Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Moment Of Silence

STATUS: Just a little sad.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I turned off the music.

I have to say that I had a whole blog entry planned for today. Right before I was planning to do my entry, I was reading PW’s Children’s Bookshelf—which is a weekly electronic email mailing.

I read this news article on two librarians, Kathy Krasniewicz and Kelly McClelland, and I was so horrified by the news that they were killed on the way to Denver International Airport right after ALA Midwinter had wrapped up on Wednesday morning that I just couldn’t think or write about anything else.

I just want to do a moment of silence for two ladies, two strong advocates of reading, who dedicated their lives to children and books.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Happy Launch Day Jana!

STATUS: It's almost 7 pm. I'm ready to leave the office.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DON’T TREAT ME NO GOOD NO MORE by Sonia Dada

I have to say it’s rather rare to have two books release on the same day. I didn’t want Jana to think that I had forgotten about her so also hitting shelves as of today and yesterday is TROUBLE IN MUDBUG by Jana DeLeon.

I have to say that I love the concept for this novel and so does Hollywood. We’ve had some nice interest that we can only hope will evolve into something.

Meanwhile, if you like your mystery with a zany southern Louisiana flavor, then the first book in the Ghost-in-Law series will be right up your alley.

TROUBLE IN MUDBUG
A Ghost-in-Law Mystery Romance
by JANA DeLEON, Author of Unlucky

"Original, smart and comedic writing." —RT BOOKreviews

Maryse Robicheaux can't help heaving a sigh of relief at the news that her not-so-beloved mother-in-law has kicked the bucket. The woman was rude, manipulative and loved lording over everyone as the richest citizen of Mudbug, Louisiana. Unfortunately, death doesn't slow Helena Henry down one bit.

"Jana DeLeon is very good at writing zany comedy as well as spicy romance."
—Affaire de Coeur


Being haunted—or more like harried—by Helena's ghost isn't even the worst of Maryse's problems. Close to making a huge medical breakthrough, she's suddenly been given an officemate, and the only thing bigger than Luc LeJuene's ego is his sex appeal. Maryse would bet her life the hot half-Creole is hiding something. Especially because it seems someone's out to kill her. But getting Luc to spill his secrets while avoiding Helena's histrionics and staying alive herself will be the ultimate bayou balancing act.

"DeLeon has an excellent knack at weaving…the right amount of mystery and suspense with plenty of romance and lots of laughter." —Once Upon a Romance

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Happy Launch Day Jamie!

STATUS: Very excited for this book to hit shelves today.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BLUE by The Jayhawks

February 2009 Costco Pennie’s Pick
An IndieBound NEXT List selection for February
Borders Original Voices Pick
Pulpwood Queens Bonus Book Pick
Barnes & Noble March New Reads Book Club Pick



HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET is the story of Henry Lee, a Chinese boy in Seattle who falls in love (although it is forbidden) with a Japanese girl named Keiko right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It is also the story of Henry Lee as a middle-aged man forty years later who, when passing by Seattle’s old Japantown’s Panama Hotel, stumbles into a news conference on the hotel steps where the new owner has discovered in the basement the untouched belongings of thirty interned Japanese families. When the owner unfolds, for the news cameras, a Japanese bamboo parasol with a bright orange koi painted on it, Henry instantly recognizes it as Keiko’s. In that moment, he can no longer suppress his familiar and never forgotten longing and he must confront the memories and the choices he did or did not make all those years ago.


"Mesmerizing and evocative, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a tale of conflicted loyalties, devotion, as well as a vibrant portrait of Seattle's Nihonmachi district in its heyday."
–Sara Gruen, New York Times Bestselling author of Water for Elephants

“Jamie Ford's first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.” – Lisa See, bestselling author of Snow Flower And The Secret Fan

"A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war--not the sweeping damage of the battlefield, but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. Especially relevant in today's world, this is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more importantly, it will make you feel."
--Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Panama Hotel
Several years ago, the owner of the Panama Hotel did discover the belongings of Japanese interned families in the basement. Jamie read about this discovery and it became the starting framework for his novel. Jamie's father had also related a story of his wearing an “I Am Chinese” button right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a historically accurate tidbit that plays a key role in HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET.

Here is Jamie in front of the hotel. The next pic is the view of the basement through the floor boards. The other shot is taken in the basement where the belongings remain—mostly undisturbed.




An Interview with Jamie Ford where he discusses the writing of HOTEL:



A walking tour of Seattle narrated by Jamie. In this video clip, Jamie explores the history of all the real places mentioned in HOTEL:



But despite all the historical places and historical accuracies, the story of Henry and Keiko existed only in Jamie’s mind and now on the pages of his novel. HOTEL is a work of fiction.

As you can probably tell, I think this novel is a wonderful and amazing read. I encourage you to pick up a copy and immerse yourself in Henry & Keiko’s story.

Enjoy!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Teens Speak

STATUS: Tired but happy from the long working weekend.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IN YOUR EYES by Peter Gabriel

ALA wraps up today—for me anyway. I actually think Librarians are meeting for another day or two to finish up discussions.

Hands down the best session I attended was on Sunday afternoon when the Best Books for Young Adults met with area teens to discuss the titles that have been nominated.

The session was packed as editors, agents, librarians all sat in to hear about which books caught the teens’ attention on the nomination list. Unfortunately, the nomination list was 9 pages long and the teens only got a chance to air their views on the first four pages. I, for one, would like to vote on making the session significantly longer so we could hear what the teens had to say on all the possible titles but that wasn’t an option yesterday. The last five pages of nominated titles were done in 25 minutes and teens were only allowed to speak once about a title they liked from those 5 pages. I was pretty thrilled to hear two teens pick Brooke Taylor’s UNDONE as their choice from those undiscussed pages.

As for the teen commentary, it was pretty revealing.

Yes there were some teens who were so excited about a book, it was hard for them to articulate anything beyond “I really, really loved this” but there were many teens who were sharp, analytical, articulate in their views about why they did or didn’t like something.

Heck, I wanted to hire some of them to be my teen review committee!

Of course there were the usual gushes for Stephenie Meyer, Melissa Marr, and Suzanne Collins’s THE HUNGER GAMES and Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER but there were also some surprises.

Like the teen boy who prefaced his comment that he wasn’t one for poetry but did enjoy THE APPRENTICE’S MASTERPICE: A STORY OF MEDIEVAL SPAIN. Told in verse no less! I think some of us swooned and wondered where this kid was when we were in high school!

Boys liked Eoin Colfer’s AIRMAN and James Kennedy’s THE ORDER OF ODD-FISH.

Girls loved AUDREY, WAIT!

Other favorites were GRACELING and NATION. Also, THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR DOGS had very passionate responses and made me want to read the book.

There were mixed teen reviews on LUXE and lots of teens were drawn to a novel called GONE (as in the title grabbed their interest and they picked it up) but ultimately none of them gave the title a favorable review.

Also interesting was the fact that the books that the teens loved didn’t always line up with the titles the committee members from Best Books For Young Adults were voting for to make the final list.

And I’m sure you’ve heard this already but the Printz Award for best YA for 2008 went to JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta.

A title I’d never heard of I have to admit.

Newbery Medal went to Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Morning Breakfast With Hyperion

STATUS: Finishing a few things here at the office before I head over to the convention center for the start of the ALA Midwinter conference.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN by The Moody Blues

Was up and at ‘em early this morning for a breakfast with Stephanie Lurie Owens, who is the new Editorial Director over there at Disney-Hyperion. Brave woman had us meet at 7:30 a.m. It’s a rare editor who is a morning person I have to add. I don’t think I’ve ever had an editor breakfast before 9 a.m.—that is until this morning!

Oddly enough, we didn’t talk about books too much. Our main discussion was about digital formats and technology actually. I’m happy to say the Stephanie is pretty hip and on-top of what is currently unfolding in the tech world despite the fact that the company of Disney-Hyperion has been a little slow (in my mind) to embrace electronic books. Disney legal tends to slow things down, but it’s nice to know that the availability of the D-H titles in the ebook format is just around the corner. [So you Gallagher Girl and Percy Jackson fans shouldn’t have to wait too much longer.]

We also talked about the prevalence now of Sony eReaders for editors. Finally! Publishing houses got the memo that they could save hundreds of thousands in paper and printing cost by equipping their editors with this little gadget.

Praise the lord and pass the peanut butter! (Wait, maybe not the pb with all the recent salmonella scare).

But don’t worry, we also talked about what Hyperion might be looking for as of late.
She’d love to see, gasp, more middle grade series for girls. Hey, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard that from an editor. A new MG Meg Cabot, she says, bring it on.

For Hyperion, they have such a strong MG list for boys (with Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl etc.), they really would like to take on something new in MG girl stuff and make it big. Having watched them build Ally Carter, I have to say they can do it well.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Just Like New York But Denver

STATUS: All my appointments are set for the weekend. It’s going to be busy.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FRIDAY I’M IN LOVE by The Cure

ALA officially began for me tonight as I had my first editor dinner with Susan Chang of Tor. I must say I love it when conferences are held in my home town. It’s like a trip to New York without the travel!

I’m very glad we met up though because most of you know that Macmillan has gone through a large restructuring over the last few months. The biggest change is in how the children’s divisions will operate. Before, each imprint was a separate entity with its own publisher, sales force, marketing dept. etc. Now all the children’s divisions are gathered under one umbrella and will be sharing things like the sales force, marketing and promotion people, reporting to one publisher head rather than six. Although, I’ve been told, each imprint will keep its own publishing vision and imprint identity even though they are now all one big family called Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.

All except Tor, which was news to me. Tor is still considered a completely separate entity with Susan and her children’s imprint reporting directly to Tom Doherty.

To quote Frontier Airlines, Tor is still a whole other animal! Interesting. In general they have always been known to be less corporate (which can fabulous in some respects—such as creative vision and the embracing of new talent—and frustrating in other ways—such as long response times on submissions). But they’ve always been known to be independent, slightly quirky, and with smart editors.

So far, that hasn’t changed. Go Tor.

Susan and I also got into an interesting discussion about SF and young adult. Both of us agreed that SF in the young adult world works best when the novels aren’t labeled SF.

Seriously. One look at the Uglies series and The Hunger Games rather proves that out. Those books are basically SF but never called so. I can name a host of other examples as well.

We also talked briefly about the popularity of fantasy in the children’s realm and why they didn’t seem to translate to fantasy readers in the adult world. We didn’t play with any theories but it’s an interesting conundrum. What happens to those avid fantasy readers as they age?

There’s probably an essay waiting to be written there if it hasn’t been tackled already.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ALA Midwinter

STATUS: It has been just overwhelmingly beautiful in Denver the last two days. 70 degrees +. Can you blame me for skipping out early just to walk in the sunshine? Have laptop, can work from home when the sun goes down.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NICK OF TIME by Bonnie Raitt

As I mentioned yesterday, ALA Midwinter is happening in Denver this weekend. But what is ALA you might be asking. It stands for the American Library Association and this weekend is their midwinter conference. They also have an annual conference that happens in the summertime.

Midwinter is what the industry calls a “working” conference. Now all big conferences are work but what is meant by the term is that this conference is about the business of running ALA. There are many division and committee meetings.

Most important are the discussions that will determine the awards for the Printz, Newbery, and the Caldecott. These are not open to the public.

But many of the discussions are. For example, the Notable Children’s Books Committee and the BBYA, which stands for Best Books For Young Adults, are both discussions that anyone can attend.

In other words, I can sit in on librarian chats that will spotlight the books they are excited about and what they’ll be recommending to their young readers.

Heck yes.

And I’m definitely going to be at the BBYA presentation where members will be talking about one of my books that has been nominated: UNDONE by Brooke Taylor


Now the ALA midwinter conference does encompass the adult and children’s world but for whatever reason, the main emphasis tends to be on the children’s books. More to come as the conference unfolds.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Editor Letter for Real Life & Liars

STATUS: Getting ready for ALA Midwinter Conference which is happening here in Denver. I have a packed weekend ahead of me but it should be fun.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I’M YOURS by Jason Mraz

Because I think my blog readers find the agent-editor interaction fascinating, here’s the submission letter for this project.

Here are two interesting things to note about this letter. Kristina’s novel had a unique POV structure. One narrative is written from first person POV and the three children are written from a third person POV. I decided that I didn’t want an editor to be surprised by what is a complicated narrative structure so I actually highlighted it in my submit letter. I also highlighted that I thought the unique narrative was strength—thus (hopefully) setting the editors perception before they began reading.

By the way, this narrative structure is almost impossible to pull off. It takes a lot of talent—which is how I pitched it in the letter.

I also spent a bit more time talking about how this novel impacted me personally. I wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t “just another cancer” story. That what we had here was an insightful novel about family relationships and how complicated they can be.

I guess I succeeded as several editors agreed with me and Lucia Macro at HarperCollins won this novel at auction.

Hello Lucia,

I hate to be the agent who says this every time I send out a project but I do think that this time, I’ve found the perfect novel for you (and if I haven’t, you have permission to snub me). First off, the writing is just top-notch. This story, REAL LIFE & LIARS seamlessly shifts between the first person POV of Mira, the sixty-something hippie mother who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and has decided not to fight it, and the three third person POVs of her three, very different children. This would be a mess in the hands of a writer with less talent.

But here’s the other reason why I’m so passionate about this story (besides the fact that I just couldn’t put it down). Even though the Zielinski family is nothing like my own, I just felt like Kristina had tapped into the essential truth of my own family’s dynamics, despite the fact that my mother never has had cancer and my brother is the oldest and not the middle child etc. She has tapped into the core truth of how all families interrelate. How siblings treat each other as adults (our worn and familiar view of each other) as well as all the possibilities that emerge when we realize our love and loyalty. It’s also a very piercing look at the relationship parents have with adult children. And even though the novel is unflinching in its exploration, the reader is left with nothing but optimism that despite our personal failings, our families really do form our core.

So here’s the story: As a wilted flower child, Mira Zielinski has never been one to follow orders. Not from her husband, not from her boss – not even from her oncologist. Mira has her own idea about handling her newly diagnosed breast cancer, and it does not involve hopping up on the operating table. Her grown children will no doubt object -- when she gets around to telling them.

As they come home for the weekend of Mira and Max’s thirty-fifth wedding anniversary party, her kids harbor some secret trials. Middle child Ivan’s lifelong desire to be a songwriter is withering on the vine after years of futility and his dating haplessness is so familiar, it’s almost a family joke. The impulsive and very young youngest child Irina will walk in the door with a surprise groom, though she’s already looking for the escape hatch in her shiny new marriage. As for the oldest, Katya, let's just say that it would be a relief if her husband’s big secret were just the affair she suspects he’s having. As these trials unfold, certain family truths come to light but will they shake Mira’s resolve?


The author, Kristina Riggle, is a freelance journalist and published short story writer. Her credits include Cimarron Review, Net Author’s E2K and Espresso Fiction. She is also the co-editor for fiction at the e-zine Literary Mama, named one of Forbes’ “Best of the Web.” Kristina was also a judge for the 2007 Carrie McCray Literary Awards in the short fiction category. Since she is connected to the writing community, she has already lined up blurbs from published authors such as Kristy Kiernan (CATCHING GENIUS) and Carrie Kabak (COVER THE BUTTER, A Book Sense pick June 2005).

May I send this novel your way?
All Best,
Kristin

Monday, January 19, 2009

MLK

STATUS: Good.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? PRIDE IN THE NAME OF LOVE by U2

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tomorrow’s inauguration is quite the historic milestone and what a tribute to his birthday. He will definitely be present in spirit.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Kristina Riggle’s Query

STATUS: Tech troubles yesterday. Sorry for the blog silence. I left the office thinking I’d do it from home. Internet was down.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME? By Culture Club
(okay, I can never hear this song without thinking about the Adam Sandler movie The Wedding Singer)

Don’t worry! I hadn’t lost sight of lending a hand with queries. As promised, here is yet another original query letter from one of my clients. Kristina was a current client referral so certainly had a leg up in terms of my attention. However, she also sent a darn good query letter, and so there isn’t any controversy, she did not have Sherry Thomas’s help in the writing of [at least not that I’m aware of].

Here’s the letter without comments for your reading pleasure:

Dear Ms. Nelson,

I'm a friend of the hilarious and fun Becky Motew, and she suggested I contact you about my novel, REAL LIFE AND LIARS. Here's a brief description.

As a wilted flower child, Mira Zielinski has never been one to follow orders. Not from her husband, not from her boss – not even from her oncologist. Mira has her own idea about handling her newly diagnosed breast cancer, and it does not involve hopping up on the operating table. Her grown children will no doubt object -- when she gets around to telling them.

As they come home for the big anniversary party, her kids harbor some secret trials. Ivan’s lifelong desire to be a songwriter is withering on the vine after years of futility, and youngest child Irina will walk in the door with a surprise groom, though she’s already looking for the escape hatch in her shiny new marriage. As for Katya -- let's just say that it would be a relief if her husband’s big secret were just the affair she suspects. As these secrets come to light, will they shake Mira’s resolve?

I’d love to send part or all of REAL LIFE AND LIARS, complete at 83,000 words. I’m a freelance journalist and published short story writer, plus I’m the co-editor for fiction at the e-zine Literary Mama, named one of Forbes’ “Best of the Web”. My short story credits include Cimarron Review, Net Author’s E2K and Espresso Fiction. I served as a judge for the 2007 Carrie McCray Literary Awards in the short fiction category.

Besides your blog and Becky's recommendation, I'm also familiar with you as a member of Backspace, where I post (not as frequently as I'd like) as simply "Kris." I'll paste my opening few pages below. Thanks for your time and consideration.


Sincerely,
Kristina Riggle


The commented version:

Dear Ms. Nelson,

I'm a friend of the hilarious and fun Becky Motew, and she suggested I contact you about my novel, REAL LIFE AND LIARS. Here's a brief description.

As a wilted flower child, Mira Zielinski has never been one to follow orders. I just love the line “wilted flower child” so just that turn of phrase has caught my interest. I’m really paying attention. Not from her husband, not from her boss – not even from her oncologist. A women who doesn’t take orders. I’ve got good insight into this character and the ‘oncologist’ at the end there is an attention grabber. Mira has her own idea about handling her newly diagnosed breast cancer, and it does not involve hopping up on the operating table. Interesting! Her grown children will no doubt object -- when she gets around to telling them. This is a unique twist on the conflict. Why wouldn’t she tell them is my first thought. And then I like the phrasing again, “around to telling them.” There’s a certain relaxness that’s unexpected here given the cancer diagnosis. I’m intrigued with the character of Mira.

As they come home for the big anniversary party, her kids harbor some secret trials. Ah…. Mira’s issue is going to be further conflicted by what’s happening in the family. I’m a sucker for family stories. Ivan’s lifelong desire to be a songwriter is withering on the vine after years of futility, and youngest child Irina will walk in the door with a surprise groom, though she’s already looking for the escape hatch in her shiny new marriage. “escape hatch in her shiny new marriage” Dang, that’s intriguing writing so I’m going to be asking for the full—no doubt. As for Katya -- let's just say that it would be a relief if her husband’s big secret were just the affair she suspects. I’m hooked. Let me see it! What could be worse than an affair? And interesting that the announcement of an affair would be a relief to this Katya character. As these secrets come to light, will they shake Mira’s resolve? Hey, I want to know!

I’d love to send part or all of REAL LIFE AND LIARS, complete at 83,000 words. I’m a freelance journalist and published short story writer, plus I’m the co-editor for fiction at the e-zine Literary Mama, named one of Forbes’ “Best of the Web”. My short story credits include Cimarron Review, Net Author’s E2K and Espresso Fiction. I served as a judge for the 2007 Carrie McCray Literary Awards in the short fiction category. Nice tight bio. Kept to the details that would be important to her career as a writer.

Besides your blog and Becky's recommendation, I'm also familiar with you as a member of Backspace, where I post. Thanks for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Kristina Riggle

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What We Say When We Talk About Covers

STATUS: It’s been one of those days. It’s almost 4 o’clock and I haven’t even tackled my TO DO for today. Seriously, I think I only get my scheduled work done at the office between the hours of 3 and 7.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SAY HEY (I LOVE YOU) by Michael Franti and Spearhead

What is said 1: “I’ve shown this cover to everyone here in the office and we all love it. I hope you love it as much as I do.”

What is said 2: “This has been approved by sales & marketing and they just love it. I hope you love it as much as I do”

What is said 3: “We believe our concept is very strong and will really signal that this is a big book. We are excited about the author and these covers.”


Possible Translation 1: Everyone in the office indeed loves it. Sales & Marketing also love it and has approved it. The cover really does rock. It’s new, original, fresh, and innovative.

Possible Translation 2: Editor is worried about the cover but is hoping for the best. That we’ll like it and won’t raise a fuss. There won’t be a cover issue.

Possible Translation 3: That this is really not the greatest cover but time and money have been spent on the concept and the art design/photo shoot and the publisher really doesn’t want to start over. Editor will have a tough road to try and change it.

Possible translation: Editor actually doesn’t care for it but must present it as is. Is hoping we’ll raise a fuss so she can go back to the Art Department and say “see, I thought this was a miss.” Editor then fights strongly for a cover change.

I’ve never had an editor come to me and say, “gee, I think this cover stinks. I think it needs a do-over but what do you think first?”

For the most part, I really do believe that publishing houses and their cover departments have a good handle on the creating of the cover art. That it is their expertise more so than it is mine.

But I don't believe that publishing houses always know best. If they did, there would never be bad covers. There would never be two covers for two different authors with the same image or the same model on the cover. And released at the same time. There would never be covers that are nixed by the B&N buyer.

The Cover art wouldn’t ever miss.

But it does. Far too frequently.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Consultation

STATUS: Such is the joy of January that the processing of Client 1099s with my bookkeeper is fast upon us.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SO WHAT by Pink
(and man has this title been stuck in my head all day!)

It’s been awhile since I did a real rant on my blog so what better way to kick off the new year then to treat my reading audience to one?

Agents fight the good fight to get a little clause into author contracts that states that the author will have consultation on the cover and the cover copy (be it flap copy, back copy, or what have you).

For the most part, this isn’t too hard to do and is usually established in the agency’s boilerplate with the publisher.

Great right? Cover consultation means that the author will be consulted on what the final cover will look like. One would assume that it would mean that the author might have some input into what the final cover will look like. And all parties understand that given a disagreement on the cover, the publisher will have final say. [Cover Approval stated in contracts being reserved for the Nora’s, Stephenie’s, Neil’s, Stephen’s, and JK’s of the world.]

Good. Everyone is agreed.

And here comes the rant. But what constitutes “consultation” varies widely from publisher to publisher.

Some publishers send the final cover that can no longer be changed, and say you’ve been consulted. Grrrr. If the cover stinks, I’ve got a big fight on my hands. All of which could have been avoided had we just been really consulted—as the contract states.

Some publishers make you work for the consultation. Grrrr. This means you have to call the editor, email the editor, and harass the editor until you get the cover. It’s frustrating and exhausting and let me tell you, if I have a choice between publishers, I’ll consider this aspect when looking at the two deals on the table.

I do want to state here, in general, most editors really do want their authors to be happy with the cover and so will work with you but the above happens enough to make me want to pull my hair out.

Last week I was chatting with an editor (a big and powerful editor whom I just adore) who has included the author and me on every step of the cover process. From the first conception draft to the “final” draft that went to sales (who then rejected it and then we had to start all over and tackle second draft concepts etc.). And when I was talking to this editor on the phone, I paused and took a moment to thank her for really consulting with us on every step of the process. Not just paying lip service to the clause in the contract but really consulting us. And this for a debut author to boot! [Agents expect this with established authors]. Talk about a sheer joy this has been!

She was startled and said, “Why wouldn’t I? You two have been great.” How I long for every editor to handle it this way. Now please keep in mind this: both the author and I were sane, objective, reasonable, and actually offered good suggestions and because of that, all input was taken seriously. Thus the editor trusted us to work on the cover with her—not against her. This plays a big part in this whole consultation game.

But what I wouldn’t give for the cover process to be just like this for every book I sold. I will make sure that during this process, my author and I are sane, reasonable, and offering good suggestions. Just simply give us the chance.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Two Clients For The Year 2008

STATUS: Gotta love the Denver weather forecasts. Yesterday a weather person mentioned that there might be a slight chance of flurries during the morning commute. Yeah, it started snowing at 5 a.m. and by the time rush hour hit, there was close to a half of foot of snow on the ground. Snowstorm didn’t end until 10 this morning. Slight flurries turned into about 7 inches worth of snow in downtown Denver—probably more near the foothills. Still, I’m cheery. I like a good snow—otherwise I wouldn’t live here!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BRIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD by Van Morrison

When I posted my end of year stats, there were a lot of comments on that fact that I had only taken on 2 clients for all of last year. Why only 2? It’s a good question so I did a little ruminating on the subject. I’ve come up with a few thoughts to share.

1. Yes, I took on only 2 clients for the year of 2008. But take a moment to look at the end of year stats for 2007. I took on 8 clients. That was a huge spit of growth in a short period of time. I’m only one person and there’s only so much I can do in my day to service my client list. Yes, I delegate to Sara, to my contracts manager, to my subrights people, to my foreign rights representative, to my film co-agents but all of that still needs oversight. I’ve gotten a real sense of what I can manage and still be a good agent to my clients. Two makes complete sense in that context.

2. No, my client list is not “full.” I’m still reading fulls and looking at projects but I have to say that how I look at them has shifted. I’ve got a great list. I really have to love the project to take it on.

Please note here that my loving the project is not the same as the project being salable.
I can pass on a project that another agent takes on and then sells. I know for a fact that this happened several times in 2008 so obviously I passed on some worthy projects. And yet, I didn’t sigh in regret when I saw the deals posted [except for one project and I blogged about that].

I’m not the final arbitrator on a novel’s sell ability. My NO really means very little if you think about it in this context.

3. Sara and I looked at 88 manuscripts. Several were close calls for us but ultimately, when all the factors came down to it, we were only passionate about two of them to make the full commitment.

Now I know that writers often perceive agents as gatekeepers but in my situation, it’s really wasn’t a question of gate-keeping so much as time commitment. Think of it this way; it takes just as much time for me to take on, work on, and then submit a novel that sells for 5k as it does for 500k. In this light, I should only take on the novels that will sell for big money, right? Seems cost effective … and yet I, and other agents take on “small” projects all the time—projects we know aren’t necessarily going to go to auction or sell for big money but yet we love the story; we see the author’s potential. They might not get the big money out of the gate but we believe in the growth. But you gotta have the passion for the project and the author to wait for the big pay off which, by the way, may never come. Not all authors break out.

So yes, I took on only 2 authors last year but I gave those two my absolute all without (hopefully!) neglecting other clients.

And no, don’t ask me when my client list will be “full” as I don’t have an answer to that. It balances and changes on so many factors.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Writing That Dang Query

STATUS: I have to say that it’s 7 pm on a Friday night and I’m rather ready to go home.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MAN IN A SUITCASE by The Police

I have to say that Courtney Milan and her query sparked quite a debate, which took place over at Nathan’s blog. I think battle lines were drawn.

So it seemed like a good idea to highlight a few more thoughts on the query letter and who should be writing it.

Do I think that you should write your own query letter? Yes. Quite simply, I think the writer of the novel should be the writer for the query because hands down, that’s the best person for the job. Voice and all that (which was discussed at length over in the comments section of the debate so no need to add more comment here).

But whether I think this or not is moot because I’m not going to know whether you wrote your own query or not and I’m probably not ever going to ask (unless it suspiciously reads like something that Sherry Thomas would write….)

I do think both Sherry and Courtney brought up some good points. First off, Sherry took a stab at writing it to show Courtney the rhythm of it and what to include for plot points or conflict. And then she quite firmly said that Courtney should use her attempt as a guide only. That really it was better for the pitch to be in Courtney’s voice.

Courtney also chimed in to say that the experience of struggling with the pitch in her query letter was well worth it because it gave her a lot of insight into the manuscript and what may or may not need to be revised in the opening.

I actually heartily agree with is. You know why? Because I’ve given my query pitch workshop at numerous conferences and as you all know, I beat that already dead horse to death again by nattering on about the plot catalyst that starts your novel and how that should be the centerpiece of your pitch.

And you know what I’ve discovered? When workshop participants are forced to figure out what that catalyst is and take a stab at their pitch blurb in the workshop itself, some epiphanies have happened.

For example, in the last workshop I gave (which was at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers I think), one participant realized (to his dismay) that his plot catalyst was near page 100. Now I don’t know for sure (because I didn’t read his chapters right then and there) but my guess is that he had a lot of backstory that was filling up the opening chapters. Story that a writer needs in his head but probably doesn’t need to be there on the page.

See what I mean? So there is real value in the struggle to write the pitch.

But then here’s an interesting take on this. I know some agents who have their authors write the pitch blurb that the agent will then use in the letter to the editor.

I’ve never done that. I have always written my own pitch blurbs. Now, I certainly do ask for the author to take first stab at it because I want to see what the author perceives as the crux of the story.

If this is a debut author, then the pitch blurb has already been done in the query and I often lift elements from what the author wrote originally when crafting my own letter. You can see this in the Courtney Milan example as I lifted “wardrobe malfunction” straight from the query. That totally made me laugh and I thought an editor would find it funny as well—to have this super contemporary phrasing in a letter about a historical romance novel.

However, if you take a look at Jamie Ford’s original query letter and then my pitch letter to editors [see links in sidebar], wow, quite different.

And yet, in the debate, the emphasis on the author’s voice was really highlighted as being of the utmost of importance as to why the writer should write it him/herself.

Interesting.

Copyeditors at the publishing houses often write their own cover copy for the work—taking nothing from the agent’s pitch letter and they certainly haven’t seen the author’s original query.

Now I have had copyeditors lift direct lines from the copy I’ve written (which really flatters me! I give good copy!) and put it into the back cover or flap copy. Most of the times, not. What they created is wholly new.

No real point here. Just food for thought.

No matter what, I do think you should begin by writing your own pitch blurb as you will learn about your own novel in the process of doing so. Where it goes from there is ultimately up to you but whatever you do, just don’t make it generic.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Congratulations Ally Carter!

STATUS: This was a terrific day. What a way to kick off the year.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON by Louis Armstrong

On hitting the New York Times Bestseller List yet again. Coming in at #2 no less for the week of January 18, 2009.

Most richly deserved!


For those of you who might not have your copy as of yet, let me inform you that Barnes & Noble did a special trade paperback edition, only carried at their stores, that includes special bonus material of Cammie and company’s very first day at the Gallagher Academy. Click here to get your hands on this exclusive copy. Once sold, they are gone!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Buddy Can You Spare A Buck?

STATUS: I’ve actually been working on two contracts today—in between some necessary phone calls.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GYPSIES, TRAMPS & THIEVES by Cher
(Now you know I can’t possibly be lying about what’s playing on the iPod if I’m willing to ‘fess up to this song being there!)

I read in my daily email from Publishers Weekly that Orbit (the SF&F imprint of Grand Central Publishing) is doing an ebooks promotion [click for the site and where you can buy] for a buck.

Excerpt from the Article:
“In a bid to promote its print and digital lists, Orbit is offering dollar e-books to readers on a rotating basis. Marketing and publicity director Alex Lencicki said the program is currently "open-ended" and will continue as long it is successful. When asked how the success of the program would be measured, Lencicki said if the dollar e-book drives either print or digital sales--or turns readers on to a particular series--it will be a hit.”

First up is debut author Brent Weeks THE WAY OF SHADOWS.

I just did me a one-click to my Kindle. A buck for a brand new book? Heck yes, I’m willing to try a debut author.

What say you?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Editor Letter for Proof By Seduction

STATUS: It’s pretty early in the day so right now, everything is going quite smoothly.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CLOCKS by Coldplay

I’m totally chuckling after reading Courtney’s blog from yesterday where she shares the query letter outtakes. The moral of the story is this: If you find yourself unable to write a decent query letter, hire Sherry!

Seriously though. Sometimes it is difficult for a writer to write his or her own query. The writer is very close to the material and can’t often see the forest for the trees. If you’ve struggled with the query writing process, I don’t think it’s playing unfair to have another person write the query on your behalf, or with you, or revise it for you. As long as you end up with a strong letter that you believe fully represents your work, I, as the agent, will not ask if you wrote your own query letter. It can be your own deep, dark secret.

The point of the query is to win an agent’s attention and get a request for sample pages. Now, your sample pages have to hold up. The greatest query letter in the world is not going to compensate for unready sample pages.

And if somebody else ends up writing your query, make sure they are good at it!

As promised from yesterday, here’s the letter I sent to Courtney’s editor at Harlequin. As you all may or may not know, agents pitch editors as well. Now Ann Leslie has known me for years so to be quite honest, she would read anything I wanted to submit to her (besides my grocery list that is!).

Still, call me old-fashioned. I never send an editor a project without formally asking if it is okay to do so and I think it’s helpful to have a pitch that orients the editor as he or she begins the read.

So, in this sense, I always pitch editors and as an agent, I have to nail that pitch paragraph just like you have to do in your query letter. Noticed that I lifted several elements from the query that Sherry (ahem, Courtney) had written.

Hello Ann Leslie,

I can hardly believe it myself but I haven’t taken on a romance author in over a year –until now. In fact, I haven’t taken on a historical romance author since Sherry Thomas and oddly enough, it was Sherry who discovered Courtney Milan and sent her my way.

Courtney had won a contest that Sherry was sponsoring on her website and the prize was the reading of her first 30 pages by Sherry. Being the great client she is, Sherry immediately emailed me and said, “You’ve got to look at this author.”

Within a day, I had read and signed Courtney for PROOF BY SEDUCTION and I’m just beyond excited to share this manuscript with you. And yes, I know you are going to kill me because I’m sending you this email right before RWA but hey, both Courtney and I will be there so let me know if you want to meet up.

Set in 1836 London, PROOF BY SEDUCTION is an emotionally complex and beautifully written story (very Sherry Thomas who, by the way, is happy to offer a blurb for the novel’s release). As the outcast bastard daughter of some unknown nobleman, Jenny Keeble earns her living by being one of London's premier fortune tellers. In this role, she certainly knows all about lies. After all, the fastest way to make money is to tell people what they want to hear. It works--until Gareth Carhart, the Marquis of Blakely, vows to prove what he and Jenny both know: that Jenny is a fraud.

Gareth only wants to extricate Ned, his naïve young cousin and heir, from an unhealthy influence. The last thing the rigidly scientific marquis expects is his visceral reaction to the intelligent, tenacious, and--as revealed by a wardrobe malfunction--very desirable fortune teller. But she enrages him by her “prediction” of his own pending nuptials as a way to prove her ability. She tempts him to look beyond his coldly logical view of the world. She causes him to lose his head entirely and offer a prediction of his own: He'll have her in his bed before the month is out. The battle lines are drawn. Jenny can't lose her livelihood or her long-time friendship with young Ned; Gareth won't abandon scientific logic.

Neither is prepared to accept love.

Courtney Milan is a … [Bio deliberately removed. It was a solid paragraph long.] She is a finalist in the 2008 Golden Heart competition (but not for this manuscript and I’m happy to explain if you are interested).

May I send this your way?

All Best,
Kristin Nelson

Monday, January 05, 2009

Kicking Off The New Year--Courtney Milan's Query

STATUS: And what a way to begin. I read some sample pages over the weekend and today I requested a full manuscript. Just like that. Let the yearly tally begin!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ANGEL by Simply Red

And what better way to start the New Year then by helping y’all with that strange and frustrating (but sometimes wonderful) thing called the query letter.

In the past, I’ve done numerous blog entries on the original query letters sent to me by authors who became my clients. [See the side bar: Agent Kristin’s Queries—An Inside Scoop.]

I haven’t done that in quite a while and voila, what better way to kick off the year. So first up is Courtney Milan. Let me give you a little history since this query letter came through via a recommendation from my current client Sherry Thomas.

Basically Sherry had read the opening chapters, loved them, and then sent me an email that I needed to check out Courtney’s work asap. Funny enough, I had gotten the email from Sherry right before a conference where Courtney had already scheduled to meet me in person to give her pitch.

This is pretty rare but based on Sherry’s recommendations and Courtney's wonderful in-person pitch, I requested the full manuscript right then and there. When she sent us her novel, here is the letter she sent along with it.

I’m sharing because had she simply sent me a query letter with this same info, I would have asked for sample pages and now I’m going to share the ‘why’ of it with you.

My comments in blue.

Dear Ms. Megibow:
I met Ms. Nelson this last weekend at a pitch appointment at the Chicago Spring Fling conference. She had spoken with Sherry Thomas earlier about my historical romance, PROOF BY SEDUCTION. Ms. Nelson asked me to send you the full, which is now attached.

As one of London's premier fortune tellers, Jenny Keeble knows all about lies. After all, the fastest way to make money is to tell people what they want to hear. [Okay, at first I thought the whole fortune teller angle was a little contrived but she puts a different spin on it with her insight of how well it works in terms of telling people what they want to hear. It struck me right away that this author might be using this plot set up for a different purpose. I was right.] It works--until Gareth Carhart, the Marquess of Blakely, vows to prove what he and Jenny both know: that Jenny is a fraud. [Loved this!]

Gareth only wants to extricate his naïve young cousin and heir from an unhealthy influence. The last thing the rigidly scientific marquis expects is his visceral reaction to the intelligent, tenacious, and--as revealed by a wardrobe malfunction--very desirable fortune teller. [I’m completely won over here. Courtney does a great job of outlining the opening plot catalyst that launches the story (removing the heir from her clutches), of giving character insight (rigidly scientific marquis), and adding an amusing touch with the wardrobe malfunction line. I sense this work is going to be witty and it doesn’t disappoint.] But she enrages him. She tempts him. She causes him to lose his head entirely and offer a prediction of his own: He'll have her in bed before the month is out. The battle lines are drawn. Jenny can't lose her livelihood, Gareth won't abandon logic, and neither is prepared to accept love. [The crux of the conflict neatly explained. Also, her use of the words “enrages,” and “tempts” leads me to think it will be sexy and I kind of like that in historicals.]

I am a finalist in Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart competition for unpublished romance. I currently work as a lawyer …[bio info deleted by Courtney’s request] My romance writing interests may seem rather different from my daily writing, where I focus on law issues. But all good lawyers are, at heart, just story tellers, and I find the two writing practices balance each other.Please feel free to contact me if you have any additional questions, and thank you for taking the time to consider my manuscript.

Sincerely,
Courtney Milan

This novel plus a second book sold for six figures to Harlequin at auction. Tomorrow I’ll share the submission letter I sent to editors so you’ll see my pitch for this novel. I find that can also lend some insight into the query process.