Friday, September 29, 2006

Covers—Non-American Style (part 2)

STATUS: Today, Sara and I received chocolate chocolate chip cookies from a gift site, and I have to say what a huge disappointment they are. Completely chalky tasting. Blah. Nothing ruins a Friday faster than dry cookies when you want a chocolate fix. Other than that, we are busy reading.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CLEANING WINDOWS by Van Morrison

This week we got the German cover for Jennifer O’Connell’s DRESS REHEARSAL. It's going to release overseas in just a few weeks. I have to say that we were a little surprised by it.

We loved the cover they did for BACHELORETTE #1. So fun and cute. Here it is:

I love this cover. Totally cute and romantic. And German titles! I love them too. They sound so sturdy and resounding. Don't mess with MANNERFANG.

When the DR cover came, I have to admit. We both kind of went, “hum.” Not very cheery. Maybe this is cheerful in Germany? Not to mention, even though DRESS REHEARSAL is about a wedding cake designer and her hilarious assumption that she can predict how a marriage will turn out based on the cake ordered, it’s actually not about a bride or a groom (or even a wedding) at all. It’s an untraditional “bridal” lit novel. There is actually no wedding in the entire story.

From this German cover, I would assume that there would be a wedding at the center and from the looks of it, the groom is a little disheartened by being a part of it. Ultimately, we have to trust that German publishers now their audience and their market—just as we assume we do here but we were still a little flummoxed at the cover choice.

the German title still gives me a thrill though. (Nature of the language!) Here’s the US version for comparison.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Covers—Non-American Style

STATUS: One contract complete. One more still to go and I’m reading away on fun stuff. Gorgeous days like these (It’s sunny, not a cloud in the sky, 70 degrees), boy, it’s great to be an agent sitting on my balconey. I’m reading a full right now that I like so much, I’m probably going to call the author as soon as I finish reading.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I’LL BE AROUND by The Spinners

This might interest nobody but me but I have to say that I’m completely fascinated with the foreign edition covers of my clients’ books. Sometimes I’m confused by the chosen foreign title and the image. Sometimes I laugh with delight. Sometimes the covers invoke a “huh?”

For the most part, the author doesn’t get a say in the cover art or the publishing strategy in the foreign territory. Often, the book will just suddenly appear on our doorstop and then all you can do is go, “okay, some young Indonesian gal is probably going to take this Indo-version to the beach this year.” If the cover implies a beach read and young women readers that is.

But sometimes, and it’s just so much fun when it happens, sometimes the foreign publisher really wants the author to be involved in the process and that is certainly the case with Ally Carter’s I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU. The Japanese translator was in frequent contact with Ally—determined to get the translation just right (and there were some hilarious conversations as Ally attempted to explain, in detail, certain American idioms and what might be the Japanese equivalent). Hence the title change as well.

Ally’s Japanese publisher even sent us the cover art for our approval because they are just so excited about this book and want us to be completely thrilled.

Well, let me tell you, we are.

Maybe it’s just me but this Manga-inspired cover just rocks. Look at it. Clockwise from the top it’s Cammie, Bex, Liz, and Macey. The Gallagher Girls envisioned.

Japanese Cover

And for fun comparison, the US cover

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Wash That Blurb Right Out Of My Hair

STATUS: Hooray! It’s a normal day at the office. No flaming bonfires raging wildly out of control or anything. The two outstanding contracts are close to being complete. I’m doing some reading, some submission follow up, talking to clients. All the fun stuff.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ME EVERY CHANGING MOODS by The Style Council

Here’s a final blurb question. What if you, a published author, are asked to blurb a work and you would like to decline? What do you then say?

Never burn bridges. Always be appreciative and polite because publishing is a small world. Even if you’re thinking, “this is the worst freaking book I’ve read in years.”

You keep that to yourself!

This should be common sense but I’m constantly amazing at how often sense isn’t common. So how to politely say NO to a blurb request.

1. Not the right author for the blurb. If the manuscript is dark and edgy and you as the author only write light and sweet, highlight that as your reason (or insert other similar scenarios). A blurb from you might confuse or alienate your audience. It’s true and no one can take offense.

2. The looming deadline. All authors and editors understand this one and it’s often true. A lot of authors simply can’t squeeze the reading time in if they are on deadline.

3. The oblique but true response. Stay general in sentiment such as the “you just didn’t fall in love with the story response but were very much honored to have been considered and you wish the other author well.”

Happy blurbing (or not as the case may be) folks!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Blurb Me Baby One More Time

STATUS: It’s issues week at the Nelson Agency! I’m partly kidding because an agent’s job, by its nature, is pretty much dealing with issues. Still, we have quite the abundance considering it’s only Tuesday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TELL YOU WHY MAGGIE MAE by The Pietasters

Are author blurbs important?

Darn if I know. Darn if any of the publishers really know. It’s very hard to determine the power of a blurb in terms of nudging a browser into a buyer when at the bookstore. There are a lot of disparate views on the topic. How does one quantify the power of the blurb?

What I do know is that they don’t hurt and they are used for many reasons. They can grace a cover (usually by a really well known name that readers can identify with). The more recognizable the name, the more power of the blurb.

It’s a time-honored tradition to make blurb requests and they can be done two ways—through your agent (who asks the other author’s agent or editor) or directly by the author to the other bestselling author. However, some bestselling authors make it a general policy to not give out blurbs—mostly because they would be inundated.

Given that, the best blurbs are the ones you get because a well-known author, unbeknownst to you, picks up your book and reads it, loves it, and emails you. Carly Phillips picked up CHEATING AT SOLITAIRE by Ally Carter at an airport and loved it so much, she emailed Ally. Excited, she forwarded it to me and of course, being in agent mode, I asked Ally how comfortable she was in terms of asking Carly if she would be willing to formalize her enthusiasm into a blurb. Carly was happy to.

For Mary Jo Putney, a close friend of hers read and loved FINDERS KEEPERS by Linnea Sinclair and told Mary Jo she had to read it and gave her a copy. (Bless those reading enthusiasts!) SF romance is not traditionally Mary Jo’s thing but she had heard some buzz on the book, had the copy and her friend’s endorsement, so gave it read. Loved it and emailed Linnea. Her quote graces the cover of Linnea’s upcoming title GAMES OF COMMAND, which will be out in the spring.

Another use for a blurb? They make great inside cover praise for the front book pages. I know I tend to skim them when looking to buy a new author. Do you? What weighs more for you? Name recognition of the author or what is actually said in the blurb?

Another use of blurbs is for the marketing materials that are often included in publisher catalog copies, letters to booksellers, sales conference etc. It’s just more ammunition for the sales rep to highlight how much attention and praise a book has received.

Do I think they are necessary? No. Authors shouldn’t kill themselves getting them but I do think it’s worth some effort on their part.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Will You Blurb?

STATUS: It was a miserable Monday. Two contracts that should be done, aren’t.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SMOOTH by Santana and Rob Thomas

Several of my authors have quite a bit of name recognition so it’s no surprise that just recently, they are being asked to blurb quite a few upcoming books. This in, itself, is not a bad thing at all but it certainly got me thinking about some blurb rants.

So, I think I’ll indulge.

A blurb request is great if the author reads the manuscript and loves it. Piece o’cake. Blurb is provided with enthusiasm and delight. However, what should an author do if they don’t like the work?

Tricky situation but a great question. Do you blurb it anyway? What if the author is a “hot” rising star who is getting lots of attention? What if the request came straight from an editor? Can you say NO? Will that burn bridges? What if the request came from an author influential on a loop?

What if… and there can be any number of scenarios.

My advice?

If you don’t like the work, don’t blurb it.

Ah, easier said then done. Big smile here. That’s my general advice but if ultimately you, as an author, think there might be severe repercussions to saying NO (and those really vary), well, hey, it’s a valid, professional decision to weigh carefully and you might decide to blurb it. And yes, I can hear the chatter from the comments section already about how that might be jeopardizing one’s principles, blah, blah, blah. My guess is that you really don’t know what you’ll decide until faced with the question for real.

My other advice? If you’re not sure about a blurb decision, consult with your agent.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Now This Is A Novel I Would Want To See

STATUS: Sara and I might have set a record for how many full manuscripts we’ve requested within a three-week period. 12 to be exact. But seriously, we’ve seen some great queries, solid sample pages, and are reading lots of fulls. We are looking to take on new clients. But what I want to see is something really new, fresh, and original in terms of the story and supported by top-notch writing.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? JEALOUSY by Natalie Merchant.

I hear that writers are often asked about where they get their good story ideas—like there is a factory somewhere that generates them. I don’t know what works for writers but I do know what works me as an agent because it happened last night while I was reading the latest issue of Newsweek.

I read this quote and couldn’t help but think, dang, that would make a brilliant novel concept. That would be a novel I would LOVE to get my hands on sample pages right now. Why didn’t some enterprising young Latina or African American writer not think of this before?

Today, I’m going to give a free book idea for a novel I would love to see and read.

In Newsweek, Jennifer Bayer of Pereira, Colombia, was quoted saying “Violence is not sexy,” on a movement where girlfriends and wives of gang members refuse to have sex until their significant others cease all violence.

Bingo! What a brilliant novel concept--a modern retelling of the classic Greek play Lysistrada from a contemporary Latina or AA perspective. Aristophanes wrote this production in 411 BC and yet it’s still a timeless theme. Maybe this book already exists and I’m simply unaware of it but if not…

Good story concepts? They are everywhere.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Power Of Nice!

STATUS: Getting some new projects ready to go out on submission. There’s always so much excitement when the process is starting.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BELIEVE by Cher

I’ve blogged about this before so y’all know that one of my pet peeves is writers having the assumption that if an agent is nice, they can’t be a tiger in negotiations. That only mean and nastily aggressive agents get the good deals.

Well, I was watching the Today show while doing the elliptical runner this morning and darn if there weren’t two powerful women being interviewed about a book they wrote about me.

Okay, so it really isn’t about me but I almost cheered in the workout room because their book is entitled THE POWER OF NICE: HOW TO CONQUER THE BUSINESS WORLD WITH KINDNESS. Something I’ve been doing for years and now there’s a book that validates my modus operandi.

Foreword by Mr. Nice Guy Jay Leno to boot.

Sure, the bitch bosses get the spotlight (think Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in DEVIL WEARS PRADA) but it’s the nice gal who will eventually win the day and the long-term success according to Thaler and Koval.

Donald Trump weighs in with this nugget, “For my money, I would always rather make a deal with people I like who treat me well. If you want to discover the surprising power of nice, read this book. Memorize it. Use it. You’ll be glad you did.”

Guess what? Editors want to be treated well too. They don’t want to be browbeaten or yelled at during negotiations. They don’t want to be taken advantage of or made to feel defensive. In fact, I was chatting with an editor recently who now refuses to work with a particular agent. It doesn’t matter what project this agent has or if the book is the next huge bestseller; it’s not worth dealing with a moody, changeable, aggressive, nasty agent to have the author. She flatly refuses to do so.

So yes, I believe in the power of nice. And I believe that approach makes me a very powerful, successful, and well-liked agent.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Lost in Translation?

STATUS: Received news today that an editor is leaving and dang it all, my author is going to get orphaned. This is especially heartbreaking because this editor is tops and was a perfect fit for the project.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IF by Dean Martin

This week I’ve been inundated by queries for the Christian market and I’m at a loss as to explain why since I don’t rep projects for that arena. My agency name must have appeared on a list somewhere recently otherwise that’s just too strange to be coincidental.

Now Avon just announced their new Avon Inspire line so I have to wonder if that has anything to do with it. The queries received were for genres we handle such as women’s fiction, romance, and mainstream but all with a Christian bent. That’s material for the Christian market and folks, I don’t track those sales or keep in touch with any of those editors. I’d definitely be the wrong person for these types of projects.

In other news, I just had to shake my head at a voicemail that was left for me last week. A person who had seen me speak this summer was calling to tell me that he had finished his project and needed me to tell him what to do next.

Well, the talk he saw me give answered that exact question.

Lost in translation?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Reading The Fine Print

STATUS: Besides the fact that I’m a day ahead of myself? Not much. It’s tomorrow that I’m the guest blogger at Romancing The Blog. Sept. 20. Wednesday. Got it. I only have a calendar on my computer and hanging on the wall to the left of my desk. I guess I’d rather be a day ahead then behind.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SOMEDAY, SOMEWAY by Marshall Crenshaw

I don’t think that writers realize that good, reputable agents with solid sales track records will often take advantage of writers in a very subtle way. It’s usually the words “in perpetuity” embedded in the agency clause of an agency agreement or a publishing contract. And if you’re smart, you’ll find out ahead of time if such an approach is used by the agent or agency (because it’s a growing practice).

One of the comments last week mentioned that a writer had declined representation because of it and many of his or her friends considered the writer nuts for doing so.

I, however, don’t.

I think the writer was smart. Very smart.

First off, what is it? Well, in all publishing contracts, there will be an agency clause that specifies that the author is appointing this person as his sole or exclusive agent for the property being contracted.

Then the clause will contain such words as, “Author hereby irrevocably appoints in perpetuity the so-and-so agency as her/his sole and exclusive agent (the “Agent”) with respect to the Work and authorizes and directs the Publisher… etc” and then later in the clause states, “For services rendered and to be rendered, the Author hereby does irrevocably, assign and transfer to the Agent in perpetuity, and the Agent is entitled to receive and retain, as its commission..”

It means exactly that. This agent now has the right to receive compensation in perpetuity for this work—even if this work goes out of print and is later resold—by a different agent. Even if this agent drops the author like a bad egg and doesn’t lift another finger to help this project. Even if the author wants to leave this agent and find a new agent because the publishing contract has terminated.

In perpetuity means endless, paid for life, for eternity.

Don’t you think that’s asking for a lot from an author? Isn’t it wise to think twice before signing on to that arrangement when there are so many terrific agents who don’t demand this type of concession from an author?

Read the fine print of an agency agreement first. If it’s not clear there, ask the agent about the agency’s policy. Know beforehand if “in perpetuity” is expected and therefore will be in the publisher contract because goodness knows, you don’t want to have that surprise right before you want to sign on that exciting dotted line.

Weigh the pros and cons of it.

And for the record, my agency clause clearly states, “for the full term of this Agreement…” in all applicable areas.

Not “in perpetuity.”

In my mind, if the contract is still in force, I’m doing my job and should get compensated for it. If not, well then, I either needed to get it back under contract to earn some dough or let the author move on.

Monday, September 18, 2006

What If The Agent Asks For A Full?

STATUS: It’s Monday. Mondays are always crazy and sometimes I’m not sure how that happens. It started off simply enough. I had three tasks to accomplish by evening and now it’s 6 p.m. and I’m only halfway through task 2. Some interesting fires happened today. In fun news, I’m guest blogging on another site tomorrow—a completely original entry so you might want to pop over to Romancing The Blog tomorrow for a peek. Also, Rachel Vater is doing a query workshop over on her blog so if you are in the query process, you might want to pop over there to check it out.

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

I was a little crazy this year, and I agreed to judge something like 6 or 7 contests. For the most part, contest judging is a lot of fun and if it’s allowed, I often offer a critique or some feedback with the judging sheet. But 6 or 7 contests is probably about 2 or 3 too many because of the time involved.

I’ll be learning to say “NO” a little more often for next year. Big smile here.

So obviously I recently judged a contest and this time, I really liked the winning entry—liked it enough to ask for the full manuscript once the winner was announced. I’ve actually only done this one or twice in the history of my contest judging so it’s rather a big thing (or perhaps it’s only big in my mind…)

Today the contest winner had to send me an email ‘fessing up. It probably took her a week just to get the wording right (and I thought she did a very nice job with it) but ultimately, she had to tell me that she had submitted chapters to the contest for a manuscript she had not finished.

Oops. That’s like querying for a project that only partially exists. It’s all well and good until the agent asks for the full. We have excitement, momentum, we want to read it right now and alas, we must curb our enthusiasm until the manuscript is complete.

A little tip: You never want to put the brakes on an agent’s excitement.

But don’t worry. I’m not going to punish this writer for her lapse or anything. Maybe she had every intention of finishing it and life got in the way. That certainly happens! When the manuscript is ready, she can send it. But there is danger in that. Perhaps the market shifts between now and then and what I was looking for today has changed by the time I see the manuscript. So much is dependent on timing as I’m often tell you blog readers.

So a word of caution to contest submitters. Have the full ready because the request just might happen and you don’t want to be SOL but able to send it ASAP instead.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Lost That Loving Feeling (part 4)

STATUS: Remember how much I said I value technology and all that? Well, I finally set up the RSS feed. Shuddup. I know I started blogging in January and many of you emailed me to ask that I get it set up. I love technology but I always have to set aside at least an hour to figure it out. See the little icon thingy on the right but it should work.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MRS. ROBINSON by Simon & Garfunkel

First off, I have to say that I’m not talking about scamming agents with these last few entries. If someone wants you to pay a fee, be it a reading, editing, critique, signing, or what have you, you should have lost that loving feeling even before you began making out a check. And that goes for that whole Sobel Contest scam highlighted by Miss Snark and Galleycat and bunch of other bloggers.

I’m talking about agents with verifiable sales, are legitimate, but aren’t meeting author expectations.

It’s those reasons I want to chat about.

So, here’s the list so far.

#1 Complaint: poor communication
No updates on submission lists
Not returning calls or emails either at all or not in a prompt fashion

#2 Complaint: Not shopping projects
Agents sitting on them for too long a period of time/no feedback
Forgetting them when they are out on submission
Forgetting them altogether and is surprised when the author calls for an update
Sending only to 5 or 6 editors and then giving up

#3 Complaint: Original agent leaving and author being passed to another agent
The new agent doesn’t feel the love

#4 Complaint: Inept submitting of projects
Agents getting the info about the author and project incorrect.
This wasn’t in the comments but I participated in a chat loop this week and an author was pretty steamed that the agent had done a mass submission with hers just one of several client projects sent to an editor.
Not reading the project even before sending

#5 Complaint: Lack of career planning
Agents who basically submit projects but don’t do anything else.

#6 Inability to sell manuscript
All the other complaints are pretty darn valid. This one gives me pause because hey, there have been projects I haven’t been able to sell. No agent can sell everything he or she takes on. Now I have to say my sell-through is pretty darn high but it’s still not 100%.

On the other hand, sometimes I can understand why an author would want to make a change. Maybe a new agent can create what the other agent can’t. I have my blindspots. Maybe a new agent can see what I can’t or maybe the material has become too familiar and a fresh set of eyes is needed.

#7 Complaint: Personality conflict
Agent too cold or distant
Working styles too different

These reasons seem pretty valid to me. My suggestion? When an agent offers representation, ask for the contact info of current clients. Then contact those folks and get the scoop. How does the agent work? What is the communication style? Have there been any hiccups? Any agent drawbacks? Etc.

I’m always happy to forward on the email and phone numbers of current clients (with their permission) who are happy to talk with a potential new client about me.

That’s your best bet for getting the inside info on an agent. Even with this, I’ve heard of agents who were right for one author but so not right for another. It happens.

Happy weekend folks.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Lost That Loving Feeling (part 3)

STATUS: Some absolutely fabulous news today. I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU by Ally Carter has just gone into its third huge printing. I’ll leave it up to Ally if she wants to reveal how many copies are now in print but it’s an impressive number! And today, I also sold the German rights to ONCE UPON STILETTOS. Go Shanna. Do you know she is a bestseller in the Netherlands as well with ENCHANTED, INC.? This book went back to print there last month. They love her in Dutch! Some of her fans even ordered the English version of STILETTOS because they just couldn’t wait for the translation. That’s love.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NON DIMENTICAR by Natalie Cole

Transitions go in waves—I’m telling you. Lately, every other Pub Lunch has a tidbit about an editor who has left one house to move to a new publisher.

And the agent dance wave is going on as well. In the last two weeks, I’ve received at least three emails from authors looking to leave their agent and are seeking new representation.

So, I have to talk about the reverse. Sometimes authors lose that loving feeling about their agents.

Last month I was perusing a chat forum and I was appalled to read about an author who blamed her agent for not getting enough money in the initial advance (even though, by her own admission, it was the only offer for the book) and she was convinced that that was why the publisher didn’t get behind the book for marketing/publicity (and that the agent didn’t do enough to force the publisher to spend the marketing dollars).

She fired the agent.

Oi, that makes my blood run cold. She blamed the agent for the advance not being big enough on the only offer made and for not forcing the Publisher to spend money. I don’t know any agents who can FORCE the publisher to spend the marketing dollars. What? Should I show up at their offices with a shotgun in hand?

And maybe there is more to the story but in my mind, there are lots of good reasons to fire an agent and the above ain’t one of them.

So, what are good reasons to lose that loving feeling for your agent and move on? You tell me and we’ll list ‘em (and maybe talk about some of them) tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lost That Loving Feeling (part 2)

STATUS: Sara and I are still chuckling over a query received this morning that was a real gem. It opened with “do I have the balls to take on a real writer.” Uh, well, if you looked at my website you would see that I am a woman. I guess the answer would be no. It got even better. This person reminded me that I should be thankful that I was queried for such a terrific project. Good because I needed the reminder. The writer also used three obscenities in the query—including the “F” word. Honestly folks, I couldn’t make this stuff up.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NO REPLY AT ALL by Genesis

So, has your agent lost that loving feeling?

Well, if the first round submission didn’t go, then yes, I can tell you truthfully that the agent has probably lost a little of the love for the project. It’s just natural. That doesn’t mean the project is dead or that you should start biting your nails. Lots of projects don’t sell during the first round but do sell in the second (and even in the third). It’s just part of the process. Don’t sweat it.

However, it’s bad when the agent has really lost that loving feeling and isn’t willing to go the distance to try and sell a tough project.

How do you know if that’s the case?

Well first, you can look at the submission numbers. How many editors saw it? For a lot of projects—like literary or women’s fiction, you’ve got about 25 to 30 NYC imprints to exhaust before the bottom of the barrel is reached.

For genre fiction (like romance, mystery, SF&F), the number of imprints with editors who handle it is smaller—like under 15.

Sometimes an agent will go the smaller or university press route but that’s a lot of time for very little money. It really depends on the project. A literary work has a lot of options at the independent but exclusive smaller venues. An agent might be willing to go the submission distance for the prestige rather than the money or because the agent really loves the book and darn it all, it’s going to be placed.

According to a lot of writers I’ve talked to, the next big clue of lost love is when an agent becomes less accessible about communication. There’s more time between email responses. Requests for submission updates are ignored or followed up weeks later. I’m sure the list goes on.

Frustrating I know. What can a writer do?

That’s a tough question because that’s not how I operate but I would suggest that writers become pro-active. Schedule a phone meeting with the agent to discuss the status, the rejections, any strategy, future possibilities, and a definitive time frame for the submission.

One of my authors went out and did her own research, bless her soul, and really found some niche places that I wouldn’t have dug up. We ended up not needing them (as we sold it to a major publisher) but I loved that she stepped up to become a partner in the process rather than a passive participant.

Some agents hate that though so know your agent’s style.

If an agent loses the love halfway through and only has submitted it to a couple of places (or half the possibilities based on your own Publishers Marketplace research), then that’s an even tougher place to be.

If I were the writer, I would find out if the agent has any plans for a further submission. If not, you can take the project back but here’s the rub. Most agents would prefer to take on an unshopped project.

The reason why is obvious. The agent is taking on a project where some of the submission glow has already worn off. Talk about starting in a tougher place as an agent. There isn’t even the initial optimism going into a brand-new submission. The agent has to re-ignite that loving feeling just to get started.

Have I done it? Yes. But I have had mixed results on then finally being able to sell the project. It’s not my favorite thing to do so yes, I’m hesitant but if I feel that initial love, I’ll take a chance.

And a final word, some projects don’t sell—despite heroic efforts on the part of the agent.

The key is knowing whether the effort was heroic (or, at the least, tenacious). Ultimately, a writer might have to accept that the project couldn’t sell and move on.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Agent Has Lost That Loving Feeling

STATUS: I have a lot of reading to tackle and unfortunately haven’t been able to devote any time to it during the day. Nothing huge going on but a lot of time-consuming and boring “this is what agents do behind the scenes” details to help clients. In fun news, Sara launched our brand spanking new MySpace page if you want to check it out and friend us. It’s just one more way we are trying to get the word out about our YA (and crossover) writers. It’s probably a trend that is like, so over, you know? We’ll see what happens.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? A LITTLE RESPECT by Erasure

The mark of a good agent is an agent who doesn’t give up after the initial submission glow has faded.

Yep, it happens. Agents take on projects because we love them and think they can sell. Invariably, a manuscript will go out on submission and completely flummox us by not selling. By the way, this happens to all agents (except maybe if your name is Binky but let’s not go there).

Does the glow fade some after the initial submission excitement has subsided? Well, you know I’m honest, of course it does. It’s the worst feeling in the world to think, “Gee, did I miss on this one? Why isn’t my taste matching up with everyone else? Have I lost my mojo?”

In reality, sometimes the market timing just isn’t right (and let me tell you timing is everything) and a good project doesn’t sell right away or just doesn’t sell period.

A good agent rolls up her sleeves (or his cuffs) and gets grubby looking for the non obvious choices, the out of the box possibilities, and tries to get that project sold. Despite our best efforts, sometimes it doesn’t happen.

So here’s the reality of the situation from the Agent Kristin perspective (and remember, I don’t speak for all agents):

1. First round submission comes back all NOs. Yes, the glow is definitely off the submission but I don’t just drop the project. I know I’ll move to my second round choice of editors and push forward. This usually happens in pretty quick time—unless an obvious revision per the editors’ comments is needed. (For me, I give editors about 5 weeks to read any submission and get back to me. When the project is hot, it never takes that long before I hear back from an editor. If not hot, most editors will get back to me within that time frame. After the 5-week deadline has passed, then I start my gentle nudging). So, first two submits within a 3-month or so window

2. Second round fails. Oh boy, the glow is really off the project. And yes, it does get regulated to back burner. And I have to be honest; it’s not a first priority for me. Current published clients as well as new submissions take precedence. Perhaps the author needs to revise (first time or some more) and we can go back to some editors that showed some interest. Time to dig deep for the out-of-the-box editor ideas. I don’t give up though.

3. Third round. Most likely a mix of new editors and editors seeing a revised version. Depending on the project (and the genre), we might have exhausted all possibilities as this third round goes out. If it doesn’t sell in this round, it probably won’t. Not to mention, I need to make a living. I really have to start concentrating on what will sell to keep the agency profitable.

4. If it doesn’t sell and I’ve dug deep, I’ll put the nix on the project and urge the author to get started on the next project. I never really give up though. If an opportunity arises out of nowhere or if the market changes, I’ll take it back out. It hasn’t happened to me yet (but then again my agency is only 4 years old so not enough time has elapsed for some trend cycles) but it has happened for Agent friends of mine to sell a project 2 or 3 years after the original submission. It happens. Not often but it can happen.

In the history of my agency, I’ve had the pleasure of selling two great projects that took me over a year to sell.

I feel the greatest triumph for those two. Would I prefer they had sold in 2 seconds? Heck yes but I was pretty darn proud when they sold.

Tomorrow I’ll talk more about how writers can know and understand if their agent has lost that loving feeling or if the agent really has exhausted all possibilities. And also, tips for how writers can handle the “lost submission glow” scenario.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Conference Suggestion

STATUS: Busy Monday. I have a couple of projects to get out by Friday and since we’ve requested quite a few full manuscripts (like 5 or 6) in the last week or so, I’ve got a lot of reading to do. Not to mention, my client delivered her manuscript as promised (and that delights me because I’ve been waiting for this one).

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SOMEONE SAVED MY LIFE TONIGHT by Elton John

First off, my read & critique session on Friday afternoon went pretty well. Or at least in my mind it did. The writers looked a little dazed upon leaving but I do think they felt that the session and the feedback were valuable or helpful.

On Saturday, I took pitch appointments and noticed an interesting trend I’d rather not see repeated so I thought I would share it here—just in case conference organizers and future conference attendees are reading this blog.

About a third of the pitches I received were for projects my agency does not represent.

And many of those projects were quite good but since I don’t represent that kind of material, it really was a waste of time for both the writer and for me.

Flummoxed, I even asked one participant who had what sounded like a cool literary thriller why he had an appointment with me.

He said, “Because all my other agent choices were already booked and you were the only agent that had a slot open.”

Okay, valid, but I have to say I was a little aggravated. If my agency is the only slot open and we don’t rep your type of work, please, don’t meet with me. Decline your spot and allow another writer to take it who has a project that fits my criteria. I actually want to meet that person.

I attend conferences because I’m looking for new projects—in the genres I rep. Agent pitch sessions aren’t for practicing.

So here are two suggestions

Attendees: don’t list an agent on your request sheet if the agency doesn’t fit what you are writing--even if you have to fill in a third request slot or something like that.

Conference organizers: Please, do a final vet before the agent pitch list is finalized. Have the writers list their project and genre and if doesn’t fit with what the agent has clearly listed as what he/she represents, delete the writer from the pitch list. Let another person have that slot.

After all, the whole point of pitch sessions is to match up a writer with an agent. If that doesn’t happen, it’s just a waste of time.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Agent Anxiety

STATUS: In a hurry since I need to be at RMFW in 40 minutes.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? 3 AM by Matchbox Twenty

I have to admit that I have some anxiety over my upcoming first session of the conference.
I’m doing a read & critique for eight or nine brave souls.

Obviously I don’t know how this one will turn out because it hasn’t happened yet but when I’ve done these sessions at past conferences, most of the submissions really aren’t quite ready yet to be under the brutal agent eye. They could use a tough but supportive critique group first.

I bet you didn’t think agents could get nervous but it’s really a fine balance to strike that right note of being honest yet encouraging for aspiring writers. I’m tough so I’ll get through it but …

I do have to express admiration for the writers who are willing to go under the gun so to speak. It’s not easy being critiqued in a public venue. However, professional writers need tough skins and this is one way to do it.

I’m off. Happy weekend.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Now This Is A Heroine I Can Get Behind

STATUS: A solid work day. No complaints. I’m off to the faculty bbq tonight for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference which officially starts tomorrow.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEAD OVER HEELS by Tears For Fears

Dorie Berenger is a southern Louisiana fun-as-heck heroine.

Obviously Romantic Times agrees! They just gave Jana DeLeon’s debut RUMBLE ON THE BAYOU 4 ½ stars. No mean feat.

And it’s a Top Pick.

RT had this to say:

“Rumble on the Bayou is a wonderful, poignant and fun mystery, with a strong romantic subplot, in which all the major characters act in intelligent and responsible ways, not taking stupid chances. Filled with likable and interesting individuals, this first-rate debut novel is a truly fantastic read.”

Amen and pass the gumbo.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Latest Trend That Doesn’t Work For Me

STATUS: I’m finally caught up. I haven’t felt this feeling in 6 months. I almost don’t know what to do with myself. Good thing I’ve asked for some full manuscripts this week. And next Monday, a client will be sending a new work my way (which means at least 3 other clients will also send me something because they have this uncanny timing and invariably that will happen).

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HANG FIRE by The Rolling Stones

I’ve been noticing an interesting trend in the already published romance books I’ve been reading lately, and I know it obviously works for some agents and for a lot of readers (because several of these books are selling like hotcakes), but I have to tell you that it just doesn’t work for me.

For the most part I’m seeing this in the paranormals I’ve been reading.

Basically there is a really cool paranormal concept (and excellent world building), and sexy alpha hero (yum!), and then this milksop of a heroine.

For example, I just read a paranormal romance and I mapped out the plot. The heroine literally has one horrifying near-rape scene (and not by the “hero” which is always an immediate NO for me and it was well-done so I didn’t have a beef with that), two or three scenes at the office/job, one scene in an alley, and the rest of her scenes were literally at her home or at the Hero’s home having sex. Not very dynamic.

The hero is wild about her beauty and has an overwhelming need to protect her (why is not clear). He also loves her caring and nurturing spirit that is exhibited only once and very briefly after a sex scene and after the hero brings a wounded compatriot back to his home.

And that’s it.

It drives me crazy.

And trust me, I don’t need every heroine to be some action-packed, kick-butt kind of gal. She can be normal (and then rises to extraordinary in unusual circumstances in some way that’s fits with her being a normal person). She can be brain-y too. I love that. But then I need to see her use her brains in action—rather than simply be told that she is smart by the other characters in the story. I want to see her brains help move the action, escalate the conflict with the hero, and be an essential part to the story’s resolution.

I don’t want my romance heroines to simply be a vessel for the hero’s unbridled (and in my mind, completely unexplainable) passion.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How To Make An Agent Angry

STATUS: Tuesdays that are really Mondays are never my favorite but I did have a great weekend. Saw INVINCIBLE. You know my love for sports films. Okay, not a great work of art and certainly not in the top 10 list but fun to watch nonetheless. Is it me or does Mark Wahlberg seem a little small to play a football player?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BEEN SO LONG by Anita Baker

Nothing drives me more crazy than interested writers who refuse to follow directions that are clearly listed on the website.

In fact, I don’t know any agents who accept email query attachments unless specifically requested so there is no excuse for this cluelessness.

Today Sara and I tried to download the weekend email queries into Outlook—which is usual. Since we haven’t even opened the program since Friday, there are usually quite a few queries that come in.

Well, it just froze. After numerous tries, we gave up. I finally went into the emailbox via the web. Some yahoo had sent me a 4 MB file containing his or her children’s picture book.

4 MB

And I don’t even rep children’s picture books

I probably don’t need to tell you what I did with this excessively large file.

Another yahoo sent his proposal three times—all equaling more than 2 MB.

And I was wondering why we were having trouble accessing the queries. We certainly have high speed internet here but sometimes it just can’t handle 7 MBs worth of stuff and not want to time out.

Happiness from my lovely 3-day weekend immediately dispelled because it took us over an hour to fix the situation and download the queries of writers who actually followed the instructions.

Trust me, this is not how you want to gain our attention with your query. No attachments.

I mean it.

(Does anyone want a peanut?)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Losing Interest At The Halfway

STATUS: Well, I didn’t quite finish all I set out to do today but hey, I’m outta here anyway. I may have to work some this weekend. We’ll see. Agents sometimes just need a break as well. I’ll feel more refreshed come Tuesday for it. Happier to be reading and all that jazz.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? AMERICAN GIRL by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

At night, I’ve actually been trying to read already published books. I like to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s currently hot, getting a lot of buzz, or just staying in touch with the younger folks by reading YA novels and watching YA movies (which, let me tell you, is no chore). Next to sports movies, I love, love, love movies set in High School or feature teens.

And I especially loved the aptly named High School Musical.

But I’m getting off-topic. So, I’ve been reading a lot of different authors. And here’s what I wanted to ask. For many of them, I love the first half of the book (I mean really getting into it) and then suddenly, for me, the book just loses steam. Either the character isn’t interesting enough or the story gets predictable or something just happens.

Then I can’t force myself to read on. This has happened several times in a row now so I have this stack of about three or four unfinished novels on my night stand.

So do you finish it?

I’m thinking I’m going to just move on. But there’s always the chance the author could get it back so I’m tempted to slog on.

What do you guys do?

I’m out.

Have a great Labor Day weekend. See you Tuesday.