Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Something Learned In 6 Years In The Biz

STATUS: It’s ten minutes to midnight and I’m now going to leave the office. Needless to say, there were quite a few things that needed to be taken care of before I left town. Normally it’s not quite so silly that I’m here until midnight. Just one of those flukes.

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

So reading Molly’s interview got me thinking about what will I know in another 23 years from now. Since I’ll be in my 60s, I guess I might have my fingers crossed for retirement. Big smile there.

But I do know one thing I’ve learned over the course of the 6 years I’ve been running my agency and that is this. Life is too short to deal with crazy editors.

Early in my career, I did a negotiation with an editor who thought that the best way to get her way was to simply yell at me--loudly. So loud I had to hold the phone at arm’s length.

Since this was early on, I didn’t hang up on her although I should have. After that bit of nastiness where I did finally get the editor to talk like an normal person the very next day and the deal concluded, I decided that I would never put up with that again—nor would I ever submit to that editor again (which I haven’t).

And I haven’t had to deal with anything similar until just this year and even then, I still can’t believe it. This time I didn’t put up with it.

Because as Molly points out (although she was talking in the context of problematic author clients and not editors), the deal is ultimately not worth the drain on your energy nor does it remotely create a sense that as an agent, you’ve done the best by that book—either in the negotiation or placing the author with the right editor if you know what I mean.

Life is just too short.

I’m on a plane all tomorrow and honestly, with the Maui Writers Conference going on, I’m not sure I’ll be blogging for the rest of the week but we’ll see.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Thirty Years In the Biz

STATUS: Downtown Denver is a zoo with the Democratic National Convention starting today. On the walk this morning to my office, I counted at least 10 people standing on the street with at least 5 cameras strapped to their persons.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? (DARLIN’) YOU KNOW I LOVE YOU by Tina Turner

I’m just a baby in this industry if you think about it. I worked for another agency before going out on my own in 2002 but even if I count up all the years, it’s certainly under 10. So just imagine what an agent who has been doing this biz for thirty years might know.

Well, you don’t have to imagine as editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler from Grove has been doing a series of interviews for Poets&Writers and this month he interviewed Molly Friedrich—who started agenting back in 1977 when I was all of 9 years old.

I took a lot of good things away from this interview but here are some points that stand out in my mind:

1. Credibility and respect are built over time. Honesty and integrity, for agents, may very well be our greatest asset.

2. That writing is often about original voice rather than labels. (Amen!)

3. That loyalty can mean a lot in this biz—loyalty to an agent, loyalty to a publishing house, loyalty to an author’s vision and career.

4. Selling a novel for a ton of money may not necessarily be the best thing that could happen to the book or to the author. And it’s a myth that all writers will be seduced by the big money. Some don’t necessarily want lots of dollar signs if it ends up being a detriment to a long term career.

5. As publishing gets reduced to fewer houses, there’s a sameness to the type of books that get published and become popular. Could an Annie Proulx be published today as a debut? (There’s a frightening thought!)

6. Some authors, no matter how much they are earning, aren’t worth keeping if they drain your energy as an agent.

7. Whining. There’s too much of it. From authors, from agents, from editors.

8. That we, as agents, know when we’ve done well by a book (and she’s not talking about large advance) and when we’ve messed up. (yep.)

And to me, these seem like good words for agents to live by: “If you're just going along like a hamster in a wheel, then you've lost the pure white heat that makes this business so much fun. And it should be challenging. That's what separates the great agents from the good agents.”

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mark The Date: January 27, 2009

STATUS: Doesn’t feel like TGIF because I have to work this weekend to be ready to leave town next Wed. for Maui Writers Conference. Yep, I’m grumbling.

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

That is when HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET will release. Click here to pre-order (all of you who have been dying for this title’s release).

And just look at this gorgeous cover.

Hardcover Flap Copy:
In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now there is activity and life—a new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

The act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry Lee’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement—his father is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Ranier Academy, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese-American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship—and innocent love—that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry hold on to hope—that the war will end, that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to describe. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice—words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope set against the racism and misunderstandings that arise between different cultures and generations. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

I also have a favor. Earlier this week, somebody from the Book Group Expo left a comment saying they had read an ARE (which was super exciting) but because it was linked to some earlier entry relating to Jamie, I can’t find it now. If you are that Book Group Expo person, please post again as it was a lovely comment and Jamie and I want to show some BGE appreciation!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Importance Of Checking Those First Copies Hot Off The Press

STATUS: Crisis averted!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SELF ESTEEM by The Offspring

Yesterday I talked about an author of mine who had found two uncorrected errors in her acknowledgement page. But now there is more to the story. Concerned, my author continued reading and discovered, to her horror, that the copy of the book she was reading was the first pass used in the ARC.

As many of you know, the ARC is the uncorrected proof—as in the author still needs to get the final page proofs from the copy editor, review, make corrections, and then return to the publisher by that deadline. That becomes the “final” copy that heads to the printer.

In this case, there had been a huge snafu and the wrong document was used for the final printing. Ack and double ack. This is a really costly mistake because the publisher is going to have to trash the initial print run and redo it.

Which they are doing (and unfortunately the release date is going to be pushed back a couple of weeks because of it). An instance of a Publisher behaving wonderfully!

When a book is about to release, often the editor will send out a copy or two of the soon-to-be released book just hot off the press, and thank goodness my author opened up what was supposed to be the final book and gave it a close read. And double thank heavens that she did this right away, the minute the book had arrived in her mailbox because the error can be corrected right now as none of the books have shipped from the warehouse.

One or two weeks later and it would have been a real disaster.

So when that first copy arrives, absolutely admire your final work in print but you might also want to open the cover and give it a read just to be sure.

And don’t panic folks. This type of error is fairly rare but as you can see, it does happen.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Power Of The Proof

STATUS: I’ve been working on a contract for most of the day—speaking of diligence.

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

Which, let’s face it, I don’t tend to do much of on this blog. Sheesh, I always find the error the next day and I do appreciate when blog readers point it out in the comments section. It never offends me. Sometimes I write and post because I’m in a hurry, it’s too late at night, or I simply “read” it incorrectly in a quick skim.

But if you are an author facing your page proofs for the final read-through before submitting the final manuscript for the printer, well, let’s just say you don’t want to hurry or skimp on this proofread.

Two interesting dilemmas that just came up this week:

1. One author found two errors in the very first sentence of her acknowledgements page. Granted, she had actually corrected the errors in the pass but somehow the copy editor missed it. That is the worst feeling. We’ll correct it now but who knows how many books are out there with the missed corrections…

2. Just like scary movie... Just recently an author of mine caught an editor comment and question that was embedded in the narrative of the novel on page 110 of the work. She found the error in the ARC so we had plenty of time to correct that one but it still strikes me as terrifyingly funny that an editor remark could have found its way into a late-stage version and even though it didn’t happen, it could have slipped into a final copy.


In other news, two fun things going on in the blogosphere.

Chuck Sambuchino at Guide to Literary Agents is looking for the worst logline ever for his The "Worst Storyline Ever" Contest. This is going on now until the end of August. A glory of sorts…

Lucienne Diver, client and fellow literary agent, is hosting Mystery Week over on her blog so if you write in this genre, you might want to pop by and check it out. Some great advice going on over there.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why Google Alerts Might Be An Author’s Best Friend

STATUS: Another late night trying to catch up on client and slush pile reading.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ONCE IN A LIFETIME by Talking Heads

Just as authors are often obsessive about their Amazon numbers (and don’t get me started on Bookscan), some authors are pretty attached to their Google alerts about their books. Folks might think it narcissistic but in reality, Google alerts can be quite a handy tool.

Here are just some reasons why a published author might want to keep the alerts handy.

1. Alerts are a great way of discovering new reviews that have been posted about your book. Editors are good about forwarding them but heck, everyone is busy and things slip through. One author discovered that her young adult book was a Cosmo Girl pick for best beach read. Not even her editor knew. It was a complete surprise but there it was.

2. Google alerts can catch electronic book piracy (which is rampant let me tell you). Most of our authors have been a victim of this at least once and sure enough, the discovery often comes through a Google alert that then hits the chat loops and wings its way back to us. Publishers do go after the sites but often it’s just a matter of time (sometimes only days) before some other piracy site rears its ugly head.

3. Alerts can keep you apprised of any book buzz that might be going on. Bloggers suddenly talking about the book, etc.

4. Alerts can warn an author if a right is being exploited illegally. For example, when Amazon bought Booksurge there was a kerfuffle when this POD entity was offering books available for sale that they no longer held the rights to. Uh, that’s more than an oops. If an author has held audio or electronic rights and then suddenly one of these copies are available and the author hasn’t sold the right, well a Google alert might just be the first time the author “hears” about it.

I imagine there are many other great uses (or misuses for this tool) so feel free to share.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Publishers Behaving Badly

STATUS: Cuddling with Chutney. What finer way to spend an evening?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? By The Lovin’ Spoonful
(Yep, I haven’t been able to get that song out of my head since Friday!)

There is definitely something in the water. Usually August is a slow time in publishing but heck, you couldn’t tell from the news as of late.

I heard a story from a publicist today about an agent who had some poor women’s manuscript for a year and a half and still hadn’t put it out on submission before the author fired the person (and I’m not talking about an author spending quality time with a manuscript via the revision process either). This was simply an inexcusable lapse. Bad, bad behavior.

But they aren’t the only ones getting into trouble lately. Publishers are getting into the game as well.

First there’s the whole “Random House is afraid of terrorism so we are canceling THE JEWEL OF MEDINA” story. It was enough to get Salman Rushdie (who is published by RH) to come out and admonish them. I’m thinking that this is an author who knows a thing or two about censorship sponsored by fear.

And then I read another article about F+W Publications, a big enough company that should know better than to mishandle reporting of foreign sales royalties. Yep folks, that’s what accounting systems are for and from this article, sounds like they need an update to say the very least. I imagine this story will inspire some close scrutiny of F+W royalty statements.

Sheesh, this biz is often madness. Sure you want to be a published author?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Funnies!

STATUS: I was in tears with laughter. What a great way to end the week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU’VE GOT IT by Simply Red

And this is for my new author Courtney Milan who just had her 5-house auction on Wednesday for her debut historical romance PROOF BY SEDUCTION which ended with Harlequin winning it in a good deal…this is exactly how it went, right?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Agents Behaving Badly

STATUS: Sliding this blog entry just in under the wire.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE by Dinah Washington

I was struck by one of the comments in the comment section of yesterday’s blog. A blog reader had mentioned that most reputable agents will not speak with an author until that author has severed the relationship with the current agent.

Actually, I think that is a misperception. I would like to think that would be true but I’d say for the most part, it isn’t. If an agent being queried really wants the author who is looking, many don’t care whether the author is free of the former agent or not. In fact, some of these agents have encouraged an author’s bad behavior to see if the former agent could be bullied into releasing rights etc.

And funny enough, certain agent names reappear again and again in these instances so when I hear about authors behaving badly, it often comes as no surprise when I find out who is the new agent taking them on. Certain agents (and no, I’m not going to name names) have a history of displaying equally bad behavior.

Perhaps these authors and these agents might actually deserve each other.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Authors Behaving Badly

STATUS: Just finished watching the Walsh-May recent set domination in Women’s Beach volleyball.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TV is on and will probably be for the next week.

Something must be in the water but I’ve heard three stories just this week of authors behaving badly. Gee whiz.

Obviously it’s time for me to blog about this topic again. If you are an established author looking to change agents (for whatever reason), there is a professional way to do this. There is an etiquette that should be followed or you are in danger of burning some bridges and if there’s anything I’ve learned in this biz, burning bridges, in general, does not help your career.

There is a way of severing a relationship professionally and there are many authors I’m hearing about lately who should have kept this in mind.

1. An established, already agented author should not be shopping for a new agent without formally ending the current representation.

Folks, publishing is a small world and no matter how discreet you think you are being, word often filters back to the agent in one way or another.

2. If an author is planning to leave and has already made that decision but has not told the current agent, he/she should not be career planning with the agent he/she is planning to leave nor should that author be availing him/herself of the current agent’s hospitality by attending agency functions at RWA or Worldcon. That’s just bad behavior.

3. If an author is planning to leave his or her agent, expect to be held to the letter of the agency agreement the author originally signed—especially if you behave badly before severing the relationship.

Most agents I know aren’t interested in standing in the way of an author’s career. Most are reasonable and would probably come to some sort of agreement or compromise on certain points (such as projects currently on submission) if the author behaved ethically in the severing of the relationship. If you didn’t, well, what can I say. An agent is not going to be in the mind frame to be conciliatory. Nor do they have to be legally if an agency agreement is in place.

And my last point is just something I want y’all to keep in mind. Whenever an already agented author comes to me looking for new representation, I always ask the question, “Does your current agent know you are looking?” My second question is always “have you had a conversation with your agent about your desire to leave? If you haven’t, you should.”

Now I realize that sometimes an agent/author relationship has gone so far south that any communication isn’t possible and this is not an option. Fine. Then your path is clear to sever that relationship before seeking new representation.

So make that clean break. Make sure your behavior is beyond reproach. At the very least, that gives you the ability to say you held the moral high ground regardless of anybody else’s behavior.

In the end, that strikes me as the most important aspect.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Parlez-Vous Olympics?

STATUS: I have to admit, I’m definitely being distracted by the 2008 Olympics. Last night instead of reading queries, sample pages, or doing the editing I was supposed to, I watched Michael Phelps nail the 200m butterfly gold. Folks, I swam swim team my whole life until I was in college (breast stroke and freestyle (aka. front crawl) if you want to know). The butterfly is one dang hard stroke and to do it in that many seconds for 200 meters. Holy cow! The Men’s Gymnastics team bronze wasn’t half bad either.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? The Olympics on TV, duh.

Here’s a thought from the query slush pile. Even if your novel is based on events from your life or were inspired by what you’ve experienced, I still think it’s best to leave that info out of the query itself. For some reason, writers simply cannot relate those details without lapsing into hyperbole.

I do think it’s a pertinent discussion once an agent or editor has expressed interest in the full manuscript after reading sample pages. After all, if spun right in the editorial letter, it can be a plus but writers themselves rarely manage to capture that appropriate balance (maybe because it’s different when an agent says it to the editor versus when writers are talking about themselves).

And when you finally do share that personal detail, keep the narration short and concise. It’s really just on a “need to know” basis. Too many writers are seduced by the melodrama and include every single detail. And even though writing the novel itself might be cathartic, no agent really wants to know that the writing was therapy (if that makes sense).

And in an aside, good agent friend Janet Reid is talking on her blog about going contracts alone. The ten things you need to know (above and beyond everything I talk about in my Agenting 101 entries).

Monday, August 11, 2008

What Established Authors Have To Say

STATUS: As much as I enjoyed Worldcon (the SFWA and TOR party were quite fun on Friday), I must say I’m just relieved to be sitting here alone in my office just working away.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE by Michael BublĂ©

On Saturday, I attended a panel entitled “Writing 101: Authors Take Questions from the Audience.”

Now this may be an odd panel for an agent to attend (being that I’m not an author) but I do think it’s valuable to hear what established authors have to say to aspiring writers. At the very least, it’s going to be a healthy reminder to me of what struggling writers face out there in the trenches.

Besides, I was just interested in hearing what war stories Harry Turtledove, Kate Elliott (I’m a big fan) and Kay Kenyon had to share.

It was a good panel and I’m glad to have attended. I think the best pearls of wisdom that I gleamed from their talk are these two:

1. All writers have felt like they’ve been kicked to the curb at some point in their career (be it trying to land an agent, accessing an editor at a publishing house, or sifting through the myriad of rejections). You are not alone and the best you can do is to keep writing because that’s what writers do. All established authors have at least one manuscript that will never see the light of day. Many have several.

2. Wherever you are now in your writing is not where you will always be. These established authors said that they couldn’t reread their first published novels because ack, they are so much better now; they can hardly believe that such dreck actually was published (my take: even established authors are hard on themselves!). You will learn and grow as a writer and your rejections today might simply be a memory tomorrow.

Good advice I think.

Friday, August 08, 2008

You Don’t Have To Be A Fashionista But…

STATUS: Just about to head out of the office and to the convention center for an afternoon at Worldcon

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LITTLE LIES by Fleetwood Mac

Last night I had a dinner for the NLA clients who are in town for Worldcon this week. This topic came up and I have to say that we were all in agreement. Sometimes conference attendees need to rethink their clothing choices when the desire is to meet industry professionals.

Now I’m no fashionista (as I prefer Tevas over high heels any day) but I do think there is a difference between attending a conference as a fan and attending a conference as an aspiring author looking to connect with agents, editors, or what have you.

If you’re a fan, hey, wear what you want and be comfortable. If you are there as an author looking to network, maybe the old t-shirt and shorts isn’t the best clothing decision.

And I don’t mean a person has to don a business suit. Heck, even I only wear business casual at any given conference (and I never wear nylons—she says while shuddering with horror). So I wouldn’t expect that of anyone. No tie is required here either. Still, I have to say it, if you’re an author looking for a prospective agent, appearance does count.

So don’t go with the t-shirt. Step up to a collared shirt or a nice blouse. Instead of shorts, choose pants (even a nice, clean pair of jeans is okay with me). Wear the skirt instead of shorts.

And for goodness sake, don’t wear sweatpants. (I haven’t seen it here at Worldcon but I have seen it at other conferences. I even had an author show up in them for her pitch appointment with me.) I want to be assured that any author I took on knows how to dress accordingly and that can start at the conference or pitch meeting.

And last but not least, unless you are at an evening party (where this would be appropriate), a costume isn’t what you really want to be wearing when meeting with an editor or agent.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Straight From A Reviewer’s Mouth

STATUS: Back to back conferences are a bit tough. On Sunday I flew back from San Francisco and RWA. Today, Worldcon began right here in Denver. On one hand, I didn’t have to travel to attend. On the other, I might be a little conferenced out but away we go.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU’LL NEVER FIND ANOTHER LOVE LIKE MINE by Lou Rawls

As I mentioned above, Denvention 3 began this morning and I kicked it off with one of the opening sessions on how to create that perfect pitch paragraph in a query letter.

No, I’m not going to beat that almost dead horse again. All you blog readers are pretty much experts by this point.

But one of the session attendees was Jacqueline Lichtenberg, a writer and a reviewer. She added a comment to the panel mix that I thought was well worth repeating. She said that for her job as a reviewer, the back cover copy of any given published novel becomes absolutely essential in terms of deciding which books to actually review. Publishers send her so much that she has stacks and stacks of books just waiting for her attention.

A quick skim of the back cover copy makes her decision on which book to read and review. Go figure. The same technique applies when agents read query letters. If you make your pitch paragraph read like back cover copy, you’ll get attention. But that isn’t the tip I want to share.

From her position as reviewer, Jacqueline recommended that aspiring writers not wait to write their pitch paragraphs or what they would consider their own back cover copy for their novels. She suggested doing that even before the novel is complete. Even, dare I say it, before the novel gets written!

If you can write good back cover copy for the novel you have in mind, your writing will be forced to live up to the copy you’ve created.

I think this is a great idea—especially for writers who are kicking around several ideas and are contemplating which idea to pursue in terms of writing a novel.

Write the back cover copy (in the way it would look if the novel were actually be published) and that alone will force you to focus on that essential plot catalyst that will drive your story forward and force you to focus the novel.

Not a bad day’s work….

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

RWA Panel Extra (Bonus Material Blog Entry)

STATUS: Just doing all my post-RWA follow up.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TEQUILA by The Champs

On Saturday I moderated a panel called TAKE FIVE! Agents Reveal Their Top 5 Pearls of Wisdom for Career Success. Unfortunately, one of the panel members, Deidre Knight, got sick and couldn’t attend. She did, however, email me her top 5 pearls of wisdom and I get to share them with you as an added post-RWA bonus. I think they are definitely worth sharing (although these are just the framework and Deidre would have gone into more detail during the actual panel).

5 Ways That Another Author's Career Can Sideline Yours--and we don't mean because they're more successful!

Here’s the big secret: the power for those authors to harm your career is all inside of YOU!

1) Don't compare yourself to other authors. Every career, no matter if same agent, same editor, or same house, is unique. Comparison derails you with jealousy and can be toxic in a variety of ways

2) Looking at your friends careers and growing impatient. This is a long haul business and we have seen new authors who rush too hard to get projects out that should have been edited more. Don't kneecap yourself by worrying about your friend's recent deal.

3) Don't decide your career is like anyone else's. Your career is unique to you. A doctor can't treat you based on a friend's illness. Dig in, focus on what you need to do and forget everyone else. Write the books.

4) Soliciting advice from a committee of friends. If an Agent brings you an offer--make your decision with your agent. Don't poll your pals about the contract, your cover, you name it. Don't feel every facet of your career is for public consumption.

5) Be careful with your online presence. Don't join in blog dramas or controversies. If authors are in feud, float above. Be careful how you choose industry friends and use your instincts about who might be toxic and who is not.

And for those of you who weren’t there, agent Lucienne Diver was also on the panel and she posted her topic’s Top 5 on her blog. Here’s the link.

If you were there and planned to share some of that panel info on your own blogs, don’t hesitate to put your link in the pubrants comment section. Some good stuff there so share away.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Story Behind The Sale (A Blog Extra)

STATUS: Back in the office after a wonderful RWA. A little sad though. Six terrific Rita nominations and one Golden Heart but alas, no wins on RITA night. Dems the Berries.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GOT ME UNDER PRESSURE by ZZ Top

My author Ally Carter was out in San Fran for RWA (just for fun) and to do an event at Kepler’s Bookstore. While she was there, she told the real story behind how she ended up writing I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU.

If you’ve ever been curious, here it is--straight from the author herself. Tomorrow I should have a post-RWA bonus entry for you.