Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Funnies

STATUS: Crunch time to get everything ready before I leave on Sunday

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN by Arctic Monkeys

So I definitely need a good laugh to smooth out the afternoon. Hopefully you feel the same.

One of my favorite groups for Friday Funnies is Improv Everywhere. (Check out the “funnies” tag on sidebar for previous posts featuring them.)

This one doesn’t disappoint. Hint: What movie has an opening scene at the New York Public Library on 42nd street?

Another hint? Check out the title!


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Expo 2010

STATUS: Ready to shut it down for the night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU AIN’T THINKING (ABOUT ME) by Sonia Dada

You guys can’t possibly have missed that Book Expo is next week in New York. Yes, I’ll be heading there on Sunday. Y’all know what this means. Spotty blogging unless they’ve got good free wireless from the fair floor.

I’ll have my netbook handy just in case so I can blog at a moment’s notice.

So you tell me, what do you want your intrepid literary agent blogger to report from the floor?

I’ll try and accommodate.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fan Appreciation!

STATUS: Whenever 5 or 6 pm rolls around, it always catches me by surprise. Last I looked it was only 1 in the afternoon or what have you.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WITCHCRAFT by Frank Sinatra

Can I tell you how much I heart fans of my clients’ books?

I just think this is the most fun review I’ve seen in a long time for Lisa Shearin’s BEWITCHED AND BETRAYED (which by the way came “this close” to landing on the NYT list when it released). Actually I don’t know that for sure since NYT doesn’t disclose their algorithm for sales connected to landing on the list but in watching other books with X number of sales hit the list, my theory was not far-fetched. It didn’t and there was much sadness. But still, with fans like this, who needs NYT?

I’m particularly fond of the pirate pez dispenser!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

eBook Royalty: Another Way To Protect

STATUS: Not sure what is up with Mondays but they seem to be getting away from me lately.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? CAPE CANAVERAL by Conor Oberst

Most authors, at this point in time, are not interested in walking away from a publishing contract over electronic book rights. The numbers are growing certainly (as we can see that statement to statement) but the numbers, in general, are still very small in comparison to traditional print sales.

Now there are certainly some exceptions. I’m very interested in seeing how it unfolds for author JA Konrath who has long blogged about making a living from electronic book sales and has decided, for his most recent novel, to go with Amazon Encore for the print with the release from Kindle coming earlier. (By the way, Mr. Konrath is embarking on this journey with his agent.)

From what I can tell from my own negotiations as well as from convos with other agents, Publishers are currently holding very firm on 25% of net receipts for the royalty structure. If they are doing an agency commission model (i.e. Apple) they are either not changing their definition of net amounts received in their contracts or they are sticking to the definition that it will be based on monies actually received by the publisher—translation: royalty of 25% of net to author calculated after 30% commission paid to third party (such as Apple). In other words, author is receiving 25% of 70% (not 100%). Reference my earlier blog entry on this topic to get up to speed.

So, if the author does not want to walk away from the offer over ebook royalty (and right now I’d have to say that’s most authors), what does an agent do?

We find another way to protect the author. One method is to include language in the publishing contract that dictates that if industry standard changes in regards to electronic book royalty rates, then the rate can be amended or renegotiated in the future to adhere to new industry standard.

Feel free to add that tidbit to your contracts file.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Age Is Just A Number

STATUS: TGIF! Getting ready for Book Expo the week after next.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? QUESTION by Rhett Miller

Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of queries from young people—and we know this because these writers are highlighting their young age in the query letters they are sending us.

I have a couple of thoughts on this.

1. No matter how you spin it, highlighting an age in your query just doesn’t come across as professional. Here at the agency, we don’t care how hold you are; we only care about how talented a writer you might be. If you have a good query with an interesting novel, we’ll ask for pages whether you are 15 or 85.

In fact, just last year we offered representation to a 15-year old writer. Now I didn’t know that when I called to offer representation. It hadn’t been mentioned in any of her submitted materials. In fact, we had a great phone convo and she actually didn’t bring up the topic of her age until the very end of the phone conference. She brought it up because she needed to know how it would work since she was under the legal age of 18. The answer to that question, by the way, is nothing really changes except that her parent or guardian must co-sign the agency agreement and if the book sells, the publishing contract.

Ends up she had several agent offers of representation and went with another agency so we didn’t end up signing her. (Side note: Her YA novel did sell though as I saw the announcement on Deal Lunch.)

But my point here is that her age didn’t matter; I would have still signed her on as a client.

So this makes me speculate that young writers like to specify their tender years for a couple of possible reasons:

1. Maybe it will impress us that they’ve finished a novel so young?

I find it impressive that anyone finishes a novel quite frankly! And I’m only going to be impressed if I offer for rep and then discover that you have that much talent and you are only 15 because when I read the sample pages, I couldn’t tell.

2. Maybe we’ll go easier on them while reading the pages?

Nope. We don’t grant leniency because of age and cut you slack while reading your sample pages. You’re either ready or you’re not and that’s going to show on the page via a clear demonstration of writing mastery and talent.

And ultimately, I think your writing talent should speak for itself—regardless of your age. So my advice? Don’t mention it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ebook Royalty Glitch

STATUS: So excited! Leaving the office before 6! However, I’m just going to take Chutney for a walk and then continue working tonight as I need to read client material.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? POCKET FULLOF SUNSHINE by Natasha Bedingfield

Today I was reviewing a royalty statement from a book that had been recently released. In other words, this was the first statement for the title that we had seen.

In looking at the statement, I noticed that there wasn’t a single electronic book sold in the six-month accounting period this statement encompassed.

Red flag! And you don’t even have to be a rocket scientist (or a literary agent for that matter!) to be able to look at the statement and realize that if an electronic book is available but sales are not showing on the statement, something has gone awry.

Now in this instant, the problem was easily solved. The book released right at the end of the six-month accounting period (so in late December) and the ebook didn’t release until 2 weeks later (in January) so there was no way for ebooks to show on this statement. Problem solved.

However, I bring this up because I’ve seen this issue on other statements and the above situation was not the issue.

The issue ended up being this: the ebook ISBN was not tied to the print title of the book and thus the publishing house royalty system was recording ebook sales with that ISBN but it wasn’t linked to anything. There was no way for the computer to know what author to attach it to.

The only way the problem was solved was by me ringing up the editor to get the ISBNs for the ebooks and then ringing up the royalty department to say, look, there’s an issue here. You need to tie these ISBNs to the statement for these titles. Then have the publishing house regenerate the royalty statements.

So even though you trust your agent, it’s still good idea to read your royalty statements and see if they make sense. Lots of royalty statements can come in certain months (like April/October) and heck, everyone is human and something could be accidentally overlooked. Be your own best advocate.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How Enhanced Ebooks Will Cause Havoc

STATUS: It’s 8 p.m. and I’m still working…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? KISS by Prince and The Revolution

In this instance, I’m not relieved to have my assumption proven right. When the first mention of “enhanced” ebook emerged, it became immediately apparent (to me at least) that an enhanced ebook is a multimedia product. A subright agents always reserve for the author.

Agents reserve these rights because in order to do a book-to-film deal, you have to be able to grant multimedia rights to the film studio as part of the grant of rights for the option.

This was reinforced for me today as I reviewed film contract with a major studio. Sure enough, in the rights reserved to the author section, I found this clause:

Electronically Read Editions: The right to publish the text of published print editions of the Property via the Internet and in the form of CD-ROM, DVD, videocassette tape or similar electronically read devices individually purchased by the end-user. Such electronically read editions may not contain moving visual images (other than the text) or audio tracks of any kind.

Look at that last sentence. Here it’s clearly stated in the film contract that the ebook cannot have any animation or sound element.

Well, guess what publishers would like to have with an enhanced ebook? Yep. We’ve got a problem, Houston. If publishers dig in on this and this is the studio’s stance, well, granting a publisher a not-clearly-defined enhanced ebook right (which is multimedia) could derail a film deal.

Luckily for me on this contract, it’s not an issue as the deal in question has a publishing contract that predates any of this recent hoopla.

But it’s clear that this is going to be an issue in the future.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sooner Rather Than Later Please

STATUS: Yesterday got away from me. Sorry for the blog silence.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? JUST SAY YES by Snow Patrol

I do think writers have a valid beef regarding how long it takes for literary agents to respond to a full manuscript. I’ve heard horror stories of writers receiving rejection letters a year later—even two years later. Some writers have never received a response. I sympathize as that’s rather ridiculous. Here at NLA, we really do try and turn around full manuscripts in 4 weeks if humanly possible. In our full manuscript request letter, we say we can take up to 2 months to respond just to hedge our bets.

When we send out our full request, we also ask writers to keep us in the loop regarding any other agent interest and that includes offers of representation. Why? Because we don’t ask for an exclusive time to read and if we are going to invest the time, we want a shot at it potentially. Who wants to waste time over the weekend reading a novel that’s no longer available because another agent has snatched it up?

I mean, good for the writer for getting an offer so quickly but yesterday, I was a little annoyed because that’s exactly what happened. We spent time this weekend reading a novel that was of interest to us only to receive an email first thing Monday morning saying the work was no longer available as the author had accepted an offer elsewhere.

Now I guess that the offer could have come in over the weekend and the writer did notify us as soon as possible but it’s rare for agents to offer over a weekend. Not impossible but it’s not the usual mode. Also, if the writer thinks other agents will potentially be interested, why not find that out before committing to an offer? At least give those with a full a chance to respond (and I get that this is completely self-interest on my part but it is my rant after all…). In this case, we only had the submission for 3 weeks.

So, that was a lot of hours taken away from client material and other projects that I’m not getting back and will need to make up this week by working late every night until I’m caught back up.

Makes me grumpy. Okay. I’ll get off it now and move on.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Friday Funnies

STATUS: TGIF! But I’m finishing another contract review before I leave tonight so I probably have another 2 hours.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ONLY YOU by Yaz

Little did I know that the Daily Show would feature my hometown on a recent episode and even better? The opening credit shot is Wazee street—the street where Nelson Literary Agency is located.

Ah, Lodo. The home of literary agencies and interesting mom and pop stores… Hey, we aren’t the wild wild west for nothing.

I just laughed and laughed. Enjoy!
(Note: And you might want to be 18 years or older to click on the video as Daily Show content is for “mature” audiences and yes, my tongue is firmly in my cheek as I type this.)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Gone to Pot
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Thursday, May 06, 2010

POV—Which Is Best?

STATUS: I had a terrific day but can’t blog about why quite yet. So just know I’m in a great mood.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BROKEN HEARTED HOOVER FIXER SUCKER GUY by Glen Hansard

Life would be good if people would quit asking me impossible questions. *grin*

And yes, I’ve taken the admonishment to do my emoticons correctly.

So this is the situation. Last week we asked for a full manuscript from a partial we had read. The writer emailed to say he was contemplating a big revision shifting POV.

Did I think first person or third person would work best for the story?

My answer? Not the faintest idea.

For some genres, like romance, a first person POV is always a tough sell so in that case, I’d probably recommend third. But for this instant, the manuscript was young adult.

There have certainly been bestsellers in this genre in the first person POV and bestsellers in the third person POV. The real answer is what POV best fits the story and best illustrates the main characters.

If we need to be inside the main character’s head, then first person POV. If the story would benefit from being able to head hop (as you can do in third person), well, then there you have it. But honestly, I can’t read the first 30 pages of a submission and tell you which I think would work better. Perhaps if I saw both submission side-by-side I could make a judgment but it’s very unlikely I would go to that trouble (unless we were talking about a current client).

I heard, and I have no idea if it’s true or not, that Suzanne Collins did the HUNGER GAMES first 50 to 100 pages both ways before choosing the final direction. Makes sense that a writer would need to explore both before making a final decision but ultimately, it’s the writer who will know best what feels right for the story.

At least that’s how I see it.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Why I Can’t Link In

STATUS: Happy Jig. Rules of Attraction on NYT for third week in a row.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? DELICATE by Damien Rice

It goes in spats but invariably once a month, I get a lovely invitation from a writer to Link In or join as a Facebook friend.

This is the nature of useful social networks but because of the nature of this job, I can’t really accept.

If I accepted one invitation, I’d have to accept all invitations. That would only be fair, and I don’t really want to open that can of worms!

My rule is that I only say yes to close friends and family, my clients, editors, and/or other industry people I know personally. Keeping it simple.

All others, I will decline with a polite note but thanks for thinking of me.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

In-Depth 30-Page Critique Once A Year

STATUS: I got one major contract off my desk and on to somebody else’s at the publishing house. Always a great feeling.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SOMETIMES YOU CAN'T MAKE IT ON YOUR OWN by U2

Yesterday I was explaining that agents don’t often have time to give detailed feedback because that would entail a critique of the manuscript and doing so is time-consuming.

Well, I should have clarified. Once a year, I always take the time to do exactly that for one lucky auction winner.

I read the 30 pages twice. First read to familiarize myself with the submission and the second read to actually write in-depth critique feedback in track changes of the Word doc. Just like I do for my clients when I read before submitting their material.

So if you want in on that action, it’s time to head over to Brenda Novak’s yearly auction to raise money for diabetes research. My critique page is here. Since I have a good friend plus a brother–in-law with diabetes, this auction is close to my heart.

Happy bidding!

And don’t forget to check out some other great items like a read/critique from Sara Megibow, lunch with Jamie Ford, and if you are a Nathan Bransford fan, he’s offering a critique with a follow up consultation.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Starting A Novel In The Wrong Place

STATUS: Just another manic Monday.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? RED RIVER VALLEY by Frank Macchia and Tierney Sutton

This weekend was an interesting one for me. I read our slush pile for the first time in several years. Grin.

What do I mean by that? Well, I hired Sara Megibow more than four years ago and once she was fully trained, she read all incoming submissions to set aside the ones that I actually needed to review. In other words, I read only a third of all the actual submissions that came to the agency.

As we train Anita, somebody needs to read behind her to make sure she’s forwarding the right submissions on to Sara and to me. Anita will become the reader of all things while Sara and I can have a reduced workload. There isn’t enough time in the day for us to read ALL incoming submissions.

So this weekend I read eleven different sample page submissions and one salient point became very clear. There are decent writers out there who are totally starting their stories in the wrong place which can obscure what the novel is really about. If I’ve read 30 pages and it’s clear to me that we still haven’t gotten to the right beginning, it’s a pass.

So the biggest writing culprit writers need to watch for that will indicate a story starting in the wrong place?

Back story.

One submission had several scenes that weren’t really relevant to where the novel actually started—which was in chapter three (around page 27). The opening scenes were essentially back story—info the writer needs to know but the reader doesn’t. Back story needs to be integrated throughout the novel in a masterful way.

Second biggest culprit?


In other words, the writer is overcompensating for the wrong beginning by including beginning scenes with too much detail about the characters and all the underlying tension of the relationships so all that is clear before the novel can “begin.” The details are certainly good to have but they are placed in scenes that don’t actually move the story forward. In other words, the only purpose of the scene is to introduce characters. Then by chapter three or four, suddenly we have the actual story.

I know this is happening when I read and think, not bad writing here but this author needs some judicious editing as I’m getting bogged down in details but the story isn’t actually moving forward with momentum and tension.

Writers who are actually ready for agent submission have mastered the art of seamlessly integrating back story and relevant character details into a plot that moves the story forward.
Those who haven’t are probably getting passes on sample pages and no requests for the full (although an agent might highlight there is decent writing on the page).

And I know what you are thinking. Why can’t agents just say this? Because it would take too much time to point it out and clearly illustrate it. That would be critiquing the manuscript which is too time-consuming.

Which is why I’m trying to use this blog entry to point this out. I know examples would help but I don’t have permission from submitters to use their work on this blog.

ps. Thanks for all the embed songs into blog tips. I'll check out the sites and see what I can start using.