Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Three)

STATUS: Honestly I tried to do my tasks first but I had so many phone conferences, by the time I was done with them, the emails had piled up. I am making good headway on a contract right now though.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE HEINRICH MANEUVER by Interpol

Time for looking at Character elements in your pitch paragraph. So far none of my blog readers have offered back cover copy for me to analyze. I’m kind of surprised. I’d be happy to look at some copy for different genres and break it down for the reading audience.

That way I would tackle some genres not touched on even remotely so don’t hesitate to do that today.

But back to my presentation. I used Leslie Langtry’s GUNS WILL KEEP US TOGETHER as an example of a character-built pitch paragraph.

“Irreverent, witty and fun…a wild, adventurous ride!”
—New York Times Bestselling Author Katie MacAlister
on ’Scuse Me While I Kill this Guy

Dakota Bombay prided himself on his blond Bond image—bad-guy killer by day, lady-killer by night. Then his life gets both shaken and stirred by an irate grandmother demanding a marketing plan for the family assassination business, a precocious six-year-old son Dak never knew he had, and a mysterious redhead who’s erased his decades-old preference for blondes.

Suddenly the perennial playboy is knee deep in pie charts and thinking he may have found the perfect mom for his boy. She’s smart, funny, and directs a funeral home no less—what could be better? Now if he can just take out a team of rival assassins without getting killed himself, they can all live trigger-happily ever after.

Step One: Spot the plot catalyst
In this cover copy, it’s the grandmother and the unexpected arrival of a six-year-old son that’s going to push this story forward.

Step Two:
This cover copy is all about character. First we find out what Dakota is like—the blond Bond bad boy. That’s the image he’s always had. This establishes the character.

The second paragraph is a hint of what he’s going to have to become—a corporate business head and then a father which isn’t in keeping with the bad boy image. Not to mention there is a reference to the love interest (that will also be a departure for this character).

The last sentence wraps up in another plot element but for the most part, this pitch is all about character.

Now throw me some other examples and let’s take a look at them!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Brenda Novak’s Diabetes Auction on May 1!

STATUS: Today I analyzed specifically how I spend my time (mainly because I believe I’m not quite getting enough done during the day). I realized that this morning alone, I spent over 2 hours simply answering emails, handling questions, issues, etc. It might have been closer to three. I wonder if I should start in on my first task in the early morning and then wait until noon to start in on the emails. It will still take me 2 hours but maybe I’ll feel like I accomplished more if I reverse the order.

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

Today I promised to tackle character elements but I’m actually going to grapple with that tomorrow. I also have a task for you readers. In the next day or so, I want you to read some of your favorite back-cover copy from already published books in a variety of genres. Recently published preferred. I think it would be fun to analyze them together. So, if the copy is available online (such as at Amazon or B&, provide the link and I’ll go give them a look and choose some examples for possible discussion on the blog.

Here’s why I’ve pre-empted today’s entry. You readers need to get ready. Why? Because Brenda Novak is just about to open her yearly auction for Diabetes research. There are some amazing items to bid on—including a “respond in 24 hours” read and critique of sample pages by yours truly.

Ack. It’s probably going to kill me to meet that deadline but I am determined because it’s all about raising lots of dollars for this charity event.

Bids begin May 1, 2008 (only a day and a half away) so bookmark the page and mark you calendars.

Just to give you a sampling of some of the great items that are available.

A weekend getaway with Susan Wiggs

An Amazon Kindle (squeak!) plus $100.00 gift certificate

If you are interested in agent evaluation stuff, here are just a few agents who have contributed read & critiques that you could bid on.

Lois Winston
Donald Maass
Robin Rue
Meredith Bernstein
Susannah Taylor
Elaine Spencer
Annelise Robey
Elaine English
Ethan Ellenberg
Steven Axelrod
Eileen Cope
Paige Wheeler
Rachel Vater

And the list goes on…

There is even a breakfast with Deidre Knight. I haven’t even mentioned the editor evaluations that are available.

I, myself, might go after the “Day of Bridge with a World Class Player.” I’m a bridge fanatic but alas, not a master level player. Not even close actually. I might be too scared to actually play with this person in a tournament but I wouldn’t mind spending a couple hours in a tutorial!

So get ready…

Monday, April 28, 2008

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Two)

STATUS: I’m okay. I didn’t accomplish as much as I had hoped today but I think I’m always overly optimistic after I’ve been out of the office for a couple of days on what actually can be completed in one 9 hour day.

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

I can’t help but share my excitement. My revamped Pitch presentation was a huge success—and I don’t mean because the participants “liked” it. Part of the hands on exercise was having audience members rewrite their pitch paragraphs right there in the workshop in 9 sentences or fewer. Then I asked volunteers to share their new pitches aloud.

I was (and I’m sure other members of the audience were too) blown away at how good the pitch paragraphs were when the writers focused on the trigger event that happens in the first 30 pages to shape their pitches.

There was lots of clapping, foot stomping, and cheers. We must have heard about 8 different revised pitches and if those paragraphs had come to me in an email query letter, I would have requested sample pages.

And judging by the audiences response, they would have read sample pages too!

So onward. On Friday I talked about backstory as a way to develop the pitch around the trigger event.

Today, let’s talk about supporting plot elements. Straight from my power point presentation, I used Linnea Sinclair’s back cover copy for THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES as a great example of how other story details can help shape the pitch.

In this steamy, suspenseful new novel from RITA award-winning author Linnea Sinclair, a dangerously sexy space commander and an irresistibly earthy Florida police detective pair up to save the civilized galaxy…but can they save themselves from each other?


Bahia Vista homicide detective Theo Petrakos thought he’d seen it all. Then a mummified corpse and a room full of futuristic hardware sends Guardian Force commander Jorie Mikkalah into his life. Before the night’s through, he’s become her unofficial partner—and official prisoner—in a race to save the Earth. And that’s only the start of his troubles.

Jorie’s mission is to stop a deadly infestation of bio-mechanical organisms from using Earth as its breeding ground. If she succeeds, she could save a world and win a captaincy. But she’ll need Theo’s help, even if their unlikely partnership does threaten to set off an intergalactic incident.

Because if she fails, she’ll lose not just a planet and a promotion, but a man who’s become far more important than she cares to admit.

Step One: Identify the plot catalyst.
The detective finds a mummified corpse and a room full of futuristic hardware that shouldn’t exist. This brings Jorie, the outworlder, to the planet. (Outworlders he doesn’t know exist, by the way.) This happens in the first two opening chapters and allows the rest of the story to start to unfold.

Step Two:
This cover copy is going to use other plot elements to shape the pitch further. We find out that Theo becomes her partner and prisoner (plot elements).

We discover what Jorie’s actual mission is (to destroy the zombies) because we need the context for those Zombies (which aren’t your usual walking dead). Plot element and part of the world building.

Then we find out yet another plot element—if she succeeds she’ll be rewarded with a captaincy—so stakes are high for her to make this mission work. And gives us a sense of the urgency and possible tension. What is she willing to risk if she fails?

So this is yet another way to build that pitch project. And yes, you can use a combination of the three I highlighted. One person in my workshop did a great job with a combo but I don’t have that pitch to share. Sorry.

Tomorrow we’ll tackle using character elements to build that pitch.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part One)

STATUS: Just added the finishing touches to the workshop presentation.

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

Of course I’m doing this workshop for Chicago Spring fling (an RWA chapter) so all my examples have a strong romance and women’s fiction leaning at the moment but it’s a great way to kick off this segment.

Once you’ve identified your plot catalyst that occurs in the first 30 pages, then you are ready to start building the rest of the pitch paragraph that will be in your query letter.

In looking at the back cover examples in my presentation, it’s clear there are three different ways to build the paragraph around the plot catalyst:

1. The back story that sets the story and creates the context
2. Contributing plot elements that will broaden the story
3. Character elements that are imperative to the story.

Pitch paragraphs can either focus on one of these elements to make it strong or a combination. I’ll give you three examples from my presentation and if I can get creative next week, I’ll try and grab examples from literary fiction and other genres.

So in my presentation, I offered the back cover copy of PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS as a good example of how the back story can be used to build the teaser paragraph.

The perfect marriage… Exquisitely planned.
Flawlessly executed.

And a complete disaster.

To all of London society, Lord and Lady Tremaine had the ideal arrangement: a marriage based on civility, courteousness and freedom—by all accounts, a perfect marriage. The reason? For the last ten years, husband and wife have resided on separate continents.

But once upon a time, things were quite different for the Tremaines…When Gigi Rowland first laid eyes on Camden Saybrook, Lord Tremaine, the attraction was immediate and overwhelming: she simply had to have him. But what began in a spark of passion ended in betrayal the morning after their wedding—and Gigi wants to be free to marry again. Now Camden has returned from America with an outrageous demand in exchange for Gigi’s freedom—a proposal that defies propriety and stuns his wife. For Gigi’s decision will have consequences she never imagined, as secrets are exposed, desire is rekindled—and one of London’s most admired couples must either fall in love all over again…or let each other go forever.

Step 1: identify the plot catalyst

In this paragraph, the plot element that will launch the story forward is that Gigi would like a divorce so she can remarry and Camden makes an outrageous proposal in exchange for granting it.

This does indeed happen in the first 30 pages of the novel.

Step 2: Now let’s analyze the rest of the paragraph. This is a great example of how back story will shape the “pitch.” If you look at the first paragraph, we as readers need to understand that Gigi and Camden have an ironic perfect marriage as they live in separate countries. Then we get a hint of what caused the estrangement.

Once that is established, the current event or the plot catalyst that starts the story is revealed. We get a hint of what they must face in order for it to resolve.

There really isn’t a focus on the characters or other plot elements in the story and yet, it’s strong copy (or at least I think so). Not too much is revealed but enough intriguing hints to make us interested in reading on.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Plot Catalysts For Your Pitch Paragraph

STATUS: I’m leaving for Chicago today so it was a little frantic trying to get ready to leave town again. Sorry for not blogging yesterday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHERE ARE YOU GOING by Dave Matthews Band

I’m going to take a stab at sharing the “hands-on” exercise with you online. Obviously this is a lot easier to do while giving the presentation in person but what the heck. Let’s see how well it translates.

So here is the first step in identifying the plot catalyst that starts the story forward so you can identify it for yourself in your own novel.

What’s interesting is that the first step is something that actually can’t be done during the presentation itself so all you blog readers will have a leg up on this.

Before writing your pitch paragraph for your query letter, I strongly recommend that you take the time to visit your local bookstore or library in order to peruse the shelves for recently published novels that are in your genre and in the same vein as your story. In other words, if you write historical romance, go and read the back cover copy of historical romances in your time setting. If you write epic fantasy, go and look at epic fantasy back cover copy, etc. If you write contemporary literary fiction, pull out some of the latest offerings in that realm.

I think you get the picture.

But here’s the next step. I want you to read the back cover copy. Get a feel for it. Then open the book and read the first 30 to 50 pages. Then go back to the cover copy. Is there a plot aspect that is highlighted in that copy that occurred within the first 50 pages? What was it? Did you notice it while you were reading?

Let’s say you write non-epic fun fantasy and you are shaping your query letter pitch blurb so you head to the bookstore and pick up Lisa Shearin’s MAGIC LOST, TROUBLE FOUND. If you did, here is what you would read in the back cover copy:

My name is Raine Benares. I’m a seeker. The people who hire me are usually happy when I find things. But some things are better left unfound…

Raine is a sorceress of moderate powers, from an extended family of smugglers and thieves. With a mix of street smarts and magic spells, she can usually take care of herself. But when her friend Quentin, a not-quite-reformed thief, steals an amulet from the home of a powerful necromancer, Raine find herself wrapped up in more trouble than she cares for. She likes attention as much as the next girl, but having an army of militant goblins hunting her down is not her idea of a good time. The amulet they’re after holds limitless power, derived from an ancient, soul-stealing stone. And when Raine takes possession of the item, it takes possession of her.

Now her moderate powers are increasing beyond anything she could imagine—but is the resumĂ© enhancement worth her soul?

In this cover copy, can you spot the plot catalyst?

It starts in the third sentence. Her friend Quentin has stolen an amulet, one of limitless power (hey it’s fantasy!). Once Raine takes possession of it, she’s in a heap of trouble—especially because it’s enhancing her powers. She is becoming something other than your average seeker making a living.

If you read MAGIC LOST, Raine coming into possession of the amulet does indeed happen within the first 30 pages of the novel.

Now the sequel from Ace, ARMED & MAGICAL, is hitting shelves this week. Because it’s a sequel, the cover copy reads just a tad differently:

My name is Raine Benares. Until last week I was a seeker—a finder of things lost and people missing. Now I’m psychic roommates with the Saghred, an ancient stone with cataclysmic powers. Just me, the stone, and all the souls it’s ingested over the centuries. Crowded doesn’t even begin to describe it...

All Raine wants is her life back—which means getting rid of the stone and the power it possesses. To sort things out, she heads for the Isle of Mid, home to the most prestigious sorcery school, as well as the Conclave, the governing body for all magic users. It’s also home to power-grubbing mages who want Raine dead and goblins who see her as a thief. As if that’s not enough, Mid’s best student spellsingers are disappearing left and right, and Raine’s expected to find them.

Lives are at stake, goblins are threatening to sue, mages are getting greedier, and the stone’s power is getting stronger by the hour. This could get ugly.

But here’s what I want to point out, the catalyst that starts this sequel is the fact that the student spellsingers are disappearing—which, wait don’t tell me, happens within the first 30 pages of the story.

So it doesn’t matter what type of genre you write, you are looking for the plot element (the event) that will launch the story. This is often easier to find in genre fiction but it still works for literary fiction.

Next up, taking that plot element and deciding what to include along with it. As I mentioned in my blog pitch workshop entries, back cover copy runs only 7 to 9 sentences long.

And that’s your goal for nailing the pitch paragraph in your query letter.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Workshop Epiphany

STATUS: I’m blogging before 7 pm! It’s a good day then. And great suggestion to make my own evals. I’m hoping I can squeeze that in before I leave on Thursday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHADOW OF THE DAY by Linkin Park

If you are a long time blog reader, y’all know what my workshop epiphany was because I blogged about it for weeks on end (or that’s how it felt like). Probably felt that way to you readers as well! Scroll down the right hand column of my blog until you see Agent Kristin’s blog pitch workshop links. That’s it.

Here’s what happened. I had just given the workshop at RWA (I think it was there) when I realized that I kept repeating to writers that they should make their pitch paragraphs read like the back cover copy of book you’d see in the bookstore or library.

And that got me thinking about how I write my pitches to editors. That got me to my realization that I almost ALWAYS use the catalyst that starts the story, which can be found within the first 30 pages of the novel.

I started analyzing various back cover copies of already published books in a variety of genres and yep, that proved to be true for the cover copy that publishing houses tend to use (with a few exceptions where details from later in the book were also added to the cover copy). The focus, however, was always on that main catalyst that starts the story forward.

By the way, the catalyst is always a plot element—not a character aspect—although back cover copy usually includes character elements as well.

So now I’m revamping my eQuery workshop PowerPoint slides to encompass this. I’ve also moved forward (in the presentation) the hands-on exercise on how to identify the plot catalyst from the opening 30 pages. Then how to craft the paragraph around that element with lots of good supporting details that will give the pitch the most bang for your buck.

Okay, is it geeky of me to be rather excited about trying out this new format for the workshop? Chicago Spring Fling participants, get ready because you are my next guinea pigs.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Perfecting A Workshop

STATUS: It’s another late one.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? AIN’T NO SUNSHINE by Bill Withers

I spent this evening working on my PowerPoint presentation for a workshop I’m giving this weekend. I’ve been doing this particular class for more than 2 years but about 4 months ago, I had a real epiphany on how to teach writers the art of perfecting that pitch paragraph in query letters.

I hadn’t had a chance to revamp the presentation until now. My only wish is that I had this realization sooner. This might sound odd but the best feedback I’ve ever received is when my husband sat in on one of my classes and really critiqued the heck out of it (and he's not even remotely in the field of publishing so he had a fresh perspective). I made a ton of changes after his input.

Guess he’s not afraid to tell me where it missed. Big smile here.

I know that conferences often have participants fill out evaluation sheets at the end of each workshop but as a conference presenter, I’ve never once seen them. I think the evals are mainly used to see if the workshop was beneficial to the attendees and whether it’s worth having again at that conference.

But I wish that conference organizers would also distribute an eval that could be shared with the presenter. I’d love to know from those attending what worked, what missed, what was confusing, or even what really rocked and more time should be spent on XYZ. Then I would have a real shot at perfecting this workshop (and it might not have taken me 2 years to hit my realization…)

I’m a former corporate trainer so that’s part of why I’d probably like this. And I know from my corp. train days that I often received a lot of evals with comments such as “great workshop.” Although that made me feel great, it’s not that helpful in pinpointing weak spots in the presentation. Maybe list one thing you loved about the workshop (‘cause, hey, everyone likes to hear praise), one thing you didn’t, and then a specific suggestion on what would have made that better.

Can’t hurt and it can certainly help me to tweak for the next workshop I give.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Know Your Options

STATUS: Foiled by technical difficulties on my home wireless last night. Serves me right for saving the blog until late…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GET THE PARTY STARTED by Pink

Here’s a memo for authors who are looking for a new agent after being previously represented (or are currently represented).

You need to know your options—literally.

What do I mean? You need to know where your current/former agent stands on your option material for your current contracts. Per your agency agreement, do they have the right to shop your next project regardless of whether you have formally severed the relationship?

I think it’s important to have the answer to this question before you start looking for a new agent. It is going to be one of the questions you’re going to be asked and you might as well have all your ducks in a row.

Although why one would need to put ducks in a row is a mystery to me but it’s a great phrase and I assume it has something to do with the Mama duck leading her chicks but I digress.

Once you’ve got that understanding, pull your current contract(s) and make a copy of your option clause(s) for any new possible representative as well as creating an outline of where you are in the process. As in, still in option, must submit proposal soon. Out of option, feel free to shop anew. Previously shopped, here is who saw it. Here is what else I have.

The whole shebang as an agent will want that info as well. You’ll come across as prepared and professional which can only make you a better prospective client to anyone who is considering taking you on.

It will allow you to answer questions in a knowledgeable way and make you ready for a good and productive conversation when that time comes.

TGIF! Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Email That Started It All

STATUS: Blogging late. No particular reason other than it has been a rather busy day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THICK A** STOUT by Skankin’ Pickle

It never gets old. When Wednesday comes and the NYT bestseller list for the next week is released and Ally Carter is still on it, holy cow. You’d think the thrill would die down but it really doesn’t.

And this is what gets me. Three years ago, I didn’t even represent young adult or anything in the children’s world. In a sense, Ally has my author Jennifer O’Connell to thank for starting me down the children’s world road (which I absolutely love, is totally a natural fit, and I can't imagine why I didn't rep it to begin with).

Jennifer was the person who started it all when she wanted to write for the YA market and asked me if I could sell it. Of course I said sure (even though I didn't know any children's editors at the time), and got on the phone immediately with a good agent friend who only reps children’s books to get the scoop. Then I went to New York to meet the people I needed to for Jennifer’s submission. And that’s how my repping YA began.

Her first young adult, PLAN B, sold at auction in less than a week. Thrilled, all I could think of was that I love YA and where could I get more to sell.

That inspired an email to all my current clients asking if any of them had ever thought of writing for the young adult market.

Ally immediately emailed me back with a list of ideas—which I promptly shot down (Ally tells a more colorful story on her website if you want to check it out). But it inspired her to come up with 3 more ideas and I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILLYOU was the second on the list. It hit me immediately that that was the novel she had to write so I called her to tell her so.

She did. And here we are on the NYT bestseller list for 14 weeks running.

So thank you Jennifer! I think it’s her turn to hit the list so mark your calendars for June as LOCAL GIRLS and RICH BOYS hit the shelves and these two books seriously rock. It’s her best stuff yet (and I want that girl's abs...).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Potpourri of Publishing Tidbits

STATUS: Do you know how hard it is to work today when it’s 78 degrees here in Denver and the forecast for tomorrow is for cold and rain. Sara and I are really making a heroic effort…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TAXMAN By The Beatles
(couldn't resist playing this one today)

You guys are all way cooler and hip then I am so I’m definitely behind when it comes to pointing out other cool blogs and stuff. Just recently (I know, I live under a rock), I’ve discovered two new-to-me agent blogs that might be worth checking out—if they aren’t already a part of your daily reading.

Agent Nathan Bransford

And Agent Rachelle Gardner –who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Northern Colorado Writers Conference. She works in the CBA market (and I’m not talking basketball but Christian literature for those of you who might not know the acronym).

So that might be worth checking out.

And here’s an interesting tidbit (that will probably cause controversy) but what the heck, it’s worth sharing and discussing. My author Mari Mancusi participated in an anthology entitled THESE BOOTS WERE MADE FOR STOMPING. Her publisher, Dorchester, did an interesting promotion for this book. They partnered with an actual online shoe selling company so readers who pick up the book, which is about magical shoes granting powers, can actually buy the shoes featured on the cover via a website listed in the book.

This isn’t brand new as I can name at least two other books (one a YA and the other a nonfiction work) that also experimented with product integration.

Future of publishing going to heck in a hand basket or is this the publishing future as book readers decline and new sources of revenue need to be explored to make it viable?

Or is this just a cute concept for shoe lovers who might dig the boots that were made for stomping featured on the cover?

Let the discussion begin!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Reading Queries

STATUS: I did a lot of client editing this weekend. I’m actually going to leave the office early so I can concentrate at home on editing the next one in my queue. I only have three others after this one but my goal is to turnaround stuff within 2 weeks. It’s definitely been more like 3 and ugh, when it stretches to 4, then the guilt is tremendous.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DON’T FEAR THE REAPER by Blue Oyster Cult

Last night I finished up an edit for a client manuscript and didn’t quite have the gumption to dive right into the next project as it was already after 9 p.m. Truly, it helps to be “fresh” when editing.

So I decided to catch up on reading my queries for about an hour (because I’m always the weak link in reviewing and responding promptly the ones set aside for me to read).

And I know, it sucks that I was tired when I started to review them but hey, that’s not unusual. Agents squeeze in query reading when they’ve got a spare 15 or 30 minutes otherwise it won’t get done.

So yes, I wasn’t at optimum when I read, and here are some things I noticed.

1. I had 120 queries to review as it had been almost three weeks since I had checked my review folder to read what Sara had set aside for me. By the time I had whittled the pile down to 40 email queries remaining, I was fighting the glaze factor. What is the glaze factor? The point of diminishing returns in reading. When I’m fresher, I read better and if I find a query confusing, I’m willing to muddle through and figure out what the writer might be attempting to say (although I usually still just pass). When the glaze factor hits, doing that becomes harder. It’s not that I won’t reread the query, because I will. I’ll stop, shake my head, start from the beginning. However, if I’m still glazing over after the first paragraph and struggling to figure out the query’s storyline, I’ll give up.

I highlight this just to reiterate how important it is to nail that query letter. When I hit the point of diminishing returns and I read a really solid, well-written query, it’s almost an auto yes to ask for sample pages because I’m just so pleased I didn’t have to work extra on it.

And just another FYI—the glaze factor can hit SF&F queries harder as I find writers will often ramble about world building in their queries. Short, succinct, and well done should be your mantra.

2. I’m not fond of queries that sound like the novel is simply a recipe. Add a dash of an intriguing hero mixed with a pinch of a sarcastic heroine (or what have you as I’m making this up). I find that it doesn’t let me evaluate the story of the query very accurately so I often just pass on asking for sample pages. I do try and guess what I think the story would be but I’d just rather the writer described it without the recipe gimmick. I realize this is a personal preference and other agents might feel quite differently.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Improv Everywhere

STATUS: Answering emails, reviewing royalty statements, working on some contracts, and typing up notes for client manuscripts. Just a typical Friday morning…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CALL ME by Aretha Franklin

Okay, this entry doesn’t have anything to do with publishing but I think the Improv Everywhere artists rock and I just have to share. I totally want to be an IE agent.

Have you ever noticed that the main characters in musicals just spontaneously burst into song? Well, now it happens in real life too.

And IE at the little league game is just a blast as well.

Nothing to do with publishing I know but I’m sure it brought a smile to your face and hey, it’s Friday!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

How A Book Gets A Cover--Romance

STATUS: I’m typing up editorial comments for one of my clients. I was reading all last night. And Sara sent me an email yesterday that a full we requested is hot stuff and I should get reading. Ack!

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

I don’t know about you but I find the whole book cover process pretty fascinating—especially because I have zero ability in anything artistic.

For example, take a look at the cover for TWILIGHT. I think it’s brilliant but how in the world did somebody come up with the concept?

Well, I’m certainly not going to be able to reveal any secrets there but I can give you some insight into how at least one cover was made.

My client Marianne Mancusi (THESE BOOTS WERE MADE FOR STOMPING) is a Producer at Better.TV and she just did a segment on C.L. Wilson’s new cover for her upcoming sequel to LADY OF LIGHT AND SHADOWS.

Click here to check out the video for an inside peek. This cover isn’t even up on yet so you are seeing it here first.

(Cheers to my agent friend Michelle Grajkowski and her client!)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Calling All Conference Organizers

STATUS: It’s suppose to snow later today so I’m working a bit from home, then walking Chutney early while on my way to the office.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEY THERE DELILAH by Plain White T’s

Considering I just finished attending the Northern Colorado Writers Conference (and a big shout out to Kerrie who single-handedly pulled off a terrific, well-organized conference up there), I found Jessica’s comments on Conferences over there at Bookends to be pretty spot-on.

I strongly recommend any conference organizer to hop over there and take some notes.

But Kerrie of NCW and I got into another great conversation over the weekend when I was in Fort Collins and I’d love it if conference organizers can add this to their list as well.

When agents attend conferences and participate in pitch session, our basic hope is to potentially find a new client in the mix. It doesn’t happen too often but I have found two of my clients from conferences so I’m always optimistic. After all, what are pitch sessions for if not to hook up a writer with an agent?

Now for a pitch session to work, the writer needs to have a completed full manuscript. Why? Because if an agent likes the sound of the project, she’ll ask for sample pages (probably the first 30 or 50 pages). If the agent likes what she reads, she’ll want to request the full novel (and that can happen just a couple of weeks after sample pages are requested so a writer needs to be ready).

If there is no full manuscript, therein lies the problem.

As a writer, you always want to put your absolutely best writing foot forward—so you shouldn’t need to rush or send in a novel prematurely just because an agent requested it and the full wasn’t ready.

It’s a good way of getting a rather prompt rejection and then that avenue is closed (as you only get one shot at an agent) until you either do a significant revision and resubmit (but an agent is always going to be slightly hesitant about a resubmit—see my previous blog post on Love The Second Time Around) or you have a new novel to shop. Which can take a year or more to prepare.

But most new writers don’t realize this. They see “pitch session with Agent” and sign right up because who wouldn’t want to talk with an agent, right?

But ultimately, a writer can’t pitch a project that doesn’t exist or is unfinished because there is nothing for me to see at this point in time. Out of my 12 appointments at NCW, I only requested sample pages from 4 participants as all the others either had just started a project, were in the middle, or had only an idea for a novel.

I hate to say it but that made these pitch sessions a waste of my time because I ONLY want to talk to authors who have project ready to be read. Sorry if that sounds heartless but it is the truth. Writers with “ideas” for a great novel are a dime a dozen. It’s that one in a hundred writer who actually has the perseverance and stamina to sit down and write the entire thing (which is a huge achievement all in itself since the majority of aspiring writers never even make it that far).

Not to mention, how many great writers did I miss who did have a completed novel because my pitch slots were full? Ack.

So here’s what I’d like to add to Jessica’s list. I know it makes more work for the conference organizers but it would make a HUGE difference in the power of the pitch sessions.

Please don’t allow just anyone to sign up for a pitch with an agent. All interested writers should submit a mini application to pitch that includes the following:

1. Title of project
2. Genre
3. Word count
4. Is the manuscript complete? Yes or No.
5. previous publications if any
6. Why is this agent the right fit for your project?

If the writer checkmarked NO for number 4, then the pitch session is denied. If the manuscript is finished, then the conference organizer can check the project next to the agent’s bio (which should include a list of what they are currently looking for) and make sure it is a match. Then sign the writer up for the pitch.

Most conferences right now assume that writers will do their homework (because heck, that would only be to their advantage) and sign up with the appropriate agent.

I find that this is rarely true. In fact, I’ve even had authors pitch me projects my agency clearly doesn’t represent and when I ask why, they will often say that the other agent slots were full and they just wanted to practice the agent pitch.

Argh! I’m always polite but I don’t want to be somebody’s practice session! I only want to hear about projects that might get me a new client whose project I can sell!

Calling all conference organizers! I beseech you to take this extra step. All agents will thank you.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

HarperCollins New Imprint

STATUS: I can see the glass of my desktop. This is the first time in about a month that I’ve reduced the piles enough to have a clear surface. Now I’m off to do client reading like mad because I’m a little behind.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHEN LOVE COMES TO TOWN by U2 and B.B. King

When I first read the news, I immediately thought of Vanguard and the new imprint model Roger Cooper is exploring over there at The Perseus Books Group.

This, too, is an advance-less imprint with some big differences. Basically Vanguard focuses mostly on fiction and working with PR-savvy authors who already have an established name and fan base. Instead of an advance, Roger allocates a budget of 50 to 100k (or an agreed upon amount) for marketing and promotion and then there is a 50/50 split with the author in profits.

It’s an alternative for name authors looking for a different publishing model.

For the new HarperCollins imprint, it’s not clear where the focus will be but I hear the emphasis is on nonfiction. So far I haven’t heard mention whether the monies will be used instead on marketing/promotion as in the Vanguard model. The press release only mentioned a focus on the internet marketing and not buying-in co-op space in the stores.

So my thoughts (off the cuff and will probably evolve as I hear and read about how those first authors do with this imprint):

1. I can see this working for established authors with clear name recognition. Not sure I can see the advantage for a debut writer unless he/she has a large platform.

2. One of the biggest issues in publishing is how long it takes to publish. Since most books take 12 months to hit the shelves (and sometimes 18 or 24), this is a huge concern. I’d like to see an advantage in speed for this imprint—to forgo the advance to get books out in a timely manner (which can be a huge leg-up for nonfiction titles).

3. Connected to this is accounting periods. With this new publishing model, I’d like to see a revamping in the accounting/royalty statement period. Currently, publishers release statements twice a year and thus hold author monies/earnings for that time span. Since there is no advance paid, I’d like to see more regular royalty statements so authors do not have to wait unduly for their earnings from this imprint (as they haven’t had any other book monies to live off of in the meantime). Otherwise an author could be waiting up to a year, a year and 6 months, or whatever before seeing any return on their investment in writing/publishing the book. Since we are shifting the publishing paradigm…

4. Will there be monies allocated to marketing/promotion? Will there be a dedicated marketing person or publicist?

I’m sure tomorrow I’ll think of five other things to add here…

Monday, April 07, 2008

What’s In A Typo?

STATUS: I crossed the finish line on two contracts. Hooray. Only three more in process and a fourth one just beginning.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SPINNING WHEEL by Blood, Sweat & Tears

Quite a lot actually—especially when you are at a writers’ conference! Huge smile here. I certainly got asked about the new HarperCollins imprint this weekend and so when I have time tomorrow to organize my thoughts, I’ll be happy to share them with you.

Meanwhile, this story was too good not to share. I spent the weekend with Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest (he edits The Guide to Literary Agents) and Jessica Regel of Jean V. Naggar Agency (big shout out as they were both great company and Jessica is actively looking to build her list so if you write young adult, you might want to look her up).

Because Chuck is the editor for WD’s Literary Agents book, he’s got a lot of good inside info on how to land an agent—which he was happy to share with the writers at the conference by giving a workshop.

A workshop that had one little typo in the heading. He was scheduled to give a workshop entitled “How to Shag an Agent.”

Not quite the same thing as "How To Snag An Agent."

To say the very least…

Friday, April 04, 2008

Unexpected Twist To Economic Downturn

STATUS: Off to Fort Collins for the Northern Colorado Writers Conference. Lots of new publishing news hitting the internet. If you haven’t seen this article about HarperCollins advance-less imprint in WSJ, you might want to give it a look.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE WAY I AM by Ingrid Michaelson

It is of no surprise to me that the publishing world may need to rethink its business model in the not so distant future. Returns haven’t made sense for a long time and I’m still flabbergasted at how long it can take to publish a book (up to a year and sometimes more).

Heck, I’m still surprised when editors hand-mark a paper manuscript. It just seems so old-fashioned (and a lot of copy editors do the same). So changes are imminent and probably necessary—especially with the economic downturn driving tight bottom lines.

But here’s another interesting take on how the economy might be impacting authors and the world of publishing. An agent friend visited her local B&N, Borders, and Books-A-Million earlier this week to check out her April releases. [Yes, agents are guilty of shelf elving to turn our clients’ books face out etc. You’d think it would be beneath us but I must admit I do the same thing always if I find myself in a bookstore.]

So my agent friend visited three stores and not one of them had her April releases on the shelves. Of course she talked to the store managers at each location. All of them cited the economy—they’ve had to cut staff and don’t have the people to get the books onto the shelves in a timely fashion. It could be as late as April 10th before the books hit their real estate.

One manager took her to the storeroom where she was greeted with boxes from floor to ceiling—some of which contained March releases.

Now I don’t want to cause a nation-wide panic as this might be a localized event for this specific area of the country (rather than a national trend) but it does highlight how an economic downturn can impact the success of an author’s book in all kinds of un-thought of ways.

Hard to get good initial sales numbers when your book hasn’t even made it to the shelf yet!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Royalty Statement Time

STATUS: A new company has moved into the office suite next door and they are holding a wine & cheese party in about 10 minutes (who could resist?). I have to say I’m intrigued by the company. They work with corporations and architects to purchase art for lobbies, office decoration, etc. Sounds a bit cool I must say.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WAR OF MAN by Neil Young

Statements come in Feb/Aug, March/Sept, April/Oct, May/Nov, June/December. We can pretty much count on at least one statement to arrive for just about every month of the year. Feb/Aug and April/Oct being the most common royalty periods.

I spent today reviewing royalty statements—which can make you cross-eyed by the end of the day as publishing houses like to cram a lot of information onto one sheet.

So what exactly does this entail?

Several steps to be exact. We have a large excel spreadsheet that tracks each project and when we can expect statements. A reminder in our Time & Chaos program also pops up with links to our cheat sheets (which is the royalty structure of a publishing contract at a glance).

If it’s a first time statement, one just needs to verify that everything is correct on the sheet. The advanced paid, the royalty structure, and whether the sales match approximately to what we have down for the initial print run and any sales numbers gathered throughout the year.

If there has been a previous statement, then we do a comparison, track the sales we have listed in our notes to what is on the statements, as well as following up to make sure that if a subsidiary right has been sold or a book club sold into, then the advance and record of that is on the statement as well. The cheat sheets are invaluable for this.

Then there are the issues that might arise and so would need conversations with the royalty department. For example, one of our statements (before the book was released) had a deduction of $2 on it so now the author owes more than the advance against royalties.

Obviously that’s not right and needs to be corrected and a new statement generated.

If there are real discrepancies, then a closer, more intense review is in order. Many agents (if they don’t have an in-house person) will work with a royalty review service that has expertise in doing a closer audit of the statements (for a percentage fee of the recoverable—which the agent pays—not the author).

And yes, incorrect royalty statements can happen frequently so an agent needs to be diligent with the record keeping about each project.

Here's the fun part of the week. Several authors have just earned out beyond their advances so they get "surprise" money in the mail and smiles all around.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Waiting On A list

STATUS: Why did I plan two writers’ conferences on back-to-back weekends? What was I thinking?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SOME ENCHANTED EVENING from the musical South Pacific

I really wish I knew the how and the what of when a book lands on the NYT bestseller list. If I did, I would certainly share. It’s proprietary information so any big reveal is definitely not happening any time soon.

I can tell you that here at the Nelson Agency, Wednesday afternoons are met with much anticipation as that is when the next week’s list are announced (before the info is known to the general public).

We jump on that email in about ten seconds.

Ally Carter’s I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU spent 10 weeks on the top ten NYT list before dropping off. With much sadness, we were greeted with that news about 2 weeks ago.

And then, rather suddenly (or at least it feels that way as it is not readily apparent to us as to why), the title hit the list again

Now we can’t wait for 3 p.m. each Wednesday to find out if the title has stayed on or not. I’m happy to say that we are still there for the week of April 13 in position number 5. That’s makes 12 weeks total (three months).

That’s an amazing fact to contemplate.

And now I’m waiting eagerly for next week’s list as we might be hearing about another title that has very strong sales right out of the gate but since we don’t know the factors involved (and it may or may not be harder to hit the adult list), we’ll just have to wait on pins and needles for the list announcement tohappen next Wednesday.

Now you know what we are doing every Wed. afternoon when we should be working as the waiting is the hardest part!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Defining Horror

STATUS: Ah, back in Denver. Now I can actually get back to work…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LOST by Michael BublĂ©

I have a feeling that attempting to define this term is a whole debate all and into itself, so I’m not even going to offer a definition. I have been thinking about what it is over the last couple of days though and I have a few thoughts to share.

At the very least, horror is, at its most elemental level, the terror created by what goes bump in the night. That is horror boiled down to its simplest form and is often the focus of scary movies.

But it would be a mistake to assume that such a concept alone solely defines horror.

If that’s all your manuscript is, you’re actually missing what true horror is which, in my mind, is the ability to shine a spotlight on the baseness of human nature through a terrifying, grotesque, or horrifying way. Or in such a way that is fearsome for our minds to contemplate (I AM LEGEND comes to mind).

The best horror writers know that what they are really doing is shedding light on the essence of human nature and behavior and exposing the rest of us to the darkness that lies potentially in all souls.

Okay, that might be getting a little deep…

And shedding light into the essence of human nature and behavior is not the sole province of horror. I imagine that all good fiction strives to do the same and using the element of horror is simply one way to reach that place.