Friday, September 30, 2011

Not Quite The American Export I'd Hope For

STATUS: TGIF! I haven't seen a good funny (that I could share on the blog anyway) in ages. I need to rally the troops to send some my way again.

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

I was reading Publishing Perspectives this morning and came across an article that just made me groan. Of course there are scam artists all around the world but in general, the whole shady practice of pretending to be a literary agent and charging reading fees has been a pretty American concept.

Alas, not anymore.

Great. One of the things I'd prefer not to be an American export…. Not to mention, there are SO many more resources available online here in The States to help writers avoid the publishing-money-scam pitfall. I can't imagine the same holds true in India. Perhaps I have some intrepid blog readers there who might help spread the word by posting links to the article or starting chats on the subject.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sacrificing Plot And Character Motivation For Fun

STATUS: It's sunny and our windows are open. And it was quiet because of the holiday. I got tons accomplished. I officially declare this an awesome day.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LOVE SONG by Adele
(The Cure were one of my fav bands from my youth and I kind of like her rendition.)

I like the heading of the entry as you can read it two different ways.

1) Just writing for fun and not worrying about the story/motivation,
2) The writer got lost in the fun of the world and forgot that a story needs plot and clear character motivation.

As a writer, sometimes it's great to just say the heck with plot and character and simply have fun with your story and your world. It can unblock that critical voice and let you just write.

I'm all for that!

However, that's why you go through the critique and revision process. You don't want the above and then send me a full manuscript with out that second critical step.

In the last couple of weeks, I've read two full manuscripts that had great beginnings, solid writing, creative and interesting world building, the whole enchilada that starts an agent getting exciting.

Then I hit page 100 or 140. Suddenly the stories stop making sense. I puzzle over the character motivations and why they are making the choices they do. Then I start reading scenes that are fun but don't actually move the story forward in any identifiable way. Then I can't figure out how this scene fits with all the building elements of the first 100 pages.

If I'm this far into the novel and I'm asking the above questions, I'm passing on it. And no, I won't write up an editorial letter because it would be far too complicated and time consuming to really outline these thoughts in a way that will actually help the writer.

By the way, when I'm writing up an editorial letter for one of my clients, on average it takes me 2.5 hours to complete. We often follow it up with a Skype call to just to talk it through and bounce ideas of one another. It's a significant time investment.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

An Observation On An Observation

STATUS: Another gorgeous day and guess what? A lovely walk home is Chutney's favorite part of the day.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WAITING IN VAIN by Bob Marley

Here's another culprit that can sink your opening pages or opening chapters.

I call it double trouble. It's when a writer has a terrific scene, great dialogue, good character reveal, what have you… then the writer feels the need to analyze the scene over again from a main character's inner thought monologue.

Ack! When I do charity 30-page critiques, I spend a lot of time deleting out this kind of repetition. By the way, established writers sometimes do this too and this is when you hope that the author has a great editor who will judiciously cut these moments.

Writers do it to make sure the reader fully understands or gets the joke.

Trust me, if you did your scene right, you won't need this inner monologue contemplation.

While I was at the SCBWI conference over the weekend, it occurred to me that I should create a workshop on how to critique. The audience would be critique partners looking to develop their skills so as to help one another.

I think I would call it Critique Like An Agent.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Observation On Character Development

STATUS: It's such a gorgeous day in Denver. I'm ready to pop out early and take Chutney for a long walk.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WALK ON THE WILD SIDE Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians

This weekend I did my first SCBWI conference. For those of you unfamiliar with the acronym, it stands for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I just had a blast.

As I've done in the past, I did my 2-pages or First pages workshop where writers submit their opening pages, it gets read aloud, and I say yay or nay--would I have read on and why.

This time, I had something happen that has never happened before. My reader chose the first three at random and read them aloud. I would have read on for all three.

That's rare. I've given this workshop a dozen or so times and I've usually found only one submission that I would have read further on. 99.9% of what we see isn't quite ready for an agent to review. By the way, this is not to stay it will never be ready. Just that it wasn't quite there in this incarnation.

Trust me, I don't want to stomp on writers' dreams!

For this workshop, I noticed a couple of beginning writer mistakes that I haven't really talked about yet so I thought I would tackle some.

Beginning Writer Mistake: Opening scenes that make it clear that the writer has not thought through the character's backstory and history before writing the scene.

What do I mean by this? I can tell from reading the scene that the writer is simply trying to create an exciting opening and if the writer had stopped to think about it, there is no way the characters would react as written if the characters had a clear history with either the other character in the scene or to the event.

For example, a Grandma loves to drive fast, in direct opposition to most people's perception of how a grandmother would drive. So the writer wants to show this quirky trait and thus writes an opening scene from the grandchild's perspective who is reacting wildly to the grandmother's driving.

However, if the character is often driven by her grandmother, she'd be used to her Nana's rather erratic speed demon driving habit. So given that history, she wouldn't react dramatically to it; it would be normal.

Do you see what I mean? The writer should approach the scene with the above assumption. Now the writer can still have this opening erratic driving scene but the grandchild character's reaction would be written differently with this history in mind.

And if it's the first time the grandmother has ever driven that character, then that would need to be made clear and then the character could react dramatically. The scene would then work.

But I often see slush pile submissions where it's clear to me that the writer hasn't quite gotten knowledgeable about his or her characters before jumping in to writing scenes about them.

Just another writing tip to keep in mind!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Nelson Literary Agency Has No Prob With LGBTQ

STATUS: I'm feeling a tad riled up.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? MY HEART BELONGS TO ME by Barbara Streisand

Holy cow! Can't believe I missed this article yesterday. I'm so glad an agent friend forwarded to me. Take a moment to read it and tweet it on but in short, it's an appeal to support literature with gay and lesbian characters and the fact that there are some appalling agents and editors out there who are making requests that the writers make a gay character straight.

Seriously? What year are we in?

I cannot tell you how delighted I was to see a link to a list of YA literature that features gay/lesbian characters and my author Sarah Rees Brennan's THE DEMON'S LEXICON series was on it.

This author of mine is brilliant. It's a wonderful series and her new trilogy that I just sold to Random House also has an absolute kick-a** gay/lesbian main character. The first book UNSPOKEN publishes in fall 2012.

Not to mention, I have a Monica Trasandes' debut adult literary novel coming out in spring 2012 from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press. It's called BROKEN LIKE THIS and features three main protagonists: a bisexual character, a gay/lesbian character and a straight male character (had to throw that last one in there-LOL).

A multicultural author to boot. I'll tell you right now it was a tough sell but I loved the novel and I sold it.

So add these to your wish lists if you want to show support via your buying dollars. If I had cover art or anything yet for these two titles, I'd post it here but we are in the middle of the cover design and the buy links aren't available online yet.

And let's not forget the incredibly brilliant, witty, impeccably dressed and extremely powerful Lord Akeldama from Gail Carriger's The Parasol Protectorate series.

I must admit it never occurred to me to add to my agency's submission page that we are open to accepting material with LGBTQ characters because I kind of thought it went without saying but I'm rethinking it now.

Feel free to link to this blog post that it's a-okay with us and I have NEVER asked an author to change a character's ethnic background or orientation.

And because we are talking about multicultural too, check out my author Kimberly Reid's debut YA novel MY OWN WORST FRENEMY. It's an African-American urban Nancy Drew series. I mean, just how cool is that?


Note: LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning.

Additional Note: As there seems to be some question about the legitimacy of the original article cited and the agent/agency named, in fairness I'm also including a link to the agent/agency rebuttal to the accusation.

Monday, September 12, 2011

An Actual No Means No--For Us Anyway

STATUS: Chutney is asleep. I need to follow that example.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? COULD YOU BE LOVED? by Bob Marley and the Wailers

Today I took fellow literary agent, Kate Testerman, out to lunch. We even had a pint of beer (Kate) and a glass of wine (Kristin) to celebrate.

Why? Because her author Ransom Riggs has a novel that's been slowly climbing up to the #2 spot on the NYT list for the past 12 weeks. #1 spot is within spitting distance.

I would be talking about Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children.


Darn right we need to celebrate that. After all, we agents are notoriously bad at actually doing celebratory moments to acknowledge our achievements but can cite every book we passed on that then became successful. LOL.

So it was an enforced celebration because hitting the NYT list is an achievement. Staying on for 12 straight weeks is an achievement. Have sales increase rather than decrease over that 12 weeks is huge and last but not least, hello! The #1 spot is not out of reach.

If you haven't, you might want to buy this book this week is all I'm saying.

So Sara and I are out with Kate celebrating this amazing debut when Kate mentions there is a brouhaha going on about an agent's policy to respond to every query or simply say "no response is a No" and authors should move on.

I gotta get myself on twitter. I'm always missing the hoopla.

Actually it was more of a discussion than a brouhaha but it was causing comments aplenty.

Our stance? We respond but that's mainly because I have the amazing Anita who screens all queries and pulls out the ones I actually need to look at. Without that, trust me, I'd probably seriously consider the "no response means a No."

We can get upwards to 200 queries a day.

That's crazy people!

This day alone we received 4 calls from nonfiction writers with deals on the table looking for an agent.

We don't even rep nonfiction and none of them were memoir. How on earth do people find us is what I want to know.

Now if Sara and I read a partial or a full manuscript, we do offer a line or two on why we are passing but trust me, when I've read 12 submissions and I know it's going to take me at least 40 minutes to type in my one or two lines of feedback, I seriously consider whether it's worth the time.

I could just hit the NO button and be done. Trust me, it's tempting. Very very tempting.

But for now, we still add the line. If I were a writer, which I'm not, I'd so appreciate that personal note. So we keep that in mind but we aren't inured to the day when that might not be a possibility.

Friday, September 09, 2011

In The Author's Shoes

STATUS: Working all morning. Talking all afternoon.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? CRAZY by Icehouse

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference kicks off today. I'll be there all afternoon chatting about digital changes in publishing (starts at 2 p.m.). And I'll probably need all afternoon given there is a lot to talk about.

Last night RMFW had their opening cocktail party and I was chatting with an author there. She mentioned that she had to switch agents recently and it was one of the more agonizing things that she has done in her career. Not having been on that side of the fence, I asked her what she thought was the most important factors to keep in mind when going through the process. I thought it would make a good blog topic!

Here's her list:

1. Make sure the agent loves your work.

Kristin commentary: I agree--especially if you are looking for someone to rep your whole career. An agent should love your writing--not just one book.

Or, as we continued our chat, have an agent take you on simply because you already have a deal on the table. This author said that for the fellow authors she knew, if that was the reason the agent took the author on, the business partnership didn't last.

2. Ask the agent what their career vision is for you.

K commentary: This would seem like a straightforward thing but different agents might have very different visions for you. For example, you might be a genre mystery writer and the agent sees you evolving more into literary mystery. Now if the author is aligned on that vision, great. But if the author is happy with straight mystery, this particular person might be a good agent but not right for you.

3. Meet the agent in person.

K commentary: During our chat, the author stressed how important this is. It does make sense because you get a general feel for an agent and his/her style when meeting in person more so then just a phone convo. It happens for me when I meet editors in person. Why not agents? But this author was really adamant on how helpful it was to her when making her decision.

So there you have it.

I mentioned to her that in the last year, I've taken to skyping with my clients and any new people I'm interested in representing.

I totally feel the difference. It's like having a face-to-face meeting--even if the client is half way around the world.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Story Of An Underdog

STATUS: Yesterday got away from me so I'm blogging "early" today.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SUNSET BOULEVARD by Charlie Robison

Hum, I'm wondering if championing an underdog that then goes on to be successful might be the story of my career.

Either that or I simply have strange tastes most of the time (with the occasional hitting the market square on with a project that generates lots of initial excitement from the get-go).

So here's another tale of an underdog--a novel that I absolutely loved but had trouble selling. And I can tell you that agents often delude themselves; I seriously expected an auction when I went out on submission with it. I was totally flummoxed when that didn't happen.

But finally, after much work, this genre bending, doesn't-fit-into-an-easy-category novel sold. I would call it a dark gothic Victorian historical romance with an unusual paranormal twist.

And I'm always telling aspiring writers not to do what I just did with my description above. LOL. Everything but the kitchen sink!

Given the nature of the story, the editor, author, and I all agreed that we needed to give the novel the best chance possible and one facet of doing that is going after established authors for praise blurbs to hopefully start the early buzz.

Now, the blurb process is not an easy one. In general, you're lucky if maybe you get one or two blurbs out of 10 or 12 blurb read submissions. Established authors are on deadline, they get asked to blurb a million times, the story isn't their cup of tea. There are a hundred reasons why established authors pass on reading for blurbs so you don't go in with high expectation of the response. You'll be happy with anything that comes of it. And a lot of times that means just one blurb.

Well, in this case, every established author we sent the novel to read it, loved it, blurbed it.

I'm still stunned. This never happens.

"If the word FIRELIGHT sounds cozy--think again. Both characters and plot are literally ON FIRE!! Tremendously, engagingly sensual."
--Diana Gabaldon, bestselling author of the Outlander Series

“Passionate and sizzling, beautifully written and dark. This unique paranormal twist on the beauty and the beast tale rocks!”
—Elizabeth Amber, author of Bastian The Lords of Satyr


"Evocative and deeply romantic, Firelight is a beautiful debut. I was fascinated from the first page."
—Nalini Singh, New York Times bestselling author of the Guild Hunter Series

"A sizzling paranormal with dark history and explosive magic! Callihan is an impressive new talent."

--- Larissa Ione, New York Times bestselling author of Immortal Rider

"Inventive and adventurous with complex, witty characters and snappy writing. Callihan will make you believe in the power of destiny and true love."
--- Shana Abé, New York Times bestselling author of The Time Weaver

“A sexy, resplendent debut with a deliciously tortured hero, an inventive supernatural mystery, and slow-building heat that simmers on each page. I can't wait to see what Kristen Callihan comes up with next!"
--- Meljean Brook, New York Times bestselling author of The Iron Duke

"A dark, delicious tale of secrets, murder, and love, beautifully shrouded in the shadows of Victorian London."

--- Hannah Howell, New York Times bestselling author of If He's Dangerous

"A dazzling debut, sexy and thrilling. Callihan now has a place on my to-buy list."

--- Anya Bast, New York Times bestselling author of Dark Enchantment

"Utterly phenomenal! Sword fights, magic, a heroine with secret strengths, a hero with hidden vulnerability, and best of all, a true love that's hot enough to burn the pages."
--- Courtney Milan, New York Times bestselling author of Unraveled

"Lush and imaginative, Firelight will sweep you away."

--- Zoë Archer, award-winning author of Devil's Kiss

"A compelling and emotional pageturner that will have readers burning the midnight oil."
--- Anna Campbell, award-winning author of Midnight's Wild Passion

"A fantastic debut that has everything I'm looking for in a story: compelling conflict, beautiful writing, gripping sexual tension, and strong, intelligent characters."
--- Sherry Thomas, RITA Award-winning author of His At Night


"Combines romance, wit, and suspense in a fabulous retelling of Beauty and the Beast...with a supernatural twist."

--- Colleen Gleason, international bestselling author of The Gardella Vampire Chronicles


Gosh I hope the reading public feels the same! And if you are one of those readers that loves unique romances that don't fit into neat square boxes, then all I can ask is that you add this one to your To Buy list because it almost didn't happen. Editors WANT to take chances on unusual stories but it's a tough argument for them at the editorial board meeting unless they can point to titles that were successful and sold well. That's the cold, hard truth.

I've got high hopes that FIRELIGHT by Kristen Callihan will do just that.



And speaking of authors who like to tackle unusual but powerful stories, if you haven't had a chance to read a Sherry Thomas romance, well, you are in luck. You can't try her out in ebook for only $3.99. Random house is doing a special promo.

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