Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What Agents Hate

STATUS: A quiet day because it’s Rosh Hashanah.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONG HOT SUMMER by Style Council

I had completely forgotten about this interview that I did for Writer’s Digest ages ago. Chuck Sambuchino had asked a bunch of agents about stuff we hated in queries and sample pages. I whipped something off in an email and sent it right out to him.

I hadn’t thought of it since until today. An agent friend, who thought my blurb was hilarious, quoted me back to myself. Now I’m laughing too because my quote is so true; I do hate this. And I had completely forgotten about it.

If you’re dying of curiosity by now, here it is from yours truly.

“In romance, I can’t stand this scenario: A woman is awakened to find a strange man in her bedroom—and then automatically finds him attractive. I’m sorry, but if I awoke to a strange man in my bedroom, I’d be reaching for a weapon—not admiring the view.”
—Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary Agency

And here is the link back to the WD site on what other agents hate.

Still chuckling…

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Established Agent

STATUS: I had a relaxing weekend so I’m feeling ready to face the week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TAKE IT WITH ME by Tom Waits

Last week I was talking about stages in an agent’s career. I hit on the new agent and the building agent. I didn’t actually take the time to talk about established agents because I actually think there are many stages in this part of an agent’s career.

An established agent at year 6 or 7 isn’t in the same place as an established agent in year 20 or 25.

So building and established are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

What is interesting to me is that good agents don’t ever stop learning. Just look at the evolution in the last 10 years of digital technology and how that has impacted the publishing industry. That’s a clear case of many established agents having to learn on the job.

Even an agent who has been doing this job for 20+ years had to learn about eBooks and royalty structures that would be associated with it. This isn’t even something that existed when those agents first learned the biz.

So what makes an established agent? That’s a good question. To me it’s a fluid definition.

I’m solidly in year 5 of having my own agency. Am I established or am I still building? If I want to consider myself established, what is the criteria for that? An established reputation? X number of sales? X number of well-known clients? X number of years? Perhaps it would be a sales threshold reached?

I do know one thing. Being established, if you consider yourself there, doesn’t mean there aren’t new things to learn. The smart agents, regardless of where they are in their careers, know that.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Getting Ready For Frankfurt

STATUS: I need a good neck stretch or back massage. But TGIF!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHAT’D I SAY by Ray Charles

I spent the day working on getting my foreign rights co-agent ready for Frankfurt (which is just a few weeks away).

So what have we been doing? Well, first we establish the list of the clients/titles that will be shopped there. Basically we just make sure that any project we hold World rights for is on the list. We also make a list of projects that the publisher holds World for. We’ll certainly field interest for those clients so we make sure we have the Publishing House’s contact person so we can share with interested parties at Frankfurt.

But the rest of getting ready is making sure that our co-agent has all current info in hand.

On the checklist:

1. Final cover and final flap or back cover copy of any featured title.

2. Final manuscript—in page proof PDF if we have it yet but most often it’s the Word document—final sans copy edits.

3. All reviews, praise, and latest news for any client title. This is the most time consuming. Sara has been putting that together all week but there were literally events happening as of this week—like a film deal I just concluded for one of my YA authors.

I needed to make sure that info had been disseminated.

4. Confirmed release dates for all upcoming titles.

5. Made a list of foreign rights already sold for each title.

6. Made sure the marketing plans for all titles had been forwarded on as well.

There’s probably something more that I’m forgetting but that pretty much sums it up.

Frankfurt here we come.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Agent Stages

STATUS: Feeling pretty good about what I accomplished today.

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

I’m in a philosophical mood tonight. I’ve been thinking about agents and the different places we can be in our careers. I’ve been chatting with agent friends who are starting to build their lists. I’m chatting with agent friends who have been around for 25 years. I’ve been chatting with agent friends who are in what I would call mid-career—right around 10 to 15 years.

And what’s clear to me is that there are agent stages.

Stage 1: The new agent who is building his or her list. What’s most important to this person are these things: a) finding projects that will sell, b) establishing one’s taste, c) teaching editors that one’s opinion can be trusted.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned in this stage. After all, every agent I know has a story of an author they took on but probably shouldn’t have. We also have a story of the author we sold for little money and then the client exploded and did well.

Stage 2: The building agent. This is an agent with a few years under his or her belt. Some success. Is really building into a player. Now this to me is the most interesting stage to contemplate. Everything is crucial in this phase of the agent’s career.

And nothing strikes me as more crucial than an understanding of how many clients a given agent can take on and represent well. This number will obviously vary for different people and for different reasons.

For me, I’ve always been careful (and pretty picky) about what I’ve taken on but I can feel a shift happening. I have 30 clients currently. I’m not convinced that I’m “full” per se. There is always room for that project that just sweeps me off my feet and I’m really excited about. Or there’s room for a project in a field I’m looking to continue building my reputation in (such as SF&F which has been a slow build at my agency).

But there’s not room for just any project I know that will sell. It really has to blow me away to have me contemplate taking on a new writer because I know that the time I give to this new writer must balance with the time given to current clients.

So what’s interesting to me as of late is that I’m passing on a lot of projects that when I respond to the writer, I tell them I’m pretty sure this is going to sell but I’m not going to be the agent doing that sale. And a bit about why.

Is there a point to this entry? Not sure actually. The point might be that newer (and often times younger) agents have lists to build. Your odds of landing an agent as a debut author might be a little higher when an agent is hungry.

But let me tell you, even established agents, agents with “full” client lists love the day when they read a full manuscript they can’t live without. That feeling, that discovery desire, never goes away. There’s always room for that magic project—which is why writers shouldn’t give up on established agents either.

More about a couple of other stages tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Art Of The Agent Search

STATUS: I’ve been so busy the last two days that honestly, I simply forgot to blog. Shocking I know. I woke up this morning and slapped my forehead.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BIG SKY by Kate Bush

Galley Cat just recently posted a fun entry on the Easily Overlooked Art of Agent Research where author David Henry Sterry gives the scoop.

Hum… I’m not sure what to say about the stalking part. Grin. Now I do think writers should have more than 10 possible agents on their submission list but besides that...

Now that’s a good tip on how to target the right agent. Here a few tips on some things that will hinder your agent search. By the way, all of these have just happened in the last few weeks.

1. Telling an agent during your conference pitch session that the agent will be sorry that he or she didn’t allow this writer to pitch his idea for a novel. (Mind you—not a novel that this person has written but an IDEA for a novel).

2. Calling an agent during a busy busy work day and leaving 4 or 5 voicemail messages highlighting that you, the writer, are not computer savvy and since you have questions about submitting, will the agent please call the writer back.

3. A first-time writer asking an agent if he or she can send the half-written first draft of their debut novel. (Gee, what is the likelihood of that being his/her very best work?)

4. A writer sending a note with their submission saying that they thought they should just send along, not what the agent asked for, but chapters 8 and 9 because that’s where the story really picks up.

5. A writer highlighting that they met you, the agent, at a conference that you didn’t actually attend. (Oops.)

6. Writers stating in their queries that were recommended by one of the agent's clients when they weren’t. (Folks, agents check this and most clients give a heads-up email when doing a referral).

7. Starting an email query with something like “Knowing your expertise with thrillers” and it’s not a genre the agent has represented or handled.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Even Legendary Editors Are Still Learning


What’s playing on the iPod right now? HOW SWEET IT IS (TO BE LOVED BY YOU) by James Taylor

I’m running out the door for the weekend (and I’ve got 15 minutes to pack) but an editor friend sent this little note my way:

Del Rey has recently started a big group blog, a sort of a hub for SF/F news and all things geeky; and Betsy Mitchell has been writing a series for it that gives a little bit of insight into the editorial trenches – I thought possibly it might be of interest to your readers? Here’s the most recent post.

It is nice to know that even the legends are still learning.

And I agree. You might want to click around a bit on this blog. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

One Book, One Denver

STATUS: Another late night but I’m finally getting caught up after vacation.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DANCING IN THE DARK by Bruce Springsteen

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for One Book, One Denver hosted by Denver Mayor Hickenlooper. One of the fun aspects of being involved in Denver’s literary scene is that I get invited to interesting events.

So the launch party is the big reveal that happens before the press releases are officially out and about. I personally had no inkling as to what book they were going to choose for the city-wide book club.

And I have to say, I was a little surprised and here it is.

When I chatted with some of the committee members, they mentioned that they were really looking for a fun but literary book that all kinds of readers could get behind. Makes sense to me.

So what do you think about the choice?

For my part, it’s certainly one of my favorite movies. Nick & Nora and their very brainy sidekick/family dog, Asta, solve the crime and save the day.

Heck, I think the book is worth reading just to watch the movie again. And if you aren’t into classics, this just might be the film to win you over (with its 4 Oscars and all).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

YA Is All About Asking The Right Qs

STATUS: It’s time for sleep I think.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LOVE SONG by Sara Bareilles

I didn’t start this blog week with the thought it was going to be an all Ally Carter litfest but it’s really turning out to be.

Maybe because I’ve got Ally on the brain. You see, I just finished reading the final copy-edited version of book 3 in the Gallagher Girl Series. Yes, it has a title but I don’t think that has been revealed as of yet so I’m not going to share.

This might sound odd but when an agent has a hugely successful author, one of our greatest fears is whether the author can live up to her previous books. For my part, there will always be a special place in my heart for LYKY because, of course, that book was the first. Kind of hard to top--especially when I think of the scene where Macey comes to the rescue in a golf cart. Truly, one of my favorite YA scenes of all time.

But then for book 2, there was the whole Josh versus Zach and it’s hard to top the dance scene.

And then there’s book 3 in the series. All I can say is that hands down, this is Ally’s best book. And I’m not just saying that because I’m the agent. It really is her best work. And just to be a tease, you might want to go out and rent Cary Grant’s North By Northwest. I’ll say no more.

But my blogs don’t tend to be pointless so why am I waxing poetic about Ally tonight? Because I was just over at her blog reading about the wrong questions aspiring young adult writers were asking at a recent conference Ally attended and I couldn’t help but think about my own YA workshop at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers this past weekend. I, too, thought the attendees had good questions but ultimately they were asking the wrong questions. They were focused on the minutiae. How long should a YA novel be? What is and what is not allowed in novels for this audience? How do I write a novel that will be a bestseller? (And the truth is there is no way to answer that question—as I’ve discussed this week).

For me, aspiring writers often want the magic bullet point list—as in if they do XYZ, that will guarantee success.

I’m here to tell you that there is no magic list. Sorry to disappoint. But there are the right questions to ask. So go and find out what they are and what the difference really is between writing for adults versus young adults.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What Makes A New York Times Bestseller?

STATUS: Buried in contracts—round three in the negotiation process for all but one on my desk.

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

Folks, if we had the answer to this, we’d rule the world. And every book a publisher (and the author) wanted to be a bestseller, would be one. As you know, the world doesn’t work that way.

There have been case studies of books that publishers threw a lot of money behind (and their whole weight) and the book was dead in the water.

Then you have stories like WATER FOR ELEPHANTS that was an indie bookseller chug-a-thon and the word of mouth was so great even before the book hit shelves that when it was finally available, it was “sleeper” hit.

So why did I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU hit the NYT list two years after its debut?

I have no idea. Now I do have some theories. I can tell you what little I know (as it’s certainly not a trade secret). Not to mention, Ally was inspired by my post to offer her reasons on why as well so you might want to check out her blog too.

Here’s what I know:

1. LYKY (shorthand for that very long title) sold very well right out of the gate but never hit a list. In fact, we had sales numbers so good, some titles that were on the NYT list would have been envious.

2. LYKY was firmly supported by the Publisher—Hyperion Books for Children. They made this their lead title and did a lot to get the word out initially. Ads, author lunches with key book buyers, white box mailings, the works. There was a solid initial first print run but nothing crazy. (Sorry, can’t share that as the info is client confidential.)

3. Hyperion was aggressive on its reprints so LYKY continued to sell well and build steadily for 2 years (a success we really owe to B&N—which got strongly behind the book from day one as did some great Indies stores).

4. This title started landing on State reading lists (we love Librarians!) and won several awards—thus continuing the notice build.

5. CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY, the second book in the series, had a really rockin’ initial print run and in Ally’s case, it was this title (lovingly referred to as CMH) that landed on the NYT hardcover list first (because of all the awareness-building LYKY had done, sales in the initial weeks after release were out the roof. And to land on the NYT list, a book needs a set number of sales within a short period of time to land. Actually that is just conjecture as the NYT does not share their criteria for the how and why of books hitting the NYT list.)

6. Just weeks after CMH hit, LYKY landed on the NYT trade paperback list and stayed there for 16 weeks.

7. Now we have notice and momentum building on each other. Readers excited about the release of CMH were talking to other readers and telling them to buy LYKY first. Not to mention, the trade pb price is always more appealing so sales took off in that format. There’s an uptick in hardcover sales as well but not like there was for trade pb edition.

8. Borders finally gets on board with a big buy-in for book 2. Because all this notice is happening, Costco, Best Buy, Walmart, etc. all buy-in for both titles as well. Now sales are really picking up.

I can’t tell you where they are right now (client confidential) but let’s just say the weekly sales are eye-popping.

Here’s what else I know:

1. There were few to almost no reviews for LYKY (or CMH for that matter)--although Publishers Weekly did feature the cover for LYKY in the front pages of their issue and they did review the title. It wasn’t a starred review though. So the success was not review-driven.

2. Librarians. Need I say more? They were a force behind talking to students about what great books these were. They ordered many copies for their school libraries to keep up with demand.

3. The biggest component to what makes a book a NYT bestseller? Word-of-mouth. Avid fans. We owe a lot to the readers who absolutely loved the book and told 20 of their closest friends to read it too.

Unfortunately, no one fully understands how w-o-m works. Why some titles make it onto everyone’s lips and others don’t—despite whatever money, marketing, or promotion is given to a book.

This can’t be “created.” It just is.

Monday, September 15, 2008

If You’ve Ever Wondered About “The Call”

STATUS: Manic Monday. I should be playing the Bangles.

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

Ever wondered about “the Call” or how it all works? My author Kristina Riggle shares the moment she heard her book was going to sell and she has given me permission to share the story.

I’d dreamed of The Call, as I suppose all aspiring writers do. I programmed into my mobile phone the office and cell phone numbers of my agent (the very talented Kristin Nelson), and gave those numbers their very own ringtone. I was sure that’s how the call would come. I’d be out and about somewhere, and I’d hear that special ring, and I’d know right then my dream had come true.

As with every step on my publishing path, reality had little to do with my fantasy. In this case, however, it was even better.

“The Call” turned out to be a series of calls and e-mails. First, there was the innocuous subject line in my e-mail from Kristin inquiring about my next project. No big deal, right? Then I opened the e-mail. She was asking so she could prepare for a potential two-book deal, because the book was already being passed around for “second reads” at one publishing house. This was six days after the book went on submission.

The next “Call” was Kristin telling me…

Have I got you hooked? Then click on the link for The Debutante Ball blog to hear the rest of the story.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Overnight Success Takes 2 to 10 years

STATUS: TGIF (Even though I’m blogging a bit late tonight.)

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IT’S TOO LATE by Carole King

Have you ever noticed that when an author becomes really popular, readers act like the author’s success appeared out of nowhere?

In reality, a big success takes anywhere from 2 to 10 years.

For example, in the young adult world (and in a lot of cases, the adult world as well), Stephenie Meyer’s name is on everyone’s lips. As an author, her Twilight books seem to “come out of nowhere” (if you talk to folks who have recently discovered her).

But the first book TWLIGHT, was originally sold in late 2003 and the initial hardcover of the title released in 2005.

It’s not three years later and suddenly this author’s name is everywhere (including a lot of non-print media). For a lot of folks, it feels like “overnight” success. However, that’s really an imaginary construct. Basically the book just reached critical mass in terms of awareness and thus looks like the success is sudden.

Here’s another great example. I sold my author Ally Carter’s first YA book, I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU back in 2005. It released in hardcover in 2006 and it wasn’t until 2 years later that this title hit the New York Times Bestseller list.

Overnight success indeed! I think I would call that more a slow build but except for rare exceptions, that’s how overnight success really happens.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In Memory Of

STATUS: A quiet start to the day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? nothing.

A respectful moment of blog silence in memory of 9/11.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Do You Look At Rejections?

STATUS: Totally celebrating. Instead of 300, I only have 60 emails in my inbox. It’s the small things in life.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ZOOT SUIT RIOT by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies

This month I’m putting several projects out on submission and I just read a discussion about this on the Backspace chat forum so it seemed like a good topic to bring up.

If you are an agented author with a project on submission, do you request to see your rejection letters?

At my agency, my clients don’t really have a choice (or at least I never really gave them one). When a rejection letter arrives, I immediately forward.

Why? Well, for several reasons.

I, in general, believe that an author has the right to see any communication regarding their project. It is, after all, their work.

Besides, if I don’t forward it right there in then, it’s unlikely I’m going to remember to send it later on. We do everything electronically here and yes, I do save the email letter in the client’s file but I almost never look at it again once a letter comes through. I know some agents wait until all the responses are in and then send them on but I think that would drive me crazy—like work hadn’t been completed or worse yet, I’d forget to send the letters at that point in time. Better to forward right away for my general peace of mind. Now I realize that it might not cause peace for the author so I always forward with commentary—either an encouraging note, or some inside insight to the editor and why he/she personally might have passed etc.

If editor feedback is helpful, I ask that the author to keep it in mind. If it’s not, I say just roll with it. Rejection is a part of the publishing game and I think in the long run, it’s in an author’s best interest to develop a thick skin. If the rejections in the submission stage bother you, just imagine how hard it will be to take a bad review?

Buck up and deal with it. It’s not personal (though it feels so). It’s simply a part of being a writer. Now of course, any client can call and bemoan the letter. I’m okay with that as that is a normal, human response. Or write a venting email to me about the editor’s lack of vision. That’s just fine too. If you can’t vent to your agent, who can you vent to?

Luckily, as of late, I’ve sold just about every project and for clients, rejections are so much easier to take when there is an offer already on the table. Funny how that works.

And if you are a writer who hasn’t reached the agent and the publisher submission stage and may still be looking for that elusive agent, then rejections just signal that you are in the game.

Considering that 90% of the population wants to write a novel but never have the guts to go for it, being in the game is a huge thing. Even though it sucks, rejections are a badge of honor. A rite of passage for when the publishing day finally arrives. Every published writer has a story of a rejection.

You can’t tell a good keynote speech without it!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Straight From An Editor’s Mouth

STATUS: Slowly working through emails, negotiations, contracts and whatnot. I’m particularly fond of the whatnots (aka the chocolate jar).

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ROCKY MOUNTAIN WAY by Joe Walsh

The week before last, I posted a blog entry on a crisis averted in the publishing world when the ARC of my author’s book (instead of the corrected final proof) was submitted to the printer for the actual publication.

And how wonderful the editor was in terms of getting right on that, trashing the initial print run, and getting the book done right (Kudos J! You know who you are!)

Well, as I mentioned then, it’s rare occurrence but it can happen. An editor friend couldn’t help but share her story. She asked to remain anonymous so I’ve respected that request but otherwise, here is her story in full. She works at one of the major houses in New York.

Hi Kristin--Was just reading your blog. Hope you're enjoying Maui. I’ve attended and they always do throw a good party. And it's Maui...

I got a laugh out of your story about your author's finished book being the ARC version. Well, not a funny ha-ha laugh, because that really sucks for her and her publisher but more a knowing laugh. When I was a 23-year old assistant editor, my executive editor boss got fired and I wound up taking over a bunch of her books. One was a book by a medium-size celebrity who was nonetheless a major-sized headache. After I'd been on the case for a couple months, the celebrity's paperback comes out. I get the usual three hot-off-the presses copies from the bindery, send one to the author, one to her extremely powerful agent, and stick the third on my shelf. I think nothing of it for a couple hours until I'm taking a phone call, my eyes wander over to my shelf, and I realize that--holy f**king shit!--the printer HAD MISSPELLED THE AUTHOR'S NAME ON THE SPINE! I leap out of my chair, seize the book in my trembling hands, and run down the hall to the managing editor's office, whereupon I thrust the book at her, point to the spine and burst into tears.

God bless her, she kept her cool, but it was a MAJOR error. We wound up having to pulp something like 40,000 paperbacks at 65 cents apiece. We were lucky that I'd noticed early and the books had only shipped to the warehouse, not to the stores, or we would have had to recall those and lose the shipping money on them. I then had to call the high-maintenance author and her extremely powerful agent and explain the situation, but since none of the copies had gone out, they weren't too perturbed; and interestingly, neither of them had noticed the error on the spine when they received their copies. Still, it was probably the most freaked out I've ever been in my entire career, and that was 10 years ago!

Feel free to share the story, just to show that publishers do screw up sometimes, but we always try to make it right in the end! Would be great to see you if you're back in NYC sometime soon. Really do want us to have a book together!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Agents Who Should Be On Your Radar

STATUS: Oh yeah baby! Entourage is back on!

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

Back from the Maui Writers conference and facing mounds of emails (something like 300 in my inbox) and lots of fun tasks to do. Vacation is great but the first week back is almost always a challenge.

Still, it’s fun to be home where fall has decided to visit Denver. It was 55 degrees when I got off the plane this weekend. Who knew?

When I was in Honolulu for the conference, I got to catch up with many good colleagues so I think I want to highlight a few folks I had a chance to hang with. If they aren’t on your radar, maybe they should be.

And blog readers, don’t make me look bad! Don’t just query these fine folks blindly. Make sure your work might actually fit what they are looking for.

Jeff Kleinman, Folio Literary Management

Cathy Fowler, Redwood Agency

Holly Root, Waxman Literary Agency

Robert Guinsler, Sterling Lord Literistic

Dena Fischer, Manus & Associates

Jacqueline Hackett, Literary Works

Elizabeth Evans, Reese Halsey North

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Aloha from Kauai

STATUS: Off to hike the Na Poli coastline!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Some lovely Hawaiian music

If you hadn’t figured it out, I’m on vacation this week. After flying to Honolulu for the Maui Writers Conference (on the road), Brian and I couldn’t resist a little vacation time.

But it hasn’t been all play and no work so a few pictures to keep you entertained.

Here is Sarah Rees Brennan and I having our first official client/agent meeting at the Outrigger Reef Hotel.

Secret agent meeting at the Puka Dog on Wakiki! As featured on the Travel channel I am told.
Pictured: Holly Root (Waxman Agency), Cathy Fowler (Redwood Agency), my husband Brian. Not pictured but there is Jeff Kleinman (Folio Literary).

And while dashing into the Kauai Walmart to buy more sunscreen, I couldn’t resist a quick peek at the bookshelves. Lo and behold, DELICIOUS has prime real estate.

Have a great rest of your week and I’ll be back and blogging normally on Monday!