Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Number One Thing

STATUS: BEA tomorrow. It’s going to be a long one and I’m not sure I’ll be able to blog so have a good weekend.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LET’S DANCE by David Bowie

As y’all know, today I was at the Backspace conference. Jeff Kleinman, Scott Hoffman, and I did a workshop called 2 minutes, 2 pages in the afternoon. The purpose is to pretend we are sitting at home with our feet up reading the slush pile. As the author reads the work, we say “stop” if we wouldn’t have read on and then try to explain why.

It’s a tough workshop. We try and be honest but constructive but as a writer, you can’t be faint of heart in participating.

After the 3 hour session, I can say without a doubt that this was the biggest issue we found in the pages that were read. The openings lacked a sense of urgency that would have propelled the story forward or would have engaged the reader immediately in the story or the characters presented.

In other words, most opening scenes had nothing at stake.

Now don’t mistake me and assume that you have to have an action-packed scene or bombs going off or some hideous moment occurring. Having something at stake can be a small thing, such as a missing photo, but it’s not small for the character in the story. For example, you could have a woman searching for a missing photograph and perhaps this photo is the one surviving shot she has of her father and so there is real panic that it could be missing—maybe even forever. That she can’t find it, that she can’t remember when last she saw it, that maybe there is something coupled with it that makes this missing photo even that much more crucial to have at this moment in time. There is something at stake for the character

See the distinction?

A lot of the opening pages we saw were really back story disguised as an opening chapter—which makes Carolyn Jewel’s guest blog earlier this week that much more pertinent.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

We Interrupt This Daily Blog to Bring You Two News Flashes

STATUS: Dashing out to meetings soon. I did plan a write up my most recent notes but two headlines pre-empted my intention. These are too good to pass up.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TRAIN IN VAIN by Clash

The first story is just brilliant. From the Washington Post:

DHS Enlists Sci-Fi Writers to Imagine Future Dangers
The line between what's real and what's not is thin and shifting, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has decided to explore both sides. Boldly going where few government bureaucracies have gone before, the agency is enlisting the expertise of science fiction writers.

The second story clearly illustrates that the “pen” is mightier than the sword. Never underestimate the fury of book lovers or the power of the internet to enact change. Power to the People! A wrong has been righted.

The Philippines 2009 Book Blockade

Earlier this month (
Shelf Awareness, May 4, 2009), Hemley had written about "The Great Book Blockade of 2009," (also seen in McSweeny’s) in which customs officials in the Philippines began requiring that duty be paid on all incoming books.

Hemley reported that, "Within a day or two of my story going online, bloggers all over the Philippines had caught it and were reproducing and commenting upon it, and hundreds and then thousands of book lovers were voicing their outrage. . . . Soon, the story hit the mainstream media in the Philippines when Manuel Quezon III wrote a column for the Philippine Inquirer, also titled 'The Great Book Blockade of 2009.'

Now the story had gone beyond the blogosphere and other media started picking it up." Finding himself "more or less at the center of this controversy," Hemley was even contacted by a U.S. Embassy official "who told me that if there's one lesson he had learned from this it's that 'we have greatly underestimated the power and reach of the internet as an organizational tool in the Philippines.'"

Hemley added, "As I write this, I’ve just heard from a friend that President Arroyo has lifted the book blockade, that effective immediately, there will be no taxes on imported books. Together, Filipino book lovers have performed what I consider a miracle in less than a month's time."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Black Sheep of Fiction Writing—Guest Blogger Carolyn Jewel

STATUS: Lots of meetings at the end of last week so I’ll type up some notes and get that to you tomorrow. Book Expo is starting on Friday (could it get crazier?). And just a heads up that I’m at the Backspace conference all Thursday (May 28) so if you are in town, you might think about attending. And a reminder, there’s only a couple of days remaining in the Brenda Novak auction for Diabetes. I’m doing a breakfast at RWA (or in Washington D.C. if you live in the area. You don’t necessarily have to be attending the conference just as long as you are in the City). A 24-hour read with an intense critique.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME by Jewel



For me, Carolyn is one of those amazing writers who should be getting a lot more attention than she is. Her historical romance, SCANDAL, was a tour de force. Reviewers were stunned at how complex and sexy it was. It’s as good as anything that the established titans are doing in that genre.

And the same is true for her paranormal series that begun with MY WICKED ENEMY. The writer she is compared to the most? J.R. Ward. If you are a romance lover and haven’t picked up a Carolyn Jewel book, I only have one question for you. Why not?

So in the spirit if huge generosity (as this blog entry took some time to write!), Carolyn teaches you the art of the back story. From some of the sample pages Sara and I have read lately, this is a lesson that any aspiring writer (no matter the genre) should pay attention to. Enjoy! Happy Release Day Carolyn.

Backstory: Can’t write with it, can’t write without it.

Most writers have heard repeatedly that backstory is bad. I’m here to say that backstory isn’t bad; it’s just misunderstood and misused. In fact, I’ll lay it all on the line right now and say that the more backstory you have the better. With some pretty important caveats. Yeah, there’s always a catch, isn’t there?

Please keep in mind that I am speaking in generalities here, though I will give concrete examples. Your specific story may call for a different use or construction of backstory. After you read this, don’t rush back to your story to slavishly apply these principles without more.

What you need to do, what you MUST do, is figure out how to adapt these concepts to the story you are writing. You need to make sure you understand why we, as writers, even talk about something called backstory. It’s not easy, but the time you spend thinking about it will serve you and your writing very well.

What is This Backstory of Which I Speak?

That's easy.

It's all the stuff that happened before a story actually starts. It’s the baggage your characters bring with them to their story, their hang-ups, history and life stories. It’s the political and historical past that matters to the story you’re going to tell.

James Michener is one writer who built a reputation by including ALL the backstory in his actual story. Other writers, however, are not James Michener and they (we) do not have his special dispensation for backstory. Do not let Michener lull you into thinking it’s OK for you to describe the formation of the universe before you get around to introducing your characters.

Backstory can be a swift and sure route to readers who end up enjoying a book that isn’t one you wrote. But it's also the key to making your story resonate and having people dying to find out what happens next. Powerful backstory will do that for you.

A frequent mistake I see from writers who are starting out (or sometimes, just in an early draft of a work) is too much backstory revealed. They write prologues, start their story too soon, or most egregious of all, stop the story dead to explain how the hero’s mother abandoned him as a child and therefore he believes all women will abandon him.

The problem is that we are not writing a story about the backstory of our novel. We’re writing about what happens BECAUSE of the backstory. Readers aren’t very interested in what happened to the heroine ten years ago. They want to know what’s happening to her right now. Every single time you stop telling your present story to relay the past, your story dies on the page. D. E. A. D.

Because of this, backstory is something you release into the wild in small amounts and, whenever possible, indirectly through active, present-story events. I like to think of backstory as a door I am not permitted to open except in case of dire emergency. My job is to find a way to include the backstory without opening that door.

Sweat over writing a scene in which your hero interacts with the heroine but is driven by his abandonment issues without ever explaining that he has them. Yes, I know. It’s hard. (This is me, shrugging.)

What to do In Case of Dire Emergency

Eventually, you will probably have to explain something about the past. The less time you spend doing this the better. (That’s time on the page, by the way, not time working on how to figure out where, when and how much.)

When you’ve reached the point where you have to insert some backstory or risk confusing your readers or making a character seem unpleasant or illogical, then make the revelation count. Make the reveal complicate things or add complexity to a scene or characterization. Do it and move on.

Depending on the sort of writer you are, you may or may not have all this worked out in advance. I never do. I spend a lot of time re-jiggering where and when I reveal backstory. If you’re like me and are on the write by the seat of the pants side of the spectrum, you’ll need to pay a lot of attention to where to place, add, move or remove such scenes as your story develops. If you’re more of a plotter, then these are all things you’ve struggled with before you start writing chapters. It doesn’t matter where in the process it happens, as long as it does happen.

And Now, Some Concrete Examples

In my June release, My Forbidden Desire, my heroine, Alexandrine, is a witch who doesn’t have much power. She knows she’s adopted and has searched for her biological parents, with some limited success. She has an adoptive brother she believes is dead. She also wishes she had more power and regrets that she doesn’t fit better in the normal world to which her lack of magical ability more or less relegates her. Creatures she’s only read about actually exist. There really are demons and there are mages who use their power in horrific ways. She also has an amulet she hopes will boost her power.

The hero is Xia, a fiend who hates the magekind because they kill and enslave creatures like him. He hates witches in particular because he was betrayed by a witch and ended up enslaved because of it. He also hates them because his species is attracted to the magic, and he doesn’t like being vulnerable. Unbeknownst to Alexandrine, her amulet contains the spirit of a murdered fiend, and though she thinks its supposed power doesn’t work on her, in fact, she’s bonding with the amulet in a way that may cost her her life. Xia intends to release the spirit of the trapped fiend and end its suffering.

These two paragraphs of backstory are condensed for this article, by the way. My challenge was to find a way to reveal these elements without directly visiting the past unless or until there was no other choice.

I could have started the story with Alexandrine finding the amulet or started with a scene about how Xia was betrayed by a witch. I could have started with Alexandrine trying to use the amulet, or, even, with Xia being told he has to go protect a witch. Any of those choices would contain a lot of emotion, and they certainly would have mattered to the protagonist.

Keep in mind, however, that My Forbidden Desire is about Alexandrine and Xia and the collision of all that backstory.

How Backstory Helps you Figure Out Where to Start

My Forbidden Desire is not about Alexandrine finding the amulet or trying to use it. It’s also not about Xia having been betrayed. It’s about what those two characters do BECAUSE of the backstory I’ve laid out.

Another way to look at this is to consider at what point the backstory carries so much weight in the present that forward motion is unavoidable.

If I’d chosen to start with Alexandrine finding the amulet, the other backstory does not come into play. The identity of her biological father doesn’t matter at that point. Nor does the existence of fiends. Same with the betrayal Xia experienced. If I’d started with her finding the amulet, I would have ended up with a very different story.

Instead, I chose to start My Forbidden Desire with Alexandrine meeting the brother she thought was dead. That isn’t enough on its own to make the story move forward. Her brother is there because he’s learned mages are willing to kill her for the amulet. Since he’s leaving the country in a few hours, he’s arranged for her to have a bodyguard – the witch hating Xia who hates her even more when he learns Alexandrine’s biological father is none other than the mage who once enslaved him.

All the backstory is present in chapter one, but not all of it is explicit. From page one on, the story has no choice but to move forward. Alexandrine’s father is after the amulet and willing to kill her to get it. She is now sharing her small apartment with a creature she thought wasn’t real. Xia has to protect a witch whose father once enslaved him.

And neither of them knows just how much their world has changed.

Some Nuts and Bolts Tips

It’s been my observation that more often than not a prologue makes things worse, not better, in terms of backstory. If you have a prologue, I suggest deleting it (at least temporarily) while you confirm that it really truly needs to be there. Just because you like it isn’t enough reason to keep it around. This, of course, is true of every single scene in your story.

The use of “had” in your prose is a strong signal that you’re dumping backstory. It’s boring. Stop it. When you find yourself writing, He had gone to the store that day, never knowing his mother had been packing her bags while he had been buying Frosted Flakes.

Find another way. If that goes on for more than two or three sentences: snooze. Think up a scene or predicament or even a secondary character through which you can imply or otherwise reveal this information directly and actively. It’s hard work, I know.

Summing It Up

I am of the firm belief that every writer must find her own way to truths about writing. My advice is to think about what I’ve said about backstory. If you disagree with me, and I’m sure some of you will, spend some time making sure you understand exactly why you disagree. It’s quite a valuable experience. After a good faith effort and study, use the parts that resonate with you and discard the rest.

I’ve always been frustrated by articles that wrap up their writing advice in pretty metaphors that show off one’s prose more than they give concrete advice. And yet, there’s gold to be mined in those metaphors. So here’s mine:.

Backstory gives your story heft, weight and shape and help you find a way into your story. But for all that, backstory isn’t your story. It’s just chasing your story down a dark alley.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Knowledge Dissemination As A Tool of Promotion--Guest Blogger Sherry Thomas

STATUS: Meetings and more meetings. Chut really enjoyed Riverside Park this evening.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU’RE ON THE ONLY WOMAN by David Pack

Bad Agent. I was supposed to post this entry on Wednesday which was Sherry’s actual release day for NOT QUITE A HUSBAND. Bad Agent.

"Sherry Thomas is the most powerfully original historical romance author writing today."
—Lisa Kleypas, New York Times bestselling author




But today’s entry is so worth waiting for. Not to mention, I get to share Sherry’s hilarious book trailer. I completely share Sherry’s sense of humor so I’m going to apologize beforehand if this doesn’t tickle your funny bone. I spit coffee when I watched it for the first time. Understated to say the least...



Now, without further ado, named one of PW’s top five authors of 2008, Sherry Thomas. Happy Release Day!

When it comes to promotion, Agent Kristin is my model. Make no mistake, this blog is a promotion tool, for her agency and for her clients. But the lovely thing about this blog is that it is not just a promotion tool, it is also a knowledge dissemination tool. When you read this blog, you get the insider’s look, you get to see publishing as it happens.

I wanted to do that. But compared to Kristin, I had a significant drawback. I didn’t have any specific useful knowledge. What to do? Well, knowledge can be acquired. But what knowledge to acquire? I made a decision: I would learn about those things that interest me as an author and hope that what interest me would also interest a good number of other people.

For example, I was curious as to how genre books, particularly romance, get into public libraries--because I’m a devoted patron of my local public library and because if my books didn’t make it to the library branch right next to my house, I wanted to know why! I pitched it as an article idea to the editor of Romance Writers Report (RWR), Romance Writers of America’s monthly newsletter. She said go ahead, and I did.

I contacted blogger Super Librarian (http://super_librarian.blogspot.com), an online reviewer who is, in non-virtual life, the adult fiction buyer for the Orange County Public Library. I contacted the fiction selector for my local public library system. I contacted John Charles, reference librarian and fiction selector at Scottsdale Public Library who also conducts romance reader advisory workshops at state and national library association conferences. I read the material Mr. Charles kindly sent me. I did my homework.

The result? The lead article in the August 2008 issue of the RWR—and a pretty good one if I do say so myself. Plus, now I know pretty well the whole process on how books get into libraries.

My next area of significant interest is foreign rights sales. Kristin and Whitney, her foreign rights sub-agents, do a bang-on job of it. But how exactly does a sale happen? Well, I know how it happened for me in one instance. Kris Alice Hohls, the publisher of LoveLetter, a German monthly devoted to romance novels, had read an ARC of my debut novel and loved it. She spread that love to the editor at CORA Verlag, where my book was on submission, and voila, the rest was much happy dancing on the way to the bank.

So, who is Kris Alice Hohls? How did LoveLetter come about? How does a young woman decide one day to create a magazine for an underserved market? There is nothing to do but interview her.

The interview would appear in the June 2009 issue of the RWR. A couple of weeks ago, Kris Alice Hohls emailed me and asked if I would be interested in doing a panel at next year’s RWA National with her, my German editor, and Agent Kristin, to discuss how foreign rights sales really go down.

Oh, would I? You bet. Because I have been hoping to get hold of a foreign editor for a long time--along with Whitney--so I could write a proper nuts-and-bolts article on the art and science of foreign rights sales. That article would appear in the RWR when my next book comes out.

Why the RWR always, you ask? Well, because the RWR goes out to 10,000 subscribers and I get a half-page ad space in exchange for giving them an article they can use. Not to mention the rights to the articles remain with me. For example, on May 19 the article on how romances get into libraries is getting a reprinting at DearAuthor.com, one of the premier romance blogs on the net.

And when I have a book out next time, that nuts-and-bolts article on foreign rights sales just might make an appearance on this blog. Further promotion through knowledge dissemination. Maybe I’ll learn to live with promotion after all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Submit Now Or Later?

STATUS: Work all morning. Meetings all afternoon. That’s New York!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEY JACK KEROUAC by 10,000 Maniacs

Yesterday I had an agent friend who doesn’t handle a lot of adult trade fiction shoot me an email with an interesting question. She asked this: with fiction, she had heard that some agents were not even submitting right now and were planning to wait 6 months to let things settle down. In other words, things were a little volatile right now with lay-oofs and projects that might have been bought 6 months ago were now being passed on in this current cautious climate. (Hard to sell a project if you are unsure the editor is going to be there 2 months from now.) Since I did a lot more adult fiction than she did, what did I think?

Darn good question. To be honest, I didn’t have an answer. I’ve been doing quite a few deals as of late but all for current clients who are already established at their houses. None for debut authors in the adult field. Now I do have some YA submissions out but that’s not the same thing.

Since I’m here in New York, what better way to find out than to ask? Well, the lucky editors at St. Martin’s Press were first up to bat so I asked them, what is SMP’s stance on buying adult fiction?

Here’s what was said:

1. They had wondered why it had been so slow. They weren’t seeing the usual amount of submissions that normally happens for this time of year. (Interesting.)

2. That SMP (and this was emphatically said) was aggressively buying so bring it on. (Nice!)

3. Major accounts were tightening their buy lists. Not ordering as much and not as far in advance. (I’ve heard this from several places—not just SMP.) So if a project is borderline in terms of an editor loving it, they might pass. (Agents might not be submitting right now in order to not risk this.)

So what had they bought recently? SMP just paid big money to lure two mystery authors to the house. One editor had bought two novels—a mystery caper and then a literary commercial novel about a Viet Nam soldier and his specially trained German Sheppard who worked as a team in a special army unit.

You know how much I love dogs. I would have LOVED to have seen that second novel. History. Dogs. A War. Gosh, no one ever sends me that kind of stuff. Oh wait. Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet (although there are no dogs in that one.)

So novels with that intense emotional hook or connection. Check. Historical novels. Check. American based narrative mystery or crime nonfiction (a la Devil In The White City). I don’t do but check. Memoir. Check. And I learned a new term. Editors are looking for midstream mainstream. (i.e. Stuff in the Jodi Picoult realm where it’s ordinary people faced with extraordinary decisions about real problems).

Midstream mainstream. Try saying that 5 times fast! (I think I just call it upmarket commercial fiction.)

Okay, check.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Holy Display Batman!

STATUS: Did some meetings today but don’t have the brain power to write up for tonight’s blog. Stay tuned tomorrow though. I’m going to shoot for the morning.

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

20 days and counting down to the release of DON'T JUDGE A GIRL BY HER COVER. Would you say this bookstore is enthusiastic?

All I can say is that I wish every store in America would follow this example! Huge grin here.






Monday, May 18, 2009

So-N-So Recommended Me

STATUS: Ah, New York City. Chut is snoozing on the couch next to me and making those hilarious puppy dog sleeping noises. Feels just like home—only smaller. Significantly smaller. And I know if this place I’m living in were for sale, it would probably go for 500k. Crazy.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FEELIN’ THE SAME WAY by Norah Jones

So if you are a New Yorker and live on the Upper West Side, be on the lookout for me and little white spotted rat terrier roaming your streets and running in Central Park. And don’t be afraid to say hi. But I’ll tell you right now, if I’m running in Central Park, I’m wearing a tiny iPod shuffle and might not hear you right off so don’t think I’m ignoring you. Besides, Chutney is very focused on her CP runs…

So I actually didn’t have any meetings today (they officially start tomorrow) so I haven’t any inside scoop to share as of yet but will soon. Get your notepads ready. I have noticed an interesting trend in query letters as of late. Writers are including in the opening line that So-n-So recommended they contact me.

Only problem? I don’t know who So-n-So is but yet there’s an assumption in the query letter that I do. There’s no mention of the person’s name in a context (as in So-n-So from Backspace Writers Forum or something of the like). Just a name that says he/she should query me.

Guess what? That’s only a helpful tool if I know the person. Now Sara and Julie always check in with me and ask if I know So-n-So. If I do, then they’ll drop the email equery letter into the electronic folder for me to review. If I say I don’t have clue, they treat it like any other query letter.

So my point being this. If you are mentioning that someone is recommending you query me, you need to give me the context. It may just be that I’m having a brain fart and if given the context I’ll say, “oh yes, I know that blogger. She held a contest that I was involved in” or what have you. No context means you run the danger of name dropping and it doesn’t remotely ring a bell for me.

Which ultimately doesn’t help you very much.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Because You Have A Dream--Friday Funnies Early

STATUS: I’m going to be on a plane all day tomorrow so no blogging.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RIDE LIKE THE WIND by Christopher Cross

I should probably say Friday Inspirational as not all the videos or links that I share on Fridays are funny per se but that’s the tag label so I’m grouping them together.

I love the TV show Britain’s Got Talent. Last year, I shared the video clip of Paul Potts, a rather rumpled looking mobile sales men, auditioning by singing Nessun Dorma and just stunning the audience.

On April 11, 2009, a rather rumpled Susan Boyle decided to take on Simon and the Gang and sing I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables. She did, indeed, dream a dream. Here’s the link as the clip couldn’t be embedded.

I admit. I’m a sucker. These types of moments make me tear up.

And speaking of dreams, an agent friend shot me an email to say that the Guys Lit Wire Blog is promoting reading for boys. They’ve learned that the LA County Juvenile Justice Center has no library whatsoever. Nada. Here they’re trying to rehabilitate these kids and they haven’t got a single book for them to read to show them other options for their lives. So the people running the blog are doing a two week drive to try to get the beginnings of a library for the juvenile prison there. Click here for info. They’ve got a wish list set up at Powell’s Bookstore and information for how to purchase and where to send the books, etc.

Because we all have a dream…

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Snooze We Lose

STATUS: It’s really too late to be blogging but there you have it.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHE’S LEAVING ME BECAUSE SHE REALLY WANTS TO by Lyle Lovett

Now I have to say that I really don’t consider 10 days as snoozing but the reality is that another agent was faster. It really is as simple as that.

And what most of my blog readers know (or are learning), every situation is different. Perhaps we were not the dream agent for this particular person and another agent was. I know so many wonderful agents; it wouldn’t surprise me if I actually knew who ended up landing this project (Now I don’t because the writer didn’t offer that info and we didn’t ask.)

Do I think a writer is obligated to tell other parties that have partials that an offer of representation has been made?

Nope. Not if we only have a partial. Now I’d love it if they did, but we don’t expect it.

When we request a full, however, we always ask in our request letter that the writer keep us apprised of any other interest. There’s nothing worse than spending a weekend reading a full, getting excited about it, then finding out on Monday that the project is no longer available. Ack. I could have spent those 8 hours on a different manuscript.

But it’s not like we are going to send out the agent police after the writer if they don’t inform us of an offer. It is the writer’s prerogative after all. But boy, I really do think it’s helpful when a writer does give us that heads up.

Despite best efforts to read in a timely fashion, I always feel like I’m 2 or 3 weeks behind on my reading than where I should be.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ain’t That Fast Enough?

STATUS: Just a note to let you know that on Friday, I’m off to New York for my month-long corporate rental and Book Expo. I’ll be giving y’all the inside scoop on everything I hear from editors.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ARE YOU GONNA GO MY WAY by Lenny Kravitz

Sara and I went to lunch today as it was 80 degrees and just lovely. We popped over to Green Salad Company to get some leafy lunches and then sat outside soaking up the sunshine. We try to have lunch together at least once a month so we can touch base on both work related things but just personal stuff too. Reconnect so we aren’t always about work.

Today Sara suffered her first disappointment on this lovely road to agenting. A project she was really excited about and interested in taking on landed an agent before she could request the full. Ack. I hate that feeling.

So we were talking about the timeline over lunch.

On May 1, we received the query regarding the project. On May 2, Sara responded asking for sample pages. The author didn’t actually upload to our database until four days later on May 6. Today is May 12 and yesterday (so May 11) Sara read the sample pages. Today she eagerly opened the email program to send off a request for a full but noticed that the author had emailed us.

Yep, that email was to tell us that the writer had already accepted representation. Sara was hugely bummed. Now maybe the manuscript wouldn’t have lived up to her expectation upon reading the full but she doesn’t think so. She really liked the voice and the writing.

So from query to asking for full—10 days. Ain’t that fast enough? Guess not!

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Handy Tool for Authors?

STATUS: I’ve had the same three things on my TO DO list for the last four days. I’m making a commitment to tackle first and then dive in to the daily 150 emails.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WIND BENEATH MY WINGS by Bette Midler

I was chatting by email with an agent friend over the weekend who was talking about author websites and having strong links available on author sites. As a way of testing, she pointed me to Market Leap---a website that offers free search engine marketing tools so anybody (not just writers) could gauge the popularity of any site they would want to link to as well as finding out the popularity of their own site.

Y’all are so smart you probably already know about this site (and others like it) and I’m probably late to the whole party but I figured it was worth a mention on the blog. Some of you might not have heard about it yet and would find the link useful.

I’ve heard of Technorati, of course, but really haven’t kept abreast of other sites.

For fun, feel free to plug in pubrants url to the Link Popularity check tool.

According to the site, the “Link popularity check is one of the best ways to quantifiably and independently measure your website's online awareness and overall visibility. Simply put, link popularity refers to the total number of links or "votes" that a search engine has found for your website.”

Trust me, I was stunned at the number. I’m considered a playah!

Cracks me up. I just need another million votes to make 900 lb gorilla. I should get on that.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Friday Funnies!

STATUS: TGIF! Go and have a beautiful weekend. Spring is officially here.

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

Kudos to my client Linnea Sinclair who sent this video my way. Absolutely hilarious take on the editing process by Lara Zielin (whose debut DONUT DAYS comes out in August 2009).

She writes. She sings. She frolics in meadows (which was my favorite part!).

Enjoy and happy Friday.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

How I Submit

STATUS: Working on client manuscripts this evening. Will have to switch music to something softer for concentration.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ARE YOU GONNA BE MY GIRL by JET

I have a very simple agent policy. It goes like this. If I were an author, what would I want to know about my project and submission?

Well, I’m a control freak. That means I’d want to know everything. So that’s what my authors get—whether they like it or not!

Now every agent does it differently but when I’m putting a project on submission, here’s what I do.

1. Once the project is in the hands of all the editors, I send the author the editor submission list. (Now I do have to ‘fess up here that if I add an editor to the submit list at a later time, I often forget to tell the author of the addition. Not because I’m withholding the info but just because I forget to let them know. The author will often tell me when I forward the response that they didn’t realize that editor was looking at it. Then there is an oops moment. It was simply my bad. I probably thought I had told the author and hadn’t.)

2. When a response comes in (and it’s almost always by email these days), I immediately forward to the client. I don’t sugar coat either. I send the exact response we received. Now I often include a note if I feel like there should be some softening of the blow (so to speak). Or encouraging words if the submission is looking bleak or it has been a hard push. But if I were an author, I’d want to know exactly what was said. So, that’s what the clients get. Every once in a blue moon, an editor will mail a response letter. How quaint! If that happens, we scan the letter to PDF and email to the client. Also, some editors like to call—even if they are passing. If that happens, I take notes and then I forward my notes by email to the client. They aren’t escaping the response gosh darn.

3. Updates. I actually don’t really give any update unless the author emails and asks if I’ve heard anything. Then I’m happy to respond. Basically I just don’t remember to email the client to say that nothing has happened so far.

4. If we end up having to do several rounds of the submit (they do go in waves), then I simply follow this same process all over again.

5. I also share positive responses—as in an editor is seriously considering the work. Mostly that’s just me emailing the author and saying “not to get your hopes up too high as they can still pass, this editor is liking the read so far.” Have I had editors do that and then pass? You bet. That’s why I always caution the client. I realize that my effort to not raise hopes is futile (who can help getting excited by an editor’s interest?) but if I were that author, I’d want to know, even if there is pain later because the editor passed, or couldn’t get in-house support (which happens) or what have you.

Pretty basic but that’s what I do.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Get Specific Names

STATUS: I totally forgot to blog last night.

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

It sometimes happens that a writer lands an agent, goes on submit, but then the agent gives up after just a short time or a few submissions.

Personally, I can’t figure out what the agent was thinking. Why bother taking on someone if you don’t think you can commit for the long haul? Besides, every agent I know has a story of getting 30+ rejections and finally selling the book. It only takes one! Such a cliché but often true. I’ve even heard of agents taking up to 2 years and 5 years to sell a project.

But that’s an aside. Let’s say this has happened to you (as awful as that would be). Here’s the info you need to be an animal about getting from that former agent. Bug that person with emails and phone calls (politely of course—I always advocate being professional and polite) but do annoy them until you get the exact names of the editors who saw the work and the imprints/houses. And if you can get the responses, that’s even better!

Why?

Because if a new agent is going to take you on, it’s imperative to have that info. (And just about every agent I know has taken on at least one client who has been previously submitted so it happens.)

Here are a couple of reasons why we need the info:

1. If I have the submit list in hand while contemplating offering representation, I can clearly see if I think the former agent sent the work to the right editors or not. If they haven’t, heck, I’ve got a clear field and can probably sell the work by getting the project into the right hands.

2. Having the info allows me to weigh my decision on whether I think there are enough viable other places to take it to.

3. The editor list lets me see if an editor has left publishing or has moved to another house and suddenly, I’ve got a clear shot at that imprint again. It’s musical chairs in publishing.

4. The editor list allows me to pinpoint an editor who has already seen it (maybe a year or more ago) and I can sway him or her to look at it again if we’ve done a big enough revision on it that I can pitch it like new.


5. Some editors are notoriously bad at never responding and if that’s the case and I see that on the list (and the responses you have—or lack thereof), I can target a different editor at that imprint and it’s like submitting fresh.

6. There’s nothing worse than not knowing that a project you took on was previously shopped and you, the agent, now have egg on your face when an editor writes and tells you that they’ve seen it before and it was NO then and it’s still NO now. Ouch. That pisses me off and so if you have the editor list, then you can give it to me before this can happen.

Not to mention, it’s your right to know who has seen your manuscript, who turned it down, and what they said about it so even if you are parting ways, get that info. Most agents (I hope) are good people and happy to give you that info as a matter of course but if the agent isn’t doing it, be wonderfully annoying and politely make it clear that you will continue your inquiry until they do. They may just send it your way to make you go away!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Calling All You "Angels"

STATUS: Grumpy. I've been doing contract discussions for the last two months with various publishing houses regarding the changing digital landscape and monies associated with it. Most publishers demand that electronic rights be sold at same time as the print rights but they don't want to answer bothersome questions such as the Google Partner Program or the Google Settlement.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? UP THE JUNCTION by Squeeze

Or maybe another word that begins with an “A” and has exactly 6 letters as well. I have to say that the digital landscape is changing publishing and publishing contracts almost daily.

Take the most recent Penguin contract I received about four weeks ago as an example. Now publishers always reserve the right to change their boilerplate at any time. I get that. All I ask is the courtesy of being notified when they have done so.

Remember the whole S&S furor last summer when they deleted the crucial last four lines from their out of print clause—thus eliminating the absolutely critical sales threshold that allows rights to revert back to the author—and didn’t tell anyone that they had done so?

Well, this isn’t quite as egregious as that little contract fiasco but I’m miffed all the same. This time, Penguin has inserted a new clause that has become 9. (b) ii. of the contract and didn’t mention it.

Nope. Found it because I scrutinize every contract closely.

This new clause is what I would call a kitchen sink clause for electronic uses of a work. So broad it’s meant to cover anything currently in existence and things we can only imagine for the future. It’s also going to set a strong precedence of reducing the split of monies to authors for electronic display of rights—and yes, I’m talking about Google here (or any other entity of like nature) and all the revenue generated by electronic microtransactions or click-thru ads in association with electronic content etc.

The prevailing philosophy has been that the electronic display of content was a subright use of an author’s electronic/display rights. Handled under sublicense, standard split for this is 50/50 between author and publisher. This new clause treats this income not as a subright but as a sales channel with a royalty structure of 30% of net amounts received given to the author.

There’s a big difference between 30% of net amounts received and 50%. And I don’t care that right now I’m talking about pennies, really, because who knows what this revenue will look like 10 years from now. Twenty years from now.

The digital landscape is literally changing publishing daily and as usual, it's up to we agents to fight unfair clauses that don't allow the author of the work to participate equally in the revenue generated by their content.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Get Vamped! Get A Street Team!

STATUS: TGIF! It’s supposed to be a lousy weekend in Denver. Rain both days. Guess who will probably get a lot of reading done?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART by Bonnie Tyler




Happy Release Day Lucienne!

I imagine that most writers believe that because Lucienne is also an agent, she probably got special treatment when she went out on submission. But actually, that’s not true. If the editors knew who she was, then I’m sure they kept that in mind while reading but most of the editors were in the children’s realm—a market Lucienne doesn’t do a whole lot of repping in. So her being an agent didn’t necessarily carry extra weight.

And even with that, the work had to live up to its promise, and the editors had to love it as a novel to take it on.

In looking back on my submission notes, we had quite a few editors who wanted the angsty vampire romance—not something fun, campy, and totally different than anything out there already.

All the editors loved Lucienne’s voice. One editor felt it was similar to something she already had on her list but she went back and forth on it as she really loved that voice. Another editor thought they had too many vampire books on their list (can’t argue with that!).

Now it’s the lead title for Flux’s spring list. It’s debuting today. It’s gotten a good Kirkus review. Excellent sell in. It’s being featured as part of Barnes & Noble’s book club.

And Lucienne has a great promo tip for you. I’d like to welcome guest blogger and fellow agent, Lucienne Diver of The Knight Agency.

I can haz minions?


I don’t know, something about starting my own street team has me talking in LOLcat and wanting to laugh maniacally, like a cartoon villain. I’ve been feverishly working on my evil villain laugh, actually. Taking a page from
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog.

But I’m not here today to talk to you about my minions. Or, not exactly. I’m here to talk about promotion. You know how they always say that two heads are better than one? Well, twenty is ten times better than two. And one hundred…well, you get the point. It’s a truism in the publishing field that word of mouth is the biggest seller of books. Ads and reviews are all well and good, but nothing works as well as recommendations from friends. Hence the idea of the street team… providing advance copies of your book (and maybe other freebies like t-shirts, bookmarks, mugs, whathaveyou) to a group representing your target audience with the understanding that if they like your work they’ll spread the word, go forth and kvell—blog, put up reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders.com, Twitter, go tell it on the mountain. I don’t know if
Mari Mancusi was the first author to come up with the idea, but I do know that I first heard of it through an article she’d written. Brilliant! I thought. I let my young adult authors know about it, because it seemed especially suited to the young adult field. I filed it away in my own mind.

You see, at the time, Gina, my heroine from Vamped, was not even a twinkle in my eye. In fact, when she first started talking in my head (yes, that’s how it happens), she was a snarky fashionista who, after clawing her own way out of the grave, discovers that true horror is a lack of reflection. No way to do her hair and make-up; eternity without tanning options. She decides that her first order of business is to turn her own stylist. The story didn’t have an actual plot. It was more of a vignette, really, a slice of unlife. I thought I’d have done with her and be able to walk away. But as it turned out, Gina was more resourceful and stronger than I knew. A short story wasn’t enough for her (or my readers, who wanted more). Oh, no, she had to have a novel. Then a series. Next thing you know, she’ll be taking over the silver screen (oh please, please, please).

Anyway, that part of me that is Gina – because, let’s face it, there’s a little of us in all of our characters – is crowing “I can haz minions!” My street team is fabulous. I put out a call on
my blog for teens and twenty-somethings, directed them toward the section on my website where there’s an excerpt posted to see if they thought they’d like it, and recruited. The first ten to respond would got T-shirts and a signed copy of Vamped, the next twenty-five were offered signed bookplates. I got a great response. I’m actually pretty humbled by the amazing energy, enthusiasm and creativity of my team. They’re heads and shoulders above Victor Frankenstein’s iconic Igor. They’re people that make me go “wow” and “I’m not worthy” on a regular basis. I actually want to succeed as much for them—so they can brag about how they were part of it all, that they were there before I was someone—as for myself.

In short, having a street team can be incredibly rewarding, hopefully for all parties. It’s certainly the most fun I’ve had promoting my book. It makes me feel like I’m not in this alone and gives me the comfort that there are folks other than me enthusiastic about my new release. Writing is too often a lonely endeavor.