE BOY IN THE BUBBLE by Paul Simon

I am enjoying this name rant spree.

There are so many aspects to name dropping; this could take a couple of days.

This one I call the name dropping faux pas because really, if writers had taken just a minute to access their common sense, they would have realized that this wasn’t a brilliant idea.

I get a mighty chuckle out of writers who, in their query letters, list the names of agents (and in their words, “top-tiered agents”) who have read their partial and then passed with “high” praise.

Excellent. The novel was so good they had to pass. Thank you for sharing that with me.

Uh… I’m not impressed. They passed. They said NO. Obviously, the work wasn’t good enough, or right for the market, or whatever, and now you have just giving me a list of reasons why I shouldn’t even bother asking for the partial.

Why would a writer do that? And yet, I see it all the time.

Yep. Just a little common sense could have detoured that query disaster.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Name Dropping (part one)

STATUS: Good. I got a lot of small things accomplished. Little detailed stuff that I had stacked into a pile and was making me feel guilty. It makes me feel like I’m clearing stuff out so I can create something new when I tackle and complete the small things.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? CRAZY by Patsy Cline

This little rant has been niggling at me for a while.

Something that just makes me laugh is when a writer name drops in their query, but they use the name of a person I do not know or have no recollection of.

It usually ends up sounding something like this.

“Joe Smith gave me your name and the contact information of your agency and strongly recommended that I contact you. He thought my novel XXXXXX would be perfect for you.”

That’s it. No explanation. No frame of reference such as Joe Smith knows you through XYZ.

Nothing.

As if Joe Smith were one of my clients—whom I would, of course, know. (And just to make note here, I am always delighted to get a recommendation from one of my current clients.)

But I don’t know who Joe is so the fact that he recommends me carries zero weight. Zilch.

In fact, now I think you, as the query letter writer, are a little suspect.

If you’re going to name drop, make sure I know the reference (and it has been made clear in the letter); otherwise, it’s just silly.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Honest, My Novel is Fantastic but I Can’t Write A Query Letter

STATUS: It’s Tuesday and really hot here in Denver. It hit 99 degrees. This is silly. I live a mile above sea level. A mile. 5280 to be exact. We have mild summers. Mild do you hear me! I feel slightly better now. Had to work on that contract. I reviewed it this morning to decide what was worth getting grubby and fighting for. And there was a little bit of exciting news too but I can’t reveal it quite yet.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? YOU DON’T MESS AROUND WITH JIM by Jim Croce

I’ve got a great rant today.

I just have to remember that I am a nice agent and I only rant politely. I leave the snarkiness to Miss Snark. Ah, the temptation though.

I sent out a NO response for a poorly done query that I reviewed and sure enough, not five minutes later, I got a reply email. In it, the writer said that although she wasn’t any good at writing query letters, the novel was indeed masterful and I should rethink my NO and ask for sample pages.

Uh… No thank you.

In the beginning of my agency, I didn’t receive as many queries as I do currently and I would often give the query writer the benefit of the doubt. If the concept was interesting, despite the unpromising query letter, I would ask for sample pages. Maybe, just maybe, the novel was masterful where the query letter was not.

In almost five years (and thousands upon thousands of query letters), this has never happened. Basically, the sample pages lived up to the expectation given by the query letter—which basically means it didn’t measure up.

If you are a terrific writer, you’ll master the query letter. You’ll do everything in your power to get the feedback you need to make it the best it can be. Why? Because you take your career seriously, and you know that the query letter may be the best (and sometimes only) way to open the door to an agent or an editor.

Now, just to clarify (because there is always somebody who reads this blog and jumps to conclusions), I’m not suggesting that if I sent you a NO that your query was poorly written. It may be a great query but it just wasn’t right for me. We unfortunately can’t take the time (given the volume of what we receive) to tell folks, “yep, good query but not for us” or “OMG what a terribly written query, definitely not right for us.”

We just have the standard response letter.

So as a writer, how will you know if your query letter is any good?

Did you run the query letter by folks at the critique mill who know what makes a good one? (I hear Evil Editor is doing some query dissing and critiquing over at that site.)

Are you getting any requests for partials? If not, well, your query letter isn’t masterful. Or even if you are just getting a tiny number of requests like let’s say 1 or 2 out of every 50 queries sent. Not masterful enough.

And I have never read a bad query letter only to read the sample pages and get blown away by incredible writing.

Never.

Now I have read great query letters, asked for sample pages, and not have the partial measure up to the terrific query. And that is always heartbreaking.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Worn Out Titles Revisited

STATUS: It’s just another manic Monday. I have a house taking just forever to respond to our letter regarding changes we would like in the contract. Finally, the email comes and they just want to say NO to half our requests. Good thing we waited three weeks for that. I know they’re busy and all…

What song is playing on the iPod right now? ROXANNE by The Police

Guess what? I’m all caught up in reading all the partials I had to review (Sara will send out the letters tomorrow and any request for fulls have already gone out). Sara has a whole stack she needs to bring in tomorrow so I’ll look and see what date we are up to but the last dates I looked at were for mid-to late-May. When I look in the partial inbox, those sample pages are dated June 1.

And, and this is really icing on the cake, I read three full manuscripts this weekend as well. In a week, I’m not going to know what to do with myself.

And yes, I jest. I have plenty to keep me busy.

But because I’ve been reading samples pages Sara has passed on to me for review, I’ve been noticing some Title trends. Time to share.

I have to say that since my Katie rant, the number of projects with a Katherine derivative for the main heroine’s name has decreased dramatically. Maybe the same will happen with titles. I can always hope.

And the winners are…

1. LITTLE WHITE LIES

Lots of lies running around but the little white ones are the most popular.

2. SECOND CHANCES

This shows up most for women’s fiction or romance titles.

3. BLOOD CURSES (or anything with BLOOD in the title frankly)

Yep, fantasy titles are usually the culprit for this one.

4. THE PHOENIX anything (add your own variation here)

This actually crosses all genres but mostly for SF&F.

Friday, June 09, 2006

TGIF!

STATUS: Closed a deal. Now I want to end every Friday like this!

What song is playing on the iPod right now? I CAN’T GO FOR THAT (NO CAN DO) by Hall & Oats

And I have to confess, I’m not feeling all that inspired to rant today (but very inspired by this recent deal).

It’s my first sale for an author I met (and who pitched me) at a conference—the Pikes Peak conference to be exact.

And speaking of sales, Anna Louise has got her second treatise up on P&Ls and how books make (or don't) money: part the second: the hardcover to mass market profitable/neutral book.

Now that’s worth some Friday afternoon perusing. I’ll be back in ranting form on Monday.

Out.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Invaluable Assistant

STATUS: Having great fun. Started a new deal negotiation this morning. How is that anything but fun?

What song is playing on the iPod right now? STILL CAN’T by The Cranberries

I think I’m in love with Library Diva. She is having an all Ally Carter weekend on her blog. Big smooches LD!

To wrap up yesterday, you folks did a great job analyzing the Cheryl’s covers. No one caught one of the changes but to be honest, I think the cover pictures were too small to see it. In the first cover version of THE WINTER PRINCE, he is holding a cane. In the second, the cane has morphed into a sword.

Yeah, little hard to see.

Today I’m going to rant on behalf of my assistant Sara—and maybe for all assistants at agencies everywhere. I think writers are sometimes dismissive (“oh, it’s just the assistant reading my query” or “oh, it’s just the assistant who screens my sample pages”).

My suggestion? Don’t be. You know why? Because if an assistant is good (and Sara is terrific), you might just be getting read by a future agent.

I figured that maybe, just maybe, writers don’t really know how it works with an assistant, so I’ll share.

First, I hired Sara because I was tired of being way behind. It wasn’t fair to the writers, and I was missing out on good projects because response time was too slow.

Given that, I made a new commitment to respond to queries within one week and respond to sample pages in two weeks (and by the way, we aren’t quite there but really close. I’m actually the wink link in the chain at the moment).

Physically, this would not be possible without help—without training someone to screen incoming queries and sample pages.

It’s that simple.

So, I hired Sara and my first order of business was to teach her to think like me. For her first week, we sat down together, side-by-side and read queries—for two or three hours. Without saying anything, I would let her decide whether she would pop it into the folder for me to review or if she would send our auto NO response.

We did this for two days. On the third morning, I sat with her for maybe 30 minutes but it was obvious to me that she was having zero problems knowing which query I would want to see and which ones could have the NO response.

I mean it folks. Zero mistakes.

Then we tackled the partials inbox. She would take a big stack home to read (20 or 30 partials) and make a comment on whether she would forward it to me to read or whether she felt confident saying NO.

I would then read behind her. If I thought there was a partial I would have liked to have seen but she wouldn’t have forwarded it, we chatted about why etc.

By the fourth big stack of her reading (and my reading behind her), she wasn’t missing.

Zero mistakes.

Because she’s that good.

And wouldn’t you rather have a quick response? Well, without assistants, that simply wouldn’t be possible.

I feel blessed that Sara loves her job. I feel doubly blessed that I don’t have to slog through bad partials or queries. Because of Sara, I get to devote real attention to reading the good stuff.

And more of it!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

One More Rant on Covers

STATUS: Three issues resolved--finally! This makes it a great day.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO GEORGIA by Indigo Girls

This is actually a fun rant today because this cover issue was literally happening this week as I was writing these past three blog entries.

It doesn’t get any more immediate then that. Not to mention, you get a sneak peek at a gorgeous, gorgeous cover and I’m in the mood to share it.

As most of you may know (or you might not), cover design happens way in advance of when a book will be published. Mainly because the cover image and back cover copy need to make it into the sales catalog so the sales team can share with booksellers so orders can be placed, etc.

So this work, THE WINTER PRINCE, won’t actually be pubbed until spring of 2007 and yet, this week, we were dealing with the cover.

First, I must share all of Cheryl’s covers because huge kudos to New American Library. I have been blown away by every cover they have done for her. Seriously. I don’t think they can get any more gorgeous and then voila, THE WINTER PRINCE cover hits my inbox.

Now, I’m sharing all of Cheryl’s prior covers because I want you to pick up on something that should be quite clear. There is a certain look NAL is striving for in terms of branding Cheryl.

Her first two books were mass market originals and then with THE CODE OF LOVE, Cheryl made the leap to original trade paperback.

Here are the covers. What kind of adjectives leap to mind when looking at them? What do you see in common in terms of a look or feel? Share with me.





Now, here’s a first peek at the cover for her next novel.



Gorgeous. Without a doubt. So what’s up? Why were we having an issue this week with the cover? Well, there was one main reason. Cheryl writes epic historical fiction with a meaty romance embedded in the story.

Given the amount of time spent on research and the attention to historical detail in her stories, it’s important for the work to be pictorially accurate. This image struck us as regency in feel.

THE WINTER PRINCE is set in 1642-1644, right as the civil war is beginning in England (pitting parliament against the crown) and King Charles I will be beheaded to make room for the non-royal usurper Oliver Cromwell.

A regency look is pretty misleading and since we are talking serious epic historical here, we really needed the cover image to match the time period. Luckily, her publisher agreed. Even though the image is taken from a painting, it was adjusted to fit the needed time period (oh the amazing possibilities of digital editing).

Here’s the final cover.



Also, there’s another change in the cover. Did you catch it?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

So What’s An Author To Do?

STATUS: Feeling giddy! I’m just realizing that my assistant Sara is so efficient, I’m having trouble keeping up with her! But, because of her wonderfulness, I’m almost caught up. I have some queries to review from last week, a small stack of screened partials that are unfortunately from late April or early May (sorry!) and of course, three or four full manuscripts that I’ve been woefully behind on reading. For those of you waiting, I apologize. A response is just around the corner.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? US AND THEM by Pink Floyd

Let me repeat for good measure that the good majority of authors only have cover consultation and not cover approval. So what’s an author to do?

Well, I push them to be pro-active about the cover in a meaningful way—as soon as right after the sale. If they have ideas, let’s list them. Let’s highlight scenes that might make a good cover image. I even tell my authors to make a visual chart (with jpgs included) of covers they love and list the reasons why. (This works better if you choose covers the publisher has actually published recently.)

For SF & Fantasy, a lot of writers know the artists and their work (Linnea LOVES Dave Seeley’s stuff and was over the moon when she found out he was going to be her cover artist.) If an artist might be a good fit, why not mention it and send the editor the weblink to the artist’s website.

My historical author sent a whole gallery of pictures from the era of her story. The photo album included pictures of all the principal characters in the story, tidbits on what living person today descended from these historical figures, pictures of the main settings etc. All rich detail to inspire the cover artist to really imagine a romantic image of the time. We've gotten some gorgeous covers.

And I’ve never had editors say NO to this kind of input. (Remember, they want their authors to be happy with the cover.)

Will it ensure a good cover? No. The publisher can disregard all input.

However, it allows the author to participate in the discussion.

And Publishers do listen. Just this week, an author and I asked for some cover tweaks and the publisher obliged.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Not a Goddess of a cover?

STATUS: Today was a day for resolving those outstanding issues of Friday. The FedEx that was supposed to be delivered to me overnight has disappeared into the ether of lost packages. No worries. I hopped on the phone and devised a new solution with the sender. Fingers crossed that this issue will be resolved by Friday.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? GREASED LIGHTNING by John Travolta

To continue what we started last week…

As agents, we might fight for a cover change on behalf of the author and not win. It happens. And, sometimes the publisher is right.

Since Linnea brought it up, I’m going to talk about AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS.

Here’s the cover and back cover copy.



Author Linnea Sinclair returns with another sexy, out-of-this-world adventure, in which the forces of attraction collide—and combust…

Raheiran Special Forces Captain Gillaine Davré has just woken up in some unknown space way station, wondering where the last three hundred years have gone. The last thing she remembers is her ship being attacked. Now it seems that while she was time-traveling, she was ordained a Goddess…

Gillaine’s only hope of survival rests with dangerously seductive Admiral “Mack” Makarian, who suspects her of being a smuggler—or worse. But he can’t begin to imagine the full extent of it. For Gillaine is now Lady Kiasidira, holy icon to countless believers, including Mack—a man who inspires feelings in her that are far from saintly…feelings she knows are mutual. But when their flirtation is interrupted by a treacherous enemy from the past, Gillaine’s secret—and secret desires—could destroy them both….

I have to say that both of us were a little flummoxed by the ABBA Dancing Queen on the cover. The main heroine from the novel, Gilly, never wears red spandex in the story (in fact, it’s an outfit better suited for a mini-villain in the story).

But remember my rant of last week. Cover image does not necessarily accurately reflect an actual scene from the book. Not a valid argument (despite how real it feels for the author).

Bantam, Linnea’s publisher, had decided they wanted to reach out more toward the paranormal/futuristic romance market and go sexier with the cover. Linnea’s first two covers for FINDERS KEEPERS and GABRIAL’S GHOST were decidedly science fiction. Not unsexy just not sexy either. And certainly not remotely geared to romance readers—who we know make up a good portion of her fan base.

We expressed our concerns and to give Bantam their due, they did work with us on Gilly’s outfut but the change ended up being worse than the original so we scrapped it and let the cover go as is (since Bantam was adamant that the sexy outfit had to stay).

And here’s what you need to remember, I might hum ABBA every time I see the cover but Bantam was right. AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS has outsold Linnea’s two previous books.

Something to be said about sexy red spandex.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Discussing Covers: DRESS REHEARSAL

STATUS: It’s Friday! I’m not sure why I’m excited about this when I plan to catch up on all my reading this weekend so work, work, work for me. It would also be a better Friday if the overnighted FedEx would actually arrive. Label was done on Tuesday (May 30th). Package still missing.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? WHEN YOU’RE FALLING by Afro Celts (Sara is getting in the game; it’s her iPod in the stereo.)

Before I jump in and talk about this cover, there are a few other things that you should know.

1. Changing a cover is expensive. The designer/artist is paid for all the time invested—not just for the final cover design. It’s one reason why the publisher can be reluctant. Books have certain budgets. Redesign is a budget curveball.

2. If the B&N buyer loves the cover, nothing in the world will change the Publisher’s mind about changing it.

I’m actually being a little facetious on that last point but there is some truth in it (and covers change suddenly when B&N dislikes it and plans to reduce copy orders).

But back to DRESS REHEARSAL. Neither Jennifer or I liked the cover (and most of you latched on to the reasons why).

1. The man was at the center, which didn’t make sense.
2. Cover implies three women vying for a man
3. Tag line suggested a different type of story
4. The novel isn’t actually about a wedding

Hence, we didn’t like it. So what? Publisher is not going to foot the bill for a redesign based on the four reasons above. They aren't valid arguments. (Quit shaking your head if you’re thinking that the four reasons above would merit a cover change. They don’t, and I’m being honest here. They really don’t.)

So what does?

Basically, we won the Publisher over based on the concept of branding and how we were positioning Jennifer in the chick lit market. With BACHELORETTE #1, Jennifer established herself as a contemporary writer who deftly handles pertinent issues facing modern women (such as losing one’s identity in marriage and especially after having a kid). Not sure if we want to call that feminism—too many definitions and associations circling around that term--but Jennifer’s books definitely encapsulate the theme of women discovering themselves and being empowered.

The original cover for DRESS REHEARSAL didn’t convey that—especially not at a glance.

Simple. It doesn’t fit with how we plan to position Jennifer in the market for the long term. The publisher agreed and changed the cover.

Now we can get into a debate about whether the final cover embodies the theme of woman empowerment but I’m not interested in doing that. You have to remember that the book is in the chick lit genre and when it was released, the light, campy cartoon-style covers were the “in” thing.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Trouble With Covers

STATUS: Doing okay. Didn’t quite accomplish as much as I had hoped. I had gotten a royalty statement today that didn’t make sense. I spent the whole afternoon cross-checking it and then calling the publishing house to see if we couldn’t straighten out what seems to be the error.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? YOU’RE THE ONLY WOMAN by David Pack

Covers are tricky. What will work? What will grab the eye in 2 seconds? What makes a cover look BIG so that the cover itself will scream BIG BOOK.

What happens when the author doesn’t like the cover?

Before I discuss this, you, as the reader, need to know and understand a few things.

1. Publishing houses know what they are doing—and yes, you can look at Longmire does Romance Covers and potentially want to dispute that fact because goodness, how do bad covers get made--but the truth is that cover design isn’t in a vacuum. The houses have tested what has worked and what hasn’t.

2. Editors want their authors to LOVE their covers. They really do. It’s your baby and they want you to be thrilled that it’s out there in the world.

3. Authors, for the most part, aren’t the best judge of covers for what will work or won’t work (seen the covers of any self-published books recently—and not to bash those folks--okay, will maybe just a little, sorry!--but cover art design is a talent and not everyone has it.

4. Covers are not meant to accurately represent events in the book. Their purpose is to grab the browser’s eye. Period. Creative license will be taken.

Got that in mind? Okay, but sometimes a cover just misses (despite good intentions and a real understanding of the market from the publishing house). When that is the case, and as an agent, I really strongly believe that is the case, then it’s time to “fight” (translation: exert gentle, reasonable pressure) for a cover change.

Here’s a couple of other things you need to know.

1. Most authors (unless you are Nora Roberts) only have cover consultation and not cover approval. You get a say but not the ultimate say. Publisher has that right so it’s really important that if you argue for a cover change, it’s in terms that make sense to the Publisher—and that the reason for the change is not because the author just didn’t like it. That argument won’t wash (see above reason number 3—most authors are truly clueless on what would work).

2. Pub Houses want the book to succeed and a cover that will allow it to do so.

And that’s how an argument is couched.

Time for an example. Here is the original cover for Jennifer O’Connell’s DRESS REHEARSAL and then the final cover that is on bookshelves today.

I’ll even include the back cover blurb so you can have it.

With the irrepressible, hilarious voice that makes her readers stand up and cheer, Jennifer O’Connell presents a delicious novel about a wedding cake boutique owner who’s about to learn that in love and life, there’s no such thing as a dress rehearsal…

No one knows wedding cakes better than the owner of Lauren’s Luscious Licks, Boston’s hottest cake boutique. Lauren Gallagher is a pro when it comes to helping brides and grooms pick out the perfect Big Day dessert. But what her clients don’t know is that her talent doesn’t end there. Because while the happy couple is choosing between buttercream and royal icing, Lauren is predicting which relationships will last, and which marriages will crumble, simply by watching them pick a cake. Her latest prediction, however, is anything but sweet. Unless her marital Magic Eight Ball is off, one of her best friends is about to tie the knot with Mr. Absolutely All Wrong.

Lauren’s got to save her friend, and prove her cake theory is true, even if it means taking her predictive powers public. But while she’s trying to prevent a potential mismatch, she’s got her own problems—involving an ex-boyfriend, his new fiancée, and the cake of Lauren’s dreams…

Original Cover

Final Cover


I’d be interested in hearing your initial thoughts about the covers. Tomorrow I’ll talk about why we asked for a cover change etc.