Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What's Hot Down Under

STATUS: I was very glad to hear that New York City didn't get as hard from Irene as anticipated but my contacts on Long Island are still without power. Eep.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? UPSIDE DOWN by Jack Johnson

As I'm based in the U.S., it's easy to get tunnel vision on what is hot because obviously I'm mostly focused on this territory. Now granted we sell a lot of projects abroad and some of our authors are wildly popular in places like Japan more so than in the US so I'm certainly aware of territorial differences but I still find it fascinating all the same.

So when I was in Australia, I had a chance to visit with a couple of editors. One publishing division was housed in a charming old Victorian-style mansion and others had sleek modern offices. I rather liked both settings.

Some things I learned took me by surprise. For example, in talking with ANZ children editors, they are still having a wonderful market for picture books. I don't rep this genre (so please don't send me queries for it) but I've heard any number of editors and agent friends who handle picture books in the US bemoan the state of trying to break out a new author in this arena. The climate is tough here but Down Under, they are still seeing really great success--even for new authors. This could partly be because the Indie bookseller market holds a significant sales percentage still in that country.

Two chain sellers--Borders and Angus & Roberson--had closed doors and editors were greatly concerned. With it went 20% of their sales market. In consequence, print runs were down by several 1000 depending on the author.

I was also surprised to see Costco in Melbourne and Sydney. I didn't realize that company was there. (I also saw a few Targets). Interestingly enough though, neither venue sells books in Australia yet. I mentioned that it tended to be a strong sales venue in the US so I will be watching to see where that goes, if anywhere, there.

In ANZ, for young adult, dystopian has not taken off in a big way yet. HUNGER GAMES is certainly popular and they've had nice success with some other dystopian titles but no big break out. Well, let's hope Marie Lu's LEGEND will help jumpstart that trend. I'd appreciate it.
In a similar vein, paranormal romantic YA is equally hot there as it is in US (no surprise). What has gotten harder is literary YA--and that use to be a good market for them.

For middle grade, the ANZ publishers bemoaned the dearth of MG boy adventure stories (that sounds familiar!) and Wimpy Kid blew it out there. No surprise really. That's a series that feels really universal.

In the adult realm, they publish a lot of Australian authors (as they should) and they always do it in trade paperback. There are very few hardcovers published there. They still love beautifully written stories so US imports like a recent debut THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS is having nice traction.

Another interesting tidbit is that an adult title called THE SLAP did mildly in the US but really broke out Down Under (and it was from an Aussie author so maybe no surprise) but it did well in Europe too.

Editors like what they call "watercooler" books. Fiction that tackles issues that readers can dig in and talk about around the proverbial watercooler.

That's a wrap. By the way, this blog entry is not meant to be the end-all be-all of the ANZ literature market. It's just smattering of random bits of info but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The NYT Children's Series List

STATUS: I'm back from vacationing Down Under! And it's official. Australia has the cutest animals on the planet. There is just nothing to compare to the Koala, Wombat, tiny Blue Penguin, and the Wallaby. Squee. I couldn't contain myself there was so much cuteness.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SOMEONE LIKE YOU by Adele

While down under, I met with quite a few Australian Editors so I have some interesting notes to pass along to my readers. I promise I'll do that tomorrow.

Today, I just have to take a moment to say CONGRATULATIONS Simone Elkeles for hitting the NYT Children's Series List this week (#8).

I couldn't post the news last Thursday (Wednesday in USA) because I had literally just come off the The Great Barrier Reef where I had been snorkeling. A text message was waiting for me and alas, no internet connection.

Hitting this series list is tough to do--especially when you only have 3 books that have to compete with total sales from series with more than 4 or 5 books in them.

So take a moment to revel in it Simone!

Simone also hit the USA Today bsl coming it at number 77. Since that's ALL books in all any format, that's huge too.

All for a series that editors told me wasn't "big enough" while on submission because it was a contemporary YA with no paranormal elements. I don't know about you guys, but feeling big enough to me. *Grin*



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Critique Workshopped The Voice Right Out Of There

STATUS: I've had many rounds of civilized tea this morning.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? BEDS ARE BURNING by Midnight Oil

The worst thing you an do when traveling abroad is to succumb to the desire to go to sleep right away on arrival.

The trick to acclimating is to suck it up, stay awake, and try not to hit the pillow until about 7:30 or 8 pm. Then go to sleep and you are, more or less, on schedule for the rest of the trip.

Easier said than done really.

So I rang up Kelley Armstrong who had been on our same flight down. I figured she was valiantly doing the same thing and we could combine forces by going out to dinner.

Can't say I was the liveliest conversationalist but I think she'll forgive me. We talked about giving workshops. I'm doing the Agent Reads The Slush Pile workshop tomorrow. As you blog readers know, I always start with a big disclaimer. That 99.9% of what I see during the workshop will not be ready for an agent to see.

Never stops folks though. I think deep down in writers' hearts, they are hoping to be discovered.

Kelley mentioned the same happens to her when she gives writing workshops. She always begins with her disclaimer that she can't get any of her writer students published. They are hopeful all the same.

She also mentioned that beginning writers will often suppress their natural voices as they become so focused on the mechanics of writing. In short, one's voice can be critique workshopped out of them if the writer has a quirky style etc. Often times her job is to allow new writers permission to discover their voice again. (Now it's not to say you ignore craft mechanics, any good writer is going to figure out how to manage both.)

But since I don't ever teach writing per se, I thought that was pretty interesting and something new writers need to be aware of.

Hard Wired For Conflict Equanimity?

STATUS: I'm feeling this strange desire to belt out Men At Work songs. Wait, that's because I'm jet lagged and actually in Australia!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK by Sting

Last Thursday, Angie and I got a chance to do informational interviews at the Denver Publishing Institute. As 2002 grads (and I can't believe it's been that long!), we were happy to give back by chatting with the graduating students looking for careers in publishing and specifically those who were interested in agenting.

I did about 15 interviews and during the day, I have to say that something completely crystalized for me.

Q: What does it take to be a good literary agent?
A: The ability to handle conflict.

Q: What does it take be a happy literary agent?
A: The ability to be sanguine about all the conflict you deal with on a daily basis.

I know. This should have been obvious but I had never boiled it down to the above. Ninety percent of agenting is troubleshooting and doing conflict resolution.

And I'm not exaggerating.

An agent's job is to be the author's advocate. Plain and simple. And that means it's the agent's job to sometimes be the "bad guy" so the author can have a warm and fuzzy relationship with his/her editor and publisher.

The agent is the person who says the tough things when they need to be said.

So if you are by nature, a conflict avoider, then being a literary agent is not going to be a happy job for you. It's not like anyone loves conflict (or maybe some folks do!) but some folks are more hard wired to deal with it with equanimity.

Definitely something to keep in mind if you want to pursue this particular career.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Random House Gets A Clean Bill Of Health

STATUS: Leaving the office at 5 p.m. That never happens!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? YOU AND I by Wilco

In good news, we've now gone through all our Random House statements from the spring with a fine tooth comb and I'm delighted to report that RH is not doing a wholesale change to their electronic book royalty rate on existing contracts; there was simply an error that was resolved promptly.

Contracts that have the royalty rate of 25% of retail will still have 25% of retail. Now, I have heard that they want to change any 15% of retail to 25% of net (which is actually to an author's advantage per my previous blog entry) but I have not personally seen that so as far as I'm concerned, that's simply a rumor for now.

As RH royalty statements are my fav in the biz and because they always resolve issues quickly, I'm back to happy.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Because It Carries More Weight When George R.R. Martin Says It

STATUS: I was at work for a full day yesterday. Today I'm working from home. Guess I pushed that envelope too far.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SUPERSTAR by The Carpenters

Agents are fans too! On Sunday, some friends and I headed down to the Tattered Cover in Lodo to get our copies of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS signed by the grand master himself.

Given the huge crowd of fans, no one was allowed to pose and take a picture with Mr. Martin. (Smart move on his part!) My friend happened to snap an incredibly dorky shot of me after he signed my book and I was walking away. Shows how comfortable with myself I am to share this lovely photo with the world.


But before the signing, Mr. Martin shared a tidbit of wisdom that all writers could benefit from. He mentioned that aspiring writers would often come up to him and declare that they were working on a 7-book series--just like him.

To paraphrase Martin, he said that being a beginner, unpublished writer declaring that he is writing a 7-book series is kind of like being a guy who has just started rock climbing and announcing to the world that the first climb he's going to do is a little hill called Mount Everest.

That's absolutely not what you want to do. It's too hard. Too big in scoop. If you are a beginning rock climber, you want to start with the climbing wall at your local REI or a small hill that won't kill you first.

As an agent, I've given this advice any number of times but in the end, writers don't believe me. Okay don't believe me. Believe George instead! Forty years in this biz, he knows what he's talking about.

Martin's recommendation? Start with short stories where you are forced to have a beginning, middle, and end. You are also forced to nail plot and character in a short amount of space. Then graduate to something bigger--like a novella or one stand-alone novel. Master that. Then tackle the big series.

Monday, August 01, 2011

STATUS: I'm finally back! It definitely took a week longer than I expected but I'm doing great.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? JEOPARDY by Greg Kihn (Of course!)

Late on Friday (July 29) I found out that Jamie Ford was going to be a literature question on that night's TV show of Jeopardy!

Surely you've arrived if you are ubiquitous enough to be a question on a popular game show, right?


Not a single contestant got the answer. LOL!

Yep, take it down a notch Kristin. It still makes me smile though.