Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Year In Statistics

STATUS: On vacation! We are officially closed now until Monday, January 5, 2009

What’s playing on the iPod right now? JINGLE BELL ROCK by Bobby Helms

I’m so sorry I didn’t get to this on Friday. What a crazy wrap up to the year! I had not forgotten my blog readers and the final entry for the year. I just didn’t quite have time to go through the records and compile the statistics. But now it’s a relaxed Sunday morning so here you go.

I won’t be blogging again until the New Year, but then I’ll be back and in rare ranting form!Here are the stats for 2008:

books sold

foreign rights deals done (and that includes several overseas auctions)

number of new clients

estimated number of queries read and responded to (and yes, that is up from last year)

full manuscripts requested (up from last year)

number of projects currently on submission

major motion picture deal



new deals for previously published clients

deals for debut clients

number of copies in print for my bestselling titles this year

number of copies in print for my bestselling debut this year

conferences attended

number of New York Times Bestsellers

Number of books named to Publisher’s Weekly list of top books of the year

number of holiday cards sent

number of Starbucks eggnog chai consumed in the last week

number of late nights reading on the couch with Chutney

number of great days loving my job

Have a safe and happy New Year. I’m out!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pell Mell Dash To The Close

STATUS: Actually, I was reading partial submissions that we had requested before I realized that I hadn’t blogged yet today.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? COLORADO CHRISTMAS by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Right now I’m working crazy hours to madly finish everything that needs to be handled before we close for the holidays. We are done Friday by 5 pm and the agency does not reopen until Monday, Jan. 5th.

If I were an aspiring writer looking to send out a query, I’d wait until after the holidays.

So what have I been doing with my time? Here’s a list.

1. Yesterday I closed a major deal that has been in process for several weeks.

2. I had a phone conference to finish up contract issues so we could get final contracts for signing before the holidays

3. I had to re-review a film contract because although we had already concluded it and were simply awaiting final copies to sign, the producers had hired a new law firm that had retooled the contract. We had to re-review and renegotiate the thing ALL over again. Thrilled I’m sure. Not.

4. Year-end review of the accounting with my bookkeeper and tax accountant. After all, 1099s are just around the corner.

5. Followed up with all editors who have submissions.

6. Had several phone conferences because Macmillan had a big lay-off earlier this week and the restructuring left one of my authors editor-less. That had to be dealt with.

7. Cover copy issue.

8. I was out of town last week so I had to wade through the 183 emails that needed attention. By the way, this wasn’t the urgent stuff as I handled those things while being out of the office.

9. Review UK contract for one of my authors. I’ve just started so this will need to finish up tomorrow in terms of writing up my requested changes letter.

10. Consulted with our tech person on why the new fancy dancy printer/scanner we bought (that cost way more than I’m willing to admit) isn’t working and the tech person can’t get it to work with our system despite spending four days on the phone with HP tech support.

It’s going to be another 12-hour day tomorrow. Let’s hope I stay sane….

Monday, December 15, 2008

The How Behind the Perfect Chemistry Rap Video

STATUS: I’m thinking of relocating my agency to the Cayman Islands. Ack. When I left the Caribbean yesterday, it was 80 degrees and sunny. Luscious blue water. When I landed in Denver, it was -4 degrees. Yes, you read that right. Setting all kinds of records here. The high today was 15 degrees.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan

By request, Simone guest blogs about how the video was made.

I thought about doing the video right after I sold PERFECT CHEMISTRY, which was back in January. So this has been "in the making" for almost a year, although the actual production went very fast (from shooting to finished product was 1.5 weeks - the biggest time suck was the editing that my director did alone)

We actually shot the entire video in 1.5 days.

I hired a Chicago director who has a production company. I'd never met him before, but a friend of mine (Ruth Kaufman, on the RWA board of directors) is an actress and was in a short film he produced. His name is Chris LoDuca. If you want to ask him any questions about cost and software (I'm sure he doesn't need to be in the same city to do the production) you can email him at chris AT I told him what I wanted and he gave me his production cost up front. Other costs that were added: the audio/lighting guy, studio rental, 2 actors for one day and 9 actors for one full day, breakfast and lunch for the entire cast, costumes (Gino, the main character playing "Alex" didn't have any gang clothes so I told him to get some big baggy pants and I seriously said, "I want to see your pants hanging down and your boxers showing" Luckily Gino already had tattoos or I would have him go out and get some! – just kidding) I bought the hat, bandannas for the "gang members", and the cheerleading outfits for the girls with the pom-poms. I let the cast keep the clothes I bought (I wouldn't in a million years fit into the cheerleading outfits.)

The entire video was shot in 1.5 days. One half-day of shooting the audio portion with only the two main characters, and the next day the entire cast was there from 8am-3pm. (like all MTV videos and rap videos, the main characters are lip synching. It's 100% their voices, but you can't lip sync/dance at the same time or else it won't come out good.)

Chris had just directed a play in the Chicago suburbs, and the Caucasian actors I hired to be in my video were cast in his play so he'd worked with them before. The “Latino” actors I hired were from a Chicago talent agency that we called. They sent us actor photos and resumes and we set up auditions in their studio. I felt like I was on a reality television show...with the hot lights, the camera taping the applicants, and Chris asking them to rap and dance in front of us. Such pressure for the actors!

I'd never met anyone on the production team or the cast beforehand. We were pretty much all strangers (except the few who had worked on plays with Chris before), but everyone got along great and everyone had a great time and we laughed a good portion of the day.

Umm..what else? Oh, yeah. The rap. I had a teacher who does rap make up a song for me with background music he created. But after Chris my director read an advanced copy of Perfect Chemistry, he said that he didn't think the rap reflected the book enough. He found new background music online on a site that you buy your choice of a ton of background music for $1.00 and all you have to do is credit the guy who made it on your credits page. I think it was or something like that (it's listed on the VIDEO page of my website with a link). So Chris made up a NEW rap song, and I LOVED it. I definitely changed about 10 lines and tweaked it, but really Chris wrote most of it. I was really in awe of his multi-talentedness!

Funny and true side story: After he wrote it, Chris and his wife made a little demo of the rap to email to me to see what I thought of it. They were practicing/taping the rap into the microphone attached to their computer when his landlord (who lives below them in their apartment building and is a minister) called and asked if everything was okay,that he heard yelling and fighting coming from their apartment, and asked if they needed his counsling. Chris' response, "Oh, sorry. My wife and I aren't fighting. We're just rapping!"

We were going to shoot on location, but then a week before the shoot decided to do it on a green screen and add in the background. Chris did some of the background shots (some I didn't like and made him change) and the school/hallway shots and football field background I actually took myself at a high school by my house (I asked permission from the principal to take the pics). I do wish we'd done it on location, but this way was a lot cheaper and easier.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Book Trailers—One Step Beyond

STATUS: Everyone should take a holiday before the holidays. I just wish I was here for the next 2 weeks as well. It’s been snowing in Denver but the weather is beautiful here in the Caribbean.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN by Neil Diamond (hey, it’s what is playing in the lobby of the hotel as I type this!)

I can’t think of a better way to kick of the weekend then by sharing with you another creative promotion by my author Simone Elkeles.

This goes far beyond the normal book trailer—which is exactly what Simone wanted to achieve for her book PERFECT CHEMISTRY.

PC is basically a contemporary retelling of West Side Story but without the musical numbers. It’s edgy and funny and this rap video trailer exactly captures that (and of course, gives us music that can't be captured in the book!)

If you are a YA libriarian or bookseller, feel free to grab the link from youtube and post. The video featured on my blog is more PG-rated but if you need a G-rated version, here’s a link where you can download it or put it on your iPhone. I also click on the link to the 'making of' video which is pretty hilarious in its own right.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Book Party Tips From Marianne

STATUS: Rain to start the day but it looks like it might be clearing up. Time to head to the beach!

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

Now I have to admit that not many authors have as cool a day job as my client Marianne Mancusi. She’s a TV Producer. So, when she’s throwing a launch party [which she did last Tuesday for her debut hardcover release of GAMER GIRL with author Melissa Walker (VIOLET IN PRIVATE)] she does have access to a variety of contacts that the average author might not have.

From the press release: “Nationally syndicated lifestyle show Better TV was on hand, filming the event for an upcoming segment on Mancusi and Walker and their books. In attendance were media outlets Vogue, Teen Vogue, ELLE, InStyle, Daily Candy, AOL, Parents TV and CNN. Leading authors in both Young Adult and adult fiction also celebrated with Mancusi and Walker. At the party were Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Maureen Johnson, Bennett Madison, Deborah Gregory, Diana Peterfreund, Michael Northrop, Liz Maverick and Anisha Lakhani.”

Is Mari the gal to friend or what?
From Left: Scott Westerfeld, Mari, Diana Peterfreund, Melissa Walker

Great contacts can indeed go a long way to throwing a successful one, but even with that, she’s got some great tips and I asked if she was willing to share them with you blog readers so here you go!

Being a NYC based television producer I usually attend or cover several events each week. From restaurant openings, to Fashion Week after-parties, to charity balls—I’ve been studying what works and what doesn’t when it comes to throwing a party and used these ideas for throwing my own book party.

Here are some suggestions I used for my own book party, which I threw this week at Butter.

Consider co-hosting the party with another author. One, it’s more fun to plan a party with a partner and two it takes off some of the hosting pressure the night of. You can also potentially double the guest list, increase networking opportunities, and introduce a whole new audience for your books and theirs.

Consider having your party on a Tuesday. It’s a slow day for bars and restaurants and the managers are much more likely to offer up a private room free of charge if you can guarantee them a good bar tab. Offer them prime placement on your invitation (it’s like advertising – especially if you’re sending the invites to the media!) if they agree to host the event.

Invite everyone you can think of – even if you’re pretty sure they won’t be able to attend. It’s a great way to announce your book release without coming off as an obnoxious self-promoter. Also, you may be surprised at who shows up! I invited my friend and fellow author Diana Peterfreund, even though she lives down in D.C. She not only made the trip up to NY, but she brought some A-list author friends with her as well. Speaking of, always encourage people to bring friends/significant others. You’ll get a larger crowd and it will also take the pressure off you to entertain them when you’re trying to work the room.

Create an official invitation with your book cover (if you know a graphics artist, hit them up for help!) and send it to guests by email attachment. (Yes, you can send attachments nowadays. But also put the basic 411 in the body of the email.) This will make your party seem more professional and a bigger deal. You can send this invite to the media as well. Even if it’s your local town newspaper--you never know if they’ll send a reporter to cover the event. Make sure you put “cash bar” discreetly on the invite so people don’t assume free drinks. Send the invitation two weeks in advance, then send a reminder out a day before the event. Ask for an RSVP so you can get an approximate count.

Get creative and make the party fun. After all, your guests are giving up their night for you and probably spending money on drinks and your books—they need something in return. I had the restaurant put out some of their signature homemade chocolates to nibble on—lots cheaper than doing open bar, but still adding value to the event. I also, to go with my “Gamer Girl” book theme, purchased a bunch of fun kids’ games like Hungry Hippos, Connect Four and Operation and put them on the tables. Guests really got into them! You could also bring in a makeover artist or a fortune teller.

Gift Bags! Take a page from red carpet events and make up gift bags for each guest. You can solicit companies to donate products—it’s much easier than you might think! We got Clarins, for example, to donate self-tanning lotions for the bags. Another company donated free yoga class coupons. It’s good advertising for companies and brings added value to your party. Don’t forget to include bookmarks or postcards for your own books in the bags, too! This way the guest will remember you the next day, even if they didn’t buy a book at the event.

Bookselling. We used a traveling bookseller, but if you don’t have one of those in your town, find an indy bookseller and ask if they will come the night of your event and bring books. This way you don’t have to deal with monetary transactions when you’re trying to socialize with your guests. Offer to buy remaining books at cost so they don’t get stuck with extra inventory. Make an announcement once the party is in full swing to let people know they can buy books.

Work the room. The night of the event, don’t linger with your close friends. Try to talk to everyone who showed up. Think of it as being like the birthday girl. Everyone came to see you and should be given appropriate face time.

Follow up. Over the next week, email your guests and thank them for coming. Especially the new people you met at the party. If you have a photo with them in it, send it with the email. And speaking of photos – upload them right away and put them on your blog, MySpace, Facebook, whatever. People who attended want to see themselves and people who didn’t get to go want to live vicariously. But you lose your momentum if you wait a few days.

And lastly, while this isn’t an official tip, make sure you have fun! A book party should be a celebration—don’t get all stressed out with planning that you can’t enjoy yourself at the event. It’s not worth it. Not everything will go right. Not everyone will show up. But just go with the flow and enjoy the ride.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Creative Cost Cutting

STATUS: I’m in the Caribbean this week—doing a vaca before the holidays. Yes, that made sense in some universe at the time that I booked the trip. So blogging might be spotty. I am, however, looking at a lovely blue ocean while holiday music plays over the speaker. Incongruous to say the least!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DO THEY KNOW IT’S CHRISTMAS? by Band Aid

I have to say that I’m all for creative cost cutting if that takes the place of lay-offs in the publishing industry.

This week Harlequin sent out an email firmly requesting that authors limit their manuscripts to 100,000 words and under. That will significantly save on paper and printing cost. Guess that means no epic historical romances a la the 1980s. Big grin here.

And the Penguin Group is finally doing what I think publishers should have done something like 5 years ago. They are converting all their computers to laptopTablet PCs with docking stations so that editors can read and edit (“handwrite” if they want to via electronic pen) comments into their authors’ manuscripts.

No more printing out pages. Comments electronically in track changes! Hooray. Fewer trees need to be sacrificed.

By the way, I’ve been doing tablet PCs since 2003. Part of the reason why we’ve been paper-free for the life of my agency.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Let There Be Light

STATUS: Working very late to finish up a contract.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LINUS & LUCY by Vince Guaraldi Trio

Firings at HMH. Layoffs at Simon & Schuster yesterday, layoffs at Scholastic a month or so ago, huge structural changes at Random House announced yesterday, HarperCollins delaying pay raises until next summer, and Macmillan CEO outlining that not everyone might have a job going forward

And yet, Michael Cader at Publishers Marketplace had this to say:

“Meanwhile, despite all the attention for the books HMH isn't buying, our deal reports continue to show steady activity in the marketplace. (Over 90 deals in the past three days; 700 reports since November 1; 1375 since October 1.”

I like that ray of light!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

When A Freeze Is Not Really A Freeze?

STATUS: 16 days until the agency officially closes for the holidays.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? A HOLLY JOLLY CHRISTMAS by Burl Ives

News Flash: It just hit the wires that Ann Patty has been fired from HMH. Whoa! And S&S just announced lay-offs. Not clear who was let go in editorial quite yet...

In case you aren’t plugged in to Publishers Marketplace (and if you aren’t, why not?), there have been several new reports regarding the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced freeze.

First off, HMH publisher Rebecca Saletan resigned. I can’t really tell you what that means. There’s lots of speculation on what it means but that’s all it is, speculation.

Then today I read an AP article (highlighted in PM) which reported a lessoning stance on the “freeze.”

From the report: “HMH spokesman Rosenfeld has called the current policy "freeze-lite," … Rosenfeld confirmed that education and children's books are still being acquired, did not dispute Penzler's assertions and added that the "right" book, of any kind, would still be considered. He said talk of a freeze had been taken out of context.”

Rosenfeld continued with: "A headline about a freeze is very appealing, but in reality all we're doing is taking a good, hard look at everything that comes in, much the way this company is watching all expenses and expenditures," he said. "It's just a higher degree of scrutiny." Link to full article.

So the freeze isn’t really a freeze? Agents should be happily submitting to the adult division of HMH? I’m feeling the confidence….

Let me take another sip of my eggnog chai. It helps.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

One That Got Away

STATUS: One of my clients sent us holiday cupcakes today. Yummy in my tummy.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHITE CHRISTMAS by Perry Como

Pretty soon we’ll be compiling our year-end statistics. For good or for bad! And tonight I was reading a review for a novel that I had wanted to represent but alas, the author went with a different agent. I’m sensing a theme in my blog entries here…

So I’m reading the review and I have to say, it’s brilliant. It outlined pretty much all the reasons why I had loved that manuscript. Ack. What a bummer to not be representing that author. But hey, at least I had been in the game. I’m not always going to win when up against several other agents. That’s just the way of the agenting biz. I’m glad to see the world agrees with me regarding the novel but of course I’m reading the review with regret.

Can’t be helped but still...

One of my clients is with the editor who was the underbidder for Harry Potter. That puts it into perspective I think!

And just a couple of weeks ago, I met with an editor who was the underbidder for The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

Okay, I’m feeling slightly better because hey, it happens. Only slightly though.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Perfect Timing

STATUS: Starbuck’s eggnog Chai is back! This is a dangerous thing.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU by Mariah Carey

Today I was reading Deal Lunch (a daily email from Publishers Marketplace that lists announced deals) and I noticed a sale for a manuscript that I had passed on earlier in the year and I bet that blog readers wonder how that makes an agent feel. Do we instantly regret the lost sale that we passed on?

To be honest, I have to say it really just depends on how we felt when we read those sample pages.

For example, for the deal I saw today, I simply looked up my notes on the manuscript and I had written a specific message to the author outlining how I saw the talent in the manuscript but felt like it was just over the top for my taste but that I could really see another agent digging it.

Guess what? I was right. Another agent did dig it and found the right home for the author. In this instance, I only felt pleasure for the writer as the deal posting wasn’t a surprise to me.

But that’s not always the case. In fact, just this summer I was swamped and we received sample pages from an author who was looking for an agent after selling the first book on her own.

I read the sample pages and thought the writing was really good but I had reservations on the story line. I kept vacillating on whether I had time to read a full when I had a niggling doubt. I finally decided that I was just too swamped at that moment to ask for a full. A month or so later, I kept thinking about the samples pages and I knew that I was probably going to regret passing. Sure enough…

Several months later, I heard that an agent friend had signed the writer and had just closed a six figure deal. Yep, there was some regret there (although I was also really delighted for my agent friend because she really is the crème de la crème and I love seeing her succeed). We went to dinner and toasted her obvious good taste.

Being snowed under is never a good reason to pass on manuscript but sometimes, that’s the literal truth which brings me to the point of this blog entry. In publishing, landing an agent or selling a project is sometimes about timing. I know. It sucks to hear that.

My dad used to say that to me when talking about love and finding that perfect partner. I just rolled my eyes but darn, he was right. When the timing in my life was right, I did indeed meet my husband. I’m not sure I would have “seen” the great person he is at an earlier point in my life. The timing had to be right.

Sometimes the same is true about publishing. The right project with the right agent/editor at the right time.