Thursday, August 31, 2006

And A Subjective One At That!

STATUS: Reading client material like mad! I want both projects done and out to the authors by 5 p.m. on Friday and then the weekend, here I come.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART by Bonnie Tyler

Publishing is a business and a subjective one at that.

As I was reminded of that yet again just several weeks ago.

I gave a talk to a local community of writers about queries. Not unlike what I did on the blog, I showed some of my client queries and talked about what got my attention, why I asked for sample pages, and to where the project sold etc.

One attendee raised his hand and expressed his opinion, quite pointedly, that he found one of my client’s queries to be unexceptional and generic and he didn’t understand why any editor would be interested in that project.

I have my moments and I did have to stringently resist the urge to say, “and that is why you currently remain unpublished and my client is not” but I didn’t because his comment points out something that I’m always trying to remind writers who read my blog.

Publishing is totally subjective. Agenting is totally subjective. So much of this business is based on one person’s opinion and getting a manuscript into the hands of those we, as agents, know will share that taste and opinion.

It’s an odd business model if you think about it.

So, yes, this biz is subjective. A query that floats one agent’s boat might not even make a little dent in the hull of another agent’s boat.

But I also want to convey a warning. Was this attendee’s perspective shaped in any way by frustration that others weren’t recognizing the value of his work? And yet, what he sees has a generic project is getting the coveted publishing spot? Is green-eyed jealousy in any way limiting you from learning what needs to be learned to get your stuff published?

Because the query wasn’t generic and I really tried to point out, outside of the plot elements that may or may not float a reader’s boat, why it worked. Why it would work on other agents besides me and why this project did, indeed, sell—therefore implying that others saw the value (as in dollar signs that the book could sell to a wider audience than we two).

What I’m saying is to not let your vulnerable artist side interfere with what you need to know to be a savvy writing professional.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Publishing Is A Business

STATUS: Doing great. Getting tons of reading done because it’s so slow in New York. Everyone is out for vaca already or soon will be with the long weekend. I love the sound of that. Looonnnnggg weekend.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? SHORT SKIRT LONG JACKET by Cake

Note to self: I only indulge in polite rants on this blog. Oh to be snarky for just a brief minute.

I’ll behave.

So, here’s what I want to rant about. I know I’ve said this before but it bears repeating.

Publishing is, first and foremost, a business.

And people who forget that astound me.

Recently I received a chastisement email from the parent of a young writer who sent me a query and was rejected.

Folks, let me repeat. Publishing is, first and foremost, a business. We read queries with only business in mind—regardless of race, gender, age, or religion.

Either it’s a professionally done query that piques our interest or it’s not. All other factors are moot—even if you are under the age of 18. Heck, even if you are under the age of 16 (and I have received queries from aspiring writers as young as 12). If it’s a well done query, we’ll give it a serious read. We have even asked to see sample pages on numerous occasions because we were impressed with the query letter.

I have yet to take on a really young person (and just as a reminder, if I were to, the parent or guardian would need to be involved), but I’m certainly open to it if the story is right. Age is certainly not a barrier.

But if the query is not well-written or professional, we’ll reject it (with our standard but nice rejection letter)—regardless of the writer’s age because publishing is a business. I’ll try not to repeat that yet again in this blog entry.

To receive an email from an angry parent accusing me of willfully dashing his or her child’s writing dream with my rejection strikes me as wrong on so many levels, I’m not sure where to begin ranting.

So I won’t. I’ll just leave it at that.

Or the one thing I will say is that the parent is not treating the child as a writing professional that he or she is aspiring to be.

And as all writers know, rejection is part of the biz. A badge of honor on this journey to publication.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How Technology Changed Submissions

STATUS: Yep, it’s late and I’m still working. I’m trying desperately to finish getting caught up. I have two clients who have waited longer than they should have to get feedback from me so I’m pulling some late nighters. My goal is to finish both by Friday—but I’ll probably need the long weekend. Incentive though. If I finish before, I might just take a mini-holiday.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? GOODBYE STRANGER by Supertramp

Now that I started ranting, you might not get me to stop.

Here’s another technology connection I think few writers realized.

Because technology advanced enough to make communication pretty seamless (mobile phones, internet, email, FedEx next day), a lot of agents realized that New York was no longer an anchor that had to exist. They could do this job from just about anywhere as long as they had the publishing contacts, a solid reputation, and used technology to their advantage.

And what a lot of writers also don’t realize is that a lot of editors started thinking this way. I can name 20 editors, off the top of my head, who don’t work mainly out of the New York office. They work remotely or only come into the office two days a week and it wouldn’t surprise me if that number is growing.

But back to the agents. Many decided to leave town and even some of the bigger houses have agents who don’t work in the New York office. Regardless of what you think of Friedman’s book, you can’t deny the argument that the world of publishing is getting flatter in many ways he defines in his book.

So Agents moved. Set up shop in California, Colorado (did you know that there are three fairly well- known agents living and working in the Denver area now and one of the most well-known agencies for the Christian market is in Colorado Springs?), Texas, Georgia, Florida, and I can’t even begin to list all the other states that have reputable agents with solid reputations. It’s not quite every state in the nation but a good portion are represented.

And we got tired of shipping full manuscripts—even with the relatively cheap rates of UPS.

So we started pushing. With each submission and for each editor, we would start asking whether we could send that manuscript electronically. Until it became common place. Now it’s the assumptive standard and if a hard copy is desired, it has to be specially requested.

Now obviously the New York agents started asking for this stuff too (because why wouldn’t they) but the big push came from those of us doing the biz outside the New York box—where we had to actively look for processes that made our lives and our jobs easier.

And it all starts with embracing technology that makes new possibilities available in this job.

Not to mention the savings to the clients because here’s another juicy secret that most writers don’t realize. Editors are very much like agents. Even if the full manuscript is sent, it’s very unlikely that editors will read it in its entirety if it’s not right for them. Most editors know within 50 pages whether a project can work for their list or meshes with their taste. Chances are good they are doing a quick read on screen or simply printing out 50 pages for the train and that enables them to come to a decision.

(And yes, some editors do end up reading the full before coming to a decision so yes, that does happen still.)

Those are some important first 50 pages. Sorry. It’s probably something more that y’all will start obsessing about.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Technology Is Meant To Be Used

STATUS: It’s a Monday? Need I say more? I have to say I’m known for my reliability, responsiveness, and general punctuality. Can I just say that I completely missed an appointment today? And now I feel such incredible guilt for wasting another person’s valuable time. I’d like to blame it on the fact that my computer reminder didn’t ping but alas, I’m still responsible despite the failsafe (that wasn’t so reliable today).

What song is playing on the iPod right now? BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY by Queen

I have to say that just recently, I got a completely original interview question. That in itself is worth blogging about because unfortunately, new questions rarely happen. Almost all interviews I’ve participated in tend to revolve around the “how does a writer get an agent” variety.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the need for that since that seems to be one of the more pressing questions writers have and it makes sense for a writing publication to ask an agent that question.

But this interviewer is thinking outside of the box and now that she has asked this great question, I’m rather surprised that no one has asked me before.

She noticed that on my website, I state that “technology is meant to be used” and what do I mean by that.

Quite simply, I mean that as agents, we need to constantly evolve and use technology that’s available to us. So many folks are mired in what I call “the old ways” (this is how I’ve always done it) and if you want to succeed, you can’t be afraid of change and the technological tools that will allow you to do your job more quickly and easier.

Two examples:

Example #1: Accepting email queries.

I have many friends who just can’t get on board with this because they still love, for various reasons, the paper format. Perhaps it’s easier on the eyes to read or perhaps they think writers take more care with the writing of the letter if they will go to the length of paying $0.39 for the stamp or whatever.

I know many of my agent friends will hate me for this but I can’t help but think that’s just unnecessary old school.

If you’re an agent looking to build a client list, then it’s a numbers game and the faster you can get to a good project, the more likely you’ll be to land it. I know I’ve taken on many a good client because I was timely in my response via email.

I’m using technology to my advantage.

In fact, I’ve taken on one client in my career who couldn’t use email and wasn’t interested in learning.

Never again. My clients also need to be technologically savvy because that’s how I operate.

Example #2. Tablet PC, baby!

At Book Expo 2003, there was a technology center in a lovely space right in the middle of the exhibition.

And there were two people, besides me, there looking at the future of publishing. I kid you not. There was very little foot traffic flowing through.

But it was there I first saw demonstrated and got to play with a Tablet PC. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this technology, it’s a computer that I can actually handwrite on with a computer stylus and my notes are saved—either in my incredibly indecipherable and cramped handwriting or in the method I prefer, my handwriting translated pretty darn accurately into a different color typewritten text in track changes in Microsoft Word.

The minute I saw it, I had to have it. The dang thing cost a fortune in 2003 but I bought it and trust me, I’ve never looked back.

My clients electronically send me their manuscripts and I can edit (electronically by hand) while sitting on my couch. Quick turn around (providing, that is, six of my clients haven’t all delivered their full manuscripts all in the same week, which never fails to happen). Changes easily tracked in track changes. Clients can accept or reject anything I’ve pointed out.

Revisions are done in a flash and boom, the project is out to the editor, electronically of course, in record time.

In fact, one of my clients was so used to this method, she was stunned when she received her line edit from her new editor in the mail and on the paper manuscript. She even kindly requested (because time was of the essence and the deadlines were tight—by publisher decree not hers—if the editor could speed up the process by doing it electronically). But that’s a whole other story. My author ended up hiring a person, literally, to type in the handwritten comments into her document so she could revise more quickly.

And now I’m looking into a couple of other very interesting technological mediums and how they can apply to what I do at my agency and how they can benefit my clients.

And trust me folks, I’m no tech whiz but I’m willing to keep learning because in my mind, technology is meant to be used and my agency will be the better for it because of that mindset.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sara’s Look at Today’s Queries

STATUS: It’s Friday! Rockies against the Padres tonight at Coors field. I cannot watch baseball on TV but get me to the field and I’m crazy about the game. I also love Baseball movies. Always have. There’s something about the metaphor of the game. All time favorite: BULL DURHAM (of course). Actually, I love all sports movies. Okay, not all but almost all. It has to be a really bad movie for me to diss it. I have very lax standards where sports films are concerned.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? TWISTIN’ THE NIGHT AWAY by Sam Cooke

I have to admit, I kind of stole this brilliant idea from Rachel Vater so go check out the original master but since Sara was in the office today working on queries…

It was time to for her to weigh in.

So, from Sara:

Here are some queries that got the dreaded, “No Thank You” today:

1)I saw four queries about adults who recently found out they were adopted. This seems to be a hot topic right now, and it is emotionally compelling. Unfortunately, it is also very common. Typically, the protagonist goes looking for his/her birth mother, and the plot revolves around this search. The successful query in this genre will have to be masterfully written to break out from the “too generic” brand.

2)There were many queries from writers who had not researched the genres that we represent (this is typical, but still sad – many were even good). I sent “nos” to multiple writers of children’s picture books, anthologies of poems, thrillers, medical mysteries, etc. *sigh*

3)Science Fiction and Fantasy writers were busy today – many good queries came through. There is one recurring theme that I keep seeing in this genre which is a bit of a turn off (and often results in the big “No”). I see many queries in which the hero or heroine has just come to realize that they are the secret savior either of this world or for a world they never knew existed. In these queries, the character doesn’t know about their hidden talent/power/prophecy until they find out it is their job to save the world. There is no reason this story couldn’t work, but I certainly see it a lot, and it takes exceptional writing to overcome my bias of it as a generic story.

4)Depressed 40 year old women whose fat husbands are having affairs have also been plaguing me today. This topic for a query never wins any points with me. Three of these “heroines” came through the in box, and then quickly went out again. I didn’t see the possibility of an original take on the storyline. I just saw “Sally needs to re-find herself and her vitality and her 14 year old sarcastic teenager is no help.”

5)Finally, again on the SF writers (like I said, they were busy beavers today) – I noted many queries that were listed over 200,000 words (including one stunning 315,000 word behemoth). This wasn’t the ultimate breaking point for any of the queries, but I thought I would mention it. 150,000 words is about my upper limit, and after that there is a mental, “eeek” of warning.


But, here are some wonderful potentials that I sent on to Kristin to review:

1) A YA novel with a 17 year old heroine who works in a museum as an exhibition assistant. She has just gotten the go-ahead to research her favorite pirate from history (or should I saw pirate-LASS – yippeeeee, a woman pirate, just like in SIREN). Adventure on the high seas is supposed to follow – sounds exciting!!!

2) A comedy about three senile, aging psychics and the havoc they cause as their talents vie with their failing mental capacities. Ha ha! How great – crazy old psychics!!!!

3) A SF about a perfectly engineered future that is threatened by a being, posing as human, who has been elected as president. The celestial protectors of the world create a new race of beings to help fight this threat. These are the heroes/heroines of the story, and they band together to learn about their powers and to save the world. Yes, it’s a “save the world” theme, but the writing in the query was very strong, and the hook with the six super-heroes, was intriguing.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Publishing—Redefining Old School

STATUS: It’s still crazy but I actually felt like I accomplished several tasks that needed to be handled. So, thumbs up.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? BARRACUDA by Heart

Right now I’m reading Thomas Freidman’s THE WORLD IS FLAT for my book club that’s meeting on Sunday.

And today I was given a living example of how truly flat the world is.

It used to be that you had to live in New York to do my job—agenting. Or you had to live in New York to be a successful publisher.

It’s really not true any longer and mainly because of the precepts outlined in Freidman’s book.

For example, I had lunch with Fred Ramey of Unbridled Books today. (A month ago he broke my heart when he passed on a literary novel of mine that I thought was perfect for his house. And I was right, sort of, because it came really, really close for him. I forgave him over lunch).

But Fred has been in this biz for many years (I’ll be nice and not say how long) and not in New York.

He and his business partner Greg Michalsen have been successfully running Unbridled Books (a publishing house dedicated to publishing novels of rich literary quality—remember those?) for several years now and they don’t even live in the same town.

Fred lives here in Denver; Greg lives in Columbia, Missouri.

And this was true even when they were the Blue Hen Imprint at Putnam several years ago.

They just hired a new web marketing manager. She’s on the East Coast.

The world is flat in the sense that the whole company doesn’t need to geographically be located in one place to succeed.

Publishing Old School—great books that might actual enter the literary canon—but done in a new school, world is flat, let’s take advantage of all technology has to offer, kind of way.

Isn’t that how revolutions happen?

So if you haven’t picked up a literary work of fiction in a while, why not mosey on over to the website and check out this great title SMALL ACTS OF SEX AND ELECTRICITY. Sample pages are on the website but alas, not the first couple of pages, which are a little shocking.

I guarantee you won’t be able to stop reading,

Some folks might call it women’s fiction. Fine. We don’t call Chuck Palahniuk men’s fiction but whatever.

It’s high octane fiction and here’s your chance to support a house that still has an Old School vision that literary fiction is worth publishing.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In Good Company

STATUS: It’s a Wednesday but feels like a Monday. Completely crazy. The only thing I absolutely had to do today was type up my feedback for a client. I’ve literally been on the phone since the a.m. and I’m still trying to find a moment to get this done. Hence, extremely short blog.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? I RAN by A Flock of Seagulls
(Ah, what memories of high school and new wave bands with very strange hair. Still, it’s kind of a cool classic now.)

A friend sent me this link this morning.

I made the Top Ten Blogs on Publishing & Writing!

Okay, I’ve never heard of Associated Content but you know how much I love top ten lists.

To be number 3—right up there with Miss Snark and Evil Editor. I have to admit, it kind of made my day.

And I even laughed over the description. I might be a little too sweet for some folks. He, he

Like too much sugar in your tea.

Guess they missed the shark in chick clothing.

And now if I can just get them to spell my name right...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Only Time Dinner Is A Turn-Off

STATUS: I took on a new client today. That always makes me happy!

What song is playing on the iPod right now? DEACON BLUES by Steely Dan

Funny how memories come out of the blue. Today I recalled a conversation I had with an editor several months ago (and undoubtedly over drinks) but I think it still holds true despite the fact that a glass of wine might have been involved. Of course, that glass of wine might be the culprit for why I’m only now remembering this…

We were specifically discussing novels in romance but I think it holds true for other genres (and feel free to cite those exceptions to the rules in the comments section because I know you will!).

She mentioned that she hates first chapter opening scenes that involve eating.

Breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

It’s probably the only time eating is a turn-off!

For her, it’s just impossible to make such a scene dynamic.

I have to agree.

In fact, eating scenes in general tend to lack momentum—unless the entire point of the story is somehow tied to the dinner scene. Then, I can actually see that working. This typically tends to happen more in short fiction rather than novels but I’m sure there are examples out there.

But as ways to introduce your character or show interactions, it’s do-able but hard to do really well enough to excite.

Some food for thought. Pun intended.

Monday, August 21, 2006

When Editors Come A-Calling

STATUS: It’s Monday. Need I say more? Actually, it was an okay day. There are a few ongoing fires I’m dealing with but nothing new. Thank goodness for that. I’m still concentrating on client material but my partial inbox is calling to me. I know there's some good stuff in there I need to read soon.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? IT’S NOT UNUSUAL by Tom Jones

What I feel like doing most right now is knocking my head against my desk.

Why? There’s nothing worse than having an editor ring up and say, “What’s up babe? You got anything in the hopper for me. I’m itching to buy, buy, buy.”

Okay, the editor didn’t really say that (or call me babe) but she did email me and say, “Do you have any upcoming young adult projects for me to look at?” (Translation: Darn your YA titles are selling really hot right now--which they are--and I want a project with you.)

The Editorial Director of the imprint no less.

And this is the second email in a week’s time from two different editors.

And there is nothing worse than having to say no, I haven’t got a darn thing.

It’s not from a lack of looking at YA projects either.

This is what frustrates me with the recent sample pages I’ve reviewed. Some of them have been great concepts (and I mean good stuff) but with flat, one-dimensional characters and what feels like teen standardized dialogue rather than something authentic.

That drives me crazy. Just because it’s YA doesn’t mean the writing standards are different.

I’ve been reading some cool stuff lately. Edgy. Like Printz medalist John Green’s latest AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES. Cool concept. Top writing.

And what’s really interesting is that I do think some of the stuff I’ve looked at will get representation and potentially sell.

And that’s fine. There’s a market and audience for all types of readers.

I guess I just don’t want to be the agent to sell it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Queries—A Wrap Up

STATUS: I’m actually doing a reading day—client stuff mostly but I did read 200 pages of a full manuscript last night and I’m going to pass. Why? Because the secondary plot ended up hijacking the story and I kept wondering where the two main protagonists had gotten to. So folks, remember that. A great subplot can really create terrific complexity and round out a novel but if the reader is more interested in the secondary characters with the subplot, Houston, we have a problem.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? WILD HORSES by U2

It’s Friday! And I thought it would be fun to round out the week with the top ten things that drive me crazy in queries. Pet Peeves. Now remember, I only accept queries via email so some of my peeves revolve around this medium.

10.Writers who CC at least 50 other agents on the email query.

Yep, that’s designed to make me feel special. Not. Also, email queries that do this tend to end up in my Spam folder.

9. Queries with email subject lines that read, “Pity the fool who passes up this bestseller” or something of the like

Now that’s guaranteed to get me to quirk my right eyebrow in disbelief. On principle that gets an auto NO.

8. Queries that begin with “I know you don’t represent XYZ but I’m convinced that if you just took a look at this work, it would be right for you.”

Even good writing isn’t going to get me to like a book in genre I don’t care for.

7. Queries that open up with a complaint that it’s so darn hard to get an agent.

Duh.

6. Query backgrounds with color or cutesy backdrops and strange fonts.

I’m really not looking forward to bifocals. Please don’t speed up the process.

5. A query that outlines 10 full manuscript projects in excruciating detail.

Enough said. Query one work at a time.

4. My XYZ novel is 300,000 words and it’s the first in a trilogy.

Agent runs screaming.

3. You’ve rejected me before but …

Sheesh. Never highlight your unsuccess!

2. My novel would make a great Hollywood film.

Okay, how many times have I ranted about this topic? Don’t worry, I won’t get started again.

1. Queries that begin with “This novel is the next Da Vinci Code.”

Folks, my agency doesn’t represent books like the Da Vinci Code. And quit beating that poor dead horse.

Have a great weekend. Until Monday...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Queries—An Inside Scoop (Hank Ryan’s Query)

STATUS: Today was devoted to royalty statements. And they say an agent’s job is glamorous. Snort.

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

This query will be fun because it’s for my most recent sale. This project, PRIME TIME, just sold to Harlequin last week and will be coming out in June 2007.

Hank is a well known TV personality in Boston but this work is her debut novel. (If you are a Boston resident, flip on your telly to the NBC affiliate, which I think is channel 7. You can’t miss her!)

Dear Ms. Nelson:

Think that annoying SPAM clogging your computer is just so much cyber-junk? Top-notch TV reporter Charlotte McNally suspects some of it may be much more than that--in fact, she's certain it carries secret big-money messages to a powerful inner circle of executives who possess the key to its code. Okay, hidden messages in spam might be a common plot construct but I’d never heard of it. Right off I thought this quite clever.

Turns out--as Charlotte discovers--the last outsider who deciphered the SPAM's hidden clues now resides in the local morgue. Sinister. Was his car accident really a car accident? Charlotte's spidey-sense for news may have put her on the trail of the biggest story of her life or the one that may end it. I love this. It’s either the career-making story or the one that will cash in her chips. Yet, there’s a fun tone to the query so it’s not like I think this is some “serious” mystery.

PRIME TIME introduces Charlotte McNally, a hip and attractive fifty-something journalist who's facing some life-changing challenges. This doesn’t have anything to do with the query per se but it’s an interesting tidbit. We ended up making Charlie forty-something (47 to be exact) because she was single, never married, and this would go over better with the editors. Charlie's smart, successful and devoted to Italian clothing designers--but she's worried her news director is about to replace her with a younger model. Love this. Even though she's won a row of Emmys for her investigative reporting, she's convinced that unless she digs up another blockbuster in time for the next ratings book, she may be fired from the job she loves. It’s a double layer of conflict. The unexplained car accident and the fact that Charlie’s job might be on the line because our society values youth—especially in this career.

Charlie's got too many pairs of shoes, too many graying hairs, and even a hot flash or two-but she puts her life on the line for a story, and her heart on the line for a guy. That sums it up!

PRIME TIME--approximately 95,000 words--is a mystery in a lady lit voice. This might have worked a little better at the start of the query but the nice thing is it does confirm what I was thinking the genre of this work might be. It's an action-filled page-turner, with humor, romance and a stock market scheme so timely and innovative you'll wonder why someone hasn't tried it. A twist of an ending will have readers going back to the beginning to check for all the clues they missed. Hank could have deleted these two sentences. In truth, they don’t really add anything to what is a good query. The information is too general and if it’s a mystery, then I’ll assume there should be a twist ending but hey, letters don’t have to be perfect.

It's also a look from inside at the world of television news: its ambition, cynicism, tyrannical managers, clothing allowances, ratings wars, power struggles, and even a few devoted journalists. She can nix this too.

On a personal note-my 22nd year of reporting at WHDH-TV (NBC/Boston) has been a terrific one so far. I won two more Emmys for my investigative and consumer stories (that makes 23), and three more Edward R. Murrow Awards, including the one for best writing. Aha, now this will perk my interest. Hank has been in the biz for a long time. She knows this world inside and out and can bring that perspective to telling a good story.

After all my years in journalism and affiliation with Investigative Reporters and Editors, I have lots of pals in local TV and newspapers across the country, as well as at all the networks. So I figure, add those publicity and blurb resources to the millions of TV viewers who already recognize my name and we could have a ready-made marketing platform. You blog readers should know by now that agents love tidbits like this. It really helps us to fall in love with the project.
.
For experienced and savvy women who are weary of reading about chick lit chicks swilling Cosmos (not that there's anything wrong with that), PRIME TIME is a satisfying selection for beach, book club or curling up with a cup of tea. And they'll never look at SPAM the same way again. Hank could nix this. It doesn’t add anything. What could have been more interesting if she highlighted the dearth of titles in this genre for the “older” set.

What happens next to Charlie, her career and her future with a dishy professor? I'm currently working on the next in the series, FACE TIME, where Charlie contemplates cosmetic surgery to stave off on-the-air aging, and uncovers a series of murders in a luxury hospital. Hank’s letting me know, in a fun way, that this work is the first in a series. I like it.

You don't say on your website whether your interest in chick-lit mysteries extends to chic but older chicks-I hope it does. True, my website doesn’t but I don’t practice age-ism. May I send you the completed manuscript? Thanks so much for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. You sure can!

Best,
Hank (Harriet Ann) Phillippi Ryan

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Queries—An Inside Scoop (Sherry Thomas’s Query)

STATUS: Sara and I were work machines today. I still have a long way before catching up (mostly reading client materials at the moment). But there is a flicker of light in the tunnel.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? YOU’RE SO VAIN by Carly Simon (That’s a classic and what a great song!)

Since it really was Sherry’s blog that started this whole query rant, it’s time for her query to go up to bat.

A little info that I’ve already posted previously but hey, I’ll repeat myself here. From the arrival of the first query to reading sample pages to reading the full to offering representation to selling Sherry’s novel: 25 days.

It sold in a pre-empt to Bantam in a good deal (Pub lunch terms) and will be released in fall 2007.

Without further ado, here is what I was thinking when I read Sherry’s query.

Dear Ms. Nelson,

I’m a faithful reader of your blog. I admire your enthusiasm, your humor, and your candor. She reads my blog! Okay, I really shouldn’t be swayed by such flattery but hey, I’m human. Since you represent all subgenres of romance, I’d like you to consider Schemes of Love, my historical romance set in late Victorian England. The manuscript is complete at 100,000 words. Nice orientation to her novel.

Gigi’s marriage is doomed from the moment she decides that she must have Camden, by fair means or foul. How can I resist? Right off we know the fall our main heroine is going to take. Talk about flawed and therefore, immediately interesting. Camden, who has come to adore Gigi, discovers her deceit on the eve of their wedding. Shattered, he responds in kind, gives her a tender, unforgettable wedding night, then coldly leaves her in the morning, devastating her. Ah yes, two souls who have now done two wrongs. It’s a romance; I must know how they will make this right. Seriously though, this is such an intriguing set up and combined with the paragraph below, it’s something I’ve never seen before and folks, I read a lot of romance queries and sample pages. It’s hard to find something wholly original and fresh.

As the story opens, it is ten years later. Gigi has petitioned for divorce in order to remarry. Camden returns to England and sets the condition for her freedom: an heir. I’m sold. Didn’t even need to read more. She wants a divorce. He wants a child. Hum… sounds like an intense conflict to me. Despite the years and the sea of bad blood, the physical attraction between them remains as ferocious as ever. Big hint this work is going to be sensual and boy, is it—in very different ways. There’s a sex scene in the novel (and I can’t give it away) unlike anything I’ve ever read anywhere. That’s saying something. Though they each vow to make the act of procreation a cold, clinical one, the overwhelming pleasure of their marriage bed soon makes it apparent that the enterprise is fraught with emotional peril, for both of them. Oops. Two characters who think they don’t like each other but have great sex. What more could I want? Seriously, notice the wonderful cadence of Sherry’s language here: “Though they each vow to make the act of procreation a cold, clinical one, the overwhelming pleasure of their marriage bed soon makes it apparent that the enterprise is fraught with emotional peril, for both of them.” That’s some gorgeous writing and it’s only her query letter I’m reading. If you notice, the whole query is like that, and the novel doesn’t disappoint either.

In an atmosphere thick with mistrust, desire, and incipient hope, they are torn between the need to safeguard their hearts and the yearning to reach out across the chasm of ancient mistakes. May favorite kind of construct. As they rediscover the easy rapport they’d once shared, they must decide whether to let the bygones rule the future, or to love despite their painful past and forge a new life together. I don’t know about you but I’m totally rooting for them to let bygones be bygones.

Schemes of Love recently placed first in its category at the Merritt Contest, organized by San Antonio Romance Authors. Excellent. It has received recognition. Chris Keeslar at Dorchester has requested the full. And editor interest! This actually isn’t a big deal for me because it seems like editors request everything but hey, it doesn’t hurt. Another one of my manuscripts has won the Romantic Elements category of the 2005 On the Far Side contest, hosted by the Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal Chapter of the RWA. Some other credentials and shows a little diversity from just the Historical stuff.

Thank you for your time. I hope very much to work with you and look forward to hearing from you. And she did, quite quickly. Big smile here.

Sherry Thomas

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Queries—An Inside Scoop (Shanna Swendson’s Query)

STATUS: Today was definitely better than yesterday but it didn’t take much to make that happen. If you are wondering what happens when a line like Bombshell folds, hop on over to my fellow agent Nephele Tempest’s blog where she goes into a little more detail about that.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? BLUE by The Jayhawks

Yesterday I pinpointed that Jennifer’s B#1 was a very different type of chick lit. Well, today’s query is for a great book that has all the “typical” chick lit elements—set in New York City, a young 20-something, an evil boss, a new job, a possible Mr. Right, and yes there’s shopping but all with a big, big, big, big magical twist.

Yep, you guessed it. What’s up next is the original query for Shanna Swendson’s ENCHANTED, INC. In fact, whether this is simply a different kind of urban fantasy or chick lit is still up for debate.

As you’ll probably notice right away from the query, the title was changed (as often happens). Ballantine published this book in May 2005. The sequel, ONCE UPON STILETTOS, hit shelves a year later (or should I say hit shelves and then immediately disappeared in non-magical ways because this book has sold very strong).

The third in the series will be released in May 2007 (so mark you calendars) and it, too, has a wonderful title DAMSEL UNDER STRESS.

And here’s the great query that started a four book series.

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I am the author of five published short contemporary romance novels, and as I prepare to make the leap into the single title world, I am seeking representation. Aha, this author has already published. Usually I prefer that the query writer include the publisher right away so I don’t have to wonder who it is but Shanna ends up including that in her last paragraph. Also, she highlights her career goal—to move to single title after a career in category. Your list of genres and sub-genres that you represent matches nicely with what I write, and your philosophy on the role of an agent (as described on your web site) matches what I'm looking for in an agent. Works for me.

My most recently completed manuscript is a 100,000 word contemporary fantasy with a chick-lit style -- think Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter. Sometimes the movie reference works—as long as the book really matches the description. In this case, I loved the comparison and the book didn’t disappoint. The comparison has to make sense though. I once got a query that used ANNE OF GREEN GABLES meets THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. Huh? I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around that one. MAGIC, SPELLS and ILLUSIONS, INC. is the story of an ordinary young woman who gets a job at a company that turns out to be essentially Magic, Inc., and who finds herself in the middle of a brewing magical war that's really going to complicate her dating life. This is fun. Shanna incorporates the fun tone of the book in the query. Katie Chandler always thought she was ordinary, but then she learns that she's a special kind of ordinary, so non-magical that she's entirely immune to magic. OMG!!! How cool is this? A heroine whose super power is that she is ordinary!! I love it. So original. Great hook and right here I was sold on seeing this project. I didn’t even have to read any more of the query. I knew this book was right up my alley. She can see through any illusion, which makes her extremely valuable to her company, which is facing competition from a former employee who has no qualms about producing spells designed to harm people. Now Katie has to balance her top-secret professional life with her personal life while helping find real-world solutions to magical problems. Dating in New York was hard enough before she had magical co-workers meddling in her life and a job she can't discuss when her date asks, "So, what do you do?" Shanna includes a bunch of fun details to highlight the conflict of this magical job for the heroine—she’s detailing the chick lit elements in her magical world.

This project is currently under consideration by Luna Books, after editor Kate Paice (from the UK office) requested it based on a conversation I had with her when the book was only in idea form. Nice. Shows that editors also like the hook. I'm hearing about chick-lit houses incorporating paranormal elements, so I believe there could be even more potential markets for this story. Shanna shows she’s market savvy and a client I would want to work with. It's the first book in an open-ended series, and I have story ideas for at least three more books. And funny enough, we sold all those books.

I had two books published in Silhouette's now-defunct Yours Truly line, one of which was a finalist for the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award for best Yours Truly. Prior to that, I had three books published by Avalon books. Ah, here’s the publisher info that I wish she had included in paragraph one. She probably could have combined this. I have twice won the science fiction/fantasy/horror category of the Greater Dallas Writers Association contest, but have not published yet in that genre. Nice. She’s gotten some fantasy recognition, which she includes because all her published works were in romance.

Although I have fairly good publishing industry contacts, I'm not a good negotiator and I am concerned about making sure my projects end up at the right house, with the right editor so I can build a career instead of just selling books wherever I can. Those are areas where I believe an agent would be a beneficial partner in my writing endeavors. Her goals. Not necessary but it certainly doesn’t hurt her query.

Would you like to see sample chapters of MAGIC, SPELLS AND ILLUSIONS, INC.? Yes, yes, yes!

Thank you for your consideration of my work.

Sincerely,
Shanna Swendson

And for fun, here is the back cover copy Ballantine created for the book:

DON’T MESS WITH HEXES

Katie Chandler had always heard that New York was a weird and wonderful place, but this small-town Texas gal had no idea just how weird it was until she moved to the Big Apple. Everywhere she goes, she sees something worth gawking at. It makes her feel like such a hick, and her dead-end job working for a real ogre of a boss doesn’t help. She’s afraid she’s a little too normal and ordinary to make a splash in the big city.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, Katie gets a mysterious job offer from Magic, Spells and Illusions, Inc. – a company that sells charms, spells and tricks of the trade to wizards and others in the magic community. To them, Katie’s ordinariness is an asset. Lacking any bit of magic, she can easily spot a fake spell, catch hidden clauses in customers’ contracts or detect magically disguised intruders. Suddenly, average Katie is very special, indeed, and her life is anything but normal.

She quickly learns that she only thought her previous boss was an ogre, that bad blind dates can be even worse when magic gets into the mix and that there are much, much worse places to meet men than singles bars. Then there’s Katie’s office crush on Owen, the sexy, shy, ultrapowerful (and probably unattainable) head of magical R&D. And to make matters worse, there’s an evil competitor threatening to sell black magic on the streets. Now, it’s up to Katie to pull off the impossible: save the world and—hopefully—live a little happily ever after.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Queries—An Inside Scoop (Jennifer O’Connell’s Query)

STATUS: Can I just say this day sucked? From the moment I hit the office, one of the first emails in my inbox was the news that Harlequin was disbanding their Bombshell line. Well, rumors have been flying for weeks (since RWA) about the fate of this line but alas, the confirm came this morning. And yes, I have a very unhappy Bombshell author at the moment. And that was only the start of the bad news… Thank goodness tomorrow is Tuesday because I don’t think I could handle another Monday like today—well, I can but just not two days in a row.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? OPEN ARMS by Journey (okay, the evil secret is out. I am a closet Journey fan. Don’t tell anyone.)

I like to think of this query as the one that started it all.

Technically that’s not true because I opened my agency in 2002 and I certainly had read a bunch of queries in the four months before this one arrived in December 2002. I had even taken on two nonfiction writers (what was I thinking? Big smile here.) but this was the first query that translated into my first sale as an agent on my own and dare I say it, the rest was history?

This project, BACHELORETTE #1, sold to NAL (New American Library) in February 2003 via a pre-empt and this work has the honor (is that the right word?) of being the first novel to incorporate the reality TV angle. It also was a crash production (which means moving at lightning speed) because the book sold in February and then published in August 2003. In six months. It was featured at Book Expo before we had even finished the contract. It was a heady and crazy time.

And I’m so proud of this book—and not only because it’s my first sale—but also because it’s a great book.

Most folks just see the chick lit angle. Ah, this is a story of a woman going undercover on a dating reality TV show.

Well, if you haven’t read this book, it’s SO much more than that. This novel is about a thirty-four year old woman who is questioning the woman she has become in her marriage, the woman she become as a mother and then truly discovers what a real marriage, her marriage, is all about.

Heady stuff and not remotely like what is defined as “typical” chick lit. There’s no 20-something. No shopping. No search for shoes or the right job. And Mr. Right is already in the picture.

But what does it really mean to be a wife, a mommy, and your own person all at the same time?

I don’t call that chick lit. I call that smart fiction.

So here is Jennifer O’Connell’s original query to me.

Dear Ms. Nelson
I read on Publishers Marketplace that you are interested in women's fiction. I thought that you may be interested in my novel Bachelorette Number One. Great title! I would like to invite you to review the manuscript for my novel and consider representing me. This was in the early days of PM and being the smart gal she is, Jennifer was already savvy about this medium and that impressed me. She has done some research.

Bachelorette Number One is about Sarah Holmes, a freelance writer assigned to infiltrate and expose television's most popular show, 'The Stag.' This was a fresh angle in 2003. Thanks to Femme Magazine's staff of hair stylists, make-up artists and designers, the thirty-four-year-old married mother of one is transformed into a hip, blonde, fashionable single girl ready to compete head-to-head with twenty-three other husband hungry women. Aha! Here’s a great hook. We have an “older” married mother of one who plans to go undercover and pretend to be single. I can see all kinds of conflicts that can erupt out of this. I’m so interested. Besides, I had never even heard of a story similar to this one. But while the magazine expects Sarah to show what goes on behind the scenes - the cattiness, the desperation, and the ruthless competition between the women - she finds that life with the Stag is not what she expected. Ah, not what she expected. Life rarely is. It’s a little hint of what’s to unfold.

Originally disgusted by the women's mission to land a husband, and their desire to let the entire country watch the events unfold on prime time TV, Sarah finds herself befriending some of the hens (the show's horrific nickname for the women). Women liking other women! Love that. Stories of women bashing each other not as much for me (unless done just right) but Sarah goes in with one expectation and gets confronted with a different reality. And I like the tidbit on the “hens.” Even more unexpected, she finds herself becoming a formidable competitor as the women work their feminine wiles to make it through the weekly candle ceremonies. Oops. Sarah is getting caught up in the game. That’s going to cause problems! When her time with the Stag starts to become more intimate, the line between work and real life becomes blurred, and Femme Magazine might get more than it bargained for. Everyone is going to get more then they bargained for! Here she’s giving me more details to flesh out the story but she still keeps it brief.

Bachelorette Number One shows us a woman who, by all accounts, has exactly what the women on 'The Stag' are seeking - a good looking successful husband, a happy suburban marriage, and a beautiful little girl. But as she's swept up in the race to romance the Stag, Sarah learns that she has more in common with the women than she'd like to admit. This paragraph is a little bit of a repeat of the above and the two could probably have been combined but hey, a query doesn’t have to be perfect. The novel shows with both intelligence and wit, the differences that make all women unique and the similarities that make all women human. I love this bit though because it shows a little hint of the depth and complexity the story will encompass—even if she plans to tackle it in a fun, chick lit way because let’s be honest, this isn’t serious, serious women’s fiction.

Although Bachelorette Number One is my first novel, my writing experience ranges from corporate communications to the publication I founded while at Smith College. Short and sweet because she doesn’t have any prior publications. My exposure to publishing includes attending the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures program after graduation from Smith. This detail is strong because it tells me she knows something about the business of publishing and that’s always a bonus.

I'd be happy to send you a complete copy of the manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you. It never hurts to thank an agent for his or her time. We have so little of it. Thanks for taking the query business seriously!

Regards,
Jennifer L. O'Connell

Rereading this just gives me a warm fuzzy all over again. Jennifer has written three adult novels besides this one: DRESS REHEARSAL and OFF THE RECORD. Her fourth, INSIDER DATING, will be out in May 2007.

Because she is a consummate professional interested in expanding the Jennifer O’Connell brand, she has branched out into YA with a very successful MTV/Pocket title called PLAN B. Her next YA, THE BOOK OF LUKE will be out next year as well.

I’m convinced she never sleeps because she works a full-time job, is married, and raises two kids but she also had time to put together and edit a terrific anthology entitled EVERYTHING I EVER NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A GIRL I LEARNED FROM JUDY BLUME.

And along with fiction, she’s currently co-writing a chick lit nonfic divorce book that has a title currently up for grabs but we’ve been calling it YOU’RE BETTER OFF WITHOUT HIM.

And this incredible career started with one great query letter.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Queries—An Inside Scoop (Becky Motew’s Query)

STATUS: It’s Friday. I actually plan to work all weekend but I do have some fun things planned as well.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? FIRE AND RAIN by James Taylor

I think what will be clear from this example is that I tend to like quirky books! And for all you wondering, I do have male clients but their books haven’t sold yet and I’m only highlighting queries for which there is already a book on the shelf or an impending release.

Also, two of my best known authors, Ally Carter and Linnea Sinclair, don’t have queries to share. Why? Because Ally queried me for a work that has yet to be submitted (but we hope to some day) and Linnea was a referral so she didn’t actually formally query me.

But next up is Becky Motew. I love this book COUPON GIRL. It’s so different from anything else that is out in the world of Chick Lit. In fact, it was probably a mistake to market it as so. It’s more humorous women’s fiction and male readers have told me it has a very Carl Hiaasen feel. So, it’s okay for boys to read it too!

Dear Kristin Nelson:

Jeanie Callahan, coupon girl extraordinaire, just wants to win the LotsaCoups sales contest. She needs the money, and, frankly, the career boost. We’ve got conflict! Jeanie needs some cash. So when the buzz-cut speaker at the sales meeting urges the team to "get close to the business," Jeanie doesn't hesitate: she auditions for the Heywood Community Theatre production of Sound of Music. Why, think of all the business-owning prospects she'll surely meet.
Okay, I’m already chuckling. Who decides to try out for the SOUND OF MUSIC so as to get sales leads? Hilarious right from the start and the query only gets better.

Except Captain von Trapp and Maria turn out to be 6 feet tall giants. Lisl is 11. Most of the nuns are high-schoolers. I can’t stop laughing and guess what, her novel is just as funny. And the director...ah, the director...turns out to be the perfect date. Sort of, except for his libidinous tendencies. From Yummy's Septic Systems to the jailbird-owned pizza group, Jeannie digs for sales. I love the mention of some of her clients. Yummy’s septic systems? It’s probably true because you can’t make that kind of stuff up! She's getting close to the business...or is she? Maybe she's only getting closer to insanity as she shows up at every rehearsal dressed in her nun's habit and trying to help keep peace on the hell-bent set. Sound of Music and chaos on the set shouldn’t go hand-in-hand so I’m really digging this quirky premise. And meanwhile tramp-like Stephanie and witchy Henrietta sprint forward in the contest. And the conflict heats up over sales as well. So basically Becky has done a wonderful job balancing an original idea with a fun conflict.

As the Captain abandons ship, one of the nuns refuses to sing without carrying a three-foot cross, and the music director appears intent on conducting naked on opening night; the show seems slated for disaster No Kidding! and Jeannie seems far from winning the contest. But a last-minute twist saves Gramps from a lawsuit Huh? This was kind of thrown in there but hey, I’m already smitten so I let it go, propels Jeannie into the limelight, and presents a stunning opportunity for the coupon girl to win far more than the sales contest. Great wrap up line.

COUPON GIRL, standing proudly Standing proudly? Strange description but that’s okay, a query doesn’t have to perfect in the commercial women's fiction category, is just over 80,000 words and ready for your inspection. I sold coupons myself for more than ten years in the Worcester, MA, area. I was also active in community theatre for at least ten years, though it may have seemed longer to the audience. I'm sorry to say my best role was Miss Hannigan in ANNIE, where I scared my own daughter.
This bio paragraph rocks. She did coupons and community theater so she knows the world intimately and the last line just shows me she has the same sense of humor as the novel. Nicely done.

Thank you for your time and attention.
Becky Motew

As you can tell, this quirky novel was hard to sum up for the back cover copy. We tried several versions that all ended up sounded bland. We ended up lifting out some of the text from one of the chapters to capture the essence of this novel’s quirky nature and we used that as the back cover copy.

Here it is and run out to buy this book. Trust me, when I read the manuscript, I shook Chutney off my lap I was laughing so hard in places—especially when the performance of the Sound of Music actually happens in the book. Very few books make me cry from laughter. This one tops my list.


Hi, you’ve reached the voice mail of Jeanie Callahan. I'm auditioning right now for the lead role in the The Sound of Music. Hopefully, I am not throwing up or fainting. Oh yes, if you're a business owner and would like to offer your customers coupons, leave me a message. BEEP

“Hey, Jeanie. I can't give 25% off my donuts, so just forget it.” BEEP

“Hi, it’s Meg—your soon-to-be-pregnant best friend. Call me!” BEEP

“Just wanted to let you know that the fire department was over to get your grandfather down from the roof. Don’t worry, he’s okay.” BEEP

“My name Mike. You call.” BEEP

Did you ever wish you could redeem your current life for a completely new one? Believe me, I’m right there with you. And if I've learned anything from selling coupons, it's this: 10% off won't cut it. You have to go big. Large. Whole hog. I say it to my customers every day. I just never knew taking my own advice would prove so difficult. …

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Queries—An Inside Scoop (Jana DeLeon’s Query)

STATUS: I actually spent the day avoiding the phone and emails so I could get some reading done. And I plan to work late tonight. I’m committed to catching up.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND by Sting

I actually find this exercise a little interesting because for the most part, I don’t analyze queries received. I either like it or not and simply ask for sample pages if it works for me.

Next up, Jana DeLeon’s query (and I’m having trouble typing because I’m sitting on my couch and Chutney is insisting on laying her head on the laptop keyboard so I apologize for any uncaught typos etc.).

This project sold to Dorchester and will be coming out in October of 2006. The title remained the same (because it’s a great title and don’t underestimate the value of a good title to win your query some attention). Bland titles are an instant turn off and if I end up thinking, “what a yucky title,” that can be a strike against you—although I’ll still give the query a look.

November 8, 2004

Kristin Nelson
Nelson Literary Agency, LLC
1020 15th Street
Suite 26L
Denver, CO 80202

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I have recently completed a 93,000-word humorous romantic suspense novel entitled Rumble on the Bayou, and I hope you might consider me for your list.
Of course I wouldn’t have known that when I read the query but Jana is definitely a straight-to-the-point kind of gal and this opening sentence would indicate that. Why beat around the bush when you can go straight to the story blurb. I know enough to orient me.

The only suggestion I would add is this: it might have been nice if Jana mentioned that her work was not unlike Stephanie Bond’s stuff because it is and the comparison would have benefited her.

Secrets have been buried in Gator Bait, Louisiana for over thirty years, but someone is about to blow the lid off of them and rock this sleepy little town. How can you not love a town named Gator Bait? Right off I found this little tidbit so fun and interesting. Not to mention, she cut right to the secret that’s about to upset a small town. I know something is going to happen. Now I’m expecting, in the next few sentences, that she’ll elaborate on what and I’m not disappointed. Dorie Berenger likes her life just the way it is—simple, easy, relaxed. Serving as both Game Warden and Deputy in her hometown of Gator Bait meets her needs nicely, until DEA agent Richard Starke shows up—abrupt, demanding and far too attractive for this one-horse town. Soon he’s complicating everything, from her job to her self-imposed ban on relationships, and Dorie wants him out of her hair as soon as possible. I love the focus on the sexual tension between these two characters. Now I can assume that DEA agent Starke is coming to town because of the secret that is unfolding and she really actually doesn’t reveal too much about it. But remember when I mentioned yesterday that a query letter doesn’t have to be perfect to win a look. There’s a good spark here so I asked for sample pages because I liked the idea of something set in Louisiana and the tone she’s captured in the query.

Rumble on the Bayou is a humorous look at what happens when big city crime visits small town mentality. This solidifies it for me. I love when there is an external conflict to layer on the relationship conflict and this one is certainly one to create more sparks flying. It received an Honorable Mention in the 2004 Daphne du Maurier contest and second place in the 2004 TARA First Impressions Contest. Always good to know that it drew some notice.

I am a member of Romance Writers of America, Dallas Area Romance Authors, and Sisters in Crime. I spent the first twenty-one years of my life among the bayous and marshes of southwest Louisiana. I love this last tidbit. Louisiana is a special place and not just anybody can write about it well. Jana highlights that she knows the territory intimately because she grew up there. She has creditability. That detail wins her extra points in my book.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Jana DeLeon

I thought it might be fun to include the back cover copy for RUMBLE so you can see some details that might have made Jana’s original query stronger if she had included it. It still got my attention but I think if you are reading this blog and trying to learn the art of a query, it might be helpful if I point some stuff out.

GATOR AID
Deputy Dorie Berenger knew it was going to be a rough day when the alligator she found in the town drunk’s swimming pool turned out to be stoned. On heroin. Now she has some big-shot city slicker from the DEA trying to take over her turf. And Agent Richard Starke is everything she’d feared—brash, demanding and way too handsome for his own good. Or hers.

The folks of Gator Bait, Louisiana, may know everything about each other, but they’re sure not going to share it with an outsider. Richard wouldn’t be able to catch a catfish, much less a drug smuggler, without Dorie’s help. But some secrets—and some desires—are buried so deep that bringing them to the surface will take a major
RUMBLE ON THE BAYOU

If you notice, the first paragraph of the back cover copy basically makes it clear why DEA agent Richard Starke is coming to town. Not only that, but it gives us some nuances about the quirky little town of Gator Bait. There’s a gator in a swimming pool of the town drunk. And the gator’s stoned. Hilarious.

The second paragraph really sets up the externally conflict nicely. It’s Gator Bait against the brash outsider and you know these two are going to have to knock heads, hearts, and their libidos, to get anything accomplished.

How fun is that.

The mention of the secret is saved till last. It’s an extra enticement.

And that’s what I recommend to folks writing queries. Really capture the essence of your story in one or two short paragraphs—not unlike the back cover copy of a novel. After all, that copy is designed to snag a reader in the bookstore so it can serve the same function for an agent who is trying to envision this work in a bookstore.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Queries—An Inside Scoop (Lisa Shearin’s Query)

STATUS: It’s a very good day because I after much work, a project sold and my client is just thrilled to pieces and that’s the best part of this job.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? PAPER MOON by Natalie Cole

At the risk of infringing on Evil Editor’s territory, it occurred to me that I could, with permission, post some of my clients’ query letters and really give y’all a rundown of what worked for me.

The good majority of my authors had never published before I took them on and sold their first book. It happens quite often. And even though I teach a query workshop that gives good tips on how to write a good pitch paragraph blurb about your work, there are no hard and fast rules of what will absolutely make an agent request sample pages.

I think most aspiring writers are looking for some sort of golden key. If I do XYZ, I’ll get a that request and hey, that’s the first step to getting a full manuscript request and on from there.

If there is a golden key, it’s this: write a really good query letter and then follow that up with a lot of writing talent in your manuscript.

So what makes a good one?

Tough question.

So, I’m just going to jump in and show you the actual queries my clients’ sent and I’ll give you some commentary on how I responded to them. Take what you will out of that and apply it to your query. If nothing else, you’ll learn something from the process (or I flatter myself you will) of watching my brain in action while I read a query. And I'm just one agent. Another agent might not have liked this query at all. So subjective. However, even if an agent didn't respond to this query, they would probably acknowledge that it was well done.

Just to be clear. These are the actual query letters received via email. I didn’t gussy them up or anything. It’s exactly what each client wrote to me. As I share over the next few days, I want you to notice that no letter is perfect. As agents, we aren’t looking for perfection. We’re looking for connection, a spark that this interests us, and that’s hard to define.

So first up is Lisa Shearin’s query for THIEF OF SOULS. This project sold to Ace Books (which is a fantasy imprint at Penguin Group publishing). This novel is coming out next year in June 2007 and was renamed MAGIC LOST, TROUBLE FOUND.

Dear Ms. Nelson,
Hooray, she got my name right. I get a lot of queries that say Dear Mr. Nelson or better yet, Dear Jenny Bent.

I read on Publishers Marketplace that you're interested in female-oriented fantasy. I think that Thief of Souls, the first novel in my fantasy detective series, might interest you.
Short and sweet but shows she did, at least, a little bit of research about me and what I’m looking for.

What if you suddenly have a largely unknown, potentially unlimited power? What if that power just might eat your soul for breakfast, lunch and dinner? What if every magical mobster and sicko sorcerer in town wants that power? And what if you can't get rid of it?
Normally I’m not a big fan of what I call the “what if” questions starting the query but let me tell you what got me in this letter. I just loved the tone. The power might eat my soul for breakfast? Mobster, sicko? These are fun terms to be kicking around for a fantasy novel. I perked up immediately. Right away it felt different to me, and I was ready for the longer pitch blurb that’s just about to follow.

That's Raine Benares' problem. She's a Seeker -- a finder of things lost and people missing. Most of what she's hired to find doesn't get lost by itself. It has help. Dependable help. I’m so tickled. I love the phrase “most of what she’s hired to find doesn’t get lost by itself.” Help she can depend on to use blades or bolts or magical means to keep what they went to all the trouble to get. Perfect fun tone (which matches the novel she wrote). I know this isn’t epic fantasy. It has an urban, lighter feel yet I’m getting all the necessary information about the main character and the role she is going to play in the story. When her sometime partner steals an amulet from a local necromancer, Raine ends up with the amulet and the trouble that's hot on its heels. What looks like a plain silver disk turns out to be a lodestone to an ancient soul-stealing stone, a stone that seemingly every magical mobster in the city wants -- as well as a few heavy-hitters from out-of-town: goblins of the Khrynsani Order, their sadistic high priest, Guardians of the Conclave of Sorcerers, the goblin king and his renegade brother, and an elven spellsinger of dubious motives. Here’s the conflict and I love how she sums up the people who are looking for it as a way of clarifying the problem of being in possession of this amulet and how the plot will unfold. People Raine doesn't want to have notice her, let alone have to outrun or outwit. She likes attention as much as the next girl, but this is the kind she can do without. “She likes attention as much as the next girl!” I know I’m getting a modern voice with this fantasy blend. It’s subtle and well done.

Then there's what the amulet is doing to her. New and improved magical abilities sound good in theory, but Raine thinks her soul is a little much to pay for resume enhancement. More story conflict info but notice Lisa sticks with the tone she adopted. It’s not repetitive yet adds some depth to the story. And when she tries to take the amulet off, the amulet tries to take her out. Very hard-boiled sounding Soon Raine starts to wonder if her spells, steel and street smarts will keep her alive long enough to find a way to get rid of the amulet before it, or anyone else, gets rid of her. And the worst part? She isn't even getting paid. It's enough to make a girl consider a career change.

Thief of Souls is my first novel. Done. There’s no lamenting that she’s never been published. She has no other credentials to offer so she doesn’t. I loved the query so far so I really don’t mind the lack here. I'm an editor at an advertising agency, with prior experience in corporate communications and marketing. A little tidbit about her that personalizes a little but since it doesn’t really relate to her novel, she keeps it brief and that’s fine.

I'd be glad to send you my complete manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Professional wrap- up. I want to see 30 pages without having to think too hard about it. I’m sold on her tone that I know will be mirrored in her writing.

Regards,

Lisa Shearin

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Tale of Two Queries

STATUS: It’s still early. A fire could erupt at any time but I’m hoping to get some reading in this morning. Unusual for during the day but I’m waiting for some contracts to arrive so I can’t work on them yet.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? JUST YOU WAIT by Kiri Te Kanawa from the My Fair Lady Soundtrack

My brand-spanking new author, Sherry Thomas is giving a query tutorial (comparing two of her letters) over at her new blogspot and if you are an author currently navigating the query waters, I strongly recommend you give that a look.

Why?

Because Sherry’s query to me just outright rocked.

It was so good that when the sample pages arrived, Sara and I read them right away. The next day we asked for the full. When the full arrived, Sara read it that night and popped in on Friday morning and said, “drop everything. You need to read this RIGHT now.”

So I did. I stayed home on a Friday night to start reading SCHEMES OF LOVE. Got up early on Saturday to finish and then called Sherry, on a Saturday, to offer representation.

After a little tweaking that Sherry wrapped up in under two weeks, I submitted SCHEMES on a Monday. By that Thursday, I had an initial offer. By that following Tuesday, two publishing houses spontaneously submitted pre-empts.

We ended up accepting a pre-empt offer from Bantam on that Wednesday.

Sold--a week and two days from first submit to publisher.

25 days (literally) from receiving the initial query, to reading the sample pages, to requesting and reading the full, to selling the novel to Bantam.

And it all started with a really good query letter.

You might as well learn from a master so take advantage of what Sherry is offering.

Monday, August 07, 2006

What Writers Shouldn’t Stress About (The bio)

STATUS: Happy to be back in the office for a good long time. I plan to get caught up on everything I’ve been behind on. Yippee. I’m sure there is much rejoicing from my clients too. Are you done traveling yet hasn’t been asked but I’m sure was on all their minds!

What song is playing on the iPod right now? WITCHY WOMAN by The Eagles

Sometimes I’m constantly amazed by what writers stress about in their query letters.

I imagine Miss Snark and other blogs have addressed this already but time for my own take. I know Miss S has talked about her frustration with writers obsessing about font size and type and the best one, the brightness of the paper used for the sample pages.

As long as it’s clean, neat, and not strange to read, it really doesn’t matter much. All decisions will be made based on the quality of the writing. Even if the submission smells like an ashtray (tough because I HATE the smell of cigarette smoke but I still hold the pages a foot away to give them a read).

But the latest obsession that I’ve been privy to is writers obsessing about what to include in the bio section of the query letter.

Stop. This isn’t rocket science.

I’ll start with telling you what not to include.

TMI

Too Much Information. If the detail could be considered so, don’t include. My favorite? The guy who wrote a query and included in his bio that he was gay for so many years (and gave the dates), was cured (but it took several years and he gave those dates), and is now happily married (and included those dates).

And no, this wasn’t a nonfiction project for the Christian/Inspirational market on how to stop being gay. It was for a novel and the concept of being gay (or not) was not part of the story line.

TMI absolutely.

Don’t include that.

All of you have innate common sense (or the good majority of us do). What would your common sense tell you to include?

Length? What do you think? If you are new, one short paragraph. Previously published authors can certainly include a bullet point outline of publishing history (book titles, publisher, year published) if they are looking to move agents but that would be a separate list)

Publishing history if you have any. If you don’t have any, for goodness sake, don’t harp on it. Keep it short. Like “XYZ is my first novel.” Short and sweet. I’ve taken on NUMEROUS debut authors and have sold them just fine.

Nonfiction pubs okay to include but they don’t hold a lot of weight when selling a novel. A must-have if you are shopping an NF proposal.

Do you have any background or experience that lends credence to your story? You might have a degree in horticulture/botany and your heroine is a botanist helping to solve a mystery.

That would be a good detail to include. It directly relates to the concept in your novel.

Otherwise include something like “I currently live in XYZ city with my spouse, two kids, and the pet hamster.”

I like a little personal detail. It humanizes you.

Other than that, don’t obsess. Just consult with your CS. It won’t lead you wrong.

Friday, August 04, 2006

When the Agent Says Good-bye

STATUS: It’s Friday and I’m off to the family reunion fish fry.

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

So today’s entry is short and sweet.

I promised to reveal some tips and thoughts from our Agent Cartel panel at RWA. Well, yesterday’s entry was one of them—it just so happened that I had the event happen to me recently.

As for the reverse, I’ve actually never fired a client. When I take someone on, it’s with the idea that I’ll get a chance to rep them for their whole career. Now, that doesn’t always happen.

A client might decide to move in a different direction (like become a thriller writer) and I would be a terrible agent for him or her. In the first year of my agency, I was handling some self-help, sports, and history nonfiction. As the agency grew, I realized that my passion was truly with fiction and decided to stop pursuing those kinds of projects (unless for current clients who mainly write fiction). Jennifer O’Connell obviously comes to mind because I did sell a chick lit divorce book for her and was happy to do so but it is unlikely that I would have taken on a new client with that type of project.

And I still rep my history writer as well but chances are good he may in the future want an agent who specializes more in that field and if that’s the case, I’ll do my best to hook him up.

I’ve also had a client stop writing altogether and disappear without leaving any forwarding information. I have no idea how to contact the person. And after 2 or 3 years, even though there wasn’t a formal certified letter sent, I’ll assume that our relationship has terminated.

But agents also say goodbye and from the stories on the comment threads, it sounds like they haven’t handled it any better. Sounds like we all could use a new goodbye paradigm.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Saying Goodbye to Your Agent

STATUS: Unbelievable but true. I’m traveling again. This time not for business. A family reunion in Milwaukee. In truth, I just want to work for the next 2 weeks solid and get caught up rather than travel (sad but true)! I’m so happy that there are no other trips scheduled until October.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? My sister-in-law is playing a song on a baby toy. Don’t recognize the tune. My new nephew (Toby) is 6 months old.

Two weeks ago I was fired.

It came out of the blue via a certified letter. I’ve had a couple of weeks to get used to it but it still hurts—although it happens to all agents at any given time in our career.

But let me clarify. It doesn’t hurt because she fired me; it hurts because she didn’t talk to me first. We didn’t get a chance to discuss any issues nor did I have an opportunity to fix what was wrong. I had no idea that she was considering it.

And actually, to give my former client her due, it was a really nice letter. She really acknowledged all the time we spent together doing revisions etc. In fact, I don’t think it was a bad move on her part. She was one of the first clients I took on (in the infancy of my agency) and even though I shopped two of her manuscripts, I never could sell her.

Maybe what she really needs is a fresh perspective to really jumpstart where she is in her career. I totally respect that.

But darn it, I feel like I failed her and I have to rant just a little about the certified-letter approach.

I know the agenting/author relationship is a strange one. After all, agenting is the only job I know where the agent chooses whether a client hires her or not and the client doesn’t get to decide until offered. In that context, that is a little odd. But if you, as the author, are thinking about walking, why wouldn’t you talk with the agent first before taking that step? It’s a tiny bit of consideration and I’m sure that if the circumstances were reversed and you were about to be fired from your job, you’d want a chat or a heads up first, right?

Now wait. I know you are all planning to jump in here and say stuff like, “I can’t get my agent to return my phone calls or emails,” or “my agent embezzled my money or is a drunk” or anything else equally reprehensible.

If that’s the case, I certainly don’t blame you for walking and power to you for doing it. I’m talking about agents who have worked hard and have been communicative. Who have done their jobs to the best of their ability.

It’s okay to want to leave. I’m just saying I wouldn’t mind a phone call first. At the very least, allow me to say good-bye and good luck.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

STATUS: It has become clear to me that I need to start working some late nights. It’s the only way I can catch up on my reading.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? YOU’RE GONNA TO LOSE THAT GIRL by The Beatles

I promise. Last shots from RWA. Tomorrow I’ll get back to ranting. Sneak peeks and tips from our Literary Agent Cartel panel on Saturday. Should make for some good rants.

Just in case folks out there don’t think agents are real people who like to have fun, here are some candid shots from the always-fun Harlequin party at the Ritz-Carlton.

For the first time, I have party favors I might actually be able to use. They are little wineglass charms. Nice!

Agents Lucienne Diver and Jennifer Jackson shake their groove thing

Three's company! Agents who like to dance: Lucienne Diver, Me, and Carolyn Grayson

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Proof of Agent Camaraderie

STATUS: Back to normal with all the hectic catch up from being out of the office for a week.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? LOVE IS LOVE by Culture Club

So last week I did a little rant on Agents and competition.

Here’s some great proof that some agents really operate differently. Here are pictures of me at the Knight Agency Anniversary party.

If Deidre were the paranoid type, she’d never invite an outside agent to her celebration but she knows that the word “poaching” ain’t part of my vocabulary.

I had a great time celebrating with my dear agent friend and I had a great time partying with her clients.

So I thought I would share some candid shots:

Kristin and Deidre share a moment


Susan Grant (author of YOUR PLANET OR MINE?) & Diana Peterfreund (SECRET SOCIETY GIRL) on the Knight Agency Party Bus


Marley’s date (and darn I can’t remember his name!), Marley Gibson (author of a young collegiate sorority sisters series debuting in 2008), Diana’s Brother, Diana, & agent Nephele Tempest