Friday, June 29, 2007

Editors Do Read Blogs

STATUS: TGIF! I'm off to my assistant Sara's 10th wedding anniversary party.

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

But here’s the sticking point, they only read a writer’s blog or review a website when they are interested in potentially buying a project an agent has sent their way.

They want to see how savvy the writer is. How well he/she writes outside of the novel or the proposal. They might even take a look and see how the author photographs.

They definitely take a look.

Now, they don’t spend time perusing websites or blogs of random unpublished authors. That would eat up too much time…

Out.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Kristin’s Fav Blogs

STATUS: I’m checking the mirror to see if I’ve gone cross-eyed yet. Lots of reading today.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I FEEL POSSESSED by Crowded House

I have to admit that it’s the end of a long reading day (I’ve been trying to complete feedback for several client projects in a timely fashion—as in a turnaround time of less than two weeks). Which means it’s 5:30 p.m. here in Denver and I have to blog.

But all I want to do is read some of my favorite blogs.

And then it hit me. Maybe readers of my blog would be interested in the blogs I tend to read daily (or maybe not but I’m going to post it anyway).

Just like y’all, I have my favorite blog watering holes. I might not read them every day but when I do, I try and catch up on all the news. Now my blog favorites are two-fold. There are the blogs I read for “work” and then the ones I read for work (sort of) and because I just enjoy them.

Now it goes without saying that I tune in to my clients’ blogs often so I won’t list them here (because they are tagged on the side bar after all).

So without further ado, here are a few:

Galley Cat
Confessions of An Idiosyncratic Mind
Thompson on Hollywood

Smart Bitches (although they are totally in my dog house for recently trashing one of my authors although it’s yet another great lesson for showing subjectivity in what people like and dislike)

Papercuts
Gawker
Shelftalker
Diana’s Diversions

Evil Editor (who made me snort water out my nose when he parodied me after Miss Snark’s retirement)
Romancing the Blog
Writer Beware
Man In Black
Making Light (off and on for me though)


Okay, now I have to add to the links to each so I’ll stop here…

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Mum’s The Word!

STATUS: I love when editors email and say they are ready to buy!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEARTBREAKER by Led Zeppelin

This is my public service message to help out all my fellow agents. A lot of writers (published and unpublished) blog these days so I want to send out a helpful hint to all you unpublished writers who blog and who now have representation and are just about to go out on submission.

As soon as your manuscript is submitted, mum is the word. You can’t blog about the manuscript, the submission, the editors who will see it, or any rejection letters because guess what, interested editors will often read the writer’s blog.

And how do I put this delicately? There is just information that we, as agents, want to control about the status of the submission (for example, who is interested or who has rejected it and if the writer is blogging about it… well, you can see where issues might arise).

Repeat after me. Mum is the word. Do not blog about it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Agency Anomaly

STATUS: Plugging along. Only two weeks ago I was all pleased because I had caught up on everything. Ah, those were the days…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ROCK THIS TOWN by Stray Cats

Sitting on the panel this past weekend also reminded me of a fact that I often forget—the fact that my agency is a little bit of an anomaly in this business.

The three other agents sitting on the panel all handled mostly nonfiction with an occasionally novel to fill out their roster.

I’m the exact opposite. About 98% of what I do is fiction with an occasional story-based nonfiction project such as Kim Reid’s memoir NO PLACE SAFE or Jennifer O’Connell’s book of collected essays EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A GIRL I LEARNED FROM JUDY BLUME. This is actually unusual. The majority of agents sell nonfiction because it’s easier to sell (more quantifiable), takes less time to put together (because most nonfiction is sold in the proposal stage), and it usually tends to make more money (more six figure deals are for nf projects).

So why do I just mainly do fiction? Because that’s what I love and that’s where my passion is. And for me, for some reason, fiction is just easy to sell (and I do sell quite a few projects, even for debut authors, for high five or six figures, and I sell almost every project I take on). My nonfiction stats (early in my career when I handled both) couldn’t compare. I liked things that were too quirky for mainstream publishing. Go figure.

Now my agency thrives because I handle all types of fiction—including genre stuff such as romance or sf&f. A lot of agents are only interested in literary or commercial mainstream and let me tell you, literary fiction is one hard sell. When you understand how hard it is to place a literary novel, it becomes clearer as to why most agents concentrate on nonfiction to pay the bills.

Monday, June 25, 2007

All Nonfiction Is Creative

STATUS: I’m behind in reading sample pages in the electronic database. I know there are several people who have waited more than 2 months for a reply. My apologies. I just have a lot of client material that is taking first priority. I’m hoping to get semi back on track after RWA. Thanks for being patient.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ONE WAY OR ANOTHER by Blondie

This is a rant I had totally forgotten about until now. I sat on a panel at the Tattered Cover—Lodo on Saturday morning for the Lighthouse Writers Litfest.

During the Q&A, several attendees posed a question about their “creative nonfiction” work. This, of course, puzzled the agents and editors sitting on the panel. Why? Because there is no such genre as creative nonfiction. All nonfiction (and fiction for that matter) is creative by nature so calling something “creative nonfiction” doesn’t really define it.

And then I remembered. This is a term often used by universities and writing programs but in publishing, we don’t use it.

If you are writing a memoir, it’s called a memoir.

If you are writing a collection of essays, it’s called a collection of essays.

If you are writing a prescriptive nonfiction self-help book, then that’s what you call it.

Seriously. No agent will ever call and editor and say, “Yo Jane, I’ve got a creative nonfiction project to send your way.”

So I would exorcise this term from your writing/publishing vocabulary (and if you head a writing program, see if you can get that terminology changed). It’s actually a disservice to writers trying to break into the publishing world.

Now, don’t worry. It’s not like I’m going to delete every query that uses it but it will raise an eyebrow and show you up as a novice right when you are trying to demonstrate your savvy and professionalism.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Got Conflict? My Author Linnea Sinclair Gives The Scoop

STATUS: Doing great! It's too early in the day to be anything but. I'm off a little early to attend the LightHouse Writers Festival here in Denver. They are having an evening welcome party to kick-off the weekend. Can't miss that!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE SIDEWINDER SLEEPS TONITE by R.E.M

NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN
(thoughts on Conflict in writing)

Kristin asked me a week or so ago if I’d guest blog on Conflict. She credits my Denver workshop for an “a-hah!” moment she had on the matter (Conflict vs Complication), and even though I assured her I was not the source for that particular tidbit of writerly wisdom, she was unmoved. So here I am, a guest in my illustrious agent’s (cyber) house, feeling as if I’d better be on my best behavior and knowing I also have to be instructive, witty and insightful.

Good thing I’m on my second cup of coffee.

So let’s start talking about conflict (in commercial genre fiction, okay? Not literary or experimental fiction) by starting off saying that it’s honestly impossible to talk about just conflict. It’s honestly impossible to talk about any ONE facet of writing. You can’t fully understand conflict without considering characterization, and you can’t work with characterization without looking at word choice, and you can’t… well, you get the idea. Crafting a novel is like dealing with a can of worms. Conflict is just one of those slithery things you have to understand.

One of the most critical issues about conflict (in writing commercial genre fiction) that I’ve learned is that for conflict to work, it must be personal. That is, it must relate directly to the character and/or an aspect of the story line. Overlarge, impersonal conflict is a guarantee of a cartoonish novel. It will eventually fail to draw in the reader (or agent or editor) because it doesn’t answer one of the most critical needs of the reader: “Why should I give a shit?”

And yes, that’s an exact quote from an editor I interviewed a few years back on the subject of what makes a book work (or not). The “Why should I give a shit?” factor is huge when it comes to making a novel grip the reader. It also relates to two things I learned from Dwight Swain’s TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER: 1. Readers read to experience tension, and 2. It’s the author’s job to manipulate the emotions of the reader.

But we’re talking about conflict, you wail.
Yes, we are. We’re talking about the thing that is the engine of the story (thank you, Jacqueline Lichtenberg), the thing that keeps the story moving forward, the thing that keeps the reader turning pages.

Conflict happening to characters about whom the reader/agent/editor gives a…damn. (I’ll try to keep it cleaner for my genteel Midwestern agent.)

Impersonal conflict—which can sometimes appear as complication—doesn’t light the “give a damn” fire and get the story wheels turning as much as personal(ized) conflict.

Let me give you an example: Alphonse is strolling down the street and a dog runs out of a yard and bites him. Police/EMT’s arrive, report is filed, Alphonse is patched up. End of scene. Okay, nasty thing to happen, but where do we go from there (story-wise) and how? And moreover, why should we?

Re-roll the video tape: Alphonse is strolling down the street and a dog runs out of a yard and bites him. Police arrive and find out the dog belongs to Alphonse’s ex-wife who has also mailed death threats to his house and left a headless chicken on his doorstep. Police seek out Alphonse’s ex but she’s not to be found. Suddenly, the story gets a whole lot more interesting.

Why? It’s personal to Alphonse (and therefore, also to the reader because reading is a vicarious experience, right?). It’s personal because this isn’t a random act that might not be repeated. This is a plot. A plan. Against Alphonse (reader). You—author—have just started the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” syndrome in the story. Because there’s a salient, logical (albeit crazy) reason for these things to happen to Alphonse. His ex is pissed off. The reader then rightfully expects further trouble. Oh, joy!

Now please, don’t point out to me that there have been X number of highly successful novels in which the reader didn’t know who was behind the dead-chicken-on-the-doorstep until the final page. Of course there are. I’m being simplistic here to make a point. Plus, in the novels where the antagonist is theoretically unknown until page whatever, the skilled novelist still drops in clues, red herrings and hints which tug—and sometimes lash out—at the reader’s emotions. Thereby manipulating the reader by making the conflict that happens to the protagonist feel personal.

Alphonse is now scared and therefore, so is the reader. Alphonse is scared because he knows this problem is not going to stop. The biting dog was not some random coincidence that most likely will never happen again. SOMETHING WILL HAPPEN. And it ain’t a matter of if…

Noted SF author Jacqueline Lichtenberg states in the World Crafters Guild on her site that conflict is “an urgent and undeniable MUST prevented from materializing by an equally formidable CAN'T.” Complication and random conflict can be amusing and even annoy the characters in your novel, but they don’t qualify as being FORMIDABLE. They can go away. An antagonist hell-bent on making your protagonist fail will not go away, and the reader—if you’ve structured your plot, pacing, characterization, word choice and conflict properly—knows this too. Well-written conflict is an undeniable I MUST slammed flat up against an equally formidable YOU CAN’T.

If nobody knows the trouble you’ve seen—or intend to bestow on your protagonist—then you’re not building tension, excitement and anticipation by the best method: conflict that is personal to the characters and the plot. Keep conflict real, keep it personal, and keep it coming.

~Linnea Sinclair

RITA© Award Winning SF Romance
Bantam Spectra 2005: FINDERS KEEPERS, GABRIEL'S GHOST, AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS

2007: GAMES OF COMMAND, CHASIDAH’S CHOICE, THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES

Other Links:

Sim Gen School
Conflict Integration Workshop
Conflict & Motivation
Conflict & Story

Thursday, June 21, 2007

How Honest Do You Want Us To Be?

STATUS: I spent the day working on a contract, tracking down one that hadn’t shown up, starting negotiations on some deals, and following up on submissions. And just to show you the randomness that sometimes occurs in the day-of-the-life of an agent, I ended up having this whole long conversation with an editor about baby names. We both agreed that we liked strong names for baby girls. She called me about a project and since we know each other well, we just go off on this side conversation.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GOODBYE AGAIN by John Denver

This is an interesting question I think. Just recently, I participated in a conference workshop called 2-pages, 2-minutes. The premise of the class was that participants could submit the first two pages of their novel anonymously (and there were various workshops that tackled different genres). Then the workshop moderator would simply read aloud the two pages while 2 agents (and the participants who submitted) listened and read along with him. If we, as agents, would have stopped reading the submission, we were supposed to say so and then discuss why we wouldn’t read on. Or if by the end of the two pages, we would have read on, then we would explain are thinking for that as well.

A simple premise, right? Execution was incredibly difficult. Why? Because I have to say I felt a little uncomfortable being that brutally honest. There were some instances where the other agent and I wouldn’t have finished reading the first paragraph of one of the entries but how harsh would it be to say “stop” after reading only a sentence or two? I have to say we fudged a bit and waited until the conclusion of the next paragraph so as not to seem too harsh.

Now, being me, I tried to be honest about why I would have stopped while also offering constructive criticism on what could be changed or if there was an interesting premise or whatever but I have to wonder: how valuable is that? Did we crush any writer spirits? I hope not. I did emphasize that the writers there shouldn’t think this is the end-all, be-all moment of their writing career and that our response simply means that this manuscript isn’t quite ready to take them where they want to be. Still, it’s tough to hear that an agent couldn’t get beyond the first two paragraphs. My question is whether it’s important for participants to hear that.

Do aspiring writers really want us to be that honest?

I’m asking because I have to decide if I want to participate in a workshop like that in the future. Now, the conference organizers did poll the participants and the good majority of them said they did find it enormously helpful. Hum… were they just saying that?

Also, we only had one participant argue with us. When that person did, I just said, “okay, I’m just one opinion” and left it at that.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

There For The Taking

STATUS: The word “frenetic” keeps popping to mind this week. I try not to get caught up into that feeling of “too much to do and not enough time.” I’ve had to work a little harder at it this week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHAT YOU NEED by INXS

About once or twice a month I check the email account that is associated with the blog. Usually it’s just filled with spam (isn’t that the truth) but every once in a while I’ll get a written request from a person who would like to use information from my blog in a newsletter or on their blog or whatever.

Isn’t that nice? The person actually thought to ask but to be honest folks, you don’t need to. What’s on the blog is free information. It’s there so that you will use it and share it—otherwise why would I blog? Besides, it’s not like I can stop you. All I ask is that you either attribute the information to me or provide a link so that your readers can see the original post for the source.

I remember being really surprised a couple of months ago when one of my clients sent me a San Francisco Chronicle article and there I was--quoted as a source in the article. It was taken from my blog. I was kind of flattered but I was also a bit disconcerted that what the writer had chosen to quote was a blog comment made 8 months previously (like nothing had changed over the year, really!) Maybe email me for an update if it is a time sensitive comment like an insight into a current trend or something like that. Lots can change in a very short time.

But other than that, feel free to use, disseminate, link to, or whatever.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Prolific or Unpublishable?

STATUS: Crazy busy. A couple of deals are going down so I’m spending a lot of time on the phone.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? The BARE NECESSITIES by Phil Harris (from The Jungle Book)

Nothing is more frightening for an agent then to receive a query where the author proudly announces that s/he has 10 completed manuscripts and a few partials ready for review and can s/he send them along.

Yikes. I realize that the writer includes this information to show the seriousness of intent (or ability to write lots of material) but that’s not what I’m thinking. I’m thinking, “You’ve completed 10 manuscripts and none of them have been published at this point? Did you need 10 manuscripts to learn how to write?”

Now this might be erroneous thinking on my part. Maybe this person is really good and just happens to be prolific.

If that’s the case, you spring that information on to your agent after you’ve signed for representation. (Keywords here are “signed for representation.”)

In a query, it’s best to highlight one work and one work only. We have to fall in love with your writing first and we only need to read one project to do that. Then we can explore what else you have in your arsenal.

Monday, June 18, 2007

But What Is Your Story?

STATUS: Is it really three in the afternoon already? It just can’t be…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GONNA MAKE YOU SWEAT by C&C Music Factory

Last but not least, I have one last word on the memoir and then I’m going to rant about something else for a while.

Here’s the last point that I want to make. Often when writers pitch their memoirs, they often focus on the fantastic/dramatic element that, in their mind, is the unique impetus that drives the story, such as the disabled sibling (or the genius sibling), the psychotic mother (that’s a popular one), the drug addicted brother, father, sister or whoever--you name it, the daughter who accused the father of abuse (and it’s the mother’s memoir) that I’m often left asking, “but what is your story.”

I have often asked this question to aspiring memoirists and have stumped them. And the answer might be that they don’t really have one—and hence, what they have won’t really work as a memoir.

A simple question but an important one if you plan to write in this genre.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I’ve Got A Memoir But It Could Be Published As A Novel

STATUS: TGIF. Fun weekend planned as the in-laws (whom I adore) are in town for Father’s Day. Coors Field here we come.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? 50 WAYS TO LEAVE YOUR LOVER by Simon & Garfunkel

I love the memoir. I could talk about this genre for weeks but I imagine some blog readers are thinking, “move on already.”

Seriously though, I read a lot of recently published memoirs on my own, for fun, because I just love that thrilling inside look into another person’s life. If I found more “just blow me away” ones, I would take them on. So I’m going to continue talking about this genre until I’ve exhausted all rant-worthy topics associated with it (and don’t worry, my arsenal is starting to run low).

So the above title to this blog entry is yet another kiss-of-death-otherwise-known-as-an-automatic-NO-from-an-agent for any aspiring memoirist. I cannot count the number of times I’ve chatted with a writer in person who has finished a memoir but when pitching the project to me will often say, “I wrote it as a memoir but it could be published as a novel instead.”

The answer to that is no it can’t.

And yes, I’m going to tell you why because this misconception is definitely a rant-worthy topic.

Although a memoir often shares certain similarities to a novel (as in there are scenes, dialogue, development of characters, and sometimes world-building) a memoir is not the same as a novel. They are two, distinctly different creative processes in how they are crafted and written.

So an already written memoir can’t be “published” as a novel or even vice-versa. It’s like saying my nonfiction self-help book can double as a novel. These are two wholly different entities. Apples and Oranges (James Frey, non-withstanding, but even A Million Little Pieces would have to be redone completely to make it stand as a novel because the crafting of a novel is not the same as the crafting of a memoir). Repeat after me: they are not interchangeable.

Now, I’m not talking about writers who have yet to begin the writing process and are wondering if they should simply take the real-life experience and use that as inspiration for writing a novel. That’s a different ball game altogether (but I also want to point out that such a direction has a whole different set of pitfalls). The key words here are “use it as inspiration.” Let’s just say when writers try to take a real life event and fictionalize it, something gets lost in the translation because the writers get too attached to what “actually happened” versus writing an original scene with developing characters and so on. Usually, but not always, the writing of this “novel” is just terrible because the writer doesn’t have any distance to the material nor are they using the elements of writing good fiction to create it.

But as I said, that’s actually a whole other blog entry. A memoir is a memoir—not a novel. A novel is a novel and can’t easily be “revised” into a memoir.

So don’t approach me with, “I’ve written a memoir but if it would be better, you could submit and publish it as a novel instead.”

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Writing A Memoir Is Not The Same As Writing “My Memoirs”

STATUS: I’m going to be bald by the end of this week because S&S makes me want to pull my hair out. I’m ready to channel my inner Miss Snark…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RAPTURE by Blondie

In other words, what is the difference between writing a memoir versus writing an autobiography (and there’s a huge difference, trust me).

When I’m at a conference, it makes me cringe when writers announce that they are writing their memoirs. Why? Because that means they are writing their life story (including “I was born in 1940 (or choose a year) in Biloxi, Mississippi--or choose wherever”) which is an autobiography not a memoir.

In publishing, famous people have biographies written about them or they may write their own autobiography (Personal History by Katharine Graham comes to mind) but the keyword here is “famous.”

For publication purposes, if you aren’t famous, there is no market for your “memoirs” and a large publishing house will not buy it. Now that doesn’t mean a person shouldn’t write his or her memoirs (what a powerful way to document the family history etc.) but don’t imagine that it’s going to be appropriate for publication to a wider audience.

Once again, I’m not trying to be harsh or mean. I’m simply trying to clarify the difference because it’s obvious in the query letters that we receive that a good majority of people don’t understand that there is one.

An autobiography is a chronicle of a person’s life history.

A memoir is a story (with a story arc not unlike what occurs in a novel) told through a prism of one particular life experience and it usually focuses on a finite period of time and not the person’s life as a whole. A memoir has crafted scenes that build on one another to reach a pivotal moment. An autobiography has remembrances of important events throughout the author’s life and how it unfolded from that person’s unique, inside perspective. They can be separate from each other and don’t need to build to a climatic moment.

Big difference. And here are some suggestions for those interested in writing a memoir. Read the top ones out there. Study how they are crafted. What makes them powerful? What stories did they tell that captured national and international attention? How are scenes created? What is the climatic moment? But most of all, pay attention to the author’s distinctive voice. By doing so, you’ll see what made the most successful memoirs popular and publishable.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Writing A Memoir Is Not Therapy

STATUS: It’s been a little exciting today. I have a debut author releasing in the spring and we’ve gotten these just incredible blurbs from NYT bestselling authors. Not to mention, we saw exciting cover art today as well.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RUNNING UP THAT HILL by Kate Bush

One of the biggest mistakes I see in query letters for the memoir is writers who spotlight how cathartic and therapeutic the writing of the work was and how they now need to share it with the world.

This is a big mistake. Why? Because writing a memoir is not therapy or shouldn’t be, so this is not a positive thing to spotlight. The truly terrific memoirists (ANGELA’S ASHES and THE GLASS CASTLE come to mind) understand that the writing of the work is an art form and only a certain amount of distance to the subject material can create that necessary objectivity so that the story can be crafted. Key word here is “crafted.”

Now, I’m not suggesting that some of these writers didn’t experience a positive benefit from taking what were harsh and extraordinary childhoods and putting those stories on paper. They probably did but that’s not therapy and what these memoirists actually understood is that readers aren’t interesting in any one person’s therapeutic story; these readers are interested in an inside look to a world they’ve never seen or have never imagined. A world that is unbelievable but true. A world that is unique but resonates with us. A story that captures a universal feeling and the reader senses the connection.

That’s what makes the memoir powerful. And if a writer doesn’t understand the difference of what I’m trying to explain here, he/she will probably never have a memoir published.

And whether the writer understands this or not is usually very obvious and clear in the query letters we receive.

It’s probably one of the biggest misunderstandings out there about this genre.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Memoir—The Most Popular Genre At Any Writing Conference

STATUS: It’s raining in Denver and we need the moisture so it’s a happy thing. Chutney is not so happy about the thunder though.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GO YOUR OWN WAY by Fleetwood Mac

Last week when I was out in New York, I did a panel at the Backspace conference entitled How to Publish A Memoir If You Aren’t Famous with my terrific author Kim Reid and David Patterson, an editor from Henry Holt (but not Kim’s editor). He’s simply another editor who handles the genre.

The session was packed, which rather stunned me. I shouldn’t have been. Lots of people want to write a memoir and it’s also the hardest project to get published by a non-celebrity. And here’s my little rant, very few people actually have stories that are big enough to capture national attention and hence, editor attention.

Honestly, I’m not trying to be mean when I write this. It’s just the truth, but the attendees ended up asking some great questions that ultimately might make good blog material so I thought I would talk about the memoir this week.

I even had one of the attendees email me out of the blue with a thank you. In her email (and with her permission), she wrote, “I enjoyed all three workshops I attended in which you were a presenter, but the memoir workshop was my favorite. It really helped clarify the genre and gave me a new perspective on what it takes to stand above the crowd in that area. I appreciated the workshop and the opportunity to talk with you and Kim Reid afterwards. I didn’t hear what I wanted to hear, but I did hear what I needed to hear and I appreciate that.”

So I asked her to expand on that last sentence. She wrote me back and I think her email really sums up the essence of what makes writing and publishing a memoir one of the hardest genres to break in to. In short, most writers think they have an interesting enough story to share with the world and very few of them are correct in this assumption.

With her permission:

When you’re writing a memoir – telling your own story – the stakes are extremely high. It’s very personal. It’s easy to lose perspective. My parents divorced when I was a child and I had serious abandonment issues. So did millions of other people. I was in college in the 60’s and 70’s and participated fully in the sex, drug and rock and roll culture of the time. So did millions of other people. I got my master’s degree and had a great career. So did millions of other people. I had cancer. So did millions of other people. I had a business failure that resulted in bankruptcy. So did millions of other people. I turned my life around and ended up happy and healthy. So did millions of other people.

Aside from the fact that it was my life, what sets me apart from the millions of other people who had similar experiences? What makes my story worthy of being published?

People need to have a persuasive reason to read your story. Were you famous or associated with someone famous? If not, you have to find a way to tell your story that is so involving and compelling and unique that it grabs the reader from the very first sentence and never lets them go until the end.

When I sat in your workshop and truly listened to what you, Kim and David said, I realized my life is interesting to me and my friends, but in order to make it interesting to others, the telling of it needs a lot of work.


Between this workshop and the few minutes of time I had with you and Kim after it, I had the answers to the questions for which I traveled 2,400 miles.Was my manuscript good enough to be published? No.Was I ready to query? No.

Your workshop really helped clarify the genre and gave me a new perspective on what it takes to stand above the crowd in that area. That’s why I said I didn’t hear what I wanted to hear, but I did hear what I needed to hear and I appreciate that.


So how was I able to sell Kim’s memoir NO PLACE SAFE since she isn’t a celebrity?

I’ll tell you.

1. She had a compelling story about coming of age during a national tragedy otherwise known as the Wayne William children serial killings in Atlanta. (In other words, her memoir had a backdrop with a greater scope).

2. She had a unique perspective. Her mother was a lead detective on several of the cases—one of the first female African American detectives in the state of Georgia--so Kim had an inside view of the case unfolding and she was a teen straddling two universes—her black neighborhood where kids were literally disappearing off the streets juxtaposed next to her all-white exclusive private school across town where she had won a scholarship and where the news of black kids dying didn’t seem to touch.

3. There have been other works published about these killings both in fiction and nonfiction but NO ONE ELSE has told the story from the perspective of being a daughter of a cop involved in the investigation. Of having a mother who basically disappeared for two years in order to keep other people’s children safe—even when she knew that could put her own kids in jeopardy. Of becoming an adult at basically age 14 so she could help raise her younger sister.

Isn’t that compelling? My just writing about it gives me shivers.

4. This story is back in the news as several of the cases have been re-opened and coverage is happening today in TV/Radio etc and will continue.

5. Kim had access to private files that her mother had kept about the cases.

All of these things together just made for a bigger package that allowed me to sell Kim’s memoir. Some other thoughts tomorrow.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Best “What Not To Do At A Conference” Story Ever

STATUS: I don’t know what it is about Mondays but I seem to rarely accomplish anything that’s on my list and every Monday seems this way. The real work can’t happen until Tuesday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONELY NO MORE by Rob Thomas

If this were a contest, I think I would win hands down. I defy any other agent to come up with a story as good as this one but if you have one, feel free to post it in the comments section.

I was doing a panel at one of my recent conferences when this happened (and as you know I’ve done several already this year so I’ll just let you guess which conference this was because it’s no reflection on the conference organizers if one of their attendees is a clueless boob).

One of the participants stood up to ask a question, which I, and the other members of the panel, were happy to answer, when his cell phone went off. He asked us to wait until he finished the conversation for us to answer his question. I’m not making this up.

But it gets better.

I wasn’t too inclined to be all that helpful by answering the posed question but hey, it’s not the rest of the audience’s fault if there is a rude person in their midst so I begin my answer. Cell phone rings again. Participant, still standing, answers it. I don’t stop to wait and finish my response.

The guy finishes the call and asks me to repeat my answer. I decline. Next question please.

I probably don’t have to tell you what was running through the panelists minds but it goes without saying that this person could have written the best book in the entire universe and I would have refused to represent it.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Pics from Book Expo

STATUS: TGIF! This probably doesn’t mean much since I plan to work this weekend just to get back on track still I love the idea of it.

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

Obviously you’ll see there is a theme to my BEA Pictures but what can I say, it’s a lot of fun to see my clients’ books being featured by their Publishers.

Here’s Kim with her poster. I’m thinking nice placement next to Lisa Jackson—even if the books aren’t remotely similar.






This is my favorite picture of Hank (although she’ll probably disagree). She just looks like she’s having a blast in the Harlequin booth and who is that next to her? A Linda Lael Miller sighting!




Hyperion even had their posters lit up for maximum effect at BEA. Here’s Ally’s poster.





There is also a pic of the two of us and the poster but the flash didn’t quite go off. Dark, menacing figures… or maybe we just needed to hide our identities.


Here’s Stacey Ballis and Jennifer O’Connell doing a signing and who do they find standing in their line for an autographed copy? Megan McCafferty! Now that’s a great fan to have.






Just call us the color-coordinated girls (and no, we didn’t plan this. I swear). Mari and Kristin get their red on for this shot at the Dorchester booth.





Who says that Girls just want to have fun? Jennifer O'Connell worked hard at BEA. Here she again but this time with her co-author Vicki King for the Adams Media Divorced Girls' Society signing. Don't let this pic fool you. Signing is hard work!




And here's a great shot with their terrific editor Jennifer Kushnier:




And it’s back to our regular scheduled programming next week (unless I have a couple more shots I can’t resist posting on the blog).

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Internet, Baby!

STATUS: I may have finally caught up with all my post-BEA stuff. That just leaves everything else that hasn’t had attention for more than a week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THIS IS IT by Kenny Loggins

The problem with publicity is that sometimes, you can have all the promo in the world (and spend big bucks) and it doesn’t move books. The New York Times, usually once a year, runs an article that profiles two “big” books with similar marketing/promotion budgets and wonder why it worked for one book but not the other. Unfortunately, even the NYT doesn’t have the answer.
So, do you spend money to promote? Sometimes the advance isn’t enough to make a huge investment in that aspect if the publication. So where do conscientious writers go to get the word out?

Yep, you guessed it. The internet. Cost-wise, it can be most cost-efficient and effective (although how effective is up for grabs).

Here’s what Kelly Parra has been up to for her debut GRAFFITI GIRL:



-YA Fresh blog, where I spotlight other YA authors and promote teen fiction.
Result: Continuous support and interest by other YA authors, readers, and librarians.

-Interview authors of all genres in my "Words of an Author" column on Publishers Marketplace. Result: reaching Author/writer/reader visitors interested in author back stories to publication and their new releases.

Special Graffiti Girl promotion:

-Myspace page.

Result: I've connected with several graffiti and teen artists from the US and other countries, and gain teen artist interest daily. Also communicated with musician Mark Pickerel who wrote and sang the "Graffiti Girl" song with Bloodshot Records. We garner interest from linking to each other's pages.

-A new urban art style Kelly Parra website redesign.

-I've had giveaway contests for Graffiti themed products and an Ultimate Art Pack giveaway.
-A flash fiction contest with a graffiti theme in order to win a Graffiti Girl ARC.
-Virtual blog tour with Karin Gillespie's Girlfriends' Cyber Circuit, consisting of over 20 published authors' websites and blogs.
- Interviews on Graffiti Girl with Teen Reviewer/Reader sites.

All resulted in new visitors to my website and potential interest in Graffiti Girl.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Jana’s Best Promo Tool

STATUS: It’s already 6 p.m. and I’m ready to head home. I did lots of phone conferences today. All good stuff but when you take several hours to do that, it doesn’t let you tackle the piles of paperwork (and if you ask me why our ‘paper-free’ office has piles of paper, I might have to strangle you).

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

So here’s a different tactic. We’ve been talking about public appearance stuff for the last two days and this one puts a different spin on the whole promotion thing.

Jana DeLeon is the author of RUMBLE ON THE BAYOU that came out last year. She says that her best promo tool was a “before release” item.

She sent Dorchester (her publisher) these alligator bottle opener necklaces. Now this makes sense when you see her cover.


The sales force loved them, got excited, asked for more, and then took them on all their sales calls to the buyers.

Their enthusiasm translated to higher book orders for the initial sell-in and Jana ended up with a higher initial print run then what tends to be normal for a debut.

I’d say that’s putting an alligator to good work—and she didn’t even have to speak in public!

Now her next novel is called UNLUCKY. I’m thinking broken compact mirrors aren’t the way to go…

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

How Would You Describe A Dream Client?

STATUS: Starting negotiations tomorrow with S&S for clause 20—their Out of Print clause. This should be fun. The latest “official” word is that they are now willing to include revenue threshold language in the clause. And as reported on Publishers Lunch, rumor has it that S&S might reconsider their stance on sales thresholds after BEA. All I can say is that I’m willing to forgive and forget (well, sort of forget) if they reconsider.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BABY BE MINE by Michael Jackson

As promised, I’m talking about creative promotion on my blog this week and how would I describe a dream client? In two words: Jennifer O’Connell.

From day one of her career (even when she was a debut author with her first book BACHELORETTE #1 back in 2003), Jennifer has been a promotion machine. She has always taken this aspect of the job very seriously.

Case in point. Authors often create booksignings and hope fans show up. Jennifer establishes relationships with booksellers and then creates events where books might just happened to be signed.

Lastest example: her fun and savvy event on Martha’s Vineyard at the Edgartown Bookstore.

She gathered several authors from her Judy Blume Antho to come out and throw a party on the front porch of the bookstore.

Here they are, from left to right:
Megan McCafferty, Kayla Perrin, Megan Crane, Laura Caldwell and Jennifer O’Connell



These gals generated so much pre-event buzz, Plum TV decided to come out and interview them for their live Morning, Noon, and Night show. As Jennifer says, creating ‘events’ gives the press something to talk about vs. announcing a book signing. It gets people to go to see what all the excitement is about. At this event, even the people who didn't know what we were doing stopped by to talk with us because they wanted to know why there was a crowd, and ultimately they got sucked into the crowd and became interested in the book and what we were doing.

Here’s Megan and Jennifer doing the interview for Plum TV on the beach in Vineyard Haven.



But Jennifer doesn’t stop there. She inspires her minions (otherwise known as her fellow writers in the anthology) to work their magic as well.

Diane Peterfreund has spotlighted the anthology on her blog and website. This week it was included in The Knight Agency e-Newsletter (since several Knight clients are included in the antho) and Laura Caldwell is going on the air with WGN Radio in Chicago tomorrow, June 6th, at 6:10 p.m (central time). If you want to listen in online, click here.

The best promotion is all about creating word of mouth. Even though there is no way to force people to start talking about a book with their friends, you can do lots of things to help make that happen.

Who knows. Maybe it was all this that got People Magazine interested (June 11, 2007 issue).


That’s why she’s one of my dream clients.

Monday, June 04, 2007

How Would You Describe Your Client From Hell?

STATUS: How is it possible for this many things to pile up after only being out of the office for one week? Truly, my piles of “need attention right now” is astounding.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I WANT YOU TO WANT ME the remake by Letters From Cleo

One thing I spent two seconds on this morning is updating our entry for the Jeff Herman Guide to Literary Agents (which I’m thinking of just deleting anyway). If you can’t find me via the internet, I’m not sure I want you as a client.

In fact, that’s one of the questions on the entry survey: How would I describe a client from hell.

Well, let me tell you. A client from hell (and I actually don't have any) would be a person who is not internet or tech savvy and has no intention of becoming so. When I first launched my agency in 2002, I had one client who met this description and I will never do that again. Communicating with the person was just too time consuming. Luckily, this client had a book that was a one-off (meaning it was just a one time thing and doesn’t plan to do more.)

So now let me describe a dream client by giving some examples (and I might do a couple this week because darn it, my clients are savvy and I love them for it). Also, it’s worth sharing some of the stuff they are doing because you blog readers can benefit from it. They are creative and some of their creativity might spark a promo idea for you.

First up, a new client for me: Marianne Mancusi

She and another fellow author Liz Maverick both write for the just launched SHOMI line at Dorchester (WIRED and MOONGAZER). They call themselves The Rebels of Romance (which is a great promo hook by the way) and when they can, they cross-promote their titles together. In fact, they have done such a good job, Dorchester decided to feature them in their booth at Book Expo this year. Here is Mari, in costume, getting ready for the signing.



Being the savvy gals that they are, Liz and Marianne did a youtube piece because they are all about the viral video marketing these days. (Now granted, Mari has a background in this since she is a former TV Producer but anyone can get savvy on this tech; it’s not complicated). The idea was to create a funny video that can spread the word about their new books without being obnoxious self promoters.

Check out their video on youtube here.

But then they didn’t stop there. They got Media Bistro to post it on their blog Galley Cat (and now they want to interview the two Rebels of Romance). In addition to targeting media and other blogs with it, they sent the link to sales/marketing at Dorchester who in turn sent it to all their book buyers. The Borders buyer even wrote Liz and Mari to tell them she loved it (and Borders do include things like that on their e-newsletters that go out to hundreds of thousands of people).

Not a bad return on some photos and a couple of hours of editing.

That is worth getting tech savvy for I think, and it makes Mari one of my dream clients.

Friday, June 01, 2007

What’s In A Speech?

STATUS: It looks like I’m finally going to go to bed before midnight tonight. First time all week. Yes!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Not listening to my shuffle at the moment.

When asked in surveys about what people fear most, they reply with the following (and in this order):

1. Public Speaking
2. Death

Says a lot about what goes bump in the night for some folks but I realized something important tonight when I was at the Association of Booksellers for Children’s dinner at the Copacabana. After all, I had to think some deep thoughts between the cookies and the final dessert.

Public speaking at a forum full of booksellers, and it doing it well, can be a huge endearment to the people who will soon be hand-selling your book to the public.

An uninspiring speaker makes the audience feel the same way about the book. A remarkable, interesting, funny, self-deprecating, and completely charming author speaker makes the audience want to run out and buy that book right now.

That’s exactly what I felt (as well as several people around me) after hearing two terrific speeches from Markus Zusak (author of THE BOOK THIEF) and Watt Key (ALABAMA MOON). We didn’t need to know the plot of either novel. If the book was only half as wonderful as the stories they told to that packed room, we would be satisfied.

That is the power of speech. And dare I suggest that such an ability is one more element that distinguishes a bestselling author from the rest of the crowd in today’s market? (Makes you wonder if a reclusive Salinger-like author could make it in today’s publishing climate and I really have no answer for that.) What I do know is that words are even more powerful when spoken well.

And I know it seems like you need to add yet another item to the long list of what makes a successful author, I don’t think you can ignore this aspect even if the thought of public speaking leaves you quaking in your shoes. I’d get comfortable with it just in case you find yourself in the enviable position of being in a room full of hundreds of booksellers. You don’t want to lose that opportunity.