Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Feel The Fear - Do It Anyway

STATUS: Hum, I thought August was suppose to be the slow month in publishing. Not so much.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  WAITING FOR A GIRL LIKE YOU by Foreigner

Last Thursday, Angie and I spent the day doing round-table chats with the graduates of The Denver Publishing Institute. The intensive month course ended and these 100 or so graduates are now making their way into a job market that is one of the toughest I've seen in years.

It's true. But let that just be white noise as you move forward. You know this info but you aren't going to let it rule what you will do. If you are determined enough, you can make something happen.

The year 2000 changed everything for me. I was a corporate trainer in my mid-30s making 6-figures doing training for fortune 500 companies. I worked 8 days a month. And I walked away because I didn't love the job.

Folks thought I was crazy.

That was the year I had teamed up with a fellow corporate trainer and we did an awesome nonfiction book proposal. We had a well known literary agent. Our proposal was aggressively shopped and turned down all over New York (so I do, indeed, now what rejection feels like). But that was incidental. It was my "aha" moment that I wanted to be in this field but not on the writing side of things. But on the biz end.

But I was a corporate trainer. I lived in Denver. This was not the mecca of publishing in the year 2000 (and one would argue that Kate Testerman, Rachelle Gardner, and I do not a mecca make in Denver now)! I started researching what it would take and that showed me that I was going to have to work for an agent first to learn the ropes.

Not exactly a lot of possibilities available in my immediate geographic region. My husband and I sat down and formed a plan. If I had to, I would take a job at an agency in New York. We rock as a couple. We could commuter marriage for a year, two if necessary. That's how important this was to me and I was determined to make it happen. I started applying for jobs. I went to New York and sat down with several agents who didn't hire me but were awesome to talk to and encouraging.

Then I went to a local writers' conference simply to meet the agents and network about jobs. I met an agent who had recently moved to Denver (previously with HarperCollins before having to relocate). She was looking for an assistant. I was looking for a job at an agency. Luck Luck Lucky.

Absolutely. But I was willing to do what was necessary and if New York had proved necessary, I would have done that so stay open. Work outside of "can't" or "I can't afford it" or "I don't want to live in New York City."

So I learned the ropes at that agency. I did the Denver Publishing Institute as a way of bolstering my network (which was very effective by the way as I sold my first book to a Penguin Editor who was a former DPI grad).

The day the program ended, I was ready. I had a $20,000 business loan and a five year plan and I opened my own agency on August 15, 2002. I gave myself five years to make a profit.

Year 1 - took a loss
Year 2 - took a loss
Year 3 - took a loss, did another business loan (my husband didn't sleep at all that year as he was pretty stressed about the debt)
Year 4 - small profit so I hired an assistant.
Year 5 - took a loss because of the salary I paid my assistant (another sleepless year for the hubby)
Year 6 - a respectable profit!
Year 7 - an even bigger profit so hired a marketing director
Year 8 - stunned myself on how profitable we were becoming
Year 9 - a really stunning year so hired two more employees (our royalties and contracts manager and our digital liaison)
Year 10 - it's our anniversary and we are celebrating on August 25th with our clients coming to town to join us. We are on track for our best year ever.

In 2002 for my first trip to New York to network with editors, I bombarded every friend I knew and asked if they had any relatives or friends who lived in Manhattan. They did. I slept on the couch in the apartment of people I had never met because they were family of friends of mine and they graciously opened their doors to me.  (HUGE THANK YOU!! You know who you are.)

Make stuff happen. You'd be amazed at how many people love to be enrolled in what you are doing if you just simply ask!

If I knew then what I know now, I probably would never taken that first step. Thank goodness I was blindly optimistic.

Feel the fear. Do it anyway.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday Funnies - Anatomy of Book Cover Design

STATUS: Haven't had a good video to share in a while. This one is worth the wait.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  DON'T GO by Yaz

Chip Kidd is a legend in this industry. Video is not short but worth every minute of your time. It's a small glimpse into the brilliance of mind it takes to create a truly amazing cover. And I'll give you a hint. It's not about bells and whistles. It's about text.

As it should be. Enjoy!


Monday, August 06, 2012

68 Queries In 60 Minutes

STATUS: Auction day tomorrow.  Always fun.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? HOT STUFF by Donna Summer

I can't help but think of the movie The Full Monty whenever this song pops up on the iPod. Always good for a smile.

I must admit that I've been a little behind on query reading so Sunday evening, I sat down to power through them. You are reading the above title correctly. I averaged less than 60 seconds for each query read.

If your pitch wasn't, well, pitch perfect, I was hitting the pass button.

Here's something agents hardly ever reveal (and this of course could only apply to me so take it with a grain of salt) but I honestly believe that your chances of grabbing an agent's attention decreases in the warm summer months.

Quite frankly, I'd rather be outdoors doing something fun rather than reading. I feel the exact opposite in winter months. I'm happy staying home and catching up. Consequently, if I were to look at my client list, I probably took on more clients during the winter months than I do during the summer.

Not a hard and fast rule by any means but something to keep in mind.

So Sunday I'm reading 68 queries. I actually only asked for sample pages for 10 of those queries. You'd be right to think that the ratio was small. So what was up?

Here's what I saw:
1) At least 10 YA dystopian queries where I didn't think the concept felt original enough for what is a crowded market.

2) 5 queries for literary novels that said there was a commercial bent but I wasn't seeing it in the query lettr. They sounded too literary for what I can take on and be successful with.

3) Several queries from writers that we had passed on but they had revised and wanted to know if we would read again. Right now I'm too pressed for time to give something a second read so I passed.

4) Several authors looking for new representation but I didn't think we'd be a good fit given what they were currently writing and what has been appealing to me as of late.

5) Several middle grade novels that the queries themselves sounded too didactic. I didn't take a chance to read the sample pages fearing the same.

6) Several steampunk fantasies that obviously pay homage to Gail Carriger but sounded a bit too romance or derivative for what I'd take on considering I rep Gail Carriger.

7) Lots of epic fantasy queries from a previous blog post where I mentioned that editors were more open to seeing these stories as of late. But it's hard. Most of these queries were a bit too generic and you really have to make your fantasy pitch stand out. I particularly liked the one where the writer instructs me it's not the "typical fantasy" as this one has character development. Like that's the original element. Trust me, I've read a lot of epic fantasy and all the terrific ones have great original concepts and excellent character development.  You are going to need both.

Then of course there were the 10 queries I asked sample pages for.

One query startled a laugh out of me. That got a request. Another was a really charming middle grade novel. The query was inventive, well written, and charming in and of itself. I had to ask for sample pages. The writer left me no choice.

I only have August and September before the weather turns cool again so I'm looking for reasons to say NO. Come first snowfall, I'll probably be looking for reasons to say YES.