Monday, April 30, 2007

Website Calling Card

STATUS: I watched the best movie this weekend. It’s been out for years. I had heard good things and it finally queued up in my Netflix list. It’s rare that I get excited about a film (which is why I rarely see them in movie theaters since I never think the money I spent to see it was worth it). But for this movie, I would have paid $20.00 to see. It’s so easy for filmmakers to make a heart-warming film over-the-top and cheesy. Not so with THE STATION AGENT. If you haven’t seen it, I’d add it to you queue.

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

I’d like to spotlight here that the only thing I really want writers to take away from my last blog entry and that is this: the agent/agency’s track record of sales is most important. (And yes, new agents at really effective agencies are just fine. They have a built-in mentor to guide them and as long as the agency’s reputation is solid, it’s fine.)

All you need to know about whether an agent is effective or ineffective can be answered by research that will give you the sales information. And if it’s hard to find, well, that’s an answer all in itself as well.

But an agent/agency’s website is simply one tool in the research process.

For me, I wanted to embrace the 21st Century in a big way. I figured lots of aspiring writers might also be great readers and if they are visiting my website to find out about me and what I’m looking for, they might just get interested in one of my clients’ books and buy it. (Anything that sells books let me tell you!)

Besides, I figure it’s just easier to keep a website up-to-date about what I do than any paper publication that pretty much goes out of date the minute it’s published. So for me personally, my website is a pretty important tool—my calling card so to speak.

For other agents that’s not always the case.

So remember a few things about agent/agency websites.

1. Some scammers and ineffective agents have very pretty websites.

2. Some excellent and very effective agents have websites that make me cringe
(Somebody get them a copy of Dreamweaver or a web designer pronto!)

3. Some agents/agencies literally refuse to have one. I have an agent friend at a very established and well-known agency who is always bemoaning the fact that her agency doesn’t have one and it hinders her ability to build her list. Perhaps their client list is full. Maybe they want to fly under the radar. Maybe they just don’t think it’s worth the bother. Maybe they have a policy about it. Who knows.

Doesn’t matter. Only the track record of sales matters.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Joe Schmoo Agent

STATUS: I feel great by getting a jump on the day by blogging early. Later it could be crazy. Hard to say. I’ve got lots on the To-do list but that’s always true.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES by Sinead O’Connor

I think Rachel Vater is one smart agent so I want to point people to her recent blog about ineffective agents. In fact, I’m even going to point to an article I read recently by writer Victoria Strauss as well. Excellent information and should be required reading for any new writer wanting to enter the industry.

There are such things as well-intentioned but ineffective agents (because any Joe Schmoo can hang out a shingle without ever having worked in the industry). These aren’t scammers, mind you, just folks who actually want to agent and have good intentions but not the background or the contacts to really make it work.

And can you imagine having an agent who has never negotiated the deal points or a publishing contract, has few or no editor contacts, has no idea how to run an auction, has no connections for foreign rights or Hollywood?

I mean, why bother with paying a 15% commission? You might as well do your own submission and contract for all the good this “agent” is going to do you.

And unfortunately, a lot of these “agents” do the conference circuit but not much else (like selling books). Although lately, I haven’t been seeing some of the ‘old regulars’ so maybe a lot of conference organizers have wised up.

So how do you know who these people are because I’m not going to list them here?

Easy. A look at their websites can pretty much tell you. And don’t fool yourselves, the websites are professionally done but where is the track record of sales? Most of these “agents” have been in business for years (by their own admission) but have only a few sales that can be found on their website or even by Googling. If an agent has been in business for 3 or 4 years or more, you should be able to find lots of book sales if they are an effective agent/agency.

Here’s another factor. Now that you’ve looked at the number of sales, who are the sales to? Are they just to small publishers (and let me highlight that there is nothing inherently wrong with selling to small publishers so don’t leap to any conclusions) but the number should not be disproportionately high in comparison to sales to major publishers. It should be balanced.

Why do I point this out? As agents, we make money off commission and the truth is that the main money comes from the larger publishers who can afford to pay decent advances. And yes, there can be some good money at smaller publishers. I’m not knocking them.

And you can tell who is a good agent by analyzing the website and how they highlight their books. Good agents want to sell more books so they spotlight them on their web page. Pretty simple.

Ineffective agents seem to bury the information. They might have only 4 or 5 covers on the website (all small publisher sales but not always) and other sales seem hard to find. They might list their “authors” and the author titles but there is no publisher info included so are these clients published or unpublished?

The website shouldn’t keep writers guessing.

Let me highlight some of the agent websites I just love so you can see what I’m talking about.

I actually don’t personally know Laura Dail but I love her agency website and always have. You can even click on a button that says “in stores now.” These are books that Laura or other agents at her agency have sold to publishers. She even has a nice news page with recent sales.

There’s no disguising what she and her agency has been up to. Speaking of, I need to snag that new Sarah Mlynowski novel…

My friend Laura Rennert works at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and big thumbs up to their newly redesigned site. I like it! Once again, look at the home page. They even have a button that reads ‘Clients and Sales.’ You click on it and voila, lots of great sales going down (and why didn’t I see the manuscript for THIRTEEN REASONS WHY? Sounds awesome!)

And here’s even a website for a fairly new agent, Kate Epstein (whom I know). She was a nonfiction editor at Adams Media before going out on her own in 2005.

Click on her “news” button. Look at all these great sales in such a short time to such houses a Berkley, Wiley & Sons, her own stomping grounds Adams Media, and Kensington.

So in two years, she has more sales than some, ahem, “agents” who have been in business for years.

So that’s how you know if an agent is a “good agent” versus an “ineffective agent.”

The sales track record doesn’t lie.

Correction: Commenter is indeed correct. Victoria Strauss is a writer (and one of the lovely watch dogs of Writer Beware) and not an agent. My apologies for the mix-up.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Agent Assets

STATUS: It’s after 5 p.m. but I’m reading a client manuscript and just really enjoying my job at the moment.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? F.M. by Steely Dan

I think that a lot of aspiring writers simply assume that an agent’s job is to find projects and sell them and that’s it.

I’d like to posit that my real job is to be a troubleshooter but that’s getting a little off track. As I was walking Chutney this afternoon, I got to thinking about all aspects of my job and what I could share that would show my blog readers a different facet of what an agent does and why an agent could be valuable beyond just negotiating your contract.

So here’s a good example.

This afternoon I had a three-way phone conference with me, my client, and a prospective editor potentially interesting in buying my client’s novel.

Yes. You read that right. A phone conference with an editor who has not yet offered for the work.

I’m assuming I don’t really need to point out the value in having this type of conversation with an interested editor. What I want to highlight here is that this type of event is part of my daily job. It’s not even all that unusual.

This is just one way an agent can be a valuable asset to an author, but I bet most writers wouldn’t even think to include it in the job description of what agents do.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Better Off With Someone Else

STATUS: It’s still raining in Denver. This is good for spring so I try not to complain too much but it does make the world feel a bit drab.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? VIRGINIA WOLF by Indigo Girls

When I take on an author, it’s with the intention of being that person’s agent for his/her whole career. I’m not one to take on projects and if they don’t sell, dump the author. It’s not my MO. But sometimes if I stay as the agent, I could, in fact, be hindering the writer’s career and that’s something I never want to do. You’re probably wondering how that’s possible.

Here’s a story. Well over a year ago, I took on a new author with a project that was pretty darn different from anything that I usually handle. But I loved the novel and really wanted to send it out. I was honest with the author from the very beginning and the author was game to try. So we did. I submitted the project everywhere. Got some close calls but no cigar (those darn editors were just wrong, wrong I tell you). The project didn’t sell but I was eager to see novel number two.

And I did. And I had no confidence that I, as the agent, could sell it.

This is not how writers want their agents to feel. Trust me. And an agent needs to be honest with that author and not string him/her along (or suddenly decide to not return emails etc.).

Those calls are tough though. It’s the last thing I want to do but if I’m not honest, then I’m not allowing that writer to succeed because they can’t succeed if their agent is the weak link through lack of vision. I’m hoping this makes sense. Ultimately, they are better off without me but I can’t help but feel I failed them. Hate that feeling.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Practical Query Magic?

STATUS: It’s a rare, rainy day in Denver. As long as it stays rain and doesn’t turn to snow…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHY? by Tracy Chapman

I ran out of time yesterday before I could share some of the practical help we offered to the attendees of the Women’s fiction panel at Pikes Peak.

So what if you have an overdone theme for your novel. You can still make your query stand out by highlighting some other elements that spotlight the uniqueness of your story.

And I imagine some of these points could apply to more beyond women’s fiction. In case it helps, here’s a list.

Top 5 Things you can do to make your Query stand out:
1. Have the pitch in your query match your tone/voice of your manuscript
2. If using a common theme, highlight what would make your women’s fiction work stand out.
3. If the events are based on a real life story you read or heard about, sometimes that can be an interesting tidbit to include. If that gave you the “what if” question that you then explored in your novel.
4. Readers of XYZ authors would also enjoy this work and then explain why.
5. Highlight something that makes the main characters unique.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Been There Done That?

STATUS: Busy day continuing all my negotiations.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SO IN LOVE by Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark

On Saturday morning (way too bright and early for my taste), I spoke on a women’s fiction panel at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

I decided to tackle the theme of overdone story ideas that we’ve been seeing lately. I promised to share it with the blog readers but I do have to add one caveat.

You have to know that there actually isn’t anything wrong with any of these story ideas. What I’m trying to point out by sharing this list is that if you highlight the story idea as being what’s original about your query, you’re probably going to get a pass because these themes are so common, they don’t come across as fresh.

So if you have tackled one of these story ideas for the basis of your novel, you have to not only focus on that idea but what else that makes the story original or a story that readers will want to read above all other novels with the same theme. Does that make sense?

For example, a couple of months ago I blogged that we had received numerous queries about a main protagonist winning the lottery. People read into that statement by thinking that our agency would never be interested in any story if the lottery theme were present. I just want to say that wouldn’t be true.

That theme IN AND OF ITSELF wasn’t enough to capture our interest because it had been done and done again. However, a lottery theme coupled with some other interesting and original element could potentially capture our attention.

There’s a big difference. So don’t assume, after I share this list, that we would never take on a story with one of these themes. We would. I’m just sharing that the theme alone won’t sell us on reading sample pages.

Overdone Themes In Women’s Fiction

1. 40-something woman discovers her husband is cheating with younger woman and decides to divorce and remake her life

2. Trying too much to be like THE JOY LUCK CLUB – 4 women, who are friends, and we “discover” how they are dealing with the various issues in their lives.

3. Breast cancer – a woman who finds out she has it

4. A heroine in her 40s or 50s who wants to remake herself and does so by moving, or starting a new career, or having plastic surgery, and the impact of that on family

5. A heroine who finds out she is adopted and goes on a hunt to find her birth parents

6. A heroine who wants some sort of change in life and goes about remodeling a house (sometimes with her husband and sometimes alone). Usually if this is done alone it’s because her husband has just passed away.

7. A heroine who is invited to her high school class reunion and the emotional upheaval that creates. Sometimes it revolves around an old boyfriend or crush, and sometimes it’s just the simple dealing-with-aging-and-time.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Pikes Peak Conference

STATUS: Gorgeous day in Denver. Spring!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WICHITA LINEMAN by Glen Campbell

I’m off to the Pikes Peak Conference in Colorado Springs in about 15 minutes. Sorry, no time to blog.

But I’ll be participating on a women’s fiction panel come Saturday so I’ll have tidbits to share on Monday.

Not to mention I’ll be hanging with a couple of editors: Anne Sowards (who is the editor for my fantasy MAGIC LOST, TROUBLE FOUND), Mary-Theresa Hussey (Harlequin), and Krista Marino (Delacorte Children’s). I’m sure there will be other editors there but I’m not thinking of them right now off the top of my head.

As for my comment yesterday about when to start negotiations, if you are faced with that, I would look to your agent for an answer more so than my blog.

It depends on a lot of factors but the main one is if you are soon to break-out as an author. If that’s the case, then waiting until numbers is usually the path to take.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Negotiation Day

STATUS: Today was basically a day of working on negotiations. Fun.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHT by Meatloaf

Whenever I have multiple negotiations going on, I take extensive notes on each offer. What has been covered, what’s resolved, what’s outstanding. It’s too easy to think an issue has been handled because you’re remembering the conversation you had with the editor who was on the phone 10 minutes ago and is not the editor for the deal you are currently discussing.

This is why I also like to confirm everything by email as well. Then there is a written record of everything discussed.

So some interesting stats on Negotiations

1. Agents rarely negotiate on the same day an offer is made (unless it’s a pre-empt).

2. Negotiations rarely conclude in one day. I would say the average length to negotiate a deal (as in the deal points—not the actual final contract) is 4 or 5 days—and that depends on if an auction is going to unfold or a pre-empt offered. Mostly is just takes that long to work out the language if there are special instances that need to be handled in the contract or just general questions that need to be answered before the real negotiation can even begin.

3. Negotiation can be involved but they are rarely contentious. Truly, it’s usually about two people discussing solutions on how both parties can get what they need. Usually that’s resolvable but not always. I’ve only ever had one editor yell at me during a negotiation and quite simply, I won’t deal with that person anymore.

4. The heart of the negotiation isn’t always about the advance. Trust me, it’s always about the money to some extent but there are certain contract elements that are more important to have (or not have) in the contract.

5. When to start a negotiation may actually be the most important factor to consider. Does one negotiate for a new project before the numbers are in for the current book or does one wait until those numbers are available?

And that’s a whole other discussion for another day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Do Editors Say No To Agents?

STATUS: Another offer came in today for a different project. Three offers for three different projects in a span of two days. Law of Attraction in action. Love that. Puts me in a good mood! And then like icing on the cake, the blog Ypulse asks “what’s your Judy Blume Moment?” and the author shares hers. How fun is that?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I HAVE CONFIDENCE by Julie Andrews

Confession time. As a pre-tween, I totally used to enact the whole SOUND OF MUSIC musical in my basement. Of course I played Maria. That might be one of my Judy Blume moments.

Someone asked me a question that totally made me think about this topic. They asked if editors agree to read everything an agent pitches to them. Great question I thought and good blog topic.

The answer is: mostly.

Don’t you love how cryptic I am? So let me explain with some examples.

1. Two weeks ago I emailed an editor who is a good friend of mine about a project. She ended up declining to look at it because she knew that she would personally love the novel but that it wasn’t the type of project her house was currently buying and why torment herself? She decline but in doing so, I learned a valuable fact about what that imprint is currently looking for.

2. Agents don’t know every editor on the planet so when we have a project that might work for someone who is new to us, we call. I did this a couple of weeks ago too. This editor was lovely but swamped. He did think the project was perfect for a colleague so asked if I minded if he forwarded the project on to the other editor. Of course not, I said, and the other editor was really enthusiastic to get the submission. This editor was fairly new to me as well so I rang up so we could chat and connect. Win-win all around.

See what I mean?

And here’s another fun tidbit. I have a couple of editorial directors who have asked me to send them any young adult project I’ve got. They don’t care what it is. They like what I’m doing at my agency and they want to see it; they’ll pass it on to the perfect editor at the line if that needs to happen. They just want to ensure that they don’t get left out on a possible project that might be a little different from what they “normally” take on.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Can't Have Just One

STATUS: It rained last night! I’m sure people on the East Coast are saying, “what’s the big deal with that”? Well in Denver, we’ve been in a drought for several years. Right now everything is super green and that usually lasts for about 3 weeks before the lack of rain takes its toll. Fingers crossed that this spring will be different. Did you know that as a city, Denver has the most number of sunny days next to Phoenix, Arizona?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHY CAN’T HE BE YOU by Patsy Cline

Now this isn’t official but I’m convinced that this is a fundamental truth in the world of agenting.

Deals come in bunches.

You can go for days, weeks, or even a month without a nibble and then suddenly, two or three deal offers on the same day for different projects (or even multiple offers on one project).

Maybe it’s the law of attraction. One offer acts as a magnet for the other offers. As I reflect on my career, this has certainly been true. I wonder if other agents have experienced the same?

I’m sure it’s not like quantum mechanics or the theory of relativity that shapes the fundamental truth of how the world operates but on some days, it FEELS that way. The start of action for one project just gets the ball rolling for a whole lot of other stuff.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Power Of A Mentor

STATUS: Way too many things on my To Do list!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER by The Beatles

I’m the first to admit, and as I have mentioned several times on my blog before, that I owe a good portion of my success as an agent to several special gals who are my mentors.

These gals have been agents for a lot longer than I have and were incredibly generous to share their wisdom with me. And over the years, we’ve become close friends. And I’m always so tickled when I learn something new from a unique situation/experience that I get to share with them. Doesn’t happen often but when it does…it’s like I’m giving something in return for the hours of time they’ve given me.

That and a six-month subscription to a gourmet cheese-of-the-month-club can go a long way.

You see, I came from an agency that did 98% nonfiction. The reason I went out on my own was because I wanted to represent fiction—and genre stuff at that. Romance, SF, Fantasy—this just wasn’t my former agency’s cup of tea. So, there was a lot to learn regarding contract specifics unique to these genres—stuff I couldn’t learn at my old job and stuff that I could only learn from mentors in the same field.

And mentor me they did. And success I have.

I believe in the power of mentoring and now that I’m far enough in my career to actually have some wisdom to share, I do pay it forward. I do have a couple of “newer” agent friends who feel comfortable ringing me up to get a perspective or feedback.

We are all learning every day in this job—trust me. A situation arises that’s brand new to even the “old timers” I know because the industry is changing and evolving.

And I think it’s a brilliant human being and agent who is willing to ring up (and potentially look stupid) by asking a question they don’t know just so they ensure they do right by their client.

I’ll take that agent any day over someone who thinks they know everything about the biz.

Besides, to me, mentoring is all about karma in the world. About connecting as human beings. About being committed to helping others.

Do I mentor every “new” agent who comes my way? Of course not. I chose to mentor people for whom I feel that spark of human connection. That’s how the decision to mentor happens and I imagine it’s not much different for an unpublished author looking to a published author as a possible mentor.

And it’s what most of the commenters pointed out. Human Connection is the first step in finding that mentor.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Another Pearl of Wisdom?

STATUS: Had a terrific day snowshoeing in fresh powder since it snowed some last night.

What's playing on the iPod right now? No music sadly.

I tend to think deep thoughts when snowshoeing--or maybe not so deep and I'll let you be the judge.

Obviously there are a lot of people who want to be published authors and statistically, not all will become so.

Chances are good that a good portion of those people who would love to embrace this dream will not have the perseverance or the talent to make it.

Statistically we know this is true but when writing, you have to be in touch with your heart--not the logic of your brain that wants to weigh you down with statistical fact.

You may never be published but you need to live your life with the thought that you will. And ultimately, you have to write for the personal joy of it (not because you have to be published) because the sacrifice you make (the price you pay if you will) would not be worth it.

Gotta love the peace and quiet of Winter Park for getting one to a place of good thinking.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Pearl Of Wisdom?

STATUS: Great because I'm taking a little ski break in Winter Park for the "long" weekend.

What's playing on the iPod right now? Well the local bar has some Reggae music going. I'm sitting in the lobby to get the wireless connection.

Since I'm supposed to be on vaca, I'm going with blog light for the next 2 days.

As I was hiking through one of the beautiful National Forests of Colorado with Chuts and my hubby, I was thinking about one piece of advice I would give to writers if I could only give one.

Ultimately I decided that the most valuable asset a new writer can have is a mentor--preferably an already published author.

Having such a valuable resource can make a world of difference in how the publishing world unfolds for an aspiring author.

A published mentor can share the hard times, be a real critique for current work, and really give an inside perspective that only a previously published writer (who has been through the process) can offer.

In any profession, a good mentor is worth her or his weight in gold--this is especially true in publishing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What A Difference a NO Makes

STATUS: Busy and productive. Lots of stuff out on submission. Now I want to be talking about lots of deal making as the weeks unfold.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? JUST LIKE HEAVEN by The Cure

Since I’m in submitting mode, I couldn’t help but think about how editors are just like agents. A project that floats one editor’s boat is just hated by another. So it really is about matching the right agent with a project and then matching the right editor to it.

For example, here are two NO responses from editors for the same book.

“the character was unlikeable and the writing flat”

“I enjoyed reading this. I connected emotionally to the writing. This is a very intriguing manuscript on many different levels. I'll give you a call later on today to express my dismay about passing”

Obviously they were both NOs but one was a heck NO and the other a very sad, wish I was offering, close-call NO.

Just another reminder how subjective this biz is. For agents, for editors, for writers, for readers.

We all have our like and dislikes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Turnaround Time

STATUS: It was a hugely, crazy day and I have 10 minutes to blog before my evening commitment.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DIDDLEY DADDY by Chris Isaak

I have a new goal this year. For current clients, my goal is to turnaround a read for a proposal with sample chapters in a matter of days (I’m actually achieving this!). If a full manuscript, two weeks.

So far I haven’t managed the latter. It’s taking me more like 3 weeks—edging into four (for which I’m always feeling incredibly guilty about). I do, however, always send my clients email updates with where they are in the queue and my estimated read time (which is invariably off by a couple of days but not usually more than that).

I’m in awe of agents who turnaround in less than a week consistently. I think I’m a fast reader but I guess not that fast.

So why so long for the turnaround on a full?

Well, it comes down to only being able to read at night or on weekends. And if you end up actually having a life while also being an agent (something I would argue is kind of scarce for agents), an evening commitment will nix an evening reading slot. That means it has to wait for the weekend.

There are only four weekends in a month. I can do maybe one full and half over a weekend. Depends if I’m just reading or if I’m doing the edit (as in for revisions before submission). And if there are five or six client manuscripts in the queue…

You can see where the turnaround time starts getting stretched.

Still, I’m committed to this goal. Now if I can just convince my clients not to all submit within a week of each other…

Monday, April 09, 2007

Doing It Exactly Right

STATUS: It’s a late one. Pretty much tells you what a busy day it was but the Nuggets just edged out the Lakers.

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

Last week I got a call from an unagented author who had an offer on the table from a publisher. She handled the whole situation exactly right so I had to share.

She received the offer and kept her head. She asked the publisher to email the deal points to her and said she would respond in a week. She was gracious and professional to the offering editor.

Then she started calling agents.

In her phone message, she quietly and carefully stated the following:
--her name
--the offer on the table
--the publisher
--the time frame in which she needed agents to respond
--her contact info

I returned her call immediately. She was calm and professional on the phone while explaining her needs. She had obviously prepared for an agent conversation and answered questions immediately when asked.

Ultimately the project wasn’t right for me so I ended up passing, but I think whichever agent she lands will be pleased with her as a new client on his/her list.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Making Me Cringe

STATUS: TGIF and it’s sleeting in Denver. Ah, spring.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SLAVE TO LOVE by Bryan Ferry

So I’m finally getting caught up on my favorite writers’ forums and blog sites, and let me tell you what makes me cringe.

Writers bad-mouthing a particular agent or agency. Now I’m not talking about revealing a scam artist or lodging a complaint about being charged a fee on a public forum. Heck, that’s a public service. Go for it.

I mean complaining about a legitimate agent who might have been rude because he/she didn’t respond to a query or sample pages in a prompt manner or was a little curt when doing so (and remember, even that is sometimes open for interpretation). Even if you post the complaint anonymously, it’s funny how often that veil of anonymity can get lifted!

Now, I’m not talking about objectively posting that such-n-such agent wasn’t right for you or your communication styles didn’t match (or whatever) and you share that info in a neutral, professional manner.

I’m talking about just being irritated and posting your irritation. It’s tempting I know but I really do think that no matter what, you come out sparkling clean by always remaining professional—even in the face of somebody else’s unprofessionalism. If you practice this on a regular basis (even in chat world), it will carry you through a tough time if and when it ever happens in real life.

Agents are human too and some more so than others by displaying un-admirable behaviors. It is a cross section of the general population after all. But never let your actions be what’s in question. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Query Confession

STATUS: This song is totally making me want to visit Key West—that and the sudden cold spell Denver is having for the next two days. I’m so ready for spring.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FINS by Jimmy Buffett

I love reading other blogs, but I have to be honest and say I haven’t been looking at my favorite sites for over two weeks. I feel so out of the loop.

So it was interesting to see one of my stats being batted around—the stat that last year the Nelson Agency read over 20,000 queries and we took on 8 new authors.

But here’s where the confession comes in.

I didn’t read 20,800 queries. My incredible assistant Sara Megibow read 20,800 queries (three cheers for Sara!) and I think it’s important that writers know the truth about that—that there are many agents who have assistants who screen the queries.

I probably only read about 4000 queries.

And how did I get that number? Well Sara, on average, usually sets aside about 60 or 80 queries for me to look at out of about 400 a week. With a little simple math, I came up with the number 4000--which I’m basically just pulling out of a hat.

Now there are some agents who read all their own queries (bless their souls—I don’t know how they do it), but I think writers should at least understand that the possibility exists that screening occurs.

In good news though, I’ve taken on two new clients since January—both from queries that were received and not by referral. Now how that will shake out in terms of final numbers for the rest of the year, I’ll let you know.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Shelf Space Needed

STATUS: I worked on a couple of submissions today so I spent a lot of time on the phone chatting with various editors.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WEREWOLVES OF LONDON by Warren Zevon

I had one interesting conversation with a children's editor during my calls today. She mentioned that they had heard the news about a month ago that Barnes & Noble stores were not planning to expand their Young Adult section despite strong sales in that realm and a burgeoning need for shelf space to house the upcoming titles.

Consequently, they were being a little more cautious about what YA titles they took on because the main seller of YA is B&N and if the stores weren’t going to be accommodating titles for lack of shelf space, it could doom some releases.

But before we angst over the doom and gloom possibility of this forecast, just remember that lack of shelf space has been the issue in the adult trade world for years and yet, new writers debut, get noticed, and sell.

Still, it’s not happy news to hear that perhaps B&N thinks the market a little too crowded and the current shelving is what you see and what you get.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Why It’s Probably Not A Good Idea To “Pop By”

STATUS: I didn’t accomplish nearly what I wanted today. Yuck.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GUILTY by Bonnie Raitt

I admire the passion that would propel a writer to want to pitch a book in person to an agent and at the agent’s office.

The motive is admirable; the actual deed is not.

Please! I strongly recommend that you don’t follow this impulse. Regardless of the desire, it can be viewed as unprofessional and despite my best efforts, I end up having to be firm about saying NO about not taking the pitch in person—which is always construed as being rude.

Yes, you can probably guess this happened to me today. Not to mention, if the popper by is aggressive enough (as in not taking NO for an answer via the intercom and waiting in the lobby until somebody exited so they could come through a secure entrance), the whole action can be viewed as a little threatening. Now that wasn’t the case today but you can see where it could be.

When I mentioned the incident to a friend, he said “Your daring intruder may be right about the importance of sharing her passion for her project, but she has a few things to learn about listening, boundaries, and respect.”

And ultimately in the end, agents want clients who understand that.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Glaze Effect

STATUS: First day back in the office is always a mess of paperwork that needs to be handled. And aren’t we supposed to be a paper-free office? Ah, the irony

What’s playing on the iPod right now? OUR LIPS ARE SEALED by The Fun Boy Three

As many of you know, I was at the New England Chapter of RWA writers’ conference this weekend. What a good time. I got to hang out with four of my clients (two of which I met for the very first time) and my good agent pal Deidre Knight (whose terrific third book in her series comes out tomorrow—PARALLEL SEDUCTION. I’ve got my copy. Can you say the same?)

Also managed to live through a whole morning of pitches! Actually, I’m kidding. One of the things I love about RWA is how well they educate and help new writers. Our queries from RWA members are always pretty top-notch.

But I did glean one insight I wouldn’t mind sharing with the general populace when it comes to pitching in person at a conference.

Some writers would like to have their written pitch in front of them because the whole concept (and the doing of) the pitch can be nerve-wracking—despite my best efforts to put the writers at ease.

So, here’s my tip. I’m fine with the written pitch if that’s what makes you comfortable. My only suggestion? Make it short and sweet. It shouldn’t be the whole query letter—just a short pitch paragraph that shouldn’t take you more than a minute (maybe 2) tops.

Why? Because of the Glaze Effect. Despite my best efforts, it can be hard to concentrate when someone is reading to me—especially after the tenth pitch of the morning. My eyes get that glazed expression. I’m sure I’m not the only agent to start daydreaming by accident during a pitch—and that’s not what you want.

So it’s okay to read. Just make your pitch paragraph a short and punchy one. I’ll still ask questions and get more details about the story; I promise.

Now for some fun shots.

Here I am with my authors. From left: Marianne Mancusi, Becky Motew, Me, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Jennifer O'Connell

At then at the Costume party! Jennifer is her character Lauren from DRESS REHEARSAL, then there is the lame me as a character from ENCHANTED, INC. who wore Shanna's frog prince brooch and claimed that nobody could see my fairy wings, Hank in a Tiara, and Marianne as goth girl Rayne from her young adult novel STAKE THAT!