Friday, May 30, 2008

Reporting From The Floor

STATUS: Tired and my feet are a bit sore.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Nothing on at the moment.

Today was my first day at the BEA so I haven’t had anything to report until now. Last night I went to a Hollywood party but for the life of me I couldn’t think of anything to blog about except that I had met so-n-so and so-n-so and I had a glass of wine.

Rather boring. But today I actually did stuff—like walked the floor, attended some interesting panels (and some not so interesting panels), and chatted with a bunch of editors I knew.

So as promised, here are some pics from the floor via my iPhone. The LA convention center is divided into 2 halls—the south and the west.

The South Hall being the main floor. So here’s a pic of entering the main floor—literally right after exiting the escalator. Obviously the Hachette Goup (otherwise known as Grand Central Publishing and before that known as Warner Books) has some prime real estate.


This second pic was taken at my first panel for the day, which was the Editors Buzz. This panel is hosted by Sara Nelson of Publishers Weekly. PW chooses 6 editors to buzz what they hope will be the next big books for the fall season (or books they feel deserve special attention).

From left: Sara Nelson (at podium), Richard Nash (Soft Skull), Megan Lynch (Riverhead), Jonathan Glusman (Harmony/Crown), Sarah Knight (Henry Holt), Reagan Arthur (Little Brown), and Laurie Chittenden (William Morrow).


Now, if I were a good reporter, I would have written down the titles of all 6 books mentioned at the panel! But I’m not; I’m a lazy BEA attendee who couldn’t type fast enough into my iPhone notes section so if anyone was there and can provide the other titles, please do so in the comments section.

At the end of the panel I only snagged two galleys—THE HERETIC’S DAUGHTER (Which Reagan discussed) and THE LACE READER (which Laurie mentioned). Noticed they were at the far right and therefore went last on the panel, which is also after my chai latte had kicked in. (This panel was excruciatingly early in the day...)

This last photo is from an afternoon session. As you can tell, I was a bit far back in the room but this is Jeff Bezos from Amazon talking. And what a snoozer. I’m as evangelical for the Kindle as any good consumer can be but the first 30 minutes of his “talk” was basically a commercial for the Kindle. Yawn. Things got a lot more interesting when interviewer Chris Anderson (author of THE LONG TAIL) did the spontaneous interview. Mr. Bezos, however, still managed to sidestep the question regarding Amazon and the controversy generated by their recent Booksurge decision (where Amazon would only allow easy access to POD books generated by their Booksurge arm).

Ends up that I was sitting right next to Ellen Archer, Publisher of Hyperion (and of Chris’s book) so we had a fun chat.


Off to bed so I can do it all again tomorrow. If I see some fun shots, I’ll snap and post.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

90210

STATUS: It’s been a busy day so far and I still have one meeting scheduled for this afternoon and then dinner with another Hollywood co-agent tonight.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BLUES BEFORE AND AFTER by The Smithereens

Got back to my hotel around midnight last night. I couldn’t quite make myself blog so late; sorry about that.

I flew into LA yesterday for Book Expo. I came early to meet with a variety of Hollywood co-agents. Some I’ve worked with for years and quite a few whom I am meeting for the very first time (even though I’ve worked with them on projects). Some are brand, brand new as I’ve heard good things from other agents and producers and I want to be on their radars and vice versa.

Meetings with Hollywood co-agents are not unlike meetings with editors in New York. The film agents talk about their current clients and what they are working on and I talk about my clients and what books I’ve recently sold. Most of my meetings have been located in the zipcode area of 90210—otherwise known as Beverly Hills.

Now I’m definitely getting the scoop on what is currently selling in the film world but I’m weighing whether it’s all that valuable to share with blog readers. Why? Because Hollywood changes its mind every 4 to 6 months. So whatever is considered “hot” right now will change when a new film releases and either “breaks out” or doesn’t. Even though Hollywood moves at a glacial pace in terms of production, it still bases its buying decisions on what currently has done well.

I know. Doesn’t make sense to me either. So, there isn’t much point in sharing the info really. Not to mention, it’s not what I base my decision on when taking a on a project for representation. I just take on what I really love etc.

But I know you readers would want to know anyway despite the fact it really can have no bearing on any work-in-progress as only a very small percentage of books published actually get optioned for film.

You gluttons for punishment! Okay, I’ll tell you. Every single film agent has asked me whether I have any projects that would fit the bill for the all-encompassing family entertainment segment (in other words, projects with enough appeal to hit the four quadrants outlined by the family—mom-friendly, enough action for dad, and something that will appeal to both teens and kids. If you have the next Shrek, they are all over it.

Right now no one is willing to risk a women-driven historical (that is until the next independent film maker has a wild success in that field which could happen at any time.)

And I found out who the real life person the character of Ari Gold on my fav show Entourage is “loosely” based off of. But perhaps Hollywood gossip should stay in Hollywood. Or 90210 as the case might be…

Friday, May 23, 2008

Book Expo

STATUS: Getting to this blog entry late tonight. It’s Friday night and Kristin is not out and about on the town. I’m actually working… I want to finish things up before I leave for LA on Tuesday.

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

BEA. BEA. You keep hearing the acronym but what is BEA? It stands for Book Expo America. It happens every spring and it’s basically the publishing industry’s way of launching the fall list with a big bang.

The fair itself is really geared more towards booksellers and librarians who come out in droves to get free ARCs [advanced reading copies] of all the big books for the fall. Each publisher hosts a “booth,” which can be half the length of the convention floor so some booths are big. In their booths, they spotlight authors, titles, have posters up and free ARCs. Lots of attendees come with suitcases so as to ship books back.

By the way, a couple of years ago they banned anything on wheels from the convention floor. However, you can have a “storage” space on the lower floor to store your books and UPS has ground shipping there and available for easy delivery.

Big authors host talks, breakfasts, big signings, etc. There are industry panels for education on publishing-related topics. I’m looking forward to hearing Jeff Bezos talk on Friday afternoon. (For those of you who don’t know, he is the current CEO of Amazon.com.)

So what is there for an agent to do? Lots actually. Last year I had 5 authors spotlighted at BEA so I made sure everything went smoothly for them. This year I don’t have any (talk about feast or famine…) so my time will be spent attending some panels, checking in with a few editors who will be at the booths, and my main focus is on Hollywood co-agents who handle book-to-film type deals on the behalf of literary agents.

I’m touching base with the folks I already work with (on a variety of projects) and then I’m meeting some new co-agents for the first time whom I might enjoy working with on future projects. BEA is all about the networking.

There is also the Rights Center. Literary Agents will often take a table in the rights center in order to hold meetings with editors there as well as with reps from foreign publishers for foreign rights etc. Last year I met with a lot of Audio publishers just to get to know those editors a bit better.

So that’s where I’m headed on Tuesday and I look forward to reporting from the floor. If I remember (knock on wood), I’ll take the camera (although I can use my trusty iPhone) and share pics etc. Expect blog entries to come late as my day is packed with meetings so there won’t be time to blog until the late evening.

Have a wonderful and safe Memorial Day Weekend.

I’m out!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Feels Like The End Of An Era

STATUS: It’s early yet and no fires are raging that I’m seeing so I’m going to say it’s a good day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? PERSONAL JESUS by Richard Cheese

How very dull and boring. Our little troll is back and hence all the deleted comments on the last entry.

In one sense, this is a compliment as having a troll certainly establishes that your blog has “arrived.” Trolls don’t bother with the blogs that aren’t getting traffic.

Anyway, I want to apologize for having to turn on the ‘moderate comments’ feature yet again and unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to have to stay on this time.

This makes me very sad as I’ve been blogging since January 2006 and for 2 ½ years this blog has been an open forum where writers could gather, express opinions about the industry and heck, even posts some criticisms about agents, about my agency in particular, etc. and I’ve never felt the need to moderate.

But I’m not going to allow a troll to hijack the blog so he can use it for his own personal forum with comments that don’t offer help to other writers or add to the discussion.

So on it goes. Do know that it’s just fine to disagree with me. I will post any comments that pertain to the entry topic even if they exhibit a dissenting opinion or a valid criticism—as long as it’s handled in a professional manner.

Sigh. Feels like the end of an era…

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In A Positive Light

STATUS: I’m very upbeat today. I worked on finishing up two contracts and a submission (for a novel I’m super excited about). It just gets the blood flowing.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SANDY by John Travolta (Grease Soundtrack)

Since I’m in such a good mood, this seems cool to share.

Last night I read 6 sample page requests (out of 45 that I have in my queue—yikes—I’m behind as you can tell).

I sent a personal note with each response though. I could have just sent off our standard reply but I didn’t. So it happens and I’m really making an effort to include something personal—even with sample pages.

I also read 180 queries on Sunday night. Several of which weren’t addressed to me. That was an accident on the sender’s part but I’ll tell you right now that I chuckled, realized everyone is human and mistakes happen, and just read the query like it was addressed to me. Several were NOs but one did catch my interest so I asked for sample pages despite the addressing snafu.

And here are some kudos to Sara. I know that she doesn’t immediately nix a query if a writer has sent more than what we have asked for and when we receive queries for a genre we don’t represent, Sara usually just replies mentioning so instead of sending the “standard” letter.

Also, and I know this because I’ve seen the return replies, Sara will give writers a second chance if they attach their query letter to an email instead of sending it in the body of the email. She just asks them to resend instructing them to cut and paste it into the email itself.

That seems to me that we are going above and beyond… and please, if you have received no response from us on a query or on sample pages, please email us again to ask about the status. We do respond to everything but that doesn’t mean every email actually goes through.

And as last resort, occasionally writers will call to follow up and Sara is always pleasant and helpful.

So hopefully that lifts your mood a bit too.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Millions Of Readers Are Not Wrong

STATUS: Today was mostly about getting ready to be out of town for Book Expo next week. It’s out in LA so basically my whole BEA week is about meetings with Hollywood people.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MUSTANG SALLY by Wilson Pickett

This is such an interesting discussion that I want to point out one other facet. Writers need to be wary of the trap of believing that popular books don’t contain good writing.

What is and isn’t good writing is opinion, opinion, opinion. It’s highly subjective.

Hardcore fantasy fans can nod sagely about the average (in their opinion) writing of ERAGON (or Terry Goodkind's WIZARDS FIRST RULE) and lament that if readers could only just read their work, which truly has a complex story line and good writing, they’d see the error of their ways.

Stephenie Meyer critics can critique Bella’s character or their perception of the plotting until the cows come home.

I could personally go on and on about how I don’t get why readers love the novels of Nicholas Sparks. It doesn’t mean anything folks.

Because I will tell you this right here and now. Millions of readers are not wrong. They aren’t—despite the fact that it might not agree with your personal opinion about any of the above books.

If you are smug in the excuse that the writing is average or the storyline didn’t work for you then you are missing the point. There is something about these novels that are capturing millions of readers (and the dollars in their wallets). Ultimately I refuse to believe that a million people are so “uncultured”, “stupid,” “non-discerning,” or “insert your phrase here” that they don’t get it. That’s condescending and underestimating the reading audience.

They do get it because millions of readers are not wrong.

Now you can disagree with their general opinion about a certain book. Heck, that’s your prerogative but don’t fall into the trap of underestimating the reading public. They don’t think like writers. They think like readers and they vote on what they like with the dollars they spend on what they buy.

Da Vinci Code. More than 7 million people bought that book. Did they care about the various expressed opinions of the writing quality in the Da Vinci code? No. Now maybe 100,000 people bought the book because everyone else couldn’t stop talking about it so they needed to find out what the fuss was about, but that doesn’t account for the other 6 million + copies that were sold and it certainly doesn’t explain the huge surge in sales of Dan Brown’s previous novels.

You can critique and create all kinds of reasons for why popular books shouldn’t be as popular as they are. It can be a fun pastime (I admit I indulge in it myself) and all power to you, but if you fall into the trap of that being all you are focusing on, then you are missing an opportunity to learn about why millions of people bought and loved certain books and how that might translate into something you can use in your work-in-progress.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Lesson To Be Learned from Popular Books?

STATUS: It’s late and I have lots to do tomorrow. Still, I had a fun evening.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHEN YOUR MIND’S MADE UP by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

Even if you are a successful writer, you can still just be a fan. Tonight I attended the Stephenie Meyer event (hosted by the Tattered Cover) with my assistant Sara, Ally Carter, and Ally’s good friend Beth. All three are huge SM fans and of course were delighted to meet Stephenie (and Elizabeth, if you are reading this, huge thank you for the backstage passes. I owe you the Gallagher Girl book #3 ARC!)

It’s amazing to attend a book signing where the fans scream before the event begins—to be in a crowd where readers are palpably excited about books. That in and of itself made attending the event worthwhile.

But that’s not what I really want to blog about. While at the event, all four of us got to talking and my author Ally Carter had an interesting observation that I thought was worth sharing.

When books are as successful as THE HOST and the TWILIGHT series (or say, for instance, the Harry Potter books), there is often a focus (by aspiring writers) on whether the books live up to their popularity—whether they are worth all the hype. Writers tend to focus on their own opinions about whether they like or dislike the books rather than what they should be paying attention to which is what they can learn from books that have captured such attention.

Books are popular for a reason. Trying to put your finger on that “why” could potentially teach you a lot about your own writing.

Now of course everyone has an opinion and all those opinions are certainly valid but what I’m getting at is this: Even if you dislike a popular book, try and see past that opinion to the “why” behind why devoted fans love it so much. You might just discover something that could take your writing or your next project to the next level. It might not but that “why” is certainly worth contemplating.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Funnies

STATUS: Smile. Because it’s TGIF and it’s supposed to be a gorgeous weekend in Denver.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME by Supertramp

Brooke Taylor’s debut UNDONE releases in August. She, along with several of my other debut clients, is doing promotional counseling with Bella Stander (and the agency picks up the tab).

She couldn’t resist sending this youtube video my way. If you are a soon-to-be-published author, big beverage alert.



Today is a twofer. Ally Carter sent this video my way. Some of her savvy fans did a mock movie trailer for I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU as their project for film class. So fun and clever. Enjoy. (And no, we don’t have an update to share on where this project is in the film world. Maybe this will inspire Walden Media.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Personalized Rejection Letter

STATUS: Heading out of the office soon to do some reading at home. One of these days I will actually be caught up and then my clients won’t know what to do with me…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I'D RUN AWAY by The Jayhawks

Since we are talking about personalized letters and because somebody brought up the Brenda Novak auction in the comments, I just want to say here that my auction item is a read & critique within 24 hours.

What that means is that whoever wins will be sending me the first 30 to 50 pages of their novel. I’m not just going to read it and give a response (which is kind of how it reads on the auction item now). I’m going to read it and edit it in track changes just like I do for my clients. I should tell Brenda to update my listing about that. This is an in-depth edit—probably more than anybody would want but they are getting it anyway!

And I’m going to be brutally honest yet encouraging. I did this last year and I’m excited to do it again this year.

And I’m going to be dropping everything to nail that 24-hour deadline. (Oh please let me be caught up by the end of May so my clients don’t hate me forever!).

But back to my personalized letters. I want the writer to know that I did actually read the manuscript or a good portion of it (as I don’t always read to the end). With that in mind, I will often reference scenes or characters or plot elements in the story to demonstrate my knowledge of it. This is one of the reasons why it can take 20 to 30 minutes to write it. Even if I’m going with the “it’s just not right for me” or “I didn’t fall in love,” I still try and highlight a scene that resonated with me or was interesting so the writer KNOWS that I did read; it’s not just a stock response (even if I’m using some “stock” phrases).

Personalizing takes time.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Danger of Honesty

STATUS: Ready for sleep.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FERNANDO by Abba

The other day I was reading a full manuscript that I had requested. I had read a good 100 to 150 pages and I knew I wasn’t going to take on the project. Now, whenever I read a full (or in this case, part of a full), I always create a personal letter to the author in reply.

The difficulty for this one is that I really weighed how honest I should be in the letter for why I was passing.

Now I imagine that most of you would say, “why did you hesitate! Be honest!” But here is the difficulty on why agents sometimes pull back on the big H.

1. When I’m reading, it’s often clear why it’s not right for me but I can often see why it might be right for somebody else with a different perspective or taste. So, is there a point to my being honest on why I personally am passing when I can see a potential value in the manuscript? Is that simply being discouraging rather than helpful?

Now, most times I will take the time to try and articulate why I’m passing while also including a caveat that it might be right for someone else. Sometimes that feels like a cop-out.

2. When I’m reading, it’s often not clear why a manuscript isn’t working for me. It just isn’t. Usually if I talk aloud to Sara about why I’m passing, I’ll often pinpoint the issue and then I’m able to articulate it in a letter to the author. Lots of times I’m flummoxed as to the “why” and then gosh darn, I’ve got to figure out something to say in the personal letter. That’s usually when I resort to the “I just didn’t fall in love” bit—which I know writers hate but seriously, I’m not trying to be obtuse. Sometimes I really don’t know why something isn’t working for me.

3. When the day is hectic and a contract is screaming to be finished and I’m behind on queries (and writers want a response—any at all) and fires are erupting, it’s truly hard to take the time to sit down and personalize a letter. I always do it but you writers should know that a personal letter can easily take 20 to 30 minutes to write. When you are working 12+ hour days, that 20 minutes is a big deal in the grand scheme of things. I’m ashamed to admit that I sometimes long for that “standard” letter that I can send out.

4. Personal letters are hard to write. And here’s the thing I hate the most. I’m a perfectionist but sometimes there is not enough time to proofread and yes, I’ve had egg on my face when I’ve reread an email letter I’ve sent out and there on the electronic page is a glaring typo. Oy! I took the time to personalize and then I look like an idiot on top of it. The writer is probably glad I passed on offering representation! Nothing worse than working in the biz and sending out a hurried, grammatically incorrect letter. Sigh. That also makes me long for the “standard” reply. That can at least be pre-checked.

5. This doesn’t happen too often but once in a great while I honestly can’t think of anything positive to say in a response letter for a full I’ve requested. What happened there? Obviously I read sample pages and liked it but there are times where I’ve thought, “what the heck was I thinking for requesting this one?” As I said, it rarely happens but when it does, boy is the honest, personal letter a struggle.

Probably not much comfort for you folks out there in the trenches but it’s the truth.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What’s In An Edit (After The Sale)

STATUS: Total confession time. Yes, I’m addicted to nostalgia because I couldn’t resist going to the Duran Duran concert last night for their new album Red Carpet Massacre. Last time I saw this group was in 1984. Yep, twenty-four years ago when I was 16. Oh, how time flies. I have to say that the group as a whole aged fairly well. They even did Planet Earth and Girls on Film in concert. Those were the days…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RIO by Duran Duran (duh)

Yesterday I talked about new clients and on agents editing manuscripts before going out on submission for the very first time. What about new projects by current clients who are previously published? Do agents edit those manuscripts as well?

The answer is both yes and no. For the most part, when a current client has sold that first book and has an editor, then I, as the agent, don’t usually work on the edit with the client for the next subsequent book. After all, that’s why they have an editor and I don’t want to interfere with the editorial process.

There are some exceptions to this though:

Exception 1: the author has an editor who isn’t editing and sending in the delivered book straight into copyediting (and yes, this has surprisingly happened). If an author doesn’t need much editing, then this can be a positive thing but for the most part, I have to say that most writers need a bit of editing and guidance before a project is ready for copy edits. So as the agent, I have worked with my authors to do the edit if this is happening.

Exception 2: if this is an author’s sophomore attempt, I will sometimes read and work on an edit with the author before their editor sees the manuscript for the very first time. This way we can avoid the sophomore disaster that often happens when an author has spent several years writing the first novel and then has to write the second on a deadline under a year or 8 months or whatever. It’s hard to imagine this is a different process but it is. Editors often complain of the messes they have to clean up when the second (sophomore) contracted book is delivered. If I can help to avoid that, then we’ll do it because I want my author to look great.

(If my client has a strong relationship with his or her editor and I know the editor likes things done a certain way, then I stay out of it—even for the sophomore effort. It’s the editor’s job to edit and there’s nothing worse for an editor than having an author who is getting conflicting opinions on the edit from the agent. My job is not to make the editor’s life more difficult on this aspect—on other things yes, but not on the edit. Now if the author is convinced the editor is wrong about the editorial direction, then I’ll be jumping in but as you can see, it all depends on the situation.)

Exception 3: If a current client published in one field with one editor is looking to do something else in another genre or in YA (if they write for the adult market), then yes, I’m usually reading and editing that project.

Exception 4: If a current author client wants feedback on a new idea or proposal and they’ve put together sample chapters, then I’ll often read and give some feedback for revision before the editor sees it. This doesn’t always happen though. It depends on how strong the client’s relationship is with his/her editor.

As you can see, there are just as many ways to edit as there are to agent and how involved the agent is in the editorial process varies greatly! It all depends on the situation.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What’s In An Edit (Manuscript before Submission)

STATUS: Today was about working out the glitches in the new software. But I think we are finally done with that.

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

This weekend I was working on editing for current clients. I know this has been a question that I’ve received a couple of times at conferences. Do all agents edit their client manuscripts and how does that work?

Well, I can’t speak to all agents but this is how it works at my agency. This answer has several components and I actually only have time to handle one aspect of it in today’s entry. Tomorrow I’ll try and go into a bit more depth.

Let’s say I take on a brand new client who has never been published. When I read their full manuscript that I’ve offered representation for, I will usually do an edit with the client before it goes on submission.

Sometimes the manuscript is in great shape and just needs a few tweaks here and there. Sometimes it needs a bit more work (in plot or character—never in voice or in the quality of the writing) and I have that revision conversation while I’m offering representation so the client can have a good idea of what might be involved if they sign with me.

Seems only fair to know the scope…

Now, there are different approaches to editing as well. I have to be honest and say I’m not much of a line editor. I’m more of a big picture kind of gal, and I concentrate my edits on fixing plot issues, building character development, or just forcing the author to dig deeper into the writing and pull out all the stops their talent allows.

I do all my editing electronically in track changes in Word, so the manuscript can be sent by email. I add my comments directly into the scenes so the author can know and understand what I was thinking the moment I thought a revision point needed to be done.

Now, it’s always the author’s call if my editorial note is on target or not. I’ve been told that I will often highlight the problem but not necessarily the best solution and the author comes up with a better way to handle whatever I’ve pointed out.

And that’s just fine with me. It is the author’s work after all and he/she will always have final say.

I also edit obvious grammar and punctuation issues.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Popcorn Motivator

STATUS: I’m excited because we finally got rid of Outlook for email and our firmly Time & Chaos (Intellect) users now. The transition took most of yesterday so sorry for not blogging. We wanted to be ready for Friday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SILVER WHEELS by Heart

This is also a heads up that although we think we transferred everything over correctly, it’s never 100% seamless.

I’m also three weeks behind on reading the queries I need to review so don’t email us quite yet to follow up. I plan to tackle stuff over the weekend and into next week so if you haven’t heard from us yet, wait one more week and then maybe requery as an email or two might have gone astray.

This may sound odd but I actually look forward to reading queries because that’s when I allow myself to have a nice big bowl of popcorn while reading. Popcorn being one of my favorite foods. (I sometimes do this for reading sample pages as well.) When I’m editing, I need both hands to type so alas, no popcorn. When I’m just reading, buttery fingers and the kernel Chutney accidentally dropped in my lap doesn’t make a difference.

Who would have thought that popcorn could be such a great agent motivator?

So this is what I’ll be looking for in the queries I read. Since I’ve been blogging about using the plot catalyst to form your pitch, I’ll really be leaning toward letters that will grab my attention right away. I think I have 150 queries waiting for my attention. This will probably take me about 2.5 hours to read through.

So basically I’ll be reading fast—which makes it extra important to nail that pitch paragraph.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

What’s In A Pseudonym?

STATUS: It’s going to be a work weekend. I can already tell. I just don’t like to make clients way for too long for feedback and I’m just behind. I need to rectify that and a good solid work weekend ought to do it.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TALK TALK by Talk Talk

So you want a pseudonym. Then all I say is choose wisely and maybe keep a few things in mind.

1. Pick a name that means something to you. For this reason, a lot of authors will often choose a family surname or a maiden name etc. Then google it. If it’s too common, you might have trouble reserving the url etc.

Also, you don’t want a name that’s also going to pull up the best porn sites on the web or something equally as unpleasant. You laugh but there it is. When I google my name, I get mostly references to myself, an actress and painter, and an athlete. Not bad company…

2. If you are going to create a name, make it one that is easy to recall or memorable in some way that’s interesting or ethnic (if that’s your background), etc.

3. Here’s a thought. Maybe check out a bookstore and the shelves in your genre. Who will you be sitting next to? Heck, if you can grab the casual buyer, it might be worth choosing a name that will give you excellent shelf position. Mercenary I know but it’s something to think about.

4. At the Borders’ computer, how many names will pop up in an author search when you plug in your pseudonym?

I’m probably missing a few good tips so if they come to mind, feel free to share.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Five Redux—INTERPRETATION OF MURDER)

STATUS: Ready for sleep.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHAPE OF MY HEART by Sting

It’s obvious to me that you guys have got this down. If you look in the comments section, everyone got the catalyst right off—Freud arriving on American soil at the same time as one rather gruesome murder and another attempted murder.

You also got that the Publisher was playing off of what they assume the general reading audience would already know about Freud.

Not to mention the “Sherlock Holmes” type set up in the language of the blurb sends some clear signals about what the reader can expect. Hence, the short and pithy pitch. In the Publisher’s mind, no extra details were needed to hook the reader (and some of you might disagree with that) but for the most part, it’s going to be effective.

By the way, the pitch used all plot details to build the paragraph. There are hints of character because of what we know in our heads about Freud but the reader is bringing that to the pitch. Character-building itself is not actually present; it’s all plot details.

My work is done here. Go forth and write awesome pitches for your novels.

I do have some more examples culled from that previous comment string but I’ll just intersperse them in here and there in future blog entries for the next couple of weeks. It just gets boring after awhile to do too many in a row.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Five—INTERPRETATION OF MURDER)

STATUS: Why am I blogging at 10 p.m. at night? Because I’m nuts, that’s why!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHO WANTS TO LIVE FOREVER by Queen

Now I find it interesting that back cover copy is often hard to find on both Amazon.com and B&N.com. The sites will often list reviews, personal commentary, even a bit of a synopsis but the back cover copy is often missing. In fact, sometimes you can’t find it unless you use the Search Inside feature so you can see flap copy or the like.

Considering how much time is spent on the pitch—by aspiring writers, by the agent when it comes time to sell it, by the editor who is pitching it to ed. board and then to sales reps at Sales Conference, and then reps to the booksellers, both these online sites almost eschew using the copy…

What am I saying? I don’t know. It’s too late to really analyze what I’m saying but it’s interesting to note.

And today’s entry was a must in light of the terrific news I get to share. My author Hank Phillippi Ryan has won the 2007 Agatha for best first book for her debut mystery/women’s fiction hybrid PRIME TIME.



How cool is that? Out of all the mysteries published last year, only four were nominated and she won. And in even cooler news, MIRA is going to rerelease this title, plus the second book and two other new books in the series for some Summer 2009 back-to-back fun.

So this leads me into an example for a genre that I don’t really represent but I have to say that if I had gotten a query letter with this kind of pitch blurb, I would have said to heck with what I rep, this sounds like something I want to see.


The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

On the morning after Sigmund Freud arrives in New York on his first - and only- visit to the United States, a stunning debutante is found bound and strangled in her penthouse apartment, high above Broadway. The following night, another beautiful heiress, Nora Acton, is discovered tied to a chandelier in her parents' home, viciously wounded and unable to speak or to recall her ordeal. Soon Freud and his American disciple, Stratham Younger, are enlisted to help Miss Acton recover her memory, and to piece together the killer's identity. It is a riddle that will test their skills to the limit, and lead them on a thrilling journey - into the darkest places of the city, and of the human mind.

Okay, you know the drill. Find the plot catalyst. Then analyze what is used to build the pitch paragraph.

There is certainly an economy of words with this example. Four sentences total. Hit me with it and then tomorrow we can talk about it. Does it work? Why?

We could also talk about whether it doesn’t but for me, that’s not really all that important. If it doesn’t work for you, then you won’t be picking up this book nor if you were an agent, would it be up your alley either. This biz is all about personal opinion after all. Not much to learn from that. However, the publisher believed this short, and to-the-point copy would work. It’s up to us to try and figure out why as we demystify the pitch.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Four Redux--INK EXCHANGE)

STATUS: TGIF and I’m totally rockin.” I finished a requested changes letter for one contract and I’m tackling another. I might be out of here before 6 tonight!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TIDE IS HIGH by Blondie

Okay, you guys are going to hate me for pointing this out but it’s true. Those who commented had different opinions on the effectiveness of the cover copy used for INK EXCHANGE.

Some thought it would make you pick up the book. Others thought that it was too vague and general.

Yep, you’re starting to think like agents. This is why the biz is so subjective. This is why your query pitch will often work for one agent and not another. We all have different opinions and tastes.

Still, trying to make your query pitch read like the back cover copy of the book is worth doing. Why? Because the cleaner and sharper it sounds, the better chances you’ll have to win an agent’s attention—because we are used to reading back cover copy. The rhythm, the strategy, it speaks to us.

So no, even if you totally rework your query pitch to read like back cover copy that doesn’t mean it will be effective 100% of the time because what agents like individually will vary.

But I guarantee that agents will probably read the pitch twice and hesitate over it. I can’t prove it but I think if copy reads well, that alone gets our attention. Even if the storyline doesn’t float our boat per se.

Plot Catalyst
You guys did a great job on this cover copy. All of you spotted the catalyst right away: Leslie getting the tattoo sets the stage for the rest of the story to unfold. I’m willing to bet this occurs in the first 30 pages of the novel, but I haven’t read this book yet so I don’t know for sure. If anyone has seen an early copy, feel free to verify whether that is true or not.

Supporting Detail to Hone the Pitch
This is a combo of back-story (for paragraph 1) and character development with a little hint of other plot elements (paragraph 2). So all three were used.

Paragraph 1 is all back-story. Chances are good the copy editor chose this as INK EXCHANGE is a sequel to a previously published book. We need a sense of what happened in book 1 to orient us for this novel.

Paragraph 2 starts with character element. We get a sense of Leslie’s need for something different in her life. In fact, we think she might be desperate for that change. The last two sentences of that paragraph highlight some other plots elements that are going to be crucial to the story. She’s going to be bound with Irial and drawn in to the faery world.

Since he’s on the dark side (nod to paragraph 1 for that info about his ruling the “dark” court), we can make some assumptions. Words like “sinister” help with this. This bonding, this being drawn in could have dire consequences.

Now, several of you complained that it was too vague. Not enough details. Remember, you only have so much space on a back cover copy. You also might not want to give too much of the surprise, twist, or the storyline away.

Your pitch is just a teaser. Although there is room for a bit more detail, it may or may not always be necessary. And opinions will always vary from person to person.

You can’t worry about that (otherwise that would drive you crazy). Just worry about making the pitch paragraph as enticing as possible using the methods we are outlining here.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Four--INK EXCHANGE)

STATUS: Oh it’s late one tonight! I did two long phone conferences today and was determined to finish a contract. I didn’t leave the office until after 7 pm.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TAKE ME I’M YOURS by Squeeze

Consequently, I didn’t get a chance to read through the list of fabulous suggestions you guys posted for me. I will; I promise. For tonight, I literally just grabbed the first example in the comments section.

This has the added benefit of being the back cover copy for a work represented by an agent friend, Rachel Vater at Folio Literary Management.

And since we are taking about friends, I just found out that another agent friend Janet Reid (and yes, I do know everyone in the biz—just kidding), is doing query letter critiques at a new blog site called Query Shark. Serendipity so go check it out.

And I just discovered that a writer I was contemplating taking on but had mixed feelings about just signed with another agent friend and although it may sound strange, I’m thrilled to see an obviously talented writer with my friend. Writers often think that agents are in cutthroat competition with each other and yes, there are a select number of agents out there who think and operate that way but for the most part, we can be sincerely glad for each other.

But back to Rachel’s author Melissa Marr and just released INK EXCHANGE.

Here’s the cover.



Here’s the copy:

Unbeknownst to mortals, a power struggle is unfolding in a world of shadows and danger. After centuries of stability, the balance among the Faery Courts has altered, and Irial, the ruler of the Dark Court, is battling to hold his rebellious and newly vulnerable fey together. If he fails, bloodshed and brutality will follow.

Seventeen-year-old Leslie knows nothing of faeries or their intrigues. When she is attracted to an eerily beautiful tattoo of eyes and wings, all she knows is she has to have it, convinced it is a tangible symbol of changes she desperately craves for her own life. The tattoo does bring changes- not the kind Leslie has dreamed of, but sinister, compelling changes that are more than symbolic. Those changes will bind Leslie and Irial together, drawing Leslie deeper and deeper into the faery world, unable to resist its allures, and helpless to withstand its perils...

Step One: Find the plot Catalyst
Okay, tonight I’m not going do it for you. I want to see the plot catalyst mentioned in the comment section. Tomorrow I’ll take you through the copy.

How are you going to learn if I do all the work for you?

Big smile here.

Step Two: Identify what method is being used in the cover copy?
* Back story?
* Other plot elements?
* Character?
* Combo?

Step Three: Analyze the copy as a whole.
How many sentences is it. Take a look at each individual paragraph. What seemed effective and why?

You can also mention if something didn’t seem effective to you and why but I don’t think that is as instructional as trying to figure out why the publishing house chose this for the cover copy.