Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Halloween Treat

STATUS: It's not even 8 a.m. yet. What do you think my status is? Barely awake.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHAT IS LOVE? By Haddaway

Last week Ally Carter got an email and a picture from a fan and I just couldn’t resist.

Since I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU is her favorite book in the whole world, this fan is going as a Gallagher Girl for Halloween.

Liz to be exact.

She compares it to being way a head of the curve because come 2007, dressing as a Gallagher Girl is going to be so last year.

With her and her mother’s permission, here she is.

That’s just so darn cute; I need to pinch something!

And as an extra special treat, here are the hubby and I in some pics from Halloween past. (And if that is not enough to frighten you… I don’t know what will).





Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Pub Horror Stories—Just In Time For Halloween

STATUS: I was a submission demon today. Two projects went out to many an excited editor. And I’ll know tomorrow whether I’ll be setting up an auction for a project already out and about.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MOONLIGHT LADY by Julio Iglesias (man, that is one sexy voice)

I have to send you over to Rachel’s blog today. She literally summed up my last couple of weeks on the job (except she doesn’t have the fabulous Sara to help her but sounds like she could use a Sara-clone.) Are we living parallel lives?

And you know what’s even stranger? I, too, wear a size 6 ½ in footwear so we can literally walk in each other’s shoes.

Watch your closet Rachel! The Midnight Shoe Snatcher might be on the loose.

And the savvy Bella Stander is blogging about publicity horror stories on her blog—just in time for Halloween.

How perfect is that?

I wish I had a horror story of my own to share but besides the person calling and leaving a query pitch on the voicemail today (despite the fact the recording clearly says no phone queries), there’s nothing very horrific going on. I have no horror clients. I’m not even sure I have an editor horror story to share.

Wait I have one.

I once had to hang up on an editor because she was screaming so loud during a phone negotiation that I had to hold the phone a foot away from my ear. I interrupted and asked her to call back when she felt more able to discuss the terms and I hung up.

Hasn’t ever happened since because now I won’t submit to her. Problem solved!

And check the blog early tomorrow. You are in a for a super Halloween treat.

Boo!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Scammers That Scam Together…

STATUS: TGIF! The week ended way better than it started. I have one project that’s garnering lots of editor attention. Love that.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FASCINATION STREET by The Cure

Of course I had to go and research David Kuzminski’s cryptic comment in yesterday’s comment thread to click here if I wanted a good laugh.

But nothing prepared me for the sheer hilarity of scammers and fee-charging agents banding together to pretend they're legitimate.

I even love their new organizational title: The International Independent Literary Association and yet not one of the agencies listed there is international. Perhaps they are just being optimistic for new members?

But my favorite part? The link that says Retainer Fee—To Pay or Not to Pay.

There they clearly spell out that it is a common misconception that reputable agents do not charge fees.

Eyebrow raise.

But it gets even better, they admit that reading and evaluation fees are still a big NO but retainer fees are the new black. After all, you’d expect to pay one when hiring an attorney, so why not for hiring an agent? In fact, according to them, this is now the case for literary agents.

News to me!

They even outright say that it’s okay as long as the retainer fee is for a reasonable amount.

Right. I’d like to know what constitutes a reasonable amount.

Folks. Repeat after me. Legitimate agents sell books to make money. To publishers who pay advances and royalties for the privilege.

They don’t charge money upfront (call it retainer, reading, submission, evaluation or whatever).

Why? Because if you actually sell books, you make money. There’s no need to charge fees.

And I also want you to go to the Association of Authors’s Representatives web page right now (of which I am a member). Give it a good look.

Now click on the Canon of Ethics. A set of ethical guidelines agents must adhere to in order to be a member.

See item 8? It clearly states that charging clients is subject to serious abuse that reflects adversely on our profession. Now, the problem is that the AAR only highlights fees for reading and evaluating literary works.

Scammers and pseudo-agents are manipulating language by now calling it a retainer. See it's not really a reading or evaluation fee (even though we don't seem to have a sales record), honest.

Folks. A fee is a fee is a fee is a fee.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

From The Query Inbox

STATUS: I can finally hear out of my left ear! This may not sound amazing but try living without for a week. Anyone talking to me on my left side constantly got an annoying “what?” In other great news? That YA author decided to sign with me. Yea! Welcome aboard.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SEVEN YEARS by Natalie Merchant

1. Here’s a query with a first sentence that highlights that the heroine loses everything because of addiction, betrayal, and loss of control.

And yet the heroine has a whip-smart comedic tone.

Can’t see how that’s going to be pulled off so it’s a NO.

2. A romantic suspense query. Woman in jeopardy plot outline. Very common so I’m looking for something that will make it stand out. Oops. Phrasing misfires and yes, they do stand out but I was thinking more along the lines of a hook.

We have a “malevolent machinations of an assailant” and “arresting passion that burgeons.”

I’m thinking “malevolent” and “burgeons” probably shouldn’t both be used in the same sentence.

3. A query for a novel that specifically targets the non-reading pre-teen and early teen boys. But it’s 100,000 words.

Eyebrow raise.

4. This writer describes the novel as a romance with historical, thriller, and fantasy elements. It has chick lit elements but is also highly literary.

Folks. No. You cannot label your work everything but the kitchen sink. If uncertain, commercial mainstream can work just fine.

5. In this query, the writer has created an alternate world sans cars as a setting for a romance.

I can’t tell why this story needs to be told in this alternate reality. It should somehow be central to the romance unfolding or why it is needed becomes the big question.

I also read two fantasy YA queries that I literally had to read twice because I couldn’t follow the convoluted plots that were outlined.

And normally, I wouldn’t read it twice (time constraints and all that) but it’s a little late, I was a little tired, and I thought maybe it was me.

Nope. On second reading, the two queries were just as unclear.

I know fantasy query pitches are often the most difficult to capture as you have to sum up the story and the world in a very short bit of space but don’t try to cram too much in. Confusion might be the result.

Happy querying!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Leap To Hardcover

STATUS: All this week I’ve been thinking I was being a weenie about my bad head cold. Finally went to the doc and I have a sinus infection and a double ear infection. I had a good reason to feel miserable!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? AFRICA by Toto

Earlier this year I sold an anthology conceived and edited by my fabulous author Jennifer O’Connell to be an original trade paperback and we got the fabulous news this week that Simon & Schuster is going to take it out in Hardcover.

And look as this marvelous cover. I love it so much I have a color copy taped to the wall right next to my computer screen so I can catch fun glimpses of it during the day.


I have to say Judy Blume was hugely instrumental in my own girlhood development. Goodness, I don’t think young girls were allowed entrance into womanhood without reading ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME MARGARET. Not to mention the thousand giggling conversations in the bathroom around the “naughty” FOREVER. I even had to hold a copy for some girlfriends so their mothers wouldn’t discover them with it (For the record, my own Mother never censored my reading material but I had many an embarrassing conversation where she insisted on going through every detail. So embarrassing then but thanks Mom!)

What your Mom wouldn’t or couldn’t tell you, Judy Blume had no problem sharing.

And the authors included in this collection want to honor her. Judy herself enjoyed every one of the essays included (of course we sent her a copy very early on).

But the purpose of this blog isn’t necessarily to highlight how fabulous this book is (wink) but to talk about why a publisher decides to take a book that was originally slotted to be a trade paperback into hardcover.

The answer is very simple. Overwhelming enthusiasm. In-house, at sales conference from sales reps, from conversations reps had with booksellers, and from the accounts when it was time to schedule the buy-ins.

Overwhelming enthusiasm.

The move to hardcover to break it out bigger!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

24,000 Queries A Year

STATUS: I have a bad head cold, and I’m so ready for it to be over. Usually I read in the evenings but since I’ve been so tired, I’m asleep by 8 p.m.. Ah, the crazy, wild life of a literary agent.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHY DON’T YOU DO RIGHT? By Sinéad O’Connor

And I’m going to blame my bad cold for not being particularly clear in yesterday’s post. It sounded like I have several different form query rejection letters and it’s only for #4 that you get the “although your work sounds intriguing” line.

Nope. I don’t have five different form letters. We can’t. Time-wise it’s just not feasible in terms of responding to 500+ queries a week in a prompt fashion. We can’t expend extra time by toggling through five different letter versions in order to send out the “right” one for any particular query. You guys know this because you read it on every agent blog currently in existence. Our time is spent on current clients and for authors with projects who will actually become our clients. The volume is too overwhelming for anything else.

Think about it. 500 queries a week multiplied by approximately 48 weeks in a year is 24,000 queries.

And out of that, how many new clients does an agent take on?

For me, in a good year, I take on 4 or 5 new clients—and I’m actively looking. Really looking. Like attending conferences, reading lots of partials, and really making myself available to writers kind of looking.

So you can see that sifting through 24,000 queries for 5 clients isn’t overwhelmingly productive.

That means one letter for all queries period. I include the intriguing line because some of the queries we do receive really are intriguing and will totally float another agent’s boat. For the others that don’t really fit into #4, well, we think it’s polite to use that line because our goal isn’t to crush aspiring writers...

We literally don’t have time for anything else.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Although Your Work Sounds Intriguing…

STATUS: This Monday was crazy but productive. We had to play catch up from the power outage on Friday. I did call and offer representation to an author for her really awesome YA project. She has a couple of other agent’s interested so now I have to wait and see if she chooses me. Choose me!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BAD, BAD LEROY BROWN by Jim Croce

For those of you who love agent blogs, I’ve stumbled on a couple of more that might be worth a read.

The Rejecter is an anonymous blog from an assistant at an agency. Definitely somebody with a perspective from the query trenches.

The other is from, in their own words, “the opinionated folks” at the Dystel & Goderich Agency.

Might be worth checking out.

Now on to my rant. Agents take a lot of drubbing for their standard query rejection letters. We have to say something and as y’all know, I prefer to be polite.

So what does it mean when I say, in my form query rejection letter, “although your work sounds intriguing…”

In means exactly that. It very well might be intriguing but it's not right for me. Queries fall into five basic categories:

1. The obvious NOs because the query is for genres we don’t represent or something similar.
2. The other obvious NOs for well-done queries for projects we don’t represent.
3. The NOs for queries for projects we do represent but the query itself is poorly written
4. the NOs for well-done queries for projects that could fit for my agency, are intriguing, but I would never pick up that book in a bookstore so it’s not right for me. I can totally see another agent digging it.

For the most part, it’s for the Queries of number 4 that we include the standard phrase of “although your work sounds intriguing…” because this biz is so subjective. It really might sound intriguing for another agent who will then ask for sample pages, maybe a full, and then go on to rep this writer. Commenters on this blog alone have mentioned being rejected by me in the query phase but have then landed representation elsewhere.

It means their work was intriguing—but just not to me.

5. Well-done queries that knock our socks off so we ask for sample pages. These folks get the “request for pages” email letter.
To sum up? One agent’s “so intriguing I must see sample pages” is another agent’s “ho-hum and not right for me.”

So don’t get in a stew about the wording. It’s a NO. Tweak if you need to (especially if all your responses are NOs—that could signal the query letter/pitch hook being at fault) and then move on. Your agent might be around the next email query corner.

Friday, October 20, 2006

If You Have a Few Moments…

STATUS: If I were paranoid, I might think the world was conspiring against me to keep me from working. Network down for two days. Sara and I just get into a groove this morning and the power for the entire building went out at 11 a.m. It didn’t come back on until 7 hours later. I guess it just wasn’t my destiny to get a lot accomplished this week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SEXUAL HEALING by Soul Asylum (and yes I know it’s a remake but I kind of like this bouncy version)

I hate it but I can still feel guilty when a writer responds to a query letter rejection with a lovely and polite request for more info about what might be wrong with the query since we are declining to ask for sample pages.

The requests usually begin with “If you have a few moments…”

And I have to say that the requester has actually hit the nail on the head. We never have a spare few moments.

Of course y’all are thinking but you have a few moments to write this blog? Why not give this nice lady a little bit of feedback on her query letter that could make the difference between her query getting an agent’s attention or not?

Well, the truth is, it often only takes me a few moments a day to write up an entry. Average time is 15 minutes. Sometimes it takes longer if I’m having some fun with it.

If we responded to all those lovely requests with a query critique, it would take a helluva lot longer than 15 minutes. The amount of queries receive often make responding in general a heroic feat for us (and I never want to be an agency that states that we’ll only respond to email queries that capture our attention since that would drive me crazy if I were a writer and never received a response). We simply haven’t the time to give feedback.

And here’s where my guilt comes in—it’s the Midwesterner in me. When those lovely requests come in, they just get deleted and the poor requester never receives a response from us. I hate that but we can’t take the time to respond to that either.

So, I guess I’m just apologizing en masse if you have sent a request like that to us and never received a response.

I’m just darn happy that we respond to all our email queries in 5 to 10 days usually (when we aren’t having network issues and power outages that is!).

Thursday, October 19, 2006

El CODIGO DEL AMOR!

STATUS: Network is finally back up and running like a dream. Took all day though. On the upside, I got a lot of reading accomplished. It’s amazing how distracting answering email can be.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEART OF GLASS by Blondie

Since my network person had to commandeer the computer for a good portion of the day, I did a lot of partials reading etc. I took a break to read the latest issue of Publishers Weekly. They had the whole Frankfurt recap going on and that made me want to share some fun news for Cheryl Sawyer.

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve sold the Spanish and Russian rights to CODE OF LOVE.

And since I was on that foreign cover kick for the longest time, I thought I’d show you this gorgeous Spanish cover. I think this one could work quite effectively in the United States without blinking an eye.

Of course once could argue the whole symbolism of the sword etc. but I won’t go there.

So…

Español



Inglés

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Technology Woes

STATUS: Network nightmares. You don’t want to talk to me right now. Despite being nice, I might actually snap at you.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Ray Charles piped in over the speaker. Can’t tell you the title of the song though. He’s awesome regardless of which song.

Sorry folks. It’s not going to be a real blog today. My office computer network went down this morning and it’s still not fixed. Of course that drives me insane since everything happens by email. Almost everything. I did actually pick up the phone today. Gasp. How old-fashioned.

Just kidding.

So you’re probably wondering how I’m making this entry happen? Via my happy local Starbucks. I actually wanted to use the free wifi on the 16th street mall in downtown Denver but my computer was being ornery and wouldn’t connect to that network.

As to what happens to editors over the age of 35? Lots of things.

Publishing is tough. Long hours. Low pay. Tons of reading, which can strain the eyes. Editors really have to be passionate to stick with it.

Lots leave after a couple of years in the trenches. Many are promoted to positions where acquiring still happens (such as an Editorial Director) but mostly the job entails management.

Some editors leave to flip over to the dark side known as agenting.

Big smile here.

Some become editors-at-large so they can take more control over their projects and their lives.

Some move into other aspects of publishing.

Some actually retire after many fab years in the business.

Don’t worry. We don’t put them down after 35.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Young Turks

STATUS: I’m super excited about a new submission that’s going out this week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DECEMBER 1963 (OH WHAT A NIGHT) by Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons

I wanted to do a shout-out to a new, non-anonymous blogger in the agenting world. I probably should amend that. She’s probably not new but I’ve newly discovered her and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The new blog is Lit Soup by Jenny Rappaport at the L. Perkins agency.

And from what I can tell, she’s taking a lot of drubbing for being honest on her blog. I can see the lure of being anonymous…

One of her comments struck me though. I haven’t read the whole string of commentary (simply out of time today) but she does take a moment to highlight that being young in this industry is not necessarily a liability.

Ah, the age factor must have come up and that made me want to share a little fact with my blog readers. I’m not sure if writers realize just how young the workers in this industry are. I certainly don’t have hard statistics at my fingertips (so take this with some grains of salt) but I wouldn’t be amiss by suggesting that over 60% of the editors who work in publishing (and are actively acquiring and buying books) are under the age of 35.

It’s an industry of young’uns. Brash, intelligent, and savvy Young Turks.

In fact, Jason Kaufman, the editor of that little known book called THE DA VINCI CODE, wasn’t even 30 when he acquired that novel.

And this isn’t unusual.

And as much as it pains me to not be included in those young ranks (ahem, cough, sigh), it did make me want to bring up that fact. There’s a saying that with age comes wisdom. True. Sometimes. But there are lots of folks who have age but somehow missed out on that second part.

So, in the world of publishing, it’s better to not practice ageism.

(I know; I’ll get a whole slew of comments on maturity vs. age etc. Big smile here.)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Phrasing Misfires

STATUS: Praise be. Finally, a completed contract, ready for client signature, came by FedEx today. By the way, this deal was done in mid-July. Three months. I hate to say it but that’s about normal.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FADED LOVE by Patsy Cline

I imagine that most writers read their query letters until they are blue in the face before sending. I imagine they also run it by a few trusted readers for feedback before sending (and if you aren’t, time to rethink that). And yet, despite all your good efforts, typos happen, don’t they?

I don’t even want to think about the number of grammar mishaps I’ve had on this blog, so I understand. Don’t worry overmuch about that. It happens and I have to say that most agents are pretty forgiving. We’ll allow a typo or two. It’s just when the English language gets away from a writer that it raises an eyebrow. As agents, we assume you’ve mastered the tools of your trade—like sentences that make sense, or appropriate and powerful images, or even using metaphors and similes correctly.

When you miss, it really stands out so I’m recommending you go back and give your query another close look. Make sure what you wrote conveys the right image or is actually what you meant to say.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here are some recent examples culled from query letters.

Something sinister is brewing right under Jane Doe’s feet, and it threatens to ruin her-- for good.

It’s okay that something sinister is brewing, but I’m just not sure it can happen under her feet.

Soon the two have passion for each other and a romance starts to bloom. And so does a stalker.

I guess a stalker can also start to bloom (which would be a rather innocuous turn of phrase if you think about it), but I’m pretty certain that’s not the tone or sentiment the writer really wanted to convey.

Phrasing misfires is what I call it. And if they are in the query letter, I don’t want to risk reading them in a partial.

Yep, you guessed it. Even if the story idea is sound, that query is getting a NO.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Scammers At The Gate

STATUS: Fridays always make me happy.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? The line up begins again on Monday.

To give Publishers Weekly their due, they allowed the dubious purveyors of the Sobol Awards to air their opinions about their contest in the Soapbox section of the Oct. 9, 2006 issue of the magazine. It’s entitled Barbarians At The Gate? Scammers at the gate more like.

Here’s the link if you think it worth your time to peruse. I think your time could be better spent.

First, have you noticed that legitimate organizations and contests (those above approach because they actually are operating with a writer’s best interest in mind) have no need to defend themselves?

Second, I find it curious that Ms. Weeks actually didn’t address any of the issues raised by Miss Snark and others about why this contest is a scam.

In her 60 seconds Soapbox, Ms. Weeks basically says that the Sobol Awards provide manuscript critiques for so many writers who otherwise would never get any feedback at all. (Huge eyebrow raise here because really?)

It’s my understanding that there are lots of venues for writers to get wonderful feedback and critiques for their writing without paying a dime. They are called critique groups.

And there are other organizations with minor membership fees (fees that are then used to actually advocate for their members) where writers can join the various local chapters to get their manuscript read and critique. Organizations such as Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America and that’s just to name a few.

And yet, according to Ms. Weeks, it’s the Sobol Awards who will raise those deserving writers out of the unknown by getting them representation by Sobol Literary Agency, which actually hasn’t sold anything. Sounds like some prize.

My favorite part is when she says, “You'll notice they [the winners] are not locked in the dungeons of Castle Sobol for the balance of their careers. They take their checks, their published novels and then can pick among the many agents anxious to represent an author whose value has already been proven in the marketplace.”

That includes some interesting assumptions—such as any winner of the Award would actually get their book published to start. Considering the track record of the agency (which is nil) that will represent the winners…seems like a big IF to me.

And for better reading, check out what Preditors & Editors has to say about Sobol Literary Agency.

Basically, it still comes down to the fact that the only ones benefiting from the Sobol Awards are those who profit from the “registration” fee.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Referrals & Recommendations—It’s All About Context

STATUS: You’ll never believe it, but I was a holiday shopping maniac today. I promised myself I would get it done early and this is the first time in years that I kept that promise. I feel so jubilant.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? And there wasn’t even one note of holiday music anywhere.

Ah, yesterday’s post got the query world panicking. Obviously I need to do some clarifying about referrals, recommendations, and all that stuff in between.

A referral is when a client calls or emails me and asks, “May I send this writer your way?”

It’s straightforward and I’m on the lookout for the query. The person being referred knows that the current client is going to contact me etc.

A suspect name drop is really obvious as well—it’s usually from a writer who has a project in a genre I don’t represent. Or the wording of the query is odd and open for interpretation. Don’t worry that you are mistakenly sending out suspect name drop queries because the difference is pretty clear.

However, it’s the gray area in recommendations that’s causing consternation, so let’s tackle that.

A recommendation can be done in passing at a conference as in “my agent is terrific, you should query her” or “yes, it was lovely to meet you and yes, you can use my name when contacting my agent so-n-so.”

The trick for using these types of recommendations appropriately is simply in how you word it in your query.

Don’t use “Previously Published Author recommended I contact you regarding my project.”

This is accurate, true, but it doesn’t give any context to the recommendation. Context is what makes the difference in the query letter when name dropping.

I’ve gotten the above so many times and when I’ve asked my clients, most of them said something like, “oh yeah, I met that person at XYZ and they asked who my agent was.”

That was the extent of the conversation and then that writer interpreted it as having permission to use my client’s name in the context of a recommendation.

It’s a stretch.

Do use “I met Previously Published Author at such-n-such conference and she suggested that you might be interested in my project because you rep XYZ genre. She gave me permission to use her name when contacting you.”

It’s honest, in context, and I will take your query seriously. You’re not over-playing the name drop in any way.

You can also use “I met your client INSERT NAME at the such-n-such conference and she had nothing but positive things to say about you, which is why I’m sending you my query…”

It’s not a recommendation per se but it’s the reason why you decided to query me. I like that. It’s straightforward.

I’m a Midwesterner. We like forthright.

So what I’m saying is that as long as you have included the appropriate context regarding the recommendation, then you aren’t going wrong with the name drop. You won’t be considered suspect.

It’s just those queries that are stretching the definition of recommendation that are problematic. And trust me, those are so obvious they might as well come with a neon sign that says “suspect name dropping.”

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Name Dropping

STATUS: I actually worked a good portion of the morning but now I’m off to have a little fun.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I could totally use a little music right now.

None of my blog readers would ever think to stretch the truth—as in writing “requested material” on a submission package that wasn’t requested or name drop one of my clients and pretend that person recommended them. You guys are fun, savvy, and honest. So really, this blog isn’t really for my loyal readers.

Right?

Right.

But it happens anyway so I want to let you in on a little secret. If you’ve ever been tempted, don’t do it. You won’t get away with a sneaky name drop. Why? Because, when clients recommend a writer to me, they call or email me to give me a heads up.

All other name drops are considered suspect. The writer may indeed have talked to my client about me but that doesn’t mean my client offered a personal recommendation. And yet, I receive name-dropped recommendation queries often enough (and if I were to chat with my client, he or she would more than likely be horrified that their name was used).

And here’s the flipside. Perhaps you have received a legitimate recommendation offer from an agent’s client. You need to coordinate it then. Have the client contact the agent first. Once that step has been done, and you know it has occurred, then you call or send your email (for me, it’s usually by email).

Because then I’ll actually be awaiting your contact and will recognize the name immediately upon arrival. That query will get first look over all the other queries awaiting attention.

And yes, there is a lot of power in a client recommendation. I do give those submissions prompt, serious consideration and in fact, not four weeks ago I took on a new author because of a client referral.

As for suspect queries, if they are obviously not a match for me (so why would my client refer such a person?), it’s an auto NO. Sometimes I check with my clients to be certain before responding (and usually they are mortified). If that’s the case, well then, the writer has started off on a dishonest note and I’m not real open to moving forward—even if the project might sound promising.

And that’s something to think about.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Four Months Too Late

STATUS: I’m on vacation so I’m enjoying myself. I went to lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in a while.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Nada

When I’m out of the office during the work week, I always call in to check messages—just in case an editor tries to reach me by phone instead of by email. Sure enough, an editor had left a message so I got in touch with her via my mobile phone. There’s always a little bit of work that needs to be attended to—even on vacation.

But there was yet another voicemail for me. It was from a person who had equeried me back in early July, had never received a response and was now calling, four months later, to see if maybe it had been spam blocked.

Ah, a good moment to be educational I think (and if you truly believe that was my first thought, I’ve got some great property to sell 50 miles west of Naples, Florida…)

Always check the agency website first. Some agents only respond to email queries if they are interested. All others go unanswered. Or, many agencies have an FAQ section on the website with the answer to this question, as I do.

For example, on the Nelson Literary Agency website, it says quite clearly that we respond in 5 to 10 days to queries, sometimes it may take longer. It’s not going to take four months longer. There’s even an FAQ for the problem of not receiving a response from us.

So…

If you’ve sent a query four months ago and didn’t receive a reply and you know the agency does respond to all email queries, what does your common sense recommend you do?

a. Call the agency and ask if we remember reading your query four months ago and did it get spam blocked

or

b. Simply assume the query was lost or the response not received and simply resend the query by email

Oh, good readers, this politely ranting agent would like to suggest answer “b.”

Monday, October 09, 2006

Big in Japan—We Hope!

STATUS: Travel day so I’m doing blog light.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Ah, the old iPod is not with me on the road.

Ally just emailed me this photo. It’s release date in Japan. of I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU.

Her translator took a candid shot in Japan’s biggest bookstore. Here’s the title on the front table—just where we like it.

Here’s to hoping Japanese teens love the Gallagher Girls as much as we do!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Clichés Unleashed

STATUS: TGIF. I’m off on vaca all next week but will probably still blog since I won’t be off in distant lands or anything.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE ONE THING by INXS

Before anyone gets too comfy, it’s not just the romance queries that lapse into the cliché. All the genres have their lingo but I think Fantasy has to be the next biggest culprit.

So here is my list of Bingo catch phrases for the realms of fantasy:

beloved/fresh characters

completely unique world

the plot thickens

as the journey unfolds

tempted by evil

fast-paced

group of unlikely heroes

unwilling heir to the throne

unwilling pawns

a power he didn’t know he had

unleashed evil

the last hope/restoring hope

story of survival

on the brink of darkness

bound by their fates

destiny in life

forced together in a quest

And yes, yes. I know many of these phrases capture common themes in fantasy but you folks are good writers. You just need to work a little harder to nail those pitch paragraphs.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Swept Up Into The Arms of Cliché

STATUS: Busy but good. I have two projects that will be going out the week after my vacation and I’m very excited about them both.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LOVE ME LIKE A MAN by Bonnie Raitt

I’m a big fan of the Dilbert cartoons. There is this one strip where Dilbert and his office colleagues are in a meeting with the pointy-hair boss diligently taking “notes” when Wally quietly says, “Bingo.”

Makes me laugh every time. For those of you who haven’t seen the strip, they all have “bingo” cards with office jargon and they cover a square for every cliché the boss says and Wally manages to win within the opening five words of the meeting.

Sometimes I feel that way when reading romance queries. BINGO!

There seems to be an excessive use of romance jargon that writers like to include when writing their query letters and all I can say is the more common the phrase, the more generic the query reads. And you don’t want anything tilting the agent reading to a NO.

So here are some of my Bingo phrases when reading:

a beautiful but feisty…

the dashing and wealthy heir

independent, strong willed woman

alpha male

rekindled passion

her world crashing down around her

tortured soul

face her past

time running out

See if you can eliminate and rejuvenate. There are certainly others and I’ll have to start keeping a running list for future blogs.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

We Have A Contract Boilerplate?

STATUS: It was a good day—even though I didn’t quite get as much done as I had hoped. It’s always good when a deal for a new project closes. One contract negotiation is literally moving at the speed of snail.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RUNNING ON EMPTY by Jackson Browne

I did a really great online chat last night for a group of already published authors. That’s always fun because published authors just have a whole different set of questions that they ask. But I also learned something last night. I learned that I often make assumptions about what authors already know about the business and that became apparent during our chat.

One published author was a little surprised that my agency has its own boilerplate contract with all the various publishing houses. She thought that only the “big” agencies had that benefit.

Shocked me silly. Of course the Nelson Literary Agency has its own agency-tailored boilerplate with hard won clauses fought for by my amazing contracts manager. All agencies have their own agency-specific boilerplates with the houses (and chances are they look pretty similar to each other but are still agency-specific).

Now here I might be making another assumption just by tossing around the word “boilerplate.”

What exactly does it mean? Well, when a new deal is done for the first time with let’s say Random House, RH sends out their standard boilerplate contract with all the clauses more or less in its favor. (And all houses do this by the way.) Then the agent negotiates the deal and fine tunes all those contract clauses to make it more in the author’s favor. Obviously to a point that’s acceptable to both parties so the deal can close. Now, when I make a new deal with RH, the contracts department doesn’t go back to scratch with the original Random House standard boilerplate. Instead, the already negotiated Nelson Agency RH contract boilerplate is used. That way there is no wasting time negotiating already agreed upon clauses and both parties can concentrate on deal-specific clauses for this new contract.

Does this make sense?

And it’s not just the big corporate agencies that have this set up—it’s all of us. Last night, this published author didn’t know that. Thank goodness I can clear up that misunderstanding otherwise that would certainly be a point against signing with an agent at a smaller agency.

And then there are author-specific boilerplates for the agency at the different houses. Do you think Nora Roberts has the same clauses in her contracts as a debut author with the same house—even if both authors are represented by the same agent/agency?

Of course not.

There are special “Nora” clauses (or special John Grisham clauses or insert special NYT best-selling author name here). The more clout you have as an author, the better the clauses your agent can incorporate into the contract—thus creating a special, author-specific boilerplate.

Plain and simple.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Blogs Around Town

STATUS: I’m going to be on vacation next week so it’s a mad scramble to finish up projects, submissions, and all kinds of details before heading out. It makes today feel like a Wednesday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WICKED GAME by Chris Isaak

I’m not one to provide a ton of blog links as my entry and call it a day but today, I can’t resist a few before giving a query rant.

Bookseller chick (one of my favs to read) has the most hilarious story posted on her blog. Serious beverage alert.

My author Sherry Thomas has a purple prose confession to make—one that I had totally forgotten about until she sent me the link to her blog entry. Ah, writers, if you have sentence or a paragraph that is just your baby, maybe you should reconsider if your agent or editor mercilessly deletes it.

Also, my very good friend Karen Dionne and one of the original founders of Backspace asked me to do a shout out for their All Agents Conference that is happening in November 2006. It’s quite a line up and a good opportunity to meet more than 10 agents in person if you’re looking. Here’s the link.

But I saved the best for last. I was reading through my queries this morning and of course none of my blog readers would ever use a query service but here’s another reason why you shouldn’t.

The whole point of the query is the illusion of personalization. As agents, we all know that you write the main crux (as in the pitch blurb) once and then you simply tailor the opening paragraph to the agent you are targeting. Mix and match and email away. The point is to be professional enough (and savvy) to take the time to tailor the query letter so the agent knows he or she is not just some random target.

Not so when you use a query blaster service.

I love the email tag line included with the query that reads:

This query letter has been sent to you by Bookblaster E-Query Service (a division of Scriptblaster E-Query Service) on behalf of the writer. To contact the writer directly, please either click on the writer's email address in the body of the email, or use your reply button.

To contact Bookblaster E-Query Service, please email us at ….

I’m just not feeling the personal love. Besides, it was really obvious that the query letter was in some kind of form letter format. Most agents will just send out their NO blaster as a response.

Folks. Write your own query letters and send them yourself. Yes, I know it’s time consuming (and often frustrating), but it’s just part of the business of writing. You shouldn’t be query blasting your email to every agent on this e-query service list anyway.

I sure hope the writer didn’t pay for it. Oy.

Monday, October 02, 2006

When Only Dark Chocolate Will Do

STATUS: October royalty statements are rolling in. Spent some time on the phone tracking down what seemed to be missing on one of those statements. Ah, tis the season. I like ‘em better when checks are attached. hehe

What’s playing on the iPod right now? KIM THE WAITRESS by Material Issue

I got an email on Friday from a writer whose full manuscript we requested. Lo and behold, she was writing to tell us that she already had offer on the table but if we wanted to read over the weekend and respond by Monday, she’d hold off making her decision.

First off, let me tell you how much I appreciate when authors keep us apprised of the status of their work. I once read a whole manuscript over the weekend (by the writer’s request) only to receive a curt email early on Monday morning telling me the writer had decided to accept representation elsewhere. Um… thanks. If you ask me to join the party, at least give me a chance to make an offer and be considered—especially if I have expended time with the work. So, I was super happy that even though we had just asked for the manuscript, she was still open to letting us read.

So I did. Last night. And I really enjoyed the manuscript but I wrote her first thing this morning telling her I was going to pass with regret. And I meant the regret part.

So why didn’t I take her on? Did I think the manuscript was sell-able? Yes. Did I think she was a good writer? Yes. So what’s the deal?

Something just didn’t click for me. It was a fun relationship chick lit work and I said it was a great piece of chocolate but I was really in the mood for a big substantial molten lava cake with lots of layers and complexity. And that was the best way I could sum it up why I was passing. (I gave other details too but you get the picture). She has an offer on the table so I know she’s going to be fine, and I’ll probably read about the sale later.

Why do I tell you this?

Because it’s a myth that all agents will take on any project they think they can sell. This project will probably sell but I chose not to be the agent to do it.

All writers have stories of the agents who passed on their manuscript before that one person with vision took it on to glory. Do agents have remorse? Sometimes. Mostly not though. It was a good project but just not right for me.