Thursday, May 31, 2007

On Publishing—Michael Cader Style

STATUS: Tired and ready for bed. Pardon any typos. I’ll proofread and fix tomorrow.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME by Jewel

Today I was at the Backspace conference—which was a blast. Michael Cader of Publishers Marketplace did the keynote and I have to say that I felt like leaping out of my chair at several points in the speech just to say “Amen” but thought that might sound too much like a revival meeting.

Let’s just say he was singing my song. Preaching to the choir. Well, you get the picture.

So here are some of my notes on some of the great points he made today (and these are just quick paraphrases since I wrote in shorthand and even I can’t read my own handwriting sometimes).

The keynote was entitled “Things No one Understands About Publishing, and the Internet, Featuring the Most Important Thing No One Ever Tells Authors, and The Most Important Thing Publishers Don’t Know.”

In short, Mr. Cader discussed what he felt where principles that the publishing world has been reluctant to embrace because of being entrenched in the old way of doing things.

1. Even if you never self-publish, have no intention to, and pursue traditional publishing venues, go forward and market your book as if it was self published and getting the marketing and the distribution was all on you.

2. You know your material and you know your readership and how best to reach them. Don’t think of readers as only a dollar sign (as in they are there to buy your book and that’s there only purpose). What is important to you as a reader? Answer that question. You have to think about what’s going to grab attention. What’s compelling? What’s passionate about your work? What ignites reader imagination? That’s how you sell your book.

3. You can create readership outside of your book. Internet is the great equalizer. Readers don’t want to be told what to get excited about and it drives marketers crazy. Word of mouth is simply readers talking about what they are passionate about and that’s the most trusted way to create buzz about a book. (And ultimately, that does lead to dollar signs). But that’s not the trade publishing model. They always begin a book campaign by thinking about how to get readers to part with their money rather than how to give readers what content they have to have. Blogs work because they are intimate and personal. Corporate blogs don’t because they can’t capture that authentic and personal feel because it’s about marketing and the bottom line.

4. If you want readers, what do you give away for free? There is the idea that if you give away too much for free, readers won’t buy the printed copy but that hasn’t proven to be true.

5. Genuine interest drives bloggers and they know when they are being marketed to and thus they ignore you. When you participate in the blog world, it’s because you have a genuine interest to make connections—not unlike how we develop relationships with people. It’s non-marketing.

6. Publishing often has it backward. They keep a big book a secret until the release day and then there is a big publicity push. But that’s not how the internet works effectively. The internet is a slow build. Buzz over time. People talking about what interests them about a topic or a book. The internet values what’s old, what can be found in a search, what is repeated over time.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Kristin Takes Manhattan

STATUS: I’m a ninny. You might laugh but I actually forgot to blog yesterday. I came back to my hotel room late (like close to midnight) and completely forgot about it. Sorry about that.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THINK I’M IN LOVE by Eddie Money

And I’m a ninny for a whole other reason. I don’t just have 4 authors being showcased at Book Expo. I have five!!!

I’m going to start calling it the Nelson Agency BEA.

I found out on Friday that advanced reading copies (ARCs) have been printed in time and will be made available to booksellers at BEA for Kim Reid’s phenomenal memoir entitled NO PLACE SAFE. This book debuts in October 2007.

With quotes like these, you can see why Kensington would be excited to get this book into the hands of librarians and booksellers as soon as possible:

“Though a child herself, Kim Reid sat on the edge of a front row seat to one of the twentieth century’s most bizarre and baffling murder cases. With No Place Safe she delivers her experience as a compelling story told from a sensitive gut and a formidable intellect. A narrative woven with strands of threatened innocence and Southern gothic gives No Place Safe the texture of a modern, urban To Kill a Mockingbird.”
--Elyse Singleton, author of This Side of the Sky

"Like every great memoir writer, Kim Reid bares her heart and soul in this powerful account of growing up in a world of danger. Her honesty and storytelling skills make every page come alive."
--Kien Nguyen, author of The Unwanted


"Where racism and sexism often violated their sense of safety and self, there was no safe place in general for black women in their struggle to survive, achieve and succeed. However, in her quest for safety, Kim discovers the bonds of friendship and family as well as an inner strength, courage and sense of purpose. This outstanding offering is sure to safely place Kim Reid in the company of best-selling authors. So don't blink or you will miss this author's meteoric rise to the top."
--Carolyn Quick Tillery, Southern Homecoming Traditions

"A gracefully written, vivid, heartfelt and deeply intimate work. Against the backdrop of Atlanta's infamous and still controversial child-murder spree, thirteen year old Kim Reid demonstrates uncanny wisdom, grit and confidence as she overcomes the fear and panic gripping Atlanta's children, to narrate her compelling personal story; all the while bringing to heartbreaking life each of the murdered boys. If we want to understand the hearts of today's children being inundated with daily stories of slain or kidnapped classmates and the threatening world we say is waiting for them, we would do well to spend some time with Kim Reid."
--Robert Hooks (Actor/ Producer/ Cultural Activist, Burbank, CA)

So if you are there this weekend, you might want to snag your own copy at the Kensington booth.





FROM THE BACK COVER:

In this compelling memoir, Kim Reid hauntingly transports readers to the innocent world of a childhood protected by a loving home, yet threatened by a danger beyond any child’s understanding . .

Thirteen-year-old Kim Reid will never forget the summer of 1979. In those precious free moments when she is not taking care of her little sister while her single mother works as a cop, Kim’s days are filled with thoughts of boys, makeup, and starting high school in the fall. When a heartbreaking discovery along a quiet Atlanta road makes the news, Kim’s mother instructs her girls to be careful. Accustomed to her mother’s warnings, Kim feels she already knows how to stay alert and carry herself as if she’s not scared.

But as the shadow of danger lengthens over Kim’s once-sunny landscape of friends and family, she learns there is no place safe. While her mother becomes preoccupied with her increasingly high-profile job, Kim feels life unraveling. Straddling the worlds of her black neighborhood and her wealthy white school, teetering on the brink between girl and woman, Kim is torn between fitting in and finding her own voice; between becoming strong and clinging to the last traces of her childhood.

In this deeply intimate, powerful narrative, Kim Reid weaves an unforgettable story of growing up and the events that shape us forever…

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Foiled by Tech Issues

STATUS: Need to go home and pack because I’m leaving for New York City and BEA tomorrow.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BOYS AND GIRLS by Bryan Ferry

This is definitely a blog light and for that I apologize.

Most of my day was spent transitioning my website and email over to a new company and server.

Remember all those email issues I was having? Well, they weren’t getting solved so I had to move on. I don’t even want to think about how many people never received a response to their query letters because of all the trouble we were having and all the emails that weren't delivered.

If you never received a reply from us, you might want to resend that email query just to be safe.
The transition has happened but there could still be glitches. If you visit our website and your cache hasn’t been emptied or your web browser hasn’t refreshed, you might still be seeing the old site on the old server or you might get an error page. Don’t worry. You don’t have to do anything extra and it will shake out in the next 3 days or so.

Consider yourself forewarned.

Ps. The electronic submissions database is fine. Everything transferred without a problem.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Featured At Book Expo

STATUS: It’s a rainy day in Denver. Perfect for working on an edit. It was also a quiet email day. Folks are getting ready for the long weekend and then BEA in New York City.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HOTEL CALIFORNIA by the Eagles

Yep, it’s happening next week. Get ready for publishing to shut down for a couple of days while we all party at the Javits Center. And I do mean party. Parties in the Publisher exhibition booths. Parties at external locations. Invitation only parties. And parties worth crashing.

And I’ll be there—reporting from the floor if I see anything of interest for blog readers.

BEA 2007 is a banner year for the Nelson Agency. I have four authors who are being spotlighted there.

So if you are wandering the convention floor, you might want to pop in and say hello to some of my authors and get an autographed copy of your favorite book.






MOONGAZER
Marianne Mancusi
Friday, June 1, 2007
12:00-1:00 p.m. Dorchester Booth 3681







CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY
Ally Carter
Friday June 1, 2007
Hyperion Booth 3956
3:00-3:30 p.m. Author Autographing Area: table 16
(sorry for the neon green. That's how blogger uploaded it and I couldn't fix it. Honestly, the cover is not that weird green.)







DIVORCED GIRLS SOCIETY
Jennifer O’Connell & Vicki King
Saturday, June 2, 2007
1:00 pm Adams Media Booth 3915










PRIME TIME
Hank Phillippi Ryan
Saturday, June 2, 2007
2-2:45 Harlequin Booth 3874











INSIDER DATING
Jennifer O’Connell
Saturday, June 2, 2007
2:30 p.m. Author Autographing Area

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Critique Me In St. Louis?

STATUS: This has been a crazy day. I really needed to finish an edit for a client but it’s already 4 in the afternoon and I haven’t touched it. Guess I’ll be up late tonight.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHOOT THE MOON by Norah Jones

Okay, I’m embarrassed to admit that my Mom & Dad read my blog (and boy did I get in trouble when I didn’t call to tell them about Chutney’s trip to the emergency room.) I got a cold blast when my Mom called to tell me she had read about it ON MY BLOG. Sniff.

Won’t make that mistake again!

But she did send me a tidbit to share with writers because she noticed that commenters often asked about how they can find people to critique their work.

So, if you happen to live in St. Louis, Missouri and are looking for a critique group, this post is for you (and you can give a warm thank you to my mother and the article she found).

You might start with the St. Louis Writers Guild. This association has many different affiliate chapters such as the Chesterfield Writers Guild (which is a township within St. Louis). According to my Mom (and the article she was reading), they each have a mission of providing for and promoting a community of writers of all genres and levels of experience within the area. They offer workshops, peer reviews, groups, speakers etc.

If St. Louis has this, I bet other communities to do. Just do a Google search for [YOUR CITY NAME] Writers Guild and see what pops up. Get connected.

Writing is solitary business but it doesn’t have to be.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Goodbye Miss Snark! I’ll Miss You

STATUS: A little sad. See below. Just a heads up to let you know that Chutney is doing well. Her stomach is giving her occasional problems but you don’t really need details about that.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SAVE A PRAYER by Duran Duran

I heard the very sad news this morning when a friend emailed me the link. Yes, it’s true. Miss Snark is retiring.

Why am I sad? Because she would often say (and rather bluntly) what I could not as a non-anonymous, very nice literary agent.

She could be our mouthpiece for the truth that needed to be said without any sugar-coating. And I know I’m not the only agent who felt that way.

But don’t worry, I don’t have any plans to end my blogging but I can sometimes sympathize with Miss Snark and Jennifer Jackson. Some days it’s a real stretch to come up with a topic worth blogging about. As long as you don’t mind a few blog lights here and there, we’ll probably be fine.

Now on to the topic that still has me steamed. I’m particularly enjoying the S&S’s most recent press release where they manage to dance around everything but the real issue—that without sales thresholds for POD copies, there’s no way for rights to revert (which is not in an author’s favor) despite all those good proclamations about how this is really a benefit to authors. Read the press release for yourself right here.

Snort.

Oops. Did I just do that aloud?

So some key phrases: “we are willing to have an open and forthright dialogue on this or any other topic.

I guess I’ll soon find out.

Another key phrase: “to keep the author’s book available for sale over the term of the license.”

Well two things here folks:

1. We have OOP clauses so we don’t have to specify an exact term of the license in the publishing contract because once it’s out of print, rights revert (when sales thresholds are included that is).

2. As discussed with my contracts manager, we would be open to specifying an exact term for the license but at the moment, we didn’t have to because we had very specific Out of Print clauses that made the term of the license clear. And the vote is not in yet on whether S&S will be “open and forthright” about a dialogue concerning license term limits specified when negotiating the initial Grant of Rights.

I guess I’ll soon find out about that as well.

Friday, May 18, 2007

I Can’t Go For That—No Can Do

STATUS: Here is some fabulous news I finally get to share. It’s official. Walden Media (Chronicles of Narnia) has bought I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU from Disney. This is great news because Disney had decided to sit on the project (never what we want) and now things are finally moving forward. Now the big news will be when it goes into production. Then I’ll believe that the film might actually be made.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WATCH YOUR STEP by Anita Baker

Just a little note to add to yesterday’s blog. Did the Authors Guild over-react regarding the news just in from S&S?

Folks, I have to say that I’m not sensing that. I didn’t just get that AG alert and then blog about it. I’m pretty interconnected with a lot of agents and we are all talking to each other.

My S&S contracts haven’t hit my desk yet but they have hit the desks of agents I know and those folks are currently battling for sales threshold language that used to be a standard negotiated item. (Side note on how it works: Publishers have boilerplate contracts that agents renegotiate and that renegotiated contract becomes the agency’s standard boilerplate with that publisher. That way we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we do a new deal with that publisher. Our previously negotiated language is automatically included.)

Today’s Publisher’s lunch reports that it is Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken’s understanding that S&S is no longer going to add sales thresholds to the Out of Print Clause and it is non-negotiable.

And from what I’m hearing from those currently dealing with S&S contracts, that’s not off the mark.

It’s fine if S&S wants to change their boilerplate OOP language. I don’t have a problem with that. They can have whatever language they want to include. It’s the “non-negotiable” part that’s potentially the issue.

(Side note here: both Random House and the Penguin Group have already digitized their lists and neither has any problem including sales threshold language in their OOP clauses.)

Lunch also reports that “agents are prepared to pushback vigorously if presented with such a change.”

Blaster or light saber anyone?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

That’s No Moon; That’s A Space Station

STATUS: A new client said YES and came on board today! Hooray! It was stiff competition to but I’m so excited about this novel. When I can talk about it more, I will. I also spent a lot of time on the phone today and the receiver is now glued to my left ear. Chutney is still struggling because she’s having trouble keeping food down. At least she is willing to eat plain white rice and that seems to be settling her stomach.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SOMEBODY HAVE MERCY by Sam Cooke

How can I not have thoughts about an evil empire when word comes down (mainly through the Authors Guild) that Simon & Schuster would now like to change their boilerplate language for their Out of Print Clause and let me just tell you that it’s not in an author’s favor.

And to sum it up succinctly, they want to change the language so that the books they buy never go out of the print, the rights won’t revert back to the author, and they get to hold the rights into perpetuity.

How will this be done? By 1) not allowing language that restricts the OOP definition in terms of X number of copies sold during a certain period, and 2) by also not allowing language that states that electronic versions only will not constitute the work being in print.

In the age of digitalization and Print on Demand, that means “into perpetuity” folks.

Here’s the sum up from the Authors Guild:
The new contract would allow Simon & Schuster to consider a book in print, and under its exclusive control, so long as it's available in any form, including through its own in-house database -- even if no copies are available to be ordered by traditional bookstores.

Red Squadron get ready since I’m expecting several S&S contracts in the next week or so.

I have to wonder what S&S is thinking because I know what I’m going to be thinking if they adhere to this “new” boilerplate language and that is that I might need to sell my projects elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Multiple Voices (Or Are They Just In Your Head)?

STATUS: I’m dragging today. I stayed up super late last night but this time it wasn’t because I had an exciting full manuscript to read. Nope. It was excitement of a different kind. I had to run Chutney to the emergency room. Her face swelled up like a hippopotamus out of nowhere last night. Don’t worry, she’s not perky today but doing well. I guess a swollen face is a sign of an allergic reaction. She had a big welt on her leg so we think she was bitten by a spider. She has got to stop playing with those 8-legged friends.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? PERSONAL JESUS by Depeche Mode

I did a phone teleclass today and one of the attendees asked me an interesting question. She asked, “can writers have different voices for different genre projects.”

The question stumped me because I had never really thought about it before. I rather assumed that a writer’s voice is his or her voice regardless of what the person is writing. That your writing voice is essential and unique to you and even though you might bend it to different genres, it will ultimately still “sound” like you or have your unique feel.

And that’s what I said but maybe I was just pushing air. Can writers have different voices for different genres?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tips From A Borders Buyer

STATUS: I put another project out on submission this week. That’s always exciting.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NO SURRENDER by Bruce Springsteen

When I was at the CRW conference this weekend, I had a chance to hear Sue Grimshaw give a talk to a room of already published authors. Sue is the Romance buyer for Borders and has the inside scoop on buying for that industry but I think some of her tips can cross over to other genres.

First, some interesting general factoids:

1. Readers do pay attention to author quotes on the cover.
(Good to know so going after those blurbs can be worthwhile)

2. On the Borders e-newsletter, readers have more click-throughs on author letters to the reader than on the Borders coupons.
(I don’t know what this means but it sounds like readers like to hear from authors and feel personally connected).


Some interesting romance-specific factoids:

1. Sexy covers continue to sell well
(so take that shirt off…but only if you are a guy)

2. Paranormal is still selling well. Readers like tortured heroes. Vampires are in abundance so think outside the box.

3. Sales for historicals are still flat.
(So if you are a fan and want this to reignite, go out and buy more books. Editors, however, are asking for historicals—as long as they are sexy).


Some marketing hints:

1. Have a website but also have something that brings people back to that site time and time again.

2. Interview your own characters. Readers love to know the hidden back story that might not be in the novel itself.

3. Post an excerpt on your website but not necessarily the opening chapters. (Sometimes readers might mistake that for having already read the book). Use a tension-building, exciting, or slightly sexy excerpt instead.

4. Get thinking about Book Trailers. Borders does feature them on their site and in their e-newsletters.
(Professionally done folks. 1 Minute or less. And if in romance, shadow the hero. )

5. Get to know your local booksellers. Sign stock (and yes, it’s just a myth that book stores can’t return those copies because they can). Have your own autograph stickers on hand though.

6. Ask your editor/publisher about a pre-sale tools such as Shelf talkers.

7. Advertise in industry publications.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Got Conflict?

STATUS: I started my day on the phone with the tech people on why I could send email but people weren’t receiving them. I have to say that computer or email tech problems rank up there as high stress. Still, it’s just a complication—not a conflict.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? JUNGLE LOVE by Steve Miller Band

My author Linnea Sinclair gave a great workshop this weekend and a point she made in her class really crystallized an issue I often see in sample pages—and that’s the problem of writers confusing complication with conflict. They are not the same.

And here’s a good way to explain the difference.

Let’s say that a man and woman decide to head out to the park to have a romantic picnic. They have wine, cheese, and other yummy foods that incite romantic inclinations such as little smooches etc.

Suddenly the picnic is overrun by red ants (or something equally nasty) and the couple must spring apart and it derails the picnic.

This is a complication—not a conflict. The ants are simply present (and would be if the couple was there enjoying the picnic or not).

Now, let’s set up the same scenario with the couple, the wine & cheese, and the romantic picnic. Instead of ants showing up, the man’s wife appears on the scene.

That’s conflict!

Conflict is always personal.

Linnea also pointed out that misunderstanding, distrust, and coincidence are all minor complications (and not conflict). I see this in manuscript sample pages a lot too. The writer is relying on some big secret misunderstanding that if known, would have made it a non-story. That if the two main characters had just had a chance to talk about what they weren’t getting, then problem solved.

And I know as a reader, I always feel cheated if I read a work and ultimately it’s just a miscommunication. Makes me feel like the rug was pulled out from underneath me.

Now you can layer these complications into a manuscript. Just don’t mistake it for being the conflict.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Linked In

STATUS: Off to the conference.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? POSSESSION by Sarah McLachlan

My agent friends and I often laugh about how “in-the-know” some of our clients are.

In fact, it happened this morning. So many published authors are on chat loops, the minute even a hint of a rumor (regarding a line, or an editor, or whatever) gets whispered, it’s out in the loops in a flash and all the authors know about it—lots of times even before the agents do.

And I love that my clients immediately call or email me so I can track down or confirm the scoop. Now sometimes the rumors are wrong but a lot of times, where there is smoke there is indeed fire.

This always startles the editors but I’m not sure why. They must know that authors love talking with each other and there are many many venues in which to do so.

So I just have to say that if you are a published author and you aren’t linked in, you might want to get there. All you have to do is ask the other writers in your genre where they get their news and sign up for that loop (although some are invitation only).

You too can then be linked in. It bears an eerie resemblance to Radar Love mentioned in the song by Golden Earring.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Post-Conference Onslaught

STATUS: I’m good actually. Tackled some things on my To Do list. Have two new submissions going out very soon. That’s always exciting.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONG COOL WOMAN IN A BLACK DRESS by The Hollies

I’m off to another conference this weekend. I’m refraining from smacking myself in the head. Every year I promise myself that I will only commit to doing 3 (and if pushed) maybe 4 a year—if that.

This year I ended up with 6. How the heck did that happen? But when New Zealand Romance Writers came a-calling to invite me down under, I just couldn’t say no. Do you blame me?

So this weekend is another romance conference (but don’t worry, I’m also going to be attending the Surrey International in Vancouver and that encompasses everything—including literary and commercial mainstream—which I’m always looking for more of.)

Not to mention, I was just recently invited to the World Horror 2008 Convention. I had to ring them back up to make sure they had the right person. After all, I don’t really represent “horror” per se. They said that they did indeed mean to contact me and that I was one of their top choices. Tickle me pink. It’s not a done deal yet but it’s a possibility that’s out there.

But this weekend is a local conference (which means I’m usually game to go because I don’t have to travel). It’s the Romancing The Rockies conference, and my author Linnea Sinclair is one of the keynote speakers.

And yes, there is a point to this blog and I’m getting to it.

My agency always gets a large slew of submissions right after a conference because I got a chance to meet and chat with a bunch of wonderful folks and of course I’ll look at sample pages. That’s the point of the conference after all.

But here’s a secret. Most folks send in their sample pages within a day or two so we get buried quickly.

My suggestion? Wait about 7-10 days, then send. That way we’ve mastered the onslaught and might just have a little more time for a more leisurely read.

One of those agency insider helpful hints.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Anticipation Is Making Me Wait

STATUS: I had a lot of phone conferences today--each averaging about an hour in length. So even though I was working, I didn’t tackle too many things on my To Do list which always makes me feel like I was a slacker somehow. I know. Makes no sense but there it is.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BABY GOT BACK –the Richard Cheese version

Okay, maybe I’m dating myself here but do you remember the Heinz Ketchup commercials to the tune of Carly Simon’s Anticipation?

The idea was that the ketchup was so thick (and delicious I presume), that it took a while to pour out of the bottle but that extra anticipation made it all the more worthwhile.

The point being that you need to be patient and wait.

Well, that’s what you need to do when an agent comes a-calling and offers representation.

I know. You’ve been waiting a long time for this moment so your first instinct may be to scream “YES, somebody wants me. I’m yours,” but that may not be in your best interest because what if another agent also wants to offer? If they do, now you have choice which puts you in the catbird seat (thank you James Thurber). This is exactly where you want to be. You are about to embark on what will hopefully be a long-term partnership so don’t be in a rush to make that decision.

And don’t worry. An agent isn’t going to withdraw the offer if you make it clear that you’ll need a week or two to assess all your options. And if an agent did withdraw an offer, well, that’s an answer all in itself so don’t sweat it.

So, squelch your initial reaction. Patience. Anticipation is worth making agents wait.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Deal Lunch Blurbs Take Two

STATUS: It was such a gorgeous day in Denver, one can’t help but smile despite being a little tired. I stayed up late last night to read a requested full manuscript that I just couldn’t put down. I literally finished reading around midnight and thought, “it’s not too late to call the author and offer representation, is it?” Ultimately I decided that midnight was a little late to be calling and waited until first thing this morning.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IT MUST BE HIM by Vicki Carr

So I was thinking some more about this exercise and I can’t stress enough how nailing your deal lunch blurb can really help you to crystallize your story line for your query pitch.

Interesting that folks commented that the deal lunch blurb didn’t grab their attention as much as the longer blurb (and of course the longer blurb is going to be way better—that’s why I used it for the pitch to editors). Don’t forget. You do have a whole paragraph (or even two) to nail your story concept in your query letter. You don’t just have to use one sentence. The point of the exercise is to simply boil your story down to the main conflict and that’s what really struck me about what some of the comments posted.

If I had simply focused on Angel’s struggle of non-acceptance in the art world, I wouldn’t have highlighted a driving conflict that’s moving the story forward. It’s that simple. These two boys both accept her and her art but they represent two opposite art extremes and ultimately she must decide for herself what she wants her art to be (and in doing so, discovers herself). Conflict.
So keep that in mind when you are tackling this exercise.

Here’s another good example. This novel, by Boston’s Channel 7 Investigative Reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan, will hit shelves in about 3 weeks. Here’s the longish pitch blurb I used in my email letters to editors.

PRIME TIME by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Think that annoying SPAM clogging your computer is just so much cyber-junk? Top-notch TV reporter Charlotte McNally suspects some of it may be much more than that--in fact, she's certain it carries secret big-money messages to a powerful inner circle of executives who possess the key to its code.

Turns out--as Charlie discovers--the last outsider who deciphered the SPAM's hidden clues now resides in the local morgue. Was his car crash really an accident? Charlie’s spidey-sense for news may have put her on the trail of the biggest story of her life or the one that may end it.

PRIME TIME, a Lady Lit mystery, introduces Charlotte “Charlie” McNally, a hip and attractive late forty-something journalist who's facing some life-changing challenges. Charlie's smart, successful and devoted to Italian clothing designers--but she's worried her news director is about to replace her with a younger model. Even though she's won a row of Emmys for her investigative reporting, she's convinced that unless she digs up another blockbuster in time for the next November ratings book, she may be fired from the job she loves.

Charlie's got too many pairs of shoes, too many graying hairs, and even a hot flash or two—but she puts her life, and her heart, on the line for a story and readers will never look at SPAM the same way again.

I just loved so many elements of the story, I didn’t want to shorten it. I wanted the editors to get the real feel of the manuscript which I think the blurb captures.

And yes I'm wordy. I HATE boiling things down to one sentence so I feel your pain. Now time for the Deal Lunch Blurb. To me, the conflict is that Charlie needs to land a scoop, solve a murder, and not be replaced by a younger model so that’s what I highlighted.

FICTION: MYSTERY
Emmy award-winning reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan's PRIME TIME, the first in her series featuring 40-something TV reporter Charlie McNally who discovers a link between a suspicious car accident and hidden messages in SPAM emails while juggling an on-camera world that values beauty more than journalism, to Ann Leslie Tuttle at Harlequin NEXT, by Kristin Nelson at the Nelson Literary Agency (world).

Monday, May 07, 2007

Deal Lunch Blurbs As A Writing Exercise

STATUS: It was an incredibly busy Monday. I’m a little stunned that it’s 5 p.m. already. But it’s not too late to hop on over to Brenda Novak’s website and participate in the Diabetes auction she has going for the month of May. Thank goodness somebody has a bid in for more than $2.00 for my read and critique (on page 3 of Writers section). I’d feel silly if nobody placed a bid or if it didn’t raise any money for Brenda!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT by Rolling Stones

Miss Snark and Rachel Vater are always doing pitch workshops over on their blogs and no, don’t get excited. I’m not about to do one over here at Pubrants. It has “rants” in the title for a reason.

But I did have a good idea that I wanted to share with my blog readers. I just concluded two deals recently for Kelly Parra and Jennifer O’Connell and by their request, posted those sales on Publishers Marketplace for Deal Lunch. And that got me thinking. It’s a great writing exercise to boil down a project to a one sentence concept in order to post the deal.

Trust me, this isn’t always easy but if you can somehow grab the core of your story in one or two sentences, you’ll know what’s at the heart of your work. That heart should form the main crux of your pitch paragraph that you then build into a solid paragraph or two for your query letter.

So in short, if you can nail your deal lunch blurb, you’ll nail your pitch paragraph.

Of course I won’t leave you hanging; I’ll give you an example.

Here’s my story pitch for a title that just hit shelves this week--GRAFFITI GIRL by Kelly Parra. When on submission, this longish blurb was included in the emails that went out to editors. Notice there are a lot of details included to give a sense of the story, the plot, the conflict, and the main character Angel.

GRAFFITI GIRL by Kelly Parra

How far would a bad girl go to find her rightful place in the art world?

Sixteen-years-old and third-generation Mexican-American, Angel Rodriguez struggles for artistic acceptance among her peers until she begins to explore the underground lifestyle of graffiti art—a place where her Mexican-themed artwork is finally embraced.

The graffiti lifestyle, however, may be more than Angel bargained for.

As she learns new skills with a spray can, she crosses lines she never considered by breaking laws to prove her dedication to the graffiti crew and drifting farther away from her supportive family. All the while exploring new relationships between two Latino boys--one with a beautiful eye for detail and an upscale street address and the other who lives in her neighborhood and who uses the streets as his canvas.

Soon she becomes torn between obligations of family, friendships, and her passion for art. Angel realizes her newfound artistic acceptance may have come with too high a price.

About the Author
Kelly Parra is the daughter of a Mexican-Filipino dad with a comedic streak and a strong-willed Mexican-Italian mom. Her parents, each raised with twelve siblings, filled her head with interesting tales of their childhood, launching Kelly's love of a good story.

However, when it came time to do the Deal Lunch blurb, I had to just highlight the heart of it. Michael Cader doesn’t like agents being wordy (and trust me, we like to be wordy because we are excited about the book and we want the whole world to know ALL the details). For Cader, the deal lunch blurb can only be about 5 typed lines long—and that has to include all the sale/editor/agent info. That’s short.

To get that, I have to boil down the above 2 paragraphs into one sentence. No dilly-dallying. No long plot outline. I have to focus only on the HEART of the story.

So for me, the real story is about a young Latina who is torn between two boys who represent for her the polar opposite extremes in the art world and where she fits in that world.

Hence, the deal lunch blurb below:

FICTION: YOUNG ADULT
Kelly Parra’s YA debut GRAFFITI GIRL, a struggling young Latina artist looking for acceptance is torn between two Latino boys—one with a beautiful eye for detail and an upscale street address and the other who lives in her neighborhood and who uses the streets as his canvas, to Lauren McKenna and Jen Heddle at MTV/Pocket Books, in a nice deal, by Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency (NA).



Friday, May 04, 2007

180 Degrees?

STATUS: TGIF!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BLUE TRAIN by John Coltrane

I’ve been doing a lot of full manuscript reading lately—which is always exciting. That next new client could be a read away. It seems like full manuscript requests go in spurts. We won’t ask for anything for a month or two and then boom, we’ll ask for four or five all at the same time.

So we recently just had a spurt so Sara and I have been reading like mad, and we’ve noticed an interesting trend for some of the fulls we’ve read the last couple of months.

The work will start off strongly with solid writing and a building story and then suddenly, the storyline turns 180 degrees from where we thought it was going. We are left puzzled.

What’s wrong with that?

Well, on one hand, nothing. Who wants to read a story where it’s obvious about what’s going to happen or how it will end? Twists or a little surprise are good things.

I agree but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about reading a manuscript that is really building one particular storyline (and a story I’m liking and really curious as to how it will end) when suddenly the plot diverges and the story goes galloping off in a totally different direction.

And I’m left with a raised eyebrow and a “wow, I wasn’t expecting that. That’s not the story I thought they were telling.”

Despite good writing and a concept I really, really, really wanted to work, I end up passing. The revision would potentially be too big or maybe that’s the story the writer really wanted to tell and I just couldn’t see it.

It always makes me sad though because the initial concept was really original.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

How To Avoid Homer Simpson Moments

STATUS: I have to say that I’m really worried. I’m a huge HBO Entourage fan and I watched this week’s episode last night—the one where Vince sleeps with his agent (and I’m not talking about Ari). This bothers me on so many levels but please, please, don’t let this show (because of this episode) jump the shark.

DAMSEL UNDER STRESS hit shelves this week and look at this great article on Shanna in the Dallas Morning News. That’s my kind of publicity.


What’s playing on the iPod right now? I SAW THE LIGHT by Todd Rundgren

I have to say that sometimes I’m mystified by aspiring writers.

For example, last week I received a call from a writer who was looking at our website (and said so in the message) but was asking how could he/she submit a query to us.

I have to say that this had me scratching my head. I’m not the most technical person out there either but I think our instructions are pretty darn clear on the Submit Manuscript page of our website.

Or better yet, we’ve received quite a few emails in the last month where the writer emails us to ask if we accept email queries.

You can see where sometimes these types of moments make agents want to slap our foreheads in frustration. Still, I know that these incidents are the exceptions and not the rule. Thank goodness.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Secret Language Of Agents (part two)

STATUS: BEA is in 29 days. Boy, I’m going to be busy getting all my appointments set up. Not to mention that three of my authors will be featured there. I see running around a large convention center in my near future…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE by Marvin Gaye

I might have to dig deep for some more examples. I don’t tend to use too many catch phrases when I respond to sample pages (and I always personalize responses to fulls). Yesterday’s example is pretty much my mainstay or I actually comment on a specific issue regarding the work.

I have used this one though (or a version there of):

“I really need to be 100% enthusiastic about a work to take it on.”

Translation: I liked it; I didn’t love it. Also implied is that it’s a tough market and I don’t feel confident in my ability to find this work a home.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Secret Language Of Agents

STATUS: We just had one big whopper of a thunderstorm roll through. Chutney has decided to hide under Sara’s desk. Thunder—not her favorite thing.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GOOD by Better Than Ezra

Oh wise one, share with me the secret language of agents. (Sounds like it should be a title of a book.)

Actually, we don’t really have one but I’m convinced that writers think we do. I’m amazed at how much time is spent interpreting and analyzing sentences in rejection letters (for sample pages) that may ultimately be throw-away lines (as in they are somewhat “standard” and writers shouldn’t read too much into them).

So for fun, I thought I’d tackle a few this week. Now remember, I can only give the translation based on my unique perspective, and I certainly don’t speak for all agents.

Here’s a sentence that I’m guilty of using fairly often. It really fits what I’m trying to convey. I don’t want to go into too much detail (too time-consuming) but I want to add a little comment beyond the standard NO letter.

“I just didn’t fall in love with the story as much as I had hoped.”

Translation: The writing is solid or good but for whatever reason, I didn’t feel connected to the characters or the story or something. The “click” just wasn’t there for me, but I can see it being possibly there for another agent.