Friday, March 30, 2007

Boston’s Back Bay

STATUS: TGIF and one more day before I head home. I’ve had a great week but I’m ready.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I PUT A SPELL ON YOU by Bryan Ferry

Today was a hoot. Not only did I have lunch with an editor but we popped over to Downtown Crossing to visit a “famous” tea room to have our fortunes told.

Poor Jennifer Kushnier of Adams Media. She got the news that she’ll have three baby boys in her future. All I got was “in 12 months, I’ll be living in abundance.”

Hey, I’ll take the latter.

At noon I met Jennifer at the restaurant Turner Fisheries in Boston’s Back Bay area. Yep, I broke my fast of only meeting with children’s editors.

She bought a book from me called THE DIVORCED GIRLS’ SOCIETY: YOUR INITIATION INTO THE CLUB YOU THOUGHT YOU’D NEVER JOIN by my authors Jennifer O’Connell and Vicki King. (It’s a nonfiction book that will be out in the fall and will be spotlighted in the AM booth for Book Expo).

As most of you know, my agency doesn’t tend to do nonfiction projects. In this case, Jennifer O’Connell has been a long-time client of mine so I was happy to take on her nonfic project and sell it.

So for those of you in the NF field, Adams Media should probably be on your radar since the editors there will consider unagented submissions. Just do your research first.

Jennifer summed up their focus as this:

Adams Media specializes in prescriptive, practical nonfiction that has a national (not regional) appeal. Their goal is to know what drives readers to that shelf in the bookstore and then to have an AM book there that will answer that end user’s question.

That’s it in a nutshell. What works are books where the title presents the problem and the subtitle provides the solution.

For example (and this book was plucked out of their slush pile): DATING THE DIVORCED MAN: SORT THROUGH THE BAGGAGE TO DECIDE IF HE’S RIGHT FOR YOU.

You pretty much know what that book is about and you pretty much now know what Adams Media is about.

Back in the office on Monday.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Don't Read Into It Too Much

STATUS: Today I'm in Boston to meet with editors out here.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RIDE LIKE THE WIND by Christopher Cross

I think it’s important not to read too much into this week’s posts. It’s too easy to say “darn, editors aren’t looking for what I’m writing” or “yippee, they are” and believe it’s a sure thing.

Not really. Editors just talk about what’s uppermost in their minds at the moment of conversation. They could get back to the office and think of 5 other things they wished they had said.

Not to mention, every editor I’ve talked to this week has told me that a fresh, original voice trumps everything.

So maybe right now they are tired of seeing submissions for let’s say a vampire paranormal YA. Surely the market has seen enough of them! But then that manuscript lands on their desk that changes their mind because the voice is so good and the story line is incredibly original. They love it and sure enough, there’s room for one more.

Happens all the time.

A writer’s voice is the singularly most important aspect of writing and I hear that from editors with every conversation.

A writer can have a good, high concept idea but without voice… it’s a car with an engine but it’s not going anywhere.

And plot can be fixed. Voice can’t. You either have it or you don’t.

So if you are a struggling-to-publish writer, honing your voice should be your top priority.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Children's Scoop Continued

STATUS: Tired and ready for bed. Folks. As a reminder. Most editors do not accept unsolicited queries/submissions and if you are interested in getting your work out there, your best bet is to research and target agents to submit your work.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? not listening at the moment

It’s late so I only have time for a quick blog entry. Today I had lunch with Wendy Loggia from Delacorte (a children’s imprint at Random House).

We ate at the yummy Ruby Foo’s on Broadway (which is an editor hang out by the way). You can always spot publishing folks here around lunchtime because of the close proximity to the Random House Building.

Wendy mentioned that she would love to see a MG or YA mystery (think a modern Joan Lowery Nixon-type author who can reinvent something fresh).

Hum… seems to be a common refrain that I’m hearing from various editors.

She also mentioned that although she personally loves these types of stories, they’ve seen a lot of Hollywood-type books or stories revolving around a famous character or a pop star. Booksellers are starting to glaze if sales reps try and pitch a new story that includes one of these elements.

Wendy also asked if I could remind my blog readers that the Delacorte Contest for first middle-grade novel and first YA novel. These contests are just about to open.

And here’s an interesting insider tidbit. The Delacorte editors (all of them—including the publisher and the editorial director) do a fun, bring-your-own-lunch meeting every Friday during the contest just to read the contest submissions. So, entries aren’t schlepped off to the editorial assistants. All the editors do read the entries and vote. They might not pick a winner every year but if they do, that winner is published. If you look at some of the past winners, you can see that the contest has launched several careers.

It might be a fun possibility if you are interested in that sort of thing but note that it’s the standard RH boilerplate contract so keep that in mind.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What They [Editors] Want (cont.)

STATUS: To be honest, I’d love a nap before my evening commitments commence. Unfortunately I have to leave in about 45 minutes so that’s not going to cut it.

My tireless author Cheryl Sawyer, however, is running an amazing contest where participants get to create their own Shakespearean love sonnet for a significant other—not unlike what Prince Rupert does for Mary Villiers, Duchess of Richmond, in her novel THE WINTER PRINCE.

Fresh Fiction writes:
“History comes alive under the deft hand of Ms. Sawyer. She interweaves the vibrant history of the English Civil War with the love affair of Prince Rupert and Mary, giving the tale added poignancy. Fans of Philippa Gregory need look no further for an excellent historical novel.”

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BLUE by The Jayhawks

I had a chance to review some of my notes from yesterday and I realized I had left out a few things.

The Penguin Group is looking for Teens dealing with Faith stories (stuff that can crossover into the CBA market).

However, it doesn’t have to be just Christian. In can be any story where a teen is struggling with teen life and staying true to his/her religion. However, the editor was sure to stress that she’s not looking for conversion stories or anything preachy. Just heartfelt narratives were teen life conflicts with staying true to one’s beliefs.

And RWA members will love this tip. Penguin would love to see romance stories for the young adults. Dreamy heroes and happy endings very welcome.

And Penguin is still game for Chick lit with sassy main female protagonists (action-adventure works well).

Melanie Cecka at Bloomsbury Children’s shared a very inspiring story of signing a debut author (sans agent) from a recent writers’ conference she attended.

I know it sounds like a myth or a publishing urban legend that an editor plucks a manuscript out of a critique session and voila, it’s gets published.

Well, in this case, it was true. So hey, it still happens.

She also mentions that she has seen a lot of middle-grade works that showcase a plucky third grade girl. It’s potentially overdone at the moment, and she’s not really looking for that.

However, if it were a plucky third grade boy (Think a contemporary Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing), she would be very game.

Monday, March 26, 2007

What They [Editors] Want

STATUS: Having a great time in the Big Apple. I’m calling this my “children’s tour.” I’m only meeting with editors for teen and middle grade stuff. So if you write for the adult market. Sorry. You’ll just have to wait for my June trip for Book Expo. Then I’ll be meeting with a variety of editors.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RADAR LOVE by Golden Earring

Today I was at the Penguin Children’s Group all day. I spoke with many different editors but it’s Karen Chaplin and Jennifer Bonnell who gave me the lowdown for what they wish they had in their acquiring hands right this minute.

Ready? Grab a pen.

1. Paranormal YA that’s not vampires or werewolves.

2. A YA psychological thriller (we couldn’t even come up with comparable examples that’s how unusual it seems to be.)

3. Middle grade mysteries

4. Boy middle grade ANYTHING

Sarah Shumway at Dutton Children’s mentioned that she’s been paying special attention to this:

She’s been receiving great pitches but then when the manuscript comes in, the characters or the writing isn’t developed quite enough so she passes.


She’s receiving manuscripts with good characters and solid writing but there’s not enough of a hook to make it stand out and so she passes.

Penguin Sales reps want to be able to sum it up in one sentence.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating. Never underestimate the importance of high concept for young adult projects.

More tips and inside scoop tomorrow.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Foiled By United Airlines

STATUS: I’m in New Brunswick, New Jersey and it’s raining. That pretty much sums it up (and no offense to any Rutgers alumni). It does look like it would be a pretty town otherwise. I’m actually getting a kick out of the free bus system, the fun New England style downtown, and the local Starbucks because my laptop refuses to connect to any of the free public wifi (a mystery!). Who knew that my new tablet pc was a wifi snob?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THIS IS IT by Kenny Loggins
(Hubby got me a lime green iPod shuffle to take on the road with me. I LOVE it. It holds 260 songs.)

I’ve been blogging for a year and three months and yesterday was the first time I didn’t get a chance to post an entry. Blame it on United Airlines and the weather.

My flight East was 3 ½ hours late so instead of landing in La Guardia by 6:30 p.m. (with plenty of time for evening blogging), my plane landed at 10 p.m. at night.

With no luggage.

Oh yes, you heard that right. My suitcase was not on my plane. Ah, the joy of 24-hour Walmart was sure to be in my future. But I got lucky. A quick check with the baggage claim person assured me that no, I simply had to wait another half hour for flight 406 to arrive from Denver. My luggage was on that plane.

Eyebrow raise. Silly me. I assumed that because of security measures, a person’s bag had to be on the same plane as the person.

But what the heck. 406 was going to La Guardia too. What difference did it make? Well, an hour actually—and late at night to boot.

So, my ride and I waited for the bag. Thank goodness it did come on flight 406. I think I would have been a little miffed had I waited for this next flight and the bag wasn’t on the plane.

But I was saved the late night Walmart stop but didn’t reach my hotel until after 1 a.m. By that time, blogging was the last thing on my mind.

So, happy Friday. I should be back on Monday in good form to regale you with tales of my editor meetings and any hot tips and good gossip about the publishing industry that I can glean.

In the meantime, one of my authors, Hank Phillippi Ryan, is part of a new blog called the Jungle Red Writers with three other mystery writers (Rosemary Harris, Jan Brogan, and Hallie Eprhon). If this is your genre, you might want to check it out.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Accidental Omission Is A Part Of Life

STATUS: Super busy and I hit the road to New York City tomorrow. Blog might post late.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I NEED TO KNOW by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

I’ve been working on three different contracts for the past couple of weeks. Finally we get the final versions in and sure enough, some requested changes didn’t quite make it in.

This is pretty normal and it’s almost always a simple oversight on the part of the contracts director at the publishing house. A quick phone call solves the problem but ultimately there are only two solutions.

Handwrite the changes into the contract and have the author initial next to the change or have the publishing house regenerate the contract.

If the changes are minor, we always handwrite them in.

This time they weren’t. There were three whole clauses missing. Three clauses that had to be handwritten into three separate contract copies.

Normally I would opt for the publishing house regenerating them and resending but I didn’t want to delay any further—especially when I’ll be out of the office for the next 10 days and I personally prefer to review final contracts before sending on to the author.

Just a great reminder that this job is mostly about attention to details.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fiction Mirrors Life

STATUS: Spent some time on the phone with tech people trying to figure out why I was receiving emails but not able to send. Fun that was not!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THAT GIRL by Stevie Wonder

On Sunday, I went out to dinner with my husband and a couple of his friends that he’s known since grad school. One of the former school chums brought her 15 year old son to dinner with us (who, by the way, was only 7 last time we saw him—sheesh time flies).

He probably thought I was the biggest dork on the planet but he was very kind when I peppered him with questions about his current teen life.

So this is what I discovered.

He likes hip-hop—be it with graphic lyrics or not.

He plays rugby (they have that sport in high school?) but liked that I play Ultimate Frisbee and he might want to give that a try.

He calls himself “preppy.” ( I hadn’t heard that term in a while!)

His best friend calls himself an “EMO.”

First time I’d ever heard the word but I guess this is quite the rage at the moment in high schools (and yes, I did start feeling a little ancient). “Emo” is short for “emotionals.” According to him (and yes, I understand that one source is hardly scientific), EMOs like to wear tight jeans (really straight leg), color their hair (but they don’t always have to), and like to listen to death metal or something that might be similar (that was a little fuzzy for me and the bands he named weren’t ones I recognized).

I felt like I had been given a peek into a secret world.

Then last night I was reading a partial that I had requested and boom, what did I see in the sample pages? A reference to EMOs.

I felt cool for about 10 seconds.

But I highlight this story to point out one thing. If you write contemporary young adult, you’d better know what’s going on in the young adult world. Teen readers can spot a fake or a preachy adult in a New York minute.

And as an agent who reps YA, I need to know what’s going on in the contemporary YA world too.

So, I see more dinners with my friends’ teenage kids in my future. As for the tween set, my nieces have got my back….

Monday, March 19, 2007

Not A Good Resource

STATUS: Had a slightly annoying afternoon when I couldn’t send out emails. Receiving them just fine. I know my website hoster is probably the culprit. The server must have gone down briefly.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ALL BY MYSELF by Eric Carmen
(Come on. Admit it. You totally belted out this song in front of a mirror when you were a tween. Wait. That dates me doesn’t it?)

Something must be in the air (or on the blog circuit) because I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately where writers ask me what I think about so-and-so agent.

I know I blog and seem approachable and all, but I’m really not a good resource concerning whether an agent might be a good fit for you or not. And generally, I find it sort of unfathomable why somebody would want to ask me. I know some agents personally but I certainly don’t know more than 25 or so. Hardly a dent really in the number of agents out there.

However, I can point you in the right direction for how you can find out.

First off, check the agent’s recent sales. You can do a Google search. You can go to Publishers Marketplace and sign up to receive deal lunch (and do a deal search via their search engine). Agent Query doesn’t have a bad database (and it’s somewhat up-to-date).

I do think that checking an agent’s recent sales history is a big deal and to note types of sales as well because not all agents are equal. And they certainly aren’t considered equal in editors’ eyes. It’s the truth that proposals/submissions from certain agents are going to be read and considered more seriously than others. There is a hierarchy but if you’ve done your sales research homework, I think you’ll get a very good sense of an agent’s standing.

You can check out Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors. Those folks are tops and keep track of the really nasty folks and scammers.

If you want to know how the agent will match with you personally, I have to say that information will probably only be revealed once you have a conversation with the agent and also interview some of that agent’s clients. (And trust me, you don’t need to worry about this aspect unless you have an offer of representation on the table.)

Even then you may not end up with your permanent agent. I’ve heard lots of author stories about how the agent gave up after one book or wasn’t in love with the second book and the author had to move on.

When you sign with an agent, you hope it’s love forever but if it’s not, you’ll need courage and support to move on to find that perfect match.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Good Night And Good Luck

STATUS: Ready for the weekend—although I think I’ll be working some.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NEW YORK’S NOT MY HOME by Jim Croce

Today, I’m very sad. One of my favorite bloggers has decided to call it quits. I’m already going through withdrawals.

So join me in saying goodbye to POD Girl and the POD-DY MOUTH blog.

Whereas I mostly feel like I’m stumbling through my blogs and writing them in 20 minutes or less, I found POD Girl’s posts on POD and the industry incredibly well-written, funny, acerbic, and always insightful.

I’m going to miss that. I imagine a lot of PODers are going to miss her as well. In a short time, she became a force to be reckoned with and a real resource for the POD gems that are obviously out there (although her statistics to find those gems boggles the mind).

Now if she would just out herself so I can buy every one of her mid-list books…

I might then be willing to let her go.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Rejection Letter Revised!

STATUS: Today I spent lots of time on the phone. I can’t quite believe it’s 3 in the afternoon and I still have quite the TO DO list. I think it’s going to be a late one in the office.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MESSAGE OF LOVE by The Pretenders

Y’all convinced me; it’s time for a standard rejection letter revise. A quick thank you to all who commented and contributed. I found the reasons why a change should be made quite helpful.

I’m ditching the “sounds intriguing part” and revamping the last paragraph about finding the right match.

Here’s the new and (hopefully) improved letter.

March 15, 2007

Dear Author:

Thank you so much for sending the Nelson Literary Agency your query.

We’d like to apologize in advance for the impersonal nature of this standard rejection letter. Rest assured that we do read every query letter carefully and, unfortunately, this project is not right for us.

Because this business is so subjective and opinions vary widely, we recommend that you pursue other agents. After all, it just takes one "yes" to find the right match.

Good luck with all your publishing endeavors.

Kristin Nelson
Sara Megibow

My comments:

1. I decided to keep the apology because I am truly sorry that we have to send an impersonal standard letter, and it makes me feel better to have that line included.

2. In the beginning, we actually did “personalize” our standard letter by including the author’s name and title of the project, but the time saved by no longer doing do so is huge; I regret it but we really can’t go back. Sorry! I hear you on how much nicer it is and although query letters are important, they aren’t our first priority.

3. As you noticed, I changed to “project” rather than “we aren’t the right agency for you.” It was a great point you folks made that maybe I’m not interested in this project but the next one could win me over. It’s important to leave the door open.

4. I totally changed the last paragraph and now that I’ve done so, I like this version a lot better.

Other Random Thoughts:

1. When we request and read a full manuscript, we do actually write a completely personalized letter explaining why we are passing. We also semi-personalize our sample pages rejection by including the author’s name and title of the project. I will often write a personal note as well.

2. We don’t have multiple rejection letters. Too time-consuming yet again. Besides, the general consensus from writers is that they appreciate a prompt response and it’s what we have to do to respond quickly. I’m in awe of other agencies that can quickly fire off personalized letters. We’ve tried it and it just doesn’t work for us.

3. And finally, just an interesting tidbit. Sara and I use the same rejection letter when responding so actually there really isn’t a way for anyone to tell if Sara passed on the letter during the first read or if it went to me and I sent the rejection letter.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Rejection—The Humane Way?

STATUS: I’m feeling great because Chutney is finally on the mend. A puppy dog with diarrhea is not a pleasant thing. She’s curled up and sleeping on her snuggle ball right now. And of course she comes to the office. What’s funny is that she’s not the only dog at the offices in our building. It’s a very Colorado thing.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FNT by Semisonic

I have to say I’m a little curious as to how this little experiment will unfold. As promised, I said I would post my standard rejection letter.

Here it is. I’ve included my comments about the letter in blue. I’ve had this letter, or a close version of it, for the last four years. It may be time for change.

March 14, 2007

Dear Author:
Some salutation seems necessary. We used to include the writer’s name but that was too time-consuming. Not to mention, this is a standard letter and wouldn’t “Dear Author” signal it as so?

Thank you so much for sending the Nelson Literary Agency your query.
And we mean this. Thank you.

We’d like to apologize in advance for this standard rejection letter. Standard letters are so impersonal so we do want to apologize for it. The volume of queries as of late has been too overwhelming to personalize our response anymore. Very true and that’s why we have a standard letter. Rest assured, we do read every query letter carefully and although your work sounds intriguing, we’re sorry to say that we don't believe we are the right agency for you. I imagine that a lot of writers don’t believe that we read query letters carefully but we really do. Also, many writers have mentioned getting annoyed with the “although your work sounds intriguing” line. After all, if it’s so intriguing, why aren’t we asking for sample pages? Good question. I can’t think of a better way to handle this. Sometimes we do really get intriguing letters but it’s not a book I would pick up and read so ultimately it’s not right for me—but the idea is sound.

You deserve an enthusiastic representative, so we recommend that you pursue other agents. We want to be encouraging after all and it could just be us that doesn't like the query. After all, it just takes one "yes" and with so many different opinions out there, you could easily find the right match. I explained this line yesterday. Sometimes it really does come down to finding the right agent match who loves the idea and the work.

Good luck with all your publishing endeavors. We want to end on a positive note.

Kristin Nelson
Sara Megibow
Signed by both of us. Here’s an interesting tidbit. I used to read all my queries but then it got too overwhelming and I couldn’t expend the time on it. In the beginning of my agency, a good day was when we received 10-15 email queries. Now we receive anywhere from 50 to 80 a day. I got desperate so I hired Sara and trained her to screen the queries for me (among other things).

So, Sara reads them all. I only read a percentage of them since Sara will set aside the queries she wants me to read. I will then say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on whether to look at sample pages from that batch.

So technically, it is a process with both of us involved and I wanted folks who query us to know that.

So that’s the letter. Things we can’t do.

1. Mention or recommend other agents.

We get requests for this all the time but I like my colleagues and want them to continue liking me so including recommendations is not an option.

2. Personalization of the letter.

It literally is too time-consuming. I know this because we used to do it. I know there are software programs that can drop in the writer’s name as well as the title of the project but I wonder if that’s misleading. This is a standard rejection letter after all. The point is for writers to not take it personally and adding those touches may make the letter a little less impersonal but it’s still a standard one.

What’s better or worse?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Oh The Foibles of Email

STATUS: Gorgeous day. Unfortunately Chutney is sick and I need to run her to the vet this morning.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SENTIMENTAL LADY by Bob Welsh

The problem with email is that sometimes the tone is not clear—or it can be very open to interpretation.

First off, just let me say that most agents have a standard rejection letter. It’s not good or bad or in any way a personal reflection on you as a writer. It’s simply a standard letter so that writers get a response versus none at all.

Isn’t it in the Godfather movies where he says, “This isn’t personal; it’s business” or some derivation of that?

That’s how you have to view standard rejection letters.

Now of course I have one as well. In the past, I’ve received numerous compliments on how nice my standard letter is. Great. I’m glad it works for some people.

But every once in a while I get an email reply from a frustrated writer that would like to critique the letter. Yesterday, the writer had a problem with the line "After all, it just takes one "yes" and with so many different opinions out there, you could easily find the right match."

The writer found the phrase condescending, insulting and ridiculous because in her view, it’s not easy to land an agent, that a writer doesn’t have many options, and the market is hard to break into. So my guess is that she has concluded that I’m being unnecessarily cavalier by indicating that it just takes finding the right match in my standard rejection letter.

But I include the line because in many instances, it’s true. I pass on lots of manuscripts that don’t work for me but are sell-able projects that other agents have liked, taken on, and then sold.

So the line is in fact true. For some writers I’ve rejected, it really was about finding the right match. Not for all the writers rejected, mind you, but for some, yes it was.

Tomorrow I think I’ll share my standard rejection letter. Break it down and analyze why I include the things I do in it. Maybe there’s a better way. You guys can chime in and if what you say is valuable, maybe it’s time for a revision. I’m always open.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Market Savvy

STATUS: I’m battling myself to not leave the office early. It’s 70 degrees out. Must go to Park. Must take Chutney for a walk RIGHT NOW. No, I must be good and wait until at least 4 o’clock when it might be reasonable to pop out early to enjoy the day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FALL ON ME by R.E.M.

I have to say that I really enjoyed reading the discussion in the comment section of last Friday’s blog so a quick thank you to all who chimed it.

It’s clear to me that writers who have considered the question of market will not run into a problem when querying a work—even if it’s not clear exactly where the work might fit.

Writers who understand and have analyzed the issue will figure out how to label it (literary fiction in an SF setting for example) or decide to not even try and really focus on the storyline in the query.

It’s hard to explain the issue of market savvy versus not when I can’t share a real query letter received that so exemplifies when it misses. The closest example I can give is that when writers miss, it’s usually because they describe the work in an odd manner so it ends up sounding like some strange cross between nonfiction and fiction (my work is women’s fiction that embraces many principles of psychological self-help that will really help readers). Or something like that.

That’s when Sara and I end up shaking our heads in wonder about the aspiring author’s cluelessness regarding the market. If I want psychological self-help, I’ll read a nonfiction book for it. I don’t read a novel to get those principles. I’m much more interested in the story unfolding and how the characters will grow and develop (and if those psychological self-help principals are subtly interwoven so I don’t notice it but it does enhance the story, all power to the writer—but it doesn’t need to be highlighted in the query.) Did I explain that well?

But I do agree that sometimes the most interesting and original fiction can come out of the exercise of writers bending the genres. I personally love that.

Several years ago when I first shopped Shanna Swendson’s ENCHANTED, INC., we were in a little quandary about what to call it.

Was it paranormal chick lit? Or was it fantasy? We ended up calling it paranormal chick lit for submission but in truth, that wasn’t quite right. Maybe today I’d call it lighthearted contemporary urban fantasy (and how many descriptors can I put on that?). That’s actually more accurate but three years ago, nobody in publishing was calling stuff "lighthearted contemporary urban fantasy" so we opted for the first option.

It can be annoying but we do have to name things when going on submission.

And I personally like to hear how writers consider their own work (even if it ends not being completely on target). It can be very telling about how writers perceive themselves, what they want from the work, their career, their style, their direction etc.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Knowledge is Power?

STATUS: Spring in Denver. It’s Friday! I should pop out early. On Monday, it’s going to be 70 degrees. How could I possibly work? Time to take the laptop and hit the park.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LOVE IS STRANGE By Mickey & Sylvia
(and yes, that’s from the DIRTY DANCING soundtrack)

So this morning, Sara and I got into a big discussion about why it might be important for authors to know where their books fit in the market.

Certainly it’s the agent’s job to understand that (and some would argue—more so than the writers) but why are we, as agents, adamant that writers should to?

Well, we had a lively discussion because we wanted to tackle the concept from all angles. Should that responsibility be lifted from the writers’ shoulders? But then we delved into our query letters and what a difference it makes when writers do demonstrate that knowledge.

I hate to harp on all the queries we receive because isn’t that a dead horse. No need to keep beating it, but ultimately we decided that when writers have that market knowledge and use it correctly, it makes a difference in terms of helping your query letter stand out.

So, here’s our list of why writers should know where their books fit in the market.

1. Knowing clearly demonstrates your publishing professionalism

Right or wrong, we are suckers for that. I want to work with writers who are savvy about the world they want to be a part of. Call me crazy but the more you know as a writer, the easier my job is to help you get published.

2. Here’s a surprise that came up in our discussion. This might be a big assumption and a strange bias but we both agreed with it. Knowing shows that you are a reader and we naturally assume that folks who are good readers will potentially be good writers.

You’d be amazed at how many people I talk to who are “dying” to write a novel and yet don’t read on a regular basis. I’m not certain I get the disconnect there.

3. Not knowing shows your ignorance (and I don’t mean these people are stupid—just that they are lacking in knowledge).

Now, we understand that there will always be people who don’t know what they don’t know and that’s not a reason to dismiss the query letter. We will still read and consider it but right there, we now expect the writing in the query to rise above the standard to compensate.

Is that fair? Probably not but I’m just trying to tell you how it is. If a writer doesn’t know the genre or the book’s place in the market, it would be better to not even try and label it rather than mislabeling or doing so with a strange genre assortment.

Let the story speak for itself by writing a darn good query letter.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Literary Can of Worms

STATUS: Just got news that my author Linnea Sinclair’s GAMES OF COMMAND has hit the extended USA Today Bestseller list. No, it wasn’t the top 50 (that would be really exciting) but it’s a start—especially after being out on the shelves for only one week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MY HOMETOWN by Bruce Springsteen

I just had to chuckle when reading the comments from yesterday’s blog. Who knew what can of worms I was opening by simply trying to define what is literary for edification.

Where in my post do I denigrate genre writers? Simply because I mention that “literary” writing is usually recognizable or defined by level or art of the writing doesn’t mean that genre writers don’t also achieve that. It’s simply that the industry doesn’t DEFINE them as literary. Folks, I don’t make the rules. I simply try and point out that they exist. That there is an expectation an editor has if I pitch a work as literary fiction. They are expecting whatever it is they consider to be literary—and in the way I took a stab at defining. (Mitchell, Robinson, Roth or whoever you put on that list.)

In fact, I posit that there are many terrific literary writers who write genre fiction (Dan Simmons, Diana Gabaldon, and Anne Rice immediately pop to mind) but that’s not how they are labeled in the industry.

They are labeled science fiction/horror or historical fiction (or as some would argue for Diana’s earlier works, romance), or fantasy despite the literary quality of the writing. Do I think that’s fair? No. But it’s the truth in this industry.

That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Still, I love when blog posts spark discussion because it has long annoyed me that literary genre writers don’t get the credit they often deserve simply because they don’t happen to write what is “traditionally” considered literary.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Defining Literary

STATUS: I accomplished a ton of stuff today. I powered through a lot of client reading, which was great. I usually don’t get to read during the day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE MUSIC OF THE NIGHT by Michael Crawford (from Phantom of the Opera)

Nothing dooms a query faster than mislabeling the genre of your work. If a writer has a serious tone for his/her query with a lot of darkness only to wrap it up with “and this would be a perfect fit for the chick lit market,” I’m understandably going to be confused.

Or better yet, the queries that highlight that the work is every genre under the sun, including the kitchen sink, because then all bases are covered. (i.e. My work is a mystery, women’s fiction thriller that will also appeal to young adults—or what have you.) That’s problematic as well because it’s clear that the writer doesn’t have a clear vision of the market.

But nothing is tougher than trying to figure out whether your work is literary or not.

I wish there were a quick and dirty definition I could give you but there’s not. It’s often like porn. I know it when I see it. It’s pretty clear.

I can at least make a stab at defining it though. The term literary refers to the level and quality of the writing. The language itself is art. It also refers to the level of complexity in the story. So works like THE CLOUD ATLAS or GILEAD are definitely literary.

The writing itself has a beauty that’s palpable. Now, these works can also tell a good story (which both do by the way) but when you sit back in awe at the tightness of the writing and the sheer scope encompassed, then you know it’s literary.

Commercial fiction can certainly have literary leaning. Works such as COLD MOUNTAIN and SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS come to mind. Jane Smiley (THOUSAND ACRES) and Jodi Picoult (MY SISTER’S KEEPER) also strike me as walking that fine line between the two but ultimately I would call their stuff commercial. (Okay, I might really say commercial fiction with a literary bent to show that the writing is above the ordinary.)

And yes, folks might disagree with me—hence the dilemma between what is literary and what is commercial.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Last On The List

STATUS: It was a gorgeous spring-like day in Denver. The kind of day where you just want to sit out at sidewalk café drinking latte rather than working. I controlled myself though.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? (I JUST) DIED IN YOUR ARMS by Cutting Crew

I have to admit that I’m a little behind in reading sample pages and several full manuscripts that I’ve requested.

And not because of lack of desire. I’d love to find something new and exciting.

It’s basically because I have a lot of client material that needs to be read, reviewed, or edited and they are my first priority.

I prioritize by the axiom “live close to the money,” and since it’s my current clients who are earning the dinero, their current projects need to get complete and out on submission before I tackle anything new. And yes I understand that a new project can be money if it’s exciting enough but like a John Cusack film, I’ve to go with the sure thing first.

And I know all of you were thinking she prioritizes based on the axiom “show me the money” but you’d be wrong.

I negotiate by that axiom. Big smile here.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Will Critique For Charity

STATUS: I got to the office early just so I could tackle business details this morning and ack. It’s almost 11 a.m. and I’m still reviewing the books.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? EDGE OF SEVENTEEN by Stevie Nicks

I’m constantly trying to drive home the fact that most agents don’t have time to critique—either sample pages or queries. Sometimes we’ll give feedback on full manuscripts but that’s about it.

Except… I always find the time to do a critique if it’s for charity. So, if you’ve always dreamed of an Agent critique, here’s your chance.

Last year I did two charity critiques—spending an hour to two hours reading the winner’s first 50 pages carefully. I made detailed notes on the pages, and I wrote up an extensive revision letter. All positive and encouraging but also honest on why I would have passed if I had requested these sample pages. (And maybe this year I’ll get some exciting pages from an auction winner and I’ll request the full. It can happen!)

If this sounds like your cup of tea, it’s time to check out best-selling author Brenda Novak’s diabetes auction. For me, it’s also very personal. One of my best friends in the world and my brother-in-law suffer from diabetes so I’m particularly eager to participate in this charity function every year.

My donated critique isn’t up on the site quite yet since I just sent in my materials but check back in the next two weeks or so and it will be there.

Auction happens May 1-31st, 2007.

And if you are an author/editor/agent and have something to contribute, please join me.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Editor Dance

STATUS: TGIF. And all three contracts concluded! And here’s some irony for you. Even after yesterday’s blog, I got a person who called me today about their screenplay and how it was guaranteed to generate some cash. Sigh.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BELOVED WIFE by Natalie Merchant

Today I received yet another email that an editor was leaving his/her house. This one, however, didn’t specify a new home. Oh no, another good editor bites the dust.

This is the third email I’ve received in the last two weeks.

It’s no secret that the publishing world has a “use ‘em till you lose ‘em” approach because being an editor (and don’t laugh) is not a glamorous job. They deal with long hours (non-commiserate and non-commensurate! pay), lots of demands (from agents, authors, their bosses), and books that tank (in sales numbers) despite their love and tender care.

And no, it’s not all bad. Sometimes they find a gem, have an exciting auction, see a sleeper book fly off the shelves but for the most part, it’s just hard, hard work. And it wears them down.

And it’s so sad when I get the news of a departure. Someone I liked. Enjoyed working with. Knew their tastes and what would work for them. Now I’ll have to scout out whoever fills their shoes. See who gets added to the dance card.

This month I’m lucky. None of these editors had any of my authors’ books. Next month might be a different story.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Going Hollywood

STATUS: Busy but I’m feeling productive. Contract stuff is still dragging along. So close to finishing too. Maybe it will all resolve tomorrow.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE IMPRESSION THAT I GET by Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Am I making too broad a statement by saying that every author dreams of having their book made into a movie?

After all, Hollywood butchers it more often than not. Still, I can’t think of a better 2-hour commercial for a book than a movie. There is no doubt that it sells books—even if the movie isn’t good.

But I think writers are often a little clueless on how a book-to-film deal works. (And I know this by all the queries from screenwriters that I receive.)

Let me clarify to begin. I rep books. I don’t rep screenplays. I sell the print and subsidiary rights for my clients’ projects. Film/dramatic rights are simply one of the subsidiary rights that I shop so my clients can earn more money.

I get queries all the time from authors who have published their works with small publishers and are now looking for someone to shop just the film rights. I don’t do that. I only shop film rights of client projects for which I’ve sold the primary print rights. Why? Because Hollywood is always such a long shot that the money isn’t worth it otherwise. I’m only willing to expend the time and energy for my own clients. Make sense?

To do this, I have Hollywood co-agents because they are the experts (just as lit agents are the experts in publishing). As partners, we split the 20% commission for the sale.

But I don’t work with just one co-agent. I tend to work with a variety of folks at the various book-to-film agencies in L.A. Why? Because the co-agents choose which projects they like and think they can sell. Just because I partner with them doesn’t mean they are willing to take on every project for which my agency sold the print rights. Co-agents want sell-able projects and although lots of stuff is published, not all of it works for the screen. It’s always on a project-by project basis.

That’s why literary agents partner with more than one co-agent. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of finding the right fit (almost like finding the right editor). I’ve had one Hollywood co-agent pass on a project that wasn’t his/her cup of tea only to have it picked up by a different co-agent who loved it and sold it.

Ultimately, I need a co-agent who is enthusiastic enough about the project to keep pitching it even if it doesn’t sell right away.

Sound familiar?